Tag Archives: architecture

Design Principle – Symmetry

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Versailles

After an enforced break caused by hackers, I hope that I can quietly continue posting free articles about enhancing your creativity. Ahh hackers – very clever people with a lot of creativity; if only they would use their powers for good in the world instead of nuisance. Of course, some do.

So I suppose an article about symmetry is an appropriate segue from the idea of good and evil in the world. Symmetry is all about reflection. By repeating and reversing the line, shape, space, and motif of an image, balance is maintained. There is a line symmetry, and point symmetry (like a snowflake). In the natural world, with the exception of snowflakes and atomic structure, the symmetry is approximate. But beauty, such as of face and form, is biologically tied to our perception of symmetry.

When we were children first playing with paint, one of our earliest endeavors might have been folding piece of paper in half with smooshed paint and opening it again to see the magical mirror image results. Paper garlands of cutout figures are exercises in visualizing symmetry. I think they are fun too.

photo credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/petritent/2104771626/">a song under the sugar sugar</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licen

Snowflakes

Symmetry is a function of Balance. The greater, or more absolute the symmetry, the more formality in a layout or design. The human hand imposing on the natural world often emphasizes the orderliness of symmetry. Absolute formality of architecture and landscaping is not in favor right now. Compared to ordinary homes, such places may have a forbidding quality, beautiful but austere, rather than a sense of welcome. However in times past the grandeur of such architecture was an indicator of class and meant to be very impressive. Perhaps that is still the case. It works in music also. Consider the very formal and dignified march by Edward Elgar, “Land of Hope and glory”, which has an undulating melody line and repetitive rhythm to the note values.

On the other hand symmetry can also be comforting because of repetition. For example children’s songs and nursery rhymes often have a sense of symmetry and stepping, such as “Itsy-Bitsy Spider”.

In point symmetry the focal point is always the center. However balance can be attained through asymmetry as well. Interest, conflict, surprise – all of these can be created by the interruption of a symmetrical scheme. Rhythm is often a function of symmetry, ongoing, even relentless, so that a sudden change becomes the focal point. The eye or the year or the emotions, are drawn to the moment where the symmetry is disrupted.

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Taj Mahal

These are all things to consider when making art of any kind. I like the old drawing exercise that consisted of cutting a photograph in half and re-creating it in pencil as a mirror image. With all our Elements and Principles of Design, when we start looking for them we see them everywhere. I’m looking out my window and I can see my ornamental pear tree that over time has been vaguely pruned into a rough symmetry. The dictates of urban living, to wit the footpath on one side, and have meant that the tree is not as perfect as it might have been. However balance and symmetry are very important for a healthy tree, and the leaves show lovely symmetry.

A visual experiment in disrupting symmetry to create a focal point

 

Create an abstract piece using line symmetry. It might be painting or a collage. Then cut out a simple symmetrical geometric shape, such as a circle or square, in a contrasting color and place it around in different places on your canvas. What feels balanced? What feels uncomfortable?

Go further. Create a piece using point symmetry and experiment again with your “disruptive influence”.

Expressing Creativity – Exploring Materials

Modernism, the historical art era encompassing the late 19th Century through the first half of the 20th, is characterized by an emphasis on materials, media and form rather than metaphorical content. They also wanted to remind people that art, even that of the great masters, was just paint on surfaces.

Artists were exploring the tactile quality of paint itself or the properties of stone or metal – essentially examining the Elements of Design (Shape, Line, Color, Texture, and so on) in their pure forms without seeking to tell stories or express meaning. One might say that the Modernists were fighting a losing battle against human nature, since we are biologically programmed to seek meaning and notice relationships – create stories – and will do so even when none exist. Humans seek to make sense from information, while one big part of Modernism wants to depict nonsense for its own sake. (Eg Dada and Theater of the Absurd).

Writing included the stream-of-consciousness novel and poetry that was more about the sound of words than their meanings. In music atonal or 12 tone music rose, with all its unresolved glory along with the famous John Cage conceptual composition 4’33” – one of several silent pieces. The Wikipedia entry on Modernism has a positive cornucopia of links to the theoretical thinkers, writers and artists of the era. They wanted to explore the stylistic conventions of various kinds of art work, but from a distance, without getting drawn in to the stories.

Rothko Chapel

Mark Rothko (1903-1970) was a Modernist painter whose large scale mono or duo chrome works are the epitome of Modernist non-subjective art. The Rothko Chapel in Houston, TX is a non-denominational meditation chapel, and is open and free to the public. Inside the Rotunda, lit entirely by natural light, are fourteen large scale monochrome oil paintings by Rothko. The light constantly changes so the texture of each painting also changes.

Rothko Chapel

Interior Rothko Chapel

When I visited there in the mid-1980’s I felt like there were figures buried inside the darkness. I persisted in trying to see what was hidden. The paintings seem to have a lot of depth. It was very serene and relaxing, but I still wanted to find a subject in the non-subjective artworks. But then again, I also like finding shapes in the texture of popcorn ceilings.

What does this mean for a creativity practice today?

Modernist practice gives us permission to play with materials and media, to enjoy the process without worrying about the outcome or product. We can smoosh paint, or roll it, combine blocks of color or repeat simple shapes over and over. We can stack wood, metal and stone pieces in pleasing combinations.

Some of the best ideas for Modernist experiments come from ideas for children’s sensory play crafts. Throw pigments, pour, spray and embrace randomness. But also combine surfaces and textures. Use one color of different media for a shadow box or other display – paint, inks, pencils, crayons, collage, fabric, found objects

Simple Art Project Ideas.

Scumbled Duotone Canvases 

When used in theater sets, scumbling is a paint technique where colors are mixed together on the surface with the painting tools. In art scumbling refers to washing the darker finish with lighter colors (often with a nearly dry applicator) to mute the colors below. The tool defines the kind of edges the paint makes – roller, brush, sponge, rags.

  • Use two of your chosen tools to smoosh paint on the surface and then blend the edges together forming an ombré.
  • If you like Rothko, try pairs of rectangles with soft edges. Also consider a central circle surrounded by another color.
  • Arrange several of these finished canvases in a grouping to enhance your modern styled interiors.

Pinned Color Swatches

  • Cut many squares from paint chip samples.
  • Pin them in a geometric arrangement to a cork board with small ball pins in one color.
  • Alternatively use a hole punch to make many exact shapes quickly.

Enlarged Macro Images

  • Collect random items with only physical characteristics in common, such as shape, color or texture.
  • Take photos of them, especially macros, and print to create another art grouping.

Resources and Places

Scumbling, glazing and wash at Artists’ Network 

Suzy Kitman demonstrates Impasto This is a very cool palette knife technique shown by artist Suzy Kitman. I would argue that despite there being a subject in her work, the main value is the texture and the paint itself, which to me makes it Modernist. The image is just an excuse to use particular colors.

Pete’s Original Art – Abstract painting video showing many tools and blending techniques.

Modernist Pin Board

Modernism

 

 

Perseverance

Wish stars

A few nights ago my husband and I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the 10th Anniversary Gala of the Walt Disney Concert Hall with the LA Philharmonic. The architect, Frank Gehry, was in attendance and the presentation was designed as a celebration of the design and creation of the concert hall building itself.

Conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, each piece represented a time in the process. The program was:

  • 4’33” by John Cage – that’s the famous silent piece.
  • Bach’s Prelude, from Cello Suite No. 3, with Yo-Yo Ma
  • Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme, also with Yo-Yo Ma (who appeared to not have any sheet music in front of him)
  • “These Premises are Alarmed” by Adés
  • Symphony No. 9 by Mahler (III. Rondo: Burleske)
  • Symphony No. 3, “Organ” (IIb Maestoso) by Saint-Saëns – when the actual magnificent built in organ was played.

Each piece was introduced by quotes from a timely Gehry interview, talking about his design process. Then different video clips, presented on three oddly shaped geometric screens, projected on both sides for different places in the auditorium, accompanied the music. This part of the presentation was devised by Netia Jones (who is a fascinating multi-media artist).

The images began with Gehry’s preparatory, exploratory sketches, ingeniously animated, then moved on to his model making process. Gehry spoke of making hundreds and storing them, and continuing to move through the process of designing with the cardboard models. The slides showed images of numbered crates reminiscent of the final shot in “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. (Did I mention I was 20 feet from Harrison Ford speaking only two nights earlier at another charity event?)

Then there were the criticisms, the complaints, the sarcasm in the press about the pace of the project – for a long time only the underground parking garage appeared to be completed. This frustrating time was represented by a visual collage of newspaper headlines and the semi-completed structure.

But in the end of course the building was finished and hailed as one of the masterpieces of contemporary architecture and a new cultural landmark for Los Angeles.

Disney Concert Hall exterior

There is no place where you can’t take a great shot anywhere around the building.

What most excited me was Gehry’s persistence. He continued not just to push for his vision, but through multiple iterations of it, through his own dissatisfactions, and through his search for methods. It is a building that would have been all but impossible (and certainly take much longer) to construct without the computer aided design software Gehry used.

Perseverance is not just not giving up on a project, and continuing to work on and refine an idea. It’s also being willing to discard that idea for better ones.

Persevering with Thinking

When I was working in design, whether it was costumes, sets or lighting, I always knew that my best idea was never the first one. Sometimes time constraints meant that it was the first idea that people liked and we went with, and sometimes it was too late to make the changes that would have improved the outcome.

So when I am working on any kind of creative project or new product, I try to allow time for the ideas to percolate. I sketch and consider the first idea – I get it out of my head and onto paper. But I continue to sketch, play, list, mindstorm, and tinker – not so much to modify the existing stream of thought, but to allow a completely new idea to bubble up.

It is just as important to continue working – editing, revisiting, rewriting, looking at the research, watching the rehearsals, playing with the materials – when you are reasonably satisfied with your work, as when you are frustrated by how it’s looking.

Jim Collins said, “Good is the enemy of great”. He was writing about corporations and companies which by consistent, persistent effort towards a single goal over a very long term gradually become greater than merely successful. But the phrase also works in considering creative projects. The model of the concert hall that won the contest for Gehry was good. But the final result is beyond that to be almost magical, because he wasn’t satisfied with good.

That’s one of the problems these creative competition shows have – Project Runway, Face Off, Work of Art, Design Star – severe lack of time. In the hotbed of competition, it’s not just the challenge of realizing their idea or design in a shortened time frame (which admittedly can happen in the real world occasionally). The real awfulness I imagine is the frustration of coming up with a better idea but being committed by time constraints to finishing what you have started. In support of this notion I present the time in the recent Project Runway episode when bottom three contestant, Dom Streater, was sent back to the workroom and completed a totally different and surprisingly winning look.

Dom Streater’s winning second attempt

What I know for sure is that when I don’t allow myself enough time to think, sketch, plan OR to realize and build, my work is never as good. I have to have time and use it to persevere through doubts, blocks, and sometimes the belief in my own unworthiness.

Perseverance is failing 19 times and succeeding the 20th~ Julie Andrews (member of the Gala Committee for the LA Phil Gala)

How to Persevere

  • Give yourself time for the process, and for creativity to blossom – but also know that the work expands to fill the time available! Just keep going – baby steps.
  • Give yourself more tries than you think you will need. By this I mean if you plan to make a list of 10 things, make it 20. If you plan to make three sketches, do six. If you have a story idea plotted out, spend some time imagining an alternative trajectory.
  • Rest, walk away and return. Let the subconscious percolation happen. Take a walk. Take a nap.
  • Get enough sleep. Eat enough food. I sometimes forget to eat when I’m lost in the timeless void of screenwriting. Luckily I have people around me who express that they are hungry.
  • Gehry would probably say that having sufficient storage space, to keep your first, second, third – who knows how many – attempts is also helpful.

Another time I’ll write about  the opposite problem – perfectionism and incompletion, and the risk of presenting your ideas and work to others.

Encore

The Encore was a beautiful rendition of “When You Wish Upon A Star“, and silver mylar stars floated down from the ceiling. I was a wreck.

 

Element of Design – Texture

Encrusted beading on art doll

Texture is a tactile experience, or the visual illusion of a tactile experience. Texture is characterized by changes in the surface, or the apparent absence of changes in the surface. Texture is about adding interest and the sense of layers, so that we wonder what lies beneath that so interesting surface.

Texture functions emotionally to generate desire – you want to touch and feel – or to repulse – something is scary, dangerous or uncomfortable. It’s not that it tastes bad, it’s that the texture is unpleasant in the mouth.

Texture is a continuum, from smooth or shiny through to rough. It is partly defined by how much friction it would generate. .

To paraphrase Horatio GreenoughTexture follows function. In nature it’s all about surface area in a limited volume – bumps, pores, folded shapes. Think of villi in the intestines, the surface of a tongue, spines or scales, the shape of pine needles, fur to capture and hold heat.

Human design also uses texture for surface area, to generate or eliminate friction, for practicality. Think of knitwear (“warm and fuzzy”), rugs and home insulation, the old “cottage cheese” ceilings, aerodynamics in aircraft and cars.

Flip Doll

Texture becomes more important when other Elements of Design are simplified – a monochromatic color scheme for example, or when simple shapes are repeated. Texture can add the sensation of depth.

Monochrome heritage layout

Texture in Art – Texture as Illusion

In visual art there is the implied visual texture within the images. Think of old masters painting the lush velvets, encrusted embroideries, glowing skin of their royal patrons. But brush strokes – the mechanism of the art – were hidden and minimized as much as possible.

Then came the explosion of Impressionism and later Expressionism, making texture serve an emotional meaning. Then with the rise of Modernism, Texture became a primary element. The qualities of the paint itself, no doubt influenced by the invention of new paints including fast drying acrylics and the new acrylic “oils” – are revealed by intentional brushstrokes. The art increasingly shows the artist’s hand and thought processes as more important than whatever the subject of the painting might be.

Here’s my little bit of controversy – because I don’t care for the Wikipedia definition of Abstract Art. I’m recalling instead discussions of art theory we students used to enjoy back when I was in college.

I prefer the definition that Abstract art is taking a personal point of view, personal vision of a subject away from realism to find the soul or express an attitude about that subject. The subject can become abstracted to the point of being totally unrecognizable, reduced to geometry or just color and texture.

Non-subjective modernism, often misnamed as “abstract art” embraces the qualities of medium entirely. It is about the paint, the texture, the color – without narrative content (supposedly). Ah humans – we tend to want to construct stories and make connections no matter how much the choreographer says “don’t feel, just count”.

Think of sculpture which for thousands of years has been about manipulating a hard, dense material to create the sensation of soft, pliable surfaces. In recent times, artists making soft sculptures have used fabrics and flexible materials to visualize the opposite.

Rolled and inked paper roses

Surprises

Sometimes the visual appearance belies the texture and the viewer gets a surprise on touching the object. Or distance mystifies the amount of texture in a surface. Think of electron microscopy revealing the unseen textures of surfaces beyond our imagination. The smooth steel of a knife blade revealed as pitted and layered as a rocky sandstone. Here is the fractal universe displayed.

Texture might be a function of randomness – spraying, splattering, combing, cross hatching.

Jayn at Hearst Castle

Photo Credit: James Coburn

Texture in Music

When I think of texture as it applies to music, I think of layering of instruments and the repetition of motifs or phrases with different instruments. Perhaps resonance is an equivalent of texture, or vibrato in a voice. Anything that adds interest and depth to the music might be termed adding texture.

In Writing

I like to think of texture in writing as creating a sensory experience with the words. Texture might be filling in visual background detail (but not so much that it detracts from the progression of the story) or imbuing minor characters with different voices or quirks. It is a way of adding interest.

It also might be created through manipulating word sounds – so that it is revealed viscerally through reading aloud. Read “Harry Potter” aloud, or indeed any of J.K. Rowling’s work aloud. It changes the experience. The addition or absence of sibilance, the repetition of certain sounds or words, the cadence of dialects revealed – that is texture at work.

Creating Texture

Sometimes texture is inherent in the material like marble countertops, granite building blocks, woodgrain, or honey comb candy. If not, and it is desired for interest and depth, then it must be added.

The illusion of texture can be created with lines, including cross hatching, shapes and repetition, and shadowing or shading. I have created the illusion of texture with lighting – using gobos and angles to cast shadows.

Multiple textures actual and implied

Actual texture can be created by adding material, removing material (think carving or burn out lace) or manipulating material, either in the construction process (like crochet or tatting, weaving or impressing into clay) or with a finished base (like ironing in pleats, gathering or folding).

Layout using textures and vintage photo

Texture added with pleated paper, crumpling and sequin embellishments to the sense of texture created by the differently scaled prints.

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The Elements of Design – Shape

The Second of the Elements of Design – Shape

Shape – the outline of an object. It will have at least height and width, and in three dimensions, depth/thickness. Shape is often defined by line, but also by color, and texture. In a sense, a shape is defined by where it ends.

The simplest shape – the circle – is the foundation of technology – the wheel.

There is positive shape – the space occupied by the object – and negative shape – the space left empty. And there is optical illusion – variations on this famous face vs vase illustration.

Vase or profiles

Silhouettes – distinctive shapes in the absence of detail – can be extremely evocative. Instant shape recognition is something advertisers have long known and taken advantage of, as do graphic artists, logo designers, and the designers of public signage. Fact is humans are hard wired from birth to take note of high contrast simple positive and negative shapes that represent faces.

Shapes

Shape in garments – well shaped garments create shape in bodies, including illusion and enhancement.

Proportion is a factor in shape. The visual meaning of a shape alters with changes in proportion.

Proportions

Shape is important in set design. First the floor plan, dependent on the performance space, is a 2D shape. The floor plan facilitates movement and flow. The elevations might show levels. Set pieces  show the architecture of the set – realism, abstract, expressionist. The shapes may have soft edges and curves, or straight lines and hard angles. Geometry, the science of shape, is important – especially for defining sight lines and the effective wedge (the part of the stage visible from every seat in the audience).

The Golden Mean

This is a magical seeming ratio produces rectangles that are considered to be the most pleasing to the eye, the most balanced and the most restful. It is believed to occur all over the place in nature. It has been called the Divine Proportion. Euclid is known for exploring it, and it is a big feature of Classical Greek architecture.

The actual number of the Golden Ratio is represented by Phi, and like Pi, goes on forever. The mathematical formula is:

.

but for artistic purposes we can approximate the ratio as 1:1.618, so a rectangle where the long side is a little more than one and half times the short side is getting there. (Long side divided by short side.)

Try using a drawing program to draw a pleasing, comfortable rectangle. There will be a moment when intuitively it just feels right. I bet you will be very close to the Golden Mean. Some artists are known for intentionally measuring to use the ratio. However it turns up automatically in all kinds of art because of aesthetic intuition. The proportion looks and feels right.

Looking for Shape

Just as once we started looking for line, it seemed to be everywhere, once you start looking at shape inside art, and appreciating the shape of objects in your environs, shape will be really obvious.

Animal silhouettes

Spend time appreciating the pleasing shapes of your belonging and shapes in nature. Shape is often governed by function – leaves, birds’ beaks, animal’s teeth, teapots. Ergonomics influence shape, how a well designed tool feels in the hand. Look at shapes within architecture. It isn’t all rectangles.

Disney Concert Hall

Fun with Shapes

Play with kids’ blocks. Look at the shadows cast by your towers.

Play with tangrams.

Negative Shape – Space.

One reason people stand with their hands on their hip in photos is to create the negative space under their arm. It breaks up the shape and makes you appear slimmer.

The beauty of an object on a shelf can be better appreciated if the space around it is defined – hence shadow boxes, and bookshelves. Many pictures look better framed with a mat.

In music, moments of silence can give clarity to the next notes. It’s called “phrasing”.

Originally the editing of the penultimate scene from “Casablanca” (1942) went like this.
Captain Renaud: “Major Strasser has been shot. Round up the usual suspects”.

Adding in some space made the moment immortal.

Captain Renaud: “Major Strasser has been shot…”
Rick stares at Renaud.
Renaud looks at Rick, and makes a sudden decision.
“Round up the usual suspects”.

Here’s a quote from Doctor Who:

“Oh, you’ve been eliminating yourself from history. You know you could be reconstructed by the hole you left.” Cyber Doctor, Nightmare in Silver.(Series 7, Ep.12)

The History of Interiors in architecture is the history of shape defining space, and space defining function. But that’s for another time.

Steps

Steps – shape and line

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