Tag Archives: creativity

Aesthetic Preference – Steampunk/Clockpunk

This is one of my personal favorite Aesthetic Preferences. Steampunk and the visual offshoot Clockpunk have both become very popular and accessible, especially in the form of jewelry and home décor. You know an aesthetic has entered the mainstream when there are a bunch of scrapbooking and papercrafting lines devoted to it!

Steampunk began as a literary sub-genre within science fiction. The original idea was an alternative history where steam power, as it began in the Industrial Revolution, is the basis of technology and industry. For example rather than an internal combustion engine, vehicles would continue to be steam powered. Part of the assumption is that air travel would have developed along the lines of dirigibles rather than fixed wing planes. The early steam ships would have become bigger and more luxurious, instead of diesel engines taking over. Imagine Leonardo da Vinci with the addition of steam engines. Iron is needed for the engines, so it is not wasted on body work – instead there would be a great deal of wood, ahead of aluminum. The first solution to any problem would be mechanical rather electrical devices. The writers started in the Victorian era and moved on from there.

Leonardo da Vinci Spring Device

Leonardo da Vinci – Spring Device

The aesthetic springs from that idea and includes pipes, pulleys, wheel mechanisms, valves, tubes, steamy mists and late Victoriana. The preferred metallics are brass, stainless steel, copper and galvanized iron, or iron with rust. Motifs spring from steam engines including pistons, turbines, and of course clockwork, including keys and all sorts of cogs. On clothing the garments of the Victorian and Edwardian era are embellished with buckles, turnbuckles, grommets and belts. Look for small machines and vials, leather either new and glossy or distressed and worn.

Here’s my current Etsy Treasury of a small selection of the myriad of cool steampunk themed items around. It includes some of the accessory staples, goggles – based on a combination of old driving glasses from nascent automobiles and safety goggles.

Timelady by WolkenschiffRebecca

Movies whose plots are founded on steam powered technology include The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003), Wild Wild West (1999), City of Ember  (2008) and the recent Sherlock Holmes (2009) and sequel. For some nice clock work see Hugo (2011). The presence of steampunk technology in the design was a point of contention in The Three Musketeers (2011).

Literary genre scholars tend to believe that the presence of steam technology in earlier times would have a ripple effect on culture and politics. There are popular forums and academic discourses devoted to it.

However there are more movies where the steam punk aesthetic is present. To find it lurking in classic movies takes some more observation but certainly includes Metropolis (1927), The Time Machine (1960), Modern Times (1936) and The Wizard of Oz (1939). It feels like some of the iterations of Gotham City show steampunk influence. Take steampunk medieval in Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013), and notice the visual motifs in Time Bandits (1981) and Van Helsing (2004). How about the machine in Princess Bride (1987)?

The Machine from The Princess Bride.

Steampunk characters are staples of cosplay. I think it’s because those garments so much fun. And everyone is flattered by a nice corset.

steampunk

Finding Inspiration in Nature – Geology

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I always enjoy the episodes of shows like “Project Runway” when they send the contestants out somewhere, usually with a camera, to find extraordinary visual inspiration. Especially by using a camera, the artists are essentially forced to look at things differently and to notice details.

In past Blasts I’ve written about the idea of taking a walk to jump start creativity when stuck, and I’ve written elsewhere about getting organized and how cameras can help you see things (like clutter) that the eye passes over.

It’s easy when you live somewhere gorgeous to find inspiration in your landscape. When I studied Creative Arts at the University of Wollongong, every painter was initially inspired by two things. First the overwhelming presence of the escarpment, where the cliffs met the coast covered in lush temperate rainforest, was a feature in many first works. Second the prominent industrial landscape of the Port Kembla steelworks, an overt disruption to the skyline and an endless source of new shapes and textures, influenced painters, printmakers and sculptors alike.

These are “macro” inspiration – taking motifs from the wider environment. What about looking closer and finding inspiration in the “micro” visual.

For example consider the beautiful slices of agate and similar stones in the Mineral Hall at pretty much any Natural History Museum. They can be used as inspiration for abstract paintings or textile designs. Crystalline structures form the foundation of many a science fiction story.

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Geology is the study of minerals and the earth.

It is a huge area of study full of specialty disciplines including microscopic studies of elements through to global systems, and beyond.

Here are some useful sites.

http://geology.com/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geology

http://geology.gsapubs.org/

http://www.usgs.gov/

Geology entails investigating landscapes, studying stones and gems, and the formation of soils. It means considering the origin of pebbles, and the movement of tectonic plates. It encompasses paleontology, volcanology and oil drilling. Any of these investigations in the search for new insights would require the kind of creative thinking that allows people to make connections and formulate new theories.

Metamorphosis

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One of the key concepts in geology is the “rock cycle”. The cycle shows the constant flow between different kinds of rock. The processes of erosion, deposits, pressure and heat continually change rocks to sediment to magma to rock. Soil erosion and catastrophes like mud slides or volcanic eruptions happen quickly and visibly. Other changes happen on a grandiose time scale. It takes eons to compress sediments and silts to become sedimentary rock.

In human terms, inspiration or insights may happen in sudden jumps, perhaps impelled by changes in our circumstances. However it takes time and practice for our mindful creativity to grow, spurred by our intentions and desires.

Change, transformation, metamorphosis and cycles – these are the bases of narratives and poetry.

Rock and earth metaphors in language

Metaphors taken from the language of geology abound. The very name we gave our planet is from geology.

Consider “between a rock and a hard place” means stuck between two equally unpleasant alternatives.

Rock and roll may have started considering movement, but geology had to get into the act with the idea of “hard rock”.

People may be “grounded” when they seem sensible or phlegmatic. A person with a short temper may be said to “erupt”.

To “travel a rocky path” speaks to having difficulties in life; to “move mountains” is to achieve that which seems impossible (yet the earth itself moves mountains constantly).

Another movement metaphor: avoid building on “shifting sands” can mean more than just a literal construction but to create a solid “foundation” before moving forward in life – of faith for some; of concept or knowledge in business situations.

We call someone we like “a gem”. A reliable person is “solid as a rock”. Someone inflexible may “stonewall” the discussion.

Irrelevant issues “muddy the waters”. Small instances of poor behavior cumulatively “erode trust”. An overwhelming majority is a “landslide”. A dangerous precedent can lead to a “slippery slope”.

Someone old fashioned may be laughingly a “fossil”, while their attitudes may be “petrified”.

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photo credit: coco+kelley via photopin cc

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

 

 

5 Questions – About your Philosophy

Certain or Seeking?

Here is the next in my intermittent “5 Questions” series. How do you determine you core values, or your philosophy about life? How do you express that in your life? These questions are deliberately vague. They can be facetious or deeply serious.

Your answers can be a few words or essays. If you explore why you felt an answer, it may lead to new insights.  Even if they seem like one word answers, perhaps they aren’t.

1. Where would you rather be?

2. Who are they and what do they want?

3. Are you certain or seeking?

4. What does your work mean to you?

5. Who should take charge?

It’s great to create answers as collages, drawings, sculptures, assemblages and photo montages too.

Have fun!

 

Seeing the Familiar With New Eyes

Buddha head

This week it’s a quick and easy way to jump start creative thinking – looking at the familiar with new eyes.

Our attitudes and beliefs influence our perceptions. This is an idea that is found in different spiritual paths, and in practical psychology. Even the words we use can change our perceptions. We can call something “shabby” or we can call it “comfortable”. We can call something “worn out” when we should be calling it “recyclable”.

Refreshing Your Vision

Artists spend their lives seeing the world around in them in new ways and translating that through their imaginations to a different vision of the world. It’s a skill that can be helped with a few tricks.

Reframe

You’ve seen that cliché of a director holding up his or her two hands to plan the shot. That is a great technique. By framing out some things, you can refocus on what is in the frame.

If you feel silly holding your hands in front of you in the absence of a film crew, a digital camera does the same trick, and btw, will show you clutter more clearly than the naked eye.

Change Your Perspective

Try physically getting into a different space – crouching down, turning the camera to the side, or even looking upside down.

Upside down is especially interesting because it can help you see planes and shapes instead of objects in context.

California Poppies

Try close ups – use a magnifying glass, loupe or macro lens setting to look more closely at familiar things.

If you have only ever read a favorite book in silence, try reading it aloud, or listening to it on tape.

Close your eyes in an environment and listen. Feel textures and temperature.

Isolation

If you ever do any kind of product photography – say for your Etsy store – you probably already have a light box or cyc set up. I use a roll of paper, some clothespins and a wooden chair to create my photo background.

However any kind of place where you can put something to look at it in isolation can help to see different things about it. It’s especially fun to re-examine old things that are special – my mother’s tea set, old jewelry.

Red Cut Glass

Use the Elements and Principles of Design

…to inform your investigations.

If you usually drive one way, take a new route. If you usually drive, try taking a walk. Take a trip on the train. Look for shapes, repetition, color, proportions.

Pause…Be Still

So much of our life is about moving through spaces and being busy with activity. Sometimes what helps most in really seeing something anew is being still and quiet to let our eyes (or ears or hands) roam over what we see.

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This is all about examining things. What’s next? Sketching, drawing, rearranging, seeing connections between objects – each other and their surroundings. This is the beginning of design.

 

Design Principle – Contrast

Contrast image

Contrast is one of my favorite Design Principles because it is completely accessible and so very dynamic. In school you will recall being asked to “compare and contrast” two ideas or opinions. We have an intuitive understanding of contrast as opposites, when we see it. In politics, there is no debate without contrasting opinions. In life, change is contrast happening over time.

In designing, the idea is to use the Principles intentionally to change and effect the Elements of Design. Contrast is all about examining or depicting difference. Contrasts, especially those that are unexpected, create vibrancy, draw attention to the subject. Visual contrast creates interest and contributes to a sense of movement or balance (another Design Principle). Contrast defines edges. Uniformity is the absence of contrast. Incongruity is unexpected contrast.

Contrast does not have mean diametric opposites, however. Just like the Tonal Scale where contrast is inherent in defining it, degrees of contrast are possible. Contrast is always comparative – about the relationship between two or more values. Sometimes the degree of contrast defines a style.

One example is the 1940’s film genre Film Noir. The style is defined today by the deep contrast in tonal values of the visuals – with many deep shadows. Shadows will be cast on characters’ faces, highlighting their emotional duality and ambivalence. The audience is left with uncertainty, since every character seems to be both dark and light. The other part of Film Noir mis-en-scene will be the sense of deep shadows in the distance, much of the action taking place at night, in poorly lit cities. The visual style underscores the drama of the story, often crime dramas or mysteries, and characters’ journeys who often represent the “seamy underbelly” of society, or are engaged in some kind of deceit.

This visual style of deep shadows is known as chiaroscuro in painting, a characteristic of the High Renaissance and Baroque eras, among other periods. Painters and sculptors alike were interested in deep folds, faces looming out of dark backgrounds, and consistent looking light sources.

Shabby Chic and prim styles have an intentional lack of contrast. Blurred edges, faded prints or text, distressing and age. If it’s too white, it’s dipped in tea. If it’s too dark, it’s washed. If it’s too shiny, it’s sanded.

I’ve always been intrigued by Dazzle Painting – a high contrast method of camouflage. The key is distance. In nature high contrast often means a warning.

Dazzle painted battleships

Dazzle Camouflage obfuscates the shape

Let’s look at how contrast works with other Elements of Design.

 Color

Complimentary opposites, the colors opposite each other on the color wheel would be a Dual color scheme. Using three colors in an equilateral triangle is a Triadic scheme, while using four colors from the points of a square is Tetradic. Analogous colors have low contrast in hue, but might have high contrast when tonal values are considered.

What do you want the colors to convey? What ideas or emotions? Are you concerned with beauty and comfort, or challenging discomfort? (You see what I did there…..)

Texture

Triadic/Tetradic “texture schemes” are more interesting than just opposites. The opposite of hard is not just soft, but also spiky.

Too much of the same texture can be overwhelming. In Transformers (2007) it was sometimes tough to tell who was an Autobot and who was a Decepticon, when the two were battling. There was a lack of contrast in the bodies, and limited color palette.

Line

The properties of Line include thickness, degree of straightness or curve, and length. Line defines shape, but so does contrast; for example where two colors come together there is the suggestion of Line. However consider that a line may have blurry edges.

Shape and Space

Shapes may be geometric or organic, vary in size or complexity.

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Mid-century Modern and Danish style of furniture employs a nice tension in the contrast between the simple shapes of the furniture and the space below and around the pieces. For example the height from the floor is an important part of the sense of airiness and definition.

Intentional Design Process – using contrast

Contrast makes things interesting.

  • Define your message – the reader/viewers takeaway – what you want them to think, see, believe or do?
  • How can contrast convey this message?

Writing with Contrast

Contrast is the foundation of much great literature. The contrast between good and evil is the most basic plotline. People say that irony is the foundation of Jane Austen’s work, but the irony is impossible without the contrasts inherent that idea.

Incongruity is the contrast between the expectation and the result. It works especially well in comedy. For example when the reaction does not match the trigger – that’s comedy. (“Nobody’s perfect.”) Interesting characters contain incongruities or apparent inconsistencies. A flawed hero is far more interesting. People sometimes behave inconsistently too. There can be a contrast between their desires or hopes and their ability to realize their potential.

Mismatches between sequential images, or between the image and the soundtrack, foreshadow events, or strengthen the message. The ominous music always cues our concern when the scene is children playing on the beach. Jolly music playing from the radio strengthens the horror of a catastrophe; lyrical music emphasizes the evil of cruelty. One famous example: Beethoven in A Clockwork Orange (1971).

“A Clockwork Orange” (1971) – Stanley Kubrick

Contrasts invite value judgments – that one product is better for your needs, more suitable than another. For this reason, be cautious when considering Contrast to do with real people. Especially your kids.

 

Inspiration from Art – Tramp Art

Tramp Art box

FolkArtisans.com Tramp Art Box

Hobo or Tramp Art is a Folk Art style of utilitarian decorative and functional art objects carved from wood made during the period from the late 1890’s through the Great Depression. Visually the style is characterized by the appearance of stacked layers and repeated geometric motifs, with distinctive V-shaped notches along every edge.

That is because the carving or whittling is the simplest possible method – using a simple pointed blade like a pocket knife with repetitive motions. In most pieces, pyramid shapes predominate, and the artisans also like using heart shapes, especially for gifts for the ladies in their families.

There is some dispute about whether it is correct to use “hobo” interchangeably with “tramp”. Most collectors and scholars challenge the assumption inherent in either name that this work was created by itinerant workers or homeless travelers. Research shows rather that these highly detailed and time consuming practical objects were created primarily by self-taught working class or low income men, using what was available to them, to make gifts and items for use in their homes. Some even consider the etymology of the name Tramp Art to be from the German “trampen” referring to woodworking apprentices in medieval times, who did travel to different masters’ workshops for their artisan education, rather than the contemporary itinerants of the US Depression.

Most of the objects created are inherently functional – boxes or other containers. People are beautifying their everyday items, just as folk quilt makers would combine their wool scraps in pretty patterns in making their functional bedding. The beauty did not add to the functionality, but did enhance the pleasure of use.

The other interesting point is the scale of the pieces. They can be as small as a jewelry box, or as large as a wall mounted armoire. Other common finished items include picture frames, doll’s houses, clock bodies, money boxes and small chests. Vintage tramp art has become highly collectible, and contemporary tramp art is a popular sub-genre of folk art and prim style home décor.

The reason I want to share about this extraordinary art is to focus on the use of the found materials. People making tramp/hobo art are making do with what they can find, primarily wood from cigar and produce boxes. Cigar boxes at the time were made from high quality wood, quite solid but not legally reusable for cigars. Often the pretty motifs from the labels were incorporated into the designs. Sometimes mosaics from broken pottery were also included. The artisans enjoyed mixing different kinds of woods to create striped or shaded effects, and using different varnishes.

They weren’t struggling with labels of creative or not, and probably didn’t consider their own work necessarily as art, but as a craft, easy to learn, inexpensive to practice, and since it involved wielding a knife, no doubt considered manly enough. It would be simple enough to start with a small box and layer notched rectangles each a little smaller on all four sides and the top, and then stack a few more to make legs.

I imagine that once someone starts wood working, enjoying the tactile beauty of the woods, the meditative repetition of the motions, and starts seeing the speed with which an object can become texturally fascinating, it would be easy to become engrossed with the craft.

Here are a couple of gallery sites:

I have a couple of project ideas that I’ll share on Twitter.