Tag Archives: music

Design Principle – Symmetry

photo credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/cernese/83556851/">cernese</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/">cc</a>

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”.

Design Principle – Unity

Vintage Architectural Print

Unity is the feeling that all the Elements in a design work together. A work of art can be judged as successful through its sense of Unity.

Certainly Unity can be very comfortable. The adjectives for a Unified piece might include pleasing, pretty, sleek, relaxing and beautiful. Unity is easy on the eyes and comprehension.

This doesn’t mean that there is no contrast or that the effect may not be challenging or discomfiting. For example atonal music can feel uncomfortable but has an internally unified structure. Art that is meant to challenge preconceptions or make the viewer feel intentionally off balance, might be intentionally shifting the emphasis between different elements.

John Lovett postulates that Unity between subject or content and medium or realization is even more important than unifying internal elements: “Relating the design elements to the idea being expressed in a painting reinforces the principal of unity.” Therefore Unity expresses the theme.

From Wikipedia: “According to Alex White, author of The Elements of Graphic Design, to achieve visual unity is a main goal of graphic design. When all elements are in agreement, a design is considered unified. No individual part is viewed as more important than the whole design. A good balance between unity and variety must be established to avoid a chaotic or a lifeless design.”

White considers Unity to be the middle ground.

Unity is often detectable by a feeling. Consider the balance in a piece, whether individual elements have a visual relationship, whether the theme and narrative in the design or art work are supported by the Elements or whether incongruities add to the meaning or message.

Unity is the feeling of satisfaction at the end of a great novel, or the catharsis at the end of a wonderful play or movie. It’s the enjoyment of a pleasing gourmet meal where every dish enhances the next, the charm of a pretty garden, the enjoyment of your own special room when you are surrounded by the things you love.

Mother and Child Layout

Mother and Child Layout

 

 

Design Principle – Scale & Dominance

Scale and dominance are about the relationship and ratio between parts within the design. Scale can draw attention to the focal point of a design, which should be the dominant feature or motif. We hear the term focal point a lot when people talk about interior decoration. Scale naturally pairs with Shape, but acts on all the Elements.

On a web page the focal point might be the Call the Action with the words “Click Here” being in a large or bolder font. The question to ask is “where do you want your viewer’s or reader’s attention to go?”

Changes in scale can create the sense of depth. Scale works interestingly with color, where the smallest amount can be the most visible focal point. Dominance can be asserted through point of view and framing.

Scale expressing ideas

Scale expressing ideas

Scale acts on Texture to change it enormously. Texture magnified changes to shape. Scale has to do with filling space comfortably and with balance also. Think of furniture in a room. We recently changed our living room furniture because it was so large that it made the space feel crowded.

Scale is a function of distance – the distance of the viewer from the object.

People speak of the scale of a production in theater – that the set concept fits the space and the gravitas of the script. Spectacle is large scale – epic and thrilling; character drama is intimate and engaging.

photo credit: Thomas Hawk via photopin cc

photo credit: Thomas Hawk via photopin cc

Sparking Creativity by Playing With Scale

Layer and overlap shapes in different sizes for a design.

Look at fractals, where the amount of complexity stays the same regardless of how much the original is magnified.

Fractal

photo credit: SantaRosa OLD SKOOL via photopin cc

Imagine how a small piece, sculpture or painting might work if it were tripled in size. What about if it were miniaturized?

Words – change the size of individual words for emphasis as you journal or make quotation posters.

Scale in music – not musical scales – but the idea that some parts might be louder, more grand or that in an orchestra different instruments dominate the melody line at different times.

 

 

 

 

Design Principle – Repetition

Giant Macramé

Looking out the window at CAFAM

In the past months I have written about the Elements of Design. Now I am starting on the Principles of Design – which may act on all the Elements to create meaning.

For a very nice summary of both the Principles and Elements, I rather like Annie Borges’  two posters. I especially like how her definitions show relationships between Principles. Actually discussing them separately is tough, just as it is hard to discuss Elements in isolation (eg line creates shape).

Repetition is the first I want to tackle, mostly because it is very easy to see and use. Repetition creates texture, rhythm or emphasis. Repetition can alter something completely, and works closely with Symmetry and Balance.

Listening

Think of Repetition in music – the way the chorus repeats, the return to the melody line after a bridge, repetition of lyrics (“She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah…”) that engender enjoyment and participation. Of course repetition can go too far and become silly or boring (“Friday, Friday, Friday….” …etc…)

Poetry – repetition gives rhythm and unity. It helps build the emotion – especially when it is read aloud.

For example in her poems Maya Angelou often repeats phrases in a kind of chorus. I especially love “Still I Rise” for that. Sometimes it is more subtle, within the vowel sounds.

Repetition in Nature

Consider honeycomb, feathers, leaves and fur. Consider atoms. Consider galaxies. Consider genes.

The repetitive work of bees

Repetitions of the same building blocks to create recognizable forms.

Visual Repetition

Rather apropos of this topic, I visited the Craft and Folk Art Museum on Sunday. All three of the current exhibits, as well as the window display of oversized macramé, specifically referenced Repetition as an important aspect of the works.

19,275 Stamps

Part of Shirley Familian’s exhibit

First I was thrilled by Shirley Familian’s Stamp Art, where she uses multiple postage stamps to create repeating patterns. The images on the stamps themselves become subsumed by the overall pattern, but still invite close examination. I read that she catalogs and counts all the stamps that she uses. Some of her work resembles mandalas, while others are witty because of the underlying object.

Lipstick on Your Collar by Shirley Familian

Lipstick on Your Collar by Shirley Familian

Upstairs the exhibit Displacements: The Craft Practices of Golnar Adili and Samira Yamin intentionally explores “repetitious gestures” and “the repetitive labor that both artists employ”. They use pinning and stitches taken from art quilting with photographic images to build very thoughtful works. One of their interests is Ayeneh Kari – or Persian Mirror work – using multiple tiny mirrors in the decoration of Iranian buildings. Mirrors symbolize hope in the Iranian culture.

Finally a retrospective of mixed media artist Timothy Washington’s body of work showed repetition in his use of motif, material and forms, as well as recurring themes about the body and race.

In all of these exhibits Repetition was more than just a tool for expression, but one of the most integral parts of the works.

Using Repetition

A single shape may be repeated to create a texture or pattern. A whole image may be repeated to create a Warhol. Repeated images or elements in a design become a motif. Another way to include repetition is to have multiples of the same shape but in different scales.

In a composition, balance is often created with repetition of color, especially in a triangle.

Pieter Breugel – The Peasant Wedding. c 1568

Knitting and crochet create a whole design by sequential repetition of stitches. I find the repetitive movement of crochet and loom knitting to be soothing and meditative.

Repeating lines create shadow and density. Engravings depend on repeated lines.

Repetition as Action – Practice

In most creative endeavors, the repetition of practice helps us improve our ability to express our creative thinking. Most things get easier with practice, and we hope get better too.

As with so many of the Elements of Design, and now the Principles, once you start looking for them, they appear everywhere.

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Expressing Creativity – Reimagining/Mash Ups

Mixed media canvas

One of the hallmarks of Post Modern arts practice is appropriation – in homage, tribute or critique – of other art pieces in similar media. It goes beyond merely being influenced by another artist’s work. Rather appropriation is about the creation of meaning in your piece, with added layers for interpretation.

Mashing works together is knowing and intentional. Absolute acknowledgment of the source is essential for the meaning, and prevents this from being plagiarism. It is assumed that the audience – reader, listener, viewer – will understand, or come to understand, the source material also. There is a delight that arises from recognition.

It’s very noticeable in music – dance mixes sampling snippets from other songs, music styles or dialogue. I remember when rough mixing on the fly, using multiple turntables with vinyl records and adding in scratch riffs was brand new – in the dance clubs that superseded disco in the early 1980’s.

Part of the enjoyment is recognition, when you grok the source material and get the reference. The score of the Die Hard movies is an example where the insertion of light-hearted themes from classical music or movie musicals (“Singing in the Rain”) skews the action movies towards humor.

Lady Gaga is another artist whose work, especially her music videos, is full of references to pop culture (eg classic movie images and female archetypes) as well as initiating, grabbing and expanding on pop trends. For example the use of “anime eyes” – overscaled cosmetic contact lenses out of the Kawaii/Harajuku trend in Japanese teen/young adult culture. Lady Gaga used computer generated assistance to recreate the look in her video.

Here are some ways to use appropriation and create mash ups:

Memes, and image re-captioning: most social media memes are satire, irony, and sometimes biting social commentary.

Collage and paper craft: scrapbookers are masters of mash up – combining textures, images, and ephemera to tell both their memory story and create beautiful visuals. Collage is mixing images from multiple sources, creating relationships between the visual elements. Try using materials (like scrapbooking papers) in a different way from the usual.

Re-imagine a cultural icon: Create your own take on a famous painting or familiar photo using a different or changed medium. The many recognizable iterations of Mona Lisas or the Warhol style portraits are examples of this.

Reimagining Methods

Found object art: I love work using found objects to create sculptures. They can be so clever and ingenious. This is a loving way to use vintage objects and ephemera.v

In home decorating, a trend is to make a grouping of objects made different with a single surface treatment.

  • One example is the gloss white spray paint technique, which works equally well with other single colors.
  • Another is the fun trend of decoupaging with pages of text from old books.

Appropriate an image as a background for collage or shadow box framing – especially using filters to alter the colors (try sepia or black and white) and the texture.

Photograph two unrelated objects, placed in a vignette. Or use randomness to help you. Combine an image from a random wikipedia entry with a randomly selected page from a magazine.

How I design upcycled projects – scroll down.

In writing reimagining is often adaptation. Writers adapt books to film or theater, making changes that are more or less appreciated.

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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.

 

Aristotle’s Emphatic Dramatic Values

Nail Fence

When I was in college we learned about art criticism using these five emphatic dramatic values, interpreted from Aristotle’s writing in his Poetics, where he discussed poetry, theater, and music. He wrote of six values, including one called  “melos” or melody relating to the Chorus that was so important a part of Ancient Greek Theater.

His belief was that art works contained all of the values in different degrees of balance, but that especially for Tragedy Plot was most important followed by Character. He placed Spectacle at the end of the list. Rather than assign a judgement to the relative importance of each Value, I prefer to use them as tools that help me to understand a work as a whole, including defining genre. It is how the Values interact that ends up defining the worth of an undertaking or project.

In looking at each of these values, rather like the Elements of Design, it’s useful to consider the Principles of Design in reference to them –  Balance, Unity, Progression, Symmetry, Contrast, Harmony, Dominance, Repetition. Each can apply within a value, as well as how the values relate to each other.

In no particular order the Values are:

  • Spectacle
  • Plot
  • Language
  • Character
  • Theme

Dramatic values poster

The Values are so interesting to use for dissecting and understanding all kinds of works of art – and they work especially well when examining or critquing film.

Under the banner of spectacle – the visceral enjoyment of action, the art direction, the emotional sweep of music.

The plot or story – how the narrative engages us, perhaps surprises. Twists and turns, or a logical progression.

Language – how words are used. Simple or rich and melodic. The importance of dialect. How language reflects time as well as place. Poets focus on this value. Shakespeare emphasized language, by intentionally using Iambic Pentameter. 

Character – the participants of the story, their motives, their history, their interactions. How we identify with them, or not. Portrait painters investigate character.

Theme – the meaning and importance of a piece. The moral of the story, or the absence of a moral.

The Values as Inspiration

As an artist moving forward with intentional design, it is just as important to be aware of the Values as it is to be aware of the Elements of Design. Much of this is obvious in considering screenwriting – but there are equivalents in all kinds of artistic endeavor. For example, consider the “Grammar of Ornament” by Owen Jones –  elucidating the language of visual design.

Sometimes the values are easier to see in failure. I’m sure we are all familiar with a movie that is all spectacle (eg special fx) without much substance or story, or books where the author is so involved with his own use of esoteric language that the characters are unknowable.

Personally I don’t enjoy atonal music. It seems to me it all about using the stripped back language of music, with mathematical precision as the overriding theme, at the expense of the spectacle of an emotional range or any story. It doesn’t take me anywhere, but I know other people love it.

Sometimes a piece isn’t working out, but we can’t put our finger on what’s wrong. Examining the Emphatic Values might winkle out the problem.

In planning your project, you can list the Values and plan how you will realize each, as well as determine the emphasis of each one.

  • How will you incorporate or show each Value?
  • How will this affect the other four values?
  • Will this make the piece feel unbalanced?
  • Is it worth it for the pay off for the audience/reader anyway?

Here’s an exercise:

Take a simple, familiar personal story, such as a family memory or recent event. Maybe it’s the same old story that your Uncle trots out at every Thanksgiving dinner that starts with “Remember when…” Maybe it’s a story that you haven’t thought to retell – how you met your beloved, or how you chose your pet, or the time when something different happened at a familiar place.

What happened? Consider how it might be told with each of the Values emphasized, and played with. If you normally tell it in straightforward prose, try turning it into poetry, or a series of single emotive words. Draw it, collage it. What if it were told like an action sequence in a movie? what if the setting were described or illustrated in great detail? What if it were seen as illuminating the character of each participant in turn? If you were to set each moment to music, what would you choose? Now choose something entirely different. Instead of telling the story, show how the story illuminates your family values or philosophy.

It’s not a short exercise, is it? But it could be a valuable one. You might come out with any number of different art or written pieces just from one event. You might gain new insights to your own reactions, or to how other people might be experiencing the same event.

Let me know in the comments if any of you choose to take this on. I’d love to see the results. Remember to follow me on Twitter!