I’m almost done with this second painting in the “black pillar” and “white pillar” series. I’ve put a coat of varnish on the inside/right side of the painting, so it will have a bit of a sheen or glimmer to it. I plan to do the same to the “White Pillar” too. I still haven’t decided if either painting needs any texts around time. My original thought was no, now I’m leaning toward “yes”, which means picking those texts and a contrasting color to paint them in.
19 May 2013
17 May 2013
I’m not entirely sure this will work. But here goes. Thanks to Gordon’s recommendation to try out VINE, I was able to produce a trio of short videos today, including this one on the traditional geometry of the Tree of Life. It’s fast, because Vine only allows six-second videos. But it’s kinda cool, and if you watch it a few times, you can probably figure out how the geometry of the Tree fits together. Enjoy!
Update: Apparently you have to go to Vine’s website to view it, because I can’t embed it on a WordPress site. Alas. Enjoy anyway.
16 May 2013
I’m working on this pair of paintings called, appropriately enough, “Black Pillar” and “White Pillar”. They’re pretty much meditations on geometry, with the White Pillar holding three mandalas or roundels (I like roundel better, actually. It’s a more western word.) The three roundels on White Pillar are they in-yang symbol at the top, a square turned on its point in the middle, and two nested seven-pointed stars at the bottom. White Pillar, as a painting, is about 80% finished.
Last night I began laying out the detailed painting guides on “Black Pillar”. This is the bottom roundel on that pillar, a meditation on the number 8, and as you can see, it’s a pair of nested eight pointed stars (one is actually composed of two inter-locking squares) inside an octagon. It’s a considerable change in geometry from 2, and 3, deceptively simple and yet relying on what one learned from the earlier shapes and geometries. It’s an unfolding, of sorts, as larger numbers reveal much more complex patterns and allow greater interactions and relationships.
What does this have to do with tai chi?
Well, daily practice is an unfolding, of sorts. The natural habit of our minds and bodies is to ossify and tighten up, to reject new things, and to limit the adoption of new concepts or new technologies. I’m neither a painter nor a math teacher, nor a martial artist (once upon a time, I wouldn’t have said I was a magician either, but that title is growing on me).
In any case, what’s going on here is an unfolding. The creaks in my body rarely trouble me past the first two or three movements — I’m not reversing the aging of my body, but I’m slowing it down. Many of the creaks and pops that were ever present when I started, are gone.
Unfolding, in this instance, means breaking out of the shell. Letting the egg hatch. Pinocchio becoming a real, live boy. It’s growing up, in a sense. It’s growing out, in another sense. It’s delving deep, or reaching high… Some Christians use the prayer of Jabez, “O God, increase my territory.” And others remember the prophet Isaiah (I think it’s Isaiah), “enlarge the place of your tents, strengthen your cords, lengthen the stakes in the ground.”
A tent is useful only in potential when it’s stored in the bag. A human too tight in his skin is only partially useful. Or strong. Or happy. Or healthy.
I feel that I’m unfolding, these days.
14 May 2013
I’ve been working on and off for a few years on this tall, thin painting. Some of it was learning geometry first. Turns out that heptagrams are kinda complicated. Squares in circles, not so much, but yin-yangs are deceptive — they look easy but there is an undergirding complexity.
The statue at the base is by my friend, Albert Sussler. He’s a much better artist than I am: an American, Japanese-trained, master potter.
Part of me is reluctant to put my painting on display like this, half finished. It’s not done. It may never be done. Oh well — that’s how these things go sometimes. The point is that te artist and the designer are creators, principally. Sometimes teu create work within an existing theme, as here; sometimes they create utterly unique and semi-original works. The artist makes for himself; the designer makes for others— yet both are committed o the core act of making. Of shaping. Of calling something into being.
I had help, of course. Geometry teacher is Andrew Sutton — I learned from his book,
Ruler and Compass. The pillars came from the western mystery traditions by way of English esoteric training in magic, apparently. The paint came from Michael’s supply, the brushes and canvas the same.
Where is your creative power taking you? Or is it just sitting over there on the ground?
19 March 2013
Chances are pretty good that somewhere on your hard drive is an image whose provenance you don’t know. Maybe it’s a picture of a Greek ostraka with a name that looks suspiciously like “Pericles” but you don’t remember where you downloaded the picture. Or maybe, there’s an unattributed statue picture in one of your slideshows for class. Or maybe one of your students doesn’t know the bibliographic data for a picture in her slideshow.
You should know how to find that information. Here’s how.
First, go to Google’s homepage, Google.com. Then find the button that takes you to Google Image. Go there. In the search bar, notice the little icon of the camera. Click on that. Upload the image with the missing provenance data, and search for the photo. My friend Craig was looking for the identification of this goddess — surrounded by crooked Sunwheels, and dogs, and gees, and bullheads. Who was she?
My almost-thirty-year old memory of such things is that this was Geometric ware from ancient Greece, but older than the Parthenon, although younger than the Trojan War. That gave me a window, of call it 900 BC to 700 BC. Turns out that this is from Boeotia, near the ancient city of Thebes (of the seven gates, and the Sphinx riddling to Oedipus on the road). It dates from 680 BC, and she’s a Potnia Theron — a Mistress of Animals, akin to Artemis. The original is in the Archaeological Museum in Athens.
We wouldn’t have known any of this without Google Reverse Image search, a Flickr user named Julianna (thank you!) , and my curious friend Craig.
But now we do.
Reflecting on this, I realized that if I’d wanted to answer Craig’s question fifteen years ago, I’d have had to find an art history library, and slog through books of Mycenaean and early Greek pottery for several hours. Instead, I had an answer in fifteen minutes… and that answer was not dependent AT ALL on what I’d previously known. In college (actually, in grad school) I spent several hundred dollars on books, and probably a few thousand dollars on tuition, in order to learn the basic framework of Hellenic pottery patterns… and in the clutch, twenty years on, I was wrong.
Google was right, and able to construct the knowledge path from the visual image alone, to the etherial data of the photographer, to the more etherial data of the physical location of the object photographed, and to the even more etherial data of where and when the original potter had worked. That’s a bizarre and alien sort of efficiency.
And yet, it’s the core efficiency of the Palace of Memory technique, for example. Your brain is much better at remembering pictures than words, and better at remembering places than abstract information. And it turns out that Google Images is capable of helping you construct those lines of connection between place and image quite rapidly.
And suddenly, the power of images becomes quite clear.
Pretty girl, all made of geometric patterns with inappropriate crooked crosses, geese, a bull’s head and a shaggy dog or two? Boeotian, 680 BC ± 10 years? Potnia Theron, or Mistress of Animals. Sure, I know her. She’s in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens… Why do you ask?
Well, sure I know that. You have to know these things if you’re a magician…
Only, you don’t need to know that. You need to be able to construct the path to that knowledge, but not necessarily what the knowledge is. There may come a time when there will be no Google to call upon. In the meantime, use it. Trace your imagery back to its sources. Learn what the external brain has to say about the images you treasured enough to keep, but not enough to keep the bibliographic data solidified.
You might surprise yourself.
14 March 2013
The eighth grade was writing poems and creating illuminations or illustrations of them, after having read a number of poems by Rumi in a book called The Illuminated Rumi. The idea was that by asking them to think about the visual images in the Rumi poems, and comparing them to the illustrations, they would see how important visual imagery is to the development of poetic language.
Then, of course, they wrote and illuminated their own poems. It was a great little design thinking project — how does a set of word provoke a set of images? How does a set of images provoke a set of words? How can words and images together provoke new feelings?
I didn’t wish to make a poster for one of my own poems, but I figured I’d illustrate one of the poems that I have memorized, “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer,” by John Keats who died in 1827. My deal with the English teacher in question was that I would leave in the pencil guidelines and planning marks, so that students could see my design process to some degree, and have a sense of my construction process. As I described it to her and to her class, the poem is about a book, so the illustration includes a book. On the pages of the book itself are two illustrations which are themselves illustrating the second half of poem. Both of the images are about the astonishment and amazement of discovery of unexpected sights in the natural world, so someone — the current reader, perhaps? — has illustrated the margins of the book with examples of local plants and a dragonfly. The cycle of discovery continues and grows richer and deeper. Thus, Keats’s words inspire SEVERAL layers of discovery: the possibility of delving into the writings of an ancient Greek poet; the willingness to investigate history (the “Cortez” image) and astronomy (“Watcher of the skies”); and finally the natural world and the skill of drawing (the plants in the margin notes of the book, and the poster itself).
I recently said something dumb on Balthasar’s blog which I shouldn’t have said, and I apologize here, publicly… For as I made this poster, I was uncomfortably aware of the degree to which this poem — which I’ve always liked — can be read in another way as part and parcel of a bit of cultural appropriation. Keats’s poem comments on an English translation of an ancient Greek epic, and in the process of describing that work… Keats claims both Homer, and several islands dedicated to Apollo, for the English language and the English-speaking peoples. The astronomer is in one sense gazing upon the sky in wonder, but in another he’s laying claim to the heavens. And Cortez — well. It was actually Balboa who stood at Darien in Panama, and gazed at the Pacific — but the cultural -appropriation (and -destruction) of the power- and wealth-hungry captain of the Aztec conquest should be self-evident.
But I’m not sure I would have read this poem that way without drawing it out first. I needed the opportunity to create the poster before I would have seen the cultural complexities the poem raises. And in good design fashion — the solution to one problem also raises several new problems on its own. As my friend Josh says, “There’s no better or faster way to generate problems than to create a solution.”
We discover things about the world through the thought processes we use to investigate it, and any means that we use to do that — writing, or reading, or drawing, or visualizing, or ritualizing, or glamorizing — will help us make new and deeper discoveries. It’s remarkable the things that we uncover as we go through these processes. As the poet said, “pull a thread, and find the whole world attached to it.”
12 March 2013
In our graphic design workshop on Sunday, the kids designed a bunch of posters that were intended to show kids younger than them how to get rid of monsters — in their closets and under their beds. We eventually added in a section for “witches” too, because one attendee’s sibling is apparently afraid of big, pointy-hatted witches. But this was one of our rough drafts of the poster.
I may have to make this.
We also talked about the importance of planning your work ahead of time, and thinking about the content of your poster. If I had been thinking about it, I would have given them some blocks of text printed out at the standard printer’s sizes — 8, 9, 10, 12, 14, 18, 24, 36, 48, 64, and 72 points — so that they could practice moving blocks of text around, and seeing how much of a page they fill at different sizes with the same number of words….
The feedback from parents has been great. Most parents have said their children loved the workshop. The theme was playful enough, and the workshop wasn’t like school at all, where they had to do things only one way. They had lots of choices, it was ok to make mistakes, and they all heard positive things about their possible designs. Most of the kids developed at least three or four possible designs that they liked, and everybody went home with a radically different poster.
Out of our eight attendees, though, I heard four variations on this conversation:
Kid: My poster isn’t very good.
Me: Why’s that?
Kid: My lines aren’t straight like yours // my letters aren’t as good as yours // my layout is too squashed for the page // my monster is ugly // [insert your reason here].
Me: Well, I’ve been at this slightly longer than you have. Have you thought about any of this before? Lettering? Or whitespace on the page? or penciling your plan first? or making some thumbnail drawings first?
Me: Relax, then. You’ll get the hang of it. This is only the first time. You’ll get better with practice, and by thinking about this stuff.
Kid: (more cheerfully) OK.
And I wonder if this isn’t exactly the attitude that I need to instill in the young artists and graphic designers and creators and builders and designers and makers at my school. They expect all their work to be awesome, right away. They’re used to it being all awesome, right away. Refrigerator-worthy, every time! But in truth, not every design measures up to that kind of standard. Not every design is going to be that perfectly executed. There are always challenges in the arrangement of letters, of symbolism, of graphic elements. And yet, you need to try out a lot of designs before you figure out what works, and what doesn’t. You need mentoring and guidance, and a community of colleagues. You need a guild.
A guild. And I’m thinking this is what I want to do with the Design Lab at my school. I want to have apprentice designers, artisan designers, and _______ designers, where pre-K through 2nd grade are the apprentices, and the artisans are 3rd to 5th grade, and the 6th through 8th grades are the _____________ designers. And we the teachers get to be atelieristas… the keepers of the studio.
One of my colleagues left me a drawing of a panda today. I was thrilled. She loves words, but she’s not so enamored of pictures or drawing. I asked, “what made you try drawing a panda?” She told me that she picked up one of the books by Sachiko Umoto (this is one in the series), and was thrilled to see how easy it was to draw the simple pictures in those books. She told me it was a chance to learn how to draw for her. ”Plus,” she said, “I saw one of our more stressed-out students relax completely while drawing. And I realized, wow, that kid really needs this. And my next thought was Wow, I really need this. And my next thought was, Wow, we as a school really need this.”
4 March 2013
I designed the stage backdrop cloth for our school’s production of “Annie” this spring. With the help of some very capable and wonderful student and parent volunteers, we got my design on the backdrop cloth in record time, and even re-organized the city scape quite a bit. The black and white coloration is supposed to be representative of the old “Annie” comic strips in the newspapers from the teens through the ’30s in the last century. It’s hard to tell from this photo, but while the buildings and the moon are filled in with white paint, the sky is only primed; when backlit, it looks something like newsprint paper, and allows some light to pass through it.
My first backdrop completed. I guess I’m now a theatrical designer.
4 March 2013
I’m teaching my sixth graders the names of the colors in Latin. They have a mini-project to make a color wheel labeled in Latin. Here’s mine, done in acrylic paint and gold leaf. I’m thinking of introducing the Four Beast-Angels: Man, Bull, Ox and Eagle to the corners of this page, and then inking them with the related tertiary colors. What do you think?
27 February 2013
There’s a book in the how-to section of the Design Lab called Making Things Move which contains a whole series of electronics and robotics exercises. And there’s also this other book with lots of electronics exercises called Vacuum Bazookas, which I’ve been experimenting with.
But something that Bill said at the Eli Whitney Museum during my last visit has really triggered me. He said he was using these books as inspiration. Batteries were really expensive, of course, as were electric motors and wire, and soldering opened up all sorts of cans of worms — especially in a risk-averse culture common among parents today. And electronics is a whole set of skills which I don’t yet have (So I dumped most of that problem, in the form of the Make: Electronics book, onto my science-teaching colleagues.)
Yet, as Bill helped me to understand, most of the machines discussed in these books can be built or at least approximated using other methods that don’t involve electrical systems at all — wooden dowels and rubber bands and ribbon and cloth, instead of metal and plastic parts and elaborate gearing systems. (There’s also Mini-Weapons of Mass Destruction, which is awesome for teaching some kinds of mathematics, but also will so grossly upset the culture of my school, I’m reluctant to really use it or push it).
So I’ve been trying that, in part to experiment with Andrew Carle’s point about “breadcrumbs” all over the school — you have to leave things lying around your school that encourage students to come to the Design Lab or Maker Space or Collaboratory or what-have-you… that make them understand that there are mysterious forces at work in the Universe, and that certain kinds of toys celebrate and help unfold that mystery. More