An Illustrated Life (reading from Masha B.)

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An Illustrated Life: drawing inspiration from the private sketchbooks of artists, illustrators and designers

I mentioned this book by Danny Gregory at the first day of this class a little bit. And I would like to post some information on it, because it is one of the most enjoyable and inspiring books I've read for the last year.

The book is a collection of drawings that designers, artists, writers, art directors from all over the world made in their illustrated journals. For the most part these journals were not intended to be shared at all, and many of them are very personal, humorous, amusing, enticing, fascinating. "The pages of these book are filled with doorways to private worlds, drawn and written to record impressions, to work without judgment, to take risks and to chart new directions... This is an art form that must be experienced as it was created, one on one just as you are doing now, your head bent over the pages, absorbing each sketch and note, then turning to the next. With each turn, a fresh surprise, a new juxtaposition. The pages unfold like a story, a journey, a life. Each of the books is a slender slice of a life, a slice that could be weeks long or months or years, depending on the habits of the artists and the thickness of the volume. As you turn the pages, you feel the time pass. You see moments being recorded in sequence. You see ideas unfold and deepen. You see risks. Mistakes, regrets, thoughts, lessons, dreams, all set down in ink for posterity, for an audience of one." (D. Gregory, 2008)

Each author tells a short story about how they started keeping their illustrated journals, some of them were doing it since they learned how to use a pencil, others started doing it when they were in their thirties, they all had different reasons for doing it, but they all find it very inspiring and helpful in their lives and work.

"What they [my sketchbooks] turned out to be is the thing that keeps me sane! People need some kind of structure in their life." (James Kochalka, 2008)

"I've always drawn. I can't sing. I certainly can't dance. But I can draw the hell out of just about any silly thing you ask me to. [...] The sole purpose of my sketchbooks is to have a place where I can let out all manner of weird little notions and doodles without having to show it to anyone. Sometimes, these silly little drawings will become ideas for projects, but most of the time they don't go beyond being a quick little drawing." (Noah Z. Jones, 2008)

"My sketchbook is a place where anything goes. It doesn't have to look good or smart or professional. If there is any rule, it's that it needs to be fun and sometimes stupid and silly. I'm not drawing to develop ideas for a particular painting -- there is usually no larger purpose the sketches are tied to. They just live in that simple moment." (Rick Beerhorst, 2008)

Cross medium thinking

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In class I mentioned a TED talk by Nathalie Miebach, who I saw and met at last year's EyeoFestival in June. She creates something like a musical score from weather data, then from the musical score she sculpts the final piece.

Here is the TED talk.

2nd Project -- Masha B.

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I decided to change directions for my second project, and do a short video explaining an idea of the online platform connecting people who want to work on social projects together. The functionality of the platform would allow creating a community of designers, design thinkers and simply caring people around a specific social issue. I thought about working on this platform design in terms of my thesis project.

Also, I used this as an opportunity to create a short animation, which I've never done before, but wanted to do. I learned how to work with Adobe After Effects software, which turned out to be a bit more complicated than I had expected. Also, it was my first try of creating scenario and thinking about the frames sequence. I wanted to use hand-drawn elements to make this video more appealing to designers.

Overall, I consider it as a prototype for the actual video, that I will probably do if I decide to proceed with this as my thesis project. Please see what I've got so far:

And thanks to Gordon for his help with the audio part of the piece!

Project 2: Subconscious Earth

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If the Earth were to dream, what would it dream? And how would we interpret her dreams?

Human dreams are a function of the brain while in a subconscious state during which certain older parts of the brain, such as the brain stem and mid-brain, create stimuli which, in turn, activate higher brain activity in the cortex. These stimuli access memories in non-linear combinations. The two parts--stimuli and memory--weave together into a seemingly nonsensical narrative. However, there remains a connection to reality since the raw materials are rooted in real memories. Freudian psychologists spend a great deal of time interpreting dreams.

A parallel exists within the Earth. We observe stimuli from the Earth as earthquakes, some large, some slight, some originate from very deep within the Earth while others are at the surface. The Earth is actively producing seismic stimuli. There is a memory also, in the form of photographic images captured by a collective humanity and subsequently made available on sites such as Flickr. Many of these photographs are geo-coded, meaning longitude and latitude data are available (in fact, searchable). So matching seismic activity with imagery can be done through longitude and latitude.

My project, Subconscious Earth, attempts to interpret the Earth's dreams through a temporal manifestation of combined imagery resulting from Earth's seismic stimuli: it monitors worldwide seismic data from the USGS and reacts to the earthquakes as they occur by finding Flickr images and meshing the imagery together with recent activity (events older than an hour are forgotten). One image is associated with each seismic event, it's longitude, latitude, magnitude and depth. These four data-points are used in rendering the combination of images to influence opacity & blur, in order to represent these data.

Most seismic activity on an hourly basis consist of very small, sometimes imperceptible, earthquakes. The Earth is forever continuously rumbling, adjusting itself. In response, Subconscious Earth renders a soupy mixture, but if a significant event were to occur, it would stand out in contrast. In effect, this is a real-time data visualization, only its representation is further decoupled from concrete meaning. It is, after all, suggestive of the dream.

The project's source code can be found on Github

Project 2: digital flipbookery

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My second project is essentially a series of eight digital flipbooks. Composed of images layered on top of one another, they capture a series of moments in time, while allowing the viewer to manipulate that moment and thereby feel a deeper sense of involvement with the image. The images are experimental in nature and serve as an exploration of the possibilities of this medium and mode of interaction. They range from lighthearted to eerie, but the goal is to be amusing to the viewer in each instance.

Below are links to the images. Depending on where your cursor is on the screen when they open they might appear blank. Just move your cursor around until they appear. Please let me know if they don't work at all. Otherwise, have fun!









Context and Response

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06-chap.gifThe reading that I'd like to pose this week comes from Brooklyn-based designer, Frank Chimero. I've been a big fan of his work ever since I got the chance to see him speak about empathy and narrative at AIGA's Design Camp a few years ago. I had a hard time choosing the single chapter to suggest from his book, The Shape of Design, since I've found great ideas in every chapter that seem to stick with me in my own practice, but it is free to read in its entirety if you enjoy this article and want to continue on.

Without further ado, I'd like to talk a bit about the chapter regarding Context and Response (

Suggesting that design is always moving, as time and space (or the culture, context, and as a result, our understanding of the problem) shape what is possible, the chapter seeks to redefine the role of design as a means of pragmatic problem solving to a that of contextual inquiry and cultural influence. According to Chimero, "culture changes what it expects from design after design changes culture, meaning that when our work hits the target, that target moves out from underneath it." As a result, ideal design solutions are theoretically unachievable, as the solution we choose to release changes both what is possible and what is expected.

The example of the chairs toward the end of the chapter does a great job of illustrating this notion. "The adjacent possible had expanded in the one hundred years between the first Shaker chair and the Eames' chair," explained Chimero, "which opened up new opportunities to rethink how chairs were made." However, just because Eames' solution expanded on the possibilities of what a chair could be (thanks to advanced in manufacturing technologies) doesn't mean that it would be the preferred solution among Shakers if it could somehow be transported back in time. In fact, the odds are this would not be the case, since the culture and context surrounding chairs at that time required something much more practical and utilitarian. Only by keeping their finger on the pulse of context and culture can designers respond in a way that resonates with their audience. (Unfortunately?) this means that our work will never be done.

Second project: untitled

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As time passes questions, feelings, and confusions arise. Sometimes the experience is about taking a closer look, while at other times one steps back to see things multiply right before their eyes. This piece is more about the confusion than the question; it's about a psychological discomfort in mysterious repetition.

An article about a time-based piece

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Spaces and Places, Buses and Bikes

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2013-04-02 15.04.24.png

Since my second project is all but finished, I thought I'd post it here for anyone interested in giving it a try. For this project, I was interested in producing a piece that might stand on its on in one of the Coffman rooms, while it could be also be digitally augmented in order to provide some additional utility.

I was originally inspired by the real-time tracking data that the campus connectors implemented this year, which is what first clued me in to the use of a map.

My original efforts were focused on transposing that data onto a printed map and the goal then became to tie together the "spaces and places" on campus by highlighting how one might travel to and from each space or place. However, due to the limitations of current augmenting tools, I was unable to get that to work. Instead, I focused on implementing transit schedules since both the campus connectors and metrotransit provide real-time data on that front (that can easily be accessed on a webpage).

I used open source mapping data from OpenStreetMap and Stamen Design (combining their Toner and Watercolor tiles) to tie the map together. But as I mentioned in class, this data was actually pretty bad. A lot of my time went into cleaning up the streets in Photoshop (by referring to Google Maps, which seemed to be much more complete). A couple of those errors can be seen here and here.

A thumbnail of the finished map is embedded below and is linked to the full resolution image. To try out the augmentation layer, download the Layar app, open the map in full resolution, and point the app at your screen.


Matte Shot: Representing 3D in films before CGI

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Matte Shot--a tribute to Golden Era special fx

Matte Shot is a blog dedicated to the classic art of matte painting special effects. Matte paintings are (usually) realistic paintings made of an environment that either doesn't exist, would be too expensive to film in, or is unavailable when making a movie. Most often, a large-scale painting would be made on glass and then the scene in the real world set would be filmed behind it. Sometimes the painting would instead be projected behind the scene being filmed.

Matte painters use three-dimensional projection to create the illusion of depth. William Lidwell, Kritina Holden, and Jill Butler, in Universal Principles of Design (2003) describe Three-Dimensional Projection as "a tendency to see objects and patterns as three-dimensional when certain visual cues are present (p. 194). This lesson is a big part of the Foundations Drawing in Two and Three Dimensions course for GDes undergrads. We teach that designers can create the illusion of space through the depth cues of scale changes, overlapping of forms, linear and atmospheric perspectives, and value

A common complaint of modern movies is the use of Computer Graphic Imagery (CGI) and the appearance of inauthentic spaces. I think that the problem is not the use of CGI but that people are now more aware of the trickery. They know the magic trick, and that diminishes the experience. Most often, I hear this complaint of science fiction and fantasy. However, historical epics and dramas also rely on matte shots, including Citizen Kane, Ben Hur, and Vertigo, and I've never heard a complaint about realism or immersion in those instances.

Spoiler Warning: Below is a matte painting from the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. In the top image the white irregular shape in the middle of the painting is the clear glass portion. In the bottom image an actor with a dolly and the crate is walking on a concrete slab in the real world behind the glass plate.


Star Wars Blu-ray Matte Painting Demonstration
The following video shows a matte painting and then the footage from the film The Empire Strikes Back. Skip to 15 seconds into the video to get past the Blu-ray notice.

Works Cited:
Cooke, P. (2012). The 50 greatest matte paintings of all time. Shadowlocked. Retrieved at:

Connely, B. (2011). Bleeding Cool - Star Wars Blu-ray Matte Painting Demonstration. Retreived at:

Lidwell, W., Holden, K., & Butler, J. (2003). Universal Principles of Design. Rockport Publishing. Beverly, MA.

NZPete (2013). Matte shot--a tribute to Golden Era special fx. Retrieved at:

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