Sunday, 5 December 2010

Saturday, 4 December 2010

New Links

Take a look down the right hand column to find a new list of design and art history web links.

Try the following first:

Shop: Bonjour Mon Coussin
Photography: Kasu
Design: Outrepart
Design: SolarBeat

www Matilda Saxow

One of my tutors at uni. Some inventive book design and layouts – her work seems to make use of no more than what's essential. The Grafik editions are stunning but I think the way she uses space in the Man&Eve books makes the best of the work featured within.

Friday, 3 December 2010

www StrandBeest


Cracked articles on Art

I recently found the following articles on American humour site – very funny stuff. Don't pay too much attention to the part on the Last Supper though: the original painting was a mess of smudges and blurs according to Vasari, who saw it only 50 years after its creation. What's shown today is the reproduction of the painting by other artists.

www Smart History

This site is great, if not for taking part in the discussions, for browsing through the various pages and dipping in and out of some of the more well known works of art throughout history. The design is quite well done too - very handy timeline, loads of immediately accessible pages.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

The Montefeltro Conspiracy - Marcello Simonetta

For anyone interested in Renaissance Italy, add this beauty to your bookshelf - The Montefeltro Consiracy.

I'd read quite a lot about Renaissance Florence before I came across Federico da Montefeltro - it was actually a portrait by Pedro Berrugete that I saw of him (first image below) that caught my eye (...a pun for later). I'd seen Piero della Francesca's painting (second image below) long ago and knew very little about it. I assumed it was of some Italian scholar or another, never knowing he was actually a battle-hardened condottiere. Seeing Berruguete's portrait, I'd managed to make the link back to della Francesca's work and saw it in a totally new light. For instance, if the man's face was depicted from the other side, we would find him missing an eye - the result of a jousting accident and the reason why the bridge of his nose is almost horizontal (a little DIY to his face improved his vision with that lonely left eye).

The book itself is a beautiful one - embossed lettering on the cover and the inner pages left untrimmed. The literature surrounds the assassination attempt upon Lorenzo 'Il Magnifico' de Medici; it includes lots of images that I've seen in no other books on the subject and, although they're in black and white to conform to the book's design, they really offer a valuable resource on a quite specialised subject.

Filippo Negroli's Armour 02

Among Filippo Negroli's more prestigious customers were the Emperor Charles V and the dukes of Urbino, Francesco Maria I and Guidobaldo II della Rovere. Filippo's brother, Francesco, was highly skilled in damascening - a process of decoratively inlaying metals into the armour; he often did this in gold, favouring acanthus foliage patterns for the most part of his designs below.

Interestingly, you can see, in the miniature portrait of Guidobaldo II della Rovere below, that the armour he had Negroli produce for him (which is also featured in my last post on Negroli) is included in the background, proudly put on show for all to see. Seemingly, the armour is recorded very little as far as whether it was used or not - but to find it included in his portrait tells us it was of great significance to him.

Although the foliage designs on the works below are incredibly eye-catching, I find they lose their value when we learn the meaning or function of the illustrations. They act as a sort of secondary feature to the actual form of the armour, which is why I find that the more 'pure' (or 'simple') ancient Roman armour that would make more use of the human form itself and rely less on symbolism or motif, seems to function in a different way - something I might address at a later date.

Armour for Guidobaldo II della Rovere, 1532-35

Charles V's Masks Garniture, 1539

Armour for Dauphin Henry of France, 1540

Friday, 26 November 2010

www tangent

I came across an excellent website by a design studio in Glasgow and the US, Tangent.  Their website is actually a good demonstration of how grids work (it makes the grid lines visible to the viewer) and some of their portfolio is stunning. I really admire intelligent work like their 'bar on seven' identity. I didn't see any pictures of lanky designers holding up posters either, which is good!

Sunday, 24 October 2010

www Three Pipe Problem

Here's a great blog I found recently for anybody interested in renaissance Italian art history. If you scroll down the page you'll find a list of various artists and topics that have been posted about in the past. The list itself is a good overview of what the blog covers.

It's an invaluable resource packed full of videos, images, interviews, suggestions for further reading etc. The writer is also really extremely helpful if you ever enquire about anything on the blog.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Student Fair project

Recently at work, I've produced a flyer and a 'pull-up' display panel for our company stand – which will be/has been set up at three different student fairs that are currently taking place. Unfortunately one of the fairs was arranged very poorly by an external agency and we therefore had very little luck getting students' interest.

Designing something as large as the pull-up (about 7ft tall) was a new experience for me and, although I tried a photographic version of it, I thought it  best to stick to a vector-based design. Also, I think it gives the flyer a little more effect if it includes something that the pull-up does not (the photography).

I was quite pleased with the icon I developed out of the heart and the question mark. After a bit of thinking, we decided the resounding point of the design should be to propose 'care' to students ('are you the caring type?'). So the icon sums that up with the context its given by the text.

You'll also notice, looking at the two sides of the flyer, that I had to doctor the photograph slightly to allow the text to sit where it needed to - in front of the smiley girl's face. So, as sad as I was to have to paint her out, she had to go. This is something I've learned just from looking at other design in the environment – there are ways of controlling images so that they don't conflict with your text, like semi-transparent panels, solid colours, cropping etc. In other words, I found the girl's face was obscuring my text and that, ideally, the background for the text should be a solid colour. That area of the photograph was already dark so I decided I could extend the black and get round the problem that way.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

www Devendra Banhart

Check this website out - very original. I found Devendra Banhart on iTunes as I was on a music-browsing-sprint one day. Bought his album, then heard the line 'there are so many little boys I wanna marry' and got worried I'd found gary glitter's sidekick, but was enlightened by an online interview in which he claims he wrote those lyrics just to screw with people.

I didn't get beyond the kaleidoscope on his website so I wouldn't know what else is on there, if anything. I recently finished another design project at work so it'll be posted very soon.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

www movie clips

Another mini post to fill the void while I find the time to write a proper one. I found this site accidentally but it's great - lots of opportunity to remind yourself of your favourite movie moments. I was really happy to find 'Peed on my rug' from The Big Lebowski on there – peed myself laughing the first time I saw that (you need to watch the film to see it in context though!).

Sunday, 1 August 2010

www Cracked

I've followed this website for a couple of years now. The articles they write on there are always really interesting, random and funny – something to read in your spare time.

Proportion: Richard Padovan

Proportion: Richard Padovan — Part 1

I've been trying to get through this book so that I could put up a single post about it but it's 370 pages of detailed information that I think will warrant at least five posts! As I'm almost half way through, I thought I'd mention a few points that Padovan, the writer, has made thus far. Padovan, incidentally, was/is a lecturer at Bath University only a few miles from Bath Arts Uni campus that I attended (so I'm a bit annoyed I didn't find this book then).

The book is, as I say, packed full of really insightful points made by the author and those architects/mathematicians etc he quotes. The following will resemble a bullet point list, unfortunately, until I get my head around it a little more. I can see a mass network of interlinking bits of information coming together from what I read about proportion; architecture; modern researchers like Hambidge, Wittkower and Ghyka; Renaissance architects and painters like Leon Battista Alberti, Vasari, Brunelleschi; the Florentine writers – Ficino, Mirandola, Poliziano; right through to Plato, Plotinus and so on; and then there are all of the lesser related, but significant, subjects like 15th century Poland, the Hungarian Empire, Renaissance Milan and the Academies, Alois Reigl and Nietzsche (whom I also found while writing my dissertation on the Vienna Secession). I began to learn about proportion as an aid to my design work, but I've found more and more than it is intrinsically linked to my other interest – Renaissance Florence/Italy.

Early on in the book Padovan brings up the question of whether proportional systems are to be applied first, as a sort of code of conduct, or last, as a corrective device to improve what has been done up to then. Either way, there are questions to be asked about the process. For instance, can proportional awareness create a monotonous feeling in works? Can it void all sense of talent if used well? What do we mean by talent? Is talent necessary/important? Gustav Fechner proved that the majority of people he chose preferred, out of a large group of rectangles (and a square – being a 1:1 rectangle), the one whose sides followed the Golden Proportions 1:618. Others chose either a rectangle very similar to the Golden Rectangle or the square. What, then, does talent mean with regard to proportion?

Padovan goes on to consider Le Corbusier's/Alberti's idea of the relevance of proportion (in architecture) where the eye cannot see it (in graphic design, this may be a proportional system working very obscurely, in some way). Considering we cannot see, and do not yet understand, all of the universe, we are to assume it is all based on some binding mathematical principal. So their argument is to continue what we assume occurs in the universe by applying an overall principal of proportion to whatever we put into the universe. What is the point of proportion where we can't readily see it? The book says 'the eye of God' but I have a problem with that, if it means the common religious God. Were it to mean the eye of Ficino's idea of the soul, I could agree. In simpler terms, we (I hope) wouldn't feel comfortable tidying a house by taking everything that was out of place and throwing it into a cupboard somewhere. That messy cupboard might rest on our thoughts and give us a guilty feeling. Someone might open it and your reputation as a good housekeeper may collapse! I think this is what is meant in the book by 'the eye of God'. At least, that's how I'd argue for the need to tie every part of a design into its proportional context.

Proportion: Richard Padovan — Part 2

An interesting point made by Hans Van Der Laan: 'The space of nature has three aspects that leave us at a loss…. The sheer fact that we refer to natural space using negative terms like 'immeasurable', 'invisible', and 'boundless' indicates that it lacks something for us. We do not feel altogether in our element within it. Architecture, then, is nothing else but that which must be added to natural space to make it habitable, visible and measurable.'  Something to consider, but I couldn't disagree more with his conclusion. Why do so many people like to 'retreat to the countryside'? I've heard many more people use the word 'beautiful' to describe most parts of nature. If it were beautiful we're saying we need add nothing to it but that which sustains us. Furthermore, it is of nature that we build in the first place. Also, how often do we hear people around the Eiffel Tower saying 'wow', 'incredible', or the French 'incroyable'! (Fun to say). These terms may begin with the prefix 'in' but are not negative – we are praising it and saying how it cannot be believed/measured/understood. And yet, in a previous post, I have already shown the Effiel Tower to be measurable by Phi.

This is why it is so useful to stop ourselves from using interjections like 'wow' and run-of-the-mill adjectives like 'amazing' or 'fantastic' when we see something we like. Next time you see something you 'like', stop and think about it. What caught your eye? The colour? Size? Shape? Message? Idea? Then ask yourself why. It must relate to other things (like objects, or your experiences): what are these things and how does it relate? Answer all these questions honestly and you may find yourself understanding that which, at first, was an allusion to you. I suppose it's similar to how some people fall in love, thinking so highly of one another, only to end up sick of each other a few decades later, after they each know/understand their partner as best they can.

I can't remember why but Van Der Laan's comment made me think about the saying 'it's not what you do but how you do it'. In learning about proportion, it's very easy to start believing this saying, as it relates to Padovan's early comment on whether proportion systems negate talent. If 'how' were all that mattered, 'talent' could be meaningless. Some Renaissance artists have said that the Golden Proportion is not the conclusion of art, but the beginning. It is, according to them, not as simple as creating a pleasing composition. I'm sure the typographer, Jan Tschichold, would agree. Meaning affects composition, and vice versa. If 'how' were all that mattered, does it mean that the work of Dante Alighieri, who was well received because he wrote in Italian with masterful ability (rather that the less practical Latin), loses some of its original merit when translated?

Van Der Laan is again quoted: 'Breathing begins at birth with an inspiration and ends at death with an expiration; so too when we make something we must conceive the influence of forms upon our mind as the initial life-giving movement'. Padovan explains that this is a description of how we operate when building/making. I read it as meaning that whatever we can build or create will be a model of what we have taken in from the world and put together in our mind. This forms one side, anyway, of the narrative that runs through Padovan's book; the tussle between 'empathy' and 'abstraction'. 'Empathy' is the argument that knowing is belonging – what we do we take from nature. What we put into nature is already found there in another form. There are limits that come with the empathetic stance; we are only as advanced as nature allows us to be. 'Abstraction' is the opposite extreme whereby human beings have the ability to operate independently of nature and our architecture etc is imposed upon it; for example, the square, accord to supporters of 'abstraction' is not found in nature. I think there may be another question to it; does nature not include the human mind? Where does nature end and living organisms begin? Surely the human mind and its capabilities are part of nature. A square, then, is conceivable, and part of nature. After all, nature does not end with what we see. 

I recently read something written by Marsilio Ficino, a Florentine during the Renaissance, that may add to this: 'Do you desire to look on the face of good [not God]? Then look around at the whole universe, full of the light of the sun. Look at the light in the material world, full of all forms in constant movement; take away the matter, leave the rest. You have the soul, an incorporeal light that takes all shapes and is full of change. Once again, take from this the changeability, and now you have reached the intelligence of the angels, the incorporeal light, taking all shapes but unchanging. Take away from this that diversity by which any form differs from the light, and which is infused into the light from elsewhere, and then the essence of the light and of each form is the same; the light gives form to itself and through its own forms gives forms to everything.'

A further point that Pandovan touches on, and the final one I'll mention here, is the need to combine unity and complexity to create 'true order', where 'unity' is a constant and 'complexity' is an unexpected outcome. For instance, to work with irrational numbers like 1.618 is to give 'complexity' to the 'unity' of the number 1. Combining a rational number like 2 with the 'unity' in 1 is not a method of true order. Jay Hambidge puts the two outcomes down to 'static' and 'dynamic' symmetry; irrational numbers will create unexpected outcomes in proportion systems, like Phi, and are therefore the creators of a 'dynamic' symmetry. Rudolph Wittkower, similarly, puts the two distinct methods down as the 'geometrical' and 'arithmetical'. This idea of unity with complexity can be found in other formats though; even just to look at the decorative elements in Renaissance armour, as shown in a previous post, we find 'unity' in the fact that the illustration sits upon a central mirror axis and 'complexity' in the actual content of the illustration.

I did read about Van Der Laan's recording of the 'plastic number' and have found that I came across it myself by accident in a previous post. I didn't know it was so significant at the time but I'll have to repeat the post and add into it what I've read in Padovan's book. So, more to come on this, for sure.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

My first piece of published design

Well I kept my word, and here it is; I put this together for the company I work for as a back-page advert to a regional care guide publication. It'll run for a year, I think, and I had quite a lot of other work to do at the time so I was quite pleased I got something together.

I learned a bit about how difficult it can be to get the design process right when you're not working with other designers. I'm a big believer in getting the message and content very clear for what you want before you design anything but, of course, we can't always expect non-designers to understand that or the reasons why. The logo itself was done by another designer who was freelancing for the company before I was brought in to keep the brand in place and make sure it was being maintained. Anyway, just looking forward to seeing it in print now.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Filippo Negroli's armour

I've yet to put together anything worth blogging about so I thought I'd show you some pretty pictures from a book I got recently. (I'll post my recent advert design from work at some point).

Although the original 15th century Milanese armourers were the Missaglia family, the Negroli name surpassed its predecessor in both fame and prosperity, most likely because of the pleasure that Charles V of France took from the immensely detailed and finely worked crafts of the family.

15th century Italy was strongly affected by France – their stocky war-hardened knights and fearsome canons saw much of Tuscany and the surrounding regions when Cesare Borgia and his father, the pope, were unfolding their power-thirsty designs. The friendly relations between France and Florence are alluded to by the fact that the Medici coat of arms included the Fleur de Lis (above the 'palle'/balls). It was said that the Italians knew nothing of war and the French knew nothing of politics; this seems true if you consider that, at the time, the tyrants in Italy were Spanish, Swiss and French, and men like Machiavelli and Savonarola did so much through words.

I've yet to actually read in detail about the armour shown here and cannot offer any insight beyond saying that the first image looks, to me, as if Milan had its very own H.R.Giger to impress the masses and engross the powerful. I recently read something on proportion in aesthetics that I thought might be apparent in the armour here; it is the confluence of unity/order and complexity that results in beauty. Looking at Renaissance armour you can see this in action. The last image below demonstrates this aptly – it's immediately recognisable as a mirrored image so the 'order' is there, and the complexity of the illustration itself adds to the impression made on the viewer (which, the maker would hope, is one of awe).

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Female readers: a question for you

John Berger, in the book 'Ways of Seeing', gives quite a general description of the presence of a man, and that of a woman. I found it quite a bold argument to be making and wondered if you'd like to tell me how very wrong or right he is.

Berger's description of a woman's social presence is that she is always accompanied by an image of herself – in effect, she has two views of her life; a view from her own eyes and the imagined view that others will have of her. It sounds almost like a split personality; a woman might be going about a menial task but, in her mind, she is going through all of the ways she may be perceived by bystanders: criticizing herself here, praising herself there.

According to the author, men survey women before interacting with them in order to understand how they should be treated. This is the main difference he points out: men exert onto others, and women control how they are treated themselves – men view women, and women view themselves. Apparently it is the woman's tendency to survey herself in the first place that gives her some control over how she is treated by men. He claims that most actions of a woman are therefore accompanied by a purpose – to provoke others to treat them/act/react in a certain way. So, dare any female reader agree?? Do you often feel eyes on you? If so, Berger would argue it is your own way of protecting yourself. Leave a comment if you like.

I can understand why Berger makes this argument; I've heard plenty of male songwriters singing about a woman – how they see her, what they want to do for her etc. I think there are much fewer female songwriters who have written about a man in the same 'active' way; in fact I think modern society still, unfortunately, sees the 'wanting' of love as passion in men but desperation in women.

Another example to back his claim would be the long history of nude paintings. Nude – not naked – because 'nude' suggests the outer shell of a naked person. It's a state of mind in the model that blocks the viewer from 'stealing' anything from them. In painting the male view of the female (who, in turn, sees herself in the viewer's eyes) is commonplace and rarely do we see such a treatment of male models, unless it's an image of Narcissus and his river, say.

Images to feed your thoughts. Try replacing the women with men in your mind.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Lorenzo de Medici

Here's a great print I came across recently on the British Museum's website. It's by Giorgio Vasari, a painter from 14/15th century Florence who wrote biographies on the most significant artists of the time. It's a portrait of Lorenzo de Medici, and the same image was originally a painting.

Lorenzo was probably the most well known of the Medici family, who were the rulers of Florence (on and off) for centuries. His support of the arts and of education put him in favour with the majority of Florence and gained the name 'the magnificent' for these qualities. He brought Michelangelo Buonarroti to live with his own son and sent the two on to university. Da Vinci, who was almost the same age as Lorenzo, was apparently more or less ignored by the Medicis - perhaps because of his awkward relationship with Michelangelo, or because Lorenzo resented his ability to build a life for himself out of more or less nothing.

Lorenzo may have supported the arts but he wasn't exactly a pacifist; he was severely brutal with his adversaries – especially those who attempted to assassinate him and his brother (and managing only to finish half of the job, leaving Lorenzo wounded but alive). The offending Pazzi family members were run down by mobs, torn to pieces in the streets,  castrated and dragged by horses, defenestrated and humiliated. Then again, brutal times.  Very interesting character to read about; art, politics (war and murder) and intellect.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Map of Italy

I'm thinking of drawing a map of the UK for the office at work – people in my department could do with one on the wall.

I thought I'd see how difficult or time-consuming it might be by doing a simple one of Italy (for myself). It's quite a cool little design task because you can do it a number of ways (dots/squares/lines/typography(??)) and you learn the geography almost by accident. Vatican City looks like a little scar on the face of Lazio but I felt it should probably be included!

It's a little annoying having so little time to write my blog these days (I usually do some work first, and then write about it). Still, I might be able to upload the work I do for my employer at some point (I'm currently finishing an advert for them).

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Daily Telegraph Typeface

I noticed this typeface in the Daily Telegraph the other day – really like the stroke on the ‘r’ and ‘y’ (not easy to end the strokes on serif typefaces), and the ‘t’ has an interesting crossbar to it. I have a feeling this typeface was made especially for the newspaper, as I've been unable to find it online.

The T

The last time I played around in Illustrator I learned more about the fact that to draw a good piece of lettering it seems more productive to consider the space around it rather than the object itself. I'm still working on this one; I want to experiment more with stroke weights and what sort of contrast in line is best for readable lettering.

Eiffel Phi

Hmm. Thought so…

Barbara Bonney

17 May was my last post?! Ouch. Sorry for the long silence. My new job still takes the wind out of me. I'll have to start organizing my time more.

Anyway, just want to share some cool music I got recently. Before I do, I better clarify that I  listen to a huge variety of music but might as well not talk about the mainstream predictable stuff on my blog.

I bought Fauré's Requiem by The Boston Symphony Orchestra but found two other 'bonus' songs on the album that I really liked – ‘Aurore Opus 39 No.1’ and ‘Le Secret’ by Barbara Bonney and Warren Jones. Great piano melodies in both.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Max Kurzweil

One of my favourite paintings – Max Kurzweil’s Lady in a Yellow Dress. Not the usual pose you might find – it looks like a momentary lapse in a party…. There’s a sense of ’Japonisme’ too if you list the features: tied black hair, pale skin, some floral decorative element. I admire the theoretical simplicity of it – at such an busy time in art,1899, when the Vienna Secession was in full swing, and Klimt and Moser were at the forefront of innovation, cool Max Kurzweil makes such a beautiful portrait and adds nothing of the decoration found in so much of Klimt’s work, as it might distract us from his model’s patient gaze. Though, the way she’s cocked her wrist, I don’t think she was that patient.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Phi in the face of beauty

The discussion on the relationship between Phi and the concept of beauty is an old one – and I doubt we would be brave enough to make any conclusion about it in the near future. It’s a somewhat worrying concept to many people: the idea that a number may be behind all that is considered beautiful; that beauty is not subjective, not a case of each to their own. Because Phi is arguably rooted in all nature, it could be that we decide something is beautiful because we have seen its proportions a million times already – and we like familiarity.

I have seen examples of Phi applied to the human face before and it is apparently a champion female tennis player whose face was most commonly used. I’m interested in the role of Phi in beauty though – and if I think of the most popularly beautiful person in recent history, I think of Marilyn Monroe.

I should explain as usual, for any readers unfamiliar with the subject, that Phi is simply a number (1.618) to be used to make proportions by the ratio 1:1.618. It’s also known as the Golden Section or Golden Ratio.

The images below speak for themselves. Look for yourself and all of the ways the lines complement the face. The significance here is that one number, Phi, is behind the relationship of every single pair of lines drawn. By mostly using the measurement between Marilyn’s chin and hairline I have drawn out the golden rectangle and divided it by the proportion 1:1.618. All of the lines below are proportional by that ratio and yet they play to Marilyn’s features incredibly accurately. Even the curve of her hair follows the pink Golden Curve when it spirals from her eye. She must have had a good stylist.

The penultimate image below tries squares as its marker. I began with one whose centre would be Marilyn’s eye and whose edge would touch the base of her chin. Then, reducing in size by 1.618, the squares even show us that her beauty mark is not out of place. We could try an endless number of shapes here to illustrate the wonder of Phi but they’re all fundamentally the same thing – lines whose positions relate b Phi.

The face is not the only human feature to have been analysed this way. In fact, Renaissance artists who dissected bodies (not only Leonardo) would have made such research using Luca Pacioli’s findings. Have a look at your hand – do you see how the ratio between the length of the palm and the length of the fingers looks roughly 1:1.618? Phi is all over us!

➔ Please do not copy any image from this blog without permission; I keep proof of ownership on all of my work ☺