Wednesday, 31 March 2010

BBC iPlayer: A good week for FREE films

If you don’t know about BBC iPlayer you should bookmark it! They often have some really good films available for streaming (that what they call it?) or temporary download so check it out each week.

They can be a little annoying with it though – I tend to buy foreign films on DVD because I don’t expect to ever see them on TV and, just as I get punched in the wallet by HMV for £20, I find out the BBC has uploaded the film onto iPlayer for free viewing. Gargh! Summertime and Tell No-one (French: Ne le dis a personne) are among a few I’ve unnecessarily shelled out for in the past.

Anyway, thought I’d let people know what’s on there at the moment!

Mean Streets (goofy old-school DeNiro)

Good – A film living up to its name: good but not great. Viggo Mortensen (okay, Aragorn from Lord of the Rings) and the mighty Jason Isaacs caught up in Nazi Germany – that ol’ chestnut.

Mrs Brown – a film about moody Queen Victoria and a Scottish guy who loves fresh air and shouting (Billy Connolly’s best film, me thinks). Also check it out for a hilarious Antony Sher, playing Benjamin Disraeli.

Grayscale versions of colour

Processes like logo design can begin to run away from the designer if they don’t consider one thing at a time – which is why, as the form of the logo is being drafted, the colour may be ignored for the time being. That would mean working in grayscale or even black and white.

The following information came from my finding the percentage of black in the grayscale version of some basic colours. For instance, in the table below we see the numbers 10 to 100; that’s 10% of cyan, magenta and yellow in the first column, running up to 100% of each in the last. Their grayscale versions are beside them – there’s 3% black in the grayscale version of 10% cyan, for instance. The grayscale version of a colour, in effect, tells us how deep/dark it appears to the eye – this, however, is NOT to say that blue doesn’t recede on the page more than red – light and dark is not the same as near and far.

In checking the grayscale values for colours it can sometimes be surprising to find that one is darker than another, and it’s good practice to consider how the hue and the brightness are working in colours. Going back to logo design, working primarily in grayscale will allow you, firstly, to focus on form; secondly, it will force you to decide what should be dark and what should be light – choosing colours will then be down to matching their grayscale versions with the values you’ve chosen and picking a hue that will make the right impact – quiet/loud/vibrant/reserved. Something to think about anyway.

Type styles in Illustrator

Recently I figured out how to apply a halftone to some type in Illustrator – the proper way, rather than simply making a halftone of the solid letters. You can apply an inner glow and then make that a halftone – then, after using the best settings for the job, you can trace the halftone as a group of shapes and in doing that you make them editable – as the second image below shows. Unfortunately the circles you’re left with are rarely perfectly rounded so perhaps making a halftone of enormous type and then reducing that down would make the shapes more rounded. Still…in most cases they’ll be too small for readers to tell the difference.

Some other quick tests have been added but I tend to steer away from using text effects unless they have good reason to be used – they usually look better on the web but often spill over into print. Seems, though, that the more subtle they are, the more effective they are.

A really fast plane…

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Josef Albers: Interaction of Color

I got half way through this book today, which, before now, would sit on my desk staring at me while I got other loose ends tied away. Great book – shame about the spelling of ‘colour’. It’s about more than just the colour illusions we’ve all seen before – understanding them, and reacting with that knowledge, will make for even more measured and reasoned design.

I liked his following opinion of colour-handling…though it is questionable in some ways: ‘good colouring is comparable to good cooking. Even a good cooking recipe demands tasting and repeated tasting while it is being followed. And the best tasting still depends on a cook with taste.’ It’s definitely true that colour should be revisited/manually controlled – as the following examples will prove. Consistency in colour values, for instance, does not always equal consistency in colour to the eye (in other words, the same colour can appear different due to a variety of reasons, like light). In many circumstances, if the creator wants, say, two pieces of type to appear the same colour visually, it may be necessary to make them slightly different colours (if, say, their backgrounds are of different colours).

Here are a few interesting examples of colour interaction I’ve read about so far:

In the second image below (click on it for a proper view), there is a black rectangle with a grey centre square, and a white rectangle with a grey centre square. This is an example of making two different colours appear the same. The grey squares are repeated below the image, side-by-side. See the difference?

Similarly, (and excuse the imperfection of this one, as it was my own attempt and not a copy from the book), in the third image we see a bright pink rectangle and pale purple rectangle, each with an orange centre square. The orange appears the same colour in each if you gaze at the centre of the image. For clarity, the orange squares are repeated below, and the difference is again clear.

Then there is the ability of colours to make one colour look like two. The last pair of images demonstrate this – two rectangles, one purple, the other brown, appear to have centre squares whose hue equals that of the opposite large rectangle. Brown with purple square, purple with brown square. In reality, though, the small squares are the same colour, as repeated underneath the image.

The main point behind all this is that influencing colours (dominating colours/colours with the largest area or presence) will SUBTRACT their own hue from those colours that they influence. Put a certain green shape inside a large yellow area, for instance, and that green will lose some of the yellow to its appearance…thus becoming more blue. Or, simply, a black background makes a colour lighter (it loses its darkness) as a white makes colour darker.

So?? Well, for typographers, this lesson should be an important one. If the colour of your type always needs to be the same colour in a particular publication, it is only the visual level of colour that matters to the audience – so you should put trust in your own eyes and adjust the type colour ever so slightly to allow for backgrounds of strong colour-influence. As Albers  would say, stop cooking and have a taste now and then.

Phi Colours

I’ve looked at using Phi, the golden section, as a means of selecting colours and so far it seems very worthwhile to explore – there are so many variables to play around with, all the while using the same proportions. You could, for instance, draw a golden rectangle on  top of a colour wheel and take the colours marked by the four corners. A similar test could be made with a the Phi triangle and pentagon. I plan to post more on this when I can.

The images below show a simple start to choosing colours with the golden section – Fibonacci’s sequence is a simplified version which avoids decimal numbers and has therefore been used here.

I took white as a base and a blue colour…reducing the blue by equal steps 100 times down to pure white. You can then make a selection of colours using the Fibonacci sequence – 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89. Not much point using the first few, as there’ll be very little difference between them. Also, even though I started with my 100th shade of blue in the sequence of 100 steps, I don’t use it in the end because it does not relate to those selected with the Fibonacci sequence – the number after 89 is 144…not 100. You would, ideally, start at white and add an equal amount of blue at each step.

Anyway, the result looks like a quite pleasing group of colours with good contrast and yet comfortable similarity. The trick is, I think, to go with the largest contrast first (1:89 in this case) and then take the neighbouring selections of each number– 55 and 2, instead of, say, a selection of numbers 1, 21 and 55 (they don’t link up in the sequence). In geometry things begin to lose clarity a little if you don’t use numbers that link up within the proportional sequence so it most likely would work the same way with colour.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Friday, 26 March 2010

Ways of Seeing, John Berger

This is a great little book for a number of reasons. I like short reads – books I can finish the same day I begin them. The design of this book is excellent – Richard Hollis originally designed it and the version below is a re-design by YES. One very interesting feature of this book is the cover design – the main text begins on the cover and continues on the first recto page. Its readability is also very strong; its use of a medium/bold type style with good line spacing and a lightweight style for key words makes a lot of sense. The actual content of the book is engaging too, of course. Two/three chapters are solely made up of images to encourage the reader to extract an argument from their coupling, juxtaposition, ordering and selection.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

www Humanism for Sale

I found this site a couple of months ago – looks promising. It’s a good source of information about 500 year old Italian textbooks and has images of quite a lot of surviving pages. They’re mainly interesting to me from a design point of view but I found the below image mind-blowing…. It’s a page of doodling. Centuries-old doodling! Then again, if you look closely, it actually looks like the slacking pupil was playing around with a sort of magic square using the words ‘opera’, ‘rotas’ and ‘tenet’.  [I’ve just checked that and found the following:] So it seems our slacker was a sophisticated slacker…. Productive doodling…. Goody two-shoes.

www Bibliodyssey

You MUST check this site out.

I saw the book ‘Bibliodyssey’ in Waterstones over a year ago now and have been meaning to get it but, in the last few months, I found the author’s blog – an amazing hodgepodge (always wanted to use that word) of images taken from web archives. There’s an enormous amount on there…lots to read and marvel at. All the images on the right-hand side are links to books or other pages on the site…they’re slightly annoying though because there’s always something that looks even more interesting than the page you’re on in there! The author actually writes about it all most of the time too – so you’re neither looking at meaningless lists of images nor getting an exhaustive essay on each post.


Wednesday, 24 March 2010

www Type Cushions

Very cool stuff. Never thought I’d want a cushion so much.

Brushes in Photoshop

Had a little play with Photoshop recently and shall share my findings!

Please click on the images for a better view. I had to, of course, try making a brush with type as well as other shapes and it actually works really well. There’s not an enormous amount of control available with brushes but to play around with all the jitter settings in the dialog box is lots of fun. A good little trick is to increase the brush size and colour ‘purity’ together – it’ll make distant shapes less colourful and nearby shapes vivid…giving a better sense of depth. These were only quick tests and I think a lot more can be done – ‘dual brush’ seems to offer a big opportunity for experiment…an airbrush used in a duo with a hard-edged one will make a feathered-edge effect, for instance, as in the last image here.

Monday, 22 March 2010

www Flame

Got a free hour or three? Have a play with this! A new painting program that I can’t leave alone.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

My S debossed

Looks good!

Web text effects

I’ve posted about this before but hadn’t quite got the hang of it until recently. The first two images resulted from tutorials I found, and the third image is an idea I have for a website – an embossed piece of text (the brand name?) on a neutral background could look really good with some black and white/light grey body text. There are two versions of debossing I managed to make – the first is more like a cut-out and the second is a soft impression.

Fiery text – from online tutorial

I’ve been neglecting my photoshop skillz a little lately, so I checked out a few online tutorials. One I came across was on a handy blog that I follow – This effect is great – not too difficult either, with some clever shortcutting.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Jazzed up lettering

Spruced up one of my letter designs…may have to swot up on Photoshop and try a shiny 3D version too.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Another golden pentagram construction

Here’s a nifty little way to draw up a set of golden pentagrams – which are, between themselves, proportional by 1:1.618. I’ve not seen this method elsewhere…and there’ll be loads of ways to construct these shapes but I find this one quite enjoyable to work through.

Where other methods I’ve found (have a look in the February posts) have begun with the golden rectangle, this one begins with a square. The key to drawing the five-points of the pentagram (five-point star) on a circle’s circumference is obviously in figuring out the split of the circumference by 5 (5 equidistant points after all). So we need to be able to chop a circle into 5 equal angles without using measuring tools.

Beginning with a square, we draw a circle whose centre is at the corner with a radius equal to the square’s length. Then we extend the square into the circle by making it a golden rectangle, as described in the second image below.

In the third image we have our special measurement (the dashed line) – one that will cut our circle into 5 equal parts. It happens to be the diagonal measurement inside the segment by which we extended the square. Continue the line, in a circle, to the edge of the main circle. At this point it doesn’t matter where we put our compass – you’ll notice the end result is a pentagram on its side so if you want one with a horizontal base, place the compass at the top of the circle’s circumference in the centre, instead of at the square’s corner.

We’ll make two new points on the circumference by continuing the line right round. These points mark where we’ll put the compass to make further guides. The fourth and fifth images show this process – and we get a beautiful shape at the end of it…a sort of bloated group of diminishing pentagrams and pentagons.

In the last image, the points are simply drawn together with straight edges. The conclusion is an image that harvests squares, triangles, circles, pentagrams and pentagons all in a number of sizes in proportion of the ratio 1:1.618. Further points can be joined, more lines extended and even more interesting patterns uncovered.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010


I’ve been hand-drawing some type recently – and looking closer at my favourite typefaces, Univers and Futura – and I remembered I’ve yet to get comfortable drawing the ‘s’. So I decided not to leave my desk until I managed to get something decent drawn.

Here’s the result below. I compared it with the Futura and Univers characters afterwards and thought it struck quite a nice contrast. My letter is a little bottom heavy because of the grid I used – I did put form before function tbh (I used golden proportions between the lower and upper circular parts) It may be worth continuing but for now I’m happy I’ve sussed the ‘s’ to some extent.

I found it useful in Illustrator to zoom right out from the letter to make sure it was working at a small scale – as you would with a logo, for instance. Playing around with the stroke size also helps – making it really thin/fat will uncover any errors in the curves.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Renaissance painting aids

I recently read that many Renaissance artists, including Dürer and Leonardo, would use grids to aid them in their composition – rectangular wooden frames with wire drawn through them in a grid form. They would place the frame between themselves and their subject on a stand. If there is a technical name for them I’ve forgotten it but I’ll edit this post if I find it.

Reading this made me realise how little, if any, ’artistic expression’ was actually sought in Renaissance painting on the part of the painter himself. Everything seems to have been for documentation’s sake. Much of Leonardo’s work was, after all, either commissioned or part of research. In other words, all of it was a record of some sort, be it a fresco of the Battle of Anghiari or a portrait of some rich man’s wife. Even in paintings of the Holy Family artists would include the portraits of high-ranking officials or rulers as a nod to their greatness! That’s like writing Gordon Brown into a pop song. To think that people now would fork out millions for something that was dragged around Italy in a cart 600 years ago is a little strange (I’m thinking of the Mona Lisa). Something I just can’t buy into is all of the mysticism that people read from these paintings – the Culture Minister Kim Howell summed it up well in his comment on some Turner Prize entries, ‘conceptual bullshit’. Surely it’s enough to accept that many people in the Renaissance were simply highly skilled, intelligent men who documented the world around them with precision and necessity rather than lofty principles or self-expression.

[Addition 7 March]

I just read that Leon Battista Alberti, a Renaissance scholar who wrote a treatise called On Painting, actually invented his own painting aid – a translucent cloth or veil with a grid of squares which would be placed between the artist and his subject.

He is also said to have suggested using a mirror to consult paintings and highlight any errors in perspective or relations between objects. I’ve noticed a similar thing myself in regard to typography – in turning a piece of text upside down your eye is no longer distracted by meaningful shapes and you can more readily notice awkward letter-spacing. I’m sure Leonardo d.V. would have used the mirror technique to check his works – considering he did, at one time, read Alberti’s books, that he made use of painting aids and that he used mirrors to write in his notebooks.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Book: ‘The Divine Proportion: A Study in Mathematical Beauty’ by H.E. Huntley

I got this book the other day – along with a few other £5 gems on Amazon – and found it a really good buy. I posted Ghyka’s book, The Geometry of Art and Life, before and, although it was a good collection of examples of where the golden section comes into play, I still wanted to actually learn more about Phi.

This book was ideal for getting a better understanding of the numbers themselves and how everything works together. It was written in the ‘70s and there is quite an amusing passage where the author discusses a computer, which he needed permission to use, that could give him the answer to an enormous calculation he was making. If only he knew how much easier it would become in a decade or two. Still, one of the points he makes in the book is that there is still much to be uncovered about the ‘beauty of maths’ and, with the constant evolution of technology, this is no doubt true today.

The book covers the golden section/divine proportion/Phi in a vast array of drawings and calculations. Some of the mathematics is a little advanced for a modest GCSE-level pleb like myself, and Huntley happily points that out in his book, but with his equations in front of you, it isn’t difficult to learn the necessary parts of algebra involved.

I love the way Huntley writes the book – it’s seriously in-depth and yet light-hearted and personal. He makes a great attempt at rationalizing the idea of beauty and why Phi is the most pleasing formula to the human eye. Is it that you learn to love home, and home happens to be the world in which Phi plays so big a role? Or is it subjective?

Huntley makes the point that beauty may indeed be in the eye of the beholder but there are two levels to our perception of beauty. One is inborn in us all – that sense of ‘judging the book by its cover’. Then there is ‘acquired’ understanding of beauty which means that we find beauty through education – I can vouch for this in some ways: I remember an art history lesson involving a painting of Napoleon. I saw the quite plain-looking painting and got quite bored with it until my teacher pointed out the humour behind the image – the artist had an agenda – propoganda – and had therefore added a quite large shadow to the figure’s crotch, basically indicating he was well-hung as if to say ‘he’s the daddy’! Being a dippy teenager, I found this hilarious and have remembered that piece of information ever since. So, because I know that little fact, I feel more attached to the painting – even more so than, say, the Eiffel Tower because even though the latter is more immediately beautiful, I have the ‘acquired knowledge’ in Napoleon’s portrait and it works as added beauty.

Huntley talks about poetry and music and relates the two to the golden section – apparently in music there are time intervals which interact with the body’s internal clock in such a way that we find them the most pleasing of all. This interval happens to be in direct relation to Phi, telling us that the golden section has a claim to us humans more intrinsic than that which was illustrated by Renaissance artists with the human body, namely a connection to the soul itself.

Huntley quotes Francis Thompson to make a point for those who put little value in the matters that he discusses in the book (for lack of education or knowledge, as he argues):

The angels keep their ancient places;
Turn but a stone and start a wing!
‘Tis ye, ‘tis your estrangéd faces,
That miss the many-splendoured thing.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Max Bill’s circle

I tried using phi to make the yellow circle, instead of the 0.5 that Bill used, and found that the first version (second image) is a little less well-balanced in comparison with the original. The second version, however, (last image) I think is pretty successful. The smaller the circle, the more the text box comes up – which is what you’d want on a poster. The image would still be seen first from a distance.

I’m assuming Bill was making a geometrical representation of a Zulu shield with his image (the words ‘negerkunst’ and ‘sudafrikas’ are a clue straight away). The smaller version of the circle, then, would perhaps make more sense. It gives the image more space and is clearly smaller than the text box – avoiding any conflict between the two shapes.

No idea why the colours are faded on this screen but if you click on the image, it’s better.

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