Sunday, September 28, 2008

glass half full

i was assigned this quote for a little alignment study in typography. the document had to be 8.5 x 11 with 2 inch margins, a standard red background, and only 24 point futura book. elements to play around with? the text can be black and white, and use different weights. i was bummed that i got a quote that seemed so negative. (and inaccurate. i like to think that all graphic designers love what they are doing.) but i went with it.

by the time i got to version 18, i was starting to loose my ability to distinguish between arrangements that worked well and arrangements that just work. cathy came over last night, so i snatched the opportunity to show them to another set of eyes. (it's important to seek the perspective of a sculpture major every once in a while...) and when i told her i didn't like the quote, she was suprised. she said that wasn't how she interpreted it at all. she thought it was really empowering. that it wasn't accusing designers of secretly hating design, but instead that they want their design to be doing bigger things. hmm. i hadn't thought about it like that. my glass was half empty.

after that i figured i should probably google scott stowel. (i don't know why that wasn't the first step. sometimes adobe just sucks you in and you forget about things like, say, research.) turns out he's the owner of open (um, internship! please!) the group responsible for the design of my favorite good magazine. (which, on a side note, now has mini good "field guides" each week at starbucks that you should check out...) and just like that, glass half full.

Friday, September 26, 2008


the image above is scanned from a childcraft book i got from the thrift store. part of a larger series, this one is called "look and learn." i'm amazed a what a resource this book is. everything is put simply, keeping the audience in mind. still, the topics they address are suprisingly mature. (an airplane's "moving box of space," vacant lots, the orgin of the alphabet, letterpress p's and q's, and the golden rectangle, to name a few.) there are even some things that were new to me.

this is something i want to work on. seeing.

"our brain gives us simulated sight, a projection of approximately what might have been seen if we had taken the time to observe. we see a fraction of a shirt or a blouse, and our brain says, 'never mind, i am faster,' and projects the pattern instantaneously. we didn't have time, nor take the time to see. the danger of simulation is that we are not consciously aware that we are not seeing. the advantage is instantaneous comprehension, a valuable tool for survival. the disadvantage is that simulated vision has as its source only what has been programmed into our computer: past knowledge. it is incapable of new vision - of creativity. simulated vision is anathema to the visual artist if not recognized and kept in its proper place. besides being unaware of its creeping in, we use it out of laziness, and, the erroneous idea that seeing is inferior to any kind of mentally acquired knowledge."
-from keith a. smith's structure of the visual book

recently, i've started asking myself these same things over and over: what do i choose to see? how awake am i? (metaphorically and literally. coffee helps with the latter.) how aware am i? here's a stream about seeing things...

seeing clearly.
i've gone back to using acetate again in my art (i guess we were never on a break to begin with, but...) there is just something so enthralling about transparency. it gets messy though, as i discovered constructing my pocket fold book the other day. fingerprints taint, ink bleeds. to actually use transparency, you have to sacrifice the immaculate nature of it's surface. it's a small price to pay (and a bit of "letting go" on the ocd end) when the results yield something that hasn't been seen before. i have this crazy idea now to take an old history (preferrably us history), to copy every single page onto a sheet of acetate, and then combine all of the layers into a completely clear book. years removed from those initial exposures to history in high school, i realize now how connected everything is. how everything is a compilation and each layer builds on top of countless others before it. how cool (and insanely expensive) would it be to look through a history book like that, and literally see it all on top of each other?

seeing as much as you can.
for me right now, that means going to new neighborhoods. new environments are the quickest form of visual stimulation. and freshest form of inspiration. (always at a premium at an art school.) why not just stand on a different street corner and soak it all in? or take advantage of a friend with a car and see a place that would typically out of reach. and maybe setting the camera aside and letting the compositions happen in real life. right before your eyes.

seeing cleverly.
we talked about the fedex logo in gd on monday. classic example of good graphic design. (bernard says he would get it tattooed on his buttox, his highest sign of approval.) i remember reading about the arrow hidden in the logo awhile ago, and struggling to "see it" whenever i would see a fedex truck driving by. once you find it, it's impossible not to notice. with type like that, your eye gets so focused on the positive space that you miss all the fun going on in the negative.

seeing through.
our ability to filter that which could disturb our sense of being (the struggling economy, voter fraud, and so on...) is astounding. it's all about achieving comfort and then staying comfortable. the truth is, it's just easier to live that way. bernard has this website (albeit still "under construction") that addresses just that. the idea is called if you don't see it, it doesn't exist. lack of sight is an epidemic in cities (and the suburbs that surround them, too.) his project reminded me of one of t.p. luce's poems, guppies. (from his book, tha bloc.) here's an excerpt:

"I read a story the other day about two people lying in their own blood dying, then dead, then outlined by that white chalk. Killed over something stupid they said. Shot down when an argument over basketball players boiled over into gunfire and death. As the event hangs and the media and the talkers begin to feed on our collective social blind spot, it is amazing how often they, (we), miss what is really going on and how much they, (we), depend on that blind spot."

seeing the often overlooked obvious.
it has been the hardest thing for me to start reading the news. i know how important it is, and i realize how separated from it you can get when you are in the "all art, all the time" zone. (it's funny. i assume we are all here because we want our art to have a place in the world. yet while we're here the course load and pressure to produce demands that our focus becomes isolation from and ignorance of the world around us. and the exact issues we are hoping our art will address.) i figured getting the new york times daily email would force me to make sure i am informed. but it is still so tricky. how can you just jump into something as complex as the daily developments of our society? it takes time. i'm working on it.

i looked back at my leadershape journal and found notes i had scribbled saying "have an eye-opening experience daily." according to my cluster facilitator, we owe it to ourselves. especially if we have the gift of sight.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

cities + creatives

i've been thinking a lot about that combination (cities + creatives) lately. it helps having urbanism, to kind of ground and perpetuate this thinking. and i find myself doing even more bouncing back and forth. baltimore and detroit. (our first day of class a slide was shown of the demographics of detroit and the surrounding area. it was stark. black and white.)

i sat in on a discussion group this past week with the maryland state arts council (there was free food) and they asked us to reflect on various things... mainly our most pressing concerns and things we would like to see happen in our communities. and i realized that baltimore is doing so many things well. artscape is a three day long celebration of arts, claimed to be america's largest free public arts festival. organizations like art on purpose, the creative alliance, school 33, and baltimore clayworks are popping up all over. and part of that is driven by the mica led community arts movement and graduate students participating in the newly created masters of art in community arts (maca) program. most of our major musuems are free. (baltimore musuem of art, the walters, etc.) the baltimore office of promotion of the arts (bopa for short) has allowed for an increased emphasis on grant giving and public art making. they spearhead programming initiatives like free fall baltimore.

& then i came across this really interesting article from back home (by way of an urban planning website called planetizen.) i love that after the mess kwame kilpatrick has made of detroit, someone can stand up and say that a solution to standing back up as a city might be more abstract, that art has validity beyond just image, that attention to aesthetics can seep into the subconscious of a community and build its confidence.

here's an excerpt from that metro times piece, called "wake up the neighborhood."

"Reading that reminded me that I love Detroit because of all you Ferdinands (cheval) who live here. You view buildings as vessels rather than "developments." You appreciate Detroit not just because of what it used to be or could be, but because the city has a special power and you feel plugged in. That's what you capitalize on. You recognize that far too many of our architects and urban planners — supposedly creative thinkers — are dreaming up lofts and paving over green space. And in the absence of globally minded government leaders, you consider artists visionaries. You literally take matters into your own hands, rebuilding your home or your neighborhood. In the scorched earth, you see potential for life to flourish again."

the picture above is from a guerrilla art effort in detroit. (called "disney demolition") abandoned buildings were suddenly getting coated with this pumpkin orange paint. and the thing is, it didn't take long after they got this face lift that the city finally reacted and demolished them.

Friday, September 19, 2008

mica student organization fair

here's a little poster i designed for mica's student org fair today. fun stuff.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

and some book arts

one class this semester where the homework is guaranteed not to be a drag is artists books. it's basically having scrapbooking scheduled into my weekly list of things to do. the class is part of my book arts "concentration," artists books to me is the connection between the "low art" of scrapbooking and the "high" fine arts of painting/drawing/etc. (and according to my teacher, scrapbooking is the enemy. obviously i had some disagreement with that statement. and the tacky paste paper we made today made me question that book arts pedistol even more.)

this class typically comes after paper making and book structures (where you learn ancient japaneese binding techniques) and focuses more on the conceptual construction of a book. the class pretty much goes like this. a demo or two in class, try out the new technique, and for homework make a cohesive book in that fashion to bring to the critique next week. it moves pretty fast, but it's nice to keep trying different things and see how far you can go in a week.

this week the assignment was to make a book of at least 8 pages held together at one point. (and one point only!) always a fan of the ready made, i found this towel (already single point bound courtesy of rite aid stocking) in our kitchen drawer and thought it would be an innovative example of "pages" and "binding" in the everyday. it was a lot of fun to make (i totally got carried away one night with the faux-needlepoint type.)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

some typography

this is my typography assignment from earlier today. we're working with a four letter word given out in class and a 10 by 10 dot system. (which proves particularly difficult with angles/curves.) the critique was pretty fun. we got to talk about things like kerning and lowering crossbars. and weigh the pros and cons of changing a single dot. a far cry from the critiques of foundation year. (during which, according to bernard, we all "held hands and sang kumbaya.")

the next step is to test the strength of our letter face and give it a bit of a beating, using the type as the basis for an image.

Monday, September 15, 2008

urbanism assignment

here's what i actually did for urbanism. (look familiar?) the assignment was to read five different visionary (of the likes of antonio sant'elia, frank lloyd wright, le corbusier...) city planning texts and to look for ways in which their ideas have trickled down today in baltimore.

le corbusier and his "guiding principles of town planning." got me going right from the start. this "believe" connection seemed almost too good to be true.

the bold white on black believe banners were something that i immediately loved about baltimore. anytime graphic design can use one word to alter the spirit of a community i'm intreguiged. in so many ways it was one word ("advokate") that led me to an art school, after all. and without knowing anything about what it meant, "believe" appeared to be attempting to do that for an entire city.

looking into it more, i found a progress report on the campaign, which turns out was a full-fledged media effort under mayor o'malley launched in 2002 (and was technically shortlived although the ripple effect still exists in remnants of believe things still around the city.) here's the resoning behind the campaign's creation:

"... it has been difficult for the people of baltimore to embrace with hope and confidence the possibility that human intervention could really drive the pestilence of illegal drugs and their violent effects from the midst of their city. facts alone do not change habis of mind and pessimism of expection long warn into the public psyche. the baltimore believe campaign was concieved as an attempt to set in motion a change that facts alone could not accomplish. it was constructed by the politcal and business leadership of the city to light a fuse of popular will and determinaton that would alter behavior inside and outside the drug culture to undermine its horrific effects on children, on adults, and the city in which they live. nothing like it has ever been attempted before."

a few things worth calling attention to:

first, a leader stepping up to tackle a problem of monumental proportions in the most optimistic way. and not relying on a typical response, but instead doing something so innovative and risky, and trusting that the people of the city would rise to the responsibility. (mayor o'malley is quoted as asking them to "risk action on faith.")

second, there were tangible results. through tv commercials, newspaper spreads, a website, and a hotline, progress was made with programs for career services, the police academy, big brother/big sister mentoring, and drug treatment. (to see the actual data, here's a link to the report itself.)

now i realize i am only seeing one piece of the puzzle in this research. it is impossible to ever fully know the intricacies and layering of a city. i am sure this idealistic project was not without controversy or criticism. but i am still wondering why it officially ended. (though i have some ideas. politics, money. cough, cough.) i am left to only imagine what could have been accomplished if the believe mentality had been continually promoted with such vigor.

and back to corbusier...

"a flood of action which leaves purposes way behind it, taking shape according to the special capacities of the people, stirs the emotions and comes to dominate developments; it issues orders; it establishes behaviour and gives events their deeper significance. at first this flood of action disappoints; but on closer consideration it encourages men and arouse confidence."

between believing and not believing. it is better to believe.
between acting and disintegrating. it is better to act.

Friday, September 12, 2008

just a thought...

there is nothing wrong with demanding that the things you do be worthwhile. or with telling someone they are wasting your time. i wrote that on my hand during leadershape. i made a comment to my group about not feeling the need to buzz around and create social situations if i know that they won't be productive. that's seriously a downfall. (and i realize completely anti-social.) i'm sure that i miss a lot because of it. afterwards my advisor assured me that there is something admirable about that way of thinking.

i'm really starting to see how important efficiency is to me. it's like i'm constantly calculating in my mind. "what am i going to get out of this?" or "what difference will this make?" i think that that pressure has always been there, (it's actually where the not combing my hair comes from) and just gets particularly heightened when your course load demands that you don't mess around. it's just something i'm thinking about.

going off on a tangent, this is kind of something i'm even asking myself when it comes to graphic design. hanging up posters for student activities (adding random neon colored flyers to the mass of neon colored flyers already around) it's impossible not to wonder "what good does it do?" "what steps need to be taken just to get people to notice, and then to get them to respond?" people are (for the most part) lazy and selfish. they will ask "what's in it for me?" very little design answers that. or prevents a convincing argument. or engages. but so much of what we (graphic designers) do is considered sufficient, successful when we (graphic designers) decide it is finished and when we (graphic designers) decide it looks good. we ignore and leave out the thinking about what happens once it is put out into the universe. then you truly find out if it is doing its job. it's about measuring the impact. (which, of course, aesthetic quality plays a major role in creating.)

this all reminds me of a damn good john bielenberg (the project m guy) quote:

"we're like plumbers who write books for other plumbers about plumbing. it's fine, as long as everyone understands that what gets said only matters to us. nobody else cares in the end if you get written about or don't get written about, it hardly matters when compared to doing important work. at the end of the day, impact is the only thing that counts."

ps. i'm sticking with my social problems class. yesterday (during a common-unity cerimony with cake and sage) the professor said that "everyone needs one odd class." alright, check. i'm sure i'll get something out of it. and in an attempt to appear less selfish, (this post comes across as very selfish) maybe i'll be able to give something, too.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

baltimore 360

i was going to use this for an urbanism project, but then i changed my mind. still looks cool, though. it's a 360 degree pieced together panorama of baltimore from the top of the mt. vernon's washington monument. (which i climbed with my dad and young kip before school started. 237 stairs. sounds easy, right? not so much. it was a never ending sprial ascent.)

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

for everyone who thinks all i do here is color

first, the last time i picked up crayons was probably at a visit to the preschool. or possibly at a papa vinos that provided kraft paper table cloths. second, the only people who use crayolas at mica are either attempting to be cheeky in a drawing class or melting them for some sculptural form.

yesterday i got my first graphic design "heartattack assignment" from bernard. take his list of 35 words. create a list of 50 free association words from those words. and then draw a thumbnail sketch/symbol for each. i'll do the math for you. 1,750 words and symbols. due next monday. so if you don't hear from me for awhile, you know why. (right off the bat bernard asked how many people in the class were in relationships. a few people raised their hands. to which he responded: "go home tonight and kiss your loved ones goodbye. because you're mine for the next 16 weeks.")

he hit so many nails right on the head. he demands that you know why you are here. why you chose mica, and why you picked graphic design. (he fully intends to weed out anyone who doesn't love graphic design.) it's reassuring to hear the chair of the gd department tell you that his goal is to make sure you get your moneys worth. (and if you ever feel like you aren't getting your moneys worth, tell him, because he'll give you more work.)

i already know this class will be a challenge. (not just in the time management department.) my approach to design is usually pretty simple. i like to run with the obvious. but there's no innovation there. and now i have someone who will most certainly call me out on it.

i've been postponing posting my schedule for this semester because for so long it's been up in the air. and it still kind of is. (the schedule obsessed part of me is flipping out inside.) but this much i know: there are five exciting classes that i am taking for sure.

my schedule is as follows:

graphic design I with bernard caniffe (9 am - 3 pm)

typography I with ellen lupton (9 am - 3 pm)
note: you can follow my type class this semester with our flickr group, "typography live."
modernism and after with t'ai lin smith (4 pm - 6:45 pm)

artists books with laurie snyder (9 am - 3 pm)
urbanism with daniel d'oca (7 pm - 9:45 pm)

then add in some work study, program manager, and a little community arts.

the only thing i'm bumming about right now is my failed attempt to take french at johns hopkins. in theory it sounded wonderful. but everyone who warned of the hoops i would have to jump through was right. first, my form got lost. second, the class was full (which means the form wouldn't have even made a difference anyway.) determined not to give up, i kept emailing the teacher, took the online placement test, and crossed my fingers hoping that if i showed up to the first class a vacancy would appear. but sitting in on the class yesterday was like pulling teeth. no one had any previous french experience. so we started with bonjour. and learned how to count. it was painful. and there is no way i could stay in that class and be ok with it. (just sitting there made me miss mademoiselle.) and every single higher level class conflicted with my schedule.

i'm not sure what to make of that mess right now. something feels fishy about my backup class (social problems) but i feel like a slacker if i stick with only 15 credits when i could be taking 18. and at this point mica classes are mostly full. i'm meeting with my academic advisor tomorrow morning as a last resort. so we'll see...

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

the view from 809

one of the first things stephanie mentioned when we moved in was how i had a perfect view of where the shooting happened last year. i hadn't even thought of that. it was weird how quickly that had become a memory, distilled to a location that was always there and will always be there. seeing something like that makes you paranoid. as much as i tried to avoid it, it was impossible not to be nervous walking around. who knows what could happen? those were the sidewalks i walked on everyday, but suddenly there was an element of unforseeable danger in that act. it was like that for at least a few weeks after it happened. and with time the relevancy wore off.

i stood at that corner today waiting to cross the street as i've been doing multiple times a day since i moved into the gateway. the car coming stopped and the driver behind the wheel smiled and waved me on. and i walked.

i realized something very simple, but important. for every potential act of fear/dispair/violence there are countless guaranteed acts of goodness everyday.

Monday, September 1, 2008

urban plunge

because classes started after labor day this year, student activities organized a series of community service options for students to participate in that monday (it's called urban plunge, kind of like the trash clean up i did last year with tara at the jones falls watershed.) i took a group to the bolton hill nursery school up the street. it was too cute inside. they wanted help with things like re-painting furniture and making bulletin boards (which i realized in retrospect was always my favorite thing about playing school when i was young: decorating the "classroom.") oh, to be five years old again. and to go to a school with bright yellow chairs.

edit: these posts are pretty delayed. but i figured i'd cheat and put them up anyway...