Revisiting The Vertical Gardens of Patrick Blanc

This week’s blog post is a repeat of one of our early favorites from February, 2015. Vertical gardens are trending items in today’s corporate and public spaces. Readers who live in larger cities will have undoubtedly seen one in person.

Let’s look at the man largely responsible for popularizing this unique art form…

The Vertical Gardens of Patrick Blanc

Patrick Blanc is a French botanist who has long been interested in growing plants using alternative, non-soil environments. In the late1980s he created a “green wall” made of living plants at the Museum of Science and Industry in Paris. Since then Blanc has developed and popularized these vertical gardens around the world. He now works with noted architects and designers to build gardens on existing walls and to integrate vertical gardens into the design of new buildings.

Vertical Garden

At first glance Blanc’s green walls look somewhat like the random face of an overgrown cliff in a tropical jungle. On closer examination, however, it becomes obvious that the plantings are orchestrated with flowing ribbons of foliage creating complex, dynamic compositions.

Scale, texture and color are the prevailing design elements in Blanc’s work. But a pleasing visual experience is merely one of their attributes. Blanc’s living walls – and the countless other vertical gardens inspired by his work – are helping to soften the impact of endless concrete that dominates our contemporary urban world. His walls also join with rooftop gardens to give cities a greener and more ecologically balanced profile.

Vertical Garden

The infrastructure beneath one of Blanc’s green walls requires a massive support matrix and a complex mechanism for delivering water and nutrients to the plants. Here is an article describing Patrick Blanc’s working process…

His website is located here

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Art Out of Context

I recently came across two unexpected environments in which to view art. This got me thinking about a design exercise for all of you. The parameters are simple: Find a unique place to display art and then create appropriate work.

What do I mean by appropriate i.e. what questions do you need to ask yourself before you begin work? Maybe the best way to explain is by talking for a moment about the two sites I discovered, “Art-o-Mat” and “Peephole Cinema.”

Three cigarette vending machines converted to sell art

Twenty years ago the artist Clark Whittington decided to exhibit his paintings in old cigarette vending machines. The director of the gallery where his work was displayed was so enamored with the idea that she encouraged him to engage other artists in converting the machines and filling them with art. They formed an organization called AIC – Artists in Cellophane (named after the cellophane wrappings found in cigarette packaging). With this Art-o-mat was born. There are now art vending machines in public sites all over the United States.

small artworks dispensed from a vending machine

There are very strict requirements for making art for the machines. It can’t jam, it needs to be a very specific size, the materials can’t rot, etc. Obviously the work is small scale. Oddly shaped artworks require additional packaging while paintings on blocks of wood do not. This extra packaging can be unembellished or a work of art in itself.

If you decide to make art like this the parameters would involve solutions to practical questions of size and materials. This doesn’t mean that conceptual considerations aren’t also important. What is your intent? How can you play with the intimacy invoked by the small scale? Do you want to work with a single theme or several? For the beginners among you I’d suggest concentrating on one of the design elements or principles and making multiple works around that idea.

views of the Peephole Cinema in San Francisco

The second site that I came across is devoted to the medium of film. Originally created by Laurie O’Brien, the cinema is now a collective of sorts, with locations in three cities. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, silent film shorts are screened through a dime-sized “peephole” installed in a public place. The site in the city near me, San Francisco, is easy to miss but when you do find it there is a wonderful moment of discovery, a sense of true adventure that rarely occurs in the 21st century.

It’s awkward and and slightly uncomfortable to bend to the tiny viewing hole, consequently the films shown are very short in duration. According to Sarah Klein, the programmer for the San Francisco site “The small format works to the advantage of a lot of films. It makes the film a little gem in this tiny little space with no distractions.

In work like this there are many practical considerations – designing a projection system that can stand up to 24/7 use, scheduling maintenance for the equipment, making work that is short and does not require sound – but outside of these pragmatic concerns anything is possible. Short narrative films, stop-motion animation, comedies, dramas…

From these two examples you can see that there are two main aspects to this assignment. One deals with the “how.” The other is conceptual, dealing with the “what” and “why.” Let me also remind you that regardless of what you select to make don’t forget the elements and principles of design. They are essential to the successful completion of this exercise. (I suggest you refer to our book “Design: A Beginner’s Handbook.”)

I’ve presented you with two examples but try to find your own solution to this problem. Please share what you have made with us on our Facebook page.

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Design Is Everywhere

In our very first blogpost we promised readers we would write about design wherever we found it – not just in fine art settings and traditional design contexts.

Today’s post focuses on four sets of images that are all highly orchestrated visual statements – each of them tightly composed and carefully manipulated. They are about as “designed” as they could be.

They also celebrate the functional non-art world we live in every day.

Let’s look at them…

In his ongoing series titled Mass Carson David Brown roams the aisles of big box stores here in the United States and creates impromptu sculptures using the items they have for sale. Color, shape, texture and relative size are the primary factors that guide his selections and configurations.

Brown’s sculptures are created rapidly in the aisles and corners of the stores because he is working without the knowledge or permission of the store management. He then photographs the work before store clerks discover what he has done. The assembled sculptures usually survive for just a few minutes or hours before store personnel take them apart and return the components to their shelves.

art installation and photograph created in store by Carson David Brown

art installation and photograph created in store by Carson David Brown

Kelsey McClellan is a photographer and Michelle Maguire is a designer/art history resource librarian/set stylist. Together they have created a delightful series of photos titled Wardrobe Snacks. In the series they present perfect combinations of common foods with the appropriate clothes to be worn while eating them. Color and texture are the primary design elements at play here.

McClellan and Maguire were inspired to create this series by watching people eat on the run or while balancing plates of food on their laps. The relationships created by body parts, clothing and food are at once functional, intimate and universal.

staged photos of color coordinated food and clothing by McClellan and Maguire

staged photos of color coordinated food and clothing by McClellan and Maguire

Speaking of food… Chefs and cooking aficionados from around the world participate in the Facebook page titled Food4Inspiration. Here are two examples. Notice the textures, shapes, colors and balance in each of these edible compositions/presentations.

The first is by Zubeyir Ekicibasi (Turkish national team member) and consists of Chub Mackerel gravlax – sour cream – stuffed celery stalks – baby radish – pesto cream.

The second is by Rasmus Kofoed (Copenhagen). It consists of Maldivian lobster – passion fruit leaves – lobster jus – coconut oil.

beautifully designed food by Zubeyir Ekicibasi

beautifully designed food by Rasmus Kofoed

Our final examples are by Andrius Burba, a photographer from Lithuania. Burba’s photo series Under-cats and Under-dogs show these internet favorites from a decidedly different angle. This new perspective de-emphasizes the subjects’ personalities and highlights the formal aspects of their bodies.

Forget for a moment that that these are photos of cats and dogs as viewed from beneath a glass table and consider the shape, texture, color, symmetry and placement of what you see.

photograph of cat by Andrius Burba

photograph of dog by Andrius Burba

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Blood Flowers: The Art of Imran Qureshi

Last week the Trump Administration bombed Syria without congressional approval. From the comfort of our living room we watch atrocities on T.V. but in the United States we are rarely touched directly. It was in this context that I came across the work of the Pakistani artist Imran Qureshi.

red painting by Imran Qureshi

Trained in the tradition of Mughal Court miniaturists (1526-1857), Qureshi began making his signature blood splatter paintings and installations after he witnessed a severe bombing near his home in Lahore, Pakistan.

art installation by Imran Qureshi that uses splashes of red paint and highly detailed images of vegetation

In his art installation work Qureshi starts with performance-like gestures, hurling red acrylic paint violently at the surrounding surfaces. He then uses the skills he acquired as a painter of miniatures to render detailed images of verdant growth – twisting foliage and blooming flowers. It’s as if the rivers of blood have sprouted and a fertile world has emerged. Of this work he says, “Yes, these forms stem from the effects of violence. They are mingled with the color of blood, but, at the same time, this is where a dialogue with life, with new beginnings and fresh hope starts.

sculptural installation by Imran Qureshi

In addition to the site-specific installations discussed above Qureshi also makes large sculptural installations that overwhelm the space in which they are exhibited. In And They Still Seek the Traces of Blood, he has printed thousands of sheets of paper with images of his work. These are wadded up and used to build mountain-like piles of what appear to be bloodied rags. The sculptures become memorials for the lost and forgotten victims of violence.

Imran Qureshi self portrait, Indian style miniature with gold leaf

I mentioned earlier that Qureshi was trained as a painter of Indian miniatures – in fact he teaches this at the National College of Arts in Lahore, the only school in the world with this specialty. The process is demanding, from the making of handmade paper and grinding of pigments, to the fabrication of fine squirrel hair brushes. The work is labor and time intensive.

Imran Qureshi three Indian style painted miniatures

While his installation work centers on violence and rebirth, in many of these small paintings Qureshi interrogates the role of Islam in the modern world. In these works he uses the traditional style found in Indian miniatures but he adds unexpected contemporary references to create a tension between our expectations and the realities (and possibilities) for modern muslims.

The paintings in his series Moderate Enlightenment (see above) balance the spiritual and the secular in an attempt to find a new path forward for contemporary followers of Islam. As discussed by Oliver Koerner von Gustorf in an exhibition catalog about these paintings “… ‘Moderate Enlightenment’ is also a term former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf coined in 2003 at a summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to describe the path the Islamic world must take to finally escape the dead-end of fundamentalism and anti-Western sentiment. In its complexity, however, Qureshi’s series puts both to the test: the rigidity of religious fundamentalism and the rigidity of western “enlightened” clichés of Islamic culture.

Imran Qureshi Indian style painted miniature of man with barbell

When I began to read about Qureshi my first thought was that an investigation of his work could provide a curious student with insights into the use of the design element of color (symbolism) and the principles of scale/proportion, and motion and time. I encourage you to review the appropriate chapters in our book Design: A Beginner’s Handbook and then ask yourself how does Qureshi use these elements and principles to support the content of his art?

Pay particular attention to the principle of scale. Qureshi’s work ranges from huge installations to tiny paintings. How does the scale influence your response as a viewer? Notice that within his installations he balances their massive size with intimately scaled details that draw us near and that alter our interpretation of the large violent slashes of red. This same small scale when found in the miniature paintings sets up a conceptual tug-of-war between the intimate/personal, and the scale of the globalized world of today. What else do you see?

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Artists in a Neon Wilderness

In our last post we discussed neon signage. Today we’ll present the work of  visual artists who’ve employed neon light. Some of these artists work exclusively with the medium of neon but for others neon is only one material among many that they have used during their artistic career. In addition, several artists work with both neon light and fluorescent tubes.

Each of the names listed below the image is a link that you can use to find out more about the artist and their work.

neon art by Stephen Antonakos

Stephen Antonakos

neon art by Ivan Navarro

Ivan Navarro

neon art by Shezad Dawood

Shezad Dawood

neon art by Cerith Wyn Evans

Cerith Wyn Evans

neon art by Michael Hayden

Michael Hayden

neon art by Chryssa


neon art by Craig Kraft

Craig Kraft

neon art by Bruce Nauman

Bruce Nauman

neon art by Tracey Emin

Tracey Emin

neon art by Joseph Kosuth

Joseph Kosuth

neon art by Robert Montgomery

Robert Montgomery

neon art by Jung Lee

Jung Lee

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Neon Signs: Beacons In The Night

Few art forms are as fun to look at as a good neon sign. The glowing colors against a dark background epitomize what we mean when we say “eye candy.” A classic neon sign also conjures up thoughts of a previous era filled with bustling energy and an optimistic attitude.

Now, however, these signs have largely slipped into the realms of historical artifacts or incidental novelties. Most young designers have never experienced the analog grandeur of seeing a town’s entire main street lit up with glowing tubes of bright colors. The only neon signs most of us see today are miniature versions hanging on the walls of sports bars or pizza parlors.

In today’s blog post let’s take a look at the history of the medium and some classic neon signs from the past…

Georges Claude inventor of the neon sign

French engineer/chemist/inventor Georges Claude is credited with developing the process that is the basis for neon technology. He displayed his first neon lamp in 1910 and sold his first commercial sign, to a barbershop, in 1912.

Antique neon sign

Then in 1923, Claude sold two signs to a Packard automobile dealership in Los Angeles…and sparked a revolution in sign making.

neon signs

The bright glowing light from neon signs caught the attention of customers and projected a strong personality onto the busy sidewalk outside. Neon signs could be seen for blocks away. They were natural choices for destination buildings such as theaters and restaurants.

It wasn’t long before practically every business needed a neon sign. To be without one mean’t you were nearly invisible.

Neon signs and Times Square

The neon sign phenomenon spread quickly, particularly in America, but also in many of the major cities of Europe. By the end of the 1930s city centers were illuminated by neon signs as much as by street lights. In 1940 there were over 2,000 neon sign shops in the United States and New York City’s Time’s Square was famous as the epicenter of neon graphics.

neon signs

Beyond the urban environment neon signs were also obvious choices for roadside businesses such as diners and the newly emerging motel industry. The signs could be seen from miles away and were welcoming beacons at the end of a long day on the road.

Neon signs and the Vegas Strip

The last big push for neon signage came in post-World War Two America with the development of Las Vegas and its world famous “strip.” Each casino and hotel attempted to out do its neighbors and because much of the city’s activity took place at night it was the perfect environment for neon signs.

Then during the 1960s everything started to change. Across the United States city centers with their many individual, stand alone stores were largely abandoned in favor of suburban shopping malls.

The public’s taste for the style of traditional neon signs waned.

Zoning laws that limited what signs could look like followed these other trends and by the mid 1970s large scale neon signs for individual businesses were a thing of the past.

Although neon signs no longer dominate our urban and roadside landscapes they haven’t disappeared. Architectural and cultural conservationists recognize how important the signs were and have included many of them in their protection and restoration efforts. Most of the theaters and restaurants that managed to survive still have their famous signs. It helps that one of the qualities of a neon sign is its durability and low maintenance. As a result, many of the old signs continue to function decades after they were installed.

neon sign

Today you can find examples of restored signs at institutions such as the Museum of Neon Art.

If you are interested in learning what goes into making one of these delightful objects here is a short video that describes the process of creating a neon sign.

If you are reading this in email click here to see the video.

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National Endowment for the Arts: Once Again Fighting For Its Life

The latest bit of disturbing news to come from Donald Trump’s White House is that his proposed budget for next year eliminates the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

For those of you unfamiliar with this agency, let me give you a brief overview…

The NEA was created by an act of the U.S. Congress in 1965. It is an independent agency set up to support artistic excellence and public outreach for the arts.

The disciplines supported by the NEA include visual arts, media, design, music, dance, theater, creative writing, art education and museum education. It also helps support state and local art communities and agencies.

In other words the NEA touches the full spectrum of art activity throughout the United States. And it does it in every geographical region – east, west, north, south, urban and rural.

What’s equally impressive is the fact that it does it all cheaply – 47 cents per American citizen per year. As of 2017 the budget for the National Endowment for the Arts is approximately $150 million, or .0004% of the total budget of the United States.

During its almost 60 year history the NEA has awarded over 140,000 grants. Most of those grants have been to small, nonprofit organizations that are required to match the funds with local contributions. An NEA grant is really seed money to help a group leverage additional funds.

Some of the programs receiving NEA grant money include:

The NEA Shakespeare program that brings professional theater to small and midsize communities.

The Poetry Out Loud program that promotes a national poetry recitation contest among high school students.

The NEA Jazz Master tour bringing musicians to local festivals and classrooms.

The NEA National Heritage Fellowships that honor folk artists and performers.

Previous recipients of NEA support include the Vietnam War Memorial Committee and the Sundance Film Festival

These are merely a few examples of the “big” programs that have received help from the NEA. The vast majority are smaller, local, one time applications such as:

The Timpanogas Symphony Orchestra of American Fork, Utah

The International Storytelling Association of Jonesborough, Tennessee

The Sesquehanna Folk Music Society of New Cumberland, Pennsylvania

The Ozark Foothills Filmfest in Locust Grove, Arkansas

In addition to providing funds for art activities the NEA also administers the National Medal of Arts awards given each year by the President. A few of the past recipients in visual arts are Ann Hamilton, John Baldessari, James Turrell, Martin Puryear, Frank Stella and Maya Lin. Popular performers include Johnny Cash, Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Bob Dylan and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Another program that the NEA administers is the Arts and Artifacts Indemnity Program. This program is essentially an insurance policy for expensive artworks that are loaned to museums for special exhibitions – exhibitions that often travel to multiple museums around the country. Without this program it would be impossible for U.S. museums to mount shows that temporarily borrow famous artworks, objects that are often valued at tens or hundreds of millions of dollars. Think about the last museum exhibition you saw that included a French Impressionist painting or ancient Egyptian artifacts.

So what’s not to like about the National Endowment for the Arts?

Johnny Cash and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir? The Vietnam War Memorial and the Ozark Foothills Filmfest? What could be more American?

Why is this tiny Federal agency that does so much good for so many people being targeted for elimination?

Well, unfortunately conservative politicians and fundamentalist religious leaders just hate it. They have tried time and time again to eliminate the NEA. Some of them say they oppose “big government” and see this agency as excessive. Others take exception to the art and/or artists who receive funding or recognition. Some of them see the agency as a favorite program of elitist big city liberals and that alone is enough to turn them against it. And some of them just don’t think government and esthetics should mix.

To be totally fair I must acknowledge that in the late 1980s and early 90s the NEA awarded a few grants to individual artists whose work infuriated right wing politicians and religious groups. The firestorm of controversies from that time resulted in drastic budget cuts for the NEA and lots of calls for its elimination. A consequence of this tense period was the elimination of the Individual Artist Fellowship program.

But that was a long time ago and the NEA paid a significant price in order to move forward.

Now, with hardline Republicans in charge of Congress and a certifiably insane person as President, the NEA faces yet another battle for its existence.

As with most of their pet projects, the legislators who support this cut appear to have given very little thought to what it will mean for the country when we lose something as valuable as the NEA.

For them political ideology is more important than facts.

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Pinterest and the Elements and Principles of Design

As many of you know this blog is an offshoot of our book Design: A Beginner’s Handbook. In addition to this blog we also maintain a Facebook page and a set of Pinterest boards. The book contains real world examples of the elements and principles of design while the auxiliary resources showcase examples from the fields of art and design.

If you’ve read our book you know that we’ve divided it into fifteen chapters. Each of the first seven cover a specific design element (dot/point, line, shape, space, texture, value, and color) while the remaining eight chapters are devoted to one of the design principles (unity and variety, balance, grid, emphasis and focal point, scale and proportion, pattern, rhythm, and motion and time).

Today I encourage you to read the book as you look at the images I’ve plucked from our Pinterest boards. Try reading a chapter and then see if you can evaluate the image in light of what you’ve read. A next step would be for you to set up your own Pinterest boards (it’s free) and pin images that correspond to each of the elements and principles of design.

The 7 design elements:

Mona Hatoum art installation with green bottles

Chapter 1 Dot  Mona Hatoum  “Drowning Sorrows (wine bottles 111)”

Heike Weber art installations with topographical lines

Chapter 2 Line  Heike Weber  on left – “Isohypse,” on right “Whirlpool” 

Joseph Yoakum colored landscape drawing

Chapter 3 Shape  Joseph Yoakum

Aydin Buyuktas photograph that plays with perspective

Chapter 4 Space  Aydin Buyuktas  “Flatland Series”

Nick Cave textured sound suit

Chapter 5 Texture  Nick Cave  “Sound Suit”

Georges de La Tour oil painting

Chapter 6 Value  Georges de La Tour  “The Repentant Magdalen”

Sandy Skoglund photograph Radioactive Cats

Chapter 7 Color  Sandy Skoglund  “Radioactive Cats”

The 8 Principles of Design:

Marc Andre Robinson sculptural installation with chairs

Chapter 8 Unity and Variety  Marc Andre Robinson  “Right of Return (By Themselves and of Themselves)”

Kerry James Marshall painting of a couple in a nightclub

Chapter 9 Balance  Kerry James Marshall  “Club Couple”

Louise Bourgeois paint on sheet music presented in a grid

Chapter 10 Grid  Louise Bourgeois  “Lullaby”

Shirin Neshat photograph of man with fist on chest

Chapter 11 Emphasis and Focal Point  Shirin Neshat  “My House is On Fire”

Momoyo Torimitsu sculptural installation with huge inflatable pink rabbit

Chapter 12 Scale and Proportion  Momoyo Torimitsu  “Somehow I don’t feel comfortable”

Lucy T. Pittway quilt, quilts from Gee's Bend

Chapter 13 Pattern  Lucy T. Pettway  “Snowball quilt”

Hiroshi Nakamura & NAP Architects “Ribbon Chapel”

Chapter 14 Rhythm  Hiroshi Nakamura & NAP Architects  “Ribbon Chapel”

Damian Ortega sculptural installation in the form of exploding tools

Chapter 15 Motion and Time  Damian Ortega  “Controller of the Universe”

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Four Smartphone Games: A Pleasure To Look At And Play

Our smartphones – those powerful miniature computers we carry in our pockets or purses – have inspired countless design teams and others to create all sorts of interactive apps and games for our enjoyment.

Here are four of those games designed for both iOS and Android that use the elements of visual design to their maximum. Color, value, texture, space, time… The designers have created beautiful and intriguing images that blend seamlessly with the game’s platform and narrative. Looking at them from a purely visual perspective every frame in each of these games could stand alone as a small work of art.

Monument Valley was created by Ustwo, an international company specializing in mobile computing. Their designers were inspired by minimalist art, the subtle color blends of classical Japanese prints, and the convoluted spaces found in M.C. Escher prints.

The game was named the best iPad game of 2014. It was also rated the Best Handheld/Mobile Game for 2015 in the Game Developers Choice Awards.

If you are reading this in email click here to see the video.

Back To Bed is the product of Danish developers Bedtime Digital Games. Here their design team refers to the dream world and subconscious imagery of the Surrealists as well as old Disney cartoons where Goofy and Donald Duck sleepwalk unhurt through impossibly dangerous situations.

Back To Bed won the Student Showcase award at the Independent Games Festival in 2013.

If you are reading this in email click here to see the video.

Samarost was created by Amanita Design. They are an independent game development studio in the Czech Republic. Samarost in Czech refers to a root or piece of wood that resembles a creature – the inspiration for many folk tales.

Samarost won the Webby Award in the Games category for 2007. It also won the best Original Sound category at the 2006 Flashforward Film Festival.

If you are reading this in email click here to see the video.

Never Alone is a beautiful game with an unusual story about its development…

The Cook Inlet Tribal Council – a non-profit organization working with indigenous groups in Alaska – wanted to create a video game that would also promote the legacies of a local people. They settled on a traditional Iñupiaq story of a child searching for a way to stop a never-ending blizzard that is destroying the village and its way of life.

To tell this story the Tribal Council organized a design team and joined forces with E-Line Media, an established game publisher.

As players help the game’s young protagonist overcome successive challenges they unlock recorded videos about the history and culture of the Iñupiaq people. The game is both entertaining and educational.

If you are reading this in email click here to see the video.

If you have another example of a smartphone game with beautiful graphics please let us know in our blog comments or by visiting our Facebook page.

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Loving Vincent: A Painted Life

animation clip from the movie Loving Vincent

I was recently reading about the soon-to-be released feature-length animated film, Loving Vincent, that follows the life and death of Vincent Van Gogh. I was struck by both the artistic vision of the producers and the complicated process of its production. The story of the making of the film has useful lessons for beginning artists and designers.

animation clip from the movie Loving Vincent

Based on 800 letters written by Van Gogh, the movie is set in the year after his death, taking the form of a film-noir detective story. The movie revolves around the significant people in Vincent’s life (portrayed in his paintings) who recount his story. The question they attempt to answer – was Van Gogh suicidal or was he murdered?

Director Dorota Kobiela began her life as a painter before turning to film. After several years working in film she began to miss the intimacy of painting and found consolation in the letters of Van Gogh. She decided to merge film and painting in a short 8 minute movie centered on Van Gogh’s work. After meeting the Academy Award winning animator Hugh Welchman, now her husband, the project grew into an 87 minute hand-painted film.

hand painted film still with link to video

Click on the image above to view a short excerpt.

The scope of the undertaking is what I can only call mind-boggling. Each second of the movie is composed of 12 individual oil paintings. All together there are over 62,000 paintings, each constituting one frame of the movie. The filmmakers spent three years figuring out how to make the film, and then several more years working with a team of 100 artists to complete the paintings. They began with little funding, training the painters with money raised through a Kickstarter campaign.

Loving Vincent hand painted still next to actor in front of a green screen

The film is composed entirely of hand-painted canvases in oil, no computer generated shortcuts. This doesn’t mean the filmmakers didn’t take advantage of computer technology. All of the preliminary work was done with a combination of live-action, chroma key compositing, and computer animation.

Loving Vincent 3 images- one of an actor, one of that person in a Van Gogh painting and one a handprinted film still of that person

Loving Vincent 3 images- one of an actor, one of that person in a Van Gogh painting and one a handprinted film still of that person

In the two sets of images above you can see an image of an actor, that character in one of Van Gogh’s paintings, and the painted image from the film. Actors who resembled the characters in Van Gogh’s paintings performed on either painted sets or in front of green screens (chroma keying).

Computer animators added additional elements, such as birds in flight or blowing clouds, to the live-action filming. Once edited this work was broken down into individual stills (remember, a movie is nothing more than a series of still images shown in rapid succession). These stills became the basis for the oil paintings.

painted animation station

painted animation station

The filmmakers designed a group of work stations that they named PAWS,  painted animation work stations, seen above, that allowed the artists to work from the film stills. The finished movie uses 100 establishing shots, each on a separate canvas. Once a painting was completed a high resolution photograph was made, the canvas was scraped down and the next image based on that shot was begun. The artists needed to not only capture the likeness of the image but also a fluidity of motion that is revealed from one canvas to the next.

As if this wasn’t complicated enough there was another set of issues that arose in making the film. I suggest you think about the things you’ve learned from our book, Design: A Beginner’s Handbook. The manipulation of all the design elements and principles took center stage in creating this film. Scale, proportion, space (perspective), balance, color, value, all had to be altered in subtle ways in the making of the film.

Each establishing shot was based on one of Van Gogh’s paintings. In film every frame is the same size, orientation (horizontal vs. vertical), and dimension but this is not true of Van Gogh’s paintings, which vary in size, scale and orientation. The filmmakers had to standardize the paintings by extending the frame, imagining what would have been there, and often changing the vantage point and accompanying perspective.

In other instances the filmmakers had to change the color palette. The movie takes place in the summer but some of the Van Gogh paintings used portray scenes in winter. The production designers looked carefully at light and value, color key, and other aspects of color in order to successfully make the change from winter to summer.

Artistic style became a concern in the re-creation of Van Gogh’s paintings. Van Gogh experimented with paint application, and there are both subtle and obvious stylistic differences found in his work. The painters working on the film needed to find ways to transition from one style to another as the film moved between establishing shots.

black and white animation clip from the movie Loving Vincent

Another problem to be resolved was conceptual in nature. Scenes that never existed in Van Gogh’s paintings were required by the storyline. The filmmakers came up with the ingenious idea of using flashbacks that would be painted in a monochromatic palette of black and white to create these new scenes.

So the lesson in all of this? Believe in your vision. Develop the resources you’ll need to achieve your ends – time and training. Pay attention to detail. Get help from others – big dreams often require teams of helpers. Don’t give up.

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