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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Pantone: Working with color

Pantone is a company synonymous with color management in the commercial world – particularly print media. It was started in the early 1960s by Lawrence Herbert who recognized the need for colors to be standardized when design projects moved from the creative studio to the print shop.

To solve this workflow problem Herbert developed the Pantone Matching System (PMS). This system identifies a wide range of individual colors that can be mixed using the four colors of ink employed in offset printing (cyan, magenta, yellow and black). The system also identifies what colored inks look like when they are printed on different types of papers.

In Pantone’s PMS every color is assigned a number and a formula for mixing it. Samples of the colors are printed on different papers (with their corresponding numbers) and assembled in swatch books called Pantone Guides. Designers refer to these samples when they create images or talk with clients. Printers can then mix the exact same colors when they receive the final job order.

Pantone color swatches

Pantone quickly became the world’s standard for effectively managing color workflow in the print world. But that was just the beginning.

Since then Pantone has not only stayed current with the needs of this growing industry they are constantly expanding the role they play as well as their range of influence.

Today Pantone sponsors a Color Institute that helps designers and clients explore new possibilities of color. They have developed additional color matching systems for products as diverse as plastics, makeup, fabrics and house paints. They publish books on the topic and have a smart phone app to help the general public work with color.

Pantone also markets an assortment of accessories – from handbags and bedding to coffee mugs and cosmetics. There is even a Pantone Hotel in Brussels.

Pantone mugs

The Pantone Matching System has become so established and pervasive that it is actually codified in legislation. For example, some colors in the official flags of Scotland, Canada, South Korea and the state of Texas are required by law to be specific Pantone numbered colors.

Every year Pantone convenes a secret panel of international experts in print media and fashion. Panel members compare their observations about the color trends they see in their fields and arrive at a single prediction for the next year’s Color of the Year. The color for 2017 is Greenery PANTONE 15-0343.

The color of the year designation is not intended to dictate color use. It is, rather, a heads-up notice to design professionals about what they might expect to see. Pantone also provides suggestions about color harmonies and real world applications for the featured color.

Pantone color swatch with numbers

As you can probably imagine Pantone is a regular collaborator with major houses of fashion and decor. Occasionally these collaborations also lead to purely humanitarian ends. For example, a partnership with Sephora that was designed to help customers match cosmetics with skin tones is now helping doctors prepare prosthetics for amputees.

Pantone strives to constantly find more ways to promote color and to influence how we use it. Wherever we turn in the design world it seems we can find evidence of their involvement.

Even artists working outside the world of commercial design acknowledge Pantone’s influence. Here are two examples…

Glasgow born artist Nick Smith has created a large group of images using a technique that bridges the conceptual space between pixilation and Pantone’s PMS. He uses individual PMS swatches to represent the average sampled colors in famous paintings and his own photographs. In the image below he has created a PMS version of Andy Warhol’s portrait of Marilyn Monroe.

artist Nick Smith image of Marilyn Monroe from Pantone color swatches

Brazilian photographer Angelica Dass has an ongoing artwork titled Humanae that consists of portraits she has taken around the world. Dass then samples the skin tones of the individuals and matches them to a specific Pantone color. The photos are displayed in a large grid with their corresponding Pantone color numbers. The overall range of colors is both narrower and wider than different viewers might expect – revealing the commonality and diversity of the human race.

Angelica Dass grid artwork using skin tones and Pantone system

For those of you new to working with color we suggest you review Chapter 7 (Color) in our book Design: A Beginner’s Handbook. In the book we discuss the element of color and other color systems.

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Anila Quayyum Agha’s Metaphor of Union

In light of the many unconstitutional moves made by our truth-challenged leader with the support of our ethically-challenged Congress I’ve been thinking a lot about what are the real values of the United States. What does make us great?

The easy and obvious answer to that question is all the wonderful immigrants who have chosen to enrich us – culturally, socially and economically. Today I thought I’d profile the work of one of those individuals, Anila Quayyum Agha, a Pakistani born artist who received an MFA degree from the University of North Texas and now lives and teaches in Indiana.

Art installation by Anila Quayyum Agha that uses laser cut wood and Islamic patterns

You may remember this installation “Intersections” from a post of ours “Material Presence: Real Encounters With Art.” Using an economy of means Quayyum Agha filled a room with light and pattern. A single high wattage light bulb was suspended within a six foot square laser cut wooden box, projecting complex Islamic patterning onto the floor, ceiling and walls.

Intersections” was inspired by a visit to the Alhambra, a Moorish palace in Spain that was built in the 9th century (and enlarged in the 11th century). Quayyum Agha was awe-struck by the palace. She realized that although she was Islamic she had rarely visited a mosque when she lived in Pakistan due to the restrictions placed on female visitors. She decided to create a sublime space that would be open to all, and she wanted to do this in her current home in the United States.

Art installation by Anila Quayyum Agha that uses laser cut wood and Islamic patterns, detail and a link to a video

If you click on the image above you’ll see a fascinating video about Quayyum Agha in which she discusses her process and motivations.

mixed media drawings by Anila Quayyum Agha

mixed media drawing with detail by Anila Quayyum Agha

Quayyum Agha is primarily known for “Intersections” but she also creates mixed media drawings and paintings. The pieces shown above, part of the series “All the Flowers Are For Me,” combine laser-cut designs, embroidery, and beads. Quayyum Agha has a background in fiber arts and this is reflected in not only her use of materials but also in her attitude toward these traditionally female media. In an interview with Scott Shoger she says “In a sense, I’m trying to elevate this whole domesticated element of the thread and the needle, which has usually been used to denote women, putting craft into dialogue with fine art.” By elevating the media she also wants to elevate women and their contributions.

mixed media drawing, with image detail, by Anila Quayyum Agha

mixed media drawings, with image detail, by Anila Quayyum Agha

mixed media drawings, with image detail, by Anila Quayyum Agha

I thought I’d end with this quote that was part of a discussion about one of Quayyum Agha’s recent installations. “The works in this exhibition were borne of the varied mix of emotion that followed my son’s wedding and my mother’s passing. On a larger level, it was the communal sense of loss – of loved ones, identities, homes and countries – experienced by myriad people across a world ravaged by the atrocities of war and displacement that created equivalence. It added poignancy to my personal loss and the global loss I bear witness to daily via the news media. This work also reflects my joy for my son and his future life alongside of the lives of many people across the world who have been given second chances through resettlement in new lands but who will always carry with them a sense of loss.

I didn’t realize when I wrote this post that today is  A Day Without Immigrants.

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Crossing A Cultural Divide: The Art of Sanaz Mazinani

Speak a new language, so that the world can be a new world. – Rumi

This quote from the 13th century Persian poet and scholar Rumi is an apt one to use in discussing the work of the Iranian-Canadian artist Sanaz Mazinani. In fact, this quote was featured in one of her architectural installations that was shown in Washington, D.C. More about that later, but for now let’s look at how that line from Rumi distills Mazinani’s interests.

Exhibition view of two photographic works by Sanaz Mazinani

Mazinani believes in the power of the visual image. She sees experience as mediated by the thousands of images we encounter daily – online ads, news pictures, shared social media photos, archival images. By employing an artistic practice that carefully investigates, and then reuses these images, she creates a new sphere where dualities exist and meaning is revealed.

photographic work by Sanaz Mazinani that includes Islamic patterning

Combining multiple found photos Mazinani makes large scale kaleidoscopic photographs. The images mirror each other, distinct and yet merged together. From a distance the works appear abstract, taking the form of ornate islamic patterns. Upon closer inspection the individual photographic components emerge, and with them the specific social and political content contained in each image.

photographic work by Sanaz Mazinani that includes Islamic patterning

These photographic artworks reflect Mazinani’s heritage. Born in Tehran, she moved to Canada at age 11. Her work is part of the unstable middle ground that arises between east and west, constantly shifting in response to current events. The Islamic patterning she uses is only a partial reflection of her identity. As viewers we bring to the work our assumptions about Islam, about our distance from it, about it’s “otherness.” On closer inspection of the work we discover that we have more in common than we expected, for the work has grown into something larger and more complicated.

photographic work by Sanaz Mazinani that includes Islamic patterning

Manzinani works as a visual artist, a curator and an editor. In all three roles her primary focus is on issues of social justice. Her work is part of a dialogue about cultural identity and media representations. She wants to educate her viewers so that they can become active interpreters of the avalanche of images that claim to represent truth in the world.

photographic work by Sanaz Mazinani that includes Islamic patterning

photographic work by Sanaz Mazinani that includes Islamic patterning

In 2014 Mazinani took over a long vacant library in Washington, D.C., creating a temporary architectural installation. The space was slated for development and Mazinani wanted to reclaim the original community nature of the site before it was razed.

architectural installation, U.S.A.I.R.A.N., by artist Sanaz Mazinani

U.S.A.I.R.A.N. contained 21 digital images. According to Mazinani “The imagery used was all sourced online and brings together photographs of Tehran and Washington, DC, that challenge the negative representations of Iranians that are seen in popular media in the West, as a means to take control of our own image.

Since the project is in the US capital, I wanted to respond to the cultural void created by the absence of an Iranian Embassy. In the 1960s and ’70s, the embassy was a site of cultural exchange, with events featuring Iranian performers and artists that drew the likes of Andy Warhol, Elizabeth Taylor, and Frank Sinatra to DC. Today, not only is that singular venue long closed, but there are immigration restrictions in place that make it difficult for Iranian artists to present their work anywhere in this country. So this work’s initial inspiration was to throw light on the void of Iranian arts and culture in the US due to sanctions and the politics at play today.”

Who would have anticipated in 2014 when the piece was made how far we’ve moved away from the ideals of cultural exchange. Mazinani is currently working on two exhibitions that are scheduled to open here in San Francisco, her current home. Her brother had planned to fly in from Canada to assist her but his trip has been postponed indefinitely due to the unconstitutional travel ban put in place by our wild-eyed, orange-haired, truth-compromised, leader (I just can’t use the word President for this man).

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Response and Resistance: Artists Push Back

In our last blog post, A Sea of Signs: Resistance, we discussed the recent wave of marches here and all around the world protesting Donald Trump’s inauguration as President of the United States.

The hand held signs at these marches ranged from sophisticated to amateurish, but they all captured the sense of frustration and anger people feel about the current political situation.

That frustration and anger is also expressed by artists from every field. In addition to the long list of world-class musicians and performers who refused to participate in Donald Trump’s inauguration, visual artists also called for protests. Let’s look at a few…

One of the first of these protests was The Nasty Women Art Exhibition. This event was born on Facebook when New York based artist Roxanne Jackson posted the following message, “Hello female artists/curators! Let’s organize a NASTY WOMEN group show!!! Who’s interested???” Within an hour she had 300 responses. Her original call was posted shortly after the election. When the show opened two months later she had over 1000 submissions from 700 artists.

Nasty Women art exhibit

Each piece was restricted to 12” or less with a price tag under $100. By the end of the show all the artwork had been sold and the $50,000 they raised was donated to Planned Parenthood.

At the same time Indira Cesarine, who runs a lower Manhattan gallery named Untitled Space decided to organize the curated exhibition Uprise/Angry Women. Cesarine says, “I was in shock. I think a lot of people were…A lot of people in America right now are pretty much in shock, that we elected such a sexist.”

Angry Women art exhibit

Uprise/Angry Women had 1,400 submissions from more than 400 female artists. Ultimately 80 artists from around the world were included in the exhibition.

Another protest action by artists was the J20 Art Strike. It called for “Noncompliance on Inauguration Day.” The organizers asked for “No Work, No School, No Business. Museums. Galleries. Theaters. Concert Halls. Studios. Nonprofits. Art Schools. Close For The Day. Hit The Streets. Bring Your Friends. Fight Back.”

J20 Art Strike poster

Their call for Noncompliance garnered hundreds of supporters including many blue chip artists such as Mel Bochner, Hans Haacke, Barbara Kruger, Louise Lawler, Richard Serra, Cindy Sherman, Joyce Kozloff and Polly Apfelbaum.

This protest had mixed results. They were asking for a lot and it is still early in the Trump presidency. Across the nation, however, dozens of galleries and a few public institutions closed. Larger museums in major cities had either a modest response or no response. Although famous individual artists were willing to protest, the premier institutions that feature their work were not so eager to participate. Museum donors, board members, collectors and corporate sponsors are generally conservative.

Beyond these calls for collective resistance, individual artists have also expressed their anger and disgust about Donald Trump’s presidency. Here are two.

Richard Prince is an artist known for his paintings based on other people’s work. He appropriates items – images or written text – by photographing them and printing them on canvas and other materials. He then claims these second generation images as his own artwork. The most famous example is Prince’s series of cowboys based on Marlboro cigarette ads.

His work is controversial and Prince has been sued several times for copyright infringement. His work is also fashionable and highly sought after by contemporary collectors and celebrities.

In 2014 Prince received $36,000 from an agent who asked him to create an artwork from an Instagram image Ivanka Trump posted online. Prince agreed and produced the piece shown below. It is not clear that the agent was acting on behalf of Ms. Trump but she is known to be a collector of contemporary art and in another Instagram post she thanked Mr. Prince and said she loves the piece.

Richard Prince art piece of Ivanka Trump

Shortly after Donald Trump was elected, Prince returned the $36,000 to the agent. He then issued a statement saying, “This is not my work. I did not make it. I deny. I denounce. This is fake art.” In a subsequent interview Prince stated, “It’s a way of me saying to them I don’t want my work in your possession. I don’t want anything to do with your family.”

Richard Prince’s disowning of this work of art may not have any impact on its value but his sentiments about the Trump family will always be part of the piece’s legacy.

Another famous artist who is angered by Trump’s presidency and not willing to just accept it is Christo. Readers of this blog will remember that last year we wrote about Christo’s recent large-scale installation titled The Floating Piers.

Each of Christo’s environmental installations requires years – even decades – of planning and complex preparation. Because he self-funds all aspects of every piece (and they each have budgets in the millions of dollars) he spends much of his time producing and selling artwork in order to raise the needed cash.

A project he has been working on for more than 20 years is titled Over the River. This piece would have silvery luminous fabric panels suspended like giant canopies placed at intervals over a 42 mile long stretch of the Arkansas River in Colorado. Construction and installation of the panels are estimated to cost at least $50 million. Christo has already spent $15 million to get the project this far along in the development process.

Here is one of his composite drawings that imagines what the finished project might look like.

Christo project which he cancels as an anti-Trump statement

After the election of Donald Trump, Christo decided to abandon the project. He said, “…I never believed that Trump would be elected…” Later he added, “I am not excited about the project anymore.”

To those who know and follow his work this is an amazing turn of events. As part of his normal working process Christo always spends years meeting with – and winning the approval of – the people who might possibly be impacted by one of his installations. This laborious procedure is a valued part of his working process. He is used to tackling impossible odds and then persisting until there is a positive solution.

In an interview explaining his decision to abandon the project, the 81 year old Christo stated, “I came from a Communist country…I use my own money and my own work and my own plans because I like to be totally free. And here now, the federal government is our landlord. They own the land. I can’t do a project that benefits this landlord.”

Let me note here that Over the River is the last installation Christo collaborated on with his late wife Jeanne-Claude. For nearly all his career Christo and Jeanne-Claude have been creative partners working together on their monumental, time consuming projects. She died shortly after they finished The Gates, their installation in New York’s Central Park. After Jeanne-Claude’s death Christo completed their decades long project The Floating Piers and was in the final stages of working on Over the River. Cancelling this project was a particularly significant statement for Christo.

These are merely a few examples of the many visual artists all across our country who are appalled by Donald Trump’s election. We here at Design: A Beginner’s Handbook share their sentiments and will continue to report on the artworld’s response and resistance.

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A Sea of Signs: Resistance

Crowd at Women's March in Oakland, California

We spent last Saturday marching in Oakland, California with 100,000 other patriotic Americans fearful for our country’s future. What started out as a national women’s march quickly turned into an international call for resistance.

Yes, I know this is a blog about art and design but there is no way to ignore what is going on in the country (and yes, the Trump administration does want to defund the National Endowment for the Arts, The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and just about anything that doesn’t fit their medieval agenda).

Today I’ll present a long scroll of images of protest signs from the Women’s March – photos we took in Oakland, photos taken by our friends Yvonne Allara, Jane O’Brien, and Zoe Heimdal, and images I found online from other marches across the country. You’ll notice that some of the signs are well designed, clearly the work of professionals, while others may not display the strongest grasp of the elements and principles of design but are nonetheless very effective. You’ll notice that many of the signs use text exclusively, relying on wit and passion.

Shepard Fairey poster of Obama and the word Hope

I thought I’d start with this iconic image by Shepard Fairey from the 2008 U.S. presidential election. Below are a couple of signs made by other artists, and seen at the Women’s March, that are take-offs on the original poster of Obama by Fairey. Both of the signs below are visual puns, mocking Trump while also setting up a stark contrast between the competence and vision of Obama and the mind-boggling lunacy of our new President.

Spoof of Shepard Fairey Obama poster using Trump's image

The following three images were also made by Shepard Fairey as part of his We The People series. They were designed specifically for the inauguration weekend – we saw lots of them on Saturday in Oakland. They’re definitely uplifting images that are also highly critical of Trump and his stands on women, Muslims and immigration.

Shepard Fairey We The People posters

In a future post I’ll talk about the history of protest posters but for now just enjoy these signs from The Women’s March. And please, Resist! Become politically active! Help us save our country!

piles of signs from the Women's March

Signs from the Women's March

Signs from the Women's March

Signs from the Women's March

Signs from the Women's March

Signs from the Women's March

Signs from the Women's March

Signs from the Women's March

Signs from the Women's March

Signs from the Women's March

Signs from the Women's March

Signs from the Women's March

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Who Owns A Color: Part 2

In part one of this blog post I noted that in the business world companies sometimes have a legitimate claim of exclusive use, or “ownership,” of a specific color.

I also noted that sometimes an artist becomes strongly identified with a color or range of colors. Although they don’t actually own them, those colors become a signature of sorts that are acknowledged and respected by others.

This brings us to 2014 when Indian born British artist Anish Kapoor first learned about a product called Vantablack being produced by the company NanoSystems.

Anish Kapoor is a very prestigious artist with a stellar international resumé. A tiny sampling of his career awards include the following: He represented England in the Venice Biennale. He received the Turner Prize as well as the LennonOno Grant for Peace. He was commissioned to create a monumental sculpture for the London Olympics. And in 2013 – like Elton John and Paul McCartney before him – he was Knighted.

Sculpture by Anish Kapoor

Kapoor’s sculptures often focus our perception on his artwork’s surface. He has, for example, created pools of swirling colored liquid, lined recessed shapes with powdered pigment, worked with metals designed to rust, and created forms from a highly polished stainless steel that mirrors its surroundings. Standing before an Anish Kapoor sculpture is a sensual and delightful experience. Viewers are generally spellbound by the illusion he creates with his surface materials.

Stainless steel sculpture by Anish Kapoor

Vantablack is a new high tech product somewhat like a paint or a pigment but different in significant ways. NanoSystems, the company that makes it, says that Vantablack is a “…forest of millions upon millions of small…carbon nanotubes.” Each of these nanotubes is about 3,500 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair.

Vantablack absorbs 99.96% of the light that falls on it. This is the darkest substance ever measured. Even if an object has a highly irregular and complex surface Vantablack will  make it appear to be only a flat silhouette. Scientists who have worked with it say that looking at Vantablack is like looking into a black hole in outer space.

(If you are viewing this in email please click here to view the video.)

Currently Vantablack is being developed for use with stealth military equipment, satellites, high-performance infrared cameras, sensors and scientific instruments. It is still in the experimental stage. Applying the material to a surface is a very complex process and so far they’ve only been able to cover small items.

When Anish Kapoor found out about Vantablack he convinced NanoSystems to let him consult wth their technicians and help direct their research. Researchers and the chief technology officer at NanoSystems became fans of Kapoor’s input and his art. One thing led to another and soon Kapoor was granted exclusive rights to use Vantablack in art.

When Kapoor was granted this exclusive right other artists immediately responded. One of them was Christian Furr, a young English artist who was recently commissioned to paint an official portrait of the Queen. Furr said “All the best artists have had a thing for pure black – Turner, Manet, Goya. This black is like dynamite in the art world.” He added, “We should be able to use it. It isn’t right that it belongs to one man.”

Not satisfied with simply complaining about the issue, artist Stuart Semple decided to strike back. In an interview with The Creators Project he described his plan of action…

“When I first heard that Anish had the exclusive rights to the blackest black I was really disappointed,” Semple tells The Creators Project. “I was desperate to have a play with it in my own work and I knew lots of other artists who wanted to use it too. It just seemed really mean-spirited and against the spirit of generosity that most artists who make and share their work are driven by. I thought a good comment would be if I made a paint that was available to everyone but exclude him from using it. That way he can have a taste of his own medicine!”

Semple has been working for the past decade with paint manufacturers from all over the world. His goal is to create the most vibrant colors possible. One of those vibrant colors is his recently developed PINK. Semple says, “It’s the best one I’ve got.”

jar of Stuart Semple's PINK pigment

Anyone can purchase PINK. Anyone that is…except Anish Kapoor.

When you are at the checkout stand ready to buy PINK you are required to make a legally binding declaration that “…you are not Anish Kapoor, you are in no way affiliated to Anish Kapoor, you are not purchasing this item on behalf of Anish Kapoor or an associate of Anish Kapoor. To the best of your knowledge, information and belief this paint will not make its way into the hands of Anish Kapoor.”

Unfortunately for Semple’s efforts, Kapoor has acquired a jar of PINK.

So it seems that the business world’s attitude and legal claims of color ownership have finally extended into the art community. It will be interesting to see if this is a one-of-a-kind controversy or if it is merely opening the door for more claims in the future.

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Who Owns A Color: Part 1

Because color is everywhere and so important in all our lives it seems that it automatically belongs to everyone, without restriction. We assume that – like the air we breath – color is just part of the public domain.

Can it be that someone could own a color or have exclusive rights to it? Well I explored the issue a bit and the answer is…maybe…yes…to a degree…sometimes.

In the business world there are instances where a specific color has become so identified with a particular company or product that the color seems to be an essential part of that product or company. In some of these cases the use of a specific color by a single company has gained a measure of legal protection.

This kind of trademark protection for a color is generally intended to limit confusion in specific markets. When two or more companies are selling similar products to the same potential customers – and color is a critical factor in marketing and presentation – the law can step in and tip the scales in one way or the other. Even then, court rulings have been quite nuanced. Here are two examples:

1. English chocolatier Cadbury waged a legal battle against Australian candy maker Darrell Lea over the use of the color “Cadbury Purple.” This case was settled out-of-court in Cadbury’s favor. In another case Cadbury fought the Swiss chocolate company Nestlé over the same color and trademark protection issues. This time they were only able to gain exclusive rights for their milk chocolate products.

cadbury logo and color

2. The French shoe designer Christian Louboutin SA sells expensive high fashion women’s shoes that have a red sole. This flash of a highly recognizable color lets the world know that you are wearing a very exclusive and expensive product. When Yves Saint Laurent started selling a line of women’s shoes that were all red (including the soles) Louboutin sued to stop them. The courts eventually settled on a compromise that said Louboutin had the trademark rights to its red soles but only if they contrasted with the color of the rest of the shoe. YSL could continue to market its all red (soles included) women’s shoes.

louboutin shoes with red soles

Unlike the above examples, neither of the U.S. companies Target nor Coca-Cola can restrict each other’s right to the nearly identical red they both use. Retailer Target and soft drink manufacturer Coca-Cola are not in direct competition in the same marketplace niche and therefore the use of the same red is not confusing to customers.

logos for Target and Coke and the color red

In the art world this issue has never been anywhere near as legalistic. The loosely-defined “ownership” of color is much more generalized and only used to identify trends, styles or stages in an artist’s career. Pablo Picasso’s so-called Blue Period and his Rose Period are well known examples.

It is rare that an artist would lay claim to a specific color. Rare…but it has happened.

In the late 1950’s French artist Yves Klein worked with a paint manufacturer to develop a very intense version of ultramarine blue paint he called International Klein Blue (IKB). He registered the paint with the French government so that he would be noted as its inventor, and he used it in many installations, paintings, sculptures and performances. It became his personal signature. He did not, however, attempt to restrict other people from using it.

Yves Klein sculpture with gold leaf and Klein blue

In the next post I’ll tell you about a contemporary artist who has taken this issue to a whole other level. It’s an interesting story. I’ll also tell you about some of the backlash the artist has generated.

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