Design & Color, Winter 2017 week 3

The third session of the Design and Color class for Winter 2017 was held on Wednesday, January 18. The class shared more cardboard roll creations, producing several new objects that exploited and synthesized some of last week’s discoveries. Dick critiqued the toothpick designs, and we discussed in depth the concepts of a ‘module’ and how that turns into a ‘program’, and what exactly that means in terms of our design work. Remember, it all comes back to RELATIONSHIP.

Homework assignment

Dick emphasized the programmed aspect of the toothpick module design assignment in this week’s critique, resulting in another chance at the assignment.

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Class recap – some key ideas

Critique – “On a Roll” assignment

Class began with another round of students sharing their latest cardboard roll creations. The collection included more holders (for cell phones, cords, glasses, pens, etc.), woven mats, sculptural objects, and even a musical instrument! What was most apparent was that many students had either exploited ideas discussed in the previous class, or had combined concepts and ideas from other sources to synthesize a new use for the cardboard roll (drawing on sources such as a past class with Dick, or a technique learned elsewhere, etc.).

A few of Dick’s comments during the discussion:

“Are you keeping track of your thinking? What are your decisions? What did you decide?”

Dick continues to ask us to slow down and pay attention to our thoughts. Many of our decisions and choices are made so quickly that we don’t notice we are even making a decision, and this kind of mental autopilot hinders us from noticing all the options available at each turn. If we never stop to ask ourselves what else is possible, we will eventually find ourselves in an artistic rut that we keeping repeating.

“When do you know when to add, or when to subtract? When do you know when to stop? When is it too much, and how do you know?”

This was a question Dick posed to the class, without finding a definitive or singular answer. This is part of the Evaluation stage of the creative process, and again calls our attention to being aware of our options and being conscious of why we choose what we did. The answer to these questions is unique to each project and its goals, and Dick likes to use the metaphor of a bridge with girders: “As a builder, how many girders is enough?”

“By picking one idea, you can go deeper – instead of going vertical [‘what else can I do, what other ideas are there?’], go lateral [‘what else can I do with this one idea?’].”

By ‘vertical’, Dick was referring to the phase of Expansion: when your mind and the page are blank, and you are playing around with ideas and elements (such as a color theme, a subject matter, a material or process) without any thought of a final design. This is where research comes in handy; or leafing through books or a magazine, waiting for inspiration to strike. Once you have found something you that captures your attention, it’s now time to go ‘lateral’: take your one idea and use that as a starting point for further development (the Convergence phase).

“Does the design work as a vertical [orientation]? Always ask, what if? This whole course is [points back to that]: ask continuously, what if, what if, what if.”

Again, pay attention your thought process, and recognize all the options available for each step along the way. When you rule out a choice (I will make this a circle, not a square; I will paint this red and not blue; etc.), you will being doing it with full awareness of the why behind it.

“The most important [aspect] of being a designer is the recognition that there is a cycle, and that everything exists in relationship [to everything else]. … It all comes back to RELATIONSHIP.”

See more solutions in the “On a Roll” homework submitted online.

Critique – “Toothpick module exploitation” assignment

Some students brought in toothpick designs they had glued down; others submitted digital photographs of their work.

We moved on to the toothpick critique, with students sharing the multitude of designs they created in the last week. Before beginning the critique, Dick asked the class to break into teams and go over a worksheet that asked questions based on two designs (see the worksheet in the Class Materials section below). The issue was to notice the differences between a naturally occurring design (one that had been ‘programmed’), and one that was done arbitrarily by making ‘imposed’ decisions.

“Don’t just impose something to make it more exciting – if you encounter a problem, or you’re bored with the design, go back to the source and change the program.”

One student asked how we can tell when is a change imposed (forced), versus when is it part of the program (natural)? Dick answered that “Everything is an imposition in the beginning,” but by the time you have made a few design decisions (what to change and what will stay the same), the program of those decisions will continue to make the design without you needing to force anything to happen.

“The curve [in this design] is not imposed – it happens as a result of the toothpick changing in a set program. DO NOT CREATE A SHAPE: create a program, which in turn will create a shape [as a secondary effect].”

“What can change? How many factors do you have? How many variables? … [For each decision, you say] ‘I’m going to impose a change, and an element of restraint’.”

We also discussed further what it meant to have a module and a program for this assignment, and how essential that is in order to create designs that we would otherwise never think of. There is a certain magic that takes over when we work within the limits of what the toothpicks are (the inherent qualities), and instill a deliberate and methodical amount of change that is not haphazard or accidental.

A module is defined by Google as, “each of a set of standardized parts or independent units that can be used to construct a more complex structure, such as an item of furniture or a building”. Cambridge Dictionary defines it as “one of a set of separate parts that can be joined together to form a larger object”.

A program is defined by Merriam Webster as “a sequence of coded instructions (as genes or behavioral responses) that is part of an organism“, and by Google as a noun: “a planned series of future events, items, or performances“, or as a verb: “arrange according to a plan or schedule“.

“It has to have some kind of built-in change. You have to get the hint that every 3rd or 5th toothpick is going to do something. … The design has to constantly evolve.”

See all toothpick module exploitations submitted online.

Programmed design example

Dick showed this elaborate toothpick design, created by a Punahou High School student during Dick’s time there.

The homework assignment is to go back and continue working on the toothpick designs with the concept of ‘modules’ and ‘programs’ firmly in mind. Dick repeated that the design should be like a strand of DNA, and if the program is followed correctly, it will yield a complex, yet completely natural, final result. This is how we ensure that everything in the work is related – nothing is random, artificial, or erratic – all elements are in relationship to each other, just as in Nature. It doesn’t copy nature, but copies how nature works.

A preview of next week

Dick showed a portion of an Illustrator tutorial video that will be helpful for next week’s assignment. It will be uploaded to the web so everyone will be able to access it.

Class photos

Class materials

Dick provided this handout for students to compare an arbitrary toothpick design with one that is programmed.

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Supplementary materials, sent out after class

Dick shared his analysis regarding why the latest toothpick studies didn’t seem to exploit the programming aspect of the assignment.

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Here is one toothpick study, annotated to direct the student toward programming. This advice accompanied it:

In general, try to focus on “the toothpick as the measure of all things”. Rather than progressing via some mathematical concept, explore the toothpicks and their qualities – length, width (which is different at one end vs. the other), what happens when you put them next to each other with different orientations… Just play around with them, ask “What if?” and don’t settle for one until you get to one that’s interesting or surprising. (I know they’re really frustrating and fiddly to manipulate, and when you place one you invariably bump several more. See if you can find a surface – rubber? felt? – that keeps them in place a bit while you experiment. It can also be helpful to have a T-square or triangle or ruler or template of some type, especially when you get to the stage of final assembly.)

Also, think of the programming as very mechanical – a machine should be able to follow the rules. Or, if you are arranging them, and telling someone the steps on the telephone at the same time, they should be able to come up with the exact same arrangement. Describe placement in terms of toothpick measurements. Do you knit or crochet? You’re following a program. Traditional quilts have programs within programs.

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