Design & Color, Winter 2017 week 5

The fifth session of the Design and Color class for Winter 2017 was held on Wednesday, February 1. We continued our exploration with cardboard rolls; Dick shared a slideshow of inventive and often humorous examples of ‘what if?’; and during the critique Dick discussed the importance of considering the full range of artistic options by way of using a ‘check off’ list before committing to a project. In preparation for the new assignment, to Converge and Develop their own geometric modular design color program, the class examined a design Dick created.

Homework assignment – Geometric shape modular design program

Continue the geometric shape modular design programming, by doing one or both of the following. Either way, make use of the worksheet below, and bring it to class next week. Bring your project to class and/or submit it online.

  • Move on to the Convergence and Development phases of the creative problem-solving process – setting your own fence posts, and developing according to your decisions. (And evaluating as you go, changing course if you have good reason.)
  • Continue playing in the Expansion phase, noting intriguing discoveries for Convergence and possible later Development.

Download (PDF)

Class recap – some key ideas

Critique – On a roll assignment

We began class by sharing our On a Roll creations, with many students furthering their exploration into what can be done with the raw material, i.e. – the cardboard itself.  This is what Dick had talked about earlier, that usually at the beginning of a project, we are so caught up in what we know about something (for example, that this is the “end” of a toilet paper roll, something useless since it no longer has toilet paper attached) that we fail to see all of its potential. Once we have moved past that kind of automatic labeling, we begin to see aspects of the object that we failed to notice before. This week, many students focused on what could be done to the cardboard: we saw investigations into soaking, blending/mashing, slicing/cutting, removing portions, weaving, etc. Students looked to see how tough or resilient the material was, or how flexible and springy, or both at the same time!

View all On a roll assignments submitted online.

“What if” presentation

At the beginning of the modular design critique, Dick showed a brief slide show with images that represented people asking “What if?”. We paused at one image – a metal sculpture that showed a portrait of Nelson Mandela – to talk briefly about the choices the artist made that lead to such a stunning final product. Dick asked, “Why metal, why this technique? Why [these particular choices], and how do [all the elements] relate?” Dick reminded us that the artist had to weigh all these options before the final result, even the decision of Mr. Mandela as the subject. Students commented on a few associations between the material (metal) and the subject matter: the strength of Nelson Mandela’s character; his endurance under trying circumstances; his lasting legacy and impact on history. One student mentioned that the vertical orientation of the metal sheets reminded them of bars, relating to Mr. Mandela’s long imprisonment.

The point is that when all the elements relate to the core of the message, the result can be a real WOW. (See the full slideshow in the ‘Class materials’ section below).

Critique – Modular design (geometric)

For the critique, Dick focused mainly on one question: have you considered all of your options? He reiterated that we are only supposed to be on phase 1 (Point of Entry) and phase 2 (Expansion) of the six phases of problem solving, which involves recognizing our preconceptions, and researching or considering our options. He asked us again, “What are your preconceptions? The given: a square or a circle – what do you take for granted [about these shapes]?”. The more we reconsider our initial thoughts on our “givens”, the greater the number of alternate possibilities that come to the surface.

For the Expansion phase, Dick recommends using a “check-off” list of all our considerations before we commit to a final idea. He relates this to the preflight checklist pilots use before takeoff, a list covering all the systems that must be operational before takeoff (see sample lists and explanations here.) In the artist’s case, we would substitute checking the landing gear, brakes, and fuel quantity, with our decisions on color, composition, line quality, subject matter, etc. For this assignment, Dick gave us a partial list for consideration:

  • Edges: What if I used soft edges? Hard edges?
  • Color: color themes? Tones, tints, shades?
  • Value: What if I choose to use equal values? What about strong values?
  • Optical effects: Have I considered using transparencies? Veils? Films?

(Dick has made and handed out checklists before; please see the handout in the ‘Additional / supplementary materials’ section below.)

Dick stressed the importance of these kinds of lists so that you are really aware of all your possibilities, instead of falling into a rut and repeating the same thing you are used to doing. If you never recognize that there are other options available to you, you will continue to stick with the same visual style without realizing there might be other ways to communicate your ideas. He spoke about this same subject in a Drawing & Composition class, “The important thing is to have a list: have I really taken advantage of all the visual possibilities?”

Why is recognizing your options important to the visual artist? As Dick says, it all comes back to RELATIONSHIPS. “At the core, if there is no relationship, then the final result will be out of sync … You can’t come in midway and impose, impose, impose.” In other words, if you do not recognize the core of your message, and you don’t explore all the options available for communicating this message, then you run the risk of mixing together styles and techniques that do not actually match your core message. You can get lucky sometimes (and we all do!), but to be an effective visual communicator, you can’t rely on luck every time. Use the checklist you generate in the Expansion phase to develop your criteria, your fence posts, for the Convergence phase. Refer back to it as you Develop your project, making sure it’s going according to plan.

The last major point in the critique was to be aware of the figure/ground relationship, and he implored us: “Don’t leave the ground as the ground.” Too many artists forget about the background of a piece until they are done with their subject matter, and then to cover up the (usually) white space, it becomes ‘fill-in time’. He discussed this important consideration at length in a Drawing Foundation class, using examples of his own work, and images by the artist M.C. Escher, to show how powerful the figure-ground relationship can be.

View all Modular design assignments submitted online.

Dick’s modular design example

There is a colorful geometric design that hangs on a wall in Dick’s house above his stairwell. In preparation for the new assignment, to Converge and Develop their own geometric modular design color program, the class spent some time studying it, trying to understand the design program that produced it. Dick pointed out details, and gave some explanations.

Poised For Retro by Dick Nelson

Poised for Retro by Dick Nelson

The entire thing is based on a single, simple module: a triangle. This shape is rotated and reflected and aligned to itself to form larger repeating and interlocking modules. Because of different values for the triangles, the modules read as three-dimensional steps, either concave or convex. The colors chosen for the triangles on one “side” have equal value – one is a hue, the other a gray of equal value. Colors of corresponding planes on neighboring modules change according to array relationships.

Detail from Poised for Retro

Detail from Poised for Retro by Dick Nelson: This design is based on a single, flat, triangular shape.

Class photos

Class materials

“What if” presentation

Additional / supplementary materials

Dick has put together many lists over the years to help students see their options and take into account all the possibilities available. These lists are by no means complete, and the more students take the time to consider every aspect of a piece, the more they stand to be rewarded by new insights. Develop your own personal list – it can become a valuable tool.

Download (PDF)

There is a section on Dick’s website that lists formal qualities of art – considerations for critiquing a piece of art. They work equally well as the basis of a ‘check off’ list.

Formal Qualities of Art, under Lessons, 2003