Thursday, February 28, 2008

Art & science

In Dick's color class Tuesday we were exploring colored light, and talking about the difference in colors between sunset and sunrise. Kit Gentry proposed a theory about more color at sunset due to more moisture and particulates in the air. I confirmed this later in The Nature of Light and Colour in the Open Air, by Marcel Minnaert. I was reminded again of the common drives shared by artists and scientists, curiosity and exploration, and their common disciplines of observation and experimentation.

I love this quote from Edward Tufte, because it helps me make sense of my parallel interests:

"Science and art have in common intense seeing, the wide-eyed observing that generates empirical information."
(from Beautiful Evidence, 2006, p. 9)

Artists and scientists used to be the same person - daVinci, Goethe - the modern gulf between them is artificial and detrimental. This is one of the ideas of Dan Pink's A Whole New Mind: We need to unite these world views. Dick's class does. It teaches artists to see more carefully and scientifically, and shows how this rational approach can enhance their creativity.

This is why I'm so excited about visual thinking and visual communication - it is consistent with more of who we are.

(Photo by Kit Gentry)

Saturday, February 23, 2008

VizThink wiki page

Today I created a new page on the VizThink wiki, in order to share my summaries on each session. I'll be blogging about each session individually, but for now, at least a jpg of my mind map summary of each session's highlights is available.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Color class, Feb. 19

Tuesday was the seventh week (of ten) in Dick Nelson's Interactions of Color class. I'm way behind in blogging about it! He starts each session with an exercise to introduce the day's topic. The students spend some time working in pairs. Here, they've talked through how they would create an illusion of a veil on a given composition (covered in the last two weeks), and are starting to cut and paste to create the illusion of a spotlight, the new topic.

They were given a composition something like this, and told to choose colors (from a set given) which would create the illusion of a veil (such as a piece of tracing paper, or thin fabric) over the elliptical area outlined.

Illusion of a veil

Then they were asked how they would create the illusion of a spotlight on the same composition, and given swatches of color to cut and paste into position. The resulting compositions looked like this:

Illusion of a spotlight

There followed a discussion of the differences between creating the two illusions. A veil lightens, or tints, all colors behind or underneath it. A spotlight causes all areas outside it to appear darker, or shaded (like a film, an earlier subject). What they have in common is their unifying effect on a composition, and they can also create focus, mood, or mystery.

What do these illusions have to do with art? An artist who wants to create a particular mood, or render a particular scene or effect, can use this knowledge to create the effect they want. A misty atmosphere or fog can be thought of as a series of veils. Trees and other objects farther away are lighter, with less contrast to their surroundings. A scene with some brightly lit areas will have other areas of deep shadow. Scenes rendered without this awareness will look flat and false, no matter how realistically drawn.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Visual summaries

I've been reviewing my notes and summarizing my learning from the VizThink conference. I find mind maps useful for this, and for referring to later, though they lack the hand-drawn images that my composition book notes contain. This image contains summaries of all 8 sessions I attended in the two days (two general and two breakout sessions each day), which is actually readable when printed on two pages. I've also put each session in a mind map of its own.

A couple of other VizThink attendees have also done interesting summaries. My husband did his in a nice one-page visual format

and posted it on his blog, VisualThinkScape.

And graphic facilitator Brandy Agerbeck took her visual notes on index cards, and posted them to the conference wiki. Here's her photo of her cards and markers

and here's her wiki page, with her cards from each session.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Trying new things

One of the first events in the VizThink conference was a very quick "learn to draw" session with Dave Gray, CEO of Xplane. He had us draw some very basic shapes, then taught us to "take the stick figure to the next level". People instinctively start with the head, but he recommends drawing the head last.

  1. Start with the body, which communicates the action
  2. Draw the legs next
  3. Then the arms
  4. Finally, the head
Dave sees this kind of drawing not as art, but as a means to communicate, and encourages everyone to try it. His argument runs:
Every 5 year-old can draw
You were once a 5 year-old
Therefore, you can draw.
It doesn't have to look just like the real thing for someone else to understand it, so you don't have to be an artist to use drawing to communicate.

Here is his popular 2005 blog post on how to draw a stick figure. In this one, he starts with the body, as above, but draws the head second. And here is his 2007 post on how to draw a stick dog. This uses the body first, head last process. I think his thinking on the best order has evolved over the past couple years.

I drew this picture on my laptop, using the touchpad and a new program I tried at the conference, Alias SketchBook Pro (now Autodesk SketchBook Pro). It was designed to be used with a tablet PC and works well for artists who use a Wacom interactive display or tablet. It has a number of drawing tools like pencil, ballpoint pen, marker, chisel tip, brush, and airbrush, and a unique semi-circular menu that sits in the lower left or lower right corner of your screen. I've only begun to explore it, but it looks fun and powerful!