Blog: entries tagged with "design"

Report on an unknown sea cucumber

Magnification of the Mandelbrot setBack in high school, I played around with fractals, after finding a writeup about the Mandelbrot set in a back issue of Scientific American. The article had loads of dazzling colour renderings, the likes of which would grace psychedelic CD covers a few short years later: spidery frost patterns, seahorse-like whorls, lighting licking around tiny replicas of the snowman-shaped set.

All that colour and infinite detail came from a mind-bendingly simple equation, calculated over and over: zn+1 = zn2 + c. The article provided a snippet of pseudocode, which I compiled in C and ran for days on end on the family PC/AT, pumping the raw results through DeluxePaint to colour them. (Later on I added a pause function so my mum and dad could use the computer again.)

It was a window into a mysterious mathematical world: look at the latest image and pick out an interesting looking bit, work out its co-ordinates, and start up the calculations again, and a day or two later, enjoy the results. There was no end to its detail no matter how much you zoomed in on it, and always with those circles upon circles. Similar but never the same: a fractal.

I hadn’t thought much about the Mandelbrot set until a few days ago, when I happened on a link to the Mandelbulb, a recently-discovered 3-D analogue to the old-school set.

It’s… a little creepy.


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Running in the family

Willow Park Ecology Centre mapLots of funny little coincidences today.

I’ve been working at Evergreen for a few months now. Not long after joining, I stumbled across my father’s name on one of our pages, listed as a contact for the Field Botanists of Ontario. And today, in the big list of projects we’ve helped fund over the years, I found my mother’s name, in an image credit for a hand drawn map of Willow Park Ecology Centre in Norval, near where I grew up. (There’s a better, non-coloured version on the WPEC site.)

Evergreen Brick Works bus route mapThat also means both of us have done maps on our site (I did a bus route map a few weeks ago, partly as a change of pace from staring at HTML all day). A neat reminder of where I got a good deal of grounding in visual communication, not to mention my appreciation for the natural world. Thanks, Mum and Dad.

Happy birthday to me.

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Glimpses of the past

(It’s been a whole month since I last posted, and what a month. Lots of things are up in the air, but in general it’s been going well. There are promising job leads, I’ve had time to reorganize the studio at last, and resume work on some projects, both musical and electronic - more about those soon. Meanwhile…)

Claremont Confectionery - photo: Sean HowardThe other day, while Sean and I were out for a bite to eat, we noticed a store sign across the street proudly announcing “Claremont Confectionery - Smoke and Gifts - Complete Line of Guns & Fishing Tackle” in handsome hand-painted lettering… might have been forty or fifty years old, by the look of it. The building is now a restaurant, but the owners had apparently liked the sign enough to keep it around. It’s not the only such “historic” sign on Queen Street, either.

I like this sort of nod to the past. I’ve heard it criticized as pretentious and empty - like “façadism” in architecture, where the front of a historic building is kept, and attached to a brand new, usually much larger building. You’re appropriating a cultural artifact that has its own layered history, the argument goes, presumably hoping that some of its essence carries over into your new enterprise.

But nah… it’s pretty neat that elements like this are being kept, however superficial they might be. If it’s done with a bit of reverence and respect, they can help connect us with our surroundings, and remind us that we’re all part of this vast stretch of history.

I once designed a logo for a friend, which was eventually made into a sign that hung over her storefront on Queen West. I’d designed logos before, and web sites and business cards, but this felt different - the first time seeing something I’d created become such a visible part of her shop’s public face, physical and permanent.

Well, not that permanent, of course. It’s been gone for years now. Dozens of signs appear on and vanish from that block alone every year, only slightly more permanent than the cards, posters and other ephemera that flutter through it. It’s cool that every once in a while one survives.

(Next: decay, ruins, and aesthetics.)

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Music comics

Sordid City Blues previewOne of the comics I’ve been keeping up with online is Sordid City Blues. It stands out among the throngs of webcomics out there, with a cast of smartly written and charmingly drawn characters wrestling with issues of love, faith and art. The author, Charles Schneeflock Snow, is taking a few weeks off to work on other projects, and recently put out a call for guest artists to fill in for him on the web site. So I chipped in with a page, and went for the most obvious subject: Luther and his bandmates. (Luther’s the one in the blue hat - the central characters in SCB are colour-coded.) Here it is!

There are some references to earlier stories - particularly Chapter 43, which deals with the origin of the mural. The conversation about the bass is one I’ve had several times (the Fury LS-4 I play has an unusual headstock which tends to attract the attention of gear nerds) but also, Barkey does play a rather odd-looking bass.

(Like SCB? The first collection of stories is available in book form… help support independent artists!)

I’ve played around with comics before but never in a big way. And I’ve used Adobe Illustrator for years, but this is one of the few times I’ve actually been using it for hand-drawn illustration. Lessons learned: use layers. Lettering using a tablet is a pain in the ass. Background detail really helps a panel to spring to life (as was the case with the graffiti and cinder-block wall in the second panel). Also, it’s really freeing to write in a different voice for a while, and play with someone else’s characters. I did my best to capture a little of SCB’s look and its rhythms.

For quite some time I’ve been tossing around some story ideas, but I’ve never settled on a satisfying way of telling them. The format and characters keep shifting around on me - first it was a series of radio plays, then it was going to be podcasts, or maybe just short stories, and now I’m thinking of doing it in comic form. It may end up being a combination of all of the above. This has been a good chance to test the comics waters, and see if I’m really up to the task.

SketchSome of the characters I’m developing are musicians as well, which means that at some point there will be music played. Which brings up the fascinating question of how to represent music in a silent, static medium. Usually comic artists just resort to a sprinkling of eighth-notes and some lyrics. But what about taking a crazy graphical approach, one that breaks out of the usual rhythm of panels, the way a big number in a musical jumps out of the “real world” of theatrical/cinematic structure?

The example that springs to my mind at the moment is Hot Jazz by the ever-wacky Hunt Emerson. I don’t know a whole lot about comics history, so I’m sure there are others… Any suggestions? I should probably look into some Matt Howarth, for instance.

In the meantime I’ve been hunting through The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics (see here for images, mostly the ones by Alan Aldridge). I’ll have to have a look for What The Songs Look Like too, which does the same for Talking Heads… and I wish I had a copy of More Dark Than Shark, a collection of artworks created by Russell Mills inspired by Brian Eno’s early “rock” albums, now out of print and hard to find.

My next comic-related project, then, is going to be this: pick a few songs that really inspire some visuals, and do one or two pages for each one. Strong contenders for the first couple: Stereolab and the Pixies.

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It’s finally sunk in.
Back on the first of January 2000, even with the rollover of the Great Year Odometer, the world didn’t seem any different.
“It’s a funny feeling,” I wrote then, “knowing that I and the rest of my relatives will bear a year starting with ‘2’ on their tombstones. You don’t usually think of your grandma being part of the 21st century - but she is, as much as you are…
“And it’s funny to think of that state of mind we had - I’m not sure when it’ll fully leave… the feeling that on the stroke of midnight, 31 Dec 1999, all the brick buildings in the world would turn to glass, all the cars would turn into airships, all the planes to rockets and the subways to maglevs…”
And again in 2001, it still didn’t feel like a new century.
Last night, we were at my grandmother’s place having dinner, and watched the first couple of innings of Game 3 of the World Series in New York City. And finally, it felt like The Future: George W. Bush throwing the first pitch - probably the longest minute in the entire lives of most of the security people there, the patriotic messages and memorials, the ads for United Airlines and gene-research firms, the jet flyovers…
I always used to mentally picture the decades as a series of impressions of colour and tone and shape, running from left to right, the synthesis of many visual memories of images and styles. For the 20th century, the years up to about 1930 were sepiatoned, then black and white and pale blue. The Thirties were deep wine red, the Forties black and white and deeper blue. The Fifties were sunny yellow and pink and white, the Sixties bright primary red and white, shading into psychedelic paisley purples and dark reds. The Seventies were pale yellow and off-white, then darkened to the sleek boxy black of consumer electronics in the early Eighties. Pastels and silvers and rough, chaotic textures followed in the Nineties.
In 2000 I wrote: “The 2000s were a blank slate, a great unknown. But I do remember it was white, shiny, gleaming, green, hopeful.
“Now I’d like it to be vast, multicoloured, joyous, rooted, honest, bright, rich.”
We’ll see…

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