Boston-Cambridge in 10 panels

Over the last half year I have developed and executed a wall-sized map installation inspired by Boston & Cambridge for the Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC). I’ve displayed work at CIC several times before and was excited to work with them again on this commission, and creating a project in a new medium at such a large scale has been a great experience.

The long first phase of the project was devoted to preliminary research and experimentation. I knew I wanted to use the design of my existing Boston map to streamline the process, but I would need to enlarge it considerably. My challenge was to pick techniques to transform this relatively small image to a large scale, and to select materials and a display format that would be easy to transport and install in a conference room environment.

Decals and murals were considered, but I’ve been working on wood panels recently and was excited to continue with that medium. It was harder than I anticipated to quickly source 10 square wood panels of the same dimensions—I owe a lot to the friendly staff at Artist & Craftsman Park Slope! I would recommend their vast warehouse location to anyone looking for an art supply adventure.

While sourcing the panels I was also working on digitally tracing my Boston map so I could precisely scale up the roads. My idea was to use solvent transfer techniques to apply digital printouts onto the painted wood panels, so I needed a wall-scale digital image to work from.

Rather than directly reproducing the original image, to take advantage of the panel layout I chose to design each panel as an individual artwork. I produced a color mockup for CIC that divided each panel into alternating regions of white gesso, brown gesso and blue-green watercolor. These small-scale sketches helped me quickly decide how I wanted to structure an otherwise oversized artwork.

Once I had the digital map and the color sketch, I used a projector to trace the image structure onto the panels. At minimum I needed to delineate the areas for the river, the white gesso and the brown gesso, but I found it was most time-efficient to trace the streets in permanent marker as well.

Adding detail was a balance between focusing on each panel individually, then stepping back to ensure there was a consistent rhythm throughout the whole installation — which was particularly difficult since I barely had space see the entire work at once in my studio! It’s always surprising to me how increased scale immediately increases the physicality of execution. I developed a workflow of arranging + photographing all the panels every morning, then planning out the day’s work on a tablet.


After several weeks of adding detail and color, the panels were spray sealed and brought to Cambridge for installation!

The conference room has wonderful views of the Charles River and across to Boston. It was lovely to install my map while looking out at the real-life version of the streets and waterways I had depicted.



Making a Christmas card out of tree lot data

The recent months have been full of Christmas card design projects. For this card I was tasked with creating a design based on the same influences I’m grappling with in my personal work, and I went in quite an experimental direction.

My brief to myself was to create something in the same mode as my Central Park series, with data and a pen plotter, but using festive data and themes. We did some brainstorming and the concept that felt most intriguing was to look into data on the various Christmas tree lots that pop up around New York. I associate these lots quite strongly with the holiday season in New York, and having just moved back to the city it seemed like a timely focus.

I began researching and quickly learned more than I ever thought I’d know about Christmas tree lots! It seems that Christmas trees specifically don’t require a permit to vend, which explains their great proliferation in New York around the holidays—but also means there’s not a lot of easily accessible data on them. I found some homegrown maps of lot locations, but simply geographic coordinates isn’t quite enough data to draw something interesting. I decided to make my focus more personal.

To diversify my data types, I turned to Yelp reviews. I took all of the locations they listed as tree lots within the five boroughs, though I had to discard any that weren’t blessed with ratings or reviews (I don’t yet have a great way to illustrate the doubt inherent in a null value). For each of the places I found, I listed geographic longitude and latitude, rating level, and number of reviews.
I then pulled the data into a Processing sketch and wrote code to display each place as a circle at its geographic longitude (y) and latitude (x), scaled based on how many reviews the place got, and with additional circles based on how many stars the place had on Yelp.

Note that you can’t just plot the coordinates directly as they are; the image goes from 0 to 700 on the x-axis, and 0 to 800 on the y-axis; and the coordinates go from 40.6 to 40.9 on the x-axis and -73.9 to -74 on the y-axis (it’s a small geographic area, relatively speaking!). This is where the map(); function in Processing comes in. In some ways, the bulk of the code is actually just adjusting input values to match the vision. (That may in fact describe all code).

I did some test plots of this data with the axidraw, but while the results resembled my Central Park series, I wasn’t sure I could work with them. I wanted to focus on more illustrative, less repetitive elements like the ubiquitous string lights and the wrapped-up trees, and I was concerned the data would get lost amongst the illustration. I decided to go with an image that provided enough visual information to be intriguing, and build the illustrations around that. I went back to Yelp for more information.

I’d saved the link for each listing with its data, so I went back to the listings and fleshed out the spreadsheet with not only the number of reviews, but the word count for each one so I could plot them as lines extending from each site. This form references writing while staying abstract.

Once the code was set, I ran it to render a PDF and then set the axidraw to draw from the vector image.

I used waterproof Micron pen on watercolor paper, so I was able to watercolor directly on the plotted image. I tried various ways of incorporating the essential elements of the Christmas tree lots: the bound trees and the electric-generator lights.

 

The final image was subtle in a way that was almost mysterious. I focused on the abstract forms of the lights, incorporating some yellow reflections in the pine drawings as well, and the printer reproduced the color wonderfully. I’m impressed with how it came out! The cards are available on Etsy through the holiday season.

Art Seen: Northampton in October

The works that drew me were almost entirely printmaking; the bulk of them were fascinating works from the Zea Mays biennial printmaking show at APE gallery.

Edda Valborg Sigurdardottir

This work caught my eye first because I’ve been thinking about stitching a lot lately. I like the installation–installed above body height, on a hanger.

Amanda Maciuba

Of course I had to spend some time with the map artwork! I like how straightforward and accessible the construction is. Her work fascinates me, and reminds me that after a certain point, all geographically-referencing map artwork is about climate change…

Louise Kohrman Martindell

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about small multiples and other works in which repetition implies change over time, or narrative, so these works caught my eye. In the wall text the artist mentioned that each specifically references an aspect of childbirth and family, so there’s an element of inscrutable datavis as well.

Nicola López

I ran across her work at the Smith art museum and was immediately obsessed. I love the detail, the content, the scale, all of it.

Mary Bauermeister

I liked the sorting in this piece in the museum, but I particularly liked what she had to say in the wall text. And her Wikipedia page (linked above) also introduced me to geomancy, which sounds like a fascinating historical combination of earth and algorithm.

Art Seen: Clio Art Fair

I got to attend Clio Art Fair in midtown Manhattan last weekend (particularly to support my friend Regina Valuzzi, who was showing), and the variety of work there was impressive. Some of my favorites:

Rachel Goldsmith

The first art I noticed when I came in was Rachel’s, because she was “live painting” with a handheld 3D extruder onto canvas. The effect immediately reminded me of textiles, and also of Maggie Lowe Tennesen‘s paintings on panel. Because the plastic “stroke” will be thinner in the middle and thicker towards the edge, it also reminds me of how watercolor pools at the edges while it dries, and that effect makes it look more organic than the plastic material it’s made from.

Christina Hewson

I really liked the execution of Christina’s enormous flamingo paintings. I got to chat with her later in the event and learn more about her process, which was fascinating.

Yumiko Hirokawa

Her work was made over images of the Women’s March in DC, with the background covered in silver foil and the pink hats highlighted. I particularly liked this piece with the flags called out–and was glad see the red dot it gained by the end of the show!

Linda Lasson

These were probably my favorite works in the exhibition. I love the sparse materials (it’s actually subtly dimensional embroidery) and the abstraction in the content.

Sketchbook Project 2018

It’s been three years since I last participated in the Sketchbook Project. In the meantime, my drawing styles have evolved and I’ve finally moved to New York, so it seemed like a good time to do another sketchbook.

The last sketchbook was an overview of my markmaking and how it was affected by my forays into coding; this time around I decided to focus my sketchbook on a particular style. Lately I’ve been using a technique that builds on itself in “quadrants” (video here) to develop rhythm and work larger.

Each page will follow a certain set of rules within the quadrant style. I’m planning to add the rules for each spread on the drawings at the end of the project as well:

Here’s some progress shots:

The sketchbook will be digitized after it’s submitted to Brooklyn Art Library.

Art Seen: Governor’s Island Art Fair 2018

Kayo Albert

I was really taken with her installation, which filled her upstairs room. I’d seen her abstract artwork before, and I love the addition of botanical imagery in the new work.

Victoria Manganiello + Julian Goldman

An excellent physical computing/industrial design piece referencing the history of computing stemming from Jacquard looms. The textile has alternating colored fluid and air bubbles running through it, so it looks immediately like a digital display but the physicality is also instantly apparent. It was mesmerising.

Christina Lafontaine

Last year she had an installation of tiny interventions in the landscape just outside one of the Colonels Row houses. This year she had a full upstairs room which she enhanced with similar interventions with a larger range of scale.

Motomichi Nakamura

One of the most well-executed and arresting rooms in the fair. When I entered, the array of white projection-mapped half-spheres on the ground each had one huge eye blinking in the middle. The looping reel that’s projected on them continued to be aesthetically coherent and graphic. As we left, some kids were trying vociferously to figure out how the magic worked.

 

Samuelle Green

One entire room was filled with a site-specific installation of rolled book pages. Besides the overwhelming aesthetic experience of this book cave, it also created an unusual sonic environment; we had fun seeing how sound carried differently in the altered room.

Gabrielle Duggan

Beautiful and well-executed web spanning a whole downstairs room. There was a memorable installation a few years ago in a kitchen space that was similar, but white instead of black; the tone in this piece took it further than just the typical associations with lace or spiderwebs.

Drawing the Champagne regions

I was approached by Ten Speed Press (part of Penguin Random House) to draw maps for a book project on the topic of Champagne. They were specifically interested in a set of maps detailing the different areas where the grapes are grown, and their geographic features.

The project initially required a few sets of sketches before we came to a solution that incorporated the level of information they were looking for while still focusing on the craft and texture of the maps.

This was one of the most didactic projects I’ve been contracted to do. My niche is typically abstract maps that evoke the geography of a place for aesthetic scene-setting purposes, but for this I had to balance clarity and legibility of information with aesthetic style.


In the end, the project comprised 8 maps (7 different regions and 1 map of how they all fit together). The visual and didactic style was fairly consistent across the 7 regions, despite some fairly large differences in geographic scale, and that style was echoed in the overall map as well.


It was an excellent experience to map something with that much specificity, and I’m glad we were able to work together on it. You can find the finished book on Penguin’s website here.

Central Park series: data-driven artwork

In this small series, I worked with the axidraw pen plotter and Processing to imagine the new growth happening in early spring in Central Park.

From the warmth of my room, I researched March weather data in Central Park as well as geotagged posts of spring flowers, outsourcing my reference-gathering to the data of others.

I made some simple plots of the weather data using Processing, comparing humidity and temperature by date and plotting the points as small circles.

Cloud cover was additionally represented by adding rings around the circles (the rule was to add one extra ring if cloud cover was between 30% and 60%, two if it was anything over 60%).

With the axidraw, I could then draw the plots accurately and precisely using waterproof artist’s pen directly onto watercolor paper.

I drew lines to create dimensional relationships between the data points, and then “grew” the flowers I’d been researching from home out of the spaces between the data points.

The data formed a “garden” to situate the flowers, and their pattern was dependent on its form, as with the growth anticipated in the season.

The data forms them and gives a structure to their layout, just like the forces represented by that data enable the form of our gardens year over year.

Sketch notes: Margaret Livingstone at NYU

Margaret Livingstone spoke at NYU on the subject of “What Art Can Tell Us About the Brain” on Tuesday, and I filled this page before she even got to the Q&A. I’d been curious to see her speak because of my interest in perception and how she relates it to art, and the talk was very spirited. She explained different aspects of perception with a series of optical illusions, including her insights on the Mona Lisa’s smile which I’d seen and found fascinating.

A couple of the biggest takeaways from this were:

  • our visual processing “normalizes” the visual information we get, and artists know + play with this, which explains why a painting of a scene will regularly be different from a photograph of a similar scene.
  • many visual processing quirks stem from the fact that there are two processing streams when parsing an image, and one is colorblind (the older system). This explains the “shimmery” effect we get from colors that have color contrast but no luminance contrast, for example.
  • From the overflow to these notes: on the impact of diorama-type work, she said “Maybe by making something the wrong size, artists get you to process it with a different part of your brain”, referencing things like how we don’t really process an image of a face if it’s upside down. This is food for thought for me as I continue to work with, and be interested, in representations of space at small scales.

Aleataxonomy series

“Aleataxonomy”, my shorthand from “aleatoric” (created from random action) and “taxonomy” (referring to the classification of the elements I use in drawings), is a recent series based specifically on limiting drawings to randomly-generated numbers of elements in sequence. The project takes on the problem of end condition, or “when is the drawing done”, that I’ve been dealing with since working on series like Schema (one of the first that departed from my historic end condition of “whenever the pattern goes to the edge”). My hypothesis was that even with an artificial end condition, these drawings wouldn’t end up looking unfinished because of the conscious and subconscious aesthetic evaluation I unavoidably engage in as I draw.

Procedurally, I would first figure out what types of patterns would work for this process, break down their individual procedures into steps and ranges, and then write up a script in Processing that would render out random values (within the range) each time it ran.

For some of these processes I made intermediate sketches to determine how I should balance out the ranges of values before I could write the randomizing script.

Once I had a solid idea of the steps and ranges of values, I wrote scripts that would choose a random number from a range for each step and, critically, read the choices back to me in clear step-by-step instructions. Much of “aleatoric” art has to do with physical randomization tools like dice, but since I had access to coding text output and random value generation in Processing, that made it possible to write custom ranges in absolutely whatever value I might want.

Once I had the readout, my task was to follow the instructions to the letter (often using tally marks on scratch paper to record how many of each mark I’d completed).

– Example of a first step. The result of the Processing “dice roll” is at the bottom of the black rectangle below the code. (For those following along at home, the code that requests that printout is println())

– Process for a full drawing

There are many ways I can take this kind of process. One of the options I wanted to pursue was to try using the same exact values to make multiple drawings. Would they be the same, indistinguishable, or somewhere in the middle?

One of the unexpected upshots of this project was learning just how many houses or lines I might be able to draw in a small space without realizing. Even when I was dealing with scales like 6”x8” and large numbers like 150-250, it turns out that’s barely enough “house” marks to look inhabited.

In general, I’m glad I indulged this impetus to take programmatic drawing to a bit of an extreme. It’s another tool I can use to determine when a piece is “finished”; it allowed me to explore aesthetic balances that I might not have chosen to work with before; and in a way it gives me more confidence in the persistence of my artistic style.