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.

Sketches from Paris

I was recently in Paris for two weeks and made a lot of time to draw.
Some of my favorites:

Along the Canal St Martin

Out the window of a bistro in Montmartre

The historic yet unassuming Lapin Agile in Montmartre

Steps near Sacre Coeur. There are tons of steps to get up and down from Montmartre.

Sketches and painting of a window. The architecture is lovely and picturesque but surprisingly complicated to draw. Mostly I needed preparation to deal with the perspective due to looking from the ground, and a variety of grey-yellows to model the details with any depth.

Aperol spritz! With record high temperatures, these were a big feature during the trip.

Tiny sketch from a picnic when I learned to combine Schweppes Agrum’ soda (mixed citrus) with red wine for a sort of super-simple sangria

Canal boat navigating the locks on Canal St Martin

Window in the Latin Quarter

Doughnut peaches for breakfast

Rooftops drawn while taking a break from the heat

Antique chair

The cluttered interior of a lovely cafe where I had a little longer to draw

 

Scotland map commission

Last fall I was contacted by David Collins Studio to work on artwork for the lobby of the Gleneagles Hotel near Auchterarder, Scotland.

The image they liked was a more abstract imaginary map with lots of brushstrokes, along the lines of my Schema series, and the source image was a map of the region that the hotel had in its collection.

From the outset the project was going to be a challenge to design because of the scale. The brief was to make 15 panels, each around 23” x 17”, hung as “tiles” that fit together into a map.

My usual process involves drawing a few thumbnails based on the area and focus of interest, developing a chosen thumbnail into an intermediate-sized sketch, and then expanding that to draw the full-scale drawing.

With this project I was still designing it as a single image (up until it got to a larger scale), but I knew there would have to be more steps between thumbnail and full-size than usual. As it turned out, to finalize the design we actually went in between scales a bit as well.


Choosing colors was also a preliminary concern because the work was going to be hung as an original artwork, not as a print, and the colors needed to match the hotel lobby’s decor.

Because of the style chosen, the image ended up being designed first by the streets and waterways, and the color distribution was determined later with a smaller-scale sketch overlay. I did several color sketches on an overlay over the roads, composited them together, and the studio chose an arrangement.

Two of the overlay options for the map design

Four options combining overlays with the map design

The chosen design, mocked up into panels to draw from

Once I got to the point of expanding the design to the individual panels and working on them, scale came into play again. The first steps (tracing the roads, inking the design, and filling in the water areas with watercolor pencil) were relatively easy, but I had to start thinking at different scales once it came to painting in the color.

I had my directions for the overall distribution of colors, but within each panel there was a lot of space! Detail that I would have glossed over at the small scale of the color sketch was much more stark at a larger scale. Additionally, when the roads were scaled up they became less apparent. I worked on subtly highlighting them using the watercolor strokes, and at the end of the project the lines of the roads got retraced as well.

First and last steps on one panel

(Everything comes back around—I’m finding myself using a similar style (i.e. adding watercolor with alternating indifference and attention to road boundaries) with recent projects now!)

The project soon took up a whole room:

Panels in various stages of completion

I was thrilled to see the first photos from the work installed. I wasn’t able to ever see all the panels together in person (I used a digital composite of photos of each panel that I kept updated with their current progress as a tool to adjust color over the whole image and make sure individual panels matched up), and I loved seeing it in the space.

Photo credit Simon Rawlings, via Instagram

Photo credit Simon Rawlings, via Instagram