I love… Jim Denevan’s land art

14 May 2009

Not joyful, exactly, but wonderful! I especially love Denevan’s process shots. There’s something so charming about art made simply, just a man and a stick, and the results are unexpectedly clean and graphic.

Rainbow sightings and joy in the natural vs. built environment

6 March 2009

This morning’s joy discovery: a whole site dedicated to pictures of rainbow sightings! There is something so charming about the artist’s desire to establish a collective forum for appreciating these evanescent displays of pure color.

I think the rainbow is one of the truest symbols of joy. Though we know the conditions that produce it, its emergence is always unexpected, and at any age feels somewhat magical. I think this is because it is a visual disruption of the laws that govern our everyday visual experience of the world.

One thing I’ve been wrestling with lately is the way in which joy is so often triggered by natural events and phenomena, both at the macro and micro levels. How then do we create things that bring joy? But it follows that if joy results from a pleasurable disruption of natural laws, then perhaps there is a parallel in the built environment, where joy results from a departure from the laws that govern the designed world. To some extent, these laws are the same. The built environment resides within the natural environment, so both are subject to laws of physics and to the limits of our perceptual capabilities. However, there are conventions that govern the behavior of the built environment, and perhaps unlocking some of these codes will suggest ways to integrate more joyful patterns of design.

The joy of intangible color

13 February 2009

Intense colors seem so far to be strongly associated with joy. I’m thinking of rainbows, candy, and balloons, but also sea, sun, and sky. When asked which color they associate with joy, people have been mentioning a wide range of hues – reds, yellows, blues, violets, but they are all very pure and saturated – no grayishness, no tinting, no muddiness.

I have also been wondering if there is something about natural color that is joyful. The colors of nature are often intense but rarely flat. Of course, the rainbow is natural, and these colors are are pure as it gets. But there’s something in the quality of the color too.

Color theorists talk about different kinds of color to differentiate, say, the blue on your shirt from the blue of the sky. They might be exactly the same hue/saturation/value combo, but they’ll still be different. The blue of your shirt is called surface color, because it’s applied to a surface and can be understood in the context of space. The color in the sky has no spatial information to it; you can’t tell where it comes from or where it’s located, how close the source is or how far. That kind of color is called film color, which I always remember because it’s kind of filmy and intangible. There’s something fascinating about film color, because you can’t really put your finger on it, nor can you reproduce it. There’s also illumination color, like the color of sunlight, which is even less tangible and equally as intriguing, because its color affects all the other colors around it.

Sunlight also comes up frequently in discussions of joy, and I wonder if this intangible color idea has a connection to the idea of expectations disruption which is one of many ideas I have around what causes us to feel joy. There is something about pleasurable things that seem out of step with the laws of nature that govern our everyday existence, like rainbows, buoyancy, bubbles, snowflakes, and flying, that seems to trigger joy, especially in children. These laws of nature form a certain kind of expectation. Of course we know that these occurrences can be explained by physics, but our physical experience of them, particularly the very first time, is magical. I wonder if the same principle applies to the color in the sky or of sunlight, and if these colors are not more joyful because of their elusiveness.

Nature never clashes

13 February 2009

I’ve been thinking a lot about color lately, with respect to joy but also just in general. Yesterday in our thesis session we were talking about the spontaneous ways we visualize abstract concepts. Jennie (a designer-friend in my program) is synesthete so she smells colors, while Fred (Blumlein, my advisor), sees time in his brain like a pathway to the horizon, like the time machine function in a mac. This allows him to see all sorts of connections in historical ideas and events that come together more synthetically than chronologically. I couldn’t think of what my spontaneous visualizations were, but this morning it hit me – I see (and sometimes smell) days in terms of color.

It doesn’t happen every day, but sometimes I walk outside and it’s just an orange day. It’s not that the light is orange or anything, but that there’s just something about the day that feels orange. And then I get to the studio and I realize I’m wearing orange, without even realizing I put it on. There’s not even any good or bad to the colors of the days. It’s not like a pink day is happier than a blue day, or a yellow day is more intense than a gray one. It’s just an intangible set of feelings that makes one day feel a certain way. Is that weird? Probably, but fortunately design is pretty accepting of weirdness.

Anyway, back to the subject of this post… In all my thinking about color, I was reminded of something Mark Goetz (my furniture professor) had said last semester. He pointed out that colors in nature never clashed, which I thought was both incredibly obvious and incredibly insightful at the same time. Colors in nature don’t clash, even when, as in the photo of a New Zealand sulfur pool above, they are absurdly odd and intense.

Cute, weird, interesting: Tree cozy

14 November 2008

While I was so recently on the subject of skin, this strikes me as an interesting parallel exploration. Artist Carol Hummel writes:

Tree Cozy is a tree – a natural object representing masculinity and strength –covered with a crocheted cozy – an emphatically handmade blanket representing femininity and comfort. On the most obvious level, it is a piece of clothing, personifying the tree and keeping it cozy and colorful throughout the year, enhancing the beauty of nature….The cozy covering the tree fluctuates between comforting blanket and suffocating cover-up; it conceals as much as it protects; it hides as much as it reveals.

Found color

9 November 2008

At the bottom of the blackberry box…

Lily pads as metaphor for movement

4 October 2008
One of the metaphors I’ve been thinking about for the kids-furniture-movement project is the lily pad. There’s something incredibly serene about lily pads, especially the way they rise and fall ever so gently with the water level. I imagine a classroom scene of kids all floating on lily pads that absorb all their fidgeting and excess energy and keep everyone on a placid, even keel. Imagine the energy flows of the class like ripples or tides, rising during discussions as kids shout out the answers and ebbing as they focus down on a particular task. The energy absorption of the lily pad and the water evens out the peaks and valleys, minimizes visual and audio distraction, and makes the class a much easier place to learn and concentrate.

Whether the metaphor will hold for the aesthetic or mechanical concept for the seat, the idea of energy absorption will carry through as the defining principle of the design.

Lily Pads, Fish, originally uploaded by andertho, via Flickr.

September inspirations

3 October 2008
For a while now I’ve been keeping files in iPhoto of pictures I’ve taken each month. The subjects are random – just things that I encounter in my daily life that inspire me. I’m trying now to get them all up on Flickr to make them more accessible.

September was a small gallery (maybe I was taking a break after the 700 photos I took in Egypt and Jordan in August). You can find it here.

This is my favorite image of the month, though some people find it gross. I just think there is so much aesthetic value in an oyster – the rutted, stony texture of the outer shell; the fine, flaky edge; the luminous white of the interior shell; and best of all, the watery suspension of pattern and texture inside. I love the toothy ruffled edge of muscle, the kidney shape covered with tiny parallel ridges, the egg-like spots and the leaf-like veining.