Archive for the ‘discussion/analysis’ Category


June 21, 2008

Today’s pattern pics come straight from north Denver, where my son Gus is performing in a play at the Bug Theater.

The Bug is a cute old theater, built in 1912 as a nickelodeon movie house. According to the website:

The theatre now known as The Bug survived multiple incarnations and more than 25 years of dormancy before local artists Chandler Romeo and Reed Weimer renovated the building in 1994 and founded the Bug Performance & Media Art Center (BPMAC), a non-profit organization dedicated to serving Denver audiences by facilitating the development and presentation of diverse arts and cultural programming.

You can see how the various incarnations impacted the building in some strange ways. Here’s an old pic (again, from their website, thanks Bug) that shows what it looked like originally.

When you get up close to the building, you can see that the original tile extends out beyond the wall (apparently built in the 50s), and that the wall was built at an angle.

Look at this great tile. It’s exactly the same as the tile border as in the Grow store. We always speculated that the Grow store used to be a barbershop or apothecary, but apparently that same style of tile was used in theaters also. I’d never seen these tiny circular tiles before.

Here’s an up-close of the 50s wall. I love this style of wall…but why did they put it at an angle? Was the architect trying to “modernize” the building when they enclosed the lobby? And look at the interesting pattern in the piece of steel between the sections of the building.

This large metal floor panel could have been just flat, but instead it has two unusual patterns pressed into both sides.

At night, the right-hand panel glows with light, because some of those circles are filled with a thick glass. You can see where they’re broken out in the photo above. Underneath the doors is what looks like a spider-webby stairway that presumably goes under the theater, and a little clamp lamp that someone put under there, to make the panel glow.

Next door to the bug is an environmental consulting firm and a little gallery where my friends Sarah and Kelton met years ago. The consulting firm has nice decorative steel window bars, a little bullet hole, and a lovely manhole cover in the front sidewalk.

And, for the last north Denver pattern, a close-up of the building across the street, which was also apparently “modernized” in the 50s with the addition of a stone facade.

We have a book at home called “How Buildings Learn” by Stewart Brand (of Whole Earth Catalog fame, and now founder of an interesting organization called The Long Now Foundation which was founded “…to provide counterpoint to today’s “faster/cheaper” mind set and promote “slower/better” thinking, [in order to] creatively foster responsibility in the framework of the next 10,000 years…”).

Anyway, the How Buildings Learn book discusses these kinds of issues. Brand essentially argues that buildings are almost like Darwinian mechanisms, in that they have to change and “grow” to adapt to human needs and environmental and economic conditions.


May 22, 2008

We got back late late last night…the plane was delayed, so it was about 2 am Denver time before we got home, meaning it felt like 4 am to us. It was nice to be home even though I was exhausted. I peeked at the sleeping boys, who had all made us “welcome home” cards, and petted the cats. We saw precious few creatures while we were in NY–some birds, one black squirrel, a few dogs. Lots of babies, though.

This pattern was inspired by some of the tiny calico prints that were featured in the Cooper’s sample exhibit. There were beautiful little Japanese prints done for kimono fabric. I believe they were produced using indigo dye and a rice paste resist. The actual prints were much smaller than what I’ve done here, but if they get too small on the computer screen they disappear.

diamond calico

diamond calico light

Another thing I learned from the sample show is that calico fabric originated in India. The informational blurb at the museum said the fabric was from Calcutta, but I’ve since discovered that it’s from the city of Calicut. (Oops, Cooper-Hewitt). Indian pattern designers typically used motifs from nature, of trees, flowers, birds, etc. Then the Europeans started making calico fabric with motifs based on the traditional Indian motifs. I’ve always associated calico fabric with Little House on the Prairie, so I did a little research to find out how it got to America. Here’s a brief synopsis:

In 1700, England banned import (and the use and wear) of cotton cloth from India, in an effort to prop up the English textile industry (known as the ‘Calico Act’, it was repealed in 1774). Printed calicos were especially popular among women who were termed the ‘Calico Madams’. The ban almost destroyed the Indian textile industry, and India was forced to buy from the British textiles. (thanks Wikipedia)

A fellow named John Hewson, the son of a London woolen draper, came to America in 1774 with Benjamin Franklin to escape King George’s rule. Hewson was trained as a printer of calico fabrics and had worked for Talwin & Foster, a leading London textile printworks. He opened a calico printing factory in 1774 in Pennsylvania. According to the Pennsylvania Historical Society website,

Not only was Hewson the first calico fabric printer in the colonies, his work was also of the highest quality. According to scholars of textile history, Hewson’s textiles were unmatched in America at that time, and rivaled those of Europe. His chintz fabrics made him famous and were printed with wood blocks; a different one was used for each of the seven colors in his palette; pink, red, blue, yellow, black and brown. Green colors were added by “pencilling” in blue and yellow dyes. Hewson’s textiles were expensive and highly sought after for dresses, furnishing fabrics and handkerchiefs. He is most known for his realistic and finely detailed classical urns of flowers, which were printed as medallion panels for bedcovers, it is believed.

There you have it…the history of calico, in a nutshell.

5.21.08 Manhattan museums

May 21, 2008

Today was our free day in NYC. We started out with bagels (and that puffy roll I had been obsessing about) at Palca’s, then took the train into the city. We decided to go up the west side of the park because I was remembering that the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum was up there, and of course had forgotten to check the address while I still had internet access. We accidentally got onto an A express train and ended up at 125th Street, got immediately back on a C Local going south, and eventually made it to 96th Street, only to find out that the Cooper-Hewitt was on the east side of the park with all the other museums.

Ted had been wanting to walk through the park anyway, and it was a gorgeous day, so we walked through to the east side and ended up right at 91st and literally in the backyard of the Cooper. We went in the back entrance to the museum into the courtyard, where artsy people were sitting at cafe tables in the sun and kids were playing on the wide green lawn. It was quite idyllic, and a nice contrast to our late afternoon experience at the MOMA, which was much more of what I expected of a NYC museum experience.

The Cooper-Hewitt had a few exhibitions: Rococo: The Continuing Curve, Campana Brothers Select, a selection of pieces from the permanent collection by Brazilian designers Fernando and Humberto Campana, and Multiple Choice: From Sample to Product, which showed sample books from various industries and countries. Each of the exhibits gave me design and pattern ideas, especially the Campana brothers’ choices. I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that humans have always made art, even in the most impossible circumstances, and with the most unlikely materials. There were incredible examples of jewelry created from dyed horsehair and human hair (ca. 1830), incredible prints, and beautiful intricate wallpapers made from hand-cut paper.

I love the insect prints in particular, done in 1927 by a French etymologist named Emile-Alain Séguy. They were so beautifully designed…and the guy was trained as a scientist, not an artist! I’ve wanted to do an insect pattern for years, so maybe this will motivate me to try one. I saw some other wonderful insect illustrations in a Dwell magazine years ago, and have been trying to find that issue ever since. I can’t remember the illustrator’s name, but the drawings were abstract and lovely.

The rococo exhibit was interesting…rococo is not really my favorite style, but the discussion of how it influenced various design aesthetics was instructive. I most liked the modern pieces that were inspired by the rococo style, and there was one quote from the show that stuck with me. Here it is:

William Hogarth’s 1753 work Analysis of Beauty codified twenty years of rococo design by espousing the S-curve as the “line of beauty.”

I’ve had curves on the mind lately, as I’ve been using rounded-edge boxes for my VF materials, including the Surtex booth. There is a certain gentle beauty to a curve that a hard edge can’t convey. Curves are sometimes described as feminine, although I feel like they are more organic than specifically feminine.

4.30.08 Cabbages and Kings

April 30, 2008

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”

This stanza of the very long Lewis Carroll poem “The Walrus and the Carpenter” was recited pretty frequently in my household when I was growing up. Every time someone would say “the time has come,” someone else, usually my mother, would launch into the rest of the lines. To this day I can’t hear that phrase without automatically thinking of shoes and ships and sealing wax, and cabbages and kings. I do know now that it’s “sealing wax,” rather than “ceiling wax.”

Something else I’ve retained from childhood is my fascination with the amazing patterns found in nature: the subdivided segments of a lime, the organized seeds of a pomegranate, the undulating layers of a cabbage. Hence today’s pattern, inspired by a cabbage recently halved and turned into fish tacos by my husband, who is the chef of the household.

Unfortunately, I drew the sketch for my cabbage from memory, and now that I see the photo, I realize that I could have done a much better sketch. Oh well, maybe another day. Or maybe I’ll make my peace with the fact that this is an interpretive endeavor. Without further ado….

A few interpretations of yes, cabbages.

falling cabbage

falling cabbage reversed

red cabbage


February 25, 2008

The Oliver Sacks article got me thinking about historic patterns, and I started drawing more of my circular designs. Then my spouse walked by and said, “Holy mandala,” which got me thinking about consciously drawing modern mandalas. Here’s an excerpt from the Wikipedia entry for mandala:

“Mandala has become a generic term for any plan, chart or geometric pattern that represents the cosmos metaphysically or symbolically, a microcosm of the Universe from the human perspective….The psychoanalyst Carl Jung saw the mandala as “a representation of the unconscious self.” …In the West, mandala is also used to refer to the “personal world” in which one lives, the various elements of the mandala or the activities and interests in which one engages, the most important being at the centre of the mandala and the least important at the periphery. Depicting one’s personal mandala in pictorial form can give one a good indication of the state of one’s spiritual life.”

I’ve always drawn circular patterns, ever since I was a little kid. My About page has some examples of circles done for various projects over the years.

Here’s a modern nature-inspired mandala. Is it meaningful that the center is empty, if that’s supposed to be the most important element? I’ll have to try to imbue my next set of mandalas with more conscious meaning.

petal mandala

Oliver Sacks article about migraine patterns

February 25, 2008

Oliver Sacks has an article in the NYT that talks about the patterns that are associated with migraines. Here’s a little excerpt:

“In my own migraine auras, I would sometimes see — vividly with closed eyes, more faintly and transparently if I kept my eyes open — tiny branching lines, like twigs, or geometrical structures covering the entire visual field: lattices, checkerboards, cobwebs, and honeycombs. Sometimes there were more elaborate patterns, like Turkish carpets or complex mosaics; sometimes I saw scrolls and spirals, swirls and eddies; sometimes three-dimensional shapes like tiny pine cones or sea urchins.

Such patterns, I found, were not peculiar to me, and years later, when I worked in a migraine clinic, I discovered that many of my patients habitually saw such patterns.” — from Patterns, by Oliver Sacks

Sacks discusses how many other physical conditions can produce geometric hallucinations: sensory deprivation, low blood sugar, fever, delirium, or the hypnopompic and hypnagogic states that come immediately before and after sleep.

I’ve experienced some of these patterns, particularly when I’m drifting off to sleep. I’ve seen some beautiful patterns, interesting enough that they almost pushed me to full awakening. I’ve thought, “What a great combination of colors. I’ll have to remember that tomorrow.” And of course, I can never remember.

Sacks then ties the migraine patterns to patterns that have been represented in art across cultures, times and disciplines–painting, weaving, tile work, basketry, architecture–and wonders whether these similar geometric patterns could have all been inspired by internal brain organization.

It’s a fascinating article. I’ve always been drawn to organized forms, repetitive images, patterns of shape and color. Perhaps I’ve been tapping into a larger historical or biological system of organization, made tangible by artists throughout time.

[Note: I copied this entry over from my Vox blog, which unfortunately is unable to export comments. So I also copied the comments because they were particularly interesting and I hated to leave them behind.]


Mr Sacks – a delightfully observant man – may be unique among doctors. He actually seems to have a curiosity that leads him to consider ideas NOT part of the medical dogma. That leads him to say things which may look new to doctors, but which are not new at all. So what is amazing about this story is not that people see (and hear and tap out and verbalize and smell) patterns constantly. But rather that a doctor actually paid attention to them.
Watt Pye
I like the patterns you design and that you share their diversified origins, ie., Henry’s doodling, organic microscopic materials, the colors and shapes you see as a result of your fascination with nature, order, and repetition. And that they probably, like Dr. Sacks’ migrain art, may be tap into the archetypes and what Jung calls the collective unconscious of art, mythology, and biology.
Here is a thesis – an interpretation of a popular thesis -There is no collective unconscious, and there are no collective archetypes. There are tons and tons of individual impulses and tons and tons of individual archetypes molded by interactions with folks close by.And these impulses can be observed. When observed, the observer muses that something must be going on. Out of all the possible accounts of what is “going on”, some observers lean to global and some to local accounts.

Then in an act of philosophical reification, big thinkers (like Jung) push the global accounts of local phenomena to the max, saying all the stuff observable in every local place and time is all connected.

Connected why? How?

In the mind of the observer with a prejudice.

Meanwhile, the alternative explanations are out there waiting to be pushed. Maybe instead of archetypal, similarities are not as similar as the observer wants them to be, and instead, each moment expresses itself uniquely.

How does this sound?The more even a perception or pattern is (high in entropy), the less VISIBLE it is. When a perception or pattern has flaws or organized exception to entropy, it grabs the eye, gets the eye to act.The eye needs something to act on.