Monday 28 February 2011

Steven Heller

Steven Heller was the 
art director of The New 
York Times Book  
Review from 1978 to 
2007. The following  
covers are some of the highlights of 
those years.

Sunday 27 February 2011

The Dévoluy

Phillipe Vandenbroeck is a mountaineer and a photographer. His site is HERE.

Wednesday 23 February 2011

What you see whilst drawing, is what you need for drawing.

The figure below is from Visuomotor characterization of eye movements in a drawing task. Ruben Coen-Cagli, Paolo Coraggio, Paolo Napoletano, Odelia Schwartz, Mario Ferraro and Giuseppe Boccignone. Vision Research, 49, Issue 8, 2009, pp. 810-818. 

This is an interesting eye-tracking study that quantifies how much more you focus on an object when you are drawing it versus just viewing it. 

" We find that a peculiar feature of the drawing behavior is that the gaze does not move back and forth among different objects, but proceeds sequentially, and most fixations on an object are executed within a time interval in which no fixations occur on other objects."

In addition the proportion of inter-object saccades to total saccades (a saccade is a  quick, simultaneous movement of both eyes in the same direction) is four times higher for free viewing (c) versus drawing (d).

Friday 18 February 2011

Google Public Data Explorer

Google Labs have a public data explorer live that allows you to make 'Gapminder' type visualisations of sets of data and the chance to upload your own data sets and interactively visualise them. 

Friday 11 February 2011

70,000 Year Old Engravings

Here is a great, properly scaled, image of a 70,000 year old engraving fashioned by a human living at the Blombos cave at the Southern tip of what is now South Africa. Note how fine this geometric pattern is - the product of manipulative skill and fine motor control essentially identical with that of any modern engraver, calligrapher, typographer, watchmaker, artist or scientific instrument maker.

As Friedrich Engels noted over 100 years ago, and based on the scantiest of archeological evidence;

"the decisive step was taken: the hand became free and could henceforth attain ever greater dexterity and skill, and the greater flexibility thus acquired was inherited and increased from generation to generation."

Friedrich Engels. The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man. Die Neue Zeit. 1895.

And Engels was essentially correct;

“One cannot emphasise enough the importance of finger-thumb opposition for the emergence of man from a relatively undistinguished primate background. Through natural selection, it promoted the adoption of the upright posture and bipedal walking, tool-using and tool-making which, in turn, led to enlargement of the brain through a positive feed-back mechanism. In this sense it was probably the single most crucial adaptation in man’s evolutionary history” 

Hands, John Napier, 1980, p.68

Wednesday 9 February 2011

A Book from the Sky (1987-1991)

A Book from the Sky (1987-1991) is the common name of an installation made by the Chinese artist Xu Bing. The installation consisted of hand-printed books and scrolls printed from blocks inscribed with 'false' Chinese characters.

The installation was at the China Art Gallery, Beijing, China.

The installation took Xu Bing over four years to complete, A Book from The Sky is comprised of printed volumes and scrolls containing four thousand 'false' Chinese characters invented by the artist and then painstakingly hand-cut onto wooden printing blocks. 


Below is one of the blocks carved by Xu Bing for this project. By definition wood block carving is a study in negative space - it is the space that is NOT removed that delivers the ink (and in this case the whole installation generates a negative space of characters that do not really exist as characters).  

The art of the Noodle

From Wikipedia's piece on Chinese Characters;

The most complex Chinese character still in use may be biáng  below, with 57 strokes, which refers to Biang biang noodles, a type of noodle from China's Shaanxi province. This character along with syllable biang cannot be found in dictionaries. The fact that it represents a syllable that does not exist in any Standard Chinese word means that it could be classified as a dialectal character.

The thumb is the Hero...

As part of my reading around drawing I have wandered off a bit and looked up some stuff on the evolution of the precision grip of the human hand.  The wikipedia entry on THUMB is pretty good and refers to a 1981 book review in the New York Times of John Napiers book Hands (Review HERE).  

John Napier was quite a character; he worked with Louis Leakey in Olduvai gorge discovering an early Homind Homo habilis in 1960, he refuted the evidence of Big Foot and he also specialised in hands. Here is a nice paper on the difference between the precision and power grip of the human hand (Napier, John Russell (November 1956). "The prehensile movements of the human hand"J Bone Joint Surg Br 38 (4): 902–913.PMID 13376678.)

Tuesday 8 February 2011


Picasso was a brilliant draughtsman. Here is a delightfully drawn Portrait of a Woman from the MOMA Themes and Variations exhibition of his work.

Page of Bulls

Pablo Picasso was fascinated with bulls, bullfighting, the image of the Minotaur and the cult of Mithras. He also famously produced a set of eleven lithographs of bulls; all between December 1945 and January 1946. 

The series is HERE.

Bull ( Plate I. - December 5 1945 )

The series begins with this image.

Bull ( plate XI. - January 17 1946 )

And ends with this one.

Picasso also produced this lithograph called Page of Bulls in December 1945.

Monday 7 February 2011

The IKEA Billy Bookcase

I am a veteran of about 25 years of putting together IKEA furniture. 

Even after all this time I am impressed with the great and completely text-free instructions that IKEA has with its flat pack products. I suspect that somewhere in IKEA headquarters in Sweden there is a whole department that specialises in making these instruction manuals. 

To the unsung heroes of the IKEA instruction department I salute you. 

Below, the iconic and cheap Billy bookcase. 

The Myth of the Paperless Office.

Notwithstanding the rise of the Kindle reader or iPad, paper is still great - and this is one of my favourite (paper, ink and card) technical books (Here). 

The Myth of the Paperless Office
Abigail J. Sellen and Richard H. R. Harper

The blurb from the MIT website;

"Over the past thirty years, many people have proclaimed the imminent arrival of the paperless office. Yet even the World Wide Web, which allows almost any computer to read and display another computer's documents, has increased the amount of printing done. The use of e-mail in an organization causes an average 40 percent increase in paper consumption. In The Myth of the Paperless Office, Abigail Sellen and Richard Harper use the study of paper as a way to understand the work that people do and the reasons they do it the way they do. Using the tools of ethnography and cognitive psychology, they look at paper use from the level of the individual up to that of organizational culture.

Central to Sellen and Harper's investigation is the concept of "affordances"—the activities that an object allows, or affords. The physical properties of paper (its being thin, light, porous, opaque, and flexible) afford the human actions of grasping, carrying, folding, writing, and so on. The concept of affordance allows them to compare the affordances of paper with those of existing digital devices. They can then ask what kinds of devices or systems would make new kinds of activities possible or better support current activities. The authors argue that paper will continue to play an important role in office life. Rather than pursue the ideal of the paperless office, we should work toward a future in which paper and electronic document tools work in concert and organizational processes make optimal use of both.

Blind Photographers

 Here is a description of an exhibition called "Sight Unseen: International Photography by Blind Artists" that was held at UC Riverside's California Museum of Photography. The exhibition assembled 87 works by 11 artists and one collective. The LA times has a collection of images from the exhibition here (

One of the artists is Michael Richard, who died in 2006, his obituary is here (

The image below is a photo by Michael Richard called "Double Take".

Sunday 6 February 2011

Discipline for the eye, brain & hand

IN MID September 1940 several young lads and a dog, from the village of Montignac in the Dordogne region of France, stumbled upon a cave in Lascaux that was crammed full of beautiful pre-historic paintings. The paintings cover the walls and ceilings of a large interconnected cave system and show about 2,000 figures of animals, humans and abstract symbols.

Breuil, H.(1941). A Remarkable Painted Cave on the Estate of Lescaux (Montignac, Dordogne). Nature. 147, 12-13. 

The animal depictions are stylish and accomplished and some of the symbols include non-figurative dot clusters that may be rudimentary star-charts. This incredible collection of paintings was made about 20,000 years ago by Cro-Magnon's; fully modern Homo sapiens who about 40,000 years began migrating into Europe, displacing the resident hominids, Neanderthal man or Homo neanderthalensis, in the process. 

The images found in Lascaux provide beautiful evidence that although modern humans, Homo sapiens, and their close hominid relatives Homo neanderthalensis, had much in common anatomically, modern humans have always had cognitive capacities that distinguish us from all other species. In fact there is a striking contrast between the records left behind of the lives that Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis led thousands of years ago. Currently there is no evidence that any extinct human species had a complex symbolic existence. It appears that only modern humans have a highly developed capacity to create complex symbolic marks using artistic media. In other words not only have we always loved to draw, we are uniquely capable of drawing. 

An image of the now extinct Irish Elk, Megaloceros giganteus, from the Lascuax caves. Image from Wikimedia.

Saturday 5 February 2011

Context Free Art

Context Free Art is a free downloadable programme that creates art from a context free grammar. 

The site is HERE.

An example below.

Wednesday 2 February 2011

A pattern...

A pattern has an integrity independent of the medium by virtue of which you have received the information that it exists.

Richard Buckminster Fuller

Synergetics: Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking. (1975)

Online HERE

Drawing #4


Jared Tarbell has a simple algorithm called SUBSTRATE that creates quite lovely images. The algorithm itself is simple:
  1. draw some lines
  2. choose some random points on those lines
  3. draw lines perpendicular to the lines you drew
When iterated, the algorithm produces an output similar to the pattern below. You can make your own HERE.

Tuesday 1 February 2011

The Mechanism of Life?

Clint Fulkerson does incredible very controlled black and white drawings. Here is an example below called Stuck. 

His statement;

I create my artwork through the slow application of decisive marks. As I draw, I follow a loose formula based on what I've already drawn, filling areas of the picture plane gradually, without making initial layout sketches. This makes the final product somewhat unexpected and emergent. It is doodling with restraint. Lines build up into geometric shapes and patterns of varying density and scale to "grow" forms that look organic. Shapes push and pack in organized clusters, accumulating in ways analogous to the growth of cells, tissues, organs, organisms, and communities. I investigate natural phenomena and I attempt to describe my limited understanding of them using a visual mathematical language.


MRI scans of Fruit & Veg

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is an incredible invention and it has revolutionised how clinicians can diagnose serious diseases - because of its ability to create 2D slices through 3D objects and show different soft tissues. 

It can also apparently be used to mess about with. For example, a blog HERE by Andy Ellison that shows dozens of animated serial section MRI scans through common or garden vegetables and fruits!   

Below a pumpkin section and a 3D visualisation of the internal structure.