Monday, November 8, 2010

w/one brain tied behind my back

Where in the brain is proprioception taking place? Does that part light up in my fMRI when I'm sketching? Is it the same area bats use flying blind, or when a cats' whiskers tell her she can't fit through the fence? Is that the same part of my brain that knows to send parallel lines converging toward their common vanishing point, or that judges an angle too acute to represent 90º in perspective? 
A blind contour drawing exercise liberates the sensitive, free-wheeling right side of my brain from its linear, judgmental master on the left. What depth cues can the right side convey without "thinking"? I look for the answers in these sub-10-minute blind contours. Can you get a sense of the amount of space depicted?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

visual note taking D

rough sketch/color rendering Presidio Officers' Club
These chilly days of autumn bring allure back to the fireplace, (former real-estate bonus, now green-planet bogeyman). With a few delightful exceptions, most activities done near the fireplace at night need more illumination than simple firelight. The assignment is to find a couple hearth-like settings and see what the other light sources are besides the fire. This includes windows, sconces, lamp fixtures, ceiling fixtures...etc.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

visual note taking C

volumetric solution above, flat diagram below
illustrations ©JFMahoney, all rights reserved
Describing a technical situation volumetrically might reach a wider audience, or bring a different level of understanding to a condition. Above are two solutions to illustrate the same topic. A robust diagram saves words. It may more effectively persuade someone to adopt what might otherwise seem too complex a solution. Students: New and old technologies for screening and mitigating light or heat can be represented diagrammatically. Find types of window treatments that are specifically addressing heat gain/loss and the filtering or enhancement of light and fresh air. Sketch them, leaving space for diagrammatic arrows and annotations. Bring them to the next class.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

freehand perspective #2

In class, we reviewed a procedure for detecting the perspective orientation between a subject space and a camera. Given appropriate visual cues, a scale can be assigned with a vertical measuring line (VML). Thus, a photograph serves as a mannequin for spatial design ideas. Dress your photo with prime focus on window openings. In two separate sketches, show the same mannequin dressed in two ideas that you generated during visual note taking B.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

visual note taking B

3 variations on a single application of a window to a kitchen; watercolor

Assignment: Observe three different window styles. Take note: How deep is the wall in which the windows are set? (thumbnail section) Is the glass closer to the interior or the exterior surface? How high above the floor is the bottom of the window? (thumbnail elevation w/human figure) How is the transparency adjusted (curtains, blinds, shades, film, etc)? How is the adjustment made? Can the window be opened or closed? How? Minimal annotation is encouraged.
All VNT must include thumbnail plan & section/elevation as well as a site sketch.

freehand perspective #1

ideation sketches for menu area at a juice bar
#1 of 7 freehand perspective assignments: Take ideas from your VNT.A and apply them to the transaction area perspective sketch. Generate two variations on the transaction/signage theme. Using the skeleton perspective handed out in class, apply your ideas to the volumes in space. Additional explanatory thumbnail plan and/or section is encouraged. Keep it to pen or pencil line only. Shrink each concept down to large index card size. Make 4-6 copies of each. Bring in all the work.

Monday, September 13, 2010

visual note taking A

Observe three or more situations described as point-of-sale (POS), where a retail transaction is made. Take note: If and how is the transaction space illuminated? What type and size of surface is provided for the transaction--if any? What form does the digital component of the transaction take? (ie., paper receipt, on-line documentation, bank card access, none) Has the overall ambience around the transaction been addressed? All VNT must include a thumbnail floor plan.
Blind contour: menu board/bar/counter 

Thursday, May 27, 2010

get another perspective

The above OFS clip (and fantastic soundtrack) grants thinking space to create one's own relationship with the visual data presented. A morning TV news show packaged video footage described as "another perspective" on the Gulf oil spill. Amidst anxious narrative and jumpy editing in the news clip, the broad associative power of visual content is diminished. Underwater footage is always slightly uncomfortable, since the familiar figure/ground orientation is denied its usual ground. The landlubber's eye seeks horizontal planes: an undulating sandy ocean bottom, the occasional sparkling sunlit surface above. Apart from reminding me of Turner's atmospheres, the OFS clip is uncomfortable on all accounts.

Friday, March 26, 2010

how deep is your love?

The opening sequence to the movie Up in the Air was worth the price of admission. Google Earth has made the virtual traveling done by us map-geeks so rich that it reduces the curiosity to visit some places. Alas, as with most things virtual, we forget the power of the real deal. Viewing the ever-closer landscape of my birth during descent in a plane evoked a core feeling of home-ness. As I gazed at the woodlands and prairie around O'Hare Airport, 30 years of walking communion with my beloved San Francisco fell away to a siren-song from home. How deep is the home bond rooted in the terrain itself? 
David Abrams wrote about poet Gary Snyder driving with an Australian Pintubi man named Jimmy Tjungurrayi to his ancestral territory in a pickup. Being on site was necessary to collect ancient & living stories from Tjungurrayi's culture. Driving through a particularly rich location, the fellow began to recall events unintelligibly fast, like a tape at high speed. No one could understand him. Everyone was frustrated. Eventually they realized the tale was SO linked with footsteps on specific terrain that they would have to slow the vehicle to walking speed for the story to be comprehensible.

the squeeze

Maybe it's a sex thing or a childbirth thing, but early on in my schematic design experience,  I got the idea that the entry experience should be a kind of squeeze, a tightness before you get to where you're going in a space. Not just a visual portal, but a time-sensitive transitional experience long enough to give "entry" its own experience, perhaps to lend relief to its end. Not every project can spatially afford this (think Ben & Jerry shop), but it has been fun to try and interject and illustrate this element in projects. I was reminded of the squeeze during a recent trip through airport security and started to wonder: just how long has probing, wanding, multiple ID verification and the possibility of a pat-down or body-cavity search been a prelude to travel?  What a squeeze on the front end of a trip! It makes the anonymity and indifferent solitude of exiting the plane and the airport liberating. When I get home my dog will kiss me. It was kind of depressing to learn that dogs, a little like an insecure spouse, only do that to check what the missus was eating while away.

master draftsman

I ran in to Ken Sekiguchi, architect, photographer and master draftsman, on Fourth Street the other day. I had the good fortune to be on collaborative teams with Ken at Hanns Kainz' office for about 10 years, on the pencil (vs. mouse) side of the digital divide. Ken's drawings are exquisite examples of hand-drafted orthographic drawings. A medium both aesthetic and practical, his drawings translated gesture, bullshit, and schematic design into something that can be priced, measured and built. Contractors who bid projects based on his drawing sets should have bid low just for the privilege of working from those documents! Instead, because the drawings communicated design so thoroughly, they bid higher since they anticipated their work would be subject to the same scrutiny. What a bind. This image will hold a place until I get my original Ken Sek scanned.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

negative space gets positive treatment

A show just opened at USF's Thacher Gallery where architects and artists, Catherine Chang, Elaine Buckholtz, Pedro Lange Churion, Paul Madonna and Moshe Quinn, examine the narrow walls of air between Victorian buildings north of San Francisco's Panhandle. In a town where the real estate cost/sf. is so high, it's about time these negative spaces are honored and farmed for some extra meaning. Exhibit closes April 25th.
As a type of social/residential boundary, this arm's-length distance challenges one's sense of privacy while indulging curiosity about the neighbors. If I forgot to draw the curtains at bedtime in my North Beach flat, the donna vecchia next door would be watching me awake the next morn. A friend who grew up in the Mission told me that when she dared to peek once, a man in a meeting across the chasm reached out his window and gave her a candy bar. Surely all manner of behavioral trespassing has taken place in these slots; the USF show attends to geometry, space and light.

Friday, February 19, 2010

level playing fields

Another group of us is made newly-liminal, and another opportunity to observe boundary behaviors arises. I had the opportunity to portray interim shelter designs and configurations for displaced Haitians. The drawings had to put the product in context, which meant looking at photos of Port-au-Prince with curiosity instead of shock and sadness. Although most everything to be delivered is modular and already expressed in 3D model format, the software-composed configurations were so -- out of left field: brutal, machined, inappropriate. I wondered how things were playing out with "the competition", how living space among our displaced brothers and sisters in Haiti is being defined now: chalk lines on a soccer field, tarp-defined boundaries, rubble repurposed as property lines. Click the photo to get closer. Google Earth assists.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

can't get started (without you)

Click on the kitchen and you can rotate and zoom in on it. Sketchfab is like Pinterest for 3D modelers to share manipulable, virtual objects with anyone who has a browser. But the object still has to be modeled! How to get started? Temple Grandin makes a case for tactile involvement in design:
"One of the things I’ve noticed, been involved in my industry designing things for over 25 years. The people who are really good at drafting on the computer are the people who were good at drafting by hand. People coming in now doing computer-aided drawing are doing terrible drawings, they make lots of errors, they leave out perceptual detail, they don’t see it. The errors made in their drawings are the errors that the very worst students in my design class make; these are the students that have no visualization capability. I don’t think the mouse is hooked up to the brain like the hand is. You don’t make some of these mistakes if you actually draw the thing by hand. Let’s say for example, you’re drawing a cattle stockyard, you’ve got a whole lot of gates in it; one draftsman I saw, using computer-aided drawing, had 25-foot gates built in it. You can’t have a 25-ft. long gate; the leverage will make it come off the hinges. Now if you take a compass, you’ll see that you can’t do it. I’m seeing more and more mistakes being made in construction because it’s getting too abstract.
I visited with Irene Pepperberg, whose parrot can learn categories. To learn them, he had to manipulate the objects; looking wasn’t enough for him to understand. I can really relate to that. Touching gives an understanding you don’t get just by looking." 2000 interview with Temple Grandin in the Harvard BRAIN, bold emphasis mine. 
Drawing by hand and rough modeling with cardboard and clay are excellent ways to strengthen one's visualization capacity. 

Friday, February 5, 2010

promise her anything

Renaissance linear perspective was not the first in "you-are-there" viewer manipulation! Some excavated Egyptian tombs contain a passage with a series of deep niches, in some of which sculpture or an image has been found. If one were to travel the passage, each image or sculpture would be visible only as one stood and gazed directly into the niche. Because of the depth of the niches, what was in store at the next niche could not be determined until one advanced further. Whatever the price of admission was to the chamber, the image-viewing experience was linear and predetermined.
Yesterday I bought a ticket to watch A Single Man, visually choreographed by Tom Ford. 99 minutes of paging through Vogue ads, perusing distinct compositions, while Ford channeled Isherwood. It was not a 3D movie, but it elicited a similar jolt when Ford snatched at my emotional netherbrain --where olfactory memories reside. A couple times in the film, our hero takes a slow-mo trip, a nose-dive into a dog's coat ("buttered toast") or a visual expedition up his department secretary's neck ("Arpège"). I wonder if those 5000 year-old niches once had their own scent-tracks: bunches of lavender, anise or myrrh?

Monday, February 1, 2010

you ain't seen nothin' yet

Systems theorist Fritjof Capra, in his book on the science of Leonardo da Vinci, argues that our most creative insights emerge from states of uncertainty and confusion according to a process of "emergence", the creation of new forms of order out of chaos and confusion. So our pals at the Albany Bulb may be at the cusp of a life-changing insight, about to radically alter their beings. Or not. 
Earthquakes changing landforms changing waterways finds a parallel to hair growth patterns where the skin has scarred, or the way a form is perceived in a drawing after a lost period of erasures and scribbling. Leonardo had an ear for the harmony of these orders; he documented and compared phenomena throughout his life. Conceding our wisp of consequence on the celestial time line, he wrote "nature is full of infinite causes that have never occurred in experience."

Sunday, January 31, 2010

more than camping

Some of us in liminal states, self-imposed, genetically predisposed (!), or socially imposed, have found space to contemplate our integration/isolation, rent-free, at the Albany bulb. A variety of ad hoc pods, encampments and fortresses provide rich data to observe spatial relations and boundary setting behavior among liminal beings. I'm not talking about the sculpture or painting there; I'm curious about the red rags and rearranged foam blocks -- the creation of physical limits when social, psychological and spiritual boundaries are in flux.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

point and shoot

More specifically, we have noted a remarkable relationship between left temporal and parietal activity during the aiming period such that quiescence or “relaxation” in this region is related to higher-quality performance.
Another place to go besides the left brain is the limbic brain. I may not be able to will myself to go there, but there are activities that engage the limbic brain. Swinging, chanting, circle dancing and aiming. Limbic brain engagement supposedly has that "in the zone" feeling that sometimes comes from drawing, too. I wonder if it is simply left-brain disengagement.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


I like the way it feels while switching from plan to elevation to perspective to photograph; measuring units, rotating models, erasing chalk and applying color. A most serene state arrives via drawing. My brother had a stroke about a month ago. As in many stroke victims, the left carotid artery was compromised, and he lost some ability to find and pronounce words, along with other functions normally governed by the left brain. Many art students are aware of Betty Edwards' exercises. Temple Grandin and Jill Bolte Taylor also have stories to make us aware of the gifts of those whose brains use a different hierarchy. My brother has been ambidextrous since childhood, a hands-on problem solver, a crazy talker, god-respecting and a musician to boot. He's infamous for making folks guess what tune he's tapping out on the table. It's a comfort to think there are many unusual paths trod thru the grass of his brain that will come in handy during recovery. He and his ilk may yet rule the planet.