An Artist, a Colour #4: Veronese Green


"La famiglia di Dario ai Piedi di Alessandro" (The Family of Darius before Alexander), 1565-1570 London, National Gallery

"La famiglia di Dario ai Piedi di Alessandro", 1565-1570 London, National Gallery

It may seem strange to you, but the Veronese Green, the Verona Green and the Viridian are not the same colour.

To the late-Renaissance painter called Paolo il Veronese, to be born in that city, is related one of the colours most misunderstood  by websites and some fine arts catalogs.
So, I try to clarify.

He born Paolo Caliari on 1528. The nickname was given to him in Venice, to mean he came from outside.  When he was thirteen his father, a stonecutter, sent him to work by the painter Antonio Badile, but Veronese was so capable that three years later he went to work on his own.

After he had been in Parma, he painted the frescoes of the Duomo of Mantua, then he went to Venice, where he performed works in the Palazzo Ducale: the fresco in the Sala dei Consiglio dei Dieci and in the Sala dei Tre Capi del Consiglio.  Also he collaborated on the decoration of the ceiling of the Biblioteca Marciana (National Library of St. Mark’s) and executed many works in the church of San Sebastiano.

At that time Verona, which in the Past had lived in great splendor under the lordship of the della Scala family, was subject to Venice, which ensured his peace, both from external attacks, and by internal fighting among local families – one of these feuds, between the Montecchi and the Capuleti families, is the background of the Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet –.

In “La Serenissima”, Veronese made his career quickly: he being at ease with both the sacred and mythological subjects, he had assignments both from religious orders, and from most prestigious private clients, such as that for Villa Barbaro, near Treviso, designed by Andrea Palladio. Here, the artist gave vent to his own imagination, painting a series of beautiful frescoes, with many trompe-l’œil, so from doors painted on the walls entering characters and on a virtual balcony in a hall overlooks the lady of the house with her nurse.

"Lady Barbaro Giustinian and her nurse", 1561, Villa Barbaro; Maser (Treviso)

From Titian, he had borrowed the technique of tonal variation of the colours, in the order to achieve a soft chiaroscuro and the juxtaposition of complementary colours, to allow these to exalt each other – for example, in some paintings, he matched the Reds to the Greens –.By Titian again and by the attendance of architects like Palladio, the fineness to emphasize the visual composition, through the inclusion of architectural elements painted. The result was a gentle Mannerist style, which had nothing to do with the brutality of Tintoretto.

A painting by Veronese where is clearly visible his use of complementary color harmony is the Cena nella Casa di Levi (The Feast in the House of Levi) of 1573. I and my wife saw it last year, visiting the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice. It’s a huge painting (5.55 x 12.80 mt), which occupies the whole end wall of a hall. Its visual composition is divided into three vertical bands, highlighted by three round arches, supported by Corinthian capitals. It stands out here the harmony of Reds and Greens, indeed it’s clear that, when Veronese wants to highlight a character dressed in red, stands next to it something green and vice versa.

"Cena in casa di Levi", 1573, Venezia, Gallerie dell'Accademia

In fact, the real subject of the painting is the Last Supper of Christ and it had been commissioned by the Dominican Order of the Saints John and Paul’s basilica. However, the painter’s personal approach to the sacred subject  – by including non-biblical characters such as jesters, Landsknecht mercenaries, drunkards and dogs – cost him a convocation by the Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition. The Veronese’s justification:
When inside a painting I still have space,  I embellish it with figures invented by myself.” [1]
not convinced the ecclesiastical judges, who ordered that the painting was remade. The artist found a quicker solution: he changed the work title.

La scelta tra Vizio e Virtù (Honor et Virtus post Mortem florescit), 1567
“La scelta tra Vizio e Virtù”, 1567

It was just that brightest and highest in chroma green present in this painting – visible in other works too, like La famiglia di Dario ai piedi di Alessandro (The Family of Darius before Alexander, 1565-1570) e La scelta tra Virtù e Vizio ( Honor et Virtus post Mortem floret, 1567) – to link itself to the name of Paolo Veronese, as to be still sold today, after four and a half centuries.
Anyway, this is strange for two reasons.

The first is he had not a preference for the green only but, like all Venetian painters, he used all the available pigments in Venice – an important commercial city in its time – such as the ultramarine, azurite, smalt, indigo, cochineal carmine lake, vermilion, lead red, lead-tin yellow, orpiment, realgar, copper resinate. An example of this, is the polychromatic Le Nozze di Cana (The Marriage at Cana) 1563, at Musée de Louvre.
The second is that, as we have already seen about the Van Dyke Brown, the colour called “Veronese Green” – in France, Vert Paul Véronèse – produced not before the eighteenth century, is not the green used by the painter.

Differently from the possibilities offered to the Art, since the second half of 1800’s, by the chemical industry of the Colour, in the Past the painters used only colours tested by Tradition. At the time of Veronese, the greens could be of mineral origin (such as malachite or green earths) or vegetable (such as the Sap Green) or former-chemicals (such as Verdigris and Copper Resinate).

As recalled by Philip Ball, in his book – already quoted in this blog – “Bright Earth”[2], the introduction of Oil Painting, changed the choice of pigments, because the oil had a refractive index different from that of the previous medium used – the egg yolk – , thus some of these resulted so transparent, as are not longer used, like the Malachite Green, or reinforced with Flake White, like the Verdigris. Still others, were made again high in saturation by layering with colours of the same shade.
And that would be the case of the Veronese Green too. Because it would not, as some people written, a colour invented or discovered by Veronese.

In fact, Veronese Green was not a Colour, but a Technique.

It was used by half of the fifteenth century and was not a Veronese’s discovery –  microscopic tests on paintings have detected it was already known in fourteenth-century – which consisted of laying a coat of Copper Resinate, on a coat of Verdigris, Lead White and Lead-Tin Yellow; in its turn spread over an imprimitura (an undercoat) of Lead White[3].

the real "Veronese Green" technique.

But what are these pigments?

Copper Resinate is a term that indicated a generic mix (the doses were not determined) of green salts of Copper,Venice turpentine and wax.


Copper Resinate

Verdigris is  semi-transparent green in use since the Ancient Egyptians age – despite the name, from Old French vertegrez, that’s Green of Greece–. Because only in the Middle Ages, thanks to the Arab alchemists, were available strong acids like sulfuric and nitric acid, in the ancient times, the most acidic substance used was the vinegar. So, to take advantage of the bluish green properties of tarnished copper, strips of this metal were put into the vinegar to corrode.

Verdigris (Verderame), Copper Acetate, ColorIndexName: PG 20

Verdigris was mainly used for background landscapes. Much appreciated for its bluish shade, it fell out of use since the nineteenth century because, like all Copper pigments, over time darkened becoming brown. Anyway, its major defect was its toxicity. Defect that was increased by combining it with Lead White and that was enhanced in the eighteenth century when the Swedish Scheele combined it with Arsenic, achieving the Cooper-acetoarsenite (Scheele’s Green). In 1814, the German Sattler improved the compound, creating the more toxic Schweinfurter Grün, that’s the Emerald Green.

Emerald Green(Schweinfurter Grün), Copper Acetoarsenite, ColorIndexName: PG 21

 Just a Cooper-acetoarsenite compound is the “Veronese Green”,  put on sale only two centuries after the death of the painter. However this is a improper use of his name: indeed, the concept of many colours whose name was joined to a famous painter, is to sell in a single tube, something reproducing the effect obtained by the artists only through several steps – an exception is International Klein Blue, which was created and patented by Klein himself, with collaboration of the paint manufacturer Edouard Adam –.

Therefore, the original Veronese Green, not only is not the equivalent of Emerald Green, but nor of Viridian– despite what mistakenly says the Italian page of Wikipedia.it – because the latter is made of Chromium oxide dihydrate and, in the fourteenth century, the chrome was not even discovered.
The history of Chromium pigments is well described by Philip Ball [4]. In 1797, the French chemist Vauquelin – who had already discovered the Beryllium – began to examine a Siberian red crystal, discovered thirty-six years earlier by the geologist Lehmann: the Crocoite. In this mineral, from which was extracted a red pigment for paints, Vauquelin discovered a new element, which produced highly coloured compounds, so he named the element Chromium – from Greek: Chroma, i.e. “Colour” –. In 1809, trying to synthesize in the laboratory the crocoite (lead chromate), instead of getting a red pigment, he produced a bright yellow – Chrome Yellow –. He realized that, by varying the temperature of the process, you could get bright pigments ranging from light to deep yellow, orange, red.
Although beautiful, these pigments were extremely expensive, because the only known deposit of chromium was in Siberia. Only later, they were more localized in the Shetland Islands and the United States.

Viridian (Vert Guignet), Chromium oxide dihydrate, ColorIndexName: PG 18

 About the green colour derived from Chromium, already in 1809, Vauquelin had written it was possible to obtain a green pigment from Crocoite, which could be used as a glaze for pottery. But, being rather dull, it not met with great interest. In 1838, however, the French Pannetier, hydrating the Chromium Oxide, got a deep and intense green, which in France was called Vert Émeraude. In England, anyway, already existed Emerald Green, which we mentioned above, thus that colour became known around 1860 as Viridian – from Latin Viridis, that’s “Green”–.  The colour of Pannetier, although it liked, it was too expensive. Almost twenty years later, the chemical Guignet devised a different system for its production, which made it cheaper: the Vert Guignet (Guignet’s Green ) then became a very popular colour among the Impressionists.
It’s thus evident the Viridian has nothing to do with the Veronese Green.

Finally,  Veronese Green  should not be confused with Verona Green (or Verona Green Earth), which is a green earth – that’s a mix of Iron hydrosilicates with salts of Magnesium, Aluminum, Potassium – extracted, certainly not in that city, but in his province. Any reference to Paolo Veronese is purely coincidental.
This historic pigment was used in the Past, in the words of the Libro dell’Arte by Cennino Cennini – Italian painter born in the XV century, custodian of the medieval painting techniques dating from Giotto – into one of two possible recipes to perform the technique of verdaccio. This was an underpainting grisaille for the skin’s chiaroscuro, over which were applied successive layers of Red or Pink: in this way, were achieved gray shadows and avoided a too red complexion. The greenish hue of some character faces of medieval frescoes, reveals the use of this technique.

Verona Green(Verona Green Earth), Iron hydrosilicates with Magnesium, Aluminum, Potassium salts, ColorIndexName: PG 23

This problem was never involved works by Paolo Veronese: the perfect and delicate complexion of his characters, made it acceptable even the most daring subjects, such as the loving encounters between Venus and Mars (or Adonis), many times portrayed by him.

A curious age, that of la Serenissima: in which the Sacred and the Profane lived side by side; an intellectual class having as its ideal the humanistic culture, lived under the government of a lord with religious authority – the Doge –; finally, it was possible represent also the Lust, in a painting of mythological subject, but if you missed a reference in a sacred picture, you risked a process by the Inquisition.

"Marte e Venere con Cupido ed un cavallo", 1575, Torino, Galleria Sabauda

[1] “Se nel quadro li avanza spacio, io l’adorno di figure secondo le invenzioni […] nui pittori si pigliamo la licentia che si pigliano i poeti e i matti ”.
From the minutes of Paolo Caliari’s appearance in front of Inquisition of July 18, 1573, Archivi Sant’Offizio;
See André Chastel, Cronaca della pittura italiana 1280-1580, Fratelli Palombi Editori, Roma 1984.
[2] Ball Philip, “Bright Earth: The Invention of Colour”; University of Chicago Press, 2001
[3] H. Kühn, “Verdigris and Copper Resinate,” in “Artists’ Pigments: A Handbook of Their History and Characteristics”, Vol. 2, Oxford University Press, New York 1993
[4] Ball Philip, idem
Posted in Art, Colour | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Jean Giraud (aka Moebius) 1938 – §

This gallery contains 1 photo.

Until one day, Monsieur Giraud smiling said: “au revoir”, “goodbye”. Then he turned on the other side of the Moebius’ stRIP.

| Tagged , | Leave a comment

Chopin and Delacroix: a Romantic friendship

Frédéric Chopin and Eugène Delacroix were friends.
I discovered this, reading the fine book by Roberto Calasso “La Folie Baudelaire” [1], dedicated to the French symbolist poet and critic, and some artists of his time, related to him.
The two Romantic artists had some mutual acquaintances. Among them, George Sand, the mistress of Chopin. According to the latter, while Delacroix loved and knew by heart the music of the Polish pianist, the latter, looking at the paintings of the first, didn’t know what to say, not because he criticized them, but because he seems to be indifferent to Painting in general. Each picture subject seemed eccentric to him. And when Delacroix spoke  of the “mystery of the reflections” and applies it to music, he remained confused.
I think this can be explained not only by the timid character of Chopin, but by the fact that figurative artists tend to describe, through visual sensations, also expressions of other Arts. The musicians, however, handling a more impalpable material but in a more directly way, expressing emotions and feelings, without the need to make similarities.

In his journals, Delacroix describes a Saturday in April, spent with Chopin, a few months before the death of this. After lunch, the two made ​​a drive by cab in Paris, sipping chincona wine.

« During the day [Chopin] told me about Music and this has revived him. I asked him what to ordain the Logic in Music. He made me understand what are the harmony and counterpoint, in music as the fugue is pure logic, and be experienced in the fugue is to know the reason and every element of each concatenation in Music. I thought how I would be glad to instruct me in all this, that mediocre musicians don’t bear.
This awareness has given me an idea of the pleasure which the sages, if worthy of this name found in Science. The fact is that real Science is not what is commonly meant by this word, that’s a part of the knowledge that differs from Art.

No, the science so considered, which is evidence of a man such as Chopin, is the art itself

and then the Art is no longer believes that the common man, that’s a sort of inspiration that comes from somewhere, which proceeds at random, and it does not have nothing but the picturesque exteriority of things.

It’s the Reason itself adorned by the Genius,

but that follows a necessary journey, governed by higher laws ».[2]

So, who was called the poet of the piano and the most daring colour artist at the end of 1800, two authors became famous for the ability of their works to express feelings and passions, were both strongly interested in the technical issues of their respective arts, in an almost scientific way. This should make us realize how the romantic idea we have of the Romantic artists is not completely faithful to reality.
In the case of Chopin, we understand that by the diligence required in the performance of his compositions and by the great number of innovations he brought to the Music (from the sonatas to nocturnes, from waltzes to the mazurkas, until the invention of the instrumental ballade).
In the case of Delacroix, however, the technical interest can be traced, as well as observation of his work, very accurate in the composition, in the reading of his journals. The fact he has taken note of everything: his thoughts, accounts of his travels, the books he read, the colour palettes used for the paintings, how much money he spent every day, those who had invited him to lunch, for more than forty years, tells us how he was a meticulous man. Furthermore, his interest in optical effects obtained with the brush strokes, later became an inspiration for the Impressionists.
As Baudelaire wrote[3]:

”Delacroix was passionately in love with passion, but coldly determined to express passion as clearly as possible”.

left: E.Delacroix, Frédéric Chopin (1838), Musée du Louvre, Paris; right: E.Delacroix, Autoportrait au gilet vert (1837) Musée du Louvre, Paris

[1] Roberto Calasso, “La Folie Baudelaire”, Biblioteca Adelphi, Milano, 2008; pp. 155-157
[2] Eugène Delacroix, “Diario, 1804-1852”Giulio Einaudi Editore, Milano, 1954; pp.290-291
[3] Wellington, Hubert, The Journal of Eugène Delacroix, Cornell University Press, 1980; p. xiv
Posted in Art, Creativity | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Colours Whisperer


Cézanne paints, 1906. Ph.Kerr-Xavier Roussel

The Art Prints don’t reproduce faithful the magic of Paul Cézanne, the master of Aix-en-Provence. Even on coated paper, the colours of his paintings tend to look less bright than they are in reality. Ironically, just to him who made the attempt to reach the fullness of colour, the goal of his work.
The exhibition dedicated to him at Palazzo Reale, in Milan, from 20 October 2011 to 26 February 2012: Cézanne, les ateliers du Midi [1], was been a good opportunity for me to understand the path of this artist, who was able to be the most revolutionary among the Impressionists, despite having lived most of his life away from Paris.
Curated by Rudy Chiappini, the interior design by Corrado Anselmi, lighting design by Barbara Balestrieri and graphic design by dinamomilano, the exhibition offers early studies and tests, mythological subjects, still lifes, portraits, impressions painted en plein air, especially the mount Sainte-Victoire. Moreover, some videos documenting the life of the painter places. Above all, the light that animated them, and that was his inspiration. 

Paysage avec viaduct (mont Saint-Victoire),1886-1887, Museum of Modern Art, NY

Cézanne learned from Pissarro, who were his friends and with whom he painted, the idea that visual perception was the only way to transfer the reality on the canvas, avoiding intellectual superstructure. Today, this may seem obvious to us, but in those years, the French painters followed the current of Romanticism, who interpreted the Painting as a kind of “illustrated literary.” Delacroix himself, the most daring colour artist of the time, didn’t depart from the romantic subjects. Instead, surfaces, volumes, space, all in the end it would be a modulation of the Light. And the only way to represent the Light is through the Colour.
In the halls of Palazzo Reale, have been quoted, along with works on the walls, some statements of Cézanne, which summarize well his mind:

“ Everything in Nature is based on the sphere, the cone and the cylinder. One needs to learn using these simple figures, for afterwards one will be able to do anything.”

Nature morte avec sept pommes, 1877-1878_ Thaw Collection, NY; Source: the Yorck Project-DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH

 “Painting from Nature is not copying the subject, but recording sensations. “

“Look at these sugar bowls: continuously they nod to each other with reflections, as we do with looks.”

“One should not ‘model’; one should ‘modulate’ . “That is, the use of pigments by high tones, to have balanced by softer hues, combining the color spots into a coherent whole.

“ Drawing and Colour are not two distinct things… The more the Colour harmonizes, the more the Drawing defines.”

Portrait de Victor Choquet

Portrait de Victor Choquet, 1876-1877; Private collection_Source:The Yorck Project-DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH

” There is no line, there is no modellato [shaped drawing]; but only colour contrasts.

That’s, what structures a painting, wouldn’t be the shapes, but the relationship between the colours.

“ When Colour is its wealth, Form is its plenitude.”

According to his pupil Emile Bernard [2] who was also a famous painter, the colours used by Cézanne, were the following: 

Cézanne, January 1906. Ph. Kerr-Xavier Roussel

Yellows:
Chromium Yellow light, Naples Yellow, Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Yellow, Raw Sienna.

Reds:
Vermilion, Red Ochre, Burnt Sienna, Alizarin Crimson, Carmine Red, Burnt Alizarin.

Blues: 
Cobalt Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Prussian Blue.

Greens:
Veronese’s Green, Emerald Green, Green Earth.

Neutrals:
Sepia.

Of course, these colours were not used all at once: the palette of a painter, is limited to no more than 3 to 7 colours for one painting. The intermediate colours, ie, secondary or tertiary colors, are obtained from a mixture of these. This helps to ensure the chromatic harmony.
Those who know the work of Cézanne, see that in this list is missing the White. That it was the semi-opaque zinc white or the creamy biacca (a toxic white, made of basic lead carbonate, used for centuries), the ceramic cups and towels’ fabric of his still lifes, is painted with this hue, lying on a background of other colors. Instead, the reflections seemed to me often painted with Naples Yellow.
Likewise, Philip Ball, in his best-selling book already quoted in this blog [3], says that green most used by the artist, in the outdoor paintings, was actually Guignet’s Green (chromium hydroxide), a paint in vogue among the Impressionists. The curious thing is that this would be the only “modern” synthetic colour employed by him: so, who was one of the most radical experimenters of the colour of his time, would anyway still use the tested traditional pigments.

Nature morte avec panier de fruits, 1888-1890, Musée d'Orsay_Source: The Yorck Project-DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH

Featuring a huge sensitivity to the Colour – some say because of a defect of vision – he could never be completely satisfied with his work. He said: «I can not reach the intensity that is unfolded in front of my senses. I’m not available to the magnificence and richness of Colour that animates Nature. “
Paul Cezanne died at 67, following the complications of a congestion was taken to be surprised by a rainstorm, while painting outdoors. They brought him home, on the cart of a cloth merchant, lying between rolls of coloured cloth. He died a week later – before the Impressionists, no painter ran the risk of dying because of heavy weather –.
The following year, it was obtained justice for him, with a large retrospective exhibition at the Salon d’Automne in Paris. Fifty-six paintings that would have astounded and influenced a new generation of painters, including Picasso and Modigliani and represented a great source of inspiration for the artistic Avant-Gardes of the twentieth century.

Cézanne in his studio at Les Lauves, 1904_Ph. Émile Bernard, © Artnet

[1] http://www.mostracezanne.it
[2] Bernard Émile, “Ricordo Cézanne”, Skira, Milan, 2011
[3] Ball Philip, “Bright Earth: The Invention of Colour ”, University of Chicago Press, 2001

 

Posted in Art, Colour, Exhibition | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Most Powerful Visualization Tool – Part 3: Rendering

It’s often argued that the visualization by the traditional tecniques is obsolete, compared to digital, because it would be less immediate. Developing an idea, an image with a pencil definitely requires more time and the result is not so immediate. For example, an architect or a designer will start from a general idea, to descend to a lower size scale, or vice versa, then moving to a series of variations, perhaps by the technical detail development, etc…
All this,  requires to imagine, pre-figure – that’s to create in our mind the embryo of an image – which is not a ghost, but a connection in the synapses of our brain, therefore, something that enhances our own creative thinking.

I’m not sure that the use of softwares is equally favorable to the brain.
My teaching experience is that students of Today have less imagination. We live in an age where you no longer need to imagine, because any image is immediately available by Internet. The images are no longer thought: they’re consumed.

Frank Lloyd Wright: Fallingwater, 1936

A Frank Lloyd Wright's perspective, influenced by the aesthetics of Japanese Prints : Kaufmann House-"Fallingwater",1936 (brown ink and coulored pencil on paper); ©the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation

Also the school education participates to this: yesterday, when a teacher explained the Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, the students had to imagine the armies engaged in battle; today, thanks to interactive whiteboards, teachers can show them the military strategic plan, the uniforms of the armies, the all officers portraits and the weather report about the rain that immobilized the Napoleonic artillery. Not for this, students better understand history.

Antonio Sant'Elia, la Centrale Elettrica, 1914

An Antonio Sant'Elia drawing,visionary and related to the Viennese Secession style: Project for a Power Plant, 1914 (pencil and watercolour on paper); ©Archivio Sant'Elia,Pinacoteca Civica, Como

Another skills that the use of hardwares risks, indeed, maybe it already doing to lose us, are the hand ability. The motor skills required today are lower than the manual and micro-manuals needed when handling real tools and instruments. Some might say this is evolution, but a famous anthropological theory argues that, when the first hominids moved from a quadruped to biped posture, the opportunity to use our hands for a purpose other than walking,  influenced profoundly the development of the human brain. If so, can a more basic use of our arms –  pressing a key is not a sophisticated skill –  affect our minds?

A good opportunity is perhaps the one offered by the softwares that allow to write and draw directly on a tablet. However, it’s always an interaction with a machine. In this regard, my friend and colleague Marco Motta, after reading the previous posts, reminds me that, however, “the hand itself is a tool.

Right, but I think this doesn’t mean that any instrument we take, is a valid vehicle of our creativity. A “tool” is a “mean“, in our case, for the purpose to trace a (de)sign. Compared to the body, the hand is not a mean, because it’s itself Body. Anyway, compared to the brain, the hand could be seen as a mean, and then it would be an extension of the Mind.

Zaha Hadid, MAXXI, Rome, 1998

A Zaha Hadid's aerial view study, between the Futurist painting and Arabic calligraphy: MAXXI-Museum of XXI Century Arts, Rome,1998 (acrylic on black board); ©Zaha Hadid Architects

But the medium, is never neutral. Also leaves its mark. So, media and tools influence the creative process by inserting their genetic mark in the work produced.
Watercolour and oil paintings derive their peculiar aspect by the technique and materials, which have no equivalent in the computer produced images, nor those made with softwares that simulate those techniques. The characters of the Latin, Arabic, Hebrew, Chinese writings, highest examples of graphic design, derive their look from the instruments with which they were originally written: chisel, stylus, pen, brush; and their aesthetic over again, after centuries, the computer designed fonts.

A emblematic case of this, I believe it can be the Savoy Vase, designed by Finnish architect Alvar Aalto. The shape of this vase is sinuous,  likewise other Aalto’s designs.

Aalto's Savoy Vase Sketches

Alvar Aalto's sketches for Karhula-Iittala's competition, 1936 (coloured pencil and collage on paper) - ©Lasimuseot, Iittala, Finland

In 1936, the Finnish glass factories Karhula-Iittala proclaimed a contest to design a vases and dishes collection to present at the Paris World’s Fair. Aalto, who also painted abstract paintings, presented a series of ten sketches. In the flowing strokes of his drawings, there was already the final product DNA: the concept of a vessel made by the juxtaposition of several pots, reminiscent of the Finnish lakes basins; as you will have the flowers into a vase like this? Surely a more free and natural way. The proposal won the competition and the following year, were ordered by a new luxury restaurant in Helsinki, called Savoy.

Nowadays,  an industrial design student can produce in twenty minutes a digital rendering of that vase, as realistic as a photo of the original, but without this is so much beautiful.
Why? Maybe because there is not in it the imprint of the Idea: the Handprint.

Real and Rendering Savoy Vase

left: Savoy Vase, MoMA-Museum of Modern Art, New York; ph: ©Kate Keller _ right: my 20 minutes rough digital rendering

 Other posts in this series:
The Most powerful Visualization tool – Part 1: Recording
The Most powerful Visualization tool – Part 2: Processing
Posted in Architecture, Computergraphic, Creativity | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Most Powerful Visualization Tool – Part 2: Processing

We speak now about the processing of the informations in our brain, which produces the idea. This process is known as Creativity. But what is it, really?

For psychologists, the creative behavior is made possible by the creative skills. The development of this faculty would depend, therefore, the strengthening of the latter. The American psychologist J. P. Guilford, famous for the concept of Divergent Thinking, identified one hundred and fifty different intellectual abilities, classified according to the categories of: Operations, Content and Products [1].

Wright sketching

Frank Lloyd Wright: Broadacre City Plan sketch, 1934-35 - ©The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Scottsdale, AZ

Operations would be the six general intellectual activities performed on the informations:

  1.  Cognition: the ability to discover, become aware and understand the information.
  2. Memory Recording: the ability to encode information.
  3. Memory Retention: the ability to recall information.
  4. Divergent Production: the ability to generate multiple solutions to a problem.
  5. Convergent Production: the ability to deduct a single solution to a problem, completely determined by the information received.
  6. Evaluation: the ability to judge whether the information is accurate, consistent and valid.

The Divergent Thinking, extremely important within the Creativity, would be the intellectual process activated in situations that allow more than one direction of development, going beyond what is already contained in the initial situation and the codified rules, to produce something new. According to Guilford, the different types of creativity would be twenty-four.

Le Corbusier Sketching

Le Corbusier: Proposition pour l'urbanisation de la banlieue nord de Rome, 1936 - ©Fondation Le Corbusier, ©lesmemoires.free.fr

How to realize this, those engaged in a creative profession? A technique frequently used, is the association of ideas.
For Sarnoff A. Mednick, this process can occur randomly, for similarity of the elements or mediation – that‘s, when two distinct elements are associated, thanks to a third party who is the trait d’union –. [2]

It ‘s obvious that more information a person possesses, better chances it will have of creating associations. So as those who are more able to identify links between the elements, even an indirect one. For example, someone who thinks in pictures may notice common elements among two elements, neglected by those who think in words.

Well, even in this case, my mind is that the visualization of thought by traditional tools such as pen and paper, is more profitable than hardwares and softwares. Be careful, I don’t say “more productive”, because it’s obvious that the speed of processors and video-cards can produce an astonishing amount of variation, but, I repeat, they’re not creations.

Siza Sketching

Alvaro Siza Vieira: sketch for social dwellings in Doedijnstraat, Den Haag, NL, 1989 - ©Alvaro Siza

As in the previous post I argued that the act of Cognition is more effective for those records information manually, even the association of ideas seems to me of more quality for these people. The paper is a more “sensual” material to the touch and allows to establish a more “intimate” relation that, in my mind, promote the flow of ideas, including through the doodling, drawing the maps, charts and all that human culture defines signs. It’s not a coincidence that many creatives, expressing their ideas on paper, fill the blank spaces with doodles and notes, emerged from their private brainstorming.

According to a British study from the University of Nottingham, the doodles would be an excellent tool for Science Education, because the scientists work more with symbols, diagrams, pictures. The students who doodle the concepts explained in class, would learn more.[3]

Piano Sketching

Renzo Piano: concept sketches for Jean Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre, New Caledonia, 1998, - © RPBW, ©Electa

Well, do you know? The inspiration for this series of posts – Which are certainly not intended to be exhaustive – comes from my experience as a teacher at Graphic and Design schools. I always had the impression (shared by some of my colleagues), that students who work exclusively with the computer, showing less creativity than those who work with the pencil. Maybe it’s just a greater empathy with the latter, or that some of the former are inclined to think they can delegate to hardwares the task of finding ideas.

Because the present and future generations, will be composed of digital natives, the argument seems to me worthy of being investigated.

 [1] Wikipedia: J.P. Guilford
[2] Daniele Brambilla, www.nume.it 
[3] Elogio degli scarabocchi

Other post  in this series:
The Most powerful Visualization tool – Part 1: Recording
The Most powerful Visualization tool – Part 3: Rendering

Posted in Creativity, Sketches | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Most Powerful Visualization Tool – Part 1: Recording

Today we have available a large number of digital tools that allow us to sketch, draw in 2D, 3D and vectorial format. We can produce images similar to oil paintings or watercolours, without using canvas or paper and having a palette of 16 million of colours. We can build three-dimensional models of objects, buildings and landscapes, simulating the characteristics of the materials they’re made, with the ability to virtually explore them. We can handle extremely sensitive drawing tools: mouse-pointing laser, tablets, data gloves.

Nevertheless, this huge potential and graphics power has a limit, which should never be forgotten: all this serves to Editing, not to Creation.

Computers are wonderful machines to produce countless variations on a basic concept. Shape, size, color, texture, perspective, number of elements: in half an hour a designer can produce ten variants of a chair, a refrigerator, a dress, a magazine cover. But all this is Editing of an idea: is the computer able also to give birth to that idea? To find out, we need to understand “how” an idea borns. I say “how” because it’s obvious “where” it borns: in our minds. But how does it end there?

Eugène Delacroix, notes from a journey to Morocco

Eugène Delacroix, notes from a journey to Morocco, 1832 - ©The Yorck Project Gesellschaft für Bildarchivierung GmbH

I think  ideas are recombinations of the informations in our brain, a bit like nightly dreams, in fact, sometimes ideas are created unconsciously as them. Anyone can have an idea then, because whoever has any data in his head and many people have the ability to rework them. But even those who carry out a “technical-creative” profession cannot wait for the random arrival of an idea. Hardwares and softwares can help them?

We consider separately the two steps of the Creative Process: Taking the data and Combining them.
Electronic technology provides us with a large number of hardwares with data recorder functions: digital cameras, scanners, 3D measuring laser, sound recorder, recognizers of colours, etc… But the data collected by these devices don’t become fixed in our minds, don’t change our brain synapses, because they’re stored in memory units external to us. Paradoxically, we’ve those data without having assimilated them, ie we don’t learned them. – it’s like having a pantry full of canned food, but don’t have an opener –.

This process, however, can be done by a simple pencil and a sheet of paper. Because while a hardware is a machine external to us, the pencil is a “prosthesis”, ie an extension of our body, through which we can record directly, writing and drawing, our thinking, our perception of the world, in a way so unique, personal and incisive for our brains.
In the words of my wife Anna: “The pencil is for our brain, what a scanner is for a computer. “

Carnet de Villard de Honnecourt

Le carnet de Villard de Honnecourt, XIII cent. - © Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des manuscrits, Paris

The Indiana University, as part of a study, published in 2010, conducted an experiment involving children. Some of them were shown any letters, while others were asked to write them. After that, the children were subjected to a MRI scanning in a machine, customized like a spaceship, asking them to think about the letters “to operate the ship.” In children who had written by hand, neuronal activity was enhanced and much more “adult-like” than those who had simply looked at the letters. [1]

Virginia Berninger, a professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Washington, says that handwriting is different from typing, because to form a letter it requires the execution of strokes in sequence, while typing involves only the selection of a letter by touching a button. Again, neurological examinations showed that the sequential finger movements activate the brain regions involved in thinking, language and memory, ie the process to store and manage information. [2]

Darwin Tree of Life

Charles Darwin, "Tree of Life", first Evolution's diagram by 1837 a notebook - ©Syndics of Cambridge University Library

 My view is that the information in our mind can’t be generic, but of “high quality”. What happens if our observation of reality is not superficial, but if we try to understand how things are made, what material sensations (visual, tactile, auditory, gustatory, olfactory) they produce, how they work, interact with each other and how we interact with them.
To record reality writing and drawing by hand, forces us to a very accurate observation and a first organization of our thinking: the analysis.

Moreover, we must not underestimate our sense organs sensitivity.
For example, our visual perception is a more dynamic process of the camera sensor, we’re able to simultaneously see in a dimly lit room and to a landscape in full sun outside it, while the sensor of a digital camera will be forced to choose to which of the two light levels to calibrate the exposition.

In the History of Art and Science, many people have used pencil and sketchbook: Villard de Honnecourt, Giovan Battista Piranesi, Andrea Palladio, Goethe, Eugène Delacroix, Charles Darwin, Alexander von Humboldt, Paul Gauguin, Le Corbusier, Bruce Chatwin and, above all, Leonardo da Vinci. The latter, precisely through his notes, showed us that the analytical mind is a common requirement for artists and scientists, and sometimes these roles are confused.

Leonardo da Vinci, Anatomical Studies

Leonardo da Vinci, Anatomical Studies, about 1510 - ©Windsor Library, UK

 Today, reading those notebooks, full of thoughts, corrections, sketches, shows not only the observation records of those people, but also their understanding of what is seen.
So, is a bit sad to think that in the future we cannot enjoy the view of the personal notes of many contemporary authors – who don’t produce original works, but files – we’ll have just their  hardcover monograph, printed in China.

 
[1] Gwendolyn Bounds, How Handwriting Trains the Brain, WSJ.com, oct 5, 2010
[2] Gwendolyn Bounds, idem
 
Other posts in this series:
The Most powerful Visualization tool – Part 2: Processing
The Most powerful Visualization tool – Part 3: Rendering

Posted in Cahier de Voyage, Creativity, Sketches | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment