Creative Cartography and Maps of the Imagination

Maps are beautiful. The fusion of information, art and science creates a visual device for making sense of the world. Maps provide structure and so give confidence in the unknown, and it is this ability to bring order to chaos which many artists have translated metaphorically to narrate the imagination. Maps and data visualisation are two things that I really love, and this beautiful combination forms the subject of Cartograms -  a delicious bit of vocabulary which is defined by ‘A presentation of statistical data in geographical distribution on a map’, yum. Although it’s not very sexy, this website, Worldmapper, which is full of pictorial distortions of the world informed by statistical data such as population, imports/exports, language and disease – it’s facinating. In this post, I’m going to share the work of some of my favourite creative cartographers, exploring their personal interpretation of the mapping process.

Grayson Perry

Cross dressing Turner Prize Winner, Grayson Perry, is arguably most famous for his ceramic vases – classic, Greek inspired structures, decorated with a cacophony of complex surface techniques to create designs with brash statements. His work is mostly biographical has many times used maps to communicate his thoughts and emotions. Perry’s ‘Map of Nowhere’ is intended to communicate his thoughts on the life and death – “I was playing with the idea of there being no Heaven. People are very wedded to the idea of a neat ending: our rational brains would love to tidy up the mess of the world and to have either Armageddon or Heaven at the end of our existence. But life doesn’t work like that – it’s a continuum.”

The piece, which was inspired by Thomas More’s Utopia, adopts a traditional cartographic style that is enhanced by Perry’s printing process during which ink is left on the plate. The circular composition encompasses key elements of Perry’s personal world; such as his alter-ego, Claire, and expresses his opinions upon society and religion. You can use the zoomable map here to explore it in more detail.

Grayson Perry - Map of Nowhere

BBC4′s 2011 Documentary ‘The Beauty of Maps” features Perry, among many other fascinating artists and cartographers, talking about his personal take on the idea of mapping belief -

Another one of his cartographic works, ‘The Map of an Englishman’ is an intricate illustration of an imaginary island as a visual metaphor for his own mind. Deeply personal and admirably honest, the map gives a true insight into the psyche and mindset of one of Britain’s most influential artists of our time. Within this work, Perry has cleverly manipulated the traditional components of a map to twist them into a metaphorical visualisation of his background, mental state and emotions – The brain shaped landmass features locations such as ‘Wishes’ ‘Sissy Wet Pants’ ‘Bitch’ and ‘Dreams’ all centred around a large dark patch of ‘Consciousness’ and surrounded by busy seas of ‘Schizophrenia’, ‘Delirium’ and ‘Anorexia Nervosa’.

There’s a great resource for seeing this map in more detail here.

Paula Scher

“I began painting maps to invent my own complicated narrative about the way I see and feel about the world. I wanted to list what I know about the world from memory, from impressions, from media, and from general information overload. These are paintings of distortions.” Paula Scher

Paula Scher is a powerhouse for creativity and innovative designs – her ambition and ability to turn her hand to any task makes her work incredibly diverse and consistently fresh, and this cross disciplinary attitude to creativity is something that I find inspiringly admirable. In her series ‘The Maps’, Scher applies her design and typography skills to the art of cartography, thereby creating vivid colourful maps which give a personal and opinionated view upon regions and continents. The painstakingly intricate maps are bursting with names, numbers and information from within a clever composition that manipulates the size, direction and scale of the type to form in an impressionistic visualisation of her opinions. Although the maps may appear geographically accurate, Scher insists that “They’re all wrong, I mean, nothing’s in the right spot. I put in what I feel like. It’s my comment on information in general. We receive a lot of information all the time and mostly it’s lies or slight mistruths.”

close-up of the map of China, by Paula Scher, with the densely packed names of the cities and towns (often written in a filled-in-outline style) making up the bulk of the painting

Detail from ‘China’ 2006

The World

‘The World’

2007-12-15-00Tsunami.jpg

‘Tsunami’

‘Africa’

There’s a great interview with Scher here in the Huffington Post, in whish she discusses this series. You can also hear more about Scher’s excitingly diverse career in her 2008 TEDTalk, where she looks back on her career so far and emphasises the importance of play in creativity -

Yanko Tsvetkov

Helpfully more commonly known as alphadesigner, the proudly uncatagorised artist Yanko Tsvetkov claims that he is only limited by his imagination, a trait which, similar to all the other creatives in this post, allows for a diverse portfolio brimming ingenuity and a respectable moral attitude.

“I love honesty. If you try to mislead your clients or your public, you’ll have to do it on your own. Projects for social causes and charity get a special treatment. In contrast to my artistic philosophy, I think design is the perfect tool for making the world a better place. And yes, that’s a moral quest.” Alphadesigner

“Mapping Stereotypes: The Ultimate Bigot’s Calendar of Europe” is a brave project which represents Europe through the eyes of, among others, the USA, Great Britain, Germany, France, Russia, the Vatican and Bulgaria, as well as other factors such as penis size and dictatorships. As you can imagine, these maps are brutally opinionated, often rather insulting, always intriguing, but ultimately hilarious. I defy you not to laugh.

World According to the United States of America

‘The World According to Americans’

‘European Penis size’

‘Europe According to Germans’

‘Europe According to the Vatican’

‘Europe According to Gay Men’

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Canon Pixma – “Bringing Colour to Life”

You may have gathered from previous posts that I have a fascination for the interplay of science and art, and the visualisation of natural organic events or senses, in particular, sound. This post picks up the interdisciplinary comment on a TV and cinema ad for Canon Pixma printers, created by Dentsu London. The stunning visuals in the ad have been created by using sound frequencies emitted through a speaker cone to create a beautiful ‘paint sculptures’ in a fantastic celebration of colour.  I love the abstract nature of the scene; you totally lose any awareness of scale, the natural forms of liquid globules are filled with a stunning mixture of vivid hues against the contrast of a deep black background, and there is no indication to timescale- it’s almost otherworldly.

To accompany the ad, creators Dentsu have shot this ‘making of’ video which ives a great insight into the creative visions behind the beautifully effective realisation of ideas. There’s also more info here. on the Dentsu blog http://www.dentsulondon.com/blog/2010/09/28/sound-sculptures/

Inspired by Dentsu’s work, director Ross Ching decided to try the technique for himself in his work for DTS, ‘The Speaker Orchestra’. I really like the way that he has carefully married the timing, action and music to form a really effectively cohesive representation of the soundtrack whilst not distracting from beautiful, perfectly times visuals.

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The Beauty of Chaos – Fractal Geometry and the Science behind Jackson Pollock

Nature is incredible- it’s patterns and structures are the building blocks for the earth around us and inspire intelligent human design. The influence of nature can be seen in design everywhere, however discreetly or intentionally, and it works because it has evolved, it’s adaptable, it’s clever and it’s beautiful.

Naturally we have an eye for structure, rhythm, and pattern as it’s predictability comforts and reassures us. However sometimes structure isn’t immediately obvious- take tree branches for example- at first look growth appears haphazard and sporadic, yet this apparent randomness is repeated at different magnifications within the tree’s trunk, branches, shoots, and even the skeletons of its leaves. Chaos Theory, and its offspring fractal geometry is a branch of mathematics which provides evidence that this growth isn’t random, but is in fact controlled by a repeated geometric pattern  in a set of very specific conditions. This geometric repetition, which links to the Fibonacci sequence, creates a design in which patterns are repeated at various levels of magnification, and this can be seen in all kinds of nature’s formations – tree branches, blood vessels, flower petals and evencabbages! It’s not the sexiest of videos but stick with this one; it provides an easily digestible insight into a very complex topic!

Since he first splattered them out, Jackson Pollock’s ‘Drip Paintings’ have been a common face in the “But is it really art?” debate, many people questing his technical ability and criticising the work as childish, messy and pointless. But after careful analysis, physicist Richard Taylor has proved that Pollock’s controversial works are in fact made up of a fractal design, containing a repeated structure of patterns which have been formed by Pollock’s natural swinging motion that he performed whilst dripping paint. His continued research lead Taylor to create a ‘Pollockizer”- an instrument designed to mirror Pollock’s working swing and essentially replicate his paintings.

The precision, beauty, and functionality of fractal geometry provide perfect inspiration for modern design. In his TED talk, Designer Ross Lovegrove’stalks about how his work is inspired by  forms within nature to create organic design which is as functional as it is beautiful.

It seems that whether we realise it or not, the fractal geometry surrounds us in it’s natural state, in inspired human design, and also in accidental artistic expression caused by our inbuilt natural rhythm. So keep an eye out for it, it might just inspire something incredible.

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The Rough Diamond – Disrupting Education through Creative Collaboration

This week I attended Learning Without Frontiers, a conference and festival in London’s Kensington Olympia which brings together disruptive thinkers, innovators and practitioners to share knowledge, ideas and experiences about new learning. This year’s event featured star speakers,among many others, Noam Chomsky, Ellen Mac Arthur and of course, King Ken. I went along with  the Ideas Foundation to help launch ‘The Rough Diamond’ –  a collaboration of creative educators who are bringing together their skills, passion, and expertise in order to revitalise creative education, thereby opening doors for young people and providing a model which is sustainable for students, employers, and the economy.

The Rough Diamond is a 6-way partnership between the Ideas Foundation; The School of Communication Arts; Ogilvy Digital Labs; Ravensbourne University; OnedotZero and The Marketing Academy-

                                                                                          

The Ideas Foundation is a charity founded by Ad Man Robin Wight, and is born under the aim of identifying and nurturing young creative talents. They do this by running workshops with 14-19 year olds which gives them the opportunity to work on live briefs with professional mentoring from industry experts.

SCA 2.0 - School of Communication Arts in London

The School of Communication Arts teaches a unique curriculum which has been written by professionals from the communications industry. Their students work as an agency on a series of live briefs on an intensive 12 month course delivered by industry mentors who stand in the shoes of teachers. At the ned of the 12 months, students are sent out on work placements or are eligible to apply for £10,000 worth of funding to start up their own venture through SCA’s Ideapreneur system.

At Ravensbourne University creative students and businesses collaborate in an open plan professional working environment, giving its students real experience based on a programme which is formed through collaboration between educator and business.  

Onedotzero_Cascade has been formed through a collaboration between onedotzero and a multitude of cross discipline organisations and individuals. They offer workshops and activities which foster the skills of young individual to aid personal and professional development to those who aspire to enter the creative and cultural industries.

For those who have been working in the marketing or communications industry for 4-12 years, The Marketing Academy offers 30 scholarships per year on a programme that delivers leadership skills.

Ogilvy Digital Labs is an exciting hub of new technologies based in Ogilvy’s London offices. Not only does it showcase a wealth of innovative emerging technologies for its employees, clients and students, but it also aims teach them how to use it. This way the new tech becomes a realistic tool for use within the schools, colleges and workplaces of a world of fast paced technological advances.

 

 

So how does it work?

 

The relationship has formed under the umbrella of Nicole Yershon at Ogilvy Digital labs, who has bought the organisations together based on their common ethos; to diversify the talent pool entering the creative industries and to engage industry in the education of the young people who aspire to work within it. By collaborating, a diamond shaped route into industry is created- harvesting, nurturing and developing young talent, who when have completed the scheme, are then able to feed back into the system to mentor the next generation of talent. Hence sparkling self sustainable model is born, delivering knowledge skills and expertise to those with a passion to succeed.

 

For more info contact Adah Parris at adahparris@me.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Whistle-stop Tour through the Basics of Typography

“Words have meaning and type has spirit, and the combination of both is spectacular”

Paula Scher –  Designer and Typographer

For me, the quote above from the wonderful designer and typographer Paula Scher sums up the essence of what typography is all about. For a long time, the art of typography has fascinated me, the illustration of language creating design that has meaning on both a visual and linguistic level . So this 3 week brief based around typography has been the perfect opportunity to find out a bit more about the anatomy and mechanics of typography, in order to appreciate typography for both its aesthetic qualities and its science, as after all, it is this combination that defines design.

The Formation of Type – Letter Anatomy Key Terms

Base Line - The line upon which the letters sit. A crucial element for text and or image alignment.

Cap Height - The distance between the base line and the top of a capital letter.

X Height - The height of the main body of a lower case letter x, excluding ascenders and descenders.

Stem - Often referred to as ‘the main body of a letter’, the Stem is the main vertical (or diagonal in ‘V’) stroke of a letter.

Bowl - a circular line that encloses an interior space.

Serif - A flare at the end of a letter terminal, originating from the naturally wider strokes that occur at the end of a brush stroke.

Descender - The lelement of a letter that extends below the base line.

Ascender - The element of a letter that extends above the cap height.

Ligature - A ligature is the term used to describe the crafting of two letters into a single letter form , or ‘glyph’, e.g.  ff, fl, fi, ffi and ffl.

Finial - The tapered or curved end of a letter.

Spine - The central curved stroke of a letter.

Cross Bar - The horizontal lines within a letter.

Counter - The space enclosed by the bowl.

Positioning Text

Of course it’s not just the formation of individual letters (or ‘glyphs’) that has to be considered when designing type, the way that characters sit in relation to each other and line spacing also has to be carefully designed so that batches of text looks clean and even. This is governed by kerning, tracking and leading.

Kerning  is the adjustment of space between letters. There are several different methods of kerning- metric, which uses the kerning built into the type by the designer; optical, involving automatic adjustment by a page layout program which considers the shapes of all characters, and additionally manual kerning by the designer.

Tracking is the overall spacing across a word, line or column of text (don’t confuse with kerning which deals with individual pairs of letters) Like kerning, tracking can be manipulated automatically or manually in order to achieve the desired effect. Positively tracked text has much more empty space between characters (loose tracking) making it appear confident and free standing feel, whereas negatively tracked text brings text closer together, adding a sense of urgency. Positive tracking is used much more frequently than negative.

So, I understand that this post has barely touched the surface of the complexities of type design, however, in order to understand the detail you have to cover the basics. There are some fantastic resources online to help you to find out more about typography, here are the ones that I’ve found particularly useful-

  • “Thinking with Type” – The essential online companion to the popular book Thinking with Type: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Editors, & Students, by Ellen Lupton (both links are very similar however each use different graphics and information, useful to see both)

http://papress.com/thinkingwithtype/text/tracking.htm http://www.thinkingwithtype.com/contents/text/#Project:_Space_and_Meaning

  • ILoveTypography.com – One of the most comprehensive of online typography resourses from a real type fanatic. Here you’ll find everything from the history type, to designer interviews, to debates over typefaces. Get your geek on.

http://ilovetypography.com/2007/08/26/who-shot-the-serif-typography-terms/

  • Karen Kavett’s YouTube channel – A graphic designer/nerdfighter/photographer/video blogger whose YouTube channel is full of really handy tutorials on typography and other areas of graphic design. Concise and to the point with that essential design geek twist, thanks Karen!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tWFWJGA7qrc&feature=relmfu

I’m learning pretty quickly that you either get typography or you don’t, as for me, I’m hooked.

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David Cameron and the UK Film Industry

Yesterday, the Prime Minister made yet another bold and typically Tory statement- that the UK’s film industry should produce more “commercially successful pictures”, proving once again that he has some kind of allergy to creativity and originality. Not only does the statement make me worry that the UK will lose the majority of the artistically talented independent film producers who make our industry so exciting and diverse, but also, surely the fact that everyone’s favourite Prime Minister fails to understand that you cannot fully predict commercial success is worrying for the economy as a whole?

The timeline of British film successes is littered with  fantastic independent films. For example old favourites such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and  Billy Elliot still manage to captivate an audience with revitalising modern translations in theatre and TV. Horrors such as Blair Witch Project, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Paranormal Activity are effective because of their low budget which adds a raw and subsequently almost believable element to the obscure plot line.  More recently, an unassuming novel by Vikas Swarup, Q&A, telling the story of an Indian boy who miraculously manages to win Who Wants to be a Millionaire was translated into a piece of cinematic beauty. Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire managed to effortlessly scoop 8 Academy Awards and 7 Baftas, receiving universal critical acclaim. A.R. Rahman’s fusion of indie, R&B and classical Indian beats also became an instant hit as soundtrack to the film, the combination of film and music serving to inspire and revitalise Western tastes from everything from music to art to fashion.

Indie fims are what bring innovation to the industry. They push boundaries, exploit obscure ideas and take risks, which subsequently drives change and inspires all types of new media. It is this freshness and originality that audiences crave- take new film, The Artist, for example; the idea of a black and white silent film in a world overwhelmed by vibrant HD, imax and surround sound may seem to some like a guaranteed fail, but its fresh and exciting, bringing a classic model out of the highly popular vintage closet and revealing it to a new era of viewers.

Mr Cameron, you cannot command films to be massive commercial successes, it doesn’t work like that. However, you can invest in the fresh young minds with wild and wonderful creative minds to generate the ideas feed and stimulate the industry. We can increase chances of success, but not demand it.

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Cymatics – Visualising sound, the Patterns of Nature

Following on from my last post ‘Kinetic Typography and Synesthesia in Art and Design’, I’m venturing a little further into the world of sound visualisation by looking at Cymatics – the fascinating and beautiful study of the patterns created by sound vibrations. I first came across Cymatics at the fantastic ‘Shadow Catchers‘ exhibition at the V&A Museum, where (camera-less) photographic artist Susan Derges exhibited her 1985 series “Chladni Figures”- a series of photograms (camera less photographs) produced using a process pioneered by Ernst Chladni, in which photographic emulsion sprinkled with carborundum powder is exposed to sound waves at different frequencies. The vibrations of the frequencies creates intriguing, natural symmetrical patterns which are captured in a still image by the photogram.

Evan Grant‘s brilliant TED talk ‘Making Sound Visible Through Cymatics’  is a concise yet deeply informative insight into Cymatics, discussing both practical uses and artistic qualities. Evan was the organiser of the TEDx Education Revolution which I spoke at in September and I was lucky enough to be coached by him to prepare me for my talk. He’s a really great and guy and his company, Seeper, an Arts and Technology Collective who specialise in interactive design, are always throwing themselves into exciting and adventurous new tasks in order to “capture the essence of experience”. Up to the minute with technology and design, they do some truly “wow” things, it’s well worth checking out what they’re up to.

Visual representations of sound can be seen in other media too, for example, take a look at this slo-mo footage of a water droplet at 100hz-

Or this QI feature showing the effects of putting a corn flower and water mixture in a speaker cone, quite incredible!

So, from beautiful symmetrical patterns, to strange wriggly Morph-like substance, these experiments really go to show that sound can intrigue more than one sense.

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Kinetic Typography and Synesthesia in Art and Design

This week I’ve been working on a typography project for which I have to effectively visualise a phrase to represent how the phrase sounds and also represent its meaning, so in effect, create a multi sensory piece of work.

Kinetic Typography is one way in which designers aim to link sound, linguistics and visual representation, for example this popular music video for Cee Lo Green-

Or this extremely clever and witty representation of Stephen Fry’s beautiful thoughts on language-

But what if you didn’t need to put pen to paper, or finger to keyboard to represent how your mind interprets language? Enter, Synesthesia- a rare condition in which senses become muddled and overlap, for example, some Synesthetes may taste words, see music or see tastes as shapes. Researching this condition is fascinatingly insightful and shows how, when linked, our senses are capable of interpreting one thing in a variety of different ways, for example hearing a B flat as a musical note but also seeing it as the colour turquoise. The documentary “Derek Tastes Like Earwax” (below) is a really informative programme that follows the lives of several Synesthetes, whowing what it’s like to live with what can be a life altering condition.

<embed id=VideoPlayback src=http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docid=4297264301326388608&hl=en&fs=true style=width:400px;height:326px allowFullScreen=true allowScriptAccess=always type=application/x-shockwave-flash> </embed>

The artwork of synesthetes is almost like looking into a new way of thinking. I myself feel that I think in a very visually, and just by chatting with my friends it’s obvious that our minds all work differently to interpret the world. The difference with Synesthetes however seems to be that this condition of the mind extends itself into sensory reactions. More evidence is coming forward to suggest that many well known artists are thought to have been Synesthetes including Wassily Kandinsky, Vincent Van Gogh and Joan Mitchell. A more recent example of synesthesia in Art is this video by Michal Levy called ‘Giant Steps’ which shows how as a synesthete she interprets the music of John Coltrane.

The workings of the human mind never fail to fascinate me, and looking into Synesthesia has certainly been inspirational for starting my project. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m off to try and evoke Synesthesic reactions.

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The Fun Theory

Understanding the most effective ways to change or influence human behaviour is  fundamental to the work of advertisers. ‘The Fun Theory’ from DDB Stockholm for Volkswagon is a clever campaign which plays on the idea that we are more likely to do something if it is fun to do, and so aims to influence human behaviour to bring change for the better and change lazy behaviours. From littering to taking the stairs, DDB aim to get consumers to see the fun side of acting responsibly, and ultimately consider how they feel about driving environmentally friendly cars. A funny, playful and ultimately very effective campaign, see the results in the videos below.

Take a look at Thefuntheory.com for full details and information on current ‘Fun Experiments’, you can take a peek behind the work of the campaign here.

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Rob Ryan takes over Coutts for Christmas

As I was coming out of Charing Cross station just before Christmas, I spotted that the front of Coutts bank had been adorned with the beautiful work of papercut artist Rob Ryan. I have a huge soft spot for Rob painstakingly crafted, whimsical and simply gorgeous paper cuts with their heartfelt messages, so to just stumble upon this really made my day!

The window display has been created to raise money for the Kid’s Trust, with the toy elephant, rocking horse and dolls house being auctioned for charity (although, I’d rather have one of Rob’s bells…) You can also donate to the cause by texting KIDSHELP to 70700 to give £5.

I’m used to seeing Rob’s work applied on a much smaller scale- delightful book illustrations, mug designs, bunting, lasercuts and much more  (check his delectable Etsy shop and Amazon for a collection of books) Rob’s ability to create designs that work just as well on such a large scale, as well as small is something that some artists/designers can never seem to master, but Rob manages to skilfully create delicate work which can tug the heartstrings and delight the eye whatever the shape or size of the surface.

Etsy have made a really lovely video about the life and work of Rob Ryan as part of their ‘Handmade Portraits’ series, it’s well worth a watch.

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