Archigramatic Reflections

For this short experiment and skill practice I looked through my past inspirations. What brought me to my nowadays skills? What inspired me the most back then when I’ve been searching for my style in art? What were my favourite, long not-used skills in graphics?

Painting or photography?

Looking throughout my projects lately, I’ve found simple abstract paintings back from studies as well as a couple of pictures made in 2012.

 

 

My paintings from the time of studies aren’t quite stunning in their form and expression. They were just simple exercises in using shapes and colours in both static and dynamic way. What I like about them, however, is that they’re raw, with strong bold colours, likely placed in a rush, still with enough detail focused on the central point of composition.

Photographs were simple experiments as well — the session was mostly catching the right frames during late sunlight. The pictures are portraying big city’s natural outskirts slowly going to sleep at some beautiful early spring evening. The colours catched by a small digital camera had no chance to get very intense there. That’s why I did what I could with the frame layout and contrast. And with help of my model, who is quite skilled photographer and gave me some really precious tips during the session.

I thought that there must be some good way to re-use those differing styles for art-making. Instantly it came to my mind, that they would make perfect material for backgrounds or foregrounds in visualizations.

Both together matched best my favourite style of modern painting:

Poster!

Combining of intensely coloured hand-made paintings with highly contrasted posterized pictures seemed like a good idea to me. The problem of ‘how to join or contrast those two styles‘ lead me towards the classic graphical style of collage. I loved to use collages to visualize my projects while I studied architecture.

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I always tended to value ‘hand-made’ digital collage over the photo-realistic 3D renders that were used in presentation of projects. I remember time when hyperrealistic renders were booming on architectural market, making the “old-school” ways of visualization declining over the years of unjust competition with new, great technology. This trend ist still doing well until nowadays, I guess.

I, on the other hand, was developing myself towards raw, narrative pop-art style that I’ve seen in works of my great inspirations.

One of them were simple designs of recycled materials, visualized with use of hand-made collage, designed by Yona Friedman. Other — ingenious technical and design work and philosophy of mister Buckminster Fuller. I’ll most probably return to inspirations both of these gentlemen left in me, in later posts on my blog.

But the most influential to my way of thinking about pop-art was certainly…

Archigram

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Once upon a time, in a wild world of revolting young generation of 1960’s to 1970’s, there was a group of eccentric English architects, graphics and journalists. The group went into their venture in search for new ways of visual expression. Their goal: bringing some fresh air into the stale environment of mostly academic European architectural design.

Archigram managed to create distinct architectural poster style, developed during years of their creative research. Inspired by popular art’s influence on mass-media, as well as by work of futurist designers like Sant’Elia, they combined the innovative style of comic books and science fiction with their inventive visions of future architecture.

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Their posters, drawings, photographs and blueprints posed as simple yet striking expression of society’s concerns at the time. With smart use of digital graphics and traditional printing techniques, the Archigram introduced popular themes and conceptions about the future into serious social discussion concerning modern design.

Most probably their projects like Suitaloon or Walking City were massive inspirations for popular sci-fi blockbusters — like Star Wars, Futureworld or Mad Max. See for yourself — doesn’t it bring something to your mind?

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Suitaloon — Michael Webb, 1966. (source: http://archigram.westminster.ac.uk)

 

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Walking City — Ron Herron, Warren Chalk, Frank Brian Harvey, 1964. (source: http://archigram.westminster.ac.uk)

You can browse through their stunning graphics, concepts and thoughts, if you’d like to get inspired. Thanks to the work of many researchers and fans of the group, their countless drawings are stored in great quality on the Archigram Archival Project website.

If you’re interested in group’s history and philosophy, I recommend you Simon Sadler’s album, Archigram: architecture without architecture (MIT Press, 2005). It’s a great summary of Archigram’s important influence on modern pop-art visual style, architecture and society.

Screens used for painting

So, when you know now about my art inspirations for the collage, let’s get back to the skill itself.

Nowadays, digital postproduction of rasterized images is being used to imitate screen printing, the technique once widely used for industrial purposes. This is the technique that once let the newspapers save a lot of print and enhance the readers’ experience, posing as one of the most efficient methods of producing graphics in mass quantities. Screen printing with use of aluminium sieves and acrylic paint is still effective and esthetic method for making printing patterns. Good-looking t-shirt prints or large format posters are made this way, though gaining great effects requires a lot of practice and costly materials when using conventional methods.

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A set of CMYK screen printed layers, Nicholas Smith. (source: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:PrintLayers500px.gif)

The effect is gained thanks to the notion of brain’s ability to ideally fill missing parts of perceived image by using imagination. Actually, we do this all the time, as each second our sight transforms the matrix of colourful lightspots into illusion of moving pictures. Our eyes couldn’t produce ideally detailed and fluent images if not thanks to this ‘filling of gaps’. Screen printing intentionally leaves some of the picture’s space blank, letting watcher’s imagination to put it together. That’s why I love this technique of imaging — mostly because it naturally resembles how human perception works.

Today it is still practical in visual arts — by subtly manipulating this optical illusion you can get outstanding effects. Great example would be interlacing layers of an image in a newspaper that form colours virtually in watcher’s head. Another one: black&white picture made in fact solely of its light density map — ideal to use as high contrasted semi-transparent layer.

Aside of countless opportunities for colour / contrast manipulation, there are other practical reasons for learning about this method. Let’s take into account saving the filesize of good quality images for large printing, or truly amazing effects that rasterized image presents when printed in fixed large size (if it’s done well). All of that convinced me to get back into using this technique in my creative work.

Cutting out the parts

Screen printing requires big machines, as well as a lot of patience and expensive materials to master. Luckily, today we have personal computers that can at least save some print during practice — and make you see, if rasterized layers are actually the method you’d like to use in your artworks.

Filters converting digital pictures into sequences of dots in basic CMYK colours are the great method of playing with layers of an image — for the beginning. They are available in most of advanced graphic applications like Photoshop or GIMP. For the purpose of this exercise I used the filter script available in GIMP — I decided to create only the black rasterized layer of the picture with enhanced contrast. That way I got smooth shadowing effect, in fact utilizing only the picture’s light density map.

After contrast enhancement and rasterization the picture looks more or less like this:

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Whatever Else Is There (detail after use of rasterization filter)

Very important thing is that you shouldn’t move, rotate, scale or transform the layer after using the rasterization filter. Just like the traditional method of screen printing, this filter should be used in creating only the fixed size and positioned image, with specified resolution. Any transformations of this raster image made of thousands of small dots will certainly ruin the effect.

As for the colourful pictures from studies, I decided that they actually need only slight corrections in saturation to make perfect layers for further mixing.

Assembly into collage

OK, so for finale let’s get straight to the effects.

I decided to stick with the exercise’s original purpose, that is: to create static and dynamic composition with use of similar colours and shapes. I noticed that the rasterized picture I prepared for mixing has clearly distinctive horizon line and main point of interest: the character. So, naturally, I had to try it out first with simply putting the coloured composition over the other picture’s lightmap.

I used just transparency effect for the coloured layers and alpha channel of rasterized picture. Even the first effects were unexpectedly satysfying when it comes to composition! So, what was left was to cut the coloured layers by hand, using mask, and then experiment with moving them up front and down under the rasterized picture.

Digital effects resemble placing the screen-painted black layer directly on a part of coloured image, then covering it with cut-out foil covered with semi-transparent paint. That’s exactly the effect I wanted to gain — simple imitation of collage just as it was used in visual arts by Archigram.

I will definitely get back to this classic method of 2D visualization in my future works. I guess it’s time for semi-traditional drawing techniques to show off, if we want to keep some spirit in digital visualizations of architectural projects. In a world dominated by rigid advanced technology and hyperreal imaging, I’ll take my try in bringing some emotion and artistic feel into the visualizations I make, the old-school way.

— Des

 

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