On Seeing ABSTRACT: TYPEFACE DESIGN

After spending about a year away from the series, I made a repeat visit to “Abstract: The Art of Design” on Netflix (I first blogged about it in October 2018). This time, I learned about a typography guru and expert named Jonathan Hoefler, whose fascination with all things text dances on the line of obsession and whose processes for developing new font families are both sensical and surprising.

This particular episode of “Abstract” got me to thinking: No matter what kind of artistic methods we practice, our creativity may demonstrate a grand amalgamation of place, practicalities, and the past…

Think place
When Hoefler was commissioned to invent a typeface for the rebranding of the Guggenheim, he used the museum’s architecture as his muse. The rotunda, for example, spoke “openness and roundness” and “elevated and lofty” to him, thus he set about to develop letter forms that also embodied these traits. Then came his next challenge…

Think practical
The Guggenheim’s existing signage also informed Hoefler’s work. However, he knew that certain letters—like the “E” and “H” used on the museum’s facade—were “overly stylized,” even “distracting,” and would not transfer well to headlines and text. He had his work cut out for him.

When it comes to practicalities, Hoefler also brings up his assignment with Sports Illustrated. Way back in 1989 when Hoefler was still a novice typographer, he was hired to make headlines for the magazine. That eventually led to his creating a special font family called “Knockout,” which features various widths and heights, and can always be adjusted to fit a specific headline space.

Similarly, a typeface he developed for Rolling Stone carries four different styles, but are interchangeable and don’t effect page flows when swapped in and out. They called it “The Proteus Project,” which is comprised of the font families of “Ziggurat,” “Leviathan,” “Saracen,” and “Acropolis.”

Think past
Trailblazer. Trendsetter. Forward thinker. These are titles that Hoefler wears well in the world of typography. But what I find most interesting about his artistic process is his dependence on works of the past to formulate his next big idea. Hoefler studies antique timepieces, gravestones, maps, and typesetters catalogs, paying special attention to unique characters that have potential for new life in the digital design world. In other words, who knows what hidden gems are yet to be discovered just through Hoeffler’s skills in resurrection and adaptation.

So how is our own work reflecting the distinct personalities of place? Are we considering any practical applications outside the box of our current projects? And could we forage for some relics from the past that could help make our art become even more alive in the present? Hoefler does it—we can, too!

On Seeing THE CREATIVE BRAIN

CreativeBrainThere’s nothing like a good documentary, and I ran across a winner on Netflix. The Creative Brain is written and presented by Dr. David Eagleman, whose twenty-plus years as a neuroscientist inspired this hour-long program. Watch The Creative Brain>>

Eagleman, who is also one of the authors of The Runaway Species: How Human Creativity Remakes the World, interviews actors and musicians, nanotechnologists and architects, to “unlock the secrets of creativity.” His findings are both fascinating and motivating to those of us who define ourselves as makers, artists, and creatives—or who simply want to make an impact…

Human beings are special
Unlike other animals, we can “disengage our instincts” to see beyond the usual uses of things. For example, we can turn off our automatic response to eat when we see food. All of the possibilities that we are able to see in the world are “the foundation of our creativity.”

Originality is “bunk”
One of Eagleman’s guests describes jazz as a “mutt.” In other words, “being original is not about generating something out of nothing.” I think of all of the teachers, muses, and artistic ancestors who prove this point in my life—all of the books read and movies watched and music enjoyed. The list goes on. As a result, my contributions are the sum of a lot of input from various sources. Any originality is born from my unique life experience.

Creativity requires intentionality
Eagleman notes that, despite our great creative potential, humans remain wired to take “the path of least resistance”—to do what is easy. This path is the arch enemy of creativity. Eagleman closes his presentation with three tips for fighting the urge to live and work the same way day after day; I invite you to watch the show for these inspiring insights!

The program also concludes with a profile on a fine-arts elementary school, how it was saved from closing and now thrives given how creativity is “at the heart of every subject.” It just so happens that my own daughter will soon start Kindergarten in a similar setting, and The Creative Brain further affirms that we made the right choice. I trust that her education will help her become successful, innovative, and creative—to grow into an accomplished artist, musician, nanotechnologist, architect, or whatever she dreams to be!

An Artist’s Bookshelf – October 2018

Once again, I’m traveling the “mixed media” route when it comes to my learning more about artists and artistic practices. Here’s what’s on my bookshelf, screen, etc., this month:

“Abstract: The Art of Design” series on Netflix
In short, this series is so cool! The first episode is about Christoph Niemann, a German illustrator who has many New Yorker covers and several books to his credit. I love the observation he makes at the beginning of the episode: given how it’s produced, the show is both by and about him; Niemann’s illustrations actually sew the documentary together. It’s hard to explain but so worth a look. I can’t wait to follow Niemann’s work from now on and to check out the next artists featured in the series. 

The Creative Call by Janice Elsheimer
This book was described to me as The Artist’s Way for Christians. It promises “creative renewal” through readings, journaling, and other exercises focused on getting closer to God and, at the same time, discovering what He designed me to be and do. I look forward to seeing how this book will speak into my artistic endeavors and their intersection with my faith.

Finding Divine Inspiration: Working with the Holy Spirit in Your Creativity by J. Scott McElroy
Like The Creative Call, this book and study guide duo is focused on harnessing the spiritual capacity of art. “Collaborate with God,” reads the back cover of the study guide. What I specifically like about this collection is how it offers real-life examples of other people who have attempted this and, by all appearances, who have done it well. I can pray to add myself to their number.

 

An Artist’s Bookshelf – May 2018

img_1248This month’s reads are the “next chapters,” so to speak, of other works I’ve read or seen recently. Here’s what’s on my bookshelf in May…

Rare Bird of Fashion: The Irreverent Iris Apfel by Iris Barrel Apfel & Iris Apfel: Accidental Icon by Iris Barrel Apfel
When I was a relatively new Netflix subscriber, I came across the documentary “Iris” about a spicy older woman with colorful clothes and accessories from all over the world. She has a magical knack for layering, be it bangle upon bangle, or feathers upon hound’s tooth, or chunky chain link necklaces upon 19th Century vestments. It’s fun to page through these two biographies by Iris Apfel’s own hand and really study her sense of style and talents in color and texture. A truly unique brand of artist!

A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline
I was pleasantly surprised to learn that this book suggestion by my local library is based on a painting that I remember from the “Modern Art & Ideas” Coursera course I finished last month. The author was inspired by “Christina’s World,” a piece by Andrew Wyeth; Baker Kline recreates the life of Christina Olson who experienced the physical limitations brought on by polio. The book reminds me of one of my favorites from years ago—Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland—that revolves around one of Vermeer’s masterpieces. Such writings further prove that creativity begets creativity!

Living the Creative Life: Ideas and Inspiration by Working Artists by Ricë Freeman-Zachary
I so enjoyed reading Freeman-Zachary’s Creative Time & Space: Making Room for Making Art in March that I picked up another one of her books! Once again, the author showcases the stories and artwork of all kinds of artists and offers exercises that can help the rest of us to collect ideas and to pursue projects, too. So far, I really like the simple tip of collecting paint-sample cards and mixing them together to test different combinations of colors. I’m totally going to do this!