Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Our Very First Light Fixture

*Boy and I kick around the idea of designing lots of things aside from books and buildings—light fixtures are one such thing. Last week we entered our firm's annual Pumpkin Carving Contest with the expressed intent to do something "cool." Every designer knows that feeling, the desire to come up with something that will blow everyone else away, something that will stand out and really shine.

Mission accomplished. Amidst the other template pumpkins (and weird, nautical concept pieces), our little, orange light fixture shone brighter than all—even inside a lit room. After a squabble about it being electrically illuminated (which Martha encourages), we won first place. The only way it could have been better is if we had actually suspended it.

The making-of pictures to follow...

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Experimenting with Plastics

For a little less than a year now I have been experimenting with HOLGA – a bulky, plastic, medium format, "toy" camera from China. It is a delightful cult phenomenon which anyone who enjoys picture-taking should read much more about at this website. The joy of the HOLGA lies in the unknown. With only two real manual functions – a 4-step focal length ranging from "one person" to "mountain" and a simple light setting to distinguish "cloudy" from "sunny" – this is one camera where advanced knowledge of camera mechanics does you absolutely no good.

The manual wind is completely free moving which means that sometimes I wind too far and end up straddling frames.

Or I don't wind far enough and end up splitting frames.

Or, when I was first starting out, I would forget to wind altogether and superimpose frames.

I also forgot to remove the lens cap a time or two during that first roll (the viewfinder and the lens are not connected). I won't bother posting those shots here.

Delightful accidents happen all the time with the HOLGA. But sometimes I try to make accidents happen and end up with trash.

HOLGA is 100% plastic, lens included, which means all sorts of light seep into my exposures. Sometimes its sort of cool.

HOLGA has a mind of her own – she will focus (or not focus) on whatever she wants and cruelly crop on a whim.

But even with all these variables and amidst the inevitable blank frames and undistinguishable shots, there is also beauty in the most unexpected places.

HOLGA has taught me its OK to let go a little, to just let things happen.
Thank you, HOLGA.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Sometimes I wish I had a job where I knew what I had to do

In my second year of architecture school, I had a building technology professor that spoke to a class of aspiring designers and architects about how he often envied and one day longed to retire as a mason. This seemed crazy at the time - why would you want to do manual labor and be forced to execute someone else's design? But the more I work in the design field the more I understand exactly what he meant. You get up and go to work knowing exactly what you need to do that day. And at day's end, you can step back and see precisely what you accomplished. It is measurable progress and physical accomplishment. When you put the trowel down, you leave it all behind because when you get up to go to work the next day you know exactly what you will need to do.

Teaching constantly forces me to reflect on what I know and the lessons I have learned in my short design career. My students are being exposed to the idea of design for the first time. I am always telling them that there are no right answers in design; there are appropriate solutions, thoughtful answers and defendable ideas, but never a finite solution. What is "right" for some may be completely wrong for others. I know, as a teacher, my job is to challenge the students, to look at their work from directions they have not thought of in order to stimulate them into being more critical and thoughtful. If all I can teach them is how to be self-aware and self-critical then I think I have succeeded.

Being self-critical and thoughtful all while trying to design a building or a book is exhausting. Though I love it and would not change it for the world, I do sometimes wish I could wake up in the morning and paint a fence, mow a lawn or stack a pile of wood. But I fear it's too late for me - I would question the quality of my brush strokes, the directional pattern of the cut grass and the aesthetic intention of variation in the stacked wood.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Backyard Bucolic

The subject of art for some, a childhood playground for others. A few pictures from *girl and my recent weekend trip to my parent's house in pastoral NH for some relaxing and leaf peeping.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Adventures in Mind-Molding

During last Thursday's class I did 2 things that officially welcomed me into the fold of those who teach: I had to give my first "F" and I made a student cry. It probably doesn't bode well that both happened the week before the students fill out my mid-semester faculty review.

Ok, now for some clarification. The "F" was not given as a reflection on the quality of work but rather as a direct result of a student failing to turn in any work at all. Design grades are subjective at the best of times but even amongst the questionable gray scale of grading art there are a few black-and-white constants: Was it complete? Was it on time? Beyond that, yes, I will admit - both as a former design student and now as a design instructor - grading gets sticky.

All 8 students were given explicit instructions of all the project requirements (correct format, correct organization and correct submission) that would be evaluated as part of their technical grade. They would also be given a conceptual grade (which included not only the original idea but how that idea was then developed, executed and ultimately comes across in the finished piece). There were several students who stumbled over a few of the requirements - some were missing their write-ups, some forgot to name their Photoshop layers and some completely overlooked my required folder and file organization - but at the start of class, 7 students sat in front of me with a finished mock-up of their book and a labelled CD with all of their files. The 8th student sat in front of an empty spot of table.

Its hard to argue "I couldn't get it done" when you're the only one with nothing to submit, staring at a room full of your fellow students who managed to "get it done" on time. In the end, I didn't have to say much, I simply glanced across the room and let the rest of the class make my case for me. But even this wasn't the reason for the F. That came later, after she had the opportunity to submit the project the following class with a one-letter reduction. She didn't do that, either. Then, one week after the project was due, she simply didn't show. Taking out my little red marker, I wrote "F" next to her name in my notebook.

The real kicker is that she did all the work - I saw it. I saw her working in class, I saw her progress, I even saw what looked to be finished compositions. What happened? Her concept was clever, her technical skills were developing well and she seemed to really enjoy the work. This sort of thing always confused me when I was student, too. I loved doing the work and submitting the final piece. Granted sometimes it felt like giving up my baby to the sacrificial alter of criticism but even in those instances I was confident that I had done the work and done it well - no matter what the opinion of the professor.

Thankfully, because of those black-and-white grades (attendance, participation, homework) an "F" on a project won't kill you. Its more equivalent to losing a limb. I hear they're doing wonders with prosthetics these days. At this point I don't even know if she plans to come back to class which is an incredibly helpless feeling. I hope she does. If she doesn't then I'm not sure she would make it in the design world, anyway. It takes thick skin and dedication - both of which are things we aren't all born with. That's part of what design school is all about.

As for the student who I made cry, it was really more that I was the final straw in a very long, bad day. This student can really think but her technical skills just aren't there yet. Thankfully the tears came after class and we were able to talk it out. She'll be fine. The world builds up on all of us and you've got to let it out somewhere, on someone. It just happened to be me.

Maybe she'll remember what a great listener I was when she fills out my review.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Birthday *Girl

This past Sunday was *girl's birthday. The following is a small list of events from her birthday weekend Bonanza.
  1. *Girl took her friends to the ICA to see the Design Triennial
  2. An afternoon picking Japanese paper at PaperSource
  3. A little shopping spree at Mint Julep and American Apparel
  4. Hanging flying shelves and here hooks in our apartments
  5. A delicious dinner at O Ya
  6. A day off from work and a Zipcar MINI Convertible drive to Mass Moca to find new inspiring art (pictures to come)
There were also a few birthday presents which I bought, not because I knew she would like them, but because they are things I wanted her to have.

Bacon Bracelet by Thwart Design
Eamz Shoe by United Nude

Dirty Spicy-Dill Pickle Martini

2 parts Kettle One Vodka
A Dash Extra Dry Vermouth

1/2 part Home-grown Spicy-Dill Pickle Juice (imported from Alabama)

Pour ingredients over ice and shake vigorously until frost forms on the shaker. Pour into double-walled Bodum glasses and garnish with spicy dill spear. Repeat until lips are burning.

(Notice the cutting mat place mats, sometimes I have good ideas)