Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Science of Good Design

Science! Art and science may seem like strage bedfellows, but the pairing flourished in the middle of the 20th century. Engineering and science, chemistry and space travel, these things helped make the 50's and 60's a roaring 'technological' age. Advertisers and designers were used to spread the good word of science and gone were the days of art used only for anatomy illustrations and concept work.

Photo from The Chemical Heritage Foundation
Following in the footsteps of design contemporaries, the people who worked on advertising and product design and promotion for Martin, Packard-Bell, Dupont, and Avco (to name a few) knew the sciences were tailor-made for the modernistic style of the day. In spite of the rigid nature of science and engineering, the designers felt freedom to be a bit more abstract. This helped, to a point, to demystify the sciences.

Let's take a look at this Porter Chemcraft chemistry set from 1958. This set is most indicative of the graphic style of mid-century modern. We see the use of black and white with the addition of bright, unadulterated red. The images are crisp and simplistic. On the inside, close attention is paid to continuity, with each item carefully designed to fit within the overall look. This set wasn't intimidating, it was friendly. A child could be at once in awe of science and eager to learn. How fantastic are these colors!

If we look at the eight samples of advertising below, we see the same use of bright color, oftentimes just one color with black and white much like the Chemcraft set. The illustrations are almost abstract in their simplicity and placement. The ads (all found here on the photostream of bustbright) are attention-grabbing, the text clean and 'futuristic'.

I adore the design of this era and when you add science, well, I love it even more. It's no surprise designers remain inspired by the work of those who, at the time, were on the cutting edge of what was to come. The next time you need some a little boost in the creative engine, try seeing things scientifically. Inspiration is everywhere, much like that thing we call oxygen. Breathe deep!

I took this opportunity to marry design, science, and one of my favorite things on earth, coffee. Invented in 1941 by a scientist, Dr. Peter Schlumbohm PhD, the Chemex coffeemaker uses the proven methods of chemistry to brew a simple, but absolutely perfect cup of coffee.  This poster features the squat copy text that's prevalent on pieces from the mid-century. The word 'Chemex' was hand done in a playful style, something also common to 50's and 60's design.

Scientifically the Best!
Original vector art
Rachael Sinclair

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Great Art Teachers

Creative people can find inspiration anywhere. A song, a smell, a leaf on the breeze, all of these things can spur someone to get creative. When the impetus hits, you create. But what about those times when being creative is expected on cue? Counter intuitively, school can be crippling for creativity, especially the college classes of an art major. For this installment of Cultivators of Inspiration, I'd like to share with you how I found spark in the dark thanks to someone incredibly special.

My piece, A Fine Autumnal Day
wouldn't be the same without
Sr. Diane's nurturing of my love
for color and nature.
A professor of mine, Sr. Diane Taylor, recently celebrated 45 years of service to my university. As I made my way through the tumultuous years of college, she kept me on track when the rails were broken and the bridge was out. When creativity was expected every day, she helped me look in unexpected places. Whether it was schooling me in the finer points of color theory or teaching me to keep the solder neat on stained glass, she wasn't just a teacher, she was a master and we were the apprentices.

Part of being a success at anything is knowing how to help others succeed. Sr. Diane was especially good at sensing her students' capabilities. She knew what you could do, how well you could do it, and if you didn't push the limit, she firmly but kindly suggested you push harder. She was a great listener and knew how to be silent long enough for you to work out the solution on your own. You would learn how to make amazing messes but also how to clean them up.

It's one thing to be a creative person, to make a life for yourself with your art; it's another thing to be a creative person who helps create other artists. One of the most difficult things about teaching artists is dealing with their odd natures and varying skills. It's like teaching a room full of students in ten different languages. To harness the chaos long enough to not only instruct the student factually but help them hone their varied skills is the mark of a true educator.

Inspiration isn't always the otherworldly things of sweeping landscapes and thunderous symphonies. It doesn't always come though the photographer's lens or the painter's brush. Sometimes inspiration is sculpted by a master of a different kind. Great teachers are sculptors, but great art teachers are extremely rare. If you, as a creative, have known a teacher like mine, you understand. My portfolio is her portfolio. I thank you Momma D for helping to make me what I am today. When times are tough, knowing you believed in me keeps me going.

This piece was done in 
Sr. Diane's stained glass class.