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Applied Arts Workshop on Character Design September 20, 2010

Posted by claralieu in Applied Arts.
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Character Design Workshop

We had a blast at the Applied Arts workshop on Character Design led by RISD Professor Shanth Enjeti this past weekend.  Shanth started the workshop with a lecture about basic principles of character design, followed by a discussion of his own work and experience as a designer, closing the workshop with a short exercise and group critique of the works. As I write this blog post, I wish there was some way for me to capture Shanth’s amazing energy and depth of knowledge.  He had all of us laughing uncontrollably throughout the entire lecture, while at the same time demonstrating an incredible depth of knowledge and experience.

Shanth emphasized several fundamental principles about Character Design:

1) Character design is not about drawing or rendering.
2) For a design to be good, a five year old should be able to draw that design in five seconds.
3) Great design is not complicated.
4) Creativity is an impulse.
5) You have to be able to think on an intellectual level for good character design.
6) Geniuses are very simple in their work.
7) If you make awesome stuff and you aggressively tell people about it, it can catch on fire.
8 ) There are some designers who are playing an entirely different game:  their game.
9) All successful designers have had international influences on their work. Examples:  Julie Taymor, Eiko Ishioka, George Lucas, Akira Kurosawa and Hayao Miyazaki

Shanth moved on to talk about James Joyce’s alter ego Stephen Dedalus’ aesthetic theory: that there exists “Proper and Improper Art”.  Proper art is static while Improper art is kinetic. Kinetic art is didactic art and referrs to a design’s ability to evoke loathing in it’s viewer. Pornographic art refers to a works’ ability to arouse desire in it’s viewer, serving the purpose of creating visual pleasure. Human beings need characters that remind us of an emotional state.

Character Design Workshop

(above) Shanth Enjeti shows and demonstrates his drawing tools.

One of the major themes Shanth discussed in his lecture was the “four elemental closed forms”:  the circle, the square, the upward triangle, and the downward triangle.  The circle is considered by many to be the most appealing and comforting form, it’s the ultimate symbol which speaks to wholeness. Examples include halos in religious art, the Venus of Willendorf, the human eye, doorknobs, the click wheel on the ipod, etc. The most popular character in Star Wars is R2D2:  he has only one eye, and he’s all round.  Mike Wazowski from Pixar’s Monsters Inc. is an angry character, and yet he is loved by every child due to his simple and round design.

The square is a completely different scenario which can be seen both positively and negatively. Negatively, many westerners “fear” the square (“Don’t be such a square!”, “I’m thinking outside the box”, and cubicles.) A square environment represents submission and order: an example being Mussolini’s square colosseum. In Star Wars, Darth Vader, who is a representation of order and submission has an electronic square in the center of his chest. The Borg from Star Trek is a race that is all about losing your individuality and submission-and they fly around in a giant cube. From a positive view, Wall-e’s job is to take away the chaos by making squares and stacking them. The most popular game of all time, Tetris, is all about making us feel better when we arrange squares.  Legos, the most popular toy of all time is all about stacking blocks that even have little circles on them.

The downward pointing triangle is largely negative and all about submission while the upward pointing triangle is about aspiration and perseverance. Examples of downward pointing triangles would be Maleficent from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, the Decepticon icon from the Transformers, and the Stormtroopers from Star Wars. The upward pointing triangles on Totoro’s chest, combined with the circular eyes allows that character to appeal to many audiences.  Life is disordered and chaotic: we put it into boxes and circles to make it livable.

Character Design Workshop

(above) Shanth Enjeti shows his corporate and commercial character designs.

Next, the workshop participants got an opportunity to create some designs themselves, and have them critiqued by Shanth. The assignment was to create two characters: one which represented your worst trait, and another which represented your best trait. Everyone had 15 minutes for each character in this assignment. You can see below several of the examples.

Character Design Assignment

Character Design Assignment


Studio Art at Wellesley Summer School April 27, 2010

Posted by claralieu in drawing, photography.
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The Wellesley College Summer School is offering several courses in studio art this year.  Click on these links to read the course descriptions and learn more about the studio art courses: Drawing I, Photography I, Basic 2-D Design, Digital Imaging, and Color.  The summer school program is co-educational, featuring full credit courses drawn from the regular Wellesley curriculum.  The summer school is open to all college students, college graduates, as well as eligible commuting high school juniors and seniors. For more information or to register, visit the Wellesley College Summer School website or call (781)283-2200.

Summer School Poster

Applied Arts: Ceramic Mosaics Workshop February 22, 2010

Posted by claralieu in Applied Arts, ceramics.
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This past weekend we hosted our second Applied Arts Workshop this semester, the Ceramic Mosaics with Rhode Island artist Kate Oggel.  Kate is a ceramicist who has developed her own unique technique and approach to mosaics using handmade square ceramic “tesserae”.  Her process begins by rolling out huge slabs of ceramic clay, and then scoring one side to create the tiny tesserae tiles.  Each scored slab is fired and then glazed with a different color to produce a wide range of colored tesserae.  After the scored and glazed ceramic slabs are fired, Kate hits the slabs with tile nippers (they look like a lot like pliers) and the tesserae break into little pieces.  As the pieces get smaller, tile nippers are used to cut the smallest pieces. What is most remarkable and unique about Kate’s technique is that every single tesserae is it’s own one-of-a-kind creation. Kate also emphasized the fact that the colors you can achieve in ceramic glazes have a kind of depth which is unachievable in another medium.

Ceramic Mosaic Workshop
Kate Oggel speaks about the history of mosaics and tile design to provide a context for the workshop.

Workshop participants were encouraged to keep their designs simple, since any curved forms in a mosaic design requires one to nip each individual tile into a specific shape to fit amongst the others. This process is definitely doable but makes the process significantly more time consuming. Kate also stressed the need to maintain a sense of contrast through the patterns, colors, and shapes in the mosaic designs to make the mosaics more visually appealing. To get started, participants sketched out a pencil drawing on a 10″ x 10″ sheet of paper on their board.  When the design was ready, a sheet of clear contact paper, sticky side up is placed on top of the pencil drawing and board.  The clear contact paper allows you to place the tesserae on top of your design, without worrying about the tiles getting knocked over.  At the same time, the contact paper isn’t too sticky, so it’s easy to move the tesserae around.

Ceramic Mosaic Workshop

Ceramic Mosaic Workshop
Workshop participants search through bins of ceramic tesserae, to select tiles for their mosaic design.

There was definitely a “treasure hunt” aspect to the process of selecting and finding specific colors in the tesserae which was fun and exciting. I found myself searching for tesserae which had textures and patterns, and this one specific turquoise blue which was particularly vibrant. There were even tesserae which were more dimensional than others; some tesserae were more bumpy or textured and had a more sculptural quality.

Ceramic Mosaic Workshop

Ceramic Mosaic Workshop
Laying out the tesserae on the contact paper, sticky side up on top of the pencil drawing.

I was lucky enough to participate in the workshop myself, and created a mosaic design of an orange octopus.  As a professional artist and professor of studio art, it was a rare opportunity for me to get to do something creative with my hands without the pressure of a deadline or burden of professional concerns. Laying out the tesserae on my design was wonderfully relaxing and mesmerizing at the same time.  It’s the kind of creative process where you’re so focused, immersed, and entranced that you forget to eat or go to the bathroom.  The process is very much like creating a spontaneous puzzle:  as you lay out each tesserae you have to figure out how to get them to all fit together.  I spent quite a bit of time with the tile nippers to cut the tesserae to specific shapes what would fit. Other considerations were how far apart to keep the tiles, since eventually grout is placed in the mosaic to hold the tesserae in place.

Ceramic Mosaic Workshop
My ceramic mosaic design in progress, you can see the tile nippers on the right, which are used to cut the square tesserae into different shapes.

Once the mosaic design is finished being layed out, the grouting process begins.  Kate offered us a choice of white or grey grout, bearing in mind that grey grout tends to work better with darker colors, while the white grout allows lighter colors to appear more seamless. Kate had an absolutely brilliant technique that she had worked out to transfer the tesserae in such a way that the design would remain intact through the whole process.  Her technique is tough to explain verbally because it has so many steps, but the overall goal is get the mosaic design on the sticky contact paper transferred (while still intact) onto a a sheet of Bondera Tile Mat Set, which is an extremely sticky tile adhesive which comes in sheets. Generally speaking, the technique involves transferring, flipping, and peeling the contact paper with the the mosaic design multiple times, until your mosaic design is sitting safely intact, face up on the Bondera Tile Mat Set. The technique was wonderfully thought through and is nearly foolproof.

Ceramic Mosaic Workshop9 Ceramic Mosaic Workshop Ceramic Mosaic Workshop
Ceramic Mosaic Workshop Ceramic Mosaic Workshop Ceramic Mosaic Workshop
Kate Oggel demonstrates the transfer and grouting process.

Ceramic Mosaic Workshop Ceramic Mosaic Workshop

Once the mosaic design is set in the Bondera Tile Mat Set, tile grout is scooped and placed on top of the mosaic and pressed and pushed into the areas around the tesserae with a putty knife.  Looking around the classroom, many of us looked like we could have been frosting a cake. The tile grout is scraped as clean as possible with a putty knife.  The excess tile grout is then removed with a wet sponge, creating a clean surface. The edges of the mosaics have to be properly sculpted as well to create a clean, neat edge for the mosaic. Even after the sponging, there is still a little bit of excess grout residue. Kate instructed us to allow the grout to set for 2-4 hours and then to buff the mosaic clean with a clean rag.  Another tip was that if the residue was being stubborn, regular white vinegar worked into the rag would remove the residue. I will also note how unique this is that we were able to walk away with finished mosaics in just four hours; Kate explained that the traditional materials and approach to mosaics requires several days because of the curing process that is required for some of the traditional adhesives.

Finished Ceramic Mosaic Finished Ceramic Mosaic Finished Ceramic Mosaic Finished Ceramic Mosaic Finished Ceramic Mosaic

Above is a selection of the finished mosaic designs from the workshop. I’m amazed that we accomplished this in just four hours! See all of the photographs of the workshop on our Flickr account or on our Facebook page .