Uncategorized

Eastern Market Meanderings

For locals and tourists, the Eastern Market in Washington, D.C. on Capitol Hill is a fun place, full of surprises. These are sketches done in situ in a Stillman & Birn 5 1/2 ” x 8 1/2″ Alpha series sketchbook, as urban sketching practice.  Capturing a lot of information,in a short time,with attention to shades of difference, context, and composition–is what this sketching activity involves.

Illustration:  Pen and ink by Black Elephant blog author

Illustration: Watercolor and pen and ink by Black Elephant blog author

Although this is “Capitol Hill,” it does not seem like a place for people in a hurry, generally speaking.  Even in slow motion, however, people are difficult subjects for sketching.  Hopefully it will get easier!

Illustration:  Watercolor and pen and ink by Black Elephant blog author

Illustration: Watercolor and pen and ink by Black Elephant blog author

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Uncategorized

Taking Liberties with Urban Sketching

Sometimes it is tempting to take liberties with the look of a scene by sketching and then watercoloring it afterwardsafter, that is, departing the scene of the target image–thus, breaking a cardinal rule of the urban sketchers’  manifesto.  So, speaking of liberties, here is a sketch (also taking some liberties with respect to realism) of the back of the U.S. Supreme Court on a beautiful day in May in Washington, D.C.  True “urban sketching” follows guidelines that include sketching on the scene in real-life (“plein air,” so to speak) but, in the case below, having a photograph of the elements of the scene helped to fill in the image afterwards.  In any case, whether or not this qualifies as real “urban sketching,” it is clear that a walk in just about any city produces a great many surprises (the subject of this blog, after all); Washington, D.C., is no exception, particularly with respect to the astounding beauty of its many buildings, parks, statues, hidden alcoves, and often gorgeous landscaping.  (The sculptures of urns with the rams head handles have now popped up in a couple of places–another surprise!)

Illustration:  Watercolor and pen and ink by Black Elephant Blog author

Illustration: Watercolor and pen and ink by Black Elephant Blog author

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Risk, Surprise, Uncertainty

Face Painting 101

The introductory course to watercolor portrait painting has just concluded. Now it’s time to practice what we learned–and, while we learned a lot, there’s so much more to practice. The teacher gave us a handout (one of several, actually) to take with us, as an aid; it reads:

Illustration:  Studio watercolor exercises in pencil and watercolors by Black Elephant Blog author

Illustration: Studio watercolor exercises in pencil and watercolors by Black Elephant Blog author

“Drawing from life is not about fiction. It is about telling the truth by means of line and space. It is a trace, but a double-track one: the truth from without by the one from within. But how can I reach out there to your face, from within my locked self? Measuring misleads to a dead image. Skill and concept, to a generalization, to a face not yours. In order to get your face to this sheet of paper, a miracle has to occur. The utmost attention, hand and eye at their sharpest, will not suffice. Drawing demands a most intensive state of feeling.” – Avigdor Arikha, July 1983

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Uncategorized

Monuments and Movies

Seeing the film, “Tangerines,” and coming across a monument in Washington, D.C. to a poet, writer, and artist from Ukraine, Taras Schevchenko–all on the same day–inevitably leaves one thinking about wars, conflict, and so much that actually goes unseen–and (therefore?) unthought–most days.  Both the movie  and the monument are well-worth seeing.

Illustration:  Pen and ink and watercolor by Black Elephant Blog author

Illustration: Pen and ink and watercolor by Black Elephant Blog author

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Innovation, Risk, Surprise, Uncertainty

Frame Innovation in Change-Resistant Organizations

An important book has accompanied the traveler/doodler author of this blog, making it possible, at least, to consider taking some notes on it.  The book is called Frame Innovation:  Create New Thinking By Design, by Kees Dorst (The MIT Press, 2015).  Dorst is a Professor of Design Innovation at the University of Technology, Sydney, Australia and at Endhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands.

Illustrations:  Pen and ink and watercolor by Black Elephant Blog author

Sketchbook on-site illustrations: Pen and ink and watercolor by Black Elephant Blog author

As one reads the book, it is clear that the book’s author has been researching and developing case studies of the concept of design thinking–as applied to practical and often seemingly intractable social and urban problems–for many years.  Although the text of this book is necessarily abstract in places–explaining, for instance, the difference between traditional analytic approaches of “deduction,” and “induction” and design thinking approaches of “abduction” and design abduction”–the author is quick to remedy this through his use of case studies and helpful word-graphics. ((To fast-forward a moment to the topic of a future blog post or two, the basic issue here is a very big and momentous idea.  It is that our traditional methods of analytical reasoning, deduction and induction, “are not enough if we want to make something. If we want to create new things–or new circumstances–we need different approaches, for which even “normal abduction” (the reasoning pattern behind conventional problem-solving using tried and tested patterns of relationships) is insufficient.))

As explained in the series foreword by the editors of this new MIT Press series on design thinking and theory, design challenges today “require new frameworks of theory and research to address contemporary problem areas.”  Often problem-solving for modern challenges requires “interdisciplinary teams with a transdisciplinary focus.”  According to the editors, three contextual challenges define the nature of many design problems today.  These issues affect many of the major design problems that face us in whatever field we’re working.  They include:

–a complex environment in which many projects or products cross the boundaries of several organizations and stakeholder, producer, and user groups;

–projects or products that must meet the expectations of many organizations, stakeholders, producers, and users; and

–demands at every level of production, distribution, reception, and control.

Past environments “were simpler,” write the editors, and “made simpler demands.”   To meet modern challenges, experience and development are still necessary, but “they are no longer sufficient.”  “Most of today’s design challenges require analytic and synthetic planning skills that cannot be developed through practice alone,” they write.  What is needed, they say, is “a qualitatively different form of professional practice that emerges in response to the demands of the information society and the knowledge economy to which it gives rise.”

Designers today confront complex social and political issues, the editors note, quoting the work of Donald Norman, (“Why Design Education Must Change,” 2010).  What the authors are talking about is the fact that education today is not training professionals in ways to take integrated approaches to solve complex, inter-sector problems and imagining new futures.  The book by Kees Dorst is the first in the series and, based on this writer’s close reading of it, it represents an excellent start to this ambitious (and profoundly needed) project.

Dorst argues that society today is being “tripped up” by the “emergence of a radically new species of problem:  problems that are so open, complex, dynamic and networked that they seem impervious to solution.”  He writes:  “What all the news stories show us is that it makes no sense to keep trying to tackle these problems the way we used to.  The trusted routines just don’t work anymore.  These new types of problems require a radically different response.”

In the spirit of the focus of this blog–understanding “surprise” and the ways and whys for when we get “tripped up”–future posts will examine some of the important ideas in Dorst’s book.

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