All posts by E. John Love

Inspired by Teachers, Symbolic or Real

What Makes a Teacher Special?

Who are (or have been) the most important teachers in your life?

Any category, any reason. Think about it.

Growing Up Years

Growing up through to my teens, my heroes were the adults I admired, and the school teachers from whom I took my lessons, both directly and indirectly.

My Dad

My Dad taught me about fairness, courage, cowardice, respect, and how to work hard for a living.

Dad was both a positive and a negative role model, and I’ve already written about him at length in numerous articles. By his living example, Dad taught me a lot about regret, fear, and the dangers of not dealing with your demons. Dad was suspicious of religions. His faith rested in science, many of the values of the modern world, and his simple series of edicts: Respect the rights of others. Do it right or don’t do it at all. Stand up to bullies.

Maybe nobody else holds a more central position in my psyche than my Dad. Young lessons at his side were set early, and some of them took a long time to reverse. Fathers raise you right in the fray of life. Their hands tend to get dirty.

Directly and indirectly, my Dad taught me how to survive.

My Grandfather

The next role model/teacher would have to be my Mother’s father. We called him Poppy. He led by example, was a gentleman, and he bore his losses and burdens with dignity and grace. I still hold my head up high thinking of Poppy.

Poppy also painted landscapes in oil (taught himself, I think), and I found it interesting to look through his Walter Foster art books and see how perspective worked or how to model a form with cross hatching.

Grandparents tend to have more distance from the centre of your life, giving them a wider perspective and often, a wiser view.

My Art Teachers

Tom Hudson

Dr. Tom Hudson was an internationally-recognized Master Art Educator, and a key proponent of the revolution of the Basic Design programs in the UK in the 1960s. Tom and his colleagues adapted modernist values from Herbert Read and from the practical patterns and programs of the Bauhaus, trying to transform and update art and design teaching across the UK. [View the VADS UK Basic Design online collection.]

As Dean of Education at Emily Carr College of Art + Design (ECCAD), Tom was directly responsible for the structure and evolution of the Foundation (1st year) program that I waded into in 1985. I was so inspired by his passionate lectures on Colour, Drawing, and Modern Art that I soon volunteered for his summer, out-of-class art projects. I remained a student and assistant of his at ECCAD until 1991.

Tom Hudson has been described as pursuing his goals with “missionary zeal”. That was very true of him. He remains the central figure in my training as a visual designer. I still hear his voice when I’m hacking away at some creative challenge, and I continue to find inspiration from his early lessons.  Through his art and design tutelage, Tom taught me how to see and understand the big, revolutionary changes in art and design history, how to relate them to current movements and ideas, and how to pursue my own explorations.

Neil Prinsen

Mr. Prinsen was my art class and home room teacher throughout high school in East Vancouver.

He was a practical, direct man with a friendly face and a confident yet sympathetic nature. He had some idea of the challenges my sister and I faced in our difficult home life, and he let me know that he cared.

He was a talented painter who gave me my first lectures in painting and art history. Art was always my favourite subject in school, and in Mr. Prinsen’s class, I learned about the Impressionists, I fell in love with Claude Monet, and I frantically tried to emulate Seraut using felt pens.

In our senior year, Mr. Prinsen gave me and a few of my classmates art books describing the artists and genres that we each had responded to the most. He gave me a book about the Impressionists, and I devoured it and studied it over and over.

Mr. Prinsen was passionate about art – he loved it and he truly understood it. He was a great high-school teacher and a nice man.

My Grown-up Years

My CEOs and Bosses

For years after leaving the art college, I worked for a succession of small private high-tech companies. Most often, I was the resident graphic designer, documentation writer, and creative dog’s body.

Running a small company and taking responsibility for your employees is stressful, and I don’t think I could do it. From my best bosses and coworkers, I’ve seen warmth, humane behavior, responsiveness, compassionate support, and well-reasoned decision making. All bosses should exhibit these values. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Unfortunately, on the other side of the scale I’ve also witnessed yelling, nepotism, loud profanities, lying, massive egos, laziness, weasely sucking up, supervisors with manic eyes and little flecks of foam in their mouth, and dumbfuckery of all sorts.

I’m convinced that some of the people who exhibited the worst of these behaviours were borderline sociopaths. Often they were in Sales. Others were just Bullies, and made the Worst. Bosses. Ever.

Overall, the best and worst of my bosses taught me to trust my own judgement and to maintain my integrity.

Favourite Teachers Whom I’ll Never Meet

These are writers and teachers whose work I’ve really enjoyed and whose voices really reached me. Their expertise cuts across a vast range of subjects, but in each case, their voices have resonated with me very strongly.

The Dalai Lama

His Holiness became an inspiration to me years ago, when I began reading his books. Two of his best books, IMHO, are “The Art of Happiness” and “The Universe in a Single Atom”.

My wife and I saw The Dalai Lama speak at GM Place, when he came to our hometown of Vancouver. The crowds were massive, but very joyful.

The international importance of this man’s living example of loving kindness and compassion simply cannot be overstated.

Albert Einstein

After reading Stephen Hawking’s book, “A Brief History of Time”,  I decided that I needed more background in physics, so I bought a small book called “Relativity: The Special and General Theory“, written by Albert Einstein.

It turns out that Albert Einstein is an excellent explainer of his own theories. I followed his detailed yet easy to comprehend discourse from his initial “man on a train/observer on an embankment” examples, straight through to the Lorenz Transformation. I even limped through the calculus far enough to see the final derivation of his famous equation e=MC2. I had to read this book twice, but it was all there, well said.

I grew so fond of hearing his voice in my head as I progressed through that book, that I began to warmly regard Albert Einstein as my “Uncle Albert”. Even more than 50 years after his death, I believe that he still has a vast multitude of adoring adopted nephews and nieces who feel the same as me.

Karen Armstrong

Karen Armstrong’s book “History of God” did more to help me consolidate my thoughts and feelings about religion and spirituality than almost any other author, with one exception (above).

Her little book on the life of the Buddha was a thing of beauty, at once both humanizing and elevating the character of Siddharta Gautama for me.

In “History of God”, her description of “The Axial Age”, covering the major personalities and eras around which all three monotheistic religions rotated, has stuck with me.

Groucho Marx

Another adopted Uncle – a Great Uncle, I think. He’s a complex and contradictory figure: bitter yet sweet, biting yet gentle. I picture an older Groucho, way past his prime, skewering some rich upper crust fat cat at a dinner party, and then going home to strum his guitar and bang out an angry letter to the editor about how his own money is subject to too much income tax.

I love watching videos of Groucho on the Dick Cavett show, showing his intelligence and his quieter, more serious side. Stefen Kanfer wrote an amazing biography of Groucho, but best of all, I love dear old Groucho’s own private little autobiography of sorts, called “Memoirs Of A Mangy Lover“. Let him tell his own story in his own surprisingly self-deprecating style, I say. I can read between the lines, hearing his regrets on the one hand, while he tries to get me to laugh with the other.

I am a perpetual student.

This site is an experiment. It’s my attempt to document the wide array of personal interests, curiosities, and self-directed learning efforts which continually seem to occupy my off-hours.

My interests tend to vary – I tend to hop around a lot conceptually, in terms of what motivates or excites me.

I go through phases; minor obsessions with very different topics or areas of interest. Like the avante-garde pop of Devo, or the social commentary of Popeye and Groucho Marx, or the design philosophies of the Bauhaus, or Einstein’s Relativity. I have always tended to hop laterally from subject to subject, and then try to integrate and assimilate that new information into what I already know.

I’m mostly a visual learner. I need to see and make images to help me understand. So, aside from the chronological, bloggy aspect of this site, I thought that it would good to have an image portfolio to show any research that I do, or to show illustrations that helped me to get to where I wanted to go.

Somewhere there are connections – common threads – between all these various areas of interest. Finding those threads and tugging on them is part of the joy of discovery.

I am a life-long learner, and probably, a perpetual student.

 

Rebuilding Foundations: 2012 Colour Studies – Unit 2

Unit 2: Colour Energy

Continuing with my self-directed study of colour by following the telecourse Colour: An Introduction.

(Check out all my colour assignments here.)

These notes give more detail on my experiences while completing this unit of study:

Click image to view the gallery for this unit:
Colour Studies 2012, Unit 2

The goals for this unit of study were:

  • to explore the impact of various contrasts:
    • contrast of extension, warm/cool, tonal, theoretical relationships of colour to shape

My experiences while completing the assignments:

  • Again, the lack of control in drawing on the Playbook tablet forced me to complete some drawing aspects (the round-cornered squares and triangles of the secondary colour-forms) on my PC, using Photoshop.
  • For colour selection, a few different tablet paint programs were employed, according to the abilities of the colour picker in each versus the requirements of the assignment: one program’s colour picker made it easier to find less saturated colours, while another allowed me to more easily select a warm or cool variation of a colour.

Rebuilding Foundations: 2012 Colour Studies – Unit 1

Unit 1: Basics of Colour

I thought I’d dive into a self-directed study of colour by following the 1980s telecourse Colour: An Introduction. It’s always good to re-tune your instrument once in a while.

(Check out all my colour assignments here.)

Even though I’ve worked as a designer for over 20 years, and have had a good sense of colour for as long as I can remember (at least in my opinion), this telecourse has challenged me and refreshed my thinking on effective colour use, theories, visual perception, and visual literacy in design.

These notes give more detail on my experiences while completing this unit of study:

Click image to view the gallery for this unit:
Colour Studies 2012, Unit 1

The goals for this unit of study were:

  • to establishing primary and secondary colours
  • to define colour wheel model
  • to explore light/dark (tonal) properties of the primary and secondary colours
  • to explore  warm/cool (temperature) properties of the primary and secondary colours

My experiences while completing the assignments:

  •  I’ve completed most of the assignments on my Blackberry Playbook. I thought it might be a convenient and capable tool for colour exploration and basic mark-making. It’s a convenient tool for some things, but not ideal for everything.
  • In essence, I have much less drawing control than I’d like. With the generic stylus I’ve been using, painting little freehand lines and figures or little blobs of paint is quite easy, but drawing clean geometric shapes is cumbersome, because the stylus isn’t that accurate and the paint programs that I chose (free ones) leave much to be desired in terms of drawing tools. Some drawings, like the colour circle, had to be completed in Photoshop.
  • Check your tablet’s brightness setting before you begin, or all your colours may be too light or too dark.

On Creativity: Bruce Mau’s “Incomplete Manifesto for Growth”

I first read this piece from designer Bruce Mau about a dozen years ago. It’s still good to read these words from time to time, and take them as a personal challenge…

Incomplete Manifesto for Growth (brucemaudesign.com)

“This design manifesto was first written by Bruce Mau in 1998, articulating his beliefs, strategies, and motivations. The manifesto outlines BMD’s design process…”

On Design: Fulfilling the Urge to Learn and Create

As usual, I’m in the midst of a few different processes at the same time, all self-imposed.

I moved on from my last full-time job in March, and in the past couple of months, I’ve been going through a personal re-evaluation of my skills as well as my professional identity. It’s that whole “changing my job/career/identity” mental anguish process wherein,  periodically, I rattle my own cage and see what settles out from the upheaval.

My inner pragmatist has a very strong voice, compelling me to be practical and look for employment opportunities which allow me to use my familiar skills, or to cast a diverse search, in the hopes that I’ll have the right skills in the areas that a prospective employer wants.

“Update or Risk Being Left Behind” – Technical Skills

I started out in computer graphics over 20 years ago, back when the adjective “computer” actually distinguished you from the airbrush artists and print illustrators who were using photo-mechanical processes to create their graphics. I began creating 2D and 3D animation and titles for video, and then got into graphics, icon design and screen layouts for software projects. From these experiences, I always wondered about and cared about the viewer – who they were and what they needed from my work.

Any print design work (business cards, letterhead, and other stock) seemed to come about incidentally from the needs of my current employer or from some freelance opportunity. I wanted to become a good designer, and I especially wanted to know how print design was executed. I became interested in design as an exercise to see how the principles of visual literacy that I’d studied at Emily Carr College were involved, and how style and society influence design.

Overall though, being a child of the TV era, motion, animation and interactivity have always seemed to stimulate me more than static imagery. Over the years, my curiosity about my audience became more and more informed through experience, and began to transform into an interest in usability, and user-centred design.

Gradually, my interest in the user’s experience (the front end) blended into an interest in web site programming (the back end), and so I took opportunities to learn (or at least hack around in) languages like Rexx, Perl, Cold Fusion, Javascript and PHP.

So, my deal is that I’ve been a kind of a Swiss Army Knife of design – I can do (and have done) a little bit of everything. This is also called a Jack of all Trades. I struggle against the corollary of that old chestnut, the dreaded “Master of None”. However, at the 20 year mark in my professional career as a visual designer, I must admit that my skill-set does now feel rather idiosyncratic and in need of a refresh.

In the early days of my career, there weren’t the same dominant players in terms of software tools or computing platforms. I started out building web pages using text editors on Unix, so if I had nothing more than Pico (or, heaven forbid, vi) and a simple Paint program, I could still build a web site. I still tend to be biased towards getting my hands dirty in HTML source code, but as technology has changed over the years and become more complicated and abstract, working solely at the source code level has become more and more difficult.

Nowadays, Adobe is the undisputed “big dog” in the world of print and interactive design tools. I knew that I needed to upgrade my toolkit and skills, so after some online research and reading, I decided to bite the bullet and buy Adobe CS5 Web Edition. With the exception of a video editing suite from Corel and an animation program from another vendor, my whole digital studio will be powered by Adobe.

The challenge for me now is to get up to speed on the current generation of tools, and relearn how to do things in a new, more integrated design environment. For example, a lot of the different tasks that I used to do with four different tools can now all be done within Dreamweaver.

Many Things to Learn

From a practical and creative challenge standpoint, I’ve found that combining a number of related goals into a common, over-arching activity makes a lot of sense for me. Translation: I like to kill lots of birds with as few stones as possible, and my learning opportunities work best when they have a practical goal.

Case(es) in point:

  • When rebuilding my online portfolio, I learned Flash Catalyst in order to create a Flash-based portfolio application that presented a richer user-experience than a straight HTML site, and allowed for fade transitions and nicer graphics.
  • …however, because I now had a larger portfolio with more projects to present, the above project became too complex for a first Catalyst project (which is meant more as a Flash prototyping tool), so I abandoned the Catalyst approach in favour of a new HTML design that used the Lightbox Javascript library, with which I was already familiar. I was still able to use most of previous design and almost all of the production graphics that I’d already created. I’m still satisfied with the end result.
  • I needed to learn about prototyping web pages using Adobe Fireworks. When my ex-employer asked me to update their website and change some of their menu structure, I used it as an opportunity to learn how to create a site wire-frame in PDF format, using Fireworks.
  • For years, I’ve wanted to update “True Life” (one of my personal websites), and change its design from a framed layout (yeah, I know – ancient) to a modern, non-framed layout that used Divs and CSS instead of tables and font tags (again,  ancient). I’m using this project as an opportunity to refresh my skills in Dreamweaver, starting with a pre-made Dreamweaver PHP template and its built-in tools to rebuild the entire site.

Related Posts:

On Design: Visual Literacy in Interface Design

On Narrative: A Story runs through it…

The Monument for East Vancouver

Ken Lum’s public art piece, “Monument for East Vancouver” transforms an ad-hoc symbol of regional pride (or defiance, membership or territorial claim) into a new landmark on the city’s skyline.

This piece is controversial… Some people love it, and some people hate it.

There are many opinions and interpretations of where the East Van cross came from, and what it means…

http://www.straight.com/article-281162/vancouver/what-heck-east-van-cross

http://vancouverisawesome.com/2010/01/12/east-van-cross/

I have gradually grown to love this piece. It stands at the corner of Clark Drive and Great Northern Way, facing downtown Vancouver like a ginormous middle finger, as if to say “Take that, rest of the city! We’re East Van!”

Like it or not, it’s definitely a symbol.

On Design: Visual Literacy in Interface Design

During my art education at Emily Carr College in the 80s, I took a unique opportunity to study visual literacy under the college’s Dean of Education, Tom Hudson. This research and study involved developing computer-based imagery research for Tom’s telecourse, “Mark and Image”.

In practical terms, it was like having a world-class personal tutor. We started off simply, using the limited personal computer resources available at the time. I remember using Koala Painter (with the KoalaPad and stylus) on a Commodore 64. I divided my screen into quadrants; the first of many “worksheets” which Tom had all his traditional-media drawing students do as well. Inside one of the quadrants, Tom instructed me to draw points and to arrange them spatially. “Feel the space between the points. Feel the space,” Tom’s voice told me. I smirked self-consciously, feeling too much like Luke Skywalker to Tom’s Obi-Wan Kenobi. But I was learning to watch and to listen. Tom’s guidance resonated with me and I kept at it, slowly beginning to learn about the space, pace, rhythm and texture of points, lines and shapes. We started in black and white, and moved into colour when we started looking at “primary” shapes and basic geometry.

I did dozens of screens like this on the C-64, and later, scores and scores more on the Amiga, where the spatial resolution and colour palette were significantly improved. However, it was still a pixely, chunky drawing medium, compared with paper, ink and charcoal. We learned that any deficiencies in resolution were quickly compensated for by the advantages of digital memory. “Cut and paste” and numerous other near-instant transformational capabilities provided by our little paint program provided us with almost unlimited possibilities for variations and explorations.

As for the drawing exercises themselves, it was a bit like learning a new kind of basic grammar, like learning musical notes, chords, and scales. I was actually learning a new vocabulary of visual elements; perceptual dynamics that underlie every man-made visual image. I learned later that the approach Tom took with his computer-based drawing students was based in the Bauhaus Basic Course, in principles taught by Wassily Kandinsky, and in aspects of visual perception documented by Rudolph Arnheim.

These were the same principles that Tom and his colleagues had infused into the British Art Education system back in the 1950s. So, I watched, I drew, and I studied, feeling part of a very fascinating modernist educational tradition.

Now, as I contemplate how my career has progressed and I continue to refine my skills in interface design, I must admit that those early teachings with Tom still have so much to offer me. His voice is still in my ear, and I need to keep listening…

See: “Visual Literacy in Software Design” (paper).

Reflections on a multimedia career…

All through my post-secondary education (four frantic, sleep-deprived, incredible years at art college), I seldom knew exactly what I wanted to do in art and design. I just knew what ideas excited me.

In the summer of 1985, once I learned that I was accepted the the Emily Carr College of Art and Design (after I peeled myself off the ceiling), I started to do a few things.

First I panicked, thinking “Gawd – can I do this?” I got over that phase.

Next, I began to imagine what it would be like to be an art student. Unfortunately, nothing but stereotypical images of painting and drawing came to my mind.

Finally, I realized that I needed to prepare myself in a few ways. I needed to assemble my portfolio and I needed to develop a little confidence, so I took a life drawing course at a small studio on Granville Island. I blushed self-consciously while trying to avoid the eyes of the nude model. I scribbled, muttered to myself, and produced a bunch of weak and tentative scribbles that I probably threw out later. As I was packing up to leave, I looked to the model as she was reaching for her robe, and she shot me a smile and a knowing look that both reassured me and told me that she knew just how green I was. I laughed on the inside, and walked home feeling some pride in having tried in my first life drawing class. I proudly announced to my Dad that I had done my first life drawing class. Once Dad realized that “life drawing” involved a nude model, he became very angry, growling “Why can’t you just draw fruit?!” Screw him, I thought. I was proud of myself. It wouldn’t be long before Dad felt proud too. That was pretty cool.

Fortunately, I passed my portfolio interview (and I still don’t know how I got through), and began Foundation (first year) studies at Emily Carr.

One of the first places where things really clicked for me was in Foundation Computer class. Even though it was 1985, and we were using Commodore 64s (and in one class, I swear to god I had a Vic-20 with a datasette), I became fascinated by those little machines that were capable of turning key-presses into little glowing blocks of colour and shape. I remember trying to memorize MS Basic character string functions like “Chr$(32)”, and trying to understand how BASIC worked. A year later, the college bought dozens of Macs, Amigas and Atari ST PCs, and we all began using mice and creating real computer-based graphics and animation.

I also began to consider the schism within myself: artistic and instinctual on the one side (my Mother), and structural and technical on the other side (my Father). Early on, I did not know how to reconcile these two aspects of my personality, but I knew that they would co-exist, and eventually, I developed the idea that they would interact or influence each other in some way.

In the following years, I developed a keen interest in multimedia, animation and video, and began to learn how these technologies were gradually converging (read Stewart Brand’s book “The Media Lab”). I absorbed as much media theory as my instructor Gary Lee Nova provided, got technical help designing simple electronic circuits from Dennis Vance, and studied on my own a lot (relationships between art, science and technology, cybernetics).

More than any other teacher I’ve had, Dr. Tom Hudson was a massive influence on me throughout my art student years. Under Tom’s tutelage and inspiration, I learned about visual literacy, and undertook experiments in colour and drawing in the Bauhaus and British post-war traditions. The main difference was that all my “vis-lit” research for Tom was executed on a microcomputer, using a commercial paint program. We were actually exploring and developing work in computer-based visual literacy. This extracurricular research work was used in Tom’s educational television series “Mark and Image”, and also published in two of his academic articles for the British Journal of Art and Design Education. These events remain my academic high-water marks, and form the springboard of my interest and development as a digital designer.

By a couple of years after graduation, I was developing icons, layouts and animations for the user interface of what was to become North America’s first home-based banking system. From there, my interest in GUI design and web design was born. Since that time, I’ve enjoyed working with software designers on GUI design projects for TV, game consoles, PC and web-based applications. The essentials of visual literacy, colour, design, perception, and user expectations have all been developed and refined through those practical, real-world design projects.

Now, 21 years after graduating from the ECCAD four year program and receiving my diploma in fine arts, I look at the preponderance of digital media and information systems in the world around me, and I’m amazed at how much that culture and technology have converged, and have even seemed to become practically inseparable.

I think that good digital design is more important than ever, and being able to work in multiple media, multiple formats and multiple modes of thought (artistic, technical, exploratory, practical) seems to me to be more important than ever.