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Confuse the eye

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Tim Newark’s 2007 book Camouflage

There’s a fantastic piece about the history of camouflage in Topic Magazine this week.

Before camouflage hit the runway, artists in World War I used their creativity to disguise soldiers and protect them from aerial reconnaissance and long-range enemy fire.

To learn how to blend in, the French military turned to an unexpected group—the people who knew best how colors and textures could be used to trick the eye, a resource France had in abundance: artists. Known as camoufleurs, these artists became part of a special military unit that provided camouflage services to the Allied armies during World War I. The camoufleurs would join soldiers in the trenches, painting camouflage patterns directly on weapons, or painting canvas covers with disruptive patterns: brown, black, and green splotches or bold stripes, to make it difficult to see where the weapons’ edges started and stopped. Sometimes devotion to this artistry was dangerous, and in one instance, an artist was shot in the hand when he left a trench to put the final touch on a camouflage pattern.

The camoufleurs also provided the army with color charts that showed different tones of the terrain, depending on the area and season. One such color chart, featured in Tim Newark’s 2007 book Camouflage, looks like an impressionist painting, with golden hues that resemble the sun hitting leaves in the fall, or white and brown tones, like peeking through the leaves of a tree.

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Raising the level of consciousness

You can’t program a robot to be bored. It runs on doing. You can’t depend on a robot to pursue a half-baked idea when it doesn’t know what stretches tastes.

At the same time, a robot can multiply randomness. Using AI, It can think of thousands of possibilities at once. It is the ultimate prompt machine.

But human ingenuity is unique. The mind knows when to do nothing but smell the roses. Out of boredom, a melange of neuronal interactions blooms the next big idea, even those half-baked.

Innovation is random, like luck. It is the combination of creativity, timing, and good old cocktail of audacity and persistence.

Raising attentiveness also raises the level of consciousness.

Sharing sameness on the gram

I’ve blogged about it before but it’s worth repeating: Instagram homogenizes creativity.

Scroll your feed, and I bet one of the pictures that comes up includes the following: a selfie, a coffee cup in hand, someone standing on a rock, riding in a canoe, or feet up in the sand or mountains, etc. It all looks the same!

Of course, similar cliche-looking pictures can be seen on Unsplash, where I often pluck images to share on my blog.

Thankfully we have accounts like @insta_repeat to remind people, especially adventure influencers, of their mimetic desire to copy each other. The creator of the account is an unknown artist of their own, with no intention than to call out the patterns of sameness in the digital space.

From Quartz

The creator of Insta_Repeat is a 27-year-old filmmaker and artist, who wants to remain anonymous. “I’m not trying to be the arbiter of what photos have value and what don’t. I am just making observations about the homogeneous content that is popular on Instagram,” she told Quartz over email. She says she is baffled by how many shots there are of humans in canoes and atop SUVs—but does see the positives in the repetitive nature of Instagram. “I also think there’s an incredible amount of value in emulation both when someone is learning and continuing their craft,” she says. “Improving upon and building upon what has been done…is an important part the evolution of art.”

The art of conformity is real. If at first, we copy, then we deduce, mixing and meshing what others do until we develop our own unique style. That’s a creator’s ambition anyway, to do something novel.   

Below are some of the most recent posts from the @insta_repeat account. Make sure to follow along for the latest collages.

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‘The imperfect match, the failure of unity…’

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The great thing about collage is that, because production is so minimal, you are always close to the vantage point of the viewer. I am often asked why I don’t just get two people, pose them for photographs and splice the shots more accurately, but that misses the point. It’s the imperfect match, the failure of unity, that makes us identify with these beings.

When people say I’m not a real photographer, I tell them I work with the medium rather than in it. In the internet age, it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between the producers and the consumers of images. I see my work as merging these two worlds.

John Stezaker, Old Masks

No guarantees, guaranteed

full frame shot of eye

In releasing your thought debris onto the internet, two questions may hold you up:

  1. Will anyone will read it?
  2. Will anyone care?

They certainly won’t read it if you don’t post it. And two, no one will ever care as much as you. Guaranteed.

So, why wouldn’t you just drift into the freedom of expression?

Creative practice is the goal, the maker just happens to be found. Said artist Auguste Rodin, “Fame is no more than the sum of all the misunderstandings that gather around a new name.”

Use your craft as an unconscious guide, with no end in sight but a conscious apparition that tries to tame the mind.

The imaginative scratchpad

The imagination is a scratchpad where the mind is free to fill the blank page with whatever ideas — both real and unreal — it can conjure.

Invention makes it rounds in the head, a collection of stills manufactured to inspire even more wonder.

One of the hardest parts about growing up is coping with the grip of seriousness. Boredom is the reaction to what you’re suppossed to do.

Excitement, on the other hand, seeks the freedom of disengagement. It approves of the ‘most august imagination‘.

But adults can retain their crayons. After all, it is creativity that separates humans apart from other species. Says the “Oracle of Silicon Valley” Tim O’Reilly:

We have to make it new. That’s a wonderful line from Ezra Pound that’s always stuck in my brain: “Make it new.” It’s not just true in literature and in art, it’s in our social conscience, in our politics. We have look at the world as it is and the challenges that are facing us, and we have to throw away the old stuck policies where this idea over here is somehow inescapably attached to this other idea. Just break it all apart and put it together in new ways, with fresh ideas and fresh approaches.

To put it another way from graffiti artist and corporate thought leader Erik Wahl:

“Our greatest personal potential is reached when unbridled imagination is applied with critical competence and when business acumen is embodied with artistic finesse.”

First, we flirt with the imagination. Staying provoked, we proceed in exploring all possibilities.

Leonardo’s To-Do List

In his book Da Vinci’s Ghost: Genius, Obsession, and How Leonardo Created the World in His Own Image, historian Toby Lester translates one of Leonardo Da Vinci’s to-do lists. On it includes tasks like “calculate the measurement of Milan and suburbs” and “examine the crossbow of Maestro Ganneto.”

It is no wonder the polymath is often referred to as the genius of them all. 

Below is the original list, along with NPR’s illustrated translation.  

Wendy MacNaughton for NPR

‘To write is to forget. Literature is the most agreeable way of ignoring life.’

To write is to forget. Literature is the most agreeable way of ignoring life. Music soothes, the visual arts exhilarate, and the performing arts (such as acting and dance) entertain. Literature, however, retreats from life by turning it into a slumber. The other arts make no such retreat — some because they use visible and hence vital formulas, others because they live from human life itself.

This isn’t the case with literature. Literature simulates life. A novel is a story of what never was, and a play is a novel without narration. A poem is the expression of ideas or feelings in a languages that no one uses, because no one talks in verse.

Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet

The fascinating history of the pencil ✏️

“The pencil is a very perfect object,” says pencil obsessed Caroline Weaver in this TED video where she explains the history of the pencil. 

The origin of the pencil goes back to the innovative applications of graphite. Farmers and shepherds used graphite sticks wrapped in sheepskin and paper to mark their animals. 

In 1795, French painter Nicolas-Jacques Conté grounded graphite, mixed it with clay and water to make a paste that was then burned in a kiln to be inserted two cylinders of wood. This is the same method for making pencils we still use to this day!

The #2 Pencil

In the mid-American philosopher, Henry David Thoreau came up with the graphite grading scale for hardness in pencils, most notably the number 2 pencil. Number 2 pencils were thought to be the perfect balance of graphite and color. Conversely, Number 4 pencils were firmer — they contained more clay and thus wrote finer lines. 

Years later, America’s Joseph Dixon is widely credited for using machines to produce the first standard hexagonal-shaped pencils. 

The Attached Eraser and Yellow Pencil

Before the eraser, people used bread crumbs and rubber to get rid of marks. In 1858, American stationer Hymen Lipman patented the first pencil with an attached eraser. In 1889, the World’s Fair in Paris introduced the first yellow pencil called the Koh-I-Noor which had 14 coats of yellow paint with the end dipped in 14ct gold. Showing off the original plain wood grains quickly went out of style the iconic yellow pencil we know today was born. 

What an absolute fascinating video! 

‘We are told stories as children to help us bridge the abyss between waking and sleeping’

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We are told stories as children to help us bridge the abyss between waking and sleeping. We tell stories to our own children for the same purpose. When I find myself in danger — caught on a stuck ski-lift in a blizzard — I immediately start telling myself stories. I tell myself stories when I am in pain and I expect as I lay dying I will be telling myself a story in a struggle to make some link between the quick and the defunct.

Olivia Lang, The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking

Malcolm Gladwell teaches writing

Malcolm Gladwell’s first-ever online writing course is now available courtesy of MasterClass.

In the class, Gladwell analyzes his own best-selling books like Blink and The Tipping Point to unveil his thinking and creative process. In 24 lessons, the influential author will teach how you to discover, examine, and pen stories to illustrate your big ideas.

Write stories that captivate by learning how Malcolm researches topics, crafts characters, and distills big ideas into simple, powerful narratives.

Students will also receive a class workbook with lesson summaries, some homework, and additional helpful materials. Inspiring and informative, this is one class guaranteed to improve your writing.

Interested?

Start your free Masterclass trial today and get access to over 30+ instructors, including access to courses taught by instructors such as Margaret Atwood and James Patterson, and more.

You can also sign up to Malcolm Gladwell’s single course right here.

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‘Summertime City’ by Kadir Nelson

kadir nelson new yorker cover

This week’s New Yorker cover is a doozy, from no other than artist Kadir Nelson. The magazine interviewed him about the work and why he prefers the slow process of oil painting in the digital age.

I love the oil medium. It’s timeless and has been used for hundreds of years. I want to create artwork that will live outside of the printed medium or the computer. I like to think that I’m creating fine art that happens to work as a cover for The New Yorker.

— Kadir Nelson’s ‘Summertime City’

‘Don’t shy away from discomfort’

book cover Unthink: Rediscover Your Creative Genius

“Don’t shy away from discomfort. Enter it, especially if it’s a potential door to progress. When I picked up those paint supplies as a suddenly jobless thirty-year-old with three young kids and without enough savings to coast, it was a very uncomfortable move. The left side of my brain was screaming at me to go find a job, any job, before I ran out of money. It was screaming at me to stop screwing around with some ridiculous art form at which I had no experience. But my right brain was telling me otherwise. I knew it was right regardless of the logic that told me it was flippant and dangerous. The truth was that I cared deeply about what I was doing and that the greatest danger lay in going down another wrong path and finding myself stuck in another rut at forty.

Erik Wahl, Unthink: Rediscover Your Creative Genius

Margaret Atwood teaches creative writing

Called the “Prophet of Dystopia,” Margaret Atwood is one of the most influential literary voices of our generation. In her first-ever online class, the author of The Handmaid’s Tale teaches how she crafts compelling stories—from historical to speculative fiction—that remain timeless and relevant. Explore Margaret’s creative process for developing ideas into novels with strong structures and nuanced characters.

A timeless approach to storytelling

In 20+ lessons, students will learn how the author of The Handmaid’s Tale constructs powerful storytelling by analyzing literary classics and her own novels.

The class comes with a downloadable workbook that includes lesson summaries and homework assignments to help you perfect your craft. You’ll also be able to upload videos to get class feedback. Margaret plans to review select student work as well!

'Genres aren't closed boxes. Stuff flows back and forth across the borders all the time.' — Margaret AtwoodClick To Tweet

Pre-enroll and you’ll get notified when the course becomes available this fall. You can also try the All-Access Pass free or 7 days and learn from 35+ other instructors including Malcolm Gladwell, James Patterson, and R.L. Stine.

Sign up to the All-Access Pass today!

THIS POST MAY CONTAIN AFFILIATE LINKS. PLEASE SEE THE DISCLOSURE FOR MORE INFO.