Smithfield and E. Carson: First Impressions

August 30th 2016

After a trip that was predicted to be 33 minutes slowly morphed into 1 hour+ of waiting for/riding the bus, myself and the others of the Smithfield and E. Carson trio finally arrived downtown. Instead of waiting for yet another bus, we decided to make the trek across the Smithfield Street Bridge by foot. We left the towering skyline behind us as we crossed the river via suspended blue metal and concrete. There was an abundance of tags covering all reachable (and unreachable) surfaces of the bridge. Although graffiti tends to signal an “unsafe” area, the numerous runners and bikers made it pretty hard to feel at risk. The sunlight brightly reflecting off of the glass paneled downtown buildings turned into a backdrop that felt straight out of a peppy music video or rom-com movie montage. The fact that a Hard Rock Cafe was visible across the river was also reassuring (what gentrified area is truly complete without one?).

Upon arriving at the intersection of Smithfield and E. Carson I noticed how populated it was. Cars, busses, trains , joggers and duck tours were all flying down the streets. However, despite the waves of energy and life through the area, everyone seemed to just be passing by. The area appeared to be a hub for public transportation and quick tourist pit stops, meaning theres a lot of action but nobody is staying for too long.

A surprising amount of foliage flooded the areas behind buildings and spilled over train tracks and fences. The greenery contrasted highly with the harsh looking, man made metal contraptions that scatter the surrounding roads (bridges, fences, incline line, tracks, etc.). The rust and discoloration of the machinery gave a “run down” impression, but everything, even the incline line, was in use.

At first glance the area looked old. The main building you pass by when walking toward the intersection is made of large tan stone, covered with impressive detailing and flaunts a 30’s era sign. After seeing this, it’s easy to assume the buildings that follow will fit into the same category.

First building seen upon entering the Smithfield and E. Carson area

But they don’t. The other buildings of the area appear to be either brand new or recently renovated. They also all seem to house fast food, chain restaurants, or out-of-towner entertainment.

beautiful sky featuring Subway flag and customer

Demographically, the people of the area were diverse (racially, socioeconomically, gender, age, etc). This is most likely due to mass amounts of transportation that streams through the intersection. Anyone who drives, rides a bus, takes a train, walks, runs, or just enjoys a nice Hard Rock Cafe is likely to pass through these streets.

Overall, the area feels quite nice. The weather was pleasant and the vibes were comfortably consumerist.

A Scene in Paper (Take One)

September 4th/5th 2016

A herd of people crossing the road

After returning to my intersection on a Saturday morning, I came out with a new understanding of Station Square. The weekend brought in a whole new crowd: the shoppers. Duck tours were being fired out every ten minutes and people flooded the sidewalks, carrying bags filled with “Home Team Apparel” and cafe left overs. Although a bit calmer than Station Square, the foot traffic around the intersection of Smithfield and E. Carson had picked up immensely.

This shift in tone inspired me to take my paper scene a new direction. While I originally planned to focus on a building or shot taken underneath the incline (see pictures on left), I now felt those scenes didn’t do the place justice. With this in mind, I took new sets of photos, hoping to capture the weekend energy of the Smithfield and E. Carson intersection.

Upon arriving back on campus, I printed the five photos I felt best showed the new side of the Station Square area. I then narrowed it down to my three favorites and traced them using simple lines.

Five photos in the running for being traced

The next morning I came back to the studio with fresh eyes, hoping this would make the decision easier. With the new day it became obvious to me which tracing would be best. The photo had everything I needed: cyclists utilizing a cross walk, a street filled with cars, tree lined walkways, a view of the downtown skyline, the nearby Smithfield bridge, and a good perspective.

The chosen one

After deciding on my photo, I made a more careful trace of it, making note of what I liked and what I didn’t like about my first quick sketch from the night before. I then took this sketch to the CFA computer lab. After going through three people and countless “CMU Computing” tabs, I was able to learn how to operate the flatbed scanner. I then scanned my line drawing so I would be able to print multiple, clear copies with the same dimensions. I proceeded to print six copies of the scan.

Scanned line drawing of scene

Once the copies were made, I began plotting out my layers. I chose to cut layers rather than individual pieces in hopes that the work as a whole would lay flatter and appear cleaner/crisper.

To distinguish where I would cut for each layer I outlined the area in specific colors and thought about working from a larger, less detailed scale to a smaller, more detailed scale.

Top right: outlined in blue is the base layer, top left: outlined in purple in the second layer, bottom: basic line drawing scan

After outlining and planning my five (more or less) layers, I began to cut. To do this I taped the outlined scans onto Bristol paper and traced over the colored guide lines with an exacto knife. After cutting into the paper through the scans I removed the drawing and cut fully through the Bristol to release the shapes.

Layers 1 and 2 (the base and the layer above the base)

Once a layer was cut I would test how well it worked within the whole piece.

After finishing my cuts I placed all the layers above one another and made final adjustments (correcting edges that didn’t line up, widening gaps that weren’t registering properly, etc.)before gluing. Gluing the base layers was not difficult, however, once it got down to the details (such as the bike wheels and telephone lines) gluing techniques became more complex. To paste down the more fragile pieces I used the point of a dull exacto blade and scraped it against my glue stick. I then slid the blade underneath the layer and smeared the glue onto to the back of the loose object.

example of a more fragile piece: cyclist cutout
final Smithfield and E. Carson street scene cutout

Overall I was content with the result of my first draft. I will continue to use the layering technique, however, I plan to modify a few of the following aspects:

  • define the appearance of individual cars
  • experiment with how the shape of the cyclists interact with the shape of the bikes
  • convey the lower half of the bridge more clearly
  • attempt to add and remove specific details and observe the shift in the piece as a whole

A Scene in Paper (Take Two)

September 8th 2016

close up detail of the second piece

With the new size constraint of 8x6, I had to scale down my original scans. To do this I printed the line drawing saved on my computer and scaled it down via print preview to 38%. The only challenge of this was when shrinking the image proportionally (as opposed to cropping the original piece to a smaller frame), the details became much smaller and more fragile. Because of this it took me longer to cut clean edges, but overall looked neater and more delicate.

After our crit I considered a few things differently. Firstly I put more thought into thinking how the eye moves across the page/where the eye focusses and what that means in how you convey the vibe of your piece. I also considered the idea of “breathing room” in a piece (thinking about where your eyes are pulled and how much there is to look at).

final of the second attempt

What I did differently in my second try:

  • separated the figures from the bikes: this worked out nicely, although a bit less flat it more clearly showed the bikes
  • made the car more individual: this worked out very well, the cars went from a blob like object that could possibly be seen as bushes to a much more obvious line on cars on a road
  • experimented with the tress a bit: I liked how these turned out, even though the changes were not extremely major
  • did not layer the holes in the bridge: this change made the bridge look much cleaner and did not alter the way the bridge was seen (it did not loose its “bridge-ness”)

The Shift to Tones

4 tone warm grays piece

While some people’s pieces seemed to translate quite easily to four tones (for example, the pieces that showed lots of architecture/angles/perspective) I found that I struggled with this shift. I made multiple copies of my piece in order to test out which tones I liked best in which layers. Having my piece planned out in layers was beneficial to creating a cleaner look, but limited me in my ability to use tones (having six layers and only four tones to work with). After trying different combinations of light to dark and dark to light, I settled on making the light colors the farthest points and the dark colors the closest points (with the exception of the bikes, which I chose to make a different tone in order to separate them from the figures). When choosing to use a different tone for the bikes instead of the figures, it reulted in the figures getting a bit lost in the color of the cars. Overall I think I was able to create a good depth in my piece, however, the color of the sky was difficult to choose (being that I had no other light tone options).

The browns (warm grays) were not ideal for my piece (it created a very teddy bear vibe) but I think the choice to go light to dark with my tones was successful.

A Shift to Color

Using photoshop and the trusty Hunt Library 4th floor scanner, I was able to (eventually) test a few color options for my piece. After a couple of hours fiddling with the program, I had established how I wanted to color block the piece in order to distinguish the figures from the cars and the bikes from the figures while still only using four tones. I also decided to make the tress a consistent tone rather than separating them based on perspective and my light to dark layering.

I narrowed my color scheme down to the dark green and the light orange. Although both looked nice while testing them on photoshop, I asked myself which one portrayed my scene better. The dark green sky felt dramatic, and liked the contrast with the white skyline, but the orange felt much warmer and more clearly demonstrated the bright and lively feeling of the intersection. The orange also blended with the brownish tones of the warm grays, letting the piece have more of a coherent flow as opposed to a stark contrast that is seen with the green.

Ultimately, the orange ended providing a good amount of contrast and definitely portrayed the feeling of my intersection.

As a collection, I feel that the jumps from piece to piece are about equal, a all have specific aspects of them that make them interesting as individual compositions, but connect them to the greater project.

Final Compositions

Using mat board, artist-tac and the giant paper cutter mounted to the wall in the basement photography lab, creating my final compositions was a surprisingly fast process. Because I forgot to cut out the window of the back left car in my orange tonal version, I quickly traced over it with my exacto knife and popped out the top layer of paper to release the windows. After that I used the artist tac to stick down the three pieces and partnered up with a friend to photograph our work.

The following is the final product:

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