Communicative Shapes

In this project, we were asked to use shapes and colors to create a simple representation of a given intersection within the city of Pittsburgh. My intersection was Forbes and Bouquet, a bustling area in the middle of the University of Pittsburgh.

The final pieces, along with the documentation of the process that went into creating those pieces, can be seen below.


Visit #1: Observing Place and People (30 Aug 2016)

Before leaving CMU, I set the goal of focussing on the physical space of my location and the people that interact with it. I decided to use my sketchbook to take down notes and quick sketches.

My sketchbook with notes about the project, notes on the first observation, and a small sketch of the intersection.

Upon getting off the bus, I was immediately struck by the busy atmosphere of Forbes and Bouquet Avenue. The place itself was an intersection lined with a mix of buildings from different eras squished together, yet the people inhabiting the space seemed more uniform. U Pitt students walked along the sidewalk with purpose and urgency, all seeming to have somewhere to go. This gave the space a temporary feeling; nobody’s destination was this intersection, rather everyone used the intersection as a means to a destination. The space also gave off a very rushed feeling. Even those waiting at the bus stop sat with anxious faces.

The background noise and sounds that came from the plethora of cars, buses, and bikers added to the artificialness of the space. Small landscaped areas with flowers and bushes contrasted the concrete bench blocks and tall traffic lights and, although the area was well-maintained, nature seemed to fight against the space it was given. Manmade nature stood out against the urban setting as much as the non-university people within the college crowd. The entire block of the university seemed designed for the college students. However, since the streets housed stores and restaurants alongside the dormitories and academic buildings, the outlying store employees and relaxing university staff had little purpose in the space.

Next visit, I hope to further observe the space at a different time in the day and take my photos.


Visit #2: Taking Photos and Reaffirming Observations (31 Aug 2016)

During the second trip to Forbes and Bouquet Avenue, I planned to focus on photographing my observations while affirming that they held true at a different time of day. Again, I used my sketchbook to take quick notes.

Sketchbook notes for trip #2

My observations on people held true. Even though I visited at lunch time, a couple hours different to my previous visit, the college students, though fewer in number, and professors were still in some hurry. Those sitting on curbs and eating their food did so with urgency and those on their way to class fast walked across the streets and throughout the sidewalks. The space was a little less rushed than before, but still felt temporary.

I made new observations about the place itself while taking photos. I noticed that the sidewalks were cracked and split throughout, but had been filled back in. The street posts and stoplights also had such repairs. On this visit, the place felt old, yet maintained. Though streets and trash cans had been broken once, the maintainers of the space were making efforts to fix them. This was interesting to me because I have seen other spaces in Pittsburgh that seem forgotten and underkept. This space, though holding a temporary feeling, was remembered not be those that inhabit it but by those who care for it. I feel that this remembrance makes this location special.

Below are the photos I took during this visit.


Visit #3: More Observation and Photo Taking (2 Sept 2016)

After learning in class that we would be creating our images in white paper, I felt that I needed to go back to Forbes and Bouquet to take some more photos. I wanted to have the best photo possible for the project.

This visit, I went when UPitt changed classes so that I could capture the true bustle of the atmosphere. Below are some of my photos.

Though I was happy with these pictures, I decided to use one of the photos I already had. That photo seemed to have all the features that were nesecary to capture the feeling of my location.


White Paper Cut Out #1: Experimentation (3–4 Sept 2016)

The white paper extravaganza started with the purchase of a bundle of #120 bristol plate. With a borrowed glue stick and a new xacto blade, I cut and trimmed until I had layers that truly repersented my place.

I had already decided to use the below photo. During class, I traced it on the lightbox to create the line drawing.

Using the line drawing as a template, I carefully cut out each individual shape and layered until I had a working rough draft.

After finalizing shape positions and painstakingly peeling off the tape (which I later realized was a mistake since the tape peeled off layers of the paper), I used the glue stick to stick everything together. I was very happy with the results, but had a few things I planned to change for the final cutout.

First, I was bothered by the awkward spacing beneath the big car. I also think it would have been wiser to combine the the buildings into one layer and then layer the separations on top (an idea I got from an upperclassman at the barbecue). This would make the layers bigger and easier to work with. The lines throughout the piece also needed to be straightened. For the final, I will be careful with the ruler.


White Paper Cut Out #2: The Final White Cutout(3–4 Sept 2016)

I found the discussion in class very helpful in refining my work, even though my particular piece was not discussed. I thought that observations made by my classmates about the overcomplexities of some pieces were applicable to my own work. When creating the final white cutout, I omitted some unnessecary details, such as the circles on the traffic lights and the extra people in the far background.

I had a lot less trouble with the final and felt that all the cutting and gluing went smoother than those in the draft. I am very happy with the final. It came out very clean and sharp while also communicating the feeling of my location.

One issue that I had with this cutout happened when I tried to trim the edges to 6x8". When I moved my blade across the top, the lines of the towers moved, making them all crooked. I had to put extra glue under the papers with an xacto blade and push them back into place with the bone folder. It was a lot of trouble, but I feel that I recovered from the mistake. Next time, I will ensure that all the pieces are fully glued down before I try to trim. I will also use a sharper blade or the olfa knife.


Gathering Ideas through Discussion (8 Sept 2016)

During today’s discussion, I was able to gain knowlegde to help further the communicative properties of my paper cutouts. I found that my piece had a good focal point that drew the viewer into the space. However, the focal point may be over shining the people figures in the cutout. I feel that this moves the viewer away from the point of the piece. Next cutout, I will make the people more defined to allow the viewer to get a fuller image of my location.


First Attempt at the Gray Scale Cutout (9 Sept 2016)

My first gray scale cutout came out very poorly. Though I spent a lot of time on it and tried to plan it out before starting, the end result did not communicate my location and caused the viewer confusion.

The first gray scale cutout.

Looking back at the cutout now, I believe that my idea to mix layering with tone use did not work. Because of the contrast between the tones, the layers become invisable to the viewer. My tone use also went askew. Making the lightest tone in the front puts all of the focus on the road and walkways. the people, the cars, and the buildings become irrelevant.

The way the windows and walkways are cutout also cause confusion. By making the holes reveal the darkest tone, the space feels empty (which is the opposite of what the feeling is suppose to be).

As I go into the next class, I know that I will have to do major revisions on this cutout. I will use the ideas I receive from the class discussion to assist in these revisions.


Second Attempt at the Grayscale Cutout and Creation of the Colored Cutout (13 Sept 2016)

Following the class discussion, I made a list of the revisions my grayscale cutout would need. The following photo shows this list.

List of necessary revisions from my sketchbook.

I decided that using tone effectively would fix many of the grayscale cutout’s issues. As I started to cut pieces for my grayscale and my colored (I decided to cut out pieces for both at the same time), I reversed the tones, rethought layering, and made sure the things that were important were reflected in each choice I made.

Piles of cutouts and patterns during cutout creation.

After a couple hours of continuous work, I had two piles of pieces that would become my two cutouts. I ate lunch and took a break before gluing them all together. I used this break to think through many of the decisions I made for the two pieces.

I decided to use navy blue as the color for my colored piece. After looking at the original photo, I immediately noticed that navy blue and other dark blues were prevelant throughout the street corner. The college students and people were also wearing various dark blues because of UPitt’s spirit colors. This blue seemed to communicate the bustle and power of the temporary space without overpowering the rest of the forms on the page. I feel that this will also help viewers identify the street corner.

Another decision I made was to add the signage to the cutouts. These signs helped show that the area was commercial. They indicate that people pass through the space to get to restaurants and store instead of just larger buildings. I also added these signs to the white cutout.

I feel that the two finished cutouts really communicate my location and allow the viewer to be drawn to the focal points of the piece. The revisions I made fixed the issues of the grayscale and allowed both to be effective pieces of communication. I hope that the ideas I get from Thursday’s discussion help me push this communication even further.

The grayscale and the colored cutout.
The colored cutouts next to the white cutout. Notice the addition of signage.

Revising the Colored Cutout (16 Sept 2016)

During the class discussion, I realized that the navy blue was too close in tone to the darkest gray. This clashing of colors caused there to be tension in the colored cutout and distracted the viewer from the main focus of the piece. In order to fix this, I switched to a lighter grayish-blue. This let me communicate the involved atomosphere while also following the tone pattern.

I also decided to color the background towers. Since the towers are very unique to my location, coloring them helped the viewer place them to the UPitt area and create a greater movement between the three pieces, making them fit better together.

The colored cutout with the revisions.

Overall, I feel that this project went well. I was able to document the design process while building valuable technical skills. This project helped me learn to see the world a little differently and added to what we are learning in Placing with Cameron and Charlie. Communicating space, though tedious when working with cut paper, was an interesting and adventurous experience.

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