Project 1: Communicative Shapes

083116 In class we were assigned to explore certain spots in Pittsburgh and to capture the essence of the places through observation of buildings, people, and holistic environment of the place.

Prior to the trip to the intersections, we have come up with sets of guidance questions to be mindful about when visiting the places as a class. Some examples of the questions are listed below:

  • What do I see?
  • How do I feel? What makes me feel that way?
  • What is it made of?
  • What people are there? Age?
  • Whats the level of care exerted?
  • What do the buildings look like? Old, new, clean?

For this assignment, I had a chance to roam around the vicinity of the intersection between Beechwood Blvd. and Northumberland Street, which is about 33 minutes from the CMU campus by walk (about 1.6 miles).

When I got to the intersection, I decided to circle around one block, so from the star marked in the map, I first walked up towards Beechwood Blvd., then took a right to Dalzell Pl., took a left to Barnsdale St., and finally into Northumberland St. Once I was back to the starting point, I walked to the opposite direction of Beechwood Blvd, walking towards Wilkins Ave.

I visited the intersection around 6pm, the usual time when people are coming home from work. As a result, I was able to capture people getting off of their car and others walking their dogs or biking. The general vive of the intersection was serene and static. Not much movement was happening except for occasional car movements one or two people walking down the sidewalk. Sidewalk was never crowded, and there was no real traffic on the road. Attached photo below shows further observation on the streets I visited.

Cars stopped in front of the traffic light on the intersection of Beechwood with Wilkins.
People going for biking and skating.

As seen on the notes above, walking on Beechwood Blvd., I spotted many cars parallel parked along the road. Even though all of street was very much static, Beechwood had more movement (traffic) compared to the other three streets I’ve visted: it was the only street with traffic lights. The trees here were huge just like those in Dalzell Pl. Cars were parked in a parallel parking lane. In addition, some parts of Beechwood was newly paved unlike Northumberland, Dalzell, and Barnsdale. Newly paved road seemed to connect to how frequent the road is used; perhaps, Beechwood is more of a main street people use to commute and the other three streets seemed to be more for residential purposes with no centerline and bicycle lane.

Cars parallel parked on Dalzell Pl. The trees cover the sky.
Woman walking out of her car.

The general “trend” of the Dalzell Pl. was characterized by big and leafy trees providing a cool temperature and shade probably all through out the day. Also, I was lucky enough to spot a young woman coming out of a car; judging from her car and fashion, nicely dressed businesswoman, I concluded that this neighbourhood is a middle-class populated neighbourhood. Further down into the street, I was able to spot several Mercedes.

In addition, individual houses was gardened carefully and uniquely just like the houses themselves. Although similarly gardened using small trees, all of the gardens showed some kind of human touch, nicely trimmed and designed. The fact that the gardens were trimmed carefully indicates that the residents are people with time to spare. Also, the fact that some of the older house was clean without debris falling out from them just like the new houses next to them hints that it is the general trend for the residents to take great care of their dwelling. Lastly, although most of the houses had their individual garage, many of the cars were parallel-parked.

Just around the corner of Dalzell is Barnsdale. Some observation I made is that there wasn’t as many trees growing on the gardens. Plus, the size of the tree was lot more shorter. Indeed, they weren’t really a garden; rather, plants seemed to grow out of control. It seemed like the plants were intruding the dwellers’ personal space; the plants on the street didn’t look friendly and welcoming but wild. Plants growing on this street was very much like the ones you see on the left side of the photograph above. The houses on this street was interesting because houses on this street was less tidy than those found on Dalzell. Paint was coming off of the walls of some houses. I hope I had a better picture of the street to show the other houses… Other than that, I saw people in workout gears walking their dogs.

Trees don’t go above the utility poles.

In contrast to the gardens on Dalzell and Beechwood, the gardens on Northumberland had more flowers and bushes. Notice how the trees on the sidewalks are shorter compared to those on the other streets. This area in overall seemed to be populated with people in their 30’s, perhaps with kids. None of the people out on the street was just strolling around; it didn’t seem like people come out their houses often around here. Although this place is one of the nicest town I’ve seen since arrival to Pittsburgh, I would say this place lacks movement, almost too boring in my opinion. I imagine people isolated in their own house, lacking interaction with next door neighbours too.

White-on-white first attempt

Based on our little trip to the designated locations, we were then assigned to create a replica of one of the chosen pictures using a white Bristol paper. The most crucial part of this “white-on-white” assignment, I think, was deciding on which photo to use for the project: What is the best picture that conveys the overall atmosphere of the place? Should the picture show a lot of dynamic and fluid structure (i.e. leaf, gardens) or static structures (i.e. rectangular and triangular geometry seen in houses)? Factoring all of these questions, I chose to use this specific photo below.

House on Northumberland.

I chose this picture because I liked the composition of how the three houses “cascade” or stack up from the back. Also, I thought this picture had good amount of negative space — sky — in proportion to the positive spaces. The photo had just enough detail — I believe —for cut-outs too.

My first approach to the assignment wasn’t quite successful. My first attempt wasn’t quite successful because I used pencil to outline the shapes instead of using the marks made by pressing on the tracing papers. My technique resulted in smudgy edges and the white paper quickly turned gray due to the flaking pencil leads.

So instead, I decided to get a little help from Photoshop. Using PS, I divided the selected photo into 9 different layers. After importing the picture onto PS, I used quick selection tool to select the area to eliminate. Once that was set, I transferred the selection onto another layer.

Final outcome white-on-white first attempt


Telling stories of a specific space through a single photograph: what would be the best way to do it? The key idea for story-telling would be communication and simplication. What information can I leave out? What information must I include? Is the story clearly and accurately communicated to the viewers as well or does it only makes sense to me the creator?

By looking through couple of examples from the class critique, I was able to make some observations on importance of scale in story-telling. First of all, to compare the piece with considerably large scale of human and that with a smaller scale of human, how does the story change? With large proportion of human, the story of the piece evolved around the human emphasis and the space around the human becomes peripheral — simply background or setting. However, if the proportion were to shrink, then the piece tells a striking different story; now the human blends into the surrounding space and balances out the background and human, and background no longer is a background but becomes part of the story-telling process.

Another thing that came up in the discussion is methods of making spaces — geometry of perspective. While the pieces without perspective had to physically build depth by stacking the papers on top of each other, pieces built on angle or perspective created depth more naturally because the depth was within the composition of the photograph already.

Based on the discussion, we recreated the white-on-white but this time on a specific dimension, either 6in. x 8in. or 7in. x 7in. Funny with this is that I didn’t even realize what made me choose the dimension of the first white-on-white! Then I realized how much information I take for granted, and how inconsiderate I was of small details.


After the first white-on-white, we were assigned to make another piece but this time using a grayscale paper. We were given four tones of warm gray. In order to do this, I used illustrator to try out the tones before I actually start cutting papers.

Trying out different combinations on Illustrator. I adopted Copic’s patone for warm grey.

During this Illustrator process, one thing I constantly had to think about wwas shether I wanted colour to convey the depth of the composition or simply as a method of colour blocking to distinguish between the forms.

I was able to come up with three different compositions (From bottom left clockwise; piece 1, piece 2, and piece 3) For my final product, I decided to use piece 1 colour composition.

Grayscale version (Warm grey).

In contrast to majority of comments for the white-on-white, my tone assignment received several constructive criticism. While there were some good feedbacks, the general consensus pointed to use of tone killing the subtlety shown in white. Some other feedbacks said:

  • Dark is overpowering
  • Difference vive; strong, protected, unwelcoming

In defense of my own artwork, I would say the colour blocking was well done because the distinct pieces stand out very clearly: None of the adjacent colours is same. Comparing this piece to the original photograph, I think this pieces doesn’t fail to convey the mood of the place because the original colour of the brick wall is very dark, just what I did — using the darkest tone — in the tone composition.


As the goal of the project was to recreate a piece that best well encompasses the location, I had to be mindful of the mood conveyed through colours. Some thoughts on this:

  • How do colours convey or arouse certain emotions?
  • How do colours work together to create another emotion than that created by single colour alone?
  • Is colour used to convey depth or are they used as a point colour?
Some class notes on tone/value and narrative.

For the colour assignment, we had to change one of the four tones for grayscale into one of the eight colours. I was first drawn to indigo, mustard, and blue gray but I decided to go with the mustard colour.

Because I had my colour choice pointed out at the critique, I decided to do something with my darkest tone. I played around with the colours and came up with a new composition that reduced the dominance of the darkest tone by reducing the space of the shapes with the darkest tone. What is shown in mustard in the photo below should be replaced by the darkest tone when converted into a grayscale tone assignment.

Colour swap (darkest gray to mustard)

I think the mustard tone did not fit well with the colour combination. I think switching out the darkest tone for mustard disturbed the balance of the colour scale. The intensity of the tone became too similar without the darkest gray. Also, choosing to make the bushes white resembled of clouds instead of what they are suppose to be.

second attempt (darkest gray to cool grey)

So for my second attempt, I chose a different colour then mustard. Instead, I chose a cool grey. To compare and contrast the emotionality of mustard and cool grey, because mustard was a warm tone, I think the colour vibrated vibrance and some sort of juvenile. As to cool grey, I think it was a more gentle and reticent.

When I look back to the initial notes I’ve written down about the places, I think cool grey was more apt for describing the intersection. As a result, I ended up replacing the darkest tone from the grayscale to the cool grey. Even though the tone of the gray is very different, one being a warm gray and the other beng a cool gray — I think the composition harmonized really well.

Final Project

The amalgamation of the three assignments — white, tone, and colour — completes the“Communicative Shapes” Project. Throughout the process, I was able to ponder on the fundamentality of tones and colours and how they arouse certain emotion. Comparison of the white assignment to the tone and colour assignment reveals a drastic difference. For example, many commented on my white-on-white saying that it is peaceful and serene. However, for my tonal assignment, people commented that the dark brick walls seems adamant and even unwelcoming. I tried that through my colour assignment but that didn’t work out so well. So for the final, I went back to my colour composition and redid it. I did not change my tone assignment despite some comments asking me to change it because I personally really liked how it turned out;plus, I think it was representative of the space that the white-on-white assignment failed to show. While white-on-white showed the serene and tranquil side of the neighbourhood, I think the tone composition revealed the soundness of the neighbourhood, which is another quality I felt when I visited the place.

The set of three works above is my final project. In my opinion, I think the compositions work well as a series too. The drastic difference in mood — as some pointed out — in the grayscale tone was balanced by the cool grey that was used for the colour composition. If I was satisfied with my mustard composition, I don’t think the series would have been as harmonious. Overall evaluation of the piece was held in a class with everyone’s pieces up on the board. These are some of the notes I took:

Notes on some criteria to be mindful of when evaluation our work.

After the class evaluation, I realized that I was missing out a lot on some points to consider when evaluating the project. I mainly focused on the colour and tone and not so much on the importance on craftmanship, contrast, cropping, and POV. As we wrapped up the project, I realized how much information I take for granted and neglect. There are so many details I had in my decision making process yet I failed to identify why I made certain choices on the composition — for instance, why I chose to crop the image in certain point. There were so many information that I thought was obvious that actually weren’t. One big thing I’m taking away through this project is understanding that I was very dull in perceiving details, and that I have to train my eyes and brain to capture those details whenever I perceive anything.

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