Louisa & Atwood

Rubie Shay
19 min readSep 2, 2021


The First Visit — September 1st

I just ventured out into the city, to the Atwood and Louisa intersection. I rode the bus alone for the first time ever. To be honest, I was pretty nervous. But I was at least glad the rain cleared up. Although the smell of rain was still fresh in the air, and the ground still wet.

It was 5:33 when I arrived. I scanned the area, and decided I would take a panorama first.

There were only a few cars, and a few people wandering around. The area is only a few blocks away from rows of restaurants, yet the atmosphere is entirely different. It’s empty and lonely, and a bit sketchy to be honest.

Atwood is a one way street, and Louisa ends at this intersection. It’s an all way stop, but there weren’t really any cars on Louisa street. More cars came by on Atwood than I expected though for this small little street. I even saw a few Teslas, which seemed out of place compared to the run down intersection.

The area is very poorly maintained. There is litter on the street and sidewalks, and graffiti on the mailbox and power box.

Ivy and other plants grow from all crevices, and intertwine with the power lines nearby, climbing up and trying to reach for the sun, and thrive wherever it can.

There are also a lot of power lines overhead, criss crossing over each other to get power across the blocks. A tangled mess on the outside, complex on the inside, and a now integral part of our everyday lives.

There’s even a few cute little houses nearby that probably use that very power. They look surprisingly new in comparison to the surroundings They have very interesting and earthy colors, yet the finish of the paint looks modern and bold, making it feel fresh and bright.

Overall, it wasn’t really what I was expecting. Of course, I didn’t really know what to expect, other than an intersection. I’m excited to see where this adventure takes me next, and what else I can discover about this little space.

The First Composition — September 6th

I decided to use the photo of the two brick buildings which I believe are apartment complexes. The red of the brick was solidified in my memory of the area, and to me, was one of the intersection’s major defining characteristics. Although this perspective may not capture exactly how rundown the area is, or all of the graffiti and specific details, it does give a general overview of how the intersection feels.

I started by tracing over the basic shapes and forms in photoshop, as shown in pink below. I then created a dark brown background layer, and hid the photo so I could see what it would look like on its own.

I also decided to trace the power lines on another layer (in orange) so that I could choose if I wanted to include them later.

I then hid the photo layer so I could no longer see it, and began tracing over my pink sketch in blue, and simplified it even more. I also occasionally checked it against the photo again to ensure everything still lined up. I also decided to add detail to the car, as in the original pink sketch it didn’t really look like a car.

I also redid the power lines (in green) and only kept the main lines as opposed to drawing all of them in. I then made a copy of the sketch, and erased the street signs in the top left corner, and the car in the bottom right. These two elements are not necessarily important to the intersection, so I thought it may be good to have a version without them. The car may simply move over time, and the street sign did not read as a street sign in this simplified context, and with the right view, it wouldn’t have been visible anyway.

Overall, I think these simplified compositions still evoke the energy and feeling of the original photo, and of the intersection, even though most of the detail has been removed.

Moving into Grayscale — September 8th

The next major goal of this assignment was to translate the space and the image into grayscale. Specifically white, black, and two tones of gray. I decided to start this process using Photoshop on my iPad, similarly to how I sketched the lines. I made one layer for each shade, and began drawing over the photo, deciding what shape would be what value.

I based most of the shade choices based on the value that was shown in the image, but this was not always the case, as I couldn’t gradate between two colors. This meant the entire road became dark gray, even though it varies in its shades. I also made sure to separate the values as much as possible, so that two shapes in the same shade wouldn’t touch.

I then began rethinking the composition of the photo, specifically in regards to cropping. This meant trying a more zoomed in vertical version (6x8), a square version, and a horizontal version.

I immediately knew I disliked the horizontal composition, as it became too cropped, and too much was lost since the photo was originally taken vertically. However, the original, zoomed in, and square versions were all still contenders.

I then decided to consider removing the car in the foreground. The car was not a permanent part of the space, and it was also cut off in the photograph.

I ultimately decided to remove the car, and go with the zoomed in vertical crop. To me, this felt most like the space, as it gave a good sense of scale, and focused on the buildings.

I next decided to move into Illustrator. Although I could’ve jumped into tracing and cutting paper, Illustrator served two main purposes:

First, it would allow me to slightly adjust the photo so that all vertical lines became perfectly vertical, and edges would be lined up with one another to give a more geometric look. This would remove any distortion from the photograph, and represent what the buildings should really look like in perspective.

Second, I could then trace directly from this image so that the complexity of the photograph would not distract from the main shapes I have decided on, and I could think about how the final result may look like

As a bonus, I have also been trying to learn more about Illustrator, so it served as a learning experience.

On the left is the final composition in Illustrator, and my goal for how the paper cutout would look.

There are a few differences between this and the Photoshop drawings. Notably, some tones have switched around, mostly in the windows.

This is also much more refined and geometric, as I used the pen tool and rectangle tool, and align tool for parallel lines.

There will also be a few differences in the future as I translate this into paper.

I then printed this image out (making sure the size was 6 by 8), and trimmed off the edges. I added tracing paper on top, and taped it to the back. I went to the light box, and made sure to go over all of the borders of the shapes. I decided to use a red marker so that I could visually distinguish it from the black and white.

I could now etch on top of the tracing paper to indent into the toned paper, and know where to cut to get the right shapes.

When I was done cutting all of the shapes, I layered them on top of each other using double sided roller tape, and finalized my first grayscale composition.

A Second Visit, and Second Thoughts — September 13th

I was having trouble thinking what to do next with my composition, but I knew I wanted to do a few things for sure:

  • Add back in the power lines (the image didn’t look the same without it)
  • Use a glue stick (the double sided tape ended up getting some gunk around the edges)
  • Try layering two of the same tones instead of using a line of another color to separate them

However, I still wasn’t entirely sure where I was headed. I happened to be in the area on Saturday, so I walked a few blocks back to the intersection. On my way over, I had similar feelings as before. As I left the busy streets full of restaurants and stores, the area became quieter. The smell of cigarette smoke strengthened. There were only a few people wandering the streets. It seemed almost as sketchy as before. But this time, the sun was out and shining.

I decided to take a few pictures for later before catching back up with my group of friends. I also took a minute to see if anything new stood out, but my eyes kept being drawn to those two brick buildings.

After thinking about it overnight, I decided to change my composition entirely, and use this new photograph. I thought the photo above on the left encapsulated the space more. My previous composition became too cropped, and too focused in on the alley between the two buildings, when in reality this was such a narrow part of the space.

I moved into my photo editor, and chose a square composition, as it seemed to fit the best. It kept most of the buildings in the frame while not being too open. It also didn’t cut anything off at too weird of a place. I also put a black and white filter on so I was less distracted by hue, and could focus on value.

However, one thing I learned from the first iteration and from our discussions is that directly translating values is not necessarily the most important, and it may be more beneficial to see how they interact with each other. I also learned that working with paper is actually significantly different than working digitally, and I tried to think about this when choosing my values.

I still didn’t want to jump straight into paper, so I once again used Photoshop on my iPad, but I took a slightly different approach. For one, I skipped the outlining stage like before, as I felt I already had a good concept of how the shapes worked. Second, I made this very rough, as I knew it wouldn’t translate perfectly to paper. I also added thin lines to areas where I intended to layer multiple of the same shades of paper together.

Then, I skipped the step of translating this in Illustrator, as it didn’t end up giving me the look I desired. My last composition was very geometric and simplistic, which was somewhat to its downfall. It looked fine as a finished digital project, but it didn’t entirely translate to the paper, and I felt like it didn’t capture the rundown and sketchy feeling of the area. This meant I traced directly from the photo instead of my grayscale composition.

However, when I started to get out all my materials to start cutting, I realized there was a problem. I intended to use the light gray tone as the entire background, as it made up the ground, the sky, and windows. For the windows, I was actually intending to cut holes out of the dark gray paper as opposed to layering them on top. So this meant I really needed an entire 7x7 piece of light gray, which I no longer had. I could’ve gone to the art store to get more… but they had already closed. So I had to get crafty, and do a slight bit of math.

I knew I physically had enough paper, so it was just a matter of figuring out how to make it work. I realized there was one line I could make diagonally that would be hidden behind the two buildings, and wouldn’t be shown through all the windows. And most importantly, I had enough room to cut the two shapes out. So I cut them both, and glued them on top of some printer paper so they would stay together.

Another lesson I learned from the previous intersection was to not glue anything down until I cut out every piece, and made sure it would fit. Last time, I thought everything was good, but I ended up having an extra 1/3 inch gap between my two buildings. This time, I decided I would cut out everything and tape it together with washi tape, since it isn’t permanent and doesn’t harm the paper. Unfortunately this meant it would look a little crazy, as it covered up the corners of things, but I at least knew it would work, and all fit together. In fact, it paid off since I had to recut the main black piece as it was too small once I put everything together.

Next, I knew I would need to cut out the windows, but not without a guide. I first made sure I knew where the cut in the light gray paper was so I made sure not to go over it. I then sketched out where the windows would go based on the image I had printed out.

Unfortunately at this point, I had to stop working. I wanted to finish, but I knew I was getting too tired to keep working with the x-acto knife, and I didn’t want to mess up the only two dark gray pieces I had. I also really didn’t want to cut myself and go to the ER since I’m sleep deprived, so I decided to call it a night. I know it’s in a bit of a state of chaos right now, but I know where it’s headed.

The things I still need to do are:

  • Cut the windows out
  • Add the power lines
  • Add the white sign I forgot to cut out
  • Make any more adjustments as needed
  • Glue everything down

Finish Line in Sight — September 14th

I’ve learned quite a few things from our discussion today. First off, I learned what the end result will exactly be, which will help guide me in completing my second grayscale composition. The next step will be to make the same composition, but replace one value or shape with a color.

This actually means that it’s somewhat beneficial that I didn’t end up glueing up my second composition yet, as now I can trace those shapes onto more paper in order to make them as close as possible to each other.

The first order of business is still going to be to complete the grayscale, but now I have some other things in the back of my mind:

  • I’m definitely going to need more gray paper, and I need to make sure I get it before they close, since last time I didn’t realize they closed fairly early.
  • Start thinking about the color. I’m pretty sure I want to make the buildings red or orange, but both are fairly bright, and I will want to take an image of my finished grayscale and test both out digitally. I might even consider using the dark mustard-tan color as it is more toned down, and might better capture the feeling of the space.

Catching Up — September 15th

Since I knew I was behind going into today (partially because I misunderstood the due dates and partially because I didn’t want to stab myself at midnight), I decided to be strategic about my next steps. I got extra gray paper, and I was ready to start.

The first step was to slowly take apart my work piece by piece, and trace each one to make a duplicate. If I found one of the pieces didn’t exactly fit correctly, or I messed it up in another way, I just traced it again to make two new pieces from scratch.

As I started accumulating pieces, I grouped them into pairs, and taped them onto my cutting mat in a way so that I would know exactly where each piece was when I went to glue it down, and I wouldn’t lose any pieces while working from one day to the next.

Once I had all of the smaller pieces off, I was left with the two large dark gray pieces, and a large black one. I still needed to cut the windows out of the dark gray pieces, so I did that before gluing anything down. I actually cut out two new pieces entirely and sketched the windows on again, as the paper ended up getting dirty and was also a bit wrinkled.

Then I began gluing everything down, being especially cautious to get the right amount of glue on the edges so that none leaked out, but there was also enough for it to stick down.

I also started from the large gray piece which touched the corner, as I could make sure it lined up with the background so that everything could stay consistent from piece to piece.

I was left with an almost finished result, as I realized I forgot to cut the wires, but I decided I would just wait until both pieces are fully finished.

I also decided to start looking at colors. I did trace the two gray pieces onto both the red, orange, and yellow papers, as at the time I didn’t know what I would choose. To solve this problem, I tried taking this image into photoshop and using approximate color swatches and the paint bucket tool to approximate how they might look.

To be honest, I still don’t quite know what I’m going to choose. I think the orange lacks the contrast I want, even if it may technically be the closest in hue. The red is also quite close in hue, but in this mockup looks a bit too intense, and doesn’t necessarily describe the space accurately. Although the mustardy color is not the right hue, it might still be the right choice, as it most closely matches the tone of the color of the buildings, and gives off some of the right feelings. However, I think the correct next steps are to sleep on it, and ask others what they see in them tomorrow.

The End Result — September 20th

I haven’t written anything in awhile, but I have been doing quite a bit of work to finish off my project. The first thing I did was decide on a color. Since the digital mockups weren’t very accurate in color, I decided it would be more beneficial to look at the colored paper with the grayscale paper and the composition in person, and look at them in various lights.

Eventually, I decided to go with the dark yellow color. It evoked the right feeling about the space (at least better than the other two), and didn’t overwhelm the piece like the red or orange may have.

Before I glued anything down last time, I had traced the two large gray buildings onto the colored paper, so I began by cutting those out. Also, when I finished my grayscale composition last time, I had taped all of the smaller pieces onto a scrap of tracing paper, so I got those out. I began glueing down all of the pieces, following my first composition as a guide, and adjusting or recutting pieces as needed.

I now had my two compositions, but they weren’t quite finished, as I still needed to add the wires to give it the right feeling. To do this, I used my ruler to cut a straight line, and moved it down ever so slightly and cut again. I repeated this many times, and then finally cut them off at both ends so I had many strips of paper.

I ended up cutting more throughout the process, as some were too thick, and I realized I needed to cut even closer together.

When gluing the wires on, I also let the paper bend a little bit to create curves in some of the wires that appeared curved in the image to show how not all of them were pulled taught, and some of them sagged.

I was now satisfied enough to call these finished. Although they may not be perfect, the imperfections almost enhance the nature of the space, as the intersection itself was rundown, and far from perfect.

However, nothing is really finished without a frame. So I moved on to mounting my work.

I began by cutting out the three pieces of matte board, and by trimming the white borders off of my printed photo. I then used my ruler to mark 1.5 and 8.5 inches on all sides. Once all sides had tick marks, I could use my ruler, line it up from one side to the other, and lightly draw a dash at around where the other ticks would intersect.

This left me with four crosses, representing where the four corners of my work should end up. I erased all unnecessary marks, which left me with just enough to be able to position my work.

I started with my photo, as to be honest, it felt like the easiest and carried the least amount of stress. After all if I messed it up too badly, I could always print another photo and cut another matte board.

I chose to use a glue stick, as I knew it could be repositioned in the short term, and would leave a nice flat result. And although I did have to reposition it, it did leave a nice result. I then simply erased any marks left from my crosses that were visible, and moved on to the grayscale, and colored pieces.

In the end, I was pretty happy with how they turned out.

Although neither of these compositions truly capture the entirety of the space, the picture doesn’t either. Even a photo is not a replacement for what we can see with our own eyes. We can describe a place with words, or draw a photo, but nothing is truly the same as visiting a place, seeing it with our own eyes, smelling the air, and taking in everything around us.

With design, we can strive to share as much information as possible with as little information as possible. We have to make decisions of what to keep, and what to leave out. We have to make choices based on limited options. In the end, it may not be what we expected or what we hoped, but it reveals a story nevertheless, and it is our job to try and shape the story that is told.