What ‘Abstract’ Teaches Us About God’s Intention for Design and Art

Netflix’s illuminating new series, Abstract: The Art of Design, documents the lives, designs and dreams of the some of the great innovators of our time—from graphic artists to automotive designers, illustrators to interior designers. The first season is available to stream, and you absolutely should.

Each breath-taking, provocative and intentional piece of work featured in the series showcases the depth and diversity of human creativity at its finest. Where Abstract shines most, however, is in its ability to pose deeper questions about the metaphysical functions of design, art and beauty—which, as theologian John de Gruchy writes in Christianity, Art and Transformation, “characterizes the form of ultimate reality … the essence of God’s glory.”

Here are eight major takeaways about God’s intention for art and design from Abstract’s featured artists and designers: (Read more)

You can’t make sense of the way a thing [is] without understanding what it’s [for]

A friend of mine has an interesting spoon. (Bear with me.) Its slightly larger than a teaspoon and has a large hole in the middle, making it incapable of holding—let alone carrying—the sort of substance that typically requires a spoon. My friend keeps it in his sugar bowl, waiting for unsuspecting guests to attempt productive engagement with it. Some will quietly (but unsuccessfully) persevere with it, not wanting to make a fuss and assuming the fault must somehow lie with them. Others will immediately declare the spoon is ridiculous and insist on something better suited to the task at hand.

The spoon, it turns out, is actually an olive spoon. The hole in the middle is to drain the fluid as you lift the olive to your mouth. And so the lesson for us is this: You can’t make sense of the way the spoon [is] without understanding what it’s [for]. (Read more)

Let’s Simplify, 01

If you’re just starting out then my recommendation is: use references and you can trace over them. Go to unsplash.com and grab some. Don’t be discouraged by people that say tracing is cheating (just ignore them). As long the photo is free to use then you have nothing to worry about. If you have a camera you can take your own photo (do whatever is best/convenient for you). Right now don’t worry about line weight; just trace! It doesn’t have to match the reference perfectly as shown in the skull example above (blue circle).  When simplifying, think BIG. Think essence and likeness. It’s not about capturing every single detail. In the skull example above, the one in the far right is overkilled. The one on the far left almost look like a skull. The one in the middle is a skull. Remember, you’re the artist and you decide how you want to simplify it. As long as it looks like what you’re trying to capture then it’s good enough.

This was a little more challenging for me initially. Especially the mist and water. How do you simplify water? Do you leave it empty? I tried that but it didn’t look like anything I had in mind: is it a desert or a dry land? Hard to tell. There might be other ways to simplify water but the only way I know as of this writing is these wavy/curvy/zigzag lines. If you’re detail oriented you might be tempted to detail the grass and land but don’t. Remember that what you’re doing is renewing and training your mind to not be overly critical.

Remember to have fun!

Let’s Simplify!

Art supposed to be fun! But unfortunately, a lot of us, myself included, have a mind that is wired to see details and question every s-i-n-g-l-e thing, so much so that we are paralyzed by it. We can’t proceed until we have answers to our questions. In one sense, it is good to have such a mind, ones that questions everything and tries to get to the bottom of things; it is how we learn and discover new things. So for now, put away that critical mind that questions and challenges everything. And let’s have some fun with art. Don’t compare yourself to others. Everyone has a unique way and style of doing things. Some are better with figure drawing while others are more versed in landscapes. And here’s the thing: What you learn in one field can be carried on to the next, so nothing is wasted. Times spent learning to simplify things will help you later on when you get into logo design (for example). Furthermore, we all have strengths and weaknesses, and we all can improve!

Also, don’t worry about correct perspective because perspective in art is very recent. Egyptian and cave arts had no perspective. I love Van Gogh’s paintings but guess what? Perspective looks off! Don’t worry about line weight, “Should this line be bigger or smaller? And why?” You can use just one line weight throughout. And guess what? The famous Tintin comic used only one line weight, this style is called “ligne claire” or “Clear Line.” Google it and learn something new.

Correct perspective and line weight can always come later. For now, have fun. I’ll do some walkthrough later.

Learning to Simplify

Recently while walking down the street, I looked ahead of myself and saw a tree with many small rocks around it on the ground. Overall it was a beautiful sight and I imagined myself outlining the scene. I asked myself: Where would I start? Do I outline everything? Every rock? Every details and lines? I told myself that that would be complicated with just lines alone. Sure, if I were sketching it it might be easy with shading and so on. Then it dawned on me, “Who says that I have to outline every single rock? If my goal is to get everything down, I might as well take a photo!” Right? I love teaching moments like this. What you include is just as important as what you would leave out and vice-versa. In design, there’s a concept called “negative space.” Imagine a piece of design or art with absolutely no empty space. Look around you and notice that good designs have empty spaces in them. Sometimes, a lot! How about music? Can you imagine musics with no silence or pause in between notes? Why can’t visual artists do the same?

I’ll give examples later on. In the meantime this is a great introduction: How to Simplify and Sketch Buildings. When you’re out on the street and have only 7 minutes to capture what you see, the art of simplifying will be of great help.

Pure White Canvas

“In the real world there’s no such thing as a white piece of paper. Even if the paper was a perfect diffuse reflector with no flaws, the colour is still determined by the lighting. You won’t get a perfect light source that will give you a perfect distribution of chromatically perfect light across your perfect diffuse piece of paper. So in ArtRage we add some chaos to the creative process with a rendered light source across imperfect paper.” — AndyRage

ArtRage is known for giving you that natural painting look. And since it’s a painting tool, it seeks to mimic what you would see in the real world of painting by giving you a specialized Canvas with grain and lightning.

If you’re like me and want a pure white canvas (for digital sketching), here’s what you do: Menu [View] –> Canvas Settings and you’ll get a box that looks like that (I’m using version 5). Uncheck “Canvas Lightning.” That’s it. Click on the Canvas Color and change it to white because by default it’s not 100% pure white. When the lightning is off you can choose any color for your Canvas and it’ll be flat.

Simple Forms

To draw the human figure well from imagination you must first be able to draw the simple forms of construction — the sphere, box, cylinder and cone — from memory, in any position and combination. The famous Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens said that “you can draw anything using a sphere, box, and cone.” These simple volumes are the foundation of good figure drawing, and are the fundamental tools of figure construction. These “tools” not only help you to draw the figure from imagination but to see the forms of the model. A portfolio will almost automatically be rejected if the figures inside do not have a clear sense of volume and unambiguous space based on model observation. —  Glenn Vilppu

Think Like an Artist

“For as a man thinks in his heart, so is he…” — Proverbs 23:7 NKJV
“Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” — John 17:17 NKJV

I was just thinking about renewing the mind and how ‘how we think’ affects what we do and how we do it. The Bible talks a lot about renewing the mind. Christians are to think like Jesus and to have His mind. If we want to live right, we must think right. Wrong thinking equals wrong living. Christians spend most of their lives renewing/sanctifying their minds—it’s that important!

Awhile back I came across a book titled, “Think Python: How to Think like a Computer Scientist.” It is a very interesting title and it is also true that to be a great programmer you need to learn to think like a Computer Scientist because to do certain things (programming in this case) you must think a certain way. Different craft requires different mindset and a way of thinking that is unique to that field, and if you want to be successful you must put on the mindset that is relevant to whatever field you’re in.

As artists, we must learn to see and simplify things. When an artist draws a figure, he sees shapes and forms. A neck isn’t a neck to him, but a tube/cylinder. To grow as an artist, we must grow in our thinking and understanding as artists.