Monday, September 28, 2009

Zen Principles for Thought


As a student in the field of designwork, I take influence from a lot of different things. One such source is culture. I really enjoy Asian cultures in particular, so I will share some of my thoughts in regards to design in the "Asian" sense.

Zen is, by Wikipedia's definition,  a school of Mahāyāna Buddhism, translated from the Chinese word Chán. This word is in turn derived from the Sanskrit dhyāna, which means "meditation." In short it is a school of thought centered around simplicity and self-enlightenment. It is practiced around the world in countries such as India, Korea, China, and Japan.

I recently stumbled upon some books illustrating how principles of Zen technique can enhance a presentation or design. The book that I drew this information is called Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds, I would suggest if you are interested to look into it. 

But moving on, Garr says that there are about 7 principles of Zen that we can use to further heighten our design. I will comment on these principles under the provided description that Garr gives in his book.

Kanso (簡素) Simplicity or elimination of clutter. Things are expressed in a plain, simple, natural manner. Reminds us to think not in terms of decoration but in terms of clarity, a kind of clarity that may be achieved through omission or exclusion of the non-essential.

Simplicity rules all in Zen thought, and overall these principles of Zen will come back to the idea of Kanso. My website designs and drawings are mostly void of clutter or have very little background in order to draw the client's eyes to the main point or item of focus.

Fukinsei (不均整) Asymmetry or irregularity. The idea of controlling balance in a composition via irregularity and asymmetry is a central tenet of the Zen aesthetic. The enso ("Zen circle") in brush painting, for example, is often drawn as an incomplete circle, symbolizing the imperfection that is part of existence. In graphic design too asymmetrical balance is a dynamic, beautiful thing. Try looking for (or creating) beauty in balanced asymmetry. Nature itself is full of beauty and harmonious relationships that are asymmetrical yet balanced. This is a dynamic beauty that attracts and engages.

This Zen principle is also used frequently in brush paintings. When I was learning calligraphy, the very first thing that they required me to learn was how to properly do enso, the Zen circle. It symbolizes imperfectness that is beautiful, which in turn is also a part of life. Life and nature will be full of flaws, it will however always come full circle into a magnificent design.

Shibui/Shibumi (渋味) Beautiful by being understated, or by being precisely what it was meant to be and not elaborated upon. Direct and simple way, without being flashy. Elegant simplicity, articulate brevity. The term is sometimes used today to describe something cool but beautifully minimalist, including technology and some consumer products. (Shibui literally means bitter tasting).

Again this goes back to the idea of simplicity and imperfection, today we can see a lot of artwork that is influenced by this principle, especially modern artwork. The Grids idea can also tie into this in a way as well. Using simple straight lines organized into a grid you can eventually create a meaningful message that is clean and organized.

Shizen (自然) Naturalness. Absence of pretense or artificiality, full creative intent unforced. Ironically, the spontaneous nature of the Japanese garden that the viewer perceives is not accidental. This is a reminder that design is not an accident, even when we are trying to create a natural-feeling environment. It is not a raw nature as such but one with more purpose and intention.

Zen gardens will automatically come into mind, as they utilize all 7 principles with a focus on Shizen. When you are creating a Zen garden, you don't go about it in a stiff or planned manner. Rather the idea is to let the natural Chi or Ki (natural energies) inside you guide your design. With the usage of enzo and kanso you create the waves in the sand that become a natural part of you.

Yugen (幽玄) 
Profundity or suggestion rather than revelation. A Japanese garden, for example, can be said to be a collection of subtleties and symbolic elements. Photographers and designers can surely think of many ways to visually imply more by not showing the whole, that is, showing more by showing less.

If you think of black and white colored photos, you can think of the Yugen idea. They show and focus on the subject manner without the color, without clutter, and without "noise". Eventually the photo will become a collection of "subtleties and symbolic elements". Photographers in particular often think about this principle, as they need to capture the "essence" of the photo without taking too much of it.

Datsuzoku (脱俗) Freedom from habit or formula. Escape from daily routine or the ordinary. Unworldly. Transcending the conventional. This principles describes the feeling of surprise and a bit of amazement when one realizes they can have freedom from the conventional. Professor Tierney says that the Japanese garden itself, "...made with the raw materials of nature and its success in revealing the essence of natural things to us is an ultimate surprise. Many surprises await at almost every turn in a Japanese Garden." 

Pretty much it is saying be yourself, let your creative energies flow and become a part of the work. The interesting thing about today's society is that most of the time we are restricted in what we are allowed to do. With the Zen mindset, it allows you to feel the surprise and amazement of having the freedom and control of directing your own design.

Seijaku (静寂)
Tranquility or an energized calm (quite), stillness, solitude. This is related to the feeling you may have when in a Japanese garden. The opposite feeling to one expressed by seijaku would be noise and disturbance. How might we bring a feeling of "active calm" and stillness to ephemeral designs outside the Zen arts?

Energy plays a key role, as the naturalness, simplicity, and flaws will come together to create a piece of meaning that has "active calm" It is also in reference to the artistic "coma" (for lack of better wording), when you are in this artistic state of pouring your whole being, you are usually so focused on putting so much energy into the work that you often find yourself in stillness or solitude. However this just might be myself. 

I hope that you enjoyed this wall of text that describes some of the design elements that I draw inspiration from. And I hope you learned something about Asian culture at the very least. I plan to explore more in depth into more aesthetic design principles that are present throughout the world.

Edit: Next week I'll tie in grids and.....bento boxes.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Music - Universal Language? - PART I


So I was very inspired by Kelsey Lantrip's blog posting on your own Personal Soundtrack, the post can be found at this link.

Whle reading the blog posting, she discusses how music an be a universal language. Even though I fully agree with this I am actually trying an experiment out on my relatives. By showing them pieces of classical music I tried to see if they could get the same gist of possibly what the piece is saying.

For the music, I utilized samples of one of my favorite amateur film-music creators: Danman87

This is actually a reel of a lot of different types of classical music. What I found was that most of my non-English speaking relatives could relate to the music the same way I could. The overall pieces had a lot of impact and feeling to it, and they could feel what the music was trying to say.

So what do you think when you listen to this piece of music? I am sure that you can at least find one person in the world who even though they do not speak the same language as you, they think the same things.

I may do follow up parts on this experiment by using different genres of music, and even different languages. Also, this has sparked a new idea in the back of my mind, so you will see a post on this matter next week.

I leave you with this tidbit/question: We all love music so much, is it because we can all understand and enjoy music no matter what language or region we speak or come from?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Backgrounds to create Setting


The idea that I would like to explore today is something that I myself am not too experienced in. When I draw characters or even illustrations for people, I very seldom do backgrounds. Backgrounds can play a crucial part in any piece of design, not only drawings. I also do graphic design duties as well, so I would like to try and explain what I have learned so far. This sort of plays on the design project that we were assigned to do in the third week, where we had to create a different meaning with just subtle changes. What I am explaining is somewhat more radical though.

I first experiemented with this concept of "backgrounds change the meaning" while working on a major illustration that was to be used in a school art auction. This was done in my senior year.

This is the finished piece below.

This was a piece to be used in the Pop Art section, since our class was assigned to do this type of illustration for the auction. Right now I have to say that I am satisfied with this piece. The red color clashes very well with the blue and the white, since red is arguably one of the more "alerting" colors in this particular piece. However some people didn't like the background color at all. So to try and experiment, I replaced the halftone blue background with something more soothing and "normal".

As you may or may not have noticed, there is a subtle change in the meaning. The first picture is very bright and "standoffish" while this one is "less violent on the eyes" as one of my peers said. The red is still able to stand out, but the background gives this piece a more antiquated feeling. This is probably due to the fact that I used an old book page for the background and decorated it with swirls.

So backgrounds and tiny changes can make a big difference if you use the changes to your advantage. To create a piece that can create inspiration for others with only small changes to the actual work is astounding. With the 3rd assignment I was able to reassess my evaulation of this technique if you can call it that.

Although even with the change, there were still people who did not find the background to be pleasing. It is very hard to please many if not all of the audience. What some may find pleasing, others will find harsh, and vice versa.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

An Artistic CV by weyforth


Link to DeviantART entry: Click me.

Another DeviantART reference! This time I was looking for interesting ordinary things. So I found an artistic CV!

What better way to show off your talent than actually include design examples within your CV or Resume that you turn in to companies! The designer utilized more bright colors while maintaining a clean and minimalisitic style that is easy to read and easy on the eyes as well. Images of their work are tastefully put in a grid and parts of it are shown in an artistic way, as to give the work more clarity and artistic insight. With the images being formatted the way they are they give a good solid preview of what the designer can do. The CV combines cleanliness with simplicity, all while exhibiting design skills.

And that in itself makes this piece amazing to look at.

I also notice that I'm slowly writing smaller chunks, hopefully they are meaningful. I just don't have a lot of time this week. The next entry for Week 5 is going to be very informative and interesting, I promise.

Enlighten by GlowingKitten


As you may have noticed, I scour DeviantArt a lot because I post my own work up there, and because I like looking at what other young designers/artists are doing nowadays.

This is another photography piece that I thought was amazing.

It is always amazing to see what people can do with one tiny little thing. With just a simple reflection and a small amount of light, you can create something as meaningful as this. The light that the photographer chose to use is a warm light, not very strong, but it works for this piece since it gives the photograph a muted look. However the light also is important in the fact that it adds more depth to a metal object like that. The shadow however is most important. It takes the brass/metal heart and creates a shadow reflection on the table.

A very nice, simple, and sweet photograph.

Alphabet by Neilan


Here is the full deviation link please click here.

This ia a great example of how letters can be used as artwork. I found this interesting as the designer used different fonts to express the different "genres" of lettering for each letter. The images are warped to reflect the letter that it represents. However "A picture is worth more than a thousand words" comes into play, so I've posted an image below that exhibits some of the typography design elements seen in the work. I'd suggest actually visiting the link that I posted for the full deviation as Blogger likes to squish images down.

As you can see, the designer utilizes a modernistic minimal type of look while using bold colors in order to captivate the audience. I think it's a very successful move as it emphasizes more attention on the letters and typography used.

This is interesting as we have recently explored how fonts can change the meaning of a piece with the third powerpoint assignment.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Final Fantasy Graphics Over the Years


WHOO! So excited about this one. Not because of the storylines or anything...But because of the ARTWORK! The CG is AMAZING! I haven't played a SINGLE FF game so I can't really say much on story. However if someone wishes to indulge me in the opportunity of playing one of the said games, I'd be more than happy to. *wink wink* I'm a gamer girl at heart.

Apparently in Final Fantasy XIII, they are using the same techniques that they used for Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. Expect a post on that later, I will examine some of the vehicles (Fenrir for instance) as design examples.

Final Fantasy is probably the most well-known RPG series to date. If you haven't heard about it, you'll hear about it now. There are about 12 main games out there right now, with a few spin-off series on DS, PSP, and Wii. Final Fantasy was started by a company called Squaresoft, which is now Square Enix.  If you want more information you may get it from here.

When the first Final Fantasy came out, the artwork if you will, were pixels. Although....I really like all the character design sketches for the games. Here's an example of a pixel artwork if you don't know what it is, 'tis the Black Mage from Final Fantasy I.

Going back into a little big of history, I found it amazing how we can see the development of videogame graphics just by looking at the series of Final Fantasy. Each time Square Enix releases a new game, we can see an improvement in their CG or pixel work.
When Final Fantasy VII came out (I would know cause I have a friend who LOVES VII to death), people went crazy because it was focusing on the cinematic type of gameplay as well as...3D GRAPHICS! Here's an example of the graphics from that game, this is from the English PC version of the game

As you can see it was a BIG improvement. For instance, you could actually see most of the character's real body proportions instead of the chibis (tiny versions) of them, which lacked many intricate details. So after that, Square Enix began to use 3D CG and cinematic cutscenes in their games. We can see a vast progression from the time that Final Fantasy VII came out til now. Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children was a movie that I wanted to see for a long time, and I'm glad that I saw it. I was blown away by their CG. Let us look at a picture of the new Cloud in Advent Children reincarnation:

Square Enix updated Cloud's look in order to suit today's mood. As you can see, there's a lot more detail in his outfit. You can even see individual strands of hair, and his overall look is very realistic. Technology has grown over the past 10 years or so, and I wanted to acknowledge that fact.  Designwise, I would say that over the years, things have gotten to be more and more realistic, we find that our videogame characters will develop more into looking like regular "to-life" humans. 
I leave you with a link to the E3 FFXIII trailer:

Ecodazoo Website


First off, you must refer to before reading.

This is an amazing flash website, and since I'm a webdesigner myself I couldn't help but include it. I stumbled upon this while looking at Flash website examples, since I just got Flash CS4. (Those of you who want the CS4 Suite, you can download it from the IUware website. Students get it for FREE.)

The first thing I noticed was that for a flash website it goes beyond simple 2-D animation. It more or less emerges into the 3-D aspect. When you first go on the site, it rotates around a 3-D cardboard tree. I thought this was interesting since trees aren't usually made out of cardboard. Why bother making a 3-D cardboard tree? ...And then I remembered this was a site about ecology. The navigation is at the top which are the little word bubble balloons with the animal pictures in them. The animals are drawn in a cartoon-like style, which is very interesting.

And if you haven't tried the "pop-out book" function yet, I suggest you do. The detail is really nice. The creator of this flash site uses a white background probably to give more attention to the tree and the animals that it features. The useage of 3-D components makes the Flash website all the more enjoyable. The creator obviously thought "outside of the box" and wasn't afraid to incorporate it into the website.

Hopefully I can design things like this one day.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

5 Gum


Well I've only had a few pieces of 5 gum in my life. But overall the concept and name is pretty interesting. I've heard that the name comes from how many flavors they have?

Anyways, I really like the package design and ads that Wrigley has been throwing around all over the place. And if you haven't had 5 Gum yet, they were giving out a few free sticks at the Barnes And Noble bookstore at the Campus Center the past few weeks for Weeks of Welcome.

Here's an image of one of the ads, I believe this is for the Flare gum.

I found this rather interesting as it seems that Wrigley with this new type of gum is improving their packaging design to make it look more clean and kind of sophisticated I suppose. The black goes really well with any bright color, making the red (in this example) stand out. The ad itself seems to fend for itself as well. The overall feel is of "fire" and thus there's a flame in the background. I would also like to note that the gum wrappers are of a red color as well. Interesting, yes?

....Well maybe it's just me then. I find good package design to be very interesting, since there's a lot of odd ones out there.

Going back on the point that the Wrigley's company has been steadily going towards a new "look", I think that the 5 gum seems to try and move towards the direction of sleek and new, much like how new technology nowadays (and I mean computers specifically) have been getting "glossier" and more "slim." This could be an advertisement leaning towards the younger/more fashionable people.

Fashionable gum maybe? I have been noticing that a lot of packaging and brands have been trying to alter their image of themselves to suit the new century and age that we currently live in.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Fantasy Worlds by J. Louie - Fantasy Cliffside


Please refer to for the pictures or actual blog that I got it from. But of course I will post one or two of the images here as well. More than likely I will post my favorite of the three here and elaborate more on it.

At first sight, I automatically thought "WHOA I WANT TO PAINT LIKE THAT ONE DAY."

Jason Louie is an amazing painter/concept artist that I admire. In particular I love his quick sketches and his  computerized paintings. In particular when I stumbled upon his blog my gaze was immediately drawn to the post called "Fantasy Worlds" I am a character designer/artist for an amateur company, so I'm always on the lookout for new techniques that I can utilize in future productions.

In particular I really liked this painting:

Fantasy Cliffside

Upon first inspection I thought it was a castle or something, but when I zoomed in or rather when I clicked the link in order to get a better look at the picture it turned out to be a futuristic city. I adore fantasy based lanscapes, but this was something intriguing and new. I suppose what made this image really catch my eye was the accent colors of yellow and light blue that was used for the city's lights. Although I think the blue stood out the most because it was an unnaturally neon blue color which is normally associated with high tech gadgets or cities. The overall wide spacial look of the drawing also catches a viewer's eye as well. The expanse of the sky gives more depth to the painting, as well as the miniscule city that is captured at the very right of the whole thing. The main city on the left is accentuated by the glowing golden tint that some of the buildings have on it. However I think this is probably due to the fact that the sun is either rising or setting in this particular piece.

It pretty much takes a traditional majestic view of a adventurer clambering up cliffs to view a sprawling kingdom to an adventurer clambering up cliff to view an amazing city that is not made of stone and magic but of metal and science.

Honda Rickshaw


At first ...I thought this was absolutely absurd. Why would Honda do this? I looked at the image below and honestly thought "Really now?" As for how I got to this...I was researching car information since I wanted to get a used/new car so I can actually stop mooching off my friends for rides, and stumbled onto  a picture of this on Google images.
I'm honestly not sure if it looks comfortable. Sure it looks very nice and sleek...and fast, but from what I've read it actually is moved by a robot, which is near the front (the white biped thing I'm assuming). Passengers sit in the back, and the pod can be detached and re-attached onto another vehicle as a second trailer. The design is good and solid, and it seems like it was manufactured by Honda so it would adapt with the air currents or drag. The wheels on the rickshaw look rather thin though, so I'm wondering what type of material it's made from.

It is said that the design is very cheap and cost effective, since they are going to be testing this in downtown Malaysia. This also piqued my interest at this point since I have relatives in Malaysia, and I travel there every two to four years. The traffic in downtown Kuala Lumpur or even Kuching is very fierce. My cousins usually drove fast so it was even scarier. Although they do have a massive highway system now, which gets crowded very easily, some of the roads are not very well maintained. I've seen rickshaws still being used in some of the older parts of Kuching however.

My overall thoughts on this are rather mixed. One one hand, it is a very interesting and well designed mode of transportation. However I'm interested in whether it would actually work, since it is supposedly piloted by a robot that interacts with the passenger's interaction.

I still say it looks rather fast.

Ramune Photo


Here is an image that I found on the net while looking for examples of interesting Ramune bottles and warppers. It is a black and white photograph of a Ramune bottle, but it has some interesting features.

It looks very sleek and modern for a black and white photo. The Ramune bottle is colored so that the name and company logo pops out with the red accent color. There is a good contrast between the grey colors and the red, which I often use in professional website designs myself. Please see my R3 Productions website article on the first week’s entry in this electronic design journal or you may visit the actual page at Another thing is that the user's gaze automatically is on the bottle because the rest of the background seems to be blurred a little bit or is out of focus. The bottle seems to be one of the very few things that is crystal clear in the image.

This is not only  a good advertisement, but a good piece of photography as well. Although I found it interesting since usually ramune bottles are very colorful, why not just display the wrapper's true colors and have everything else as grey? Would it have the same effect? I'm very tempted to try this out in photoshop on another ramune bottle image. Perhaps you shall see it in a future blog post.

Ramune Bottles and Wrappers


First off I’d like to state that I am rather addicted to Ramune. It’s a carbonated soft drink that you open in a very interesting way. It is manufactured in Japan by the Nishimoto Trading Company and is available here in the US as well.

 The bottle itself is what I think a very nice design. It would be necessary though to learn a bit about the bottle design itself. I did some research and learned that these glass Ramune bottles are usually called Codd-neck bottles. These bottles are made out of glass and sealed with a glass marble.  However opening this softdrink proves to be quite tricky as I have actually sprayed myself in the face the first couple of times while trying to open it. You open it with a device that pushes the marble down, releasing the carbonation into the liquid. 

One interesting point that I have found was that usually children will recognize the brand/item by the bottle's design.  An “alien head" image is formed from the ball and indentations on the bottle neck, serving as an unusual yet unique brand recognition technique. The design of the bottle with its indentations also make it very easy for a person to grasp the bottle by the top. One flaw though is that once you open it, it is impossible to cap it. Overall the design is very sleek and interesting. 

I would also like to point out that the designs on the wrappers of Ramune bottles can be very “cute” or “interesting”. For example, the orange Ramune have cute tiny little oranges with smiling faces on it. Not only does it help to tell what flavor it is, but it draws in attention with its “cuteness”. There are also other wrappers such as the “Hello-Kitty” one pictured below, which combines the effectiveness of the Ramune product with advertising other brands/products.

On the subject of Ramune wrappers, they have over 15 flavors (including odd flavors such as octopus and curry) and they decorate their wrappers to often suit what image they are working towards. Below are examples of three different wrappers. The images from left to right are the annin doufu (Chinese-style sweet tofu dessert), curry, and green tea Ramune novelty drinks. They have altered the wrapper to reflect upon the flavor they are selling. I think that also the fact that they are quite “retro-styled” brings in a lot of interest in this type of drink as well. It draws a lot of attention and makes people want to try it out. Personally if you haven’t tried Ramune you should, for its interesting flavors and bottle. 

I think I will pass on the curry and octopus flavors though.