Beautiful Color Theory: Revisiting Emily Vanderpoel

Revisiting Emily Vanderpoel’s Color Theory Book 117 Years After Its First Release
In addition to being a watercolorist, Emily Noyes Vanderpoel was also the author of Color Problems, widely overlooked, yet staggering turn-of-the-century book on color theory.
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Though her name is virtually unknown today, Emily Noyes Vanderpoel enjoyed a modest reputation as a watercolorist at the turn of the 20th century. She painted seascapes, country landscapes and the occasional industrial scene — perfectly competent works, but ultimately quite conventional. Nothing about them hints at the fact that Vanderpoel was also the author of a widely overlooked, yet staggering book on color theory, its pages bursting with a series of vibrant illustrations that seem to anticipate an abstract aesthetic decades before it emerged in full force.

Color Problems: A Practical Manual for the Lay Student of Color, which Vanderpoel first published in 1901, sought to teach an audience of non-artists how to combine colors in ways pleasing to the eye. The 400-page book elegantly summarizes the ideas of eminent color theorists, before unleashing Vanderpoel’s wildly original approach to color analysis: 10 x 10 grids that break down the color proportions of real objects, most of which came from the author’s personal collection of antiques. Vanderpoel lovingly transforms a mummy case, a teacup, a Japanese silk brocade and dozens of other knick-knacks into series of geometric patterns. Her grids emerge as artworks reminiscent of Homage to the Square, the iconic abstract series that Bauhaus pioneer Josef Albers began creating in the 1950s.

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In spite of its stunning prescience, Color Problems has been largely forgotten in the 117 years since it was first released. Two Brooklyn-based publishing companies now hope to salvage the book from obscurity. On November 9, The Circadian Press and Sacred Bones Records will reissue Color Problems in both softcover and a hardcover facsimile, their efforts supported by a successful Kickstarter campaign.

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Vanderpoel was immersed in New York’s creative scene. She never received a formal art degree, but studied under the painters William Sartain and Robert Swain Gifford, who taught at Cooper Union and the Arts Students League. Vanderpoel exhibited her artworks through the New York Watercolor Club, which frequently staged group shows, and her paintings occasionally cropped up in grander venues. In 1893, she won a bronze medal at the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition for a painting of an industrial rail yard. Some years later, her painting “Ypres,” (no date) a memorial to World War I that is now lost, was displayed at the National Art Museum in Washington, DC (which was subsequently incorporated into the Smithsonian). In the late 1920s, the Metropolitan Museum of Art mounted an offsite exhibition of nine of her watercolors at the Connecticut Agricultural College.

At some point amidst this flurry of productivity, Vanderpoel began writing and illustrating Color Problems. No records of her process survive to the present day, but she likely worked on the book for several years, says Alan Bruton, a professor at the University of Houston’s College of Architecture and Design who has researched Vanderpoel’s life and work.

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Color Problems is a guide for both hobbyists and people who work in the practical arts: florists, decorators, designers, lithographers, salespeople who want to attractively display their wares. The book is not specifically catered to women, but Vanderpoel certainly had female readers on her mind. She writes that understanding the intricacies of color theory can be of value to milliners and dressmakers — occupations often held by women during the Victorian era — along with housewives who dabbled in home decor.

As she doles out advice for achieving aesthetic harmony at home and at work, Vanderpoel reveals herself to be well versed in color theories that proliferated throughout the 19th century, due in part to scientific advances that led to the development of new pigments. She frequently refers to major names in the field, among them Michel-Eugène Chevreul, whose ground-breaking 1839 book explored how adjacent colors influence one another; James Clerk Maxwell, who used spinning color discs to show how people perceive mixtures of color; and Ogden Rood, who, among his other contributions, suggested that colors differ from one another due to variations in purity, hue, and luminosity.

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Even more striking are Vanderpoel’s 54 grids, or “Color Analyses, ” in which she reinterprets various objects as geometric designs made up of 100 squares. Vanderpoel’s analysis of a Celtic ornament, for instance, is rendered as 50 green squares, 18 red ones, 17 yellow, seven black, and eight white, all fitted together with Tetris-like precision. She wasn’t the first theorist to organize colors into grids, but rendering pixel-like representations of real objects to capture the optical effect of color — that was something new.

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Beautiful Castle

When in Colorado you won’t want to miss visiting Bishops Castle, an extraordinary work of one man. For 40 years, Jim Bishop has been building a castle on a mountainside in central Colorado. Every year since 1969, Bishop has single-handedly gathered and set over 1000 tons of rock to create this stone and iron fortress
in the middle of nowhere.

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With the help of his parents Jim saved up and bought himself a two and
a half acre plot of land in rural Colorado, planning to hunt and live on it.
A frontier spirit, when Jim decided it was time for him and his wife to get
a house, he figured he would build it himself. What started as a one room
stone cottage would soon grow to astounding proportions: it may be the
largest one-man architecture project in the world. Today the frontier
fortress reaches over 16 stories high, has three large cathedral windows,
wrought iron walkways and a steel fire-breathing dragon. Today Jim Bishop
is 63 and is still building. It is unlikely he will stop anytime soon.

READ MORE ABOUT THIS AMAZING STORY AND HOW TO VISIT HERE

Beautiful Design Stories

It all started with my love for graphic design.

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In my career I started out as a graphic designer then became a marketing manager. However I having always done my own interiors (and for others) and fell passionately in love with architecture as my interests matured and boredom set in. This has led me to a career in interior design which I’ve come to love because it allows me to combine all my interests; architecture, graphic design, photography, furniture design, and marketing into one nice compatible family. Everyone tells me to make a niche but how can I give up one area of design for another? It’s like choosing one child over another, impossible. Combined with an interest in psychology and always curious about why we do what we do, I feel so fortunate to wake up every morning and have something to look forward to.

Which leads me to this fabulous article about other designers who transformed their careers. Enjoy your career and be especially thankful if it’s a creative one!

Beautiful Bauhaus Art

3,900 Pages of Paul Klee’s personal notebooks (1921-1931) are online. I love his art and thoughts on color and really enjoy his works. Klee taught at the Bauhaus in Weimar from 1921 to 1926 and in Dessau from 1926 to 1931. During his tenure, he was in close contact with other Bauhaus masters such as Kandinsky and Lyonel Feininger.

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Beautiful New York City Circa 1980s

Steven Siegel has been photographing the streets and subways
of New York City for 30 years, and his Flickr album is a time
capsule of a grittier, feral city — before Times Square was
scrubbed clean and 9/11 changed the metropolis forever.
His photos are remarkable. Siegel and friends created several
dreamlike scenarios (in a pre-Photoshop era) with clever
angles, poses, and accidental exposures. Take a closer look
and visit Siegel’s Flickr page for a trip back in time to New York
in the 1980s.

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All photos by Steven Siegel

Beautiful Documentary Film Particle Fever

If ever you have a spare 90 minutes I highly recommend that you view this
film Particle Fever. It is truly mind-blowing and it reflects human beings at
their very best! It is a must see for anyone who has any interest in our amazing
universe. Just watch it, you feel the unabashed excitement for those involved
with this project. I have a new love for scientists and just want to hug them.

Beautiful Architect

The Invisible Architect of Invisible Architecture

At the height of his popularity, R. Buckminster Fuller,
the visionary inventor best known as the father of the
geodesic dome, was on a mission. Fuller repeatedly
referred to his great friend, the architect Knud Lonberg-Holm
—a “really great architect of the Nysky (New York skyscraper)
age”—whom Fuller said “has been completely unrecognized
and unsung,” and whose “scientific foresight and design
competence are largely responsible for the present world
around the state of advancement of the building arts.”
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Knud Lonberg-Holm (1895-1972),
an overlooked but highly influential
Modernist architect, photographer,
and pioneer of information design,
is the subject of an exhibition at the
Ubu Gallery in New York City,
through August 1, 2014.

I stumbled upon a fascinating article about
the architect Lonberg-Holm. He is one of the
most overlooked yet influential architects
of the 20th century.  Knud Lonberg-Holm
told Buckminster Fuller that “the really great
architect will be the architect who produces
the invisible house where you don’t see roofs
or walls,” Fuller explained in House & Garden.
“I’ve thought about this, thought about  it a lot,
the ultimately invisible house—doing more with
less and finally coming to nothingness.”
Lonberg-Holm’s modernity and exquisite
techniques were well ahead of his time.

Read the fascinating article here.

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Chicago Tribune Tower
This design of a side elevation for the 1922 Chicago

Tribune Tower competition, by Lonberg-Holm,
favored a functional composition that was devoid
of historical styles. It featured an abstract,
black-and-white pattern to articulate its frame and a
vertical sign spelling “Tribune” in large block letters,
flanked by two round lamps reminiscent of automobile
headlights. Lonberg-Holm never submitted his entry
for the competition, but it was published in a number
of books by avant-garde architects like Le Corbusier,
Walter Gropius, and J.P.P. Oud.

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Radio Broadcasting Station, Detroit
This design, ca. 1925, was included in the landmark

1927 Machine Age exhibition—advertised as “the
first International Exposition of Architecture to be
held in America.” The New Yorker critic Muriel Draper
reviewed the project and wrote: “The delicacy and
exquisite technique of execution shown in the plans may
have much to do with it, but a glass tower with a visibly
spiralling staircase took me straight up in the air while
the simple, solid proportions of the building itself kept
my feet on the earth. Pleasant sensation.”