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  • Design theory and discussion

    Approaching craft from a traditional perspective should incoprporate an understanding of traditional design theory.

    One of my Master Sculptors approached this topic, as he did many other things, by simply being expository- he explained the method or theory at hand and offer no right or wrong judgment of a given result beyond saying whether he liked it or not. Later on, when he did offer real critical evaluation, it was a privilege to be corrected by him.


    there are a number of established mathematical concepts, such as the Golden Ratio or Golden Sector and the Fibonacci Number, that are beneficial to designing work. Other things like visual noise, the use of foiling & division of elements and negative space are less formalized but can play a significant role in successful design. There are also deceptively simple but mathematical & geometrically powerful methods to address tasks encountered during a project. This isn't about judging or criticizing what a person does in terms of design. The purpose of a buck is to provide a tangible guide so a deliberate result can be achieved. Likewise, use of design theory & methods provides a consistent means to develop and execute shapes and concepts ranging from a small buck to an entire vehicle design.

    I will post about these various topics and ask other forum members to post and discuss. My typing can get a little long, so I'm going to try to better edit for brevity. In my work, workshops dance around design by telling people to look for inspiration in the world around them and then copy and mimick. That's no way to train a real craftsman.

    Some things are simple to discuss. Others need more study if you want to study them. Hopefully by knowing about such things, people can be better informed.
    Last edited by cliffrod; 16-10-19, 03:32 PM.

  • #2
    Repetition strengthens a design.

    when a general or specific detail is repeated within a composition, the design is strengthened. the viewer is able to recognize the same detail, whether at a conscious or subconscious level, when it is encountered without having to comprehend it as a new detail. This allows the viewer to move to the next detail in the composition more quickly. There is no stumble in comprehension. Even if the rest of the composition makes no sense, those repeated details bring some level of harmony to the composition.

    This repetition can be precise, similar, symmetrical or asymmetrical. It doesn't have to be identical. Very often, a detail is echoed or changed to be repeated elsewhere within a composition or between subsequent compositions. This is commonly used as vehicle models are developed into later models. The new machine looks like the old machine in some ways. The viewer doesn't have to be educated to make a strong decision about like or dislike. It's familiar and will more easily make sense.

    as an example-

    imagine looking into a tray filled with marbles. All are round, so all quickly make sense as marbles. Repetion. All are different color. No repetition. The viewer searches for meaning, such as one marble that's a color they like, but it's overwhelmed by the other quantity of marble. Imagine the same tray with a dozen matching red marbles. Minor repetition. Now the viewer makes sense by seeing more red marbles (than any other color) mixed in with chaos. Now Imagine all the marbles are red. Total or major repetition. Now the whole tray of marbles makes complete sense almost instantly when viewed. the viewer can now look for other things to see & comprehend.

    When designing a composition, it's important to understand whether or not repetion should or does play a role in the composition. It may not be appropriate. It may simply need to be a visual detail within a larger overall composition. It may work best as the overall and dominant aspect of the composition.


    • #3
      Visual Noise

      in general, when an audible sound is perceived as disruptive, unpleasant or incongruent to the situation, it is considered to be a noise instead of a sound. Visual noise is no different. When viewing a composition, visual noise is anything that is not expected, out of place or makes the viewer stumble visually and mentally. It can be a change of shape, texture, depth or dimension or anything else either within or within the proximity (more on this below) of the viewing area. Symmetry and asymmetry can also play a role.

      Visual noise can be very obvious or it can be difficult, even very difficult, to identify. Something like a scratch in paint or dent in a panel is easy to see. Other times, a shape doesn't make sense. The human eye can recognize a perfectly straight line or perfect circle OR a line that isn't perfectly straight or circular almost instantly. On a handmade part, a perfect circle, a straight line may be ideal or it may make the panel look machine-made which may defeat the organic quality of the project.

      Symmetry and asymmetry are significant parts of a composition. A perfect circle is perfectly symmetrical. A chicken's egg is typically ovoid in a consistent manner. Not always perfect, but close. So are animals and people. They look symmetrical, but are actually an symmetrical composition with asymmetrical detail. Things aren't exactly the same left vs right. People often see images of themselves are not being a good likeness. That's because people most often see their reflection in a mirror, which is a reverse of their actual visage. Other people see them as the camera does, so they will argue that the likeness is actually very good.

      Many if not all hand built vehicles are not perfectly symmetrical left to right. This is likely why well-done designs, especially ones with curves analogous to the human body or natural forms, evoke stronger emotions and response from people. People innately understand such natural-metaphor shapes to not be perfect left to right. This helps the viewer's mind process the viewed object as "more alive" or "organic" than one that is perfectly even left to right. It's easy to make shapes like that by hand with some variation. Making them perfectly square, round or even is not. It also sterilizes the composition somewhat, making it look machine-made and thus not organic- even if it is very swoopy and curvaceous. Many of the formulas or concepts used in design help develop compositions that are innately familiar to a viewer, because they are derived from the natural world which generally makes sense to any viewer.

      Proximity also plays a role in visual noise that needs to be managed. Many times, what is "wrong" with an object or design has nothing to do with the object in question. A neighboring element, whether part of the object or not, can be the visual noise that confuses the viewer. This can lead the craftsman to unnecessarily change the object or design instead of addressing the extraneous visual noise.

      The more training and practice a craftsman has, the more successful visual noise can be identified, isolated and addressed. Sometimes visual noise is desirable. A change in texture that would otherwise be considered visual noise can be a deliberate design element. Other times, it needs to be managed up to the point of elimination. The important lesson is to know what it is, to respond to the often nearly impercievable mental stumble caused by visual noise and to trust your training & experience. If it doesn't look right, that usually means it isn't right. It's important to identify it, know how to fix it and make it right, not make it worse..
      Last edited by cliffrod; 16-10-19, 07:01 PM.


      • #4
        A very interesting topic. I think I have a good eye for design, but not 100% sure. Other people like my work, but they could be being polite or might not have a good eye them self. Can you show photo example of the good and bad of the design points you mention above? Thanks Bill.


        • #5
          Originally posted by Bill Tromblay View Post
          A very interesting topic. I think I have a good eye for design, but not 100% sure. Other people like my work, but they could be being polite or might not have a good eye them self. Can you show photo example of the good and bad of the design points you mention above? Thanks Bill.

          After playing with this Guzzi tank buck and typical details with the current stone, I thought this thread might be relevant to others. Im still trying to master loading images. Pics are numbered 1 through 4 as intended order

          Visial noise pics are from a day ago in studio. As a specific detail is developed, in this case the fingertips of the left hand, neighboring material makes the fingertips look both improperly sized/scaled and improperly located. In reality, the fingertips are exactly in the right place and are the right size. The neighboring additional material for the heart detail is the visual noise. When a carver is carving by eye (direct carving) it's easy to not maintain proper spatial relationship of details. Usually, that means details migrate away from each other as they are carved ever smaller. Not cool.

          Metalshaping is far more forgiving in some ways than stone, but the same visual noise issues exist. Using my Guzzi as example, it's simple to develop one detail- like the tank- slightly out of scale. That's easy to do with this project, because the tank is exceptionally large and atypical. Subsequent details- like the seat hump- are then developed in consideration of the tank. In order to match the tank, the seat hump ends up being too big. Because the hump is a more common shape, it's easier to see that it is too big. It can easily be compared to the rider's butt or another bike's seat. But, If it's smaller, it doesn't match the tank. Unless the tank is done properly in the first place or "fixed" , the project stumbles and can fail. So it's critical to understand what is causing the visual noise so it can be addressed.

          In in your aviation world, you probably have a well developed understanding of aerodynamic shape that a stone carver like me lacks. You probably could instantly see a fanciful contour on my imagined airplane as being completely inappropriate even though I think it looks great because I'm clueless and have never flown a plane. Visual noise. Watching a bad movie about cars or bikes, with fake blowers & scoops or the wrong engine when a hood is popped. Visual noise. Now the rest of the composition and expertise/accuracy of the craftsman is at question.

          So often, your first instinct or gut feeling at a glance is relevant. Interpreting the instinct effectively is the hard part. Being able to articulate what you are doing, both within your mind and with others, helps develop and employ method for consistent results.

          there are other details like entasis & lack of entasis that also play a role in visual noise. I'll post more about it, plus pics related to repetition and more soon.


          • #6
            the visual noise problem I had with my Guzzi tank was more challenging for me to identify. The pics I used were not properly scrutinized at first. I got the top of the tank profile resolved. I got the seat resolved. I got the rear or back end of the tank resolved. But it still wasn't right. Identifying the problem had other obstacles. I had lengthened the seat 4" and shortened the tank 4". Even if nothing else was changed, these changes would automatically make the seat seem skinnier and the tank more rotund. This is also Visual noise, when comparing the original pictures to pictures of my build details.

            After more study, I eventually realized that the bottom of the tank on the original bikes was not parallel to the lower frame rail. I had made mine parallel. I had finally identified the visual noise creating the discord in my mind. If I had been more diligent with ruler and dividers earlier, I might have recognized this problem earlier. By leaving the rear as is, marking approx 1 1/2"up from the bottom at the front & marking a straight line between these point to create a new flat bottom, that fixed it. Once again, follow the pic numbers, not the posted order in album....

            I will take and post some pics of my other Guzzi, a V7 Sport, which was purposely developed by Tonti as a result of the World Record modified Moto Guzzi Ambassadors which are the inspiration for this build. The V7 Sport is one of my favorite examples of a overall design strengthened by repetion of elements. Having the two bikes side by side will be a big deal for me because one came from the other but they are very different. Beyond the function over form artistic considerations, completing this pair of machines is huge aspect of this build project for me.


            • #7

              Protocol plays a role in visual noise equivalent to the parameters it helps define within an area of design. above I referenced how Bill would likely recognize appropriate or inappropriate aviation-related details. I regularly field memorial concepts including sketches of figures in flowing drapery that is not "correct" in terms of accepted memorial design protocol. Executing such designs would produce a result that would not fit within the genre.

              A friend recently posted pics of his ongoing Jag project, with front fender vents. One reply mentioned how they reminded him of similar vents found upon Aston Martins. He commented those Aston vents were inspirational in composing his vents. This helped the viewer comprehend the vents as genre appropriate and, since they were already familiar, did not create visual noise. If the fender vent looked more like a vent found on farm equipment (totally inappropriate for a sports car) or louvers (more likely car appropriate but probably more likely to be found on a different era or style of car), they would have been more likely to create visual noise. The viewer would stumble while trying to qualify & comprehend that detail.

              To achieve creative artistic success, there's often a fine line between being a slave to protocol (no creativity or originality) and being completely unconventional & new. The statement "If I have to explain, you wouldn't understand" works here, but not in an arrogant sense. Making a element or composition with aspects that are so familiar that a viewer "gets it" frees up the viewer to indulge in other aspects with greater interest and enthusiasm. Long explanations (like this one....) aren't always good. So I'll shut up now and go cut stone..


              • #8
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                This is an excellent example of repetition within a design

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                A little background- Moto Guzzi went through a complete receivership & restructuring process in 1967. During the revamp, renowned engineer and designer Lino Tonti was employed. One task involved development of the now famous World Record Bikes, which were essentially stripped and specifically modified standard MG Ambassador touring bikes. The effort was successful, but clarified the need for a more rigid frame and overall sporting package. Under Tonti, the V7 Sport was the result.

                Beyond the obvious things like two wheels, examples of repetion in this design include:

                triangulation on of frame incorporates several triangular elements- triangle frame around toolbox. Triangle formed by rear shock, vertical frame member & muffler. Triangular tool box is framed by one opening. The lid of the toolbox is further separated into three triangular sections by beading detail.

                paralell elements include upper and lower frame rails, two parallel elements in one vertical frame members and front forks, three parallel members in two vertical frame members and rear shock.

                there are also less obvious repeated parallelogram elements including the engine bay in frame plus the parallelograms created with both vertical frame sections and the respective vertical frame members & front fork tube or rear shiocks. These are not all "hard" or tangible forms but can clearly be traced or recognized in the composition.

                Having both hard and soft but clear repetion is a excellent way to suggest an intended message instead of forcing it. Regular people understand triangles and see straight lines as strong. Engineers know the benefits of triangulation. Good stuff.

                these Vtwin Guzzi engine & transmission assemblies are also very close to,symmetrical from one side of the bike to the other. Most bikes have a primary and secondary side & one is usually more attractive than the other. A Guzzi Vtwin like this is basically the same, no matter which side is viewed.

                For the viewer, the effect of this repetion is a quick overall analysis of these repetitive elements- even to the point of not noticing them but also not being distracted by them. Instead, active analysis is focused upon the Imola-style fuel tank and other non-repetion focal points. It's interesting me that Tonti retained a low exhaust similar to the touring Ambassador models. The V7 Sport was intended to be a bridge between dedicated sport and dedicated touring. When the 850 LeMans replaced the V7 Sport, it was not marketed as a touring machine. It came with upswept exhaust, directly echoing the upswept exhaust of the dedicated World Record bikes.

                the Ambassadors and subsequent purpose built World Record bikes have very little repetion beyond the power plant and exhaust. To me, that's what makes the V7 Sport even more relevant as a purposeful design. It didn't happen by accident.


                • #9
                  These are formalized approaches to design that are standards. I've included a Wikipedia link to each one. Entire books are written about these, so read more if you like-

                  The Golden Ratio. briefly, this is a factor describing the relationship of between two ideal compared values that is a non-terminating, non-repeating decimal. Abbreviated to three decimal points, the Golden ratio is 1.618. A height to width ratio equal to the Golden Ratio is an consider to be an ideal form. Given a single value, multiplying or dividing it by the Golden Ratio to find a complementary partner value is a quick way to develop an idealized element.

                  the Finbonacci Number Briefly, this describes a sequence of numbers where a subsequent value is determined by adding the two prior values. This is a sequence often found in nature, such as the increasing number of petals on a flower, and. Is strongly related to the Golden Ratio.

                  the Five Orders of Architecture by Vignola- This is a much more complicated treatise about overall architectural theory, but can provide significant benefit to anyone serious about design and composition. It's a lot to digest, but there's a lot there to broaden your perspective and understanding about what things mean and why they work in design. There are aspects that relate to the demonstration of mass and weight that can help a design communicate such things. Entasis, in regards to the Orders, describes the slight swell or expansion of a vertical column or element (that would otherwise have straight edges) to convey the mass of the weight above it. Some vehicle details benefit from entasis to help provide more logical value to a form than the simple form alone.

                  At previous Redneck Roundups, there has been discussion and presentations about the Golden Ratio, the Fibonacci Number and more. Good stuff to know.

                  I've got a book on design that is about 60 yrs old iirc that focuses upon functional interior layout and workspace design. Forget the author and name, but will look for it to post. It has information about how to design a space around the human body, reaches, clearances etc. if I were designing a vehicle cockpit, this book would seem to provide relevant information.


                  • #10
                    Interesting discussion. I have thought about some designs like say a 32 Ford and it’s pretty hard to fault the design it was so good. I don’t think it was just luck or was it.


                    • #11
                      It's hard to deliberately produce a great 100% original design on purpose. Some do, whether by natural talent, luck or decades of skilled practice. Others refine an existing design. Many times, while refinements are made, the good look comes and goes. Understanding these things are a big deal in my work. In stone, when it looks good you need to seriously consider further changes because there is no turning back. Making that perfect result happen in the perfect location or time or market on demand every time is a bugger. vehicle designs are no different.

                      The 32 Ford was a refinement that developed (at least) from modifications to the spindly Model T into the fuller bodied 28-29 Model A (still concave & skinny cowl) to 30-31 Model A (fuller cowl but still square chrome radiator shell) to 32 Ford (rounded radiator shell painted body color) to 33 (sloped radiator shell & grill) and more. This is not a complete list of changes. I think the 32 Ford was more incidental than deliberate, just a point along a continuum of design. Enduring fame came later for numerous reasons. RockHillWill is a serious Model A expert. He can probably add to this specific example, as well as about some of the design theory I've mentioned.

                      to me, many Corvettes look great when a new model is introduced. The more the design is tweaked, the more it suffers. Then they release a new design that's usually pared down and tight. But subsequent models have stuff added & changed until they get wonky again.

                      By contrast, Harley Davidson maintained an almost boring lack of design changes for decades. It was before specific nostalgia models were released. A big Harley or Sportster was just that. They looked one way and only began changing when markets wanted the convenience of popular custom modifications already in place on a showroom-new bike. That was the basis for the SuperGlide in 1971, the Low Rider a few years later and the endless variations we have now.

                      I'm not a design expert or academically trained artist. During my apprenticeship, I was exposed to some of these things but I was a 40hr/wk employee following instruction. I couldn't stop & study- I just did. On my own, I need every tool I can use to do better work. These theories are just tools I'm trying to learn to use better, to make every job better.


                      • #12
                        Division of large into small-

                        To be successful in satisfying people other than yourself, you need to be aware of their experience and perspective. When a composition is all or effectively one piece with no strong landmarks when viewed- only an outside edge surrounding an interior body- it becomes difficult for a viewer to view and evaluate the composition from a single perspective. Three dimensional shape may be impossible to determine. By dividing the overall composition in some manner, including beading, attached trim, obvious seams, lines of rivets or changes in paint or surface finish, a viewer can more easily discern shape and dimension.

                        Examples of this include a mid 1950's MV Augusta CSS 175 gas tank. These are affectionately nicknamed Disco Volante or Flying Saucer. They have a dramatic bulge on the front bottom corners. But they were generally painted monochromatic or two tone with no significant trim or detail. If two tone, the division was simply horizontal. That makes them deceptively plain, especially when viewed from the side in pictures. When viewed from the front, rear, top or bottom, the dramatic shape is easier to see.

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                        in contrast, the late 50's and very early 60's Ducati 175 and 200 SS & Elite models has a very similar dynamically bulbous gas tank, nicknamed the Jelly Mold tank by Ducati fans. However, these tanks were finished in chrome or two tone paint with a distinctive paint scheme, pad mounting loops on top and attached badges (at least the early ones). The tank is still challenging to comprehend in pictures vs in person when viewed from the side, but the division of the larger composition into smaller sections benefit the viewer towards understanding what is happening with the shape.

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                        The contrast when chrome is used with paint helps a lot, because the reflections are more diverse. Simple reflection in nice paint alone is not strongly indicative of shape. If tank is all polished, the information provided by the reflection is dependent upon what there is to be reflected. A busy surrounding might be good. Clear skies or a mon ochromatic studio setting isn't. ..

                        Neither approach is right or wrong. However, it's very important to see what you create and produce through the eyes of your audience. Maintaining a viable perspective of your work while producing it is very difficult. You can easily become blind to what it in front of you because you are seeing it in your mind based upon your intent, not with unbiased eyes as a simple tangible shape or surface. In my stone world, that's how a "beautiful" carving of an angel can turn out to look like (in my favorite words from my cousin) a pickle headed monkey....

                        More later.
                        Last edited by cliffrod; 20-10-19, 02:54 AM.


                        • #13
                          Nice interesting write up, Cliff.
                          The thing I admire about Stonemasons and Sculptors is the attention to detail and the accurate perspective you guys posses. To produce design in 3D from flat, is not easy to do.
                          Accuracy is paramount to producing something with intricate detail, metal work is much more forgiving if you grind off too much you can weld material back.
                          That's one thing you cannot do with stone work.
                          Cheers Reedy,

                          There's nothing as Sweet as a EK V8


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by OldnEK View Post
                            Nice interesting write up, Cliff.
                            The thing I admire about Stonemasons and Sculptors is the attention to detail and the accurate perspective you guys posses. To produce design in 3D from flat, is not easy to do.
                            Accuracy is paramount to producing something with intricate detail, metal work is much more forgiving if you grind off too much you can weld material back.
                            That's one thing you cannot do with stone work.
                            Not sure that we possess anything other than diligence to keep going & get it right so that this job is less of a failure than the last one. I've carved all my life, literally since my 6th birthday. It's my happy place & doesn't necessarily impress my oldest friends because "that's just what he does." But most was far more disposable than the stone work I do now. Metal is so forgiving and different. It's easy to bump up a low spot on a panel. In stone, you raise the low spot by (permanently) lowering everything around that spot. That's exactly what I'm doing now in studio- lowering everything to bring all the measured points to the surface.

                            Working alone, keeping perspective is tough. It's easy to end a day with a gorgeous stone. Then you'll walk in the next morning and see that the Jesus or Mary or the angel you were carving went out drinking all night & they don't look so good anymore... You can't see what you're doing. When you have someone working beside you, they'll say "you aren't going to leave it like that, are you?" or "that's looking pretty good-I wouldn't mess with it anymore." That's why I'm trying to let this Guzzi sit and wait, so I can see it better as I focus on something completely different. Some people have a great eye. Mine are kinda blurry..

                            As a carver, it's easy for me to see what fits within a volume of mass. It isn't just one thing, like some like to quip. There's so many possibilities, from the biggest possible to many different small things. The hard part is deciding what is the best use of the material vs the the item(s) carved. Seeing a sheet of metal to shape, it's still a little confounding for me to comprehend it as a surface alone in whole or in part & easily added to other similar pieces of metal. It's so versatile and cheap that economy of material & use are much different by comparison.

                            Hopefully discussing some of my methods will help other craftsmen see the benefits of a deliberate process in general. However a composition evolves, knowing how and why to do it efficiently, at will & upon demand is good method.


                            • #15
                              I mentioned this book earlier & just found it. No idea what the dust jacket might look like, but all info is in the attached pics. The actual hardcover of my book is blue fabric with gold lettering and artwork as shown on cover. I lucked up and found this copy for $.50 at a thrift store.

                              "Anatomy for Interior Designers" by Julius Panero is all about designing spaces in relationship to the human body. The focus is about architectural spaces, but the same principles are applicable to designing areas such as a vehicle cockpit, passenger compartment or any area that interacts specifically with the human body. It covers range of motion, general space requirements related to body posture, vision & line of sight and more. . If I was developing an original vehicle, I would use this information to create space around driver & passengers just as I would reference The Five Orders by Vignola to develop something like a dashboard in a traditional-themed touring car.

                              if you're offended by now-inappropriate sexual bias & predijudiced stuff that editors apparently approved in 1948, you can skip this book. Many cartoons and comments may have been ok back in the day, but I expect it would need a serious revisit with revisions if it were to go to print again and put on the shelf for sale in 2019. I just opened it to a couple of pages to show the kind of information it covers like reach radius, various typical seated & reclining dimensions and more. It makes it fast and easy to get an idea of what fits, what doesn't and how much space to consider. It's also good for sculptors creating an interactive space.

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                              You can buy The Five Orders very cheaply. I've seen used copies of "Anatomy for Interior Designers" on Amazon but it was around $50.00. Maybe it's available from a library near you? If it fits the type of work you do, it's a good book to consider referencing.
                              Last edited by cliffrod; 20-10-19, 02:36 AM. Reason: typos..