Sunday, 19 November 2017

Wall Art That Is Aesthetically Pleasing And Mathematically Elegant (A Personal How To)

It's done. Two and a half days after inspiration first hit, the finished product is finally here.

I'm no oil painting myself, but I just created one. I call it "Locutus".

It all started three nights ago on Facebook, when a friend posted a picture of some wall art she had created.

Tanushree Rao's Wall Art


It was striking and elegant, and I was very impressed. Tanushree also provided a link to a site that explained how to create such a piece. I'd recommend that page to anyone who feels tempted to create something like that.

But on examining the design closely (the basic design, I mean, not Tanushree's creation), I discovered something vaguely unsatisfying. If you notice, the design uses four colours and is made up of 27 pieces (what I will call "shells", for want of a better term).

Now 27 is not neatly divisible by 4, so this means that the design cannot have an equal number of shells of each colour. Indeed, in Tanushree's case, there are only 6 orange shells, but 7 each of the other 3 colours.

( 7 x 3 ) + 6 = 27

It's a very small thing, but so is a pebble in one's shoe. This tiny, tiny imperfection troubled me a fair bit, and I told Tanushree so. I was gratified when she responded, concurring with me on this.

I hear you! It troubled me too. I got around it by 'categorising' the orange differently to the rest. It's the feature/colour pop whereas the others are standard!

That comment about categorising one colour differently gave me an idea!

My lounge already has a couple of paintings that employ this concept.

I saw this painting at a mall a few years ago, and it was so arresting that I had to buy it.

I saw this painting later on, and I bought it because it complemented the other one.

To add to this theme, my wonderfully talented sister-in-law Vidya Sen decided to gift us one of her paintings.

The umbrella's handle looks like the stalk of a chilli, and I have joked to Vidya that she must have been subliminally influenced by her Tamil background, since the Tamil word for capsicum is 'koDai-miLagaai', or "umbrella chilli".


Now I had the basic design in my head, but there were many steps I had to take.

First, I wanted to see if the colour scheme would even look good.

For that, I had to create a hexagonal grid and colour it.

Creating a grid using SVG was a bit of a challenge, but a lot of fun. I love SVG.


It's probably not the most elegant code, but it was enough to create a basic grid.


And this was the result.



I didn't do the colouring within SVG because I wanted to experiment with different colours interactively, so I used The GIMP to edit the black-and-white image file that I generated from SVG.

After a few attempts, this is what I ended up with.

Notice the "shells" at three of the six vertices of the hexagon. They're not of a single colour! That's because I realised that keeping the shells intact would spoil the design of the grid that I was envisaging. So I decided to cheat by cutting and splicing these three shells so each would have two colours.

OK, it didn't look too bad, so next, I had to work out how to render it in the physical world. The main decision was about dimension. How large or small should the display be? I worked out what I thought would be a reasonable size for the final canvas, then worked backwards to determine the size of the piece of paper required to create each shell.

Some scale models were called for.

The shell on the right was created from a 210 mm x 210 mm square, i.e., directly from an A4 sheet of paper (210 mm x 297 mm). That was too large, and it told me that the correct dimension should be 2/3 of that, which meant paper of size 140 mm x 140 mm.

Armed with the knowledge of these dimensions, I set out to the shops to buy myself some art material.

To wit:

1. A canvas of size 610 mm x 508 mm
2. Some hanging wire and hooks
3. Foam mounting tape
4. Acrylic paint (Carbon Black and Titanium White)
5. Two large brushes and a fine one
6. Coloured paper, 125 gsm (black, white, grey and red)


Although it was all marked as 125 gsm, the grey paper was perceptibly thicker than the others, and harder to fold. Fortunately, I didn't have to buy different packs of paper for different shades of red. The pack for red itself had sheets of different colours.

Each A4 sheet would give me enough material for two squares, 140 mm x 140 mm.

I took care to mark the dimensions very precisely on each and every sheet before cutting. It was tedious work, but I was thankful later when everything just fit.

I remembered what my father used to say about the Carpenter's Maxim - "Measure Twice and Cut Once".


Folding itself was easy once I worked out how to do it from the tutorial.

The first set of folds...


... then the second...


...et voilĂ !


Now all I had to do was create 27 shells in all:
- One each in the three shades of red
- 8 each in black, white and grey

Once that was done, I placed them on the canvas as a sort of "dress rehearsal'.

The burgundy on the right was too dark, so that told me to swap it out and replace it with the red on the left, and to use orange on the left in its place.

Apart from that minor change to the colours, the design looked good even when materialised into real objects, which encouraged me to go on.

I screwed in the hooks for the mounting wire.

The lady at the shop had suggested I hang the frame as-is, but I didn't want to take any chances.

A few minutes later, the canvas had more than one option for hanging.


Next, I laid out all the stuff I needed to paint the canvas and mount the shells.

Notice that I've pencilled in the hexagonal grid.

My painting arsenal was simple and minimalistic.

The large brushes were for the thick strokes, one for white and one for black (of course, they would merge and start to "pollute" each other), and the thin one was just for me to initial the work in my usual style.


I like acrylic paints because they dissolve in water and dry in minutes. Unlike watercolours, they no longer dissolve in water once they dry, so they cannot smudge or "run" once the painting is done. And unlike oils, they don't require days and weeks to dry.

So painting took just a little while, and then it was done.

I had a choice here to change direction and instead paint a woman in a hijab (just kidding)

The tutorial had suggested using foam mounting tape to mount the shells, so I next stuck pieces of the tape on top of the grid that I had pencilled in. The lengths needed to be measured fairly precisely, otherwise there would be unseemly pieces of mounting tape sticking out from under the shells, or there wouldn't be enough to hold the shells up.

As it turned out, the roll I purchased was exactly enough for this artwork. I finished the roll as I applied the last piece to the canvas.


Foam mounting tape is extremely sticky, so it's just as well that one side is covered in non-stick paper. Even so, applying the pieces correctly involved lots of cursing.


Once all the pieces of tape were in place, I removed the non-stick paper to expose the sticky upper surface.

It's important to place the shells right the first time, because pulling an object free of this extremely sticky surface can be ... frustrating.

Some more cursing later, the shells were all in place.

It finally began to look like what I had envisaged two nights earlier

I'd heard that artwork made of paper doesn't age very well, because colours tend to fade when exposed to sunlight. I have a fair amount of sunlight in my lounge, so something would have to be done. Some research turned up a UV protection spray for precisely such pieces of art, so I went out and purchased that too.

They think of everything, don't they?


Once sprayed and initialled, the product was ready.



And all I had to do then was mount it on the wall.



And there it hangs. "Locutus" is finally done!

Why do I call it Locutus?

Do you remember how Captain Picard was kidnapped by the Borg and used as an interlocuter between the Borg species and humans? The hexagon represents the 3-D view of the Borg Cube. The smaller red cube within it represents Picard in his red Starfleet uniform.

"I am Locutus of Borg. Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated."

I'm very pleased and satisfied. Not only do I have a sense of artistic accomplishment, I'm also very happy that I managed to do this while preserving mathematical symmetry at more than one level.

Black - 8 shells; Dark red - 1 shell
Grey - 8 shells; Orange - 1 shell
White - 8 shells; Yellow - 1 shell

Thank you, Tanushree!
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