Addition plus subtraction equals vision…now that's my kind of math!

Here's the next chapter of Graham Collier's Form, Space & Vision, published by Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, NJ, in 1963.


Vision is the ability to respond imaginatively to the latent aesthetic power of an object or of a visual statement such as a sketch, a roughed-out design, or the first few brush strokes of a painting.  The creative process in the visual arts is usually triggered by some visual stimulus—something seen, however simple and tentative…it is rare that a person is able to visualize the whole or completed project in one flash of insight or inspiration.  If most of us sit around waiting for such inspiration to strike, it is doubtful if we would ever produce anything.  The theme for a work of art often grows out of a new and sudden awareness of some ordinary, perhaps familiar object, or of a few lines of an incomplete drawing.  This new awareness of a thing seen we call heightened perception—the herald of vision.  To stretch our imaginations, it helps to build gradually, moving step by step from the first visual stimulus, each stage of development suggesting the next, until we can carry the theme no farther.

There are endless ways to build a base around which to build a theme.  The importance of the doodling process is that it produces images that in turn stimulate imaginative perception, and thus, new images in the mind.  After many sheets are covered with what is apparently nothing of significance, they can be put aside, apparently wasted.  If one returns to study them some minutes later, however, it is surprising how one shape, one partial form, one twist, one angle, one proportion, or one surface texture will suddenly stand out and suggest further development.

The experiment described in this chapter attempts to follow the evolution of a design idea from its beginnings as a concrete image (the thing seen) to its proper conclusion.


The necessary equipment includes a block of linoleum about 13cm x 8cm (5” x 3”), one or two linoleum cutting tools, a glass [or Plexiglas] slab, a roller, and a tube or so of black, watercolor printing ink. The linoleum block can be used either horizontally or vertically, and the work may involve 15 to 25 operations.  An operation consists of one or two cuts and the making of a print of the result.


To begin, make a cut anywhere on the virgin block of linoleum.  It may be a simple, engraved line or the removal of a small area of the block; do not think long about it, just do it.

When the first cut has been made, ink the block with the roller that has been moistened in the ink spread thinly over the glass, and take a print from the block on a sheet of newsprint.  The result is not particularly significant.  You will see a large rectangle of black broken only by a small white mark.  It did not take a great deal of thought or cause you much worry to make the first cut because there was no ‘subject matter’ to create a mental barrier.  Now look again at this first print, for your next step is to make a second cut or series of cuts (two or three can be done together) which enlarge on, or develop, the first mark.  If two or three cuts are made, make sure that you limit yourself to a comparatively simple extension of the first cut.  At this point, you will find yourself weighing the possibilities quite logically.  You will be aware of the dominance of the large area of black; you will be aware of the dominance of the large area of black; you will notice the direction in which the first mark seems to move; you will assess the marks angular or curvilinear character.  You will probably instinctively feel where and how you should make the second cut or cuts.

After this second cutting operation, take another print from the block.  Do this on the newsprint beneath the first, in order to make some visual comparisons.  You will notice that this print is not so all-over black as the first.  The white lines or areas have moved further into the black, breaking it down, ad a white pattern is emerging.  This method of working should now be repeated, stage by stage.  After each additional cut or small group of cuts, a print should be taken.  On the block itself, with each cutting stage, when more and more of the surface printing area is disappearing, a white pattern will gradually emerge.  After a number of these cuttings and printing stages (which differ according to each person’s method of working), halfway stage will be reached when the area of black remaining approximately balances the area of white.  From this point on, as you extend the white marks into the now rapidly diminishing black, you will be achieving a complete reversal of your first prints.  Then you had a few white lines in a black area; now you are left with a few black marks in a white area.  By the time you take your final print, this reversal is complete.  One black mark will stand in a large area of white.


To study all the prints together, mount them individually, in the order of their printing, on a large sheet of paper.  (Number each print as you make it.)  Mount the prints in columns with number 1 in the top left-hand corner and then continue the sequence, column 2 from bottom to top; column 3 from top-to-bottom, etc.

With all the prints mounted, you will now see more easily how the developing process has occurred.  From the first, perhaps tentative mark, the block develops an increasing complexity, progressing through the stage of balanced black with white, until it succumbs to the disintegrating cuts of the final stages.  The high point of development exists when the pattern of lines and shapes and the black and white distribution are just right.  Disintegration starts when this balance is disturbed by the addition of just one more mark.  And yet it is important to remember that you were never consciously subtracting anything, but actually always adding marks.

Pick out the most complex print of your series.  Would it be possible to arrive at this particular print immediately through a flash of inspiration?  It is conceivable, of course, but it is rare.  We know as we look at these two illustrations that the most interesting black/white arrangement on both sheets grew out of a logical and intuitive appraisal of a visual fact—the fact of the first feely cut mark.  From making that first step it ahs been a challenge to break down the solid weight of the blocks dominant empty black area.  Out of this challenge the design has grown.  The character of the design was determined at a very early stage in the cutting process, often by the third print. Once past the halfway stage, there is increased confidence and interest, for now the problem is one of organic growth; the white had to grow and eliminate the black.


This is how most designing begins.  It grows out of a basic theme that is imaginatively exploited until it reaches a stage of total completeness.



[More art here.]

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