Who’s in front?

In the drawing class my first year of architecture school, our professor gave us an assignment to represent ambiguous depth cues, one of which is occlusion (or overlap)–the location of an object in front of another, which tells you it’s closer.

I remain fascinated with the idea that through manipulation of this particular depth cue, foreground and background can be made to switch places.

The quilter Michael James has crafted some amazing quilts, using parallel strips of hand-dyed cloth. At 90″x90″, it’s engulfing in scale, and perfectly gorgeous.

“Suspended Animation,” Michael James, 1992

I see brightly colored forms floating in front of dark, receding empty space. But then a moment later, the dark substantial forms are in front of a bright receding background. I love the way the figure and ground pop back and forth as my eye follows the edges of the forms. Though it is a fixed image, it is very active. It is like a puzzle and a riddle.

Here’s another with similarly reversing negative/positive space:

“Quilt No. 150: Rehoboth Meander,” Michael James, 1993, The Renwick Gallery of the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC.

There is a long tradition of quilters’ exploration of figure and ground reversal.

In another medium altogether, this is an oil painting of mine in which I play with occlusion. It keeps my eyes and mind engaged.

Untitled, oil on canvas, Laura Kraft, 1978

First image courtesy of International Quilt Study Center and Museum, second image courtesy of Smithsonian American Art Museum

All other images belong to Laura Kraft-Architect. Feel free to share any of these images, but please provide a link back to 2H Pencil.  Thanks.

The Tile Setter’s Floor

This is the floor in a basement kitchen of a house in NW Washington DC. As the story goes, at one time, the house belonged to a tile setter.

The tile setter brought home tiles left over from his jobs. He laid out patterns and combinations based on the tiles he happened to have on hand.  He allowed himself to try things, without the yoke of rules, just to see what they looked like. He allowed his work to be imperfect. He let his children try their hands at his craft.

The resulting floor is remarkable.  It is like a patchwork quilt.  Each patch is an interesting composition in its own right. The overall combination is delightfully unselfconscious and lively.

All images belong to Laura Kraft-Architect. Feel free to share any of these images, but please provide a link back to 2H Pencil.  Thanks.

Worlds Collide

In my last post, I declared an affinity for objects that show evidence of the human touch. Hand crafted things express far greater humanity than machine-made things.

Civilization, as we know it, has come to depend primarily on machine-made objects, whose world dominates the world of handcraft.  I find, however, that when these two worlds collide, wonderful things can happen.

This railing for the central stairway of a house placed a mass-produced item in service of the handmade aesthetic.  For various reasons, including a limited budget, I set the following design constraints:

  1.  All balusters are to be cut from the same 42” long pre-fab S-shaped wrought iron piece, which may be turned, flipped, and rotated.
  2. The baluster design must lie in a flat plane within the 28 inch space between the horizontal rails.
  3. No distance between any two elements may exceed 4”, per code.

Charlie Brown, of Brown Custom Iron created this leafy, wavy design for the stair railing, which goes from the ground floor to the third floor. It is the centerpiece of the house.  The strict design criteria allowed collaboration between Charlie and me. They allowed the design to take its lovely form.  Rules and constraints may have negative connotations for many people, but they play an essential role in the design (or any creative) process. In the words of the composer Igor Stravinsky,

 “The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self.”


All  images belong to Laura Kraft-Architect. Feel free to share any of these images, but please provide a link back to 2H Pencil.  Thanks.