Saturday, June 23, 2012

My favourite word is also cruelty.

Drawn quickly while waiting to go to my party. You know how life is.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Ravenous Burrrrrds

I shall be unleashing a flock of ravenous, flesh eating biiiirrrrrdddsss.

Actors should be treated like cattle.

I am a Hitchcock scholar, and I laugh at anecdotes involving Hitch and Carole Lombard.

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Big Society can't help you now.

Conservative policies know no mercy, they will eat you.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Ice cream in shoes.

If I ever direct yet another tedious “dark production of Alice in Wonderland”, I know who I’ll be casting as the Cheshire cat.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Saturday, June 2, 2012

A flattering drawing for a business card, coloured and uncoloured because I like both versions.

Friday, June 1, 2012

About synaesthesia and the London Underground map

I’ve lived in London since 2010, and one of my favourite things about the city is the Underground, especially the map. So in a delusion of being completely fresh and original, I'm going to indulge in a little navel-gazing (A Londoner babbling about their banal experiences of living in London, how original, I’ll go throw it on the pile of similarly contrived projects). The thing I want to point out is the sort of synaesthetic reactions I get when looking at sections of the Underground map. (I'm reluctant to actually call them synaesthetic because I want to avoid the blight of internet-informed self-diagnosis. I can't find any other term that suits it better. I've done a little bit of reading on it and it seems to fit under the umbrella of synaesthesia). Looking at the colours gives me the feeling of hearing sounds, nothing like what media depictions would have you believe it isn’t a thundering orchestra, more like a scale of pleasant humming. I’ll explain that in detail later, but first, a biographical introduction.

The first time I saw the map for the London Underground in it’s proper context (that is, in London... and underground if you want to be exact) was in 2001, when my family decided on a rare urban holiday, successfully breaking up the scorching depression of another fortnight on those miserable Canary Islands. I grew up in a dismally small town and the only public transport system on offer was a handful of bus lines, whose times were only to be learnt from the grapevine, and whose stops were informally designated (There was also a train station to the capital city, the line to which terminated at the town I grew up in, an illustration of how peripheral we were both culturally & economically). London was the first proper city I'd ever been to, it was magnificent and unfathomable. My Mother spend most of the holiday shopping (I had thought that a holiday spent greasily frying by a pool, as my parents seemed to, was the absolute low point of enjoyment, I was wrong. Travelling abroad specifically to over-consume and spend hundreds on clothes made by multinational companies and calling it enjoyment is that low point). My Father was saddled with my brother and me. We'd been begging for years to go to a city for a holiday, Paris, Rome, St. Louis, Baku, anywhere! Now we'd finally won, five days of non-stop museums, tours, sights, it was spectacular.

Of course, in order to pack in all this tourism we spent an awful lot of time being shot through darkness from station to station on the Underground. My Father would humour my brother and I by letting us attempt to plot out our routes. With reflection this was a time-consuming mistake. We couldn't understand that the goal was to plan the most efficient journey with as few transfers as possible. I made a game of it, to try and rack up as many transfers and to travel on as many lines as possible, commuting was a skill that. I was amazed by the map, the colours and the lines, there was so much movement and feelings of sound coming from it. I didn't really realise it then but some of the portions on the map that found myself becoming attached to were some of the portions on the map I would find myself becoming reattached to when I moved to London in 2010, except by 2010 I had passed through a visual arts BA and was much better at thinking about what I was seeing.

Forgive all that somewhat nauseating warbling, I do so rarely get an excuse to pretend I'm an old Continental European and reminisce about my youth and it's travels, I’ll get back to the point now.

Yes, synaesthetic reactions to the London Underground map.

I’ve typed and retyped this part, trying to come up with a simple-ish way of describing how the “colour to sound” effect works. Every time I write up a general outline, a swarm of appendices appear like flies gorging on rotting venison. As I was writing, I also noticed a number of really interesting and useful correlations that have made the whole thing easier to explain. In general, the colour’s hue determines the pitch of the humming sound, yellow or white giving something like an unrealistically loud tuning fork, while colours like blue or purple give a deeper hum, like a bassoon or tuba. The colours saturation helps to determine the volume of the humming sound. Here’s a diagram that illustrates that roughly:

The faces on the left refer to a grading system that will be explained a little later. To but it briefly cyan and smiling means a pleasing and clear humming tone, while yellow and expressionless means uninteresting and almost silent.

(I know that green is absent from this diagram, I wanted to keep the whole thing fairly simple and try to equate a gradient of colours with a spectrum of pitch. If I was being more precise, I’d include green as well as the other absent hues and they’d be arranged by their tonal value, which would place green somewhere around blue. This, while being more accurate would complicate the image too much, the overall trend does have this white-yellow-red-blue line going through it, like colour temperatures in visible light).

When I said that saturation determines volume, you might assume that therefore a black and white image would be totally silent, but that’s not the case. It seems that if an image has a broad tonal range (that is, isn’t mired in a soup of very similar greys, but has clear shadows, highlights and midtones), with or without colour it’s possible for it to cause a humming tone. It’s certainly a good piece of evidence for the importance of tonal, saturation & hue context in an image. "I can paint you the skin of Venus with mud, provided you let me surround it as I will." - Eugène Delacroix

Ugly colours (like a dirty teal, or the muddy colour you get from mixing together an assortment of paints are great examples) or more correctly, ugly combinations of colours are generally tonally dark with an unsuitable saturation. The best example I can use to point this out is an amateur painter, who is not quite proficient with the mixing of colours, just adds black to red to create shadows on an apple. That gives the dullest, sludgiest tone possible.

So in general the effect is pleasing colours as being light, at eye level, or a little bit above that. Uninteresting colours are about at waist level and foul colours are at ground level or perhaps a little below. I’ve got one exception to this, fluorescent colours, they just painful to look at and even though they’re unpleasant, they’re not down in the sludge. They’re so overpowering that they shoot way above the pleasing band of colour and give a loud screeching tone, kind of like microphone feedback.

Anyway, to get back to what this was meant to be about, let’s take some of this and apply it to the Underground map. The idea of context is quite important for understanding some of the gradings I’ve given to individual lines on the Underground. The grades are assigned from looking at the lines on the overall map not by looking at the colours of the lines as they are presented on the diagrams (In general, the negative and neutral grades would be a bit kinder if they were drawn from the diagrams). I’ve graded each line as being either “pleasant” (cyan smiling face), “unremarkable” (yellow expressionless face) and “unpleasant” (red sad face). I’ve standardised the results just a little bit, so that I can give a better impression of a scale, rather than just a binary classification. All of the pleasant ones were easy to decide, as were the unpleasant ones, they give nice and clear humming tones and definite muddy sludgy tones respectively, I try to avoid travelling on the unpleasant lines as much as possible. Some of the unremarkable ones were harder, The Jubilee line and the Waterloo & City lines were easy, they’re virtually silent. The Hammersmith & City and the Northern lines were harder. The Hammersmith & City line just missed the cut to be marked as pleasant, while the Northern line is almost impossible to judge, it’s both pleasing, unremarkable and repulsive at the same time, although most of it’s interactions with other lines are unpleasant and it’s the interactions between lines that give the best humming sounds.

Even though the lines are arranged alphabetically you can broadly discern two areas of gradation in hue and tonal value. The top three lines being one area of gradation and much of the bottom half of the diagram being the other. I’m not sure if this is intentional or coincidental, so I decided to look at previous Underground maps to see if I could discern a pattern (one map from 1908 and one of Harry Beck’s 1933 maps, the blueprint from which the current map is derived, I’ve omitted lines that didn’t exist and some that don’t exist anymore, I hope I don’t offend any railway obsessives, I am aware that I’m already dancing on the edge of a knife with my amateur status and brazen manner). Like with the gradings on the 2012 map, these grades were assigned based on the context of the maps. The grades on the 1908 map would be much the same, but if I was grading the colours in the diagram then they’d be more unremarkable. The grades of the 1933 one would be much, much more negative. The 1933 one was tortuous, not only because so many of the colours are so similar which meant grading the Bakerloo line the same as the Central line, but because on the map, the green of the district line is practically fluorescent.

The 1908 map diagram is included more as a curiosity than for any comparison and to illustrate the formal importance of the 1933 map. The real comparison I want to make is between the 1933 and 2012 maps, specifically how many of the colours have stayed more or less the same, out of the seven lines, four have kept the same colour (five if you count the Metropolitan line, but I think I’m reaching if I say that). I’m still not sure if I can draw the conclusion that the two gradients in the 2012 map’s lines are by design, they’re very likely not, it’s more likely that they were chosen from a limited number of options and in order to make the lines easily discernible to avoid confusion.

Next, I’ll show some specific areas on the current Underground map that I find particularly pleasing and unpleasant (there’s no real point in showing unremarkable areas). While the lines themselves do give reactions, it’s whenever they interact with other lines, either at stations, running parallel or sometimes, intersecting that they give the best reactions. It’s pretty formulaic most of the time, as long as the “pleasant” lines outnumber the “unpleasant” lines then it give a nice clear humming noise. There’s one interesting exception to this, where two “unpleasant” lines may be intersected by a “pleasant” line and the effect can sometimes be amazing. A wonderful clear tone is overlaid, and the dull, sludgy tone becomes a comforting background baseline, but this is very rare.

Okay, here we go. Grades are included in the top left corners of each diagram:

My absolute favourite point on the entire map. It’s clear and warm and it makes me happy every time I see it.

This one’s interesting because before 2009, I probably would have called this my second favourite are on the map, but this is a very cramped area and you have to work really hard to filter out all the other, ugly lines around it. The next two diagrams will show the portion of the map that’s usurped it.

The map no longer looks like this, the 2009 Circle line extension means that the Circle line also runs beside the Hammersmith & city line in this diagram. What makes this so interesting is that if this was still on the map, I’d probably have called it one of the ugliest areas on the map.

Here’s that same area as it looks today, it’s wonderful, and it’s plenty of room to run through meadows and the like.

As a general rule of thumb, the District line tends to ruin things. Except for one example, it just destroys everything it comes into contact with. Even that lovely Bakerloo-Circle-Hammersmith & City dalliance falls victim to it.

I’d call this one of the two ugliest areas of the map, all those nasty District line branches splayed out like a crushed spider and that odious sliver of the Piccadilly line. The well-meaning Circle line doesn’t stand a chance.

I’m pretty sure is the ugliest area on the map. The sound of raw sludge, everywhere.

And now, here’s the best example of a slash of one pleasant line saving an otherwise dreadful combination of two unpleasant lines. Here’s the unfortunate union of the domineering Metropolitan line and the unpalatable Piccadilly line.

In the affair of the Piccadilly and Metropolitan, all is snide remarks and misery until the vibrant and exciting central line swoops in and transforms their unhappy union into a giddy little ditty. Whether that’s a parable for parenthood or an illicit ménage a trios, I can’t tell.

This one’s remarkable because of the very fact that it’s just so unremarkable all of the lines cancel each other out and it’s almost totally silent.

This is one of the ones where the Northern line makes good, the fling with the Victoria line does wonders for both of them.

Quite pleasant. There’s a nice warm tone, a little monotonous though, they’re all kind of similar and it’s hard to get any feeling of depth.

The Metropolitan line, which is normally so infuriating and a screeching bore is rescued by that long running alliance between the Circle and Hammersmith & city lines and for a while all is good. But then, the Northern line, that haphazard wild card dashes past them, and rather than ruining their sweet little book club it sends the whole affair skyrocketing. It was pleasant enough at first, but now there’s a terrific feeling of depth which gives great context to the original three lines.

Another strange rendezvous involving the Northern line. The Northern-Central-Circle team is interesting enough in itself, but once the Waterloo & City line gets involved it gains a really nice grounded quality. I’m kind of shocked at that an uninteresting line (Especially not one as unquestioningly uninteresting as the Waterloo & City line), which never actually adds anything has added... something.

Oh, how depressing. The Hammersmith & City and Circle lines just didn’t stand a chance, shot dead on the tarmac by the Piccadilly loyalists and the District extremists.

Is there no way to stop the horror of the District and Piccadilly axis of evil? How many other lines have to fall to their bloody, talons? (A side note, which I don’t like mentioning, because it does undermine my delusions of integrity somewhat: If I ignore the ugly & dull sounds produced, I actually like the colours and shapes in this image, but keep it quiet).

Just two left and I thought I’d terminate with a happy ending, by having that dastardly Duke District denounced, dethroned, defanged and destroyed. It seems that the Circle line had the power within itself all along! It was just wasting it’s time with that turgid Hammersmith & City line. It just needed the confident grace of either the Victoria line or the blustering wit and supersonic speed of...

The Central line! Eat it, District line! Prepare the fanfares and champagne fountains!

So I guess now’s the time to start the denouement. There’s a few short things I want to say first though, things I’ve learnt while doing this exercise. I’ve travelled on public rail networks in a couple of cities, Paris, Berlin, London & New York and I’ve done a bit of research on the Tokyo and Moscow rail networks (forgive any glaring errors with those two, but since they are the most travelled metropolitan rail networks in the world, it seemed important that they were at least glance at).

The first thing I want to talk about is the choice of colours on the Underground set against the other rail networks. I used to think “Ugh, why are there so many lame and ugly colours on the London Underground’s map, can’t they get a nicer green with a bit more yellow, add an orange (which did exist before, on the now cannibalised East London rail line), lighten that ugly Metropolitan and Piccadilly lines and stop using black for the Northern line”, and I thought all this right up until I started looking at other metro rail networks around the world that have apparently had enough foresight to take my marvellous, and frankly, startlingly handsome and professional suggestions. This was done in Paris, Moscow and Tokyo and surprisingly, it ruins the humming tones in the map. I was shocked. I guess the darker lines add some crucial depth and differentiation, and not just visually, or maybe we all just need something ugly around to make the rest of us look good.

The second and final thing I want to point out is how marvellous I think it is that the lines on the London Underground have such a variety of names. They’re names after locations, directions, places, concepts (and people, depending on how you call it on the Victoria line) and I found that the mixed nature of these names made them much easier to remember and attach characteristics onto (A name like the “Oyster card” is another great example of this, as opposed to the rather bland “Metro card” of the New York subway). As far as I can tell, out of all the rail networks I looked at, the London Underground is the only one that does this with such variety. In New York and Berlin, trains are named after letters, in Tokyo, they’re mostly named after a location they pass through (there’s two that are named after their direction, like the Northern line) and in Paris, most depressingly of all, they’re named after numbers as if they were trapped in a grim totalitarian city state. (I’m not sure about Moscow, since I can’t understand any Russian and the names of the various lines make me feel pathetic and weak).

That’s it, I suppose. I’m not entirely what, if anything I may have accomplished, but I had fun obsessing over railways for a few days like I’m prepping for my middle age.