Monday, 28 September 2015

The stupidity of New Zealand Flag Idol

Sometimes I write posts about things that are art-related, but aren't my sculptures.  The great farce that is the New Zealand Flag Referendum is both vaguely art-related and too good to miss.  It's a comedy of errors worthy of Shakespeare or Aristophanes, and we haven't even got to the voting yet.

Changing the flag is essentially a vanity project for the Prime Minister.  He wants a new flag to be his legacy and he's determined to get it, even though everybody else would rather he left a legacy of better legislation and maybe one of those surpluses he keeps promising.  The Labour party, eager to show voters they can provide more sensible leadership, vigorously oppose changing the flag - even though changing the flag is a Labour party policy

Later this year there will be a referendum in which we all get to vote on a shortlist of alternative flags, then next year the alternative with the most votes will go up against the current flag and we vote again on which one we want.

It's just like a reality TV show, and it's depressing because it's a waste of a good opportunity.   From a design perspective our flag is clunky, and it looks too much like Australia's.   Changing it for something better and more recognizable is a good idea,  but the process has been managed so badly that this is not going to happen.  

The problem stems from the way the alternatives were chosen.  The government put no effort or resources into finding an alternative flag, they simply invited the public to submit designs and then got a panel of bureaucrats to choose a shortlist.  

Predictably, this approach generated some quality joke candidates (the kiwi with laser eyes, for example), but no truly brilliant designs.  Nothing that inspires us to say "THIS is what our flag should be".  For that they would have needed to commission entries from experienced professional designers, and they didn't.  That's our government all over.  They don't understand that if you want a high quality result, you have to get a professional who really knows what they're doing, and you have to pay them.  It made sense to invite public submissions, but they should also have commissioned a couple of designs from an expert. 

The whole process might as well have been specifically designed to produce mediocre flag alternatives, and it has.  Ye gods, but it has.  These are the four finalists:

Four promo v2
Image from the Flag Consideration Project website.

They aren't bad as such, but they're boring.  They're exactly the kind of flags you would expect to get if you invited public submisions and then had a committee of bureaucrats choose a shortlist.  Unsurprisingly, the New Zealand public is unimpressed, and a recent poll by 3 News Reid Research indicates only 25% of kiwis want to change the flag.  I think a lot of this is because the choices are so uninspiring.  There are plenty of people who like the flag we have, but also a lot of people who would be open to changing it if there was a really good alternative.

Now, however, we have a fifth option.  Red Peak, shown below, didn't make it onto the shortlist, but a few people obviously like it.  They started an online petition and got 50,000 signatures, so the government has agreed to include Red Peak on the ballot.  The Prime Minister seemed happy enough to include it and has said that while he would prefer a silver fern, he likes Red Peak better than our current flag.  Those who want it will now have the opportunity to vote for it.

NZ flag design Red Peak by Aaron Dustin.svg
Red Peak.  Image from Wikipedia.

This isn't as democratic as it sounds.  50,000 is less than 1% of the population.  In fact, Red Peak is a consistently unpopular design.   A UMR Research study which investigated what people thought of the 40 possible designs found that Red Peak featured in the top five least preferred designs for every demographic they surveyed.  None of that matters.  A small but vocal minority got a petition together, so on the ballot it goes.  

If it wins the PM will get more than he bargained for, because look what happens if you take four copies of Red Peak and arrange them with the corners together:


It will be great fun for students and drunk people at sports events.  It is guaranteed to get international recognition.  But is it really the type of legacy the PM had in mind? 

Friday, 25 September 2015

Even more vascular system, because it's fun

The standard convention is to depict arteries in red and veins in blue.  I've followed this convention with my hand structure, and it now has some nice blue veins to go with the palm arteries.

I'm really pleased with my hand's vascular system.  I like to think those twisting, curling blood vessels capture the look of the real thing.  They have a nice, organic sense of movement that's very satisfying.  Compared to the vascular system of a real hand, this is simplified, because I don't want it to be all veins and arteries with the bones hidden underneath them.  The bones need to be visible too.

This next photo is taken from the side looking at the thumb, and shows how the blood vessels twist around the bones.

And here's another shot of the palm.  Having little blue veins as well as the arteries looks better, because that's what we expect to see and because having both the red and blue colours gives the sculpture more depth.

That's all I'll be doing with the vascular system for now, but I want to use this hand as part of a relief sculpture and the background will echo the shapes of the hand's blood vessels.  

Saturday, 19 September 2015

More vascular system

This time it's the blood vessels on the back of the hand.

I'll do a few veins in the palm, and then I'll be finished.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Time to give the hand a vascular system

In some ways this is my favourite bit.  I'm fascinated by the vascular system and I love making blood vessels, even though it does take forever.  I like the way they curl and twist around.  If you look at blood vessels, you see they don't grow in straight lines.  Anatomical diagrams tend to simplify the shapes of the blood vessels to make it easier to see what goes where, a bit like railway route maps.  With the real thing there's a lot more variation.

What you're looking at here is the main arterial system from the palm of the hand, with the superficial palmar arch and the deep palmar arch, plus the digital arteries branching off into the fingers.

These arteries are made from wire wrapped with paper.  The wire is mostly "reclaimed" from a knackered appliance that I binned last week, and it's great for this kind of thing.  Each wire is made up of individual strands about the same diameter as hairs, which I can use to make arteries of all sizes.  

The arteries start off looking like this:

Then they get a coat of paint, and I glue them to the skeleton.  The standard convention is to show arteries in red and veins in blue, so my arteries are red - actually a mixture of alizarin, cadmium red, and quinacridone magenta with a slight hint of Payne's grey.  The next thing will be to make arteries for the back of the hand, and some veins for the palm.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Hand bones, finished and painted

My goal here was to get a nice layered finish on the hand bones.  I find bone hard to paint, partly because it's tricky to mix a convincing bone colour that isn't too yellow or too brown or too white, and partly because bone has a translucent quality to it that's hard to emulate.  I got as close as I could with a complicated process that involves four separate layers:

  • A mix of ultramarine blue and burnt umber.  This is what a painter would call the underpainting.
  • A fairly thick coat of the main colour, which is achieved by mixing white, ochre, burnt sienna, burnt umber, and a tiny bit of ultramarine. 
  • A thin wash of white with a very small amount of ochre.
  • Another thin wash of ultramarine and burnt umber which I wipe off with a rag until only traces of it are left.  This settles in the low-lying areas of the sculpt, where it brings out the details and creates shadow.  It also helps delineate where one bone ends and the next one begins.

Mostly I use regular tap water to thin the paint when I make colour washes, but this time I used glazing medium.  It behaves differently to water.  When water dries it evaporates, leaving only the pigment behind, but glazing medium is essentially a form of varnish and retains some body even after it dries.  This gives it a bit more depth and rounds out the shape of the sculpture slightly.