September 23rd, 2016

Macbeth the Usurper

The Rowan (1990)

The Rowan (1990) by Anne McCaffrey is an expansion and continuation of the Rowan story found in Get of the Unicorn, a collection of stories written in the 1960's.

There are two ways to expand a story: rewrite it or extend it. Anne chose to extend, keeping her story from the 1960's intact. This choice that Anne kept all the weirdness and kludginess in the original SF romance story, with all the complication of setting up a larger story around it. Because of this decision, and her limited narrative skills, the results are largely a failure. Indeed, the later half of the work reads largely like documentation, sending the characters here and there, seeing them do things, and no parts of the story hanging together at all.

Personally, I blame continuity culture. Anne should have taken the original story and completely rewritten it within so that the entire story works as a novel, revising or revisiting the dated tropes of the original story. Instead, she accepted her continuity as inalterable, which meant that she left herself with all the bad decisions inherent in her original tale.

The cover for my version is gorgeous, a bright vision of SF that we don't get to see any more. The Rowan herself appears with huge guzumbas, thin arms, and shapely legs. The faint face of a man adorns the cover, gently hints at romance. But hey, look at those gazumbas!

While I absolutely adore Anne at her best, at her worst, she's a waste of ink. She's the Lucy to my Ricki and she drives me baba-loo. This manuscript leaves me ranting in faux Cuban Spanish. How did Anne's madcap plan go so wrong? Not only does this book feel dated for the late 80's, early 90's, it feels dated for the mid-70's. Even Anne's work in the 60's feels a little dated for the 60's. Even if you can get over the dated feel, the architecture of the novel doesn't even work. The sections aren't workable stand-alone stories, and the stories together don't add up to anything at all. What we're looking at here, folks, it a literary McMansion, a total failure of architecture at every level.

The only reason that I don't give the book one star is that I've read one-star books, and even being a failure at every level, it's still better than a one star book.
Macbeth the Usurper

Art Deco 101 - Measurement Systems

If you are reverse-engineering a piece of art deco, knowing the original measurement system is critical to getting the proportions correct. Different measurement system produce different results. Indeed, different measurement systems encourage different thinking.

The foot may not contain the decimal beautify of the decimal system, but the 12 inches relies on the superhero abilities of the number 12. With no math at all, you can divide 12 into 2, 3, 4, and 6. As half- and quarter-inches are easily produced, you can divide by 12 and 24. That's an absolutely massive and flexible range.

Compare this to metric. The formal math for base-10 is easy, but it only divides by 2, 5, and 10. However, that doesn't mean that you can't divide by three. The designer could easily choose a scale which breaks across threes easily.

Because art deco must be manufactured, the designers aren't going to use crazy numbers that nobody can reproduce. Their work will be based on blueprints, which contain reproducible numbers. That means that the English units should break along major English dimensions, while metric should break along major metric dimensions. You should see the the footprint of the original measurement system in the relationships of the objects. You are more likely to fifths and tenths appear in metric while you are more likely to see thirds and quarters in English. Doing so tends to make the math easier.

The second thing to keep in mind is that the process of construction is inexact. There will be errors. Perfection is impossible. Architects and engineers know this. Their designs take this into account. Don't get too caught up in looking too closely at the numbers. If your numbers are all coming out too complicated, you likely haven't worked out the correct answer for your design. More often than not, when you hit the measurements right, you'll find simplicity.

Everything builds off the scale and the measurement system, so take the time to work them out.

Return to: Art Deco 101

Douglas Milewski is a fantasy writer who liked drafting class too much. In his recent artistic struggles to produce art deco for his own covers, he found no internet sites dedicated to the technical underpinnings of the art. Seeing a niche that needed filling, he has documented his hard learned experiences. He doesn't claim that he's right, and would very much appreciate it if someone more competent would save him from his own folly.
Macbeth the Usurper

Art Deco 101 - Art Deco vs Art Nuveau

What is art deco? Lots of people get very confused between Art Deco and Art Nuveau, so they read Wikipedia and everything becomes as clear as mud.

I'm here to sort it out for you. By no means am I the foremost expert on anything, but I am a man with a blog, and I'm prepared to use it.

ART NUVEAU

- Designed by Artists
- Using pencils, ink, and paint
- Aided by compasses and drafting techniques
- For advertising and aesthetics
- (And yes, this list is grossly oversimplified)

I think of art nuveau as a scaffold of geometry superseded by naturalism.

ART DECO

- Designed by Architects
- Using drafting tools (t-squares, triangles, compasses, french curves)
- Informed by architectural theories
- For architecture
- Constructable by skilled labor
- (And yes, this list is grossly oversimplified)

I think of art deco as drafting taken to the level of art.

* The lists above are about focus, what was most important in the art form.

Does that make more sense to you? I hope that it does. Underneath art deco are solid drafting principals and geometric relationships. The rules of drafting create the underlying rules on which all art deco aesthetics are based. The designer must be able to create the blueprint, and then a craftsman must be able to take those blueprints and create an object. That means that the craftsman (who also has drafting training) must be able to sort out the relationships in the drawing.

In contrast, Art Nuveau lies closer to fine arts. Although the basis of the drawing may use geometric shapes and drafting techniques, the majority of the drawing is dominated by more natural, especially non-mathematical shapes. Plant motifs predominate. Lines vary in width, often flaring. The hard lines of modernity have been softened by beauty. Drawing Art Nuveau via drafting techniques is difficult and challenging. Craftsmen can construct object of Art Nuveau, but the object is more than the execution of the drawings. The artist can and will make adaptations to bring the final design to life.

Return to: Art Deco 101

Douglas Milewski is a fantasy writer who liked drafting class too much. In his recent artistic struggles to produce art deco for his own covers, he found no internet sites dedicated to the technical underpinnings of the art. Seeing a niche that needed filling, he has documented his hard learned experiences. He doesn't claim that he's right, and would very much appreciate it if someone more competent would save him from his own folly.