Order vs. Disorder, part II

In the studio today, all I wanted was stripes, vertical stripes. I always do this.  After working with a lot of white space and balance, I just want a rest from all that and come back to stripes.  Today my work was reminding me of an artist I really like, Sunny Taylor. She did a series of collages using, *I think*, painted papers cut into strips and sanded. She seems to begin with a structure (rows of stripes) similar to Lance Letscher but moves in such a different direction.

I am fascinated by these pieces because of how they balance unity and variety, or order and disorder. Complete order, just in terms of shape and proportion, would be 3 rows of equal width stripes with nice clean edges. But too much order is boring, right? So how does she mix it up? She varies the width (not wildly, but some), some stripes are two rows long, and the 3rd row is further subdivided into two rows part way through. NOTE: if you rotate the 2nd piece 180deg, the two structures are mostly the same. The second piece goes a little farther, where the upper right gets more chunky and even a splash of horizontal strips are included.

I like this idea of taking a closely defined structure and keep reworking it.


The other thing to notice about these is her color palette which I find very interesting. The colors are analogous, versions of green and blue, and complex hues that have been carefully mixed. These are not colors that immediately go with each other. They fight a little and this adds to the disorder and tension.

So what brings unity? What helps these strangers stay together? First, the presence of a strong structure. Our eye comprehends that immediately.  Analogous colors, a pleasing movement of darks and lights. And then a certain sameness to the materials which are textured and sanded in a unifying way.

Here are two more pieces in the same vein. More variety in some ways, more unity in others. The second one here is particularly subtle and intriguing. She really gets you to notice her choices.

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Sunny also takes these ideas to sculpture. Here are a couple of more recent works.


The play of order vs. disorder here is a fun dialogue. Colors are playful, the shapes are rectilinear but of different proportions, some surfaces are distressed, some are painted cleanly.

This next piece has so much order, so much sameness, that I cannot believe it works. If I were making this I would be hearing in my head: Use odd numbers, not even. You can’t just have a bunch of perfect rectangles all the same size. You must have more variety in color. Where are the darks and lights??? This is gonna be super boring!

But its not, and that surprise is so delightful. The breaks in the pattern are so slight, but obvious, that somehow it engages your mind just perfectly. Instead of being boring it is calming.



While Lance’s work keeps growing toward complexity and chaos, Sunny is moving more toward simplicity and order. Interesting contrast between the two.

So, following a strong structure like this. How does that mesh with your studio practice? Do you like the more minimal work or the more diverse?

Thanks for reading. Please share you thoughts!










Order vs. Disorder

Here is something I think about a lot in life. I notice how much I like order around me, and how I like to organize things. Some of it is just clean vs. messy, but it goes deeper than that. It is rationality: calming, reassuring, relaxing.  It lets you rest. And, it helps you find what you’re looking for in less than a week!  But in art, too much order feels lifeless to me.  I like an over-arching order to a piece, but then I want the irrational, the uncontrollable, to show its illegible hand. There is something irresistible about disorder.

Like when I go to the book recyclers, the sense of diversity is almost overwhelming, especially if they have very old, very used, books. Books are innately so linear and rational and organized. When they are new, they are neatly shelved according to genre in clean new uniform bookcases. Discarded books are what happens after. They are torn and creased and spilled on, faded, maybe falling apart. Many of them are obviously from a different time, you notice by the cover design, illustrations, etc.  And then the age of the reader. You cannot help but think about all the people who owned all these books at different times in their lives. And all the books you owned at different times in your life. Its not neat and tidy anymore. Disorder has flung them in all directions and some completely random process has compiled them together here.

Whats weirder is how much I LIKE this dis-ordered-ness. Its fascinating.

But I digress. Back to order vs. disorder in art.

Who could illustrate this dynamic better than Lance Letscher? Letscher is a collage artist who, like myself, began with a fascination for paperback book covers.  Now, book covers, of all ages and genres and levels of wear, bring a lot of disorder to the table right away (see above digression).  What is genius, is how Lance can highlight all that wild diversity and yet bring it together into a unified piece.

In these first two early pieces, we notice a lot of different fonts, colors of fonts, sizes of fonts. We can see these are pieces of many different book covers. But with similar color and an underlying grid structure, the pieces really hold together. Notice that his cuts are not perfect, he is not strictly adhering to the cells of a grid, and how this gives his work a much more human feeling, which is echoed by the wear and tear of his materials. I love these because you really get the sense of all the different voices of used books.

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In these next pieces, Letscher’s use of color is much more disordered and creating strange rhythms. His alignments are less straight and there is more value punctuation. Less and less he is following a pattern and the work feels more energetic and unstable. For the adventurous, give this a try. Its very difficult to pull off the tame-but-wild quality he achieves here.  They feel as if they are barely holding it together.




This later piece is where even the grid order really starts to break down. The colors are scattered without reason, whole stacks are teetering. He brings a TON of disorder, of the irrational, but it is still holding together. It still reads as an intricate, alive, maybe tortured, whole. Pretty amazing.


To see more about Letschers work go to his website.  There is also a documentary titled The Secret Life of Lance Letscher coming out soon. Website for the documentary is here.

How do you play with order and disorder in your work?  In which direction do you like to lean?

Please share you thoughts!









Using Photoshop to Debug Compositions

I just had a wonderful collage workshop last weekend and I am still thinking about the process of editing your design once you are well into the process. This is, after all, where most of the time is spent. Its usually easy to get started, just start pasting. But then, soon enough, your design gets off track.  How do you pull it back into balance? Its very tricky and, of course, unique to each artist but I thought an illustration of how I might go about “debugging” a composition might be instructive.

I was working in a Three Column structure on the piece below. The last element I put in was in the upper left, the circles over some  “Mrs. Homemaker…” text. I was liking everything but felt like I needed something at the top of the composition. I chose a pretty different and busy piece.

fixer upper
original scan

After looking at it for awhile, I decided two things were bothering me:


  • The circles piece seemed to be leading us over into an empty corner.
  • the middle column lacked strength. Two very similar rectangles of similar value… The line between them was weak and disturbing.

So I scanned this piece and brought it into photoshop to play around with possible solutions.



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version 1 – photoshop

I was sort of in love with the “Mrs Homemaker, The Car, and Travel”, but It turned out this was the biggest problem. Covering it over (in photoshop) suddenly got me back to my original intentions.

Now the color in the three columns modulates in a pattern that I like: The middle column is the tallest, then the left column, then the right. I like this mountain or skyline shape. I also like the variety in the sizes and shapes of the rectangles, the bits of type that act as texture from this distance, and of course the drama of the stripes!

It feels balanced, but I still want to add some emphasis to the yellow rectangle.



fixer upper2
version 2 – photoshop

A simple outline around the yellow gives the middle column much more strength.  Now it is on even par with its neighbors.









fixer upper3
version 3 – photoshop

In the final version I have added more blacks to ground the piece at the bottom, and pull all the light rectangles into a frame.

I think of this as a loose guide to where I want this piece to go. Its easiest in photoshop to make straight lines but I may choose more organic, uneven, shapes when I get this back to the collage table. I will also play with the thickness of these lines but the basic weight of the blacks, and their distribution, is working. For now.

It could easily be that I look at it for a few days and find something else I want to change. But my advice is don’t belabor it too long. Better to make more work than just a few perfect pieces.



I am curious if any of you readers use photoshop in this way, or what your methods of editing your compositions are. Please share with us in the comments below!

Thank You and Happy creating,