When the shape is more important than the pattern

I favor the “squares-squared” pattern of components as presented in my last post because it’s hidden by its regularity; that is, what catches your eye on the 3-dimensional surface comes from the image itself, not from any part of the pattern. However, the subjects of some photographs have recurring shapes that can be mimicked by the individual components. For example, an Xtra-Dimensions piece derived from a photograph of a maple forest with its fall foliage has additional depth when the components are shaped like the leaves themselves.

How does this work?

Instead of using square components, or warped-square components as described for pictures of Lake Tahoe, I use overlapping leaf shapes. They are arranged in the same “squares-squared” pattern shown before:

Leaf layout pattern.jpg

On the left above is shown the regular pattern, on the right is the arrangement of overlapping leaf shaped components according to this scheme. (You’ll notice that their positions are identified by row and column addresses; that’s important in helping to locate where each one goes!)

The components themselves are also 3-dimensional!

Where a faceted shape to the components is appropriate for the pictures of water surfaces, the leaf-shaped components are made convex by drawing (creasing) veins on the back. For one thing, doing this makes the components quite uniform, as shown by the stack below:


Even more important, the 3-dimensionality of the leaf-shaped components brings another level of visual connection to the subject matter. As you move around the piece, the components alternately disappear as they combine to make the image, or they stand out as individual leaves, layered as in the forest scene itself.

Vine Maple combo.jpg

“Vine Maples Along the Santiam River,” created from a photograph by Mike Putnam, was one of the first that I made using this approach.

In a later blog, I’ll describe pieces for which both the pattern and the component shapes are tailored to the scene.

Patterns and shapes

Every Xtra-Dimensions Art Piece Starts With a Beautiful Photograph…

… that is missing something! In my earlier post, I spoke of the fluidity and movement, the changing reflections and patterns, that are missing from static, flat pictures of the water surface of Lake Tahoe. Other images from our world are similarly “flattened”, stripped of their dimensionality, and frozen in a framed photograph on the wall. Think of the depth of a forest scene, with leaves and tree trunks in the foreground on top of more leaves and more trees in the distance. Or the movement of a school of fish swirling in a ball or streaming across a coral reef.

It’s all in the pattern –

As described before, the Xtra-Dimensional process presents the image as a group of overlapping components, at different levels, that together create the complete picture. The first consideration is what pattern is appropriate for the scene. For photos taken from my kayak in Lake Tahoe, I want to convey the fluidity of the undulating water surface, how changing reflections obscure or reveal what lies below the surface. For this purpose, it’s the pattern itself, not the outline of the individual components, that is important.

I start with a very regular arrangement of squares, where each color represents a different layer (for example, red above blue above green above purple):

Simple pattern-1.jpg

This pattern is repeated across the piece and because it is regular, you don’t notice any particular part:

Simple pattern-2.jpg

At this point, it doesn’t seem to have much to do with a water surface, does it? But when the pattern is “warped”, it immediately takes on the appropriate fluidity and feeling of movement:

Simple pattern-3.jpg

– and the shape of the components!

Although the outline of the components is dictated by the pattern, they still need a 3-dimensional shape. What I found works best for a lake scene is a simple faceted shape, created by creasing the back of the piece from corner to corner with an inkless ball-point pen. These facets can be seen in a detail of “Tahoe Emeralds” that also shows the 4 x 4 layer pattern described above:

Tahoe Emeralds detail.jpg

When mounted, these facets not only generate movement with reflections that change with lighting and viewpoint, but they create yet another fluid pattern across the piece. The image below shows the same 25” x 15” detail of “Reflected Rocks” under different lighting conditions.

Reflected Rocks segment.jpg

In future blogs, I’ll describe how different patterns and different component shapes are designed for other scenes.


3-Dimensionality has always interested me.
Before embarking on an exploration of the world of “Xtra-Dimensions”, I was a professor of chemistry at UC Berkeley. I taught organic chemistry and my research concerned molecules involved in natural biological processes. The chemistry of these molecules depends on their structures, and their shapes in 3-dimensions play a key role.

Capturing more than just the single moment.
The concept underlying my artistic efforts grew out of a desire to convey the 3-dimensions and movement that we know are present in a real-life scene but are absent in a simple photograph. Inspired by the dynamic elements of the surface of Lake Tahoe, my earliest work aimed to recreate those missing dimensions in pictures of the water surface. By creating physical depth in my artwork, I wanted to portray the movement of the ripples and reflections as they change from one moment to the next and with the angle of view.

More than just a jig-saw puzzle at different levels.
The “Xtra-Dimensional” approach that evolved presents the image as separate components in a number of layers, thus adding a 3rd dimension to the piece. Segments of a photographic print are adhered to flattened metal sheets derived from aluminum cans, and these components are glued to posts of different heights above a panel of acrylic plastic. The components of the different layers overlap so that together they recreate the complete image. Additional elements in the design are the shapes of the components themselves and how they are arranged. These patterns are complementary to the image as a whole, creating yet another dimension and bringing out the dynamic elements of the real-life scene.  “Crystal Bay Ripples,” one of my first pieces,  shows both why and how I developed this approach.