In materials science class, we examined wallpaper patterns for symmetries. Atoms and molecules can pack according to a variety of crystal structures. Mathematics obviously loves patterns too. There are fractal tilings and tessellations. Who doesn’t love Escher? There are probably practical applications to tiling, but more importantly they are great fun that tickles the brain. Recently I took my first stab at pattern making depicting (what else?) water polo.
I love illustrated sports posters. Most of today’s sports posters are photographic; as a photographer, I appreciate the phenomenal sports photography that is possible with today’s equipment. But illustration can capture how a sport feels in addition to how it looks. Additionally, photos are of specific people; illustrations are often of generic athletes.
Women’s sports especially lack poster art. If we are to infer how women feel when they are playing sports from the existing posters, one would learn that (1) women are playing sports to flirt with men, (2) women are playing sports to be sexy, and (3) women are playing sports to show off clothing. There are some notable exceptions, but these categories dominated my search for distinctive women’s posters. Men’s posters (and good women’s posters) show the joy of movement and conflict and success. They show admirable members of a team effort. That’s how I feel when I play.
Fun sports poster design!
Motion, motion, motion! The people in these posters are joyful and powerful, people that the viewer looks up to or wants to be.
Bizarre women’s poster design
Many of these posters are pleasing enough in isolation, but these kinds of posters make up the majority of women’s sports posters. They model clothes, they sell bicycles, they show women doing elegant jumps that have no relation to motion that happens in the sport. They’re women as decoration, objects to admire rather than people to relate to.
Many of my example posters are decades old. As I said, modern design hews toward photography, so these outdated images of women’s sport remain the few illustrated examples. As a lady athlete, I want beautiful art of my sport and other ladies sports.
Over the years, I’ve done several posters and t-shirts for my women’s water polo teams. Sometimes it’s as simple as a strap over the shoulder. It’s not a huge thing, but I like to feel like I’m included in the representation of the sport. I want to find art where people that look like me are moving with joy, rather than posing cutely. I want to see images of women in action, images that invite girls to imagine that it could be a poster of them.
I love colorblock poster art. My living room is decorated with National Parks travel posters and my bathroom bears WPA hygiene posters (which are available free online from the Library of Congress!). In my guest room, I display JPL’s Exoplanet Travel Bureau posters. What can I say, I have a passion!
So I also collect books of such posters. In recent travels, I’ve found two great specimens!
Great art and great science! Each planet has a poster, and often one or two extras. Each section also has info on atmosphere, year length, and more. Great for kids and adults!
A few of my favorite illustrations:
A collection of posters for National Parks and historic sites, with posters of places like Big Bend National Park and the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (i.e., the Gateway Arch in St. Louis). Check out the Creative Action Network website, too, which has posters on all kinds of cool topics and projects.
I’ve posted many times before about my love for WPA-era travel posters and some of my own tribute work. I have a wall of stylized postcards that I have collected along my travels. Like the parks passport stamps I described a few months ago, the WPA postcards became an exciting item to collect. Every time I have a visitor in my home, we talk about the parks. Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, county open spaces, state parks, they are all wonders of the west and worthy of a place on the wall. Not all of these places have postcards, which I am slowly working to remedy. But today’s post is about the great parks’ art that I have accrued and slathered upon my walls.
Below I include a few of my favorites from the wall. Some of the cards I like the depiction of the specific piece of scenery, others I like the color palette or the stylization. We all have stories about our visits to parks. These cards tell stories; the stories of these cards have augmented my stories. They let me dream for weeks and months after a trip about the animals, the scenery, the history, and the cultures of the parks I visited.
New Mexico has 14 National Monuments, extensive Bureau of Land Management sites, wildlife reserves, open spaces, state parks, and more. In a future post, I’ll talk about my work to create posters for the New Mexican sites that lack them today.
Here in Albuquerque, mathematical art adorns the schools. We are the Fractal Capital of the World. Fractals are a kind of math that considers the multi-scale aspects of nature. In school, we learn about rectangles, circles, and triangles, but which of these shapes best represents the coastline of Great Britain?
And even if learning fractal math isn’t your path, you probably appreciate what others have done with it. This documentary describes how lava in Star Wars was simulated using fractal approaches. Many natural objects have fractal aspects, and CGI versions of these objects utilize this approach.
I do research in nonlinear dynamics, which is a cousin to chaos theory and fractal math. Fractal math first emerged as a visual wonder with Benoit Mandelbrot; as a scientist and artist, fractals inspire me in multiple ways. I hope my forays into fractals might inspire, too!
I recently resumed my fascination with pop-up art. It’s fun to abstract the world to a system of interacting planes. I’ve created cats at play, architecture, and hot air balloons. It was inevitable that my play would turn to water polo, and so it has. I wondered how I would depict a goalie blocking a ball or a player swimming down the pool. I cannibalized some poster designs from a few months ago and was off to the races.
Below is my water polo pop-up book! I’m already scheming on new ideas, but I’m very proud of my first foray.
Although we think of the west as new, it’s only new to the United States. Many native cultures and the Spanish Empire traipsed across the Southwest for centuries and millennia before it was the American frontier, and their legacy remains. As an easterner, nowhere I’ve ever lived had that depth of surviving history. I still have a lot to learn.
The Mogollon (roughly pronounced MUH-guh-yun) Culture was one of three ancient cultures in the southwest, along with the Pueblo and the Hohokam. The Mimbres branch of the Mogollon lived in southwest New Mexico. The people of the Gila Cliff Dwellings only lived there for about a generation, likely driven there by desperation. Compared to Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde, the Gila Cliff Dwellings are quite small. The culture disappeared from the region shortly thereafter. But their pottery remains influential today, over 500 years after the culture that produced it collapsed.
Mimbres pottery is astonishing. Many southwestern cultures have beautiful pottery with rich design and symbolism. Mimbres pottery is different. It depicts compelling geometric abstractions of animals and people, employing artistic devices not seen in European art until this century.
The Maxwell Museum of Anthropology in Albuquerque has a nice collection; I picked up a great book of designs in the gift shop, Mimbres Classic Mysteries by Tom Steinbach Jr. Most books about Mimbres pottery show photographs of the works. This book shows the designs themselves, which are brilliant. All images in this post are from that book.
The Olympics are coming up! It’s that rare time when non-professional sports get to shine! As a lover and player of water polo, I get so inspired watching the amazing men and women of the world expressing their mutual disdain through grabbing, elbowing, and splashing in the big pool. Water polo is GREAT.
As I type this, I nurse a bruise from a deliberate kick in the back, some mystery bruises on my arm, and a sprained thumb. I can only hope I gave as good as I got. But really, one of the wonderful things about water polo is the intensity of the violence compared to the mildness of injury. You cannot fall down or run into a wall, and any underwater shenanigans are dissipated by the water. As I have often said, water polo enables to player to express all of the intent, but little of the impact. That’s perfect!
As I have demonstrated again and again, I love art deco design. I love old art deco Olympic posters; they’ve inspired my water polo art before. Water polo is a niche sport, and there isn’t a ton of art out there for it. Additionally, I enjoy contrasting the gentility of art deco design with the brutal public image of water polo. The soft civility of art deco posters in many way jives with how the game feels as a participant—it’s like a big tea party with all of my scantily-clad friends.
So, as we near these (hopefully sewage free but probably not) Olympics, I hope you’ll enjoy my water polo posters. I got inspired when the Olympic Trials were on TV a few months ago, so you can only imagine how much I’ll enjoy the Olympics.
Is there any greater joy in art than seeing a project through and sharing it with others? I designed some water polo t-shirts, and finally they have arrived. They look phenomenal!
Plus, it’s a great joy to design for water polo. It’s a small sport. Maybe you’ll see a neat poster for the Olympics, but that’s about it. The women’s game is especially short on designs. This year, I took my design inspiration from art deco sports posters and the National Parks vintage poster series.
Art Deco poster style
I wanted to convey the sense of motion I like in the art deco posters. The curve of the water surface suggests energetic water. It could also suggest the curve of the ocean.
Below: An art deco poster I particularly found inspiring. Early versions of my design incorporated gradients to suggest form, as in this poster. In the interests of simplifying printing, I chose to go with two colors.
Below: an alternate idea. Like basketball, a lot of action in water polo happens at the center position. Unlike basketball, the offender and defender stay relatively fixed, facing away from the goal. The offensive center wants to turn forwards or backwards to take the shot. The defender waits to react. I hoped that the slightly disjointed postures suggested depth or motion.
National Parks poster style
All the teams in our water polo conference, the Atlantic Conference, are in North Carolina and Virginia. Three out of the five are close to the Blue Ridge Parkway, and none are coastal. This gave me the idea that the conference could be thought of as the Blue Ridge Conference.
The championships this year were held in Charlottesville. Humpback Rocks are a popular hiking destination along the Blue Ridge near Charlottesville. People often hike Humpback rocks at sunrise to get the view of the Rockfish Valley. This fell quite naturally into a vintage style poster look.
This design was a super rush job. I drew the sketch at 10PM before the deadline the next day. The next morning I vectorized it. The shirts arrived a week later. I probably now would choose to make the figure white, for better clarity at a distance, but I still like the design.
One of the national parks posters that inspired this design.
There is a gothic skyscraper on the University of Pittsburgh campus called the Cathedral of Learning. It’s a beautiful building that does indeed resemble a vertically stretched cathedral. But inside are 29 nationality rooms that are even more astounding. Each one is themed around a different nationality (or culture, in the case of some like the African Heritage Classroom or the Israel Heritage Classroom). The oldest were dedicated in 1938, and the newest was dedicated in 2012. Each room is a highly detailed presentation of the culture of its country, down to the light switch panels, lights, and chair backs. Most are designed by architects of the country and decorated by artists of the country. And they’re all incredibly beautiful.
I visited the cathedral about a year ago now, but I’m still enthralled by it. I wrote about it then too. But recently I was editing my pictures from my visit, which gave me an excuse to post about it again. Check out the photos below, or the hundred full-res images I posted as creative commons works on Flickr.