Perception---you have that power.

There is purpose in design. There is information in a setting. There is truth in your environment. Fake or real, it's there.

All images are copyrighted by Heidi Hoffer unless otherwise indicated. Your courtesy in using my photographs must include crediting me as the photographer. You must tell me when and where you've used them and send the link to me showing your use of them.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Practice Makes Perfect

There is a perception out there that if one practices a thing; one will get good at it.
 Practice, Practice, Practice!
Playing the Piano photo purchased from Photographer is © Jason Hawkins
I noticed this wonderful photo in Dana T's sheet music website: and purchased permssion to post it in my blog as well.

I accepted those words when my music teacher told me them. I’d heard them before from my father and mother, grandmother and grandfather. I practiced for 30 minutes each day. My father turned on the stove timer to make sure. Soon, I practiced 1 hour each day. Later, it was for 3 to 4 hours each day and sometimes 6 hours each day. But in between childhood and adulthood, there was a dark period when I hated practicing.
Of course the practice sessions were for music, both piano and bassoon. I practiced in music classes, orchestra rehearsals, recital rehearsals, and again at home where the dog would howl in accompaniment. (I once turned in an audition tape not knowing my Old English Sheep dog was singing along in the background, and got the scholarship anyway!).

The music became dog-eared, graphite and eraser-colored. I collected more: solos, duets, blue ribbons, red ribbons, and gold medallions, marble and silver trophies. More music, yellowed with age, came from my teachers. Reed making materials came from a long ways away. Competitions were stiff. I lived in a world of music, almost.
Practice, practice, practice.

I did not believe those same words spoken by my father and mother, grandmother and grandfather. I drew pictures because I could. I already knew how. They all knew how and they all drew and they all played music so of course I just knew how. I drew because I loved it. I wanted the days to be longer so I could draw later into the night. I groaned when I was still drawing and the dawn birds were telling me I had not yet been to bed. But in between childhood and adulthood there was a dark period when I hated drawing.

There came a time when I wasn’t good enough, when I couldn’t draw exactly what I saw or play that lick as sweetly and dynamically as I wanted. I wanted to quit.
I met an old woman, who made friends easily and had the care of seven cats. Her home was crowded with memories, and she moved through the piles of her memories saying “Excuse me!” “Let’s see,

© David Calicchio |
where should I put this?” or “Oh! So, that’s where you’ve been hiding”. I talked to her about my sadness.
She invited me in for tea, sweeping cats, magazines, and cookie crumbs off the table and wiping out a milk-filled mug for me to use. Her cats assembled all around me, judging me; their tails curled around their feet tightly. One cat, the old one, left his post and jumped into my lap, sniffing my tea mug. It was his milk mug. He looked at me, meowed and settled into my lap, purring. The old woman looked at me through the corner of her eyes. She told me he liked artists, was I an artist? Did I make music and draw pictures? I looked at the cat, comfortable in my lap. I took a deep breath and said “Yes.”

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Re-purposing architectural and industrial elements for the musical “Ragtime”.

The design for PCPA Theaterfest’s Ragtime was huge. A small but influential part of the concept or inspiration was the use of bits of architectural and industrial elements. You can see some of these on the back wall in the picture below.

Ragtime designed by Heidi Hoffer.  The back wall upstage of the boys catching the baseball shows the concept in effect. Lighting Design by "Z" Jen Zornow and Costume Design by Misti Bradford.
The Musical Director was Callum Morris, Technical Director was Steve Henson (currently analyzing truss at Yale!), and the director of the show was Mark Booher.

We were interested in re-purposing elements for their texture, shape, and archetypal memory triggers. Every part of the scenery had a dash of this concept in its execution on stage. The industrial artifacts idea allowed certain (industrial-looking!) scene shifting devices to be seen and accepted as part of the overall design.

Displaced materials normally recycled and considered trash allowed the use of things like recycled plastic drink lids to become clapboard siding and fluorescent tube packing crate cardboard to become architectural molding on several of the units. 

Artists responsible for building the scenery, painting the scenery, and budgeting for the scenery all need information about these elements from the designer.

Typesetter's lead type case. Courtesy of

This included the original inspiration images of a typesetter’s lead type case, the Sky Cathedral by artist Louise Nevelson, the designer’s inspiration sketch, the AutoCAD drafting of elements, painter’s elevations of elements, etc. some of which are pictured below. Since the musical Ragtime occurs during the industrial age, it was fitting the design recycle old icons for use in setting the musical for today’s audiences.

Louise Nevelson's Sky Cathedral courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art website

The designer's inspiration sketch shows the architectural rolling units all grouped together center stage.

The central back wall is really six tall rolling walls, all clumped together in this photo. In the baseball scene photo earlier in this post, the walls are opened up across the back of the stage.

The AutoCAD front view of the expanded back wall. Blank boxes were filled by the theatre artists at PCPA following the "concept" with architectural and industrial elements.

The designer's paint elevation of one of the walls.
As I indicated in the first paragraph, this ecclectic typesetter's box collection of elements was just a small part of what the whole design covered. But it was the springboard and the inspiration from which we evolved our production. The world created was colorful (It's a musical!), elastic (Wide range of locations and moods!), and richly textured (Lights, projected patterns, choreography, and costume textiles really added!).

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Colored Money: An Element of Culture

Mixtures or cross-cultural authentication occur when one culture uses elements of another culture’s such as dress. One culture uses elements of another culture’s dress, but does not wholesale start wearing the other’s dress per se. Usually the original is changed to reflect the second culture’s values etc. The user has inadvertently “authenticated” the foreign mode of dress by selecting it or part of it for transfer to their culture. Take a look in the book, The Visible Self: Global Perspectives on Dress, Culture, and Society by Joanne B. Eischer, Sandra Lee Evenson, and Hazel A. Lutz, or the book, Survey of Historic Costume by Phyllis G. Tortora and Keith Eubank. 

This “authentication” through use holds true for all history of d├ęcor, dress, architecture and more. For example, the United States now uses colored paper money.

The $20.00 has green and peach on both sides of President Jackson’s portrait. Where the United States used to be well known for its single color bills (green-backs), our $5, $10, $20, and $50 notes now have color. Which countries influenced our monetary icon’s change? China? Egypt? France? What about the Euro? Although the US Bureau of Engraving and Printing made the color changes part of many other security changes to prevent forgeries, the colors alone are cultural authentication of other cultures that use colorful money. Perhaps in this case the designers have not used only one culture’s element of design but several. For a really good look at the paper bills of the United States, go to You'll see that the paper money of the United States is still very sedate compared to the colored money of other countries. The calm colors reflect our values.
And to tie it all together in the realm of fashion, Christian Francis Roth (who provided the money dress image) wrote about several money dresses in his blog on August 12  In this, he also refers to the money dresses blogged by blogger Couture Carrie. . Both are interesting blogs!