Warning: The Tool May Try And Dictate The Design
By Neil Blevins
Jan 6th 2013

I'm always excited when I discover strong connections between music and visual art, it just proves that it's all the same challenge.

Check out this great video if you have 15min, it's a guitar masterclass with Devin Townsend: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pw-9oGUXg6c Now even if you're not a guitar player, and even if you don't like Devin's music, I can recommend the video because he touches on some really great things about being a musician that resonant equally with visual artists. One of them is his tuning. He tunes his guitar in a rather unique way. And that means that there are certain sequences of notes (scales) that are far easier to play with his special tuning, sequences that are much harder to play on a standard tuning guitar. After watching the video, it's now obvious to me that at least some of the uniqueness that his music has is specifically because his choice of tuning suggests certain note sequences and chord progressions, sequences that standard tuning does not suggest. And so, he sounds very different and unique from a lot of other musicians.

The same thing happens in the visual arts. When I first started, there were no computers, and so you drew with a pencil. When 3d started to happen, I started designing my creatures and robots on the computer. But that had a major disadvantage. Since certain shapes are easy to make in 3d software, like spheres and cubes, etc, all of my designs started looking like spheres and cubes. It was my inherent laziness that let my tool dictate the design (and lets not kid ourselves, we ALL have a little laziness to us). Once I realized that, I went back to drawing a design first, then using the computer to execute it, and flush out the details. Even if my drawing skills weren't as good as my 3d skills, just the act of drawing lent itself to more interesting designs, because a pencil is so basic, it does not suggest certain shapes and forms as readily as something like a 3d package. It's a bit like that old saying, "when all you have is a hammer, all problems start looking like nails".

With each new popular piece of software, I see the same problem again and again. A great example is the program SketchUp. I've seen an explosion of SketchUp designs these past few years, and so many of them just look identical to each other. And its partly because SketchUp's tools are good at producing certain shapes, and so those shapes tend to get used more often, and bam, everything looks the same.

That's not to say of course you shouldn't design in 3d, but if you do, you need to be mindful that the tool will try and pull you in a specific direction, and if you're using the same tool configured the same way as everyone else, you risk producing work that looks like everyone else. Knowing this will not only help you avoid this pitfall, but you can also use this knowledge to your advantage.

If the tool is going to suggest certain forms, then accept that reality, but spend the time customizing the tool in an interesting way, so at least the designs it suggests are more unique. Of course it's only one piece of the puzzle, and two people using the same tools can certainly produce very different work due to zillions of other factors, but why not make it a little easier on yourself and find a way to re-tune your software with a non standard tuning, it may help you produce something that is uniquely you.

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