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Beneath the Surface Blog

Thursday Salute to Originals: Basecamp of Impressions

GPI Design - Thursday, November 20, 2014

Braving the cold weather in the Southern Alps is no easy feat. As Clevelanders, we have only been braving this winter’s cold for one week and it already feels awfully imposing! This dedicated artist must be either abnormally warm-blooded, or a zealous believer in nature’s beauty.

Camped out in the Alps at over at 2,000 above sea level, filmmaker Lukas Unterholzner (in collaboration with artist Flyles Planet) produced a stunning timelapse of a shifting landscape. Gazing at this short video is almost akin to cloud gazing or star gazing itself – except with the luxury of doing so from the comfort of your warm cozy home.

Basecamp of Impressions from Lukas Unterholzner on Vimeo.

There is much to appreciate about the beauty of the natural world. What strikes us most is that this video highlights the natural world moving in layers – the land, clouds, outer space, and natural light all move at different paces to form an intricate dance. We don’t often get that perspective when viewing a motionless painting or photograph, even of the most beautiful landscape. For using the power of video to its utmost capacity in showing change and progress, we salute these cold-braving artists in bringing a bit of this beauty back to the rest of us for our viewing pleasure.

Thursday Salute to Originals: The Toynbee Tiles

GPI Design - Thursday, November 13, 2014

You’ve probably heard of Banksy, the edgy graffiti artist who works undercover. Popping up on urban buildings worldwide, Banksy’s work is notorious for its political undertones, admirable for its visual creativity, and often disruptive. As infamous as Banksy is, there is another incognito urban art form that you may be less familiar with, one that flies under the radar but may be right in your own downtown – the Toynbee Tiles. Today we would like to bring these unassuming tiles to the forefront of discussion.

Touted as a “polite” form of street art, the Toynbee Tiles are small plates embedded in the road that carry a cryptic message. The content usually references destruction, rebirth, and space travel. The interesting part to us? The tiles have been placed in over 130 major U.S. cities and even in South America, usually in bustling intersections, without the creators ever being spotted.

After serendipitously discovering a freshly laid tile late at night, one Philadelphia resident was able to shed light on how the process presumably works (source:

1. Cover the (linoleum) tile with tar paper.

2. Remove a section of floorboard from a car and drive to a major intersection late at night.

3. Place the tile onto the street using the hole in the floorboard and drive away. The tar-paper covering     makes the tile look like a bump in the street.

4. In subsequent days, vehicles run over the tar paper, pushing the tile into the asphalt. The tar paper wears away over the letters but fills the spaces in between.

Basically, the premade tile is stealthily laid into a thick puddle of tar, which is compacted and fills the negative space in the letters as cars drive over it. The entire creation process is centered around protecting anonymity.

Nobody is 100% sure who is behind the Toynbee tiles, though there are several theories floating around. We won’t pretend to be Sherlock Holmes, so if you’re interested in investigating the person(s) behind this art form, check out the documentary “Resurrect Dead”.

Clevelanders, did you know that we have a Toynbee tile in our own city? That’s right, on the corner of West 3rd and West Prospect a small tile is nestled into the asphalt. You may be driving over a cryptic piece of modern art without even knowing it! This Thursday, we salute the idea of non-disruptive street art and all of the mystery it encompasses – both in its delivery and interpretation.

Sources: Damn Interesting,

Thursday Salute to Originals: Color Coding

GPI Design - Thursday, November 06, 2014

There is something strangely satisfying about order. A straightened office, a clean living room, or a well thought out workshop can create a sense of serenity and control. Maybe for designers it’s a clean grid of columns or a dead-on detail. We often think about order being established through the physical position of objects. By introducing color and other design elements, the whole tidiness game changes into an expressive art. Watch out professional organizers, color coding isn’t just for closets anymore!

Artist Emily Blincoe sets her scenes with deliberation, snapping square compositions that encapsulate a borderline-OCD level of organization. Her Arrangements series features staged images of clustered objects ranging from a bunch of peppers to industrial toys.

Blincoe Tomato Gradient Image Art

Through that frenzied level of organization, a simplistic element that emerges, creating a “zen” moment. (Is this personal insanity and need for control, or do you feel it too?) The objects sit within strict boundaries but fall into line according to a color gradient or ombre. At first glance, the blending of the entire composition is more important than its content… but there are secondary layers of organization as well.

Eggshell Art Color Gradient

This work speaks to the process of creation as much as the creation itself. Establishing order requires deciding on hierarchy – weighing the values of color, size, texture, shape, and form. In Blincoe’s material collages, color is usually bestowed with the utmost importance, as other elements play second fiddle in contributing to the piece’s interpretation.

Pepper Collage Color Coded Art
Green Yellow Leaves Color Gradient
Orange Candy Collage Art Emily Blincoe

This Thursday, we salute Emily Blincoe for manifesting an unwavering attention to detail with a compulsive flair. Not only do her images viscerally satisfy neurotic designers everywhere, but they beg for deeper consideration. How can overlaying spatial organization with color, form, and size create more intricate architecture?

Image credits: Emily Blincoe

Thursday Salute to Originals: Spidery Structures

GPI Design - Thursday, October 30, 2014

Geometric symmetry in architecture is calculated and created. We as designers employ the strength of geometric shapes in developing everyday structures and systems. We utilize these forms to find strength and balance that will ultimately make or break the feasibility of our designs. But architectural designers are not the only ones who know their geometry, our friendly creatures in nature do too!

Spiders could be considered the natural engineers of the wild – crafty and deliberate. In knowing how to achieve balance and strength within their orbed webs, spiders are also intelligent builders. Form definitely follows function in the spider’s process with the goal of catching prey in its spindly web. So what gives the spider web its strength and what can we learn from it?

The silk that spiders produce is in fact a very strong material; stronger than steel. However, it is not only the strength of the silk that makes a spider’s web so resilient, but the functionality of the silk – the softness and stiffness when pulled. The forces applied to the web as well as their overall shape can also affect the strength of the web. Markus Buehler, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at MIT, analyzed the complex structure of a spider’s silk and applied testing to the structure of the web. In studying the properties of the molecular structure of silk fibers, the findings can help develop more damage-resistant synthetic materials. This could also provide design principles in developing other networked systems, like the internet or an electric grid.

Materials with uniform and linear applications are what engineers like to focus on because of the simplistic calculations. Buehler's experiment suggests that there can be important advantages to materials with more complex applications. A building structure could have a point of element that breaks but still allows the rest of the structure to survive; much like a damaged portion of a spider’s web. The damaged portion of the building could be repaired as opposed demolishing the entire building completely. This could solve an enormous pain point in structural engineering and renovation work.

This Halloween season, we salute our scary little friends in the wild for producing such materials and making it possible for scientists to study these applications… thus inspiring new and innovative ways for building more efficient and flexible structures! The spider has an impressive resume, being at once a fabricator, engineer, architect, and builder. Today we have a little more respect for these self-sufficient creators with an innate understanding of geometry.

Image Credits: The Guardian, Deviant Art, Creek Ranch, GuineaPig via Flickr

Thursday Salute to Originals: Precision Paper Scenes

GPI Design - Thursday, October 23, 2014

If you’re a regular to our blog, you’ve probably noticed a pattern. It’s not difficult to see that we tend to highlight cool or unusual applications of lighting and surfaces. And that’s no accident. Our backlit projects are constantly pairing illumination and lenses in a number of different combinations to create one-of-a-kind features. It’s a subject near and dear to our hearts; we simply cannot help ourselves!

So for this Thursday Salute, you probably won’t be surprised that we’re talking about an innovative surface and lighting application. But once you see the photos of this incredibly unique series, we’re betting you’ll forgive us. We have a feeling that, as were we, you’ll be absolutely blown away.

Backlit Paper Sculptures Cutout Art

Colorado based artists, Deepti Nair and Harikrishnan Panicker, possess an incredible skill when it comes to manipulating paper and light. Precisely cutting and layering scraps of paper, their dioramas are captivating enough just from the sheer amount of delicacy, attention to detail, and meticulous assembly involved in crafting these 3D works. But when paired with LED backlighting, the depth of these paper sculptures truly comes alive, transporting you to a mesmerizing world of fantasy and whimsical imagination.

Backlit Paper Jellyfish Image

Paper Sculpture Backlit Jellyfish Illuminated

Now, Hari and Deepti are certainly not the only artists to have ever experimented with paper and light, we know. But the delicate nature, complex forms, dreamlike subject matter, intensity and blending of lighting all in combination, elevate their works above many others. And the fact that their creations have the potential to appeal to both adults and children (a hard crowd to please when it comes to fine art!), these sculptures exude a certain je ne sais quoi not found in other more serious collections.

Shadow Art Backlit Paper Diorama

But there is one thing we can’t help but wonder when looking at these: how would these dioramas change (or not change) with different light? When backlighting onyx, the color temperature of the lighting is absolutely key in capturing the right aesthetic. There is a delicate balance in selecting a color temperature that not only flatters the stone, but that compliments the design as a whole. Would a cooler white light temperature completely transform the mood of these paper sculptures? And what about a colored light, like red vs. blue? Would the addition of hue alter or influence the emotional undertones exuded by the piece? How would these paper sculptures transform?

Regardless of our curiosities, this backlit application is one we won’t soon forget. We salute Hari and Deepti for masterfully manipulating and molding paper and light into dream-like assemblages that typically only live in the imagination. We hope our backlit onyx features can elicit the same intricate inspiration found in these precision paper scenes!

Image credits: Bored Panda, Black Book Gallery

Thursday Salute to Originals: Pantone Beer

GPI Design - Thursday, October 16, 2014

Precision. Categorization. Differentiation. Found both in a hearty microbrew and calculated Pantone colors, these concepts are a designer’s dream. So what happens when these two seemingly unrelated mediums are paired? Yes, you’re hearing us right, you dedicated office happy hour attendees… the result is Pantone Beer!

Pantone Beer Bottle Color Design

We found this post on The Dieline listed under “Concepts We Wish Were Real”, and the truth couldn’t be more spot on. Packaging designers at Txaber developed a theoretical packaging system for beer that categorizes it by color. The composition of the whole set of beer cans creates a striking gradient that is more than visually appealing – the wash of colors actually helps categorize the beer by type.

Pantone Beer Packaging Design

For connecting flavors with a measurable color scale, today we salute the creatives at Txaber for tantalizing our eyeballs and our taste buds at the same time. Next time you saddle up to the bar at a design event, you could be flipping out your Pantone deck instead of a menu!

Image credits: The Dieline, Txaber

Thursday Salute to Originals: Construction Couture

GPI Design - Thursday, October 09, 2014

Take a look at the structure you’re in right now. What materials comprise it? Unless you’re in the jungle on a survivalist reality show, we’re betting you’re in a building that has wood, concrete, glass, metal, brick, nuts and bolts, etc. in a number of different combinations. None of these are unusual building materials, of course. This is exactly what you’d expect to find defining a structure. But what happens when these building blocks of construction are used in a different way, in arenas not associated with architecture?

Fashion is no stranger to pushing boundaries. And some pioneering designers have begun infusing traditional building materials into their clothing and accessory designs, in beautiful - and sometimes questionable - ways.

Take for instance wood. A well-known and utilized staple in the construction sector, the fashion world has begun to take notice of its versatility, as well. With all its prized character – warmth, subtle grain, rigidity, tonality – its no wonder wood is being used in place of lux fabrics.

Nike Wood Shoes Eames Design

Wooden Wallet

Wooden Bow Tie Fashion

And concrete - something we’re betting you wouldn’t normally connect with fashion - is getting some time on the runway. Its neutral color palette and subtle textures define the structure of select pieces while providing a contrasting raw edge to the design.

Concrete Purse

Clutch Made From Concrete

Mechanical fasteners are even being incorporated in the couture, where the true functionality of screws and nuts literally keeps clothing and accessories fastened together in a more refined format.

Screw Hardware Cufflinks

Today, we salute those fashion designers who ignore traditional material categories and transcend structural building materials into the fashion realm.

If fashion can take a cue from architecture by using construction materials as couture, how can architects and interior designers, in turn, combine fashion in new buildings and spaces? We’re not sure, but there does seem to be an overlap between the two worlds. And who knows, maybe the CAD drawings of our backlit onyx feature walls will serve as inspiration for the next high-end textile print? Keep your eyes peeled for it on the runway!

Image credits: Swag Chasers, Haydanhuya, Oddity Mall, IvankaSusan Tabak, Tom and Lorenzo

Thursday Salute to Originals: Creative Crayoning

GPI Design - Thursday, October 02, 2014

It is estimated that the average American uses 730 crayons by the age of 10. We designers in the office who have led rather creative childhoods are all betting that we’ve used at least double that amount! But there is one artist who we’re pretty sure has us all beat with her use of this favored childhood tool, in both quantity and application.

Diem Chau uses crayons to create her fascinating works of art. No, she doesn’t use them as traditional drawing utensils as you may think. Instead, she uses the actual crayon as a medium to sculpt a variety of intricate forms.

Now, sculpting with traditional materials alone – like a block of clay and putty knife, for example – takes precision, finesse, and patience. But the need for those mannerisms is only magnified when using this unconventional material and managing its unique properties: skinny, slippery, and susceptible to cracking. Taking hours to delicately whittle the waxy sculptures, this is no certainly easy process. But Chau’s skill, dexterity, and impeccable attention to detail make these pint sized sculptures look effortless, almost as if this was the original intended purpose of the crayon.

We can certainly appreciate the delicacy and fragility of her craft, so today we give an enthusiastic salute to Diem Chau. Not only for using this childhood staple in an unusual way, but for reminding us of the hidden potential in everyday objects, no matter what their size or typical use!

Knowing that it would probably take us at least 730 crayons just to try and come close to replicating one of Chau’s intricate sculptures, we’ll stick to coloring, and leave this unique craft solely in her hands.

Image sources: Tiny Haus, Diem Chau

Thursday Salute to Originals: Seeing the Positive in Negative Space

GPI Design - Thursday, September 25, 2014

Positive and negative - in the spatial sense - are very intriguing concepts. And when you pair this unique visual phenomenon with the human brain, you can get some pretty interesting interpretations! What your mind sees compared to what is actually there can be two completely different entities.

Inkblot Test Positive Negative Space

We’re all familiar with the famed “inkblot tests” used for psychological evaluation. What you see in the splotchy black and white supposedly holds the secret to your personality and emotional stability. But how is this phenomenon being applied to and shaping trends in the modern design world?

Take the above work of Japanese artist, Kumi Yamashita, for example. Comprised of solid objects, light, and shadow, Yamashita’s sculptures blur the line defining positive and negative space. While the physical objects would ordinarily be the main focus of traditional sculpture, the addition of light in Yamashita’s work causes the shadow (which would typically be viewed as negative space) to be looked at as the defining subject of the piece instead. By flip-flopping the role of shadow vs. object, Yamashita persuades our brains into seeing the positive in what would normally be considered negative space.

Buildings Made of Sky Peter Wegner

Or from a photography standpoint, take a peek at the work of Peter Wegner (above). In his Buildings Made of Sky collection, Wegner uses the negative space between structures to create the silhouettes of buildings, underscoring the importance of seeing the positive in the negative.

And positive vs. negative space has transcended into the realms of graphic design, too, with graphic designers capitalizing on creative ways of manipulating that forgotten area. Many logos, marketing material, and promotional signage now cleverly obscure hidden images and messages, creating a whimsical game of hide-and-seek within the graphic.

But what can we take away from this trend? And what does it mean for the world of design? We think the key lesson is to remember that when designing, it is important to look at every angle of the design process. Because, after all, what you see may be completely different than how others interpret it – and you may be surprised at how those different viewpoints can shape your design.

So today, we salute those who are able to find the positive in the negative, and mold it into the focal point of the piece, not matter what the medium. Because sometimes the best part of design is surprising and challenging our brains in refreshing, unexpected ways - intentional or not!

Image sources: Mustache 7Kumi YamashitaWired, Bored Panda, Creative Bloq

Thursday Salute to Originals: Designing Illusions

GPI Design - Thursday, September 18, 2014

“Inception” as a noun is defined as a start or a beginning. In science fiction, it is instilling an idea into someone's mind by entering their dreams. In architecture, it is designing spaces that have a suggestion of familiarity, and letting the mind create the rest of the framework.

Although the film Inception has been out for quite some time, it is one of our office favorites. Watching it again this past weekend, it spurred a frenzy of thoughts about the spatial impacts of our current projects and design for entertainment's sake.

The production designer for the film, Guy Hendrix Dyas, was born and raised in London. He received a Master’s Degree from the Royal College of Art in London and a BA from the Chelsea School of Art and Design. He began working in Tokyo as an industrial designer for Sony. He was then invited to work for Industrial Light and Magic in California where he became the visual effects Art Director on a number of films including the most memorable, Inception.

Inception Rotating Room Design

The most complicated and defying architectural structure built on the set of Inception was a specialty corridor to serve as the stage for the fight sequence. The 120 foot by 30 foot revolving space was engineered to create the illusion of weightlessness or zero gravity during the battle. The corridor was constructed of wood and backed by steel tubing. There were seven steel I-beam rings with roller wheels every 16 feet along the length of the corridor, connected to two 55-hp electric motors monitored by a computer to conduct the rotation of the room. A single rotation spans approximately ten seconds and can go both clockwise and counterclockwise.

Inception had many challenging sets to illustrate abstract concepts, opening up glorious design opportunities. One of the visual inspirations in the movie was the Penrose Staircase - steps based on an optical illusion that was referenced in the film. According to the infamous Escher's Drawings, the ever-ascending staircase can never be truly functional in the real world, though this illusion was formed by removing supports and executing clever camera shots.

Inception Endless Staircase Illusion Architecture

Designing for a film set seems to be a stimulating type of design, requiring a delicate balance of both imagination and logic. From a conceptual standpoint, the liberty to simply dream up a setting limited only by your imagination seems like it would be freeing. But when it comes to actually representing that dream in the physical realm, things become much more complex (a pesky little thing like gravity can really throw a wrench in things when trying to replicate a weightless environment!). That’s when the real ingenuity comes in: real-world constraints, clever building techniques, and artistic editing joining forces to capture a fictional world and bringing it to reality from concept through execution.

Kudos to those who take conceptual design to the next level by morphing dreams into reality (and for making some superb entertainment while they’re at it). We salute you!

Sources: Popular Mechanics, Guy Hendrix Dyas, Youtube