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Beneath the Surface Blog

Thursday Salute to Originals: Recollections of Child’s Play

GPI Design - Thursday, December 18, 2014

Think back to your memories of building a childhood fort. This recollection is probably infused with connotations of warmth, coziness, tightly enclosed space, and found objects. While many artists express their work in clustered objects, this set designer and self-taught artist harkens back to the era of her childhood fort-building days as inspiration.

Taking domestic objects such as gauzy fabric, chairs, or top hats, Nicola Yeoman transports us into eerie scenes. There is something breathtaking about her meticulously arranged objects coming together with hazy lighting, purposeful composition, and an evocative context - a romantic organization, if you will. The works possess an air of domesticity, but also strangeness, offering much to ponder.

There are millions of words that could be written about the interpretation of these pieces and we would love to hear yours. For now, we’ll stick to the nuts and bolts by discussing the design tools used in Yeoman’s work. Most of the arrangements use suspension as the structure, with the strong exception of the cracked floorboards which seemed to have lost their battle with gravity.

The use of domestic objects places a level of familiarity and home, though the settings are often quite the opposite – abandoned warehouses, quiet forests, and empty rooms. This contrast of material connotations sets off a whole other dialogue.

This Thursday, we salute those creators who go beyond formal training and simply stick to the basics – such as modernizing the archetypal children’s couch-cushion-and-blanket fortress.

Image sources: Joshua Twentythree via Flickr Creative CommonsFeel Desain

Thursday Salute to Originals: Water Projections

GPI Design - Thursday, December 11, 2014

As buildings envelopes are intended to be impermeable objects withstanding natural forces, our environment is typically constructed to tightly defend against weather. We seal against moisture in every means possible – from flashing to pitched roofs to storm drains. When water is embraced as a medium for architecture, rather than a force to be withstood, it can entirely shift the meaning of space.

Water Projection Art Installation

In the Minamo installation, the team at Torafu Architects creates an intimate interior space to “let the water in”. Reflected liquid patterns grace the curved walls, shifting subtly like the motion of the sea. Color is introduced at times, opening up the possibility of the water to carry a sense of materiality.

There is little written about the execution of Minamo project, but that only enhances the mystery. The images convey of a sensation of being wrapped in light or hovering underneath the surface of water, forming compositions reminiscent of surrealist art.

This Thursday, we salute this team of architects for boldly flipping convention to stretch the limits of how water and space can interact. Next time it’s raining or snowing, think about how you can embrace that force as opposed to quickly running for shelter!

Video credit: Torafu Architects via YouTube

Image credits: Torafu Architects

Thursday Salute to Originals: The Door Handle

GPI Design - Thursday, December 04, 2014

The commonplace nature of the door handle has made it so expected that, even as a functional tool interacted with on a daily basis, it gets skimmed over in our minds.

Think about how many doors you opened just in your morning routine alone – you probably opened and closed a bedroom or bathroom door, locked up your front door as you departed, opened (a perhaps frosty) car door, then hastily turned the key to get into your office. We’ll bet that you don’t actively remember most of those door handles, but what if they had been made of something a bit stranger?

Artist Rene Siebum of the Netherlands sought to bring this overlooked design object back to the forefront of experimentation. Using a standard door handle purchased from a hardware store, Siebum created dozens of iterations of the handle by changing materiality – recreating the handle in anything from wire to sand to wax. A single material change, in turn, shifts the visual and tactile reading of the handle altogether.

Melted Plastic


Iron Wire

“I first looked at how our sense of touch communicates with us, I realised the basic elements for our touch sense are texture, structure, volume and temperature," said Siebum. (source: Dezeen) The “Touch” exhibit was displayed at Dutch Design week in October.



As a team that works hands-on with materials every day, though mostly of the translucent nature, we appreciate these iterative studies on how changes in materiality alter perception. You just might find our office entry door graced with silly-string handles this week, and no it’s not an early April Fool’s joke! We salute Siebum in stretching the limits of materiality by using a simple, everyday object as the canvas; reminding us that "commonplace" doesn't have to mean "overlooked".

Image credits: Dezeen, Studio Rene Siebum

Throwback Thanksgiving: Possibilities on Your Plate

GPI Design - Thursday, November 27, 2014

This Thanksgiving, we're throwing it back to an original blost post we wrote for the 2011 holiday. As time passes the team here tends to do stranger and stranger lighting experiments with our foods (backlit PB&J, anyone?), but our fascination with lighting and texture certainly hasn't changed.

Original post: With Turkey Day just hours away, the team here at GPI decided to get together and have our own pre-Thanksgiving feast. While we were sitting around the conference table enjoying our meal, the talk of design came about (surprise, right?). But this conversation was a little different than our normal meeting dialogue. Instead of discussing shop drawings or lighting specs, today, we turned to a new topic of conversation: design within our food.

Through our conversation (and after we paused long enough from stuffing our faces to actually look at our meal), we realized that a lot of the materials we work with on a daily basis actually closely mimic elements found in our food. The veins in a slab of onyx, the undulating grains in a slice of wood, or the texture of concrete, are all things that make those particular materials desirable; qualities that add beauty and visual interest to the piece. But veins, grains, and texture can all be found directly on our dinner plate as well. And while taste is usually the main criteria upon which food is judged, there is so much inherent beauty within these foods that often go unnoticed.

Armed with this new-found design inspiration, what did we do? The only logical thing of course…we took our Thanksgiving meal and backlit it.

Above: Thanksgiving meal transferred onto our LED panel

Above: fun with cranberry sauce and snow peas

Above: Snow peas with LED backlighting (fine details emerge)

Above: whole grain bread with LED backlighting (warm color)

Above: cranberry sauce with LED backlighting (a mess to clean up!)

While we’re pretty sure the Pilgrims and Native Americans never meant for their Thanksgiving meal to glow, it just goes to show that inspiration can come from anywhere…even on your own dinner plate. What inspiration will you find in your Thanksgiving meal?

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