Day 25: Our Little Secrets
It was the eleventh grade and we were being shown secrets.
It felt as if we were peeking under the dress of literature, seeing what only a special few should ever see. Eight words of dialogue could inspire a reaction of words numbering thousands. Passionate debates discussing the motivation and desires and lusts that characters held firmly in their grip. We were shown the souls of people who never existed, and in doing so their veins were flooded with rich blood, their skin given warmth, their movements given life, it lent them flesh and bone. We were shown how characters and settings and moments can become real, how they are given adrenalin and sorrow and love.
I was taken aback by how subtle the details could be.
I loved it.
My friend did not. He thought “it was all bullshit, total bullshit, no director or writer bothers, it’s just made up by the teacher and people who want to find it. It’s bullshit.”
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Yesterday afternoon I posted this photo, with some lines I drew over it, onto Twitter.
I doubt much of this was on purpose. The rule of thirds is in play, which is a fairly standard rule for a photographer to employ, but there is so much more. Lines meeting under a shoulder, the top right/bottom left diagonal strikes almost perfectly through the body, the write and glove starting just below dead centre, the boot in the right corner sitting parallel with that diagonal blue line. The calf too.
We know this photo was taken in a moment of action. They moved, a button was clicked. But here it is. It sits so beautifully. Is this why this photo has lasted as it has? Because there’s an inherit beauty and balance to how they are captured?
Sometimes these lines exist and work because of luck. Other times it’s deliberate actions taken by the designer or artist or author. Sometimes we find them just because we’re looking and wish to find them. No matter the reason why they are drawn, when we find the lines that connect, and they do so so well, we find a little bit of order, and for creatives, a little bit order in which chaos can reign is pure bliss.
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I once wrote an article title The Secret Law of Page History. It was by far my most popular article, and perhaps my proudest, and I’m grateful for it. It showed the lines used throughout history to find the perfect place for a body of text to lie. Where the margins should exist so they are in harmony with the page.
Sometime later I stumbled over Kimberly Elam’s astounding Geometry of Design, in which she shows us how intersecting lines of geometric shapes, of logic, are used to define the positioning of elements within all sorts of design. She stole my breath and the practice stole from me my heart.
It’s been many days since I first read the book and yet it still stays with me. I look at posters and works of design and all I see is the lines of their construction.
I even wrote an article, going back years now, that I never published, finding the lines in classic pieces of design, just as Kimberly showed me how. Here’s a sample from it:
I really should allow it to see some sunshine and publish it, shouldn’t I? What do you think?
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It’s a legitimate argument that this kind of work is done so we can show others that what we genuinely strive for a level of detail akin to architecture or engineering. That it’s more than just moving elements around until they look pretty. There’s structure here, reason and logic, orders that we can offer to our colleagues and clients, to ourselves, as to why we made the decisions we made.
I always thought this is why we do such things, why we espouse the worthiness of grids and the principles and theories into which we place so much hope.
Thinking about this more I realise that these are surface reasons. These are the ‘only buy it for the articles’ kind of reasons. The dirty secret, the one we hide under our bed, is a lot more intimate than that. We hide these little rules of ours in our work because we love what we do. Because it’s a way to show our love, to express it and experience the passion we hold for our craft.
We may show others and be prideful of what we do, but we put these little details in because it just damn well feels good. Because we respect our craft so much, because we want to do something different and special and unique, because we want better for our actions than “yeah, it looks good”. Not for them, not for their campaign or launch or message, but for us.
I love all the little details. I love the geometry and the kerning, the grids and the colors. I don’t lust for these details because it’s the right thing to do. No one would notice if I didn’t. In fact no one notices when I do. I hide these little moments in my work and ferret them out in the work of others for one reason. One selfish, quiet and powerful reason.
I love my craft.