Black And Light

Europe 2006_09 013Black can be described by the absence of color, and the absence of light. Black objects absorb every spectrum of light, diametrically opposed to the reflective action of white. Black and white-simple, spare, and elegant.  Black and light?  Though our summer light lasts long into the evening, the night landscape is well worth some thought.  A dark and rainy landscape can be visually challenging, and beautifully moody. 

Europe 2006_09 070Black Baccara roses, Queen of the Night Tulips, and chocolate cosmos are not really black-they are dark versions of red or purple.  Salix melanostachys, or black pussy willow, has branches that approach black.  But true black in the landscape is about shadow-light and dark.  The relationship of light and shadow in the landscape is a visual story that gets play every day, regardless of the season, or the time of day. 

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I took this picture last night after it got dark.  Focusing the lens was not so easy; I was guessing. I fully expected to take a picture of the black.  My camera actually recorded the landscape with what little light was available via a very long exposure.  Living in the city where I do, it is never completely dark.  But what interested me more was how the landscape read almost colorless-but for the cream fountain stone, whose vertical surface was lit by the warm light from the street.  My yews had indeed gone black, partly by way of contrast to the snow.    

IMG_0183Low light reduces contrast, but none the less the white painted urn in this picture reads white, and the shadows cast by the stone cistern read black. Where am I going with this?  Depending on the degree of shade, certain spots in a garden may also be described as voids. Contrasting something with nothing-this is part of composing.  Like the silence after a thunderclap, black in a garden is a place for your eye to rest, and regroup.     

Jan7 064The only reason I am able to see anything of my side garden on a winter night is courtesy of the lights on this tree. Landscape lighting is easy to dislike.  Rarely do I see it done in a subtle way; lots of times I see theatrical versions that might be fun on first glance, but tiresome over time. I like my theatre on stage, or my glitz and glam at a hotel where my visit is entertainingly brief. Thus I like strings of lights in the garden-lots in some places and a little in others-even after the holidays.  

Europe 2006_09 108Any part of a landscape that is strongly backlit will throw the unlit side of every shape black. Both natural and man made forms in silhouette are striking.  Composing and layering a space effectively can read in a very powerful way on a dark day. Though it sounds odd to say so, the sky is an important part of any landscape composition.     

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Iron in a garden shines in a backlit space. My side garden is enclosed by arborvitae, but it is fenced on the inside of the arbs with ordinary black chain link fencing. I did not want any fencing visible from the street side. Though the arbs are beginning to grow through the fence, that black is not so noticeable even now.  Dark colors do not attract attention in a garden; black demands even less from your eye. I reserved the ironwork for places where I wanted to see it, and see through it.  

2007 FIsher (42)This black garden furniture is formally elegant.  The lower shapes of the chairs read well against the light grey blue of the stone terrace.  The tops of the chairs appear much more subtle against their dark green background. The interior leaves and needles of the trees actually appear much more black than the chairs to my eye.   The texture of the embroidered white tablecloth is highlighted by the black table underneath. 

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The yews in this photograph look black, and the lawn nearly black-even on a sunny July day. The relationship of light and dark in a garden is always there, and ready to be seen.  Studying the relationship of black to white, and dark to light in your landscape-what better time than now?

Party Ready

mocad (2)With the sculptures generated by the stick drawings of the kids for Autoglow came the idea to fill the event space with ladders. Why? These ladders symbolized for me the leg up a donation to the Children’s Center would provide to the kids they help, but also the process by which all of us climb into our lives, and get to be contributing members of our community-one step up, at a time.  In the dance floor/foyer I hung from the ceiling what seemed like an endless number of ladders- borrowed from everyone I knew. 

Mocad 2 (16)I have had a leg up from others plenty of times, just like most people. I could have never done without this. All any kid needs is a leg up from a set of parents, a greater family, a good school and a focused community and a fair world.  When any part of this goes awry, all of us who are able, need to step in.

Mocad 2 (14)We cut what seemed like a zillion stars from thin masonite, and painted them gold.  Gold stars-this a simple visual representation of  the achievement of my babyhood.  I still remember the gold stars I got-don’t you?  My figures were happily floating in the airspace-as any kid should be.     

Mocad 2 (18)I did all of the figures, save one. The interior designer Charles Dunlap donated a figure, walking a dog, on his own.  His dog went up the ladder and was already crossing over to a new place-his version of an enabled child not far behind. 

Mocad 2 (25)The tables were not fancy; the not fancy chairs were every version of black we could find.  The tablecloths-collages of photographs of kids printed on giant sheets of copy paper, overlaid with clear acetate. The centerpieces? Flashlights-shine the light wherever you can. Bottled water energy drinks-water, essential to life. Some of the steel ladders we welded up crossed over from one table to another-fun. 

Mocad 2 (10)Its important with any fundraising event that the message be simple.  There are those in need.  There are those who can help.  Helping others is the best possible time anyone could hope for.  My job is to put together a visual telegram from those in need to those who can help.  Let some visual sparkle do the rest.

Mocad 2 (9)The few moments before an event designed to raise money for a cause begins- I treasure.  No matter what works or falls short, in the end, everything is about the sincere energy of the effort.  The lighting people, the catering people, the entertainment people, the Children’s Center staff-so many people came together on this day, to a worthy end. I am lucky to know and have worked with all of them.    

Mocad 2 (23)Those figures whose creation delighted me so much were not the star of this event.  They just took their place along with the efforts of a lot of other very creative and energetic people.  Once the room filled with people, there was a party going on.  I am a member of a big group whose names and particulars may never be known-fine. We were just all hoping for the best, for the kids. 

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Not so long after this picture was taken, this room was jammed with people, every one of them a gardener busy nurturing the landscape.

More Members Of The Group

Mocad 1 (60)seated evergreen girl with a burlap log carrier skirt and grapevine necklace

Mocad 1 (42)seventies dude with electric hair, palm hair epaulets and bell bottoms 

Mocad 1 (55)curly palm skirted girl with moss jewelry and raffia neck warmer

Mocad 1 (34)red bristling bead garland kid with palm leaf gaiters and matching full length gloves 

Mocad 1 (46)dancing girl with yellow grass Jetson style tee, knee socks and paper rose accessories

Auto Glow (3)curly red haired girl in brown velvet tunic with metallic ribbon detail 

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frosted grape guy with pet crows

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all about gold glitz girl wearing all of her gold stars   I wish all the best to all the kids.


Mocad 1 (16)Everyone in my town knows the Auto Show is in progress downtown in Detroit.  Not as many people know that the automobile companies have for years sponsored the NAIAS Charity Preview event in tandem with the show-which has raised over 81 million dollars since 1989 to benefit a number of children’s charities in southeastern Michigan. I had occasion a few years ago to be involved in an event to benefit The Children’s Center, which they call Autoglow. A party, complete with dinner, dancing and decor, would raise money to help pay for their programs for all manner of disadvantaged kids.  My idea was to keep the focus on the kids-the party would be all about them.   

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The idea was to construct a series of over life size doll figures that would be dancing, climbing, and whooping it up-in the airspace.  Kids whose needs are properly attended to shine, do they not?  I started by constructing stick figures like a kid would draw, from small gauge big diameter aluminum wire.  I posed all of the 25 figures differently, and covered the wire with long runs of ting ting fiber.  Ting, the flexible and wiry midrib of the leaf of the coconut palm, would give each figure a little volume.   

Mocad 1 (64)The ting ting was tightly zip tied to the flexible wire-but I was still able to pull individual ting pieces away from the wire-giving this figure a curvy shape.  She had a curly ting head, hairdo, hands and feet.  The legs were wrapped in ribbon, and studded with small cream colored paper roses.  Her outfit-a tee shirt covered in paper hydrangea petals.  The velvet ribbon at the neck and wrists-can you tell I was having a good time? 

Mocad 1 (61)I use dried and preserved natural materials for lots of projects-bringing the garden indoors is an activity I like.  Invariably there are bits and pieces left over-I keep them.  Who knows what might come up where a couple of green rope balls, or a few bunches of preserved grass might come in handy? The idea that this might help someone felt great.

Mocad 1 (26)I wanted all the kids to have a sense of lively animation-just like any real kid.  As each one got finished, I hung them from a bar on giant S hooks in the greenhouse. Each one had a different set of materials, and a different personality.    

Auto Glow (4)This figure made a lot of some green floral foam cones I had left over from a party for a client.  A spool of metallic peach wired ribbon made fast work of a hairdo, a necklace and some bracelets.  Though it took the better part of 5 days to make them all, the time flew by.  In retrospect, the occasion to design and play with materials, shapes, volumes and colors was the gift of this project to me.  Should I ever decide to give up gardening, I might consider making hats.  Outlandish hats. 

mocad (6)I was able to hang my figures on a convenient fence at Mocad-the venue for the event.  Mocad, or the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, had graciously donated its gallery space for the fundraiser.  These dolls looked right at home in this gritty downtown warehouse space that houses Detroit’s first museum devoted to contemporary art. 

Mocad 1 (57)This ting man got his whirling dervish look from multiple strands of curved aluminum wire.  The wire is very light, making it possible to make the wire appear as though it were floating.  One pierced aluminum hanging votive made a great starting point for a head. 

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A few bead garlands, a few red faux ivy picks, three bunches of preserved heather, and some gold ribbon  made for a good looking party outfit.

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I was so pleased to see that a lot of my leftovers did not go to waste-they did in fact have a contribution to make. Only good can come of an event like this.  The people that made it their business to contribute to agencies like the Children’s Center, all of them dedicated to the well being of the community-I hope they had a great time.   

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This landscape project of a different sort was surely great fun for me.