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Beneath the Surface Blog


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: Cleveland.com):

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, Cleveland.com

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: 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: 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: Waves of Grain

GPI Design - Thursday, September 11, 2014

Layers are inherent in our creation process at GPI. We meticulously study rippling veins in our naturally formed onyx materials. We artfully craft walls from combinations of structure, lighting, and surface. We stack lighting diffusers to bend light within slim cavities. Much like architecture itself, our perception of layers is linked to ideas of solidity, tangibility, and an additive approach. How often do we get to witness the “un-making” of layers?

In Waves of Grain, filmmaker Keith Skretch poetically captures the destruction of a single wood block. Planing down the wood layer by layer, the grain shifts in organic waves over a three hour period condensed into a few minutes. Secret patterns are revealed in striking images, then sanded to pieces seconds later. The ebb and flow of the imagery is mesmerizing, a choreography only made possible by Mother Nature herself.

Waves of Grain from Keith Skretch on Vimeo

While watching the video entrances the viewer just as much as gazing into a flame or enjoying the ocean waves, it ends abruptly. The pattern suddenly turns to black and the video comes to a hasty halt after all of the wood material has been consumed. We’ll leave this angle open to interpretation... what do you think it could mean?

This Thursday, we salute Keith Skretch for jarring us into thinking about the process of “un-making” at the macroscopic level. Our perception of materials within the building process has shifted, as we imagine how a manmade tool can unravel even nature’s creations, coming undone in a beautiful script.

Source: The Creators Project

Thursday Salute to Originals: Hair Today, Chair Tomorrow?

GPI Design - Thursday, September 04, 2014

Finish selection can be the best and worst part of a project. Finding a material that balances performance and durability while still meeting aesthetic criteria, can be extremely challenging, especially since there are nearly endless options to consider. (It’s difficult for our clients to select the perfect onyx for their backlit features, and that’s only ONE element of a design!) If you’re suffering from finish fatigue or need some fresh inspiration, don’t worry. We have a new material for you to specify on your next project: HAIR.

Human Hair Between Fingers

Yes, you heard us right. Human hair is beginning to make its mark on the map as a legitimate material choice in everything from jewelry, to décor, to furniture, and more.

Sounds pretty disgusting right? Well turns out, while most natural resources are in drastic decline due to booming human population, pollution, etc., human hair is virtually the only natural resource that is actually INCREASING with the rapidly multiplying populace of man. But high volumes of hair aren’t the only perk. Hair is extremely fast at regenerating - 16 times faster in comparison to other materials like wood, for example - and it’s quite strong, too. A single strand can withstand almost ¼ of a lb. (100 grams); now imagine that strength when multiple strands are combined.

Panels Cast from Human Hair

The designers at Studio Swine take us through a video journey through the process of fabrication with hair. In order to transform the hair into a useable material, the strands are brushed, assembled into layers, and then encased with a natural resin. Once hardened, a durable surface that can be cut, finished, and fashioned in a variety of ways is created. And surprisingly, the physical attributes of this end product is quite beautiful. Channeling the gentle ombres and grain-like textures prized in natural materials, the hair remains subtle while providing depth and delicate movement.

Watch the video below to see the full process of how this material is created, from scalp to finished product.

[Hair Highway from Studio Swine on Vimeo]

Now, we’re certainly not saying hair is a material choice for everyone or every design. There are some applications where we can see this as a good fit, and others where that simply wouldn’t be the case. (We personally don’t think it would be very appetizing to dine on a table top made from human hair, for example). For being willing to make an avant-garde material choice, we salute those who embrace human hair as a viable finish - to Studio Swine for bringing this material to our attention, and to the creatives who bravely implement taboo materials to “finish” off their designs.

Sources: Studio Swine, Design Milk, Sacramento Hair Doctor, MM Hair Fashions