The Geometry of Motion

Copies of Barbara Hodgson & Claudia Cohen's newest collaboration, PatternPattern: The Geometry of Motion, will begin shipping this month. The book adds another branch to their ongoing adventures in decoration, materials and processes previously explored in the four-part color series as well as Cutting Paper, Decorating Paper and Folding Paper. 

PatternPattern focuses on traditional and modern systems of analyzing repeating decorative patterns. These systems - grid, proportion, tessellation, symmetry, motif, and style & culture - are each discussed in a brief overview, and extensively illustrated, primarily with examples hand-drawn by the authors in each copy. Each section starts with a drawing done on translucent drafting vellum, to overlay the accompanying text. The focus throughout is on design development, progression, and variety, emphasizing the possibilities for infinite interpretations of basic styles. The book also includes an extensive bibliography.

In addition to the original drawings in each copy, the book will be issued with an accompanying portfolio of sample textile grid design ‎leaves from Franz Donat's Grosses Bindungs Lexicon (The Large Book of Textile Design, 1908; see sample above). 

PatternPattern (50 pp. + inserted drawings, 9 x 9 inches) was designed and set by Barbara in Fournier type. It was inked & printed by hand at Heavenly Monkey, on dampened Arches wove paper. As with all their books to date, the edition is 30 numbered, and six AP, copies. All of the copies have been bound & boxed by Claudia. Copies 1-10 are extra-bound in leather (with onlays; see image below) over boards, and include additional original pattern samples. Copies 11-30 are quarter-bound in vellum with original stencilled papers (by Claudia) over boards. 

The edition is fully subscribed, but some copies are available through HM's regular booksellers (see list at right). 

As with past publications, Barbara agreed to answer a few questions about the new book...

HM: What was the one thing that proved to be much more complicated/painstaking/time-consuming than you'd expected?

BH: There were two especially difficult aspects to this book. The first one is probably the most obvious: how to narrow down the infinite number of patterns to a reasonable number that is also representative and interesting. The solution was to try drawing many different ones and choose from those that worked best as drawings. The second was less obvious at the beginning: how to organize the book. I had expected that this would be relatively simple. After all, there are thousands of books on pattern, each of them based on some sort of organizational system. It turns out that one reason there are so many books on pattern is because patterns are difficult to organize.

After several false starts and after rearranging the contents many times, I finally settled on a review of historical systems of pattern organization from simplest to most complicated: by grid, geometrical proportion, tessellation (also known as tiling), symmetry, motif, and style and culture. I’ll elaborate on the last two of these systems here.

Organizing pattern by style or culture was popular in the 19th century, as seen in books by Albert Auguste Racinet, Alexander Speltz, Heinrich Dolmetsch, and Owen Jones. What strikes the modern observer (and surely it struck observers in the 19th century), is the appearance of similar patterns throughout different cultures. Jones, the author of The Grammar of Ornament,” 1856, wrote about similarities to be found in the decorative arts in different cultures, specifically between Arab, Roman, Byzantine and Moorish patterns. He noted that similar patterns were reinterpreted by each culture the same way “an idea [is] expressed in four different languages. The mind receives from each the same modified conception, by the sounds so widely differing.” This thought expresses the difficulty of assigning any one pattern to a specific time, place, culture or person.

Organizing by motif was a tempting approach, as everyone can recognize such elements as stars, pinstripes, polka dots, foliage, zigzags, and the idea of presenting such pleasing shapes together on pages was hard to resist. But motif proved to be as complex a system of organization as style and culture and was doomed for us as soon as I reviewed Flinders Petrie’s valiant efforts in his 1930 book, Decorative Patterns of the Ancient World. His categories were wide-ranging but inadequate, and he expressed the hope that future design scholars would continue his work.

Because the others—grid, proportion, tessellation and symmetry—are structural systems and are most easily analyzed across cultures and regardless of motif, they proved most successful, especially in combination.

The two difficulties described above might seem secondary to the decision to draw most of the patterns rather than to print them. For me, there wasn’t a choice. Drawn patterns relate to the principles of design by showing, at least in part, the rationale or basis of the pattern and the sequence of its development. Here, the human hand and mind is visibly at work.

What do you think is the coolest part/aspect of the book?

BH: As a maker of and collector of process—notes, sketches, diagrams, and so on—the aspect of this book that I am most drawn to is the process laid bare. More than 40 of the 50-some patterns included in the book are hand-drawn and show their bones in the form of structural pencil or pen work. Some of the patterns are presented in step form with each step adding detail. Others show variations of a single fundamental pattern. Of course, with handwork comes the inevitable error (or two), and these we fix as best we can but leave the evidence of erasures unapologetically.

How does this book fit with your previous ones?

BH: The most obvious tie would be with Decorated Paper (2015), as much of what we included there were repeating patterns. But Folding Paper (2017) and Cutting Paper (2013) are also related. The processes of both folding and cutting paper to produce decorative work often produce repetitive patterns. Tessellations made by folding paper are complex patterns of repeating polygons. Paper folded multiple times and then cut into can also result in repeating patterns. Working on all three of these books motivated us to exploring pattern in more depth.