Recently, one of my weaving students asked me why I liked polyhedra. An original goal of my book, Polyhedra: Eye Candy to Feed the Mind, is to answer that question for my friends. But she got me thinking and writing. Here is the short synopsis:
- Polyhedra are super cool objects to make & study. - See Polyhedra book to get hooked!
- A confession: my woven pieces were 30 foot algebra problems. - See below.
- I like beauty in art & equations. - See in next post.
Weaving & Numbers
Weaving transported me to a delightful place in a way nothing ever had in my life. I like all the different steps of weaving: planning out the project (more about this below), warping (measuring out the lengths of vertical threads), marking & dyeing my yarn (washing out isn't fun, but seeing the excess dye swirling around the sink is beautiful), I even enjoy threading the reed & heddles (setting the order & structure for the fabric), winding on (feeling & watching all the vibrant threads pass through my fingers), and, when I finally get to weave the weft threads in, watching the fabric grow is fantastic!
This complicated process engaged me technically in so many fun ways, but the planning was where I really indulged my love of numbers. A big piece, called Cycle, is 30 feet tall, 15 feet wide, with 4,500 threads, woven with double weave on an 8 foot wide loom, and hung in an open arc with an 8 foot diameter. How many cones of cotton sewing thread are needed if I set it at 30 epi (ends per inch) and use the thread that comes on 6,000 yard cones or the softer thread at 28 epi from 12,000 yard cones or a blend of the two? (To see Cycle and other woven pieces go to my weaving website and click on catalog.)
Working out such math problems for art projects was a secret world of math that I couldn't share, even with my weaver friends. Most people weren't thinking about making projects in this way, but I spent many happy weeks working out all the details. The work existed both as a fun mathematical problem to solve and requiring artistic imagination to envision a huge installation of glowing colours that had a bold strength and a quiet delicacy.
My pleasure in playing with numbers and in reading layman's science books led to me to re-take College Algebra, 5 years after getting my MFA. I enjoyed studying math, but it all didn't come easy to me. Though I had to work at it, I was used to hard work from my weaving projects. I went on to take Trigonometry, Pre-Calculus, and Calculus. -You know you can't leave an artist alone in a room with math for long before they start making geometric forms.
The planning involved in working out geometric shapes fit right into my artistic process, but the creation of these forms was so fast & simple compared to my woven pieces. Every night a new funny little geometric shape was added to the round table in the living room. Their ever growing numbers were reminiscent of the Star Trek episode Trouble with Tribbles. Though most forms were spherical, each one had its own structural story that fascinated me. I had so much math to learn!
Always searching for related topics, I studied whatever I could understand enough to read. George Hart's extensive website http://www.georgehart.com is where I really started to learn about this subject and Wikipedia taught me a bunch, too. I became a regular at the UC Berkeley Math Library; gleaning as much information as I could! The study of a simple 3D shape, like a polyhedron, is a tiny introductory part of higher math concepts that most math writers assume you can work out on your own. Some books I keep going back to: slowly learning enough to read deeper into the book, while with others I couldn't get past the introduction.
I've been in a self-directed math class with no teacher and no real point, save curiosity. There was something so captivating about these abstract concepts. Books that would put many people to sleep were keeping me up at night because I just had to try to learn this next idea! So many new theories danced around my head in delightful way, similar to the early rough images of an art project. Studying math took the place of planning weavings.
While you take time to digest that last bit, look below at a photograph my Dad took of my early woven reed experiments. If you want to see more, go to http://www.stacyspeyer.net , click on tangents and then geometric forms.
In the next post, I'll see if I can explain how the math world's love of beauty matches my own creative inspiration.