The Intersection at Fifth Ave and Neville St

The first encounter

9/1/2020

The quest to explore a Pittsburgh intersection was limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic currently plaguing our society, so I chose to stay close to campus to find an intersection to document. At around 4 pm, I wandered around the area northwest of campus until I settled on the intersection at Fifth Ave and Neville St, which is where a small asian grocery store called the Seoul Mart and a few Carnegie Mellon apartments are located.

Quick sketches

Accommodations

Since this area is densely populated, there are three bus stops for the residents (above right). A man and his baby waits for the bus to arrive at the southwest corner of the intersection (above left). All the crosswalks had yellow, truncated domes that aid the visually impaired in recognizing crosswalks.

Vegetation

The upper left corner of the intersection had a small garden area for the residents of University Square Apartments. It consisted of a patch of grass, dark leafy shrubs, and few tall trees to shade visitors from the sun. The lower right corner also had greenery that helped break up the urban landscape.

Architecture

As I approached this intersection, I was immediately drawn by the Seoul Mart. The apartment buildings surrounding it were almost clones. Each had simplistic designs and boasted the characteristic Pittsburgh combination of red brick with tan embellishments. In contrast, the Seoul mart looked other worldly. The light cream brick, lofted roof, and intricate decorations adorning the windows reflected a different time period. It made me wonder what types of buildings were torn down to create the modern world we know today.

South Neville St slopes down into an urban neighborhood with various brightly, colored homes. There seemed to not be any uniformity in the structures besides being collectively unique from one another. Again, this opposes the modern, copy-paste architecture style of the apartments.

People

Most of the people walking these streets are students from Carnegie Mellon or the University of Pittsburgh. For once, I am glad of masks because I could easily see their universities boldly printed across the fabric. People in need of groceries also frequented the intersection, and the customers of Seoul Mart ranged from old, asian women clad in brightly patterned clothing to college students dressed in all black.

We meet again

9/4/2020

The first time I went to the intersection of Neville St and Fifth Ave, the streets were eerie. It wasn’t completely empty, few old asian ladies came to get groceries and college students would drop by for a few minutes before continuing to some unknown destination. However, this intersection provoked a sense of unease. I’m not sure if it was because I saw some sketchy figures or if it was the gloomy, gray cast sky, but there was something that made me keep my guard up. However, the second time I visited the ambiance shifted completely. The 6PM setting sun cast a golden, welcoming filter over the city, and all of the discomfort I had experienced before vanished.

People Part 2

I saw a number of people out and about at 6 o’clock. There was a girl fixing her bicycle outside of the Seoul Mart (lower left), a CMU college student riding an electric unicycle, a child with his father and grandfather riding bikes, and multiple people carrying plastic bags with purchased items inside walking home (lower right). Honestly, my favorite part of this outing was watching the child biking and his grandpa running to catch up with him while pushing a baby stroller. This menagerie of pedestrians made the intersection feel more like a neighborhood rather than a scary urban jungle.

Quick Sketches of the people at the intersection

Revising

One thing I incorrectly recorded last time was that not all the corners of the crosswalk had truncated domes. The Seoul mart did not have these, which indicated it was an older building with its original sidewalk. The other corners of the crosswalk were redone to include better guidances for the seeing-impared when the new apartment buildings were built.

Key Features

Key features of this intersection is the unique Seoul Mart and the monotony of the surrounding buildings. This time, however, I would also include the pedestrians because of the effect they had on the mood of the area.

The Relief

9/9/2020

We finally get to the apex of this whole process, which is to create a paper cut of one shot that encapsulates the whole intersection. When I was choosing my single photo to represent the intersection, I wanted to show how different the Seoul Mart is compared to the surrounding buildings and that the street has light traffic (for both people and vehicles). Doing this was difficult as one photo can’t capture all 4 buildings at the intersection.

So, I decided to do this photo because it had one of the “boring” buildings, and the Seoul Mart (and the biking man) was the main focus of the composition.

When I started the paper cut project, my initial strategy was to create many, many layers to introduce depth. However, I soon learned that the effect of 7 layers of card stock was the same as 2 or 3 layers when photographed. I think the true effect of my labor can only be experienced by holding it in real life

The individual layers of my relief spread out
The finished relief

Grayscale

9/14/2020

The newest challenge to this project is to create a grayscale rendition of the photograph. Things in the distance are supposed to be a lighter, and closer objects are more intense in value. I learned this guideline as a child when I did landscape paintings, and I never fully understood it; however, if I apply scientific reason rather than aesthetics to this rule, the reasoning becomes clear. If I think about all the air (and dust particles) that is in between me and a mountain, for example, it is only logical that the air will block the color intensity of the mountain. I’m not sure if that is how it really works, but it makes sense to me! Anyways, that was just something I thought of when this project was assigned, and so I created my grayscale paper-cut with this in mind. Even though some of my closer objects were lighter in value, I darkened them to show depth and vise versa for far objects.

Planning the layers using number codes

Although I am overall happy with the results of my grayscale cut paper project, I wish I pushed the light values a little bit more. I think I could’ve taken one of the middle values out and added in white card stock to increase the contrast. I also had a harder time with my initial plan and had to deviate from it for a varied composition. I decided to add a lighter color to the windows of the Seoul Mart since the contrast between the walls (#4) and the window (#3) was not noticeable enough. I learned from the relief project that I should focus more on the details rather than stacking many layers (as in layers that are not immediately visible and only add to thickness), since a few layers and many layers generate almost the same effect.

Everything else went pretty smoothly, although I am very disappointed that I did not get the full word “MART” onto the sign and could only fit “MA.” Furthermore, I learned that contrast is key when working with varying values. The black strip on the road is drawing a lot of attention because the road’s value is drastically lighter. Although the black is the same as the black used for the window frames, it is more evident because of contrast.

The finished grayscale piece

A Pop of Color

9/16/2020

Now, we move on to the last rendition of this series of paper-cut pieces: color. Honestly, I was a bit unsure of what color to spotlight in my intersection since there really is no color to describe the mood properly. I thought about my combined experiences of the intersection, the first and second visit, and could only hope to encapsulate the area using dark red. My first visit was admittedly a cold, unsettling tone while my second visit was busy and welcoming.

In order to reflect both of these feelings, I decided to use a cool red shade as my pop of color. This way the intersection can be experienced depending on the viewer’s interpretation, as a cool red can be alarming or energizing depending on the context. Incidentally, red is heavily present in the intersection, so I could draw inspiration from the real life intersection when placing the red.

My initial mock-up using digital editing (left) and the photo of my intersection (right)

To plan where I wanted the color to go, I started by digitally editing my grayscale piece to include red. In the mock-up (left), I added color to every red object in my photograph of the intersection (right), which included the apartment building, the bottom section of the Seoul Mart, the red stop lights, and the person with a red backpack. Differing from the photograph, I added red to the biking person and the “MART” sign. I felt that these two elements were required for the intersection to make sense, as the grocery store and its patrons contribute a large part to my understanding of the space.

Second mock-up: grayscale with red card stock laid on top

However, my initial rendering of the intersection needed tweaking, so I created another mock-up by laying red card stock on my grayscale piece. The cherry red was brighter than the brick color in the digital edit, and so I made some adjustments. This time I decided to not have the apartment building be red, since it overpowered the composition. Although I wanted some focus on the apartment buildings, the red was too much. To bring the apartment buildings into the intersection rather than have it be in the background, I added more detail by further defining the windows.

The finished color piece

With this version of the paper-cut intersections, I learned that color has a large role in determining emphasis. I thought that perhaps the detailed windows of the apartments would draw too much attention, but I think the red of the mart draws the eye even more. This means that emphasis is relative to context. If I had done the detailed apartment windows in the grayscale piece, that would’ve been the star of the show; however, the bright red color prevents this from happening in this rendition.

Reflection

9/21/2020

Although this project was mostly cutting paper, I learned a lot about non-paper related things. First of all, planning is deeply important for this project. Because each piece is made up of different layers, I had to plan out which layer would contain what element, and also keep in mind how the layers would look pasted together. Then, for the grayscale and colored versions, I had to think about the contrasting values of each layer to allow certain parts to show up. We are also learning this principle in visualizing, another design class, by creating silhouettes of natural objects. Through creating intersection paper-cuts, I was able to experience how much information is needed to understand what an object is. I’ve learned that the human brain can fill in a lot of information based on simple shapes.

Three Versions: The relief (left), the grayscale (middle), the colored version (right)

The Review

9/23/2020

During the review of the projects today, my perceptions of the inner workings of this project were reinforced. Several things were addressed during the final review, such as perspective, composition, tonality, craftsmanship, and color. The class looked at everyone’s iterations of their cut-paper project using Miro, which was actually quite nice since I could look at the whole class’s work as a whole while also having the ability to zoom in and look at the details.

One of points that stuck with me was how putting the three versions next to each other, had the potential to support the work as a whole or to make it less successful. In particular, Stacie and Steve looked at one piece that contained inconsistencies within the angles of the buildings. When working on the project, the thought that the works would be considered together had not crossed my mind, and now that I look at them side by side, I can see that I have the same problem with the angles of my buildings. If there ever is a next time, I will pay more attention to this. Once again, I am reminded that everything in art is a work-in-progress, and nothing is perfect.

My whole life I’ve created art with my own thoughts translated to paper; however, this project engrained the principle that design always prioritizes the user or viewer. Throughout the lessons and critiques, I’ve learned more about how my work is perceived by others and how to effectively communicate what I want them to understand. Hopefully, I will continue to refine this skill and become a better designer!

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Chelsea Tang

Chelsea Tang

Design and CS student at Carnegie Mellon University