Friday, May 18, 2018

da Vinci Workshop at the Discovery Museum

As I wrote in my previous post about my design work for the Water Gallery, The Discovery Museums in Acton, Massachusetts were recently renovated to combine both the original Science Discovery Museum and Children's Discovery Museum into one 16,000 sq ft. redesigned space now called the Discovery Museum. I was hired by Paul Orselli Workshop to create the environmental graphics and artwork for some of the new exhibit spaces, one of which was da Vinci Workshop. The da Vinci Workshop is a hands-on STEAM makerspace where kids can design and engineer their own creations using tools and a variety of recycled materials. Outside the workshop area are several simple machines and engineering interactives. 

The project called for an entry/title sign that incorporated a full-body portrait of da Vinci in the style of da Vinci based on his only known self-portrait. This was quite the tall order and, I'll admit, a bit intimidating. It required some research on my part since there are no full-body paintings of da Vinci and the drawing is only of his head.
*Interesting side note: No one can say with absolute certainty that the portrait is actually of da Vinci. The drawing was done when he was 58-60 years old (he died at age 67) and his portrait is of a much older man. Some people have speculated that he purposely made himself look older for reasons unknown or that it's a portrait of his father. 

In order to render his body, I researched the clothing of his time period, confirmed that he was most likely left-handed and based on his skeletal remains, approximately 5'9" tall. I re-drew his self-portrait in my own hand in order to make the full-body portrait look like one cohesive drawing. The next challenge was to make it look like the drawing was created during the Italian Renaissance. Incidentally, I studied Renaissance painting techniques in Italy 20 years ago and this was the perfect opportunity to put some of that knowledge to use. I wasn't able to use the exact tools and materials that da Vinci would have used so I improvised with a Tuscan red Prismacolor pencil on parchment and then used several different computer programs to make the drawing look appropriately aged and colored. 

We also wanted the title sign to look like it was hand-painted. I decided the best way to do that would be to actually paint the lettering by hand! Many people have speculated about why da Vinci wrote from right to left and I can tell you why without even having to ask da Vinci. It's because, like myself, he was left-handed. Even though I tried to channel my inner da Vinci, I didn't paint the lettering from right to left strictly for authenticity purposes. It was actually because my hand would've smeared black paint across the entire sign. Any lefty can relate to this dilemma. 

I laid the lettering over the background which I painted on a canvas texture using Photoshop and then added several filters in On1 Photo RAW to give it an aged and weathered look. If the sign ever gets damaged, a new one can be printed to replace it. This turned out to be a wise decision since this is already the 2nd printing of the sign!

These are shelves where the children can leave their inventions to dry. I was pretty much given free rein to design something that incorporated da Vinci's sketches for the back of the shelves.

I created a 12' wide image of what I imagined da Vinci's workbench might have looked like. I looked through more than a thousand of his sketches which have been archived by the British Library, National Library of Spain and Cornell Library. This part of the project was fascinating and also made me feel really lazy. He filled so many books with drawings, inventions, and observations. I really need to start sketching more!

This wall is all about simple machines. Around the corner is a gear wall so I tied the two together with these wall-mounted circles using a similar color scheme. Again, I searched through the archives of da Vinci's sketches until I found some that were great examples of the six simple machines. I then added a tint of color to each of them to make them more appealing to kids and to further distinguish them from my own illustrations of basic simple machines on the smaller circles. Each simple machine illustration corresponds with one of the drawings of da Vinci's inventions.

The exhibit included a working replica of da Vinci's ornithopter. I was tasked with creating a wall mural that integrated drawings of da Vinci's flying machines. The size of this mural is 12' wide by 6' high.
Pictured above is the flying machines mural with the replica ornithopter installed. Kids can design their own flying machines and use the nearby vertical wind table to test them out.

This project was both technically and creatively challenging and I hope da Vinci would've been pleased. I was personally thrilled to have the opportunity to contribute to the creation of the exciting new Discovery Museum.