July 24, 2009

Chew On This (Then Recycle, Please)!

An Interview with Designer Anna Bullus

Click on any picture to enlarge it to original size
Part 1 of 2 (link to Part 2)

It would be perhaps easy to state that Anna Bullus is obsessed with pink and leave it at that. After all, she answered our enquiring questions in pink coloured font. And of course her newest project – The Gumdrop Bin – and the subsequent new web-site she has created for it,
www.gumdropbin.com – do feature a lot of pink coloured (or is it flavoured?) pictures and graphics to peruse.

However, upon further examination, you realize that her work – and of course then this specific project – go so much further. If nothing else, the sheer financial aspects of the problem she is addressing are staggering. Some facts that Anna has gathered paint then this picture very clearly:

=> On average (no, it is not clarified who did the counting or how) it seems that approximately 30,000 pieces of gum are irresponsibly and wantonly discarded everyday on Oxford Street (London) ALONE;

=> Not only that, but if everyone immediately were to STOP doing this – again on this one Street alone – it would still take over 4 months just to clean up the existing ‘gum paddies’ that exist today, noting that it seems as well that 9 out of 10 paving stones have at least one piece of gum on them;

=> PER PIECE of gum, it costs about 3 times the amount of a single piece of gum to clean it up off the street. Note clearly this does not even take into account if gum is properly disposed of and later stored in something as proper as a land-fill or garbage dump;

=> NOW GET THIS – the British Government spends about 150 million BRITISH POUND-STERLING EACH YEAR on cleaning up gum off of the streets of the United Kingdom. If that doesn’t hit close enough to home, then note that this is well over 173 million EURO, or getting closer and closer to 250 million US dollars per annum (which is very close to the amount my pension fund has lost over the last few weeks)!

With that in mind, Anna has set out for her endeavour GUMDROP a very straightforward mission statement, one that not only highlights the targets of this project but also describes very well her own passion for design:

GUMDROP is a belief in a cleaner, greener planet. GUMDROP believes that with its new breakthrough in recycling, people will be able to see an attractive alternative to their previous habits of gum disposal.

Our Mission is to educate and inspire the public to give gum a second life.

As such, we’re very pleased to welcome Anna to this interview:

Hi Anna, thanks for sharing some of your valuable time. First of all, how would you describe your obvious passion for design to someone that either doesn’t really understand the art or purpose of design? Let’s say you’re speaking to, oh I don’t know, a newly discovered tribe of indigenous people in the Amazon, a classroom of elementary students, or even an ultra-conservative Investment Banker that hasn’t started his or her prison term yet...
Well, if I was describing it to the Newly Discovered Tribe, I'd probably say it's like catching enough food in 1 hour to feed the whole tribal village for a whole week.

Describing it Elementary Kids – well, it's like going into a sweet shop and being able to have anything you wanted as long as you had a good, imaginative reason to justify each helping.

And finally, for the Conservative Investment banker – I'd say that the motivation and satisfaction you get from a great deal, I get that feeling every day from design and what I invent.

Can you share a few more details about your background? For example, I’m fascinated to learn what a degree in Three Dimensional Design offers vs. say a ‘classical’ design curriculum, if such a thing exists?
I studied Three Dimensional design at Brighton University. It was great, compared to a classical product design course. I think it was probably how it was before technology took over a lot of design (Bauhaus).

We had the opportunity to gain skills in wood, ceramics, metal and plastics. And all we would do all day - really everyday - is make things. It was very experimental and a lot of fun.

My fascination was definitely in the plastics workshop where I spent most of my time making all sorts of wired and wonderful things. It was where GUMDROP was born!

I read that you knew you wanted to be a designer at an early age owing to your love of materials. What were your biggest influences in terms of art and/or design growing up or coming up through school?
I definitely knew that I wanted to be a designer of some sort from an early age; I had such a wonderful imagination. I would always be dreaming up new products and drawing out products things that I thought were definitely needed. This could be anything from a toy to a mechanical pencil case that did all your homework for you!

Throughout my school years my favourite lessons were always Art and DT (Design Technology). Even in primary school, I would make elaborate marble ruins!

For my secondary school, I chose to go to Bedales, a school that specialises in Art, Design, Theatre, Music and Science. It was here where I was really encouraged to develop my passion for Design. In fact, this is where I made The Caterpillar.

As with anyone, it's hard to pin point what exactly influences or has influenced you throughout your development. For me, I think it was a mixture of things: my teachers, the people I used to hang out with and the environment in which I lived. But of course these influences constantly change as you change.

Looking deeper at your fascination with materials: What has been your favourite material or medium to work with so far?

What materials or skills have you NOT worked with that you’d like to try?
Wax and knit.

How would you like to continue to – in the words of the Five! promotions – challenge the viewers’ perception of everyday objects?
I would just like people to have to think about a product that they are using.

Also, what do you do to ensure that you are living up to your mantra of ‘striving every time to be more creative than the last design’?
I learn from each design I create. So I hope that having learnt from the previous design, the next one will be in some way more creative than the last.

The picture of you in the lab is actually quite convincing, though I might have proposed having some dry ice bubbling away in the background for effect. How much chemistry experience did you have before you stepped in and started mixing concoctions?
Absolutely no experience what so ever! The picture of me in the lab is completely genuine.

For me, chemistry is a mix between cooking, common sense and multiple-choice questions. And in many ways like design: if you're patient and persevere and exhaust every avenue possible to try and meet your goals, you will succeed in the end.

What did you take from that experience of ca. 4 months in the laboratory besides your technique for recycling gum?
Really a new style of working. I really found the approach to be very methodical and thorough.

I would like all my work to develop in this way as I think you get such good results.

I assume your process is very hush-hush and you won’t divulge its secrets here. But are you patenting (or have you patented) the process?
I have indeed applied for a patent.

In terms of the so-called ‘mass production’, I am working on that bit now. However, it is quite hard to put this into practice when you’re trying to hold onto the Intellectual Property at the same time.

As I do speak from (not always good) experience, I am curious how you’ve dealt not only in terms of the Gumdrop bin but even other pieces that involve human contact (e.g. ‘One Cup or Two’) and the requisite safety and health issues.

One Cup or Two was a little 1-day project that I set myself as a design target. It was huge amounts of fun, especially when I got all my friends to come round for a tea and sugar party.

I wasn’t particularly worried about health and safety as it wasn’t something I was intending to sell. However, I have had huge amounts of interest and feedback to this piece. So I am thinking of redesigning the project so that it could be produced and sold ‘safely’.

Have you run into this with the Gumdrop bin, as I suppose you’re mixing materials that have had ‘biological’ exposure (albeit sterilised) with bio-resins and perhaps even additional colorants?
Well, again, I can't divulge too many 'trade secrets' yet, but I can tell you that bio resin plays no part in the making of this new material and GUMDROP!

A last chemistry question: my children (age 5 and 9) chew gum incessantly and it drives me nuts. Can you give me any tid-bits of advice or other information that would help me get them to stop? Like is there something REALLY REALLY gross in gum I could tell them about?
No! I need them chewing as much as possible, so that I can collect their gum!! You should encourage them! Sorry!

And I can't think of anything too gross either... although synthetic gum does contain latex.

It must be quite satisfying to so much success so early in your career, including with Five!, Caterpillar, and of course Gumdrop. Can you describe that feeling you get when you begin to sense that the public is reacting positively to a piece?

It is an amazing feeling that even one person gets what I'm trying to do and likes it. It makes me just all the more motivated and focused on my next designs!

continued in Part 2

Chew On This (Then Recycle, Please)!

An Interview with Designer Anna Bullus

Click on any picture to enlarge it to original size
Part 2 of 2 (link to Part 1)

Anna, I’m sure that Gumdrop is taking up a lot of your time now. In such a situation, do you feel a little torn between the time you’re investing in an EXISTING piece vs. the time you’d like to spend making new things?
It is true that I currently spend about 80% of my time on GUMDROP. But I don’t feel torn at all. I just feel that I have to invest nearly all my time in order to give this product a chance.

On one hand, my other products have been relatively quick to do. However, GUMDROP just happens to need more attention, possibly because it is a product that could hopefully make a significant difference to our environment. So definitely with that in mind, I want to give it all I got!

I like to call the moment of discovery the ‘Wow Moment’. It can be that one moment in time where you get the perfect idea (‘Eureka!’) or that a piece your working on comes together oh-so-right. Can you then describe your 'Wow Moments’ in terms of not only knowing that you wanted to be a designer (and that you could be successful at it) and also specifically your GUMDROP idea?
I don’t think I have experienced the ‘wow feeling' for design as I am still at the very beginning of my career. If I ever do get that feeling, though, I hope it will come at the end of my career when I can look back and reflect on what I have achieved.

I think the same mentality applies to the GUMDROP project. I tend to really focus on the 'now' and because I am in the midst of GUMDROP, that's where I'm investing most of my energy.

I would add that I don’t think there is such a thing as ‘the perfect idea’. I believe something can always be improved no matter what it is. For me, that is really the beauty of design and technology.

Perhaps when I get GUMDROP off the ground and running the way I want it to, I hope to have the feeling that things are coming together!

While the financial implications are amazing just in terms of clean-up costs, I am still curious if you’ve had a ‘carbon footprint’ measurement made, that is, looking at the energy and costs needed to recycle and reform the waste gum vs. just, for example, putting a convenient new plastic bin out for people to at least not dump their finished ‘chewies’ on the street?
You're right to bring this up and it is something I am looking at the moment. Currently, what I can say is that it has the same environmental effect as making a standard bin using a recycled polymer. But I definitely hope to improve on this.

I was also quite fascinated by your work with the Hulger ‘Pluemen Project’. How did you get involved in this?
I did an internship with them and this is one of the projects we did whilst I was there.

How do you see such aesthetics playing a role in the acceptance of energy-saving light-bulbs?
If the cost of making a good-looking energy saving light bulb is cheaper or the same as existing ESL’s, then I hope it would attract a lot more people. I think Hulger are trying to get to this point, as you can see at
http://www.plumenproject.com/ .

I do think though this approach is important to explore, especially in this area because no one has designed anything that appeals practically and aesthetically to the household consumer. But when the household consumer starts buying, you know someone has found the secret to success!

Looking ahead a little bit, where do you see yourself in the next years? Are you able at all to get a grasp on the ‘situation’ in terms of a design career at this time what with the economy?
I see me working for myself forever and ever! For me to be happy and to succeed it is very important to be in control of my own time.

And despite all the global gloom and doom about the economy, I believe that this is the perfect time to be starting up a new sustainable venture. I just that that by the time such a new business does get off the ground - say within 2 - 4 years - the economy will be slowly getting back up on its feet. I also see more and more people then looking to invest in ‘green schemes, ideas or ventures’.

From your picture, it seems you have at very least (a) very nice, strong and clean teeth and (b) healthy mandibular (sp?) muscles. Are you in fact a secret gum-chewer yourself that may have some skeletons (or globs of gum) hanging in or sitting on the floor of her closet?

I will confess that I am a serious gum chewer now I have started this project! However, I didn't chew gum very often - and I have to be boring and say that I always threw it properly away in the bin or put it in paper and into my bag.

But the GUMDROP project came about because I can’t stand how we have come to accept these little splodges that pave our environment!

I also saw that you’ve travelled to both Australia and the United States to ‘research’ the issue of gum disposal. What did you learn from those trips?
That gum litter really is a global problem that no one is tackling head on and there is a definite market for GUMDROP.

What would be your dream in terms of fulfilling the ‘ultimate sustainable design’ approach or even object (money being no issue in this case)?
A project or product (I hope it is GUMDROP) that significantly makes a difference to our environment globally.

Agreeing whole-heartedly with your appreciation of the Sussex countryside, have you nevertheless (is that a word?) had at any time in your education or even career right now a kind of ‘wanderlust’ that is, to go out and try different settings such as New York, Tokyo, Paris or even Ramsbottom (just outside of Manchester)?
I grew up in Portugal, moved to London and then moved to West Sussex when I was 13. I have enjoyed all of these places.

However, combining the fact that I was 13 years old and thus was in my most adventurous phase, Sussex remains my favourite. I am back in London now. But I am someone that likes travelling a lot. But again, home to me is England, so I wouldn’t want to live and work anywhere else.

Looking ahead: What can we expect to see in the Gum Drop Shop?
Weird and wonderful limited edition products made from recycled chewing gum!

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Anna Bullus was born in London, England in 1984. She left Bedales School in 2003 to go to Camberwell College of Art (2004 – 2005) to do a foundation course where she specialised in 3D Design and left with a distinction. Anna then went on to the University of Brighton where she graduated in Three Dimensional Design with a first class honours (2005 – 2007).

After leaving University Anna gained experience as a product Designer with Hulger where she was given the task of redesigning the energy saving light bulb, again for more please check out her ‘
namesake site’ under the Plumen Project. She also worked at Case Furniture as a junior product developer and press liaison in London. She then left this group in June 2008 to set up her own company GUMDROP Ltd to tackle the global problem of gum litter.

Some of the places where Anna has showcased her designs include Cologne, Singapore, Shanghai, Milan and London. Most importantly, she points out clearly that she is completely passionate about design. Anna is a strong believer in the mantra that materials and processes should be understood thoroughly in order to push properties to achieve innovation without loss of quality. Problems are only there to be overcome by simple, clever and comfortable design that recognises daily social and environmental trends and needs – striving every time to be more creative than the last design.

Among the awards she has been, well, awarded include the following:
2009: Hidden Art Polymers Award for overall performance
2008: Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship Travel Fund
2007: Nagoya University of Art: Outstanding achievement in Design
2007: Burt Brill and Cardens: Outstanding achievement in Design
2007: British Council Top Ten

Although at the start of what will no doubt be a long and illustrious career in design, Anna has had several key hits and expects big things to come in the months and years ahead. We wish her continued good luck but nevertheless raise again the need to get our darn kids to stop chewing so much bloody gum!

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All pictures used with the express written consent of Anna Bullus. Many images were taken from her websites including
www.annabullusdesign.com as well as www.gumdropbin.com . Some images used from previous articles referenced by Anna with her kind permission.

July 21, 2009

Poetic Passings From A Plane Ride

Click on pictures to enlarge them to original size
To be read in a ‘relaxed’ 16-beat cadence… seriously

This week's Fresh Ziggy comes to you wholly and completely in rhyme
I mean I'm stuck in an airplane, I've got more than plenty of time
I always laugh when I hear 'folks it's time to get on to the plane'
Thinking George Carlin's
'why not in the damn thing?' (but much more profane)

Speaking of which, this clip shows this poor guy's guitar so mistreated,
Had it been me, the song’s lyrics would be half-bleeped or deleted
He reminds me of the
Brothers Wilson, Owen and, uh, Woodrow (?)
That's sarcastic as heck (their movies waste time or money to go)

The past days were eventful but quiet, sometimes up, sometimes down
A lot like my painting: 'Aah, I wanted orange but got greenish-brown!'
A little bit stressed, a little relaxed, time spent somewhat thrifty
Now that 40's farther away (I'm getting closer to 50!)

A time for reflection, words of wisdom to ponder or peruse
More time for my writing or those pounds, a stone or two we should lose
I think I'll get to it, maybe a jog 'round the track or our block
Take it easy, a voice says, don't send your gut too quick into shock

Big news 'round here: on the 18th we hosted some bike tour in France
30 seconds of speed trials flying by with some guy they call Lance
But we really can't complain what with the new sidewalks (they spend loads!)
Let's have it next year, maybe we'll get more for our 2 little roads!

But lately what's bothering me above all the more and the most
Is it seems Earth - at least to the Moon - is not a very good host
You see the Moon is moving away, not fast but stop and just think
3-point-8 centimeters per year, ‘way to some orbital brink

So the past days I have studied our circling satellite, uh, thing
Formed from a rogue orb hitting Earth (
told you!), first giving a space-ring
Later it grouped, forming rock foreboding, lifeless, distant and cold

It was even ten times closer than today (or so I've been told)

Here we are at a time where it's positioned just perfectly right
Perhaps more than chance we're here, crawling from tides at suitable height
And think how perfectly it fits during an eclipse of the sun
In millions of years such events will not be nearly so fun!

The whole thing freaks me out, so then I've googled diagrams galore
Perhaps though I'm ranting, I can be so often such a real bore
But if the moon is as big as the U.S., an estimate crude
Why show it as an East German, ball-throwing Olympian dude?

In other news I have to say thanks to my friend, Editor Man
Who just ran two Ziggy's at
site X (oh yeah, sign up, be a fan!)
By the way, our plane trip did finally end - but wait, there is more
We saw J. Vallee's
'spray can' poster on front of many a store!

And while we're shouting out to folks we respect and find all the rage
Thanks to
JV and J. Breton for putting us on their own page
I include here links of
V, B, for each at xymara-dot-com
I just feel so giddy and hip, gotta add 'oh man, dey da' bomb!'

Other than that, I finally broke down and signed up for FACEBOOK
Not tried it yet? Hint: ask someone you know, and first take a quick look
But I've signed up, always a late user (but I found a few friends)
Though most searches landed nowhere (or in prisons), lot's of dead ends

Well, time to end my self-serving mag out plus-minus bi-weekly
Just as expected: no punch-line, suspense, and just a tad meekly

But join us for this week's interview, here's one heading to the top
Anna Bullus, she created this cool thing she calls GUMDROP!

There lot's more cool stuff coming out and just sitting there on our plate
Interviews pending that you'll find swell (oh darn I should have said great)
Might even write about adventures in stained and fused glass learning
A creativity rush that I've had, a long time my yearning!

July 3, 2009

A Dream Within A Dream

An Interview with Calligrapher Julien Breton aka Kaalam

Part 1 of 2 (link to Part 2)
click on any picture to enlarge it to original size (also turn on sound for videos!!)

Imagine that you have to learn about how inks and different graphic tools – including a wide range of pens and other writing implements – work in order to create your art. Okay, many of you are nodding, that’s good, let’s keep going. Now let’s add to that also working with more advanced paints, different brushes and even calligraphy equipment and methodology. Okay, a few less heads are nodding, but still we’ve got a good audience left playing this little game. Now let’s add to that a need for understanding how light works IN THE SAME WAY as your inks and paints do, including now both light that you CAN see and light that you CAN’T see. Hm, a few less participants are left. Let’s wrap up this skills set then with a healthy dose of understanding three-dimensional design, time-lapse photography and even choreography. Oh dear, just that many left? Oops, and we forgot to add: you have to teach yourself all these skills with no formal education.

You certainly don’t need to know all that about Julien Breton, aka Kaalam, and his calligraphy, but it adds a little more, I don’t know, appreciation for what he’s accomplished and for where he’s no doubt heading. Julien is an affable and out-going young man from Nantes (France), who began his ‘hobby’ working with calligraphy in 2001 initially by simply imitating contemporary Arabic calligraphers. As mentioned, he is self-taught, having also incorporated his appreciation for graffiti in order to develop his own ‘Latin-based’ alphabet. In addition to creating his works, which range from amazingly beautiful pieces on paper to photographs capturing any where from a few minutes to several hours of work to even his displays in the ‘virtual’ world, he also incorporates in many cases inspiring phrases and quotes. These are taken then from the diverse worlds of Western and Middle Eastern philosophers, French rap and hip-hop artists, and other famous writers including the works of Edgar Allan Poe and even Mark Twain.

When Julien discovered the so-called ‘light-graff’ process, he began to experiment with a new way of creation. This new means of expression requires not only calligraphy skills but also a full range of body language, choreography, and even hi-tech exchanges with photographers and video artists. But in this way, Julien has managed to change ink into light! And any surface can become his canvas, from beautiful landscapes and historic monuments, to the sides of buildings or the bare-skinned backs of models in pose. Since the beginning of 2009, Julien has also joined up with the group Digital Slaves, and through experiments and their collaborations, they have invented a new process for creating real-time virtual calligraphy. They have also continued to develop light calligraphy – the differences between ‘light’ and ‘virtual’ calligraphy will be made clear later – through a show that combines calligraphy, music and dance.

Ziggy Nixon is very pleased to have caught up with Julien to talk about both the ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ parts of his craft:

Julien, after reading your on-line information that you provide on your home-page, I’m very interested to learn more about your background. Can you tell us a little more about you got started with your ‘calligraphic art’, please?

My journey or course of development with my art has not been very close to what you could call classical!

I have a BTS in Administration and Management of audio-visual production (ZN: a ‘BTS’ degree in France is a "Brevet de Technicien Supérieur" diploma which is typically awarded after two years of study after the baccalaureate or BS degree). Still, before I started my technical studies, I really wanted to be a musician ... a pianist to be exact. But I was always frightened by the prospects of life as an artist. So instead, I decided I would stay kind of in orbit around this world, you know, staying near it but maybe a bit more hidden in the shadows.

After college, I developed an association called ‘pick-up productions’ that organises all kinds of events including evening concerts and other cultural activities, video projects and screenings and more in Nantes. Afterwards, I started with ‘scopic’ which is a co-operative group that also manages graphics projects, events (including conferences, receptions, exhibitions, stands, etc.) and various needs for communications and multi-media presentations (ZN also recommends checking out their fun-spirited blog for more!).

In terms of calligraphy, I’ve been working on that since 2001. But it’s only been since about November 2008 that calligraphy has really ‘captured’ me, so much so that it really became impossible for me to combine my daily work and my passion for my art. As such, I am now working on my calligraphy full-time.

A ‘live’ video presentation of Julien’s calligraphy work using paper as a medium. This features the artist ‘You-k-off (Nantes – 2006)and is titled ‘le silence est cri’ (‘Silence is cry’):

You indicate that you are self-taught. How did this process work and how did you manage to learn so much so quickly?
Calligraphy is very far away from the world where I come from. For me, I first discovered it in 2001 through the work of various contemporary Arab calligraphers including Hassan Massoudy, Salah Moussawy or Lassaâd Métoui. I started out by simply reproducing their pieces and forms.

But then I said to myself, ‘hey wait a minute Julien, you do not speak Arabic’. It really kind of bothered me that I could be making mistakes with this beautiful art form and the correct use of the language.

So I decided to invent my own Latin-based alphabet, which was of course inspired by the more abstract Arabic forms. But it was not easy as I had no training or education in graphic arts. I didn’t know anything about inks or paints or the tools I needed or anything.

As such, it was a long and difficult learning process for me. But I couldn’t afford classes or otherwise take time off and sign up for internships, so it was necessary for me to find my own way.

I also had an incredible desire to find and utilise texts from the world of rap music that had been such a big part of my own education. I wanted to bring this to an audience outside of the hip-hop culture. I just really wanted to somehow stir up people’s emotions with these great ambiguous lyrics, that were not only provocative but also were filled with lots of philosophy that I could relate to so well.

Your influences include not only the styles of Arabic calligraphy but also the movements used in Eastern calligraphy (Chinese, Japanese). What led you to combine these very different yet very beautiful styles?
Yes, I really did want to create a ‘universal’ language even if that is an enormous concept.

I wanted to create a style of calligraphy that could speak to as many people as possible. Plus, it was fascinating to work with and merge these original styles even though they differed not only in their approach but also came from such different histories.

Overall, I think that is what led me to the ‘art’ of calligraphy. Plus, I realised I could say something that would very accessible and that it would make sense to a lot of people. I was attracted to that because I didn’t think I needed to necessarily know or understand the basic premises that many might consider essential for artistic work. To me, calligraphy speaks in a very simple way.

I also have to confess that I have this fantastic utopian vision of a unified world, where cultures can intermingle with each other without prejudice, or where such a mixture would not never be considered blasphemous. For me, especially in our times where it seems that the only time the West and especially the Middle East come face-to-face is when they’re in opposition to each other, I simply wanted to bring some aspect of these worlds together.

So I tried to gather and bring as many aspects of the calligraphy of different cultures that had touched or influenced me that I could. I decided to combine the lightness and abstraction of Arabic calligraphy, the art of the ‘moment’ and gestures present in Asian calligraphy – all while at the same time using my native language, French.

Still, I have started learning Arabic. Sure I want to mix my French (Latin) styles with Arabic, but it’s also something that really interests me in large part because the Arabic script lends itself so well to light calligraphy.

To be clear, are you still working with the team at Scopic? If yes, what kind of work do you do there?

My work at the event company Scopic has ‘accompanied’ me since I started in calligraphy. Again, I work with them on the organisation and management of commercial or artistic events. And sure, this work is what has allowed me to not only make a living, but to finance my creations and on-going development.

But Scopic is great. It’s a team that is made up of my closest friends, all of whom I trust completely. And it’s really important because it seems like these days about 90% of the proposals that I receive do not get realised or, in many ways, lack the ‘seriousness’ needed to bring a project to completion.

You are also developing your own font style for the computer?
Yes, I am developing my own font style. I wanted to just step back for a moment in order to take stock of what I had been working on and to organise the different letters that I had developed. So I’ve been working on the ‘kaalam’ font which originated from different creations on paper and was inspired by letters that I had been using in the various texts.

This has actually been a long project, because I’m having to learn all about typography creation. Right now, it’s full of errors that could only perhaps be corrected by a ‘real’ typographer who understands the rules of spacing, or how to adjust things to the right height , or how the different letters should fit together and connect, and so on.

Still, it is a work in progress. I want to continue working on it and refining it in the coming months. If you’d like you can test drive it yourself (see here)!

You mention that your ‘spiritual’ influences have included philosophy, writing and hip-hop or rap music. How did you get interested in at very least philosophy and writing?
Having grown up in a ‘quartier populaire’ (ZN: roughly translated, a working-class neighbourhood, typically including a diverse mix of residents of different ethnicity’s, cultures, religions, etc.), popular rap was almost a form of education. For me, it has even somewhat replaced the words of my father and forged the ethics and principles that I live by today.

You see, French rap is very special in it’s active commitment as well as in it’s subversive nature. French rappers are in many ways determined to raise the awareness of their audience and still bring poetry into the narrative.

For me, not being a writer and knowing absolutely nothing about writing, I just wanted to share thoughts, phrases, ideas and all the different influential texts that helped me become who I am today. As such, I take these sentences and phrases to help ‘perpetrate’ the messages of my calligraphy. Through my own tastes for this literature, I want to get people to learn more. I want to encourage my audience to discover something that otherwise I don’t think would be possible if I used, for example, classical poetry – which is often normally associated with calligraphy.

Plus, over the course of my development over the past years, in addition to these ‘contemporary’ writers and rappers, I have also discovered other classical western and middle eastern authors including such greats as Khalil Gibran, Edgar Alan Poe (the author of the poem of the same name as this article), La Rochefoucauld (ZN: sorry kids, no English links found to this last one, you’re on your own), etc.

Another live exhibit of Julien’s calligraphy and performance skills, this time for the group ‘Dubitatif’ (= ‘Dubious’). This video is particularly interesting as the details of the lettering itself becomes very clear as the video progresses.

I’m just curious, but have you also worked with graffiti before (we promise not to tell the police!!)?
Well, not really. I am totally inspired by graffiti because it is part of my environment, but I never spray-painted anything.

I’ve always admired graffiti artists who dare to defy the government by decorating our urban landscapes, and who tried to respond to the aggression of the omniscient visual advertising that is more and more present in our cities.

Sometimes I really want to join in ... but instead of this, I now work on walls with my light creations. I use light pens of different sizes which enables me to interpret the same gestures and forms that I create with my calligraphy on paper.

Can you describe your ‘work’ or performances with the Lightgraff team?
In fact, I discovered light calligraphy thanks to Guillaume J. Plisson, a great photographer who does this kind of specialised work with light-graff.

Working with light calligraphy can take different forms: the one I practice most often is the creation of calligraphic light pieces in the outdoors, in places rich in historical meaning or in such a way that a message can be delivered from the only photograph that results from the performance. In these cases, I work alone or I’ll be accompanied by a photographer.

When I work alone, I’ll have to place the camera, manage the set-up and ensure the technical settings are right. Then I begin working on the ‘choreography’ part of this type of calligraphy. In all cases, I have tested the forms and gestures many, many times over. It is this kind of practice and repetition which allows me to make successive refinements in the calligraphy itself.

It definitely requires patience! Achieving a successful photograph can take anywhere from about 30 minutes to several hours to complete. This is especially true if the exposure time of the photograph itself can last over 10 minutes, as for example with my piece shown here titled ‘Vivre Libre’ (‘Live Free’).

In other cases, like when I do public performances, I’ll present a solo show lasting around 40 minutes. For example, I’ll create a series of 10 illuminated calligraphy pieces including quotes. These creations are, of course, very bright and I’ll typically accompany the work with original music, especially by Supa-Jay, a composer from Lyon that I really enjoy working with.

These shows are quite fascinating and usual get a good response from the crowd. The spectators can see obviously the different movements performed right in front of their eyes. In addition, they can also see immediately how the ‘photograph’ is being formed as it’s instantaneously projected on a video screen, such as the performance I did for the ‘Festival of Lights’ in Lyon on the Place Bellecour.

But it is a difficult exercise that requires again lots of repetition and practice, as well as a great deal of concentration.

Two reports from France that each show in detail the careful ‘choreography’ needed to not only create the images but to coordinate and work hand-in-hand with the photographer or also for the creation of ‘live’ images:

Continued in Part 2


All images including videos used by exclusive written permission of Julien Breton. Any reproduction or other usage is forbidden without the expressed written consent of the artist and/or the associations or contributing artists involved. For more information, please visit the various sections at http://www.kaalam.com/.

A Dream Within A Dream

An Interview with Calligrapher Julien Breton aka Kaalam

Part 2 of 2 (link to Part 1)
click on any picture to enlarge it to original size (also turn on sound for videos!!)

Julien, after seeing you perform ‘live’ in different interviews and other videos, do you consider yourself more of an artist or performer as the magazine ‘Metiers d’Art’ described you?
I really don’t know where I fit between artist and performer. I mean, art galleries tell me my work is more design oriented, and designers tell me it’s art.

For me, my artistic discourse is constructed through the choice of the phrases I present in my calligraphy and the message that I present through the photographs. I am simply a witness of an era. Still, if I had to chose, in some ways I think I am an artist. Then again, maybe I’m actually a performer. You see?

I mean, I love creating snapshots for a single occasion or a specific message. Just now in fact, I am preparing for a performance where I’ll create light calligraphy over a span of 30 minutes. And I do enjoy doing shows, because I feel that the public is increasingly used to ‘quickly consuming’ a work or a concert. As such, I enjoy showing that artistic creation sometimes requests or even requires the audience to be patient, but that their patience will be well rewarded with a great and very interesting show.

Where do your works find their ‘customers’? You have done magazine covers and even album covers and much more of course. What other ‘outlets’ for your work have you found?
At the moment, being able to ‘live my passion’ is complicated. I’m really managing to just supplement my needs. I am providing courses and workshops in the various forms of calligraphy that I do. I am also selling original creations and continuing to promote my calligraphy light show.

But in a lot of ways, it seems my style does not meet current standards. Maybe if I was doing graffiti art, things would be easier!

It just seems that calligraphy doesn’t have a place in art galleries and in terms of contemporary art again the acceptance does not seem to be very high. Plus, I find that if I want to work and sell something like logos, many consider my style too ‘Arabic’, so it’s difficult to promote my work in the country where I live!

I find myself therefore in a somewhat marginal space in terms of positioning my work ...

The principle of ‘virtual calligraphy’ seems to be pretty clear with it’s use of long exposure photography. A couple of questions to the work and pieces you have produced:
- Different pictures include different ‘textures’, colour combinations, levels of transparency and even thicknesses of light. Is there a selection of different ‘light-brushes’ that you use? Here are some examples that shows what I mean:

Careful, virtual calligraphy is not the same as light calligraphy!

Light calligraphy is a creation completed with bright lights that involves taking a picture over a ‘long’ space of time with a camera. The end result appears only when the photograph is developed!

On the other hand, virtual calligraphy works with a camera and an infrared lamp. And with the systems I use, the result appears in real time and can be ‘projected’ even as the piece is developing.

But back to your question: of course, I use different ‘light brushes’. You can see several examples in this photograph (ZN: we assume that the beer is also an essential part of achieving a perfectly executed piece!).

In terms of the photographs shown above, the first photograph was made with Brusk (a graffiti artist) and here the red and white is made with a portable neon lamp where we applied red gelatin to half of the light. This gives the line this double-coloured effect.

In addition, all the lights that I use are ‘wedge-shaped’ which allows me to retain both the flat effects and still also freely express the flowing forms just as you see with calligraphy on paper. The angle of the bevel allows me to create either fine or thick lines.

The lamp used to create and photograph the 3rd picture above is very powerful and is used for working in extremely bright environments. It is composed of fifty very powerful diodes which in turn gives the effect of the very fine, grooved lines running in parallel.

How much trial and error does it take to develop the right control of the light?
It is a difficult exercise if you want to think of it that way. But learning to work like this was a real revelation for me.

Since I was young, I understood space and 3 dimensions in a very special way. Today when I work, I trace reference marks on the ground and I also use even my center of gravity as a reference in space and time. Other times, I’ll even call upon my appreciation of mathematical logic and different ways of viewing space with my eyes or within my mind.

And when I know by heart the choreography of my calligraphy, I can achieve my work error-free and without problems, even in a photograph. But when I'm creating, this entire preparation period can take several hours to several days ...

What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of working in combination with photography vs. working on paper?
When I worked only on paper, I always had a desire to make the format bigger. I wanted to expand the space of my ‘canvas’ so that I could work with more gestures and movement. Light calligraphy gave me this opportunity.

Now, the frame of the camera gives me a background of the size I want. In this way, I am able to express myself with my whole body and create light sculptures in 3 dimensions. I just love working in this way, with volume, perspective, and depth!

Have you considered going to study calligraphy in an Arab country?
Of course. But unfortunately, I can not afford to do that right now ...

I do feel very close to the Arab culture and I'd like to get closer. But all things in their own time.

I have seen your name mentioned as well with the group ‘Digital Slaves’. Are you part of this group or do you just work together sometimes?
Digital Slaves is a collective of artists working in the field of digital arts.

We met some time ago to work together on a project. I wanted to create a system that would allow calligraphy to be projected without delay or other problems as it was being made. From this, we’ve managed to develop a system together that allows us to conduct real-time ‘virtual calligraphy’. We now intend to set up a show to exhibit this technology.

The system as you can see from the video below works with a camera and an infrared lamp. The gestures of the artist are captured by the camera and then transcribed into a related library program called VVVV. This includes a free library which has been co-developed by various technicians and artists based in different countries.

Video presentation of the virtual calligraphy system developed by Julien Breton and Digital Slaves (this was actually the second presentation, for more, see this link) :

Digital Slaves [RT Virtual Calligraphy] from Digital Slaves on Vimeo.

It also seems to be important to you that you emphasise that none of your pictures have been corrected or edited. Why is that?
Yes, this is very important to me because you could argue that it would be possible to get the same results by spending lots of hours sitting at the computer and photo-shopping an image. But I hope that people realise that the process used is photography and we are actually moving in these three-dimensional spaces to create works of light calligraphy.

And to fully appreciate the work, I think people need to understand that these photographs are made in turn in one ‘shot’ and with one ‘burst of energy’ if you will. In my work, therefore, the sentence ‘the art of the moment’ takes on it’s full meaning.

What do you do to ensure that the image you are making in ‘virtual’ space is looking like you want it to look? Obviously you can not make corrections, so how does this work?
To be honest, I don’t know exactly how I do it.

Really, creating in a 3D space seems natural to me. I fix each gesture in a precise way in space. I’m able to recreate the effect of different shaped lens even; but again, I have to admit that I don’t have a precise answer that I can give you.

Why do you use the performance name Kaalam? Is there a particular meaning to this?
Kaalam is both the traditional tool used in Arabic calligraphy and also means ‘to speak’ or ‘to express’.

Is there any location that you would really like to use one time? Or perhaps a message you would like to communicate?
Currently, I would like to visit Iran. The complexity of this country intrigues me, and I’d be very interested to go there and do some light calligraphy. But my next project is to create a work of calligraphy in the middle of the desert.

My next steps involve moving towards more staged photography and trying as well to create more simple images using just a landscape as a backdrop.

Wherever I’m heading though, I definitely want my future to be filled with more and more meaning ...

What kind of projects are you working on now?
I am currently working on 2 projects: One is with a company with light calligraphy and movement. The second project I’m working on is a virtual calligraphy show which will highlight the gesture and movements involved. My presence and movements will be projected through a screen where I’ll appear in silhouette.

What’s next for Julien Breton?
Well, I’d really like to have a debate about my art. I'd like to discuss and ask others: do you (or your audience) think that light calligraphy has it’s place in contemporary art?

I feel like I belong ... but it doesn’t seem to get that kind of acknowledgement by what I’d call many of it’s ‘main actors’ ... again, time will tell.


Julien lists an impressive collection of exhibitions, shows, residences, workshops and more, including his appearances in print and on television on his home web-site. Instead of using up more space here, we will simply provide you the link to a summary of this information that he has provided in English (see bottom of same page). We think anyway we’d much rather use the remaining part of this entry to fit in a couple of other fantastic videos that help to illustrate his wonderful art and expressive style.

A very recent offer by Julien featuring photos of various calligraphic styles and works :

Also, an excellent interview and summary of Julien’s art and inspirations by the show ‘Najda’, including several fantastic pieces and also accompanying musical inspirations. Presented by Marine Cherel, Report by Denis Vannier, Credit for photos by Light-Graff : Guilaume J. Plisson, Credit for photos by Virtual-Graff : Digital Slaves

Reportage Najda
par KaalamV1


All images including videos used by exclusive written permission of Julien Breton. Any reproduction or other usage is forbidden without the expressed written consent of the artist and/or the associations or contributing artists involved. For more information, please visit the various sections at

Generation X Learns About Mortality

click on any image to enlarge it to original size (if you dare)

Whereas most of this week’s news is focused closer to home, I – along with 99.9999% of the rest of the world’s media including folks running like crazy from madmen with guns in Iran – would be amiss if I didn’t at least acknowledge the passing of certain iconic figures in the past days.

Goodbye Great Gloved One
First, sure it’s a shame about Michael Jackson, although I have to confess I was not all that surprised to hear of his premature demise (I mean, how does ANYONE survive in that kind of setting?). While I respect what the ‘King of Pop’ achieved over his musical and entertainment career, I have to admit as well that he changed so much from his first days - both in terms of looks and other issues - that it was hard to really connect his career to some kind of logical passing.

And as a kid going through the first trials in the early 70's of getting bussed for hours at a time to school to support integration, I knew just how big the Jackson 5 and later Michael were to the African-American community (I kid you not, but until I was 8 years old I thought Caucasians were the minority). Instead, I just think it’s terribly terribly sad the way he was raised and really in a lot of ways used to become who he was when he passed on.

But in a salute, I will say that I will never forget what he did for MTV back when the ‘M’ stood for music and not for ‘misguided idiotic reality shows’. I’ll also always also remember fondly quite a number of beer-aided nights our freshman year in college when all us white dudes were convinced that we could in fact moon-walk.

An Angel Goes to Heaven
However, as someone born right at the tail-end of the Baby Boom and just as the ‘X’ generation was getting going, the passing this week that hit me the hardest was Farrah Fawcett. You see, the poster shown here in fact not only ‘guided’ me into my puberty but also lasted longer on my walls than such dedications to KISS, AC/DC or other long-haired, tongue-wagging, crotch-grinding bands that I listened to in large part to annoy my parents (which sadly didn’t work that well).

Granted, despite other work, her role – albeit brief – in "Charlie's Angels" was so, I don’t know, overwhelming, that that’s what she’s always associated with. The NYT also put it well by saying that ‘the series, whose popularity coincided with the burgeoning women's movement, brought new attention to issues of female sexuality and the influence of television. To me, I often thought she was however misunderstood, and was not just a flag-bearer for what was to be a wave of brainless bimbos appearing on network TV (Pamela, are you listening?).

Instead, Farrah was to me always a symbol of not just sex or sexuality, but grace and even quiet intelligence. Okay, yes, she gave pretty late in her life an amazing set of pics for Playboy, but did you know that, quote, ‘before she had had any thoughts of acting, Ms. Fawcett had been an art student, specialising in sculpture, at the University of Texas in Austin’? True! You can even learn more about perhaps her last foray into this area at the NYT article found here. And despite perhaps the mental image you have of how I reacted to this icon created for the consumption by over 12 million fans, what I will always remember most is that I truly, honestly felt like she was sincerely smiling at ME. That sticks with a guy somehow.

So rest in peace, Angel.

News from the Front
But now to some lighter news from the home-front. It’s been a busy few days that included summer finally kicking in the after-burners in terms of heat, school ending for the kids and a few birthday parties thrown in as well. Oh, and I got my ‘summer’ haircut, which is indeed intended to last the ENTIRE summer and save me the ridiculous price of cutting it for 25 dollars a pop! Like my Grana used to say, ‘paying 1 dollar PER HAIR is just outrageous!’

Otherwise, one of our biggest ‘occasions’ was in fact the removal of the sudden appearance of a very much unwanted wasps’ nest which set up shop not 10 feet outside my office and bedroom windows. Fortunately, our local fire department is quite experienced in the art of ‘pest removal’ (noting they did forget to take the kids with them, even after we tipped them each 10 bucks! What a rip-off...).

Still, it was a bit more adventuresome than I would have liked in that after they got up on the ladder about 15 feet up they said to one another something to the effect of ‘I think this ladder is WAY too short’. However, instead of driving the 1.3 miles back to the station to get a longer one, they just went instead for the option of tying the available ladder to my office desk, as if this would somehow help. Great. I guess I would also be amiss if I didn’t point out that the fellow on the ladder was about 2 sips away from being 3 sheets in the wind if you know what I mean. Plus, his assistant was maybe 14 years old, but I guess volunteer organizations can't be too choosy.

But despite all this, their ‘industrial grade bug killer’ spray – which I think was a mixture of nitric and sulphuric acids and perhaps even nuclear waste of some kind – worked quite well (shown here is only about 10% of the nest that eventually just fell down rather than dissolving and almost literally bursting into flames). We have indeed been wasp free for a few days now, much to the chagrin of the bats and owls that seemed to have started to keep them a little bit at bay.

And as you can see, the sun did set and all was well, and the butterflies flew and the birds sang and we danced away, tra-la-la. In fact, if you look close enough in this photo, you can see the two guys who were flying by in their motorised para-glider thingies.
Personally, I have NEVER been nor intend to be at any time drunk enough to try something like that...

My Babies, What Happened to My Cute Little Babies?
Other than that, Ziggy Jr. had his 9th birthday (not 99th, which he somehow thought would be cool or better yet, signify getting more cool stuff ... sigh, the naiveté of youth), which was pretty cool but also quite sobering (don’t get the wrong impression though, the Mrs. and I got a very late start). A couple of days later he and his sister finished their school years, so, sob, we no longer have any ‘true babies’ as Li’l Miss enters 1st grade and Jr. is off to drive the local 4th grade teacher to early retirement or an early grave, whichever comes first.

Needless to say, we are desperately seeking to find them things to ‘occupy’ their interest, as they’re both also entering similar phases that either involve (a) annoying the hell out of each other (b) annoying the hell out of their parents or (c) all of the above but with added property damage well in excess of our insurance coverage. So remember to all you new couples out there: if that’s not a good argument for birth control, I don’t know what is!

O Canada!
Moving on then to the main focus of this here bloggie thing: we would like to give a shout out and a belated Happy Canada Day to last month’s guest, Julien Vallée, who despite evidence to the contrary here is not in line for one of this week's eulogies!

I’m definitely glad so many of you enjoyed not only his cool paper creations but that the inclusions of so many awesome videos into the blog was a big hit! It’s got me thinking about all kinds of neato ways to use this art-form, even though I’m a bit troubled that one of the prominent thoughts is to see what I can form by shooting through paper to create ‘explosive’ effects on the reverse side or even dropping heavy objects from heights to see what kind of ‘squished’ images I can create. Need to ask my therapist about that next week for sure...

There’s more in fact about Julien’s inspiring work (see tacky linkage below) in the coming paragraphicals.

Lighting and Writing Up the Sky!
But continuing our limited series of interviewing very cool and ultra-talented guys named Julien, this week features Julien Breton aka kaalam all the way from western France who specialises in a very unique style of ‘Latin calligraphy’. Julien’s métier involves not only putting ink and paint to paper, but he also works with an amazing mix of light and calligraphy coupled with photography and also other virtual means of expressing his art.

Julien's work is way too complicated and far too beautiful to serve it justice in such a short introduction! So be sure to check out this week’s blog offer, it is indeed very very wild and inspirational! And he's a great guy to boot, we really enjoyed having a chance to exchange with him!

When Rogue Planets Attack
And speaking of being both inspirational and also fellows named Julien (I told you it was going to be a tacky link), I was so inspired working with Julien V’s work over the past weeks, that I wanted to try my hand at some ‘paper sculpture’ as well.

click here people of Earth, click here and prepare to tremble before us!

This week’s blog header mixes not only some 3D paper sculptures but also is tied into the shocking news about ‘when planets collide’ from the last instalment of Fresh Ziggy (you remember, all of you read it, right? Hm, why are all of you looking away like that?). This week’s work is titled ‘When Rogue Planets Attack’ and features a few crazy, almost Muppet-like monsters based on paper and various skin effects, eyes, teeth etc. which I created from such complex graphic programs of PowerPoint and Paintbrush.

The monsters are all based on a dodecahedron form (literally meaning: a long, math-sounding word that I think means twelve sides but am not sure). I had fun picking out different eyes, different skin effects and of course the teeth, which I modelled after my son’s mixed up set of chompers (I desperately need a new job, not to pay for food and shelter, but to pay for his teeth and new shoes...).

The moon is based on a rather straight forward form for making your own ‘Bucky Balls’ – or C60 fullerene shapes (or just plain soccer balls according again to Ziggy Jr.) – which have always been one of my main fascination points from the world of chemistry and more, especially if you get into some of the wild theories about how these may have played a role in the creation of life on this planet (with the exception of Kansas of course). Again, the ‘texture’ was created with some ‘clever’ pattern making via PowerPoint and printing onto some pail yellow construction paper. Plus, I highly recommend staying away from too much coffee when it comes time to cut out, fold and tape in the bits inside.

The Earth form was something I in fact had in the drawer from a couple of years ago and involved a very tedious process of trying to incorporate one of those flat 2D earth maps in such a way that it could be printed out and then folded to make a 3D globe. It's essentially another Bucky Ball with lots of modification in the form of adding in some of the usual 'blank' pentagons that are naturally formed.

Believe me, my ‘spatial’ thinking took a big hit so there was a lot of trial and error involved (curse you Gulf of Mexico and your complicated set up with Florida and the Mid-American countries!). Note as well that if you want to try this at home, there are a couple of patches of ‘sea’ missing that were just intended to allow for easier taping together of the whole shape. I’d also recommend printing over the space of two pages, both for ease of working with the darn thing and also to get the sizing right if and when you include the Moon and/or assorted monsters in your collection. Oh, and the penguin stand is also, well, a stand if you want to, uh, stand your globe up. Just outstanding, really. I think I'll stand up and take a bow. Oh, shut up already Ziggy...

Afterwards, UNLIKE Julien Vallée’s work, I wasn’t able to really get the 3D set-up and photography that I wanted to achieve, as our little Snap-O-Matic just couldn’t cut it. Instead, each piece was individually photographed and shaped in a way that they could be combined onto one of the many thousands of great Hubble telescope photos. So, yes, to you astronomers out there that noticed, the Earth is in fact in the wrong galaxy in this photo, but hey, when you’re being attacked by Rogue Planets (cue eerie music and maybe put in a hot chick getting ready to scream), you can damn well be in whatever galaxy you like!

OK sports fans and others who accidentally have made it this far, do enjoy! See you soon with more craziness from ZN HQ! Aloha!