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Abstract: The Art of Design

Abstract: The Art of Design

During an unassuming scroll through Netflix offerings last week, something new caught my eye. It was a series of eight documentaries called Abstract: The Art of Design, each one about a specific designer, their field of design and creative process. What a good surprise! The even better surprise was how much we enjoyed watching them.

I was completely charmed by the first episode featuring self-conscious illustrator Christoph Niemann. Whether sitting in his Berlin studio staring at a blank white page or wandering through animations of his own drawings, the shy Niemann himself is cleverly drawn out by the filmmaker’s creative directing and editing. He describes quite accurately how people don’t really want to see authenticity in what he does. His success seems to lie not just in understanding the power of abstraction (“The abstraction for me is this idea of getting rid of everything that is not essential to making a point”), but in showing up everyday and keeping a non-formulaic practice alive (“I have to trust for crazy moments to happen”).

I think the best aspect of this series is hearing these eight different personalities—who range from confident to self-doubting to curious points in between—describe how their creations materialize.

Probably no surprise, but the graphic design episode featuring New Yorker Paula Scher was also a favorite for me. I liked seeing this person who has made a career of putting text on things (buildings, brands, theater posters) in her Connecticut home making loads of quirky, messy map-like paintings of the United States.

This series probably wasn’t intended to be binge-watched, but that’s what we did, burning through it in under a week. The creative disciplines included the two mentioned above, plus photography, stage design, athletic shoe design, car design, interior design, and architecture. In particular, I didn’t expect to care about car design or athletic shoes, but in some ways that wasn’t really the point. It’s fun hearing each of the designers talk about what they do and how it happens, even when it’s something I don’t think much about. I looked forward to that with each episode and wasn’t disappointed.



Paula Ogier Artworks


Spirograph, We Meet Again


Well, well, well. If it isn’t my old pal Spirograph.

I spotted this new metal box version in a museum shop and had to get it. It’s been decades, and I mean decades, since I played with Spirograph. It was a favorite art toy of mine as a kid. I think the original ones came in cardboard boxes.

I would bet there are bigger newer versions of this than the one I picked up. This box measures a mere 6 1/2″ x 8 1/2″. The pen options are pretty limited — there are just two. One red, one blue. Here’s what else the box comes with:

new spirograph

It no longer uses pins to tack the gear wheels to the paper. It comes with “spiro-putty,” which is similar to that tacky stuff used to adhere posters to the wall. I think it’s a great improvement. You just roll out small balls of the putty, stick it to the back of the wheel, and you’re good to go. No more shifty wheels. The putty holds it tight.

Spirograph art

The instructions say to twist the wheel, rather than pull, when lifting it off the paper. This is in order to prevent the putty from tearing the paper. I found it really difficult to twist, but sliding it worked well for me.

I had forgotten how slowly and consistently you need to move the pen. If you go too quickly, it’s easy to slip out of gear. If you hesitate in mid-design, you end up with little blobs of ink where you stalled.

new spirograph

Did I have as much fun playing with it as I thought I would? Sadly, no. It was another reminder that attempts to recreate delightful experiences seldom work. But I’m going to play with it some more. Practice is likely to make me more comfortable with it.



Paula Ogier Artworks

Tools of the Trade: My Digital Dream Come True

Cintiq 22

Hi there! This baby right here was my big splurge of 2016. A monitor I could draw directly on. It’s a 22″ Cintiq Creative Display, made by Wacom. It’s been life-changing. Seriously.

I have a 27″ Apple monitor that I love, but I can’t draw on it. Since 2010, I’d been using a Wacom drawing pad. I started with the Bamboo model, then upgraded to the Intuous. I’d connect it to my laptop and, with Photoshop open on my Apple monitor, I’d draw on the little pad. But here’s the thing about that: you have to keep the pad to the side of your computer for it to work right. There’s always a disconnect between your hand doing its drawing thing over there and your image materializing on your screen straight ahead of you. Kinda weird, right?

But I got used to that. In fact, I loved using the pad. I did, after all, start out years ago drawing with a clunky mouse before graduating to using my finger on the trackpad. So the pad and pen was a real step up. The pen doubles as a mouse, and all in all I found it quite useful. Occasionally a graphic designer or an art student would visit my studio and ask if I used the Cintiq to make my art. Noooooooooo, I’d answer wistfully. I just didn’t want to spend the money.

I began thinking about it a lot more last year. My commissions can take a long time, so I finally started clocking them. I was horrified to see what my hourly rate came to when I divided my fee into the hours. I’m too embarrassed to even tell you. There were two things that needed to happen: 1) I needed to raise my commissions fee, and 2) I needed to be able to work faster. It was then that I began seriously looking at the Cintiq. I felt fairly certain that a more natural drawing experience would be faster. I read reviews and watched video comparisons of it to the iPad Pro and Microsoft’s Surface Pro. In the end, it was the one that was going to best fit my specific work style and needs.

Cintiq 22

Was it faster? Absolutely! Not just that, but it is a natural drawing experience compared to the experience of drawing on the little side tablet. With the side tablet, it’s all happening from your wrist. When you can draw right on the screen, however, you can use your whole arm. Imagine being tethered by the wrist to a tiny spot for nearly seven years and then suddenly getting to move your arm and shoulder.

So, my plan had been to use the Cintiq in the studio and continue using the Intuous pad at home. Well, guess what? Once you get a taste of drawing on the monitor, you can not go back. Nope. I ended up gritting my teeth and buying the portable 13″ Cintiq to use at home. Ha!

If I had it to do over again — and money was no object — I’d get the 27″ model. I was used to working with a 27″ monitor, so now my images feel a bit shrunken to me when I make them fit the screen. Also, I gotta say that even though the Cintiq has good resolution, there’s just no comparison with the Apple Thunderbolt monitor’s resolution. That’s a trade-off, but I still use the Apple monitor for everything else I do, including checking my images closely before having them printed. Two work tables, two monitors.

Cintiq 22 Paula Ogier

I have not yet figured out how to program the Cintiq’s left side panel buttons. I’ve been busy, okay? I’ll get to them. One last thing, and this is pretty great actually, is that the Cintiq not only tilts, but rotates, on its stand. I find this really helpful when I’m drawing a slanted line and I have to get my arm into just the right position. Having a standing desk has also helped with tweaking my positions. Drawing has become a much more physically engaging activity for me, and I like that.

Thanks for reading!

Only 28 days ’til Spring,



Paula Ogier Artworks 

My Art Studio Makeover in Boston’s SoWa Art District

Paula Ogier Artworks Boston

Well, hello again. The past couple of months for me have been all about revamping my art studio, so I haven’t spent much time writing blog posts. With the dust having settled (at least for now), I thought I’d share some of that experience with you.

Up until December, I had been sharing the space with another artist for several years. When my studio mate moved on, I decided to go it alone rather than take on a new studio mate. Taking that plunge into having my own studio was exciting, but also a little scary. For a few days after signing the lease, I vacillated between ecstasy and terror. My mind was on fire with endless ideas for improving the space, and for growing my art-making and my business. I immediately recognized that I hadn’t felt that inspired in some time. From that perspective, it seemed like a really good move. Until I’d wake up in the middle of the night and think, “Oh my god! Can I do this? Can I afford this? What if I can’t make it work?”

Not only would I no longer be sharing the rent, but the rent was also going up. I was about to be paying more than double what I’d been used to. After I (mostly) got over my fear about this, the reality of that served to focus me. There was an internal shift happening — it felt great to be moving forward. I had been wanting to grow my business and here was my chance.

The photo up above is a shot of the front (gallery) part of my studio today.

The photo below shows what the front (or gallery) of the studio used to look like prior to my taking over the whole studio. See that wall on the left that obscures the entrance? It was about 6 feet wide, and had a drop ceiling behind it connecting it to the doorway, effectively making it a low tunnel. As you can see, it did have a window in it, but it only allowed people in the hallway to see a bit of what was inside the studio. Some people very much like to see what they’re committing to before walking into a space, and I’d always felt that the wall created a psychological barrier for many people.

artist studios SoWa Boston

I had often imagined that wall gone, and in December the first thing I did was to have it removed. Below is a photo taken the day before it was knocked down, as I was preparing for the dust by taking all the art off the walls and covering the furniture:

450 Harrison artist studios

SoWa Art + Design district Boston

The next morning I met the contractor at 7 am. After I let him in, I went to run some errands. When I returned at 9 am, the job was almost done.

450 Harrison Avenue Boston

When all the debris was cleaned up and the plastic removed, VOILA!

450 Harrison Avenue artist studios

After the wall was gone, there was a strip of floor revealed that had been painted grey before the wall went up. I recognized that grey from many of the artist studios in this building. I think that at one time many of the floors had been painted that color, and somewhere along the line someone who occupied my studio had stripped it off and stained the floors. These floors have definitely taken a beating since last stained. I imagine that was a pretty long time ago because the floor stain tone varies wildly from being worn down.  Am I planning to restain them? Probably not. I am still undecided about how to address that grey strip, though. I may paint it in varied shades of brown like the floor, just enough to make it less noticeable.

The next step was getting the walls smoothed out and painted where the wall and the drop ceiling framing had been removed. There was also a section of ceiling over the entry that needed to be painted. As I told Paul, my go-to painter guy, I didn’t need the walls to be perfect. Just smoother and less ugly. I don’t own this place, so I want whatever money I invest in it to be for the things that have the greatest impact on its overall aesthetic and functionality.

Paula Ogier Artworks studio reno

This is an old factory warehouse building. These artist studios have high ceilings and tall windows, as well as exposed brick, beams, and pipes. I want to retain the unique feel of the space. I want a pleasing and homey place to work, and a good neutral space to display my work. One of the nice things about this particular studio is that the back area is separated from the front area by narrow partial walls. While it is easy to see both spaces at once, the layout provides a natural gallery area in the front and a natural work area in the back. The back of the studio has tons of natural light, making it a very enjoyable space to work in.

I did a lot of searching for a bench for the middle of the gallery, and finally settled on one that had built-in storage. Now I needed a rug to make the space more inviting. To figure out what size would work best, I measured out different sizes and and then taped outlines on the floor until I decided on an 8′ x 10′ size.

Paula Ogier Artworks studio reno

I spent a ridiculous number of hours finding just the right rug — not too big, not too small, not too dark, not too expensive, not too patterned, not too bold! I saw lots of really pretty rugs that I’d love to live with, but this had to be a rug that wouldn’t distract from the artwork. I finally found one that worked well in pale shades of grey and white, with one subtle white medallion pattern that lies underneath the bench. I was in luck as I found it during a 15% off sale.

Paula Ogier Artworks studio Boston

A few years ago I had had my mom’s old sideboard shipped to Boston. It’s been in my studio ever since, and has been handy for storing things. The tapered mid-century legs, however, were always a bit off-kilter and wobbly. I was beginning to notice that a few of the drawers were getting hard to open and were scraping some of the wood off their trim when opened. The problem was they weren’t sitting squarely anymore. The whole structure of the piece was beginning to shift. One day, I moved the piece over an inch and one of the legs snapped off. The piece fell forward, emptying itself of its contents. Oops!


After taking all the drawers out, I removed all the legs and set it on some felt sliders. I found I liked it just as well without the legs, especially since lower furniture opens up the sight lines a bit more in the gallery. It will also be much easier to move from now on! I’m happy with how the front of the studio has shaped up.

Paula Ogier Artworks studio Boston

Next came the work area of the studio. It had felt great going from being cramped in my work space to suddenly being able to spread out, but the area needed a lot of changes to become more functional and inviting. There was wall patching and painting to be done. Drapery rods were installed in the wood beam just above the window line. Drapes were hung, and a bright red drain pipe near the window was painted white. I purchased a white lacquer standing desk. It has a crank on the side for moving the desktop up and down, so it can be used either sitting or standing. Best of all, it’s on wheels. This allows me to easily rearrange my work area for whatever I’m working on. I love this versatility. Having two tables comes in super handy, too. It’s especially great when I’ve just had new prints made and need surfaces to spread them out on.

Here’s one work setup, photographed before the red drain pipe was painted white:

Paula Ogier Artworks studio Boston

And here’s another setup:

Paula Ogier Artworks studio Boston

I was also able to extend some display area into my work area. This wall became an extra gallery wall for my abstract artworks, which are different from what’s in the main gallery area.

Paula Ogier Artworks studio Boston

To add some comforts of home, I got a mini refrigerator and a friend gave me a coffee machine she wasn’t using. She also gave me a countertop and 4 IKEA adjustable height legs, and that became my “kitchen” area.


There are a few more things I plan to do with the space. I’d like to add a hanging LED light track to the work area for that extra gallery wall. I could use another electrical outlet a little higher on the wall. I could also use a rolling cabinet of drawers to slide under the kitchen counter. It would help store all the leftover things I don’t yet have a place for. And for First Friday open studio events, I could roll it out and use the top as a wine and crackers table. I may add wheels to my big wooden table, too, so that all my work tables can be easily rearranged.

I’ll hold off on the track lighting a bit until I’ve psyched myself up for more dust. There came a point where I felt enough work had been done on the space that I could settle into getting some work done again. For the time being, I’m enjoying focusing on my work without all the dust. I’m happy with how this space has evolved so far.

Thanks for reading!

Until next time,


Paula Ogier Artworks

The Making of Holiday Traditions

Christmas traditions

The 16 Christmases my partner Joe and I have shared have all had the same general theme. We spend Christmas day alone together at home in our pajamas. We eat, we drink, and we watch movies all day and night.

Except for one year in which we traveled to visit family, this has been our tradition. We like it this way. We think of it as the one day each year when the business world doesn’t dare call or email or ask things of us. It’s our sacred day of privacy, escape and indulgence.

In the early years — the Blockbuster Video years — preparations involved a trip to the video store. Sometimes there was a quick trip out for big orders of Chinese takeout. A stack of 8 or so movies were piled on the coffee table next to takeout containers or copious snacks put together at home. We had known each other barely 4 months by the time of our first Christmas together, and our first foray into this day together paved the path for this tradition. The first year was so pleasurable, why not do it again? And again. And again and again and again.

Yesterday brought a new twist to our tradition. A friend who moved back to Boston last year joined us. She arrived wearing pajamas under her parka, and carrying wine, a bottle of Jameson’s Irish whiskey, a carton of whipping cream, an electric mixer, and three tall glass coffee mugs. We skipped our usual way of making Irish coffee (Cork Irish whiskey, Bailey’s Irish cream and/or canned whipped cream) to try her grandma’s recipe (brown sugar under a layer of Jameson’s, a layer of coffee, and a layer of freshly whipped cream).

I love the creamy, crumbly British cheese known as Stilton, and this year I discovered a version of it with bits of mango and ginger in it. The flavors are subtle and the texture is dreamy. Combined with a blueberry Wensleydale and Bella Vitano rum runner cheese, it made for an absolutely irresistible cheese and cracker platter! Chocolate lavender and chocolate mate almonds (brought by our friend), pistachios, and a plate of chocolate rugelach rounded out the coffee table treats. I had planned to make popcorn on the stovetop as well, but between chatting and watching movies I never got around to it.

My favorite movie surprise of the day was “For the Love of Spock.” It’s a documentary about both the Spock character and Leonard Nimoy, directed by the late actor’s son Adam and released in 2016. I had only discovered it existed the day before, but it went to the top of our Christmas day viewing list. Partly focused on Adam’s intermittently stressful relationship with his father, it does try to cover a lot of territory. Family tensions are reflected upon with respect and thoughtfulness, however, and the remembered longings of a child competing with Star Trek fans for his father’s attention is balanced by Adam’s conversations with his sister, paternal grandparents, his father’s Star Trek colleagues, and various Star Trek convention goers.

Here’s a Youtube trailer for “For the Love of Spock.”  

I read some viewer reviews complaining about the film’s personal aspects. It seems some viewers wished only to focus on Spock and not the man behind him. I thought it was a noble and loving effort for the film to consider both Spock and Nimoy, given that they were overlapping but separate beings. Iconic figures are rarely perfect. They are created by the longings of our own messy, imperfect selves. I welcomed this glimpse at where Spock and Nimoy both intersected and diverged.

To keep this post from getting unwieldy, I won’t discuss every film we watched. For the most part, we kept our choices on the lighthearted side this year.

Our friend had never seen the stoner film “Pineapple Express” and I was pretty sure she’d love it. It’s one of the those films that looks like it’s going to be agonizingly stupid, which is why I didn’t watch it for years after its release. When I did, it struck me as surprisingly hilarious, thanks to its acting and madcap action style. In my opinion James Franco makes this movie. His portrayal of Saul Silver, a dopey but lovable pot dealer is one of the funniest characters I’ve ever seen. Again, plenty of people on Rotten Tomatoes disagree with my opinion of this film. Plenty don’t.

Between movies we made sandwiches from a rotisserie chicken and various fixings (sliced cucumber, tomato, romaine, New York rye bread, mayo and mustard). We later took a 9 pm intermission to gather around the dining table for potato latkes and a brisket Joe had prepared in a slow cooker. This was yummy washed down with Bailey’s Irish cream on ice with a splash of Kahlua. (You may recall that indulgence is a key concept in this tradition.)

Bojack Horseman is an animated TV series I discovered very recently, and it was included on my Christmas day viewing list. A visitor to my art studio, flipping through my rack of small matted prints of animals doing human things (going to the cinema, flying planes, typing memoirs, etc.) asked if they were inspired by the Bojack Horseman show. I didn’t know what that was. She proceeded to describe a show with kooky plots involving part-human part-animal beings.

“It’s really silly,” she warned. Okay, I’m game. The first episode I watched wasn’t one of its better ones, but after seeing a few more I was hooked. While I enjoy the watercolor nuances within the the graphics, one of the funnest things about these 30-minute stories are the quirky scenarios going on in the background of the main story. You might miss them if you’re not paying attention, but it’s worth taking in the entire landscape of each scene.

We didn’t get to everything on the viewing list, but that’s okay. It was a lovely day of indulgence, laughs and conversation. Perhaps more of the list will get watched tonight and over the course of this week. Engaging movies, like good books, free the mind to wander, imagine and contemplate.

Wishing you a warm finish to this year!



Paula Ogier Artworks

An Afternoon at Le Laboratoire in Cambridge, MA


Taking a break from my daily Boston life, I rode the T to Cambridge last week to visit an unusual art gallery called Le Laboratoire. The friendly folks over at Le Lab don’t think of themselves so much as an art gallery, but rather as an “interdisciplinary culture lab.” They find ways in which art and design interact with science, food, architecture, and music. In fact, that night they were going to hold a seminar about healing through rhythm and Flamenco dance.

Their current exhibit is the work of Chuck Hoberman. If you’re not familiar with Hoberman — I wasn’t — he’s an engineer-artist-architect-inventor, as well as creator of the Hoberman Sphere. He’s apparently known worldwide for designing and creating structures that fold, unfold, and transform. Small, huge, and everything in between, his designs combine engineering with artistic form and morphability. He’s made and inspired some pretty wild stuff— retractable domes, retractable facades, pop-up emergency shelters, surgical stents, and a transforming stage screen for U2’s 360° world tour to name a few.

The Chuck Hoberman exhibit is called “Ten Degrees.” That name refers to four large scale sculptures on display each with a certain number of degrees of freedom, the combined total adding up to ten. Those ten degrees make up the possible trajectories for these interactive sculptures as they are set into motion by gallery visitors operating the attached handles.


Something I found novel about the gallery is that, unlike most, it does not put text on its exhibit walls to give visitors context for the works. Instead, the gallery staff talks with you. They describe to you what various pieces are about. They gently encourage you to participate in transforming the sculptures, and then to move around and view them from new vantage points as other people transform them.

The changing vantage points was where it came together for me — viewing the hinged planes from new angles while someone pointed out the dynamics of what was happening. For example, how the planes could move in one direction, but perhaps not another. Those particulars were not always obvious to me while operating the handles, but they would come into focus from a different place in the room.

Le Laboratoire Cambridge

I was surprised by how remarkably articulate the gallery staff is in the concepts of the exhibit. They are intimately knowledgeable about the artist/inventor, and the range of potential that the designs might have. The place has the feel of a small, tightly-knit group united in sharing a vision.

As an artist, I look for aesthetically interesting pieces. I liked how the exteriors of the large sculptures reminded me of 1970s-era powder-coated band equipment road cases, but other than that I didn’t feel any profound aesthetic attraction to them. As my journey through the lab moved away from them, however, their purpose became clearer. For me, they served as a jumping off point for considering spatial and mechanical relationships and for imagining potential applications for transforming designs.

With degrees in both sculpture and mechanical engineering, Hoberman’s work naturally spans artistic, architectural, medical, robotic, and most likely further applications beyond my imagination. Beyond the larger interactive sculptures, there is an area of the gallery with cardboard models that explore how particular shapes transform when extended out and repeated. Such as these…

Le Laboratoire Chuck Hoberman


The photo below shows aluminum joints forming one section that, if repeated over and over, would create the framework for the expanding and contracting spheres Hoberman is known for. I was taken by what a lovely piece of art this framework is on its own! The dramatic lighting certainly brings some great shadows into play.

Le Laboratoire Cambridge

Below, the gallery’s prismatic structure diagram shows how each of the basic forms (a cube, a pentagon, etc.) might look when extended out to create repeat patterns.


There are also a couple of videos in the gallery that illustrate the range and complexity of the many projects Hoberman’s team has produced. It’s a lot to take in, but the gallery staff was terrifically skilled in their enlightening narrations and clarifications.

After saying farewell to the Le Laboratoire staff, I decided to treat myself to lunch next door at Cafe ArtScience. The cafe is also the brainchild of Le Laboratoire’s founder David Edwards. I didn’t order off the unique cocktail list, but I enjoyed a good lunch in the modern, white, naturally lit space.

Le Laboratoire has only been there since August 2014, when founder David Edwards decided to open a second iteration of his Paris-based gallery of the same name. There’s an ice skating rink right across from Le Laboratoire and the Cafe. The gallery folks told me it can be a pretty active skating scene.


I almost never get off the T in the biomedical realm of Kendall Square, and rarely get there unless it’s to go to the movies at the Kendall Square Cinema. It was fun to take in the scene of an evolving Kendall Square in daylight. I think the gallery’s roster of upcoming ArtScience talks looks pretty good, so I’d like to make some more visits there.

The “Ten Degrees” exhibit is at Le Laboratoire through January 7. If you’re in the Boston/Cambridge area, plan a visit. Time’s a-ticking, so get moving. You’ll get so much more out of it being there yourself.

Here’s wishing you and your loved ones a happy holiday season!



Paula Ogier Artworks

Morning Light in the City

SoWa Boston

Tuesday morning I needed to be at my SoWa Boston studio by 7 am. Someone was coming to remove a wall in the entryway of the studio. Originally he’d wanted to start the job at 6 am, and it was welcome news when he decided it didn’t need to happen that early.

I was up at 5:15 am. After some coffee and much needed stretching, I headed out in my warmest winter jacket, hat and gloves. The air was cold and sharp. As I made the 6 block trek from home to studio, walking fast to get there quickly, I was glad to be dressed well for the weather.

The early light on the brick buildings along the way caught my eye, but I didn’t have time to slow down and take it in. When I arrived at 7 am, Mike was already there waiting for me, earning him the title of the only on-time contractor I’ve met so far. Once he’d brought in all his equipment, I left him alone there to do his thing.

Back outside around 7:15, the low sun was beginning to warm the building exteriors all around me. Adding to the warm glow was steam pouring out a building vent. Despite the cold air, I was happy to take off my gloves to grab a few photos.

Paula Ogier SoWa Boston

Paula Ogier SoWa Boston

I don’t normally go out walking that early this time of year without a reason. Now that I’ve been reminded of how pretty the early sunlight is, I’ve got a reason. I’ll make a point to do it again soon.



Paula Ogier Artworks