Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Eight Design Woes

No, this isn't an itemized list of jewelry design problems I have that totals eight; this is one rant about why I hate the number eight.

I've never cared much for the number, to be honest, despite its prominence in my birth date (28) and the fact that it factors into my favorite number (24). Something about just bugs me out; maybe I had problems with my eights time tables as a kid, I don't know. But after I got into making jewelry, my distaste only got worse.

As has been well-established by now, numbers are critical in my jewelry. If I'm making, say, a Golden Ratio necklace (1.618033...) a portion of my design needs to be designed with eight "units" in mind. So  far, so good.

When I'm using just one kind of bead, this is no problem. There's no variation I need to account for or anything that might inadvertently offend my sense of balance or symmetry.

pi bracelet cuff math jewelry

The number is spelled out with uniform (more or less) black Czech glass beads. There's no patterning I need to worry about. All I have to do is count.

When I want to work with a variation size, color, or both, that's when shit gets cray. (That's what the kids say these days, by the way."Cray." "Craycray.")

You see, I'm a big fan of symmetry. When I was small, my dad and I had a good-bye ritual (which we still do today when I leave for long trips): "Rub noses, touch heads, kiss, hug, and the other side." "The other side" being a hug on the other side, which I had insisted we had because otherwise I felt wrong. While I think my parents were disappointed that I didn't grow up to be an engineer, I think they were also glad that I didn't turn out to have crippling OCD. (For the record, this was so far back I don't even remember making this request; I thought the ritual had always been "...on the other side.")

I feel that same wrong when things aren't symmetrical. Remember that trend of one-shouldered "Wilma tops"? Yeah, that was a bad time for me. And out of all the symmetries, the most important symmetry is probably mirror symmetry.

This wouldn't be so bad if I weren't also obsessed with pseudo-randomness. In other words: I hate it when I have to repeat something in a pattern, like two beads of the same color or size right next to each other. With these two very strong inherent tendencies (a preference for pseudo-randomness and mirror symmetry), trying to work a pattern based on two or three units into eight is an ugly, ugly hack.

Odd numbers are the easiest, obviously, especially with two different units. The "odd one out" in the middle splits the series of beads evenly in two (I imagine the axis of symmetry as being in the middle of the middle bead, bifurcating it). For example, with the number five, you get:


Which is just X O > mirrored. (Or a better illustration: ><  O  ><  O  ><  is just  ><  O  > mirrored.)

That leaves the even numbers from 1 - 9. Two I simply use two of the same beads:


I don't normally like two of the same beads next to each other like that, but once in a while it's okay. Especially with two, because it's so small, it's not enough to make me bonkers.

With four, I often just sandwich two like ones inside their opposites. This one I like better than two, because there will be variation on either side of the beads in the middle.


At six, I simply string it as two consecutive groups of threes:


Again, the two consecutive beads would normally bug me, but the presence of the alternating beads on either side makes it palatable. I also like the number six a lot*, so I'm inclined to be generous if it makes life difficult for me.

And now comes eight. You can't imitate six and have two groups of four:


That is too many consecutive doubles. It looks ugly and I don't like it. What to do, what to do? For a while I went the "out of balance" route with:


That still made me cringe every time I looked at it, though it was better than X O O X X O O X. So I kept it.

Believe it or not, it took me a while to come up with this fairly obvious solution:


When I finally did, I was able to make peace with eight, or at least not hate it so much. I still sigh a little every time I see it come up, though. You damn dirty eight.

*It is rather bizarre how much I love 6—a numeral written without ANY symmetry— but loathe 8—a numeral written with mirror symmetry in spades. I'm not sure how to account for it except that six is divisible by three and eight is not. To go Inception on this number preference ("We have to go deeper!") maybe my affinity for 3 and its multiples have something to do with three being the first time you can iterate mirror symmetry with two different units.

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