Sunday, May 22, 2022

exhibition of hypothetical ship camouflage patterns

hypothetical camouflage schemes
Opening soon on May 24, 2022 (in the coming week) is a major gallery exhibition at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, which continues through June 24. Titled EVOLVING GRAPHIC DESIGN, it showcases the work of twenty-three graphic design professionals and design educators from throughout the nation. Represented is the widest variety of graphic media, including themes, research and techniques that extend beyond traditional prints on paper.

The exhibit’s originator, organizer and curator is Yeohyun Ahn, Assistant Professor of Graphic Design and Interactive Media, in the Graphic Design Program, UW-Madison Department of Art. Detailed information about the exhibition is online here.

I am pleased that my work is included in two components of the exhibition. In one will be exhibited a series of ten large-scale digital montages, called the Iowa Insect Series, that I made in 2012-2013 in collaboration with design colleague and friend David M. Versluis. Having retired from teaching recently, he now resides in Michigan. But at the time, he was a Professor of Art and Design at Dordt College in Iowa, while I was then on the faculty at the University of Northern Iowa. 

These works began with David’s high definition digital scans of various insect specimens from his collection. We worked together by what might be referred to as “blind collaboration.” To begin, he would email me one of the insect image scans. I then did something to alter or augment that image (somewhat like a move in chess), and returned the result by email to him. He then made additional alterations, and sent that second result to me. We continued blindly, back and forth, exchanging subsequent alterations, until we both began to sense that the work was nearing completion. We did this on ten occasions. All ten will be exhibited in the UW-Madison exhibition. No doubt the effect will be stunning.

In another area of the exhibition, I will also be exhibiting thirteen design-related images that are part of my long-term, continuing research (as a design historian) of World War I Allied naval camouflage. The theme uniting these artifacts is high difference or disruptive ship camouflage, which was referred to at the time as dazzle painting or dazzle camouflage

 Among the items exhibited are restored government photographs from the time period, full-color reproductions of diagrams of the camouflage patterns, and my own recent hypothetical camouflage schemes, derived from historical works of art.

 See examples, reproduced above.

A highlight of the exhibition will be a symposium, titled Evolving Graphic Design, to be held on June 23 and 24, in the Art Loft Conference Room, Art Lofts Building, in the Department of Art, University of Wisconsin-Madison at 111 North Frances Street, in Madison. I will participate in that symposium, by online presentation.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Picasso on camouflage / we originated it with cubism

Cook: The Man Who Taught Gertrude Stein to Drive
Above  Roy R. Behrens, Emeritus Professor of Art at the University of Northern Iowa and Independence (Iowa) native has released a new 60-minute online documentary film about Iowa expatriate artist William Edwards Cook, and his close long-term friendship with American writer Gertrude Stein.


Gertrude Stein (speaking in the pretended voice of Alice B. Toklas), The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1933—

[In 1907, Pablo Picasso went back to Spain for the summer] and he came back with some spanish landscapes and one may say that these landscapes…were the beginning of cubism.…

…In these pictures he first emphasized the way of building in spanish villages, the line of the houses not following the landscape but cutting across and into the landscape, becoming undistinguishable in the landscape by cutting across the landscape. It was the principle of the camouflage the guns and the ships in the war. The first year of the war, Picasso and Eve, with whom he was living then, Gertrude Stein and myself, were walking down the boulevard Raspail a cold winter evening.…All of a sudden down the street came some big cannon, the first any of us had seen painted, that is camouflaged. Pablo stopped, he was spell-bound. C’est nous qui avons fait ça, he said, it is we that have created that, he said. And he was right, he had. From Cézanne through him they had come to that. His foresight was justified.

Thursday, March 24, 2022

chased by Diego Rivera | a spider disguised as a fly

Above Amedeo Modigliani, Portrait of Diego Rivera (1916). Oil on cardboard. Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo, Brazil. Public domain.


Ilya Ehrenburg, People and Life: Memoirs of 1891-1917. Anna Bostock and Yvonne Kapp, trans. London: MacGibbon and Kee, 1961, p. 190—

I was sitting in Diego Rivera’s unheated studio; we were talking of the clever way in which the authorities had learned to camouflage tanks and “war aims” alike. Suddenly Diego shut his eyes. He seemed to be asleep. But a moment later he got to his feet and started saying something about a spider that he hated. He kept repeating that in a moment he would find the spider and crush it. He advanced toward me and I realized that the spider was myself. I ran into a corner of the studio. Diego stopped, turned and came towards me again. I had already seen Diego during fits of somnambulism; he always fought with somebody; but this time he was out to destroy me. To wake him was inhuman: it gave him an unbearable headache. I darted about the studio, not like a spider but like a fly. He always found me, although his eyes were closed. I only just managed to escape on to the Ianding.

Diego’s skin was yellow; sometimes he would turn up the sleeve of his shirt and tell one of his friends to draw or write something on his arm with the end of a matchstick; the lines or letters stood out in relief at once [called dermatographia]. (At the Calcutta botantical gardens I have seen a tropical tree on the leaves of which you can also write with the end or a matchstick; the writing gradually stands out.) Diego told me that the sleepwalking, the yellow skin and the letters were all the result of a tropical fever he had had in Mexico. I speak. of this because l am thinking of Diego Rivera’s life and art: he often went for his enemies with his eyes shut.


Tuesday, March 22, 2022

the face of dread / when deception is too much to bear

Above Agricultural Instruments of Human Sustenance [a visual pun]. Historic engraving detail.


Maurice Browne, Too Late to Lament: An Autobiography. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1956, p. 30—

Mr. Pickford was one of the finest Sanskrit scholars of his day. He was very poor; he had sacrificed his life to Sanskrit and his sister. His sister kept house for him in a little village where he was rector, a few miles outside Ipswich; a dour, bitter, selfish woman whom no one liked. So, for his sister's sake, he had put aside marriage, advancement, happiness, and had taken that obscure living in a poky village in a backward county, to make her a home where were few to hate her.

One day a letter came addressed to Mr. Pickford. Through several weeks he had been hoping for it; if it came, it might offer him an academic position where he could carry to fruition his life's work in Sanskrit. Every morning his sister went downstairs to meet the postman and see whether the letter had come: “No, John, it has not come today; perhaps it will come tomorrow.”

Long afterwards the Vice-Chancellor in whose gift that position lay, meeting Mr. Pickford accidentally in the streets of Ipswich, greeted him coldly: “I considered it discourteous of you not even to have acknowledged the offer which I made you.” Mr. Pickford made no comment. But, when he got back to the ugly, lonely, village rectory, he spoke to his sister. “Yes,” she said defiantly, “of course the letter  came; I read and burned it. I’m very happy where I am, and you’re much better off in a place suited to you.”

A little later Horrid Old Pickford killed himself. My father preached his funeral sermon. There was no mention of, no hint of reference to, that story in it; but the Stoic view of self-murder was upheld by the Anglican preacher.

NOTE There is a short video that pertains to visual puns as embedded figures at this online link.

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

a yankee doodle dante—we crave your condescension

camouflaged figures

Louis Untermeyer, Bygones: The Recollections of Louis Untermeyer. New York: Harcourt Brace and World, 1965. Excerpts from various pages as noted—

[Untermeyer’s father] was a trouble-evader and a peacemaker; it was easy to take advantage of him, which everyone did, especially his children. He was not a talker; he relied on the stereotypes of conversation, and even there he fell into malapropisms. Something cheap was not worth “a hell of beans” and a pitiful occurrence was “heartrendering.” He was never sure whether the first line of his favorite Harrigan and Hart [musical comedy writing team] song was “We crave your kind attention” or “We crave your condescension” (p. 7).

Influenced by the sprightly British journalist-essayist-novelist-poet G.K. Chesterton, I was much given to a style that employed epigrammatic checks and balances, appositions, paradoxes, and puns. I remember dismissing a rather commonplace collection of Gaelic poetry as “A Child’s Garden of Erse” and characterizing the author of an abortive American epic as “A Yankee Doodle Dante.” I referred to a Dowson-Beardsley pastiche as being “less erotic than Pierrotic.” I inquired, since much of the Restoration comedy took place in elegant country houses, was it not a comedy of manors? (p. 44).

It is as a poet that I most resent those resentful of puns, for the pun is, per se, a poetic device. Poetry is essentially a form of play, a play of metaphor, a play of rhyme. The pun is another form of syllabic playfulness, a matching of sounds that, like rhyme, are similar yet not quite the same—a matchng and shifting of vowels and consonants, an adroit assonance sometimes derided as jackassonance. Whatever form it takes, searching or silly, the pun springs spontaneously from the same combination of wit and imagination which speeds the poetic impulse (p. 45).

T.S. Eliot and I have our similarities and our differences,” he [poet Robert Frost] wrote to me, “We are both poets and we both like to play. That’s the similarity. The difference in this: I like to play euchre; he likes to play Eurcharist” (p. 46).

When an interviewer, pointing to a world constantly at war, asked [G.K.] Chesterton whether Christianity had failed, Chesterton replied, “No, it has not failed. Christianity has not yet been tried” (p. 72). 


NOTE  Embedded figures are discussed in this posted short video.

Monday, February 28, 2022

Solomon Solomon solemnized / two babies not one

Solomon J. Solomon, Self-Portrait
There were two British painters (unrelated) whose family name was Solomon. Both were well-known around the turn of the 19th century, but their reputations were distinct. Both were from Jewish families, and each faced challenges from the start.

The first, named Simeon Solomon (1840-1905) was associated with the Pre-Raphaelites. He was from a prominent family, and was an undoubtedly capable artist. But his life was ruined by a series of highly public scandals having to do with sexual licentiousness and alcoholism.

The second was Solomon J. Solomon (1860-1927), who was also an excellent painter, and one of the few Jewish artists to be elected to the Royal Academy. His personal reputation was beyond reproach, and indeed he became a hero of sorts during World War I when he was the first person to be placed in charge of British army camouflage. He was also the author of what may have been the first book on military camouflage, titled Strategic Camouflage.

Unfortunately, it was not uncommon for the public to confuse the two Solomons, so that “the good Solomon” was besmirched by being mistaken for “the bad Solomon.” There is a brief turnabout reference to this on page 103 of the autobiography of the Irish poet William Butler Yeats (The Autobiography of William Butler Yeats: Consisting of reveries over childhood and youth, the trembling of the veil, and dramatic personae. New York: Macmillan, 1953), in the following passage—

All [a certain group of artists] were pre-Raphaelite, and sometimes one might meet in the rooms of one or other a ragged figure, as of some fallen dynasty, Simeon Solomon the pre-Raphaelite painter, once the friend of [Dante Gabriel] Rossetti and of [Algernon Charles] Swinburne, but fresh now from some low public house. Condemned to a long term of imprisonment for a criminal offense, he had sunk into drunkenness and misery. Introduced one night, however, to some man who mistook him, in the dim candle light, for another Solomon, a successful academic painter and RA [Royal Academician], he started to his feet in a rage with, “Sir, do you dare to mistake me for that mountebank?”

Certain contributions made by Solomon J. Solomon in the development of military camouflage are explained in a new short video titled Nature, Art and Camouflage, free and accessible online here (see frame below).

Nature, Art and Camouflage (video)

Saturday, February 19, 2022

GTA Links to New Gestalt Theory Related Videos

We were recently pleased to learn that the website for the GTA (International Society for Gestalt Theory and its Applications) has set up a page of online links to New Gestalt Theory Related Videos, including active links to our own short documentary films on art, design and camouflage in relation to Gestalt. This is greatly appreciated. 

There is a list of all of all our films  on our YouTube Channel here. There will soon be more.

Friday, February 18, 2022

WWI-era Scenic Film Camouflage at Lasky Studios

Above Photograph of Hollywood scenic designer Glen Dunaway (1895-1923), manager at the Lasky Studio in 1920, as published in THE SCENIC ART IN MOTION PICTURES: Glen Dunaway, Chief Scenic Artist, Explains Colorful Phase of Important Studio Work in Muncie Evening Press (Muncie IN). November 20, 1920. “Mr. Dunaway,” (not to be confused with Glenn Dunaway, a possible relative, who was a race car driver) the article states, “is a camouflage expert…” (not literally) in view of the highly deceptive effects that he creates for filmmaking purposes. Unfortunately, he died of carbon monoxide poisoning (adjudged accidental), as the result of a defective room heater, at the Lasky Studios on April 23, 1923.

Pictured in the same article is a scenic artist named Hans Ledeboer (1874-1962), described as “the most prominent” artist on Dunaway’s staff. He “was born in Holland of Dutch and French parentage and studied art and decoration in Rotterdam and The Hague. Twelve years ago [c1908] he came to America because of the wider opportunities offered by this country for his work… Since coming to America he had achieved considerable fame. In Chicago, he was commissioned to paint Holland scenes for the Onndaga Hotel in Syracuse NY, and later he also did the mural decorations for the San Francisco Exposition, and for that work [he] was awarded a gold medal. For the past three years he has decorated, each year, the great auto show room at the Pacific Auditorium in San Francisco, where the auto show is held annually.”


Anon, MOVIE FACTS AND FANCIES in The Boston Globe. October 1, 1921, p. 12. Extended portions of this text were published (with attribution to Marvin M. Riddle) in The Photodramatist, with the title "From Pen to Silversheet." January (pp. 35-37) and February 1922—

The studio scenic artist of today is a high-class interior decorator.

In addltlon to this he is an expert camouflage artist and a perfect copyist. The controlling principal in his work, however, is the photographic value of colors. Under the eye of the camera colors are often very deceptive, and often a color which seems lighter to the eye than another color might on the screen register a darker shade of gray than that color.

Often two colors which seem to form a most artistic and beautiful combination to the human eye, will, when photographed, present a most inharmonious, discordant color scheme, which is very ugly to look upon. Only by a careful study and a perfect knowledge of the photographic values of color does the scenic artist avoid such color clashes.

The art of camouflage also is a very important phase of the studio scene painter’s art. He must make the imitation appear exactly like the real. Some of the commonest of such problems are included in the following examples: The camouflage of compo[sition] board square[s] and the proper laying of them so that when photographed they resemble a tile or stone floor; the painting of surfaces so that the photographic result[s] [are indistinguishable from] bronze, gold or other metals.

The artist can, with a few well-placed strokes of his brush, dipped in the right kind of paint, make a new brick wall like the side of a dingy tenement house. He can give to a new redwood panelled wall the effect of an oak panel, hundreds of years old.

Thursday, February 3, 2022

New Film / Cook taught Gertrude Stein to drive / 2022

Duplicated from an identical posting on my alternative blog, CAMOUPEDIA , but important enough to deserve it—

I am pleased (albeit exhausted) to say that, as of yesterday, I completed what may be my most ambitious undertaking in recent years. It is a sixty-minute documentary voice-over film biography of the life of William Edwards Cook (1881-1959), an American expatriate artist, who grew up in Iowa, but spent his adult life in Europe, living in Paris, Rome, and Mallorca.

Titled COOK: The Man Who Taught Gertrude Stein to Drive, the film is freely available to everyone here online. More specifically, it is a detailed account of the life-long friendship of Cook with the American writer Gertrude Stein. It is based on her frequent adulation of him in her writings, as well as on the contents of 250 pages of their unpublished correspondence.

Cook was never a well-known artist, but he did acquire some renown for two other reasons: In 1907, he was the first American artist to be allowed to paint a portrait of Pope Pius X. Later, in 1926, he used his inheritance to commission the then-unknown Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier to design an early Modernist home (the "first true cubist house") in Boulogne-sur-Seine, which is still intact, and widely known as Maison Cook or Villa Cook.

The friendship of Gertrude Stein and William Edwards Cook (including the roles of their partners, Alice B. Toklas and Jeanne Moallic Cook) was first documented in (my earlier book)  COOK BOOK: Gertrude Stein, William Cook and Le Corbusier (Bobolink Books, 2005). This new documentary film corrects, updates, and adds to the information in that book.

This film project (as well as the earlier book) was made possible by the earlier work of such Stein scholars as Ulla Dydo, Bruce Kellner, and Rosalind Moad, as well as the Stein / Cook correspondence in the collection of the Beinecke Library at Yale University.

In 2005, when COOK BOOK was released, Ulla Dydo (the pre-eminent expert on Stein, and author of The Language that Rises) praised it in the following way: "This book jumps out at my eyes, my ears. It comes from everywhere, never drags those even blocks of print that dull the mind. Look at it, read it, let it tease you: It's researched with all the care that keeps its sense of humor and its visual and voice delights. Travel with it, leave home, go and explore the many ways for a book to be a house for living."

The distinguished critic Guy Davenport wrote: "This is as good as topnotch Behrens gets!"

This film is not without humor, and at times it shares surprises. It may prove of particular value to viewers (both scholars and the rest of us) who are particularly interested in American literature, Modernism, Gertrude Stein, art, architecture, horse racing, Harvard, William James, art collectors, expatriates, Paris, Mallorca, the American Midwest, Iowa, art history, the training of artists, Cézanne, Cubism, Picasso, Le Corbusier, LGBT, and gender identity issues. 


Friday, January 28, 2022

WWI Army Camouflage and Interpreter Richard Peters

Richard Peters
One of the many enjoyments of historical research, regardless of the topic, is to unearth little-known stories about individuals whose interesting, eventful lives have been forgotten long ago. I recall that many years ago, I found information about an American painter named Carl W. Peters (1897-1980), who had served as an army camoufleur in France during World War I. Some years later, I ran across a reference to another American in relation to camouflage, a man named Richard Peters. Momentarily I confused Carl Peters with Richard, vis-a-vis the camouflage link, but it’s doubtful if they were related. At last I am now sharing the little that I know about Richard (1851-date unknown): He appears in a photograph (above), and a newspaper article featuring him is quoted below.


Frank P. Sibley, 26TH DIVISION LUCKY IN TWO OF ITS LIEUTENANTS, in The Boston Globe (May 14, 1918), p. 14—

…Lieutenant [Richard] Peters is probably the oldest lieutenant in the American Expenditionary Forces. He is 67 years old, of a distinguished Philadelphia family. He turned up as an interpreter, without any commission, only anxious to serve wherever he could be used.

Near the headquarters town of the training area where the division was first placed, is a magnificient chateau. It hangs like a swallow’s nest on the side of a steep hill, a picturesque, towering old stronghold that is said to contain 300 rooms, and it belongs to a princess, a cousin of Lieutenant Peters. 

He brought her offer of the chateau as headquarters to the division along with his proffer of his own services. The chateau was declined and he was accepted. So he stayed on, making himself useful whenever he found the chance.

He is an old athlete, very well known as a steeple chaser and runner and jumper. He was a near-champion skater even up to three years ago, and has had a wide European experience. And he is credited with having spent three fortunes.

Goodbye, Little Goatee

At least one of [those fortunes] is in his outfit: Lieutenant Peters is probably one of the best-equipped men in the whole army. To list his stuff would take a great deal of space, beginning with air mattress, bath tub, coats (seven). How he moves without the aid of a truck is another mystery.

The Camouflage Club, an organization of the young officers attached to division headquarters, has made persistent efforts to ask Lieutenant Peters for the loan of something he didn’t have, but so far the club is running a hopeless second.

Now in person Lieutenant Peters is of middle height, slight of stature, though finely muscled, bald, and—up to the time when he dropped Mister for Loot [Lieut]—wearing a moustache and a 15-hair goatee, or teaser, which clung to the edge of his lower lip; in fact, he said he was born with it.

The first thing the jokers of the Camouflage Club pulled on him was the general order that officers must be clean shaven or wear only a moustache. Lieutenant Peters never said a word, but off went the cherished goatee that night.

Then he was given charge of the court martial prisoners, three big motor trucks and the advance baggage.

That was one of the luckiest parties that ever happened. Lieutenant Peters was lucky in that he belonged to a well-behaved division, and there weren’t enough prisoners to furnish forth an adequate kitchen police.

The legal authorities at headquarters say the division has made a record for the lowest number of convictions of not only the present army and war, but probably of all the armies in the history of our country.

The prisoners were even luckier, for their lieutenant forgot to draw rations for his men before starting, and had to feed them in restaurants all the way across country, out of his own pocket. When the division caught up to its prisoners they were still licking their chops and grinning.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

the scintillations of your wit, lambent but innoucous

Above This strikingly-costumed figure (pre-camouflage, but visually “dazzling” nevertheless) is extracted from a theatrical poster from 1897. It was an advertisement for Wang, a comic operetta first performed in New York City. 

The title role, as shown here, was played by Broadway actor William DeWolf Hopper (1858-1935), an outsized personality and—at 6 foot 5 inches and 230 pounds—an outsized physical presence as well. He had a powerful booming voice, and a boundless sense of humor. 

His celebrity was due in part to the popularity of his on-stage recitations of the widely known baseball poem by Ernest Thayer, titled “Casey at the Bat.” Having married and divorced with unusual frequency (not to mention reputed affairs), he was sometimes said to have been the “husband of his country.” 

His fifth wife was the famous gossip columnist, Hedda Hopper, and their son was the actor William Hopper (William DeWolf Hopper, Jr.), who played a detective named Paul Drake in the Perry Mason televison series.


Guiseppe Garibaldi

Bacchus has drowned more men than Neptune.


A.D. Godley

What is this that roareth thus?
Can it be a Motor Bus?
Yes, the smell and hideous hum
Indicat Motorem Bum!
How shall wretches live like us
Cincti Bis Motoribus?
Domine, defende nos
Contra hos Motores Bos!


Edward Meyrick Goulburn

Let the scintillations of your wit be like the coruscations of summer lightning, lambent but innoucuous.

Monday, December 27, 2021

new article on camouflage in current issue of MUSE

Camouflage article in MUSE Magazine (2022)
There may be no limit to the curiosity about camouflage, both natural and man-made—or so it would seem. Shown above are two page spreads from the current issue of MUSE Magazine (January 2022, Vol 26 No 01). 

Published by Cricket Media, which began in the 1970s with the well-known children’s magazine called Cricket, the publication’s subtitle is Science and Exploration for Inquisitive Minds. Elsewhere, the magazine is characterized as an “arts and science magazine for kids from 9 to 14 that’s spot on with the facts, but off-kilter with the jokes.”

This particular article was written by Elizabeth Tracy, and is illustrated by a wide range of military and zoological examples, including dazzle ship camouflage, and the contributions of American women during World War I.

We ourselves were pleased by the opportunity to serve as a research consultant as the text was being prepared, and to assist in assembling the article’s illustrations.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Zoologist Hugh B. Cott and WWII camouflaged cannon

In the past we've often blogged about a variety of camouflage called countershading, which was first discussed at length by Abbott H. Thayer, c1897. Later, it was also featured in a famous book by British zoologist and camoufleur Hugh B. Cott, titled Adaptive Coloration in Animals (1940). Cott was also highly adept at scientific illustration, using a method called stippling, and his book is a rich resource of that. Above is a series of pen-and-ink drawings he made that are intended to show the effectiveness of the application of countershading to the barrel of a cannon.

Also shown here is a World War II photograph that documents a demonstration by Cott. It shows two camouflaged cannon, one of which is disruptively painted, while the second is countershaded. The disrupted cannon is easily seen. It is nearly dead center of the photograph, positioned on the railroad track, and pointing toward the upper left. By following the track toward the upper right, you can see the second (countershaded) cannon, the barrel of which is all but invisible.


OTHER WAYS TO APPLY CAMOUFLAGE in The Des Moines News (Des Moines IA), August 15, 1918, p. 4—

Wouldn’t be a bad idea for gents to camouflage their eyes so they’ll look wide open for Sunday mornings in church.


Try the Camouflage on These

On the piano next door that’s hopped every time you try to rest. Break in some time when they’re away and camouflage it to look like an umbrella stand, or a fireplace.

Too bad, too, there isn’t any way to camouflage the warbling of that oh, ho. ho, ha, ha, hee, hee, damsel who thinks she’s Mrs. Caruso.

And that bugle practicing kid across the street. The best way is to camouflage the bugle with an ax.

The auto that’s always kicking up a fuss and is always being repaired and tried out when you’re trying to get full weight on your sleep at night and in the morning. Sneak out some midnight, drag it in to alley and camouflage it to look like a pile of garbage, then push it next to the ash can so the garbage chauffeur will haul it away with the rest of the rubbish.

Wonders can be worked with the camouflage art.


Camouflage Some More

What a merry bunch of camouflagers we are. The first of the month when bills come and collectors knuckle the front door, some of us are camouflage so that we are out to the collector.

Some camouflage themselves so that the other people just envy their easy sailing and wish they could afford a car and a maid, but most of the time the car isn’t paid for and the house is mortgaged to get it and they just have their head out of the water when it’s calm. Great stuff, this camouflage.

Restaurant hash is another gag that gets camouflaged to a frazzle.

Gristle, leftover meat from uneaten orders, etc., come under the nom de plume of “choice bits.” Water is another article that’s camouflaged muchly, as milk, oyster stew, circus leomade, and many other fine works.

For a video introduction to countershading, see <>

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

metamorphosis / shape shifting from pitcher to pitcher

Above Anon, Evolution of a Pitcher (1889). Library of Congress.



Discovery of camouflage in the disposal of liquor to soldiers and sailors in uniform Ied to the announcement by United States Judge Hand today that imprisonment and not fines would be the punishment hereafter of persons convicted of violating the Federal law forbidding the sale of intoxicants to Army and Navy men.

Stomachs of Teddy bears, paper bags left on mail boxes, taxicab rides around the block at $1.50 a ride, and cigar boxes passed over the counter at cigar stores are some of the methods through which service men here have been served with liquor recently, according to testimony in the Federal court at the arraignment of more than 300 persons, many of whom are now in prison.

Friday, December 17, 2021

suicide of WWI illustrator and ship camouflage artist

Cover design by Arthur Hutchins (1912)
As a civilian working for the Emergency Fleet Corporation during World War I, Boston illustrator Arthur Hutchins was assigned to camouflaging merchant ships. He was already well-known as an illustrator for books and magazines. Among his finest works were the cover and interior illustrations (1912) for the first book authored by American writer Sinclair Lewis (see cover above), who used the pseudonym Tom Graham.

As documented in the newspaper extracts below, Hutchins began to design wartime recruiting posters in 1917, and was assigned to ship camouflage in early 1918. All this was coincident with the Spanish flu pandemic, and apparently he was twice stricken by it, and never quite recovered. As described in the last of the three articles below, he took his own life in late March 1919.


POSTERS TO WIN RECRUITS: Artists-Designers’ League Completes Several in Boston Sunday Post, May 6, 1917, p. 24—

Members of the Artists-Designers’ League have prepared several large posters calling upon ypung men to enlist in the navy. These will soon be placed in conspicuous locations in the city. The posters “speak” to the citizen through their inscriptions, designs and combinations of colors.

While three men prepared the designs, nearly a score of members of the league aided in the painting. The posters are five by seven feet and are stretched on wooden frames.

One poster, which was designed by Arthur Hutchins, is inscribed “The Navy is Your Opportunity. Be a Man and Man the Navy.” The design shows a battleship and a destroyer under full steam. The background is blue…


BOSTON MAN IS WINNER OF POSTER PRIZE in Boston Evening Record, August 16, 1918—

Arthur Hutchins of Boston, connected with the Camouflage Department of the Emergency Fleet Corporation, won the first prize for shipyard and allied industrial works in the recent ship poster competition by the National Service Section of the United States Shipping Board.

In the competiton there were classes for artists and students, sailors and soldiers, shipyard and industrial workers, and school children.

Mr. Hutchins, whose poster was entitled “On the Firing Line,” was awarded the first prize by the decision of several competent judges. The artist, who has exceptional natural talent, chose for his subject a typical shipyard scene, showing two riveteers hard at work on the hull of a steel ship. The technqiue of the drawing is only surpassed by the deep feeling which it embodies. It is a subtle message of appeciation to the hardworking shipbuilder, who will look upon it often in his daily coming and going from the shipyard where these posters are to be placed. It is a man’s recognition of what his fellowmen are doing in the great fight. It cannot but bring encouragement to those sturdy laborers who inspired it.

The artistic ability of Mr. Hutchins covers large fields. He has made art his business for many years and has contributed much to the books and magazines of this country. He studied at the Boston School of the Museum of Fine Arts.…


MARINE PAINTER TAKES HIS OWN LIFE: Arthur Hutchins Overworked for Government Camouflaging Vessels, in the Boston Herald, March 27, 1919, p. 7—

Arthur Hutchins, well-known painter of marine subjects who directed the work of camouflaging government vessels in this district for more than a year of the war, was found dead yesterday with a revolver bullet wound in his head at his studio, 252 Dorchester Avenue, Dorchester. The police stated that he undoubtedly ended his own life, as he had been suffering recently frm the effects of two attacks of influenza and from the arduous labor he performed for the government.

He worked unceasingly in the camouflaging of ships, and his nervous system became affected. After receiving his discharge from the service a few months ago, he visited Provincetown and New Hampshire in search of health, and on Monday evening he left home, Vassal Street, Wollaston, leaving the impression that he was again going to New Hampshire. After his departure his wife discovered that a revolver was missing from the house.

Yesterday his body was discovered on a couch in the studio, with the revolver lying near. The police believe he has been dead since Monday night.

He was born in Maine thirty-two years ago. His artistic productions have been frequently reproduced in the National Magazine and the National Sportsman, and he won a government prize for a Liberty poster design during the war. Surviving him besides his widow, are two children.

See also <>

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Rorschach, klecksography, bigamy, and camouflage

an essay in The Iowa Source
The German word for inkblot is klecks. In the latter half of the 19th century, it was a source of amusement to drop ink on a scrap of paper, then fold the paper to produce a bilaterally symmetrical "picture." If this at once reminds you of the famous Rorschach Inkblot Test developed by Swiss psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach, you are precisely on target. This pasttime had been commonplace during Rorschach's childhood, and he was preoccupied with it—so much so that his classmates called him Klex (or inkblot). More>>>

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Massachusetts painter / ship camoufleur Philip Little

Philip Little (1921)
The name of Philip Little (1857-1942) may already be familiar. He was a Massachusetts sea and landscape painter, whose studio was in New Salem. More to the point, he was interested in camouflage, and during World War I he experimented with ship camouflage. As we have blogged about before, in the collection of the National Archives and Record Administration (NARA) is his painted demonstration of how one might disguise a battleship by making it look like an island. In late 1917, two ships (the USS Yacona and the USS Aztec) were assigned to him for the purpose of testing his camouflage schemes.

In the fall of 1918, there was considerable news coverage of his use of what he called “reverse camouflage” (conspicuous high visibility) in attracting donors to a tent on the Boston Common for the purpose of raising funds for the Liberty Loan Drive (sadly, this was coincident with a massive worldwide flu epidemic). Yesterday, we found a passport photograph of him from 1921 (shown above), as well as a news article (see text and photograph below) in which he talks about his interest in ship camouflage.


Anon, CAMOUFLAGE BOAT AND ITS INVENTOR, in the Boston Post, October 17, 1917—

“Now you see it and now you don’t.”

This is the expression that could be well applied to an object that has been mystifying sailors in Salem harbor, as well as thousands of people who dwell in close proximity to the shores.

On sunny days the object merges with the heat and blends itself into the horizon, and while you would declare that there was something on the water, you are not actually sure. On a dull day the object is equally elusive, losing itself in the gray of the sky line.

The only way to satisfy one’s curiosity is to row out and “find” the conundrum.

Mystery Solved
The “mystery” is none other than the fast 40-foot power boat Sagella owned by Philip Little, the Salem artist, who paints both landscapes and marines, and who is the front rank of painters in this country.

He has experimented with the new camouflage art, and there is probably not another man in the United States who has met with the success that he has. The Navy Department has adopted many of his suggestions, and already torpedo boat destroyers leaving New York harbor have been painted according to his specifications.

The Sagella is painted in waves of [unreadable], blues and pale green colors and is even deceptive to the camera. It is possible to get a picture of the boat only at close range.

Even at close range one cannot see where the water line on the boat merges with the waters in which it is riding.

“As far back at 1908, I got my first idea about camouflage,” said Mr. Little. “I was sailing off the coast of the Bahamas on a very hot day and I could just make out a wavy object miles away against the sky line. I could not make it plain with the naked eye and I resorted to the use of the spy glass. I could then only see that it was a two-masted ship, and its color was such that the heat waves made it almost invisible.

“I realized then that to get a wave effect [on] a boat with the right colors would be the only way to make good camouflage.

“I have tried that feature out with success, finding that light blue, light gray and pink and light green, [are] the colors that are best adapted.

“And by the way a definition of the word ‘camouflage’ might be of interest. The word ‘camouflage,’ as it is spelled, is a word of French coinage and really means ‘faking.’ The word ‘calamo flatus’ in Latin is no doubt from where it was derived. This Latin word means ‘to blow smoke in one’s face.’

“‘Camoflet’ is the French word that is correct, and this really resorts itself in English to the word ‘stifler.’ Camouflage is really the ‘stifler’ of any of the human senses.

“‘Gassing,’ [the] use of dummy cows, trees, shrubbery or anything to fool or overcome any of the senses of the enemy is camouflage.”

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

too old for draft Jean-Louis Forain serves nevertheless

Above Jean-Louis Forain, wartime sketch of a soldier writing a letter home, reproduced in the same news article quoted below. Forain's service as a camoufleur is also featured in this short video.


Albert Franz Cochrane, …FORAIN… in the Boston Evening Transcript, August 15, 1931, Part 4, Page 3—

[During World War I, the famous French satririst and illustrator Jean-Louis] Forain not only helped keep up the spirits of his compatriots and their allies and influence the attitude of the neutrals by his terrible caricatures in Le Figaro, L’Opinion and L’Avenir, which, like those of the Hollander [Louis] Raemekers, were reproduced all over the world, but he actually entered the [French] Army, despite his sixty-two years, and rendered yeoman service there in the [Section de Camouflage] as right hand man of the camouflage chief, the painter Guirand de Scevola

When Forain presented himself booted, strapped and helmeted before [French officer Philippe] Pétain, the future Commander-in-chief, who is blessed with a quiet sense of humor, finding him [Forain], no doubt, a trifle “chesty” for an ex-civilian, [exclaimed] playfully, “Que dirait Forain s’il vous voyait!” (“What would Forain say if he could see you!”)

Below A younger Forain with his wife, Jeanne Bosc in a gondola in Venice. 

Monday, November 22, 2021

interview with camouflage scholar Camilla Wilkinson

In a July 2020 blog post, we shared a major article on World War I dazzle-patterned ship camouflage. It was written by British architect Camilla Wilkinson, who is the granddaughter of artist and poster designer Norman Wilkinson. He was the person who in 1917 successfully urged the adoption of high difference or disruptive ship camouflage [*see note below], which has since been referred to as dazzle camouflage. Her article, titled "Distortion, Illusion and Transformation: the Evolution of Dazzle Painting, a Camouflage System to Protect Allied Shipping from Unrestricted Submarine Warfare, 1917–1918," was published in Studia de Arte et Educatione, Number 14 (Krakow, Poland), 2019. The full text can be accessed online.

More recently, we’ve also found that Camilla Wilkinson, who is a senior lecturer at the University of Westminster, has since been featured in a 27-minute video interview (which can also be accessed online). The interview was produced in connection with a camouflage-related artwork exhibition at Quay Arts on the Isle of Wight, during March through June 2021. Titled Dazzle & Disrupt, it showcased the work of two artists, Jeannie Driver and Lisa Traxler.

* This links to an online video on the use of embedded figures in the design of dazzle camouflage. Unfortunately, as has been aptly noted in viewers' comments, I inadvertently stumbled into "horse crap" when, in the film's narration, I repeated the erroneous claim that American soldiers were called "doughboys" during WWI because of the color of their infantry uniforms. Instead, it seems that they had been called that since the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848, and it may instead be related to the color of adobe bricks—its origin is uncertain. Mea culpa.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Camoufleur John Dwight Bridge and Santa Barbara

A couple of years ago, we posted our findings about American artist and camoufleur John Dwight Bridge. Now, just a few months ago, a California historian named Hattie Beresford has published a far better article on him—better written and far more thoroughly researched—on a Montecito Journal site on the history of Santa Barbara CA. Above is a screen grab of its initial paragraphs.

Friday, November 12, 2021

pioneering aviator and camoufleur Mittie Taylor Brush

Above Group photograph of Mary (Mittie) Taylor Brush, with her children. Both she and her artist-husband, George De Forest Brush, were pioneering contributors to the study of camouflage, both natural and military. In some of their efforts, they collaborated with their Dublin NH neighbor, Abbott H. Thayer, as did their son, Gerome Brush, a sculptor (standing on the left in this photograph). Public domain, Archives of American Art. In 2016, we featured an earlier blogpost about Mittie Brush, but only recently have we found a substantial news feature about her invisible ariplane, the full text of which is found below.


Earl Murphy, WIFE OF NOTED N[ew] E[ngland] ARTIST INVENTS INVISIBLE AIRPLANE—CARRIES IT OWN LANDING LIGHTS, in Boston Sunday Post, July 22, 1923, p. A4—

Here is an airplane that is invisible by day, that travels through the heavens at night like a giant firefly, lighting its own way to the landing field.

It is the invention of Mrs. Mittie Taylor Brush, wife of George De Forest Brush, the noted painter.

Mrs. Brush became deeply interested in aviation during the war [WWI] and has practically completed the experiments which resulted in a plane that sees without being seen.


Thanks to Mrs. Mittie Taylor Brush, it will soon be unnecessary for you to get kinks in your neck from gazing at the airplanes that float overhead.

Pretty soon you won’t be able to see the contraptions at all and goodness knows, few of us are foolish enough to waste our time looking at something we can’t see.

Mrs. Brush, who is now at her summer home in Dublin NH, has an invention which makes airplanes invisible. Like the small boy, they will continue to be heard, but, unlike the small boy, they will not be seen.

Mrs. Brush is the wife of George De Forest Brush. And he is one of the world’s greatest living artists. That is why it seems strange that Mrs. Brush should be an inventor, that she should live in a world of stresses and strains and angles of refraction. The wife of an artist is expected to be somewhat of an artist herself. It is difficult to think of her as an extremely practical person, interested in mechanical things.

Flyer’s Bugaboo
To Mr. Brush, however, it is all very simple and natural.

“Art,” he has said, “is the purgation of the superfluous.”

And that is the answer.

Mrs. Brush is an artist. She is engaged in purging aviation of some of its superfluous difficulties.

The first is the matter of visibility. The second is that bugaboo of all fliers, the problem of selecting a safe landing place at night.

Why, you may ask, need an airplane be invisible?

It doesn’t need to be—at present.

But there were times during the war, when our aviators were flying over the battlefields in France, that an invisible plane would have been a handy thing.

It was during the war that Mr. Brush became interested in inventions for the development of the airplane. Mrs. Brush shared his interest. An artists who has devoted his life to his art naturally knows very little of carburators and valves and the intricate doohickies that make up a high-powered airplane engine. But he does know color. He has used color to give bodies to his ideals. Certainly he can use his colors to make material things as invisible as ideals. That is called camouflage.

Battleships were painted in weird streaks and patterns which made it hard for the enemy to see them. Trucks and tanks and guns were so treated that they would melt into the landscape.

The planes presented an entirely different problem.

It is very easy to see an airplane flying against the clear sky. Paint it what color you will, the drumming of its motor advertises its presence and its wings and body stand out in silhouette. With all his artistry and knowledge of color, Mr. Brush could not camouflage an airplane.

But Mrs. Brush could—and did.

Seated in an enormous living room of her farmhouses in Dublin, she told of it modestly enough. That living room is a wonderful place for the discussion of aviation. The ceiling is the roof. The rafters are bare. There is a huge fireplace, showshoes hang on the wall, and in a corner, an old-fashioned spinning wheel.

“It struck me,” said Mrs. Brush from the shelter of her wide-brimmed straw, “that if we couldn’t make a plane invisible with color, we might do it without color. After all, color is the only thing we see. If a thing has no color we cannot see it. We do not see a clean window. We look through it, as if it were not there at all. An airplane that has no color cannot be seen.

“The problem reduced itself to a matter of finding a transparent material to use for covering the wings in place of the ordinary linen. Glass would not due. It was too heavy. Experimenting was a dangerous business. I have never piloted a plane, but I have frequently gone up as a passenger. In flying, as in everything else, the only way to determine the value of an innovation is to try it out. That means flying and the risk of crashing if your scheme fails.

“We tried several things until I hit upon this celluloid composition. It is transparent, has the thickness and strength of linen and built on a base of course copper wire mesh, but the stuff ripped and split. When this material is used for wing covering, it is difficult to see a plane even at such a low altitude as 300 feet. The government took my invention, but the war ended before it could used extensively.

“We had a Bieriot plane down at Mineola [NY] in which we made several flights. It was covered with this material, which is called Chrystal. When we went up at night, it was necessary to build fires all around the field so that we could find our way to the landing place and avoid rough spots on the ground. This difficulty in landing is the great obstacle in the way of night flying.

“My success with the transparent wing covering encouraged me to go farther. If a plane can carry its own light it is independent of landing fields and guide lights on the earth. The automobile has the headlights and the driver picks out the road as he goes. The flyer has no such advantage.

Giant Firefly Soon
“A plane cannot carry powerful searchlights. The machinery required to generate sufficient power for the operation of such light is too heavy. In flying, every ounce counts. I set myself to work on developing reflectors that would use a 32-candle-power lamp—small enough to be lighted without the addition of any heavy apparatus. The reflector is the main thing. The light must be gathered and directed so as to give the effect of a large searchlight.

“As yet I have not obtained the results I want. We equipped a Chrystal plane with the lights, strung them out on the wings and around the body. We went up. The plane made a pretty sight with its lights glowing and the dark sky for a background—but when we tried to land we didn’t have enough light.

“This is my vacation time,” Mrs. Brush laughed, “but I’ll be back at work pretty soon and I’m sure I can make a success of the landing lights.”

When you read the report of some poor astronomer who has seen a gigantic firefly gleaming in the heavens, you will know that Mrs. Brush has succeeded. 

Gravestone of Mittie Taylor Brush


Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Margaret Fitzhugh Browne on WWI ship camouflage

Margaret Fitzhugh Browne, Self-Portrait
Above Self Portrait by Margaret Fitzhugh Browne (1884-1972). Browne was a Massachusetts portrait painter, and this is one of her finest works. She was also the art editor for the Boston Evening Transcript at the end of World War I. Presumably while serving in that capacity, she attended a public talk by American Impressionist Everett Longley Warner. Wartime censorship having been lifted, Warner spoke in great detail about his involvement in American ship camouflage, including so-called “dazzle painting.” Browne published a lengthy and especially vivid account of Warner’s lecture. Her complete text is published below. It may be one of the finest accounts of the process. For my overview of the same subject, see Disruption versus Dazzle: Prevalent Misunderstandings about World War I Ship Camouflage, as well as the four short videos listed at the end of this blog post.


Margaret Fitzhugh Browne, TAKING DAZZLE OUT OF DAZZLE PAINTING: Lieutenant Everett L. Warner, an Artist in Charge of the Navy’s Camouflage Designs During the War, Explains Secrets of the Optical Illusions Created, in the Boston Evening Transcript. August 11, 1920, Part 2, Page 5—

Perhaps none of the devices and inventions of science used in the late war has had such a general and pictureque appeal as the subject of camouflage. Certainly the principles of none have been so apparently easy for the public to grasp, as the general acceptance of the term and its useful and established place in the language bear witness. But in spite of this wide understanding of the broad aims of camouflage—namely, to produce an optical illusion—there has been an almost universal misapprehension of its methods and principles. This has been especially the case in marine camouflage and was due to the fact that the many attempts to explain it were made by writers who, because of the close navy censorship, which was maintained even long after the armistice, had access to no reliable information. The result was that an emormous amount of false or misleading material was published even in periodicals of a semi-scientific character.

A most interesting and valuable opportunity to understand the true aims and principles of naval camouflage was afforded in a talk on the subject in Duxbury MA, under the auspices of the Duxbury Art Association, by Lieut. Everett L. Warner, who was in charge of the Section of Design of naval camouflage in Washington during the war.

Lieutenant Warner is an artist of high standing, a member of the artists’ colony at Lyme CT, with a studio in New York in the winter, and was one of the many artists who turned to account their imagination, ingenuity and years of training in the study of things as they appear in this branch of war service. His talk at the Duxbury Yacht Club was delightfully informal, full of interesting anecdotes and illustrated by lantern slides from photographs of ships or models made to demonstrate the camouflage designs.

Land and Marine Camouflage
Lieutenant Warner first emphasized the essential difference between land and marine camouflage, saying that the two had almost nothing in common, either in their methods or their aims. Land camouflage was more obviously a deception of the eye, as it attempted to make things invisible or make them look like something else. Whereas in the navy, though it was desirable to conceal the character or identity of a ship when possible, that was far from being the chief end of camouflage. The early experiments tried for “low visibility,” as it was called, almost exclusively, but it was soon found that the movement of the ship and the constantly changing and infinite variety of light upon her made such deception very uncertain.

Many suggestions along these lines, however, were submitted to the Navy Department throughout the war. One man had an elaborate scheme for painting the ship to look like an island with trees and houses and even a lighthouse on it—a suggestion which would have been only more complete by having the steamer’s smoke issue from the chimney of the lighthouse keeper’s house. Of course an obvious drawback to this plan was that as the ship was not stationary the camouflage would hardly be very convincing.

Another idea was that the ships be covered with mirrors, which it was supposed would reflect the surrounding sky and sea and so make the ship invisible. The originator of the plan, however, while he had realized one of the necessities of “low visibility” camouflage, namely, that it would have to change with every condition of sea and sky to be effective, still was far from a solution, as he did not recognize the fact that the mirrors would only reflect the sky and water behind the submarine, and not behind the ship to which they were applied, and that furthermore, with every roll of the ship, they would flash alternatively light and dark, greatly increasing her visibility; a condition which the Navy had realized and tried to eliminate by giving up entirely the use of any glossy paint or bright surfaces on the ships. Other imaginative minds suggested such things as enveloping the ship in a net to make her look like a cloud on the horizon, or painting a destroyer on her sides so that she would appear to be closely convoyed—a scheme which would, of course, have its only chance of deception when she was exactly broadside on to the submarine.

Low Visibility Abandoned
Doubtless the people who submitted these kindred ideas for “low visibility,” and, in fact, the public at large, have wondered how the crazy zig-zag patterns with which the ships were painted could possibly achieve this result, and it certainly did seem as if the vessels were made more noticeable by them. The truth of the matter was that the designers and experimenters with marine camouflage did not make ships invisible simply because they couldn’t, and the patterns on the ships were not designed with that in view. It was soon discovered that a method of painting which could make a ship less visible on one kind of day made her more visible on another, and that a paint which would look dark on sunny days would appear most white on cloudy days, in contrast with gray skies and seas. Then, too, the microphone, a listening device by which a submerged submarine could hear the engines of a moving vessel at a distance of as much as twelve miles, and could often hear and roughly determine the position of a steamer long before it could be seen, rendered the reduced visibility of ships of doubtful value.

As an illustration of the extreme delicacy of this instrument, Lieutenant Warner told of an experience of the British Q-boat Barranca, while hunting submarines. A German U-boat was located by microphone on the bottom of the sea, where, as it was before the days of depth bombs, she was safe from attack, though the listener at the instrument on the Barranca could plainly hear a phonograph playing German songs on the U-boat below.

The development of this marvelous instrument forced the scientists to come to the conclusion that there was nothing to be done but to evolve a color of the lowest visibility and paint the ships with that without any further attempts at camouflage. But the imagination of the artists had been aroused and they would not give up. The idea of “dazzle painting,” as it was ultimately known, was finally conceived by a British artist, Norman Wilkinson. In the spring of 1917 he presented to the British Admiralty his plan. This was the use of strongly contrasted designs which so distorted the appearance of the ship that it was difficult to determine her course. He argued that though it had not proved possible to paint a vessel so that she was hard to see, it was still possible to paint her so that she would be hard to hit, and that as she could be both seen and heard anyway, a method of painting which rendered her more invisible would lessen her danger from torpedo attack if it distorted her course.

Spoiling the Torpedoes’ Aim
From then on the basic idea of marine camouflage was, not to make a ship difficult to see or to change her character, but to make it difficult for a submarine to determine the course which she was traveling. The submarine, after locating her prey, tries to reach a good position for firing by keeping submerged and thrusting up her periscope at as long intervals and for as short periods as possible. A ship whose course was puzzling would force the submarine to keep her periscope up longer, and the chances were that she would be seen and her quarry make its escape before she put up her periscope to locate it again. Furthermore, as the ships cannot be fired at point blank, owing to the slow rate of speed at which a torpedo travels, the range must be determined with the greatest accuracy, and the torpedo aimed so as to meet the ship at a given point on her course. The slightest mistake in the estimation of her course would send the torpedo harmlessly ahead or astern of her, and “dazzle painting,” by distorting the course, frequently caused the U-boats to take up the wrong position, and spoiled the accuracy of their long shots.

That the Germans fully realized the importance of determing the true course of a ship is shown by a quotation which Lieutenant Warner gave from the confidential manual issued for the instruction of German submarine officers at Kiel. A copy of this was secured by the British Secret Service and passed on to us through the office of Naval Intelligence. In this manual it was stated that “the determination of the track angle of the enemy’s course is the foundation of the whole art of firing submerged.”

Now that the importance and value of course distortion was generally accepted, the next step was the principles of design and pattern which would produce this result. At first the work was carried on by means of countless experiments with one pattern after another, and the English evolved some very successful designs in this way. Lieutenant Commander Wilkinson, the originator of the idea, came to this country for a month and gave our navy the benefit of the British experience in ship camouflage. Lieutenant Warner worked with him and many of the devices and patterns which the English had found resulted in “course distortion” were adopted by our Navy, but it was not until some time afterwards that the principles underlying these results were understood and the general law governing the effect produced was discovered.

Working with Models
As everyone knows, teaching a subject involves reducing it to its basic principles and putting the principles in a clear and easily understood form, and it was largely through explaining the “dazzle painting” to the camoufleurs of the Shipping Board, whose duty it was to apply the navy designs to the ships, that the subject was put upon a practical basis of procedure, having a logical certainty of result. To secure more complete cooperation and that they might better understand the principles underlying the designs, three of the camoufleurs came to Washington each week for an intensive course given by the camouflage designers.There, in the Navy Department’s camouflage theatre, they were shown the little models of the different types of ships, carefully made to scale, with which the camouflage designers made their experiments. The ships were painted with different dazzle designs, placed upon the turntable and viewed through a periscope to determine whether the camouflage gave the necessary course distortion before the designs were approved and issued for use.

In order that the camoufleurs might be more familiar with the basic construction of the patterns, Lieutenant Warner had made a number of wooden blocks of different geometric shapes, which could be arranged in imitation of the patterns applied to the ships, and it was gradually discovered that every successful pattern, whether based on geometric or any other form, was capable of explanation along the same lines, and was governed by the laws of perspective.

One of the most successful methods of producng course distortion was that of projecting upon the ship’s sides a pattern consisting of a series of forms which apparently turned towards or away from the observer, according to the way in which they were drawn, with the result that the ship appeared to be steering in the direction indicated by the pattern.

Illusion of this sort is familiar to everyone in scene painting, or, in fact, any pictorial representation, and Lieutenant Warner gave an illustration which should make the principle clear, even to those not accustomed, like the painter, architect or sculptor, to realize the changes in the appearance of objects seen at different angles, and of course explainable by the laws of perspective. For instance, a row of bathhouses along a curving beach painted upon the backdrop of a stage would look equally convincing if that backdrop were erected upon an actual beach. The beach and houses would appear to be curving away, though in reality painted upon a flat surface. The same principles of perspective applied to a pattern made up of geometric forms painted upon a ship’s sides would make her appear to be turning away from the observer when she was actually broadside on.

Other methods of producing an optical illusion were also used such as parallel, vertical bands to make a ship look taller and to conceal smokestacks or confuse her construction, and so make it difficult to fix upon a point in calculating the range. Broad bands were sometimes painted upon her sides at such angles as to create the illusion of a bow in advance of her real bow, and the lights and darks cause by her actual construction were confused by the application of fictitious structural shadows painted upon her.

The matter of color was not of importance in “dazzle painting,” dealing as it did with the distortion of form, and though many experiments with color were tried especially in the earlier attempts for “low visibility,” it was finally demonstrated that values or degrees of light and dark were of more importance, and some of the best results were obtained with only blacks and grays, though blue was frequently used, in the hope that it might on certain days blend with the sea or sky and so add to the distortion of the form of the ship and obscure the direction of the course upon which she was traveling.

The success of camouflage cannot, of course, be definitely demonstrated, owing to all the other factors which enter into the matter of a ship’s safety, but the navy statistics in comparing the losses among the camouflage and un-camouflaged ships are so greatly in favor of the former as practically to prove its success. Its future is, of course, problematical. In the event of another war it would, without doubt, be carried even further and its field widened. There may be a future for it in peace, however, for if ships can be painted so as to distort their course they could be made to show more clearly the direction in which they are traveling and so lessen the chances of collision and miscalculation.


See also 


Nature, Art, and Camouflage (35 min. video talk)

Art, Women’s Rights, and Camouflage (29 min. video talk)

Embedded Figures, Art, and Camouflage (26 min. video talk)

Art, Gestalt, and Camouflage (28 min. video talk)