Saturday, September 11, 2021

Franz Marc as a WWI German artillery camoufleur

Franz Marc, Animals in a Forest
Above Franz Marc, Animals in a Forest (1914). In earlier paintings by Marc, figures are easily distinguished from their backgrounds. As his work evolved, animals and landscapes increasingly merged, progressing toward embedded figures


Tim Newark, Camouflage. London: Thames and Hudson, 2007, p. 68—

[During World War I, the German army] recruited artists to disguise their weaponry. The most famous of these was Franz Marc, an Expressionist painter who served initially as a cavalryman. He wrote a revealing letter to his wife in February 1916 in which he told of the creative pleasure he derived from painting military tarpaulins by adapting the styles of great modern painters.

“The business has a totally practical purpose,” said Marc, “to hide artillery emplacements from airborne spotters and photography by covering them with tarpaulins in roughly pointillistic designs in the manner of bright natural camouflage. The distances which one has to reckon with are enormous—from an average height of 2000 meters—enemy aircraft never flies much lower than that…I am curious what effect the ‘Kandinskys’ will have at 2000 meters. The nine tarpaulins chart a development ‘from Manet to Kandinsky.’” 

Franz Marc (1910)


Friday, September 10, 2021

harlequin-patterned WWI dazzle ship camouflage

Above Photograph of a dazzle-camouflaged British troop ship, the RMS Mauretania, arriving in New York harbor, carrying infantry from Europe (December 1919). If compared with the 1914 theatrical photograph below, it is evident why the public commonly compared such checkerboard-patterned camouflage to a traditional harlequin’s costume. 

painted bridge camouflage during both world wars

Above Photograph (c1918) of a World War I-era camouflaged bridge in Saint-Dié-des-Vosges, France, fifty miles southeast of Nancy. Note the painted scenic panel that spans the length of the bridge (in imitation of a row of buildings) and conceals the traffic crossing it.

Below is a newspaper account of the removal of bridge camouflage at the end of WWII.


CAMOUFLAGE REMOVED FROM RIVER BRIDGE in The Valley Times (San Fernando Valley CA)  July 12, 1947—

One of the last objects to be relieved of its wartime coating of camouflage is the Los Angeles River bridge on Victory Boulevard between Glendale and Griffith Park.

I.M. Ridley of Burbank today is directing two crews removing the camouflage that was placed on the bridge about six yers ago to make it appear non-existent to possible enemy bombers. Three days will be required to sandblast the paint off and return the bridge to its former white cement finish.

Most of the bombshelters have been removed from around the county’s war plants. But many buildings that produced war goods still retain camouflage.

Friday, September 3, 2021

visual ambiguity / metaphors, camouflage, visual puns

Anon, French postcard, portrait of Bismarck
Today, I ran across an online essay (it's been online since 2017, and I've only just now found it) by American designer/illustrator  Catherine A. Moore, titled Seriously Funny: Metaphor and the Visual Pun. It is a well-written overview of ambiguity, especially puns and metaphors, both word- and image-based. 

The term ambiguity is commonly misunderstood. It doesn't imply a lack of meaning, but refers instead to the potential of multiple meanings. It comes from the same etymological root (ambi, meaning "both" or "on both sides") as ambidextrous, ambivalence, ambitious, ambience, amphitheater, and so on. In practice, it has lots to do with embedded figures (such as the pun-embellished portrait of Otto, Prince of Bismarck, shown above), with metaphors, and, by extension, camouflage.

Moore's essay is a wonderfully wide-ranging discussion of various kinds of word play, from which she moves on to examples of extraordinary visual puns (dare we call them image play) by such masterful practitioners as Christoph Niemann, Guy Billout, and, of course, René Magritte.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

speeding up the daily production of ship camouflage

During World War I, did any of the ship camouflage artists come up with clever procedures by which they could speed up the daily production of dazzle designs?

The answer is affirmative, although we do not know to what extent these were actually put into practice. Among the most ingenious was a method that originated with an American Navy camoufleur named Everett L. Warner. It was he who oversaw the ship camoufleurs in Washington DC at the Design Subsection of the US Navy’s Camouflage Section. Not only did he originate this method, he also documented it with photographs and described it in an article that was later published.

Here is what we know about his innovative method of producing new schemes for the sides of ships: At some point, he discovered that the painters at the harbors, who were applying the schemes to the actual ships, did not fully understand how various distortions worked. As a result, he initiated the practice of requiring small groups of those painters to attend training sessions at the Design Subsection. The distortion effects were a challenge to explain, and Warner soon found it was helpful to have on hand a number of cut-up, variously-colored wooden scraps to use in demonstrations.

One day, while preparing these demonstrations, Warner inadvertently arranged a number of these scraps of wood on the surface of a table. With no particular purpose, a wooden model of a ship, painted in monochrome gray, had been placed on the same surface, so that it served as a contrasting background. At that point, Warner realized that he could easily rearrange the scraps, in all but an infinite number of ways, and then use that arrangement as a flat, confusing pattern on the surface of the ship. If the scraps were aligned at an oblique angle, the plain gray ship behind them would appear to be positioned at the same angle. more>>>

Monday, August 30, 2021

video / a dazzle advertisement of a dazzling discovery

Above A damaged, 19th century Swiss photograph of a small child in a white hat (just left of center) seated on her father's lap, with her mother standing at the right. Circumstances are such that, at first glance, some viewers interpret the child's face as the eye of a profile of Christ, facing left. 

Like the man in the moon, or a face in the clouds, this is an example of seeing apparently meaningful forms in random or accidental formations, called pareidolia. Unless of course (as might well be), the photograph has been altered, to increase the likelihood of seeing the figure. 

As I discuss in a new online 25-minute video talk, titled Art, Embedded Figures, and Camouflage, there is a long tradition of the purposeful insertion of embedded figures (or, as they are sometimes called, camouflaged figures), in picture puzzles and works of art. Here's a brief excerpt from the video narration, followed by the two advertising diagrams that it describes—

Not surprisingly, embedded figures have also been used in advertising. During World War I, for example, at the height of the public’s interest in dazzle-painted ship camouflage, this unidentified diagram was published in a British magazine, repeatedly—on the same page, in the same location—for several weeks. It simply read: A dazzle advertisement of a dazzling discovery. That was all that anyone knew. 

And then, suddenly, in the last week of the ad campaign, an “embedded figure” solution appeared, also on the same page, same place. Camouflage has its uses, it said, but Firth’s Stainless Steel needs no protective covering.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

latest new renditions of dazzle-painted British ships

WWI ship diagrams / Steve Morris
Above Here are a few of our favorites from the latest vector interpretations of WWI British ship camouflage, part of an on-going project by Steve Morris, a Washington DC-area graphic designer and toy maker. These are simply astonishing. You can find many more, clearer and at larger size, at his website. What a remarkable undertaking.

We recently told the story of the involvement of American women during WWI in the application of a dazzle camouflage pattern to a land-based US Navy recruiting station, the USS Recruit, built to closely resemble a ship. For publicity purposes, the wooden imitation ship (located in the midst of all the traffic at Union Square in New York City) was painted in a colorful scheme in one day and overnight by the Women's Reserve Camouflage Corps. Learn more, see more about women's wartime contributions in this new online video (high resolution version).

Thursday, August 5, 2021

New video / Art, Women's Rights, and Camouflage

It is not widely realized that there were important connections between the rise of Modern-era art and literature, women's suffrage, and World War I. One of the most curious things they share is camouflage (including the formation of the Women's Reserve Camouflage Corps). Now accessible online is ART, WOMEN'S RIGHTS, AND CAMOUFLAGE, the second of a series of four new 30-minute video / talks about aspects of camouflage in the widest sense—military, zoological, psychological, and otherwise.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Free online video / The Hidden Story of Camouflage

I was so fortunate to appear in this wonderful film—titled RAZZLE DAZZLE: The Hidden Story of Camouflage—produced in Australia in 2019. It was fascinating to be interviewed for it, and to spend an extended time in Australia. It's now available online as a free documentary here

I am now in process of producing my own series of shorter videos on related subjects. Here is my very first attempt, as posted on YouTube. I'm working on my second today.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

nature, art and camouflage / duplicitous uses of color

Now available online is a new 32-minute documentary video titled NATURE, ART AND CAMOUFLAGE: Duplicitous Uses of Color at <>. It is a richly illustrated overview of four kinds of camouflage (blending, countershading, mimicry, and disruption), with examples of their common occurrence in nature, as well as their adoption as wartime deception strategies. A central aspect of the film is the involvement of artists in studies of both military and zoological camouflage, especially Abbott H. Thayer and Norman Wilkinson. A more recent, second video on ART, WOMEN'S RIGHTS, AND CAMOUFLAGE is accessible online at well.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

talking to children about illusions at the Hearst Center

I had a great time this morning at the Hearst Center for the Arts, in Cedar Falls, Iowa, where I talked to a group of about 15 children about "illusions." I'm the big kid on the left, properly masked. I shared two of the Ames Demonstrations (that's a Rotating Trapezoid Window on a table in the front), red/green 3-D stereograms (which they loved), and ended by showing examples of World War I dazzle ship camouflage

The children asked some excellent questions, and the adult staff at the center were on their best behavior. I had a blast, and I think the young ones liked it too. It was not unlike a flashback, since more than 50 years ago, I began my career in the classroom as a teacher of 7th graders.

There are more posted photographs and a video clip on the Hearst Center's Instagram page.

Monday, June 7, 2021

The Anatomy of Color, and Nature's Colorful Palette

I am a decade past retirement age. Despite repeated half-hearted attempts to downsize my possessions, I still have a too-large collection of books. Many of them are exquisite, all but perfectly conceived, designed, and printed. How will I ever part with them? At last I’ve reached a compromise (or so I thought): Short of discarding the finest books, I have pledged to refrain from collecting significant new ones.

But I’ve fallen short of that as well. In recent months, I could not resist buying copies of two magnificent volumes, a misstep no doubt but one I am certain I’ll never regret. They are two stunning clothboard books about color (sorry, e-book editions will not suffice), both by British color expert Patrick Baty. One is titled The Anatomy of Color: The Story of Heritage Paints and Pigments (Thames and Hudson, 2017), and the other (only recently released) is all about color in nature, and—by implication, if not openly discussed—the role of color in camouflage. Produced by Baty and four contributors (Elaine Charwat, Peter Davidson, André Karticzek, and Giulia Simonini), it is titled Nature’s Palette: A Color Reference System from the Natural World (Princeton University Press, 2021).

Both volumes are simply astounding in every regard. Reproduced at top is a page of bird feathers from the volume on color in nature. Each book is 300 pages or more, and while this page is especially striking, there are many more examples, page after page, that are equally unforgettable.

mimicry, empathy, brevity, closure and camouflage

 Monroe Books in Berlin, Germany has recently published a book of camouflage-related essays and artworks titled Mimicry-Empathy, edited by German artist Susanne Bürner. Shown above is the front cover. On the back cover (below) is a list of those whose work is included.

Among the essays is our latest, titled "Simpatico on the patio: Empathic art, mimicry, and camouflage." That essay, which deals with the functional link between empathy, closure, and camouflage, is also available online here.  

Friday, April 30, 2021

new camouflage schemes for Royal Navy vessels

Those who follow this blog will no doubt recognize the name of Steve Morris, a Washington DC designer whose precise recreations of World War I ship camouflage schemes we have featured in the past. More recently, he shared the link to an article by Thomas Newdick at The War Zone (shown above), with an announcement and photographs of the newly-adopted policy of the British Royal Navy of painting certain of its patrol vessels in geometric dazzle camouflage schemes.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

oh dear dear der goose dung all over der trouserz

Easily, one of our favorite people is David Attenborough, whose excellent documentary films on aspects of nature we have enjoyed immensely. He will soon turn 95, yet he is still appearing in films, in some of his finest productions yet.

Most recently and of particular note is Life in Color with David Attenborough, which premiered some weeks ago on BBC, and will be streaming on Netflix as of Thursday, April 22. This new series is of particular relevance to those who research camouflage, because it uses the latest filming techniques to determine how the vision of various animals differs from that of humans. This is especially important because it has all too often been assumed that animal coloration can be adequately assessed through human vision. It is a “must see” series.

In the meantime, British zoologist Martin Stevens, whose books on animal coloration (Animal Camouflage; Sensory Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution; and Cheats and Deceits) are among the very finest, has teamed up with Attenborough and the BBC to produce a dazzling, full-color companion volume titled Life in Color: How Animals See the World.  

That said, one can hardly mention David Attenborough without also calling to mind that wonderful story in his autobiography about a “colorful” appearance by Konrad Lorenz on an earlier BBC program. It is a classic, as quoted below.


David Attenborough, Life on Air. London: BBC Books, 2002—

[During a live interview on BBC, Austrian ethologist Konrad Lorenz agreed to appear on camera, unrehearsed, with a greylag goose. Moments later,] a keeper from the London Zoo walked on to the set carrying a goose which he put down on a low table that stood between the professor and myself. The goose, naturally enough, was somewhat perturbed at suddenly being thrust under the bright televison lights and began to flap its wings.

“Komm, komm, mein Liebchen,” said Konrad, soothingly, putting his hands on either side of the goose’s body so that its wings were held folded down. He was holding it so that its head was pointed away from him. This was sensible in that he was not then within range of the goose’s beak which it showed every wish to use, if it got the chance. But that, of course, meant that its rear was pointing towards the professor and the goose, in the flurry, squirted a jet of liquid green dung straight at him.

“Oh dear dear,” said Konrad. “All over der trouserz.” He released the goose, which flapped off the set and was neatly fielded by its keeper, took out his handkerchief and carefully wiped his trousers clean. Then, finding his handerchief in his hand, in his embarrassment, he promptly blew his nose on it.

He completed the interview with a green smear down the side of his face…

Friday, April 2, 2021

camouflage / a dance of beatings the boy endured

Above Roy R. Behrens, Papa's Waltz (© 2021). Digital montage.


Yesterday, I put up this blog post and montage (above) on The Poetry of Sight, my more generic blog about vision, design, and the creative process. But it occurs to me that it might also be appropriate to repost it here, since Theodore Roethke's language has everything to do with camouflage, with concealed and embedded components.


The title of the montage reproduced above (I sometimes call them “visual poems”) is intended as an homage to what some people regard as Theodore Roethke’s finest work, a sixteen-line autobiographical poem, titled “My Papa’s Waltz” (c1942). It is beautifully constructed, filled with engagement and gesture—and is yet at the same time disturbing in its beneath-the-surface suggestions.

Roethke, as a poet should, makes apt use of figures of speech, and we (the readers) are left to decide what to make of it. Does “papa’s waltz” simply describe an innocent dance, in which an inebriated father is engaged in ritualistic fun with his son, a small boy. Or, as certain components suggest, is it not a literal waltz, but instead a frightening memory of dance-like beatings the boy endured at the hands of a drunken parent?

You must read the entire poem, which is available online at the website of the Poetry Foundation. At the same, it also helps to read the article about this poem on Wikipedia, and to learn about the life of Theodore Roethke.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

the most delirious dazzle camouflage patterns of all

Above John Everett, paintings of World War I dazzle-painted British ships (c1919), issued as postcards after the war. Collection of Roy R. Behrens (gift of Les Coleman).


Clair Price, THE CONVOY in Gundagai Independent and Pastoral, Agricultural and Mining Advocate (New South Wales), May 1, 1919—

Before the war, [the old ship] he adored had been a rusty tramp. Now she had a few shiny new rivets under a naval gun aft, and she was held together by some of the most delirious dazzle-paint that green hills ever blinked upon. She was purple waves. She was black freckles on a white background. Even her name was gone. Only her red ensign and the smudge of her Welsh coal remained.…

Marine camouflage is, at best, an experiment. It is not only intended to obscure the course and the distance of a vessel, but also to deprive the enemy of the straight lines of a vessel on which he has been accustomed to range. At the last-named purpose it is a distinctive success, but I have yet to find a naval officer to admit the usefulness of its success.

Monday, March 1, 2021

diagram of a ship camouflage viewing theatre in 1918

Recently, we devised a diagram of the type of observation theatre (equipped with an upsidedown periscope) that was first used by the British and then the Americans (and most likely other Allies too) for testing dazzle ship camouflage schemes during World War I. 

Reproduced above is the left half of the diagram, showing two camouflage artists. Included in the diagram are American Navy camoufleurs Kenneth MacIntire (taking notes), and Harold Van Buskirk, who is looking through the periscope, trying to determine the angle at which a camouflage-painted ship model is headed.

As shown below in the right half of the diagram, the ship model was placed on an adjustable turntable, on the other side of a barrier wall. Behind that turntable was a painted canvas background that could be changed to simulate various visibility factors, such as weather or surrounding. Illumination could also be changed. The turntable (or perhaps the surface on which it was mounted) was marked with degree increments. When the periscopic observer had rotated the ship model to an angle that appeared correct, the person on the other side of the wall could easily tell the exact degree to which the observer’s adjustment was mistaken. The greater the error, the more effective the scheme would likely be in deceiving the periscope calculations of a U-boat gunner.

An especially clear, succinct account of the entire process (albeit, not every detail is fully correct) was published in the New Zealand Tablet, on January 29, 1920, including the following excerpt—

…a small wooden model of each ship was made to scale, on which was painted a dazzle design. This was carefully studied in a prepared theatre through a submarine periscope, and when the design had been so altered and arranged that it gave the maximum distortion, the model was handed over to a trained plan-maker, who fitted that design to scale for the particular ship it was intended. The plan was then dispatched to the port at which the particular ship was lying, and transferred to the vessel. Thus a model and plan were made for every ship. For each type a number of designs were made, so that on arrival at port any ship requiring a dazzle plan could be immediately camouflaged. Sometimes as many as 100 vessels were being painted at the same time in one port.

Not all WWI ship camouflage testing theatres were constructed just like this. Some were less elaborate, even makeshift, while others differed in other regards, but the overall principle was the same.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

like a chameleon / the checkered pattern of his clothes

Carolyn Lachner, Fernand Léger. Exhibition catalog. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1998, p. 52—

By September of 1939, six months after [French artist Fernand] Léger’s return to Paris, France was again at war with Germany. Early on, the war was more theory than fact: only half worried, Léger wrote Sara Murphy in October that thanks to friends in high places, he might be appointed director of camouflage, or perhaps minister of propaganda in a neutral country, and in December he let her know that he was still awaiting the call to camouflage France. In another six months, though, German troops advancing from Flanders had forced him to join the panicked crowds fleeing south. Writing to the Murphys from Vichy in September, he said, “If I manage to get to you, I will tell you about our departure…life on the road and the battle of trains,” on a more upbeat note adding, “If nothing else works out, then one could camouflage American airplanes, boats, clouds, Radio City etc.” The ever dependable Murphys had already cabled him funds, and Léger’s last American expedition was underway.


Alexander Liberman, The Artist in His Studio. New York: Viking Press, 1968—

Léger wore a checkered shirt, and the violent patterns of his clothes against the violent pattern of his paintings made him seem like a chameleon.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

camouflage ball at Willard Hotel and Lincoln's slippers

President Lincoln's bedroom slippers
Above Bedroom shoes given by Abraham Lincoln to the proprietor of the famous Willard Hotel in Washington DC. These are the slippers that Lincoln wore when he stayed at that hotel during his inaugural. Photograph by Carol M. Highsmith, c1985. Image courtesy Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Collection online here.

In March 1918, the two ballrooms at the Willard Hotel were transformed by members of the American Camouflage Corps, stationed at American University Camp, in preparation for a fundraising Camouflage Ball, to be held on Wednesday evening, March 6. 

The hotel’s large ballroom was given the appearance of “a quaint French village,” while the smaller one became a “sunny street in Italy.” The artists who designed all this were “past masters in the art of scene painting. When they get to France [to serve as wartime camoufleurs] they will fool [the enemy] into believing there are things where they aren’t but just at present they’re busy in making the Willard ballroom look like anything but a ballroom.”


ENGLISH FACTORY GIRLS CAMOUFLAGE SHOES in Los Angeles Evening Express, January 2, 1918—

London, Jan. 2—Girl workers in the danger buildings at Woolwich arsenal are not allowed to wear jewelry. They have therefore hit on the idea of wearing colored shoe laces.

The Cap Shop girls appeared one morning with bright emerald green ribbons on their shoes, much to the envy of other departments. The next morning the whole factory was in the fashion, says the principal supervisor.

Shoes were tied with blue, pink, red, white ribbons; with anything but the government boot lace of untanned leather. The fashion spread to the office and women clerks paraded the platform during the dinner hour with resplendent shoe laces.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Gertrude Hoffman's perturbing lack of camouflage

Gertrude Hoffman as Salomé

LACK OF CAMOUFLAGE BY DANCER SHOCKS: Gertrude Hoffman Asks Church People If They Expect Portrayal of Greek Nymph in Overcoat and Galoshes in Oregon Daily Journal (Portland OR), November 8, 1917—

Chicago, Nov. 8—“Now really, good people, do you expect me to appear in an overcoat and galoshes when I am representing a Greek nymph?”

Thus did the delectable Gertrude Hoffman, pioneer of the cuticule school of dancing, reply today to allegations of the Women’s Church Federation that she is not sufficiently camouflaged during her appearances at a local theatre.

To the charge that she appears “nude below the thighs,” Gertrude replies that hundreds of our best people are appearing daily similarly sans culottes at the Florida and California beaches.

The limitations of Gertrude’s wardrobe are the subject of anxious conferences today between Chief of Police Schuettler and his censor of amusements.

Cover / Gertrude Hoffmann biography


Gertrude Hoffman


Saturday, February 13, 2021

car dealers are the finest lot of camouflage experts

WWI camouflaged truck, source unknown
AUTO CAMOUFLAGE IS USED CAR DEALERS’ ART; NOT AN ARTIST in Omaha Daily Bee, November 4, 1917, p. 35—

When it becomes necessary, as shortly it will, to secure the services of expert camouflage operators, remarks The Commentator in the current issue of American Motorist, I hope the government will not overlook the finest lot of camouflagers in the world. Talk about our French disguisers, who can make a 10-ton gun look like a bologna sausage and thus protect it from German destruction, they are not in it with our American disguisers. Give any dealer in second-hand cars a chance and he’ll put it over any camouflagers that ever camouflaged a camer. What these second-hand distributors don’t know about making something look like something it is not, no foreigner that ever lived can teach them. There is a whole lot about this new war game we’ve go to be taught by those abroad, but when it comes to camouflage, so long as we have our second-hand automobile experts with us, we won’t have to get our educators in the disguising line from any place but home, sweet home.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

not hardly the last of the (dreadful) camouflage jokes

Above THE LAST (?) OF THE CAMOUFLAGE JOKES, cartoon (artist's signature unclear) from London Opinion reprinted in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 3, 1919, with the following dialogue—

“Why this dazzle get-up?”

“Fact is, dear boy, when my beastly creditors do see me, I’m hoping they won’t have the least idea in which direction I’m going.”


Untitled, in The Times Tribune (Scranton PA), June 20, 1918—

In gauging the speed of their prospective prey submersibles must base their reckoning on the sweep of a vessel’s lines from stern to stern. Recent tests off Sandy Hook [NJ, off New York Harbor] demonstrated that the interruption of these lines created by the zebra-like stripes of the camouflage artists causes errors up to 40 per cent, as to the knots per hour being negotiated by a bedaubed ship…Under normal conditions, observers are able to come within 2 per cent of a vessel’s speed, showing what protection the cubistic color scheme affords against the hostile torpedo.

NOTE  We found out recently that there was a French artist named Georges Taboureau (1879-1960), primarily known for his travel posters, who designed ship camouflage for the French during World War I. He frequently signed his work as Sandy Hook.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Walt Kuhn, the Penguin Club, and ship camouflage

USS Santa Teresa (1918)
Above USS Santa Teresa (1918), painted in dazzle camouflage scheme Type 14, Design E. 


Manya Denenberg Rudina (1895-1975), DEATH STOPS THE SCULPTOR’S HAND: Sensations of an Artist’s Model, in The Pittsurgh Press, May 24, 1919, p. 6 (Chapter XXVII)—

[During World War I] Dozens of my friends entered successively the army or navy and practically all of them eventually went into one or the other division of the camouflage corps. One well-known artist for whom I had posed many times enlisted as a common seaman in the navy and spent his time swinging over the sides of ships putting on the streaks of paint to conceal them from periscopes of the submarines. Many an evening has seen a motley gathering of artists in uniform at the Penguin• [in New York], for many of them were stationed at the navy headquarters here and could get evenings off when their work was done.

We heard in confidence many of the devices that were being used to foil the U-boats, and the artists discussed this phase of the war, and the concealment of military works by means of camouflage, as earnestly as experts in ordinance and engineering discussed their problems of the war.

• The Penguin Art Club on East 15th Street in New York, had been founded by American artist Walt Kuhn in 1917.


Below A ship in the process of being painted in a dazzle camouflage scheme.

Note There are no full-color photographs of WWI ship camouflage. The originals of the black and white images above have been digitally “colorized” using AI software. While their light / dark values are accurate, the choice and location of colors, even when plausible, may not be literally correct.

Friday, January 29, 2021

our chef is no dub, and is good at camouflaging grub

Patent Drawings
Above Application drawings for US Patent No US2005/0081272 for a “camouflage hood assembly,” for use in game hunting, invented by Richard Dean Shaklee (2005). The hunter’s face is concealed by a suspended hood, covered with webbing, which the user can see through.


Camouflage in WAR-TIME JINGLES by Men in Service, in The Blue Island Sun (Blue Island IL), damaged page, no readable date (c1918)—

At camouflage our chef’s no dub,
And every day at mess
He practices on all our grub,
With great effectiveness.

He serves a cereal, of course,
For breakfast every day,
The same would even fool a horse,
It tastes so much like hay.

The tea and coffee that is placed
Before us in that hall,
Are camouflaged so they don’t taste
Like anything at all.

And he can camouflage the stew
That’s given us to eat,
So we can’t find a gol darn clew
Of any kind of meat.

On his efficiency I would bank;
Today I tried to take
A bite of solid hickory plank,
Disguised as sirloin steak.

While camouflage may be an art,
We possibly may need,
I’m asking you, please have a heart,
Why camouflage our feed?

measles, camouflage and asymmetrical shoes in 1918

SHOES DIFFER IN COLOR in the Davenport Democrat and Leader (Davenport IA), March 1, 1925, p. 3—

Futurism, cubism or some other art complex has descended upon French custom bootmakers, who insist that they set the styles in women’s shoes for the world. These bootmakers all are of one mind in turning out symmetrical footwear. The first models of this year styles were shown a few weeks ago. They seemed freakish, but the bootmakers have carried their original ideas further until now one side of a shoe is quite different, not only in design, but in color, from the other side. Humorists are speculating whether the makers will not soon decree that right and left shoes be entirely dissimilar.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Genevieve Cowles | Connecticut Woman Camoufleur

Genevieve Cowles, c1932
Above A news photograph of a Connecticut-based artist named Genevieve Alameda Cowles (1871-1950). We blogged about her several years ago in relation to her service during World War I as a camouflage designer for the US Shipping Board, which was a highly unusual role for a woman at the time. She was trained in camouflage design by William Andrew Mackay. An illustrator, stained glass window designer, and mural painter, she was unusual in other ways as well. She was the twin sister of Maude Alice Cowles (1871-1905), who had a parallel career, and with whom she worked collaboratively until the latter’s early death. Below is a photograph of them at age eighteen. 

Maude and (right) Genevieve Cowles

Shortly after her sister’s death, Genevieve proposed to paint a religious mural for the chapel at the State Prison at Wethersfield CT, using the prisoners as models. In the process, she took up the issue of prison reform, a cause she continued to advocate for the rest of her life. In 1932, she wrote a lengthy article (excerpts from which are reprinted below) in which she compared certain aspects of ship camouflage to prejudicial assumptions about the character of prisoners. She illustrated the article with two drawings of the same ship, the first one disruptively camouflaged, the other one not (see drawings reproduced below)—

Genevieve Cowles, CAMOUFLAGE AND CRIME: Local Artist Reveals Secrets of Black Magic That Protected Our Ships During World War and Draws Striking Analogy in Hartford Courant (Hartford CT), May 13, 1932—

During the Great War, when England was losing five vessels a day from submarine attacks, an artist named [Norman] Wilkinson invited a system of painted blots on ships called “dazzle camouflage” that actually worked like Black Magic. 

Through his periscope, the enemy U-Boat commander could survey his intended victim far more distinctly than with the naked eye. He had proved his ability by sinking many un-camouflaged ships. But when ships appeared painted with black blots it proved impossible for him to discover under those blots her real shape, and position, and the direction in which she was going.

Deprived of this hitherto available, most necessary information, the commander’s deadly torpedo was fired in vain, and often the submarine itself was sunk in consequence.

Not all the guns in creation could ward off the deadly torpedo when accurately fired at an unforeseen moment from an unseen quarter under the sea. This menacing problem, which no amount of force alone could successfully combat was solved by intelligence.

The artists, by using paint in scientific designs of optical illusions, saved the allied ships, without which our troops could never had reached France, or even engaged in winning the war.

Out of 12,000 ships camouflaged by Americans, we lost only nine. 

Only those who knew, or could guess, the laws of optical illusion used in these dazzle designs could see through them. It made not the slightest difference in facing these deceptions whether one were a villain or a saint, a patriot or a traitor, a friend or foe, one could surely be deluded if one did not know the laws of the deceptions.…

As an officially trained member of the Women’s Reserve Camouflage Corps during the Great War, I have received from the government permission to divulge the information that I possess. 

Mr George H. Rock, chief of the Navy Department Bureau of Construction and Repair, Washington DC, in a recent letter to me wrote: “While at that time (during the World War) the information was held as confidential, since the war it has not been so regarded, and there is no reason known to this bureau why you should not use such information as you may have as to camouflage practice during the war.” Also, Mr William Andrew Mackay, New York camoufleur of the marine service under which I was trained, has written to me saying: “You can rest assured that you will be given all assistance by this office.”

Let us begin by examining the accompanying drawing of a war camouflage ship seen approximately at the point of attack. In order to take affect, the torpedo should be fired at a two-point, or between a two-point and a three-point view. 

That is, one should fire when she was coming head on, showing the prow and a little of one side, or else retreating, showing the stern and part of one side.

The low visibility system of camouflage, so successful on land, and successful in a fog at sea, proved useless in bright daylight on a quiet sea, because the lights and shadows on the angles of the prow and stern, and especially on the deck houses, would betray the position of the ship and the direction in which she was going. If the U-boat commander could estimate correctly one single rectangle on the victim ship, he could sink her.

The camoufleur solved this problem first by painting sold black blots over these telltale angles. Later on he discovered that more or less dark bands or bars or spots would serve as well as solid blacks.…

The submarine commander was only allowed seven seconds for each observation by rolling waves that at such intervals obscured his vision through his periscope.…

Now compare this camouflaged ship drawing with an exact tracing of this identical ship in this identical position, also reproduced here, and you will see that she is not traveling in either direction that she seems to have when camouflaged, and the torpedo will not strike where intended.…


Optical science meets visual art 

Disruption versus dazzle 

Chicanery and conspicuousness 

Under the big top at Sims' circus

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

when father mangles celery with unctuous enthusiasm

Above A vintage photograph (source unknown) of a highly unusual example of ship camouflage during World War I in which the shape of the vessel has been made confusing by applying warped perspective shapes to the bow, while also attaching triangular forms to the masts, smoke stack, and upper deck surfaces, as a means of distorting the ship’s silhouette.

Note Since this was initially posted, we have been told by Aryeh Wetherhorn that this is a photograph of a Russian patrol boat, the Kondor, in the Baltic Sea.


Everett L Warner, in Summary of Points to be Made in First Part of General Lecture on Marine Camouflage, unpublished typescript (n.d.)—

[The] British called [the] ultimate type [of WWI ship camouflage] “dazzle painting,” and this name, which we also used, was in itself a source of misunderstanding. [There was an] effort in [the US] Navy Department to find [a] more descriptive name, and to differentiate [the] American system from its British prototype. Suggestions [were] invited. Three days leave [was] offered [as a reward, but] no one secured it. One man suggested “jazz painting,” [and] I have always thought that this name summed up accurately the popular idea.


FLORIBEL’S FLAPPERGRAMS in The Lafayette Journal and Courier (Lafayette IN), May 17, 1923— 

Floribel says: That jazz record on the fireside phonograph is mighty fittin’ at times. Put it on, say, when father mangles celery with unctuous enthusiasm or when he swiffles soup or swings a wicked saucer. A full-tone needle and enough jazz may help distract the awe-stricken dinner guests in the celery crisis. That same jazz may drown out the midnight racket of those dropped shoes in the parental bedroom upstairs. Any girl will tell you that when the “date” is a likely one, and a bit skittish, ‘most any household camouflage is justified, even jazz. At that, the average jazz record is no worse than the Teething-Baby Blues.

Note There are no full-color photographs of WWI ship camouflage. The original of the black and white image above has been digitally “colorized” using AI software. While its light / dark values are accurate, the choice and location of colors, even when plausible, may not be literally correct.


Optical science meets visual art 

Disruption versus dazzle 

Chicanery and conspicuousness 

Under the big top at Sims' circus

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

WWI ship camouflage models in exhibition in Illinois

and below are a few of the crisp new renderings of WWI dazzle camouflage patterns that are being recreated by Steve Morris, a designer based in Washington DC. We have blogged about his work before.


CAMOUFLAGE MODELS PUT ON EXHIBITION HERE TODAY in Daily Illini (Champaign-Urbana IL), April 18, 1918, p. 1—

Work of Famous Camoufleur Will Be Shown In University Hall 

William [Andrew] Mackay, camoufleur for the second district of the United States Shipping Board of New York, has sent a number of camouflage models for painting ships to Earl C . Bradbury of the department of art and design.

These models will be on exhibition in 401 University Hall today and tomorrow, from 9:00 to 12 o'clock and from 1:00 to 3:00 o'clock. 

“Camouflage is becoming more and more a factor in submarine warfare,” said Mr. Bradbury yesterday. “The ships which operate in the zone are being painted to reduce their visibility. We cannot hope to make them entirely invisible, but if their visibility can be reduced one-half an enormous saving in ships would result.”

“Marine camouflage was used in a small way in the Civil War when merchant ships were painted black like warships, with the representation of port holes in white. Today we have far outclassed that method.”

Parts of Ship Are Merged 

“The present basic theory in ship camouflagp is the merging of the hull and the upper works with the sea and sky. There are two methods of doing this, the low visibility and the dazzle system. A ship painted battleship gray is less visible than one painted black or white. However the breaking up of the object Into several smaller objects makes it less visible; just as a solid rank of men is more conspicuous than a rank scattered. So a chopny effect of painting the ship seems to suggest sky or sea between the several parts , and thus lowers the chances of the ship being seen.“

“As to the dazzle system which was originated by camoufleur Mackay,” continued Mr. Bradbury, “sunlight is composed of the rays of various colors as illustrated in the rainbow; an object painted in these pure colors would give a suggestion of the light of day which is shut out behind the object. Mr. Mackay found on applying this theory to ship painting that the pure colors blended into the ocean mists at several miles distance, and thus made [peri]scope focusing very difficult.”


Optical science meets visual art 

Disruption versus dazzle 

Chicanery and conspicuousness 

Under the big top at Sims' circus

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Alice in Wonderland meets the Wizard of Oz in 1918

WWI US government photograph (AI colorized)
Edwin Carty Ranck, SERVICE OF SUPPLY IN FRANCE AND WHAT IT MEANS TO SAMMY WHO IS BATTLING “OVER THERE” in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (New York), June 30, 1918, p. 2—

At the camouflage camp, which is, by the way, one of the most interesting spots in France, I was shown around by one of the youngest majors in the American Army… One could easily spend a week there, so fascinating is this work.…

I saw many camouflage mounds and hills that would deceive the naked eye at a distance of even twenty-five feet. And there was a weirdly camouflaged automobile that excited the laughter of the men who had camouflaged it, because it was so outrageously absurd. They were trying it as an experiment to see if it wouldn’t be a good vehicle for use at the front.

“Doesn’t it look like it might serve as a crazy wagon for Fred Stone to ride during a performance of The Wizard of Oz or some other fantastic show?” asked my guide.

“Yes, it makes me think of Alice in Wonderland,” I replied. And everything around me made me think of Alice in Wonderland. It was a bizarre, artificial world that lay around me…

Illustration that accompanied article (1918)