“Paradoxical Magic” Boulder Daily Camera Article on DMCK

We received an enthusiastic writeup from staff writer Aimee Heckel in our local paper, the Boulder Daily Camera, today! The article, “Boulder Company Uses Math Patterns to Produce Unique Scarves,” emphasizes the delicate intersection of math and art that DMCK Designs strives to incorporate into every scarf design. The piece also hints at the process  used—custom searching software—to find interesting and eye-pleasing space-filling curve motifs to use on our scarves.

One correction the print version of the article requires is that Doug McKenna was one of several people who worked with the late Benoit Mandelbrot to illustrate the book, The Fractal Geometry of Nature, which American Scientist magazine named as one of the top ten most influential scientific essays of the 20th Century.  Doug is of course proud to have contributed to it.  But he did not illustrate all of it, as the writeup implied.  The paper has since corrected the on-line version.

That said, we think it’s a great article! You can find it online at the DailyCamera.com, or read the full text, reproduced here, below!

Boulder Company Uses Math Patterns to Produce Unique Scarves

by Aimee Heckel

In classic paradoxical magic, where two seeming opposites intersect, lies a whole new reality. An evolution of understanding. And awesome joy.

In spirituality, it’s strength in letting go. In meditation, it’s quieting the brain so you can truly hear.

And in this fashion tale, it’s diving into complicated mathematics to extract the most perfect art. Left brain meets right brain, and as a team, they bring about one of the most unique accessory lines out there: DMCK Designs, based in Boulder.

This luxury scarf line, launched just last month, specializes in elegant, silk chiffon, single-color, patterned scarves. It’s also founded on mathematical art, based on fractals and space-filling curves, a specific kind of fractal tiling pattern that was discovered in the late 19th century.

The fashion designer: Doug McKenna, an award-winning software engineer, fractal pioneer and mathematical artist.

This Yale University master’s graduate is a bit of a math celebrity himself, having assisted in illustrating the famous book by Benoit B. Mandelbrot, “The Fractal Geometry of Nature.” If you know what that is, chances are you’re getting pretty giddy right about now. If not, you can nod in admiration once you know that his drawings also have been featured in Smithsonian Magazine and that he was one of the first people in the ’70s to begin drawing with computers.

Although math and art might seem like opposites, McKenna has always seen them as the perfect couple. As a child, he says, his art projects always tapped into geometry and abstract patterns.

Math is beautiful, McKenna says.

But mathematical beauty and aesthetic beauty are typically understood differently.

“Mathematicians intuitively have an idea of what’s beautiful, but most use the word differently from how others and artists use it,” McKenna says. “Mathematical beauty is more about how everything fits together nicely.”

A cube.

A dodecahedron.

Absolutely stunning.

“But aesthetic beauty is more about the choices that an artist makes and, by virtue of those choices, is able to non-verbally communicate with the viewers,” McKenna says.

“In my world, the best possible outcome of a mathematical piece of art is for someone who is not mathematically inclined to think it is satisfying to look at — without understanding the underlying algorithms and formulas and constraints,” he says.

In other words, the point where math meets art; where rules meet choices, and they evoke an emotion.

That’s what he aims for with his scarves.

He has discovered completely original patterns that have never existed before, using software that he wrote called “searching software,” which goes through all possibilities to find answers that conform to certain constraints.

Those constraints are a balance between math and aesthetic beauty, he says.

“It is possible to create geometric, mathematical, abstract designs that are very pleasing to the eye,” McKenna says.

He runs his fashion business with his daughter, Caitlin McKenna, who grew up in Boulder and is now a web designer.

She says some people are drawn to the scarves for their beauty, without understanding their background, although their market is “chic geeks — people who can appreciate the intellectual endeavor that went into making the design.”

Find DMCK scarves online at http://dmck.us. They’re also for sale in the Museum of Mathematics’ gift shop in New York City.