The Black Page

The Black Page
Text formatting
Detail of 3D wireframe
Side view of 3D model
Detail of 3D model
Oblique view of final render

The central image was produced for The Laurence Sterne Trust as part of the Exhibition held at Shandy Hall, Coxwold in September 2009. It was printed on handmade parchment and sold to a private buyer at auction, with all proceeds going toward the restoration of Shandy Hall.

My source material for the Black Page was the entire text of Tristram Shandy, which was re-formatted to neatly fill the 'black' area while avoiding the use of hyphenated word-breaks. While working with the text I became fascinated by the variability of Sterne's spelling, and his skilful avoidance of seemingly common words. To illustrate this I wrote a program to represent each word as a solid vertical column, whose height was determined by its uniqueness within the book, and its width by the length of the word. As many words shared equal levels of rarity, I condensed the range down to 267 discrete levels to produce a more visually pleasing result. This created a three-dimensional landscape resembling a high-rise city of narrow monoliths, with 'The' (10,297 occurences) at ground level, and 'Godlike' (1 occurence) towering above the rest.

It seemed appropriate from the outset to draw the viewer's attention to each occurence of the word 'black' within the text, while somehow maintaining an overall darkness to the final page. To achieve this I extended each of the 36 'black' columns vertically upward and rendered them as the sole light sources in the model. The faint glow around each of these is the result of light catching the edges of surrounding word columns during the final rendering process.