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The Best Process for Designing a Flag ? shaggy-dragon story

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PostPosted: Sat Jun 01, 2013 7:34 pm    Post subject: The Best Process for Designing a Flag ? shaggy-dragon story Reply with quote

Since writing this thread I have chopped up a long email containing other relevant shaggy-dragon material which the reader may like to peruse -

" Y Ddraig Goch : heraldic reverse-engineering of Y Trilliw "




" The Purple Dragon " Y Ddraig Biws " Purpura Draco "



This was probably irrelevant ... I'll put this in red so the reader can skip it.

( This was intended to be a short preamble to introduce the context of the email below ... now why use ten words when a thousand might do ? )


http://repwblic.informe.com/viewtopic.php?p=1728#1728 --- The problems of using symbols in politics ( Cafe Cymru )

This was probably irrelevant ... I'll put this in red so the reader can skip it.


Subject: The Best Process for Designing a Flag ? ( A shaggy-dragon story )
Date: Sat, 1 Jun 2013 17:08:49 +0000

Dear Rob

some time ago I across this page - http://www.crwflags.com/fotw/flags/xf-comp.html - and thought once more of the scoring system that I sketched out for determining how strong a design for a flag might be. I started to write you a piece for that page by way of introducing that system's scoring sheets which I intended to finally draught and scan with some specimen examples of flags scored to demonstrate different defects in some well known flags and to demonstrate why some other specimen examples of flags score so highly, e.g. the USA's flag as it has serendipitously developed scores very well and it is one of the few flags that employs patterning which is a much neglected device in flag design generally.

But ... that project seems to be languishing once again, it is not entirely thought through well enough yet : so I don't know whether you want to publish the following on that page but I enjoyed writing it and rather than leave this to languish too I think that I will use it as a bit of humerous padding for my / our / or whoever we are's website repwblic.informe.com. I'm particularly pleased with it because I managed to pun-off the complete poem, line for line, of Wordsworth's " I wandered lonely as a cloud " - albeit I was initially cribbing the idea from Max Boyce's song /poem " Where have all the tickets gone ? " and indeed this piece owes a lot both to him and to the cartoonist ' Gren ' ... in fact my versions of both " Wales " and " Republicanism " probably owe more to their senses of humour than to any of my text books of contemporary, theoretical or comparative political theories ... Feel free to share this with anyone who might enjoy it even if it ... no, it probably really is not a suitably informative text for designing flags with, although the principle it enunciates is in fact a very good one - I hope that this kind of humour can be communicated across the Atlantic ! ( Try it on the Australians ? )




David B. Lawrence


Subject: draft - The Best Process for Designing a Flag ?
Date: Thu, 23 May 2013 06:33:54 +0000

The Best Process for Designing a Flag ?

I studied to be an architect and no longer work in it but I still enjoy complaining about other people's ignorance of the simplest rules of architectural design, which can also be applied to flags. These are basically about viewing things from various distances and the best summary of how to approach the formal problems of architectural design is given in John Ruskin's ' The Seven Lamps of Architecture.' Another good source of such advice is to learn the formal rules of heraldry.

Heralds demanded that armorial designs could be immediately read at a great distance : a band of warriors displaying a chevron and three stars and on their shields could be collectively identified by eye as a group at around a thousand metres because the large areas of such shapes enabled their colours to be clearly distinguished so red chevrons could not be mistaken for blue ones. In heraldry there was a rule that red, blue, green, purple, and black were always to be separated by white and yellow : in other words high contrast was used to ensure that the shapes employed were visible over distance. Orange was notably not favoured in heraldry and even applied to a family's shield to denote disgrace, although in theory it ought to be considered to be ' copper ' and belong with the ' silver ' and ' gold ' of the other two ' metals ' - real metals might be used to make designs upon shields because they increased the visibility of the shapes thereon. Brown was even rarer for the basic shapes used on shields, but all of these colours were used for depicting natural objects and their details.

Try thinking of it in terms of our modern lives, of being a like some quiet white-shirted aristocratic English spectator armed only with a pair of opera glasses and arriving to watch an international match at the Cardiff Arms Park. You simply will not need those opera glasses in order to be uncomfortably aware of the Red Army of Welsh peasants who are clearly audible much more than a thousand metres away and can easily be seen to be wielding dangerously long cardboard leeks and sinister inflated plastic daffodils because all of these strong outline designs and contrasting colours are clearly visible at almost any distance. Our ancestors, you see, stuck leeks in their Monmouth caps long before heraldry was ever invented because they understood the rules of architecture, however ...

... never employ Welsh builders - they are not interested in my rules of architecture or in our building regulations either.

When such a band of warriors were as close as even a hundred metres away the standard differences made between their shields by applying standard symbols according to the heraldic rules of ' cadency ' enabled a herald to identify fathers, brothers and grandsons etc. This was more or less like our being able to read the numbers on the shirts of the opposing rugby team at the other end of the pitch whilst they are waiting for the game to begin. As the Welsh nation at roar belts out ' Y Hen Wlad Fy Nadau ' the English spectator must take pride in seeing how well the ' Red Cross of Saint George ' bears up as a flag, the individual battalions of his nation declaring themselves in clearly visible bold lettering in colours that strongly contrast with white, with their identifying symbols placed in the four quarters of their flags. Perhaps anxious English vexillologists in the crowd fret for a few moments over the decline of the use of the Union Flag even amongst the English, and shudder at the possibility of Scottish independence - but then they comfort themselves with the prospect of the opportunity of thickening the rather thin arms of the Red Cross afterwards and settle down to watch the game in full anticipation of their Saint Georges slaying our Red Dragons once again. ' Y Ddraig Goch ' is not faring so well, and Welsh vexillologists are glad to be concentrating on watching the game too. They all bought tickets in the front rows so they do not have to look at so many bastard versions of their nation's flag being waved around : dragons floating in the top half of the flag are bad enough, badly drawn dragons deeply annoying and dragons facing the wrong way around simply upsetting - but these defects can all be put down to the fact that the chronic poverty of the Welsh nation has been forcing down the price that Welsh people are willing to pay for their dragons decade by decade.

The Welsh addiction to dragons has of course always been a cause for concern for the governments of the United Kingdom but when they tried to introduce a prohibition upon ' Y Ddraig Goch ' it proved to be disastrous because that law then merely stimulated demand, it criminalised people who were otherwise law-abiding patriots and it encouraged the foolhardy to try to make their own dragons with many unfortunate results and disastrous consequences. That prohibition came to an end in 1959 but the Welsh nation is still living with the problems caused by our chasing the dragon despite the possession of it having been made legal. In recent years the common varieties of dragon that we once relied upon have not only been augmented by the diversification of the dragon market with more expensive designer, organic, ethical and other sorts of branded and higher quality dragons but also we have had to face a massive influx of cheaper, more insubstantial, substandard and often counterfeit dragons being made in China. The potential dangers presented by cut-price, two-for-one, discounted dragons is most especially in evidence at these international rugby matches involving the English which inevitably make most Welsh people see red for a couple of hours. It is just the sheer stress I suppose of being within a thousand metres of the enemy which causes people to reach for a dragon, they are so cheap and in Wales they are available on every street corner so many people find the opportunity impossible to refuse, especially once the vendors have already successfully targeted their children and sold them a Monmouth cap or a Welsh Wig or some other kind of soft tog like a scarf.

Grown men are particularly vulnerable : women are more able to pass by the vendors of these addictive things only to later find that their husbands are not beside them and then they have to wearily retrace their steps backwards towards the Millenium Stadium. Many a marriage has been destroyed in Wales when some Welsh wife has been wandering covertly in the crowd, whose throats are dry for ales and pils, when all at once she cries out loud - at lots of dancing daffodils : all waving flags, some on their knees - ten thousand vexillologies ! She raves, besides herself - but, hey ! Witless barking mad was he : she knew she must not say, in such a laughing company, so gazed and gazing made her think - what wealth this show will make to shrink. She often on their sofa sat - in blatantly expensive mood - and flashed upon him angry eyes, for his remiss in rectitude. Then with her heart of pleasure full, she danced also with Dafydd dull.

( At this point I'm thinking that I am off on such a wild tangent, I just have to ask myself " What these words worth ? " )

At ten metres the finer details of the heraldic design on a shield was visible such as the ' diapering ' which was usually on the field e.g. if the chevron and three stars mentioned above were a plain flat gold and the field they were on green, the green might not be one colour but patterned in two differing greens : the effect was a bit like flocked wallpaper, but more expensive. Other heraldic symbols worn by warriors would become visible at this distance, most notably the supporting infantry - whose clothing would otherwise be assorted and more or less simply whatever clothes they were lucky enough to own - would be wearing a badge so that the supporting infantry of the opposing side could recognise them in the fray. Wealthy or simply generous noblemen often gave their supporters metal badges displaying their liege lord's coat of arms or some part of it such as the crest. Crests were in a way a development of the more usual sort of badge which was simply something readily to hand which was usually attached to the hat or helmet. Vegetation growing nearby was often the choice and consequently this was one of the reasons why green tended to be associated with the lowlier people in society. The Welsh probably wore leeks in their Monmouth caps for this sort of reason, but white and green was also the livery colour of the royal house of Gwynedd at its court in Aberffraw in the island stronghold of Ynys Mon. The crests of the early noble households usually developed into elaborate pieces of sculpture which were often made out of wood or leather and were rather heavy things on top of the helmets of feudal lords who directed their battles whilst stationary upon a horse : the armour used did not favour fighting and neither did the feudal lords - they had starving serfs to do that for them who had daffodils stuck in their hats and who wished they were Welsh serfs because leeks can actually be eaten if you are hungry or if you just get bored. Once a Welsh serf had eaten his leek he would be looking to desert ... especially if Wales were playing England and he could be sure of getting papers from the apothecary.

Now with the match about to start, as the English captain stands on the ten metre line contemplating how to bury the Welsh badges and the Prif Weinidog stands in the VIP gallery contemplating how to dig up Welsh badgers, with 100,000 instant Christians singing what we are assured are hymns which have been orchestrated for 100,000-part harmony by the Saint Albans Bands - although nobody will admit which ones - and everybody has several apothecaries' papers and a flag : and the whistle BLOWS !!! - and - BLOWS !!! - the ball is out - the linesman makes a signal - and the crowd all signal back - ! - a woman rushes onto the pitch - ( damn - she doesn't have much on ! ) - and the referee shows her the red card - and she shows him her debenture !!! - Chaos ensues with hundreds of ambulance teams rushing onto the pitch hoping to offer her an examination of a medical sort, any sort, in the hope of getting her phone number ... the South Wales Police are called upon to restore law and order but the Welsh Rugby Union's lawyers and accountants intercede, objecting to the terms of the contract being offered ... all seems lost until the shambling shock haired poetic form of the Reverend Thomas Ronald Stuart strides into the midst of the mayhem and calls upon all of those near to him to join together in a moment of prayer and ... the pitch is bare even before he finishes his sentence with nothing to be heard but ... silence.

At one metre's distance the whole point of heraldry would then become clear because although every feature and detail of the man's shield could be readily observed at that distance it was the actual man which it symbolised who was about to actually drive home the point of it. A poor joke to make perhaps, but when we look upon the heraldry of medieval Wales and England what we see are colourful, interesting, mysteriously evocative designs that excite our imaginations. It is like imagining the decayed ruins of the castles of Wales to have been places akin to the castles portrayed by Walt Disney, and indeed Cardiff Castle was remodeled in the nineteenth century by William Burges in the manner of just such a Pre-Raphaelite dream world - but the historical reality of it was quite different. It was a garrison fortress in a conquered territory and its towers were artillery platforms not pleasure domes, their subterranean rooms were prisons for hostages whilst from their hoarded battlements gibbeted corpses or caged captives dying of thirst, hunger and exposure to the elements were displayed. One of the bizarre things about living in a country that venerates anything relatively ancient is the way in which ' old ' is taken be ' good,' and so we have Fitz Hamon Embankment, ( de ) Clare Road and Despenser Street and people enthuse about the heraldry associated with such names because they are found in Welsh history. These thoroughfares were given those names by the owners of the lands upon which they were built, descendants of the very criminals whom they celebrated in works of art in such places as Cardiff Castle. No streets in Cardiff are named after patriots such as Llewelyn Bren : he was actually pardoned by the Edward II for leading a revolt to fight off the oppression of Despenser, the Marcher Lord of Glamorgan, who then disregarded his own king's orders and had the Bren hanged, drawn, quartered and gibbeted. Despenser was so bad he actually united the other Marcher Lords against him !

Nobody in Cardiff would agree to having a Mussolini Mansions, Hitler Highway or Stalin Street - any more than they would they accept the idea of decorating the place with fasces, swastikas or the hammer and sickle, so they can get quite upset when I point out examples of these on historic buildings - because they know the associations. The French tricoloure as often as not if discussed in Cardiff will, amongst other associations, bring up comments about Napoleon, stupid French revolutions and the alleged madness of republicanism - with the conversation then as often as not veering by association with tricoloured flags to the supposed violence of Irish republicans. Ask any Irishmen what they they think of the Union Flag and they will immediately refer to it as ' The Butcher's Apron.' Show some Welsh people one of our own ' trilliwiau ' without telling them what it is and they will be indifferent or curious until they learn that it is a Welsh flag and belongs to some past republican movement - and even has some version of the Marseillaise in Welsh attached to it ! My compatriots react with anxiety if not to say hysteria to such things, and it is all the consequence of imagining things. So apart from the mechanical aspects of design ( e.g. from the point of view of somebody trained in the visual arts, the 1 : 2 ratio that predominates in modern vexillography is unpleasantly static - irrational proportions are more soothing ), the important thing to remember in designing a flag is that other people may not see it as you do e.g. I am colour blind !

I am particularly conscious of this in my trying to re-introduce into usage in Wales the original 1792 red-white-green trilliw because apart from having to argue its historical credentials, its usefulness in the present political context and the fact that flags are not easy for the unskilled to make but in this instance we can buy Italian flags and just unpick their tapes and turn them around - easy and cheap, and vexillologically the correct Welsh livery order for ' Y Ddraig Goch ' ... but I have to deal with people who literally can not read the order of the colours on a flag even though not colour blind. They think that they are very attached to certain flags but they are attached not to the flag but to the associations that they have made which in fact exist only in their heads and are nothing to do with the flag or even the idea of it. Think for example of the controversy in South Carolina that resulted in the removal of the Confederate Flag from the top of the state capitol building in 2000 : I understand why the flag was demoted, because many people had formed negative associations with it and for good reasons - but ! Think of it this way : your great-great-grandfathers' lose a war to secede from the United States of America and so they submitted to a political settlement in which they were promised ' liberty and justice for all ' and ' no cruel or unusual punishments ' and in return they accepted the majority decision about slavery being wrong. Indeed most people who live in those states of the USA which have a rightful share in the heritage of the Confederate States of America, which the other states do not, are indeed perfectly regular rednecks who do not approve of racism any more than anybody else does in the USA - and they have as much right to the use of their flag as any other man or woman has to the use of their flag, to clothe oneself in one's own flag should be as natural and acceptable as clothing oneself in one's own skin.

So you see, from my rather longer perspective on things - since Y Cymry are arguably the oldest nation in Europe - what ' Yr Ianciwyr ' have been doing to ' Y Dicsiwyr ' this past hundred and fifty years is wrong : take it from us Welsh - well, some of us Welsh - we understand this business of symbols and survival. It hurt our dignity to not only be defeated and conquered but to be subjected to many attempts over many centuries to strip us of everything that made us different, that to be ' good ' was to be ' English.' Think of it in terms of what ought to happen in court rooms if ' liberty and justice for all ' is to prevail : the first rule is to uphold everybody's ' dignitas ' - it does not matter whether they are criminals, victims or lawyers. Where ' slavery and injustice for all ' will prevail is when excuses can be manufactured at the drop of a hat to strip a person of their equal share in ' dignitas.' That is I find, in my political experience, nearly all that these -isms are about : Socialism, Liberalism, Conservativism all set about justifying why somebody else should lose their share of ' dignitas,' which usually also means losing something of material value such as their life. The contradiction between the United States Declaration of Independence " We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." and the number of people subjected to judicial execution in the USA seems to me a staggering one : if the right to life is inalienable why does the USA kill anyone let alone its own citizens ? Whenever I see the flag of the USA or any other country being treated with reverence as if it were a sacrosanct object it - it - well, I'll just fall back on my old warning - " A flag is a rag on a stick - and don't ever forget it ! " To be honest I believe that anybody who truly cares for the sacred things that a flag is purported to symbolically represent should not hesitate to very publicly symbolically defile and destroy that flag should those things be desecrated by those who fly it. If the flag that a nation is wrapped in is indeed akin to its skin, then by analogy nobody should object to anybody sticking a knife through it in order to perform the the surgery that may save the nation. Nor should anybody make laws which ascribe ' dignitas ' to inanimate objects in order to spare the feelings of those who associate themselves with them, or indeed to hurt the feelings of those believed to be associated with them. By definition, in the USA, ' dignitas ' pertains only to those who have life, can exercise liberty and pursue happiness : I think that definition more or less extends ' dignitas ' down to microbes but not as far down to politicians who pass laws punishing those who express their political disaffection by doing things to flags.

The best way to understand what I have written here is by doing things to flags in the ways that the Welsh do, if only for the pleasure to be got in copying our comically contested Cymric cultural competitions which are rather the inversion of Americans' tragedically tested technical transactions. In the USA proud republicans treat their nations' flag with reverence and respect : in Wales proud republicans treat our nation's flag with revelry and circumspection ... which takes this piece of writing back to the one thing that the Welsh do treat with due reverence and respect - rugby. This will most probably sound ridiculous to Americans, but if and when your nation is stripped of every institution that is commonly taken to imply that some sort of nation exists, when your nation's history has become such an increasingly long list of heroic defeats that any of our accounts of the past glories of Cambria begin to sound like shaggy dragging-on stories, when somebody else rules your country and you don't know why you voted for them ... you are going to want to find a way of associating yourself with something or someone that you admire, something to be part of, something to wrap yourself in to cover your nakedness before the world, something that allows you to divest yourself of your failing identity if only for a while ... something which can make you feel yourself to be part of something much bigger and more important, but risks the resulting contrast in which you sense yourself having to make yourself smaller and less important as you do so ... this is where flags come from, they are the skin of their communities, the container which defines them and divides them but does not prevent intercourse between them ... oh ... well it comes down to sex really doesn't it ? In order for there to be any ' dignitas ' in the future there has to be at least the hope of procreation, but in the meantime, until the right woman comes along, there is ' rygbi ' and flags, not waving but drowning ...

Ah well - REGARDS !!!

David B. Lawrence
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