GDMFA 2014


a visual exploration of design
through the lens of twins.

Richard Blake


The Twinning poster series employs formal design principles to demonstrate the biological and environmental influences that shape the ways twins ultimately become different.

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The Twinning video utilizes assets from the Twinning poster series and applies them to a three-dimensional arena where mutations, changes, and optical illusions come to life.


The essay serves as a written dissertation that investigates the biographical, experimental, and visual themes of Twinning.

“Are you twins?” This is the first question my identical twin brother and I get when we are together in public. “No, we don’t know each other,” we reply with a smirk. This initial question is almost inevitably followed by a standardized questionnaire. “Can you read each other’s minds?” “Do you have the same DNA?” “Have you ever switched places?” “Do your names rhyme?” People who are not twins are fascinated with the uncanny phenomena surrounding twins. The idea of two humans who are perceived to be exactly alike in every way intrigues individuals so much that they need to verify that the double vision they are experiencing is indeed reality. Something that seems so otherworldly to people is the actual world I experience every day. Because my identical twin brother and I are spitting images of one another, people are intrigued with the mirrored similarities we share.


The scientific term for identical twins is monozygotic twins.

Growing up in Los Angeles, California we were always dubbed “The Blakes” or “Ricky and Michael” or even “Michael and Ricky.” Rarely was it just “Ricky” or just “Michael.” As identical twins, our identities were always linked with one another. When one of us got in trouble, both were subjected to a lecture. If one got something, the other had to get the exact same. When one was enrolled in tennis lessons, the other was right there next to him. This rule of sameness was implemented by our parents as way to establish our own equality. Because we were two individual people, the need to distinguish by doubling was necessary in forming our own identities. When we were newborn infants, we each had to wear a different color bracelet so our parents would be able to tell who was who. As identical twins, we were just that, identical. We hated the same foods, loved the same television shows, had the exact same twin beds in the same room, and even had the same hairstyle. Our first cars were the same exact make and model, but two different colors. Remarkably, we even got our very first tooth cavities on the exact same teeth at the exact same time. We also donned the same exact clothing. As strange as it may sound, being dressed in the same clothing, albeit in different colors, offered us the realization that we are indeed the same but, more importantly, that we are different.

Being reared as a unit, we learned coexistence and cooperation at an early age.

As we grew older, our differences became more apparent. We went to different colleges, made different friends, and got jobs at opposite ends of the city. Our lives shifted as we headed in separate directions. Not only did our routines change, but our individual personalities diverged. I was more calculated, whereas Michael was more spontaneous. I internalized, whereas he erupted. If situations did not pan out as we expected, I assumed the role of diffuser, while he was the agitator. We possessed a push-and-pull relationship that intrinsically found a harmonious balance between our different personalities.

When we loved, we loved hard, and when we fought, we fought even harder. When we were younger we were always together. Our presence was symbiotic. We developed an intuitive dependency on one another. Growing up, I always had a built-in best friend. I had a wingman during social outings, a confidant when I was upset, and a fierce opponent to compete with. With age, we became more separated physically and emotionally. We matured, and with that, the need to depend on ourselves more, and on one another less, proved integral in the formation of our own singularity. Because we spent more time apart, we were forced to interact with our environments individually. This allowed us to come into our own and make our own decisions and form our own opinions. Ironically, we couldn’t have been more different despite our identical appearance. We drifted away from “The Blake Twins” and moved towards our own identities as individuals.

A twin's identity as an individual within the context of the twin relationship.

My twin brother and I strongly embraced our similarities as a means to prove our differences even more. If we wore the same T-shirt, we wore it completely differently. Our identical hair cuts were contrasted with hats and hoods. The desire to express our individualities while still maintaining our identicalness was not only evident in our outward appearances, but in the ways we acted with the outside world. We celebrated our “twindividuality,” our uniqueness as twins and as individuals. The more we played up our similarities, the more we pushed boundaries to express our differences. In junior high school, we concocted our own rendition of The Parent Trap, switching classes with one another not only as a practical joke, but as a true test of our twinness. Our teachers were oblivious to the switch, eventually catching on as the giggles from our classmates sparked suspicion. It was fascinating to observe people’s interactions with me when they were under the impression that I was somebody else. There are very few people in the world who can experience such an uncommon phenomenon. There was this illusion, an optical illusion if you will, that surrounded our identity as twins. People’s visual perceptions are significantly transformed upon seeing identical twins. The idea of seeing two different people who look like one singular person baffles the public. This compels individuals to reevaluate their state of reality and question their visual awareness.

My desire to take something personal and make it universal drove me to devote my Master of Fine Arts thesis project to twinning. I wanted to take a unique aspect of my identity and visualize it through formal design practices. I honed in on principles that correlate twinning and design. Ideas such as symmetry, sameness, copy, and replication influenced what I was experimenting with and creating. As I moved through the process, it became clear to me that it wasn’t the similarities between my twin brother and I that were so special; it was the differences between us that were
truly emblematic.

Ghose, Tia. “Identical Twins Are Genetically Different, Research Suggests.” Live Science 9 (Nov 2012).

Bishop, D.V.M., and S.J. Bishop. “'Twin Language”:
A Risk Factor for Language Impairment?” Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research 41 (1998): 150-160.

I examined how twins became different. Although identical twins are genetically the same when the embryo first divides, the two organisms acquire hundreds of genetic differences during fetal development. I found that a set of identical twins will have around 360 differences before they are even born. These genetic differences are spontaneous changes in individual epigenetic profiles that occur shortly after the original fertilized egg has split. I submerged myself in genetic research and studies on twins in hopes of uncovering information and data I had never encountered before. Sure, I had been a twin my entire life, but how much did I know about my genetic identity? It turns out that a lot of the cliches and misconceptions associated with twins have been scientifically studied. One such misconception is the creation of a twin secret language. My mother recounts stories from our infancy in which she would overhear indecipherable chatter from my twin brother and me. She would walk into the room and see us standing there, face to face, immersed in a thought-provoking conversation comprised of gibberish and jabber. Cryptophasia, or the creation of a secret language between twins, has been widely documented within science and linguistics. As many as 50% of twins will develop their own language. There is not yet scientific consensus as to why twins do this. One category of twin language, known as “jargon,” or immature speech, is associated with language impairment, whereas “private language,” in which twins combine personal vocabulary with normal words, is not linked with developmental problems. The “secret language” that people think twins are speaking is, instead, a language composed of mimicry and modification. Like all infants, developing twins are impressionable to their direct surroundings.

McKie, Robin. “Why do identical twins end up having such different lives?” The Observer 1 (June 2013).

Biology and the environment each influence how twins develop differences both physically and mentally. Genetic differences between twins result from copy errors, or mutations in DNA. The epigenome of an organism can change in response to environmental exposures, such as smoking, diet, pollution, and lifestyle choices. The longer a set of twins lives apart, the more differences develop between them.

In my thesis work, I shifted away from the ideas of sameness and duplication, and explored ideas of mutation, splitting, and morphing. These new interpretations served as my new methods of design production. The point when the embryo splits in two served as a launching pad for new perspectives on twinning. I explored different avenues of production that I felt evoked a feeling of changing over time, or morphing through an external environmental force. My design experiments led me in many directions. I took two identical prints and submerged them in ink and water, hoping for a distinguished result. I scanned typography and photographs, changing their orientation and position into glitched morphic compositions. I developed a typeface centered around parallel rules that was inspired by the biological splitting of twins. I even compared the social-media presences of me and my brother in search of apparent and subtle differences in our online identities. My design processes led me to unique filters that I could apply in developing a distinct body of work and a visual language that ultimately communicates to the public.

People who are not twins, perceive twins to be identical in every way.

Some design experiments proved to be more successful than others. I insisted on keeping only those images that expressed some aspect of or truth about of twinning. I found it difficult to take something so personal and make it universal. How could I translate a connection and an experience that the general public cannot feel or relate to? How was I going to convey this pivotal point of differentiation? How could I transform the twin spectator into the twinned participant? These were critical issues I knew had to successfully address within my thesis project.

Blue and orange are a traditional primary-secondary color pair, noted as early as the 18th century.

I sat down one morning and tasked myself with developing as many symbols of the word twin as possible. I wanted to explore multiple forms of representation: graphics, typography, color theory, and pattern. Through this exercise I developed an arsenal of visuals that I transformed into a poster series. I was inspired by the simplicity and universality of “Swiss” iconography. By employing distilled forms contained within a grid, I was able to achieve a consistent aesthetic that clearly communicated twinning. The idea of twins as illusion sparked my interest in sixties Op art. The graphic patterns, hidden images, and vibrations found in Op art, and the way the eye responds to them, served as a visual metaphor I implemented into my designs. Color theory played a vital role in the development of Twinning. I was interested in the interactions and relationships between colors. Because contrasting colors have varied effects on the eye, I applied an orange and blue color palette to my work. Ironically, my twin brother’s and my childhood room was painted orange and blue. Complementary colors, when placed next to each other, create the strongest contrast and reinforce one another. Although we are incredibly similar, my brother and I are indeed contrasts of one another, reinforcing one another not only as twins, but as individuals.



Sheila & Richard Riggs Gallery
March 28 – April 6, 2014
Maryland Institute College of Art

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