Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Tuesday 26th October 2010 – ITAP – The Reflective Visual Journal

To first dispute this pseudonym. Apparently ‘sketchbook’ no longer does justice to the process each of us undertake, so, to spell it out, it must be called a reflective visual journal; as it catalogues, visually, ones ideas over a span of time. Personally, I think everybody’s sketchbook is a reflection of him or herself as a person and an artist. What they choose to draw, record, etc; it defines their personality as much as their personality defines their art style. 

Sketch to understand architectural forms.
Although I whole heartedly agree that one must fight the urge to draw for an audience, or for people, as a sketchbook is nothing more than a vessel in which you should thumbnail ideas as they manifest. I have cheap ring bound sketchbooks for skamps and annotations: the book I take to galleries and museums to notate in. However, paralleling this, I have an expensive bound Moleskine notebook, in which I do finer, more controlled and time consuming pieces. This is personal preference, as these can then be digitized, copied, referred back to. Which is my initial point: We, as creative minds, should not have a boundary within which we should practice when it comes to sketchbooks; they are personal, you shouldn’t loathe working in one, when you look through it you should smile and feel inspired, and not feel forced to approach it in one way or another; approach it in your way.

Left: The sketch in my Moleskine. Right: The finished digital piece.
Now, onto analyzing the lecture:


Something I agree almost completely with the lecturer about is how to approach some (read above) of your sketchbooks; almost with a vicarious abandon. They are a tabula rasa which is yours to experiment with; hone skills, annotate ideas, scribble thoughts down. A sketchbook, not unlike a book of anatomy or Wikipedia, is a tool, a means by which you can lubricate your working process, and use as a personal release. As touched upon earlier, it is by no means collated for anybody but yourself. If people want to look at your work, give them a portfolio, if people want to see your thought process, then it’s a different matter. 

When sketching to understand form, I always use ink: It allows for bold mark making and the knowledge of no ability to erase mistakes makes one intuitively be more conscious of what is being recorded.
And none of this is really possible without the key element of drawing. This is the key element that separates digital and traditional: There’s tactile feedback from a sketchbook; there’s an intuitive physical connection between the hand and the brain which can only really be instantiated this way. A skill which I must hone, as I fall foul of it, is drawing as you think, not drawing your past thoughts. This is what I envisage dissociates undergraduate sketchbooks and college student sketchbooks, what separates a master and a juvenile: The arguably simple task of dissociating the critical and analytical, letting the creative flow with abandon. Although we must remember simple and easy are not one and the same. 

DaVinci is an excellent example: his notations, numbering in the thousands, are almost entirely visual; showing a direct link between his thoughts and his mark making: freeing his ideas to allow them to develop on the page freely. This is at the core of what makes a brilliant sketchbook: the suspension of the critic; drawing to germinate your ideas, not for ‘art’. I assume what was being implied here was that if you let the ideas flourish; something far more primordial and closer to the esoteric form of ‘art’ may be borne, for, as Picasso said: “I begin with an idea, and then it becomes something else”. It’s an exploration, not an exercise in creating pictures. 

Using my sketchbook to explore potential compositions of form.
Utilizing ones creative Brain.

What we were lectured on was how we need to suspend the analysis and critical thought patterns which we readily place upon ourselves, and which seems to be intrinsically connected with textual communication. I’m guilty, as I love a little A6 notebook in which I make one word or one sentence notations to myself, mostly middle of the night moments of unhindered neuropathy that leads to either a nugget of an idea, or an inexplicable concept.

 Instead of this, the subconscious censorship we place over our thoughts should be discarded; through the aforementioned process of intuitive drawing. This, to use some neurological theories, allows the right hand side of the brain; which is the curious, spontaneous, experimental side of us, to take charge, and let our thoughts flow. However, this must be implemented in balance with the usage of the left hand hemisphere of the brain; responsible for speculation, analysis, critique and logical connections. To get the best from any exertion both must be used in turn: Allow free-form experimentation, but then in turn speculate on its usage. This working spiral will allow an initial concept to develop and develop and become something more than a shallow idea. 

Basically; ones previous working pattern should be turned on its head: Whereas in schools one is taught to write, think and analyze before putting pen to paper, now is the time to allow the pen to be put to paper to think almost, and then annotate, allowing good ideas to be siphoned from the detritus. Have a theme; make it almost a visual brainstorm. An example, last night I watched the music video to ‘Indestructible’ by Disturbed ( ), and using that as a starting point, and as a theme, began to develop thoughts centered around the concepts of armor, warriors, fighting, imposing silhouettes, etc. There should be, and was, a direction, and from it I harvested one or two nice compositions to come back to in the future.

Can see how firstly I simply threw ideas down in pen and ink, then analytically chose the best parts to create a nice composition.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Tuesday 12th October 2010 - ITAP - Legibility & Visual Hierarchy


As an unconscious browser, one is not fully aware of the states of legibility insulting our senses as we browse, say, a magazine stand at WH Smith’s. It is an integral part of many disciplines within Visual Communication that the concept of legibility is fully understood. The most employed tactics is a high contrast colour, bold font and general scale of type to grab a viewer’s attention. It’s almost intuitive; to make something stand out, make it bigger, make it brighter, and make it more eye-catching than your competitor’s products. However, paralleling this is the need to keep the overall aesthetic pleasing to the eye. 

The example I chose is a magazine I myself subscribe to, and it proves my point quite well. There are 3 main parts to the cover (circled); The title, the cover image and the main topic of discussion. As it’s a designers magazine, it also has quite a nice coherence of fonts and colours, making it quite visually appealing. The immediate striking thing is the topic header; “Master of Manga” The contrast here is incredibly high, using complimentary colours to make the whole title pop. The type itself is a standard bold Arial font, making it very easy to read, which is important as it is what will sell the magazine. 

Flanking the image are the contents of the magazine, here, quite effectively, they’ve minimized the usage of different fonts by giving the headers quite a calligraphic font, and then alternating between emboldened and non emboldened text, breaking it up, whilst also making it more legible by breaking down the swathes of text, and still selling the item as it advertises its contents. The title stays very much similar through all the episodes, and the contrast between the ‘Imagine’ and the ‘FX’ is always maintained: Sometimes, very effectively. However here, due to the contents being pastel coloured Japanese characters, the contrast is somewhat lost compared to the yellow jacket and the pink hair.

Visual Hierarchy

Surrounding visual hierarchy is a mass of theory: The golden ratio, the rules of thirds, the circling effect, etc. This is somewhat played down in modern design practises, but is nevertheless a powerful tool, and if used properly, can make graphic layouts, as well as fine art pieces, pack a punch. In different cultures there are also different visual hierarchies, as we, as a westernised nation, read anything from left to right, top to bottom, so many magazines you will feel have a source in the top left. Going back to ImagineFX; there’s the meeting of the title, the left panel and the blue ‘speed lines’ background all spawning from the top left corner. This will be inverted in, say, Japan, as they read bottom to top, right to left traditionally.

 As an interesting inclusion in the idea of visual hierarchy, I have a subscriber’s edition of ImagineFX opposed to an ‘off-the-shelf’ edition, for comparison.

As you can see, on the subscriber’s edition, there is no eye catching material, no advertising, even the title has been minimized. This is due to the fact it’s sent through the mail, so no advertising is necessary, and also, you’ve already been sold it, in effect, you’ve spent money to receive it, presumably based on the principal you like it, so do not need to know of its contents.

Here’s the rule of thirds in terms of visual hierarchy: When partitioned vertically and horizontally into thirds; the intersections are points of interest; most likely to grab attention first. The blue line represents what I’ve been taught to call “The action line”: An invisible line that runs vertically and horizontally along a piece, cutting it up and having revolve around it the majority of the action or stark contrasts. As you can see, even in a more graphic orientated subject, the rule still holds up.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Tuesday 05th October 2010 – ITAP - Illustration Concepts

My most recent lecture was on illustration, the key points being what does it compose of, and how does an illustrator elucidate his ideas. 

A key point drawn upon was research. This, I think, is such a wide and abstracted term that now; even undergraduate students can be lost and confused when confronted with the idea. Paul Davis quoted that “I feel sick when I forget potentially good ideas…” and this is what research is meant to be! Unless it’s for a commission and one actively needs to go out and collect information relevant, as a creative mind it should be inspiring enough simply being curious about the world. There are poignant differences in what research can be conducted, and how to conduct it. Primary consists of physically going out and gathering information - which is the area I’ll speak more about – and secondary is where you extrapolate existing research and mould it to your needs. Going to the library, looking at coloured monographs of artists, picking up your friends sketchbook and delving through it, this is all secondary research.

Sketchbooks I think are an intrinsic part of an illustrator’s sphere of inspiration. The idea of a sketchbook has mutated along with the definition of research, and they become as unique and as personal as the artist themselves. Sabrina Ward Harrison, a Canadian illustrator, is a prime example of one extreme of sketchbook, where her written and sketched thoughts literally overlap one another, leading to a cacophony of colour and intrigue in the pages, and, for me, quite an inspiring thing to see.

I could go on forever about the qualities and constituents of sketchbooks, but that can be saved for another blog. 

Another property of illustration, which parallels nicely with research, is inspiration. Once again – showing its importance – the sketchbook has a key role to play, being the intermediary stage of research and inspiration. Staring at a blank canvas does not inspire, and many past masters have written of the ‘fear of the canvas’; where one simply crumbles in front of the daunting task. Inspiration is everywhere; it should be an ongoing process of cataloguing the world in a way that makes sense to you. Personally I have 3 or 4 sketchbooks; one which is pure text, where I scribble ideas down as they come to me, one where I experiment with different media, an A4 Moleskine which I only use for pencil sketching, and one where I collect, annotate and deconstruct found inspiration, so, postcards (a past favourite), examples of typography, road signs, graffiti, textures, things that exist all around us could well be integral to a future project. Not to mention having sketchbooks of reference to fall back on can save your hide on a future brief. 

Although these two aspects; research and inspiration, are vital to an illustrators blossoming, they are by no means all that is required. Think visually, experiment, as soon as one stagnates the work mirrors it. Mark Wigan said that development is; “[Being] Open minded, working hard, have sustained and continuous practice, and finally take risks…” Because, if you take risks on small personal projects, you will be more inclined to on the larger ones, and (hopefully) this can help lead you to a better understanding of your own visual practice.