John Sinha

Students were asked to write a blog post about another student in their year group in the style of an interview. I’ll be talking to final year BA Graphic Design student John Sinha (pronounced Cena, that’s right,  John Cena. Hold your meme jokes until the end).

I asked him some pretty difficult questions and he gave me some pretty great responses. The following text will be the transcript of the interview. (It should also be noted that, due to a series of unfortunate events, most of Sinha’s work cannot be visualised to accompany this article.)

AS: As you start your final year in BA Graphic Design, what work have you done that you’re most proud of (from last year or the year before)?

JS: In hindsight I find it very hard to choose as when I look back at all the individual pieces there’s always something I want to improve and change, even though they’re all dear to me. But one favorite brief is the Boustrophedon, or snake book, that we did in our first year for Matthew Hobson. It was extremely useful as we got to play around with a classic and historic format together with our own interpretation and investigation of aliens and narrative. My final outcome was a rollercoaster-themed poetic display of feelings of alienation in the up’s and down’s of our break-neck society.


John’s Boustrophedon project from the first year. Not just a visual experience but a tactile one, due to the robust nature of the finished piece

AS: What do you feel is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned from the course to date?

JS: There are a whole bunch of lessons learned so far. I remember in the beginning of the course the critique given could seem and come off quite hard and unfounded. You just need to bear in mind that our tutors in most cases actually know what they’re talking about and that some of them have no prior experience with psychology so the fine line between constructive and destructive criticism may be crossed at one point or another. You just have to push through it, swallow your pride, take more risks, and try new things and to remember that failing a task is good, because you learn so much from your mistakes.

AS: Do you still have the same ambitions you had when you first started the course?

JS: My ambitions have not really changed. But my plans and modus operandi are under construction at the moment, due to this Brexit ordeal. I am a bit older than my fellow classmates so I’ve seen and been through a helluva lot more than they have, I’ve been to all the continents (except for Antarctica) and lived all over, so I’ve seen a great deal of design. I remember when I first moved to London I was very excited. This is one of the greatest cities in the world, especially when it comes to art, culture and design. But when I noticed all the mainstream visual communication I was deeply underwhelmed. I just do not get it. It is extremely unpolished and generic. It’s especially evident in adverts and commercials on TV and in print. Probably 7 out of 10 ad’s features either a person wearing a cheap animal costume; a robotic animal; a poorly animated animal, singing, talking or dancing for whatever it may be, British Gas, Insurance Firms or Broadband Companies. How about those singing and dancing packages of crackers and cereals? It is truly tacky, I’ve never seen anything like it in this vast amount and it has made me question the taste level of Britons. This has also caused me to question myself; maybe my practice is not for the British audience? So when this Brexit thing happens, it might not be such a tragedy after all, I would actually like to live and practice in a place more refined. Yes so my ambitions are the same, it is just the strategy that has shifted a bit.

AS: When you’re unsure of what to do, where do you take your inspiration?

JS: I tend to have multiple sources of inspiration. I find architecture intriguing with the likes of Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier and their Modernist formations. But also Brutalism awakens the creativity in me. When it comes to my photography practice I have always and ever since childhood been obsessed with old films from the Silent Era as well as from the Golden Age of Cinema. I believe these influences are very noticeable in my photography. Other influences, to name a few, are: the Stenberg Brothers and Constructivism, the Dada movement, the Bauhaus, Picasso and Kazimir Malevich. For me, Less Is always More.

An example of John’s  photography from before the course.

AS: Do you have any definitive goals for this year?

JS: On this final stretch I am determined to be less of a stick-in-the-mud by taking more risks, even if this means getting sloppy or failing. This will hopefully amount to a more diverse, improved and enriched portfolio by the time of graduation.


This concludes the interview. I would like to thank John for offering his time and his candid opinions on all things. I’ve long admired his work output and have enjoyed this opportunity to put some questions to the mind behind the work. Even the interview itself is telling of John’s approach to design, as the PDF with his answers will attest.


Even John’s response to the interview questions has been considered

You can check out John Sinha in all his glory here.



More Collage work

The Cass students with the suitable temperament and the necessary financial means went to visit the Solent University students in Southampton this Friday. The rest of us were left to our own devices. I had a little look around the collective student database and came across an old account of a stagecoach journey from London to, or through, I should say, Southampton. This journey was recounted in Stage-coach and Mail in Days of Yore: A Picturesque History of the Coaching Age by Charles G. Harper.

John Taylor makes the journey to the Isle of Wight in 1648. He records the event in rhyme, detailing his travels from London to Southampton. I was struck with the idea of trying to illustrate each rhyming couplet (apologies if that isn’t the correct term. My knowledge of poetry doesn’t extend far beyond be know that I like the sound of the phrase ‘iambic pentameter’).

Harper’s lead-in text to John Taylor’s poem. This is something of a placeholder, a way to move towards the bits I know how to do, without worrying about the bits I don’t.

I envisage all the images on a wall in a gallery in order, left to right, starting with this one, which attempts to give a little context to the poem.


First two lines of Taylor’s poem and my collage to represent them

The hope was to blow through the whole poem, not overly considering any single element too long. I did make an attempt to employ the diagonal rule here. Perhaps the background counteracts that? Anyway, moving on.


Alternate version of the first two lines

I’ve further abstracted the horses to cutouts of stagecoach paraphernalia in the shape of chess pieces. I had intended to stick the queen or king piece in my representation of London somehow, but it seems there may have been something of a period of interregnum at the time… More on that… right now.


Continuing the narrative using the existing elements, but also trying to hint at the historical context of the lines and Taylor’s reason for his journey in the first place. Diagonal rule in play again.

John Taylor was making is way to the Isle of Wight to see the recently deposed (former) King Charles I. Oliver Cromwell was doing all that famous history stuff he’s famous for at the time. It was at this time where my inability to conceive a suitable sophisticated way to employ the text began seriously slowing me down. In the hopes of continuing apace with my output, I decided to call it a day with the poem.

I went back to the shared documents folder and saw that another student had made a rather long list of evocative phrases from Spike Island by Philip Hoare. I thought I’d like to try and match the language used to one of the images from the book simply by altering  the colour of the image. While it’s not technically collage, I do think it’s a worthwhile endeavour to see how to apply the visual metaphor in other ways.



This is the base image of Netly Abby as it appears in Philip Hoare’s book Spike Island: The Memory of a Military Hospital

The first quote I used was “More wondrous and magical, as if it were a vision revealed at Nature’s whim” The conclusions I drew weren’t the most imaginative, I’ll admit, but crawl before you run, right?


I deferred from bordering the image with actual plant life

‘Magical’ represented with an aura around the ruins, the green borders symbolic of nature revealing the ruins to the viewer. I tell a lie, also. this wasn’t the first one I did. The first one used the phrase “Veiled in its ghost stories”.


‘Veiled in its ghost stories’

I just put the image in negatives. Now’s as good a time as any to stress that the goal with these images is the thought process and also to generate work to be put back into the shared student archives to be used by other students. This image could be used as a base for some other visual experiment,


“Silent, neglected and forgotten”

To represent the phrase “Silent, neglected and forgotten”, I made the image a night-time view, where the only attention the abbey gets is the occasional glance from the moon. Coming in with a bit of white allowed me to subtly highlight elements of the abbey and make the image more readable. I will definitely look for opportunities to apply this technique in the future.

As before, but with moon and fog

I added fog and the moon to this image to mage it mire eerie. In my defence, Dracula has been brought up in one way shape or form to me for the last three weeks, and that’s completely independent of how close we are to Halloween.


Alternate take on ‘Veiled in its ghost stories’

Finally, I took another shot at ‘Veiled in its ghost stories’, by adding a veil of sorts. It shares the same semiotics, to me, of manga characters talking with their mouths visible but their eyes either out of frame or obscured by shadow. This usually denotes some sinister or troubling revelation or demand from the character in question.

In conclusion,  I’ve tried to mess around a bit and work on some more visual metaphor stuff. While I’d rather steer clear of photoshop this year, the ease and flexibility in which it lends itself to the processes that collage requires is just too much to pass up. It has invariably changed the outcomes I’ve achieved so far, but it’s the best way for me to get to something half decent in the time I have available. I would love to do some more work with the cut-out techniques and element of drawing as well. We’ll have to see how well I can manage my time.

Collage Workshop Part 2

We continued our collage workshop on Tuesday  with the aim of exploring the ‘visual metaphor’. ‘What is a visual metaphor?’ you ask, well, it’s where you show something symbolic of what you’re talking about instead of using a direct image. The best example I can think of, since it came up this week in my dissertation studio, is that of Art Spiegelman portraying Nazi soldiers as cats and Jewish victims as mice in his Pulitzer Prize winning graphic novel Maus.

We were asked to create visual metaphors using collage. Bare in mind that time constraints and a general unease when using collage more than likely prevented me from getting my own Pulitzer Prize.

I decided to use someone else’s starting phrases to generate my metaphors, since, well ‘the polar bear was yellow and dirty’ was a bit too narrow, and ‘Southampton is a 1000 year old nowheresville’ was a bit to big. I’d also sort of done a visual metaphor with ‘dirty concrete enclosures’, but you sort of had to be there to get it.

‘obsessed with morbidity’ collage 1

One of the other students had been looking at an excerpt from Philip Hoare’s book Spike Island: The Memory of a Military Hospital. The phrase ‘obsessed with morbidity’ looked like a good choice to begin with, with quite obvious imagery, and the potential to get more abstract as I went.

Two more takes on ‘obsessed with morbidity’ observing a withered apple and another woman staring into a mirror seeing only decay in her reflection.

Students were then asked to make collages using cut out shapes, something which I was keen to try anyway, since a large roll of coloured papers came into my possession not so long ago.

Another representation of a woman looking at a withered apple. I used smooth harmonious lines on the woman and jagged lines on the fruit to symbolise their beauty and decay respectively

Adding pen-work on top helps bring out the meaning more distinctly, I feel.

A more abstract version of the same idea, with just a tip of the nose, fringe and eye to represent the woman.

Both of the colour paper images were designed to give consideration to the rule of thirds, where basically, to help the compositional appeal of an image, you avoid putting things dead centre. There are also elements of the diagonal rule in play. The diagonal rule isn’t very complicated, simply lead the viewer’s eye from one corner to the opposite one by putting all the ‘stuff’ in between them. (Top left to bottom right or bottom left to top right, etc, etc).


Applying the diagonal rule to an old piece. It is more ‘dynamic’ now, wouldn’t you agree? Maybe too much…

We were also asked to come up with some text based imagery. Like I said, Pulitzer Prize next time.


Not the most innovative image ever, but from these humble beginnings…


Difficult to read, not very clever. Unfinished, also, but that’s the point. One can always come back and improve, or go forward and improve

Ultimately, I feel the day was well spent. A lot was asked of us, and collage is a logistically difficult thing to do to a strict schedule, especially when you don’t have that sixth sense of what to bring, and how to pull it all together that only practice can bring. I need to do a lot more exploratory work, really push the limits of what works and what doesn’t. One problem of ‘knowing what “works”‘ is that all this art and crafts and design and what not, is subjective. Legibility and readability are crucial (unless they aren’t, of course), but layout, colour use, text placement and all the rest are not so easy to feel confident about.

The best thing to do is, well, do. It’s always easier to look over a pile of finished stuff and see what stands out rather than worrying about doing it right once. Who ever uses their first draft? Am I right? The problem is, of course, creating that body of work to reflect over in the first place. I guess it’s time for me to get back to my core focus when it comes to illustration: doing it fast, and as well as possible, but definitely fast.

Collage Workshop

Our first workshop of the year was on collage. Students were asked to have a look at Solent University’s Southampton content and take three sentences from it to use as the foundation for the workshop.

I took ‘the polar bear was yellow and dirty’ and ‘dirty concrete enclosures’ from Anna Vicker’s email about the zoo that used to be in Southampton.  I also took ‘ Southampton is a 1000 year old nowheresville’ from Owen Hatherley’s book A Guide To The Ruins of Great Britain. From those sentences, I then generated two mood-boards.

Author’s mood-boards of Southampton stuff.
Author’s mood-board of zoo stuff.

Following that, we were asked to do some sketches to show how we would combine the imagery we had.

Nowheresville sketches
Polar bear sketches
Dirty concrete enclosures sketches

Following that, we were asked to create three collages. I opted for one of each sentence.

Polar bear and Nowheresville
Dirty concrete enclosures

The imagery isn’t exactly earth shattering, but I know as much about collage as you know about American wrestling. And there’s probably quite a lot of unfair and callous assumptions being made regarding both of those things (but not altogether untrue).

We were then asked to add one colour to each image to try and alter/enhance the meaning.

Yellow for polar bear, red for nowheresville
Does the elephant’s red shadow represent animal cruelty? Well this is all starting to look like ‘art’ to me, so you tell me.
Comic sans for the win.

It was at this point that we were invited to use some text. We were to change the delivery origin of the words to change the message of the imagery.

6 image ‘narrative’
The final task was to crop an image several times to create a narrative without the use of words again. 

Up to this point, I’ve let the images do the talking. Now, I think it’s time to use some words to do some talking.  Firstly, I wasn’t actually present at the workshop and relied on the brief which was given out in preparation for the workshop, secondly, all my image creation was done digitally. Has this intrinsically changed the outcomes I’ve ended up with? Absolutely. Have I misinterpreted the brief, quite possibly. For the worst? Who can say.

It seems silly to me to have to print stuff out, ( at cost) to cut up, to stick back together again, to digitize, to then upload. That said, I understand that one gains greater understanding of one’s craft through the process itself. It’s just that collage isn’t one of my processes. I googled ‘collage’ and the first page was basically pictures of stuff made out of smaller things (Steve Jobs out of Apple products, the Joker out of quotes from The Dark Knight, you know what I’m talking about). Neil Buchanan did that every week in art attack, no? Who’s Neil Buchanan? Never mind that.

My point is this: collage is a combination of tools and techniques that I simply have a very limited experience with. Being acutely aware of how limited my knowledge of my core tools and techniques are, it concerns me to have to take away time from becoming proficient in my chosen area of expertise.  ‘Genius lies not in the deep knowledge of one subject, but in the potential realised by combining disciplines.’ I’m aware of this, whoever I may be paraphrasing this week, but that doesn’t alleviate my concerns about my shortcomings.

The doctors prescription for this is simple, then: do more of everything. Problem solved. Next Question?

Southampton Project Intro

Today Susanna Edwards, Head of Visual Communication at the Cass (and current studio leader) introduced us to our major brief for the term leading up to Christmas. She is currently working with Solent University in Southampton to do something about… Southampton. We are also going to contribute. The Solent students will provide written material which the Cass students will then translate into some sort of visual design-work.

In anticipation of this brief,  Cass students were asked to do some research on Southampton.

Author’s illustration of William Cantelo

One of the more interesting things I found out was that one of the early inventors of the machine gun went missing in Southampton. The BBC have an article on it. This inspired me to do something a little bit in the style of master storyteller Will Eisner. I had no strong notion of composition to start with and just got stuck in. While the technical aspects of the picture are sloppy at best, I am unconcerned. It is better to have a dodgy first draft immediately than to waste so much time worrying about just how one does a good job hand lettering with a pen. And speaking of hand lettering…

Author’s illustration of Benny Hill

The internet tells me that Benny Hill is the most famous person I’ve ever heard of to come from Southampton. Michael Jackson was apparently a fan, so maybe he was a bigger deal than I give him credit for. I had intended to colour this image in some sort of tie-dye 60’s way, but really, I’ll save that for when I do something on Austin Powers. My time is too fleeting, as it is. Hand rendering the letters allows me to look at them as if I were drawing figures. There is definitely an area of investigation here, if only I can find the time to pursue it.

Author’s illustration of Mr Jobs and Mr Franklin

Do you know what else they have in Southampton? That’s right! A cabal of inventors! Their webpage displays prominent inventor entrepreneurs of old, so I thought, why can’t I? I mean, for 45 minutes messing around with some ink pens, anything’s game right? I need to make time to do more things like this. Sitting down with pencils and paper, ink pens and what have you, reminds me that what I’m trying to learn is a craft, with its own tools and techniques. It will feed directly into better work for my graphic novels, which is important because that’s what this is all in aid of.

Cass students were asked to look at one or two of the texts provided by the Solent students and write down anything that jumped out at them.

Author’s list based on limited reading of Owen Hatherley’s A Guide to the Ruins of Great Britain

My list looked at A Guide To The Ruins Of Great Britain by Owen Hatherley. His language was withering as he discussed just how it is that Southampton (his home town) is just one big shopping mall. It will be interesting to see what imagery I can produce in relation to the texts available. I love the idea of telling the story of Southampton’s old zoo in a children’s book format with art from a Roald Dahl book, directly juxtaposing the grim content with such an art style. Also worthy of consideration is applying the Will Eisner treatment to the story of an American GI who carved his name and service number into a brick on his way back from the front at the end of WW 2. He was then reunited decades later with his daughter or something like that. The details escape me, but it sounds like it would fit right into Eisner’s Minor Miracles book. It could be argued that those two ideas represent too narrow a view of illustration, but I think I will benefit strongly from less of a focus on avant-garde posturing and more on honing my craft. After all, to successfully break the rules, one must know them first.

Studio Visit to Four Corners Publishing

Richard Embray and Elinor Jansz of Four Corners Books.

As part of studio culture week, we visited Four Corners Books, a small independent art book publisher based near to our university. Company founders Richard Embray and Elinor Jansz do all of the publishing in-house whilst working with specific designers on specific books.

Elinor talking about their book on Sister Corita Kent

They walked us through some of the ins and outs of their jobs, talking about what factors govern the design decisions they make, from the choice of book cover to the materials used for the pages. Their body of work mostly falls into two categories: producing art history books and special illustrated editions of classic literature.  They had examples of both present, ranging from a bright yellow edition of Dracula to an art book on nun-cum-graphic designer Sister Corita Kent.

The Four Corner’s edition of Dracula, looming as large as its titular character

Having been graciously allowed working space within a Grade 1 listed building, they set up their office with computers for both of them, a few shelves for pertinent books and a large area which they used to show us examples of their work.

Four Corners Books’ take on literary classic The Picture of Dorian Grey

When asked how the workspace effected their workflow, they commented that they felt most of their inspiration and driving focus came from all the time they spent outside of their workspace, interacting with fellow design enthusiasts.

Richard and Elinor both made reference to keeping costs in mind when making any design decisions, trying to negotiate the best balance between ambitious and expensive ideas from the designers with the realities of cost and market viability. Richard accentuated the point by adding “We try to allow ourselves one extravagance per project. The important thing is that the reader is aware that the thing is extravagant, otherwise, we’ve spent the money for nothing.”

Richard talking about how one gets bang for one’s buck.

In regards to looking at their workspace with a mind to consider our studio setup, I draw the following conclusions: practicality is important; make sure your space accommodates your daily needs. Don’t be overly concerned with having ‘inspirational’ things lying around. It’s best to find inspiration outside of your workspace and bring it in with you.

Check out what Four Corners Books are up to here.