Reportage: Research: Cultural Archive: Japanese Tea Ceremony

The tea ceremony as it came to be when paired with Zen Buddhism: tranquil, reflective, at one with nature. By Hokusai Katsushika

We were asked to research a place or activity, so I decided to look at the Japanese tea ceremony.  Pardon me while I copy some text wholesale from wikipedia:

The Japanese tea ceremony, also called the Way of Tea, is a Japanese cultural activity involving the ceremonial preparation and presentation of matcha (抹茶), powdered green tea.

In Japanese, it is called chanoyu (茶の湯?) or sadō, chadō (茶道?), while the manner in which it is performed, or the art of its performance, is called (o)temae ([お]手前; [お]点前?).[1] Zen Buddhism was a primary influence in the development of the Japanese tea ceremony.

We now return to our regularly scheduled blogging.

The Japanese tea ceremony has waxed and waned in popularity and importance since tea was brought to Japan by Buddhist monks in the 9th century. At times it became a massive sign of spectacle allowing the powerful to showcase their opulence, but during the Warring States period during the 16th century, it had been reimagined under Sen no Rikyū into an exemplar of Zen Buddhism. This video explains it far more succinctly than I can.

The notion of concentrating fully on simple tasks to ensure excellence can be applied to craft as well. Thanks to the evolution of the tea ceremony, it can have significance to a very broad group of people. I mean, I’m not going to put that kind of effort into a cup of tea, but I certainly wouldn’t be against applying that level of conscious thought and care to my artwork.

A traditional tea house, surrounded by nature

The tea ceremony is still regarded as a traditional, cultural signifier for Japan.  Having been around for so long, there will no doubt be other periods of transition that will interest those who care to look.

Some of the utensils used in the ceremony



Reportage: Research: Nan Golding

An example of Nan Golding’s photography. She spent some of her formative years photographing gay and transexual people.

Nan Golding is an American photographer who, like the other two photographers I’ve just looked at, has a body of work that functions as a cultural archive of sorts. During the 70s, she spent her time in Boston living with and photographing gay and transgender people. Her work The Ballad of Sexual Dependency contained controversial subject material such as drug taking and violence.

Golding’s intimate photography catches people living their lives, whether things are working out or not

Unlike Martin Parr and Tony Ray Jones, who also document social groups and help form cultural archives, Golding’s work shows that sometimes reportage is not simply and exercise in anthropological study, but can help challenge and change how particular groups of people are perceived by the general public.

I would be weary to follow in her footsteps on my BA illustration course. I feel pursuing such ‘hot topics’ is best left to those either on Fine Arts or on the Photography course. I’ve hot my controversy threshold with copyright infringement, thank you very much. Nevertheless, it’s good to be aware of Nan Golding’s contribution to photography and perhaps a greater acceptance of the LG BT community in the world today. Not sure how many of us on the course are going to find a subculture to represent…

Reportage: Research: Tony Ray-Jones

An example of Jones’ work

Tony Ray-Jones, much like Martin Parr, could be described as an anthropological photographer with a distinct interest in the British way of life. He mainly operated in the 1960s before he unexpectedly died from illness. I suspect he’s been presented to us as a another example of the documentative  photographer. I don’t think his work was received in the same way it would be now as this approach  to photography (the cultural archive) has become more accepted over the last few decades.

Jones’ work

Photography for me is a lot like graphic design. I don’t have the tools to judge it objectively in terms of it’s quality. Jones’ approach to photography could be a good starting place to consider how to compose any imagery I wish to use. We shall see. Onwards.

Reportage: Research: Martin Parr

Example of Martin Parr’s style of social documentation through photography. From his website homepage

Martin Parr is a British photographer best known for his documentary or anthropological approach to his craft. His collections documenting the working class in leisure during the eighties courted controversy for being perceived by some as being exploitative of his subject material.

His work is of social and historical significance, as it is an archive of social classes, time period, Britishness, in an sense.

Martin Parr also looks at collections of nick-nacks and memorabilia. Taken from his website in the ‘archive’ section

I suspect we’ve been asked to look at Parr to show us how significant reportage can be, depending on what your subject of study is. I am always being told there is a large Bangladeshi community near the university campus. Doing a ‘Martin Parr’ with them would presumably be an acceptable area of investigation then?

Such endeavours are best not undertaken lightly. Let’s see what else is on the research list…

Reportage Research: Gin Lane by William Hogarth

William Hogarth’s propaganda on the dangers of gin drinking

In the 1750s, gin was seen to be a harmful, dangerous substance which led to moral decay, crime and ultimately death. Painter, printmaker, pictorial satirist and social critic, William Hogarth illustrated this in his print called Gin Lane, which among other things, attributed the consumption of gin with prostitution, murder, child abuse and societal collapse. This is juxtaposed by another print published at the same time called Beer Street, where all the residents are robust and full of vitality; model citizens and harbingers of the future. The reason I called Gin Lane ‘propaganda’ is that the art is clearly designed to promote a particular opinion in the viewer: gin is bad. Such an absolute statement is open to repudiation, even if it’s mostly true all the time or completely true most of the time.

William Hogarth’s Beer Street

I can’t do justice to the social and political upheavals of the time in this post, but needless to say, there was a lot going on at the time, and for economic and social reasons, gin became the target of a negative advertising campaign, if you will.

Why am I looking at this? Because I was told to. Why was I told to. I don’t know. Perhaps to show us an example of how one can document an area, social group and period of upheaval all in one image or how the artist has the power with their images to skew the opinion of the viewer to suit their needs.

As we move onto our second major brief of the year, which will have a focus on reportage, things will become clearer, I’m sure.

Southampton Project: Final Outcome: Process Book

My intentionally gaudy cover to my gaudy comic book

Final year students were asked to create an extra outcome for the Southampton project: either a film or publication to show the processes involved throughout the project. I chose to do a full-on comic book, as it seemed the best way to present ultimately not-that-interesting information in an entertaining way. And I came on an illustration course to do comic books.

Having a nice guy (Smile-e) explaining everything in a positive light and a cynical bastard co-host (Vegeta) gave me the room to explore all my opinions on what we’ve done, while allowing the reader to keep their own counsel.

Sample spread from my book. There’re talking about monoprinting

I had a ready made a team that I just couldn’t get around. I thought about alternatives, but ultimately resolved to do what I had to do. I walk into very murky copyright waters now, as I’m using an existing character from a popular franchise (which shall remain nameless even though you know what it is) as my co-host.

I believe US and now UK law supports fair use of copyrighted material for several purposes, the one which I should theoretically fall under is parody. This is a contentious issue, but ultimately, I suspect I’ll always fly too low under the radar for this to ever be a real problem. On top of that, the university retain the rights to any work created by their students, but I also doubt I’m going to get a strongly worded email from London Met telling me to cease and desist from creating the Smile-e Show ‘cos it’s theirs now.

So what is the Smile-e show? It’s a comedy comic I’ve been making for years and I even mentioned it in my UCAS application when I applied for my course. Here’s a video I did about it, showing some examples and what not.

It goes without saying that I underestimated the amount of work it takes to make what turned out to be a 30+ page comic book all by myself with little to no knowledge of how to do it properly, but really, this is one of the core pillars of what I want to be known for.

One of the hardest spreads I’ve done. I didn’t have good reference imagery or any great technical skill going into this.

I was inspired by Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, which is a comic book about comic books. I can’t recommend reading it enough. If you think comics=Batman, this book will help you realise comics= Batman+Maus+ Persepolis+ alternative comics, etc,etc. There’s an artform waiting to be discovered. You shouldn’t assume the only vehicles out there are buses and trucks because they’re the biggest and loudest, there are also ice cream vans, super cars and Robin Reliants. It’s the same with comics, but that’s enough about that for now.

I haven’t finished the book. The artwork needs touching up, the lettering isn’t finished, I haven’t written the foreword, the panels need resizing… It’s endless, but for the first time on the course, I can’t be dissuaded by the work required for success, because this is a big deal and whatever happens in the future, I’m only going to end up doing more of these.

Example of my uni work in the comic

I’m in two minds about the comic being fully coloured. As it stands now, the only colour content is my university art work, which supports its position as the central focus of the book. I think I’ll leave it like that. Colouring is another area of comic book design I’m woefully under-skilled at.

This book is a lot of fun, but very hard work. I look forward to finishing it, but it’s going to be on hold for a while…


Southampton Project: Final Outcome: Movie

During the English civil war in the 1600s, royalist poet John Taylor journeyed from London to Southampton on his way to visit the deposed King of England Charles I.  I’ve turned his poem about it into a short movie.

I broke the poem into couplets and storyboarded visual accompaniments to them. I tried to balance good ideas against my complete lack of knowledge when it comes to working with video.

In the two to three days it took to create my one minute, I learned how to source audio, video, combine multiple audio and video layers, add in some animation stuff and all sorts. There were two main reasons why this was possible: the first was a great introduction to Adobe Premiere Pro by Ricardo, one of our tutors and the second was my familiarity with Photoshop. Understanding layers and how they work together with each other as well as knowing what I could import into Premiere Pro from Photoshop and what options I would have with that stuff greatly helped.

It wasn’t necessary to go to such lengths for this piece of moving image. We could have just done a slideshow or a movie using only found content. I know one student took a clip from a movie, mirrored it and turned it, effectively into a piece of fine art. It couldn’t have taken him more than half an hour, but, different strokes for different folks.

I’ve long wanted to get to grips with video editing. It’s rather complicated and time consuming, especially if you’re creating your own assets to use, but it’s a really great thing to be able to do.

I look forward to doing more. I need to work on my ratio of time put in, to work put out. I’ve always avoided animation for the same reason: takes too long to get acceptable results.

Who’s Colt Cougar, you ask? Well… send your answers on a stamped addressed envelop to…

Southampton: Riso Poster

My first final outcome for the Southampton Project

Students were asked to create a riso poster and movie for the final outcomes of the Southampton project. As my movie was about John Taylor’s horse and carriage journey from London to Southampton, I decided to take some of that imagery to incorporate into my poster.

The text in the background is a page of advertisements for carriage journeys from London to Southampton, and other places. As required, I managed to combine one layer of my own work with content from the Southampton shared Google drive students had access to.

I’m never going to be comfortable using the riso printer. It’s niche, prone to paper jams and really for people in the mindset of producing small scale publications for immediate distribution. We also don’t seem to have a reliable source of paper for it. Did I mention it likes to screw up when printing? See how those two problems could be multiplicative?

My first attempts at producing a poster were disastrous. I was given speculative advice by staff and didn’t take artistic control. What I ended up with was dreadful. The ink of the separate colour prints just turned into a muddy mess. A couple of my colleagues had mocked up layouts using the university text, which were clean and controlled. I followed suit, picking a combination of images and preparing them for print in a way which would be foolproof.

I’m quite happy with the results. Aren’t you?

Hothouse Talk: Grand Visual

Page from Grand Visual website, showing the technical innovation that’s led them to work regularly with the likes of Disney

At the start of the presentation, students were told to stop taking notes and listen to the presentation being given. I think he misunderstood the situation. I don’t think people usually attend public speaking  events on their lunch-break with the intention of arsing around.  As a result, I don’t have the speaker’s name. He basically showed us a showreel of projects using motion sensor and enhanced reality technology to promote movies and companies with direct interaction with the general public.

There is no doubt Grand Visual are future facing trendsetters. I’m impressed by their core focus of staying at the cutting edge of the industry. My only question is: why were these guys coming in talking about Oculus Rifts and X-Box Kinects to a bunch of students on a course where digital is not central to the teaching philosophy?

It makes me double sad. When asked what he wished he’d done more of while still at uni, the speaker said ‘I wish I’d done more coding.’ Ouch. Excuse us while we go back to using a letterpress and gluing together bits of paper.

Grand Visual do very interesting stuff. I don’t think I’ll be reverse engineering a Xbox One any time soon, but at least they’ve given me a convenient cover story to justify a purchase…

Making A Living Week: Accelerator

Simon, one of the Accelerator staff, doing his presentation

After all the designers, we had London Met’s small business and employability team speak to us for the rest of Tuesday. They’re called Accelerator and provide business advice to students and recent alumni. We had talks about what specific job titles we might end up with (ranging from employee to freelancer), we got tips on networking and got a little introduction to using contracts for commissions and copyright law.

We also had a depressing talk about CVs and cover letters. I’d hoped working in a visual medium would negate the worthlessness of my CV, but actually, it turns out I have to graphic design it, on top of everything else. Portfolio be damned.

The talks were extremely useful and provided clarity for things I’d been asking about for years. It’s unfortunate that students are only introduced to these highly knowledgeable people when they already have one foot out the door. Being aware of things like copyright and viable business strategies would (hopefully) help prevent some of the bad habits students tend to pick up working in the bubble of clientless briefs delivered by their course.

This was the end of our courses involvement with Making a Living Week. There was several more days of presentations, but they were aimed at architects and fine artists and the like. I will be contacting accelerator again in the future. At the very least, it couldn’t hurt to run my strategies for the future past them.