CIP: The Shadows

Oooh boy. This was one for the history books: a brief I couldn’t understand. So the final main project for CIP was called The Shadows, and we were to, well, I don’t really know, to be honest. We were to go in teams to take photographs of somewhere of our choosing, staying in one position each. Then we were to compare our photographs and note any contrasts that were apparent. Things as direct as light vs dark and as abstract as funny vs sad. Then, we were supposed to use this as the foundation for… something. This something was to take the form of a series of posters, sculptures, photographs or a short film. It could also be a narrative, series of contrasts, some sort of concept… Perhaps the point of the brief was to be open-ended. The beyond limits brief gave a large amount of latitude, so it’s not inconceivable that this brief was written in the same vein.

Right from the start, I took the Bill O’Reilly approach of ‘@£$# IT! I’LL DO IT LIVE!!!’, so I went and took some pictures in Brick Lane near the university, went home and tried to find contrasts from which to make… something. I went to some sort of building site/car park/street art thing close to where the art shop Atlantis used to be before it moved in 2015.

Time restraints meant that I didn’t take as many picture as I should or would have otherwise, and not from as many different positions, since I missed the boat to work with a group. Also, as a brown skinned man with a beard in 2016, I was reluctant to spend too much time in one place taking pictures of stuff for no apparent reason, and I’m only half joking there…

I had intended to react to what I saw on site instead of doing the typical thing I do of having a goal in mind right from the start. Perhaps this was more because I had no idea what I was supposed to end up with, but never mind that. When it came to drawing distinctions from the pictures I had taken, I did the best I could and came up with a series of five images that I thought looked quite nice. Now, if you know anything about me, aesthetic sensibility is never number one on my list when it comes to the work I produce. It’s usually something like 1. Function, 2. Cost, 3. Ease, 4. Aesthetics. Now don’t get me wrong, sometimes the order shifts, but functionality usually trumps ‘prettiness’. This time, I was thinking of the final presentation of the work to resemble some sort of gallery showing of photographs, with single word titles under each image. Very minimalist, very provocative. Very hit or miss. So I picked my five, tried to put them through some process which would enhance their visual impact.

Happy face.
Happy Face.
Sad Face
Sad Face
Hungry face
Hungry face
Internet face
Grass... face?
Grass… face?

After that, I had a look at some of the recommended persons of interest mentioned in the brief and realised my error. After looking at JR’s global Inside Out campaign and the trailer for Salt of the Earth, a film about photographer Sebastião Salgado, I realised I’d missed another opportunity to do something big. Fenced in by my inability to realise anything ambitious within my current time constraints, I resolved to create another selection of images with a more mature feel to them. It’s entirely possible that all I ended up with were hackneyed tropes, but you do the best with what you have…

The gallery space would be titled 'Hope'. All of the images would have no titles.
The gallery space would be titled ‘Hope’. All of the images would have no titles.
Yes I know you've seen this one before, but it seems more appropriate for this series than the other one really
Yes I know you’ve seen this one before, but it seems more appropriate for this series than the other one really
Hope 3.
Hope 3. I feel that the colour in the greenery makes me think that the greyscale sky is actually blue. Perhaps I’ve been staring at this screen too long…
Hope 4.
Hope 4.
Hope 5. The most enigmatic of them all. I wont deny this is more fine art than design
Hope 5. The most enigmatic of them all. I wont deny this is more fine art than design.

I feel a black and white colour-scheme gives a stronger sense of urgency and relevance to photography by helping distance it from all the packaging and selfies and whatnot we find ourselves surrounded by these days. (It doesn’t hurt that it usually tends to be cheaper to (re)produce either.) I’m a fan of the Sin City films and comic books and do like the idea of the reduced colour palette of black, white and one or two other colours sparingly used, so I took the opportunity to create some images using that technique, even though I suspect photography as an art-form is at it’s most powerful when it’s authenticity is beyond reproach.

All in all, I’m not sure I met the brief, but we are continuously being told to push the boundaries of the briefs we’re given. Had I not backed myself into a corner with how much time I could devote to this project, perhaps it could have taken on a life of its own. I think I would have liked to have gone quite abstract in the end, simply having my series of contrasts be purely form based.

A brief like this is a lot like that Press Pass brief I had that was mostly graphic design; it’s good to aim high, but for an illustration student to have to judge his photography against some of the worlds best practitioners? Well, who knows. If I’d given myself another week…

CIP: Beyond Limits Final Posters

The rough idea was to have a promotional poster for each concept; one for enhanced smell, sight and mobility. They were to be representative of the technology being out on the market, just after prototyping and trying to get the general public to overlook the unusual appearance of the technology in favour of the benefits it would provide.

First up was the enhanced scent detection technology. Dogs have been used by the police for many years to help in detecting illegal substances ranging from illicit drugs to bomb making materials. They also help track missing persons and convicts on the run, My premise was to take the dogs incredibly advanced nasal capabilities and have them available to law enforcement agencies in some sort of headwear, budget notwithstanding. This would make going through customs a nightmare for smugglers and stop and searches almost a formality. This of course, assumes the spectacular increase in scent detection can be interpreted correctly by the user. We are making that assumption.

If any one was going to be field testing these devices, it would seem logical to give them to customs agents. the government could justify the expense by putting under national security and playing the patriotism card (I certainly did in one of my posters). I chose to visualise the Drug Enforcement Agency  (DEA) in the US as the agency in question using the dog nose helmets since they tend to deploy officers in full tactical armour when the situation arises and the helmet seems more out of place when worn by British customs agents, who from what I can tell, tend to just wear office attire.

The design of the headwear closely resembles a dog nose to represent the technology still being in it’s infancy and scientist haven’t yet found a way to make it work without directly copying the infrastructure of an actual dog’s nasal system.

While conceiving how the nose would fit on the user’s face I did a little collage mock up. The relevance of this is that I can now graduate from the poorly held notion I used to have that collage is for primary school children and accept that collage can be awesome, you just have to start with the right imagery.

Collage can be fun!
Collage can be fun!

As I assembled elements for use in my posters, I became increasingly aware of how long it was taking to visualise the concept. In the end, I had to make the decision to create three posters on the same concept and leave the spider legs and chameleon eyes in developmental phase. This was a great shame, as I was really looking forward to realising the soldier of tomorrow with his great big ogilly-googily eyes. The concept was to be similar to the dog nose, but focus more on special operations soldiers, like the SAS or Navy Seals. the fully articulated chameleon eyes would allow the soldier to look in two directions at the same time, helping prevent ambushes, locating targets of interest, watching multiple targets of interest at the same time, offering things like sight magnification, infra-red and night vision, that sort of thing. Looking around corners without sticking your head around it, the list goes on.

Based on my research into spiders and their uncanny ability to walk on ceilings and stick to glass, I had considered some sort of spider-harness not unlike the one spiderman had at one point in the comic books. Science fiction usually has an impact on science fact, with touch screen technology, virtual reality and all sorts of things we take for granted today having first been imagined in the past. The harness would allow for extreme manoeuvrability in extreme locations, like navigating terrain after an earthquake for rescue operations, cleaning skyscraper windows on the outside with no need for a safety harness, mountain climbing, and so on.

Spiderman! Now with the appropriate number of appendages!
Spiderman! Now with the appropriate number of appendages!

Anyway, back to what I did manage to get done. My first poster shows several DEA agents at an airport terminal processing luggage at an x-ray machine. The poster is designed as a warning to those intending to import illegal goods into America and give them another reason to ‘think again’. It also serves as an advertisement to the american people of the efficiency of the DEA and thusly,  of taxpayer money well spent.

My first poster
My first poster

The second poster plays heavily on American patriotism with the flag in the background. The no nonsense message also plays with the brashness and directness that one can identify Americans with.

'murica! 'nough said!
‘murica! ‘nough said!

The third poster was designed as more of a marketing tool to promote the technology to those who would use it more than to those it would impact. I had originally intended to have some sort of x-ray cut out to show the internal mechanics of how the system works, but it quickly dawned on me that I didn’t know enough about how the dog’s nose works or mechanical design to create the intended visual outcome. I wasn’t able to find any examples of what I was looking for to anchor my work to either. So in the end, I settled for something akin to a presentation graphic that investors might be shown. I do like the simple layout, and yet again, the DEA provided the colour scheme from their logo. I hadn’t intended to appropriate the DEA’s identity like that originally, but after drawing the conclusion that the DEA would be the most suitably equipped to wear the technology and still look mostly normal, it seemed rational to present the technology in use under their umbrella. Even though I just said the last poster was not conceived for public display, since no patents or secrets are given away, it could be used simply to promote how advanced the DEA are, both to potential criminals and to prospective employees.

Third poster
Third poster

All in all, the potential for this brief was limitless. I could have spent the entire year doing nothing but this and still barely scratched the surface. I would have loved to create a sleek video package to advertise something, or made a 3d render using something like cinema 4d. It was my great misfortune that this brief came after Christmas and not before. It could have had a significant impact on my overall engagement with the course this year, which, basically, fell off a cliff some time in March. Alas! Alas! What could have been! Still, I did end up with three A1 posters and I did realise some of what I’d hoped to. And finding out that collage can be cool is something I’m going to take with me to the grave. Along with where I hid the bodies.

CIP: Sensory Design: Beyond Limits

Another core project for Creative Industry Practice was called Sensory Design: Beyond Limits. The idea was for us to reimagine a body part or sensory organ or something like that to enhance human abilities beyond the norm. I immediately thought of the bad guy from Wild Wild West, the western with Will Smith in it from the 90s. The bad guy had no legs. Well actually, he had 4 legs, since he was a mad inventor who had a wheelchair which had 4 spider-like legs. I also thought of the video game series Deus Ex, which is set in the near(ish) future where one can augment oneself with cybernetics in the same way one can undergo plastic surgery now.

Wild Wild West with Will Smith and Kenneth Branagh.
Wild Wild West with Will Smith and Kenneth Branagh.

I was intending that my enhancements be surreal and intimidating, like those spider legs. One of my first ideas was some kind of mask that would incorporate hearing aids and eye enhancements to help people who are deaf and/or blind. I wanted it to look like some cross between an Iron maiden and a serial killer’s hockey mask. Unfortunately, in conceptualising the idea, the mask didn’t really need to cover the nose or mouth at all. It’s very interesting to note the importance of getting the idea out of your head and into the real world and seeing if it survives the process.

'When Captain America throws his mighty shield!' Not very intimidating mask which allows the deaf to hear and the blind to see.
‘When Captain America throws his mighty shield!’ Not very intimidating mask which allows the deaf to hear and the blind to see.

Thinking back to the spider legs, I liked the idea of human modifications conceived by a computer. Or perhaps, simply a rational mind unhindered by conventional aesthetics. Human beings have been functionally the same for thousands if not millions of years, so how about some upgrades? looking at some of the most successful examples in the natural world, how about a man with spider legs, a chameleon’s eyes, a dog’s sense of smell and so on.

Sketch book page with my chameleon eyes. They offer a good mix of practicality and looking downright ridiculous.  Some people used to think Batman looked ridiculous too. Then he made Hollywood all that money...
Sketch book page with my chameleon eyes. They offer a good mix of practicality and looking downright ridiculous. Some people used to think Batman looked ridiculous too. Then he made Hollywood all that money…

I then researched those specific examples and started thinking about the benefits one would get from those abilities; who would actually fund research and development and who would find real world applications for them? If history has taught us anything, it’s that nothing speeds up technological advancement like a good war (which is any oxymoron, to be sure). Or to put it another way, if you’re looking for the most advanced technology, try looking at the military. Any sensory enhancement could prove exceptionally useful to a small crack-team of military commandoes deep behind enemy lines on a covert mission. Enhanced eyesight would allow for more accurate tactical observation and target acquisition over longer distances, enhanced smell could help with bomb detection, identification and disposal and enhanced hearing: to avoiding patrols, gather more intelligence and so on.

Having considered my content, it was time to pick a form it should take. We were given a list of options to choose from including several posters, some sort of sculpture, a short film or something else. I decided to go with the posters since they were far bigger than I would have liked them to be, but overcoming the logistical challenge of getting them made would prove useful in the long run.

In the next post I will discuss the poster designs. See you then.

Duke of Uke: My GIF

Although I’ve never desired to throw myself head first into the deep end of animation, I had always fully intended to dip my toes a little, so, naturally, making my first GIF seemed like a good way to get a feel for animation techniques without needing a dedicated team of staff to animate around the key frames. Heaven forbid I ever do it all myself! I went online and searched for GIFs and how to make them. After watching quite a few of them, I decided it was essential to have a GIF that looped in on itself.

I had intended to use the crow-man mascot as a key character and wanted to take the opportunity to use my inherent illustration style, which isn’t always visible in my work (at least how I perceive my ‘style’). I figured the crow should play a ukulele to a small gathering of people, promoting inclusiveness and fun and all that, and that, as he was playing, the camera would go down his throat and all the way at the end of the tunnel would be the original scene of the crow-guy playing the ukulele to a small gathering of people.

It was something of a gamble going in for this. Simple knowledge of photoshop will familiarise you with the concept of layers, which when I explain what they are, I usually compare them to the acetate layers used in traditional hand drawn animation. I presumed, with my moderate knowledge of the program, that I could use that infrastructure in such a way, and after establishing the key frames, as one does in animation, fill in the gaps in movement using photoshop’s opacity options as a makeshift light-box.

My assumptions bore fruit and I was able to end up with a GIF which was not so far off what I had imagined in my head. It is worth noting that in photoshop, solid foundations bare the heaviest loads; the way I constructed the characters and applied block black was not optimal. As a result, I had to redraw several key frames to facilitate the slight movements I had planned. And as always, failure to ensure that you’re working on the right layer at all times will lead to disaster.

I had always intended that the GIF be black and white, perhaps with a hint of red for the bow tie. This would have suited the existing representations of crow men on the Duke of Uke website. I believe it also dramatically simplified the corrections I had to make when something needed to be redrawn. It would have been great to offer a full colour alternative, since presenting a variety of options is good professional practice, but there’s what you want to do and what you have the time and skill to do before the deadline.

At the end of the project, Matt and Paul from the Duke of Uke came into the university to see what all the students had done. After seeing mine, they gave me some helpful feedback. Firstly, the frame by frame speed was perhaps too long and should be shortened. Matt said that he was really looking forward to where this thing was going to end up, once the camera went down the crow’s throat, but was a little disappointed to see it just loop back on itself. To the first comment I would reply that I animated the whole thing out of photoshop, so I suspect my frame by frame options were more limited than if I had animated it in another program. That said, since photoshop is one of the core programs I use, I reason it was worth using this old war horse in a new way, for my own future reference. Of course, I’m not against changing the speed or anything, you can only do your first thing once, right? As for  Matt’s comments, I had really only conceived of the GIF as a technical test. The core parameters for success were that the animation frames were all in the right order and that it looped back on itself seamlessly. His idea that it should lead somewhere else opens up the possibility of turning the GIF into a series of sorts, with the destination always being different, like linking to a new product on sale, or to the same scene, but with variations, like more crow guys, or more people in the crowd.

My Duke of Uke GIF
My Duke of Uke GIF

The absenteeism which plagued some other projects took its tool here as well. Had I been present regularly, I would have been able to make those improvements instead of just talk about them. I still can, of course, but just not in time to be marked on them.

All in all, a very useful, enjoyable project, which helped me achieve one of the primary goals I had, when I enrolled on this illustration course: to do a little animation and not die of exhaustion in the process. This is definitely something to revisit in the future.

The Duke of Uke: Introduction

Duke of Uke is a ukulele shop in East London which has been conducting its business in it’s current form since 2005. We students were tasked with producing something to celebrate their 10 year anniversary. We were to create a window display, animated GIF, series of images for Instagram, or something else which I can’t remember. 

The Duke of Uke shop
The Duke of Uke shop

We went to the shop and listened to shop-owner Matt and in-house designer Paul talk us through the history of the business, ukuleles in general and some of the core design elements they incorporate in their public image. Chief among them was a 1950’s crow mascot (which may or may not have had underlying racist connotations. I find racism is like bad kerning; once you’re aware of it, you start seeing it everywhere, and I did just finish writing an essay which delved into race politics, but I digress.) I wanted to use the crow-man in my work, since I gravitate towards illustrating people and focussing on form more than colour or pattern. Then we all the left the shop for some communal idea generation up the road at the university.

Two Black crows. Does this reinforce subtle (or not so subtle) undertones of racism? Let's say no, since I used it as reference and all my friends of multi-national cultures and backgrounds will be so disappointed if using this image makes me racist too.
Two Black crows. Does this reinforce subtle (or not so subtle) undertones of racism? Let’s say ‘no’, since I used it as reference and all my friends of multi-national cultures and backgrounds will be so disappointed if using this image makes me racist too.

One of my fellow students struck on the brilliant idea of telling a fictional history of the ukulele, using famous paintings such as the colonial Americans meeting the native Americans for the first time and exchanging ukuleles, as well as parodying the Lincoln/Calhoun portrait by having a ukulele in it. Naturally, all heads would be replaced with crow heads. It was a good idea, and no artist worth his salt is above stealing good ideas, but I didn’t want to rip him off (firstly, he’d do a better job with it than me and secondly, he’s my friend, so that would just be a dick-move), but like I said, it was a good idea. I decided to play around a little with very quick mock ups, I did one of Lincoln just because the irony of sticking another head on John Calhoun’s body was just too good to pass up, but then I veered off into parodying famous musical album covers. Actually, I think I only did the Beatles Abbey Road one…

My crude Lincoln mock-up
My crude Lincoln mock-up. They say Lincoln’s head was painted on top of an existing portrait of John Calhoun, to create a ‘heroic’ portrait of ol’ honest Abe.
dou blog 2
The Beatles, but not as you know them…

I wasn’t especially inclined to continue this line of inquiry, so I dropped it. While I make a (lifelong) habit of referencing the work of others through parody and laugh in the face of copyright law and it makes sense, as teaching customers to play cover versions of famous music is a part of what the Duke of Uke offers, even I balk at taking references from the music industry. #shiver# 

At this point I had decided that the outcome I wanted to move towards was to create a GIF, so I went of to do some research in that area.

But that is a tale for another day…

The Cass Charity Auction: Paper to Paddle

Now, I’m about to summarise a lot of the lead-up to the actual show for two reasons. The first is that I didn’t take decent pictures of some of the stuff that happened because I was too busy doing it and the second reason is, well quite frankly, the show basically was set up on the day and all the social media stuff and design work done before the show didn’t have the impact it aught to have had.

So what have I told you? Have I told you that the students on my graphics course where meant to run a joint exhibition/charity auction? Yes. Have I shown you my designs? Yes. Have I shown you the actual paddle for the auction? Yes. Have I discussed the location? No. So here we go.

A4 pp3
The coffee shop on the ground floor of the Commercial Road University campus

The show took place (yes it already happened, and yes you were invited, but not very well) at the back of the coffee shop on the ground floor of the Commercial Road University campus in Aldgate. Students were asked to come up with floor plans first, then an initial name for the show, a simple design aesthetic for branding and other things that we would need. We were split into groups for this and asked to present to the others an hour later.

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The space for the show.
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My initial rough for how to display the paddles

I was always more comfortable worrying about simple logistics: where do we put the paddles? How do we explain this to the public? How will the auction actually work? So I concentrated on a foolproof plan for the show. As we effectively had no budget, it was about repurposing stuff that was already available on site. Social media contains two of my least favourite words, so I would’t be doing that.

After these initial presentations, the groups were given a week to tighten them up before they would be presented to one of the founders of Fivefootsix, Algy. It turns out Fivefootsix were in the process of clearing out their studio when we arrived. In fact, we ended up presenting our power-points on our tutor’s laptop. It was a good thing this was all so low key, as the presentations weren’t much better at that point, well most of them weren’t one of them was amazing, but never mind that, I have no pictures for you, so I have no proof.

Algy’s insightful feedback was passed on to the group in our next meeting, roles were assigned from catering to social media and then stuff mostly didn’t happen for a couple of weeks. It turns out that organising anything between over 30 people using Facebook as your main method of communication may be indicative of the general lack of professionalism one may expect from the student body on the run up to Christmas…

And then the show happened. The ‘social media campaign’ if I dare call it that, and the flyers, leaflets and posters that were produced, resulted in perhaps no more than five people showing up who were unaffiliated with our course. That said, the space was full for the entire evening, there was an excellent energy and we did raise a surprising amount of money for charity.

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The paddles were mounted on the wall by being balanced on two nails either side of the handle

How did this happen? Well, the few people who did come were excellent. We did have free food and drink. The ping pong table in middle of the room was a stroke of genius and the auction itself was very lively.

A4 72dpi pp1
The best image I have of the auction. Unfortunately, I was busy as the auction was going so I couldn’t take the pictures I would like you to see. Alas

So let’s have a little play by play of how most of the planning fell through but the show was still successful; one of the students suggested borrowing the ping pong table from another university campus down the road. The table only stopped being used while the auction was taking place. It also made up for the lack of work on the walls.

Not only was one of the students able to secure free booze from a local brewery, but the university allowed a small budget as well, meaning free drinks for everyone!

Several students catered the event. The food was excellent. Donations were encouraged in exchange for certain goods.

Apparently, security weren’t actually letting people come in from the street so walk in traffic was a no-go, which made the signage one of the students had put up all but useless, but, people who the students knew were allowed in. I make this point because I was having this explained to me by the security guards on site when Algy, co-founder of Fivefootsix, walked into the lobby. As I had met him, the guards allowed him in. Now, he almost certainly would have got in anyway, by asking for one of our tutors, but that’s how it happened on the night. This is important for my next point: the auction.

Right up until the event actually started, almost no one had considered the logistical concerns of how to run an auction. I’m fairly certain some people didn’t really have cursory knowledge of the process involved. I had always imagined I would end up being the guy with the mic, as anyone who knows me will tell you, I do have a certain way with words, but who was going to do the most important part of the entire night: handle the money? Someone agreed to do it on the spot, basically. I don’t think that kind of responsibility should have fallen on one single individual, but it did and he was one of the best people for the job we could have had.

Wait, are you still reading this? I haven’t had an image in here for a while, you know. I’d better use my last one. You have been warned. Text only after this…

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The kind of image I really need to take more of. A good picture does encourage a greater tolerance for all the words, no?

So, anyway, what was I saying? Ah yes, the auction. Remember when I made a big deal about Algy showing up? Well he wasn’t the only big deal. As coincidences go, I was sitting next to one of my colleagues when they were writing an email to one of the new tutors asking them if they would like to offer a paddle for a secret after-auction auction. Not only did they agree to do this, they, along with Algy and few of the other tutors, not to mention a couple of our other guests frequently started bidding wars with each other, pushing up prices all round. As a result of this and my, shall we call it, hesitance, to accept final bids immediately, resulted in us making over £500 from a handful of dedicated enthusiasts and the occasional single paddle bidder.

One unfortunate consequence of me being the auctioneer or auction-master or whatever the title is, is that I couldn’t bid on any paddles. There were a couple I would have bid for and, looking back on it, I would have put a bid on my own paddle partly to encourage it to make more for charity and mostly because I wouldn’t mind it back. I worked hard on that thing dammit!

So what does one take away from the whole process, the conception, the planning, the execution? Well this is something of a problem, for on the one hand, we had a great night as a result of what boils down to work done on the day by a few committed individuals and a run of good fortune. I definitely learned that getting a large group of students together and expecting them to organise themselves or anything else appears to be a fool’s errand (this unfortunately could become a recurring problem). Good communication is necessary , responsibilities must both be delegated and accepted, end results must be realistically achievable in the allotted timeframe and ultimately, if no one cares about the results, get ready for a disaster. And while that last  comment isn’t specifically about this show, I’m thinking about last year’s summer show and this year’s Press Pass newspaper, which will be discussed elsewhere, unless of course, it never gets done, which is how it’s looking right now.

On the flip side, the ‘we’ll do it live!’ mentality, in this instance did turn out quite well. The air of spontaneity from little to no forward planning can lead to an event that can be more low key and more personal than a professional gallery showing, per se. Would I rather hang out in an art gallery and look at expensive ‘serious’ art or chill in a closed cafe with some students playing ping pong with paddles they made themselves? It’s all subjective. I definitely learned I need to remember to take good pictures of stuff as it’s going down so I can put them on my blog!

It all worked out in the end. The only question is: How good would the event have been if we’d actually done all the stuff we were supposed to on the run up to it? It might have been something to use as an example of why the Cass should stay in Aldgate, not move north to combine with the Holloway Road campus, but that is a matter for another time…




Making My Ping Pong Paddle!

I decided to make my auction paddle by stripping an existing one of its rubber and foam padding and applying the art directly onto the wood. Whilst the easiest thing to do would have been to simply print a dynamic image out and then stick it onto the wood, that seemed like a copout to me. I think it would have looked as half-assed as it was… not to say my end result didn’t end up being half-assed, but that was due to poor time management and inexperience, not a poor concept.

One side of my sprayed paddle. The handle is covered with masking tape to keep it red.
The reverse side of my paddle. I was going to print red on yellow on one side and yellow on red on this side.












I decided to use a cut-out template and spray paint. I’d never done anything like this before, so I thought ‘At the very least, I can learn something from this.’ And I did; it;s not as easy as you’d think to get good results.

My template printouts

I altered my previous designs in photoshop to try and have a good single colour contrast, then printed them out to use as templates.

The template cut from the front

I began cutting out the block black areas with a scalpel before getting into the fine line work, which I had intentionally tried to limit, as I knew I was going to have to cut it all out later. As I worked, I kept flipping the paper to get a sense of how my paddle would actually end up looking.

The reverse side of the first template

The process of doing teaches so much so fast; whilst I was essentially drawing with a scalpel, needing to ensure that no part of the template was cut off proved immensely challenging. I ended up losing all the detail of the left eye, as it formed a complete circle around the eye socket, removing the paper entirely. This was one of the prices I paid to try and ‘craft’ my paddle instead of just sticking an image onto it.

First side of my paddle ready for spraying


Once the template was ready, it was time to apply the paint. I stuck the template to the wood with  blue-tac in places that I felt would stop the template moving.

First side of paddle finished

As you may notice from the above image, I overestimated the quality of my preparations and underestimated the power of the spray-can. The paint actually went under the template in many areas and as that conspicuous yellow dot right in the middle of my paddle shows, only the blu-tack itself could stop it cleanly. Nevertheless, the risk was worth taking and I can now say I have both put artwork outside in the real world and done some spray-stencilling, although never both in the same place at the same time. So I haven’t broken the law that way. Ahem.

Second side template preparation

I had text on the second side. Times new roman if I remember correctly, to synergise with Boris being of The City and the font being of the broadsheets and whatnot. It’s good when you can give reasons for why you use a certain font: it means you thought about it, and I highly recommend thinking about things, but I digress. Cutting out the font with a scalpel wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. It was quite labour intensive and, with everything else, a serious mistake meant having to start over, but all in all, it could be something I do again in the future.

Reverse side of second template

As I flipped over my template in preparation to cut out the eye areas, one of those moments where the process unexpectedly informs the end result occurred; I saw the above image and laughed, so I knew there wasn’t much point adding (or subtracting in this case) much more than this to the eyes. The look of childish glee was what I was going for with the image in the first place. The reference image was of Boris finding out he’d become the new Mayor of London, so I was definitely going for excitement on his face.

Second side sprayed, with a bit of blu-tack still on, no less…

I quick shake and a spray later and there I was with my finished paddle. Not the best conceived or the best produced, but this was my first. And having done a first, that means there can be a second and a third. Will there be? Not in time for our ping pong charity auction, but I’ve got spare paddles waiting to be prepped, and since I didn’t get any ping pong balls…

Ping Pong Paddle Selection Process

scale paddle front
Boris front
scale paddle back
Boris back









All students were asked to submit at least one 100% scale representation of their final idea, with consideration given to production processes for the Art of Ping Pong auction in association with Fivefootsix. I went with my Boris Johnson design because I like the ‘whiff whaff’ angle. As this is for charity, there’s a reasonable likelihood he’d allow his likeness to be used. It’s also topical and very ‘London’, him being the mayor and all.

Production process is something I struggle with. I think in terms of 2D pdf of jpeg, and this was no different. The obvious options are to draw the imagery straight onto the paddle, or produce some form of printout to stick on. As I write this, I have not resolved this.

The major concern is the type. Any mistake in printing it will mean it will need to be printed again on another paddle.

All students are required to submit a 3D object for a second auction of student made paddles that will be held at the Cass. More information will become available once the show has been organised. It turns out the students will be doing that as well. Wonderful.

For the low down on Fivefootsix’s Art of Ping Pong, which is the parent auction to our child, visit the website here.


The Art of Ping Pong

Original rough designs
Original rough designs
Chinese variants
Chinese variants

Branding and design agency Fivefootsix are holding a charity auction to raise money for BBC Children in Need. They work with established artists as well as up-and-coming talent. This year, one student from our university will have their work auctioned off with all the others.It goes without saying that this is a huge opportunity for whichever student gets selected. There will be huge amounts of press coverage as well as the opportunity to meet some if not all of the big names present at the auction. This is the kind of thing that starts careers.

However, it won’t be mine. As of writing this blog, I already know who’s been shortlisted for selection from the students, but never mind that, let’s talk about what I did.

When we were told we were going to design artwork for ping pong paddles, I instantly thought ‘the word “ping pong” in Chinese, white print on faded red background.’, so that’s what I did.

Then I found out ping pong was probably of British origin and, among other names, had been called ‘whiff whaff’. I instantly thought of Boris Johnson, and to my delight found he had been ‘whiff whaffing’ on the run up to the 2012 Olympics.

The feather fan design was a reference to famous Chinese military strategist Zhuge Liang. He was usually depicted holding a crane feather fan and I liked the idea he could play ping pong with it in the way Bruce Lee was depicted playing ping pong with nunchaku a few years ago in a TV advert.

For the whole story on Fivefootsix and their auction, check them out here.