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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

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

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

 

Grafik Takeover: My ‘Zine’

The other part of the Grafik takeover was to create a ‘zine’ using content from Grafik’s website. Being obtuse when it comes to graphic design and what it has to do with me, the majority of my time working on this zine was spent being conceited. I spent years telling people that I had no interest in doing a graphic design degree, just like I had no interest in animation (more like no interest in doing the animation) and now, here I was doing an editorial task where I was effectively relegated to layout design. As an illustrator on an illustration course, I felt more than entitled to drag my feet with this, especially since this was my first visit to Adobe Indesign since the book I made last year.

I decided to pick several letterform articles to use for the content of my zine, half because looking at the letter at such a scale that it ceased being a grain of sand on the beach and instead became a skyscraper, made me consider how much effort can actually go into designing a typeface, and half because it was the first suggestion on the brief.

I went looking for the most bizarre looking letters I could find, to really emphasise the letter as the focal point of each spread. It’s funny how little I know about design (and funnier how little I bother to pick up). There are no doubt conventions that are routinely applied in the production of graphic design, but being unaware of any that aren’t strictly speaking, common sense, I decided to pursue a minimalist approach to the layout. (Also, from quotes I’ve heard, but can never remember properly, the ‘best designs do the most work with the least elements’ or something to that effect.) Every letterform would be massive and accompanied by only the title of the article and the body copy. No other elements. I didn’t want to play it too safe, so I went with white font on a black background. Using solid colour as the background hasn’t worked out well for me in the past, but I wasn’t convinced that it was an entirely futile endeavour. I spent some time trying to pick an appropriate font, and settled on Futura. It has a weight to it which helps it stand out in white on a coloured background. I also like the relative scale and density of the letters. 

One of my spreads. Note the subtle symmetry.
One of my spreads. Note the subtle symmetry.

Honestly, the only thing I felt enthused about doing was the cover page, since I was effectively naming and marketing the zine. I showed my work in progress to our resident designer Sarah Boris and Angharad and they gave me some feedback on font types, colour schemes and other considerations.

Designers On Design. Issue 1. Coming to a store near you never.
Designers On Design. Issue 1. Coming to a store near you never.

Sarah really helped me bring together the cover. It should be interesting to see how the publication is taken as a whole, should I ever witness anyone flicking through it. I looked at some random magazine layouts online, to get a sense of where my design was in the grand scheme of things. While I had been particular about my placement of elements in relation to each other, I can’t claim to have used an extensive grid system. Nor could I, with so few elements. My colour pallet is unorthodox to be sure, but if now is not the time to experiment with such things, when is? I have the rest of my life to be boxed in by clients saying ‘I want this’ (pointing at someone else’s work), ‘but in red.’ I tried to keep an eye out for orphans and widows and eliminate them with extreme prejudice. (Of course I’m talking about one word lines of text at the top or bottom of paragraphs, not people, but I wanted you to be unsure about that for just a little while.) The extreme prejudice part I should redact as well. It was more like mild disinterest. I did actually alter at least one column of text to remove a widow though, so yay me.

Another spread
Another spread

The back cover was intended to be reserved for the local printers who had offered to print all of our studio’s zines in exchange for free advertisement. While the initial conversation I had with them as one of the studio’s representatives went very well, and most students did end up getting their zines printed, my sporadic attendance resulted in me missing out. As a result, my back page is slightly different and you will either think it very clever or utterly asinine depending on whether you are me or not.

The back page of my zine. Like I said, you either like it, or you're not me.
The back page of my zine. Like I said, you either like it, or you’re not me.

The process of readying the indesign document for print has not been an enjoyable one and I do wonder what I would do If the internet wasn’t full of people who’ve already gone through the disasters that confront me. A prime example would be the alarming amount of difficulty it took to even produce a PDF where the black I had used throughout my entire zine would actually show as the same colour it was in the Indesign file. And we’re not talking about CMYK vs RGB or anything, we’re talking about black. There’s a sketch from an old TV show called the Fast Show that comes to mind, so it’s time to move on.

Sketchbook page considering cover treatments
Sketchbook page considering cover treatments
Another sketchbook page. Not only did I cleverly work a Prinny joke in there, I had to redact someone's contact details off of it. It's like all my Christmas's have come at once...
Another sketchbook page. Not only did I cleverly work a Prinny joke in there, I had to redact someone’s contact details off of it. It’s like all my Christmas’s have come at once… because redacting is awesome. Take that Freedom of Information Act!

Graphic design is a school of study in it’s own right. It has it’s own principles, sensibilities, history and purpose. It always bothers me when I’m supposed to learn about another school of study than the one I signed up for. Especially due to my woeful lack of knowledge when it comes to the school of study I did sign up for. I understand the course is helping ground all its students with a solid knowledge-base in all sorts of things, but I can’t help but feel being a jack-of-all-trades will simply leave me a master of none. Being just as good as the next guy, or 10,000 other people applying for the same position, doesn’t help me stand out, now does it?

An unfair claim to lay at the door, when the course made no secrets about its content and delivery? Perhaps, but It’s almost time to have that awesome portfolio that knocks people off their chairs while looking at it, and I’m not seeing it happen.

The irony of all this is that editorial work is effectively just taking stuff that already exists and repackaging it; the hard work has already been done. This was not a time or effort heavy project that required months to compile and present. Honestly, I like what I ended up with and I did get to play around with the cover quite a bit.

The technical difficulties of creating hi-res images from the tiny files on the website was an issue for me as well. This is the problem with relying on the internet all the time. Not every solution some random guy puts on a forum is the right one for you.

I also had to reprint the finished zine twice, since the purple printed considerably darker than it appeared on my computer screen. And that is the most important lesson to be gleaned from the whole experience: never expect it to all go right the first time. Give yourself time to account for unforeseen difficulties, technical hiccups and have some wiggle-room in your budget to get past all that stuff.

Grafik Takeover: Take 5

After completing our manifestos, we were to prepare for our ‘takeover’ of the design website Grafik. Angharad Lewis, one of the core staff in our studio who also, conveniently enough, works on the website, had intended the students to create two end goals: an editorial ‘zine’ using existing articles on the website and also pitch ideas and then create our own articles for the website.

Since I stalled with the first project while I did the second, let’s talk about that one first. We were asked to pitch three ideas for articles to Angharad based on the pre-existing article categories on the website. We could try to commission a designer to write a short piece on a letterform, logo, cover-shot or something along those lines that interested them, or personally write an article about an up and coming talent .

My three suggestions went in order of safety, safest first. I started with the obvious, suggesting contacting any of the professional designers assisting our studio to write a letterform, logo or whatever, article. Then I suggested writing an article on an up-and-coming illustrator who goes by the name of Certain Streeks. (Who lives here)

A screen-grab of Certain Streek's website.
A screen-grab of Certain Streek’s website.

I was aware that his style might be an odd fit for Grafik but looked at it as an opportunity for them to diversify. Thirdly, I suggested some sort of list of ‘graphic novels everyone must read’. As I explained this idea , Angharad suggested using the ‘Take 5’  format already on the site, where writers, you guessed it, talk about five things with a common theme, however specific or vague that may be. I thought this idea to be the least likely to gain traction, since comic books are rarely talked about as actual graphic design, you know, in the same sentence as the Bauhaus, or even in the same book.

Angharad decided to go with the ‘five graphic novels for everyone’ suggestion. I think I had already made a presentation on Maus and possibly Persepolis at that point, so it might have been obvious I wasn’t just going to list a bunch of Batman comics (and don’t get me wrong, from Arkham Asylum to Year One, there’s plenty of Batman that I recommend, just not to everyone). I wrote some rough copy using a phrase somewhere along the lines of ‘ for those who don’t want to get bogged down in capes and spandex’ which I think helped my case immeasurably.

The entire point of the article was to bring attention to the medium and its potential for involving narratives (which there is clearly no shortage of a market for, looking at how TV series are doing right now). The combination of image and text is simple to understand, can be visually striking, but you can also have subject matter as complex as you like. Just because there’s that dude with the pointy ears and that other one who can fly, doesn’t mean that they are the be-all and end-all of the medium. The fact that most of the books I put on the list were actually available to borrow from the design library of the university shows that at least someone else out there shares my belief that these comics have worth as a reference point to professional designers, or designers in training, at least.

After the words came the pictures, so I contacted Gosh Comics in Soho to see if they would be amenable to me photographing their versions of the graphic novels in question. They were, so I did. Unfortunately, the lighting in the store and the stiffness of some of the book’s spines made high quality photography a little too difficult for someone who photographs as intermittently as me. I bought all the graphic novels that I didn’t already own and finally picked up the full set of Transmetropolitan, my favourite comic book series ever, and went on my way.

Persepolis's spine was too robust to allow me to photograph the pages without having my hands in-shot.
Persepolis’s spine was too robust to allow me to photograph the pages without having my hands in-shot.

The gloss paper of the Sandman comics plus the nature of the in-store lighting combined to screw up my pictures.
The gloss paper of the Sandman comics plus the nature of the in-store lighting combined to screw up my pictures.

It was at this time where my attendance was, let’s just say, a little choppy, so I emailed what I had to Angharad, she agreed with my concerns that the photography needed to be redone, so I redid it at home, with natural lighting (and a little less concern about getting in the way of paying customers), sent the new photos and resent the copy for the article, which apparently didn’t get there the first time, and, er, went about fighting crime in my underwear instead of attending university for a while.

Luckily for me (and you), Angharad published what I sent her and now you can check to see if your favourite non superhero graphic novel is on the list here. Hopefully we can all agree that the images in the article are a little more polished than my first attempts.  

In a year full of missed deadlines for me, at least I managed on several occasions here to say ‘I’ll have it to you on Wednesday’ and actually get it done and delivered on Wednesday.

Despite my lacklustre attendance towards the end, this was a very enjoyable experience for me (and not just ‘cos I got to buy a S#@t-tonne of comic books). I picked the Press Pass studio to ‘unlock my inner wordsmith’, as the studio selection presentation advertised, and while you’ve no-doubt noticed from the average length of my blogposts, it could afford a little more time behind bars, writing is something I enjoy doing, probably more than art, actually. In this project I got to write about something I have a genuine interest and passion for, hopefully share that interest and passion with others, fight for a cause and buy a S#@t-tonne of comic books. And also dubiously claim to be a published writer.

The opportunity to do some photography is always welcome. It helps me appreciate the length professionals go to, to ensure they get the best lighting, composition, subject material and clarity in their work. You know, I can’t help but think that, one day, someone might run an educational course on that. Wouldn’t that be something?  On top of all that, this might have been the first time in my life I actually imported photographs into photoshop to like, y’know, edit them? To use them later as photographs?. I’ve had photoshop for years. It’s my core illustration tool and here I am, messing around with colour saturation and contrast and whatnot. I know, right? Madness.

Also, go check out Gosh Comics. They sell comics. And, oh boy, will you go ‘Gosh!’ when you see how many. Once you’ve read my list, you’ll have at least five books to pick up, so on your bike, I say! And yes, sigh, they do sell Batman…

My Final Manifesto Images

Having been asked to create a 16 page manifesto, let me show you what I did, a few pages at a time.

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First page: my motivations, desires and hopes as an illustrator. The redactions are superfluous. No text lies beneath

A manifesto is a document by which others will understand your position within whatever it is you are aiming to contribute to. The most common use of the word ‘manifesto’ you will see will have ‘party’ written or said before it. Any serious political party has a manifesto, which outlines how they intend to govern better than their peers and, of course, if you know anything about politics, you’ll know that the promises contained in these manifestos are regularly broken. Irregardless, a manifesto shows potential supporters your aims and your idealised vision of the future. Mine is functionally a list of things to do that will make me better at what I do.

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Second page: Anthony Burrill style poster 1
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Third page. Burrill style poster 2
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Fourth page: a quote I try to live by. Final text based digital page

As I’ve said previously, the delivery of a powerful message is more important to me than it’s presentation per se, so I wanted to have a crack at big bold type placement with very little embellishment. The problem with this kind of work is that I can’t separate the time spent making it from it’s inherent value. These were made digitally, at no cost, with no risk of wasting materials or anything like that. Each one took less than an hour and any 8-year-old with an iPad could replicate them. So can I justify them? They say what needed to be said and actually, as I state in my opening page, quantity of output is more important to me. I don’t want to be that guy with two really good pieces, I want to be the guy where they’re like, ‘Wait, he did that as well? Where does he find all the time?

The quote from Ella Wheeler Wilcox seems out of place, but when you consider I originally took it to heart after hearing it in the Korean version of the film Oldboy, which is a subject of other pages, you’ll see why I included it in my personal manifesto.

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Page five. Oldboy series 1
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Page six. Oldboy series 2
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Page seven. Oldboy series 3
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Page eight. Oldboy series 4

Oldboy is one of my favourite films (again I must stress I’m talking about the Korean version) and a few years ago, I made what I call a reverse storyboard of the film. I basically illustrated a still image from the film every half minute or whenever I deemed it appropriate simply as an exercise in, well it’s not quite life drawing; let’s call it observational drawing, then. I consider it a coffee-table piece to enjoy having seen the film, a fun experiment to try and make sense of any of it, having not seen the film, and a subtle encouragement to go see the film. This project was the hardest I’ve ever worked in my life and let me say this: if I could find a way to make myself reliably produce this kind of output, everything else would take care of itself. So I include it because this is an example of my ideals:’ Do it now (there’s work), do it again (there’s more work), do more (there’s even more work), be prolific (there’s even more work).’ and because it’s an example of me living by them.’Do it now (I did it then), do it again (I did it again), do more (I did more!), be prolific ( I did even more!).

I feel confident showing these pages because I know how much effort I put into the original artwork and no one can take that away from me even if these actual pages took the same amount of time to make as the text based ones prior.

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Page nine. Is that… Clownvis?!?

My work on this university course is brief led. Essentially, they tell us what to do and we do it. They encourage us to go around the brief, to find any excuse to shift it towards our own strengths and preferences and develop in a way of our choosing, so that it can’t be used as an excuse to make bad work. However, there is still a brief, which will revolve around a product; an end goal a ‘what‘ in the parlance of Simon Sinek, who gave a TED talk I mentioned in a previous post. The message of this poster is more like my personal why. I wish to amuse, entertain and inform (in that order). I will do this through storytelling, jokes and other entertaining discourse. I just happen to be using illustration and graphics as my medium.

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Page ten. Deconstruction in seven steps. A bull, then Picasso, and finally understanding of numbers

The above image was a stand alone piece that simply stemmed from what I thought was I good idea. I was doing something else when the phrase ‘deconstructed in seven steps’ came up. So, y’know Picasso = abstraction and Picasso = bull, so I abstract-ified an image of a bull in seven steps, then Picasso and then the comprehension of numbers. The final one might take a bit of explaining. Taken from the point of view of a westerner who doesn’t know Japanese, the first image is the kanji for one, two, three, four and five. The next is romanisation of those kanji, which I personally understand, knowing the spoken Japanese for one to five, then you have the english words for the numbers, which as an English speaker, you still understand, but they are still an abstraction and of course you only understand them if you know English. Then you have the numerical representations, which regularly transcend language barriers, followed by Roman numerals which, with the first three at least, you could potentially understand without being told. Then you have the counting of rocks, which even a caveman could do, (provided he had some way of internalising the process) and finally, counting, using your hands. Everyone has done this at some point, so I offer it as the simplest form of counting from one to five available. Still with me? No? Well, just read the paragraph again and it will totally make sense this time.

As it says, this was led by process, not a preconceived final outcome. I just did it and accepted the results without prejudice. This is something we students are always being encouraged to experiment more with. All too often, we will have an idea and do it instead of basically making a mess until something cool reveals itself. It can be very fun, but isn’t conducive to meeting deadlines… Still, I don’t wan’t to forget one of the few times I just ran with something and had a good time, so there it is.

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Page eleven. illustration 1
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Page twelve. Illustration 2
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Page thirteen. Illustration 3

Here, we have the flip side of the earlier stuff: full-on illustration. I frequently lament that my personal disposition towards silly nonsense isn’t present enough in my university work. I never had any intention of being a contemporary artist and challenging the status quo by crapping into an empty can of beans or whatever (by the way, someone did something very similar in the sixties or seventies, so that wouldn’t even be innovative). My goals were always about providing content that would allow for escapism more than advertisement, per se. As such, cartoon dogs are more my raison d’être than Bauhaus design (and my bank account will never forgive me for this). The problem with illustrations like the ones I like to do is that you don’t have the benefit of easy editing and significant altering. Of course, I mean comparatively speaking, to a text based digital work. I illustrate using photoshop, so while I can switch colour pallets and resize things and move things around, if something needs to be redrawn, I have to redraw it. None of the three pages shown are the original three pages I produced and while I’m not that good anyway, the ever-tightening noose of the deadline did mean I’ve ended up with work that, well, needs more work. Look at the Dog on the right in the last image above. He’s the dog on the right from the two pages above. It’s just a close-up. So where did that crowd above him come from? It’s from a previous version of the illustration I made, and with the rush to print for studio presentation, the wrong layers were visible, wires were crossed and mistakes were made. Still, this sort of no-second-chance illustration feels far more worthy of a time investment to me than the text based stuff. I know effort put in rarely equals perceived quality, when the observer doesn’t know exactly how you did it, but I know how I did it and whenever I judge anyone else’s work, a great deal of my appreciation will be distributed based on how difficult it would be for me or anyone else to replicate said work.

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Page fourteen. Cutout text 1
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Page fifteen. Cutout text 2
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Page sixteen. Cutout text 3

These are my final three pages (Yay!). As I’ve already said, I have reservations about the worth of (my) digital text creations, so I took some text, printed it out, went outside and stuck it onto the real world. So now we have higher costs, the element of risk finding the locations and how people passing by are going to react, the risk of damaging the cutouts and having to start again, the risk of doing a bad job placing the text and also the risk of taking bad photographs, since all I can actually show is the photographs of the work ‘cos I’m pretty sure someone would get upset if I took the walls away with me. Now this sounds a bit more like art to me.

And then I realise what a can of worms I’m opening up. The reason I’ve just said what I said is this notion that the work is only of value if it sets you apart from everyone else, and it isn’t so easy to reproduce. So is the value of art that not everyone can do it? But in 2016, with all the easily accessible knowledge and tools out there, anyone can make art. Good art too. Whatever that means. Y’know what? we’ll come back to that later.

The first image above is on a random wall, the second is on my front door and the third is in Brick Lane, East London, in a graffiti-filled alleyway. The first two didn’t really need explanation, but I feel I was unable to get the significance of the third one across. These are the only images I feel have been hurt by being in black and white. Probably the simplest solution is to use the colour photos and perhaps colour the dog illustrations so it becomes another variable in my work to make it a bit more diverse. Naturally, the point of these three pages is for me as a designer to become more involved with the text in the hope that it creates a more enjoyable and worthwhile experience for both me and the viewer and to offer a counter-balance to the digital text work at the start.

I think you’ve humoured me long enough. I hope my words have helped you grasp my thoughts and if you take nothing else away from this, take this: I like making jokes and being modestly entertaining. It is my goal to create entertaining work, in whatever medium I can manage and to incorporate my wit and (limited) wisdom into whatever I do. While my work will never be the best, I do hope you will enjoy what I make and come back for more. And when you do come back for more, that I will have more waiting for you.

Thank you. And go watch Oldboy (the Korean version) it’s the best film about #SPOILER ALERT# you’ll ever see!

 

Peter Kennard Exhibition at The IWM

We were asked to visit the Imperial War Museum’s retrospective on Peter Kennard, presumably to see the work of an artist who clearly has a point he wishes to get across in his work. I should rephrase that, since every graphic designer should have a point they clearly want to get across in each and every piece of work they do. Kennard’s body of work is clearly political in nature and reflects his personal opinions on the world we live in.

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Take a good look at her face. She may have seen herself this way, but the divisiveness her politics have caused during and since the eighties, rules out anything short of some sort of Cromwell-esk rebellion if this had ever happened

In his early work, his tools of choice were photo-montage and manipulation. A good couple of decades before photoshop gave ten-year olds the power to equal the output of professionals, Kennard was making it look easy, and more importantly, was becoming the voice for those who wished to let their feelings be known when it came to war, nuclear (dis)armament and the like.

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His imagery is almost crude in it’s directness. This is no doubt why it has such appeal

Kennard’s work is not difficult to grasp. When a missile erupts  from the planet like a bullet shot through an apple, the meaning is clear. Again with an armed soldier kicking the planet like a football, you don’t need a master’s in art history to figure out where he’s going with that.

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Welcome to the G8 indeed

Having gone to the Font exhibition previously, and having found it to be difficult to decipher without assistance and a great deal of desire to do so, I found Kennard’s work to be more agreeable. Now, I don’t want everything in the world to be instantly understandable, just as I don’t want everything to be contrived and confusing; it’s always better to have options. That said, if you asked me which exhibition I’d go back to, it would be Kennard’s hands down and that’s not just because his exhibition had more stuff there.

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Unfortunately, the message of these pieces feels poignant even now

Kennard’s work is a clear representation of his political views and is an excellent example of an artist defining himself through their work. This shows one way that we students, as we create our own manifestos, can show who we are through the work we make. 

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As Jeremy Corbyn takes flak from saying Britain doesn’t need Nuclear missiles in 2016, we really haven’t come very far, have we?

As time went on, Kennard moved away from photo-manipulation as the technology to make it easier came along. He then made some work of a decidedly subtler nature.

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Some of Kennard’s later work

The Reading Room section shows financial times broadsheets covered with the smudged, blurry faces of people one may choose to describe as disillusioned, which would be leading, but there you go. These broadsheets are placed on lecterns reminiscent of the ones Kennard remembers from libraries, growing up, that gave the papers a sort of gravitas. The room is a recreation of the original exhibition that took place at the Gimpel Fils gallery in 1997.

It juxtaposes the individual with the ever present international financial markets and the faceless statistics that we’re so used to today.

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One of the lecterns from Reading Room.

I do tend to gravitate towards black and white graphic illustration like this. Is it because any work that predominantly uses black reminds me of the comic books I like,  like Brian Bolland’s run on Judge Dredd, or Shogun Executioner by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima or because the simplicity is it’s strength, or because I think ‘Hey, I could do that, and not break the bank’? Who knows?

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One more for the road…

Irregardless, at the Peter Kennard exhibition I found some of the best use of photo montage I’ve ever seen (and am quite prepared to rethink my position that collage is for five-year-olds) and some great inspiration for how to go about defining myself through my work.

Now, there’s plenty of stuff that was there that I haven’t talked about, but guess what? Good news! The exhibition is still on (as I write. Don’t blame me if it isn’t when you read this. Just wait some more until someone invents a time machine and then come back and see it). You have until 30th of May 2016 to go see it. And it is free entry, so Check out all the details here then go get some Kennard son!

Workshops with Paul Jenkins

To help the students develop a better understanding of our personal positions as design practitioners, graphic designer and all-round cool dude Paul Jenkins led two workshops with us. There are quite a few guys called Paul Jenkins. I’m talking about this one. The first workshop was about establishing a customer facing description of our studio as a whole. The idea was not to push what we do, but why we do it. He showed us a clip from Simon Sinek’s TED talk on ‘why’. Just watch it next time you fell like watching an epic fail montage on you tube or something. You may not agree with what he says, but his argument is compelling.

So, as a result we were tasked with determining why Press Pass does what it does, how it does what it does and then finally, what it does.

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We all gave our versions and then took a composite from them

Paul had an uphill battle with this, as functionally, our studio was simply a collection of individuals who happened to pick the same studio from a list of four at the start of the year. Press Pass was neither our idea or our raison d’être, so that was something of a hard sell. At this point I was going to tell you what we all came up with, but it might prove far more telling to explain to you why I won’t. Firstly, I don’t actually remember, and yes, that makes it pretty obvious that whatever lessons learned won’t be influencing future work.  Secondly, It’s difficult to check the studio space, as the all the work on the wall is no longer on the wall.

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Students adding a second layer of work on top of the first

After we did the brainstorming in the morning, we all picked a key word from our studio description and illustrated it somehow. The Idea was to stick this work directly on top of the stuff already there. Paul referred to this as a sort of ‘wire-framing’ technique, borrowing the term from website building, I believe. Thusly, once we left for the day, the work started to fall off the walls and no amount of re-taping seemed to prevent gravity from having it’s way in the end. And so the ideology of the Press Pass studio ended up relegated and forgotten on a dusty shelf in the corner. To date, no attempt has been made to give this another go, as quite frankly, getting fifteen people to agree on anything that is deeply personal to them is going to take way more than a couple of hours.

Now, there may be other reasons why this didn’t stick (oh dear, was that an unintentional pun?). I’ll show you the work I did in the second part of the workshop.

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How to illustrate ‘solutions’ in 5 minutes? Not an easy task
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Second attempt with what I had at hand
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A paper cutout intended to be placed on top of the previous versions so you can see them through the holes

One day workshops have a habit of producing underwhelming work. I’m pretty sure we all know it takes more than ten minutes to make a masterpiece, but that doesn’t stop students feeling self-conscious about what they produce and even, occasionally, the workshop leaders being obviously underwhelmed with the results. Paul wasn’t a jerk or anything about it, like I say before, he’s a cool dude, but he couldn’t help but gravitate towards the prettier looking stuff. It’s human nature, what are you going to do? But my point is that most students don’t make a habit of showing off their workshop work to people who aren’t being paid to look at it, so instead of developing our studio’s core focus and the workshop stuff, when it all started falling off, people may have taken it as an excuse to cut and run. That’s conjecture on my part and probably too considered. It probably boils down to inactivity in the studio space in general. And without everyone there to work through it all, it would just end up being the opinions of those who bothered. And there are much better places to voice your own opinions, like on , I dunno, a blog or something. Hey, I’m just sayin’.

We did have another workshop with Paul, where we tried to conceptualise some sort of web content for self promotion. This was another hard sell. Paul wanted us to think deep, and work fast, two things I personally gravitate towards anyway, but a fair amount of the students in our studio don’t feel particularly comfortable doing either of those things. Like i said, you can’t make a masterpiece in ten minutes. I mean, I certainly didn’t.

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‘Touch my face’ artist portfolio app. Well, the theory, anyway

My idea was conceived as an app where you touch various parts of an illustrated version of my face to get a grasp of who I am, so you touch my forehead to see my inspirations, my ears for stuff I like to listen to or my nose to see what I smelling. And what am I smelling? The image that would load would be of a bull taking a dump, so, y’know, do the math.

Again, brainstorming like this in a short amount of time is very difficult and when you don’t really have any notion of the practicalities you are going to have to deal with when realising your idea, it’s mostly a crapshoot. I’m undecided whether this kind of thinking gets easier the more you do it or if it’s just something some people are much better at than others. It’s probably both.

All in all, Paul Jenkins sessions were very taxing, and that alone means they were worthwhile. He gave us plenty to think about and encouraged us to keep refining the studio’s raison d’être. I have grave reservations about how likely that is to happen or even future studio initiatives, considering how we can’t agree with much conviction on why we do what we do among other things. Let’s see what happens, shall we?

New Brief: Manifesto

Following on from our visit from designer Anthony Burrill, our studio was given a new major brief to tackle. The idea was to look at artist manifestos and to effectively create our own, with a minimum of 16 pages to be ultimately bound to the work of all the other students. The work was to end up A4 in size, with the duplicate versions being in black and white to save on printing costs.

The funny thing is: I’d meant to create a manifesto of sorts last year after looking at Lawrence Weiner’s Declaration of Intent. I think I have a clear understanding of the kind of work I what my name associated with. At the very least, I have clear preferences.

My desire for the manifesto was to devote one page to one ideal to strive for. Two major influences were the Make Good Art book of a speech Neil Gaiman gave and a book of posters by one Anthony Burrill. 

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One spread from Neil Gaiman’s book of his speech ‘Make Good Art’

Angharad Lewis, one of the studio leaders, brought this book in from her own collection to show the class. Whilst I’m sure Gaiman made all the words with his mouth, I remain unsure if he is responsible for the design and layout of the book. 

What I tell you next will give you a very large insight into how I perceive graphic design and it’s use. After Angharad showed everyone the book and left it in the studio, I immediately went and read it. I know Neil Gaiman from having read The Sandman, a comic book series he wrote in the eighties or nineties, which is still, to this day, of of the finest examples of comics to show some of the inherent potential of comic books as a medium, which are mostly being squandered in the endless repetition of superhero stories (and don’t get me wrong, I love Batman, the Hulk and all that madness, but they keep rebooting the franchises because they’re diametrically opposed to progress, growth and consequence in all their storytelling). I read Gaiman’s words, I absorbed their meaning, took his points to heart, and then observed they way they had been visualised on the page. This is the way I look at graphic design. To me the accurate dissemination of pertinent information is the core function of ‘graphic design’ in the traditional sense. Aesthetics are secondary.

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Another spread from Gaiman’s book. At least I know if design doesn’t work out for me, I’ll always have my prowess as a hand model to fall back on.

Consider the following works of Burrill below and how they get their point across.

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Anthony Burrill poster 1
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Burrill poster 2. Best. Caption. Ever.

To say there are no design elements in these examples of Burrill’s work would be incorrect, even comparatively speaking, in reference to the book above. However, there is clearly a much stronger focus on the message and it’s beauty. If the layouts in Make Good Art artfully speak, then Burrill’s work boldly shouts from atop a mountain. I lack the experience or, right now, the patience, to design in such a way as the above book, so I decided that my starting point for my manifesto would focus on a more Burrill-istic approach. In a rare situation for me, I actually remembered to show my process as I was doing it. It will become apparent that my skill with text is, shall we say, in it’s infancy, but so what? If Pianists were afraid of playing badly there would be no pianists at all!

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‘Do it now.’ The most direct way to push myself away from my habitual procrastination.
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I think this works, however I do find it much harder to have the confidence in layouts than I would have with illustration proper
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The behind message says ‘do it again’ and I’ve crassly superimposed ‘but better’ over it. The message is strong, the delivery, however…
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The amount of negative space you leave in an image is proportionate to your confidence in the design. So am I at mostly 50/50? Hmm…
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Because no trip to photoshop is complete without the obligatory Gradient effect and/or drop-shadow text. Don’t all groan at once or you’ll push the planet off it’s orbit
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Did you see what I did there?
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I find it very difficult to feel that any kind of layout work like this adds much value…

They say good design is about using the least amount of tools to get your point across unhindered, so putting ‘again’ there three times seems somewhat superfluous to me, but all art is subjective, so the law of averages dictates that all of those versions will find approval from someone.

The most important thing, though, is to have versions. Even if it merely proves you had your best idea first. Having such ground work gives you more confidence going forward and alternatives to consider later. While it’s still fresh in your mind, now’s a good time for you to google Gaiman’s Sandman and then read it. I read mine from my local library, but if you like your ‘free’ with more immediacy and the vague aftertaste of flouting piracy law, you will no doubt have no trouble finding the seminal work online. You’re welcome.

Anthony Burrill visits our studio!

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Here’s a piece of Anthony’s you may recognise…

Graphic designer, print maker and all-round nice guy Anthony Burrill visited our studio recently to give us a brief presentation on who he is, the work he makes and his influences. His talk was biographical in nature, starting with him as a plucky young youth, progressing through his student years and onto some of his bigger project to date. It was a fascinating insight into his journey as a designer.

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Anthony googling the work of Bob and Roberta Smith, which he finds to be inspiring

He also talked about some of the art and artists who inspired him to do the work he does, citing Bob and Roberta Smith as an example.

One of the highlights for me was Anthony talking about his time designing a visual identity for the Hans Brinker hotel in Amsterdam. His exact wording escapes me, but whether the hotel was officially voted the worst hotel in the world, or if it’s poor standards just marked it as below acceptable levels, the decision to make the poor quality of the establishment it’s key selling point led to probably some of the funniest and entertaining advertising I will ever see in my life. ‘Now every sink comes with hot and cold water!’ , ‘Free key with every room!’ and more that I am sad to say I can’t remember, now it comes to writing them down. No doubt you’ll get some more from having a look at the Hans Brinker website

Anthony shot through his presentation at a speed fast enough to enjoy, but not fast enough to enjoy and take pictures at the same time. I was loathe to interrupt him to tell him I didn’t get the pictures I wanted and even after the presentation ended, I didn’t want to pull him away from the constructive feedback he was offering other students to make a big deal out of it. This is the eternal problem with being at an event and participating in it whist having to record it as well. The art of taking the kind of photographs that sum up what happened articulately require you to remove yourself from the event, to position yourself to take the winning photo, however or wherever you need to go. I decided I would rather be a participant far more than an apt documenter. The problem with this, is now I’m telling you the story, but don’t have all the details to pass on what happened succinctly.

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Logo variants for the Hans Brinker budget hotel

Another key point of interest is the fact that he was giving out his ‘Work hard and be nice to people’ poster for free after he originally created it. He couldn’t comprehend that people would be willing to pay for it, or perhaps to rephrase that, he was only interested in getting his work out there and any form of profit was a mute point. This echoes something I read Neil Gaiman say in a book once: ‘Never do it for the money. Those are the projects that never work out.'(That’s a paraphrase I just put in quote marks, oh dear.)

It taps into the notion that making art is not about making money, but about having something to say. It’s the juxtaposition of the cult status icon that is the epitome of strong ideals realised without compromise and the intentional pandering towards trends with the intention to maximise profit at the expense of integrity. I would almost go so far as to say the starving artist vs the commercial designer, but that is far too simple a position to take and is immediately rebuffed by Burrill’s jouney and many others as well. Nevertheless, the point is, as design students, we too, need to be consciously aware of what are motivations are for producing work and if they, in some way, are not what they should be. As I like to say after long awkward silences, ‘good talk, good talk…’

Also, here’s Anthony Burrill’s website., in case you want to buy some prints or something. Tell him Andrew sent you. He won’t have a clue what you’re talking about and you certainly won’t get a discount, but, er, you know what, never mind…

 

Shortlisted Ficciones Typografika Poster

After producing my poster series for consideration for inclusion on the Ficciones Typographica website, Sarah Boris asked me and a few others to revise our posters for a second round of shortlisting.

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Final submission in black and white

This is what I came up with. Sarah suggested removing the gorilla from the image and concentrating on the letterforms. While this went against my earlier desire to make an image out of the letters of my question, that ambition had already been achieved and was ‘banked’, if you like, in the previous versions.

I set about trying to fill the space with my question in a way that was awkward to read, but not illegible.

In a somewhat bizarre turn for me, I don’t feel the need to speak further on this. I did produce a yellow variant on this which was meant to be used, so here it is…

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Yellow variant of my poster.

I believe my dislike for type as the core focus of any work I produce simply stems from my unfamiliarity with how to utilise and modify it to suit my sensibilities. Hopefully, going through this project has given me a bit more experience and familiarity with what I can do with type and what type can do for me. When the next type based project rolls around, then we shall see how my bread is buttered…

Ficciones Typografika Poster Series

Following on from the first Burning Questions Session with Sarah Boris, I revised my monkey calligram for the selection process.

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Gorilla version of my confused monkey

As I was googling monkey images, since, as soon as I start to draw anything, it quickly becomes apparent that I don’t actually know how, gorillas came up. I think gorillas are cool. You would’t start a bar fight fight with a gorilla… I also like drawing them. I don’t get to redact enough documents or draw enough gorillas, so I took the opportunity to get some gorilla drawing done..

Honestly, I prefer the way the hand looks in my earlier version, but I forgot that the posters were supposed to be portrait as well as having colour restrictions. The more muscular form of the gorilla was meant to help me fill two thirds of the poster, as there’s some thing called the golden ratio or something. I read about it in a book. Useful things, books… So from what little I remember, if the composition of an image is split into three sections, it is more pleasing to the eye. That’s why I left the white space above the gorilla’s head.

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Digital version of my poster

It became too problematic to construct the gorilla’s face solely out of the word ‘sense’ so I used what Hollywood has been using to crap all over source material for years: artistic license! I basically gave him a confused face. The letterforms are jagged and I added a filter to give them some sense of being the gorilla’s fur. The question marks, are, as you’ve no doubt noticed, a last minute addition which probably take away more than they add. I guess I wanted to have a little helvetica running through my set of three posters? I don’t know.

So the colour restrictions for Ficciones Typografika were: black on coloured paper. The options of paper colour are white, yellow, blue, green and pink. As it was no big deal, I mocked up all the colour variants, with yellow seeming the most appropriate to run through my entire series.

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White background gorilla. My Initial favourite
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Yellow background gorilla. It seemed more appropriate at the end.
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Blue background gorilla. I like this too. I feel like an Aldi commercial…

The monkey poster was the concept I was focusing on developing the most, but I decided to throw another couple of hats in the ring. It gave me the opportunity to be more dismissive or experimental with the other two I did.

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Am I art? Hand written text, background visible, banana outlined, variant

I immediately liked the idea of the artwork itself asking the viewer if it was art. Again, it ties into the art vs design debate. The choice of the banana on a plinth is twofold. Firstly, it synergises with me having a monkey in another poster who is confused. It could be that the banana is asking the monkey if it is art, as it is on a plinth in a gallery. The second reason is a delightful anecdote I will share with you.

During my time on the foundation course I was on immediately prior to starting the illustration degree, I observed that someone had left an empty coffee cup on one of the plinths that populated some of the corridors. There was construction work taking place in the building over the entire year, so it could have been left there by builders finishing lunch, or it could have been an art student’s take on consumer society and the importance that coffee has in the lives of people who’s day doesn’t started until they’ve had their first cup.That cup stayed on that plinth for the rest of the year. I brought this to the attention of some colleagues, who, like me, could not bring themselves to remove the paper cup either. Such is the power of the object as artform and the confusion that can follow when everyday objects are removed from their familiar context. Maybe that Marcel Duchamp guy knew what he was doing with that urinal…

I bet you didn’t get all that from looking at my picture did you? Am I right? Eh?

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No background, no banana outline, digital type variant

The second version is a more minimalist version. Good design is about using the least amount of elements to get across the complete message, so anything that can be stripped away should be. I think that’s a core difference between illustration and graphic design. Illustrations usually benefit from being lavish, extravagant or having more detail. That of course, is by no means an absolute rule, and many illustrations fly successfully if the face of what I’ve just said, but more stuff equals more effort, and more effort equals dedicated practitioner worthy of more respect, no?

Anyway, all asides aside, here’s the third poster.

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Banana skin with helvetica background

Two pictures using bananas. Now you see the reasoning with the choice of background colour. Banana equals yellow. Please juxtapose that sentence with the above paragraphs to give an aggregate mean of my intelligence, ha ha. As the narrative continues, the gorilla takes the banana, leaving the skin, and the question ‘does it matter’ is all that’s left. Honestly, art is for people with the time and money and effort to waste on it. If you’re happy admiring the banana as a symbol and considering deep meaning, that’s fine. If you’d rather eat it, that’s fine too, provided it’s your banana and you don’t simultaneously attack someones livelihood and commit theft and property damage and whatever absurd crimes you would be committing by eating someone’s bananart.

‘Does it matter’ is a question I ask myself all the time of all things. Does it matter that Kim Kardashian is famous for… whatever she’s famous for? Does it matter that Scotland almost left the United Kingdom and now the referendum on the UK leaving the European Union could leave us all in a perilous predicament. Does it matter that I still haven’t see Guardians of the Galaxy or One Piece? Does it matter whether that coffee cup was art or just one of the builders mocking art by leaving his rubbish in a place that would cause people to hesitate? Does it matter whether you or I have the answers to those questions? Yes, no and everything in between…

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Hand written text variant

The lack of formality that comes with using hand formed text synergises with the sentiment of the question. The question is both intended to keep all things relative to each other when considering what is truly important and also a little bit nihilistic. Just a little bit.

The decision of whether to use the first or second image comes down to ‘which looks better’ or maybe more accurately ‘which looks like I put the most work in?’  This is not just the student looking to avoid being reprimanded by his tutors, but the ‘professional’ looking to avoid giving the client an excuse to further undervalue his work. Having the confidence to show work that will garner disrespect but be more truthful to the message is a difficult prospect, especially as someone still formulating their style, tone and abilities.

That’s more than enough esoteric ramblings for today, so how about I leave you with one more burning question: Ninjas or Pirates? And yes. This one does matter.