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.

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…

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.

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.

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.

White background gorilla. My Initial favourite
Yellow background gorilla. It seemed more appropriate at the end.
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.

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?

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.

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…

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.

Burning Questions with Sarah Boris

All students in the second year of their degree must select a studio from a choice of four to spend the rest of the year working in. Each studio contains second and third year students, who also go through the same process for a second time. Each studio is supposed to offer some flexibility in what it offers so both the graphics and illustration students feel they can pick from any studio. If I haven’t explicitly stated this anywhere, let me say it now: my illustration degree runs in conjunction with the graphic design course. So, as I’ll be explaining to friends, family and prospective employers and clients for the rest of my life, my degree in illustration is actually a degree in graphic design. If you’re waiting for me to add ‘and illustration’ to the end of that last sentence, join the queue, ‘cos I’m waiting too…

Anyway, the studio I picked was called the Press Pass studio. It’s mandate is to focus of the finished, published article, with an emphasis on developing my ‘inner wordsmith’. As David Hobson, one of my foundation tutors so adequately put in when remarking on my work, ‘You can draw well enough’ and while I might argue that I have a very long way to go,  I do agree with the sentiment. What I need more help with is getting from realised concept to finished product, having something that doesn’t look like it was made by a student or amateur enthusiast but by a designer. Something I can charge people for! Press Pass seemed to be a pretty good fit for that.

Our first brief was given to us by Sarah Boris, one of the four core tutors in our studio. She first introduced herself, giving us an overview of her work before joining the course. There was some interesting stuff in there, which I won’t give justice to, explaining it here, so have a look at her website.

Sarah Boris introducing herself then moving onto our first brief

Our first brief was titled Burning Questions. The goal was to produce a poster or a series of three posters to be typographic in nature that would be judged, with shortlisted selections being considered for entry onto the Ficciones Typografika website.

We were each asked to come up with a burning question, a genuine concern we have about our futures as designers. I made a list which contained questions such as: Is this art? Does it make sense? Must it make sense? And a few more. Upon showing the list to Sarah, she was intrigued with does it make sense?. The rest of the session was spent then trying to come up with how to visually represent the notion after a little warm up exercise, but before I move onto that I should clarify what that question means to me.

As I allude to in my post on Font by Fiona Banner, the difference between art and design is about ease of understanding. It’s also about the speed of comprehension. You go to a gallery to look at something that is hopefully worth pondering, but a poster needs to get you as you walk past. So my question is tapping into the broader area of ‘is this art or design?’ Also, in a more mundane way it addresses a core concern every designer must always be wary of: ‘do people get what I’m saying?’ Good design is about imparting all your information with the least amount of distractions or, flourishes, if you will. Failure to communicate the information clearly and concisely is unacceptable. So there’s that as well. These were my thoughts going forward.

Sarah suggested we all write ‘hello’ big on a piece of paper. I don’t remember what her intentions with this were, maybe to see how we tackle creating type by hand?

My best work ever. Hold the applause. Stare at it long enough and you might see the face in the background.

It was worth doing for me because I’m not a fan of type led design. It meant that I just had to get stuck in, and knowing next to nothing makes it really easy to learn something useful just about all the time. Some of the more observant readers will have noticed that I came looking for a degree in illustration, not to say that one can’t make delightful illustrated type, but like I always say ‘dammit, I just want to draw ninjas and robot!’. My interests are with comics, storyboards, book illustrations, poster art, concept art for video games, those sorts of things. Things more traditionally associated with, here’s that word again, illustration. This is why, following this exercise, I wanted to focus on making my text as image. Sarah had shown us some artwork to help inspire us and there were examples of, perhaps ‘calligram’ is the wrong word, but images of things that were constructed solely of words. It just wasn’t things like a heart shape made out of the repeated use of the word ‘heart’.

Rough draft of initial concept

So I drew a monkey scratching it’s head. The question ‘Does it make sense?’ Makes up all of the form. ‘Does this’ is the body, ‘makes’ is the arm, ‘sense’ is the face. The ‘make’ being upside-down and the ‘sense’ being split up make comprehension far slower. This ties into my statements earlier about art vs design and the speed at which the reader is expected to understand your message.

Tightened up first draft

In the tightened up version of my monkey, I added a furrowed brow to emphasise the confusion on the monkey’s face. If you’re really sharp and have far too much time on your hands you may have noticed I’ve made a rather large blunder. Last chance to look for it before I tell you… It’s not that obvious, because it involves the face, but the nose to the chin is a ‘c’. The face, with the exception of the brow marks, is made up of the word ‘sense’. There is no ‘c’ in ‘sense’. Oh dear. I now commit seppuku. Oh what an artist dies in me! Ahem.

‘Does this make sense?’ written in black, spread across a grid of white letters

I also produced a couple of alternate designs. The question is written in black letters dispersed amongst random white letters. Again, the idea was to slow the speed of comprehension.

As above, except the random letters were replaced with question marks

The second version replaced the random letters with question marks. This wouldn’t have presented a strong enough deterrent to immediate understanding, but it is worth noting these ideas were purely formative. One must work through the initial ideas to get to something more interesting and productive. Please ignore the fact that my monkey was actually my first idea. It was born in response to the work of others, unlike the other two, which were effectively born in a vacuum, benefiting only from my inexperience with letterforms as the focal point of a design.

So that sums up the initial session on burning questions. I’ll see you next tim, same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!