A complaint I heard several times from several students during the Southampton project was this: ‘Why are we bothering with Southampton when we’re in London?!? This is one of the capital cities of the world!’ Well, be careful what you wish for…
The second term means a new brief, and this one is set in London. Representing the ‘Reporter’ half of our ‘Author/Reporter’ studio, our new brief sees us dealing with psychogeography, anthropological documentation and who knows what else. We are tasked with recording the experience of being in a place and turning it into some sort of visual package which communicates said experience to someone else.
There was talk of the theory of the derive by Guy Debord and the Mass Observation movement of the 1930s. We can also expect another slew of workshops ranging from letterpress to laser cutting.
Once the brief was discussed, we were given our first task: to go to Brick Lane, around the corner, and record our experience. We were encouraged to think about all the senses, not just sight.
In a bizarre twist, I found myself more interested in the ground than in my usual illustrative mainstay: people. I found that the floor and the different brickwork, cracks and all the rest created patterns that I could imagine abstractified and turned into framed art. Kind of minimalist in style. I show examples of what I mean in this video. You’ll have to weather me talking about Black Dynamite and Harvey Birdman first, but really, what a first-world problem!
The irony isn’t lost on me that the one time I step out of my comfort zone of my own volition is the one time it conflicts with the brief. From what I understand from the research materials being offered, this project is about capturing what people do now, for future reference. No detail is too small. The way people drink their coffee, how they wear their (skinny) jeans, the always looking at the phone thing. It’s the sort of thing Martin Parr would home in on.
There’s a lot going on here and I don’t imagine many students are going to grasp the depth or scale of our potential undertakings anymore than I do. I think it will be just as likely to create something bold and interesting as well as something turgid and pointless. There’s going to be a lot of second guessing going forward, I suspect…
Having been asked to create a 16 page manifesto, let me show you what I did, a few pages at a time.
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.
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 tworeally 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!