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.
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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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One side of my sprayed paddle. The handle is covered with masking tape to keep it red.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.