Messing Around in my Sketchbook

While this blog is designed to show my working and thinking processes as I create work, it is still important to keep a sketchbook. Since I always end up doing things in photoshop, my sketchbook doesn’t tend to get filled up in an organic way. This week, I tried to fill some pages in my sketchbook and, since I’d effectively explained what I’d done on this blog, I ended up using my sketchbook to play around with layout.

A sample of images I found to use as a sort of mood-board for this years first project, arranged in three columns

I would like to design little books to accompany my work output this year, documenting my processes, research and final outcomes, however I lack the graphic design knowledge, In-Design experience, and mostly, the time to fix that.

Since I had so much raw imagery to print out to put in my book, I elected to print each image small, to save on costs. The most efficient way to do that was to print on a PC (gasp) and use the print wizard option to print multiple images per page. This left me with a large amount of small elements which I could attempt to arrange in an interesting way.


Final outcome page for our first workshop. There’s a four column thing going on here, ruined by the final image. Better luck next time.

I wouldn’t be the first person to let costs influence their design choices. Working within my means is a really strong part of my design ethos and why I use photoshop to paint and cringe every time I have to print out digital content that the whole world can see just to make sure one or two specific people can see it.

Experimental layout. Does this work? If the text was done in In-design, I think it probably would

I find myself in the very awkward position of having to do a greater deal of experimentation than I’ve ever done before, while simultaneously needing to present a singular design style which represents who I am and what I will contribute to the industry. This is brought into sharp relief right now as I hastily try to put together a portfolio to show employers to secure a work placement, that will represent a part of my final grade.

Wish me luck. I have I feeling I’m going to need it…


More Collage work

The Cass students with the suitable temperament and the necessary financial means went to visit the Solent University students in Southampton this Friday. The rest of us were left to our own devices. I had a little look around the collective student database and came across an old account of a stagecoach journey from London to, or through, I should say, Southampton. This journey was recounted in Stage-coach and Mail in Days of Yore: A Picturesque History of the Coaching Age by Charles G. Harper.

John Taylor makes the journey to the Isle of Wight in 1648. He records the event in rhyme, detailing his travels from London to Southampton. I was struck with the idea of trying to illustrate each rhyming couplet (apologies if that isn’t the correct term. My knowledge of poetry doesn’t extend far beyond be know that I like the sound of the phrase ‘iambic pentameter’).

Harper’s lead-in text to John Taylor’s poem. This is something of a placeholder, a way to move towards the bits I know how to do, without worrying about the bits I don’t.

I envisage all the images on a wall in a gallery in order, left to right, starting with this one, which attempts to give a little context to the poem.


First two lines of Taylor’s poem and my collage to represent them

The hope was to blow through the whole poem, not overly considering any single element too long. I did make an attempt to employ the diagonal rule here. Perhaps the background counteracts that? Anyway, moving on.


Alternate version of the first two lines

I’ve further abstracted the horses to cutouts of stagecoach paraphernalia in the shape of chess pieces. I had intended to stick the queen or king piece in my representation of London somehow, but it seems there may have been something of a period of interregnum at the time… More on that… right now.


Continuing the narrative using the existing elements, but also trying to hint at the historical context of the lines and Taylor’s reason for his journey in the first place. Diagonal rule in play again.

John Taylor was making is way to the Isle of Wight to see the recently deposed (former) King Charles I. Oliver Cromwell was doing all that famous history stuff he’s famous for at the time. It was at this time where my inability to conceive a suitable sophisticated way to employ the text began seriously slowing me down. In the hopes of continuing apace with my output, I decided to call it a day with the poem.

I went back to the shared documents folder and saw that another student had made a rather long list of evocative phrases from Spike Island by Philip Hoare. I thought I’d like to try and match the language used to one of the images from the book simply by altering  the colour of the image. While it’s not technically collage, I do think it’s a worthwhile endeavour to see how to apply the visual metaphor in other ways.



This is the base image of Netly Abby as it appears in Philip Hoare’s book Spike Island: The Memory of a Military Hospital

The first quote I used was “More wondrous and magical, as if it were a vision revealed at Nature’s whim” The conclusions I drew weren’t the most imaginative, I’ll admit, but crawl before you run, right?


I deferred from bordering the image with actual plant life

‘Magical’ represented with an aura around the ruins, the green borders symbolic of nature revealing the ruins to the viewer. I tell a lie, also. this wasn’t the first one I did. The first one used the phrase “Veiled in its ghost stories”.


‘Veiled in its ghost stories’

I just put the image in negatives. Now’s as good a time as any to stress that the goal with these images is the thought process and also to generate work to be put back into the shared student archives to be used by other students. This image could be used as a base for some other visual experiment,


“Silent, neglected and forgotten”

To represent the phrase “Silent, neglected and forgotten”, I made the image a night-time view, where the only attention the abbey gets is the occasional glance from the moon. Coming in with a bit of white allowed me to subtly highlight elements of the abbey and make the image more readable. I will definitely look for opportunities to apply this technique in the future.

As before, but with moon and fog

I added fog and the moon to this image to mage it mire eerie. In my defence, Dracula has been brought up in one way shape or form to me for the last three weeks, and that’s completely independent of how close we are to Halloween.


Alternate take on ‘Veiled in its ghost stories’

Finally, I took another shot at ‘Veiled in its ghost stories’, by adding a veil of sorts. It shares the same semiotics, to me, of manga characters talking with their mouths visible but their eyes either out of frame or obscured by shadow. This usually denotes some sinister or troubling revelation or demand from the character in question.

In conclusion,  I’ve tried to mess around a bit and work on some more visual metaphor stuff. While I’d rather steer clear of photoshop this year, the ease and flexibility in which it lends itself to the processes that collage requires is just too much to pass up. It has invariably changed the outcomes I’ve achieved so far, but it’s the best way for me to get to something half decent in the time I have available. I would love to do some more work with the cut-out techniques and element of drawing as well. We’ll have to see how well I can manage my time.

Collage Workshop Part 2

We continued our collage workshop on Tuesday  with the aim of exploring the ‘visual metaphor’. ‘What is a visual metaphor?’ you ask, well, it’s where you show something symbolic of what you’re talking about instead of using a direct image. The best example I can think of, since it came up this week in my dissertation studio, is that of Art Spiegelman portraying Nazi soldiers as cats and Jewish victims as mice in his Pulitzer Prize winning graphic novel Maus.

We were asked to create visual metaphors using collage. Bare in mind that time constraints and a general unease when using collage more than likely prevented me from getting my own Pulitzer Prize.

I decided to use someone else’s starting phrases to generate my metaphors, since, well ‘the polar bear was yellow and dirty’ was a bit too narrow, and ‘Southampton is a 1000 year old nowheresville’ was a bit to big. I’d also sort of done a visual metaphor with ‘dirty concrete enclosures’, but you sort of had to be there to get it.

‘obsessed with morbidity’ collage 1

One of the other students had been looking at an excerpt from Philip Hoare’s book Spike Island: The Memory of a Military Hospital. The phrase ‘obsessed with morbidity’ looked like a good choice to begin with, with quite obvious imagery, and the potential to get more abstract as I went.

Two more takes on ‘obsessed with morbidity’ observing a withered apple and another woman staring into a mirror seeing only decay in her reflection.

Students were then asked to make collages using cut out shapes, something which I was keen to try anyway, since a large roll of coloured papers came into my possession not so long ago.

Another representation of a woman looking at a withered apple. I used smooth harmonious lines on the woman and jagged lines on the fruit to symbolise their beauty and decay respectively

Adding pen-work on top helps bring out the meaning more distinctly, I feel.

A more abstract version of the same idea, with just a tip of the nose, fringe and eye to represent the woman.

Both of the colour paper images were designed to give consideration to the rule of thirds, where basically, to help the compositional appeal of an image, you avoid putting things dead centre. There are also elements of the diagonal rule in play. The diagonal rule isn’t very complicated, simply lead the viewer’s eye from one corner to the opposite one by putting all the ‘stuff’ in between them. (Top left to bottom right or bottom left to top right, etc, etc).


Applying the diagonal rule to an old piece. It is more ‘dynamic’ now, wouldn’t you agree? Maybe too much…

We were also asked to come up with some text based imagery. Like I said, Pulitzer Prize next time.


Not the most innovative image ever, but from these humble beginnings…


Difficult to read, not very clever. Unfinished, also, but that’s the point. One can always come back and improve, or go forward and improve

Ultimately, I feel the day was well spent. A lot was asked of us, and collage is a logistically difficult thing to do to a strict schedule, especially when you don’t have that sixth sense of what to bring, and how to pull it all together that only practice can bring. I need to do a lot more exploratory work, really push the limits of what works and what doesn’t. One problem of ‘knowing what “works”‘ is that all this art and crafts and design and what not, is subjective. Legibility and readability are crucial (unless they aren’t, of course), but layout, colour use, text placement and all the rest are not so easy to feel confident about.

The best thing to do is, well, do. It’s always easier to look over a pile of finished stuff and see what stands out rather than worrying about doing it right once. Who ever uses their first draft? Am I right? The problem is, of course, creating that body of work to reflect over in the first place. I guess it’s time for me to get back to my core focus when it comes to illustration: doing it fast, and as well as possible, but definitely fast.

Collage Workshop

Our first workshop of the year was on collage. Students were asked to have a look at Solent University’s Southampton content and take three sentences from it to use as the foundation for the workshop.

I took ‘the polar bear was yellow and dirty’ and ‘dirty concrete enclosures’ from Anna Vicker’s email about the zoo that used to be in Southampton.  I also took ‘ Southampton is a 1000 year old nowheresville’ from Owen Hatherley’s book A Guide To The Ruins of Great Britain. From those sentences, I then generated two mood-boards.

Author’s mood-boards of Southampton stuff.
Author’s mood-board of zoo stuff.

Following that, we were asked to do some sketches to show how we would combine the imagery we had.

Nowheresville sketches
Polar bear sketches
Dirty concrete enclosures sketches

Following that, we were asked to create three collages. I opted for one of each sentence.

Polar bear and Nowheresville
Dirty concrete enclosures

The imagery isn’t exactly earth shattering, but I know as much about collage as you know about American wrestling. And there’s probably quite a lot of unfair and callous assumptions being made regarding both of those things (but not altogether untrue).

We were then asked to add one colour to each image to try and alter/enhance the meaning.

Yellow for polar bear, red for nowheresville
Does the elephant’s red shadow represent animal cruelty? Well this is all starting to look like ‘art’ to me, so you tell me.
Comic sans for the win.

It was at this point that we were invited to use some text. We were to change the delivery origin of the words to change the message of the imagery.

6 image ‘narrative’
The final task was to crop an image several times to create a narrative without the use of words again. 

Up to this point, I’ve let the images do the talking. Now, I think it’s time to use some words to do some talking.  Firstly, I wasn’t actually present at the workshop and relied on the brief which was given out in preparation for the workshop, secondly, all my image creation was done digitally. Has this intrinsically changed the outcomes I’ve ended up with? Absolutely. Have I misinterpreted the brief, quite possibly. For the worst? Who can say.

It seems silly to me to have to print stuff out, ( at cost) to cut up, to stick back together again, to digitize, to then upload. That said, I understand that one gains greater understanding of one’s craft through the process itself. It’s just that collage isn’t one of my processes. I googled ‘collage’ and the first page was basically pictures of stuff made out of smaller things (Steve Jobs out of Apple products, the Joker out of quotes from The Dark Knight, you know what I’m talking about). Neil Buchanan did that every week in art attack, no? Who’s Neil Buchanan? Never mind that.

My point is this: collage is a combination of tools and techniques that I simply have a very limited experience with. Being acutely aware of how limited my knowledge of my core tools and techniques are, it concerns me to have to take away time from becoming proficient in my chosen area of expertise.  ‘Genius lies not in the deep knowledge of one subject, but in the potential realised by combining disciplines.’ I’m aware of this, whoever I may be paraphrasing this week, but that doesn’t alleviate my concerns about my shortcomings.

The doctors prescription for this is simple, then: do more of everything. Problem solved. Next Question?

CIP: Beyond Limits Final Posters

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

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

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

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

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

Collage can be fun!
Collage can be fun!

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

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

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

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

My first poster
My first poster

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

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

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

Third poster
Third poster

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