Exhibitions – World Illustration Awards 2017

This was the first time I had seem an exhibition of illustrations and I was quite bowled over by it! The range of styles and techniques, the riot of colour, the humour and wit was all amazing! I was struck by how, in daily life, I am surrounded by these incredible illustrations and I barely notice – there were images on display that had been created as editorial work for newspapers which probably would have been glanced at my most people before the paper was tossed into the recycling.  I now have a whole new appreciation for illustrative work!

For me, it was also a great privilege to be able to read a little about how the artists created their work and the techniques they used. It was particularly noticeable how much of the work was wholly or partially digital.  I particularly enjoyed watching a timelapse video of a digital illustration being created, starting with a hand drawn pencil sketch that was scanned in and then coloured in using Photoshop. Something I am going to have to try myself!

These were the stand out pieces for me:

Tony Rodriguez – Bill Murray: Mark Twain Prize

I particularly like the pen and ink style of this illustration, in particular the creation of texture on the skin using fine pen lines. I also like the ‘busy’ background. There are more details about the image are artist here.

Richard Allen – Wave

This image was created as a cover image for Sunday Telegraph Money section. It took me a little while to understand what I was looking at but when I realised it was  Trump’s hair taking the place of Hokusai’s Great Wave – I thought it was genius! Given how Trump’s bellicose rhetoric  is threatening the stability of the Korean peninsula at the moment I thought this was an incredibly clever and witty image.

Oivind Hovland – Skaanevik Fjord Hotel

I really liked this child-like illustration of life around the hotel. I liked it’s ‘busy’ nature with  lots going on and lots to look at. I also really liked how there is so much detail packed into the image but it is using simple shapes and a simple colour palette. More details here.

Alice Yu Deng – Tashirojima: The Cat Island

I have to confess that I probably really like this because I like cats and I like Japan 🙂 That said, I do like images where there is quite a lot going on and I enjoyed looking at the sunbathing cats in their different poses. I also thought this was a very clever way to depict the Japanese ‘cat island’ where cats and people live in harmony. More details here.

Sam Pierpoint – Visit Bristol Christmas Campaign

This model wasn’t actually on display at the exhibition but I saw it on the website and thought it was beautiful. More details here.


Exhibitions – Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave

The Hokusai exhibition at the British Museum (seen August 2017) displayed works from the last 30 years of Hokusai’s life when he is considered to have produced some of his most memorable works. Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849) is widely regarded as one of Japan’s most famous and influential artists, producing works right up until his death at the age of 90.

About Hokusai

At the age of 18, Hokusai was accepted into the studio of Katsukawa Shunshō. Shunshō was an artist of ukiyo-e, a style of wood block prints and paintings. Shunshō, focused on images of the courtesans and Kabuki actors who were popular in Japan’s cities at the time.

Upon the death of Shunshō in 1793, Hokusai began exploring other styles of art, including European styles he was exposed to through French and Dutch copper engravings he was able to acquire. Hokusai also changed the subjects of his works, moving away from the images of courtesans and actors that were the traditional subjects of ukiyo-e. Instead, his work became focused on landscapes and images of the daily life of Japanese people from a variety of social levels. This change of subject marked a significant change in the ukiyo-e style and in Hokusai’s career.

Hokusai was known by at least 30 names during his lifetime. Although the use of multiple names was a common practice of Japanese artists of the time, the numbers of names he used far exceeds that of any other major Japanese artist. In 1820, Hokusai changed his name to “Iitsu. It was during the 1820s that Hokusai reached the peak of his career. His most famous work, 36 Views of Mount Fuji, including the famous Great Wave off Kanagawa, dated from this period. Among the other popular series of prints he published during this time are A Tour of the Waterfalls of the Provinces and Unusual Views of Celebrated Bridges in the Provinces. He also began producing a number of detailed individual images of flowers and birds.

Hokusai had a long career, but he produced most of his important work after age 60. His most popular work is the ukiyo-e series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, which was created between 1826 and 1833. His ukiyo-e transformed the art form from a style of portraiture focused on the courtesans and actors popular during the Edo Period in Japan’s cities into a much broader style of art that focused on landscapes, plants, and animals.

My thoughts on the Exhibition

It was wonderful to see Hokusai’s beautiful prints ‘in person’, especially the very famous ‘Mount Fuji Seen Below a Wave at Kanagawa’ (smaller than I thought it would be!).

However, for me the stars of the show where the pieces that Hokusai created at the end of his life, particularly the ‘Old Tiger in the Snow’ and the dragon emerging from storm clouds. Although there is some speculation that his daughter Oi may have assisted in creating these works, they are incredibly delicate and detailed. His tiger seems to be full of joy, bouncing through the snow, and his dragon, emerging from storm clouds, with it’s almost human face, is full of life and movement.

I also particularly liked all of his images of birds and animals as they were full of life and personality.  For example, in the image ‘Weeping Cherry and Bull Finch’ the finch is not sitting passively on the cherry branch but is hanging almost upside down.

What really stood out for me with a lot of the works on display, was the sense of fun and joy in the images. I was quite surprised to see images of laughing ghosts and cartoon-like ‘manga’ figures. The images were all beautiful, delicate and a joy to see.


Part 3 – Exercise 3: Seeing the Light

Using only an image of a light bulb, the word ‘light bulb’ and a block of colour of your choice, create different designs that explore visual dynamics.

I began this exercise thinking about the colour I would use for my ‘block of colour’. I really felt that I wanted my chosen colour to somehow represent ‘light’ but I didn’t want to choose yellow as that felt a bit obvious.  Instead, I decided that my chosen colour would be white and therefore the background of my designs would need to be black.

This raised some interesting questions..

Is white a colour?

If I remember correctly from my school physics lessons, in the world of light it is. Combining all colours of the spectrum makes white light. Conversely, black is the absence of all colour, so choosing my colour block to be white and background black, felt like it did make some logical sense to me.

However, from a printing sense, we typically start with a sheet of white, ‘blank’ paper on which coloured inks are placed, so in this sense, white is the absence of colour.

Despite some misgivings that white would not be considered a ‘colour’ for this exercise, I decided to try it anyway, with my black background and white block of colour to see how it worked out.

Interestingly, because I am so used to white paper representing ‘nothing’,  I found it quite difficult to draw the thumbnails on paper when my colour block was white – I found myself almost having to think in reverse. For this reason, I drew my colour block on the thumbnails in yellow, so I could more easily see what was ‘colour’!

I approached this exercise by drawing as many different design layouts as I could think of, without thinking too hard about the visual dynamics of the individual designs. I then picked about 20 which I thought represented the different layout styles. I recreated these selected designs using Adobe Illustrator.

My thumbnail designs are below.

My edited set of designs:









Thoughts on the Visual Dynamics of these Designs

Designs where all the elements of the design have a role to play in the overall message worked well for me, such as the design below, where both the white block and the word ‘Light’ are representing the spread of light from a bulb. The word bulb is clearly relating to the small object that is creating the light. The spread of light from a bulb is much bigger than the bulb itself, so it made sense for the word ‘light’ to be bigger than ‘bulb’ in this instance.

Designs where  the elements don’t all appear to be serving a purpose, do not work so well. In the design below, I am questioning why there is a block of white floating in space, without any obvious connecting with the other elements?

Designs where the white colour block is merely serving as a background label for the text, as in the designs below, generally work but are less interesting. I feel there is a missed opportunity for the white colour, which could be contributing more to the overall design.


Designs where the layering does not follow a logical order, do not work so well for me.

In this example above, I am questioning why the bulb is hidden behind the white colour block, which is quite distracting. That said, I quite like the design below, which also follows a somewhat illogical layer order, but I am more accepting of this as I think of the image of the bulb as the most important element, so I am happy to see it first. It feels more playful to me that the image is so dominant that it is blocking out the text.

The design below works well for me in terms of the layer order. I am reading the words naturally from left to right and diagonally across and down the page. Each word feels like it is associated with the correct visual element and the bulb, which is more important that the colour block, is layered above it.

Designs that are a little bit playful and make me work a little bit to understand them, work well for me, such as the two designs below:


The design below does not work at all for me. I can’t easily read the text and there is no logical reason why the text is half black ad half white.

The design below is the one that works best for me.

I like the balance between the position of the text and the image and the symmetry and simplicity of the black and white colours. The diagonal split is visually interesting and I get a sense of that sudden transition when you switch a light on and the room is instantly flooded in light. It also feels very natural for me to read the text first in the top left corner and then for my eye to travel to the bottom right to see the image.

Interestingly, despite thinking I had pretty much exhausted all possible designs, I have now noticed that almost all of my designs have the text positioned horizontally with both words running in the same direction. I could have had more designs with the two words split and running in different directions, more designs that could make use of diagonals or I could have had some text upside down. I can see that escaping your conditioning and designing something which is less obvious can be quite hard!

Part 3 – Exercise 2: Signs and Symbols

Choose one of the following concepts: Danger, Movement, Love, Here

How does existing visual language represent these concepts? Research the different similes and metaphors that are in common use. Document them through drawings, collecting examples and mind maps.

Now create an alternative symbol to represent at least one of these concepts.

I decided to choose the concept of ‘here’ for this exercise as it wasn’t immediately obvious what signs and symbols would represent ‘here’ apart from the obvious ‘map pin’ and pointing arrow and I was interested to see what I could come up with.

Signs and symbols for ‘here’ involve indicating a location. They draw the eye to a specific area or object of interest. Typically symbols can be map pins, pointing fingers or arrows.


Signs for ‘here’ can also be lines that mark an area or boundary, such as:

The word ‘HERE’ is also often used to indicate ‘here’.. such as ‘Ice Cream Available Here’

My mind map exploring the symbols relating to ‘here’ is below.

My thumbnail sketches exploring symbols for ‘here’ are below:

I chose the concept of a pointer dog as an alternative symbol for ‘here’. The dog is still effectively a ‘pointing’ symbol but is a different form of pointer from the more usual fingers, arrow heads and map pins.

I sketched the outline of a pointer dog in his ‘pointing’ stance and then simplifed the image into a series of angular shapes.

I used Adobe Illustrator to digitally create the same shapes and then combined them together into the dog outline.

I made the outline of the dog red to attract the viewer’s attention and gave the dog a pointy red nose, intended to pin point exactly where the viewer should be looking. My final symbol is below:



When I put my new symbol into practice on a map, I was a bit concerned that it wasn’t standing out, so I reversed the colours to make it predominantly red (and easier to see).




Graphic Designers – Paula Scher

Paula Scher is an American graphic designer born in 1948. In 1972 she started her career at CBS records working in the advertising department. Two years later she moved to Atlantic Records where she became art director and designed album covers. Several years later she moved back to CBS to work as art director for the covers department.

In 1984 she co-founded Koppel & Scher producing identities, packaging, book jackets, and advertising. In 1991, she joined Pentagram as a partner.

In addition to her commercial work, she creates and exhibits large, hand-drawn maps covered in handwritten text.


I particularly like her bright, bold, flat colours and busy images with lots of text.  I like how there is a sense that she ‘draws’ with the text. There is a sense of a Victorian poster loaded with writing with some of her work.  I really like her hand-drawn maps. There is so much text that it is very engaging to look at.

Assignment 2 – Reflection on Tutor Feedback

Some general thoughts on the feedback from my tutor for assignment 2 and the exercises for part 2 of the course.

General thoughts so far:

I am really enjoying the course so far. Some parts feel familiar – like analysing a brief and really considering what would work for my target audience rather than what works for me – in my past work as an IT system designer, this was something I was used to doing. Some parts, however, are very alien – like drawing!!

I also find coming up with ideas quite a slow and painful process. I was worried that this was a sign that I wasn’t a very creative person but I am feeling a bit more reassured that this is normal – and even prolific creatives have to work quite hard to develop their ideas. I had it in my mind that a true creative person would be given a brief and ideas would just immediately pop into their head and I was frustrated that this never happened with me. I am learning that you need time and space to develop an idea. Discovering mind maps has been a great asset for me – I can start with nothing but a single word on a page and slowly, if I’m patient, thoughts and ideas will start to emerge 🙂

My tutor has suggested three general areas for development:

1) Exploring your thumbnails and a happy level / medium for producing these

I am getting more relaxed about drawing thumbnails and noticed I have started to add tone with pencil. I will try to develop this further with marker pens, and will experiment with some colour 🙂

2) Documenting influences and theories with greater independent focus

The influence of work by other graphic designers, current trends or historical influences, is not something I think much about at the moment so I need to explore this more.

3) Explore sentiments of fun in your work

My tutor has noticed that my work so far has often involved an element of fun. I like drawing cartoon characters and child-like illustrations and am often drawn to work that is humorous, witty, entertaining and fun. I had not really noticed this myself but I will explore this a more as it could be a direction for my ‘design style’.

Working to a brief

My tutor found it interesting that I would choose different briefs depending whether I was working commercially or personally. Working for a client, you have a responsibility to produce work that meets their expectations, on time and within budget,  and to do that you need a clear understanding of what they want. I felt commercially, brief 1 would give the best chance of a successful outcome. Personally, however, I probably would have found brief 1 a bit dull, because I know what needs to be done and that I could do it, so I think this suggested that creatively, I like to be challenged, but not when someone else is paying for it or breathing down my neck to get it done!

This led to an interesting discussion about how commercially, creative work is often about just following trends and doing the same thing that everyone else is doing, which is often exactly what your client wants. This was something that was a real issue for me working as a wedding photographer for 5 years. There was an expectation that I would produce exactly the same photos for every wedding (..the shoes, the dress hanging up, the cake etc.) and there was certainly no time or desire from the clients to do anything different. This sausage factory approach to photography became very repetitive and I eventually gave it up because I was so bored with it!

My tutor has suggested some reading material by other designers who have tackled the issue of keeping the creative spark alive while still doing the more mundane day-to-day work to earn money to live. I definitely liked the idea of taking periodic ‘creative sabbaticals’ from work!!!

Interestingly, my tutor also suggested that the different briefs could give an indication of where my design interests might lie, with brief 2 indicating a more authorial / personal driven approach. This wasn’t something I considered in choosing this brief  and was a bit of a surprise as I would not have said I much like talking about myself and my experiences.

Visualising your ideas

The leaflet design was an interesting exercise in how you might share design ideas with a client. I raised a concern that ‘scruffy sketches’ would not be professional enough to show to a paying client, but my tutor made a very good point that if the ‘rough drawings’ look too precise and tidy, it is harder to quickly throw them away. At the early stage of a design process, it is much easier to reject a sketch that has had little time invested in creating it. Very good advice!

Finishing your Artwork

I had so much fun creating the POS displays for this exercise and learning how to make an animation, I am glad that the ‘risk’ I took in creating digital displays paid off. My tutor raised the question of how, after successfully getting the kids into the store, I would actually get them to eat (and therefore, their parents to buy) any fruit and veg. I had given some thought to this around my ideas of the ‘5-a-day gang’ and the ‘fruit and veg explorers’ in maybe having the store do something in conjunction with the school about healthy eating, or handing out stickers to children when their parents buy fruit and veg but it wasn’t something I explored very far.


My tutor has suggested that I consider  switching my degree path to Visual Communications and studying graphic design and illustration. This is certainly food for thought!! I was already thinking of moving away from a purely photography pathway and had investigated the illustration course but had rejected it on the basis that I wasn’t an artist! My tutor thinks I may have more ability for illustration that I think, so I am certainly going to investigate this again. The idea is very appealing!

Feedback on Assignment 2

Overall the feedback on this assignment was very positive and I was very pleased as I had worked quite hard on this assignment. My tutor raised the following points to consider further:

The cards show appropriate use of folk references, how could this ‘folk visual language’ be raised further?

I felt that style of my finished cards had drifted away a little from the ‘folk art’ styling of my mood board. If I am honest, it wasn’t quite straight in my head exactly what I meant by ‘folk art’ which is why I don’t think I adhered to it very closely, so better research and a clearer idea of the look I was trying to achieve would have helped. As my tutor pointed out, using a particular colour palette or patterns might have helped to reinforce the folk art feel. I hadn’t really considered the colour palette at all (except for wanting my collages to reflect the colours of what I was depicting, such as brown for a donkey). I had actually tried to make my cut out flowers look like the folk art flowers on the mood board but it was too difficult to cut out the flowers like that by hand. I did also consider adding some cut out flowers to the envelopes and the inside of the cards, which may have given a more folk art feel to the whole product, not just the front of the card.

A sensitive font is used – but why does this work?

This is a really hard question for me to answer and I’m thinking that ‘because it felt right’ isn’t going to be a satisfactory answer!!

I had to think quite hard about why I though this font worked.. I think it is because the serifs give a sense of the font looking a little old fashioned and therefore ‘traditional’. The rounded letters are gentle and friendly and the circles at the ends of the ‘r’ and ‘y’ are quite decorative, fitting in quite well with the ‘folk art’ theme.

An additional part of your research might be into the aesthetics of cards and ascertaining an understanding of where your images might be located here.

I wasn’t quite clear what this meant so I will need to clarify.

Does your approach lean towards storybooks? Children? Playful responses?

Interestingly, yes! Without thinking about it, I knew I wanted the cards to be playful and have ‘jokes’ on them. I do think I lean towards this approach and need to explore this more.


Part 3 – Research Point: Visual Dynamics

How do your eyes travel around the items you have collected? What do you look at first? Where is the contrast in what you are looking at?

Emma Dunbar: A Riotous Bunch on Yellow

My eyes travel first to the colourful flowers, then to the jug and then left to the cup.  I then become aware of the background – the table that the jug is standing on and the slight difference in the shading of the panels of the background. I then go back to the flowers to look at them in more details.

The contrast in this image is in the red, pink and purple colours of the flowers and the yellow of the rest of the image. Layering of the jug on top of the table gives context to the image. The slight panel of yellow behind the flowers help to frame it and make it stand out.

Ed Ruscha – Standard Station 1966 (Colour Screen Print)

In this image, I look first at the word ‘Standard’, then the white building (from left to right), then the petrol pumps, then the orange background, particularly the boundary between the orange and blue,  and finally, the blue background.

My eye is naturally drawn to the text first because I want to read it, it is quite large and prominent and is naturally on the left of the frame, travelling right. The building follows the same line as the text, so my eye travels quite naturally to it. The contrast in this image is between red and white, with the white really standing out. The orange and blue background give a sense of context, looking like the hot desert ground and cloudless sky. The gradient in the orange background also gives a sense of depth.

Ed Ruscha – Made in California

My eye is drawn straight to the text in this image, which I read from top to bottom. I take in the orange background and then go back over the text to examine the ‘water droplet’ details of the letters.

The only contrast here is the writing which is slightly darker than the background (and also is picked out with some highlights).

‘Apricot rose’ by Volontaire (Malin Åkersten Triumf and Yasin Lekorchi) with a photograph by Niklas Alm for Amnesty International, 2007.

My eye is drawn straight to the light coloured rose, in particular the centre where the petals are close together. Then I examine the sutures which I find very disturbing and which look very out of place stitched into the rose. I find the rose and sutures very compelling but eventually notice the darker leaves of the rose. I eventually look at the background. I don’t know what it is and I find I don’t feel I need to know but I am quite distracted by the blob of what looks like plasticine as I don’t know why that is there. The last thing I look at is the text. Because it is small, I have to make an effort to read it and I only read it when I have seen enough of the image to want to know more about the poster.

The contrast in this image is in the light coloured rose and the rest of the image, which is dark. There is also contrast in the soft and natural nature of the rose and the violence and injury of the sutures.

I thought I would try out some visual dynamics analysis on a promotional card on display in a local coffee shop.  Interestingly, my eye was not drawn straight to the most obvious element, which was the red writing, instead it went straight to the drink and then to the lemon. It was a hot day and the long, cold drink and bright, sunny lemon just looked too enticing! My eye then went to the title writing, although I think I noticed the green ‘zesty lemonade’ more than the red ‘summer goodness’. Then I looked up at the bunting and then down to the logos at the bottom. To me the black and brown coffee shop logo looks out of place and is quite distracting.

Assignment 2 – Self Assessment


I tried quite hard, for this assignment, to create a series of cards that really had not been done before. I thought of a reasonable number of ideas for the card ‘audience’ before deciding on the cards for morris dancers.

It is possible, if you look very hard, to find a small number of cards which have morris dancers on them but not cards that feature more specific morris dancer ‘jokes’ or are for morris specific events. I was pleased that I eventually created 5 cards with very morris specific sentiments.


I spent quite a lot of time researching for this assignment, first exploring some of my other target groups (e.g. people with a terminal illness) and then researching the world of morris dancing. I really wanted my cards to resonate with morris dancers so I wanted to understand their costumes and props, the terms they used, the names of dances, morris events they would attend, what were typical ‘morris’ problems etc.  I was pleased that my research allowed me to create 5 cards that were very ‘morris’ specific.

Visual and Technical Skills

My final card designs were quite restricted by what I thought I would be able to achieve technically. I am still finding my way around Adobe Illustrator and I did struggle with printing the cards on my home printer. Although my collage images were quite simple, I thought they were quite effective, especially as I felt that a simple image, hand-crafted from recycled papers, would appeal to my morris dancer audience.


As my cards were intended for morris dancers, I made a point of avoiding the obvious jokes which would ‘poke fun’ at morris dancing. Instead, I wanted to celebrate morris dancing and understand what morris dancers would connect with. I also wanted to counteract the notion that morris dancing was very old fashioned by using quite a contemporary style of card. My simple and eco-friendly design was also intended to appeal specifically to morris people.

Assignment 2 – Thoughts

I started out on this assignment thinking it was going to be quite a straight forward task – designing greetings cards did not sound like it was going to be too difficult! However, it turned out to be quite a labour of love!

Most of the effort involved in creating these cards actually went into researching who my cards should be for, researching my chosen audience (the morris dancers) and thinking of ideas for the cards themselves.

It was surprisingly difficult to understand enough about a target group to make a series of cards that would resonate with and be meaningful to that group. I was fortunate in that I had access to a small group of morris dancers who were able to explain the morris community to me, suggest ideas for cards and critique what I had done. This would have been a very difficult exercise without the input of this group.

Also, printing is a black art that requires infinite patience.