Part 3 – Exercise 6: Photomontage

For this exercise you are going to make a montage or collage with a political message. Collect images from newspapers, magazines, your own photographs or images online.  Create new meanings out of these extant images by juxtaposing and contrasting them. Be imaginative, playful, provocative or humourous. In your learning log reflect on the original meaning of the images and your subsequent collage. Write a short evaluative statement.

Choosing an Issue

I started this exercise, first by considering political issues that interested me and that I thought would be good subjects for a photomontage.

I decided to explore the issue of victim blaming for my montage. ‘Victim blaming’ is where the victim of a crime or an assault is considered to be partially or wholly responsible for what has happened to them. It is a term very commonly directed at women who have been assaulted or raped – typically the woman’s behaviour, what she was wearing or the fact that she might have been drinking, are regarded as contributing factor towards the assault.  It is a subject I am quite interested in and which has been raised in the media quite a lot recently.

I began by reading around the subject and assessing my thoughts and feelings on the topic. I created a mind map to document my general thoughts and added in some images to help me start thinking in terms of a photomontage.

Before I started this analysis, I thought I was very clear about what ‘victim blaming’ was but I found this mind mapping exercise very useful in revealing that my understanding of victim blaming was quite mixed up with other closely related issues such as objectification of women, male entitlement and the question of what constitutes consent. I spent quite a lot of time really picking apart my thoughts here, which proved extremely valuable in helping me to get a very clear idea of what ‘victim blaming’ actually was. Having a really clear understanding of the issue, helped me to devise a clear message about this issue for my montage.

Once I had a clarified in my own mind,  what ‘victim blaming’ was, I created another mind map, analysing this specific issue in greater detail – what it is, who does it, why people do it etc.

Devising the Message

My next step was to decide on the statement I wanted my photomontage to make. My more detailed analysis of the victim blaming issue resulted in a number of possibilities:

  • Women actually have a very precarious position in our liberal society. They are very much ‘free’ to do what they want, but if something goes wrong and they are assaulted, their ‘immoral behaviour’ will be blamed.


  • Is victim blaming a symptom of society’s inherent desire to control women’s behaviour? Society (begrudgingly) allows women their freedom but is quick to blame their ‘immoral’ behaviour if women are attacked.


  • It is easier to blame the victim than the face up to the fact that we live in a culture where women are devalued and objectified (known as the “just world” hypothesis).


  • Women are told to adjust their behaviour in order to avoid being attacked (rather than telling the attackers not to attack).


  • It’s easy to make judgements on a woman’s moral behaviour and blame her for an assault. It is much harder to blame the victim in other crimes such as a mugging.

I decided to use the last idea as the basis for the message of my photomontage.  I wanted to highlight how incongruous it was to accuse the victim for being responsible for the crime against them.

Depicting the message

Next I needed a way to illustrate this message in my montage. I began with an idea of showing innocent women enjoying themselves and having fun, with accusers and victim-blamers in the background or in the shadows ‘pointing the finger’ of blame at them. My idea was to show how precarious a woman’s situation was and how easily they could flip from becoming a victim of an assault to becoming the accused.

I then tried another idea, instead of the innocent young women, I wanted to show a victim of crime that you would not think to blame for what happened to them. I chose an image of an elderly woman who had been assaulted in her home, now with the accusers pointing the finger of blame at her. I felt that this image had more emotional impact and better highlighted how wrong it is to blame a victim for their assault.

Reviewing the Ideas

I reviewed the ideas for the montage with my husband. He agreed that the concept of victim-blaming the elderly woman had the clearest and most impactful message.

The Final Photomontage

The final photomontage is below:

Reflection on the Photomontage

The photomontage shows an 88 year old woman who was brutally assualted as she slept in her bed, by a man who had broken into her home. The image is heart-breaking as the woman looks so vulnerable, frail and broken. Society would not dream of blaming her for being attacked, and would not think to ask her what she might have been wearing at the time of the assault or whether, whether she had been drinking or if she might have somehow encouraged her attacker. However younger woman are often subjected to this sort of ‘victim-blaming’ if unfortunate enough to have been assaulted.

The figures in the background of the image represent the victim-blamers of society and  are people who have recently been in the news, accused of victim blaming, these are Judge Lindsay Kushner QC who stated that women who got drunk where making themselves a target for rapists, Henriette Reker – the mayor of Cologne who suggested that young women should adopt a ‘code of conduct’ to prevent assault, and Richards Littlejohn and Sarah Vine who are columnists for the Daily Mail.

The words in the montage are cut out from a copy of the Daily Mail – a newspaper regularly accused of sexism and victim-blaming.  They are put together in the style of an anonymous ransom note to give a threatening and accusatory feel.

The predominant colour of the image is red for it’s ominous, threatening and dangerous connotations. In addition, red, black and white are colours associated with tabloid newspapers which are often guilty of victim blaming.

Thoughts on this Exercise

I was quite pleased with the way my montage had turned out as I thought that the statement I was making was clear and impactful. I found the process of analysing my thoughts on the issue, very interesting, as I realised I wasn’t quite as clear on what victim-blaming was, as I thought I was and it took me quite a long time and quite a lot of reading around the subject, to get my ideas clear in my head.

My only disappointment with my final photomontage was that the design didn’t feel very original. I feel like I have seen this kind of photomontage design many times before.

I think I need to devote a bit less time to the ‘what’ I am doing, and try focus more, and be a bit more experimental, with the ‘how’.

Tutor Feedback

My tutor made the following comments on this exercise:

“Your final image is really strong, persuasive and conveys the message you intended.
It is also hard to swallow, troubling and I feel very protective of the subject. It makes
me feel quite uncomfortable to corral the subject who has suffered to be put under
further scrutiny even in this imaginary context; like it’s a double blow for her? I
daresay there would be ethical implications for depicting any symbol of innocence
though and of course this is entirely the point. You have given me a lot to think about
here. My only suggestion would be where you could explore further the possible
options for the visuals being more sensitive to the subject with the words-only being
the juxtaposition. Could this work so that your imagery feels very pro-victim but the
words jarr? It will be great to unpick this a bit more during our call.”

Rework Following Tutor Feedback

In response to tutor feedback on this assignment, I reworked the photomontage to try a version without the images of the accusers.  I kept the red background as a liked the impact and violence of the large expanse of red but I did think the removal of the accusers gave a better overall effect. A viewer of the original poster may not recognise who the accusers are and therefore may not understand why these people are included in the montage. Leaving just the pointing fingers and the newspaper words removes this potential ambiguity and leaves no doubt that the image is suggesting that a vulnerable elderly woman is being accused.  In a sense, knowing who she is being accused by is not really so relevant.





Research and Reflection – Photomontage

Some notes on Photomontage and prominent photomontage artists..

Photomontage was borne out of the Dada movement in Berlin in 1916. Dada was started in Zurich Switzerland where a small group of artists and activists had gathered during the first world war. They used their creativity to to protest against the war, using irony, satire and improvisation to shock the public into recognising the contradictions of ‘civilised’ and ‘rational’ Europeans slaughtering each other in war. Dada art typically shows contempt for the established order and is often called ‘anti-art’.

Berlin dadaists were more politically orientated and had revolutionary social change in Germany as one of their main goals. John Heartfield (originally called Helmut Herzfelde) created one of the first photomontages for the cover of catalog for the ‘First International Dada Fair’. Photomontage was subsequently used a lot by Dada artists.

Photomontage was also used a lot by Russian Constructivists. The Russian Tsar was forced to abdicate in 1917 due to failures during the first world war. The Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, took control in late 1917. Russian civil war followed from 1918 – 1920, between the Red Army (the Bolsheviks) and allied governments supported Whites. The Whites ultimately failed and the Bolsheviks established a communist state (maintained through the suppression of dissent by violence and intimidation).

The Bolsheviks used propoganda posters to ‘sell’ communism to the people. New artistic styles were required for the new utopian society. Constructivism built on the previous abstract style of Suprematism. (Suprematism was devised around 1915 by Kasimir Malevich and used blocks of colour a ‘non-objective’ style of baring no representational relationship to the natural world. The term suprematism relates to “supremacy of pure feeling in creative art”).

The Constructavist style tied art to the industrial world, rejected self-expression and therefore fitted well with revolutionary propaganda. Graphic designers became artistic leaders.

Constructavists such as Varvara Stepanova and Alexander Rodchenko produced propaganda posters, designs for workers clothes and designs for government buildings.

In Russia, photography was revered because of its ability to produce depersonalized images which married well with communist collective ideals. Photomontage was therefore a natural tool for the Constructavist artists.


John Heartfield

One of the Berlin Dadaists but best known for his later political art photomontages created from 1930 to 1938 exposing facism and the Third Reich.



Hannah Hoch

Hannah Hoch was another Berlin Dadaists who used Photomontage. Höch explored the concepts of gender and the ‘New Woman’ in Germany society, presenting complex discussions around gender and identity.

Hannah Höch. German, 1889-1978
Cut with the Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany (Schnitt mit dem Küchenmesser durch die letzte Weimarer Bierbauchkulturepoche Deutschlands). 1919-1920
Photomontage and collage with watercolor, 44 7/8 x 35 7/16” (114 x 90 cm)
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie
© 2006 Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin,
© 2006 Hannah Höch / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, photo: Jörg P. Anders, Berlin

Marlene (1920)

Alexander Rodchenko

A Russian Constructivist of the 1920s who used photomontage.

An advertisement for the Lengiz Publishing House sometimes titled “Books”, which features a young woman with a cupped hand shouting “книги по всем отраслям знания” (Books in all branches of knowledge), printed in modernist typography.

Varvara Stepanova

A Russian Constructavist.

On the lower left of her poster, under the phrase “through red glasses” (i.e. the world as seen by Bolsheviks), she drew three figures dressed in her prozodezhda (workers) costumes. The gender of the central, female figure is discernible only by the rounded line of her jaw and the slight fullness of her short hair. Their four anti-revolutionary white counterparts appear on the right side, dressed in upper-class clothes. Here the lone woman is strongly differentiated from the men, with round breasts, a tiny waist and wide hips. The female icon of those who see through red glasses is a productive worker no longer confined by conventional signs of femininity.

Later photomontage was adopted by surrealists who brought together disparate images to reflect the workings of the subconcious mind.


Untitled 1976 Linder born 1954 Purchased 2007

Untitled 1976 Linder born 1954 Purchased 2007

Annagret Soltau

– Mutter/Tochter – mit Großmutter und Urgroßmutter

“In these pictures I unite four generations of the female line of my family, who represent a female chain. I began with my daughter and ended with her great-grandmother. As a contrast to the patriarchal system of inheritance, I wanted to show the matrilineal connection and the interaction between the generations: the young girl already has the old body, and the old woman still has the young body inside her. The aim is to ensure that this painful process remains visible.”


Part 3 – Exercise 5: Abstract Cities

Create a series of 10 abstract designs in which you balance blocks of subordinate,
dominant and accent colours. These designs are going to be used as covers for guidebooks to the following cities:

Madrid Malmo Managua Manchester Manhattan Marrakech Marseilles Melbourne Montreal Mumbai

The books are going to be A5 landscape (210mm x148mm) size. You can use as many colours as you like and need to include the name of the city – where you place this and its colour are also important decisions to make. You may want to find out more about each city to help you develop your colour palette and also the size, shape and positioning of the colour blocks.

Design Ideas

I started this exercise exploring ways in which I could give the abstract designs some meaning or association with each city. My thoughts on this were as follows:

  • Is there a colour associated with the city that I could use as a basis of the colour palette, for example  the colour of the dominant stone used for the buildings? After reading a very tedious paper on colmenar stone used extensively in the buildings in Madrid, I decided this was going to take a lot of work to determine the stone used for each city and the variation in colours would not be enough to make the designs sufficiently distinct from each other, so I rejected this idea.


  • Could the  colours of the country’s flag be combined with some abstract motif associated with the city, such as an iconic building? I decided using the colours of the flags was an obvious solution so I rejected this as an idea for the colour palettes. I did like the idea of an abstract representation of an iconic city building, however.


  • Given all the cities start with the letter ‘M’, could I assume that there would be guides for all letters of the alphabet and assign a base colour to each letter, so M would be dark red, for example. Could all the designs then be variations of a colour palette based on dark red? I didn’t think I could vary the palette enough for 10 cities (but this would have been an interesting exercise 🙂


  • Could I create a linear spectrum of colours ranging from coolest (blues) to warmest (reds) and map each city onto the spectrum based on their latitude, with cities nearest the equator being near red and further away from the equator, blue? Designs for each city would then use their ‘latitude colour’ as the basis for the design.


  • Could the colour palettes for each city be based on well known, traditional or indigenous art for the country, with the design incorporating a silhouette of the main art gallery in the city (making them art guides to the city)?  I liked the art idea as a basis for the colours but research on the art gallery buildings made me think that the building outlines would not be varied enough.


  • Could I incorporate an outline of a  silhouette of the city’s skyline into my abstract design, where the skyline is made up of iconic buildings of the city? I started researching iconic buildings in each city but after a while felt that constructing skylines like this for each city was going to be too much work.


  • I decided instead, to work with a colour palette of the art of the country and an abstract silhouette of a single iconic building of each city.

Thumbnail Designs

I first did a quick check to make sure that each country did have some form of art that I could use as the basis for the colour palette. I then started by researching the outline shapes for iconic buildings associated with each city.

My idea was to have an outline of a building embedded in a series of background blocks or bars with the building standing out in one colour and the background blocks in another.

Initial Test Mockups

I decided to try out my ideas for the designs with the first city, Madrid, using a colour palette inspired by Miro. The mockups are here:

These designs were just not working for me. My main issue was that my abstract building didn’t make sense – it wasn’t obvious what the large block of red was representing and I felt it was just distracting. I was putting too much effort into trying to work out which colours would make the building stand out and was not thinking about how the blocks of colour were working together.

I reviewed the designs with my husband, who agreed that he could not tell that the large block of red was meant to be a building. We decided that it was too difficult to create a design that was both abstract and yet representative of a building.

After a lot of thought, I decided to drop the idea of including the building silhouette and instead would just focus on a truly abstract design using my chosen colours.

It was back to the drawing board, this time researching abstract artists such as Kandinski, Miro, Ben Nicholson, Mondrian and Malevitch for inspiration.

Revised Test Mockups

I decided to try two abstract layouts, the first was based on Mondrian’s paintings. I thought that this layout also I had a feel of a street map, which would fit quite well as a city guide, I tried to make my ‘Mondrian’ layout look a bit like a street map.

I also tried a layout based on an abstract painting by Malevitch. I liked the tumbling shapes as they gave a sense of movement, fun and energy, which for me also worked well for a city:

These mockups where working much better for me. However, I wanted to check that these two abstract designs weren’t just working because the colour palette is one that is associated with abstract paintings, so I tried with my colour palette for Managua.

I felt happy that both of these abstract designs would work, so I had another review with my husband, and we both agreed that the ‘Mondrian’ inspired design, which had the feel of a street map, would work best, so I decided to move forward this idea.

Building the Colour Palettes

I had decided to base my colour palettes on art work associated with the country, either indigenous art, an art movement or works of an artist associated with that country.

I did have some concerns that doing this meant I wasn’t really putting my own colour palette together, but it was still quite a lot of work. Sampling colours from images of artworks found on the internet, gives quite a variable result, so I used sampled colours as a starting point and then refined them (with the help of Adobe Colour) to try to identify complimentary colours, triad colours etc. to put together what felt like a comprehensive palette which resembled the artworks I had based them on.


The colour palette was based on some iconic works by Spanish abstract artist, Miro


Miró: The Experience of Seeing


This was quite a difficult colour palette to put together as I struggled to find examples of typical Swedish art. Eventually I did a Google search for ‘Traditional Swedish Art’ images and found quite a lot similar to that below, which I have based my colour palette on.


The colour palette was based on the Nicaraguan Primitivista painting movement which originated from a community of artists founded in the 1970’s on the islands of Solentiname in Lake Nicaragua. This style of painting is influenced by the Haitian paintings of the late 40’s and 50’s and shows idealised scenes of community life and lush natural environments in bright colours.  Noted artists are Alejandro Benito Cabrera, Victor Santiago Crespin, José Ignacio Fletes Cruz and Rosa Delia Lopez Garcia.


I based this colour palette on paintings of British countryside by John Constable.


This colour palette is based on American pop art. I decided to use one of Andy Warhol’s images of Marilyn Monroe.



This colour palette was based on a design for Moroccan border found on shutterstock


I based this colour palette on paintings of the Cote D’Azur by Van Gogh as these were based on countryside near Marseilles.


This colour palette was based on colours typically used in aborigional art. I particularly focused on the image of Uluru by Danny Eastwood (the image with kangeroos below).


This colour palette is based on the artworks of Willie Seaweed, a First Nation wood carver and artist from Canada.


This colour palatte was based on traditional indian ‘Rajput’ paintings.

Final Designs

Adobe Illustrator vs Adobe Photoshop

I created most of these designs using Adobe Illustrator with the exception of Manhattan and Marrakech, which I created using Photoshop. I found Illustrator the easier tool for these designs as is it easier to manipulate shapes and manage colour palettes. In hindsight, I’m not sure it was a good idea to create 8 designs on 8 different art boards in one Illustrator document as it made managing the layers in the document very difficult. I also had a lot of problems exporting the individual designs, with components being missed off an export or ‘extra’ components from other artboards getting included in an export. it took a long time to unravel!

It was perfectly feasible to create these designs in Photoshop, but because you can’t ‘click’ on objects to select them, I needed to be very disciplined in naming and managing my layers so that I could find objects within the design, which was quite time consuming.

Also in both tools, I had trouble with the colours in the designs changing when I created the final files. I think this was due to issues with the colour profiles used by the files. I had created the designs in CMYK mode but in exporting the files as JPEGs for display on my digital blog, the colours changed. I fixed this by exporting the files as PNGs from Illustrator and by saving the files as JPEGs from Photoshop but manually changing the colour profile in the JPEG from ‘US Web Coated (SWOP) v2’ to ‘sRBG IEC61966-2.1’. This seemed to do the trick!


Thoughts on this Exercise

This exercise was a lot of work – it has quite literally taken me weeks to complete!! The research took me a long time, first reading about types of stone, then endless research into iconic buildings and then different types of art associated with each country.

I also realised that what seems like an inspired idea in my head often looks anything but when I actually mock it up. I should test the design with mockups sooner before doing a lot of research (I wouldn’t have needed to spend so long researching iconic buildings as I decided against this design as soon as I saw the mockup).

I did most of my research using Google Search which is quite a dangerous way to do research given the amount of irrelevant junk that gets thrown up! Searching for ‘iconic buildings in Managua’ for example, returned buildings from all around Nicaragua so I then spent more time trying to cross check to see if buildings really were in Managua.  I need to find some more reliable sources for my research. The internet was useful, however, in helping to discover more general concepts like the typical style of art in Nicaragua.

I am conscious that I also needed to do more research to ensure that I haven’t committed any cultural faux pas! Would the residents of Mumbai be offended that I based the colour palette for their city on  Rajput art? I have no idea.

I was a little concerned that using colour palettes taken from existing art works was not quite in the spirit of this exercise, as I was not defining those palettes myself from scratch. However, it was very interesting analysing the colour palettes from existing artworks and trying to decide how to use and lay those colours out in my abstract designs.

Finally, thinking of a design concept AND colour scheme AND layout together is very difficult!

Part 3 – Exercise 4: Understanding Colour

Draw two grids of squares, filling one with colours that you like and the other with colours you dislike. Then put the two grids side by side and ask the question ‘which one looks better?’

Next try experimenting with placing colours together as Itten did.

Try and find different combinations of two colours to illustrate each of these ideas:
Angry Brave Creative Dangerous Energetic Familiar Gregarious
Hopeful Independent Jumpy Kinetic Luxurious Masculine New
Open Precious Quiet Reasonable Sociable Tasteful Unhappy
Vital Wonderful Extra special Youthful Zany

Colours I Like:

Colours I Don’t Like:

The theory is that I should find the mix of colours I like, more jarring than those I don’t like, but actually, I still prefer the colours that I like. The colours that I don’t like feature a lot of salmon pink, brown and orange (which I don’t like!). The colours I like don’t particularly all go well all together but the coloured squares remind me of a patchwork quilt.

Colour Experiments based on Itten’s Colour Theory

Colours interact and are influenced by the colours around them. Colours on a white background appear less luminous than against black. The white reduces their brilliance. However colours appear lighter against black. This is particularly apparent in the blue and red examples below when the blue and red squares look darker against white.


Yellow has been placed against a background of blue and red primary colours.  Primary colours are completely distinct from each other, creating quite high contrast in these combinations.


Yellow is now placed against backgrounds of secondary colours orange, violet and green. Yellow is a component of orange and also a component of green and consequently the contrast between these colour combinations is reduced. Yellow and violet are, however, opposite (complementary) colours on (Itten’s) colour wheel – a combination considered to be high contrast.


The combinations above show complimentary (opposite) colours. These are considered the greatest contrast.


Contrast is diminished as hues are further removed from the primary colours, for example green on red has significant contrast, green on orange is less intense.

A bold primary colour next to black can give the black the effect of a tinge of the primary’s complimentary colour (In this case – green). I’m not sure I am seeing this effect.

Grey on an Ice Blue background has a slight has warm (red?) tinge. Grey on red/orange looks slightly blue. They grey colour appears to take on a slight tinge of the complimentary colour. (An effect Itten describes as simultaneous contrast).

The warmth of a colour is effected by the colours around it – violet appears warmer against blue than against red.

Contrast can be achieved using the same hue with different levels of saturation.

Colour Combinations that Represent Words:

ANGRY – This pure red and orange do not sit comfortably together but seem agitated. The combination is hot and irritable, like skin that has been stung by a wasp.

BRAVE – To be brave you need to be calm, level headed, mature and rational. This dark tone of blue feels calm and authoritative. The dark and light blue sit well together, cooperating with each other. There is no conflict here – this colour combination has a focused intent.

CREATIVE – To be creative you need to be energetic, lively, vibrant and a bit whacky. This magenta and lime green combination is fun and the colours feel like they are dancing together. These colours are effectively opposite each other on the colour wheel producing a combination with a lot of energy.

DANGEROUS – This highly saturated red combined with a very dark red black feels moody and sulky. The bright red seems to pulse against the very dark red background.

ENERGETIC – The warm yellow and magenta colours feel warm and active. The yellow and magenta are two parts of a TRIAD and work well together.

GREGARIOUS – The highly saturated hot pink is loud, brash and fun. It is tempered by the blue-green tone giving a lively but not too over-the-top result. Again, green and red are opposites on the colour wheel creating energy. The slightly darker shades mute the effect.

FAMILIAR – Two tones of green, the colour of nature. Green is a cool and calming colour and the addition of black gives the green a soothing and quiet feel. The two colours cooperate with each other to give a sense of calm.

HOPEFUL – The yellow and orange colours are analagous and work well together, supporting each other. Yellow is the colour of the sun and summer. The combination has an optimistic and positive feel.

INDEPENDENT – The indigo blue and violet sit close together on the colour wheel and cooperate well as a pair. The combination is not particularly warm or cool. The blue colour feels formal and level-headed. These colours are bold and stand together well on their own.

JUMPY – A garish, highly saturated orange red and shade of green together seem to clash. They are complimentary colours and feel agitated together. The colours appear to jump around when you look at them.

KINETIC – suggests ordered motion, machine parts working smoothly together. A cool shade of blue tempered with a little black together with a complimentary yellow / orange suggests opposing parts working together.

LUXURIOUS – A warm, deep brown suggests leather or suede together with rich gold gives an opulant feel. This combination could also represent the colours of a smooth chocolate filled with golden caramel suggesting indulgence.

MASCULINE – A dark slate blue / grey and slate blue. These colours are serious and understated. The colours of a business suit. The dark shades are sober and no-nonsense.

NEW – two shades of a muted baby pink. These colours are delicate and fragile. The colours of a (white!) baby’s skin or a kitten’s nose.

OPEN – A bright, light green and cheery saturated yellow. These colours are analagous and work well together. Like spring they are bright and welcoming.

PRECIOUS – A tint of dusty pink and pale cyan hint at the colours of an opal. The pink and cyan are two colours of a triad.

QUIET – Two shades of blue green. The colours of cool, still water. They combination is calm and subtle. The colours recede as though they don’t want to be disturbed.

REASONABLE – Sensible grey (with a hint of blue) and a lighter blue grey. Diplomatic, neutral colours ready to negotiate.

SOCIABLE – A slightly muted tone of lime green and light shade of yellow. The colours are analagous and get along well together. They are harmonious and not too loud.

TASTEFUL – A muted and subtle green grey combined with a lighter, slightly more yellow tint. The green and yellow tones are analogous and sit well together, the muted grey tones are understated and sophisticated.

UNHAPPY – A very dark purple – almost black mixed with a green-grey. The green and purple tones are complimentary and feel uncomfortable together. The dark shades feel sulky and uncooperative.

VITAL – Blue and green, the colours of nature and water. These colours are analagous and work together. They are calm and serious.

WONDERFUL – Cyan and white, the colours of a spring sky, or ice and snow. Light, bright and sparkling – the colours of wonder.

EXTRA SPECIAL – Royal blue and gold. These colours are complimentary and have a sense of formality. The colours of royalty. The gold colour leans towards orange, making these colours complimentary.

YOUTHFUL – A warm and vibrant yellow/orange tempered by a magenta that leans towards blue. These colours are fun and energetic but tempered with a little seriousness.

ZANY – Hot pink and dark orange.  The colours are fully saturated and full of life and vibrancy. They are analogous but together are so brightly coloured that the colours seem to dance together.

Thoughts on This Exercise

I had always known that certain colours represented specific moods or feelings such as yellow for warm sunny optimism or blue for cool formality. I also knew that some colours just went better together although was not particularly conscious of why.  This exercise has really shed some light on why certain colour combinations seem to work, as well as how colours work together to convey certain moods.

Some common themes seemed to emerge for me in this exercise:

Fully saturated, pure hues feel bright, fun, youthful and energetic.

Adding black and creating shades of colours made the colour feel more serious and sober, having a calming and subduing effect.

Colours that are opposite each other on the colour wheel (complimentary colours)  seem to jangle against each other, giving a sense of energy and agitation. For me these often seemed to fight with each other and were not relaxing to look at.

Colours which are different shades of the same hue are much calmer and relaxing to look at. There is no conflict between them.


Some Notes on the Colour Wheel

The colour wheel arranges different colour hues around a circle. Three primary colours are placed at equally spaced points around the circle. When two primary colours are mixed, they create a secondary colour. Mixing a primary and secondary colours creates tertiary colours.

There are two important colour models, which have different primary colours and therefore different colour wheels:

Additive Colour:

Additive colour is based on how coloured light behaves and combines to form different colours. It is important in digital media or stage lighting. Primary additive colours will combine to form white.

The primary colours in the additive colour model are red, green and blue (RGB). Secondary colours are cyan, magenta and yellow.

Subtractive Colour:

Subtractive colour is based on how coloured pigments, such as paint behave. Artists typically use a traditional subtractive colour model, such as Itten’s colour wheel, where the subtractive primary colours are red, yellow and blue. Primary subtractive colours will combine to form black.

Printers use a more accurate CMYK colour model where the primary colours are cyan, magenta and yellow.

Complimentary colours are those positioned opposite each other in the colour wheel (which colour model??) These colours effectively cancel each other out so are said to have the most contrast.

My own experiments with colour mixing using watercolour paints (subtractive colour). Alchemy!


Itten’s Colour Theory

Some notes on Itten’s Colour Theory..

Johannes Itten (1888 – 1967) was a Swiss expressionist painter, teacher, designer and theorist,  associated with the Bauhaus school. He worked extensively in exploring the use and composition of colour.

A synopsis of his book ‘The Art of Colour’, published in 1961, is below:


Itten developed a number of theories regarding the use of colour and how colours are perceived, including:

Colour Effect

How a colour is perceived depends on how it interacts with the colours around it. colours effectively influence each other.

Subjective Timbre

How a colour is perceived depends to some extent on how the viewer interprets it..

7 Types of Colour Contrast

Contrast of Hue: The contrast between colours where hues are clearly differentiated from each other. This is most prominent between the primary colours. As colours start to be mixed, their hues move closer to each other and this contrast is diminished.

Contrast of Light and Dark: The constrast between how light and dark colours are. Black and white have the greatest contrast here.

Contrast of Warm and Cold: The contrast between warmer reds, oranges and yellows and cooler blues, purples  and greens. How warm or cool a colour appears also depends on how it is affected by the colours around it. (A violet next to blue may seem warm but next to red may seem cooler).

Complementary Contrast: Contrast between colours which are opposite each other on the colour wheel.

Simultaneous Contrast: The effect that a colour can have on its neighbours whereby the eye perceives the neighbouring colour to have a hint of the complimentary colour of the initial colour. This effect can make a black placed next to a red look slightly green.

Contrast of Saturation: contract between pure, intense colours and ‘diluted’ colours created by adding white, black, grey or a complimentary colour.

Contrast of Extension: The extent to which a colour a used. much of it is present. Balance is achieved when the brilliance of a colour is matched with the extent to which it is used. For example, yellow has more brilliance than purple. Using less yellow and more purple will create balance.

Colour Harmony

Colour harmony refers to creating colour themes by using colours that are related to each other on the colour wheel.:

Dyads: Two colours that are opposite each other on the colour wheel.

Triads: Three colours selected from equidistant points on the colour wheel.

Tetrads: Two pairs of complimentary colours on the colour wheel whose connecting diameters are perpendicular to each other.

Spatial Effects of Colours

Certain colours placed together give the impression of some colours advancing and some retreating, The background on which colours are viewed also contributed to this effect. For eaxample light tones on a dark background advance forward. Warm colours often advance next to cool colours which sem to retreat.

Colour Expression Theory

The mental and emotional effect that a colour may have when paired with other colours, e.g. yellow and orange denotes warmth and the sun, yellow and red is a very vibrant and loud combination, yellow and white is more subdued.




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 the 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 – 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.

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).




Part 3 – Exercise 1: Visual Diary

Whenever I visit an exhibition, I like to photograph exhibits that interest me (if permitted) or I will buy some postcards of pieces that I liked.

I have also started collecting images using Pinterest. My boards are here. (Note that some of the boards here are collecting images specifically for OCA exercises or other projects.

In terms of themes that are emerging in the images I like, I am drawn towards playful and child-like illustrations. I like images that are fun and entertaining, witty and clever.  I like both colourful and black and white images and I like strong lines and bold contrasts.