Its been a year since I completed a Foundation Diploma in Art, Media and Design (distinction) and I have been very busy in that time. I moved into a house with my partner (we met at university in 2000 and then had a long distance relationship until he moved to my location 5 years ago) and organised my art studio and office space as well as planning home improvement and gardening. It made a huge difference for me to have a space of my own for doing art. I’ve filled a huge amount of sketchbooks, kept art and idea journals and am doing self initiated Illustration and writing projects. I’m also doing training using on line schools such as the School of Visual Storytelling (SVS) and I’m going over my library of books collected over the last 10 or so years with much more focus as to what I want to achieve over the coming months.
In August 2014 it took me a while to shake off the remainder of the illness but I wanted to keep the momentum that the course had given me, so I started an A3 sketchbook / scrapbook where I collected anything that inspired me (fashion, culture, lifestyle, art and design…), as well as my sketches and drawings. I worked on designs for my mums start up quilting business and generated ideas for my own projects. During this period I was primarily investigating my interests and developing my creativity by keeping my eyes open and trying different ways of creating art. I visited the Quilt Market Festival in Birmingham which was inspiring and good research.
Towards the end of the year I had more clarity although I was still searching for a direction. I knew my strengths and interests were in art and I’ve always aspired to be an Illustrator. I had a few commissions in the past which had given me an insight and something to think about, but I didn’t pursue it with any direction at that time and had wanted to get better and faster realizing the reality about deadlines. Last year I began researching for a business plan and made a purposeful action plan towards becoming an Illustrator. I started doing market research into Illustration, looking at the theory, context, uses and different sectors as well as looking at a lot of different Illustrators work and getting a feel for the type of work out there.
From my market research I noted stylistic things I liked, design elements and themes that resonated with me. I found a lot of brilliant Illustrators work that I hadn’t seen before and found some new favourites. I also looked at Graphic Design and revised my knowledge on its history and context.
I also dug out my Association of Illustrators Varoom magazines from when I had been a member in 2007 and later in 2010 (you get a subscription as a member as well as legal advice which I had needed and was keen to aspire to industry standards). I wanted to get more of an understanding of the issues and concerns in the Illustration industry and what it was to be an Illustrator. I also found an excellent book called “Inside the Business of Illustration i” which is an extremely good read. I started to understand the importance of having a “voice” as an Illustrator and deepened my understanding about what Illustration was. I started reading anything I could find with industry insights and Illustrator interviews and I started listening to more podcasts: anything related to creative industry and business, and collecting any resources I could find.
My second A3 sketchbook / scrapbook from January to May became more focused and I was getting more of an idea of my interests and stylistic preferences. I had been encouraged from listening to a podcast that it was best to work on art that reflected your own interests, with issues or themes that you cared about (I think it was the House of Illustration podcast). The idea of working on projects or themes that I don’t care about or I don’t agree with is abhorrent to me so this was encouraging to hear.
I wrote a year action plan and kept noting down any ideas for my portfolio development and I’ve kept a journal of my daily activities and goals. I’m finding that regular daily and weekly analysis is really helping me to define my short term and long term goals. It is helping me become more focused and stop doing things that don’t work or that are a waste of time (TV, computer games etc.).
After that I went through an art retrospective, gathering all my past work since 2004 and analysing what I liked and didn’t like. I prefer my early work in subject matter- the fantasy, imagination and fun I was having showed more. My favourite piece was not digital- my work had been better before I started to do digital work, digital work requires a long learning curve. Although I felt my digital techniques had improved, my strong drawing skills (practised in my sketchbooks) were not being represented in the laborious digital technique I had spent many years trying to refine. Even in College from mid 2013 to mid 2014 I was still trying to hold on to this technique that I had spent so much time with, but my non-digital work in college made me realise how much I loved working with traditional mediums over digital. The process felt so much more enjoyable and natural to me and I had produced more work in just a year than I had in several years before. Expressiveness, personality and quirks are much more interesting and can communicate more than so called “perfect” images and much more fun to create. I am now looking to spend more time ratio and process with traditional art and perhaps use digital art in conjunction with it rather than just the end product.
After this retrospective I did more experimentation with different mediums and came up with lots of new ideas. I read the advice I had bookmarked from an Illustrator called Nate Williams and read the 22 immutable laws of branding. His advice gave me things to think about and more direction. I then read a book called “Thinking Visually for Illustrators” which gave me essential context I had been missing and more things to consider about Illustration (different sectors and types of work), including examples of briefs. I methodically went through my books on Illustration that had been collecting dust on my bookshelf. More than anything I began “reading” books more than just “scanning” them and glancing at the pictures as I had done before. In the past I have often been discouraged from reading excellent content just based on whether I liked the art or not at first glance. Thankfully this is something I can now look beyond, and I’m appreciating the art more as well, even if it’s not always my cup of tea.
There are many different categories of Illustration. Narrative Illustration captures my interest the most. I love Illustration that tells a story or carries a message and emotion. I saw how it could be applied in many different uses, not just picture books.
I admire the work of traditional “Golden Age” Illustrators but I can usually find something to like about many different styles past and modern. There are things I want to try myself that are different to anything I’ve done before just for the fun of it and as part of my own development. I’ve always found the idea of “finding your style” intimidating because I love to try different things and not feel restricted, however there are patterns in the things I like and the themes I want to explore which I realise are important to defining my unique “style” and because my interests will change over time, my style will as well (style being how the art looks or is recognised). I don’t think worrying about finding a style is important, I think you have to be true to yourself more than anything and it will happen on its own whether you want it to or not… one of my tutors said I already had a style, but I couldn’t see it myself, I guess its like not noticing yourself getting older because you look in the mirror every day. I saw the earlier work of Illustrators I admire such as Tove Jansson and Brian Froud. Of course it changed over time. I think this is natural if you are always learning and innovating in your artwork- I mean look at Picasso!. Increasingly I’m realising that if I go back to the things I loved as a child and still like them as an adult those are the things that I should be putting into my art or that I do without thinking too much about it. I am coming to the realisation that looking at other artists is not the solution to finding my own style although a fun thing to do. I think the value of looking at other artists work is that you might think of trying different techniques or subjects, but getting hung up about style and trends is pointless. I prefer to think of it as finding your “voice” first and then growing into your “style”.
I like typographic and hand drawn lettering Illustration. I admire it, and I’m taking steps to learn it myself. Perhaps in the future after more experimentation and practice I will incorporate it in my projects. Another thing I have seen in other Illustration is using interior patterns which I think is a nice idea. Making images from multiple images as a sort of Illustrated collage is also interesting to me. I enjoy looking at other artists work, but ultimately I think it is a form of procrastination if not held in check or done without a particular objective in mind. It can also become discouraging if you do it for too long.
Around March I was aware of time passing and that I had to do something more proactive, not just theoretical. I was collecting examples of Illustration briefs and analysing the format of suitable briefs to apply to my own projects. I decided to do ten briefs from March on-wards. I tailored them to my interests. The plan was for these briefs to produce ten actual pieces for my portfolio, but in retrospect this exercise was more of a warm up exercise.
The 10 briefs
A: Choose a story and illustrate 1-3 scenes / characters / objects from that story.
B: Illustrate a poster design based on one of your favourite song lyrics but incorporate a specific interest of yours as the main theme (for example: Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Steam-Punk, Robots, Food…)
C: Create a series of images that describes the 4 elements
D: Design a set of cards that are based on one of your favourite themes with 3-4 card designs and phrases. Incorporate decorative elements and typography.
E: Happy Families- create a set of cards showing a family group with a shared cultural / ethnic or metaphorical theme. Write a profile of each character for the back- interests, personality, hobbies etc…
F: Famous Characters- choose 1-3 famous real life people from any area you want (history, celebrity, science…) and write a short bio for each of them. Illustrate a character with relevant objects or props relating t them for the article.
G: Write a short article about any subject that interests you and then provide 4 spot illustrations / decorative elements and mock it up in a design.
H: Choose a theme and them design a repeating pattern using multiple elements or illustrations.
I: Illustrate an article about an environmental issue you care about. Illustrate 3 spot illustrations to go with the article and a handout poster to go with the article. (15 x 10 inches portrait full colour)
J: Illustrate 2-4 characters from a favourite work of fiction. Show them doing something from the story (props and poses).
I created a spinning wheel so that I could randomly choose each project (to avoid indecision). I gave myself just a week to do each of the projects and moved on to the next project regardless of whether I completed each one or not (to combat perfectionisms ugly face). The purpose of this process was to help me discover and try different things so I could find out what areas I needed to improve on or that I was lacking in and what aspects of the projects I enjoyed or did not enjoy.
Project E: Happy Families
I kept developing the Happy Families activity. I created some nice ideas and I would like to continue on this project and take it in other directions. I thought the Illustration I developed in digital media was a little lifeless and forced compared to my pencil sketches.
Project D: Fairy’s on Cards
Fairy’s are a subject close to my heart and this project allowed me to indulge researching the area in more detail. I developed a lot of ideas for this project. I decided to look at nature for inspiration and thinking about how fairy’s would live was interesting. I also made some hand drawn custom Photoshop brushes for this projects development based on seeds, insects and flowers. I thought that pencil and watercolour / gouache suited my style well. This project gave me the focus to look again at character design and anatomy, and I made a note to purposefully revise my practise in these areas.
Project A: Alice in Wonderland
I read the Illustrated version of Alice in Wonderland (Sir John Tenniels excellent Illustrations) and collected lots of inspiration for it. I have lots of character sketches which I can develop further. I also think a combination of words and images would be ideal for this project since the whole book is a play on words. You can have a lot of fun with Alice in Wonderland and take it in different directions and there is a lot of established imagery to take inspiration from.
Project I: Nature article Illustrated
I needed to have written the article first, this being the most important task. I kept putting this off though. I had not written for a long time and still associated it with writing essays and exams. I kept procrastinating about sitting down and doing it, preferring to draw studies instead. I spent a lot of time researching for the subject and trying to get my facts right. I gathered image reference for the animals to illustrate and have enough materials and studies to write the article and complete this project by developing ideas further once the article is written up.
Project B: Poster Design based on Song Lyrics
Initially I felt intimidated by this project as it was something I had never tried before. I read about poster design and album art and found some examples of similar projects on the Internet which helped inspire me. I choose the song “No Ordinary Love” by Sade and based it on the theme of fairy-tales. I chose to do an Illustration based on The Little Mermaid. I would like to continue to develop this project further and learn hand lettering to complete this project.
Project F: Famous Characters Historical Portrait Tudors
This was interesting for me as history and the Tudor period in particular is something I am interested in. I looked at Tudor art, culture and the stories about Henry VIII and Elizabeth I to get a good sense of the context and insights into their personalities. I also found out about Stumpwork embroidery and thought about ways to incorporate Tudor motifs into the artwork. I feel that I got a good sense of Elizabeth I from reading about her and looking at how actresses have portrayed her in films. If anything I should probably watch all of those films back to back then visit museums and art galleries as well. Given the time restraint however, I found many resources on line and clips on You Tube which were a big help. I collected lots of notes for the bio write up. When I continue this project I will write up the bio first and then make an Illustration based on my research.
Project A: Choose a story and Illustrate 1-3 scenes
The premise intimidated me from the start. I procrastinated on it because I thought I had insufficient knowledge to do it. I collected notes on narrative art and visual storytelling. I chose the theme of Greek Myths. I collected lots of examples of narrative Illustration from the Internet (Behance) and then categorised them into mood boards based on the feelings they evoked. I am very interested in creating narrative art and I think I put too much pressure on myself in this project to “get it right” because its an area of Illustration I love. Information overload and over thinking… I need to relax and have fun next time. I have now joined the SVS to learn more about narrative art and gain confidence in this area.
Project G: Folklore article Illustrated
The research for this took a long time and I found out that folklore is a rather ambiguous subject. It took me a while to get my head around my chosen subject and define a direction for the article by choosing a local story about the origin of the River Severn. I decided to look at the stories surrounding the River Severn and its Gods and Goddesses. I thought it would be nice to incorporate some local folk art into the Illustration so I looked into Canal Boat art of the Industrial Revolution. Given its connection with the river I also thought this was appropriate as well as beautiful. I decided after researching the historical context of the story that it probably developed from belief in a much older deity from the Iron Age or earlier, so my research into the origins of the stories led me to look into Iron Age art and costume as well. The Salmon that kept being referred to in the stories about the River Severn probably had an origin with the Celtic Salmon of Wisdom, and the way people transformed from fish to human alluded to an old Celtic belief to do with the journey from our world into the Otherworld or vice versa. Rebirth and transformation were big themes that had relevance with the river as a source of life and way of transporting goods for industry or life. The river was very important throughout history for agriculture and Industry. My notes on this subject are rather diverse, but I have enough material to make some sense of this and turn it into an article which I can then develop the Illustrations for (resisting the urge to write an essay on the subject that is).
Project C and H: 4 Elements and Repeating Pattern
I did start the 4 elements project with brainstorming but I overcomplicated it and got distracted from the task after looking at more examples from the Internet. As for the pattern project it just didn’t happen. Out of all the projects these were perhaps the ones that least interested me or that I wanted to learn skills in order to do more effectively, however I also had client work to work on and had to shift my focus to meet a deadline. I found it took a little while to get back into the flow after it had been interrupted and so I began looking at other areas to study.
After I did the ten projects I wanted to study fashion and draw more, so I did lots of studies in a new A3 sketchbook. I was also reading more books on Illustration again.
About two weeks later I decided to analyse the ten projects so that I could define areas of interest and find a direction to work in again towards developing my portfolio. I defined key areas to improve on and realised a few home truths. I found this process helpful. I realised that some of them were out of the scope of this deadline due to the amount of research and development needed and other time commitments (family, duties, etc.). The weekly deadline helped to focus me though (In fact I am thinking that a series of daily challenges might be beneficial). It also allowed me to analyse my process and think of better ways to tackle or approach it. I realised for example, that my tendency to research too early on in the process was a burden because of the time constraints, and that time would have been better spent on the art development stage. I think I also got intimidated by the idea of finishing the artwork because I still associated “digital” medium with the finished product and yet I knew it would be time consuming and tedious for me to try and reproduce the spontaneity of the traditional studies I had done. Many of these projects required writing as a catalyst for the artwork, so I found that researching and writing also took my time up and yet was an essential factor in the projects art development stage. In conclusion I found several areas and skills I needed to learn or improve upon. I also found out about new topics “within” topics and it was interesting, educational and fun.
In conclusion since this time I have been working on areas of interest and improving my knowledge and skills. I’ve started daily writing and making sketch notes to generate trains of thought and ideas and help find my direction. I understand the importance of having my own “voice” as an Illustrator and am working towards that by doing self initiated projects about things that I care about. I’m also doing observation drawing everyday, on-line art school courses and have planned new projects and lots of mini challenges. Everything adds up and its an iterative process. I think keeping my head down and working really hard with focus on what I want to achieve in the coming months is the best way forward.
i HellerArisman,S M.,2004. Inside the Business of Illustration.New York; Allworth Press.