White Space is Important

Give a child a blank piece of paper and some crayons, and they are likely to colour-in the entire page. Unfortunately this instinct remains with many people as they enter adulthood, however in the design world it is a big no-no. In order for design to function it is equally important to look at what is not there as it is what is there. This is what the art and design world calls white space (or negative space). Without it most designs would be rendered useless.

It may seem silly to spend so much energy ensuring the balance of white space is correct, however if designers did not take this into consideration magazines would become illegible, posters confusing and indecipherable, leaflets a complete waste of time etc. Occasionally the concept of white space is abused with the purpose of portraying a particular message, however when legible typography is concerned, white space is a must.

Typography, from a graphic design perspective, became highly regarded after the emergence of the 1950s art movement, Swiss Style. Noted for its functional characteristics, it soon developed into the international typographical style.

Swiss typographer Emil Ruder (1914-70) taught his students the importance of using a grid, often asymmetrical, when placing typography into a design. Careful positioning of typefaces and other elements – including white space – is essential to the overall clarity of the final outcome.

“The typographer is familiar with white as a value in design…”
-Emil Ruder

For those struggling to grasp the concept of white space, the following citation from an ancient Chinese philosopher explains the importance. Although written centuries before it was relevant, this quote just about sums it up:

“From clay, pots are made, but it is the emptiness inside them that makes the essence of the pot. Walls with windows and doors form the house, but it is the emptiness between them that makes the essence of the house. The principle: the material contains usefulness, the immaterial imparts essence.”
-Lao-Tse

Keep this in mind when you are working on designs and you are not likely to go wrong. A designer’s job is often to get a message across through a balance of art work and typography. Do not let an aversion to white space ruin your work.

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So you think you can’t draw?

“I can’t draw” is the biggest lie I have ever heard. I believe everyone can draw. To draw simply means (according to dictionary.com) to sketch in lines or words. Can you hold a pencil? Can you make a mark on a piece of paper with said pencil? Can you write your name? Congratulations, you can draw.

What many people actually mean when they claim “I can’t draw” is: “I cannot produce a 100% accurate representation of an object as precisely as a camera can.” I admit that some artists amaze me with their photographic-like drawings, but that does not mean that those who cannot achieve the same standard are unable to draw.

Think of the picture books or cartoons from your childhood. Did you look at them and say “those do not look realistic – the artist cannot draw”? Some illustrators earn money for producing scribbles or messy artwork that, although may not be accurate in terms of proportion, scale and so forth, are perfect in their own unique way.

Let’s take Sir Quentin Blake as an example of illustration. Nearly everyone must be familiar with Blake’s artwork thanks to the numerous book written by Roald Dahl. Blake, now 84, has been drawing for as long as he can remember and was the head of the Illustration department at the Royal College of Art for over two decades.

Blake creates simple pen drawings and adds colour with water based paints. None of his finished creations resemble photographs; none of them are perfectly proportional and anatomically correct. Does that mean he can’t draw?

Another illustrator, Lauren Child has won the Kate Greenaway Medal for her creation of children’s characters Charlie and Lola. As well as using aspects of collage and photography, Child also produces simple pen drawings and colours them in. Her characters do not have necks and have incorrectly placed facial features. So that means, despite her awards, she can’t draw either, right?

There are numerous other illustrators who have similar drawing styles. Are you going to accuse them of not being “real” artists?

Beatrice Alemagna, Yann Kebbi, Claudia Boldt, David Mckee, David Hughes, John Burningham, Satoshi Kitamura, Edward Bawden, André François, Susan Einzig, Kathleen Hale…

Now, some of you are probably thinking “but these are children’s illustrators; they are meant to look like that.” However there are “adult” illustrators who are not producing “perfect” drawings either:

Jasper Goodall, Andrew Zbihlyj, Lucinda Rogers, Gary Taxali, Astrid Chesney, Spencer Wilson, Simone Lia, Sara Finelli…

So, you might not have the skill to make a career as a portrait painter, but it is not your ability that is the problem here. The only thing stopping you from believing you can draw is your constant comparison to perfectionistic art styles. That stickman you’ve drawn? He could become a £1000 cartoon. Believe in yourself. You CAN draw!

THINK. Then Draw. Create.

Following instructions is something everyone needs to be able to do in numerous areas of life: school, work, relationships, cooking etc. Despite people assuming artists can do what they like – which in some cases they can to an extent – following instructions is an extremely important part of an Art & Design career.

Sometimes instructions can be straightforward and easy to complete, e.g. “Draw a tree.” However, there are times when the way to tackle a direction or design brief is less clear: “Produce something that represents happiness.” In these cases the artist needs to take time to mind map ideas before settling on a final outcome. This is something that school and college tutors are constantly stressing the importance of to their students.

When I was working on my BA in Graphic Design I initially found it difficult to map out my ideas before starting to put together the final design. I remember one of the first assignments was to create four typographic posters to represent a chosen London location. We were instructed to draw at least thirty “thumbnail sketches” before we even touched a computer or began experimenting with materials. I overheard a few of the students around me complaining that it was a waste of time, or too difficult to think up such a large amount of ideas. I agreed with them. However as time went on I began to understand the reason we should begin all projects like this. The obvious answer to instructions is not always the right one.

I confess that since finishing college I have not always sat down and mapped out a multiple of ideas before starting a brief. Often this is because of a time limit, but sometimes it is impatience – a need to get things over with and finished as quickly as possible. Occasionally brilliant ideas pop into our heads whilst sitting on a bus or lying in bed, however most of the time, unless we stop and really think about the task in hand, we are only going to produce average art work.

This is something I have noticed happens when I am completing (for fun) pages from the book Think. Draw. Create. I have written about this before but to recap it is a book with a prompt on each page that requires the artist to think carefully before they start drawing. I set myself the challenge to complete a page every weekend, and this pressure has slightly prevented me from properly planning what I am going to draw. Some of my outcomes (ones I am too embarrassed to show you) are very mundane and poorly executed. I am disappointed with myself for my lack of effort on these occasions. This is why it is so important to THINK before you start anything.

From now on I promise to really try to plan before I start on any design work. I urge you to do the same regardless of the size or importance of the project. You may think it a waste of time, but would you rather take a little longer and produce something amazing, or rush and end up with something merely passable?

Children’s Picture Books: an evolution of British culture or childish commodities?

That was the title of my thesis I wrote in 2012. I wanted to write about something that interested me, something I would enjoy researching. At this point in my Graphic Design studies I was strongly interested in illustration, but I was aware that there was not enough theory surrounding the topic to use as a foundation of an essay, particularly one that needed to be based around an argument. So, I turned to picture books.

Reading has been a great joy for me – I usually get through over 100 books a year. Like most children I began learning through picture books, where the story was told through images rather than words. It felt natural to combine my love of reading and illustration together to result in the topic of children’s picture books.

However, I could not only write about books; I needed an argument. So, insert another of my passions: history, in particular British history. I decided to look at the evolution of the picture book in regards to the changes in British culture. Were children’s books moving in sync with the changing times, or were they purely a commodity, a way of making money?

Now that I had these elements in place it was easy to find relevant research and build up my argument. I was commended on my choice of question; I was told it was unique and very interesting. I enjoyed writing it – something other students found hard to believe.

For obvious reasons I cannot post my dissertation online, but I would like to share with you, three of the books I gathered for my research that I found extremely interesting and informative. If you are interested in this subject matter I highly recommend you seek these out.

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Puffin By Design: 70 Years of Imagination 1940-2000 
by Phil Baines

I admit that this book was not about picture books, but about children’s books in general. Therefore it was the least informative for my essay. Nonetheless, I would have bought this book regardless as book design is another area that I am greatly interested in.

Puffin By Design is essentially a visual timeline of book covers produced for Puffin (an imprint of Penguin Books) from the date of its formation until the publication of this book in 2010. Although mostly full of imagery, Phil Baines provides an insight into the development of Puffin and the changes in illustration and typography over the seven decades. Readers are shown the changing appearance of the books in order to appeal to youngsters of the era, to encourage them to read (or arguably buy).

Due to the lack of written word, and the fact that Puffin By Design mostly focuses on reading books rather than picture books, this book was the least cited in my thesis. However I could spend hours flicking through this book. It shows what has been successful in the past and thus is full of inspiration for upcoming designers wanting to work in the world of book publishing.

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Children Reading Pictures: Interpreting Visual Texts
by Evelyn Arizpe and Morag Styles

Children Reading Pictures is the result of a two year study, in which the authors interviewed a selection of primary school aged children to discover their understanding and interpretation of the illustrations within picture books.

Whilst not necessarily the most stimulating book to read, it is actually full of really interesting findings. Children are a lot more insightful than the average adult gives them credit for. Some of the interviewees were from migrant families, who had not yet got a grasp on the English language. These children were able to understand the stories to a certain extent purely by analysing the illustrations. When questioned, many were able to relate the images to events in their own lives. What some people may disregard as childish nonsense is actually extremely educational – children can learn as much from pictures as they can from words (and thus, as I argued, are easy targets for consumerism).

One of the more helpful chapters in Children Reading Pictures, in regards to my essay, was the interview and analysis of books by Anthony Browne, who, alongside Lauren Child, was one of the authors I heavily focused on in my writing. As students of English Literature will know, author’s works get ripped apart by teachers and lecturers in order to find meaning that was possibly not intended in the first place. In this case that was not a problem. Browne was able to provide an insight to his intentions when writing and drawing his books, and thus this can be viewed as a reliable source.

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Children’s Picturebooks: The Art of Visual Storytelling
by Martin Salisbury and Morag Styles

This was my favourite book that I bought for my thesis research. I could sit and read this for hours and hours. It was perfect for what I needed. Like with Puffin by DesignChildren’s Picturebooks is a visual timeline from the very first recorded book for children up until the present day (2012). However, this was a book about the INSIDE of the books, the actually stories, rather than the front covers.

Yet Children’s Picturebooks was so much more than a mere timeline. Salisbury looked into the key stages that make a picture book successful: the illustration, the typography, the story lines etc. With examples of famous illustrators, Salisbury demonstrates how artists and authors have kept children interested and managed to keep this dynamic sector of the publishing industry going.

This was perhaps the most cited book in my thesis (I admit I was warned about using it too much). There were chapters about controversial topics and the arguments as to whether children should be subjected to these or not. Could pictures influence the way children think or behave? – a perfect opinion to challenge in my essay!

 

If you are interested in book design, children’s books or illustration, I urge you to take a look at these books. You will not be disappointed.

For those looking for ideas for their own dissertation, I advise you to pick something you are interested in. This will make research less of a chore and much more enjoyable. You may be thinking that there is not enough content to write an essay on your passion, however combined with other elements you are bound to develop a question with a great amount of theory to back you up. Good luck and happy writing!