Kathryn Lawes: Creative Box

Ambitious graphic designer and illustrator, Kathryn Lawes, like many young artists, dreams of having her own design company. However, it is a competitive world, and starting small is the only way to go. Having earned a degree in Graphic Design after three years of study at Portsmouth University, Kathryn has proven her desire to create by taking on the odd commission brief.

When starting up as a freelancer, it is very difficult to earn enough money to live on, therefore ex-students often end up in dead-end jobs whilst they try to get themselves known in the world of their desired profession. Kathryn, however, has been particularly lucky in landing herself a job at an architecture company, Thrive Architects. This may not involve the style of design and illustration she ultimately wants to be working on, but it provides the opportunity to develop her skills. And, at the end of the day, it is the vital experience that graphic design companies or prospective clients are on the lookout for.

D17474745_10154646198504387_67877695_nuring the limited spare time available, Kathryn also takes on freelance commissions. She has worked on branding jobs, produced children’s picture books, and has also branched out into mural painting. But, the thing she enjoys most is drawing and illustration. As a child, Kathryn was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, and she said “an illustrator”! And, now it appears her childhood ambition could actually turn into a reality.

“I love to bring a story to life,” Kathryn explains. Using mainly watercolours and pen, Kathryn’s illustrations lend themselves towards children, the soft colours and smoothness of the final outcomes being particularly attractive to young minds. With already one in print, Kathryn is currently working on a second book based on the Six Behaviour Strands used by the client, the Primary Behaviour Service (PBS). Rather than focusing on National Curriculum subjects such as Maths, English and Science, PBS concentrates on six areas: Focus, Independence, Resilience, Respect, Boundaries and Self-Regulation.

The first book in the PBS series is titled It’s Just Too Noisy, and teaches children about how to focus. Using her favoured illustration style, Kathryn introduces Barney, a rabbit who wants to relax and read his book. However, each time Barney settles down to read, he is distracted by loud noises. Unlike traditional stories, It’s Just Too Noisy invites children to engage with the story and its conclusion by deciding what Barney should do next. A choice of two actions leads to contrasting scenarios, thus educating children about the more appropriate ways of reacting in difficult situations.

barney-rectangle

Kathryn’s love of children’s illustration stems from her own childhood.

My biggest inspirations are my Mum and Walt Disney. When I was little, my Mum would use up old tiny pots of paint by painting on my furniture various characters from Disney films. I remember having a big white toy box with some of the puppies from 101 Dalmations on, which I loved! I have always loved the Disney hand-drawn style animation illustrations, and I guess this is what fueled my desire to draw as well.

Alongside her decorated furniture, Kathryn’s strongest art-related memory is winning a design competition whilst at Primary school. The task was to create an advert and logo to promote Walk to School week, and Kathryn’s illustration of a book bag with legs landed her with first prize. Embedded in her memory is the day the Mayor of Havering personally congratulated her on her winning entry. “… a huge car with little flags at the front pulled up … a very important man got out of the car and then he came and told me how brilliant my work was! ”

83As an illustrator, Kathryn does not only concentrate on child-targetted artwork. One of her favourite pieces of work to date is an illustration of a classic racing car. Inspired by the vehicles on display at Santa Pod Raceway, Kathryn has created a small series of vehicle illustrations, including a few as commissions. However, it is her first attempt at this new genre that Kathryn is most proud of.

Taking her illustration skills to new levels, Kathryn has recently added mural design to her repertoire, charging reasonable prices for beautiful wall art. Like any professional designer, Kathryn liaises with the client to make sure the outcome is exactly what they want but also employs her artistic eye to suggest the best method of achieving their wishes.

Thanks to her childhood fascination with Disney films, Kathryn is expert at replicating the original Disney characters and has often incorporated these into wall murals. Whilst cartoons are popular for children’s bedrooms, Kathryn is also skilled in typography, and faultlessly applies words or quotes to the layout. Details, including prices, can be found on Kathryn’s Creative Box website.

Kathryn’s dream is to have all six books in the PBS series published and to continue working in the graphic design field. As with all students and graduates, Kathryn has experienced ups and downs, competing against other designers as well as her own confidence. Yet, experience leads to knowledge, and Kathryn leaves us with some sound advice: “Keep Going. Honestly, the best advice is if you keep pursuing and persevering … you are much more likely to reach [your goals]. Never give up … you will never find out what potential you had.”

Kathryn’s portfolio can be found on Creative Box as well as her personal blog. She is also on Facebook and Tumblr.

 

The Pros and Cons of Digital Technology in Relation to Illustration

The following essay was originally written in 2011 during my second year studying BA Graphic Design.

This essay will talk about the development of technology from the 15th century until the digital technology of today. It will also explore in detail the effects, both positive and negative, of digital technology in relation to illustration.

Over thousands of years the idea of what illustration is has changed, especially in recent years. Illustration most likely began with someone drawing in the dirt with their finger however now illustrations are being produced for book covers, magazines, posters, websites, and so on. (Zeegen, 2009)

Over the past six or so centuries, technology has developed in ways that have changed the process of producing written and illustrative work. “It is hard to imagine a world in which every image was unique. Prior to the fifteenth century, images were not only-one-of-a-kind but rare.” (Thompson, 2003) [Online] Before the fifteenth century, all illustrated books were produced by hand, making them also very rare. (Mugnai, 2009a) This would have taken time meaning that books and illustrations would have been expensive due to the limited amounts of copies. So at this time copies of books or even the originals would have been found in select places of status such as palaces and churches. (Thompson, 2003)

During the 1400s the printing press was developed by Johannes Guttenberg resulting in the ability to reproduce thousands of identical images. However it was possible to reproduce images before this. In Europe in the 1390s woodcuts were used which then led onto etching and engraving in the middle ages. Some examples of etching are the illustrations by H.K. Browne for Charles Dickens’ novels. (Fig. 1) By the nineteenth century artists were finding ways to add colour into their prints. Books were now becoming easier and quicker to produce and hence costs were reduced rapidly. (Kreis, 2004) This also meant that individual people could then own a copy of a book rather than having to go to other places to look at or be read to from one.

Once methods of printing had been invented there were less hand-drawn books being produced. By the end of the 18th century lithography was invented but this was soon replaced by the end of the 19th century with “photomechanical processes that made possible the reproduction of a wide variety of painting and drawing techniques.” (Columbia University Press, 2007) [Online] The 19th century saw the development of the Golden Age of the Victorian Illustration and also the beginning of the Golden Age of Illustration in America. This period saw a rise in printed book and magazine illustration due to the developments in printing technology. Illustrators from this time were inspired by pre-Raphaelite art, Japanese colour prints and art nouveau style. (Wigan, 2009)

After the two world wars illustration styles changed as illustrators were influenced by the different artistic movements of the time, such as, Pop Art and Photorealism. (Mugnai, 2009c)

In the world today methods of illustration are completely different to those of the past. Bruce Wands suggests, “Computers and the Internet have revolutionized the way people communicate and how they produce media” (Wands, 2000:p40). Styles of illustration have changed to fit the growing developments, such as more visual content is needed on websites and blogs therefore digital approaches to illustrations have increased. (Tallon, 2008)

Picasso once said, “computers are worthless. They can only give you answers.” (Zeegen, 2007b:p41) However as Picasso died in 1973 he was not alive to see the development of digital illustration. In recent years the computer has provided illustrators with an additional means in the process of creating their work.

Digital technology was the next step for illustration and has altered the nature of the discipline. “The digital revolution would take no prisoners – it was clear, adapt or die!” (Computer Arts, 2006) [Online] It was in the early 1980s that the computer began to be used for illustration. At this time computer screens could not display extensive colours and everything was displayed in a low resolution. Therefore Pixel illustration, “is arguably where the whole digital illustration shebang began” (Goldman, 2011) [Online]

Although Goldman argues that digital illustration began in the 80s he also mentions that a different kind of illustration emerged in the 1990s. Adobe Photoshop fully emerged at the beginning of the decade but in 1995 once the software had been developed “digital photo illustration was born.” (Goldman, 2011) [Online]

Soon, although there were illustrators who still preferred to produce their work by hand, less hand drawn illustrations were being used in magazines or on book covers and “images composed of squiggles and geometric shapes, courtesy of Adobe and Apple” (Stermer,2000:p30) began to appear instead.

The invention of programmes such as Photoshop meant that illustrators could edit their work digitally. For example, as Wands pointed out, illustrators could now work purely in black and white then scan their work into a computer and using digital software manipulate elements and apply colour on screen. This meant that artists no longer had to spend hours producing everything by hand and starting again when corrections were required. As well as Photoshop there was Adobe Illustrator, which allowed artists to create illustrations and enlarge them to any size due to the flexibility of such vector software. (Wands, 2000)

Photoshop and other software in theory offer more savings in relation to production. Today many comic book artists draw their work by hand but choose to add colour using digital software. In Goldman’s article he mentions another specialised software, Corel Painter. In similar ways to Photoshop this programme can be used to edit illustrations and photographs or create illustrations from scratch, however in a way that can imitate “the way that watercolour Paints behave when wet, with drips, runs and splashes.” (Goldman, 2011) [Online] This software is time saving as it is possible to produce something comparatively quickly with it, whereas to do the same by hand, for many people, would take a long time as the artist or illustrator may not have skills in a range of media and digital simulation may offer an alternative solution.

Digital technology has given those that are not confident at drawing by hand the opportunity to become illustrators. Computers have opened up new styles of illustration such as Pixel Illustration, as mentioned earlier, and Vector Art. Vector Art is an appropriate type of illustration to be used on websites as files are small in size whilst retaining clarity and are quick to download. Vector illustrations can also be reproduced at any scale without losing clarity and sharpness. Artists usually use photos or hand drawn materials as a template to draw around using digital software. (Goldman, 2011)

However, even though digital technology has become popular in relation to illustration, this does not mean that all illustration has to be entirely digital. Since the development of digital technology there has been a rise in multimedia art. This is where more than one type of media is used within an artwork for example painting, print and photography, and now more recently, digital images. This style of art was fairly popular in the 1990s where technological advancements were giving illustrators and designers new methods to experiment with. (Mèredieu, 2003)

Dave McKean is an example of an illustrator that uses a multimedia approach in his work. He has made many illustrations for book covers, CD covers and graphic novels. He has become widely known for his work with the writer, Neil Gaiman. McKean uses the computer to layer his multimedia compositions, a lot of which are often made by hand. He has a fairly positive opinion about the use of digital technology when producing illustrations. He has suggested that with a computer there is “obviously incredible control” (Miller, 2004) [Online] and it is a good way of layering images no matter what the media; digital or handmade work. McKean is a skilled draughtsman so combines traditional practices with the flexibility offered by digital software. (Fig.2)

His main negative view of digital technology is not one that really relates to illustration work but only that people end up spending most of their time sitting in front of a computer. He also says that many people assume that it is possible to use digital software to edit photographs to get the required affect, however depending on the image this is not always possible.

Despite McKean having positive views on digital technology he believes that illustration is in trouble. “I’m sure this is just the computer’s honeymoon period, but in the meantime, illustrators are having a tough time getting work.” (Miller, 2004) [Online]

Although digital technology has its positive aspects there are other people who have negative views on such developments. Roger Parker believes “recent advances in computer imaging are blurring the line between photos and illustrations”. (Parker, 1998:p93) Caplin and Banks tell us to “forget the ‘photograph’. Nowadays it is just another word for an image. All images are images, however they are produced.” (2003:p6) Françoise Holtz-Bonneau points out that digital images produced on a computer are either overly geometric or they are “excessively realistic in an all too perfect way”. (Mèredieu, 2003:p109) Rick Poynor argues that illustration generated using a computer has become “predictable and trite”. (1999) [Online] Many people have learnt how to use digital methods to produce illustrations, which after a while have become similar and clichéd.

As now it is not essential to be able to draw to be able to produce illustrations, Milton Glaser argues that the invention of computers has made illustrators unnecessary. (Arisman, 2000) If people can produce their own illustrations easily then they will not need to hire illustrators to do this for them. Karl Marx predicted a society where there would not be any professional artists as all people would be artists. “The particular way in which art is expanding and becoming diluted at present” would not please Marx, however he did foresee the possibility of these things occurring such as the blurring of the boundaries of the disciplines. (Mèredieu, 2003:p222)

“Anyone with a computer and a printer now has an artist’s studio, photography studio, film studio, printing press, and laboratory on their desk.” (Herriott, 2009:p6) Although this was said as a positive response to the advancements of technology, it backs up Marx’s view that it is possible that all men will be artists. Everyone will have access to technology that gives them the ability to make their own illustrations, which “makes illustrators unnecessary”. (Arisman, 2000:p55)

Neil Churcher writes about Marion Deuchars, a tutor from the Royal College of Art, in an article saying that she believes that drawing by hand, for example into a sketchbook, shows that the illustrator has design skills. However she thinks that computer aided design has lessened this importance as now it appears the most important thing is digital visualisation. Churcher refers to the graphic designer, Phil Carter, who says that “drawing is a skill that is sadly being lost”. (Churcher, 2002) [Online]

Steven Heller writes in his essay, The End of Illustration, that people are digitally changing aspects of others art works without their permission. (Heller, 2000) Therefore some artists have “willingly offered their pictures, carefully crafted over a career of individual commissions, to be used and misused… altered beyond recognition on attribution.” (Stermer, 2000:p30)

Milton Glaser has written about how he was once approached about a business plan, which would involve compiling a disk of illustrations that people could buy and use as they wished. So someone could buy the disk and then “use any image, for any purpose, modified as desired, combined with any other images, recoloured, reshaped, reconfigured… forever.” Illustrations, therefore, would no longer be unique. (Glaser, 1997:p258)

Glaser fears that the profession of illustration will eventually disappear especially if business plans such as these go ahead and succeed. If people are able to get their hands on such disks then the professional illustrator would no longer be needed or even wanted because, as Glaser points out, it is doubtful that clients will want to pay for illustrations when something similar could be acquired for nothing. For persisting image-makers, such as illustrators, artists and photographers, there is the risk they will not be well known, as they will just be “reduced to the level of anonymous image providers.” (Glaser, 1997:p259) If a disk such as this had ever been produced then illustrations would have become standard images that would get overused and boring. On the other hand, because of the overuse of the same illustrations again and again, people may desire new original visual approaches.

Traditionally a work of art was a unique thing as it was made only the once; there was only one copy. Nevertheless, once technology began to develop it was possible to make copies of these unique art works. The copy, however, would “lack the authenticity and aura of the original work, so be worthless.” (Hillis Miller, 1992:p20)

“That which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art.” (Benjamin, 1936) [Online] Walter Benjamin wrote an essay in which he suggested the idea of aura in relation to artwork and the effect that mechanical reproduction had on this. By reproducing a work of art, for example, it is removing the original from its “domain of tradition”. (Benjamin, 1936) [Online] So even if the reproduction of the artwork is faultless, it is still lacking in something: “its presence in time and space”. (Benjamin, 1936) [Online] The work of art has been removed out of its original context. For example a religious painting would have an aura in the museum or church in which it is displayed, but this aura would be destroyed if it were to be used as a magazine cover as it has been removed from its original domain. Technology has also changed peoples reaction towards hand produced art because original artwork, such as a painting, was only “viewed by one person or by a few” (Benjamin, 1936) [Online] and its aura could only be appreciated by these people. However, once copies could be produced, these art works, now lacking in aura, were viewable by the public who would not value them in the same way as someone who viewed them in their original domain.

This essay was written before the digital technologies of today, as the first computers did not appear until the 1940s (Mèredieu, 2003). However Benjamin’s argument is still relevant today because it can be applied to digital technologies.

The idea of a loss of aura is evident in “photographs of photographs, photocopies of photocopies, and copies of video tapes” (Mitchell, 2004:p5) where each copy has a lower quality than the original. Matt Soar mentioned this idea of an aura: “that illustration beginning with the hand and ending with pens, brushes, or pencils has an affective quality – an aura”. (Soar, 2000:p33) He says that this quality cannot be created by digital processes such as photography and computer software.

Another example of this lack of aura are photographs of things. A photograph of an object is just that, a photograph of an object. By looking at it no one actually sees the original object, what is actually seen is “the original of a reproduction – with all the associated loss of aura.” (Rodman, 2007) [Online] Howard Rodman uses as an example the Eiffel Tower. The actual tower has an aura whereas the postcards, t-shirts and other merchandises do not have this aura.

Lucinda Rogers is an illustrator who produces everything by hand. This consists of mainly reportage drawing which involves her drawing on the spot. Deuchars says that when drawing no one can tell what the final outcome will be like, or whether it will be good, until it is finished. “You have to let it go on its own journey. What you have to do is to start without thinking.” (Churcher, 2002) [Online] With digital technology this is not possible in the same way.

Although many believe digital technology to have caused problems for illustrators and maybe even the end of illustration, Zeegen writes that before digital illustration grew in popularity, illustration was “only moments away from the final nail being hammered into the coffin.” (2010) [Online] Whereas some illustrators believed that all was not well for illustration, Zeegen (2007a) [Online] poses the question “Where did it all go right?” Therefore, digital technology has for some brought new life into the discipline, especially, as Zeegen also points out, through the growth of the Internet where “illustration has become more noticed on an increasingly global scale”. (Zeegen, 2010) [Online]

Overall there are many different opinions about digital technology and its effect on illustration. A Scottish illustrator, Bernie Reid assumes that digital illustration will begin to decline, whereas Michelle Thompson has expressed the view that she believes that both hand-rendered and digital illustration can both exist together especially as image-makers are benefitting from digital techniques within their hand produced illustrations. Peter Arkle, another illustrator, feels that there should be a growing interest in work that shows evidence of being produced by a human hand even if some of the illustration is digital as it really stands out. (Hyland and Bell, 2003)

Although digital technology may be an exciting new method and has made it easier and quicker to produce illustrations, Steven Wilson, who has done illustrations for The Guardian argues that it is “only as exciting as the ideas you have inside your head”. (Computer Arts, 2006) [Online] So illustrators are still needed to come up with the ideas for illustrations. Emily Alston, who uses digital methods, points out that “every illustrator and designer has the very same technology available to them, and if everyone uses the tools in the same way, nothing would ever stand out as different or original.” (Computer Arts, 2006) [Online]

Caplin and Banks believe that digital technology is a positive thing due to the fact that designs and illustrations can be produced faster than by hand but also they point out that “from cave painting on, image making has followed technological advancements and will continue to do so.” (2003:p7) So just as with development of the printing press, lithography and so on, digital technology is simply the next advancement of an ancient and continually evolving process.

On the whole digital technology has had a positive effect on illustration as it has brought new opportunities and methods to the field. With the development of technology, illustrations have become quicker to produce both from the reproduction point of view, with the development of the printing press and later computers; and also in producing the original image, thanks to digital software. There are, on the other hand, negative view points about digital technology as some artists fear that the more traditional methods will be abandoned and that the profession of illustrators will slowly decline because of the ability of everyone being able to produce or copy others work using software available to all. Overall, every time that technology advances, illustration is able to adapt to the new methods of producing, whilst still being able to integrate traditional methods. Therefore, digital technology is the next step in the continually evolving creative activity known as illustration.

6

Fig. 1

Browne, H. (1849) My Musical Breakfast [Online]. Available from http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/4/4f/Pickwick_papers27.jpg/220px-Pickwick_papers27.jpg [Accessed: 16th November 2011]

1

Fig. 2

McKean, D. (2008) Big Fat Duck Cookbook Sample 8 [Online]. Available from http://www.mckean-art.co.uk/ [Accessed: 16th November 2011]

References

Arisman, M. (2000) Toward a Holistic Procession: An Interview with Milton Glaser In: Heller, S. and Arisman, M. (eds.) The Education of an Illustrator New York, Allworth Press. P.53-57

Benjamin, W. (1936) The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction Translated by A. Blenden (2005) [Online]. Available from http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/ge/benjamin.htm [Accessed: 1st November 2011]

Caplin, S. and Banks, A. (2003) The Complete Guide to Digital Illustration Lewes, ILEX

Churcher, N. (2002) Drawing Out Ideas [Online]. Available from http://www.lucindarogers.co.uk/design-week.html [Accessed: 13th November 2011]

Columbia University Press. (2007) Illustration [Online]. Available from http://www.infoplease.com/ce6/ent/A0824994.html [Accessed: 30th October 2011]

Computer Arts. (2006) Digital Illustration [Online]. Available from http://www.computerarts.co.uk/features/digital-illustration [Accessed: 11th November 2011]

Glaser, M. (1997) The End of Illustration (Or the War is Over, Part 2) In: Heller, S. and Finamore, M (eds.) Design Culture: An Anthology of Writing from the Aiga Journal of Graphic Design New York, Allworth Press

Goldman, R. (2011) Digital Art: Explore Illustration [Online]. Available from http://www.streetdirectory.com/travel_guide/114366/programming/digital_art_explore_illustration.html [Accessed: 31st October 2011]

Heller, S. (2000) The End of Illustration In: Heller, S. and Arisman, M. (eds.) The Education of an Illustrator New York, Allworth Press. P.23-28

Herriott, L. (ed.) (2009) 500 Digital Illustration Hints, Tips and Techniques Hove, RotoVision

Hillis Miller, J. (1992) Illustration London, Reaktion Books Limited

Hyland, A. and Bell, R. (2003) Hand to Eye: Contemporary Illustration London, Laurence King

Kreis, S. (2004) The Printing Press [Online]. Available from http://www.historyguide.org/intellect/press.html [Accessed: 30th October 2011]

de Mèredieu, F.(2003) Digital and Video Art Translated by R. Elliott (2005) Edinburgh, Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd

Miller, J. (2004) Dave McKean: Dark Digital Art [Online] Available from http://www.bulletsofautumn.com/mckean-art/readings/Dark_digital_art_2004.html [Accessed: 9th November 2011]

Mitchell, W J. (2004) The Reconfigured Eye: Visual Truth in the Post-Photographic Era Cambridge, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Mugnai, F. (2009a) A Brief History of Illustration (Part I) [Online]. Available from http://blogof.francescomugnai.com/2009/11/a-brief-history-of-illustration-part-i/ [Accessed: 2nd November 2011]

Mugnai, F. (2009c) A Brief History of Illustration (Part III) [Online]. Available from http://blogof.francescomugnai.com/2009/11/a-brief-history-of-illustration-part-iii/ [Accessed: 2nd November 2011]

Parker, R. (1998) Looking Good in Print 4th Ed., Arizona, The Coriolis Group Inc

Poynor, R. (1999) Illustrate This [Online]. Available from http://www.frieze.com/issue/article/illustrate_this/ [Accessed: 9th November 2011]

Rodman, H (2007) Authorship in the Digital Age In: August, J. Authorship in the Digital Age [Online]. Available from http://johnaugust.com/2007/authorship-in-the-digital-age [Accessed: 31st October]

Soar, M. (2000) It Begins with “Ill” and Ends With “Digital”:The Riddle of Illustration’s Declining Fortunes In: Heller, S. and Arisman, M. (eds.) The Education of an Illustrator New York, Allworth Press. P.32-35

Stermer, D. (2000) What the Hell Happened to Illustration? In: Heller, S. and Arisman, M. (eds.) The Education of an Illustrator New York, Allworth Press. P.29-31

Tallon, K. (2008) Digital Fashion Illustration with Photoshop and Illustrator London, Anova Books Company Ltd

Thompson, W. (2003) The Printed Image in the West: History and Techniques [Online]. Available from http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/prnt/hd_prnt.htm [Accessed: 30th October 2011]

Wands, B. (2000) The Influence of Computers and the Internet on Illustration In: Heller, S. and Arisman, M. (eds.) The Education of an Illustrator New York, Allworth Press. P.40-47

Wigan, M. (2009) The Visual Dictionary of Illustration London, AVA Publishing SA

Zeegen, L. (2007a) Illustration Renaissance [Online]. Available from http://computerarts.co.uk/features/illustration-renaissance [Accessed: 11th November 2011]

Zeegen, L. (2007b) Secrets of Digital Illustration: a Master Class in Commercial Image Making Hove, RotaVision SA

Zeegen, L. (2009) What is Illustration? Hove, RotoVision SA

Zeegen, L. (2010) A Decade of Illustration [Online]. Available from http://www.computerarts.co.uk/features/decade-illustration [Accessed: 11th November 2011]

 

Secondary Resources

Ascot, R. and Shanken, E. (2003) Telematic Embrace: Visionary Theories of Art, Technology, and Consciousness Berkley, University of California Press

Grau, O. (2003) Visual Art: From Illusion to Immersion Cambridge, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Heller, S. (2004) Ode to Illustration [Online]. Available from http://www.aiga.org/ode-to-illustration/ [Accessed: 24th October 2011]

Male, A. (2007) Illustration: A Theoretical and Contextual Perspective Lausanne, AVA Publishing

Mugnai, F. (2009b) A Brief History of Illustration (Part II) [Online]. Available from http://blogof.francescomugnai.com/2009/11/a-brief-history-of-illustration-part-ii/ [Accessed: 2nd November 2011]

Mugnai, F. (2009d) A Brief History of Illustration (Part IV) [Online]. Available from http://blogof.francescomugnai.com/2009/12/a-brief-history-of-illustration-part-iv/ [Accessed: 2nd November 2011]

Mugnai, F. (2009e) A Brief History of Illustration (Final) [Online]. Available from http://blogof.francescomugnai.com/2009/12/a-brief-history-of-illustration-final/ [Accessed: 2nd November 2011]

Triggs, T. (2000) What am I? In: Heller, S. and Arisman, M. (eds.) The Education of an Illustrator New York, Allworth Press. P.49

Wood, F. (2002) China: The Invention of Printing [Online]. Available from http://www.fathom.com/feature/122327/index.html [Accessed: 30th October 2011]

 

 

The (Road) Signs of Typography

sign-giving-order-no-overtaking

From the moment we learn to read, typography has a significant impact on our lives. Without intending to, we absorb thousands of words a day, sometimes even beginning before we get out of bed. Posters dominate the walls of our towns, shops have unique lettering adorning their fronts, and even clothes often come decorated with typographic slogans.

Typography for many people evokes images of decorative lettering, expressive catchphrases, logos and artistic alphabets – such designs that have obviously been thought out and painstakingly developed. What tends to be forgotten is that every written word is a form of typography. Typefaces, including what you are reading now, have been designed; yet, apart from designers, fonts and such like are often dismissed or taken for granted.

One particular typographic design that we see everyday is displayed on road signs throughout the country. How many people look at a sign on the side of a busy motorway and admire the typeface, the layout, kerning, leading etc? No one does. We think, “Thank goodness that sign was there otherwise I would have missed my turning,” or “I’m glad that sign was there, otherwise this roundabout would be very confusing.”

So, who is the genius behind the helpful and effective road signs around Britain? In fact, it was a project by two designers executed at the turn of the 1960s. Jock Kinneir (1917-1994) and Margaret Calvert (1936) are the people who took on the ambitious project to create an easily deciphered signage system that, not only modernised British roads, influenced the rest of the world.

Since tomorrow, 11th February 2017, would have been Kinneir’s 100th birthday, I thought it worth learning about the designer(s) of a system that we now take for granted. Using carefully placed letters, numbers, symbols and colours, Kinneir and his assistant took on the most ambitious information design project to date, and made our roads, and the ever increasing motorways, a much safer thoroughfare to navigate.

When Jock Kinneir took on this project in 1957, he was already a proficient and admired graphic designer. Born in Hampshire, he developed the taste for art and design, resulting in enrolling onto an engraving course at the Chelsea School of Art. Due to the war, his career did not take off straightaway, however he eventually gained a position in the Central Office of Information as an exhibition designer. By 1956, Kinneir had opened his own studio and was teaching at the same school he attended on a part time basis.

Kinneir’s first major project was developing the signage system at Gatwick Airport, which was only just opening for public use. It is at this stage that Kinneir began his partnership with Margaret Calvert. Studying for a National Diploma in Design, Kinnier recognised her illustration skills and employed her to help him produce artworks and drawings for this notable project.

It was through the results of the Gatwick project that Kinneir and Calvert landed themselves with the road sign commission. At this period of time, motorways were only just being introduced to the UK, meaning that the existing signs were virtually illegible and un-thought-out having been erected many years after the roads were originally paved. Kinneir and Calvert’s job was to work alongside the development of the new roads, developing a coherent system that would be easy to read and understand when driving at high speeds.

It was agreed that a combination of upper and lower case was more legible than the standard block capitals that previous sign-makers had utilised. This meant that an appropriate typeface had to be designed or procured. By adapting the preexisting typeface Akzidenz-Grotesk, a sans serif font originally released in Germany, the pair generated a softer, friendlier version, now known as Transport. The signs themselves sported a blue background with white type, which was easy for drivers to spot against the backdrop of the British countryside as well as the stretch of tarmac ahead of them – both during the daytime and at night.

The motorway signage system was such a success that Kinneir and Calvert were asked to design the other, now familiar, signs on the rest of Britain’s roads. These include the simple triangle signs dotted about our roads, as well as the large green boards on the sides of primary roads, and the white versions on the others.

Calvert was responsible for the pictograms that many of our signs display. It was felt that, on occasion, it was easier to show a command using a symbol, rather than a lengthy instruction that drivers would not have time to read. Now, whenever a driver spots a silhouette of a boy holding hands with a little girl, they know to be extra vigilant of children running around in the area.

Kinneir and Calvert later went on to work with British Rail, hospitals and the army, designing signage systems that were so successful that they are still in place today. Imagine the perplexity of navigating around the country without any clear guidance!

John Kinneir died in 1994, but his legacy remains. Of course, his (and Calvert’s) design has altered slightly, the more developed towns, roads and cities become – unfortunately making some areas rather confusing – however, Kinneir is mostly forgotten, as the public take road signs for granted.

“It is sad but true to say that most of us take our surroundings for granted. Direction signs and street names, for instance, are as vital as a drop of oil in an engine, without which the moving parts would seize up; one can picture the effect of the removal of this category of information on drivers in a busy city or on pedestrians trying to find their way in a large building complex. It is a need which has bred a sub-division of graphic design with more influence on the appearance of our surroundings than any other.” – Kinneir, 1965

Next time you are on the streets, whether driving or walking, take a look at the signs you pass. Appreciate their simple design, the use of colour, the clarity of the typeface. These signs did not just appear there, they have been carefully thought out for your benefit. Try not to take them for granted, and make an effort to remember both Kinneir and Calvert’s names – you never know, they may come up in a pub quiz one day!

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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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The Digital Dark Age

Have you ever wondered what we, the current Western world, will be remembered for in terms of art? There is evidence from all periods of history, showing the varying styles and their developments. We only need to step into an art gallery to see paintings from the Renaissance era, Dutch Golden Age, Rococo and Neoclassicism. Exhibitions are still popular for Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Impressionism, Post- Impressionism and so forth. Modern art galleries not only display contemporary art but also works from the movements of the 20th century: Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, Bauhaus, De Stijl, Futurism, Surrealism, Typography… the list goes on.

Art works have been restored and protected so that modern generations can appreciate their beauty, skill and techniques. But what will happen to our contemporary contributions? Paintings, sculptures and the like will hopefully be maintained in the same way as their predecessors, however our most recent movement, Digital Art, possesses numerous complications.

Although many artists have continued using the tried and tested techniques of yesteryear, the 21st century has conformed to the new practice of digital art. This is the era in which graphic designers and illustrators have out shone the fine artists. Computer software enables the mass production of a single design or art work, perfect for posters, flyers, logos etc. The same software lets artists and illustrators edit their hand rendered images, or draw them from scratch directly on the computer screen. This advancement has greatly benefited the majority, providing an arguably easier method of creating a “masterpiece”.

The ease of reproducing – reprinting – a digital artwork numerous times creates a sense of security: Damage? No worries, print a new copy. But for how long will this last? Everyone has experienced the heart stopping horror of losing a vital digital file. Or perhaps a computer has crashed mid production resulting in the loss of latest developments – save your files at regular intervals, everyone! The thought of losing one piece of artwork is sickening; now imagine this: an entire network crashing. Perhaps a bug wipes out several computers, a digital terrorist attack. A natural disaster could play havoc with our electricity. Scientists have warned that solar flares could render our technology useless. We cannot guarantee that our contemporary inventions will last for ever, the same as we cannot predict an alien invasion – something else that could put an end to digital art. If any of these scenarios were to happen, what will future generations know of this most recent art movement? Welcome to the digital dark age.

Many artists, illustrators and graphic designers have online portfolios; a digital gallery, but how many of us keep printed versions of our artwork? Alas, how long will these physical copies last? Art galleries contain paintings from centuries ago. They are protected, cleaned, (occasionally) retouched and restored, prolonging their life. Unfortunately the same cannot be done for works printed on paper. Ever town has a poster on display that has been ruined by rainfall, bleached by the sun, vandalised etc. Except for replacing it with another copy, they cannot be saved.

Do not panic too much. Evidence suggests that under the right circumstances paper can last upwards of one hundred years, regrettably eventually showing signs of age. Regardless of what happens to our technologies, the next few generations will have access to artworks of the early 21st century. After that? Who knows. In the end it does not really matter. We will not be around to bemoan the loss of our hard work.

In order for evidence of digital art to remain for years to come, please be sensible. Save your work (on multiple devices of your can). Print multiple copies. Protect them from the elements. But, most importantly, keep creating art. On the other hand, you have got to admit the thought of a digital dark age sounds quite exciting. I wonder what inaccurate beliefs the future human race will have of our generation?

The Life of a Sketchbook

Sketchbook ˈskɛtʃbʊk/ noun a pad of drawing paper for sketching on.
I lost count the amount of times throughout school and college people asked if they could look through my sketchbook. I felt uncomfortable letting people flick through the pages for two reasons. 1. I did not believe I was any good at drawing. 2. I knew the contents of my sketchbooks were not what they were expecting to see. There seems to be a misunderstanding among non-artists that sketchbooks are full of perfect works of art, but this is not the case at all.
The purpose of a sketchbook, particularly when studying, is to document creative ideas. It is a private place for artists to record their thoughts and experiments before developing various versions of a particular concept. It is only after these stages have been completed that the final artwork is put together.
There is no right or wrong way to keep a sketchbook. Everyone works differently and find some methods more helpful than others. Some books may not contain any drawings at all but be filled with collage and inspiration from a number of resources, whereas others may be packed with rough illustrations and scribbled notes.
Steven Heller, an author of art and design books, has compiled together snapshots from professional artists’ and designers’ sketchbooks. It is interesting to see the methods they have taken to move their thoughts from brain to paper. Two books I particularly enjoyed looking through are Graphic and Typography Sketchbooks.
Inspired by these books I have taken photographs of a few of my own sketchbooks that I kept whilst studying for a degree in Graphic Design. As you can see below I did not stick to one method, instead I experimented with drawings, collage, paint, colour, rough thumbnail sketches etc.

Next time you ask to look at someone’s sketchbook remember you are not going to see perfect artwork. What you are really requesting is to take a peak into someone’s brain. So don’t be surprised if they hesitate to show you!

Colouring with Purpose

Colouring books are great things to buy. They are fun, relaxing, beautiful, and make fantastic presents. It is impossible to only buy one book. Before you know it you have too many to store. But nowadays colouring is not only restricted to books…

One innovative colouring alternative are greeting cards. They are creative and personal ways of expressing you feelings, congratulations or sympathy for friends and loved ones. Many people have made their own cards by hand at some point, but these cards make it slightly easier to produce something (almost) handmade. You may think it is cheating, but everyone has a unique way of colouring. Every picture is different due to the choice of colours, type of pen/pencil, and even the way we hold said pen/pencil.

The pictured examples above come from a set bought for me from The Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall.Each one features a different type of bird: hawfinch, goldfinch, yellowhammer, coal tit, great tit and long tailed tit. Some of the cards are more detailed than others, but the final result relies on you, the artist.

There are loads of ready-to-colour cards out there. Look in art and craft shops, book stores and local gift shops to discover many of the different types. Also, websites like Amazon have a huge selection. Here are some examples:

  • Rebecca Jones has produced several ranges for The National Trust. Each set contains some aspect of nature: butterflies, flowers etc.
  • Prepare for Christmas with these cards produced by the same publishers as above.
  • Instead of greeting cards you could opt for Postcards, like these from Puffin, the publishers of thousands of children’s books.
  • You can buy cards for all sorts of specific occasions, especially birthdays
  • … and thank yous.
  • Even popular colouring books have postcard versions.
  • Colouring cards are just as relaxing as colouring books.

Sadly, these packs of cards can be expensive. However you can make your own coloured-in card. If you have finished colouring sheets lying around (or a book that’s fallen apart like I have) you can turn them into a lovely greeting card for someones birthday. All you need is a blank card to stick the sheet on (which will probably need trimming), and voila, one handmade card. Give it a go!

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