Monday, 25 July 2016

Final Reflection

This project has been an experience, that’s for sure. I originally set out to do an MA because I believed it was what I needed to further my teaching career, to make the move from F.E to H.E, whilst also allowing me the time to explore my own practice, learn new things and to see if I was capable of being creative again.

I was not prepared for how much it would affect my creative process and practice. In so much as I haven’t done a painting and I haven’t planned a final outcome in the first two weeks of a project. Both of these are massive steps for me. I spent my time at uni,(the first time) searching for a process that I felt was most suitable for my creative outlet, one that generated a style, one that told everyone the illustrations were mine. What I realize now is that this is not what illustration is. Its fair to say that for some, the way that they draw, or make marks or create imagery is their style, their authorial voice. Investing so whole heartedly in a process as a way of defining practice can, in some cases cover weak ideas, a lack of creative thinking and a stagnation of innovation. The illustrator becomes tied to their process through fear. This was certainly the case for me. Is there any other time where a practicing professional illustrator is free to explore their own practice? Not likely. Not without jeopardizing their professional profile or affecting their commercial appeal. As professional illustrators we become trapped in our own process. Trapped by a style that becomes our only way of working. For the first time in my illustration career, I feel a sense of confidence in my ability to successfully problem solve, to be innovative and creative with my practice without relying on painting as an outcome.

In a sense studying an MA has freed me from the restraints of my practice but in a way it has done more than that. It has fundamentally changed the way I approach a creative solution. I, through obsessive time management and fear, usually plan a final outcome during the first few weeks of a project and then work backwards from that point. That’s not to say that I didn’t experiment or explore materials, processes and media, but these experiments were simply a tokenistic gesture, because in my mind, I already had the elements of the final outcome decided. Certainly when I painted, part of the reason for this was purely because I knew the time I had to invest to produce each painting. The project became more about efficiency of production, quality and quantity of imagery, rather than a real engagement with purpose or concepts of the project in question. This reluctance to relinquish the final product is also rooted in ideas about traditional illustration practice, that illustrators must be technically proficient in their draughtsmanship. 

In reflection, illustration should not be only rooted in this, it should be about innovation, about communication, about create something visually engaging. Sometimes an accurate drawing or a beautifully realistic painting doesn’t offer anything more than a photograph would offer. The illustrator needs to bring in something more, something that is beyond the real, something magical, to make the unseen, seen and the unexplained tangible. This does not always require technical proficiency of process, but a comprehensive understanding of purpose.  I have consciously invested time and energy into this exploration of purpose. What am I trying to say? What questions am I trying to answer? And how is my imagery going to convey that to the viewer? Through out each developmental stage of the project I have been asking myself these questions, reflecting on success and failings, trying to unpick the solution by discovering the real question. This has allowed each experiment to have its place in the journey of the project, each development has informed a creative solution that is an important part of the discourse of the project and the continued development of practice. At the beginning of the project I refused to commit to a final outcome and invested instead on documenting and exploring processes and practice through reflection and experimentation. This approach has opened my creative process and broadened my practice. There is still an inherent anxiety that somehow in leaving painting I will loose the core of my authorial voice, my commercial appeal and language, but I have to believe that the ‘New’ will bring something more to my practice.

Moving forward I hope to continue to develop my voice through experimentation and investigation. I never want to be stationary in my practice. I have a great opportunity through teaching to be continually challenging my authorial voice through practice, to share in the creative process of others and to always learn. I am going to become a Hermenaut:  

‘an adventurer, a traveller, a map maker in the uncharted territory of creating something unseen, not experienced before. ‘

O’Reilly 2014

Final Cover

To make the final publication tie in with the other elements of the project, I designed a cover that was complimentary to the screen printed book cover. I used this Peter Vergo quote on the bellyband because I feel that it really does encapsulate the project.

It brings together the idea of the physical positioning of the objects, the objects in situ, how they are arranged together, but also the part that those objects play in constructing the narrative of the collector, their experiences, choices and personality. 

Friday, 22 July 2016

Pagination and Page Layout

I spent some time planning and developing the layout of the catalogue. I struggled initially with the layout throughout the book until I stumbled upon the idea of using the screen-print layers as a starting point for some of the layout designs. This helped with structuring the introductory pages and added a nice continuity across the catalogue, the publication and the prints.  I also used the same colour palette throughout for each participant, taken from the original screen-prints.

I had previously based the order of the book on chronological responses. However, this required a little bit of shuffling in order to break up the screen-printing throughout the publication. I also wanted to punctuate the photos with text and leave enough space around the screen-print sections to create a visual pause for the reader. I also wanted to balance white space throughout with written passages.

Here are some of the more successful double page layout ideas. I have used a combination of original imagery, screen-prints, photography and type to break up the publication.

Although I have used online book printing facilities before like Vista and Blurb, I felt reluctant to use them at such short notice incase there were any issues with the quality of the final publication. Instead I approached Hobs Reprographics on Castle Street for quotes. They were very helpful with file set up, crop marks, bleeds and colour matching. They also offered a quick turn around and could print a full colour 40-page A5 saddle stitched booklet the same day, which seemed like a great offer.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Plinths and the laser cutter: the honeymoon.

As a response to the exhibition space dilemma I have made small plinths or bases for the assortment of models that I have been experimenting with. This was also an opportunity for me to continue my romance with the laser cutter. Although when designing the models I tried to keep the footprint the same, there is quite a large variation across the 7 models. Making a base will help add uniformity to the collection as a whole. I designed a small square base with a hole for the model to sit in. I also used the engraver to add the title of each model and the name of the collector. 

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Documenting the project.

In order to bring all of the disparate elements of the project together I have decided to make a catalogue of the project, to document all the responses together. This feels like the most fitting way to show all of the different elements together and how they work as a complete project.

I spent an afternoon with Carlos in the photography studio setting up lights, a tripod and the rostrum to get a variety of dynamic shots for the publication.


Monday, 18 July 2016

Exhibition Space reflection:

Today we looked around the exhibition space for the show in September. My reluctance to settle on a final outcome in the project felt even more pronounced when looking at the space. I realized that I, in trying to embrace the new, had lost sight of the driving force of much illustration work, which is an end product.

Clients aren’t bothered if you’ve learnt a new skill, or tried a new approach, if anything they want a copy of something you have already produced. If this is the case to be a practicing illustrator, how do you keep developing your own style and moving your practice forward when getting work means that clients are buying into a style that you have already done? There are wider repercussions across the discipline as a whole, how can illustration as a profession move anywhere when we are tied to our current, and in most cases old style and process? How can we be contemporary and adventurers in visual language when, to get work, (after all illustration is a job) we have to re hash, re produced and plagiarize our old work? Where is the space for innovation? For the new?

Illustrators are forced to split their work into two completely separate camps, personal work, a space to drive forward innovation, to embrace new technology, to explore develop and investigate authorial voice, visual language and practice; and commercial work, work that brings in money, where integrity is sacrificed for commerce. In some cases these two camps collide and something truly magical happens, like the work of Merijn Hos mentioned in a previous post.

Alan Male wrote this ‘the role of the illustrator should be as an innovative and vigorous partner and not a submissive and passive provider to the client.’ (2007:182) in his book ‘Illustration: A theoretical and contextual perspective’. This is a great argument. Illustrators should be actively pushing the boundaries of the practice with commercial work as much as with personal work. Personal work should be the place to learn new skills, to experiment and explore, but if this acquisition of the new is not used in commercial practice then its point is lost.

So back to the exhibition: I have thought about the project as a whole and as individual pieces. The difficulty is that the project itself has produced a collection of responses about collections, including books, screen prints, models, and writing. None of which holds more value that the other, but together they form an overall collection, which in itself is arguably closer to the whole concept of the project. I need to consider how these items might be displayed as a collection to truly convey the project as a whole without oversaturating the exhibit.

Cover design - a love affair with the laser cutter

Experiments with a laser cut bellyband for the publication. I used a plan muted grey murano card for the cover to create a neutral base to set off the colourful prints. I chose Orange as the accent colour to unify all the prints together as most have at least one warm tone. Plus I feel that grey and orange is a really nice combination of colours. 

 I wanted the title to be short and to the point rather than over complicating everything. I think it sets the tone for the rest of the book, giving the audience just enough of an idea of the content, without oversaturating it. 


The bellyband also allowed me to put a small 'Thank you' on the back for the participants. I feel like the cover design was crucial in maintaining the quality of the screen prints. This approach has married the colours and tones of the booklet without being too fussy and overcomplicated.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Making the publication

I have been scoring, folding, glueing and cutting all day. I'd quite happily never fold another piece of paper again in my life. I decided to make 6 copies of the book in order to give one to each participant, even though one collection didn't make it into the book. It was a difficult decision to exclude one of the prints, but it jarred against the others in size, arrangement of shapes, composition and balance. Overall the book feels more complete without it.

I had to resort to a home-made book press to keep the book blocks flat. I also struggled with some twisting in the concertinas. I managed to flatten and press most of this out by keeping them in the press for 24 hours. I also decided not to cut the edges in the guillotine in case of damaging the prints and also effecting the size of the books. 

Friday, 15 July 2016

Developing the publication pt.2

I had to do some trial runs with some of the practice screen-prints to ensure that the folding and positioning of the imagery was going to be successful in the book. This gave me the opportunity to explore the addition of typography onto the images. I knew that I did not want it to disrupt the flow of the visuals and how they interplayed with each other. I was also reluctant to add in a loose page with type one it, whether sewn in or otherwise. It would have felt like an afterthought in the design of the book. Although it could be argued that the text is probably an afterthought I don’t want that to be evident in the final book design.

I played around with some transparent papers to see how they would sit over the top of the imagery. I also tried a vertical bellyband to sit across the page that would move from side to side. This, although successful in practice, was difficult to print on, either digitally or by hand because of the inherent bounce and movement in the stock. Even with the vacuum on the screen print bed the paper still slid around uncontrollably. 

After talking with Paul and Hannah, I felt reluctant to screen print the text because of its varied success and the size of the type I would be using. I knew that the type would have to be digitally added. 


After continued discussion and development I considered moving the type on to the back of the concertina so that the viewer has to investigate, open and interact with the publication to unpick and discover the descriptions. This adds a nice interactive element that I had touched on in ‘Studio Practice’. It also suits the nature of a screen-printed book, which has a haptic quality.

Model painting.

I have had relative success with the 3d printer and have been researching the best way to render the final print outs. Although I like the white finish, some of the plastic filament has left bubbles, notches and wisps across the surface of the models. I have had to sand file and smooth the models as best I can. The difficulty is the scale of the models. If I had thought about it previously I would have changed the scale of the models to make the prepping and polishing easier. However, the scale of the models is representational of the idea that the objects and collections are treasured by the owners. Scale plays quite an interesting part in the idea of coveted and magical possessions.

Some model makers use gesso as a base coat for the models, or a grey primer as an undercoat, which smooths the surface. It is also possible to use an acetone solution to smooth the surface. 

I researched model making paints and enamels. The most varied and detailed options are available at Humbrol. The website is filled with useful tips and videos about how to get the best finish on your models. So I opted for a metallic enamel, which is slightly thicker than the water based options to help smooth some of the lines and bumps from the printing that I couldn’t smooth manually. This proved to be very successful although it did take 6 hours to dry between coats.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Developing the publication pt.1

After considering what the screen prints might become, I have decided that a publication is the most fitting for them. I have started to develop the layout for the book based on the efficient use of A1 paper stock. Each sheet will produce 3 strips of paper that will in turn produce 2 double page spreads, including enough excess for a lap join to attach the pages into a concertina or accordian fold book. 

Thankfully I had already used Illustrator to construct the layers for the original screen prints so I was able to easily arrange the files to plan layout options across the A1 sheet. (NB The grey edge is the tab for the lap fold.)

I really like the idea that the shapes can be rearranged to create a different image and then bought together for the actual image. This is something that I would like to exploit as part of the development of the narrative of each collection. It also encourages the viewer to see the shapes and colours before thinking about them as a collection. 

I am toying with the idea to add typography to the imagery, but do not want to interupt the flow of the images and how they interplay with each other. The great part of the accordian fold is that the book can be opened up and viewed all at the same time. I need to consider how type could affect this viewing, both closed and open. This is something that I can think about after I have printed the main body of the books. 

Let the printing commence...


Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Accompanying text.

I asked those taking part to write a short passage about their collection. This could include any information they wanted to say about their collection, or could be simply descriptive. I was hoping that some would add anecdotes, stories or experiences that they associated with each object. My theory was that they way individuals would describe their collection would in some way reflect a part of themselves. It would add to the overall story of their collection. Even down to the language used would in some way reflect a part of them.

Here are some of my favourite excerpts from the dialogues.

I’ve got cactuses, cacti, on vintage plates and I really love this butterfly dome which was from 69 A, the vintage shop in Liverpool. They’re really dodgy 70’s taxidermy butterflies with dried flowers.’

‘This is a gothy skeleton cat candle holder which I love because I am a Goth. The candle stick, I really love the shape of it.  I like these things because they are inspiring to look at.’

‘I remember the cover very distinctly. It had a beautiful autumnal colour palette. I think it was the colour palette more than anything else that drew me in. It was a split issue, ‘The corpse and the iron shoes’ which has since been republished a couple of times.’

‘I think in all of those 22 years I’ve missed one comic. It was a free comic book, a comic featuring HellBoy this year, 2016. That upsets me a little bit.’

‘The left hand robot is a robot pencil sharpener given to me as a stocking filler from my parents. It is completely useless as a pencil sharpener but fun little clockwork toy.’

‘It caused some trouble coming through customs, as there is a metal spike in the center, which was picked up by the metal X-ray scanners!’

‘The greener the better! I even painted my childhood bedroom a shade of “kryptonite” green that gave everyone apart from me a headache. ‘

‘Skeletor is from the awesome ‘Heman’ figure series. I’ve got two of these guys: one dated 87 and one dated 90. This one is sat on ‘Battlecat’, which was Heman’s transport. My brother gave me both.’

Bizarrely, I have two wind-up chickens exactly the same, one as a souvenir from a trip to Budapest and one was a gift from a dear friend. We race them.’

‘There are two Aquaman figures, both gifts. It is a running joke that Aquaman is one of my favourite super heroes. Everyone hates Aquaman apart from me.‘

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

What now...! Post print making reflection.

So I’ve made a set of 6 successful screen prints, which are starting to show some of the key concepts within this project. For me, although the work involved was considerable, I just don’t feel like they are enough on their own. I think the prints are the natural outcome from an investigation and exploration of the screen- printing process, rather than a final outcome. I know I have actively steered away from the idea of a final outcome, but at this stage in the project it would be foolish to not consider what form these visuals might take.  

Illustration, as I have discussed before often exists as part of something other to be complete. I think that these screen prints need the introduction of something other, whether that be typographic, or an object. They are delightful on their own but lack purpose. There is a need to turn these illustrations into a commodity, give them a purpose, a platform for people to engage with them beyond those offered online. For me that has to be something tangible.

I do not want to loose the quality of the screen prints and don’t want to shoehorn them into something that they weren’t designed for, as this would be doing them a disservice. It is important to keep the integrity of the design to create a cohesive end product.

There is an element of narrative happening across the prints that I am keen to develop with the addition of typography into some kind of publication. Although this would involve reprinting onto the correct formatted stock the end product would feel more considered.

I need to review all the prints together to evaluate the success and weaknesses across the set as a whole. This will also help with pagination and colour flow through the book. For example, one of the original prints is much larger than the rest due to my formatting error. This will need to be re-exposed to a more suitable size to match with the other prints and to fit more neatly into an A-format.  Also one of the prints feels very different from the others despite the process and development of the shapes being the same. I need to consider how this will effect the overall publication; it may have to be left out.

Monday, 11 July 2016

3D to 2D and back.

As a continued experiment with 3d to 2d to 3d, I have been exploring cutting shapes out of Perspex. Initially I was hoping to source coloured Perspex in keeping with the original colours for the screen print. I anticipated that the transparent coloured Perspex, when overlayed to replicate the screen prints would create a similar sense of the 3 dimensional positioning of the objects.

There were however, a number of teething problems with the idea in its infancy. The laser cutter, because it operates at such a high temperature, can distort the Perspex. (Although this usually only happens with small pieces) I also struggled with finding a suitable adhesive that was steadfast but also didn’t create a cloudy haze across the clear plastic. As you can see from some of the images, this is definitely a problem with using Perspex.

If I had discovered the potential of the laser cutter earlier in the project I would have been able to invest the time into thoroughly exploring its potential. I would like to look more at Perspex and continue to look at exploiting overlaying colours and shapes into different materials to give a sense of space and a multi-dimensional quality to the images. These plastic representations would also make nice installations when vertically or with lights shining through.

I may spend some time exploring this after the completion of the course.

Screenprinting: making a collection.

After the success of the previous screen prints I wanted to make more of a substantial collection of screen-printed responses focusing on refining technique, composition and colours to really exploit the process and the nature of the transparent overlays.

Here are the results:

This is a development of a previous set of Craig's 'Green Action Figures' prints. I wanted to explore a more dynamic colour palette to add depth and balance to the print. Although I was pleased with the original green overlay prints, I think that this, particularly with the addition of bright yellow and the teal adds more visual interest. I also continued to experiment with the cut out rectangles to add variety to the shapes which is much more successful. 

I am particularly pleased with the colour palette here. I wanted to use the colours from the original photograph and manipulate them to give a sense of a strong aesthetic. With many of the collections I have sent, there is a strong sense of theme and colour, scale, shape and form. I am trying to convey this through these prints. 

Approaching other contributors

Although I have asked a number of illustrators to contribute their collections to this investigation, I realized that many illustrators have a large number of collections covering a wide range of objects and ephemera. After talking to a number of contributors I asked them if they would be willing to contribute any other ideas or images from their collections that they felt had had an impact on their lives, practice or personal development.

God Bless You, Mister Vonnegut
By Adam Paxman

Unless I’ve loaned somebody one of my Vonnegut novels and can’t remember, I currently have thirty-five in my collection. That includes at least one play, one screenplay for TV, a whole assortment of novels and short stories, several collections of fiction that were published after his death, and a couple of books about Vonnegut by others – interviews and the like.

I had to draw the line a few years ago, after Vonnegut died and several volumes were released about various people who had some connection or other to him. One of those was a collection of letters between Vonnegut and a woman he’d reputedly had some sort of affair with. I wasn’t really into reading that. It seemed seedy and exploitative. Of the posthumously released short story collections, quality-wise, I’d have to say they’re a mixed bag. Vonnegut himself had not wanted some of them published or back in print (some were from very early in his career).

I suppose I’ve got ahead of myself. I started reading Kurt Vonnegut after a university lecturer who became a very dear friend and mentor recommended him to me. Our mutual appreciation for Vonnegut became a little like a secret language or code, and when my friend died, I used Vonnegut’s “cat’s ass” asterisk symbol for his memorial Facebook page. It was our little joke.
Weirdly, my actual first exposure to Vonnegut was years before that, now that I really think about it, through the Bruce Willis film adaptation of Breakfast of Champions, which is just dreadful. It completely misses the mark in such a spectacular way. 

I remember buying my first novel – Vonnegut’s second, The Sirens of Titan. His first, Player Piano, was at that time a little harder to find (and actually isn’t nearly as good). Anyway, I was in York, where I’m originally from. I must have been back there visiting my parents. The book was in a sale, along with some other science fiction authors’ paperbacks. My adoration just grew exponentially, and I scoured bookshops then the Internet looking for his books, whether they were new editions or tattered, battered old sixth-hand ones.

I still haven’t read all of them – I like to drip feed them. There’s only a finite amount, you see? Plus, my tastes are eclectic and I don’t like to keep to the same authorial voice for too long. It can make me stagnate, creatively. I think of anything I read as input or fuel that will be filtered by my brain, so I try to vary the “fertiliser”.

Unlike some of my other collections, I really like how different the Vonnegut books look on my shelf. There’s a whole lecture waiting to happen - the changing aesthetic trends in Kurt Vonnegut book jacket design!

I referenced Vonnegut when I wrote my MA dissertation. There’s a wonderful passage in Breakfast of Champions where he discussed human beings as machines, which was very much relevant to my chosen subject.

I also publicly shared a sentiment Vonnegut came back to time and again during a best man’s speech I gave two years ago. It was a gay wedding, and I made a point of saying how fortunate we were to be able to celebrate such a service – many people in other countries are not afforded that opportunity. Yet others face prosecution and, in some instances, a death sentence. I then implored everyone to take a moment, look around at one another, and say: “Well if this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.” It’s become a calming personal mantra in a hectic life. 

I suppose I should say why I read Vonnegut, and how it makes me feel. More so than any other author I have read, it really feels intimate – as though he is talking directly to just me. There is a homespun wisdom, an avuncular feeling I get. In his Humanist philosophy, I also find much to be admired. Everything is underpinned with warmth and humour. I genuinely think reading Kurt Vonnegut has made me a better, more rounded, more respectful human being.

There is a brutal honesty in the way that Adam writes about his Kurt Vonnegut collection that I felt really showed an exposed and almost vulnerable side to his personality. It is a great piece of writing that I really wanted to include in this project.