Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Project 3: Oliver's Monsters: Development

Initially I had planned on producing a drawing activity book with some narrative elements, but as I got to grips with trying to  produce something that made sense as both a story and activity book, the story elements soon became a priority.

In my first draft thumbnails, I worked through a couple of different ways of introducing a monster into the narrative, and also looked at having the drawing pages blank on one side, so that the monsters the children draw could be used in a final spread monster party.

My very first response saw Oliver and an adult playing together, the monster is imagined and the adult plays along by asking what it looks like - this is essentially the interaction between Oliver and myself which inspired the concept.

Eventually I settled on simple drawing pages - with a consistent pattern running through the book, which is as follows:

  • Oliver is in an environment, he likes to make noise
  • Oliver roars at a local animal
  • Oliver's parent, disturbed by the noise, wonders if it was 'that monster'
  • A monster is seen in the environment, looking very nonchalant.
  • Oliver exclaims 'NO! It was my monster!' and describes how his monster looks different (providing visual inspiration for the child to draw from on the next page)
  • Oliver says 'LOOK My friend will show you!' A single element from the previous monster sits on the page as a basis for the children to draw around. 

I think the narrative works quite well, hopefully there is charm and humour in it, both through the main characters and the background elements. I do wonder though if the drawing pages work, will they act as a block for the flow of the story? I guess there might be enough space to draw more than once... but what if the child wants to draw half way through being read to? Would that be considered an issue? - this is where my concept would benefit most from the input of others I think.

This project was neglected somewhat until the last few weeks before the deadline, so input from peers and tutors has been quite minimal. My focus was largely on producing a dummy to convey the idea and to present some sort of draft rendering too. Hopefully this concept can be carried on throughout the year or perhaps post-graduation and I will be able to develop it more

Further Thumbnails

I created a dummy book at half scale to conceptualise the whole book, to work out its patterns and get a feel for potential compositions.


Development of the thumbnails at print scale. I had intended on getting all the spreads to this stage, but time constraints saw me complete only the first cycle of images. I decided to scale up the thumbnails to produce a to-scale dummy, as I felt the thumbnails were difficult to read.


Rendering itself was a development of a digital collage technique seen in my other two projects. Here I used coloured drop shadows and play with their settings to produce a blended feel to the shading, also isolating it within the form of the figures, rather than as a tool to produce a obvious 'cut and paste' look.

It was at this stage that I really nailed the design for Oliver, using photo references.
I initially planned on producing 2-4 finished spreads, but ended up with 1 and a half. Although some were limited in detail, they took as long to produce as most of my other images and time constraints left me in the unfortunate position of cutting down my proposed delivered artwork.

Although I didn't meet my initially proposed body of work, I am happy with what I have produced as an early concept and have really benefited from the experience of producing the dummy book and conceptualising a book, it gives me a good idea of why these books are long term projects. I've also managed to experiment with my rendering techniques a bit, expanding on my other two projects. It would have been preferable to have reached the rendering stage on a couple more spreads for my portfolios sake, but I can always do that in the coming months.

Monday, 11 January 2016

Project 3: Oliver's Monsters: Research: Activity Books

A while ago when I was first conceptualising 'Oliver's Monsters' I spent some time in Waterstone's and W H Smith searching for novelty and activity books.

Knowing my time constraints I had decided that I would try to keep the book simple, but wanted to take the opportunity to learn more about what sort of books are out in the market. 

Physically interactive books:

Parragon Little Learners series- I Feel Happy
A board book for very young children with sliding pull out tabs that relies on the bold illustrations and the fun factor of revealing hidden elements. 
I probably wouldn't be able to set time aside for playing with paper construction.

Chronicle Books - Press Here by Herve Tullet
A series of instructions make up this book, cleverly designed so that each corresponding change has been affected by the readers actions from the previous page.

'Make and Do' books:

Templar Publishing - Build a Robot authored by Steve Parker and illustrated by Owen Davey.
Part fact file, part model making kit,

Laurence King - Let's Make Some Great Art by Marion Deuchars
An art activity book that seeks to spark imaginations. I do like the idea of presenting images for inspiration and then leaving the reader to make their own art. 

Usborne - Gardening for Beginners authored by Abigail Wheatley and illustrated by Lisa DeJohn
A heavily illustrated instructional book. 

Puzzle books:

Laurence King - Pierre the Maze Detective, authored by Hiro Gamigaki and illustrated by IC4DESIGN
Expanding on the 'search the image' puzzle form of 'Where's Wally?' Pierre the Maze Detective combines narrative with maze solving and item finding tasks.  

Books that are games:

Dial - The Book With No Pictures by B. J. Novak
No pictures? Ghastly. A disgrace. Inconceivable. An abomination, surely?
I just love the concept of this book, which sees the parent obeying rules including 'every word in the book must be read out loud.' This of course results in them saying silly things in silly voices and generally causing lots of fun. It shows that there is power beyond book makers creating an image or a story that a person can become enveloped in, but that we can help to create a scenario in which people can interact with each other and find a bit of joy. Plus, words can be just as involved to draw as images.

Intuitive books:

Harper Collins - Once Upon an Alphabet authored by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
Okay this one is a grey area for an activity book - though I'd argue the reader is engaging with the activity of learning he alphabet as they read the story, it's a bit of a limp one. Really I just loved the concept for this book, taking something typical and giving it some story to make it more accessible. 

Friday, 8 January 2016

Project 2: Penguin Book Prize: Emil and the Detectives Book Cover: Development and Reflection


The composition that I ran with. Found alongside other ideas on my worksheets within my folder.

Ideas generation was a typically linear experience – I sourced the book and read through it, getting a sense of the characters, setting and plot. I began noting iconography within the book – Emil’s money, the statue he defaced and its red nose – quite bold visual elements within the story. I then noted what I believed to be key scenes in the book that I could draw from. With this information, alongside the brief, I took to creating rough sketches and thumbnails that conceptualised these scenes as a book cover.
Most likely inspired by my ‘Explorers’ project, it was important to rise to the challenge to create a landscape image that ran across the whole cover. My preferred draft was based on a location within the book that acts as the detective’s stake-out spot. I consulted Phil about these roughs and he noted that he thought this particular composition was the most effective. I also decided that my other ideas were either too visually similar to previous covers, or omitted key characters.

Character Design:
Reading through the book, I noted any names as well as any descriptions associated with those characters. Kastner is very brief in his descriptions, providing plenty of artistic freedom. I relied on illustrations within the book, as well as some thematic research into the clothes of the era in which the book is set, to inform the appearance of the characters. I also looked at actors that had portrayed some of the characters on screen and in film to help me further flesh out a visual identity. (The Professor is only described by his horn-rimmed glasses and makes an appearance in one illustration. I took some visual elements from stage actor Oscar Clement’s portrayal of the role - seen front left in the image below.)

For those characters with no description at all, I relied on their names and brief speech within the book to form my own ideas on what they might look like. (The two Mittler brothers are only given names and Krumm has no visual description, but his grumpy personality helped me to picture him.)

I really enjoyed the roguish charm of Matt Hunt’s version of characters in his cover and wanted my own image to be as expressive.

Early stages of building up the image, using my rough as a guide.

The colour palettes and style of the buildings were taken from research images as well as calling back to the predominant use of yellow in previous editions of the stories cover.
Continuing the na├»ve style of drawing that I used in my Explorers project, I also wanted to render the image in a similar fashion – using the polygon selection tool in photoshop to digitally collage shapes. In contrast to that project, I decided that my use of texture would be minimal and as I progressed, that I wouldn’t use scanned textures at all.

 I did however continue the use of drop shadows when rendering the characters, but felt that the effect looked tacky spread across the whole image.

The digital collage process also informed the typeface I created for the front cover.

Peer feedback:

Image shown to peers

After making a bit of progress with the image, I decide to present the concept to my peers for their opinions and criticism.

Although in a very rough state, I got a positive response from my course mates and they provided me with valuable feedback.

I took these comments on board whilst continuing the development of my image ready to present in my pre-deadline crit.

Once again considering using drop shadows across the whole image, rather than just the characters.

My conclusion remained that the drop shadows weren't needed.

Outcomes and further development:

Pre-crit outcome:

I got a good response during my crit for this image, which was great as I was quite pleased with it myself. Feedback was mostly about small clashes in colour or positioning, but a prominent response was that it was not immediately clear which character was Emil. Visual clues such as his position in the centre of the image and the colour of the book title helped people out, but they felt that it would be better if he was isolated; as his interaction with ‘the professor’ made his prominence a bit ambiguous.

Suggestions included:
·         Separating Emil from the other characters, giving him his own space.
·         Making Emil the centre of the image. 
·         Giving Emil iconography from the book
·         Having Emil forward facing, as the professor is.
·         The brown frame in the background clashing with the text.
·         The text clashing with the protruding sections of the building
·         Scaling the whole image down, so that the lamp post is not cut off at the top.

      Taking these comments on board, I spent the afternoon making edits.

Post-crit outcome:

Scaling the image down, rearranging the text and a few building elements and placing Emil within the centre of the group, rearranging other characters accordingly.
I sought further feedback from Caroline, who noted that the text on the front page was quite high, and pointed out a few spaces within the image that could be filled; including the wall on the front cover and the floor. I realised that I preferred the characters spaced out across the page, also.

Further amendments after further talks with Caroline:

After consulting design-savvy Caroline, I made further changes to the image; I decided that I would try to separate Emil from the Professor this time – copying and editing the original image of Emil and pasting and scaling it back into the document. His now free-hand holds his suitcase. His other hand now looked odd being empty- so I had him hold his hat. I also flipped him horizontally so that he could better fit the centre of the image and aligned him somewhat with the puffin book logo to fill that space. 

It was then a case of rearranging the other characters to fill out the space; squeezing ‘Big Mittler’ (the one with his fingers in his ears) onto the back page – not wanting to discard him and lose a member of the core detectives team.  Fortunately there was a gap on that page that ‘Krumm’ (the grumpy one) couldn’t feasibly fill whilst also leaning against the wall.  

Further amendments after talking to Phil:

After playing with Caroline's suggestions, I decided to catch Phil up on the development of the image. He suggested that the transparent text box looked unfinished and that the text may be covering up more artwork than it has to. I revisited the text and found that I had used a 14pt size, where as I could realistically be using a 10pt size. Phil also suggested trying to link the text box stylistically with the typeface I had made. These comments resulted in the above image.

I thought the box sat within the design well, echoing the bar-code section. I had considered using a similar box behind the 'after him' text, but felt that would cover up too much of the background artwork.

Final Image:

Showing this amendment t to Phil, we both discussed if there was an alternative way to present the text that allowed for the background illustration to be less interfered with. Phil noted the angular space created by the brick wall to the left of the image and demonstrated the use of the gradient tool to provide a background for the text that would make it easier to read.

Initially this space was too small to fit the body of text, even after reducing it's size further to about 9.5pt. I decided to edit the artwork so that the wall was no longer in the centre of the two buildings, but aligned to the side of the pink building. This allowed me to fit the text within the space. It also gave the text enough space between the wall and the edge of the page. The new positioning of the wall also provides a crisper line for separating the blurb from the other copy information on the back page and I think provides a more satisfying division of the image into thirds. The new position of the text meant re-positioning the 'after him', aligning it above the text to create a more compact and pleasing design. This meant re-positioning Gundeis also, so that he was not lost behind the text, but I think he works just as well in the right hand side of the page and flipped horizontally.

I consulted my peers to see if they found these amendments more effective, they agreed that the text and image were well considered with this design and that it looked like a well refined piece I am content now to leave the image as-is after many considerations, amendments and confirmation from my peers. I may well revisit the image if there are any pernickety changes that can be made to improve it for the competition deadline, however for this modules submission I think I have reached a decent conclusion.       


Here is Gustav to sum up my feelings for how the project went.

I’m really happy with how this project turned out. I’ve not had the greatest success with book cover designs in the past and I feel this is a natural progression of the experimentation that took place within my ‘Explorers!’ project. One of my aims for these projects was to produce some portfolio pieces and I think this one will make a great addition and hope that it will be regarded as a strong submission to the contest. In the long run, besides acting as a portfolio piece and continuing the development of my illustration practise, I think that the typeface may be something that I carry on into other works. The characters were rendered somewhat larger than their final scale, so might be able to be utilised for some A5 prints or as accompanying portfolio pieces.

Despite neglecting the project for several weeks after my energies were direct towards completing the first of my ‘Explorers!’ images, I was delighted that I managed to complete this project within a couple of weeks. Having managed my time wisely earlier in the module and built a good foundation of research and understanding of the theme, I allowed myself to develop the image into a presentable draft with a good pace.  I now have some confidence in being able to produce book covers and believe that the goals that I set out in the proposal for this project have been fulfilled aptly.

*Updated Content* Final Ammendments for Submission

Before submitting my artwork I asked my tutors for a final critique.

I decided to edit some of the colours within the artwork to improve the eligibility of the text.
I also changed from working in RGB to CMYK - something I should have done from the beginning.

By de-saturating the colours I edited the background elements to enable a better contrast of colour.

Here the background details have been simplified and the colours are more uniform to the rest of the image.

The light and dark blue found on Emil's clothes and the title text have been edited to improve eligibility.

The teaser text on the back page has been edited to be somewhat more dynamic.

The final cover:

It was an interesting experience making so many edits to one piece of work. The submission process was quite simple and I'm glad that I finally participated in this competition.

Unfortunately my design wasn't shortlisted, but a positive response and experience have encouraged me to design more book jackets in the future and as part of my BAIL303 module. I also believe that creating this jacket helped me to improve my landscape image making and dealing with complex compositions.

Monday, 4 January 2016

Project 1: Explorers: Image #1 Development

This post describes the creative processes and critical choices involved with the production of the first of three proposed landscape images, which make up my first self-initiated project 'Explorers'

Inspired by trips to Dartmoor and Stoke Canon over the summer, this image is set in a woodland river. Thematic research can be found in an earlier blog post and drawn responses to these can be found on my worksheets, however beyond the draft pencil image, wherein I piece the landscape together and place the characters; all progression and rendering has taken place within photoshop.

A part 1 collage workshop with Caroline Pedler and a recent portfolio surgery with Tristan Manco led me to consider producing some images with collage. Curious about the process, I considered how I might generate a digital image that replicates the cut and paste technique; using scanned textures and photoshop image-editing capabilities to provide a quick way to produce textured papers of varying hues, rather than having to paint individual papers for each desired colour.

So as well as this project being an experimentation with working with landscape images and recurring characters, it has also been an experimentation of a drawing/rendering process.

Using the lasso tool in photoshop as my 'digital scissors' working on a layer that contained a scanned paper texture 'drawing' my desired shapes.

 I would copy and paste the lasso-formed shapes from that texture and then use photoshop's hue/saturation/brightness tool to edit the colour of the 'paper' as desired and where appropriate. In some cases the original texture suited the application - such as the white for the nails above.

The character eventually builds up. Feedback from Caroline at this point encouraged me to be mindful of the saturation tool - as seen in the comparison above she ended up being a lot brighter and more appealing than the initial muddy-grey tones.

I also had a conversation with Phil at this point; we discussed the use of the lasso tool. Phil noted that he felt the shapes weren't organic enough because of the tools nature. He described the lasso tools built-in smoothing capability and we discussed how more-organic shapes could also be achieved using more points to build up the shape - much like how the pen tool works in illustrator.

I found that I enjoyed the angular nature of the figure, feeling that if I were cutting the shapes by hand they probably would be a bit sharp on the edges. However, I took Phil's comments on board and had a play with the smooth function of the lasso tool:

Using the lasso to create the initial shape.


Increasing the Sample Radius increases the intensity at which the shape is smoothed into more regular shape resembling a circle - those points which are further outside the shape are moved inwards and angles become more curved.

The smoothed shape. I decided against using this tool as it was quite difficult to judge how the radius would affect the shape and I wasn't keen on the results. It did however inspire me to pay greater attention to how I rendered my shapes with the lasso tool and consequentially later characters in the image are less angular and have more organic shapes.

Still on the topic of how to render the image, I decided to see what the textures would look like within a drawn-line image.

Taking the above pen drawing, I used the fill and pencil tools to create solid colours - this allowed me to get an understanding for a palette that would work well together without having to play with the hues of any scanned papers. Using a layer mask, I then 'filled' these blocks with the scanned textures and edited them accordingly. 

The above comparison shows the two rendering techniques side by side. I have explored mixing digital and traditional methods before in earlier projects and as much as I enjoyed this way of rendering, I felt that I ought to create the same character through collage to get a better understanding of which I preferred. My initial thoughts were that the collage element had become secondary and was counter-effective in my efforts to include more collage in my images. 

What I found was that I had to edit the line-art image when making a transition to collage in order for it to be more consistent with the already existing girl. This led me to producing what I think is a more fun and dynamic image, comparing the two made it a lot easier to choose a preferred aesthetic. 

So I now had my way of rendering - lasso tool shapes, initially solid colour, then with a scanned texture layer mask applied and secondary layer masks of digital pen strokes to pick out details - a digital interpretation of cutting paper shapes and drawing on top of them in pencil or pen. Drop shadow layer effects then added a sense of depth to greater give the perception of an actual collage.

This technique informed other pieces of work outside of the course modules; 

A print produced for a secret santa within the christian society at college


Robins which were used for a Christmas card and to make my social media platforms more festive. 

Armed with the knowledge of how to render my image, I began the process of building the image up shape by shape. This is where I encountered the rendering methods key area of weakness. The technique works fine for vignettes or characters, when it comes to multi-layered, large, detailed images however, the process becomes a very long one. This coupled with my somewhat meticulous nature meant that this image took several more weeks to complete than anticipated.

The photoshop document was definitely a living image, a true working file in which the form and colour of every shape was considered, concluded, reconsidered and for a fair few elements (here's looking at you, rocks.) edited under the direction of critical thought and feedback from tutors and peers.

Earlier within the images production - flat areas have been laid down, the banks, sand, river. Rocks have begun to be placed - it was decided through discussion that the cold colours displayed on the rocks made them difficult to make out against the river. To provide greater contrast I edited the hue and saturation of each individual rock. The shape of the river was edited too - using a new layer and the dissolve brush, I created a seam between the water and sand/pebble textures that gave the edge of the water a semi-transparent quality and greater defined which layer was on top. 

The left hand half of the spread. Each character took a fair amount of time to render from the basic sketches, most lacking prior thought for colour palette or refined forms. Each character; apart from the two initial characters shown in the process images earlier in this post; took around an hour and a half to form, place and scale within the image. Eventually I had to design the characters in a separate document, as they contained so many layers each before merging, reaching multiple GB of information. Some elements (the butterflies and goosander) were edits of each other and thus took less time to draw up. This may seem like a lot of time to spend on elements that are scaled down and may become unnoticed, but I truly believe the value of my images comes from the little details and narratives scattered around them. 
A majority of this half of the image remained the same throughout it's formation; asides from the tufts of grass which were initially quite uniform, having been duplicated from 3 separate shapes. Speaking with Phil we agreed a more random spread was required, so I created several brushes within photoshop that utilised a large scatter radius to create several tufts at once.  

This second half of the image called for the most edits - trying to get a good contrast between the rocks and the water, the trees and the rocks, the trees and the other trees. Perhaps more detailed images with a lot of elements would benefit from combining hand-cut and digitally rendered elements. With a deadline looming I would like to produce at least two of the proposed three images; so I will wise up to this, perhaps with less concern for making each individual element unique and possibly avoiding such a high concentration of individual, overlapping elements. 

The whole image. 

I am looking forward to final feedback before the deadline. Although producing this image took a lot of focus away from following my time-table and progressing with all three projects in equal measures; I really am delighted with the end result. I think the process of creating this image overall has truly fulfilled the purpose of a module entitled 'experimentation' - it has helped to push the way I create my images in a new direction as well as really made clear to me the pace at which I work and how I work. I am perhaps a bit slow and meticulous for short run-times when considering large, detailed illustrations. However the rendering technique works great for the production of character/vignette images and has produced what has been my best received work on social media so far.

Post-crit development:
I presented the image at a group crit this week, where I gained some suggested edits from Caroline Pedler. She noted that she felt the trees and the rocks from the middle to the right of the image were too complicated in comparison to the rest of the image and their composition distracted the viewer from the rest of the image. At first I was reluctant to agree, considering I had spent some time trying to capture the behaviour of the tree roots and rocks, echoing my time swimming in the woods on dartmoor, however I was not reluctant enough to prevent myself from trying out her recommendation and I did agree with her other comment that the grass section was overpopulated by the various tufts of grass.

Removing some rocks and editing the tree shapes led me to a general re-positioning of the background elements and a fair bit of editing the hues of several elements too.
Further feedback from Phil included speaking about the bush in the bottom left hand corner. We had spoken before about reversing the tones from light in the centre to dark on the outside, which I tried and didn't like. Now with a much more completed image he noted that the variety of hues and layered effect was inconsistent with the rest of the image and that the lack of contrast between the bush and the grass behind it prevented the bush from fulfilling it's role as a framing device.

I tried swapping the progression of hues once more and to my surprise quite liked the effect this time. I decided to continue it across the whole image. (above)

I also edited the bush in the foreground to stylistically fit with my previous rendering of the bushes.
This second image has a more consistent aesthetic than the first. However I liked the multi-layered effect a lot, so took to social media to get the opinion of my peers.

The resulting comments were unanimous in their decision that the less tonal bushes were more cohesive; resulting in the above image. For now I can see no further amendments and am content in submitting this piece.

As the deadline looms, it is unlikely that I will be able to render a complete image in this way. As much as I would like to produce all three of the images for the module submission - I think they will be long-term portfolio building pieces. I hope to work towards creating rough images for the other two landscapes for the submission; but for now my priorities lie with making progress with my third project, Oliver's Monsters.