2.11 Visual metaphors

The brief was to explore the use of visual metaphors, how they have/are being used to communicate ideas visually, and how they might be used in our own work.

Keywords from the brief:

  • Collect as many examples of visual metaphor as you can find
  • Choose one from the phrases [from a pre-defined list]
  • Create a drawn visual list of objects and subjects which could be used to symbolise them
  • Show your drawings to someone else to check their understanding

The approach

I took two approaches to my research.

The first was to photograph advertisements that used visual metaphors that I spotted on my commute into London.

This was an a thought provoking exercise. What I noticed was that several Financial Services companies were using visual metaphors to help sell the benefits of their products. Financial products are generally boring and non-visual, so using visual metaphors is a good way an advertiser to explain the benefits of a product or service to a potential customer.

The other thing I found interesting is that financial services is very heavily regulated and therefore risk averse in the way visual imagery and wording is used. I wonder whether the slightly ambiguous meaning of metaphors makes them a more creative way to work around the otherwise strict compliance rules.

My second approach to research was to use the internet where I followed the advice in the brief and looked at editorial imagery; particularly cartoons which use metaphor a lot to explain/have a satirical point of view related to current events.

Here are a selection (there were many others).

Louis Raemaekers’ To your health civilisation!

“To your health, civilization!” by Dutch cartoonist Louis Raemaekers (1869–1956). Raemaekers was an anti-German cartoonist during World War I, especially emphasizing the Rape of Belgium in his polemics. This cartoon also appeared in a later poster series under the title “A Toast to Kultur”.

‘To your health, civilization!’, Louis Raemaekers (1869-1956),

James Gillray’s – The plumb-pudding in Danger

William Pitt, wearing a regimental uniform and hat, sitting at a table with Napoleon. They are each carving a large plum pudding on which is a map of the world. Pitt’s slice is considerably larger than Napoleon’s.

‘The plumb pudding in danger’ James Gillray (1756 – 1815)

Gary Barker – Vladimir Putin possibly implicated in connection with the murder of Boris Nemtsov

‘Vladimir Putin possibly implicated in connection with the murder of Boris Nemtsov’, Gary Barker

Patrick Blower – Daily Telegraph 11/06/16

As the Brexit referendum climaxes, MPs from both sides of the House switch sides, including Tory MP Sarah Wollaston who defects to Remain.

Patrick Blower
Daily Telegraph 11/06/16, Patrick Blower

The sketches

The subject I selected from the pre-defined list in the brief was ‘Broken relationship’.

I started by creating a mindmap to generate ideas for the sketches

Broken relationship metaphors

I then created as many of the images as possible within a fixed timescale.

What I learned from the exercise

What went well

  • The exercise made me aware of what a powerful tool visual metaphors are in an illustrators toolbox; something to add nuance and meaning to an image.
  • The first bit of research made me open my eyes to really look and see the visual techniques used in advertising.
  • I’m currently working on a personal project to illustrate a story about failed relationships (which is why I choose ‘broken relationship as the subject to explore in this exercise). I will use metaphors in the story illustrations to add depth and meaning to the pictures, which will (I hope) add another dimension to the readers reading of the text.
  • I enjoyed doing the sketching – it feels like I’m becoming more confident and less precious about image making.

What I would do differently/better

  • If I had more time I would have drawn up another couple of ideas.
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