3.4 Abstract illustration


The brief was to create a visual interpretation of a piece of instrumental music. This exercise required intuition and being plugged-in to ‘right-brain’ thinking/expression.

Keywords from the brief:

  • Instrumental music
  • Essence or mood of the piece
  • Work intuitively
  • An adjective or word that you feel describes the tone of the piece
  • Square format
  • Choose any media
  • Experiment
  • Introduce colours, textures and shapes


The piece of music I selected was Mademoiselle Mabry – Miles Davies.

I did several sketches on a number of morning commutes into Waterloo; headphones on, plugged in and away… Very enjoyable.

I reviewed the sketches and then repeated the exercise at home using pen and ink on a larger format. All sketches were created listening to the music. They are presented in the order they were drawn.

Abstract illustration 05
Sketch 05 – pen & ink

I also looked at Italian Futurist poetry, particularly the drawing and painting of Marinetti for inspiration.

Marinetti_freeverse (1)
Action – Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, 195-1916, pen and ink, http://www.designhistory.org

I think the final pen and ink sketch was the most interesting and successful in communicating the structure and texture of the music.

The words I used to describe the image and further focus my creative development was ‘Structured dissonance’.

I wanted to recreate the essence of the original sketch by capturing and manipulating  marks and shapes from the sketch in Illustrator. I then used layers and overlays in Photoshop to add colour and texture.

I created a quick ‘test’ image’.

Visual test 01

And then used the approach to create the final piece.

Listening to Miles Davies

Having all the elements electronically gave me a lot of flexibility and control, and the image developed through trial and error. I deleted a lot.

What I learned from the exercise

What went well

  • I enjoyed this exercise a lot – I just lost myself in creating the sketches
  • The actual creative bit was short, sharp and focused
  • I tried out a lot of different combinations of form and colour
  • Using Photoshop gave me good control
  • I find pen and ink and very expressive medium to work with and I’m getting more confident
  • I’m easily moving between analogue and digital and am starting to discover new creative possibilities

What I could have done differently/better

  • I could have done more sketching and introduced colour early on but I didn’t feel that was necessary


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