4.6 Visual distortion


The brief was follow a process of deliberate stylisation by producing several images of the same subject that become increasingly distorted. The purpose of the exercise is to explore visual distortion and how the application of this style can add strength and/or meaning to a visual communication.

Keywords from the brief:

  • Draw a cat or a dog
  • Draw the animal in a way that makes it real
  • Describe some aspect of its appearance or personality
  • Do a second drawing using no more than five lines
  • Make a collage
  • Introduce surreal elements
  • Deliberately distort – how far can you bend reality
  • Produce a drawn version of your collage
  • Create a strong character
  • Incorporate into a bigger image
  • Introduce an element of narrative


I have always loved the look and character of bull terriers. I lived with one as a student and liked it’s friendly, stupid, clumsy, psychopathic (with other dogs) character, as well as being built like a brick warehouse. All good material for this exercise.

I used the internet to find two reference images as starting points.

The process and the work

Step 1 – Drawing

I sketched a bull terrier from the internet reference. I chose the face on profile because it gave me the most scope to give meaning to the next illustrations by changing facial expression and the angle and posture of the head and ears. It also shows how stocky and muscular they are.

Pencil in A3 sketchbook

Step 2 – Minimal drawing

I really had fun with the next couple of stages. I’m quite used to drawing and redrawing subjects in order to simply an get a feel for what works. Spending time doing the initial objective and detailed sketch meant that I could experiment recreating the image with only 5 lines without the need to refer to any reference.

Part way through the process I came up with a nice rule for myself when I started using pen and ink. I decided that I could use 5-dips of an ink pen per sketch which forced me to be even more selective.

Step 3 – Collage

This bit was the most fun. I used a combination of old artwork and sketches and some textured paper and a found image to produce the collage. At the end of the process I added some paint to create a shadow effect.

I really liked the fact I was recycling thrown away work into something completely different and new.

Collage recycling old artwork – A2 size

Step 4 – Drawn version of the collage

This felt rather like a repeat of step 2 but using the collage as reference. The process was quite similar for me although I worked outside of my sketchbook on heavier paper using pen and ink.

Step 5 – Bigger image

I cheated slightly with this in that I’d already researched and created a background and colour swatch during Exercise 2 that I didn’t use. It seemed perfect for this illustration.

Colour swatch

I tried out several different ideas to add an element of narrative.

  • Dog straining at the leash – something very typical of this breed of dog
  • Dog and bone – I tried this but didn’t think it really worked
  • Dog confused by a spikey hedgehog

I liked the last idea because I could apply the same visual distortion to the hedgehog as I did with the dog.

I added background elements to provide a sense of place.

The final artwork was composited together in Photoshop, at A3, 300dpi.

Three versions of the artwork are included below.

What I learned from the exercise

What went well

  • This was a fun exercise. I particularly enjoyed the collage which I think this is more successful and interesting then the final artwork.
  • The method of working I developed during Exercise 2 that combines collage with digital compositing works for me and should be explored further. It feels like there is an interesting kind of expression starting to happen.
  • I think the process prescribed in the exercise is a good tool that I’ll reuse in the future.

What I could have done differently/better

  • I don’t think the narrative of the final artwork is very strong. I would have liked to get a sense of humour into the image but it didn’t really come off – the dog doesn’t look quizzical enough.
  • Whilst the exercise was a lot of fun I don’t think the final artworks are successful.
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