Assignment 2 – Happy accidents

Key words from the brief:

  • Demonstrate your ability to use experimental drawing to build and inform your illustration sketchbooks, in increasingly imaginative ways

  • There are three parts to this assignment
  • Look back at the collection of Facial Pareidolia
  • Stick copies of some of your examples into your sketchbook and develop them more fully as characters.
  • Produce a series of background layouts/scenes for your characters, utilising the notion of the “happy accident” in either their content or the methods
  • Bring these together
  • Documenting your process as you go

My approach

I reviewed the facial pareidolia photographs and selected four that I thought were the strongest or that I felt I could work with to develop and/or that I had ideas for potential narratives.

I worked on each character individually and completed each one fully before moving on tho the next.

The exception to this was the first character that I started to develop in completely the wrong direction and gave up in disgust.

All the sketchbook images below are A2 in size.

Character 1 – Crumpled jacket

I started with the crumpled jacket because in hindsight it was the most obvious (to me) example of facial pareidolia. I thought I could easily draw up the head, add a body and get the first character finished. When I paused to reflect on the first page I realised that this was not answering the brief at all because it wasn’t using anything I’d learned in the previous exercises and I wasn’t being experimental.

sketchbook page09
Crumpled jacket character development sketches

So I quit that character and moved on.

Character 2 – Watering can

The watering can had a strong clear facial resemblance using simple bold shapes. Because of this I knew it would be easy to develop and draw at different angles.

I noticed the hose pipes in the background of the reference photograph and thought these could be used to add hair or dreadlocks to the character.

I created a series of rapid drawings from the Barbican Conservatory as part of a previous exercise and the green house interior worked well with the watering can character so I used one of these existing sketches as the background.

I compiled the different elements together digitally because this gave me maximum flexibility and control to experiment with different colours and combinations.

The final artwork:

watering can head
Watering can – Pen and ink drawing composited together in Illustrator and Photoshop. Artwork was created at 200 dpi A3 sized

Character 3 – Rucksack

The rucksack character was an easy drawing and seemed to make itself. The sunglasses which were zips on the original rucksack were the distinctive feature that placed the character in a psychedelic beatnik context. The buckles and long flowing straps added to the effect.

I wanted the background to reinforce the narrative and decided to try out different combinations of textures to give a trippy kind of effect. I picked out and photographed individual textures from the previous Investigating a process exercise, ‘placed’ these in Illustrator to create vector graphics that were easy to manipulate in Photoshop. The choice of colour was dictated by the relatively dark foreground; I needed something that contrasted heavily with the foreground to make the character stick out of the page.

The final artwork:

ruck sack head bg01
Rucksack – Pen and ink drawing composited together in Illustrator and Photoshop. Artwork was created at 200 dpi A3 sized

Character 4 – Hose reel

The hose reel character was fun to do. The key elements of the reference image were the grey handle which became the character’s tongue and the water pistol which wasn’t part of the original image but something I picked up on quickly when I went back to have a second look at the hose reel.

Just like the with the previous two characters, the simple shapes meant I was confident in working the character up in profile.

Having the character pointing the water gun was an easy narrative to play with.

The final artwork:

do you feel lucky
Do you feel lucky punk? – Hose reel pen and Indian ink drawing coloured digitally. Background is a composite of two rapid drawings from the Barbican Conservatory

As well as creating a digital version of this picture I also created a version coloured using liquid watercolour with a hand painted background recreated from Barbican Conservatory rapid drawings.

This allowed me to demonstrate use of a number of experimental techniques from earlier exercises and to see which approach worked best and why.

sketchbook page05
Do you feel lucky punk? – Hose reel pen and Indian ink drawing coloured using liquid watercolour paints and Brush Pens. The Background is redrawn from the Barbican Conservatory rapid drawings. A2 sized.

When I compare the two images there are aspects I like about each. I think the digital version is the more successful because the strong flat colours give the character definition and strength within the image that is not achieved in the watercolour version. I think this is partly the scale of the image. A2 is pretty large and less forgiving than watercolour at a much smaller scale, where evenness of colour is not so noticeable.

The ability to experiment with colour and colour temperature that is easy with digital meant that the overall balance of the digital version is more considered.


What went well

  • This was the first time I’d drawn extensively with a thick calligraphy style pen nib and I found it easier to use than the finer nibs and the extra width allowed me to be expressive in a different way.
  • I was pleased to start working in an A2 sketchbook, something I’d shied away from to this point.
  • This is the first exercise or assignment since completing Illustration 1 where I’ve used digital techniques to finish an image. Selecting and compositing background and foreground components together was asking for the flexibility afforded by this approach. Even so, I think I still managed to stay true to the brief.
  • My sketchbook use feels more natural and valuable. My earlier sketchbooks felt a bit forced.

What I would do differently/better

  • Think and reflect on the brief before launching into development work. I would not have started the crumpled jacket exercise in the way that I did if I’d reread the brief before putting pencil to paper.
  • Is there such a thing as quick drying Indian ink? If not can this be invented.

Overall reflections

At the end of the assignment 2 brief we were asked to reflect on our overall experience of PART 2 and answer a set of questions:

What were the main challenges you encountered when working with unusual drawing techniques and how did you overcome them?

  • The main challenge for me working with unusual drawing techniques was to remember to use them and not fall back into learned familiar processes. The best example of this was my approach to the first character in Assignment 2 where I immediately fell into known and comfortable tools and processes rather than using the range of experimental techniques I’d discovered from earlier exercises.

Now you have drawn with unusual materials, what techniques or materials are you going to use within your next sketchbook?


  • To continue to experiment freely with new materials or to experiment with existing materials in new ways as an intrinsic part of the creative process.
  • To look for ways to match technique with helping to achieve a desired effect.


  • That really depends on what the exercises require. I know there is a lot of reportage drawing in the next PART of the course so I’ll probably be using the Watercolour Brush Pens to add shape and colour to my observational sketches. I have a location for these drawings in and around the City of London. One of the distinctive features of The City is a huge contrast in the buildings and architecture. Medieval stone churches butt up against glass, steel and concrete skyscrapers. There is plenty of opportunity to develop and use experimental techniques and processes to render these subjects as images.
  • During PART 2 I extended my use and confidence in using a dip pen and Indian ink and I started to see new possibilities and a personal style developing particularly in the final assignment.

How did you find moving from observed drawings towards using ideas and more of an imaginative approach?

  • I found the process fairly natural and appreciated how exploring and getting to know a subject through careful considered observational drawing lays the foundations to then move into more abstract interpretations. A great example of this was in the Limited line drawings exercise where my slow observational drawing of Christmas baubles in a glass jar not only provided me me the knowledge to create a series of limited line drawings of the same subject, but also the material for the layering and masks liquid watercolour painting in Investigating a process.

What have you learned about drawing quickly that you can take forward when you look at drawing people in part three?

  • Many of the subjects I draw on a regular basis are commuters on trains and the London Underground. My drawing technique is often rapid because the scene in front of me changes at each stop as passengers get on and off. What I hadn’t been aware of before doing the Rapid sketches exercise was how much value can be taken from a one minute and three minute sketch. A good example of this is the rapid sketches that were made in the Barbican Conservatory. I repurposed three of these as backgrounds during assignment 2.

Which of the illustrators mentioned in this section work did you most enjoy looking at and why?

  • I most enjoyed looking at and analysing the work of Lucy Austin. I have a certain empathy for the way she works.
  • I came across many of the masking and layering techniques she uses during Printmaking 1. These are standard processes and tricks that are used extensively by printmakers, but I hadn’t appreciated how they could be used to create paintings.
  • She uses liquid watercolour to create vibrant, active and interesting shapes and interactions. This is a material I’ve also used but not so boldly. It inspired me to create a painting in the style of Lucy Austin as part of Investigating a process.
  • And finally I love the apparent simplicity of the subjects in the paintings. This allows the viewer to focus on the relationships between different objects and appreciate the beauty, depth and interactions of the multiple layers.

If you haven’t joined a sketchbook circle yet do you feel ready to join one?

  • Four of us got together to form a sketchbook circle and the first sketchbook exchange has just happened. I found it really interesting to think about how to start the conversation with the next person in the circle and how to structure my first set of sketches.
  • I can already see that as well as adding a creative element to  the course (how to act/react/interact with a growing dialogue of sketches and counter-sketches), it will also create a supportive forum to exchange ideas and give and receive feedback.
  • My one observation is that the instructions about the purpose, process and rules related to setting up a sketchbook circle are a bit ambiguous.

My response to assessment feedback

The key area for improvement identified in overall feedback from my Printmaking 1 assessment was in relation to my research and analysis.

The feedback and recommended action was:

However, your attention does not extend sufficiently to researching and analysing the theoretical/philosophical contexts that surround your visual ideas and the ideas of other artists.

It is here that you need to strengthen your resolve in order to fully inform the practice through written analysis and critique.

I felt this was good and fair feedback and my response was to familiarise myself with good academic essay writing technique through articles on the OCA student website and to ask advice and tips from a recent MA student.

I also explored the online libraries offered through the OCA student website for the first time.

I used what I’d learned and applied it to both Research 2.2 Lucy Austin and Research 2.5 Christoph Niemann and Saul Steinberg. This is an area I will focus on and improve going forward.

My response to PART 1 tutor feedback

Suggested reading: Chris Ware’s ‘Acme Novelty Datebook’ sketchbooks and Robert Crumb’s published sketchbooks.

I bought a copy of Chris Ware’s ‘Acme Novelty Datebook’ and Volume 1 of ‘R. Crumb Sketchbook’. Both are brilliant and amusing reference books and master classes in drawing, character development, creating comic strips and so much more.

I’m familiar with the work of both illustrators so it was great to see a much larger body of their work.




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