Assignment 5 – Application and context

The purpose of this assignment was to build on previous exercises, visual resources and reflective exercises to create work that shows a heightened development of personal voice and illustrative potential.

The assignment had three possible routes. I chose Option 3 – Everyday Stories.

Key words from the brief:

  • Considering the function of words
  • Be open and do what you think suits your own aims and objectives
  • Create a series of six drawings that convey a narrative by connecting the content from your exploration
  • Be consistent in the use of visual language
  • This is an opportunity to practice applying particular approaches to drawing and image making within a related set of images

My approach

My personal objectives for this assignment

The objectives I’d set myself in 5.1 Making an action plan visually were:

  • Work in sequence;
  • write words;
  • experiment with more media;
  • think more about meaning;
  • use words;
  • combine fast observational drawing and slow studio development;
  • develop better architectural line;
  • combine doodle style alongside observational work; and
  • continue to think through story arc and narrative structure.

I met the majority of these objectives in making this assignment.

Idea generation and development

My original idea had been you refine my sequence of City of London sketches from Exercise 3.0 Observation into a narrative sequence, but I got hooked on another direction when I was brainstorming ideas.


I liked the idea of the extraordinary everyday; scrutinising those things we take for granted and looking for the strange or unusual.

At the same time I reread a brilliant and instructive book by Illustrator Matt Madden titled 99 Ways to Tell a Story – Exercises in style. In it, he retells the same 8-panel 1-page story 99 times using a different approach each time; a different visual style, different points of view etc.

Matt Madden 99 ways to tell a story
Matt Madden – 99 Ways to Tell a Story

One of his approaches in the book is to tell the story using only sound effects. This intrigued me and I thought I could try and use the same approach to using words for my assignment.

The thing that got me attracted to the subject was noticing the ridiculous faces I pull in the mirror when I’m shaving. There’s no way I’d pull those faces in public. This chimed with my idea of trying to find the extraordinary or unusual in the everyday i.e. the daily bathroom routine of completing ablutions before charging out of the door to catch a train.

Creating the work

My starting point was to do a quick test to see if the shaving/bathroom images would work and try out different visual treatments.

Skecthbook test

My rough sketch was made using Sharpies and liquid watercolour and I felt it didn’t really work, particularly working at A2 and given that I was looking for a sequence of six or more drawings.

I tried digitising the image and then processing it using Illustrator to give me a nice clean vector image and Photoshop to add the flats.

This experiment used the kind of technique I’d applied in 4.4 Basic narrative structureI’d taken this from the work of Adrian Tomine whose work I’ve admired for some time; black line art with large areas of flat colour.

Adrian Tomine - Wonderful New York
Adrian Tomine – New York Drawings

I produced several thumbnail sequences to shape the narrative.

The final artwork was compiled from many different drawings that were either based on photographic reference or from life.

Sketches on table 01
Sketches, line art, reference pictures 01
Sketches on table 02
Sketches, line art, reference pictures 02

The following series of images show the artwork at various stages in Illustrator, before being compiled and coloured in Photoshop.

All of the background textures were take from test pages produced in 2.2 Investigating a process.

Investigating process sketchbook07
Mark making experiments from 2.2 Investigating a process

The final artwork consists of 11 x panels over 9-pages. All the artwork was created at A3 size at 300dpi.

Development 1

I reworked the sequence based on tutor feedback.

Reflections on the assignment

What went well

  • I think the narrative sequence is believable and works quite well.
  • The toilet humour made me laugh
  • Once I’d established an approach, the actual work took three days to complete which for me is quite quick.
  • Moving from analogue to digital and using Photoshop for adding flat colour is an efficient way of working.

What I would do differently/better

  • It would have been nice to get the images printed as a book. I realise I’d either need an 8-page or 12-page sequence to do this. I did look at setting this up using InDesign but I ran out of time. Something for the future.

Development 02

After completing the assignment I reviewed it at the Sitewide Google Hangout on 28/04/19. The feedback was insightful. Although I’d tested the narrative sequence on family I hadn’t had a more critical assessment.

The response was muted. I got a sense that other students thought whilst the sequence meets the brief there was nothing very exciting or engaging about the imagery. The humour didn’t seem to work.

What was interesting is that the photographs of work spread out on a tabletop did receive positive feedback. They tell the same story but in a more interesting way. This gave me food for thought.

I reflected on this further and concluded that my initial narrative sequence was ‘safe’ and ‘polished’ but is taking very little risk, and unlike my work in the previous couple of exercises where I approached the task without preconceptions, has not much ‘personal voice’.

I decided to rework the sequence, taking more risk and including more of ‘me’ in the approach. I decided to experiment with some of the materials and processes I’d discovered during PART 2.

I went back to what attracted me to the idea in the first place. Ridiculous face pulling in the shaving mirror, and used this as my starting point.

I created test images to experiment with a combination of techniques.

I worked up a set of seven images.

All are A2 sized:

I am more satisfied with this series of images.

They are more interpretive illustrations that tie together what I’m saying about the subject with the materials used in a loose expressive and expansive visual style.

Final reflective statement

How did my creative approaches to drawing and mark making develop over the course?

My understanding of how and when to use different drawing techniques developed a lot to cope the the different and varied demands of sketching ‘on location’. I now have a set of creative tools that allow me to respond to a subject based on time available and visual style. The key learnings were around slow drawing, fast drawing, doodling and blind contour drawing.

My range of mark making was extended considerably through Investigating a process. I was quite structured in my approach to the exercise and this resulted in a series of marks and textures that I reused in several other exercises (reference the background textures in Assignment 5 above). Experimenting with new media in a structured fashion is a process I will build on for future projects.

How did my use of observational drawing as a form of visual research and idea development change?

Probably the biggest change the course has brought about is how central observational/reportage drawing has become to my practice.

The first major hurdle I overcame was sketching in public. Until I started Illustration Sketchbooks I was shy and embarrassed to draw in public and didn’t really do it. I now feel quite comfortable in most situations. This has opened up new world of possibilities.

The second realisation was the value and rich research potential offered by reportage sketching. One of my favourite exercises was Fill it up fast! which generated a mass of material in a short time, much of it usable as ‘finished’ artwork.

A new confidence and prolific use of sketching and sketchbooks naturally opens up new avenues for ideas generation and creative development. One key area I was reminded of through the course was the rework/reuse of existing work drawings using a method such as SCAMPER. I’ve used this in numerous exercises and have been surprised at how easy it is to repurpose images created for one context into something completely different.

What do I feel and think about the processes of experimentation I have undertaken with a range of materials and mark making ?

As mentioned above, I think the exercises in PART 2 that involved structured experimentation with new materials were really valuable, and using this as a technique to generate new ideas and understanding is something I’ll repeat. It is a conscious way to extend my repertoire of mark making and visual language.

How have my ideas about the everyday evolved over the course?

This is an interesting question. I would say conceptually my ideas haven’t changed that much. The mindmap of everyday ideas I produced at the start of PART 1 was still valuable for Assignment 5.

Assignment 5 has made me think about some aspects of the everyday in a different way: the extraordinary everyday.

How has looking at other practitioner’s sketchbooks and reading about their work expanded my understanding of illustration ?

I gained  a lot of value from looking at the work of established practitioners. Seeing the link between sketchbook and commissioned work shows the importance of the sketchbook as a tool to collect and nurture ideas and experiment with materials.

There were a small number of artists that I return to during the course, particularly when doing the reportage drawing for PART 3. I found there was a lot to learn in how other illustrators solved the same practical problems I was facing such as how to represent busy moving subjects such as crowds of people in a market, or how to give people posture, presence and character (all areas I need to work on). It was also instructive to see what they chose to leave in and leave out of a scene.

What does visual language mean to me?

Another interesting question. Visual language doesn’t have a clear definition and seems to mean something different to everyone.

For me it is a term that encompasses all of the common characteristics of my work; subjects, themes, use of materials, format, visual style(s) and genre. It is all of the parts of what I do that are distinctive and make my work recognisably mine.

Much of the focus in PART 5 Summation has been about drawing up lists of likes/dislikes and characteristics from the course that contribute to making up my visual language.

I would say I’m still very much finding my feet and exploring what and where I would like to focus my efforts going forward, so it’s a bit early to say what my visual language is with any degree of certainty.

What did I learn from being part of the book circle?

I joined a sketchbook circle during PART 1 and didn’t really know what to expect. It took a fair amount of discussion with everyone involved to understand the process and the rules; how frequently do we exchange sketchbooks, what order the books are passed around the circle, format of sketchbooks etc.

The sketchbook circle I’m involved with consists of four people and we exchange sketchbooks on the first day of every month.

As I was doing my first entry my thought was to try and produce a theme or direction that would give the next person in the chain something to work with and react to.

I have always had a different reaction/response to each book I’ve received and it feels like the first entry sets the scene for others to develop and follow or react against.

I have a certain amount of respect when I’m working in the shared sketchbooks because the activity is shared between the participants.

My reflections on the course

The enjoyed Illustration Sketchbooks a lot. As well as making me explore and develop new techniques and processes it also gave me the confidence to open up new areas of practice.

For me it’s been a very practical experience that I’ve been able to incorporate into my everyday; sketching during the day to and from work meant I could work to brief and get more work done more quickly.

The course developed nicely, logically leading from one part to the next building to Assignment 5.

What I enjoyed most was the reportage drawing; finding an interesting location or event and recording it. It felt liberating not to feel the need to produce finished/polished artwork. I think this allowed me to put more of myself into the work, evidenced particularly in the PART 5 exercises that I approached very freely with no preconceptions.

At the end of it I have a fairly large and growing pile of sketchbooks of all different shapes and sizes as testament to the amount of work (and material for future reuse) that I produced as a result of the module.





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