The purpose of this exercise was to take a closer look at my understanding of visual language and carry out some experiments and artists research.
Key words from the brief:
- Continue to develop your own strategies for looking at and documenting the visual languages around you
- Unpick what these objects mean to you and to others
- How do you define your own tastes and how might these be reflected in the kinds of aesthetics you’re interested in?
- How might other people view your choices?
- Start to identify the diversity of meaning inherent in the visual languages you use.
- Collect visual examples
Understanding the visual language of reportage illustration was a key part of my first critical review: What is the visual language of reportage and can it be learned and applied? (Hadfield, Hugh 2020). In the essay I defined visual language and visual style in the following way:
Visual language A combination of what and how an artist represents their subjects and the visual style they use to create their work.
Visual style Summarises the way an artist combines marking making, palette, personality of line and use of media to create a distinctive effect.
Since completing the critical review I’ve been very conscious of the need to explore and develop my own personal voice, something that represents who I am. This is one of the core objectives of the OCA illustration pathway.
Inspired by the brief, I carried out two experiments that I hoped would help me explore the meaning of visual language more deeply.
- Photograph any visual languages in my immediate surroundings
- Learn and apply a new visual language
Experiment 1 – Visual language on my morning walk
What was the experiment?
I used the camera on my iPhone to photograph as may visual languages as I could find on my daily 20-minute circular walk. All photographs were taken during one walk.
What were the expected results?
I didn’t really know what to expect.
It became obvious very quickly that there were several well established visual languages on my doorstep that I’d never paid attention to. I organised the photographs into each visual language:
Tree preservation orders (TPO)
Seeing the grouped photographs gave me a completely different view of each visual language. I felt like I was putting together an alphabet which produced new meaning.
Reflections on Experiment 1
Like oral language, once learned a visual language can become second nature. When combined, road markings provide a lot complex information. Once we’ve learned to ‘read’ road markings, usually as part of learning to drive, we just process their meaning without thinking.
Other visual languages such as the numbering systems used to identify road signs, telegraph poles and even trees, are a foreign language that have meaning to a limited audience.
For example it’s possible to use tree preservation order numbers to find individual trees on a map that is owned and maintained by the local borough council.
This interactive map contains two rich and complex visual languages. The first is the visual language of cartography and the second is user experience/user interface design.
Experiment 2 – learning a new language
What was the experiment?
My current day job involves supporting an organisation to adopt more agile ways of working. An important aspect of this work is clear communication, so that everyone impacted by the change is aware of what’s happening and clear about their part in it. Using pictures to tell this story is quite powerful and I’m increasing using illustration for this purpose.
I’ve been aware of visual recording for quite a long time. I first came across it about 10-years ago when a consultancy I was working with used an illustrator to record a day long workshop, live and at huge scale. I was mesmerized at the courage of the artist to work live on stage in front of a large audience. The effect was powerful. It really embedded important aspects of the day into people’s memories and helped make the workshop a common reference point.
I’d read a number of books on the subject including Visual thinking: Empowering people & organizations through visual collaboration (Brand, Willemien 2019), and The Graphic Facilitator’s Guide (Agerbeck, Brandy 2012).
In March 2021 was given the opportunity to carry to an experiment to visually record a 90-minute workshop. I jumped at the chance but realised that my usual visual language was not suitable for the job. To be a successful graphic facilitator you have to not only draw, but most importantly be an excellent listener and thinker. Drawings have to be very rapid and just good enough, almost like visual shorthand.
What were the expected results?
Through practice I would be able to learn and apply the basic ‘alphabet’ of the new language.
I realised I would need a drawing style that emphasised speed and simplification.
I used my two reference books to learn and practice the new language. The sketchbook images below are a small number of these doodles. Unfortunately I’m unable to post any of the workshop outputs because copyright of the information is owned by the company I’m working for.
Reflections of experiment 02
It was interesting that the opportunity to do a visual recording experiment coincided with me thinking about visual languages. What will be fascinating for me to observe is how I take the basic building blocks and develop them going forward.
Visual languages – artist research
Collecting and experimenting with other visual languages is something I do quite naturally. Instagram is excellent for this. ‘Following’ artists of interest means that my Instagram feed is always full of great work, and the Instagram algorithm presents me with new examples of work based on previous activity.
The sample of images below were all posted during the pandemic.
I really like the inventive pattern, texture and line in this black and white cowboy image. Like my own work, achieving realism is not important but achieving a sense of narrative is.
This cathedral interior by #Inmaserranito has great visual hierarchy achieved through composition and use of color. I love the patterns and rhythms. Given the next assignment is about the combination of words and pictures, I’m also interested in how text has been used within the image.
This is another example of a reportage illustrator combining text and image.
Melanie Reim is one of my favourite illustrators. During the early part of the pandemic she posted a series of her favourite footwear and the stories to go with it.
Jonathan Twingley is another favourite. He works predominantly in pen and ink drawing people.
#lewisrossignal has a very distinctive visual language that often combines collage, pen and ink drawing and text. I like the oversized characters and apparent brash almost careless use of paint.
The daily posts of #paulcopyrightdavis just make me smile. The quality of the illustration and the handwritten text are very distinctive, and the humour is dry and sometimes cutting.
Another distinctive style. #Varya_yakovleva is inventive with her use of mixed media and effortlessly breaks conventional rules.
How do you define your own tastes and how might these be reflected in the kinds of aesthetics you’re interested in?
I define my own tastes as visually disruptive, awkward, humorous, observed, subversive, enquiring, crude.
The aesthetics I’m interested in mirror these tastes. My visual language, although based firmly on observation is increasingly less about realism and more about interpretation, using inventive mark making and different media combinations. I described in Assignment 1 Personal statement how I need to start applying this relatively new visual approach, discovered through life drawing, to my other subjects/themes.
How might other people view your choices?
I’ve been told on a number of occasions that my developing visual approach is distinctly me. I think what people connect with is something of my personal taste and particular point of view. I guess it’s seeing/interpreting the world in a slightly different way.
Agerbeck, Brandy (2012) The Graphic Facilitator’s Guide (1st.ed) Loosetooth.com Library
Brand, Willemien (2017) Visual Thinking (7th.ed) Amsterdam: BIS Publishers.
List of illustrations
Figure 1 – Hadfield, Hugh (2020) Diagram showing the different elements that make up a visual language [Pen & ink drawing with digital colour] In: Hadfield, Hugh (2020) Assignment 6 – What is the visual language of reportage and can it be learned and applied? In possession of: the author
Figure 2 – Hadfield, Hugh (2020) Diagram showing the different elements that make up a visual style [Pen & ink drawing with digital colour] In: Hadfield, Hugh (2020) Assignment 6 – What is the visual language of reportage and can it be learned and applied? In possession of: the author
Figure 3 – Hadfield, Hugh (2021) Roadmarkings [Photographs] In possession of: the author
Figure 4 – Hadfield, Hugh (2021) Numbers on signposts [Photographs] In possession of: the author
Figure 5 – Hadfield, Hugh (2021) Numbers on telegraph poles [Photographs] In possession of: the author
Figure 6 – Hadfield, Hugh (2021) Numbers on cable boxes [Photographs] In possession of: the author
Figure 7 – Hadfield, Hugh (2021) Road signs [Photographs] In possession of: the author
Figure 8 – Hadfield, Hugh (2021) House numbers [Photographs] In possession of: the author
Figure 9 – Hadfield, Hugh (2021) Graffiti [Photographs] In possession of: the author
Figure 10 – Hadfield, Hugh (2021) Tree preservation orders [Photographs] In possession of: the author
Figure 11 – Elmbridge Borough Council (2021) A screenshot of TPOs Online from the Elmbridge Borough Council website [GIS map] At: http://emaps.elmbridge.gov.uk/ebc_tpo.aspx?requesttype=parseTemplate&template=TPOSimpleSearch.tmplt (Accessed: 20/03/21)
Figure 12 – Hadfield, Hugh (2021) Visual recording visual language sketchbook pages [Pen & ink and Promarker] In possession of: the author
Figure 13 – #Pollimona (2020) Instagram figure illustration At: https://www.instagram.com/pollimona_illustration/?hl=en (Accessed: 20/03/21)
Figure 14 – #Inmaserranito Instagram (2020) Capilla del convento de Santaines en Sevilla At: https://www.instagram.com/inmaserranito/?hl=en (Accessed: 20/03/21)
Figure 15 – #Santisalles Instagram (2021) Casa Trias. Park Güell. Barcelona At: https://www.instagram.com/santisalles/?hl=en (Accessed: 20/03/21)
Figure 16 – #Melreim Instagram (2020) There’s still time for boots and Italian memories (2020) At: https://www.instagram.com/melreim/?hl=en (Accessed: 20/03/21)
Figure 17 – #Jontwingley Instagram (2020) Finish each day and be done with it At: https://www.instagram.com/jontwingley/?hl=en (Accessed: 20/03/21)
Figure 18 – #Lewisrossignol Instagram (2021) Sketchbook work At: https://www.instagram.com/lewisrossignol/?hl=en (Accessed: 20/03/21)
Figure 19 – #Paulcopyrightdavis Instagram (2020) Just throw the fucking ball https://www.instagram.com/p/CIfHArtBZtG/ (Accessed: 20/03/21)
Figure 20 – #Varya_yakovleva Instagram (2020) Figure illustration At: https://www.instagram.com/varya__yakovleva/?hl=en (Accessed: 20/03/21)
Figure 21 – Hadfield, Hugh (2021) Life drawing [Pen & ink] In possession of: the author