Website Research

Over the summer I joined Cargo collective in an attempt to start the year prepared. Initially I joined with their basic free membership, though with some help, I set up my own domain name. Cargo is fantastically practical and straightforward, and what I think appealled most to me was the ability to follow other peoples Cargos and be followed in return. I like this idea of networking with other people within the creative industry and the possibilities this could provide in the future.

I prefer a website that is clean and open looking, as opposed to some which can be over-loaded with imagery and additional features which, when essentially just exhibiting your work, is unnecessary. There are some which are successful, though I think it takes a combination of really strong work and a specific audience for this.

Portfolio Visit

A little over  a week ago I contacted Stuart Price from the 'ideas agency' Thoughtful, a resident agency within Stockport College, who recently made a visit to the design pathways to give a lecture on what constitutes a good portfolio. At the time of their visit a lot of us were attempting to complete a deadline, and so sadly, I was among a few who didn't get to hear this lecture, which is a shame as it was apparently extremely informative, and dealt with the more professional side of illustration, which we aren't often exposed to.

However, after contacting Thoughtful, I managed to schedule a meeting with Stuart, to take a look over my portfolio. When the time came round Stuart was incredibly welcoming and made me feel really at ease, despite my being the last in a list of people vying for his attention. Immediately Stuart picked up on my paper-cut bee mobile, which I'd put at the beginning of my portfolio as I feel it's one of my stronger pieces of work, which has gotten the best result. He appeared to be very impressed by my papercut work, and seemed to enjoy looking through my portfolio, being very enthusiastic. Stuart asked what my tutors thought of my work and I admitted that they'd prefer for me to create more paper-cut work and didn't particularly like my paintings. While he disagreed that my paintings weren't any good, Stuart said that there was something much more powerful and striking about the cuttings, and that he could see them in a much more commerical context too which would stand out as he doesn't know of anyone else doing the same quality of work.

We talked about how I felt about moving more towards paper-cutting and the difficulties which it poses, such as needing to photograph work and be able to take control of the way work is shot, adding that extra dimension to the work and potentially creating really interesting narratives. It was once again clear that the paper-cuttings were much better received in comparison to the paintings, though simply because of just how enthusiastic Stuart was.

While we talked a lot about the work, Stuart didn't seem to have any problems with the layout and appearance of my portfolio, except to say that it might be an idea to take out the black paper between the prints in each portfolio sleeve, as this could be seen quite noticeably if a print shifted when the page was being turned.

Stuart said he'd been really impressed by the quality and attitude of each of the students visiting, and to feel free to show him future work, as he'd love to see how my work progressed. This was such a reassuring meeting, and having another person's perspective on paper-cutting vs painting really helped, and I came out of it feeling really refreshed.

Illustrations Digital Future

I've been a bit of a Ludite for as long as I can remember, as a result of all sorts of factors, but mostly as a result of my Dad's reaction to the changing book market. He works closely with independent bookshops, and it's always been a bit heartbreaking when he's come home and informed us that another shop's had to close. This has had a pretty strong effect on my general opinion of modern technology, and thus, the prospect of the future of Illustration. However, since starting the degree and realising just how much illustration has changed, how dynamic it has become, I can't help but be optimistic.

I don't work digitally, I prefer to think of Photoshop as an aid, a tool, rather than the starting point for work, as I dislike the idea of relying so much on something which isn't tangible. As the degree's progressed and I've come to better understand how it is that work is created digitally, I've reared away from it even more, particularly with uni briefs, as I sometimes find it can be difficult to immediately connect with a brief, so the idea of starting one off on a computer simply doesn't feel comfortable. I need to feel that bit more in control of what I'm making, able to physically manipulate it, carry it around and consider it in more than one dimension. 

This isn't to say I refuse any digital input. In fact I've found, especially when short of time, that Photoshop can make life much easier. For example, the Wellspring brief: I had begun painting the frame for the image and had been experimenting with a few decorative borders; having scanned it in at uni to see how well it translated on screen, I came home only to realise I'd left the original painting in uni and only had a quarter of the frame scanned in on my usb. As the deadline was after that weekend, I decided to attempt to use what I had and create a full frame. Had I not done this it's more than likely that the frame would have been a mess: unsymmetrical and untidy due to rushing. However, I managed to duplicate that one piece to create te frame, and it turned out better than I'd hoped.

The idea of piecing together elements entirely digitally has always struck me as being incredibly dull. Where's the fun of the materials, the potential mistakes, happy accidents and experiments? Despite my own preference to work in an analogue way, there are others who utilise digital work amazingly well, and I still find those, who work well this way, to be very skilled, though admittedly I have that bit more respect for those who work well with analogue materials, as I see digital work limited to the computer it's being created on. A brutal and perhaps ignorant view, but honest; that's just what automatically simmers at the back of my mind when presented with a comparison of digital and analogue work!

Like so many other things, illustration seems to go through phases which see different trends appearing, and lately it would seem there's a preference for the handmade. Greater appreciation is being shown for crafts, artisans and analogue illustration because of the contrast between working on something solid, real, as opposed to something on a screen, and how much more it appeals to the senses, as does the idea of a person who's had to invest time to learning a skill and the patience to master it, rather than have the option of 'command-z' and Youtube tutorials. People are so constantly immersed in a digital world, that relief is being sought after in analogue work.

Nevertheless, all illustrators, whether they work digitally or analogue, face the prospect of illustration becoming obsolete. With a decline in the books being bought as people read less, publishers have to be more picky about what they publish, what will appeal to the masses and sell! Thus, the range of books being published is dictated by an already pretty uninterested public, and so it's cheaper and easier to use photography, as well as presenting book covers which are universally accepted, rather than having an illustration on the front which may not appeal to someone; everyone's a critic.

Then of course, we're constantly being bombarded by new ways, or at least, new screens, to view things on. The competition for survival, as it were, has meant that illustration has had to broaden to encompass a much greater range of products it can be applied to. And while they're still different, the line between craft and illustration is merging, and amongst other creative roles, the illustrator is having to become more malleable in order to match the decline in straightforward book / editorial work.

So many consider the development of digital illustration to be beneficial: more interactive etc, but really?! How? You're not interacting with anything except the machine/computer you're viewing it on. People are forgetting how to use their hands. Children may be able to text as fast as lightning, but give them a pen and they'd have no idea of its value, preferring instead a keyboard. Skills are being forgotten as people immerse themselves in a digital world; digital interaction leaves people forgetting how to make decent conversation. I'm now ranting and off topic. I suppose in some ways it's good that the digital work is creating competition, as it's making people realise how disillusioned they are in the digital world, making tangible skills much more valuable, and as the digital world continues to desensitise, analogue skills will become more and more precious, and hopefully more sought after, providing relief from the digital.

Rant over.

A Few Inspirations

Elsa Mora

During my last tutorial Gary asked that I give him a sense of what influences me, so that he can understand better what it is that I'm trying to achieve with my work, as it seems it's lacking several somethings.

I find it difficult to narrow down my inspirations, and sometimes I feel like I'm focusing too much on what other people are doing, and not focusing enough on working instinctively. While I do find inspiration from other illustrators work, I tend to find that I'm more influenced by craft and decorative objects as well as interior design. This means I tend to think quite separately about uni work and things I'd like to produce in my own time, which I'm beginning to find drains my enthusiasm for uni briefs as I'm constantly daydreaming about the things I'd really kill to be doing. It was suggested in my tutorial that I should try and merge these interests together, but I need to spend more time considering how to merge the illustrative aspect...



Lord Whitney

Lord Whitney is the result of a collaboration between Amy Lord and Rebekah Whitney, two graduates of Leeds Met Graphics Art & Design course, who have, since their graduation in 2006, worked incredibly hard to make themselves known. Through persistence and a wonderful sense of humor and imagination, they have produced work which is increasingly becoming recognised and applied to all sorts of projects, including music videos, festivals, stage design and costumes!

They kindly came into college to give us a lecture about what happened after they left university, how they found the transition from being a student to trying to work within the creative industry, and how their collaboration grew. This was one of the most interesting presentations I've seen, and it was unbelievably refreshing to hear from each of them: the various jobs they worked on after uni, both separately and under Lord Whitney. They were brutally honest about the ups and downs of getting work (and on the subject of the importance of a few drinks and good company), and while there were evidently times where they struggled some-what, what was emphasised most was how much enjoyment they got out of their work and how hard they've worked to get to a position where, for most of the time, producing work as Lord Whitney is their full-time source of income.

However, they made it very clear that in order to get where they are it has been a matter of an innate need to create, and that that has been a predominant factor in their success, because they are truly enjoying and getting satisfaction out of their projects.

After feeling rather at a loss with my work, hearing them talk reminded me that I ought to be enjoying each opportunity which is posed with each brief, and that recently I hadn't been, as the pressure of the briefs had taken its toll, and that perhaps that's why I don't feel as though I'm doing as well as I could be, because I'd forgotten to enjoy it! As a result I've resolved to approach the few consequent briefs, before the Major Project, with a different attitude! Instead of panicking at the thought of more work, and begrudging it, I'd like to see it as a chance to show what I'm capable of.

After the lecture Amy and Rebekah joined us in the studios and set us a mini-brief: 'Compund Nouns'. They provided a list of suggested compound nouns which we could work with, or we could come up with our own. The brief was fairly open an enabled us to play with our responses, letting our imaginations run wild with it. This was an optional brief, but I think just about everyone took it on as it provided a good opportunity to let go abit and just make something for the sake of it, without fear of it being critically assessed. I went with the suggestion Moth-ball as when we'd gotten the Bug project I was a little disappointed to see that moths weren't on there, and it lent itself the idea of something quite delicate, which I felt would be fitting with my paper-cutting! I'll post images of my moth-ball soon as I wasn't entirely happy with it by the deadline, but I'd like to play with it more in my own time. It was another attempt to produce something 3-D and I don't feel confident enough yet translating the images and plans in my head into something tangible. Hopefully I'll get there soon.

Craig Oldham Poster

At the beginning of November Craig Oldham of Music came to give us a talk  entitled 'But Isn't That Your Job?' about the relation between Designers and Illustrators from the point of view of a designer; the experiences he's had working with illustrators and what he and others have learnt from these experiences. Sadly I'd already planned to go to the Illustration and Writing Symposium at MMU with a few other people from the year and so missed his lecture.

However, we'd been set to produce this poster, advertising his lecture, over reading week, and I had a very enjoyable evening working on this. Tutors have repeatedly told me over the last two-and-a-bit years that I should allow my own interests and influences to show through my work, and in second year I was criticised for not taking this on board. This poster is a good example of why I sometimes try to keep my personal interests and briefs apart: I'm a huge fan of ancient Roman mythology and their pre-Christian religious system, and considering this brief dealt with two different perspectives: an illustrators and a designers, I decided to work with imagery of Janus.

Janus is the Roman deity, assigned to the idea of beginnings and transitions, and therefore (more literally) doors and gateways, and is able to look both into the future, and the past. He is presented as being two-faced, facing in opposite directions, and I felt that he suitably represented the idea of designer vs illustrator: working together, yet with different paths, but essentially the same aim. I think anyone would agree this is pretty obscure, but I really enjoyed working on it. I kept it simple with plenty of white space, drawing the profiles in a way which might suggest at their being statues: figures which are looked at and appreciated, yet not always understood, much like the idea of designers and illustrators: they're there, but a lot of people wouldn't be able to define exactly what it is they 'do'.

The arrows leading to the door were to suggest two different perspectives, both leading to the same outcome (the door), though in different ways: the illustrators arrows being more illustrative and the designers being more graphic, though Gary and Ian both pointed out they could have done with being done on illustrator in order to make them more graphic, which I agree with; however, I'm an illustrator (supposedly) and I guess that's my personal attempt at 'graphic' (that's my stubborn streak talking again, anything to validate why I avoiding using a computer)!
Last Monday we had tutorials with both Ian and Gary, in order to assess our progress so far this year. Earlier that day I'd written the post 'Hopes, Fears and Opportunities', exploring my misgivings about my work so far and how I felt the last few months have been going. It wasn't the happiest of posts. So, for it to then be followed by a some-what grim tutorial, meant that I went home wanting to bin the last few months work completely.

The worst part was, I'd gone into the tutorial anticipating everything that they told me, and knowing that I'd be told the same thing as the last few years: to try and combine the paper-cutting and the painting. Annoyingly it was suggested that I was avoiding doing this out of stubbornness! But I haven't been! It's simply a complete lack of understanding of what they're expecting of me! I don't think '3D' and really struggle to comprehend what it is they're trying to lead me toward. And yet, at the same time, I do realise what they're attempting to get me to do, and I do appreciate the fact that my paper-cutting is more successful than my paintings, but considering both Ian and Gary have told me to work in a way that I want to, over the last two years, I have stuck to the painting as my preferred method of producing imagery. Super frustrating! We didn't particularly address any specific brief, rather my working methods. Gary had plenty of encouraging things to say about the paper-cutting, but it was more in order to get me to move away from painting.

I went home feeling incredibly deflated, but after plenty of consideration I began to feel a little bit more enthusiastic about the push, especially as it made me really think about the Major Project and how dramatic my [current] idea could be if produced using paper-cuts. However, I don't want to go to any extremes and work entirely out of my comfort zone.

What I got out of the tutorial was a realisation that if my painting work is only mediocre, then I really need to up my game in the Major Project; and while I don't immediately think to work with paper, Gary is right in saying that my work leans towards craft, so it'd be more beneficial to work differently. I need to be more confident / brave and less stubborn (even if I am perhaps being subconsciously stubborn)!

Look, here is a Moth!

This is one of the original moths I cut out for the Lord Whitney brief, which I shall soon put up a nice big blog post about!

Bee Mobile

Here is my finished Bee Mobile. More or less finished anyway. This isn't exactly child friendly, so on it's own it doesn't entirely meet the brief, but with my colouring in sheets and dot-to-dot, both Ian and the ladies from the Museum were very positive, and liked my ideas for making a more interactive 'Do-it-yourself Bee'. I more or less dove right into this when we got the brief, and I think it benefited me most because I did it more for myself than to answer the brief, and I think that's something I've needed to do recently, as I've been feeling a bit low about my work so far. I'll stop being glum soon, promise.

And below is the image that may be used when we run the children workshop in Manchester Museum on the 28th of January, though Ian and I did discuss the possibility of me doing a large shield-like Bee paper-cutting, which I think I'd prefer, but this is a cool lil back-up.

Hopes, Fears and Opportunities.

In September, at the beginning of the academic year, we spent some time reflecting upon what we hoped to get out of our last year in uni: our hopes, fears and the potential opportunities which we would like to take advantage of. Originally this came easily, however, as the last four months have progressed, I've realised that these have changed quite dramatically. I feel this is partly due to the increasing work-load and it's effect upon me, and the way I'm coping with it; like everyone else, I think I'm struggling a bit already. Not good!

Originally I simply hoped that this year would go smoothly; that I'd enjoy myself, and that I'd manage to keep on top of things. At the time of first considering my 'hopes', I had simply wanted to become settled with the support of an agency as a freelance illustrator, working broadly on a mix of editorial work and self-initiated work using Etsy as an outlet for my work, with the possibility of exhibiting. In retrospect this is a typical, blinkered view of how I'd like my career to develop, but with the possibilities being so open, and the number of illustrators out there competing for work, it's incredibly hard to pin down these hopes.

Since starting this year I've also been working part-time, which has taken some getting used to. This has been my first 'proper' part-time job (apart from sweeping up hair) and so it's been the first time that I've had to consciously balance my time effectively since starting uni, having previously been able to focus entirely on uni work. I absolutely love my little job and would be loathe to quit, because I imagine I will most definitely need a 'job-job' once I've graduated, as I honestly don't see myself being swamped by illustrative work, and I think I'd struggle to find another part-time job with such good hours (and which allows me to watch so many films for freeeee). However, I'm still finding myself sometimes prioritising work-stuff when I ought to be focusing on uni briefs; while I have improved on this recently, I am aware that it has affected previous briefs, which I thoroughly regret. Hopefully I'll tackle this and be able to focus, without letting my job distract me during the rest of this year.

At the beginning of each brief that we've been working on so far, I always start off feeling really enthusiastic, with plenty of ideas to work with, and yet I find this feeling wearing off faster and faster with each brief we're given. I've found it difficult to decide with each one, how best to execute it; whether to paint, draw or return to paper-cutting. As I'm constantly having to explain to tutors and others, I've found it really difficult to integrate paper-cutting, with what I consider to be more convenient for most illustration work: painting. I've made numerous attempts to bring the two methods together, but have not been particularly successful.

Painting is definitely more convenient and provides more possibilities for briefs, but I've found that people have a better response to my paper-cuttings than my painted work. I'm aware that my painting technique and ability is limited, but I really enjoy working this way! Similarly I love paper-cutting, and I always have tons of personal plans for paper-cuttings which I'd love to have the time to work on, but I think i consider them to be separate from uni work as I consider these plans more decorative than illustrative, and there-fore they get tucked away in my 'Crafty Personal To-Do List'. In all honesty it drives me crazy! If i could answer every brief with a paper-cutting, I would, but it feels limited. As a result I feel split down the middle, and like my work isn't at all cohesive.

These factors haven't exactly helped the increasingly predominant feeling that I'm doing the wrong thing. Since I was little I've gone through wanting to have various different careers within the creative industry. For a long time it was interior design; then costume designer; set and prop designer; and make-up artist on films. In the last few years I've bounced between wanting to be an Illustrator and a jewellery designer. Because of my family ties with literature (Mum being an English teacher and my Dad having working for maaaany many years in publishing) illustration was my immediate choice, though I've always felt like I wish I'd explored other avenues more. Because it's a bit late to be doing that now, I would like to explore these others interests within my illustration work, so hopefully this thought will inspire my ideas for my major project.

Towards the end of the first year I became attached to the idea of doing a PCGE, as it seemed like a simple solution to the prospect of graduating without a job or any clear direction. So in March I started going to my old high-school, one day a week, and helping out as a [sort of] teaching assisstant in the art department, alongside my old art teacher (which was a teensy bit weird). This was a fantastic opportunity, and despite not being a trainee teacher, I was allowed to set my own little project and commandeer my own little group of students from the Year 9s, as well as helping out with lessons with all year groups, including the GCSE students who were at the time, preparing for their timed exam. I felt incredibly self-conscious doing this, partly because it was my old school and most of the teachers that had taught me were still there, partly because my Mum still teaches there and all the students found it amazing when they finally clocked that Miss Gilbert and Mrs Gilbert were related (it was shocking how long it took some of them to figure this out), and when they did I was treated with an air of awe, which was bizarre (wow! teachers have lives?!).

While this was good experience, and I did feel I was very capable and handled it well, I discovered that secondary school students have changed an awful lot since I was that age, and it was a little disturbing how rude and obnoxious kids were. Now, I loved my art teacher, we got on really well (probably because it was my favorite subject, d'uh), but she was an absolute dragon and scared the *beep* out of us when I was a student there; it was very rare that someone would talk back to her or be rude, and if they were they'd soon regret it! But what I discovered was that the kids in her class had absolutely no regard for this. Some were openly rude and even insulting, incredibly disrespectful, and yet they weren't at all worried about the consequences. Indeed, so many of them were this way that her usual shouty-screamy technique didn't even make them bat an eyelid! This scared me. And it made me very much realise that 'kids today' are basically, a bit horrible.

 What cemented this realisation for me was when, in June, when I returned to the school to paint their set for their summer production for the second year, I had a lot more time to do it in, so was exposed to a lot more rehearsals and pupils which I'd not come into contact with who I hadn't met while helping in the Art Department. Some were lovely and polite and helpful. But some were hideous little toads. And you can't pick and choose the children (/obnoxious pre-teens / teenagers) that you get to teach. And I realised, while it would be a lovely magical solution to go on to do a PGCE, one which I think I wouldn't be too shabby at, it isn't a 'calling' for me, and I think I'd lose any creativity I had (as my art teacher kept hinting at while frequently asking me if I was sure I wanted to go into teaching).

However, since I began writing my dissertation I've been reminded of just how much I enjoy writing, which was something I used to honestly enjoy and used to be yet another thing on my dream job list: journalist (a nice one, not a yukky tabloid one). Throughout my A-Levels I had to do a lot of writing for my History and English Literature classes, but since starting my degree I'd forgotten just how much I love it. And a few weeks ago Gary mentioned looking into M.A. postgraduate degrees, and it's something I've really latched onto in the last few weeks, and to be honest, what has kind of kept me going as I've been going down that rather miserable slope of despair as things have begun to feel too much. I had a look at MMU's prospectus and I'm seriously considering applying to do an M.A. in Visual Culture, as it looks fascinating and would hopefully open up doors which could potentially lead to going into something which would enable me to write [about art]. So for now, the goal is to make it through this exhausting year, continue working where I'm currently employed (and hopefully still will be, come summer) and attempt to illustrate for actual monies(!!!), while trying to save to do an M.A. the following year! Eek!

This has become pretty long winded so I'm going to quite speedily sum up my fears and opportunities. My fears are definitely more related to how well I do on my degree than fears about the future, because I haven't a clue what's going to happen, and I'd rather not anticipate the worse, my head's already pretty full of doom and gloom as it is thanks! Opportunities-wise I'd like, again, to make the most of what the degree has to offer me, particularly when we go down to London for portfolio viewings. I might do another post regarding opportunities, with a more positive outlook. Hopefully.
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