vortex / cover & illustrations

Before the academic year was over I was working on an important side-project. The second book by author Vera Petrova called Vortex, about to come out.

After the success of her first book 6 years ago she wished to collaborate once more to create a second boutique publication, this time with illustrated chapters rather than just a cover. Saying I was excited would be an understatement.

What happened was quite interesting – Vera had had a look through all of my work online and liked several pieces which she thought would fit the esthetic she imagined for her book. I suggested making new work in accordance but she was set on several sketchbook pieces from the beginning days of my final year project ‘Cosmic Genesis’. As they were no longer of any importance to the outcome of the project, I felt they would fit well for the occasion. Thus they became chapter illustrations.

The cover artwork was chosen in a similar manner. Vera wanted her second book to carry on the layout of her first book (‘Instead of a Book’) – a short but wide image which flows from the back cover to the front cover as one long piece. A very fitting image I had done was, again from ‘Cosmic Genesis’, the 3.3m-long animation concept. She felt it was illustrative of her entire idea behind ‘Vortex’ so she had me send it over to her visual editor (Rumen Dimitranov), who shortened it wonderfully so it can fit the format without losing meaning.

You can see the finished cover below, as well as some of the illustrations inside.

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aftermath / after hand-in

It’s been a while since I thought to write anything on here. The summer’s almost gone and perhaps the reason is that so much has happened in the space of three months. Sometimes it’s more important to enjoy the moments, to live, and let it all happen before you know what’s worth recording and writing about.

First things first – I am no longer a student. The last few posts I wrote were published on the day of my hand-in deadline. After all the hard work, the stress exploded from all of us in the form of celebrations and indulgences of all kinds – everything we denied ourselves for months we got to dive into in the space of a few weeks. In a sort of preparation for the exhibition which opened the week after hand-in.

Oh it was so good to not be worried anymore. Well, of course I was worried. I had the most dreadful feeling about my assessment, mixed with the most liberating sense of freedom. Nothing can hold me back now. I was free to focus on the ideas I wanted to focus on, the way I wanted to focus on them. All that with  a massive pinch of excitement about my family coming to Cardiff to see the show. (MASSIVE)

Some important questions (to myself) answered:

Was I happy with my final works?
I was as happy I could be – it was a project I had worked on for longer than any other and it was one which morphed into so many different forms throughout the time I worked on it. The core idea remained, despite the change in the translatable meaning. I was well aware I was capable of something monumentally more substantial though after the last decision to change the project, I effectively stabbed myself in the back and capped my result to something satisfactory to myself rather than something outstanding.

Did the result surprise me?
Not really. I was expecting a low grade but at the same time I was well unhappy about how I was judged. The unfairness of the whole situation was the most frustrating aspect of it, feeling like I’m being completely misunderstood when all I try to do is bring people’s attention to ideas and issues every single person thinks about at some point or other, without a doubt. Somehow it would’ve been better if I had focused on a mundane issue with little if any whatsoever deeper existential meaning, as it seemed like that’s the type of topics which the tutors fancied the most. I have no regrets at all. I just wish people appreciated deeper thought processes a bit more (and appreciated personal expression).

Would I have done it differently if i had the chance?
Yes and no. Yes – I would’ve stuck with my gut and done what I meant to do since the very start without changing my idea a thousand times throughout the year. I would’ve had a lot less tutorials than I did, as it seems to me that’s what messed up  my process in the first place (and I ended up being accused of not having enough tutorials… excuse me??). And No, I wouldn’t change my idea and what I wanted to communicate – my research has become an invaluable part of my philosophies and personal beliefs, and I still believe what I was trying to say id incredibly important in our day and age.

To conclude, in this one week before the show, the tornado inside my mind dissipated and suddenly I could see with clarity all the details of the wasted landscape. All in place, maybe not in the place they initially were, but in place nonetheless – exactly where they should be. It took the most devastating of storms to set things right for myself as a person and as an artist.

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Subject year 3 (PDP)

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Since the end of last year, throughout the summer and the whole of first term, my focus has mainly been on the idea of gods, goddesses and their visual representations. The dissertation proposal gave a lot of weight to the subject and in my mind it was like a seed which slowly but surely started poking out of the ground, becoming my main focus for the start of my third year of Illustration. Knowing that it would be a project that would take up the entire year, unlike anything else we’d done before, I knew I had to choose well and make sure my project would feel relevant to me throughout the year. It was not an easy choice because I’m all too well-aware of my interest and attention levels, and yet it was – knowing I’d be concentrating on the dissertation made me realise that whatever research I did would inform both aspects of my studies.

From the very beginning we were assured that nothing is set in stone, our project idea will grow and evolve and potentially change into something completely different from the initial concept. It was important to keep our minds open, and that is exactly what I did. At the start I chose to focus on mythology, specifically creation myths. I was keen on visualising the similarities between the different stories, my plan being to show that as different our cultures were, they all built on the same basic set of principles – the primordial void, the cosmic egg, the world tree, the creation of humans out of earthy substances (mud, dust, trees). My good intentions weren’t entirely applied, as I didn’t actually do a great amount of work in first term – the dissertation was taking most of my attention and in the end I only had the theory with some concept works, which resulted into a weak formative assessment. Looking back, I realised I could have put together a significantly more substantial, uniform set of works. My problem stemmed from the fact that I hadn’t decided what I was working towards. A visual storybook, a graphic novel, posters, and animation…? I realised, the hard way, that knowing what I’m working towards helps me mould my ideas and direct my work to a certain standard and consistency, something I was lacking in first term. There was not much I could do about it if I wanted to do well in my dissertation and do it right by the deadline, although I took the time to arrange all my ideas and come up with a plan for the type of work I would start working towards immediately after – an animation.

As my plan changed, my idea and the reasons behind it became more diluted. I was painfully aware of the amount of work I’d need to do if I were to make a hand-drawn animation. At the time there were several drawbacks to the plan, work that didn’t have anything to do with my project but was in fact the type of work I want to do as an illustrator – an EP cover and the exhibition we organised at Paper Arts in Bristol (a big shout out to Jamie Stevenson who was the man behind it all). Before I knew it, it was already time for our second term assessment and all I had was, again, concept work and thumbnails for my animation so I decided to create a long continuous piece which would in fact be the full visualisation of my final short animation. The positive feedback I had for it as a piece on its own made me rethink my whole project – leave the animation focus on this. It made sense – if it works, why not? I was also largely swayed by the lessened workload, one big hand drawn piece is better than hundreds and hundreds of illustrated frames. And all was good until the opening night of Within/Without, where one of my tutors noted the success of my pieces and advised that I revise my choices and work towards a similar outcome for my final piece. That was the point when I felt completely thrown off but I took her advice regardless. The development illustrations I’d been doing in my sketchbook could easily be translated into separate images which I could turn into an installation – a series of hanging pieces forming a narrative of a backward timeline, the Cosmic Genesis. With only a month to finish everything I found myself rushing everything. Stress levels started increasing drastically around the time I had to lose about five days waiting to get my laser cuts done so I could start painting over them. I went even further down the stress hole when we were allocated spaces and I got the furthest possible corner space when I’d asked specifically for an open space for a free-hanging installation. Up until the last moment I was assured it was not final and changes could be made and at the end it was evident that changes were not going to be made. The culmination of all possible stress was reached in the last few days – finishing everything off, making sure I have everything required for hand in and setting up the exhibition and the studio space. Now that it is all over I can evaluate the different aspects of the project:

IDEAS

It was difficult to explain my concepts in presentations, even with concept work for back up, there wasn’t enough and it seemed like there was nothing to ground my idea, according to feedback. The project changed drastically over the course of the year and so did the idea behind it but in the end, when writing my statement, I felt like it had finally come together in the best possible way, bearing the desired message.

RESEARCH

As the idea morphed so did the research. From myths to animations, academic reading, artists of interest, individual and collections of works, spiritual and scientific studies… even though it was a bit all over the place I feel it was all necessary to shape the project into what it is.

DEVELOPMENT

With so many shifts, I ended up having to discard most of the work I’d done over the course of the year. But at the end it’s all about how you allow your project to grow and evolve, which is exactly what I did.

OUTCOME

Even though it all felt a bit rushed, I am happy with my final pieces, even though I feel like I could have done an exceptional job had I reached the idea earlier and not had to worry about the exhibition space.

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within / without

I’ve been going on and on about the show and now it’s gone and passed, and I haven’t said a word about it.

As you probably already know, it was in two parts – from the 31st of March to the 6th of April and from the 7th to the 13th of April. We tried to make sure the people whose work would be up at the same time related with one another in some way and we found out that a lot of our works do that anyway. As almost everyone was exhibiting work that was part of their final year project (for the degree show in May) it was an amazing opportunity to experience the curatorial side of the whole ‘Encounter’ challenge. We found more connections between our work than we previously thought and also received amazing feedback on and after both opening nights.

My own work had nothing to do with my final project, which was probably not the best of ideas, but I wanted to focus on something fresh in my mind – at the time I still wasn’t sure whether I wanted to do an animation for my final piece or a very long scroll-type painting on a large scale. Neither would have worked well in the gallery space at Paper Arts, so in the end I chose the subject which had ceaselessly been on my mind since the Christmas holidays – DREAMS.

I’d been having a series of very vivid and realistic dreams with massive amounts of detail stored in my memories. I wouldn’t say that they influenced my waking life but I’ve always thought that if someone is in your dream, you have to tell them. A number of people were in my dreams, one person in particular, who also appears in the final images, more so than the others – when I shared my dreams with him, it became a common conversation topic, and a really exciting one at that, which brought us closer and solidified our friendship, something I was immensely happy about. So, in a sense, they actually did influence my waking life.

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left to right: Jakeem Lee, Sara Christova (me), Jack Coles, Sophie Holbeche, Patrick Howells, Ayu Baker and Rhiannon Parnis. Unfortunately Heather Kirk couldn’t make it that evening. (photo by Emma Harry, additional edit by me)

Anyway, I shouldn’t go off on a tangent. The opening night for the second week was a lovely event which I thoroughly enjoyed. I got very positive feedback from our year tutor, Amelia, who believed I should go on with this for my final piece. That completely threw me off and I found myself wide-eyed and panicking, telling her it actually has nothing to do with my final piece (even though I’d already been trying to find a way to relate dreams with myths). Her suggestion was that I should find a way to do something similar… ‘because it really does work very well, good job!’

IMG_1191Even though I didn’t sell any of the prints I had on display (I was gutted when I realised I’d forgotten mount board and cellophane pockets) I am really happy to have had the chance to have my work seen by so many people. Hopefully it will have inspired some of them to truly explore and experience their dreams. :)

La planète sauvage

Fantastic-Planet-Poster-sam_smithA few months ago while wondering what to watch with a friend of mine, he suggested La planète sauvage. I hadn’t even heard of it before, which made me wonder how many mind-blowing old animations, films and books I haven’t discovered yet. I had to know more. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was agreeing to but I trusted my friend’s judgement (as he doesn’t normally appreciate animations as much as I do), and thank the heavens I did.

Fantastic Planet (as it is translated in English, though the literal translation is The Wild/Savage Planet) is a 1973 sci-fi film – a cutout stop motion animation – based on the 1957 novel  Oms en série by French writer Stefan Wul.

The story takes place in the distant future on the planet Ygam, home of the giant blue humanoid Draags, a technologically and spiritually advanced society. They have brought human beings (called Oms, from the French word for human ‘homme‘) from Earth, considering them to be animals and keeping some of them as pets. Others live in the alien wilderness and, like any pest, their population is kept under control by the Draags.

An Om mother is teased to death by three Draag children and her baby is found by a key Draag leader, Master Sinh, and his daughter Tiva, who names him Terr and keeps him as a pet. She is affectionate and careful not to hurt him, though like any pet she is instructed to keep him disciplined, else he’d be taken away from her.

So the baby Om is given a collar. We dive deeper and deeper into the increasingly strange world the Draags inhabit, following Tiva and Terr. She brings him to education sessions – the Draags have special headphones which transmit knowledge telepathically, directly into their minds. A defect in Terr’s collar opens him up to that transmission as well, so he receives knowledge Oms normally wouldn’t.

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As Tiva grows into her teens Terr is already a young man (Draags have a much longer lifespan and don’t reproduce as much as humans do). She performs her first Draag meditation, which allows them to communicate and travel with their minds – an absolutely mind-blowing bit of animation.

By that time Terr has already acquired a sufficient amount of Draag knowledge to steal a pair of headphones and run away into the wilderness…Now, this is one of those moments where I want to continue, but I don’t want to spoil the story, so I’ll leave it at that.

The surreal psychedelic imagery (created by writer and artist Roland Topor, production designer and co-writer) is what makes Fantastic Planet so recognisable and scarily captivating – at times you want to look away but you just… can’t, it’s transfixing.

Apart from its visual appeal, this film, or the relationship between the Draags and Oms which changes as the story unfolds, can be seen as an allegory of the relationships between us humans and between humans and animals, it could be related to themes of racism and speciesism as well as class division. The ending of the film (as well as the events that lead to it) carries a hopeful moral – violence suddenly stops, both Draags and Oms realise there is nothing to be gained from mutual destruction. Peace prevails…

But there is so much more (don’t think just because you’ve read this you know how the film really ends, there’s so much more to it than just this aspect of the plot)! It’s astonishing that the story was conceived in 1957, and it was animated in ’73 – the vision of such a world, such a future, is (even today with our ‘advanced technology and knowledge’) an extraordinary example of science fiction. A timeless feature, which makes you rethink and reevaluate all you think you know about human nature, the nature of society and the nature of relationships between yourself and others.

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If you haven’t seen it, rectify the situation as soon as possible – better to see it and not like it than not see it and miss out on such an outstanding film.

 

rise and fall / micah lidberg

Tom Rolfe, fellow course mate, illustrator, and printmaker, showed me a concertina booklet by Nobrow Press he’d recently bought – Rise and Fall by Micah Lidberg. It hit me instantly – the bright colours, simple shapes and markmaking, layering of elements, juxtaposition… and most importantly, the continuous image showing the unfolding of a timeline. I immediately knew I wanted to do something of the sort, and I believe this is how the 3,3m piece came about (that and my friend reminding me about scrolls and such).

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NoBrow Technique Research

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After the presentation feedback and going through Rise and Fall again, I will be attempting a simplification of the narrative and visual language, as well as a scale expansion (moving towards a hanging installation rather than a handheld scroll).

bristol show / experiments

This is the first piece I did with the intention for it to be finalised and displayed in the upcoming exhibition. After doing a few more pieces it was certain, I wasn’t going to be putting this one up; not too pleased with the outcome.

That and the fact my idea shifted – this piece is mainly about the beginning of the dream, the physical self, the dream self and the influence of the moon. For all the other pieces I ended up settling on dreamscapes and scenes.

reader info: the original artwork is on the right (in the collage below), the other is inverted digitally and edited.

 

‘dreamer’remaerd’

 

‘dreamer’remaerd’ (detail) 

 

Bristol Show / concepts

Even though most people in the upcoming show in Bristol have decided to exhibit work they’ve been doing on their final uni projects, I decided to do something different, which I’ve been looking an excuse to do for quite a while now.

After having an almost overwhelming number of mad vivid dreams, I thought it would be really interesting to see how they look on paper. What you see below are development images, which I won’t be displaying but which I still find quite captivating.

Trying to portray the magical side of the very action of dreaming was a bit of a mind twisting endeavour so I decided to step away from the dreamer and focus on the dream itself. The sketch below was inspired by the ending bits of a dream I had, where after a mad party everyone went down to the beach, some of us surfing while those who couldn’t were just swimming about and splashing each other. I remember the sea crystal clear, almost mirroring the sky, the sunrise on one side, and the massive planet on the other. I couldn’t tell if it was light or dark because the moment in my mind was in the exact middle between night and day.

Bristol Show / mission

Excitement is upon us!!

Earlier on in the academic year a bunch of us illustrators decided to be proactive and organise our own exhibition, showing the beauty and potential of illustration. We were more or less inspired by a few of our fine artist friends who did a couple of amazing independent shows at the Abacus (a place dearly missed since it had to close down) – Substance and Exposure. Of course, Illustration is different from Fine Art in a lot of ways, so we have decided to bring what we do out to the people.

Even though all of us are based in Cardiff, we felt it would be better for us if we extended our creative input and had the show in Bristol instead. After some months of serious planning and fundraising, things are finally being set in motion.

Last week we had a little trip to go see the venue (Colab & Paper Arts) for a general idea of the space we’d be working with, and how we could potentially place our artwork. I’d never been there before and was very pleasantly surprised to see the shop and cafe as well as the gallery.

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The information about the show with posters and development work will be coming your way very very soon. Expect an exciting start to this April :)

inversion experiment

Wouldn’t it be interesting, I thought to myself, if dreams were just reality inverted.

I’ve been experimenting with inversion as a way to differentiate between drawings of ‘reality’ and drawings of ‘dreams’.

The piece below was a quick way to distract my overloaded mind so I could focus on my project better. Even though I was coming up with ideas around those two cityscapes, they are mainly an experiment, as this time I was directly drawing the inverted piece, rather than inverting it with photoshop.

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sity scape & epacs ytis