Field year 3: Encounter (PDP)

 

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In Illustration they don’t appreciate exhibitions in the same way as other courses do. The whole idea is that the work we do is not the type one would see in a gallery, so there is no emphasis on shows, and that makes complete sense. As illustrators, this isn’t something we have to worry about, while our friends in Fine Art actually get assessed on it. Since first year a few of us have felt this certain discontent with how for two years we’ve seen amazing work exhibited by our friends while all we had was our portfolios, project books and desks. Personally, and I know this is true not just for me, I believed that if we had exhibitions at the end of first and second year, it would not only have been good experience but also would have helped us have at least some basis for this year’s ‘Encounter’ brief.

The most confusing part of the whole thing was constantly being reminded that we should not think of it as an exhibition (because it’s not what illustrators do), but we should focus on our work and think of how it sits in the world and how we want it to be encountered… that’s all fine, but at the end of the day what happened was that we were building spaces and putting up an exhibition. The continuous refusal to refer to it as such added to the constant level of stress throughout the year along with one other thing.

Groups. Since the start of the year, we were told to divide into small groups according to what our work was about, so when we put up the show at the end of the year, people would be looking at a collection of works with the same thematic. Instant red light goes up in my mind, how come we are the only course that’s not exhibiting everyone’s work together? Ignored the red light and tried to make sense out of the situation but it was only worsening. First with realising that I’d have to be into a group named ‘Myth and Fairy tales’, even though my project wasn’t meant to be perceived as a project on fables but a project on scientific truths based on mythology. When it turned out to be only me and one other person in that group we were told to just group with everyone who’s uncertain or hasn’t decided and so our odd-one-out group barely had any relation whatsoever between everyone’s works. We managed to find connections in the end although the very idea of having to consider how our work comes together and speaks as a whole was adding so much unnecessary stress, I was this close to leaving it all.

And then there was the lectures on how to put up a show, which, to be fair, I completely understood, though I believe both the lecturer and most of my course mates were misinterpreting the situation. Rita Cachao was teaching us by giving examples of different shows and how they work together, but the very idea is, that the work is collected or created for a specific show with a specific purpose, whereas each of us had been developing their own project of choice. Most people in the lectures were misinterpreting her efforts, thinking that now we have to change our work because it all has to go together. At that point the lectures were cut off and everyone felt even more frustrated because of the uncertainty – are we exhibiting together or are we not? What was the point to all the groups in the end?

One thing we had to do a month or two ago was fill out a form about technical requirements and describe the type of work we’d be exhibiting. After having stressed and talked to tutors about my installation plans and needing a large, open, free space, time and time again, and after handing that form in, you can imagine my surprise and frustration when I was allocated the furthest corner in the tightest maze of a space, which by the way turned out to also be where the door to the product design storage room was. Having that on my mind, being told that it could change when it obviously wasn’t going to (and it didn’t) and in the end being told I shouldn’t be stressing about it was just drop after drop until the cup was full and I no longer cared about how my work was going to be encountered. Nothing went according to my plan and in the end I had to rethink the whole setup just to make sure there is enough room for my work to be observed and for people to be able to go into the space right next to mine without getting caught in my pieces and messing everything up… all was fine in the end, I don’t have my hopes too high, knowing how much better it could have been had I got the type of space I asked for.

Building the actual walls and boxes actually turned out to be more fun than I thought, and it felt like a good way to connect with everyone and do something together, as a team, although some people didn’t show up and that ended up delaying us. Altogether it was a good experience that could have been so much better had it been addressed differently.

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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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Subject / reflection

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alien tropical moonflower (personal works, mind things)

This entire year could be defined as ‘fast and furious’. From the start we were getting all kinds of briefs, all designed to help us get used to working under pressure and developing our work in a thoughtful and professional way. Though none of the briefs had any connection with each other, we had to think of a way to introduce our work as our own – find our visual language that would speak on our behalf no matter the context. So in this sense, this year was mainly and mostly about experimenting and exploration.

After working on the ‘Biographies’ project this summer (and getting really deep into the research part of it) the start of the year felt like an overwhelming explosion of blogging, workshops and new briefs. It shouldn’t be overwhelming, and yet it was, the main reason being the time restrictions – all our projects were fast-paced and required outcomes not necessarily finished to a high standard. I realised I was struggling because I couldn’t focus as much on the research part as much as I wished I could. However, after I stopped thinking about the briefs themselves and started thinking about why we have so little time to work on them, I soon came to the realisation that it was all about how we develop ideas, and how we can come up with creative decisions in a short space of time, often accompanied by large amounts of excitement, which later on would (potentially) grow into stress.

In all honesty I can’t say that I enjoyed any of the projects as much as I wished I had, at least not until the end of term and the TED Talks project (which I still think we had too little time to work on). The reason for this would be my inability to deeply research and truly understand my subject at hand, so I can accurately and meaningfully reinterpret it visually. It’s easy to tell us to focus on ‘empathy’ but empathy is something much more complex than what our tutors made it sound. Empathy is about a true, deeper understanding, an intrinsic connection which allows you to feel another’s emotions. You can’t truly create that feeling of empathy in your work, if you don’t fully understand what you’re talking about, and I don’t really think it’s possible to do so in the space of a week or two.

A brief I found very confusing at the start and which I am still unsure about was ‘Visual Languages’. Not because I don’t understand it, but because I found out, after a lot of experimentation, that my work depends highly on the project itself. It’s funny because our tutors speak of it as a ’language’ and here I am, a multilingual person, having a really hard time, because I can’t stay true to just one. It made me realise that I can’t use one approach over and over again, because when I do use one, I use it for a reason. I use it because of its meaning and because of the effect it has on the viewer, which is one of the most important aspects of my work.

In this sense, this year has been mainly about exploring that meaning within different visual languages, the meaning within colour, line, proxemics and composition. I am really pleased with all the work I’ve done this year, even though I believe I didn’t (even remotely) reach the full potential of my capabilities. I realise that it is impossible to wait for that perfect brief to come and rescue me, but I do believe I am on the right track with my ideas for next year, all of which would correlate with my dissertation, which I am even more excited about.

Cheers to a year of illuminating progress, and here’s to the exciting mystery of next year!

'I want to go to the seaside' (sketch, personal works, mind things)
‘I want to go to the seaside’ (sketch, personal works, mind things)

Gorillas In The Roses / reflection

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GITR Zine Cover (for our zine of zine covers)

After the chaotic atmosphere, large scale and spatial freedom in first term, Gorillas in the Roses, led by James Green, seemed like a real challenge because of its contained nature. With my collaging experiments from last year to back me up, I’ve been thinking it might be interesting to learn about the true nature and history of collaging, how it fits in the greater scale of the art world. I couldn’t help but notice how different the two options were. I had to once more change my perspective on processes and materials, and it was the most exciting idea to reflect upon in my work. I’d been thinking about Nature – the general nature of things, ‘nature’ as in our environment, the nature of the world we live in, human nature, the nature of my thoughts and emotions.

Being confined to my desk space felt really strange at first but the lectures we were having soon took my mind off it. James introduced us not only to collage art and artists, but also to some of the most incredible comic book artists, examples of book art, shows and animations. The calmness and quiet of the collaging process (finding the right elements from newspapers/books/magazines, cutting them out, arranging them, and sticking them down) was what helped enforce the idea of a meditative process of visual reflection, of putting things in order and understanding them through this different perspective. While I was trying to put some specific meaning in every element of my collages I realized that what I was coming up with were perfect reflections of moods and mind states, strange combinations, that don’t really make much sense, but secretly, hold bits of a life story. Of mind states. Of Nature…

One thing I found incredibly reassuring, and liberating in a way, was that there were no restrictions, no limits, and no boundaries. We were just told to produce a body of work, to concentrate on something, and to do some collaging. That meant a great deal of experimenting and a lot of collages made on a purely random basis. And even still I kept finding meanings in the outcomes. At the start of the module James told us to each get a sketchbook for all our collages, but after the Subject projects, and the feedback from both this year and last, I was determined to create a finished outcome in book form, made from scratch, rather than just bought and filled. That is how ‘M!nd States’ and ‘Human Nature, Cosmic Nature’ initially formed as themes and ideas, and, as the module went on, as real finished pieces. But my work was also influenced by not only the artists I was encouraged to research but also my peers. Even though we were working alone and each of us in our own ways, we managed to produce more artwork than any of us thought, all while comfortably collaging in a room, chatting and listening to our favourite music. I couldn’t appreciate it more.

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Life and The Universe, as I see them in collage. (part of my “human nature, cosmic nature” book)

Painting Performance / reflection

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Our Painting Performance studio with our group’s “Klein blue experiment” piece on the wall.

Painting Performance wouldn’t come across as a useful practice for an illustrator, would it? Surprising as it sounds this module was an absolutely irreplaceable experience which helped me rediscover my artwork and process, as well as my ideas and drives as an artist.

Led by prof. André Stitt, this module was packed with information backed up by performance exercises. After learning about the history of performance art, its origins and increasing popularity throughout the years, we got to experience it ourselves, experimenting with the techniques of artists such as Yves Klein, the Gutai group, Carolee Schneeman, Hermann Nitsch and more.

As we got the chance to explore the subject more deeply within our respective groups, and of course on our own, I realised how this expressiveness that is so vital for painting performance is in fact just as vital for my own work. I started noticing my process in a much more conscious manner in the sense that I started having a much clearer idea of what I was doing with each movement when I painted, the materials, colours and shapes I used started becoming metaphors for specific ideas, the awareness of the duration and repetitiveness of the mark-making itself uncovered a meditative aspect, all of which I’d understood as an inseparable part of the process of art-making, but for the first time I was paying attention to it all, I was mentally, consciously and physically aware.

I was very lucky to be in a group of friends which allowed us to quickly come up and work on ideas we all agree with. Interestingly enough we managed to translate our differences into our work and make them work together to reflect on our interaction with each other as a process as well as the idea of the performance itself. This was all explored in our final performance, as well as the idea of interaction, the individual, the group as a higher form of synergic consciousness, the ways we influence one another, the ways we influence the world around us, the traces we leave through our lives and the intrinsic connections between all of these ideas. With the incredible idea to do it all with the sounds of space as a background we managed to bring it all to life, to reality, for the short space of time we had. The relief, calmness and content that I experienced every time, after finishing each session, had never been more clear and powerful than at the end of our final performance.

It made me understand how important it is for artists to be able to express themselves in their art, even if it isn’t fully understood by the rest of the world. By the end of the module I’d been so deeply influenced by painting performance in my other artwork, it turned into deeper, more personal experiments with free movement, different mark-making techniques, more repetitious, time-consuming or really quick elements and ultimately an exploration of my own self and how my mind works.

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left to right: Kirstin Crocker, (me), Ethan Dodd; at our final group performance

Field

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The second term, or our Field module, and its project were really different from what we did in the first term and what I’d expected. I believe reason number one for that is our division in different groups and the collaboration project. The project, City, was, as the tutors explained, more about the research rather than the final piece.

That inspired my Research & Ideas sketchbook in which I recorded all of my ideas for the individual part of the project. After some time passed and I looked through it, I came to the conclusion that if I spend more time on a single project, my mind starts processing too many ideas. They may revolve around the same basic idea, or the same topic, but they evolve and branch out way too fast and in too many directions which slows down my work process immensely. The main reason for that is that I simply can’t choose what idea to concentrate on. During my time back home for the Easter break, I made a mental note to work on my idea control.

The group project (the City project is divided into two parts – individual and collaborative) itself was quite interesting. I got to work together with people from a different course (Fine Art) and I got the chance to tap into their workflow and ideas. It surprised me that we all had a very similar way of thinking but our views on those similar ideas were very different. It gave me a deeper understanding of the difference between our courses. I saw more clearly where I stand as an artist. And I saw the importance of illustration even in fine art, mainly because of the illustrative nature of our final piece (which wasn’t even my idea).

Learning how to work in a team with other artists proved to be something I’d never experienced and something I see as really important for future development – the idea that we can sometimes afford to rely on others while doing our work. I believe collaborative projects are something I want to do in the future. I would like to try teaming up with people from different courses and then comparing the outcomes – may be something really simple like doodling but it would still reveal the artistic nature of each individual.

During the second term in this illustration course I got to explore new techniques and skills like analog photography, which I’d never done before but now I have two personally developed films and black and white photographs. So, apart from expanding my range of possibilities, thoughts and ideas, I also developed my technical skills and learned a lot. My mind was cleared and I finally stopped thinking about what people from other courses do all day.

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