Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Keeping in touch with what inspires me...

At this late stage I'm hurriedly planning the size and layout of my book. In my initial storyboards of my images I automatically drew out rough boxes in quite a 'wide-screen' film friendly format. I'm not entirely sure why I did this, but I seem to be naturally comfortable thinking of images in terms of being a scene, like a landscape camera shot. I've needed to reconsider this as it isn't properly taking advantage of the book format. In my talks with tutors it has also been brought up that I should aim to create something that appeals to the child in me; something I can really connect to. So, I've been looking at the books I enjoy the layout of for inspiration. My favourites are old storybooks that appear quite decorative in their design, such as this collection, the Nutshell Library by Maurice Sendak:
Here the illustrations are linked comfortably with the text in the book with decorative flourishes, either around the images themselves or alonside them around the titles. Everything looks neat and cohesive, which is what I want to be able to achieve! I think the size of these books is also a big factor in their appeal. They feel like precious objects as they are so small, and reading them is a personal, private experience (not particularly suited to sharing). Until I have taken the photographs of my scenes I can't finalise what size I would like the illustrations to be exactly, but I'm hoping they will be suitable to be viewed as quite small, similar to this.

Portfolio Review with Craig Oldham

I got in touch with Craig from the Manchester based design company Music. My class were briefed by him last term for the ongoing Fishtank competition to decorate their studio. Here's what he said:
'Emily, hello.
Thanks for sending through your book.The studio is somewhat crazy at present so please forgive my somewhat brief feedback.
If I'm honest I prefer the more three-dimensional pieces in your book.It would be better I think to show more of these (as in more views on them).Also, treat them as objects and try shooting them better—think more about the context of them, should they be in the kitchen, in the set, or should it just be about the object? Do you need hands in there? Is there a completely different context? What was their intention? 
Thinking about this will help your 'storytell' better in your book.

Hope that helps.All the best.
His feedback seems to reflect most people's reaction to my work, in that he is drawn to the most 3D pieces. His advice about shooting them better is also a valuable point and it's something I will definitely look to improve. However, I feel that not being able to meet him for a review of my physical work may have hampered his understanding of it. Maybe this suggests that I need to arrange certain pieces better to let the work explain itself. The suggestion that I need to treat my creatures as objects makes me feel that I need to think carefully about how to convey a narrative in an image using 3D characters in future- obviously this will be particularly important for the images I'm creating at the moment for my book. I don't want the animals I make to be seen as stand-alone objects all the time.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Portfolio review with Matt Bray

Today I sent Matt a message asking if he could take a peek at how my portfolio was looking, and he very quickly got back to me saying to send it over, and I'm pleased to get a super positive response!
As I've never shown him my work before, I was unsure what he'd make of my style, seeing as his own is much more digitally based, and in my opinion, far more polished and professional looking. 
Here's what he said:
'Hey Em,I’m loving your portfolio! You’ve developed a lovely style that comes across as fresh and unique as well as personal and sensitive. My favourite two pieces are: ‘Life Stories’ and ‘Leon’. I think both pieces are great examples of the warmth and fragility that your work has. I also think they’re both good examples of the two different approaches that your work seems to have:The fist approach being the use of 2D pencil drawn figures in 3D environments; the second being the knitted characters.I love both approaches! I think they compliment each other beautifully.I’d also love to see both approaches put together: the pencil drawn characters and the knitted characters- I think they would work together really well I’m really impressed by your portfolio and the high standard of your illustrations! Hope you enjoy these last few days of uni and keep up the awesome work All the best,Matt'
I'm glad Matt specifically identified two pieces that I am particularly proud of, it's encouraged me to trust my own judgment regarding the quality of my work. I'm pleasantly surprised that he was not only drawn to the hand-made characters, but also the drawn elements which I so enjoy (and miss!) doing. The fact that he talks about combining the approaches is great too, seeing as it has been an aim of mine for the development of my work, and it's definitely something I will be striving to do as time goes on.

Hopes, Fears and Opportunities (Part 2)

The final term of my degree was ideally going to be the time where I perfected my practice and created something that was a truly successful culmination of my skills and experience throughout the past three years.
Unfortunately, as has a habit of happening, things didn't turn out as wonderfully as planned. However, this time has been valuable nevertheless, and I still feel I have learnt a lot. Experience itself has in a way hampered the smoothness of my progress, as it has opened up new options that have left me feeling uncertain about the paths I want to take, and I feel I'm questioning my work a lot more now. In a way, this is good, as it hopefully means I will continue refining myself for the better. But at this point, fast approaching the line between student life and the professional world, it is worrying me that my confidence is so wavering.

In Part 1 I discussed confidence issues and how I didn't feel as accomplished as my work was in 2nd year. I still feel the same way. I'm proud of what I've produced, but it isn't at the professional level it needs to be. It's the final week and I'm terrified at the amount of work I've to produce in order for my book to be a success for our degree show. The reason everything has become so last minute, however, isn't due to laziness. Because of personal reasons I've been unable to work at my full potential for a number of weeks during this project. It's frustrating that at such an important time in my life I've not been physically or emotionally at my best. I've refused to accept defeat because of this, but I regret not being able to achieve my full potential as I had hoped after the disappointing results of last semester.

In a way, deciding to create a picture book has made life harder for me in terms of the completion of professionally finished pieces, as I don't have a finished product at all until all the work I've done is refined into a book. The most labour-intensive part of the work so far has been the creation of my wolf character, and because of this, I think it's worth taking advantage of him as much as possible, for other uses apart from the book itself. My animation is a good example of this, and I have also created pieces made from photos of him for a college newsletter image. For the final show I might try and adapt the book illustrations slightly as well, to make them 'poster friendly' and have more of an impact on their own, so they can be printed larger and put on the wall.

As I have mentioned in previous blog-posts, I would have liked to incorporate print-making into the production of my illustrations. However, due to the unplanned time constraints, this hasn't been an option. Using drawn/print-made imagery alongside my made objects was an important goal of mine. I've been trying to merge the two ways I enjoy working which don't always blend completely successfully visually, and during this project I've not ended up having the time to achieve this. Instead, I've resorted to using found objects to speed up the work (e.g. real twigs to represent the forest). If I had longer to complete the illustrations I would like to draw extensive amounts of scenery to make paper cut-out transfers to place in amongst my made objects. The only project I can refer to where I feel this combination was successful is the Life Stories brief from last year. And the obvious difference this has to what I'm trying to achieve now is that the characters are the drawn element and the scenery is made. I don't know how effective swapping this combination will be, as my experimentation and development hasn't been thorough enough.

My proposal plans haven't changed throughout the project as I have never doubted wanting to achieve making a book. I wanted something precious and for my work to be bound lovingly as an object, like the objects that will make up its contents. From the beginning, I knew that planning and meeting deadlines was going to be my biggest challenge. Time keeping and planning each week carefully to avoid being over-indulgent in the made element production was always going to be important, to keep focused on the bigger picture. However, even with perfectly made plans and a disciplined pace of production, the work will have suffered because of the reasons beyond my control. I've had to adapt to make up for the lost time, but I will not be satisfied with work that is rushed or not a decent standard. So, I've had to accept that the work I will be handing in at the deadline will very likely be incomplete. I will continue working after the deadline and focus on making the work as good as it can be for the show.

Looking to the future, I'm very uncertain how my career will develop. I'm happy that during this semester we've been encouraged to develop professionally by building websites. I hope that in future I can rely on this site to draw attention from people that might be interested in commissioning me, or at least get in touch with me and open doors to potential opportunities. I will also look into how to professionally sell my work online. As well as hand-made animals (I plan on beginning to make a series of endangered African ones soon in my free time) I would like to sell things that can be produced more quickly and therefore sold more cheaply (like the notebooks I made to sell at the print fair). Furthermore, I don't think I've learned everything I need to create my work at its best. I want to continue developing my skills in animation and print-making after I've graduated. Also, although self-publishing and self-employment seems like the most logical route for my work to take, I will not rule out the chance of editorial commissions entirely. Just because there seems to be quite a narrow style margin that suits the industry, it doesn't guarantee nobody would be interested in something a little bit different (I hope!)

I had hoped that attending the taster day in Preston for designer/makers would help give me a more solid idea of what might happen after I graduate. But in truth, the strongest message that was reiterated throughout the day was that new graduates looking to start a career in such a business just need to grab every opportunity possible. Luck and determination have large parts to play, but you can make your own luck by working hard to achieve what you want. I hope that in the realistic scenario I'm facing (i.e. moving home for a while to get some money saved, and a part time job to keep me alive when I move out) I will have time to remain really involved in the illustration world. I want to stay passionate about what I love, meet people, see things and stay inspired!

Drawing from (still) Life

Since I've been making my animals it's been interesting to see how their character can develop into a 2D format by drawing the models themselves. I first discovered a successful way of doing this when I did a watercolour painting and ink drawings of one of my 'inventive characters' last year, the friendly stoat. This is a way of developing my characters I haven't explored enough at my time on this course.


On Thursday I was allowed to spend the afternoon creating my stop-motion piece in the moving image room. I could have spent hours in there! (Except for a bit of a headache from the bright lights). I had been nervous about approaching this task as I wasn't sure my wolf's movement was going to be successful, and because of this I didn't feel able to create a storyboard that I would have been able to follow closely. So in the end, the plot of this short film is improvised based on the movement I could achieve in the set-up.

The basic idea is to introduce the main character, Mr. Wolf. He is welcoming the audience to his woods and demonstrating how he can manipulate the nature around him. I included the flowers as they are his main tool for distracting Little Red Riding Hood with; since they are so beautiful, she cannot resist going to pick some for her grandma as he suggests. However, during the process of making the animation I realised that his movement was not easily manipulated in a rigid sort of way (like a proper stop motion figure with a strong armature structure). As I adjusted him for each frame, it was clear that I had to let the figure sway and settle as it most easily fell. The result is that the wolf's movement is quite undisciplined and uncoordinated. So, I decided to base the rest of his movement in the clip on the idea of him being drunk; a suave, but oafish villain (like Roald Dahl's version in Revolting Rhymes).
As I didn't have completely easy control of the wolf's movement, the pacing of it sometimes hides the gestures I wanted to convey. For example, at one point near the end he looks down and notices that his coat isn't covering his crotch, so he covers it up before making a hasty exit. Another potential improvement would be what is supposed to be his bow at the beginning; I'm not sure it comes across as that rather than him simply bending down to look at something on the floor! 

However, overall I'm pleased with the results. I think the simple movement of the flowers is effective, and their interaction with the wolf figure went as planned. The wire structure of the hands is particularly good for the movement of the fingers and general hand gestures, so the act of grasping the flowers is believable. The combination of the reasonably mobile head and neck with the pin-heads as eyes also meant I could suggest good contact with an audience; the wolf is clearly performing, engaging with the camera throughout. And an unexpected bonus to the improvised movement was the dishevelment of wolf's clothes after he's been rolling around on the floor; I didn't expect his bow to fall off, but the act of him picking it up and throwing it away served as a good action to suggest his embarrassment and pride, despite his obvious inability to remain composed. 

Some still frames:
Welcoming the audience to the forest...
The bow...
The flowers gather...
Mr. Wolf loses his dignity...
 ...and tries to recover...
Throws away his bow...
Loses his dignity again.
Now all that remains left to do is to crop the unnecessary edges, possibly adjust the colour/lighting, and add some sound. I am hoping for the help of a friend for the voice of Mr. Wolf, as I don't think I can do a convincing enough one myself! 

This has been such a good experience, I wish I had the time to experiment more with stop motion. It is such a simple yet effective process, and would bring my animal characters alive so well. For my first attempt at creating a mobile creature, I'm surprised with what my wolf can achieve. If I were to continue creating things for animations I would benefit from the experience this time round and hopefully be able to improve a lot. Perhaps investing in some stop-motion equipment is something I could also look into in the future...

Friday, 26 April 2013

Hothouse Taster Day

Today I made a lone trip to Preston to attend a workshop for emerging designer makers:
an intensive programme of tips and advice especially tailored for craft makers wanting to set up in business and develop their creativity.
I was a little nervous at the thought of going alone (and this was not unfounded; I did manage to get lost on the way from the station to the church the workshop was held in!) but the advice and atmosphere was definitely inspiring and worth the journey.

The morning began with an introduction from Charles Hadcock (the chairman of Creative Lancashire). He spoke about the value of creativity in modern society; its influence on culture. It is a viable commodity, despite it being an industry that is not widely as appreciated as it should be. He explained that because of the 'death of manufacturing',
the hand of the maker has never been more interesting to the public than now.
Art and creativity is a growth sector, and people trying to make their living in this industry must be armed with the knowledge to develop their practice from a commercial and business perspective. As the business develops, so does the practice itself.

Next we were introduced to Madeleine Furness (the maker development officer of the Crafts Council). She spoke briefly, following on from Mr. Hadcock, about the tenacity required to carry a business. She explained about the Craft Council's purpose: to nurture practitioners and encourage people to study crafts; supporting a large range of disciplines, the collaboration of practices and the opportunities that can generate therein.

The following (and arguably, most important) speaker of the day was Alison Branagan, an extremely experienced and motivational individual. She began by asking about her audience, calling out for people of certain disciplines to raise their hands and make themselves known around the room. At this point I felt extremely intimidated by being somewhat out of place amongst the mixture of ceramicists, jewellery makers and textile makers. However, the presentation was engaging and I'm sure will prove to be useful, even to someone in a narrower field than traditional craft areas, such as myself.
"Don't forget to have a look around at the tapestry, stone and stained glass- we're sitting in a museum of craft in this Minster."
She moved on to the importance of experience: creative work placements, part time jobs related to our practice in some way, internships (as long as we don't get stuck being someone's assistant for more than a couple of weeks). It is essential to get references from these. Learning to be flexible about future opportunities is also important at the moment; it is not always going to be realistic to expect to be able to follow the narrow path many university courses will steer students towards. Touching on the option of post-graduate education, she advised that we didn't rush into doing an MA course. It's best to get as much knowledge about what you want to do as possible first, and if it's an appealing option after careful consideration, you should take time to browse places to make sure the course is right for you, especially with the current high price tags.

Other pointers:
Being naive does you no favours in the world of commerce.
  • Learn about copyright and trademarks! Do not put images on facebook as they then have the right to do whatever they want with the files in the future.
  • Invest in a calendar- a year planner, specifically, so you can easily plan ahead for promotion and commissions.
  • Don't rely on luck- use your degree show as the launch of your career and think carefully about relevant people to invite.
  • Identify what you want to achieve-make a plan involving the people you need to help you get there.
  • Avoid distractions and time drainers. Think seriously about the value of time.
  • Be organised and well-prepared- focused and ready to react to opportunities.
  • Plan with mind maps.
  • It is not good for the mind to try to do a million things at once! Remembering to have some quiet time to yourself each day is important.
The 7 steps to starting up a business:
  1. Research.
  2. Advice and support.
  3. Business plan.
  4. Funding.
  5. Open business account.
  6. Accountant/Book keeping.
  7. Register as self-employed.
  • Be ready for every situation where there is the opportunity to participate socially to create new opportunities and carry existing ones forward.
  • Keep a mind map of connections- this can keep growing.
  • Talk to people on the phone when possible. Designers are bombarded with emails from recent graduates trying to make their own opportunities, so they can't begin to respond to everybody this way.
  • Don't get drunk at networking opportunities (ha ha).
  • Be aware that some people are not willing to share their contacts. Professional jealousy can mean people want to keep their own lists a secret.
  • Get onto professional networking sites, but try and limit these to around 3-5.
  • Keep websites/blogs/etsys professional looking- i.e. professional photos when possible.
  • Register with Creative Lancashire. (and look far and wide for other regional support networks).
It's not what you know. It's who you know.
Education and business success are not necessarily related (e.g. Damien Hirst has very limited artistic talent but he knows lots of people and has become very rid from this philosophy).

Business planning and professional practice:

  • Seek advice from lots of people- mentors, workshops like this one, professional business advice, accountants.
  • Try and become a member of a professional body after graduation- it correlates positively with success.
  • Find out about insurance (public liability/product liability). There are people out there who will take whatever chance they can to sue!
  • Be careful what you post on blogs/facebook if things need to be commercially secret.
  • TIME- understand it and its uses.
The next speaker was Bev Lamey, the principle lecturer for MA Surface Pattern Design at UClan. She spoke mostly about the facilities at the university, which was all very impressive but not something particularly useful to me. 

Angela Mann, of the Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair was next. She explained all about the event, something which I have heard of before, but hadn't considered wanting to possibly take part in until now. The fair focuses on supporting new Northern makers in particular, as well as graduates and other specific groups.
The benefits are:
  • Being selected proves the quality of your work alongside many other makers (confidence boosting!)
  • Sales from work.
  • Networking.
  • Access to trade, buyers, press and over 6000 visitors.
  • Collaborative opportunities.
  • Guidance to the future direction of your work (i.e. what sells and what doesn't).
  • National marketing campaign gains attention for work at the fair- adverts in trade journals, glossies and regional press, city centre and lots more.
Tips for applying:
  • Read the guidelines thoroughly.
  • Don't forget 50% of applicants are rejected.
  • Selection is based on images as judging is done very quickly.
  • The panel look for quality, consistency, cohesive collections, innovation and how sellable the work is.
  • Mixture of statement pieces and more affordable work.
  • Images need to be 300dpi in print, 72dpi for web use...
  • Make work appear professional. Many photos used for entries are not suitable for advertising campaign images, so if it looks impressive yours could be chosen!
  • Think carefully about pricing, equipment needed for displaying the work, promotional materials you will bring.
At the fair:
  • Be friendly and approachable- you are most likely to engage an audience of potential buyers if you're at their eye level and talk to them while they browse.
  • It costs £375 for 'new makers' to get a standard sized stall (+ £20 to be featured in the catalogue).
  • Graduates get free stands, but places are very limited.
  • Around 30% of people at the fair get commissioned by galleries.
Jane Dzisiewski was the next speaker, and a participant in the Hothouse programme in 2011/12. She has had 3 years in business since then. She introduced her talk with a summary of the Hothouse programme itself:
  • Support for emerging makers.
  • Focuses on business and creative aspects equally.
  • Focuses on traditional crafts mostly.
  • Cohorts run January-June 2014 with applications received by the end of July 2013.
  • Find the application details at the Crafts Council website.
She went on to tell us about her business development and how becoming savvy with the internet side of things really helped her progress. Such as:

  • Using a free app called 'buffer', which links social and professional networking sites together, allowing you to manage them all together (which saves time and having to re-write statuses etc separately).
  • Having an online portfolio has allowed her to tell her work's story without having to be there herself to explain it. (so, she recommends using images that are revealing of the creative process, from start to finish).
She also felt that professional development has to be an ongoing process to make the best of yourself. 
General tips:
  • Putting yourself and your work at the centre of your practice is essential (i.e. don't become overly involved in helping others/collaborating if it is really holding you back).
  • Plan seriously for the future you want.
  • Make your own opportunities.
  • Regularly assess yourself and 'fine tune' occasionally.
  • When blogging, think carefully about the use of titles and image captions- what are people likely to search for on google? You can gain a lot of attention from people following pictures back to you.
  • Watch this video of Neil Gaiman.
The final speaker, Rachel Kelly, had these additional tips:
  • Challenge yourself to learn new things all the time!
  • Always seek an audience for your work- you can't confine yourself to a studio working for yourself.
  • Have a sentence, 50 words, and a page about your work all prepared to save time when contacting potential clients etc.
  • Keep computer files super organised- use this as a procrastination if you must procrastinate.
  • Have email templates for replying to people if messages begin to become overwhelming. 
  • Be focused on your work. Don't be distracted by your phone or computer.
  • Concentrate on your own business development before collaborations.
  • Be inspired by your surroundings and use the facilities available to you (galleries, museums, libraries etc).
  • Keep a growing address book of professional contacts and organisations for the future.
  • Attend more events like this one!
  • Understand your work and where you want it to go.
At the end of the day everyone seemed a bit exhausted by all the information we'd absorbed. My overall impression of the day is that it was aimed predominantly at traditional crafts people, therefore wasn't entirely relevant to the direction I might take after graduation. Nevertheless, I did get very useful tips for how to approach becoming freelance and make a living from my work independently; either through self-publised work being sold on my own site or at events such as print fairs and craft fairs.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

The Fair

Previously I hadn't realised that this was such a high profile event! Inside the venue it was overwhelmingly warm and busy, and the stalls were packed tight. I felt intimidated by the professionalism of the work on sale compared to the items I had donated, but the prints and zines that my fellow students had contributed looked right at home. After arriving and seeing how our stall was looking, it was clear that we wouldn't be able to squeeze in alongside Paul and Kat behind the table to assist, so we wished them luck and mingled around the northern quarter for a while. 

After lunch at the Nexus Art Cafe we returned again to see how our stall was doing. It was a little disheartening to see that none of my work had gone, and I was a bit worried that it was priced too highly for people to be interested. Paul mentioned that lots of people had been intrigued by my hand-crafted animals, picking them up to inspect but seemingly not enough to hand over money for them. There was a bit of debate over the issue of pricing, which was settled with the idea that people would pay a high price for things that were made well and seemed 'limited edition'. Although I think that we should have brought the price of my animals down, it was encouraging that my fellow students appreciated the effort that went in to creating them to value them quite expensively.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Manchester Print Fair 2013

For the past couple of weeks I've been preparing work to sell, along with fellow illustration/graphics students, at this event. The money raised from this will go towards the funds for our degree show outside of college.
I have contributed a few hand-made animals and hand-bound notebooks. I'm a little nervous about whether or not my things will sell amongst the very professional looking graphic prints people have been producing! But hopefully a little diversity isn't such a bad thing.
Only tomorrow can tell what will happen...

Monday, 8 April 2013

Wonderful Inspiration

Just as the thought of creating my own animation was becoming too daunting to bear, I found this wonderful animated adaptation of The Grimm Brothers' The Golden Bird by Cat Bruce:
[Click here to watch it on Vimeo!]
The scenery has been created quite crudely, but it nevertheless looks atmospheric and appropriate for the characters, mostly due to the lighting effect. She has used real bits of plantation: twigs and dead leaves; large pieces of fabric and buttons.
The sun has been represented by a circle of golden foil. The sunset is a simple sequence where fabric is pulled down behind the foreground to show the transfer from sunset to night sky.
The house in the opening scene is constructed with corrugated card, and cardboard is also used as silhoette detail in the foreground of the shot. Cardboard trees appear to be coloured with oil pastel. Although quite a simplistic representation of objects, the material is appropriate and comfortable alongside the made figure of the man.
Another aspect of this that I found particularly encouraging in relation to making my own animation is the way she has used a 2D representation of the man in a sequence where he is chasing after the golden bird. In this 'long shot' the puppet is used to achieve more realistic running motions. The background moves to the left to give the illusion of his speed.
I like the way she also uses frames focusing closer on the character intermittently during the chase, focusing on his struggle to keep up as we hear his voice. The sequence, and the way the rest of the animation's narrative appears, gives the impression of effective, 'filmic' editing.
Other impressive features include:
this fantastic fox...
the man's face!...
and this fire, complete with flickering flames and sparks (so clever I don't even want to think too hard about how it's been done)...