The aim of this project was to arrive at a set of a dozen or more images that could be reduced to a narrative series of about 12 or more imaged to print over about 16 pages in Project 4.3 and bind together as an experimental book in Project 4.4.
A visual narrative is a way of communicating some form of ‘story’. It may be that you interpret ‘narrative’ in a conventional way, using chronological images of how your identity has changed over time, with a beginning, middle and an end. Or perhaps you’ll work in a less obvious way, exploring how your images can be exploited through abstraction and print processes, using the term ‘narrative’ as a vehicle on which to hang your concept of ‘Identity’.
In terms of content, this is a very open-ended brief. The purpose is to interpret the brief to create images that are meaningful to you, plus extend your understanding of image qualities. This is your opportunity to explore some of the features of digital imaging software, such as Photoshop, to layer images, cut out images, experiment with opacity, filters, hue, brightness, contrast and halftone screens, among other things. Be creative! Explore! For example, can we approach text as image? What happens if you ‘rasterize’ text, then begin to manipulate it, using blurring and layering, in the same way as you would montage image ,aterial? You could explore some of the word associations you made with paper in the previous exercise and use these to create typographic montages, or contrast these words with other visual content you create.
I started by revisiting my work on the theme of ‘Identity’ and the creative design process in Part One and transferred my notes to a page on this blog.
I had in the meantime done quite a lot of thinking about identity and had been considering a number of options:
- ‘Fractured identities’ following on from my ideas about Picasso-style linocuts and experimentation with juxtaposed and superimposed images of myself and family members in In Design and Photoshop from Project 1.3. I thought I could extend these in relation to some work on Photography courses and self-portraits. But in the end I did not think I would have time to really do anything on self-portraits – this would involve some really deep and probably painful reflection and personal work to do anything really innovative. I decided to leave these ideas for further exploration in my second level course in Printmaking.
- Islamic/Western gender identities: This builds on my professional work on gender identities over many years. The book I had chosen for Assignment 4 ‘Money Rush’ also raised a lot of questions about Islamic and Western identities. I had been watching as many TV programmes as I could, and collecting as any images as I could find, on identities of muslim/Western women eg Shirin Neshat, Grayson Perry, Marjan Satrapi among others. But I thought focusing directly on gender identities could take me into some very controversial territory that would need far more thinking through visually in order to reflect the complexities and arrive somewhere new and avoid stereotyping – and far more time than I had available for this project. I decided to use my thinking about Islamic/Western identities for Assignment 4 itself.
- ‘inner identity’ versus ‘external identity’: while doing Assignment 3 I had started to think a lot about typographic styles and identity – why we associate certain typefaces and their visual dynamics with particular personal or cultural characteristics. Looking again at the brief above, I thought it would be quite fun to do something light and thought-provoking about the ways in which we assign identities and human characteristics to abstract forms eg type. I was also becoming very interested in the flexibility of Adobe Illustrator and experimenting with the many different style and effects that can be produced beyond the normal flat rather impersonal coloured digital images one normally sees. So I chose this third option.
From my review of the concept of ‘identity’ in Project 1.3, and also looking more at alternative books and possible end product, I selected a number of different strands that interested me:
- the idea of instability of Zen ‘I’ identity in the moment. I had in my mind a very bold and simple capital ‘I’ in the middle of the page as a statement of unambiguous personal identity standing proud against the world. Then twisting and manipulating it as it is buffeted by external forces, maybe fractures and reassembles – ending unknown.
- idea of ‘many layers of an onion’ as a means of combining and binding
- the possibility of a ‘mix and match’ narrative where the reader decides what comes next and what ending, as a means of exploring their own struggles for identity.
These were underling ideas – but I also needed open exploration and see where the images took me without being too directional towards an end product. In order to break my original ideas, I started by assembling the letter ‘I’ in different typefaces to see what different types of identity each could suggest – just by very minor changes in width of stems and serifs, the relationship between these, and different forms of serif. Also the effects of different placing on the page, size and angle.
In the process I discovered a typeface called ‘Anonymous’ and liked the idea of using this as the starting point for my narrative. Even just stretching and squashing, and doing different placement of one instance in capital or lower case form can create a narrative where the viewer can impute meaning – is it a woman/man, adult/child, entering/leaving/falling, begging/proud?
Add two or three instances and you have a potential story of greetings, fights, families and so on. Some are quite clear, others can be ambiguous requiring further elaboration.
I then experimented somewhat randomly with Illustrator dynamic effects on one capital character to create different thumbnails for each effect using different artboards. I then considered how these images might be interpreted as different types of sense of identity: male/female, strong/weak, fractured or fading identities, power relationships and so on. Finally I thought of different ways in which each series might be reordered into some sort of narrative, and the different sorts of narrative that could be created.
Narrative 1: ArtBrush: dripping, splurging, melting and dissolving
This series used an art brush stroke in different line weights, and swapping combinations of white and black strokes and fills. The first nine images use different weights of black line with black fill in a sequence of disintegration and reforming. Images 10 and 11 use black stroke with white fill as a process of internal disintegration. Images 13 and 14 could be made to look like fire if colour was used. The next 3 images images use white stroke and black fill in a sort of disappearing/ obliteration. The final two images explode with white. I like the drippy disintegration to explosion – possibly could be followed by a void? Or a reforming?
Narrative 2: Multiple Images: black on white power game
This series plays with multiple scaling, outlining and moving some of the elements. The multiple images look Sphynx-like. The last two images are where the biggest I is enlarged to overshadow all the rest. This series could be extended to look like marching armies, or a film backdrop of cloned identities. With the final menacing shadow? I could also make more of the black/white mix and alternation. Try blotting paper? Or paper that gives a very black ink.
Narrative 3: Pucker and Bloat: buzzy flies
These do not really represent a narrative series – though there could be some sort of metamorphosis from large confident bluebottle to disappearing crane fly. I also like the very angry face of image 6 – maybe more faces could be made. These images would not really stand on their own. But could be used together with other images – sort of irritants/bad dreams. Maybe convert to symbols and use the symbol sprayer??? The thin craneflies could be printed on tissue paper, or maybe collages with hair?
Narrative 4: Roughen: frazzle to frenzy reassembling to a broken form
Narrative 5: Scribble: praying and stamping
A lot more could be done with this sequence in the middle range as figures can be made doing different things. But I find the somewhat random distortion more interesting than if I had tried to make these images up. These would make quite interesting backdrawn monoprints or drypoint, or drawings with sting or glue? They could be combined into a narrative on one page.
Narrative 6: Tweak: learning to pose and fly
I really like some of the stylised shapes here – images 3 and 4 look like rather snooty dachshund dogs standing on hind legs, image 5 looks more like a cat or flying rabbit. Image 6 a sad bloodhound mushroom. The last row like weather veins – more could be made here of the negative space. It would be interesting to break some of these shapes apart and colour them – like fashion models. They could be interesting as a narrative comic strip of experimenting with ‘style’.
Narrative 8: Twist: dancing cranes, spinning round and flying off
Narrative 9: Zigzag: my demons going crazy – then what is left?
This series echoes roughen, but I find the zig-zag angularity and multi-headed monsters much more scary. And the final spiky nervy image more poignant – maybe follow it with the roughen one as the final depression?
Narrative 10: Blur: dissolving to nothing and only ghost remains
This series was a bit tricky as it took a lot of processing time and did not seem to translate so consistently from Illustrator to jpg – the files for the two black images are different. The dissolving to blackness is rather like Rothko – I also like the final image of grey emptiness. These could look good as full page on blotting paper, matt and/or glossy photopaper. Maybe with some scratching from the roughened series.
Developing the image pages in InDesign
From these images I selected those that appeared to me to be most powerful, either as single images or on their own. These I maintained mainly in Black and White to then import into InDesign for colouring and blending.
It was at this stage that I started to firm up the narrative.
Version 3 (current Illustrator version)
Evolving thoughts on selection and narrative
Each of these series can be further developed with greater precision in the use of the effects to produce the images. Addition of colour, and mixing some of the effects, coupled with choice of paper could further enhance/clarify the image or bring in ambiguity and questioning – the possibilities are pretty endless even if (as I am intending) I limit myself to Illustrator (rather than including Photoshop /other media) and ink-jet printing (rather than printmaking techniques).
But before spending much more time on that I decided to think a bit about narrative and selecting the images for further development. A key question was:
- which images should stand on their own as powerful large images on one page?
- which might be superimposed/juxtaposed over one or two pages?
- which could be combined into a narrative page of their own, as one or two pages?
This involved also thinking about:
- Printing – which images would print well on which paper? In which colours? How will they superimpose? As multiple images in one file? Or overlaid in two or more printing processes? Use of cutting/pasting and collage?
- Binding and collating – will I still go with the open-ended binding for the reader to put together different narratives? Or will I make a sort of graphic novel/comic strip?
And very importantly – what am I trying to say with all this?
- delve deeper and deeper into madness and depression as a futile search for a phantom identity (does it exist???if so can I find it??? or is the brain incapable of doing that?)
- come to the conclusion that is it better to just go with the flow of life and enjoy it
- show a brave anonymous individual being made to feel they have to ‘be cool’ and explore their individuality?
- is their exploration just amusing?
- or does it lead to disintegration and loss of sense of self?
- do they then reach any happy ending?
Given all these questions, and the infinite range of possibilities opening up, in order to continue to go with the flow and narrow things down, further selection and experimentation with the images was done alongside experimentation with:
Printing: see Project 4.3: Printing where I tested out some of my ideas on impact of the larger images, possible colour and overprinting/collage options to produce a sketchbook of images on the papers I had collected.
Binding: see Project 4.4: Collating and binding where I looked at different combinations and narratives using InDesign but going back and forth between printing, selection, collation.