Exercise 28 – Character Design – Part 1

For this exercise I had to design two contrasting characters.  I’m still in the process of this but while exploring it I went off on a tangent experimenting with watercolours and inks.  I really love the artwork of a game called The Bloody Inn.


The artwork in it is simply beautiful and I love the mixed media used.  So I wanted to experiment and see if I could achieve something close to it.

Firstly I used some acrylic ink and scratched out some marks on watercolour paper.  Next I used a wide brush and splashed some water onto it to try and make the ink bleed out.  The mess created was softened with a dry brush and as each stage was messed about with a photo was taken on my phone.

I then sketched out a character on the paper and used the ink to give shadow in sections.

I wanted to explore texture here and give the impression of a layered background using the ink marks.  I wasn’t sure how to do this exactly in PS but I wanted to try it out anyway.

Having emailed them to myself I proceeded to layer them in PS and adjust the levels so that the white was brighter and the blacks darker.  The photo had a lot of grey in it.  I then layered the various textures on one another and tried adjusting saturation and adding a coloured layer.

In the end I found that by simply darkening all the layers in a certain way I got the impression of scratches and a weathered background.  The image also has this impression of a scratching through layers.  I selected the sections that I felt were working well and layered them and adjusted the size of them too.


The character itself just emerged as I was making the marks on paper.  It felt very western and the scratchy wood and dried rust or blood ink spots lent to this feeling.


Overall I felt that coupled with the exercises completed in recent months and the assignments done recently, this was a successful merge of skills. It has more of an editorial image feel to it.  My Assignment 4 felt more like a book cover illustration than an editorial piece.  This image I feel revisits that and honours the editorial vibe rather than a book cover.


I also feel that having the inspiration from the game art helped a lot.  It gave me the inspiration to go and experiment and try out something new.  Based on the previous exercise where we had to research two artists and try and recreate an image in their style, I feel that the exercise helped me to achieve this image.



Assignment 4 – Magazine illustration

The brief was to create a magazine illustration that was based on a still life.

Identify key words:  LOST             DISCOVERY         GUILTY SECRET                  DISASTER

Respond to key words:

Image 1 for words DISASTER AND LOST




Generate Ideas:

These images were quick sketches of possible ideas for LOST, DISASTER and DISCOVERY.


The LOST was based on a person arriving in a new city and using google maps to get around.  The idea being that you are following a virtual arrow around to get to a place because without it you would be lost.  This is still an idea I might explore because I had a rough idea for the illustration and wanted to try my hand at going for a more abstract image for an illustration.  I was considering it in Ai with a turquoise and burnt orange colour scheme and black and yellow contrast and scanned textures.


The DISASTER was related to a wedding cake and a dog, to be done in the style of Ronald Searle or something similar.  Lots of ink blots and an ink sketch of the cake with a large bite out of it and small dash of colour for the ribbon and table cloth.  A quick sketch was done on the bus to see what it would look like and I really liked it but wanted to proceed with the other image first.


The DISCOVERY sketch was a rough one with ideas about insects and things that a young child would explore and discover because it is fresh and new to them.  This would be a combo of crayola or marker and ink pen with bright colours I thought.


Other Ideas:

DISASTER –          natural disasters, mess, cake, plane and death

DISCOVERY –      adventure, pirates, insects, maps, meditation, ‘ah-ha’ moments, zen, spirituality, journey of self, google reveals a new place on your map.



When researching I went for the ‘Discovery’ option.

Spirituality is normally represented with a calm and serene image.  I felt that the key words that were resonating with me for this assignment were more to do with discovering your true self.  Life being a journey, life being a challenge and with these things we find out who we truly are.

The spirit of the person emerges from taking the time to go and discover it.  I felt that I wanted to represent this in some way through my still life.  I had considered other options for the composition, going for a more obvious form with a globe and a map and telescope or magnifying glass.  But as I gathered these items together I kept picking up other odd things and found my still life was definitely leaning towards personal journey more than adventure.

So with that I went online to do further research on ‘Discovery’.




  1. 1.

the action or process of discovering or being discovered.

“the discovery of the body”

  1. the compulsory disclosure, by one party to an action to another, of relevant testimony or documents.


I asked a number of people what the word Discovery meant to them, a couple of friends and some work colleagues.  What was interesting was how different the word meanings were between men and women.

Men asked responded with:

Tutankhamen, Howard Carter, Linear B & Michael Ventris, Enigma, Alan Turing, Sumerian writing

Women asked responded with:

Penicillin, new way of thinking, new colour, new talent, path, space, planet. tarot cards.

Searches online produced a variety of results:

Star Trek, NASA, murder (body discovered), Land Rover (car), binoculars through bushes, deep sea diving, elephants, bugs, insects, bacteria, tribes, cities, forgotten cities.

Searches on Pinterest produced a variety of results:


but all seemed to be related to self discovery rather than discovering something else.



Draw ideas up:

Based on my research I felt that the self discovery aspect was the clearest and most relevant description for the type of thing I was leaning towards.  Uncovering aspects of yourself through quiet contemplation, discovering your true self through reading and chakra healing felt like a relevant direction to take the theme in.

I did want to convey some aspect of ‘discovering a tomb’ as the Howard Carter moment of discovering the tomb of Tutankhamen is definitely what most people would be familiar with from school.

My composition was explored by simply placing the objects that I had collected into a pile and then going with what felt right.  Through this process of trial and error, I figured out what light gave the best impression of a ‘secret place’ that was about to be discovered.

In these images I felt that the tarot cards were too scattered to give meaning to the image.  The world card was deliberately protruding to give the impression that discovery meant claiming your world again.  The exposure on the images is too dark for 2 of them and then extremely bad on the 3rd.  Photoshop adjustments could work but the composition still needed work.


I really liked this image as I felt it was lighter and the natural light worked.  Yet it didn’t look like a cave or tomb or an inviting space.  It was a ‘still life’ of things, but it didn’t really convey a lot for me.  Maybe it was still a little too busy, but I went again.


The oversized treasure chest was used as the sheer scale of it dominated one side of the still life and a treasure chest is a common association with the word.

The material was a scarf that I draped over a small lamp.  The small fury balls on it were great for a colour contrast.  This was offset by orange with deliberate placement of crystals.

This image worked a lot better than the previous ones.  The cards were removed, the elephant was put into the chest near the book stopper and a few orange crystals were added for a complimentary colour scheme with the blue and gold.  One of the crystals was a sunstone heart with was placed under the small Budda ornament.  A small amount of green in the necklace on the wall gave a small amount of contrast without overpowering the scene.

To see if a landscape image would work with a small adjustment or two, I tried moving the elephant and then putting the orb balls in a more prominent view so that the reflective surfaces and circular shapes led your eye through the image.   As a nod to Howard Carter I tried the image in sepia to see if it would produce a vintage look.  It worked so I went with that.

The elephants trunk is a little obscured in the sepia effect image, but the tonal value of the objects in the image are well balanced.  There is a dark tone on either side and a softer dark tone on the top.  The reflections from the stones and chime balls give a contrast to the patterned material on the left.  Meanwhile, the cover of the book is nicely placed to suggest the link with self discovery with the title and the stars on the cover are echoed in the beads of the tree necklace.  The shapes that also work are the box the elephant is standing on echoes the treasure box on the righ, the crystal shapes are a mix of both smooth rounded forms and angled forms while the circle that begins on the left of the image with the furry bauble leads your eye to the centre and down to the right.  The Budda ornament is also a much darker tone than other objects so becomes the centre piece and your eye is drawn to it.  The angles of the arms and legs are echoed in the bookend.

A tonal version using markers was created in a rough manner to see if it balanced out, but the image in a sepia form does a better job of giving the tonal values.Option16_still_life_best_2

So I tried a couple of more options to see if I could get a better angle on the elephant.


So this image is the one that felt the best for me.  It has all the elements I want in it.  It doesn’t feel as cluttered, the light in it feels well balanced and the elephant trunk is in full view along with all the circle elements.  The texture from the material is still present and the softness of the baubles contrast beautifully against the chime balls and shiny surfaces.  The image for me is tonally balanced and I feel like this conveys both the idea of discovery of self as well as a discovery of a hidden place or tomb.

An attempt at drawing the image in a tonal manner was made but I felt the photography was working way better for me.

The next step was to create some type of line drawing from the image created and progress with a new idea that incorporated the still life image.

I created a few sketches based on the still life, trying to judge what would work for a magazine illustration.  As it was possibly going to be the image associated with an article on ‘Discover’ I felt it would be important to pin down exactly what type of discovery the image would convey.

I felt that although the ‘cave’ and ‘discover’ was coming across in the still life, I wanted to bring it in the direction of ‘self discovery’ as many magazines have a self help section dedicated to mental health.

Based on my own experiences and having researched a number of womens magazines and Psychology Today and Psychologies magazine, I thought a fresh image would work with a handmade look.

Thumbnails/Viewpoint, composition and content:

I tried out an abstract composition based on the previous exercise that had it.  However, it didn’t feel like it would work strongly enough but I didn’t explore it further.

Next I tried out a number of considerations with landscape and portrait format.  I thought that I could exlpre a ‘discovered’ image in a light and humorous style of illustration over the original image or over a sketch of it.

A second thumbnail was intended to be another sketch with blocks of colours in abstract shapes over it while the last two images below were more direct with a ‘third eye connection’ indicating discovery of your 6th sense.  The separation of objects in the image could be moved about and put at odd angles to represent symbols to do with self discovery in an oesoteric manner.

This image was the first line image conveyed to the client.  It was chosen as a portrait format as the still life it is based on was in portrait format.  The idea would be to have the central image as Budda so that it was clearly linked to spirituality and centering yourself for the purpose of discovering something about yourself.


This is a very simplified image of what the image will be, and I’m not sure it is enough for the client but I feel it conveys positioning and has considered the text for the heading of the article.


This image considers the form in landscape as perhaps the magazine would prefer to use it as a double page spread or position the image on the left with the article on the right.  I also considered if it might be a ’10 tips to help you to self discovery while meditating’ or something simliar.  In these instances magazines tend to have the image dominate the spread and bullet point the tips.  This was based on the landscape form of the still life and the intention would be to pursue that further in a sketch or digital painting.

As an experiment for sketching, I printed out my still life images and traced out the image on the back of the paper.  Instead of being exact with what I was tracing, I went with the lines in an abstract fashion to see what the shapes would produce.  As it turned out, the shapes started to feel like a grotto or opening in a forest, so I went with that vibe and continued to trace out lines and guided some of them to look like something you could recognise.

The image produced was a lovely little sketch that I felt would work as a background in a bigger image.  As a further exploration of this technique I tried it out on the landscape form of the image and got an interesting abstract form in parts of the picture.  Although it was interesting and could develop into something strong, I felt that the best one to go with for now was the more detailed one in the portrait form.


Final artwork:

I used the image in A3 size in Corel painter x to get a nice set of colours in a dull conte brush.  It was easier to paint in corel, but I had to finish off the layers and effects in photoshop.

Image 1


I played about with various textures for the background and created my own handwriting png to put over the image.

The triangles were created from a previous exercise and I felt that they gave the image a more varied look including them.  The gold statue and the gold writing connect both sides of the image while the solid image on the left fades into an outline on the right so it could be used in a double page spread and the link is still present.


Although it works to a point I still felt it was very heavy handed.  A lot of my images feel this way.  So I went back to explore it a little further and brought in different textures and played about the with sketch and fully coloured versions a little more.


It still felt too heavy handed so I revisited it a few times more.

Final artwork:


The end result feels more vintage and handmade and almost like a chalk pastel form of it.  I like it and added more text to it that I created myself.  It didn’t have to go on it but I felt it worked.  I also like how the triangle shapes and paper texture combine.


Final Artwork – Hilary Lawler – Assignment 4

Reflective Journal:

This was a lovely assignment but I felt that when given free reign over the brief it created a lot of stress.  At first I didn’t understand what I was to do with the ‘still life’ and I am still not sure if I did it correctly to achieve the image!  It was confusing to me but after doing it I can see the merit in it.

It pushed me to seek out new ways of exploring possible expressions of an image/illustration.  Most of the time it tends to be a sketch and a digital final image, and although that was still the case here the process of getting to that was different.  The still life brought a new idea into the image.

Would I have achieved this without the still life?

I doubt it.  The still life was a great way to visually compose what the meaning of the word was.  It gave me a focus and definitely helped stimulate ideas.  Bringing photography into my work wasn’t something I had considered before but I found it fluid and easier than trying to sketch and getting frustrated with my lack of drawing skills.

Some of the textures and images that I had used in previous exercises got recycled, so it was interesting to see how I knew what type of texture and effect I could get from my previous experience via the exercises.

I do think I met the brief to explore the word ‘DISCOVER’.  It is very obvious in the final image and I think that although I wanted to produce a final piece of art that would be useable, I don’t feel like I pushed myself enough out of my comfort zone.

Had I gone for a full abstract image, deconstructing it and using collage, canvas and paint, it may have had more noise and texture to it.  I didn’t do it because I wasn’t sure where to go with exploring that type of image and I was aware of my deadline looming.

It would be worth exploring it though in Part 5 as a way to stretch myself further instead of relying on digital all the time.  It would be good to push out into more traditional forms and even revisit some linocuts for illustrations.  I think stress tends to push me into a ‘tried and tested’ format when approaching an illustration.

I feel like I need to remind myself of all the ways I can play with materials and tools so that the illustration can be formed in the way that best suits it, rather than in the way that shaves off time for me simply because I’ve let the stress get the better of me.

I also feel that although there is a style coming through that feels like me, I’m not sketching daily so the style isn’t as strong as it could be.  More sketchbook practice needed.

I did follow the steps this time and although I felt out of place with where to go with the still life, I hooked it on to the steps as much as I could for the brief so I had a guideline on what to do and where to go next.  It was better than previous exercises but it still needs work.  The sketching part always seems to get neglected.

I also felt I had two other great ideas that kept distracting me.  The ‘Fenton NOoooo!’ for the cake disaster and the graphic ‘Lost’ of google maps and using your phone.  Later on I think an exploration of those two images would be worth doing.




Exercise 26 – A tattoo and greeting card

Exercise 26 – Tattoo with the word ‘Mum’

Brief:  Create a tattoo and greeting card with the word Mum.

Responding to words:  Keyword – MUM, mother, goddess, nurture, love, support, strength, simplicity, constant.

Generating Ideas:  

  • Simple tattoo with word ‘Mum’ and images of words associated with it.
  • Minimalist approach or traditional approach is to be considered.
  • Small tattoo that would go on your arm or shoulder – discreet and not super detailed.
  • Reference back to the history of tattoos by including some ancient ornamentation.



According to (1)Bob Baxter, a good tattoo has the following: balance, shape, symmetry, colour, techniques, placement and other subtle or not so subtle artistic criteria.

It seems that many people who get a tattoo, choose to remove it later as the design didn’t last the test of time or the choice made wasn’t the right one.  There is much to consider when designing a tattoo and many people don’t seem to take the time or effort to explore these aspects.  Instead they go for the image that appeals most at the time, not taking into consideration if they will enjoy the same design 5 or 10 years down the road.

(2)Donald Richie, the author of ‘The Japanese Tattoo’, explains that a good design will consider valid import and good technical ability.  These are lacking in many designs and as such tattoo removals do a tidy business in the trade.

Having meaning in your tattoo is important according to Richie, to avoid the pattern breeding contempt for the fact that it is a permanent mark on your body.  Having meaning to it provides you with a back story that has positive associations with the image.

David Beckham has over 40 tattoos and each has a meaning to him.  The Mail(3) online carried an article outlining the special meanings behind each tattoo, from script and san script, to numbers.


sourced from google

On researching the history of tattoos(4), they go back as far as before the Egyptian period.  People would mark their body as a way of distinguishing themselves and determine power, status and achievements.  It was also used as a communication tool between spies in ancient Greece while later tattooing became a way of marking criminals and slaves.

The word itself comes from the Tahitian word ‘tatu’ which means to mark something.  As such, a tattoo had meaning and was not simply an adornment for the body.  Tattooing also became part of a ritual is some cultures.  In Aztec, Inca and Mayan cultures it was prevalent while in Japan it was used to mark those that had committed crimes by tattooing a strike on the offenders face.  Three strikes indicated the symbol for dog.

The art of tattooing in the West had been widely frowned upon during the 12 – 16th centuries so it only took off in the West when various expeditions brought back people to England adorned in tattoos.  This was unfamiliar and unique so people began to get discrete tattoos as a way of distinguishing themselves in society and appearing fashionable.

However, when the tattoo application developed into using an electronic needle, it became more widespread and so was not deemed as fashionable with the upper classes.

What is very interesting is how popular tattooing was amongst those in the military and sailors.  It was a postcard version of where they had been.  This made it very popular.  It only became unpopular in the early 60s when the spread of hepatitis was linked to unclean needles.  The whole art form went underground when that occurred as it simply wasn’t popular any more.  It was considered an outsiders art as stating your beliefs and values on your body was a commitment and clear statement of your intent. It went against many people’s standards of what a citizen should be in ‘normal’ society.

More recently however, there has been a significant increase in the art of tattooing.  It has become acceptable again and many people use various forms of inspiration to inject meaning into their body marks, even the really bad ones!

There are even minimalist tattoos and sound bar tattoos, where you can scan the image and hear the voice of the person recorded.

Technology and tattooing have become a very sophisticated art form but the fact that you’re marking your skin permanently may still prevent many from getting one.

The classic ‘Mum’ tattoo that springs to mind is often the one projected by Hollywood as being that on a sailors arm or soldiers back as they go off to war.

Sailor Jerry(5), real name Norman Keith Collins, was a well known American Tattooist who tattooed sailors.  His tattoos are commonly associated with the 50s and 60s idea of a tattoo.  According to his website it was the first sailors that popularized tattooing as a means of stamping their bodies with images representing places they had been.  They brought the artform back to Western society.  This was back in the 1700s.

For this exercise the history of tattooing was really interesting to read up on.  From learning about how it was used for different purposes throughout time, to how radicalised it became in the late 70s and 80s in punk culture and outsider gangs.

My own association with tattoos has always been mixed.  I love the idea of art on skin but the permanent nature of it is too big a commitment.  Preferences in art can change over the years.  So a tattoo of ‘Mum’ will be something that represents the important woman in your life and if following the true form a tattoo, should represent aspects of her that are important to you.

This is where the personalized version of a tattoo comes in.  It will always be something unique to the wearer.  So how do you create something unique?

I think the aim or approach for me on this occasion was to create an image that could be adapted for use in any situation, to be made more personal.  The lettering would have to remain clean and legible, but leave room for additional add-ins according to the wearer.

From the thumbnails drawn up I felt that two of designs could be flexible.  I was also going to explore a minimalist tattoo as a third option, to see how that would turn out.

My own Mum loves nature and gardening, so this would be something that I would draft into my own tattoo.  However, I wondered if it might look better on a greetings card instead, while a simpler design for the tattoo with some light references to nature might suit the body tattoo better.



Images and boards: https://www.pinterest.com/Superhilbo/exercise-26-tattoos/

I collected a range of images via pinterest, that included tattoo script and simple images including the word ‘Mum’ as well as symbols for references to Egyptian/Sumerian and Greek possible ornamentation or wording.

From these I came across a lovely creative form in the script.  As a tattoo is something permanent and has meaning attached to it, the image itself should reflect the mood of the intention behind it.

As ‘Mum’ represents caring, love and mother, it was important that the font was soft, feminine but not too romantic as to create an image that wouldn’t appeal to a wider audience.  The image of a tattooed sailor with an anchor or loveheart with the word ‘Mum’ running through it was something that I did think about, but for the image to last and feel relevant in many years to come, it was important that it could age well and still look relevant on the persons body.

I looked for inspiration around town, seeing a few things in buildings and company names before adding some other scripts that I liked. SampleBoard

The sketches that I did were a wide range but I tried to keep them as simple as possible with few graphics and black ink only.

From the sketches completed I decided to go with the design that was self contained and could be used as a simple decorative feature on the arm, leg or other part of the body, and could be enlarged and colour added or kept small in black only.

As this was also an image that had to translate to a greetings card, it was important that the design reflected some sense of order and would be visually interesting for a card.  There may have to be some consideration of content for a card that would not be visually appropriate for a tattoo on the body.







How do I feel about the design?

I think that despite the good research on this topic, the design itself isn’t something I would want as a tattoo.  It feels more like a logo perhaps or a small image for a card but not a tattoo.  I found it better when the image had not interior drawing in it but in the original thumbnail it felt like there was more energy in the image and it felt more like a tattoo.

From this initial idea to the finished one, some of the energy got lost along the way and the original vision of what I was going for also got lost.  This exercise was one I found very difficult because I was over thinking it.  The images I came up with for the tattoo extended beyond what I originally did.  Halfway through I changed my mind and went for something else!

As a greeting card the image looks okay.  It has a handmade feel to it and the nature and love hearts are relevant to the person.  I like how I integrated the word into a continuous line.

However, overall I think this exercise just didn’t feel complete and although I met the brief I don’t feel I honoured it fully.  Some other ideas that I came up with after felt more real to the name, but again I didn’t really know what to do with them as they felt more relevant but still not fully what I was going for.

With a further brainstorm I tried out a few other thumbnails.


As the first batch of images looked more suited to a greetings card, the St. Brigid’s crosses felt more authentic and relevant perhaps to connecting elements of the past together in a tattoo.  The Egyptian image was a nod to the fertility goddess and a mark of the cross was also present as a form of linking two cultures, respecting the history of tattooing and honouring Irish traditions.

The square was meant to be a mix of Egyptian ornamentation, runes that spell ‘Mum’ and the simplified version of St.Brigid’s 3 legged cross on a background of spirals that would echo back to Newgrange in Louth.

These felt truer to the form of tattooing because they were not simply an image to be worn, but all elements had meaning and reference.

However, I felt that too much time was being spent on where to go with all this, and I found myself doubting my decision making abilities.  So I made the decision to go with the initial form of the word ‘Mum’ in a continuous line with the form of flowers and sunshine through clouds.  It felt like something that could be identified with more generally.

Would I go back to the second batch of ideas?

Perhaps, but I felt it was more important to exercise the ability to finish the job at this moment, as I was getting analysis paralysis.  I had to just go with one idea and follow it through to completion.  It is okay but I had to move on.


This was nagging at me and so I let it sit in my head a little longer and by chance I came across a programme on Channel 4 called ‘Tattoo Artist of the Year’.  I completely soaked up the programme and the inspiration gained from it inspired me to revisit this exercise again.

So equipped with a timer and the intention of running with the idea of a watercolour tattoo, I gave myself 60mins to revisit this.  If the idea was working then I’d give it another 60mins.  If it wasn’t then I would call it quits.

I had been researching for Exercise 22 and following some Skillshare videos on drawing feathers and watercolouring them.  The design seemed like a really good idea for a tattoo.  I threw some water on the paper and went from there, knowing I had done this before so it wouldn’t take long.  The feathers were finished with a white acrylic using a dip pen.  The backgrounds were just watercolour splodges.

These images were scanned in and then adjusted in Photoshop.  From there I messed about with opacity and added text.  The text was really dragging out the time as it was hard to get one that matched the vibe of the image.  I really wanted to honour the watercolour tattoo image while keeping text legible and giving it a bit of a stand out look.

After another 60mins (my trusty chicken timer) I was finished and am really chuffed with the results.  I feel like this image meets the brief much better.  It feels fresher and more vibrant while the first image just felt forced and jaded.

The font could be adjusted to suit the client and the image is very friendly so I think anyone could wear it with confidence.  It’s best suited as part of a sleeve tattoo perhaps or on it’s own anywhere on the body.  The size would be good to keep small to medium, as any bigger and the detail might need a bracelet effect or band or something else woven in to give it more weight.

It also works nicely as a greeting card. 🙂

FinalTattoo_Mum_master_greeting card2

Hilary Lawler – Greeting Card OCA Illustration 


Hilary Lawler – Tattoo OCA Illustration


In between work

As I am finishing each exercise, there are days when I just can’t seem to focus on study or getting the job done.  So with these moments I let myself just see what happens and play around with ideas or go and focus on something new in Skillshare.

Something that I love to explore is surface design.  I’ve been following a few classes on Skillshare in relation to it and the enjoyment from playing around digitally or with watercolour, trying out patterns, is really relaxing.

These images are examples of the surface designs I’ve come up with while trying to learn Illustrator a bit more.  It’s still a software that I’m not fully fluent in and I love the potential of it.


Basic RGBfruit3_bak

In the last one I did some sketches of fruit before scanning it in.  I then used Photoshop to colour and duplicate to create a repeat pattern.

The colour schemes for all the images are quite successful I feel, but may be a little too strong in the first and second.  The third can be adjusted to any saturation so I saw this one as a pattern for a tea towel.

The first two were more suited for a fabric for cushions or in the first, a cover for a baby blanket or outfit.  The second scheme is too bold for that so would suit an accent cushion cover or cover for a journal perhaps.

Either way I like the idea of repeat patterns and creating a mixed media piece that could be used on fabric or mugs or stationery.



Exercise 25 – Fish menu

Exercise 25 – Fish restaurant menu

 Brief:  create an illustration for use on the menu of a sophisticated quality fish restaurant (European chain of restaurants)

Identifying key words:  fish, fresh ingredients, modern, bright, contemporary design, visually appetising, quality, used as logo, sophisticated.

Responding to words: 

Sophisticated    –    clean, crisp, simple in design, elegant, classy.

Fresh ingredients – asparagus, lettuce, tomatoes, broccoli, avocado, lemon, limes, bright colours

Modern/bright/contemporary design – clean, fresh colours, white environment so similar logo.

Visually appetising – fresh and bright colours with an echo of freshly caught fish, freshly picked veg.

Quality – sunshine packed food, clean menu, minimum choice, clean colours

Logo – simple design, round edges, fresh colours

Generating ideas:

Fish bones – for the main logo and then fish bones on a plate could be used to imply a finished dinner.

Fresh food – quality veg would include asparagus or home grown organic food.  Fresh lemons and limes go well with fish and seaweeds as veg would also imply sophistication and quality ingredients.

Muted colours – blue but not a primary or pastel.  Muted tones of blue with fish nets or some colours from the sea and from fish and crabs.

Fish net – somewhere in the image, to imply freshly caught produce.

Franchise – it has to be easy to be reproduced

Modern – most of the modern styles would lean towards hand lettering styles of menus and simple designs with a focus on various styles of texts overlapping.





some of the images on my Pinterest board portray simple brochure size style menus with an antique finish or vintage look.  This appeals to a wide variety of people.  Red seems to be a strong colour for menus, it works for attracting attention.  Variety in the font in a soft black on the vintage style paper is also really popular.

For a more rustic feel the menu is often pinned on a clipboard or just has one page.  For more sophisticated restaurants they seem to be more like a slim book with a small logo or lettering with an effect on it.

In franchise restaurants they might use an oversized paper placement on the table to act as a tablet mat as well as the menu.  This might be too plain and not sophisticated enough for this restaurant.

A handmade menu effect with a simple design that shows fresh ingredients would most likely work best as it is a franchise and needs to show quality but not alienate their customers as being too sophisticated.  Modern restaurants seem to like this theme.


Drawing Ideas up

I drew up some images that came to mind with fish in it.  I wanted to use a new gadget I got too, the bamboo slate.  It allows you to sketch and save it as a pdf/jpeg and sends it straight to your phone.

Other apps on my phone were then also being experimented with, such as the PS app and the sketchbook app.  They allowed me to generate some ideas, jot them down and save them for later.

The sketchbook app allowed me to work on the go and any ideas jotted down on the bamboo would transfer over to this app easily.  In this way I experimented with the veg and fish images to see what would work together.

Some of the images worked really well together.  There were a few more sketches but unfortunately the sketchbook they were in got lost between work and home.  Not sure what else was in it but the loss of it is a real stinker to say the least.

The images that were on my phone and slate were saved at least, so they’re included here in the exercise.  The first batch were done with the idea of a table mat style menu.  They were coloured in and played with by adjusting opacity in the layering or reversing the image.  Overall they’re fun and quirky, but they look better for something else.  They lack quality and sophistication and they’re far too basic for the restaurant brief.  The fish are a tad too comical looking too, and that doesn’t work.  They’re too far removed from a neutral fish look to be used in a rustic and hand lettered type style or design.


Too comical looking and pink for a restaurant doesn’t work.


The arrangement has a nice repeat pattern and the fish faded out looks okay but it isn’t right for the brief.


The vintage colour of the paper appears more lemon in colour and looks like a surface pattern for a drying towel or table cover.


Too pale here with this and the blue isn’t a fresh blue.


This is moving towards a more sophisticated colour scheme but it doesn’t work.


This is just a hot mess.  I went for a mix of the layers of the fish and veg and there is no clear visual arrangement here.  I was happy that the app worked though and that I could use it!

So with these ideas out of the way I could see that the images of the fish and veg were a good idea, but they needed to be used sparingly and in a much more sophisticated way.

Further research into menu design yielded some interesting information about how to approach this.

According to an article featured in the Daily Mail (ref 1) that outlined tricks restaurants use on their menus, colour plays an important part as well as the layout.

Using green implies fresh ingredients while orange stimulates appetite.  Nostalgia is a powerful force and having a limited range of choice is better while storytelling stimulates imagination.  Higher quality restaurants use the texture of their menus to convey this to their customers while cheaper ones use vinyl to imply cost effective but good value for money.

With this in mind, I wanted to ensure that my brief was met so I decided to go with the following:

Green, blue and orange in the menu

Rustic and organic and clean and limited imagery of fish 

 As the restaurant wanted to use the image for a logo too, I wanted to keep it simple and elegant so it would work on the top of a letterhead or on the side of a van.  Keeping the colours limited would work too so it would be easy to print.  The nostalgic effect would be used by using antique or vintage colours but fresh colours for the veg and fish.

The layout was worked on in PS rather than creating a thumbnail.  Not perhaps the best idea but as I was working in mixed media it felt more fluid to move into digital without thumbnails.  This meant that I would be working on composition and viewpoint as I was working on the layering of the image.  It felt easier to manipulate the image and organically compose it in Photoshop.

I wanted a vintage feel so I sourced free images on google that would lend to this by having that aged paper look.  Some of the images had extra details on them so they appealed as they could provide noise in the background of the image.

I also wanted to use the sketch of the fish that I had done earlier and put it through the image somehow.  I had no name for the restaurant, so in order to give it something to anchor to I made one up.  This wouldn’t be done in a real situation but  I felt it worked for this exercise.

I arrived at the name ‘Fishbones’ to imply good food eaten quickly because the quality of it was so good.  I wanted to appeal that modern rustic style too so going for this type of name felt less overly fussy.

Next I wanted to use the ingredients I had sketched so I manipulated them in PS to go on a plate.  The plates had little on them, to imply small portions but quality food.

There were two layouts I wanted to explore, the first being a big image of the logo, the second being a triangle effect of dishes that adhered to the psychology of food description taken from the article in the Daily Mail (ref 1).

I used a free image of fishbones taken from google and used this as the main focus for the logo.

Two images were created as the process of considering viewpoint/composition/content was explored as I layered images and added colour and text.  I wanted to create an effect of vintage mixed with the impression of being under water.  The text has a a texture in it similar to fish net and the hand written font of the menu give it a rustic feel.

Key information that I felt would be important to have on the menu were included on the front, while an example of a possible layout for the details of the menu were outlined in the third image.  An overlay of a brighter colour was put in to give a clearer view of what the food is.



On this occasion I followed most of the steps from the ‘receive the brief’ first step.  BUT…I still found myself doing the thumbnails and layout while in the middle of Photoshop.  This was something I really wanted to stop doing.  I really wanted to hit each step of the way and really think about the design BEFORE going for the visuals and final artwork.

I also felt that the designs of the two menus were okay…not great…and didn’t actually hit the brief key word of ‘sophisticated’.  So  I went back and revisited the steps from the very start.

I sketched down a few layouts and considered the fact that the company would want to use their image on different things.  So I considered what type of image or logo would work as a way to distinguish the company and yet be transferred to any menu or image they wanted to promote.


I also felt that keeping the design palette simple would be best and a nod to the nostalgia design in some way would meet the insights gained from the article on menu psychology (ref 1).


So the range of colours were going to be a fresh sea turquoise with a slightly greener tinge to it to give the impression of sunshine and exotic beaches and seas.  Holiday vibes.  Then the sketches of the fish that I had done would be put in to give it a hand crafted feel.  I wanted to include the net in some way as I felt the font that mimicked netting would look great on a menu.

I went with the image of the first one and put a band around the fish and included a short description and the name of the place ‘Fishbones’.  I included the name to give me something to hook on to.

I experimented with various colours of blue, but it make the fish look radioactive and not healthy, so I adjusted the layer filter and levels and got this lovely turquoise effect that worked great over antique paper.

I am really happy with the result.  I feel this logo gives the image something strong to focus on.  This logo can be easily transferred to anything that the company wants to use.  It’s easily recognised and on the menu is easily distinguished and represents quality.


The slim design of the menu is a little more sophisticated and the variation in fish caught in the net implies freshly caught produce and quality.

The brief was met and what I am really happy with is that I explored repeating the exercise, following the steps properly and honouring the process.  The results echo a much better finish than I got from the first batch of images.  It shows me that my first attempt produced an image that was still in the composition and thumbnail phase.

The effort of producing the work as a finished piece prevented me from exploring other options of design fully.  I became too precious about the art even though I thought I wasn’t being that way.

Admitting that and restarting helped me to put that aside in favour of following a range of ideas and exploring a few possibilities.  It was more freeing doing that.



Ref 1 – http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/food/article-3283235/The-14-tricks-restaurants-use-menus-make-diners-spend-money-revealed.html


Exercise 24 – A children’s book cover


Create a full cover front jacket for a children’s book about the history of animals around the world.  Aimed at 7-11 year olds.

Identify/responding to key words:

Animals from around the world – easy to recognise animals, silhouettes, striking, big, varied, different, regularly seen, fur, patterns, exotic, different, countries, safari, protected, different.

Generating ideas/Research/Drawing ideas up?Thumbnails:

https://www.pinterest.com/Superhilbo/exercise-24-childrens-book-cover/  for a range of cover styles that I gained inspiration from.


Shapes to go for  –  circles for earth, circles to represent ‘around’.

Colours – primary colours for brightness and attracting attention.

What is appropriate for this age group?  Are primary colours too basic for 7-11 year olds?  According to Jean Piaget(ref 1-4) and his assumptions about the cognitive development of children between the age of 7-12, their thinking is more concrete.  This would mean abstract ideas don’t work as well for them and their ability to learn and remember is developing.  They engage better with classification of information.  Based on this light study of this range of children, I thought it would be important to give the cover a sense of organisation and order so the world and the animals around it would convey a sense of literal meaning easily understood. However, I wanted to try something different too, so I experimented with the positioning of the animals and the circles to see how it would work.

I went with the literal meaning of the animals around the world.  A number of silhouettes of seven familiar animals were chosen.  Watercolour was used to colour them in without features as they were to be recognized by their shape only.  Colours picked were at random to see if the design would benefit from it as the silhouette of the animal would be recognized easily.  This may be too abstract however so would be observed as I went with it.

I liked this idea but it felt flat and I didn’t like the choice of size with the animals.  It didn’t feel fun enough either but the colours, although random, were catching the eye.

I decided to try something a bit freer and so tried to set up a scene in which the animals interacted with each other.  It wasn’t planned but I went with it and wanted to see what could be produced.

I used a box and a blue background and decided to put a comic scene into it.  The dialogue between the giraffe and the kangaroo was mean to be friendly, curious and fun.  This may appeal more and encourage the book to be investigated by a young child.

The images show the process for this idea, and how the box was set up.  I even tried out lettering with print as a way to give it a more handmade feeling.  It didn’t quite work as well as I hoped but it was good to experiment with it.

The final image was a digital version of the diorama.  It was tidied up and some cloning of the grass inserted along with some basic shapes to imply a river with animals passing by.  The whole scene was definitely projecting a handmade feeling, so I kept that going by painting the words ‘Animals’ and ‘World’ and then scanned them in and adjusted the size and shadow effect.


Overall this worked well.  The image is definitely fun, it is eye catching and there is a strong chance of it being taken off a shelf for a further look.  The colours are primary but a little bit softer so it doesn’t look too pre-school.

The changes I’d make though are to the colour of the gorilla and rhinoceros.  Their true colours would be more appropriate perhaps, so I would change the animals to reflect a better likeness.  I can see it works with the giraffe so I’m not sure why I didn’t continue with that.

As a further exploration of what could work,  I explored the circular logical theme that I had thumb nailed.  I wanted to see if the order of the animals might be easier to read and more interesting.  I inverted a lot of the colours as I liked the effect however I am not sure this would work for kids.  It might be a little too abstract.

The same cover but the left has a gradient layer and the silhouettes were inverted while the right was merged with layers and has no gradient.

I tried going back to the animals positioned around the world again, only this time I tried it in landscape form and went for one colour and an accent in the font in dark red.  It works, it isn’t as busy but maybe it isn’t as attractive either.


Final images:

In the end I felt that just two of the images worked well for the brief.  The first one works because it has a bright cover, it is fun and it would appeal to 7-11 year olds.  The depth from the diorama gives a lovely effect to the image and it feels friendly.  The second image could work because it feels ordered.  From a 7-11 year olds perspective it lends a sense of order and structure to things which at this age is an important focus.


Final thoughts:


I had to revisit the brief before being able to finally complete the work.  The initial approach to the exercise felt so random and it felt too all over the place.  I managed to get it together after a very stressful period of trying to.  The biggest stress was in misunderstanding the brief.  My original thoughts were that this would be for a 7-11 year old group, teenager group and then older.  I misread the brief!!!  It wasn’t until I had finished it that I realised that is what had happened.  I went back and revisited my work, approached it from the steps perspective and moved through it that way.   I had generated ideas but the thumbnails had become sketches that moved into final images before considering tone/viewpoint/content.  I had considered the composition, had researched and used references, but hadn’t done any word associations or maps or doodles.  It all felt rushed, even though many hours were thrown at it.

As it turns out my images could be adjusted and manipulated so that I didn’t lose a lot of good study work.  However, my big revelation to myself was how much I prevent my own progress.  When I read the brief it made me stress out.  Instead of reading it and then letting it sit for a bit, I launched into the project.  I didn’t follow the steps and I went from receiving the brief to visuals and final artwork.

It took me down a very stressful path where I didn’t know what to focus on and ended up putting in many hours producing elements and images without direction.  It basically wasted a lot of time doing it this way.  It meant that instead of going from A to B in a linear fashion, I went for a trip to the moon, ran around a bit, stressed, distracted, came back and then went ‘ta-da!’ with a finished piece.  Too random, too stressy and with other things going on it just doesn’t work.  Plain and simple.

Stepping back from it, taking some time out and then resetting my thoughts on it were the best idea.  I went back, reread the brief and went through the steps again.  I realized that I had good ideas but needed to focus them more and bring them to order.  The end results are good.  I’m happy with it but the way in which I got there is something that needs to be worked on.

A sense of self belief is always good to have, and doing the exercise in a random fashion only serves to eat away at this.  It makes me feel like I don’t know what I’m doing, because I don’t show myself my own thought processes.  The value in the steps is that you show yourself your ideas, you become less precious about your drawings and it frees you up to have fun and creatively explore solutions to the brief.

The other way just creates stress, frustration and makes it so hard to backtrack or explain an idea.  It also makes you uptight about holding on to one idea because you feel like you won’t have another good one!  Restricting in every way really.

When I hang my ideas and processes on a method it frees me up to be me and have fun with creating.  It’s important I remember that.

Reasoning behind choices:

For this exercise I wanted to stretch out a bit more and find some information that could inform me and help with the direction of my choices.  I found some great sites that gave me information on the developmental stages of a child.  It was really interesting to read. The link for the design for kids was fascinating.

As a result most of the reasons behind my choice of layout and colours stemmed from the information gained via the links below.  Cognitive development in children aged between 7-11 seemed to come from better structured thought processes that are referred to as concrete operations.  7-11 year olds may appear like ‘little adults’ but they are still children.  As such primary colours would still appeal and order and clear construct would also appeal.  Abstract ideas can be processed but not fully so avoiding too much of this style of illustration was best.


Ref1 – Jean Piaget – https://www.simplypsychology.org/piaget.html

Ref 2 – Cognitive Development: Age 7–11 – https://www.cliffsnotes.com/study-guides/psychology/development-psychology/physical-cognitive-development-age-711/cognitive-development-age-711   17.31 11/02/2017

Ref 3 – Design for kids pdf – http://rosenfeldmedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/DesignforKids-excerpt.pdf

Ref 4 – http://getkidsinternetsafe.com/blog/crash-course-for-7-to-11/

In between work

I’ve been experimenting with ways to doodle on my commute and save time having to scan the images in and create some art from them.  The commute is an hour each way, and sometimes it is just too difficult to get out the sketchbook and pencils if the bus is packed.

I wanted to get some apps for my phone that would allow me to doodle and meet my sketch aims for the day until I got home.  However I got frustrated with them as I prefer the good aul pen and paper route.  So I did some research and found something that would encourage me to doodle and then could go straight to a file on my phone and be used in conjunction with some apps to get a more finished image and feel productive.

The bamboo slate was the best reasonably priced tablet type thing I could get.  It has a pad and pen and you doodle the way you would on a normal sketchpad.  The pen is a little clunky but for basic A5 drawings and doodles for travel it seems to be working.  When my sketch is finished I simply press a button and it is magically transferred to my phone.  It’s all very witchcrafty, but I love it.

I did a quick doodle yesterday while I had some minutes to spare in work.

These were emailed as a png and then worked on in Photoshop.  The nice thing about the bamboo slate is that it has an option of back tracking your drawing.  You can rewind effectively and use various parts of that image if you made a mistake.  For example, the second image has the ribbon off centre.  I could rewind to the point before I drew it and then go with that.

Saving it as jpeg might be better but the options are png, pdf, jpeg and an svg file that I am not sure about.  Either way, the fun in being able to draw on paper and then have it instantly loaded instead of having to wait to scan it at home, is deadly.


So this is the little poster completed and I have to say I’m chuffed with the fun aspect of this project.  Using the slate in the A5 size is really comfortable and it’s easy to stick in my handbag and commute with.  It’s in the clipboard form so I bought a 10″ universal tablet cover to protect it as some reviews mentioned the button can be switched on accidentally in the bag if it isn’t protected.

I then went one step further and turned the doodle into a book cover.


I quite like how it turned out and I feel like the combo of using sketches and doodles and converting to easy to edit forms is really handy and useful.  It is definitely something that made me want to play about with more apps and explore quick sketches more.


Anyway, for gadgets it’s a thumbs up from me as this little gem has got me curious about apps and combining work in a more efficient way.  We’ll see where it goes.