Assignment 1

Brief:

Produce an illustration that visually responds to the extract from Italo Calvino’s 1972 novel Invisible Cities.

Extract: If you choose to believe me, good. Now I will tell how Octavia, the spider web city, is made. There is a precipice between two steep mountains: the city is over the void, bound to the two crests with ropes and chains and catwalks. You walk on the little wooden ties, careful not to set your foot in the open spaces, or you cling to the hempen strands. Below there is nothing for hundreds and hundreds of feet: a few clouds glide past; farther down you can glimpse the chasm’s bed. This is the foundation of the city: a net which serves as passage and as support. All the rest, instead of rising up, is hung below: rope-ladders, hammocks, houses made like sacks, clothes-hangers, terraces like gondolas, skins of water, gas jets, spits, baskets on strings, dumb-waiters, showers, trapezes and rings for children’s games, cable-cars, chandeliers, pots with trailing plants. 

Suspended over the abyss, the life of Octavia’s inhabitants is less uncertain than in other cities. They know the net will last only so long. 

Reflect on the visual depth portrayed in his writing – perspective or visual logic

Approach

  1. Respond to the brief
  2. Identify key words
  3. Research
  4. Generate ideas and draw ideas up
  5. Work within the given format and create thumbnails
  6. Consider viewpoint, composition and content
  7. Choose idea and create visual
  8. Final artwork

(All images for referencing and inspiration were taken from Pinterest and stock image sites from google searches)

  1. Respond to the brief

Produce an illustration that visually responds to the extract from Italo Calvino’s 1972 novel Invisible Cities.

The illustration should visually respond to the brief.  It doesn’t have to be a literal interpretation of what the words say but it does have to respond.  This would indicate that it is a response to how the words resonate with you and how they either spark a feeling or a vision.  Either way this has to be translated into an illustration.

  • Identify key words

Extract: If you choose to believe me, good. Now I will tell how Octavia, the spider web city, is made. There is a precipice between two steep mountains: the city is over the void, bound to the two crests with ropes and chains and catwalks. You walk on the little wooden ties, careful not to set your foot in the open spaces, or you cling to the hempen strands. Below there is nothing for hundreds and hundreds of feet: a few clouds glide past; farther down you can glimpse the chasm’s bed. This is the foundation of the city: a net which serves as passage and as support. All the rest, instead of rising up, is hung below: rope-ladders, hammocks, houses made like sacks, clothes-hangers, terraces like gondolas, skins of water, gas jets, spits, baskets on strings, dumb-waiters, showers, trapezes and rings for children’s games, cable-cars, chandeliers, pots with trailing plants. 

The key words for me were:

Spider web city, precipice, two steep mountains, void, ropes, clouds, net, houses that hang below and trapezes and rings.

Why?

They were the strangest words that would be associated with a city and a place where people live.  When we think of a place where people live we think of rooms, houses, ground, foundations, doors and windows and a sense of the ground beneath our feet.

Games, plants, pots, dumb-waiters, showers, water, baskets and hammocks are still things we associate with a house on the ground.  They make the home and city appear normal but they’re not the things that make it different based on this description of Octavia.

  • Research

Italo Calvino’s 1972 novel Invisible Cities has a number of places in it with very detailed descriptions.  The interpretations of this city, Octavia, has been visually expressed in so many interesting forms.  Looking at different approaches there were many who chose to keep the image in a 2 point perspective and 3 point perspective.  They choose ink and charcoal for an illustration rather than colour. 

There are those that chose a more graphic approach and for this the colours were either extremely bright and beautiful or a monochrome scheme.

From the images pinned for research and inspiration, there were a number of themes that were attracting me:  https://www.pinterest.ie/hilary515723/illustration-2-assignment-1/

  1. Blue and pale orange colour schemes
  2. Thin lines and draping lines overlapping each other like a web or like drapes
  3. 3-point perspectives
  4. Flat 2D illustrations
  5. Collages
  6. Strong graphics
  • Generate ideas and draw ideas up

From the observations from researching images created from the extract, it seemed that many had focused on the mountains, houses, ropes and nets and very few had gone into the smaller details of terraces or plants.  Even fewer had included figure drawing in their images, choosing instead to focus on the architecture of the city.

From the general ideas that were forming I gathered a range of reference boards and mood boards so that I would have something to refer to for texture, shapes and perspectives.  I felt that I wanted to try achieve an illustration that had a bright colour palette and a picture book feel to it.  I also wanted to explore the isometric style of drawing that would be seen in advertising or gaming as a way of coming at the brief from a modern visual interpretation.

  1. Work within the given format and create thumbnails

I created a few thumbnails and tried to include the idea that a 3-point perspective was possible.  I also tried to convey a sense of being in the city and capture a view from the house looking out.  There were other simpler drawings of the two mountains and the city between, a symmetry focused style in the thumbnail.

  1. Consider viewpoint, composition and content

From the thumbnails I tried to convey a variety of viewpoints and reviewed which were realistically possible within my skillset along with whether the composition was interesting enough to be a quality illustration.  Based on that consideration I went with a simple perspective and an isometric perspective.

  • Choose idea and create visual

I chose the 2 thumbnails that I felt would work best and then some sheets of A3 were used to create a variety of textures, shapes and assets that would be used in the illustration.  The designs were from stamps I had from a few years, randomly bought in pound shops and in Tiger.  They were of houses, fences and office blocks and there were some foliage stamps in there too.  Brown was chosen because I wanted to have a sepia look and my colour choices were in the orange and blue areas of the wheel.  I was going for muted colours rather than bright ones.

These stamps were then scanned into my pc and some were photographed.  They were then put into Procreate where they were resized and flipped and layers were adjusted for saturation and colour effects.  The mountain was made from a repeat stamp of the office block.  Black ink was tried first but it was very strong and didn’t fit the picture book look.  The brown ink was better and allowed for more texture and layering to be seen.

After this I used sponges to get a texture for the sky and also used dry and wet brushes with watercolours to get a second textured layer. 

All these assets were adjusted in Procreate, duplicated and layered with colour burn and saturation adjustments until the right tone was achieved.  The symmetry was maintained in using a duplicate layer of the mountain made with the office block stamp.

The isometric image was created in a different way.  None of the assets created on the page with stamps were used.  The artwork was created using a perspective grid in the programme and a variety of digital brushes.  Technical pen, pencil, airbrush and elemental brushes were used.  The background was created using a brush for clouds and then the opacity was adjusted and a variety of colours added until the right tone and quality of cloud was achieved.  This time to colour scheme was brighter than the earthy tones for the first image.

The final image has more depth to it and feels like a 3D model of the city.  The houses are not as impressive compared to the first image, but they’re truer in style to the description from the passage.

  1. Final artwork

The final artwork is a one-point perspective of the city in a flattened image illustration designed for a picture book.

The second artwork is an isometric perspective of the city that is a modern visual interpretation of the city.

Both illustrations are designed to move away from the traditional interpretations of the passage which are often expressed in muted tones, linework, pencils or charcoal and feel like traditional illustrations.  They are very much a visual response to the passage.

Revisit:

I was happy with the images but felt that they were both quite small and might be improved upon.  I revisited them both to see if I could use scale or monochrome as a way of making the image more personal or interesting.  The originals all felt like the city was in the distance.

I zoomed in on one part of the image and then duplicated the same layer and adjusted the saturation and opacity until I got the impression that the viewer was quite close to the city and looking through the web of houses.  This for me really worked.  The background layer is slightly faint and has an orange tone while the front image feels more immediate and has a bluish tone from it.

The next adjustment was made using 3 layers of the same image slightly offset.  The colour was adjusted so that it appeared to be a 3D image that you could view with 3D glasses.  It has a very confusing outline but I like it.  I don’t think it works for the brief but I’m happy with the experiment to see what effects I could get.

As a last experiment I simply added one colour, this time purple and then yellow.  These are complimentary colours on the wheel but as an image they work well on their own.  They still match the brief for a visual interpretation and the colour could be adjusted to suit the client.  Does it meet the requirements fully though?  I’m not entirely convinced it is any better than the original however so might not be considered.

The next experiment was with the isometric drawing and there wasn’t a lot done here except to warp the image to give a sense of an alternative perspective.  It feels off and the houses don’t stand out enough so it wouldn’t work and I don’t particularly like the perspective.  As a final experiment I added a few textured layers to the isometric to see if this would add any depth to it but it added interest but perhaps not enough to warrant an improvement on the original.

Learning Log :

Why did you choose the image making approach?

I used stamps, inks and Procreate brushes for my images. 

I wanted to try out a picture book image and an isometric image because the passage is surreal and the city imagined.  The description of how the city is held in the air and that the inhabitants know the net will only last so long add to the surrealness of it all.  As a result I wanted to clearly show that the city was magical in a way.

When very young children draw, they don’t overthink it or impose a limit on themselves.  They tend to use what is to hand, there are often no lines and their work is free of constrictions of thought.  I wanted my image to feel that way while still honouring some of the descriptions of the extract.

The isometric drawing was designed to be floating as I felt that the description from the extract also fell into the category of gaming landscape.  In any platform game you can put a lot of detail into this type of perspective and then each platform becomes a world to explore.  Final Fantasy does this extremely well and many games would handle the extracts description without any effort.

What effect were you trying to make?

The main effect for the first image was handmade and childlike.  I wanted to get a feeling that a collage of images had created the illustration.

The second image was more towards floating cities within platform games with the emphasis on small and a world on a single platform.

What illustrators work influenced my thinking?

Eric Carles was an influence for the first image as was M.Sasek as they both use collage and mixed media to achieve their images.  They’re both picture book illustrators so their style was something that definitely influenced me here.  Jama Jurabaev was an influence for the colour palette as was another DeviantArt member Manweri.  They are both concept artists and that style of art evokes a sense of magic and other worldly in their environments.

Did my approach work?

Yes it did as I felt that the use of stamps and ink added a noise to the first image that wouldn’t have been present otherwise.  The picture book style is definitely present but it has my imprint on it rather than being too heavily inspired by the other illustrators and artists.

The colour palette and clouds for the second image was successful for the look I wanted but the drawing of the houses was not successful and despite my best efforts I couldn’t get it to work.

Would I do anything differently?

Absolutely, I’d scale up as I feel that the images were too small.  I used A3 paper to create my collages but they were scanned so everything was completed on Procreate.  It might be better to simply play on paper for future work and get more physical with it but I know from previous experiences that you can create something wonderful on a canvas or paper but the scanning or photography can muck it up, so I’m wary of that too.

It’s good to experiment so I did go back to revisit the images and see if a change in colour or scale improved anything and it turns out it did.

The first image was improved upon by a simple zoom in and layering.  I ended up with a closeup of the city that ended up being very appealing.  It might not be very obvious that the houses are hanging from two mountains so perhaps a more obvious rock formation to clarify that might work.  However, as a review it was very helpful and it definitely improved the illustration.