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Essay: Reflection on journey as illustrator (including SWOT)

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  • Subject area(s): Photography and arts essays
  • Reading time: 12 minutes
  • Price: Free download
  • Published: 1 October 2022*
  • File format: Text
  • Words: 3,502 (approx)
  • Number of pages: 15 (approx)

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1- Introduction

In this essay I will be focusing on my journey from a young illustrator depicting the change in my thought process and ultimately my style throughout university, up until now where I I’ll be deciding on where my life’s path takes after my degree is complete. To do this I have to talk about my background thus far. In the past I considered myself an illustrator prior to university doing fine arts in my a-level subjects exploring various painting techniques and print methods being pushed to explore traditional fine art. I enjoyed this subject at the time because of the inspiration I had from a teacher that taught me for many years which was one of my reasons for originally enlisting for the fine art and illustration course at Coventry University. But once I had arrived the course as it had seemed didn’t live up to my expectations and I wanted to focus on something closer to my hobbies, these hobby was listening to music and many graphic video game posters. I’ve always been inspired by them and many pieces of digital work surrounding that which was one of the main reasons I switched to the graphics course so I could try something new and expand my horizons.

2- Things I have learnt from being at uni and how it applies to my practice

Subsequently my current work has evolved from this traditional style and has moved towards digital art using such programs as adobe illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign these programs are necessary in graphic design currently and are well coveted in the design industry currently. The program I mainly use is Adobe illustrator this is because I loved the idea that you can resize vector images and blow them up in proportion to suit whatever print size you would like without losing quality. This in turn ultimately made it easier for me to design posters and images and import some of the features of one project to another picking elements from one design that I thought would work well with another. Secondly I have learnt to think like a designer through various lectures and tutor support expanding my knowledge on subjects like colour theory which helps me decide on the colours that would be the most appropriate for the given piece and brand recognition and narratives which helped me underline key factors of modern day brands and how this defines them as large scale corporations. This has helped me in one of my second year modules which was based around a film festival and the type of branding that would be applicable to the theme. This also helped with other things such as designing merchandise for the festival such as lanyards, tickets and wristbands with an accompanied by a zine which helped tie the project together made via different methods of print.

This helps me move on to the next part of what I’ve learnt which is print. This boils down to mainly screen-printing and lino cutting. These are techniques I hadn’t even heard about until I came on the course and naturally I gave it a go. To be totally honest I was amazed especially with screen printing I just couldn’t comprehend that I could turn a drawing in to a professional print that you would see in magazines and books. It was a hard and long process but by doing it I have expanded my knowledge on other mediums and my style adding more to my skill set and making me more versatile when it comes to other art forms being able to incorporate textures and tones that you wouldn’t be able to get from a sketch or digital piece. Because of these new mediums I hardly paint anymore with acrylic and oil paints this is because I now prefer the immediacy and how, as an illustrator you can make something happen. It fascinates me that I can go anywhere with my sketchbook and laptop developing ideas wherever I am because I have the ability to freely express myself whatever way I feel I can take something mundane and change it to however my mind perceives it.

To elaborate being able to express my thoughts has helped my problem solving when it comes to tasks. I would say that I am more readily able to come up with ideas since coming on the course taking vague starting points and expanding upon them to create something that’s out of the box something which I have struggled with when I was at school because I couldn’t read between the lines and come up with fresh ideas. I also believe that my eye for good design has improved being able to understand to better knowledge how grids and layouts work and where to place text and typography. Overall at its core this course has made me a better designer and artist and I have learnt how to value myself better because of this and I know view myself in a more professional manner than I would have done beforehand.

3- How advertising / Branding appeals to me and how it affects my style + History

Graphic design in its core is a multi-medium form of design that helps resolve problems through the use of physical and digital content communicating messages to people in a way that they can understand. It’s been used throughout the ages in posters, political messages, tabloids and many other forms of print to convey something to the viewer whether it’s good or bad. This way of thinking has been used far back to when the printing press was made however I will be only focusing on current modern graphic design as that is what’s relevant to me in my practice.

Current influencers in graphic design

A major leading figure in my industry would be the Wieden + Kennedy studio and they are one of the main reasons I want to enter this field. This all stemmed from an old spice advert back in 2010 which turned a dying brand into a commercial hit because of its originality and randomness. Me being young and not truly understanding at the time I thought of it as simply a meme of sorts as other creators on the internet parodied the advert and didn’t think much about the creation but now being in a position where I’m thinking of taking this sort of role as a full time job I can appreciate the thought that goes into the making of such PR stunts. Comparing myself to a studio of this stature I notice that everything is done to some form of perfection. By this I mean every poster, video and motion graphic is done in a thoughtful manner something which I can aim to be better at. With this comes much experimentation, every project is different in some way, not just sticking with one form of media. This is one of my fundamental weaknesses currently and I have a long way to go to reach this standard. One recent project was an ad campaign they did for OK Cupid called “DTF”. This was an ad campaign aimed at the younger audience to recapture the ground they lost against other dating apps like tinder a simple hook-up app. They said themselves on their website “Built around a more single-minded mechanic, other apps offered up dating that was big on physical payoff but short on substance. In contrast, the OKCupid experience was designed to allow potential daters the chance to find out as much as possible about their match, revealing the person behind the profile.” They did this by using the modern dating acronym DTF which stands for down to fuck, twisting the F to showcase other personalities rather than a basic mindset like apps like tinder. Examples like “Down to four twenty” and “Down to fire up the kiln” helped portray the OkCupid app as a more fun and up to scratch dating service than what it was before changing the perception of the brand. To achieve this level of work I’d have to update my skillset in many areas including photography and typography because of the way this studio incorporates all types of mediums and id also have to change my thinking get a little more creative and as one would say think outside the box.

An artist I currently aspire to be like is Brodie Kaman he’s an Australian artist whose main body of work is around music, producing record sleeves, album covers and posters. In my current project I am making and producing records so I thought it would be great to get insight on his work. I contacted Brodie getting a response however he had an extremely busy schedule over Christmas. I believe I share many similarities to Brodie’s work and resonated with it the first time I saw it. He uses very experimental styles and has a very free flowing design something that I would like to imitate, and with an interview with Its nice that he stated that “ music is constantly changing and progressing, so it’s only natural for the art to follow suit,”. With this in mind currently comparing my work to his I use a lot of photography and repetition of type something that is a trend with modern hip-hop and urban streetwear. He however uses more drawings and more photography in different compositions really mixing up the fonts he uses keeping to a more uniformed but expressive piece of work. Brodie states in this interview “For me typography is the foundation and everything else is complementary. I prefer a trial and error approach with a loose goal in mind,” This is something I hope to learn as I believe that I try to perfect my work too much and sticking to this trial and error ethos and letting my work come more naturally could be a big benefit for me.

Trying to learn more about the industry I contacted various artists in the hope to learn more about the workplace and what it takes to become a professional. One thing I came across in my research was that artist’s creative outlook has changed but not in the way that I thought it would. Thomas Slater an illustrator said “Well I now have to bear in mind if I am getting paid fairly or not for something, and I understand how difficult it can be to get a steady stream of consistent money coming in from freelance illustration work. So my outlook is much more tied to what is commercially viable, instead of what work I want to be making.” In this instance rather than the thought process changing it is what’s currently trending and as he says commercially viable to keep a steady income. On the other side of the coin Andrew Beltran a designer said “when I was at art school, I thought that the best place to have ideas was the studio. This often resulted in frustration if an idea wouldn’t come.” He then goes on to explain “that if you want to have ideas, it’s a much better idea to go for a walk, or a swim, or read a book or anything.” These ideals are things I do have to consider moving forward as I can relate to being frustrated at ideas not formulating and having to think commercially about the market is something I’m going to have to adapt to in the future.

Being able to adapt to work life after university is a big challenge as designer George Gibb explains “Doing illustrations for WaveLength magazine, I had a week to produce 15 illustrations for them. While working through the day at a 9-5 then coming home to work through the evening. Was more of a time thing but the outcome was worth no sleep.” This outcome of work being hurtled towards you is something I believe can stunt your growth. This is because you won’t be able to produce your best work if you’re tired and won’t be able to formulate ideas cohesively.

As well as the long hours being subject to exploitation seems to be on the general consensus as well Andrew Beltran believes that” the hardest thing to adapt to in the professional world, especially for the idealist graduate I was, was the general movement of the political consensus to the right in the UK and abroad and the effect this change has had on people’s attitudes to work in general. This change has led to industries that value productivity, exploitation and capital over the well-being and mental health of the people working within it.” By what he says here I believe that staying vigilant and knowing my self-worth and my mental wellbeing can play a key factor into whether I could be successful or not.

When it came to how these artists made their work it became apparent that the adobe suite is needed and to my surprise even designers tend to get their pencils out and sketch their ideas to scan them in and work from there whether it’s using them as a trace for a design or just rolling with the sketch and making something old and look vintage. George Gibb does this in a fantastic way making old newspaper style illustrations that he’s added textures to in Photoshop and given them rugged and tattered styles. What’s also come across is that even if you don’t have the skillset as of yet it’s not hard to learn them Andrew stated that” Almost everything you could want to know is readily available in books or YouTube, and if there’s something you want to learn in more detail, I occasionally pay for a month’s membership of websites like Skill share which feature more in-depth online tutorials.” Andrew hardly touched he creative suite before going professional and believes that the best thing you can learn is how to articulate a problem when it arises which I agree on wholeheartedly and is something I believe I do well when put under pressure.

What I wanted to understand was where these artists got their inspiration from. My inspiration generally revolves around what music I’m listening to and what’s recently been trending. My idea behind this is that keeping up to date makes the content I produce fresh and more aligned with my personality. But what can I do to enhance this and create bigger and better ideas Andrew stated that” I always keep a big pile of books, posters, zines and general ephemera made by my favourite artists and designers next to my desk. Even things not directly design related can give you good ideas like songs or jokes.” Reading isn’t something I do extensively but the idea of keeping zines made by other creators is a good idea to boost idea growth. I’ve recently been using the app Pinterest to log ideas I’ve seen from other artists whether its poster or one off prints taking in the use of colour, form and composition to elevate my pool of knowledge. Another great aspect of inspiration is working with peers Andrew detailed that” it’s 100 times easier to have ideas and you end up giving ideas to other people too.” With this in mind I should speak more openly about ideas with my current course mates it will give me useful information on which routes to take and is something I can rely on in the future.

I finally asked them about if they could start their careers again what would they do differently. The general accord was to” work with a bit more urgency and commercial drive” as Thomas explained and to have” had the fore-knowledge in the slow early days that things would pick up over time.” As Andrew said. What I believe this means is to keep your wits about you and try and absorb all knowledge that’s available same with gathering inspiration, and not to be led astray by companies who want free work for exposure.

1- SWOT- 600-700 words

At this current moment in time my biggest outlying strength would be my proficiency in adobe illustrator. I’ve already stated it’s the program I’m most comfortable with and by having the knowledge to use this program has greatly benefited me in designing logos, posters and other images taking them from hand drawn to digital greatly speeding up my process for these types of work that could be used for campaigns. Another strength that I’ve kept from my days at school and have carried on into university projects would be my skill in drawing environments. I’m able to produce scenes of nature to a high level getting perspectives properly and using mark making techniques such as stippling and pen strokes to accentuate a sort of realistic but stylised look of my drawings. My next strength would be my printmaking skills. It is a recent skill I have acquired but I believe I can consistently produce work to a high level with the expert knowledge I have gained from the tutors Megan and Elsa such as applying gradients onto prints and even printing on fabrics. This allows me to take my drawings particularly my landscape drawing and apply colour to them which I believe enhances them greatly.

My Biggest underlying weakness would be the skill of drawing human anatomy correctly. Whenever I seem to draw humans I can never seem to get positioning correct and the perspective correct either which leads to relatively off poses and distorted pieces of work. This downside in my drawing skills leads me to not contain many humans in my work as I feel it hinders the quality of my designs. To combat this I will need to gain a better understanding of the human’s anatomy through life drawings and really taking some time to comprehend where every part of the human body lines up. Another weakness I can draw from would be my limited knowledge of Photoshop and InDesign. This stems majorly from overuse of a program I’ve become too comfortable with relying on and hampers my expendability. I do have basic understanding of how to use these programs but ultimately I will need to know how to use both if I truly want to become a graphic designer as these are key skills that are necessary to become somewhat successful. To alter this I need to firstly step out of my comfort zone and attempt to use these programs more frequently and secondly use the learning services available to me as Andrew stated earlier things like skill share and YouTube can help teach me if I’m in a bind.

I can also say that a weakness of mine is overcomplicating at times because I’m always striving to perfect my work to a level that I feel comfortable with when in actual fact I could slow down and analyse my work when I’m not sure that I’m going overboard. This could help me determine whether my work really needs any changes. To do something about this small problem I’ve been really trying to simplify my work as of late trying not to overbear the viewer and setting concrete messages so people can understand what my designs mean. Taking into account Brodie Kaman’s free flowing style could be advantageous in this regard, by making mistakes and rearranging them in a trial and error fashion I could limit my habit of overcomplicating by taking it in piece by piece.

I ultimately feel that my opportunities will arise most if I join an in-house studio. This boils down to being able to learn from top professionals in a working environment getting experience from their idea process and how it’s different to my own as well as learning key skills that I may have not even learnt being at university. With this I don’t believe going freelance is the way forward for my own career especially at the start as I believe that I need a little more guidance before I can truly spread my wings. Looking toward the trends of 2019 in graphic design Venngage.com have predicted that “pops of vivid colour” and “Strong typographic focal points” are going to be trending these are things that I have recently been incorporating into my own work. Without looking too far into these trends I believe that 2019 can be the year where my style develops and I have a lot of optimism going forward at this moment in time.

As for threats I’d generally put it down to competition from peers and other professional’s currently and not being able to adapt quick enough. But to challenge this I believe it’s just down to perseverance and hard work.


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