Final project: Final thoughts

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Installed at last!

This is it! Here’s my display for the exhibition installed at last! Less is more…

I had planned to display the other two pieces: the book carved into a box filled with Max and Misty’s Did you know? cards and objects memorabilia as well as the wordless tunnel book. All three books have the same narrative in a different format.This is this aspect that fascinated me and I sought to explore.

However, after having a conversation with my tutors, we decided that it may be distracting from the main book itself and its innovative format. (You have to flip the book over to read both sides of the story and the resolution is in the middle). Since the book’s ending has  a 3D element inside it in the form of a pop up, I didn’t mind too much. Instead, they recommended I showcased the pop up but I chose not to. It is after all the resolution of the book and readers don’t start a book by its ending. So I will let the visitor pick the bookt up (with white cotton gloves please) and discover the surprise inside it.

Creating the book has been a roller coaster. I had to wear so many hats: author, illustrator, graphic designer, bookbinder, printer and all that with some non existent skills.

I had to learn: handling watercolour since I usually paint with oils and acrylics – manipulating my artwork in Photoshop: very different from playing with special effects.  I especially had to master how to hide blemishes and enhance colour so that it looks good and real and still hand painted. I am very pleased to have retained this element. It was crucial for me.

I had to discover InDesign for the layout of my book from scratch.  I have definitely only scratched the surface here.

I had to think about typeface and created my own. And even though it looks amateurish I am  particularly pleased with the tile  because it is mine and it enhances the meaning of the book.

I had to learn how to bind a book and needless to say I am very unskilled with a needle. Preparation (flattening your signatures before hand) and preparation are key.  In the end, I had to give up the idea of the hard cover. Having hard a conversation with a book maker expert, the artist in residence, Richard Nash, I agreed that the cover would look thicker than the book itself. It would have looked ridiculous. He suggested a coptc stitching but I failed to deliver. In the end I applied a basic stitching giving it my own twist to make it look pleasing to the eye.  I also decided on a book jacket having had to include the cover in one of my signatures to have a multiple of 4.  You live and learn, don’t you.

The most interesting aspect was the interplay between text and image. Not so much what you say but what you leave out – not so much what you show but what you leave out. It is wonderful to write and draw, you have the ability to choose the best medium for a scene. At every time, I kept my audience in mind. And although I wanted the story to be accessible I didn’t want to do all the work for them. If not what is the point of reading?

I very much enjoyed all the research about visual storytelling, child development, child psychology, and reading about semiotics. I also tried to cover the cultural aspects by researching the distribution of picture books. Children in the world are not all equal and in underdeveloped countries books are not an accessible commodity. Similarly we  get to see work by a few talented artists only. Distribution of picture books is very pricey.

I also touched on the development of publishing and expressed my concern about the trend of epublishing  It has a place but it is too soon to assess the impact it has on children’s literature and its audience. I personally feel that at young age, holding a tangible object and sharing a moment with a special person enhances a child’s experience. Opening a book is entering a magic world that will hopefully resonate with you for a very long time.

Finally I wanted to bring to the fore that there is not just one format for books.  Books can be sculptural and many artists have demonstrated the truly amazing possibility of paper as a medium. Creating the pop up was extremely challenging and at times I didn’t think I would succeed. I am planning to also explore book arts a lot more from now on.

I wish I had more time..I will revisit my project and very likely take it apart to start all over again! I will take my time and get it right.

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Final Project: Research on Fine Art Storytelling/ Fairy Tales/ My working process

Paula Rego

I stumbled upon Paula Rego’s work as I conducted more research in narrative art. I found her work of particular interest because of the way she appropriates the narratives she read in books without being dictated by them.  She uses them as a starting point I suppose. She visually rewrites the narratives and turns them into a series of paintings. Looking at her work is similar to  reading in between the lines. What is more important is what has been left out rather than told. She accentuates some details and leaves others out. She has no interest in conventional ideas of beauty, or in conventional ideas of art. Art, she says, is ‘disgusting and to be avoided’, by which she probably means do not play it safe and sterile. What interests her is  ‘the beautiful grotesque’.

Little Red Riding Hood by Paula Rego

I am particularly interested in the body of works that reference fairy tales. She doesn’t shy away from showing the dark aspects of these tales. For instance, in Little Red Riding Hood, the themes of ambiguity and violence are present just as they are in the tale itself.

Fairy tales

At the end of the tale, Little Red Riding Hood’s innocence dies with her as she is eaten by the wolf. Some theoreticians such as Zack Zipes, an expert on Brothers Grimm, argued that the ending was a sexual act symbolising the chaos of nature. The Brother Grimm tales are still very relevant since we are still attracted to them today. They deal with essential human struggles which are universal and sadly all too common. Most fairy tales are dark because they deal with traumatic incidents that have happened in real life. They can be whimsical despite the dark overtone but they are satisfying because they give the readers a catharsis that helps him overcome whatever it is he s dealing with. I am of course looking at this from an adult’s point of view. A child may not be aware of the undertone especially since there has been many different versions of fairy tales. Some have been turned as a cautionary story warning children to behave and listen to their parents. So in the case of LIttle Red Riding Hood, if she had listened and never left the path, nothing bad would have happened to her.

Little Red Riding Hood directed by Catherine Hardwicke

Little Red Riding Hood directed by Catherine Hardwicke

Contemporary filmmakers and writers, however, reinvent earliest versions of the tale by indulging in the very dark symbolism and the theme of sexual awakening. I am thinking of “Red Riding Hood” written by David Johnson which Catherine Hardwicke directed. Here a werewolf is introduced in medieval times.

 

 

 

 

 

Rego’swork illustrates fully the Portuguese proverb :”Whoever tells a story adds a facet.” As a painter, printmaker and collage artist, her style moved away from loose lines to stronger ones. Rego was influenced by surrealism and in particular by the work of Joan Miro. She is in the tradition of automatic drawings whereby the artist disengages the conscious mind from the process of making, allowing the unconscious to direct the image making. But no matter what, her work has always  a strong narrative element in place.

My thinking process

Her approach is appealing as I have never adopted this process before. I am more of a planner. I suppose I take a lot of time planning in my head and jolting things down before actually grabbing a paintbrush. I wouldn’t have the confidence of tackling a blank canvas (and I like to paint big) without the initial thought process. I then have the feeling I anticipated as many problems of composition, theme …as possible before new ones arise as I go along. It leaves free to then grow the work organically directly on the canvas.

I think best when I take my dog for a walk. This is when my problem solving happens. Rain or shine, I brave the element because it is the only way I can declutter the mess in my brain. And also it is really healthy so I kill two birds with one stone.

For my characters, I take a very similar approach. I become an actor. I act the scene. I take the pose. For Max and Misty, being animals, it could have been a bit more tricky but it wasn’t since I turned their personalities into tantrum toddlers. I had to worry about accurate anatomy and realistic situations.  I couldn’t have had Max in a tree but Misty could. Sometimes, it is like working backwards.  Where do I need to get to and how can I get there?

For my paintings, I adopt the same approach. I will think about what I want to say and how I want people to perceive it. Whether they will or not is actually neither here nor there. I sketch my characters directly on the canvas. I refine them in my sketchbook where, like a magpie I gathered all my references. Very often, the composition has been changed over and over so maybe I should adapt a different approach.

Like Rego, I am fascinated by stories and fairy tales. My favourite book of all times is ‘Alice in Wonderland’ by Lewis Carroll.For the painting below, I wanted to have a medley of characters and different scenes from the book and one monochromatic painting. As I went along, I had to leave a lot of characters out and decided to add a splash of red. This led me to think of a series of paintings in different colours and the symbol of each colour…Another project in progress.

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Alice in blue

 

Alice in red Series on classic stories

Alice in red
Series on classic stories

 

 


Final Project: Character Development

A good story must be character-led. A picture book has usually a main protagonist sometimes two as in my story. I see my characters as actors who must physically embody the poses, movements and emotions needed to tell the story of two best friends who fall out over a misunderstanding and realise they miss each other terribly. The narrative runs true for a pre-school child who can easily have tantrums with his best friend over anything if he/she doesn’t get her way. The trick is to make it interesting enough for the child to want to read on and see what next.

In order to achieve this the characters must be rounded and three dimensional. They must have faults too.  Little Miss Perfect would be boring and totally unrealistic if she was to behave the same way from beginning to end. For Max and Misty I designed a list of words that describe them emotionally. I also designed their bedroom as characters are never isolated from their settings. I also felt a bedroom shows a lot about a character’s personality.

 

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This approach apart from designing the bedroom in collage didn’t depart too much from the way I begin a storytelling. Dogs come more naturally as I grew up with one and I now have a lovely yellow labrador. Whereas cats are more of a challenge as I have never had any. I had to study their anatomy more, their skeleton and their personality etc..I then looked at lot of pictures of cats and dogs and watch youtube videos to understand how they move.

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Another problem is I wasnt happy with the name of my cat. I kept changing it. It started with Cleo, then Coco, then Ernest to Misty for which I settled. Max and Misty had a nice ring. I liked the alliteration and the contrast between a one and a two syllable name.

 

Misty 2

 

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Still, it took a lot more sketches for Misty than for Max. I started in pencil but because I kept rubbing out, I decided to use pen and ink instead. I had a few happy accidents that boosted my confidence.

Once I was happy with their shape, their colouring, I put them in situation alone and then together.

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Capturing the essence of Max and Misty proved a lot more difficult than I had anticipated. Keeping them looking the same on every page was even harder. Keep the same outline, the same eyes, the same number of whiskers, the same rounded ears, the same floppy ears, think of the way the fur moves etc…I also studied children’s in the park, in the street to look at their body language, their expressions. I even looked at myself in the mirror for expressions. I gave Max a red collar to make him  straight away recognisable. To identify him from the Wild beasts, Sendak had given a wolf suit to his main character Max (I also called my puppy Max for this reason and my dog is also called Max). I gave Misty white paws and the tip of her tail is white.

Finally, Max and Misty had to be equal. They are given the same number of lines, the same number of pages, they both had to be likeable and they both have to change in their own right. And of course, I didn’t want any hidden patronising message. This story could happen to real children who fall out and make up as friendship prevails.

I was then able to draw the roughs,  create a new storyboard, import them in inDesign to construct a dummy book. This in turn gave me a tool to evaluate the layout and the composition.

I decided that the some of the events had to be changed to make the misunderstanding clearer between the two friends. On Misty;s side of the story, Max appeared to big on the page compared to her etc…. The actions didn’t show her personality enough. Misty is calmer and tidier. She had to be seen brushing her teeths!

It is at this point that I added the text… a whole new ballgame!

 


Final Project: Paper Engineering Experimentation with Andy Singleton and Richard Sweeney

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Paper sculpture from cut out

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Cut out sculpted

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Different angle

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As the project is ticking along, I can’t help thinking about the exhibition and the potential display of my book. As my tutors have suggested there are many ways of thinking about a book, the other avenue is book art .

Traditionally books sit on shelves and are only taken out when we want to read them. They can be more than this. Children’s bookshelves are packed with novelty books filled with pop ups, flaps, folded double pages, cut outs…

This led me to experiment with the possibilities that paper offers as a medium. Yesterday, I was very fortunate to go to a workshop with Andy Singleton and Richard Sweeney at the Victor Felix Gallery in London. It was an exciting day full of cutting and folding.

Andy and Richard demonstrating techniques

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Andy’s work: explores the natural and manmade world through intricate paper cuttings, paper sculpture and hand drawn illustrations. Earlier this year, Andy had a paper installation at the Victoria Revealed exhibition at Kensington Palace. His work was displayed in the  cabinet with Queen Victoria’s original wedding dress!

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Installation

And yesterday we were lucky to see some of his smaller scale work that enabled us to admire the intricacy ofAndy’s paper cutting:

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Cityscape

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Fox cut out

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Owl cut out

Cut outs could become a subproject and be part of the display.  In my case, I would cut a dog and a cat. I could also shorten the story or create a parallel narrative as if the two characters of my picture books were intended for a series. Otherwise, I could maybe create separate panels that could be displayed on the wall.  The possibilities seem endless but time will dictate was is realistic or not…

 

 

 

 

 

We started the workshop with cutting techniques.

Cutting a template:

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Cutting a continuous line drawing:

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Cutting blind i.e. creating a picture as one goes along – here I decided on a tree.

For it to be more successful, I would need to use a reference for the bark and the foliage.

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In the afternoon, we moved on to paper folding.

Richard’s work: concentrates on the manipulation of paper to create  sculptures in their own right. He combines disciplines such as 3D design, drawing, and craft. Whilst he uses computer aided design too, he still maintains a hand on approach and maximises the properties of paper. 

 

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Display at the Victor Felix Gallery

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Shell

 

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Animal sculpture

It was then up to us to experiment with basic techniques. We started with different types of pleats: diamond pleats and fan pleats

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paper folded as a fan

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Different angle from the same sculpture

Paper folded at 45 degree angle to create a change of direction of folds

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We moved on to scoring the paper with a biro or the xacto blade itself and combine with with the folds described above:

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Paper folded at 45 *angle

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side view

Finally, we cut triangle modules that can be combined with the pleats to make more complex structures

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….. such as Richard’s magnificent work.  (If only!)

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It was a wonderful experience.  I was not aware that such intricate and gigantic sculptures could be achieved with paper and paper only.

The quality of the paper is key. To assemble Richard uses watercolour paper that he sprays and pegs together until it is dry.

Many hours of diligent practice would be necessary to achieve only the smallest of their work. Maybe knowledge in physics and aerodynamics? Who knows?

Anyhow, for the final project, I plan to incorporate some of the cut outs for a mini book and possibly explore the possibilities of pop ups.

 




 

 


Final Project: Bookbinding

An invitation by Catharine Slade Brooking enabled me to attend a bookbinding workshop with Chris Bradbury.  I feel very lucky to have discovered something new and so exciting.

Here’s a brief summary of some of the steps for the stitched and hard cover binding:

30 A4 pages folded in half

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stitching 7 signatures:

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The cover is added with glue by including two end papers and allowing movement in the spine:

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Laser cutting pages to make the edge regular and neat:

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Book with fabric cover – A5 format

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I was very pleased with the outcome but I wish I had thought of varying the colours.  There are so many ways of binding a book that I would definitely like to experiment further. It may not happen before the completion of the final project though but it is definitely a new skill I will build on.


Final Project – Research Continued

I ‘ve wanted to get to the final project for so long that I find myself intimidated by the task at hand now. I feel more research is necessary before indulging into the creation of my picture book. Having looked at Maurice Sendak’s masterpiece more closely made me realise even more that planning is crucial for a successful outcome. I therefore decided to analyse the work of other successful and more contemporary author/illustrators whose work resonates for various reasons.

It is one thing liking a book and remembering it long after you’ve read it. It is another to understand why this is the case. In some ways, the analysis takes the magic out of the subconscious experience. I guess it is the same process whenever you are trying to create: artists look at old masters, film producers analyse  classic movies, writers analyse books…

First of all, I am invariably coming back to Oliver Jeffers whose style appeals to me for its simplicity and its depth. For the purpose of this blog, I will first of all focus on Lost and Found.

Lost and found front and back

I like the way the back and front cover form a single image

Of particular interest is the use of space – more specifically the negative space that informs the reader on the character’s emotions although the boy’s face itself is devoid of expression. The positioning of a strong horizon line in his landscapes is equally important as the vignettes floating on a white page to give us a breather.  The reasons why it works are twofold: the variety between the settings and layout from page to page and the focus on the main character makes us care for his plea more and more – the boy has to succeed in making the penguin happy / once he realised he didn’t do the right thing, he has to find the penguin no matter what!

  Film effect: the camera is zooming on the boy as we are sharing his doubt about his decision

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Double spread on white background
The character is the focus.

The interaction between the boy and the penguin is kept to a trip to the South pole with a boy telling stories and the penguin listening quietly, followed by an accolade as they part and go their separate way. This adventure is on two colourful double spreads —  as if it is just the two of them in the world – mimicking the centrality of a child in the world. Jeffers makes us look at the world through the boy’s eyes. What else matters? Nothing. But even though not much happens and not much is said (well nothing by the penguin actually), many emotions are shared by the two characters and conveyed to the audience: sadness, doing your best to make a friend happy and loneliness that follows the loss of a friend.

A double spread for a stormy adventure:

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Double spread – Landscape only
Scale of characters and landscape speaks for itself

Simultaneously, the simplicity of the cartoon looking drawings, almost childlike, makes it accessible to a child himself. The boy is a blob with a featureless face and a very prominent nose. His legs are two sticks and footless. The penguin and the boys are lost in a gigantic landscape painted with soft watercolours and a limited palette of blues and green. The scale of their cold surrounding makes their loneliness and fragility believable and makes us care for them. The ‘boys books’ as Jeffers refers to them, namely  How to catch a star, Lost and Found, Up and Down, The way back home, have been a very successful series turned into pop up books, apps or short animations proving that if you respect your audience and that you do not dumb down, everything is possible. Jeffers also agrees that ‘children are smarter than we give them credit for’ and ‘I totally avoid forced content, thinly veiled morals, anything preachy or funny for the sake of it.’ (Brazell, 2011:118)

While it deals with sadness or loneliness at times, the illustrations are full of little and hilarious details that lift the whole story like a mother’s hug. The stories are uplifting and make everything possible. This is why Jeffers’ books are so popular.

Like a pantomime:

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A child will see the arrow on the illustration
This distracts from the tension.

The more unbelievable, the better:

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Double spread from Stuck

Jeffers constantly changes and innovates. For instance, he is passionate about the relationship between text and image and has a background in graphic design and visual communication. He plays and experiments with typography and treats it as illustration itself. He seems to  find routes that connect words and pictures going through one medium to another. A talented artist will create a synergy. In Jeffers The Great Paper Caper, an environmental whodunit, the credit on the opening page is designed as a tree. The text emulates the type of an old typewriter used by detectives to type their report.   Jeffers is totally aware of  how just a few words and the choice of the typeface can totally change the meaning of a picture.

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Credit page for The Great Paper Caper

In the Incredible book eating boy, Henry’s story is wittily told visually and textually. He devours books (the right hand side corner of the back cover has been nibbled too) and acquires knowledge but invariably gets very sick and has to read books instead. The artwork combines collage with drawings onto pages from ancient fly-blown books. The paint used is acrylics and Dulux homepaint. The background is made of lined, square and graph paper as settings for classroom.

Overall, Jeffers can easily be identified as contemporary conceptual artists. His style cannot be classified because he uses a wide range of media and succeeds to convey a remarkable breadth of emotions with very few details and lots of white space in a more linear narrative.

Jeffers has contributed to enhance children’s reading experience and exploration of the world with a unique and innovative approach.

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The Incredible Book Eating Boy


Zine: Dialogue

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According to the dictionary, a zine is an inexpensively produced, self-published, underground publication. This is the first project and the theme is Dialogue.

I called my zine Between Us as I chose to write about my twin sister Fabienne.  I am close to her and I thought it would be easy to interview her and develop a zine.  How wrong could I be? The more you know somebody, the more difficult it is to remain objective and not put words into their mouth. I had to stop myself from using my former skills as a journalist and from being too directive. I therefore ended up with a plethora of resources to go through and narrow down. Not easy.

The way we communicated was not always straight forward. Apart from  face to face, we emailed and called each other. She sent me all the resources I needed.  I wanted the zine to communicate the different means of communication and the fact that through emails I got more out of her than I did face to face when we just chatted about this and that sipping wine. I pixellated a few images to reflect this. I think because she loves words and writing, typing away made it easier. She had time to reflect and give me a true but never glorified version.

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I used charcoal and acrylics,  Photoshop, collage and monoprinting.  I love mixed media as it enables to express various things in the medium that is most suitable for it.  I also love exploring and learning all the time. I found monoprinting fun but messy and I ended up using just one image out of the exploration.  Not a great result.  But I loved it even so.

The practitioners that inspired me for the zine are Barbara Kruger for the strong and don’t-argue-with-me message.  I used it when Fabienne talked about individuality and how important it is to remain to true to yourself.

What we discussed is the emphasis she puts on individuality and the need to be yourself even if you don’t fit

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I also chose to carry on with the black and red colour theme throughout the zine.  Kruger uses primarily two fonts Futura and Helvetica. For the zine, I experimented with many but also decided to limit myself to two: Futura and Handwriting Dakota but using the lightbox to give it a more handmade look.

As I said words and speaking well are essential to her.  She took part to amateur acting and I used all the part of the interview to express it in her own words. She is a shy and reserved person never speaking out of turn and never offensive. Acting was a way of combatting this trait and to also discover a brand new world without masks. She was very successful at it. Here I used my own imagery and also looked into Lichtentein’s for a Wow or a Pow factor! The quotes on the page are the ones she chose and they are in english and french to highlight bilingualism. The words in red on the right hand page are her key words.

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The following page is my favourite. It is a contrast to the others.  It is almost bare. I liked the art of Jean Cocteau, Guillaume Apollinaire and Sara Fanelli and succeeded in amalgamating them to say something simple with a one liner slogan.

The image is printed on acetate. When you turn it to the other page, the text that forms the hair and face cannot be read and I feel it gives a mysterious feel to the person.  Fabienne can be secretive and I think this page is the best summary.  I loved playing with the font that decreases and slows down through the double spread.

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Finally the end double spread says life is a journey in four different languages that Fabienne speaks. The imagery suggests it is ongoing and invites to go along with it.

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