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: Picture book and child development theories

Fairy tales sand classics are layered with meanings and symbolism not just make believe and magic tales. Picture books are too but this is not as readily recognised. The stories can in the same way be used to analyse child development from a scientific and philosophical point of view.

The swiss psychologist Jean Piaget developped a model of cognitive theory of development. It has been modified since but it is still widely used today. Basically child development is divided in three stages. In the first one between 0 and 2 years, children are egocentric and can only recognise what they are discovering through all their senses. In terms of literature, board books and novelty books are best tailored to enhance their experience. The second stage between 2 and 7 years of age is what Piaget referred to as the pre operational stage whereby a child only begins to develop logic and a basic understanding of the physical world. Abstract concepts are not understood very well yet but basic concepts such as colours,shapes,sizes, texture…are within reach so much so that it is the best time for picture book to further develop their worldwide knowledge. During the third stage between 7 and 11, children have developed rudimentary logic and can problem solve. They understand abstract thoughts such as time and space. There is where fiction in the form of chapter books and in Europe and USA illustrated storybooks are totally appropriate. I would argue that sophisticated picture books would be ideal to but often they are frowned upon by parents and teachers as going backward. This would be another debate.The final stage is for 11+ onwards where Young adult fiction is great.

Lawrence Kohlberg an American psychologist, also developed a theory on moral development and identified 3 levels with two stages each. the first level from 0 to 7 years is the preconventioal level. Children cannot measure the consequences of their actions the first stage is the assimilation to bad behaviour and punishment and the second is positive reinforcement. The second level occurs between 7 and 11 where the child develops a better idea of the world around him and the values of living in a community. In the first stage, the child wants to conform as he does not want to disappoint. In the second, he conforms not to be disruptive. Int the final level, the post conventional level (11-15 years) a child understands the idea of exchange and morality and in the second stage he can debate and accept the views of others.

ERik Erikson, a German born American developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst identified five stages of psychosocial development. The first one(0-18 months) where the child has unconditional trust for a carer. Books themes are reassurance and unconditional love. The since sate (18months-3years) is when the child starts becoming more independent and explore the world, overcoming self doubt and fear. The children’s market provides a plethora of imaginative stories for this age group. the thirds stage is when a child aged 3 to 6 years develops an understanding of conflict and learn to deal with their emotions. the fourth stage (7-11 years) sees the child learning to cope with failure for the first time as he understands the concept. The final stage is identity and its crisis when the child becomes an adolescent.

 

Understanding theories can help an author/illustrator shape their stories to meet the need of their audience. Often, it will be spontaneous especially if as in my case you are a parent or have been teaching children.

Reflecting on my work for the final project, this is the way my book could be analysed according to the 3 models highlighted above:

My target audience is 3-6 years.

Piaget: Max and Misty will be accepted as talking animals. A child will believe they sing and cook together. And will be eager to follow their adventure.

ERikson: We are in the second stage. Max and Misty exercise their autonomy and explore the world. We are also in the 3rd stage where they both establish their responsibility and are willing to resolve their conflict.

Kohlberg: were are in the 1st stage level 2 where Max and Misty can reflect on their actions and say sorry to one another.

 

Picture books’ resolutions ALWASY empowers the protagonist (in my case the two protagonists) which in turn empowers the child himself. I have only scratched the surface of child development and will read more about the implications in children literature in the future. I would also need to analyse how more recent theories take into account the fact that children are bombarded with visual imagery from a younger age and how their development is affected. It must be. In my experience, I find children seem more advanced than ever before. They have the vocabulary and the visual knowledge. But what do they really understand and how do they process the plethora of information. Do we allow children to remain children for as long as we should?


Final Project: Book Layout and Typeface

Now that the story has been written and the final artwork has been completed, I have the task to scan everything and find out whether all the careful planning is coming to fruition. For this I am using inDesign….for the very first time!

The objective will be twofold: to place the artwork in 5 signatures and type the text with the type font I selected as well as making the most use of what inDesign has to offer to make my text curve, climb, skip …just as my characters are doing. From inception I very much wanted to treat the text as illustration in the same manner as Sara Fanelli or Lauren Child. Art and text are there to complement each other in meaning but also aesthetically.

I also intended on the text mirroring the mood and emotions through scale and spacing. If I had kept to Microsoft Word, I would have had to make do with fewer possibilities and this is why despite the tight deadline, I have endeavoured to tackle a new software. Again, I apply the same process as for the whole book where less is more. I was careful not to overdo it so that the meaning does not get lost in the multitudes of effects. For most part, the text remained straight and sat above or below an image. The text curled and swirled only when necessary: a change of pace, a turning point in the story.

I also made the decision to have two fonts: one for each character since both stories are read from each point of view. It is not distracting but it adds another layer and I hope that the font will further illustrate each character’s personality: Max is more bouncy and Misty is calmer.  Another crucial decision was to leave the font black. I had thought f colour coding it as Max’s things are blue and Misty’s are red but after careful consideration, I thought it would have been overkill and would have defeated the object. Instead, I colour coded the tile and created Max’ name in bones and Misty’s in fishbones. It took a few attempts to get the right size and the spacing regular. And even when I thought that I had achieved this in the lightbox, I hadn’t completely once I had painted over with blue and red watercolour paint. I therefore had to clean the blemishes in Photoshop.  I had a basic knowledge of the latter software but now I have leant a whole new set of tools. For example, the clone stamp has proved particularly useful for importing an image over a background whereas the rubber even the soft rubber left some soft edges. I intend to carry on learning more techniques on Photoshop and inDesign before tackling Illustrator once the course is over.

Overall I am pleased with the result and my learning curve but it is far from perfect. But with more time, it would have become easier and quicker to move from tool to tool proficiently and to gauge effectively what worked or not instead of having to print even spread to check it out. I intend to carry on working on the book to improve it further.

 

 


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


Theorizing Picture Books

 Art is introduced to children through picture books, which use a dual system of pictorial and verbal language.  ‘What is the use of a book without pictures or conversation?’ asked Alice in Wonderland. In the increasingly visual world we live in, a book has to do more than sticking to traditional conventions to compete with television, cinema, animations and computer games.  The paradox of picture books is that they have to remain childlike but are increasingly sophisticated.

‘A picture book is text, illustrations, total design: an item of manufacture and a commercial product, a social cultural historical document and foremost an experience for a child.’ (Salisburys, 2012:75) With illustration seen as ‘an original and exciting medium of self expression,’  (Selby, 2003:10) there is an increasing trend for illustrators to also write their own text.  ‘Making a picture book is often a matter of finding solutions to the design problems presented by the story.’ (Hunt, 2009:106)

Since the 1960s, picture books have become one of the most exciting and versatile literary forms and have been the object of acclaimed academic studies in Ways of the illustrator by Joseph Schwarcz, in Introduction to picturebooks codes by William Moebius, in Words and Pictures by Perry Nodelman, for whom reading itself is an ‘act of vision.’

Long gone are the days when they were seen as a simple form with a single and unique interpretation and referred to as ‘closed text’ as defined by Umberto Eco, who applied semiotics to literature. It may have been true for stories whose illustrations echoed the text such as Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit and traditional fairy tales. But as Uri Shulevitz points out there is a distinction between storybook where pictures supplement a text that does not need the pictures to be understood and picture books where pictures complement the text to tell the story.

Picture books are the perfect genre in the context of structuralism. They have their own conventions: thirty-two pages, a story arc, a single main character, a denouement that will empower the main character, a limited amount of words, a varied but logical layout and a linear narrative. The pictures must show what the text does not say in a childlike but easy to understand style. For Nodelman, ‘convention determines not just recognition but meaning. (Nodelman, 1988:14)

But some artists have pushed and experimented with rules to give us an enhanced experience ‘Pictures in contemporary picture books are often intricate in detail and sophisticated in style, even when they accompany a simple text, or even single words.’ (Nodelman, 1988:19) Children use their knowledge and their imagination to find meaning in the narrative that enfolds page after page.

Jean Piaget, an influential psychologist, argued that the children’s state of development dictated how children could make sense of the world around them but that with age came better understanding. Others such as Lev Vygotsky have argued that Piaget’s theory neglected the fact that children were capable of abstract thought before the age of ten. Therefore even before they can read, they are able to make sense of ideas in pictures in a very sophisticated way. 

And this is why picture books are an exciting genre that constantly innovates to capture the imagination of its readers.

Bibliography

Salisbury M; Styles, M (2012) Children’s picturebooks the art of visual storytelling. London:Laurence King.

Salisbury, M (2007) Play Pen New children’s book illustration. London: Laurence King.

Brazell D & Davies J (2011) Making great illustrations.  London: A C Black.

Shulevitz, U (1997) Writing with pictures  how to illustrate children’s books. New York: Watson-Guptill


Final Project: Initial Research

To start with, I thought it most appropriate to look at the works of illustrators even though my pathway is Fine Art.  After all, a lot of illustrators have graduated in that subject. And I also think that divisions between disciplines are artificial and most unhelpful at a time when pluralism has become the norm. Can you imagine Picasso saying when I am drawing I am a fine artist but when I male ceramics I am a craftsman? His oeuvre extended far beyond the realm of traditional painting and nobody has ever regretted it to be the case.

I have chosen to concentrate on authors/illustrators, i.e. the artists who both create picture books juxtaposing text and image. First of all, I looked at the master of picture books’ creator Maurice Sendak. Where the wild things are was published in1963. More than 50 years later, it is still considered a masterpiece and so for many reasons. Before looking at the artwork in detail, I was most fascinated by the way the story was told. We know the protagonist, Max, problem through the images and not really through the text. He is basically very naughty, staring on books, chasing the dog with a fork… We go into Max’s imagination through the images again which is when the plot is further developed. The images do most of the work throughout the story and I will not spoil it by giving all the details. Another striking element of the book is the layout.  Sendak increases the size of the illustration as Max’ imagination goes wilder and wilder and reduces them when the story takes place in Max’s daily life. The last spread is text only. The juxtaposition of text and image makes the whole story coherent and one without the other would lose its strength.  I personally want to explore the interaction in my own work.

Creating a picture book is problematic at best. It has to look simple as it is destined for a children’s audience but it also has to appeal to the adult who will read and share the experience of the child.  The ‘most simple looking’ books are in my view those which have taken more time to create. The artist has thought as much about the story as the composition and the layout of every spread. I will also add that the fewer words there are, the more thinking has gone at the conceptual stage to make the synergy between text and image work

Anybody can say little with a lot of words and lots of art but to say a lot with a limited amount of words and a limited amount of illustrations requires practice and in the case of Sendak’s an incomparable talent.

Where the wild things are is as exciting now than when first published. It was innovative for the time because of the way the story was told and the illustration taking over the narrative and the layout mimicking the action/ the adventure. Those who want to succeed in the genre always refer to it as a benchmark.

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The images of Max in his room grows steadily page after page 

 

in sync with the forest that grows in his imagination

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and the addition of the wild beasts photo 4

 

 

 

Then the images gradually disappear totally to leave the text tell the ending of the story.

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the end


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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