This is the true story of Marleen, who grew up hiding something we should know exists. She is one of the 1% population that is intersex.

Today is the 17th of May — the international day to raise awareness of LGBT+ rights violations and stimulate interest in LGBT+ rights work worldwide. A good day to share her story because a lot people born as intersex were ‘adjusted’ as baby. Some only find out years later they have been operated on when complications start to occur or in preparation for a trans-operation. …

A Question of Dominance

If we see an image, we immediately try to separate the foreground from the background. This can create an exciting dynamic and make the attention shift from front to back and back. The most famous example of this principle is the image of the two faces, or was it the vase….

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Gerard Lange, Gestalt Vessels (date unknown)

Dutch graphic artist M.C. Escher (1898–1972) was fond of this mind boggling method. He made mathematically-inspired works adding an extra layer of meaning with this visual playfulness.

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M.C. Escher

The Power and Dangers of the Law of Simplicity

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Chris Ware, Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth (2000)

The Law of Simplicity is also known as the Law of Prägnanz. Although ‘Prägnanz’ would be a perfect name for a German scientist real or fictional, it is not (not yet anyway). It is a German term that can be translated as ‘succinctness’ or ‘concisness’. The art of keeping it simple to enhance communication by eliminating redundancy without omitting important information.

Chris Ware uses a wonderfully stylized (yet very precise) way of representing things. An eye becomes a speck, a brow just a delicate line. Facial expressions are accomplished with a bare minimum of information. …

Cutting Edge Editing for some Piece of Mind

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Brecht Evens, Wrong Place (2010) Used with kind permission

This Gestalt principle is often divided into 3 laws: the Law of Closure, the Law of the Filled Gap and the Law of Continuity. They derive from one phenomenon: continuous and closed figures or predictable sequences and patterns are seen as a unit. It helps make sense out of complicated scenes. We know that if something obscures our view what it doesn’t really intersect with what’s behind. People don’t loose a limb if someone stand in front of them en or their eyes if they are coved with shade. …

The Law of Equal Destination or Common Fate

This principle or method is about movement or, of course, suggested movement. We experience objects as a whole when they have the same movement or direction. The most straightforward use of this law in graphic narrative is making someone (or something) stand out in a crowd by having them move in a different way then their surroundings, making it possible to follow him, her or it through a scene.

The movement of your focal point could be in a different direction, different speed or different manner than the background (which is not necessarily ‘in the back’). …

Digging the Right Grave and the Law of Proximity

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Edward Gorey, Ashes in Urn (not dated but somewhere between 1925 and 2000).

Elements that are close to each other are considered a unit. A free standing element is excluded. Something or someone who stands alone stands out.

The situation in Ashes in Urn by Edward Gorey is clear. The mourning ladies and the urn form a whole, the man stands alone. The eye is drawn to him. The rejection he experiences becomes almost palpable.

With the law of proximity ratio is key. If elements are too close to each other, a visual search slows down because it then becomes difficult to distinguish the individual pieces. …

Golden Apples and the Law of Similarity or Equality

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André Franquin, a frame from Die Laughing (1988)

We see things that are similar to each other as a whole; as a collection. André Franquin makes use of this in one of his comics from Zwartkijken (1988) Translated as Die Laughing (US Link); The bottom layer of people forms a whole. They are not just random people; they form ‘the mass’, and as a whole they form a symbol used as stepping stones, not by random people but by a group of people; ‘the happy few’.

What is called the Law of Similarity in the Gestalt theory has a parallel in the visual salience and visual search theory. Visual searches are easier if what is sought (the ‘target object’) looks different from the things that surround it (the ‘distractors’). A detail stands out if it is different from its surroundings. Deviation in colour, contrast, shape, size and ratio or a combination thereof, can cause an element to stand out from the whole and attract attention. …

The Parts Versus the Whole

Director Alexander Mackendric (1913–1993) states: “What a film director really directs is the audiences attention.” That goes for every visual storyteller, of course.

That which distinguishes itself from the rest is the thing that stands out and attracts our attention.

The effect of details stems therefore from their relation to the other elements in the whole. In order to be able to use details properly, it is important to understand how we (people) distinguish main issues from side issues, what stands out, what we focus on and why. The (inborn) characteristics of the visual system, which arise from needs that we have as a human being, play a role in this. …

The word ‘detail’ evokes contradictions. Thé Dutch dictionary De Dikke van Dale gives both ‘onnozelheid’ (futility) and ‘finesse’ as synonymous. The words “Less is more” were put in the mouth of the painter Andrea del Sarto by the poet Robert Browning, while trying to catch the soul and essence of his muse. “God is in the details”, states Gustave Flaubert, on the other hand, bringing Madame Bovary (US Link) to life with his elaborate, exact and detailed descriptions.

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Portrait Ludwig Mies van de Rohe by Gemma Plum, 2018

Two frequently heard statements that seem to be opposed. Strangely enough, though, both were popularized by one and the same person; Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, a Bauhaus designer and architect. And where Walter Murch (editor of among others Apocalypse Now, The Godfather II & III and The English Patient) advises in his book In the Blink of An Eye: A Perspective on Film Editing (US Link) (1995) to do as much as possible with as little as possible so as not to leave the viewer’s imagination unused, the detailing of the Game of Thrones costumes, the most successful series ever, goes far beyond the imagination of most viewers, which undoubtedly contributes to the experience and the unrivalled popularity.
What’s up with that? What is a detail anyway? How does a detail relate to it’s context? What role can details play in graphic narrative? …

In 1998, just before I graduated from the Design Academy, in Eindhoven (the Netherlands), I did my internship with Ben van Os. At the time he was the art director of Peter Greenaway. The films they made together were phenomenal, the stories shocking, the decors overwhelming in their colour and rich in detail. The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989) (US version) is still one of my favourites.

Prospero’s Books (1991) (US version) and The Baby Of Mâcon (1993) (US version) are less known but at least as impressive. …


Gemma Plum

Specialized in graphic communication I combine graphic design, copywriting and illustration. Here you'll find a collection of interests and wonderings…

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