The prompt we were given was to illustrate, using only solid black squares, a handful of movement-based word pairs as well as one illustration that could trick the eyes to see two different figure-ground images. The word pairs we were given were “fluid&rigid, graceful&clumsy, and rhythmic&erratic.” These pairs had obvious similarities (for example graceful and fluid inspire very similar images of dancing water, while clumsy and erratic are both equally related to randomness), so one of the main focuses of the project was how to specifically communicate one word pair, while avoiding communicating the others. As I entered into the project, I was trying to successfully communicate each word pair by ensuring it was incomparable to the other two pairs and inspiring feelings that often come hand in hand with the words themselves.
When I started sketching, I wanted to make sure my idea of each word was in line with its conventional definition. So I started by defining each word on different online dictionaries and parsing down my list to a few key words. Then I tried to connect each word to some feeling or moment in people’s life or type of person to get me to start thinking in terms of emotions. For rigid, I found a blog wherein someone lamented their “rigid” personality and explained what it was like living with it. This inspired images in my sketches of one square being “trapped” or “only having one place to go” as well as sketches inspired by the rigidity of militarism. As for fluid, I found more inspiring images of fluidity than journal entries, so I tried to recreate those in my sketchbook to start feeling in my hands what it felt like to “flow easily.”
As for graceful and clumsy, I had trouble not viewing this word pair from a person-oriented perspective, so I similarly embraced that concept of what it feels like when someone calls you “clumsy” or “graceful”. I started off again with defining each word. Then I even watched Fergie’s “Clumsy” and tried to analyze what in her song conveyed the clumsiness she felt while flirting. But the concept that most influenced my sketches for clumsy was how my brothers often tease my mom for being clumsy because she has had a lot of grocery-store mishaps. She obviously does not like being called clumsy even though she jokes around with them and I wanted to try to come to the root of why someone wouldn’t like to be called clumsy. Clumsy, to me, inspires images of tripping and being generally out of place. In a lot of my sketches you can see my desire to build up the viewer’s expectation of how the piece will look and then subverting that. As for my graceful sketches, I was heavily inspired by ballerinas who fight against the potential awkwardness of their human bodies and make it look beautiful. In my sketches, I attempted to fight against the potential awkwardness of the shape of the square and allow it to successfully glide in curves.
In my rhythmic sketches, I knew I wanted to focus on patterns that were varied but obviously repeating. I pulled a lot from music and sinusoidal waves that I work with in my music signals class. I initially had a lot of trouble with how to communicate erratic. My sketches for this word were some of my least favorite, as I was having trouble communicating how one square could be erratic as I had earlier done for clumsy/graceful/etc. Every time I tried to show one square as being “uneven” or “unpredictable” it looked too clumsy.
Once I brought the sketches in to our first critique, it was interesting to see which of my sketches were slightly different than my peers and which were so different they no longer communicated the word at hand. I was especially happy about my rhythmic and clumsy sketches and their reception, so I decided to go forward with those for our first digital compositions.
I started by putting my three favorite clumsy sketches in digital form. I realized the one with the big square that almost covered the page didn’t have the same look I expected when I put it in Illustrator. Instead of looking like a big square that was covering most of the page, I just wasn’t sure what I was looking at. That confusion was not the goal. I tried a few iterations of the two other clumsy sketches, and I found that if I moved one square slightly instead of making in larger (in the sketch with the four squares that almost make a cross) it was what I was trying to convey all along. Since the western eye travels left to right and bottom to top, it sees all three squares that are in the perfect position before seeing the bottom right square that is out of place. After comparing it with my first draft, the rotation was a much better than scale at conveying “out of place”.
As for graceful, I came up with several different ideas as I didn’t feel great about any from my journal. I played around with the square looping and going farther back but had trouble making it feel like the square was making a graceful ice-skater-esque loop. Then I played around with other concepts that hint at grace, such as wealth (pearl necklaces) and water rippling.
When I went to tackle rhythmic, I really liked my idea for the intense circle of squares, then I tried to make it ripple out like a sound from a speaker. I also played around with my sinusoidal repeating waves patterns.
As for erratic, I was at a loss until I tried experimenting with color. I love late 80s/early 90s patterns so I started playing around with the idea of repeating a pattern that seemed random but was also a pattern. This felt erratic to me instead of clumsy because it still looked pleasing and didn’t seem accidental, but you couldn’t figure out how it was made or how the objects were created. Using color to make a very specific object (the black square with the purple shadow) helped me find a way to convey it was sort of a pattern even if the objects themselves were put in random places. I tried communicating this feeling with only black and white and it took a few iterations patterned randomness to find the one I liked.
As for figure ground, I was able to make a shape that felt like it could be viewed as a string of beads or the outline of a landscape image. I also tried an image that looked like a figure-8 or four squares. Thankfully in my critique, I was warned that it was difficult to find two separate images in my first image and difficult to see the 8 in my second image so I tried a new train of thought.
During the critique, I got really interesting feedback that helped me refine my target. For example, the positive feedback I received on the patterned squares vs the circle-making squares in the rhythmic section helped me focus on that piece and go deeper. After class I experimented with making the squares smaller to repeat the pattern more times as well as centering it on the page so it had more rhythm. I also came up with the idea to use color to further demonstrate the idea of a repeating pattern.
I also found a lot of guidance on the feedback I received from my graceful attempts. My favorite was the one that looked like the line of a necklace with pearls, but people really liked the way the attempted-loop piece drew their eye from the front of the piece to the back, as if it was really moving. This convinced me to look deeper at that concept and find how to make it look like it was moving in one continuous fashion by keeping the corners of each square close to touching.
I also received invaluable feedback about how manipulating scale and rotation may be another way to fully communicate the word erratic. And I implemented this feedback in my piece before printing it for final submission.
Though I articulated how I changed my pieces or my thinking on the word pairs after this critique, the only piece that I restarted my thinking for was the figure/ground. I spent time going through different pieces on the internet and analyzing why different images had such strong figure/ground qualities. I found that the images that made two different recognizable shapes were the most powerful. Then I brainstormed on what recognizable images could be made from squares, and came up with x’s and diamonds, which can be seen in my final f/g design.
In the final critique, I was surprised by some of the different interpretations given to my pieces. One of the most notable was the comment that my clumsy piece felt less clumsy because the piece wasn’t falling down and succumbing to gravity, but rather falling up. This was an interesting consideration, and though I think I would have kept my piece the way it was due to the fact that it was the diversion of expectation, I wish I would have considered that early in order to maybe find an iteration that utilized both thought processes.
Another interesting comment that was made was on my erratic piece. Somebody explained how the piece felt aggressive, like plates were being thrown at her. Another comment spoke to how large many of the squares were which potentially added to the aggression. Though I think these comments support an erratic mindset, as erratic or unpredictable is often related to fear especially of the unknown, I would have liked to try more iterations of square scale in order to be sure there was no better way to communicate the concept.
Overall, I was satisfied with my ability to convey the word pairs. Though none of my work was necessarily the “top contender” at conveying any image, none of the word pairs were confused for representing other word pairs and the figure/ground was described as successfully conveying the eye-trickery. I think the biggest lesson I learned was to explore the concepts deeper even after I find an iteration I like. Also, I want to make sure I really make use of my feedback time by asking what specifically led people to think or believe certain things while I still have time to explore those concepts.