Month: January 2014

Artist Inspiration – Shaun Tan

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I have been a fan of Shaun Tan’s work for quite a while now, I have most of his books and have written a few essays on him. His work is very different to Emily Gravetts work as he uses a different technique of drawing and portraying a story. Shaun Tan is an Australian illustrator and author who creates science fiction picture books which are recognised all over the planet. He has won an Oscar for The Lost Thing which was a book that turned into a 15 minute animated film.

Distant view
From Tans book The Arrival, (2007) Pencil on Paper

A large landscape that seems to be full of weird and wonderful buildings. A page from The Arrival (2007) where a father is forced to leave his family to look for a better place to call home, it follows the story of the migrant through his troubles and adventures. A very long picture book that took 4 years to create. Tan doesn’t aim at a specific audience on purpose as he thinks that picture books can be enjoyed by adults or teenagers as well as children; see this article called Picture Books: Who are they for? for further reading on his views and thoughts:

I love this scene as it reminds me of the text I’m currently creating images for; The Library of Babel. The vast area of land which is covered with building after building, no clear land space and is crowded with people. I took this image for inspiration for my previous sketches as I wanted the viewer to be enticed to look into the image more and see more. There is a lot of detail in this image and it has all been done by pencil, so even though it’s not collage I have taken the factors that make this image work and will apply it to mine.

  • Perspective – large building at the front, small buildings in the distance
  • Curved road leading the eye into the centre of the image
  • All one colours – just different tones of the same colour
  • Larger building filling space but has fine detail
  • Fun shapes and vehicles – allows the imagination to flow
  • Different density of pencil lines e.g. clouds look think and fluffy compared to the hard solid buildings

All these pointers and more I will try and apply to my work, I doubt it will look as detailed as Tans work but I’ll have a go!

From the book The Lost Thing, (2013) Acrylic, Oils and Collage

Another image from Tan’s book The Lost Thing 2013, A very different style compared to the previous image. More colour in the scene, red being the dominant colour that leads the eye into the scene. I love the staging of the illustration with the pipes and cogs in the foreground, the main characters and sunlight in the middle ground and the mysterious dark room in the background. The light focuses your eye on to the characters and the leaning of the things makes the scene more interesting as they don’t know whats in the room and it makes me want to know whats in the room ahead. I tend to try and have a background, foreground etc because it allows the viewers eyes to look in depth to the image. I like it how you are looking above down onto the characters it makes it secretive I think.

From the book Tales from Outer Suburbia (2009) Graphite Pencil on Paper

This image is from the book Tales from Outer Suburbia (2009) specifically the story Wake. A story about a man who beat his dog to death but his house became on fire, he saved his appliances by putting them outside where all the dogs sat on them snarling at him if he got close. The house burnt down and as the man was trying to get a weapon to beat the dogs they all disappeared back home once they urinated on each appliance.

The story is quite dark but the image is fun and intriguing because they are looking at a house burning down but I want to know what this house looks like? what does the man look like? All in shades of grey there looks like there is a mass of light in front of them and it is funny how they are all sitting on random bits of furniture from a house. The angle the scene is placed is clever as it doesn’t give a lot of clues if the text wasn’t there, this is what John Berger hints on about an image has a different meaning when zoomed in or with text.

Tans work has a lot of imagination and produces illustrations that allow the viewer to make their own story and ideas. I will look at more work produced by him which will help me to think of quirky ideas for the Library of Babel text. This includes looking at angles, point of views, colours, scale and many more. To find out more about Shaun Tan check out his site:


Ellis., E, 2011, Shaun Tan [internet]. Available from:, [Accessed 30 January 2014, 2.02pm].

Artist Inspiration – Emily Gravett

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My two inspiration artists are Emily Gravett and Shaun Tan. I am very much into children’s illustration and I would love to publish my own book some day but first I have to study and work hard to become a master of my skill.

Emily Gravett

Emily Gravett is a children’s illustrator and has created books such as Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears and The Odd Egg. She studied BA Illustration at Brighton University and she has won many awards including Macmillan Prize for Wolves. I love her work because I think it’s original but has a modern feeling to it.

Little Mouse
From the book Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears by Emily Gravett (2007) Watercolours and Electronic Collage

Using unusual techniques such as putting yoghurt on the pages and her daughters pet rats would chomp on the paper creating a realistic nibbled paper. The pages look old, ripped and stained which gives it an authentic look to it. I always feel like my images have to be produced on crisp white paper so I might experiment more with the actual paper I’m using as well as the materials I put on there. Although she mainly uses watercolours and her self taught computer skills to create the final pieces of work. The main reasons why I like her work are the amazing perspectives and the creativity/imagination she has given to the main character and scenario they are in. For example the image above is the mouse falling down the sink plug hole, instead of going for the obvious scene she has incorporated photo snapshots of the event happening allowing your eye to follow the swirling of the water.

Little Mouse
Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears by Emily Gravett (2007) Electronic Collage

Again she has used different materials to illustrate the fear and scariness these characters are experiencing. I use digital collage to create my images but Emily scans in real materials to show the texture and item that is feared by the mouse. The colours are quite neutral, browns, blues and red throughout which could be classed as not colourful enough for a child to enjoy it but I totally disagree as they would appreciate the characters and drawings more. It made me think bright colours doesn’t work for every illustration and can actually harm the image.  I think the mixture of the owl being created using pencil and the feathers being real adds depth to the page and adds another dimension to it. The little latin names of the fears displayed on the page adds an educational value to the books, the viewer will learn as well as go on an adventure with the mouse.

From looking at Emily’s work I will definitely consider looking into creating work that has unusual perspectives but add extras that could enhance the image like the mini photos Emily has added. I will also look into using other materials rather than scanning in bits of cloths all the time.

To explore more of Emily Gravett’s work visit her site at:


2008, Emily Gravett, children’s illustrator [internet]. Available from:, [Accessed 29 January 2014, 2.30pm].

Mini Crit

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I showed my work to the lecturers and they seemed neither impressed or disappointed. However, when looking at other students work and styles I found that everyone had a different way of getting inspirational ideas. Some went straight into creating images that were detailed and nearly finished but some students reacted to the text by creating colours which I thought was different. Ways of working;

  • Creating a final piece
  • Sketches (which I did)
  • Creating a storyboard (which I did)
  • Using just colour
  • Researching deeply into the text
  • Researching into the author
  • Drawing shapes and illusions
  • Drawing characters
  • Thinking outside the text
  • Creating scenarios
  • Using text to express the feeling

All very different and I found it a helpful insight of how other people work. It made me realise that I don’t always have to go straight into thumbnail sketches. I can either research into the text a little more or even just start with the very basics of how does the text make me feel and use other media to express that e.g colour, sound, shape. I am still going to continue with my sketches and experiment with a couple of certain images but I will definitely consider other approaches when tackling a brief in the future.


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Ideology, quite a fancy word but is actually quite simple to understand. So what is ideology?

  • A collection of ideas defining a group
  • Socio-political tool – propaganda
  • Power – a minority controlling the masses, which is classed as a hierarchy
  • seduction

Another couple of fancy words;

Enculturation – happens consciously and subconsciously.

Bricolage – the making do or piecing together with what you have

A few theorists and a little description that may come handy in the future when I write my dissertation or even creating images for Babel.

Pierre Bourdieu

He created the word “Habitus” meaning what you wear or how you speak puts you in a ideological place.

John Berger

He wrote The Ways of Seeing which is actually an interesting book. Advertising is a form of art where it makes people want what they haven’t got whereas fine art showed what people already had – to show off their wealth and success.

Karl Marx

He supported the working class and explained the social change which is influenced by economics; basically money runs the hierarchy.

Marita Sturken and Lisa Cartwright

They wrote the book Viewers make Meaning. Images make images through complex social relationships, influenced by culture and class. Taste is associated with well bread people for example low culture has comic strips and soaps.

A few more theorists that I will look into at a later date; Angela McRobbie and Antonio Gramsci. For further reading check this link out;

More Sketches

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Here are a couple more sketches that I have created for The Library of Babel;

Across the valley
Across the valley

A thumbnail sketch of what I think the hexagon libraries would look like, I didn’t want a central building where it all stands. I wanted to create the vastness of the hexagon buildings which is spread across a large area of land; the library is taking over the landscape. I haven’t settled on one image I have created many other images that are similar but have a different layout. The stairs where inspired by ‘a spiral staircase, which winds upward and downward into the remote distance’ ( Jorge Luis Borges, 1944).

DNA Double Helix

Thinking about the nature of the text I used a DNA double helix to form the shape of the stairs as I thought this would link into life and it’s a pleasing shape to look at.

Down the stairs
Down the stairs

Down the stairs is taking a first person perspective and taking the viewer on a journey. A very rough sketch and again I have drawn other perspectives to see which one works best. Looking back at the Seven Principles for Visual Culture Education by Paul Duncun I considered using the perspective of the scene to show power; tall buildings that tower over people and the land suggest that it has dominance over the land. In some sense it could be seducting the viewer to go and explore this weird land of odd buildings. I will have to explore this further by using colour and texture to make the scene enticing to look at.

I have noticed that I tend to try and make a story behind the main text, I think this allows me to create images more easily as I have a tale to follow. I can then lead one image onto another and this allows me to use my imagination more because I am creating in some sense a mini film in my head. Using a “camera” allows me to see different and interesting angles that would hopefully capture the viewers attention.

After I have created even more sketches and designs for this text I think I am going to create some into rough final pieces, this will help me go further in visualising the text and allow me to explore my imagination.

Image of the DNA Double Helix:

DNA, Genes and Chromosomes [internet]. Available from:, [Accessed 30 January 2014, 11.55am].

Masters in Illustration and The Seven Principles for Visual Culture Education

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What is the Masters in Illustration?

  • A deeper understanding of the history and theories of the course
  • Personal development and style – experimentation
  • Finding your own voice
  • Independency
  • Theoretical research
  • Reflective approach – self critical
  • Originality
  • Challenging ideas – prejudices- assumptions -depth

These are some of the points that I will have to incorporate into my learning when studying for the masters. I already feel that I am slowly finding my own voice and I am self critical of my work however, I still think there is a lot to work at which I will show throughout this blog.

In a lecture we had to read a text called Seven Principles for Visual Culture Education  written by Paul Duncun who is a Professor of Art Education at the School of Art and Design, University of Illinois. After the lecture I tried to summarise each section in a few pointers. The seven principles being;


  • Viewers can interpret power in different ways e.g. a man looking down at a person suggests power – a man looking up at a person suggests weakness
  • Images can be powerful as they can persuade/influence or oppose the opinion of the viewer – the creator has a certain amount of control of how the viewer should feel towards the image

When creating an image I must think of how the character for example, is portrayed to the viewer so I can get the viewer to empathise or oppose against the character. This will make my drawing more efficient and will communicate to the viewer easier. For example, I created this illustration for last years project; a mouse who has to face monsters. This shows the vegetables and hands are larger than the mouse so this creates the sense that the mouse is being threatened and the vegetables have the power.

Vegetable Monsters
Vegetable Monsters created by Emily 2012


  • It’s like a recipe on how to live your life e.g. aims, how you should look, think, depending on culture, politics etc.
  • Images can convince you on how you think you should feel towards a subject- this can be done consciously and subconsciously


  • This can be how ideology and power is represented through imagery
  • What does the image represent as well as what is missing from the image
  • Is it targeted at a specific audience or is it influencing your thoughts on a specific audience

I must be clear on hat I am representing as if I get this wrong the viewer could have a negative reaction towards my image and get the wrong message.


  • What is the image portraying- capturing the audiences attention, luring them into read more
  • Feeding off peoples insecurities – latching onto their feelings which again either repulse or fascinate the viewers eye


  • Holding the gaze of the viewer is hard to hold
  • Depending where the image is placed it can either be in your face or not seen at all
  • The viewer will always have an emotional response to the image whether its positive r negative it depends on our predisposition (2010) meaning how we look at an image depends what our cultural, environmental background is

My work is very much influenced by my personality and how I grew up,for example I like colour and a sense of calmness in my images. Although this changes depending what the brief is and what I want to portray.


  • An image is influenced by outside media including tv, music etc
  • The artist is also influenced by outside media


  • An image can having a different meaning when put with text
  • Text is a heavy influence when the reader is forming an emotional response towards the image
  • Outside senses effects the viewers response as well e.g. sound, smell, feeling etc

Linking to intertextuality and multimodality I am heavily influenced by what mood I’m in and what music I am listening to. When listening to chilled out music I tend to use subtle colours that work together, when listening to more up beat music I use colours that are bold and bright. I will have to weirdly consider what music I should listen to when creating future pieces.

Creating Sketches

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For the following two weeks I have to create a visual response roughly once a day (at least 15) but I found that I have days where I would work and produce lots of images and days where I couldn’t think of any. Here are a few initial sketches that I drew after I read the text for the second time;

My first initial response to the text.
My first initial response to the text – blue biro
Rough Ideas – black biro

In the second image where the heads are I was thinking; what if the library was in someones head and not an actual building. Hexagons making up the side profile of a man with the books within each shape. After the head I focused on a little on the ‘spherical fruits’, but I felt that I wasn’t getting anywhere with this. I have only created a few sketches so far, I find it easier to get my ideas down on paper in thumbnail form rather than focusing on one idea and creating the finished piece. So I am going to create more ideas…

Task: The Library of Babel

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I am starting my Masters in Illustration and I have been sifting through the brief which is terrifying me! I have been given the text ‘The Library of Babel’ by Jorge Luis Borges 1944, which at first sounds interesting. The following link leads to the text:

When I started reading it I became lost in a world of text and I had to read it quite a few times to grasp the concept.

Basically from what I can gather, there is a library that is endless and has all the books, music etc in large hexagonal buildings which are forever expanding. Librarians have been looking for a book that explained the meaning of life but they never found it and went mad. There wasn’t just one book that explained the meaning of life as everyone is different. Each book is an attempt to explain the meaning of life but as the meaning of life/universe is different to everyone – no two books mean the same as different books mean different things. I hope that makes sense!

The text has some specific detailed scenes of the layout of the complex but it is very much up for interpretation. My idea might be totally be different to my friend, this is good as no one will have the same ideas as no one is wrong. Before I dive into drawings I think I’m going to research into others peoples take on this text and see what they think of it. Good Reads has a discussion based on this texts and shows many interpretations which questioned my own thoughts about it.—week-seven—borges—the-library-of-babel

For example, from this text I thought that we would keep making new books that would inspire the current generation however when I read this,

‘And what if the library already existed? Does it change the writing of a book, knowing that whatever book you’re writing, it already exists? All books are unoriginal before they are even created by intent.’ posted by Whitney (2013).

It made me think that if the book you are writing has been already written in some form, is there nothing we can write that is new?

First Blog!

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I have never used this system so I might be a little slow! Hopefully it will all work out in the end.

In this blog I will be talking about the illustration process I will go through when given different tasks and projects. This will help me to establish how I work and what strengths and weaknesses I have when it comes to my illustration. Let the blogging begin…


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My name is Emily and I am currently studying a Masters in Illustration. For part of the course I have to write a blog which is new territory for me, I will be showing my progress throughout and post some of my work up which I hope you’ll like!

Let the journey begin …


Day Brief - living the dream
The final image for a brief called- Living the Dream