Fairytale Origins

From the beginning of our existence we, as humans, have been storytellers. From images on cave walls, to oral tales, literature, and now in the form of photography  and film. Humans are social animals and we express ourselves through these mediums in order to further our sociability. Just like the form of storytelling has changed over the years, the details of stories have also changed. If you imagine it like a game of Chinese whispers: stories that have been told by word of mouth and are changed slightly from person to person and can end up being a completely abstracted or elaborated version of previous ones.

“There is never a single orthodox version of a myth. As our circumstances change, we need to tell our stories differently in order to bring out their timeless truth.” – Karen Armstrong

The extent to which stories are adapted is incredible look at. For example, you may be surprised to hear some far more gruesome versions of what we know from our childhoods of beloved fairy tales or Disney adaptations. A Little Red Riding Hood who ate her Grandmother and was called a slut by a cat, two horrible step sisters who cut off parts of their feet to fit into a glass slipper and have their eyes pecked our by pigeons, and  a Rumpelstiltskin who decided to rip himself in two after being shown up as a fool!  Whether it be adapted by the famous Charles Perrault or the Grimm Brothers, those individual seeds that were planted as the initial ideas to  demonstrate morals and values have branched out into different directions significantly over time.

Visual Narrative 6


Lectures by Donna Leishman

Karen Armstrong (2004). A short history of myth. London: Canongate. Introductory pages



The Importance of Good Typography

We’ve all heard the saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, and whilst we all try not to, it is human nature to make a quick judgement on the first appearance of something. So when designing a concert poster, book cover, advertisement etc. it is very important that we ensure the first impression of the subject is the best we can make it.
Within communication design, it is imperative that when type is being adopted, it is used in the correct way. Contemporary typography can be divided into two separate groups. The first deals with designs that require an informative and almost sterile style that is often used for advertising, poster design or book covers, where it is very important that the text is legible to communicate the ideas and information. This is created in a precise, and some may say more graphic approach, often using computer software. The other group takes a more lax approach to legibility and is designed to provide an emotive portrayal, often far more illustrative in appearance not necessarily required to be legible.
Good design comes down to good typography. A design can be ruined simply by bad placing, scale or choice of type to what would otherwise be a successful design. These aspects including others such as weight and colour can completely change a message or emphasis on a subject. Below are two simple mock ups that I created of a hypothetical instance where type can completely change a design/image, for better or worse.

Example of Bad Typography

Example of Bad Typography

Example of Good Typography

Example of Good Typography

As you can see above, the first image is an example of terrible placing, colour, scale and choice of type.  To begin with, the title reads “The Big Book of Patrick Hook” rather than “The Big Book of Birds” and the word “Birds” is left to the side by itself. This may seem like a very fundamental mistake to make and I have deliberately exaggerated this in my example but it might surprise you how often this kind of situation occurs in real life design which therefore affects the accuracy of information. In the example of good typography the title and author are separated to ensure a clear division between the two. The placing of the typography also leads the eyes diagonally across the page from the top left to bottom right corners which encourages the audience to take in all aspects of the book cover rather than focussing on just one section. The colours of the first piece are appalling; they completely clash with one another, are too brash and blend in far too much to the background image. When creating designs for an informative purpose, the designer must ensure that all words are legible and furthermore, are read in the manner intended. In the second image I have used a far more subtle dark grey which isn’t as harsh as black, yet is dark enough to stand out within the design. This ensures the book design stays elegant and sophisticated, which therefore will appeal to the appropriate market. Lastly, the typefaces used do not work well together at all in the first image. Contemporary typography often shows us that different styles of type can work very well together on the same page, however there is a skill within this that must be employed. Type must never be thrown onto a page and be expected to look good, it should always be thought through carefully and planned out.


Illustrative Typography

Above is an example of a more illustrative approach to typography. As explained previously, not all words need to be properly understood but instead the focus is on the image as a whole, in the above case, a horse. This kind of typography tends to be far more visually appealing and interesting in composition and is often created this way to cleverly convey a message. In this particular image, some of the words are upside down, and in obscure positions but are done so to create a convincing silhouette of the horse. Through my own research and experience, I have found that creating this more illustrative style of typography can often be far more interesting and rewarding, however depending on the brief/project it is not always appropriate. A good designer will not choose the best design for their boss, nor for the art critics of the world, or for themselves, but instead for the audience that it is ultimately intended for.


Lectures By Donna Leishman

Hellar, D & Talarico, L (2012). Typography Sketchbooks. London: Thames and Hudson. Introduction.

Typeface History at a Glance

Typography : The art or procedure of arranging type or processing data and printing from it. – Oxford Dictionary.

The first modern-day form of typography came to the public by German blacksmith Johannes Gutenberg in the Mid 1400’s with the invention of the first movable type printing press. As this wonderful invention became available within other areas of Europe and further afield, typeface styles began to evolve more than ever. Over the past few centuries, the typographic limelight has hopped from country to country. The majority of important typefaces originated in European Countries with help from America now and again, mainly for use in journalism, education and advertising. Luckily for us, Gutenberg’s invention encouraged a snowball effect in typeface design to allow for a plethora of fonts that are still in use today. Thanks to Max Miedinger of Switzerland, in 1957 we were granted the use of Helvetica, the default font for computers. Stanley Morison of London gifted us with Times Roman in 1932, the first type used in newspapers and Eric Gill, with Gill Sans, originally Commissioned for London Railway in 1928.


These typographic designs that are easily readable and far less time-consuming to produce than original handwritten scripts have  allowed for a great development in communication, be it in literature, education or journalism. Some may see this development as pointless, and that one clear typeface would do, rather than the 90,000+ typefaces that are in use today. However, without the choice of these, the portrayal and expression of ideas would be nowhere near as impactful and of course, nowhere near as exciting.

For a more detailed explanation of the origins of typography, take a look as this. Graphic designer Ben Barrett-Forrest turns the history of type into an enthralling stop motion animation.


Lectures by Donna Leishman


Modern Evolution of Text and Language

After a visual and auditorial language was established, humans found that as their knowledge and awareness of the world around them grew, they lacked the capacity to permanently store important information in their brains. This is where text came into play. As explained in previous blog post ‘The Cognitive Mind’, text is a form of semiotic, man made symbols.

If you look at the alphabetical symbols from a technical point of view, it could be argued that it is made up of lots of images that we, as English speakers, translate into our language. Others may argue that the alphabet has nothing at all to do with artwork, yet surely it is undeniable that in certain languages such as Egyptian hieroglyphs, an artistic approach has been highly prevalent in its development.

An interesting thought to consider is how language has changed drastically in modern day society which has ultimately affected the way in which text is viewed and written. In the last few decades, generations have changed language in a way that has spurred resentment among tradition upholding generations. The English language is constantly evolving, although in recent years has fast tracked into a melting pot of cultural and social expressions due to technological developments such as mobile phones and social networks. Many believe that the development of these technologies have greatly harmed the understanding and continuation of the traditional English language and the way that it is written.Words are being abbreviated, merged and reinvented, but is that necessarily a bad thing? If language is man made, isn’t it fair to say that these younger generations, as human beings are still developing a legitimate language? Who is to say that in future years this ‘text speak’ won’t be seen as tradition when language is further developed, or what we see now as traditional language wasn’t once condemned as ‘text speak’ itself.

It is important that we understand that like art, language will always change and evolve to suit the needs of society. We cut and paste elements of traditional text to create new interpretations and styles of writing. There is no harm in making language contemporary where appropriate, however put out some may become because of it, as long as we remember to uphold the understanding of traditional writing and keep the fundamentals instilled in society. It is also important when working in the field of communication design to be aware of the audience and what language is appropriate to use, whether it takes inspiration from a Charlotte Bronte novel or the latest comment on Reddit. Because of the variety of situations in which the use of language is so determinative, we should appreciate the fluidity and continuous development of language, not shirk from it.110512_text_creep


(Ideas adapted from lectures given by Donna Leishman)

The Cognitive Mind

The word cognition is used to describe subjects referring to thinking. Reasoning, awareness, memory, problem solving, learning and language all come under this heading. As humans, we are unique to other animals as we have developed the ability to recognise and link imagery and language together to gain an understanding of a situation. For example, the word ‘pareidolia’ relates to the idea that humans are able, or even hardwired from birth, to see significant imagery within a random stimulus, such as clouds or stone, without the stimulus deliberately being manipulated in this way.

Examples of Pareidolia

Examples of Pareidolia

For more information on Pareidolia visit: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22686500

Semiotics is the study of symbols, index’s and icons. It explores the way the human brain has developed over generations to be able to create an abstracted language, which allows us to recognise communication through imagery. Humans use semiotics as a visual language which communicates a shorthand interpretation of ideas through these images. There is a subtle yet significant difference between each of these words when describing them in this context. An Icon is an image that represents the significant by resemblance, the image portrays a great likeness to the subject that it is trying to communicate, for example a portrait of a person. An Index however, is not needed to resemble the significant but instead is directly linked to it and therefore more of an association than a direct portrayal, for example a handprint or a signature of a person. A symbol is unique in its own right as it doesn’t necessarily have to resemble the significant but instead can be  created by society, and over time have been developed into a culture as a representation of the significant. The most common symbols in society could be letters that are used to form words — a completely man made visual language. 


Portrait of Mona Lisa – Icon

Signature of Elvis Presley - Index

Signature of Elvis Presley – Index

English Alphabet - Symbols

English Alphabet – Symbols

The development of this visual language has been vital in illustrative design in order to communicate ideas where words alone are unable to do so.

(Ideas adapted from lectures by Donna Leishman)

Contemporary Illustration

Illustration today is a very difficult subject to define. Some may say that it sits in a no-mans land between fine art and design due to the vast number of styles that have emerged over the past decade. This range has allowed the discipline to enter a plethora of opportunities in different markets. There is therefore a high demand for more unique styles to be developed and matured. Work that once seemed modern is now seen as being too digital and clinical, whereas individual and dynamic styles are becoming far more popular.  Clients are now looking for personality within styles and quite often quirky humour. To be successful, illustrators must continue to observe and adapt to whatever is in fashion at that time whilst adding their own unique ideas to it. For example, the repetitive pattern and swirls produced by vector graphics was a popular choice a short while ago, but is now being avoided as it is seen to be outdated. As computer software becomes updated so quickly, it allows for new ideas to be continuously explored. As there has become such a vast encyclopaedia of design and techniques that are always evolving, it would be a very difficult job to try and define every one individually. However, here are a few styles that are very popular yet very different in subject, technique and style.

Typical example of vector graphics that is becoming outdated.

Typical example of vector graphics that is becoming outdated.


The word collage originates from the French word ‘coller’ — meaning glue. Traditionally a collage would consist of cutting out and gluing down many different materials, for example, handmade paper, newspaper, fabric, and photographs. Collage allows the artist to create a completely new scenario, often rather surreal and eclectic. Positioning of the elements within a collage is very important to create the correct viewpoint, as the slight movement of a photograph could change the whole perspective of the final image. Collage is also effective when no narrative is needed as it allows for ‘cut and paste’ impression. Although traditional techniques are still used, they are often combined with photoshop techniques to create a more modern style. Photoshop permits options of textured appearance, change in colour and proportion and much more. However, some may argue that this modern day approach lacks in substance as the final piece would be completely 2-dimensional and not give as much impression of depth compared to a more 3-dimensional handmade piece.

Heather Landis 'Lead the Way'

Heather Landis ‘Lead the Way’

Emma Rios "Bombass and Parr" Book Cover

Emma Rios “Bombass and Parr” Book Cover


Manga is traditionally a Japanese genre of comic books and style of illustration. It is one of the most widely used styles in Japan today and is becoming more and more popular throughout the world. Manga has been in used as a style for centuries, evolving throughout the decades, yet the fundamental aspects of drawing remain the same. These detailed illustrations are primarily used for Manga comic books, but if successful enough, are animated into short episodes or even films called Anime. Traits of the Manga style include whimsical and colourful backgrounds and the characters facial features are often very similar, portrayed with large eyes, a small nose and a small mouth. To produce this style, the artist usually draws an initial line sketch and then renders the image with computer software programs.

Manga Illustration by Nobuhiro Watsuki

Manga Illustration by Nobuhiro Watsuki


When most people hear the word ‘typography’ they will usually associate it with the clean and precise lines of graphic design. However, recently there has be a far more illustrative approach to type where more imagination has been put into making the words look more appealing to the eye. Quite often artists will shape words into an associated image so that the image actually contains the word. As the message is already being conveyed through the actual words, the illustrator may often convey a second meaning, or reinforce this message through their visual approach to the typography.

Sam Bevington 'Sugar Skull'

Sam Bevington ‘Sugar Skull’


This contemporary style is quite often illustrated using black ink and watercolour but can be created using a multitude of mediums. It could almost be described as impressionist in its spontaneity and allows for excitement and fluidity in imagery. It is not a perfectionist style but instead uses its mistakes to add character to pieces as ‘happy accidents’. These illustrations are often isolated on a background of crisp white or cream paper and create an impression of being drawn in long fluid lines rather than many sketchy marks. Illustrator Christina Drejenstam explains,

“I draw almost exclusively in black and white with one accent colour, I also like to leave a part of the picture incomplete for the viewer to fill in.”  http://www.agentmolly.com/artist/bio.jsp?a=169

Lines that don’t meet fully against one another is another trait that loose illustration possesses which adds to the style. From an early age we are taught to keep colour within the lines but loose line illustration allows the artist to oppose this rule and create a feeling of freedom. The impression of movement that loose line illustration holds reflects the ever-evolving aspect of this style as well as contemporary illustration as a whole. 

Christina Drejenstam Wine glasses

Christina Drejenstam Wine Glasses

(Unable to find reference material as research was carried out previous to blog assignment.)

Illustration: From Caves to Computers – A Brief History

Illustration – A depiction that is used to educate, elucidate, inform, decorate and stimulate.

The first evidence of illustration came in the form of cave paintings from approximately 40,000 years ago. These cave paintings were used to record the events of that time and communicate with others, just like modern-day illustration. The earliest known cave painting was found in the cave of El Castillo, Northern Spain. This date coincides with the earliest known evidence for Homo sapiens in Europe and are believed by scientists to have been drawn by Neanderthals. Since then, illustration has been on a roller coaster ride to achieve the status that it holds today.

Cave Painting of El Castillo

During the 1400’s, Chinese woodcuts were used as the main medium to create illustrations. This technique of carving into a block of wood, rolling with ink and placing face down onto a piece of paper was the first form of printing. The invention of the printing press soon followed and therefore allowed for book illustration. The 17th and 18th centuries were  great periods for the development of new printing techniques, due to the discovery of etching, engraving, and lithography. Printing in these eras were used mainly for journals, books and posters with well-known illustrators such as William Hogarth, William Blake and George Cruikshank often employing these printing methods.

William Blake "the Ancient of Days" 1794

William Blake “The Ancient of Days” 1794

The ‘Golden Age’ of  illustration came between the 1800’s and 1900’s, when most illustrators became involved with book and magazine publications. Well known british artists of this time included Walter Crane, Beatrix Potter and Arthur Rackham who brought a truly whimsical approach to the British illustration scene. In Europe especially, illustrative styles seemed to mimic the art of the time which included the art deco and arts and crafts movements. However, in America, the illustration scene was being taken over by the exciting and dramatic styles of ‘Brandywine Illustrators’, who were taught by Howard Pyle, also known as “The Father of American Illustration”.

Arthur Rackam "Alice in Wonderland - At this the whole pack rose up into the air and came flying down upon her" 1907

Arthur Rackham “Alice in Wonderland – At this the whole pack rose up into the air and came flying down upon her” 1907

Between the 1900’s and 1950’s illustration was in high demand for wartime propaganda posters and leaflets. These posters would often include anything from simple instructions to purely motivational messages. A very well-known poster used at this time was designed by the successful illustrator James Montgomery. There were over 4 million posters printed for the first world war and the poster was then revived for use in WWII.

Examples of James Montgomery Illustrations for WWII

Examples of James Montgomery Illustrations for WWII

To brighten spirits after the war and encourage people to enjoy life again, companies would turn to advertising to urge the public to spend money on the more luxurious things in life. This ‘Advertising Goldmine’ of the 1950’s meant that illustrations could be seen all over, including billboards, magazines, food and drink packaging and television. During the 50’s, Graphic Design and Illustration began to combine together to create a new and modern style. A group of graduates from Cooper Union observed and very much influenced this leap in the communication design. The four graduates involved were Milton Glaser, Seymour Chwast, Reynold Ruffins and Edward Sorel, who founded the highly successful ‘Push Pin Studios’ in 1954. The studios innovative outlook and modern practice led to a revolution in design and is still in existence today.

Examples of Typical 1950's Ads

Examples of Typical 1950’s Ads

Things quietened down for illustration during the 60’s and 70’s due to advances in photographic technology. Photography became dominant in  the media and took over the art scene. Media no longer needed the hand drawn depictions that illustration had to offer, as magazines and posters were taken over by glossy photographs which provided a more realistic representation of the subject. Over the 80’s and 90’s work was still fairly stagnant for illustrators. Technology tended to override the need for traditional illustration as it was still new and exciting. However, this lack of opportunity pushed artists to find new sources of work, and there was a small niche in the music scene for album cover and poster design. Having said this, it is debated that this territory was mainly dominated by graphic designers for their geometric, straight-edged traits that were in fashion at this time.

LP Cover Design By Alex Steinweiss

LP Cover Design By Alex Steinweiss

Just as it seemed as though illustration could become a lost art, a university student in Michigan was developing a in image editing program that would change the way illustrators worked and permit a revolution of artwork over the next decade and beyond. Adobe Photoshop and other softwares like Indesign and Illustrator have encouraged a new way of working. Julian Opie is one artist who was successful in applying these digital techniques to create minimalist, black outlined portraits. He is well known for his Album cover for Blur in the year 2000.

Julian Opie Illustration for 'Blur' Album Cover, 2000

Julian Opie Illustration for ‘Blur’ Album Cover, 2000

Illustration at present is a very exciting discipline. It has recently undergone a major resurgence and the range of diverse styles and techniques continue to grow constantly. Artists and clients are being more imaginative with how illustration can be used, so it can now be seen all over the commercial market, not just in books and advertising. The broader, less prescriptive briefs give illustrators more scope to be creative and experimental. The newest techniques are being combined with traditional practice and the boundaries are being pushed further and further each day. While it is unclear how illustration will develop in the future, it is certain that it will remain a significant artistic and cultural tool for years to come.

(Unable to find reference material as research was carried out previous to blog assignment.)