Category Archives: Core Concepts Part 3


“For this exercise you are going to make a montage or collage with a political message.
Your subject matter could be a current issue, or something that you feel strongly about
such as animal rights, the treatment of elderly people in hospital or images of women in
the media.”

Here’s some collages I found that caught my eye

collage ref2 Photoshop Collage ref1 photoshop-collage Photoshop-montage

After some pondering, I decided to make my collage about modern life. Its more of a question rather than a statement , about the freedom we have, and how we use it.  Its seems to me a very recent thing that some of us humans have been able to scatter far and wide. Just a few generations ago, not many people emigrated, or could afford foreign travel. If someone told you they had just been skyping their sister in Australia, or married someone from another country, you wouldn’t think that strange. But in the UK, it is unusual for large extended families to live together, or to have all your close ties within walking distance. The question is, as we scatter, are we happier or feeling lost?

With this topic in mind, I did a creative commons search online. I restricted the search to only images that have been marked as available for non-commercial re-use and manipulation.

Here’s what I found

flockOfGeese lake tahoe Mountain_Bluebird buildings photo 1

I used photoshop to isolate the images and layer them together. This was my first idea


Its OK, but I wanted to include the bird, and I wasn’t sure if I had positioned the bridge very effectively.

I can’t say  layer masks etc are effortless yet. I’m still at the stage where I have to briefly look up certain techniques to refresh my memory. I use a small handful of short cuts, eg T for type, V for move, ctrl + T to transform, but there are lots more I could learn. Despite working through an entire learn by dvd programme, with something like 30 hours of tuition, I know I’ve only scratched the surface!

Maybe I should have searched for more images, or tried other variations, but here are my two finished versions, one warm (optimistic?), one cold (pessimistic?)

Human Migration

human migration orange2

human migration blue2








Abstract Cities

“Create a series of 10 abstract designs in which you balance blocks of subordinate,
dominant and accent colours.
These designs are going to be used as covers for guidebooks to the following cities:
Madrid Malmo Managua Manchester Manhattan Marrakech
Marseilles Melbourne Montreal Mumbai”

I began by researching each of these cities online. It became obvious that if you simply google the name of a city, the images tend to be cityscapes which can end up looking a bit similar… So I had the idea of googling phrases like “madrid culture/events/marketplace”, which worked a lot better. Here are my reference pics:

Madrid (Spain)


Malmo (Sweden)

The screen shots are of Carl Larson painting, which I think of as typically Swedish colours.


Managua (Nicaragua)


Manchester (UK)

british dance music canal street manchester coronation street manchester unitedmanchester manchester2


Manhattan (USA)


Marrakech (Morocco)

berber carpets images (1) images (2) images morrocan slippers shoes

Sigh. Lovely colours.


Marseilles (France)

It turns out Marseilles is famous for soap making. Who knew.


Melbourne (Australia)


Montreal (Canada)

I get the feeling Montreal likes to hold a lot of arty events


Mumbai (India)

I think there are a few cities you might associate with certain colours, for example Mumbai above has the lovely saffron, pinks and blues that seem very common with Indian textiles. The more I looked the more I thought maybe you really can’t say any particular colours sum up a city, its very subjective…

I spent a few days experimenting with all this, its been a bit daunting keeping in mind so many covers, colours, shapes etc… I did refer to some books on colour to help inspire me. Some are uploaded in the Research and Reflection > Exhibitions and Books page.

I also find this website useful.

You can pick various combinations, in a very similar way to the

steves tetrad

I sampled some colours from the images I’ve collected as a starting point, then experimented with versions via the colour wheel, and also just by eye, to see what happens.

There seems to be a bit of variation in opinion, when it comes to discussing dominate, sub-dominate/subordinate, and accent colours according to which book, or website I was on.  Some quote the dominate colour by proportion, others by the intensity of the hue.

This is an extract from a blog post by  graphic designer Mark Boulton which represents one view:

  1. Subordinate, or Base colour. This is a visually weak, or subordinate, colour. It should contrast or compliment the dominant colour.
  2. Dominant. The main colour. It is this colour which defines the communicative values of the combination.
  3. Accent, or Highlight colour. The Accent colour can be two things: either sympathetic to the Subordinate or Dominant colour, or it can be visually strong and striking, therefore appear to be competing with the dominant colour. This can provide tension within a combination

Alternatively,  software developer and photographer Jason Roberts writes this:

  • The Dominant Colour: proportionally the largest expanse of colour, e.g. the ground
  • The Subdominant (or subordinate) Colour : the second largest expanse of colour after the dominant
  • The Accent Colour: the colour with the smallest relative area

image (1) image


Obviously these opinions come from individuals, but even when you factor in knowledgeable books, and websites like Pantone, it is still unclear if there is a “correct” answer to this one?!

I’m not sure if I have already referred to Joseph Albers book, and Betty Edwards book on colour, which is much more accessible!  I’ve done a few of the exercises, but it would be good to keep going and eventually do them all!

I was thinking about how to develop the covers into a set. These book covers have bands of colour, Mark Rothko style. Each layout is very similar.


Big thumbs up to my brother, John Arnold who wrote the bottom right one (I haven’t read the others!!!!) (Apologies for the shameless plug).

These books have become part of a series, several hundred now I think, so the designers have had to generate a baffling number of book covers. I wonder if they have lost the will to live?!

Right. The brief. Having experimented with colours, I looked at various patterns and styles. NB I currently work on a pc, the colours below are quite soft and creamy. Viewed on an ipad, or any apple device, they become much more saturated, especially yellows and greens. And frankly look a bit nasty! This colour shift is so annoying. I know designers work on macs. I am sulking.

malmo cover 2-01 malmo cover 3-01 Manhatten Abstract Cover Stripey-01Manhatten Cover

I thought the above ideas are either too static, or else the composition doesn’t work well. Though I do quite like the left hand Manhatten stripey one, and the spots below.

Madrid Abstract Cover circles-01 Madrid Abstract dots 4-01 Madrid Abstract dots 5-01 Madrid Abstract dots-01


The other head scratching part was the font. I’ve gone through the process of discovering fonts in the context of web design, and previously spent hours experimenting with them, so sometimes I feel I can make a decision quite quickly now…Not this time.

manhatten colours - a little pot manhatten colours 2 - clive barker manhatten colours 2 - daniel black manhatten colours 2 aka frivolity

If you’re wondering wny there isn’t a broad range of serif,  and sans-serif fonts here, its because I had a mood in mind – I wanted it to look relaxed and friendly! I settled on Dear Joe Italic.  I did briefly look at some “serious” sans-serif minimalist fonts but they looked rather stark, and not inviting enough to go with the rectangular blocks of colour.

Having experimented with patterns, colours and fonts, I decided I liked the colour blocks above the most.  The final change i made was to make every block very dark behind the lettering, to try and keep them consistant.

For example Spain started out like this

Madrid Abstract Cover 4-01

Anyway. Here are the  finished covers, made in Illustrator..

I was aware that each of these designs are identical, and that maybe I should try out some variations. Margaret, my “mum-in-law” found this pad of coloured paper, in Lidls a while ago, and kindly bought it for me,  which is perfect for this project!



It was fun arranging these! I then photographed them and adding the lettering.

green red pink

Here they are finished (I used the wording New York instead of Manhatten, just because I liked the shape of the letters!)

Final comments. I much preferred working with colour off the computer. There’s still a colour shift from real life, to photo, to different screens… But I’ve found using an eye dropper to sample colour, fiddling about, having endless options to refill in a slightly different colour gets obsessive! Being able to arrange existing colours felt much more peaceful and satisfying. I’d like to re-visit this sometime using paint.



Understanding Colour

1,” Johannes Itten was an artist, designer and educator who spent much of his life exploring
how colour works, especially the dynamic relationship between colours. This is one of his
Draw two grids of squares, filling one with colours that you like and the other with
colours you dislike. Then put the two grids side by side and ask the question ‘which one
looks better?’ “

In order to avoid jumping straight into my laptop, I used embroidary silks to pick my favourite colours. They have so many gorgeous shades, its fun to select a good handful. I’ve used quite a lot of very bright colours so far with this course, but I actually get very drawn to quite subdued “gentle” colours. Anyway, I loved the sea greens, pinks, corals, purples, blues, dove grey and soft browns…

photo 2


In contrast, I didn’t feel drawn to the dark colours or lemon yellow. I really wouldn’t want to wear bottle green, navy or nasty mustards, so this influenced my choice!

photo 1

Next, to the laptop! I sampled the colours from these pics as a starting point, though it loses a bit of subtlety along the way, unfortunately.

Anyway, here’s the grids

Basic RGB

colours i don't like

Wow. this has been really interesting! I’ve often thought some of my colour combinations can look a bit insipid, but I didn’t know why. Equally, these darks don’t disappear into sludge like I thought they would, even when I left off bright yellow. The colours look a lot richer than I was expecting!

2, “Try and find different combinations of two colours to illustrate each of these words:”

“Angry, Brave ,Creative,  Dangerous, Energetic, Familiar ,Gregarious,
Hopeful, Independent , Jumpy,  Kinetic , Luxurious , Masculine , New,
Open , Precious , Quiet , Reasonable , Sociable, Tasteful, Unhappy ,
Vital, Wonderful, Extra special , Youthful, Zany”

I used paper and pens to begin this exercise. Some of them are a bit garish, or not necessarily combinations that I prefer… but they seem to just fit the word.


Its interesting that I loved the thought of doing this, and couldn’t wait to get started, but it turned out to be harder than I anticipated! As I look over these now, it’s tempting to make some changes… Grrr! Oh well. Here’s the computer version.

colour and emotion

Seeing the Light

“Using only an image of a light bulb, the word ‘light bulb’ and a block of colour of your
choice create different designs that explore visual dynamics”

Here are my pen and paper roughs. I’m starting to understand how useful it is to start layout on paper rather than a computer, the ideas seem to flow easily from each thumbnail to the next.

photo 3photo 1photo 2

Next I opened photoshop, and used the quick selection tool to isolate the light bulb. I chose Bahamas bold for the font; I thought the curves echoed the curve of the lightbulb. I’m not 100% sure its a good choice though… It would be interesting to repeat this exercise with other fonts, if I get time I might re-do this!

I ended up with a huge number of photoshop variations, which where culled them down to about 20. (I found quite a lot of ideas weren’t very strong,and didn’t transfer to screen that well)  Then I resized the resulting jpegs as a batch, and placed them into this single file.


I don’t know if duplicating the image is “cheating”?! So I just sneaked one on at the end.





Visual Dynamics

“Becoming aware of how you look at things is useful in understanding how best to construct
the visual dynamic of your own design work. Go back to your visual diary, how do your eyes
travel around the items you have collected? What do you look at first? Where is the contrast
in what you are looking at?”

I can’t say I fully grasp visual dynamics yet so umm…I think the pictures I’ve collected are quite varied, and not necessarily primarily about layout or typography. I’ll try and comment on some themes.

What many of these pictures seem to have in common is contrast, which could be about texture, colour, or tone. Sometimes movement.

Rachel’s picture.There are very dark areas, in contrast to the white light of the window, the texture of the stone wall, the wood and ironwork. The thing that grabs me most is the atmosphere.


Moving to the packaging, I can see there is high contrast in tone, with plain white background.The bunting is angled in towards the lettering.The stripey buckets and circles keep my eye moving.The logo is again, high contrast.


The main collection of images some contain objects that have lovely fluid shapes, for example the chinese horse, he is also moving towards us, and forming a triangular shape and takes up two thirds of the picture (I can’t work out phi, but I’ve read about it in terms of composition!) The lines of the display area are also moving towards us.

photo 1

There are two posters, the large dark butterfly dominates, sets off the colours, and has subtle movement with the ragged wings, birds, the deep V between the wings, and the teardrops below. (I’d really love to be able to do this sort of thing!)


The simple typography poster is great, its just absolutely pared down, the leading is very tight, and it has lots of movement in the letterforms.


The ceramics,and fabrics are mostly eye catching because of their colour, though the blue tile would still look lovely in black and white. The large area of white space enhances the patterned area.The lace butterfly looks great on black, and has pretty flowing curves.

photo 31b

Sometimes the space between objects has tension, because we mentally follow an invisible dotted line. I can see this is in the Saladore Dali foot.

photo 3

The graffiti is high contrast and energetic. The composition of the photo with strong diagonal lines taking up three quarters a the picture makes the image stand out even more.(Is that vertical a good contrast, or a bit distracting? I don’t know enough about this to say!)

photo 5

And finally, the vintage style pics are more about mood and atmosphere than composition, though the mother and child is a strong image

photo 4photo 3

At the risk of going on and on… I do feel a bit frustrated that I can sometimes see why something “works”, but I struggle to actually do it myself. Hopefully this will develop.

I have a new addition to my swipe file. Along with posters, colours, web designs etc, I er…I have lots of pictures of dvd covers. They are action films (screen shots from Netflix) Its been interesting to try and pick apart what works, and group them into themes. Even though some of them are cheesy, they have high impact. I might try another genre next…

Here’s some late additions to my visual diary


I don’t totally understand why these work, but the left hand one is quite simliar to some of the dvd designs i looked at. –

A circle/ target point, with lines leading towards it. This also forms a strong triangular shape, which adds to the impact.

I thought about where my eye was leading me around these adverts, then I asked my partner what he saw. He could name the order he viewed instantly. I wonder if your first response is more accurate, as I get confused trying to analyse it.

Advert 1

My partner’s response = top (pink speckles), middle (circle with text), bike

Me =  I was not sure if I noticed the words first or even the bike…

Advert 2

Both of us = Left text, bike, right text (we saw the same order with this one)

This makes me wonder though, do we all view things the same way? Maybe there are some variations in the way that we look?  For example,perhaps I was drawn to the circular shape, and my partner, to the colour. It also makes me wary of over thinking these things, and that I should leave my “head” out of it, and go with my instincts.




Signs and Symbols

In this exercise you will read existing signs, symbols and images, and then drawing on
their visual language create your own symbols.

Choose one of the following:
Danger  Movement  Love  Here

Now create an alternative symbol to represent at least one of the concepts.

I started by scribbling in my sketch book, then used the internet to expand on various thoughts. At first I worked on all four symbols, just to see where it leads.


Reference pictures…





This is a screen shot from You Tube, it shows how movement has been created to draw the eye to the focal point in the picture.






love birds LOVE_sculpture_NY Love_you! simple_beauty_ii_by_love_hand_in_hand-d2y1e46


I found some information about love symbols that I had never seen before. We’re all familiar with hearts and roses, but I didn’t know that the maple leaf was a symbol for both passion and fertility, The triangle is new to me too. It seems that some symbols re-appear in various cultures, and are usually based on mythology and religion. Some love symbols are both for earthly and divine love.



In exploring a new symbol for love, I focused on the idea of two equal shapes, that are connected. In my sketches, I’ve drawn circles, and half moon shapes that fit together in different ways.


The word HERE could be interpreted as a point of information, but also linked to religion or spirituality…Here and now, stillness, serenity (or that could be me being a hippy!) Anyway, I found myself focusing on a single dot being emphasised or suspended. (As shown in the right hand page of my sketchbook above)

I also googled both the single word “Here”, and the phrase “you are here”.


you are here 16_religionist_symbols here you are here 2


There are a lot of warning signs for all sorts of dangers…flood, chemicals, slippery floors, sharp bends, radiation, bio-hazards, electricity etc…I don’t think there is one definitive symbol for danger, although you could argue a skull and cross bones might be the closest!


I looked up warning signs, and warning colours in nature.

hazards radio waves hazard warning colours in nature wasp


Designing new symbols

As I played with ideas, I got particularly interested in developing the symbol for LOVE. Taking the ideas from paper to screen, I used Illustrator to develop some vector graphics based on my sketches.

love symbols NEW

Some of these pictures remind me of various things…segments of a satsuma, an airline logo..hmmmm! I went back to my sketchbook again, as I wanted to explore some kind of decoration. Particularly to see if I could make the symbol seem “ancient”or traditional in some way. On the right hand page is my final design.

love symbols final roughs


I took a picture of this design, opened it in Illustrator, and used live trace. From this, I was able to reverse out the design.

A New Symbol for Love

my symbol


New Love Symbol Live trace all black   New Love Symbol Live trace part blackNew Love Symbol white on grey

These look OK at a reduced size, but don’t have a “rustic” feel when enlarged, so I then used a Dirt effect to distress the image, making it look like a print. (I hope)

New Love Symbol dirt effect

And these are completely different – various torn paper effects

New Love Symbol torn paper blackNew Love Symbol green leaves


New Love Symbol texture

I hope these work OK in the end. I think these interlocking shapes worked quite well, and were interesting to embellish in different ways. Its weird thinking of a new symbol, as our existing ones are so familiar!

One final thing to add…I also have the symbol drawn with the pen tool in Illustrator which can take a solid pattern fill. I couldn’t resist playing a bit more…

Here’s some “vintage fabric” and a “vintage tile”! I could create a custom pattern too, but i think I need to get on with the next project!

blue tile

love symbol fabric


A Visual Diary

Start a scrapbook, sketchbook or use a blog to document the visual world around you…Reflect on what you have been collecting: are there dominant themes emerging? You may find yourself interested in a particular area of design, era or design product. What does this tell you about your own visual language and cultural awareness?

My Collection So Far

Hmmm…I’m a bit of a hoarder at the best of times, so basically this is permission to squirrel away all sorts AND feel good about it!

OK. I get interested in quite a lot of stuff. I have recorded some of them elsewhere in this blog, under Research and Reflection – Bits and Bobs.

I quite like looking at completely different creative things, like textiles and sculpture. But one theme I keep returning to is colour. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing with it yet, but I know I like it!  I have just been given a huge pile of embroidary silks. I could happily sit and arrange, then re-arrange colour combinations, it just feels lovely!

My friend Rach  (Rachel Burch) is a professional photographer. I love looking at her work.


I have a plie of books on silversmithing and jewellery making. (I was able to do a six month evening class at Plymouth art college a few years ago) It was great to learn all sorts of silversmithing techniques, which is an interesting way to work in 3D. Our class only worked in metal, but some modern jewellery designers use all sorts of materials, from paper mache, found objects to plastics. Really fun and sparks all sorts of ideas.

I also get a bit sad and anoraky looking at adverts, packaging and magazines.



Graffiti and vintage stuff also floats my boat.

Enough waffling, here’s the visual bit.