Monday, 28 February 2011

Vaughan Oliver

On the 15th of February we were incredibly fortunate to have a talk from the acclaimed graphic designer Vaughan Oliver. I was so excited about the event as I have long appreciated the work he has done, and knew that this was a brilliant opportunity to discover more about him. As soon as he began speaking, it was clear that we were in for a treat. Vaughan  was a brilliant communicator and was highly entertaining by making jokes throughout his presentation. This was such a bonus - I am such a fan of his work and it was exciting enough to be there as it was, but even better knowing that he would keep things lively throughout.

Oliver is most noted for his work with design studios V23 and 23 Envelope, and the work that they created for the record label 4AD (who represented bands such as Pixies, The Breeders and Cocteau Twins). He loves how the artwork on the record sleeves he produced act as a gateway to the music and the personality of the band; the artwork is the signifier. 4AD was all about the music; there was no marketing team, just Vaughan. He loves to reclaim imagery, explaining how he transfers them from the mainstream and subverts them.

He also likes to promote mistakes in his prints; the edgier the better, and makes them a feature. In fact, one of his most recognised pieces - artwork for the Pixies' 'Bossanova' album, was actually produced by mistake. Vaughan accidentally flooded the image with red light, causing a saturated effect on the image being taken, yet he preferred this approach more than the original. I like this approach, as it adds another facet to his work - what may have been thrown out by other designers is used to Oliver's benefit which is a great direction to take.  He enjoys collaborating with other designers and photographers, and loves to experiment with imagery. The artwork that Oliver produced for The Breeders 'Pod' album was incredibly forward thinking at the time; and very experimental. Although it appears like he has edited the photograph using digital methods, it was in fact staged in his own front room using only filters to cause the colourful, trippy effect in the image. The individual is Vaughan himself, performing a sort of fertility dance. This was really inspiring to see, especially knowing how well he has done in his career - it would be easy to be drawn into the grips of computer editing in this industry, yet he has avoided doing so.

Ambiguity aids Vaughan's work; he enjoys producing work that throws questions rather than answers. In one of his first roles - working as a label designer (for jams, wine etc) he first began to realise the potential of typography. Before then, he never really saw the value of type and illustration was his favoured approach. It was good to see that Vaughan had changed his opinion, as some of his type experiments are really beautiful.

I really impressed by what he had to say, and mainly by his ability to always experiment with techniques.  His work is so exciting and varied that he had to reduce a lot of his talk down to a video reel of his best pieces. It was a fascinating piece, and brilliant to see his range of work. Before I dsicovered Vaughan was due to speak to us, I had been looking at his work as part of research for my latest brief. I was so inspired that I had to get him to autograph my sketchbook (although I did feel somewhat embarrassed asking!)

(I think) it reads "Gemma more visual presents, Vaughan xx"

Saturday, 26 February 2011

YCN and Propaganda Design Agency

Zoe Barratt, the project manager from YCN came to talk to us about the company and the recent student award briefs that they have set. The agency was established in 2001, and not only produces work from across all media, but helps to represent young creatives for commissions and collaborations. Through their longstanding award programmes they are able to identify the best emerging talent from around the world, and welcome it into their network.

As I had already completed one of their student briefs (M&S Plan A brief) I was intrigued to find out what Zoe's and YCN's interpretation of it was. I was relieved to discover they wanted us to approach it in a similar way that I already had, so it was good to see that had I entered the competition, I would have been on the right tracks. Every year YCN holds an award ceremony for those who have successfully completed the briefs, and each year they produce an annual to commemorate and promote these new young graphic designers, illustrators and moving image designers. I have received this annual every year now since being at university, and although it is a really interesting insight into what talent is emerging and how people have approached the briefs, I have never really been that impressed with the book itself. Zoe agreed, explaining how they felt the last annual was too detached from the students. It's always seemed quite cluttered, and considering it showcases designers, it didn't seem well-designed enough to do the work justice. However, their latest copy (YCN annual 2010-2011) was designed in-house so that they were able to promote the young creatives more personally. They approached many writers, big-name designers (for example Johnny Hardstaff and Jeremy Leslie) to help to create the annual, and commissioned young illustrators to help create a more interesting and exciting layout. I have to be honest, this was a far better approach to the annual, which has a better aesthetic now and is definitely more of an interesting read, with passages and advice from various well-known creative people.

It was clear that Zoe loved what she and the agency did for young people. She was excited about every brief they were presenting, which was really refreshing to see as I am assuming she has had to explain them numerous times now to numerous different people and institutes.

The lecture was then handed over to Lee and Joe, from Propaganda design agency based in Leeds. I was interested to see what they were presenting as I am often in Leeds, so it was good to see a more local agency talk about what they do. Propaganda came to discuss their representation of the energy drink brand Boost - which is one of the products setting a brief for students via YCN. Lee and Joe made it clear that Boost was a challenger brand; there to compete with the bigger name drinks companies such as Lucozade and Red Bull. I found this interesting; it seemed that they were trying to promote Boost to us, and try to get us to buy their product, rather than promote the brief or their other projects which became a little frustrating at times. On the plus side though, we did get some free drinks which made it more worthwhile!

Propaganda showed us a reel of the work that they did, which was interesting. They represent big name brands such as GHD, Republic and Habitat. Their style of work wasn't really to my personal taste if I am completely honest.Their work was very commercial and I found it to be a little generic. I felt that their reel was over-worked and really didn't do their projects justice, which left me feeling a bit put-off by them. But I suppose that's just down to personal taste, and once put out into the industry the campaigns seemed to be successful. I must admit however, I did feel that they didn't speak to us very well, at times they came across as quite patronising and the had clearly stuck to a script when speaking making the whole lecture seem really unnatural and over-rehearsed which was a shame! In hindsight though, if it was me stood there, I would probably act the same - we are a pretty scary bunch to talk to!

It was definitely interesting however, to see people from the industry and to see the background behind a large-scale campaign. I don't think I want to go into advertising when I leave uni, but it was good to get more of an insight into this area.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Helen Butterworth: Ex-D&AD student

Ex Design and Art Direction student Helen Butterworth came to talk to us about her experiences on the course, and since leaving university.

Helen graduated with a first class honours degree, which is excellent, but what I found to be more inspiring was that she considered herself to not necessarily have the best graphic design skills, and it was her actually ability to work well with other aspects of the course that enabled her to achieve such a brilliant result. I found this to be quite a reassuring and interesting point; after all, being a designer isn't simply about putting text and image on a page in an aesthtically pleasing manner. Helen was good at conceptualising her ideas, and developing them until they become incredibly complex, yet well-considered pieces of work. One piece that really stood out was titled "Viseme" in which she explored lip and mouth movement in order to visualise our verbal thoughts. Helen "graphically developed shapes to form avisual language, which stems from the eighteen positions formed by the mouth within the phonetic alphabet." It was an extremely long project; Helen was able to develop this project for a longer amount of time than was originally set, as it was such an intricate and complex topic. The final outcome is fascinating, the shapes she has created are visually beautiful and intriguing.

Above: a section of Helen's Viseme piece.

Helen was brilliant at offering advice about how to approach our time on the course, as well as what to expect when leaving. Another advocator of gaining work experience, she told us about the work she entailed on leaving uni and how she managed to gain extra time working at her her first role, which was inspiring and slightly reassuring (it was originally only meant to be a 2 week placement). She also gave us advice about how to raise money for our degree show, which at the time was a daunting concept for us. We hadn't yet begun our fundraising, and there had been discussions about what would be the best options but nothing had been planned. Helen gave us more insight into what worked well and enabled us to then feel inspired to do the same. A good talk, from a great girl, see her work here.

Liverpool Biennial 2010

This is becoming a little ridiculous now, I am all over the place with my posts! Back in October (!) we took a trip across to Liverpool, to see their annual Biennial - one of the largest contemporary art events in the UK. "The sixth edition of Liverpool Biennial’s International Exhibition was Touched - Consisting of around 40 new projects by leading and emerging international artists. Principally new commissions as well as several key works previously unseen in the UK, Touched was presented across multiple venues: Tate Liverpool, the Bluecoat, FACT (Foundation for Art & Creative Technology), A Foundation and Open Eye Gallery, with half the exhibition sited in public spaces across the city."

Although there were numerous events and varying locations across the city, I unfortunately was only able to see the exhibition "The Cooperative" at the Old Paint Shop. I really didn't know what to expect when walking up to the exhibition space, but when I was confronted with a woman sat in one of the windows in nothing but her underwear and with the slogan "Make Belive" painted across her stomach (I am not entirely sure whether this was a deliberate spelling mistake or not) it was clear this wasn't going to be your run-of-the-mill art exhibitions.

The event has been promoted as one of the most exciting exhbitions in the UK, yet I really didn't feel that it was as good as it was being promoted to be. The work on display was supposed to "touch" you; in various different ways. However, a lot of it was extremely distasteful and definitely not for young eyes. I agree that it affected us as viewers by shocking and making us feel uncomfortable, but I struggled to define whether this was successful in a good way or not. It didn't leave me feeling very inspired and I feel this may be the reason it has taken me so long to write this visit up.

Some of the pieces were quite interactive - which did add to the experience - albeit not greatly. For instance I enjoyed the Rosa Barba display, titled Free Post Mersey Tunnels because as you walked through it sounds of the Liverpool underground were heard through a labyrinth of intricate pipes, giving a really atmospheric effect. It was quite visually beautiful too; stark and industrial but very intriguing. I also quite liked NS Harsha's installation; a room with a mirrored ceiling that reflected a sea of faces staring back at you from the floor - which created a very strange sensation of being watched.

Though it may be missing the point of the visit slightly, I was far more taken in by the old signage that was still existing in and around the building that hosted the works. They gave glimpses of what the location used to be, I am really sad I only got one photo. It doesn't show the extent of some of the lovely old typography that was printed on walls and signs. There was also some beautiful wallpaper remnants that had been left on odd walls here and there. It was a really lovely location, it is such a shame that this was all I could really comment positively on!

Trevor Johnson, Creative Lynx

Back on December 12th (seriously behind here, forgive me!) Trevor Johnson, of Creative Lynx - one of the UK's leading design agencies - came to speak to us. Their client list is incredibly impressive and long; they have worked with the likes of the British Council, Colgate, London 2012 and on numerous county Police schemes. Not only this, but Johnson himself has had an extremely dynamic career, starting in the industry as a commercial illustrator before moving onto freelance graphic design. His most acknowledged for the work he produced for Factory Records and the Ha├žienda nightclub (alongside Peter Saville and Malcom Garrett, another 2 notable Manchester-based designers). Because both he and Creative Lynx are based in Manchester, this was a really valuable lecture as we were able to discover more about Manchester's creative industry, which is right on our doorstep.

Trevor talked us through some of his earlier works, and how he has developed since working as an illustrator.  He has been a consistently notable contributor to the urban renaissance of the city through his work for many of Manchester's most prestigious brands and organisations. Trevor has most definitely played a massive role in establishing Manchester as an international city of creative excellence. He has produced many record sleeves, for bands such as New Order, and was influenced by Constructivism. This movement is also one of my biggest influences, so to see his work and how it referenced similar aesthetics was really interesting. I found it to be really beautiful; sometimes I find it difficult to find commercial art or design that I really enjoy so it made a pleasant change to see something that really reflected what I am interested in. 

Above: FACT 137: Shorts. Various Artists. (video promotion)

Above: A Certain Ratio, Wild Party.

Trevor was really good at advising us about how to approach our work and the graphic design industry. He encouraged us to make mistakes: as this will only help you to improve, but also to know when to stop. Johnson described how we shouldn't be overcome by "Optophobia" - or the fear of opening one's eyes. He explained that his best work has been influenced by the world around him, and we should be influenced in the same way too. This was a really valuable piece of advice; as I often find myself falling at hurdles when I make mistakes in my work. I can give up far too easily.

Trevor was a keen promoter of hand-rendered design; although Creative Lynx works with a lot of Digital media, Trevor finds it hard to embrace (as he explained, it is mostly a generational thing, as he has been in the industry for so long). Most of his work is hand crafted, and this was really refreshing to see as so much of our commercial art today is digitally created, it loses a lot of the individuality that more hand-made pieces can hold. I found this encouraging; I love being able to move away from the computer when creating my own work (although it doesn't happen as often as I would like it to) so I will make the conscious effort to try and bring more hand rendered elements into my work again. A very inspiring lecture!

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Joana Niemeyer

Back in November last year (apologies this is so late, I've been very slack it seems), Joana Niemeyer from studio April, came to talk to us about their work and her views on how to approach the graphic design industry. 
The design group have produced many print, identity and signage works - which can be seen here

I have to admit, I wasn't overtly excited about some of the work she showed us, but one project that really caught my eye was the self-initiated book titled "Graphic Europe" they had produced. Essentially a guidebook, it documents 31 cities across 31 countries Europe and each one illustrated by a designer from that particular country. It was really dynamic and beautiful. The varying styles of each designer changed the pace of the book and made a really exciting aesthetic.

Joana was really supportive and encouraging. As well as speaking about her own work, she gave us more of an insight into what to expect when we leave university.  She told us about what to expect to charge when we undertake  work, dependent on our level of experience. Although these were just rough estimates, it definitely put it into perspective for us, and emphasised just how valuable experience is. Placements, Niemeyer explained, are invaluable. They are a way of learning about the business without actually needing to worry about the business; that is the revenue, costs, background etc. This was really helpful, as I need to definitely be more pro-active when it comes to gaining more experience if I want to succeed when leaving university. Her talk was really insightful, and certainly explored areas that we are often quite sheltered from when studying. It is easy for speakers to talk about the "glossiness" of the design industry - and although we are often told about how competitive it all is, we aren't often told about the more...gritty side to it all.  

Hello Again...

It's been a while since my last post, I am afraid I have been a bit lazy with my blog lately. It's been a very busy last month or so, with my mid-term hand in, dissertation hand in and various new projects underway, but from this point on wards I promise I will try and keep up to date with everything that goes on!

So, yes, to fill you in, last month was a stressful one. All of the projects I have completed since September (Summer project, Static, Fleurons, M&S brief, Johnny Hardstaff workshop) had to be handed in for my interim assessment. It was a horrible time finishing everything over Christmas - I encountered too many problems along the way - but it seems that it was worth it as I am really pleased to say I managed to gain a decent first class grade for my work. This has definitely made me realise that I perhaps need to believe a bit more in myself! Let's hope I continue to do well for my final term... scary.

I also managed to complete my dissertation, called "To Have and To Hold: What is the Future of Print in a Digital World?" I really enjoyed exploring this topic, and discovered so much from it which has definitely renewed my love and passion for printed matter. I want to also say thank you to those of you who participated in the study I set up to help me research the topic - 90 people took part and everyone's responses were brilliant and helped me massively! So thank you again!

I'm just cracking into a new brief, which I have set myself. It's a little hazy at the minute if I am completely honest, and I am struggling a little to get into it but fingers crossed once I pick up the pace a bit it will be an interesting one. I want to explore Avant Garde page design, or design in general. A lot of my inspirations come from the early 20th century European Avant Gard designers, for instance El Lissitzky, Kurt Schwitters, A M Cassandre etc. and I often try to incorporate elements of their aesthetic into my own work. But the whole purpose behind what they stood for was to produce work that was different; pushing the boundaries against the norms of society. There are many artists today who try to achieve the same thing, which I don't deny can often be shocking and controversial, but when this philosophy was first explored it was completely radical and new. Can the same thing be achieved in our modern society, or is it less relevant today? It is a mammoth idea to explore, and I am not sure if I will actually achieve the answer or not! More on this later I think.