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Helen Capewell
OCA Learning Log
Student Number: 522802
Degree: Illustration
Current Level: 2

Assignment: Invisible Cities

At first I was nervous about this assignment after I had read the extract we were tasked to work on from the book Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, but once I had done a little bit of reading about the book, the extract felt less abstract and more of a travelers journey. It made sense.


To begin, I took a screenshot of the text and started highlighting the key information that describe the visuals of the city.




I had learnt that the book is based on Marco Polo, describing cities to the Chinese ruler, Kublai Khan. Just to refresh my terrible memory, I did a quick time check on when Marco Polo was around as a few listed items had my suspicion flag waving a few times. For example, cable-cars, say what?


I had also read (thank you wiki) that when the Khan asks Marco Polo why he never describes his home land, he replies "every time I describe a city I am saying something about Venice" which, in this extract I feel was the sneaky comparison of terraces like gondolas.


There was a lot of visual information in this extract, which at first is quite overwhelming. I wanted to try and simplify it and found that highlighting the visuals would help with breaking it down. I had a visual in mind from this stage but didn't have the confidence to go ahead and start drawing. I felt I needed some kind of visual reference to help get me started.


Whilst there are many real objects listed in the description, the whole concept feels like fantasy that would be almost hard for the Khan to believe. The biggest point that absolutely needed to be considered was that this city hung below. My understanding of this was that it was almost upside down with some kind of structure roofing them as they live on the edge of a tight rope hanging. There is no "floor" to this city, just an endless void beneath their hanging houses made of sacks. I love this, it just sounds amazing with a utopian fantasy. I allowed myself a few artist liberties on the other points, adding some elements listed but not all.


So with that, I wanted to find fantasy worlds in the sky, floating cities that would useful in thinking of perspective and scale.




I know, I know, we should be encouraged to find references from different sources, not just the internet. On this occasion, I thought it was the most efficient way. I knew what I wanted to create, but just needed a little help in know what perspective I wanted to take on. I was also debating composition in respect to the perspective as I thought about viewing this city from a leveled distance, so appearing quite straight on, or from a lower viewpoint looking up at the city whilst is hanging upside down.


I began sketching a couple of thumbnails to explore where I wanted the view to be.


Sketch 1:

Explores the view of being from a high viewpoint looking down at the city, putting the view on the mountain peek and seeing the infrastructure from above. This view allows to give focus on how the city is supported by mere ropes stretched between mountains.


Sketch 2:


Sketch two explores the view point of being below the city and you are looking up. this view does allow to show more detail on the city, but I struggled with trying to imagine the scale of the City and almost made it too big on the page but lacked scale in the city. I wasn't sure how far to take the city, and how many things should be included.


Sketch 3:




Sketch three was a distant viewpoint which I would perhaps consider a level position as you are neither looking up nor down at the city. With the city being pushed further back, I was able to exaggerate the height in the mountains, giving the illusion of an incredibly deep drop.


In each sketch you can see how much information you will be able to include, with sketch 2 lending itself to containing more details that are in the list, whilst sketch 3 is limited in detail as the distance makes things a blur.


I liked the balance in sketch 3 and decided to proceed with this one.




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