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

Exercise: Less is More

I found this exercise to be more challenging than I had anticipated, however, once I found logic to the brief, I was able to navigate the process better.

Here we are tasked with approaching illustration with a limited colour palette. The method of limiting colours is something that appeals to me, perhaps this is somewhat influenced by my background in design. I enjoy looking at illustrations with few colours and seeing how they compose the images with the limitations in mind.

I did not enjoy the limitations placed on this exercise, however. This is where the problem started, and my my was it a problem. I did not understand why a simple exercise needed to be made difficult with the subject matter being 5 objects starting with the same letter. Here I am ready to explore colour and I'm stuck finding objects that would be interesting. Why?

I had in my mind that it should be a nicely composed still life setup, which I found challenging when, for example, some objects of the same letter would be completely opposite in scale. It disturbed me that it didn't look good. When thinking of a theme for the objects so that the compilation could make sense, I would end up with 3 objects, not 5. So with each attempt I just hit a wall and found myself getting frustrated. In my frustration I began writing all kinds of notes that I would later put here, but in those rants, I discovered a way to answer my big question of why?! Why 5 objects and why of the same letter. This changed my flow, it changed my thinking and overall it changed my direction for this exercise.

Whilst I was struggling to even think of objects starting with the same letter, because obviously my mind was blank to begin, I turned to Google, typically. Of course what I would find in the results were picture cards for children, learning the alphabet with basic visual reference. The results didn't give me anything more than what I had in terms of objects, however my mind did just open a little. Lightbulb moment.

I somehow settled on B in my stormy moment mentioned above, giving myself a nice selection: Book, Boots, Bag and Bottle. I realised that it was only 4 objects after I had got it together, but for the sake of it, the 5th would be Brush had I remembered to add it at the time. This didn't matter in the end because my list of objects grew massively along with the idea I had.

Just to cover the basics, I setup my still life with objects beginning with B (4 by accident, which is ironic considering the stress it caused me).

The sketch:

Then the outline:

Adding the outline and blocking in some shade helped to create a 3D look to the objects within the empty void, albeit in a very 2D manner. This I found to be the most successful technique when working with a limited colour palette. The outline becomes part of the colouring, and when used in certain areas also helps to separate each object so that they can read. I actually quite liked this image the way it was with these 3 colours. I liked the texture in the middle tone that acted as more shading. I liked the darker blue outlines against the pink, and overall felt the combination worked well. The pink does feel different when viewing it as a Jpeg on a different screen, so if anything were to change it would be this.

I did one last attempt and tried a slightly different colour palette, this time aiming for just two colours.

In this version I tried to do more than just outline the objects. I added more shadow and colour in a few objects to give some contrast. I think it could have been pushed further perhaps, but I felt this was enough without going to over the top. Perhaps It would be interesting to see this with the dark blue in the background.


Now for the fun part.

So honestly, everything went backwards with my process for this exercise. Part two actually came first, but given the aim of the exercise I decided to save this for after the above "practise" round.

What I did was extend the exercise with a purpose - an actual brief. This illustration was going to be for a children's alphabet book (surprise), but through hide and seek interaction. This quickly upgraded to being a game of "I Spy". Each page would see you looking in a different room of a family home with many objects scattered around beginning with the letter. This will be interactive for children, challenging them to find all the objects they could, encouraging them to learn the alphabet in a fun way whilst associating common objects with those letters. I hadn't thought too much about the age for this, which you will later see to be a bit unclear given the complexity of the illustration.

The room I focused on was Bedroom. Following on the theme of books I wanted to have a character who would be reading in bed with a blanket. First I jotted down more objects that I could think, which as you can already see, was not limited now that I had an idea of what I was doing.

I started some thumbnails of what I wanted to do.

After sketching out some layouts, I settled on the last composition. The perspective of the room allowed for a good amount of floor space surrounding the bed where I could place more objects.

So now I had an illustration set, I then began to think differently about the colour. Perhaps colour plays an important role on how a child actually learns, perhaps their behaviour is effected based on the colours they see? Could this be valuable for this exercise?

As I had already used blue and pink, it was interesting to see what the article mentioned about those and how it can effect children. Both colours seemed to cause a calming effect, which given the subject I had set upon, did feel to fit nice. Seeing the slightly improved sketch in black and white above had definitely confirmed that I wanted to avoid using both of those colours in this. So I stuck with blue and pink to begin.

I realise this is probably more complex than it should be for a children's book. The details could possibly be overwhelming and some lines, such as that on the girl, can appear lost. Despite that, I do really like this illustration so far, but think the age this would be aimed at is muddy.

I threw in the pink to get rid of the white.

It was definitely a difficult image to see clearly. Although I like it, I can see that the girl is a problem in this image and somehow needs to be pushed further forward if this was to be for children. Perhaps the lines just needed to be bolder to match some of the others surrounding her, or the middle blue shadow should be removed slightly across her face. Maybe the pink was a bit off as well, but I was slightly torn on that.

I did want to bring a challenging element into this image, but perhaps I made it too difficult for wrong reasons. Some areas were more clear than others, for me this was a problem.

I attempted another version, this time making the lines bolder in some areas and cleaning it up in general. I also reassessed the colours as I think the choices here hadn't helped the clarity of the illustration.

Here it is with just two colours. I have taken the route of using the darker colour for mostly outlining, though have blocked in larger areas for shadow. I think this reads better, but it may still be a bit old for the purpose of the brief.

Here is the illustration with 3 colours, which for me is already an improvement to the blue and pink version. Changing the shadow on the girl has made her more visible. I just know there is more that can be done to make this illustration suitable for a children's book. Depending on the age, this would need to be drastically simplified. I think I would need to approach colouring differently, and perhaps not just work with light and shadow but also contrast some objects like I had in the final practise round in Part One. Where shadow is covering objects completely, this could be difficult for a child to recognise. When there is a combination of the peach and purple, the objects are more noticeable.

Images I collected for reference:

I remembered that I had a children's book purchased a long time ago that I seemed to remember being incredibly simple with the use of colour. I found the styling of the book to be very unique. Each page would bring a different combination of colour, whilst some were reoccurring.

Why I thought to include this here because it uses a very different approach to limited colour compared to what I had collected online. To start it didn't have outlines! I'm the type of illustrator that somewhat depends on outlines, it's a bit of a default for me.

I thought the use of the white page was very well done in this book. The white rabbits above feel hidden at first glance, taking a moment to see how they are almost part of a pattern. This alongside the contrasting orange of the fox works so well! It also makes you feel that the rabbits are actually trying to hide from the fox. Very clever use of a limited colour palette.

I wondered if there was a way I could transform my illustration to be in a similar style. For it be as successful as the book, I would need a stand out character. However, my illustration isn't focused on the character, that just happens to be a situation in the room, what is the stand out "character" is in fact all the objects that begin with B. Wouldn't that make it too easy if I actually had the objects in a different colour? Could I use the background colour to my advantage similar to the rabbits in Coralie's book?

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