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

Reading An Image

Here we look at studying the "hierarchy" in the image. The image we are asked to study is a very cute illustration by Mark Oliver. There's a definite hierarchy in the illustration but the composition makes this an interesting image to dissect.

To begin, the colours in which Mark Oliver has used for this illustration strongly identifies the hierarchy. Warmth of the red is brought forward by the cool tones of the background. The dragon is a radiant red, which in a way symbolises the characteristics and behaviours of the dragon. Warm colours can also represent energy, and as there are two very noticeable areas of warmth, it indicates that there are two energised elements to the story. The children enter on the left with a torch, and a dragon resting whilst guarding the treasure.

I wanted to explore the image further by experimenting in Photoshop. I wanted to see what would happen if I were to change the curves or even distort the image. Would the hierarchy change? Would I learn more about the colours used. Notice a change in the textures or simply lose the image entirely.

Firstly, I went big on the curves. I didn't want to completely lose details in the illustration, however I did want to go as dark as I could to bring the red forward. From this view I was able to see where light from the torch was hitting.

The children are somewhat lost in the darkness, with just a subtle glow to their rosy faces. Little textures are highlighted in this edit, from gravity pulling the cave structure of the ceiling down, to the cold rock like surface of the floor. Elements of the gold is also exaggerated, however losing definition in the object, it is a similar texture as of the floor. Never-the-less the dragon is a clear winner - though the green of the chair does catch my attention more so with its contrast.

Secondly I tried blurring the image so that the illustration was not clear but the power of colours were. I wanted to see the balance and show the dominance in the reds against the blues. Although the colours are close to being equal, red is by far the strongest. Perhaps in this state we are likely to read the picture from left to right.

After this I then exaggerated the levels to darken it. As you can see below, there are two clear winning areas of power in the image. The dragon, and the ceiling. But why the ceiling? It's bigger than the dragon and hardly highlights the children. Perhaps I'm looking in to this too much, the torch is simply emanating light which the girl is holding up to light a scene.

What sparked this experiment was an accidental light distortion when I noticed the sun had reflected on to the open page. Perhaps it was the ink that caused the distortion once the light hit it, either way it made me see the image differently. I could no longer see what the contents of the image was, I could just see colour shapes.

Colour in Design

As a product designer I often look at colours that work well together, either to compliment or to contrast, but overall colours that look good together on a product. I hadn't really thought of the tones being used to create a sense of hierarchy. Though when creating images that combine informative text, subconsciously you of course aim to make the text the most legible part, as usually this is where you receive the message. This automatically creates a hierarchy within the composition. When colouring an image I tend to use the same method, what compliments each other? Essentially, creating an image which has a purpose also involves design. Composition is designing a layout that best suits your message / story, colours also reflect that. Dark / light, foreground / background.

I decided to step away from the illustration and look at colour in design. The idea of colour hierarchy felt interesting, to which I wanted to explore more. This would then go on to help me realise that what I essentially created with colour is not only something that works well together, but also serves a purpose. It's not that I didn't know the power of colour in design and the importance of making certain elements easier to digest as the viewer, it was more of understanding that there was a theory behind the choices made when using colour.

"Here’s a definition of visual hierarchy: Visual hierarchy is the arrangement of graphic elements in a design in order of importance of each element. The visual weight defines the importance of an element in a design’s hierarchy, communicating to a viewer’s eyes what to focus on and in what order." -

When browsing artworks online, I stumbled across an illustrator turn designer, James Lacey, who creates posters amongst other things. I could see how he used colour in his design and how he relates the message with the colour.

I found this particular poster interesting having just discovered in an article regarding the hierarchy in colour, that red in competitive sport such as wrestling, boxing etc, tends to win most over its counter colour, blue. Fittingly, this poster illustrates a man in a red suit, similar to an olympic athlete competing in weightlifting. This image is giving signs of competition, in my view, it is competing against other events hosting similar music potentially on the same day. Red wins the battle, and in this case is showing off with the added twist of weightlifter using one arm to lift the record weights.

But as we are deconstructing an illustration, my search became less text heavy and more story telling through pictures. Unfortunately I didn't see who created the following artwork to reference them, but I did see the similarities compared to our illustration.

Similar to our illustration, the use of the cool colours act as shadows / less important details in the story. The crowd is perhaps mentioned in the story, but the hierarchy is the man sitting in the centre. I think the message here is "beat the rush hour commute, work from home!" We are presented with a very relaxed man sitting cross legged on a lounger chair working from a laptop, which is also a sign of remote work and the luxury of being able to sit anywhere to operate. Green has been used well in this composition to give you the sense of a calming environment.

Going back to our illustration

What if I took away all colour? Where does your eyes go?

With a quick glance at the image, you almost lose sight of the children. Yet my eyes are drawn to the details on the left. There are a lot of contrasts in this area, which doesn't feel so strong in its original form. Black and white makes the illustration noisy. The reds have turned to a middle tone grey and is now no longer screaming for your attention. The dragon, however, is still the most visible due to its size. He too has strong contrasting areas, but if it wasn't for the treasure, and that overcast shadow from the torch, he could be lost in the background. An interesting result but I'm not sure this proves anything.

The Story

I believe the story is following the children into the cave. Is the dragon the hierarchy overall? In power yes, in size yes, and with the red glowing colour of its skin, yes. The girl looks very confident and thrilled with their discovery, whilst the boy looks as though he would prefer to turn around and head for the exit immediately. Fortunately the dragon is fast asleep on their arrival! A the children have discovered the dragon, we have most likely already been introduced to the children before entering the cave. Giving spotlight to another character doesn't really lose sight of them, it just introduces the "problem" in the story. Secondly, it's a fire breathing dragon with size and power on his side! The antagonist painted red has entered the story, time for trouble!

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