This past semester, I took my first graphic design class ever! (Also my first UPenn class!) It was my favourite class of the semester, simply due to the fact that it gave me a break from computer science and linguistics, but also, I really, genuinely enjoyed the class, from the projects to my professor to my classmates. Shoutout to Louise and Steph (pictured above on the left and right, photo credz to our prof, which he took during our end-of-term art salon, featuring work from all five sections of Art, Design, and Digital Culture) for the lovely memories, the late nights, and the celebratory dinners. Anywho, I wanted to put all my work from this class together so that I could look back on it, and also to serve as a resource for friends who have asked me about this course. It’s not laid out in a pretty portfolio format, but it’s the general idea of a portfolio haha.
Project 1: visualising sound, sign for the future, invisible cities
For our first project, we learned how to use Illustrator. This first project came in three parts, but the three parts were so different that it felt like three separate projects.
For the first part, we were asked to listen to a sound and visualise it abstractly using figure-ground (basically black and white contrast). My sound was that of a leaking faucet. Because the sound was so subtle, I felt like I couldn’t do too much with my visualisation. I started with the dripping spiral (which I liked) and played with it from there. I’m still not completely happy with how this project turned out because I feel like the background looks busier than the sound sounded, but at least my professor found the figure-ground relationship in this work compelling. That said about the background, I still must say that I’m unreasonably happy with how smooth my waves turned out; drawing my first passable wave with Illustrator’s pen tool was a proud moment.
For the second part, we were asked to create a sign for a future problem. For me, this took the form of a road sign that warns you when there’s another dimension up ahead. I was set on using bold, iconic graphics, but even within that scope, I went through so many iterations to develop this visualisation (whilst also developing signage ideas for other future problems). The process and all the variations I went through really makes me feel like there’s purpose to all the elements I ended up using. I’d share that process here, but I want to keep this post as streamlined as possible. Whilst I especially enjoyed the process of this project, this project is also one of my favourites in regards to how it turned out. It’s a simple graphic, but I think it’s effective, and it’s even more legit printed out!
For the third part, we were asked to choose a city from Italo Calvino’s collection Invisible Cities and illustrate it. I chose Octavia, the hanging city. I think I did a good job illustrating the whimsicality of the city, but I could have improved upon conveying tension. I’m happy with the texture of the cliff and the overall colour palette I used. If you look closely, there are small details of the city that I managed to incorporate, such as hanging laundry, swings, chandeliers, buckets, and pans, which I’m proud of. But I also think that I needed to be more aware of the scale of my project and realise that these details were too little for viewers to pick up on. Another thing about this project was that it required straight-up drawing, which I hadn’t done in quite awhile and so was insecure about, but perhaps my crude illustration worked for that childlike whimsicality.
Project 2: storyboard, animation
For our second project, we learned how to use Photoshop, particularly the timeline for animation. This second project came in two parts, the storyboard and the animation, but our professor was more interested in us focusing on the animation. We were asked to choose a poem or short story and then animate it.
My animation is based on the children’s poem “The Astronaut’s Whale” by Joey Barro (credz to Kat for finding this poem for me). I was attracted to how playful the poem was and wanted to convey that playfulness in my animation through the construction of my elements. Part of the requirement for the project was to use images found online and edit and piece them together to form something cohesive — no original illustrations allowed! — so I’m especially proud of how well all these elements fit together. I used a variety of textures and images of toys. Something that was convenient about my animation is that it took place in the ocean and then in space, both environments in which things float, so I didn’t need to worry about moving characters limb by limb (or flipper by flipper?). This animation is one of my favourite projects in regards to how it turned out, along with the sign for the future.
We also had the option of using After Effects, or a combination of both Photoshop and After Effects, but after playing around with After Effects for a class period (which is three hours), I decided that After Effects wasn’t for me and wasn’t worth learning for this short-term project. And I preferred the vibe of Photoshop’s frame by frame animation for this story anyway. But. If you’re interested in animating, After Effects is worth learning and is easier to use than Photoshop once you know how to use it.
You can also check out the animations my classmates made from the Youtube playlist our professor put together.
Project 3: data visualisation, paper wearable
For our third project, we learned how to use Processing. I can never escape computer science!! jkjk. But, funny/not so funny anecdote. Or not even an anecdote. Just a comment. Intro to computer science is taught in Processing at Bryn Mawr and taught in Python at Haverford, but I took it at Haverford, so I never learned Processing. But it’s basically Java. Which I also don’t really have much experience with but. It was fine.
For this project, we needed to choose some aspect of ourselves to log data about, visualise that data, and then somehow incorporate that visualisation as a paper wearable. I chose to use my blog’s Google Analytics data, which spans almost three years (I’ve been blogging for longer, but I switched platforms), because I figured that I might as well use all that data that had already been logged for me. The green circles show the amount of sessions per month, the shades of green show the ratio of old sessions to new sessions, the red circles show the amount of users per month, and the circles are in chronological order by month. Yeaaaah my stats have been tailing off, but anywayyy…
I wasn’t keen on constructing a paper wearable, so I decided to do fine papercutting and hopefully wow my professor with the intricacy of it to distract from the fact that it was an otherwise plain design. Because of the intricacy of the lines, I didn’t want to incorporate colour in the collar. My professor agreed, but he really liked the colours in the visualisation, so I incorporated colour as a separate wearable in the form of hoop earrings.
Project 4: public art
For our fourth project, we weren’t given much instruction except to choose a topic of interest to us and make some public art to convey that message. Then we had to put together a short video to recap the project and reflect on how it was received by the public. This was our final project and we worked in groups of two to three. Of course, Louise, Steph, and I formed a group.
The three of us didn’t have any problems coming up with ideas. We had several. But we weren’t especially struck by a particular one and so weren’t able to stick to an idea. In the end, we had to just pick one from the bunch and commit to it, regardless of how satisfied (or not) we were of it.
The concept of our project was that we wanted to inspire students to think beyond the college bubble, to think beyond the routine of attending class, studying, eating, and sleeping. And I don’t mean thinking beyond college as in thinking about your career, but rather thinking about your values, about what matters, and about what kind of impact you want to make.
Another thing we struggled with for this project was having the resources to create something large enough. For a lot of public art, scale alone is what draws people in. I think scale could have elevated our project significantly, especially considering our message of thinking big. Originally we had wanted our project to span a glorious set of wide stairs at a quad, but the amount of printing required was way out of budget. Oh well. We made do with what we had.
Last notes on the class… It’s super process oriented, and class is usually split between critiquing/reviewing the progress we’ve made on our projects and working on our projects. Sometimes there was lecture sprinkled in there, but my professor wasn’t huge on giving lectures and often shared the lecture slides in our course folder to read on our own time.
In addition to our projects, we also had to keep visual diaries (to help with the creative process), post to the class blog twice a week (to find inspiration and inspire each other), and had two “pop” quizzes in the whole semester (our professor always told us when a “pop” quiz was coming up).
It’s been too long since I’ve taken any sort of art course, and this course was just a dip into graphic design. I’m looking forward to taking more graphic design courses at UPenn during my last semester of college! Part of me is like, I wouldn’t mind staying in school for another semester so that I could take all the graphic design courses I could…