Exercise: Client Visuals


Two illustrations that have a range of content. The task is to reduce them to simple ‘visuals’ so that the barest meaning of the imagery can be discerned. This represents an early stage in the artist’s work where the overall composition and content might be shown to a client before proceeding with the final artwork itself.

Trish Biddle – Festival of Trees 2

Dimensions: 800 x 600 pixels on screen.

Description of content:

Two ladies in stylish hats and dress stand outside a bistro or shop adjacent to a town square where a red-brick building of neo-classical design is situated. A red, sporty car, cabriolet with the roof off, is passing – driven by an equally stylish woman with a dog. On the pavement is another woman with a dog talking to a fifth woman seated under a black table parasol. It might be nighttime as streetlights are on but there is plenty of ambient light – it does not look moody or dramatic.

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Here are a first and second attempt to reduce the first image to the minimum number of lines. Int he first line drawing I found myself enjoying filling in some of the details that were later omitted from the second.

By comparison the first image looks cluttered. Some of the things I’ve drawn are too heavily present compared to the impact they make in the original illustration. In the second I’ve focussed as much as possible on the five women and their hats… it seems to be the hats that are meeting for coffee more than the women.

The strongest focus seems to be the woman standing with here dog in the centre of the picture… many of the other parts of the image lead us to that figure and she is a darker tone than everything else in the centre of the picture, bar the Scottish Terrier.

In the end I barely hinted at the other buildings. Indeed, the setting could be changed quite radically, but retaining the elements indicated in my second sketch, without changing the underlaying mood and meaning of the picture. I suspect this is Paris (judging from other works by the artist in this vein) so the outfits, hats and (if this rings a Breakfast at Tiffany’s bell) the coffee cups (updated since Audrey Hepburn held one), are the point here… I can hear Moon River right now!

[ …except that I’ve just done a little digging and that neo-classical building in the background looks just like Southlake Town Hall, Texas… the picture is named for a fund-raiser in that town… it maybe the artist’s home town. Streetview is really useful. Maybe the ‘Festival of Trees’ is a bit like Royal Ascott? ]

Maurice Sendak – Where the Wild Things Are (Children’s Book Cover)

Image size: 1280 x 800 pixels on screen/ 229 x 143mm in print

My artwork size: 594mm x 371mm

Reflections on progress…

I think I’m doing this wrong. Halfway through drawing the words ‘Client Visuals’ are running through my head and I’m feeling uneasy. I think I know what a client visual is but I’ve got a gut feeling that there’s a problem. I think the penny has just dropped. Looking at the previous work above the best description is a ‘sketch’ rather than a ‘client visual’. They are more like outlines or memos to help remember a plan. The ‘client’ on the other hand, as mentioned in the course text, may not be ‘visually fluent’ and needs more help to understand the intention behind a ‘rough’.

I’m looking at this process through the wrong end of the telescope because I’m starting with the finished work and trying to produce a theoretical halfway stage where the idea is presented. I’ve gone too far back to the ideas stage of the illustrator’s work – where he is trying out ideas for himself, not for others, to see.

The exercise asks us to ‘distil’ the image to an ‘extremely edited form’ and this implies an effort to minimise the marks on the paper to their least number. Perhaps I am taking this too literally – rather than minimising the number of marks I could look to some other metric of reduction.

Through this process the definition of ‘Line Drawing’ has bothered me – I don’t think I know the range of imagery encompassed by the description ‘line drawing’. I’m beginning to change how I see that range, including now a larger set of illustration with forms of shading and tonal expression that I would have discounted before as being ‘tonal’ not ‘line’. To take this to its logical conclusion it is obvious that a line has a tonal value… that many lines can conspire to darken an area by crowding and thickening. I do not think that ‘line drawing’ should restrict me as much as it does… to a pencil or fineliner… and I’m drawn more towards experimenting with willow charcoal for the possibilities allowed by varying the thickness of a line as it is drawn.

But putting aside the actual drawing media my main observation is that the Client Visual should not suggest a ‘sketch’… it should make the look of the finished work accessible, now, to the intended audience.

With that aim in mind it is the first of my two sketches of the Trish Biddle work that more successfully communicates the end work. Distilling it further by removing background details served more to distance the visual from the overall look of the finished work rather than focussing the viewer’s attention on the ‘salient points’. The background forms a part of the mesh that binds the parts of the image together and removing it has crossed a line where the second visual fails to communicate some of the important atmosphere of the picture – it takes the scene out of the town and leaves it in a visual limbo.

Reflections… Aside

I’ve come back to this to re-iterate a bother in my head about line drawings. I’m sure I’ll find a nice resolution and understanding to this in the future but right now I can’t get my head around it.

Let’s use some outrageous stereotypes… The Visual person and the Language person: these are like the ‘Right Brain’ and ‘Left Brain’ dominant people respectively. Forget about the real world and its shades of grey for a moment, let’s just put everyone into one box or the other.

Then let’s assume that I’ve got a room full of the client’s people (Language people) and they’re looking at my line visual to determine development of an illustration. I’m a ‘Visual People’, by the way.

What do they see? Well, they see objects and label them… ‘tree’, ‘river’, ‘bird’, ‘animal of some kind’… and then they do the same as anyone and make personal associations… the tree they had outside their bedroom window as a child; the river they fell in when out rowing with their parents, the bird that shits on their car, their pet cat. They haven’t seen the picture. They’ve decoded the representations and made associations from them.

So now I’m wondering… is that the point? Is the ‘sign off’ at this stage all to do with ‘factual content’, perhaps including that conveyed by the composition in terms of relative size (therefore importance), what dominates, what’s hidden?

What if one person in the room… the client… is a Visual Person… they look at the line drawing and say it lacks ‘tonal contrast’, I say “yes… that will be in the next version”… they understand because they are a ‘Visual Person’ – they can imagine it. No-else in the room can because they’re all ‘Language People’.

Framing the whole thing like this starts to make me think of the ‘Visuals’ stage in a different way. I start to think more clearly about what I don’t need to put into the drawing. This could be a process of turning my ideas into just composition and labels, and then drawing what is meant by the labels.

I had a dilemma about how to represent the background in the town… is it needed in the line visual? I now think that ‘something’ is needed, some thing that can be seen by a ‘Language’ person and labelled as… ‘town’ or ‘buildings’… dismissed as ‘not detailed’ but ‘understood’.

This makes me the bridge between Visual People and Language People, able to communicate the same idea to both using the same line visual. This needs practice.


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