IPS: Part 5

I finally started to make images, but the initial idea of making a 3D magazine was long gone at this point. For several weeks I thought of making a large interactive installation, but I never put my heart into it and drop it later. During this time period, I researched narratology and storytelling through object making, the cultural importance of the photo album, as well as the cultural politics of body modifications. I visited an open lecture at Konstfack regarding norm criticism, intersectionality and postcolonial perspective. Another thing I did was visit a transgender activism festival in Stockholm and listen to panel talks about trans identity and contemporary Swedish art.

All of this gave me some valuable input in visual portrayals and made me realize something quite oblivious: the best way to portrayal people in a dignified way is to imagine how they would portray themselves. I finally discarded the idea of painted banners and carte de visites, to focus more on emulating the look and feel of vintage photography. However, the idea of making deeply personal images, which resonated with my dissertation, went against the interactive installation concept, which almost demanded plainer and more archetypical designs that could be reorganized in several different ways.

At the start of the summer term, I tried to collect my thoughts and concerns about the project. I interpreted the story about failure and how we live with it. Maybe I was cynical at the time, but I felt that stories that focus on success and improvement overshadow a reality where bad things happen and we have to cope with it. Maybe it is several years of intense study, my loneliness, or my place in Swedish queer activism, but I suddenly realized that I miss a moment or place to mourn, to regret, to be non-productive, and these things are okay.

I wanted the story to show people making bad decisions, tensions that are left unresolved, with an underwhelming and uncertain end. I wanted the final piece to be incomplete, intentionally damaged, just like the characters portrayed within it. However, this realization stands against so much of my personality which has always pushed for being as productive, nice, and perfect as possible so I have still not fully accepted it.

IPS: Part 4

After the painting workshop with Rob Nicol I decided to make some small thumbnail paintings in watercolours and gouache to get a better sense of what colours I wanted to use. The colours were inspired by American artist Edward Hopper, who was active during the time period, as well as Swedish concept artist Simon Stålenhag, whose brushwork I really admire. At this point I had not yet decided if I wanted a monochrome colour scheme, or if I wanted each image to have muted colours. My external mentor Charlene Man suggested I could use both, making key images stand out with colours. The thumbnails also inspired some of the final images that focus on landscapes.

IPS: Part 3

I managed to fill out an entire sketchbook at the beginning of January for my IPS work, but most of my attention went into my Play & Learn project. I also worked on two personal projects that started out as foot notes but gradually took over my spring. This resulted in a sketchbook where the reference photos and moodboards almost surpass all the sketches. Most of the images were collected from library books and internet searching.

While the previous spreads focused on carte de visits and/or postcards, this spread was inspired by the “Moroccan Moments” and “Oriental Magic” banners, which suited the scorpion girl imagery that I already started working on. These references come from Abderrahman Slaouis book “The Orientalist Poster.” (Casablanca, Malika Editions) from 1997. I imagined that the two main characters agree to change their scene costumes to fit an orientalist theme. And since the sideshow was used to enforce racial stereotypes and eroticisation, I decided to look at oriental stereotypes rather than researching authentic fashion from Morocco. The sexualized depictions of women were later combined with a fantastic pulp cover to make a burlesque outfit in one of my final images.

These are the first thumbnails and/or quick sketches I did for the IPS, which feels like something I should have done earlier. I do not know why I have that gut feeling since I only used them after my primary research are finished, which it was at this point. I guess it was because my research were so vast and hard to define – I wanted my imagery to be quite realistic and follow the characters across US in the 1930s. Even though I’m slowly working to the finish line, it still feels like I have not done enough research.

These thumbnails also functions as the loose storyboard for the project. At this stage I imagined the final result to be a large interactive installation, a culmination of the experience I learned from the Play & Learn project. The images, as well as some short letters, would be presented in a cigar box. The audience would then pick up these memorabilia and put them on the wall, which would have different dramatic curves according to Kurt Vonnegut’s lecture about the shape of stories. Because of the interactive aspect, the images would not have to follow a strictly sequential storytelling but rather to stand out and be memorable on their own.

It took my at least one full afternoon to make all these thumbnails sketches. I focused more on realistic imagery and compositions rather than playing around with stylized or abstract image making. Main sources of inspiration was Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange for realism and Edward Hopper for compositions and level of detail. I also referred to Ransom Rigg’s book “Talking Pictures: Images and Messages Rescued from the Past” (New York, HarperCollins Publishers) from 2012.

At this point I decided to quickly go through all the thumbnails and redo them with ink splotches. The idea was to trim down the imagery and get a better sense of the graphic shapes. I did not put so much effort into it as you might guess, but it helped me come up with creative compositions that were later used for the final pieces.

External Project: Part 3

I sat in front of a lightbox for several hours the day before final presentation to make these refined sketches. They are primary made with pencil outlines and markers to add shadow and textures. I imagine that they would have different textures that could be mixed and matched, which would add extra flexibility for the game artists. The details are mostly based on Moroccan, Ethiopian and Nigerian designs, with a reoccurring motif in the form of an inverted drop-shape. It represents the rising sun as well as the comet the original tribes follow when they left earth thousands of years ago.

I made a building entirely out of four different kit-parts I designed to show how they would work practically, as well as a ruined version to show what the player would encounter. This version was without doubt the thing I struggled most with, mainly because it was difficult to decide how intact the ruins should be. Too little and there would not be challenging enough for the players, too much and the challenge would be to hard. I solved it by removing the outer walls, opening up the ruin like André Bloc's sculptures, or a damaged beehive. You have a pretty good idea of the foundation, but you do not know how far the middle tower stretched, nor how it ended.

The team was quite impressed by my work and thought there was a good balance of simplicity and details. The only complaint I got was that one of the designers really disliked the idea of tiled roofs, but that can always be changed in the future. I personally also felt that I should have made larger building block that suited my previous sketches, like slanted round bases, gates, air wells, wind catchers and more. The main idea is pretty solid though and I really hope they commission me for professional concept art in the near future.

External Project: Part 2

Two sketchbooks later and I had lots of sketches and ideas, but I had no idea how to combine them. I really enjoyed the stone carved churches of Ethiopia, the organic shapes of adobe spectacular in Nigeria and Mali, as well as the geometric shapes and patterns in Moroccan and Moor architecture, but they are quite different from each other. I also felt that I forgot the Byzantine elements, which I wanted to explore and perhaps add in. My first attempt was redraw sketches in the style of adobe spectacular and André Bloc. The result was quite dissatisfying, so I started to add Moroccan architecture to the mix and draw complete buildings.

At this point I felt all my sketches were flat and lacked volume, which was really problematic for designing 3d elements. I decided to switch to markers and make simpler sketches to get the general shape and volume right. This helped me to go through my ideas and find elements that I enjoyed, meaning that I gradually left adobe spectacular and focused more on the Moroccan elements. The designs I enjoyed the most was then redrawn in rough pencil sketches just before my sketch meeting with the studio.

The studio really enjoyed my research process and the work I done so far, but they pointed out that I had mainly focused on towers and building blocks. They asked me to draw separate public buildings, like temples, plazas and markets. During all my research I had also forgot to break down my designs into hexagon blocks, as well as drawing ruins. There was in other words lot of things I needed to solve in just one week. The first step I took was to print a hexagon pattern and block in potential floor plans to see what kind of shapes I could use. This was later made into wireframes that I used for later sketches.

Some of the blocks were taken straight from my earlier sketches, while other expanded on earlier designs as well as new inspirations from Byzantine architecture, as well as older buildings from Tibet and Yemen. Adobe spectacular had at this point been reduced from silhouette designs to windows and portal designs, as well as some convex and concave blocks. Moroccan influences can mostly be seen through textures as well as the rows of arches. I also played with the idea of making larger blocks, like the air well and the large city port, but I had to cut them due to time constraints. The elements I did have was then combined into simple building sketches to see how well they would fit together.

Just a few days before the final presentation I decided to refine four styles of building blocks, three styles of roofs, and some additional elements. Not only did I look back at my previous sketches, but I also added elements from Ethiopian architecture and add the rounded tiled roofs of Hagia Sofia in Turkey. I also did some outdoor stairs without railing, similar to Tunisian architecture as seen in the old Star Wars trilogy. Slowly my final designs started to come together.

External Project: Part 1

The last task we got during final year was to choose one of several external projects, where we either enter competitions or collaborate with professional businesses or organizations. I choose to collaborate with a small indie game studio and produce concept art for an upcoming game. Since it is still under development, I cannot delve into details as much as I usually do. However, I can say that the task was to create hexagon architecture blocks or kit-parts they could use to generate buildings. They also wanted the architecture to be a combination/evolution of ancient egyptian, byzantine and ottoman styles and motifs.

However, I was more interested in African architecture and symbols since that is something we rarely see in video games. My first stop was to watch the first season of the BBC documentary “Lost Kingdoms of Africa,” which explored Nubia, Ethiopia, Great Zimbabwe and West Africa. I got so inspired that I filled an A5 sketchbook with 40 pages over a weekend! Most sketches are from the first season, but there are also some patterns and symbols from library books as well as inspirational photographs that I had to pixelate for the blog.

Before I went into second season, I decided to look at installation artist Ernesto Neto, architectures Frederick John Kiesler and André Bloc, sci-fi artists Roger Dean and Mœbius, organic shapes like termite mounds, pitcher plants, and banksia pods. I also loaned some books on African and/or Islamic architecture, which generated several pages of thumbnail sketches. This was quite good, since the second season of the documentary focused more on folklore and artefacts than architecture, which made it less useful to me. The exception was the episode about the Berber kingdom of Marocco, which slowly became my main source of inspiration.

IPS: Part 2

I did not work as much on my IPS during the first term as I wish I had. I planned to spend two days every week just working on it, but in reality I spent more time on the Play & Learn project as well as working on my Sugar Skull molds, a pet project I had since Unit 8. I also spent more time than I originally planned on my dissertation, which put me into a logical thinking mode that made me visually numb. I tried to combat this by watching HBO’s Carnivàle and writing drafts of diary entries and letters that would suit the performers. It did help me flesh out the story and characters, as well as shifting the point of view, but visually I was almost stunned.

I borrowed several books for research during the Christmas holiday. One of the books had an interesting collection of sideshow banners, which really caught my attention. I painted several small reproductions with gouache that was cut and glued into my sketchbook. At this stage I still played with the idea of making large oil-painted sideshow banners myself, but I later dropped that idea.

I looked at feminist erotic comics and literature to ensure that my Tijuana bible would be empowering and sexy without consorting to the male gaze as most pornography does.

The first three weeks of the spring term was dedicated to the Play & Learn project, to ensure it would be finished by the Interim show. I thought I could return to my IPS without any problems, but at this point I had drifted so far from my original ideas, which honestly were quite vague, that I did not know what to do. Should I try to make lot of delicate artworks before I even knew the synopsis of my story? How should I visualize the characters without using harmful stereotypes? Would the Tijuana bible I spent so much time researching really add something, or would it confuse the message? And what message was I aiming for, really?

Play & Learn: Part 6

How do you make a game less fun to play, but not making it preachy or boring? I did not want to change the game system too much since it was rather balanced and enjoyed by all test players. No, my approach was to work more on the visual identity of the game. After discussing my problems with tutors and other students, I decided to make the game boards separate and more human-like to create empathy and compassion. Another aim was to emulate the graphic design from the time period in the rules and cards, as well as adding trivia about the experiments. Finally, I also decided to add images of damaged teeth to visually emphasize the consequence of the experiments. Some of my discarded ideas include red ID number on each board as well as forcing the players to wear surgical masks during play.

I returned to London about a week before the spring term started. This gave me plenty of time to discuss my ideas with the 3d design and ceramics technicians. They advised me to only make the tokens in porcelain, unlike my original idea were everything but the lips were made in a slip mould. Because of this, I had to come up with new designs that moved away from time-consuming ceramics to something that would be easier to mass produce. I also needed to ensure that the final design would not be too grotesque and off-putting. The minimal board designs would be cheaper overall, but they did not evoke the same emotions in the players as the larger face-shaped boards that I finally went with.

I decided to make the boards out of birch plywood since birch was one of the most popular woods in Swedish design from the time period. After a trip to the 4D ModelShop in London, the silicon lips were changed to plastizone due to time constraint and costs. I also laser-cut a special token tray that I used to make roughly 180 porcelain tokens that was sprayed with an transparent glaze. I order paper samples from G.F. Smith and Paper Back, but ended up printing on some thicker paper from a local stationers due to time limitations. While I did all this, I also read the book Sockerförsöket by Elin Bommenel, which explain the experiments, from the historical and political context to the scientific methods and collaborations with the industry. The book also mentions the consequences of the experiments, the controversies regarding the final report and how it was used to reform the Swedish dental care. It was three intensive weeks to say the least!

Play & Learn: Part 5

I finally had an idea for my outcome, but I needed to research different games to better find game mechanics that better conveyed my message. I originally looked at Kalaha and other Mancala games, since they are both very simple and offers loads of different strategies. I also wanted to make game tokens that represented teeth, so that the players would literally handle other people's teeth while they played the game. I also looked at Operation and Crocodile Dentist since you are encouraged to remove parts from the patients. I even played with the idea to make a disembodied face to collect the tokens from, but it felt way to grotesque and disrespectful.

This is another quick sketch on flimsy newsprint, but this wireframe helped me to structure the rules and visualize what kind of game elements (boards, cards, tokens) that I needed to produce for the mock-up. Since the rule system itself conveys a message, I realized that I needed to playtest it several times with friends and other students.

This mock-up is made of three thin MDF boards that were laser-cut into 9 mouths and 126 tokens, which were used to estimate roughly how many bricks should be collected each turn and when the game should be considered finished. I wrote the first draft of the rules based on these tests and designed 11 kinds of cards the player would use during play. I have played it several times against other students and it seemed fairly well-balanced. Some suggested that I should add some sort of consequence for removing the last token from a mouth, but otherwise it was fun. Way too fun. Honestly, I was not prepared that it would be so fun to remove teeth tokens from minimalistic mouths!

How do you make a game less fun to play, but not making it preachy or boring? I did not want to change the game system too much since it was rather balanced and enjoyed by all test players. No, my approach was to work more on the visual identity of the game. After discussing my problems with tutors and other students, I decided to make the game boards separate and more human-like to create empathy and compassion. Another aim was to emulate the graphic design from the time period in the rules and cards, as well as adding trivia about the experiments. Finally, I also decided to add images of damaged teeth to visually emphasize the consequence of the experiments. Some of my discarded ideas include red ID number on each board as well as forcing the players to wear surgical masks during play.

Play & Learn: Part 3

University started with a group project, where I collaborated with Auguste, Ev, Molly, and Sophie. The first task was to present your research and ideas to the others in your group. We had less than 10 min to prepare, which explains the extra sketchy sketchiness of my wrinkly newsprint sketches.

Since most of us have chosen the same theme and Sophie actually had some ideas of a potential outcome, we decided to expand it. The first meeting was fruitful, but I think we left with very different ideas of how we wanted to expand it. I got really frustrating during the next meeting since it suddenly felt that people wished to redo the process entirely rather than polish it.

Photographs by Ev Laguë

After discussing the different points of view, we came around and decided to focus on how much work was needed to process sugar. The users had to cut down sugar canes with a machete to reach the sugar chest, which they needed to unlock with a small key. They then had to withdraw a piñata sugar loaf with some sugar nips, before they smashed it. When they broke the loaf open, they would find 12 sugar cubes with some educational illustrations that correctly arranged describe the whole work process. My task was to design and make the sugar chest and lock mechanism.

I originally wanted to make the chest in wood, but we felt that it would take too much time. I therefore switched to 3 mm and 5 mm foam panels, which were cut, glued and painted with acrylics to look like wood. I also used some mirror cards that was left from earlier projects to create nails and hinges. The design was comically exaggerated  and yet simplified, without the drilled bottom and drawer that was commonly used to save every grain of sugar.

However, the thing I am most proud of is the padlock, which I designed based on ancient Iranian locks as well as an interactive display from the Science Museum. The lock is simple yet functional and could really be locked with a key that Auguste designed and laser cut.

Most elements came together rather nicely when we prepared for thedemonstration. The sugar canes were colourful, the tools were functional, the chest was stable, the piñata loaf was beautiful, and the sugar cubes was graphically clear. I thought our work was one of the most engaging pieces, but we still discovered several areas we could improve on. It was for example unclear for the people testing it to understand that they were supposed to cut the canes and smash the loaf. We should also have reworked the loaf so it would be possible to reuse it, perhaps by using Velcro or something? I also thought I should have made the lock bigger so the key would be more in scale with the other tools we had. Overall, it was a nice project and I am very happy with the end result.