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.

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.

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.

Play & Learn: Part 2

I decided to leave the topics aside for a while and look at the research suggestions provided the tutors. It was a great mix of videos, children books, graphic design, and work done by previous students, which helped me to start thinking outside the box and imagine possible outcomes of the project. Here are some  of my sketchbook spreads:

I also visited the Science Museum in London and looked at their permanent exhibition to see how they used playful interaction for educational purposes. I wish in hindsight that I spent less time downstairs and more in the “Engineer your Future” room, where they keep all their wacky science experiments. Wished I did some more sketching up there as well, but there were too many eager kids and watchful parents for my comfort. With that said, the hammer mechanism in the second image became pretty useful during our first group project.

Play & Learn: Part 1

Last summer we had to choose between four different primers which would become the foundation for our final year projects. One of these primers was Play & Learn, which focus on creating an interactive and playful learning experience through illustration and design. I choose to focus on thehistory of sugar, mostly because Nordiska Museet in Stockholm had a temporary exhibition on the subject. Here are some of the location drawings I produced during my visits.

Everything was new to me: even though I have heard the connections between sugar and colonialism, I had not yet understood the direct connections to slavery and rise of racism. I did not know that the sugar industry was the 7th largest industry in Sweden during the 1930s. The Swedish government lowered taxes for the industry to create job during the depression, which in turn propagate the cheap and healthy benefits of granulated sugar. I was also surprised to learn that sugar was used in Middle Eastern medicine to create the first medical pills and tablets during the 15th century, and that it was a key ingredient in medicine up to the 20th century. All information excited me, but it also became a problem: how would I ever be able to limit my focus to just one topic?