APP1: Choosing the design style for the poster set

In this blog post, I will be assessing what style I will use to create my set of posters from, highlighting a couple of inspiring examples from each category to point out any advantages and disadvantages I would have if I went in that direction. I will also make some brief experiments along the way to help me evaluate the best style for this project.

What style to use?

I believe I only have one real option for this project – illustration. It probably would be possible to mix it with photographs, say for the backgrounds, but the level of photography out there for the land speed record is not of a good enough to use and there would not be much else left to do than overlay some information.

Illustration will allow me to be creative, original and expressive in a manner that can highlight the adventure of the FIA Outright World Land Speed Record (now own referred to as the Land Speed Record). It will take longer to create everything, but I had built this into the schedule so it is not a problem.

What types of illustration?

From the research I did last year for my Options module, which I placed into a blog post, I realised there were two main fields of illustration – traditional and digital – so this is what I will now assess, but in a more detailed format than before as I am now looking into advanced professional practice.

Illustration: A Theoretical and Contextual Perspective by Alan Male
Illustration: A Theoretical and Contextual Perspective by Alan Male (Image from Amazon)

The other thing to mention is that after reading Illustration: A Theoretical and Contextual Perspective by Alan Male, he focused on illustrations either being literal or conceptual. Literal illustrations “tend to represent pictorial truths” with “an accurate description of reality” by “creating a scene that is credible” – which is just what I need to produce in order to meet the expectations of the audience, after all, there is no point producing an illustration that “may contain elements of reality, but as a whole take a whole different form or meaning.”

Traditional Illustration: To do this, it would involve creating the illustrations in an ‘analogue’ style on paper, then progressing on to scanning them in. One immediate drawback I can think I could only produce work at A4, although scanning them in at more than 300dpi would help, I think it would need major digital editing for a professional look. My first thoughts are that digital illustration will be much more suitable for this project, but I will still investigate this area.

Sketching/Drawing: This style is the one I am most familiar with, as I have practiced with this technique a lot in the past, but not so much recently. It would not be difficult to get back into the swing of things, but I am not at a professional standard.

As the below pencil illustration (to call it a sketch seems far too casual for such a refined piece of art) by Kevin Hayward on RacingPencilArt.com shows, the advantage with sketching using pencils and/or fineliners is that there an ability to add a lot of textures into the illustration. This example is detailed enough that it is bordering on being classed as photorealistic, a fantastic quality my posters would benefit from.

Pencil illustration of Damon Hill by Kevin Hayward
Pencil illustration of Damon Hill by Kevin Hayward

I have realised that I predominantly now use sketches as brief ideas so concepts are rough and there is no need for ‘neat’ drawings as such. An example of the sketches I normally produce can be seen below.

Screen Shot 2013-11-10 at 10.17.55 Screen Shot 2013-11-10 at 10.18.05

As my research shows, this is a interesting style with a lot of merit as the monochromatic nature can draw out the finer shapes and details, as it does in photography. However, I think only a near photorealistic style will work with this technique and there is the issue that the audience are used to colourful posters as it helps them to stand out.

Painting: I struggled enormously to come across a painting that was relevant, inspiring, and appealing to the project. However, just a couple of days ago I came across Nicolas Hunziker’s acrylic on canvas work for McLaren’s 50th anniversary. As a McLaren fan I was very pleased to see that a 2014 calendar is being produced with these artworks, so I must get one of those! Anyway, back on topic, the bright colours initially caught my eye, and I think that his work does a good job of striking the balance between detail and a slightly abstract appearance in some parts.

Nicolas Hunziker's artwork celebrating McLaren's 50th anniversary
Image from McLaren F1: Nicolas Hunziker’s artwork

I think however, with the abstract backgrounds, this is not the style I would be looking to replicate/use as a starting point for my posters, however, I am aware that they are many other styles of painting but as I won’t be using this style I won’t take excessive time researching into it.

I did not experiment with this style, as I have no experience, and no equipment to experiment with. This is not such a problem though, as I do not believe this style is what the audience are looking for. However, in the next section I’ll look into its digital equivalent and see where that goes.

Digital illustration:

Vector: This is a style of illustration that can create very ‘real’ looking images, something the audience are looking to see. The question comes of how flat do you go? The trend at the minute is to produce very flat designs with no visual depth, which I am not sure would be suitable for the project. However, vector illustrations can also be very complex and realistic looking. I will start with the flattest and work upwards.

Vintage illustration - London secrets and inventions by The Design Surgery
Vintage illustration – London secrets and inventions by The Design Surgery

The above illustration by The Design Surgery was one of the flattest vector illustrations I came across on my research. It was also one of the best as I think they have met their brief perfectly to produce an editorial illustration. However, I have used this example to show why I think this level of flatness would not work for the poster set I am to design. The colour scheme does not help being quite muted, but being so flat does not jump out at the audience so much and I do not think it is so easy to pick out little details that I think the audience will appreciate being included in the posters I design.

A slightly less flat design was The Champions by Kyle Robertson, a beautiful print of Formula 1 World Champion driver’s helmets. It is still ‘flat’, but goes to show what a slight highlight can do to lessen the flatness of an image. It also helps that the colour palette is brighter, something I will be featuring with my posters.

Kyle Designer - The Champions
Kyle Robertson – The Champions

A style of vector illustration I have found very interesting over the years is looking at the SpottersGuides.com produced by Andy Blackmore, who provides “creative services for the motorsport industry”. These guides are a fantastic example of how vector illustrations can be used to create great looking vehicles, and this has given me many ideas (to follow at a later date!) as to how I could create my Land Speed Record vehicles.

Screenshot of Andy Blackmore SpotterGuides.com DTM illustrations
A screenshot of a couple of Andy Blackmore’s DTM illustrations for SpottersGuides.com

I think the work Andy Blackmore has produced is highly relevant to the work I want to produce, as I can learn lots with regards to how he forms his illustrations, in a manner that can improve my own work. Vector illustration certainly looks to be the strongest option open to me for this project.

Digital Art: This illustration style can be used much in the same way as painting, only the method of input is different, using a graphics tablet instead of a brush. When done right, fantastic effects can be achieved that can set the scene very well.

The below sketch of an Audi Nanuk Quattro by the Audi Design Department shows how realistic objects can be created, and given a very futuristic, technological aura if required. I think this style would be well suited to show off the vehicles in their best light, being realistic enough to be understood, but ‘arty’ enough to show the creative side in the engineering of the vehicle.

Audi Nanuk Quattro
Image from Audi Design Studies department of the Nanuk Quattro concept car

I also decided to conduct a brief experiment using this skill to create a car, to see if I had the relevant skills or could learn it in time. Starting with an image of an Acura NSX concept with the opacity lowered, I brushed over it in different layers, altering the shape of it in my illustration to test what could and could not be done.

Honda NSX - Work in Progress...

As can be seen, despite the roughness of the image (obviously in an primitive, unfinished state) it was not bad for a very early attempt at using a graphics tablet, but not of the skill level that I would need to carry a project off to the professional standard I need, like the Audi sketch above from their design department. It would also be extremely time consuming, and be difficult, although not impossible to pick out all the details, such as sponsors etc.

Another approach to this style that has caught my attention is how illustrators can create amazing ‘digital paintings’ – the below example is by Connor Maynard, a fellow student when I was in the HND group, someone whose work I have always admired and is an excellent example of what can be illustrated in this style.

Barbarocracy illustration by Connor Maynard
Barbarocracy illustration by Connor Maynard

This approach however did give an indirect idea of mixing vector illustration for the vehicles, then this illustration style for the background scenery. So I did another experiment to find out what could be achieved.

Screen Shot 2013-11-09 at 13.39.49

I think has worked well, as I used a gradient for the background (Photoshop has a very useful Chrome gradient which can be used as a starting point) but complemented this with a brush to create a hilly backdrop, which surround many of the deserts where Land Speed Records have been set. I also added a Motion Blur to experiment how to show dynamism in the posters.

I also did a third, and final experiment, looking into what could be achieved with a looser, informal sketching style that I am more used to. While I have already discussed that this is not suitable for the project, it does allow me to evaluate techniques on a wider scale that help me to experiment and create ideas.

Screen Shot 2013-11-09 at 13.14.00

A looser, informal sketching style definitely works best to help me start building up skills in this area. As to why I didn’t experiment with a Land Speed Record scene, I just like to let my imagination control where I go with experiments, so any scene could be drawn!

Conclusion:

Traditional or Digital? I think digital illustration is a much better way for me to go with this project, as there is an ability to create a high quality set of posters, where the designs have the most flexibility to be changed as the project progresses, giving me crisp colours and bold shapes. I will also be able to replicate the smaller details in much better quality that will allow the audience to drink in the poster’s qualities and understand what makes these vehicles so special.

What type of digital illustration? My research and experimentation highlights vector illustration as the most suitable style to produce the vehicles for my posters. It is the technique that allows me to create what I need to satisfy the audience requirements, it is a subject I know about, and it will push my knowledge of vector illustration, enabling me to become more professional with a better skill set along the way. The flexibility in the resizing of vector shapes is an added bonus as well, meaning these designs could fit other formats along the way as well.

However, I will not rule out the possibility of using my graphics tablet to create some of the backgrounds in Photoshop if I find this to be a better way forward. Overall, I think this will really depend on what my ideas and further experiments lead to.

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