The blog of Hannah Robinson, artist, illustrator and graphic designer.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Overground Arts Fest, July 2012

Saturday can only be described as a day of pure happiness. I went along to the Green Backyard at 10am for the Overground Arts Festival, now in its third year. Luke Payn, one of the organisers, had invited me to be one of the guest artists there. Basically they get artists from all over to come along on the day and paint onto a wooden board. Most people there were graffiti artists of amazing talent, but there were some painters and collage-ers too. I’d been allocated a nice, un-intimidating 4’x4’ board, and I’d decided to do a grid based composition featuring one of my favourite things in the whole world: hand-drawn typography.

For those of you who don’t know or who are maybe reading from a far-flung place, The Green Backyard is a beautiful piece of land in the centre of Peterborough, and it is home to a number of amazing projects, like sculptures, allotments, a pond, a bee mound, free-range chickens, green energy, live music, art… the list goes on. It is run tirelessly by a father-daughter team as well as volunteers. Oh, and our city council would like to get rid of it. And replace it with a coach park.
Yes, you did just read that right.

So, outrage is plentiful round here at the moment, especially on a day like this one, where the sun beats down on delighted English people who have endured more than two months of sodden misery thanks to a mischievous jet stream. Why would the council want to get rid of such an amazing, popular community project? Especially as in the past Peterborough has led the way in green living, so I thought. In bleak economic times, a place that encourages sustainability and companionship, and shows us an alternative to consumerism must be a good thing, surely? If you want a coach park, can’t you dynamite Liquid or another ghastly nightclub?

Sigh. But the mood on Saturday was peaceful, and happy, mostly. I did have a strop mid way through my piece – the sun was beating down and I hadn’t had a beer yet. The colours were looking mucky and the brushwork was looking clumsy. I was on the verge of packing it all in, unfinished, and flopping on the grass with a drink, when someone cheerily approached asking me if they could buy it. I cheered up slightly. Five minutes later my neighbour who was also painting a board came over and asked if she could buy it. ‘I know exactly where I’m going to put it,’ she said. I cheered up a lot, and pushed onwards to finish it. Just who will end up with the final thing I don’t know, I didn’t pay for the board so it’s out of my hands. Here it is, all finished.

Oh, and in other news, I’m fully signed up to start a PTLLS (Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector) in September, which I can do at night around work. Very, very happy. Nothing like learning to shake life up a bit!

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Tuesdays - and the Artiste Complex...

Recently I was commissioned to do this zine-ish publication for St. John's in Peterborough. They wanted something interesting to give to visitors, to encourage them along to their events. I played around with drop shadow to create a 3d feel, but in the end the request for more colour meant the impact was lost somewhat, but I'm happy with the end result, and so is the client. Which is what really matters! Talking of which...

Customer is always right?

I sat in the pub recently with a friend of mine for whom I've done a few bits of work. One flyer in particular she let me go nuts with, and I hope it isn't big headed to say I was delighted with the result. At the same time I produced a poster for a children's holiday club, and was talking to my friend about how they'd requested it to be 'even more colourful', and asked me to have a different colour for each line of text. This request made me wince slightly, but I did it. My friend asked me how I felt about the final poster.
I shrugged. 'They liked it a lot, which is what matters most.'
She raised her eyebrows. 'I'd love for you to talk to a couple of my friends who are designers. They really don't like it when people ask for changes and get quite uptight about it.'

I can see where these friends are coming from, but I think it's very important to make sure you don't get too attached to your work, and are open to requests for changes. In fact, if you want to embark on a career as an illustrator or graphic designer, it's essential. Things will often get sent back maybe 5 or 6 times, (if you're lucky, but for bigger jobs it can run into double figures) and sometimes you will be asked to amend or delete an element you have grown really proud of.

There are ways you can get round this though, if the customer requests a change that you just don't think will work. 

Firstly, always have a go at what they want. If you don't try it, you won't be able to articulate your concerns as well.

Then, quickly mock up an alternative version that you think works better. Send the client both, and explain to them politely the concerns you have with their request, and how about they reconsider? That way your customer is able to physically see why your idea may work better for them. I used to be more timid about telling a client if I had reservations. Some of the most common problems I or my illustrator mates have had to tackle are:

  • Being sent way too much copy - result: finished product looks cramped, and the impact is lost.
  • Being asked to make things 'more colourful' (I get this a lot, serves me right for being an illustrator who loves bright colours. This one can ensure groans of frustration when I've carefully selected a kick-ass limited colour palette)
  • Getting sent photos and being asked to lay text over the top - Aaaaaaargh no.

I'm sure there are more. But these days I'm more confident about raising these issues with clients, and nine times out of ten they are grateful for your input. That's why they turn to designers in the first place - because they want a creative, yet clear outcome.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Peterborough Lions - complete

So, the lions are all done. It took a total of three whole weekends, two afternoons off work, about one hundred bottles of innocent smoothie ( I kid myself that they can replace proper fruit and veg), three flasks of hot water, many many teabags, six paintbrushes, fifteen tubes of paint, one special black pen and a roll of masking tape.

I loved it so much, but it would be a lie to say there were no challenges. I love painting but I don't get to do as much of it as I'd like. And when I started painting, it soon became clear that if I carried on at that pace, the lion would never get finished in time. So I had to adapt, and become looser, more chilled in my approach.

I don't normally use black. I believe when mixing, it kills a colour, and I'd rather find another way to achieve darker colours. BUT, in this instance, nothing was helping me acheive a clean, clear distinctive outline, until Stuart leant me his black pen, and a big obstacle was overcome. It sped up the process and allowed to get the look I wanted without faffery involving tiny paintbrushes and lots of swearing. Thanks Stuart!

I'm an illustrator at heart, and my work has a friendly, colourful look to it, which I suppose people must like if I get hired now and then. But I had to overcome some insecurity about my work: Would people like it? Will they get it? In the end I just have to do what I can and let people decide for themselves. My work isn't especially cool or profound, but hopefully I've given Peterborough a vibrant, energetic piece that people will want to walk around and explore. Let's hope so anyway.
Peterborough Museum were really accommodating and I loved pretending this magnificent venue was my studio for three weeks. Stuart and Cain were great neighbours too and I loved seeing them decorate their lions, not being familiar with spray art I was suitably awed.

So, the lions will welcome the Olympic torch when it comes into Peterborough tomorrow (3rd July) and then mine will be on display for a year. If you're local, come and enjoy them. If not... enjoy the photos.