Research and planning for assignment 3

arnolfini-mind-mapRe-appropriating images

The Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife Giovanna Cenami by Jan van Eyck is an extraordinary piece, full of symbolism and connotation. ( Are those two things the same?)
The portrait was painted in Bruges and 1434. Viewing it almost 500 years later it’s easy to make suppositions and interpretations without understanding the context and conventions of the time . Though the scene is in the bedroom , which today may be considered a private space , it was not uncommon for a bedroom to be open to visitors in the 1400s . The couple are standing in the doorway, looking of the room and in the mirror behind them another couple are reflected, who would be facing them, looking into the room.  My initial response seeing the Arnolfini couple was that they were newly wed and that the wife was pregnant . My research shows that neither of these ideas were true .

It has been interesting to discover the way clothing was used in portraits to represent wealth and a fashionable merchant class . The woman in the portrait is wearing a winter gown trimmed with fur despite it clearly being a bright and warm day  as indicated by the light at the window. The oranges suggest that it would have been  summer , but the winter clothes both figures are wearing would be more ostentatious. The gathered folds of green fabric might suggest pregnancy to the modern eye and I but were in fact the style of the day for those who could afford gowns with many extra yards of fabric.

The rug on the floor and brass chandelier also indicate wealth. Only one candle is lit, again indicating a bright day. The single candle could represent the presence of God.  The circular mirror is decorated with small illustrations showing the stations of the cross, another object which indicates wealth, whilst also showing that the Arnolfini couple were not alone. The dog in the foreground represents faithfulness which adds to the confusion of the status of the couple as possible newly-weds.

There are wooden sandals on the floor, perhaps again indicating wealth. This is one of the earliest portraits of people other than royalty, a couple that the merchant classes could identify with, as their homes and clothing would be similar. Although the man has been identified, there is some question about the identity of the woman. I wonder if she is an idealised image? Perhaps someone Arnolfini would like to marry?  The two possibilities of who the woman could be remained unmarried in the year the portrait was painted. Most art historians accepted that the painting was a portrait of Giovanni di Arrigo Arnolfini and his wife Jeanne Cenami but a chance discovery in 1997 established that they were married in 1447, thirteen years after the date on the painting and six years after van Eyck’s death.


Why was it painted?

Van Eyck would have been commissioned to paint the portrait and It seems that the painting was originally thought of as almost a marriage document, a record of the couple’s wedding. . It is an interesting idea that it may have been a wishful image of the bride that Arnolfini would have liked. Perhaps a fantasy woman.

Who would have seen it?
The original image would have been seen by few people compared to the millions who visit the National Gallery in London , where the painting now hangs. To have access to galleries such as these online is an extraordinary event . Paintings can be viewed by people all over the world . When I researched the painting I found information on the Khan Academy site which also enlarged areas of the work allowing me to see detail .

How would audiences have interpreted the painting?
As this was one of the earliest portraits of non-royalty, I imagine that people viewing it would have readily identified with it.  They would have observed the symbols of wealth and would have possibly recognised the people portrayed. As it is a very skilled painting with incredible detail, I imagine it would have been very well received in it’s day.

My chosen image

My chosen image – a photograph by Tom Hunter  appropriating the Vermeer painting. This has been seen in exhibitions, in newspapers and magazines, in books, possibly on posters advertising exhibitions of the photographer’s work, and online. Art is more available to the masses through mass communication.

Why was it produced?

As part of an exhibition drawing attention to the plight of squatters. In an interview in the Guardian the Tom Hunter says
“I just wanted to take a picture showing the dignity of squatter life – a piece of propaganda to save my neighbourhood.
I took this in 1997, for my master’s degree show at the Royal College of Art. The 17th-century golden age of Dutch painting had had a massive impact on me: the way they dealt with ordinary people, not kings, queens and generals. I thought if I could borrow their style for squatters and travellers, it would elevate their status. In this shot, inspired by Vermeer’s Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window, my next-door neighbour is reading the possession order.”


Move over old media gatekeepers

“Get used to the idea of significant portion of the population walking around with high-speed Internet connections on their person, with sophisticated video cameras built in. They will be shooting all kinds of events all the time. Crime. Crashes. Speeches. Sports. And the footage won’t be the short, sanitized and safe versions we usually see on television, courtesy of the old media gatekeepers. The user-generated pictures and video will be raw and real. It will be disturbing, yet illuminating. And it will be shared over the ‘Net almost as it happens, and available for everyone to see.”
― Ian Lamont

Exercise 4 Cutting edge

Connecting in cyberspace. I suppose it is true that we are all more connected but connected to what? I buy from eBay and Amazon. I look for ideas on Pinterest and music on YouTube. there are opportunities to play interactive games and Candy Crush and Scrabble are my favourite. However, I am not connecting to anyone else, it is a solo shopping trip and a solo media
Yes, I use Facebook. Not a lot, but sometimes it is good to see what friends are doing on their holidays. If I “like” a photo I am sending a supportive message to a friend which could be construed as connecting but still there is no real contact. People I have never met ask to “friend” me and then I don’t hear from them unless they are promoting an event or selling a product. I am on Linkedin and people ask to connect with me but I never hear from them again unless they want an endorsement. Maybe its me but this all feels like just another form of marketing and I am not that thrilled with it. I want to engage with people in the physicality of life, not through a screen. I guess I am old fashioned.
However, when it comes to interest groups things change. Literally. Groups of people form organically, attracted by a common desire to either learn more, support others or incite change. The difference between this and mass marketing is that people are doing it for themselves. People are seeking out kindred spirits and connecting regardless of geography. This is what I find exciting.
Although petition sites such as Avaaz and SumOfUs may not win design awards, the work they do in pulling people together from all over the world to demand change, is somewhat spectacular.faces-63516_960_720
Oh, and I do use Skype which is a fantastic way to connect with my son in America, friends in South Africa, work colleagues and clients. Here is an application that does connect people at a deeper level and it is an amazing gift as it is free.



Researching new ideas and sites, I am reminded that new things emerge as a result of an interest or need in the public audience. This is almost a form of systems theory where the feedback determines the product. I came across a few interesting interactive sites designed to calm and reduce stress.
Pixel Thoughts is simple with basic graphics and yet effective in inviting the viewer to type what is bothering them in a few words. This appears in a bubble which gradually reduces in size and disappears whilst offering a reminder of the vastness of the galaxy in which we live. It appeals to me because of its simplicity and the diminishing  thoughts do seem to reduce stress.
Silk is a doodle platform where the viewer creates beautiful images that are relaxing. It is not a drawing tool and actually quite difficult to control but the results and the options are ethereal . The image can be saved, there is no log in, no sense of emails being collected and an extraordinarily pleasant offering.doodle on silkweave.png Here is one I made earlier.



One of my favourite films is The Life of Pi and I was really pleased to find a website called Pi’s Epic Journey  describing the making of the film. life-of-pi1The site is as clever and entertaining as the film with several interactive screens and plenty of information.





A site that does leave me feeling connected is A Network for Grateful Living. There are reading resources, opportunities to contribute to online questions in sharing forums, a beautifully crafted virtual candle lighting, online book groups, videos, blogs and other community based events.  This site has been around for a long time but I still feel that the technology is great and the concept is wonderful. It is upgraded and dynamic, seeing ways to connect people.  . It could be described as entertaining and informing in some ways.

Reflecting on my choices here I see that I am mostly drawn to more relaxing and “quiet” sites that offer something less busy, however I do appreciate the complexity of the technology and the enormous skills of the designers. I am also aware of some of the extraordinary apps available and the fact that my phone takes better photos than my camera.

Yes, it is entirely up to you how new media is used and if it appeals to you.

Exercise 3 Visual conventions for time and place

I have been reflecting on the past, initially imagining  how it might have been  for a Cro-Magnon  cave painter in France. The aim is to create an animated series of animals. You have no paint, brushes, pencils or pens. The surface is unprepared and uneven and there is no south facing window of natural light. These were the conditions for stone – age artists 20,000 years ago.Lascaux cave painting (Public Domain)
Despite this, cave paintings found in Lascaux  not only depict beautiful representations of creatures, but they show animals that appear to run when lit with flickering candles. In this way, the artists created a sense of movement, and therefore time, as well as the freedom of space.
In South America,  more than 2,000 years ago,  one of the earliest  Mayan murals  was painted on a plaster wall.  The   30 feet long  piece  has a central image of the crowning of the king, making the whole mural into one event.


At the other end of the world, in Japan, one of the earliest comics, from the 1100’s known as “Frolicking Animals and People ” is a treasured artwork  comprising four scrolls. The  first scroll is 36 feet long and the amusing line drawings depict  animals imitating people in different activities such as archery. The parts of the scroll I was able to see online, show vegetation, streams, hills and trees in the background, indicating that the animals are outdoors and not in a zoo or enclosed space.


The slightly earlier Bayeux tapestry presents a stream of events which include outdoor roasting on spits and food preparation, messengers riding on horseback with hair flying in the wind, as well as battles . Again the vegetation indicates the landscape and this changes as the viewer moves forward literally, and forward in the narrative. Indoor space is signified by a roof and pillars and when travelling across water, the sea is shown as wavy lines. More about that below.


Neelkanth Temple, Yann Forget, Wikipedia Commons

Neelkanth Temple, Yann Forget, Wikipedia Commons

My research for this exercise took me to so many fascinating examples of early visual communication including Indian erotica carved into cave walls  and of course the Egyptian hieroglyphics which I was fortunate to see when visiting Egypt some years ago.
The conditions of the era fascinate me and the perseverance needed to create these paintings and carvings. The sense of craftsmanship and tactile connection to the materials, be they pigment made from berries or stone chipping at stone, it seems so different compared to the technology of today when creating visual imagery on screens.  Yet whatever the medium, whatever the conditions, the impulse to communicate with visual illustration seems to be an inherent part of the human psyche of artists.


Back to the task at hand, and exploring early Egyptian art, I am reminded of the means of communicating through signs and signifiers and semiotics shows that each culture holds its own visual language.eye of horus An example of this is perhaps the most familiar of Egyptian symbols – the eye of Horus and the ankh. In modern day Europe we might consider the eye to represent watching but to the Egyptians it was used to represent protection and healing.
Some symbols do seem to have a more archetypal feel such as the similarity between the ankh and the Christian cross. The ankh is the symbol of eternal life, the breath of life needed in the afterlife. The Christian cross, whilst it can be seen as a literal symbol of crucifixion, is also used to represent eternal life and probably draws on the traditional iconography of the ankh.


The Egyptian hieroglyphics are ordered into horizontal or vertical rows, almost a precursor to the horizontal frame – by –  frame images telling a story sequentially such as on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel. This religious narrative painted in the 1500’s tells the story in a frame – by – frame sequence as  a narrative set in sequential blocks of time. However the Egyptian hieroglyphics were also sometimes designed to be read from left to right and the next piece from right to left. The clue is in which way the people or animals face.


In more recent times comics such as Rupert the Bear told the story through sequential images as did Dennis the Menace, but with the addition of speech bubbles. However, there were satirical cartoons and comics for adults long before then including Punch in the 1800s.
When film took a series of still images and created animation, this became a variation rather than the next step, although the results are  a leap forward.
Observing the evolution of visual communication of this kind and how it progressed to reach a wider audience by utilising signs and symbols with a more universal understanding, I have seen more use of expression on faces, posture, gesture and clothing in illustrations. A man with a happy face wearing waders and carrying a fishing rod is clearly indicating someone going fishing for sport. The connotations could be fine weather, peace and quiet, solitude and relaxation. We do talk about “dress codes” for different events, we know a policeman by his uniform, and we know that a queen wears a crown. However, unless the reader has knowledge of fishing and recognises the fishing rod, or has seen a local policeman, the symbols are not understood.

In more modern visuals there is also more use of distance, detail, close up and panoramic views to give a sense of place and space.

Visual communication is only successful if the viewer can connect to the image through something previously experienced. The viewer creates meaning from the image by relating it to similar groups of images in her mind and things she may have learned in the past. The images that can be seen from the viewer’s perspective are therefore the most successful at relaying the information. Some exceptions to this might be the universal symbols of the sun and moon and other natural objects.

In creating an image with the sun in the background we can tell that the event takes place in the daylight as people everywhere will relate to the image of the sun and light.  Interestingly, back to the Egyptian hieroglyphs, the symbol for water water heiroglyphmight also be considered universal or archetypal.  Although it might literally appear to denote waves, it is understood to signify water which could be a pond or lake as well. We see it also used  in the astrological sign of Aquarius as well as notices advising people of areas safe to swim. swimming_clip_art_15823The Egyptians used a method of enclosing the symbol to denote water in an enclosed space.

In more modern times I find it curious the way graphic novels have evolved. Initially I imagined the term to mean stories that might contain explicit material, perhaps about crime or worse. I am better informed now, but still curious that novels such as Bye Bye Birdie Bye Bye Birdie by Shirley Hughes that have no words at all. Although the illustrations are complex and finely drawn, in visual communication terms it is not that different to the ceiling of the Sistine chapel, is it?

I notice my own prejudice around textless books and my concern that children and young people don’t read widely and well. And yet we are drawn to imagery and perhaps we are most drawn to images that we quickly recognise the archetype or symbolism.

In searching for images expressing a sense of place, I  was particularly drawn to an image in the Bridgeman Library that was a painting of the Swimming pool on The Titanic.  An indoor pool room depicted in shades of blue and silvery grey, with portholes in one side readily gave an impression of a room with metallic walls on a ship.  The swimmers are relaxed and it was an innocuous illustration denoting a leisure activity, but the connotations were powerful. (Safely swimming inside the ship were several people who would soon be drowning in the sea.) More powerful perhaps was the title as it tells us of the impending doom.

This exercise has been  a process of moving from the general to the specific. I used online libraries and art sites as well as paper books and YouTube. Specific search terms are naturally the most helpful and the internet is an extraordinary resource. When using a search term such as “early comics” I found that it could lead into other areas of interest and perhaps more detail, all contributing to a sense of overwhelm at the amount of information that is so readily available.


My final thoughts are to recognise that the connotations surrounding an image appear to activate the imagination in the same way that poetry might.



Visual Communications : Exercise 2 Knitting Patterns

Knitting mind map

Knitting mind map

A quick knitting mind map reminded me of when my sons were very young. I knitted jumpers with  cars and trains trundling across the front and zip-up jackets in stripes of red and blue.

Knitting was enjoyable and for young children it did not take too long.

Researching vintage knitting patterns has been amusing and looking at contemporary wearable art is humbling. My imagination has stretched to understand knitting on your own arms and fingers. Most of all I am happy that there seems to be a trend towards men taking up knitting. Traditionally men and boys learned to knit, supposedly as a result of creating fishing nets. Now it is presented as a relaxing, therapeutic, sociable, creative and productive activity. For me it has been those things and I am not sure why I stopped knitting.

Arm knitting

Arm knitting

This beautiful shawl (left) was knitted on a pair of arms, while this arm bangle (below) was knitted with wire. Knitting offers amazing opportunities.

Knitting with wire

Knitting with wire

graffiti knitting

graffiti knitting

Knitting a scarf on your fingers

Knitting a scarf on your fingers

Yarn Bomb

Yarn Bomb

knit card

Fire-fighters knitting

Fire-fighters knitting

knitting tea cosy knitting toy knitting toys

Knitted wall art

Knitted wall art

knitted wearable art

Wearable art knitted by Alison Ellen

knitting 1



Exercise 1 The next big thing

An image of American actress and fashion designer Chloe Sevigny recently caught my attention.  She was wearing what was described as a 90’s style dress but in this season’s colour – a pale pink . The dress was well above the knee, reminding me that hemlines and heels go up and down in cycles.   Looking closer to home I found British designer Amanda Wakely had  a long pink dress on the catwalk this year.

amanda wakely pale pink 2016
In March The Guardian newspaper ran a feature on fashion, citing pink as the next big thing. I researched this to see who else was wearing this colour and was surprised to find it a popular choice with celebrities, the Royals as well as mere mortals at Royal Ascot this year.

charles and camilla royal ascot 2016 ( Getty Images)
Who decides what the colour of the year will be and how it will transform our lives? I was cynical about this, seeing it more as a powerful advertising ploy that big brand names use to seduce people into buying their products. My research for this exercise showed me a different picture and has given me more faith in my fellow humans as well as more insight into how The Next Big Thing might emerge.

Where I imagined a sort of slavish following of trends, it seems it might be the other way round. Now that it is possible to share information on an unimaginable scale, people like Pantone are able to do a close reading on what is evolving and emerging in different arenas, from what colour shoes  and what colour wedding cakes people are buying more of, to what the global mood is, and why. top-wedding-cake-trends-2016-620x414This information and trend –setting can then be mirrored back to specific audiences via the internet, film adverts, magazines and newspapers, as well as social media.

As a result of their information-gathering, the 2016 Pantone colour is actually two colours. The unusual decision to have two  colours seems like a great example of the divided state of our own country (UK), the pre –election extremes in the US, and the world at large. The need to bring two sides together whilst acknowledging their separateness. Pantone have also looked at the trend towards mindfulness that has been gradually rising and recently seen in an explosion of colouring books for adults to reduce stress.serenity  So the natural response to the fear and mayhem in the world for many people is to turn to those things that calm and comfort.

I see the two colours of the year, Rose Quartz (pink) and Serenity (blue) as soothing and somewhat hopeful. While I do not intend to re-paint my living room in either of these colours, mainly because I would then need to replace my red sofa , I am curious to see how these colours are expressed.
I looked up Apartment Therapy having had them tipped as one of the best interior blogging sites and saw a fine example of the use of this year’s colours.


pink and blue room on apartment therapy blof credit Lona Kennedypink and blue interior
Inspired by this I looked at journalist, Kate Watson-Smythe’s blog, Mad About the House. There I read that paint fashionistas Little Greene have created various new shades of pink for 2016 and the managing director David Motterhead is quoted as saying it is ”….massively on trend in fashion and interiors.”

Following the ideas discovered in my research, my prediction for colours for next year would be neutrals. This might be wishful thinking but if the next big thing was to have a more politically neutral response generally, we might move away from the fixed opinions and divisive attitudes that prevail  at this time. Perhaps there will be a move towards natural colours such as sand, hessian, forest green, ivory and  dove grey.

While I have not been particularly aware of trending influences in my own life, I am more interested having researched this topic and I look forward to seeing the Pantone colour for 2017. The concept of past, present and future trends interacting with each other is one to watch.

Visual communications; Exercise 1 What does this apple mean?

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar and sometimes an apple is just an apple, but not when it appears symbolically as a communication tool. Looking at a range of images across the ages, it seems that an apple can be a signifier of health, death, beauty, evil, fertility and love.

apple dali
Most famously the apple is the forbidden fruit from the Judeo- Christian mythology of Adam and Eve.  Images of Eve offering the forbidden fruit to Adam were popular themes for artists. The image here is a bronze sculpture by Salvador Dali with the serpent creating a wonderful heart shape.


I found out recently that the Latin word for apple and the Latin word for evil are the same – malum. So an apple can be evil? Although the apple was from Tree Of Knowledge, it has come to represent temptation of a more sexual kind. The serpent is an obvious phallic symbol encouraging the young couple, lest there be any doubt.
Apples have been seen as a health-giving fruit and “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” could contribute to the idea of beauty. Round rosy cheeks were likened to rosy apples. And then there was the jealous wicked step-mother who tried to poison Snow White with a round rosy apple.

Monna Pomona 1864 Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1828-1882 Presented by Alfred A. de Pass 1910

Monna Pomona 1864 Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1828-1882 Presented by Alfred A. de Pass 1910

apple advert
Perhaps because of the range of symbolism, the apple can represent wholeness – good and evil, health and death. However, in most images it seems to signify sexual temptation and loss of innocence.


In the Apple computer advert once again there is the rosy apple, and in Rossetti’s  painting of Monna Pomona the apple is held against the breast in a gesture of temptation. It seems that overtly or covertly, the apple has become a powerful signifier of the most primitive urge.


Adam and Eve!

Apple image

Visual communications : Exercise 3 Film posters


I chose the film poster for Brooklyn because I have read the book and seen the film. It is set in the 1950’s and is a story of a young Irish girl leaving her hometown to go to America in search of a better life. Sponsored by a priest who was from her home town, the main character Ellis is promised a job and somewhere to live. Although this all manifests, Ellis struggles with homesickness and loneliness. As the film unfolds we see that she has to choose between her life in Brooklyn and her home back in Ireland.

The main image on the poster is the character of Ellis set in sharp focus and centrally. Behind her the Brooklyn skyline is slightly out of focus and she is looking away from it, perhaps towards her Irish home. She wears a serious and slightly sad expression of thoughtfulness. Her face is framed by the sky suggesting innocence . Ellis has a hairstyle and clothing in keeping with the era and the simplicity of the poster reflects that time too. She is holding onto the rails of a boat which extend behind her. There is a sense of her separateness from Brooklyn, and almost a hint of her being in a no-man’s-land.

The actor is not particularly well known but as a youthful , pretty woman, the poster would draw attention from both men and women. Ellis wears a tightly fitted navy blue top with a scooped neck and the quality of skin tone is attractive. The use of so much blue in the sky, water and her clothing, accentuates her blue eyes , whilst also suggesting a strong emotional quality to the film.

The typography, all in white, is plain and apart from the title of the film, it is all rather small, again drawing the eye to the image of Ellis rather than the text on the poster. The cast and director’s names are across the top, leaving the image of Ellis almost undisturbed apart from two pieces of information bracketed by laurel leaves. The film was selected by New York and Toronto for their 2015 film festivals. Again, this is rather small as if the designer does not want anything to detract from the main image.
There are two well known actors in the film , Jim Broadbent and Julie Walters, and yet their names are not emphasised or used in ways that would sell the film.


I feel that the poster is a good reflection of the film and its romantic genre. It is a mix of gentle and soft as expressed by the background and the blues and whites, alongside the sharper image of sadness and yearning.

Montage and collage as reportage?

Looking at John Hartfield’s art I was interested to see that montage was such an important medium. I had imagined that collage and montage was more of a decorative art or illustration. How wrong I was. Heartfield’s work is described by Peter Pachnicke and Kalus Bonner as “ …it allows the viewer to develop his own thoughts imagination and sensual perceptiveness.” The images that I saw in my research were varied in content but mostly black and white photomontage or with limited palettes. His pioneering  use of typography is inspiring. Within his political work  his powerful  messages in the context of Nazi Germany are almost an historical record of Hitler’s rise to power. As such they remain relevant today.

Martha Rosler’s collage work was less interesting to me. Although the feminist emphasis is still important I feel the images in this context are dated.

I like the depths in some of Peter Kennards work particularly the pieces connected with the news truck . I noticed that a lot of his work is also in black-and-white .

After looking at Hannah Hochs work I felt inspired to do something with a human figure . From all of these artists I understood the need to keep the image sharp and uncluttered , and to be very careful with colour.

Further research took me to Suzanne Sbarge and her mixed media work using paint and collage. Although her images appear to be exotic and less about a specific message , I find them very attractive and thought-provoking .

When doing this exercise I found myself thinking about the format, the composition , the message , the context , how it might be received by different audiences , and if the image would stand the test of time.

Also had in mind the McLuhan quote : “The medium is the message.” Although I can see that this is not altogether true, the collage and photomontage work does reflect some of the strange relationships of the their time. There is a message in this particular medium which feels as if it is emphasised by the juxtapositions of images.

Exercise 2 Re-contextualising images

recontextualised imageThis image called Land of the Free was created by cutting out images and gluing them onto a piece of paper. The Statue of Liberty was black and white but the wall and Trump face were in colour.  I created the sign on the wall by typing on a plain piece of paper and gluing it to the wall and then drawing on and around it to make it look more realistic.

After researching collage artists,  (see Reflections) I decided to photocopy the collage in black and white which I feel works well to bring the images together. I am pleased with the overall message and the images, but surprised at how long it took to create after coming up with the idea. Perhaps if I had looked at images first and worked them into an idea it would have been different.

I have been increasingly aware of the use of technology in visual communications so explored ways of creating collage on my computer. I found a free site that allowed me to do something very simple. The result is more interesting to me mainly because of the possibility of changing the image’s opacity. I am calling this The Unlucky Traveller. As a beginner with a  first experience with paper and scissors, and then a computer generated collage, I feel very drawn to creating more on the computer.BeFunky Collage