Galileo & Mick Brownfield

A lunar eclipse occurs when Sun, Earth and Moon are in a perfect alignment, right? Well three things came together recently and there is some fugitive sendipity, some tangential connection between them so I thought I would take out my iQuill and see if I can resolve them.

You know the way that sometimes history can brush your soul for a moment as you realise a major figure from the past stood where just where you are now standing? It doesn’t always happen. My history teacher at school certainly never prompted it. David Starkey doesn’t do it for me either. Mary Beard and Joann Fletcher can. I digress . . .

There was a glorious full moon on Dartmoor recently. It was huge and heavy. My wife, Sandy and I stared at it, in the garden and in awe. By chance, a day or so later, I came across this sketch by Galileo.

I adore it. So now I must try not to gush but aside from the simple beauty of the page was the impact of the likeness – we see the exact same moon as Galileo Galilei, 1564 – 1642. Today we often see science portrayed as a sterile, cold activity (and The Man in the White Suit is a favourite film of mine) yet there is something in this sketch that speaks of simple humanity, curiosity and wonder. It’s moving. OK, I gushed. Blame the phase of the moon.

The second body to share my orbit was just last week when Mick Brownfield appeared on Facebook out of the blue. We have worked together a couple of times. He is a big cheese (like the moon). Remember those great Heinken ads? Advertising boys and girls love his work just as much as editorial does. His work is amongst the best contemporary illustration and has, well, just always been there. He seems full of that blend of youthful enthusiasm and slight melancholy I feel like that myself on many a day. The coincidence? Well you might ask. The talented Mr Brownfield’s work graced the first Pan paperback of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in it’s modest beginings. Neither of us has a copy of it – anyone? Mick has a host a utterly fab visual references to space and sci-fi in his mighty portfolio. (I wish now I had given him a more open brief. Sorry Mick.) In particular he has great affinity for the lighter-side of SF and popular culture. The wide-eyed optimism of the public appetite for early space travel, the comic-book super-powered heroes – the fun. And we share a pleasure in the space tin-toy. That mad clash between leading edge technology reproduced in gaudy print on feeble materials driven by clockwork. And, curse it, he has a collection that puts my minor shelf to shame. And Brownfield artwork now brightens up my Facebook stream. Which is nice.

And the third body? Well it was this. Last Thursday I visited the lively exhibition of 1st and 2nd year Illustration students at Plymouth University where I teach. I had a good chat with David Smart about research amongst University staff. I had often thought, just on the back-burner, that the research for Visual Communication/Graphics/Illustration was Fine Art. In some ways maybe it is but I was interested to learn that effectively it is a commitment to continuing education/exploration by staff and the sharing of that knowledge. I must admit it got me thinking. Over the hot weekend, as I mowed our grass, I found myself joining the dots from Galileo’s sketches of the moon back to Egyptian portrayals of the Sun and Moon. To romantic painters’ emotional use of Moon and Stars. The sinister symbolism of the necromancers. To Georges Méliès‘ chaotic film predictions. To Dan Dare and the paintings of Chesley Bonestell that exited me so much as a boy (and still do). The paintings of Robert Rauschenberg. And on to Hubble and digital photography and Star Trek and a creeping, lingering question of whether the power of the illustrators’ imaginings of the heavens will be lost? Replaced by photographic images of such high resolution they raise questions about time itself. Does regular exposure to CGI mean we will lose our sense of wonder? I already have with films that hire scriptwriters who do not match the scope of Asimov, Alfred Bester, Ursula le Guinn and Philp K. Dick. Art Directors need great writers.

Will all those young illustration students find the opportunities they need for their work? Do we celebrate our wealth of living illustration talent enough? Where are the retrospective exhibitions of Mick Brownfield, Chris Moore, Ian Miller, Chris Foss, Brian Sanders? A list I shall abort and leave it for a dissertation one day – it can only lead me into trouble here! And they all do way more than sci-fi. The Leyendecker and Rockwell‘s of out time?

Time for a major exhibition of the artists who have excited our imaginations and envisioned our futures? And we too, like Galileo, can look at the stars. And wonder.

Art Students, Plymouth 2012


Regular readers may recall I visited Plymouth University as an Associate Lecturer last year. A two week stint running a Type & Layout workshop with First Year Illustration. There were 45 in the group and it was busy, fun and the Uni has a good feel to it. So I was pleased when Ashley Potter asked me back this year.
 

O, just one thing, Gary. There are 69 students this time” Muttering darkly under my breath I cheerily assured my Course Leader that would be no problem. Half as many again? Oo, er.

First up was a personal introduction in the lecture theatre called ‘Who is this Bloke?‘. Serried rows of gimlet eyes peering through the dim light. Elevated baked seating like the Barcelona’s Camp Nou Stadium. Without the football. Or the numbers. Or the noise. And it was Plymouth. Some smart questions which is always a good sign. Second part, ‘What is Type‘ – to give them an introduction for the project. Attention can wander after too long so this became a fairly rapid-fire exercise knowing that I had the images on my iPad and would be able to refer back to them through the coming weeks. A great teaching tool. (Not me, the iPad).

Back in the studio with 69 students. They all had good space to work but rounding them up took forever as small groups milled about like grazing wildebeest. Getting their attention meant raising my voice too much and disturbing Year Two across the partition. Fix required. So that evening I rummaged in the workshop for a ball of string and two clamps to bisect the room. Once my side of the string they began to coalesce into a group and we could talk normally. The novelty broke the ice and registration became String Time. Certainly the closest I’ll ever get to any comprehension of String Theory anyway.

It may sound amusing, in fact a little humour is often the best way to tackle a problem, but imagine the extra strain on the course with so many – marshalling groups, timetables, paperwork, logistics etc. With University fees restructured no doubt there has been a surge intake with students’ natural desire to beat fees hike. Some even by-passed a Foundation Year. Ducking under the fiscal string . . .

 

Work time, sleeves rolled up. Ashley rallied round and called in the delightful Claire Harper whose help was invaluable. Groups of six students at a time and I made as much one-on-one time as I could. So much to share, so little time.

Initially they seemed to struggle with what was expected and, to be fair, it is not easy to explore  with type when you are new to it – remember these are illustration students. There is a decent work ethic in the group and the desire to meet expectations maybe inhibited them at times. At one point I was concerned that vitality shown in layout was a bit lost in final pieces. Yet by the end they produced great first-year work. Some by natural talent, some by graft, some too timid, some really stretching themselves and a few by epic escapology! Have a look at the work they produced here.

Will 69 complete the course? Will 69 well rounded happy young adults emerge? Will all become professional illustrators and be making a good living in a few years time? From what I have seen, probably a few more than you might think. But in the end, how long is a piece of string?

What do you think?

Hibrow – images

 

At last I have been able to design a website without the miserable prospect of wrestling with Dreamweaver. Since it’s absorbtion into Adobe Creative Suite I had hoped it would work as smoothly as Photoshop. But it doesn’t.

Sorry but the simplest code makes my forehead bleed. And the Hibrow site is very ambitious. Joy of joys, the team had engaged the boffins at Code Circus to deliver the build, integrated with the systems of Don Boyd. I was given free space to create in. Which, in turn, meant Tim & Tom, at Code Circus went through several meetings where they had clearly concluded I was certifiably bonkers. But hey, their site is ‘under construction’!

 

 

Quite soon the muse and the crews began to dance in step. More the Mashed-Potato than a Waltz at the start but it worked . . . In fact it worked very well.

Setting about the website design for Hibrow it quickly became apparent that the wealth of content would need good organisation to help the users’ experience. One of the principal aspects to address were the six categories of the arts covered; Art, Music, Literature, Theatre, Dance & Cinema.

 

We wanted quick, easy to use navigation and, naturally, as few clicks as possible to get to the content desired. Colour coding helped in this. But pace is important. It is a given in Book, Magazine and Publication design but often overlooked in Web design. A dense, repetitive site can tire or bore a user. This is less of a problem for Hibrow, as the content is primarily HD Video, but the issue remains, especially over time, as the volume of content grows. With Hibrow it will accomodate around 10 hours of new material every month. So pace is a matter of much importance in forward design planning.

We developed category ‘Title’ pages, gathering some great talent to showcase each section and set the mood for the audience. We are really pleased with these launch contributions. I could easily over-gush with the adjectives for these talented people. Do check out their websites to see more of their terrific creative work . . .

 

 

The celebrated Dan Fern allowed us to use a detail of ‘Cantus 4’ which uses painted threads on a linen-backed map. ‘Cantus’ is the title of a piece of music by Arvo Pärt. A favourite of the artist (and mine). Watch out for Dan’s new Roots work. It is beautiful.

 

 

I had seen this image at the Degree shows at Plymouth University last year. It is by Graphic Design graduate Pippa Jupe and is one part of a series which plays with the printed book form. I love it when I can use or commission work for people early in their careers.

 

 

A section of a painting from the work of Ian Walton ‘X-11’. His large, wonderful canvases and installations have always fascinated me. I have bought several over the years.

 dance-scaled1000

 

A striking exhibition at the Bowie Gallery in Totnes prompted the choice of these crab claws by artist Ione Rucquoi. Thought-provoking images. Intrigued to see where they lead . . .

 cinema-scaled1000

 

Thanks to digital communications to Bangkok, Thailand for making delivery of this sumptuous shot from the wonderful photographer, Simon Larbalestier. Cineaste, Don Boyd cooed over this one!

 

 

The Music category hit last minute snags! Well one out of six . . . But, not to be defeated I took my Höfner Violin Bass out into the garden and gently placed it in the sunshine, on an old gate. And shot it myself.

They make rather nice digital postcards too. But don’t forget the link to www.hibrow.tv

Do you have a favourite?