COSMOS ILLUSTRATIONS: AN AUTISTIC PERSPECTIVE OF DRAWING TO MAKING
In dedication and memory of my little brother, Thomas, who inspires me to be who I am today. May my artwork find you and bring you joy.
Author My name is Lawrence Aaron Gilson, and I am the illustrator and author behind The Little Spaceman. I am inspired by the classic fairy tales such as Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Cinderella, and I am always watching Disney films. My passion for writing and animation started from my love of Disney films, fantasy books – my favourite being Harry Potter – and the universe beyond our world. The pseudonym formed originally as a username for my Instagram page that focused on my illustrations and paintings. I began to use Cosmos Illustrations frequently and it grew. I worked with my graphic designer Emma jayne creative to create a logo and business cards, as I decided to keep my new illustrative identity to start slowly developing ideas for a freelance career as an illustrator and author. I have struggled with anxiety for as long as I can remember and Cosmos Illustrations became a therapeutic outlet for me, allowing me to explore ideas and concepts around my own mental health and my experiences of being on the autistic spectrum. It has enabled me to have a voice and to fully explore my own identity as a creative person.
For my degree show, I wanted to incorporate this idea of creative identity and highlight awareness of mental health as well as struggles an autistic person may experience throughout their day-to-day lives. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time studying at Cardiff Metropolitan University for my BA Hons degree. Having been an artist, designer; maker student for five years now, I have gained invaluable skills that are easily transferable and are skills I will continue to use, flourish, and develop on the Illustration & Animation Masters I have just been accepted onto. I have learned a valuable amount in my third year to do with professional practice and where you find artist opportunities. This has been incredibly helpful for me, as I have started to independently exhibit my work with small galleries, in small exhibitions and I am going to be exhibiting at The Autism Directory’s TADLive21 show in September. I am looking forward to the future, to see where my new pseudonym takes me next and how I can continue to develop, grow, and build myself as an illustrator and author.
Theory Theory has been the foundation of my creative practice for my degree show and I was particularly interested in exploring John Dewey’s 1987 Art as an Experience because it highlights the importance of experiences and how they can influence, intertwine, and develop into a creative practice. Below is a short article I wrote using John Dewey’s theory to help me process and understand the theory I have applied to my creative practice.
Art as An Experience by Dewey, J. (1987) Dewey (1987) explains that experiences occur continuously, because of the interactions of live creatures and environing conditions, which is in the very process of living. My understanding of this statement is that Dewy (1987) believes that experiences are continuous, due to our fast-paced lives and our experiences with our surroundings. Everything is an experience, from the way water hits our faces in the morning shower, to the way our tastebuds explode with glee when we sip our morning java. It is a denotation of our very existences, as we feel and experience everything. Dewey (1987) continues by stating that under conditions of resistance, as well as conflict, aspects and elements of self, alongside the world are implicated in this interaction, qualifying experience with emotions and ideas. This, then, allows conscious intent to emerge. In addition, Dewey (1987) appears to believe that our experiences with our emotions and our surrounding environments generate a creative process. However, I do not believe he limits this belief to a singular process of creativity. I believe our experiences increase our cognitive functioning – allowing a ‘flow’ from the consciousness to be creative, not only with art, but with other disciplines as well. For example, scientific thought processes, better understandings of foreign languages etc. Everything is built and developed by our experiences and our surroundings. An example of which I strongly believe uses Dewey (1987)’s theory of experience is the Disney movie ‘Soul’. ‘Soul’ is about a jazz player who is waiting for his golden opportunity to make it big and hours before the gig of a
lifetime, he falls down a manhole whilst on the phone and is later seen in a medicated coma in hospital because of this experience. Joe (the jazz player)’s soul is originally on the pathway to the Great Beyond, which is what I presume is their concept of ‘heaven’ in this movie (it is never explicitly referred too as ‘heaven’), but he tries to escape as he is ‘not ready’ to die when there is a lifetime experience waiting for him back home. He finds himself unable to escape and is continuously returned to the Great Before. Now, the Great Before is where unborn souls reside, and to earn their places on Earth, they are granted a mentor in the form of the world’s greatest people. The unborn souls then experience a magnitude of different experiences, passing the test and are departed to Earth to begin their new journey. After a series of failed escapism, Joe has the choice to mentor or return to the Great Beyond. He ‘borrows’ the identity of a renowned children’s psychiatrist and is assigned Soul 2 (bearing in mind, they’re now on something ridiculous like soul 5985). She has been unsuccessful with her mentoring, has failed to obtain
the ‘Earth Pass’ (allowing her unborn soul to depart onto Earth to be born) and is contented with her experiences of the Great Before, at least for some time. Eventually, Joe manages to depart back down to Earth, unintentionally bringing Soul 2 with him. Joe’s soul, however, latches onto that of a cat’s body, whilst Soul 2 is placed into Joe’s body. Meanwhile, the movie follows Joe guiding Soul 2 to be ready for the gig of a lifetime. In the process, she experiences life for the first time; she also experiences emotions too and ideas.
Autism Autism is a neurological developmental condition that affects an estimate of around 700,000 people across the UK. I have self-identified as autistic for years and I am currently in the process of getting an official diagnosis. I have embraced this part of myself, seeing the advantages it can bring to my creative practice and to the autistic community itself. I want to spread positivity about being autistic, about our brains seeing and experiencing the world differently to that of neurotypical people and that is okay. For my degree body of work, I wanted to focus on autism in a positive and fun way to engage with younger audiences to raise awareness and education. I wrote
a children’s book called ‘The Little Spaceman’ and he suffers chronic anxiety because of his experiences of the world. However, he is resilient and faces the adversity of the world despite his fears. The Little Spaceman is something I have wrote about my own experiences of the world. I often feel that I fear how big the world is, how busy, noisy, crowded, or loud and bright it can be. All my experiences helped me curate and write The Little Spaceman. This was a therapeutic outlet for me as an autistic person and I am looking into how to become an advocate for autistic people to help them find their voice, like The Little Spaceman helped me.
Drawing As a visual artist, drawing is a massive part of my thinking process. It helps me initiate ideas and explore concepts through the methods of pens, inks, paints and digital fabrication. In this section, I will show you conceptual illustrations for new stories I am working on, through to the development and full mock-up of my children’s book ‘The Little Spaceman’. This room is where the magic happens and where my illustrations come to life. I keep all my art supplies and sketchbooks in here, as well as my 3D printer. I spend a lot of time in my illustration studio, and I felt it was an important aspect to show because of this. It is my creative haven and provides a therapeutic outlet for my mental wellbeing.
Above: This room is where the magic happens and where my illustrations come to life
Acrylic with brush pens
The Little Spaceman’s bedroom One of the first illustrations of The Little Spaceman, I was starting to develop The Little Spaceman’s universe and this illustration depicts his bedroom. My colour palette for this illustration was a variety of blues ranging from sky blue, cobalt blue, and midnight blue. I added a touch of magenta and light lavender as well for his artwork on the walls. I thoroughly enjoyed exploring this illustration from start to finish as I got to focus on more intricate details such as the prints on his wall, as well as his shelf and mirror. It was also fun to add The Little Spaceman’s reflection in the mirror to see if anyone would notice his presence. I did this to see how many people focus on the overall picture or zone in on smaller details.
The Little Spaceman’s Cottage
The Little Spaceman’s cottage The Little Spaceman’s cottage was fun to illustrate because I got to explore his universe and imagine what sort of home he would have. I chose blue with red for the cottage colours, because if I mixed them together, I would get purple. I wanted the blue to match the night sky and for the red to stand out against the rest of my colour palette. I also had a lot of fun converting this illustration into a 3D model and was the first one of the series that gave me the idea for my dioramas.
Lake Luna Lake Luna was originally titled ‘Neverland’ as I saw a lot of Peter Pan in this illustration. I have a unique way of working because the illustrations tell me the story, more so than the story informing the illustrations. My children’s book was developed and created this way, from the illustrations I created. The creative writing came secondly, as I came up with the story by looking at the bodies of work.
Observatory I was looking at repeat patterns when I created this illustration as I had an idea for a tapestry or curtain. The original concept was to have the tapestry or curtain draped so that you pulled a string, and it revealed the dioramas. However, due to time management and the lengthy process of every individual aspect of my project, this idea was shelved. I am looking at creating repeat pattern patches and badges in the near-by future.
Above: Waterfall Below: Open Road
This illustration was the first time I properly tried to illustrate water and the different colour variations of a waterfall hitting the water below. I enjoyed the exploration with this piece, and it is one of my favourite illustrations from the children’s book.
Open Road I am absolutely in love with this illustration. I love the colours, combined with the monochromatic aspects. I am unsure how I achieved this night-time sky, and I am to this day, still unable to recreate this exact result. It is also the cover for the book and the last full illustration in the book, as the rest are what I call ‘filler’ images.
Below left: Day & Night Below right: Movement in space
Monochrome illustrations: a new style After completing the children’s book in watercolour, acrylic and brush pens, I began to develop a new style of illustrations. I invested in decent line illustrative pens and started to create these small, housed vessel illustrations in a monochromatic style. It has become my favourite style of working and the two illustrations above are new pieces of work for a spin-off story I am writing about The Little Spaceman.
CAD modelling As everything was in progress with the children’s book, I began to move on from the drawing aspect of my project and started to the making elements on computer-aided design (CAD) software ‘Rhino’. I had fun mocking up this initial model, however, as my ideas started to shift and change through development, it was only aspects of The Little Spaceman’s bedroom that eventually got 3D printed.
After my models were mocked up in Rhino, I moved to an editing software called MeshMixer, which allows you to sculpt models and create more organic features than you can achieve with Rhino. I enjoyed the warping effect MeshMixer gave me and I found it added this illusion of distortion from movement in space.
Above: CAD Designing – Cottage Left: MeshMixer editing
CAD renderings for formative assessment My plan for the dioramas were to create miniature sets of the different scenes from the children’s book. To achieve this, I took geometric features and aspects of the illustrations into Rhino to create these base models. After being mocked up in Rhino, each of the models would then be exported into MeshMixer for further editing. This is the original CAD model, however I rendered it in Rhino, so it looked glossier and sleeker for my formative assessment at the start of March. After my formative assessment, this model was refined in MeshMixer to create a more sculptural, organic feel to it.
Below top left: Lake Luna in CAD Below top right: MeshMixer edit Below bottom left: The Waterfall – rendered image Below bottom right: The Waterfall – Meshmixer edit
Preparing to print in Cura These images are taken from printing prep software ‘Cura’ and I wanted to show the printing prep. This was the final step before setting up the 3D printer to print.
Above: Lake Luna and Moon – printing prep
3D printing I have included photos of my Ender 3 Pro, my 3D printer, as it is one of the most expensive pieces of equipment I own to create my work. I love having a 3D printer, as I can print whenever I have an idea and I can also leave it printing overnight. This was extremely helpful, as at the time, due to Covid-19 restrictions, we were not allowed campus access when I needed to 3D print my CAD models. In this photo, you can see the 3D printer building one of my CAD models. This was about 10-15 minutes into the print and looked like a cup. It was, however, one of my larger scale sized moons that it was printing. I wanted to show the 3D prints, as they are one of the key elements to my dioramas. They were printed as separate components, so I could look at scale ratios and see if different parts of the model were too big or too small. At one point, The Little Spaceman was bigger than the rest of the sets and did not match the storyline of him feeling like the world was very big and he was small.
Above: Ender 3 Pro, 3D Printer Below Clockwise: Open Road, The Little Spaceman’s bedroom, Waterfall and Lake Luna in 3D printed form
Dioramas This was the beginning development of my first diorama scene from the children’s book. I tried colour collage, but I did not find it aesthetically pleasing. This was immediately discarded and I moved onto incorporating monochromatic collage with lighting and black acrylic levels. I began glueing monochromatic collage down onto acrylic sheets, as I wanted to play with reflections and shadowing. I found the acrylic sheets allowed this, because it has a reflective surface and you can see parts of the collage reflecting back onto the black levels. I have enjoyed creating with 3D and 2D elements. I feel that the collage has incorporated both worlds I have been trying to create, transforming 2D illustrations into a 3D world. I feel the combination of lighting, with the collage and models give it an atmospheric, aesthetically pleasing environment. As I got into the making of the dioramas, I started experimenting with the suspension of different aspects from the models. I wanted to create the illusion of space and gravity within this diorama, so I suspended one of the many moons that inhabits the world I have created. The idea I am working with is that I want three rows of three, to form this open front unit that you can see into. The outside of the cardboard boxes are going to be coated in Modroc to create this effect of a moon crater before they are hot glued together to form the units.
Opposite top: Collage close up Opposite left: Suspension Opposite right: Forming a unit
Above left: The beginning of the dioramas Above top right: Diorama with model inside Above bottom right: Components of a diorama
Above Left to Right: Development of the dioramas with the 3D models inside and outside Modroc Below: Left to Right: Wooden base, Waterfall with Acrylic Gel, Lake Luna with Acrylic Gel. Large image: Full Unit