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Adding to my toolbelt

set up ^ to

count down

Adding There were to my many toolbelt projects during the first year of the program that urged me to move outside of my comfort zone, or presented problems that were in need of thoughtful solution. While I don’t see them immediately fitting into the larger scope of my work, I have no doubt that the exercises and projects shaped the way I approach and conceive of the ideas for my second year.

A look at the first year of MFA Illustration Practice through the eyes of Sara Barnes.

Spring 2012

Adding to my toolbelt

Over the past school year, my eyes have been opened about Illustration; specifically, its importance and its possibilities. Perhaps more than anything, I have become increasingly aware of visual culture and the role of illustration within that realm. This year has been both a theoretical and practical application of ideas and scenarios. Through it, I am excited by the possibilities and also overwhelmed with the power that I have to discover and make known the richness of a field that is functional but also understands aesthetics and what is pleasing to its viewers.

Adding There were to my many toolbelt projects during the first year of the program that urged me to move outside of my comfort zone, or presented problems that were in need of thoughtful solution. While I don’t see them immediately fitting into the larger scope of my work, I have no doubt that the exercises and projects shaped the way I approach and conceive of the ideas for my second year.

The Fall semester started by harvesting ideas based on previous work. My solutions ranged from small, intimately viewed illustrative works, while others involved other people. From these ideas, I implemented ideas that involved collaboration. Collaboration is important to me, as it has and continues to dictate the trajectory of my work, and guides my ideas about how I interact with the art community at large. This idea is coupled with my love of blogging and social media, and connecting with artists and art lovers. But, having observed many things about the blogging and illustration worlds, I understand what I find problematic and how I can react to the issues within them.

Adding to My Toolbelt

During the first year of the program, there were many projects during the first year of the program that urged me to move outside of my comfort zone, or presented problems that were in need of thoughtful solution. While I don’t see them immediately fitting into the larger scope of my work, I have no doubt that the exercises and projects shaped the way I approach and conceive the ideas for my second year.

Produced: Prototyping Ideas > Art Market

For Art Market this year, I wanted to incorporate ideas into a product that I felt represented me. I don’t normally produce things in large numbers, and I wanted whatever I made to feel intimate. My solution was Me And De Ring, a small hand-held interactive collage. To use it, the top layer spins and reveals a new collage scene as it moves. I created five different scenarios, but hand made 25 of Me And De Ring. It was an exercise in repetition, but ultimately one that helped to refine my craft.

Hidden: QR Code

My QR Code. The chevron shapes referenced my blog, Brown Paper Bag.

The QR code is a potentially very powerful tool to engage and connect real life to a virtual, mobile world. What is not widely known is that the code can be manipulated and still work correctly. Through trial and error I had to manipulate the code to ensure that someone could use it and see the media once it was scanned.

Rediscovered: Image Harvesting Presentation

I tried to replicate my 2D collage work into 3D paper sculptures.

The Image Harvest project required us to review our past work and extract meaning from it. Whether this be in concept or style, it was an exercise to stretch our thinking and to potentially push ideas farther. The point was not to execute all of our ideas, but understand how to build off the rich visual vocabulary that we already have. Out of my 10 ideas, I worked on just a few, with one that I felt was successful and had potential to grow.

Mashed-Up: Globe Collection Image Cuts

Handling the Globe image cuts was my first foray into the world of letterpress printing. I can’t say I excelled at it, but I found the cuts visually interesting. When it came time to make new imagery from them, I chose to focus primarily on small, intricately textured areas of the woodcuts. I was interested in keeping the colors the same, but focusing on mixing textures and creating shapes. The results were images that mimicked vases, animals, and windows and didn’t immediately look as though it came from the Globe Collection.

2D to 3D

This project was one that I found the most anxiety inducing, but one that I learned the most from. After trying and failing with different experiments to bring my work from 2D to 3D, I finally settled on working with Sculpey, a clay that hardens when baked in the oven. I attempted to reinterpret the shapes I use so much in my work to be a 3D, non representational shadow box. The most challenging aspect of the project was learning to paint the clay to my liking. In the end, I think I came up with a solution for the project that was true to my 2D work.

Letterpress Workshop

Above: Letter forms from the Globe Collection. Below: Notes taken during workshop.

I found this workshop difficult and tedious, but it helped me to appreciate the time and work that goes into letterpress. I also found it amusing to set leading and kerning manually, which I normally do so easily on the computer.

Paper Engineering Workshop This made me think about how I use paper in an entirely different way. I’m glad to have learned the basics of paper engineering, which seem to easily adapt to different imagery and complex folds.

Stop Motion Animation

I enjoyed the problem solving and invisible engineering that was inherent in this workshop. Stop motion itself is very charming, and I wanted to try and reflect that with a simple yet sweet animation. Inspired by the QR Code Project, I generated a QR code that can be scanned to view my stop-motion animation.

Character Munny Workshop

This workshop was by far my favorite. Long a collector of vinyl toys, I was very excited to be able to adapt a character I created. I have painted blank Munny dolls before, but the Sculpey added another level of complexity that it really paid off. The character I chose had a body type suitable for the stockiness of the doll, adding to its playful nature.

Transformed: Illustrating with Letters

In Esther K. Smith’s workshop worked with fonts that we had proofed in our Letterpress Workshop. Slated to make portraits using only typography, I fashioned my self portrait using a “B” for the thick-rimmed glasses I am always wearing. Looking back on this portrait, I wish I would had taken it in a different direction to create more of an inner self portrait, using the letter forms in less straightforward way.

Web/Twitter Team I grew up on the Internet, and I was very happy to be selected to work on the website and Twitter for the Illustration Practice Program. Working with a partner was challenging, as I had some web design experience, but had never worked with someone else before. My role included not only deciding with my partner on the website template, but implementing a special customized structure. Despite my experience with CSS, I still learned a lot - I was very grateful that this project gave me the opportunity to learn how to make backgrounds and other images rotate upon page reload. I was also happy to really have the chance to problem solve with this project, in a new way. Usually, if I couldn’t figure out a problem, I would abandon it. But, because a group of people depended on me, I had to find the solution to the best of my ability. I don’t see this project as ever ending. I think we have a good base set up, but there will always be more to add and more to improve upon. Every student was required to submit a header and background. Every time you visit, you will see a different combination of header/background. To the left are a few different combinations you may encounter.

Words on Wheels

My poems for the Words on Wheels transit project less conceptual than other things I’ve done this year, but were still fun and a good exercise for refining skills. I used Sculpey clay to create one illustration, photographing it in individual pieces and assembling it digitally. Another poem utilized a combination of sewing and collage. I felt the two techniques were important to the poems, which were fairly straightforward. They added an unexpected touch which helps to keep viewers interested even after reading the poem.

Baltimore Child Abuse Center

A portion of my pitch to BCAC.

Working with the Baltimore Child Abuse Center (BCAC), we were asked to develop ideas for spreading their message in an unconventional way. I’ve lived in Baltimore since 2004, and wanted to come up with a solution that I felt could address their needs. I also wanted to be sensitive to the needs BCAC was communicating - to get information to the public about child abuse. One-on-one contact was important to me. My idea takes advantage of the parks around Baltimore, specifically focusing on Druid Hill Park. Each summer, the Baltimore Parks and Recreation Department sponsors bike rides around the reservoir. I felt this could be the perfect place to set up stations where children would color butterfly cards (BCAC’s mascot) to clip on their bikes while adults could gain more information about preventing child abuse.

The Heart of Me During the first semester of the program, I became interested in illustration as a way of cataloging our visual culture. Inspired by Critical Seminar (and later a lecture given by Douglas Dowd), I started to examine comics and sequential art in a different way - as not only entertainment, but as vehicles for serious visual and cultural critique. This coupled with my blog, and other important projects from this school year, has helped me situate a direction for my thesis. Collaboration has been a focus of my work within the past couple of years. Independently, I participate in an artist collective, and a collaborative interview on my blog. I feel that I work best when I have the support of another creative mind, and I love the dichotomy and conversations that come from working closely with someone else. A formal critical inquiry in illustration is one way in which our field could expand. I think illustrators (including myself) underestimate the importance of our field and feel that it is marginalized, especially when it is placed in the same context as art history. Illustration has its own history. The lack of reverence for our field is astounding at times, and something that I am interested in changing.


Brown Paper Bag

Blogging is an activity that has changed my life. Before entering my MFA program, I created the art blog Brown Paper Bag, and discovered a wonderful community of people both globally and locally. It has allowed me to better know Baltimore and feel more connected with it. I’ve been interested in expanding the reach of my blog in other ways. At the beginning of 2012, my friend Jordan Sondler and I conceived of a Baltimore Arts newspaper, which will showcase different artists and galleries in the area. It will have comics by local illustrators, games and will be written by us. In February, I applied for and received a grant through MICA’s Graduate Office to cover the cost of printing.

A Blog That Shall Not Be Named (Yet)

From left to right: Meredith, Barnaby and Rod. Each critic has their own story and perspective.

It is important to me to maintain a connection with blogging, using it as a vehicle to forward the discourse on illustration. So much of art and lifestyle blogging lacks criticism or value judgement beyond saying how it looks “cool.” While I can appreciate this on a certain level, I also feel that it is too prevalent on the web. In Advanced Licensing this Spring, half of the class was focused on character development. While at first I fretted about what kind of characters to create, I eventually came up a solution to appeal to both my interests in writing about comics and graphic novels and the idea of a more critical stance on blogging. My idea is to create a new blog that has a tighter focus on sequential art. Instead of my voice (as Sara Barnes), three critics, Barnaby, Meredith, and Rod will “write” the website. Each have their own unique look and perspectives and will be commenting on different facets of a graphic novel or other type of publication, judging it through their own unique lens. I will be ghost writing for the three characters, which will give me the opportunity to be critical where I see fit, but be somewhat playful using their characters at the same time.


Transformed: Reaction After the workshop with Esther K. Smith, we were assigned a response piece that highlighted something about the workshop - something that we felt a connection to. I chose to approach this assignment by thinking conceptually about what the workshop actually asked. I thought about what we used to create the Letterform Portraits. We clearly did not create the letter forms, they were from the Globe Collection. We could only manipulate these forms in certain ways. No mirroring, twisting, etc. could occur. In an act of kismet, I had just traded collage scraps with a fellow collage artist, Steven Riddle. I had not touched the scraps he had given me. His pieces varied in color, shape, and material, and were totally different from anything I might have. I applied the same rules used in Esther K. Smith workshop to Steven’s scraps. I worked with them exactly as they were given to me, not cutting them, just rotating them and pairing them with other scraps.

Transformed: Reaction

Brown Paper Bag’s Collage Scrap Exchange

Mailing label for scrap exchange participants.

Scraps I exchanged with an artist in the Netherlands.

The process of the Transformed: Reaction project was challenging and fun, and one that I thought others might enjoy. Working through this response exercise gave me inspiration that I later carried to Brown Paper Bag. Uniting a group of collage artists, I organized the first Collage Scrap Exchange in the fall of 2011. Artists were paired randomly with each other. The response was positive, and people were excited. I recently organized another round of collage scrap exchanging and plan on doing more.

I asked 40 participants to send me their finished scrap exchange pieces. I then posted their works on a website I made specifically for the Collage Scrap Exchange.

Critical Inquiry The Critical Seminar courses really opened my eyes to the vast and multi-faceted world of illustration. I think that for all of my cohorts, it helped each of us discover something new about illustration. Personally, I rediscovered comics. I remember reading them as a child and young adult, but stopped upon entering high school. Reading them yet again, and looking at them in a more critical context reminded me of my original love for them. When people think of comics, they often think of super heros and the Sunday funnies. Those can be written off as superfluous, when in reality I believe that graphic novels and comics can reveal truths and be analyzed in a similar vein of literature, film, and paintings. I am fascinated by the layers that exist, which are only made more complex when marrying image and text. I first saw this when researching In the Shadows of No Towers by Art Speigelman. He layers his tale of witnessing 9/11 and the subsequent recovery period for him, situating the issue in different realms - personally, politically, and historically.

Web comics were also a large focus of my school year. Having been around nearly 25 years, there is little critical writing on them, yet they have clearly developed their own idiosyncrasies from printed comics. My interest in them developed into a virtual exhibition for the second semester of Critical Seminar, and it was a topic I thoroughly enjoyed researching. The way in which we interact with comics on the web is very different than in print. There is a lack of editorial oversight so topics of gender, politics, and other controversial issues find a voice on the web. Author/ reader interaction is also intensified due to social media and the rapidfire communication on the web. My virtual exhibition Beyond Panels: the World of Webcomics touched upon these topics, but I would love to research more and expand what I have learned.

My Thesis Year

My thesis year is quickly approaching. When comparing the two semesters of this first year of graduate school, I very easily have a favorite - the second semester. I felt that during this time, I was able to explore and lay the ground work for ideas and research that I am genuinely interested in and pushes the field of illustration forward. So, what will be the focus of my thesis? Visiting Los Angeles over spring break, I visited Gallery Nucleus. I left the space inspired. The front of the gallery had a small, tightly curated selection of books, prints, and toys. In the back was a gallery. Original art works hung on the walls as a part of a large gallery show. I immediately responded to this visit as an avenue I’d like to explore. With my interest in writing, curating, and collaboration, I can imagine this in a space like Gallery Nucleus.

I like the idea of a creative space being multifaceted and organic, which I think lends itself to the changing world of illustration and communicative art. There is an element of democracy and inclusion that is a priority for me. Despite my enthusiasm, I am a fairly cautious and calculated person and feel that owning a gallery is a goal that is a bit down the road in my life. While I anticipate that my thesis be geared towards this eventual goal, I want to start small, make a detailed plan with what I hope to accomplish, and build a following through pop-up shops and other nonpermanent locations. To supplement this and satisfy my desire to research sequential art, I will at the same time be reading and writing, with the goal of creating a collection of essays to be bound in a book.

I feel that I have grown a lot this school year, and am excited to begin making my ideas a reality during my thesis year.

Adding to my toolbelt

set up ^ to

count down

Adding There were to my many toolbelt projects during the first year of the program that urged me to move outside of my comfort zone, or presented problems that were in need of thoughtful solution. While I don’t see them immediately fitting into the larger scope of my work, I have no doubt that the exercises and projects shaped the way I approach and conceive of the ideas for my second year.

All images and writing Š Sara Barnes, 2012 //

Set Up to Count Down  

SBarnes Idea Book, May 2012 UPDATE