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Exercise 3.5: Giving Instructions

In this exercise, I needed to illustrate a set of visual instructions based around one of the following subjects:

Making a cup of tea | Getting to my house | Playing a tune on an instrument

I wasn't sure that I could effectively illustrate instructions for a subject that I didn't have much of an understanding of myself, so I quickly eliminated Playing a tune on an instrument from my choices. Getting to my house seemed like an odd pick too, as it's very subjective to where someone is starting as to the route they take and could easily result in either too specific or too broad steps depending on the approach. Making tea on the other hand is a mostly universal process that only varies slightly to a person's liking, so I made my start by gathering my reference materials and images for research.

Collected images relating to making a cup of tea.

While I was looking through magazines and leaflets, I didn’t actually find many images that fully suited the context that I needed, but it did give me ideas on where else to look so I targeted some instructional cookbooks as particularly useful sources for demonstrating instructional layouts, along with coffee and tea room advertisements for stock photos.

I began working through my sketchbook by breaking down the tea making process into clear steps and separating out the key components required for each stage. I initially settled on 5 main steps that could be plotted onto a flowchart with optional ones attached at the side. I've made some simplistic "How to Draw" instructions before, but these had a younger target audience and I wanted to make something less linear here.

Through my planning I figured out the main steps, before exploring the options for an overall layout of all the elements along with any instructions that might be needed. I was considering ideas for how I could display the panels in a more interesting way than standardised boxes and arrows.

During one of my own tea breaks, I was thinking about the movement of liquids throughout the process and this led me to sketch out idea 3, using the gravity of the falling water and tea as the focal point for the viewer's eye to follow along with.

I really liked this idea of having a dynamic poster where a natural movement between the objects could guide the viewer down the page without necessarily needing obvious arrows or numbers, providing I could get the positioning right. I developed the idea further into a final design while borrowing some elements from my other ideas like the tea stained rings from idea 4. I didn't want to include a background that distracted from the objects too much, especially as they would not be confined to any containers that would have set them in the foreground but I still wanted a thematic backdrop in the form of tea staining a sheet of paper.

The final planning sketch still looked a little crowded, so I took a series of my own reference photos with each of the objects positioned how I wanted them to be and plotted the positions using photoshop and layouts on the A3 sheet of paper I was going to use to draw and paint on.

Planning and sketching the object layout ready for paint.

To keep in fitting with the way that the pigment in tea can stain paper, I decided to use real watercolour for this piece again and I was determined this time to use the medium to create something effective without resorting to fully digital techniques as I did on exercise 3.3. I opted for tubed watercolours rather than pigment blocks this time and had much better results combining watercolour washes with pencil crayon overlays for detail.

In my painting, I changed the colour palette for some of my source objects to try and set each the focus of the three stages apart from each other. The sugar bowl and the milk are both linked as extra steps for the tea being added to the cup and saucer, so I wanted them to look like they were part of the same set. In hindsight, yellow ochre was not the best choice for the main colours here as it almost blended into the background, though the blue turquoise still complimented the main teapot, which i think works well.

When I was finished, I was pleased with how everything looked on paper as the gradients were smooth and the highlights and shadows were clear. Unfortunately, I couldn't seem to recreate the same quality of the paintwork when I scanned my images through. For example, while the tea appeared as an amber golden brown on paper, it was translated in the scan as a darker reddish brown. I've corrected colours in the past, but usually with flatter textures than watercolour produces. In this instance I couldn't correct one part of an image without throwing another off, so I decided to leave it as it was to concentrate on composition.

Compositing of the scanned elements in photoshop.

Although I had almost everything in place as I had drawn it on paper, I still needed to make a few tweaks digitally. I brought together the three sheets of paper containing everything I had made in photoshop; The main object illustrations, the tea stained background and the separate ring stains. The few adjustments I made included the scaling and angle of the pouring objects as I tried to unify the scattered parts by placing the teapot lid above the teabag and infuser. For the object I placed tea rings behind the main and optional steps and a white outline helped them really pop out from the frame. Finally, I arranged the text and labelling using Gloucester Mt Extra Condensed to make it clear to read while also being reminiscent of old 1940's/50's instructional posters.

The finished instructional poster with text. "How To Make A Cup Of Tea"

I showed some friends and family the poster to see if I had effectively communicated the tea making process in an order that worked visually. I showed them a version without any labelling first and then one with the added text afterwards. I received some positive comments that it still made chronological sense and that through adding text I was only reinforcing the main stages. A few mentioned that the optional sections were less clear without the written steps though, which is is a fair critique that I do agree with.


Overall I like how this has turned out, despite the issues I had with the quality of scanning and colour adjustments. I feel that I've made some progress in developing my use of watercolour, though I have lots to consider in finding a more effective solution for presenting hand drawn work in the future. The current scanner I use is part of an office model printer and doesn't have a wide range controls for adjusting to the type of media being scanned in, so i may need to invest in a dedicated flatbed. Another solution is photographing my work, although a strong lighting environment will also be needed for that too.

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