Exercise 5: Reflective Practice

As the title of this exercise suggests, I was asked to reflect on everything I have experienced leading up to this point in creative book design. This will then in turn inform my decisions on what kind of project I can pursue for Assignment 5 and the exercise opened with a few questions for me to consider about my experiences so far.


 

Do you enjoy the creative freedom of working with your own text and

images from scratch, or do you prefer working with text and images that

are provided to you?


I find myself being the most creative when I have an brief with some restrictions that I can improvise and experiment around, such as an existing set of text or images. I enjoy open briefs too, but I usually have to pick an avenue that narrows my own focus, to avoid being overwhelmed by the endless possibility that comes with that level of creative freedom. Because of this, I'm thinking of finding some existing public domain text that could provide a focus and inspire my work in the upcoming assignment.


It can be tricky to strike a fair creative balance between exploring ideas and finishing work on an open project, but once I have a subject to work with, I'm happy to generate my own words and images just as much as using existing material. After a certain point in both cases, I always assume the role of editor by the end of a project as I enjoy the process of formatting and presenting work ready for print.


 

Do you prefer working in a ‘hands-on’ way, physically manipulating paper

and materials, or do you prefer working digitally, laying out the pages and

page elements on-screen?


I definitely prefer a hybrid of both practical and digital techniques, but my preferences vary depending on the needs of a project and what stage of production I am in. For example, I've found that traditional media tends to serve me better in early design work and producing original images when I want natural textures. Tactile experimentation also contributes a great deal to understanding the role that physical materials play in production, which is especially important in the bookmaking process.


On the other hand, it is much faster for me to arrange later page compositions and layouts using digital tools, where only a few clicks can change the artistic direction of a piece. This is usually how I finish a project before printing, even when working with scans or photographs of practical work. I don't think I've done many projects without editing something digitally at the final stage to make the finishing touches.


Which of the subjects covered in this unit have

interested and engaged you?


Before this unit, I didn't have much of an educated understanding of the graphical side of designing books, so it was fascinating to learn about this through the research exercises, particularly throughout Part 3, where I got a better understanding of the shared relationships between text and images that I didn't possess before, especially in the Double Page Spread exercise where I learned a lot about layout design from analysing existing books.


Now when I pick up a book, magazine, leaflet or any other printed publication, I'm noticing the details of the choices the designer has made in its form factor, materials, typeface and page layouts, etc. I found it thrilling to learn about these processes, and to now be able to pick up a publication and read its design as meaningful just as much as the words on the page.


In task like the ones set in Experimental Typography, Sequencing Images and Altered books, I have found myself responding to existing text in ways that I did not expect and I've really enjoyed trying to think outside of the box in creatively responding to existing media. This has definitely nurtured the editor in me and I feel a lot more confident in using combinations of programs such as InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator to considerately plan and adapt my layouts rather than making design decisions arbitrarily.


 

Next was to reflect on some of the broad principles of book design in more detail, as the exercise has described below:


Below are some pointers of what has been covered in this unit, as a reminder.

They are very broad areas, so as you’re reading through the list, reflect upon the

more extensive content of each. Consider what aspects you enjoyed the most

(and the least!) and make notes in your learning log.


Contextualisation: Researching designs and designers


I often like to think analytically and to break apart the reasons behind choices, so I've really enjoyed jumping into the exercises where I needed to research artists and design theory and much of this will stay with me as part of my process moving forward, such as the use of grids alignment and other tools that make text composition much more dynamic. Several artist names will stay with me as inspirations too, particularly in the field of altered books.


Sometimes this work has turned out to be a bit of a slog to get through when I don't have an emotional connection to the work I've been asked to research. Art is of course always subjective however, and I still try and respect and understand the reasons behind why something was presented in a certain way, even if the subject doesn't always excite me as much.


Typography: Principles and experimentation


As I mentioned in one of the earlier questions, delving into the principles of book design has been my favourite part of this course. I loved learning about the process and trying to emulate and experiment with various techniques to be playful with the traditions of what is considered the standard model for book design.


Altered books really captured my imagination and I can see them now as more than just paper sculptures. I want to keep my eye out for other artists that work using books as a source material and to explore more of my own adaptations in the future.


Colour: Colour management and working with images


I think my colour management is ok for most of the projects that have called for it, as I can extract and contrast or compliment an existing image elsewhere in a document, but I'm aware that this is mostly designed through instincts and complimentary choices. This can make my approach fairly similar in most cases, which is something I need to work on.


This also came up in my Key Steps in Illustration unit as a suggestion for research, and I do need to take the time to read up on some colour theory so that I can make more varied choices in my designs. Following my instincts is all fair and good, but opening my mind up to other options means I can access more variety in my palettes.


Paper: Properties and qualities


I enjoy organising, sourcing, and processing papers, and increasing my library of paper types will keep enriching my collection. My favourite aspect of it was coming up with a labelling system that lets me see what quality and weight it has at a glance and I can keep developing this to have multiple swatch books as needed, including ink tests as sample pages.


Collecting ephemera is something I have been doing for a long time, but I could also make sorting an easier process with categories and a more organised storage solution than a spare cardboard box! Creating an ongoing library can be a time consuming task to set up efficiency, but is definitely worth the investment in the end to have easy references on hand.


Printing and bookbinding: Processes – traditional, digital


Printing and binding my own work using my home printer has been a useful test of the capability's and limits of my personal set up, but there is still much for me to learn about individual home-made binding processes within those limits. I would love to try making my own traditional design hardback cover with stitch binding for example, which is something that I can consider as a finishing option in the following Assignment.


In addition to finding a more comfortable set up for bookmaking at home, I do also intend visiting a printers to understand the full factory workflow of how a book is commercially produced using specialist methods. Reading Adrien Pipes' On Press is a great resource for the general theory of things, but nothing compares to seeing in person how the process is taken from digital document through to a physical product.


 

This has been a useful thought exercise to look back on my journey and to consider where I could go next through my assignment and be revisiting areas to prepare my work better for later assessment. I've enjoyed much of the work so far and look forward to carrying on with what I've been learning in future projects.

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