Thursday, 27 February 2014

Final Major Project: Week 4

Week 4 Research: Exploring narratives and how they have been illustrated

My brief for my final major project is to explore Russian fairy tales and to look into new ways that I can retell them to a new audience in an effective way. By looking at what is relevant and current in the publishing world and how storytelling has changed, I can explore how to illustrate and format these fairy tales in a new and engaging way. I really want to tell these stories in a contemporary way to a modern audience who weren't brought up with them - I'm excited to to try and inspire and educate a new audience with these narratives.

This week I have been researching the way narratives have been explored and illustrated by artists effectively. As I am eager to do narrative illustration again myself and attempt to illustrate one or more Russian fairy tales, I need to research narrative illustration and what has been successful in the past and why. As I want to tell these tales in a new and engaging way, I've been looking at contemporary illustrators and new techniques that they have been using. I started by looking at artists who experiment with paper cut outs, origami and pop ups.

(Yusuke Oono's '360°Book')

I began by looking at 3D books as this something I'm really interested in as a new and exciting way to illustrate a narrative. Yusuke Oono's initial idea of a 360 degree book is 'expressing one scene of story in a 3 dimensional way using a whole page of a book.' It is an experience for the reader who sees a seemingly normal book but when you open it it changes into something completely different, and the reader is surprised by the dramatic transformation. I love Oono's work as he has made books that can be read and interpreted in an entirely new way - I love the idea of having a normal book transform into something 3D and more interactive.

Above is another book I came across of a landscape image seperated by different elements on each page - but when you assemble the pages the scene comes together. I'm not sure how this could work for a narrative, but I think the idea is a wonderful way to illustrate a location in a book format.

('Pop-up' by Hilary Judd)

I've been researching pop-up books and the different ways they have been explored by artists. Hilary Judd is an experimental artist who plays around with paper and origami - she made a series of pop-up books of a grand scale and with beautiful intricate details. I love the juxtaposition of the boldly shaped tree structure and the finely drawn detailing and think it works very well. I think it works so well due to effective use of detail and scale; using the element of surprise can be an effective tactic.

Continuing with the idea of telling a story in 3D, The Column of Marcus Aurelius is a Roman victory column in Rome that tells a story. The spiral picture relief tells the story of Marcus Aurelius's life, but there are recent disputes between theorists that there may be two different stories being told. This idea allows the viewer to participate by walking around the object to understand the story. I love the idea of involving the audience and allowing them to participate to read the narrative.

While I am eager to explore new ways to tell stories, I think it would also be apt to research artists who have successfully illustrated stories in books, as this is the most common form of storytelling.

Madalina Andronic is an illustrator who has created artwork for many books including fairy tale books. The pictures above and right are from a storybook about characters from a Romanian fairy tale adapted for a modern audience, the characters now appear as superheroes with a double identity. What I admire about Andronic's work is her ability to utilise a double page spread in exciting ways - she always manages to fill the space expertly with an illustration and a simple matching block of text. 
(Danish illustrator Svend Otto S. 'The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids' 1975)

While Svend Otto S. is not a contemporary illustrator, I think his ideas for narrative illustration are brilliant and are not commonly used in storytelling. In Otto S's fairy tale books he gives each sentence of the story an illustration of its own - this allows the illustrator to become the storyteller, and the illustrations become an integral part of the narrative. I think the interplay between the text and the pictures is very successful and beautifully executed.

Something I have also been looking into in my research is the idea of interactive storytelling. Above is an example of an interactive story map and all the different ways the story can turn out. The blue dots represent decision points made by the reader and the red dots are all alternative endings. I love the idea of a constantly changing story that is different depending on the decisions that the person reading it is making. As there are so many different versions of the same fairy tale, I think it could potentially be an idea to create an interactive story that can lead many different ways depending on the reader's decisions, and the different endings are merely the differing versions of the same tale from hundreds of years of variations.

(Yours for the Telling by Raymond Queneau)

Written: 21st February 2014

Final Major Project: Week 3

Week 3 Research: History of Russian Fairy Tales

Researching the tales: This week I started researching Russia's most well-known fairy tales and characters. I looked through some Russian legends, folk tale and fairy tale books and found my favourite stories. Alexander Afanasiev was Russia's most famous folklorist who recorded and published over 600 Russian folktales and fairy tales; his fairy tale plots are considered the closest to 'recorded originals' and form the basis of many writers' and collectors' fairy tales. His compilation 'Russian Fairy Tales' was banned due to harsh censorship during Stalin's rule in Russia - his tales were thought to be blasphemous. 

('Russian Fairy Tales' Book Cover and Alexander Afanasiev's 'Russian Fairy Tales' illustrated by famous Russian artist Ivan Bilibin)

The four main fairy tales I have particularly enjoyed are The Firebird, Baba Yaga, Kaschei the Deathless and Prince Ivan. Details of all these tales are in my sketchbooks.

(Baba Yaga illustrated by Ivan Bilibin)

Russian fairy tales are much like fairy tales from anywhere else in the world - they have been passed on generation to generation by word of mouth and have been recorded by different fairy tale writers and collectors over hundreds of years. This inconsistency and freedom of storytelling has lead to many different versions of the same story, for example the tale of Baba Yaga has many different versions and different endings. People shared their favourite version or the version they grew up with. For example, in the author's note of 'Russian and Polish Folklore and Legends' by Charles Tibbits, he explains that the stories he has told are the ones he likes best and were written from memory. I had no idea that fairy tale plots were so easily changeable and inconsistent - this is something I hope to continue looking at in my research, and perhaps how I could utilise different versions of the same story in a book format.

Researching Russian Folk Culture: This week I also thought it would be helpful to look at traditional Russian art and folk culture and how they both relate to Russian fairy tales. 

The left image above shows a traditional Russian Palekh lacquered box: each side of the box has an exquisite illustration of one of the Russian folktales. I  have noticed how Russian artists tend to use incredibly intricate detailing with bright colours to create their artwork whether the canvas is a box, plate, fabric, tray or print. The image on the right is an example of the kind of graphic language Russian artists use within these works. The Firebird is a well-known magical creature in Russian fairy tales, which you can see in the centre image. The Firebird is an important motif in Russian art, as it is symbolic of light and it is said that when the firebird falls to the ground, a new artistic tradition is born, hence why the motif is so popular among artists.

I have also researched Russian folk costume to discover what kind of clothes the main characters would have been pictured wearing by listeners and readers of the tales. Above is an image of a girl's traditional folk costume, and is something I could imagine the character 'Vasilisa the Beautiful' wearing.

As architecture is something I am very passionate about, I was also excited to look at Russian folk architecture and folk houses. I love the details of the windows and rooves of Russian folk buildings. You can see how some illustrators have been inspired by the architecture in their interpretations of buildings in Russian fairy tales (example: Baba Yaga's hut above). 

Now that I'm aware of some of the main Russian fairy tales and I have discovered the ones I am most interested in, I'm going to to move on with my research by looking into narratives and how illustrators have explored storytelling in effective ways.

Written: 14th February 2014

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Final Major Project: Week 2

Week 2 Research: Focussing on Russian Fairy Tales and Illustration

Earlier this week I decided I wanted to focus my research primarily on fairy tales from Russia. I love the variety of stories that have come from Russia: they have a wonderfully magical and dark feel that I think is slightly lacking from most of the fairy tales children are familiar with nowadays in this country. The magical and adventurous elements drew me in and made me want to explore them further, and I am excited at the prospect of working with these new narratives.

I began by looking at how Russian fairy tales and folk tales have been illustrated in the past - below is a scan of my sketchbook including scans from a book I have been looking at about Russian fairy tale art. Unfortunately this book does not contain any information about the stories themselves, so I have found information about them elsewhere. However, the illustrations are incredibly intricate and beautiful, and a majority of them are wood engravings.

(Scan from sketchbook, images from 'Fairytales in Russia' by E.N. Petrova)

The love the style of these wood engravings - I love the intricate detailing and how they feel classic but dramatic. I think the detail really helps immerse the viewer into the scene. The perspective of the drawings are quite simple and straight on to the main character. While this works and means we can see the whole scene, it would be interesting to take a new view and see things from a different perspective: perhaps from a much higher/lower viewpoint or a birds eye view. These simple perspectives work but I am intrigued as to how different perspectives can be used and even help illustrate the narrative more effectively.

Whilst researching different Russian folk art and how Russian fairy tales have been illustrated, I came across a Russian artist called Elizaveta Bohm, who practiced drawing silhouettes for over 20 years and is a known as a 'master of silhouette art' in Russia. She started her artwork in 1870 and mainly illustrated works by Russian writers and fairy tales. I think you can really get a sense of the characters she draws despite their lack of tonal and facial detail - you can tell what kind of character they are just by the shape and detail of their silhouette, what they're wearing and their body language. I am in awe of Bohm and the skill she acquired to effectively communicate the characters and their situations just with a silhouette, and sometimes with faint details of the setting in the background. I like Bohm's work so much I have researched some other artists that also use silhouettes as the main element in their illustrations.

I continued my research and discovered more about the use of paper cutting and silhouettes in narratives. In the late 19th and early 20th century, some illustrators began using paper cutting technique for their books - silhouette pictures could easily be printed by blocks that were cheaper to produce and lasted longer than detailed black and white hand drawn illustrations. One of the most famous fairy tale book illustrators is Arthur Rackham, who was also one of the first illustrators who used silhouette scenes in his books. You can see how artists like Bohm have informed his style in 'Sleeping Beauty' and 'Cinderella' - his silhouettes are very bold and striking with only a few props or details from the scene, giving a slightly minimalist feel.

Rackham completed these silhouette fairy tale books in the early 20th century, so I thought it would be helpful to start looking at illustrators today who use similar techniques. Niroot Puttapipat is a British artist who completed a whole series of silhouettes for a Russian Tales and Legends volume. What I love about this series by Puttapipat is how he has incorporated red with his black and white silhouettes, this is a refreshing new take on silhouettes and how they can illustrate narratives. 'The Firebird' illustration below is an excellent example of how he has used red with black and white to place emphasis on a character or a part of the narrative. 

After my research into silhouette art and how silhouettes have been used to illustrate fairy tales both now and in the 19th Century, it has occurred to me that while I love this style and would love to try the techniques, it is not exactly a new or innovative style for this genre and I would hate to fall into a 'cliche' illustration style for Russian fairy tales. I want to create something fresh and exciting to bring to the genre rather than repeat what has already been done. I have a lot of respect for these illustrators and I do still hope to incorporate what I've learnt from them in my final outcome.

(Scan from sketchbook, text 'Tales and Translation' by Cay Dollerup, 1999)

I have also been looking at a book called 'Tales and Translation' by Cay Dollerup who writes about how fairy tales have been passed on and changed over many years, and how this in turn has affected how they have been illustrated. More detail on this is in my sketchbook, but above is a scan of an extract about black and white illustrations. I am briefly looking at black and white illustration as this is an important decision that illustrators have to make when illustrating anything! I am specifically looking at black and white vs. coloured pictures in fairy tale collections; Dollerup writes that black and white illustrations were originally intended for children in books, but gradually they became dominant pictures in the respectable fairy tale collections that were mainly intended for collectors - they were not cheap.

(Examples of black and white fairy tale illustrations from today (left) and the 19th Century (right)

This is useful for my research as I need at some point to decide whether or not to use colour in my illustrations for my final outcome - however it is slightly early to be looking at this now. I will look into this again later in my process when I am more developed with my visuals.

I have also been researching how Russia's fairy tales were repressed and changed due to Stalin and the Soviet regime because many fairy tales were believed to support the old Tsarist system and a capitalist economy. The Russian Government created the Union of Soviet Writers to focus on censoring fairy tales and children's literature to prevent inappropriate ideas from spreading. Writers only wrote fairy tales with Soviet ideologies and existing fairy tales were either eradicated or changed: for example instead of the protagonist receiving advice from a mythological being, they would receive guidance from the omniscient Stalin.  

When Stalin died in 1953, these new and altered fairy tales were abandoned and are now considered 'pseudo-folklore' rather than genuine Russian folklore. The subject of repressed folklore and how the stories have changed is something I am really interested in and intend on revisiting in my research. I hope to write about this subject in my reflective journal and also hope to incorporate it in my final outcome somehow - I think the subject is extremely interesting and educational for people not familiar with Russian literature history and how literature can be repressed.

I think it's time for me to move on with my research and perhaps start looking at the tales themselves - by studying them in depth and learn more about the plots, characters, settings, lessons, and looking into each tale's different versions.

Written: 8th February 2014

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Final Major Project Research: Week 1

WEEK 1: Fairy Tale Exploration

For my Final Major Project I have decided to explore fairy tales. I am excited at the prospect of researching fairy tales and some of the themes and ideas that were lost on me when I heard them as a child.

As I am eager to work in publishing in the future I wanted to research a form of narrative, but not just pick one story or a series of stories that already exist. Focusing on fairy tales allows me to look into many different narratives from different cultures and select which ones interest me the most - I can then decide what exactly I'd like to illustrate from these stories and why. I think I can really challenge myself with this brief as it is so broad, and my outcome could vary from a series of book covers to a 3D set or display inspired by one fairy tale.

This week I have attempted to research the very broad subject of fairy tales and folk tales and focus on some key elements. I have been researching the origins of fairy tales and how they have been transformed and altered over hundreds of years - one of the main famous collections of fairy tales are of course by the Brother's Grimm. Originally the Brother's Grimm fairy tales were too gruesome and adults complained that they were too frightening for children, so they were changed to satisfy younger audiences. This is something I'm very intrigued by and want to look into more - fairy tales have been retold and reinterpreted by generations of people for hundreds of years, so there's no surprise that there are so many different versions of the same tale.

I have been researching the different versions of some of the most well-known fairy tales such as Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Little Red Riding Hood - including how some of these have been illustrated in collections in the past. It's eye-opening to read the different versions of these stories that I know so well, baring in mind that some of these other versions were the ones that some children would have grown up with. I like the idea of showing how fairy tales have changed so much over time, perhaps by illustrating the more gruesome and frightening versions of some fairy tales that are not so well-known by a modern audience. Illustrating something from an older time and making it modern for a new audience is something I'd really like to try.

Looking at the morals that some of these fairy tales are trying to give to children is something I'm also interested in - for example Little Red Riding Hood in the original was given advice by the wolf and because she took that advice, she was eaten. The moral of this story is that you should never listen to strangers or take their advice. 

I've enjoyed really looking deeper into fairy tales and how folklorists have analysed the tales, for example Russian folklorist Vladimir Propp broke down the form of the fairy tale into 'seven spheres of action:' the villain, the hero, the donor, the helper, the princess, her father, the dispatcher, and the false hero. Applying these theories and ideas to the tales I have been researching has been enlightening, for example I would now consider labelling the mice in Cinderella as 'the helpers' and the fairy Godmother as 'the donor.'

I am beginning to research fairy tales depending on their culture and where they originated from - if their original origins can be tracked at all. I have noticed that a vast majority of the fairy tales that have been analysed and are very well known among Western culture are European fairy tales. The most popular fairy tales have originated from European countries like Germany, Italy, Norway and Russia. I am eager to learn more about the different tales from different countries, and if there is a certain group of tales from a certain country I enjoy and identify with more. I like the idea of focussing on fairy tales from one country or set of countries within a continent as it will really help me to target my ideas and stick to a specific set of tales - there is such a wide variety I think it would be wise to direct my research more specifically soon.

Written: 1st February 2014