Category Archives: Foundations

When inspiration goes bad.

There is always a hot topic discussion in the art world between inspiration and plagiarism. Was your work “inspired” by another artist, or did you just flat out rip off their work? Intellectual property can be a little muddy if you don’t know the ins and outs of copyright and trademark and you could find yourself deep in lawsuits. Our Professional Practices class was fortunate enough to hear local attorney, Mattias (Matt) Jannerbo, discuss this very topic. Mr. Jannerbo gave a presentation to a mixture of both students and professionals and there were questions abound. Mr. Jannerbo outlined legal definitions of both copyright and trademark and timelines of each. One thing I learned was that once an artist creates a piece, the copyright is theirs. I always assumed a copyright was something official that had to be filed. Of course, there is an official copyright and it was also discussed when it would benefit from actually filing for a copyright.

One thing that was very evident from Mr. Jannerbo’s presentation is that a clear and upfront contract between designer and client is a must. There were a few questions regarding verbal contracts and email contracts and bottom line is they may not be in your best interest as a designer. Being upfront with your client about who has ownership of the files and property from the beginning can eliminate much headache down the road. I was very glad to learn this information as a student so I am a little better prepared for designing in the “real world.”

Check out this link to Jessica Hische’s hand-drawn diagram on “Inspiration vs. Imitation.” She is hysterical (and knows her stuff)!


Tagged ,

Sophomore Review: passed!

Until this point, even though my track was graphic design, I’ve been classified as pre-art. But as of last week, I’m officially in the graphic design program! Sophomore review consists of an installation of foundation work (10 pieces) and an interview in front of the entire art faculty. I was the second interview of the day and was happy to get it over early! We were asked questions about our work, our process for specific projects, why we wanted to be a graphic designer, contemporary inspirations, and other similar questions.

 The top piece with the mirrors was done in Drawing III as my final self-portrait. The “JK” ligatures were for typography. The montage was for Visual Literacy. The white piece was done for 3D Art. We used foam core board and were only able to utilize squares, triangles and rectangles for our design.

The 4 figures are 1-minute gesture drawings. Pioneer was my typography poster project. Bottom images were line art done in Visual Literacy. The tower was done in 3D with 1/8 inch dowel rods, string and glue, had to be at least 38 inches tall and be able to hold an 8-pound brick. On the pedestal is my book redesign and my color theory portfolio.

Anchorage and Relay

Anchorage directs the beholder through a number of possible readings of an image. It causes the reader to ignore some of the signifiers and read others. The way in which the reader is remote controlled to a meaning which has been chosen in advance suggests an ideological intention (Crow, 76).

Relay is when the text, that is usually a snippet of dialogue, works in a complementary way to the image. It advances the reading of the images by supplying meanings which are not to be found in the images themselves (Crow, 76).

Airports contain a plethora of communication images and text. I took a recent trip to Jamaica, which of course required several connections in various airports. The first stop was Chicago O’Hare International Airport. If you have not had the opportunity to visit this airport, consider yourself lucky. This airport was the location of what I like to call my first “Home Alone experience.” Picture the scene from the movie where the entire McCallister Family is running at full speed through the airport to catch their flight. I always thought people who were running to catch flights were just poor planners, until I had exactly 21 minutes to catch a connecting flight because of a previous delayed flight. Needless to say, I was running like a crazy woman through the airport. Since this was only my second time at this particular airport, I desperately needed directions and information quickly as I sprinted from concourse to concourse. How do airports convey quick information to patrons as they are running through terminals? Through anchorage and rely. The images and text work in concert with each other to give the viewer meaning. By guiding the viewer to a particular set of image and text, the information that is most important can be ready quickly. As stated earlier, it works like a remote control.

In addition to millions of images and text giving passengers information and directions, an airport terminal is scattered with advertisements and marketing. In the mess of all these images, how does the viewer find the most important information he or she needs? With the help of anchorage and relay, the viewer is directed to the most important information, whether it’s terminal directions, bathroom locations or the nearest Starbucks.

Project 2

While perusing the used book store in search of books to redesign, I found When Wallflowers Dance. It had an interesting title, and the front cover was…well, less than interesting. I had not read this book, but did some research online as to what it was about as well as reading a few excerpts from the book itself.

hardcover redesign

For me, this project was the first time I really felt comfortable with the applications of the Adobe software. I certainly don’t know everything about the programs and still have much to learn, but for the first time, I felt like I could problem solve in an effective manner. I could figure out a solution when I got stuck instead of needing to ask others or view tutorials. I felt like I spent more time on design solutions than technical solutions. I had an easier time creating my vision and felt less frustration from not being able to bring my design to fruition.

paperback redesign

I was most proud of myself when I successfully printed on the Epson printer. My first draft from the Epson printed very dark and the colors were not close to my original design and inspiration. I adjusted color within my document as well as adjusted color on the printer to get a successful result. I was more than thrilled with myself and my problem solving skills using the printer. I sat down and figured it out on my own without the help of others or tutorials. A very nice “Ah” moment.  

Class critiques reflected a similar trend with my classmates. Critique for Project 2 was focused more on concept and feeling rather than technical issues of the programs. It really is hard to believe how far the class as a whole has come since the very first project.

I am pleased with the outcome of my book. Taking cues from the researched wedding inspiration and incorporating them into my designs resulted in a successful outcome. My end design has a similar feeling to my initial wedding research, and that is exactly what I was going for.

Project 1.3

Choosing new images for Project 1.3 was quite a challenge at the onset. Using the same text and new images, I wanted to move in a completely new direction from the images in Project 1.1. I felt somewhat limited because of my rather simple text choice. While I liked the straightforwardness in message and content of my type, it was also to some extent limiting in the directions I could take. I set out to find images that focused more on the “of any kind” while seeking employment, the sort of “I’ll do anything for a job” mentality.

I felt my previous images focused more on the “no pets” aspect of the type. I wanted to show images that somewhat reflected the state of our nation’s economy: being a slave to a job, bending over backwards for mere pocket change, carrying the weight of supporting yourself and/or family, a woman’s role in the current economy, feeling like a machine in the daily sameness and monotony of a job, just an overall feeling of being stuck in a dead-end job and lack of motivation.

My final image is different from the first image groupings I was working with. The first set of images featured a woman sitting in a nest with three golden eggs. I felt this depicted her sitting on her nest egg, waiting for her fortune to come. The background included falling coins, while the woman was in sort of a yoga/meditative pose. I was attempting to portray the woman worshiping the money and sort of praying to the money. However, in class discussions and critiques, my classmates did not see this message in my images whatsoever. They felt it looked like she had come into money and the money was raining down on her, like she had won the lottery. This was obviously not the message I was hoping to send to my viewers.

For the second grouping, I created two drafts for class critique. One lacked a strong message, but had successful composition. The other had a stronger message, but lacked a fluid composition. The challenge was to find a nice marriage of the two drafts to include success in composition and message.

I feel my final image has successfully explored the message I wanted to communicate. The woman carrying the giant coin, and somewhat struggling to do so, reflects the message I was hoping to convey. The image grouping is successful also because it represents a different message than in Project 1.1.

As with our first project, I continued to push myself to think beyond the obvious. I’ve found the more I feel out of my comfort zone, the more successful my designs. Coincidence? No. Innovative design requires out-of-the-box thinking. I’m not quite there yet, but moving in that direction.

Project 1.1

When we first began this project, the class was instructed to combine seemingly unrelated line art images to tell a story. My first attempts at creating a story resulted in extremely obvious combinations. I was following the instructions too literally.

I am often amazed at the levels of creativity I see in commercials, print ads, and logos. I marvel at the level of creativity and imagination of the designers and how they are able to come up with designs that are cutting edge and outside the box.

The first experience of completing so many thumbnails seemed daunting. My first 10 to 20 thumbnails basically put the obvious on paper. Once those images were on paper and out of my head, I was able to move beyond those images and produce less obvious combinations. Learning this important lesson in the first project will be to my advantage for the entire semester.

Moving beyond the obvious was my first obstacle in this project. I tend to live inside the box so to speak and sometimes enjoy the confines of the comfortable too much. However, this first project has shown me that I not only have the ability to think outside the box and the obvious, but can accomplish that very task.  My next step was embracing the randomness of my images. At first thought, I felt none of my images related to each other. With Frou Frou’s “Let Go” singing in my head, I welcomed the random, “’Cause there’s beauty in the breakdown.” I had to keep reassuring myself to think past the logical.

My final image is successful in relating two seemingly unrelated images. Because these images are quite dissimilar, this leads the viewer to create his own story. That story can be different from my story and can be a good element for discussion. The image is seen as somewhat risqué and slightly on the mischievous side. I am more than thrilled with those reactions to my image because it means I’ve moved out of my comfort zone and previous thinking.

With the inclusion of text in the next step of the project, again I was looking for the most obscure and odd classifieds, or at least an ad that spoke to me on some strange level. I was drawn to the simpler ads that went right to the message. This is how I chose my final type layout. I wanted the type and its layout to be as simple and straight to the point as the message.

The final image and type layout are successful because of their simplistic nature. I didn’t have a concrete story in mind when combining the line art image and the message of the text is simple enough to leave room for varying interpretations. I enjoy images and layouts that have the ability to generate multiple messages and meanings based on different viewers. I feel this was accomplished in the selection of my final image and text layout.

Connotation and Convention

Connotation, or how an object is pictured, is an active process in which the reader applies their knowledge based on rules the reader has learned (Crow 57). Connotation cannot live without convention, or the agreement about how we should respond to a sign (Crow 58).


I recently drove past this billboard and I was immediately taken by the image. The extreme close-up of the red eye initially drew my attention to this billboard. The open black space consuming the other side begged the question of what should/would fill it. I assumed in future weeks, more information would follow this creepy image. I also assumed this being the fall season, it must be an advertisement for something Halloween-related.

Connotation is highly arbitrary in that there is not one defined meaning to a symbol. Yet in this billboard, the advertisers are certainly attempting to lead the viewer in a particular direction with convention, or agreed ideas about darkness/evil/etcetera. The red eye, the dark, almost dirty, skin of the man, the swamp-like covering on his face…we all know these signs lend themselves to something evil and scary. The designer of this billboard is obviously using conventions our culture shares of these symbols.  

This billboard is on the corner of a street I drive daily to get to my house, so the more I drove past and the black remained with no further information, the more I wanted to know what was coming. I totally fell for the hook and bait. Finally, one day the billboard changed, yet to my surprise, it only included a website address. Because I had spent weeks waiting for more information, the website piqued my interest and I had to check it out.


Because of the way this image was pictured (or its connotation) and because of our culture’s agreed ideas and symbols (or convention) of evil and darkness, my assumptions were correct. You can check out yourself.

Christine Gray at UTC

Review of Christine Gray at the Cress Gallery in the Fine Arts Center at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Christine mixes fantasy and reality in her work. She “explores cultural mythologies that misrepresent nature and out relationship to it,” according to the artist’s statement. She explores the seeker in her work and throughout her collection and the seeker is evident. Each piece features some sort of eye-type image that appears to be watching. Watching the landscape she has painted, yet somehow watching you the viewer. In her piece, Ever and Ever Eyes, the moths that are scattered at the bottom of the work seem to create a repetition of eyes watching. In addition to the smaller eyes of the moths, two breaks in the leaves of the tree seem to create a set of eyes. The moths seem to be watching the landscape, while the large eyes in the trees seem to be seeking the viewer, drawing them in, making “eye connection” with the viewer and drawing the viewer more into the landscape.

Neo-Geo Omen is my favorite piece of Gray’s. There is a smooth transition between the changing value, tone and saturation moving about the piece. The treatment of the oils with a comb-like pattern gives it movement and motion…almost wavelike. These “waves” effortlessly morph into a graphic pattern. There are so many different elements to this piece, yet they all seem to effortlessly flow from one element to another to create a successful piece. Gray has a fantastic yet realistic approach to her work. Her treatment of such images as feathers and rope are impressively realistic. A closer look at the feathers gives way to even more appreciation to Gray’s attention to details and specifics. Gray’s theme of the seeker and the feeling that her art is watching you is felt when standing in front of it.

If you are interested in checking out more of her work, feel free to visit her website.

Symbols and Semiosis

“Symbol – these signs have no logical connection between the sign and what it means. They rely exclusively on the reader having learnt the connection between the sign and its meaning” (Crow 33).

Crow also defines semiosis as “to describe the transfer of the meaning, the act of signifying.” He also states “…it is not a one-way process with a fixed meaning … The meaning of the sign will be affected by the background of the reader” (Crow 36).

My dad is a bowler and has bowled in leagues for years. Getting a split in bowling is not a positive game plan in bowling. Taking the same word, split, and transferring it to the dance world changes the meaning quite vastly. I have been a dancer and dance teacher for many years. The achievement of a split is something that dancers work years to accomplish. Once a dancer conquers a split, it is actually something to be quite proud of. A split to a bowler and a split to a dancer represent two very different symbols.

Photo by Lisa Root

Photo by Lisa Root


So, if a sign has no logical connection between the sign and its meaning and this is something we learn along the way, how do account for different backgrounds that will ultimately affect the meaning of a symbol? Advertisers creating billboards, commercials and print ads in magazines all must overcome this lack of shared meanings. How can they get us to think/feel/act the same when our backgrounds affect our interpretation of the symbol.


An experience as a child may create a negative impression or thought about a product that reminds me of that experience. Because of an event that happened some 20 years ago, I may not purchase a particular product. How do advertisers and salespeople conquer that obstacle? Background can be influenced by ethnic culture, regional culture, community culture and family culture. Everything from the country you were born in, to the state you grew up in, to the street you lived on with your particular family will affect the interpretation of symbols. No wonder there are so many misunderstandings in daily life!


Semiotics and Agreement

“There are three main areas which form what we understand as semiotics; the signs themselves, the way they are organized into systems and the context in which they appear” (Visual Signs, Crow).


Dog. Cone. Two separate words that don’t really relate to each other.

Dog + cone = dog that just had surgery.


These two images take on a whole different meaning when combined with each other. The image of the cone alone is somewhat hard to make sense of. When the dog is wearing the cone, we know exactly the meaning of the cone.

The fuzzy Shetland sheepdog pictured above just happens to be my pride and joy, Cody. When I hear the word “dog,” I immediately picture his sweet face. As much as I would like to think my doggie warms the hearts of all, I am sure he is not the image that comes to mind for everyone. Your childhood dog, the neighbor dog that attacks you every morning run, your grandma’s slobbering old dog…all very different images conjured from one word.

Agreement is “a necessary component amongst a group of people that one thing will stand for another” (Visual Signs, Crow). But what happens when two groups of people disagree? My family may think of Cody when they hear the word “dog,” but my former roommate and her family may think of Lexie when they hear dog.


Non-agreement on the surface can be negative. It can lead to misinterpretation, misunderstanding and a myriad of other communication problems. But is it always negative? I don’t think it is. Non-agreement of semiotics can be a springboard for learning. I would venture to say that it is the basis for all learning. Imagine a kindergarten teacher in her classroom. In essence, she is merely bringing her students in agreement that one thing (a word perhaps) will stand for another (the object). Non-agreement of cultural cues can lead to an understanding of a different ethnicity or society. It can assist in learning a new language or a new dance style. Striving for agreement can open endless possibilities for education.