Graphic Design and Animation Graduates 2012

Online portfolio and print on demand catalogs for Graphic Design and Animation graduates from the Department of Design 2012. On this page you will find our conference presentations, and by hovering over the menu groups on the left you can read contextual documents. You are welcome to attend our Grad Show, opening on 29 November 2012 at 6pm, and daily from 30 November to 6 December 9.30am – 4pm.

Crissi Blair

Crissi Blair portfolio + CV


Investigating the utilisation of illustration and publication design to explore costume and dress as semiotic representations of cultural identity.

The key contextual references in my work are related to signifiers of identity, such as how costume or dress can tell a story about who you are, your values or beliefs.

I have also explored identity in a less tangible manner through the exploration of structure, narrative and illustration of the child’s picture book. I have explored the ways in which a child’s books can reflect a child’s identity, how books allow them to expand their view of the world around them.

As children’s literature authority Dorothy Butler says in Babies Need Books: “Parents and children who share books come to share the same frame of reference. Incidents in everyday life constantly remind one or the other – or both, simultaneously – of a situation, a character, an action, from a jointly enjoyed book, with all the generation of warmth and well-being that is attendant upon such sharing.” (10)

The early sharing of books also helps to establish verbal communication that will be a life-long asset to the child, books providing an extensive vocabulary, examples of its use and associated experience.

“It is not possible to gauge the width and depth of the increase in a child’s grasp of the world that comes with access to books … Shades of meaning which may be quite unavailable to the child of limited language experience are startlingly present in the understanding – and increasingly in the speech – of the ‘well-read-to’ toddler.” (Butler 23)

My daughter age around 6 months enjoying a book with me

At a very young age a baby can build an attachment to a book, just as they do to a teddy or blanket. Psychoanalyst and paediatrician D.W. Winnicott proposed that transitional objects are one of the ways in which children begin to identify themselves as separate from their mother (or other primary carer), and claim a treasured object as their substitute comfort. (130) Frequently this is a teddy or soft toy through which the child establishes that there are things apart from themselves – the ‘not me’, and to understand it as something that is both real and unreal at the same time. A book can also act in the role of a transitional object. Many children develop an attachment to a particular book to the point where it is not just a story to be read again and again, but a treasure to be clung to, sucked and played with.

The book readily fulfils the role of transitional object between imagination and the real world, being the bearer of story and pictures which are both real and made up. The book can have a close association with the mother/carer as a result of their reading to the child with the child snuggled up close, and these feelings of closeness and safety are then carried with the book. The child can also then extend these experiences into their play by acting out reading the book themselves (often learning the simple text by memory at a young age or creating their own story) or using the book as a prop in their play, and bringing characters and vocabulary into their everyday lives.

Transitional objects can continue to be part of our lives through adulthood, in the way we imbue objects with meaning and memories associated with other ideas, places and people, and this is also seen in the way new parents seek out the picture books from their own childhoods to share with their children, encouraging the child to have a similar response to the book.

This research led me to enquire into the haptic nature of books; the way the much-loved book as an object displays the evidence of the affection that has been physically impressed upon it. I carried out a photographic survey of pre-loved children’s books and toys, both my own and others, looking for the physical manifestations of that ‘love’ categorising the evidence of how they have become personalised, including worn edges, ripped, mended and turned-down pages, drawing, stickers, food stains, disintegrating covers and chewed corners.

SJ's favourite childhood book from 30+ years ago showing wear, damage, marks and love.

SJ’s favourite childhood book from 30+ years ago showing wear, damage, marks and love.

Wizard Craft (my daughter's favourite book)

My daughter’s favourite childhood book now with covers detached, spine missing, but still treasured.

Maurice Sendak's Nutshell Library (2nd hand)

Maurice Sendak’s Nutshell Library of miniature books in a case. I bought this second hand and it is much treasured, especially with the wear and tear of multiple handling from its previous owner.

My daughter's treasured Cow and my tutor's rabbit, with a careful repair to his shirt.

My daughter’s treasured Cow and my tutor’s rabbit, with a careful repair to his shirt.

The books had gained softness from repeated handling over multiple readings clutched in small hands. As I examined some of these battered books I came to understand that these haptic markers, the creases and tears, patches and scars, were signs of love. This led me to consider that it should be possible to incorporate some of these elements into a new book, that would draw a reader in so the book too could become an object of affection; would appear, even on the first viewing, to be a book that was loved.

Maurice Sendak recalls finding a book from his childhood: “By just holding the book in my hands, I was able to relive the delicious first experience of reading it. The musty yellow smell of the pages brought back the summertime and the lazy days when I sat on the hot stone steps in front of my house, absorbed in the lives of the prince and the pauper.” (125)

There were marks in many of the old books I looked at – crayon, scribbles imitating handwriting, pieces of paper stuck in. It seemed that these were signifiers of connection with the book, the child’s way of claiming ownership, and of the book being a treasured object, not just a favourite story to read. There are more senses involved than just sight and sound, try touch, smell and taste (particularly for babies) and if you add imagination and capacity for fostering play, a book can provide a whole body experience.

Duck spread from 'Brown Bear, Brown Bear' by Eric Carle, modified with pen.

Duck spread from ‘Brown Bear, Brown Bear’ by Eric Carle, modified with pen.

Endpaper of 'Put Me In the Zoo' with crayon writing and sticker added

Endpaper of ‘Put Me In the Zoo’ with crayon writing and sticker added

We speak of books in many of the same ways that we speak of touch: “Language is steeped in metaphors of touch. We call our emotions feelings, and we care most deeply when something ‘touches’ us.”  (Ackerman 70.) When we also think of other ways in which people read – Braille, tactile picture books, and audio books, along with the book’s capacity for translation into a movie, or play, the experience of story is indeed a multi-sensory one.

Homai Special formats library tactile picture books

Tactile picture books made for the sight impaired. (Photographed for an article I wrote about Homai special Formats Library for Magpies magazine in 2011).

Babies instinctively grab anything they can and put it into their mouths in order to know about it more fully. The early books will show the impact of all that clutching and sucking, along with torn (and subsequently repaired) pages. Once children are old enough to handle pens and other art materials they will often endeavour to make their own personal mark on a favoured book by adding to the illustrations or adding their own ‘writing’ or drawing.

Whilst I’m sure there are many parents who are horrified at the ‘disfiguring’ of a precious book, I am more inclined to appreciate that such war wounds are a signifier of the proud ownership and great love of the child for their book, in the same way that a food-stained recipe book signals its popularity and frequent use – surely the highest honour to be paid to a cook book.

I came to wonder if there were ways in which these signs of wear and tear and affection could be included in a new book, or space to encourage the reader to take ownership of it, thus engendering a feeling of warmth towards the book. A simple step to this end is to include a special panel at the front for the owner to write their name in.

Another approach is to include child-like drawing, concluding that if children love to add their own drawings to the illustrations they will be encouraged to feel ownership if there are illustrations that look as if they have already done so (and perhaps which they might add to).

Author/illustrator Chris McKimmie uses this technique in his picture books with his skilful use of materials any child could access and child-like drawings, also incorporating artwork created by his grandchildren. (Bosch) A child reader adding their own marks to a page such as this would not be disfiguring, but rather embellishing the page.

Illustrations from Chris McKimmie’s ‘Alex and the Watermelon Boat’ incorporating illustration by his grandchildren.

I was able to access a similar resource in my own children’s artwork from early childhood and primary school that both reminded me of the way children draw and the colour combinations and materials they like to use, or commonly have available to them. It has also provided a rich storytelling arena for us as a family, as we’ve rediscovered art created many years ago and retold the events in our lives at that time. Pieces of their art included in my work (with their permission) will bring the resonance of our feelings and nostalgia for those times, into the book.

Spread in progress for ‘Skates on a roll’ page including the shoe drawn by my son Angus at primary school.

The child’s response to books is a recurring theme in my research as I develop each stage of my designs; there are numerous aspects of the picture book to be taken into account, from illustration media, typeface, size and weight of the book and its binding, each contributing to the child’s attachment to the book.

As Maurice Sendak writes: “Now I know that it was a combination of things that made The Prince and the Pauper such an intense experience: the story, the size of the type, the illustrations, the weight and shape of the book, the binding, the shiny colored picture on the cover, the very smell of the pages.” (125, 126). It is the balance of all these elements along with that extra mysterious spark that will entrance the young reader.

* * * * * *

My studies at Unitec have focused primarily on picture books and book design, as this is the area I plan to work in after graduation. My work prior to and concurrently with my graphic design studies is in the field of children’s books. I publish an annual guide to books for children by New Zealand authors and illustrators – New Zealand Children’s Books in Print (2005-current) and review and write about children’s books for several publications. I managed the national Storylines Festival of New Zealand Children’s Writers and Illustrators for three years, and have completed children’s literature papers about picture books and poetry through Christchurch College of Education. This experience, along with my comprehensive library, provides me with a wide and deep knowledge of books for children from which I can draw in creating my own books, and this research is on-going.

My project this year is a picture book for pre-school children about what they wear on their feet. Small children love to be able to recognise things from their own lives in the books they read and shoes are one of those things that are often a battleground between parents and children as children love to take their shoes off and consequently lose them. I have aimed to spark the imagination by presenting these everyday objects in adventurous circumstances. The imagination of a young child has few limits and I hope they will respond both with recognition for the familiar and delight at the unexpected. I’m very aware of the need for illustrations in a picture book to go beyond just reflecting the text, which is deliberately simple:


Booties for babies

Socks when it’s cold

Boots are for splashing

Skates on a roll.

Sneakers for running

Shoes on the street

Sandals for beach days

Or just bare feet

Wiggle your toes

Wave your feet in the air

Hop, skip, jump

You can go anywhere

The picture book is a way to communicate with young children in a way that allows them to examine and understand at their own pace and in an interactive way that enables them to absorb information whilst gaining pleasure from the book experience, and taking that into their play – the child’s work.

I’ve had the benefit of industry feedback on the abecedary picture book I produced in my first year of study (Where Shall We Go Today?), which was considered by the publication committee at a reputable international publisher (Walker Books). Feedback included practical advice such as not including text in the artwork (this includes signage on buildings) as it may later need to be translated, and to always mix your colours rather than using paint straight from the tube. They gave a particularly favourable response to my Buniboy character and requests for stories about him. The editor particularly liked the monoprint rabbits and wanted to see him in action. We discussed several possibilities for future books and ideas, and I have endeavoured to incorporate many of these suggestions into my work. It is a great advantage to me that I now have an open channel for showing future work to this publisher and prospects of working together on a publication in the future.

Monoprint bunnies from ‘Where Shall We Go Today?’

Earlier this year I explored the idea of cultural costume – investigating how what we wear identifies the culture we are from, I focused my investigations on central urban Auckland with its many diverse ethnicities, using photo-documentary as a method for gathering visual data at a cultural festival where attendees were encouraged to wear their traditional costumes. Attending and participating in activities such as having a henna tattoo applied, gave me a real connection to the people I was documenting. The photographic process allowed me to be reasonably invisible and gather visual information of both the specialised national costumes but also the appearance of the general crowd present.

International Cultural Day in Mt Roskill 2012 montage

Photographs taken at the International Cultural Day in Mt Roskill, Auckland in 2012.

The visual material accumulated from this investigation has been added to the material already gathered for the previous books to compile a visual library or what Ellen Lupton refers to as a kit of parts (126) for on-going use in my illustration practice, continually adding images, textures, digital brushes, collage materials and illustrations in various media to the on-going collection.

Kit of parts examples

Examples of items in my ‘kit of parts’ for illustration which includes photographs, line drawings, paintings, textures and digital brushes.

This process began for me in my first year of study in gathering materials that were compiled into my first picture book, Where Shall We Go Today?Initially I made most of my drawings using black ink outlines and using many different papers and materials to create collage drawings. The outline technique was one that allowed me to capture the essential shape of an item such as a car, by making multiple iterations until I felt it was recognisable but not too ornate.

Cover of Where Shall We Go Today by Crissi Blair

Cover of Where Shall We Go Today by Crissi Blair
See complete book in pdf below

Where shall we go today by Crissi Blair 

Collage continues to be a favourite media, bringing with it as it does the layers of meaning from its previous lives and can also be a useful way to connect with the adults sharing the book with a child, after all books for children are usually chosen and bought by adults before children get to enjoy them. Adults finding something they recognise in a book will be more likely to feel a connection with it and want to share that with the child.

The resulting feedback, both from industry and general sharing with adults and children, enabled me to establish which elements worked well, and which should be abandoned, or at least modified. With the addition of new skills enabling the incorporation of printmaking techniques and model-making further additions and refinements to the kit took place, and were used in my second book, Every Day I Take A Walk.

Printmaking became an exciting technique that rewarded a playful approach to colour, producing unpredictable results that gave the impression of depth and tactility. I particularly noticed that when readers first looked at Every Day I Take a Walk they would stroke the cover, which had been made using monoprint and collage, then digitally printed on a matte poster paper producing an impression of velvet softness resulting from the printmaking process. This implied texture was reminiscent of old, worn books from my collection and it had the result of conferring some of the haptic characteristics of these much-loved books.

Model-making was a major turning point as it enabled me to see my central character, Buniboy, who had previously been a single-position 2D figure, as a fully fledged 3D puppet for animation that I can place in different positions, which makes it idea to draw from, resulting in a more dynamic character in the second book. It also allows me to make stop-motion animation, which I see as a possibility if I wish to take my print publication on into an iPad app or a YouTube clip to promote the book.

Model of Buniboy picture book character.

The skills I have acquired from my animation classes included the many ways animation can be used to tell a story, and seeing that I could bring many of the filmic techniques I saw in animation, into my picture book work, particularly considering point of view and how that affects the feelings conveyed (looking up at something bigger than you makes you feel small and intimidated, whilst looking down makes you feel powerful and god-like. I also see these techniques, along with cutaways and zooming in and out, in graphic novels and in picture books from master illustrators including Anthony Browne (winner of the Hans Christian Andersen award in 2002 and Children’s Laureate in the United Kingdom from 2009-2011) who uses these techniques expertly, producing deep emotional responses with his illustrations and stories. I’ve examined his interpretation of Alice through the Looking Glass (Carroll) and taken inspiration from his images of Alice the giant in the dollhouse, to create my own illustrations that place an overgrown character (the child) in a dramatic situation (Carroll 30,32), enabling the child to see itself as having power.

Gumboots stamp in the ocean

Work in progress of spread for picture book about feet.

My visual resources have undergone further transformation this semester as I’ve moved from using the outline technique, which predominated my first two books, to painting with acrylic inks and paint, which has produced richer and bolder forms with a greater range of colour and tone than I’ve used previously.

As this was a new media for me I experimented to find the most effective way to transmute the 3D and photographic into a flowing painted form that fell somewhere between looking realistic and cartoon illustration. The digitising of the paintings produced another transformation. The painted articles looked better digitised than they did in their original form and it also enabled me to convert them into digital tools for illustration by converting them into brushes in Photoshop which could then be used positively as brushes and negatively as an eraser, creating further dimensions to my digital collages.

Ink illustrations

Illustrations trialling acrylic ink as a medium.

The use of paint has brought more balance to my illustration, through its tonal qualities and the use of gestural marks to suggest a form, and  offers a greater sense of visual lyricism. I’ve found it useful to observe artists who use similar techniques such as Maira Kalman’s capturing of simple objects in The Elements of Style (Strunk) and her many picture books, and Ludwig Bemelmans’ celebrated Madeline stories (Marciano) with their perfectly balanced illustrations.

“I discipline my illustrations as it is, but they must be absolutely clear for children. A flower must be a flower, the sun must be the sun. It can be stylized, it can be the image of a thing, but it must be simple, clear, and at once understood. Since the objects in nature are the most beautiful, one must merely stick to the original with the child’s eye in mind. He sees it as on the first day of creation and so it must be.” (Bemelmans 130).

Of particular interest to me are illustrators who incorporate the aesthetics of the hand-drawn line and text, and collage materials, which bring their own history to be incorporated into the new story. Amongst those I’ve studied in detail are Shaun Tan, Leigh Hodgkinson, Emily Gravett and Oliver Jeffers.

After in-depth study of Oliver Jeffers picture books (for a feature article I wrote about him for Australia’s Magpies children’s literature magazine) I found myself increasingly drawn to the rich retro colour palette found in many of his books such as The Incredible Book Eating Boy, which incorporated recycled books and ephemera along with flat panels of painted colour which draw clear areas of figure and ground and a focal point. I had made use of collage from my first book and find this to be a rich resource that brings multi-layered meanings with it as it holds the story of its original purpose through the finding process to its reforming into something new in an illustration. Patterns and textures could also be brought into the illustrations using collaged materials or through rubbings and printmaking.

Examples of Oliver Jeffers work

Jeffers’ most recent picture book, That Moose Belongs to Me, provided further ideas in his use of pre-existing fine art paintings as background for the story. They bring layers of meaning and a colour palette and stage ready-made on which the story can play out.

With a vast library of existing paintings and photographs available for use this is a rich resource that can be incorporated judiciously and playfully. In my illustrations for my new book I’ve been incorporating playfulness into the images and layout, blending pre-existing imagery with my own paintings, using contrasts in size (large child’s boots splash in the ocean) and colour (coloured painted shoes against black and white photography). Text is also playfully blended into the spreads using interesting media like wool to construct the letters and imitating formal typefaces by hand with ink

I undertake continuous research into the work and techniques of a range of illustrators and the way they use illustration to convey knowledge to their readers. Alongside this research I have trialled a range of illustrative and format options with users. I had expected that this research would provide evidence for formulating my design, rather than relying on my own personal preferences, however the results of the user research have changed my understanding about what appeals to children.

I carried out qualitative research into how children interact with books, and how they respond to different styles and formats of books. To do this I conducted a survey in a primary school classroom, showing the children picture books in varying sizes and illustration styles, allowing them to choose the books and images they liked and disliked most, this research yielded unexpected results.

Rather than clearly indicating preferences for particular illustration styles the votes were spread across several different styles, and in most cases if a sample had many positive votes, it also had approximately the same number of negative votes. On questioning the children about who had voted for and against the various examples they were balanced with boys and girls in both groups.

The samples provided included classics from the 1970s through to examples from recent publications, encompassing a wide range of media including comics, collage, pen and ink, silhouettes and digital. I had predicted that the more modern books would be popular but most of those voted for were older titles, including one of the most popular – an illustration by Shirley Hughes from Alfie Gets In First, published 30 years ago (Hughes). One of the more modern illustrations (from Snow is My Favourite and My Best (2007) by Lauren Child from the high-grossing Charlie and Lola series) was virtually ignored.

Research into children's likes and dislikes in picture book illustration.

Research into children’s likes and dislikes in picture book illustration.

Of course this was just one class in one school in one economic zone. I plan future research to expand my data including gender bias, a variety of age groups and socio-economic zones.

My on-going research into author/illustrators and how they work also provided another side of the equation. Again and again I would ask the question “Who do you make your books for?” and in nearly every case I was told some version of: “I make them for myself”. I know that many books are commissioned with a prescription for what the publisher wants, but my concern is with those inspired books that have come from the creator’s own mind and heart.

Oliver Jeffers: “I think if I started writing books that I thought other people wanted to read, they’d see through that very quickly, they’d become forced and there would be a formula. I don’t have any interest in that; I consider them as an extension of my art. I make them because I want to, and feel compelled to.” (Blair)

Maurice Sendak: “I don’t write for children. I write.” (Carbone)

Although I had expected that my research with children and discussions with author/illustrators would provide me with some guidelines that I could follow, rather than just following my own preferences, what I discovered was that it needs to be something I feel strong enthusiasm for, and my illustrations be something I am excited by, and that is what has the best chance of success.


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