Australian bushrangers: bolters, brigands and outlaws

Recently I’ve been researching the early history of Australia as part of a script writing project, discovering many interesting facts and stories from this colonial period, particularly regarding the difficult life facing those arriving in the new colony under chains, and of those who became the first free citizens to be born in the new Australian nation.

After the arrival of the First Fleet into Botany Bay in 1788, the convicts were set to work building their own penal accommodation and the infrastructure required for the new settlement. Conditions were very harsh and punishment was brutally swift and extreme, which soon saw escapees bolting for the bush in the hope of surviving long enough to reach unknown settlements or to make their way across the seas to distant neighbouring countries. These ‘bolters’ were hopelessly inexperienced and ignorant of the vastness of the Australian bush and many perished from exposure, the lack of sufficient food, violence from their fellow absconders (including a number of victims who were killed and eaten by their desperately hungry freedom seeking mates) and deadly encounters with hostile natives.

By the 1820’s bushranging had become a widespread problem with many men choosing to take up arms and lead a life of horse, sheep and cattle stealing, raiding of settlers’ homesteads and farmhouses, and bold highway robberies. The Bushrangers Act was introduced in 1830 as a deterrent to those committing or assisting others to commit unlawful acts, giving powers to anyone to apprehend suspected criminals, or to search any suspicious individual thought to have firearms or other instruments of violent nature hidden or concealed about their person.

Capture of bushrangers
These brigands were often aided and supported by those who still sympathised with the plight of the outlaws after completing their own sentence and having been granted their freedom. Many citizens also continued to hold little respect for the authorities and governors of the colonies and were easily persuaded to help the bushrangers evade the lawmen, especially when they profited themselves from the goods looted and then offered cheaply.

The shocking, sensational and violent stories of men such as John ‘Black’ Caesar, Michael Howe, Alexander ‘The Cannibal’ Pearce, Thomas ‘The Monster’ Jeffery, Mathew Brady, Martin Cash, and Jack ‘The Wild Colonial Boy’ Donohoe were eagerly devoured by a populace desiring for local stories telling true and engaging tales of undeserved injustice, criminal adventure and villainous acts to satisfy their need for diversionary entertainment from their lives of tiresome labour, constant struggle and hardship.

Gold was then discovered near Bathurst, New South Wales in 1851, and also in Victoria later that year, which soon saw many bushrangers taking to the roads to hold up the rapidly increasing numbers of ‘diggers’, gold convoys and coaches travelling across the country. Bail ups were now common across the goldfields and robbery under arms was a constant danger for everyone using the roads by foot, horseback or vehicle.

Morgan and GardinerA chase after Morgan
Gangs of bushrangers would stop travellers with threats of violence and death, rob them of valuables and then tie them up off the road so that they could not continue to raise the alarm at the next town. The bushrangers were often talented horsemen who stole the fastest horses and regularly led the police troopers on embarrassingly protracted and unsuccessful chases through their ‘home’ of endless mountain ranges and dense bush territory. Bushrangers like Frank ‘Darkie’ Gardiner, Black Douglas, Frank ‘Captain Melville’ McCallum, John ‘Bogong Jack’ Payne, and Daniel ‘Mad Dan’ Morgan had escaped from numerous attempts to apprehend them with their superior mounts and greater knowledge of the land. It was only when using the expertise of Aboriginal trackers that the police seemed to have any real hope of quickly catching their quarry.

The new colony was soon to see its first native-born bushrangers and amongst the locally born citizens feelings still ran deep against the English rule. The settlers were keen to see an end to further transportation of convicts to Australian shores and desired the federation of the individual colonies to form a commonwealth. These free Australians asked for greater personal rights and a larger say in the formation and direction of the nation, and as the gold rush continued to swell the numbers looking to find their fortune, unrest intensified at the high licence fee demanded by the government to access the goldfields and of the generally poor living conditions and often severe punishment handed out to the unlicenced diggers. This widespread disagreement would eventually come to a head in December 1854 when the ‘Eureka Stockade’ battle took place at Ballarat, Victoria.

Ben_Hall_bushrangerHall, Gilbert, and Dunn sticking up the Mail at the Black Springs
The government responded to the escalating lawlessness of the bushrangers by introducing the Felon’s Apprehension Act, which decreed that any criminals named in a general summons were to give themselves up and to stand trial, or they could legally be brought in by any person – dead or alive. Wanted felons like Ben Hall, Johnnie Gilbert, John Dunn, Harry Power, and brothers Thomas and John Clarke would now be officially outlawed and face possible death from any meeting with the police or public.

By the 1860’s a new breed of highly popular bushranger had emerged due to the introduction of the electric telegraph. News and information now flowed quickly from communities across the nation and people were eager to hear the exciting tales of Andrew ‘Captain Moonlite’ Scott, The Kelly Gang, and Frederick ‘Captain Thunderbolt’ Ward. It was to be the Kellys who would come to define the Australian bushranger, with brothers Ned and Dan Kelly, together with friends Steve Hart and Joe Byrne, providing a lengthy and ongoing saga that would famously culminate in a siege at the Glenrowan Hotel – the scene of Ned’s early morning attack on the police wearing his heavy suit of steel armour. Ned was captured alive for trial and the rest of his gang killed in the shoot-out and subsequent fire. Ned Kelly was found guilty of murdering Constable Lonigan and sentenced to hang on November 11th 1880 at the Old Melbourne Gaol in Victoria.

Ned_KellyJoe_Byrnes

Ned+Dan Kelly
As the 19th century came to a close the bushrangers no longer frequented the Australian bush as they had before. A murderous gang of three, led by brothers Jimmy and Joe Governor, murdered and robbed their way across New South Wales until all were captured or killed by early 1901. The dramatic days of the colonial bushranger were all but over, although the young nation would continue to know many more rebellious outlaws and freedom fighting heroes for personal justice throughout the following centuries.

All images courtesy of Trove – National Library of Australia, State Library of Queensland (Ben Hall portrait) and the State Library of Victoria (Power capture).

Musical spotlight

Fan SpotlightMy bandcamp collection has again been featured in their Fan Spotlight section on the front page. I’ve written mini reviews for all my purchases, so if you like good indie music covering a wide range of styles and genres (post-rock, instrumental, stoner, alt-country, pop, dance, electronica, metal-rock, acoustic, synthwave, soundtrack, etc…) take a look and support these great artists.

Most albums can be listened to in full for free online, and many are completely free to download, or available from as little as a few dollars, so there’s always something to check out and enjoy.

September Soapbox: our forgettable media forgetting our past

 

History is more than just the past – it is a valuable teacher and educator, providing fascinating insight into real events, noteworthy characters and the important theories and discoveries that shaped our current society and way of life.

Too quickly we seem to be losing touch with what truly matters and are disturbingly overvaluing information possessing no long-term benefit or insight. Our history has determined how we live in the present and will directly influence our future too – never a trivial or worthless concept to disregard. As we rush forward with expanding technology and pervasive social networks, we should consider our place in time and take advantage of the opportunity to wisely use our advanced capability to access and share our valuable experiences.

I fear that the suffocating nature of today’s media and publishing landscape, which is currently dominated by superficial and disposable talent, paid advertorials, lightweight lifestyle programming, and unthinking commentary, has shifted attention well away from content of interest and historical importance, by significantly decreasing the available space and time for genuine in-depth reporting and intellectual discussion regarding significant events and concepts.

A shameful ‘entertainment first’ mantra, where only the instant fix is desired, is now prevalent throughout many media platforms, an outlook which causes major recent events to be quickly forgotten, whilst fluff and nonsense remain in the spotlight for weeks or months. The growing buzz of trivial and banal infotainment masquerading as important and factual news has now become a constant and tiresome drone of worthless self-promotion and shameless posturing, hyped by media-made mouthpieces and flagrant peddlers of highly questionable content. Do we really wish to be so undesirably shallow and deceptive?

 

The History of the World

 

We are constantly told to live in the now, be on the edge and ahead of the curve. This attitude creates decreasing opportunities to reflect on what has been, and to acknowledge the lessons from the past that will help guide us into the future. Our history holds so much of value and substance, particularly now as across the entire globe we continue to struggle with key life impacting issues such as poverty, industrialization, sustainability, equality and justice.

It would be extremely irresponsible for us to neglect the great deeds, shocking tragedies, discoveries and mistakes that form our collective history, and to blindly march forward unaware of where we have come from and the noteworthy details of that journey. History is much more than just a series of dry old facts, left only to those who wish to seek them out. It is inspirational, humiliating and all emotions in-between; a knowledge base of infinite value, provoking thought and intense discussion well beyond insignificant celebrity headlines and paid promotion.

We need to enthusiastically teach and share the stories that make up our history in this complex world. Their guidance, entertainment and contemplative quality offer us all the capability to understand and determine our path ahead, without simply repeating the mistakes made previously.

 

Return on investment

Return on investment (ROI) is typically used as a decision-making concept regarding the determination of bottom line suitability for activities such as business models, retail product development and various funding schemes, but is equally applicable when discussing creative pursuits and the resultant impact in comparison to the actual time and effort involved.

There can be no favourable ROI if the undertaking consumes a vastly disproportionate amount of time and/or cost to arrive at a completed product – this imbalance can absolutely destroy any creative concept that simply doesn’t match effort with reward. Even when there are no financial implications and the pursuit is realistically only a hobby or pastime, extreme amounts of unrewarded effort surely do not meet most practical criteria for true personal reimbursement.

Finding the balance between art and commerce is always pertinent when discussing commercial artwork, illustration or graphic design. Determining the intrinsic relevance of purely artistic decisions within design projects is a key component of producing long-lasting quality work, and is also a helpful guide towards building genuine cooperative relationships between designer, client, and the needs of a consumer. Deceiving yourself with notions of artistic importance and neglecting solid design fundamentals is one thing – deceiving others via your own vanity or stubbornness is quite another!

Efficiency within the creative process, based on careful and considered planning and structuring, is the greatest influential component that a designer or illustrator can make to create a balanced ROI. Technical competency and conceptual skill will obviously ensure that the return or reward equation is more likely achievable, however it should also be noted that the shifting client goalposts often encountered within a project can easily scuttle even the most meticulous preparation from a conscientious individual.

Creative streams regularly produce unexpected communication difficulties and disagreements over visual elements – something widely accepted as an unfortunate evil that can only be suitably managed, rather than neatly eradicated. Possessing a realistic rationale and maintaining a professional overview should help to hasten processes and allow the attainment of a justifiable ROI.

The creative bicycle

Learning to again ride with poise

It is suggested that certain talents or learnt and nurtured skills always remain with you, regardless of inactivity, disuse or neglect. After a lengthy period of time of near total artistic and illustrative abandonment (in the region of 20 years) personally finding my way once again has proved to be a sometimes difficult and very frustrating experience.

Rediscovering my own original ability, technique, creative vision and conceptual understanding – something that I believe was only significantly constrained by age, inexperience and a lack of opportunity – is proving to be a painful journey in many tangible ways.

Looking back at some of my few retained early illustrations, I now find it hard to recognise myself as the person responsible, such is the feeling of separation over time and the skills apparently forgotten. Most disconcerting is my current inability to artistically ‘see’ as I firmly believe I should – recognising form, shape and volume, together with basic natural competence in conceptualizing, sketching and drawing – a struggle that has knocked me sideways at different points and created a very hollow internal reaction.

As part of the required process to achieve positive results, clear methodologies and specific technical approaches are paramount, particularly when attempting detailed or intricate illustration techniques or complex and involved new software applications. I’ve unpleasantly discovered that it can be rather daunting and regularly discouraging to not automatically grasp and perform the necessary steps, exacerbated as my expectations don’t match initial outcomes, and the navigation through repeated difficulties appears to be full of sizable obstacles.

Believing that all my seemingly lost skills will immediately and magically return may be a direct form of personal deception, however the feeling that they should be more readily apparent at this point of time is genuinely inescapable. In time, with required application, lessons are learned and understanding becomes second nature, but the spectre of unrealised proficiency will likely remain for an extended and unwelcome period. Have you ever found your own creative bicycle no longer riding true?

Note: my sketch used above is taken from the enRICH KIDS book ‘The Big Win’ – head to enrichkids.com.au to check out their range of financial education resources for children.

Design without borders

Information saturation via innumerable media outlets is now a serious and troubling challenge confronting the delivery of considered and consistent communication standards for content and design. With the arrival of new digital forms of instant and interactive distribution, structured design is all too often reduced to a minor role – pushed conveniently into the background behind the need to rapidly get the message out, or compromised by the flashy and flawed ‘more is better’ approach of multimedia content.

Graphic design has become something of a forgotten skill as the ubiquitous capability to self-produce digital documents – at any standard – now overshadows the required consideration regarding the importance of fundamental design principles and professionally devised communication output. Within the turbulent seas of personal opinion and untrained judgment, solid design structure can introduce calm consistency and provide targeted, productive content. Inconsistent messages are regularly delivered to consumers, breaking the positive communication flow and hindering understanding due to illogical hierarchies or a cluttered focus. These problems unfortunately appear insurmountable at times, as the breadth of media touch points dilute our ability to directly control all elements within manageable systems and desired time frames for quality content generation.


So, why does design matter?

Brand equity and enduring appeal require significant planning, monitoring and considerable effort to build the desired identity – or attempt to. Without awareness and strategic planning, simply making noise will not achieve results, and planning is the cornerstone of successful design and communication. Design, beyond simple construction, offers an identity or planned style system, built upon a flexible understanding of needs and requirements and devised conscientiously to provide functional solutions across many potential applications. This is essential for the dissemination and representation of any message and includes all forms of print promotion, online spaces, interactive tools and traditional advertising or broadcasting. All parts of the complex identity puzzle matter equally and design is the foundation that successfully underpins a sprawling brand construction. An ill-considered misstep or corner-cutting oversight can erase years of perception building and dilute even the strongest of brands.

We may now have many more distribution flavours to choose from, but sound design decisions are still required to effectively express the intended message with substance and integrity. Design principles needs to breach the borders surrounding deficient new media experiences, adding value through the proliferation of professional standards and conceptual intelligence. For communication success to be achieved a clear voice needs to be heard and it must speak with respectful clarity, strategic direction and demonstrated forethought.

Good design

We all know what we like and what we believe is good design, but creating strong and successful designs is a task that requires a careful balance of creativity, accurate message delivery, consistency and overall readability.

There are many ‘rules’ for design, with many of these able to be broken, if you understand how the basics of design work and their relationship and interaction within your layout. Here’s a few key concepts that need to be addressed:

  • Use restraint:
    Don’t cram large amounts of information into an area, believing more content is better. Allow empty areas or ‘white space’ to give your content room to breathe and make it easier for the viewer to take in the message you are presenting. This also applies to font usage. Restrict yourself to a few font families (weight and style variations: roman, bold, italic, condensed etc…) and create variation with appropriate use of style choices, rather than adding an extra font.
  • Lead the eye through the design:
    English speaking countries read from left to right and top to bottom, which is why most layouts are structured to be read from top left to bottom right. For example, a typical print advertisement will start with a headline, follow with detailed content (text and images) and end with a ‘call to action’ and/or contact details/logo. Within this general order the key is to create a comfortable path for the eye to follow within the space, resting on the key components reflecting the what, where and who points of the piece. Creating areas of interest and directing the eye to move throughout the design in a logical order will help to ‘sell’ the content on display.
  • Provide visual contrast:
    A layout featuring a large amount of text (or any other consistent element) will appear somewhat dull, compared to a balanced design featuring contrasting elements and tones. Both effective colour usage and shape/form variation will produce suitable contrast to attract the eye and excite the viewer. Most memorable designs will in some way utilise areas of visual contrast and using this technique appropriately can effectively increase interest and brand awareness.
  • Format paged documents with constant elements:
    Variation is generally a good thing, however for a professional look across a document featuring multiple pages a standard base should be implemented. A constant and logical design format (column placement/width, header, page numbers etc…) should remain throughout the entire document, with variation restricted to considered adjustment of the base style, for any page(s) requiring a different approach. It is also very important to make it visually straightforward for the reader to follow your hierarchical system throughout the document, so set up a workable and identifiable system (formatting, style, colour) for headings, sub-headings, captions, quotes etc.
  • Choose colour wisely:
    Use restraint again when choosing colour – a large range of colours may actually look pretty to some, but they generally do not produce a coherent visual result. Develop a small range of colours that work well together to accurately represent your design content, structure and overall theme, and then expand this choice with percentages or tints of these colours to provide some variation. Too much colour can simply distract the eye and confuse your message. Always remember – not everything needs to be colour highlighted!

Colour modes & image management

The colour you see on a computer monitor is not the colour you will see on a printed page. Different methods of printing are used for specific requirements (and quantities) and together with varying stock types, colour will often appear quite different to that seen and selected via the computer.

The first colour basic to understand is the difference between how a monitor portrays colour and the method used to transfer a file into a printed document. On the monitor, primary colours of light (additive primaries) are generated by different degrees of electrons. The mix of red, green and blue light (RGB) is perceived by the eye as the full RGB spectrum of colour.

On paper, cyan, magenta and yellow (subtractive primaries) are mixed with black (adding crispness to dark colour mixes) to create the CMYK spectrum. For a photograph, or continuous tone image, colour is represented by small printed dots of the four ink colours, which together combine to form a complete image. Via the computer CMYK is simulated on the screen and unless the monitor is calibrated to accurately match this mode, reliable colour matching may be impossible.

The RGB spectrum does not directly convert to CMYK and many colours actually have no direct match. Colours can shift dramatically from one spectrum to the other and images or key colour choices may appear significantly different from the intended effect. Typically converting from RGB to CMYK will ‘muddy’ an image as the intensity of the additive colour on the monitor is replaced by the subtractive colour reflected back to your eye from the printed stock. For CMYK print requirements images converted from RGB must be correctly adjusted to achieve the originally desired colour balance, or workable alternative colours selected.

It is important to understand that supplying a file for print in RGB will likely cause significant colour issues, if printed by an offset press and possible colour shifts if printed digitally. Created files need to be set in CMYK mode and all imported or placed content within the final document needs to be converted to CMYK, if in RGB mode.

Adobe Photoshop, however, offers a different approach for working between colour modes. Certain filters and effects will only operate in RGB mode, so it is possible to create files in RGB as the ‘working’ file and supply a ‘save as’ copy of the final file in CMYK for print purposes. RGB files in Photoshop are also smaller file sizes compared to CMYK files, which is often an advantage when working with the file and also for electronic distribution.

As with converting from one colour mode to another, changing directly to grayscale from either RGB or CMYK without tonal adjustment is not advised. Viewable variances between objects of different colours are often lost if their relative values are similar. As grayscale is a mono (single) colour mode, the amount of information describing image content is limited, compared to a colour mode containing a wider spectrum. Detail that the eye can see through colour differences may now be effectively hidden, once converted to slightly varied tones of a single colour.

Supplying a colour image for grayscale output on a black & white or single colour print project, without the correct mode conversion and correction is a particular area regarding quality concerns. For a desirable printed result, images must be converted to grayscale and the steps illustrated below followed to produce an appropriate file.

The following Adobe Photoshop step-by-step guides provide specific information regarding common problems affecting image quality.

Correcting and improving the appearance of a colour image:

  1. Resize the image to the required output resolution and size.
  2. Select ‘Filter’, then ‘Sharpen’, then ‘Unsharp Mask’. The options here control the amount of contrast Photoshop applies along the edge of areas containing different pixel content. The default values for radius and threshold will be suitable for most images, however experimentation may produce suitable results. The degree of sharpening is determined by the amount percentage. Typically a value in the range of 50-100 will suffice, but for larger images a higher value will be required. Oversharpening can produce a noticeable halo effect, however the effect of this filter are less pronounced when printed.
  3. If required, select ‘Image’, then ‘Adjustments’, then ‘Curves’. Manually adjusting the curve will change the overall tonality and adding points to the curve (by clicking) will allow the adjustment of particular image areas from point to point. You can adjust all or target individual channels.
  4. If required, select ‘Image’, then ‘Adjustments’, then ‘Levels’. The sliders here allow you to compress the shadow and highlight values to match the image content for better output results. You can adjust all or target individual channels. Moving the end sliders below the histogram alters the darkest and lightest pixels within the image and remaps the black or white point to your new value. Adjusting the middle slider affects the gamma (brightness) to make the overall image darker or lighter.
  5. If required, select ‘Image’, then ‘Adjustments’, then ‘Brightness/Contrast’. This is a basic adjustment that affects every pixel in the image. Used sparingly it can apply greater overall contrast than either ‘Curves’ or ‘Levels’, especially on grayscale images.
  6. If required, select ‘Image’, then ‘Adjustments’, then ‘Hue/Saturation’. Under ‘Edit’ you have the option of altering the entire colour space, or individual colour components. Adjusting the values for hue, saturation and lightness can shift the colour through the spectrum and change the colour depth.
  7. If required, select ‘Image’, then ‘Adjustments’, then ‘Color Balance’. Adjusting the values for shadows, midtones or highlights can change a specific tonal range and improve the mixture of colour within focussed areas.
  8. If required, select ‘Image’, then ‘Adjustments’, then ‘Shadow/Highlight’. This corrects the visible lighting of an image. You can individually control the shadows and highlights to brighten detail lost in shadow or correct overexposed elements.


Converting and correcting the appearance of a grayscale image:

  1. Resize the image to the required output resolution and size.
  2. If required, Select ‘Image’, then ‘Mode’, then ‘Grayscale’.
  3. Select ‘Filter’, then ‘Sharpen’, then ‘Unsharp Mask’. The options here control the amount of contrast Photoshop applies along the edge of areas containing different pixel content. The default values for radius and threshold will be suitable for most images, however experimentation may produce suitable results. The degree of sharpening is determined by the amount percentage. Typically a value in the range of 50-100 will suffice, but for larger images a higher value will be required. Oversharpening can produce a noticeable halo effect, however the effect of this filter are less pronounced when printed.
  4. If required, select ‘Image’, then ‘Adjustments’, then ‘Curves’. Manually adjusting the curve will change the overall tonality and adding points to the curve (by clicking) will allow the adjustment of particular image areas from point to point.
  5. If required, select ‘Image’, then ‘Adjustments’, then ‘Levels’. The sliders here allow you to compress the shadow and highlight values to match the image content for better output results. Moving the end sliders below the histogram alters the darkest and lightest pixels within the image and remaps the black or white point to your new value. Adjusting the middle slider affects the gamma (brightness) to make the overall image darker or lighter.
  6. If required, select ‘Image’, then ‘Adjustments’, then ‘Brightness/Contrast’. This is a basic adjustment that affects every pixel in the image. Used sparingly it can apply greater overall contrast than either ‘Curves’ or ‘Levels’, especially on greyscale images.
  7. If required, select ‘Image’, then ‘Adjustments’, then ‘Shadow/Highlight’. This corrects the visible lighting of an image. You can individually control the shadows and highlights to brighten detail lost in shadow or correct overexposed elements.

As a general rule grayscale images usually print well when adjusted to appear slightly too light on the monitor. Darker images can loose a large amount of midtone detail (especially on newsprint or specialty uncoated stocks) and appear filled-in when printed.

Converting from RGB to CMYK:

  1. Select ‘Image’, then ‘Mode’, then ‘CMYK Color’.
  2. In the History palette (if not visible turn on via ‘Window’, then ‘History’) check for any colour shift by moving between the available states, showing the file in both colour modes.
  3. If required, select ‘Image’, then ‘Adjustments’, then ‘Hue/Saturation’. Under ‘Edit’ you have the option of altering the entire colour space, or individual colour components. Adjusting the values for hue, saturation and lightness can correct any shift or loss of colour.
  4. If required, select ‘Image’, then ‘Adjustments’, then ‘Color Balance’. Adjusting the values for shadows, midtones or highlights can correct any colour shift across the entire image and improve the balance within a specific tonal range.

Planning electronic assets

Graphic design is a creative and technical mix, requiring solid knowledge of both areas to create and produce quality projects. The emergence of ‘desktop publishing’ during the 1980’s has forever altered the way design is constructed and as with many electronic advancements, has also brought with it a new assortment of uniquely digital problem areas.

A lot of technical proficiency is now required to effectively produce finished art from the various software programs needed to create electronic files. This is now additional to the knowledge of a design professional, who provides skills ranging from complete project planning and direction, to specific layout and creative solutions. Add to this the specialist knowledge required for successful printing (via either digital or offset processes) and print finishing (folding, cutting, binding) and the range of skills and expertise required becomes very broad.

Creating polished design and print that works effectively for individual projects is not an easy task and can require a substantial time investment. Correct planning and an understanding of general design and print rules may help you to create and provide projects that accurately hit your intended target.

Most designs do not operate in isolation and many of the elements developed for one, can or will be required for further projects. It is essential to create electronic assets that are reusable for future use – both known projects and unknown possibilities.

Logos, illustrations and photographs are common elements that require initial planning to create assets that are able to be used in a variety of ways. The resolution of any pixel based file will determine the largest possible size that this type of file can be successfully enlarged to. Large format material such as posters, signage or display installations will require files of a suitable dimension and resolution, otherwise the results will be less than expected and desired. For web development it is key to consider print use when project planning as many parts of an online identity style may be required for later high resolution print usage.

A general rule for pixel content is to initially create at the largest size possible. This size and resolution will be determined by software capability, available computer memory (and operating speed) and also creative constraints.

For logos, illustrations and charts the best choice will often be to use a ‘vector’ drawing program. Vector based software will produce scalable files that can be used at any size and also offer the ability for easy colour and format editing for content variation and other uses. Vector files can quickly specify ‘spot’ colours to support corporate colour schemes and produce very small file sizes for electronic distribution.

Planning projects to allow for correct output and flexibility of use, will help to maximise the initial expense for the creation of key elements and provide files that are able to meet the needs of different future requirements. Plan wisely and think ahead!

Pattern recognition

The human brain and visual system allow us to interpret the world and create our perception of the remarkably complex environment around us. It continues to provide endless study into areas including neuroscience, cognitive processes and visual perception.

Pareidolia is the term used to categorise those instances when something seen or heard is perceived as a known or significant and therefore recognisable. Patterns or shapes, especially the human face, can be created within purely random shadows or from cloud formations, stains or shapes in nature – almost anywhere that a combination of elements can trigger an incidental ‘false’ recognition of form. Our ventral fusiform cortex responds to combinations matching facial structure and interprets this shape stimulus as significant and activates an almost immediate recognition response.

Instances of seeing recognizable faces and figures include the many examples of claimed religious imagery, visible as recognisable portraits of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary and others from a wide range of beliefs and religions. Faces or figures are formed on cloth, amongst smoke, in damp stains and through many, many other bizarre circumstances.

The most popular occurrence for witnessing human or animal forms involves finding shapes in the clouds. This has long been an easy source for the phenomenon and most of us would have found something resembling a known shape at some point. A quick web search will locate many photographic examples and numerous websites dedicated to searching the sky for these recognisable forms.

Personally, I see a lot of these materialisations and have used many of them as part of the concept stage for generating illustrations. These occurrences are very well suited to fantasy art and therefore help to generate ideas of a fantastic nature – something useful to me and the type of work I enjoy producing. Below are a few examples of recent creature sketches, produced from photographs taken whilst looking for reference material:


Capturing a random collection of shapes and shadows and finding a recognisable form amongst them is an excellent technique to aid seeing the detail in the world around you. As a designer and illustrator this proves to be a great source of training for the mind and an enjoyable activity of discovery.

Following on from here we could continue with an in-depth discussion regarding visual rules for patterns and composition: the rule of odds, golden spiral and the rule of thirds. All relate to perceived visual harmony, balance and beneficial structure. Our brain operates with various specialised areas determining particular input signals and when exposed to certain stimulus quickly links to known and desirable patterns and forms. Understanding how we react to many of these rules offers insight into why we see and feel what we do and poses even further questions regarding our place in the world.

So, keep your eyes open and the brain fully alert – pattern recognition is positively endless!

Finding design inspiration

Need a helping creative hand to generate ideas or solve problematical design issues? At times inspiration is short and deadlines are way too tight. It can be all too easy to just revert back to standard uninspiring approaches and solutions, rather than specifically addressing the visual and technical requirements for a new design project.

Sourcing references and examples to kick start creative thoughts is a relatively easy task, especially with our current ability to quickly connect to the world via the net. A key aspect of working through stumbling blocks is the ability to see all relevant and seemingly irrelevant influences in context. All that surrounds us has the capability to offer assistance for problem solving, from basic structural form and content relationships through to colour schemes and harmony.

For general product or informational design (ie brochures, packaging and print advertising) the designer needs to consider both approaches that fit the current need and also those not obviously from the same product type or commercial sector. Making yourself open to alternatives may yield fresh design alternatives not immediately considered. The presentation, design framework and organisational structure of information in markets unrelated to your current project may provide insights towards problem solving with an alternative perspective.

Looking at structure, shape and colour – expand your mind!

Many market aspects demand specific required/desired elements to be successful and can lead to a unique visual language, only seen within that particular demographic, form of distribution or product type. It’s possible to find extremely useful layout solutions from simply observing and analysing the components and likely theory behind these designs. You may find that many examples have the ability to offer considerable insight into the bigger design questions that need to be answered. A key is to not stumble when viewing visuals not directly related to your exact market. Learn from the reasoning that has created the finished result and apply the same thinking to your project. Viable design direction may be gained.

For example: the structure and graphical detail required for a poster advertising a punk rock concert may not match your immediate project at hand, but it may illustrate a method or technique highly relevant to solving tough design issues that you do have. Helpfully, by simply absorbing and analysing a wide range of styles, colours and artistic approaches, your mind will likely gain a greater perspective and develop more possible ideas. A workable direction may then form, pointing towards a treatment previously unthought.

Over the years I’ve discovered many excellent design solutions hidden amongst completely unconnected print designs, packaging, displays and other artistic work. If not structure and content, then colour palettes and theory should at least present itself and offer you food for thought to help move beyond those annoying creative stumbles.