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Final difficulties with shipping now a memory, I can say this poster project was a great opportunity and an enjoyable challenge. In its final form, the poster was just a big illustration, and that's what I do. Or did. Displaying it at the NMC conference is a real bonus: I look at illustration as a foundation skill for working in any media. If you can't illustrate with one shot when you have complete control, having many shots and more people won't improve the outcome of your core abilities.

Initial flow-chart rough.Before I was involved with Brett's NMC Conference poster-the "ETS Engagement Initiative Process"-Brett had had a preliminary meeting with a visual designer to help him turn the process into a simplified flow chart. Actually, there was much planning and development before I was involved. When Brett showed me the chart, he was just unsure of how he wanted to develop the imagery. I had my usual trouble focusing on the chart and what its message was, but suggested that the linear path of the chart looked like a board game. Brett and I both saw similarities to Candyland with its colorful linear path, and Brett ran with several suggestions: the Hot Team around a campfire, a skunk for a bad idea, and possibly stepping stones as a "path through the woods." It seemed intriguing; folks could relate to the board game concept, and would be drawn to it. We both liked the potential for engagement, so Brett decided to re-envision his chart as a game and come back with a new plan.

Initial game themed rough.The new layout had rough images that Brett found and pasted in place on a rustic network of paths through a wood. Clearly it was now a planned journey with three different entry points depending on the needs of the hiker. Represented was the purposeful hiker, a campfire, a log cabin, men working, the skunk; and at the end of the process, after a successful effort, a satisfied guy in a hammock. In the lower corner was a technical looking schematic of the Critical Inquiry process that seemed out of place- I suggested that it might work as the face of a compass that the hikers carried into the woods. At this point, I needed to reiterate graphically what I "heard" Brett saying, and I suggested that I work through some specific details to produce another rough.

My research for this illustration amounted to finding a picture of Candyland. Seeing the original, I thought the color trail would be perfect, as would the hand shaped guide signs. Brett had mentioned stepping stones, and although it wasn't a critical point, I thought it would be a good time to render some things in more than rough detail so he could see how I'd make them look. It would be too easy for Brett to picture one thing based on our conversation, while I pictured something completely different. With a more developed rendering I could say, "It'll look kind of like this..."

Since "people" were going to be an important aspect of the picture, it was important to clarify what sort of people. I wanted to include everyone, and the easiest way to do that would be to not single any one type out. The "people" could all be gummi-people; androgynous, generic game pieces acceptable (or rejectable) by all groups. I used a series of layer styles to make the gummy game pieces- inner glow, bevel and emboss -the same technique on each, with different colors suggested by the trail. I added Brett's text so that I could size it, and show how I'd use a trailside sign as a way of presenting the text. Then I took Candyland's idea of placing the game's name in the upper right corner: since Brett puts the "ID" in "Idea", it became "IDEALAND". I copied the style from the gummi-people to the nameplate. Candyland uses peppermint sticks, I could use gummi-letters.

Initial proof of concept in Brett's clubhouse.I needed a way to create the multicolored Candyland style trail. Candyland used a trail in one multicolored band, and I knew covering a path with evenly spaced stripes would be a real chore. The answer was a massive dotted line in Illustrator. I made the stroke 100 points wide, the dashes 100 points long, and it was perfect. There would be a space separating each "square" so that I could use Photoshop's paint bucket to add bright colors to each square. With a series of darkened copies of the path (hold down option-command then use the up arrow key) each offset one pixel, I could turn the flat path into a dimensional walkway. At this point I was comfortable with what my approach would be and could demonstrate it to Brett. I figured he'd be spending a few moments in Second Life over the weekend, so I stood my rendered experiment up in his club house, sent him an IM that would be delivered as soon as he entered the world, and started laying out specifics with a pencil.

I knew that I'd need to have a sure sense of the content before rendering the complex path in Illustrator; it wouldn't be easy to move part of it to make room for something I hadn't planned for. I needed to decide exactly what each figure would be doing since they weren't really gummi people that I could pose and re-pose as needed. I needed room for a car at the very bottom. Two figures and a map before the trail even started. Each illustration within the larger piece needed to project the essence of the text in the sign that it accompanied. I had to plan what would be needed, where it would sit, and how much room was required for the eye leading path and the trail signs with Brett's all important text.

My pencil rough.As I sketched ideas, I envisioned different details: people around a campfire- hot team- I get the intimate gathering but to sustain the image, they had to be doing something that reinforced the concept while staying true to the metaphor. Of course, people around a campfire toast marshmallows. Marshmallows are candy (recognizing our source) and a hot team could be innovating ways to toast more marshmallows, for more people. The Research Review was a free space that Brett hadn't suggested anything for, so in the final, a reviewer is checking a five pronged toaster on screen. The car had to be packed and obviously leaving. For assessment, Brett had an image of thumbs up and down- that image could be enhanced to show the process of assessing, weighing options. In a pinch, I could use my lion cartoon as the guy in a hammock. With a solid enough pencil sketch, I was able to scale it in the background of my illustrator document so that I could render the path.

A skunk.After inserting the path from Illustrator into my burgeoning Photoshop document, there was only drawing to do: the skunk, the scale, the logs, the tools, the fire. Any "clip-art" would only break the theme, so I scanned pencil drawings, colored them in Photoshop, and arranged the items on stage. At the same time I rendered gummi-people pieces that let me arrange, or "pose" the final figures. Arranging everything on a colorful background worked out well, I think; the center crease and gameboard border add to the fun illusion.

See the final version on flickr.


Mark said:

Very nice, Dave! And congrats to you and Brett for winning the Judge's Award at NMC. What a well-planned, well-executed concept. The center crease was a stroke of genius. You ARE the man!

Cole said:

Great story and a wonderful piece of illustration! I wrote about the outcome over at my blog, but this post shows the process to imagination and innovation. Great work!

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April 18, Symposium 2009; reimagine.
New content. Symposium 2008.Digital Commons at Penn State. Improve the workplace; hire for variety.


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