Speakings: Fibs and fripperies



I gave a paper at Decriminalising Ornament: The Pleasures of Pattern, the 9th International Illustration Research symposium held on the 17th and 18th of November 2018. We were hosted by Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, and thanks go to all involved in organising such a productive, constructive and enjoyable event. The paper wouldn't have been possible without the thoughtful input of my interviewees (Harry Tennant and Tom Jay) so thanks to them too. Whilst researching the paper the notion of joy in work emerged in relation to the role of technology within commercial illustration, as did the theme of practitioners using their practices critically. In this regard, a pattern was traced through art and design history and presented rather slyly through the images presented alongside the talking. The quote from the slide above was borrowed from Lucy Watling's writing on Gustav Metzger on the Tate website, and gives a clue as to the route pursued. 

The abstract: 
Fibs and fripperies: references to the real in digital illustration 

This paper considers the phenomenon of illustrators digitally mimicking traces of the hand-made as ornament. It will explore whether these decorative tendencies are Loos’ backward or degenerative tendency, or a generous contribution to our visual environment. It will ask why illustrators falsify the smudges, spills, textures and shadows of paper-based work within the digital workspace, what is gained and lost by doing so, and for whom? These questions will be explored in relation to examples of digital illustration and interviews with practitioners (Tom Jay and Harry Tennant) to unpick the professional benefits of the phenomenon, coupled with a foray into theoretical perspectives on ornament. In this regard, the paper will consider whether illustration is using the pre-digital age as Owen Jones’ “half-filled stagnant reservoir” of visual language, and whether illustration is suffering from Herbert Read’s horror vacui, in order to understand what happens when we fill these terrifying empty spaces within images with introduced artefacts. The discussion will also take skeuomorphism into account to explore the phenomenon, which then raises questions concerning illustration’s ‘usability’. Ultimately, the paper aims to evaluate the utility of these different perspectives, which have been brought from other fields to illustration discourse, as much as it seeks to consider the pleasures and pitfalls of a richly-ornamented composition.