Prompt 4: Inquiry

For the final prompt we were asked to conduct a design inquiry into an area that interested us. I wanted to keep exploring materiality and lead with my strengths in illustration and making. My topics of interest intersected my previous explorations of my South Asian background with new inquiries around my own queerness. My research included auto-ethnographic and archival methods to study this intersection and make a set of wearable pins that expressed it visually. The designs dealt with personal provocations and inside jokes around dating and sexuality, adapted and appropriated visual culture in Toronto’s Church-Wellesley Village, and borrowed vocabulary from memes and internet enclaves.

Prompt 3: Discourse

For our third prompt, we were asked to enter into a dialogue with a reading and respond to a contemporary issue through making. I chose to examine the text, Super Normal: Sensations of the Ordinary by Naoto Fukasawa & Jasper Morrison. In searching to understand Super Normal, my process of making drove me to examine what objects in our every day we find desirable and how dominating ideals around taste come from histories of industrialization and colonization. By examining the work of Fukasawa and Morrison, it became apparent that Super Normal objects reveal themselves through their longevity of life and use. They adapt to spaces and create an atmosphere that silently engages the objects around them.

Sitting at my desk during fall reading week, I found it hard concentrating and being indoors when the sun in Vancouver was unseasonally bright that time of year. It was this that sparked my interest in creating a window covering, inspired by household objects designed by Fukasawa and Morrrison for Muji. I then looked to lectures from Muji art director, Kenya Hara to understand his own approach to designing for the brand. The themes Hara uses include Emptiness, Natural, House/Home, Water and Earth and would go on to inform my choice in materiality. I used wooden dowels with cotton fabric and string because they were materials that semiotically felt “natural” but could create a vessel for meaning, malleable but affective to the spaces they existed in.

I thought to use an illustration for an art piece I had already created, now situated in Toronto’s Gerard India Bazaar, to cut out of covering fabric. My piece “Bae of Bengal” was originally a painting I did at OCAD U that I vectorized and was laser cut into coloured plexiglass, as a part of an ingoing outdoor exhibit in the bazaar. When speaking about everyday objects, Morris insists “objects should never shout”, implying they should disappear into the background or “(dissolve) in behaviour.” Inspired by the Japanese Superflat movement, I wanted to incorporate a highly referential graphic motif into my window covering. While aspects of my design may become forgotten with Super Normal use, it was important for me to counteract this with a Superflat-inspired expression of my Bangladeshi heritage that could not be ignored.

Presenting my window covering in class, it became apparent that it wasn’t the product that was Super Normal, it was the forms of light the illustration created, that had quietly existed in my work over time, which proved to be Super Normal instead. Studying Japanese and western histories of colonial empires, I arrived to a stronger understanding of how brands like Muji and Ikea dictate tastes and ideologies around design. Opinions on beauty that are considered “normal” or held as the status-quo oftentimes come from industrial, imperial culture. Super Normal builds on this.

Prompt 1: The Gift

For our first prompt we were asked to introduce ourselves to a fellow studio-mate by creating a gift for them. My first step would be to meet the studio-mate I was paired with, Erik, so I scheduled a Zoom call for us to chat during class. Having recently graduated from the University of the Philippines Diliman in Industrial Design, Erik would soon be moving to Vancouver to join us for class, in-person, so meeting during class turned out to be the most mutually convenient time period.

Our differing time zones lead us to talking about the awkward sleep patterns that develop during school and how this might be a silver lining to any jet lag Erik might have once he landed in Vancouver. This got us talking about the creative work Erik completed conceptualizing time as a part of his undergrad. Finally we chatted about our natural interests in art and design and I listed off a number of museums and galleries in Vancouver worth checking out once he got here.

Coming out of our chat, I knew that I wanted to make the gift something Erik could use, making the move to Vancouver. So when I visited a barber that week, something especially useful caught my eye: a stack of neighbourhood directory pamphlets stacked at the reception counter. I came up with my idea of making Erik an illustrated map. I was relatively new to Vancouver myself, I figured I could give Erik the experience of becoming better acquainted with the city and som of the places I love.

I made a trip to Michaels to buy sketching paper, a drafting ruler, an X-Acto knife, some cheap and cheerful markers and double-sided tape. I used Google to aid in drawing different drafts of the map. First drafts only featured only roads, then a draft of only landmarks. I then layered them over each other to trace a final drawing. In a crunch, I even used my windows as a light table.

In class, I presented the map to Erik over Zoom: Some Places I Love in Downtown Vancouver. I explained my process and the way I chose the landmarks Erik could visit for a short walking tour around the downtown core: some art galleries, two bakeries, and the Gastown Steam Clock. I made sure to include some landmarks that were open twenty-four hours. This way Erik would have no trouble visiting them, with jet lag or any awkward sleep patterns that inevitably come with school.

Prompt 2: Materiality

With the second prompt, we were asked to focus on the materials we use as the foundations of our design practice at Emily Carr. As a starting point, I looked closer at the way I approached materiality in the first prompt, where I illustrated a map of downtown Vancouver for Erik. The paper, markers, and tape here were materials I was familiar enough with to utilize for quick turnaround.

For the second prompt I chose block printing to try something new, inspired by work I was seeing on Instagram and apdaptations in the world around me . I knew carving images out of rubber blocks would give me plenty of time to consider process, as well. I returned to Michaels to pick up a linocut starter kit. The kit included a 4” x 6” rubber block, a small carving tool with 3 switchable heads, a small brayer and a tube of black ink. To experiment with two-tone prints, I got some more inks in red, yellow and blue. I even cut up the 4” x 6” into smaller 2” x 2” so that I could make iterations (and mistakes) more quickly.

Since moving to Vancouver, I’ve been spending plenty of time my two-year-old niece, Brooklyn. One of our favourite books to read “B is for Bee”, a book entirely devoted to the letter B, which just so happens to be the first letter of my niece’s name. From here that I decided to illustrate the first letter of my own name, S. Beginning to consider the prompt theme of “origins”, I figured illustrating the letter S was a way for me to analyze the origins of spelling my name and experimenting with the Roman glyph.

My first iterations used a stylized the letter S to appear embossed. I playing with a subtractive process to visualize both negative and positive space, making it appear three-dimensional. Exploring two-tone overprinting techniques allowed me to try layering and the illusion of depth. I slowly accumulated a collection of monogram specimens, which used my more intricate and intentional carving processes.

Towards the end of my two-week daily design practice I found myself more confident in my carving skills, less concerned with the illustrations and more interested in the technique. My final sets of prints included a systematically carved blackletter S and compartmentalized serif S based on that of Trajan’s column inscriptions. The blackletter S was made up of vertical and angular strokes while the compartments of the Trajan S demonstrated curved, gestural carves. I returned to the theme of “origins”, reflecting on the type specimens as tools for understanding the history of moveable type and origins of type anatomy.