Postcard 2 was, for me, a visual exploration of something close to heart. I have suffered from Bipolar Disorder since I was fifteen. It has been the single biggest influence across every aspect of my life and has shaped my experiences of the world and influenced my design process and creativity. I originally wanted to work with the idea of a silhouetted head either from a standard form or generated from a photo of myself. I then hoped to contrast two sides of the brain visually to represent the conflicting mind states of the illness.
Initially I explored the idea of doing this using contrasting bold colours in the shape of the brain within the silhouette. However, having decided that one of my postcards was going to be an infographic with blocks of bold colour I was worried they would look too similar. I then thought about constructing a typographical representation and forming the shape of the brain with a collection of words that I associated with my experience of Bipolar. I liked this idea and was keen to work on it but after brainstorming the words I would want to include I realised that in order to convey what I intended the image would have to be much larger than the postcard allowed. I had drinks with a friend during this process and was discussing my ideas of using typography or going with a more pictorial approach and she shared with me the following thought…
Words have a definite feeling of being told something whereas with a picture your audience has to interpret themselves
With this on my mind I thought about what it was I was actually trying to say with my card. Did I want to communicate something very concrete or was it more about imagery and allowing people to experience their own personal connection to the art? On reflection, I decided I didn’t want to impose too much or constrain the image to only my interpretation – even though it was about something personal I have learnt enough to know that my feelings and experiences of my own illness are different to how it is experienced and perceived by my family and friends and the wider society. I wanted the card to reflect that mental health and how it is perceived is often incredibly personal.
Worrying about the size of the card I decided to remove the idea of a silhouette of a head and just work with the shape of the brain. I then thought about some of the images I had seen when I was researching possible ideas for a series of tattoos to represent the illness and remembered the Tiger/Dragon Chinese Yin Yang symbol.
The Yin Yang symbol represents the duality of the universe and the tiger and dragon are celestial creatures symbolic of the male and female energies. They are complimentary companions while being opposite in character. The offensive charge of the dragon and the defensive nature of the tiger make a well rounded whole when they come together. As a pair they simultaneously represent courage, patience, strength, adventure, solitude and an outgoing nature. These are all things I identify within myself.
I decided that the tiger and the dragon inside the shape of a brain was what I wanted to experiment with. My sketching skills aren’t the greatest so I made use of the image trace function in Illustrator on some free clip art to get me started with very simple vector drawings of the brain and the two animals. Once I’d done this I found I needed to manipulate the shape of the tiger and the dragon to fit inside the shape of the brain. I completed a couple of online tutorials on how to use the pen tool to manipulate, add and remove anchor points to paths in Illustrator and got started. I found altering the existing paths worked well and I got the tiger and the dragon to fit. But when it came to drawing my own shapes the pen tool became increasingly frustrating and I had a lot of trouble being accurate and obtaining the shapes I wanted. I printed out what I had and then sketched the detail of the brain in pencil. This was then scanned back in so I could re-trace my sketch.
Once I had all the elements of my image I transferred them all into Photoshop in individual layers and started experimenting with various layer styles to create the light effects. The result was much as I expected but I was a little bit disappointed with the overall image. It lacked definition and I wanted the components to pop more.
I went back and added some texture to the brain shapes which immediately had the effect I desired. I also felt that the Tiger and the Dragon were the more significant parts of the composition for me and so I took them back into Illustrator and gave them a block colour. Overall, these minor changes really changed the appearance of the whole card.