Nina Cornwall

Lettering / Design

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Other Days, Other Eyes by Bob Shaw

This is a truly inspiring class - thank you Jessica! 

Why I chose Other Days, Other Eyes

Whilst trying to think of a book to illustrate I was lent a battered copy of a 1970s novel by Bob Shaw. He was a British Science Fiction writer who is best know for his short stories. "Other Days, Other Eyes" is probably his most famous work but is now unfortunately out of print. You can get an idea for the era in which it is written from the original cover and author photo (complete with beard and pipe!).

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Plot, ideas and themes

The premise of this book is that a scientist has invented a new form of super strong fire resistant safety glass. However, after a series of plane and car crashes the inventor realises that this new form a glass causes drivers to react slowly because it slows down light waves that pass through it - effectively delaying the images passing through it.

This quality of delaying light is caused by the extremely high refractive index of this glass which they call 'slow glass'. It is developed and enhanced so that it can delay light not by just seconds but by hours, weeks, even years. A huge industry grows up exploiting the commercial potential of 'slow' glass: From free sunlight at night (from slow glass street lights) to "scenedows" (which use 'harvested' light from the country to bring pleasant vistas to the windows of city apartments).

The inventor becomes a billionaire. However, it soon becomes apparent that there are darker implications. The glass becomes an inadvertent 'witness' to crimes committed near it - albeit revealing its truth years after the event, and sometimes after the presumed 'guilty' have already been executed.

In the end the government starts to use the glass for spying and it becomes clear that no where will ever be safe as slow glass particles are distributed everywhere.

Brainstorming and sketching ideas

I started off brainstorming ideas and initially wanted to do quite a literal representation of slow glass - by making a thick S which looks 3D - but realised this could look very corny and didn't seem sinister enough. I then got interested in the science behind the idea of slow glass - that the refractive index of glass does indeed slow down light waves. Since light waves form a natural 'S' shape I delved deeper into this idea as can be seen in my sketch book:

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References and research: Light waves and Op-Art

In order to have some scientific accuracy to the depiction of light waves I did some research into this and realised I might be able to use the idea of the light wave to reflect the theoretical concept behind 'slow' glass as well as the visual culture in which it was produced in the early 1970s. I based my 'S' curve on this diagram of the Electro Magnetic Spectrum:

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It became apparent that I was moving towards something quite abstract and scientific - I needed to research this further so that it had some validity. I wanted to bring myself back to the era of the book so I looked into the contemporary art of the time and specifically the work of Bridget Riley and the Op-Art movement. I'm a huge fan of her work so I put together this mood board:

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Development and process

Here are some ideas during the process of refining the light wave idea - first referring to the photons of light which make a wave in the shape of an S then repeating the waves as a pattern which looks more like Op-Art and making the S more dominant.

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Final design 

I felt I wanted to make it literally quite hard to look at - to create an Op-Art sensation in the viewer. I used the light wave to split the book in two and also the 'S' letter to reflect how good intentions turned to bad and also how the idea of absolute honesty and truth, of a 'black and white' justice system has been created by the ubiquitous surveillance of slow glass. The implications of the dark side of being constantly monitored by CCTV and internet snoopers are very prescient today!

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Last thoughts / Self-critique

I definitely enjoyed the process of thinking and refining my idea in illustrator but am not too happy with the final result. I think the words now look awkward - especially the author name which I had to split up to avoid it becoming illegible. If anyone can think of a good solution to this I would love to hear about it. 

I also love making calligraphic handmade lettering and felt this does look a bit geometric and clinical. It does fit the ideas I wanted to convey but just looks a bit dry. However I really like the strange squished / outward serif of the capital S - which is some thing I would never have come up with without researching Op-Art and the shape of light waves. It certainly has quite a retro vibe to it which goes well with the trippy, experimental era when the book was written.

I want to go away and think about how to improve upon this so any comments very welcome!

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