Pay Close Attention

Laidler, P. (2013) Pay Close Attention. CFPR, Bristol. Grabado Y Edicion Print and Art Edition Magazine (g&e) (37). pp. 42-50. ISSN 1886- 2306

The article discusses how the technically led research inquiries at the Centre for Fine Print Research (situated within the University of the West of England, Bristol) extend into activities with artists and designers. For example the production of artworks in the past have often been initiated by process-orientated research where a resulting artwork often fulfils the role of an exemplar artefact or proof of concept for a particular material, tool or technique that is being investigated. In this research context all artworks are based upon, and informed by the production of the physical artefact that is primarily predicated in print.

More recently (and as part of an early career research grant that I managed to receive) the CFPR has sought to broaden its artistic endevors through the publishing of print editions within an art market context. As the academic lead for editioning of prints with artists I wanted to also use the publishing model as a means to contribute to the wider debate of post digital practices in the graphic arts. For the Grabado Y Edicion Print and Art Edition Magazine I interviewed Designer and Creative Director Phil Lee (of London based independent record label XL Recordings) about the impact of download culture on the music industry. More specifically the role of the physical product in todays industry and why XL Recording’s are keen to invest in bespoke design for print and packaging.

g&e Print and Art Edition Magazine, Pay Close Attention article page example

Visualising Colour Tends

Arthur Buxton, Vogue Covers series, 2012

From collaborative print studio project to research bid:

In 2011 I invited UK based artist Arthur Buxton to produce a limited edition fine art print with CFPR Editions. The invitation was led by my preoccupation with artworks / artefacts that traverses the physical & digital divide and how this post digital space maybe located within a Graphic Arts discipline. In the case of Arthur I was predominantly interested in the use of printed matter in his work and the open source software method applied to sample colour information. The sample tool (and briefly) extracts the most prominent colours from an image by counting the pixels to create a percentage along with the  hexadecimal code for each most prominent colour. I’m beginning to feel this thread is about to go off on a bit of a tangent, as it is not really about Arthurs work per se (more about that here), but how this collaboration developed into something more than the production of a limited edition print.

Fast forward four Fine Art limited edition inkjet prints later and we find ourselves at the Pervasive Media Studio on the REACT Books & Print Sandbox (it’s like a workshop). REACT is a partnership between UWE Bristol (the University of the West of England), Watershed and the Universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter. Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, it is a unique collaboration supporting innovative products and transformational services by bringing together companies and academics across South West and Wales. In summary the workshop facilitated ideas for individuals wanting to maximise the potential of printed matter, a material experience that is being transformed through new digital platforms. Following a few conversations Arthur and I decided to situate his sampling methods for creating printed artworks at the centre of a funding application.

Artist Arthur Buxton, Oryx Premium (Inflight Magazine) Qatar Airways, Jan 2013

Beyond the artist practice:

The use of colour trend visualisation tools has predominantly been used by specialist design orientated disciplines that often cater for industry-based outcomes. Our approach would attempt to broaden the audience and scope of such tools. We aimed to do this by engaging with creative approaches for personalising and producing printed matter generated through pervasive mobile technology. For example the bridging of physical (capture) to digital (sampling) and back to physical (print) for creative enthusiasts would allow the user to engage with the transition and physicality of colour through abstract and novel description of their world. So that was the idea anyway… but we didn’t get the funding!

However in 2012 we did receive one of REACT’S Pump Priming Awards, part of the Prototype and Feasibility scheme within their Strategic Fund programme. The funding was designed to either support collaborations to take their first steps or to fund the development of a proto-type. For our feasibility funded project we proposed to use the money to test the sampling process with a range of different user groups and produce a market research report. The purpose of the study was to identify potential target markets for an easy to use colour trend visualisation software – and hopefully secure further funding to develop the app.

Gathering information:

To do this we invited attendees to take part in the free one-day session. Participants were selected from Art, Design and Education – along with Media Professionals who would potentially offer specialist insight on the process and hopefully how to improve the sampling tool. The workshop investigated target audiences and scoped the development of easy-to-use software to engage users with the world around them through colour. The day offered attendees the opportunity to learn how to digitally capture, sample and construct their own colour trend visualisations using the online software ImageColour Extract and PicPie. With this in mind we asked participants to bring a range of source material that could be used for the process i.e. objects, printed publications, photographs and / or images found online for example. As this was the first workshop of its kind we also wanted participants who could offer guidance on the design of the workshop scenarios.

The ten attendees were:
David Abbot – Designer; Graphics / Web; Frea Abbot – Artist, Printmaking; Alex Butterworth – Art History; Owen Davies – Videogames, Sound;Verity Lewis – Graphic Design, Photography; Tom Metcalf – Designer, Apps; Orla Joan – Graphic Design, Motion Design, Photography; Melissa Olson – Colour, Print, Researcher; Andrew Super – Photographer; Anthony Wilkins – Fashion Design.

This is how the project was pitched: How might people tell stories with colour, reimagine their photographs and create bespoke, personal printed artefacts using any collection of images? By using artist Arthur Buxton’s working methods the day will explore the field of colour trend visualization. The workshop aims to broaden the appeal of this process to a wider audience and hopefully engage users to the potential of interpreting their experiences through colour – with the option of creating personalised printed artefacts that express their interests and tastes. 

Colour Trend Workshop 2013
Colour Trend Workshop 2013

A brief overview of the day:

To begin the day an explanation and brief demonstration of the process and software was provided. Prior to the task, participants had been asked to think of a set of images to apply to the process. They were able to choose any images they wanted but were reminded to give their choice of images careful consideration in terms of what colours that wanted to contrast and why.

To create their colour trend visualisations participants were able to choose from PicPie or ImageColour Extract software. They were also given the option of batching the charts on an A2 Photoshop canvas. Participants were able to output their charts individually on the laser printer at A4 size, or batched on the laser printer, also A4. A selection of the batched charts was also output at A2 on a wide format inkjet printer.

Colour Trend Workshop, 2013

Once the participants had completed their task they were invited to discuss their choice of images with the group as part of a round table discussion. They were asked to explain why they chose the images they did and if they were satisfied with the results. They were also asked weather any resulting printed material lived up to their expectations. We asked them what additional software features might have improved the results. We used this method as a means of ascertaining novel real world uses for the software, the corresponding requirements and functionality. One of the participant examples to follow.

Participant Example: Alex Butterworth
Source material: World war 1 and 2 propaganda posters.
Output: A2 poster using PicPie comparing the colours of posters from British, Italian, German and American posters.

Alex Butterworth, WWII Propaganda Posters

Feedback: Alex reflected that all the countries ‘national palettes’ translated easily to the pie charts. He suggested that it might have been useful to give extra weighting to a particular point or sections of an image.

Development Aim: Option for a selection feature that would offer more localised sampling within parts of an image

The majority of participant feedback referred to control and refinement parameters for the open source software. There was however one noteable exception that appeared to highlight an emotional attachment to an image. In this instance a participant had sampled work from their favorite artist and then applied the same sampling process to their own artwork. The colours sampled by the software for the selected artist were considered as pleasing and reasonably accurate, yet when the same process was applied to their own images the results were not what the participant considered to be the best representation of how they saw the images. This raised similar developmental aims as previously discussed around more user control and highlighted that some images may contain colour groups that compliment the sampling process. The majority of this analysis is weighted toward quantitative colour accuracy. However when an individual has an extended experience with an image or event more qualitative expectations of it’s rendering become part of the process – an observation that differentiate the development of the project from other colour sampling software.

Education workshop

Colour Trend Workshop, 2013

We also took the opportunity to run the workshop for a group of BA (Hons) Fashion students at the University of the West of England, Bristol with some added (preparation) descriptions about the software.

Think about the colours – forget about composition!
Forget about focus and resolution – they don’t matter (Great when using a camera phone!)
Think about lighting – minimize shadows where possible
Close ups tend to work well – go macro! (But don’t restrict yourself to one format)
Keep backgrounds to a minimum – fill the frame
If you do have irrelevant backgrounds – crop.


Boateng & Mcqueen samples

The opportunity to disseminate the project to University students was presented as a lecture and live brief opportunity (competition) for UWE BA (Hons) Illustration students in January 2015 as part of a Professional Practice module. The module (amongst other things) addressed entrepreneurial activity in the creative industries and how students might create collectives to develop graphic orientated projects for crowd funding.


Lets not forget that this post is not about disseminating results but an indication as to what happened and how we aim to move forwards.

With this in mind the project intends to find ways of framing “stories” that users would be telling through the process. This will allow individuals to make their collections of charts into unique, personal, visual narratives in the form of printed artworks i.e. ‘telling their stories with colour’. Real world examples might include books recording the colours of outfits at a wedding, collecting the signature palettes used by your favorite graffiti artists or simply asking “what colours summaries my summer in Bristol?” We expect a social element would emerge with users sharing their colours via social media, which will provide us with free viral advertising.

Our novel publishing tool would provide an alternative route into art print publishing. Easy to use print output options allowing for customizable pagination and page size would provide enthusiasts with a fun entry-level way to experiment with print design and narrative. To be continued…