Making Interesting Images

Continuing with Coursera’s Graphic Design Specialization by CalArts, here I will review the third course in the specialization called Introduction to Imagemaking.

This course is all about experimenting with different imagemaking techniques and materials, learning how to read connotations of visual art and design, and expanding your visual vocabulary. Basically, we’re going to make pictures with any drawing materials we can find and then talk about our process. Art!

So here is my full review of Coursera’s Introduction to Imagemaking course. In addition, you can read my previous reviews of Coursera’s Fundamentals of Graphic Design course here and Coursera’s Introduction to Typography course here.

FYI: I took this course in October 2020, so course assignments and lessons may change over time.

Enrollment Options

Depending on your budget and how much time you want to invest, you have some options for how you want to take this course.

Auditing: Coursera lets you audit any course for free, though that option won’t let you earn a certificate after completion of each course. You also miss out on submitting assignments for feedback and you might not be able to see all the course materials. This is still a great option if you have no budget but you still want to learn.

Enrolling: When you enroll in Coursera’s Introduction to Imagemaking course you get access to all the course material, can get feedback on your work, and you get a certificate upon completion. This is the best option if you really want to learn graphic design. It’s $64 a month with a free 7 day trial.

To pass and receive a certificate in this course you need to achieve a score of at least 75% in the assignments

Introduction to Imagemaking

This course is divided into 4 week terms, all concerning the imagemaking fundamentals that you’ll need to know. Here’s the breakdown.

  • Week 1: Image-Based Research (2.5 hours to complete)
  • Week 2: Making Images (2.5 hours to complete)
  • Week 3: Composition is Relational (2.5 hours to complete)
  • Week 4: Designing a Book with Your Images (3 hours to complete)

Week 1 – Image-Based Research

The Lessons

In the first week there are only a few lessons before the first assignment, which is optional. Following this, there are some short lessons on imagery in general, and then information on how to do visual research for the first real assignment.

The Assignment

The optional practice assignment for this week is to find art that is either in a museum, gallery, or online, and write a short three paragraph write-up about the art itself. Since there is currently an ongoing pandemic, I am opting for the online route. I’m going to visit a museum online, preferably one I’ve actually been to. So, I’m choosing a piece from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which I visited about fifteen years ago. This is the piece I chose to analyze.

Out of the Darkness by Thornton Dial

This is a piece created in 2003 by Thornton Dial, an American self-trained artist. This ‘sculptured painting’ was crafted using repurposed, cast-off materials. This piece titled ‘Out of the Darkness’ was shared by the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Instagram account.

The first week’s first real assignment is to create a mood board. It represents 15% of the final grade for this course. To complete the assignment, students are asked to choose a subject they enjoy working with and can find a lot of visual reference for. The suggested subject is an animal of your choosing, since it’s something tangible and concrete.

Immediately, I try to make a short list of animals I could used as my subject. Panda, fox, snail, penguin, tiger, sheep, monkey, or a moose. I even loaded up Animal Crossing to see if some of the animal villagers there would provide some inspiration. Maybe a squirrel, owl, or racoon? A trash panda would be fun to draw.

It took me awhile to decide on an animal, and I temporarily decided on using raccoon because I thought it would be fun. I decided to take a quick look at the assignments in week 2 through 4 to see what I would have to do with the animal I chose. I was going to need to take a photo at some point, and I wasn’t sure how to take a photo of a racoon unless I waited outside with night vision goggles and hid in a trash can at night. So that wasn’t going to happen.

An animal wasn’t a mandatory subject, so I decided to pick from a new short list. Kleenex box, a Lego person, a ukulele, a balloon, a mug, a crayon, or my toddler. I went with the ukulele because I thought it had a unique shape, good curves, and could be sketched in a pretty minimal way while still being recognizable.

Next, we’re meant to research our subject. What it sounds like, where it was invented, what it’s most distinguishing features are, etc. We’re asked to gather visuals of our object in a variety of orientations, distances, crops, etc., as well as images we associate with the subject, drawings, quotes, colour schemes, patterns, etc. Here’s what I made.

Ukulele - Mood Board

Week 2 – Making Images

The Lessons

Week two is all about using different methods of creating imagery and creating a range of representational and abstract images. There are a few readings that prepare students on how to make imagery, one of which tries to reinforce that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to make an image. The point is to simply start making.

The next reading gives students information on techniques and materials for this week’s assignment. We are given ideas for hand-based, photographic, digital processes, printmaking, manipulation/alteration, 3D, or found. I don’t have a home art studio or any place to do anything too creative, so I’ll pretty much be limited to my computer, sketchbook, and iPad.

Next, students are given a list of artists to get inspiration from classical visual artists that use a variety of imagemaking techniques. Then we’re introduced to some out-of-the-box imagemaking ideas like sidewalk chalk drawings, drawing with your foot, mouth, or other hand, or recreating your subject from geometric shapes.

The Assignment

Week two’s first assignment is a practice one that is very similar to what we did in the Graphic Design Fundamentals course. Students are asked to make 10 images of their chosen subject. The images should be varied in regards to creation materials and in execution. We’re also asked to submit a paragraph about our process. This seems like quite a bit of work for an assignment that isn’t part of the grade. Here’s what I made:

Ukulele - Imagemaking SH

On to the next assignment, which is the mandatory assignment for this week, and represents 20% of the grade for this course. Students are asked to use five different mediums to create an image of their chosen subject.

The first image is asked to be photographic. This makes things tricky for, well, probably most people. For someone who chose a tiger or shark for example, how are they meant to take a photo of one? I imagine that’s where stock photos come in, though that does remove the actual imagemaking part of the process. Here’s what we’re asked to create:

  • Photographic image
  • Hand or digital drawing
  • Stylized, graphic line or vector drawing
  • Geometric shapes (Abstract image)
  • Word or Phrase

We’re asked to submit the images together on a single 8.5 x 11 page and to arrange the images in a meaningful way. We’re given an example of how to arrange them in a way to show evolution, where one image starts off as a photo, and devolves into a abstract interpretation. This is what I made:

Ukulele - Range of Representation - Imagemaking

Week 3 – Composition is Relational

The Lessons

The lessons this week go into some compositional terms that were discussed in the Graphic Design Fundamentals course like space, scale, figure/ground, and hierarchy. The lessons are very, very similar to the Fundamentals course, and so far the only thing that’s different is that they clarify what figure/ground means in design, where in Fundamentals it really didn’t. It’s not necessary, but if I were a new designer this clarification might be helpful. The figure refers to a form, and ground refers to the white space or negative space around/behind the form.

The next batch of lessons discusses narrative and how to arrange our images into spreads, which will lead directly into this week’s assignment.

The Assignment

The week three assignment is about composition and arranging the imagery you’ve created from the previous weeks into spreads. We’re asked to make three compositions using our imagery that represent scale, space, and figure/ground. Then create another three iterations from those. It represents 30% of the final grade for this course. Here’s what I made, representing from left to right – scale, space, figure/ground, scale, space, figure/ground:

Coursera Imagemaking - Compisitional Spreads

Week 4 – Designing a Book with Your Images

The Lessons

The last week’s lessons are about book making, for some reason. We’re shown a variety of student made books and zines that are mostly image based. There are actually a ton of video lessons here, each showing a different book and what the instructor likes about each. Much of what is said to be working in the books is very abstract praise though and gives students really no idea on why a certain design choice was made, what works, and what doesn’t work.

The next lessons dive into the actual book creation in InDesign, thought these are just short readings, not videos. These include information about how to print your book for real, if you want. This isn’t mandatory for this class, which makes sense because this is an imagemaking course, not a publishing course.

Some more readings talk about making pencil sketches for the layout of your book, as well as rough physical mock-ups of your book. After this, printer’s spreads are discussed, which is great to know when making your own book by hand. Using printer’s spreads means you design a book for how it will be assembled. In this case, page 8 is next to 1 (Front and back cover), 2 is next to 7, 6 is next to 3, 4 and 5 are the middle spread. Though, I’m unsure at this point if we’re expected to submit our pdf as printer’s spreads.

The Assignment

The week four assignment, making a book, represents 35% of the final grade for this course. The book students create should have some sort of narrative and use the same imagery from last week’s assignment.

I wasn’t sure how to make a narrative out of random images of a ukulele, so I went a little nuts with it and may have made a children’s book. Here’s what I made. FYI, the first two images are the back cover and front cover.

Imagemaking - Coursera - Book Narrative

Coursera’s Introduction To Imagemaking: In Summary

Overall, Coursera’s Introduction to Imagemaking course is essentially a visual art course, with minimal focus on design. Considering we already did the main assignments in this course in the Fundamentals of Graphic Design course, this felt a bit redundant. It’s great to be able to analyze art and try think creatively about making imagery, but the focus in this course felt a bit off.

In addition, keeping the focus on art without exploring how to actually execute the imagery is problematic. Some technique lessons would be helpful, or basic photography, or really anything other than telling us to ‘go make art.’

Assignment Issues

I found some of the assignments to be quite confusing, and judging by the submissions I graded, so did everyone else. I also found there was ton of plagiarism in this course. People submitted images ripped right from stock photo sites for their entire collection of ‘created imagery’.  One write-up was taken word-for-word from Wikipedia. Fortunately, Coursera has an option for you to flag an assignment for plagiarism, which I unfortunately had to use a few times.

Also, asking students to make a book from their imagery seems odd. Making a book after learning about page spreads and book layout in a publishing class would make sense. However, this is an imagemaking course and I would have preferred to see more lessons and projects about making images, and certainly not just remaking the same images over and over again. That being said, creating a book or small booklet, in this case, is a great skill for a designer to have, but the task is go far removed from the rest of this course’s content that it makes no sense here.

In design school, one of my first courses was Imagemaking. We had a number of different illustration assignments and some great lessons on different ways to actually execute the art. I realize this is only a small, introductory online course, but I still expected a bit more from Coursera’s Introduction To Imagemaking course.

Have you taken the Introduction to Imagemaking course through Coursera? If so, did you enjoy it? What was your biggest takeaway from the lessons and projects? Let me know in the comments below.