Category Archives: Assignments

Descriptions of our core assignments

Some sample rules

Here are some links to sample rule sets, from all over the map. More to come.


Project 04 – Instructional Graphics (the universal)

Instructional graphics attempt to distill visual communication to its smoothest, clearest form. Whenever possible, they avoid symbolic or indexical forms of representation, aiming for iconic imagery in the plainest sense – everything in a instructional graphic must not only look like the essence of the thing it represents, it must look like ALL instances of that thing.

For this project, you will create a series of instructional graphics that take us with great clarity and simplicity to summing up the most universal aspects of life. Select or invent four rules or slogans to follow for life – either separate rules, or an ordered set of four to follow – and create an instructional graphic for each.

You will output the results as a single poster, featuring your four instructional graphics, captions, and a title.

Your first step in this process is to decide on the following:

1 – Four “rules for life,” found or authored
2 – an idea for modeling/illustrating these four rules in an internally consistent, non-symbolic manner.

Once you’ve devised answers to these, you will create photographs for each of your four pictures, and then use them as guides for creating vector graphics.

Special Option

If you want to work with a partner, you can create a total of 6 instructional graphics for the same 6 “rules for life,” resulting in a single poster.


Mon 9/27 – final prints due for Project 03. Worksheets due for Project 04. tech demo for vector graphics
Wed 9/29 – have taken your photographs to use for Project 04. Bring to class for use in creating Vector graphics
Mon 10/4 – review work in process for Project 04. Review poster strategies
Mon 10/6 – final prints due

The Essay due read for 9/20

Travels in Hyperreality” (1975) by Umberto Eco

This influential essay is one of the most readable explorations of what has come to be thought of as the “postmodern” aesthetics of authenticity. (It’s long in page length, but goes quickly.)

Project 03: Illustration (authenticity)

due printed on Monday, September 27

You have been commissioned to create illustrations for a biographical book. Your illustrations are to be based on sketchbooks or notebooks kept by the book’s subject. The problem is, there exist no sketchbooks by this person. Also, the client wants them to look “kinda sketchy – you know REAL – but also nice, you know – in COLOR, finished looking.”

Your job is to create five finished illustrations by faking, and then dressing up, at least four sketchbook entries for your book’s subject.

You may choose any subject you like for your book, a real or invented person, living or dead, or choose from the examples listed in this post.

If you invent or choose your own person, the more specific you are, the better the results. Choose not just a person, but a place, a period in his or her life, a story through which this person kept a journal.

Your “sketches” should include at least some drawing from life/observation, but could also include written notes, lists, maps, doodles, directions, diagrams.

Your best method (which I will demonstrate in class) will be to draw on paper with non-photo blue pencil (I’ll provide), then go back with dark pencil or ink to create your “sketch.”

Scan in your sketches, clean them up in Photoshop, then add color or texture in Photoshop as needed to make them appear “finished-looking.” You may also rely on Photoshop’s drawing and brush tools and a Wacom tablet, as long as you do some drawing by hand as well, and as long as the result looks “real.”


Wednesday 9/15 – have identified at least one actual sketchbook or notebook, in print or web form, to use as reference material for style, etc. Bring one image to class to draw from observation for use in your final prints.

Monday 9/20 – have read assigned reading. Discussion. Lab time

Wednesday 9/22 – lab time

Monday 9/27 – projects due printed. Crit.

Some Sample Subjects

You are welcome to use any of these, or to make up your own for Assignment 03

  • A traveling salesperson, stuck in Urbana for five days while his or her car gets fixed.
  • Jesus Christ’s sketchbooks while hanging out alone in the desert. (Luke 4:1-13)
  • Some guy who saw every single Sex Pistols show in the early days but never saw himself as punk.
  • A woman in the Army, on tour in Afghanistan as a translator.
  • Artist Donald Judd, while trying to decide whether to buy property in Marfa, TX.
  • Susan Butcher, during her first time winning the Iditarod sled dog race.
  • An alien passing for human, covering the Obama-McCain presidential campaign.
  • Rosalind Franklin, the X-Ray crystallographer to whom we owe the discovery of DNA, during the days of her initial discovery.
  • A freshman in high school who used to be popular but now is just really into her Biology class.
  • Walt Disney’s sketchbook from an abandoned and lost animated film about Moby Dick.
  • Abraham Lincoln, during his early days as a lawyer in Illinois.
  • The last person alive in Chicago after the zombies come and eat everyone in 2012.
  • A resident Doctor in training, working around a delivery room and maternity ward in Chicago around September 11, 2001.
  • George Lucas, while shooting the Tatooine scenes for the first Star Wars movie.
  • A first-grade teacher in her first job out of college, during the first weeks of September.
  • Emily Dickinson.

Assignment 02: Seam-ful Composite

Lisa Simpson and friend visiting Joseph Cornell* collages in the museum

Use Photoshop to create a composite image in which the seams are highly evident. Use only material that you or others have scanned from print. Your composition should address the theme of Posthumanity, as covered in class, through our reading material, and through this post.

Integrate choice of source material, method of assembly, and composition to address the theme of Posthumanity with all aspects of your image. Consider carefully how the seams are revealed, how the evidence of seams might contribute to your exploration of the Posthuman.

Your completed image should measure at least 9×12 printed, at 300 pixels per inch.

You may share source material with another classmate, as long as your compositions are distinct. When scanning material, be sure to scan at a high resolution: 300 pixels-per-inch if you’re planning on using the source material around the same size, higher if you aim to scale it larger.

In preparation for the project, complete at least one worksheet to be handed in with the final project.


Monday 9/6 – no class (Labor Day)

Wednesday 9/8 – Bring scanned material to class, and have worksheet completed. Have read assigned reading. Tech session and discussion.

Monday 9/13 –  Project due printed. Critique.

* [Who’s Joseph Cornell?]

Source Material (Project 02)


First of all, you need to keep track of the origins of source materials, the same way you would create a bibliography for a research paper. In creating a project for this class, any imagery not in the Public Domain that you use will be legal via the policy/doctrine of Fair Use, or through the fact that you are creating this work for educational reasons.

Still, you should keep a list somewhere of your sources – nothing too systematic, but just enough to back yourself up if challenged. Get into the habit of staying aware of what you are using, especially if you are using copyrighted material.


If you use scanned photos for this project, just try to keep in mind that we want to think more about the photos as objects than as images. For example, a scanned photo of your great-grandfather will read more as an object, where a scan of a photo you took and printed out in the lab is likely to read as simply a digital image (unless the print has been distressed in some way before scanning.)

Print Sources

The best sources for this project will be images that you scan from books, magazines, or other printed matter. If there are particular subjects you are looking for, go to the library stacks and poke around – especially in the OVERSIZED shelves, where the big picture books tend to be.

Our library has some good, scan-nable books for clip art, which sometimes means simply old engravings that are in the Public Domain. Sometimes you have to scan these in the library, because they are non-circulating. Dover’s book series is especially good. For future reference, most any public library has many of the Dover books, as do most Borders and Barnes&Noble stores.

Most artists, designers and illustrators who work in collage keep massive amounts of clipped material around, and archive it. If you think you’re gonna work from such things in the future, start a collection! (Even better, SHARE IT!)

Digital Sources

These are sources for online scans from print material. BE CAREFUL about resolution here, much of this may not be usable:

Many universities now have publicly-accessible digital archives, including scanned books with illustrations. Check these out, or search for “Digital Library” or “Digital Collection” on Google.