Week 4 started off with a lecture by Martin Hoskin on a brief introduction to the concept of ‘the self.’ Hoskin proposes how our global and local selves can be interchangeable and interact through the digital interface. He asks, “How can graphic design enable you to communicate your core values?”
I asked myself, how is it that I define myself? What are the different parts that make up my ‘self’? Naturally, I reached out to Google for help since it was driving me up an existential wall. Blessed be, Wikihow came to the rescue with an illustrative two-method guide on defining self-identity. Let’s humor them for a moment and explore their first method:
Discovering Your Identity
Step 1 – Know yourself.
Their expert source, Camber Hill, states that self-knowledge is the most critical skill in helping you define yourself. This self-knowledge is about observing your patterns of thought. (wikiHow, 2011)
Answer: I would describe myself as an introverted, emotional, pessimistic, unsettled, anxious, skeptical, fluctuating (both in weight and thought processes), and fluid non-conformist.
Step 2 – Notice how you identify yourself.
According to their reference, BeingMore.co.uk, “Once you start paying attention to the way you think about yourself and about the world, look specifically for how you identify yourself. See what groups and communities you use to create your identity.” They list examples, such as religion, nationality, and sexual identity. They also state that roles you take on, like job titles or a position in your family, can also be markers for self-identity. (wikiHow, 2011)
Answer: I’m an agnostic, Palestinian-Jordanian, pansexual cis female. I’m also the wife of a wonderful man named Thomas and the mother of an unruly dog named Lucy.
Step 3 – Jot down thought processes and self-definitions
Camber Hill suggests that writing down your thought processes and definitions will determine how you act and who you are. (wikiHow, 2011) Hey, that’s what we’re doing here today, eh?
This final step brings me to a section of Modernity and Self-Identity by Anthony Giddens titled The Trajectory of the Self. This section examines Self-Therapy, a work by Janette Rainwater. In this section, Rainwater outlines the steps one can take when evaluating themselves through a method of self-therapy. For example, journaling one’s day-to-day life events can help form a more coherent sense of life history and open oneself to the future. (Giddens, 1991)
In this day and age, I believe journal keeping takes on multiple forms, mainly digital tools. Instagram is one such journaling tool that I have been engaged in since 2012. I can look back at photos, stories, thoughts, and more and reflect on my past experiences. The visual layout that Instagram’s interface presents to me helps me understand which values I’m showing to the outside world.
What are my values as an introverted Arab woman with a dog? How do my values pertain to my practice? Over the years, I’ve come to realize that my values can be viewed as global: to be honest, assertive, curious, accommodating, non-judgmental, realistic, and flexible, all while staying playful, passionate, and resourceful. These are values that I always refer back to when in doubt during my personal and work interactions. These are the values that help me solve internal conflicts within myself.
In the book The Multi-Hyphen Method, Emily Gannon says, “it’s clear that how we work is connected to how we perceive ourselves and our purpose in the world, be it in a practical or even more spiritual sense.” Gannon explains that we have a multitude of different sides to us, particularly in digital or online settings. (Gannon, 2019)
Finally, I want to end my reflection on the self by going back to my cultural identity and how it has been weaved into my sense of self. Yesterday, in a room on Clubhouse, I heard a friend discuss how she is a strong proponent of cultural preservation. She often memorizes traditional Arabic sayings from our grandparents’ generation and regularly listens to Classical Arabic music. It had me thinking, am I Arab enough for not being like my friend? For speaking a shoddy version of one Arabic dialect? For exclusively listening to “Western” music? It’s a thought that crosses my mind quite often.
I came across thoughts similar to mine in an article on Mille World by Sarah Ben Romdane, titled “Claiming My Arab Identity is My Biggest Form of Resistance.” Romdane writes that they have been continuously faced with the branding of “not being Arab enough.” Their response was to claim their Arab identity despite all of the naysayers because it has a more significant implication to their life. They end the article by saying, “I choose to identify myself as Arab because it is so diverse, and that is something I wish to celebrate; a definition of ‘Arabness’ that is intrinsically plural. One can feel Arab without giving up on or negating other things. There are light-skinned Arabs, dark-skinned Arabs, Berber Arabs, North African Arabs, Levantine Arabs, left-wing Arabs, right-wing Arabs, Muslim Arabs, Jewish Arabs, Christian Arabs, and also atheist Arabs. All are equal.” (Ben Romdane, 2019)
I found solace in reading these words, knowing that my values reflect my cultural identity in the very same way.
“In other words, we cannot know the totality of The Self, but we can find meaning if we acknowledge our part in its totality.” – Martin Hoskin.
Workshop Challenge – Part 1: Distilling the self into 5 words
After finding 20 words that describe my values, I decided to approach a system in which two logically categorize them –
Category 1: The public self
This section is based on comments I’ve received or personas I try to portray. They are my masked insecurities or my strengths. They are the outward me.
The private self – this section is based on values that I believe are only known to me. Unless I talk about these values, they constitute my personal thoughts and inner feelings. They are the inner me.
I chose the 5 most important words to me to illustrate visually through a series of scrolling mood boards:
My illustration work is a large part of my identity. I chose to color-code these mood boards based on a reoccurring color palette featured in my drawings.
As a preface, the mood boards are laid out in 1920*1080, making them suitable to view on both desktops and mobile devices. I like to think of this format as being the contemporary poster, a digital format suited to be viewed on handheld mobile devices. Also, note that most of the images featured in the moodboards are my most recent contemporary inspirations.
Fluidity is the base of my practice. Whether it’s illustrating a children’s book, designing a website, or putting together a communications strategy, my work takes on many forms. My practice molds itself to whatever is required of me at that time. Its downside is that I often find myself in unhappy situations, wondering why my fluid situation didn’t have more of a backbone.
The pieces featured here are by Eva Cremers, a Dutch animator who creates wonderfully textured creatures, Reza Hasni, whose graphics feel like a fever dream, and a piece by Uchronia World, which touches on the topic of re-learning the concept of time.
It is imperative to be assertive in my ideals, principles, and ethics, no matter what I do. While fluidity refers to my practice’s technical aspects, assertiveness is a reflection of what I stand for.
In this mood board, I feature artists I believe to be assertive in their discourse and/or their aesthetics. The White Pube is a duo that sheds light on the ugly side of the art world and the social injustices directly related to it. ForbiddenKn0ledge is a fashion designer who imposes their views of the human figure on the wearer of their clothing. Hey Porter! creates bold typographic artworks in Arabic, often with an almost jarring effect to its viewers.
In my early 20s, I awkwardly shopped at clothing brands that I thought offered the most appropriate attire for the agency I worked at. It wasn’t until I quit that job in a blaze of glory, dyed my hair purple, and decided to wear my heart on my sleeve, figuratively and literally. The expression of my emotions is a significant factor in how I express myself visually. Having been shy to admit that I was sad, sadness is a badge I wear these days proudly. It’s who I am.
Lazy Oaf was the first choice for this mood-board. This brand of clothing, although quite mainstream these days, really was the uniform for those who wanted to boldly express their emotions out on the streets. Tessa Smith Roberts, an illustrator with a clever sense of humor, shows us the sad but funny parts of life through her drawings. Maisy Summer offers a cozier mood, giving us a sense of yearning or warmth through her child-like animations.
Although technology is a substantial contributing factor in the resourcefulness we’re able to enjoy in this day and age, I believe it is literacy in the wider variety of mediums that allows an artist to indeed be able to work their way through any problem or project. The blue screen of death, featured in this star, is juxtaposed with a matching stroke of blue paint.
This mood-board features two street artists who have similar styles in that their pieces look like they were produced digitally. Still, upon closer inspection, they constitute simply of paint.
Playfulness is the main feature in my illustrations. While the underlying message is usually sadness and melancholy, I paint it with a lighter spirit, lest it is a burden upon the viewer.
Three similar pieces were featured here that use a similar, playful technique. Burnt Toast’s characters are often caught up in social commentary, without the obnoxious, in-your-face elements. At first glance, Giulia Hartz’s illustrations look like a millennial sticker book, often donning pink and nostalgic objects. Upon closer inspection, the message, very bluntly and quite often cleverly written, tells another story. Niswa is an organization that seeks to disseminate Arabic-language sex education online in a bold yet beautiful manner.
Workshop Challenge – Part 2: convey yourself in a single visual expression
For the second part of this workshop challenge, I chose to explore my personal “Brand”, starting with a logo based on my name.
It’s something I’ve been attempting to do for years now, often failing to really find a lettering style that suits me.
Instead, I opted to hand-write my first name in a variety of playful “fonts” that I was inspired by online.
I decided on creating my personal logo using Latin script because it could be easily read by a wider group of people around the world.
I then digitally drew the logo using a monoline pen tip on Procreate to keep it looking handwritten yet clean. The logo was printed on a thick cardstock sheet and prepped to be ready for the next part: a food lettering experiment!
This was inspired by Marley Makes Things, who I discovered last year on TikTok. Marley makes hand-lettered flat lays primarily using food.
The first attempt at this style of hand-lettering included the use of brown sugar, a not very visually aesthetic ingredient when photographed against a white surface. I opted for colorful sprinkles instead. These little yellow star sprinkles, which I bought over Christmas to decorate cookies, came in handy to frame the logo radially.
I used both LightRoom and Photoshop to clean up the photo and also change the background to have better contrast with the sprinkles. This was the final result:
And in true Marley Makes Things fashion, I’ll leave you with the following video, destruction of the logo, and providing myself a clean slate to reiterate:
Thoughts and Conclusions
I tried to have fun with this week and not take the final outcome too seriously, but in the process of it, I realized it was actually a great method to develop a brand of my own. The question I always had in the back of my mind however was “what’s the point of self-branding as a graphic designer?”. This boxing in of a personality might be detrimental to my practice, especially when dealing with a variety of different clients and needs. As a graphic designer, I’ve always wanted to be flexible enough to accommodate various projects and fully immerse myself in them without leaving too much of a trace of my own identity. Sure, this method hasn’t been the greatest as I’ve not been able to gain a graphic design identity of my own, but I’m still questioning whether that even matters. I’ll let you know when I find out!
Kudos to Marley Makes Things and other designers who do what she does, by the way! It’s not easy to typeset with real-life objects, especially finicky ones like sprinkles. I learned quite a lot in the process, especially on how to edit flat lays in photoshop.
Ben Romdane, S. (2019). Claiming My Arab Identity Is My Biggest Form of Resistance. [online] Mille World. Available at: https://www.milleworld.com/arab-identity-racism-and-colonialism/ [Accessed 17 Feb. 2021].
Gannon, E. (2019). The multi-hyphen method : work less, create more : how to make your side hustle work for you. London: Hodder & Stoughton.
Giddens, A. (1991). Modernity and self-identity : self and society in the late modern age. Cambridge: Polity Press.
wikiHow (2011). Define Yourself. [online] wikiHow. Available at: https://www.wikihow.com/Define-Yourself [Accessed 1 Mar. 2019].