Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Project 2: Periodic Table

An element is a chemically pure substance consisting of a single type of atom, such as oxygen, lead, or uranium. In 1869, the elements were organized according to their chemical properties and atomic number by Dmitri Mendeleev. This chart is called The Periodic Table, and has, with refinements, been in use ever since. For this assignment, we will create an illustrated Periodic Table. The illustration will be 15”x15”.

To use research and ideation techniques to develop narrative from a non-narrative point of departure; to build upon the compositional, referenced, and painting skills from Project 1; to use a near-complementary color scheme in a painting; to balance multiple formal demands with the need to create a striking image.

Chose a chemical element, and sign up for it on the posted Periodic Table. Only one person may pick a given element.

Research your element, making note of at least ten distinct facts about it. These may be from the history or folklore relating to the element, interesting physical properties, or uses and applications. To this list of ten you may add any personal associations you may have with this substance. From this list, develop a “mind map,” spinning out associations from these facts, and then building on those associations. When you have developed a rich map of associations, look for connections between concepts from different branches of the map. Make note on the map of interesting visual and narrative ideas that come out of these connections.

Ideally, you are seeking two things: a basic narrative to depict in your illustration, and at least one other thematic reference to the element. Take antimony as an example. This metalloid substance, which I’d never heard of until seeking out an obscure element to use as an example, doesn’t seem very promising, at first. It’s shiny, in a chintzy sort of way, and has a number of industrial uses: it’s used in plumbing, and matches, and flame-proofing compounds. But then I find out that it was used make kohl, the dark eye makeup favored throughout the Ancient World. Now, all sorts of narrative possibilities open up: Cleopatra being made-up before meeting Caesar; Salome dancing for the head of John the Baptist, even Johnny Depp dressing up as Jack Sparrow. Pretty much any scene from history or myth that involved a man or woman wearing eye make-up is fair game. Drawing connections between Cleopatra’s Egypt and antimony’s use in matches and flame-proofing leads me to Sekhmet, the Goddess of Fire. So, Cleopatra being made-up with kohl before meeting Caesar is my main narrative for my illustration, and images of Sekhmet (as well as some compositionally prominent braziers) addresses my secondary thematic reference to antimony.

In addition to the narrative content and at least one secondary reference, the illustration should include the atomic number of the element being depicted (in the case of antimony, this is 51).

Develop at least 25 thumbnail sketches of your idea. Each thumbnail should be a different compositional approach to the image. Select the three best compositions and draw them larger (around 4”x4’) and neater, so that you can present them to the class.

Reference: Collect the friends and props necessary to shoot good references for your illustration. As with Tableau Vivant, use the photo-shoot as an opportunity to explore and refine your composition. Bring at least ten good shots to present to the class. Additionally, collect any other photo-references you will need for your image.

Based on the feedback you receive in class on your photographed compositions, develop your drawing at the size of the final illustration. Focus on value, first and foremost. Make sure your composition translates well to the final size.


This image will be rendered in a near-complementary color scheme. Using a color wheel, determine the palette of your piece. You may use only these two colors as well as black and white. Spend some time in your sketchbook making some color swatches with these paints. Test out different proportions of colors to drive your color schemes—refer to the movie color scheme exercise. Make sure your color scheme reflects your narrative. Check to see whether you can effectively push/pull with warms and cools.


- Sketches and thumbnails can be in your sketchbook. Thumbs can be any size, but sketches must be at least 4” x “4.
- Value study drawing must true to size, 15” x 15”. Use good drawing paper like Rives BFK.
- Final will be on illustration board, 15” x 15”. It must have a 3” border on all sides, bringing your overall dimension to 18” x 18”.

When the painting is finished, flap the illustration board with a sheet of tracing paper and a sheet of cover stock.


2.9 – Tableau Vivant matted and turned in

2.14 – Periodic Table research due and presented. Gamut mask exercise due.

2.16 - Review reference, begin value study.

2.21- Value study drawing due and reviewed.

2.28- Periodic Table critique.

3.1- Turn in Periodic Table.

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