The great modern magic realist/postmodern writer Italo Calvino released Invisible Cities in 1972. The book’s framing story involves Marco Polo describing to Kublai Khan the cities in the Khan’s empire (the empire having grown too large for the Khan to visit them all himself). The cities are described in series of prose poems, and often less about describing urban geography than exploring philosophical or poetic notions, such as human nature, linguistics, metaphysics, ethics, and memory.
We will conduct an intense visual development cycle based on Invisible Cities. We will be fleshing out the appearance and narratives of the cities through research, writing, sketches, and concept illustrations. The project will eventually culminate in two painted illustrations, each measuring 11” x 17”.
To create specific visuals from a literary source that uses non-literal and poetic imagery; to expand upon source material in order to have greater insight into its depiction; to fuse disparate anthropological and scientific sources to create a credible non-existent environment; to contrast interior and exterior space using separate warm and cool palates; to build upon solid fundamentals of perspective; to be exposed to a fast-paced production cycle with outside variables.
Read Invisible Cities, and choose the city you would like to develop. I will provide excerpts, but I wholly encourage you to purchase the book for yourselves or at least check it out of the library.
You may also view the book in .pdf form online here.
“Day in the Life:” Write a short 500 word essay about a typical day in the life of an inhabitant of your city. Begin in the morning, and record the inhabitant’s routine until he or she goes to sleep at night. Look to your own daily routine for events to transpose upon your inhabitant. Think about the logistics behind every aspect of your own daily life. This essay is due on Tuesday, March 6th.
Research the cities of at least two different cultures. Each culture should be separated both geographically and by at least 200 years in time. Start compiling imagery that speaks to the following:
- Geography: where is the city located? What landmarks define the city? (For example, Rome is said to be founded by Romulus, after killing his brother Remus, on the Palatine Hill,overlooking the Tiber River.)
- Climate: What is the city’s climate? Is it wet or arid? Hot or cold? Is it affected by the surrounding geography? How did this impact architecture and agriculture? How does climate affect local flora and fauna? How did climate affect clothing?
- Architecture: Cities are built from the ground up and continue growing upward upon themselves. What are the architectural traditions of the city? How is the city laid out? How did inhabitants get around the city? Find both exterior spaces and interior spaces. How were the interior spaces furnished?
- Society- What were the main centers of the city? Social? Economic? Religious? Military? Were there social classes, if so, how did that affect the layout of the city?
As always, the more images you collect and the more research you do, the richer your imagined city will be. Research will be ongoing throughout the project, but you must present your initial research along with your “Day in the Life” essay on Tuesday, March 6th.
Using what you have learned from your initial research, your writing, and the source material, begin to design your city. Use the same approach that you utilized for your research: start with geography, then climate, then architecture, then social structures.
Starting on Tuesday, March 6th, you will thumb, sketch, and refining a concept illustration EVERY SINGLE WEEKDAY until Thursday April 5th. There will be a total of 18 concept illustrations. These illustrations must be at least 6” x 6. DO NOT skip the thumbnailing and sketching stage for these: the concept piece must be at a higher level of finish than your sketches.
You must have the following number of concept pieces:
- (4) x architectural exteriors
- (4) x architectural interiors
- (1) x landscape
- (6) x figures/costumes
- (3) x objects from daily life (vehicles, furniture, etc.)
10 of these concept pieces (it doesn’t matter which) must be painted in color with acrylic. The remaining 8 can be executed in any media (dry, ink, etc.).
Consider what you know about your city both from Italo Calvino and your own writing. Remember that people have lived in this city for generations: their will be older and newer styles jostling against one another; there will be inhabitants who prefer more conservative styles, and inhabitants who are more progressive. There will be noise, and garbage, and graffiti. It should look lived in. Don’t forget your basic rules of perspective. Come see me if you have any problems!
Consider your color schemes carefully. Think back to the Periodic Table assignment: WHY are things the colors that they are? What colors and color schemes best convey the mood of your city? I suggest mapping out various color schemes with color wheel gamuts to help you keep your color schemes cohesive.
You will each receive wall space in the classroom to post copies of your concept art so that we can track your city’s “growth.”
Use weekends advantageously—consider using them to give yourself more time to do color pieces. DO NOT fall behind schedule. Procrastinating and attempting to catch up at the last minute will be almost impossible.
After the visual development cycle, develop 30 thumbnails of a scene in your city. The scene should show both an interior and exterior space, and should contain enough specific action that it looks like a scene taking place in your city, not just a study of the city itself. You may want to return to your “Day in the Life” essay and pick out a specific moment within your narrative.
Choose the best two thumbnails and draw them larger and cleaner as presentation sketches for class. We will not be doing a sized value study for this piece, so MAKE SURE your values are well and considered at the sketching stage.
Proceed with a painted final. Remember basics of warm/cool in portraying interior/exterior spaces. Refer back to your visual development to achieve a harmonized palette and overall “look” to your painting. The final painting will be due on April 17th for critique.
3.1 – Invisible Cities assigned, zoo observational exercise, sign up for Mid-Term review.
3.6- Overview Invisible Cities research, begin concept art cycle.
3.12 – 3.18- SPRING BREAK!
4.5- Concept art cycle finished.
4.10- Sketches due for painted final.
4.17- Finished Invisible City painting due for crit.