Graphic Translation

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GRAPHIC DEsign — Graphic Translation

Translate an image of a single object through a series of steps
progressing from reality to abstraction.

eye transformation-translation [Converted]

illustration (reality)<––––––t r a n s l a t i o n s–––––>abstraction (new reality)

  • translation; to change from one condition to another
  • graphic; well delineated; vividly described, the expression by means of lines and marks according to specific rules


First, pick any small, shiny, machine-made object. You must be able to look at the actual real object. Think of it as a small-sized sculpture. Flat objects will not work well, also no patterns, abstract shapes or thingos, please. Have several possible objects to initially test out made of metal, glass or plastic. (Examples might be a part from a machine such as a gear, a tool such as a paper punch, or mechanical object such as a doorknob. Objects that have a moveable part to them can be especially effective, such as a hinge.

Accurately and realistically draw, or render, the object. Regardless of what the object actually is, your subject is light. Concentrate on observation of the tiniest details of the form. Highlights and shadows, nuance and subtlety of proportion, value and size. Use a small lamp focused on the object to help you distinguish these differences in the form. You may need to try several different angles before deciding on the final composition. This composition should be scaled to fit within a 5 inch square.

Photocopy your final drawing to use as an underlay for the following translation steps.

translations—Aaron Davis

Translation Series

You are now ready to manipulate or translate the image graphically, making use of line variation, positive and negative shape, figure/ground and implied line to create dramatic graphic variations of the object. You must keep the same composition arrangement established by the realistic drawing for all of the translation steps.

Create a series of five versions/translations where each succeeding step is gradually darker than the previous one. Each translation should be a completely separate investigation (do not just darken or thicken the lines/shapes of a lighter step to create the next one). The series should progress from step to step at the same gradual speed. Use your photocopied drawing as a guide for each design. You might also incorporate other techniques to aid in presenting the idea of gradual change. An example of this would be gradually changing from simple to complex as you go from step 1 to step 5.

(tip—first establish the lightest and darkest versions of the series, then go back and complete the in-between steps.)

Each of your translation/drawings must be in answer to a specific question about the object. For your initial investigations, write the question at the top of the page in your sketchbook and then try various approaches in trying to visually answer that question. For the final series, write the question on the back of each individual translation.

You must include at least one version which answers each of the following questions:

  • “What would this object look like using one-line weight only.”
  • “What would this object look like using two-line weights only.”
  • “What would this object look like using one line weight and shape.”
  • “What would this object look like if I drew only the shadow shapes?”,
  • “How few lines/shapes are necessary to draw this object and still recognize it? (minimalism)”, etc.

You must use implied line on the object. You may also use implied line on the format square. The series must progress from a light value to a dark value in even incremental steps.

Final Presentation:

The final comp will be a series of five translation plus the realistic drawing. Each 5 inch drawing should be mounted separately on 8 x 8 inch black matte board with cover sheets.

You will also turn in a process booklet which contains organized pages of all of your marker roughs. These drawings may be scanned, resized and ordered pages if necessary. Spiral or comb bind your pages into final book form.

additional tips:

  • The greater the difference in value between one step and the next will make it easier to progress evenly (in value) across the entire series.
  • The darkest steps could be created by drawing with white pencil or paint on black paper.
  • You may use cut paper, pen and ink, paint or computer for the final versions.
  • Your goal is to capture the essence of the object within the context of very specific guidelines, which you establish for each step. These guidelines are defined by the question which you ask of the abject at each step. They should not be the result of random sketching.
  • Your ability to capture and translate the quality of reflection, shadow and highlight is key to your success. This means that shadows, highlights and reflections do not have to remain in the same position on the object as originally seen. You may move those light shapes around according to the resulting balance of the overall design. This is quite different that doing an illustration where you want to capture everything exactly as it is. In a graphic translation you are a visual editor, allowing certain shapes to remain, to be moved, or to delete them. Your subject is always light.

1 thought on “Graphic Translation

  1. Pingback: Graphic Translation – Pacific University | Stolen Projects

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