Thursday, January 17, 2008

Useful Play with Pictures


I have been thinking about and writing on the subject of purposive images for a while now, spurred in part by tracking my own thought processes when working on various kinds of projects. I worked on an enormous project several years ago that has come to influence my thinking quite a bit. I've mentioned it before, and sometime this winter or spring I'll do a case study of it in this space. The project was called the MySci Investigation Station, and it required me to lead a team in the creation of a variety of visual environments and animals to match. The audience was K-2 children. The project, which was a 38-foot trailer, included three major exhibit areas, one of which was this illustrated environment with animal magnets.

The interactive component of the project was pretty great, insofar as it did not involve mice or cursors, but rather the manipulation of these magnets, some of them pretty large, on a pictorial surface. Anyway, I worked on it for two years. One of the environments included an underground cross section and a cave. That environment art is below.


A variety of animals live in this scene. Below are four cave creatures.


The project was funded by Monsanto, and executed by the Visual Communication Research Studio at Washington University. I was senior design director on the vehicle project, and lead illustrator. I scarcely survived the project--literally--but I learned a bunch from it.

About a year ago, in a really great antique store in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, I found this leaf from a 1950 Jack and Jill magazine. Now here is a purposive image. It put me in mind of the MySci magnets, because the child is asked to cut out the elements and put them to use. How's this for gender plasticity? Paper dolls for cars.


The Playtime image at the top of this post captures a rainy-day sensibility that I recall from my childhood, and which I fervently hope has not been eclipsed by the ubiquity of electronic media. The kids have made a garage from an old shoebox, and are "driving" the paper doll car into it. I could enjoy doing this very thing even now...

Images: Illustrator uncredited, Playtime Pages, Jack and Jill Magazine, November 1950; D.B. Dowd and team, Underground Cross Section, MySci Investigation Station Zone 1, 2006; D.B. Dowd, Cave Creatures Magnet Art, sample set, MySci Investigation Station, 2006; Milt Groth, Automobile Paper Dolls, Jack and Jill, November 1950.

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