Today we're going to do a little in-depth exercise, first with Illustrator, then with Photoshop, to create the following compositions:

Tutorial Files

You can download the files used in this tutorial [here].

Tutorial Videos

Part 01

Part 02

Part 03

Part 04

Now that we’ve discussed plot structure, as well as the typical components of a plot or story (i.e. exposition, inciting incident, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution), now is as good a time as any to identify these components in your own, true stories. Prior to this, your story likely only had a beginning, a middle, and an end. Let’s see if we can resolve the story a bit more refined. As a reminder, recall that a traditional story arc follows certain stages, as seen below in the plot mountain diagram:

Lecture 03 Closure Narrative.001

Just to be clear, this is a very rigid, traditional approach to understanding narrative, and stories can be much less structured, or buch this traditional structure entirely. Despite this, here in the Western world, we tend to apply these stages in one way or another, making stories out of everything we see and hear. That said, you are free to tell your story anyway you want. 

Here are the steps:

  1. Break up your story to identity these 6 points in your story:

    1. Exposition: setting the scene and introducing the characters
      • e.g. "I was walking with friends…” From this you know that “I’m” in it, as well as my friends, and we’re in a place where walking is acceptable.
    2. Inciting Incident: an incident happens that sets the story into motion and introduces the central ‘problem’’:
      • e.g. "he appeared quietly in the air above, an eagle with a white head.” Clearly this story is about an eagle, which can be either a good or bad sign of things to come.
    3. Rising action: a series of positive and/or negative events that leads the characters to their ultimate destiny.
      • e.g. “A rabbit appeared from a hole in the stone wall to our right. I said, 'look the eagle is gonna catch that rabbit.' He did catch it, with an outstretched claw, and pulled the rabbit up into the air."
    4. Climax: The singular event that changes life for some or all characters forever after.
      • e.g. "the eagle ripped out the throat of the rabbit. Blood shot out a few yards into the air."
    5. Falling Action: A series of events after climax that relax the tension introduced by the rising action.
      • e.g. "I looked away in fright…”
    6. Resolution: The end of the story, wherein the central problems are typically solved or put to rest, for better or for worse.
      • e.g. “and the dream ended."
  2. Deliver: 

    For the sake of closure as discussed in last weeks reading, have a minimum of six compositions, one for each plot point: 1.)The intro, 2.)Inciting incident, 3.)Rising action, 4.)Climax, 5.)Falling Action, 6.)Resolution.
    • A few examples:
    • "I was walking with friends…” Composition #1
    • "I was walking with friends…” Composition #2
    • "he appeared quietly in the air above, an eagle with a white head.”
  3. Media:

    I go into a discussion of media at length here. To summarize, you are free to create these compostions using any medium – such as collage, drawing, digital illustration, painting, photography, cut paper – and any technique you wish: e.g. basic geometric forms, complete abstraction, collage of found objects, realistic rendering, cartoon, etc.

Note: You can produce more sketches if you feel it is logically necessary for the sake of closure.

If my understanding of your demographic is at all correct, you are very adept at telling stories. After all, you have an enormous amount of storytelling tools at your disposal: Instagram, Facebook, TwitterYoutube/Vimeo, Snapchat… even a hashtag is a kind of one word story, linked to countless other people who are – like you – #sorrynotsorry, #blessed, or have their #eyebrowsonfleek, etc.  
Take a moment to think about the nature of these stories: are they immediate or do they fold out over stages? Are they centralized in one setting, or distributed across time and place? Are they happy or sad? Are you focussing on yourself in these stories, or someone else, or a group of other people? Are the stories humble, or are they bragging about something or someone? The nature of these stories are important because, like it or not, your stories say a lot about you as a person. 
In this exercise you are going to tell a story about yourself. But in addition to (quickly) writing down an actual story, you are going to tell your stories with pictures as well. Here are the directions:
  1. Write down or type

    a quick story about yourself. Perhaps something no one would believe, or something difficult to say. Or something that you’re proud of.  The only rules:
    • It must be true
    • You must be able to tell it one minute (so about 3 to 4 sentences, no more)
  2. Make:

    Using some or all of the principles we’ve been discussing, create a visual retelling of the story using only basic visual elements, such as:
    • lines
    • points
    • squares and/or rectangles, circles, triangles, or any other rectilinear forms with multiple sides.
    • colors: dark colors feel heavier and more present, while brighter colors feel lighter. Cooler colors (blues, greens, etc.) tend to recede into the background, and they feel calmer, while warmer colors (red, orange, yellow) tend to approach the viewer, and often feel more energetic. Artists, designers, and even filmmakers use the unique colors tendencies to help create the illusion of 3D space in a 2D medium, in addition to heightening the mood.   
  3. Break

    your story into three basic, but completely necessary parts:
    • The Beginning: e.g. "I was walking with friends when he appeared quietly in the air above, an eagle with a white head.
    • The Middle: "A rabbit appeared from a hole in the stone wall to our right. I said, 'look the eagle is gonna catch that rabbit.' He did catch it, with an outstretched claw, and pulled the rabbit up into the air. With his other claw, the  eagle ripped out the throat of the rabbit. Blood shot out a few yards into the air."
    • The End: "I looked away in fright and the dream ended."      
  4. Deliver:

    You must create a minimum of three compositions, one each for the beginning, middle, and end of your story. You can create these pieces using any medium you wish. Using the story above (which was actually a dream I had), here are my three compositions: 


  1. Finish the three story compositions for next week. We will have a critique next week to look at everyone's work.
  2. Read Chapter 3: Closure in Understanding Comics

Business cards provide handheld access to everything you need to know about someone professionally. However, they are often impersonal and fail to sell the human qualities of a brand. Instead, we are going to create a ‘person card,’ which you will design to sell yourself as a person.

But why make a business/person card at all? Because a typical business card is a small composition that has to get across information about a person representing a kind of business.  In the case of this exercise, that person is you. 

For this exercise, as with any creative composition, you will need to make a few decisions:

  • Format: Generally, the format of a piece refers to the real, physical dimensions of a piece or, in the case of a piece whose dimensions are variable depending on presentation (as in film, TV, app design, etc.), the proportions of the side. In this case, business card dimensions are usually set by the printer. Some common product dimensions are as follows: 2”x3.5”, 1.0”x2.75”, 2.165”x3.346”, 2.5”x2.5”. Keep in mind that these formats can also be at different orientations, i.e. landscape or portrait. Let’s create these formats and orientations in Illustrator to help you decide which one you like.
  • Details: this is where you give us an essential summary of who you are. For example, professionally speaking, this is me in one sentence: David Schwittek, Asst. Professor of Graphic Design and Digital Media, artist, designer, filmmaker, educator. 718.960.8344., This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • Hierarchy: we need to decide which of the above info is most important, what is secondary, and what is tertiary. It’s a person card, so it could be that 1.) my name is of prime importance; 2.) then, my professional title. 3.) then what I do in that position, and finally 4.) how to get in touch with me.
  • Sketch: Using the Graphic Design Elements and principles we discussed in class, we need to think of ways to visually create this hierarchy of personal details. Warning: there are a crapload of ways, no one of them right or wrong, better or worse. It’s entirely up to you, which perhaps makes it frightening, perhaps a little exciting. 
    • Take thirty minutes to just sketch out ideas. It will pay off later. 
  • Implement: Working with your favorite sketch or sketches, let’s spend thirty minutes or so implementing them in Illustrator. Don’t worry if you’ve never used Illustrator before: follow along w me as I create my own business card. 
    • For reference, here is a quick pic of my business card:schwittek business card scan
    • You can [click here] for the logo graphic
  • Critique: Print your design(s) so that it fills a letter-size page and let’s have a brief critique. This will help you decide how well your choices work with an audience.
  • Reiterate: here’s an unspoken rule of design: You’re never really done designing. You must endlessly refine as you receive more and more feedback. Use the remainder of class to improve your design and impart any critique you just received.  
  • Re-critique: next class we will have a brief critique to review your progress.          
  • Homework
    1. re-iterate person card, except this time, try to use some form of imagery. 
    2. Read Chapter 1 & 5 in Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud


Class 01 - Course Overview; Elements and Principles; Exercise 01: The Person Card
Homework: Re-iterate person card with some form of imagery; Read Chapter 1 & 5 in Understanding Comics (UC)




Class 02 - Brief Critique of business cards; Review Chapters 1&5 in UC; In-class exercise: The True Story Exercise.
Homework: finish story compositions from The True Story Exercise; Read Chapter 3, “Closure," in UC.


Class 03 - Critique of True Story Exercise work; Narrative Design lecture; In class exercise: refining the True Story.


Class 04 - Cancelled. Read Chapter 03 in "Understanding Comics"


Class 05 - Obtain research from social work students; in-class brainstorming and sketching;

Homework: Read Chapter 6 in UC. The reading week will help considerably with the sketching you began in today’s class. While reading, pay special attention to word/image interaction (see page 153). Remember when you're sketching that we want to have the words of the story be interdependent with your images. Some of the story will be present as words, but some of it can be illustrated through image. Make the call on which is the most effective mix in your particular story and work from there. 

Recall these words from McCloud in page 155:

"the more is said with words, the more the pictures are freed to go exploring and vice versa.”

Refine your sketches as a response to what McCloud is talking about in chapter 6

Homework: Next week is Columbus Day, so you have two weeks to really flesh these sketches out and start creating compositions; Read chapter 6 in UC.




Class 06 - Telling a story with single and multiple images; conveyance; In-class exercise: flesh out sketches using GDP&E. You've made your story with separate images or sketches, now try to tell the same story in one image. Use space and placement to convey passage of time. 
Homework: Work on fully fleshing out sketches in whatever medium you have chosen. Read chapters 4+8 in UC.


Class 07 - Class Excercise: Conveyance


Class 08 - Critique of refined sketches. Class Exercise: Digitizing and Working With Digital Assets 


Class 09 - FIELD TRIP: Meeting at R.A.I.N. Eastchester Senior Center. 

Eastchester Senior Center

We have graciously been invited to the R.A.I.N. Eastchester Senior Center, at 1246 Burke Avenue, Bronx, NY 10469 (on the other side of the Bronx River Parkway). Today we will all be meeting the center to sketch, take photographs (pending permissions), and talk to the folks living at this center.  

It will give us a good chance to place human faces with the materials we have been discussing all semester. 

We will meet promptly at class time, 1:00pm, on November 6.

Getting There



Class 10 - Layout references review; Class discussion about cohesive layout; Build layout template in InDesign; Typeface discussion.
Homework: prepare work with text and images in InDesign for pre-presentation critiques next class.


Class 11 - Midterm Review: Presentation crits for refined pieces with paired type; 
Homework: we will be building the book in class next week. Please have your pieces refined and nearly complete. 


Class 12 - Building the Book in Class; critique of work.


Class 13 -Cover design discussion; Work in class


Class 14 - Pre-presentation critiques.


Class 15 - Final Presentations


Greetings, and welcome to Art 101, Introduction to 2 Dimensional Design! The syllabus for this class lays out the basic details for the course, including the description:
(For students with little or no experience in design for the visual arts.) Practices, concepts, history and aesthetic impact of two-dimensional design. The organization of form on two-dimensional surfaces; history of type and practice of lettering: integration of imagery and type; traditional techniques of illustration using pen and pencil as well as collage and assemblage. Documentation of theoretical and/or historical issues relevant to contemporary practice.
The syllabus also includes the course schedule, which is subject to change. The course schedule can also be [found here].
Though I am required to provide you with a syllabus, I will be primarily be using my website (this website) for most course materials.
As the above description makes clear, this class covers a lot of the basics about art and composition, but can also cover more specific things like type and typesetting, combining word and image (e.g. graphic design and layout), and illustration techniques. We’ll be touching on many of these things for sure. But this semester we will also be working within a special domain of the social sciences: agism.


Broadly defined, agism is descrimination against an individual or group based on age. For example, an actor beyond the age of, say, 50 no longer receives roles because the casting world deems her too old. Another example: a young college kid is deemed too inexperienced and immature to hold an art direction job. These are obvious examples with explicit outcomes, i.e. joblessness.


But what about instances of agism that go unspoken? What about the deep-seated and difficult to address attitudes our own society has for the elderly? Can you name a few? Do you perhaps have your own preconceptions about the elderly? Do you value their presence in our society, or are you annoyed by them? Something in between?


Whatever your feelings about agism, it is real and those effected by it are – by definition – treated unjustly. The art you create this semester for this course will center around issues of agism. We will be working with students from the Social Work department – people who are dedicating their lives to helping people who are disenfranchised, poor, sick, or our just unlucky. We'll talk with them, share stories with them, and learn how to practice the craft of visual storytelling with the research they provide us.


These social work students will in turn be working with elderly populations in the Bronx, asking research questions, trying to build a full, ethnographic picture of elderly populations here. One of the things they’re looking for? Stories.

Visual Storytelling

Our society has numerous tools at its disposal to tell stores. People carry around broadcasting tools in their own pockets these days, and social media platforms like Youtube, Snapchat, and Instagram elevate and amplify these tools, giving them a currency and an aura legitimacy that film and television are far too slow to provide. Given the immediacy of storytelling in our society, its really a shame that most of these tools and, more importantly, literacy of these tools is lacking in older populations. After all, older populations naturally have more stories to tell: real stories, with real stakes, real people, and real-world outcomes. But look on the television, or skim through your Snapchat stories, and I think you’ll find their stories to be woefully underrepresented.


Working with the Social Work department, we’ll be getting real stories from actual people with important stories. Not only can we learn about our history from these stories, but we can learn about the shape of the future.


So, I guess in a way this class is as much about storytelling as it is about visual composition and agism. It’s really all three!

Course Objectives

"So Dave, real talk: what are we actually going to do this semester?" Glad you asked. Here you go!

  1. Work with social work students as they research elderly populations in the Bronx
  2. Conduct our own research into understanding and visually conveying the stories of real people – in other words: storytelling.
  3. Create a collaborative class project in the form of a book.
  4. Learn to digest oral tradition into two dimensional compositions or sequences of compositions.

Course Text

I seldom require textbooks, but in this case I am doing you a favor by requiring Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. On the surface this classic book is an in-depth analysis of what makes comic books work. However, this book is really master class in the understanding the ways in which media – indeed all art – works. It has a bit of history, a bit of art theory, discussion of graphic design, and speaks volumes about the craft of visual storytelling.


A physical copy of this book can be purchased at nearly any bookstore for not a lot of money. I recommend buying it because it’s one of those books you’ll want to be in possession of after the apocalypse, or when stranded on a desert island…or, oh I don’t know... if the Revolution arrives, bringing with it the destruction of the Capitalist system that fuels our bloated energy-driven economy. 


Graphic Design Elements and Principles

It wouldn’t do you much good to learn the craft of visual storytelling without first learning the language. The Graphic Design Elements and Principles are at the very heart of this course, regardless of the subject matter we might be focussing on, or the what media or technology we are working with. So important are they, that I shorten their title to GDEP. So important, in fact, that I shall place them here, in their own special spot, where all can go and glimpse how powerful and ever-present these elements and principles are in our evermore visual lives.