50 (and a half?) keys

I chose a key for this project because it seemed like a very recognizable object, which could withstand a lot of weird iterations and still be legible — it’s symbolic in that way. It also felt symbolic in a different way, since this is the key I’m about to hand off to my landlord on Wednesday as I finally move out of my apartment (so I also didn’t have to worry too much about showing it in high detail).

In composing the 50 renderings, I ended up creating some logical groups which weren’t planned from the start. I did plan some renderings ahead of time, though, to make sure I had the materials in the correct apartment as I started moving into the new one. This is a more or less chronological list of the groupings:

From left to right: (1) outline, (2) detailed, (3) free hand, (4) one line

I started with pencil drawings. (1) was a quick outline while holding the key onto the paper. With (2), I did the same, but then carefully added details and shading. (3) was how I would usually draw something free hand, starting with a basic shape sketch and then adding in more details. With (4), I didn’t take the pencil tip off the paper; I drew it like an etch-a-sketch, almost.

From left to right: (5) simple sketch, (6) simplest shapes, (7) vertical lines only, (8) horizontal lines only

(5) took some detail out, and (6) went further; I tried to see how bare I could get while still being recognizable (I did poll some friends without letting them know what this was, and they all got it right). (7) and (8) were exercises in shape, I guess, and you can see the second one looks a lot better (or more proportional, at least) than the first — I think both because I had more practice, and because my horizontal lines tend to be straighter than my vertical ones.

From left to right: (9) eyes closed, (10) left hand, (11) eyes away, peripheral

The last round of pencil sketches got a little funky and is my favorite. For (9), I put the pencil down and then closed my eyes. I think it sort of looks like South America, which amused me. (10) looked better than I expected from my left hand, but very bulky and childlike. For (11), I set the pencil down and then looked away, at the corner of the paper, so I could vaguely see but not really. I like that the shape is still a little weird, but the lines are more confident.

The next groups follow similar patterns, but using different pens:

From left to right: (12) ballpoint outline, (13) ballpoint free hand, (14) ballpoint back print, (15) ballpoint simple sketch

(12), (13), and (15) are pretty self explanatory. With (14), I put the key behind the paper and pressed the pen as I felt the edges, and went back a second time to shade it. Not sure if it’s fully recognizable as a key, since I didn’t want to ask my friends a second time (it’d sort of defeat the purpose since by now they knew).

From left to right: (16) sharpie outline, (17) sharpie free hand, (18) sharpie back print, (19) and (19.5) sharpie bleed

(16), (17), and (18) followed the same principles as the ballpoint examples (the back print is even less recognizable, I think). With (19) and (19.5), I was trying to slowly draw it with two papers on top of each other, so that one would bleed into the other; I went over the same lines several times, but you can see it wasn’t successful (hence the half point).

From left to right: (20) photograph, (21) vector, (22) phone sketch

This is the “phone/vector” group. I took the picture first as a base for the Illustrator vector, so it felt right to group them together. (22) also was rendered via phone, by sketching with my finger onto my Notes app.

From left to right: (23) magazine cutout, (24) packing tape cutout, (25) paper cutout, (26) 3D pen realistic, (27) 3D pen simplified

For (23), I tried to pick a nice silver-y color with a cool pattern from a magazine, cut with an x-acto knife — (25) also was cut with the x-acto, using the construction paper given in class last week. (24) was a few rolled up pieces of packing tape cut with generic scissors. (25) and (26) made use of a 3D pen I have an almost never use — maybe you’ll be able to tell from how messy they are. I did the simplified one first, to test it out, then made the second version resting on top of the actual key as a mold.

From left to right: (28) pencil brush (29) charcoal, (30) marker brush

Onto the digital art groups, I started with a detailed sketch, as close as I could get while still freehand (not using rulers or pasting a reference image). (29) and (30) use different digital brushes, so I played around with the shape to fit the “character” of the brush (rougher or smoother).

From left to right: (31) wet brush + mask, (32) inker, (33) halftone

(31) made use of a nice feature of digital art: masking. I painted the wet brush blob, and then created a layer mask and “erased” the outline that forms the actual key. With (32), I went detailed but in a more cartoony style, doing some simple shading while not super worried about the fidelity. (33) used a halftone brush with a lot of detail itself, so I had to simplify the shape again to keep it recognizable.

From left to right: (34) trackpad, (35) right finger, (36) left finger

With these last digital renderings, I tried to play with “tools.” Instead of using my stylus, I tried my trackpad with (34); it’s not a great result, but you may notice the straight lines are a lot better than the shape of the word “trackpad” itself. (35) is a lot smoother, and I kind of expected (36) to be similarly smooth for some reason and was surprised. I think in my mind, the difference in dexterity wouldn’t be so large as it was with the pencil, because I was only using my index finger; clearly that wasn’t the case.

From left to right: (37) finger painting, left (38) finger painting, right, (39) paint imprint, (40) paint imprint, detailed

I then recreated the left and right finger comparison with actual paint on paper; I think the difference in these is still there (it certainly felt smoother to draw a circle with my right index than the left), but not as pronounced as it was on my touch laptop, maybe because this was a simplified painting to begin with. For (39) and (40), I painted the actual key and pressed onto the paper; the first time, I left it was it was, and the second time I went over the straight lines and ridges with a brush to add more detail.

For the next two groups, I did the same paint, but using two different brushes:

From left to right: (41) thin brush full, (42) thin brush outline, (43) thin brush simplified, (44) thin brush single stylized
From left to right: (45) thick brush full, (46) thick brush outline, (47) thick brush simplified, (48) thick brush stylized

The thin brush had a round tip, while the thick brush was square; It was neat to see how that changed my techniques in painting them. For the full examples, the square was better because the sides of the brush created strong lines; I just had to press the brush down. For the outlines, the thinner brush let me do a lot more detail. For the simplified and stylized versions, the shape of the brush instructed the shape of the drawing. (48) in particular seems a bit 3D as a result of trying to paint a round key with a square brush.

From left to right: (49) cross stitch plan, (50) cross stitch

Last but certainly not least, my favorite renderings were the cross stitched ones. I’ve gotten into cross stitching very recently, and could gush about it at length. I love the mix of planning ahead while also improvising, and using both brain and hands at the same time (constantly keeping track of left and right, top and bottom, but also constantly paying attention to your fingers and whether your floss is tangling). I made a very tiny stitch, about an inch square, to conserve my fabric, and used some red floss I had leftover from a different project. But before I started stitching, I had to plan it out — and I realized after I finished that this was a rendering in itself. Notice the eraser marks from alterations, when I made the top of the key a little bigger, or when I realized I needed to mirror the back of the image so that the key ridges would be on the left side from the front. The stitch planning has a few more details too: my counts to and from the center stitches, to help me keep track.

It took me about 50min to both plan and stitch my key, which I did in the IDM floor while waiting for my creative coding class last Wednesday (so this was actually one of the first renderings I made). To finish off the post, here’s a short timelapse of that, to give you a better scale of the stitch — kind of just looks like I’m stitching my own nails.

One thought on “50 (and a half?) keys

  1. Thank you so much for documenting the entire process of decision making behind each iteration! It was a wonderful deep dive into different methods and tools!

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