Exercise: Abstract cities

Create a series of 10 abstract designs in which you balance blocks of subordinate, dominant and accent colours.

These designs are going to be used as covers for guidebooks to the following cities:

Madrid   Malmo   Managua   Manchester   Manhattan   Marrakech

Marseilles   Melbourne   Montreal   Mumbai

The books are going to be A5 landscape (210mm x148mm) size. You can use as many colours as you like and need to include the name of the city – where you place this and its colour are also important decisions to make. You may want to find out more about each city to help you develop your colour palette and also the size, shape and positioning of the colour blocks.

Explore your DTP packages further by creating the artwork in the different software packages you have to experiment with the possibilities and ease of use. You can also do this exercise on paper using coloured blocks that you can cut and move about.

Make notes in your learning log as you research and create your designs.

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I decided to start with the two cities with which I am familiar, Madrid and Marseille. I had the following image of Madrid which I used to create an abstract in Illustrator. For learning steps see my log diary.


I kept more or less the same colour scheme and created the following abstract which has the proportions 210 x 148 cm.



I decided to do Marseille next. I had already used another image to try out an abstract in my log book. However I preferred these colours and the simplicity of these meant that to size it was easy.





I have only visited Malmo once in my life and that was about thirty years ago. I was on a train with three children passing through on my way up north in Sweeden.

I can remember nothing except trying to herd three children on to a train with a hoard of people.

So for inspiration I started with the Swedish flag. I found the ‘official’ colours online and put these into the swatches in Illustrator. I tried several shapes and ideas in my log book. I also found colours which were close to and contrasting with the swedish flag colours. I saved this in the swatches. I used these to create a skyline across the bottom and a contrasting colour for the name.





I’ve never been to central America so I had very exotic images in my head. I did not know exactly where Managua was so I had to start researching it. It’s the capital of Nicaragua and is home to just over 1 million inhabitants. It is almost completely surrounded by water. It has suffered greatly from volcanoes and if Google is to be believed most people beat a hasty retreat as soon as they can.

For this reason I felt obliged to give Managua a touristic boost by trying to design a cover which was as vibrant as possible…

I started with looking at the general images but decided to go to ‘crafts’ Managua as my search term. This is a screen snap of page 1.


I then searched ‘colours’ Managua and this is what came up. Again a screen snap of the page.


I used the above images to match some of the colours in Illustrator and made a new group of them. Below are the colours I assembled.


I wanted a random set of shapes for my cover. I received a 2017 calendar from my post office a couple of days ago and I liked the design. With this design and the images and the colours I cut out a number of shapes and made a collage of them in my log book.







This is the type of design I wanted to create in Illustrator for Managua. I also wanted something south american for a typeface. I found South Pacific on DaFont. Am not convinced about it.


I think this looks a bit gaudy and amateurish. So I produced another.


I am not sure which would make me buy the guide book!

After a lot of trial and error I came up with this abstract design and I quite like it. I learned a lot about creating triangles!


I still do not know if I would choose any of these as an inviting guide book cover… I await critique.


I looked at some guidebooks online for Manchester and did not altogether like what I saw. I quite like the one at the bottom.


But I don’t much like mine either…


It reminds me of a child’s bedtime story book. Maybe I need to rethink this.

I wanted something more lively so I located one of my sky images. The added a few coloured stars with images of Manchester buildings behind.




I want to do a skyline in black with an orange sky and orange windows in the skyline houses. I have been thinking about this. For me Manhattan is nighttime entertainment. Google images produced this page. I don’t find the images especially inspiring..



manhattan-skyline  I picked one of these images, converted it to black and white and placed it in my Illustrator blank file. I stretched to fit and reduced the opacity. I then used the pen tool to trace the outline. When completed and I had a closed path I removed the background image. I then filled the outline with black and placed one of the very few gradient colours available. I need to learn how to create gradients. The orange suited well but needed to be rotated to fit sundown direction. Finally I wrote Manhattan in Helvetica as I wanted it to be clean and bold.



I tried to make a moroccan shaped door but that did not work so I decided to go with the pattern idea. Not sure if this really fulfils the brief of block colours but here goes.


I remembered my beautiful picture painted by a friend who spent the Winter in Marrakech a couple of years ago. I bought the painting for my husband’s birthday and we both love it. So I decided to take a picture of it and reduce it to blocks of colour.

Kordula Packard


This probably fits the brief better but I like it less and I learned no new skills while creating it…


I visited Melbourne in 1996   and I had a very simple camera with me but I took some images I like so I will se one of these.


I am not too happy with what I made of this as I think it is too complicated but here it is.


I have tried to make this simpler and cleaner



I used the image below from the internet to create my Montreal illustration:


This is what I came up with:



I have not been to Mumbai but have spent time in other parts of India. I will look at some of my own images to create the atmosphere of India in my head. I always think of India in terms of the colours oranges and reds. I think about India as a cacophony of noise. The traffic is manic. But the people are charming and very attractive. I love the beautiful red and black saris worn on festive occasions. So I used this for my inspiration. Of course India is temples. I remember feeling’templed out’ while there!



This has been an extremely difficult exercise for me. I decided to do all the cities in Illustrator as I felt this was the best software to use. My knowledge of Illustrator was very limited but I feel I have learned a lot about creating shapes and especially curves. However I am far from confident that I can reproduce some of the effects I was able to create. I do not find Illustrator intuitive and I get very frustrated. I think I have perfected something and when I come back to it it does not seem to work. I know this is because I am not doing something correctly but it is not always evident.

When I checked other students work I see they mostly produced real blocks of colour but I wanted to extend my knowledge of Illustrator so I strayed from the brief a little I think.

I have been reading Itten’s book on the art of Colour while I have been creating these illustrations. However I have not been able to use any of this knowledge for several reasons. I am not sure enough of how to use different colours. I have tended to go with my gut reaction. I will be extremely interested to learn what my tutor thinks of my choices and how these could be improved with an improved knowledge and familiarity of the colour circles, hues, saturation, harmonies etc.

I asked for some feedback on a couple of my works, from friends and altered according to their suggestions:

Sandi says:
Mumbai, like use of back and red, like the shape but it needs more. I would suggest, move up text Mumbai, make white. Make your Temple bigger and make it red but 15% darker. I would suggest for the black having some kind of tonal graphic but if your just getting your head around illustrator that could be difficult.
MElborne: font is very dated, I would something contemporary not script. Really like the graphic illustration here, good job! Oh and make MElborne text bigger.
MArrakech: the colours are too similar to MElborne to distinguish this as an entirely different piece. I would just make them bolder, pillar box red, gold, all those bold colours you associate with Morocco. I think these bolder colours could be your center piece but have more muted colours (the blues are good for this) at the side and bottom blue is good with that. Make the two side panels exactly the same on each side the different angles are distracting. They should essentially lead the eye into the vibrancy of the center piece!
marrakech_3 melbourne_3 mumbai_2
I have left my original ideas to see what the tutor thinks.
17 Jan2017: Have just finished Beware Wet Paint by Alan Fletcher and found his interpretation of Manhattan…. How simple – How beautiful

I think this task shows your own preference towards pictorial imagery which has a clear visual legibility. Where your images have become over-simplified and you lose an anchor or means of justification the images seem to lack a satisfaction for you. I think this task is not about right or wrong but more to do with discovering where the line could be drawn between graphic reduction and the thoroughly abstract… and most importantly, where you might enjoy working on this scale! There’s some great colour exploration here alongside broad exploration of shape. I think the Manchester image feels the least effective – what about artists like Lowry? – what palette and shapes are his images made up of? Could you form some of these simple shapes in illustrator and then scatter them and rearrange them and would the image still denote a feel Manchester. Your Montreal and Madrid images feel most sophisticated in their refinement. Including Fletcher’s work at the end summaries nicely a knowledge of the purpose of this task being related to understanding simple graphic form and language. I also rather like your Managua image! Whilst you might not like the refinement of this, there’s something about using the triangles in a pattern that has a lively dynamic that starts to remind me of central american primitive folk art or pattern. 

With my tutors advice I took one of Lowry’s paintings and studied the shapes. I simplified it and came up with the following design. I left the colours deliberately muted to denote industrial Manchester but I hope it does not appear took dull and uninviting!!!