Geometric Portrait


“Geometric portraits look so good. But they must be so time consuming, and how to do they get the shapes to describe all that tonal range?”

Challenge accepted. Cautiously.

About 10 hours later, I have two artworks–one I kinda like, and one I love—and I feel like I’ve learnt so much through the process of trial and error.


Here is the image I used—a self-portrait at St Kilda pier.


And here is my geometric illustration.

Jessica Geometric B&W-02

It took 2hrs 56min. Does that sound like too long? You can see it done in 1min 11sec here.


The colour portrait took over double the time at 5hrs and 35min, but I did most of my learning and trial and error on this project. I actually did the eyes, glasses and skin, then decided I didn’t like it and closed the file down. That’s when I started the b&w portrait. However, after finishing the b&w one I had picked up a few more tips and decided to have another go, create more contrast in the colour palette, and start working on the hair. I’m so glad that I restarted this one, as it turned out to be my favourite. I especially love the hair for some reason.

Here is the image I used—a selfie at work with a new pair of glasses. And here is my geometric illustration. Check out the video here.

1932396_10153030530560166_549639551946338073_n   Jessica Geometric Portrait-01

What do you think? Which do you prefer and why?


So, are you interested in creating your own geometric portrait? If so, here are my top tips.

1. Choose an interesting image with a unique profile, outline or feature element. This will make it easier to create a unique artwork.

2. Look at the light and shade of the image. Pick out the highlight points and work out from there. Then find the darkest part of the image and work out from there. I found that having more contrast in that tonal range of light to dark made the illustration more dynamic.

3. Look at the natural lines that describe what the shape is, for example, a cheekbone is long and angled, so use smaller shapes to create that large shape. You can see lines within the artwork that describe the direction of the overall shapes. See the 45 degree line of the cheekbone? Or the nearly vertical lines on the forehead and nose?

Just a word of warning, this might not be a project for the particular, perfectionist kind of illustrator. Even now as I look at the illustrations I want to go back and spend another hour or two on it, refining the lines and joins. So you need to be self-aware enough to make the call to “finish” the project!

Type Your Way To Better Design


Here is a fact that is becoming more and more obvious to me.

If you want better design, spend more time on typography. Hand-draw it. Modify it. Make it unique. This is the way to make your design stand out.

Here are three books that have recently appeared in my bookshelf, and I’m referring to them regularly – drawing inspiration from the sketches, type and genius of world-renown typographers.



The middle book is turning into one of my favourites. She is a New York typographer with more than 40 years of experience, and creates beautiful logos, restaurant identifies and package design.

Want to find out more about her? Read an article I wrote on Louise Fili here.

Where Will Your Imagination Take You?



At the start of the year I would have heard that word and thought of Japanese anime. However, now after creating my first animation and learning some of the “behind the scenes” techniques, I have a completely different view of animating. (I’ll give you a hint – it’s EVERYWHERE! Basically anything that moves, it was created in Flash of AfterEffects!)

In our digital media subject, we were challenged to create a children’s animation that goes for 15-30 seconds. I chose a concept that is abundant in childhood, and slowly fades away in adulthood. What is it? Imagination.

So go on. Take a moment and imagine. Imagine a place you’d like to journey to. Imagine yourself in a different place than here. Spend some time thinking about what it would look like, sound like, feel like. Where will your imagination take you?

Screen Shot 2014-10-02 at 8.46.13 PM


(click on the image above to see it in Flash, or here to see it on Vimeo)

What to Expecting When You’re Expecting


When expecting a baby photoshoot, you need to expect a few things…

Last Sunday a beautiful little girl called Vashti came to visit, and it reminded me why preparation for a shoot is so important. She was here for two hours, and it went like this: 30 mins smiles and giggles, 45 mins with a few grizzles, and then 45 mins of howling and nodding off! The best photos of the shoot were taken in the first 10 min when she was smiling and the last 10 min when she was sleeping!

I took off her nappy for approx 3min, and there was a widdle (which needed towels for a mop-up and new blankets for her to lie on).

She cried when she was put on her belly, which meant half of my pose ideas were gone.

Oh, and I mistakenly did the easy poses first when she was happy, which meant that the complicated ones were not an option when she was tired later.

So… what did I learn?

– Extra towels and wraps are essential! We had a full washing machine by the end.
– Quick scene changes while the baby is happy keep things rolling.
– A beanbag to place the baby on is SO helpful.
– When they are happy, do the harder, more complicated poses.
– Simplicity is king. Simple wraps, simple lighting. They were the best shots.


Then you look into these beautiful eyes, and your heart just melts!!


VashtiSep14-10    VashtiSep14-21VashtiSep14-26VashtiSep14-28 VashtiSep14-30

To Flash or Not To Flash


When I shoot an event, the first thing that crosses my mind is . . . flash or no flash?

There is something crisp and professional about a well-used flash—either by bouncing it off white walls or ceilings, or using a diffuser. When I use my flash I know that my photos are going to high quality images.

So I set up my flash, and point the camera at a group of happy guests engaged in a deep conversation, and click . . . FLASH.

The whole group and everyone else in the room turns around and looks at me like a skippy caught in the high-beam. The moment is gone, the atmosphere is awkward and guests are paranoid that their photo is going to be taken by the odd-looking woman with the 2 foot-high flashing contraption.

In contrast, when I shoot with no flash, I get intimate moments without the guests even knowing that I’ve caught it (stalker much?) and camera-shy guests can relax and enjoy the event.

The compromise is the image quality. The ISO has to be boosted so I can keep the shutter speed around 100-200 so there is no motion or camera blur. This creates that grainy effect we all know as “noise”. Some photographers love the noise, and will specifically shoot to achieve it, but I think there are some situations where it is undesirable.

Jessigned-babyshower3  Jessigned-babyshower4

The perfect example was a baby shower that I shot yesterday. It was a classy afternoon tea, in a small formal lounge where the guests were chatting and holding their dainty cups of tea.

Jessigned-babyshower8  Jessigned-babyshower1

I knew if I whipped my flash out it would scare them from their conversations, shatter the formal tone, and after 10 min of flashing they’d probably ask me to leave so no-one developed epilepsy from the constant disco flashing.

Jessigned-babyshower6  Jessigned-babyshower5

So, I had to compromise and boost up my ISO to 2000. I was terrified that the noise would ruin the high-class look of the event, however in post-production I found that it turned out ok. Phew. Would I have more spectacular photos if I had used the flash? Probably. Would I have caught the moments, atmosphere and tone of the event? No. I would have wrecked it.


I guess it comes down to artistic vs atmospheric. What kind of event photography do you prefer?

Piez Photoshoot


I walked away from this shoot thinking “Well that was high-energy. I wonder if I got any good shots!” I had never shot a family with multiple small children, so it was a completely different dynamic to learn from. So what did I take away from the experience?

1. Have something for the kids to do. I’ve read this before in blogs, but now I REALLY believe it. When we did upside down shots the boys absolutely loved it, and begged for more photos so they could go upside down again!

2. Give them specific instructions if you need them to hold still for 8-10 seconds (because that’s the max time you’ll get!). For example, I got the boys to make sure one hand was touching the side of the boat so they’d stay in line. I also had them put their hands in their pockets so they stopped fidgeting.

3. Be quick! Make sure your settings are right to go before you get them in the frame and pose. They won’t wait for you.

4. Have fun—it shows. Keep smiling and laughing with the kids so they remain positive with you. There is no use getting grumpy and telling them to stand still. Unless you want a photo with evil eyes and a pinched pout!


jessigned-photography    jessigned-photography    jessigned-photography

jessigned-photography    jessigned-photography


The beautiful mum in this family is also a talented photographer and designer that I collaborate, scheme and dream with. Check our her blog here.


Trees A Long Time Coming


Do you have concepts that are just sitting inside your head for months, and sometimes years, on end?

I do.

I tuck them away until I have the time and creative energy to bring them out and develop them. This is one of those projects.

I’ve wanted to draw a detailed tree trunk cross-section for about 18 months now, and in May I finally had the opportunity. I had a brief that suited a tree-themed illustration, so I jumped at the chance to start exploring this tucked-away concept.

I started off with some images for inspiration, then drew up a template, and started to fill in the detail.


il_fullxfull.533850181_f5c1  7a987da4efde20e3e0aa687127ea0390




About 5 hours later I realised that I had over-committed to the project, and majorly blown my time-allocation! However, I was determined to finish it, and ended up spending about 9-10 hours on the illustration. It doesn’t look like it should have taken that long, but the small detail was painstakingly slow when being drawn by a perfectionist!

After that huge time investment, I really want to re-colour it (not sure on the fluro green, but it suited the brief I was drawing it for), then blow it up big and hang it on a wall somewhere. But that might be a project to tuck away for another day…

J SYMES Tree RIng no text

Here are some of the colour trials. What colour do you think would suit the illustration the best? The multi-coloured one, the black and white one, or a one-tone colour? I’d love to hear your feedback!

Multicoloured ring   Blue tree ring

Product Shots Using a Laptop Background + One Light Source


When I came across this idea I thought “That looks interesting, but I bet it doesn’t work very well”. I was dead wrong. 

The light from the laptop screen softly backlights the object, creating a soft outline. With only one extra light I was able to create beautiful shots that were easy to customise to any colour or mood. Amazing! 

 Jessigned-Pink-Perfume  Jessigned-Pink-Perfume-Background  Jessigned-Gradient-Perfume

Here are my top tips:

1. Use a reflective surface to place the product on, as it creates a nice reflection at the front of the product. I used a gloss booklet for this product shot. 

2. Rotate your light source around the object until you find the optimum place for your reflective twinkle. 

3. Shoot straight on, otherwise you’ll get the computer frame in the image. If you need a deeper depth of field, use a longer lens and shoot from further back.