Sounds of the City

For this brief we are asked to visualise the sounds of the city into an illustration. As such my initial thought was about synesthesia, where someone will interpret one sense as another. As such the person could see or even taste the sound. This idea I thought I could visualise in my work by representing sound waves in the real world, either passing through the scene or even making the boundary of the frame. similarly i could maybe visualise different sounds as different colour to try and maybe visualise how blind people or creatures that use echo location might perceive the outside world.

One possibility that I could consider is the sounds and visuals I could use in my piece, as the brief says the the city can be ‘imaginary or real, past or present’. As such I can have it set in modern times with the sounds of cars and planes, or I can have it set in ancient times with horses and livestock. Similarly I could have it set in a fantasy or Sci-fi city which would include entirely different sounds to visualise such as dragons or starships for example. I am going to start out with this idea by looking at the sound waves and frequencies made by different objects and people so that I can look at how to form these into an interesting visual design. The images below are the frequency made by footsteps, a seismograph from an earthquake and a plane creating a sonic boom from breaking the sound barrier. I could use a combination of these ideas to depict sound visually.

Another thought that I had was that I could do a painting and emphesise texture to represent different levels of sound. I could use paint thickener to achieve this effect with acryllics as I did last year. Alternatively I could use lots of oil paints as that forms texture quickly however it may end up being much more expensive. If I used texture and brush strokes to create the image i could try to have it so that it could be ‘read’ by blind people as I have seen some artists do before. Similarly I could use other materials to create different textures in the image. This is an idea the I will look further into.

I had a go at playing around with some texture this weekend by squirting lots of acrylic onto sheets of paper and manipulating it with a brush. However I found that when it dried it wasn’t nearly as textured as I would have hoped, I should try again with some paint thickener mixed in to see if i get better results, other wise I may need to explore other avenues.

Another idea that I had in terms of medium were if I were to produce this work through print. As this is an avenue that I haven’t used as much and could make some very interesting visuals, however it will depend on the designs I come up with and how well they will transfer over to print.

The idea that I’m currently considering is to visualise made up cities and the sounds that they would make that would be entirely different from what we’re used too, such as the Sci-fi or fantasy cities that I mentioned earlier. Similarly I could show the idea of sounds in the same way that comic books do, this could be interesting as I haven’t worked with these before so it will be an interesting learning experience. Additionally this will work well with producing the piece digitally as the print room is currently out of order and the competition deadline got extended to two weeks from now which takes out the option of using print and makes creating the piece digitally a good solution. However I still need to make sure that my piece is unique and original as it would be nice to have a shot at winning. As such I’m going to start researching the use of sound text in comics to get an idea of how I could integrate it into my work in a unique way.

“This is Not a Sound”: The Treachery of Sound in Comic Books

Additionally from looking at these images I got the idea to look at how manga portrays sounds as well, as although I don’t understand the actual katakana they add so much to the image visually and look super cool. As such I decided to look into what they actually mean so that I could potentially use them in my work, which may give it a different look to what other people would go for, similarly I could effect the style to represent that as I could go for more of an Inked piece, I’ll have to do some sketches to see what inspires me. Although I may also do more research into Katakana themselves as they do interest me visually.


Additionally after doing more experimentation with different ways to draw sound waves I had the idea that the period or height of each peak could hold information like binary, which led to me doing more research into morse code that I have never looked into before. I found it extremely interesting and got the idea that I could potentially encode information into my piece using some form of morse code. As such I looked into different ways of representing the dots and dashes that are less obvious such as small and high peaks or up and down peaks. This is an idea which adds interests to the piece both personally as well as if anyone happens to notice and decode it.


For reference I walked around the city of Hull  and drew scenes that I thought looked good compositiontionally. This helped as drawing buildings is an aspect of my craft that I still need to improve so I am unlikely to be able to finish this project without using some kind of reference if buildings and perspective are involved. After drawing these scenes I then experimented with different styles in order to attempt to get inspired. As such I looked into black and white, high contrast, bright abstract colours (like Hirahiko Araki’s Jojo series). As for how to relate it to the sound part of sounds of the city I was unsure how to do it. One idea is to show this through the sound of traffic and sound effects such as in comics or manga. Although I quite liked how some of the images looked I felt they didn’t fit the theme very well.

After thinking further into how to visualise the idea of sounds of the city I had the idea of imagining how a blind or visually impaired people would perceive the world. I liked this idea as it meant that I could use some very abstract and impressionist imagery that would be fun to paint as this is something that I haven’t really done before. As such I started to play around with my interpretation of how to visualise how a blind man would visualise the world. My idea would be that closer objects would be more apparent and then stretch off and distort as they got further away. Another idea is that objects that make noise are clearer than those that don’t.

From this sound idea I thought it would be interesting to paint the scene of a blind man in a subway, surrounded by people he can’t see or hear due to the sound of the train coming in. I felt like I could give it a very tense and disturbing atmosphere, like a more colourful and striking Goya painting.


I originally intended to have a busker in the background making another layer of noise, however when I came to painting it it didn’t work as well within the composition. Similarly I intended to have the train snaking past the entrance of the tunnel to suggest that the man doesn’t know where the tunnel is. I kept this idea to an extent however toned it down a lot as it didn’t work as well as I would have hoped. To create the image i painted on the areas with thick applications of acrylic paint and whilst it dried used a fan brush to distort the image which I felt worked very well. This is a technique that I would like to try again in the future as it was very enjoyable. However through this process it made it very difficult to amend any mistakes as that area wouldn’t match thew brush strokes of those around it, as such on ares that weren’t quite as well painted like the figure’s arm, it was difficult to fix. As such I should have been more attentive when I first did it.


Overall I am very pleased with how it turned out as it is my first attempt trying to create a painting in this style. That being said there are aspects that I realise could have been improved upon. If I were to do it again I would have made the blind man larger and closer to the viewer so that I could add more detail and make it feel more intimate. Additionally I would just less vibrant and more saturated colours when painting him such as worked up below. All being said though, I enjoyed doing it and feel like I learned some valuable lessons.