Graphing Emotion: Fictionist’s New Music

If you are reading this on my blog page, you might have seen the masthead which reads “Gardner Art and Stuff”. I do a lot of posting about my own art, illustration and photography. Well here’s one of the occasional “and Stuff” articles.


There’s a local band called Fictionist that has been one of my favorites for quite some time. I first saw them at the BYU Battle of the Bands in 2007 and again at a show in spring of 2008 before I left on an LDS mission to Ukraine for two years. When I got home, they were still playing and the music had only improved. I’ve been following them ever since and have tried to make it to any show they play in Utah Valley. They signed to Atlantic Records in late 2011 and since the EP they released that year, I’ve been waiting for new music. Finally, after breaking with Atlantic, they have a new album scheduled for release on October 7.


I’m excited—after 3 years of waiting there’s a new Fictionist album, but, I’m nervous. Leading up to the album release they’ve put out two new songs with music videos. The most recent “Lock and Key” lacked the dynamic energy and emotion that has attracted me over the years. To illustrate  the difference, I’ve tried to create little graphs showing what I perceive to be the level of emotion and overall energy throughout “Lock and Key” and also “Great Escape”, one of my favorites from the pre-Atlantic era. I know it is difficult to be too scientific about what makes music appealing. If you try too hard at that, I think you end up with Disney Channel stars… but, this is my attempt to quantify the intensity of music (this combines volume, rhythm and tempo etc.) and the level of my emotional response.

Graph comparing intensity of music and authors emotional response of two Fictionist songs. by Jameson Gardner Art

Please forgive any inconsistencies in timing—these are transcribed from little graphs I drew by hand while listening to the songs. Obviously this is just my personal take on these tracks. Different people respond to different things. I’m just hoping that Fictionist is saving their best for the album release, because I wasn’t really touched by Lock & Key. As one of my childhood heroes Levar Burton always used to say, though, ” you don’t have to take my word for it”. Check it out for yourself. Just be sure to give it at least one listen with your eyes closed and no distractions.

If you want to compare to some other sweet Fictionist tunes, I’d recommend Great Escape, Still Reaching, or Human Wings for a start. You can click those links to Youtube, or  find them on the iTunes store.

Don’t hesitate to visit either.

From Mind to Paper: Thumbnail Sketches

pen and ink

Anyone who has taken illustration classes has probably been expected to conform to some sort of process involving  thumbnail sketches. Thumbnails are small preliminary sketches that communicate the gist of an idea. I think sometimes students feel like the only purpose of thumbnails is to figure out an idea and if they are already thinking of something awesome it is an unnecessary step. Well, I am a believer that there is more to it than that.
In my experience both as an illustrator and as a graphic designer, translating an idea from your mind to your paper or design isn’t always as easy as it seems. When I worked for the BYU Universe, sometimes my coworkers would ask me to take a look at designs that they felt were struggling. I told them to explain to me what they didn’t like about it. The response usually included something about how the idea in their head had been significantly more awesome than the version they had actually produced. Of course, we would proceed to discuss the specifics of what was falling short, but I think problems like that could be avoided with a little more work on the front end.  The purpose of thumbnails is to avoid errors in translation from mind to paper. Figure out what is important about the idea. Figure out what compositional elements can convey the important things and what can create the right feel. And remember, if the composition works small it will work large.

You might have a specific image in your head, but until you draw a little version of it, you aren’t going to realize how vague your imagination can be sometimes. Don’t forget the golden rule of creativity either: Your first idea usually isn’t your best idea. I think I’ll write more about that later… but for now, use thumbnails to try some variations, chances are they will get more creative and interesting as you go.

Thumbnails can also convey the gist of your idea to a client before you get too invested. I think most illustrators and art directors are on-board with the process of approving thumbnails, sketches/comps and then the final piece. Thumbnails can work for a lot of other people too though. Landscape commission, or portrait? Show the client a little sketch before you spend a ton of work on it. Thumbnails for graphic design could save some hassle too. My coworkers and I used to complain about all the changes for which our boss or clients would ask. Sometimes I think we were totally justified, but other times we probably could have avoided it by sending them a sketch of what we were thinking.

So don’t underestimate what a Thumbnail sketch can do.


Thumbnails can convey the gist of something even when they are really tiny. All of my thumbnails included here are 2″ tall or smaller.

Preliminary sketch for illustration from Tremsin and the Firebird

Thumbnails can be used to jot down ideas for characters or objects too, not just entire compositions.

masked villain, comic book

Building a Website From Stone

The point of my website is to market hand-made traditional and dimensional illustrations—real things with real texture and dimension. So, I decided to drop the digital, though custom, typography from my header and replace it with something that would emphasize my brand. I thought it would be cool to make it out of stone.

Ok, I don’t actually know anything about carving stone, but I do know how to make faux stone. So here is what I did:

Weathered stone tablet for Jameson Gardner Art and Illustration

The first step was to carve it from styrofoam. High density foam works best because it holds the little details better, but I actually just used some foam that came in a box of shelves.

When the styrofoam was carved I covered it in a thin layer of plaster of paris, enough to protect the foam from solvents and to give me something to carve the type into, but thin enough to preserve some of the details carved into the foam.

work in progress

I then chiseled the type into the plaster.

work in progress

And covered it with a stone texture spray that I picked up at Home Depot. It comes out a variegated grey, and provides a pretty good texture, but it sure doesn’t look like believable stone until you do some painting by hand. I used acrylic washes to finish it off.

work in progress

Of course, photographing it in the right light and separating it from the background are necessary too.

Illustrations on Display

All my dimensional illustrations for the arctic adventure are finally finished. I am pleased with them. A series of prints as well as some of the original models are on display right now in Gallery 303 in the Harris Fine Arts Center on BYU Campus. I’m holding a joint reception on November 9th from 5 to 7 pm with Rebecca Lynn who is exhibiting her relief prints.

So happy to be finished, and excited for what is to come.

Below is one of the finished images. This is when our hero finally struggles ashore after five months surviving on the ice.

Dimensional illustration using miniature models, depicts survivor of ship wreck coming ashore after five months surviving on arctic Ice.

Two Magazine Cover and Photos

Recipe spread from TWO Magazine, photos by James Gardner

I just got a couple copies of TWO magazine from BYU campus. It just came off the press, and I am kind of excited. Not only did I do a lot of design for the magazine, but it also includes some decent photos by yours truly.  We did photo shoots for the recipe spreads and for the cover, both of which turned out nice. I don’t have the original files here, so I just took a few photos of my favorite pages.

Cover of BYU's TWO Magazine on dating and romance, photo by James Gardner

Recipe spread from TWO Magazine, photos by James GardnerMaybe I will add more photos  and details later.

New Custom Header Image

Until I am sure that I have what it takes to be successful at this blogging business, I don’t want to fork out a lot of cash.  So, I am still running the .wordpress domain and I am built on a free theme called quintus.  However, within a couple of days of starting my blog, I ran across another blogger with the same theme.  Artists don’t like looking the same as someone else, so I had to customize.

My first priority was a new background.  I found a photo of some old wallpaper and used it as a guide to create my own tiling pattern for the background.  I also made a header with similar colors.  However, the style of the header and the background didn’t really jive that well, so, I have just finished a new custom header. Let me know what you think. It is based on Adobe Garamond and Bickham script, but with some mods that hopefully won’t offend any typophiles.

The old and new headers are shown below:

My old header which has been replaced

New Header for Blog James Gardner Art and Stuff

1st place Utah SPJ

So, I studied illustration and that’s my true love, but I’ve been working for BYU’s Newspaper The Universe for almost three years as a designer. We do advertising design and editorial design for both the newspaper and special sections like the Bridal Guide. I just found out a couple of days ago that one of my front page designs won 1st place in our division at the Utah Headliner’s Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists competition.

So, that’s pretty cool.


You can find pdfs of past editions of the BYU Universe at or read current news at