Design Lab Project 3

Bryce Li
8 min readMar 21, 2021


Today, I experimented with thumbnails and basic illustrator layouts.


Choose an objective

Explore tone and composition through thumbnails

What should be shown through this image?

I wanted to choose some important aspects of a turtle’s behavior, habitat, and endangerment. There are three significant ideas that I thought were important to the leatherback sea turtle. The first idea concerned the migratory patterns and the efficient range of the turtle’s shell, which was something that I aimed to create in the first part of the turtle project. The second idea was to illustrate how plastic pollution harmed the diet of the turtles, and the third idea was to show the perilous journey that baby turtles had to endure to reach adulthood, especially during their most vulnerable moments.

I ended up choosing the second option for a couple reasons. Firstly, this option would allow for me to portray the turtle’s natural diet, which was a big part of its behavior. Secondly, it allowed for some opportunities for narrative storytelling.

Creating depth through tone

I wanted to create depth through tone. I think that this could be an effective way for people to have a better understanding of space, especially since the inherent cloudiness of water amplifies the atmospheric fog effect typically found in landscapes. As a result, I can make objects scale in shade according to their relative distances to the viewer.


I wanted to portray the subversive nature of plastic pollution in the ocean for the leatherback sea turtle’s diet by creating an abstract pattern that symbolized its presence. Although it was not a literal portrayal of what was in the ocean, I felt that this was indicative of the sheer presence of objects in that area.



Increase recognizability of turtle and plastic bags

Create colors that add to the meaning of the composition.

Creating new plastic bags

In class, we discussed some issues that came along with the plastic bags. Although the orderly pattern that I did originally was indicative of a persistent background problem, the artificial nature of it overwhelmed this purpose and removed a natural context. Talking with Connor, we talked about what made a plastic bag recognizable. Plastic bags in water are very typically volumetric. They are rarely laying flat. Additionally, plastic bags have wrinkles that give shape to their surface. Combining these two, I made a rounder plastic bag that had some indication of volume compared to a rag-like amorphous object in my previous iteration.

Detailing a turtle

Chris also mentioned depicting the three-dimensional forms that were on the back of a turtle– namely, the ridges that protruded from the dorsal region needed to be given a three-dimensional form. I decided to show the form of the object by creating shadows on the edges of the ridges.



Recreate composition for storytelling

Creating a background

Initial sketch

Background as a Composition

In this iteration, I made significant changes to the composition. Firstly, I wanted to shift the perspective that the storytelling was taking places. I felt that looking up towards the surface of the ocean was more indicative of an animal perspective. From my experience underwater and from reference photography, the ring of light that occurs near the surface was a very prominent feature of the ocean surface from below. In accordance with similar reasons why straws are at different angles in water, refraction of light according to Snell’s law creates a “window” in the water. I hoped to make this window combined with the sun to be a part of the composition.

I also planned for the composition of the circular window to complement an arrangement of plastic bags. Since everything revolves around the central background, the bags are also arranged tangentially to the sun. This circular composition is intended to draw the eyes in a nonlinear fashion, which was a problem in my previous interaction that was brought up by Daphne previously.

Plastic Bags

In this iteration, I wanted to try different ways to depict the crinkles in the bag. While experimenting, I found that illustrating wrinkles as singular strokes gave semblance to the crinkles of the plastic. The lines created an interesting local pattern around them that emphasized both the positive and negative space that was created around it. Additionally, these wrinkles gave information about the surface contours of the bags, as well as where the seams joined on the bags.

I applied these lines to jellyfish in a similar manner to create a visual similarity to the plastic bags to emphasize their similarities with turtles.

Turtle Shading

In this angle, I decided that a basic silhouette would suffice for this composition for now. I wanted to create several cues to show the shape of the turtle– namely, the shadow and highlights, to show what parts of the turtle’s surface were facing which direction.



Add the appropriate amount of fidelity/visual complexity to maintain emphasis

Improve recognition of objects

Modify the composition to follow formal rules

Explore usage of color

Rendering the Turtle

In class, Daphne mentioned that the low visual fidelity of the turtle contrasted with the high visual fidelity of the plastic bag. Combined with the dark color of the turtle, it made the turtle much less visible and drew attention to the bags. Additionally, I wanted the form of the shadow to give more information about the shape of the turtle.

I initially added a new pattern to the underside of the turtle– looking at reference photos, turtles, like most marine animals in the open ocean, have specialized adaptations to blend in with water. While the top of the turtle is very dark, the bottom of the turtle is bright. On top of that, this brightness is shown in small patches on the surface, allowing it to blend in better with the shimmers of the sun when potential predators might be looking up. Using these reference photos, I was able to make the turtle more identifiable, fitting of it’s background, and most importantly, increase visual fidelity to a level in which the turtle could be more visible to a viewer.

I also modified the jellyfish to be of a greater visual fidelity to match the plastic bags.


Final Iteration

During our final crit, there were a couple important things that were brought up about the poster. Firstly, while the turtle was detailed, it also appeared flat– it made the rest of the composition feel flat as well. Additionally, the plastic bags were very bright. This competed with the brightness of the sun, flattened the shape, and implied that the bags were clean when they were not supposed to be.


Make plastic bags more recognizable

Make turtle less flat

Make sun more fitting of background

Plastic bags

In my final iterations, I experimented with different shadings of plastic bags. Using reference pictures, I studied opacity and form of the plastic bags and noticed a couple changes I needed to make:

  1. When inflated by the flow of water, some plastic bags have a very defined shading on their insides. If two layers obscure the light behind them, they are noticeably darker than a single layer.
  2. Plastic bags have highlights– some are on the edges of the shape that are directly reflected by the edges of the bag, while others are defined by the light passing through one layer of the plastic and refracting through it.
  3. Plastic bags can be much more recognizable when they have handles attached to them. Studying the shape of the handles, I found that they twisted and attached to the rest of the bag in a very peculiar way in relation to their intended use and structure. This greatly helped in being able to distinguish plastic bags from jellyfish as well.

By adjusting the colors of the bag, I was able to create a shadow, midtone, and highlight to illustrate these aforementioned qualities of the plastic bags.

Additionally, I played around with the colors of the composition– while Q had suggested to have a warmer tone background, I did not like the overall look of the image.

Adding three-dimensionality to the turtle

In this iteration, I also decided to remake the turtle to both give it a bit of directionality in three dimensions as well as to make it less flat. Using a combination of photos of my plastic model of the turtle, 3D models sourced from the internet, scientific diagrams, and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s cast of the turtle, I synthesized these sources to create a three dimensional depiction of the turtle.

Although the 3D form showed some dimensionality, the most important indicators of information of the turtle were the shadows, highlights, and directions of the light markings. Shadows established the form, highlights established relationships with the light source (the sun), and markings showed the surface contours of the turtle. Combined, these were very effective in creating the shape of the turtle.

Overall, I was very pleased with the progress that I was able to make. If there was one thing that my poster was successful with, it was that it was able to help the viewer empathize with the struggles of the leatherback sea turtle.