As I recently wrote when I posted the above image on Facebook, "I think I'm narrowing in on something." I'm discovering (well, rediscovering actually, but we'll get to that) the graphic value of pockets of radiance - a localized area in the darkness that has been illuminated to a limited extent, usually from a single source. Thus far, that source has usually been fire, but streetlamps and other sources are useful as well.
Images that portray pockets of illumination amidst a sea of darkness have a lot of emotional resonance, rooted as they are in our shared history clustered around fires at night for warmth and security. They represent a tension between the known and unknown, safety and danger. I know from my own personal experiences that some of my most vivid memories involve campfires and places defined by pools of light. This photo, taken in Granada, Spain, in 2005 is what I meant when I said "rediscovered" above. It's one of my favourite photos from that trip, a souvenir from a very pleasant evening rambling the back streets with the precise amount of red wine necessary to heighten the night's walk into actively magical.
What's interesting is that, back before my alcoholism burned out all my creativity (long story) and when I was starting to get a grip on Photoshop, I turned this photo into a cartoonified design using more or less the exact same technique I am using now. When my creativity came roaring back with my sobriety a couple of years ago, it was a version of this design that I first printed on a t-shirt. I still have it and use it as a very cherished work shirt now. I feel like having my early inclinations confirmed many years later is a kind of personal validation of those inclinations. A full circle kind of thing.
The path that lead me to this realization currently involves borders, edges, transitions, and the necessity of ending a design at the perimeter of a product's printable area. Since I always have t-shirts in mind, that's the rectangle of available space one has to play around in on the front (and sometimes the back) of a shirt. I quickly came to discover that, generally, a big, printed rectangle with clean, straight, hard edges on a shirt looks clunky and amateurish. I think designs are more engaging when the transition from design to shirt is handled more artfully. There are many ways to accomplish this, but the one I'm talking about here is the transition from illuminated pocket to darkness, a very natural and convenient way to isolate a graphic on a shirt without imposing any borders.
So expect to see quite a bit more in this vein in the future. The trick is going to be finding a way to marry this approach with the Southwest-BC-centric designs I'm also focusing on. What I don't want is for this to be an attractive side road that leads me away from my current goal of creating designs that will sell locally to, largely, tourists. Fortunately, camping in the Great Outdoors is a huge part of British Columbia's appeal, so I think there is a lot of material to work with.