Visual Design

Pictorial Matter

This post is the archive of a visual design challenge I launched in 2010.  It was called:

PictorialMatterThe phrase pictorial matter refers to “illustrations used to decorate or explain a text” and that’s what the site was about:


Each month, between February and December 2010, I posted a new word at Pictorial Matter.  The challenge for participants was to illustrate the word, to convey its meaning in a photograph, cartoon, painting — any medium of choice.  This wasn’t my concept.  I started Pictorial Matter to carry on the torch of WordIt, a monthly illustration challenge that opened in 2003 and continued for six years, posting its last word in January 2010. I announced my sequel with this comment at WordIt:

Thanks to the WordIt founders and contributors for creating such a fun and provocative forum! The archives are an amazing record of six years of visual creativity. When I heard the news that WordIt was closing, shortly after I discovered the site, I decided to start PictorialMatter to keep a monthly word depiction challenge alive on the web. I’m aware that the new site is following in some pretty big footsteps! But the challenge that WordIt posed is a timeless one, and I believe there should be an outlet for those who want to continue exploring this fertile ground. Please visit and help keep the visual dialog going.

You can read more about why I wanted to keep this challenge going in the About text at the very bottom of this post, and in my post on Wrestling Words.

February: Beginning

Since WordIt’s final selection was The End, I thought beginning would make for a good beginning.  Every month, I did a little announcement graphic that looked like this:


My idea for beginning was to show a sun rising over the word itself.  There was no requirement to include the word in the image, but I found I liked doing that (and as the months went on I kept returning to typography).  My first submission:


This one below was from Nicolas Ceron, who had been a WordIt contributor.  I had hoped to catch the attention of more folks from WordIt, but Nicolos turned out to be the only brave soul who ventured over to PM:


This was from Sepp Seitz, my dad, showing a first bite of the day:


And this was from my friend Annie Newbold, founder of Gallery 263, showing the place where life began:


March: Soup

Next month I chose soup as the challenge word.  Later on I would throw in some esoteric words, but my goals here were different from Quadrivial Quandary — the words didn’t need to be unusual as long as they were visually provocative.  Maybe it was Annie’s submission from February that got me thinking of “primordial soup.”


This was my dad’s metallic soup:


And I realized that, using a typographic approach, I could “serve” soup in its very own bowl.  This is a soup not only of letters, but of fonts, and part of the challenge was to pick a couple that would work together.  I wanted it to look soupy — as in a mix of things — but with some kind of harmony:


April: Interface

In April, with my head buried in software work, I chose interface:


My solution was to show two typefaces interfacing:


And my dad decided to show two faces interfacing:


May: Anchor

In May I went with anchor.  I don’t remember how I picked this one, but in general I’m intrigued by the problem of how to convey solidity and weight in a two-dimensional image.


This month I went in more of a political direction than I’m usually inclined to.  This was the time of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.  Here you can see a city “anchored” in oil.  Mine was the only submission of the month:


June: Acnestis

In June I picked a great word that I had learned at Quadrivial Quandary.  The word was acnestis, which is “the part of an animal’s skin that it cannot reach to scratch itself – usually the space between the shoulder blades.”


My dad showed it this way:


And I reinterpreted acnestis as “the part of the windshield that the wiper cannot reach to wipe”:


July: Fireworks

July is the month for fireworks, so I took that as the word:


This was my design, and I still agree with it:


August: Mask

I’ve always been interested in masks.  In my old apartment I used to have an entire hallway full of hand-carved masks from Ghana. Visitors assumed I had traveled there and asked about the experience.  I would then begin to describe where I had collected the artifacts… at Marshall’s discount store — true story.


Barry Dunnage sent this over from the U. K.:


Lis Sylvan shared this:


Kannan Thiru created a mask from a leaf and placed it over a flower:


Kannan and I together set up this photo of a handmade mask:


And then I hid behind the flower from Kannan’s first submission, using it as a mask of my own:


September: Edit

And then in September, wow, I chose edit as the word, not knowing what I was getting myself into…


A contributor with the screen name “QuaggaQuagga” sent in this edited Mona Lisa:


Meanwhile I was obsessing over a design which would take up much of the month.  I’ve written a detailed account of that whole adventure, called Wrestling Words  — please give it a read and let me know what you think.  This was my finished design for edit:


October: Cash

In October I picked cash.  I figured it’s something everyone cares about.


This was a clever submission from QuaggaQuagga.  If you don’t get it I’ll give you a hint.  Both J. S. Bach and Dmitry Shostakovich were fond of “signing” their compositions with sequences of musical notes corresponding to the letters of their names, and QuaggaQuagga has combined their signatures here:


My submission was a snapshot of a dollar bill stuck behind a pipe in a conference room.  Not my favorite solution, but it took me all of 10 seconds to take the photo, while some of the typographic designs I had done in previous months required hours and hours of work to get right.  That’s an interesting thing about this challenge: not only can you use whatever medium you want, but you can decide how much effort you’re willing or able to put in on any given month, and choose a design approach that works with that budget:


November: Phosphene

November’s word was phosphene, which is “the luminous image produced by pressing the eyeball with the finger or otherwise.” It sounds like a Quadrivial Quandary word, but in fact it has not appeared there as of yet (I’m writing in December 2012).  Actually, I came across it in a book called Mind Hacks.


QuaggaQuagga sent me this:


And this was my post, a snapshot of city street lights at nighttime, reflected in a window:


December: Clinquant

Now we’re at Pictorial Matter’s last word, which was clinquant.  It means”glittering with gold or silver; tinselled; decked in garish finery.”   I figured it would be a good word for the holiday season.  In fact, it had appeared at Quadrivial Quandary the previous December.


We had no submissions for clinquant but I invite you to give it a try.  You’ll find the submission guidelines at the very end of this post.  If you send me something I’ll post it here and arrange to get you a beer.


Pictorial Matter Site Copy

Here’s the copy that I wrote for the site:


Pictorial Matter is a forum for people who love words, images, and their interplay. Each month we focus on a different word. Your challenge is to express the essence of that word in an image of your own creation. Submissions go into our online gallery.

Pictorial Matter is just getting off the ground, and I hope you’ll contribute to its development.

My name is Rudi Seitz and I started this site as a place to practice and play with design. I know how helpful it is to have a supportive community, and a recurring challenge to work on, when developing any sort of creative skill. I hope this site will satisfy those needs for all of us who are trying to improve — and to have some fun — in our visual work.

I’ve been interested in visual design for much of my life, until recently more as an observer than a practitioner. I’ve always had a sense of what I like and don’t like in design but my limited technique has often confined me to producing what I don’t like. Design takes a lot of work, and so far I’ve directed my creative energies into other arenas — writing, music, software development. I’ve thought of design as something I’d get around to studying “someday.”

In January 2009, a few forces made that “someday” finally come. As a software developer focusing more and more on web projects, and unable to hire design assistance, I had started doing my own website design work, taking a greater interest in the aesthetics of layout and trying my hand at producing my own image assets. I knew I needed a better understanding of basic design principles, and some concrete technical skill with a good drawing tool. My dabblings led me to the open source vector graphics editor Inkscape. I was amazed by what it could do, and by the elegance of the underlying SVG format, and I resolved to learn them both. At the same time, my work on a website for word lovers called Quadrivial Quandary got me thinking about the power of recurring challenges in cultivating creativity. I started looking for a fun design challenge that I could build into my routine. In a stroke of good luck, I stumbled on a fantastic site called WordIt, just what I was searching for.

I posted my first submission and was gearing up to submit every month, thinking that participating in this forum would be an incentive to keep practicing with Inkscape, a way to build some connections with the design community, and get feedback on my work. But just one month after I came across WordIt, the founders announced they were shutting down the six-year-old site for good. I wrote to ask whether they wanted any help in keeping it running. They let me know that their decision to close it was final, but they kindly encouraged me to start up a similar challenge under a different name. That’s how Pictorial Matter was born…

More coming soon.

Submission Guidelines

I’ve changed the submission email address below since I don’t have the domain anymore.  Everything else in these instructions is still valid, and as I said I’m still accepting submissions for clinquant.

Submissions should be in JPG format. 1500 x 1500 pixels.
You can work in whatever media you like (photography, painting, vector graphics, etc.) as long as you submit a JPG.

Email submissions to rudi at rudiseitz dot com. Include your JPG as an attachment. Also include the name to which we should attribute your work (required), and a link to your website (optional).

When you submit work to Pictorial Matter, you retain ownership of it. However, you grant Pictorial Matter a perpetual, irrevocable, royalty-free right publish your work on the website. Your work will always be attributed to you.

Your submission must be original and may not contain copyrighted material. Use free fonts or fonts that you’ve paid for.

Pictorial Matter is in no way responsible for the view expressed in your work or for any copyright infringements in your work. As the owner of your work, you retain full responsibility.

Submissions will be published within a few days after they are received, often on the same day.

Parting Thoughts

What happened to the site — why did I stop posting words in December 2010?  In short, I had simply taken on too much, trying to juggle Pictorial Matter, Quadrivial Quandary, and a bunch of other personal ventures and jobs all at the same time.  I also realized that for the site to grow, it would need much more active promotion that I was able or inclined to give it with the bandwidth I had.

I’m glad to have tried it and there’s something that makes me smile when I look over the bunch of submissions from those 11 months — Lis and Kannan’s masks, my dad’s once-bitten sandwich, QuaggaQuagga’s musical cash…

After Pictorial Matter I kept searching for a medium for my own visual expression and experiment, and where I landed was photography.

One thought on “Pictorial Matter

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s