Friday 26th Mar 2010
I was looking through this particularly linkbaity article and found the beautiful piece below, Alphabet, by Irina Vinnik. It really reminds me of a couple of books of fables and fairytales I had as a kid — they all had beautifully ornamented capitals at the start of each story and I was completely fascinated by them. I did trace quite a few and spent rather a lot of time trying to draw my own. Sadly I’ve not got any of those early attempts so I can’t see if they were any good or not, but it did get me into a long and happy habit of tracing and redrawing letters and lettering which has been incredibly useful throughout my career. Funny thing with kids, I’ve noticed with friends of mine who have children that shovelling tons and tons of information at them and seeing what sticks seems to be a pretty good strategy. Your mileage may vary, of course.
I saw this a couple of weeks ago and I reminded myself of it with my look-at-me post, then didn’t get around to finish writing about it. I really like Kenn Munk‘s designs, they’ve got a real historical feel to them, and remind me of Civil War-era state and privately-issued money in the US. I like the idea of using stamps to print money yourself — I’d love to have a go. I think the only thing I’d suggest adding is a bit of red somewhere, like a serial number or something, but that might just be because I like black and red in print.
Sunday 14th Mar 2010
I guess now and again I can promote some of my own work — hey, it’s what keeps me from writing articles for Ministry of Type all the time, and this piece draws together a number of themes I’ve written about before here so it feels pretty relevant. This is an illustration piece I did for Wired Magazine for their US edition’s cover story, The Future of Money. It’s also appeared in the UK and Italian editions and in GQ magazine in Mexico and South Africa, which I’m pretty thrilled about.
When creating, or even looking at, a banknote design, one of the first things you realise is their inherent and very deliberate imperfections. There’ll be an apparent mis-registration of colour, a strangely ragged line, a discontinuity in a pattern or an odd serif or ligature on a piece of lettering, but it’s exactly how it was designed. Without it, it wouldn’t be right. The design of banknotes represent something I find gloriously poetic — imperfect perfection — if it was perfect by our usual standards, it would be imperfect. Wonderful. So tried to capture some of that in my design, overlaying colours with an offset, adjusting the lettering a little bit to reflect the kind of oddities on real dollar notes and creating the odd layer of extra guilloche-work barely fine enough to see. I’m glad Wired is well printed and that it all came through.
First off, my favourite, guilloches! Guilloches have an irresistable fascination for me, the finely detailed patterning building on top of itself, over and over, to create anything from complex shaded illustrations or subtle fields of colour, and all you need to do is to look a little closer to get drawn in… wonderful. Fractals have a similar kind of appeal, but there’s more of a craft to creating guilloche patterns, some idea of I made this rather than I discovered this. A subtle distinction for some, but it just gives one an edge over the other in my mind.
The lettering was actually the most time consuming part of the piece. The denomination took some time, but the big bit of work was the multi-layered title. The faces of the letters themselves are shaded with two sets of guilloche patterns, and the 3D effect was done mostly by hand — adjusting for optical clarity and to bring in a few of those all-so-important errors. I toyed with the offsetting on the faces (to create the pale outlines and shadowed cuts) especially as the “R” came out a little strange, with that square cut-off on the inner edge of the outline. I left that for a while and when I came back to it I decided I actually liked it, so it stayed.
The cropping out of the guilloche patterns to create the shading took time to set up and then quite a lot of time for the computer to do the necessary intersections. Anyone who was following my Twitter personal account at the time may have noticed a fair bit of bitching about Illustrator’s pathfinder tools, often spitting out “The filter produced no results” after 10 or so minutes of thinking, which generally drives me to use Photoshop’s vector tools for stuff: they have their deficiences, but they do the job without Illustrator’s tedious whining errors. It took 30 minutes of it thinking about it, but it got there in the end. It seemed a bit easier the second time around, when I did the localised title for Wired Italy, though sadly no quicker.
The circular pattern of cubes I did using Google Sketchup, which I’ve been using a fair bit to create another piece (which may be a poster one day), outputting it as an EPS and then going over it in Illustrator changing all the outlines to the right thicknesses and colours, then doing it again for the offset colour overlays. Fun times.
It was great to be able to use many of the ideas I’d explored before and have to make them work together in a full commercial piece. It’s fun when you’re given a brief like this, and pretty exciting seeing your work printed in a magazine.
This post falls squarely into an imaginary new-to-me category, as it’s apparently been around since 2004 and I’ve never ever seen it before. I’m not sure how, I’m convinced I’ve looked at stuff related to Liechtenstein in the last 6 years, and this is exactly the kind of thing I like. So yes, the other day I was emailed a link to the portal of The Principality of Liechtenstein with a message to have a look at their ‘new’ brand (I think my correspondent may have seen it here on Creative Roots). I’m wondering whether the brand just hasn’t been promoted much — or maybe I’ve just missed it. That website doesn’t do it any favours that’s for sure. Anyway, big surprise: it turns out the brand was designed by Wollf Olins, so I can only assume that their work from 2004 must predate whatever decision they made to push ugly and huh? as brand virtues, as this is rather lovely.
The type is essentially made from dots (an idea I love) and this presents a nice twist on that, using stages on a morph between a flower and a star, theoretically including a circle as one of the steps. According to the brand documentation, the flower represents the agrarian roots of the Principality, the circle is the financial side and the star is ‘industry’. I’m a little unconvinced by that, as I’m pretty sure that industry wasn’t the endpoint in Liechtenstein’s development, nor was finance merely a step along the way. Perhaps it’s best thought of as a device to indicate the range of things you can find in Liechtenstein. Regardless of that, it makes for a pretty story and an attractive logo. The overall effect is of something encrusted in diamonds (or at least Swarovski crystals), though looking at it again I’m reminded a little of early-20th Century theatre illuminations, the old ‘name in lights’ thing. Certainly the associations are of glamour and wealth, which seems to suit the Principality just fine.
The crown is a nice touch as well, and if I’m honest was what caught my eye at first — one of the perils of using a crown as your own logo I guess. Again, as is apparently unavoidable with country branding, the elements of the crown have particular meaning related to aspects of how Liechtenstein would like you to think it thinks of itself as having (sorry). Made of symbols for nature, dialogue, finance, industry and rootedness the crown works well and forms a recognisable little device when used on its own or with the abbreviated LI mark. The component symbols are used across brochures and other materials as a rather refreshingly retro pattern. I doubt I’m alone in being reminded of 1970s wallpaper, but all in all it works well and compliments the other decorative elements — the flowers, mountains, trees and (especially) that nice illustration of Vaduz Castle.
Original image from LIFE.
Here’s a nice topical post for St. Valentine’s Day. I just read about this fun project over on Brand New: Redesigning Valentine’s Day. Studio 360 came up with the idea, following on from previous ‘challenges’ to redesign Christmas Day and the Gay Freedom Flag. I normally like reading things like this because of the fresh thinking and the usually interesting return to first principles as a place to start, but this feels a bit flat. Brand New give a list of positives and negative aspects of Valentine’s Day, and they have some interesting ideas, but if this was a branding brief, I’d start with a list of brand aims, what we want to achieve:
To go with the brand aims, you want to see what’s wrong with the existing brand:
So what did Brand New come up with? A cross, essentially, a cross that sort of looks like a V. Made from the diagonal axes of the heart symbol, curved a bit to soften them up, and vertically orientable to indicate availability, it’s iconic and reasonably flexible, and the suggested application on Facebook and the like is pretty nice. The thing is, with those colours it really reminds me of the brands for the Pink Ribbon Campaign and Breakthrough Breast Cancer. If I saw this symbol without knowing its origins, I’d assume it was part of the branding for one of these two charities, and given that Valentine’s isn’t serious, and breast cancer is, this is a problem. Also, it’s too reliant on accurate reproduction of those gentle curves. In most people’s hands it’ll just be a plain ‘X’, a symbol of affection certainly, but not quite the heartfelt romantic love you’re trying to get across. So as much as I respect Armin and Bryony, I think this symbol is a dud. It’s too serious, too cold, too (sorry) dull. It’s based on diagonals across a heart, so it’s based on a heart. Why not use a heart symbol then?
And this is the root of it. We already have a set of well-recognised, simple, straightforward symbols we use to indicate romance and love, and we have a very flexible brand palette, ranging from rose pink to carmine red. The biological (and anatomical) associations with the colour are pretty obvious, and happily elicit a strong emotional response of exactly the sort we’re looking for with Valentine’s Day. No other colour does the job; for example even if Tiffany Blue is a welcome sight for some on Valentine’s Day, it’s not the colour that people will ever associate with love, just merely one of the benefits of it.
So, let’s look at the symbols of love and Valentine’s Day, then. What do we have?
Hearts on everything! This surely is the main thing everyone associates with Valentine’s Day. It’s simple, obvious, easy to draw, recognisable, and even has a kind of logic to it. It may not be a perfect image of a human heart, but it’s close enough — the way it’s usually drawn, it’s round, plump, healthy, it’s a symbol of fullness, of comfort, of abundance. It’s even the symbol Armin and Bryony started with to create their cross, so why gild the lily?
The god of erotic love, we all recognise Cupid; the winged, plump little boy carrying a bow and arrow. These days he’s pretty much interchangeable with the legions of generic winged babies floating around with ribbons, hearts, garlands of flowers and the rest. They’re often called cherubs, but these aren’t the four-winged, four-faced, ninth-rank angels from the Bible at all, so while there’s not going to be much confusion, you can call them putti. Whatever you call them, they’re often depicted doing something slightly mischievous; Cupid represents the impulsive and childish nature of love. He is anything but serious, he is newborn love personified. In a literal sense too, he represents that ultimate product and beneficiary of love - the child.
What better symbol of romantic love than the genitals of a plant? I guess a picture of our own organs would be considered a little forward and might embarrass the waiter at that nice restaurant you’re at. People give all sorts of flowers on Valentine’s Day, but it’s the rose, the red rose that’s become the ultimate gift of love. It’s the richness of colour, the fullness of the shape of the flower, the heady scent, they’re beautiful and inspire our senses. They’re also a bit pricey around Valentine’s Day, so to be cynical for a moment, they say, “Look, you’re worth me shelling out for these things, even if they are going to be dead tomorrow”.
Chocolates, sweets, a nice meal – a gift of food has been a tangible sign of love for as long as we can tell. It has to be something rich and indulgent, preferably sweet, uncommon and yes, expensive. In the past, honey was the acme of sweets, to get at it you usually had to kill the hive (and face the angry bees), and that made it much, much more expensive. It’s no accident that we have a honeymoon (not exactly an everyday occurrence) and that the promised land was described as a land of milk and honey. Giving a gift of honey to your beloved showed that you were willing to spend money on them, and that you had it to spend. Commercialisation is hardly new when it comes to love.
I think the branding of St Valentine’s Day is pretty much perfect. It fulfils everything it needs to do. Sure, it can be tasteless and crass, but it can be refined and beautiful too. You’ve four symbols with which to express your love, the abstract heart, the figurative cupid, the symbolic flowers and the tangible gifts of food, and you have a colour scheme you can use to brand any additional gifts and accessories, lingerie, wines, foods, lighting, and so on — you can simply do whatever you want with them.
Valentine’s Day is an incredibly democratic event; the barriers are low, the incentive to be creative high, and the rewards of success extraordinary.
And, of course, you can refuse to have anything to do with it and grumble about all these grinning idiots facehugging all over the damn place and upsetting the horses. Clearly, that’s the sensible opinion, held by all right-thinking people, which, I guess, is the point.
Thursday 11th Feb 2010
There’s quite a few things I’ve been meaning to post about lately. One of them is this post by FPO on Siquis’ annual gift to their clients — a bottle of wine — but more specifically, the label. It’s a nice idea, every year a different designer gets to design the wine label, and this year’s designer, Greg Bennett, focussed on optimism — the old question, is the glass half full or half empty? Of course, with the ‘full’ side of the glass being a cutout that you can (theoretically) see the wine through, and reversed, if you want to see it you’ll end up pouring out some wine, thereby filling your glass. Of course, that assumes you’ve opened the bottle (and have a glass), which I guess is the point — it’s a subtle way of saying, “drink me”.
Saturday 30th Jan 2010
Related to the previous post, I’ve also found this collection of stamp designs. There are a lot here from the Mid Century Modern aesthetic too, including this beautiful Israeli stamp celebrating the Hebrew Writers Guild. I love the irregularity of the numerals, the complex detail in the design, and the pleasing visual metaphor:
In case you’re wondering, yes, I do like a lot of the Israeli stamp designs, but it’s not an exclusive thing; I like stamps from Poland, travel brochures, emergency banknotes and commercial packaging too.
Saturday 30th Jan 2010
Browsing Grain Edit earlier I saw a sidebar link to the Mid Century Modern - Sticker, Label + Stamp Club on Flickr. The title describes it pretty well, but with 1804 items (as of writing) the scope of the collection is pretty breathtaking. I sometimes wonder at all the collections of mid-century stuff online, there’s a hell of a lot of it out there and I enjoy finding new collections like this, but will I tire of it at some point? Perhaps it’s old enough now so that most of the crap to have been edited out — long composted in landfills or left to crumble in attics and the backs of garages — and what we’re seeing is genuinely timeless, quality design. I certainly hope that’s what it is. For now, I’m happy to have found this collection, and even happier to have the time to spend tracing a few things, like this Israeli stamp illustrating the story of Jonah and The Whale:
I didn’t fancy leaving it all as flat colour — much of the appeal here comes from the simplicity of the printing, especially the visible halftoning — so I took the shapes I’d made for the two tones of black and used Vectoraster* to create the halftones, and I’m quite pleased with the result. Illustrator wasn’t though; my attempt at doing halftones for the pinks crashed it pretty comprehensively.
* Suggested to me by several people in response to this article.
Sunday 24th Jan 2010
Andy Polaine recently tweeted a link to this video on David Airey’s site about Hatch Show Print, a letterpress shop established in 1879 in Nashville, Tennessee, which is still operating. The manager, Jim Sherraden, has strong views on how to run the shop, with a motto of “preservation through production”, the idea being that all the equipment, all the blocks, everything, is still used regularly, even if it’s for one print. Sherradden regards the shop as a living museum; everything is letterpress, and done by hand, and interestingly:
we don’t introduce new typefaces because I don’t want to pollute the integrity of the archive.
I’m glad someone is doing this. I’m glad that this style, so American, is being maintained, that these wood blocks are being used for printing and not for decorating someone’s wall, and that these presses are still operating and being maintained. I’m glad someone’s doing this, because I don’t think I’d want to. I know I’d find myself craving new typefaces, screenprinting, digital print, variety. So yes, I’m glad someone’s doing this. Someone else.
These posters by Ross Berens are beautiful. I’d love to see them higher resolution, and on nice paper, printed with archival inks, and yes, pretty much on my wall. They’re of all nine of the planets and their moons we knew before 2006*, with various details of their atmospheres, orbits and other features displayed using a range of infographic styles. They remind me of the posters and books I had as a child, but of far higher quality — these look like something you’d get from NASA itself, or today, the Science Museum. Lovely things.
* Yes, poor Pluto.
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