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Monthly ArchiveMay 2012



Studio projects Monday May 21 2012 03:06 am

Lyrical posters

Another nice shorternship got us started on a project, typographic posters of favorite lyrics from favorite songs, we’ve talked about for a couple of years. It just never seemed to get to the top of our to do list. ‘Til yesterday.

Well, as it turns out my good friend Ben T is headed to GSDM in Austin, Texas, as a senior art director. He wanted to have a bit of fun via letterpress and brought along his chemical engineer friend, Chris B. We decided that we should take the opportunity to dive into the lyrics project and it didn’t take much research to come up with ZZ Top, a band Ray and Jill (both from Texas) have been into for a long, long time. So, we called up La Grange on the iPod and it is hard to miss that a-haw haw haw haw that comes up at 00:42. It was a good idea for setting the standard for any future posters in the project. Jill even wants to do a set of posters that don’t use the dictionary kinds of words so this one even got us started down that path.

Below you see the results which included two handrolled passes and one using the press for inking. The size is 14.75″ x 22.5″ and is printed on 300 gsm Somerset White.

A-haw haw haw haw to all of you from Billy Gibbons while passing through the Lead Graffiti typography filter.

So one poster down. We expect to develop a clamshell to hold maybe 25 of them. We’ll just keep throwing them in as we do them. Maybe we can sell a few individual ones ($25 + shipping sound ok?) and set aside 10 clamshells that may be done in another decade or two.

Another fun afternoon’s diversion produced spontanteously, although it did take us two afternoons to get it finished.

Studio projects Wednesday May 09 2012 12:48 pm

AIGA / Philadelphia Feedback 2012

I thought I would try to collect my thoughts about the AIGA / Philadelphia Feedback portfolio review held last night at Moore College of Art. I’ll rewrite this over the next couple of days. I’ll slowly correct the typos and perhaps provide a bit more clarity.

A note to start. I don’t think students should be worrying about if the intended target consumer will buy into the piece. It is whether a design studio, advertising agency, etc. will buy into piece as representing the student’s potential to contribute to the creative ability (versus technical) of the place. That is what you are selling. Not the product of your piece, but your ability to present that product in a way that sells your design, illustration, writing skills.

The rest will follow.

. . .

I talked to 10 or 11 students.

1. I didn’t see a lot of projects where the project itself caught my attention. Movie posters were for the standard movies. Bookcovers were for the standard books. Wine labels. Logos for small startups. Sitting here the next morning I can only remember two projects (lyric posters and an exercising app that lifted the energy of the music as you worked out) that the student seemed to invent that was really, really interesting and new. But then both of the solutions had uninspired design which was a real shame. I think they both could have been projects where that one project would have made me want to hire you. It is hard to imagine how many of the projects come from teachers that say “Design a wine label.” For the money they get to teach, they can come up with better projects than I saw, but then I only saw a few portfolios from five different schools as I remember. They all seemed strangely normal in a world where change is happening at breakneck speed. For instance, instead of just designing a wine label or a package that tries to make a crappy bottle of wine cost twice as much, design a bottle that is a matchmaker, the person (thing?) that brings the two people that are sharing it together—the eHarmony of wine labels. Maybe a label that explains all of the subtle tastes that I should be tasting as I drink it, so that after the wine, I’m a better judge of wines. When someone who knows says “The wine has a nutty taste”, what does that mean. I hope that made sense as I think it is an interesting point.

2. This is a bit self serving, but write and design and mail a THANK YOU through the United States Post Office to everyone who took time away from work or families or TV to spend an evening looking at your student work. I mean DESIGN A THANK YOU. Not an email. Something that took a few minutes out of your life. One of the best instances I spoke of this last night was suggesting that a student take a criticism I made of a piece they thought was helpful and use that as the basis for the design of the thank you. It would take them about 3 minutes to do it. What did I say that was important to you? Include that criticism in some way in the thank you so they will essentially know who it came from. Even if they can’t remember your name, make them remember the piece and remember you by your thank you. THEN MAIL IT. DO IT QUICKLY. In my opinion, if you wait 10 days, you might as well not do it. You could do those thank yous well and you’d have another page in your portfolio. You should thank everyone (same concrete way and not just an email) that ever gives you any of their time. You should even be thinking about how you can make someone give you some of their time JUST SO YOU CAN SEND A THANK YOU. Everytime. Everytime. Everytime. For the rest of your life. I am amazed at how much effort I can go to for someone and not get anything even acknowledging that I did it. And just for the record the teacher putting it together (unless it is really, really cool) and having everyone sign it is almost worse than no thank you.

NOTE: This aside was written on May 20. I’ve gotten two thank yous (one really nice and thoughtfully written). I don’t know whether to yell at the students or faculty.

3. I started my interviews last night with “What do you want to be?” I was surprised how many students couldn’t articulate that in one or two sentences. Why are you studying design or illustration or typography? Then to me your portfolio should be a body of work that will jump start you down that path. And that first piece in the portfolio should be the dessert of what should be a good visual meal.

4. Boring design work. One way I tried to makes sense of what unexpired design started with, “If the client was willing to approve this layout, how long do you think it would take me (as in Ray Nichols) to design the piece.” In most instances, no more than 5 minutes a page to pour in some type, grab an existing image and crop it and position it in a nice way. Done. 5 minutes. You have to do work that will make me, a professional designer, work hard to duplicate or equal your effort. You don’t want a portfolio that looks like student work. You want it to look like professional work. And actually you want it to look like good professional work.

Add to this any design where you use existing photography in any kind of dominant way without inflecting some of your own effort into it. Taking a photo from some magazine, cropping it into a rectangle, and gluing it down is a crime against design. NEVER USE ANYONE ELSE’S CREATIVE WORK AS YOUR OWN. Crop it in an important way. Intrude into it. Carve it. Something. Same is true for typography. If you did the piece in real life could you be sued and lose. If the answer is yes, don’t even get close to it.

5. The jugsaw puzzle syndrome. Personally I hate it when the various visual elements (illustration, piece of type, or whatever) has an imaginary fence around it that keeps anything else from intruding into or onto it. Photos on one side of the gutter—typography on the other side of the gutter. Boring. It is like the world is a two-dimensional space and the most anything can do is bump against something else (and even then most of the things have a little white border around them). Why can’t a descender descend more into the next line and then maybe split the word under it like a knife cutting through a block of cheese. One of the great things about computers is that you can layer. Do that. If you don’t there should be a really good reason why you didn’t. Intrude. Interrupt. Crowd. You have a lot of control over what stands out first by what overlaps something else. Overlap provides power to a visual element and it can make even small things dominant.

6. Business cards. Have them and give them out recklessly. I’m a letterpress printer and I HATE 8 POINT TYPE ON A BUSINESS CARD. Honestly, if you want me to write you an email so I can offer you a $40,000 a year job, don’t you think it should be easy for me to read your email address. My favorite business card I’ve ever seen was a guy’s name on the front and his email address on the back. No address. No phone number. He was the president of one the largest advertising agencies in the world. Name and email were the same size. About 18 point. The card was red and if you were in the business you knew exactly what agency (Ogilvy) he worked for. How small can I make the type? BORING. Your business card is a BILLBOARD. Act like it. And it wouldn’t hurt if you acted like you cared that I had to look through the data on it while trying to dial it on a cellphone standing out in bright sunlight.

7. The order of the portfolio is critical. I’m not sure I saw anyone that actually had what I thought was their best work first (of course, maybe I don’t know how to like the right pieces). Who do you want to be and the piece says that the absolute best should be your first piece? Your second best piece should be the last piece in your portfolio. You want to start on a good note and end on almost as good a note. Third best piece should be the second piece in your portfolio. The ones in between the second and last can likely be in most any order, but I would consider how you sequence the work. How do they tell a narrative story about who you want to be? You don’t have to group all of your editorial work together and then all of your packaging. They can move around. You can bounce back and forth between edgy and subdued work, large scale and small scale.

8. Slim down the portfolio. People, especially with iPads (which makes showing a lot of work easy), tended to show too much work. Honestly, 5 killer pieces could be enough.Now go back up and read #1. Those need to be good solutions for good projectes. My guess is that most people are hired on only 1 or 2 pieces, so clearly those must be good projects. You have to make sure the others don’t bring down the good ones. Don’t pad your portfolio with projects that don’t matter. Maybe one or two details and move on. Many people that wanted to show that an idea had legs just added 4 applications that were then too small to really see. You actually need to show ‘legs’ with a project that shows them well, and not just an idea with alternative applications. Don’t include work just because you have a lot of time invested in it. For the most part I don’t care where you put in your time. If you can do good work quickly, more power to you. Actually, good work should look easy, inevitable, almost as if, “What else could I have done?”

It is worth throwing in here how hard it is to take a piece you’ve spent a month on and then not put it in your portfolio. But if it isn’t helping to tell your story well, you have to be a surgeon and cut it out like it was a tumor.

And if you need to photograph the project (i.e. package design) it needs to be a good photograph. Use good lighting. I like them with a bit of a shadow. Look at our books in our online Lead Graffiti portfolio. And think about if you can crop off part of the thing. You don’t necessarily need to show the neck of a wine bottle. You can make it a lot larger to show off your label, if you bleed it off the top. And cutting off the top of the bottle shows some design thought, while showing it all likely doesn’t.

9. Overall piece’s concept. What is the piece about? How have you helped me figure it out? There was a lot of visually interesting work, but I just couldn’t quickly figure out how to read it. Keep in mind that if you have large type I’m going to read that first. Then my eye is at the end of those words. How do you get me to look at the next important thing? What elements were important to your story? How do you help me navigate through the piece? This often happened on posters and posters are quick pieces often viewed from some distance. It was like reading a short story where the author took all of the sentences and put them in a different order. Where do I start? Where next? Scale. Color. Position. Juxtaposition. If you want me to see and connect various elements in the piece you are going to have to put up some road signs.

10. Centering or designing a number of different projects with the same layout is a crime. There were a bunch of logos with the name of the company centered under it and they were from a lot of different schools. Keep in mind I don’t need you if all I’m going to do is center them one over the other. That will take me 2 seconds. Take me somewhere else. Marry the logo and the company name together. Concern yourself with how they would work separately. Make the pieces fit together in a surprising way. And get up every morning and say to your self, “Don’t center if you can avoid it.”

11. I also didn’t see many (I may not have seen any) complex design problems that seem like the kinds of problems normal businesses have. Little that seemed like it would take more than 2 or 3 weeks of class. I need a logo, then I need that logo applied to some places (personally I would design a logo where you could use variations of it and still identify the company) like the store front, letterhead, 3 kinds of business cards (for business meetings versus those that would sit out for the general public to pick up), and ad, a brochure, a mailing piece, an ipad. Now do all of that, but have a cohesive concept of the company and have every one of those pieces add to that story. “We sell lots of cute things.” The logo should say that (not words). The letterhead should say that. An ad should say (show) that? And I could go on and on about that. Not just the name of the company, but “We sell lots of cute things.”

Some thoughts for AIGA for next year.

Do the breakout sessions in the middle of the semester and try to help people get juiced about doing a killer portfolio before they get to the Feedback. I would have loved to have a chance to talk to several of the students two months ago. Schools might have seniors do a test run at the portfolio and invite five people to review them. Get that information BEFORE you do you portfolio.

How about an early portfolio review where they only show five pieces?

When students sign up they need to also list their schools.

15 minutes is too short I don’t care what anyone says.

Why not start the interviews at 5:00. Reviewers can get involved as they get there?

Studio projects Monday May 07 2012 01:29 pm

Gothic Condensed alphabet poster

Project: Alphabet poster

Size: 15″ x 22″

Edition: 25 posters

Production notes: Printed from handset wood & metal type on a Vandercook Universal III by Lead Graffiti, May 2012

Paper: Somerset Textured White, 250 gsm

Color runs: three handrolled runs

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A Lead Graffiti Metal Type Composition workshop went sour with two people out of three not showing up. The one person who was there had some letterpress experience, so we decided to change horses.

We had been wanting to try out this 40 line Gothic Condensed so we set out to produce an “alphabet poster” in three runs with all handrolling of the type.

We roughly laid out how we would arrange things, knowing that it would change as we moved on. We wanted a spontaneous feeling versus the normal grid layout most people do when doing one of these kinds of posters.

Brenda Ridley worked on this piece during the afternoon’s diversion.

Studio projects Saturday May 05 2012 02:07 pm

It’s a Small World page

One of the things we love about letterpress is the variety of collaborations that go on. One we’ve gotten involved with this year for the first time is a small book (5″ x 7″) entitled It’s a Small World. About 60 people got together and each produced a page (front / back). We’ve collected the entire set except for 4 issues. This year was the 58th edition.

We took the opportunity to work with an idea that had been bouncing around in our heads where you can cast multiple lines from the same line of matrices on our Intertype C4. We also like playing with punctuation and challenging the normal rules of readability.

The print was produced in 4 runs of black. It was fun printing multiple runs in the same color because it makes the outcome look much simpler than it was to produce.

The back of the piece was a story about spontaneity and creative thinking we thought the group would enjoy. Also kind of interesting that the only way you can get the book is to be one of the participants.