People often ask me to explain how I choose colors on a project. “You’re so good with color,” they say, “What is your process?” My process is to liberally take color palettes from anywhere. Some call it stealing, I consider it appropriation.
I have a collection of crocheted hangars my grandmother made. I don’t use them because I’m too OCD and all the hangars in the house must be the exact same white plastic or wood version. But I do love the crochet hangars. The colors are wonderful. So I made a color palette out of them. It’s not high design. It’s not a careful exploration of values and tones ala Johannes Itten. It’s a palette from 1970s yarn.
I’m impressed at how many of these my grandmother, Oma, made. She was an avid crocheter and made many afghans, hats, and sweaters. I don’t understand the afghans. Since they are made with big crochet holes, they don’t really keep anyone warm. And as much as I admire Oma’s fortitude and talent, I was never a big fan of receiving a crocheted sweater. They aren’t really hip in the 6th grade.
It could have been worse, 1970s crocheted clothing is far worse than any bad gift you will ever receive. The next time you complain because Aunt Bess gave you hideous patterned sweater, be thankful it isn’t a rust and mauve crochet caftan.
I planned on doing a post today to rant about bad clients. Sure there are some that were indecisive or unclear, but I can only think of one who was someone I’d love to run into, when I’m driving and he was walking. Then I looked through Stephen Alcorn and Marta Sironi’s book, John Alcorn: Evolution by Design. The ranting concept seemed small and petty compared to the vastness of the Alcorn work.
I’m not opposed to small and petty, but each spread is breathtaking. Steven Heller calls Alcorn the 4th Beatle of Graphic Design. He was the youngest (21) member of Push Pin Studios in 1956. His work with Push Pin and Lou Dorfsman at CBS is smart, sophisticated, and elegant. He never succumbed to a “cutesy-pie” approach common to illustration in the 1950s. As he matured as a designer, the work takes on layers of sensuality. There is no restrictive diet here; the shapes, images, and typography are rich and full.
This maximalism expanded when Alcorn moved to Italy. After 1971, the illustrations are a feast of vibrant and complex forms with pleasure and passion, like good Italian cooking. The work is a reminder of the joy in design. It reinforces the good parts, not the murderous tendencies and anger management problems, but creative expression and love of craft.
You know how teachers are always saying, “I love teaching, the students teach me as much as I teach them.”? It’s true. Yes, in a high-falutin’ idealistic way, but usually in odd and unexpected knowledge. This week, I learned that raping an old person is called “grape” after “grandparent rape”. I learned that I could turn off that annoying double click isolate feature in Illustrator. And I learned the worse thing a young man can say to a woman is, “Make me a sandwich.” I don’t know why. I’d be happy to make someone a sandwich, it doesn’t seem that egregious.
The absolute most exciting piece of information was lingscars.com.. Nicole Jacek pointed me to this site ages ago, but I lost it. My students in Type Design 5 found it for me. I’m sure I’m behind the curve on this one. Everyone already probably knows about it, but humor a square designer who spends time looking at the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs collection. Lingscars.com is the most incredible website ever designed. It has everything from singing people, a Darth Vader mask, a walking chicken, and flight attendants doing a safety demo. If that isn’t enough, the code is genius.
One of my favorite clients is Blake Little. I’ve known Blake for twenty years. He’s the first call I make when I need a remarkable photographer for a project. Blake is also able to make me look halfway decent in photographs. The upside of this is that I look good in a headshot, the downside is that someone meets me in person and says, “oh, hmm.”
A few years ago, Blake asked me to design his book, Dichotomy, followed by The Company of Men, and Manifest. I’d love to say they are incredibly challenging, but this is proof that it’s hard to go wrong with great content.
Blake’s most recent book, Preservation, is about to be released and there will be an exhibition of the work at the Kopeikin Gallery in February. Blake’s work has an inherent sense of energy. Whether it’s a piercing gaze, or coiled strength, or kinetic motion, the subjects share an intensity of power. The Preservation images have the same quality, but in this case, the energy and motion is frozen. The subjects appear to be unexpectedly trapped in amber. The result is a cross between a Rodin sculpture and frozen figures from Pompeii.
I thought I was being radically alternative to create an ultra-rigid grid and system for the typography as a counterpoint to the fluid imagery. But I have a feeling it’s an instance of a designer getting caught up in the tiny details and saying, “But don’t you see, the missing cross-bar on the ‘A’ changes the meaning entirely.”