Archive for the ‘People’ Category

E’ una buona forchetta

Monday, December 8th, 2014
John Alcorn, Evolution by Design: Stephen Alcorn and Marta Sironi, 2014

John Alcorn, Evolution by Design: Stephen Alcorn and Marta Sironi, 2014

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.

 

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John Alcorn, Evoultion by Design, by Stephen Alcorn and Marta Sironi, 2014

John Alcorn, Evoultion by Design, by Stephen Alcorn and Marta Sironi, 2014

John Alcorn in Santa Croce, 1973 (Courtesy of Stephen Alcorn).jpg

John Alcorn in Santa Croce, 1973 (Courtesy of Stephen Alcorn)

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Frozen

Thursday, December 4th, 2014
Blake Little Preservation, Sean Adams, designer, 2014

Blake Little Preservation, Sean Adams, designer, 2014

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.”

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Obsessed

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014
Ken Briggs, Left, 1950s

Ken Briggs, Left, 1950s

 

Recently, a young designer met with me and talked about obsession. “I’m worried it’s wrong, but I get obsessed about something and can’t stop,” she said. She wasn’t talking about Justin Bieber or heroin. She gave the example of string art. “I can’t stop looking for it online and want to learn how to do it.” Who doesn’t?” was my reply.

I don’t know where she heard that being obsessed was bad. Sure, if you’re stalking someone and build a shrine with sacrifices for them you may have a problem. But I’ve been working on my OCD family tree for years and never tire of it. Paula Scher makes wonderful paintings of maps. Marian Bantjes works with pattern. Massimo Vignelli couldn’t get enough Bodoni. Being obsessed is part of the job.

Ken Briggs was a British designer responsible for many of the beautiful posters for the National Theatre in London. Clearly, Briggs was obsessed with the New Typography, inspired after seeing a copy of Josef Müller Brockmann’s Neue Grafik. The posters relentlessly use Helvetica, golden section proportions and grids. But, Briggs took the rigid rules and tweaked them with surprising color choices and offbeat photographic solutions. He added a dry British wit to a sterile approach.

Briggs didn’t do this once, or for a couple of months. He did it over and over and over. And thank God for that obsession. The lesson here, obsession makes perfection.

 

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Shooting the Tube

Thursday, October 9th, 2014
LeRoy Grannis, 1969

LeRoy Grannis, 1969

There is a huge difference between a dull photograph of Yosemite Valley and an Ansel Adams photo. Adams didn’t photograph Yosemite Valley, he shot the weather in the valley.

In the same way, there is a lot of bad surfing photography. It’s the same shot over and over, someone tube-riding shot from below. LeRoy Grannis‘ photos, however, are good, really good, surfing photos. They are not the same shot over and over. Beside the obvious issues of lighting, composition, color, and content, Grannis’ images work because they are not photos of surfing. He photographs the people surfing. The images are about culture and community. They objectively depict the surf community in the 1960s and 70s. This separates the work from traditional sports photography. The action is the backdrop to the individuals in the frame.

They also work because everyone is super groovy, even the elderly spectators with bitchin’ sunglasses.

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Carleton Watkins, Yosemite Valley, 1881

Carleton Watkins, Yosemite Valley, 1881

Ansel Adams, Yosemite Valley, 1942

Ansel Adams, Yosemite Valley, 1942

 

Twelve Inches of Pleasure

Saturday, August 23rd, 2014
Roland Young, Joan Baez: Where are you now, my son? album cover

Roland Young, Joan Baez: Where are you now, my son? album cover

Roland Young

Roland Young

I’m currently writing a new course for Lynda.com, Fundamentals of Graphic Design History. You’d think this would be easy. I know the history, have the images, and am so old I knew Guttenberg personally. But condensing all of the Bauhaus into a three-minute format and making sure it doesn’t sound like, “Bueller, Bueller, anyone?” is tricky. It’s a great challenge and fun.

When I started writing about design in the 1970s, I kept circling around album covers. The emotional impact of these artifacts is extraordinary. Sure, there was great corporate identity and typography at the time and more than enough to discuss with those alone. But when I mention a specific album, people light up. “Oh, I stared at The Tubes cover for hours trying to figure out how it worked.” or “I kept the Frampton cover on the top of my pile of records just to see it when I woke up every morning.

When I went to college, Roland Young was one of my teachers. I was 19 and knew everything. On the first day, when I realized that Roland was responsible for a big part of the record covers I loved, I was impressed. And that’s not easy for an asshole 19 year-old. Today, Roland is a good friend. I took over his Communication Design 1 class at Art Center and still hear from almuni, “Wow, when I had Roland for that class my life changed.” My students say, “You were funny.”

I recently discovered his cover for Joan Baez, Where are you now, my son?. This cover may seem unassuming and quiet, but it’s masterful. The sharp typography with the confidence to be just what it is and the texture of the grainy image is contrast at its best. The image of Baez that speaks to the object of a printed photograph is about a moment in time and intimacy. The Smiths tried this later with some covers, but the original is still my favorite.

Roland’s body of work and career, from working with Lou Danziger to art director to teacher, is immense and impossible to show without a major book. Publishers, publishers, anyone?.

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