Archive for January, 2011

Finding Robert E. Lee

Monday, January 31st, 2011

Miley, Michael. Glass plate negative, Miley Collection, Robert E. Lee, 1869

When I went to Virginia last year for a series of speaking engagements, I spent half a day at the Virginia Historical Society. Half a day was far from enough time. I could have spent a week looking through documents and images. On one hand, walking through the exhibitions was exhilarating. On the other, it was incredibly frustrating. At each turn, I found an object or a painting of a family member or distant relative. That was the fun part. The downside was that I was alone, and it seemed odd to gasp, then grab a nearby person and say, “That thar, why that’s my great-grandpappy.” So I went about this incredible discovery with only the guards to keep me company.

I feel amazingly lucky to have so much of my family’s history intact and easy to access. I’m also glad to know that my grandmother wasn’t totally loony and making up stories. My great-great grandmother, Ocatvia Mildred White, was General Robert E. Lee’s first or second cousin. I’m not sure which since the intermarrying tended to create a tangled mess of fishing lines. My grandmother was quite proud that her Grandmama Octavia was General Lee’s god-daughter. Now I won’t go into a lengthy historical review of General Lee’s biography, but he seemed to be rather an upstanding man. One of my favorite images from the VHS is this photograph of General Lee after the Civil War. It was taken in 1869, when Lee was president of Washington College (now Washington and Lee University) in Lexington, Virginia. It’s an arresting and haunting image, with a composition that highlights a sense of isolation. It doesn’t feel heroic like other Lee images; it’s a quiet surrender.

Miley, Michael. Glass plate negative detail, Miley Collection, Robert E. Lee, 1869

My Little Town

Friday, January 28th, 2011

AdamsMorioka, Taliaferro, detail

Every once in awhile, I run into Jeff Keedy out walking his dog. I’ve known Jeff for a long, long, long time, since I was 20 years old. This week, I was thrilled to hear that The Museum of Modern Art selected Jeff’s typeface, Keedy Sans, for its permanent collection. Jeff designed Keedy Sans in 1991 and explains its concept, “Most typefaces are logically systematic; if you see a few letters you can pretty much guess what the rest of the font will look like. I wanted a typeface that would willfully contradict those expectations.”  I like living in a neighborhood with someone who walks his dog, chats about the weather, and is that smart.

There’s a multitude of incredibly talented designers making wonderful typefaces. It’s not well known, but we make typefaces also. It’s usually in the service of a specific client. We designed “Bob” for Sundance, specifically named for Robert Redford so the in-house designers could never say, “I just don’t like Bob.” We designed Taco for our friend, Larry Nicola’s restaurant, Mexico. We’ve even monkeyed with a font here and there. One of our clients at Cedars-Sinai didn’t like the numeral “1” in Sabon, and I hated the “0”. So we fixed them.

I admit I’m envious of Jeff’s abilities and conceptual approach. In the last couple of years, we’ve forced our interns to design typefaces with questionable taste. I’d love to say it’s because we’re interested in the intersection of decoration, pastiche, and legibility, but I can’t. It sounds mean, but I need them. I don’t know where, but I’ll find a home for them. Maybe I can use Octavia in all caps with swashes for body copy. And I like forcing people to do something that makes them want to go home and take a Silkwood shower.

AdamsMorioka, Taliaferro

AdamsMorioka, Weniki-nui

AdamsMorioka, Warner

AdamsMorioka, AM Sabon, the good "1" and "0"

AdamsMorioka, AM Sabon

AdamsMorioka, Taco

AdamsMorioka, Sundance

AdamsMorioka, Octavia, detail

AdamsMorioka, Octavia

AdamsMorioka, Meriwether Lewis

AdamsMorioka, Meriwether

AdamsMorioka, Johnson

AdamsMorioka, Ice House

AdamsMorioka, Emperor Norton

AdamsMorioka, Hobo Swash Italic, detail

AdamsMorioka, Hobo Swash Italic

AdamsMorioka, Bob

AdamsMorioka, Betty

The Sweetest Things in Life

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

Alvin Lustig, Victor Gruen, Barton's Bonbonniere

Alvin Lustig made some purty nifty design. Often when a print designer turns to environmental work, the result is flat designs on a wall. Lustig’s collaboration with Victor Gruen for Barton’s Barton’s Bonbonniere is a great example of his talent in spatial thinking. His solution is energetic, playful and takes advantage of the 3 dimensions from the ceiling to the floor. I can’t say I’d like to live there; it might drive me to drink. But what doesn’t?

I have friends from Brooklyn who remember Barton’s Bonbonniere as a place to visit on special occasions. Viennese immigrant Stephen Klein established Barton’s in 1938. In the 1950s, Barton’s had three kosher candy production plants in Brooklyn. Barton’s was particularly known in the Jewish community for being “the” Passover chocolate of choice. In the 1960s, the Klein family sold the business.  Barton’s name was used by several parent companies until it was discontinued in 2009. I don’t like candy, or chocolate, but I don’t like that I can’t visit Barton’s Bonbonniere

Victor Gruen, Barton's Bonbonniere, lamp

Barton's Bonbonniere candy tin

Barton's Bonbonniere, candy tin

Days of Nothing

Monday, January 24th, 2011

Currie, Nevada

I think in charts. I try to picture a chart diagramming the amount of images created by humans through history. I see an image of the earth surrounded by 100 cave paintings, and slowly adding images, with a massive jump in the last 20 years. When we needed to process film, we were more selective about the images we made. The internet has provided a place for all of us to load every digital image we make, regardless of the mundane subject matter. Since I like mundane subject matter of ordinary life, this is good.

I recently found a set of images on the Elko County Rose Garden website. I can’t remember why I was at the Elko County Rose Garden website, which is sort of like having a blackout and waking up in Tijuana, “What? How’d I end up here?” There is a section on the site of images of Currie, Nevada. Currie is a town that is for sale if you want a town. Pretty mundane and wonderful.

I’m a big fan of photographers Stephen Shore, William Eggleston, and Jeff Brouws. These Currie, Nevada photos are incredible in the same vein. I don’t know if it is intentional or accidental, but these are beautiful. I love the empty vastness, and the sense of giving-up. The compositions are wonderful, and the subject matter is beautiful. In this instance, I’m not going to decide if these images have pedigree and judge them accordingly. I’m just going to like them.

Currie, Nevada

Currie, Nevada

Currie, Nevada

Currie, Nevada

Currie, Nevada

Currie, Nevada

Currie, Nevada

Currie, Nevada

Currie, Nevada

Currie, Nevada

Happy, Happy, Golly Gee, Glad Game

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

Title card detail, Adventure Time

My friends and family are typically in awe of me. Every so often, someone approaches me and says, “You’re the nicest designer in the business.” Or a friend may read something that says that I’m the eternal optimist, always doing good for the industry. They aren’t in awe because they are impressed. As I’ve been told at family dinners, “Really? Really? People actually think you’re nice? That’s unbelievable.”

Yes, there is a side of me that tries to play the “Glad Game” from Polyanna, but I’m not a blithering idiot. I don’t walk around the world with a smile on my face and only good in my heart. I admit it here. I can be cranky. I sometimes like off-color jokes. I have a twisted sense of humor. At last year’s Academy Awards there was a salute to horror films. When a gruesome and violent scene from Halloween was played, I laughed. When Bette Davis was kicking Joan Crawford, as she lay helpless on the ground in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, I laughed. Unfortunately, I was the only person laughing. Angry glances were sent my way from others in the audience.

Therefore, it is logical that I love, love, love the title cards for Pendleton Ward’s Adventure Time. One of the absolute smartest people in the world is Fred Seibert. Yesterday, Fred sent me his new book, Original Cartoon Title Cards: From Frederator Studios (Volume 1). There are too many fantastic images to share at once, so I am starting with the Adventure Time cards. How can you not love the sad evicted characters lost in the cold, the disemboweling of a cartoon character, or the aftermath of an angry tantrum? Disturbing and wrong, yes. Genius.

Title card, Adventure Time

Title card, Adventure Time

Title card, Adventure Time

Title card, Adventure Time

Title card, Adventure Time

Title card, Adventure Time

Title card, Adventure Time