Archive for July, 2011

Gifts of the Gods

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

Mary Blair, detail, Thunder Mesa study, 1970

When you are a designer of any kind, interior, graphic, industrial, whatever, you receive really awful gifts. This sounds horrible and ungrateful. It’s the gifts your parents, grandparents, and cousins give you. We’ve all been in the situation when you’re given a lovely gift wrapped in the “cool” wrapping paper from the Container Store. When you discover it’s a remarkably over-designed swoopy lady-shaped wine corkscrew in lime green, you must express surprise and incredible happiness. It’s assumed that, as a designer, you must like the groovy designed things. I bypass this problem by telling my family to focus on gifts of cactus and American flags.

I did, however, receive one of my best gifts for my birthday this year. The Disney Gallery at Disneyland is holding an exhibition of Mary Blair. The studies for the lost attraction, Thunder Mesa, are truly genius. And the renderings for the Grand Canyon Concourse tiles are possibly the best color palette ever conceived. These two birthday gifts are now in my kitchen. I considered putting them downstairs in the rumpus room so they wouldn’t fade. That would be no fun. And that’s a bad path. Soon I will be closing all the blinds, draping furniture, and storing art in a dark space, like my grandparents.


Mary Blair, Thunder Mesa study, 1969

Mary Blair, detail, Grand Canyon Concourse study, 1969

Mary Blair, detail, Grand Canyon Concourse study, 1969

All the joy that love can bring

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

Kenneth Dierck, ceramic relief sculpture, Primavera, 1965

If you’ve ever seen the movie, The Sandpiper, you will recall Elizabeth Taylor playing an artist living at the beach at Big Sur. She spends her time making abstract seascape kinds of paintings. Her studio is cluttered with driftwood-like art. It sounds like fun to live at the beach on the California coast, feel moody, and collect driftwood. It must have been a wonderful time in 1965 when poor artists could buy beach houses and wander the dunes. In 1954, the Pasadena Art Museum held the first of a series of exhibitions celebrating design in California. Graphic design wasn’t included, and there seemed to be a prevalence of handcrafted ceramics, and woody furniture. It was all very natural in a California eco-friendly pre-hippie way. Of course, now I would love to own some of these items. Or I could move to the beach and begin making ceramics and driftwood mobiles.


Donald Gerds, Teresa Woodward, Jean Ray Laury, Ruth Law, Gere Kavanaugh, toys, 1964

Evelyn Ackerman, finger puppets, 1964

Mabel Hutchison, wood gallery doors, 1964

Ellamarie Wooley, enamel panel, Summer, 1965

Svetozar Radakovich, child death trap, 1965

Joyce Aiken, Jean Ray Laury, headboards, 1965

Kay Whitcomb, enamel on copper panel, Le Roi I, 1965

So Fine

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

Dinah's Fried Chicken bucket

Yesterday, the office surprised me with lunch from Dinah’s Chicken. We’ve covered this before, but I’m obsessed with the Dinah’s bucket. It is the most incredible piece of packaging design in the world. Herbert Bayer be damned, that bucket kicks ass. Maybe I love it because it justified decisions we made when we designed Mr. Cecil’s Ribs. We did this before we were aware of the remarkable Dinah’s bucket. Noreen was the creative lead. I love how she combined a southern decorative vernacular with minimalism. Some may think it lacking in high-end classic aesthetics, but it’s a rib restaurant, not The Four Seasons. Which leads to the Dinah’s bucket. It’s a fried chicken joint in Glendale, and the bucket doesn’t pretend to be anything else. How often can you truly say, “So many typefaces, so little space,” and be correct?

So true

Script and wonky, happy together

Frying pans in frying pans

When polka dots work

Flower type and frying pans

Mr. Cecil's Ribs website

Mr. Cecil's Ribs menu

Mr. Cecil's Ribs menu

Car Trouble

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

Today is my birthday, so it seemed fitting to post something from the year of my birth, 1964. Yes, 1964 had the New York World’s Fair, Mary Poppins, LBJ’s landslide election, and the arrival of the Beatles at JFK. But more importantly, Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte was released. This was a follow-up to the hugely successful Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. Bette Davis plays an aged southern debutante who is nuts. Olivia de Havilland is her kind and gentle cousin who has come to care for her. After de Havilland throws the back-woods maid, Agnes Moorehead, down the stairs. It becomes clear she’s not so gentle.

Charlotte is great to watch if you need tips on life. If the maid is to annoying, shove her down the stairs. If you are driving and your passenger won’t stop yammering, pull over and smack them senseless. I won’t ruin the rest of the film, but there are many other great suggestions including how to use an ax properly, what to do with heavy planters on the balcony, and how to dress after driving a relative insane.


The Big Valley of curly type

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

Nothing says fun like Helvetica

Doyald Young inscribed one of his books to me with this phrase, “To Sean, a friend, classicist, and typophile.” I take this is a compliment. I hope Doyald didn’t mean classicist as a bad sense of class distinctions. Perhaps at his dinner, I shouldn’t have insisted his maid not look me in the eye. I appreciate this compliment, and consider myself fairly traditional typographically. I have friends who have taken their children to some of Paris, London, and Rome for cultural education. They visit the Louvre; take classes in pasta making, and tour private collections. I’d like to say I did the same, hence my refined sense of classical typography. But my cultural influences were born in a small cow town in northern Nevada, and a ranch with endless volumes of National Geographic and Nevada magazine.

As I grew older, I went through that bad phase, when I rejected all of that. I moved to New York, only used a handful of classic fonts, the finest papers, and sat at only the right dinner parties. Dumb. I know now that the best dinner parties are the wrong kind of dinner parties. What fun is it until someone is in tears, something breaks, or a fight starts? And I rediscovered my low-end cultural influences. Curly type, bad silhouettes, odd western typefaces, and terrible photography are much more fun.

Energy makes the world go around

a fine piece of information graphics, 1970

groovy Los Alamos logo, 1971

More curly type is never enough, 1971

Curly type detail

More curly type, whoo hoo

Wonderful typography, odd meaningless photo, 1970

Harvey's ad, much like Small World ad, 1969

It's a Small World record, 1964