Archive for May, 2012

The Colors of the Sea

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

Here’s a trick when choosing colors: the in-between colors are always more compelling. For example, seafoam isn’t blue or green. The viewer needs to do a little work and this creates a more dynamic response. The same holds true for all other colors. I like red with a little orange. I hate flat purple, but love something a little bluer like the dense color of a blueprint. The default color swatches in Adobe Illustrator are there as a starting point. Like the circle tool, they’re boring until you do something interesting with them.

Whenever I decide to paint a room, I pull out the paint swatch book and tape different swatches to the wall. Unfortunately, they are all slightly different shades of seafoam. To my eye, they are radically different, but at the paint store they look at me like I’m crazy. The kitchen is a light seafoam, the bathrooms are all a slightly greener version, the laundry room is slightly bluer, and the living room is a tiny bit more intense. In all honesty, I’ll admit they all look like the same color on the wall. So my attention to color detail is lost on any guest.

Seafoam is one of those colors that people respond to in extremes. They either love it, or hate it and want to hurt someone. Someone once asked me at a speaking engagement what my favorite Pantone color was. I answered, “I love seafoam, PMS 318.” Years later, I found a blog written by someone in the audience who insisted PMS 318 was not seafoam, but turquoise, and I didn’t know what I was talking about. My advice is to call it whatever makes the other party happy: seafoam, turquoise, blue-green, Mount Vernon Prussian blue, swimming pool blue, or aqua.

Happy Talk

Friday, May 25th, 2012

Matthew Liebowitz, H.L. Mencken Speaking, 1958

I’ve spent a lot of time in airports and on American Airlines flights. Like everyone else on earth, I hate when people insist on a conversation. On one flight, the woman next to me talked about her affair, her husband’s affair, how hot the steward was, and why she hated her children. Another time, the flight attendant spilled an entire can of beer on my lap. She was horrified and deeply apologetic, but it was an accident so no big deal. Unfortunately, it meant flying from JFK to LAX and smelling like I was at a frat party. The guy next to me told me every story he had about spilling liquids (wow that was exciting), and then asked if I wanted some underwear from his overnight bag (oi!).

My favorite was a woman who was a famous gospel singer who was flying back from Chicago after being on Oprah. She talked about her upcoming wedding plans for three hours. After three vodka tonics, she became quite friendly and repeatedly said, “Why you are so cute. Let me give you just one kiss.” I reminded her that her fiancé was waiting to pick her up.

As obnoxious as chattering is on airplanes, it’s a good design device. Unless you implant one of those little audio chips, however, you need alternative ways to do this. I love quotation marks. I love talk bubbles. Both are incredible symbols that everyone understands, “Oh, that means someone is talking.” One of my all time favorite solutions is Matthew Liebowitz’s cover for H.L. Mencken Speaking. A single bad image of the author and an uncomfortable composition is brought to life with three pieces of simple punctuation. And, to make it even better, Mencken isn’t speaking. If he were photographed speaking, the cover would be too obvious and make us wonder what he is saying specifically and individually. The closed mouth leads us to hear all of his words.

Sean Adams, Mohawk Show 7

Bradbury Thompson, Westvaco

Doyle, Dane, Bernbach, Better Vision Institute ad

Paula Scher, Public Theater

Synergisms, protest poster, 1971

Lou Dorfsman, CBS ad, 1958

Henry Wolf, Harpers Bazaar, 1958

Gene Frederico, D. Lisner and Co.

Abram Gaines, Silence poster, 1943


Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

Alexander Gelman, 1992


When Noreen and I first started AdamsMorioka, the design du jour was busy, layered, and busier. If a poster didn’t have 32 layers, 8 spot colors, 4 varnishes and some type that had been run through a copier 10 times, it couldn’t be serious design. But, since I can’t think that much, we made posters in 2 colors with no layers and easy to read Franklin Gothic. You can imagine the love that we received for this. I recall meeting a well-known designer famous for this type of complex work who refused to shake my hand. Jeez, you’d think we were kidnapping and drowning kittens.

Fortunately, we had some champions who made up for the angry stares. Our great friend, Alexander Gelman, was one of the first designers we met who shared our idea. Gelman takes simplicity and minimalism to its most extreme place. The result is work that is aggressive and almost assaulting in its clarity. Simple does not mean dull or conservative. When I need to make this argument clear, I point to Gelman’s work.

He’s just as direct in person. One year, we all went to the Sundance Film Festival together. A particularly annoying person in our group would not shut up. All day and night she told us what to do, what to see, where to park, and what was good and bad. Finally, Gelman simply said, “No. You are wrong.” This worked; she stopped shouting commands at us. As you see, simplicity in design is good, and simplicity in language is better.

Alexander Gelman, Poetry Reading

Alexander Gelman, Subraction, 1999

Alexander Gelman, UCLA Extension, 2003

AdamsMorioka, UCLA Extension, 1998

AdamsMorioka, AIGA Capital Campaign, 1999

Gilbert Lesser, Equus, 1966

Stano Masár: The Global History of Art as road signs

Ikko Tanaka, UCLA, 1981

Shigeo Fukuda, 1968

Yusaku Kamekura

Shigeo Fukuda, The Marriage of Figaro, 1981

The Opposite of Nothing

Friday, May 18th, 2012

Jessica Hische,The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Barnes and Noble Classics, 2011

When I was in college, I rigorously adhered to neat and minimal aesthetics. “Sean,” Lorraine Wild said, “Try loosening up. Do something that isn’t polite.” Lou Danziger told me, “Do something ugly.” Since I couldn’t understand this, they suggested I take a year and study in the fine art department. Theoretically, this would lead to a creative epiphany and I would be flinging depressing paint colors around a room. It all started fine, and I made some big expressive paintings of Patsy Cline. On the next iteration, I added text to create an image/text narrative. Then I decided the image wasn’t necessary, so I painted only the text. Finally, I didn’t like the hand-made expressive quality of the text; it seemed forced. So I typeset the text in 8 point Bodoni and mounted it to the canvas. By the end of the year, I had come full circle and was creating minimal type driven work.

I am in awe of those who can work with complexity and decoration and maintain a sense of rigor. So often, this approach can lead to something sentimental and feel like an overwrought Get Well card. Like all good design, a sense of joy is critical. Jessica Hische’s covers for Barnes and Noble Classics are a great example of this. The intricacy of detail is countered by a clear sense of order. The result is something that has an emotional connection to the viewer. You may not have owned a worn copy of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but Jessica’s cover looks like the one you would have had next to your bed. The reality of something is never as important as our memory. These covers tap into our own narratives and remind us that books are treasured. I also appreciate that Jessica said I was like a “really cool Uncle,” as opposed to “my ancient grandfather.”

Jessica Hische, Barnes and Noble Classics, 2011

Jessica Hische, Wuthering Heights, Barnes and Noble Classics, 2011

Jessica Hische, Dracula, Barnes and Noble Classics, 2011

Jessica Hische, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Barnes and Noble Classics, 2011

Jessica Hische, Jane Eyre, Barnes and Noble Classics, 2011

Jessica Hische, Pride and Prejudice, Barnes and Noble Classics, 2011

Leaving My Behind in the Past

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

previously Adlai Stevenson, Life magazine 1965

I’ve been thinking about the lyrics to the B-52s song, The Detour Thru Your Mind: I need to leave my past behind. I need to leave my behind in the past. Whenever I work on my historical self-portrait project, I think, “I have to stop this. It’s disturbing and points to insanity. I need to leave the past and move into the 21st century.” Then, I find a new technique to simulate photo grain in 1916 and start again. Some of you may be saying, “This is the most vain thing I have ever seen. How could someone be so self-absorbed?” Others might say, “Sad. Very sad when I mind is lost.”

You know how trans-gendered people feel like they are in the wrong body? I feel like I’m in the wrong time. Working on these images is a small attempt to place myself back in the right temporal place. Of course, I only use family photos. Otherwise it wouldn’t make any sense. I don’t want a different family. And, frankly, it looks fun to spend life summering in Newport and doing the European tour for four months each year, or running for president, or starting an artist colony in Big Sur during the depression. So, for your enjoyment, like watching a reality show when someone slowly goes mad, here is the latest batch.

previously President Benjamin Harrison, 1896

previously Nicholas Meriwether Lewis, 1840

previously Paul Owen Flint 1915

previously Walter Taliaferro, 1913

previously Nicholas Longworth II with Alice Roosevelt, 1926

Harvard swimming, 1916

previously Chester Gavin Arthur III, by Brett Weston, 1935

South Pacific, 1943

previously Hal Taliaferro, 1943

previously Wilbur Walker, 1954

previously Admiral E.R. Zumwalt, 1969