The Stress of Decisions

People feel stress when they are pressed to make a decision. "Do I go that way, or the other way?" One of the tricks at Disneyland and Walt Disney World is the use of the hub. That's the area in front of the castle. Everything radiates out from here, so at any point the guest knows they can simply return to the hub. This takes away the stress of decision making with no information. I can go left toward the Mark Twain Riverboat or right to the Rocket Jets. Neither is scary.

The Hub

In addition, the parks are chock full of maps. Not giant directories that become jammed with people trying to find J. Crew, but personal maps that fit in your hand.

Its' time to revisit the world  Disneyland and Walt Disney World maps. I love that there are so many different types. Some rely on an illustration to give a simplified overview, while others detail every building. The ones that fail are, no pun intended, goofy. They treat the audience as if they were all three-year olds needing to add funny characters and cute rounded cartoon structures.

The most successful are works of art. They show clear and recognizable buildings, but never pander to the lowest common denominator. Don't pander.

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Chair of the undergraduate and graduate Graphic Design Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for LinkedIn Learning/Lynda.com He is the only two term AIGA national president in AIGA’s 100 year history. In 2014, Adams was awarded the AIGA Medal, the highest honor in the profession. He is an AIGA Fellow, and Aspen Design Fellow. He has been recognized by every major competition and publication including; How, Print, Step, Communication Arts, Graphis, AIGA, The Type Directors Club, The British Art Director’s Club, and the Art Director’s Club. Adams has been exhibited often, including a solo exhibition at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Adams is an author of multiple magazine columns, and several best-selling books. He has been cited as one of the forty most important people shaping design internationally, and one of the top ten influential designers in the United States. Previously, Adams was a founding partner at AdamsMorioka, whose clients included The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Disney, Mohawk Fine Papers, The Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Richard Meier & Partners, Sundance, and the University of Southern California.

E' una buona forchetta

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.

 

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

Refined Manners

Here's one of the differences between being a surgeon and a designer: surgeons are required to be meticulous and have an OCD level to details. If they are, in most probability, people live and have healthy outcomes. Designers are required to be meticulous and have an OCD level to details also. If we are, nobody except another OCD designer notices. The upside is that bad word-spacing doesn't kill people.

I can spend hours kerning the crap out of a headline. Does anyone apart from me care, or notice? Probably not. We zoom in to a gazillion percent to make sure a point is absolutely precise, obsess over the difference between Adobe Bodoni and Monotype Bodoni. But of we didn't, we'd be slobs and hack designers, and it wouldn't be as much fun.

Herb Lester Associates produces a wonderful collection of guides to different cities. Let's face it, most city guides look like the Map to the Stars Homes. The Herb Lester guides are not only pertinent to travelers who prefer something more interesting than mobbed, but are detailed to death. Every tiny piece of type has been considered. The illustrations are wonderful and change from map to map. I know the designers were working on a the files at 400%, and it shows. Even the packing tape on the envelope is a work of art (which I plan to steal).

In this instance, I noticed. Every thoughtful and beautifully crafted detail adds to the overall extraordinariness of the guides. The lesson here, go ahead and fine tune the shit out of the details. If only one person in the world sees it, you've succeeded.

Two Heads are Better Than One

Years ago, we designed a manual for Hanna-Barbera. We wanted to show an example of a shirt using Hanna-Barbera characters such as Fred Flintstone. But there was a standing rule that an “A” character such as Fred Flintstone always was accompanied by a “B” and “C” character. I put Fred’s head on the shirt and surrounded him with Hong Kong Phooey’s head and Ma Kettle’s head. To me it looked great. Noreen pointed out it looked like a multiple personality disorder, or The Three Faces of Fred Flintstone.

I love illustration that uses multiple heads. Even better is illustration that has things growing out of people’s heads. I understand the need to convey multiple characters and a scene. Both of these devices do this. I like the idea of someone else’s head growing out of your own like a mutant twin. This was a popular device in the 1970s and 80s. Now think about this, it’s not easy to make it look as effortless and make sense. Both Bob Peak and Richard Amsel were masters of this. I urge all movie poster designers to return to this device. I want to see a poster of the Twilight characters all growing out of the side of one person’s head.

 

Richard Amsel, Woodstock, illustration

 

 

An Encyclopedic Photographic Memory of Ephemera

I enjoy accusing others of illiteracy. “Don’t you people read?” I ask my students. “If you’d read the copy, you’d understand why the image works,” I say to clients, but in a nicer way. “For the love of God put down that iPhone and get a book,” I tell my niece and nephews. Then I find I am as guilty of the same sin.

I have a book about the 1964 World’s Fair. I’ve never read it. I do, however, know each and every illustration, color palette, and photograph in the book. Who knows what it is about? I’m too distracted by the tiny drawings on divider pages. To make matters worse, I deconstruct the meaning of the imagery. And I make odd connections that require an encyclopedic photographic memory of ephemera. Fortunately, I have this. For example, the overview of the Fair is surprisingly similar to the layout of Epcot, which is a sort of permanent world’s fair (or beer walk, depending on your interest.) Finally, the color palette for the fair preview images is exactly the same as the preview book for Walt Disney World, published a few years later. Coincidence? You be the judge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Putting the Gloss onto Glossy

Lately, I’m missing shiny. After two decades of adhering to the flat world, I’ve begun to admire the shiny stuff. For years, clients asked for shiny and sparkly type in three dimensions on every motion design project. Of course, we didn’t do that. We took the opposite point of view, focusing on the simple forms and lack of ostentation. So, why now, am I drawn to airbrush illustration of the 1970s and 80s? Everything in these images is so clean. Even skin is glossy because it’s so pure.

I assume the crystal clear, high gloss approach was a reaction against the earthy and organic design of the 1970s. Much of the airbrush work was done for the music industry at the time. The crunchy political music was replaced by slick disco that celebrated hedonism. So it makes sense that the illustration would also celebrate a slick veneer and present sex, fast cars, and youth as the subjects.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided that our Eames conference table at the studio was too matte. Somebody had repeatedly cleaned it with 409 or Windex. That’s not so good with wood. So I brought in my trusty wood oils and wax. After one application of oil, the table still seemed dry and flat, so I flooded the surface with it. “I’ll let this sit overnight and soak in,” I thought. Unfortunately, I didn’t count on someone using the conference room for a meeting. Since I am one of the owners, I couldn’t be fired. But, if I weren’t, oh boy I’d be out the door fast. People don’t like oil soaking onto their shirts and presentations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Artists and Models

It frightens me when students don’t know Norman Rockwell. Before Norman Rockwell became America’s favorite illustrator, J.C. Leyendecker held that position. So, for those of you who are yearning for important illustration history, here it is:

Leyendecker is best known for his Arrow Collar ads and Saturday Evening Post covers. Leyendecker, however, is largely forgotten outside the illustration community. The story behind this is an untapped mini-series.

Leyendecker immigrated to America in 1882. He went to the Chicago Art Institute and later moved to New York with his brother and sister. In 1903, he met Charles Beach, who became his favorite model and lover. Beach was the Arrow Collar man, and received fan mail from across the country. Leyendecker reached the height of his success during the 1920s. Leyendecker and Beach lived lavishly, hosting scandalous parties with New York’s social set. Leyendecker’s brother, Frank, was also rumored to be gay. In the early 1920s, Frank and his sister, Mary, had a spectacular falling out with Leyendecker and Beach. The row ended with Mary spitting in Beach’s face. They moved away, and Frank died alone one year later.

Leyendecker left Manhattan, and purchased a large estate in New Rochelle with a staff of servants. During the 1930s, Leyendecker’s commissions began to slow, and he was forced to scale back his lifestyle. Yes, it’s awful, but he had to let the staff go. He and Beach continued to maintain the estate alone. At some point here, Beach began to limit Leyendecker’s contact with the outside world, and vice versa. Norman Rockwell, a longtime friend, complained that Beach had, “built a wall around him.” In 1951, Leyendecker died with Beach at his side. His funeral was sparsely attended. Whether this was due to his sexual orientation, or the wall Beach had built is speculation. Rockwell, however, did attend and served as a pallbearer. Leyendecker left instructions for Beach to destroy everything. Fortunately, he stopped at discarding the paintings and sketches. He sold these at a yard sale for the high price of seven dollars. In 2004, Christies sold a Leyendecker painting for $209,100.00.

May I Tickle Your Fancy?

I was at a photo shoot a couple of weeks ago that involved photographing middle-school kids. One girl, with freckles and pigtails, was wearing a Wonder Woman shirt. I was concerned about rights issues so I asked her who made her shirt. It must have seemed creepy to have a silver-haired man in his 40s asking a 14 year old where she bought her shirt. I was pulled aside and asked to let others ask the questions. Who knew?

If that seemed suggestive, then how can you explain Lucky Mrs. Ticklefeather? Ticklefeather? Is that code, or a marital aid? And she’s lucky. The sexual overtones (and I mean overtones) aside, I love Mrs. Ticklefeather. Her best friend is a Puffin (once again, suggestive) and she has lots of Victorian furniture and porcelain dogs. I’ve never quite grasped the entire story. It seems that her Puffin friend disappears and is almost beheaded. Eventually he returns and they play on a Greek urn together. It’s a simple story that has overtones and subtexts. There’s a movie in here somewhere.

The Chamber of Dreams

How many times have you heard, “You know, my parents had that same lamp/mug/sofa. I wish I’d kept it.” Fortunately, I haven’t had that problem. My grandparents saved every shred of paper they ever received. And my mother moves a lot, so you quickly learn that objects are transitory. There is one item, however, that my mother had for years that I now regret not saving. It was a poster for the movie Camelot. Growing up, I thought it was simply a 1960s groovy poster. Now I realize how beautiful it is. The poster was illustrated by Bob Peak and is a remarkable harmony of images and pattern. Since I spent 18 of my formative years with this poster, I find I know every square inch. I need to find out if my mother still has it, and if so, distract her and steal it.

My parents followed the philosophy that children should be exposed to many things and not sheltered. The first movie I remember seeing was Barbarella, followed by Camelot, and The Fox. The Fox is based on a D.H. Lawrence novella. This is imdb.com’s synopsis: Sickly, chattering Jill Banford and quiet, strong Ellen March are trying, hopelessly, to run a chicken farm in Canada. A gentle but powerful man, Paul Renfield, returns and puts things in order. But his proposal of marriage to Ellen awakens the lesbianism dormant in the girls: Jill uses her weakness to make Ellen feel protective, and the women become active lesbians.

Clearly this was not The Fantastic Mr. Fox. The art for the poster is also incredible. Based on the art for the book jacket, it is symbolic, sensual, and fluid. I may have been exposed to a whole batch of nudity as a 3 year old, but I also had a crash course in beautiful imagery.

Spray and Pray

On my first day at art school, a student two years ahead told me emphatically, “You need to know how to airbrush.” As freshmen, we used colored pencils and gouache. In the junior level studio, they all used the airbrush. The sound of the spraying and chug of the motor was often interrupted with, “sonofabitch!” I was frequently concerned that my career would never happen because I couldn’t use an airbrush.

For those of you who only know the spray paint can symbol in Photoshop®, an airbrush is a machine that is like a fancy can of spray paint. A compressor runs a stream of air through a nozzle that has paint. To make an image, you mask off the areas you don’t want painted, and smoothly spray. Then you take off that mask and make another one. The airbrush sounds easy. I’m sure you may be thinking, “so what, I can use spray paint.” But it clogs, splatters, your masks pull off other paint, and you shout “sonofabitch!” a lot.

My inability to use the tool only makes my admiration for the masters of airbrush greater. Digital perfection and high-definition may be in vogue today, but I think it’s time to celebrate this great work. It was a southern California art form that screams Venice Beach, roller-skating, Xanadu, Sunset Strip, and palm trees. And even better, the guys who were the airbrush kings, such as Charlie White, were the most laid-back, down-to-earth, and just plain nice people I’ve ever known.

Between the Lines

Years ago, I knew a designer who was a speed addict. He stayed up all night drawing blades of grass. In his mind, there was no design solution that didn’t involve tiny blades of grass. A poster for a festival in Italy led to grass in the shape of Italy. New layouts for a book of poetry, why not use grass on the cover? I’m not a speed addict, but I am obsessive. I happily work on my crazy family chart, or re-organize the garage several times a year. I love obsessive work. This ad for the advertising firm, Mel Richman is just that. Someone with a lot of time drew every little activity at the agency. This was created in 1955, so it makes sense. There were only three networks on television with limited programming. People, undoubtedly, sat in their living rooms staring at the wall wondering what to do. Obsessive drawing was clearly a good solution for the relentless boredom.

The Color of Light

I have a stack of prints that I inherited sitting in my flat files at home. Once in awhile I’ll go through them, and consider framing one and putting it up. But I don’t have room, so they stay in the drawer. There are a couple of Maxfield Parrish (1870 - 1966) prints that I love, but can’t get past the image of one hanging in the den at the ranch. It just seems to “little old lady” to put one up. Nevertheless, they are beautiful. I could do without the lounging androgynous characters in Greek temples, but the landscapes are remarkable.

Both Ansel Adams and Maxfield Parrish worked through the beginning of the 20th-century. They shared the idea of creating images that went beyond traditional landscapes. Adams didn’t photograph the landscape; he photographed the weather. Parrish didn’t paint the landscape; he painted the light. The colors are iridescent. I’ve been told that he painted in layers, much like a printer lays one color on top of another, and the translucency of the paint produces a richer, more complex effect. Parrish also had a sense of narrative. The house in New Moon has a warm glow of a light inside, creating a sense of security, comfort, and warmth.

No More Waitin' for the Robert E. Lee

One of my bizarre obsessions is riverboats. I don’t particularly want to take a ride on a new casino riverboat in St. Louis, but I’d be fine taking a riverboat cruise in 1850 up the Mississippi. I’ve found a repeating motif of riverboats in illustrations between 1950 and 1960. They were used on ads for pharmaceutical products, handkerchiefs, posters, and wallpaper. If the riverboat craze happened in 1940 it would make sense. Gone With the Wind was released in 1939, and all things antebellum south were the cat’s pajamas. Perhaps the 1950s trend with riverboats had something to do with the nostalgia for a simpler time when atomic warfare was a constant worry.

Maybe that’s my issue too. Noreen keeps telling me, “Sean, it’s not 1955. The Soviet Union is not planning a strike. You can stop digging that bomb shelter.” Or, maybe I just like the way these riverboats look. Like Mark Twain said, "Riverboats look like floating wedding cakes." In the past few months I’ve been able to use riverboats on two projects. I made one for my lecture poster for AIGA Orange County, and I used a wonderful painting of another riverboat in the latest Mohawk Via promotion (to be released soon).

Seduction and Symbols

It’s not considered hip to like Norman Rockwell. But, fortunately, I gave up on the hip idea a long time ago (hence the madras shirts and khakis I wear). Last term, I suggested that one of my students look at the Norman Rockwell Four Freedoms. I was met with a blank stare, as if I’d suggested researching an obscure 14th century painter. This was a terrifying moment. People’s grandmothers like Norman Rockwell. I assumed everyone in the civilized world knew at least a few paintings. I was wrong, and that is the tragedy of today’s wayward youth. They all need a good dose of Rockwell’s wholesome small town. That would keep them away from the constant huffing.

Obviously, this world is a mythical place sort of like Pleasantville. Rockwell’s paintings go beyond the sentimental. They carry symbols and iconography that allow us to manufacture a clear narrative. It is not just a picture of the teacher’s birthday. The scene is set with a multitude of clues. The coat in her hand and chalk eraser on the floor communicates her surprise. A line of small gifts is on her desk. Each of these tells a story of the children preparing for this day at home, or on the walk to school. Even the tiny section of the American flag sets the scene in a minimal way.

The Problem We All Live With, painted in 1964, depicts Ruby Bridges walking to the newly integrated Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans. It is the most requested piece at the Norman Rockwell Museum. This incredible painting succeeds with the use of a tool I often discuss, seduction. The unassuming and innocent approach welcomes the viewer into the piece, and then communicates a complicated and disturbing subject matter. The racial slurs on the wall, and thrown tomato contrast with the girl’s white dress and confident stride. The touch of a notebook with stars and the red and blue pencils suggests the American flag subtly. This is not sentimental, or purely journalistic. Rockwell was a genius at utilizing symbols, color, and scene to convey a narrative in a single moment.

Hard Times Come Again No More

I recently read an article about two families that reunited; one side of the family was white, the other was black. Their connection was a farm in 19th century Virginia. Of course, they were slaveholders and slaves. The inspiring part of the story was that both sides, when reunited, talked about the issue head on. They didn’t skirt around the elephant in the room.

I recall talking with my good friend Dori Tunstall at a conference. Tunstall is a family name we share, and we joked about how we might be related. Believe me, I’ll take credit any day to have someone as accomplished and intelligent as Dori in my family. While we were telling stories, we veered into a discussion about slavery, The people around us began to have that awkward smile on their faces, as if we had told a really offensive joke. I guess I should add slavery to sex, politics, and religion as subjects one shouldn’t discuss at a party.

I recently found images from one of my favorite books as a child, The Fireside Book of Favorite American Songs, Illustrated by Aurelius Battaglia in 1952. The site www.goldengems.blogspot.com is a treasure trove of fantastic imagery. Many of the images illustrate songs Stephen Foster wrote. Many of Foster’s songs have a romantic vision of the old south. The illustrations depict cavalier and chivalrous men, refined and delicate southern ladies, and happy slaves picking cotton. My mother is a true romantic, but when she read this book with me, she made it very plain that the reality was not as depicted.

Enjoying these images is a contradictory experience. They are light-hearted and well executed. But many of them are loaded with political baggage. We know the happy images are, in fact, portraying human beings in bondage. It would be easier to put the book away and pretend it doesn’t exist. I think it is better to look at these images, enjoy their technique, but understand them, and face the issue head on.

As I Lay Bathing

I used to sit across the table from several very well known designers during meetings for AIGA. I was impressed at their ability to take copious notes while someone was presenting an issue. After a couple of years, I felt inadequate, my notes were singular words that later made no sense to me. Then I saw one of the impressive board member’s notes. They weren’t notes at all, only doodles of buildings, and a dog, or someone standing at a write-board. When I later asked this person what was presented, they were able to explain it perfectly. Clearly these notes were some sort of hieroglyph. Some of the doodles were quite nice, but frankly, nothing came close to Saul Steinberg’s spontaneous and simple drawings.

Steinberg is best known for his View of the World from 9th Avenue. This is his famous 1976 New Yorker cover, of the mental geography of Manhattanites. Maybe I’ve seen this one too many times in a New Yorker’s foyer, but I love some of his other work much more. Steinberg was born in Romania in 1914. He came to the United States in the early 1940s to escape anti-Jewish laws in Italy. This outsider point of view is a constant in all of his work. In addition to the remarkable fresh and light style, each piece sees the world through a filter most of us don’t notice. People in this world are dwarfed by the material world, but seem to muddle through with humor.

Playing with your poodle

Pat Prichard handkerchief, poodle and hot air balloon

There are some blogs that are so smart and intellectual. I read them and think, "boy, maybe I should focus on something that sounds really smart. Like deconstructing the history of the internet." But then I come across something wonderful. I'm easily distracted by the shiny object. Today, I found something incredible. I've talked about Pat Prichard on here before. She was an amazing illustrator who left her mark on handkerchiefs, dish towels, dinnerware, and other textiles. I'm an avid fan. Going through a box of textiles today, I came across a collection of Pat Prichard materials. How can I talk about deconstruction when I am faced with a handkerchief of poodles in hot air balloons. Genius. I do question the sanity of the creator. How do you get there? Do you sit at your desk and think, "Gee, I like poodles. And I really like hot air balloons. What if I put them together?" Maybe it's a French poodle, French hot air balloon combination. Whatever the process, it resulted in a joyous and playful object. Now if I only had wallpaper like this.

Pat Prichard handkerchief, poodles and hot air balloons

Love the Dish Towel! Love it!

Missouri Queen Riverboat, Pat Prichard

Several years ago, I came across a fantastic dish-towel. This sounds sort of sad; like I live a small life and get excited by a dish-towel. But you will love this one. That's an order. Love it. The signature reads. “Pat Prichard,” who also designed dinnerware, handkerchiefs, and other assorted textiles. We had high hopes of writing a book about her work, but have been unable to find any information. The artifacts were created during the 1950s and 1960s and reflect the values and undercurrents of the era. Her choice of places as subject matter is interesting; they typically follow a idealized Americana. This depiction of the Mississippi and New Orleans tells the story with the Missouri Queen and Robert E. Lee Steamboats, a pot of shrimps creole, a banjo, chicken, and fried chicken ingredients.

Fried Chicken, Pat Prichard

Banjo, Pat Prichard

Shrimps Creole, Pat Prichard