First Things First

Donna Moll, 1987

I received an email from a designer last week who was thinking of moving to San Francisco. Coming from the east coast, he mistakenly thought it was just over the hill from Los Angeles. "I looked at their office online," he said about one firm, "but they had bad lighting." WTF? Bad lighting? That's even a consideration point. oy!

My first job was at The New York Public Library. Granted, we had wonderful light and I worked in one of the most beautiful buildings in New York. But I would have worked in the basement, which still had the rock walls of the 19th century reservoir preceding the Library. 

Donna Moll designed a publication I still keep on my desk, Know These Lines, a collection of first lines. I admit I could never match the delicacy of this design. The Mohawk Superfine slightly creamy paper paired with the softest rose color ink. Even the black is considered. It's not process black, but PMS Black which is slightly warmer. The Library was type boot camp and this piece by Donna proves that. It was a different time, when one spent days refining typography and methodically creating mechanicals with precision. I know that sounds old.

And to add to these, some of my favorite first lines:

Toni Morrison
Beloved (1987)
124 was spiteful. 

Toni Morrison
Paradise (1997)
They shoot the white girl first.

Joan Didion
The Last Thing He Wanted (1996)
Some real things have happened lately.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Balthazar’s Marvelous Afternoon (2007)
The cage was finished.

A.M. Homes
The Safety of Objects (1999)
Elaine takes the boys to Florida and drops them off like they’re dry cleaning.

Raymond Carver
Why Don't You Dance? (1977)
In the kitchen, he poured another drink and looked at the bedroom suite in his front yard.

David Sedaris
Santaland Diaries (1994)
I wear green velvet knickers, a forest green velvet smock and a perky little hat decorated with spangles.

Mona Simpson
Anywhere But Here (1986)
We fought.

Claire Vaye Watkins
Battleborn (2014)
The day my mom checked out, Razor Blade Baby moved in.

Margaret Mitchell
Gone With the Wind (1936)
Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.

Mark Twain
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884)
You don’t know about me, without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but that ain’t no matter. That book was made by a Mr Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly.

PG Wodehouse
The Luck of the Bodkins (1935)
Into the face of the young man who sat on the terrace of the Hotel Magnifique at Cannes there had crept a look of furtive shame, the shifty, hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to talk French.

Alice Walker
The Color Purple (1982)
You better not never tell nobody but God.

Dodie Smith
I Capture the Castle (1948)
I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.

Sylvia Plath
The Bell Jar (1963)
It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.

 

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.

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).

Suicide and iPhoto

Sign detail, Virginia City, Nevada

It’s easy to spot a designer. They’re usually the ones taking photos of a doorknob or a sign. I’m no different. My iPhoto page probably looks like most every other designer—little boxes with typography. Virginia City, Nevada is not the same place that Mark Twain wrote about while working at the Territorial Enterprise. It’s a little cheesy. There are fudge stores, souvenir shops, and tours of defunct silver mines. It is, however, a treasure trove of Victorian typography. And you must love a town that has a Suicide Table, which is what we called my grandmother’s dining table on days when she made the saltiest Taco salad in the world.

Sign detail, Virginia City, Nevada

The Suicide Table (not my grandmother's dining room)

Bucket of Blood Saloon, Virginia City, Nevada

Sign detail

Sign detail, Virginia City, Nevada

Sign detail, Virginia City, Nevada

my iPhoto Typography album