Food for thought‘[...] do not think that good design can make a poor product good, whether the product be a machine, a building, a promotional brochure or a business man. But [...] good design can materially help make a good product reach its full potential. In short, [...] good design is good business.’
Thomas J. Watson Jr., IBM CEO

The End of Bon Voyage by Jared Muralt

September 27, 2014, 12:37 PM

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Quite rare these days to see somebody putting a lot effort into drawing, and having something interesting to tell as well, even among top illustrators. Most either go for the trendy, ‘naive’ or ‘kid-drawing’ style, or for hyper-realist renderings of non-subjects.

Jared Muralt is one of the rare people that are not afraid to stand on the shoulders of others before him (in his case, European graphic novel masters) and take things further. His latest book, ‘The End of Bon Voyage’ is a treat for the eyes and mind, cover to cover. There are no words, the better for your imagination to fill in the details.

Below are more photos to wet your appetite (click for larger size). You can buy the book through his website: jaredillustrations.ch. You can see more of his beautiful illustrations on his Instagram (plenty of great WIP shots), his Facebook and his Behance (his sketchbooks are amazing, not to miss).

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Clouds sold me from the beginning. There’s something magical about looking into the distance, ‘travelling’ with my mind. I’d never get bored of this kind of scenery:

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Books are tools to stimulate your senses and adjust your thinking

May 3, 2014, 4:58 PM

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When a show references Blade Runner, Philip K. Dick, George Orwell, William Gibson and then goes on to analyze the benefits of reading and paper books versus ebooks, you know you’ve picked a great one. Here’s the transcript:

“This city is like a parody of the sort of novels I used to read when I was younger.”

“Oh yeah, what kind, like a William Gibson book?”

“More like Philip K. Dick. Not as controlling as the societies George Orwell depicted in his work and not quite as wild as the ones in Gibson’s either.”

“Philip K. Dick, hm? Never read him. So if I wanted to check him out, which one should I read first?”

‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’, it’s a classic.”

“There’s an old movie based on that, isn’t there?”

“The content’s quite different. You should compare them when you have time some day.”

“Then I’ll go ahead and download it right now.”

“No. Find the paperback. Ebooks lack character.”

“Got all the same words, don’t they?”

“Physical books are more than the words they contain. They are also tools to stimulate your senses and adjust your thinking.”

“How do you mean?”

“When I don’t feel well, I’ll stare at a page for ever before realising I haven’t absorbed a word. When that happens, I try to understand why. What’s gotten in my way? On the other hand there are books I can take in effortlessly, no matter how awful I’m feeling. Why do those books draw me in? I think it may be a sort of mental tuning. It’s the feeling of the paper against my fingers, that familiar smell of pulp and glue, a momentary stimulation to my brain when I turn each page. These sensations regulate and focus my brain, they make it work better.”

“Wow, that’s discouraging.”

“Hm?”

“Why is it every time I talk to you, I leave feeling like there’s something I’ve been missing out on my whole life up to now?”

“That’s just silly.”

“I sure hope so.”

How great is that? How many shows have you seen, lately or not, that pose questions and ideas like these, making you stop to think for a while?

The dialogue is taken from the anime series Psycho Pass (episode 15). It goes on between Shōgo Makishima, the main antagonist, and his right hand man, Choe Gu-Sung. I’ve used the dub version for the quote, although I usually prefer anime in Japanese with English subs, as very few English dubs are good enough. The subs however have a better version for the penultimate line: “You’re reading too much into it” – a bit more serious, and I liked the reading pun (intentional or not).

The story has many cyberpunk elements, reminding often of Philip K. Dick’sMinority Report‘ (again, worth comparing the book with the film), and also of Ghost in the Shell (the series mostly, both produced by Production I.G., best in the game), Monster (similar ‘contrast’ between two of the main characters) and sometimes hints of Cowboy Bebop (due to the noir feel and two main characters reminding of Spike and Jet).

Definitely worth watching, plenty of food for thought (besides the thrilling action), the above quote being just one example of many. Be warned though, it’s not for the weak of heart, it often gets very violent, even if not gratuitously.

The top image is a screengrab from the opening of that episode. Needless to say, being a Production I.G. show, it’s a treat for the eyes, and not only.

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Three things to think about from David Bailey

April 6, 2014, 6:49 PM

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“It takes a lot of imagination to be a good photographer. You need less imagination to be a painter, because you can invent things. But in photography everything is so ordinary; it takes a lot of looking before you learn to see the extraordinary.”

Indeed, it often seems easier to start from scratch, rather than work with something that’s already ‘on the canvas’, done by somebody else, be it a person or ‘nature’. This can be due to objective reasons (poor quality, outdated etc), or due to personal reasons (ego being the usual suspect).

However, I find it much harder to begin from ‘nothing’ rather than start with a defined idea, brief, a pre-existing situation. Christoph Niemann’s illustration about the creative process is one of the best portrayals of the sheer despair a blank piece of paper can fill you with. Excepting a few ‘lucky’ ones (for various reasons), most of us go through this almost daily.

I’ve often thought that, in photography, the work is mostly done by the time you get there. Nature, fate, chance, God, or whatever you call it, has already prepared ‘the scene’, whether it’s done, or being done right in front of your eyes. You just have to frame it, not much else. Of course, framing can be done in so many ways, and it often alters the way the subject is seen. Sometimes it can even change it completely.

“I try to simplify things by just having a white background and no distractions. I don’t care about ‘composition’ or anything like that. I just want the emotion of the person in the picture to come across … to get something from that person, even if I have to force it out of them by being rude.”

Making people feel something (interest, delight, compassion etc) is the best way to reach them, maybe the only one. It’s very easy to get caught up in details and forget the main thing: if people won’t find it interesting enough to ‘read’ it, consistency, ‘good design’ or any other high standards are worth nothing.

On the other hand, Mr Bailey is just making a point. Many of his photos are fine examples of composition. But that’s just a detail, the cherry on top of an idea that grips your attention in the first place. How many people did you hear saying ‘wow, what a brilliant composition’?

“The pictures don’t get better the longer you’re around the subject. The moment’s the moment. And you don’t want them to get bored with you either, because the magic goes. You have to get the magic quick. If I go to Delhi, I get off the plane and I start photographing, because five days later it all starts to look normal.”

What a brilliant bit: “five days later it all starts to look normal”. Our capacity to adapt quickly helps us in many ways, beginning with survival, but when it comes to creativity, it’s more of a problem. Things that are new, even amazing at one moment, are quickly taken for granted, even invisible. This goes especially for the last ten, fifteen years, with the rise of computers, internet and smartphones. New becomes old so quickly.

I usually get the best ideas in the beginning, thinking and sketching about it before I know too much about the subject. During this period, my mind keeps making connections, some obvious, some surprising, some maybe weird. ‘Five days later’, having gone deeper into the subject, it’s a lot harder to come up with anything unexpected. These ideas might be more relevant, informed, but they’re also less interesting, more fitting for the subject, and more like ‘the others’ (usually the competitors). Of course, the ‘fresh mind’ approach does need a bit of initial knowledge (one of the moments where constant curiosity pays off), just enough to get you going.  Sometimes you realise when you look back that those connections were common sense, in that field or another. But common sense gets left out so often when you get caught up in the brief, or the process.

On the other hand, some ideas you only get in pieces, incomplete. Time often helps, more pieces falling into place, usually if you don’t force it. Leaving them running in the back of your mind is the best thing to do. Most will grow, in time for the current project, or for a future one if not. Some never make it, and you can only hope that somebody else will make them happen at some point.

I know I said three, but here’s one more, to end on an encouraging note:

“I don’t think you’re ever successful. I think if you become successful artistically – as opposed to financially – you might as well stop and play chess, like Marcel Duchamp. There’s no point going on.

I’m distressed every time the contact sheets come back, every time I see the results of a job: I think, ‘My God, after fifty years of mucking about with photography I’m still getting it wrong.’ I get it wrong all the time, and it’s so depressing that I want to keep trying.”

Glad to see that I’m not the only one, endlessly digging in search of gold, feeling like a failure or a fraud most of the time. Judging by how many greats say similar things, it seems that once you stop feeling like this, you’ve lost the spark. Or, in other words, there’s no easy way to do it, it’s all about doing a lot of work. Strive for it to be good, and maybe some will even be great.

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All quotes are from “Bailey Exposed“, a new book edited by Bailey himself. A quick read, with great photos by Bailey, next to quotes from himself and a few others. Another proof that great ideas don’t need hundreds of pages, maybe even the contrary.

The top photo is a crop from Phaidon’s Look monograph of Bailey. Second photo is my own, taken at the National Portrait Gallery, the entrance dominated by one of Bailey’s portraits of Michael Caine. Classic. Worth visiting if you’re in London till June 1.

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If there’s any magic, it certainly happens at sketch stage – Craig Frazier

February 23, 2014, 4:16 PM

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Lately I’ve been less and less interested in ‘design’ and more interested in ‘visually expressed ideas that can be understood by non-designers’. I won’t call it illustration, as I think it’s about much more than that. Sadly, with the rise of computers and internet that led to the commodification of most creative arts, ‘illustration’ has lost a lot of its value (just like ‘design’).

Editorial illustration (of the fine type) is arguably the best example on how wits and graphics can be delightful for almost anyone, not just us self-centred ‘creatives’. Christoph Niemann is the first that comes to mind, and not only because of my obsession for his work lately – but more on this in another post.

Craig Frazier is another of the finest illustrators that have worked for NY Times, Time, Bloomberg Businessweek and many more. Two quotes from him stayed with me especially, from a short film in which he talks about the importance of sketching (video and link below):

“If there’s anything magic … it certainly happens at sketch stage. If it’s not there, it’s not gonna show up later on”

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“There’s a level of perfection that I’m looking for in the idea, but there’s a level of imperfection that I’m willing to accept, and actually embrace, in the rendering of the drawing itself.”

There’s almost never just one way of doing things, so I wouldn’t say that all creatives should have good drawing skills, but I do believe that working (thinking) away from the computer makes a big difference. Whether you do it by drawing (well or not), writing, or any other way that’s disconnected enough from the medium that you’ll eventually finalise your work in, your work will be much better. I love drawing and I’m constantly trying to improve my skills, but that’s just my choice.

Mr Frazier’s beautiful and witty illustrations always start on paper, shaped out as great sketches. He is kind enough to show many of these, together with the finished illustrations, in his book ‘The Illustrated Voice’. The introduction is written by Ivan Chermayeff, which should say more than enough.

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The Illustrated Voice – Craig Frazier

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The Illustrated Voice – Craig Frazier

Needless to say, a great book to learn from. More can be seen on Mr Frazier’s website, but watch the film first:

Worker Series #1 Craig Frazier – Illustrator and Storyteller from Jeff Hurn on Vimeo.

RELATED LINKS

98pages, a website showing 98 of Mr Frazier’s beautiful sketches;
— an interview with Craig Frazier (he mentions Christoph Niemann too);
— video via @Issue Journal, The All-Important Sketching Stage.

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Thoughts and wishes on the old and the new year

December 31, 2013, 5:07 PM

 

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It’s been a bit quiet on my blog for the past two years, mostly because I post on Twitter the interesting bits and pieces that I find. However, I’m hoping to get back on the blog in the new year, as I miss its ‘journal’ quality, and clearing my thoughts through writing. Twitter, even if very useful for many things, is much more ephemeral. I’ve already back-posted a few things, I’ll add more in the next days, especially photos and quick notes from some inspiring exhibitions.

This year has been a gut-wrenching ride, reaching the highest and lowest points in my life in the last four or five years.

One of the most challenging projects I’ve ever been involved in was launched in January, the rebranding of the ITV network (you can read Rudd Studio’s case study and blog post about it) — quite a maturing experience for me. After that, I took a break and did a self-promo package, two booklets, sent together with handwritten letters to people that I admire and want to work with. The black booklet showed my work and explained my background and beliefs, inspired by Mr Michael Wolff’s saying that ‘nobody hires portfolios, you hire human beings’. The red one showed my Picturing Thoughts personal project. The ‘set’ you can see below was sent to my former colleagues, Brandient, as thanks for our work and relationship over the years, both before and after my move to London.

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The booklets turned out to be the best idea and investment ever, leading to conversations, meetings and interviews with many top British designers, people that I’ve been looking up to for many years, including Mr Wolff himself. The list is too long to include here, I’m thankful to all of them, especially to those that I got to work with, as they are among the very kind ones that have helped me get so far as a designer, doing work that reaches pretty much all the continents on this planet – a thought humbling and amazing at the same time.

I was also lucky to be included in the After Hours exhibition, the Picturing Thoughts booklet was featured on It’s Nice That, I became a TypeToken contributor and one of my logos was included in the Animal logo book, published by Counter-Print.

It hasn’t been easy though, I went through more than a decent share of lows, doubts, mistakes, sacrifices, some big, some small. Some were for the better in the long run, some, I don’t know yet. All I can do is keep moving, strive more and hope that things will be even better next year.

Thank you, have a great, happy new year!
Iancu

Later edit: lest I forget, the arrangement of a word, calligraphy, handwriting etc to form an image is called a calligram.

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Picturing Thoughts

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‘Born out of a relentless need to explore, Picturing Thoughts is an ongoing personal project which turns thoughts into images, thereby creating space for more interesting thoughts. — The title is inspired by Alan Fletcher’s book, Picturing and Poeting, its own title being borrowed from a remark allegedly made by Kurt Schwitters.’

This description sums up what my Picturing Thoughts project is all about. It can be found on both the project’s website and on the second page of the project’s first booklet, which I printed in the beginning of 2013, collecting the best twenty of the first fifty pieces. At the moment (end of 2013), there are seventy pieces on the website and more than a dozen in the works.

It’s Nice That, the popular online magazine, featured the project in July and were very kind in their description of both the project and my work. I photographed the booklet for their feature, you can see the images below (click on images for larger versions).

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My initial plan was to do and post them on a monthly basis, but reality rarely matches our initial plans. I work on them in my sketchbooks almost daily, after which I finish them in Illustrator in batches of five and post fifteen or twenty pieces every two or three months, sometimes more, depending on my workload and other personal projects.

All pieces are usually designed as posters, but I have no plans of selling them at the moment. What matters most is doing them, the process, learning through it. I plan to print a second booklet sometime in 2014, but I have two other booklet projects that I have to finish first. If you’re wondering, I use the booklets for self-promo purposes, they’re printed digitally on an HP Indigo by the fine folks at PurePrint (they print the Eye magazine, which says it all). You can hardly tell the difference from litho (offset), digital has come a long way.

By the way, eight of the Picturing Thoughts were also included in the ‘After Hours’ exhibition, showing work by some well-known designers, and a few young designers among which I was very lucky to be included. You can read my blog post about it.

If you’d like to see all of them, please go to PicturingThoughts.com — subscribe or follow on Tumblr if you’d like to be notified when new ones are posted. Thank you, hope you’ll find them inspiring.

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Igarashi Alphabets

November 25, 2013, 12:53 PM

This post was initially published on TypeToken.

Takenobu Igarashi is one of the Japanese greats, his work ranging from graphic design, industrial to environmental and even sculpture. He’s been a member of AGI since 1981. His book, ‘Igarashi Alphabets: From Graphics to Sculptures’ showcases quite a few of his typographic projects and experiments in both 2D and 3D mediums. His interest in three-dimensional letters and typography has led to projects like ‘Aluminum Alphabet’ (1983), ”Ori (Folded) Alphabet’ (1985), his impressive ‘MoMA Calendar Series’ (1984-1993) for which he’s drawn over six thousand different numerals (isometric, done before computers), ‘Transformable Alphabet’ (1981), ‘Mirror Alphabet’ (1981), ‘Scultpure H’ (1981) and many others.

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Igarashi’s philosophy is best summed up by his own words:
‘My approach to design and sculpture has always wavered between my wish to do something useful for society, and my desire to create something beautiful with my own hands. In my opinion there are three essential things in work: passion, challenge and discovery. Without that, work gets boring; with that, work is enjoyable. And artwork that is enjoyable also results in success.’

Have a look at the Igarashi Studio website for more projects.
You can also read his AGI profile.

Book details:
Publisher: ABC Edition Zurich (1987)
Language: English, German, French
ISBN-10: 3855041024
ISBN-13: 978-3855041022

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Isidro Ferrer

September 15, 2013, 1:02 PM

This post was initially published on TypeToken.

Isidro Ferrer is a Spanish graphic designer and illustrator, member of AGI since 2000. He graduated in drama and scenography, and worked as a stage actor before turning towards graphic design and illustration. His ‘plays’ with ordinary objects, different meanings, photography and typography have led to an awe-inspiring body of work that reminds of greats like Pierre Mendell, Armin Hofmann, Anthon Beeke or Polish poster designers. He’s been involved in a wide range of projects, from posters and identities for cultural institutions, illustration for adults and children, comics, TV cartoons, packaging, publishing to monumental and wayfinding. He has published more than 30 books, been involved in many exhibitions and won a lot of prestigious awards.

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You can admire more of his projects on his website, IsidroFerrer.com. Some more info on his AGI profile, an interview from AGI Open Barcelona in 2011 and another interview by IndexBooks.

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Anthon Beeke – It’s A Miracle

August 9, 2013, 1:10 PM

This post was initially published on TypeToken.

Dutch design is well-known for its boldness, but even among Dutch designers, Anthon Beeke is certainly one of the most provocative. His work not only informs and surprises, but it often tests the limits of free expression. “It’s a miracle” is a new book from BIS Publishers, celebrating Anthon Beeke’s impressive body of work. Chapters are introduced by well known names, such as Steven Heller, Marian Bantjes, James Victore, Erik Kessels and others, each portraying different aspects of Beeke’s life in design, including Amsterdam, jazz, erotica, collecting, typography, photography, provocation and communication.

His works range from beautiful and elegant pieces like the “Body Type” alphabet (created in reply to Wim Crouwel’s computer alphabets), playful, like the poster for Dick Bruna’s fameous Miffy character (done as he says, to beat his friend Bruna in his quest for simplicity), to gut-wrenching, like the “Troilus en Cressida” theatre poster, in which he portrays a woman as a Trojan horse, emphasising the play’s story. Either way, his work will hardly leave you without a reaction.

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“I don’t know a single maker of images who thinks more freely and is more all-round than Anthon Beeke. As far as I am concerned, he is the freest spirit in Dutch design history.” — Erik Kessels

Book details:
Publisher: BIS Publishers
Language: English
ISBN-10: 9063693303
ISBN-13: 978-9063693305

You should also visit Anthon Beeke’s website.

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