Week 8: Skills and Making
Updated: Dec 10, 2020
This week is all about recognizing our shortcomings as designers and using them to our advantage. A good designer is one that understands that learning never stops. Whether it's new techniques of doing something, updated software, or simply getting through creative ruts, part of good design practice is to be open to learning and knowing where your shortcomings lie.
This week's lecture took the form of interviews with a number of designers that we've been introduced to before. They were all tasked with answering the following question: What would you like to be doing that you are not doing in your work?
I was interested to see what they would say since the question poised them to admit the things they wish they had more of in their day-to-day work. Out of the five studios represented, I found myself most relating to what Julian House and Adrian Talbot from Intro had to say.
When they were first asked the question, Adrian immediately responded, "Get outdoors more." While I know this was meant to be more of a knee-jerk reaction to the question rather than a serious answer, I resonated with it. As designers, it's very easy to get caught up in a job for hours on end. By the time you realize that you've just burned all of your daylight at a computer, it's too late. It was a good reminder that even the most experienced designers can have trouble balancing the various demands of life.
As Adrian continued, he mused that...
The nature of the work we do here—It's good enough to keep us happy (Manchipp et al. n.d.).
This was another key thought in the interview. If you're not happy with the work you're doing, then perhaps it's time to move to a different design company or position. I highly doubt that if Adrian were unhappy in his career that he would've stayed at Intro for nearly three decades. Talent is kept by keeping people happy and challenging them to grow.
Finally, the last part of their discussion that caught my attention was something Julian House said.
Having a personal project actually takes off the pressure of the work you’re doing (Manchipp et al. n.d.).
I had never thought of it this way. To me, personal projects always take the back burner in my life, because I feel that I simply don't have time for them. If this lecture taught me anything, it's that side projects can actually make you better at your design work. In addition, by putting in the time to do things you enjoy, you have the opportunity to present more of yourself to the world, allowing for greater vulnerability in your practice. Besides, sometimes your side projects can end up taking off, like Adrian Talbot and his fascination with creating fonts.
The other question that the designers were asked was: "How important are side projects and are you currently working on any?"
For this part of the interview, I was definitely drawn to Sarah Boris and what she had to say. First, she mentions that side projects always serve some sort of purpose in her practice. In fact, she keeps lists of potential projects that she could work on. It was at this point that she revealed that she sometimes forgets about an idea for years at a time. If she's still excited by it by the time she looks at it again, then she'll do it. This resonated with me, as I'm a big list person myself. Much like she does, I have various lists of "creative" ideas that I want to fulfill at some point. It was nice to hear that I'm not the only person who does this, let alone am I the only person who will neglect these ideas for an extended period of time. The photo to the right is just a few of the ideas I have in place for my Redbubble store. I'll get to them...someday.
She also made a very astute observation in regards to side projects. She said,
A side project is you from beginning to end, with no client interjection (Manchipp et al. n.d.).
When phrased in this way, I can more easily understand the benefit of exploring things outside of your work. It isn't just about testing new skills or finding new inspiration. It's also a good excuse to follow your gut instinct with your design and not have to worry about the outcome or making a client happy.
Brian Eno: How to Beat Creative Block
The resources this week were all easy to engage with, but I found myself drawn to what Brian Eno had to say in the various videos he was included in. He was very insightful about the difficulties that come with working in a creative industry. If you're working in a large group, it can be easy to get distracted from the task at hand. If you're alone, you can end up doing the same thing over and over since it seems to work and no one is challenging you on it. Pressure and panic only push good ideas away. The most relevant thing he said, however, was:
If something went wrong, don't immediately chuck it out (BBC Click 2017).
This was what I needed to hear at this point in my week. Having come off of a less-than-reassuring critical review, this was a good reminder that not everything will work out the first time. That doesn't mean you should scrap an idea entirely. Sometimes the best pieces of work can come from a disliked place.
Brian Eno on Creative Potential
This was another interesting video to watch, as Eno started off by saying that all people are born unequal. This isn't a new idea, but statements such as these are usually followed with different ways that certain communities can face disparities in their upbringing. Instead, Eno was talking about the fact that everyone has unique talents or skills. While one person might be predisposed to playing the violin, another might have a knack for watercolors.
He went on to reveal that when he speaks at colleges and universities, he's often not invited back. Why? In his own words,
I'm here to persuade you to not have a job (trustylimbs 2017).
It's easy to see why that might not go over so well with some schools. However, his advice isn't necessarily bad. By staying out of a typical office 9-to-5, you're in a position that allows you to do what you want to do with your time. This means you have more freedom to explore your craft and hone your skills. By not taking a job, you can focus on creating financial stability through your talents. While this could be done in addition to working a normal job, it's more often than not that people just give up on their side gigs in the name of a consistent paycheck. A mediocre job can singlehandedly kill a person's creativity. I should know, I quit a nice paying job for that very reason.
School of Life: Keep Going
The last major takeaway from the resources for this week came from the Keep Going video done by School of Life. As they so simply put it,
Forgive yourself for the horror of the first drafts (The School of Life 2015).
This was a great reminder that everything is a work-in-progress. Just because it didn't come out right the first time doesn't mean it won't get better with each iteration. Going forward, I will be embracing this idea and I hope to become more forgiving and less critical of my own work.
For the first part of this week's workshop challenge, I started by making a list of skills I'm good at, as well as a list of things that I'm not as well-versed with. The world of design includes a variety of different skills to be gained, so while these lists are long, they are by no means all-inclusive.
For clarification, despite listing things that I'm good at in one column, these skills could always stand to be improved. I have above-average knowledge of each one, so that's why they are sorted as such. Because the focus of this week's challenge was to explore something we're not familiar with, I opted to do a typography-based project. It was the very first thing I listed on my "bad" list and I've been looking for an excuse to play around with type more, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity!
With an area in mind to work with, I began thinking about what kind of typographical project I would want to work on. I played with the idea of doing a sort of motivational-style poster that consisted of different fonts working together. However, as I opened a new tab to start researching that realm, something on my to-do list caught my eye.
I use a browser extension that's supposed to promote productivity (the judgment is still out on that). One of the features it has is a to-do list that sits in the bottom right-hand corner. The two things that I currently have on there have been listed there for at least a month at this point, if not longer, so when I realized what one of the tasks was, I changed direction on my project.
Psychedelic word art. That was it, that was what I was going to explore in my workshop challenge. When I had originally put that on my list, it was for a potential client's band. Unfortunately, the project fell through and I was left with an idea for a side project that I would explore when I had the time. As that often goes, the time hadn't made itself available yet.
With my new, more concrete idea in hand, I set out to research some popular psychedelic-era artists. The first person I came across was Victor Moscoso. He was born in Spain in 1936 and came to have a profound impact on rock 'n' roll artistry. In fact, Moscoso was "the first of the rock poster artists of the 60’s era with formal academic training and experience" (Bahr Gallery 2020). Some of his most popular works were album covers that he did for a collection of bands over his career.
These albums include:
"Children of the Future", Steve Miller Band
"Compliments of Jerry Garcia", Jerry Garcia
Outside of album art, Moscoso also has dabbled in comics, modern art, and has a collection of his original work for viewing on his website. His unique style of typography has since been made into a digital font, named after the artist himself.
I chose to look at his art because he had the unique privilege of being the first in his field with an education in design. His use of color and curvature of his words stood out to me, and I did my best to channel my own inner Moscoso when I designed my piece.
The other individual I looked at was Bonnie Maclean. Born in 1939, she was most known for her concert posters that promoted the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco, California. Having originally started at the auditorium painting noticeboards, Maclean was given the opportunity to fill the shoes of Wes Wilson after he had a falling out with Bill Graham, Fillmore's concert promoter at the time (and Maclean's husband), and quit.
Over her time at the Fillmore, she worked on posters for the likes of The Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, and Santana to name a few. Maclean passed away in February 2020, and was described in her obituary as "one of the only women working as a rock poster artist, MacLean was the Fillmore’s in-house artist from 1967 to 1971, creating posters for concerts including the Doors, the Yardbirds, Pink Floyd, and Cream" (Crowther 2020).
Her artistic style of flowing imagery, serious faces, and similar color choices was a big inspiration to my own piece. It was also nice to see a female have such success in a male-dominated field.
Having looked at these two artists in particular, as well as a smattering of others, I was set to start working on my own piece.
The first part of my process was finding a source image to start mapping my work over. I chose a photo of myself since the challenge was going over our own skills and shortcomings. I figured that, along with a solid color palette, would translate my overall message well. I don't particularly like the image I chose, but it definitely gave off psychedelic vibes, so it was a good base to start with.
From there, I began mapping out the notable chunks of my face that I wanted in the final result. I used Adobe Illustrator for this. I didn't focus on color much at this point, as I was more concerned with getting the pieces I needed before making it pretty.
I didn't want to include a whole lot of detail, since I was going for a more simplistic design, but I grabbed the most important facial features. When I was done with this part, my face looked very terrifying.
After that, I began playing with color. I knew I would want vibrant, opposing colors so that the final imagery would "buzz" in its appearance. Since the project was also about the pros and cons of our own skillset, I opted for red and green. Red would be used to represent the areas I was lacking in skill, while green would be for things that I was already pretty good at. Conveniently enough, red and green are on opposite sides of the color wheel, so their opposition would create the strange vibrancy I was looking for.
To find just the right set of colors, I used Adobe Color and came up with the palette above to use for my piece. I then applied this set to the blocks of color I had already mapped out from my source image.
With my color palette set, I typed each of my skills into Illustrator, to serve as a word bank of sorts. I knew part of the difficulty of psychedelic posters was fitting the text into workable spaces, so I wanted to make sure I had plenty of options. Since I outlined the colors in green and red, I also had a general idea of where which words would end up. I started going to work, putting together my strange design puzzle.
Initially, I had chosen a different, more bubbly font, but it just didn't quite work. Despite the styles of other posters from this era, I knew I wanted my words to be as easily read as possible, so I opted for the psychedelic simplicity that the Hobo font offered. From there, I figured out which word worked best in each section of the image, adjusted it to the most fitting size, converted the text to outlines, and started arranging it as well as I could. When the word was placed as well as it could be without further stretching or anchor point adjustment, I went in and made more detailed changes. For this, I just tried to align the letters with the edges of the space they were supposed to fill, as best as possible, while still maintaining the character of the original font. This was especially difficult to pull off with the letters "M", "N", and "G." After doing this repeatedly for approximately thirteen skills, I liked the appearance, and decided I was done!
My final result is below.
Having never worked with typography so extensively before, I'm very happy with how this turned out. The colors definitely vibrate against one another, so I feel like it does this genre of art justice. I think my favorite part of the piece is how the shirt turned out. It's balanced very nicely and everything fits in its place. I also like the mixed-use of outlined vs. filled-in lettering.
If I had more time to work on this project, I would have played with the level of detail I put into the piece. Maclean's work was able to capture more realistic imagery and I think that would be cool to emulate. I would also put more time into the individual letter manipulation, as there was definitely some fine-tuning that could be done. Overall though, I'm content with where I ended up and I definitely feel like I have a better understanding of how to do things like this in the future.
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