Sometimes a word comes along that has all the right letters: it can do no wrong. Rasputin may not have been a sweet guy, but I sure love his name. In theory I am breaking some rules of letterform design here. The R is supposed to be bold on the downstroke -- but I ask myself, what would Rasputin do, and I think he would be confident enough to let momentum carry the day. This week's new brush calligraphy, experimenting with new brushes in the studio:
I had a lot of fun with this lettering project for a book by Vicky Tiel, "It's All About the Dress." Here are some of the explorations, with the final cover design for St. Martin's Press. I used a loose brush technique with watercolor on rough paper.
Brush Calligraphy with Walnut Ink
Brush Lettering with Watercolor
Brush Lettering with Watercolor, Mixed Script and Print
Final Lettering Design for "It's All About the Dress" book cover. See more book cover title and author design at Iskra Design.
A few years ago I worked on a project for Starbucks with a creative art director who wanted to try something different for a poster design: something with a bohemian flair. He handed me a scribble of a face and a cup on a napkin and said, "go wild." Ahhhh the golden days of illustration before royalty free pre-fab dingbats had taken over every square inch of the graphic imagination! I drew about fifty faces for the poster, which went into deep focus group and never came back. Later I went back to revisit it as a personal project.
I came across this truly odd quote from Balzac, the original Parisian cool-guy. (How whould he know if somebody was "spiritual" or not? This is the writer who horrified the good ladies of River City in The Music Man with his scandalous prose. Who does he think he is? And how did they translate from the French and come up with the word "grocery store?") This doesn't seem right to me. But just because it is so odd, I decided to work with it, in one of my favorite brush styles, "Bohemian Conversational Medium."* The face could be Balzac as he imagines he is, or any self-reflective hipster of today, thinking under the influence, at one of our infinite coffee shops.
During the holidays an illustrator can lose a lot of sleep over how to do something original. A few years ago I had the "nothing new under the sun, so get over yourself" realization and dared to attempt a holiday card for my own business. For a baseline, it had to avoid offending Christians, Jews, Muslims, Janes, Hindus, Atheists, Mormons, Feminists, etc. etc.-- yet it had to be recognizable as a holiday greeting. Ideally it would make even a grumpy person smile.
The idea evolved from looking at a collection of illustrators from the '50s, including one of my great heroes, Ben Shahn, and just thinking purely about the beauty of different kinds of line. Somehow I got from playing with scruffy lines and curly lines to the lion and the lamb, and eventually they met at the office watercooler under the misteltoe. This is a selection from dozens of drawings, demonstrating some of the intricacies of rendering as well as the design questions that can go into something that may look very simple. I start by working with pure ink and paper, and then test color and reversals and various printing ideas before I go back and revise.
The fluffier the friendlier, but perhaps too cute. And the lamb isn't really looking at the lamb, he seems to be blinded with adoration for Jessica, in the red satin sheath over by the eggnog.
Kinda like these guys, and how the misteltoe showed up. Not sure about those scrunched up legs. Will this offend someone if it looks like they are about to kiss?
Okay, more formality, more tension. but this looks way too much like the Lion King, or Aslan. Wrong Lion.
Back to pure iconography and brush strokes. In the top one the lion has too much of a bed-head, the lamb is too prim, and in the second one she may be too needy, while the lion looks like a corporate sponsor. How many times am I going to have to re-cut this paint brush to get a consistently inconsistent "mane" stroke?? I think I'm tired already.
Working on relationship. Red? Maybe. Definitely gold.
It's always good to switch up techniques. Speedball nibs on newsprint. This is a study of the difference between eyes open or closed. They look so peaceful with eyes closed, but the audience is sort of left out. Newsprint, by the way, is one of my very favorite papers to draw on. 100% non archival and very cheap, which means you can do a master-work and watch it turn brown in about a month.....but very liberating.
Many many rounds of refinements later, this was the final card. Gold ink on Karma Cover. Both actors are looking at the mistletoe, which creates the best tension: an elegance and restraint that could lead to something else. Like Universal Love and World Peace.
Maybe we could petition to hang mistletoe at the United Nations. Could it be that simple?
Here is a fun new project, a hand lettered title and author treatment for a recent book cover for St. Martins Press. The book is a comedy of manners that takes place in a university town. It was a chance to experiment with some quirky and light styles of brushwork as well as other styles that I thought might complement the illustrator's line work.
The final book cover lettering, a mix of bold and light brush script
Hand lettered capitals, pen on rough paper
Very rough brush script, a beat-up Japanese brush on charcoal paper
Quirky bold brush lettering with mixed script and print elements
At the end of working on this project I felt astonishingly happy. One of the rarely mentioned benefits of being a lettering designer: how the meaning of the words themselves can affect you. This is a wonderful phrase to repeat over and over, it leaves you feeling.....blessed.
Once in awhile I am asked to do something very loose, with words that don't want to be read. These studies for a book cover show the legibility challenges of certain letter combinations. "ft?" "dd?" Fun, yes, but if you want the words to be lively, casual, "natural" and readable from twenty feet away in an airport book display you may tear your hair.
In this case after several trials, the publisher opted for a font instead of calligraphy (alas!) There are things I like about these studies however, and I am posting them as examples of that border zone between "trained" and "untrained" calligraphy. I love working with walnut ink. It is watery and unpredictable within a manageable range, so it usually dries with a nice balance of tones--and it takes to nearly all pens and papers without bleeding. Through the everpresent and much appreciated magic of digital post, I can colorize for alternate effects, and when a hairline gets just a hair too whispy there is the much-beloved burn tool (about 9%/midtones--yes! No more faking it with a microscopic quill that blots just as you think you have the perfectly retouched line.) Other than a few erased smudges and two burned hairlines, these are as they came out of the pen. They are meant to express a "hand" more than a perfection of calligraphic technique, so the blobs and wobbles have not been corrected.
Edged pen with walnut ink, on medium weight bond
Ruling pen on rough charcoal paper, with walnut ink
Flexible metal quill with walnut ink, colorized as cyanotype
brush is the most flexible and the most difficult of all lettering
tools. Used on rough or absorbent papers it can express a wide range of
emotion and drama, or it can be tamed for highly readable and stylized
looks with a crisp edge. This collection shows a wide range of projects
for the movie industry, publishing, packaging and advertising. I have
over a hundred brushes and a stack of various papers five feet high in
my studio. Depending on the kind of paper, the brush and the medium
used, a slightly different effect emerges each time. To work with the
brush you have to be in the moment -- there is no place to hide.