I am excited to see big changes at The Workbook, where I have been part of the illustration and design community for many years. They have just launched a dramatic redesign of their online portfolios, and I am very impressed. Take a peek at my portfolios at Workbook.com.
Here are a few pages of icon designs I put together for my new portfolios that show how calligraphic thinking can lead to unique ways of looking at archetypal symbols.
Above, a small part of one of my favorite projects, created for Neiman Marcus for their spring fashion catalog. Each butterfly represents a different personal style of fashion.
When I created a logo for the University of Washington School of Music I did probably 50+ variations on the treble clef. This is one of my favorites, in a set that mixes colorways and media to evoke the experience of music.
How many times have you seen a cute panda logo?? There are still new ways to visit this little guy. Some of the many approaches I did with sumi ink, showing how personality and a unique line quality can revive a familiar symbol.
This client had a last name starting with S, and a passion for seahorses. These are some of the different ways I looked at incorporating the two elements.
These days when virtually all design and illustration portfolios are shown online, having a beautiful platform to show work in-depth is essential. The platform itself can inspire new ways of thinking. I can’t wait to see how designers and creative directors respond to the new Workbook design.
A Logo Project Inspired by the Street
This month I had the opportunity to use my obsession with street art in a logo design for a client. Seven large ad agencies had recently merged to form a new agency called Sandbox. One of the original seven, GA Communications, wanted to create a specific look for its community outreach division that would express the attributes of its internal culture. Among the ideas given as reference: “Collaborative, Creative, Fun, Social and Confident.” A logo for the name, “Orange” had already begun in-house, based on a standard script font. It was close to what they were looking for, but it didn’t feel distinct or proprietary and the design team wanted to see a new approach reflecting the energy and creativity of graffiti. I was also asked to make a little movie or otherwise document my process.
Photographing the street is one of my favorite ways to spend my time, and in my archives I have thousands of pictures of graffiti, abandoned buildings and the shredded poetry of telephone poles. I knew there was a good chance that the final logo would end up being quite conservative, but this project seemed like the ideal opportunity to open things up and go wild. I did a photo shoot looking for everything orange on the street. I experimented with many media, ranging back and forth between the different languages and moods of graffiti. This was heaven.
I started out with black ink, working quickly to find new twists on the fonts that had been sent as reference.
Switching things up I started working with actual orange, what a concept! With colored ink and paints the weight of pigment in the water makes for a different feeling in the brush and leads to subtle differences in how the letters emerge.
To start this project I went out to study walls for a day. I think I have fallen in love with balloon letters. They are insanely creative and all kinds of design problems get solved in an instant on the fly with a spray can. Even if you are trying to be a bad#ss you can’t really convince anybody if you use this style. Balloon letters are fundamentally friendly and silly. The world could use a lot more of that.
The final choice of style came down to these two. On the top, dry brush on watercolor paper, and the lower one, pen and ink on offset paper. After many iterations to finesse legibility the lower one was chosen. The influence of graffiti is very faint, but I hope some of the spirit of adventure can be read between the lines.
Take a look at my portfolios to see more expressive lettering for advertising design.
Identity design for packaging can be creative and exciting work, as long as you don’t allow yourself to be attached to a final product. Probably 90% of ideas generated for packaging are never used. It is an exacting process with many rounds of negotiations between creative, marketing, and client. In spite of the fact that so much of the effort goes purely into development, it is often my best work. There are always puzzles to solve, and the teams of people involved are smart and fun and don’t hesitate to offer me a challenge. This was a rush project done mostly in one day. If it had gone further the curves and edges would have been finessed except for the rustic version, which is intentionally rough.
This last version was my favorite. It might not read easily from ten miles away, but it makes the most of some limited options for ligatures. I am not a fan of what I call the “dental floss school of lettering,” in which every wild and frivolous opportunity to make a flourish is followed, at the expense of being able to make sense of the words. It is rare to get an arrangement of letters where the forms will gracefully interlock. Most letters are lazy: they’d rather sit proud in their natural, beautifully proportioned forms, and as a designer I never want them to look like they are working hard to make a relationship. In this case, particularly, the name feels like it has dignity. It may be high proof, but it’s sober.
As mentioned in the intro, in packaging many are offered, but few survive. Nonetheless, a great chance to work with lovely letters. You can see more snapshots of work in progress on Instagram or Facebook.
Last year I had the opportunity to work with a wonderful photographer on a new identity for her business. “Simply Ania” already had a pretty fine site and look, but Ania wanted something even better, more customized, that would express her personality and the quality of her work. Ania specializes in portraiture of babies, and after seeing her portfolio I couldn’t wait to see what we could create for her.
After reviewing her inspiration file and gathering styles from my site we established a general parameter. I would focus on her name, “simply” would remain set in type, and I would explore a range of directions, from informal to elegant, blending femininity and strength.
Above, the final choice, as it appears on the Simply Ania website. One of the unique challenges of this project was the very shortness of the name involved. Also, repeated letters. It can take many tests and variations to balance out repeated letters so they look different in a way that looks intentional. An upper case A would have given more variation to the logo, but the choice of lowercase adds approachability. When a logo is signature based there is always a key question to ask: is the main goal of the logo to amplify the identity and image of the business so that it becomes aspirational by association? Or is it to open a door and create a relationship with prospective clients? When I work on celebrity logos we usually take an aspirational approach and put the focus on expressing the celebrity brand. In a service business, particularly one where relationship is as important as it is in portrait photography, a quieter approach can be more appropriate. It is a subtle difference, and is one of the elements I love working with in creating custom logo design. You can see more examples of custom calligraphy logos in my handwriting portfolios.
Solstice brush calligraphy and original photocollage © Iskra Design
This time of year I always look backwards to July, at the same time I am looking forward to July. The light in the poppies, the scalding heat, the pond and the little breeze in the afternoon. Meanwhile, it could be snowing. And that is the magic of the Solstice. A place in between, to reflect and resonate in time, without, for a moment, going anywhere but now.