Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones

While photographing a recent project which I can show but, say little about, my wife and I decided a local graveyard was the ideal set. Upon seeing these old headstones which are, in some cases, nearly 200 years old, I was blown away by the quality of the typography. Jennifer took some pictures of our favorite one.

These days, few could do anything this beautiful, given days of editable work on a computer screen. And yet, here it is, written in stone, chiseled with steel. And the (almost) hundreds of years have added their grace — the rose-colored patina of the stone, the green of the moss and the mint-colored lichen just kill me.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Young Ones

In my second year type class, I admit (right off the bat) that I can't TELL anyone how to be a designer. But I can impart thinking on the subject, ways to approach the process, and the importance of full life-immersion. Ultimately, being a designer is as much a mode of conduct as it is a way of thinking. Dabbling is fruitless. It becomes EVERYTHING.
In this class, there are a wide array of projects, each one introducing and illustrating the important balance of concept and execution. This past year, for example, students were assigned an LP packaging project. What made the assignment difficult was that the music act was chosen at random and HAD to be executed in the style of a noted designer (who was also chosen at random) who is heavily influenced by the use of grids. My favorite execution is by John Cox.

Another assignment was to design limited edition DVD packaging for one of the following movies: Bladerunner, Paper Moon, Network, Rashomon, Basquiat, or Being There. There were a bunch of great, conceptual, format-reconsidering executions from the class. Here are two, one from Kathryn for Paper Moon, and John's for Network.

One was a project in presenting narrative. Everyone read The Second Coming by W.B. Yeats, which is one of my favorite pieces of writing. Then, in whatever form that came naturally to their concept, they had to marry imagery with the language of the written piece. The imagery had to be an interpretive or photographic representation of commercial packaging. The main thrust being to present the prose in a way that the imagery enhanced the meaning of the words. And, to force the class to search and find poetry in the mundane. Here are a couple I particularly liked, the first by Olena Schmahalo, using photographs of a rubber cement canister. The second is by Kathryn Brylinsky, using incredibly detailed scans of a mailed package from overseas.

In a relatively direct project from early on, students had to use typographic elements ONLY to deliver a quote, phrase, or saying to maximize communication. Below is another one by Kathryn.

There were two massive projects, the scope and scale of which I had no preconceived notions for. They occurred at the end of each semester, and took several weeks to research, conceptualize and execute. The first originated with numbers, but delved into the research of numerology, religion, geometry, and numerical significance. This execution is by John, and deals with investigating the theory of interconnectivity between the golden ratio and the Amen Break (the world's most frequently, and famously, sampled drum break).

The big one from the second semester began with a form of Buddhist meditation/education known as a koan. Each student was assigned a different koan, the meaning of which they interpreted themselves, and which informed the direction they would take the project. During the first week, they had to come up with 100 concepts for their project, one of which was selected during a class discussion, to be further developed. The two below are from Olena, and Kenia del Rosario. Olena's, a block of time, became a multi-dimensional electronic portal, traveling exhibit and website. Kenia's, a pop-up book documenting the struggle with, and ultimate acceptance of her father's bi-polar disorder, titled The Dischord and Harmony of an Intricate Mind.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

David Lance Goines speaking for himself.

“There's not really a beginning to things anymore than there's an ending. We are in the middle of a continuum. Time is an illusion. But, we humans create patterns. We impose order on chaos so we can get our work done. I did posters in high school for musical performances, but had no notion of becoming a graphic artist or any other kind of artist for that matter, and I stopped doing art and went off to Cal Berkeley to study Classics, but got thrown out and became a printer instead. After a while-with the means of production in my hands as Karl Marx suggested-I started doing again what I'd all along really liked doing though it had never crossed my mind that you could make a living doing what you liked. So for me it's Crafts Period all day long every day. "The Kitchen" isn't really the first poster, but it's the first poster that started out as a poster, and got printed for a client, and I was paid for. Someday there will indeed be a last poster, and somebody somewhere will do what they've been waiting to do all along with those little signs on the museum wall that say:

David Lance Goines (1945 - )

and they'll start filling in the space at the end. And it will make them very happy but I won't care.”

His writing: "I tried to imagine a new color. I knew that since I could not see a new color that I could not even imagine one, but I found this vision of the unattainable quite compelling. I had a vague sense that the new color would be toward the blue-purple end of the spectrum, perhaps somewhat opalescent. Indeed, I had the feeling that it would in some strange way resemble the shapeless cloudlike..."

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Some Call it Tampee

Recently, I went to “The World's Largest Yard Sale” in Stormville, New York. There were tons of crap, as would be expected, but my wife and I were quickly hip to the great record shopping we could do. So we dove in and surfaced with Purple Rain by Prince, a 10CC record, The Fifth Dimension by The Byrds, Tango in the Night by Fleetwood Mac, Half Breed by Cher, but most important to me, Legalize It by Peter Tosh (1976), which brought on a surge of love for all in the name of Jah. (We spent about 10 dollars total.)

This album was a really big deal to me as a teenager, for obvious reasons, but now it serves as a great album, musically and lyrically, with all the inherent nostalgia. As I was listening to it (and this copy was miraculously perfect), studying the cover design, I thought, “I wonder who designed this thing..” And so it says on the back that Andy Engel did. Who is Andy Engel? After a great deal of online research, I’ve come up with very little. There is an Andy Engel design firm in Ojai California, but that's not adding up. And there is an Andy Engel who seems to have designed Pump by Aerosmith, Off the Wall by Michael Jackson, and Springsteen’s Born to Run. This makes more sense, but there is no hard fact I can find about the relationship. Maybe they’re all the same guy..

The point is that this album cover is effortlessly perfect. The image of Tosh, intently smoking a pipe in a field of weed (the perfect plume of smoke curling amidst the requisite Rastafarian coloration) is a true icon. The hand-drawn type and sketchy red, yellow and green borders are perfectly balanced with the image.

As a designer and educator, I tend to know the creators of my favorite work. So, for the designer of this album cover (that has taken real-estate in my mind for so long) to be unknown to me is unusual. But we must investigate! If I find out more, I will add what I find.

While we’re on the subject, I want to direct attention to Rockers (1979), a favorite movie, which includes Tosh’s song Steppin' Razor (a nickname he earned for his volatile personality.) Rockers captures amazing late-70s Jamaican fashion, is endlessly quotable, and jammed with amazing music. It is subtitled because of the thickness of the Jamaican wording and dialect. It's pretty much a perfect movie. Just see the opening scene..
Once when I was on a bus crosstown on 79th street, there was an Asian girl sitting across the aisle, with a Rockers pin on her backpack. I didn't think the movie was very popular at the time, so I had to mention that I knew about it. It turned out that she was sitting next to her boyfriend, Patrick Hulsey, the producer of the movie. They gave me the pin, and I, in turn, gave the pin to my friend, Matt, who first introduced me to the movie.
Another favorite musician/producer from Jamaica is the prolific Lee Scratch Perry. Below are some pictures from his studio (inside and outside) from the late 70s.

And finally (of communicative interest) are some of Tosh’s words — twists and inventions on existing words, varying, by degrees, from silly to profound.

“America” —> "Asadica”
“Buckingham” —> "Buk-In-Hamm”
“Bureaucrats” —> "Bureaucraps”
“Christopher Columbus” —> “Christ-t’ief Come-rob-us”
“City" —> “Shitty”
“Disc jockey” —> “District johncrow” (johncrow is a Jamaican vulture)
“Ganja (Prohibition)” —> “Gone-Jah”
“Germany” —> “Germs-many”
“Judge” —> “Grudge”
“Inequity” —> “Out-a-quit-ty”
“Kingston” —> “Killsome”
“L.A.” —> “Hell A” (Los Angeles)
“Lawyer” —> “Liar”
“LSD” —> “Lucifer Son of Devil” (referred to as the drug of the devil)
“Managers” —> “Damagers”
“Marco Polo” —> “Marc O. Polio”
“New York City” —> “Boo York Shitty”
“Politics” —> “Politricks”
“Prime Ministers” —> “Crime Ministers”
“Situation” —> “Shituation”
“Technology” —> “Tricknology”
“Trinidad” —> “Trinibad”
“Unicycle” —> “I’n’I-cycle”
“Understand” —> “Overstand”

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Secret of Holding the Sword with Nothing in Your Hands

The most profound difficulty and, simultanesously, the most inspiring spirit in design comes down to a single Way of thinking: There is no approach that consistently works, there is no style that lasts, there is no form that remains perfect forever. In accepting this, however, there is complete and abundant freedom.
I have had the most extreme trouble admitting to my students (at the School of Visual Arts in New York) that I can't teach them HOW to design. I cannot tell them that Berthold Baskerville is the best typeface, or that purple and gold is the best color combination to use, or that big is better than small. Because, speaking contextually, all that can be wrong. Things are really only right in context. Therefore, as a designer, it is of paramount importance to avoid getting caught up in personal likes and dislikes, or posturing, or affectation. These modes will lead in the wrong direction, and though you may reach a goal, you haven't gotten there on the right path.

I'm not sure where I learned this thinking...
The seed was sewn by the great designer + creative director, Tracy Boychuk, who I regard as my mentor, and have done so for 7 or 8 years. She was the first to talk about appropriateness—to instill the idea that right and wrong in design are only contextually true. And that ugly can be beautiful if the situation calls for it. And so I have always strived to neglect my tastes and figure out what is contextually appropriate. I have committed to this path and found style to be an encumbrance and preconception to be certain failure.
My writing-partner (from my 1st job in advertising), Jeff Yonteff, who has been a constant inspiration and guide, introduced me to the great book, Hagakure: The Way of the Samurai, a practical and spiritual guide for a warrior, drawn from a collection of commentaries by the samurai, Yamamoto Tsunetomo. Upon opening this book, my life changed and the way I saw the world changed. The analogy of designer as swordsman never escapes my mind now. And this book opened me up to a great many thoughts on the soul, my duty as a human, the principles of Shinto, and led to the discovery of another life-altering book, The Demon's Sermon on the Martial Arts, by Issai Chozanshi.
More focused on the mind, and the inner path of the swordsman, I find this book to be the essential reading for young designers today. There is a deep importance placed on returning to honor, duty, discipline, cultivation of technique and immersion into process. The similarities between the great swordsman of Chozanshi's time and the true designer of today are endless. It is for that reason that all of my students read this book.
As with the Hagakure, The Demon's Sermon on the Martial Arts is beautifully translated by William Scott Wilson.

This preamble serves to present some selections from The Demon's Sermon on the Martial Arts:

“When you use strength to control your pull of the bowstring, you run counter to the character of the bow, you and the bow are in opposition and become two. When your spirit does not pass back and forth between you and the bow, you will actually obstruct the strength of the bow, and strip away its force. Thus you will be unable to send the arrow far or to penetrate the target with force. . .Everyday human affairs are just like this. If your intention is not true and you conduct yourself incorrectly, you will lack diligence in the affairs of your lord and be disloyal, you will dither around with the affairs of your parents and show no filial piety, and not be sincere to your relatives and friends. People will despise you, society will detest you, and you will be unable to cope with things. When your ch'i does not fill your entire body, inwardly you will be prone to sickness and your mind will be hard up; in your affairs you will be preoccupied and anxious, and you will be unable to undertake any noble enterprise. When you obstruct the character of things, you run counter to human nature, distance yourself from matters, and are out of harmony; and when this happens, you end up in conflict. When your spirit is unsettled, you have many doubts and your affairs are unending. When your thoughts are moving, you have no tranquility and make a multitude of mistakes.”

“Man's mind, too, is not without the good. When you follow your own true character and are not a slave to your passions and desires, your spirit will not be troubled, you will be in touch with the phenomena of this world, and practical application will have no obstacles. For this reason, the 'Way of the Great Learning is in making clear your adamantine character,' and in the Doctrine of the Mean it says that 'Complying with your character is called following the Way.' In explaining principle from the top, scholars express its standard. Nevertheless, the mediocrity and confusion of some people are deep, and such people are unable to change the substance of their ch'i and directly return to the spirit of their true character. For this reason, scholars preach about 'the extension of knowledge' and 'making one's will and heart sincere.' They also expound self-examination and being watchful over ourselves when we are alone, and would have us step over the true ground of self-discipline.
“Swordsmanship is also like this. Facing your opponent, you forget about life, forget about death, forget about your opponent, and forget about yourself. Your thoughts do not move and you create no intentions. When you are in a state of No-Mind and leave everything to your natural perceptions, metamorphosis and change will be conducted with absolute freedom, and practical application will have no obstacles. When in the midst of a great number of opponents, you will cut and thrust before and behind, and to the left and right. And even if your body is smashed to bits, our ch'i will be under control and your spirit settled, you will suffer no changes at all, and you will be as correct and peerless as Tzu Lu.
“If you will be like this, how could you fail or be without result? This is the deepest principle of swordsmanship. Nevertheless, it is not a Way you can climb up directly without incurring traveling expenses. If you do not try out your techniques, temper your ch'i, train your mind, or make intense and diligent efforts without fail, you will never reach the Way.”