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November, 2012 Monthly archive

A few years back I discovered that I was colourblind. I was well into my design career at that point, and the revelation came to me as a massive shock. How could I have gone all this time without knowing!?! I had taken art classes all through primary school, attended two different post secondary institutions to study art & design, held jobs at multiple graphic design studios and advertising agencies, and it had NEVER come up!?! How could this have happened? I used to mock people who had “bad” colour sense and now the karma police had come calling.

My loving Mother dropped the bomb on me during a family vacation (“we had you tested when you were a toddler and you came up as colourblind”) and when I got home I did some digging online. I found a few examples of the Ishihara Test and sure enough, failed miserably. Those frustrating circles filled with various sized dots didn’t look like anything other than that. Guess I’ll never be a pilot now, let alone an astronaut… gee, thanks Mom.

In hindsight, maybe that is why I have always been drawn to bold, high contrast graphic work. Maybe it is one of the reasons my preferences skewed early on towards graphic design instead of fine art. I’ll never know, but I do know that being colourblind has never held me back. I learned early on never to trust my eyes anyway. I was taught to look at the numeric breakdown of CMYK process colours, spec pantone numbers and never to believe the colours represented on potentially poorly calibrated computer monitors. Perhaps that is why I got really good at two and three colour solutions. As every good designer knows, in order to create a successful piece of work, it MUST work in black & white before you even consider the application of colour. I always take pride in the fact that my designs would really pop in black and white (it will be great on a fax!).

Of course Sue will never let me live it down, and loves to rub my nose in the fact that “I can’t possibly spec anything to do with colours, because I’m colourblind”. Nevermind the fact that I had created award-winning designs all while never even knowing that I had trouble distinguishing between the darkest shades of red and green.

Besides, I figure if Graphic Design master Herb Lubalin could build such an illustrious career all while being colourblind, there might be hope for me yet.

 

a bunch of dots to me

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Anyone who has talked to me for more than fifteen minutes knows that I am a HUGE comic book nerd. Ever since I was eight years old, I have spent a good portion of my weekly disposable income on funny books. A good friend pointed out a long time ago, “Just imagine if you had invested that same money into mutual funds”. True, I would be in a much better financial position, but I would have lost out on thousands of hours of reading and visual enjoyment, as well as one of the main influences that directed me toward my career in the Graphic Arts. And although I would definitely have a lot more storage space available, I would not be the repository of useless superhero trivia that I am today. The visual language of comic books often creeps into my professional work and it is so ingrained into my being that I usually don’t even notice until someone else points is out. One of my favourite comic elements that sometimes shows up on our brainstorming sessions is “Kirby Krackle“.

Kirby Krackle is named after an effect created by Jack “the King” Kirby. Kirby would bring his pages alive by simulating the visual appearance of energy through the use of layered black and white dots. Similar to how a corse half-tone pattern generates the illusion of a photograph in a newspaper, Kirby would arrange dots in a way that created the crackling effect of electricity or powerful flowing energy. Once he figured out how to harness the power of those dots, he used them to create a dynamism within his work that has rarely been matched even to this day, almost 45 years later. Another of my favourite comic artists, John Byrne also utilized Kirby Krackle with great mastery.

Unfortunately Kirby Krackle is such a niche comic books visual motif, that most people who are not versed in comic’s visual language do not understand it. As a result, my heroic attempts to implement Kirby Krackle outside of anything remotely comic book related never make it past the concept sketches. I’ve kept my eyes open to see if anyone else has used a similar effect in the traditional work of the graphic design industry, but I have yet to see anything beyond the comic book medium. I swear, one day it will be the perfect visual solution for a design problem that I am struggling with… and what a truly great day that will be.

 

The Silver Surfer by Jack Kirby © Marvel Comics

 

Kirby Dots in action

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