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INSPIRATION

A few weeks back I did a quick trip from Vancouver to Los Angeles. It was a jammed packed, over-the-top four days, but I managed to find time to admire the typographic diversity and craftsmanship of the signage on display in the various neighbourhoods that I visited. Although I wasn’t enamoured with the local design offerings as I was when I visited the East Coast, there was still plenty to appreciate. In comparison to New York, Los Angeles is far more spread out and sprawling, so there is more distance to be covered to experience different signage opportunities. A great deal of the architecture is Art Deco and International inspired (at least in the neighbourhoods I spent my days), and the best environmental typography I found reflected that style. Neon was everywhere (which really fit with “LA”), along with the standard, mundane corporate light boxes. Not as prevalent as I would have expected, there was some “hand done” typography to be found. A somewhat unexpected surprise was a plethora of mosaic treatments. The light is unique in LA (maybe it is the smog?), and it gave the architecture and the accompanying signage a charming quality that is hard to describe.

Here are some samples of a few of my graphic design favourites;

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Many more images from my field trip here…

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My love of comic books is no secret. I have been purchasing funny books on a weekly basis since I was eight years old, and much to the dismay of my wife, my collection has ballooned to almost 20,000 issues. There is little doubt that my love for the comic book medium lead directly to my involvement in the graphic arts. When FanExpo was held this past weekend in Vancouver, anyone who has ever met me knew where I could be found.

I love comic books, but the fans that attended FanExpo really, really, REALLY embrace pop culture. The variety of costumes on display helped pass the time while waiting in the ridiculously long line-up to get into the convention centre. So many characters pulled from comic books, cartoons, anime, movies and video games… kudos to the amount of effort that Vancouver fans put into their costumes.

For anyone associated with the visual arts, events like this just can’t be passed up. It was visual overload and a great opportunity to be exposed to some really interesting material. The work that our graphic design studio produces is primarily based in print, and there was no shortage of interesting print matter to ogle. Great vintage posters, exciting books, wonderful packaging, and cutting edge illustrations; many created right in front of your eyes. Aside from an opportunity to find obscure comics or hard-to-find toys, it is a good chance to discover new inspiration. I was lucky enough to chat with the creators of some of my favourite comics and I even had Stan Lee sign one of my back issues. The guy is in his 90′s and he has more energy than my kids!

If comic books aren’t your thing (What!?!), FanExpo does a great job of offering a variety of pop culture interests, and the programming takes advantage of the TV, Film and Videogame talent that is a huge part of the industry in Vancouver. Great fun for kids of all ages. Maybe next year I’ll even bring mine along.

 

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I’m a sucker for good graphic design books (what designer isn’t?). A pile of books showed up around Christmas time. Some of them were X-mas gifts, others arrived from the library. Luckily, I was able to dig into them over the holidays and become inspired by what I read. Here is a quick rundown of what was awesome on the book pile;

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Prior to Christmas holidays I was busy styling Danica Studio’s Fall 2013 catalog.

In October I was very fortunate to see Sibella Court when she spoke at Maiwa on Granville Island. She is a stylist, designer and collector who I’ve really come to admire. She has an eye for finding the extraordinary in everyday settings and objects. The timing of her lecture was perfect as I was in the beginning stages of planning and I found her talk very inspiring.

In late November, I was on the prowl for new and interesting props. Some of the things on my list were: vintage perfume bottles, metal trays and vessels, fancy utensils, feathers, fish, nuts, fall foliage, bristle brush animals, pearls, spotted eggs, trophies and small things in shades of blue. When I wasn’t shopping, I was painting and distressing backdrops and searching for small, portable pieces of furniture.

Early December we embarked on a three week photoshoot. To make the most of everyone’s time and resources, three catalogs were shot simultaneously. For part of the shoot we rented the upstairs apartment at Le Marché St. George. The dark wood floors and vintage doors and hardware made for a lovely backdrop. I was very fortunate to work with photographers Tanya and Meghan of Sweet Heirloom again. Here are a few of my favourite shots.

 

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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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I’m very fortunate to have not one, but two creative parents. When it came to school projects, sports day, birthday parties, Christmas concerts and Halloween, I felt we had the upper hand. Despite their hectic schedules, mom and dad always had time to help us with our science and art projects, or plan and make the perfect Halloween costume.

As a kid, part of the thrill of a homemade costume was the process; seeing a burlap sack and some Jiffy markers turn into an Indian costume; watching my dad “cast” my brothers arm when he and my older brother dressed up as Patient and Doctor; hanging out in my dad’s shop as he attached a wooden Pirate’s hook (that he cut by hand) to a Glenfiddich Whiskey tube.

As an adult, I reflect upon Halloween with very fond memories. Today most costumes are bought on eBay or at Old Navy for $29.99, with little thought and no creativity. This weekend when I pull out my sewing machine and glue gun to put the final touches on our Halloween costumes, I’m hoping to show my daughter the value of family traditions and the importance of doing it yourself.

 

homemade halloween costumes

homemade halloween costumes

Vintage halloween costumes

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Ever since “Art” college I’ve carried around some form of sketchbook, and I’ve always held onto a romantic stereotype of the artist’s sketchbook. I’ll never forget purchasing that first sketchbook before my first year drawing class. Our semester long assignment was to lurk around back alleys downtown and draw whatever we found (interesting on so many levels). Whenever I pick up supplies, I always get side-tracked looking at the variety of notebooks available, and I usually get at least one sketchbook for Christmas or birthdays every year. I’ve even taken a stab at book-binding and made my own books and journals. I know lots of graphic designers stick to the same brand and size format all the time (consistency is the key to strong branding!), but I just can’t pass up the opportunity to try out something different every time. I’m infatuated by the endless possibilities a new sketchbook presents (and I like flipping through friends and other designer‘s sketchbooks).

Unfortunately, my habit of filling pages has dropped off considerably and it has been a long time in-between starting a fresh book. I used to religiously carry my sketchbook around Vancouver, jotting down notes, whipping off quick drawings, cobbling together layouts, and taping in clippings and photos. There’s always a sense of accomplishment when all the pages are filled and I can crack open a fresh blank book. However, most of our “professional” 10four concept sketches, research and layouts for graphic design studio projects are done on loose, letter size pages and stuffed into numbered docket envelopes. Now my sketchbooks are mostly for personal projects (which are few and far between), or taking notes during client meetings (which are not few and far between). Even less now that I carry my iPhone everywhere and just snap off photos whenever I want a reference or need to remember something. Maybe if I get my hands on a very expensive calligraphy pen (or dig out the rapidographs) it will reboot my sketchbook output.

10four design group

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A few weeks back I had the privilege of attending Work & Turn‘s Crafting Type; a 5 day intensive workshop all about typeface design. As soon as I heard about the program, I jumped at the chance to attend. For years I have been waiting for an opportunity to attend a type design workshop. I would longingly read reviews about the Type@cooper program in NYC, knowing full-well that I would never be able to afford the time away from work or family to attend such a self-indulgent nerdfest. Then out of the blue, a type design workshop pops up in Edmonton (EDMONTON?) of all places. My old stomping grounds! I could even crash at my parents place, borrow my dad’s car (Update: sorry about that photo radar ticket, Dad!), if I was lucky, maybe Mom would pack me a lunch (and she did).

Sure, it wasn’t the rigorous 5-week intensive condensed program in typeface design at the Cooper Union, but Crafting Type was no slouch. Kyle and Jeff (Work & Turn) brought in type heavyweights to do it right, three graduates of the MA Typeface design at the University of Reading; Dave Crossland (UK), Eben Sorkin (USA), and Octavio Pardo (Spain). Three guys that love all things letters, fantastic instructors that complemented each other well, and they each brought a distinct and well-balanced approach to type design.

The 37 participants started off by drawing individual letters (curse you letter “o”) and learning the proper technique for sketching letterforms. We also gained insight into understanding how and why letters are formed the way they are, and how type is related to, yet different from handwriting. At the end of the day I was amazed at how much I had learned, and it was only day 1.

After a full day of pencil drawing (my poor clawed hand), Dave introduced us to FontForge; an open source type design program, which happens to be free. At first I was skeptical, but after working with Fontforge for 5 days, I’m a convert. I will be utilizing FontForge for the majority of production on my next typeface project.

The remainder of the week focused on massaging glyphs in order to get them to relate to each other, mixed with lectures about letter spacing and kerning, multiple weights, italics, diacritics, ligatures, open type functions, and hinting. After day 5 most of us had only completed a handful of letterforms, but we were well on our way to developing new industry standard fonts. It was tough work and a whirlwind of knowledge, but there was plenty of lively discussion about fonts, tote bags filled with typography books and typographic freebies, coffee & cupcakes, and a great after-party to wrap the whole week up.

At the end of it all Crafting Type was 12 hour days fully immersed in drawing letters and focusing on creating a system of glyphs that work as a cohesive unit. I loved every moment.

 

Type Design Workshop

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Got caught off guard by these stunning window displays at Saks Fifth Ave.

I had always heard about the fabulous Christmas window displays at the famous NYC retail institution, but I had no idea they would be equally fantastic at other times of the year. I was totally sidetracked. Love the raw metal, wood, and vintage apothecary apparatus. Wish I knew who put them together.

 

Saks Fifth Ave Window display

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A few years back we vacated our Quebec street location and went on a hunt for a new home for 10four. We scouted across all of Vancouver to find the perfect space (we were picky, and it was painful), but eventually we landed at our current home here in Railtown.

We’ve been here for a while and it is finally starting to feel like home. Early in my career I worked a few blocks away on Water Street in Gastown, and I wasn’t really looking forward to moving back into the neighbourhood. Luckily, Railtown has turned out to be a much better fit than Gastown. Things are a little quieter; there are no nightclubs and there are definitely not any tacky tourist trinket shops.

Although it is probably the smallest “named” neighbourhood in Vancouver, Railtown has a historic quality that helps define the area. Traditionally a district of warehouses and light industry, recently fashion boutiques, arts groups, technology and design studios have been scooping up the vacant spaces. There is a mix of restaurants and food trucks to supply a good variety of food choices for lunch, and nearby Crab park is a hidden urban oasis down by the tracks.

JJ Bean Coffee Roasters is just up the block, and Loki always receives at least a few pats while she sits outside waiting for me to grab my morning coffee. There are also a ton of dogs in the neighbourhood, so that makes Loki feel right at home.

Now that summer is here and I’m spending more time walking around the area, it feels like we made an inspiring choice for our studio location.

 

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