Moon Studio

A good friend of mine has a burgeoning pottery business. She sells handmade ceramics online and at local shops and markets, and recently took on her first studio in an old converted barn where she makes beautiful things and holds workshops.
The latest development in this business plan was to ask me to make her a hand-painted sign for the workshop

This was a particularly important commission for me. It’s nice to be involved in your friend’s projects and I was given creative freedom with the design and style of the piece, so as well as producing something effective for her business, I was also looking for a strong addition to my design and sign writing portfolio. The project also involved different disciplines, from preliminary pencil sketches, some work in illustrator, to hand-lettering and gilding.

I had in mind the idea of producing the sign in black and white but was keen to create some kind of effect for the main logo panel. There has been an old cigar box of silver leaf on the workshop shelf for some time, a mixture of transfer and loose leaf that my dad is certain belonged to my granddad. I was keen to put it to good use and eager to gain some more gilding experience.

http://www.moonstudioceramics.co.uk/

British Lorries In Colour

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I felt like sharing some shots from a recent book find. We undertook some handpainted work on a restored vintage truck for a client a few months ago and, while discussing the design and work brief with the client he pulled out an old hardback book called British Lorries In Colour, by S.W. Stevens-Stratten, to give me some guidelines on what he was hoping to achieve.

He let me use the book as a reference but it proved such a valuable resource that, upon completion of the work, I felt the need to track it down on ebay for keeps to add to the ever-expanding sign / lettering library.

Here’s some of the examples that stood out for me in particular.

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Cinema Typography Inspiration

I’ve been getting lots of typography inspiration from old black and white movie title cards, with some notable examples in the B-movie and film noir genres.

Wonderful vintage typefaces brought to monochromatic life with inventive backdrops and imaginative shadow and visual effects.

Here are some of my personal favourites……

dawn_title a85e9a4aecdb828b255c7470f783f7fc cda97d4d02548849f2fd7cc343fe0b82 nothing_but_trouble__title_card_ hellsangels1930dvd old-maid-trailer-title youngamerica1932dvdr The-Day-The-Earth-Stood-Still-movie-title-screen-movies-2074178-640-480 02468dcaa8a4848fce256fb4443f4e67 in-a-lonely-place 6beecfd28613f1ad2044e6e4b9417abb tom-dick-harry-movie-end-title-screen-shot

Ad Boy

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I was very grateful to receive a copy of “Ad Boy – Vintage Advertising With Character” by Warren Dotz and Masud Husain, as a christmas gift a few weeks ago.

It takes a look at examples of illustrations created for branding and advertising, mostly from the post-war United States, a period distinguished by bright cartoonish images and characters, many of which would achieve the status of pop culture icons in the years that followed.  It’s a valuable reference book, both artistically and culturally.

I’ve been keen on researching these kinds of characters for some time. In a work capacity I’ve always favoured striking but simple hand-drawn, vector graphics over those of a more digitalized nature, and I sometimes reference vintage ads for inspiration when working with customer logos and designs. In terms of hand-painting, these examples are perfect as this style of character image can often be produced very effectively using simple, clean brush strokes in just one-colour, lending uncomplicated charm to an otherwise flat design.

The appeal of these post-war ad campaigns is not difficult to decipher, as the author explains in the book’s introduction: “Product characters were designed to comfort consumers, to reassure them that they were making the smartest, safest, best quality choices and thus were wise, secure, good people”. The rise of character and cartoon led campaigns is also explained: “It’s important to recall that prior to the 1950’s manufacturers didn’t market to children……But as baby boomers populated the burgeoning suburbs and television reached out for the hearts and minds of America’s offspring…..Advertisers took note and kids were targeted to sway their parents’ spending”.

It’s interesting to evaluate the appeal of these earlier forms in comparison with more modern forms of advertising, which can often appear crass in comparison despite the fact that vintage and modern advertising are still coming from the same place, and serving the same purpose. Let’s face it, the primary aim of these characters was never just to make us feel good, it was to sell product – leading me to feel slightly paradoxical at experiencing nostalgia for these images when I find most forms of advertising, whether it be on television or on billboards, to be intrusive and somewhat cynical (a strange feeling to have for someone in the sign trade, I know!). These days I walk down the cereal aisle quietly bemoaning the packaging that’s selling breakfast products loaded with sugar to a target audience with impressionable minds and vulnerable teeth. Yet, leafing through Ad Boy I get a sudden pang of nostalgia when confronted with an early image of Kelloggs’ Tony The Tiger.

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It’s difficult not to see these characters as products of a more innocent time. I can’t imagine the same feelings being evoked in thirty years time, when we’re looking back at the advertising that we’re currently experiencing. Maybe because we’re saturated with it  – ads pop up on our TV screens, on our computers, social media feeds, in the palm of our hands, and not forgetting the more traditional advertising mediums of magazines and newspapers, and on the daily commute plastered on the sides of buses and at train stations. This saturation has perhaps led to a sense of weariness about advertising. It works in the short term but are we going to be quite so eager to take it to our hearts?

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But whether or not you agree with the practises and principles that led to the evolution of these forms of character-led branding, there’s little doubt that it’s a visually striking, psychologically perplexing, and often downright weird world to inhabit, providing a wealth of inspiration to draw from.

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The anthropomorphisation in some of these designs, particularly in food advertising, is a particularly fascinating aspect and leads you to question both the thinking that goes into it and the effect it’s had upon our eating habits and philosophies – what’s the best way to advertise meat products? Of course,  you produce a sweet cartoon image of a smiling pig or chicken about to happily tuck into a plate of bacon or chicken nuggets – self cannibalisation as a marketing tool! I’ve always been slightly perplexed by some of the UK high street mainstays too, the fish and chip shop with a smiling cod on the fascia, and the numerous fried chicken outlets selling their wares with the image of a happy hen! We live in a weird world, no?

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Ad Boy – Vintage Advertising With Character : by Warren Dotz and Musad Husain.

Published by Ten Speed Press / Random House

Warren Dotz

Berlin & The Museum Of Letters

Picture 028Kicked off 2015 with a few days in Berlin to see in the new year and celebrate a friends’ birthday. Although we’d previously visited the city a few years ago as part of a European Inter-Rail trip, we needed little persuasion to revisit, Berlin is one of the best!

Situated a stones throw from Checkpoint Charlie on the border of historic Mitte and the slightly scuzzier but no less charming area of Kreuzberg, we took in cold-war history at the checkpoint museum and Karl-Marx-Allee, the Jewish museum in Kreuzberg (worth it for the architecture alone and an excellent gallery of poster stamps – early advertising stamps featuring exquisite illustrations and typography), excellent German food and flea markets in Freidrichshain, the overwhelming crowds at Brandenburg gate for New Year’s Eve, street art at the East Side Gallery (and most other places!) and some fantastic bars (again, mostly in the Kreuzberg area).

A late highlight for me was a visit to the Buchstaben museum. Here’s some explanation from the museum literature:

“The Buchstabenmuseum (the museum of letters) was born out of a passion for typography and for rescuing threatened letters from public spaces.  In 2005 Barbara Dechant and Anja Schulze founded the non-profit organization……dedicated to preserving, restoring and exhibiting signage from Berlin and around the world.  The museum researches and documents the stories behind the signs, exploring the letters’ unique typographic qualities as well as delving into the manufacturing process.”

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The museum was small but held a wealth of interest. The main gallery featured exhibits based on some of the salvaged signs, often with additional notes on the history of that particular sign and, in some cases, archive film footage and interviews with those involved in the production. For someone in the industry and with a general interest in the field, this all proved fascinating, but the look of the exhibits themselves held a more general appeal to those beyond type-geeks and graphic designers.  For a start many of the signs were neon, so walking through the dimly lit museum with these brilliantly illuminated letters was an impressive sight in its own right, regardless of the history and production details. But on closer inspection many of these letters, beyond the glow, had decayed beautifully, all sporting the many signs of ageing and exposure to the city – rust, peeled paint and bird shit. Many of the letters had collected years worth of dried leaves and cobwebs, coating them in a decrepit natural patina that seemed at odds with the still-strong modern glow of the neon.

In a city full of attractions, a type museum may not jump out as an obvious way of spending precious time, but it proved an odd and endearing attraction. Here are my highlights:

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Take a look at the links……

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I did this!

Studio 56New hand-painted sign just finished for a revamped hair salon in Christchurch, Dorset.

This one is significant for me as it’s mostly my own work and I was involved in all stages of production – from the design and layout, to the hand lettering.

The client had a strong idea of the style they were after but I was given a lot of freedom with the typography and overall look of the logo and board; and Vaughan was keen for me to see this one through and, apart from assistance with the fascia preparation and second-coating of the lettering, he let me get on with signwriting this one myself.

Definitely one to add to the portfolio.