Designers Hell Bent on Traditonal Methods

Last year the student AIGA group from Specs Howard School of Media Arts, and I took a field trip to the Russell Industrial Center in Detroit. We had the privilege of meeting Mark Arminski.  Arminski  a local Detroit artist who bridged the gap between the psychedelic 60’s and grudge of the 90’s.

Arminski is an artist who works traditionally, painting or screening concert posters and whatever commissions he receives.  He has done advertising work for large corporations, including liquor and cigarettes yet the concert poster is what he is most known for.

Mark was very inspiring and warm, he welcomed the group in and said come back any time. The students were thrilled to here him talk about his design concept of painting and hand lettering, which he felt gave him the most freedom to shape the communication.

In an interview Arminski talks about the ability for many people to create art because of the internet, and the ability to reach a far greater audience. As well as the open ability to sell art, that without the internet artists would be creating with a limited market. [1]

While Arminski recognizes some of the merits of working with the computer, his work is done by hand. He exudes creation in whatever form grabs his attention. The first image is a poster, and the second a snippet of an oil painting he was working on the day we visited.

Another Motown designer who later transplanted to teach at Cal Arts is Ed Fella.  Fella is well-known for his explosion of self-expression in the 1980s when much of the design world was sticking with the clean lines and clear communication of International or Swiss style.

Fella brought authorship back into design as each of his pieces were hand created by hand and very self expressive.  Before Fella attended Cranbrook for his Masters, he worked in the advertising world even while he was working in advertising he would often draw little political pieces for himself to hand around the office.

In an Interview for Designer People, Fella talks about doing all his work by hand, with color pencils, ball point pens and crayons. He also works with a waxer and knife, he cuts and pastes.  His lettering is by hand, as he says “of course he letters everything by hand.”  He was considered to have brought the craft back to design in a time of the introduction of the computer.  Fella also feels that working by hand offers him the most flexibility. [2]

Both Fella and Arminski cited flexibility as a major reason for creating using traditional methods. Arminski has adopted the computer for certain aspects such as selling and networking.  Both designers are illustrative more over production designers and so this seems fitting that they would create using traditional methods. I feel that designers have to have some ability to drawing to be fully successfully. Whether it be the ability to do a napkin sketch, a thumbnail or a full illustration. There are certain skills developed by putting pencil to paper.

Also artist get lost in the process. For some designers this may mean working a photo composition in Photoshop, while for others it means getting lost in the paint or pencil marks being made.

In the samples I found the end results were very successful and the outcome not hindered by the process of traditional methods.

There seems to be an interesting dichotomy regarding computer art and traditional art. Some computer artist feel they do not need to use traditional methods to create – ever. Yet once they begin to feel confident in their skills, the idea of sketching becomes easier to reach for.  And reversely once a traditional artist puts something into the computer to manipulate the end result they also fall in love with new possibilities.

Young designers have grown up with computers and may feel a disconnect between art and design.  To encourage them to doodle and use that as part of a design solution, or graffiti opens new doors.  For the seasoned designer perhaps acclimated to the speed of the computer process, yet feeling less fulfilled, a return to traditional methods could infuse the designer with renew passion for the field.

Creatives need to create. Experiment. Get their hands dirty. Bringing art and computer together often offers a warm, organic solution to a design challenge. Sitting in front of a computer ten hours a day or allowing the computer to be the designer stifles humans.  We have to remind ourselves and those we mentor that the computer is just another tool in the designers belt.



[2], Interview for Designer People


Life in and Out of Structure

As a kid growing up my boundaries were outlined by four streets, Newburg, Cherry Hill, Wayne and Palmer. Many streets dead ended at the woods, Wayne road held Norman’s market, were one dollar meant a weeks candy stash. As a teen a walk around the block meant a four hike, each intersection located a mile apart on the country road.  Directions were easy because each road was one mile in all directions.

Never gave this much thought until stumbling upon Holly Holzschlag, Thinking Outside The Grid article.  Holzschlag recounts flying over cities and looking down on the city footprints. She tells us that Tucson was a planned city built on an orderly grid system. Whereas London, the city she compares Tucson with, is built in a spontaneous fashion. [1] It is also a much older city, growing organically through the centuries.

Looking at these maps one can see how the structure of the orderly gird system is easy to navigate, even dependable. However, the trip can become a little monotonous.  Driving around Detroit, built with a central district and circling out into the grid can be exciting as roads wrap and wind around the cities top attractions and business district.   However it is also easy to get lost.

Successful print and web designs are based on a grid system.  The grid is an invisible foundation that helps the designer align the elements on the page/spread.  Common grid systems are the Fibonacci Systems, the rule of thirds and a modular system. The modular is often thought to be the most flexible.

Ellen Lupton, Thinking With Type, says this about the golden mean, “This means that the smaller of two elements (such as the shorter side of a rectangle) relates to the larger element in the same way that the larger element relates to the two parts combined. In other words, side a is to side b as side b is to the sum of both sides.” [2]

She goes onto discuss the modular grid system developed by the Swiss designers in the 1950-60’s, Gerstner, Ruder and Müller-Brockman. [2] The modular grid offers a wide range of options while not forcing the grid.  In her book, Graphic Design, The New Basics, Lupton talks about the 9 square grid and its ability to build irregular and asymmetrical designs.  [3]

This modular grid which was created by Karl Gerstner, takes the grid to extremes. [2]

Order can suck the life out of a party as well as a good design. Yet just like art, before you can abstract the form you need to understand the form.  This is the same for grids.  In the world of design deconstructing the grid became the thing to do in the 1980’s.  Designers like David Carson were responding to the audiences growing sophistication.  Timothy Samara, in Making and Breaking the Grid, talks about the media bombardment as a catalyst for this change, “In an effort to create a meaningful impression that competes with, and distinguishes itself within, this visual environment, designers have pursued various new ways of organizing visual experience.” [4]

In breaking the grid the surface of the plane is challenged. Objects may recede or come forward in a seemingly haphazard manner. Or perhaps the grid is place on a series of angles. April Greiman’s poster for  AIGA,  entitled Objects in Space, is among a series of posters that challenge hierarchy, explore optical space and appear not to have a recognizable structure.

To break or not to break, it is not a question just a matter of when to do which. You decide. . .

Buro Reng Clean, grid design.

Borrowed from Tyson, Typography Love (SCAD student)

[1] Holzschlag, Holly. Thinking Outside The Grid. A List Apart
[2] Lupton, Ellen. Grid. Thinking With Type.
[3] Ellen Lupton, and Jennifer Cole Phillips, Graphic Design, The New Basics, (New York: Princeton Architectural , 2008), 176. Print.
[4] Samara, Timothy, Making and Breaking the Grid, A Graphic Design Layout Workshop, (Beverly: Rockport, 2002), 118-9, 145. Print.