Walden, or Design in the Woods

Before we get into it, it’s another week of free shipping on Society6 if you follow this link. Enjoy.

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And so we have reached the final cover in the Words Matter series. We left this one for the very end because it went through many phases and we wanted to show you a bit of the process that led to the creation of the final version. So, get ready for quite a photo essay this time.

As we have already explained with a few previous projects, we love making use of the fact that we live close by woods and using this in our designs. We’d also had a positive experience with branch typography before and so we wanted to repeat this when working on the cover for Walden, Henry David Thoreau’s classic about leaving society and living independently in a remote, woodsy location. Branches seemed like a perfect material for this theme and so one day we went out and picked enough to arrange the typography.

Walden 1.0 seemed like it would be a simple and straightforward idea, repeating our previous design: we arranged the name as a huge composition in our mostly unused room with the help of tape, blu tack and some Ikea furniture. It looked messy but it worked the way we’d planned.

redesign-walden-04It was spring then so the leaves were fairly fresh and small. In the end we shot the whole name and the photos turned out nice, clean and sufficiently legible. But during editing we realized that it will simply not work because we arranged the letters so horizontally. The cover would have small lettering and a lot of unnecessary background above and/or below it. We realized we would need to re-shoot the whole thing, arranging the letters differently.

redesign-walden-05By the time we returned to this idea, leaves got much bigger. We also began to think that arranging the letters vertically in several lines one above the other might be a tad difficult. So, another idea was born.

Walden 2.0 didn’t work out in the end either but I still think it was a good theory. This time we decided to arrange a flat composition where the letters would have a leafy border around. Not only should it (in theory) look very good but also refer to similar nineteenth century compositions and so make a nice period reference. What didn’t work this time was simply our lack of skills and/or patience.

redesign-walden-09 redesign-walden-06 redesign-walden-10We once read Marian Bantjes’ story of a plant poster: how she started from arranging the actual plants and gave it up because it looked like “a pile of shit” (true quote, I pulled out Pretty Pictures – which I adore – to confirm it) so she ended up working with computer scans. We only realized the truth of this story once we started arranging the border.

redesign-walden-07It looked nothing like we imagined, just a mess of things. Again, we still believe this could be done but it would need some florist experience (and probably a different background color) – the border would require much more patience, attention and, most of all, flower-arranging skills than we could spare. Also, somewhere by that time we realized there was not enough woods for us in this image and we finally hit on the semi-final idea for this cover: the lettering needed to happen in the woods, not in our apartment!

Walden 3.0. We did not dare to arrange the letters literally in the woods. We could simply see the moment when everything is almost ready and a cheerful puppy walked by an oblivious owner runs straight into the middle of the composition. Instead we decided to make the lettering portable with the help of a cardboard frame.

redesign-walden-13We built the frame from an Amazon box with a construction of wire to attach letters to. We fixed the letters with silver tape, blu tack, paper tape and simply everything that would make it more sturdy. It was not a pretty job – but in the end we loved the messiness of it. Even though we originally wanted to remove the scaffolding digitally, it made it to the final cover because they made the whole thing look so much more real and unusual. They also added the symbolic meaning of human influence on the natural world.

redesign-walden-11redesign-walden-12Still unsure of whether the shooting in the woods will pan out, we took some backup inside photos and they turned out alright. This is a completely unretouched version of one of them but it has potential to become a decent cover.

redesign-walden-15redesign-walden-14However, by then we were intent on trying out the idea of using the actual woods as background and so we went out again to create Walden 3.1, which was to become the final version of the cover. Of course, this session couldn’t have been too simple either. Once we got to the right spot, we realized we forgot the camera card. Classic us. (Also, it was alternatively very hot and rainy.) Then, we needed to decide where to place the frame so that there would be good contrast between lettering and the background. It took many, many attempts and a few moments of utter discouragement.

redesign-walden-17But finally we took a few photos that we could use. This was obviously not the end of the story (long as it already must seem to you). In fact, Walden was by far the most complicated and time-consuming cover when it came to retouching it. Even the back cover, which is twigs on the ground, took forever, because it’s actually composed from a couple of different photos. But we really enjoyed working on this cover, despite all the small frustrations on the way, and it’s too bad one can’t combine designing with outdoorsy activities more often.

redesign-walden-03redesign-walden-02Oh, as a side note: when we brought our pile of… well, plants to the house to arrange the border this fellow traveled along:

redesign-walden-08It was too lovely a coincidence to ignore so we did place him on the cover (even though as far as we know, nobody noticed yet).

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