The Golden Bough by sir James George Frazer is a classic of anthropological and mythographic writing: a book in which Frazer examines early religious beliefs and how they influenced contemporary customs still to be found in folk culture (well, contemporary to him anyway). Also, unlike many such works, it has a very pretty, evocative title, which partly influenced its inclusion into the Words Matter series and resulted in one of our favorite of all these covers.
In fact, we approached the design twice: at first we wanted to use mistletoe as appearing on one of the classic editions of the book but not only is mistletoe hard to get by outside of the Christmas season but also the one we did find didn’t look all that impressive in the end. So instead we settled on oak branches with their extremely characteristic (and pretty) leaves. We picked a lot of them and then we spent some time spraying them golden.
We were quite happy with the decision to go with oak because not only is it way more striking visually (sorry, mistletoe) but its symbolic meaning is also very powerful.
We did a die-cut lettering in a piece of golden paper, in art deco-like typography whose simplicity doesn’t distract from the whole idea and which is very elegant.
And then we arranged the leaves and the letters in such a way that the leaves come out from under the writing, illustrating the staying power of myths and how they permeate our culture. It looks fairly simple, but arranging the composition took quite some time and required quite a few decisions.
As happened so often with this series we turned out very happy with the result exactly because of its simplicity.
As usual, we spent a large portion of the long weekend working but at least it was on a fun project: an illustrated simple board game for children.
We all-too-rarely get a chance to illustrate, particularly by hand, so we enjoyed this project, of which we’re showing you a few sneak peeks today. We’ll share the whole thing some time in June when it’s out.
The first volume of Lévi-Strauss’s Mythologies, Le cru et le cuit (The Raw and the Cooked) was too lovely a title for us to pass up for Words Matter project. It describes natural oppositions that affect human way of thinking and the creation of abstract notions. It is also a wonderfully inspiring title from a designer’s point of view.
We chose a fairly direct approach of illustrating the titular opposition but initially we intended to use potatoes, as we already had a good experience, working with them (as you can see here). In fact, we prepared the whole set of letters:
But then we realized potatoes might not create the most exciting opposition between the raw and the cooked version. Instead we thought about beets, with their lovely color and we made a test run, frying a slice of beetroot with a letter X cut out in the middle. The result was very promising visually (if less so taste-wise) and so we sat down again to re-doing all the letters in the new material.
It actually took a few trips to the local grocery store. While beets are not extremely difficult to work with (just very dirty), we couldn’t get the right sizes and amounts at first.
As you can see, we didn’t go for literally “cooked” because fried beets looked so much better.
We opposed the two words not only by processing the second group of beets but also by making the first word a series of stamps and the second stencil cuts. Arranging the “cuit” part on an old-fashioned plate with garnish added the cultural aspect, so important in Lévi-Strauss’s studies.
For the back with the WM logo we could emphasize the opposition in a different way, using two halves of the same beetroot with the shapes being negatives of each other.
(Also, just a minor side note: we are now updating Mondays rather than Sundays. Sometimes we simply need to spend one day away from the screen and Sunday is usually our only chance.)
The use of body in tangible typography was an important part of our PhD thesis and so we included such a design in the Words Matter series. The opportunity came with John B. Watson’s Behaviorism, a book about how human beings’ behavior is essentially programmable. We decided that the image resembling a punch card (as used to program old computers) combined with the image of human body was a perfect illustration of the concept. Placing the writing on the inside of an arm holds an additionally menacing aspect because the concept of behaviorism is also somewhat menacing when you think about it.
After studying old punch cards (which, obviously, did not use typography as such, just seemingly random patterns) we used the grid to design the title:
And then the thing to do was to transfer the writing to an arm. The arm itself posed a slight problem because we preferred a male arm as less coded but R refused to pose (and he needed to take photos anyway). Then our friend A (hi, A) generously offered to help. We started searching for a tool that would be making the right kind of imprint and even considered going to a hardware store and asking the clerk for suggestions but we balked at the idea of explaining what exactly we needed and why (too Fifty Shades, I guess). We finally settled on a wooden chopstick, which turned out to be making just the right kind of imprint. But after a test ride it turned out the process was extremely time-consuming and rather irritating. So we decided we didn’t want to risk our friendship with A and had to settle on a female arm (which we still find less than ideal).
The main problem was the fact that only a few letters at a time were clearly visible so it took many partial shoots to get the whole word. (And yes, the marks remained a little visible for a while, but not beyond one day, in case you wondered.)
We feel the idea is strong and very appropriate for the subject matter, with just right symbolic meaning. But the legibility is not perfect and this is probably one of the least practical covers we designed, at least in purely commercial terms.
As promised last week, we want to share a few photos of our Easter card for this year to prove that we make questionable decisions with our time (I mean, we did make all these plasticine eggs and rabbits but we didn’t exactly clean up all the kitchen cupboards for Easter).
This year we decided to honor one of our favorite holiday pastimes, which is boardgames. After designing the board itself we made a list of all the 3D elements we wanted to include and set down to modelling. In the background we played Kiki’s Delivery Service: this is off-topic but we’re always happy to recommend this charming movie.
A big part of the work was mixing the colors because we only had a very basic set. Luckily, since our work on the surrealist manifesto, we had a lot of white plasticine left and we used it to make prettier, pastel colors. This was a very painterly part of the design.
Carrots and eggs were fairly easy to make but the real challenge and fun came with shaping the animals. Of course, we’re particularly proud of the fox.
Once all the elements were ready we arranged them on the board so that there would be a bit of dramatic tension.
As we try not to be hoarders (which, we find, is a bit of an occupational hazard) we kept the board for a week as an Easter decoration in our living room but then we recycled the elements. This allowed for making this neat infographics illustrating which colors appeared in what amounts. All in all, working in this organic way was extremely refreshing and we only wish we had more opportunities to do this in everyday work.
Have a wonderful time this Easter, spend it with your friends and family
and maybe play a board game or two.
And traditionally next week we’ll share a bit of making-of story for this year’s card.
And a slight update: Easter is not necessarily a time for gifts but if you want to test that tradition, Society6 offers free shipping this week if you follow this link.
Mary Douglas’s Purity and Danger examines the cultural notions of dirt and taboo. For this installment of Words Matter we chose a relatively straightforward approach, contrasting visually the two terms from the title and equating danger with dirt.
The rendering of the word “purity” might be one of the more literally sculptural endeavors of the whole project because it is sculpted in a bar of soap. We haven’t tried anything like that since the early years of primary school but we may say now that soap is a very graceful material, easily shaped – except when you let it dry and it begins cracking and breaking. At any rate, we like how imperfect the soap sculpture is. It looks like something Boo Radley could’ve made.
“Danger” is simply written in brownish red liquid that slowly disintegrates. We wanted it to bring about associations with physiology, bodily harm and danger.
Now, this project might not have involved all the excitement of our adventures with ants but each cover presented its own challenges and here it was definitely shooting the composition in a very, very small bathroom where we found an appropriately old-fashioned bathtub. It was some job to fit a large lamp and a tripod into that space where we could hardly both fit (we definitely couldn’t with all the equipment in). But we really wanted the bathroom setting to provide additional context. First, we considered white tiles but then we decided that the mere hint of white ceramics suited the concept of purity better while the drain adds a, perhaps slightly disturbing, grounding element.