Lately, I’ve been trying to turn down invitations to collaborate on other people’s projects because I feel that I can ill afford the time. With four speaking appearances coming up in the next six weeks and no shortage of other distractions, I’ve been cramming like mad in preparation.
But not long ago, Chris Vivion and John Loomis of Blue Eyes Magazine asked me to design title cards for two of their routinely beautiful online exhibits of documentary photography: “Borderland” by Carolyn Drake, a look at Ukraine at a crossroads between the traditional and the modern; and “City of Fathers” by Dan Seltzer, a visit to Hebron, where a few hundred Jewish settlers live amidst 150,000 Palestinians. It was just the kind of challenge that I like: it revolved around substantive content and entailed a conceptual mode of thinking — illustration, of a sort.
Think in Ink
For me what’s interesting about working illustratively is that it doesn’t offer the comfort of a highly constrained environment, which is what working on the Web is so often like. Compared to the tight, almost constricted elements that I typically deal in, tackling an illustration is a bit like deciding where to sit down in a wide open field. That’s how inured I’ve become to the myriad of technical restrictions involved in working online; I feel adrift without the complications.
So, sometimes you have to create your own constraints, which I did more or less subconsciously by waiting until the eleventh hour to tackle this assignment. The pressure of time can be a great creative jump starter; I had the idea that distorted letterforms on crumpled paper, photographed tightly and dramatically lit, would be an interesting visual metaphor for the content of both series of photos. So I typeset the title of each in Illustrator, printed them out on my laser printer, and photographed them quickly. Both were done inside of a few hours…
The results were very satisfying to me; I think what I like best about them is that they’re highly evocative — the folds and crumpling are random, but a lot of intent can be read into them. And, crucially, I liked that I had no idea how they were going to turn out; the whole process, short as it was, was a kind of discovery in which I had very little control. Which led me to think that a similar treatment would be appropriate for the title card of the slides I’ll be presenting at the AIGA National Design Conference in Denver on Saturday. Its title, as you can see, also happens to match the metaphor.
For those of you going to Denver, that’s just a little taste of my talk… I’ve got eighty-two additional slides to show you. Please fill up with coffee beforehand.