Another spring, another severe weather warning in Alabama. First the Museum delayed opening. Then we were sent home early. Fortunately, the severity of the weather never met expectations. Working from the couch at home, I made do, as one does, with a little IPA to go along with working on website mock-ups.
Prepping new method and format. Undercoat of black gesso on 24 x 24 inch board.
I’ve been creating 5 x 7 block prints, then projecting to 36 x 48 canvases for years now. It’s the working method for all of my Sloss and Birmingham Mandala projects. It’s a big and labor intensive process. So, time for a change.
This is for a new series of images. They all began as Instagram photos, more or less all showing spaces that aren’t intended for people, but through which people sometimes find themselves navigating. Parking lots. Parking structures. Interstate underpasses. Rather than creating a block print, I’ve refined and redrawn each image in Procreate on my iPad. This started as a way to play around and experiment with the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil, but has become a more refined process. And now, rather than produce a block print, I’m printing out the image, then will project it on the prepared wood. From that point, the process will still be similar to previous canvases. Masking tape. X-Acto. Etc.
More process photos to come I imagine.
The Museum will open the largest contemporary exhibition curated from the permanent collection. The exhibition highlights many of the collecting themes the Museum has followed the last twenty or so years. A focus on under-represented viewpoints. A highlight of the “other.”
Third Space frames issues of the Global South within the framework or prism of the American South. It is impossible to look at art in Birmingham, Alabama, without the baggage of the location. What does it mean to examine the perspectives of artists grappling with exile, representation, identity, and more in this place. How have these issues been confronted in Birmingham, or the American South. A place that has more in common with struggling regions around the world than it does with cities or regions in the United States.
But more, in the context of current events. Current attitudes. What can this art teach us about ourselves and those around us? In a sense, all art is political. And the art in this exhibition isn’t necessarily easy to look at, or easy to digest. Some is beautiful. Some is ugly. But all of it has a story to tell. A story that is worth listening to, or worth digging into and trying to understand.
I won’t lie. This exhibition has tested many of us at the Museum. The scale, the production timelines. The interpersonal things that develop within a staff committed to what they are doing, but not always seeing eye to eye. But in the end, I feel this is a very important exhibition, regardless of the stress it has caused me personally.
We all need a little more empathy. A little more understanding. An expansion of our perceptions. And if this exhibition can guide viewers to that, I think it will be worth the struggle we’ve put into it.
I hope you will consider coming to it. The opening event will likely be big, and full of people, and hopefully fun. I’m curious to see the reaction of people to a potentially heavy exhibition in the context of a party… I hope it piques people’s’ curiosity and encourages repeated visits. Walking through the gallery a few times during the installation process, I’ve certainly noticed new things each time.
I teased the above illustration on Instagram a while back. I’d been working on a digital illustration for an upcoming Museum event, Art After 5. We’ve been rethinking our programming and decided to end our after hours event on the first Thursday of each month, moving the event to the first Friday of each month, and retooling the programming. With that shift was a name change to Art After 5 and the necessary new art and ad materials.
The Museum often struggles to produce good, professional images of our events. We document events, but they are rarely marketing level images, so a photographic approach was not going to work. Not to mention the wide variety of events that we expect to program at Art After 5. An illustrative approach made logical sense.
For the 2015 Art on the Rocks season I played around with simple line art illustrations to complement the AOTR logo overlays and transparencies that are central to the identity. I made these directly in Photoshop on top of images from previous events. I enjoyed the process and final result, but felt like I could push it a little further to illustrate what to expect at Art After 5. To begin, I combed through photos from earlier Museum events that featured our expected programming.
Good representations of Museum events, but not quite ready for primetime images. After narrowing down to the four images above, I transferred the images into Graphic, an iPad app. There I drew simple line art on top of the images.
I didn’t want a lot of detail, thinking back to mid-century album art. Simple line art with colors and shapes. Something lively, a suggestion of activity, but the anonymity within the illustrations to allow for the viewer to imagine themselves in the moment. I’d also been thinking about hombre color schemes. I tinkered with a light blue to purple arrangement, but had issues getting contrast right for all of the pieces of the illustration, eventually settling on a complementary blue palette, alternating light and dark colors to create depth.
The finished vector art felt a little too crisp and flat, even with the alternating color. I added in textures, slightly different for each layer of the image. That created the right level of depth and added a bit more of a finishing touch to the art. Then it was a matter of laying in the text for the event highlights. Art. Music. Making. Mixing. And then Museum branding. Finished poster, ready to go to press and promote the next Museum event.
The Museum is relaunching a studio program offering art classes to children through adults. The previous incarnation slipped over the course of a few years with declining interest and institutional support. In an attempt to jumpstart a reinvigorated program, a new look was needed to go along with the new name, Studio School.
In an early presentation of the Museum’s new logo, BIG Communications highlighted ways the logo could be manipulated over time, becoming a more dynamic system.
While implementing the new identity in the last couple of years, I haven’t had much opportunity to play with this idea. For the satellite program shift I was able to use a progression from the Museum logo to an abstract S. The Museum wanted to highlight that it was behind the program, but retain some distance.
Other than the shift project, I’ve spent most of the time just trying to get materials up to speed with the new logo and a consistent application. Simply trying to get the new mark in the publics’ mind. This year’s Art Camp offered a great opportunity though. The theme was “Art and Design Thinking,” and they needed a t-shirt design. Though the Museum counts some design objects in the collection, it’s far from a focus, and there isn’t a lot that lends itself to promoting design as a fun activity for first graders. Thus, an exploration of the under-used idea from BIG. I took the logo and began manipulating it into the necessary letterforms. The key being that each letter had to have the same number of “sides” as the logo.
When thinking about the Studio School, which ultimately will be the umbrella program over Art Camp, the new manager really liked the Art Camp design. In many ways it made logical sense to carry over some aspect of that design to the Studio School. So I began refining the concept a bit, making it more legible and less an abstraction and “maze” than the camp illustration (with the camp illustration I really wanted a design that invited curious investigation and a bit of effort to read).
From that point I refined the letterforms a bit more, again working on legibility, before arriving at a final solution, in both horizontal and vertical lock-ups.
Of course the logo alone isn’t going to cut it when it comes to posters and advertisements. We needed something with a bit more punch. As lovely as it might be to use happy photos of kids and adults making art, we simply don’t have the resources. And any photography we have is from actual classes or programs, often taken for documentation, not marketing. So what to do? Create some art, obviously.
I’m typically not a fan of using the logo as window approach, hence incorporating it a bit more into an abstraction of color and ink or paint strokes. I created a solid window version of the logo and began to layer in paint strokes and ink layers, manipulating the transparency settings and layers to create a dynamic composition. One that doesn’t quite work as a real painting, or at least be a bit tricky to create. But ultimately, the idea was to convey the energy and fun of creating art. More the feeling of art class than anything else. And also, of course, to create something that would stand out on a wall full of posters. As seen below, the final layouts of posters and postcards, showing the integration with the Museum branding.
For each application I adjusted the background layers of the illustration to create variety and make sure enough color was showing through the “window” to make the Studio School text legible. Though it is largely illustration, everything still conforms to the grid I’ve been using for Museum posters and designs lately. Even when using somewhat chaotic design, a strong underlying grid always brings things together.
This was a lot of fun to play with and design, and who knows, maybe it will last beyond the Fall 2016 session. A winter / spring approach could use new colors, new textures, but the same idea. Or perhaps I can evolve the system to use art actually created in the classes.
P.S. as soon as I finished I had to laugh at myself, cause I feel like I made an accidental homage to David Carson. But, it’s been 20 plus years, so I guess it’s ok to crib from that 90s aesthetic a little. Of course, outside of the logo text, everything is pretty straight forward. I didn’t go intentionally ugly or anti-design with the typography a la Mr. Carson’s habit.
Catalogs are large puzzles. We set the scope of this catalog at 96 pages, the general parameters of the puzzle based on previous projects, object count, and essay length. The basic pieces are easy; title pages, table of contents, legal page, and so on. Roughly six pages gone. The next part that is essentially set is the catalog of objects in the exhibition. An object per page, roughly 50 objects, and so on. Then comes the work. Four introductory pieces, all just a few hundred words, and the essay. Fifty comparative illustrations and 5,000 words, the meat of the content. Aesthetic questions of whether to use large details across from the opening writings, or cram them together depend on the essay and how long it runs.
I approach this process loosely, roughing the text into the layout, testing different column widths, adjusting for line length, and so on. I began with a two column approach, but realized lining up images with the text and maintaining two columns would be trickier than expected. Using one column could run the risk of overly long line lengths, and knowing the 50 images I needed to work in, I was afraid a single column would cause the text to run too many pages. But, I managed to adjust my margins and grid to allow for a reasonable line length. It’s a little long, but this essay won’t be a long read, so fatigue while reading shouldn’t be an issue. Using two-thirds of my grid for a single text column also solved the issue I would have run into with my captions. Running the primary text in one column allowed a narrower column for the caption information, a significant amount of text considering the number of comparative images. Accommodating this text would have been more difficult to work with had I used two even columns for the essay text.
Next issue, inserting all of those comparative images. Again, looseness directed the process. I dropped the images in the pasteboard and margins near the appropriate references in the text to get an idea of the rhythm of everything, and find problem areas. A section with 10 historical images illustrating a step-by-step process was the first tricky piece. Running images in line with the text would make it far too choppy and throw any rhythm off. Immediate solution: page of images across from a page of text. This would help break the general text up, while also allowing the description of the images to flow nicely. However, I knew I couldn’t count on a lot of free pages to run images with no text.
Having roughly placed the images, the essay ran the perfect length to allow me to alternate the introductory pages, large detail, text. Just what I’d hoped for, the satisfying moment when things just start clicking in place and the work gets really fun. I went back to the beginning of the essay and began finalizing the layout, tweaking the size and placement of the images, keeping the corresponding text on the same page whenever possible. This required the occasional major adjustment, but my initial loose process worked well, with no significant issues.
Some minor tweaking of character sylesheets and the book was ready for presentation and proofing. Surprisingly, there were no major layout changes after proofing. A couple of image swaps were the only changes to the layout. The rest of the adjustments were minor copy changes, making sure everything was consistent.
The last pieces were the endpapers. Early in the research phase of the project I found a number of vintage maps of the region, many of which were Russian. One in particular was available in super high-resolution and was particularly colorful; a soil study map published in the Soviet Union in 1960. Many of the pieces in the exhibition have Russian fabric liners, as many of the pieces are from an era of Russian involvement in the region, up to the time of Russian and then Soviet governance of the region. The map sets the tone for the exotic nature of the material, but really hints at the greater geopolitical forces explored to some degree in the main essay. And the fact that it’s a soil map is interesting, as the cotton industry would have been of significant interest to Russia, and the over irrigation of cotton fields is considered one of the most significant factors contributing to the disappearance of the Aral Sea.
And with the end papers set, the layout was complete. Another puzzle put together and ready to print.
Just sent the poster for the upcoming Morton Lecture at the Museum to press. It’s another exploration of grid within the Museum’s identity.
Restrictions are typically placed on using images of most contemporary artists’ work. In this case, the artist forbids cropping the image, or overlaying any text; not just for the art, but the installation photography as well. Working with these restrictions, I decided on an approach referencing editorial layout, or the heavily ordered National Park visual guidelines, but lighter. Further informed by the sterile nature of the object photography, a technical, clinical aesthetic worked. From that point, the basic information requirements began to fall in place within the grid, 6 columns by 12 rows, with quarter-inch gutters. With the image not bleeding, I wanted the title to have a commanding presence. I increased the point size until it filled the width of the page and found a nice moment for “presented by” to align with the photo caption. The grid ever my guide, I shrank the branding bar to align with the image and keep everything within a nice border. After initial proofing, it was decided some biographical information needed to be added. What had been a couple of grid rows of white space between the title and image suited the copy perfectly. Though I’m not sold that the extra copy is necessary, adding it in didn’t bother me. In some ways it actually adds to the technical aesthetic of the poster. I’m pleased that the poster works at three steps. From a distance the title is clear. There is an image, and it is clear that it is a lecture. In middle distance time, date, and place are clearly legible, and he image that works as abstract shapes from a distance is clearly an installation shot. Finally, at close range, details emerge such as the photo credit and the bio. Continuing to use the same grid and typeface, finding new ways to use the elements to create layouts that remain fresh and fun makes me think of Vingelli and his philosophies regarding typefaces and grids. Within such tight rules it is fun to push creativity within a layout. Not to mention my love of order and logic getting to find means of expression that unlimited freedom doesn’t allow.
The Museum is supporting a temporary satellite space to promote local artists and provide a space for social interaction: shift. The concept is to have two artists act as hosts the space for one month, repeating this process for five months with a total of 10 hosts. The pairings are basically a visual artist and someone else in a creative or artistic field that is not necessarily visual art. Examples are a photographer and improvisational musician, painter and ballet choreographer / dancer, and so on. After collaborating for a month, the hosts will present a public program on the last Friday of the month. This program can be anything. An installation, a performance, a public talk. It’s wide open. In addition the hosts will compile a record of their month in the form of a zine. At the end of the five month program, these five zines will be saved in a box set as the documentation of the program. Also on site will be a zine makerspace, open to the public each Monday through the course of the program. The public is invited to interact with the hosts if the are working on the Monday, or just hang out, learn about the program, and make a zine.
As a satellite space, the intention is to push the Museum to the background, merely a support structure, while allowing the space room to breath. For promotional purposes this means activating the social networks of the hosts and Museum staff involved and taking a more grass-roots approach. With zine making a significant focus, I immediately wanted the marketing materials to work on that level, so color was immediately removed from my palette. The program itself is relatively complicated, with quite a bit of information to be conveyed. I broke these pieces down, creating little visual “equations,” the intersectional nature of the hosts fitting very well with the X motif of the equations. Then I stacked the equations, offset from the title of the program and a longer description. From a distance the viewer gets the core message, “shift: a temporary platform for social exchange.” Another level in they can begin deciphering the equations, and then a final level down is the description if they choose to dig that deep. To tie everything back to the makerspace, the back of the poster became an example of a zine, serving to introduce the hosts and highlight the dates of their Friday events.
At the top of the equations is an animation of the Museum logo, shifting from the representation of the Museum’s facade through a series of abstract geometric shapes before ending as a stylized “S.” Support, but not forefront. The rest of the poster is set in Akzidenz Grotesk, the typeface of the Museum brand, again, to make it part of the Museum, but the layout itself strikes a bolder tone than general Museum branding. The final element is the floorpan of the temporary space. shift is intended to be a transformative program for downtown Birmingham, but it is specific to this temporary space, the floorpan serving to reflect the transformation at work.
New year, new work as promised. For the upcoming Art Papers Live event at the Museum, I was given little to begin with. Essentially two headshots of the participants and the title of the event, “What the Body Can Say.”
Bethany Collins will be the first artist featured in the Museums upcoming lobby projects, which will be a site specific installation. Natasha Trethewey is former poet laureate. Using previous artwork from Collins didn’t feel like an appropriate starting point and poetry would be a lot to muddle through looking for imagery.
So I began toying with some simple illustrations, something similar to the organ donation poster I designed in college, but with the figure composed of dozens of circles, diagrammatic lines emerging from circles with the pertinent information. It felt far too clinical. Back to the headshots.
Starting with my grid and the BMA branding bar in a template, I dropped the photos into the layout. Splitting the layout in half, branding bar across the center seemed to make the most sense so neither participant received greater billing. I laid the text out strictly along the grid, toggling the grid on and off as I tweaked details. Without the grid, the compositional contrast between the images was frustrating, but leaving the grid had a unifying effect. I decided to incorporate it into the layout, asking myself how I could push that unifying aspect further.
I began shifting pieces of the images along grid lines, creating a glitchy effect. To highlight the interplay between the two speakers I replaced bits in each photo with bits from the other, creating a slight reflection of tones and color between the two. At last two disparate headshots were “in conversation.” All necessary parties signed off on the layout and off to the publication. Then on to the task of reformatting for website, Facebook, Instagram, posters, and handbill.
The Museum has a spoken word program named BMA Speaks. It’s been a little stagnant, so the format was tweaked a little to incorporate a panel discussion, as well as spoken word. A way to bring topical conversations within the confines of the Museum. Not so much for the Museum to take a stance or position, but to allow a safe space for those sometimes difficult conversations to take place. To kick-off the new format, the event was paired with the current exhibition Black Like Who?
After a miscommunication with one of the co-hosts of the event, the Museum needed promotional materials post-haste. Having little time to turn things around, and crammed into my existing schedule, this became a great 30-minute design challenge. The framework was already set with the Museum’s new branding. I have a template for basic flyers, the title up top, set in Akzidenz-Grotesk Medium all-caps, other details below in all-caps Light, with a thin rule to set the title apart from the information and balance out the bottom, a black bar with the Museum logo and web address. In between is where the fun can happen.
I borrowed the type treatment from Black Like Who? and mulled over a quick visual to establish “speaking about race.” I didn’t want to establish any sense of right or wrong, but wanted to maintain a sense of tension, and to some degree the idea that all-to-often discussions of race are as much speaking past someone as much as speaking to them. My brain quickly recalled a poster designed by Cassandre featuring an abstracted head, not much more than a few geometric shapes. I created a simple head shape, just the slightest details suggesting a face in profile. Copied. Flipped. Transparencies. Abstract faces, just heads really, the type treatment. It was starting to gel. So It was almost there. I’d begun with large open mouths, the title sitting in them as if teeth, bridging the gap between faces. It didn’t work. Too busy, too mixed, two faces chewing on the same words. I eliminated the mouths, tilted the text a bit, making it more suggestive than literal. On to the copy. Stack the text, use the grid. Somewhere between Swiss Modern and WPA. Call it done.