Monday, April 23, 2018

Calendar design inspirations part 2

For years, I used to go to the annual Dayton's-Bachman's spring flower show at the Dayton's department store in downtown Minneapolis. It was an elaborate and fanciful exhibition of real flowers and topiary and whimsical statuary, set up in their large auditorium on the 8th floor for about one week in March. I would meet my mom and grandmother there, and later brought my two children at least a couple of times.

There would be a garden path that wound through the exhibition, revealing various vignettes following a theme. And it was all free — with a little gift shop at the end for buying garden-inspired products and a poster to commemorate the show.

In 1989 the theme was a book by Tomie dePaola, who designed the exhibition and created the poster. I was charmed and inspired by the airy whimsicality of it. I bought the poster that year and put it up on the wall in my kitchen, where it stayed until we moved nine years later. I don't know what happened to it after that; it may have been a bit tattered by then and we may have discarded it, or it's rolled up and stored in some forgotten spot.

I thought of that poster when I was playing around with design motifs and colors for the next Useful Calendar. As I mentioned in a previous post, I had settled on a theme of butterflies to illustrate the 2019 edition, and I was considering different fonts and a color scheme to go with that. Realizing that my usual tendency to make a bold blocky title is probably a bad match for the whole idea of butterflies, I started testing airier fonts and lighter colors.  

Another factor influencing my color choices was a catalog for The Company Store that was sitting on my desk as I was working on the design. My eye was drawn to the dusty pastel color palette of the quilt on the cover. It told me that, yes, muted colors can work.

So now that I'm pretty set on the color scheme, it's time to move on to trying different fonts, with a preliminary mock-up of the cover card to see how it looks once printed.

I do believe that design should follow function. I needed to see how well it all fits and looks on the cards. So I took the first four months of the current calendar, removed the artwork and used the space at top for notes about fonts I was trying out on that card.

I had one customer recently tell me that the text on this year's calendar is a little too small in spots. She was gracious enough to respond to my request for elaboration, and we determined that the text at the bottom of each card was the problem. Not only is it really tiny (8 pt), but I had set it in italics and the color blue. So I was feeling a little concerned about  going with my light airy scheme when I already had an issue with readability. 

At this point, I'm thinking that the solution will be to not only use a slightly bigger font, but to set most all of the text in black—and to use fewer words! 

I'll be turning my attention to the content now: checking the dates of the moveable holidays, and researching and writing the notes for the backs of the cards, which feature some less prominent holidays and interesting trivia.

I used to do all of the research and writing before starting on the design, but I have found that not only do I like doing the design work earlier in the process, but it also helps to then set it aside and ignore it for a while so that I come back to it with fresh eyes later on.

Which means that everything could change before it's done. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Art, inspiration, pigs, and butterflies

I've been pondering and playing around with design ideas and a theme for the next edition of the Useful Calendar, which I start working on shortly after the current year begins. It comes in two formats: a set of cards for desk or purse, and a year-at-a-glance poster. I focus on the cards first, making the poster only after all refinements and corrections are completed on the cards to save duplicated effort.

Most years I take the Lunar New Year animal as my theme, and for 2018, which is Year of the Dog, I even modified the layout to allow more room for illustrations—because dogs, right?

For most years prior to this I did one illustration for the cover card and put more text on the individual months, as in 2017, the Year of the Rooster:

But in 2016, feeling uninspired by the Year of the Monkey, I decided to change the theme to bees. Specifically, 12 wild (native) bees from around the world. But I didn't have any ideas about how to make more room for the illustrations, so the cards were still quite text heavy and the bees were kind of small—the original watercolors are about 4 x 6 inches; the calendar cards are 2.75" by 4.25".

I did take the bee illustrations and the research I did about them and make it into a zine, which is available in my Etsy shop, and locally at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts.

Which brings us to 2019—Year of the Pig. I wanted to continue with the new layout allowing more room for art, which means coming up with 12 unique illustrations of pigs. I  had started to gather some ideas, trivia, and inspiration about pigs to inform the artwork, including looking for folktales about pigs and bookmarking sites with curious pig trivia, like this one about Pigcasso, a painting pig in South Africa, and another about a spot in the Bahamas called Pig Beach.

But, as fun as those discoveries might be, none of it was inspiring me to start doing illustrations of pigs. I mean, even with the added room for artwork, it's still got to be quite small, and a picture of a swimming or painting pig kind of needs some context, and I still needed to come up with 10 more unique ways to depict pigs. It just wasn't working for me.

So I asked myself, what would I like to illustrate the 2019 calendar with? 

When I am pondering ideas I tend to stare out the window. And when I look out the window I see a foot of snow in the middle of April. So, naturally, I think about my garden, and summer ... and butterflies.

Question mark butterfly, perched on the wood frame of my kitchen garden last summer.

And it just so happens that I've already got a lot of butterfly photos that I've taken in my own garden.

A slightly tattered tiger swallowtail visiting hydrangea in an alley near Minnehaha Falls park
 I'll also do illustrations by referencing a variety of photos on the web to put together a generic composite image, such as for this watercolor of a nonspecific azure butterfly:

So now that I've settled on a theme, the next step is choosing colors (one of them will certainly be butterfly blue) and fonts. See my next post about my design inspirations and ideas here.

Some of my illustrations end up on note cards, book plates, and stickers, which you can see in my Etsy shop, also called Sharon's Compendium.