Holiday Season

It’s the holiday season in downtown Crystal Lake, which naturally translates into a bit more demand among the local merchants. I’ve been lucky enough to include my wife among these clients, and we spent some time yesterday working out the flyer below (Click the image for a larger version).

2008 Triskele Moon Studios holiday flyer Now, full disclosure insists that the central image isn’t mine. It’s from a wonderful artist named Lynne Lancaster from the U.K, and it was found as one of her Stock Xchange uploads. L loved the bright richness of the blues, the fading snowflakes, and the crisp elegance of the tree’s spirals – a favorite symbol of hers, obviously.

I took the image and made a few adjustments: placing the triskele symbol of the studios in the large snowflake on the upper right, and fading it out with a gradient and color designed to mimic that of the background image. I also added some white triskeles to the tree, which were eventually removed – they really were overdoing it a bit, and crowding the elegance of the original design.

Placement of the text came next. I played around with using the whitespace at the bottom, but that really didn’t call any attention to the logo or show dates, which is why we’re designing the flyers in the first place. Using the same font size for the announcement and logo alike worked out well this time around, since we’re looking at three lines and three lines, and stacking them alongside the tree turned out to balance the left-right aspect of the flyer nicely.

Below, I listed the locations and dates of the show. We struggled with two things here: Firstly, do we name the town, and secondly, do we list the times? The town was an easy refusal – these flyers are only going up on Williams Street businesses, at the client’s preference, so there’s no need to throw in an extra line for that information. Honestly, we’re talking about a two-block radius of saturation.

The times were more difficult to agree on. Evolve is open different hours on Saturday and Sunday, meaning we have to list two different times or just list the Sunday hours and accept that you won’t get early risers on Saturday. In the end, we agreed to list the phone numbers for the stores, and allow people to call in to get the times. I’m interested to see how that decision pans out in the end as far as customer turnout goes.

The white area at the bottom was still too large for me to be comfortable with. Adding the quote from L’s artist’s statement underneath the tree helped quite a bit, but now we had the Sahara Blanc in the left bottom … and a page laid out entirely in white and shades of blue.

The photos of the jewelry was an easy choice, but choosing the images? That took longer than any other aspect of the design. Eventually we settled on the newer pair of earrings (in copper), the “Create Peace” necklace in fine silver, and the “Shaman’s Necklace” to display the new holiday fiber work she’s begun to focus on. Doing this lets us focus on two new and one older piece, while giving the central image an ink-black background that immediately draws the eye toward the show dates.

I printed them up on HP Glossy Photo Paper, which really popped the blues and the photos! It looks completely different than it does on the screen – deeper, more vibrant, and completely eye-catching. We gave them to the stores yesterday and got a fantastic response all around – in fact, Le Petit Marche asked for more than one, so she could display it in several places. Dawn, the owner, is a wonderful woman and I’m happy to have her in our corner.

Second Thursday

Second Thursday poster for Crystal Lake, ILThe merchants of downtown Crystal Lake have been working on a promotion for some time now called Second Thursday. On the second Thursday of every month, the participating stores stay open late and make special offers or discounts available to their nighthawk patrons.

Originally I had been asked to create a new poster every month for the merchants to display, but the logistics of that turned out to be unwieldy for the merchants. I understand that – keeping things simple is always a better choice, in my opinion.

At any rate, the final decision was to create a single oversized poster that could be used for the entire year. The image to the left was our final decision – the focal point being an unusual clock which stands at the heart of downtown. I vectorized the image with the invaluable help of VectorMagic, then added the tree roots below to reinforce the sense of deep belonging and community which exemplifies so many of our stores.

Originally, the images were far too centered. Pushing things around created the kind of tension that I think is crucial to grabbing and keeping people’s attention.

The roots alone seemed a bit sparse, so I reflected the clock from the base to draw the eye all the way down toward the bottom of the page. The light blue curve was added both to balance the clock proper and to direct the eye toward the 2nd Thursday logo – done in bright red to pop from the midnight hues of the poster itself.

We decided to keep the information spare, both to increase the longevity of the poster’s usefulness and to draw the curious into a conversation with the merchants and storekeepers. We believe this will increase the sense of community, and create the impression of a “secret club” of those in the know. I even had the idea of printing up buttons for people’s jackets or lapels bearing the logo – but I think we’re going to wait to see how well the promotion goes over for a few months first.

Right now, the poster is legal-pad sized. Everyone seems to feel this will enable the merchants to post the image somewhere prominent without overwhelming the other material they need to present to their customers.

Overall, I’m pleased with it. As always, feel free to let me know what you think.

Designing Atrocities

One of the nice things about having so many projects is that you learn about things that might otherwise fly under your radar. In the past week I’ve had flash lessons in classical operatic history, php coding, videogame programming (more on that soon), and more.

One of the bad things is that sometimes you realize what horrible people humans can be sometimes. Still, if the word gets out and change is made, then the results are worth that depressing realization.

In my work for women’s rights groups, I was pointed to the following: Publicis, an advertising company in Sweden, has created a series of full-page ads for Amnesty International designed to depict the horrors of female genital mutilation. You can see the ads on the Publicis Web site, though I’m taking the liberty of reproducing a smaller version here.

The Publicis ad depicts a sewn-up rose on barren ground.Yes, the imagery of a flower for genitalia is somewhat tired, and the very concepts it was originally meant to evoke – of fragile, passive gentility, of waiting to be fulfilled – are no longer the concepts most men and women want to see linked to femininity. There’s been some discussion in the blogosphere about whether or not any image could really make this work without going for full-on graphic depiction, which might work in terms of shock value but which probably couldn’t be reproduced on board the Ravenswood L train. Some are arguing that the use of simple typography – stark, bold and shocking – might be a more effective treatment, and I can see their point. Having the word MUTILIATION greet you over your morning coffee at the bus station will probably get you to look a little closer.

However, even if other people would make other choices, I think Publicis did an excellent job here. The three treatments utilize different colors of roses, sewn shut in different ways; which really strikes home how horrifying this concept is. If you’ve ever seen female genitalia close up – and if you haven’t, you’re probably not my target audience at this point – these images can’t help but impress on you what the graphic depiction would really look like.

If that doesn’t sicken you then you’re not only not my target audience, but I want you to go get professional help immediately, preferably from Mister Law Enforcement Officer.

The choice of brown, cracked stony ground behind the floral image evokes barrenness, sterility, and futility. It also creates a very real heaviness in the overall poster, leading one to think (at a distance) that perhaps the central message is one of hope, creating an even greater shock and disconnect when one realizes what they’re really talking about. Most importantly, at least from a design standpoint, it makes the central image really fly right off the page.

Finally, the choice to scatter one or two petals on the ground around the roses not only creates a quiet sense of loss and violation, in two of the three treatments they lead the eyes directly to the Amnesty International logo. That’s simply good advertising sense – you want people to do something about this, and these are the people you call.

Despite this rather clinical treatment of the ad and its imagery, I’m still shaken by the power of it and the horrors it depicts. If you agree and find yourself with some extra cash this holiday season, I urge you to visit Amnesty International and help pass the International Violence Against Women Act. If not that act, then some act, some way in which we can stand together against the horrors of the world.

In the interest of full disclosure, I learned this through McHenry County Citizens for Choice, who linked me to Broadsheet, who linked me to Copyranter, whose blog is now being added to my daily trawl. Because I needed another thing to read, dammit.

Tricky software companies …

I’ve been trying to get some work done this morning on invitations to my wife’s upcoming jewelry show on the 14th, and ran into an issue early on.

She wants to use some holiday stationary from Gartner Studios. That’s fine, as far as it goes; but as is so common with preprinted materials, the Web site only provides templates for Microsoft Word – not any actual graphics software. I’ve had problems previously with Avery doing the same thing with their business cards. Who uses Word for design work? At any rate, in a misguided effort to save some time (and get to the Xbox before dinnertime), I decided to use the template anyway.

Triskele moon Studios I designed her company nameplate (to the left) using the Trajan Pro font. Now, Trajan comes free with the Adobe Creative Suite, but when I opened the Gartner templates the font was nowhere to be found. I opened up Illustrator and there it sat, smug and pleased as a squirrel in the Planter’s factory. Back to Word – nothing, no go. Then I remembered something I’d seen a while back, and went looking in the directory of the computer.

When Adobe CS loads these fonts, it does so in a directory called /Common Files/Adobe/Fonts/, not the actual Windows fonts directory. A sneaky little trick that basically renders the fonts invisible to any software not native to the company which provided the font. Fortunately, all you need to do is copy those font files into the Windows fonts directory and you’re golden, but it still ate up an extra hour that I could’ve used sneaking into the Temple of the Hammerites.

Ah, well. I guess I’ll just push bedtime back an hour.

Header Image: Autumn Leaf

I thought today I’d discuss the site itself, particularly the header I’m currently using.

I knew I wanted something autumnish, seeing as the leaves were down and covered by a very thin blanket of snow while I was setting up the blog; and the look and feel of the WordPress theme I’m currently using lent itself well to photography and shadowing. However, I’m also a big fan of the spiraling, curlicue designs one can get with Illustrator’s pen function, and I didn’t want the image to simply squat atop the site without some form of decoration.

Cruising over to stock.xchng and searching for “autumn”got me the leaf. This one particularly appealed to me for two reasons: Firstly, it had a shadow already built in which seemed to match the theme’s pretty well. Secondly, we have twin red maples growing in the front yard of our house, and the colors in this photo seemed to match the ones I’ve been raking and mulching over the past few days. A way to tie my physical home into the new online home sounded like a good idea, so I picked that one without much more searching.

I found a number of vector design images at Garcya Design which I’ll often grab and use when I’m in a hurry. That’s where what I’ll call the Vine and Thistle came from, though the Thistle was originally part of a much larger image offered as part of Garcya’s Free Vector graphics set 15. I removed the grouping and clipping mask from this larger, floral design; then selected a few of the curves that fit together the way I wanted and pasted them behind the leaf’s “point” to extend the width of the image. Then I copied it, rotated it, and pasted it as a mirror to develop the Thistle image I was looking for. The Vine itself went behind the Thistle on a separate layer.

Both needed to be a matching color with the leaf photo, so after a bit of trial and error I settled on using the Hue/Saturation option in Photoshop to bring the light violet color out. While I played around with the deep crimson color of the leaf’s highlights, I felt it made the image as a whole slightly too dark and heavy for what I wanted with this design. Laying in simultaneous inner shadow and glow effects kept the designs from seeming flat in comparison to the ‘pop’ of the photographed leaf.

Finally, having the decorations so stark and clean made the shadows on the leaf and the rest of the site seem incongruous, so I went ahead and pasted another version of the Thistlevine behind the original one. Bringing the opacity down to 25% and shifting the X and Y axes of this new layer was the first step, followed by creating a gradient fill that mimicked the “dark-to-light” shadow of the leaf.

 Sample header image

That’s a pretty general overview of how I tend to approach graphic work for my own devices. It’s naturally a little easier to be your own client!

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