Sunday, May 30, 2010

Memorial Day Solemness

The American Cemetery in Normandy, France commemorates those who died in the D-Day assault and the subsequent battles to liberate France in World War II. This site overlooks Omaha Beach and was featured in the opening and closing scenes of Steven Spielberg’s movie, Saving Private Ryan. The grave markers all face toward the United States.

Typography in stone appears in various memorial locations. This particular sample accentuates the serifs for a classic effect. While this monument inscription poetically reads “Sons” there are also a few “Daughters” buried in the cemetery as well.

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Des Moines Art Center Addition by Richard Meier

Des Moines, Iowa, 1982–1984. Photograph of a page spread from the book titled, Richard Meier Architect 1985/1991. Rizzoli International Publications published the book in 1991. The book was designed by Massimo Vignelli with a graceful and thoughtfully structured grid system in the modernist tradition.

From a graphic design perspective studying the work of architects can be helpful. Especially looking at their problem solving process. In this complex project for the Des Moines Art Center Richard Meier was successful adding on to a piece of architecture built in the 1940s and designed by Eliel Saarinen. The building also comprised an addition designed by I.M. Pei that was added in the 1960s.

Meier says this about the project:
The challenge here was to build a museum space as an addition to the works of two greatly respected architects. There were two ways to deal with the context. One was to create a counterpoint which is respectful but which has its own existence and projects a conscience presence. I chose the latter. —Page 132

Meier also writes this about the building design:
The overall plan of this addition derives from a nine-point grid, in which the central square is pushed up to provide a four-column internal atrium, lit by clerestory windows and perimeter skylights. This cubic volume is sheathed in granite and covered by a flattened pyrimid that is a foil to the butterfly-section roof employed b Pei. A third smaller addition, accommodating services and additional gallery space above, is attached to the west wing of the Saarinen building, thus completing the discrete amplification of the complex by three separate additions of different sizes. —Page 129

West elevation. The white facing material clads four foot square metal panels. Photograph © 2010 David Versluis

It’s amazing how Meier was able to imagine the transition of spaces from the older to the newer. Meier uses light as a means to very successfully make the transition and the exterior seems to echo that interior light. Actually, the interior as well as the exterior light effects suggests a church-like emotive quality.

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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Today, I spotted a male Bobolink!

Professor Roy Behrens presenting his talk on “Camouflage” at the recent AIGA Iowa summer series in Des Moines, Iowa.

The Bobolink seemed to greet me from a grassy side of a gravel road as I was driving fairly slowly a few miles southeast of town. Because it’s the first one I’ve ever seen I took it as an omen to do this piece, although it’s something I’ve wanted to do anyway.

Bobolink Books is the trade name of a publishing house established by Roy Behrens, professor of art at the University of Northern Iowa and artist Mary Snyder Behrens of Dysert, Iowa. The Behrens’s seem like colleagues to me. We have a couple of their links on the right side called Camoupedia and another is The Poetry of Sight.

Last week Roy and Mary were in Des Moines, Iowa where Roy presented for the AIGA Iowa summer series at an event called Past, Present, and Future. Professor Behrens represented the past as Design History with his talk about camouflage. He is an expert on camouflage and how it relates to art and design and for the past few months has been invited to show his camouflage presentation in various areas of the U.S. and recently in Ottawa, Canada, at the Canadian War Museum.

In a book edited by Steven Heller titled Teaching Graphic Design Behrens is featured with a course syllabus titled “The Thinking Eye: Sight, Insight, and Graphic Design.” Within this syllabus Behrens summarizes the presentation he gave at the AIGA Iowa. Behrens describes one of his lectures as follows:
The perceptual basis of biological and military camouflage, e.g. figure-ground blending, figure disruption, mimicry, and displacement of attention (distraction or deflection). [A] Review of Abbott H. Thayer’s work on the subject, and his subsequent influences on World War I French, British, German, and American military camouflage, including the “dazzle painting” of ships. Comparison of his “laws of disguise” with gestalt psychologists, unit forming factors. —page 154
Also discussed was spurious resemblance, meaning the outward visual appearance being different from what it claims to be. Of import for practicing graphic designers is understanding and communicating effectively with the cadence of visual patterns. In other words, the art and science of camouflage can remind graphic designers of the dynamic possibilities of negative and positive spatial relationships — the interesting dichotomy of typography and image. By studying camouflage designers can develop work that conveys messages implicitly rather than explicitly. In this way the designer respects the intelligence of the audience.

However, there may be times in which a designer’s work needs to be bolder and to show it's colors in order to make a statement — just like that male Bobolink I saw today.

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

The elegance and dignity of funereal typography

Pictured here are burial area markers at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. The place is near Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, France, that honors American soldiers who died in Europe during World War II.

The Normandy American Cemetery is, by and large, rectangular in shape. Its main paths are laid out in the form of a cross. The burial area is divided into 10 plots, lettered “A” to “J”; these are separated by the broad axial mall and by longitudinal grass paths.

According to the American Battle Monuments Commission website, the architects for the cemetery’s memorial features were Harbeson, Hough, Livingston and Larson of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The landscape architect was Markley Stevenson, also of Philadelphia.

In addition to feeling the solemnity of all the grave makers — the beauty of the letters reminded me of this passage is from Christianity and Art by H.R. Rookmaaker, which was first written in 1970. It seems that Roomaakers words are still very much relevant:
Some people ask: isn’t it necessary to define the principle of art by the aesthetic? Shouldn’t we go for the core of art, the real heart of it? Doesn’t its meaning lie in this? Very often this question comes into a discussion concerning modern art — how art would have been brought to its real meaning, to be found in lines and forms and colors, the aesthetic element as such. I must say that I have many doubts here. For of all this truly abstract art is very rare–much nonfiguration art does have a meaning apart from the aesthetic configuration. The strange thing is that artists almost without exception do strive to express something in their art, and only rarely are they happy with the aesthetic element as such — to me this is one of the proofs that a theory that goes in that direction is too much out of touch with real artistic practice. Of course, there exists artistic work done only with an eye to the aesthetic effect: we think of fabrics, ornaments, some types of typography, etc. But then we have always to deal with the so-called applied arts. The beauty often found in good work of that type is, however, exactly the quality that modern artists — pop, zero, and what not — seek to destroy in their [so-called] anti-art. The argument then is that art does not need beauty. —Rookmaaker, H. R. Christianity and Art. Potchefstroom: Instituut vir Reformatoriese Studie, 1985. 4-5. Print.
It’s interesting that Rookmaaker sites, in the context of the late 1960s, modern artists as pop and zero.

A fine article by David Galloway titled, European movement with Zero as the sum of its parts was published by the New York Times, March 3, 2006. Galloway writes:
Lacking a concrete manifesto or shared code of conduct, Zero has been described as a nonmeasurable condition rather than a movement in the conventional sense. Its few common denominators included the desire to bring man and nature into renewed harmony and to restore to art the metaphysical dimension that had been overshadowed by the apocalypse of World War II. Rejecting both the self-indulgences of abstract Informel painting and the figurative mode instrumentalized by Fascist dictatorships, members of the new avant-garde availed themselves of a minimalist but inherently poetic vocabulary.
It’s perhaps a stretch, but in a sense this quote seems to epitomize the correlation between the military cemetery in Normandy, Roomaaker, and the artists who comprised Zero.

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Sunday, May 16, 2010

Liturgical Art and Design

Sacrament Banners: Communion, © David Versluis 2000

On display in the Dordt College Campus Center Art Gallery, for part of the summer, is a retrospective exhibition of liturgical banners designed by Dordt professor David Versluis. The show will open on Wednesday, May 19 and will run until Wednesday, July 14. The banners are on loan from Westview Christian Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Sacrament Banners: Presence of the Holy Spirit, Baptism; © David Versluis 2000

Just prior coming to Dordt, in 2001, Versluis was commissioned by Westview CRC’s Worship Committee to develop a new series of worship banners. Featured in the show are banners that highlight and celebrate the sacraments of baptism, The Lord’s Supper and “The Word” (pulpit paraments) as reminders of the “means of grace”. Marilyn Vanden Heuvel of Cutlerville, Michigan fabricated each of these appliqu├ęd banners. In addition, a baptismal banner specially commissioned by Robert and Mary Molewyk Doornbos, of Grand Rapids, celebrating the birth of their son is included in the show. The Doornbos banner is now a piece that is brought out and used for every congregational baptismal occasion at Westview. Joan Dykstra of Grand Rapids fabricated the banner.

The last piece in the show is the “Firstfruits” banner, which was commissioned by the Westview CRC diaconate for the annual congregational stewardship, giving and budgeting process. Versluis’s design is somewhat based on the biblical Old Testament “Feast of Firstfruits” known as Yom HaBikkurim.

During the 1980’s and 90’s Versluis developed numerous worship banners for Faith CRC, Tinley Park, Illinois and Westview CRC. Versluis credits his teacher, artist, Chris Stoffel Overvoorde for his interest in liturgical art.

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

St. Benet’s Peace Poster and Tiber Press

Earlier this month, on May 4, various news sources highlighted the fortieth anniversary of the Kent State Shootings, which caused me to reflect on the poster pictured above, which is displayed in my office.

My wife, Janis, owns this 1969 vintage silkscreen-printed poster that she purchased as a college freshman in 1970, during the height of the Vietnam anti-war movement. The poster is a typical “peace” poster of the day, printed in three colors and depicting the pacifist words from Micah 4:3: “…and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

Initially and interestingly the poster was purchased at St. Benet’s Catholic bookstore in Chicago’s Loop. The signature of the artist, R. Heitmann, is printed in the lower left. Especially noteworthy is the name of the publisher, which is printed as © Tiber Press NYC 1969 and located at the bottom edge in the margin.

The gold colored hand-drawn lettering is imaginative, feels slightly Celtic, and seems to caricature Mabel Luci Attwell’s lettering style. The optical vibration of the alternating green and blue colors is evocative of the period. Dynamically, the green and blue shapes form banners of rhythmically undulating “pennants” for the biblical verse. Additionally, the colored shapes emphasize the text through movement and counter movement.

This poster tells a history of how it was displayed, over the years, in various forms of student housing, in the early to mid 1970s, and for many years being rolled up. Printed on heavy weight paper the poster shows wear from thumbtack holes in the corners and scotch tape residue on the margins.

As a side, when Andy Warhol became interested in silkscreen-printing, in the late 1950s or early 60s, he went to Tiber Press for technical advice.

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Thursday, May 6, 2010

Dordt Alumni in Design: Sarah Franken

I graduated from Dordt in 2006 with a degree in Graphic Design and Art History. Almost immediately after graduation, I moved to Chicago to work as a graphic designer for The Field Museum. The Field Museum is one of the premier Natural History Museums in the country and is home to more than 20 million artifacts, the most famous of which is SUE, the largest, most complete T. rex fossil ever discovered.

There are currently seven full time graphic designers who make up the Graphic Design division of the Exhibitions Department. Our main job is to design and produce graphics for all permanent and temporary exhibitions developed by The Field Museum.

Since I started here, I’ve been involved in the design of over a dozen exhibitions, three of which are permanent. Most recently, I was lead designer on a temporary exhibition currently on display called, Lasting Impressions: Chinese Rubbings from The Field Museum. As lead designer, my work included comprehensive campaign design for the exhibition identity, all exhibition graphics and artifact identification. Depending on the size of the exhibition my work also includes exterior building banners, street banners, press kit materials, invitations, directional signage, and store merchandise. I’m currently co-designer on an upcoming permanent exhibition that will open in the fall of 2011.

Designing for exhibitions has been a challenging and exciting direction for my career. Environmental Graphic Design, as it’s known, is similar to print design but requires the additional understanding of architecture, interior design, landscape design, and industrial design. A successfully designed exhibition utilizes each of these parts to affect the space, the message and the visitor’s experience. As graphic designers it’s our job to organize the hierarchy of information in such a way that key messages are clear yet work with all other elements in the space and contribute to the overall mood. This can be a very challenging design task when scientists are dictating the content.

The exhibition design process is extensive (a permanent exhibition can take up to five years to develop and build). Being able to work, as part of a larger team is crucial. Coming to a final design solution that everyone agrees on requires a unified vision, patience, and several rounds of edits, but the pay-off in the end (watching visitors interact with your work and maybe even getting excited about DNA, for example), makes it all worth it.

As part of an in-house design department, my tasks also extend beyond designing exhibitions. On a daily basis I fulfill graphic design needs for various museum clients such as Education, Human Resources, Membership, Institutional Advancement, Guest Relations, and Marketing. Projects include event invitations, annual reports, educator newsletters, brochures, flyers, museum maps, educator guides and catalogs, signs, and banners.
I consider myself extremely fortunate to work at a museum. While at Dordt, people would ask me what I planned on doing with a degree in Graphic Design and Art History. At the time, I actually had no idea how these two branches would work together to form my career; I just knew that I loved both. I think it’s important to start with something that you love and follow it through. My career has plenty more paths ahead but I’m fortunate to have started where I did.

Besides my work at the Museum, I’ve had the opportunity to do some freelance work for a few non-profit organizations around Chicago. So far, these projects have included annual reports, announcements, signage and invitations. I’m hoping to expand my freelance work even more and can be contacted at

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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Dooyeweerd, Rookmaaker meets Don Draper

Mad Men image from Cultural Trends Examiner

In a recent AMC television episode of Mad Men, character Don Draper tells one of his creative’s that, “You’re not an artist but a problem solver”. What Dutch art historian Hans Rookmaaker (1922–1977) once said about architecture could also be applied to graphic design. That is, we should not try to simplify the status of graphic design as “applied art” since it is not really art applied but rather it is genuine activity of its own accord and not primarily artistic. A graphic designer helps to construct and send messages to someone for the purpose of communicating a desired effect. Obviously, graphic design needs to be fitting for its purpose, which is the first principle of graphic design. A brochure or a logotype, for instance, needs to answer all the duties that it is required to fulfill. In addition, another principle is that everything that a person makes not only shows the attitude of the maker but also tries, intuitively, to be beautiful. A graphic design piece should adhere to the principles of harmony, a unity-in-diversity aesthetic and the elements of form. These principles are related to styles, which at various periods of time can have very distinct and positive meanings and this is where styles in graphic design can become evident and are important. However, graphic design is not intended just for the object of beauty if that were so then that would indicate decadence rather than real and vigorous cultural development.

Conversely, from the perspective of style and beauty, graphic designers make their pieces as something necessary to meet and fulfill contemporary needs, and therefore modern forms are needed. Although it is very difficult to tell why style, requirements, spiritual needs, and inclinations are somehow complementary with each other in every real integral culture. As graphic designers, if we only see the latest styles as a matter of unharmonious cultural development, a sign of inner confusion. When we only see the really old-fashioned as grandeur then our work becomes irrelevant and without any real style.

H. R. Rookmaaker’s thoughts come from correspondence with Mr Norman Matheis in a letter dated 13 October 1955.

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Monday, May 3, 2010

Work for Peace

Entering the La Cambe German Military Cemetery near Bayeux, Calvados, France, one passes through a kind of mausoleum. This photograph is of the commemorative inscription taken in the mausoleum’s chapel.

This is classic roman typography and centered layout, which is characterized by consistency. Every letter seems individually perfect, respectful, beautiful, and at the same time very poignant. Slightly gentle serif letterforms imply something personal, yet funerary, while the rounded capital “E” seems to soften the visual impact. The light, monolithic stone background functions as a positive surface to define the letters, shadows, and the space between.

Work for peace decal

The cemetery is under the auspices of The German War Graves Commission, which according to its brochure:
• Cares for the German war graves in nearly 100 countries all over the world.
• Works in the Eastern European countries since 1990 when the borders were opened.
• Leads young people to war graves in order to make them understand the terrible consequences of war such recognizing how important it is to work for peace.
• Finances its work almost exclusively with contributions of its members and donors.

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