Saturday, July 10, 2010

Logo: "Brewsters"

I’ve mulled it over here before, how the metaphor of cooking works so well for describing the creative process... well, in this case it's a lot more like making bread: reigning in exponentially increasing ideas by letting a concept sit overnight, letting it rise on its own, getting up at 4am to punch it back down, kneading the dough over & over, expanding and simplifying. Leavened with input from the client, seasoned with ones own experience, one part traditional stock + one part experimentation: following a recipe but incorporating impromptu, ad-libbed elements. The mix should have it’s own flavor, convey a message that reflects the unique, identifiable image that the establishment or group wishes to promote. That is after all why you (in theory) are getting compensated for your own talent – it isn’t necessarily just limited to how well you can draw per say. All of this plus meshing it up with the look of the art – it helps to be fluent in multiple styles so as to give the client more options to choose from. It’s a responsibility that carries more than the usual hack clip-art, which is much is cheaper, and looks it.

Also keeping in mind the end–product and how the design will need to be flexible enough to accommodate any potential usage in other mediums: a full-color logo should work equally as well when printed in black & white and at a fraction of its original size. A good example is trying to make a complex image suitable to reproduction on oh, say a pencil: is it going to be even legible anymore printed four-eighths of an inch high and in one color? Embroidery is another one, and the reverse is also a factor to consider: what will it look like blown up twenty times larger on a billboard?

The initial incubation period is crucial, as it’s pretty much a given that the bulk of sketches done at the outset will wind up being trashed. This can be a challenge to weigh against the “clock in and be creative” imperative and there are deadlines involved. Several sessions will be devoted to mix-and-match between different rough sketches and evolving an image that has constant input and understanding from the client, and at this stage presentation (ie don’t spill anything on the sketches and least try to remember to shave) is also another factor when pitching ideas. Reminding them that the roughs are just that – preliminary sketches that are unrefined, because why waste the time over something that’s transitional and will tighten up over time and with direction.

Plus being able to quickly and clearly re-sketch ideas will give a good indication as to whether or not the underlying simplicity of the design can effectively transmit the concept, along with separating the wheat from the chaff as far as the veritable mountain of idle doodles that accumulate. There is a consideration that it’s important to limit the choices so as to not overwhelm them, and also to prudently expedite the process and not waste too much time nit-picking. Here I also mention there's appropriate times to "throw 'em a bone," i.e. include an obvious throw-away - usually a literal illustration of how weak one of their ideas that they've insisted on. Of course, then you run the hilarious hazard of, horror of horrors, them actually picking the wrong one.

 Then there’s the ones who have absolutely no idea what they want, but sure know what they don’t, and always after the fact. This is where it can either be a blessing or a curse if you are or aren’t charging by the hour. Part of the ballpark big-ticket estimates assume lots of false starts, dead-ends and also follow-up support, but it's inevitable there will be a few high-maintenance situations where it gets to the point of diminishing returns on unending changes – that’s when the hourly clock starts to tick louder (note to self: life’s too short to work for assholes).
And a worst case scenario would be having to spend hours and hours doing a design that you have come to loath even looking at, which is an occupational hazard/part of the job, so just suck it up and stick it out (chalk it up to character building lessons that you never forget). Another unhappy ending that might happen over time is seeing your work get butchered by another artist, which I've had the intense displeasure to see happen. Aside from those nightmares, maybe if you’re lucky the logo will be easily identifiable as one of your designs, but it could be a gamble to have your name associated with something - that works actually both ways given my some artist's reputations. If you're really really lucky, you score a dream client that actually wants not only your style of work but even gives you free reign and is totally receptive to any ideas that you might have.
Okay, so - what kind of glass? Mug or a pilsner? Dark beer or light? Maybe just a generic glass so as to accommodate interpretations that it could also serve as a soda; do you really want to promote booze as part of your business logo? How about the ingredients in the burger - one of the last-minute changes here was making it into a triple-patty for a special marketing blitz promoting both the new "Brewmeister" dude + an eating competition. Too much? Too little? You want fries with that? The expression on the face? The period and style of clothing? For example, there's a subtle difference in class between a bowler versus a working-man's cap. Something fun or serious? What colors? And don’t even get me started on the extra dimensions opened up with lettering: as an obsessive font geek, that’s an area that needs it’s own separate posting.

Living in Alaska has it’s own set of considerations when a client wants some regionalism incorporated into their design: probably more than any other state there is a real identity fetish with appropriating imagery of the North into virtually every name and logo you see around here. And there’s nothing more frustrating (or in retrospect, amusing) than attempting in vain to shoehorn the aurora borealis, the outline of Alaska, the eight stars of the flag, Denali, a howling wolf, a soaring bald eagle, maybe a dog-sled team and a sourdough goldpanner, etc. etc. – all within a six-inch diameter area no less.

I always remember being coached by Denny Macom, the owner of Trademark Screenprinting, who used to walk and talk me through the meticulous counseling he’d give to a client when developing a design for their business. This approach has worked well for the occasional freelance gig I get even today, and requires both give and take, and patience as well as confidence. You have to understand the needs and wants of the customer, and balance that with salesmanship and professional experience in suggesting possible alternatives that might work even better than the initially proposed ideas. Also in the same way it’s important not getting attached to any particular drawing, letting it go and not taking rejection personally – this is after all the functional difference between “Fine” art and Commercial: you are using your skills to achieve someone else’s vision. Sometimes it takes convincing on both ends to make them see what you have in mind. The old adage “the customer is always right” isn’t necessarily true: they just always have the final say.

There are so many incremental (emphasis on the mental) steps along the way: both mincing and major leaps of faith, to incorporate comments and suggestions from all parties concerned - it’s part of developing a relationship when you involve the customer, and after all they have a vested interest in the end product. And it’s one of those learning opportunities for both of you – finding out aspects of an organization or business can be educational. Not to mention the satisfaction, pride and connection with community when you finally get to see the results of all that hard work up and out in public.

So over the course of this post the entire evolution of this one design has been documented: from a sampling of the initial loose doodles and working roughs that are primarily for my benefit; to a set of concepts that give the client something to work with and narrow down; then a gradual tightening and tweaking of selected elements and details until a final design is approved. Then it’s down to bringing the character to life by adding depth through value and gradations and colorwork. The posted samples (a fraction of the sum total of work) show the snakes & ladders progress behind incorporating changes and discarding less successful solutions to problems as they arise.
Now if it could only work so well in other areas of life - but in the meantime now, after all that cookin' in the studio, I'm hungry - so it's off for a burger.

"I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today" - Wimpy


  1. The evolution of the hat and the hands is fascinating. It feels like he goes from a happy customer in the early stages to a proprietor in the end. I like the 'right v.s. last say' idea, so very true.

  2. No doubt you caught it...but there's no coloring for the lower half of the mug handle in the last pic.

  3. It's crucial to develop a unique signature aspect to individual characters, which in this case would be an extra finger on the right hand. But seriously, details, details - yet another reason why one shouldn't rush things. Or in my case, always have extra editors...