“What makes you itch?”
My graphic design. It’s messy, it’s chaotic, it's awkward, it’s weird. I am no longer making excuses for it– it has been my reluctant but natural handwriting for years, either for lack of practice, or...it just is. For several years in grad school and with side projects, I tried to refine and "professionalise" my style. It didn't go very far. I kept hearing the word “weird” associated with my work. Along the way, I started to get comfortable with not doing any more of it because I did not want to deal with the tension between the making and the judgement.
Over the years, the in-betweenness and thoughts of it were further buried under my work with UX, analytical diagrams, sticky note scribbles, style guide-led screens, resurfacing only every now and then. Until this summer, when I went to speak at Typo. I never felt so honoured and proud, and so vulnerable and fake, all at once. I was asked to speak, not about my work with UX, that I'd poured several years into, but about my work with food. I loved that it was the way it was, but also wondered at the irony. It was an opportunity I really wasn’t sure I deserved. Then, I saw all the speakers go up, talking about their individual inspiring take on graphic design, in all the ways I’d dreamed of, almost forever.
This is not to say I don’t like what I do now, or that I do it poorly. I believe I am a sincere worker and I've always tried to give my best, regardless of what’s at hand. But the itch. It’s gotten worse. So much worse. After my talk, a couple of young journalists took me aside and interviewed me. The boy asked– what did you want to become when you were a child? My mind drifted in the long pause that followed, as I thought back to the “craft magazines”, “newsletters” and all kinds of other paraphernalia I printed away with my grandfather’s typewriter, assembled into volumes and what not. I remembered the logo I invented for my studio, I drew it for the boy. We had a good laugh. I was a natural graphic designer as a child. And honestly, I was frightfully prolific at that age. Fearless. I made what came to mind, and I hadn’t ever had even an ounce of doubt about what I was doing. It didn't matter. I loved unconditionally and I just made.
I’ve lost that.
I've attended Typo several times over the years, and it's grown into an event I started to dread because of the enormous volume of all-consuming inspiration that I simply could not action, once it was over. What followed with this Typo was similar, but probably the worst yet– an internal meltdown. But this time it wouldn’t be useless, I resolved. Over the many enriching conversations I had over the conference, some next steps emerged.
The conversation that broke through was one that I had with one of my favourite designers– Hansje van Halem. As I lamented about having strayed so, so far away from my first love, she asked, you have a product. You run a dinner series. It's real, it's out there. Why aren’t you designing for it?
Now, I don't even know why I'm rambling away about it here, but here's what I'm getting at. I came away from that conversation deciding to make something of the 11 dinners we’ve had so far. Post-posters. Souvenirs. Menus. Art. Other names I am yet to make up.
Restarting. Doing it backwards. Becoming a beginner. Finding myself an anchor and just making. Like a child.
A couple of rules:
- They will represent the evening's memories– not as planned, but the way it turned out.
- They will serve as souvenirs for that evening's menu and how it was served.
- The titles will always be experiments in form (I suck at typesetting, so why bother).
- They will be 3 colours or less, to be screenprinted or risoprinted, in the future.
And so it begins. Dinner #1.
I remember that evening like it was yesterday– we hosted it in our living room. I barely knew Thomas back then. I think of our naïveté and our excitement with a lot of fondness. I won’t go into the details, because you’ll find an account of it here (thank God for written records); but what I want to recount are the elements I remember most distinctly: a pastiche of Indian colours, Karthik's wonderful pumpkin centrepieces, German GDR-time Zwiebelmuster crockery that we borrowed from our dear friend Wiebke, block-printed pouches tied with neon wool and the slightly ambitious number of courses we managed to cook that evening. Happy chaos.
I broke out those crockery pieces from the cellar, and played with them on the scanner. Here are some studies.
Abstracting them into type...
And finally, bringing them all together: the centerpiece with the flowers, the mish-mash of patterns, the eager multitude of dishes and drinks that were served. Here's the final result:
So, what makes me itch? The answer is crystallising, slowly.
In the meantime, I’d like to put this out there, make myself accountable to making, any quality, any kind, and complete this series in the coming months. Stay tuned.