29 November 2011

Small Pond Arts Logo Design

Many desperate acts of design (including gradients, drop shadows, and the gratuitous use of transparency) are perpetuated in the absence of a good concept. A good idea provides the framework for design decisions, guiding the work.

– Noreen Morioka

(updated 2015 version)

Names are very important to Krista and me and we brainstormed dozens of them and deliberated for weeks until we were absolutely happy with "Small Pond Arts" (during the logo design process, we dropped the "Ranch" to simplify the name). The next step, of course, was to create a visual identity, mainly a logo, for this new venture, so I set about doodling some concepts that had to do with the overall theme of "a big fish in a small pond."

With the sketching underway, the typeface had to be carefully chosen; it had to convey a friendly, artistic playfulness while walking the very fine line between professionalism and whimsy (it couldn't be staid and boring, nor could it be silly and goofy). Most of all, it had to be legible at a variety of scales and in limited colours. By the time the fish design took more concrete shape, I happened to find a great typeface that simulated casual non-cursive handwriting which I then customized so it would not only fit in with our design, but be unique.

The small selection of key doodles and sketches from a few pages from my sketchbook below don't necessarily reflect a linear progression as I went back and forth between variations sometimes, doodled on scrap paper outside of my sketchbook, and did a lot of the final changes on my computer, totaling countless hours upon hours of design time.

Vague doodles here, trying to incorporate a painter's palette into the design as the pond itself. The fish having two eyes on the same side is reminiscent of Picasso's cubism and are meant to evoke "art," but, since we would be dealing with all art forms, we decided to drop the overt references to painting.

Krista had the idea to place the words "Small Pond" inside the fish and did the two sketches (top left) to give me an idea of what she had in mind. The fish still had Picasso eyes here in the first appearance of Narrow Fish, but that either made it look silly (too cartoony) or like a flounder (which would be a bad connotation). The shape of the pond is further refined to look even more like a palette, but the word "maybe" means it's now in question and likely to be dropped.


Developing Krista's idea of having the words inside the fish, I researched Prince Edward County's local fish and, amongst the many local varieties, I found the silhouette of the pumpkinseed fish to be both attractive and an easily recognizable fish shape. I then started arranging the words inside.
Note there's now only a slight hint of painter's palette surrounding the fish.
In blue pencil: return of Narrow Fish, but now facing the other direction.

Letterform placement variations inside the pumpkinseed fish. I don't like torturing letters to conform to a graphic shape, so the extended stems of the M and the A kinda bug me here. Letters should be able to stand on their own, being legible and identified as letters (and the correct letters!) at all times. There's no confusion of that sort here, but they're still a little too "tortured;" I wasn't designing a psychedelic poster, after all.
The palette is now completely gone in favour of an outline of blue to represent the pond.

The fish facing to the left was bugging me since we read left-to-right, and facing left evokes looking or moving backward, so I tried a variation with Narrow Fish facing right. This design is a simpler fish shape which makes it easier to incorporate "Small Pond" with minimal  letterform distortion. In fact, the D fits nicely inside the head.
The "pond" is now an oval behind the fish.
The red and blue here are just sketching colours to clarify shapes and are not suggested colours.

This variation appears after the red and blue Narrow Fish one in my sketchbook, but it was actually drawn before, with the other pumpkinseed fishes. If I continued with further refinement of this design, I'd get rid of the silly "tail" on the bottom of the S, and made the S smaller to accommodate a wider A. I would have also made the N less wonky so it doesn't crowd the D like that. But the negative space left over in the bottom right fin might've been a good place to put the word "arts."

(original 2010 version)

Dozens of further design refinements using Narrow Fish were made with my computer. In customizing each character to fit inside the fish, I made sure the two Ls weren't exactly (mechanically) the same. The S and P are the boldest to help distinguish the two words.

Speaking of the Ls, they made placement a challenge: uppercase Ls leave unappealing negative spaces which negatively interrupt the rhythm of the rest of the characters (note that the O tucks in nicely –and legibly!– beneath the P to close up the negative space there). Lowercase Ls might not read properly as Ls (are they Is instead?) since all of the other characters are uppercase; making an exception for the Ls could be potentially confusing. The compromise of nesting them closes up the negative space a bit, but also adds to the feeling of informality that the "hand-written" letters convey –as a bonus, the negative space of the second L helps separate the two words.

The fish fills and extends beyond the oval of the pond, evoking freedom; one variation had it completely contained within the oval, but that felt very claustrophobic.

The "handmade" aspect of the characters is counterbalanced by the clean lines of the fish (in black, which highlights the letters) and the oval "pond" (in blue, of course). In this full colour iteration, the pond is enclosed by a darker shade of blue and the fish itself is sorrounded by a thin stroke of taupe, an earth-tone, evoking the land, but also giving the black fish a nice "glow" that a white stroke didn't accomplish.

The overall design dispenses with the computer-generated, mathematically-accurate lines of our online/print logos when we made our signs, and that was deliberate so the logo would have the nice "wobbly" handmade appearance that was intended from the outset.

Colours are a luxury, I believe, and a design should be able to stand strongly –and be legible!– in two colours (usually, black and white). The pond remains in the form of an oval ring, but the "water" is now white (as is the stroke around the fish).

As a supplement to the main fish logo, I designed this for a rubber stamp (which we love using) and for other applications where a more compact logo serves the design better. The typeface here is the one I chose to complement the fish logo when we add words like "Arts," "Arts Gallery," etc. The circular motif brings to mind postmarks used by post offices (and which I previously used on my own website (also a rubber stamp)).

The fish is the same fish as the main logo and the two circles above and below it represent Krista and me (orbiting the fish? embracing it?).

[[  About the 2015 update  ]]

After a few years, I decided it was time to update the logo a bit for our sixth season. Rather than going for a drastic overhaul, I simply streamlined the existing design a bit by taking away two elements: the dark teal outline around the "pond," and the light tan outline around the fish. The black and white versions remain the same.



23 November 2011

Steamy

15" x 22", watercolour, 2002, collection of Steam Whistle Brewing

I had a show at the Steam Whistle Brewing HQ in 2002 and did this painting for that –and then for them to add to their collection afterwards. I set up the still life of fresh beer on my parents' back patio one summer evening and I added the watermelon because it's a refreshing seasonal symbol to me and it adds visual interest since the colour of the rind matches the bottles and the red flesh is (obviously) complementary.

There's a second pilsner glass behind the front one, but it's hard to spot unless you look closely. I did a number of shots and arrangement variations and this one was my favourite, but I should have moved the second glass a little to the right so it's in view (especially since there are two bottles visible).

 The invitation I created for the event:
(look at that URL! ha-ha.)

Click here to see a similar painting to the one in the invite.


17 November 2011

Australian Landscapes (part 2)


 
 each: 11" x 15", watercolour, 1998, private collections

These are the last two of my five Australian landscapes I painted back in the 1990s. I shot the photo ref for the top painting myself at Wilson's Prom and the bottom painting of The Twelve Apostles was shot by my cousin, Liz.

Bonus Australian painting:
14" x 18", oil on canvas, 2002, private collection

I also did a number of small oil paintings of the Sydney Opera House from various interesting angles, but this one is the best of the lot. It was undergoing a bit of a restoration but I managed to take a lot of nice pictures. Maybe I'll do some larger oils of this beautiful structure one day...



15 November 2011

Australian Landscapes (part 1)



each: 15" x 11", watercolour, 1998, all paintings in private collections

My previous post (and the fact that I'm currently in the midst of painting ten new local barnscapes) put me in the mood to post these old landscapes inspired by my trip to Australia in 1993 (the first and third paintings are based on photos my cousin, Elizabeth, took, the middle one's mine).

I don't remember where Liz said she took the photo for the top painting; the middle one is at Wilson's Promontory in south Victoria, if I remember correctly; and the bottom one is a close-up of Uluru (the formation formerly known as Ayer's Rock).






07 November 2011

Kangaroo

30" x 40", oil and acrylic on canvas, 2008, private collection

Detail.

This is a commission I did a few years ago where the client wanted a painting that combined my realistic yet painterly style with the traditional patterns of Australian Aboriginal art. I did some research and found a style of patterns that suited my photo reference of the kangaroo and adapted the geometry and layout to fit around the marsupial.

Relatively speaking, the kangaroo was easier to paint than the painstaking lines and dots behind it. I used acrylic for the pattern (because it was made up of flat colours) and oils for the kangaroo (because I'm more comfortable blending colours in that medium).



01 November 2011

Lisa (Green Chair)

40" x 30", oil on canvas, 2008

Detail.

This one's colours are more vibrant than the first of this series, and, being the most recent, you can see a progression towards more chroma over the four paintings (here is the painting done just before Lisa's). In retrospect, I prefer the subtleties of the first one, but the lively saturated colours of the last two are still pretty neat.