Tuesday, 6 December 2011

M&S Packaging Design

I've noticed that for about the past four or five years Marks & Spencers have been developing their food packaging to the point where their food stores are now absolutely filled with products that you're tempted to buy just so your cupboards looks nice!

A visit to an M&S food store is a must if you're looking for insights into how to take a brand identity beyond the logo.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

www Fans In A Flashbulb

Weegee's photographs amazed me from the moment I first found them. When I studied a bit about him, I came across Letizia Battaglia too, whose work I also really admire.

I think I'm starting to realise that my favourite photography is black and white portraiture/photojournalism. Helmut Newton . . yep, definitely seeing a trend.

It was during a search for Weegee's work that I found this great blog (one of those blogs you can't stop scrolling through):


Monday, 28 November 2011

The Redstone Shop

If you're scratching your head over xmas gifts (hopefully not literally) you might try Redstone Press, for all your totally-random-but-beautiful book needs.

Here's a diary I bought from them - it's like when you're a kid and you get something for xmas that you never touch in case you break/damage it. I never wrote inside this! Much too precious.



Sunday, 27 November 2011

Patterns with smart objects

In a previous post, I showed how smart objects could be used in Photoshop for photo editing. Here's another good use for them. 

The fact that smart objects can be duplicated within the same .psd file means you can repeat them over and over to create patterns. I started the design below in Illustrator by creating a single triangle with bits of lettering inside it. Then I pasted that into Photoshop as a smart object and duplicated it loads of times into the pattern below (using the secret kaleidoscope recipe).

Whenever you want to try a new pattern, all you have to do is double-click on the 'vector smart object' in Photoshop and it'll take you to Illustrator where you can edit it. Once you've changed it, just save and close and it'll update the Photoshop file automatically. Lots more time to spend trying new patterns.


Saturday, 26 November 2011

www Estevan Oriol

My absolute favourite portrait photographer, Estevan Oriol, has a book out on Amazon! He's into the LA gangland so there's lots of tattooed guys with battle wounds and women who look as tough as nails. That's going on my Xmas list anyway.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

www open library (free books!!!)

Typographers and Renaissance lovers, listen up!  (Unlikely mix, I know).

What a find! I must have spent three hours last night on this website. I knew about the Project Gutenberg website before – that offers the plain texts of loads of classic novels (gutenberg.org) – but I'd never come across this one before:


The Open Library contains an amazing collection of texts, even in PDF form, for you to download or read online. I found some brilliant texts on the more neglected sides of Renaissance Florence, like the subject of the female writers of the time, and some interesting old editions of books that have people's hundred year old pencil scribbles on the pages.

I also found this awesome little book on advertising from the early 20th century that, as you'll see if you follow the link, shows us just how old the principles of layout etc have become.

Old typography/advertising book on 'Open Library':

Looking at some of the pages in the book linked above, I saw a distinct similarity to an excellent book I bought recently: they both break down examples of advertising and feature basic pencil reproductions of them. It's amazing to think they were published about 100 years apart!

Advertising theory etc book on Amazon (it looks a bit crummy and basic in the pictures, but believe me, it's a beautiful and very helpful book for serious designers and advertisers):

I'm sure, however, that I've only hit the tip of the iceberg on Open Library so I'm off to surf the web waves of literature some more. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Mafia couple

I was inspired by a video I saw a couple of weeks ago about a character illustrator – it's often the case that, despite what we might assume, these top notch concept artists and illustrators use the most basic methods or technology. The video showed how the guy when from paper to pixel with his drawings and it looked so simple.

I meant to just spend 30 mins or so on this, like the guy in the video I watched, but I still had Bert Monroy in my head . . . so I applied minute detail to everything (which you can't see in the image). For instance, if you zoom right into the guy's trousers you'll see a stitching texture! Alas . . . . this ain't no Google Art Project, so no mega zoom will be possible.

Bob-haired girl

I turn my back for two minutes (okay, two months . . or more) and Blogger looks totally different! Still, I really like it, it's much simpler and cleaner. They still haven't fixed the composer though!

This is a recent Photoshop portrait I did using a photo which, sadly, isn't mine. Thanks to the stupidly patient Bert Monroy, who took it upon himself to paint an image of Times Square in Photoshop and spent years doing it, I got a much better understanding of not only painting in Photoshop but also how the software works in general. Lynda.com is the biz! I still find Photoshop to be my weakest area though, so I'm trying to overcome that and make it my best!

I was surprised at how smart you can be with the filters in Photoshop – I was told at uni to avoid them like the plague (a bit like you do with Comic Sans in typography classes) but, in fact, filters can be really useful when used properly (usually meaning in small measures). I could have used a slight texture filter for the skin here, and then painted it back out in areas that didn't need it, but decided against that.

Saturday, 16 July 2011


This is a very interesting read if you haven't already. It's just another set of opinions about the world, doubtlessly contributing to the ongoing battle among believers, non-believers and . . misc.

It was a big deal during the Renaissance – Ficino was even told to put his translation of Plato on hold in order to translate Hermes Trismegistus's writings for Cosimo de Medici. The book pictured is a very condensed version of the original writings – which spanned many books, one of which, I think I read, is lost.

Whether you agree with it or not is, of course, not the point. I personally question a lot of it, but at least it gets us asking questions. At one point it mentions 'seeing with your mind' – that's an idea that could keep you thinking for a while.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Timeline of lives

One function of the book I'm putting together is to use visual means to enlighten the reader where possible. A lot of people find it easier to understand things if they're represented visually - slow people, yes, like myself. I really like to see maps and family trees at the start of books, so I intend to build on that dramatically for my own.

I've therefore started putting a timeline together of the lives of all the key characters from the era I'm focusing on (1450-1550 Italy). It's fascinating for a number of reasons - especially when you consider adding in 'key moments' of people's lives and measuring them up against the other characters.

This is early on in its creation - I've colour-coded names as best I could according to their being either an artist, writer, ruler or 'other' (I'll work on that). I've already noticed some very interesting outcomes from the timeline: Lorenzo de' Medici and Aldo Manuzio (the world-famous publisher) were born in the same year, as were Leonardo and Savonarola, as were Amerigo Vespucci (whose feminised Latin name was given to America) and Agnolo Poliziano (scholar, friend of Lorenzo de' Medici, bane of Lorenzo's wife's life), as were Pico della Mirandola and Caterina Sforza, but perhaps the biggest year of them all was 1475: Michelangelo, Pope Leo X and Cesare Borgia come out to play.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Downside Up

To take Alan Fletcher's advice of 'thinking sideways' one step further, what happens if we think upside down? Whereas Fletcher applied this to design, anybody can apply it to anything.

Looking at The Ambassadors recently, I found myself studying the brilliantly detailed globe (see below) that you can see in the background. Being from Holbein's time, it wasn't exactly satellite accurate and as I figured out how it was oriented I started to think about the relevance of north, east, south and west, or the irrelevance.

Which way is north in space? None. And which way is up in space? You might say whichever way goes against gravity, but that would make 'down' finite - in other words, surely there's no 'up' or 'down' in space either.

So what does that mean about how we visualise space and our planet? Why do images of solar systems always present the planets on a horizontal plane? Think of a map - what we call the north pole is always found at the top - but magnetic forces have no sense of north/south so why are they treated as such? Have you looked at where you live on a map and, on a whim, decided to see what other places lie directly above/below? Absolutely meaningless when you think about it. It took humanity quite a while to accept that it wasn't central in the universe. It also took time to see that it was not even centre of the solar system, that the Sun did not revolve around Earth. By our sense of 'north, south, east and west' we are still putting ourselves in a central position in relation to the surrounding world.

Aren't our methods of orientation in someway detrimental to how we see the world? I'm not referring to location or co-ordinates, simply the idea of north, east, south, and west. These terms aren't just methods of direction - we attach our own ideas and feelings to them - e.g. I feel like going south would be the best way to escape, while north would be a hazardous journey.

I've added some screen shots below (without borders/labels) that show what I mean. Both of the last two images are of the same area - Europe - and both force us to look differently at the world. In the first, we can see more clearly how the UK's coastline resembles the edge of Scandinavia, and how France and Portugal jut out to create an enormous pincer. The second shows Italy to be the arm and pointing hand of the mainland - and the UK seems to share something in common with it - as if it used to be the opposite arm but broke off at some point.

Of course, all this is still meaningless in itself - but it destroys the ideas we originally had of these geographical areas, for the better. It reminds me of what a tutor at my uni said; if he and his colleague  were asked to draw a whale, he'd probably draw a big blue smiling smudge while his colleague would make a perfectly accurate and realistic drawing. It's all down to our understanding of things.

So, if you're ever tasked to draw Italy, go for an abstract portrayal and draw an out-stretched arm and pointing hand, and say that you see the world for what it is rather than what everyone else sees.

Monday, 18 April 2011

www Mark Porter

Some nice editorial design work. A bit limited for a Creative Director's website though!


Sunday, 27 March 2011

www Bridgeman Art

I found another good stock image website for people looking for full quality images of fine art  - this one is a better website so its probably worthwhile to use this one instead of the previous site I posted about.


Sunday, 13 March 2011

Adobe tutorials


What a life saver this guy is. You can find loads of Photoshop video series by him on Lynda.com but his website has lots of good free info on it for anyone who uses Photoshop, InDesign or Illustrator.

NBA design


I used to play basketball quite a lot as a kid and ever since then I've been fascinated by the visual side of the NBA - the logos are obviously central to each team's 'look' and you can see, on the website above, how cleverly the designers have 'padded out' each logo to create a uniquely styled website for each team.

I think the site is a great example of how many different ways you can make what is essentially the same content look using a good template. If you go to the 'teams' tab at the top left of the page and click on each to cycle through,  you can see what I mean. Nothing too complex either - just loads of strokes, upon strokes for the type, some drop shadows here and there, and lots of colour/colour gradients or a textured background.

If there's one reason I'd love to live in America, it's so I could go to basketball games! It's one of the few things from my childhood that I still find exciting today. The worst part about it is that my favourite team, Settle Sonics (Shawn Kemp was awesome!), were disbanded for whatever reason years ago.

New typefaces

In my (very) tentative approach to starting my book I've been looking at typefaces I could use for it. I'm also looking for a good site to buy stock images relating to the Italian Renaissance but have only found one or two so far:

Definitely have a look at the second link - some nice photography in there but there's also a lot of fine art images that you don't find in the more popular stock photo websites.

Back to type though! I'm a fan of Garamond, but I always found it a little soft edged and really wanted something more refined so that I could set large headings with more confidence. Galliard is ideal for this - the 'ITC Galliard' version that I got has 4 weights which also makes it great for general use. 

Cut by Robert Granjon in the 16th Century, Galliard is very similar to Garamond but appears to have a more deliberate shape to it. I've made the two faces visually equal in size, below, to more clearly show the differences.

I also got Stymie because I wanted a nice rounded sans but Mrs Eaves sans was too expensive...  Still, I like slab serifs so Stymie is a good'n. Only thing I've noticed is that its default kerning attributes will usually need some attention. 

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Off to London

I'm on the train right now going down to London so hopefully I'll have lots of cool photos to share when I'm back next week. No plan as such so I'm just going to try and see as much as possible. Gotta see the natural history museum and hopefully I'll get time to see the national gallery and the British museum again.

Also, I'm desperate to try out some of the awesome techniques I've been learning on Lynda.com. If you're really keen to learn more about photoshop, or any software actually, then check out that website - deke mcClelland especially, for photoshop. It ain't free but it's really well priced for the amount you can learn and you can opt out any time.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Filippo Negroli's Armour 03

Good news Negroli fans - you can see his work super close up on Google's new, and incredible, feature 'Google Art Project'.  . . 'Negroli fans' . . that's an obscure fan base


Also, try this link to see how ridiculously far you can zoom in.


Don't thank me though - I'd never have known about it if Mr Three Pipe hadn't posted on it first.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Preview photographic colour variations in Photoshop: Numero Dos

I refined my 'template' for testing images in Photoshop and actually discovered I'd misinterpreted smart objects slightly. I couldn't find a way of making photos come into Photoshop at a certain size when you're using them as a smart object (usually they come in way too big). So, if you do want to set up a template, I think you'll need to do something like this:

1. Create a canvas in Photoshop of about 300mm squared.
2. Make sure you have two layers - a locked white background, and an empty layer.
3. Drop a landscape-oriented photo into the empty layer at about 50mm tall.
4. Convert your photo layer into a smart object.
5. Duplicate the smart object and set up a tightly spaced grid.
6. Once you've used the 'align' functions to get it all neat, trim any excess white space off the canvas by re-sizing it.
7. Now click on each smart object layer and apply an adjustment layer of your choice to it. Make sure the adjustment layers are clipped to the layer below (not affecting all layers).
8. You'll then have a sheet full of variations BUT, if you want to replace the content of the smart object (to see another photo with all the variations), you need to resize the photo first (to 50mm tall) and then use it as a replacement - otherwise, it'll come in too big.

The method above will allow you to use portrait-oriented photos without allowing the spacing to become an issue - as long as you make sure all photos you use to test are made 50mm tall to begin with (or whatever measurement you're going with).

I tried two more photos recently and I found the results a little repetitive so I tried something else. If you look at the first spread here, the images are mostly the same but I noticed the top right version was very different. The adjustment used on that layer is 'Black and White: High Contrast Blue Filter'. I wondered whether I could blend it with the one below - the very densely white version, which used 'Channel Mixer: Black and White with Red Filter'.  So I opened the original image and made two layers, each containing the image. I then applied the two adjustment layers to each copy of the image. I then applied a blend mode to the upper layer which happened to be 'overlay' and got the great results below.

Tip: to run quickly through blend modes, use 'shift+plus' or 'shift+minus' when the layer is selected.

Another tip: you will sometimes notice that changing the exposure much more than a few clicks left or right will create harsh effects. Instead, try duplicating the image onto another layer, then apply a blend mode to it, like 'darken', and your image will only get deeper and more dynamically lit.

The below are two sets of images, each with a test sheet, original photo and end photo.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Preview photographic colour variations in Photoshop

The link below is a video on 'smart objects' in Photoshop – skip it to 43:00 mins and you'll find a really useful way of seeing what one of your photographs might look under different colour conditions.


Basically, you can set up a file in Photoshop that acts as a template into which you can 'drop' any photograph you have and see lots of variations of it. The number of variations is up to you – after all, you set them up. The way the photograph varies is also up to what adjustments you choose – but colour adjustments are the main options.

I followed the video to create a template for lots of different black and white filters on a photo of of mine. The differences can sometimes be very subtle, but you'll find some great results – like the second one in from the left (top row). It has a really good wide range of tones and not too harsh a contrast. Photoshop does offer predefined variations but they're very basic and you don't get much control over them so this is the way to go.

Saturday, 22 January 2011


I read The Secret History by Donna Tartt when I was at university and, although I don't usually enjoy fiction, I found it interesting to learn about Dionysus – the Greek God of wine and music . . the Pete Doherty of the time. The main character in The Secret History studies the Classics among a select group of students – an exclusive class of individuals who dangerously mix curiosity with their freshly digested knowledge of ancient Greece.

This curiosity leads them to explore the idea of a bacchanal – what I understand to be a whirling, violent frenzy of body and mind, usually fueled by alcoholic intoxication and usually ending in the brutal mutilation of anyone or anything that hinders the rush of the group or individual. Bacchus (Dionysus) is often portrayed alongside his maenads – his female followers who would partake in festivals and dancing in his honour.

The images I've included below, however, are merely inclusive of the women themselves and say very little about any violent or aggressive nature of the bacchanal – perhaps due to their having been painted in the 19th century. The first, by Auguste Leveque, appears primarily to represent the bacchanal with a general air of lust but, at closer inspection, you see some revelers in a drunken stupor,  some in desperation, others grappling, and still others who seem to be sharing a gentle embrace. Confusion might be a better description.

Lawrence Alma-Tadema treats not the bacchanal itself but the aftermath in his own work – his maenads are only just waking. They stretch and come to terms with their dehydrated, aching limbs – the rewards to those who spend the moonlight on alcohol and vicious sprints through the country that precede the ruin of some unfortunate creature.

The antithesis of Dionysus, Apollo, was the bringer of order. During the Vienna Secession, Klimt explored the concept of music in relation to Dionysus early on in his life. He coordinated the complementary measures of the two deities in his paintings for the theaters and art galleries in Vienna at the time.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Jean-Léon Gérôme 'Pygmalion and Galatea' 1890

Footnotes in InDesign: automatic & creative

Part of the reason why I want to make a new book is that it's a reason to get to grips with what InDesign can do for large projects. I made a nice and easy start today by brushing up  on footnotes but, more specifically, how you can change the way a footnote looks.

The following notes show what I did to get the footnotes pictured at the end, so you'll get a good idea of what can be done – under completely automatic controls.

1. Set up a text box and, as it's an example, click inside the box and go to type> fill with placeholder text.

2. Drag the bottom of the text box down to make space for the footnote to appear.

3. Click somewhere in the text and go to type> insert footnote. Then two things appear – a number in the text, and the footnote itself, at the bottom of the text box.

4. Now that we have the footnote, we want to control the way it looks. Go to type> Document Footnote Options. The dialogue box that appears is one of many in InDesign and really isn't complex if you take the time to go through each feature.

5. Of the two tabs at the top, you'll be on 'Numbering and Formatting'. Under 'numbering', most of it is self-explanatory but you can type things into the prefix/suffix boxes of your own choice (I left them empty). In the two formatting panels, you'll find we can apply styles to the footnote and number – hit 'new style' for each and name them 'footnote number' and 'footnote' respectively. Don't bother setting up the rest of the settings for the  styles just yet though.

6. Underneath the paragraph style button, it says 'separator'. Delete the content of the box and use the arrow to the right to select 'tab'. This will mean that our footnote will start with the number, then jump a tab space and then begin the text.

7. In the other tab at the top, called 'layout', there are further options for formatting. You'll notice there's a Rule Above feature – ignore it! The style settings will offer the same visual options.

8. Hit OK on the footnote settings. Now before we look at the styles we've set up, we need to specify our tabs. Highlight the footnote itself, in the text box, and go to type> tabs. Type a measurement into the 'X:' bar and, if you want to, put something into the leader. You can experiment with this – I put two spaces and an em dash into it for mine.

9. Close the tabs panel. Now, making sure nothing is selected, double-click on your character style 'footnote number'. This will change the appearance of the reference inside the text. Make sure 'preview' is selected in the bottom left so you can see the effect of your settings. The more creative features come in the next step.

10. Double-click on the paragraph style that you named 'footnote'. In 'basic character formats' set up a type size of about 10, with around double the leading – 17/18pt. Then go to 'paragraph rules' and use a 'rule above' of about 10pt. This will be a bar the footnote text sits inside. You can play around with the stroke type, size, colour etc. 'Width' allows you to control how far the bar extends. You can put a '–1mm' left and right indent in, so the bar doesn't stop too close to the text.

11. Go to 'character colour' and choose a good contrasting tone. Then, for another little addition, you can go to 'underline options' and use an offset stroke as an underline. Remember 'underlines' can become more like panels if you make them fat enough.

12. Now click OK and you'll be all set to write hundreds of footnotes without ever having to manually format them. Playing with the style settings will affect them all simultaneously and you can really use the style features inventively to work more 'economically'.

I found this little video series by Michael Murphy on making books with InDesign. It covers 'book files', automation, tables of contents, indexing and more. See his personal website here: http://www.theindesigner.com/blog/

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Giovanni di Lorenzo de Medici

People should try to break down their preconceptions more often. I've found it rewarding to ignore what people say and find out for myself before making judgements.

It didn't work with Big Brother or Facebook though!

Maybe the following man will help change your ways, if you (like me) can judge too soon.

Giovanni di Lorenzo de Medici was one of the sons of Lorenzo 'Il Magnifico' de Medici.
He went on a tour of europe – while he was in exile.
He was imprisoned for a time in France.
He suffered from stomach ulcers.
He, like Leonardo, Botticelli, and others, was an exclusive sodomite.
He once said 'death...cannot adequately explain the rebirth of learning, art and culture which flowers in Italy. While one can never rule out divine will, I postulate a more prosaic explanation – money.'
He was accused of paganism.
He owned a pet elephant called Hanno.

He also said 'I am Pope Leo X, the Vicar of Christ, the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of the Apostles, the Patriarch of the West, the Primate of Italy, the Vice-regent of the Prince of Peace, the Ambassador of Heaven.'

Of his father, Lorenzo, he said, 'I believe that, five hundred years from now, men will still celebrate his contributions to learning, art, architecture and politics.' He wrote this around 1515-20, 500 years ago.


Thought it was time I changed my banner. A new year, a new beginning.

I seem to be tumbling through a web of information that's getting further and further from modern design (the original subject of my blog). The new banner allows me to branch out!

What I've been reading (about 15/16th Century Italy) is starting to run away from me. I learn about one thing, and find I need to learn about another, and so goes the endless trail.

The good traveller knows his destination, though, (as some ancient Greek, or another, said) so I decided to attempt a fairly huge task . . partly so I can remember the aforementioned ancient Greek guy.

My little plan is to create another book. Something to hold everything I'm learning in one place. I read a quote along the lines of 'people tend to think history happened over a long period, when, in fact, it occurs very quickly'. I think the writer meant that, where we see 10 years as a very long time (and we probably don't remember much that happened more than 3/4 years previous to any given time) we seem to think of it as a much shorter period if discussed in a history book.

The content of my new book will be based, roughly, on the era between 1400 and 1600, and mainly in Tuscany. It'll take the reader through, chronologically, the events that unfolded. Even if this means referring to past/future events where necessary, I want to stick to the timeline because I think time and context are very important in understanding history.

Not everything in the book can be recorded to a date though. The description of the word 'sfumato', for instance, must occur somewhere but it can't be left in the main text alone. A 'secondary' level of information is therefore necessary. It should be presented in a different way to the main text and each subject being described needs to stand alone. A description of the roots of a family, as another example, will need to stand alone as a few paragraphs away from the main text.

As the book will essentially be a timeline – page to page – there can be a visual entity running throughout, that may, for instance, tell us who the pope was at any time in the book. Why? Because it builds the context around what is said in the main text.

What also needs to go in is pictorial information. This requires an infographics approach – a clear and concise way of telling readers, for instance, who was in power in Florence throughout the 200 years in question. Representation of artworks should be straightforward inasmuch as images can be presented independently of the text. Referencing etc will be necessary though.

While I put this stupidly complex book together, I'll hope to share the information I pick up along the way and get my blog moving again.
➔ Please do not copy any image from this blog without permission; I keep proof of ownership on all of my work ☺