Creating the valentines
Video: Creating the valentines(music playing) Marian Bantjes: I remember having this kind of epiphany. It was quite early on. And I remember I was flying into New York and looking down over the lights of New York, and I had this sudden thought that everything I do, I do for love. And it was a really, like, kind of a really big moment for me. And I think it was at that time that I decided that to make Valentine's Day my thing, you know, to hook into this love thing.
- Marian Bantjes, Graphic Artist
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Graphic designer Marian Bantjes has collaborated with numerous design legends, including Debbie Millman from Sterling Brands, Michael Bierut and Paula Scher from Pentagram/NY, Sean Adams from AdamsMorioka, and Stefan Sagmeister—all of whom are featured in this film. This Creative Inspirations was shot on location in Toronto, Vancouver, New York, Los Angeles, and Marian's home and workspace near Vancouver, where Marian shares her views on design and designers. We also visit her distinctive one-woman show at the Ontario College of Art & Design.
In Bonus Features, Marian talks about her creative process at the Ontario College of Art & Design in Toronto.
Creating the valentines
(music playing) Marian Bantjes: I remember having this kind of epiphany. It was quite early on. And I remember I was flying into New York and looking down over the lights of New York, and I had this sudden thought that everything I do, I do for love. And it was a really, like, kind of a really big moment for me. And I think it was at that time that I decided that to make Valentine's Day my thing, you know, to hook into this love thing.
Debbie Millman: Marian made a fundamental shift in her life when she was 40. She had already practiced her craft for many, many decades and started this entirely new body of work that was much more heartfelt, that was much more meaningful, that was much more honest. She didn't have a body of work prior to doing this. She created the body of work as she was doing it, and she got people's attention by sending out promotions for Halloween and for Valentine's Day.
Michael Bierut: My first encounter with Marian Bantjes was in the mail. It was unsolicited junk mail, essentially, but I didn't do with it what I do with the other pieces of junk mail, which is throw away right away; instead, I kind of stood it up on my desk and saved it. Stefan Sagmeister: I remember the first thing that I saw, I immediately saved it, which in this office at least is not very usual, because we tend to get designers' junk mail by the bucketful, and photographers and illustrators and all that.
And what made it really special was the obvious obsession of the person who had done it, how much time, love, and attention was spent to make this typographic form really gorgeous. Marian: So the first valentine, it was printed on this really, this glassine, very, very fine. And so it's like that. So people got it in the envelope, and they could see. You know, you could kind of see the layers through it, in the translucent envelope, and then they would unfold it, and it was like that. That was the very first one.
The second year I did--I worked on that glassine again, and that was True Heart. I did the letterforms that look like hearts. So I drew these. I would assemble the person's name and some Xs and Os and an extra M for myself, which I would sign, and stuck that, again, in a translucent envelope like that.
Basically, this pile of letters would tumble out, and they would go, "What the hell is this?" And the thing is that people have a good--you get something like this, you realize quite quickly that they are letterforms, and people have a pretty good affinity to figuring out their own name. If this was a word that said something like, I don't know, "adore" or something, they probably wouldn't really get it. But people have this--this, for instance, says M-A-R-I...M-A-R-I-A-N, my own name.
So I was really counting on people having that recognition. And then the next year I had a bunch of the paper left over, so I used the same paper again. But this was a completely different concept. It kind of doesn't make sense. It doesn't start with "hello" to them. It starts in the middle of a sentence. It ends in the middle of a sentence. And this one says, "You've never really been sure of this, but I can assure you that this quirk you're so self- conscious of is intensely endearing.
Just please accept that this piece of you escapes with your smile, and those of us who notice are happy to catch it in passing. There is no passing time with you, only collecting: the collecting of moments with the hope for preservation and at the same time, release. Impossible? I don't think so. I know this makes you embarrassed. I am certain I can see you blushing, I know it. But I just have to tell you because sometimes I hear your self-doubt, and it's so crushing to think that you may not know how truly wonderful you are, how inspiring and delightful and really truly the most completely," and that's where it ends.
This does speak to them in some personal way without being specific. It was actually really difficult to write that, really difficult to get just that balance of the universal and the personal. Last year I got this really great idea to use used Christmas cards for the valentines. Here are some leftovers here. So there's just all sorts of different kinds.
And I knew this was a good idea. I knew it was a good idea. I just wasn't prepared for what an incredibly good idea it was, if I do say so myself. So these are some of the valentines that I have left over. And I was down at the shop that does the laser printing when they were putting these things through the printer, or through the laser cutter, and I was just blown away. I am still blown away by them.
I drew this design. You can kind of-- it's easier to see the design itself on the reverse. I mean, the thing about it, one of the reasons that I did it, and one of the reasons that I think it works as well, is that Christmas and Valentine's Day share this--share a kind of--they share a color palette, and they share a kind of sentimentality. Look at this one with the bird. That is just--I mean, that is stunning.
That's just--it just worked out so beautifully. And this was some crappy, ugly card with a bunch of sprinkles on it, and it just turned out into this incredible thing. I mean that's beautiful. And I don't know. I just--the foil--all these cheesy effects that went onto the original Christmas cards just came out so beautifully in the valentines. It was sort of serendipitous and planned and everything else all at the same time. I was just overjoyed.
So that is a project that I am going to have a very, very hard time topping this year, or any other year. This year I am going to create kind of modular hearts that are made up of pieces and then those pieces will be able to mix and match. But the idea is to be able to have different colors and different pieces of the hearts that fit together, so that I can get a variety of different hearts.
(music playing) So I want each part to be quite different from the others. These shapes and designs are kind of deliberately not beautiful. I'm very purposely not making what you might call romantic shapes.
Because I really like the idea of juxtaposition and I like the idea of kind of like working against what's expected. I think it will be more surprising when they come together and they look great. They are going to look great. I'm quite convinced of it. (music playing) All right! So I am going to put this in the scanner and bring it into Illustrator.
One might wonder why I wouldn't just draw this directly in Illustrator. I can't think in Illustrator. Very occasionally I work directly on the computer, but most of the time I find that the computer somehow controls my brain. I can't understand how it does or why it does it. All I know is that when I try to skip the step of sketching, most of the time I just end up with garbage.
So here is my finished section, and here is a bunch of different sections, and I've made them different colors. And my new section, I am going to make it a different color. So you can see with this one section here, I've got three different shapes for that section: I've got this one, this one, and I've got the one I just made. So I can have a combination of those two, or I can have a combination of those two, or these two.
And the other added thing as well is that the colors are set to overprint. They multiply in these sections so that where two colors combine, where, for instance, where magenta and yellow combine, they can create red; where blue and magenta combine, they create purple in the center. I get more than the three colors; I get this range of colors that is somewhat random because of the way these things were designed to kind of fit together but not really fit together. So they have intersections that are really these unusual shapes, and that makes it again, I think, more interesting.
(music playing) Working with the shapes and the forms that were not necessarily beautiful to begin with, they came together exactly as I wanted.
I think they are good non-traditional valentines, just the way I like to have them.
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