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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.
Marian Bantjes > I'm going to talk about my process, and it's not something that I do very often because quite frankly I don't think my process is very interesting. I'm not somebody who makes a lot of sketches. I don't have a real visual trail of what goes on in my head. And in fact, most of the work, or not most of the work, but an awful lot of the work that I do do goes on inside my head. That's my head there. It's hard to tell. I really hate to say this. This is very disappointing, particularly to students and young designers, but the vast majority of the time I get an idea for what I want to do pretty much immediately.
I don't worry about it. Even if I don't get the idea immediately I don't fret. I just kind of, you know, I know that eventually it's going to come. And I also get more ideas than I know I will ever be able to produce. So I keep a list on my computer. It's a list just called Ideas and whenever I get an idea I go in and write it down in my list. And so in those very rare times when I'm really stuck then I can go to my list and just kind of scroll down and read through the ideas I've had in the past and I go okay, I'll use that.
And this is one-- it's a friend of mine and I don't usually steal my ideas, but this one I did kind of steal from my friend's Henrik Kubel, who is actually here in the audience. He used to cover his textbooks with foil and kind of draw in the foil, and I also used to draw in foil, not for my textbooks but I do have this memory of drawing in foil and the feeling of the pen going into foil. And so that was an idea that I wrote down and used eventually for this piece that I did for the New York Magazine.
The thing that I really like about it is that I did the piece in foil but when I shot it, just depending on the light that I shot it and I could get all sorts of different effects. So this is something that I'm actually-- I used it one more time in my book and I don't think I'm finished with this idea. I'm going to use it again for something. One of the first steps in my process is resting. So I get a lot of sleep, like really a lot of sleep, and I generally sleep between eight and ten hours a night and when I have jet-lag that can go up to about 14 hours, which is really too much, but it works for me.
And all that sleeping or resting if you will can happen in many parts of my house. In the summertime I have this outdoor nest, which is a perfect place for daytime naps and my living room couch is also a favorite place for a little snooze. So I often find that I wake up in the morning with ideas and that idea, that morning idea, is usually a really good one. It may not work out, but it's always a good start.
So this was a really good idea that I had where I was to do a poster for an organization that promotes design for social change, and they wanted me to do a poster that said "Design Ignites Change." So I had this idea that because of the word "ignites" and because of the word "change," well because of the word "change" I wanted to have something that would change with the poster.
So I decided to laser-cut it out of paper. And usually when you laser-cut you cut from the back because it will leave a burn mark on the paper, but I had them cut it from the front because I wanted that burn mark. I wanted it to have that sense of igniting, the ignites part of that. So there's all these little holes in the paper and then of course depending on what-- you hold it up to whatever you can see behind it will change depending on where you hold it.
Another place that these ideas happen and it's not just for me but for other people as well, very commonly to get an idea while you're in the bath or in the shower. So the point of this is really to give the mind time to relax. It will wander and come up with its own ideas. It doesn't seem to work so well if you just kind of like hammer at it. And eventually-- there have been studies done on this. And leisure time and sleep are really very important, particularly to creative people, people who need to come up with ideas.
The step number two after resting is thinking. So not only do I have a number of places around my house for sleeping, I also have a number of places where I like to just sit around and think. And I used to feel really guilty about this. I thought I was doing nothing, but I've come to realize that a huge amount of my work activity actually happens in my head. I think about things and I get ideas, but I also work through those ideas in my head.
I do the layouts, I try out colors, I make adjustments, imagine media, all that stuff is happening in my head. Even once I have the thing started in on the computer, I'll frequently take breaks away from the computer just to think about it. So instead of doing that stuff on the computer I'll be sitting in a spot like this, doing that work inside my brain. I'll also sit and stare at the work. So probably if you've observed me working, you'd think I was crazy because I'm just sitting there staring at it.
But I'll sit and stare at a sketch or something on the screen for a long time, thinking about it and imagining its possibilities or pitfalls. So the next step after the developing of the ideas is sketching. So once I've decided on what I want to do and I have that vision of it in my head. I'll next attempt to get the vision out of my head onto the paper. So I do this by drawing by hand. And often what comes out is not really what I had in my head, but I'll usually work with that anyway.
Occasionally this is a struggle and either I find I can't articulate what I was thinking or the idea itself proves to be not working, so then I'll return to thinking or I'll abandon it for something else and wait for a new idea to come to me. This is something that I was working on for a tote bag for the TED Conference last year. This wasn't working so I kind of went back to the drawing board to do something a bit more rational. It says wisdom and I actually wondered whether it was maybe a bit too obscure.
I had the tote bag with me in my local grocery store a few weeks ago and the checkout clerk-- I had the bag on the counter and the checkout clerk looked at it and she said, "Oh! I like that. Wisdom. That's a really nice thing to have on a bag." And I thought, "You're right!" So never underestimate your audience. Now how many drawings I do and what kind depend on how I'll be executing it. If my plan is to do it in Illustrator, I'll usually make one drawing, working and erasing and working it over-and-over again until I have just what I want to scan into the computer as a template for tracing.
I often work on graph paper and you can see with this one in particular how that basically works that out and then in Illustrator I'm able to make it more perfect than I ever could by hand. But I might not be doing it in Illustrator. I might be actually working by hand for the final piece. I might be painting or using inks. And in that case, I'll usually make a really rough drawing, something that's quite sort of scratchy and erase-y, and then I'll trace it on to tracing paper so I can get a clear image of it that I can then put under a light table, under a piece of art paper.
In that case, I'm working from something that's not complete as you can see here. You can kind of see the shadow of what I'm working from underneath. So I have the basic layout, I have the numbers drawn in, but the rest of the stuff I'm just doing freehand around what I can see through that paper. After the sketch I'll go into the final art and I work in a really wide variety of materials. One of those is pen and ink. Those are some of my ink bottles.
So here is a sketch for a piece that is a spam. It's based on a spam email. This was a piece I did in pen and ink. When I'm drawing something like that with all those fine little lines, I'm not going to sketch that first. I've got the basic idea down and then the rest of it is done freehand, and that's also the kind of thing I'm not going to do in Illustrator. That's too many little lines. Much easier to do it by hand.
I also work in pencil crayons. This is in pencil crayon for the Walrus Magazine. It was a story about Canadians and how we apologize all the time. And actually I wanted to do this in snakes and I almost got them to agree with it. It was like one of those things where I suggested snakes and they said okay, and then some editor came along and said there's no way we were putting snakes on the cover of the magazine. So I had to-- they had to come back to me and say "sorry, no snakes," and I was kind of facetiously playing around with the art director, with my friend Brian Morgan, and I said, "Well you know what? No snakes, okay. How about kittens? You don't want snakes, how about kittens? Kittens with a ball of string?" So I was going to have this with like a little kitten below and they said, "Well, we love the idea of the string but no to the kittens." So that was just the string, but I was quite happy because it kind of looks like guts.
And sometimes I work in other materials. This is a piece that I did in fun-fur and then animated. It's a B. It was for a company in the UK called Bunch. I never use an auto-tracer. I'll trace it Bezier curve by Bezier curve. When I've tried to use auto-tracers it takes me more time to clean up the curves than it would just to do it the first time around, then it takes me to start from scratch.
So in this, Illustrator is just a finishing tool. Sometimes I make arrangements of things. These things usually don't have any sketches at all. So I'll have the idea in my head and then I work directly on a white piece of paper or on foamcore, and some method of drawing crop marks to define the area. And I don't glue anything down, so these pieces are really quite delicate, and this is done at ten times speed. I don't actually work that fast.
I'm just placing things down and as you can see changing my mind there and then deciding to do something else, just having to shift and move things around in order to get it to all fit perfectly. Here are those pieces, or some of them, so they are all made out of pasta and they are all now destroyed. They were photographed and then destroyed. Sometimes I don't make an entire creation by hand, but I do part of it digitally.
This is a thing that I made. I actually made this when I was in Bali and I made this out of flower and leaf petal things and I made these as well. This one I made at home from my garden. This is a letter that I made out of flower petals. And then they are digitally arranged for the book. So the introduction has these digital arrangements of those little pieces that I made by hand.
And sometimes happy accidents happen, and this was one of those happy accidents. There is a design company in New York called Number 17 and they were turning 17 last year, and somebody decided to put together a book for them with various designers doing something off of number 17. I live on an island and the power frequently goes out, and so there was this evening the power went out and so of course, I can't use my computer.
I'm kind of thinking what should I do and then I think, okay well, one of the things that I've been wanting to do was to work with toothpicks. But I was working by candlelight. I had no power, so I was sort of surrounded by candles and I was gluing this number 17 together, and I had planned on making a very, very complicated number 17 with all sorts of little tiny, little bits of toothpicks. But I got really only just started on this and I saw that the candlelight was making these really wonderful, complex shadows.
It was there, it was there in the shadows already. So I just stopped, grabbed my camera, shot it, and that was the final piece. I designed this poster for the band The National for their concert at The Wiltern in LA. It was three posters in one. So I printed it in black, fluorescent pink and glow-in-the-dark ink. So this is how it looks in the daylight, that's sort of how it looks in the black light, and that's what it looks like in the dark.
So that took a lot of figuring out because there is the different layers and I had to figure out how that's going to work, and I really love that part of the design process, figuring something out. I often find that I'm spending hours and hours and hours and hours working on something that I'm getting paid either nothing or very, very little for, but because I just love doing it, and that's the priority for me. Sure, I love it when I get a $50,000 job, but if I don't, I'll do something just as good for less, because I want to.
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