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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.
(rain falling) Marian Bantjes: When I worked as a designer, I worked very locally, as most Canadian designers that I know of do. It's a very kind of closed, insular design scene. When I became involved in Speak Up I was spending a lot of time on the web site, and I honestly thought I was wasting my time. I mean, I was spending hours and hours and hours on this stupid blog, commenting and writing and being involved in this community. What a waste of time! But what I didn't realize was that at that time Speak Up was a real focal point for a broad range of people in the design community.
Michael Bierut: Like other people, I sort of also encountered Marian's name as a writer, not an artist or a designer. She contributed then to this blog, Speak Up, for the graphic design community. She is a very articulate writer, very opinionated, fun to read, always well argued, well thought through, and surprising in many ways on her choice of subject matter.
Debbie Millman: Speak Up was like a bar. Speak Up was a bar where everybody knew your name, and you can go in and there were fistfights and brawls and soapbox opinions, and it was incredibility momentous, because it was the first serious design blog. Marian's posts had an ability to both appeal to larger, broader life issues, but also there were very small precious experiences that are incredibly universal.
Marian deconstructed Santa. Marian showed me that the only difference between a garden gnome and Santa is the white fur around the hat. And she wrote about the alphabet in a way that nobody else could. She deconstructed the alphabet. Who does that? (music playing) Paula Scher: I enjoyed reading her on Speak Up, but I don't trust anybody's opinion on a blog unless I know if they are any good, because what difference does it make what they say if they don't design well? So I was really delighted when I found out how fantastic she was.
Marian: I thought I hated graphic design, and I thought I was leaving graphic design forever. And what I found in Speak Up was that I actually loved graphic design, and that I knew a hell of a lot about it, and I was very opinionated about it. The level of discussion was so much higher than anything I had experienced before. I can remember a couple of knockdown drag-out fights that I had in here that I lost. One of them I lost to Michael Bierut and to Mark Kingsley; they totally changed my mind.
And that's something that I never could have done in any other way. It was a real being-in-the-right- place-at-the-right-time kind of thing. Then the other thing that happened with this was Speak Up held a T-shirt competition. I almost didn't enter the T-shirt competition because, you know, having been a designer for ten years, it was like it was something that was beneath me, and who am I to enter a T-shirt competition, is my ego. But because it was my community, because I was so involved with it, I decided to enter the competition, and I won.
I developed this kind of pixilated type, which was actually based on-- Speak Up used to use a pixel font for most of its graphics, so it was based on that pixel font--and then elaborated on it and changed and turned into this more organic thing. So this was sort of the beginning of what became known as my style. So, you know, this T-shirt led directly to my first assignment with Details magazine; it led to a connection with Rick Valicenti and doing a project with him, an unpaid project, but a project nonetheless; and it became quite a widely-referenced piece, and in that sense this lowly T-shirt launched my career.
(music playing) Debbie: Marian really created a body of work that has inspired a generation of designers. But Marian is not content to settle for this style that she has created; she has already moved on. She is already creating new things. She is creating new styles. Every time she does something, there is something new in it that takes her somewhere else, that takes her somewhere else, that takes her somewhere else.
Sean Adams: And the spirit of her work is always going to remain the same, and that spirit is backed up with the incredible craft that she has. She is able to think it through. So I may not get the squiggly thing that I had thought I might get from the last project, but I'll get something equally as wonderful. She's not just there to, like, replicate the same style over and over again. She does it because she believes in it. She just feels like, I am moving in this direction now.
Stefan Sagmeister: In any creative roles you have basically two types of artists. You have the people who basically do the same thing over and over again, and you have the people that change all the time. I like Warhol better than I like Roy Lichtenstein, or I like the Beatles over the Stones, simply because the trajectory of the Beatles from the beginning to the end is a much wider one than with the Stones. And with Marian, she definitely would be the Beatles.
I think there is a red line that goes through it, which is probably somehow centered around obsessiveness, but outside of that, the visual breadth of her output is a fairly deep one. (music playing) Marian: I have been interested in illuminated manuscripts for quite a long time.
I am not an expert on illuminated manuscripts by any stretch of the imagination, but there are a couple of purposes of it. But one of those purposes is definitely to invoke wonder in this way that was very interesting to me and was feeding directly into my ideas about that symbiotic relationship between graphics and text.
Three years ago now I was approached by Lucas Dietrich at Thames & Hudson, and he wanted to do a monograph with me. At that time, I didn't really feel that I was ready for a monograph. So I didn't want to do that, but you don't turn Thames & Hudson down. And I had had some ideas for a book kind of floating around in my head that were somewhat incoherent. I had a number of writings that I'd written for Speak Up.
I really felt that there was an opportunity to not just reprint a weblog article in a book, but to actually change it in a way that could only be done in a book, and to be able to illustrate them in a way that was integrated with the text. And as well, I had a number of thoughts, things that I had been thinking about for a while, around the role that wonder plays in communication, that feeling of awe, of wondering at something that is so magnificent that you can't quite understand it; and the other being, I wonder, as in I think, or I wonder what will happen.
Trying to explain this to a publisher was quite difficult. I had to do quite a bit of work to get some samples together and illustrate what it was I was trying to do. One of the examples I give is the wonder that you feel when you look up at the night sky and you know that those are stars up there, but it's so hard to really grasp that. And so it goes from that into this piece about the stars. I had written this after going to visit the Griffith Observatory in L.A.
I discovered a display that they have there. It's a permanent display of jewelry with a celestial theme. When I started to write, I had this kind of imaginative leap where instead of writing about the observatory or writing about the display, I ended up writing this kind of imaginary piece as though when you look through a telescope, what you see are these pieces of jewelry in the sky. When I took the photos I never imagined that I would be using them for print.
I mean they were shot with a rinky- dink digital camera through glass. And so I was picking out these little pieces of jewelry out of larger photos, sharpening them, and then printing them at the largest size I could possibly get them to. It's illustrating what I'm talking about, without your eye ever having to really leave the page and go look at figure A. That sense of wonder at what these things are comes through in that, and these themes go throughout the whole book and really, in a way that was even surprising to me by the time that I was done.
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