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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.
(music playing) Marian Bantjes: Are you Lisa? Lisa Smith: Yeah. Marian: Great! Nice to meet you! Yeah! Lisa: You too! Lisa: So this is the gallery. Marian: Uh huh. Marian: Oh my God! Lisa: So is this the first time you've seen the wallpaper up? Marian: I have never seen the wallpaper up. This is fantastic.
Lisa: It feels rich too. It's really--it's on vinyl. It's nice and thick. Marian: Oh, I'm so going to get this for my bathroom. This is so great! Lisa:--know where to go, and those are all valentines. Marian: Right. Lisa Smith from Ontario College of Art and Design contacted me to have the show here. She had a vision for the show being as interactive as possible, and that doesn't mean in terms of digital interaction, but to be able to have people see and touch things. And she really had this idea to have the wallpaper on the walls from Maharam and as well the Maharam fabrics that I had designed.
And then there was the one piece that I was really excited about, which is The National poster, in a place where it could be seen under the three different lightings that it was designed for. Lisa: We tried about four different lights. Marian: Oh, that's great! Lisa: And so it's on a seven-second circuit. Marian: That's great! I love that! Oh, look at the dress. That's amazing! Lisa: Yeah, yeah. Marian: It looks so great there.
I've been really into patterning for quite a long time. It's a really, really interesting thinking space. You really have to-- Some people think of pattern, and technically it is, if you just like take an object and go plop, plop, plop, and repeat it over, and there it is. But for me, a really good pattern is something that is integrated and becomes a full image. And you have to figure out where things are going to cross and what holes need to be filled after you fill it out.
So it's a lot of figuring out and back-and-forth work in and out of the computer trying to get that thing to work. But for me it's just so much fun. It's puzzle making. It's like people who like to work on puzzles. It's the same kind of thing. It's figuring out how everything is going to fit together, and what's going to happen when it gets bigger. One of the reasons that I like working in graphic art or the graphic design world is that public access.
When I create something and it goes out in however many thousands of copies of a magazine or seeing it all over the streets of New York or whatever, I'm creating a visual piece that thousands or millions of people can see and appreciate that they don't have to pay for, and they don't have to walk into a secluded gallery and see only in that place at that time, or in an art magazine. There's brilliant fine artists; they're just doing amazing things. But unless you're really paying attention, you're never going to see it. And I think that's a tragedy.
It's something that we really need to overcome, and I would love to see graphic designers being able to embrace that artistic side of them and bring that in. And I would love to see people who are in fine arts, instead of struggling away in their garrets, earning some good money in the commercial world for doing great work. We really need that art in that space. If you look at the grace of modernist design, I mean that is art.
I mean, it's just so beautiful. It's so perfectly composed. And somewhere after that, that modernist idea of things being functional and accessible and direct really infused design to an extent that it began to really divorce itself from the personal investment. And it's something that's very difficult now for people in design to set aside.
They still have this idea that there is no place for the personal artist in that commercial sphere, and I think they're absolutely wrong. I have said that my ego is involved in my work. People hear the word ego and they think it's a bad word. It's not. But I really think that that personal involvement of mine, yes, it is about me. It's about furthering what I want to do and what I think is interesting.
But it also aids the client. I mean, it is a partnership. If I was a client, I would much rather have something that had a longevity outside of its initial purpose, that was good enough that it would be reproduced in books and end up in an exhibition and end up in museums. This is a more recent poster. It's a company that distributes wine, and they have somewhere around two hundred different vineyards that they buy wine from to distribute.
And so they wanted to have a commemorative piece to be able to give to the vineyards. They were having a party, and they wanted to have something that had all of those people's names on it. And I'm quite convinced that when they hired me, they were expecting something that would be kind of scripty, so like some kind of scripty thing with a bunch of flourishes with all their names. And so I knew I wasn't going to do that, but I--my first thought was, what am I going to do? And my first thought was, well, I'm not going to do anything with grapes, because it's too obvious.
And my second thought was, grapes, what a good idea! So I decided--I started, I did a little online research into grapes and discovered that they come in all sorts of different colors and shapes and sizes, and I was really, really excited. And so what I did was I drew, in pencil crayon, all of these different grapes with the letterforms in the skin of the grapes in a way that is meant to look as somehow natural, as though it could've actually happened.
And then I scanned that, and in Photoshop assembled all of the names of the vineyards. And I heard from the client that when they gave this out at the function that the reaction was exactly what I wanted to have happen, which is, first they thought, oh it's a pretty poster. And then they were, oh, it's grapes. And then they even like oh, there's letters in the grapes and they say something.
And then they figured out that there were names, and then they looked for their own names. I mean that is the multi-layered payoff that I'm totally looking for. There's a huge amount of competition in the design space in our surrounding world. And everybody is kind of shouting and trying to make their message as simple and bold and big and direct as possible to sort of out-shout everybody else.
I think that there's this feeling that anything that doesn't do that, that isn't "hey, buy this now, big picture," then it's not going to work. And I think that they're really underestimating the audience and really underestimating people's curiosity. (music playing) Debbie Millman: I don't think you hire Marian for her style; I think you hire Marian for her brain.
You have to know that she is going to be able to deliver and answer to a creative brief because she fundamentally understands it. (music playing) Sean Adams: I think it's a shame that a lot of young designers feel like all of sort of traditional graphic design is less relevant or inadequate to the personal. And I just don't buy that.
I see so much incredible work out there that would fit under the banner of graphic design that is personal and is smart and compelling. (music playing) Michael Bierut: What makes Marian unique is her own uniqueness, in a way. She developed that voice that first time I saw it I had never seen it before. The second time I saw it, I realized that it was the same person who I had seen the first time.
And the things may have been completely different, but they sort of are unified in this kind of Marian Bantjes's way of looking at the world, of translating forms to surfaces, of taking a simple message and making it rich and embroidered and complex in a way that invites you in. And anyone out there, your way may be completely different. It could be completely the opposite. The thing to be inspired about with Marian and her voice is that it's her voice. But we're in an era where people can publish in so many different ways that if you are willing to work hard and you've got that voice, the channels for you to amplify that voice, to broadcast your message, are so numerous, and in a way so hungry for what you can offer, that they really just are waiting for the next Marian Bantjes to come along.
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