Join Marian Bantjes for an in-depth discussion in this video Interview and Q&A session at AIGA Pivot, part of Creative Inspirations: Marian Bantjes, Graphic Artist.
(applause) Michael Bierut: I want to start off by saying one thing. I've been here the whole conference, and I've had a sense of unease, on and off, from the very beginning that's been echoed by several speakers. And it has to do with a kind of disavowal of the idea of a single designer intensely devoted to making a single artifact.
We've heard from several designers, or from several speakers, talking about how they used to do that. Then they had an epiphany and they realized that that was no longer adequate to the challenges we face in the world today. And they put aside this contemptible thing called letter spacing in favor of solving world hunger, geopolitical conflict, other things more suitable to attention than just adjusting the kerning between a pair of letters. In the face of the problems we face in the world today, how do you justify the stuff that you do? Marian Bantjes: Well, I actually have-- I have an answer to that, and it's largely what I talked about at the TED Conference.
But I really believe that in the same way that I get inspiration from all sorts of different things--people ask me what I'm inspired by and I think it's a really stupid question because I'm inspired by anything that crosses my path, from things that I read to things, to movies, to music, so it's very, very, very broad. Inspiration is something that can come from--I think it almost must come from unexpected sources.
And I know that creative people are not the only people in the world to get inspired. And I really believe that in the same way that I get inspiration from different sources, that if I can put work out there that is intriguing, wonderful, interesting, something in some way that people notice as opposed to just kind of like pass by, then it has the potential to inspire other people. Any number of people who see something in my work and make that imaginative leap...
And I really think that that is how-- I mean that's how great ideas are born in all parts of--in all of the spectrum of ideas. Michael: A different scale. Marian: Yeah, and so that's how I justify it. I actually think that it's very important, and I think that to kind of narrow-mindedly say oh, I must save the environment and that's the only thing I can do, or I must save the little children, and that's the only thing I can do that is worthwhile, is totally wrong.
Life is much more complex than that. Michael: And interesting. Marian: And interesting and surprising. Michael: Yeah. And again, one of the things that I think is great about what you call your transformative personal story is that in a way there is a message there for anyone in this audience, anyone who has attended this conference, isn't there? Was there a moment, like a specific moment where you just kind of realized that you were going to make that change? Marian: I think it was the moment--it was kind of two moments together.
But I had a business partner and one of the moments was the day that she said, "I could be selling soap for all I care. I don't really care about design," and she was sort of the business management side of the company. And the other was when she said, "I just really want to have a production company." And that was when I realized this is not- the path that I have with her is not the path, and I've got to make my own path.
Michael: And I think the dangerous aspect of your story of course is that it was guts, determination, hard work, faith in yourself, but talent too. Marian: And luck. People don't like it when I say that. Michael: I don't like it either. Marian: I really think it's true. Michael: What was the lucky part? Marian: The lucky part was, well for instance Speak Up, being in the right place at the right time, and I think that without--I mean I met you through Speak Up.
I mean I might have sent out junk mail forever and had you sit it on your desk but never hire me. But I think that through a venue of something that I--I mean, I never planned any of this. I never planned to be semi- famous in the design world. I just wanted to make a living doing what I was doing. And I really did think I was wasting my time with Speak Up. But lo and behold, I mean it was--you can't do that now. You can't go on a blog and start writing. It's just not the same.
Michael: Yeah, although I think there's always a bit of luck, and I think there's also a bit of luck in terms of the piece you do that becomes iconic for whatever reason. Suddenly it just seizes people's imagination, and it gets out there, and the good luck can of course turn bad. And I've heard you talk about the trap of being a purveyor of a certain kind of style, and a sense, the force of will it takes for you to kind of not give the person what he or she is asking for.
Marian: Yeah. Michael: Right? Can you talk about that? Marian: I have to do what interests me, and my interests are broad and sort of constantly moving. And I'm very attuned to myself and my own sense of boredom. Yeah, so I do something a few times and I very quickly realize "been there, done that," I want to do something new. But it is a real struggle, because in many ways I feel like I'm dragging clients along with me.
I mean, I'm constantly being asked to do things that I've done before, and I either have to just turn them down cold--which I do a lot--or say I'd love to work on this project, but I'm not going to do that. I'm going to do something else. And I've actually had a bit of rough year in terms of that. I've had a lot of rejections this year, a lot of kill fees. So it's not easy for me. It's not easy for anybody. Michael: Because I was going to ask you. Is this--how long can you keep doing this, do you think? Marian: Well! Michael: I mean do you have confidence there is an infinite number of things that will interest you going forward? You go through them so fast though.
Marian: In terms of interest I have no problem. Michael: Picasso's blue period went on for years. I mean you talk about, when Stefan said that thing about, the Beatles put out whole albums of one kind of thing and then the next. Marian: Yeah. Michael: You sort of like changed the tune in the middle of the song and changed the style in the middle of the cut. Marian: I mean I have to say I have a lot of ideas. I mean, I write them down, and I really do have more ideas than I'll be ever be able to execute in my life. So I am sort of like constantly-- I have absolutely no worries about ideas, none whatsoever.
That's not a problem. The problem is finding viable avenues for those ideas and finding clients for those ideas. And for that reason in the future I think I'm going to start creating my own things and doing kind of like a self-directed thing. Michael: Which is what you-- you've done that all along of course, but that was the big wrenching, pivotal moment in your career when you just sort of said, "I'm going to do that for a year" and just do it and do it and do it till someone notices, and do it for another year if it didn't work.
Marian Bantjes. Yeah. So in way I mean, actually right now it's been seven years or so, and I'm going back to that point. Michael: We're going to have a chance for questions from the audience as well. You can see there is a microphone there and one there. If you'd like to ask Marian a question, if you step up to the mic, you'll be able to do that. Female Speaker 1: Yeah, a quick question. So we can see from your typesetting background how your typing craft was developed. Where do you get your really strong color background, because clearly color resonates so strongly in your work? Marian: I think I'm really crappy with color. I really do.
I tend to use--like in Illustrator there's the default color palette. I tend to use that. And I use it partly because of some kind of eternal struggle with printers saying that they can't register colors that have some kind of crazy-ass four-color mix. So I use those really simple two-color CMYK mixes, and it's just like the default.
I think I'm so crappy with color. I want to take lessons from Sean Adams in color because he is good with color. Michael: Talk to Sean. Sir, another question. Male Speaker: Yeah, sure! On a typical project with your earlier work with the florals and all those beautiful patterns, how much of handwork is involved, and how much do you spend on a computer? Marian: When I'm making patterns, there is a lot of handwork because I'm drawing it and then I bring it into the computer and tile it and then figure out how it's set up and then go back and draw it again and draw it. I mean I draw a lot when I'm working on patterns. Yeah.
Male Speaker: Do you ever see yourself start on something and saying this is not going to work? Marian: Oh, absolutely! Male Speaker: Okay! Marian: Actually that's something that I learned-- I learned when I was painting. I used to be a reasonably decent oil painter, and I learned that sometimes things just aren't working out, and you have to abandon it, and that I can actually do it again. So you paint a wonderful hand, and it looks great, but it's kind of, it's too big or it's too small, or it's gibbled somehow.
And I've learned that if I paint it out, I actually can paint a wonderful hand again correctly. And I do that quite often and it's a really, really important thing to be able to do. You get down a certain path on something and you become invested in it, because you've already spent so much time in it. You know it's not working, and you know it's not working, but you keep going because you've already invested so much time and you think "I've just got to keep working," and at some point you just have to go, "forget it." Just scrap it and start all over again.
And I do that quite often--not often, but I do that often enough, and I know that I can do it. Male Speaker: The work that I do is so fast-paced that I just don't have time for hand and vellum paper and tracing paper and all that. I just find myself jumping straight to the computer with whatever ideas I have in my mind. So I appreciate people like you and a lot of you guys out there who are still doing a lot of handwork. So I just want to appreciate that.
Marian: Yeah, well I have to. It's the way I think. Michael: And it could be you too. You could do handwork. It just takes an extra five minutes to do it. You just put whatever you do-- you do more than you do now. Yeah, right there. Female Speaker 2: Your work is stunning, but some of it sounds or seems like it takes a really, really long time. So my question is, what is the typical amount of time that you spend on a project, and what is the shortest and longest amount of time? Marian: I would say the shortest amount of time is probably eight hours.
The longest? Well, it took me fifteen months to do my book, and that was relatively full-time, minus travel. You know, generally speaking, clients come to me with the same kind of deadlines that they have for anybody else. They're generally a couple of weeks. Books tend to be a month. I don't need a month to do a book cover. I'll leave it until--I'll do some sketches. I work very quickly. It's one of the things that I've always been known for ever since I was a typesetter is working quickly.
It's practice. I have been doing it a long time. So it doesn't take me as long as some people think it would, yeah. Female Speaker 2: It was beautiful! Marian: Thank you! Michael: Question there. Female Speaker 3: I was wondering if you were considering showing more of your work in kind of a fine art setting--maybe even working larger. Marian: When I mention that I'm thinking of taking a more self--this is very, very new for me. As I mentioned, I had a very rough year, and I have known for the year that something was really wrong, that I was bored, that I wasn't happy with my work, but I didn't know what was wrong. I just knew that something needed to change and I decided...
And just a couple of weeks ago, I was in Berlin, and I sat down with Christoph Niemann, the brilliant illustrator. And we had a wonderful dinner, and he pretty much talked me into going in a more arty kind of direction, more of a fine art kind of thing. But I don't want to do the gallery thing. So this is something that is new to me, but I do think that that's going to be a change for me in the coming months and year. Yeah. Female Speaker 3: I think your work is suitable for maybe even more commercial spaces, similar to some of the things you've already done. But I mean, I could see it in hotels, restaurants.
Marian: I think it's suitable for all sorts of things, but I just don't have the clients walking in the door. Female Speaker 3: Well, I'd go look at it. Thank you! Michael: One last question right there. Male Speaker 2: Yeah. I'm sorry if this isn't the right venue for such a broad question, but I'll regret not asking. This is kind of for both of you. There are kind of three parts. So we're about to graduate in May, and I'm thinking a lot about obviously location at this point. And in your experience, I really want to be eventually this designer of influence, but I don't know if I can stay where I'm at now--I'm in Indianapolis.
And like Chicago and New York, they're so appealing. I don't--like do I need to be in a place like that, or does the university I come from matter? So that's the first part. And the second part is, what do I have to do to get you guys to look through my portfolio? Michael, you are so close! You're right there! Michael: I believe, the first question, did you sort of understand where Bowen Island is? I mean, it's sort of like--I think there was a fairly vivid dramatization of your community, right? So I mean, talk about what it's like to kind of do the work you do in a place like that? Marian: I almost have to do the work I do in a place like that.
I think that the answer to your question is really about commitment. If you're really into it in that way and you're constantly exploring and looking for new things, and not just on the Internet, but like looking at books and looking at the past and looking at-- and thinking about things and writing about things, you will become a designer of influence just because it's actually quite rare. Don't you think? Michael: Oh, yeah. It's also -- Marian: It doesn't matter where you were.
Michael: Yeah, it doesn't matter where you are, and I think you say one thing. You just wanted to get the work out there, get the work out there, get the work out there. And I'm sure Marian never called me up, and I bet you never called up anyone with the question "can I show you my portfolio?" Marian: Yeah, I know. Michael: You just would send something and you've got no idea whether it's going right in the garbage can or getting stood up on someone's desk or anything else. It wasn't part of a master plan where you triangulate your fame in a certain way. You just were kind of expressing your energy and your passion and your intelligence and getting it out there. You could write those things and just kind of like put them in a little scrapbook and look at them every rainy day if you wanted. It'd be the same process approximately.
But instead, you sort of like wanted to get it out there. So I think, particularly today, like someone says in that movie -- Marian: Yeah, some guy. Michael: --there's so many different ways to getting out there. I think the magic moment where someone sees your portfolio and realizes that "oh, this person really has potential, and we must somehow accommodate those ambitions." I think it's actually--there's a lot of different ways to get your work out there, and not just in front of those special people who you want to have see your portfolio. Just get it out there and sort of just be energetic, just make stuff, and get the stuff out there in front of people.
And I think if you just keep doing that, if you love doing that, it shows. And I think that's another thing about Marian's work. If you love it, it really shows. So Marian, thank you for your work, your inspiration, your example. We're very happy to have you. Thank you! Marian: Thank you! Michael: Marian Bantjes. (applause)
In Bonus Features, Marian talks about her creative process at the Ontario College of Art & Design in Toronto.