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Design Beyond the Page: Part One

By  Dec 30, 2010

Topics: Design

If you’re a designer or an aspiring designer, don’t limit your creativity to just the printed page or web pages, or to projects that require clients! Design opportunities are all around you, and as someone who knows how to work with type, you’ve got an advantage over many other artsy-crafty people. We love using type in all kinds of creative home projects where we can be our own clients.

For example, after a remodeling project was completed, we began cleaning up a pile of construction debris. In the stack of boards and wooden palettes we found two eight-foot steel beams. After pondering how to do something useful with them, John decided to turn them into standing steel sculptures.

He created the typography and the little swan symbol in Adobe Illustrator, then gave the file to a local sign company who cut the letters out of a vinyl, weather-proof, adhesive-backed sign material. He carefully aligned the sheets of lettering on the beam and pressed the lettering onto the steel surface. After a couple of years of outdoor exposure, the vinyl appears to be impervious to rain, ice, snow, and high-desert sun.

The text is the Shakespearean Sonnet 81. (Including Shakespearean quotes in your art makes you look really smart, which is your “fine art" tip-of-the-day.)

For the second steel beam (below) John decided to create a sign that we could put near the entrance of our home. We host a Shakespeare reading group on the first Friday of every month. In Shakespeare's time there was a Mermaid Tavern in London on the corner of Friday and Bread Streets; on the first Friday of every month, notable thinkers of the time met there and were known as the First Friday Club. And so our Shakespeare reading group is also named the First Friday Club, and it meets at the Mermaid Tavern (even though William Shakespeare himself is never mentioned as having been there). Since I’ve had a mermaid tattoo since 1973, I’m kinda partial to mermaids anyway.

As before, John created a typographic treatment in Adobe Illustrator, gave the file to the same local sign company mentioned above, and then pressed the letters onto the steel beam. We cemented it in the dirt near the front door.

"What things we have seen done at the Mermaid!" The comment is from Ben Jonson, the self-proclaimed Poet Laureate of England during the Elizabethan era and the leader of the First Friday Club. Today the quote serves as our unofficial household mission statement.

For another project, I handmade fifteen shadow boxes representing the twenty-four mothers portrayed in the Shakespeare plays, then John photographed them and we used them as illustrations in an issue of The Shakespeare Papers. (The shadow boxes incorporate many of the handmade techniques found in Handmade Workshop: Create Handmade Elements for Digital Design, by Carmen Sheldon and me.) You can see the bodices of all the women use type and many of the boxes include quotations.

The collection of shadow boxes is now exhibited on a hallway wall. 

We also put our own typographic skills to work in the bar we added in our kitchen. I designed the bar (I’ve had a love of woodworking for many years and I’ve always wanted to be a bartender) and had it built right into the wall, since the wall is 15 inches thick. John designed the type around the edges of the glass doors and we had it etched at a local glass shop. Voilà—no client and great personal satisfaction.

The image below is a Photoshop layout of the typographic design to be etched onto the glass.

Below, a closeup of the etched glass. Under each quotation is the source of the quote.

The finished "Mermaid Tavern" bar.


Another fun way to turn typography into art: mosaic tiles. We have lots of mosaic projects around our house, but here are two examples.

To make our house easier to find, we designed a mosaic of our house number, glued it onto a mesh, then cemented that to a large pillar at the entrance to our driveway.

I created these mosaic coasters/art pieces shown below as a gift for typophile friends (Ashala & Brian) (original size about 4x4 inches). The letter A is made of safety glass from a broken glass door. Everything becomes type!

We have many other typographic enterprises around the house, but we don’t want to bore you. If you’re not already taking advantage of your typographic skills to create satisfying projects for yourself that showcase your special knowledge, start creating! And check our next article, Typography Beyond the Page: Part Two.