Distort

Large white painted brick wall with the words, "Deal Reap Distort" graffiti in gold and purple letters.

A giant wall piece of lettering notably for the type style and the coloring. You rarely see a blackletter inspired piece these days and gold and purple isn’t common either. Don’t get me wrong — I love blackletter and the coloring works — they’re just not in fashion right now. As for the content, I have no idea. The “a” in “deal” is the real winner here though. It’s both a reverse “s” and a two-story “a” even though there’s a a standard two-story “a” in the next word. A deliberate artistic choice or perhaps just an initial experiment that was rejected by the time they reached the second word. It’s all a bit haphazard, yet still somewhat technical.

West Side, Manhattan.

Nice Day

A mural of a blue and white flower vase with the words "We are having a nice day New York City" written within.

Clean lines and bold colors are always going to get my attention — especially on a giant scale such as this mural. This is only a portion of the much larger wall. It’s deceptively difficult to get the line work precise. The blue and white coupled with the main typeface reminds me a little of the old Anthora coffee cup design. I also appreciate that the message itself, is almost a challenge (in true NYC fashion).

West Side, Manhattan.

Maze

A mural with a background of yellow at the top fading to purple at the bottom and intricate, maze-like interlocking shapes painted within

Found this mural outside an Italian butcher shop with a ton of intricate, maze-like detail. It’s definitely got a Keith Haring vibe which is both good and bad. Good, because I love Haring’s work. Bad, because it seems to lack the social relevance of Haring’s work. I still love all the little interconnecting doodles and you’ll certainly never get bored looking at it.

West Side, Manhattan.

Starter

White sticker with red and yellow border with a pacman character chasing a red ghost. The word, "Start" is written above in a child's handwriting.

Found this sticker in the parking lot outside a small town supermarket. It’s big at about four inches square. There’s a disconnect between the professional vinyl color printing and the childlike illustration and type. I have no idea what it means beyond the obvious video game reference, but I do love the pencil scribbled response. When graffiti causes a response, it transforms into a conversation and eventually into a historical timeline.

Saranac, New York

Civil Defense

Redrawing the original set of civil defense badges from the United States Civil Defense Corps created in the 1940s.

View the project page.

As has become apparent over the last few years (and even decades and centuries before), we are each responsible for our own safety as well as the safety of our communities. It seems this is a lesson we forget and relearn in a cycle of storms, accidents and tragedies. This concept of mutual aid is once again in vogue and becoming more prominent as we begin to see epic environmental changes occurring in our own neighborhoods. When “once in 100 year” events start happening every year, we’ll need to pool our resources and efforts to survive the floods, droughts, storms, fires and freezes.

Luckily, we’ve done this before. During WWI, the U.S. government started what would later become known as the Civilian Defense Corps.

A set of three civil defense logos from the illustration project.

Reading up on the history, I was excited to see that each group had their own badge and more importantly — they were awesome. Really great, simple yet functional pieces of graphic design united in theme and purpose. Unfortunately, as I searched further, I couldn’t find much about the logos nor could I find the badges themselves. So I set out to redrawn them based on an original document from the period. And that inspiration provided another opportunity to work on a little web design and development to showcase the badges.

The illustrations

Redrawing the badges looked difficult at first, but creating a base template for the logo with the appropriate shapes and colors streamlined the process. Are the final results 100% identical to the originals? No, but they are very close and faithful. I didn’t make any creative or editorial decisions (suppressing all my art director experience — I really wanted to realign each). Each was then exported to SVG and optimized for the web.

Design and development

Now that I’ve got a few of these one off pages created, the ramp up process is much quicker. It’s not quite a template, but it is a starter pack of sorts. The Rorsch project was a great starting point given the retro vintage styles used. But…I didn’t want that much retro. I didn’t need the super distressed paper, but did still want the look and feel of that old manual. I pulled a sample of the paper from the manual to set as a background-image and then applied a background-blend-mode of multiply against the base background color. I did the same for one of the standard grit textures I have on file, but with a different blend mode. Being able to set multiple background images via CSS is a real game changer in terms of design possibilities. I’ve used the same technique, but with gradients, in other projects to draw complex backgrounds instead of using a raster file.

The big change for this project was to try out using an SVG filter to add a layer of noise over the entire page. I tried a couple of different ways to get it to work properly and finally ended up putting the SVG filter into the CSS as a background image and then setting the mix-blend-mode to hard-light. I dropped the CSS class onto the html element so that it covered the entire page. Along with the fractal noise distortion, the hard light mode did change the colors a bit, but it works as it almost de-saturates them a bit enhancing the retro style.

For the type, I wanted to match the styles in the PDF source, but…I couldn’t go as far as to use that cursive subhead font. It was just too much. The sans serif headers are Alternate Gothic to get that compressed letter width. The serif is FF Seria and despite only being used once for the intro text, I still wanted to try to match the style of the manual. Both are served via Adobe fonts which isn’t ideal from a performance standpoint, but it is convenient. I do wish Adobe would come up with a self-hosting option for customers.

All the SVG files are loaded via a standard img tag with a figure tag which allows adding a figcaption tag inside to drop in the badge name.

Packaging up the set of SVG files for a download was the final step. Hopefully, we don’t need them in the future, but it’s always a good idea to be prepared!

View the project page

Space Cat

Die cut sticker of an illustrated fantasy science fiction cat with a white border stuck on a black pillar.

Found this sticker posted up on the west side last week. Really vibrant colors and gradients in the illustration. Still not sure it’s a cat. Maybe an owl? Or a viper? For scale, it was about 3″ x 3″.

Manhattan, New York

Komodo

A white dragon with a black outline filled with colorful spots drawn on an old newspaper and pasted up on a wall.

Made it back into Manhattan this week and — not surprisingly — quickly found a bunch of new street art. The colors on this piece caught my eye. The spray paint is a bit fun as it roves within and outside the lines. But I found the dots to be a bit derivative of Damien Hirst who always leaves a bitter exploitative taste in my mouth these days. Luckily, this artist — Mo Riza — is more than dots and I actually like the rest of his work better than this piece.

Manhattan, New York