“The knowledge gained through activities that can be described as tactical, everyday, or simply craft is powerful and important, and it must form the foundation of a designer’s education and work—it is how we create ideas; again, how we create culture.”
The above quote is form Lorraine Wild’s, The Macramé of Resistance. In it, Wild discusses the importance of educating design students in the craft of graphic design. Wild argues that “craft knowledge” is based on experimentation, and that it is central to successful design. Craft knowledge becomes instinctual and is often deemed a “skill.” She goes on to express that when craft knowledge is used in terms of graphic design, it refers to the designer’s voice. It is the part of the designer that follows an inner agenda and guides a body of work over time. (Armstrong)
To me, hand processes, or “craft knowledge” will always add an authentic feel to a design. It is fairly easy to replicate these processes with the use of technology. There are a ton of Photoshop brushes to mimic practically every mark making tool out there, but instead of a varied and sophisticated range of mark making that you get with hand processes, you get a repetition of the same marks. Another example is handwritten fonts. At first glance, they appear to be natural. But there are slight variations of the letter forms even within a single handwriting sample. An “a” written at the top of the page will not be identical to one written a paragraph, sentence, or even word later.
Don’t get me wrong, I think that technology has introduced many advantages into the design world. We are able to easily integrate processes from web design, photography, graphic design, and countless others. Not only does this mean it is easier to work across disciplines, but also that the roles of graphic designers have expanded. Still, it is my belief that there should still be an emphasis on hand processes in design education. Our discipline has it’s roots in hand processes, and we need to preserve those techniques while integrating technology.
I am a huge fan of the work of Dana Tanamachi. She is a graphic designer currently working as a full-time custom chalk letterer. She has created large-scale chalk installations in New York City and has also been commissioned by high profile clients such as West Elm, Rugby Ralph Lauren, Google, The Ace Hotel, Adidas, EveryDay with Rachael Ray, Lululemon Athletica, and Garden & Gun Magazine.
In an interview with Design Sponge, Dana Tanamachi states:
My toolbox is pretty straightforward, I think. I keep it stocked with a few packs of dollar-store chalk (non-toxic!), old rags, a flexible sewing tape measure and a wooden yardstick. To the side of my toolbox are lots of swatches and small jars of chalkboard paint samples from Hudson Paint in upstate New York. They produce almost any color I’m in the market for. I’ve also got several pads of tracing paper going at once; I’m always sketching something, whether it be layouts or letters for my upcoming projects. And of course, at any given time, there is a giant stack of old type books piled on my desk.
In an interview with 100 Layer Cake, Dana Tanamachi talked about why she chooses to work with chalk.
“What I love about chalk is that it is such an ephemeral medium. We use it to scribble or doodle with, but rarely do we consider carefully crafting something with it. Maybe it goes against our practical nature—why spend time on something that will be gone in a day, week or month? But that’s why it’s the perfect medium— because for me it’s about the process. I love starting out on a clean wall, climbing up on a ladder, sketching with broad strokes, refining the letterforms, adding little details, etc. It’s a chance for me to take a break from the computer and create something purely by hand. I’m such a crafter at heart!”
Below is a time lapse video of Dana Tanamachi’s design for Nagging Doubt wine label. I find watching her process really inspiring.
Nagging Doubt Voignier by Dana Tanamachi
Armstrong, Helen. Graphic Design Theory: Readings From the Field. New York: Princeton Architectural, 2009. Print.
Branch Stelling, Ginny. What’s in your Toolbox: Dana Tanamachi. Design Sponge. <http://www.designsponge.com/2011/08/whats-in-your-toolbox-dana-tanamachi.html>
Dana Tanamachi. 100 Layer Cake. <http://www.100layercake.com/blog/2011/01/12/dana-tanamachi/>
Tanamachi, Dana. <http://www.danatanamachi.com/about/>