Images © Dave Gibbons and Todd Klein, all rights reserved.
These days I most often meet up with Dave Gibbons at the San Diego Comicon, and we try to have at least a brief chat to renew our friendship and work partnership of about 30 years. (I’ve written about that HERE and HERE.) Such was the case in 2010, and it was then that I asked Dave if he’d be willing to do a signed print with me. I’ve been sending him the prints as they came out, so he was aware of the concept. I said he could be the writer, the artist, or some of each, as he liked. Dave agreed, saying he only wanted to write, which was okay with me. I was busy with earlier prints until March of 2011, when I reminded Dave about this project, and we talked ideas via email. In June he sent me a first draft of the poem he’d written titled “It Is.” It was fairly short, a list of contrasting statements, an abstract idea that would be hard to add art to, but I liked it. We discussed it further, and Dave expanded it a bit and rearranged some things, delivering the second and final draft in August. About the design, Dave wrote:
“What I’m thinking is something really simple in design. Basically, a field of lettering that has the negative space of the letter “I” in the center of it. The idea is that “I”, as a persistent object, don’t really exist; rather “I” am the ever-shifting, dynamic effect of all that is happening in the field of perception. The lettered text could be varied in size, style or color, as appropriate. The challenge would be to write and letter it to fit…”
With those ideas in mind, I did some rough layouts in pencil to see what might work.
Here’s the first. I thought a lower-case I would have more visual interest than an upper case one, and pursued that idea throughout. This is just a basic layout around a large i.
Here I wanted to see how the text would look alone, thinking I could make the large i a shape that would run behind the letters. The text was so short, though, that it didn’t seem to work.
I went back to the earlier idea, this time trying to give each line of lettering a distinctive style reflecting the meaning. Kind of ran out of steam on this, so I decided to try working it up on the computer in Adobe Illustrator.
My first attempt followed the variety of styles idea, and I got this far and decided it wasn’t working. Too much like a font catalogue, and I thought it read as more of a gimmick than a poem. I put the project aside for a while, and when I came back to it I had a new idea.
Since the amount of text was relatively small, why not put it INSIDE the i shape? And in that role, a consistent style would work best rather than a variety of styles. I’d use one of my display lettering fonts, widening or narrowing the width as needed to fill out the shape. For the title, I’d draw something in Illustrator to fill the upper curve of the sphere. Here’s my first try a that, which I sent off to Dave for his comments. He liked the idea, but thought the lower shape looked too much like the number 1.
The next version solved that by giving the letter slab serifs on both sides at the top of the vertical stroke. This helped to fit the text in, and also gave the design more symmetry, a win all around. But what to do with all that white space? I asked Dave, but he didn’t seem to have any ideas, so I tried a few things, and liked this idea best:
A series of concentric rings radiating from the center and getting gradually darker gray toward the outside. I thought it gave the image some depth and even some apparent movement, as we tend to see that in such patterns.
One other idea I’d suggested to Dave that he’d rejected was to have the sphere also be the iris of a large eye. I couldn’t resist giving it a try here, but Dave still didn’t like the visual pun.
One last version makes two major changes: moving the center of the radiating circles to the sphere, which seems to work better, and putting a white area behind the lettering to separate it from the circles, for better reading and to give it more of a shape. Dave and I both liked this, but Dave wasn’t happy with the title, saying it was too angular. I told him that I planned to do all the lettering by hand using this as my layout, and I’d address that issue then.
More about that in Part 2, and you can read about the creation of all my prints on the SIGNED PRINTS page of my blog.