Our Wishes Go Up To Eleven
It’s been half a year since I wrote my first personal post on The FontFeed. (In case you’re interested – to my great surprise I effortlessly made the first selection. Unfortunately the actual televised audition didn’t go that well due to excessive nervousness, so there was no Boot Camp ticket in it for me.) Back then I had no idea if I’d ever write one of those again. Yet Mike Dohrn’s wonderful comment struck a chord:
It’s great to have good content on a blog, but adding the layer of personality that this kind of article brings makes this a can’t-miss RSS feed. Content is meat & potatoes, this is gravy – great when you can get it, but please don’t make a meal out of it.
This time I’d like to share with you my obsession with making the coolest New Year’s card in the world (seriously), and how every year I stubbornly have another go at it. I don’t really know where it all began, but for as long as I can remember I always wanted to design surprising and/or intriguing New Year’s cards. This may have originated in my general dislike for dull mediocrity and the mundane. I’ve simply seen too many inane illustrations of rosy-cheeked Santa Clauses and elves, too many pedestrian stock photographs of Christmas trees and sparkling decorations, too many family photos of children with Santa hats and families in matching sweaters.
When I started working for Making Magazines (now Magelaan) halfway the nineties, the first New Year’s card I designed for the company featured a display of dead fish. Other designs included an X-ray of one of the other designers’ full set of teeth, and after a close-up of a millipede was vetoed out by the company that bought Making Magazines for being “too icky”, I appropriated my design for our own family card. This may all sound like cheap shock value, yet there was a concept behind every single one of them – a play with words, a juxtaposition, a metaphor, an allusion to pop culture, whatever connection I could make with a specific year or event. For example in 2002, the year the Euro effectively replaced all European national currencies, our family wished everyone a happy 49.63 – 2002 Belgian francs converted into the new European currency. The retro design of the card loosely referenced the late fifties, as the European Economic Community was created at the 1957 Rome Treaty. Truth to be told few people got it, yet whenever I can I try to incorporate less or more obscure references in my work, even if only one single person understands them and appreciates the thought that went into the design.
The first card that made me realise I may be onto something was 2006’s A Tiny Treasury of Typographic Terms. It was the humorous visualisation of five Dutch and five English typographic terms by myself, my wife Sabine, and our three children Eliza, Randall, and Nona. Although the production values were rather modest – the photographs were merely family snapshots, and the card (actually a small poster) was printed on A3 sheets and folded by hand – the reactions were overwhelming. Our New Year’s card even made it onto Microsoft typography.
From then on I felt like I had a reputation to uphold, which only added to the pressure to come up with something good every year. 2007 was a no-brainer – we created our own tacky version of a James Bond movie poster, complete with elaborate credits and a reference to another movie from my youth.
2008 found us in a romantic mood, with a sleepy family forming the number 8 (or the symbol for infinity if you tilt it sideways). The year after that was an odd-one-out, as we decided to promote my wife Sabine’s new artistic venture, making three-dimensional creations in modelling clay. And last year’s was again a cryptic one.
Which brings us to this year’s rock’n’roll extravaganza. Mulling over the number 11 in my head this fall, I suddenly remembered this classic scene from the cult mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap. The hilarious movie is mandatory viewing for any musician. I have played in bands since I was 16 years old, and still play drums in Troubleman, and now Rosa Luxe* as well. Furthermore my wife Sabine and I met in the Wind Orchestra De Pinte we both were members of, so this seemed like a more than appropriate concept for our family New Year’s card/poster. We rented the great little concert room Rosa Luxe* rehearses in, borrowed some very cool guitars – a Gibson Flying V and a Gibson Explorer – from a friend, and asked our sister-in-law to do a photo shoot. The result is our little family posing as a trashy rock band, complete with a heavy metal meets Bollywood logo I designed with Donald Beekman’s FF Imperial, and “Our Wishes Go To ’11″ spelled out in Tomáš Brousil’s Orgovan Punk.
The amount of preparation that went into it, and the unique convergence of year, concept, pop culture reference, and personal connection make me believe we may never be able top this year’s design. But this doesn’t bother me that much. Trying to create the most mind-blowing New Year’s card ever may often have left me frustrated in the past, but it also amounted to this year’s poster, which has received rave reactions from all over the world. Striving for the very best gives me hope our future cards will at least be decent and out of the ordinary.
What’s more important is the message I am trying to send out as a writer, a designer, and a human being. For one I hope it shows I don’t take myself too seriously, yet I am very serious about what I do. As I don’t have a real portfolio it too is a sample of the kind of project I can tackle conceptually. And most of all it proves that even in this day and age of mass e-mail New Year’s wishes I do care. It took a lot of planning and effort to produce the card/poster, and a seizable amount of money in printing costs and stamps. All 300+ cards were folded and mailed by me personally to family, friends, acquaintances, clients, and a selection of people I have met and communicated with this past year. If you think you are entitled to receive one but haven’t yet, either it still is making its way to you, you moved and forgot to send me your new address, or I simply forgot to include you in my address list. If so, drop me a line. As long as I have copies left I will keep sending them out. Because we all still love to receive real, tangible mail.
And for everyone – we wish you a rawkin’ New Year.
The FontFeed is a daily dispatch of recommended fonts, typography techniques, and inspirational examples of digital type at work in the real world. Eat up.
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