On April 8th, 2009, I went with a group of Griffith University students to the one day Semi-Permanent event in Brisbane. A few of us had been to the event held in 2008, so we knew what to expect, but every year, there are different speakers and the day is only as good as they are, so we were excited about what was in store. What follows is a review of this year’s event, along with photos, links and other good stuff.
Semi-Permanent was originally a design conference that runs in Sydney over two days, and has been going for six years. Last year, organisers from the designiskinky website decided to add a one day Brisbane version to the schedule, and with our help, it should continue to run alongside the Sydney version for many more years to come. Many speakers fly out to Australia from Europe, America or other parts of the world, so they may as well stick around and add a Brisbane date to the tour before they head back!
Designiskinky have also run Semi-Permanents in Auckland and New York for a bit of variety no doubt, and they may well take over the world!
This year’s event was held at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre, which is a great venue. Easy to get to and large enough for everybody. The welcome was warm and we all got red goodie bags filled with books and postcards and lots of stuff to keep us busy. The event appeared to be staffed by lots of student volunteers and it was great to see so many young people excited to be there.
So, after we had taken our seats and devoured our goodie bags, the conference was “officially” opened by organisers Sasha Dobies and Andrew Johnstone and we got the first glimpse of the ubiquitous Apple Macbook. I think only one presenter had a PC of some description so the silver Apple was the star of the day!
9.30 Timba Smits
The first speaker was a very cool dude by the name of Timba Smits. He hails from Melbourne and publishes a very fine mag called Wooden Toy Quarterly. The running joke he has with himself is that he only ever gets around to producing two copies a year, but if you subscribe, four issues will arrive eventually! It’s quite obviously a labour of love and he really enjoys making each spread unique and different and works very hard to make each typographic spread tie-in with the image it accompanies.
Wooden Toy was originally intended as a skate magazine, though I didn’t see much evidence of skateboarders in it at all, it’s much more a reflection urban street culture, but the name is derived from the slang for a skateboard, “useless wooden toy”. The first 3 issues were A5 landscape and distributed around Melbourne for free. He produced 5000 copies of each. Yikes. How the hell you’d get the energy or enthusiasm to do that is just mindblowing. He seemed quite surprised by the fact they were all picked up, but Melbourne is very much a “free street press” culture and the quality of the work is so good that why wouldn’t people pick it up? By issue 4 he realised it was time to charge for it, but in order to make it worth the $20 (in his mind) he doubled the size to A4, increased the number of pages and only produced 2000. It sold so well (I bought one) that he got the confidence to go back up to 5000 copies for subsequent issues.
Designing the mag is quite labour intensive. For the latest issue, he spent 30 hours on the contents page alone. All his fonts and typography in the mag is hand drawn and he confessed to not really liking the computer at all. He showed some really great examples of how he works with the illustrations in the magazine and extracts or blends the typography with the image by sampling the image itself and manipulating it to tie it in. I worry about the moral rights infringement potential of doing this, but obviously he shows every artist whose work he does this to and their response is usually flattery at such care and attention to detail. Each layout in the mag ends up being a work of art in itself, albeit a time-consuming one, but I admire the idea of everything being so hand made and indeed the theme of the latest issue is hand made.
The interesting thing about Timba is that he’s an artist himself, doesn’t like the computer and produces a magazine that almost feels illustrative as a result. He discovered his own drawing technique by spilling turpentine onto a pencil drawing and noticed that it made the greylead run, so he exploited the technique and smudges his beautiful pencil drawings deliberately now. The result is very soft with grungy bits! He replaces the traditional magazine idea of a portrait photograph with a realistic pencil drawing. Time consuming, but lovely.
My favourite part of the talk was where he showed his layered Photoshop files and how he cloned parts of the image below in order to draw the typography from sticks and twigs within the illustration. Nice. He also talked about the art gallery he’s opened in Melbourne, Gorker Gallery, a mash up of the street corner names Gore and Kerr Streets, where the gallery is located and showed pics of his cat and studio. He seems like a really passionate and genuine artist and I wish him all the best with his magazine.
10.15 Ian Francis
Next up was mixed media artist Ian Francis from Bristol in the UK. He was quite a contrast from Timba who was brash, funny and entertaining. Ian was nervous, sensitive and quiet. But the contrast I found was, while Timba’s work was quite detailed and delicate, Ian’s work was large and bold. Does this say something about artists expressing another side of their personality in their work I wonder?
He showed his mixed media paintings and gave us a chronological breakdown of where he started right through to present day. He started off at art college doing really big abstract landscapes on textured board and then started experimenting with Photoshop. He would combine scanned textures and bits of painting and mash together images and textures from war photographs and superficial Hollywood imagery. He graduated with no idea how to be financially viable and began sending his work to magazines. It was a waste of time because he thought of himself as an illustrator, because of the course he took, when really he is a Fine Artist, straight down the line, and just didn’t know how to behave like one.
I found it interesting how he almost uses Photoshop now as a sketch tool. He trawls the internet for 1000s of images and gets inspired by a colour or visual pattern in the imagery he is collecting. He then sketches in Photoshop until he’s happy, then transfers it to the canvas ready for painting. Ian doesn’t use Photoshop in his actual pieces anymore, what you see on the canvas is much more traditional mixed media, probably in no small part to the fact he is now quite a successful exhibiting artist and sells quite well in galleries in the UK and US. His success appears to be fairly recent though. It was only 2007 when Blk Mrkt saw his work and put him in a group show. From there he was able to have solo shows and get a real studio so that he could stop painting in his bedroom! He showed us his process for a hopscotch painting inspired by the Beijing Olympics and the creepy Chinese Mascots which was quite interesting. His work has really developed in the last three years and I can see that he is certainly a “hot young artist to watch”.
11.15 XYZ Studios: Tim Kentley
After a quick break, next up was Tim Kentley from XYZ Studios, a commercial animation studio, based in St. Kilda, who mainly work on ads. Tim’s mantra was: If the idea is original, then the depiction of that idea should be original too.
Tim showed some photos of various members of XYZ asleep in the studio. Late hours obviously par for the course when animating to a tight deadline. He also talked about his love for creating new worlds with animation, and how they don’t really have a house style. A quick flick through their work shows no distinct style, but he certainly favours clever ideas and a hand drawn approach. Lots of the work showed a combining of hand drawn or illustrative environments with live action, such as the Yellow Pages ad where little 3D scooter people colour a live action world 2D yellow. It was quite a nice approach.
A crowd favourite was the Honda ad where he modeled a little boy on a bike in 3D, then did a simple animation in Maya, printed out every single frame and had a bunch of mates come over and colour them all in with coloured pencils. They then scanned each frame back in and made essentially a 2D hand drawn animation, but without the 3D starting point, it wouldn’t really have worked. The result is very effective and without his explanation, I would never have guessed how they did it. I just assumed someone drew all those frames by hand!
I especially loved the additional pencil shavings and lined paper look, really made it look like a kid had drawn it and added to the energy without any “post production”.
The next ad Tim showed us was for Havianas. This ad wasn’t so much to my taste as I’m not a big fan of 3D animation that looks 3D, but the character design was very cute and produced in a very short time frame. I missed a lot of what he said about this because we were all too busy laughing at his “crack head” comment. I won’t elaborate, but those who were there know what I’m talking about! Needless to say, these were produced in a 48 hour time period! Look for the thongs as teeth. Cute.
Tim also talked a little about the pitching process, how several agencies are invited to “pitch” an idea to an ad agency, and if your idea gets chosen, you often have very little time to drop everything, fly to New York and start filming the live action. It sounds glamorous and a dream come true, but obviously hard work and scary too. For one casting they had 348 people show up, and it’s for animation…they won’t even end up on screen! Crazy. My favourite ad, because it was just so clever, was for a Dutch Bank called Fortis. They used the same idea as the Honda ad, printing out every frame on an A4 sheet of paper, but in this case, it was run through a photocopying machine live rather than scanned, and the resulting ad is the coolest flip book idea I think I’ve seen. Thanks to Cam, I now have a link to the ad. If you like motion graphics, their whole folio is well worth checking out.
Next up were two of the whackiest speakers of the day. Eva Dijkstra and Michael Lugmayr are Toko, a Dutch design team who recently moved to Sydney. I’m not sure if they are husband and wife, but the way they bickered up on stage, they certainly appeared to be! Their contrast in personalities was quite interesting and I’d love to see how they work together. Eva is obviously the organised, methodical one who books plane tickets and focuses on designing information graphics. Michael is the extrovert who has crazy ideas, non linear thought patterns and focuses on the concepts.
They attempted to present the A to Z of their work and it very quickly became apparent they would run out of time and get nowhere near the end, but it was an interesting approach. Their work could only be described as “European”. The visual style, the concepts and ideas, it was very interesting to see it in this forum and to see how well they were doing in Sydney. The first work they showed was Code magazine, which is an independent Dutch street fashion mag.
They talked about how the world is a global village and that you could work in Wagga Wagga, so long as you had a good Internet connection. Obviously they have still continued to work on this magazine, even after their move to Sydney, and so sending information around the world is not a problem. They design a typeface for every single magazine, which seemed to be a theme throughout the conference, customising or designing type for specific applications. Michael made an interesting point also about Dutch design and how rigid it is. The entire landscape around the Netherlands is gridded up and I’d certainly noticed that when looking at photos of the tulip fields, the whole place is a grid, and he thinks that is reflected in the design that comes out of that region. They made some lovely visual comparisons between the Netherlands and Australia, such as the fire engine sizes (theirs small, ours large) and the ocean waves (again theirs small, ours large). Highly entertaining, and although their design is not my cup of tea, I really enjoyed their ideas and observations. I wonder how much Sydney will eventually affect their design style.
13.45 Wired Magazine: Scott Dadich
After a much needed lunch break, we were lucky enough to see Scott Dadich speak. I have to confess, he was one of my favourites on the day, just because the content of Wired magazine is right up my alley. Scott’s presentation really was about Design, Typography and shiny pretty things…everything we love here at Moonsail Design, and I think it is by virtue of the fact that he is an American that Scott’s presentation was the slickest of the day. In the first 20 seconds he managed to promote the Society of Publication designers, of which he is president, as well as his own blog, The Process, which is really interesting if you’re in to magazine design, and then was able to talk about being creative director of Wired Magazine.
Scott started off by explaining the different between “deep” publishing and “shallow”. Some magazines, such as Vogue cover lots of stories but in a fairly shallow way, and I don’t think he meant that in a rude way, more in the true sense of the word. The Economist on the other hand will take a year to research a story and write 20,000 words on it. Wired on the other hand can produce small articles or 10,000 word stories, so it has to be very flexible in its design. He then told us his mantra, of “Details Matter, Evolution, not Revolution, Constraint is Freedom” and went on to discuss the process of designing and producing one of the Wired covers which illustrated an upsurge in large multi-nationals launching rockets. It was quite involved and I’m sure expensive as they had to photograph out in the salt flats and composite the rockets over the top. A lot of thought went into the concept and there were many false starts, trying different approaches before they were finally happy with the look.
He then went on to show us a range of covers and asked which ones we thought were popular or had sold well and which ones didn’t, which from a “selling your magazine on news stands” point of view is essential. He then started to discuss the new range of typefaces he had designed for the magazine, which I found fascinating. Scott worked with the Hoefler and Frere-Jones type foundry to develop Vitesse, Forza and Exchange especially for use in Wired. Vitesse was based on geometric fonts, where the “O” is a square, such as Bank Gothic or Eurostyle.
His main concern was creating fonts that worked together but had contrast, as well as allowing for increased readability over large blocks of text and also fit a lot of text on one page. One way to aid legibility at small sizes was to square off the serifs.
He then talked about the laws of optical volumes, which as a typography lecturer filled me with joy. He discussed the importance of kerning the typefaces they designed, because he used to hand kern every headline and then the editors would change them, so they painstakingly kerned all the pairs of letters in the typeface and created a massive 10,000 kerning pairs. Yikes!
Scott then took us step-by-step through all of the sections of Wired Magazine, such as the News, then Play Section, Test Section and Feature Well. He also showed some very impressive info graphics and asked for contributions from illustrators and photographers. All-in-all I found the presentation informative, well prepared and he gets my vote for best speaker of the day.
14.30 Tamara and Dean
Next up, in complete contrast were the very “un-slick” pair of photographers, Tamara Dean and Dean Sewell. Nervous and philosophical.
Dean launched straight into some fairly confronting images of dead bodies taken in Aceh after an earthquake and subsequent tsunami. As a news photographer, he tries to visit areas that no other news media is interested in, and I think his “un-slick” appearance is what allows him to travel into dangerous and sensitive areas. He doesn’t look like an international news photographer, he looks like a hippie traveler and told several stories of how he was able to fly into areas without being stopped, and ended up counselling relatives of the victims whilst he was there. He said the hardest thing to do was compose images among the mess. He shoots in black and white, which also makes it hard to see what’s happening in the chaos, and he uses film because he doesn’t care about speed.
Tamar and Dean took turns to speak and show their various bodies of work. Tamara is also a news photographer, but started out taking intimate pictures of her friends. She also shoots in black and white and intimacy is a real theme that runs through her work. Dean’s work is in extraordinary situations. Tamara documents ordinary situations and takes the path of least resistance, in complete contrast to Dean. She showed two bodies of work. “Friends” and “Squatters”. They talked about how they couldn’t really find a forum for their work, so they created an online community Oculi, which showcased their “considered observations”, alongside other photographers who share their vision.
They collaborated on a series called “Hill end” where they went to the town and spent time with the locals to earn their trust to let them photograph them, and one would talk to the people while the other photographed them, and when the Victorian bushfires happened recently, Dean flew down to document the events with a series called “Aftermath”.
15.30 The Glue Society
After a short break, we came back to listen to the Glue Society, a 10 person advertising collective. They deal with projects on an individual basis, and also work with photography, sculpture, installation, film and video.
The one thing that struck me about these guys is just how clever the ideas were. It was super cool work with really clever idea, but the frustrating thing was, they didn’t explain the structure of the organisation, who did what and how they collaborated on their ideas. The presenter stood and showed a bunch of cool videos, probably the coolest we’d seen all day, but there was no way to understand where these ideas came from or how they developed. He did give a mission statement though: “Try to make a living doing what we love doing”. The first idea presented was for The Chasers War on Everything. The total advertising budget was $5000 and so they booked billboards in Kenya, Iraq, Reykjavik. The ads went viral and increased the viewing audience from 600,000 to 1.2 million viewers, so I guess creativity can sell. Surely this is the perfect advertising campaign?
The next campaign was for the outdoor awards. For 36 days, they took turns driving an outdoor billboard 10,000 kms around Australia and uploaded photos of their billboard every day. Their progress was followed on blogs and the outdoor awards website. They also offered a billboard full of $1 scratchies as the prize, rather than $10,000 which I thought was hilarious. How long would it take to scratch them all? There was also the club V dance space ads for Channel V, great ads for ESPN, Ax Deodorant, a chicken fight you could bet on for Burger King, radio ads that scared you into staying home and watching DVDs, and the list goes on. Amazing showreel after showreel for ads which all share the same edgy attitude and involve engaging the audience through creativity. They obviously use the web and/or viral techniques to create a buzz about something. I recommend watching their videos. Showing still images really doesn’t do their creativity justice. He then went on to talk about their non-commercial work, as the Glue Society are exhibiting artists. He started with a melted icecream truck in Sydney, which is awesome, and then talked about other exhibitions around the world where they had exhibited work. If I was going to work anywhere as a “dream job”, it would have to be the Glue Society.
16.15 Ron English
Ron is a crazy-haired hippie activist from Newark New Jersey and I was looking forward to seeing him talk after seeing his work advertising the movie “Supersize me”.
He started off by showing his culture-jamming stuff and telling stories of how he got arrested, and near misses with pissed off locals. He started in Dallas making galleries out of public billboards, then a group started following him until they got arrested in 1984, and then he was the only one who kept going. His billboards deal with political issues, religion, war. He does large paintings at home and then installs them quickly over the top of existing billboards. It usually takes him and his guys seven minutes to put one up.
He does a lot of work around the Macdonalds hamburger franchise and told a great story of how 50 of them dressed as Ronald MacDonald and put billboards up and got chased all over town by the cops. It was hard to understand why he is moved to do what he does. He explained his art process, but not his thought process. Obviously it’s a form of political activism but we weren’t really privvy as to why he has to do this, but it was certainly an admirable pursuit, even if it is dangerous and illegal!
He then started working on paintings for galleries, rather than temporary billboards, and he deals with a lot of the same material, but uses much more care and detail with the images. I found his paintings were quite beautiful. His “fat” Ronald was what appeared in the marketing material for Morgan Spurlock’s film about living on junk food “Supersize me”.
Some of my favourite images of the day were his oil paintings of his sons. He often had them smoking and looking pretty rough but as pop art goes, the images were fantastic. I also enjoyed his Kiss classic paintings, even if Kiss didn’t! I recommend checking out his paintings, they are fantastic.
17.00 The End
Well…what a massive day and what a massive blog post! There was lots to digest and I’m glad to have typed it all up because it crystallises in my mind what liked and what excited me. I took a survey on the day of what students thought of the speakers overall using hand gestures.
Outside the venue, Jenna and Matt gave it a 9 and Miles from the UK gave it a 10.
Inside the venue, Bec and Marky B gave it a 9 and Jeremy a Roman numeral 10.
In closing, thanks to Andrew and Sasha for organising the event, thanks to all the speakers for coming and sharing, and thanks to everyone for attending and keeping it running. See you all next year.
I’d love to hear your comments and feedback.
Share the love!