To the Letter

To the Letter

When we think of lettering, fonts, text, and color, we don’t always think about marketing, or poetry, or decorative painting.  But the truth is, all of these things can and do work together to tell a story, communicate a brand, and create a mood.  For all of these things are more inter-related then we may think.

Cathedral School for Boys, an independent Episcopal school Founded in 1957 ,  located on the grounds of Grace Cathedral in  San Francisco  enrolls approximately 267 boys in kindergarten through eighth grade.  When their Development Director engaged me to hand paint the school’s motto and other signage, we had to think about the size and style of lettering, font, and color that would best reflect its essence.

The Development Director wanted to identify “Alumni Hall”, which holds commemorative plaques listing the names of the student body dating back to the 19560’s.  The lettering of the words had to command the wall on which they were placed, and the dates, to clearly identify each decade of  pictured. A deep, rich custom blue was designed, reflected in the existing visual identity of the School, and the font “Perpetua” was chosen, appropriately enough. (Was that a fluke? A “meant to be”…?  A so-called, “Freudian slip” ?)

The school’s motto, “Minds  Hearts  Hands  Voices” was lettered across the front of the architectural detail directly facing the front glass window, creating a potent and effective message.  Key was planning the spacing between the words, as the Headmaster wanted the look to be clean, simple and streamlined, and thus elegant. No muss, no fuss.   It was just to be those four words, after all.   Let the words do the talking, supported by their size, spacing, color and font.  The space between each word serves as a visual and aural “beat”, or resting point of space and silence, which becomes part of the motto’s overall rhythm and poetry.  Aural, because the words “speak” to us the viewer.  As we read them, we hear them inside our heads, and as we are moved to speak, recite, or chant them.  This process again supports and enhances the messaging of The School, and perhaps, the adjacent related Grace Cathedral as well.

Without being overpowering, the power of the words which embody the intent, spirit and brand, of The School communicate, while integrating perfectly into its presentation, its lobby, its front office, and its formal signage.

The architecture of the building, its purpose, where it is situated geographically, its urban and natural surroundings, and its spiritual identity and associations are also an inspiration for the aesthetic choices relating to it.

Seeking grace and maybe sometimes  finding it.  The elements of visual and literary art, architecture, design, urban planning, education, the natural world, our creative, quirky and infinitely original  imagination, these gifts are always at our disposal to feed our hungry souls, and those around us.  Here’s wishing you grace, and the ability to offer it to others, through the powers of  our own perception.

Have YOU found a moment of grace through the powers of Your own perception?

If You feel so inclined, please share about it with us here.

We love to hear from You.

Remember, we are all  finding our own manner of grace in this thing called Life, together.


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Color Ground

Color Ground
The colors we clothe our buildings in, and the materials we use to build them can have a significant effect on how solid, safe, and grounded they appear.  And, I  might add, in addition to paint color, let’s not forget that the wood, brick, stone, concrete, metal and other natural and industrial materials we build with, have color too.  Add to this the by turns rapturous, earthy, luminous, bold, sublime, and subtle colors of nature, and you have a complex picture of the elements that go into making where we live, work and play picture perfect..or not.

In general, darker, richer, deeper, more saturated, brighter, warmer and more intense colors appear heavier, and thus may seem to “pull downward” towards the, in most cases, ground!  Placing them above a lighter, airier, softer, cooler,  paler, duller, less saturated colors may give the impression of pressing or pushing down upon something less substantial, creating a sense of pressure, ungroundedness, or even danger.  Who wants to feel like the heavier-looking second story might come crashing down through its weaker-looking support, or foundation?

The building above is grounded not only by its strong, dark burgundy red garage door, but also by the heavy foliage and hedge shrubbery which nearly obscures its foundation (the lower part of the structure upon which the rest of the building rests). The cream-colored concrete, red roof tile and strongly patterned brick provide contrast and a  variety of color and materials, but, particularly because of the grounding effect of the dark green, highly textural foliage, do not seem too heavy for the foundation to bear.

The UMG (Universal Music Group) office building in Santa Monica, CA is grounded by a strong, deep, earthy brick-red, which seems to support the pale pink upper above, though the entire structure is punctuated by a multitude of windows. Palms, parkway and other landscaping in front also support this grounded effect.

A similar outcome is achieved by juxtaposing a more saturated hue of reddish pink stucco foundation with the softer and paler ocher-colored wood siding above.  Lush vegetation sporting luxuriant red and pink flowers trailing over a natural wood fence add to its heavier, grounding effect

These interior gymnasium walls are grounded by the deep blue protective covering at their base. Given the wild shapes and over-sized   lines, shapes and patterns used in the room’s design, the consistency and “reliability” of the blue may also serve to keep young athletes players focused and grounded as they play.

Here is the outside of the same building, swathed in corrugated stripes.   Notice that the stripe closest to the ground is darker blue, and the one at the top, lighter.

This fun and fascinating building combines all manner of materials, from wood siding, to brick, to concrete,

and even verdigris decorative details above the door. The mass of flowering vegetation in front,  while nearly obscuring parts of the facade,  add to the fancy of the place, while connecting it to the earth, the  ground.  In moody weather, the mix of weathered materials and enveloping foliage may lend an air of mystery and perhaps even magic to the place.

Here, an artist’s self-styled, whimsical touch creates grounding through the application of  bright color, repeated shapes, and sense of a garden planted  at the base of the house. The playful, optimistic feeling  is further enhanced by the use of complementary colors  yellow and purple.

The largest sphere in this extraordinary mural seems to be sitting right on the sidewalk!  It could be coming right out at us, the viewer, but at least the building doesn’t look like it is about to leave the ground!  The tiled trompe l’oeil technique is used to great visual and grounding, effect here.

When we walk past this extraordinary building in LA’s Venice Canal District, our eye is drawn past the foliage, across the manicured back yard, and over the amazing sunken pool under the blue-framed overhang, through the space between the orange posts, to the electric apple green accent wall behind them. Brighter, more vibrant, and more saturated than the natural greens , and applied blue and orange surrounding it, this wall looks  strong enough to carry this unusual structure’s  visual weight.

This wild building on Wilshire in Santa Monica is one of my favorites.  An eclectic mix of materials, hues and shapes, it seems break all the “rules”, yet somehow, it works!  This could be due to a counteracting balancing effect of the mix of elements. The undulating curve of the upper wood facade/detail is counterbalanced by the strong concrete support/column next to it, even though the wood is a strong color, and an even stronger visual element. Our eye is drawn upward from the glass, and warm blue and green (reflecting sea, sky and grass?) colors behind it to that grand sweep of wood,

which is also supported by the metal detail/support that follows its shape and movement below.  The whole building feels like a

huge kinetic wave, appropriate architecture for a beach town on the edge of the Pacific. The foliage, and its concrete base below also add grounding.  Amazing!  Fidelity, you got it going on, architecturally!

The “Bagel Nosh”  in Santa Monica, hosts a marvelous display of mouth-watering treats. Where does our eye go right to here?  No, there isn’t a spotlight on the center of the case.  That’s just the natural color of these bright golden-yellow jalapeno-flavored bagels. The strong, rich, saturated color just grabs our attention, and holds it there…it’s up to you to decide whether the taste of these treats warrants their attention-grabbing status.

  We walk upon the ground,  perhaps that is why our  shoes are often brown and black…colors of the earth.  We usually want to feel grounded when we tread upon the earth, a firm foundation, a solid base.  But, maybe not all the time.  Perhaps sometimes we want to whirl, twirl, leap, float, and feel  “ten feet off the ground”.  Don’t we long to take risks, to take  flight, as much as we long to be safe, secure, and grounded?  When you want to feel fun, fantastical, floating, and fabulous, try on a glittery, glowing, or gossamer pair of footwear, and see if it helps your grounded spirit to soar!

What buildings, architecture, food or footwear have YOU experienced lately that feel grounded or the opposite?

If you feel so inclined, please share about them with us here.

We love to hear from You.

Remember, we are all trying to ground ourselves  yet take flight within this thing called Life, together.

Stay grounded, but don’t be afraid to fly!

Brand New 2

Brand New 2

What is a “brand“?  I added a link to the term, because I think Wikipedia describes the concept better than I can, at least at this stage.  One of the salient words used in the definition is “identity”.  Specifically: “A brand is the identity of a specific product,  service,  or business.” My colleague  Elka Eastly Veratransformative coach and brand consultant, defines it such: “A brand is like soul DNA. It’s what people recognize you for. It’s where the “you of you” meets the world. It’s the essence of your business. “

Jim Moran, founder and manager of Co-Op, a NYC-based branding firm, says,Brand is really the DNA that defines your company. Branding is about storytelling.  it’s about bringing the DNA to life and creating perceptions.”

When Frank Mahnke, of the International Association of Colour Consultants/Designers says that color is a form of communication and information, he is talking the language of branding.  How do colors, patterns, textures, shapes, forms and images create  ‘soul DNA’, and story?

It took me awhile to realize how much like graphic design and marketing decorative painting could be.  When I worked with the talented graphic designer Dianna Jacobsen, of Jacobsen Design, on the creation of my website, business cards, brochure, and postcard, I went through an in-depth process of determining how I wanted to beam my business, my work, my self, out into the world.

It’s not just about making things beautiful, but creating an experience for people.” says Dianna, about bringing the “brand” into physical spaces.

When I found myself working with clients ranging from businesses and  organizations to  non-profits and institutions, I discovered that I was helping them do just that through visual, and often verbal elements as well.

Let’s take a look at a few of them who employed the painter’s brush as a tool for communicating their message.

921 Front Street is a historic building dating from 1859, located in the North Waterfront area of San Francisco. Originally a warehouse, it is now a commercial building providing office space. The signage in the lobby is based on the building’s logo, so there is an immediate tie-in to the brand.  The metallic copper and steely silver colors used in the lettering reflect the natural and industrial materials used in the lobby.

Maitri Compassionate Care provides exemplary, innovative, and compassionate hospice care. The Maitri Mover Campaign Donor Recognition Arch above was designed to honor the donors who participated in the capital campaign supporting its present facility. Names of donors are hand-painted onto the glazed surface of the industrial arch which supports the one-time parking garage.  Like 921 Front Street,  the lettering is done in metallic paints to draw the eye to the words, and make them stand out from the background.  Whether said background be black or white, and the words words sparse or abundant, all visual and verbal elements support the branding.

“On the Fly” is a specialty men’s store designed by  Martinkovic Milford Architects The broken stripe design suggests stitching, as well as the classic men’s pin-striped suit sold inside. The stripe patten reflects the visual branding image used in the brand’s marketing materials. The “hands on” stripe application both communicates and enhances the store’s established visual message, and is “tailor-made” for the venue!

Also communicating directly out onto the “street”, but in a whole other way, the mural above depicts an imagined “Land of Oshun”, where a host of interacting Oshun figures express the colors, symbols, and attributes of this beneficent and inspirational goddess figure. Oshun Center, a drop-in center for women and their families, is a program of the Haight Ashbury Free Clinics.   Oshun is the name of an “Orisha” or goddess in the Yoruban (an ethno-linguistic group of West Africa), Brazilian, and Cuban religious pantheons.  Oshun’s color is yellow, and her metals are gold and copper. Other symbols depicted in the mural include peacocks and mirrors, reflective of vanity and physical beauty.  Oshun represents life’s joys, and all that makes it worth living, and this is the “soul DNA”, message, story,  brand, of Oshun Center, supported in turn, by the visual language of the mural.

When we think about how everything we see, indeed everything we experience through any of our senses, transmits something, carries and provides associations, and potentially stirs our emotions, we can see just how powerful visual and verbal elements can be in telling the story of our soul, and communicating the soul of our story.

How have You communicated the essence of your own work or business, or that of another,  through the elements of color, pattern, texture and imagery?  What about words, text, or as the brand editor Abby Kerr would say, “phraseologie”?

Please share about the richness of your experience with us here.  We love to hear from You.

Remember, we  are all branding through this thing called Life, together.


Brand New

Brand New

What is a “brand“?  I added a link to the term, because I think Wikipedia describes the concept better than I can, at least at this stage.  One of the salient words used in the definition is “identity”.  Specifically: “A brand is the identity of a specific product,  service,  or business.” My colleague  Elka Eastly Veratransformative coach and brand consultant, defines it such: “A brand is like soul DNA. It’s what people recognize you for. It’s where the “you of you” meets the world. It’s the essence of your business. “

If we look at the idea of a “brand” this way, then it could even be used to describe how we present ourselves in the world.  But that is a subject for another post….

The visual elements of color and design, pattern and image, texture, shape and composition can all be brought to bear upon  the process of developing and communicating a brand identity.  Graphic designers, like the talented Dianna Jacobsen, of Jacobsen Design, do this all the time.

As an artist, muralist, decorative painter, and colorist (not mutually exclusive terms by any means), I am always intrigued with how this works, and fascinated to participate.  We may tend to think of “brands” as purely commercial (cereal, dog food and shoes come to mind), but devoted non-profits and noble institutions also have theirs, and in my experience, a similar approach is taken to communicate them.

Let’s look at a number of  businesses and organizations who employed the painter’s brush as a tool for communicating their message, how color plays a starring role in their brand identity, and why.

When  Benihana Restaurant in Cupertino, Ca. underwent extensive remodeling,  a mural consisting of a branded graphical design was specified to be painted on the “corrugated” concrete surface approximately 10 to 80′ in the air.  Benjamin Moore Creative Paint in San Francisco matched the colors of the restaurant’s branded interior wall covering in  paint. Master color mixer and matcher Norman Chinn chose Ben Moore Aura exterior paint colors by eye. He was so precise that without knowing it, he chose the very strawberry red used as a stock color in the Benihana Restaurant brand, which is heavy on warm reds, punctuated by creams, darker reds, and red-blacks. Red tends to be associated with heat fire and blood…can we read, appetite?

Red is used in a different way in the new  Dress for Success San Francisco headquarters, designed by local architectural firm, Martinkovic Milford Architects.  Dress for Success provides business attire and training for women, and key to the design is the theme of butterflies, expressing the idea of transformation. Tone on tone reds provide warmth, accent, and a sense of womb-like support for the women getting ready to launch out into the business world.  Red’s association with life and love doesn’t hurt either.

  Blush Organic Frozen Yogurt venue in San Francisco’s South of Market District is painted is apple green and crisp white, communicating a sense of freshness appropriate to a dairy-orientated ‘snackery”.  However, this hue of green also provides other tasty associations:  the sharp and pungent flavors of limes and sour apples, as well as the sweetness of kiwis and honeydew melons.  All cool and refreshing, and fruity ingredients that could be used in their delicious yogurt!

Although also used to evoke connotations of the natural world, the greens in the  mural below, designed and executed for San Francisco’s Planning for Elders in the Central City organization serve quite a different function. “PECC”, which works to “improve the quality of life of seniors, adults with disabilities, and their caregivers in San Francisco and beyond….”  wanted to use the tree as a central image to express life, giving, renewal, community and support.  Associations with the Tree of Life, and the Giving Tree are amplified by using the color of leaves, which also represents life.  Green is also one of the colors associated with the heart chakra, standing for love, sympathy, and harmony.

Embarking on this post, I see how rich, expansive, and complex the subject of visual branding and the way artists can support it,  is.  A sister post may be in order to further elaborate on the subject. 

When we think about how everything we see, indeed everything we experience through any of our senses, communicates something, carries and provides associations, and potentially stirs our emotions, it boggles the mind, (no pun intended.)  We see, and experience first-hand just how powerful the element of color is, and how many different ways it can be used. 

We can perhaps understand in a new way, the expression, “…coloring perception…”

What experiences have You had with color branding?  Have you used color as part of a brand consultation? Color consulted with businesses, organizations, or even individuals on the how of hue  for their “soul DNA“, as Elka Eastly Vera, would say?

If so, please share it with us here.  We love to hear from You.

Remember, we are all bounding and branding through this thing called Life, together.