Tuesday, July 11, 2017

How design and text evolve together

Song of Solomon: timeless love poetry in contemporary calligraphy.  
[A footnote to the design of July 6, above] 
Pencil drafts
Some designs just need more time  to ripen than others.  This one mellowed for 25 years, while I thought about what I should do next. It wasn't just the layout, where the diagonals funneled down to a balance point that somehow took away their energy; the words themselves, from the King James translation, seemed too static as well, conveying the general idea but using some very formal terms.  It felt like I was hearing the someone read the poetry behind a wall.  
Final version, discussed July 6
I knew I had to give both the words and the layout more animation.  I went looking for a softer, more natural, more amorous translation: 

  • My own preference led me to choose "likened" because it seemed more eloquent than  "compared."  
  • Wouldn't any woman be more flattered by "mare of Pharaoh's chariot" than a "whole company of horses." ?!
  • And braided "ribbons of finest gold" seem more interesting to the mind's eye than simply "borders."  I echoed those braids in the capital O's Celtic interlacings.  
  • I did not modernize "thee" and "thou" and "thy" for this design.  They help to place it in the context of its era, so that the metaphor of the mare makes sense.  

Once the text itself made sense to me, all I had to do with the design was trim down the swashes, slightly curve the diagonal lines, and play up the resemblance between the silhouettes of horse and woman.  
Lesson: Save those thumbnail sketches!  This design needed years to become clear to me.  Don't give up after your first try, if you liked the initial idea.   

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