C30, C60, C90, Go!

mix_sm_erasure

Here’s a fun find. While doing another attempt at de-cluttering, I came across these neat handmade mini-collage mix tape covers – done back when people did mix tape covers. I believe these date from 1989-90, when I was doing a lot of mixed media/collage work for college art classes. Of course, I was big on the ’50s magazine imagery (speaking as perhaps the only person on Earth to have had a picture of Reddy Kilowatt hanging inside his high school locker), so it made sense at the time to use my mad scissors skillz on these tapes. The TDKs included albums by Erasure, Blancmange, The Cure and Depeche Mode, along with the results of an ambitious plan to do 90-minute mix tapes containing favorite tunes from each year of the ’80s. With the latter, I used the more pricey Denon brand tapes. I only got up to 1982, however – this was back when you had to go to a record store and buy an album in order to listen to your favorite song, kiddoes.

These mix covers go well with Dancing In My Room, a 22-track Spotify playlist of 1984-86 British Pop that I remember enjoying back then (Blancmange is, unfortunately, not on Spotify).

mix_sm_depechecure

mix_sm_blancmange

mix_sm_1980

mix_sm_1981

mix_sm_1982

Inspiration: CTI Records, 1967-69

CTI_WesMontgomery

The realization that I’ve been designing professionally for more than twenty years now has sunk in. Twenty years! That’s a nice, lengthy run, but in a lot of ways I’ve been a “designer” for twice that long. Children tend to gravitate toward visually appealing things, and I was no different. While many of us lose that awareness as we age, the ones that don’t take up drawing or music or dance – or graphic design. I think part of being an artist means always being receptive to new things. With that in mind, I thought I’d use this space to explore specific design-y objects that have captured my imagination, from childhood to today.

Our first Design Inspiration is something I’ve just recently taken a shine to: the early album covers of the Jazz label CTI. Jazz music has long served as a catalyst for innovative design, most spectacularly with the classic Blue Note LPs from the late ’50 and early ’60s. Unlike the freewheeling Blue Note covers, CTI’s look followed a rigid, Swiss-inspired format which nevertheless allowed for lots of variety. It was all part of the plan of visionary producer and label head Creed Taylor, according to Doug Payne’s CTI discography:

Creed Taylor left Verve Records in 1967 to accept a lucrative offer producing records for a new jazz division of Herb Alpert’s highly successful independent pop label, A&M Records. Taylor was guaranteed $1,000,000 over a five-year period by Alpert’s organization. 

From the very beginning, CTI had a highly distinctive character. Sam Antupit’s much copied design was the height of elegant simplicity. Each cover named the artist and the album title on two lines in clean Helvetica typeface while Pete Turner’s evocative photography was framed by swaths of white (for jazz oriented releases), gray (for pop-oriented releases) or, in two cases (SP-3017 and SP-3018), silver. Taylor also scored hits right from the start, too, with significant commercial and artistic success for Wes Montgomery’s A Day In The Life and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Wave.

While the vibrant, cool, colorful designs of CTI worked great for the gatefold LP format, they also highlighted the individual styles of each musician while proving their durability when the albums eventually got reissued in compact disc and digital formats. CTI’s visual elegance also fit in well with the sophisticated feel of its parent label, A&M, although their ’60s-era “kitschy Mexican restaurant” aesthetic was a lot more playful (and perhaps worthy of another Scrubbles.net post, as well). The fact that the initial 1967-68 CTI releases matched so neatly must have been a fun thing for adventurous listeners of the day, although such a rigidly formatted design was bound to flame out pretty early. In 1969, CTI’s covers for Walter Wanderley, J & K, and Milton Nascimento tweaked the format to allow vertically oriented photos. Other variations would follow, although it wouldn’t be too long before Taylor broke free of A&M and relaunched CTI as an independent label. CTI’s indie LP cover designs continued throughout the ’70s in a funky, Playboy-esque vein, often using Pete Turner’s eye-popping photography.

From the gallery below, hopefully you can see what I dig about these designs – they manage to be evocative of the ’60 and, at the same time, timeless. I definitely see a CTI influence in Cafe Apres Midi, a Japanese series of Bossa Nova/Lounge CDs compiled by Toru Hashimoto in 2000-03.

CTI_acjwr
CTI_hmgol
CTI_t4wats
CTI_nayb
CTI_wmdhotg
CTI_abhymmj
CTI_kjji
CTI_sftimCTI_wmrd
CTI_t4samba
CTI_gbsottc

CTI gatefold covers, 1967-69 (via DougPayne.com)

CTI gatefold covers, 1967-69 (via DougPayne.com)


CTI/A&M Records advertisement from Billboard magazine, October 1968 issue (via stereocandies.blogspot.com)

CTI/A&M Records advertisement from Billboard magazine, October 1968 issue (via stereocandies.blogspot.com)


A&M Records inner sleeve, 1968 (via stereocandies.blogspot.com)

A&M Records inner sleeve, 1968 (via stereocandies.blogspot.com)


Cafe Apres-midi: Olive Japanese compilation CD cover, 2000.

Cafe Apres-midi: Olive Japanese compilation CD cover, 2000.


Cafe Apres-midi Japanese CD compilation covers, 2000-03.

Cafe Apres-midi Japanese CD compilation covers, 2000-03.

These 20 Awesome T-Shirts Changed My Life!

Watership Down, design by Melanie Amaral (OutOfPrintClothing.com)

Watership Down, design by Melanie Amaral (OutOfPrintClothing.com)

I’ve become quite the t-shirt connoisseur lately. Since I lack a real job, the humble tee has become my uniform. And why not? They’re cool (especially the lightweight ones), cheap, comfortable, and freely available in an unlimited number of styles and designs. I tend to wear them until they’re nearly falling apart, ready for conversion into dust rags. These days, my t-shirt dresser drawer bulges with several shirts of varying levels of niceness, from shirts gotten for a buck at a thrift store to limited-edition designs.

My newest additions are a couple of offerings from Out Of Print Clothing, a company that offers apparel and gifts which lovingly pay tribute to classic books. They do both original designs (like the Watership Down one pictured above) and tees which take elements from the original books (like the Treasure Island, below). For each tee they sell, they also donate a book for children in Africa to read – what’s not to love about that?

This photo gallery includes most of my t-shirts. Who knows where the next one will come from?

Terrytoons vintage Mighty Mouse (Ross)

Terrytoons vintage Mighty Mouse (Ross)


Fanta Grape (Target)

Fanta Grape (Target)


Catalina Island Marine Institute (Christian thrift store)

Catalina Island Marine Institute (Christian thrift store)


Vintage Treasure Island (OutOfPrintClothing.com)

Vintage Treasure Island (OutOfPrintClothing.com)


Conch Republic Seafood Co. (Key West, FL restaurant)

Conch Republic Seafood Co. (Key West, FL restaurant)


Anaheim, design by Kevin Kidney and Jody Daily

Anaheim, design by Kevin Kidney and Jody Daily


Quiksilver "Born from the Sea" (Hermosa Beach, CA surf shop)

Quiksilver “Born from the Sea” (Hermosa Beach, CA surf shop)


EPCOT World Showcase 30th Anniversary, design by Richard Terpstra (DisneyStore.com)

EPCOT World Showcase 30th Anniversary, design by Richard Terpstra (DisneyStore.com)


Vintage Pepsi-Cola (Amazon.com)

Vintage Pepsi-Cola (Amazon.com)


Vintage Stax logo (Fantasy Records catalog)

Vintage Stax logo (Fantasy Records catalog)


Play It Again Band 2011, design by Matt Hinrichs

Play It Again Band 2011, design by Matt Hinrichs


Mr. Pibb logo (Target)

Mr. Pibb logo (Target)


PAC 12 2011 Championship (Dr. Pepper)

PAC 12 2011 Championship (Dr. Pepper)


Mello Yello logo (MyCokeRewards.com)

Mello Yello logo (MyCokeRewards.com)


Columbia Sportswear (Cabela's)

Columbia Sportswear (Cabela’s)


Banana Republic "Deco" design (Banana Republic)

Banana Republic “Deco” design (Banana Republic)


Disney Store "Goofy" (Goodwill)

Disney Store “Goofy” (Goodwill)


Quiksilver "The Ranch" (Flo's On 7th resale store)

Quiksilver “The Ranch” (Flo’s On 7th resale store)

A Few Weird Cartoons

Trade advertisement for Walt Disney Studios' "The Story of Menstruation," 1959.

Trade advertisement for Walt Disney Productions’ “The Story of Menstruation,” 1959.

Out of all the zillions of things we watch on television every night, the vintage animated short is our constant, our go-to, the bedrock of our home video collection. Besides turning to our DVDs (the Looney Tunes Golden Collections get constant play), we’ve been checking out a lot of stuff though streaming and the internet. In particular, a great Roku channel called Pub-D Hub sports a lot of terrific, obscure vintage shorts which went into the public domain. While they carry the usual stuff like Popeye and Betty Boop easily found on YouTube and other places, you kind of have to dig deeper to find the truly strange, forgotten cartoons. Like, perhaps, the following three films:

The Story of Menstruation was an educational film sponsored by Kotex and produced by the Walt Disney studio in 1946. Yep, that’s right, Disney had a hand in helping young girls understand what’s happening with their bodies down there. Sanitized and ultra-campy as it may appear, the film conveys this delicate information in a startlingly simple and effective way. Not surprisingly, it was shown in schools for decades. Personally, I loved the elegant narration by Gloria Blondell (Joan’s sister) and the big-headed, footless vintage ’40s design on the cartoon girls in the middle of the film. A good, concise history of this film is included in the book Who’s Afraid of Song of the South? And Other Forbidden Disney Stories by animation historian Jim Korkis.

1945′s Cap’n Cub, a strident, surreal bit of wartime propaganda from independent producer Ted Eshbaugh, does its best to combine cuteness with gross stereotypes and startling violence. Eshbaugh is considered one of the overlooked figures in the world of vintage animation. By the time Cap’n Cub came out, he’d been kicking around in some capacity for some time, mostly in the area of advertising and industrial films. His best-known work is probably 1935′s The Sunshine Makers, an intricate Silly Symphonies-esque production done for the Borden milk company.

Finally, a visual “Pow!” of a film – the short, surreal Russian feature Chipollino! Although Pub-D Hub’s version had no subtitles, we sort of understood that this film was about a boy with an onion head (the title character) who lives in a kingdom full of vegetable-shaped people under the rule of a cruel Tomato King. Chipollino saves the day by freeing the kingdom’s prisoners and casting the king and his bodyguards out into the ocean. For a film that came out in 1972, the character design and fluid animation harkens back to Disney’s Technicolor output from the 1930s. Very out-of-step with the times, and fascinating to watch.

The Ever-Shifting Consensus

Persona (Ingmar Bergman, #24)

“So many films, so little time… ” Recently, I discovered The 1,000 Greatest Films. Coupled with our access to the Criterion Collection on Hulu Plus, this is a potentially dangerous thing. A carefully curated database of critically lauded cinema, this annually updated project comes from the laudable efforts of the website They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They?. The films’ rankings are determined from 1,900-plus “Best Of” lists from critics, filmmakers, and scholars. Being aware that taste in anything is entirely subjective, you can arguably approach a project like this with a grain of salt – what it tells me is that film experts overwhelmingly prefer their themes heavy, their running times lengthy, their languages non-English, and their directors auteurist. Despite all that, it’s stimulated me to go back to the biggies (in the top 100) to review as many as I can.

While a good half of the films in the TSPDT top 100 I’d already seen (in several instances, much too long ago), it also contained a number of bona fide classic Classics which got an overdue first viewing. Ingmar Bergman’s Persona (#24) was as jaw-dropping as I’d always heard, an unforgettable and beautifully performed work of art. By my definition, the truly great films are ones that linger in your thoughts for days and weeks afterward. Persona fits that description, as does Robert Bresson’s devastating religious allegory Au Hasard Balthazar (#35). Bresson took a deceptively simple story – about a donkey who passes through several owners – and made it into a carefully constructed, dry yet oddly touching statement on humankind’s innate cruelty. We also streamed the proto-realist 1934 comedy L’Atalante from Jean Vigo, the acclaimed French auteur who died at a young age. Quite a charming little film, although its ranking at #17 seems awfully high. Hulu lacked Jean Renoir’s stately pacifist statement Grand Illusion (#39), although I managed to snag a copy of the out-of-print DVD from the local library. That was another heartfelt, stunningly constructed masterpiece, although it loses a bit once the main characters leave the prisoner-of-war camp. Andrei Tarkovsky’s non-linear, deliberately obtuse Mirrors (#26) seems more like what you’d expect from a list like this. While it didn’t wow me like the others, I admired Tarkovsky’s impeccable craftsmanship – his attention to detail shows in the nuanced performances and the gorgeous photography. I’m currently halfway through Federico Fellini’s excellent La Strada (Giulietta Masina must be the greatest silent comedienne never to appear in a silent movie). Once that is finished, I will have seen seventy of the top 100 – what a joyful learning experience.

By the way, I’ve also started logging my movie viewing habits at Letterboxd, a site that allows film fans to catalog and compare their viewing habits. It’s fun. C’mon and join me!

Grand Illusion (Jean Renoir, #39)

Mirrors (Andrei Tarkovsky, #26)

Au Hasard Balthazar (Robert Bresson, #35)

Louise Fili’s Perfetto Pencils

I’ve long been an admirer of the Deco-inspired, sinuous work of designer Louise Fili – so it was especially delightful to hear that she was available for interviews in connection with her latest venture, Perfetto Pencils. For this boxed set of 12 double-tipped pencils, Fili applied her usual panache with playful typography, polka dots, and a striking color palette. Like her other products, they’re almost too lovely to use up (I’m gonna need the red parts for tracing over my illustrations, however!). Even better, they provide the opportunity for our first interview at Scrubbles.net.

Following the chat, I’ve selected a few of my favorite Fili designs throughout the years. Published by Princeton Architectural Press, the Perfetto pencils are available at Amazon.com.

Your design and typography are characterized by a pared-down elegance and flair, reminiscent of vintage design while avoiding looking aggressively Retro. It takes a lot of discipline to have that aesthetic, but I imagine it also takes a lot of compromising to maintain your high standards – even with clients who are expecting a “Louise Fili” look. How do you convince a client that simpler is better?
Since many of my clients are in the food industry, I can simply explain that good design, like fine cuisine, is about using the best ingredients.

I read that your love of all things Italian extends to listening to their film soundtracks while working. Who are your favorite composers (mine’s Stelvio Cipriani)? Any specific albums you enjoy?
I like to listen to Nino Rota soundtracks for Fellini films, and anything sung by Anna Magnani or Vittorio De Sica.

How did the Perfetto Pencils (Princeton Architectural Press) come about? It looks like this particular project is inspired by the pencil boxes pictured in Italian Art Deco (Chronicle, 1993).
I love my collection of 1930s Italian pencil boxes.  My most preferred are the two-color, double-sided pencils, commonly in red and blue, for teachers to correct homework. (“Errore lieve, segno rosso; errore grave, segno blu”: red for a minor infringement, blue for a serious offense.) When Princeton Architectural Press invited me to come up with a line of gift products, the two-tone pencils seemed perfect—thus the name. Steering clear of blue, my least favorite color, we opted for our signature red and black. 

Finally, one last question – what’s the coolest piece of vintage design ephemera you’ve ever found?
I found a series of pasticceria papers when I was researching the Italian Art Deco book in Milano years ago. That’s what made me want to become a package designer.

Polaner wine labels, 2013.

Scripts: Elegant Lettering from Design’s Golden Age book cover (Thames & Hudson, 2012)

Streamline book cover (Chronicle, 1995)

Good Housekeeping seal redesign, 2009.

Daily Drop Cap contribution, 2011.