1991 seems like it just happened!
I graduated from the Graphic and Visual Design programme at Kwantlen College, in Surrey, BC, in 1991. At the time it was a 2-year program and was kinda lumped in with the trades. We shared a campus with some rather rough around the edges welder dudes, out in the wilds of scary warehouse-land, Surrey.

I was going thru my old stuff recently and was thinking man! Has this industry ever changed. Some for the good- because computers! And some for the bad- because computers!

Back in the day, we did it all by hand. Everything. Text, illustrations, page layout, colour separations, everything. Now it seems barely anybody really knows how to pick up a pencil and thumbnail out their ideas. Something I still do and can’t imagine not doing. It’s an important part of the design process. As a designer, you should know how to do it, if you don’t? Learn it. Anyway.

The year I graduated, our department started going into the computer age- wewt!- and we had one tiny Mac II for all 4 groups of classes in the program to use. But only the department tech was allowed to use it, we had to ask him to set type or do stuff for us. And it kept getting stolen. So basically? No computer whatsoever. Seems crazy now doesn’t it!

So I was thinking, I should share some of my old school stuff and y’all can see some really oooold, but still very valid, ways of working. Computers are great and all, but they are a tool, not the be all end all of design. And they should never be considered anything but a tool.

The first portfolio piece I want to share is from our final (I think- either last or second to last) semester of graphic design class. Since it’s been so long, exact details of the class assignments might be sketchy, but I remember we had to design a magazine cover, it was to be a “mock-up” rather than a finely finished piece, and hand-render all of the type and subject matter indicating what an actual cover design might look like. Including the teeny tiny UPC bar code- rendered with teeny tiny technical pens filled with india ink. OMG the hours spent unclogging those beasts! Here’s the cover…

cover mockup

First thing to note, everything had to be mounted on neutral grey matt board for presentation, covered with a tracing paper flap to protect the work. Tracing paper flap had to be exactly the same size and taped perfectly straight on the back, tape trimmed exactly to the edges of the board. No messing around, no finger prints, dirt, tears, or bent corners, or you lost marks. This taught us attention to detail, and even now when I work on other projects, even quilts, the back is just as important as the front.

The cover itself had to be rendered in design markers- and those darn things were expensive, so I had very limited colours on hand, starving student and all, art supplies are spendy! Plus gouache- an opaque paint- see the big white “E” and the rest of the title -handpainted. Yup! And pencil crayons were allowed too.

detail face

Here’s a detail of the cover girl’s face. All coloured with marker- they were fun but you had to work fast if you wanted to blend- before the solvent in the ink dried you could blend other colours overtop to give a smooth, painted look. If you weren’t fast enough you got ugly hard stroke lines that were hard to get rid of.

Highlights and finer details were dropped in at the end with technical pens, white gouache, and pencil crayon.

I remember I was criticized because all of the focus was on her earring. But the magazine was supposed to be about jewellery right? Meh! Marks off for that. If this was done now, I would envision this photo being intentionally only focussed on the earring, done with a very short depth of field and some kind of vintage-inspired filter. I also remember there was big controversy as one instructor loved it and one highly criticized and picked it, and me, apart. Group critiques were not my favorite. Good for thickening up that skin though.

type detail2

A close up of the lettering, all done by hand in pencil crayon and paint with a tiny brush and a magnifying glass, hunched over a drafting table. I had a thing for tall skinny typefaces at the time so they were extra tedious to render by hand. By hand, people!

type detail 3

Even the UPC is all handdrawn- you can tell by the numbers along the bottom, at that time I think I was fed up and didn’t draw them as perfectly to emulate a computer generated UPC file as I should have. The lines on the UPC were drawn with a ruler and tiny technical pens. Ouf!!

I can’t believe all of the work and hours that we put into these projects. We were given a week or two to complete usually. In the real world now, you’d have a day or two maybe to pull off a full cover design like this, at the most. I have to say though, I value my traditional old school training and the level of craft we were taught, which nowadays seems rare. Mixing the old and new ways- or what I’ve adapted to work with my own current style, is what I consider very valuable knowledge and hands-on skill that I can offer and share with our fabulous clients. And that’s what I love about design. Bringing it all together to make one cool finished product and making our clients smile. And that’s what it’s all about isn’t it!

I’ll have more old school projects coming up to share shortly. There’s some real doozies gooders! More soon!