Saturday, January 12, 2013


I've spent most of my recent time on the project digging out referenced research (yes, even in my made-up fantasy construct, I've done a good deal of research) from a stack of books filled with bookmarks. I've been either adding the references to the wall, or into the Scrivener project. I have to say, this feels like work. Very little creativity involved here, just trying to collocate the reference with the material it will be used in.

The good part though, is that this week I had one of those epiphanies where I realized that I had this great set of parallel metaphors sitting around just waiting for me to see it and I think it will help make for a dramatic opening to the story and then have a profound resonance later in the story. I know that doesn't do much for anyone reading this, but it felt good to have it arrive on my doorstep.

Next step is a bit more research. The story opens in the early 17th century and involves the ocean voyage of a group of English settlers headed for the New World. I want to get the details of that part right. After that, things open up and my imagination takes over, so hopefully less research and more creativity. Though I have to say that I like to weave references and allusions into this stuff, so you can be sure that there will be more discussions of my side adventures into the realm of research.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

FROSTLEAF: of Type and Titles

It took me a very long time to come up with the name for The Epic. In fact, for years it was just 'My Epic", or "The Story". The obvious route for this sort of thing is to name it after the main character (Batman, Mickey Mouse, Tarzan, etc.) That approach is non-specific enough regarding content that you can write a lot of material under the umbrella of the title character. The other way is to stumble on a brand-name that is evocative of it's subject, but agnostic to character and can be broadly applied (Star Wars, Star Trek, etc.). I wasn't comfortable naming it after my main character Faron (oops, dropped some content on you there), because it wasn't an immediately evocative name like say, Hellboy or Spiderman, and frankly, I wanted room to cover broader content than just his story.

I spent a lot of time searching, thinking and trying on names that I felt were evocative of the material I was developing. I was looking for something that certainly suggested fantasy (more hints there kids), and a world rooted in an ancient, timeless, green realm of thick forests and misty mountains (yet another). All the cliches rose quickly to the surface and were either already used, or seemed obvious, or generic ( The Otherworld, Greenwood, Elfland, and so on). The name I settled on just sort of hit me one morning trolling Pinterest, a picture of an ice-rimed  leaf spurred the word "Frostleaf" in my head. I had no idea what it meant, or how it applied. I didn't even know it was the title at the time. I just liked the sound and the image. For quite a while, I thought it was a character's name (could still be, in a way?). After living with it for a while, I came to realize, that regardless of it's connection to the story, it was The Title I wanted.

Just last week, while working out the outline, I suddenly realized what/who Frostleaf is, but it comes further down the road, and I think I'll save that for the appropriate time. Regardless, Frostleaf in many ways, lies at the core of the story literally, and symbolically.

So my next assignment to myself was to take the word Frostleaf, and design a logo out of it. Given my plans to make this into an issue-based graphic novel, I wanted to go the traditional route and have a masthead title to put on the cover of each issue, if not just the final collection.

The first thing I nixed was the on-the-nose idea of a frosted-leaf motif. I don't mind bringing in the organic suggestion of leaves, or ice, but it just seemed so obvious and redundant -dropped that idea before I even began.

I thought I had a good idea how I wanted to approach this, but as usual, once at the drawing board, I had some difficulty narrowing it down to a specific design. I had the word, but I also had oh so many options as far as typographic treatments and options. I generally try to avoid the obvious. A classic black letter treatment would quickly suggest the "fairy tale" aspect of the story, but to be honest, one of the things I'm trying to do with this, is to not force this into some kind of medieval, European, classical version of fairyland. The other obvious style sources would be that of the the classic illustrators I love so much such as Bilibin, or Dulac, or Bauer (who had done some lovely whimsical lettering from time to time), but none of them quite hit the tone I was looking for and ultimately only helped in the sense of pointing out what I didn't want.


I spent a good part of yesterday digging through type samples from various sources (I have big collection of Mucha, a great book dating from the late 1800's on Illuminated manuscripts, plenty of digital examples and actual fonts, piles of books on typography, posters, art nouveau, secessionist artist monographs  etc). I looked, I sketched, went down a lot of roads, but kept coming back to the simpler forms rather than the more ornate stuff. I really like the simplicity of runic forms as well, but every time I tried that style it looked way to metal :P

I also spent some time working with actual fonts in Illustrator, editing, shaping , adjusting and massaging them into a working logo-type, but in the end, they felt too digital, too mechanical. I just didn't get the right vibe from them.

I've always been a huge fan of 19th century through the early 20th art (Dulac, Bauer, early Tenggren, Rackham, etc included). Everything from the Arts and Crafts movement (Morris, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood specifically) up through Art Nouveau (Mucha) and the Viennese Secession (esp. Klimt). There is a common thread in some of the decorative typography of the period that hearkens back to early Latin cursive forms. Interestingly enough, last night I was watching a show about the history of the monarchy in England, and the segment on Alfred the Great featured him writing on a tablet in such a form -it was serendipitous and I'll take it as a good omen to continue down this line of thinking.

Essentially what I was after, was something that felt hand-written or drawn, not something too complicated or too fixed in a clear cultural tradition or time (medieval Europe specifically), but at the same time felt timeless, naive, somewhat otherworldly, without feeling overly crude. At the same time, it had to work as a mast-head -commanding enough attention on it's own and being able to hold the cover together.

So off I went to working something up from a hand-drawn logotype. I should have known better -hand designing type is not my strong suit. I got it drawn, scanned and vectorized. I spent most of the rest of the day (way over my 2 hours) massaging the hell out of the resulting vectors -the result was a steadily worse, more disappointing logo. It went from fresh to somewhere between naive and a sort of part-way there slick logo. The curves weren't quite right, the corners not exactly how I wanted them....a bad day. I decided to put it away for the day and look at it again the next day.

My analysis of what went wrong is that I took a simple, direct type treatment and then tried to reconfigure the glyphs into a too complex configuration. Also, as much as I like these minimal forms, I'm not 100% sold that it can hold up as a masthead without getting lost against the rest of the cover(s).

Day 3?: Decided to go back into Illustrator and cobble together a bunch of logotypes at approximate size so I could make fair assessments as far as visual weight is concerned and compare them more fairly. the one I toiled over yesterday was better than I remembered, but some of the treatments I had discounted as being too on-the-nose, actually look and feel pretty good today. As usual, I was likely over-thinking it. To some extent, the type style is going to telegraph the content, as such it should read as "Fantasy". Beyond that, I want something elegant, well constructed and attention getting, yet not someting that totally dominates the page.

I was actually happy with a lot of the Illustrator samples I worked up, but still felt that the result was looking too "commercial" or generic. I wanted this to be from my hand. I spent the afternoon yesterday watching the Hobbit again and while waiting for the movie to begin, sketched a simple logotype that at least had the proportion and shape I was looking for. Being New Year's Eve, I quit early and let it lie.

Day 4: Really? Day 4? Or is it 5? New Years Day 2013 anyway.

Got up and sketched some more first thing (before coffee!) and I think I created an amalgamation of the layout and design and the desired illustrated quality I was after. I wondered if there was a base font I could use to help me draw over it so I didn't have to rely on my untrained sense of type proportion. So I googled "Art Nouveau Fonts" and came across Jessie King. King was a contemporary of MacIntosh, from the Scottish branch of the Arts and Crafts movement. I knew her work well, but for some reason when initially looking for samples to study, I had forgotten her. She had the perfect combination of Fairy Tale (she did lot's of Arthurian illustration work) and a simpler, handmade, but not a blackletter style that was just perfect for my uses. I didn't find exactly the font, but I did find an excellent guidepost in her work.

I also found inspiration in the tree forms she so frequently uses to frame her work. I had been playing with adding branching elements to the logo all along, so I decided to take it further and see how that felt. That at least would take the logo away from the realm of clean, machined feeling fonts. I spent more time than I wanted (again) working up the logo, trying like crazy to not kill the spirit of the initial sketch while at the same time getting it clean and nicely squared up.

So after a few days delay, I finally got around to working up a final image to scan and clean up in Illustrator, then haul over to Photoshop to lay with a number of style treatments. The image at the top of this post is the result. I still think I need to tweak it, and to have simpler version for single-color applications, but overall, it's done at last!