Client: Self/Personal Project
Project: Tin Man lettering illustration
Communication can be broken down into two basic categories: structure and style. In visual communications, you can think of these as form and lighting, respectively. Both are important.
Although I really enjoy doing lighting work — what I'll call Photoshop special effects (See the Napier Precision Products ad, for example.) — I've come to to place a higher value on form over the years.
I think the main reason for this is that tools like Photoshop make it easy to jump to the lighting phase too quickly. I certainly did this when I was starting out. During my undergraduate internship and my first couple of years in a real design job, I'd ger frustrated when my work didn't look as good as I wanted it to. My solution was to examine how other designers used lighting techniques — drop shadows, gradients, filters and the like — and copy their techniques to make my bad work look better.
The awful thing is that it worked . . . at least to a point. Things genuinely did have more of a "cool" factor with all those fancy special effects. I didn't learn until later that I was really short-changing myself. I was using fancy lighting to hide the fact that there was something fundamentally wrong with the form in my work.
But lighting can only take you so far. The best visual communication starts with a mastery of form.
DEVELOPING THE TIN MAN POSTER
The main focus of Tin Man was the lettering for the word "heart." I struggled through a number if iterations, trying to get the form exactly right. In fact, I went through so much back and forth that the project proved to be a useful case study to help teach my interns about the development process.
Here's a document I sent them from the project:
Once I was happy with the form, I was able layer on the lighting effects. It ended up being one of my favorite pieces overall, mostly because both the form and lighting work.
I haven't arrived yet. There's a lot I can do to improve. Still, I'm learning to respect form and spend more time on it. Lighting is important, but I've got to get the form right first! Good form makes good lighting better.