African Beall: Riffing with A Design God
Hunger: “Hunger is felt by a slave and hunger is felt by a king.’’
Why Lester Beall?
I wanted to learn the styles of my favorite designers to develop my design aesthetic. The designers are Paula Scher, Sister Corita Kent, and my favorite, Lester Beall. The first in the series, African Beall was a project to understand Beall’s process, why, and how he made what he made. I knew I needed a theme to prevent copying him but instead riffing off his influence.
In December 2020, I struggled to create a theme for these posters. Certain moments in life seem destined. While I was in a cabin, I found a book of ancient African proverbs in the house of the cabin owner (she allowed me to enter). The proverbs were a mix of earthy and ethereal, a dynamic contrast for my creations.
Water: “It is the calm and silent water that drowns a man.’’
Before the project, I purchased a book on Lester Beall. I studied the book. I made notes in the margins and created a Google document capturing all the ideas I learned. My document was Beall distilled, ready for drinking when my thoughts came up dry.
I began by writing the saying at the top of a page in my sketchbook. For 30 minutes, I didn’t stop until I created ideas to fill two pages.
Forest: “Do not call the forest that shelters you a jungle.’’
There were many moments when I was stuck and thought I couldn’t create another idea. Yet, I kept going by lowering the filter for what was a good idea. I made no judgment. I keep my pen going. I left them alone for a day to prevent creating and judging at the same time. The next day I reviewed by making an arrow next to the ideas I liked most. Once I made my selections, I sketched. Often I would draw an idea and start creating it in Illustrator but found it didn’t look the way I wanted. I never knew how it would look when done. The journey to the final pieces was the unexpected reward of this project.
(LEFT) Wealthy: “When a man is wealthy, he may wear an old cloth.’’
(RIGHT) Come: “When a man is coming toward you, you need not say: “Come here.’’
Moon: “The moon moves slowly, but it crosses the town.’’
I created thirty posters using Ashanti proverbs. “The Ashanti Region in south Ghana is the ‘Kingdom of Gold.’ The Kingdom of Gold is rich in history and culture. It’s in the center of modern Ghana. Ashanti is the hub of the ancient territory of the Asante. It’s still the heartland for all Asante people, wherever they may be now.’’ (source: visitghana.com)
Old Man: “Even though the old man is strong and hearty, he will not live forever.’’
(LEFT) Bad Child: “It’s a bad child who does not take advice.’’
(RIGHT) King: “When a king has good counselors, his reign is peaceful.’’
Fool II: “When the fool is told a proverb, its meaning has to be explained to him.’’
Father: ‘‘When you follow in the path of your father, you learn to walk like him.’’
The African Beall Landscape Posters
(Leopard, Wood, Crocodile, Hatred, Luck, Money)
The African Beall Portrait Posters
(Wife, Hiding, Falsehood, Wealthy, Forest, Hunger, Moon, Ruin, Cock, Bad Child, Come, Old Man, King, Fool, Play, Water, Father, Roast, Fool II, Drum, Feast, Sword, Sheep, Rich & Poor)