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Portraits of Creativity Portraits of Creativity: Ladies and Gentlemen, Marian Bantjes.
 

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Veer:

When people ask you what you do for a living, what do you usually say?


Marian:

I usually stumble and come up with all sorts of complicated explanations and words. I’m trying to train myself to say “graphic artist” because I think it’s fairly accurate and also kind of funny because it’s a term that everybody else is rejecting.

I like it because it does have that connection to design, which I still do, but it contains the word “artist,” which most designers reject. The work I do now straddles the line between illustration, design, and art. I hate using the word “illustration” because it’s extremely misleading and people get the wrong idea. The combination of “graphic” and “artist” seems to nail it.


Veer:

Tell us a bit about yourself.


Marian:

I started out about 23 years ago, working at a publishing company, and I did 10 years as a book typesetter, so I have a very strong grounding in typography. After that, I had my own design company with a partner for 9 years. During that time, I did what I call “straight-up graphic design.” The kind of graphic design that the majority of people do – brochures, catalogs, logos, all that crap.

Three years ago, I gave all that up and started doing this more arty thing. Basically, it’s got a lot more of my own personal involvement in the work. I have a very strong kind of look and style, and what people are buying is essentially a piece of me, my own personality.


 

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Veer:

How do you approach the creation of a unique type treatment?


Marian:

There is a certain amount of analysis, if you will, in the work I do. Somebody will have a title or something, and I’ll take a look at what letters are in those words and what kinds of things I can make out of them – if there are common letters or two words with common letters that I can play off of. Basically looking at the letterforms as a visual toolbox.

After that, I start drawing. I usually work with graph paper when I’m working with letterforms – they tend to have a fairly geometric look. From there, who knows what’s going to happen.


Veer:

What are your thoughts on current type design and what’s happening in fonts and custom work?


Marian:

I’ve been really impressed with what’s happening in fonts. There’s some great stuff coming out. People are paying a lot more attention to craft than they were 10 years ago – there’s a resurgence in the interest of how well the letterform is crafted and how well the font is put together.

In terms of custom work, though, I see very little of it, and mostly just see people using typefaces, and often at the wrong time. It makes me crazy when someone does something that should be a custom piece of type and they just set it in a font. They don’t bother, if there are two e’s, to change one of them. Even when I see custom type, it’s usually not very well crafted.


Veer:

What draws you to write about design through forums such as Speak Up?


Marian:

That is how I know I don’t hate graphic design. For one thing, I really enjoy writing. I’m also trying to give some kind of unusual perspective on something, to get people to look at things a little differently. To write from a perspective that will make them go “Oh, I never really thought like that before,” and if I can make them laugh at the same time, then I’m laughing. Trying to get a bit of humor in there is high on my agenda … Sometimes I make them mad, which is good, too.


Veer:

You recently took a class with Milton Glaser. Tell us about that experience.


Marian:

I can’t tell you a lot because those who take the class are sworn to secrecy. That’s the truth. It is a very remarkable course, and if you knew what happened, it would be spoiled to you forever. I will say it was the experience of a lifetime. Milton was absolutely incredible. I sat five feet away from him for six hours a day for five days and watched him move and talk and talked to him. I wish he wasn’t married and 77 years old because I would marry him in an instant.


 

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Veer:

What effect do geography and location have on your design?


Marian:

I’m not aware of any. It’s possible that being in lush surroundings with ferns and things like that has some effect, but I don’t think so. So, incredibly to me, I think I’m largely uninfluenced by my physical surroundings.


Veer:

How does your location affect your ability to get clients from major centers?


Marian:

In terms of getting work, the age of telecommuting has grown up. Almost all my clients are in the United States, and a couple are in Britain. I have essentially no local clients. In a way, I could say I’m unaffected by the fact that I’m living in the middle of nowhere, but in reality, if I were living in New York, I think I would be getting a lot more work. So it’s a funny thing. I’m able to survive, I’m able to reach people. A lot of people know about me, and once they find out about me, the fact that I live in the middle of nowhere is not of much concern.


Veer:

What is your process when starting a project?


Marian:

I start by thinking and then drawing. I draw in pencil and often use graph paper – I have quite a bit of structure in my work. Even though it’s very organic and free flowing, there is structure inherent in it. Having worked with books and book typography, that’s a structured environment, and I think that influences me a lot. I’m always very aware of alignment and a perfection of curve. The graph paper helps me with that.

I’ll draw and then I’ll scan and then I’ll bring it into the computer and either adjust or, if I’m making a pattern, I’ll start patterning, tiling units in the computer. Then I’ll print it out and re-draw it, making adjustments.

This goes back and forth between drawing, scanning, adjusting, printing, until I’m ready to go to final. I’m either going to end up in vector art or have something that’s hand-drawn. If I’m going to final by hand, I’ll usually put it on the light table and trace it. If I’m doing something by hand, I’m doing something that’s very detailed that I can’t be bothered to do in Illustrator, so I’m probably tracing something that’s quite rough and then adding all the details. If I’m doing it in vector art, my drawing is usually absolutely ready to be traced. I never ever ever auto-trace. I always trace. Bézier curve by Bézier curve, and then adjust everything obsessively.


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