The art of Ben Thomas

I did some link-chasing last night and ended up on the website of UK-based artist Ben Thomas through a post on OMG Posters. It was that top image that caught my eye with the nice purples and oranges, but it was the other work that struck me really hard. Such wonderful use of colour, greyscale, geometry, natural forms, texture and effects. He obviously has the digital chops, but it all looks so natural. Not forced or over-designed.

Beautiful stuff. Stopped me in my tracks for a while. Check out Ben’s website for more of this work, and drop by the store to see what’s for sale, and say hello on Twitter.

80’s Skateboard Art: Vision

I’ve never spent too much time on a skateboard, aside from a few brief stints in the late 80s (all of which ended in complete and total failure). Geography certainly played a role, as Western New York has never been confused with Southern California as a skateboarding hotbed, but at it’s peak in the 80’s almost every kid in my neighborhood owned a skateboard. I was a year or two behind the curve when it came to the “scene”, but the older kids relentlessly rocked those neon-colored boards up and down my street all summer long.

Recently, I watched Stoked: The Rise and Fall of Gator, a documentary about the roller coaster life of former Vision frontman Mark “Gator” Rogowski. His Vision Gator series was everywhere when I was a kid and almost everyone I knew had one of his signature boards with that distinct spiral pattern on it. It’s amazing how someone can go from so high to so low in such a dramatic fashion, definitely worth watching if you’re at all interested in 80’s subculture.

Watching ‘Stoked’ got me reminiscing about those old board designs and I began scanning the web for imagery from back then, especially the Vision gear which I remember most clearly. Ads, decks, etc., there was just so much that it actually defined skateboarding for a short period.

As Vision grew, they branched out into other sports and started an infamous street wear clothing line. Predictably, once the company became too mainstream and commercialized, the skateboard subculture rejected it. The backlash was quick and lethal to the Vision brand. Some kids were turned off by the corporate image and stopped skating altogether, others went underground, those who still wore Vision gear were simply cast off as sell-outs. Vision became a parody of itself.

It’s a cautionary tale for independent brands whose audience has a distinct counterculture base: don’t alienate your core audience, don’t betray their loyalty and devotion, don’t forget your roots. It seems like simple formula, but the corporate landscape is littered with these kinds of examples.

Vision still exists to this day, but as a mere ghost of its former identity. Just like the once great “Gator” himself, Vision’s heydays have passed them by, the height of their success forever shackled to the decade that originally made them.

Images via Skately.com

Wine Country Travel Posters

I came across these lovely wine country travel posters a little while back and had to post.

Other than knowing they were designed by Hatch in San Fran, I really know nothing else about them. They were for sale at some point through SFMOMA, but I couldn’t find a trace in their store. Even had a hard time finding larger versions online, so please pardon the smaller scale.

Regardless, really great design and colour palette. Pretty timeless.

Welcome back Toronto Blue Jays!

So here’s the thing. I’m a Canadian boy and, growing up back in the 80s and 90s I was a die hard Toronto Blue Jays fan. From the classic line-up of Bell, Gruber and Moseby right up until they won back-to-back World Series’ in ’92 and ’93, I was cheering for my Jays. And you know what a big part of that was? The logo which they’ve used since ’77.

But in the late ’90s it seemed the norm to “re-brand” sports teams like nuts. It drove me crazy because so many of the classic logos were perfectly sound without need of a re-design AND all sports team logos started looking the same. Some kind of angry animal or whatever busting through a wall. No respect for the legacy of the team … just something the marketing people would say “looks cool”. Screw you.

My Jays were no different. In ’97 they revised the classic logo which made the Jay look over-weight, like he ate too many of them ballpark franks after the World Series wins. Then in 2003 … geez, I have no idea. A blue jay getting friendly with the Texas Rangers? A maple leaf tattoo on his “bicep”? Ugh.

And then in 2004, full-on generic angry blue jay logo complete with the beveled “Jays” hunk o’ turd. Zero reference to 27 years of the club’s history. Looks like every other logo across 3 sports in North America. Being a longtime fan and a designer, this was a disappointing reveal when it happened.

In all honesty, I lost track of my Jays in 2004 mostly because the identity of the team, to me, was totally stripped. The team I had loved was gone and replaced by … well, these guys. Yes, I understand players come and go as time goes on, but there was NOTHING familiar to me anymore. They even had black uniforms. Black uniforms on a team with BLUE in the name.

Why am I going on this tangent? To offer a nice contrast to what happened last week. The Toronto Blue Jays unveiled their new logo and uniforms and when I clicked the link to see, 7-year-old James cheered his ass off. After 14 years of seeing that other team playing the part of my Blue Jays, I was thrilled to see my guys come back. Kind of teared up, I’m sure you can see why.

There’s going to be people whining about the new type, or line thickness, or colours, or that face that they think the Blue Jays suck, but I don’t care. Keep it to yourself.

To whomever was in charge of pulling off the Blue Jays new identity, a huge high-five on this one. You brought them right back to when every kid in Canada was a Jays fan. Simplicity and respect will always win.

Tinker Toys redesign by Kelly Abeln

Here is a lovely Tinker Toys package redesign by Kelly Abeln. I like seeing re-imaginings of classic toys and games just to see how the brand could possibly be taken in different directions. But this one really hit home. Kelly’s design is fresh, fun and functional with the little diagrams of pieces.

But best of all, the design was obviously treated with respect to the product. No flashy light beams or attempts to “hip up” a classic toy (which seems to be the norm these days). Just a nice, strong design. A proud design. These are Tinker Toys, not Dora or … Pokemon, or whatever kids are into. This toy is older than all of us, and it’s proud of that. Kelly’s redesign speaks on that level.

I posted the original Tinker Toys can here as well, which I believe is the one I had as a kid. I love the comparison of the old to Kelly’s. Certain harmony there. I dig it.

PS. I remember that can being super hard to open when I was 5. Had to get dad to open it all the time.

Logos from the 50s – 70s

Some beautiful and elegant logos plucked from this MCM Logos Flickr set. In the words of the person who compiled these:

“Logos from the from the 1950s to early 1970s excavated from various design publications. Check back, I’m always adding to the collection.”

Keep learning from the masters, man. So much great decisions in there. Check out the entire collection, you won’t be sorry. And thanks to the always awesome Veerle Pieters for the heads up on these.

Classic Film Union branding

Some beautiful branding work for the Classic Film Union by South Yall. From what I gather from this post, these bits were developed for a kind of online collection system for film fans. Not sure about the ins and outs, but this is some great work. Those badges are fantastic.

Poster art by Tom Hodge

Here is an awesome spread of work by London’s own Tom Hodge, also known as The Dude Designs. I first saw Tom’s work when his official poster for HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN emerged about a year ago and have been frequenting his site ever since to see what he’s been up to. My favorite of his might be that DEAR GOD NO! poster above. His work is fantastic and crazy, really dives into independent VHS cover art from the 80s … back when covers and posters meant something.

But, we’re living in an interesting time right now. With the rise of artists like Tom, Olly Moss, Phantom City Creative, La Boca, Tyler Stout and the platform Mondo has built, we are seeing more attention being brought back to the art of the movie poster which has for too long been ruled by Photoshopped floating heads. This makes me happy. Real happy.

Be sure to read this article on BBC, Film poster artists revive a dying craft. Essential reading today.