sometimes in your life as a designer, you'll get jobs that seem simple at first. and unlike the jobs that snowball out of all recognizable proportion from feature creep at the client's request, this particular type is worse.
see, the simple jobs that badly need improving far beyond what the client ever dreamt of… those are the treacherous ones. because what the client asked for in the first place is probably very simple. you might even be able to phone it in. but it's not as good as it could be. or, it's not as cool as you could make it. or, you could make it even better than the client ever thought possible.
i've spent my free time this week on one such job.
it's something that should be simple: paint some stained 2x4s that the client supplied, to make a sign for the Bell, the whorehouse at the southern california renaissance pleasure faire (RPFS), with the words: "Bell Expansion courtesy of the Earl of Southampton / your tax coin at work!"
at this moment, the sign is pretty much only funny to people working at the faire, as Southampton is the villain of this particular faire, and he frequents the whorehouse a great deal (to stay in character, of course!). this sort of thing is known as theatrical masturbation, and is pretty pointless.
i probably could've just taken a brush, some of my cadmium red, and had at the stained wood, and the client would've been pleased. i'm not being paid for it, so they'd probably consider it fair enough. except… i'm not a skilled hand-lettering sign painter. calligraphy is not my strong suit. hell, handwriting is the only subject i've ever outright flunked. i am the last person on earth who should be hand-lettering with paint. i still can't make my signature look decent in paint, so i've resorted to signing my oil paintings in sharpie marker. you with me here? you might as well be handing the brush to a precocious six-year-old.
but because i know i'm not good at this type of work, i try to think of how i can use my other skills to make this sign look cool, as a few thousand people will see it once it's up; maybe even tens of thousands.
so instead of approaching this like the half-assed-job favor it initially was, i shift gears and reframe it as a design problem: it's a sign that will be seen by tens of thousands of customers, none of whom will know what the Bell is, or who the heck this Earl of Southampton guy is. after some thought, i suggest that i paint a portrait of the guy who plays Southampton, so that the customers might have a chance of getting the joke, when they see him out in the streets and on stage, at least. not a bad idea, and the client goes for it.
but a couple of days ago, it hits me that the customers also won't make the connection between 'Bell' and 'whorehouse.' so i start playing around with ways to make the sign indicate what the Bell actually is. after getting the obvious visual puns out of the way (the letters 'o', 'p', 'and 'x' all had some very entertaining modifications to them), i settle on making the B from a whore standing; her left arm curves to her hip and forms the top loop of the B; her skirt, which she's pulling up, forms the larger bottom ellipse of the B. few things say, 'whorehouse,' like a woman pulling their skirt up to reveal their naughty bits. i decide that's a hit.
i work out my thumbnails. i work out my color comps. i'm all set to go, and i think i've solved just about every problem i might have on the finished product. i start painting at 5 a.m. this morning, coffee in hand, feeling optimistic.
and then i discover why one gessoes over wood. staining apparently doesn't give paint much to adhere to, though i have no earthly idea why i thought it would. since it's 5: 05 a.m., nothing's open, and i have no acrylic paint, and if i wait until 10 a.m. when stores open, this sign won't dry in time, as it's a cloudy, humid day. why southern california's june gloom kicked in two weeks early? that'd be me, on a deadline, with the weather gods spiting me.
so i lay down coat #2, and let that dry. kill time by talking to my minion at Saltmine U. three hours later, i can still see the dark wood showing through the titanium white.
two hours later, i lay down a third coat, and am finally beginning to see the wood lighten up. i lay in the text, the whore, and the portrait in blue paint. i let that dry.
i lay down a fourth coat around the blue lay-in.
i begin putting in rough color, just to get some more paint on the surface for things to adhere to. this is the official Point of Disbelief, in which the painting looks like it was done by an ambitious eight-year-old with a color-by-numbers kit. i decide now, while that's drying, would be a spectacular time to go restock my supply of gin & tonic, so i run to the store.
upon my return, i lay down a fifth coat, then make myself a g&t, and eat dinner.
after dinner, i look at the time, notice it's now 8:30, realize this sign needs to be done and portable by 8:30 a.m. (12 hours). wow, i have to step things up. so i finish the portrait! the whore! the lettering!
i do a sixth coat on the white background. i do retouching on the lettering, covering up where i got exuberant with my paintbrush. more work on the portrait and the whore. second g&t. this will actually work, i think. until a blob of cadmium red cavorts off the brush and onto the earl's face. damnation. deploying palette knife is next to useless, so i paint that all over again.
still more work on the portrait and the whore. adjust the Earl's hat to include the cock feathers on it (nice symbolism, that). add aureolas to the whore. make sure the strategically placed shadow in the whore's upper thighs fools children and amuses the observant.
more work on the white background. i curse the actor playing the Earl for his extremely fair skin that's making it tough to distinguish him from the now-really-white background. third g&t. i try to fix the lettering again. i give up and tell myself i was hired because of my painting skill, not my lettering skill.
midnight -- i finally call it quits and take a photo of the finished sign. now, here's to hoping it dries in time.
this self-induced need to improve upon things definitely cuts into one's sleep. and one's sanity.