Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Big Wash

Georgia's household chemistry market heavily relies on import -- mostly from Russia, Turkey and Iran. The local manufacturers are only just making the first steps in this direction. Most of them are trying to give a "foreign" look to their products, since the majority of Georgian consumers do not quite trust the local chemistry goods yet.

I designed my first detergent label in 2006. It was named 100+1 and came in three different flavors (you can see the "green apple" version on the right). The brand name was a clever invention for the local market: at that time the label designation rules strictly required the main titles to be in Georgian (which was something highly undesirable for the household chemistry manufacturers), and the name 100+1 consisted only of numbers, which conveniently avoided using a Georgian title, while breaking no rules.

But not all the manufacturers were so clever. Some of them went on a shady path of disguising their products as foreign. The next order, which I received the same year, was precisely of this sort: I was required to make a bilingual label with primary designations in German and secondary in Russian, to mislead the customer into believing it was an original German product exported to Russia. Naturally, I protested with all my might, but my three wives and eleven children (numbers are slightly exaggerated for a dramatic effect) were starving to death, so I took my thirty pieces of silver and set to work.

The labels were called DamlaX (which is quite strange for a "German" product, since "damla" is a Turkish word, meaning "drop of water") and also came in three versions -- only this time divided not merely by flavors, but different scopes of application (glass, dishware, universal). Also, there was a small label for liquid soap.

That's when my first "detergent character" was born -- a cute girl with a big smile and even bigger frying pan, ready to be used as a tennis rocket with someone's head as the ball, if that someone tries to offend her (by refusing to buy the product, that is).

The "Damla-Girl" soon was followed by another character -- a mole, designed for a caustic soda label. Why mole? It's a long story, but to be short, there is an insanely popular Russian brand of caustic soda, named KROT (meaning "mole" in Russian), which uses a mole as its symbol. Traditionally, the mole is depicted wearing goggles and a miner's helmet, often climbing out of a pipe (since caustic soda is mainly used to cleanse pipes). This time the clients were strictly law-obedient: it was clearly a local product, with proper Georgian title and inscriptions.

Last year was very productive in regard of household chemistry labels -- I received a whole series of orders from a newly emerged private manufacturer. The first labels, going under the brand name UNIVERSAL+, were bilingual (Georgian-English), but the next series, named ECO+, dropped Georgian titles entirely, because by that time the designation rules had been somewhat softened, allowing to disregard Georgian, leaving it mandatory only in technical data -- such as usage, ingredients, validity terms, etc.

Soon after that I received a similar order from a different manufacturer. This time I had to invent the brand name myself, since the clients had no idea what to call their product.
It proved to be quite a challenge, since all the good names had been already snatched away. I finally came up with SHINY, but it took quite an effort to convince the clients to use this name, because they had some reservations about the ability of an average local consumer to pronounce the English word properly. Anyway, the labels were done, and another character was born: a shiny, smiley and toothy drop with energetic thumbs up.

Then I returned to ECO+ brand, only this time with slightly different products: floor polish and glass cleaner. It was an entirely unexplored territory for me and I really enjoyed the work. In both labels I used the "wiping" effect, but achieved it differently in each case: in floor polish it was a simple gradient transparency, while in glass cleaner I used a more elaborate method, working with layers and filters to get the "wiped window" effect.

By the end of 2008 we gathered quite a bunch of ECO+ products. Below you can see them in all their glory -- actual containers with actual printed labels, exactly as they appear on supermarket shelves.
But the big wash wasn't over yet. This year I received several new orders from this manufacturer. The first was two series of liquid soap labels: one for transparent plastic bottles and another for semi-transparent plastic canisters. It was done in the "classic" manner of ECO+ detergents, already tried and tested in battle.

The second on the menu was a multipurpose whitener called Belizna -- another popular Russian brand (the word means "whiteness" in Russian). It was quite easy: a snow-white title against blue background (a winning combination), a little splash, some yummy bubbles... and done!
Then things got more interesting, because the next label required the creation of a new "detergent character" -- something like my Damla-Girl, only less headstrong. But before that, I needed a hand... literally. The client insisted that there had to be a hand image on the label, because it was a sort of "detergent balsam" with some protective additions for hands (glycerol, to be precise). Naturally, the hand should have been that of a female. I didn't have any suitable hands at my disposal, so I had to involve Diana, my ever-ready lifesaver, asking her to take some photos of her left hand and send them to me ASAP. After some trial and error, I received my hand, which was quite well-preserved, but still required a little "manicuring." I added some extra "glamour" with Portraiture Plugin for Photoshop and reversed the image, because I needed a right hand for my label, not a left one.

The hand fitted just perfectly, and now I switched to drawing the new character. Like in previous cases, first I drew the line art by hand, then I scanned it into the computer, traced it and finished in my graphics editor. The "Eco-Girl" came out a lot more likeable than her predecessor -- I really got my hand in making these cartoonish characters in the past few years. I added a slice of lemon and the work was done.

Now I had to make the final label from this set of orders. It was another caustic soda in the best traditions of our good old Russian KROT. Only this time the mole got bigger and stronger -- a real Super-Mole! The idea came to my mind, when the client asked me to help him with the name. He didn't want it to be just KROT, so I suggested to name it Super KROT, which means "super-mole" in Russian. It was time to create another character...

The new mole had the same helmet and goggles, and he also climbed out of the pipe, as you would expect from a mole of his profession, but this time... dressed in Superman costume (with ECO+ logo instead of the letter "S") and flexing a well-developed biceps.

As I was told, the color of the containers could be either yellow or green -- it wasn't decided yet -- so I chose the colors to match both. The combination of yellow and green looked nice and fresh. The work was done and everybody was just as happy with the results as the mole on the label...

That's the end of the big wash... for now. Hopefully, there will be more washing and cleansing in the future, because I find the process of designing household labels rather... refreshing.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Epic Wait for Another Crank-Up

It all began back in 1995, when I made Crank-Up: Start to a New Life for the Body Language series. The simple idea of a demon "winding up" a young woman into a brand-new sensual life lingered on, resulting in a spin-off called Waiting for Another Crank-Up, made in 2004. The spin-off featured the original Crank-Up framed and hung on the wall, as a reminiscence. Among other things, you could see the two intertwined spirals -- the trademark symbol of the new Body Language II series.

Still Waiting... is a sequel to Waiting for Another Crank-Up. I never really intended to make it -- the next thing in this line should have been Crank-Up II itself. But the last summer, during the photo-session for my upcoming "sanguine" series called The Mornings After, I "accidentally" took a picture of Diana gazing through the window, dressed in her red bedgown. The sight was breathtakingly beautiful, and she instantly reminded me of the girl from Waiting for Another Crank-Up. So I thought it could be interesting to make another spin-off -- this time, featuring Diana as the model.

The new version has the same general concept and composition, as its predecessor, but there are some differences in details. For instance, the "teeth" now have a polymorphous "tongue" in the form of a large house plant leaf, and the strongly suggestive cactus has been replaced by the less allusive flower vase. There is yet another suggestive element in the picture -- a "fruit composition" arranged on the table. The "sculpture" on the table has also changed -- the "male" spiral has disappeared, leaving the "female" one in complete solitude. Also, there is no more picture on the wall -- but, to keep the good tradition, a framed reminder of the plaited spirals has been left on the table.

14 years have passed already in this epic wait for another crank-up. Hopefully, the lonely girl from the picture gets what she wants very soon...

A Striking Coincidence

Recently my friend in art and fellow member Patrick Pierson has uploaded one of his older paintings called The Crossing to his ArtWanted portfolio. You can see the painting below.

Patrick Pierson "The Crossing" © 2001

The painting itself is a very unusual and interesting take on the Crucifixion theme, but that's not the subject of this blog post. What really caught my attention (to put it mildly) was the striking resemblance to my own draft made somewhere between 2000-2002 (roughly the same period as Patrick's painting). You can see the draft below.

There are certain differences -- for instance, the composition is reversed in my version. But the similarities are striking nonetheless, as you can see yourself. The most amazing thing is that Patrick had no chance to see the draft -- nobody had seen it except me until now.

Naturally, Patrick was shocked no less than myself. He wrote to me: "It must be that we are twin sons of different mothers. Stranger still, my first sketches for THE CROSSING show Golgotha as a human skull with the cross sticking out it as the skull cracks. Way too creepy. Anyway, what a weird coincidence!"

The Georgian inscriptions on the draft indicate, that there should be an outer space view in the background and, more importantly, the actual geographical point, where the Crucifixion took place, should be clearly recognizable on the globe.

It's indeed amazing how the similar creative ideas drift inside the heads of different artists. And I'm really glad that such a marvelous coincidence happened with the two of us, because I hold Patrick Pierson in high respect for his great skill and wild imagination. His surrealistic paintings are full to the brim with creative insanity, and his hyper-realistic oil pastels deserve to be regarded as living classics.

To see more artwork from this brilliant artist, please visit

Friday, April 3, 2009 Logo

I don't know about others, but for me working on a logo is a real pain in the buttocks. This pain gets especially strong with corporate logos, which usually need to be approved by a whole bunch of people with different tastes and opinions. A classic example for me was the Eurasia Partnership logo for its South Caucasus office, which I made a couple of years ago. It had to be approved by three different offices: Georgian, Azerbaijani and Armenian. The two months of intensive work went to pot, when the Armenian office rejected the final version, because the mountains in the logo reminded them of Mount Ararat viewed from the Turkish side. So we spent another month on tuning that element, frustrating me to the point when I was ready to leave the project.

Luckily, this time everything went a lot smoother. There were some frictions in the beginning, but it's inevitable on early stages of development, until the things begin to boil down. As soon as we defined the main direction, it was only a matter of polishing the discrete elements, which is not that hard, if you see the ultimate goal clearly. And we started to see that goal as early as in the third demo, but I was dissatisfied with the font, which seemed too hackneyed to me.

So we kept on searching. Our project lead offered an alternative font named Babycakes, which I also disliked at first -- I thought it was too childish. But when I actually used it in a demo, I clearly saw that it suited our concept better.

We were generally satisfied with the result, but there were still quite a few improvements to be done. The first thing was enlarging the capital letter. Originally we intended it to be small, but the project lead insisted otherwise -- she wanted to emphasize the letter B, so that the word "blog" dominated over the ".ge" part. It turned out to be the right decision, so now we had to find the color. I was shifting towards the blue version, since it's one of my favorite colors, but the project lead was inflexible in this matter -- she wanted it to be pink. How can you deny a lady such a request? Now we had both shape and color, and were almost done.

Almost, because there was still one thing left to do: our "Pink Lady" desired a glossy "Web 2.0" finish, and she was absolutely right about it -- it would bring an ultimate "candy" feel to the final product, which was exactly what the doctor ordered. A few additional tweaks and we were finally there!

Our brand-new sweet shiny candybar of a logo was all ready to set sail, and the only thing left to do was an appropriate favicon. I shipped them both and waved goodbye with tears in my eyes... Well, not really... but it sounds so melodramatic, I just couldn't resist. The beta version of already sports the new logo and the favicon, so you can see them both in action. As I was told, the new logo was a huge success -- especially in female population. I don't know about that, but I'm really glad it all finished without bloodshed.

That's it. Below is an example of one of the earlier rejected demos, just to show you what we went through at the early stages of development.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Moonstone

The Moonstone is the first title from the upcoming Black Coffee With Some Sugar series. Like all the other "coffee" titles, it's based on a sketch drawn from the actual coffee grounds, but it's been modified more heavily than I usually do -- mainly because it features a live model, which is quite rare for the Black Coffee series.

I intended to use a live model originally, which is clearly noted in the draft: "Draw Tanya from life," indicates the Russian inscription. Tanya is the name of my ex-wife, which means the draft has been made somewhere between 1997-1999, when I was married. Naturally, drawing my happily re-married ex-wife from life, all the more topless, as required by the draft, was not an option anymore. But luckily, I had no need for such drastic measures -- earlier this year, in a traditional photo-session with Diana, among other things, we made some photos especially for this project, and I had everything I needed to begin the work.

As you can see, there are significant differences between the original draft and the final layout of The Moonstone. Originally, the torso was meant to be turned rather forcibly, breaking the laws of anatomy, to bring a sense of tension. In the "final product" this approach has been discarded in favor of a more realistic and relaxed representation. The basic concept has been maintained, but the factor of a live model made its inevitable corrections.

Originally, the skirt was meant to be pitch-black, to match Tanya's dark hair, so I followed that scheme when I started to distribute the basic colors and shades -- you can see that the skirt is black at this stage of work. But in the process it became clear, that such a scheme didn't look too good with Diana's amber hair, so I needed to revise my decision. As a result, the skirt turned dark-brown, which, in fact, proved to be a turning point on a much larger scale than I could have imagined: the overall "sepia" feel, established by this new color scheme, made The Moonstone so distinguished from the other Black Coffee titles, that I decided to start a whole new series, as described in my previous blog post.

At this stage, I still had no clue on what to do with the background. The original draft was rather vague in this aspect, so I had to improvise. Thus, the idea of the "shadow throne" was born: a grotesque, distorted shadow, forming sort of a backrest, combined with a stump-like base in order to imitate a throne. The picture started to develop its final shape and it was time for the last stage, when ball-point pens enter the show. Only a couple of days and it would have been finished, but that's when I stumbled upon the unforeseen circumstances -- I caught a nasty flu, which rendered me unable to work for almost two weeks.

When I started to come back to my senses, I made a little lyrical digression in the form of Her Childish Smile, just to get back into shape. After that I continued the work and finished The Moonstone as intended.

Black Coffee with Some Sugar

The birth of a new series is always interesting -- especially, if the child was unexpected, like in the case of Black Coffee with Some Sugar, the brand-new direction in my "coffee" artwork. The idea popped up in my head when I was drawing The Moonstone, another project based on my prehistoric coffee sketches. In the middle of the process it became obvious, that The Moonstone didn't fit into the mainstream Black Coffee series, being too monochromatic. On the other hand, I've always wanted to make something in the spirit of Black Coffee with No Sugar -- a series of old black-and-white coffee sketches made in 1993-1996 -- only a little more refined. The sepia tones of The Moonstone pushed me to the right decision: something between the "hardcore" Black Coffee with No Sugar and the colorful Black Coffee, closer to the brownish palette of the actual coffee grounds, from which these sketches originated in the first place. Black Coffee with Some Sugar has been chosen as the title for the new series, to emphasize its roots.

The new series will "feed" mainly from the three sources: the old stash of "unpublished" coffee drafts, the "remastered" versions of some of the Black Coffee with No Sugar titles and the "sepia" remakes from the Black Coffee and Black Coffee II series. As for the latter, the beginning of the new "coffee" series doesn't mean the end of the current series, quite the contrary -- Black Coffee will continue to grow and flourish as one of the major series of my artwork.