Thursday, February 2, 2012

For all to see

The sea is so big, and my contribution is so small …

On the bright side, it's a darned nice looking sea in which to bob about. (Look, ma, I'm in a museum!)

Designer Lisa Park-Steskal just sent me photos of an exhibit she helped create for the Lindsay Wildlife Museum in Walnut Creek, Calif. Lisa commissioned me to create spot illustrations for it. You can see two of them in the picture above, if you know where to look.

This is one of several opportunities to work with Lisa, including signage in Old Sacramento (and here and here) and an Arts & Crafts-influenced promotion.

The museum exhibit describes raptors, or birds of prey such as falcons, hawks and eagles. My job was to illuminate key design components of the raptors' talons and the birds' lightweight bones. The white illustrations on blue backgrounds are supposed to evoke a diagrammatic, blueprinty feel.

Here's an example:

A Swiss cheese of air and strutts and bubbles make raptors' bones so light.
They were the size of coffee saucers all the time I was working on them, through several iterations.

Even though my head told me they were meant to support larger ideas about raptors, my heart started convincing me these were gonna be marquee features.

In the end, they're just right in a sweeping, clean, engaging design.

Lisa had the illustrations affixed  to disks so they float off the display, like medallions. The understated circle gets vigorous and intelligent use throughout the museum displays here, cuing and drawing visitors to isolated bits of information.

Maybe someone will take a good look at my spots and come away with the rather cool concept that raptors have a way of locking their talons closed, so they don't have to waste any muscles holding dinner tight while they fly away.

Forced to answer, without a moment's hesitation, what I'd really like to do with my work life, I'd say designing museum exhibits.

Museums fascinate me for meta-exhibition — not only for what they contain, but how they present what they contain. It's science and dark art, finding the right ways to convey information to all visitors in as many possible ways, and to move them through the arenas. In my limited museum world-view, I'd say it's an extremely difficult job to do well.

As a teacher, my unreachable goal was to engage students as much as possible, so that learning became enjoyable and overcame boredom. It's small wonder that kids clamor for field trips to museums; sure, it's a day off from the tyranny of routine, but it's knowledge in which, done well, they can immerse themselves and touch and twist and discover.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium does this well. I once convinced my wife to stay from opening to closing, half to talk in the vast volume of data, half for the countless means and media to impart the data.  

It's design and illustration and communication writ large and re-writ constantly to meet consumer needs. I'd love to do more of this.

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