Saturday, June 20, 2009

I've been known to be traditionally non-traditional

June 20th, 2009

Today I attended an awesome bridal shower (Thanks, Jen! Congrats!). Yeah, that’s right, I said “awesome” and “bridal shower” in the same sentence. It probably has something to do with the combination of pasta salad and lime-green frosted cupcakes currently throwing a dance party in my stomach.

I’m not very familiar with bridal-happenings or parties that don’t involve beer, so this was a fun, new experience for me. There are so many traditions for brides that I had no idea existed...and so many that I think are just plain silly.

Here are a few from today:

  • As the bride-to-be opens gifts, the number of package ribbons that she rips will be the number of children she will have.
  • The ribbons from the gifts are strung through a paper plate and the bride-to-be should use it as a bouquet at her wedding rehearsal.
  • Also noted: If you buy stuff that wasn’t on the registry...some people will make an angry face at you.

All this celebration got me thinking about traditions in other aspects of our lives, specifically, as related to graphic design.

When you Google “traditional design” you mainly get search results about interior decorating and woodworking (and a few helpful resume templates from Microsoft Office). “Traditional design” in the image results appears to be quilts, ornate rugs and craftsman-style furniture. So the theme that should be jumping out here is “tradition = stuff made by hand.” In Graphic Design terms “traditional design” tends to mean something that was created without the use of a computer; such as drawing, painting, sculpture, and printmaking. Wikipedia told me so.

It is interesting to me that although many designers shy away from incorporating traditional media into their designs, they still try to make it appear as though traditional media is involved. Instead of creating a drawing or a collage then scanning it into the computer, designers will draw a line in Illustrator, apply a brush, add an effect, then maybe import it into Photoshop for more manipulation...all to make something created in the computer look like it wasn’t created in the computer. Why do we do that? Is it because we don’t have the skills to create something real? I don’t think that’s the case. At least not for me. For me, it is about control.

Traditional media can be confining. It feels so permanent, so...”that’s the just the way it is.” If you botch your screen printing job, that’s the way it stays, it doesn’t have a History Palette where I can click back a few steps and try again. If I paint a watercolor illustration for a client and the client says, “That’s lovely, but I wish the cat had green eyes instead of yellow,” I might cry. Or, more likely, I will scan the image and change the color in Photoshop. Thus, the computer saves me where tradition fails. And, (get ready for the heresy), I don’t think that doing that makes me less of an artist (any more than putting “and” at the beginning of a sentence makes me less of a writer).

Tradition is a lot like the language rules that we all learn in English class. Once you know it, you can bend it, or even break it. Art in the computer is still art, and in a sense, it is still “traditional” art. It is still a creative process. It is still an acquired skill that takes time to master. We’re even still using our hands.

So lets not let tradition confine us. Or define us.

If you don’t want to buy off the registry, then don’t. If you want to combine traditional and non-traditional art, do it. We could all benefit from stepping outside of what’s expected of us.

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