Designing in a Barren Wasteland

Is Ireland a prosperous, culture-rich environment for aspiring designers to build their trade in? An interesting question, I think. My answer would undoubtedly be no.

In our little design culture class, we had an exercise to try to discover some of the things that best describes Ireland as a whole. These are the characteristics that give life to life in this country; they are our culture. Such aspects as religion, the catholic church and priesthood were familiar themes. We seem to be forever bound to this sense that we owe the church everything, that the priest controls our family’s perspective and that we should always feel the harsh guilt set upon us by the church. Other cultural amenities include the pub, drinking culture, laziness and the idea of “sure feck it, we’ll be grand”. Unfortunately it is a mentality that stains our existence. We are bred on a life surrounding a pub, where aspirations of a decent night out revolve around getting shit-faced and puking in a bin on O’ Connell street. The main influence that makes us Irish is our humour, or rather our racist-humour. It spreads from the casually racist grandfathers and grandmothers who would think nothing of their words to the destructive and hateful views held by young people who don’t fully understand the others they insult. We like to pass it off as humour, as ‘banter’ but it is very, very racist in nature.

Catholicism makes a slave of us all

You may be wondering what all this has to do with design. Well I firmly believe that it is the culture and the influences of a society that greatly determine the people who will rise to the top of their respective piles. Unfortunately the spread in Ireland is turning sour. People, and in particular designers, can only make it happen for themselves.  They can only find themselves in the world if they can manage to get themselves out of our own little-minded world. We, as a nation, put ourselves down too much. We undersell ourselves, then give our lives to work and the church, and we only reward ourselves with narrow communal sports and binge drinking in a local pub. The train that is leaving for the future? Yeah, we’ve missed that.

Philip Treacy Collection

And so I feel only the designers that get out make the best of what they have. They move to more accepting cultures, more aspirational environments like New York, Tokyo, London, Paris and Los Angeles. One such example of what I am getting at is fashion designer Philip Treacy. For those that don’t know, Philip Treacy specialises in hats. Extravagant hats. He has designed sculptural masterpieces to sit atop the heads of Lady Gaga, Sarah Jessica Parker and Princess Beatrice. 36 hats designed by him were worn at the British Royal wedding of Will and Kate last year. That’s an astonishing number when you consider how high a profile event this was. He started in Galway. He lived in a house with seven brothers and sisters and made gimmicky hats to pass the time. But at one stage he said enough was enough, packed his bags for London, sold himself as a brand and made it big.

Philip Treacy's Designs for the British Royal Wedding

To reinforce the idea of getting out, my chosen designer was Cedric D. Gibbons. An altogether unfamiliar name, no doubt. But just look at the statuette and its clear to see the impact he has made. He started in Ireland too. He lived in Dublin and moved to Los Angeles to let himself prosper. He finished his acting career with 11 Oscar wins (second only behind Walt Disney with 26) and was an original chair-member on the panel for the Academy of Motion Pictures. He designed the trophy that every actor in the world aspires to win. That is some achievement.

Oscar Statuettes

Cedric D. Gibbons Design

And my whole point is that Gibbons, like Treacy, got out. They got out of this rotting wasteland and went someplace where their talents, abilities and aspirations could flourish. And unfortunately for most of Ireland now, especially designers, we too will have to look elsewhere to make a decent hash of our lives.

Colour me Pink or else Render me Useless

The visionary impact of a solid, well executed rendering is not to be understated. A good render is what gives life to an otherwise lifeless, motionless line-drawings. It’s what sets apart the great from the mediocre; the aspiring artists from the production-lined illustrators and the heartened designers from the lacklustre doodlers. I believe in bringing that life to my images, my drawings, my Photoshop sketches or any other kind of line-work I do. And I like to believe I’m good at it (but lets not dwell on my brilliance).

Scratchboard Technique

From a young age I’ve been privy to artwork and decent decals on paintings. When travelling abroad, (think: Irish family, two kids. Where else, but sunny Spain?) my brother and I used to get these paintings done for us. Just on the side of a busy street or in a park these artists lined up along the way to craft images from spray-paint cans, canvases, knives and their own skill and ingenuity. I’m not one hundred percent sure but I think it’s called ‘scratchboard’. Anyway they were always incredible. They made these vast landscapes of trees and animals, intergalactic oddities and well-worked imaginations of the solar system and its planets. They were truly beautiful and often done only in one colour (along with black). This, at my young age, was where I learned of the brilliance of a good render.

But as time goes on and people like these artists begin to push themselves, the ideas just got bigger and better. There are great examples of sidewalk renderings spread throughout the world.  They encapsulate imagination, vision, style, colour, vibrancy and life all in one. The drawings are done on the ground in chalk. Slowly, layer by layer, the colour is built up until the pathway is covered in a sublime achievement in artwork rendering. The ones below from New Orleans and Madrid, respectively are single-view renders. The idea is that they only look perfect from one angle and distorted at any other angle. Some are beautiful and quaint, some are loud and obnoxious while others are interesting and topical. They one thing that they are not is lifeless.

Waterfall Wonderland - New Orleans

Reebok 3D Street Art

And so the natural progression from here is physical graffiti. No, not the super awesome Led Zeppelin kind, the kind you find sprayed on walls and tattooed on your idiot friend’s shoulder blades. It is an often beautiful artwork form that lends much of its influences from rendering. The importance of relaying a message, the need to vibrancy and the need to be seen (or heard) are key characteristics that the two share. However, and sadly, graffiti is much too often blamed for violence, degradation of societies and general lawlessness. It is an absolute crying shame that the incredible pieces around Limerick City (namely the Dock Road ‘wastelands’) are painted over and destroyed with a common shade of peach. Banksy on the other hand tries his (or her?) hardest to keep the fire going.


Sums It Up Beautifully

And to finish, here is our render. Not quite in the stylistic brilliance of Banksy or the excellence of the street artists, but it is a collaborative effort and yielded an incredible amount of fun.

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