On Process

THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVE BEEN PAYING ATTENTION will have noticed that I am building in my Pinterest profile a series of boards full of pins containing reference images of stock decorative elements. The main board (the oldest one) is called Art Lessons. One of the more recent boards is Art Elements:

Many of the elements I’ve pinned there are oriented toward the design of ceramic tiles, about which I know a little (very little), having designed one.

In the fall of 2003, Sting’s Sacred Love album was released. And shortly thereafter, preparations began for a tour in support of the record. When long time Sting associate and tour manager Billy Francis contacted me to begin design work on the passes for the tour, he told me that Sting had played with a lot of diverse influences from around the world and wanted, as a theme, some Islamic influences. I immediately thought (though I didn’t say it then) of the line from Al Stewart’s “Year of the Cat”: By the blue-tiled wall near the market stalls/There’s a hidden door she leads you to./’These days,’ she says, ‘I feel my life/Just like a river running through/The Year of the Cat. The key point there being the “blue-tiled” bit. Moroccan tiles are famously blue. And intricate. And of wonderful workmanship. I don’t remember which one of us zeroed in on the ceramic tile design, but whoever it was, that became one of my focuses.

First, I found an image to be used as a reference. The image I found was perfect. It represented perfectly the tile I felt we were looking for. The only problem, as I remember it, was that the image was a photograph taken at an angle and the design wasn’t perfectly square and true, which meant, if I followed it exactly, my design would be all wibberty-jobberty. Not on. So I had to use it literally as a reference and NOT as a pattern. I had to figure out the size and proportions and the intervals, angles, and repeats geometrically. It wasn’t hard, but it was tedious.

Somewhere along in the process, I received in FedEx a DVD of photographs of Sting. The images were from a photographer (who works with Sting a lot) and had been heavily processed for use in the CD packaging for the Sacred Love album. Billy and I talked through ideas for the various pictures — this one to be used for the satin passes, that one for laminates, the third for signage and so-forth. We’ll do some post processing on one of them for the second leg and specials. (That may not have been the run of the actual conversations, but that’s how the process generally worked.) In the lot was a picture of Sting, barefoot, sitting on the floor with his back against a wall. The wall was in heavy shadow (The picture may appear in the CD package — I don’t recall.) I conceived the idea — harkening back to the “Year of the Cat” quote, of making a wall out of the tiles I was building — tilting them in perspective — and masking the figure of Sting to “float” above them so it looked like the wall he was leaning against was made of these beautiful Moroccan tiles of blue, white, and gold. Similar treatments in monochrome for the satin passes. (At the time we were still printing satin passes offset, not digitally, and so couldn’t print full-color except at great cost. Laminates were digital and so full-color, as well as being higher-value, so worthwhile doing something special (more on that in a bit).)

I worked the eventual pattern of the tile in CorelDRAW — giving myself the leeway to work the geometry in a vector application, which provided greater sharpness and precision to the design. Then I saved it out to Illustrator format which could be exchanged with Photoshop, where I had the ability to overlay color and lighting effects.

A fully-realized copy of the design, called startile with grout.

Although the image looks natural — and does more so in a smaller format and in perspective — it is wholly artificial. The geometric patterns are flat black-and-white. Each has an added color overlay and various shadowing and embossing or debossing to add the third dimension The white border is the “grout” to ensure that, in a step-and-repeat wallpaper pattern, there is a space between the tiles.

And, the “finished” product. Well, not completely. This is the base art, without type — which is added in CorelDRAW just before making up for printing. And I faked it. This isn’t the “real” image, but one I reproduced from memory. And, on the top-level laminate, issued to the inner circle of band, crew, staff, and management, the Sting logo script was stamped in gold leaf. I wish I could show the process of masking the image of Sting, and adding the shadow, but I no longer have access to those images, as they are the property of my former employer. Although, if you do a Google image search on Sting Sacred Love laminate, you’ll see a lot of other designs I did for this tour and other ones. (I never got the Sacred Love laminates onto my Pinterest board and, for some reason I can’t fathom, Otto has stopped displaying passes on their Web site. (CB: If you read this, can you shed some light on that?)

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