Onomatopee is a visual exploration of sound through interwoven typography and illustration

This delightful book by graphic designer Broos Stoffels and illustrator Lukas Verstraete brings noises to the printed page in unexpected ways.

Date
31 March 2021

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Belgian creatives Broos Stoffels and Lukas Verstraete met while studying at Luca School of Arts in Ghent, and have since firmly established their own successful practices, in graphic design and illustration respectively, while always trying to work together. For instance, in 2017, Broos designed type for Lukas’ graphic novel Een Boek Waarmee Men Vrienden Maakt (A Book to Make Friends With). The two have collaborated on commissioned book covers and workshops too, but it wasn’t until 2019 that their first partner project – Onomatopee – finally happened. They were invited to give a talk about their work on Lukas’ graphic novel at Antwerp graphic arts festival Grafixx, on the theme of typography in illustration, but “felt this project was too light to talk about for an hour,” Broos says. So instead challenged themselves to create an entirely new project – this became Onomatopee, a book that explores how sound can be visualised.

“We are both interested in language,” Broos tells It’s Nice That. “How words look, communicate and even sound fascinates us. This led us to the theme of onomatopoeia, the translation of sound in language.” The project started as a “visual game” over the course of two weeks. Each night brought a new game, and each game led to a new chapter in the book. Rather than simply choosing onomatopoeic words to design, their experimental approach saw the two creatives ask three questions: how can sound be visualised if expressed through different characters in different situations? How can onomatopoeia be designed as superlatives? And, how can we interpret onomatopoeia from foreign languages, or undefined sounds?

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Broos Stoffels and Lukas Verstraete: Onomatopee (Copyright © Broos Stoffels and Lukas Verstraete, 2021)

At the start of each game, Broos and Lukas would set out the rules. For the first, Aap Noot Mies, they wanted to create a database of images and sounds. “We created a grid in which one of us illustrated some sounds on paper and the other one wrote down some sounds on another page with the same grid. We overlapped them and let chance define the final image. In this way we combined “haha” with two fucking dogs or “pang” with a cracking egg.”

For the next games, each designer stuck to their own discipline. At the end of each day, they would assemble the designs and combine them. “Along the way we intentionally didn’t look at each other’s work so as not to influence each other,” Broos says. “One day our designs overlapped each other in two different colours (Overlap); the next day we each worked in a designated area of a poster. (In uw kot). For the ‘overtreffende trap’ exercise we decided to let the frame grow according to the expressed sound. Each night our faith in each other’s process grew and after a couple of games we decided to limit ourselves to one character or typeface (Mondomatopee) or one colour (Sonomatopee).”

The result is a truly distinctive response to how sounds can be communicated on the printed page, through bizarre, funny and satisfyingly apt character vignettes, and evocative typography that seems to perfectly encapsulate the sound it spells out. The collaborative artworks were presented at Grafixx extd. #3 and later, luckily for us, published in this book.

GalleryBroos Stoffels and Lukas Verstraete: Onomatopee (Copyright © Broos Stoffels and Lukas Verstraete, 2021)

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Visual game in progress

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In progress sketch

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About the Author

Jenny Brewer

After five years as It’s Nice That’s news editor, Jenny became online editor in June 2021, now overseeing the website’s daily editorial output. Contact her with stories, pitches and tips relating to the creative industries on jb@itsnicethat.com.

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