Bijan Berahimi and Ruohan Wang create a T-shirt encouraging us to interact with nature
Call for Collaboration is an It’s Nice That x Dropbox Paper project connecting creatives from across the world to collaborate on fun, fully commissioned creative projects. Each month, we’ll spotlight the projects on It’s Nice That and show how Dropbox Paper helps these great ideas come to life.
In the last instalment of our Dropbox Paper Partnership, Call for Collaboration, we called upon a creative whose values and love for creativity matches It’s Nice That’s wholeheartedly: Bijan Berahimi. Originally a university project (funnily, just like It’s Nice That too), Bijan founded studio, gallery and store Fisk in 2009. Across Fisk’s work, Bijan elevates and celebrates the greatness of art and design, both digitally and physically through exhibitions. His mindset – one perfectly summed up in Fisk’s description of its work as “We do what we love and we love what we do” – has made Bijan someone we’ve longed to work with for some time. And, a project where he could call upon a new collaborator who he has dreamed of working with, seemed the perfect fit.
A master of good taste, we were thrilled when Bijan raised the possibility of working together with Beijing-born and Berlin-based Ruohan Wang, an illustrator he’s long admired and hoped would one day exhibit at Fisk’s space in Portland. “I’m drawn to her work for many reasons,” Bijan tells us of his want to work with her. “First, every time I scroll her Instagram, it makes me happy,” a sentiment we definitely agree with. “Ruohan’s work is raw, bright and beautiful. It’s both abstract and figurative. It’s fresh and contemporary but still pays homage to the history of illustration and printmaking that came before her,” he continues. “I love when artists aren’t afraid to use colour in their work and have a sense of humour. Ruohan is no doubt blurring the lines between what art and design are, which is something I’m also very interested in.”
Ruohan is understandably a fan of Bijan’s too, noting how she looked forward to this opportunity to “give visual advice” to one another, and so the pair got to work creating a T-shirt which will be available at our December edition of Nicer Tuesdays. Considering the main visual components of Ruohan’s work is illustration and Bijan’s typography, both agreed it was a natural collaboration and therefore they should respectively look after these components. Describing this as a relatively straightforward process which grew as the pair reacted to one another’s work, Ruohan adds: “We developed elements from two parts with different ideas using my illustration and Bijan’s typography. Then we put them all together and looked and talked about which one would nail the total energy for our theme.”
With this in mind, the pair began by thinking up possible concepts for their design, starting with the obvious. For example, the final T-shirt design would be released close to Christmas, so maybe something involving trees could be a good idea, “but surreal trees rather than cliché Christmas,” of course.
This then led them to look further into trees, their symbolic and vital importance to us, wonderfully described by the pair as “the closest friend humans have in nature”. Illustrations of trees and surrounding relatable elements then became a focus for Ruohan, sketching out rough environments in her signature shapely style. Uploaded to Dropbox Paper, Bijan was then able to get a sense of how these shapes may develop, to then be complimented by his typographic choices.
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Commenting on this collaborative process Bijan adds: “The process was excellent. It was cool to see that we have mutual processes when thinking of concepts,” he tells us. “We were both interested in creating something surreal, that blurs the lines of real and fake; absurd and serious. On that level, we connected quickly.” Both being on the same level allowed the literal process of collaboration to flow naturally too, with Bijan adding it “was quite easy as we agreed who would handle which aspect of the artwork. Fisk designed the typography and Ruohan made the illustration. There was room for collaboration within that approach.”
The surreal element Bijan references is a pun-like slogan the pair dreamed up, one that would fit around Ruohan’s drawings highlighting the importance of trees, represented with a phone line call to action. This directly and succinctly describes the pair’s final concept of “spending time in nature and appreciating it,” Bijan elaborates. “Nowadays, we spend a lot of time on our phones and computers, but sometimes we need to call on nature for a true connection. It’s a sentiment Ruohan and I feel strongly about.” Finally, they settled on a statement referencing humans’ relationship with nature (and dogs!) as a focus point from which the visuals could develop.
With this decided upon and outlines of Ruohan’s final drawings sketched out, the illustrator handed over the digital files for Bijan to visually complement with typography. It was here that communicating over Dropbox Paper was particularly helpful for Ruohan, as several decisions needed to be made about colour and composition. “I think working with this platform for a collaboration helps with time, struggles, improvements and decisions,” she tells us. “It integrates many functions for developing an efficient collaboration, which is also an impressive review for recording learnings at the end.” While Bijan adds: “Overall, the platform feels really playful. It is a great container to share references, text, images and even working files. For this project, it brought a level of organisation to something that would have normally been difficult to achieve, especially when working with someone who lives so far away!”
Speaking back and forth over Dropbox Paper consistently at this stage, Bijan and Ruohan collaborated on final decisions for the T-shirt’s design. One key component here was Bijan removing the box Ruohan had surrounded her drawings with, allowing for more interaction with the typographic elements. “After seeing Bijan’s idea for the typography on a T-shirt, we decided not to use illustrations in a limited frame so that the illustration could have more flexibility and possibility with Bijan’s typography,” Ruohan elaborates. This led the illustrator to rework some of her initial drawings, creating several single spots which were tried out in a different layout on the T-shirt.
At this stage, Bijan then began pulling from his mishmash of typographic and layout inspirations to settle on a final design. With a unique eye on creativity, it comes as no surprise that Bijan’s references were vast, citing everything from the logos adorning the back of The Halal Guys uniform in New York, the way illustration and typography are combined in Ram Dass’ book Be Here Now, and even the way Buckminster Fuller, Maurice Sendak and Dr.Seuss “play with nature in a magical way.”
These references then informed variants of typographic logos representing Ruohan and Bijan’s idea, with Ruohan feeding back on elements she felt would best match her illustrative concepts. Eventually the pair settled on a recently featured font on It’s Nice That, Leah Maldonado’s Glyphworld. Made up of six different weights, it was a perfect fit for the concept at hand as “each one is based on a natural landscape,” Bijan explains. Once a yellow colour palette was also added, and the placing of both their creations well thought out – they even considered how people may tuck their T-shirts into their belts too – the final design was decided upon.
The now printed T-shirt jumps between Ruohan and Bijan’s contributions, complementing each other through shape and colour. Viewing it from the front, it’s just Ruohan’s work you’ll see – a leaning tree as well as a figure walking its dog. Turn around, however, and it’s Bijan’s use of Leah’s typography which shines, displaying the final brilliantly absurd slogan the pair decided upon of: “Department of Human, Tree and Dog Relationships. ‘Getting You Outside Here and Now’. 1-800-DOG-TREE. Offices in Portland and Berlin.”
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Now completed after countless discussions over details and consistent creative chat, Bijan hopes audiences who will receive the T-shirt at Nicer Tuesdays this evening leave a little confused. “I can see people reacting in two totally different ways,” he tells us. “I imagine some people will think it’s a real company or department, and then they will be confused and not understand what’s going on. Some people may immediately see the humour in the T-shirt, and then maybe do a second read and understand the deeper/heavier concept of the language.” Whereas Ruohan hopes audience engage with the “solid work” put in both herself and Bijan, “and feel the meaning of the slogan and images we developed, and wear it by going out to nature.”
Ruohan suggests wearing it with “blue jeans, green or white pants and a jacket,” whereas Bijan just hopes they’ve created a T-shirt to be worn by anyone. “It definitely has a colloquial kind of vibe that can be appreciated by a wide variety of people,” he concludes.
About the Author
Lucy joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In October 2016 she became a staff writer on the editorial team and in January 2019 was made It’s Nice That’s deputy editor. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about new and upcoming creative projects or editorial ideas for the site.