For Amsterdam-based artist and illustrator Karan Singh and New York-based graphic designer Zuzanna Rogatty, November isn’t just for the beginning of colder days and the countdown to Christmas; it’s a month of celebration. Collaborating over Dropbox Paper for the next instalment of our monthly poster series, Karan and Zuzanna explored the festivities that accompany the evening of 5 November – better known to most of us as bonfire night, that wonderful thing where fireworks are lit and crowds gather to marvel at it all for just a few minutes.
Prior to the project, Karan had been drawn to Zuzanna’s work for its forms “so full of character”, particularly within her typographic work where the designer transforms any old letterform into a fluid, bold vector of wonder. With Zuzanna an equal fan of Karan’s brightly composed patterned work, the pair set to work interpreting the month in an A4 poster to be given away for free at November’s Nicer Tuesdays.
Karan kicked off proceedings over on the pair’s Dropbox Paper thread, pointing out upcoming dates held in November. Guy Fawkes on 5 November was an obvious option, but the pair also picked up on several other dates less known to take to place in the second to last month of the year. For instance X-Ray day on 8 November, 15 November’s Clean Your Fridge Out Day (who knew!?) and Start Your Own Country Day on 22 November. However as Karan drew up a quick illustration of how the 5 November themed poster could look, the most universally known date of the bunch was decided on, with Zuzanna adding that the concept is ideal for their styles.
Settling on the word Boom as an apt term to attach and interpret in relation to 5 November, Zuzanna then began preparing typographic composition sketches around the word. Spacing out letters in a looping calligraphic form, Zuzanna explained the typography could be extra bold in order to add space, “which will give us a lot of space inside the letters to play with colours and your beautiful patterns,” she wrote to Karan.
Zuzanna’s initial sketches, which were drafted on paper before being vectorised, first look like a fluid squiggle, before your eyes focus and the world ‘Boom’ appears. Karan, enthused by her first attempts at the poster, began to spin ideas out of how dynamic these initial drafts were, commenting, “These are so freaking cool” and choosing a particular iteration of hers because of the “connection between the ‘B’ and the first ‘O’”. Zuzanna agreed, adding the choice was “the most dynamic and corresponding to our idea” of displaying the feel of 5 November abstractly, while infusing their separate styles together.
At this stage, Zuzanna returned to fully work out the chosen pattern into a bolder and possibly more legible illustration of ‘Boom’, while Karan began working on colour explorations to apply.
To visualise how his patterns would wrap around Zuzanna’s typographic forms, Karan began applying a spotted pattern to a circular object. Testing a colour palette of pastel pinks, bold reds, a darker blue and a warm darkened golden yellow, Karan then decided to stop there, explaining that a restrictive colour palette was maybe best, and “might be really nice to tie in all the different styles”.
Zuzanna agreed with Karan taking a step back from making the colour palette too bold, picking up on how “there will be a lot going on in the poster, so it’s good to have one restriction which will glue it all together like you said.” Also encouraging Karan to edge towards using the warmer golden colour palette, agreeing with the illustrator’s point that it would appear to be clearly “inspired by the subject of fire," but not too literally.
It was at this point that Zuzanna and Karan utilised the commenting facilities on the Dropbox Paper thread, settling on final ideas by selecting one iteration the other had developed and highlighting how they could push it further. “I found the platform really simple to use,” says Karan. "I especially liked the ability to make comments directly onto specific parts of images. This made receiving and sharing feedback more intuitive and allowed the creative process to flow pretty smoothly!” Whereas for the graphic designer, “There’s nothing more annoying than information and files scattered all around different emails, chats, folders…” adds Zuzanna.
With a colour palette and letterform decided on, both creatives retreated back to their own separate practices, working off each other’s feedback to enable the poster to reach the next creative step. Zuzanna expanded her work by flipping the ‘Boom’ lettering at an angle so it would lie diagonally across the A4 frame of the poster, filling it corner to corner. Karan particularly loved this addition and creative way of morphing their initial joint idea to suit the brief at hand. “It feels contained to the format of the poster, almost as if the form of the type is responding to the dimensions.”
Being able to see Zuzanna work in this way over the Dropbox Paper document was a particular highlight for Karan during the project, especially as she was a designer he was keen to work with from the get-go. “I’d say the highlight was getting to work with Zuzanna and seeing how another artist approaches their practice,” he explains. “It’s always nice to collaborate with someone whose work you respect and gets you to challenge your own ideas and habits.”
With Zuzanna’s form then filling the frame of the poster, Karan got to work applying his colour palette to her typographic “loopy” design. The illustrator began by filling Zuzanna’s frame with just one colour option, first blue and then red, before experimenting with pattern.
When applying the pattern Karan wanted to use it carefully, not just adding decoration but utilising the medium to break up letters “so they felt like abstract shapes,” he explained to Zuzanna. The illustrator then added one particularly bold element, a stick of dynamite, to sit between the letters of ‘Boom’, appearing as if wrapped around it.
An off-the-cuff addition applied just as Zuzanna’s typographic form allowed room for it, the stick of dynamite turned out to be the ideal motif missing from the poster. Amused by Karan’s addition to the poster, Zuzanna suggested he could push its appearance within the frame by adding a delicate pattern, as in its current form it maybe appeared “plain, maybe too static."
As textured patterns and depth began to be added to Karan’s dynamite illustration, the pair’s poster started to come together in its final iteration. Zuzanna’s typographic experiments became rich with a lick of paint from Karan and the designer even chipped back in to add a touch of pink just at the last minute to "warm it up a bit.”
On reflection, now that their poster is illustrated, patterned and printed, Zuzanna’s personal highlight was seeing Karan work his patterns into the poster saying how it “magically changed from being flat to lively, vibrant and an exceptional piece,” finally describing the poster as filling their objective to make something “bold, crazy, wild and weird”.
Whereas for Karan, the poster’s final design appeals to him for its ability to “skirt the line between being literal and abstract at the same time” and also in being a poster that "slowly reveals itself the longer you look at it.”