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Partnership / Dropbox: Call for Collaboration

María Medem and Élise Rigollet create a calendar filled with zodiac signs and great designs

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.

As the year speedily draws to a close and we begin to reach 2020, this instalment of our Dropbox Paper partnership began with Spanish illustrator María Medem dreaming of making a calendar to flick through in the year ahead.

Never before making a calendar – “which is why I was very happy to have the opportunity to work on one!” – the illustrator was in need of a graphic designer, one who could tie her works to the days noted as each month passes. Opening up the brief to It’s Nice That’s audience, designer Élise Rigollet caught the illustrator’s eye as a possible collaborator.

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It turns out that María has actually been a distant fan of Élise’s graphic design-focused work for some time. “I followed her on Instagram, but somehow I didn’t realise she had submitted to this, so it was a very nice surprise,” María tells us of the beginnings of their partnership. “I loved her work the first time I saw it,” she says. “I think she has a great sensibility, I love her compositions and how she uses colour and typography. It’s very special.”

Élise, a designer based in Paris, was initially drawn to the medium as it “allowed me to do a bit of everything, such as image-making, editorial design, typography, creating content and self-publish, but also work with creatives.” With this being a driving initiative behind Élise’s work, it seems these two were always destined to work together in some capacity.

The designer’s own love for María’s work stems back so far that it’s actually difficult for Élise to remember the exact moment she came across it. “I think I randomly stumbled upon her work on Instagram (as you do), or maybe it was when I saw her book Échos,” she recalls. “I was immediately attracted to her Risograph prints, and how contemplative and soothing her images feel, with her use of ‘white space’ and minimal colour palette.”

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Now put together after admiring one another from afar, María and Élise began their collaboration by sharing references and research into possible formats for their calendar. Rather than a poster or zine, the creation of a calendar poses a much more complicated design challenge. For instance, how will the days be displayed? Do the illustrations reflect the month or just a season? How should it be bound? Should it even bound? “There were tonnes of things to explore,” adds María.

However Élise, handily, had already made a calendar a few years ago as a personal project with friends, continuing to make them yearly since. “It was something we started in school as a fun way to use the Risograph printer we had access to. It somehow became a tradition, so I kind of knew where to start for the project with María.”

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By sharing suggestions of other’s works, these questions quickly became answered for the pair. Discussing details – such as the joy of an advent calendar and its chocolate boxes, to the touch a spiral bind adds to an object – a structure was decided upon. This decision was made as the pair expanded their horizons of what a calendar could be, looking into areas which were “uncommon ways to represent time and the seasons”. Finding new age-like representations of time passing, the pair decided on a cyclical version of a calendar. “We read about different ways of studying the cycle of seasons, such as the Wheel of the Year, which gave us a lot of inspiration,” explains María.

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Settling on a semicircle design by Élise, each month in the designed structure not only references the days passing, but a second circle displays the astrological signs attached to each month, the moon’s cycle, and features details such as meteor showers to look out for, summer solstice and the lunar eclipse.

For María, it was also this initial conversation that was a particular favourite, as it allowed the pair to easily find “a universe we were comfortable with,” she says. "It was very nice to see how the calendar was fluidly taking shape.” The next step, and one we loved to see play out on their Dropbox Paper thread, was deciding what colour palette would be featured in the calendar.

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Looking into full rainbow-like colour spectrums, the colours decided upon are purposefully vast, but always bright. These colours were also dependent on what was possible when the calendar would be Risograph printed, as well as what seasons they would be attached to. Discussing these decisions, María began mixing combinations such as brown, yellow and pink, but also pairing this palette with certain blues, used to reference elements like snow in the winter months.

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With so many decisions to be made before more thorough design and illustration work could begin, it was via Dropbox Paper that María and Élise were easily able to ping ideas and thought starters to one another. For Élise, working with the platform was particularly helpful due to “how shared folders are presented, with an overview of what’s inside,” she describes. “It makes organisation more efficient, especially when working with so many layers and steps.”

Whereas for María, it was the ability for the pair to so easily communicate that she found most useful. “We could talk, share references and files on the same document, so that simplifies the process a lot,” she says. “I found it a very useful way of communicating for teamwork, especially for projects that imply a constant exchange of impressions, corrections and files.” Élise adds that it was communicating with María that she liked most too: “I also enjoyed talking about daily life, like when María had to take her dog on a walk. Those little moments made collaborating online and over long distance feel really friendly.”

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But now with this long list of decisions made, María and Élise began getting to work on their individual areas of the calendar’s creation. For María, this began by taking the unlikely inspiration of medieval paintings – littered with hidden characters and little miniatures – and using their humour and detail in her own style. Considering Élise’s design elements would nod to the astrological signs, María’s drawings feature her own interpretations of each zodiac symbol.

However it was during this part of the process that the decisions around what colour palette would come into play needed constant discussion as they began to be added to designs. “It was fun, but also challenging, to choose the colours,” points out María. “As it’s going to be Risograph printed there’s a limited palette, and it’s always difficult to discard colours, and choose the ones you really, really like.” Yet in the end, as Élise recalls, it was their initial idea to make the calendar joyfully bright which led to their final decision making. “Choosing the colours was also super fun, and I hope people love how bright it is.” Admitting that, of course, it’s a difficult choice to make as “creating calendars is always a bit challenging because you have to make people love it enough to look at it for 12 months!”

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In the end, the duo’s choices are a surprising mix, but when added to their collaborative design work perfectly to reflect the feeling of each season. For instance, summer is represented with a bright yellow sitting next to a fluro green and purple. Winter, on the other hand, uses yellow, aqua and a fluro pink. Sitting between is autumn, which uses yellow, aqua and a more earth-like burgundy, and finally spring introduces a more minty green, alongside yellow and fluro pink. Some months, dependent on how the pair felt, use a mix of combinations, with María creating several colour combinations on her drawings for Élise to feedback on.

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However when nearing the final stages of the project, Élise and María had to make some last-minute changes to the project’s physical outcome, due to a few production issues. At this stage, María added a panelled doorway element and some extra drawings, which, despite being a quick addition, added another level to its final outcome. “It has been full of last-minute changes… But, the interesting thing about forced changes is that the calendar looks nicer than our initial idea,” explains María. “Something like that would have never occurred to us without this problem, and I think that the doors now are a very important part of the calendar.” Élise adds: “Although the final object isn’t the same, these added images created a new visual story throughout the months, and that was a pretty cool turning point.”

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With this mishap cleverly avoided – and improved – their final calendar design was finished and whisked over to Hato Press for printing. The final result is something to behold in its thoughtfulness by Élise, and personality-filled illustrations by María. Both components show an overwhelming amount of attention to detail, and when looking through the calendar, viewers will be able to tell how well this pair got on, both in creative sensibility and personally.

With both still at this stage waiting to get their hands on the final printed version, for Élise it’s holding the product of their hard work that she’s looking forward to most. “I’m super excited to see the printed version of the calendar.” Whereas for María, the final result “hasn’t turned out how I initially imagined, but better I would say.” Overall hoping that the audience like and use the calendar, “and that they won’t miss any of the meteorite showers and eclipses because they’re all indicated!”

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