Using Artwork in Design, Part II. When free doesn't mean cheap | WebReference

Using Artwork in Design, Part II. When free doesn't mean cheap

  When free doesn't mean cheap

There is one interesting artwork option which is both affordable and attractive: you can use in your design a drawing, painting, or engraving that is more than a century old.  Such works are all royalty free because their copyright has expired, and their genuinely classic feel and sense of history may (and even tend to) become the core motif of your composition.

We don't need to travel far looking for an example.  My own Design Lab's logo uses the famous "Hands" drawing by Leonardo Da Vinci, and it gives me a good opportunity to discuss some aspects of the "classical borrowings" technique.


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  First of all, why this image?  Not only because of the name's fame, although I do feel great admiration for this particular personality who managed to combine artistic talent with a sense for scientific exploration - these are the qualities I'm myself trying to marry in my articles.  The image also has some purely visual merits - sketchy and unfinished, it is therefore much easier to embed into my composition than a completed work.  (To be precise, I used a combination of embedding and displaying methods, as the image melts into the background on the left, but has a crisp rectangular edge on the right.)  The fact that, as a pencil drawing on old sallow paper, it was nearly monochromatic, was also beneficial as it allowed me to keep the color range of the composition to a necessary minimum.

It is also possible to dig a bit under the surface by putting this particular case of artwork borrowing into a wider context.  One could notice that among the artwork styles most often used in modern design, there are Renaissance drawings, medieval engravings, or 20th-century expressive paintings, but the lacquered romanticism occupying much of the 19th century is definitely out of favor.

For me, this is a clear parallel to the humanization trend in modern fontography and the disfavor of New Antiqua fonts by designers.  Those with broader erudition could perhaps find further analogies in other arts, such as the neoclassicism in 20th century music, with its lucidity and self-restraint opposing to the Wagnerian exaggerations of 19th century romantic music.

As you can see from this example, when searching through the piles of classical heritage, it does help to know some history of arts - the latter word standing for the entire palette of arts rather than just visual variety.  You don't have to always coordinate the period and style of artwork and fonts used with the topic of the composition, but if you introduce an anachronism, you should be fully aware of this fact and make it obvious that it was made on purpose and not by a mistake.


Created: Jan. 13, 1999
Revised: Jan. 13, 1999