Internationally recognized for her creative, elaborate letterforms and decorative graphic design, Canada’s Marian Bantjes has published her second hard-cover book, a monograph called Pretty Pictures.
With prairie roots from her hometown of Saskatoon, Bantjes career in type and design flourished in Vancouver, where she worked for a decade as a book typesetter (1983-93) followed by founding and running the graphic design firm Digitopolis (1993-2003). In 2003, located on Bowen Island, off the coast just north of Vancouver, Bantjes left the commercial graphic design world to embrace more personal visual design work, and in the process has cultivated an international following for her detailed, intelligent, organic and ornamental designs that have been featured in publications and environments around the world.
Bantjes’ published her first book, the visually-rich I Wonder in 2010. It was a collection of personal musings and original illustrations linking the concepts of Wonder, Honour and Memory with the visual world. Her new tome is a true monograph. Pretty Pictures, is a chronological retrospective briefly touching on her early career and primarily focusing on her more personal work over the last decade. The 272-page hard cover is packed with some 800 colour illustrations including early sketches and rejected concepts of her projects. The text accompanying the art offers candid commentary on her thoughts and methods.
Pretty Pictures was released in North America and Europe on September 30th. Designedge Canada caught up with Bantjes via e-mail
conversation while she was in Europe just days prior to its release:
How would you describe what appears to be your love affair with typography? Can you point to a trigger that started you on this career track?
I’m afraid there was no defining moment, but a growing affinity for it while working with type as a typesetter, sometime between 1985 and 1990, I would say. And while some people truly do love it, my interest in typography waxes and wanes. Currently my interest is at an ebb, and I tend to take it for granted: type and typefaces, that is. Even with lettering, my interest has turned from custom form to complex systems, where it is the systems that interest me more than the form.
How did a decade of book typesetting (1983-93) influence all that you do today?
It gave me structure, a respect for hierarchy and a very good knowledge in how to work “correctly” with typography. I can be very judgemental about other people on these points.
What is your goal with this book [Pretty Pictures]?
Pretty Pictures is, in a sense, a replacement for myself. I wanted it to tell all the stories and anecdotes about my work that I have spoken about publicly for the past seven years. I wanted it to answer all the questions about process and ideas, and at the same time give a complete overview of my career from 2003 to present. It’s like a giant epitaph. If I die, it’s all there: the good and the bad.
Your first book, I Wonder, was decorated with so much gold, it was rich, lush, sensual, how is this presentation different, and why?
These are two completely different books. I Wonder had a point to make about the role of wonder and ornament in communication. It
sets out not just to relate a point of view about how image and text work together to form a greater whole, but to prove it by doing it. It is a complete work unto itself—everything was made for the book. There is no past work, and no reference to my work at all. It simply is a piece of my work. Pretty Pictures is 100% about my work. Only a couple of initial capitals and the cover were made specifically for the book; everything else was created before for some other purpose. Because the work already shows itself it would be unnecessary and superfluous to add anything else. The work already speaks; it doesn’t need further embellishment to say more.
I’ve heard you call yourself a conservative typesetter, yet many of your designs might be called typographically adventurous, even challenging. How do you reconcile that?
When I talk about typesetting I am referring to how I work with large bodies of text, not my custom lettering. You need only to look at how I typeset Pretty Pictures to see that it is conservative, structured and consistent.
What did you discover about the evolution of your work in this retrospective?
I was surprised by how much work I have done. I swung between feeling that it all looked amateurish and finding things that were more brilliant than anything I’ve done since. It’s difficult to reconcile these two feelings.
How does your graphic design solve problems for clients, or does it? Is problem solving the point of communication design, or at the end of the day, is it really about Pretty Pictures?
I am not interested in problem-solving. I’m not that kind of designer. I’m interested in creating genuine interest and curiosity, and providing pure visual pleasure. This is beneficial to a client on many levels and may solve a problem they have in grabbing attention, but ultimately I’m far more interested in contributing to a public visual landscape, to reaching the imaginations of as many people as
possible, and hopefully creating something that becomes part of a cultural fabric. This is a bigger, more long-term picture than a
relationship between myself and a client or a client and their audience for some specific occasion or need.
Clearly it’s your dry wit coming out when you refer to your decades of work as Pretty Pictures. Do you ever see your work as ‘pretty,’ or does it always carry a much deeper meaning for you?
Yes, the title is tonge-in-cheek. My work is pretty, but on the other hand I avoid at all costs making it “just pretty”. In this I prefer to mix styles and references, to bury hidden meaning, to tease with obscurity, and to surprise as much as possible. I want people to look twice and to contemplate. But at the same time I think there is nothing wrong with being pretty. I would much prefer that than be ugly, boring, mundane or invisible.