life’s a beach

by Art Chantry (

it’s monday. it’s august. it’s bloody hot outside. the news cycle is full of extremely idiotic crap. everybody is broke and feeling it. it’s the dog days. we all need a break and we’re not gonna get it.

so, to lighten the load a tad, today i’m posting something that my friend, jill bell (that extraordinary lettering artist), sent me a while back. she sends me her newsletter (always a hoot) and occasionally she also sends me weird little items that she thinks is funny (and usually is… very). she has great taste in the odd and the ironic.

AC:i thought that raygun was pretty much david sorta copycatting what he did in beach culture. it's alike all his great work had already been done and he just drifted into self-parody in raygun. i never liked it. at times i even really hated it. and sadly, that is the david carson work that is remembered to this day by the hipster death squads.. but beach culture was so incredibly brilliant. it changed everything. superb thinking. wonderful ground breaking work....

this apparently is a card that was handed to a friend of hers – by steve martin (the famous art collector). apparently, this steve martin guy is also a very funny and charming man as well. when people (art fans, i guess) ask for his autograph, he hands them this little card, then signs it.

this reminds me of that (in)famous self-referential letterhead that robert brownjohn designed for the photographer, a guy who wasn’t ‘known’ and thought that having the (in)famous robert brownjohn design his letterhead would make him famous, too.

so, brownjohn used 36 point type to fill over half the page with the sentence, “robert brownjohn designed this letterhead for “______”, the famous photographer” (i forget the photographer’s name, so i just left it blank.) it made the photographer (in)famous and solved the designer’s problem (and the photographer’s) nicely. ya see, brownjohn had what you call “wit” and was able to incorporate that attribute into his work on a regular basis. that’s why he’s remembered today.

i love clever letterhead. most letterhead stinks. it’s strictly informative and (in all honesty) that’s the way it should be. – strictly information, no cutesy bullshit. but, occasionally, you get a client that desires (and needs) a clever letterhead. that’s when you really find yourself tested.

one of the really great letterheads i’ve encountered was by david carson. he made a career out of trying to break rules – intentionally. he once told me he had a stupid list he found somewhere – a classroom handout or something. it was a list titled “THE RULES OF GRAPHIC DESIGN”. items on that list included things like, ‘never mix typefaces.’ and, ‘never use all capital letters.” things like that. he hung it on the wall and used it as his ‘anti-guide’. he tried to break as many of those rules as he possibly could on every project he started. it seemed to work for him.

in the mid 80′s, he and i had a correspondence. he was working on his breakthrough publication called ‘Beach Culture” magazine. it was where he really exploded his thinking and made huge dented strides into contemporary design thought. he basically busted everything wide open and we’ve never really been the same since. that magazine was that important and it only lasted 6 issues! wham!

anyway, we had this little letter-writing thing going. we’d ask each other questions and encourage and express admiration for each other

l that crap. actually, i think he was trying to hustle me into doing something for free for his magazine (but i held back). it seems he was a fan of the rocket and even did a page in beach culture that he called his “art chantry page”. eventually he sent me a slide of it and retired it from his portfolio. i thought that was pretty funny.

the letterhead he used was breathtakingly wrong headed – one of the most fucked up letterheads i’ve ever seen. and it was so simple that it boggled my design lizard brain. it still does.

he simply set the type for the name/address/phone, etc. into a crudely letterspaced square unit – a “block” of type. some of it was red and some of it was black. then he plopped it into the very center of the piece of paper. think about that for a minute. the address block was sitting in the middle of the page. that is so fucked up!

i mean, he had to write over the top of his address info every time he wrote a letter. or typed a letter. or anything. it was always in the way. when he wrote over it, everything turned to chaos. you couldn’t read any of it. it was so completely wrong and stupid and annoying that it drove you crazy to the point of distraction every time you saw it. it’s still maybe my very favorite letterhead i’ve ever seen. it was brilliant. david carson was the first truly great anti-graphic designer of the modern era. a real punk.

all i can say is, “i wish i’d thought of that.”

AC:i save every business card i’ve ever been handed. i have boxes of them. it’s sorta cool to look through them and find a history of business cad design over the last few decades. it’s a sort of contemporary design history in a nutshell. lotsa good stuff, mostly awful stuff.

right now we’re in a really decorative (aka “make it look cool”) and really ignorant and stupid design phase. it’s sort of the hallmark stylings of this period in design history. well-executed bad work.


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