Graphic designers, in my experience, are like jazz musicians—meaning, often times, they riff on the themes and ideas of others. I don’t mean we steal ideas, I mean we are influenced by the existing body of work we experience and use little hints and wisps of that work to express our own ideas in new ways.
For a designer, one source of such influences is ephemera: collected print materials that were originally intended to be of use for only a short time—packaging, mailpieces, labels, publications, signage, objects, tickets, and so on—that represent different ways of communicating through the use of images, type, color, shape, and layout.
In the last week or so I’ve been poring over the latest volume of Janine Vangool’s UPPERCASE Encyclopedia of Inspiration: Ephemera, Forever, Always & Now. As she describes it, The UPPERCASE Encyclopedia of Inspiration is a multi-volume set of books, “Released in whimsical non-alphabetical order on all manner of inspirational topics”—Ephemera, Forever, Always & Now is the fifth.
It is a compilation of the greatest hits from the ephemera collections of 30 creatives—for the most part, examples from the pre-1950s. Why create a record of that which is not meant to be remembered? Because much of it is memorable, nostalgic, and beautiful—it tells stories of how people saw their world at a particular place and time, and/or how they wanted others to see it. Each collector has their own motives.
For example, Fabien Barral (mr-cup.com) uses his collection of imagery and elaborately illustrated documents for designing modern-day packaging, identity, and products such as calendars and playing cards.
Cathe Holden (inspiredbarn.com) uses bits and pieces of her collection to create, among other things, “assemblage art”, stencils, and as inspiration for apparel…
And Louise Fili (louisefili.com) explains, “I design graphics for restaurants and food packaging and the ephemera is always close at hand for inspiration.”
So, why buy?
First, of course, is for purposes of inspiration. Among its 448-pages you’ll find plenty of grist for the mill: out-of-the-ordinary layouts, unusual palettes of colors, interesting combinations of typefaces, and so on.
Second, because Ephemera, Forever, Always & Now introduces you to a whole new set of like-minded people. I’m surprised to see how many of the 30 collectors refer to themselves as graphic designers. My subsequent visits to their websites, reveals a bustling industry of graphic design related portfolios and products. As graphic designers who, in essence, create ephemera—its nice to imagine that, if we do our job well, some small part of it might outlive us.
And lastly, you buy a book like this for the book experience. Haha… not to completely date myself, I love the physicality of a hard copy. You can’t flip through a webpage with your thumb or gauge the value of it by it’s bulk and weight. Delusional as it may seem, a book makes me feel as though I own a little part of the story it tells.
Ephemera, Forever, Always & Now is a riff in itself—a lovely, melodic journey and a treat to the senses.
From the publisher…
Ephemera, Forever, Always & Now
Available from UppercaseMagazine.com