Up close look at the bikes in the pattern, with their shared back wheel, joined saddles, and other details. Flowers and leaves/hops in oranges and pinks around.

I just received word that I’ll be participating in this year’s ArtCrank show (yay!) and in that spirit, I thought it might be fun to share a more detailed look at one of the bike-centric designs in the happify oeuvre. I’ve shared this design in context in this post here.

To recap, this pattern was created as the base for a wedding invitation. The couple’s initial request was for “something with bikes” and possibly ranunculuses (ranunculae?). That led us to the basic bike formation, above. I’m someone who tends to use Adobe Illustrator a bit like a hack-autoCAD (i.e. I often design by assembling my pieces and connecting them, much as if they were real and expected to function) and I have to admit that I had an initial knee-jerk reaction against these bikes when I started exploring this shape–I mean, how do they go?! But that kind of literalism has no place in the formality of damask and these impossible-in-IRL bikes provided a strong visual shape that works well within the diamond structure of the basic pattern. Additionally, in 2011 we were already in the throes of the biking-as-hip-graphic-element trend (I hesitate to use that word because I see the surge of bikes in visual culture as a reflection of really strong changes in American culture and its view of transit more generally), including in wedding invitations, and I wanted to play with the bikes in a novel and unexpected way. You’ll notice that I did stick with the heteronormative boy/girl bike trope; I can’t recall if this was requested or if I liked the way it introduced asymmetry into the shape, but I picked a more fluid shape for the “boy” bike and chose sharper angles for the “girl” bike because we’re all snowflakes regardless of identity, yo.

Further discussions/sketches (see below for an in-process piece) led to the inclusion of Lord Ganesh. Here’s where the repeating pattern was when we decided to add Lord Ganesh. You can see that many of the basic elements remain unchanged through the next step: the bikes, the stylized flowers, the and the leaf/hop shapes.

Repeating pattern in gold and grey-blue with bikes and stylized ranunculus.

As any graphic designer knows, when designing outside of one’s own cultural/ethnic/language vernacular, there’s a lot of curiosity and energy (unexplored worlds of symbolism and communication!) as well as a certain amount of apprehension (how to achieve fluency, maintain respect, and avoid cultural appropriation). For those who haven’t done cross-cultural design, or who haven’t worked with conscious consideration of how visual communication/symbolism and design are complex and changing systems, one of the most challenging aspects of design is how ingrained these systems are and how difficult they can be for non-designers especially to articulate and explain. What creates strong emotional responses to a visual piece? What makes one representation resonate and another feel disrespectful? How does an outsider design strong and respectful work around cultural and religious traditions in the context of globalization, shifting diasporas, and changing identities intersecting with personal preferences, family traditions, modern trends?

lord ganesh zoomed in

It wasn’t as paralyzing or arduous as I’m making it sound but the project did necessitate my own research into Hindu symbolism beyond simply talking to the couple, specifically around Lord Ganesh. My clients (and some of their extended family) were gracious in answering specific questions and giving feedback to help guide the design. I used google image search, explored trends in contemporary wedding invitation design for Hindu couples, and read up on Lord Ganesh and how he is represented visually. However, I want to be clear that in this design context, I was working for a very specific small audience (the families and friends of the engaged couple) and their needs; this design was produced with them in mind and I cannot speak in any way to how it might read to a broader (Hindu) audience.

The above illustration is what I came up with. I’m not finding my in-process work (sometimes it gets saved, sometimes it doesn’t) so I can’t refer you to specific visual representations of Lord Ganesh that helped inform my own, nor do I feel comfortable sharing from memory three years later what was critical and what was more flexible in representing Lord Ganesh. As I mentioned, many of the visual building blocks were already done by the time we decided to introduce Lord Ganesh, so I had some guidance for line weight, angles, and shapes that we wanted to use. Below is Lord Ganesh in situ in the finished damask used on the wedding invite.

A repeating damask pattern made up of Lord Ganesh and joined bikes, with stylized zinnia/ranunculus flowers and leaves/hops (yes, as in beer!) providing a backdrop. In a blue/gray color with highlights of golden yellow, and shades of orange, hot pink, red, etc.

This damask pattern and the visual pieces in it ended up as the foundation for the narrative of the wedding invite. It served as a backdrop for the main wedding invite piece. The bikes were pulled out for a supporting repeating pattern that I’ll share later. Lord Ganesh was pulled out for the wedding program. The ranunculus ended up on signs announcing dessert options. Even the hops were used as quasi-punctuation wingdings in typographic portions of the printed pieces. Again, most of those pieces are here.

Please feel free to chime in on cross-cultural design, visual representations of Lord Ganesh, bikes, wedding invites, or any of this!

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