Wellcome Collection’s autumn 2011 exhibition programme explores the extraordinary in the everyday with two shows: Infinitas Gracias: Mexican miracle paintings, the first major display of Mexican votive paintings outside Mexico; and Felicity Powell: Charmed Life, an exhibition of unseen London amulets from Henry Wellcome’s collection, selected and arranged by the artist Felicity Powell. Exhibited under the banner ‘Miracles and Charms’, it draw lines between faith, mortality and healing, and offers a poignant insight into the tribulations of daily life and human responses to chance and suffering.
It was a real pleasure to work from start to finish on the graphic design of a major exhibition by Wellcome Collection. Collaborating with Luis Olmos and Malcolm Chivers at conceptual stage, we explored many ideas in several brainstorming sessions. We found the biggest challenge was representing both exhibitions equally and without visually leaving one at the mercy of the other.
The typography came first. Taking inspiration from the decorative handwriting of the Mexican paintings and from The Lord’s Prayer, a hand written verse on a circle of paper. How could we bring the diverse visual nature of these exhibitions together though? Concentrating on the artworks from both shows we wondered if the artist’s materials could be the linking concept; paint and the physical object.
I worked to push this concept further with Bret Syfert. Bret’s skills in handwritten typography are inspired by King Kadism and his perfected handstyles in Philadelphia’s subway tunnels. Bret really brought this idea to life first with fresh, painted brushstrokes and then with beautiful pencil drawn letter forms and finally clean vector artwork in Adobe Illustrator. There was a lot of to-and-fro between us at this stage. The letters had to have character but they had to work as a title treatment in many sizes and orientations, it took us a while to get the perfect marriage between flourish and legibility.
It was now time to turn our attention to the other visual element, the light-filled cloud that would form the background to the design. Bret painted a small test cloud with acrylics on wood and photographed it, while I added our typography and branding to provide our curators and marketing team enough of an idea to proceed with. It was a real leap of faith for our marketing team who really had to trust our idea and the process we had envisioned for the design.
Our InDesign layout was approved as the concept began to turn into reality. Bret’s vector files were sent to a water jet cutting company in Yorkshire to create our copper letter forms and I repainted our cloud at a larger size to get the scale and detail that we needed for all our large format advertising later on.
When the copper letter forms arrived we were so excited. Malcolm and I set up a photo shoot with Dave Sayer and Ben Gilbert, our in-house photographers, to bring all the elements together.
The final two images needed a lot of post-production to get the effect we desired. A lot of time was spent isolating the elements, creating layers, adjustment layers and effects to get the ‘miraculous’ feeling we were trying to achieve.
The final marketing image was really just the beginning of this project but what a fun journey. It was a great example of collaborative working. Putting our heads together and capitalising on the skills of four very different designers made for a wonderful experience.