Branding Between Mountains and Sea: Arts of the Ancient Andes

The first encounter visitors have with Blanton exhibitions often occurs well before our shows even open. For each exhibition, a look or “graphic identity” is developed to help set the tone of what visitors will find in the galleries. Used on our website, on signage on the side of our building and around Austin, in advertisements, and elsewhere, the graphic identity provides context for each presentation and is an important component for engaging our audiences. How are these graphic identities created? Blanton Graphic Designer Meredith Word explains the process:

Between Mountains and SeaEvery new exhibition at the Blanton brings with it the welcome challenge of designing a graphic identity to help brand the exhibition and convey the scope of the artworks included. Each logotype has to be able to function across multiple platforms: for promotional purposes in print collateral, web ads, and signage, and internally as the primary component of the gallery graphics.

My standard approach begins with an overview of the object checklist to get a sense of the tone of the collection of work. Next I delve into a little historical research, looking for any hints of typographic style. I am a sucker for typography and can spend an irrational amount of time admiring and drawing inspiration from fonts, logos, packaging, hand-painted signs, menus, movie credits, you name it. Needless to say, given that no written language existed in the Andes until after the Spanish conquest in 1532 there was not much to draw from typographically for Between Mountains and Sea. But the abundance of stylistic elements exemplified in these artifacts and the mammoth geoglyphs known as the Nazca lines pointed to block-style lettering, primitive but precise. Kimberley Black, a free font available on dafont.com, ended up working surprisingly well despite the fact that it was based on corporate/industrial logotypes from the 1970s–although maybe that makes it an appropriate fit for an ancient culture renowned for their technological achievements!

Andes title graphicsFrom the outset I imagined some kind of geometric icon needed to be incorporated into the design. Guest curator Dr. Kimberly Jones suggested using a step and volute, which functioned as an iconic element for the North coast of Peru and is believed to symbolize the intrinsic connection between the mountains and sea—the perfect symbol to illustrate the title of the exhibition. Usually comprised of three ‘steps’ that culminate in a scroll or ‘volute’ which curls back over the top step, the icon appears in various configurations painted on ceramics and woven into textiles by the Moche and Chimu. Using various examples as a template I refined the step and volute to reflect characteristics of the type, and inserted it as bookends to the subtitle. Finally, taking into consideration the limited but rich palette of earthy reds, yellows, and oranges, a color palette was chosen to enhance the logotype and complement the objects on view in the exhibition.

We invite you to see how Meredith’s designs augment this special exhibition by visiting Between Mountains and Sea: Arts of the Ancient Andes, on view through August 17.

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