Mack Fraga: 2016 Design Competition Winner: 1st Place

2016 Design Competition Winner: 1st Place
Artist: Mack Fraga
Client: Genus and Circa

We were really excited when we first laid eyes on Mack’s card designs. Besides the sheer number of LHF fonts used, we don’t get to see many designs using LHF Spencer and this was exactly the kind of application the font was intended for. We liked the choice of the fonts and the way the curves of the letters complimented the theme. The colors are very unusual and yet true to the period. The layout is great and draws your eye down and through the design in a very natural way. Well thought-out panels help to organize the subcopy.

For his excellent work, Mack wins $100 and his choice of any LHF font. Thanks Mack!

Letterhead Fonts used: LHF Spencer™, LHF Kona Bold™, LHF Fairground™, LHF Antique Half Block™,  LHF Ross Antique Roman

Chuck: The color scheme for “One Wish Wonder Rub” design is quite unusual. Did you choose these colors based on an existing advertisement that you saw?

Mack: I had a snippet of paper ephemera. Knowing I was going to use a gold-toned magic lamp helped start the choice. But, feel how warm those yellows are against the off-prime back colors!

Chuck: We really like the way the inner scrollwork creates separate orange panels. Very clever. Was the original intent to have a solid teal background and then you felt that it needed to be broken up? Can you tell us how that choice was made?

Mack: Again, the snippet of ephemera suggested it. Plus, I wanted a nice bit of Rococo architectural detail to frame and anchor the composition (a first layer introduction towards the Persian/Moorish arch shade in the background) and, to compliment the scrollwork on the lamp. The background pinstripes add an almost fabric-like texture.

Chuck: We don’t see a lot of designs using LHF Fairground, but it has always been one of my favorites for sub copy. Why did you use it here?

Mack: Readability and character. Also because it is a condensed typeface. Condensed typefaces aren’t used enough. They serve a great benefit. More characters (information) at the same point size. And, they were cut/drawn by a skilled craftsman/designer to be condensed. Using software to scrunch (torture, really) type into a condensed fit is like nails on a chalkboard. My friend Dan Solo used to call that “Dreadful Typography”.

In addition to having great character, LHF Fairground is also a ’polite’ sub copy face. It doesn’t demand attention that might distract from the hero lettering in the piece. It’s just there doing its job. But, subliminally, its not boring.

Chuck: Why did you choose LHF Ross Antique Roman for the sub-copy?

Mack: For the Aladdin & Sons company signature? Again, readability and character. And, I could imagine it on the company signage, doors, stationery, circa late 1920’s… you know, when they hand painted the name of the occupant on the glass of private office doors.

Chuck: Can you tell us more about the publisher of these cards and the constraints they gave you to work in? Did they give you any direction?

Mack: LOL. Well, as it happens, I am the publisher. I’m a toy and game designer by trade. One Wish Wonder Rub and Instant Karma are just two designs from a card game I invented. We’ll be doing a Kickstarter later this year which I’m really looking forward to.

I drew over 114 cards/designs for the game. The constraints were to be faithfully accurate to whatever period the design was emulating. The designs collectively span a broad number of periods from fin de siécle to oh, about maybe the late 60’s.

The whole project was immensely rewarding. It let me scratch nearly every style itch I had harbored over the years in one fell swoop.

Chuck: The “Instant Karma” design is an excellent example of a well-thought-out layout using panels to divide copy. What is your previous professional experience? Were you a sign designer?

Mack: That’s a very high compliment, Chuck. Thank you! I was actually a Banker and then a Crab Fisherman before I jumped into the design world. My biggest influence was working for my friend and mentor the well-known type historian Dan X. Solo. I began as a touch up artist and then proceeded to apprentice with Dan into a full-on typographer and lettering artist.

Dan Solo was a master at replicating accurate period typography and layout. Those were my first lessons with him. An early example was a side by side comparison of a western style Jesse James Wanted poster someone was asking him to design (to their layout). He pointed out every historical inaccuracy in the layout and why it never would have been produced that way…and why it mattered.

Though he had an extensive collection of wood and metal type from which he could print on his own presses, Dan was also a proponent of sign designers (painters/letterers/showcard artists) where the hand of the artist shows in the results. Balanced to-the-eye and perfectly imperfect.

Today, lettering might often be a bit too perfect…that is if one is going for an authentic period look. Computers are exceedingly accurate. Sometimes too much so. Mathematical perfection is not warm and inviting.

Rule of thumb: Don’t let the computer do all the work for you. Bake in a little imperfection. I very often do a great deal of hand work to letters from a typeface that I’m using for a headline or title. You have to…to improve balance and spacing, eliminate tangents, correct unintended distortions…and just plain keep it from looking like a computer produced the results. I do as much hand-lettering as straight-up typesetting.

It’s worth repeating: Don’t let the computer do all the work for you. (I’d like to see that made into a framed cross-stitch sampler and hung in every design studio.)

By the way, the shadow on the Instant Karma lettering is known as a “lazy shadow”. As far as I know this is not an effect found in any design software.

Chuck: How old are you now?

Mack: I am vintage 1959. Hey… same year Alaska and Hawaii were admitted to the union!

Chuck: What software do you use in your work?

Mack: Photoshop, Photoshop, and Photoshop. And sometimes I’ll switch up and use Photoshop. On a Mac, of course.

Chuck: You have a real talent for choosing color. What advice would you give to others who might feel overwhelmed when it comes to making color choices?

Mack: You can begin by endeavoring to be historically accurate… true to the samples from a given period. That helps home in on choices… right?

So… research. Obviously scan the web for samples of vintage ephemera and signage. Start a photo album of signage you encounter in your travels. Build a library of those amazing period style books: Matchbook art, comics advertising, period packaging, travel posters. (by the way, a big thank you to the authors and publishers who produce these volumes. You know who you are. Bravo and keep them coming… I will buy every. single. one.)

In addition to collecting samples, it really is about having a “long memory” of your own observations and experiences, and applying what you come to learn is true and appropriate.

Bottom line? Soak it all in.

Chuck: You have a real talent for choosing the appropriate fonts. What advice can you give to other who over feeling overwhelmed with font choices these days?

Mack: Wow… that’s a three beer conversation at least! Let’s start with, are you curating your collection of typefaces? I have mine sorted in a folder I call Fonts By Design in which I have folders for dozens of themes and styles… Art Deco, Romans and Italics, Blackletter & Uncials, Showcard, Streamline & Moderne, Techno-Industrial, Egyptians, Fat Face, and so on. The mere act of foldering (verb?) all my typefaces over the years has helped me mentally catalog them for future choice.

And then sometimes I’ll just see a typeface whose character just jumps out at me and I’ll look for an excuse to use it. Right now I’m looking at LHF Emporium and I want to create a project just so I can use it. Just look at the character in that typeface! It was like that for me with LHF Spencer and LHF Signmaker… I was just itching to use them. One Wish Wonder Rub and Instant Karma were perfect vehicles for them.

Now, I’m not saying put the cart before the horse. We don’t have that luxury in commercial assignments and it would be wrong to shoehorn the clients needs into our preferences. But, sometimes it just works out so nicely.

Now I get to choose two new typefaces. LHF Emporium is definitely one.

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