I just thought you guys should know...

...that this week's visual vocabulary was inspired by cartoon lips. Specifically, the guy on this birthday card Scott recently received. This one's going up on the bulletin board (thanks Aunt Susan!)

Many thanks to the art director at American Greetings that approved this card. 

Many thanks to the art director at American Greetings that approved this card. 

If you've been following visual vocabulary for just about any amount of time, you may have noticed that I like to draw people with...extreme (?) / creepy (?) / schnozzy (?)  / Mr.-Potato-Head-esque (?) facial expressions (deformities?) I couldn't pick just one adjective, so I went with them all. The more ridiculous the face, the better. 

But what you may not know is that I pretty much always draw these after making the same face myself and either taking a snapshot at the computer or just keeping the reflective camera on my phone as I draw. Sometimes I hesitate to take photos of myself because I worry that I might forget to delete them, and then they will live in the cloud and could potentially be hacked along with naked celebrity photos. Personally, I think I might be more horrified about a photo of me with a triple chin and crossed eyes getting loose on the internet. But then I'm no Jennifer Lawrence, so what clout do I have in that argument?

Each of these looks was painstakingly developed in the Rado mirror lab. 

Inspiration is everywhere. Including on a birthday card about a poop cake from your husband's aunt. 

The Process Behind Visual Vocabulary

If you've ever wondered what goes on deep inside an artist's brain, here's your chance to find out.

"I need to draw another visual vocabulary soon. Shit, what word do I want to do? Rictus? Bailiwick? Riposte? Hmmm...gotta pick one. Oh yeah, I should also pay the PECO bill. I want coffee. My toenails need to be painted, I hate looking down at them in pilates, my feet look gross in comparison to all the soccer moms in my class. What color should I go with? Maybe the gold, it's less obvious when it starts to chip..."

OK, all joking aside, I do want to talk about the process behind my visual vocabulary series. My initial "rules" for myself were that I didn't want to strive for perfection, I just wanted to start the series, learn the words, and stick with it on a weekly basis. So no, my illustrated type is far from the ridiculous beauty and frequency of something like Jessica Hische's Daily Drop Cap project. Although I find that as the weeks roll by and I am preparing the words further in advance, the extra time allows me to do more complete illustrations. Meaning that the illustrations have a little more context or detail to them. 

First, obviously, I pick out a word to illustrate. I usually like to arm myself with a few of them at any given time, and think about how I would illustrate them. This is the fermentation of ideas part of the process, and because I like to multitask, I usually do this while running laps at the gym. Because running laps is particularly boring and having something to mull over makes it infinitely more entertaining. So I gather up all of my weird ideas and try to work out a good idea of the composition and different elements in my head. (Not shown here because I don't want to try to take a selfie of me running and thinking at the gym—I'm sure you understand.)

The Process Behind Visual Vocabulary, Julie Rado Design

  1. Next, I do a quick thumbnail sketch of the layout. Since the app I use (Paper by 53) has a notebook set up in a landscape rectangle and all of my visual vocabularies are set up in squares, I like to know how I want to use the extra space (usually it's so I can cram in the definition. I know it's not very designerly of my to say I'm "cramming in" one of the most important elements, but as I mentioned earlier, I'm not going for perfection here. Perfection is what I aim for in my job at Untuck! But not here.)
  2. Then I draw out the entire scene in black and white with the pen tool in Paper. I add in all the little details. 
  3. I'll duplicate my black and white drawing and begin filling in the color. I duplicate it in case I make a horrible mistake while coloring and need to go back to the original (save as! undo!) I typically fill in any of the solid color here with the marker tool. With larger areas of solid color, sometimes I won't color it in with the app because it's a pain in the ass. I'll just color a swatch and fill it in in Photoshop. 
  4. The word is always drawn separately and I add it in with Photoshop. This allows me to get more detailed without worrying about overlapping in the paper app. It's just easier to use the layers in Photoshop and do any extra cleaning up or detail work as well.
  5. I set up the definition as a smart object in Illustrator so I can easily change it every week.
  6. If there are large areas of watercolor in the illustration (like the ground or the sky in this example) I will also do those as a separate page in Paper. Again, it's easier to erase and edit in Photoshop than adding extra, less-easy to edit layers in Paper.
  7. And then you see the final product! 

I hope all y'all find this interesting. I love reading about other peoples' processes, so I like to share mine as well. If you're interested in reading other process posts, here's one about the wedding invitations I worked on with my sister and brother in law, and here's one about an annual report I worked on for the Penn Institute for Urban Research.

Process Post: Sarah & Stu's Wedding Invitations

And now it's time for a very special process sister and brother-in-law's wedding invitations!

It seems that all of the Rados were born to be artists and that, as adults, we've all been trying to find ways to be artists that don't involve starving. My sister Sarah is no exception—she's a painter and a singer. Sarah really wanted to her wedding invitations to incorporate vibrant watercolor artwork, so my challenge was to work with her paintings and incorporate them into one cohesive design. Oh yeah—and did I mention that I agreed to printing 100-something of these on my Epson inkjet? More on that in a minute.

Sarah and Stu live in Philly and also had their ceremony in the city, so they really wanted to incorporate the city into the artwork. Sarah ended up painting the Ben Franklin bridge, the Philadelphia skyline and the wrought-iron gate of the community garden where their ceremony took place, the Spring Gardens, for the invitation artwork. Because they wanted to incorporate these three scenes, we decided the format should be a z-fold that opened up into one long panel with the entire silhouette of the scene. On the back would be the essential details for the wedding ceremony and reception.

Once Sarah had done the painting, I scanned everything in, pieced it all together, cleaned it all up and added color in Photoshop. We went back and forth for a few more rounds on the gate, trying to get it right and make sure it looked more like a flowery arch appropriate for a wedding rather than the entrance to a decrepit graveyard. Sarah also made it clear from the get-go that her wedding invitations would absolutely require some form of rainbow, so that made the background on the three panels an easy choice. 


After several rounds, we got the arch looking just right. 

For the wording, I came up with the line "Sarah and Stu are saying I do!" (Thanks to Stu's parents for providing the great rhyme-abilty here.) But since Sarah is much better at writing poetry and lyrics than I am, I asked her to come up with a few rhymes for the inside of the invitation. She wrote:  

Before they met on that fateful day,
the city seemed so dull and grey.
He took her out, their friendship grew
into love so deep and true.
Now that they are hand-in-hand, 
the city skyline sure looks grand!

It fit perfectly with the invitation art.

The final piece of the puzzle was the printing logistics. We relied on my old Epson 1280, which I had bought used when I was in grad school (circa 2007; it has basically been collecting dust in my closet since I graduated) and I knew that it had a tendency to be very temperamental at the most inconvenient times by randomly spurting out blobs of black ink on an otherwise flawless print and banding for no apparent reason after cleaning the print heads several times. I had the added challenge of printing fronts and backs separately and then gluing them up, cutting them and folding them. This was mostly because we were using one-sided coasted matte paper, but also because my printer doesn't line up when it comes to registration, so printing front to back wouldn't have been an option anyway. Amazingly, I ran into no big issues with printing, and the only downsides of gluing, cutting and folding all of the invitations were tedium and a sore back. (Nothing some downward dogs and child's poses couldn't fix.) I gave myself two weeks for printing and assembling the invitations, but towards the end, I just went into full-on assembly machine mode so that I could get the invitations finished and reclaim the printing disaster area that had once been my living room. 

It was one last but very triumphant hurrah for the Epson as I delivered these babies. They turned out as colorful as their bride and with their delivery, I announced my retirement from the invitation printing business (but not the invitation designing business—I will gladly continue to design invitations). Sarah and Stu were thrilled with the final result, and once again it was confirmed that Stu was the man for Sarah since he was totally fine with having a giant rainbow on their wedding invitations. What a mighty, might good man.

Here's your 113 invitations, some spare envelopes I will never use and the rest of the I'm going to go do some restorative yoga!

Here's your 113 invitations, some spare envelopes I will never use and the rest of the I'm going to go do some restorative yoga!

If you're interested in more wedding invitations, you can check out my own wedding invitations here and the wedding invitations I did for my mom and stepdad here.


Process Post: Penn IUR Annual Report, "Local to Global"

Hello from the other side of a very long blog hiatus! I took a really long break because...well...I just wasn’t sure I had all that much to say. But I think it’s time to come back to writing, because I’m sure my two other readers have missed me. And I’ve missed writing.

Anyway, for my triumphant return (ha), I wanted to write about the process of designing the annual report for the Penn Institute of Urban Research. I know that I really enjoy seeing how other designers work, so I’m offering a peak behind the curtains. (Although, truth be told, this was one of the most straightforward projects I’ve ever worked on—but there’s nothing wrong with that!)

Initial Concepts

Penn IUR came to Untuck for design work on their 2012–2013 annual report. The direction that they gave us was basically just the title: “Local to Global” and the explanation that the main focus of the report is that their work spans and connects the local Philadelphia community to global issues.  

Sketch for Concept 1

Sketch for Concept 1

Sketch for Concept 2

I always start out with sketches, and sometimes I already have a really clear picture in my head of what I want to do—which was the case this time. I wanted to show one option of the opposing local and global (aka “the boonies,” apparently, as I labeled it in my sketch) with photographs and a flight pattern diagram, and another option that was a simple illustration showing a city on the globe.  

Concept 1

Concept 2

Penn IUR picked the first option (yay! my choice as well) and from there, I moved on to sketching layouts. I know it sounds obvious, but when I don’t sketch layouts from long-form body copy, I often have a hard time feeling inspired. I love editorial design, but it is something that I really have to work at.  

Inside Layouts

I switched from pencil and paper to stylus and iPad for the interior sketches. (I use Paper by 53 and the Wacom Bamboo stylus.) My sister had showed me the Paper app sketchbook she created as she was planning her wedding, and I was intrigued. I really like this app for sketching (and easy erasing that doesn’t leave bits of rubber all over the place—amazing!) and I highly recommend it.  

Sketches for interior layouts

Final Printed Piece

The finished report came together really quickly and smoothly. Doing so much of the sketching up front and having a clear idea of layouts and hierarchy goes a really long way toward paving the design path. It’s rarely ever that easy, but it certainly does put a structure in place that acts as a guide. Check out the project page to see more pictures of the report. 

The final printed report

I’m going to try and make these process posts a regular feature. I dig writing them and also, when I’m old and senile, (or in reality, in a year from now when I forget the reasoning behind some design I did) I can look back and say, “Wow, that’s nice. I was rather thoughtful about that project!” Hope you enjoyed reading.