May you live in interesting times, says the motto of the latest incarnation of the Venice Biennale. Seeing the waves of the Adriatic Sea surround the churches and houses of vibrant colour along days, weeks and months of a year in the 15th century, shining of the golden sun reflected, a German artist was just doing that. Because exciting times, undoubtedly, were the ones were Albrecht Durer lived, raged by war, plague and the scene of astronomical, artistic, geographical and religious revolutions. And he was all the way to live them. He was studying anything across his sight, from pre-Columbian goldsmith to the secret proportions of the human body.
New ideas were around. The Earth was not the centre of the universe, and probably it was the sun. Rome was not the centre of the Christendom anymore, and new worlds never imagined as such were being discovered, finally, after centuries of mystery. New styles were being developed across the Alps. And now, you didn't need to write by hand your books; you can make a lot of copies using the printing press. Your drawing can go and go on being shaped through this medium once and again, as much as you want. Your art could be made, suddenly, universal, available. As well as your ideas.
This was a media revolution and Durer, at the helm of all this, was the herald of the print, most than any other artist of his time. Durer was an artist, but also, as a talented man conscious of its advantages, a businessman, and he did many business ventures based on his art and the new technology of printing. His biblical illustrations ensured his fame survived him. The power of the time in the guise of the emperor Maximilian I commissioned him big pieces for celebratory purposes. One of such works is the triumphal arch; a humongous woodcut assemble that was sold in albums to be cut and pasted across the empire. The work is the biggest Durer made, an impressive piece made of 36 large sheets of paper. A later edition made in the 18th century came in a thin booklet format form where the sheets have to be assembled. It is a testament to the ingenuity of Albrecht Durer that five hundred years later, designers around the world still use that multi print format in special editions, a form of which he was one of the best and early practitioners.
Our times are proclaimed as the times of the end of print. If true, it is not surprising to see how many works of tremendous sophistication go published across many industries. Mobile devices are the places to be if you are in the communication business. But at the same time, printing technology is the best have ever been. Fast, precise, consistent. Because of both reasons maybe, newspapers, the places were people got their news along most of the last two centuries, have been increasingly imaginative in their design across the previous decades. Every practice of a profession makes you part of a great tradition of people who master the craft you are learning. You join that long course of knowledge to feed of it and hopefully, contribute to it during your life or help others to do so.
PS: And all said, well, this little article is about my experience working in the supplement published by Al Bayan Newspaper on occasion of the Olympics Games of 2008. It is composed of 36 pages about Olympic sports. They can be assembled like a big poster. The project was led in concept and art direction by Luis Chumpitaz, the chief director of our section.
Even now I barely believe how he arrived one day-probably around May- in the late afternoon to my cubicle in the middle of the blue newsroom of Emirates 24/7-just before the usual time the storm of the closing deadline was about to start with only a sheet of paper in his hands, just an A4 size, printed with an empty rectangle of black borders, divided into 36 parts, and saying, "I got an idea, a great idea". I looked at the paper, stare at him and looked back at the paper. What could be that?. Then he started to explain with flourished detail what he had in mind, and I bought it. Actually, when he finished the explanation, I was delighted, excited and joyous. The 36 illustrations that had to be made for the project certainly were a refreshing air that would take me away from the pace of the daily edition of the newsroom, filled with fever charts, pie chart and on the hour small illustrations. Not that it was going to be easy, but, who of anyone that likes illustration were not going to relish an opportunity to create a series of works, full size, to entertain in the amazing contortions of the human body?.
But then, there were some challenges, not the last of them how to work each individual figure, as well as giving the overall view an impact strong enough to justify the image. Luis's idea was to form an Olympic flag, and we should make the rings merge with the overall image. We made it using some tea, filtered in water. The result was good as the shape was not necessarily flat, but full of variation of tones and shapes while maintaining the overall resemblance to a ring. For each one of the images I collect a lot of pictures for reference, some were really astonishing, full of the beauty of the human body in full expression. From that, I have not much to tell that can not be assumed by anyone who appreciates the process of drawing and colouring, choosing the pose to indicate a movement or action, choosing the light and the shadows although by the end of the deadline my wrist was suffering a little. I decided to use charcoal in a big sketchbook provided by Luis, working under the lamp I had in my space. I still have some of the drawings at home.
While I was busy with the illustrations, Luis was taking charge of the infographic and the file preparation, dividing so they can be assembled later smoothly. After that, I started digitalizing all the images and merging with the ring images, which was another point of careful work. After that I send the images to Luis to place with the work he has done with the vector graphics, so he can send me the final pages to also work in the style of some of the visual explanations surrounding the main illustration. With the deadline over us, I finish it and handle the file back to Luis so he can manage the translation side of it and organize with the Al Bayan team the publication of the supplement, which was on stands the very same day of my birthday, 8 of August, what a gift to myself!!. Happily, many viewers appreciated the effort put in the work, and it was awarded a silver medal in the Malofiej Awards, back in 2009. I wonder where is the big copy sent with the application form.
"The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well."