Designing on a Grid

I recently began a 100 day project called "100 Days of Hand Stamped Fabric". Every day I carve a rubber stamp, print it on graph paper in a repeating pattern, and finally, print it on fabric. Whether I'm stamping directly on graph paper, or on fabric with the faint lines of the graph paper showing through from beneath, the placement of my stamp is guided by a grid.

This project is not my first use of the grid in my artwork. Initially I was inspired by the painter Adolph Gottlieb. It was several years after graduating RISD. I was living in NYC, working in publishing, and attempting to build my freelance illustration career on the side. At that time, I was working towards developing my visual style. I began an early morning routine in which I'd wake up, make myself a coffee and pick an art book off one of my bookshelves. Then I'd spend an hour looking the artist's work. If there was some element of the art that I loved, I'd make note of it so I could experiment with it in my own work. That particular morning I picked Gottlieb. 

In many of Gottlieb's paintings I'd noticed that he'd used a grid to compartmentalize the space. Within each compartment was a some type of sign, symbol, or design. I was immediately drawn to these images. First off, aesthetically I was attracted to his use of:

1. A limited color palette

2. Two dimensional space

3. Flat, textural color

These elements struck me as bold and modern. I remember feeling so inspired and intrigued....

 
Vigil, 1948

Vigil, 1948

The Seer, 1950

The Seer, 1950

T, 1950

T, 1950

 

Additionally, I was captivated by:

4. The mysterious signs and symbols

5. The assembling of individual elements into one image

6. His use of a grid-like layout to compose the space

As my hour with Gottlieb's book of paintings drew to close, I'd made note of my observations to come back to them at a later time.

Several days or weeks later, while working on an illustration to use as a self-promotion, I incorporated several of these stylistic elements into my design process.  My illustrative style had already made use of the first three elements listed above, but the image below was my first to make use of symbols to represent the idea and/or feeling I was trying to convey, as well as the use of a grid to organize them into a cohesive whole.

 
 

Designing on a grid was somewhat of a breakthrough for me. After releasing this image as a self-promotion, I received more calls and assignments than I had from previous promos. This allowed me to dedicate all of my time to my freelance illustration business (rather than work in publishing as I had been, and illustrating on the side in my free time).

This series of paintings that I'd felt such an affinity to are referred to as Gottlieb's Pictograph paintings. You can see more of them on my Pinterest board "Art on the Grid" (along with some other works of art that make use of the grid.) If you'd like to read more about the artist, The Adolph & Esther Gottlieb Foundation is a good place to start.