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Written by Paul D. Race for Family Garden Trains

When Graphic Artists Go Bad

One of my professional interests is graphic arts, especially things like logos, since I've had to design so many for my projects and clients. One of my glitches is the ability to see patterns where none are intended (and, no, I can't count toothpicks on the floor in my head). Sometimes those interests and glitches combine when I encounter a graphic that is just too strange to have happened by accident.

Click for bigger photo.Here's a funny example, a coffee delivery truck with two stylized flowers (ostensibly coffee bean blossoms?), one of which looks a little scary if you focus on it too much.

I've seen this truck around town for years - in fact they used to deliver coffee to Mazer Corp. when I worked there. But the other morning I got a good look at the back end. I also happened to have a camera in the car when it passed me. And, no, my windshield wasn't very clean - sorry about the fuzzy image. But you can see why I suspect that someone who would rather be detailing motorcycles has incorporated his own "private joke" into this "commercial" artwork.

Some of you may remember the discovery in the late 1960s that advertising artists were air-brushing things like female figures, skulls, and the word "sex" into advertising photographs of booze bottles - something they used to call "subliminal persuasion." Why skulls? Because the booze companies' researchers discovered that reminders of death sell booze just as well as reminders of sex - that's a whole 'nother, even creepier discussion. But I doubt there's anything "subliminal" about the coffee truck's flower. There certainly isn't anything subtle. So how many of you are feeling thirsty for coffee right now?

More Observations from the Road

Of course, graphic artists are an entire subculture with their own jargon and way of seeing things. Who but a graphics or type face geek (like me) would recognize that the Cooper Tire Company logo used to use Cooper Black, a display font whose history had nothing to do with tires? Or recognize that the logo of a now defunct interstate trucking company used "Hobo" type face on its tankers (sorry, no photo).

As a person who drives several hundred miles a week, I have to tell you that looking at the pro, semi-pro, and obviously amateur logos sported by various trucking companies is an education in itself.

As an example, the three lions on C.R.Englands' trucking company logo are on a blue background instead of a red background but there's no question about what country's coat of arms has provided inspiration. Changing the background color of the shield may have kept the C.R. England company from causing an international incident.This coat of arms was used by Richard the Lionhearted and several of his descendants
And one can't help wondering if Smith Transport's logo would be using wings if another entity with "Smith" in the name hadn't used them first.
This logo flies by me on the road several times a week.
Elf princess Liv Tyler grew up in the shadown of this logo.

Typeface Humor

Click to see a bigger photo. Click the Loiterink link below to order a t-shirt with this graphic.Finally, there's a very tiny, exclusive category of humor relating to typefaces, as shown by the "I Shot the Serif" posters and t-shirts that have recently showed up. You'd have to know something about typefaces and Bob Marley songs to even "get" this humor. (In case you wondered, serifs are those little lines and hooks that typefaces like Times Roman attach to the basic letter forms. A "sans serif" font like Arial, Verdana, or Helvetica doesn't have them.)

I tried tracking this graphic down to ask permission to use it and to give the original artist the credit, but it's been copied to too many blogs to know for sure. I do know that at the moment, you can get the graphic on t-shirts from the LoiterInk T-Shirt Store. Click to order this graphic on a T-shirt

A Promethean Designs variation using the letter "I" is available from the Cafe Press web page.


Keep your eyes open, and don't take any logo, graphic, or even choice of typeface for granted - they all have meanings, some obvious, some not so obvious. Even the logos or typeface choices that were obviously made by ignoramuses tell us something - about the company's lack of concern for its image if nothing else. And don't feel like you're necessarily "seeing things" when the next coffee delivery truck carries a subtle reminder of what the doctors tell us will happen if we drink too much . . . .

Looking forward to your suggestions, additions, criticisms, and anything else to let me know you're paying attention, I remain,

Paul Race

Click to see some ways you can help us grow the hobby.P.S. Enjoy your trains. Especially enjoy any time you have with your family in the coming weeks.

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