Joe Mills Illustration
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100 Days of Chicago Typography

100 Chicago icons and landmarks illustrated as calligrams. A calligram is a word or piece of text in which the design and layout of the letters creates a visual image related to the meaning of the words themselves. This project was part of The 100 Day Project.

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100 Chicago icons and landmarks illustrated as calligrams. A calligram is a word or piece of text in which the design and layout of the letters creates a visual image related to the meaning of the words themselves. This project was part of The 100 Day Project.

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100 Days of Chicago Typography

As a way to remember The 100 Day Project, I thought I would write about how it all came about and how I approached some of the illustrations. Even though I am constantly working on new artworks, there are always projects in the back of my mind that I hope to do one day. Maybe I don’t have a good idea yet. Maybe I’m not ready to start it yet. Or, maybe I need a reason to bring the project to life. I have always wanted to do a project that required me to produce artwork every day. When I came across The 100 Day Project, it gave me a reason to seriously consider it. I just needed an idea. It needed to be relevant to the things I was already doing. Plus, it needed to be possible. So, I gave it a few days of thought and decided to do calligrams for Chicago icons and landmarks. Here was my test:

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After seeing it was possible, I was ready to go.Two things…I did call this 100 Days of Chicago Typography mainly because typography is a word I believe many people have at least heard. Even though, technically, these are calligrams. A calligram is a word or piece of text in which the design and layout of the letters creates a visual image related to the meaning of the words themselves. Secondly, I did not actually do all of these one day at a time. With my schedule and work flow, I knew that would be challenging. So while I didn’t produce a single piece every day, I still knew that the spirit of the project remained intact.

I realized early on that I could not approach every Chicago icon the same way. Since the number of letters and the shape of the object would greatly determine what I could do, I was fine with solving each design problem differently if needed. Let me explain further:

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The calligram for Deep Dish Pizza was very straightforward. The pizza did not need a lot of detail and there were plenty of letters to work with. For the Chicago Style Hot Dog, it was a bit trickier. The different colored elements and non-uniform object required a different approach. As you will see, a few of the letters include two different colors. It was not a method I wanted to do much. However, making the object look as accurate as possible was just as important as using all the letters correctly. This was especially important since I did a lot of buildings.

With buildings, I always considered when to include and not include certain architectural elements. For the Merchandise Mart, I originally thought I was going to need to show the windows. After completing the illustration as you see it now, it was apparent I did not need to do that. What I had was enough. For the Aon Center, however, I added the tall vertical lines since that is such an important part of the look. In general, I prefer the look of the calligrams like the Merchandise Mart. However, adding more details was unavoidable in certain cases.

A few times I used the letters to create some of the architectural details of the buildings. There were times I used the letters to create the windows. Or, as in the case of Aqua, create the waves in the building. I was particularly pleased with the Aqua calligram because it is one of my favorite buildings in Chicago and I knew it would be a challenge to illustrate because it only has 4 letters. For the Ferris Wheel, I used the negative space of the Ferris Wheel to create the letters. I figured illustrating it using the positive space would be too much and potentially take away from the overall look.

Finally, sometimes I had to just try something totally different. For Lake Michigan, I thought it would be a bit boring to do a calligram of the outline of the lake. To get around that, I used an object that is heavily connected to the lake…a sailboat. I tried this same approach when doing North Avenue Beach and the Lakefront Trail. For the Chicago Two-Flat, I completely threw out the book. I knew the amount of letters and the architecture of the two-flat would not work out. So, I made it work as best as I could. Some of the letters take on multiple colors and elements of the two-flat. And while I would normally do the windows the same throughout, I sometimes made them holes in letters. Or, I made them part of the letter like I did with the I and T.