Putting a face to the name
15 January 2015
Facial disfigurement is an uncomfortable subject. The exhibition Faces of Conflict: The impact of the First World War on art and facial reconstructive surgery, starting at RAMM on Saturday, is part of a national programme of events commemorating the First World War but, even in this context, it is for many an unwelcome reminder of war’s lasting and uneven impact, of the pain and the loss. For some this will be mitigated by the work of dedicated doctors and technicians striving to rebuild damaged faces and damaged lives but even this challenges our thinly held belief that looks are only skin deep, that we really cherish the person and not their looks.
Right down to the exhibition logo, great care was taken to present this delicate subject matter in a sensitive manner. RAMM’s designer Ian Wills explains:
I had observed that the profile of a head could sit nicely within the bowl of a letter ‘C’, so I drew it quickly in my sketchbook. I hadn’t thought too much of it at first but a few people remarked on it when they caught a glance of it in meetings. That’s always a sure sign that you’re onto something.
Initially I had drawn a very generic face just from memory, but I liked the idea of using the profile of an actual ex-serviceman to give the design a bit of gravitas.
We found the ideal candidate in Richard Rochester, he is locally based with strong connections to RAMM; he was involved in our Once a Warrior project in 2013 and happy to help.
I invited Richard to the studio, sat him down and we took some very rudimentary head shots from various angles. I matched these up with our typeface (A2 Battersea) to find the best fit. In the end, a fairly straight side profile looking slightly away worked best with the type.
At first I just did a direct free hand trace from the chosen photo in Adobe illustrator. Richard’s beard posed a bit of a problem as it complicated the profile when used as a vector image – i wanted the chin and mouth to be visible, so I reconstructed from the bottom of his nose through to his chin. Not quite as sophisticated as a plastic surgeon, but the parallels weren’t lost on me as I chiseled away with my bézier tools.
It was important to get a visual balance between the letterform and the silhouette. It was a case of making further tweaks to get the head to sit well within the letter, using the existing curve of the ‘C’ as a guide. I adjusted hairline to frame the head, and simplified the profile because i didn’t want the head to look too realistic – it needed to have a generic illustrative look rather than a detailed trace.
By this point I had two options, the figurative design and a very simple stylised design. I felt the stylised design would work better as a logo due to its pared down simplicity, however consulting with museum colleagues it was clear that the human face was more appropriate for this very human storyline we are telling in this exhibition.