These prints in the shape of a dog tag tell the story of a breed through illustration and hand lettering.
I first had the idea for the prints when I was participating in an online hand lettering workshop which focussed on label design. Most of the other designers on the course were designing labels for actual products, like bottles of beer or soap but the 'product' for which I was designing a label was a dog, or more accurately a specific dog breed...
I imagined a dog in a pound/shelter with a tag around its neck. The purpose of the tag (product label) was to give a prospective owner some information about the dog breed in the hope that they would rescue the dog. So it was really doing the same thing as a product label - trying to differentiate and tell a story of the product - but in this case a dog, rather than a botte of beer!
There's a bit of Paddington Bear in this project too - the lost bear with a luggage label attached - entreating its finder to 'look after this bear'
I started with lots of sketches, eventually picking a few favourites to develop further. There was a lot of information I wanted to include and I had to decide how it was all going to fit around the illustrations and what the hierachy of each element would be in the overall piece. I had space for roughly 30-35 words in which to tell the story of the breed. My first breed in the series was the Portuguese Water Dog because I am the proud owner of one of these special dogs!
Once the design was finalised it was time to draw each element in pen and ink. I sketched the lettering out with pencil until it worked in the available space and then used a fine-liner ink pen to make the final hand lettered piece. All the illustrations were drawn seperately, including the central banner. The final task was to develop a badge for the bottom of the dog tag to define the breed class - in this case a working dog.
The illustrations and lettering were then scanned into my computer. Vectors were created of the scan so each item can be moved and resized without losing quality. The layout for the final artwork was created digitally.
I usually like to cut my designs into lino to make the plate for hand-printing on my press. However the size of these dog tag designs and the level of detail is too fine to be cut into lino. Instead the artwork is made into a photopolymer plate, commonly used in letterpress printing. I then ink and hand-print the photopolymer plate on my etching press.
Each print is individually printed by hand on my etching press onto Zerkall Extra Smooth printmaking paper.
There are now 27 breeds in the dog tag series. Breeds are classified into categories, for example gundogs, so I create a different badge for each of the classes. Sometimes I make up my own class, for example, the "Born to Perform" badge for the poodle instead of the rather uninspiringly named Utility Group!
It takes 2-3 weeks to develop each new print. The first step is to research the breed history and character and decide what I want to say on the print. It has to be distilled down into approximately 8 words to sum up the breed personality round the edge of the print and 30-35 words to tell the story of the breed. I aim for a mix of history and quirky characteristics and pick each word carefully. I then decide on the illustrations based on the story I want to tell and sketch and ink the hand drawn lettering. The final step is finalize the layout and create the artwork for the photopolymer plate digitally.
When choosing colours for the prints, I'm might be inspired by the history of the breed or the coat typical colours. When printing by hand, the inks are mixed up by hand and rolled out into a thin layer using a brayer, ready to coat the ink onto the plate. It takes a few test prints to get the plate printing correctly - there has to be just the right amount of ink on the plate and the right amount of pressure on the press and no inky fingers!