Letterpress is a traditional form of printing but we like to take a non-traditional approach to the Cranky Pressman branding. It keeps things interesting and gets attention. I thought I'd share a little background and process behind how the 100 year old brand mascot was born.
The first step was to search and find perfect character to play the part of the cranky old printer. It was like an online audition. There are a huge number of these antique photographs of forgotten folks listed on Ebay. Some are sold individually while others only offered as part of a set of photos. I ended up with a bigger collection of vintage portraits than expected!
Photos of this period vary in size but 3.5"x5" prints appear to have been popular. Often they are mounted on matte board with decorative borders and the photographer's studio logotype imprinted on the back. They are called cabinet cards. Family members would display the portraits in their homes.
When this old guy arrived in the mail I immediately knew we'd found our man. There were issues though. The print is very small, only 2.25"x3.75" in size. The man's head could fit on a quarter. At this scale there is not much detail in the image. Plus, there was a lot of damage and the photograph had yellowed and faded as can be seen above.
Extensive cosmetic surgery was needed in the form of a lot of photo retouching.
A 600 dpi scan of the photo was done to begin the retouching job. I then desaturated the image to eliminate the yellow background. It is easier to retouch a monotone piece and a color tint can alway be added back later if needed.
It's surprising how much detail can be brought out of an image like this just by masking areas and using Photoshop functions such as contrast, curves and filters. However, the blemishes in the print and the severe crack in the paper hand to be painstakingly painted out. Many of the imperfections are left in to keep it authentic looking. You can't beat the look of old patina.
The end result was a big improvement and the image was then plenty good enough for many purposes such as an online avatar. However, print media is another story and the image was not always suitable for printed reproduction, especially higher resolution printing.
The final stage of rejuvenation.
Even after all the restoration work, it was still difficult to imagine exactly what the 19th Century man looked like. The original as so small and in such bad shape, much of the retouching had to be completely fabricated. Even in some of the undamaged portions of the photo it was hard to see what's in the image. Like what's up with his hairdo?
But mostly it was the man's eyes that kept looking at me and asking me to uncover the true Victorian character. There is no real damage over his right eye but it is particularly hard to visualize. It almost appears as though he could have been blind in one eye. If so, our printer's mascot couldn't have vision problems, so that had to be fixed.
So next I decided to do a life-sized drawing of our character. This allowed me to study better photos of similar looking old men. The act of drawing gave me a chance to envision his eyes, hair, eyebrows and even his bow tie.
Looking at my drawing again now I don't believe I totally resolved the right eye question but overall I unveiled a lot about the man's appearance.
Eliminating the details and going small again.
Once the photographic version of our 'logo' was as good as it was going to get and the old fellow had been scrutinized left, right and center, it was time to create one final variation that could be used in print productions at a tiny logo size.
The exercise and exploration helped the process of designing and creating line artwork for a true logo representation of the Cranky Pressman. The logo will now safely reproduce at smaller than 3/4" in diameter. This will allow it to be used on various print promotional materials such as envelopes, stationery and direct mail advertising.
The multiple variations of the mascot/emblem/logo give us versatile brand graphic elements. We will use them all and choose the most appropriate depending on the concept and medium. For example, our finished photo retouched man received some additional attention recently when a craft beer was brewed in honor of the crotchety centenarian by our friends at Birdfish Brewing Co. It's named Crank ESB and is styled after one of my favorite English beers Fuller's ESB.
It was fun getting to know the man we rescued and gave a second life as the Cranky Pressman.
Who is the man in the photo?
As a side note, I searched online for more information and historical background on the man in the photograph but did find anything. But in case a long lost relative stumbles upon this post and is curious, here is the information found on the back of the photograph:
- The man's name was Mr. Corey
- He was the Great Grandfather of L.F. Strong on his mother's side.
- The photographer was A.B. Tubbs
- Photograph was taken in Trumansburg, New York
If a distant relative of the man is out there please drop me a line. It would be good to hear from you.