- A conversation with John Yates
Full Disclosure: I live a cluttered life. Perhaps that is why I respond so emphatically to minimalism, because it is beyond my capabilities to maintain in any capacity: in writing, in speaking, in scheduling, in dating, in listing…
From beneath my cluttered soul I have learned that the beauty of the simple is most powerful when it’s visual.
The fresh and sleek project, A Genealogy of Things, from graphic designer John Perry Yates, uses simplicity to its greatest effect. Once a week he focuses on a single chosen item and condenses its form and tracking its evolution from years 1864, 1914, 1964, & 2014.
For instance this one entitled “Pen”:
I am also a big fan of this one titled “Fan”:
Yes, it’s geeky, yes it’s a tumblr, yes I qualify it as tumblr porn for any person who practices clean lines, focused simplicity, or for those who can only fetishize them. Check out the full collection here!
Since Yates’ own personal genealogy includes an education at Yale and a job with Condé Nast’s Architecutral Digest, this series seems to place him (pictured) completely in his element. Currently employed at the web design firm Blenderbox as Project Manager, he has found a home he enjoys and a job he is passionate about, both cozily and conveniently cloistered within Greenpoint.
The Queer Interior: Where did the concept originate for A Genealogy of Things?
John Yates: I always found myself wanting to get more practice at illustration and hone in on a “personal style”, but I’d spend so much time figuring out what I wanted to draw that I’d always end up losing interest or running out of free time. Around New Years, I decided a weekly themed project would be well-defined enough to keep me motivated, but open enough to not get bored with. Many of my idols in the design/illustration do something similar, like Jessica Hische’s “Daily Drop Cap” or José Guizar’s “Windows of New York”. I’m a giant history nerd and antiques hoarder, so I settled on Genealogy of Things pretty naturally.
Q.I:What is your process selecting objects to illustrate? In your experience, has finding inspiration before your weekly deadline been a challenge thus far?
J.Y: I’ve got a running list of ideas I keep in a Google Drive doc that I add to as inspiration strikes – I usually know what I’m going to be drawing for the next two weeks or so. I’d say it’s very easy to find something that’s perfect for three of the four years, but hitting all four can be challenging. Of course, not only does something have to exist in all four eras, but it has to be strikingly different in each era. I can’t do a post for “A Hammer” or “A Towel” since they haven’t really changed form in 200 years. I’ve found that objects that changed dramatically between the 1960’s and today often didn’t exist in the 1860’s; sometimes I’m able to get cute about this like with the ledger book for “Cash Register.”
I think I’m behind deadline for this week – I’ve been busy illustrating wedding invites for some friends!
Q.I: Do you have a personal favorite that you have done?
J.Y: Hmmm hard to say! “President” was fun, I’m pretty happy with the extent to which I could capture their personalities within my simple angular grid system. At that low level of detail, moving an element 1/8″ to the left or right can change a face from being instantly recognizable to looking tragically deformed. Although I think the most successful so far, in terms of the tone I hope to set, was the “Pen” (pictured above).
Q.I: Although simple, you have added design “rules” to your work, what are these specifically and what was the impulse to add these limits?
J.Y: There are three main rules:
1) Only straight lines and circle segments (no other curve shapes)
2) A strict 1/16th” grid, plus 1/64th” strokes.
3) A palette of no more than 5 colors plus black, using a flat fill without texture or gradient
Practically, the rules ensure consistency from week to week so the feel of the series remains cohesive. More personally, I have a hard time being creative if I’m just given a brush and told “go for it.” I need a few constraints to start thinking – I think this is my Lego-filled childhood shining through! To me, illustration always feels more like building than painting. Even in my rare attempts at actual painting, I end up breaking it all down into interlocking flat shapes and looking like knockoff Charles Sheeler.
Q.I: Are there any other bloggings – past present or future – we should keep our peepers spying for?
J.Y: I feel like it’s a symptom of our modern life to have a half-dozen half-dead blogs floating around without an update in months. The only other thing I’m really updating frequently is my Instagram: MRY8S – I collect hand-painted lettering and other interesting type I find around NYC (or on vacation). Last weekend I was over in Calvary Cemetery and snapped some gorgeous 19th Century carvings on the mausolea. When I was in Italy visiting my boyfriend a few weeks ago we explored this tiny town with perfect gilded Art Nouveau lettering in every shop window. I spent most of the day photographing stores from all angles – luckily for me, he’s the sort of guy who enjoys that!