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The Adventures of Jill and Buster

2011 April 21

After weeks of ludicrous (and derivative) hinting and secrecy, I can finally reveal the outcome of what I’ve been referring to as “Project J.”

Kids Camp brochure for Jo-Ann Stores

Hot off the presses. Or at least still warm.

“Project J” was, as you see, a crafting-class brochure for Jo-Ann Stores (which everyone seems to refer to as “Jo-Ann Fabrics”). Although a couple of modifiers should accompany this technically-accurate description.

First, technically Jo-Ann Stores has not at any point been a Modern Alchemy client; I was actually doing work for another party which is not really unusual and moreover is probably of no interest to you anyway. Second though, more importantly, my work here went a bit beyond just “designing a brochure,” which is why I’ve been so excited about sharing the results that I ended up dropping vague hints.

I wasn’t just designing a brochure. I was also creating a minature world of odd little beings which I still can’t quite explain.

Jill and Buster play ball

Where did this come from...?

I can’t take all of the credit for the art in this project, mind. When I commenced work on this brochure I had most of the craft-project photos available as reference, but I immediately latched onto what are described as “T-shirt Creatures.”

T-shirt creatures, by Jo-Ann Stores

Eye-catching, you know what I mean?

These, I instinctively knew, were the “heroes” of this project. The mascots, icons, what-have-you. So I came up with two or three possible approaches to the brochure, but my personal favorite was the very early version of what you saw above.

Sketch for Jo-Ann Stores Kids' Camp brochure

Click to see large version of my refined sketch

Well, go figure: everyone else was enthusiastic about this one, too. Which then left me with an interesting challenge, i.e., turning rough pencil sketches into actual polished, full-color artwork.


For the most part, though, just like the original concept it just flowed. From somewhere, at least, though for the life of me I can’t imagine where.

I mean, I design covers for scientific reference books. My design “hobby” is maps and charts and other information graphics. Whatever my varied strengths and interests as a designer, whimsical children’s-book-style illustration wouldn’t even qualify as a candidate, let alone a finalist.

So I still don’t quite know what to make of these characters which, since I had to name my files something, I christened Jill and Buster. But I am quite pleased with them, nonetheless.

Jill and an unnamed Blammo-esque dog, out flying a kite

I never named the dog. ("Indiana?" Heh.)

Of the two, for what it’s worth, I think that Jill is probably the better achievement from a graphic design perspective. Both characters are, obviously, based on the stuffed toys, but in Jill’s case I think I managed some rather impressive refinements. The actual toy is really pretty weird-looking, I think, with almost some sort of voodoo-doll quality; in the cartoon “Jill” I think that I came up with a design that was largely faithful to the original but friendlier and more cuddly, as well as quite expressive.

Having said that, though, Buster is my favorite.

Buster enjoying summer

Cool, cool shades, Buster.

It’s just the endearing goofiness, which was mostly right there in the stuffed toy; those googly eyes and crooked teeth just lend “Buster” a playful appearance without any extra effort. Despite the fact that he’s more or less just a blue beanbag without even Jill’s stumpy limbs, I immediately pictured Buster as a lively, energetic character, hopping around and probably even bouncing a bit while “standing still.” (Plus, in a fantasy world, just like with the characters of the lack of visible limbs need be no actual impediment to holding or manipulating objects.)

Anyway, the whole project was an absolute hoot. Not to mention remarkably well-received. I struggled a few times, and was nearly sweating bullets at one point even, but this was mainly just in response to design challenges which I recognized, myself, and then prepared solutions for on my own. Nearly everything I actually passed along for review was approved, and even began turning up in other projects while I was still finishing this one. (At one point a proof was returned with a little heart followed by the word “this” and an arrow pointing to the cartoon characters.)

For the interior panels, I came up with a variety of little symbols to act as background “frames” for some of the craft-projects; those were all approved, too.

Inside of Jo-Ann Stores Kids' Camp brochure

Honestly it's like this project was charmed

Yep. No idea where this stuff came from. But, I’m happy with it, the clients were happy with it, I got to stretch myself as a designer and my designs are going to appear on various brochures, signs and other printed objects at about a zillion-and-seven stores (except in Lakewood where, alas, the local store closed just about a month or so too soon).

Chalk this one up in the “win” column, I guess.

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