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Balloons, Spilt Liquids and Paper Constructions

Balloons, Spilt Liquids and Paper Constructions Are the prior mentioned the inklings of a full-forced zeitgeist in graphic design and photography? Or simply the whimsical fancies of a small but distinctive community of visual communicators and cultural producers? My mini-endeavor into this subject matter leads me to believe that it lies equally between the two. […]

Balloons, Spilt Liquids and Paper Constructions

Are the prior mentioned the inklings of a full-forced zeitgeist in graphic design and photography? Or simply the whimsical fancies of a small but distinctive community of visual communicators and cultural producers? My mini-endeavor into this subject matter leads me to believe that it lies equally between the two.

Concerning these three elements and their pervasive tendencies, not much explanation is needed (with the images (fig.1 – fig. 8) shown below as proof) when attempting to convince someone that each (or a combination of) has the potential to become the new black.

And while I am not one who has actively pursued the practices of trendspotting, I could not help but notice the recent and many occurrences of balloons, spilt liquids and paper constructions on a variety of design blogs and portfolio websites.

1_Balloons_Designers.jpgfig. 12_Balloons_Typographic.jpgfig. 2

3_Balloons_Varieties.jpgfig. 34_Balloons_Fashion2.jpgfig. 4

There is no doubt that each of these elements are visually interesting, but besides that, I have had little luck finding an explanation to their existence (or even their emergence) in current graphic design and photography. Perhaps the use of spilt liquids originated with Swedish designers, RGB6 and their poster for the typeface Kada. While it’s even possible that the use of paper constructions could have stemmed from the intricate workings of German photographer, Thomas Demand.

Is there a cultural barrier between the meaning of these elements and my understanding of them? Certainly, as a young designer in the United States, I have not ruled out the possibility that much of this is beyond me, especially considering that a majority of these designs come out of Europe. Specifically, I am most curious to know if the black balloon is a symbol or a metaphor that has some greater meaning.

5_Spilt_Blacks.jpgfig. 56_Spilt_Mysteries.jpgfig. 6

7_Spilt_Cup.jpgfig. 78_Paper_Varieties.jpgfig. 8

As an attempt to better understand what balloons, spilt liquids and paper constructions could possibly entail within the context of graphic design and/or photography, I have started a word list (see below). I invite anyone to offer their insights, stories and opinions on the prevalence of these elements.

Balloons: celebration, youthfulness, pop, expressive/abstract typography, party, etc…

Spilt Liquids: spontaneity, irresponsibility, mysteriousness, happy accidents, playfulness, etc…

Paper Constructions: exaggerated representations of actual objects, a play between reality and fabrication, artificiality, etc…

fig. 1: Top Left: RGB6 / Top Right: Benoit Lemoine / Bottom Left: RGB Studio / Bottom Right: With All Ten Fingers

fig. 2: Top Left: Conor & David / Top Right: Mistake the Beautiful (Bryan Dalton) / Bottom Left: Acne Paper / Bottom Right: Stiletto NYC

fig. 3: Top Left: RGB6 / Top Right: Olivier Pasqual / Bottom Left: Olivier Pasqual / Bottom Right: Round

fig. 4: Top Left: Mejdej / Top Right: Mejdej / Bottom Left: Olivier Pasqual / Bottom Right: Olivier Pasqual

fig. 5: Top Left: Mattis Dovier / Top Right: Mattis Dovier / Bottom Left: James Musgrave & Anthony Sheret / Bottom Right: James Musgrave & Anthony Sheret

fig. 6: Top Left: Mattis Dovier / Top Right: Olivier Pasqual / Bottom Left: Thomas Adank / Bottom Right: Thomas Adank

fig. 7: Top Left: RGB6 / Top Right: Fulguro / Bottom Left: Fulguro / Bottom Right: Node Berlin

fig. 8: Top Left: Pixelgarten / Top Right: Pixelgarten / Bottom Left: Stiletto NYC / Bottom Right: Stiletto NYC

  • 03061981 says:

    I believe it has more to do with the simple wish of creating / playing with something outside the computer screen. To create not only an analogue look / feel but to actually create analogue work that mimics or takes as a reference the elements of the digital (ie 3d renders etc). This is the generation that is no longer fascinated by 3d renders but rather take them as something that allready belongs to the past and can be used as a visual reference in a similar way as Pacman… Baloons, colored paper and liquids are basic structural elements that can be used to create a construction that looks graphic / digital and analogue at the same time…

  • Kyle Blue says:

    Excellent post Ryan! Have you seen the book “Tactile: High Touch Visuals” recently published by Die Gestalten? They’ve assembled a nice collection of this sort of work. Also, check out the work of UK designer Damien Poulain who has busted this sort of stuff for Nike and Uniqlo (see their catalog dubbed Paper #3).

  • Ryan Nelson says:

    I have not seen the “Tactile” book in person, but I had recently seen some images from the book on the Die Gestalten website. Also, thanks for the link to Damien Poulain’s site. His paper constructions for Uniqlo are quite impressive (I especially enjoy the range and variety of paper pyramids in the second image which illustrates a scene of London).

  • Ryan Nelson says:

    In response to the first comment from “03061981” — The idea of these designers wanting to create an analogue look and feel while referencing digital elements is a good way to describe what we have seen. In my opinion, the more seamless these two layers/worlds become, the more you can appreciate the craft and creation. On a related topic, check out this image from Pixelgarten. Certainly this is one of the best analogue representations of a digital medium I have seen.

  • Mike Huynh says:

    The Tactile book Kyle describes is a resource that does answer or try to answer your questions to this “new black”. If you read “About the Process” compiled by Charlotte Cheetham of ManyStuff (, some of the designers mentioned in the PDF work in this medium of spatial design. I think it is an emergence of trying to recreate three-dimensional or things traditionally created (or expected) on a PC, incredibly challenge the use of physical reality space by involving real objects and set design/props with photography. Pierre Vanni exposed this with his 3D paper work. I can’t explain its roots though, for me it seems to be more an instant brain wave for just one person to think, “Hey, this could work.”

    I don’t think it should be noted for a “trend” but because of these pieces of work, they have struk out more for young students to try them as well. It’ a varied combination of many different sources but I can say it has become stronger, in particular from students in London and France and other avenues like the design studio Hort.

    I do also think that the nature and traditional design cultural emphasis especially in England gives strong awareness that traditional tools, materials and methods are still highly valuable rather than digital technology/media that is very natural in the States. Another possibility is that illustrators are challenging this like Holly Wales ( It’s not because of RBG6 however but the use of balloons and either materials might only be eccentric or smart ways to conceptualise for example a poster.

    I don’t think our generation is leading towards this construction of design however but certain forces in particular students who maybe strongly surrounded by digital media are rising against this and understand analogue tools and methods are just as good or even better, greather aesthetic and appeal.

  • Maria says:

    what if you soaked some paper in the liquids? thn you have fabricated irresponsibility!

    Love, M

  • Pierre Vanni says:

    We want to create graphics without traditionnal graphic tools.

    So, paper, ballons, vegetables or whatever, become graphic potential to express our subjectivity.

    The 3dimesionnal case could be explain by the desire to create out of a screen ( we are fed up with computer… which ‘just’ simulating 3D spaces ) = i’m in this case..



  • Your visual arts seem to stem from three stages of life which are childhood, in all it’s glory with 3D balloons, teenage graffiti, which has been around since the dawn of man and maturity and sophistication, ie glass and liquids. Well done, I can relate to all of them and appreciate the beauty and memories they invoke.

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