The Kickstarter Blog

Ornament is Crime: an Interview with Don Moyer

At first glance, Don Moyer's plate designs look like something you've seen before: classic prints in classic colors. But then you look closer and notice the details. Each of his plates depicts different destructive monsters on classic blue-and-white china. Recently he's also gotten into head wear, making bandanas covered with rage-filled paisley designs and rogue pixels, as well as coffee cups. We asked Moyer a few questions about his work, life, and the inspiration behind the angry little things that he designs.

How did you get into making classic blue-and-white china with disaster pictures on it, anyway?

I was trained as a graphic designer and have worked in that role for more than 40 years. Drawing has always been an important part of my job. I've gotten into the habit of drawing a little every day and posting my drawings on Flickr.

In 2011, I inherited a traditional blue Willow-pattern plate that belonged to my mother's grandmother back in Ireland. I had an urge to redraw that plate and crank up the level of excitement. I added a pterodactyl.

As I drew additional plates that were spiced up with different calamities, and posted those drawings on Flickr, people kept saying they'd like to have real plates. In 2013, I launched a Kickstarter project to see if enough people wanted plates to support a production run.

Kickstarter is a great tool for artists because it allows wacky ideas to find sponsors. By simply describing a half-realized dream, Kickstarter allows supporters to add the momentum of a crowd to let the dream take flight. Everyone wins. The artist gets to make things that previously would have been impossible. And the sponsors get to enjoy things that previously would never have existed. Sweet.

Why do you think people love dinnerware with disasters?

This is easy to answer because Kickstarter allows my sponsors to tell me what they are thinking. I get messages that are very specific about what people are doing with their Calamityware plates. What they like is the element of surprise. A seemingly boring, traditional plate, rewards closer scrutiny by revealing something unexpected. This thrill-of-discovery idea pops up in almost all my fan mail. Some people talk about watching dinner guests clear their plates and make the discovery. There's talk of astonishing grandchildren.

A few sponsors talk about the plates as a filter—guests who don't notice the plates will not be invited back.

Some people think it is fun to mock grandma's plates. And others are in love with robots, monsters, or UFOS.

In general, I'd say that my sponsors enjoy laughing and stand a little closer to the fringe rather than the center of the distribution curve.

Describe your workspace and your process.

I wish I could tell you about a magical process with fairies or astounding technology, but my process is actually pretty mundane:

  • In my Moleskine notebook, I start with a drawing of the whole plate, or the plate center, to see if the calamity will make me laugh. A plague of frogs was funny. A snowstorm was not. 
  • Next I audition elements of the design by drawing them several times in my notebook. For example, if I need a shrub, tree, or fence, I draw 10 or 20 and pick the best. 
  • I scan these elements and bring them into Adobe Illustrator to make a composition. In Illustrator, I can draw additional elements like bridges and pagodas, which are more crisp and mechanical looking.
  • Then, I invent borders. Instead of copying a specific traditional design, I look at some old plates and then make a new design that captures some of the spirit of old plates and mixes it with the spirit of my notebook drawings. 
  • I hang printouts of my designs on my dining room wall and try to see them fresh each day. Over a period of several weeks, this allows flaws to become visible—too dark, too light, too thick, too thin, etc. I fix the flaws. 
  • If the Kickstarter project is funded, the ceramics workshop that supports me produces transfers and then applies my drawing to blank porcelain plates with vitreous inks and fires them.

For me, there are two parts of this process that are great fun: the original drawing in my notebook is a treat, especially when it makes me laugh. Building the gaudy borders is also fun because it deals with excess. My training as a graphic designer was all about "less is more." We were taught that ornament is crime. Willow-pattern plate borders would earn you a life sentence with the Modernists. To me, that adds another layer to the joke.

Have you found or made any surprising connections with people as a result of your projects?

I like this question because it recognizes that often, the greatest benefit of a project will be something that wasn’t within the scope of the project. I think of this as the Columbus Effect. His project was to find a short route to China, but he opened up something even better.

My series of Calamityware Kickstarter projects has helped me make some unexpected connections. I found a superb coffee roaster in South Dakota. I formed a strong bond with two friends who came to my rescue with improved business systems. I met someone who makes jewelry out of broken plate fragments. I've met entrepreneurs doing their own projects who have offered advice to help me cope with rough spots. I've been invited to exhibit my drawings. I met one of my favorite New Yorker cartoonists. And I've corresponded with dozens of charming, kind, and funny people who were strangers to me before.

It's also possible that many more connections are germinating and will bear fruit months or even years later. You just never know.

What's the weirdest or most interesting thing that has happened as a result of Calamityware?

Here's one odd angle I didn't know anything about before I started the Calamityware projects: 

Several archeologists have told me that shards from broken transferware plates are a valuable tool to date historic sites. I'm told that all sites in North America have broken china and that experts can date the site by scrutinizing the fragments. By looking at porcelain type, colors, and images, it is possible to calculate when people arrived at a site and even where they might have come from. Long-gone global trade routes can be sussed from the broken bits.

I'm told that archeologists have timelines that show when changes in the technology of porcelain occurred. By matching the shards from a site to the time line, they can determine when the site was occupied. Archeology students are trained to match samples to these time lines. To mess with the kids, teachers are now including a few shards of Calamityware among the old pieces. I love the idea of a student trying to understand why the shard they are studying has flying monkeys on it.

Then I project the idea forward another thousand years. Imagine the robotic archeologists of the future sifting through the rubble and trying to make sense of a piece of Calamityware. I like to picture them good and truly mystified.

Libraries Are Everywhere

The word "library" used to conjure an image of a big brick building full of books where you had to be quiet all the time, but thanks to the internet, it's now a whole lot less specific. Take, for example, the Little Free Libraries that are springing up in neighborhoods all over the world. Anyone can download plans for a Little Free Library, build it, and fill it with books they want to share with their community. We've collected a few such projects on this map.

Resources distributed by a library now extend far beyond books too. Seed libraries store, catalogue, and share seeds, while tool libraries lend tools and other equipment out to members of the community. And some libraries have no physical presence whatsoever, such as sound libraries, which compile and share digital archives. Tons more examples of outstanding libraries are viewable using our Library tag.

We wanted an update on the state of libraries, so we spoke to a few creators who have firsthand experience creating or managing them.

Kauser Razvi looked at the vacant lots in Cleveland, where she resides with her family, and saw an opportunity. She started a program called Literary Lots, which transforms those lots into interactive educational spaces for children, in an effort to bring books off the page.

At his first architecture job after finishing school, Edward Boatman had trouble locating visual communication assets for his projects. That inspired him to co-found The Noun Project, a crowdsourced visual dictionary of over 100,000 symbols and icons.

Leslie Davol co-founded and runs a nonprofit called The Uni Project with her husband, Sam. The Uni is a portable reading room, intended to instantaneously transform nearly any public space into a library.

The Henry Miller Library in Big Sur, California, was founded in 1981, and Assistant Director Mike Scutari has worked there for the past five years. The Library is a nonprofit arts center and book store, and hosts all manner of community-centric events in their outdoor amphitheater.

The Henry Miller Library in Big Sur, California. Photo credit: Terry Way
The Henry Miller Library in Big Sur, California. Photo credit: Terry Way

What is a library? How would you define it?

Mike: We'd consider a library a collection of books — that's the baseline. But a library can also reflect the spirit of the community it serves or exude a particular sense of experience, depending on how it's curated.

Edward: A library is a resource to help humans find, locate, and ultimately use different types of media.

Kauser: A library is a place for communities to gather, where you can learn, seek information, gain knowledge, and seek access to things there aren’t available from another source.

Leslie: Public libraries do so many things these days: cultural programming, social services, maker spaces, tool shares, cafes. And, of course, Internet access. Sometimes they still have books too.

What's so important about libraries?

Leslie: Libraries embed some of our most cherished values in an actual place—a place that you can enter without having to pay, alongside people from all walks of life, where you can learn something and improve yourself. Try this: imagine deleting all libraries from the city. What remaining places would offer this combination of real services and symbolic importance? Without libraries, our society feels dramatically diminished.

Mike: They provide a sense of stillness and reflection in an ever-busy world. They provide a unique aesthetic experience where it's cool to simply sit down, read a book, and hang out for hours on end. There are no expectations or commercial demands beyond simply utilizing the space, and that's a rare thing. Lastly, public libraries provide excellent programming that supplements in-school learning and give kids a place to go after school.

What do all good libraries have in common?

Kauser: Great librarians. Great librarians can open your eyes to new books and ideas, and help lead you to things you might not have otherwise be able to find.

Leslie: Libraries are nothing special, I think, without people behind them—not just to answer your reference questions but to act as hosts of these important spaces.

Mike: In an age of automated customer service and unsolicited "cold texts," it's difficult to find places where you can talk to a real-live human, face to face, without a paralyzing sense of urgency. It's refreshing.

The Noun Project, a digital symbol and icon library.
The Noun Project, a digital symbol and icon library.

The year is 2050. What are libraries like in the future?

Edward: I recently tried the Oculus virtual reality headset, it was hands down the most powerful technological experience I’ve ever had, and I can’t imagine that libraries won’t use this technology in the future. Imagine browsing through the Library of Congress in your living room.

Kauser: I think in 2050, when I’m really old lady, people will feel the need to get out of their digital world/pods and the library can be a place where so many ideas and mediums mix.

Mike: Libraries will fully embrace their role as a community gathering space.

Leslie: I have no idea! Ours will still have real books with pages you can turn, I can promise you that. Our little institution lives or dies by our ability to attract people’s attention, engage them, and delight them in a world that is saturated with screens. We have great pop-up books.

What advice do you have for people that want to create a library of their own?

Kauser: It’s the ideas of collection and bringing together that are so important for a library.

Leslie: Build a collection of great books. Share.

Mike: Don't be intimidated by new technology trends or keeping up with the Joneses. Rather, embrace your strengths — things like your connections to community organizations, individuals, and your area's history.

Edward: Build around you a community of like-minded passionate people that share your vision. Then empower this community to help collect, curate, and share the content within your library. You’ll find as this community grows, so will your library.

Pop Culture Love

There’s nothing more fun than being a fan and connecting with people who share your obsessions. It's even better when you can create your own art based on fandom, and allow like-minded people to share in your celebration. Here are a few of our favorite publishing projects that celebrate the best of pop culture.

Encyclopedia Madonnica 

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The comprehensive reference book for die-hard Madge fans, the 20th anniversary edition of Matthew Rettenmund's Encyclopedia Madonnica (originally published in 1995 by St. Martin's) has been updated to include new never-before seen photos and other Madonnabilia.

sixteenbynine 

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A gorgeously designed must-have magazine for TV aficionados featuring original art and tons of great features and reviews (not to mention a recurring feature by a "Secret TV Exec.") 

Barbra Memories 

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A coffee table book tribute to the one and only Babs, with stories gathered from her most passionate fans.

For Your Eyes Only 

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What do your favorite superheroes do when they’re just hanging out? Illustrator Grégoire Guillemin attempts to answer that question in The Secret Life of Heroes, a graphic anthology featuring many beloved characters as you’ve never ever seen them before.

Damn Fine Coffee

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Twin Peaks is really having a moment lately. Damn Fine Coffee is an art zine that celebrates the 1990-1991 serial crime drama — and it’s pie and coffee-loving hero — just in time for the show's return for a limited season run in 2016.

Hollywood Is Dead

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A book that captures the undead in many of our most celebrated films, Hollywood Is Dead gives zombie makeovers to a variety of iconic movie posters.

How Projects Launch on Kickstarter

Over the past five years, more than 200,000 creators have shared their projects with the team at Kickstarter. We work with creators to provide advice and support, and to review whether their projects align with our focus on bringing creative projects to life. Last year we made an important change to our review process. Today we’d like to update you on what’s happened since.

It’s important to note that every project on Kickstarter is reviewed — first by an algorithm and then, if needed, by a member of our team. How does the algorithm work? It analyzes thousands of attributes in a project and looks at how our team has handled similar projects. If the algorithm gives a green light, the creator can launch their project immediately, or get personal feedback from a member of our team first. If the algorithm puts up a red light, the project is manually reviewed by our team to make sure it meets our rules. Simple as that.

Here’s how this has played out since we finished rolling out a new version of the system in June:

As you can see, 31% of projects chose to launch on their own, 9% asked for additional help from our team, and 60% were manually reviewed by a team member. 

This new process is a big improvement in three important ways: it creates a fast track for projects that have historically been simple approvals; it makes our team even more available to creators who want additional support; and it gives us more time to make informed decisions about the projects we need to review. As more projects come in, we’ll continue to refine the algorithm and process to help more creators share their creative projects with the world. 

Why do we put so much attention into reviewing projects? Because it's our job to make sure we're fostering a healthy community — one where everybody's clear on how things work, people can trust one another, and projects of all shapes and sizes can succeed. We have a few simple rules, built to make sure that happens. A healthy Kickstarter means being diligent about making sure new projects fit those guidelines — and taking the time to talk with anyone who could use a little help. 

Have a project of your own you’d like to share with the Kickstarter community? Get started here. We look forward to working with you — as much or as little as you need.

A Few Things to Watch on Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine's Day—or not! Maybe it's not your thing, and that is totally cool. In the grand scheme of holidays, it's a pretty divisive one. Whatever your stance, though, there are plenty of movies that celebrate, disparage, explore, grapple with, and examine the concept of love and relationships. We combed through our very own Watch Now page to pick a few, which you can preview below, and watch here

Obvious Child

Lust for Love

I Used to Be Darker

Daylight Savings

Barmy

Good Night

Newlyweeds

Wish I Was Here

Seeking Asian Female

Bridegroom

I Do 

Keep The Lights On

The Process: Letterpress

Eric Mersmann has just completed his Kickstarter project for Valentine's Day cards featuring an amorous octopus, dubbed the Cephalovepod. This past fall he ran a project to create a limited run of Cthulhu holiday cards. Mersmann clearly knows his way around a letterpress, so we asked him to walk us through the process.

Pre-press

Most of my work begins life as digital files. There are some great letterpress outfits who work with movable type, but that's not feasible for something like Cephalovepod. With Cephalovepod, most of the pre-press work was done by the original artist, Phineas X. Jones, who had originally designed the work as a screen print.

I had to make a few adjustments to prepare the work for letterpress printing, and then I sent the files off to Boxcar to have photopolymer plates made. About 95% of what I print is from photopolymer, a highly malleable plastic that cures when exposed to UV light.

While I wait for the plates to arrive (usually 3-5 days) I make sure that my paper stock is in order and ready to go. For Cephalovepod, I was using the same stock that I used for my previous project, so this time around it was mostly a matter of ordering more matching envelopes from French Paper Company, a great, family-owned mill out of Niles, Michigan.

On Press

Once the photopolymer plates have arrived (and funding on the project was completed) I head into the printshop to make the cards. For Cephalovepod, I printed at The Arm, a public-access letterpress shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Presses are huge and I live in a fifth-floor walkup, so it's not feasible for me to own my own press; having access to a place like The Arm is a lifesaver for me.

The printing presses at The Arm are a mix of motorized and hand-powered. For Cephalovepod, I was fortunate to be able to use the Vandercook Universal III, a 2350-pound beast with a powered carriage return which saved me from having to pace the floor for seven days.

I averaged around 150 impressions per hour (which is pretty good for me) so the whole process of printing the Cephalovepod cards took about 55 hours over the course of two weeks, printing the colors in a certain order to make sure the overprinting worked the right way—Pink, Yellow, Red, Grey, Black.

Post-Press

Once everything is printed, I do a quality check to make sure everything is perfect. The Vandercook presses are great at getting precise registration, but mistakes do happen.

I typically estimate 10% waste per color, and then am consistently pleasantly surprised when I manage less than that. On Cephalovepod, I did have some extras, which I was able to offer to folks who missed out on the 800-count edition for my backers.

Then it's into envelopes and out the door! Post-press on this project including QC and fulfillment took about five days. I was a little more rushed than I would have liked because I knew my backers would want the cards with plenty of time before Valentine's Day, so I made sure to get everything out the door with plenty of time to spare.

Open-Sourcing the Code from Our 2013 Year in Review (and the White House's 2014)

Top: a president. Bottom: a co-worker.
Top: a president. Bottom: a co-worker.

Last December, as 2014 was packing its bags, we received a pretty flattering request from the White House. Their digital office was creating a presentation reviewing the administration’s work over the past year, and they had a favor to ask: would we mind if they built on some code we’d written for our own 2013 “Year in Kickstarter?”

We didn’t mind at all, so we hopped on the phone, sorted out what they needed, and bundled up a bit of code for them to use. You can take a look at the results in their “2014: The Year in Review” — a very handsome presentation, if you ask us!

Of course, the folks at the White House are far from the only people who can find a use for a nice, all-in-one, full-screen slideshow. And so long as we had the whole thing cleaned up and ready to share, it only seemed right to release the bundle as open-source code. Here goes: you can find the code and documentation on GitHub, right over here. And you can click the image below for a quick tour of what's included.

Have fun with it! The design has some great features, from the ones that make things simple (it’s mobile-friendly, it’s equipped for sharing, and you can link to individual slides) to the ones that let you get more complex (background color can be controlled for each slide, videos load predictively, and full-screen modal dialogs let you embed pages using iframes).

The White House, you’ll be happy to hear, sent over a very nice thank-you note. And we can’t say it wasn’t a nice feeling to get to the end of their presentation and see this:

Talking Shop: Preserving Film History

"If film history has proved anything, it's that work that was deemed very important fades into obscurity, and work that was totally ignored becomes very important," says Jake Perlin, moderator of this panel on the importance of restoration and preservation. It's impossible to predict what will be considered an influential work in the future, and sometimes things get lost to time.

This round-table we hosted a few weeks back features five panelists on the subject of highlighting forgotten works. The panelists also shared clips from the works themselves, including:

  • A lost Oreo commercial (at 7:26
  • A film about a Brooklyn neighborhood as it was in 1984 (at 12:56
  • Forgotten classics of African-American cinema (at 24:17), 
  • The unfinished insanity of low-budget director James Bryan's last film (at 35:27)
  • Director Kelly Reichardt's first film River of Grass (at 43:38)
  • German exploitation classic Bloody Friday (at 51:55)

Featured speakers are Elijah Drenner of Subkultur, Christopher Allen of UnionDocs, Zack Carlson of Bleeding Skull, Bret Wood and Paul D. Miller (aka DJ Spooky) of Kino Lorber, Debra McClutchy of Oscilloscope Labs, and Jake Perlin of Cinema Conservancy (as moderator).