My 1st Card Collection at Dar’s 1st Christmas Market

Some of you may know that I dabble in what is known as graphic design. And by dabble, I mean I have a degree in it and work in the creative department at an ad agency. Tough hours and strict clients mean you don’t always get to stretch your artsy muscles so you must turn to side projects for that much needed exercise.

And so…

I will be participating in this weekend’s Dar Bistro & Books 1st Annual Christmas Market. Although I wasn’t prepared to jump into something like this, I’ll have my first small collection of Christmas/NYE cards on sale for the 3-day affair. Nothing like pressure to make you start & finish a side project you always wanted to do…in one week. Here’s a sneak peek of my collection: IMG_0869 IMG_0874 IMG_0873 IMG_0875 Each card will be sold for 8,000 L.L. and 3 for 20,000 L.L. (including a gold or silver envelope for each). Hala, my former classmate and AIGA ME teammate, will be splitting the stand with me so be sure to check out her illustrated totebags and postcards too! IMG_0882 IMG_0883 Dar Bistro is located between the Central Bank and the AUB Alumni Association office in Hamra (go down the small alley next to the Wardieh station before CMC). It’s all weekend long so pass by for a hello, a coffee, and a card!

My Morning with Edgard Chaya

DSC_0193_2 “Do you like your coffee with or without sugar?” I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I’m not a fan of Turkish coffee. It reminded me of how my teta still asks if I want chai with my eggs on the morning of every Eid even though she knows I don’t like tea. I was never good at being a hardcore Arab. How do you say “no, thanks” to a man who is the embodiment of the Lebanese jiddo? Although my jiddo was more of a Paul Sorvino kind of grandpa, Mr. Edgard Chaya is the man I would imagine when I hear about an artisanal craft that requires patience and pride but has long been locked away in a drawer. He smokes a pipe, wears suspenders with his suit, and tucks a handkerchief in his jacket lapel. He is the essence of Blatt Chaya because he has an old-school aura, as if he is from the time of the tiles that bear his name: a time when elegance was done for one’s self not for everyone else, when it was effortlessly debonair and respected. IMG_7402 I wanted to learn about the process that created these tiles that I’d seen in various places around town. So after shooting an email and making a few calls, there I was, not entirely awake at the Blatt Chaya factory in the industrial quarter of Dekwaneh, meeting with Mr. Chaya for very dark coffee on a very early random Saturday morning. Blatt Chaya has been operating for fifteen years but it took Mr. Chaya four to perfect the technique of producing terrazzo tiles like his great-grandfather. It wasn’t just a matter of finding the old molds but also figuring out how to keep the colors from mixing when removing the metal stencil. Not that he wanted impeccable tiles – Mr. Chaya prefers the ones with mistakes because it makes them human. “Every tile is unique,” he says, because the dyes are mixed each time so the color isn’t always the exact same hue, the molds are manually set, and even the sand used is sifted and laid out to dry by hand. The imperfections that result from this process are evidence that these pieces were made by a person, not a plugged-in machine. DSC_0191 “Finish your coffee and then I’ll walk you through the whole process.” I kept drinking until I tasted the coffee grinds. I realized I’d gone too far to prove I’d finished my cup but it was my initiation into the fraternity of Blatt Chaya: it had to be done if I wanted to make it into the factory. With a small team of 12, the sand is first sifted through a netted strainer to remove all dust and impurities then washed with water five times. The wet sand is set out on fabric in gray cottage cheese-like mounds until it dries, resulting in a fine clean powder. Using the molds within a framing, naturally-colored or dyed cement is poured into the stencil and sealed. The frame is pressed at 130 psi to solidify the tile. After being dried and sanded down to a smooth finish, the environmentally friendly ingredients have become immortalized works of art. Because terrazzo tiles have color within the cement mix, it withstands weathering and deterioration. Unlike painted tiles, the design and color remain as the tile is worn down over time.

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Sifting through the sand

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The sifted and washed sand is laid out to dry

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Sand drying out among the stacked tiles

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Metal molds used as stencils for the cement

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Blatt Chaya’s color palette

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Videos of the process are on my Instagram account

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Four 20x20cm Macanaka tiles come together

Because you can choose the colors you want for each part of the mold, every tile has a different outcome. Once laid together to create the final pattern, it’s a whole new canvas. Even the simplest mold can make an intricate geometric motif once multiplied on a larger scale. On the Blatt Chaya website, you can simulate how your desired pattern will turn out based on the mold and colors you want. I told him I wanted to recreate the tiles of my jiddo’s house in the South and asked him if he would name it after our day3a because each mold is named after an area or village in Lebanon. When I asked Mr. Chaya which mold was his favorite, he told me “I don’t have a favorite, they’re my children.” That’s not far from the truth; one 20 x 20 cm tile is named Macanaka, an amalgam of the names of his children: Maxime, Caline, Nabil, and Karim. He says it takes passion. He says you need to love it for the process because it’s not easy or rewarding. He says that crafts like his family’s are dying out because the number of people who appreciate the art are outnumbered by the number of people who want to make a profit that is easier to get from mass production high-tech factories. He knows that his work is being recognized though. Blatt Chaya has become its own class of tiles in the same way that Kleenex is tissue paper. They’re not interchangeable but they are their own category; when choosing tiles for a home, architects and designers have marble tiles, ceramic tiles, or Blatt Chaya. DSC_0174_2 DSC_0175_2 DSC_0181_2 DSC_0165_2 DSC_0182_2 DSC_0183_2 DSC_0196_2 When asked about expanding, Mr. Chaya is not interested. He wants to preserve the artisanal expertise and you can’t do that if you take on more than you can handle. Will it stay in the family? Fortunately enough, his children, Karim and Caline, are his biggest supporters and the ones who want to continue the Chaya legacy. Karim is a prominent industrial designer who works on new molds and tile designs for the company. Caline’s daughter, Youmna, also has a knack for the business. Besides working with her jiddo, Youmna dabbles in cuisine and recently designed the menu of new Mar Mikhael deli, The Food Dealer, also home to blue Bhorsaf Blatt Chaya. She’s even painted the portrait of her jiddo that hangs in his office, a room appropriately adorned with flawed mismatched tiles.

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Blatt Chaya at The Food Dealer, Mar Mikhael

Screen shot 2014-10-21 at 9.10.39 PM Although I was like a clueless American on a Double Decker tour bus, he was patient with me. When Mr. Chaya was done walking me through the factory and answering all my amateur questions, he left me to take all the photos I want. “Wait no, don’t take photos.” He hosed down all the tiles: “you have to see them the way they truly are, haram not to get the colors.” Perhaps this newfound need it is just part of the vintage trend that is infecting people worldwide. Regardless, I’m all for it if it creates support for an art form that keeps some of our architectural heritage alive. Trendy or not, you won’t be changing your floor tiles ever time the tide shifts. Those cement tiles don’t change with the season, they’re going to grow old with you…but you know they’re going to look damn good doing it. Blatt Chaya Dekwaneh +961 1 695 222

AIGA Middle East | Morning Toast Series

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As the first affiliated international AIGA chapter, AIGA Middle East was launched last summer by Mo Saad & Leen Sadder, Lebanese graphic designers based in New York City. After the launch party at Coop d’etat rooftop in June 2013, the duo formed a Beirut Operations Team who would be the crew on the ground, creating a format to be duplicated in cities all over the region once the initial roots were established and AIGA ME was in full swing. Professional and student memberships for AIGA ME will be launched by the end of this year but, in the meantime, the Beirut team’s mission is to build the network, spread the word about AIGA and its importance in our part of the world, and start (and continue) a conversation about design. To avoid any confusion, this is not a promoted post. In full disclosure, I am part of the AIGA ME Beirut core team which is made up of a handful of young professionals who volunteer during their free time to make this organization work.

Doodled by Mo Abdouni, guest at Morning Toast Vol.2

Doodled by Mo Abdouni,
guest at Morning Toast Vol.2

Back in March of this year, we launched Morning Toast, a breakfast think tank series. Held every two months at a local cafe, Morning Toast brings together 7 to 8 designers on a Saturday morning to talk about a design issue over coffee. Each MT is hosted by a professional who acts as a moderator for the discussion. They don’t lead or preach, they just keep everyone on topic during the allocated 2 hours. Usually, who the host is will hint as to what the Toast may be about. Themes for each Toast are announced the morning of, leaving attendees in the dark. This is not an evil surprise tactic, but meant to allow for unprepared and unpracticed rhetoric. In other words, it’s an informal get-together with potential for formal action later on. Conversation about design begins and continues because guests are put in contact with people they may not have met in other contexts. As for the 7-8 people that attend? It’s completely open: first come, first serve. There are a limited number of spots; if you snag one and confirm, you’re in.

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Dar Bistro & Books in Hamra, Beirut
Commonly known for supporting local initiatives, Dar seemed like the right place to launch the first string of Morning Toasts. Located between the AUB Alumni Association offices and the Central Bank, Dar is a popular spot for book and coffee lovers. It’s also a great hideout for work or chitchatting with friends as long as you don’t mind the sound of a coffee machine in the background. During our partnership, Dar was generous and gracious. They signed on for a 6-month period (3 Toasts total), offered complimentary breakfast to the MT guests, and created a space where strangers could have an open and unrehearsed discussion. On top of that, it’s photogenic and very Instagrammable: the perfect ingredients for filming the first MT webisode.

Cutting down a two-hour rich conversation into two-minutes just didn’t seem fair so we are now exploring the possibility of converting our Toasts into bi-monthly podcasts. This way, interested listeners can get a feel for the dynamic on the table and know the whole story. At the conclusion of each breakfast, comment cards are collected so that we can make every Toast better based on the feedback of those who experienced it first-hand. Because this is still a new initiative, there is room to improve and learn from what works and what doesn’t. After all, that is the job of the Beirut Operations Team – treating Beirut as the testing ground for what will eventually be a regional network of creative professionals.

MORNING TOAST VOL. 1
HOST: HANI ASFOUR, POLYPOD
THEME: THE FUTURE OF DESIGN IN THE REGION

MORNING TOAST VOL. 2
HOST: BANA BISSAT, BLOGGER OF BANANAPOOK.COM
THEME: DESIGN IN THE DIGITAL AGE

MORNING TOAST VOL. 3
HOST: KHAJAG APELIAN, MAAJOUN STUDIO & KRISTYAN SARKIS, KRISTYAN SARKIS STUDIO
THEME: DESIGN AND ARABIC TYPOGRAPHY

This is not the only attempt AIGA ME has made when it comes to connecting people. Unfortunately, when finding yourself in a networking event, it always seems forced and uncomfortable. I tend to see people gravitate to those they already know and the actual networking fails to really happen. Because of this, we thought we could learn from ArabNet’s speed-networking event. For Beirut Design Week, AIGA ME started Dak Warak: a gamified speed-networking event at Coop d’etat rooftop once again, symbolically marking our 1-year anniversary. Using a branded AIGA ME Dak Warak deck of cards, people had to go find others with matching suits, colors, or numbers during each 3-minute round, or dak. Seeing that it was a card game where people could exchange business cards too, dubbing it “Dak Warak” made sense since it translates to a round of cards. You could mingle with people, drink in one hand and an actual playing card in the other. Gamification of the networking process was the added layer that made breaking the ice just a little funner. Of course, I’m sure the free beer helped too.

The next Morning Toast is set to be held on the 13th of September at The Beazbee in Hamra, our latest partner in the MT Series. Sign-ups will be open within the next few days. Dr. Yasmine Taan, Chair of the Design Department at LAU, will be hosting this one – can you guess the theme? To stay informed about MT and other AIGA ME events & initiatives, check us out on Facebook,Twitter, or Instagram.

Postcards from Beirut

Last week, a local band known by the name of “Postcards” launched their EP at Coop D’état. If you’re into a chill indie style that’s similar to Mumford & Sons, you’d probably dig this band that’s made up of sweet musicians & vocalists with a mix of talents (seriously, they’ve got the ukulele, accordion, harmonica, and the cello). They’re like the illegitimate child of Of Monsters and Men and the xx with Sia as a surrogate.

I got in contact with Julia Sabra, one of the band members, to ask a few questions and here’s what I got:

Why “Postcards” as a band name?

“No specific reason actually. We spent a couple of months trying to find a name that pleased everyone and then we decided on Postcards (which we got from Beirut’s song Postcards from Italy) because it’s a catchy name and it fits our style of music.”

What’s the most challenging part of being a band in Lebanon and how do you stay motivated?

“It’s hard because Lebanon is so limited. The music scene is becoming more and more active but it’s still relatively small. Even if you’re very popular here it’s never enough, you always have to go abroad to really prove yourself as a band. Especially if you’re singing in English, so your target is international more than local.

We stay motivated because we’re all quite optimistic, maybe foolishly so, about the future. We know that we’re living something special here and hope for the best. And maybe…maybe, there’s a slight chance that we could make a living out of this and be a full time band, so we live on that.”

How do you stay “fresh” with material/ what’s the most inspiring thing for each one of you?

“We’re mostly inspired by the same stuff: personal experiences, good music that we’re touched by, and nature. It’s pretty clear when you listen to our songs.”

Who are artists that inspire you/that you enjoy listening to?

“We got together over our common love of Beirut, Mumford & Sons, and Angus & Julia Stone. We also love Bon Iver, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, the Fleet Foxes.”

Best piece of advice you can give to the youth of Lebanon?

“This is going to sound cliché, but here it goes: if you’re passionate about something and you’re good at it, just do it. This is the time to take risks and be foolish enough to follow your far-fetched dreams even if you fail because if you don’t do it now you’ll never be able to again and you’ll be stuck in the ‘what ifs’ of a mid-life crisis.”

They’ll be performing at Wickerpark this weekend and at GardenState on Monday night.

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Bambi’s Boxes, Part VI

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New box found!

Location: Stradivarius, Le Mall Dbayeh

Concept: Air Mail framing of window with travel theme, suitcases held up by balloons with a vintage world map backdrop. It’s all very dreamy and whimsical – perfect for the upcoming summer season when everyone wants to pack their bags and get away.

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Le Mall Dbayeh is my new favorite mall because it has all the stores for good twenty-something shopping and some great restaurants too. The fact that the ceiling is all glass plates makes it well-lit on good days so you don’t miss out on the beautiful weather while still being indoors. Another plus: vertical gardens on the entrance to the parking lot:

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Lebanon’s Turn: Global Street Art with MOCAtv

As said in last week’s post, a series about street art in the region is being produced and Lebanon’s was released a few days ago. I haven’t even seen some of the pieces featured in the clip but I’m sure many will recognize the artists in there from their tags. Sadly, I think there is so much great work that didn’t get its proper dues but this is probably due to time constraints.

Ma Tishrab w Tsouk by Ashekman

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The Ashekman twins have painted the walls of Beirut once again – this time with a great message: “ma tishrab w tsouk” or “don’t drink and drive.” The very large piece of street art is located near Monot and Sodeco, along the same street as Falamanki and right after La Piazza. If you had noticed before, there were existing pieces of graffiti on this strip, some focusing on the same issue, before the Ashekman twins took it over with their striking orange/turquoise on black combo. As is their style, it’s a lovely example of Arabic typography (which is also used in the tshirt & sweatshirt designs sold at their store in Hamra).

Although already notorious for their work throughout the city, I feel this one is quite special because of it’s message. There is nothing original in what it is saying but it is vibrant enough that it will hit you when you see it – as it should because drunk driving is a preventable problem. This tag in specific was done for Kunhadi, an NGO focused on youth awareness for road safety. Too many people, many of them too young, have been victims of reckless driving. Based on the The Lebanon I Dream Of documentary from 2009, car accidents increase 13% annually leading to 700 deaths/year. Based on Blogbaladi via YASA (Youth Association for Safety Awareness), a 20% increase in accidents is expected for 2013. Drunk driving is one of the “accidents” we can avoid.

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Click Me!

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Bambi’s Boxes, Part V

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There’s always something to see in Hamra

I haven’t done one of these in a while because 1) there wasn’t anything that particularly caught my eye and 2) they don’t seem to be very popular with readers. Plus, it seems that there is always a tie between the two big display-design experts: Aizone’s Sagmeister/Walsh & the great Louis Vuitton windows and I wanted to feature something else for the next one. So here we go:

This Box was found today while wandering in Hamra. It features a little member of society: Librairie Antoine. Very similar to the Louis Vuitton flying papers of this season (I’m sorry but I can’t help but praise them – even in Singapore, I’d stop and admire each display even though they were all identical). Back to the point. Librairie Antoine has a small bicycle featuring a crazy cascade of book pages flying all over the span of the vitrine. You should stop by just to take a look and read some of the pages.

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Sorry, not the best shot with all that reflection (all the more reason to go see it!)

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Louis Vuitton, Singapore

 

Besides this, there’s a new selection of notebooks available: the OGAMI Collection. As said on the label:

“OGAMI uses Repap in all the products lines. Repap is made up of 80% calcium carbonate (CaC03) and a small percentage, 20%, from non-toxic resins (high-density polyethylene). The calcium carbonate present in Repap comes from the limestone recovered from caves and used in creating Repap, a resistant and durable, as well as a waterproof paper. A paper that is also soft, smooth, bright white.”

Their tagline is “Paper made from Stone.” Best part is they’re not that expensive. A small mini notebook for your purse costs 9,000 L.L. ($6) and an A5-sized one is 13,500 L.L. ($9). A5 is half the size of your regular printer paper. As a friend said, “writing on this paper is magical, everything looks better.” Yes, she is a designer too. Check out their website here.

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My mini OGAMI notebook & Keel’s Simple Diary

Under the Bridges of Sfeir

On the edge of Haret Hreik and the outskirts of Dahiyeh, there is a highway made up of a series of bridges that connects to Hazmieh. These bridges cut through the neighborhood of Sfeir. That is where there are a few hidden pieces of street art that most people don’t know about:

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Believed to be a collection of names of Islamic figures

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Details 

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“B’ismillah Irahman Iraheem” = “In the name of God, most gracious, most compassionate”

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Panorama of a wall underneath one of the bridges

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“Moukawama” = “resistance”

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Water damage so it’s not very legible…any ideas?

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Muhammad

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“Shaheed” = “martyr”

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“Lanatrok Alsilah” = “we will not surrender our arms/weapons”

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“Ya Mahdi”

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“Children of the Neighborhood”

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Stencils about Bahrain

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Stencil of Imad Mughniyah

Souraya Morayef, Egyptian blogger from Suzee in the City, has started a YouTube documentary series on street art in the Arab world. It’s being commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. There’s already 3 episodes up on MOCAtv, the Museum’s channel, featuring Egypt, Libya, and Palestine. Lebanon’s to be released next week!

The Booby Font

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This week, I read about a newly designed font based on a female silhouette on glass. Oddly enough, the typeface I designed last semester is called “Body Language”- aka “the booby font.” I had wanted to pursue a similar feat to the one in the article but could not figure out how to do so (and the thought of going to that extreme didn’t occur to me), so I did it based on the outlines of a female’s body instead. It’s a bilingual typeface but only the Latin glyphs are functional as a font on the computer.

Below is the brochure; if you would like to download it for personal use, please let me know.

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