Shades of clay. How to use the color of clay itself

DIY: Shades of clay How to use the color of clay itself

Dutch Design in a pure form

shades of claySince the 70s Dutch Design is a major export article. And that design covers all areas, like graphic design, industrial design and architecture.

Some great schools were accountable for the high level of their students. To name a few: the Delft University of Technology, the Design Academy Eindhoven and the Academy for Art and Design St. Joost in Breda.

I had my education at the Academy of Visual Arts in Tilburg and at St. Joost, where I learned to have an inquisitive attitude. And it gives me a real boost if I see this spirit in others.

Ceramics on display at the museum Boymans van Beuningen
(Pictures are mine unless otherwise stated © Hannie Mommers)

Clay is in the ground

Does old-fashioned craft still exist in the 21st century?

delft blue tiles
Old-fashioned tiles at the exhibition ‘Hand Made’ in museum Boymans van Beuningen, Rotterdam, the Netherlands

Nowadays some young people think every item comes from the store or the factory. They see no connection with the soil or with the cultivation of the land. I once was at an exhibition of home spun wool and what I remember most of that exhibition is that one of the participants said she had discovered that sheep eat grass in the meadow!

But of course there is also a large group of (young and old) people that want to live consciously in regard to the environment and consider how fragile our planet is.

When you are a designer and you are interested in sustainability you might want to do the same as this Dutch girl did. Lonny van Ryswyck decided to go back to the roots for her graduation project for the Design Academy Eindhoven.

Sheer clay- Pure colors

steenfabriek gilze
An abandoned brick factory in Gilze, the Netherlands, is rebuild to a beautiful exhibition center

Armed with a bucket and a shovel van Ryswyck traveled through the Netherlands and scooped clay in different regions. These regions used to be areas of clay extractions for household and industrial purposes. For example Makkum, in Friesland, the north of the Netherlands, was famous for its tiles in the 17th century. Or Gilze, which is near my hometown, used to have large brick factories.

Clay consists of minerals with traces of metal oxides and organic matter. At each site the clay has a different composition, which will cause different colors and a different degree of shrinkage. Van Ryswyck did a meticulous examination of these disparities. She made a study of the composites, so now she knows what causes the colors.

She made molds for cups and saucers, thus making it visible that the shrinkage varies. The end result is a ceramic set with a beautiful variation of brown, ochre and white of which not one pair has the same size.

To top it off she stamped the names of the regions in the objects. You can imagine why I as a graphic designer and ceramist am so delighted with this project and its end products.

tableware by atelierNL
Beautiful sets of tableware by AtelierNL © Photography: Royal Tichelaar Makkum

Can green be commercial?
Quality comes fast, my father used to say

A couple of years ago I heard Lonny in a lecture. She is really passionate about her work and rightly proud of it. And I am so happy for her that a factory – Koninklijke Tichelaar Makkum – has taken an interest in her designs and has put it into production.

If you dig clay you can also dug it

Do it yourself

clay in a riverbank

It’s not that hard to shovel your own clay and prepare it.

  1. Dig up clay from a field or from an area near a river
  2. Let it rest outside for a winter. This is called ‘let the clay rot’
  3. Break it in small pieces and ground it
  4. Add water and sift it in order to remove plant debris and little stones
  5. Let it rest for a while and pour the water that comes on top
  6. Let the clay dry to kneadable thickness. You can do this by either warmth or spread it on plaster plates
  7. Knead or grind it into uniform composition
  8. Store it cool and moist
  9. Before working with the clay you can add grog or paper to your liking. Depending of course on what you want to make with it.

What is product design?

Have a look at how designers think.
It’s so great to leaf through design books and see all the marvelous products people came up with.

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DIY: Do You Want to Design it Yourself?

DIY: Do You Want to Design it Yourself?

DIY design

DIY or let an expert take care of your graphic design?

What are the criteria to buy or make your graphic design?
It can be necessary to make it yourself. It can be smart to let an expert do that.
To know the difference you have to be very critical on your own abilities.

Not many people cut their own hair. If done right, you get compliments. If done wrong, nobody will make a remark. Partly out of embarrassment, partly out of compassion.
Usually family and friends praise your homemade produce. They admire your ability to make something with your own hands. And hey, they’re your friends, they’ll admire you anyway!
Which means you have to be very critical on your own work! Don’t outsource everything you have to do in your business, but don’t do all the tasks yourself either.

child's drawingDifferent Types of Design

There are spontaneous graphic products that are plain, simple and perfect. There is nothing to improve. They have a highly emotional and authentic value. No graphic designer should lay his or her hands on it.
Most childrens’ drawings are like that.

design diyShould a Design be Slick?

There are designs that should look clumsy. You don’t use a slick product brochure when you try to recommend rusty nails on the flea market. Your prospects will not understand.
Nor does the butcher around the corner need a full-page, full-color advertisement in the national newspaper.

Target Audience

Design should be good. ‘Good’ is sometimes slick, trendy, glossy and you name it. ‘Good’ is sometimes clumsy, endearing or rickety.
‘Good’ is always appropriate to the target audience and the product.
Cosmopolitan magazine shows beautiful photos, balanced peaceful typography and content that is written thoughtfully. The gossip magazines have photos that are often just a little vague (as your own holiday snaps), have a messy typography and suggestive content. That is not by accident. They have a marketing concept to support it.

design by expertExternal Experts

Most start-ups start small. The entrepreneur is the only one and is director, canvasser, bookkeeper, sales person and coffeemaker, all at the same time. And he or she does all the shifts as well. 😉
But given time, hard work does pay off and after a while the owner can decide to look for hired help, both internally and externally. The externals will usually be experts in a given terrain: the annual figures need an accountant, the contracts are left to the lawyer, the bailiff handles the dubious debtors. Because accounting and numbers are difficult, even a child knows that.

kentronCard, announcing a movement of the office.
© Mommersontwerp

logo story of your lifeDesign it Yourself?

The designer also is an expert. There are a lot of tasks you can do yourself, but some things you just have to hand over to an experienced professional.
A colleague of mine always gets the laughs at his hand when he presents audiences of small business owners his sarcastic advice on how to handle ‘good design’ yourself:

  • use a wide variety of fonts;
  • let your nephew who can draw so nice make the illustrations;
  • imitate the design of somebody else;
  • hurry your printer;
  • expect immediate results after one action taken.
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I am not opposed to ‘diy design’. As a small business owner and designer myself I am very much aware of the problems we face. And you can spend your money only once.
So I am trying to support other business owners by making free eBooks with tips and advice (sorry, at the moment they’re all in Dutch, but who knows what the future will bring). But I also try to convince people that ‘pennywise, pound foolish’ is a wise expression.


Typography – Fun facts of a ligature

Typography - Fun facts of a ligature

Every language has its own alphabet. My alphabet, the Dutch one, has 26 letters. Spanish has 30, or maybe 27, because it seems that some letters are deleted by the Real Academia Española. English has the same number of letters in the alphabet as we have – 26 – but the z for instance is rarely used and the English pronunciation of a lot of letters is very different.

The Dutch IJ is a called a ligature

Some of those letters have combinations that are written so often they form a new character, called a ligature. Such a combination is the ampersand &, the et-sign. It is a combination of the e and t.

In Dutch we have two peculiar letter pairs: the ij (which we call the long ij) and ei (called the short ei). The pronunciation of the two letter pairs is the same. I have tried to come up with an English word that has a similar pronunciation, but it’s hard. The i in wide maybe?

the ligature ij in Dutch

Fun Fact #1

We consider IJ as one letter. EI are two letters.

Fun Fact #2

IJ is an incomprehensible letter for a foreigner. That’s why the Dutch soccerclub Feijenoord changed its name in 1974 to Feyenoord when they wanted to be more known internationally.

Fun Fact #3

A lot of Dutch people interchange the IJ and the Y in their writing. I saw the typo ‘Gordynen’ on a shop window for years. However the pronunciation of gordynen is much different from the pronunciation of gordijnen.

Fun Fact #4

The IJ is a ligature, a new letter that developed from two letters that belong together. (I have written more about ligatures here). Microsoft Word has a hard time with that concept and will display the Dutch word for polar bear – IJsbeer – as Ijsbeer (and will constantly try to ‘correct’ the J).

Fun Fact #5

Even though IJ is considered one letter, it is not in the Dutch alphabet. So I can’t blame any foreigner for not understanding, can I. 🙂

Stedelijk Museum

logo stedelijk museum amsterdamWhat triggered me to think of all this? I saw a documentary about the renewed Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. The current managing director is an American woman, who clearly was given no explanation whatsoever about the ij in Stedelijk. So when the new logo was presented to her, she thought that the I and the J were put together so the number of letters of Stedelijk would match the number of letters of Amsterdam.

For a typographic specialist as I am that was really hilarious.


7 do’s and dont’s using text in a blog or website

7 do’s and dont’s using text in a blog or website

Readability has two definitions:

One is about the text itself. Is the meaning of the words clear? Does the style support that meaning?
The other definition is about the design. Can you read the text? Is it easy to read the text?

The guidelines for text on a screen are not that different from the guidelines for text in any use. Whether it is on a screen or on paper, on a truck or on the facade of an office, always ask yourself: “Can people read this in an easy and clear way?”

#1 Well designed letter fonts

serif sans serif fontDo:

Choose a letter that is properly drawn and has a clear appearance on the screen. Fonts that are optimized for display on screen are for instance Tahoma, Verdana, Georgia. The difference between Tahoma and Verdana with Georgia is that the first two are sans serif letters and the Georgia is a letter with serifs.

Do not:

Don’t use script letters like Comic Sans for a business text. No one will take your text seriously. When I get an invoice in the Comic Sans (and you wouldn’t believe it, but I really do) my first thought always is “Did I buy something in a toy store?”
Use a script letter for articles about illustration or comic books. And use them sparingly. Read my article about manuals!

#2 Know what you are doing if you modify fonts


For printed text a serif letter generally is recommended because the serifs guide the reader more smoothly. For fonts on screen recommendations are not that clear. The tests found on the internet are usually instigated by Microsoft, who is the editor of the Verdana. And the tests show that you can best use the Verdana. Duh.

text in a blog or websiteNo matter what font you choose it is advisable to use the “normal” version of a letter. It is called “normal” for a reason! For parts of the text that need more attention, such as headings or quotes, you can take the bold or italic version.

Do not:

Modified letters are more difficult to read. The extended, condensed, black or light versions are hard to read in the drawn version, but even more so if they are digitally edited. You can be sure to give your readers a headache if you do.

#3 Choose the right size of the font


You as an author have no control over the way the viewer sees your text on a screen. The viewer can adjust the size whenever they want. Yet it is wise to choose a letter that is not too large or too small. A good size is 12 or 13 points. Do take in account that a PC-screen shows letters in a bigger size that an Apple-user will see them.

Do not:

Some programs give the choices: x-small – small – medium – large and xlarge. I strongly advice against the use of x-small.

#4 Justified text is old fashioned

justified textDo:

Left-aligned text provides a quiet image with equal word spacing. Text is readable well if the overall impression is a plain ‘gray’, without darker or lighter concentrations.

Do not:

The technique of lead typesetting required justified text. Those days are long gone, but still a lot of people hang on to justified text. The main disadvantage of block text is the appearance of “ditches”, which make reading very tiring for your eyes.

#5 What do you want to emphasize?


Distinguish between the different parts of a text in a clear way. A heading in a larger size, or an intro in bold or italic for instance.

Do not:

If you want to scream, then PUT YOUR TEXT IN CAPITALS. Capitals or uppercase make reading difficult, so limit the use.

#6 Increase the line space

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It is better to increase the line spacing. 120% to 150% let the characters come out better and keep the lines of text clearer.

Do not:

It’s never good to exaggerate. A too tight spaced text will color the text an even gray, but makes it difficult for the reader to find the beginning of the next line. A too large spacing provides too little coherence in the text.

#7 Beware of the column width


Set columns at a sufficient distance from each other. For the width of a column 10 to 15 words per line is a good thumb of rule.

Do not:

Don’t turn your blog or web site into a tennis match. There are people who have a large screen (mine is 27”), which makes a broad column really annoying to read.

Do you have tips of your own to add? Put them in the commentbox below.

Editing letters – at the end

Design: Editing letters at the end

logotype HeroYears ago, a director of the Dutch company Hero ordered two alphabets, one in bold, one in lowercase letters, that would seamlessly blend with the design of the logotype. Of course, the texts in those new letters were absolutely illegible.
Have a look at the piece of text that HW Lohman made for his guest blog to see what I mean.
An ordinary letter is called the ‘normal’ version of an alphabet for a reason!

example illegible text

The illegibility was alarming, even more damaging was the effect on the logo. The bombardment of similar letters let thefour distinctive letters completely lose their strength and character.

If I had been in that designer’s shoes, I would have refused the assignment. Unfortunately, not every client appreciates such behavior from a designer. So this attitude can be bad for your wallet in two ways: you are missing that specific job and you are likely to lose the customer. Or as one of my clients told me the other day: principles are not making you rich. 🙂


editing letters for the SPDSomehow, a logo should be distinctive. As soon as there is too much ‘noise’ surrounding it, the value diminishes.
I made this logo for the SPD (Sociaal Pedagogische Dienst, a Dutch organization) years ago. Soon after the introduction, one of the departments of the SPD wanted to have a logo of their own and asked another designer to make it. Unfortunately I do not have an example to show, but I was completely shattered when I saw it.

Grrr, I hate it when designers don’t know what they are doing. I love my profession so much that I can’t stand botch.

Notice what you see

editing lettersThe other logo also had three letters and an alternation between positive and negative letters. So far so good. But the spacing was awful and the endings of the various parts were not altered.
When I design, I take into account different circumstances. A logo should fit a truck or a big billboard. And reduced to the size of a ballpoint pen. It is bound to be copied or scanned. A logotype must endure it all. A good designed logotype can handle it!

The thing with digital design is that if the ending is too sharp you will never know where it ends up when resizing the form (blue example).
The SPD logo has 11 spots where it could go wrong! I have marked one in the example. I pay extra attention to such an ending by making it blunt, so that in each enlargement and reduction it stays in the same place.

Designing on the square millimeter

I often state my profession is designing on the square millimeter. And of course I know it doesn’t solve that world food problems, but still this is one of the nicest parts of my job.
Can you relate to that or do you think it’s nonsense? Please let me know in the commentbox below.

Annoying design doesn’t serve the reader nor the writer

Annoying design doesn’t serve the reader nor the writer

annoying design of an interesting book

Such an annoying book

I’m reading a book with really annoying design! The content isn’t bothering me; I can’t judge that yet, because I’m not beyond page 25 at the moment.

No, I find “De ultieme kudde“, which is a Dutch translation of “Herd” an annoying book because of the cover with a rear flap folded too tight, leaving part of the interior open and exposed. Something like the underpants of the youth nowadays because of their sagging jeans. (Ah, and this book is right about phenomenons like sagging pants!).

The chosen paper is an important part of the experience of a book

Also I think the book has an annoying design because of the chosen paper. It’s too slick and too heavy. The kind of paper a designer would choose when there are a lot of pictures in the book. For the 2 or 3 pictures this book contains, it is hardly a justified choice.

I have another book on my bedside table that uses the same paper (“Winners! How today’s successful companies innovate by design”), but that has a hardcover and a lot of pictures. The first ensures that it folds open nicely and the second makes the choice of smooth, slick paper logical.

Measuring the weight

Comparing the 400 page “De ultieme kudde” with “Du Perron 1956, Collected Work, Part IV” (just a random chosen book), which nearly has 700 pages, the difference in weight is significant: 765 gr versus 410 gr! And that is the third reason I don’t like the book, it is way too heavy.


The mentioned aspects are all about design and technique, not about writing skills. Too bad for writer Mark Earls, because I don’t expect he has had any say in the publication of translations. The fact that the publisher made wrong choices does not honor Earls’ work.
For the time being, I’m fascinated enough to keep up with the disadvantages. My story is merely a plea for good design.

(Thanks for one of my friends for the idea of weighing the book and thanks for one of my clients who mentioned the title, which led me to buy it).

Edit to this article 2017

Nowadays I don’t even want books anymore. I prefer ebooks. My Kobo is small and light. I can read the text in the fontsize I want. Bliss!

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Typography: Ligatures are an inspiration to me

logo story of your life
Logotype for a special product of a Dutch video-company

My desk is a mess. I’m really jealous of people who can clean up properly, because that is a quality I lack.
So if you would first see my desk , you wouldn’t believe how precise I am as a graphic designer. I am great on the square millimeter.

I designed this brand for a special product of a Dutch video-company. It’s a combination of a script font and a serif font. And has two ligatures.


In the old days of lead typesetting, some combinations of letters caused big problems. The f , for instance, had a flag that hung over, making it a vulnerable part of the letter.
If the next letter was an i, the curl of the f and the tip of the i would clash against each other, which could demolish the f. Such a letter pair was redrawn as a new symbol, called a ligature.

ligature inspiration
The combination of the letters f and i caused a big problem in lead typesetting, so the pair of them were redrawn to a new character. A ligature.

A well-known ligature over here in Holland is the old florin sign fl. Other ligatures are:

  • the character that is used in email addresses, the at-sign @
  • the ampersand or et-sign &

In some fonts, the origin of the ampersand, the e and the t, is still recognizable.

origin of ligature ampersand
The ampersand is a combination of the e and the t. ET is Latin for ‘and’. Laurel & Hardy, Barnes & Nobles, etc. In some letterfonts the original combination is very recognizable.

Ligatures inspiration

Nowadays ligatures are not current. Computer typesetting does not require ligatures any longer. Although programs like Adobe InDesign give you a choice to use ligatures in your text.

I love combining old knowledge and new techniques, which is the reason I make ligatures myself sometimes.

In “The story of your life” I have made a combination of the y in ‘story’ and the r in ‘your’. Both letters end in a little circle that I have redrawn into a new sign.
The other ligature is more difficult to discover: it’s a combination of the y in ‘your’ and the i in ‘life’. The dot in the i is made a bit smaller and fused with the tail of the y.

part of the letter combinations
2 ligatures


As I stated in the beginning of this blog: a graphic designer has to be precise. A lot of my work is often not noticeable. Adjustments I made in this logotype to make it balanced and matter-of-course are:

  • ‘the’ is positioned in a way that the e and the top of the t are nicely going together.
  • I shortened the flag in the first f so the space between the s, t and y is in balance. I didn’t want the transverse line of the f collide with the l.
  • Then the tail of the f is extended. There is now an imaginary horizontal line along the bottom of the f and life.

Little pleasures

It’s tiny details like these that make my work such a joy. It’s funny that the best results emerge when the changes I make are so natural that they are barely noticed. That’s why I always make a booklet for the client to explain the whole process and show him or her the steps I took.