It’s essential to be able to work in teams, so we’re often told. But how do you do it well when your collaborators are scattered across the globe? The Renmen Project makes a heartwarming case study. It was set up by Ben The Illustrator and design blog collective Thunder Chunky following the earthquake that devastated Haiti in January 2010. Their fundraising project continues to roll a year on, with the release of a series of type-art prints benefiting Unicef’s Haiti appeal.
Thunder Chunky’s Stephen Chan is also a member of the international Blood Sweat Vector collective. After discussions with BSV’s Jared Nickerson (aka J3Concepts) and Kate McInnes (loungekat), they came up with the idea of doing artistic prints of the letters in ‘Renmen’ – the Haitian word for ‘love’ – with two artists jointly creating each letter. "We thought it would allow flexibility in the collaborations between each pair," says Stephen, "and it would strengthen the message behind Renmen."
The pairings fell into place quite naturally. "Out of common sense, some geographic positioning and timing, we all gathered to create the most awesome collaborative project ever," says Stephen, modestly.
Being fans of each other’s work brought Chris Leavens and Alexandra Zutto (aka Zutto) together for the letter R (above right). Geographical proximity helped Australians Travis Price and Okayboss create the second N, while in France Guillaume Pain (Tougui) and Hosmane Benahmed (IKS) hatched the second E.
As for the first E, Kate bent the rules a tad by working on it with Sean Kelly, her partner in the illustration duo McKelly – and not a BSV member. Jared and Ruben Cantuni (aka TokyoCandies), who devised the first N, were already good friends. Finally, Stephen partnered up with Junichi Tsuneoka (aka Stubborn Sideburn) in what he calls a "superhuman Asian illustration entity" to do the M.
Engaging 12 illustrators with wildly contrasting styles could have resulted in a disconnected set of artworks, but Stephen wanted harmony. He wrote a simple brief explaining the positive messages that The Renmen Project wanted to evoke. He also sent round a template to provide guidance on the letters’ dimensions and shape, plus a primary and secondary colour swatch.
Of the letter he co-designed, Stephen says: "I wanted it to happen organically, to inspire and excite," he says. "I explained my intentions, adding some illustrations to the letter template and passing it on [to Junichi]. We discussed our ideas each time the piece was exchanged, so that it grew the way we both wanted it to. Our angled, character-driven styles slotted together naturally, and we ended up with a creation that we’re both very proud of."
This tutorial gives a glimpse of that collaborative process through the work of Chris and Zutto. They bounced an Illustrator file between their respective homes in California and Miass, Russia, until they felt their letter was complete.
Stephen feels the project was a way for him to use his skills to make a difference. "This is why I really like being an illustrator," he says. "Illustrators are truly the nicest people, and without their help none of this could have happened. Hopefully we can sell everything and donate 100 per cent of the proceeds to Haiti."
Time to complete
"That’s a bit of a mystery as we put this together over the course of months," says Chris.