Around the end of 2011 I was taking a year off from agency work and took care of my two little kids. I wanted to keep on flexing my design muscles. There was not a lot of time free, so I looked for a way to create something in a casual way. I committed myself to two of my favorite fields, geometry and minimalism, and started creating graphics and publishing them on a Tumblr, one each and every day. It turned out that this was one of the best ideas I ever had.
At first nothing really happened. I dabbled in Illustrator, tried to bring some texture in depth into the graphics in Photoshop. Every day a new piece was published. I learned the Tumblr basics and wondered if there will ever be anybody following, let alone favoriting or even re-blogging anything I did. A hand-full of visitors came along to the site, mostly friends and colleagues. I kept on, just because doing the graphics was so much fun.
Then something happened. Two months into the project, strangers came.
Slowly first, some mentions on Twitter and on blogs I have never heard of. Then, one Saturday morning in June, I woke up to see my little art project was featured on the ISO50 blog and got over 1.000 new followers literally overnight. From there, things exploded.
Using the right instruments to publish your work on the internets is crucial these days. Here is what worked for me:
Tumblr was the perfect choice for the main site. Publishing images regularly feels right at home there. Following and re-blogging is extremely easy. And there is a really huge audience, hungry for new content.
I also started a Facebook page very early and embedded a Like button on the tumblr site.
To see what was going on, I set up Google Analytics and checked it regularly, especially the referrers. I also had an eye on a custom search on Twitter. That worked pretty well, because the words “geometry” and “daily” are rarely used together. Whenever Geometry Daily is mentioned, linked or liked anywhere, chances are that I see it. I often react, answer and give thanks.
It was very motivating to see clever people picking up my graphics and talking about them. The audience grew and still continues to grow at a steady rate. I think the key to the success of Geometry Daily is that I have new relevant content to publish and talk about every day. Of course some graphics are more popular than others. It is easily readable from the number of notes, likes and mentions. It would have been easy to create the graphics the audience likes. But I made a deliberate decision not to follow the numbers and keep on creating the graphics only for myself.
Of course I was wondering how long I could keep it up. At some point I would repeat myself or just run out of interesting ideas, right? Sometime in spring I had an epiphany: It's not really me creating beautiful geometric graphics. The beauty is already there, in the way geometry works. It's like an exploratory journey into an unknown country. You can find strange and beautiful spots around every corner. An infinite amount of possibilities. I just need to discover them and make them visible. That took a bigger part of the weight off my shoulders.
It dawned on me why I chose to do geometric graphics in the first place: I find endless beauty just in the way geometry works. It feels like geometry has only a small set of rules, yet these create so much complexity that we will never be able to see even a small fraction of what is possible. And it is reliable: For example, take any triangle and you will be able to draw exactly one circle through all three corners. This is true here and on the moon and it will be in a million years. If our world is constructed on these thoughtful, simple, reliable and beautiful rules, there must be a god, no?
Also rather interesting: Some of the graphics would have never been published on their own. After posting 300 decent compositions you can dare to post something that is really cutting-edge. Something that would have been way too minimal standing on its own. Or too far-flung. Context matters a lot, particularly for minimal work.
Side-notes about side-projects
It is not a big surprise that Geometry Daily made me a better graphic designer. Working regularly in a specific field for such a long time opens up whole new dimensions. In my case that field is geometric compositions, but it could have been something totally different: drawing people, abstract painting, cartoons, etc. I cannot stress enough how valuable this experience has been for me. I do not think I am overly talented. Anybody could have picked it up with similar results really. The point is that I committed myself to actually do it. Even if that sounds lame and pathetic: If you feel you have a field you would like to work in, commit yourself! Do not wait for the right moment. Try to set a schedule. One piece a day, one page a week, one painting a month, whatever. It is really worth it.
The months went on, Geometry Daily made an impressive trip through a lot of high-profile magazines and blogs: ISO50, Present & Correct, AisleOne, Drawn.ca, Grainedit, Swiss Miss, How Design Magazine, Page Magazine. I was interviewed in 7 Shades of Black and Paperdarts Magazine. A lot of friendly people said great things about Geometry Daily all over the internets. Here are some of my favorites:
»If great code could be visualized,
this is how it would look.«
»Well, these are certainly singing to me.«
»Perfect parallelograms, lovely circles,
clean lines, and gorgeous angles. […]
Math as art is a beautiful thing.«
»[…] I love how spare these compositions are
while still being playful.«
»When a graphic designer and a mathematician love each other very much«
In fact, I was contacted by an absolutely incredible amount of highly talented and friendly people all over the world. Just getting in touch with so many was worth the work alone. Some were just reaching out to say thank you, some had questions or wanted to start a conversation.
A lot of people were asking for permission to use a graphic somewhere, mostly for music cover duties. Others drew inspiration from the graphics and used them as a foundation for much more awesome stuff. Most prominently is Carlo Vega's work: First he made a small 30 second piece, then an absolutely incredible animation on top of Chilly Gonzales' »Gray Keys« inspired by a handfull of my graphics. A bunch of developer ninjas are even continually recreating Geometry Dailies, in CSS3 or even in D3.js.
It is mind-blowing to see my own designs in all these different contexts and discussed and analyzed by such a large audience. What topped it off was that some imdividuals even chose Geometry Daily graphics to have them tattooed on their bodies. I know of at least four people, roaming this planet with my graphics on them for the rest of their lives. Could you show more love for a graphic? Staggering.
Of course this project was a chance for me to branch out in other directions:
Stickers were printed as a give-away for people to remember the URL. I collaborated with a local silkscreen printer and had a small run of four different graphics printed as a limited edition. Stamped and signed I now sell them at tilman.tictail.com. Tictail turned out to be the perfect platform for that. Shipping and handling still is a lot of work for me, but it is great to see the prints go out all over the globe. The silkscreen prints so far are limited to only four motifs, but I uploaded all the other graphics to Society6.com/tilmn. They sell digital prints on demand for me. The quality is great, I can offer the whole back catalog and production and shipping is all done for me. Score!
I got asked for permission to use the graphics so frequently that it started to be hassle. I decided to stop handling them individually. Instead I uploaded the data to Gumroad.com/tilman. There you can get high-resolution layered Photoshop files and the clean vector Illustrator files for all the Geometry Dailies of one month, for a small fee.
If all goes well, t-shirts will be next. And I also would love to do more silkscreen prints whenever time allows.
When I got back to my agency after the year-long break, I was introduced to a new side-project: a different kind of art show, the "Speed Exhibitioning". Six shows were put up over six weeks, each one showing two artworks by two different artists. The exhibitions gathered a large friendly crowd into the small and cozy location. When it was my turn, I put up a full wall of Geometry Daily prints, nearly a hundred pieces. This was my first chance to get in touch with the local audience in person, without any digital media between us. It was great to see people pointing their fingers to individual pieces and chatting about it. Spending the whole evening talking geometry was deeply satisfying.
I really feel very thankful about this first year of Geometry Daily. And I owe a lot of it to you all, you are an amazing audience. Thanks for all the conversation and collaboration that happened. Thanks for every re-blog, every tweet, every comment. It has been an awesome journey.
My plan right now is to go on doing daily graphics at least until #500. If you would like to support this little art project, please consider buying a silkscreen or a digital print. Questions or comments? Feel free to send them in below.
The journey into geometry continues. Let's see where it takes us next!