“I exist somewhat outside of the mainstream of design thinking. Where others might look at measurable results, I tend to be interested in more ethereal qualities like does it bring joy? Is there a sense of wonder? And does it invoke curiosity?”

These are the questions Marian Bantjes asks before creating something[12]. She’s been dubbed “the Michelangelo of Custom Decorative Lettering,”[10] although she has been described as a designer, artist, illustrator, teacher, typographer and writer as well. Her unique style of graphic design features typography and illustration, with extreme detail and ornamentation. Her work has been in design publications across the globe. And her client list includes, Saks Fifth Avenue, The New York Times, Wallpaper*, Houghton-Mifflin and many more[4].

bantjes_2006_print-1print magazine cover July/August 2006 [8]
bantjes_2008_grapesGrapes poster for The Grateful Palate/R Wines, 2008 [3]

While her work is awe-inspiring and wonderfully varied now, she has not always enjoyed such creative freedom. Marian Bantjes went to Emily Carr College of Art in Vancouver, but became frustrated by their insistence on specialization and dropped out after a year. This lead to a 10-year career as a book typesetter, and then in 1993 she started the design company Digitopolis and she began to build her portfolio[1].

But as the early 2000’s came around, she became “jaded and bitter[1].” In her book Pretty Pictures she writes, “I imagined myself on my deathbed looking back over my life, and I felt that I’d wasted it. I’d created nothing important or memorable or influential. I had lived in a small backwater of the design world, crafting pseudo-importance from nothing, justified on the grounds that it was somehow ‘cleansing the world of ugly design’ and ‘contributing to the success of businesses.’ This was my mid-life-crisis[1].”

bantjes_prettypictures-1Cover of her book Pretty Pictures, 2013 [5]


bantjes_prettypictures-9Spreads from her book Pretty Pictures, 2013 [6] & [7]

And this mid-life-crisis in 2004 is what made Marian Bantjes the amazing graphic artist she is today. She now refers to this shift as her “transformative personal story.” At the beginning of her career she followed strategy, but now her work follows her heart and her interests. And she uses her ego to guide her creative process, in order to create work that is mutually beneficial to both herself and her client[10]. As many in the field know, ego isn’t supposed to be involved in graphic design, however, Bantjes finds that the more she deals with the work in a personal way the more compelling the result.

Bantjes takes a self-described “particularly imaginative approach[10]” to her work, and is drawn to inspiration based in structures and systems[10]. She creates final products full of wonder and surprise, and artistic statements that require an onlooker to figure it out for themselves. Bantjes is also interested in working with unusual materials. She did a commission made entirely of sugar, she has worked with uncooked pasta, and even tin foil[4].

bantjes_2007_sugar-1Contribution to Stefan Sagmeister’s series, “Things I have learned in my life so far,” 2007 (made entirely of sugar) [9]
bantjes-iwonder-honour-title           A design for her book, I Wonder, 2010 (made of uncooked pasta) [11]
bantjes_2009_ny00s“The 00’s”, New York Magazine Cover, 2009 (made from tin foil) [2]

Bantjes is dedicating her life’s work to advancing the importance of visual wealth. She wants to change the perception that ornamental graphics detract from the seriousness of content, in order to bring a sense of wonder to graphic design. She has said “When I put visual work out there into the mass media, work that is interesting, unusual, intriguing, work that maybe opens up that sense of inquiry in the mind, I’m seeding the imagination of the populous. And you just never know who is going to take something from that and turn into something else, because inspiration is cross pollinating[10].”


[1] – Alderson, Rob. “Beyond Pretty Pictures: Marian Bantjes on Her Life, Work and Her Transformative Personal Story.” It’s Nice That. INT Works, 08 June 2015. Web. 29 Apr. 2016. <;.

[2] – Bantjes, Marian. “The 00’s.” Digital image. Web. <;.

[3] – Bantjes, Marian. Grapes Poster. Digital image. Web. <;.

[4] – Bantjes, Marian. “Portfolio Archives – Marian Bantjes.” Marian Bantjes. Web. 01 May 2016. <;.

[5] – Bantjes, Marian. Pretty Pictures Book Cover. Digital image. Web. <;.

[6] – Bantjes, Marian. Pretty Pictures. Digital image. Web. <;.

[7] – Bantjes, Marian. Pretty Pictures. Digital image. Web. <;.

[8] – Bantjes, Marian. Print Magazine Cover. Digital image. Web. <;.

[9] – Bantjes, Marian. Sugar. Digital image. Web. <;.

[10] – “Intricate Beauty by Design.” Marian Bantjes:. Ted Talks, Feb. 2010. Web. 28 Apr. 2016. <;.

[11] – Walker, Alissa. “The First Book From Marian Bantjes, Graphic Design’s Master of Frills.” Co.Design. Fast Company, 18 Oct. 2010. Web. 30 Apr. 2016. <;.

[12] – Walters, John L. “Eye Magazine.” Eye Magazine. The Eye, Summer 2009. Web. 02 May 2016. <;.

[13] – Graffica. Marian Bantjes. 10 June 2015. Web. 02 May 2016. <;.

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