366. State Flag Revisions: California. Part 2.
Dec 23, 2011 at 01:05PM

This is part two of the California Flag Project. We left off with a good idea of the variation between all of the California flags out there. Most due to a lack of standards, so let's start off Part 2 by adding more standards to the state's banner. 

As currently stated in the law, there is still variance for where exactly on the flag certain elements are placed in reference to each other. Looking at the hoist requirements, one could easily move the type and the grass vertically wherever they wanted and still fit the standards. Using the 5/12 distance from the red field to the bear's eye is hardly adequate, especially when the bears are all different. In place of this mandate, I added a 1/16 gap between red field and the baseline of the type as well as another 1/16 hoist gap between the cap height and the bottom of the grass element. When added to yet one more additional measurement—a 1/32 gap between the bottom of the grass element and the bottom of the bear—the placement of all the elements are now exact. The type and grass no longer can move around, and the only effect this had was to nudge the bear upward just a smidge, roughly by 1/64 hoist. The star and red field remain unchanged in their position. This will go a long way in formalizing the flag, even though an extremely minor correction.

The image below shows how this works, using the silhouette from the University of California's bear reflected vertically, so that it faces the correct way. (It was just easier to use at this point.) 

Now, let's get back to the typography. Yes, my goal was to use a typeface that Don Kelley might have chosen as his condensed gothic of choice. I covered a few of those options in Part 1. The winner, in my opinion from that list is, Akzidenz Grotesk, the first widely used sans serif typeface developed when California was beginning to get its independent legs around the end of the 1800s. This face influenced a lot of the 1950s sans families that you use today. There's a little bit of dissonance here, if I were to be honest simple because the version of A-G that is most prevalent today was actually developed in the late 1950s by Bertold. It's not bad. 

I would prefer a typeface that was a bit more squared-off and one that had slightly greater coverage across the page, and was playing around with Folio, even though that was originally design in 1957, some four years after our standards were written, but close enough not to ruin any verisimilitude of the design. (Yup, I'm contractually obligated to drop that word once a year. You're welcome.) We'll clean up the kerning and maybe, design an alternative R shortly. 

Comparison between Folio and Akzidenz Grotesk (both bold condensed): 

Saving the bear for last, let's get that field of grass under his feet corrected and standardized. According to the California Government Code Section 420 (1953), the one we've been referencing all this time, it is put forth that, "...the 12 grass tufts in the grass plot..." should be seal brown. There's no word on anything else except the sketch. A lot of flags don't have the tufts at all, some don't have 12, and some tufts are rendered so poorly it's not quite clear what they are. Over the last few days I did find another great gallery of California flags — scroll down to the bear flags and you'll see all the different renderings of the grass. Seems like we should respect the drawing of 1953 and clean it up a bit. Let's try that. 

I found a much, much better version of the official bear sketch by Kelley via the Bear Flag Museum's textural reference library. This will speed things up quite nicely for both grass and bear.

Improved Sketch Reference:

Pulling up the sketch in detail, I noticed a lot about the character of the strokes, more rounded and brush-like that I expected — almost like a thick sharpie effect. I tried to stay pretty close to the outer shape of Kelley's sketch and mimicked the placement of the tufts as well. I dropped the outline of the grass, mainly because I think it's visually distracting and is a source of a lot of bad variations. We're going to hearken back to the original, but also make things bulletproof for the next version. It's going to look good no matter who prints it. So, I had one option that was faithful to the sketch, and then I wanted to try a few more modern interpretations of a grass plot, with and without the infamous tufts. Those two options are at the bottom, sandwiching plots from a few of the flags flying around these days. 

Grass Plot experimentation:

I'm not sure that the tufts would have been something that I would have included initially. I'm still open to removing them, just not sure how that's going to net out. One thing I'd like to correct is the visibility of the grass, since flags are most often viewed from a distance. With that taken care of, we move onto the bear, which was demonstrated in the previous post to be a source of much discrepancy. 

In the case of the bear, I simple want to keep as close to the above sketch as possible. A lot of the variations are simply cartoony looking simplifications; inappropriate for a state flag. We'll clean up the lines and try to keep it true to the original. 

So what does this all look like? At first blush, not so different from the original, but we've made a lot of changes and rules so that there is no reason for a flag company to make an inaccurate flag from this point forward. 

The 2011 Standardized California State Flag:

This standardized flag keeps most of the rules, the official colors, the proportions and pretty much everything else that the current flag has, its just all more refined and organized. This is something we could take to the state and have them further define their flag statutes. This is desperately needed as you can tell by now. There are, however, a few things about this flag in general that feel odd to me. The colors are the first thing. Although there is precedent in keeping the same colors as the country that you are fighting to gain your independence from, it feels odd to me. The state's colors are blue and gold and I think that reads as more Californian. I also think there are a lot of details that could easily be removed from the flag, and it still retain its personality. So that's what we're going to do in order to serve the purpose of this project — to really tick people off by changing their state's flag. Well, not really though it does seem to stoke the fires a bit. 

On a somewhat related note, I have always loved the blue and gold (or gold and blue) plates of the state. I was rather disappointed that by the time I moved out here they were making them white with that bad California script in red. This flag project will help rectify that as well, in spirit anyway. I think seeing the old plates in movies as a kid may have influenced this opinion now that I think about it. I even use it on my bmprstkr project. 

Real California plates look like this:

The other details that bother me in the current flag are the tufts within the grass, and the grass plot shape itself. The tufts are an unnecessary detail that simply adds complexity without reason. Now, if they represented the counties in California (there are 58 of those) or maybe 12 influential figures in the past, that would be different. From what I can tell, they are simply a detail in the sketches that made its way onto the flag design. We're dropping them. A third detail that I'd like to add back in, is the weird terminal on the R. It's weird in the original, and will be weird in this version too, but after all the research, I find myself missing it and there is nobody here to talk me out of it at the moment. So let it be written. And in regards to the bear's eye, it's an element that feels weird too, like Monarch is staring you down, so we may drop the internal details of the bear and keep it a silhouette.

The 2012 California State Flag:

So obviously, we have kept the main elements of the flag, minus the red bar at the bottom, with revised—and what I would argue is a more appropriate—color scheme. The bear is simplified and all in all, I think it makes for a striking alternative to what we have now. I was tempted even to drop the California Republic type element, as one of the 'rules' of flag design (vexillology) is to eliminate all words and letters. But the spirit it conveys is something that I would claim is just as important in such a symbol. 

This one took a much longer time than any state flag to date. Mostly, because I had to sort out their current flag (You're welcome Governor Jerry Brown) before making the adjustment. But I had fun preparing this and hope you had fun reading it as well. Even if you hate the new one, at least I leave you with a better more specific current flag. Now, onto Colorado we go...

Article originally appeared on Graphicology (http://www.graphicology.com/).
See website for complete article licensing information.