evolution of an identity

warning! this is a long post about the history of painted fish studio’s identity…

i really don’t know where my fish “thing” came from, but it made itself known in my late teens. when i was a sophomore in college, i started making handmade greeting cards and was selling them in a few stores, thanks to a friend’s mom that liked them and had a few retail spots. i decided to call myself “painted fish art & design” after a friend told me she wanted to open a b&b and call it painted pillows or painted eggs… i can’t remember which, but i liked that use of the word “painted” as adjective, especially paired with fish. i added “art & design” to the name, thinking that i could use it not only for my greeting card biz, but maybe also use it once i finished with my graphic design degree as an umbrella for design work, too. i think i still have the different fish sketches i made for the logo somewhere, but here is what i ended up using:

painted fish art & design stamp from 1995

i decided to hand write the name, since the chosen fish was very sketchy. i was also very new to design, and believe it or not, i was just learning how to use a computer and graphic design programs (this was 1994, people!) and i hadn’t taken a typography course yet. so hand written it was, and i had a stamp made that i used to leave my mark on the back of my greeting cards.

when i was a junior in college i took a required business course, and i used my little greeting card business as my main project, and it became a legit business. i registered the name and everything.

but then a little thing called the internet appeared, and in my last year of design school i learned how to program HTML and i took a job at a dot-com as a web designer. also around that time: i met a nice boy, i bought my house, i subscribed to martha stewart living, and i stopped creating for a few years.

then the boy and i broke up, i lost my job when the dot-com bubble burst, and i became a self-employed web/information designer. gradually i began creating again, and in the summer of 2003 i made a ton of books and i revived painted fish, but this time i dropped the “art & design” and went with “studio”. i created a new logo, using emigre’s font dalliance, and i designed a website. here’s what my site looked like in 2004:

paintedfishstudio.com circa 2004

not much came out of all that work, though. my books were boxed up (i was too shy to walk into stores and peddle my wares), and they sat for a few more years while i worked on my career. i took classes occasionally (painting, collage, bookmaking, pottery…) and i hosted pARTies, but that was the extent of my creative life.

then in the summer of 2007 my grandfather passed away, and i needed to focus on something besides that event and the eventual end of my relationship with the boy (we were on round 2). a friend suggested i put my work on etsy, and after a few weeks of yes i should/i don’t have time/are you crazy?/yes i should, i decided to open the shop and i started this blog. the font dalliance was still my choice for the logo, only this time the layout was simple and a lighter grey:

the old painted fish studio logo

when i realized i needed an avatar to represent painted fish studio elsewhere on the internet, i struggled a bit to figure out what it would be, because typography alone would be unreadable/unrecognizable as a small avatar. then i remembered a page from an altered book i work on occasionally. i had cut out an orange fish from decorative paper and pasted it onto a page:

my altered book

i took a photo of it, scaled it down, brightened it up a little, and that’s the fish you’re all very familiar with if you visit my etsy, facebook, and/or twitter pages:

the old painted fish studio avatar

now it’s time for something new! i’m a little tired of the painted fish studio name, and sometimes think it’s silly and stupid. but there’s good brand recognition with it, and to abandon it at this stage would likely set me back. and i don’t have a better name in mind, and i don’t feel comfortable just using my name. so painted fish studio is sticking around. i also want a new avatar, something that is truly my design, and less collage-y.

. . . . . . .
when i sat down in june 2010 and carved a couple fish stamps in erasers, i had no idea that one of the fish would end up being a favorite, and eventually become my symbol. (graphic design lesson: the image in a logo is called a symbol or icon. when you add typography to the symbol, then you have a logo. if you have only typography, like i did when i used the font dalliance, then technically what you have is called a logotype or wordmark.)

eraser stamp

i started using the fish stamp with orange ink on my packaging, and it grew on me. then heather’s dad created a big wood version for me, and it sank in: this fish is it.

a fish from jerry

at the end of last year, i started doing design mockups with the fish front and center, and i revisited another old font favorite: meta. meta brings back fond memories of my first design job in the late ’90′s, when i was bright-eyed and ready for the world.

and that brings us to the new design:

new painted fish studio logo!

i’m really happy with it. the look is a little more modern and clean, which reflects my aesthetic in my work. and i love having an orange fish! i’ve had new stamps made, i think i’ve updated all my online presences, and i’ll be phasing in new printed materials (invoices, moo cards, etc.) as the old ones run out.

my moo cards through the years

and that’s the evolution of the identity of painted fish studio. if you made it to the end, bravo! happy weekend!

18 responses to “evolution of an identity”

  1. Suzanne says:

    I think your new painted fish looks really nice and professional.

  2. heather says:

    i really like the new design. very nice. clean. orange. you.

  3. cindy says:

    this post was so interesting and revealed a lot about your evolution as a designer and in your personal life, jen. i always loved the old world fish and it speaks to some of the techniques you use in your bookbinding. but, the new fish is a better representation of you & painted fish studio, now. it’s fresh, bright and curious. i love seeing the avatar in my twitter feed – so happy.

    when we finish reading your story it’s not the end, but the beginning of the next chapter of you & your painted fish.


    ps thanks for the graphic design tips!

  4. julia says:

    this was really interesting, jen. and really helpful to read about others’ experiences with this, especially as i’m thinking about making my own changes now. i like the new design too.

  5. jackie says:

    thanks for sharing part of your story with us. it’s a lesson in hard work, patience, diligence, and evolution, being applied over time. i like what cindy said about it being a beginning of a new chapter.
    also found it interesting the connection between “martha stewart living” and not creating. she does have the effect sometimes. :P

  6. Anna says:

    I’ve always loved the name Painted Fish Studio. Never, ever have I thought it was silly. Playful, but not silly. And though, I’ve known you since before this bloggy/etsy biz I like seeing it all thought through from before I knew you until now. I’m glad you did a little update. The new logo is fantastic looking and I hope it helps keep you going. I would never bore of seeing your old icon, but I can understand how you could – after all I’ve obviously tired of my own online presence. Stagnancy is absolutely no good.

  7. aimee says:

    the story is awesome and makes the new logo even more bright and beautiful!

  8. Ashley says:

    I love see how it changed and evolved! Thanks so much for sharing it. :)

  9. Lorinda @ Everyday Endeavours says:

    Thanks so much for sharing your story. As a person with no discernible direction in life (I’m trying, I’m trying!) I love finding out how someone else figured it out and their journey along the way…. Best wishes for your next chapter!

  10. la ninja says:

    I’ve made it to the end (and I’m not always a patient ninja ;)
    I’m glad the evolution has resulted in this “gummy” friend. I have received versions of both in the post but was immediately taken with this latest symbol.

    the fish is dead, long live the fish. let’s get those celebrations started.

  11. jen v says:

    I loved getting a peek into the evolution of painted fish studio and your development as a designer/artist. i crazy about your new logo! It is so fitting!

  12. jen v says:

    reposting without the typo. sorry

    I loved getting a peek into the evolution of painted fish studio and your development as a designer/artist. i’m crazy about your new logo! It is so fitting!

  13. Krissy says:

    I loved this post! So glad you shared with your readers the back story. I’d say painted fish has come a long way :) Hope you had a good trip in vegas, girlie.

  14. kristin says:

    love! the new look. and loved reading your journey. i’ve seen the logo and have seen the board Heather’s dad made, but WOW!! seeing them together like that, i’m so impressed by the work he did. it’s a perfect replica.

  15. Jesse says:

    Fascinating to see the evolution. I love your new fish!

  16. Lynn says:

    Loved the story and the design transformation. Loved the old logo & fish, love the new, modern, simplistic one as well! Bravo!

  17. FranT says:

    GREAT post and I love the new logo Jen! I like the negative space for the eye and the bit of food he is going after. Its like you just handpunched the fish’s eye! its perfect and it all relates to the designs you make. I love good design so much and that right there is it:)

  18. Susie says:

    this is my favorite post of yours to date. i am bonzo about the new logo. you rule.

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