Look closely…. dinnerware has never been so sinister. (Credit: Don Moyer)
Next time someone serves you a piece of cake on a plate of pretty, Blue Willow-style china, look closely… Lurking among the pagodas, gardens and elaborate patterns inscribed on the china, might be a dinosaur, a flock of winged monkeys or a marauding UFO. If so, you’ve encountered Calamityware, the brainchild of Don Moyer.
Moyer, a recently retired graphic designer and writer, is enjoying his retirement doing one of the things he loves most: drawing. Many of his doodles appear on his popular Flikr site, which has nearly 2,500 photos, and when he started playing around with the historic and intricate design themes of Blue Willow china by adding a bit of menace to the serene scenes, followers of his Flickr page suggested he turn the drawings into real plates.
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He launched a Kickstarter campaign to produce the plates on porcelain, with a design of a garden scene about to be invaded by flying monkeys. “I think it is funny to disrupt the tranquility of the paradise depicted on traditional plates with whimsical calamities,” he say, and apparently he’s not the only one: He ended up raising more than $19,000 from people eager to get individual plates or sets of Calmityware for themselves.
The success of this project has since led to several other Kickstarter campaigns, for more plate designs as well as two bandana designs he calls BADbandanas, one emblazoned with more than 400 monsters and creatures arranged in symmetrical paisley patterns, the other inspired by pixelated, old-school video game bad guys.
Moyer with his first BADbandana design. (Credit: Don Moyer)
Why bandanas? “When [my wife] Karen and I were first married, we started collecting blue bandanas because they were cheap art,” he explains. “We thought there might be a dozen different designs and it could be fun to find and frame them all. It turns out there are a gazillion designs – we have hundreds.” He thought it would be fun to design his own, and particularly likes how, as with his plates, at first glance, the design seems conventional. “But if you take a closer look, you’re rewarded with subversive details.”
Moyer is on his eighth Kickstarter campaign, and each has surpassed their goals, one by more than 600 percent – raising $100,000. The latest is an intricate letterpress print of sea monsters, “A cheerful reminder that in life there’s no shortage of perils,” reads the description.
Despite the success of his campaigns, Moyer emphasizes that creating his plates, bandanas, and other works, is a labor of love, not money. “These projects aren’t about money so I can buy my dream yacht,” he says. “What I need more than money is the thrill of creating a drawing that has the power to make me laugh. It seems like it ought to be easy, but for me it can be a difficult creative act.”
He’s been pleasantly surprised to learn that he’s not just giving joy to himself, but to others, too. “People write to me to explain how they are integrating my products into their lives and why they like their work,” he relates. “I hear about family celebrations, peculiar traditions, minor obsessions, and laughter. All this from strangers.”
A giant robot menaces a pagoda in this plate. (Credit: Don Moyer)
And in at least one case, Moyer’s fans are using his Calamityware plates as a social filter of sorts. “If a dinner guest fails to notice the calamity lurking behind the Chicken Kiev, the guest won’t be invited back,” he says.
While Moyer’s plates are sold on his website, you won’t find them in brick-and-mortar retailers just yet. He says he’d rather spend the time drawing and designing than negotiating contracts with big-box stores.
In the meantime, he’s enjoying the flexibility that Kickster offers a fledging product designer like himself. “Kickstarter is wonderful because it gives you a way to describe a project and find supporters without initially investing in inventory,” he says. “In the past, someone with an idea for a whimsical plate would have to produce it and then discover if anyone wanted it. Sadly, a lot of people ended up with a basement full of stuff that no one wants. Ideas can be a little more crazy because the risk is gone- that’s an exciting advance.”
Moyer will use the crowdfunding platform to sell the next four Calamityware plate designs, and has a few more projects in store as well: Calamity mugs and a black BADbandana.
A self portrait of the artist. (Credit Don Moyer)
“I just want to be able to get up in the morning and see if I can make a drawing that makes me laugh,” says Moyer. “The fact that I can share what I’m doing with others on Flickr, Kickstarter, or Spotify, makes that effort more fun.”
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