What Desert Dwellers Know- poster design by paul mirocha
"Desert Dwellers Know", a poster designed by Paul Mirocha using text quotations from works by Byrd Baylor, in collaboration with the Pima County Dept. of Environmental Quality. (click to enlarge)

THE ORIGINAL INSPIRATION for the Sonoran Desert Mandala came from some of the prehistoric petroglyphs found on rocks in the Tucson area. Artists are always stealing from each other and this case was no different. I had started making this spiral collage by scanning objects picked up in the Sonoran Desert–both human and natural. When this poster project came to me, I soon realized that it was where the mandala was meant to go.

My client, collaborator, and friend Skye, from Pima County Dept. of Environmental Quality, insisted on using long quotes from Byrd Baylor's children's books. She just loved the writing so much that she would have printed whole books on the poster. Which would have been fine–I love Byrd's writing too. Syke even gave me a set of Byrd Baylor's book. I read them all.

But the design challenge of incorporating all that text and all those objects was too much for me—at first. I like things to be simple and clean. Then I realized it was a wonderful typographic opportunity to make something complex simple and clean. Thanks Skye.

The typography itself would be a major design problem to solve. After much discussion and endless cutting by me and adding by her, the solution we arrived at was this: from a distance, the poster would have the simple zen-like quality I wanted, and as viewers were drawn in by the Sonoran Desert Mandala image, the text would become more than a background texture and they could actually read it. Over time, people might read a little more each time they saw the poster. Somehow then, then magic of Byrd's words would get through. They did.

Here is one of my favorite quotes from Byrd on the poster.

THE OLD MAN SAID, “Most people never hear those things at all."

I said, “I wonder why.”

He said, “They just don’t take the time you need for something that important.”

I said, “I’ll take the time.  But first you’ll have to teach me.”

“I’d like to if I could,” he said, “but the thing is…you have to learn it from the hills and ants and lizards and weeds and things like that. They do the teaching around here…Start with one seed pod, or one dry weed or one horned toad, or one handfull of dirt or one sandy wash.”

He told me it was worth the time. He said trees are very honest and they don’t care much for fancy people…you have to respect that tree or hill or whatever it is you’re with…Take a horned toad, for example. If you think you’re better than a horned toad, you’ll never hear its voice – even if you sit there in the sun forever.

And he said, “Don’t be ashamed to learn from bugs or sand or anything.”

—from: The Other Way to Listen, by Byrd Baylor, 1978


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