Botanical art for a new tea package design
For years, I used to admire the design of Alvita Tea packages whenever I was in a high-end health food store, with the legacy white boxes featuring botanical paintings. With 46 different herbs, the Alvita shelves read like an illustrated encyclopedia of ancient and modern medicinal plants, with each plant’s special uses and history printed on the box. I’m a terrible gardener, but I love plants. So I just draw them.
That was before Twinlab, Alvita’s parent company, called on me to illustrate a few more plants they wanted to add to the white box lineup. The assignment was to imitate, as best I could, the style of botanical watercolors on the white packages.
No one knew who that original artist was and they didn’t have any of the old paintings. I painted three new packages, holy basil, lemongrass, and hibiscus, as close as I could by studying a few Alvita Tea boxes I bought in a local store.
The old art was clearly a loose watercolor style. I used to do that, but now I am painting digitally. I tried to loosen up, but I just loved those botanical details. I could not help making some improvements in the realism and making the new art my own. But when I compared my final proof to the old boxes, it didn’t look anything like the old art. I knew I had failed.
The next thing I knew, the brand manager had decided to redo the plant art in the whole line-up, upgrading them with with my illustrations.
There was more. After a few weeks, the art director sent me a new package design with a green band around it and a tan background and asked if I could compose the art to fit both boxes. I told him I couldn’t exactly. One of them would have to be compromised somewhat. I was hoping the new tan boxes would the that secondary layout because the old white boxes were so simple and easy to design with. They just had, well, what designers in the know call “white space”.
The new green and tan boxes had a vertical row of symbols on the left side that cramped the art. And the painting had to wrap around the right corner to look good at a 3/4 angle. But the new was to win out over the old. Alvita was going to be organic now and white just didn’t say “organic” in the visual language of the shelf.
It turns out that those white boxes were not the original Avita Tea packages anyways. One of Twinlab’s vendors happened across an old Alvita tea package in their grandmother’s attic. It was the lost and forgotten 1922 package. The designer had incorporated its beautifully retro look into a new contemporary design.
I spent the next six months cranking out the new art on a tight schedule so packages could be printed for the unveiling at the Expo West Trade show this month. Within a year of two, the white boxes will be discontinued and all Alvita Teas will be organic, in the modern-retro green and tan boxes.