How did you make the switch from Economics to Design and Lettering and become “The label maker”?
Well after graduating from Varna High School of Maths I decided to study Economics at the University in my hometown. I was looking for future prosperity thru education. Right after my first year I realized that the Economics is not for me. Luckily, I was working at the same time at Zograph studio (1996) and my experience in graphic design was growing rapidly. Then in 1998 I joined the Factor R studio, and this is how The Labelmaker was born. Studying Economics soon took second place in my life and I got fully focused on my career as wine label designer.
How did you build a name for yourself on the international market?
That wasn’t an easy and fast process at all. I first built my reputation (I’m still building it right now) in Bulgaria. It took me a lot of time here because no one knew about me when I started 20 years ago. Now the situation changed significantly. I raised my popularity on the domestic market and with the help of internet, social media etc. I started to draw attention even abroad. Meanwhile, in 2005, I started to photograph my wine projects which helped me show my work online. Now I can’t even think to stop taking pictures of my wines: first, because they are the foundations of my portfolio and second, because it is very challenging and even a profitable business if you know how to do. In a nutshell – internet and photography helped me gain international popularity and commissions from foreign wineries. Also, many publications, books, interviews really helped me a lot when I started promoting my work.
Where does your inspiration come from when you receive a design brief?
I often say that my inspiration comes from the people I work for. What I do reflects their personality, ideas and thoughts. To run a winery, to be a wine maker, or simply to be involved in wine industry often means that you are somehow special, interesting, charged with individuality and creativity. This is what I try to find in people I work for and this is what inspires me the most. Of course, this is not a rule for every single situation – we are surrounded by many other things that inspire me. Architecture, books, visual arts, culture, nature, history, folklore, heraldry, photography – all these are blended in one stream that I flow into and it always unlocks my creativity.
Are all the wine producers who come to you aware of the importance of a good packaging to increase their wine sales? Or do you have to convince them that a label restyle can help them to radically change their turnover?
Today I could count only few exceptions for the past years – people who came to me accidentally who were really unaware of the importance of good design. I think for the past 10 years almost everyone knows perfectly how important it is to invest in packaging design. Back in the days when I started my design career things were very different. Just a few wine producers really knew the importance of a good design and I had to convince the rest of them to make visual changes on their labels to increase their sales. It was often a very difficult and long process because I was not looking for a single change on their labels, but I wanted to change everything starting from winery logo and ID, brand name, wine label design and even sometimes the winery name. This is a great responsibility, but I am lucky I had the chance to create so many wine labels. What I notice as a steady world trend is that brand owners realized the fact that when someone wants to buy a wine in the shop and doesn’t know much about the wine itself (this is the most common case) he buys with his eyes. This means that most of the wine buyers is influenced by the label artwork, the idea, the colors, the paper, the contrast and the embellishment of the wine label. This means that they take their decision whether to buy a particular wine or not just judging on how attractive the label design is. So, it’s true: the better I do my design project, the more wine will be sold.
Which elements are involved in creating an effective label that helps a wine stand out on the shelf?
I always say that for me the most important part of each wine label is the story that tells. Secondly, comes the visual impact of the artwork. These two are the key elements of every successful wine label design and they are the foundation of the whole concept. Then comes the paper, the embellishment, label form etc. even if it is not fair to prioritize some elements because they matter altogether as one.
How would you describe your fascination with letterform, and how do you shape the different types of calligraphy?
Letterforms, typography and calligraphy they are all part of me, my aesthetics and my understanding of design. I love letters since when I was a child also because they put their strong mark on my personality and my design. You could see them in almost every label I realized. I think that they turned into my personal signature! Besides all my affiliation to typography, I decided to start my own foundry together with my dear friend Vassil Kateliev. We designed one of the most successful typefaces in wine and spirits industry: this is the Bolyar font family. You could see it on many of my wine labels, but you could also find it in use almost everywhere across the globe for beer, gin, wine, whiskey and even tonic labels. This large font family was designed for my personal needs for the wine & spirit label design.
How do the various inks and varnishes, the self-adhesive materials, and the printing technologies influence the creation of a remarkable label?
The modern print industry gives really a lot to us designers. We could pick from a large number of amazing printing techniques. It often happens that some of these effects even unlocks my creativity flow and I start to do a design that shows this particular effect. Inside my head happens a very interesting workflow: at first, I think about the whole project design and later on, I try to find balance between design, effects, paper and overall look of the bottle. All these elements must live in unity, harmony and balance.
What does matter to you in terms of self-adhesive materials?
Paper is my canvas. Along with the bottle, these are probably the two most important elements. Speaking of self-adhesive materials, I always try to find the one that fit better on my project. I sometimes create designs that are completely based on the paper and they really show the best of it. I sometimes put the paper as background, while the design takes the leading role. These are two different approaches but they both work right only with the proper paper. Another important thing is the right choice of paper for different wines: for example, white and sparkling wines are often put in an ice bucket and the label need an extra strong adhesion and a higher wet opacity index because water and humidity sometimes changes the paper dramatically. Lately, I also work with colored papers: this is something even more interesting and it is a real challenge to find the right combination between design, paper, effects and bottle.
What are some of your goals for the near future?
I will try to reach out new horizons, go beyond our domestic wine industry and try to work with more and more wineries across the world. This is happening even now, but I will pay more attention to the foreign markets because it would give me new challenges and it would raise my international popularity. This will be my top priority for the next few years. I will also work on my type foundry project creating more typefaces for wine and spirits industry. And of course, I will stay focused on my digital calligraphy & lettering; thanks to the modern technology, I will study more new apps and tools.