Steampunk style inspires beautiful typographic collage

The idea for this project came about while I was researching quotes for another brief. I came across the saying 'Time and tide wait for no man' and was instantly drawn to it. I decided to write it down on a Post-It note, so I wouldn't forget it, and waited for a quiet period when I could explore it further.

The process was quite organic because I didn't have a brief to constrain me. At first I imagined the piece to feel like a large mass of cogs, clocks and mechanisms. I wanted to reference the Victorian steampunk aesthetic, and make the collage from engraved illustrations and an eclectic array of typefaces.

Structured composition

However, once I actually started composing the piece from found imagery, it felt too structured. I felt there was a beauty to the saying that I wasn't quite capturing – it felt too masculine and aggressive. This led me to shift my focus to include some astrological and cosmic references. The organic nature and texture of the starry skies and galaxies instantly softened the collage and made it feel more balanced.

In the final piece, the mechanical nature of time is referenced through the presence of clocks, cogs and gears, and the original meaning of tide ('season') is shown through astronomical charts used for tracking the passing of time via large celestial objects and constellations.

Stage one - I had a rough idea that the piece should feature clocks, cogs and other mechanisms, so I researched the steampunk style

Stage two - I started to compose circles and cogs, initially in black and white, then I gradually began to introduce colour

Stage three - I started constructing the typography by hand because I find it easier and I like the imperfections it creates

Stage four - This was the most complex stage - finding the right composition. It took a long time to get everything to sit right

Stage five - I printed and cut out all the different elements using a scalpel, and created a stencil for the typography

Stage six - I reassembled the design according to my digital rough, using foam board to create depth

Stage seven - I photographed the finished piece and retouched it very slightly in Photoshop, balancing out the levels, cloning any dust and adding a bit more depth and shading in places

Words: Ciara Phelan

Ciara Phelan began her creative career as an office junior at IWant design before leaving to go freelance in 2010. Since then, she has worked with clients including Sony, The New York Times, the V&A and McDonald's. This article originally appeared in Computer Arts issue 228.