Marian Bantjes Makes A Poster Out Of Dirt From Her Travels

The “Michelangelo of custom lettering” gets earthy with her latest impossibly intricate design.

Designer Marian Bantjes has been collecting soil and sand from her travels for over six years. After traveling to locations as far-flung South Africa, Argentina, and the Phillippines–usually for design conferences–Bantjes returns to her home in Canada with a jar full of the place. Now she’s putting her collection to good use in an impossibly intricate poster for the Alliance Graphique International (AGI).


To make the poster, Bantjes started with a basic pencil drawing of the major divisions and letterforms and then tediously put down various dirts and sands from her collection, starting from the left corner and working her way to the bottom right. “The materials vary in size of grains and evenness. The smoothest sand from Thailand was the easiest to work with. Other sands were lumpy or sticky with salt,” she says. “The dirts were also of varying consistency. This means that very few of them would flow from a spout, so I would put down an even layer on the paper and then move it around with a small paintbrush.” Bantjes ground some of the dirts with a mortar and pestle before using, to “make them more obedient.”

If there’s one person who could dazzle us with dirt it’s Bantjes, whose penchant and patience for labor intensive ornamentation has earned her the title “the Michelangelo of custom lettering” from Steven Heller. After starting off her career as a graphic and type designer, making clean and simple designs for clients, Bantjes left the corporate world to pursue projects that would allow her to embrace her now legendary Baroque style. Both her 2010 book I Wonder and 2014 monograph Marian Bantjes: Pretty Pictures are stunning contemporary illuminated manuscripts that showcase her brilliantly complex lettering and designs.

Besides a mind-numbing level of detail, another theme seen throughout Bantjes work is ephemerality. She’s worked with flowers, pasta, plasticine, and countless other materials to painstakingly construct designs that only live on in photos. She estimates that about half of her work is done by hand, and she’s found herself leaning more and more toward the direction of analogue.

“It’s a recurring theme for me, and I do it because I enjoy it. I find that working with my hands is infinitely more relaxing and rewarding than working on the computer,” she says. As for the dirt, Bantjes says she only used a small amount of her collection and is saving the rest for future projects. “I’ll keep collecting, so I expect I’ll do this again one day.”

About the author

Meg Miller is an associate editor at Co.Design covering art, technology, and design.