On Flickr, Hwa Young Jung is posting illustrations of quintessentially English products, like Marmite, Heinz Salad Cream, and the above-pictured Jelly Bellies (well known around here as a favorite of a certain Doctor Who). I really love these drawings, and in analyzing why I love them (a bit of a hobby of mine, now that I think about it), I’ve come up with a few reasons:
1. I read a lot of English mystery novels, and it’s nice to see the exotic foodstuffs the characters eat and drink. For instance, in a book I recently finished, a character makes a drink of Horlicks and milk. I looked Horlicks up (it’s a malted drink mix similar to Ovaltine), but seeing a drawn interpretation of it somehow sets the scene better. (I wish Jung had included HP All-Day Breakfast, though, which a much more slovenly character in the same book eats.)
2. I’m a bit fascinated with Cockney rhyming slang, and some of these products, because of their utter banality and popularity, have inspired rhyming slang terms. For instance, if you’re really tired, you can say “I’m cream crackered,” because it rhymes with knackered (which means tired—to Americans, there’s often a doubly opaque layer of meaning with the rhyming slang). Well, Jung has a drawing of cream crackers. Even the aforementioned Horlicks has a connection here: Horlicks is a rhyming-slang substitution for bollocks (another term we don’t use in America), which can be said when something a little less crude is called for.
3. I generally think of the packaging that surrounds me as garish and unattractive. Sometimes I fantasize about decanting all of the brand-name substances, foods, and concoctions in my house into lovely, quiet, plain glass bottles. It seems like it would be very calming to not be shouted at, all day every day, “Cetaphil! Palmolive! Listerine! Cascade!” and all the other words stuffed onto the packages. Packaging looks the way it does to attract your attention—in the store, not at home.
I imagine that’s what these packages look like to people who see them all the time. But to me, they’re objects, not products. They become cultural ephemera, interesting bits of graphic design, copywriting, and naming, and they don’t annoy me at all. It’s quite delightful, actually, to look at the everyday objects of someone else’s life. When I’ve traveled to other countries, I’ve enjoyed roaming in the supermarkets. The most pedestrian objects become charming, exotic treasures when they come from somewhere else.
4. Jung’s drawing style is simple and quirky, with flat colors and loose lettering. It’s refreshing to look at an illustrated copy of something that was created, usually on a computer, to be slick and straight, sharp and glossy. And there’s something satisfying about these small, idiosyncratic drawings being a catalog of a number of different items. They’re united, now, into a collection. It feels like polishing something off.