Thursday, November 11, 2010

My Cigar Label Design

There's a certain romance to cigar labels and cigar boxes and it has to do in part with changeless branding. Lots of cigar boxes look almost exactly the way they did a hundred years ago, and that's just the way we want it. I've always loved cigar boxes, so I was delighted some years back to be commissioned to paint one for Montesino.

I would have loved to have designed something exotic from scratch, but instead I was asked to render an existing label into full color. Previously, Montesino's image of a cigarmaker was stamped right onto the wood as a line drawing. Montesino wanted to embellish the drawing without changing it too much. Above is the original label, and below is my rendition.

I made the cigarmaker about twenty years younger, I enlarged his window, and I made the landscape more panoramic. I also added a tobacco picker working in the fields. All the leaves that the cigarmaker is handling are gold and embossed. So are the words "100% Hecho a Mano" on the red ribbon (which is why they don't read particularly well in this scan).

The label went through many tracings and approvals, so when it was finished, the client had no real surprises. In fact, the client's only request was to change the man's hair. A strange thing to pick at, I thought, but that was easy enough to do. I repainted the hair. Back came the painting again with the message that the client didn't like the hair. By now I was both perplexed and perturbed! "Who is this person who keeps changing the hair!" I said. The art director explained that it was the president of the company. "Do you have a photograph of him?" I asked. The art director produced a glossy brochure with a photograph of the president. I painted the president's hair onto the painting just as it was in the photograph, and turned in the painting one final time. Later the art director told me that the unsuspecting president looked at his own head of hair and said, "Now, that's exactly what a cigarmaker should look like!"

As I was preparing this posting, I realized that I own quite a few cigar boxes. I've never smoked and I don't consciously collect cigar boxes, but I'm certainly drawn to them. Here are several that I especially enjoy:

A coworker from long ago found this in an abandoned house
and gifted me. I use it for all my colored pencils.

This is a faux cigar box, with a montage of old cigar labels.
It also houses art supplies.

My mother treasured this box and used it for stamps.
It's the size of a cigar box but it held fancy cigarettes.

On the Little Dutch box, Rip Van Winkle wakes up
after all those years and immediately reaches for a cigar.

This lovely box is English, and dates to the 1880s.

And I saved one of my favorites for last.
It looks like wood, but it's tin!


  1. You have made the changes to the original perfectly and updated it while still retaining the old world charm. As a child I always wanted a cigar box to store my "treasures" in, however in Australia they were very hard to come by. When I first arrived in Canada 10 years ago, it was one of the things I first bought at an old junk shop! Childhood dream accomplished!

  2. i've enjoyed your post. all my earings are in a beautiful wooden cigar box, a treasure :-) My story is similar to David's story. When I first arrived in Germany 12 years ago my wooden cigar box was one of the first things I bought...

  3. David, I hope your cigar box holds wonderful treasures.

    Design Elements, thanks for visiting - I enjoyed visiting your blog - I especially like the great apartment with the modern transoms ...

  4. Mark, that's a wonderful story about the hair. Your blog is terrific, Art

  5. Hi Mark...Your rendering is absolutely wonderful. I'm so glad they were finally pleased with it (as they should be)! I love the colors and the little embellishments you made to it.

    You have an incredible collection. I love them all! When I was a child I would look at my father's cigar boxes (he didn't smoke them either)...your post brought back some lovely memories, thank you.


  6. Wonderful post! I have always been drawn to the graphics on the boxes as well. I have a small collection that I use for paint supplies along with some wooden wine boxes!

  7. Thank you H.H. and Theresa! I'm looking back over all the comments, and isn't interesting how cigar boxes evoke childhood memories? ... Mark

  8. I am interested in the graphic process and the changes. What a wonderful update. The composition is familiar to the original, but made fresh, new, and much more interesting.

    I think of cigar boxes as repositories of the treasures of a life...perhaps a pressed flower, a theater ticket stub, a postcard, sepia photo and such. Most people cannot discard wooden boxes that consumables come in. Remember the ones with the liqueur filled chocolates given at Christmases past? I was told that the Japanese feel that anything precious should be in a wooden box, and I agree.

    I like the angle at which you photographed the boxes. So much is conveyed in one shot.

  9. Hear hear for cigar boxes, the treasure chests of childhood.

    Mark, I loved the story. As always your art work is exemplary.

  10. Thank you Terry and Joseph! I have been to Japan and have always appreciated their sense of the importance of presentation. At least when I was there, one couldn't buy a single pencil without it being wrapped in beautiful tissue. ... Mark