Why do restaurants put lemon in my water?!!!

Embiggen the Dom-age


Project play-by-play

There’s probably some fancy reason for slipping that slice of lemon in a perfectly drinkable glass of water. Something to do with the zesty tang of sour citrus ‘bursting’ in the water and forcing it to explode in a fit of blissful unicorn whinnies in your mouth. Or something. Really? Hmm. This is definitely a three exclamation mark ponderation.



Thinky time

My Nan’s lemon tree was always bountiful and thorny (try climb that tree and you’d regret it). Sadly, the lemons were crap. Cut ‘em open and the rinds and pith combined were often thicker then the flesh held within. I wouldn’t put those bastards in water. They were angry citrus.

But most lemons aren’t like that. Most are sour but pretty. Sliced ‘just so’ and hung alluringly from the lip of a cold, clear glass. And with it casually slouching there and kicking its legs in the H2O, don’t you feel so refined and superior? Aren’t they soooo refreshing?! OMG, you are uber-refreshed!

Do lemons dream of their destinies? Of their futures? Do they hang there and think: Will I be fish garnish or star in a prize-winning meringue pie? Will I be reduced to mere rind in a fruit cake, or have my skin roughly rubbed on a grater for my soul, my zest? Or will I be unceremoniously chucked in someone’s glass only to be pulled out and laid on the edge of a table and thrown away by a busboy?

Ah, the dreams of lemons and men.

There’s not really an idea there, but I thought perhaps I could turn it into a photographic exercise. Maybe carve something into a lemon? Or spell out something in lemon rind?

Nope. Still nothing.

And are they really that refreshing? Really? Aren’t there a lot of germs on lemon skin, still squiggling and wiggling and happily doing backstroke in your water, deposited there from the unwashed hands of the dolt who cut it up?

Yeah. Real refreshing.

“Just tap water for me, thanks. Oh, and drop a dirty band aid in there, would you? There’s a dear.”

Half an idea appeared. Instead of a glorious photograph of a bright yellow lemon dropping into a glass of stylized water and splashing like a giddy frickin’ dolphin at Seaworld, I’ll shoot a Band Aid in there instead. Snapity snapshot. I’m a genius. From the Latin, Geni ‘she of big brain’ and us, ‘with a giant head to hold it in’. I made a ‘dusting my hands off’ motion and moved on with my life, knowing what I was going to do come production day.

But like a lemon fallen from the tree and lying in the grass for many many eons, this idea went bad.

I went from thinking to overthinking. It was just boring. A boring idea.

In the droppy-eyelidded morning, Brain did a little ‘bing’. Just a tiny one.

Ha. It thought. They’re being baptized, those lemons. They grow ‘em dirty just so they can be made clean when dunked in the glass. Hallelujah and all that guff. Their skins washed clean.

And that’s how we ended up here, children. That’s how we ended up with what you see before you – a seed packet for Baptismal Lemons. And not just that, a special hybrid of Baptismal Lemons called “Germ Jackets”, that grow on the tree with extra germy Band Aids ALREADY ON THEM. That’s just the kind of product that a business called Ultra-Dirty Rinds Seed Company, would provide. I believe you will find that they have been providing lemons to many popular restaurants and bars on both coasts for many, many years now.

Grab a packet today. They’re fast growing trees. Just like germs.

Time to plant an orchard!

Total thinky time = Probably about 50 minutes, all up

Prepy time

Off to the shops. Three lemons for $1. For some reason, I bought six. I figured I should have some as back up if the idea didn’t work and I needed to try something else. And of course, an extra one for the beers. Although, I think if you put lemon in a beer, it’s probably because it’s a bad beer.

Cheap knock-off Band Aids made their way into my bag, and in a jiffy, I legged it home to make a lovely Saturday afternoon mess. Bring it.

It took a bit to get the ratio of band aid to lemon right. I wanted some yellow to be sticking out so that it would show up on the seed packet and be obvious that it was a lemon. Albeit one covered in potentially manky plasters. Working out the angle to photograph it at its most sexy. Pft. The lighting in my apartment is kinda crappy, but I work with what I got. Figured it wouldn’t really matter since I planned on illustrating the lemon to make it feel more hand-drawn anyway.

Once I was ok with the photo – which was nothing great but would do – time to find some seed packet inspiration. I found a couple of styles that I really liked. Ones that seemed to go above and beyond a photograph and had a bit of uniqueness to them. Particularly liked these two sets for their simplicity and style. The first is my favorite.

But I also really liked these.

With a few examples to draw inspiration from, and the photo sorted, it was time to sit down and get cracking.

But first… let’s put a lemon to good use and drown those germs in some good old fashioned cheap cerveza! (You bet your arse I washed those lemons. Clean as whistles, them. They smelt pretty good too and were very fleshy. Much better than Nan’s.)

Total Prepy time = 3 hours

Sit-down-and-doey Time

I didn’t know where to start. Particularly since I didn’t really have a picture of the idea in my head yet. Well, not fully formed. Once I cut the lemon out of the photo and brought it into Illustrator, all I could think of was how I didn’t really know how to use Illustrator properly. It was a little disheartening. Did I want to trace it? Did I want to draw it as line art? In the end, I faked a Live Trace just to have something to design around. Really didn’t like the look of it, but we’ll come back to that.

The second thing I wanted to find was a good font for it. Back on dafont.com and I ended up choosing one called Return to Sender for the main seed type, with a secondary font, Market Deco, for everything else. I don’t know how to work out which fonts go together, so this is just pure ‘I like this with that’ thinking.

Ah, but enough of this fumbling around in the dark. I pulled out my sketch book and decided to work out all the elements before dicking around for hours not knowing what I was doing. I know, I know. This should actually be the first thing I do. But I get too ansty. I’m such a noob at this.

The Band Aids came back as elements to use as lines and borders. I traced one and replicated it many many times to make the borders on the seed packet. Ol’ Brain seems to find much joy in creating tiny little touches that no-one will ever notice. But heart knows it’s there. Secret. Secret thing.

One of the original ideas was to put a silohette of a baptismal font (the kind you put water in) behind the lemon, but last minute I decided that a tree might be better. And I still hadn’t decided what to do with the ugly lemon. So I winged it. Ended up making the tree a base for the lemon itself, which half-hid the crappiness of the lemon. It turned out… ok. Once I decided to build some ground underneath and use it as the envelope for the name of the seed company, I felt a lot better about it. But there’s so much wrong with it. Let’s get straight to that, shall we?! :)

Stick. Brain. Poke. Rating

Like the idea. Pretty disappointed with the finished product. I’ll give it a three. It’s ok, just nothing to write home about.

I think if I had another day to fiddle with it, I could probably work out the right colors to set it off (I was playing with some nice greens at one point, but couldn’t get them to sit right), and I could devote some serious time to fixing that tree. The paper texture needs to be toned down a little too. And the lemon? I really need to learn how to illustrate and do vector art. I could see how many hours it would take to make this something I’d be happy with, and figured it would be way more than I had left in the day. I decided to just cut bait and move on.

The idea though – I think that could be a whole series.

Total Sit-down-and-doey time = 9 hours

YOUR HOMEWORK: 1. Wash your lemons from now on. 2. What would the other seed packets in the series be?

MY HOMEWORK: Check out SVA. See if they have any design courses that might be goodly and fit into my schedule. Although being self-taught is fine, I’m wondering if it would be more beneficial time-wise to have more structured learning of the basics. I’m a little worried I’m trying to do too much at once. I actually had to stop for a phone call right in the middle of making this, and the guy I was talking to about a potential speaking gig said: “I worry that you’re splitting your brain into too many pieces.” He was talking about how many web presences I maintain and own, and Precious, and the book I’m writing, and when I say stuff like this. He might be right.

There’s just not enough time. NOT ENOUGH TIME AND BRAIN HAS STUFF TO DO!


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3 Responses to “Why do restaurants put lemon in my water?!!!”

  1. thenoodleator March 10, 2011 at 10:33 am #

    The Creative Director/Designer I sit next to at my current freelance gig was kind enough to give me a quick critique on the three projects I’ve banged out so far. But since she’s not one for commenting online, I thought I’d just share two quick thoughts on this project.

    First, the white text. It stands out like… I know how I want to phrase it, but she doesn’t talk like that so I won’t. Basically, it’s distracting and pulls your eye straight to it and that’s not the most important thing on the packet. In two seconds flat, she isolated the text, sampled a color from the background texture and it instantly looked better.

    In that same vein – where your eye is drawn – all the elements are fine, but I could’ve played with the structure and hierarchy of the information. She told me to imagine all these elements are the Jackson Five on stage, and they’re all standing in line on the edge. You have no idea which one’s the most important. But as soon as you put Michael out the front… bam! People need to see instantly who the star is. I then watched as she started doodling with different sizes of Baptismal Lemon (even stacking them at one point), shrinking down the “germ jackets” and giving it more room to breathe.

    Good feedback. Good times!

  2. Apexhunter March 15, 2011 at 8:03 pm #

    That’s how you know you’re working with a pro. Beats the usual notes from a client:

    1. Make the logo bigger
    2. The CEO didn’t feel like it had enough “POP”

    Went to a fancy restaurant for lunch and got lemon in my water. Immediately thought of this project, with the band aids and germs, so mission accomplished. And I was thirsty too.

    • thenoodleator March 15, 2011 at 8:23 pm #

      My favorite is always ‘make it more edgy’.

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