The MGS Tote Bag

In 2008, at the end of my 10 years as co-chair of the Northern California Branch of The Mediterranean Garden Society (MGS), along with Nancy Swearengen, we hosted the annual meeting of the international membership. Our Branch had been actively growing in the years before this event which no doubt attracted the attention and prompted the Society to approach us. It was a daunting task to take on but we were fortunate to have good extra help and several planning aspects seemed to fall together in such positive ways that it energized the work.

Our chosen location was the Monterey Peninsula, an iconic destination for visitors and locals, with its unique natural history. There were also plenty of handsome gardens to visit. We knew our foreign visitors would find it exciting and it would also be a desirable event for our local membership. Since I was trained in the visual arts, my creative thoughts immediately started to muse on some sort of graphic image to represent this event.

During the many weeks of planning meetings, research, visits, etc., my ideas centered on some of Monterey’s special background features that would be enjoyed during the event. Our planning committee felt that our state’s official flower (California poppy, Eschscholzia californica) and bird (California quail, Callipepla californica) merited inclusion. (Fortunately, though our date was in the Autumn, some poppies were seen in flower due to the foggy climate of the Peninsula and the often shy quails surprised many visitors by characteristically running across the path ahead of them!).

California poppies, Eschscholzia californica
California quail, Callipepla californica

So, with the poppy and the quail, along with the MGS logo, I started to assemble other image ideas – the Sea Otter (Enhydra lutris), the Coast Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), the iconic ‘Lone Cypress’ (a coastal specimen of Hesperocyparis macrocarpa, the Monterey Cypress), our Californian rolling oak-studded hills, and the coastline views. All were enthusiastically supported by the committee.

I chose versions of each element that I could reduce down to simple black & white for reproduction purposes. I played with image ordering and font styles/sizes. After various attempts to makes a cohesive whole of the images, text, and MGS logo, suddenly a concept emerged that I continued to refine until I was satisfied. When I presented the image to the planning group, they were also pleased.

Traditionally this type of MGS event comes with a fair amount of printed handouts detailing the schedule and important information for the attendees. Typically some sort of ‘convention tote’ is created by the planners to hold all this material at the welcome reception and for attendees to use during the event if they so choose. Susan Bouchez, of our planning committee, did research on finding a company that could produce our bags with this image. One of the fabric options was ‘faded denim’, which was the unanimous choice by the committee because it was “so Californian”. I then realized that my graphic was designed to be printed dark over a light background (as would be the case with our paper printed material).

After a momentary panic thinking my image would just not be used at all, I decided I could rework parts of the graphic, ‘reversing out’ the dark and light in cases where it mattered. Using the company’s image of the ‘faded denim’ tote bag, I created a facsimile of what it would look like with this new version of the art.

The partially ‘reversed’ image (left) and how it would appear
printed in light ink on denim (right)
A ‘mock-up’ of a finished bag

The bags were successfully printed at a reasonable cost. Everyone was very pleased with the result (including me!) and the tote bag was a big hit with our attendees. The bags made ‘appearances’ at future local Branch events and fortunately there were some left over for members who had missed out on attending the Monterey event. This whole project turned out better than any of us expected.

In 2018, while attending another international MGS event – this time in Alicante, Spain – this bag also made an appearance. One of the European members who had attended our event in California was using our event’s tote bag instead of what was provided by the Spain event. I asked her about it and she said it was her favorite and bag and she uses it all the time! Our denim tote bag had apparently held up well during multiple travels to these events and other regular use (we now don’t treat ours as so ‘precious’). As the Spain event continued, I also noticed that there were a few other denim Monterey 2008 tote bags in use by other attendees. Such a surprise after ten years!

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