Varmilo’s Master & The Masterpieces series are charming keycaps bearing the art of Claude Monet, Frida Kahlo, Keith Haring, and more. They’re fine art keycaps, and for people who spend their workday behind a keyboard, they’re a natural idea.
But the series had a rocky begining as a handful of throwaway designs that the team made just for fun. They plastered works like Van Gogh’s Starry Night, Magritte’s Golconda (Raining Men), and Dali’s Melting Clocks, across keyboards and posted them to social media.
But when their followers showed great interest, the team took note. Through trial and error they worked out which artists people wanted to see most, and then they began taking the designs seriously. Painstakingly, they redesigned each key in the artist’s style– for example, Monet’s backspace is a minature of Impression– until they released the series’s first set, and waited with bated breath.
Now, the Master & The Masterpieces series sells out quicker than any of their other products. Monet has sold out, Frida Kahlo has sold out, and the Keith Haring set is being anxiously awaited (it comes out at the end of October). >I chatted with the Varmilo designer who began the M&M series, DaiFangsu, about their inspiration, what the design process is like, and what’s coming next.
What inspired that first set of fine art keycaps?
Before the series was born, I was visiting many museums and seeing many paintings. At the end of each museum, the staff give you a stamp as a souvenir. Collecting these stamps is actually a kind of travelling ritual, especially for the Forbidden City Museum.
At that time, I thought “how can we use these with our products?”. I wanted to combine our products with the art and add a sense of ceremony. At the same time, the company learned a five-sided heat sublimation process for keycap art, and together the series was born.
When you start a new keyboard design, where do you start?
Usually it starts with the spacebar, which is the biggest after all. It’s sort of the main visual. Then we keep extending it out from the spacebar.
What program are keyboard designs drawn up in?
We de our design work in PhotoShop. We have a template that we use, and also, the generative fill feature has handy for extending the sides.
Do you use your own keys?
Yep, I use a Mendozae 67 with Frida Kahlo keycaps.
What kind of unexpected issues does a keyboard designer run into?
All the keycaps on the shelves have been reprinted many times and adjusted again and again to achieve results closest to my design. Often what happens is that the colours and the positions of the art just aren’t right.
For example, for the Keith Haring keycaps, there were originally four colours and four designs. But in the end, the other three colours were put on hold because there was no way to print them perfectly!
What’s your favourite part of the design process?
My favourite part is when I’m working on the pre-conceptualisation, when I feel like I’m constantly taking in new information and then creating with it!
Are there any artists that you’re hoping will get a keycap set?
Currently, we have a Japanese woodblock print set for Kitagawa Utamaro, and Chinese ink and wash set by Zheng Xie on the way. But I would like to collaborate with all kinds of artists, and I think that Yayoi Kusama’s art would be a great fit for a keyboard set.