Making the Discover magazine 30 in ferrofluid

Discover magazine –  a well-read science journal in the states – approached me to create a commemorative cover for their 30th anniversary issue. The big three-oh is always cause for celebration, particularly for a magazine in such tough times, so I wanted to create something worthy of the occasion.

After our success with the Creative Review Annual cover back in March I’d been looking for an excuse to work with Frank Conrad again. After some thought we offered the magazine two routes; one involving lasers, the other a kind of magnetic ink called ferrofluid which I had only seen a few times. Frank was confident that we could either buy some or make our own. As the budget was tight, the latter option was required. I modeled some examples in Cinema 4D to let them know what we had in mind and they opted for the ferrofluid – a wise choice; this stuff is awesome…

We gave them a selection of relatively simple 30’s to choose from and decided on the functional form of Trade Gothic Condensed (always a fave).

This was then routed out of various thicknesses of wood and plastic. Photographs and thanks here go to Sam Ley.

The idea was that we would place the routed out 30 between a magnet and a tray of ferrofluid so only the areas of fluid exposed to the magnetic field would react – creating a kind of fluid stencil. The way the ink reacts to the magnet depends on the polarity, one way attracts it, the other repels, pushing it upward in spikes,


Barring a small disaster in the testing stages, the whole project was concepted and conducted in just a couple of weeks and photographed here in New York by the very capable Nichols Eveleigh.

Whilst this may look like an expensive CGI render from one of the Terminator films, all of this was captured in camera with a clever use of lights and reflective surfaces making the best use of the reflective nature of the liquid. The oily nature of our mix is what has given the numbers their rainbow-like halo.

The sad end to the story is that the magazine decided to use the image in a way we couldn’t possibly have foreseen (trust me, you don’t need to see it here) but I wanted to share the images as we intended them to be seen and before the magazine hits the shelves. So, possibly sightly less ambitious than growing type but still very, very cool.

With infinite thanks to:

Frank Conrad
Sam Ley
The Phoenix Asylum
Nicholas Eveleigh

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