Category Archives: Design

Stepping out of the box: How riding a bike to work helps me feel creatively alive

I am and will always be one who must experience things firsthand. When I was 14 years old a strange six-legged creature emerged from the waters of a nearby river I was fishing at and staggered up the rickety leg of a nearby picnic table. I had no idea what the creature was but its strange behavior caught my attention. I began watching what seemed like its final erratic movements on earth and after struggling for 15 minutes or so, the bug slumped to a halt on the surface of the table; it seemed its short life had come and gone.

I continued to fish for the next hour or so, periodically checking on the critter hoping that something would happen. As more time passed, I began to give up hope on the little guy after all, he hadn’t moved for some time now. But almost on cue I began to observe something truly amazing. The six-legged creature seemed to slowly inflate (for lack of a better word) with air and over the next hour or so, the thick exoskeleton began to separate. After struggling to free itself from its former body for what seemed like for ever, the bug mustered all the strength it could and step free of its former self to emerge as a beautiful dragonfly. After resting for a bit, the shiny brand new insect fluttered its new wings, as if getting comfortable in its new skin, looked around and took off. I was stunned, as I had never seen such a thing take place. It took me a few moments to realize but then it struck me; I had just witnessed the metamorphosis of a dragonfly. Excited I jotted down a few notes and created a picture to remind myself what I had seen. This experience would serve as a touchstone point in my life where art began to become something beyond the canvas. It helped clarify my position in life. I was from that point forward I was a witness; an observer. Whether good or bad, my purpose in life I had decided, was to understand and document ideas and events so that I could express them visually to those around me.

Several weeks ago I began riding my bike to work for the second time in my life because I wanted to again witness life, not just participate in it. I wanted to experience the journey to work, and spend as much time out of the office and the car as technology would permit. I began the process of exploring a route that was both safe (you quickly began to feel very small, very quickly when you become a long distance pedestrian as I like to call it) and visually stimulating. After a day or so of riding, I came up with the project you see in front of you. My mission was simple: capture design and document life through my eyes. What I found, as with many of the entries on this blog is the questions I thought I understood always lead to something I never expected. And so I began the trek to work…

Initially my idea was to take along the Ipod but I quickly shelved that. The first morning I road was a crisp sunny day so I figured I could getting back humming the lyrics to random songs (Death Cab for Cutie’s “You are a Tourist” immediately came to mind). I was underdressed, so it took a while to get used to the initial chill of the fall temperature, but once I did, I started to notice the smallest details. The morning chitter-chatter and shadows dancing across the side walk which more than compensated for the lack of music. This was only the beginning. The fresh air pumping through my lungs was revitalizing and I began to look at everything I’d been missing driving 40 miles an hour sealed up in a car. As the days passed and the miles continue to pile up everything has begun to slow down. The world in the morning and after work is very much a three-dimensional place when you’re not confined to a car as I mentioned. I have now begun to notice the different textures of the roads and sidewalks, and how insignificant things like sidewalk construction or a large puddle carry far more weight on two wheels. The most important thing you begin to understand as a cyclist however, is the comfort of 4 simple letters: W-A-L-K.

One of my favorite visual components of this time of year is definitely the colors and even more so now that I’ve started biking. Right before the season ends, the grass feels greener and smells fresher and the colors seem to pop like fancy photography. I’ve also had the pleasure of watching summer turn to fall and in having a front seat to the seasonal swap out, I’ve begun to subconsciously think about the order of the constantly changing leaves. These guys below I’ve concluded, are the first to fall in town and each day seem to litter more and more of the side walk.

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So now that you’ve had a chance to see and feel what I’ve experienced, it’s time to check out some of the photos I’ve snapped. As I mentioned, my primary focus for this project was to observe and document the art. To my surprise the art became somewhat of a subplot in the narrative of enjoying the tiniest aspects of life. That said, I did come across some very well done pieces as well as some clever homemade art that gave me a new found appreciation for the town of Wheaton.

Jack Straw’s Pizza

One of my favorite signs I pass everyday is the one you see below featuring the logo for Jack Straw’s Pizza. I like the vintage appeal and the hand drawn effect of the logo. It gives off the vibe of a small operation where the people work hard to keep their customers happy and it’s accurate; plus the pizza’s pretty damn good too.

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Next Yoga

This is a great sign, very simple, good color scheme and lets face it the attractive woman that takes up half the building helps a little too. The only thing that bothers me about this sign is the weird “x” in Next…it bothers me a lot actually…but hey, its a hook and I remember it so it works.

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The Constitution Truck

This truck caught my eye on one of the first few days I began riding. The first time I saw it I actually did not have my camera and thought I’d never see it again. To my surprise I saw it a few days later and snapped this pic. I like it because it takes a certain type of character to drive a truck like this and I can also appreciate the composition. The different pieces that are sort of scattered all over the truck give you a sense of the fragmented state of the colonies when the country was being formed. I’m not sure if this by accident or on purpose but it works.

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Pipe Man

Another manmade creation by the fine citizens of Wheaton, the “pipe man” can be found in the heart of downtown. Not sure why it was created but it certainly adds a bit of buzz to an otherwise unexciting building. Very creative!

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It’s been a great experience all around and I look forward to posting more as I discover more. I now realize that my bike ride is a brainstorm and an hour a half a day where I can analyze my thought and take inventory of the events that now fill my mental “tablet”. After taking the time to work on this project I have found a new way to both understand myself and those around me. If you’re an artist or simply someone who enjoys looking at things from a different perspective, I would encourage a bike ride to work (or any kind of alternative transportation for that matter). I identify very much with the Tabula Rasa theory popularized by John Locke and there is no better way to absorb your surrounding than to immerse your self in them. So give it a shot and send me some pictures if you find anything interesting!

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Anacondas and spiders and astronauts, oh my! Dissecting the creative genius that was the 2014 MTV VMAs

Ah, the MTV movie awards…I don’t usually feel compelled to right about celebrity get-togethers or celebrities at all for that matter but Sunday’s production was really something to behold. At its finest point, the show featured some truly gorgeous set work, clever costume design, fantastic stage lighting and mind-blowingly creative performances. At its lowest, the show’s over-sexualizing and objectification of women threatened to send the creative production off its axis. And not to mention moments like Beyoncé’s performance of “Partition” just felt awkward. I understand that art and sexuality often find themselves in the same bed but to blatantly objectify women and then post on the stage in rolling neon lights “We’re not objectifying women” left me scratching my head. I know it’s MTV but come on guys you’re better than that. Everything said, the over-the-top blend of celebrity hoopla and brilliant creative work definitely answered the call of “Entertain the People” which, for some reason made me feel a little better about the whole thing.

The awards themselves were equally bizarre; and in this case, I’m totally okay with it. MTV once again made the otherwise boring task of handing out awards to musicians extremely exciting. Did they piss a few people off in the process? Probably, but like I’ve always said, the number one rule of good art is it should evoke a strong emotional response and the over the top. Whether it was Miley Cyrus having runaway Jesse Helt accepting her award while she sobbed next to the stage or Beyoncé’s onstage family reunion, the 2014 edition of MTV’s award acceptances were definitely press worthy.

Switching gears, let’s focus on what really worked creatively. The most obvious was the opening intro, which blended performance art, body painting and an opening camera pan through Nikki Minaj’s neon jungle. The performance was built around her new single “Anaconda” and was a fitting prelude to what would be a night filled with shock and awe.

After Minaj exited the stage, it was on to Ariana Grande’s cast of characters that looked as if they’d been raiding David Bowie’s closet. It appears someone decided to dust off the vinyl used to create those hokie visors from the 1990’s and turn them into what you see here…very cool. 5 Seconds of summer then followed with a much more conventional approach proving that simple and creative almost always gets the job done. The set featured shipping pallets, Urban Outfitters-style, catastrophically strewn all over the stage which were heated with warm yellow/orange floodlights. This accented both the song and the youth of the band exceptionally well.

Then came the rolling crescendo of sexuality. First Nikki Minaj’s dress decided to fall apart, which rendered her mostly immobile, then Jesse Jane paraded out in a costume that looked as if it had already malfunctioned before she put it on. Her range of motion was so severely crippled her only option was to pace back and forth across the stage. The dress probably worked a lot better on paper than it did as a functional piece of clothing and other than shock value, this performance really didn’t provide much on the artistic side of things.

Next up was my absolute favorite performance of the evening, Iggy Azalea and Rita Ora’s duet “Black Widow”. If you want to see what flawless execution of the creative process looks like in motion, watch this video. This one had it all; imaginative costumes, beautiful lighting, and most importantly, it let the performance drive the production. I’ve never particularly been a fan of Miss Azalea but after watching the arachnophobic onslaught of spoken words she and her equally talented counterpart Rita Ora unleashed upon the crowd, I was truly left in awe. I’ve never seen a women or anyone for that matter, speak as fast as Iggy and Rita and for that, I give these women serious kudos. After we give the kudos out, can we also maybe check Rita’s driver’s license because I’m pretty sure she’s Rhianna.

As I mentioned this was the high watermark of the awards, so from this point on my interested waned a bit. As I mentioned Miley Cyrus sent Jesse Helm, a runaway to accept her award for best video. I’m not a Miley basher by any means and I can always appreciate a celebrity who invests their time and money into helping the underprivileged, but the whole thing kind of felt an attempt to hijack the show. I guess that’s just Miley being Miley and really shouldn’t have been surprised.

The final performance of the night belonged to the one and only Beyonce and I must say I was disappointed. I know diehard fans will hail this as amazing but for me it just seemed like a mash-up that didn’t really fit together cohesively. The performance had its moments but in the end, it seemed way overproduced. I also didn’t believe dragging the entire family onstage in front of millions of viewers; just to prove she’ll be together with Jay-Z a few more months was at all necessary. I like lights, I like lasers, and everything else they threw at us viewers but unlike the “Black Widow” performance, it felt forced.

Last but not least, you can’t mention the MTV music awards without mentioning the iconic “Moonman” awards that the company hands out. It’s been a few decades now since the first chrome astronaut (created by the now defunct Manhattan Design) was walked across the stage. This year was no exception but this time around the design got a funky new facelift by Brooklyn-based artist KAWS. Purists probably won’t like this design and even I’ll admit I’ll miss the silver plated Buzz Aldred, but the KAWS “Moonman” is a much more accurate representation of the quirky personality of the MTV network. You can check out more on KAWS and the new “Moonman” here to get the full scoop.

Anyway, hopefully you enjoyed the awards as much as I did. MTV should be commended for a job well done. The only said part is we have to wait another 365 days to see what they’ll do again next year. Whatever it is, we know it’ll get us talking.