Category Archives: Print and 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!

Handle with care: Why commercial art can consume its creators

Art is more than paint on a canvas, more than clutching a microphone or strumming a guitar. When you put a brush to canvas, create a line on the computer or stitch together pieces of fabric for a living you belong to an emotional fraternity that stands for something far greater. You are, as Pablo Picasso once said “a political being, constantly aware of the heart breaking, passionate, or delightful things that happen in the world, shaping himself completely in their image”. By electing to do so you make yourself available in an emotional way that most careers do not.

The professional world is built for those with thick skin and a short memory. Want to succeed in it? Climb over everyone else (and their differing opinions) until you’re the top gun. People do this every day with varying degrees of success. But art appeals to a much different collective. Art appeals to the unstable creatures who choose to walk or fly to the beat of their own drum. As artists, we create because what is currently available does not suit our physical and mental needs. We spend our entire lives searching for things that do not exist and in the process we continually tinker with existing ideas; altering the materials we’ve been blessed with in an effort to allow the rest of the world to see life through our eyes. In short an artist is a scientist with a paintbrush or mouse in his or her hand.

The problem with this is that exploring the unexplored can often lead artists down an all to familiar path. Famous Argentinian artist Alberto Greco went as far as to “creatively” ending his life by overdosing on barbituates . He described the entire process in a letter until his final breath (if you want to learn more and can read spanish checkout this link). Ray Johnson, a popular collage artist and pioneer of the Fluxus art movement committed “rayocide” by “artisticly” jumping off the Sag Harbor bridge in New York and backstroked into the sunset. His body was later found washed up on a nearby beach. There are numerous stories but the epidemic extends across the entire artistic spectrum. Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin for example, blended rock and jazz and psychedelics only to inevitably be consumed by the very same ingredients that fueled that rise to stardom.

Being consumed by the craft is not the only danger of being an artist. For many art is therapy. When that therapy is compromised, the results can often be catastrophic. At a young age, I picked up a pen and began scribbling images on sheets of paper. Not really understanding what I was doing, but finding that doing this put my mind at ease. As I got older and more comfortable in my skin, my subject matter turned from toy trucks and animals to more emotional expressive pieces that represented who I was and/or how I felt at the time. Art served as both a tool to sooth as well as a way I could understand and wrap my mind around things that I otherwise had difficulty comprehending in verbal or written form.

Every artist can point to reasons why they create. As an artist, one of the first things we are taught is that the number one rule of art is to break the rules. Art empowers those who create it which allows us to comfortably operate in our own worlds without having restraints. This empowerment gives us power to cope with everything from shyness to mental health disorders and everything in between. As the stakes rise and artists enter into the commercial industry a demand to consistently produce for the masses that previously did not exist is born. This demand reintroduces many of the same complications to our lives that we previously utilized art to conquer. These challenges, like any other, can often be overcome but as the scale of career success increases, so too do the negative effects. Curt Cobain began his musical career writing about small things like dis-functional love, relationships, partying and getting high. By the time his life came to an abrupt end at 26, he had penned songs such as “Sappy” and “Rape Me” which chronicle Cobain’s disdain toward the record industry and himself. Cobain, like many artists, had a difficult time with fame as he became more successful.

The world of art is about overcoming challenges and not dwelling on our setbacks. It is a career field that if handled with care can serve as an extension of life that may not feel like work at all. Famous artists should not serve as a deterrent, but as cautionary tales to study and learn from. Art is a labor of love, if not a labor at all and isn’t a career that we chose but a career that chooses us. Hopefully by studying famous artists of the past and present we can better understand our own career and lives in general, after all that’s the point isn’t it?

Beer we go again: Seasonal themed beers hit the shelves

The window for barbecues and pool parties is rapidly closing and we’re tasked with putting out the flame of a summer that wasn’t. As the season’s most avid fan, but always the optimist, I’ve decided to focus on positive and get an early jump on the new seasonal arrival of one of my favorite products—craft beer! And I’m not just talking any beer, no sir, this week I’ve got pumpkin flavored beer between the ears. The number of microbreweries decorating store shelves is higher than it’s ever been before and I think it only fitting that we examine some of the new products and designs by divvying up some seasonal love.

Armed with an IPhone and a $20 bill, I headed down the street to the local Binny’s” to see what was new in the “seasonal” section. I decided to snap a few pictures of some of my favorite box art and bottle designs and share them with everyone. With the names getting catchier and the designs more elaborate, there’s definitely plenty to enjoy this time around.

Here are a few of my favorites:

   Jaw-Jacker  Pumpkin Smasher  Pumpkin Chai

Halloween is one of my favorite times of the year for numerous reasons. Why do I love it so much you ask? I love it because it gives everyone the green light to get weird! And all the craft beer boom has done is force these companies to make more and more of a creative effort to capitalize on the weirdness. So who get’s the gold you ask? It’s definitely the folks who’ve created this. Simply labeled “Pumpkin Chai” this wicked witches brew is concocted by the folks at the Saugatuck Brewing Company, which just as it sounds is located somewhere in Michigan. I’m a bit torn on this one for two reasons; A) I do not like the taste of Chai tea but I do like pumpkin beer and B) it’s hard for me to justify spending $10.49 on something I already half find un-enjoyable. That said, the art on the boxes and bottles is pretty sick so I may have to just bite the bullet and try it.

Deciding on my favorite box art in this young season isn’t easy. There’s this this this this and that but my front runner so far is Jinx by Magic Hat (pictured on the header). I’m a sucker for busy detailed art that works and this definitely works for me. Speaking of busy art that works, it’s not Pumpkin themed, but this may be one of my all time season favorites. It’s Left Hand’s Oktoberfeast design. Left Hand has been one of my favorite breweries for some time now and I couldn’t help but complement there latest effort The beer is a lager and not only does it look good, it tastes pretty damn good too.

Speaking of taste, just like the designs on the outside the flavors are all over the place on the inside. For me the raining champion is Pumpkin Smasher by Big Muddy. It features a great box design, which features a sasquatch and it’s brewed in Southern Illinois … need I say more? I’ve selected several challengers so far to try and dethrone the beast but none accepted the challenge. Here’s a rundown of how I feel about each of them:

Ichabod by New Holland

A spicy slice of pumpkin pie in a glass, that’s what this stuff is. The taste was a bit more enjoyable because this was the first sip of pumpkin beer since the calendar flipped but stuff packs almost a little too much spice.

Overall Grade C+

Pumpkin Head by Shipyard

A worthy competitor to Pumpkin Smasher, the box features a super hero-esque version of Ichabod Crain so I couldn’t resist picking this one up. The beer packed plenty of punch in the spice department just like Ichabod but the real payoff is how smooth it goes down.

Overall Grade B 

Out of Your Gourd by RedHook

I’d have to be out of my gourd to try ”Out of Your Gourd” Pumpkin porter from Red Hook again. This stuff is horrible. It tasted like I was drinking left over coffee grounds. It was however a fantastic testament to what a catchy tagline can do to sell beer and the stubby Red Stripe like bottles offer an additional splash in the curiosity department. At 5.8% alcohol by volume, if you can stand the taste these offer the quickest path of the bunch to a good buzz. That said, it’s nearly a complete failure.

Overall Grade D-

Oktoberfest Märzen Lager by Lefthand

Looking at the box design, I thought to myself, “There’s no way the taste could measure up”…but I was wrong. This lager is delicious in every way. Don’t take my word for it, just try it yourself

Overall Grade B+

So there you have it Pumpkin Heads, a rundown of a craft beer world, Halloween style. These are just a few of the samplings of what’s out there this season and I’m sure these won’t be the last samples I taste. I also stumbled upon this great website I found while researching for this article which you can find here. Enjoy the site and if you have any thoughts on some good beers message me and lets communicate.

Forget all the bells and whistles, just be human

Throughout the years, I’ve received countless pieces of advice from people from all walks of life. I’ve been educated by average Joes, preached to by self proclaimed innovators, and absorbed bits of wisdom from a scattered group of individuals who fell somewhere in between. All that said, I’ve always found the best advice comes from accidental mystics.

My father once told me “You can be anything you want; if you want to be a shoemaker, be a shoemaker… just make sure you’re the best damn shoemaker that ever lived and you’ll be all right”. At the time I just laughed. 

A close childhood friend once told me “If you want someone to like you, make sure you talk to them and more importantly make sure you talk to them—about them”. After hearing this, I looked at him quizzically and tried to understand why?

I once asked a former co-worker how she appeared to know everything about everything? Her response “I don’t, I just tell people I can do anything they ask me and then I just figure it out along the way.”

What do all these seemingly unrelated education bits share in common? They were all honest, genuine and most important, they were statements that came from the heart.

Although all these individuals have profoundly inspired me as a designer in some way, the most genius piece of creative advice I’ve ever received didn’t come from a person I know…It came from a group of people I’ve never met nor probably will ever meet. The culprit: FCB, the folks responsible for the awesome ad campaign you can watch below.

 

So what is this human element anyways?

The human element comes in all shapes and sizes. Whether it empowers you to make a change, causes you to tick like a time bomb, or makes you want to lock yourself in a room and have a good cry, if done correctly – the chances are the ad’s creators have successfully incorporated at least one of these key components.

1) The “human element” allows us to pause life and recalibrate our social compass.

Let’s face it, as we grow older, no matter how carefree and young at heart we are, as we age, we become hardened. While a little bit is absolutely necessary for day-to-day survival, the problem is sometimes we forget to stop and enjoy life’s simple joys.

A great example of this is demonstrated in this McDonald’s “Dia Del Niño” ad in which adult customers where made to feel like kids again…the result was awesome, check it out.

2) It delivers a simple message that is easily transmittable from culture to culture.

Living in America, we tend to take a lot of things for granted. We forget how in some areas of the world, simply stepping into a neighboring country can be a life-threatening experience. I know I am constantly beating the Coca-Cola drum, but their ads reach people the way few others do. This ad, from Leo Burnett, demonstrates that while ads can’t bring us world peace, they can certainly help individuals find common ground and understanding through visual communication.

3) It makes you think about the ad…long after it’s gone

A good ad that connects with its viewers leaves a lasting impression

Think of how many ads you see in one day? Need a little help? While the number is often debated, the consensus opinion is as consumers, we view between 1500-3000 ads per day. All the more reason an ad needs to stand out. A truly great ad needs to leave its viewers with a message to carry back to other consumers.

So what does all this mean for an advertiser? It means a hell of a lot of pressure, that’s what. But fear not, with the help of the “human element”, you can create an ad that is simply priceless.

American’s aren’t drinking as much pop and Coca-Cola’s taking it personal

By now everyone has seen Coca-Cola’s latest ad campaign or, like a lot of people I know, own their own personalized bottle. The success isn’t by accident, as Coca Cola is no stranger to producing the stuff of legend. Last year, with the help of the team at Leo Burnett and the World Wildlife Fund, Coke turned its traditionally red cans white to save the polar bears. The white cans then turned to green-roughly 2 million dollars of it, to be exact. Their latest attempt at advertising gold hits a bit closer to home, as they attempt to reverse the slide of soda consumption by asking customers to come back and drink more Coke…literally by name. The initial roll out has proven effective, but it’s how they’re doing it that’s truly something to behold? Let’s examine:

We are currently living in an era where physical fitness and exercise has become a staple of American culture. You could even go as far as to say health and nutrition are enjoying a bit of a renaissance, need proof?

2013 was somewhat of a milestone for H2O as it marked the first time in over a decade, in which Americans consumed more water (58 gallons per year), than the 44 gallons per year average of the popular sugar stacked beverage. Realizing the sharp decline in soda drinking, Coca-Cola along with Weiden and Kennedy (who handles Coca-Cola’s Coke and Diet coke product lines) enlisted the aid of what you will commonly refer to as the human element. The result? Personalized bottles for everyone…well almost everyone. If you aren’t lucky enough to have a fairly common name, you’ll have to settle for the “family” bottle.

But why is it so successful?

1) The “Name Game”

Coca-Cola is a smart company that knows who its existing and potential customers are, so what have they done? They’ve reached out to us…by name, which resonates on a stronger emotional level. Think about the way you feel when someone calls you by name. What happens? You feel good, you feel important and a sense of trust is created without you even noticing. Why? Because it connects with you on a level, in a way something like a simple “Hello” or “hey you” cannot. By doing so, Coca-Cola is speaking directly to us. The result? We’re eating it up (or drinking it up) to be more accurate.

2) It adds a bit of excitement to an otherwise trivial task of selecting something to drink.

This one’s pretty self-explanatory. If you haven’t already been to a store that features the new bottles, head to a local grocery or convenience store and try to resist the temptation of looking for your name at a display–It’s hard, trust me.

3) It encourages the lost art of sharing.

Long before the word sharing was relegated strictly to your Facebook newsfeed, people actually did physically share things and enjoy a personal connection when doing so. Coca-Cola has revitalized this idea and it’s working.

4) It’s making people want to buy Coca-Cola that normally wouldn’t

Last, but most important, the folks at Coca-Cola have done something that truly separates a good company from a great company: They’ve found a way to sell their product to those who normally wouldn’t buy it… and their doing so in droves.

So, while it’s still early on, early indications are the “Share a Coke” campaign is working and aside from the minor drawback of people constantly turning over display racks when searching for hard to find names, Coca-Cola’s appears to have hit another home-run and judging by the initial popularity I’ve seen, the momentum shows no signs of slowing.

So Cheer’s to you Coca-Cola, I may not be a soda drinker but you’ve definitely caught my attention.

And….I’m Off! (and excited as you can see by all the exclamation points)

Well, after a few weeks of kicking around the idea, I’ve finally decided it’s time I get with 21st century and take the plunge; It’s time to start blogging! I’ve always been a designer and I’ve always been writer so what better platform than a blog to express them both simultaneously.

In the spirit of design, this blog will be simple and functional. I want to educate.

Well, that’s a bold statement…Educate who you ask?

For starters, ME!

I’ve been a designer for several years now and the single most important thing I’ve learned is every time you think you think you’ve got your finger on this field, somebody else is reinventing the wheel…and I want in! Feel free to share anything on here with me…It doesn’t matter if its digital or print related Leave no stone unturned and share, share, share.

And since it’s my blog, of course it’s my duty to educate as well

For those of you who know me personally, I’m a communicator…I love to share knowledge. It doesn’t matter the channel I’m always game! I’m hoping that by blending my experiences as a manager of print and design as well as those as a freelancer, I can create some enlightening posts here that can help people through their day to day in our field.

All this being said, I believe the direction of this blog will take care of itself. I’m sure there’ll be a few bumps and hiccups as the blog gets off the ground but with everyone’s help, I think something awesome can be created here. So sit back and enjoy the ride!