The Aggression of Recession

Today’s piece is inspired by the helplessness one experiences in a recession — faced with overwhelming odds of high gas prices, job prospects that are continually elusive, and the ominous sense that you are somehow being sniffed out by a ferocious predator who smells your fear, knows your weaknesses, and sees that your resources are either running low or are altogether depleted.

Notice, though, that the sun still shines and the skies are blue. And though our subject is in the valley, there is an implication he might be able to climb his way out — after all, he is still standing.


Interviewing for the following position: Employer

Following is a list of questions I drafted for interviewing prospective employers:

*What are your qualifications as an employer?
*How many have you employed in the past five years?
*What has been your turnover rate in the past five years?
*Are you continuously marketing yourself to new Clients?
*Do you know what the internet is?
*Are you on electronic mail, or are you on email?
*Do you know what social media is, and if so, do you use it?
*Can you list 3 social media platforms?
*Do you pay your employees and your interns?
*Do you offer benefits outside the normal list (i.e. medical, dental, 401k matching, etc.)?
*How many hours per week will be you working?
*Do you intend to be available during those hours?
*Do you honor an open-door policy of communication?
*What has been your experience with improvements suggested by your current or previous Staff?
*Do you view change as a threat or as an asset?
*Would you say you like to operate with the financial ethics of company like Enron? If yes, please explain.
*How valuable is graphic design to you?
*Do you encourage learning and growth? If yes, do you encourage it while an employee is “on the clock”?
*Do you see the economic recession as an opportunity to cut jobs and increase profit, or to increase job opportunities and moderate profit?
*How would you characterize your strengths? Weaknesses?
*Does Michael Scott work with you? Does Dwight Schrute work with you?
*Is the younger generation a toxin to our country, or a group of prospective workers with new ideas and approaches to age-old problems?
*Do you like to doodle during meetings?
*Do you offer coffee? Do you call expresso or espresso? Is Starbucks a company or a character in Moby Dick?
*Do you believe in vacation time? Have you ever taken it?
*Are you a strong communicator? Are you better at talking or listening?
*How many meetings per day or week would you say you average? How many do you prompt?
*Do you pay people to do work for you or do you pay people to pursue a career with you?
*Are you helping your employees pursue their passions, or do you like for individuals to remain fixed in positions for life?
*What is the difference between your company and a prison?
*Do you believe that socializing at work helps strengthen bonds between employees, or do you believe the socializing at work is a form of time theft?
*Would you willingly relinquish your position as employer if you felt there was a candidate within the company that might have more prosperous ideas to bring the company into a new era?
*Has an employee ever farted in front of you? What was your reaction?
*Do you believe that artificial intelligence represents a threat to mankind at large?
*What is the Matrix?
*If your company had a potluck, what would you bring?
*How many times a day would you say you smile?
*Have you ever fired a Client?
*Do you have a family? If yes, how well do you know them?

Working with Crayon

I like drawing. I like that my daughter likes drawing.

So this weekend, I invited her for a drawing session and we found a comfy spot, sat down, and got our art on.

I brought a pad and pencil. She chose a coloring book and crayons as her arsenal for aesthetic warfare.

And we began.

As I watched her color, I noticed that the texture produced by the crayon was interesting and inviting, and I thought, maybe I should grab hold and take advantage of that. Funny thing is — I couldn’t help but take something serious (Batman) and turn into something a bit more childish. Which I’m sure was a result of using the crayon.

Here is a part of what happened during our little creative session:

crayon_batmanbust crayon_robin crayon_batman

It’s important to spend time with your kids — and it’s also important to have fun. I’d hate to think there was ever a time in my life when I would take myself so seriously that I couldn’t pick up a crayon and get silly.

Try it some time. I think you’ll find it’s quite liberating.


The Thorn or the Salve?

Here we are again.  You’re reading. I’m writing. And I’ve updated the site, which meant sweeping away the cobwebs, getting rid of some less-than-desirable works, and adding in some more current work.

Truth is, I had let this site go on too long without a little love and care. I thought the site more of a recurring thorn I needed to extricate on occasion rather than a salve for the wounds of work famines. I hope to give my cast-aside love a bit more attention.

Actually, I’m in the progress of updating the site’s overall look with my good friend and developer Brad Doss. So even this current update to the site will change significantly in the near future.

Take a look around at the Designs and Illustrations.

Please contact me if you think you’d want to hire me for a long-term relationship. I’ve told freelancing that I’m filing for a divorce, and though she doesn’t believe me now, she will when she sees I’m packed up and gone.


Thriving or Surviving

Every day you wake up and breathe, it is another opportunity to do something legen — wait for it — dary.

But we don’t really think of it that way.  I suppose if I were to interview a thousand very honest people and ask them about the first thing they think of when they wake up probably a great number would say coffee or the big meeting that day or the vacation coming up or any number of things.  I very much doubt very many would answer, “I’d like to make today legendary.”  In fact, most people are just trying to survive the day, I’d wager, rather than trying to thrive in it.

Why do we that?

I believe several individuals are just trying to survive life as a whole until something better comes along.  And that’s sad to say.  Here we are in a world so creatively painted by the Creator, with so many interesting things to see and do, so many things to achieve, so many pure and true moments to be had.  Here we are — eking through, just kind of getting to the next awesome moment only to grieve when that selfsame moment ends.

What do we do about it?

We can admit that we have the problem.  I, for one, am an anticipation junkie.  I love looking forward to things.  But I confess it is also what I cling to when I don’t like my present set of circumstances.  I’ll go so far as to say that I’ve looked forward on several occasions to putting our children to bed for the night just so I don’t have to deal with the noise and chaos of them simply being children.  That’s pretty awful (go on, you can judge me).  But I admit who I am.  And I think having that self-awareness is also what can lead to change.

How can I change?

Figure out why you don’t like your present set of circumstances.  Maybe there is a predominant stressor in your life — finances, job, bad habits, etc.  If you’re not thriving (and I don’t mean that everyone becomes rich and loves his job and quits all bad habits), then you need to reconsider the landscape of your life.  Also, consider whether you’re assigning too much meaning in your life to your finances, job, bad habits, etc.  Do you live only for the next paycheck so you can blow it at the movies, restaurants, mall, or casino?  Do you only feel good at your job when you’re being praised or when you’re getting a promotion — is that all you’re working for?  Do you live for that next cigarette, that next bender, that next gorge of chocolate fondu, that next huge dish of pasta that you’ll regret hours later? Try to assign importance where it belongs.

Recently, I’ve felt a compulsion toward illustration.  Actually, it’s been a compulsion most of my life. I’ve been seeking God’s guidance about how to approach it, what doors might open, how I might employ and grow my skills to do something awesome for Him.  In truth, it’s not the illustration that’s important — rather doing it for Him that I find most important.  Moreover, I am confident that when I begin to thrive in working to glorify the Father that I go beyond surviving life.  The days don’t seem so long.  The vacations are enjoyable, but are not the highlight of the year — I love when they begin and don’t mind when they end (well, honestly, there’s always a little remorse there, but nothing overwhelming).

Everybody talks about doing what you love.  I think that’s awesome.  I don’t think it’s a great reason to just quit your job at the drop of a hat — maybe for some, not for most.  I think doing what you love is not about doing the THING that you love, but rather doing it for the One that gave you the purpose.  We live in a world where people are very interested in finding out why they are here. Great — but most miss out on that because they are looking for it in the wrong place.  I think that’s the difference between doing something good and doing something legendary.

What would Monday morning look like if the first thin you were looking forward to wasn’t Friday afternoon?



The Art of Seeing What’s Not There, Or, Imagination

Yesterday, my daughter — who has been a constant source of amazement for me lately — decided to take a fake cardboard guitar we made for her and stand on the coffee table in our living room to give a brief, private concert.  (She didn’t end up singing because she apparently has early on-set stage fright).

Nevertheless, she did pluck the strings of the guitar and proceed to act as if she were regaling us with its music.

It struck me at that moment that I would love to see what her mind sees.  Does she see an actual guitar and hear actual music? Is she believing that she’s on stage? What do her eyes tell her — or rather, her mind’s eyes?

All at once, I saw the vestiges of something we’re losing as a generation and a people.  Movies, video games, smartphone games, etc are beginning to replace the imagination.  All things fantastic portrayed for us now.  And as we advance further in technology, we are actually, I believe, compromising our ability to imagine.  Because isn’t that the goal of entertainment, to create and put in front of our eyes the likeness of the real, of the genuine.

It’s an interesting paradox.  On the one hand, I do want to be entertained.  On the other, I’d like to be able to create, to draw the fantastic, to envision things that don’t exist, but that appear as if they might.  I want to be able to exercise my imagination and have it produce things that are unique.

So, even though it was against the “rules”, we let our daughter play as long as she wanted on top of that coffee table with her guitar, even though she never sang a word.  I’d like for her to grow up of that mind — to be able to see and imagine and envision.

You hear it often — a new wave of “visionaries”; someone with a “vision” for the future;  or what’s your “vision” for this project?  How else do you suppose those visionaries grow up?  How are you able to envision the future?  How can you have a vision for the project?

Imagination.  Seeing what’s not there.  Yet.

iOS 7 and Flat Design

After so much scientific proof to the contrary, maybe — just maybe — the world is flat.

No longer are we trying to capture realism with Apple’s former vanguard in skeumorphism.  No longer are we slapping a ton of gradients and drop shadows everywhere.  No way.  That’s the past.  The future is flat design.  And the future is coming on very quickly, accelerated I believe more so than ever by Apple’s WWDC ’13 conference which began yesterday.

Why do we call it flat?  It’s not really flat, is it? Nope, what that really means is a termination of the use of dimension-creating effects: reflections, drop shadows, gradients, etc.  Flat, in some ways, means clearer and simpler, trading the form for the function.

After watching some of Apple’s keynote presentation yesterday, particularly the iOS 7 portion, I realized that perhaps the gradients aren’t gone — just more gentle — and the drop shadows might be even more transparent, but subtly there.  Part of what Apple is going for, it appears, is a way to not seem as “flat” as Windows’ interface, rather to retain its own unique brand and style of user interface. For apple, I believe flat might mean simpler, not necessarily flat in the present buzzword sense.

I believe the appearance of iOS 7 represents Apple’s “take” on flat design.

The intent here is clear — get the user interface, the content, out there without clouding it with unnecessary dimension.  Dimension, mind you, can be good in design when it is handled properly, and can be well-managed with flat design. But when abused, it creates visual chaos that overcomes the function of the piece, which in the user interface realm is obviously very important.

And as I told my friend, Brad, I like where flat design is headed.  I’m more interested in accommodating a user’s ease in navigating apps, websites, etc.  Flat design has worked now for years in the print world.  Some of the most successful ad, billboard, magazine, brochure, and business card designs (not to mention others) have utilized flat design with a strong sense of minimalism without a lot of elaborate dimensionality.

Check out this site:  Some of the website examples are visually stunning.  But when you zoom out, you realize why.  The strengths are in color and typography.  You don’t need a lot of visual 3-D goodness or realism to light up your senses.  This world is soaked in color.  When it’s used well, the eye effortlessly gravitates to it.  And who doesn’t love some creative typographic presentations?  Why do you think font foundries are increasing in popularity — especially those with a unique bent?  I believe typography will be of more profound importance in the coming years with the advent of flat design’s burgeoning fame.

All that to say, I’m actually glad we’re headed into this brave new world.  I think some fear that designers won’t have to work as hard in flat design.  I completely disagree.  The challenges of designing in flat design with a nod toward minimalism is much more difficult than adapting the verisimilitude of realism.

Flat design demands that the designer very carefully consider every move, a preconceived chess game with himself.  He must face the expanse of the app, the website, whatever with a sense of care and class, and determine how best to make his flat design appear unique and strong and credible in the vast sea of its brothers and sisters.


The Paradox of Privacy

You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.  You can’t both possess it and enjoy it.  In it’s most literal sense —  once you eat the cake in its entirety, you no longer “have” it in the same way that you once did.

In this age of social media, the outcry for privacy in light of the recent NSA Prism scandal interests me.  Whatever details come to light, I do not agree a willingness on the part of information-holding sites to impart information to any entity without my consent.  In this particular case, I’m not sure the ends will ever justify the means.  But at the same time, there is a glaring truth that I can’t ignore.

Social media, in its truest sense for the individual, is broadcasting information about oneself to other individuals, to the world.  Have you ever posted photos?  When you do, you are telling the world certain things about you — the food you enjoy, they way you spend your leisure time and where you spend it, who your friends and family are, what new possessions you enjoy, where you’ve been and where you’d like to go, and recently, on Facebook, you can share any number of “inspirational quote” snippets that reveal your preferences, thoughts, beliefs, and cultural attitudes.  What’s interesting is, just by following or looking up someone on Facebook, I can get to know them in at least a superficial sense within minutes.  Of course, unless an individual really opens up in a very honest way, I won’t be able to know his deepest, truest thoughts and fears and hopes and on and on. But his life is no longer as private as he might have believed.  Privacy is a transaction — the more you keep to yourself, the more private your life.  The more you present yourself to the world, the less private.

Ever heard about the people that post when they’re on vacation only to come home to find they’ve been robbed?  Privacy eluded them.  On the flip side, a guy posts a video from a security cam on Facebook that shows an intruder attempting to rob him and asks for help identifying said intruder.  He sacrificed part of his privacy that was already being invaded so that he could help protect his own privacy.  Sweet Moses — that’s a pickle!  I’d call that a paradox — sacrificing privacy in order to protect it.  But it all comes down to qualification, right?  You’re choosing what you want to protect about yourself.  In the case of the intruder, the guy wanted to protect his possessions and the security and privacy of his home.  Though he gave several hundred (maybe more) a glimpse into his home by posting such a thing on Facebook to be shared by a network of his friends with their friends and their friends’ friends and so on.

As far as I understand it, the NSA is not actively watching my Facebook or recording my phone calls.  It seems the NSA is targeting hostiles and potential terrorists (always room for error in such a search, I believe).  Still, I think back to my own Facebook and Twitter accounts, and now the blog to which I’ve been posting.  I have willingly doled out parts of myself to my friends and those beyond my sphere of “knowing”.

Maybe that’s the point:  I got to choose what I doled out, which is, perhaps, having my cake.  But thanks to the vastness and interconnectedness of the internet, I didn’t get to choose who saw all those tidbits of Josh.  I suppose that’s why I don’t get to eat the cake, too.

Art Critics Everywhere

Art critics — they’re everywhere.

As a Graphic Designer, it’s difficult to be hired to design something because of your field of expertise, only to be criticized by someone who has no idea what he is talking about.  Immediately the old adage, “everyone’s a critic” comes to mind.  It’s not the criticism that bothers me.  It’s the blatant lack of knowledge that comes through when the other individual is talking to me.  When he tells me, for instance, that I need to be stitching together different pieces of various logo concepts into a single design, I’m silently wondering whether we’re trying to create Frankenstein’s monster.  Or when he tells me that this element or that needs to be moved over to make room for a strong gradient, I face palm and thank the web 2.0 movement for declaring that everything needs both a gradient and a drop shadow so that it seems shiny and futuristic and, of course, well-lit.  Yikes.

Now, an art critic might actually have valuable criticism for me about composition, color, layout, etc.  And I suppose that would make the difference regarding my ability to accept criticism: whether the other individual knows what he is talking about.

Suppose we were in the medical field for a moment.  I have no medical degree.  I have limited knowledge about how the body’s mechanics actually work.  But I wonder what the response of a cardiologist would be if I began to criticize his assessment of a heart condition, pointing out things I have no idea about. Can you imagine the audacity it would require in order for me to criticize a cardiologist’s diagnosis?

This reminds me of an episode of The Office where Jim and Pam have just had CiCi and the nurse comes in to help since the infant won’t nurse, at which point Pam points out they they’ve read about confusion for the baby if it is bottle fed first rather than breastfed.  The nurse (who has to be educated and certified in her role, mind you) then replies sardonically, “Oh good, you already know everything.”

Uneducated criticism is just the worst.  Pseudo-educated criticism via information discovered on the internet is possibly even more offensive.  What is it about us that we can’t let the experts be the experts? We criticize umpires, weathermen, politicians, sports athletes, and any other number of professions, often with virtually no experience in such positions or knowledge of the demands and requirements of those positions.

I can admit that I have learned from uneducated criticism.  I have learned how to understand what the Client is really saying or what he really needs.  I think this can be true of most uneducated criticism.  Still, I’d rather be criticized and learn from someone who knows what he is actually talking about.  One thing I’ve learned that is not uncommon among people who go to experts: they want someone who knows better to agree with exactly what they want.  Affirmation is good, right?  Makes you feel that you know more than you actually do when it is wholly undeserved.  But you don’t know anymore than you did before.  For every instance that I let a Client have what he wanted, I knew I wouldn’t be able to include that work in my portfolio because I had permitted poor design to enter into a wider field of view and also helped perpetrate what I call “trash design,” which is design that is purchased for the moment, to meet some immediate need and due to which has no sense of permanence or style or redeeming quality.  It would be better off in the trash bin.

So what do you do when criticized by someone with opinion rather than information?  You can either accept it and implement the “improvements” he has suggested.  Or, you can use that opportunity to inform, to educate that individual on the subject in which you’re educated.  This won’t always work, but at least you tried, and if you’re a designer, I’d caution you to proceed with such a Client, especially if he won’t back down from unusable criticism.  Also, be aware of your own defensiveness as an artist and consider whether the other individual might know what he’s talking about (I mean, it’s possible he might have a valid point, though not probable).

More often than not, an individual coming to you for design services doesn’t know how to design for himself (though he will always have opinions). It is your job as a designer to ensure that good design proliferates the world and offers an artistic presentation of the Client’s message or content.  It is not your job as a designer to accommodate poor design decisions at a Client’s whim.

It’s easier at the end of the day to make a few bucks and kick back.  But it’s more rewarding to make good decisions and leave a legacy of good art in your wake.  Remember, art critics are everywhere.


The Fear of the Blank Page

Even before I began to compose this, I didn’t know where to begin. At the beginning of nearly every illustration, I have a fear of the blank page.

And isn’t that the point?  For all the planning, outlining, themes, topics, and elements of a composition — whether it be for writing or art or whatever — the first word has to be written, the first line drawn, the first step taken into that massive white abyss.

What exactly is the fear of it? What arouses the dread associated with it? I would venture that, for myself as an illustrator, the fear is the infinite number of possibilities associated with the blank page.  Sure, you know what you need to create, you know what the final product needs to be, but the how-to-get-there is for me the most daunting part.  I can envision any number of ways to create, to build, to tell a story, to create a character.  It’s a choose-your-own-adventure type of scenario.  You just hope that when you get a quarter of the way into it that you don’t fall into swamp just out of reach of the vine only to be told to go back to the beginning and start again.  You want the end of your adventure to have productive, beautiful fruit.

How do I overcome this fear?  Type a word.  Draw a line.  Engage the white space.  Make it know that you are entering the bold frontier and that you intend to voyage in with all flags flying.  Tell it from the beginning that you know that the whole process is a creative one and that it won’t bother you to experiment, to find different inroads to your creation.  Reassure yourself that simply starting is the best way to overcome the fear.

Before you know it, you’ll be at the middle of the piece, and then at the end.  You might look back and wonder how you arrived at the end.  I do that sometimes with an illustration or a design.  The quest was fraught with thought and challenge and acumen and sometime perilous risk-taking.  But it was worth it.  Because you didn’t let fear bind you.  Because you ended up creating.

So perhaps next time, try to see past the blank page to what it will become, and then begin.