Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A brief note on New Year's Resolutions

Now that Christmas is over it is time for many of us to shift our focus towards those personal promises that almost never stick past the first two weeks of the fresh calendar year.  The holiday season, as great as it can be, often times drives one to the acceptance of weeks worth of gluttonous eating and putting off projects; lazing about on snowy days easily dismissing any productivity with an "'s the holidays" malaise.  The culmination of the "most wonderful time of the year" is the epic quest for personal betterment in the form of the New Year's resolution.  Now, I am by no means against becoming a better human, but these resolutions almost never work.  I don't have statistics to back up this claim, however I can attest to years of personal experience along other testimonies from numerous acquaintances - so you'll just have to trust me on this one.  Last year I developed and tested a radical idea that will offer the chance to fool yourself into thinking your resolution is simply something you've been doing all along.  Here's the trick (in two parts):  1. Don't wait until January 1st...make the change today.  2. Don't tell anyone what your resolution is.  If you know what it is you would like to resolve, why wait the extra week?  After all, going back to work or school after the holiday recess can be hard enough without remembering something mundane like abstaining from eating potato chips.  As for part two of the ruse, the harsh reality is nobody will care if you stick to your resolution so just keep it to yourself.  This also will reduce the stress of public failure and focus accountability solely on you (after all you are doing this for yourself right?).  So  before that ball drops of New Year's eve, throw away those chips, start filling up the journal that's been sitting on your bookshelf all last year, draw - and paint - new things, or learn a new computer program.  Whatever it may be, make that promise to yourself today...and Happy New Year!    

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Holiday Shopping for the Creative Professional [Part II: Presents!!!]

Now that we have a brief background of what not to get for so-and-so this holiday season, let's progress into some simple, and often overlooked, ideas that your lucky recipient will be more than thankful to receive this year:


Although most bookstores offer a limited art section relative to other subjects (e.g., religious fiction, science fiction, teen fiction) there is no shortage of books on various subjects, spanning the techniques, topics and people surrounding the profession.  While I personally prefer biographies and historical books, a nice book on color theory or typography will also peak my interest.  There are also many great compendiums of posters, graphic design and museum collections that you would think may be destined for the proverbial coffee table. However, I can guarantee that if you know your artist, you can pick one of these treasuries that they will absolutely devour!   

More expensive options, in addition to the aforementioned compendiums, are computer books.  Creative professionals have to be educated continually on the newest software and programming languages in order to develop relevant and functional design solutions in today's fast-paced and competitive market.  Getting a book on HTML 5 or Adobe Creative Suite 6 will not only be much appreciated, it will also let your giftee know that you understand, support and encourage the progression of their career.  

If you want to go another direction in regards to books, maybe take a look at the business section.  While most of this section is geared towards corporate business and investing, there a few books on entrepreneurial life peppered throughout (helpful hint: try to find the Starting a Business or Marketing sub-sections).  Another idea that might be more practical is a book on legal issues and taxes in the small business arena.  A note of caution: Creativity is a buzz word that has been trending in the corporate business world lately in reaction to the economic downturn.  In other words, many companies are being forced to find creative ways to keep their business running in tough times and not necessarily utilizing more creative professionals or implementing the artistic process (besides drawing on napkins).  Just make sure to do your research before you purchase...or get gift receipts!


While these printed publications are still around, they make a great gift idea.  Take a trip though the the periodicals at your local news stand, find some exciting magazines or maybe purchase a year long subscription to a quarterly art rag.  A single issue fits nicely into a stocking, lightly rolled up around that care package of pens and highlighters from the previous post!  Art and design magazines aside, current world events are also very important for the artist to stay educated on.  Thus, a magazine like Time (a weekly publication) will surely keep your creative professional up to date on current trends as well as offer a worldly perspective that should theoretically transcend the social commentary of their visual work.  This is also a great opportunity to break the rules a bit and "judge a book by it's cover."  If you come across a magazine with an eye catching cover illustration, it might be worth your while to get it as a gift.  Artists tend to appreciate quality illustrations in print form as we are naturally respectful fans of our profession (I can personally testify to collecting magazines that include artwork by some of my favorite illustrators).

Entry fees:

Some very reputable publications hold annual art contests with an open call for entries.  The artist, if he or she would like to submit their work, simply pays the entry fee and enters their work.  Payment of an entry fee to a competition would make very generous gift.  I should warn, however, that not all contests are created equal.  Keep your ears open to pick up any hints regarding contests or magazines your artist might be interested in.  A read though of the contest's rules and conditions will also give good indication of whether or not it is a legit showcase where the artist's rights will be protected and ownership of his or her work will remain proprietary.  If you're not comfortable with choosing a contest, an extremely generous gift this year would be the payment of membership fees of an artists union (e.g., Graphic Artists Guild, Society of Illustrators, Freelancers Union, etc.).

Gift Cards:

I know the general attitude towards gift cards is that they are as impersonal as it gets as far as gift giving goes.  Personally, I love them and I love getting them.  As mentioned in the previous post (see Part I: The Don'ts), the tricky part about shopping for a creative person is the fact that they are particular about their tools and materials.  Gift cards are an easy way to avoid buying something that won't be used, and ultimately won't be appreciated.  And gift cards don't have to be limited to art suppliers.  Hardware stores (Lowe's or Home Depot) are great places to pick up materials on the cheap and a gift card can go a long way at one of these stores.

Commission a Painting:

The best gift you can give to an artist is the opportunity to work, so why not hire them to do that painting you've always wanted?                  

Regardless of what you decide to buy as gifts this holiday season, just remember to have fun.  You are obviously making the choice to give a gift because you care about whoever it is you're buying the gift for.  With the intensified crowds everywhere it can be highly stressful just running to the grocery store to pick up the necessities let alone doing the extracurriculars in retail hell.  Hopefully some of these tips will see you through the tough times and remember, if you don't like any of these ideas you can always fall back on berets and black turtlenecks!  Once again, best of luck and Happy Holidays!!! 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Holiday Shopping for the Creative Professional [Part I: The Don'ts]

See below {No. 2}
The holiday season is here, and with it comes the age old question of "What should I get for 'so-and-so'?"  Finding presents in general can be an experience filled with uncertainties, and if ever you had the mission of shopping for a creative professional in the past, then you know that their are many pitfalls to beware in addition to the established traditions.  Here are a few Don'ts to guide you through a less stressful shopping adventure:

1.  Art supplies:

As an artist myself, I can tell you that we can be a particular bunch when it comes to materials.  That being said, the supplies we choose to use come from years of exhaustive experimenting with the many options available. The endless exchange between learning to manipulate mediums and developing personal style (i.e. finding your "voice") is an organic process not to be interrupted by the introduction of a new or foreign method.  This is not to say an artist shouldn't experiment with new mediums (in fact it's a necessity and certainty), but rather that the artist, and only the artist, will know when he or she is ready to make the endeavor.  Not to mention if you have ever set foot in an art supplies store, and I don't mean Michael's, you may find yourself overwhelmed with the bombardment of various brands of the same products, multiple questions regarding multiple items, and the cold unwelcoming ambiance of a real utilitarian art repository (staff included).  So save yourself some stress, and unless you have a very specific list from the artist you're buying gifts for, stay away from the art supplies...or just buy a gift card (more on this later).             

2.  Motivation (by book or block):

There are many products out there that offer inspiring nuggets of wisdom.  There are even books of motivation specifically targeting the artist.  The newest trend that's catching fire (see photo above) is an influx of quotations screen printed onto painted blocks of wood.  The problem with quotes is that they are most often ages old (hence wisdom), usually taken out of context (misinterpreted), which leads to misquotation or transformation from their original meaning (thus, invalid).  Personal artistic drive does not stem from a quipster like Oscar Wilde (or that wily and equivocal Anonymous) nor, furthermore, from a tome of fallacious quotations or a block of wood invading the aesthetics of any artistic workspace.  If only motivational quotes provided some practical advice like "Paint some words of wisdom on wood; fill your pockets with cabbage."  Now don't get me wrong, there are times when quotations are appropriate (key note speeches, graduation ceremonies, etc.) and I have much respect for their authors and the fact that their wisdom can still be found relevant sometimes hundreds of years posthumously.  I just don't condone supporting the racket that has become the quotation industry.  Whether it's books, blocks of wood, coffee mugs, tea cups, posters, planners, calendars, bobble-heads, tee shirts, sweatshirts, stadiums, ashtrays, locker room walls, business cards, enlightened energy drinks, sandy beaches, bulletin boards, chalkboards, dry erase boards, skate boards (did I mention blocks of wood?), desktop wall papers, toilet paper (this might actually be a good idea), bumper stickers, hats, plaques, or polished rocks, I guess it's just not my thing.  Ironically what I'm really trying to say can be easily packaged as a quotation:

"While influence is ubiquitously strewn about, the real deal, motivation, must come from within."  - me {ca. 2012}

And you can put that  on a block of wood (just give me credit).   

3.  A quick note on stocking stuffers:

Here's a chance to put some prior information to use.  Try not to fill your artist's stocking with art supplies this holiday season.  I know it can be tempting seeing that many tools (pencils, pens, markers, 2 oz. tubes of paint, paintbrushes, pocket sized sketchbooks) will fit nicely with room to spare for other odds and ends.  If this is something you do want to include in the sock-o-booty, might I suggest poking around the artist's studio a bit to find out what brands they tend to use.  For example, I like to use my trusty Dixon Ticonderoga No.2 - HB pencils when drawing.  So, if I were to find a pack of those in my stocking, it would obviously not be a bad thing.  Another idea that is often overlooked by people outside of the creative industry (yes, even your closest friends and relatives) is that you are running a business and this means you need business things at your disposal.  A stocking filled with highlighters, post-it notes, batteries, USB jump drives, paper clips and staples can be more appreciated than one may think.

Best of luck and Happy Holidays!

Stay tuned for Holiday Shopping for the Creative Professional Part II...                       

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Save the Brushes!

We've all had one...the paintbrush that has been a part of the crew for years; the brush that fell into the role of the versatile "go-to" for most situations; the brush that was apathetically set aside time after time, neglected during routine cleanings until the bristles became randomly stuck together by mediums and paints - and sometimes coffee.  More often than not, this is a good indication of when to file this particular paintbrush in the garbage can (or give it a viking funeral) but it may still have a purpose...a renaissance, if one will.

Wilson!  I'm sorry Wilson...Wilson...I'm...sorry...

Today I will be talking briefly on making some unique textures with the exciting random patterns of your very own mutilated paintbrushes.  Above is a picture of a couple of mine that I continue to use - notice the paint remnants on the tip.  This was not the original fate I had in mind for these two, but I forgot to wash once...and then again...and the more I used them, the more I began to get some unique artifacts popping up in my backgrounds.  Just as a side note, by no means do I suggest deliberately ruining your brushes to manufacture textures, but if you want to buy some cheap ones to give it a try, go for it.  However,the true spirit of this technique is meant to be purely incidental so if you don't have a brush like this yet, just wait a while because it will happen eventually.

Basically after the brush is "destroyed", either use it to paint with directly or dry brush.  Just push the paint around with it and see what happens.  After the layer is dried you can sand down the texture to accentuate some of the artifacts that occur. 

This process really hits its stride when you start building layers, sanding down the previous one before applying a fresh random coat.  Not only will the paint become richer in appearance, the random control of the exaggerated brush strokes will begin to "battle" with each other, resulting in organic, painterly, and idiosyncratic backgrounds.    

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Save the Coffee Cans!

Good day creatives!  Today I have a couple quick tips I recently had the chance to apply to my workflow that might be useful to yours as well.  All you need is an empty coffee can and a rubber band (if you don't drink coffee, any spent 30 oz. container will work just fine):

First make sure the coffee can is rinsed out and cleared of all stray grains (nobody wants grounds contaminating their paint) and set aside the lids for later.  Once fully cleaned, the cans are ready to mix some paint:

After you get your paint mixed, simply wrap a rubber band around the length of the can so that it spans the open top.  The lid can still be applied to preserve your paint for later:

The idea with the rubber band is to unload the brush of excess paint before using it to apply paint on the painting surface: 

Load up the brush with paint.
Gently slide brush across the rubber band.

Preserve extra paint for later use.
Money in the bank!
One last note:  If you're using acrylic paint, hang a damp paper towel on the rubber band before replacing the lid.  This should keep the moisture in the can at an optimum level to save even more paint in the long run. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Editorial illustration and election season (the art of being impartial)

M.R. - © 2012 Michael Zabel Illustration
B.O. - © 2012 Michael Zabel Illustration

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Art of the Economic Draftsman: Spray Fixative

Howdy folks, and welcome to another installment of the Art of the Economic Draftsman.  This week we take a quick look at workable spray fixative and ultimately, of course, saving some precious dollars and cents to roll into other areas of your illustration business.

Spray fixatives range in price like most art supplies and the price you pay really depends on how much you rely on it for your own personal process.  I should also point out that there are some fixatives that are specifically better for certain mediums (see Sennelier Delacroix fixative for oil pastels).  It's always a good idea to try out some different brands and take note of which product works best for your style and what helps to produce professional quality artwork. 

The spray fixative I normally use is the Utrecht® Workable Fixative.  This 11 oz. can has a list price of $7.69 but it is more often than not on sale for around 5 dollars on the Utrecht website (my normal supplier).  This fixative is one that I trust and it gets the job done for what I use it for - usually to hold down a charcoal or graphite drawing in which I plan to apply a wet media over top of.  This fixative is also great for an "onion skinning" drafting style in which an image is edited and re-edited with layers of neutral acrylic washes over each drawing layer (hence, "onion skinning").  The acrylic paint, being plastic, can get a little tough to draw on with a plain old Dixon Ticonderoga No. 2 pencil, so a light application of spray fixative will generally go a long way, creating a nice toothed layer to work on.  A comparable product, in regards to performance, is the Krylon® 1306 workable fixative which retails at about 7 bucks online for an 11 oz. can.  While one can see that these are two reasonably priced items,  there is still a way that money can be saved...especially if your artistic process, like mine, requires a minimal use of spray fixative.

Last week I was waking up from a relatively good night of sleep while my fiancée, Marji, was getting ready for work.  I shuffled past the bathroom, said good morning to Marj (as always), and carefully descended down the shadowy stairs to the kitchen where I would brew up some fresh beans.  As the coffee pot gurgled into its own waking life, I slumped back up the stairs to turn on my computer and effectively start my work day when I heard a curious sound.  Curious...yes...but only because I have heard it almost every weekday for years upon years.  The brief escape of compressed air and hair product resonated down the hall in the early morning calm; Marji, applying a quick spritz of Suave® Extreme Hold Hairspray in an effort to tame her misbehaving curls.  Awaiting the invitation of my computer's desktop, the clean slate of my morning brain made a connection of audio signals between the application of hairspray and the application of spray fixative.  Genuinely interested, and ignorant, my questions about hairspray were seemingly endless.
   Does that stuff hold pretty well?
   Yep!  As long as it's not humid.
   How big is that bottle?
   Ummm...(looks at the bottle)...11 ounces.
   What's the biggest bottle I can get?
   Costco sells huge ones.
   Is there an unscented version?
   How much does that cost?

The last question had the most surprising of answers:  "Oh...about two bucks at Walgreens."

So, $2.00 and some change later (you didn't think I would actually use up Marji's hairspray when she went to work did you?), I was experimenting with the integrity of Suave® Unscented Extreme Hold Hairspray as an artistic medium.  For my own personal process, the hairspray does a great job and thanks to my lovely fiancée, I now have a cheap option for art supplies and a hair dryer to speed up my painting process!    


Sunday, September 23, 2012

A brief note on political signage.

Now that the political season is in full swing, suburban America is being invaded everywhere you look.  Front lawns, public street corners, sporadic patches along the interstate, mailboxes and televisions are all being bombarded with political signage, pamphlets and smear campaigns.  Mayoral, gubernatorial, presidential, congressional and even propositional hopefuls are all vying for every last spot of good ol' fashioned public domain to advertise their positions to the open forum deliberation of the American electorate (i.e: registered voters).
That being said, I usually don't pay much attention to these advertisements, preferring instead to put in the time to research my candidates and propositions on the ballot, thus making an informed and responsible decision (I tend to take my inalienable rights seriously).  However, the amount of political signage I have seen in the general vicinity of my house is quite alarming this year and a thought crossed my mind when driving down the street the other day...If there is supersaturation of visuals in a given field of vision election year after election year, why not go wild and preemptively design a promotion that really stands out.  Something to get our attention; to generate some interest and conversation among us voters, at least enough to suggest more than a passive once-over of the voter pamphlet that comes in the mail.  Make me excited (more than I am already) to pick a side on these issues or back a candidate or just vote period (and please don't make the print so small that I almost rear-end the car in front of me trying to read it).                             

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Making Textures

Here's a fun way to make a free custom texture for use in a piece of digital artwork:

Step 1:

Get your hands on a sheet of nice quality drawing paper.  I like to use some 80 lb Strathmore stock that I usually find in the bowels of my storage cabinet.  Choosing a paper with a little bit of tooth helps in manufacturing authentic creases and what I like to call "random stray fault lines" to occur during the rest of the texturizing process.

Une feuille de papier.

Step 2:

Make the choice...start folding the paper in nice uniform perpendicular segments or just arbitrary randomness.   You can even go crazy and just crumple it up and toss it under your copy of Gardner's Art Though the Ages for a while.  Note:  A copy of Gardner's Art Through the Ages is NOT required for this procedure.  To illustrate this process I have chosen uniform folds:

Back the left...
again...back the left.

 Step 3:

This is the point in which this technique really starts to take stride.  Regardless of the choice of paper, the folding process should reduce it down to roughly the size of a standard back pocket on a pair of pants.  Henceforth, all that is required for the next step is some jeans and your ass:

Operation paper fold...complete.
The folded paper making its way into a butt pocket on a pair of comfy ass jeans.

Step 4:

Make sure the piece of paper from the previous examples is in the "butt pocket" of whatever pair of pants you choose to wear for the day.  This part of the project can last anywhere from a day to weeks depending on the amount of weathering you wish to accomplish for your own texture.  The idea is that eventually a human being has to sit down and the natural rhythm of a person standing up, sitting down, and just plain walking around all day will transcend into that piece of paper.  But why the "butt pocket" you ask?  This pocket takes the most wear and tear throughout any given day.  Just think about how much you sit and stand up...and sit...and stand up...and just one day.  For this example, I weathered this paper on a Saturday of running some errands: last!

The transformed paper, and original custom texture in all its splendid glory, can now be scanned and manipulated in the digital program of your choosing.  Creating textures can be a fun process with a fun story behind pun intended.  There is, of course, always the easier way to find textures by conducting an internet search, but the process I have just highlighted (to me at least) is a way to create a one-of-a-kind touch to an illustration by literally putting yourself into it. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

A day in the life of my creative process.

Last week while I was driving to work I heard a story on the radio.  This is more times than not the source of most of my editorial ideas as I consider NPR a very reliable source for accurate, and mostly impartial, news.  The story in example for this anecdote will be the recent chapter in the allegations against world famous athlete Lance Armstrong.  For those who don't know, Armstrong has been accused, on numerous occasions, of using performance enhancing drugs that are obviously illegal in the sports community.  The concept that came to my mind was an image of a mere mortal man (did I mention he beat cancer?) who absolutely shattered every meaningful record in cycling now being reduced to a shattered remnant of a once heroic being.  Shattered, being the key word here, invoked the mental image that I then ran with after some rough ideation sketches:

The first, and very crude, sketch.  Getting the idea down on paper is the most important part.
Through sketching more ideas come to mind which are written down as notes for future reference.
During the sketching process, I am mostly concerned with concept and layout as opposed to detail (this will come later).  I usually move on to the next step after I have determined which elements I will omit and include, the composition and color scheme of the finished piece.  This is where the idea goes from a crude representational sketch to a more refined drawing which I can then paint:

A watercolor painting on top of my more "finished" drawing.
Another element created traditionally.
 During this step I also paint a background (sometimes many):

A textural hand painted background.
From this point, all of the elements are scanned and carried out to finish in Adobe Photoshop and/or Adobe Illustrator.  The flexibility of these tools allow for the workflow of the editing and finishing process to flow intuitively and naturally.  As you can see, in this case, I knew I wanted to yellow to be a dominant color in this piece (relating to the yellow jersey of the leader in the Tour de France and also the yellow of Armstrong's LiveStrong foundation).  I painted a dark background originally but it wasn't working out the way I wanted it to so I made the change on the fly to make this piece a monochromatic scheme; manipulating the hue but keeping the texture of the hand painted background:

The final image, with all the elements.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Movie Review: The Forger

Imagine if you will, a world where the most prestigious forums of fine art are filled with counterfeit replicas...a community of artists that can only seem to generate substantial incomes by creating said forgeries...a homeless teenager who has the raw savant-like talent to copy the style of any master painter without any practice whatsoever being thrust into the underground society of fine art forgery.  This is the premise of The of, if not the, most atrocious movies I have ever seen.

Let us begin our critique with the cover of this "lifetime" movie:

Does that font look familiar?  Full disclosure, I am aware that Josh Hutcherson is indeed in both of these movies.  Do you think the designer of this cover could be trying to capitalize off the success of the other?  Or even worse, trying to trick people into picking the wrong movie at the Red Box?  The flames are an applicable design element on The Hunger Games cover while I can not recall one moment in the movie where fire was part of the plot in The Forger and on that note, the handwritten script apparently edited out when this movie went straight to DVD.   Also left on the cutting room floor...many details of the storyline and smooth transitions from scene to scene.

The storyline of this flick was entirely unbelievable.  It was almost as if the writer - if there was one - had a primary goal of showcasing Josh Hutcherson's (or JHutch, for the 'tweens out there) constipation face.  The cover says it all...Two hours of that face.  He's so serious, so tortured.  Getting back to the story, JHutch, a homeless teenage vagabond, serendipitously stumbles into the retired artist community of Carmel, you know, by the sea (which evidently was the working title for the flick according to IMDB).  While in Carmel, our protagonist runs into an artist, played by Alfred Molina/Doctor Octopus, who seemingly makes a living by selling his kitschy landscape paintings in his various "high class" galleries around town.  As the plot thickens the unfortunate audience learns that this sheister has a secret workshop in his mansion where he replicates master paintings for millions of dollars.  His main client apparently is some ignorant sheik from an unidentified country who has an unlimited budget to purchase paintings for his wife.  So long story short, Doc-Oc discovers the hidden talent of this homeless boy and enlists him in his forgery scheme by enticing him with his riches - a mansion, a sports car and a menagerie of gaudy watches and cuff links.  If only his character from the opening sequence of Raiders of the Lost Ark could see him now!

The thing that kills me about this movie, aside from the tepid acting, is that the main character is never practicing his craft.  An early scene in the movie shows a self portrait on a mirror along with a monochromatic ceiling mural (insulting nod to Michelangelo) he completed while squatting in a cheap motel.  One scene depicts him accidentally finding a half-finished fake of a Charles Rollo Peters nocturne, which he deftly completes simply by copying a photograph.  In another scene a pen is literally thrust into his hand while a drawing pad sits in front of him and he draws a flawless rendition of Hank Ketchum's Dennis the Mennace - the forger's favorite artist.  The same scene also diminishes the achievements of two of my most influential muses Leonardo and Pablo.  And aside from one inferred instance where we briefly see - and I mean two, three seconds tops - the drawings of his love interest (Hayden Panettiere), this is about it.  I guess he was just born with the gift of natural artistic prowess - sarcastically speaking of course.  In conclusion, this movie is not recommendable save for the many laughs you will get from the ridiculous and audacious liberties the crew took in making this one.  I think it is fair to say that this movie was not created by anyone working in the art industry, and was definitely not made to portray integrity/ethics inherent to being an artist.  Furthermore, this movie is spreading the falsity that the only way to be financially successful as an artist is to be a hack.  If you do end up watching it (on purpose or accidentally) just kick back, relax and at least get a good laugh because it will be two hours of your life you will never get back.     


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A periodical search for new clients.

The internet has made it possible for creative professionals to generate client lists for nearly every market and forum that their individual work is applicable to.  There are some great resources such as Agency Access and, now under the same umbrella, AdBase that offer marketing services to thousands of contacts for a subscription fee.  But if freelancing in a down economy has left you in a less than lucrative situation and you're looking to cut some business expenses (or your free trial has expired for either of the previously mentioned sites), well then it's time to roll up your sleeves and get down n' dirty with the periodicals at the local book store.

Most magazines will openly divulge most of the information you need to generate a  successful promotional campaign in its masthead; art directors, creative directors, editors, publishers and other people you may want to contact and start a business relationship with.  Any information not supplied by the magazine can usually be found through some further digging in the "about us" or "contact" pages of their company website (Hint: it is not common practice for email addresses and phone extensions to be printed in the magazine).  This method of finding clients is also a great way to customize your campaigns, marketing to those that publish your style of illustrations or where you feel your work will be a nice fit.  Simply flipping through a magazine and finding some spot illustrations will usually give a good indication of the tone the publication is going for.  So, grab a stack of magazines, a sketchbook and get ready to write down as much information as you can handle...then write down some more.  If you get bored, just draw some random people in the café for a while then get back to finding clients!


Sunday, August 12, 2012

Book Review: DAMN GOOD ADVICE (for people with talent!) by George Lois

As a self proclaimed voracious reader, I usually read multiple books at once depending on many factors (e.g., time of day, location, leisure, etc.).  Flipping through DAMN GOOD ADVICE for the first time, I thought to myself A) short, numbered anecdotes + B) larger than 12-point text + C) lots of amazing images or "eye-candy" + D) relevance to the creative industry = what a great book to read when I'm taking a shit!  However, my shallow first impression of this small - but mighty - book was soon dispelled as I began to realize the wealth of knowledge author and legendary ad-man George Lois shares in this read.  Drawing from his own personal experiences in the industry, Lois recites his credo of being a successful creative, relevant page after relevant page.  Autobiographical by nature, one of the most important lessons to take from this book is to never turn your back on integrity.  In an industry and economic downturn where it's really easy to sell your soul to succeed and make money, Lois is here to remind us all that it's okay to say "F-off" to somebody who wants you to be unethical.  Another one of my favorite points in the book is No. 92; a brief story about how the author resents being associated with the TV show Mad Men, thus continuing on the theme of upholding your principles and working hard not just for yourself, but for the benefit of your co-workers and the public (who will ultimately be influenced by your work).  DAMN GOOD ADVICE is just what it says it is, which is another valuable lesson in and of itself.  So, literally from beginning to end, if you can't find even one thing either agreeable or inspiring from these pages, well then you may just have to find a new profession.  

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Good Thing Kerning Isn't an Olympic Event

Now that the Games of the XXX Olympiad are in full swing, I thought it would be appropriate to take a look at the array of distracting kerning on some of the uniforms from around the globe.  Keep in mind that the following examples can be accredited to the shoddy installation of a simple zipper and I'm sure it's not bothering the athletes...but that simple zipper is wreaking havoc on my attention span during the events:


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Retraction - Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer

Today, I unfortunately have to retract my previous statements and recommendation of Imagaine: How Creativity Works.  When I read this book I was impressed at the substantial scope of both the topics and people covered.  The comfortable pace and language made it an enjoyable way to learn about some truly fascinating ideas and, at the time, I appreciated the seemingly honest effort to objectively analyze the very personal and intimate moments of creation.  The most interesting part of the book (the part that hooked me at least) was the anecdote of a young Bob Dylan struggling with his own creativity.  As it turns out, the Dylan quotations in this opening chapter were fabricated and the entire validity of the book has been compromised. 

Though I am very disappointed that one of my recent favorite books has been discredited, I'm not going to stand on the proverbial soap box and berate Mr. Lehrer for making up these quotes, or lecture on ethics or the immorality of plagiarism (yes...even if it's with your own work).  Since the exposé he has made a public apology, resigned from his staff writing position at The New Yorker and jeopardized his own meteoric rise to journalism fame.  Furthermore, Imagine: How Creativity Works has been recalled by the publisher and has virtually disappeared overnight from bookstores, so I'm optimistic that the seriousness of this situation motivates him to straighten out these facts and be more accurate in the future.

Read the Tablet Magazine article for the full story as uncovered by Michael C. Moynihan.            

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Marketing for the Visually Inclined

Do the tomes upon tomes of marketing theory books at the library intimidate (bore) you?  Admittedly, their are some very useful marketing books out there applicable to illustrators and other creative industry professionals.  But if you have a limited time budget, check out the Noob Guide to Online Marketing for an aesthetic info-graphic of a marketing campaign's life cycle.  You may just find it useful...or at least entertaining.  Enjoy!

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Education of the Economic Draftsman

Have you made the upgrade to Adobe® Creative Suite® 6?  If you have, there are many free resources on the internet that exhibit the new features that come along with the new software - simply perform a search on Google, YouTube, or take a look at some of the free videos available through Adobe® TV in the learning resources section of their website.  While providing valuable information many of the free tutorials out there, however, are either very brief or tailored to a very specific function of the software.  These tutorials can be useful if you're diligent enough (and have the spare time) to find an acceptable curriculum amidst the many insignificant and insufficient "walk throughs" available.  But don't get me wrong, there are many applicable and professional quality tutorials out there for free and I frequently reference them. 
   Another possible solution?  Perhaps purchase one or more of the many textbooks that highlight, in depth, all the ins and outs of CS6.  Retailing at $30-40 per book will get expensive but the trade off is potential expert level knowledge.  If it better suits your personal learning style, this direction may be a perfectly viable option.  If these books don't fit into the budget, there are also many relatively inexpensive options obtainable in the periodical or news stand section of the local bookstore.  One that I recommend is the Creative Suite Masterclass put out by the makers of Computer Arts (pictured above).  This particular publication covers Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and After Effects.  Lessons include brief overviews of the new features of CS6, the Top 50 master tricks for each program, in depth tool set breakdowns, and access to online video tutorials by industry professionals.  Note: This is a British magazine and the video tutorials are indeed performed by British design professionals - complete with very thick accents - so there may be portions of the tutorials that require playback to decipher what they are saying.  Also don't be distracted while reading as the British tend to favour the use of colour.  Priced at $25.99 (retail) the Creative Suite Masterclass can be seen as slightly pricy for a magazine, but if you look at it as a wolf in sheep's clothing...or a book in magazine format...the cost is easily justifiable.  If it's not your cup of tea..a-hem...there are many other publications to choose from.  Again, decide what works best for your particular learning style.
   The resources are numerous in this age of information and knowing, as they say, is half the battle.  The other half is positively applying this knowledge through experiencing and experimenting.  In comparison to picking out the proper learning materials, gaining a full understanding of the Adobe® Creative Suite® 6 is all about figuring out what works (and what does not) personally.  Persistently practicing will eventually lead to a comfort level that will make this particular software a very powerful extension in your creative arsenal.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Come and play at Illustration Friday!

Illustration Friday, the funnest creative website around, has recently undergone a make over.  Not only has the site itself gone though some changes, the formerly plain text emails have made the jump to more aesthetically pleasing and easily navigable HTML emails (complete with graphics, links, the weekly winner and, of course, the weekly topic).  So whether you're feeling bogged down or just want to have some fun, come check out Illustration Friday and participate in "a super fun weekly artistic challenge."       

*for those of us, including myself, who thought funner or funnest were unacceptable grammatically, here is an excerpt from my computer's dictionary.*

adjective ( fun-ner fun-nest) informal
amusing, entertaining, or enjoyable : it was a fun evening | what's the funnest part of wakeboarding for you?

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Compositional Warm-ups, the breakfast of champions

My sketchbooks are arguably the most important resources available to me in and out of the office.  Consequently, no matter where I am, there is always my travel size sketchbook in my back pocket (unless of course I'm drawing in it, then it works better open and in my hand).

Some of my Moleskine® cahier journals (travel and large format)

I like to start everyday with some compositional studies over breakfast.  In this exercise, I use simple shapes (circles and squares) just to explore randomly assorted layouts and relationships within these patterns.  By eliminating subject matter, I can focus exclusively on composition getting into a mindset that will transcend into all other drawings and paintings throughout the day.  Taking this fifteen or twenty minutes to explore visual rhythms often saves me valuable time later when working on more complex images, creating a somewhat subconscious recognition of what works and improving the caliber and speed of the overall editing process.

Note how the shapes of these studies are very simple and often not developed in quality.  As stated earlier, these are purely exercises in composition to "warm-up" for the rest of the day.  I like to think of it as stretching before a run. 

For more in depth studies and lessons on composition I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy of the book Composition by Arthur Wesley Dow.            

Monday, June 25, 2012

13.1 Miles of Free Advertising

Issaquah, WA- The Taylor Mountain Trail Run was held this past weekend in the Issaquah Alps of Washington state.  A grueling 13.1 mile course was plotted out on which participants had the option of running either a 5 mile loop, a half-marathon, a full marathon or, for the truly insane, a 50k trail run (this being the half-marathon course twice plus the five mile loop tacked on after that).  Seeing as I am only partially insane, I opted for the half-marathon run and utilized the opportunity to get some free -but not so easy- advertising for my website.  So I made a t-shirt and hit the trail.

The Tee Shirt (pre-race)

   The single lane trail chosen for the race consisted of three river crossings, steep uphills (netting 2,000 feet in elevation), and treacherous downhills that took down even the most experienced trail runners.  In addition to the ludicrous topography of Taylor Mountain, typical Seattle weather decided to show up a full two days prior to the race, cascading copious amount of rain on the trail.  The final tally was said to be over an inch of rainfall, which when added previous rainy days, easily blew away June's monthly average in just 48 hours.  The result: deep mud puddles spent the day impartially splattering runners and trying to suck the shoes right off their feet.
   Here are some before/after pictures:

What my shoes used to look like.
Stretching out the legs with my "sponsor" gracing my shirt.
Two and a half hours later, legs cramping up at the finish line.
The mud covered shoes.
    Running the half-marathon, up and down the mountain, was a physical and mental challenge to say the least. In retrospect, of course, I had a great time slopping through the mud for a couple of hours; slugging it out against the terrain; motivated and determined by the desire to get the most mileage out of the mobile advertisement on my back.