Busyness Band-Aid

It is a lovely and mysterious moment when an idea strikes. Whether it be a video I might make, or a novel that I will never write, or a drawing I could finish.

Last weekend, I perused a multi-story vintage warehouse with my sister, and came across this small Band-Aid tin in the search. For only $4, it was obviously too perfect to pass up – I’ve got this odd attraction to trinkets and old things to place on shelves. It probably stems from the same part of my brain that likes vests.

I set it up on a shelf in my kitchen, next to a small glass tea-candle lamp and an old yellow Gurkin mustard tin. It fit right in. Each day since, I’ve glanced up and felt a sense of satisfaction seeing my new Band-Aid tin sitting up in its place, like it had been there for years.

This afternoon, I happened to glance up at it again, and I had one of those lovely moments. An idea struck – an idea for a poster. What would the Band-Aid of a creative life be? I jotted down some quick ideas in my notebook. “Sleep”? “Silence”? “Take a walk”?

Before deciding on a direction, I took my own advice and stepped away from my computer. Me and my roommate went on a walk down the lake a few blocks from our apartment, and as we walked across the footbridge overlooking Lincoln Memorial Drive, I told him about the idea. “Oh, yeah yeah yeah,” he said excitedly. We chatted back and forth for a while, throwing ideas out.

“I’m trying to think of puns that go with Band-Aid,” he said. “Hand maid!” We didn’t go with hand maid. We kept walking, enjoying the cool weather, then finally, walking through the front door, landed back at my original concepts.

Here is my poster for the day. It’s been a while since I made one, and it felt good to be back in it. For a while at the beginning of the year, I was making a poster like this every day. It’s nice to look back at past self and be stoked at all the work he did… But it’s also nice for present self to have the freedom to take a break without feeling too bad about it. That’s a balance I’m still trying to find.

Hand Painted Signs

I spent the morning watching a documentary on sign painters – talking through the history, art, and future of the industry that is almost invisible to us today. Now, a very small industry full of people with a common goal: painting beautiful signs.

They are a bunch of cooks. Some lovable, some not. All extremely talented.

The documentary got me thinking, so I took a drive around Milwaukee to try and find some of the painted signs I never stop to notice.


Sign painting is a rare art form these days. In the 70s and 80s, as computer and printing technology developed, vinyl signs became the standard – due to their extreme cheapness and ease to make. Of course, the old standard exists in the world of signs as well: of quality, budget and speed, you can only choose two. The world of signs today is often dominated by budget and speed. With crummy and dirty vinyl signs hanging in every town in America.

Image via SpeedySigns.

Near the end of the documentary, an old sign painter mused that vinyl signs will turn into garbage 30 years from now, but hand painted signs will turn into artwork. The painted signs of the last century still plastered across our cities are precious. They are artworks. Memories of a different world. With different values and technology and practices.

Many of the sign painters interviewed lamented the insatiable desire for today’s cheap signage. They are part of a dying generation that values the honesty and stability of long, hard work. Of hand lettering and human imperfection.

I agree. And I think today, more people are starting to look back with fondness on the signs and practices of the last generation, discovering a richer and truer beauty in their work. I think, perhaps, sign painters and the unique beauty they create could once again step into the spotlight.

In hopes of paying homage to the past, I started creating a font from one of the beautiful signs I saw on my search.

Beautifying Scraps

Image via SixtySix

This is Nicole McLaughlin, 27 year old designer based in New York. She specializes in upcycling and sustainability in her bizarre and fantastical apparel.

Image via Nicolemclaughlin.net

This video dives into Nicole’s thoughts on sustainability in design and fashion, and her making-process (you can skip the in-video ad from 0:45-1:27).

I happened upon Nicole’s work within the last couple weeks, on one of my brief and shallow dips into Twitter, and was immediately captured by the playfulness and originality of her designs. Not only is she making things that are so clearly sustainably repurposed goods, she is doing it in a way that highlights the past lives of each item. Like a woodworker highlighting live edge of a maple slab, Nicole is beautifying the scraps of material. She is creating a sense of fashion in a place few people have ever looked before.

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After gaining traction online with items like volleyball slippers and bread mittens, Nicole has become a voice in the fashion world for sustainable and eco-friendly design.

Her creativity and willingness to play with her work is inspiring.

You can read a more in depth look at her life and work here.

Lino Cut Crow

The other day, I carved a lino-cut for the first time in about six months.

I chose a crow with a feather in its cap, because me and two friends do a poster challenge together every weekend. This weekend, instead of choosing a specific medium or design, we chose a word. Each of our three posters were inspired by the word feather.

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Here are all three of our posters (you can click to enlarge).

Less, But Better

Rams, a documentary by Gary Hustwit, paints a beautiful picture of the life, work and philosophy of one of the world’s most influential industrial designers – Dieter Rams.

Kindly, organized and reclusive, Dieter Rams does not fall in with the authoritarian stereotypes of world-changing innovators – like Steve Jobs or Thomas Edison. He is generous with his time and ready to help. His demeanor is remembered by some of his former employees as fatherly. Through his 40 year tenure at the German electronics company, Braun, from 1955-1995, he gained the respect and loyalty of those he worked alongside.

Rams’ home office. Nearly everything in this frame was in part designer by Rams himself

Although his attitude and leadership differed greatly from that of Steve Jobs, they’re design sensibilities were much the same. The work of Rams is perhaps the single greatest contributor to the design of Apple products we see today.

A 1956 Braun record played, dubbed “Snow White’s Coffin,” due to its early use of plexiglass in the lid
A comparison of Dieter Rams’ designed radio and the first Apple iPod

A CNN article on Rams and man and Rams the film asked the director, Gary Hustwit what if he’d asked Rams about his influence on Apple Products.

“He thinks it’s a compliment. He likes Jony [Ive, Apple’s former Chief Design Officer] a lot. But I think it’s hard for him to judge that impact because he doesn’t have a computer. He’s not on the Internet. He’s not interested in digital interfaces and user experience design and all these screens that we have to look at all day. There are no screens in his life, there’s just an old Braun television from the 1980s and that’s really the only screen in his house. It’s just not something that he’s interested in engaging with.”

Rams’ leading philosophy in design and in life is:

Less, but Better.

This leading ideal is then broken up into the now iconic 10 Principles of Good Design.

  1. Good Design is Innovative.

     

  2. Good Design makes a Product Useful.

  3. Good Design is Aesthetic.

  4. Good Design makes a Product Understandable.

  5. Good Design is Unobtrusive.

  6. Good Design is Honest.

  7. Good Design is Long-Lasting.

  8. Good Design is Thorough to the Last Detail.

  9. Good Design is Environmentally Friendly.
  10. Good Design is as Little Design as Possible.

When asked by an aspiring industrial design student what advice he had for her, Rams replied:

“Keep your eyes wide open.”

Quantity Masks Crudity

Even crude work becomes impressive in high enough quantity. Like Jason Polan’s Every Person in New York.

Pretty much anything becomes impressive or beautiful to us humans in high enough quantity. LEGO clone troopers. Layers of paint. Words repeated a 100,000 times in a row.

Sometimes, if you find yourself struggling to create a singular masterpiece – create 50 or 100 or 1,000 small, crude pieces. And the mass collective can become the singular masterpiece.

If you’re struggling to write the book, just get one sentence down today. In her book on writing and life, Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott describes her own writing process. She sits at her desk, wondering what on God’s green earth to write, maybe hyperventilating a little, until she finally notices the 1-inch picture frame beside her monitor.

It reminds me that all I have todo is to write down as much as I can see through a one-inch picture frame. This is all I have to bite off for the time being. All I am going to do right now, for example, is write that one paragraph that sets the story in my hometown, in the late fifties, when the trains were still running.”

The title of that chapter is “Short Assignments.”

Lots of short assignments lead to big payoffs. Often times, quality only comes with quantity. With practice. With repetition. Or simply, with enough of the bad that it simply morphs into a giant, singular good. David Bayles and Ted Orland display this idea beautifully in their book, Art & Fear:

[A] ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an “A”. Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes — the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.”

Quantity leads to quality.

This project – drawing 100 of something – taught me this lesson in my second year of art school. In my case, it was finding spaceships within splotches of watercolor.

Today, I started a new quantity-over-quality project, with these 2×3 inch paintings of shapes. It was fun to paint with real brushes again, rather than my stylus and computer. And though these are not special in any way individually, I’m hoping once I fill a wall with 30 or 40 of them, the quantity will mask the crudity.

After Effects animation practice

Here’s another animation I made today. It started as a simple exercise, playing with the tool that allows you to turn one shape into another. I was just seeing what it looked like to turn a circle into a triangle, then I kept going and it turned into this…

A work day at home

I spent the day working at my small round, white kitchen table, then the evening working on my couch. Different projects here and there – but the evening was dedicated entirely to posters and personal work (though I had not planned to work on personal poster projects for 5+ hours today).

I made another animation today! It was really fun to play around with the “squeeze” and “stretch” effect on the bun during its bounce – a key foundational aspect of 2D animation.

This week’s design challenge is a poster that incorporates an element made in a 3D software… I don’t like 3D software. I’m trying to figure out a way to blend an element of 3D with my normal 2D style, like seen in this sketch. The concept is a mailman in the 2D world very confused at this 3D package.

Thoughts?