Saturday, December 28, 2013

Night Of The Living Wage


I have a problem with talking about what people are worth. It’s a difficult subject and one that can cause hard feelings and accusations of class warfare. The worst of all is being called an apologist for “The Rich.” – As an aside, when did it become fashionable to attack successful and wealthy people who aren’t athletes or performers?

I’m really conflicted by this issue because I know of a lot of people who work in restaurants and they really do a good job and they keep me coming back for more. The best example I can think of is a small restaurant here in my town. I want the people who work in this diner – especially the chefs – to make enough money for my own selfish reasons. I want them to be happy enough to work there forever and never want to find greener pastures so they can keep making amazing eggs benedict for me whenever I arrive. Folks who work in only my favorite restaurants should be making enough money so they’ll never want to stop doing what they love because of my own enjoyment. I’ll admit it.

I will also concede that there are depressed parts of the country where there aren’t a lot of jobs that pay very well, I’ll tackle that later in this rant.

Recently there has been a call to raise the minimum wage for everyone. Not to raise people’s level of education or the quality of their work – but to simply pay people the same for what they’re already doing. I’m not sure I understand this.There’s one group of people who I think are just fine right where they are – those people who made a joke out of education and didn’t take it seriously when they had the chance. Just as our teachers said in school, there are consequences to you actions; or in this case – inactions.

I find it atrocious that there are some people who are caring the banner the minimum wage to be raised to a “living wage.” You want people who didn’t work hard and go to college like I did to be paid the same amount of money as some of us who sacrificed and went without and did to college? I hope I don’t sound too resentful, but during my teen years I worked and studied hard. Instead of getting laid, drunk and stoned during my off hours studying. I wrote, I drew, I read, and I went without so I could get the tools to further my education or paid to take night courses.

happens-for-a-reasonWhy should we pay people a “living wage” to those people who brushed off school and made a joke of it and didn’t learn a trade or a skill? Those people who made bad choices, disrespected their opportunities for an education, and didn’t do what I did to get ahead actually deserve what they are getting now. That is the consequence we were warned about; if you don’t do well in school that’s what’s going to happen to you. If you made fun of the people who work hard in school and you thought it was funny when you earned D’s and F’s then I can make a case that you’re getting what you deserved. You were warned that this could happen and you should have listened.

People say to me, “Yea, but what about those people who learned their lessons and want another shot at it?” College and universities want to help those kinds of people find grants, scholarships and loans and have special programs to help those kinds of people succeed. Those kinds of people have tasted how horrible life is without an education and always do well, like me.

Then there are people who retort by asking “what about those people who are homeless or have difficult situations at home?” Well, I was homeless and I managed to get myself out of the whole I was in, and I also have one of the hardest of hard luck stories about growing up. I wasn’t alone, I was sitting in a class room where this topic was brought up and the room was full of adult students who had similar or even hard luck stories that are actually worse than mine. The notion that your situation is so bad that you can’t get out of is – in a word – bullshit. If I can do it, so can you. If other people with even harder situations can do it, so can you.

There’s something to be said about having grit; when I read statistics about people in their 30’s working minimum wage jobs at fast food restaurants I can’t help but wonder if these people ever stop and ask themselves isn’t there a better way? Where is their “fire in the belly?” Where is their “eye of the tiger” and their willingness to fight to get out that situation and work to get out of it?

I hate talking about a problem without offering some kind of a solution, but this time before I can offer an answer let me present this other problem – it’s hard to start your own business in this environment of rules, regulations, punitive taxes and fees. We talk about the economy and how it needs to improve but everything something bad happens our government imposes new laws as a knee-jerk reaction. Why not make it easier for small businesses to start and grow?

Instead of demanding a rise in the minimum wage, shouldn’t there be more incentives for businesses to actually grow a smarter workforce and combine forces with local colleges to help improve the lives of the people who work for a living. Smarter employees will eventually lead to more productive employees and innovations that will eventually change the world and foster new fields of industry. Programs like that might actually be more efficient and cost effective than artificially raising the minimum wage.

Or are we just going to leave the situation the way it is because it’s too hard change the system? What’s your answer?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

New Year’s Revolution: Reboot Your Workspace.

I’m doing a series of rants called “New Year’s Revolution.” Not a resolution, but revolution… there’s an aspect of our lives as graphic designers that some of us should change to make this coming year better than ever…

The week before and after Christmas is usually the time when our lives have come to a complete stop. All the projects are supposed to be done and everyone is on some kind of break or vacation visiting relatives or having guests over. This is also the time when many companies become reclusive and evaluate what’s happened in the last 12 months and whether they need to change or stay the course. For one reason or another, we’ll have a lot of time on our hands with nothing to do.

What do we do with this extra time? Well, you could buy a few tutorial books and get up to speed with your most recent edition of Adobe Creative Suite?

Or you can do what my wife and business partner, Carol, and I have been rebooting our workspaces starting with my office and workshop in the basement. The red color of my office was getting on our nerves and might have been responsible for my lack of concentration from time to time – we searched for the closest shade of blue that we could get to perfection, (Who uses this color?) and took two weekends (two walls each) and brought a new sense of calm to the room. We also cleared almost everything away from the windows to allow more natural sunlight and space for us to stand there to enjoy the view.

We also made some tough decisions and threw out many things that we neither wanted nor needed any more. We had a handful of things that were broken that we intended to fix someday but never got around to it. We also removed a lot of obsolete hardware that we couldn’t use with our legacy server (more on that later…) and sorted out all of the hardware into different piles and categories before putting them in marked drawers so we can find them later. In the process we found a handful of things we thought we lost forever and would have to replace.

The results are stunning; we now have an office everyone wants to be in with the space so people can join me in this room. We have also expanded our workspace without putting on an edition or renting a storage shed.

I totally admit that this isn’t a project to be taken lightly; there were times I had to finish projects in a chaotic room with paper taped the floor and drop cloths over some of our furniture. It was chaotic but we still made it happen. After the chaos was gone we were left with a room with fresher, cleaner energy and a new flow to the rest of the house.

As a brief aside, I didn’t believe in “Fung Shui” until I actually rearranged my office and repainted the walls to a different color and I finally think there’s something to this ancient art.

If there’s something you want to do with your office, this is the time to do. There’s no better time to go to your local hardware stores and shop for paint since it might be the slowest time of the year and they have special deals or sales. After Christmas and New Year’s there are some of the best deals on furniture and office accessories.

Just be sure to get everything back together before the New Years rush when everyone heads back to work.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

What Should Christmas Mean To Graphic Designers?

I already wrote about one aspect of being a graphic designer and the holidays in my previous post; “Holiday Seasons Equals Graphic Designers Nightmare.” Just because it’s the time to spend precious moments with family and friends and traveling doesn’t mean the creativity doesn’t stop flowing. In fact, I make the argument that when we are torn from our computers and forced to stay away from work is when some of the best ideas flow and we’re desperate to get them down before they vanish into the netherworld created by too much food, drink, or fatigue.

I didn’t touch up on the other aspect of being a graphic designer or digital artist during this time of year until now; answering the question – what do you want for Christmas (Hanukah, Kwanza, Ramadan, Winter Solstice, Snoggletog…)? What do I – a graphic designer – want for Christmas? Besides the obvious?

The obvious answer is either more work if I do not have enough, or more time if I have more than enough work and not enough hours in the day to finish! As I posted on twitter, the only thing I really want is a cleaner office, a couple of HP printers (and ink and paper…) and severs and new Wacom Tablets to all of my graphic designer friends who do not already have one. – No, seriously that is all I really wanted for Christmas.

That, and a lot of cool toys for my sons and good things for my wife to wear; I wanted that more than anything else.

At some point we have all that we could ever want and need in terms of material goods – having some super-sized HP printers would be nice to have but I have a half dozen really good professional print shops in range that could do things for my clients and me that I couldn’t imagine doing any my own. Do I really need a new server or will a more powerful desktop computer be enough? All I’m left with is my original want; more work and more time to do it.

These are all things that I could actually get, easily. It’s all a matter of money and putting myself out there. What I can’t get is what I really want but don’t dare vocalize to anyone else. I want the same level of creativity that I had when the world was new and I was full of boundless and unrestrainable creative energy. I wish that I could return to a time when I was surrounded inspiration and my mind was not full of the negative voices of mean-spirited critics.

Then the question remains – why can’t I go back? I can’t go back in time but I can reconnect to that era of personal creativity by silencing the negative memories inside my melon and seek out new sources of inspiration. Heck, I could even revisit some of the older sources, too.

If that’s the case I can get what I really wanted for Christmas; it’s just a matter of fetching it for myself since nobody else can do it for me.

The Brattleboro Colonel Mascot


Members of an alumni association in southern Vermont asked me to recreate their logo in Illustrator so they could have a vectored version to use on various products such as T-Shirts, Coffee Mugs, and posters.

It was not hard finding the original image but it was next to near impossible for them to find a version of the logo that was vectored, meaning that it could be resized without losing any image fidelity. Since Illustrator is all math-based, once I recreated the logo the alumni association could do whatever they wanted with it and could reproduce it on various items. If the high school itself wanted to resurrect the logo for the school mascot they have somewhere to go and get the correct version with the proper proportions.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Put down the pitchforks and pick up the Wacom pens


To all my graphic design and digital art friends and colleagues who are tightly wound about the whole “Duck Dynasty” issue… let’s put down the pitchforks and pick up the Wacom pens.

There have been people who have insulted me from time to time and have said things about me that were either unfair or untrue. There are those people who stated opinions about me and my likes and disbeliefs that were also unfair and cruel. How does that affect me in the end, because what these people are really saying is that they find me some kind of a threat.

But unless I actually hear what these people are saying and I let it affect me, what’s the point? The people who I work for and with know the truth about me and my work, and those who don’t want to look me up and see what all the fuss is about… in essence these defective chatterboxes are doing me a favor.

If someone climbed to the top of a mountain and yelled “I hate Eric Fisk with the passion of 10 thousand burning suns,” what does that say about him and what does that say about the effect I have on that person. I more than exist, I’m a major issue on this person’s life so much that he climbed to the top of a mountain just to shout how much he hates me. Someone who is shouting at the top of his lungs where nobody can hear him affects whom?

If someone took out an ad in a Taiwanese paper in a Taiwanese city, none of us has ever heard of before to say ‘Eric Fisk is a dumbass and graphic design is like terrorism or bestiality,” that affects me how?

This only partially rhetorical, to my knowledge nobody is screaming from the mountaintops or taking out ads in foreign newspapers to share how much they hate me, but I know of a few websites and forums where I’m the subject of scorn and anger. Since I don’t go to those sites I have no idea what they say about me anymore, so the effect on me is non-existent.

I think chances are really good that none of the sophisticated gay people watch Duck Dynasty. Very few of them read GQ. So why does the patriarch of Duck Dynasty’s words have any effect on the LBGT community? Are their protests against The A&E network going to stop other people from saying unkind words about them, or could this backfire and cause a backlash against the LBGT community?

I know what it’s like to be hated just because I’m different. I know what it’s like to be outside the norm and how intolerant or threatened people use hate-speech and threats of violence to try and “turn me straight.” It always makes me wonder, what are they hiding in their closet and what feelings of inadequacy lead them to react so horribly to me?

Patrick Robertson from “Duck Dynasty” said what he said. She shared his beliefs after asking a question for a magazine article. So? Too many of us are making a big deal about nothing and some of us – especially my graphic designer friends – are giving his comments too much power over your lives. We are in control of our emotions and other people’s words have as much power as we allow them to have.

If you’re spending too much effort on this issue, then maybe you’re deflecting and distracting attention away from your own problems and inadequacies. Are you really pissed that it’s December and you haven’t added much substance to your portfolio during the past 11 months and two weeks?

Thought so… FOCUS ON WHAT REALLY COUNTS, our work. When the smoke clears we’ll ashamed we gave such a non-story so much attention. Mark my words, this will be a non-issue once A&E changes its mind and reinstates Mr. Roberson or the show moves to another network all this hot air will have been for nothing.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Holiday Seasons Equals Graphic Designers Nightmare

I don’t know about you, but I love my work and I can’t stop. There isn’t an aspect about it – besides unrealistic deadlines that force you into making bad decisions, (and that’s another rant…) that I hate. Since I learned to trust the creative process, I learned to love it. Part of that process is getting an incredible idea that comes out of nowhere when I least expect it and commit it to paper or pixels.

For example, I’ll be at a family gathering and during the course of a conversation someone will say something and suddenly an idea will jump in my head. It is usually an idea for a logo or a color scheme. Often a solution to a problem will suddenly come down on my head like a ton of bricks and I absolutely have to get it down on paper, period. That is when the fun will begin.

I will disappear for a moment and write it down on paper or I’ll fire up Adobe and actually try to get something done in a few minutes. Then my wife will catch me and ask the same question that always feels like a icicle to the heart; “Can’t you stop thinking about graphic design/your work for just one day?” Or “Can’t you keep away from that for two/three days?”

The absolute worst was the lecture I endured when I brought my laptop and full-sized Wacom Tablet with me to Disney World’s Animal Kingdom.

That’s not to say that my wife doesn’t want me to work; she’s my muse and biggest fan. She actually enjoys my company and wants to spend time with the man she married. If I am ever exhaled to a deserted island and I could choose anyone in the world throughout history to be with, I would still choose her. I can’t imagine spending my life with anyone else but her and she tells me she feels the same but there are times when she wishes she could spend time with just Eric, not Eric The Graphic Designer.

What family members and friends do not understand is that the mere act of driving down the highway for hours just triggers and awakes a part of the creative process. I have come up with so many incredible ideas while speeding down the highway between my in-laws and our home only to look at a vacant office in a darkened building wishing I could be there to hammer this new idea out.

The mere act of being away from paper and pencil or laptop and Wacom tablet churns up the creative energy and there’s nothing I can do about it much the same way I could keep a spark from igniting spilled gasoline – both have their own laws of physics, consequences and reactions that can’t be stopped once the process has begun. Trying to extinguish either after it’s begun means you can’t start it up again is impossible since the moment and the resources are waste or diluted.

The hardest lesson of all is learning to balance work and personal time and make sure that one doesn’t intrude too much upon each other. Graphic Designers need to remember that there’s a time for design and there’s time for family, while our families have to understand that we can’t let a good idea go to waste and need a moment to save it. Both ends have to grasp the basic concept of balance.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Other People’s Burdens

Simultaneously the same issue came up between my wife and I and the media: Someone lost their job over something that was said.

Every morning my wife and I like to sit on the bed and chat about things over coffee. By the time she’s on her first cup I’ve been up for a while since I get up sometimes an hour or two before she does since I often do my best work while everyone is still asleep. Since I’ve been up since 4 or 5AM I’ll fill her in on what’s gone on in the world since we went to bed or I’ll update her on my project. Yesterday morning we had a really deep conversation about my wife’s concerned about someone else in our circle of friends and how he’s having a hard time with our mutual occupation; since s/he’s having a specific problem now will I have the same problem in the future? Will I run into the same issues that our friend ran into, or am I destined to skip over these tribulations because of my experience and knowledge of not only knowing how to avoid the professional landmines but also knowing where they are in the first place?

I have a suspicion that one of the reasons why our friend can’t hold down a job for very long is because they are opinionated and this friend says exactly what he thinks sans self-editing. At the same time, one of the men on a popular reality TV show was released from his contract from something he said in an interview with a magazine – an interview with a man known for his strong opinions caused him to be fired from a show that features his strong opinions. As a side note this seems more like a publicity stunt or someone with an ax to grind was just looking for any excuse to let this show go because of its politically incorrect nature.

Nobody cares what you think at the workplace what you think about the project you and your fellow Adobetrons (employees who use Adobe for a living…) are working on. Employers and fellow employees could not care less about what you think about topics that have nothing to do with the company, the companies realm in the business world, or how the business makes money. The only thing an employer cares about – as far as your opinions are concerned – are your thoughts about how you’re going to get the job done.

You, my fellow graphic designers, are Abodetrons – worker bees who function in the realm of the Adobe Creative Suite. It’s your job to put your equivalent of the Sistine Chapel one whatever product package or procure they need you to work on, in the least amount of time and money.

Fact is, nobody wants to be burdened with my opinions at the workplace. Wherever I work nobody cares about my political and religious affiliation, whatever non-existent problems my wife and I are having and our sex habits, where we want to go on our vacations or what we did on our honeymoon. Nobody cares about my favorite TV shows (unless they are “Mad Men” and “The Pitch,” two TV shows that tie directly into graphic design, advertising and marketing…) or if I follow any teams.

I do have my favorite teams, maybe you have heard of them? Adobe, Wacom, HP… just to name a few, but my all-time favorite “team” is the one I’m working for now because they literally pay me to follow them and participate with them. Period.

The problem with many people at the work place is that you MUST know many things about them. You MUST know where they stand on specific issues. You MUST know where they take a stand on political candidates and how they are voting to the point that their cubes look like that specific candidate’s campaign headquarters. You must know everything about them from their sexual ordination and how their lifestyle defines how they vote. Then there are the people who are just so proud of their children or grandchildren – or worse… their special “animal children” and you have to know everything they have done, they are doing, and what they are going to do.

Nobody wants to hear it. Those who act like they do are either being polite or are just too weak to tell you to keep it to yourself.

In short, there are certain people who use the workplace to evangelize, either literally or figuratively. These are the people who see their coworkers as an untapped, unexploited resource and it’s up to these individuals to go on their crusade, jihad, vision quest, or recruitment drive to suck you in. They even have leaders outside the workplace that encourage them to go after you – their fellow coworkers. Some of these people are specially trained to go after some of us, the polite people who will listen only out of courtesy and are avoiding rudeness, as the low-hanging fruit.

Then it’s your manager, your supervisor, and human resources job to find a way to get rid of you in a tactful way to make sure you’re not a legal liability and to make sure you know that the reason why you’re getting “laid off” has nothing to do with your political or social views. Sharing your political and social views created a hostile working environment is what caused your termination!

Bottom line - like surgeons, athletes, pop music performers – nobody cares about you, people care if you can do the job. Nobody cares who you vote for, what your hobbies are, and your ordinations or habits, they only care about your ability to do the work well and on time. It should be of no surprise that if we become a problem at work we would find ourselves having a problem to find a box to put our things in before we turnover our employee ID card and work computer.

Don’t burden people with your thoughts and beliefs that do not belong at work for the simple fact that you will eventually alienate fellow coworkers and employers. If someone wants to know my opinion on a controversial opinion then cross my palm with silver – pay me. Make it worth my while to tell you what I really think about any given subject that does not have anything to do with work.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Review: Wacom Airbrush Pen

Part number: ZP400E
$99.95 From Wacom Direct
For use with: Intuos3 (all models) and Cintiq 21UX.

wacom-airbrush-penI might be biased against this product since I was once a full-time airbrush users. As I wrote in a previous post: I really miss my airbrush. I really, really miss it. I miss it the way a thirsty man in the desert misses water. I don’t care if atomized paint in my lungs was shaving years off my life. I miss it. I miss it so much that I had to give the Wacom Airbrush Pen a try.

Using it is a little like putting a real airbrush in my hand again. The Wacom Airbrush Pen is indeed in the shape of an airbrush.  There is a button on the top of this Wacom pen that’s a little like the trigger on the top of a real airbrush. And that’s about it as far as the positive attributes of the Wacom Airbrush.

This does not feel that it’s worth $100.

What’s worse is that the Wacom Air Brush actually feels lighter than the 6D Art Pen, but slightly heavier than the “Classic” pen that I’ll be reviewing later. There are moments when I wonder if I squeeze this pen enough with my fingers it’ll crack. I’m not confident that this item is as rugged as the other Wacom products.

I get the sense that there is another artist under the employ of Wacom is also a lifelong airbrush user and wanted nothing more than develop a fantastic product that has the same shape, feel and heft as a real solid airbrush. The person person/persons responsible for this accessory must have burst into tears when they felt it for the first time as their hearts broke at the lack of mass! The lightweight feel actually a diminishes to this pen’s quality; for the amount of money we’re asked to pay for this it should feel more substantial unless under the plastic façade is a shell made out of titanium… It’s not, obviously.

When I wrote the review for the 6D Art Pen I said that the lightweight feel was an actual benefit and I used the word “refreshing” when describing how it felt t after so many hours of using the original pen. For a lifelong genuine Airbrush user the lightness of this specific Wacom product is a distraction and erodes confidence.

This is really aggravating because this is also the pen that I’ve reached for the most in the past two weeks. Its the one that I’ll use if I’m touching a photo or painting detail in Illustrator. I love the feel of this thing in my hands because of its basic shape and it’s reminiscent of my favorite painting tool in the past. The button works, the dial for varying paint thickness works, just like the other pens (except the 6D Art Pen) it even has a tip on the other end for erasing. I just want it to have the same substance as my original airbrushes!

I hate to say this but if there was another vendor who made an aftermarket Airbrush shaped pen I would have to consider buying it. If at all possible I would love to see Wacom take another whack at this and do it right next time.

I’ll also throw in the similar side note that I put in my other review for the 6D Art Pen: I wish this pen was standard with the original purchase of the Intuos3 tablet. I love the notion that there are accessories and replacement pens for the Wacom that are almost fun collectibles but I wish I was able to get all of the other pens all together. This pen feels like it should have been standard and not an expensive add-on accessory.

Succinctly I love functionality of this pen and its over-all shape and I’m glad I bought it. But I’m also glad I paid a reasonable price after shopping around. Please Wacom; consider re-releasing this Airbrush Pen with some more oomph to the body.

This is an iffy 4 out of 5 Star Product and is mostly geared for former airbrush users.

Monday, October 21, 2013

6D Art Pen: The Right Tool For Several Different Jobs.


Wacom 6D Art Pen

Part number: ZP600
In stock, ships within 24-48 hours

The original stylus pen that comes with the Intuos3 is a pretty awesome tool but there are times when I just want something different for different tasks. It seems unnatural to be holding the same tool for countless hours each day and the 6D Art Pen is what the doctor ordered.

The Cintiq 6D Art Pen has a unique feel; it’s lighter and fatter than the original pen and the tip is wider much the same way some of our favorite graphic pens had in a generation past. Some other reviewers have complained about the pen being lightweight as if that’s a drawback; once you get used to it you’ll be able to fly though a lot of tasks as if you were only using your finger. The lightweight might seem like a drawback for other users but at the end of a long day it’s almost soothing to use. For that reason alone I think the modest weight is intentional.

Functionality speaking; After a couple of hours of using the 6D Art Pen you’ll be wondering what you ever did without it especially when working with Photoshop/Illustrator brushes that rely on different angles and rotations to get the right look of a line that needs varying thicknesses.

The “Inkwell” holder that’s just like the original pen holder is a nice touch.

There are only two detractions to this tool.

First, the felt tip nibs: I love the fact that this pen feels almost exactly the way the felt tip graphic pens of long ago felt but the felt nib that replicates the felt-on-paper touch is a bit too far. I couldn’t swap the original one installed fast enough and replaced it with the plastic nib that’s similar to the plastic tip of the original pen. I have three felt-tip nibs but only one plastic one… not a big deal because I since I won’t ever swap the tip out again.

Second: While it’s worth the little extra cabbage, I wish the 6D Art Pen was originally included with my Intuos3 tablet. Since it’s so essential to my work now I can’t help but wonder why this tool isn’t standard. More importantly and as I wrote before, there are something that can be done with the 6D Art Pen that you can’t do with the original pen – most notably the aforementioned rotations.

You buy a tablet so you can do things that you can’t do with a mouse; you are able to do even more with this 6D pen that you couldn’t do without it on your Wacom. It seems so incredibly necessary for me that I wish I bought it sooner.

Just like good cowbell, you’re gonna want that 6D Art Pen!

Where’s The Line?

I Do Anything For Love (of Money)… But I won’t do that (for recognition as a graphic designer!

bat-out-of-hellHere’s a salute and a tip of the hat to one of my favorite performers; Meatloaf! Bat Out Of Hell is still one of the best music albums and if you don’t have it than you don’t know what you’re missing. Not only is the music first rate, but the album cover art is iconic. I remember when it caused quite a stir and it’s one of those things that made me say; “Yea, Damn it – THAT’S what I want to do!”

The artist’s name is Richard Corben and his name should be remembered with others like Roger Dean, Jean Giraud/ Mœbius, H. R. Giger, Andrew Probert and Ralph McQuarrie. These guys really did it and some of them are really doing it – going beyond what’s expected in conceptual art and raising the bar.

As Graphic Designers and Commercial artists we sometimes have to push the boundaries for our clients and dare to go a little too far. It’s easier to go too far and throttle it back than it is to not go far enough and try and squeeze a little “more” out.

What brings this thought up is a post from one of my favorite commentators on Graphic Design, Stephen Heller. He wrote a recent post about the one thing we should never do ever again; design cigarette boxes. You can read the whole article here… What Designers Won’t Do (Today) By: Steven Heller | October 21, 2013

Here’s the question that might say more about me as a person than a graphic designer: If I was asked to create a cigarette package would I really turn it down? Fact is, people are going to smoke one way or another while at the same time someone is going to make money designing this package – would I rather go with the cabbage or without?

Is really all about the money?

Is it really all about being citizens of the world and do we have some obligation to turn away work because of our conscience? What would happen if a politician from the other side of the political isle that I totally disagreed with knocked on my door with a briefcase full of cash and offered it to me to work on his (or her) campaign, would I take it? (And would I be able to keep the briefcase? Just wondering…)

Does everyone have the right to a graphic designer the way suspects have the right to an attorney?

“You have the right to remain uncool. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of public opinion. You have a right to a graphic designer. If you cannot afford a graphic designer, one will be appointed for you.”

Fact is, these are all ethical dilemmas we’re all going to ask each other from time to time. There are going to times when we are asked to do things that might be against our values and taste and it’s up to us to not only know when to draw the line, but how do draw the line respectfully.

Once again I have to remind folks that we don’t only ourselves; when we’re going graphic design work we represent our employers and our institutions where we learned our trade. I’m not just a graphic designer but I’m a graphic designer who respects and honors the teachers who taught me what I needed to know to get this far. I would do them a disservice to do any work to embarrass them.

This might sound in complete contradiction of what I wrote earlier about pushing the boundaries for our clients and dare to go a little too far; there’s a balance each of us have to find. Where do you draw the line? Let me know via Facebook or Twitter. (

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Quantum Computer Isn’t for Graphic Design?

D-Wave-System-with-Visible-512-Qubit-ChipDon’t know if you guys have been following the news about the Quantum Computer being developed by Google and NASA. What it does is computer big numbers in a way that might be contrary to literal computer logic – while most computers handle information as either “One’s” or “Zero’s” this machine is able to work on calculations by dealing with information that’s either “One’s” AND “Zero’s”

If you know anything about quantum physics and advanced computer calculations than you know this is a big deal. This machine can handle calculations that are beyond the imagination of any average computer user today. It’s the equivalent of someone living in the 1940’s or 1950’s knowing it would be impossible for people to ever own the various types of computers we have today. It could be the next step in our computing evolution.

One of the bits of news I’ve read over the long weekend is that a company called “D-Wave” is manufacturing and selling them on behalf of the Quantum Computer’s developers. They have an ad that reads “yes, you can have one” and I thought to myself… what if I actually did get one built in my basement or right here in my office?

If you’re just another computer guy like me, you’re thinking what could you do with a computer like that? What are the possibilities? How many of us digital artists have wondered about how much more we could accomplish with our own render-server farms or a computer that could calculate numbers fast enough or more efficiently so we wouldn’t have to wait so long to see what we were doing from one change to the next.

Looking at this computer, I wondered about its operating system. What if it could run Windows 7 and/or Apple OS so I could install the Adobe Creative Suite on it? What more could I do? How much better would it work than what any of us have now? I’m not just talking about working faster; I’m talking about doing things that are almost impossible now.

Everyone knows that computer art isn’t just “Black And White” – it could actually benefit from a unit that deals with “Ones” and “Zero’s” together in tandem rather than either-or.

(Continued Below The Ad…)


So, when I saw that you could actually buy these unite I sent the sales team at D-Wave a question.

Subject: D-Wave Computer for Digital Art and Graphic Design

I won't take too much of your time but I have to ask this because I'm a graphic designer and digital artist always trying to keep my eye open for the next big thing...

How much would one of your computers cost and install, and could this computer be used to create works of art? Could this be used to run something like Adobe Creative Suite like Photoshop, Illustrator and so on? 

Thanks in advance.

The reply;

Hello Eric,
No, our system is not designed for this nor can it support any of those products.


Susan Davis
D-Wave Systems


I’ll let it go at that, but I have to wonder; why not? Has anyone else in the D-Wave offices thought of this? Using this system to help generate images? I’m sure that in the not too distant future someone will be asking – how can we visualize what we’re computing here? If we’re calculating the formulas that represent the formations of planetary systems or even whole galaxies don’t we want to be able to show what that might look like?

What would it take to create an OS for this quantum computer to create visual art using the tools I mentioned, or a tool that could be developed right now?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Shocking News About Drug Use In My Home State

2vermont-jpg_154206One of the consistent themes of my written work is about the environment that some students are raised in that’s actually prohibitive towards intellectual growth. Perfect example is the disproportionate career opportunities throughout regions of country.

For graphic designers, there are some parts of the country where there are more opportunities for us than we could ever imagine where there are some other parts of the country that are underserved but there aren’t enough job opportunities nor are there the economic resources to pay a graphic designer enough to make it worth their efforts to live and work there. (It’s not just graphic design; it’s almost everything. But since this is a blog about graphic design and being a graphic designer… there you go.)

I was shocked (Shocked, I tell you!) to read a new article that proclaimed that my home state has the highest drug use in the country.

“Here's Why Vermont Has The Highest Rate Of Illicit Drug Use In America,” PAMELA ENGEL OCT. 13, 2013, 9:12 AM

“This trend is a consequence of factors including weather, politics, and proximity to big cities, according to Barbara Cimaglio, the Vermont Department of Health's deputy commissioner for alcohol and drug abuse programs.

"You have everything from the colder climate, which tends to be a reason some people give, to more liberal attitudes, to higher income levels, to people having more access, but I don't think anyone knows for sure," Barbara Cimaglio told Business Insider.

This is incredibly painful to read because people like Barbara Cimaglio know exactly why drug use is so rampant in Vermont and she doesn’t want to admit it. I’m actually embarrassed for Ms. Cimaglio.

The rampant drug use in Vermont is systematic to a much larger problem since there really aren’t a lot of career opportunities – too many young people the only work that’s available are in the tourism industry. Especially in Central Vermont like Rutland; if you can get a job working a chairlift at the Killington Ski Resort you’re “set for life” during the winter months. Northern Vermont has it even worse than southern Vermont since there isn’t a lot there.

Not only that, but the social folkways does more to push ambitious and intelligent kids out and causes what’s known as “brain drain.” From my experience – you’re not considered an “honest” person if you want to get an education and follow a career that doesn’t involve manual labor. An ‘honest’ job involves waking up before the crack of dawn, putting on your Carhartts, going to a job you hate with a boss you hate, doing work you can’t stand for money you can’t live on much less get ahead, to support a house or apartment you can’t stand with a spouse you can hardly tolerate any more and raise kids you don’t relate to anymore. That’s an “honest” Vermonter’s life.

israel-medical-marijuanaIf you love what you do and you’re good at your job that doesn’t involve you wearing your “Carhartt” outfit 6 days a week then you’re somehow dishonest. You’re not a “real man” in the social circle I was brought up in. ‘Working with computers’ or something that involves more brain power means you’re cheating. If you came from a lower economic or social class you were considered a “faggot” or “retarded” if you wanted to do something more than what was expected from you.

There was a genuine defeatist attitude. I started drinking heavily when I was 13 for a whole handful of reasons – mostly because my mother and her boyfriend where genuine assholes who left it around for me to abuse – but the other good reason was there was a sense of futility. What’s the point? What’s the point in doing well in school since the most we could hope for is a dishwashing job?

I was shocked at how un-shocked I was when I read that heroin is huge in Rutland. I lived there for two years and I can tell you that because the economy is so depressed with the “Keep Vermont Green” mentality there’s nothing to do and nothing to work towards beyond keeping the tourists fed and sheltered.

The question I’ve always asked is; who are we keeping Vermont “green” for? Not the generations who are growing up in that region. Are we keeping it “green” for the tourists? Keep in mind also that folks love the idea of renewable energy but will protest if anyone wants to put electric wind turbines on the side of any mountains where they could help to offset the demand for energy – I guess they would rather drink water laced with tritium from the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant because that’s something the tourists from New York and Connecticut can’t see from the road side…

I remember sitting at the bar of one of the restaurants where I used to work and discussing with the bartender/fellow employee why I was leaving for better education and work opportunities. “I can’t say as though I blame you, what’s here for ya besides more dirty dishes?”

Is there a solution? Is it mine to offer? There are times when I get nostalgic for that region and the periods of time that I spent there and how I would love to start a business there. Each time I look into doing something like that I find out the hard way that it’s not an effective use of my time. Starting a business is almost impossible because of the prohibitive laws, rules and taxes.

It’s up to Vermont to fix Vermont’s problems; sadly they’re driving out too many of the people who might want to help.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Coming Out Day

Remember when you had to come out to your parents and tell them you were a graphic designer? I had to sit my parents down and tell them about my Graphic Designess –

Me: Mom… Dad… I hope you still love me. I’m just going to say it… Mom, Dad… I’m a graphic designer.

Mom: What? What did he just say?

Dad: Oh, Lord… He didn’t just say he was a graphic designer!

Me: Mom, I mean it… I’m a graphic designer.

Mom: Oh, Lord, Jesus Christ! No! Oh lord, anything but a graphic designer! Give him cancer lord! Anything but graphic design, Lord!

Me: Yea, Mom… I’m a graphic designer… This is just how it is.

Dad: No! You know what it is… you’ve been hanging around graphic designers too much. And they’ve been making you think you’re a graphic designer, too! They twisted your mind!

Me: No, Mom and Dad… that’s just how it is.

Mom: What did I do? What did I do? I knew I shouldn’t have let you go to the museum. I knew I shouldn’t have let you have those art supplies!

Me: No, Mom… it wasn’t the museums or art supplies. This is just who I am, I’m a graphic designer.

Dad: You weren’t born a Graphic Designer; I don’t want to hear that! Uh-uh, you weren’t born a graphic designer… bible says render onto God that’s God’s, not render under Milton Glazer!


Special thanks to Wanda Sykes for her inspiration. Remember to embrace and love yourself, no matter who you are and who or what you love.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Vintage Computer Parts Whereabouts

How do people with older computers and servers get the right parts they need quickly and easily?

First, I have this image of other small business owners who have a bunch of computers, data storage devices, and countless media disks or cartridges kept somewhere “out there.” In one of those computers or storage mediums there is vital information that’s desperately needed, they’re either documents needed for a client or the IRS due to a pending audit.

Once they fire up the old beast needed to access the information needed they discover (or rediscover) what’s wrong with the system; there’s a hardware error or the disk won’t deliver data correctly. This person knows how to fix the problem but doesn’t know where to get the right parts.

Second, I’m sure there is someone running an older piece of equipment simply because they have to. By any means necessary this machine has to keep running because it’s attached to a periphery or plug-in device that’s irreplaceable. Once in a while something like this needs replacement RAM, Video Card, cooling fan but as time progresses it’s harder and harder to find those parts.

Third, I picture that there’s a warehouse somewhere else out there with tons of never-been-opened boxes of surplus computer parts. The company who owns this equipment would love to unload this stuff since that stuff is taking up space.. If there was only a way for them to get the word out there that they have these parts to people who need or want them.

Thus is the dilemma of many people have – how can we connect these groups together and do business? How can someone like myself get in touch with those who have what I need in a short amount of time? How can I search for the hardware I need, find it and know for sure that it’s the right thing before I install it?

Is there an on-line tool where someone like myself can enter in the information about my specific computer and the device I need for it and get an answer? Is there a way I can get this answer without harassing my fellow tech-heads?

Suggestions are welcome.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

CGD 242 Interactive Website Design: Isn’t Flash Dead?

I’m in a class now called “CGD 242 Interactive Website Design” and it’s a Graphic Designer’s dream. It’s taught by a thoughtful teacher who is bending over backwards to make sure we get the information we need to be successful in this class.
In one of our first lectures we had a discussion about Flash and how the rest of the world is moving away from it and towards performing the same tasks with HTML5, CSS3, J-Scripts and other tools. I couldn’t be happier.

I love creating digital art but I actually found the Adobe Flash tools too limiting. You’re talking to a guy who used CADKey and LightWave once upon a time. I felt as if Adobe Flash wasn’t enough to do what I wanted to do and I felt myself using tools like Adobe Illustrator to create what I wanted to animate and then had a hard time creating my AI files into objects to manipulate.

I’m not saying that Adobe Flash is a bad tool, I’m saying I’m not as good with it as I would like to be.

What’s next for the Web? What’s replacing Flash and is it a tool I can easily buy or is it something that comes with Adobe Creative Suite 6 that I haven’t used yet? Or do I have to switch to “The Cloud?”

Stay Tuned.

On a further note – I have to keep a notebook for CGD 242 Interactive Website Design; this is going to be it since this electric journal won’t ever get lost, stolen or have the pages ripped out by my sons for their own experiments and projects. – Enjoy.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A logo only a Yahoo could love…

A logo only a Yahoo could love…

There’s a reason why I had to reprint of Marrisa Mayer’s “tumblr” – it was simply unreadable in it’s original form. Why?

Let me just give you a little bit of background here for a second…

As chronicled in the book “I'm Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59” by Douglas Edwards, Miss Mayer changed the font on the site’s results page to Verdana because a “report” and “statistics” told her it was the “right” thing to do without looking to see how it would render in all browsers. Now, taking a look at her “tumblr” page she’s using the dreaded white text on a black background – despite countless research that explains why this is a horrible thing to do for your readers. As any design teacher will tell you, it only looks “cool” superficially – use it when you really don’t want your visitors to read your text. You would think that a woman who is obsessed with “data” and “research” into what’s more “readable” would know better.

This gets me to the type of leader I have the least respect for; the bosses, managers, supervisors, and executives who hire experts then won’t trust the people they hire. After you hire a graphic designer to do design work why wouldn’t you not trust their experience and education when creating a design? Or do you just like to have people surrounding you who are “only the best” and you still have to do everything yourself – which implies everyone else is incompetent and you know enough about everything to get all the work done.

Do I have enough time and space to vent about that?

My thoughts about the logo itself: Despite all my criticism above I have to admit that this logo does its job. I dislike it when a company will totally undo its logo just because. You only totally revise it when you need to distract from your potential clients from your prior mistakes or blunders.

When Pepsi redid their logo from the Red White And Blue “Ying/Yang” symbol to something that looks like a pictogram of a fat kid with his belly sticking out of his shirt – it was a total fail. What were they trying to hide, what were they trying to distract customers from? Pepsi should have made a much more subtle change to their logo or just leave it alone since they were a successful company… it was an unnecessary change.

Yahoo!’s logo change isn’t that radical. It’s subtle while being cleaner and fresher than the original. It’s not so much as a departure than it is a refresher – much the same way grocery stores rearrange the isles to keep you wandering around looking for what’s on your list in the hopes you’ll stumble upon something new.

It’s not bad, but it’s not great, either. It’s like going from “vanilla” to “French Vanilla!”

Geeking Out on the Logo

So, tonight we unveiled the new Yahoo logo, concluding our 30 days of change.

We hadn’t updated our logo in 18 years.  Our brand, as represented by the logo, has been valued at as much as ~$10 billion dollars.  So, while it was time for a change, it’s not something we could do lightly.

On a personal level, I love brands, logos, color, design, and, most of all, Adobe Illustrator.  I think it’s one of the most incredible software packages ever made.  I’m not a pro, but I know enough to be dangerous :)

So, one weekend this summer, I rolled up my sleeves and dove into the trenches with our logo design team: Bob Stohrer, Marc DeBartolomeis, Russ Khaydarov, and our intern Max Ma.  We spent the majority of Saturday and Sunday designing the logo from start to finish, and we had a ton of fun weighing every minute detail.  

We knew we wanted a logo that reflected Yahoo - whimsical, yet sophisticated.  Modern and fresh, with a nod to our history.  Having a human touch, personal.  Proud.

Other elements fell quickly into place:

  • We didn’t want to have any straight lines in the logo.  Straight lines don’t exist in the human form and are extremely rare in nature, so the human touch in the logo is that all the lines and forms all have at least a slight curve.
  • We preferred letters that had thicker and thinner strokes - conveying the subjective and editorial nature of some of what we do.
  • Serifs were a big part of our old logo.  It felt wrong to give them up altogether so we went for a sans serif font with “scallops” on the ends of the letters.
  • Our existing logo felt like the iconic Yahoo yodel.  We wanted to preserve that and do something playful with the OO’s.
  • We wanted there to be a mathematical consistency to the logo, really pulling it together into one coherent mark.
  • We toyed with lowercase and sentence case letters.  But, in the end, we felt the logo was most readable when it was all uppercase, especially on small screens.

And, we were off.  Here is the blueprint of what we did, calling out some of what was cool/mathematical:

Our last move was to tilt the exclamation point by 9 degrees, just to add a bit of whimsy.

Prior to the weekend, we had also polled our employees on the changes they wanted to see.  Interestingly, 87% of our employees wanted some type of change in the logo (either iterative or radical).  In terms of specific attributes, our employees had wanted:

  • sans serif
  • variable size letters
  • a variable baseline
  • a tilted exclamation point
  • and the majority of their favorite logos were uppercase. 

While we hadn’t set out to explicitly fill each request, we met a lot of what the people who know us best felt suited us best.

Color and texture were pretty easy.  Our purple is Pantone Violet C - a pantone that needs no number and no introduction ;).  For the texture, we came up with the nice idea of creating a chiseled triangular depth to the logo - this causes the letter Y to appear in the shading at the ends of each of the letters.

Over the subsequent weeks, we’ve worked on various applications and treatments of the logo (the favicon, app launchers, sub-brand lockups).  It’s held up well.  And, while moving forward we’re likely to make small iterative changes along the way rather than dramatic ones, we’re really happy with where we ended up.  We hope you are too!

Here’s a fun video (created by our amazing intern Max) that animates the design notes:

Monday, September 2, 2013

Biggest Hardware Regret As a Graphic Designer

I’ve been at this for the past couple of decades if you count my beginnings as an artist drawing and painting futuristic style containers and product labels and my few years as a drafting student and draftsman. Let’s throw in my experience as a 3D Modeler and Animator. As a result I’ve been collecting a lot of hardware and software over the years. Let’s not forget tutorial books, magazines, CD’s with textures, demos, free fonts… a lot of stuff has come through my door but only a small percentage has crossed the threshold in the other direction with few regrets.

To say “few regrets” means “no big regrets” simply isn’t true. As of now I’m having a genuine regret that I’m still trying to live with and get past which is harder thanks to genuine need and sentimentality.

I had this one machine that I maxed out the best I could for all of my needs during The Millennium Years – from 1998 to 2006. I used a Pentium Pro 266mhz machine with the absolute most RAM it could handle, A zip drive, a CD-ROM/CD-Burner, an ATI All-In-Wonder Pro video card, sound card, and at one time I believe I had two or three internal hard-drives. It was – for a brief moment in time – the most advanced and most rugged graphics machine on the block. I used that computer harder than a rented truck, and after almost 10 years of hard service it simply stopped working.

It stopped booting and after it would actually start it would shut down unexpectedly, and the “Blue Screen Of Death” was becoming a daily visitor, and then a twice daily visitor. It was time to let this machine go once and for all and I brought it to the local Staples as a trade in for a Windows7 machine which my wife is using at this specific moment.

I let this old machine go, with all the accessories, all the add-ons. Everything extra I put into this machine went with it. No big deal, right?

One aspect I’ve left out of this rant so far is the Gateway 7210 Server that I owned during the same time.

It’s a rugged big beast that was built to last and in many cases it’s outlived three other computers in the house. It was built to endure far worse environments than my house despite the intake of dirt, dust, pet hair. During the years that it was exiled in the basement it endured the horrors of mold infested air, an indoor fish pond that was in the basement from November to March and whatever the washer and dryer spews out. (Granted, the dehumidifier did it’s work all this time, but you never know what could have happened…) It still works better than brand new with the addition of the second processor it was always meant to have, but there are still some things missing.

I have no idea why the thought didn’t occur to me at the time but I’m regretting this since I’m working on some other legacy projects; why didn’t I remove the zip drive, the CD-ROM/CD-Burner, an ATI All-In-Wonder Pro video card, sound card, and the two or three internal hard-drives from that Pentium Pro machine and put them in this server? Why didn’t I have the forethought to put those components into the Gateway 7210?

What really smarts the most is the Iomega Zip Drive and the ATI video card since I’ve had to ask for help in finding new ones for the Gateway 7210 Server. I’m trying to find the most advanced video card for this server without spending too much.

Thanks to a lot of help from tech guys from various different forums I’ve found a few good candidates to consider that are now residing in my “shopping carts” and “wish lists.” Now it’s just a matter of time and funds.

In the meantime people continue to ask; why am I bothering? It’s so old and obsolete and I could get more performance out of a newer server. Isn’t this a waste of time and money?

The short answer; no.

The long answer; it’s a legacy machine with now obsolete media peripherals like a Iomega Zip Drive that I’m looking to replace. I’m in a part of the country where there are still some clients who have everything stored on media that people haven’t touched in a long time. Just because nobody else has a Zip drive doesn’t mean they still don’t need to have their old media accessed.

I still use this server to access older programs and files from the past 15 years and it is still used as a storage device for my current work. It’s not attached to the internet and works as a really good archiving tool. There are some older image generating programs that just aren’t supported or updated any more that I like to dabble with occasionally. I also enjoy using some fractal programs that tie up my most modern computer and I like to set the other computers to work on that while I’m doing my real work that pays and has deadlines.

Also this isn’t  my only computer, it’s my oldest. My newest computer is only a year old, I have three others that I’ve hung onto as legacy machines. This Gateway 7210 Server just so happens to be the first computer I’ve ever bought myself; it wasn’t a gift or hand-me-down from someone else.

Another fact is that restoring and refurbishing this unit is more like a hobby, like restoring an old car or furniture. I’ve learned a lot about other aspects of computers out there in the meantime and my wife and I have agreed that so long as the bills are paid and we’ve already put money into savings and I don’t spend too much I’m free to keep at this. As for the actual parts, I’ve always known or believed that somewhere out there in the world that there were warehouses full of obsolete parts that didn’t sell because of something else was released and customers weren’t interested in anymore. It’s just a matter of finding out where those parts are and put them to use so long as they aren’t out of range of our budget.

Could also be “The Fisk Curse” - My dad, grandfather and great grandfather were innovators who have built things just because they could, and then found a use for them later. My dad is infamous in the HAM Radio community for building various types of antenna tuners, modular motor drivers, and other things even though there are new technologies that can do these jobs he still likes to find other ways. It’s like trying to find other approaches and techniques to the same problems or ways of doing things. My dad has made about 20 different versions of antenna tuners and recently was bragging that he’s come up with a new idea that’s going to make “a million dollars.”

I thought he was crazy then but as I get older I’ve found my own windmills to tilt. I get what he was doing all these years later; I just wish I started dabbling with computers back then to so we could have learned something together.

Finally; I want to max this thing out just because I can even if it makes sense to nobody else. Just because I can do something doesn’t mean I should. It’s a momentary distraction from the other things in my life. Focusing on this refitting and refurbishing is helping me forget about what’s going on in the world of politics and other petty nonsense. That’s worth a couple of bucks and the time spent for a worthy distraction.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Progress On My Next Big Article(s)?

GPU-clusterHey folks, E.C. here with an update… I’m working on an article called “GPU Clustering for Digital Art and Graphic Design?” and doing research for it at the same time to make sure that A)I know what I’m talking about and B)I can actually do what I propose at the end of the article.

I started this blog to talk about Graphic Design, the lives of Graphic Designers, and the tool we use. I’m also getting back into digital art and what can be done with fractals while at the same time trying to tackle the issue for yet another article about whether or not we’re using our modern tools to their greatest poetical. I’m asking if we are pushing the limits of our processors, memory, and storage devices or are we just doing what Graphic Designers have done for decades but only doing it faster and cleaner than ever before while following the lead of a very few innovators?
I have surrendered myself to the fact that there are some days (specifically Fridays if my work is all done for the week) that I’m more fascinated by the tools of graphic design and digital art than actually creating design and digital art. I’m fascinated by the tools that have been used, past, present and the future. I’m also looking into things like the hardware as art, specifically wall mounted computers – computers that are built on a flat surface like metal plates, plastic or wooden boards with a sheet of clear Mylar between the two.

I’m also debating on whether or not I want to resurrect my former podcast and widen the categories to talk about the aforementioned stuff. I want to get other graphic designers, artists, authors to talk about The Creative Process.

So with that said… no new extra-long articles today and this weekend – keep your eye out for something extensive next week.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Content Of Character


“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

Martin-Luther-King-JrYesterday we observed the 50th Anniversary of the famous March on Washington which was punctuated with the famous “I Have A Dream” speech. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. voiced what every parent – regardless of color – hopes; that our kids will never again be judged by something so superficial like the color of their skin or where their ancestors came from. He was calling on all of us to deny and repress the most reptilian and base instincts; the fear of the alien or different among us. He challenged us to look beyond something so basic and look at the genuine, don’t judge people by what they look like but on what people do.

With rare exceptions, everyone around this planet have the same wants and fears. I’m like every dad: I want to see my children grow up and reach their full potential, then exceed it. I want them to work just as hard as I did to get to where they want to go and what they want to be, but go beyond what I did without my handicaps. I want them to live in a world where they can work for their basic needs and have enough left over to satisfy some of their wants and desires.

Like every healthy parent, I want my sons to have it better than I did while still having a respect for the world they live in and love for the people around them.

What I’m concerned about is that we still judge other people on basically stupid things. We judge people by their appearance. In the past I’ve judged women on whether or not they had ideal bodies which was predetermined for me by advertising and print media. I have judged other boys and men on what they do for recreation or occupation, and I have been critical of people who don’t read books and have no desire to learn something beyond the basics from high school and their trade. I’ve been incredibly critical of people who have no desire to keep up with current events.

Some of these critiques might be fair, some are not. But I’m reminded of that biblical quote; judge not lest you be judged. I’ve judged and been judged by the state of dress and fashionable clothes. I have judged and been judged by income status and the possession of material things. I have judged and been judged by the level (or lack) of education. I have judged and been judged based only on someone else’s political affiliation.

As a graphic designer and artist, I’ve judged people by the quality and quantity by their work and not on the content of their character, disregarding people who aren’t as ‘talented’ as I am while being jealous and envious of those who are better… but I’ll get back to that in a bit.

We still judge. 50 years after that famous and moving speech (and if it doesn’t move you, there’s something wrong and inhuman about you) we still judge. Will it and could it ever possibly end? Was Dr. King’s wish impossible and have we really made strides to meeting his goals in the last half century?

My answer to that wavers from time to time; things are better and things are worse. There are horrible social plagues such as poverty, ignorance, drug use, illegitimacy that has proliferated in our communities and inappropriate behavior has become normalized in our media. If you are not “into” the “right things” you’re excluded from many aspects of society.

People we label as nerds, geeks, and dorks are shunned and have limited access to a normal life regardless of their character and the positive things they (or we) contribute to society. Bigotry towards people who chose to be different shows little signs of disappearing in some circles, regardless of what we proclaim that we tread people based on how they act. Too often these “outcasts” are bullied by those people trying too hard to be “normal.” In the 21st Century it’s still hard to deny and repress the most reptilian and base instincts within us all; the fear of the alien or different among us.

The only room for me in my life now for being judgmental is in the realm of work and indeed; the content of someone’s character. Before I look at other people (and the speck in their eyes) how about the totem pole sticking out of my own? When I say “we” I also mean “me, too.”

Do we really work hard and smart enough? Are we actually competing for the right things like doing better work; not just work that’s better than our competitors but better than the work we’ve done in the past? Are we actually pushing our tools to create the best work possible besides following the same trends and styles that were created by other innovators? What are we actually doing as creative and professional artists to make the world a better place – not just for our clients and/or teachers but the rest of the world who have to endure our work indirectly?

Rephrased: What character are we displaying with our work and does our finished content reflect it that’s beneficial to ourselves and complements our client’s appropriately? As artists, creative people, and graphic designers are we showing positive content of character and leaving the part of the world we influence a better place through the content of our work?

In an occupation where results matter, we have to expand on what we mean by “results.” Yes, the work is good and gets the message across for our client, but is it responsible? Does the finished work show character? Or is it over-the-top to be shocking and provocative to entice people to talk about the work in a way just to create chatter?

Again, is our work responsible and shows proper character? I’m curious to see what the world will say of us and the mark we’ve left behind as artists after the next half century.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Looking for Work in Under-Served Regions


A fellow Linkedin Member asked…

“Does anyone know of a market that is underserved in terms of there being a ton of work? Is there any area of this field that is looking for artists/designers these days....preferably in the US?”

The short answer: Yes! Typically the further away from cities you get you’ll find them. The further away, the less likely they have a graphic designer who’s working their steadily and serving the region with good design question. Marketing yourself to those people is just as hard as marketing yourself in a competitive/saturated market; so be prepared to market yourself.

The long answer: Excellent question and one that I’ve been thinking about a lot these days; especially as I’m getting settled here in my own location and I’m looking back at all the places I’ve been (from various regions in Vermont, Upstate New York on the Canadian Border, Freemont California, Topeka Kansas…) and I’ve been wondering if I could make it there or if I could even be a graphic design student at college, period.
I have two schools of thought for your question.

The First: there are underserved regions all over the country on two fronts. First – there’s only one Nina (and only one Eric Fisk CGD) and there are many, many regions of the country. There just isn’t enough of us – as individuals – to go around.
Then there’s the school of thought that since Graphic Design is everywhere, and it’s constantly changing and evolving, and there are new needs springing up everywhere it’s up to us (again – as individuals) to find those opportunities. Mention you’re a graphic designer and people will as you if you do this, that, or the other thing.

The Second: There are indeed regions of the country that are desperately underserved. Perfect example is that there’s an establishment between my house and the college town of Keene that has a horrible sign. It looks like someone took some spray paint, some stencils, and a large piece of plywood or plastic and made up a sigh on the spot. It’s a crappy sign that says – to me – “like everything else, We care so little about our sign! If you think this sign is a mess, you should see our kitchen and bathrooms!”

This establishment is in a region where there are plenty of crappy signs; many are old and warn down “Clip Art” varieties, the hand-painted ones, and the ones made by a first year art student who must have slept through the classes on Hierarchy, Contrast, and Typography. Many business owners in these regions have the attitude, “We’re country, we don’t need nothing fancy” and mistake sloppiness for rustic charm.

Do these people need the services of a good graphic designer? Absolutely.

Do they understand why they need the services of a good graphic designer? Arguably, and good luck trying to make your case while trying to sell your services to them.

Too often I’ve found in rural areas that natives don’t take too kindly to stranger and they have a type of nepotism; they would rather give their business to someone whom they know does bad work but has been in the region for a long time rather than someone with talent but just moved in a short while ago. Also, keep in mind that “a short while ago” could mean anytime between last week, last year, or 10 years ago.

The bottom line is the same where ever you are; it’s about selling yourself. It’s just as hard to sell yourself in an area saturated with other graphic designers as it is to sell yourself in a region with none and you potential customers who don’t know why they actually need you. Not only do you have to be a great graphic designer but you have to be an excellent sales person and the product you’re selling is yourself.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

What I Didn’t Know Then

This is an article that I wrote for my college paper… and it’s something that every graphic design student should read. ECF-CGD 2013

bluto-collegeIf I were granted three wishes, one of them would be to go back in time and have lunch with myself as a 18 year old from 1987. (Yes, I’m that old!) I would like to give me/him advice from everything I’ve learned in the past 26 six years. I would tell me/him to watch less TV, exercise more. Instead of reading on the couch, read on the stationary bike. Go to college, study what you love (graphic design and professional writing,) and stay away from women named “Sherry,” “Mary,” and “Mya.” Oh… and here is the address of a beautiful woman in New Jersey. She loves to ride horses so you better learn to ride. Finally, here’s the address of the most important buildings of your life, it’s in Gardner, Massachusetts.

Since I can’t talk to myself from 1987, I’ll share this with you – the five things I wish I knew when I first started as a student so many (many, many, many!) years ago.

Number One – Find out which of your first semester books will help you for the rest of your career and don’t let go of them. Perfect example for me for my graphic design curriculum was “Graphic Design Solutions,” by Robin Landa. We only needed this book for a couple of chapters for our first course – CGD 101 - but there are more chapters in the book that were necessary for the rest of our courses like typography. It wasn’t until later that I realized that this book could have really helped me through a couple of other courses, too. I write this paragraph with gnashing teeth and a clenched jaw… be careful with what books you return to the bookstore. In fact, return NONE of them. Keep them long after you’ve retired from whatever you’re studying to become, you’ll need them long after you’ve slipped the mortal coil of being a MWCC student.

There are some books that are worth more than their weight in gold! (Oh, and I’m not kidding about doing your reading on a stationary bike or treadmill… there’s something about getting the blood flowing that helps you remember.)

Number Two – Brace yourself; you are going to find out facts about the people in your life and a lot of it is going to be really ugly. I said something similar to my wife after her aunt died; hang on because with a change like this there are bound to be things coming out of background that’s not going to be pretty. I wish I was wrong. All the petty jealousies people have harbored against you secretly will come out in the open; all the animosities that were boiling under the surface are now exposed and festering like open emotional wounds.

For some people, the fact that you are going to college is going to seem like a death or suicide to some people – you’re “killing” the loser they thought you were. There are people that you’re counting on now to help you now will abandon you in the very near future based purely on envy; since you’re doing this (getting a higher education) why can’t they? Because they didn’t have it in them in the past or don’t have it now there will be some members of your inner circle who will try to undermine your success. There are a few people in your own circle of family and friends that want to suck you back down to their level when you find out who they are, cut them out of your life for as long as you are in college and when you begin your new career after you graduate.

This is OK because…

Number Three – Prepare to have your heart stolen by your fellow class mates in your curriculum. I can rattle off the 10 most important people in my life, and only three of them are in my own family (my wife and my two sons) everyone else who is important to me now have something in common: Mount Wachusett Community College. That’s teachers, staff members, and other students. Your fellow students are not your rivals; they are your allies and will soon become your closest friends.

Number Four – Budget your time and money. Don’t procrastinate! Don’t wait till the night before to do homework because - and I can tell you this from experience – you never do your best work under pressure. When you’re crunched for time you take stupid shortcuts which will cost you in the end.

This is the time to be selfish. The only thing that’s important in your life is you! Some other family members are going to have to help with the other day-to-day chores, period. Alas, I’ve had to bribe my sons with an in ground swimming pool that I’ll by when I get a steady job after MWCC; but you should see those little gremlins work now! Find new and exciting ways to motivate your kids and other family members.

(Also, playing Hanson’s “Mmmm Bop” over and over and over again will get them into high gear… after the fourth and fifteenth round they had the dishes done, the house vacuumed, the dog groomed and their toys put away. I don’t care if this is against the Geneva Convention – IT WORKS!)

Number Four B – Pain and exhaustion are temporary, the pain of failure and regret lasts a life time. Sacrifice a little now or you’ll be kicking yourself for the rest of your life. Do your homework as soon as it’s assigned. You don’t have all time in the world! Things happen when you least expect them. Early bird gets the worm; early student gets the best grades!

Number Five – Savor your time. Believe it or not, your time at MWCC will come to an end. It seems like May of next year or the year after that are a place far, far away… but when you get on this rollercoaster called College, it’ll be over too soon.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Other N-Word

I have a problem with some words. Word’s that are pejoratives outside of certain circles while badges of honor with-in those specific circles. Like “The N-Word” for people of color. If one person of color calls another the “N-Word” then in most cases it’s a term of endearment. If a white person uses the “N-Word” then that person’s way of life or personal well-being can be destroyed.

Just ask Paula Dean.

Then there’s the other “N-Word.” Nerd.

If my fellow nerds call me our “N-Word,” it’s like a badge of honor. If a non-nerd calls me our “N-Word,” it’s a pejorative.

If I’m talking to you guys about how I’m taking my father-in-law’s discarded XP machine and gutting it of optical drives and cables and putting them in my Gateway 7210 server to optimize it’s original potential before I install Windows Server 2003 and hook it up to the local network so I can install SCSI drives in the Hot-Swap Bay’s and dedicate each one to different clients and/or projects MAYBE I might have earned the mantle of “geek” or “nerd” in a positive way, but only from my fellow computer aficionados.

If I was a 17 year old loser and weighted 98 pound at 5’8” and I tell you about the Star Trek convention when I met this nerdy girl and how I got to third base (she let me hold her hand while telling me what was her favorite episode of The Original Series) then maybe I might have it coming as a put-down. It’s all about who’s using the word, in what context and what our established relationship is; A stranger who calls me a “geek” or a “nerd” because “I’m good with computers” might be in for a fight or heated argument.

What got me started was a post on a Facebook group that I belonged to when a woman was soliciting free work by saying; "I was wondering if some geek or nerd type would like to do a sort of ..." doesn’t even matter what the rest of the request was because she lost me. To call a true, professional graphic designer a geek or a nerd and not a graphic designer is cause for concern. If she doesn’t respect you as a true craftsman then there’s no way in hell she’s going to appreciate the craftsmanship of the finished product.
My response; “Gee... No. I'm sorry I'm not a geek or nerd type. I'm a graphic designer with my own equipment and software. Darn... Good luck with your search.”

I can’t see myself working with this woman regardless of how deep her pockets are and how green her greenbacks are. To ask someone to work for them while calling that person or nerd or a geek right off the bat isn’t any different than going to a diner and saying to one of the waitresses behind the counter: “I’m wondering if some bitch or whore type could fetch me a menu.”

Don’t be surprised if someone urinates in your coffee mug before you’re served.

There are some words of endearment that belong just to those groups, and those same words can be used to demonize, diminish or erode someone’s sense of self. Nobody gets to call my sister a bitch except her friends and family because it’s a term of endearment and we all know how bossy she can get. Call my sister a bitch when you don’t even know her… we’ll have words out in the parking lot.

I can’t believe that in this day and age, in the age of political correctness I have to spell it out to some people that there’s some behavior that’s unacceptable. There are some people who have worked too hard in their professions to be called certain things; to call the plumber fixing your sink or the mechanic fixing your breaks a “wrench monkey” is begging someone to do a half-assed job. Or worse, that “wrench monkey” might knock out some of your front teeth with whatever tool he has in his hand at the time.

I’ve worked too hard to become a graphic designer to have some old bat call me a “nerd or geek type” while she’s soliciting pro-bono work. I’ve worked too hard to become a graphic designer to do work for free, period. I would like to think that I’m at the point where I can command a little more respect and a lot more money for what I do.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Few words on Heisenberg.


I’ve made funny comments from time to time that if you mixed “Roseanne,” “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad” in a used Maple Syrup jug you would have something that resembles my life.

Which one do I really most identify with? Today it’s “Breaking Bad” because of the tree male leads that remind me of myself in different times of my life.

First there’s Jessie who reminds me of my youth who couldn’t get anything done right, everything turns to crap and I relied on the wrong people to help me.

Then there’s Hank, the older and wiser guy who’s still rough around the edges. He’s successful and faced a lot of his demons but there is one last big score that eludes him. When he finds out the truth he can’t believe he’s been lied to all this time and feels vulnerable and alone. While he’s been proven right in the past because of his diligence in the past, he’s been questioned and mocked for what he believed was true in the beginning. He’s had to work all this time to prove he knows his stuff while hiding his insecurities under false bravado.

Then there’s Walter White, AKA “Heisenberg” who took his fate into his own hands after he learned about his cancer and he might die in the near future. He needed money and he needed it fast and took what he thought was his best opportunity to make it by using his talents in chemistry to make it. Because of that, he got mixed up in a world he didn’t belong in… until he mastered it a little bit at a time.

The things Walter White has done to get to the top of the food chain isn’t for the faint of heart and hopefully none of us will have to go to his extremes, but let’s face it – we are all a little jealous of him (and the actor who plays him) because he’s able to change the rules to suit his needs.

I’ll admit it, there are aspects of Walter White’s life that I’m jealous of and here’s a short list of unconventional reasons why…


The Stripped Down RV

Let’s face facts, even as a graphic designer you’ve wanted nothing more than to get in a camper and go somewhere quiet where there are no cell phones, no internet, and hardly any electricity. The only electricity you have is the electricity you brought either through batteries or a portable generator. There have been times that I’ve wanted to get a bare-bones camper of my own, strip it out of everything besides the bare necessities, and outfit it with a desk large enough for my computer and a couple of monitors. Let’s not forget all the media I need and tutorial/How-To books in case I need help figuring out how to do something.

Call it a work vacation or a “workacation” – something I could really use right now.


The Underground “SuperLab” under the industrial laundry

Breaking Bad (Season 4)

Admittedly, maybe the Tricked Out RV for Graphic Designers (or meth cookers) might get boring after a while and there’s just not enough resources to get the high level work done. Imagine your own “Gus Fring” and “Gale Boetticher” getting together to build this incredible lab that would suit your profession or industry.

What would a Multi-Million dollar “Superlab” look like for Graphic Designers? I personally have no idea, but if I had the money to spend we would all soon find out. An underground lab might be a bit of over-kill but fact is, it’s always cool in the winter and warm in the winter because after a couple of feet the ground is a constant 55°.

A “Superlab” is ever man’s fantasy for the simple fact that everyone of us have encountered a situation where we can’t finish our work because we don’t have something that we need at that very moment. We either have to stop what we’re doing to get it or find a work-around if we can’t afford it. Imagine how much we could do if we didn’t have problems like that and everything we could ever need is only a few steps away.


Being “The BEST” at something…

Few of us have ever experienced that feeling of being the best at something. If we have, it’s been temporary; like that feeling we get from our boss or client giving us an “Attaboy” or if one of our pieces of work wins an award.

There’s nothing like knowing that you’re the best at something, and everyone else that matters knows it, too. It’s an addicting feeling and it’s not something anyone could give up easily. Imagine your girlfriend was jealous of you and your success and she was just like an earlier girlfriend of mine and she said something stupid like “If you loved me you would give it up…” What would you do?

Granted, cooking meth isn’t the same as graphic design – nor as dangerous. But it would be pretty hard to walk away from something knowing that you’re really the best. It’s why professional athletes stay too long, why actors keep making movies that are crap long after they win an Oscar, and other professionals refuse to retire at the end of their careers.

One of the reasons why so many fictional heroes or anti-heroes appeal to us is because our inner desire to be the best at something and we want to emulate those characters. We are preoccupied with competing and perfecting our “game” from business, art, to sports. If we could master this “one thing” all the other pieces of our lives would fall into place.


… And our product is in demand

This dove tails perfectly into being the best at something – imagine if your product was in demand. Doesn’t have to be graphic design – it can be anything. What would your life look like if everyone wanted what you could deliver? Would your concerns about money be a thing in of the past?

Would a lot of your other problems be in your rear view mirror, too?



A Man Driven With A Singular Purpose.

The most important aspect of Walter White’s/Heisenberg’s persona is his singular drive to do something. Unfortunately it’s cooking an illegal drug which involves killing a lot of other criminals and some innocent people along the way. What would Walt’s life look like if he had stayed with the company he cofounded with his friend or friends from college before he sold out for “A couple months worth of rent payments and grocery money?” What if he put the drive to become “Heisenberg” into a company on the leading edge of chemical science?

We wouldn’t have a great story, but this fictional character could have enjoyed a pretty sweet life.

Instead we have a man possessed with the singular ambition to make enough money to take care of his family and eventually driven to create a pretty powerful empire and he wasn’t willing to compromise or back down. He was more than willing to do what he needed to do.

GusDeadBlowing up an adversary looks good on paper and it might be something a few of us sicko’s might fantasize while we’re stuck in traffic but we don’t ever stop and think about the collateral damage or the serious repercussions. There are always unforeseen circumstances. The lesson to learn from Walter White/Heisenberg is to find a way to be that driven to become a success while at the same time not ruin our lives at home and hurt countless of other people. That’s obvious; the real trick for me is to explain how.

The best advice I can give a graphic designer on how to be your own “Heisenberg” of our industry and in your own region is to actually do the work. If your work isn’t your hobby when you’re not getting paid to do it and you’re not spending your “entertainment” money on new how-to books and tutorials then you’re doing something wrong. Hunt down new opportunities and don’t take “no” for an answer. Throughout the entire series, Walter White never let a problem get in the way of getting the work done. He didn’t use a problem as an excuse to quit or take an unexpected vacation. Bryan Cranston and the writers of the show found ways for this character to power through the problems and find a way out. Many times the solution to his problems was the vast knowledge of science in general and chemistry specifically.

What if you could know everything there is to know about the elements of design, graphic design history, and the tools of the trade? And when I’m talking about tools, I’m not just talking about The Adobe Creative Suite, I’m also talking about rendering tools to create visual effects like aurora’s and fractals. THAT is how you become the ‘Heisenberg’ of graphic design!

Knowledge is power – and it’s a sure way to get ahead without whacking people who get in the way!