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.