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I Muse, Therefore I Am

Musing – [myoo-zing] noun, contemplation; reflection” — Dictionary.com

Musings Cover

Two years ago this week, I launched my new website and its weekly blog called Musings. My desire was to post a personal observation or discovery every Monday. Except for a five-month hiatus to travel across Europe and another brief shutdown to focus on remodeling the house my wife and I purchased upon our return, I’ve tried to remain faithful to that goal. My other goal was to keep them short, informative and entertaining. I hope I’ve succeeded.

To commemorate this anniversary, I’ve compiled 24 of my favorite Musings in a small booklet. To download it, click here. Enjoy!

When Less is Less

“When I first saw the Sochi Winter Olympics logo, I was taken by surprise.” — Guo Chunning, designer of the 2008 Beijing Olympics logo

Sochi Logo 01B

In August 2012, I opined about the controversial logo for the 2012 London Summer Olympics. At the time, I couldn’t imagine an Olympics logo ever causing as much consternation. Well, I was wrong. This year’s Winter Olympics logo has really got people scratching their heads.

Although the design is rather clever—the way 2014 is mirrored in Sochi—it’s so flat, monochromatic (except for the obligatory rings) and minimalist. And frankly, it’s so unOlympics. For crying out loud, it’s a web address. And while some proponents have hailed it for ushering in the “digital age” and a “new Russia,” all it reminds me of is the blocky, Cyrillic lettering on old Russian posters that ushered in Stalin, communism and decades of oppression.

To be fair to the design team at Interbrand Agency, their original idea was to create a much more complex and sophisticated design. From the beginning, the team vacillated between a traditional design inspired by Russian Khokhloma (brightly-colored floral patterns on a black background) and a more modern interpretation which melded images of outdoor activities, native animals and Russian landscape. However, after more than ten revisions, a “more future-oriented” logo emerged, far from the team’s original concept.

The persistent meddling and the final decision came courtesy of the Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee. In a press release, they asserted the logo “illustrates the connection between the past and the future, traditions and innovations. It reveals different images of Russia, forming a holistic representation of the country” and “symbolizes that Russia is an amazing country, in which kindness and sincerity are always valued.” Sorry, I’m not seeing it. I’m not buying it either. I think this is yet another example of a logo’s rationale being manufactured after it’s been approved. And this one is off the charts!

According to the Moscow Times, many Russian bloggers ridiculed the logo for being over-simplistic or difficult to read. It shouldn’t require a graphic design degree to understand that an Olympics logo should reflect the unique character of the host country, the athletic events involved or whether it’s the Winter or Summer Games. Many observers have suggested an alternate design by the Moscow firm Studio Transformer (five1 flaming2 feathers from a firebird3 dancing in a circle4 to form a wreath5) would have been more in tune with the Olympic tradition.

Sochi Logo 02

I heartily agree.

Line

 

1 Representing the five continents that participate in the Games
2 Representing the Olympic fire
3 Representing a prominent character in Slavic fairy tales
4 Representing Khorovod, a traditional Russian circle dance symbolizing unity
5 Representing the laurel wreath of the victor

Drawing to Communicate

“Drawing helps you see that the things you are drawing aren’t things but rather shapes that intertwine and connect.” — Charles Reid

Draw to Communicate

More than any other skill, people see drawing as a litmus test of creativity. And while some skills — such as playing a musical instrument — take years of training, drawing “to communicate” can be mastered in a relatively short period of time. All you need is the ability to draw a few simple geometric shapes. In reality, everything you see is composed of circles, triangles, squares, lines and squiggles. According to Martin Kemp, Leonardo da Vinci observed that “the organic complexity of living nature … is founded upon the inexhaustibly rich interplay of geometric motifs.”

A picture is truly worth a thousand words. Great communicators never shy away from taking pen to paper (or marker to whiteboard) to communicate their ideas. However, to express ourselves as visual thinkers, we must disassociate artistic drawing from drawing to communicate. We’re not creating masterpieces; we’re expressing concepts.

Most of us accept that when we are learning a new sport like skiing, we will fall down and other skiers will see us plant our faces in the snow. But when it comes to sketching out ideas for others to see, we never jump off the chairlift. This is true for both the novice and the professional (myself included). For those who draw well, perfectionism can be just as debilitating as lack of confidence. As a result, good ideas go unexpressed, talent goes untapped and solutions go undiscovered.

Wherever you fall on the artistic skill curve, half the battle is not judging yourself. Just grab a pen and go for it. Practice when you’re alone (it’s called doodling). Before you know it, you’ll feel the confidence to march your stick figures or build your wobbly skyscrapers in full view of others. You’ll discover how effective even a simple drawing of a concept can be — and how good it feels to get your ideas across.

Adapted from Creative Confidence by Tom and Mark Kelley

Like Being Clark Kent

“A secret’s worth depends on the people from whom it must be kept.” ― Carlos Ruiz Zafón

GII Superman

I know I’m showing my age, but my all-time favorite TV show is The Dick Van Dyke Show. (I bet you thought I was going to say Superman.) I’ve watched every episode (all 158 of them) at least 50 times.

One of my favorite episodes involves the Alan Brady Show featuring a British rock group called the Redcoats (played by real rockers, Chad and Jeremy). Because teenage girls keep crashing whatever hotel they’re holed-up in, the duo hasn’t slept for a week. To ensure a good night’s rest before appearing on the show, it’s decided the boys will be transported to the Petrie’s suburban home in a laundry truck while decoy limousines are dispatched from the studio to various hotels around New York City. However, to make it work, Rob and Laura can’t tell a soul the famous pair is under their roof.

Shortly after the boys go to bed, Rob and Laura have the following exchange.

Laura: Rob, I want to tell you something and you’re probably going to say it’s childish and immature and female. But Rob, I’m just dying to tell somebody they’re here.

Rob: Uh-huh. That’s childish and immature. But it’s not female. I feel exactly the same. Like if I told Jerry … anybody!

Laura: Oh Rob, I’d just like to tell everybody.

Rob: That’s female.

Laura: Well, it’s like having a Dior original and then not being able to wear it.

Rob: No it isn’t. It’s like being Clark Kent.

Laura: Huh?

Rob: You know you’re Superman and you can’t tell anybody.

Laura: Oh yeah. It’s so frustrating.

Rob: I never realized how he must have felt. Can you imagine how many times in that phone booth he wanted to grab the phone and say, “Hi, I’m Superman!”

Two years ago, I began designing materials for the SBC International Mission Board’s Gutenberg II (GII) Project. Due to the sensitive nature of the materials, I can’t post them on my website. I’ve designed dozens of brochures, newsletters and fundraising materials, but all must be sent to and seen by a carefully selected audience. What makes it especially hard for me is the fact that the materials are some of the best things I’ve ever designed.

GII is a film series featuring Old Testament stories that speak to the culture and in the languages of a specific religious group; one prone to violent opposition to challenges to its worldview. Hence, the need for a measure of secrecy.

The materials have helped raise millions of dollars to translate the films into dozens of languages and produce a feature-length motion picture about Jesus Christ that recently premiered in a country halfway around the world to standing-room-only crowds.

I’m dying to show you (or anybody) the work but for now I’ll just have to keep my shirt on.

Drawing Like Leonardo

“I sometimes think there is nothing so delightful as drawing.” — Vincent van Gogh

Drawing like Leonardo

You can draw like Leonardo … da Vinci, not DiCaprio.

Leonardo da Vinci considered drawing to be much more than simply illustration. It was the key to understanding creation and creativity. He believed drawing was how we learn to see.

Many people shy away from drawing because they’re convinced they’re “not artistic.” Taking a cue from Leonardo, anyone can expand their perspective on life by taking pencil or pen in hand and keeping these four things in mind.

1. You can draw. If you can see, you can draw. Drawing is simple, natural and fun. Just like any other skill, it requires a desire to learn, focused attention and practice.

2. The purpose of drawing is discovery. Leonardo’s drawings are reflections of his experiments in seeing. They are attempts to discover the nature of things. Art historian Sir Kenneth Clark stated, “It is often said that Leonardo drew so well because he knew about things; it is truer to say that he knew about things because he drew so well.”

3. Draw for yourself. Leonardo didn’t draw to please others. He drew for his own enjoyment. Judging from the fact that most of his drawings were contained in voluminous, unpublished notebooks, he valued the process of drawing more than the finished product. (Click here to view one of Leonardo’s notebooks courtesy of the British Library of London.)

4. Put to sleep your inner “art critic.” Experienced artists know that suspension of criticism is essential to the creative process. Wait for your first art show to arouse your inner critic to help you decide what to exhibit. In the meantime, give up the labels “good” and “bad” and just draw.

Adapted from How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci by Michael J. Gelb

Drawing is Thinking

“Art schools have abandoned drawing in order to make time for all the software they have to teach. We get what we need for our professional life but don’t have an instrument for understanding the reality of life.” — Milton Glaser

Drawing is Thinking

For more than half a century, Milton Glaser has designed some of the world’s most recognizable images, including the I [Heart] NY logo, his colorful Bob Dylan poster and the DC Comics logo (1977-2005). He also helped design or redesign over 50 publications, including The Washington Post, New York magazine and The Los Angeles Times. Last year, Graphic Design USA named Glaser the most influential graphic designer of the past 50 years. His most recent book, Drawing is Thinking, contains 210 drawings and paintings that demonstrate not only his versatility as an artist but also his belief that drawing creates a better way to perceive reality.

In his book, Glaser states: “What is most compelling to me about the act of drawing is that you become aware—or conscious—of what you’re looking at through the mechanism of trying to draw it. When I look at something, I do not see it unless I make an internal decision to draw it. Drawing it, in a state of humility, provides a way for truth to emerge.”

He goes on to say: “Drawing can be considered a form of meditation. Meditation involves looking at the world without judgment and allowing what is in front of us to become understandable. … Like meditation, art makes us attentive.”

In other words, drawing forces us to think deeply. Glaser believes it helps us see the world anew. It clears our minds of preconceived ideas.

He illustrates this point with a story about drawing a portrait of his mother when he was in his late teens. He realized as he sketched her (“shifted his mind to attentiveness”) that he had no idea what she really looked like. Her appearance had become fixed in his mind through the years, and as a result, he was no longer seeing her. She no longer existed in the moment. What he held in his mind was an accumulation of all his historical encounters with her.

According to Glaser, placing pencil to paper affords us the opportunity to rediscover our world and reexamine our lives.

The Death of Drawing

“In spite of everything I shall rise again: I will take up my pencil, which I have forsaken in my great discouragement, and I will go on with my drawing.” — Vincent van Gogh

Death of Drawing

I admit it. I’m a killer. I didn’t just let drawing (with a pencil, pen or brush) die a slow death, I drove a stake through its heart. I don’t know the exact date (although I could make a good guess with a little research), but I remember the circumstances.

As often as possible, I drew or painted book covers and editorial illustrations. It was fun and kept my classical art training (drawing, painting, printmaking and sculpture) alive. Then one day, after another rejection of an illustration for a magazine article, I was instructed to “just do a photocollage.” This was happening with more and more frequency. I had already created several photocollages for the magazine, so I reasoned, “What’s one more?” Besides, they’re easier to do.

Shortly thereafter, I gathered up my colored pencils, markers, charcoals, paints, brushes and pens and laid them to rest in a cardboard coffin.

I also kept sketchbooks filled with exploratory drawings from each project. I often referred to them for inspiration. But no more. Oh, I still sketch ideas, but they’re very primitive, drawn on scraps of paper and quickly tossed away. I now turn to my computer as soon as possible. I’m still doing the work, but something is missing. If not from the work, then from my life.

By now, you may be wondering what on earth set me to lamenting the absence of drawing in my life. Well, blame it on Drew Struzan and the documentary, Drew: The Man Behind the Posters. I recently watched it on Netflix, and it’s fascinating.

Drew Struzan is responsible for illustrating more than 150 movie posters, including all the films in the Indiana Jones, Back to the Future, Rambo and Star Wars film series. Throughout the ’70s and ’80s, Struzan produced poster work for such films as Blade Runner, The Cannonball Run, the Police Academy series, the Muppet Movie series, An American Tail and The Goonies. By the 1980s, Struzan was producing approximately ten poster designs a year.

However, in the 1990s, with the advent of computers and digital manipulation, Struzan was drastically affected by the decline of traditionally illustrated poster art. During the 1990s and 2000s, he did produce artwork for such films as Hook, Hellboy and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, but each of these projects took a creative toll on him.

For Hook, he had to make a special trip to Dustin Hoffman’s house to consult him because the actor was unhappy with his character’s facial expression on the finished artwork. This delayed the use of the poster for the film’s opening, and a simple poster with a giant hook (by another artist) was used instead.

Hellboy proved a hellish experience. The director, Guillermo del Toro, is a huge fan of Struzan and requested the studio use him for the movie poster. After completing the work, the studio rejected the artwork (Guillermo loved it!) and opted for photography and computer generated graphics. The same thing happened with Hellboy’s sequel and Pan’s Labyrinth. Guillermo eventually released all three posters on his own as limited edition prints.

When Struzan was offered the job for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, he envisioned another long-running franchise like Star Wars. Not to be. The studio only used his art on the American poster and reverted to photographs and the computer for the rest of the series.

The growing use of Photoshop and the meddling of an ever-growing number of people in the creative process prompted Drew to retire in September 2008. He now focuses on personal work and an occasional commercial project. (Although, by all accounts, he’s enjoying his retirement.)

Which brings me back to my box of neglected art supplies. This year, “I will take up my pencil, which I have forsaken in my great discouragement, and I will go on with my drawing.”

Jackdawing

“Ideas come from everything.” — Alfred Hitchcock

Jackdawing

The term “jackdawing” is derived from the jackdaw, a common black and gray bird related to the carrion crow. Jackdaws are notorious for picking up objects, especially shiny ones, to hoard in their nests.

To reach your creative potential, you must develop the instincts of a jackdaw. You must be curious about everything that confronts you and on constant lookout for new stimuli. Like the jackdaw, you must collect and hoard images and ideas that catch your attention, regardless of their apparent value.

One way to do this is to photograph anything that catches your eye. Smart phones make this easier than ever.

You can also squirrel away (perhaps “jackdawing” should be called “squirreling”) bits of information as you find them, building a compilation of seemingly useless and unrelated facts, newspaper cuttings, URL bookmarks, quotes, brochures, etc.

Keeping a small notebook handy is a great way to jot down snatches of conversation, excerpts from books and magazines or fresh ideas.

Once you’ve begun collecting this treasure trove of inspiration, the next steps are to catalog it and make it searchable and easily accessible. I used to have folders and folders and boxes and boxes of this stuff, but in my effort to de-clutter and become more paperless, my computer is now my filing cabinet. However, sometimes you need real objects in hand to start the creative juices flowing.

Michael Michalko in Creative Thinkering suggests one way to prime yourself for creativity is to create an “intention board.” An intention board is a large poster board on which you tape photos, sayings, articles, printed pieces and other items you’ve collected. The idea is to surround yourself with images of your intention (what you want to create) and, in the process, encourage inspiration and innovation.

A hi-tech approach is to use Pinterest. Although designed as a photo-sharing website that allows users to create and manage theme-based image collections such as events, interests and hobbies, it is an excellent jackdawing tool. And, if you want, you can share your online hoard with others … and vice versa. Personally, I use an ever-evolving cataloging system on a thumb-drive plugged into whatever computer I’m using at the time.

Regardless of your approach to jackdawing, having a broad foundation of borrowed stimuli can be the perfect launching pad for a creative solution.

Rick Boyd: International Author

“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” — Toni Morrison

Charnel House 2

Backstory

Several years ago, I was approached by a client for whom I had recently designed a book. They wanted me to convert it to an ebook. Since this was a fairly new medium, I had no prior experience. Before committing myself to the project, I decided to experiment. I had previously written and illustrated three unpublished works of fiction (Parables, Butch and Charnel House), so — by trial and error — I figured out how to design, format and generate them as ebooks. I converted all three to a Kindle-friendly format and uploaded them to Amazon. I purchased one of my own books, downloaded it to my Kindle and was thrilled to see it actually worked. I then accepted the project.

Flashback

Parables had its genesis with the short story “The Vagabond” (a retelling of The Prodigal Son), written in 1980 and submitted to Campus Life magazine. The editor loved my accompanying illustration but passed on the story. Soon forgotten, I stumbled across it in a filing cabinet in 1989 and began writing additional stories inspired by the parables of Jesus. Eventually, I submitted them to several publishers and discovered no one publishes short story collections unless they flow from the pen of an established author.

In 1991, I began work on a suspense novel titled Butch (see the Morrison quote above). After completing half the novel, I sent the first three chapters to Crossway Books. A month or so later, I received a letter requesting the entire novel. Over the next several months I worked feverishly to complete it and, by summer’s end, mailed the manuscript. They liked it, and I was excited. (I even began writing a sequel, which they also expressed an interest in publishing.) Then after several rewrites and months of waiting, Crossway ultimately passed on Butch, deeming it “too violent.” Ouch!

Discouraged but undaunted, I sent the first three chapters to several other Christian publishers. Baker Bookhouse immediately showed an interest and requested the manuscript. This time all I received were glowing remarks and no rewrites. However, again after months of waiting, I received word that they, too, were passing on it because it was “too didactic.” Huh?

At this point, with the sequel two-thirds completed, I shelved my writing aspirations and refocused on what I knew I was good at: graphic design.

In 1997, I finally completed the sequel, Charnel House, and printed and hand-bound limited editions of it and Butch to give to family and friends. In 2005, I converted both to PDF files for similar distribution, something I’d already done to Parables.

Back to the Present

This past week, I received an email from Kindle Direct Publishing that they were depositing funds into my checking account from sales at Amazon UK. It appears they made my ebooks available in England. This year, I made a whopping $5.81 in royalties from the British Isles. And, as if things couldn’t get any more exciting, three days later I received word that I had earned $7.70 in royalties here in the good old USA. (It’s not hard to understand this windfall of cash when you realize that Butch is ranked Number 332,559 on the Paid in Kindle Store Bestsellers List. And all of this without one single dime spent on marketing and promotion!)

If you’d like to discover what all the literary excitement is about, follow this link to Butch and read the first three chapters free. Or check out my other books on Amazon.

I’m already spending next year’s royalties.

What the Font!

“I do not think of type as something that should be readable. It should be beautiful.” — Ed Benguiat

Who Am I

Can you spot Mister Earl at 20 paces?

If not, where can you turn in the case of an elusive typeface?

Click over to WhatTheFont, an online app from the lettering gurus at Bitstream’s MyFonts. Simply upload an image of the typeface (a selection of letters as a tif or jpg) to the site and see what the vast WhatTheFont database turns up as among the likeliest matches. If the trusty algorithm doesn’t get you any closer to the identity of your mystery typeface, try posting a query to the WhatTheFont Forum (also free), where, according to the site’s creators, “cloak-draped font enthusiasts lend a hand.”

FYI: Mister Earl, released in 1991, was designed by Jennifer Maestre. She states that inspiration came from a page in a “how-to” book published in the 1930s. The typeface is named in honor of Earl Biscoe, a type designer who retired in the mid-1980s due to illness. So, there really is a Mister Earl. Although I’m not sure he wore glasses, had a mustache or smoked a pipe.

FYAI (For Your Additional Information): Jennifer Maestre now channels her creative energy toward fashioning remarkable sculptures out of pencils. Check out her work at Jennifer Maestre Sculpture.

By the way, I uploaded Mister Earl as a “mystery font” and the app nailed it. (It should, it’s a Bitstream font.)

Gotta go. Gotta meeting with Mr. Eaves (Modern).

Freudian Slippage

“For those who regret what keyboards and touch screens have done to their penmanship, typographer Harald Geisler has an answer: Sigmund Freud.” — Sarah Sloat, The Wall Street Journal

Freud

Sometimes a font is just a font, except when it is based on the handwriting of Sigmund Freud, the neurologist who lived from 1856 to 1939. His research and studies led to the foundation of psychoanalysis. Harald Geisler turned his fascination with the famed psychoanalyst’s century-old letters into “typo-analysis” and subsequently created an elegant typeface.

“It made me smile to imagine a person writing his or her shrink a letter set in Freud’s handwriting,” says the typopgrapher, who studied original documents in the archives of Sigmund Freud Museum Vienna and Freud Museum London to develop four alphabets that are interchanged at random —”slippage,” if you will. While typing, you never know what version of each letter will appear, creating words that look like authentic handwriting.

Using Kickstarter, Geisler set a funding goal of $1,500, which would have paid for travel and accommodations in Vienna. The campaign, which closed earlier this year, raised more than $25,000, allowing the Frankfurt typographer to spend a longer period in Vienna studying the looping tails of Freud’s “p”s and “q”s.

To see this fascinating font in action and a short video about the project, click on the link below.

Sigmund Freud Typeface

Bad Font, Baaaaad Font

“Giant letters march across the dome of the sky: HOME NOT FOUND. Huw, who knows Comic Sans when she sees it, winces in mild disgust.” — Cory Doctorow, The Rapture of the Nerds

Microsoft Bob

I recently read an article discussing the proliferation of bad fonts. If you type “bad fonts” into a search engine, you’ll generate a long list of webpages and blogs discussing the world’s most disparaged fonts. Most of these blogs are good-natured, with tongue firmly planted in cheek. However, some are quite angry, bordering on murderous, as if their authors have been personally affronted by the ill-considered type choices of amateur designers.

Not surprisingly, Public Enemy #1 is Comic Sans, the typeface that everyone loves to hate. It has inspired websites like bancomicsans.com and is often considered in a league of its own when it comes to conspicuously bad typography.

Designed in 1995 for Microsoft, Comic Sans was the response to a design dilemma — the need to replace the inappropriate use of Times New Roman in the speech bubbles of Microsoft Bob, a beta software aimed at young users. Ultimately, it wasn’t ready in time for the release of Microsoft Bob but was released in the Windows 95 Plus Pack. Later, it became one of the system fonts for Windows 95 and subsequent versions of both Windows and Mac OS. Its creator, Vincent Connare (he alternately designed the highly respected typeface Trebuchet), could not in his wildest dreams have foreseen the use to which Comic Sans would be put: sports team jerseys, all sorts of branding (including Beanie Babies), Canadian collector coins, and even gravestones.

Last year, when CERN Laboratory in Switzerland announced the discovery of a particle consistent with Higgs boson (popularly referred to as “the God particle”), most jaw-dropping for some was the use of Comic Sans in the scientists’ PowerPoint presentation. Nuclear physics and Comic Sans seemed like strange bedfellows, indeed.

Well, I’m happy to admit that since its creation (and I’m a Windows guy), I’ve never used Comic Sans in a design project. In fact, the illustration above represents my first, carefully monitored, usage of the font. However, if you cannot make this claim, I implore you to click on the link below and renounce your typographic transgression. (Seriously, it’s pretty funny.)

www.comicsanscriminal.com