A strong photograph. A grid. Attention to detail. Going back to the basics after attempting some illustrative approaches. The result above.
I really wanted to bring over some style or influence from my personal work, creating strong black and white illustration of Daniel Hsu performing. I’d found a dynamic photo, shot from above, grand piano, etc. Dropped it into a layout. Dead. Flat. Useless. Maybe if I added a bit more texture. I’d recently read a comic that used a dramatic digitally painted illustration style. Perhaps Mr. Hsu’s headshot rendered in a similar fashion standing behind the dramatic performance illustration. In my mind it was beautiful. In execution. A big heaping helping of Nope. Nope nope nope, not a chance. On my iPad the illustration looked decent, not half bad for my first attempt at such a style. Again, in a layout, oh my, the horror.
A strong photograph. A grid. Attention to detail. The things I do well.
And though my meandering down the path of illustration might seem to have been for naught, it served a good lesson to me. In the end it pushed me back to an appreciation of what I do well. Sometimes it’s easy to look at other styles, the way other designers work, and feel lacking. To feel stale. Pushing oneself to attempt something completely different can help you realize that perhaps there are designers who work in another style that might see my work and think, “Damn, how can I do something super simple. Grids just kill me.” Meanwhile, they’re doing killer kinetic illustrations that I might drool over.
In the end, I like this poster better than a lot of other work I’ve done. It hit a certain point during the design when I said to myself, “Damn. That’s nice. So clean, and elegant.” And I hope, representative of Mr. Hsu’s performance next week. Also, after seeing the poster in the wild a few times, it certainly holds its own on cluttered walls. Far better than my attempts at illustration would have.
Ninety percent of my work, more or less, is done on a computer. But there are those bits that still have to be done by hand, compared and checked in the real world. Two of the projects I’ve been working on have led me away from the computer this week. Here’s a little peek into some of what I do.
We have a very nice print exhibition coming up in March. Through an amusing (to me as a designer) sequence we established the color palette would include Pantone’s color of the year: ultraviolet. I tend to avoid trends, but in this case we needed a color that would complement the aged paper color of the prints and work well with the wall color, which matched Warm Grey 5 rather nicely. Ultimately it will be a bit more of a split compliment, and I needed to confirm that there would be enough contrast for some of the graphics, particularly cut vinyl text. It’s a tricky color, the warm gray wall. Since it will be difficult to come any way close to matching the purple as printed on panels and cut vinyl, I’m hoping there will be enough contrast with white text. The details that one has to sweat out.
On the other hand, these little bits of cut out paper are a nightmare of my creation. Each year the Museum Ball presents a tricky situation. Creating an invitation that can set the tone for one of the prime charity fundraisers of the year, even though it’s often sold out before the invitations land in mailboxes. It can be difficult to put one’s best effort into something that can really feel like a formality if other fundraising efforts are successful. Last year was very formal, but this year the ball chairs wanted to go in a modern / contemporary direction. It’s been fun. And I decided on a reveal using a die cut. And have now made more mockups than I would have liked. Not rotating the design correctly for alignment, or just straight up needing to confirm that everything did in fact line up one last time before sending to the printer.
I like to think I have good spatial relation skills. But this just broke my brain a couple of times. I’m going to blame the fact that it was one of a half-dozen things I’m juggling, so I was a little fried by the time I was working out the die and alignment. Brain fry and all though, the files are off to the printer and their prepress has not called anything out as being improperly aligned. Knock on wood and other such tokens of luck, I’ll see a hard proof next week and perhaps my brain ache will have been worth it for a smooth print and production workflow.
Running is funny. Just when you wonder if it still has the capacity to teach you something new, or help you realize something you were missing, it’s there to remind you that yes, it always can. Today was one of those days for me. One of those days when running rewards with its surprise rather than beats down and humbles.
I set a personal record in a 10 mile race today at the Red Shoe Run. I’ve covered the distance in less time, so it’s an odd thing to claim, or might seem hollow, but nonetheless, in a dedicated 10 mile race distance, I’ve never gone fast than today. Perhaps I’ve bettered the time in longer distances thanks to the additional training that has gone into half marathons, as almost every 10 mile race I’ve run has been in winter, at the beginning of training season. But I digress.
I was looking forward to running the Seven Bridges Marathon last October, until a neck injury derailed training in August. Since then, running has been hit or miss. Training has certainly been nonexistent. My mileage dropped from 25-30 miles per week to eight. Or maybe 12 if I was lucky. Winter set in and I let things slide even more. I’ve never trained well in the winter, and if I’m being honest, I’ve been unmotivated since the neck injury. It’s made me hesitant and uncertain. Maybe I wallowed a bit.
With a new year however, I was determined to renew my effort. Until work, a sinus infection, and a neck flare-up sat me on my ass. Winter. It sucks. Rather than train for Mercedes, I decided to delay a bit and set myself up for a strong return to the Tuscaloosa half. In the meantime, there would be a number of races to use for warm up, including Mercedes.
The first was the Adam’s Heart 10k. I’ve run it in the past, actually setting a PR in the distance last year (00:50:58). Though, again, I think it’s not as fast as I’ve run the distance as part of a well-trained half marathon effort. Though I ran without training and with a nagging cough that I’d had for a week or so, I was within a minute or two of my PR (00:52:40). Not shabby I told myself.
Then, just a week later, I toed the line at Red Shoe, this time for 10 miles. Before the race I’d checked the McMillan race calculator, plugging my 10k time from Adam’s Heart into it. In theory, it claimed my projected 10 mile time as 01:28:02 at an 8:48 pace. Interesting I thought. That would be a PR. Maybe I can give it a go, who knows.
I set off, monitoring my watch, maintaining a slightly faster than 8:45 pace. Typically a cardinal sin to start too fast, the first half of Red Shoe is a net downhill, and the second half recovers all that lost elevation. In the last two miles. So I wanted a bit of a buffer. Approaching those last couple of miles however, my average pace was already hovering around 8:45. But, I had a couple of runners nearby who I’d been pacing with for most of the run, and together we managed to stay motivated, and mile nine was one of my faster splits. Around the final turn, up a little hill, and down to the finish line to cross in 01:29:48. My first sub 01:30:00 10-miler. My average pace, 8:47*. Dead on the pace calculator. A pace I would have said I wasn’t capable of just a week or two ago.
Like I said, sometimes running can actually build you up, remind you that you can do things you didn’t think you could do, accomplish all those things, etc. Yeah, this sounds perhaps a bit schmaltzy, but it’s true, even if it’s running a race 5 minutes faster than you expected to be able to run it. Right now though, it’s pretty much exactly what I needed.
*Yes, you are correct, the math doesn’t seem to add up there. That pace should have meant a 01:28:00 finish time, but my watch also measured the distance at 10.24 miles. Apparently, I did not run the turns efficiently.
It’s always nice to have a reason to get out to Sloss. Getting to do it in the middle of the day working on a work project, even better. Keep an eye out for some good stuff at the Museum soon.
It was damn cold. For Birmingham, Alabama. This is the condensation on the inside of my windows. Frozen solid.
Though it’s been annoying me for about a decade, I didn’t wake up planning to change the door knob. But the damn thing’s done now. And good riddance to it.
Found type, from within the faceplate of my old doorknob. I’ve not made use of the portrait mode with the iPhone X, but I am very fond of the 2x optical zoom. Makes for some lovely macro-esque shots.
Post migraine. Again. Hey brain, can I go back to that once a year schedule instead of monthly? Thanks.
Instagram post of the latest plywood painting I finished. It’s 24 x 24 inches, acrylic on plywood. I snapped the original image as I walked past the entrance to a parking garage in Chicago.
I’m fascinated by the entrances to parking decks and garages for a couple of reasons. One, I find them to be architecturally fascinating spaces. The lines and geometry are often great from a compositional standpoint. Creating black and white art that strips these spaces down to core composition is a means of highlighting what I perceive to be the inherent beauty of these spaces that are often considered a functional blight on city centers.
Secondarily, I find these places to be interesting liminal spaces. They are intended to be navigated in a car, but humans have to move through them, though they are in many ways hostile. It’s this necessary but indeterminate space. I think this is similar to my fascination with airports. These are not the destination, merely some third space one has to navigate to get to where you intend to go. As such, they tend to be overlooked, perhaps why I’ve begun paying attention to them.
Below is the process from original photograph to finished painting.
The images as cropped and adjusted for Instagram. My working method with all of the pieces I’ve made from this series have started as photos I’ve posted to Instagram. It serves as the starting point, test bed, etc. for images that I want to work with.
This has become a predominantly digital process. Quick photo with my iPhone, processing via Instagram, then sketching out the composition in Procreate on my iPad Pro.
Process video of my work in Procreate. This highlights the decisions points and compositional decisions I made while resolving the sketch. The biggest choices were the elimination of the gate arm, and deciding to paint in the ceiling. Though the composition is heavily guided by the typically harsh shadows of these environments, I’m clearly not working to slavishly recreate every aspect of the image. Much of this process is about reduction.
The prepared board. I’ve bought standard 1/2 inch thick, precut, 24 x 24 inch plywood boards. They are then prepped with a coat or two of black gesso, and then a coat of white acrylic. I use a dark undercoat because I want the white in the image to have a sense of depth.
The analog portion of the process really begins. After resolving the composition in Procreate, I print it out, roughly 4 inches square, then use an art projector to transfer it to the board. The board has been completely covered in masking tape.
Back acrylic applied. Unlike my previous work on canvas where I used a brush to fill in the white areas as a contrast to stenciled black acrylic, I’ve been using foam brushes for both the white and black layers with these pieces for a more uniform appearance.
The last touch, adding in the red. This has been a new direction for me, highlighting small pops of color in these pieces. The working title of the series has been “Warning Signs,” as all of these spaces are adorned with markings of some type warning the pedestrian, or driver, of what they are or are not allowed to do. Or in the case of this space, guiding the driver through these curved ramps. All the same, they act as a warning indicator. Bringing these bright spots back into the composition is a way to highlight the quasi hostile but still functional nature of these spaces.
I saw a Baldessari retrospective at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco almost a decade ago. I fell in love with his work. The mirror in the bathroom of Mom’s Basement presented a perfectly placed orange circle. I couldn’t help myself, I had to make a small homage. It cracked me up. A lot.