Friday, May 29, 2009


I just saw this video that my daughter Alexis made. She taped a Webbie camera to her friend's lacrosse helmet. I love this video. Enjoy

Y: Yoshinari Takahashi

Earlier today, I uploaded a poster to my portfolio on and decided to browse the inspiration pages for some new ideas. I came across this page which had a video where the artist, Yoshinari Takahashi, creates a stream of pen and ink designs that travel throughout a small book. Look at it if you like flourishes—it's a cool take on a flip book.

So I Googled Yoshinari and found his website, The designs were detailed and fabulous. Back in the day, I used to use pen and ink fairly often for illustration and design. The Rapidiograph pen was a staple in the days before computer design for all graphic designers. So it was a natural as a drawing tool. I also drew with a quill pen and sometimes with a reed pen with ink washes. I might explore that medium again soon. It’s a bit messy and unforgiving. Yoshinari has mastered it in his artwork. I included some pieces, but I recommend going to his website for a closer look.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

X: Xperience and Xpertise

Hey, I’m a graphic designer. Sometimes we take liberties. This is like NEW and IMPROVED expertise and experience. (Insert starburst and flashing pink words)

My friend Dwayne suggested that I blog about the X-Men comic for this letter. So, I’m here to introduce the NEWEST and MOST IMPROVEST X-Man, Milton Glaser. Ok, this is borderline stalking, but I came across some new MG info and I wanted to put it in. It’s my blog…

I was browsing through LinkedIn and the Communications Arts discussion group. One of the discussions was a post by Barney Davey, Founder of Boldstar Communications. He related that a new documentary on MG was premiering May 22. He directed readers to his blog, which I will do here as well.

Once there, I found a link to another page where he relates MG’s 10 Things I have Learned—The Secret of Art. If the Dali Lama posted a link to the secret of life--you’d go wouldn’t you? Gunga ga lunga. Read this if you have any interest in truthful, insightful, meaningful understanding that may influence your life (

This past weekend, I indulged myself and purchased MG’s book Drawing is Thinking, which is an amazing and dynamic book. Aside from 20 pages of introduction and an interview, the remaining 200+ pages are drawings by Glaser. You are supposed to view them sequentially to get into the thinking of MG’s mind. I have been studying them since.

There is no substitute for real Xperience and Xpertise.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

W: Andy Warhol

Those damned soup cans. I think that you have to have lived under a rock to have not seen or had some contact with Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup can paintings. Then you either love them or hate them. At various times in my life, I have had both reactions. When I finally got to see them at MoMA, for the first time I had a true reaction. Again, this was one of those times when seeing the work in person was so much more significant than in books or online. There is a hand work in them that shows through when you get an opportunity to see them in person and stop to study them that I lost in smaller translations.

“Earlier artists, like Monet, had painted the same motif in series in order to display minute discriminations of perception, the shift of light and color form hour to hour on a haystack, and how these could be recorded by the subtlety of eye and hand. Warhol's thirty-two soup cans are about nothing of the kind. They are about sameness (though with different labels): same brand, same size, same paint surface, same fame as product. They mimic the condition of mass advertising, out of which his sensibility had grown. They are much more deadpan than the object which may have partly inspired them, Jasper Johns's pair of bronze Ballantine ale cans.”
- From "American Visions", by Robert Hughes

Most of Warhol’s work was accomplished in the six years following the show of his 32 Campbell’s Soup Cans in 1962. The American iconic Pop Artist attacked the products and celebrities of the time in his repetitious silk screened paintings. He takes a role as spectator in his work and creates work that is both copied and original.

Recently, I’ve seen clips and documentaries on the Ovation channel about his “Factory” days. I’m not sure that I like the work he created—does that really matter—but I think it is important to understand how original it was in the time and place of the 1960s. Today it’s easy to replicate his basic approach in a computer. But the original work is definitely a hand-done process and that’s where I think it derives its originality and impact.

The poster-color silkscreen over sketches of the celebrities defines the era. I don’t think that you would get very far discussing Marilyn Monroe and not consider the Warhol painting. I put the Ingrid as a Nun painting here because my daughter Alexis loves Ingrid Bergman.

I like Jasper John’s Ballantine ale cans better than the soup cans. But I like beer better than soup. Go figure. With Warhol, I keep trying to pull away, but his images keep popping up over and over again. Not all influences are pretty or good.

Friday, May 22, 2009

V:Vincent Van Gogh

V is a no-brainer for me as well. I continue to be amazed at the fact that Vincent only acquired fame after his tumultuous, roller-coaster of a life ended. In my research today, I learned that his brother Theo, who had supported and encouraged Vincent throughout his artistic life, died six months after Van Gogh committed suicide. It was Theo’s widow who set about the task of gaining recognition for Vincent. According to the Van Gogh Gallery website, “Theo, who had collected the majority of Vincent's work from Paris, died only six months later. His widow took the collection to Holland and dedicated herself to getting the now deceased Vincent the recognition he deserved. She published his work and Vincent became famous nearly instantly. His reputation has been growing since.” (

When we traveled to New York in December, we were unable to see the full Van Gogh exhibit at MoMA. However, we did see a few of his works in the permanent collection. I think the thing that captures my attention most is how unique his style is and how it really breaks away from any painter of the time. “Van Gogh's inimitable fusion of form and content is powerful; dramatic, lyrically rhythmic, imaginative, and emotional, for the artist was completely absorbed in the effort to explain either his struggle against madness or his comprehension of the spiritual essence of man and nature.” (

In Lust for Life, Kirk Douglas gives a haunting portrait of the artist and his life. The movie uses the paintings to set the scenes and they found amazing look-alikes to mirror the artwork in the movie. I highly recommend watching this movie if you are an art fan.

I have included several drawings here as well as Café at Night. I think this painting is particularly interesting because it is beautiful and so difficult to execute. His style is immediately recognizable in both forms.

For me, his work is so passionate and expressive and his story is tragic.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

U: Understanding my art

I started a new blog today, In order to create meaningful art, I think it is important to understand who you are and why you create. This new blog will explore the next year with a daily entry of some piece of art that I create. I know this is a cop out for the letter U, but I'm ok with that.

Monday, May 18, 2009


I have the dubious distinction of being among the group of designers who crossed (and arguably survived) a historical marker in graphic design technology. I am part of that crusty group of graphic artists who spent significant time working with Xacto knives, ruby (amber) lith, waxers, and other archaic tools of the trade--then, along with the rest of the world, transferred those skills into the computer age. Imagine yourself standing there one day carving pictographs into an obelisk and your young apprentice suggests that you might want to try papyrus.

One of the most significant improvements realized by this shift was the ability to work with type as a graphic element more freely and immediately. As the kids say today, “back in the day” you would render your type on tracing paper and use a Lucy machine, or (if you were lucky) a Xerox machine to scale the type to fit your design. Then you would specify the dimensions to a typesetter—a person who produced “slicks” of the type. You would then cut and paste with wax the image into your design. A painstaking and time-consuming effort that was difficult to control. With the computer, you can type the words, pick the font, scale it, distort it, and make it fit your design while sipping your coffee at your desk. Amazing!

As inspiring as technology might be, it is also the source of daily frustration. I love type. I love the way a letterform is balanced, delicate, forceful, and related to a message or emotion. I love the way that it can be an illustration or the purveyor of content and that it requires the same skillful treatment to make it effective however it is used. Enter what I like to call the "PC Paradigm" (PCP). The “can-do” not “should do” approach. The PCP is the condition that centers on the concept that placing anything in a computer reduces the skill required to effectively execute that task to a push of a button. It assumes that the people (usually programmers skilled at programming) who create a program must have been skilled in the subject being considered—typography—as a subset of their programming knowledge. Many people I encounter in business believe that everything they find in the computer is right because it is in the computer. Enter the MAC and PC guys. I work closely with programmers and they are very happy to make Papyrus and Comic Sans blink in 100% Magenta because they can, not because they should. "What, that doesn't look good? How about adding a starburst?"

Ok, enough bellyaching. Mr. Gutenberg’s invention started a revolution and brought the printed word to the masses. Yeah printing! In today’s world, where we can get a national newspaper in print delivered to our doorstep, it is hard to imagine the effort it took to print just one page. I know that I am ignoring this medium. That’s intentional. Comparing screen presented type to the printed word is like comparing Pop-Tarts to a French pastry hot from the oven in Paris.

I first worked with lettering when I was in high school. Our school paper had limited resources for typesetting. So I often lettered advertisements by hand. When I was first out of college, I worked in a Cadillac dealership as a service writer. This brought me in contact with a gentleman (I wish I could remember his name) who pinstriped the cars by hand. I was amazed to watch him lay down a perfect line free-hand skillfully following the contour of the car. I watched him letter some awnings once and began learning sign painting techniques. I made some nice side cash and kept my hand in the design world lettering signs and trucks. Some where good and some were HORRIBLE. Thank God that time usually erases those errors.

I am not particularly skilled at lettering by hand. I can do a passable job, but I am far from skilled as a typographer. Unfortunately, I know the difference and really don’t like seeing my finished product most of the time. But I appreciate and enjoy those who are skilled.

I took a lettering class with Ken Barber of House Industries fame. I reinforced my love and appreciation for the letterform and had lots of fun. I also met David Carson at a HOW Conference. His approach to tearing and cutting type was radical at the time and I enjoy looking at his book for inspiration.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

S: The S Curve

I hit the watercolor paper with acrylic once again last night. This time I used a medium to help control the saturation of the paper. It worked much better. When I started the painting, I relied on an old composition convention--the S curve. I thought that I would allow that general shape to begin the painting, then let the coverage develop as I added the paint.

I limited the pallate to blue and green paints and used a medium to create glazes of colors. As I moved across the image, I developed the lights and darks relative to the paint that was already there. After the first round, I used glazes of the colors to push areas and give them some depth. I decided to add some white highlights and scumbled the paint using a dry-brush technique.

I am still looking for a connection with the composition. After I was finished, I kept thinking that I should add some lines or shapes. But I fought the impulse and just left the image where it was. I think it has an earth and water feeling--although I didn't intend to do anything other than a blue painting.

I think this effort is going to pay off as I experience textures and applications. I just need to connect better with the composition.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

R: Frederick Remington

I am not sure whether my parents decorated our childhood room with the intention of introducing us to the art of Fredrick Remington, or just wanted to put cowboy pictures up in a boy’s room. I suspect, knowing my parents, they intended both.

Remington was a prolific artist, who seems to dance the line between illustrator and fine artist in his paintings and drawings. His sculpture is pure drama. He is clearly one of the most highly regarded American artists of his time. In 1895 “Harper's Weekly published Remington’s first published commercial effort, a re-drawing of a quick sketch on wrapping paper that he had mailed back East.” (

“Remington attended the art school at Yale University, the only male in the freshman year. However, he found that football and boxing were more interesting than the formal art training, particularly drawing from casts and still life objects. He preferred action drawing and his first published illustration was a cartoon of a “bandaged football player” for the student newspaper Yale Courant.” His first efforts were cartoonish and not particularly good. It was only after a failed business and his wife left him that he began sketching and painting in earnest. He bartered for essentials with his artwork. This rings home for me as I have many times traded design or illustration work for the little extras that I can’t afford on my salary.

Although his persona was probably greatly inflated by promotions and suggestions made by Harper’s Weekly in an effort to promote his illustrations, I like that he was rough around the edges and it comes through in his work. Yet he is equally sensitive to small gestures and light in his sculpture and later work without losing any of the power and impact. His illustrative story-telling skills became very acute and he also dappled in more impressionistic paintings like Against the Sunset.

My daughter Alexis and I need very little prompting to sit down and dissect a John Ford/John Wayne western. I think that I find the same sense of history and imagination in Remington echoed in these films. The images of Henry Fonda and Wayne leading the column in Fort Apache evoke the same sense as Remington’s long columns of cavalry troops. It also seems that Remington had the same awe and respect for the Native Americans as his paintings of them were heroic and idealized.

Many years ago, I had an opportunity to do some sketches for a movie about cowboys. My sketches went nowhere and, upon reflection, belonged there. But they were definitely inspired by Remington, Ford, and Wayne. When considering “previous lives”—which I think is really just fantasy—I imaged myself a captain in the cavalry on many occasions. It’s an image that makes me laugh, but I could use a smile today. So perhaps I will have that in the back of my brain as I sit in my cubical today.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Outside the comfort zone

I'm not abandoning my format, just breaking from it momentarily.

As a lacrosse coach, I am constantly preaching to my players to extend beyond their comfort zone. I tell them that this is the only way to grow and become better players. Physician heal thyself. So I am taking my own coaching advice.

Another thing that I tell them is "don't be afraid to make mistakes." Ok, that's easier said than done.

SOoooo. This is an another attempt at an abstraction. Milton Glaser says that "all art is an abstraction." I get what he is saying and I am much more comfortable in the figurative abstraction. I don't think that this is particularly good, but I think it is a good first step. I am still too stuck on literal imagery--the shapes are still too well defined and the composition a bit stilted. But I think it's good to show your mistakes and try to learn from them.

I used acrylic paint on Arches watercolor paper, which was also a mistake. The paint moved too slowly and dried too quickly on the absorbent paper. The end product has an odd plastic feel and a chalky appearance. I've been visiting several abstract artists and assemblage artist pages lately, trying to get a feel for the approach.

As for the experience. I don't have a studio. So I paint in the family room with wife, dog, and cat involved. My wife is a tough and effective critic. She is not an artist (although her Mom was an accomplished painter) but she can't hide whether she likes something or not. She is my general public. The dog sleeps--after all she is 15 years old and fairly blind. She is my out-lier. The cat is very artistic and likes to help me. She pokes her paw under the canvas or walks across the page as I am drawing. She prefers me to use her as my subject.

I think that a part of my limit is that I can't get really active with the paint. I tried to let the painting dictate the strokes and then just looked at the end product. Interestingly, the finished work is upside-down from the way I painted it. I liked how it looked in this orientation better than 180 degrees around.

I am definitely outside of my comfort zone here. And I hope that I get better at it so that I can enjoy it more. But I like the challenge and look forward to making another one.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Q: Quixotic Moments

According to, Quixotic describes a characteristic of being “foolishly impractical especially in the pursuit of ideals; especially : marked by rash lofty romantic ideas or extravagantly chivalrous action.” provides synonyms of ”fanciful, fantastic, and imaginary.” This term is derived from the character Don Quixote in the book by Miguel De Cervantes.

“Don Quixote is a middle-aged gentleman from the region of La Mancha in central Spain. Obsessed with the chivalrous ideals touted in books he has read, he decides to take up his lance and sword to defend the helpless and destroy the wicked. After a first failed adventure, he sets out on a second one with a somewhat befuddled laborer named Sancho Panza, whom he has persuaded to accompany him as his faithful squire. In return for Sancho's services, Don Quixote promises to make Sancho the wealthy governor of an isle. On his horse, Rocinante, a barn nag well past his prime, Don Quixote rides the roads of Spain in search of glory and grand adventure.” (

Don Quixote has become an icon of the idealist, the romanticist, and the chivalrous. Along with his trusted side-kick Sancho Panza, he is the subject of many famous paintings and drawings. One of my favorites is by Honore Daumier. When I studied drawing in college, I chose his work and replicated his illustration of the Tilter of Windmills (not the title of his work—my slang for the subject). I love the pen and ink washes and the gestural nature of the drawing. (first image in the blog)

Famed Spanish artists, Dali (above right) and Picasso (left), took their shot at the subject as well. Of course they are fantastic. While trolling the Google pool, I also came across a version of the subject by German artist Alex Gokel (below). Gokel’s work is often compared to Kandinsky’s work and is “a superstar German artist.” Gokel sold his first work when he was 8, and worked for a time in the coal mines of Germany. has a nice video that shows him painting at the Parkwest gallery.

We should all indulge our quixotic tendancies every once in a while. We can get caught up in the rigors and competitions of just surviving. As an artist, feeding our imagination can include chasing a wooden dragon every once in a while.