Thursday, November 30, 2017

Our Book is DONE!

About 20 years ago, my Mom wrote a children's book about our dog Sadie. It sat in a file cabinet until just before her 80th birthday. I knew it was there and hoped to get to it, but it would always go dim on my radar. I made a commitment to illustrating, designing, and publishing it and started the process. I did preliminary sketches in time for her 80th birthday and got the ball rolling.

 Tuesday was her 83rd birthday and I gave her the final proof for the finished book as a present. She was thrilled. I told her that I would get it produced if she approved the proof. She did and, last night, I completed the process to publish on Blurb. In a couple of weeks she will receive the finished hard cover books.

It took me a year and a half to produce the drawings and that long again to produce the finished illustrations. They are watercolor and pencil illustrations and I really like the way they turned out. After I get the first order, I will make it available for purchase on Blurb. For now, here is a taste of the finished paintings.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

An Old Dog from the North

Once upon a time there was a design agency call 3 Dogz in the great unexplored region north of the border in Toronto, Canada. This was a very talented bunch of folks who are as much fun as they are creative. One of the Dogz, let’s call him Dave Dog, was the most irreverent of all. Completely at home in a full-sized bunny suit, his catch phrase was “f you, you f’ing f” a saying he picked up during a design conference in New Orleans.

Dave Gouveia is the Dogz real name. After 20 years in “the business” and 10 years in the agency, Dave now works as a freelance creative on some very diverse projects. “I provide freelance creative services for a wide range of clients over multiple disciplines,” Dave says on his website. “My forte is print design, but I like to dabble in anything creative, and have worked on everything from mobile apps to movie titles and interior/space design consultations. Along with actually doing the work, I also excel in creative direction for those who just need an experienced eye.”

A very funny guy, Dave’s work is seriously good. Along with fellow Dog and former partner Chris Elkerton, they authored “Creative Stuff: An Activity Book for Visual Thinkers” published by HOW Books. His designs are contemporary, edgy, and diverse. He has a wildly creative mind and flair for the dramatic.

It’s been a while since we shared some Canadian Whiskey, Cheers buddy! Ok, that’s not a question, but the sentiment is real.
Oh how I long for the days when our group of seriously creative people got together around a table and waxed poetic about all things innovative and visionary. Has it really been so long? It’s good to know that we all haven’t lost our creative touch, even if we’re not in the same location and there isn’t a bottle of Crown Royal between us. (even though there should be)

What is your “Why,” the thing that gets you going and designing each day?
Truth be told, design is hard. Most people in other industries don’t realize that they are hiring us for our brains. Not because we know the Adobe CS. Not because we can draw. Not because some of us are good with colour and others with type and yet others with copy. It’s because we use our brains to solve their problems in a variety of (typically) visual ways. And unless you’re also a good salesperson, there’s no guarantee that what you try to pitch will hit its mark. Design, like fine art, is subjective. What moves one person will do nothing for another. It’s our job to ‘sell’ why it works…. That’s what keeps me going. Knowing that beyond all the creative goodies I can conjure up for my client to look at, it’s getting them to truly understand why I did what I did, and why it works to solve their problem. Having a client get that lightbulb moment is a great feeling… because many of them are not always visual or creative people, so they suddenly begin to understand the process, which makes future projects much smoother.

Who or what inspires you?
Back in the day I used to watch a lot of movies and I have very diverse tastes in music. Film posters
and music packaging used to rev my creative engines. I don’t get to as many films these days because of the kiddies, but I do still research online to see what kind of film designs are being developed, and I still get a creative kick out of well done movie titles. While music on the other hand has become more digital and actually owning a physical disc seems like a thing of the past, it’s nice to see a bit of resurgence in vinyl—there’s always great design inspiration to be had from that medium. Even though I don’t own a record player, I own every Radiohead vinyl boxed set… the creativity that goes into those things is both awe inspiring and super creative.

Feel free to name-drop. What designers inspire your work?
There was a time when I would rhyme off names like a rolodex, but I just haven’t been able to keep in tune with things since having children. Mainstays like James Victore, Sagmeister and Chip Kidd are always in the background—having interviewed them and spent candid time with these visionairies has kept them in the forefront, so I occassionaly try to see what they’re up to. When I was teaching I was really inspired by the students… the standouts that you know really went above and beyond to visually solve issues. Their process was inspiring. Sometimes it’s not the big names that have the most impact.

Since going out freelance, what challenges have you encountered? What rewards?
The biggest challenge as a freelancer is, dare I say, money. When you have a steady job you can plan ahead as you can anticipate when the next influx of cash is coming. As a freelancer you could literally go months with nothing (because typical clients take 30-45 days to pay) and other months it’s like winning the lottery. But that is terrible for planning ahead and dealing with the daily expenses of life. Also, being in charge of handling all that paperwork and invoicing is an additional task to the work I’m already doing. I’ve completed jobs and forgotten to invoice. I’ve invoiced and forgotten to follow up. The horror stories abound. It can get overwhelming. As for what I love—no question, it’s the flexibility. I can be honest with my clients about my day—pick up my kids, take a day off to take them to appointments, take a week off to go to the cottage. It really is a reward that would be hard to come by unless you worked for a great company that would allow that—and those are few and far between.

When you are designing, what is your process? What do you do to find your solutions?
I try to sketch first…get a first idea down in visual form. It then all flows from that. I also do a lot of research depending on the project—what are others in that industry doing? What are the colour trends? Then I like researching fonts. Not all clients can afford custom fonts, but there are those rare times when you can get your hands on something truly unique, and you know because it has a cost associated to it that you won’t suddenly see creative all over the place using that font (there was a time where almost 75% of all movie posters I saw were using Trajan). I also find inspiration in font research as many times samples of artwork using that font are included, and that might strike an inspiring nerve. When I present the work, I also make sure to describe to my client my thought process—why I picked this font, or colour, or composition. It helps sell it (which I mentioned earlier).

How important is community to you and your work? How to you maintain your community?
I’m embarrased to say that the concept of design/creative community has diminished for me over the last while since having children. Because I work from home, there is a definite disconnect from the industry, putting the onus on me to ‘stay informed’ and in the know. And that is hard. I haven’t seen my peers in a long time, and when I do it’s clear that they are more up to date on things than I, and I understand that fault is totally my own. But time slips and before you know it months have gone by. I figured the easiest way to get back into the groove was to explore teaching. I could provide guidance to students from a fundamentals perspective—no matter what the newest version of CC is, if you don’t have the basics of design down, your work will suffer. That’s how I try to maintain my connections to the community—by teaching and helping shape those future design minds.

You describe your portfolio as “a cornucopia of different disciplines.” What are some of your favorite projects?
Ha! I say that because I literally feel like I’ve worked on everything—web, mobile, wayfinding signage, interior work, movie titles, print, packaging…if it’s part of the business I likely explored it at some point. I’ve been lucky to work with some very creative and fun clients since going freelance (Levi’s and 9 Story Entertainment) and it’s always a pleasure to work on items for them. 9 Story is a company that mainly deals in children’s programming—so many of the shows my kids watch—and it’s a great feeling when my kids see the items on my computer and feel proud (and in awe) of dad. And because it’s kids programming the projects are always fun, colourful and I can’t say enough about how fantastic my contacts there are. With Levi’s you know you’re working on a well-established brand in the now, and that also helps keep my design game in tune with trends. And again, my contacts are amazing people. That’s what makes it all worth it for me—working with fantastic people who appreciate what I do and understand the value in it.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Lesson Learned—Be Who You Are

I met Andy Katz a while back when he was assembling some paintings in our local airport lobby. He was showing a collection of watercolor paintings based on Nautical Art. I grew up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland where I spent many Saturday mornings fishing off the shores of Tilghman Island moving through the docks and landscapes loaded with Bay boats. I also spent some time in my teens and twenties avoiding splinters at the end of a board on a Log Canoe. Andy’s technique and close focus on the wood, metal, and rope that are so much a part of this lifestyle evoked a strong response with me.

When I visited his website he also had an extensive body of work on sports figures that were not just portraits, but really captured the time and place of the athletes. When he creates his paintings, he seeks out the subject and has them sign the piece, creating a true one-of-a-kind image.

Then came the hip-hop.

He has created some amazing portraits of hip-hop legends and connected with many of them. My favorite is Questlove, but the Tom Morello is awesome too. Andy recently had a one-man show “Two Paths—Experience as Art” where he showcased his work and the subjects that inspire him.

Old Dog is about old-school artwork and New Tricks. Andy fits the thesis to a T. He was willing to answer some questions.

Your technique as an artist seems to be the common thread as you approach the subjects you love. What inspires your point of view?
The common thread in my work is really that which I find visually inspiring. I called my solo show “Two Paths”, as a result of what are seemingly disparate themes—Hip-Hop and nautical imagery. I get the same jolt of inspiration from witnessing a beautiful landscape, a rusty boat part, taking in a live baseball game, or attending a live music show. When we observe our surroundings, it can be very personal and intimate.  My boat, bird, and crab paintings are my attempts at capturing the way I interact with the visual world. I don’t always see whole objects, choosing rather to investigate small sections or details. The textures and colors of the nautical world on the eastern shore make me want to paint. While I work from photographs of my favorite athletes and Hip-Hop artists, the feeling of inspiration is the same. I leave the ballpark or the music venue, wanting to capture the sights and sounds that attracted me in the first place.

What visual artists inspire your work?
I find inspiration in a wide variety of visual artists. Favorites include, but are not limited to, Edward Hopper, NC Wyeth, Chuck Close, Keith Haring, John Singer Sargent, Joseph Cornell, Winslow Homer, Johannes Vermeer, Georgia O’Keeffe, Paul Cezanne, and Andy Goldsworthy. I’m fascinated by recent studies that imply that Vermeer used optics in the completion of his masterworks. In my opinion, his marriage of science and construction of composition sets his work apart, even as it’s criticized by purists.  His vision, and ability to capture the mood and feel of a specific era is undeniable. Someone like Keith Haring seemingly invented his own visual language. It’s inspiring to see how he connected his imagery to pop culture and his urban surroundings.

You clearly are connected to Hip Hop. Is there any other style of music that you are equally passionate about?
I really love music of all types.  Music has a way of elevating an experience, and perhaps making it more memorable.  My favorite music makes me feel and remember. Songs that evoke personal recollections are the catalyst for my Hip-Hop portraiture.  These pieces have me harkening back to a transformative time in my life. The songs can motivate, empower, and connect people.  Bob Seger songs make me want to take a road trip, while classic tracks by Public Enemy encourage me to get involved politically.  A well-written song can generate incredible empathy. If you’re lucky, you’re able to learn something, and you’re able to take on new perspectives.

As a teacher, how do you connect with young artists and inspire them?
I think I became a teacher because of my middle school visual arts experience. It was a difficult time for me, as my father passed away when I was eleven years old.  Just when I began asking sophisticated questions and trying to figure out my place in the world, I was left to my own devices. It was Art that gave me purpose and provided the positive reinforcement that I needed. It became apparent that I wanted to offer that same safe place for young people. Becoming a middle school art teacher afforded me an opportunity to pay it forward, while making it possible to continue making my own art. When I design a lesson or a unit of study, I often ask myself, “What would I want to do if I was in a middle school art class again?”  This question, more than any other, keeps me abreast of pop culture, trends in education, and the overlap between traditional techniques and pedagogy and cutting edge, exciting approaches to making art. As a result, my 7th Grade students participate in a guitar design challenge and, in 8th Grade, they present new ideas in footwear. They are encouraged to think like professional artists, as we focus more on problem-solving and innovation, rather than on how well they draw. Our goal is to have them being artful in academic classes and in other aspects of their life.

What is your “why?” What makes you paint and draw?
Keith Haring said, “The best reason to paint is that there is no reason to paint.” I find that to be true. If I have a commission, or I’m taking on a project that keeps me busy for long periods of time, that can be gratifying, too. I find, however, that it’s when I’m just compelled to paint or draw, that I enjoy it the most. I’m sure it goes back to middle school for me. It’s after you generate a new work; you want to share it with people. You want that feedback, dialogue, and interaction. Art gives me purpose, drive, and challenges me to work on myself. I always want to get better, and when I’m making art I feel like a student. It enables me to feel like I’m moving forward. 

BTW, your drawing skills are off the charts! And the use of corrugated cardboard as a substrate for the hip hop portraits is spot on. What made you connect the subject and approach?
Back in college, several painting students I knew forged relationships with appliance stores. When the stores sold refrigerators, washers and dryers, etc., the students would acquire the large, discarded, cardboard, boxes.  As a result, they would have a semesters-worth of drawing/painting surfaces.  This was certainly cheaper, and more efficient than stretching a canvas, or buying expensive handmade papers.  As a bonus, the corrugated cardboard, has an aesthetically pleasing texture, and it can be ripped, cut, bent, and scored. The surface accepts many different media, and the brown color is a beautiful medium tone that allows the artist to work with black and white.  When I started playing with it, I loved using the white charcoal to carve in the highlights. I’ve started to cut into the surface to reveal the corrugation underneath the top layer of brown paper. In this way, I’m able to expose texture, and use an X-Acto knife as a drawing tool. I’m excited about this discovery, and I have plans to investigate the potential of this approach.

Other than stacking rocks…what’s next? What subject do you think you will dive into next?
In the near future, I see myself working with the Hip-Hop community.  Through my art, and meeting many of my Hip-Hop heroes, I’ve been able to network and connect with the music world.  The relationship has become symbiotic, and I hope to generate artwork that supports live music, while providing a visual experience that complements attending a live show. I didn’t really see this coming, so I’m not sure what I’ll dive into next.  Recently, I have been experimenting with digital approaches to drawing and painting.  I just completed a draft of a children’s book for the Clevelend Clinic in Ohio.  All twenty images in the story were constructed on an iPad mini, using the Procreate app.  It’s a brave new world, and I’m just trying to keep trying new things.
(The Old Dog loves new tricks—need to explore this DM)

What challenges did you encounter when you worked on the DC mural? And how did you overcome them.

The mural experience was an incredible learning opportunity.  All of the artists who came together on that project were experienced graffiti writers.  They knew all the ins and outs of painting with aerosol, outside, in the elements. I did all of the concept drawings and watercolors. The whole mural was planned out in miniature. While I did draw it all out, the fabrication was painted by a team of artists. Initially, I was included because I had been experimenting with technology and the interactivity of artworks. After seeing a compelling presentation for art teachers on augmented reality and image recognition software, I started to use the app Aurasma to make some of my artwork interactive. You can use a phone or device to reveal hidden video, photographs, or other digital content, when you scan the two-dimensional imagery.  It was thought that this could make a mural truly unique.  As a result, after we completed the mural, we identified eleven sections that would become interactive.  When you view the mural, you can reveal songs, video footage, and spoken-word poetry.  The team that I worked with, made sure I had a hand in painting each section of the mural, that I experimented with aerosol, and worked on an irregular surface. In the end, I felt a great sense of accomplishment and I visit the wall at 1351 U Street in DC often. It was truly a collabarative work, and I feel very fortunate to have been involved.

Can you share some of your process?
My process varies depending on what I’m doing. If I’m painting a landscape, I prefer to paint outside.  In that way, my approach is very traditional – drawing on a watercolor block, and using a small set of paints to get me through.  When I paint in the studio, I spend a lot more time on drawing. For me, the success of a composition rests in the drawing I do before I’ve added any paint. When I first used watercolor, I was frustratingly unsuccessful. I was trying to emulate artists who were very fluid and loose in their approach.  As a result, I made very muddy, uncontrolled washes, and gave up for many years.  It wasn’t until I allowed myself to complete a detailed preliminary drawing first, that I had any confidence in my ability to manipulate the paint.  Although it was contrary to many of the techniques I had been taught, I found a methodical and enjoyable approach to controlled watercolor painting. It’s now my favorite medium. 

What are some of your favorite works?
My Questlove painting is probably my best painting from a technical standpoint. I’m happy with the realism, and the treatment of the different textures. This piece also represents a leap forward for me. Instead of making a straight copy from a photo, I managed to generate a surreal quality by adding the tree roots to the torso.  I hope to build on this idea in the future. 

The large cardboard Rakim drawing is also among my favorites.  When I’m done drawing, I bring these pieces to live shows. I consider it finished, if I can convince the subject to write lyrics on the work. In this case, Rakim tagged lyrics to the classic song Microphone Fiend. This piece epitomizes my goal and represents the process from start to finish.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

When Old School Rules

There are many things I appreciate and enjoy about our profession’s technological advancement. For any designer who spent hours computing character counts and picas, waxing galleys, and cutting amberlith, Adobe Creative Suite—warts and all—is a welcomed change to the old way. However, there is much to be learned by drawing type, sketching ideas, and creating story boards. I think that most experienced designers appreciate the connection between the pencil and the brain.

A very welcomed facet of the new age is the ability to build community virtually. I have participated in a group for about 12 years that started as a discussion group and moved into Facebook and beyond. It allows me to leverage an international community of creatives working in all kinds of fields with all kinds of skills. I am always excited to find one who shares my passion for drawing and type.

Nikita Prokhorov is a talented designer I met by way of some mutual connections on Facebook. He lives in New York City and is originally from Moscow, Russia. “I am a minimalist at heart,” his website says. “Have a soft spot for letterforms, propaganda-era posters, and hand-lettered typography.”

He loves creating ambigrams and readily shares them on social media. He shares working illustrations and asks our group for feedback regularly. It is the process that most interests me. I asked him to share some of his thinking here on my blog and he agreed. So here goes.

I really enjoy watching you develop your letter-based images and you post new work all of the time. What inspires you?

I don’t think there’s a short way to answer that question but I will try to keep it somewhat brief! Firstly, it’s my own desire to improve my own work inspires me. I love finding new solutions not just for ambigrams, but developing/drawing new lettering styles, and simply put, playing with type on paper. Secondly, there is an incredible amount of talented people in the world whose work I see every day. I want to bring my own work to that level and beyond, and that inspires me and pushes me forward. Thirdly, it’s the desire to get my work out in the world to be seen by people: not necessarily for awards or recognition, but simply because I love sharing my passion with others.  

Ambigrams are particularly clever and difficult. Do you start with a concept and look for a word or start with a word and work it until you get the desired effect?

Since I started to draw ambigrams almost a decade ago, I have developed a problem, a very serious problem. Quite a few words I see, even if I don’t intend to turn them into an ambigram, I already see them upside down, and start altering certain letterforms to make it work as an ambigram. At times, when I sit down to actually sketch the word out, the solution is already in my head. Other times, it is a challenging word, and it takes quite a bit more than just thinking about it. In most cases, it takes a lot of sketching and finessing, but one I create that last near-perfect sketch, the vectoring part on the computer is very easy and (usually) quick.

Do you have any particular designers that inspire your work?

That is one of the hardest questions to answer! There is so much to appreciate in the design field, that it’s impossible to select even 5 or 10 designers you love. But if I had to name one person, I cannot get enough of Doyald Young’s work. His work is amazing: clean, minimalist, conceptual, and stunning. His books are my design bibles. (here's a sample that I like—DM)

Script or Roman? Serif or Sans? What characteristics of letter forms most attract you?

I like simple minimalist typefaces, with a wide range of weights. Omnes has been one of my favorites for a long time. My new typographic crush is TheSerif.

When you draw your letters, what approach do you take to building the shape? Do you do it intuitively or do you use drawing tools?

Usually, I usually start doodling with a specific concept in mind, but without forcing myself into a specific style. I do simple line sketches and figure out how the letters will come together, if there are multiple solutions, and in general, just explore and play on paper. Sometimes, if there’s a call for a specific style, I start sketching in that specific typographic style, but that is rare. As far as drawing tools, on paper it is usually pencil, pen, sharpies, oil-based sharpies, and whatever else is within arm’s reach. Once I switch to the computer, I use only the basic tools in Adobe Illustrator: pencil/pen tools, direct selection tool, shape tool, and pathfinder.

Can you share examples of some of your favorites?

Thanks for your time Nikita...visit his site at to see more.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

A Labor of Love

I have been working for two years on illustrating a story that my Mom wrote almost 15 years ago. It is the story of our old Beagle Sadie. For the parts of the story that align with the time we adopted her, it is a true story. For the part of the story before that, it is what she thought might have happened.

This is the cover art. She was a sweet dog.

This page tells about the life of the pup Sadie. She is on the left behind her Momma. In the book, the little mustache and three spots on her chest are two features that identify her. She is mostly black and has a little white "paint brush" tail.

So, I have about 7 more paintings to finish. I have drawings for the whole book and have done a basic layout and design. Once I finish the paintings, I will scan them and put the whole thing together.

I will post more when I have them done. Hope you like them.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

My "Why"

I'll wrap up this little flurry of activity with a concept that I just recently have been thinking about: Start with the Why—from Simon Sinek. If you haven't seen his TEDTalk, take a little time to view it.

Our CEO asked me to use this approach for a capabilities presentation and I was really inspired to explore my own "Why."

It is a pretty simple approach, asking yourself "why do you do what you do?" What is at the core of why you get up and make things each day. It takes a bit of effort, but in the end I think it helps to articulate your values in simple terms. So here is what I came up with:

Applying my talents and expertise to advance institutional communication goals by interpreting key concepts and narratives into effective messaging that informs and inspires targeted audiences.

Well, actually that is how it evolved in an effort to add it to my resume. Simply put, I try to use my experience and expertise to help customers articulate their ideas in a clean, visually appealing way that inspires their audiences.

I'll see how it floats...

Courage to Reinvent Event

I found this in my archive and really liked it. I created this logo for an annual operations meeting where the company brings the leadership and management in to share ideas, inspire, and network. There theme was Courage to Reinvent. Here's the logo:

I liked how stark and simple it is. Too many fonts maybe, but it seemed to work. I liked the way the border has a subtle little change from squares to circles. I put it against an antique background for the booklet and other companion pieces.