Unbound sketchbook

What do you do when you find a 15-year old sketchbook with at least two dozen blank pages at the end of it? This sketchbook was something used many years ago to compose page layouts ideas.

It may be that as a young graphic designer I required the use of pen, ink, and paper to organize thoughts and ideas before turning to the digital tool of computer and software to complete a magazine page layout. Or a book layout. Or whatever design project it was that I was working on at the time.

Even back then, a lot of creatives were skipping the hand-drawn phase of graphic design and moving to digital sketches. I was one of those designers too. It did not take long to adapt to digital sketches using Quark Xpress or PageMaker. External and internal clients did not understand these hand-drawn sketches. I quickly understood that these initial sketches were best served between fellow creatives. A form of pictorial shorthand.

Sketches using human figures engaged clients. A point of connection. Composing advertisements and editorial layouts was enjoyable. Even when it was poorly drawn it was pleasurable. It was exciting to explore and play out ideas on pages. To balance text and image. To push the elements toward asymmetrical tension.

Sometimes referred to as “mock ups” or “work ups,” these comps (jargon for compositions) often featured ad copy or editorial headlines that I wrote. I preferred writing my own copy rather than using dummy copy, greeking, or some other form of gibberish used to represent where text was to be placed in design compositions.

These sketches bring back a lot of memories. Projects completed. Projects that never were approved. Abandoned. Like the craft of sketching designs and ideas.

I needed something to prop up the office laptop computer in order to avoid a kink in my neck as I work on print and web design tasks. MacBook Pros are not ergonomically designed. An old keyboard was located. And then a Kensington trackball mouse. And an old, unbound sketchbook. That did the trick.

This work-from-home solution is not ideal. There are days when my children see that I spend most of the time reading and replying to emails, joining video conferences, and moving file icons across the desktop to various folders synched to cloud-based servers. Graphic design looks so different from the point at which I joined the trade. It is less tactile.

The national safe-at-home quarantine allowed me to build a wood desktop and a wood stand-up-desk solution for the laptop, keyboard, trackball workplace arrangement. And the 15-year old sketchbook? Well, paging through the collection of ideas and designs. . . after a long hiatus, I began sketching and drawing on the empty pages at the end of the book.

One night at a kava bar

One night at a kava bar I read a poem about. . . well, . . . that was many years ago. As National Poetry month concludes I hope you enjoy this recording. I do not believe I have read that poem in public since that night. Much gratitude to Caleb Beissert for recording and sharing the video.

Five music albums to listen to in the morning

What is your morning music playlist?

Most mornings — nearly a decade ago — I opened the office and started the work day to music of the following five albums.

There is something refreshing about arriving at the workplace before everyone else. Unlocking the front door. Turning on the lights. Brewing the first pot of coffee. Reviewing the notes from the previous day. Checking voicemail. Planning for the day and week ahead.

Sometimes an album played quietly from the desktop computer speakers. Sometimes from earphones attached to an iPhone. Sometimes I listened to more Brahms than Vivaldi. Sometimes I added Grieg or Beethoven to the mix. Sometimes I listened to various recordings from different artists of the same sonata.

When I took the job as a creative director it was a new start. I approached the career with intent and vigor. The Latin word gravis comes to mind. I was serious about my work and future. The following albums became the soundtrack of that time and place.

When I listen to these music albums now it is a reminder and — if this can be said of music — a friend.


Brouwer: El Decameron Negro and Other Guitar Works performed by Alvaro Pierri


Brahms: Piano Trios Nos. 1-4 by Eskar Trio


Aniello Desiderio, Quartetto Furioso ‎– Vivaldi 4 and 4 Piazzolla Seasons


Federico Moreno Torroba by Ana Vidović


Dvorak: Quartet Op. 106, 6 Cypresses, 2 Waltzes by Cecilia String Quartet

Returning to Twitter

Two months ago I returned to Twitter.

After logging into the account through a web browser I was mildly amused. The mobile app was then downloaded to a new late-model mobile device.

The first couple weeks I explored a lot of the Twitter feeds. Shared work-related tweets. Kept it professional. Nothing too personal. But mostly, I searched for friends I once communicated with on a daily basis. They seemed to have disappeared from Twitter. Or maybe I missed them amid the ceaseless flood of poising, posturing, and promotional tweets.

A comment from a kidlinger ceased this activity. The level of profanity used on Twitter is obscene. I had tuned it out, but young eyes saw a string of vulgarities. Kidlinger asked who said that. I did not say. They knew the person. And that individual would never speak like that in front of my children.

Then the pandemic hit. And the tsunami of Covid-19 tweets and updates was both helpful and harmful. But ultimately overwhelming.

Sometime during the past weekend I discovered Twitter’s new preference features and was turning some on and others off to see how the feed was impacted. Late Saturday night, before I went to bed, I checked the Twitter on the mobile device. I was shocked to see someone posted or shared some extremely graphic adult material. It should not have surprised me. Too tired to figure which preferences I needed to reset, I deleted the app from my mobile device.

Before the weekend was over I considered unfollowing everyone I followed on Twitter. Or deleting my Twitter account entirely. My argument was this. With all I have to manage in between work and home, removing Twitter would be one less thing I have to deal with.

My return to Twitter was an attempt to emerge from a self-imposed social media quarantine. To reconnect with old friends and acquaintances. But the debauchery and viciousness I observed on Twitter causes me to wonder. If people are essentially good, than the evidence on Twitter points to the contrary.

I plan to cull those I follow. Half have already been unfollowed. My goal is to cut the list down to 40. It is possible that I have not given Twitter enough time to prove that there are good, virtuous, and honorable people using the social media platform.

The hope was to engage with people on Twitter who enhanced and elevated the lives of those around them. Something inspiring. Something like Andrea Bocelli’s Music of Hope.

What happens off camera. . . stays off camera

What happens off camera. . . stays off camera. Mostly. As video conferencing becomes normative so also does the occasional crumb-cruncher intrusion. One article put it this way, we are all the BBC dad now.

Another dynamic that manifested itself with business and education now primarily being conducted virtually, is the reality of economic inequities among employees and students. We are now looking into our co-workers’ living rooms, kitchens, home offices, or ceilings. As one Twitter user stated, “financial inequities in the classroom are on full display. . .”

 

Co-workers and classmates may not know that you do not have internet at home. That you go to the public library for internet usage. Or that you drive to the Dunkin Donuts eight miles away when the library closes in order to use free WiFi to finish a project.

Maybe you do have internet at your apartment. But it is really slow, because you cannot afford a larger internet package. Or that you live in a rural location and high-speed internet is not available.

Or there is a hardware issue. The computer laptop you have does not have the capability to run the latest video conferencing software application.

The COVID-19 pandemic appears to be an equalizer of sorts. We are all vulnerable. During this season when we all feel unsafe, exposed it presents opportunities to show compassion and understanding. My hope is that when we are on the other side of this crisis we will show empathy towards each other.

Flood Fine Arts Gallery poster design

Back in February, I came across an event poster I designed. Shot all the photos. Including the white elephant. It was a child’s toy. Laid out the type and and composed the image for the event.

The poster was almost almost tossed into the trash. Early spring cleaning. But that morning I heard Garrison Keillor read “Admiring Audubon’s Carolina Parakeets” by Rose McLarney on the February 6th podcast of The Writer’s Almanac. She was a featured poet at that Asheville event.

Memories of Asheville poetry readings returned to me. The night I heard Thomas Rain Crowe and Coleman Barks reading Hafiz and Rumi poems. Rose McLarney was a rising poet. The Flood Fine Arts Gallery provided the space and community for poets young and old to share and grow.

That summer grew me as well. June 16th, there were two poetry readings I did in Durham. Later that summer I enrolled in a 5-week writing course. And received a scholarship to attend a writers residency in Queen City.

Those were different times. All good memories. But what to do with this poetry event poster I designed?

Art making in quarantine

Inspired by Inktober 2019, I kept working on illustrations throughout November and December. For me, this was intentional art exercise. Keeping up the practice of crafting pencil compositions on illustration board. It was a private affair. No commercial application. Just me, a pencil, and board. But I hit a dry spell entering the new year. Actually, it was not a dry spell, but rather a lack of designated time to practice.

Commuting for two hours a day was part of the daily routine. By train and by street car. Or by automobile. Traveling sapped my energy. But now with state and government safe at home orders, I tried to ease back into evening illustration exercise.

Working from home had its own set of demands. Working from home with a family in an area of less than 1000 square feet presented additional challenges. But these are first world problems.

The first week was difficult. Routines and life patterns merged. A lot of discovery. Kidlingers and spouse realized what I did for work all day. Or at least attempted to do in spite of technological challenges with internet speed and video conferencing.

All evening activities outside the home had been cancelled until further notice. I had more time to catch up on reading and art projects. But resuming the exercise of illustration was difficult.

The first evening all I did was organize and clean the art tools and space. The next night all I did was ink one of the drawings. The plan for the illustrations were simple, clean drawings in the fashion of cartoons and comic books. Another night all I did was tone an illustration with shading and hatching. The direction shifted to a stylized portrait. The results surprised and pleased me.

This encouraged me to continue the practice. And it also encouraged the kidlingers to make art as well.

Last days of March

1.

Does it matter if I did not finish writing a blog post on the 13th? How many blogs posts have I written and intended to publish. But left the blog post in draft mode for weeks. . . months. . . years. How many times I have I typed a reply to someone’s tweet or text, and then deleted it? 

People tell me they are busy. They hardly have time for themselves. When was the last time you were invited to someone’s home for a meal in the last five years? There is so much noise. So much tweeting at each other. So much posing, pandering, and posturing for attention. So much energy spent on self-promotion. I do not want to impose.

I typed out a comment to a Youtube chat. And then deleted it. I do not want to interact through a third-party communication interface. Join me for supper. We will enjoy a meal together. No screens between us. We will tell stories. We will learn of likes and dislikes and overcome all with levity and grace.

But now it seems like an entire nation is at home exercising self-quarantine and safe-at-home orders by local and state governments. I now interact with people through video conferencing and other screens of interaction. It is not the same as in person. Almost everyone one I engage with using Google Hangouts, Zoom, or Teams says the same thing. They miss seeing each other in person.

2.

I walked with my kidlinger on a foggy afternoon — one of the last days of March. We walked along a gravel road. Kidlinger chatted with a friend on a mobile phone. We walked more than a mile. Then kidlinger looked at me and held the mobile down.

“He keeps talking, and sometimes forgets what he’s just said.” 

“That’s okay,” I said. “Keep listening. Be polite. And you might learn something more about what he likes and doesn’t.” 

Kidlinger smiled and held the mobile to ear level. 

Somewhere near the creek I thought I heard the trill of a red-winged blackbird. We crossed one road and continued on another gravel path. The sound of footsteps on crushed rock and an occasional robin were all I heard. 

We walked another mile. In spite of the fog, there was a cold wind. It made my eyes water. From time to time, kidlinger would chuckle and comment to the friend speaking through a mobile phone.

Things you will not find in an e-book

Things you will not find in an e-book

Milwaukee rail service

Public transportation is often the target of complaints. Usually because it is not on schedule. Or the arduous task of connecting with one service and the next. For example, on the East Coast, if the red line bus was five minutes late that meant that you would miss the green line bus at the transit center and have to wait 30 minutes to an hour to get to work. Or continue on foot.

But the Milwaukee street car, The Hop, remains consistently on time. At least that is my experience. For commuters traveling into the city from the south, it is convenient to exit the train station walk across the street and around the corner to catch a ride on The Hop. From there the street car delivers commuters to Historic Third Ward and East Town stops within 5 to 15 minutes.

The cost of commuting by train and street car is the same and sometimes less than the cost of commuting by automobile. And no need to hunt for expensive parking solutions. Avoiding the danger and hassle of traffic congestion on the interstate is a bonus. Especially during unfavorable weather conditions. The train has WiFi and outlets allowing commuters to work while they ride. And, for people like me who prefer no-Fi, the train has a quiet car (like library quiet) for commuters.

There are some downsides. If the first train is late or delayed in some way, commuters have to wait two hours or more for the second train. A difference of starting work at eight o’clock or ten o’clock. One commuter bemoaned the fact that she would like a train that came in from the west, or that connected Madison and Milwaukee. Maybe that will happen someday. Maybe people will see the advantage of commuting by train.

Most days when I commute by rail, train cars are comfortably full. By that I mean, each row has four seats separated by an aisle. Many choose a seat by the window. Like myself. On rare occasions I shared the two seats with another commuter. Similarly, the street car is modestly full during commutes to work. Did I mention that both the train and street car are heated? A wonderful feature for Wisconsin winters.

Public transportation can be a nightmarish hassle. And some days it still is. But for the most part, the Milwaukee rail services, train and street car, are relatively free of stress.