Step-by-Step Graphics magazine

Young creatives—back in the transitional years of the digital revolution in design—coveted Step-by-Step Graphics magazine. One reason, the price of the publication was expensive for university students. Not as expensive other trade journals, but college students did not have a lot of disposable income. The cost of art supplies ate up most of the budget. Another reason, there was one copy of the latest issue for twenty students. Magazine copies were placed in the fine arts building’s library. The main reason is obvious, university students devoured each issue in hopes of creating work inspired by the amazing artists and illustrators featured in each publication. That was the goal. Graduate and earn a living creating graphic and commercial art.

I used to enjoy reading articles in Step-by-Step Graphics magazine. The editorial content was one part inspiration, one part innovation and a healthy dash of technical craftsmanship. The periodical was the inspiration and trend source for many Gen X graphic design student. Of course, we were never called, labeled nor pursued as Gen Xers at the time. We were simply called students.

One memorable story—for me, at least—was the 1992 feature of a medical illustrator. There was a page devoted to perspective and painting—airbrush painting. What does a 30/60 prospective grid mean, and will I learn about it in this semester, I pondered many winters ago. I marveled at the color photos of the artist pencilling arrows on a perspective grid and drawing ellipses with a template. And all the tracing paper required to pull off one truly amazing image about how a pharmaceutical product responds to cholesterol molecules.

Rabbit trail. There used to be an old bookstore in Milwaukee’s downtown area that had back issue copies of Step-by-Step Graphics and other resources like Communcation Arts and Émigré. I bought these back issues and toted them back to university. Some of you may remember when Step-by-Step Graphics magazine’s cover logo design changed—sometime in the late 1980s—from the rectangle black box with “graphics” in script font under the words “Step-by-step” to the square reflection logo.

When I graduated, the digital revolution in design matured. The need for hands-on technical skills that I spent years learning dissipated as computer hardware and software flooded ad agencies and publishing houses. New digital skills were learned on the job. Learn quick or go hungry was the unwritten motto.

Step-by-Step Graphics magazine disappeared sometime around the appearance of the iPod. Today, if you are searching for pro tips on graphic design and illustration, you search for YouTube videos on the topic. Imagine the graphic design profession without the internet. Without YouTube. How did graphic arts and designers work before 2005?

Hi-fi, lo-fi, and the death of good vibes

I’ve been dubious for years at the proliferation of iPod/MP3 music. I find this article, “The Death of High Fidelity,” delicious. Maybe it’s the former radio guy or just plain audiophile geek in me that screams, “Rawk on!.”

It’s not just new music that’s too loud. Many remastered recordings suffer the same problem as engineers apply compression to bring them into line with modern tastes…. MP3 and other digital-music formats are quickly replacing CDs as the most popular way to listen to music. That means more convenience but worse sound…. MP3s don’t reproduce reverb well, and the lack of high-end detail makes them sound brittle. Without enough low end… “you don’t get the punch anymore. It decreases the punch of the kick drum and how the speaker gets pushed when the guitarist plays a power chord.”

 

Link.

And further (this is great):

Still, “it’s like going to the Louvre and instead of the Mona Lisa there’s a 10-megapixel image of it… I wouldn’t look at a Kandinsky painting with sunglasses on.”

Now, I am not advocating abandoning iPods and other MP3 players.

It is just the fact that art, literature and music have been so diminished in the last couple decades that most people in our culture couldn’t tell quality art, literature or music if it was served them on a silver platter with a cue card reading “applause.”

For my generation, Gen-X, the touchstone song is Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Robert Levine, writer of the article, illustrates — with graphics — the difference in audio architecture of Nirvana’s anthem and Arctic Monkey’s hit “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor.”

Suddenly I feel old.