“Art is work”

A drawing of my desk with books read, unread, or partially read.

It is a challenge for me. When I am introduced as an artist and/or poet. Still not comfortable with either of those nouns. The next question is inevitable. It usually goes something like this:

My wife turns and introduces me to her friend and adds, “He’s also an artist and poet, too.”

“Wow, can I see your art work on Facebook?”

“No. I am not on Facebook.”

“Oh. Instagram?”

“No. Not on Instagram, either.”

“Well. Um. What do you do? Oil paintings? Do you have a gallery somewhere?”

“He posts some of his work on his blog,” my wife offers.

About that time the bread crumb trail ends and the conversation shifts to something else.

The trouble is that some of the work I create I cannot contractually share. Technically, I do not own the copyrights to the final art. And so, I cannot distribute or display it on this or other online platforms. Frustrating. Yes. Bad. No. It is the cost of commercial arts.

For example, a couple weeks ago I drew a portrait. A line art drawing. The portrait will be featured as an etching in either crystal or acrylic as part of a lifetime award. Sometime in March. You may have seen such awards in business offices. A crystal award on black base sitting on someone’s desk or shelf or trophy case.

I am reminded of one of Milton Glaser’s mottos: “Art is work.”

Milton Glaser, celebrated graphic designer, may not be a household name. Not even in my home. But most Americans will recognize the I [heart] NY logo. It is highly unlikely that school children will study designers as part of their art curriculum. (My children are presently studying the American painter Andrew Wyeth.)

Too often I lament, or rather, complain that I spend too much time creating work in front of a screen. It was so nice to ditch the screen and work in ink on vellum and illustration paper. Took nearly four hours to draw the portrait. And that is with the interruptions of replying to emails and designing elements for a multi-page editorial piece. It would take four weeks if I tried to craft the portrait as an oil painting.

In order to answer a request (Where may I find your art work?), I drew the above page last weekend. Inspired by Jane Mount’s Ideal Bookshelf, I managed to draw the stacks of books on my desk by the bedroom window. At least fifty books. So many books. So little time. I enjoyed the exercise. It felt good to pencil a sketch, flesh out the details, and ink the page.

“Wait. You write poetry, too?”

“Um…” I start.

“Have you been published?”

“Yes,” I say.

And this time the bread crumb trail ends quickly. Because most people do not know where to begin to look for published poetry.

“He posts some of his published poems on his blog,” my wife adds.

Good design is more than this


(image via Jonathan Trier Brikner)

There’s more to being a design genius than this. Truly.

Just because you have a computer, laptop or tablet allowing you to download free fonts and free images and use some free app you discovered on Twitter does not make you a design genius.

Just because you “designed” a cool graphic image the way many misled souls believe they labored and “built” an IKEA bookshelf does not make you a design genius. [1]

Celebrated graphic designer, Milton Glaser, put it best:

Computers are to design as microwaves are to cooking.

Good design solves problems and presents stories. As a creative director for an international publishing house, my chief goal is to attract potential readers to new books by capturing a story in a single cover image. To illustrate the point further, an author (for whom I had just completed a book design) emailed me recently: “I’m getting some great feedback on my Facebook page about the cover. Thank you very much…” Good design is about communication: problem solved, story told.

NOTE: [1] For what it is worth, IKEA is not good design. It is nothing more than cheaper-than-Wal-mart veneer furniture, second-rate fabric products and wax-paper lamps. And don’t call IKEA “modern design” because modern design is so 1948. Seriously, the modernist movement began almost a century ago. But I digress.