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The Creative Process

Oh the creative process. I have to sigh before even writing this post because if you are a creative, then you can know the joys and woes that come along with the words “creative process.” I have often said that it’s a marvel and a curse. It’s a marvel that such a process exists where you start from nothing and in what seems like magic, something beautiful, wonderful, insightful, fantastic, and tantalizing presents itself and the world is saved once again (yes, it can totally feel like that).

The curse comes when that process betrays you. Each creative has their own process and they are as varied as there are stars above. But sometimes that process gets stopped or blocked. It is either someone else blocking our path because of budgets and asinine requests (insert the word “client/committee” here), which once you’ve been in the “creativity as a service” industry long enough, you kind of get the hang of dealing with them. But then what happens when YOU block yourself. When that innate part of you that you’ve always been able to call upon refuses to give you that spark of inspiration. Or refuses to run smoothly, where each step forward feels akin to running into a brick wall repeatedly. Oh yeah, it can feel like that. And mind you, all of this is taking place inside your head. Yikes…

But us creatives keep coming back for more. There are those of use who do turn their backs on their creativity and that spark because it’s too emotionally draining, but most of us keep coming back for more. We can’t help ourselves. To be without it would be to be missing part of ourselves. Plus, look at the tangible items that come from the creative process? Houses, planes, sculpture, spoons, posters, films, fashion, cars and the list goes on. Our world has seen some pretty freaking awesome things come from the creative process.

I’ve spent three paragraphs attempting to explain the creative process and didn’t even come close to it, if you haven’t experienced it yourself. But I came across a commercial for Dodge (It’s always the car companies. Damn them and their huge marketing budgets…) that attempts to show not only the creative process, but the process of specifically bringing a vision (car) into a reality.

So if you have a creative process, then you’ll definitely identify with the video. If you don’t have one, then you’ll get the most accurate version that I’ve seen of the creative process out there, even though it’s about cars. Enjoy!

Color & Ink: A process

Colors are magical. I still remember how beautiful the red, blue, and yellow buttons on my parent’s VCR just seemed like a happy gathering. Always brought a smile to my face. Or the color of a lawn that has just been mowed. It’s green, but with so much more. As a graphic designer, I am very aware of color and how it can be used to create a certain feeling or mood for my audience. As a letterpress printer, I’ve become even more tied to my colors because I am always mixing up my own. True, I can match them to a pantone chip, but to my mind, the color I come up with is always just slightly different. That perhaps I have found a new hue that has never been made EXACTLY to these proportions. That just makes me have a sense of awe and wonderment at the possibility. So as I said, colors, and their many shades, create a mysterious and beautiful world.

Eventually these colors have to be obtained, created, and dispersed into the next part of their life: being part of a bigger vision. While I love mixing colors, seeing that color being printed makes me so completely giddy! But how do we even get to the point of picking up a palette knife and taking a smidge from this can to mix with a dollop from that can? One company has come up with an excellent and artistic way! The Printing Ink Company, along with Vepo Studios has created an in-depth look at how ink arrives at it’s final destination and the intricacies that go into creating such beauty.

So indulge your nerdy design senses!

For the love of letters!

The life of a designer usually includes collecting ephemera to some degree. Whether it’s posters on our wall, cards in our desk or matchboxes in a bowl, we usually can’t get enough of it. There is something about the tactile sensation of it all that just draws us in. I am no different. My collections over the years have grown immensely, been cleaned out and started again numerous times. We’re each other’s best historians, simply by purchasing our friends’ work to have in our own collections. The best part is when we can purchase something lovely for our collection and completely help out a worthwhile cause.

The Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum has had a bit of a rough year, in that they have to pack up from their home (an original Hamilton building established in 1927) and move to a new residence. I was lucky enough to make it up to Two Rivers, WI for their last Wayzgoose (a gathering of printers) just this past November. The space is amazing and honestly jaw-dropping. When you walk in, it’s just like coming home. That’s hard to create once, let alone recreate. But they will have to do so in their new space. But to get there they need some help.

For months they have been having events to raise money and awareness to their cause and the response has been incredible. Slowly, but surely, they are getting closer to reaching their monetary goal that it will take to save certainly one of this country’s treasures.

Now I know you might be asking yourself, “I have no idea what letterpress printing is or who these people are. Why should I help?” Let me present it to you this way: Do you like pretty things? Do you need a Valentine’s Day gift for that special creative in your life? Do you hate putting water rings on your favorite table? If you answered yes to any of this, then I have the opportunity for you!

Mama Sauce, an awesome letterpress/silk screen and design shop out of Florida are offering up Love Letters, a set of coasters created by some of the most talented designers and illustrators out there today. To make sure proceeds go to the museum, everything was donated, from the designs, the paper (Neenah Paper & French Paper), and the printing by Mama Sauce. Talk about a set of awesome and passionate people!

So with Valentines Day just around the corner, and these coasters in stunning red, this is not a bad place to invest your money. Those chocolates, roses, and stuffed animals can wait until next year. Give a gift that will wow your special someone and help out a wonderful cause!

ORDER HERE YOUR COASTERS HERE!

Mama Sauce’s friends at Fiction heard of their endeavor and made this wonderful little video to help.

Love Letters from FCTN on Vimeo.

ROI Rage

For several years I’ve been hearing quite a few acronyms when it comes to metrics, social media, and companies FINALLY starting to see that there really is something to doing metric measuring campaigns. With every new technology, it sometimes takes a little time for people to become comfortable with the idea of it and to honestly figure out how it can fit into what they’re currently doing. I sell muffins…metrics can’t possibly be for me. I sell lawn mowers…no one cares if I have a digital presence. Not true my dear, delusional friends. You too can have a digital presence and make sure your money is being invested in the right type of social media too!

For so long there have been rumors and myths moving through the corporate world that metrics don’t work or they’re limited. And the age old question is always, “What am I actually getting from my monetary investment into social media and digital campaigns? If sales don’t double, really? What is the point.” Here is where the acronym ROI comes in. It stands for Return On Investment. Every company wants to know what their return on investment will be. We’re all about the benjamin’s baby.

But it took the Grandaddy of digital…well digital anything at this point, Adobe to put a smart, well put together ad out there to really ahem, slap people into reality. My favorite part is that Adobe isn’t even worrying about print vs digital and that petty argument these days. They’ve risen above it and simply said, let’s talk metrics. Whatever format you’re approaching metrics from, lets get it straight that it’s a functional and accessible part of business today. It’s a little hard to ignore now, especially when you’re being ahem, slapped in the face with the use of metrics and digital campaigns, whether that is through an app, a QR code or some other measurable, metrics system.

So get in touch with your inner ROI rage and if someone tells you ROI is a myth…just ahem, slap them into a reality check. It’s all about the ROI’s baby.

*Do not attempt this. But feel free to laugh at the idea of doing this in the office.*

It’s here! It’s here! It’s here!

The title of this post could mean a multitude of things, such as: Friday is here! Autumn (my favorite time of year) is here! My birthday is here! (Yes, today is my actual birthday! Hello 27!) In short, the title means all of these things because they are all true. But what’s really here is even bigger!

Let’s take a little trip down memory lane for a moment. Two and a half years ago I met a lovely woman named Gail Anderson at the HOW Conference in Denver, Colorado. Name ring any bells? It should! She has a career that others only dream about, she has authored/co-authored many books, teaches at the School of Visual Arts in NYC, and travels the world speaking on numerous topics. The words “design royalty” come to my mind…

At this particular conference she was presenting on graphic designers and the things we collect. While her collections ranged from bottle caps and salt/pepper shakers, I was running through my own head of the collections I have. We’re creative people, we can’t help ourselves! It’s during her talk that I realized that she was THE Gail Anderson who had co-written New Vintage Type and New Ornamental Type with Steven Heller. Whoa! I had been in love with the covers and content of those books for ages. I had to meet her without a moment to loose!

I waited until the swarm of people had abated and then I approached her. I think I had stopped breathing at that point. I asked her politely if she would mind signing the book (Incidentally I had a well-worn copy of New Vintage Type at home, but I went and bought another copy so that she could sign it! Total nerd moment!) She graciously accepted. As she was signing (I’m still not breathing), I told her that I wanted to design books and then wanted to see them in bookstores. That’s all I wanted to do. She paused and asked me what I did currently. I replied that I worked for a medical device company. Her reaction was one that I had clearly had many times…haha We quickly moved on…

So I asked her if she would be willing to take a look at my website that I had just put up and give me some feedback. She graciously said yes and we exchanged business cards. After that, everything changed. A couple months later Gail approached me about this book she and Steven Heller were working on about modern type. If I decided to work on it, it would be like an internship: little pay and long hours. I believe my response was was polite and concise. However, in the privacy of my own home, I believe I jumped up, yelled out a “yippee” and did a happy dance!

That was several years ago now, but the product of that chance meeting and me mustering up some courage, has finally seen the light of day. Through countless hours, ridiculous amounts of emails, and the hard work of Steve, Gail, Christine (head researcher and all around fantastic person!) and myself, the editors and staff at Thames & Hudson, world-class type designer Bonnie Clas, plus all the work contributed by awesome and amazing designers and studios around the world, we have a completely beautiful book.

I am proud to announce the publication of New Modernist Type by Gail Anderson and Steven Heller.

It’s a heady experience to type that and know that I was part of it. The experiences I had because of this book, the things I learned, the conversations I had, the people I met…Well I will never forget it. I will forever combine my birthday celebrations with the week that “the book” (as my friends and family so fondly called it) was published and was introduced to the world. Thank you to everyone who supported me and kept excited about the prospect of this book. Really, thank you.

This book is available for purchase at Amazon, Barnes & Nobles, and basically any good bookstore that knows what they’re doing!

I don’t have my official copy yet, but the good photos are coming soon! Plus be sure to check out the acknowledgement’s page…you might just see a name you recognize!

The Typographic Universe: Steven Heller & Gail Anderson

Ernst Haeckel: The man who did it all…and did it well.

Ernst Heinrich Philipp August Haeckel is an 1800s German biologist, naturalist, philosopher, zoologist, physician and artist. This was a man that was able to take all of his interests and do some very rather impressive things with them. The part that interests me most is that he is responsible for discovering, naming, and depicting thousands of species around the world. It’s one thing to be able to discover these new species, to see them for yourself, but quite another thing to be able to bring those images to the masses.

The multi-color illustrations of animals and creatures of the sea by Haeckel, in my opinion, are some of the best examples in the world. This man’s attention to detail (most likely brought on by his other interests in biology and the medical world) seems unparalleled to me. There were no computers, no quick digital photographs to come back to for reference. This man was in the field, taking sketches and getting detail that a camera would be lucky to capture, especially if the subject was moving. When his images were put to the test, using 21st century technology, they easily stood the test, even at a microscopic level. Talk about being good!

While most of his images were published separately, you can now find books with his complete illustrations. My favorite are of his underwater sea creatures. They’re simply breath-taking! I marvel at both the man’s skills and capabilities, but also that species such as these exist in nature. Can you say passport please!

While Haeckel is not a graphic designer, nor did he even remotely profess to be, he had an air about him that makes me think he might have appreciated meeting one. The best graphic designers that I know live very full lives. They have multiple interests, know everything about their own discipline (read: eat, sleep, breathe), but also have knowledge and interest in disciplines that affect their’s (photography, video, illustration, letterpress, etc). They are not only focused on what is in front of them but they use ALL their knowledge to influence their work and be as connected to the world as they possibly can. With computers and internet, that’s not necessarily hard to do in today’s world, but Haeckel had none of that, yet still managed to do more than most. In short, he was no slouch.

So be inspired by his work, take a page from his book of life and continue to have multiple and varied interests. Then if you can combine all this…well then you might just make a name for yourself!

A “press worthy” new addition to the family…

I am very happy and proud to announce that I have added a new addition to my family: a absolutely beautiful Sigwalt Press! Affectionately known as Sir Wadsworth Sigwalt (The street he was found on + name of press and since he’s an older fellow, so Sir was added as a form of respect), I purchased him a few weeks ago at a sale in Zion, IL at a Platen Press Museum (pictures to follow in a later blog post!) I had been dancing around the idea of owning my own press for several years now, but the funds were just never there. With a little change of financial luck and steadily putting money away in my savings, I finally did it! With the help and direction of several friends who have already taken the leap into purchasing presses, I headed North to see what I could find and find something I did!

When it comes to table top presses, historically, most people recognize the name Kelsey as a major manufacturer. In truth, there used to be many manufacturers of table top presses, but in the end Kelsey bought out most of the smaller companies. John Sigwalt held out though. Sigwalt migrated to Chicago in the early 1800s at the age of 16. His initial foray into business was with sewing machines, but after the devastating fire of 1871 destroyed his factory he started selling a ticket printing device that he had invented.

That little machine that eventually grew into larger production was called the Sigwalt Press and came in two different varieties: The Chicago and the Nonpareil. The differences between these presses dealt with the arm location, either at the side or directly in front of it. Sir Wadsworth Sigwalt is a Nonpareil, which later became known as the Sigwalt “Ideal.” I won’t even get into what these presses used to go for, but it will make you cringe at how cheap they were. However, cheap isn’t exactly the adjective I would apply to Sir Wadsworth Sigwalt…haha But it’s completely well-spent money.

Sigwalt Press: Chicago (front lever)

Sigwalt Press: Nonpareil (side arm lever)

The last thing to note is that the Sigwalt Ideal is a platen press. The same concepts of letterpress printing still apply, but I was “raised” on cylinder printing on presses such as a Vandercook. So while I’m definitely part of the letterpress world, I’m foraying into a new area of letterpress printing. To say I’m excited is an understatement, but will have to work for now!

So welcome my Sigwalt Ideal (Sir Wadsworth Sigwalt) into your hearts as I have done and you might just be lucky enough to get a print from him!

Polymer biaxially-oriented polypropylene technology aka Money!

I’m hoping that the title of this post makes you scratch your head, make a weird face, and ask yourself, “What the heck is she talking about?” Because it should! I was out last night with friends and co-workers and for the first time in my life, I learned about plastic money or polymer biaxially-oriented polypropylene (BOPP for short). I specifically learned about the Australian version of this type of money. We had a charming Australian amongst us who was more than happy to talk about home!

Being the inquisitive person that I am I kept bugging my Australian counterpart to see this money he spoke of, some part of me not quite believing him. Sure enough though, in-between karaoke songs, out of his wallet came some of the most colorful money I had ever seen. They’re really quite beautiful! Then he mentioned the plastic part and showed me that you can’t even tear them in half! I think I yelled, “Nooooooo!” as he attempted to tear the money. But there the dollar (aka banknotes) remained, all in one piece if only slightly bent where the attempt on it’s life was made.

Before the use of polymer money, Australia had paper money just like the rest of us. But due to an increase of counterfeit 10 dollar banknotes, the government started to get concerned and decided to make the switch in 1988 to commemorate the bicentenary of European settlement in Australia. While there was a switch-over period, all bills are polymer now.

Now that we have the history, let’s get down to the fun part, such as color choices and imagery! Each bank note uses what I would define as suites of color, with each note specifically tending towards a dominate color, making it very easy to recognize denominations. As for imagery, after talking to my Aussie friend, it ranges from the Queen on the 5 dollar banknote to other figureheads in Australian history. Then add to that secondary, completely detailed images and then place all of that on complex, swirling patterns and you’ve got yourself something that is not only beautiful, but a warning/deterrent to anyone thinking that they could easily forge one of these banknotes.





Now if talking about beautiful colors and fantastically detailed drawings haven’t gotten your interest yet, I’m about to make it worth your while. When was the last time you were able to see through your money? I don’t mean holding your money up to a light and seeing the somewhat incoherent image of a president swirling around between paper fibers. Actually see through your money, like a window? The answer is you haven’t because that’s just not possible with paper money, but with polymer, apparently anything is possible!

An added security feature has been added to the Australian banknotes called simply enough “transparent windows” that was introduced to polymer money in 2006. On each banknote there is literally a small window that can be shaped like anything and with the absence of ink, the clear polymer shows through. Of course everyone held it up to their eye and looked through. Naturally…haha

Besides learning about something new, the reason the Australian currency attracted me like a moth to light, is that money is a completely utilitarian object. We use to as a tool and mode of function but really nothing else. Some people collect coins and other currencies, but for the most part it sits in your wallet, purse, or pocket until you’re ready to part with it in exchange for something better than some pieces of paper. And while I also understand that all the colors, images and intriguing parts of the money is to deter forgeries, they could just as easily have made the money ugly, but still have the same security features. But countries continue to make their money colorful and interesting. My hunch is that if you have to look at it every day, you might as well make it the least visually offensive you can make it!

I tip my hat to you Australia! Keep up the good work!

But are you really a graphic designer?

My week has been, amongst other things, slightly consumed with making a design test for graphic designers that are interviewing for open positions at my job. My wonderful copy writer really got the test started by writing out things that are important to a designer and skills a designer should have. Then it was my turn to really drill down into the test and make sure we were using the right terminology and finally actually making the test. I even had a fellow designer Laura Rings take the test to make sure it could actually be passed by a graphic designer. By the way, she passed with flying colors.

So the question begs, what makes a graphic designer? There are people out there that have never gone to school for it, but have a tremendous portfolio of work. But then you also have people who did go to school, but even comparing between them, there are noticeable differences between their creative process and technical skills. Once again I ask, what makes a graphic designer?

While many answers may come flying at me via the comments section after people read this, I don’t actually have an answer. The answer all depends on who you talk to on a certain day, at a certain time. But I do offer up something fun to entertain you: A test that sees if you really do know your stuff when it comes to typography and specifically kerning. So follow the link and test your skills! I promise it will be entertaining! Be sure to post your results in the comment section!

Click for kerning test here!

Paper because…

As I was thumbing through my newest installment of National Geographic I came across the most intriguing ad. Being a graphic designer in marketing, I tend to look at the ads, even when I would rather ignore them and get to the good facts about some bizarre island that can’t be found that breeds a type of bird that has never been seen but that likes to sleep upside down. I truly love National Geographic. But I digress. I came across a rather simple, but colorful ad that with two people looking at a map, clearly dressed for the outdoors, with a headline that said, “Paper because a lot of places worth going don’t get a signal, and hopefully never will.” Whoa. That was simply my first reaction. I just couldn’t believe that here was an advertisement that wasn’t directly trying to get a graphic designer or office interested in their paper products and more importantly, it wasn’t in an industry magazine such as HOW, Communication Arts, etc. I was thrown for a happy loop!

As the shock finally wore off, I saw the logo in the bottom right hand corner. The ad was for Domtar Paper (here). Admittedly not my favorite paper company, but dang it, if this ad wasn’t turning my thoughts around. So as usual, I donned my research hat and starting poking around trying to find out more and Domtar was completely prepared. The ad I saw was only one advertisement of a whole campaign to battle the “go paperless” statement that seems to appear on anything paper or that could appear on paper, such as emails or bills. Well, no wonder. The “go paperless” campaign has been put forth by technology based companies to push their products, so it was only fair that the paper companies have the same chance to fight for their products. I applaud them, especially with something so creative. They have made Paper an entity on their site. There is even a letter from Paper to the audience, reminding them about how many great times they’ve had together and that they’ve been together for so very long. All very true statements.

Their website goes even further than just helping their audience fall back in love with paper. They have made some very poignant and rather socially pointed ads (see here) showing how leaving paper behind and going completely forth with technology based forms of communication might indeed be hurtful to society, both socially, historically, financially, and environmentally. Then, making sure that they’re not getting too serious with their cause, they have made some very funny short videos (see here) likening paper to drugs, what would actually happen if paper was rationed, and then taking it even further that is the world goes completely “paperless” what would you use to…um…take care of things in the bathroom.

Here is one of my favorite videos…

It is no secret that I love paper. For years now I have been collecting everything printed ephemera from books, menus, postcards, gift tags, signs, and just sheets of paper from around the world. It’s a fascinating concept to me that something that is so seemingly fragile can last for a thousand years. I recently heard a startling fact that the Library of Congress put forth. They stated that in 100 years all of the current, digital archives that they have will be corrupt and no longer useable. Say what? Yet the Gutenberg Bible, which is not even the oldest form of paper in archive currently is 562 years old (give or take a decade) and is still in near perfect condition. Hello people??? I’m not sure we need much more proof than that that paper is not something we should be getting rid of anytime soon. How are people, 500 years from now going to know what life was like during this time if there is nothing to find? I’m just not entirely sure we’re completely thinking to our future with this “go paperless” concept.

Now before I get an onslaught of comments about being environmentally friendly, and recycling, and not wasting, I completely agree. We as society need to be responsible paper users. Do you always need to print that email? Probably not. If a child makes one small mark on a paper, should they just throw it away and start over? Nope, just turn it over or heaven forbid you erase the mark with an eraser. On a pencil. Remember those? Anyways, that’s a whole other irk of mine. There are ways to continue to use paper and trees and be responsible about it.

So in a world where the pressures to completely forget about paper, I truly applaud Domtar Paper for attempting to inform, raise questions, and entertain me with their new campaign. They can count one more among their supporters. My name is Abigail Steinem and I’m a paper lover. Hail paper!