Saturday, June 27, 2009

i miss you, Anime Cafe

June 27th, 2009

I really do. So much.

Today I was thinking about my old neighborhood back in P-town and everything I miss about it. Unfortunately, a lot of the things I miss no longer exist, including the Anime Cafe.

The Anime Cafe was the coolest place in town. Possibly the coolest place anywhere. I used to put my chihuahua, Charlie, in my backpack and walk there after school to look at the manga, and the t-shirts, and wish that I could afford the action figures and the movies. They always let you look at the comics even though you weren't really supposed to be taking them out of their protective wrappers and putting your greasy hands on them (^_^)

Why would I miss a store? Aside from the fact that it was part of my exceptionally nerdy, coming-of-age/formative years, my nostalgia owes a lot to the authenticity of the place.

Some of their staff was volunteer, they had no air conditioning, advertising was by word-of-mouth and handmade signs, projects were always halfway done because everyone was too busy reading the books and discussing the movies to paint the walls or organize the shelves.

The carpet was dingy and the lighting was all wrong, but they made up for it by plastering the walls and windows with the newest, cheeriest import posters. Smiling faces with giant eyes hawking strangely shaped candies and overlain with enormous neon kanji characters called out from every surface.

Workers were genuinely excited about the product; they were super fans; otaku in a good way. I had hoped that their dedication would keep the place alive forever, but these days, a hair salon stands in its place.

What I'm driving at with this post, in my round-about way, is "authenticity." What makes a business authentic? Is it the specific product being sold? Is it the way employees feel about the business?

Does the business have to be struggling to be authentic? If so, what happens when a struggling business finally develops its wings and begins to take off? Does it suddenly become fake?

Or is authenticity simply a product of marketing? Is it possible to pretend your way to an "authentic" business? This is something I think about when I buy an ice cream cone from a Ben and Jerry's store. Judging from the marketing materials I've seen from the company, I feel that they are an "authentic" company. But I don't really have a verifiable reason to feel that way. I've never been to their parent company, I've never worked there, I've never asked any of their employees how they feel about the company...and yet, with their brochures and their signs and their slogans about recycling, they have me convinced.

Whatever that secret authenticity factor is, the Anime Cafe had it. That authenticity is something that my adult life is often lacking, and it leaves me longing. If only I had the answers to my barrage of questions, I would infuse my life and my work with authenticity...or perhaps I already have it...maybe I just need a brochure that says I do.


The anime art style continues to influence my work. I often utilize bright colors and exagerated figures as a result of the Japanese anime art I was exposed to through my friends in high school (Thanks Kym and Linda).

If you are interested in learning about this art style, you can read more on The Anime Project website.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

hospital trips may require pre-medication

June 25th, 2009

Today was lost in hospital hallways. Corridors, a maze of beige, twisted and stocked with crazy characters; like Labyrinth, but without David Bowie to make it awesome. This place captured us for ten hours. I had been tricked. "Where are the tight pants and creepy puppets?!" I cried. Alas, there were other plans for us.

For those of you joining us late, my friend Tom was assaulted this week. His jaw is broken in two places, the muscles supporting his eye have been ripped, and he has permanent nerve damage. This morning, he went into surgery to have a metal mesh screen put under the skin beneath his eye and his jaw reset with a steel rod to hold it in place.

First thing, we received a stash of prescription bottles affixed with perplexing icon stickers instructing the user with images that I could only discern to mean, "do not to spin in circles while wearing clown makeup", "enjoy flan", and my personal favorite: "here are some birds dipped in chocolate."

Here are birds. Also: "Papaya!"

They put Tom on a gurney and gave him a blanket that was three feet too short. His bright blue socks made him easier to identify in the pre-op waiting room. Then we all went for a dizzying walk through the building to ensure that I would never be able to find my way back out. All the while, our escort kept my attention by repeatedly assuring me that "someone" would tell me what was going on.

In the next waiting area, Tom's nurse couldn't understand how to put together the plastic tube that he needed to breath through to get anesthesia into his throat. She did it wrong twice before getting lucky. Later, I was treated to a discussion on property taxes between two male nurses who should have been describing the procedure to me; or even better, describing it to Tom.

After being shown yet another waiting room by no less than four different nurses (who each told me something conflicting about where to wait and how long it would be) I was greeted by a fifth person whose job it was to write the names of people waiting and remind us about the free coffee.

I'm not really sure if she had an express purpose other than that. I can't imagine that many homeless people make it up past security and up to the third floor just so they can camp the coffee maker and watch Regis and Kelly on a 15 inch screen.

But anyway, she wrote my name on a list and expressed intense dissatisfaction that I had brought my own coffee. Basically: "Oh, I was going to tell you that I made coffee...but I see that you've gone ahead and brought your own. Yep. You just went right ahead and brought some in with you."

Oops, party foul.

Guess I should have been more concerned about her feelings and less concerned about being awake to drive a friend to the hospital. Fortunately, a whole mess of messy, coffee drinking, loudmouths promptly entered the room and took her focus off of me. I ended up moving to the second waiting room (about 20 feet away) when the first became to loud for me to read my book... and Mrs. Clipboard followed me...and asked me if I was there to see someone in surgery...and wrote my name down again...which led to yet another stimulating session of disapproving glances at my coffee cup.

Lucky for me, no one else felt the desire to break from the safety circle of the communal coffee pot, and I was able to finish reading in peace. It was almost relaxing. Little did I know that more adventure awaited, just around the the bathroom!

Here, I am greeted with even more helpful nonsense. This time, a torn, acid-green sticker on the soap dispenser wants to help me prevent the spread of disease by improving my hand washing skills. It instructs me to, "Hold hands in downward position so as to prevent water from running down the arms." I'm not sure how effective it was, you probably shouldn't shake my hand today.

Upon leaving, we were given a multi-page printout questionnaire that was supposed to have been filled out by the doctor with instructions for continuing care at home. All of the questions had been left blank until the very last page, which had abbreviations for each of the prescriptions in 8pt type with the Cliffs Notes version of the dosage instructions. Tom couldn't read any of these things with his eyes swollen shut, and nobody bothered to help him, not even a badly drawn stick figure.

Thanks, hospital.

These medical graphics, overall, do not impress me. There has to be a better way. There has to be something better than illustrations by two-year-olds and impenetrable walls of text on Astro-brite paper. It's hard to believe that these are the communication channels we rely on to help the sick.

----- Scary picture warning, do not scroll down unless you have a stomach of steel, or are a highly curious person-----

Tom is doing better. He says he can swallow now without intense pain. His jaw is held shut by rubber bands and he will have to be on a liquid diet for the next few weeks, then move up to only soft foods in a month or so.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The entirely un-scientific lifecycle of a creative idea

June 23rd, 2009

It starts with a thought…or maybe half of a thought…then it moves from a thought to a sketch. From a sketch to a colored, inked drawing. From that drawing, it jumps into the computer for an Illustrator rendering. Then, after endless tweaking, eyeball-burning concentration and a dangerous trek through the caffeine forest, it becomes a fully formed concept. When the concept is finally ready for the big show, it gets sent up before a brilliant team of executives; who promptly shoot it in the head.

Wait…what? That’s not the ending you were looking for?

Moving a thought from your brain onto the screen, translating what you see into something that becomes real for others, is harder than it looks. It’s one thing to wave your hands around and say, “I see something dazzling! Something incredible!” and quite another thing to actually create something dazzling and incredible. So when the planets align and the perfect project is born, how do you separate from it? How do you just leave it in the sand to find it’s own way back to the ocean?

Achieving objectivity toward my own work is one of the most difficult things about being a designer. To sit back and watch my poor, unsuspecting concept get jumped and beat down by a violent gang of otherwise civil nine-to-five-ers is not especially enjoyable. Just try to sit by quietly while your concept takes a kick to the face from a pair of sensible black pumps.

Why go through all of this? Why not just create a beautiful idea and let it exist; untouched, a shining example of perfection by design?

In short, it’s not perfect if it hasn’t been taught the skills it needs to survive.

Ultimately, the dangerous road is the only way for the concept to travel. It has to be put through its paces, and make it out the other side, or it was never real at all.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

I've been known to be traditionally non-traditional

June 20th, 2009

Today I attended an awesome bridal shower (Thanks, Jen! Congrats!). Yeah, that’s right, I said “awesome” and “bridal shower” in the same sentence. It probably has something to do with the combination of pasta salad and lime-green frosted cupcakes currently throwing a dance party in my stomach.

I’m not very familiar with bridal-happenings or parties that don’t involve beer, so this was a fun, new experience for me. There are so many traditions for brides that I had no idea existed...and so many that I think are just plain silly.

Here are a few from today:

  • As the bride-to-be opens gifts, the number of package ribbons that she rips will be the number of children she will have.
  • The ribbons from the gifts are strung through a paper plate and the bride-to-be should use it as a bouquet at her wedding rehearsal.
  • Also noted: If you buy stuff that wasn’t on the registry...some people will make an angry face at you.

All this celebration got me thinking about traditions in other aspects of our lives, specifically, as related to graphic design.

When you Google “traditional design” you mainly get search results about interior decorating and woodworking (and a few helpful resume templates from Microsoft Office). “Traditional design” in the image results appears to be quilts, ornate rugs and craftsman-style furniture. So the theme that should be jumping out here is “tradition = stuff made by hand.” In Graphic Design terms “traditional design” tends to mean something that was created without the use of a computer; such as drawing, painting, sculpture, and printmaking. Wikipedia told me so.

It is interesting to me that although many designers shy away from incorporating traditional media into their designs, they still try to make it appear as though traditional media is involved. Instead of creating a drawing or a collage then scanning it into the computer, designers will draw a line in Illustrator, apply a brush, add an effect, then maybe import it into Photoshop for more manipulation...all to make something created in the computer look like it wasn’t created in the computer. Why do we do that? Is it because we don’t have the skills to create something real? I don’t think that’s the case. At least not for me. For me, it is about control.

Traditional media can be confining. It feels so permanent, so...”that’s the just the way it is.” If you botch your screen printing job, that’s the way it stays, it doesn’t have a History Palette where I can click back a few steps and try again. If I paint a watercolor illustration for a client and the client says, “That’s lovely, but I wish the cat had green eyes instead of yellow,” I might cry. Or, more likely, I will scan the image and change the color in Photoshop. Thus, the computer saves me where tradition fails. And, (get ready for the heresy), I don’t think that doing that makes me less of an artist (any more than putting “and” at the beginning of a sentence makes me less of a writer).

Tradition is a lot like the language rules that we all learn in English class. Once you know it, you can bend it, or even break it. Art in the computer is still art, and in a sense, it is still “traditional” art. It is still a creative process. It is still an acquired skill that takes time to master. We’re even still using our hands.

So lets not let tradition confine us. Or define us.

If you don’t want to buy off the registry, then don’t. If you want to combine traditional and non-traditional art, do it. We could all benefit from stepping outside of what’s expected of us.

today is the day!

June 20th, 2009

Yep, today is the day that I finally tackle the mess that I've been calling a professional website. When I originally set up, I had minimal knowledge of CSS and no understanding of server side coding. Now, I feel confident that I can at least make it look cool, and possibly even make it functional.

I'm curious to see how easy it will be to transfer the template I've set up in this blogger account to a standard html page. There's nothing that immediately jumps out at me and says, "Danger!"...but you just never know...unless you know more about this than I which case, you probably do know...but don't tell me! I want to figure this one out on my own.

Friday, June 19, 2009

the most wonderful time of the year

June 19th, 2009

I feel a little silly typing this now...since the sky is currently crying...but I am so pumped for skating this year. Yesterday was all about sunshine and the sound of polyurethane on pavement.

You've gotta love that, even if you have no idea what I'm talking about.

Blast from the Past

June 19th, 2009

I just stumbled upon one of my old portfolio collections in my file archives and thought I'd share it with the world once again. This was a project I created in Flash to improve my skill set for working with ActionScript. I had planned to burn it to tiny disks and give it out at job interviews along with my resume, but I got hired right away and forgot all about it. A few years later, I added some work from Rings & Things and again planned to burn it to disks, or at least send a link around. I can't remember why I didn't, but I know it never happened.

Looking back at it, I'm a little sad that I didn't continue to add to the project. Then I remember that the basic html of my current site is much more accessible for potential clients. Not to mention that it's infinitely quicker and easier for me to update.

Here's the SWF if anyone wants to check it out (you may need to download the plugin)