After 11 Years, I Finally Found my Drawing Style… For Now

Well, it took 11 years, but I finally found a drawing style that I think works.

What am I talking about?

When I was 13, I had been drawing for about 3 years. At that point, I was just copying drawings of cartoons in magazines and I had both run out of things to copy and reached a point where I wanted to express myself personally. Over 11 years, I sketched, painted, inked, and got into habits and routines I enjoyed to create and crank out pieces.

What I mean by “I found my style” is that I finally found a way of drawing at my desk that works really well for me.

I’ve spent the last 2 years doing a lot of sketching in my sketch books, and I’ve found starting with a 2H for sketching, a hard lead pencil, that I can lay out everything I need. I went from using Ticonderoga 2B pencils to simply using a Papermate 2B Mechanical Pencil. I’ve found that, in the end, it makes sense since my finished tend to be fairly matriculate.

Today, I added something else that made sense to use a million times before: A 4B pencil for the outline. Since a large number of pieces I do have a thick black line around them, using a really soft lead to get the line weight makes a lot of sense.

In a previous post, I wrote about how I ink my work now, so combined with this, I feel really confident in my work to a degree I haven’t in years!

I want to give some advice to anyone who reads this and is struggling with sitting at their desk and drawing: Don’t give up. I spent years having an on-again off-again love with my drawing desk, and for me it was because I couldn’t get the same sense of emotion in a finished piece that I did with a sketch. My advice to you? Experiment, experiment, EXPERIMENT! Don’t give up, keep on trying, and keep going until you find something that works for you.

Logo Design is Lot Like Car Sales….

“I need a logo for my band! $20.00 in it for you.”

These were the words spread across the message board to alert the members of the metal music forum of a need for a designer. Someone, somewhere, needed a logo for their band. In return, they showed they were willing to pay someone to do it for the sum total of $20.

Some people joked around, and some basically said that he was nuts for offering so little.

Me? I was polite but blunt. “No offense, but $20 for a logo? Bump it up to $100, you’ll get more bites and a better logo. Anyway, my 2 cents on that and if you can bump it that high, give me a call.”

Fair enough if you ask me. Just some advice from someone who does it professionally. Well, the peanut gallery just loves to chime in, and this was a fun bit of retort! Someone decided to point out that “Dude, in this Effing economy work for whatever. It’s just art. Get over yourself and make a quick $20.”He ended it with this little pearl of wisdom: “Don’t try to price your stuff as a BMW when it’s a used car economy.”

So I made a rather blunt point about how it cheapens the work and the field, but if someone was desperate enough for it, more power to them!

But the last point they made stuck with me. Pricing yourself as “high-end” in a tough market… that’s a damn good point! In this case, it was total bull (since $100 for a logo tends to be less-BMW and more, say, used Honda), but it was still valid.

In this modern market, we’ve seen logos go from $10,000 corporate identities to $120 symbols for a small store. In a lot of ways, its always been like that, but today there are even websites that will give a small web start-up a logo for free based on generic text and clip-art. All the while, graphic designers around the world get angry and mad at this practice and how it “cheapens” what we do.

Does offering something for free cheapen something that normally would cost anywhere between $250 – $1000 to do? Well, yeah, it does. It takes it away from being a skill and turns it more into a commodity in the sense that its almost worthless. Yes, The Sistine Chapel was a commission, but he got paid well to make it. That’s basically the entire point I’m trying to make.

So, as designers, what should we do? If you are at a BMW-level of quality and demand, do you keep your prices or do you lower them to stay competitive? Well, its up to you, really. If you find keeping a fairly decent price tends to attract a better type of client or you’re able to keep it up, then stay there. If its getting to the point where your prices are just too much for people, even those who have been faithful and love your work… well, now is the time to start lowering your price.

What is the main key in this? What is the secret formula? It’s simple: Never got lower than 20% what you would charge for the job.

You get a client who wants a logo for their web start-up. The logo they described to you would cost them $1000, all rights included. They can’t afford it and want to go lower. If you can, you go down a little based on what you think works. If they want it for less than $800, think about if the logo will add to your portfolio, if this possible client will result in more connections that will, in turn, equal more work, or if this is just something that’s going to sit there… or pay a bill.

Most designers already know this, so this article is more for the people… well, like me.

Say you’re semi-well known. People have seen your stuff, they like it, and they want to hire you. The problem, though, is that they can’t pay you much, if at all. Here’s a good example: There’s an artist named Christophe Szpajdel who has done over 7200 logos in his nearly 20 years as an artist. His rate? Anywhere between $50 to as much as he thinks. In return, he’s garnered a reputation as a workhorse and the man in the field of death and black metal logos. It pays the bills.

In the end, working with people to get a price you’re happy with, as well as one the client is happy with, means more work and exposure for yourself. Does that mean sometimes lowering yourself to make yourself about as affordable in a used-car market when you’re a BMW yourself? Sometimes. Then again, if you’re already a semi-used Volvo, you don’t have far to go.

Photo courtesy of the blog Miss Pink Slip

Rejection: How I Learned how to Deal With It

When it comes to rejection, I would joke I’m the king of it, but I’m really not. It isn’t because I’ve been turned down a lot in the past… its because I’ve been too afraid to even ask.

Then again, I’m talking about women. In this case, we’re talking about art, and that’s a different beast all together.

The best way to describe where I am as an artist is “just starting out”. It feels like a kick in my ass whenever I say it, but it is where it is. I guess in college I was an “educated amateur” and in high school I was “that crazy kid who draws and carries an orange tool box.” I’ve had one high-profile job, but otherwise its been odd-jobs. It’s getting to the point where I’m seeing what I can only call an actual demand for my work as an illustrator/artist instead of a graphic designer. Then again, this is actually about being both.

Rejection. It isn’t fun. Getting where I am now wasn’t even, and its basically the top of the bottom.

What I Learned about Philadelphia on First Friday

In a previous post, I outlined, in very blunt terms, what I thought about the Philadelphia Art Scene and why, in turn, I despised it.

Last night I did my 3rd First Friday and my second of the year, and it was really interesting seeing people react to my art. I was surrounded by basically what you would expect: Framed photos of buildings, silk-screen t-shirts with abstract designs, and hand-made prints. Across the street from me was Geek Boy Press, setup not too far from Brave New World’s comic book shop who was holding the “8-Bit and Beyond” show for the Autumn Society.

Then… there was me.

I was set up next to Christ Church, mainly because it was the last spot I could get on the lower-half of 2nd Street. Since my pallet is mostly primary colors… well, it’s hard to miss me. I had all my prints mounted and on display, and the star of it all was my “False Messiah” piece hung in the recessed side of the church, creating a sort of alter for it. Reaction was generally positive, and whenever anyone asked what the piece meant, I was able to explain it pretty easily. I was a showman through-and-through, doing my best to sell myself and personality to people who were interested in my work, giving out my card and whatnot.

It was refreshing. The previous month I felt largely ignored, but looking back, it was largely because I wasn’t on a good side of the street more than anything else. Getting positive feedback is good, ad even negative works well. I had some lady say, “You suck!” because of my Obama piece and then run off. Coward.

I came back home to a bunch of hits on my website and some e-mails. I’ve gotten a few requests to do gallery shows in the coming months, some for interviews, and from people who liked my work and wanted to buy prints. Working since February on my art show in May was a big deal and June was a fairly quiet month in comparison. In a lot of ways, it was the only month I had off and now I’m doing as much stuff as possible.

I wrote in the pass that the Philadelphia Art Scene annoyed me for one reason or another and, in reality, I now see what the problem is. I learned that it isn’t the art scene that’s the problem. No, that isn’t it. The problem isn’t with the galleries, either, and I’m willing to admit off the bat that I haven’t tried to do a “gallery” gallery show yet since I don’t have the money to get Gicelle Prints and a lot of fancy things. No, the problem is with what certain people think is “good” when, in reality, they seem to be out out touch with what people like.

People like a pop-artist who will tell them to their face that the person they admire suck and is willing to actually be himself. Who knew?

Some Useless Notes on Inking

I’m in the middle of inking 2, count them, TWO new pieces right now. I finished up the first (for now) and have started on the second. Its actually is amazing to me; to draw normally takes longer than to actually ink a piece! For this piece, which I call “Don’t!”, was actually a change. It is of a snake skeleton and if you’ve never seen one… well, they’re a lot more complicated then you think, especially the skull!

I started with a sketch in my sketchbook and blew it up to trace it since I loved the feeling and emotion of the sketch. The problem? The skull wasn’t accurate and I had to go back and fix it! So after getting the gesture, spending an hour on a sketch that didn’t help at all, I went back to the piece and it came out looking just great on the first try!

I spent, maybe, an hour sketching the piece and refining it. It took me nearly 2 1/2 hours to ink it! The skull alone took over an hour to ink!

I don’t know if its because I’m a little out of practice, but I think its actually because of the sheer amount of detail in the skull alone. I tried out a different inking technique then a lot of my recent work, with more of an emphasis on hatching than just clean lines. I’ve wanted to do that for a while and never got the amount of detail I wanted. This time, though, I got very close to it and its looking very faithful to the pencil sketch, a VERY hard thing for me to do!

The next piece I’m working on is similar to a few pieces I’ve done lately, but the final should be greatly different than a lot of what I have done! I’ve been inspired by a lot of my peers, and its in the early stages right now. I’ve got 2 hours until I head out, and if I want to do that, I need to get this one done AND done right! Or, at the very least, enough so I can take a well-deserved break.

I have a few notes on inking by hand versus digital and vector, but I’ll save that for later.

The Great Western Trendkill: Graphic Design Trends That Must DIE!

I’m at it again! Devoting time and effort to posting something that is annoying to me. This time, it isn’t just for me: This post is dedicated to every designer out there who is sick and tired of the crap out there and wants it to… well, DIE!

1: Web 2.0

Do I have to explain? Do I?

Web 2.0 is overused. Not only is it overused, over-saturated, but it is OVER! Is there any reason why this is still being used? Is there? Have we grown so little as a design community over the last 5 years that we’ve become stagnant and decided, “You know what? This simple look that has no real character or individual charm? Yeah, lets keep this.” Some designers have moved on.

I have a friend who has defended Web 2.0 design as stating, “Its a good design style, its just been abused.” True, but I don’t consider it a full-fledged design style. This isn’t me trying to be pompous (although I’m sure I sound like it); its about stating what I think is a fact.

If you were to walk into a design agency at any time until 1997 and presented them with any of the countless number of generic web 2.0 styled ads, they most likely would have said, “Well, you have a really nice start, but where’s the rest? Where’s the personality?”

Web 2.0 style isn’t bad, but it’s only a base.

Limited color, incredibly simple designs and layout, generic fonts, and drop shadows and mirrored reflections… these are the hallmarks of Web 2.0 design, and the very reason why it must DIE. I’ve already written how Apple practically invented this style in 1998 with the iMac line, and how, 11 years later, everyone has stolen their design and haven’t really made it their own. We’ve learned that there is great dynamic in putting great, brilliant color against white in order to achieve impact, but we’ve lost a sense of experimentation in the process.

We’ve lost individuality, a sense of purpose, being, and personality. Designers have sacrificed their own personal individuality as designers to create a virtually blank canvas for others to create on. For sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace where the focus is on the user being able to customize everything, that makes sense. The same is true of any site where that’s the point. But for sites that are GIVING the content, its something else!

2. Overusing Pastels

I am sick of pastels! This one started in the late 90’s and became the “it thing” over the last 5 years, and its to the point where I want to start banging my head against a wall. This is another one of those things that, when used rarely, they work well. Really well. In fact, I don’t really hate pastels so much as I am sick of them being everywhere!

This really goes hand-in-hand with web 2.0, because it makes thing really, really… boring. For example, say you have a website with a white background and black type. OK, that’s fine, makes sense. The focus of what your posting is the type and the images. So, in return, the stuff you want people to remember, like the header? Well, you make them all pastels.

Not good.

For starters, if your navigation is a shade of light gray against white… its hard to see. For branding, having a light green against white isn’t good, either. Why? Because the two colors blend and no one is going to stare at your logo longer than 2 seconds if they’re only looking for the content. In turn, your repeating traffic takes a hit because not everyone bookmarks a site on the first visit, especially if the content is only so-so.

In short, here are a list of colors I want to see as little as possible: Light brown, light green, light blue, and light red (aka Light pink).

Actually, its a short list. A very short list. I’m going on memory, too! Why do these colors piss me off? Why do we need LESS of them? Again, this isn’t about the colors themselves; its how they’re used and, in most cases, abused!

You have a band. your band plays a mixture of punk and metal; loud, angry, aggresive music that beats the crap out of your skull and doesn’t stop. Now, you hire someone to design your gig flyer and you tell them, “Hey, we’re sick of using nothing but white, black, and red for our flyers. Can you give us something else?” Well, what are you going to do? You need to convey this band without all those colors. What do you do? Me? I’d go for green and yellow, but then again, I love garish colors when they’re used well and entertainingly. But if your idea is to use light blue, light red, and light brown and draw a happy little blue bird…. then you can see why I’m mad.

This, sadly, happens more than you think for other things.

Light pastels colors are used for one thing: Comfort. They are there to make people feel good and comfy, like they’re buying a set of pillows from “Bed, Bath, & Beyond” or that they’re buying something for a baby, or doing something “Earth-Smart”. They’re soothing colors, and that’s good, we need them. After nearly a lifetime of ads focusing on bright slightly-off primary colors, we need a rest from harsh colors.

But in the end, we lose a lot of effect.

It goes back to the idea of an “empty room” that a teacher of mine talked about in college. The “empty room” is really simple to understand: It basically refers to a design with nothing in it except a white background and some image or type. Nothing happening in the background, nothing fun… just an image on white. It achieve impact, but it loses it when, well, its everywhere. Most of the time I see pastels, its against white, and really, it puts me to sleep. It doesn’t really grab your attention after a while.

3. BAD 80’s style design

I loved the 80’s. I was only 5 when they ended, so in 1998 and I got a ton of then 10-year-old copies of Nintendo Power from 1988 – 1991, you can only imagine how it felt to be nostalgic about the 80’s when I was only 13! I thought, “Wow, there were a lot of cool ads back then! I wish they did stuff like this now!” Well, funny how time works, right? I remember in 2005 I saw the first 80’s-style ad come back, and it was from Comcast. It was bright yellow type against black in huge Helvetica layers. The tag line didn’t fit one line, so they broke it up into 4 lines. It was pretty ugly and made me mad.

Since then, a whole generation of nostalgic for the 80’s designers have taken my beloved memories and took a collective crap on them.

The “Empty Room” I spoke of is, in essence, reversed; it’s an infinite void of black. In it, we see the occasional letters or image with nothing really done to it. It just… well, sits there.

Wait, no, that’s only part of it. BAD 80’s design? Its trying to create this “universe” effect that looks tacky and cheesy. Yes, that is part of the fun, but damn it, it isn’t fun anymore! It just isn’t! I love bright primary colors against black, but this stuff? Crappy Photoshop brushes of universes and galaxies with nonsensical “3-D plains”? Do we need those back? Rays of light that go nowhere? Lasers that make no sense?!

4. 99% of ALL 70’s design

Why? Because it needs to die. I never liked 70’s design. Ever. I have to push myself to a point where I can think of something from the 70’s design-wise that I liked, and sometimes I get surprised. “Wizards” by Ralph Baski blows me away and there are a few films made in 1979 that shock me. Star Wars was designed incredibly well and aged great.

On a whole, it needs to die. Bauhaus fonts, tri-colored bars that make no sense, wood grains for the sake of wood grains? Garish colors mixed in? I went to a “hip” restaurant that had wood grain, green light fixtures and tables, and a black ceiling. Not good.

The 70’s are over, done, dead. We had the revival in the 90’s, and now it needs to go away. Far, far away.

5. Dissolving into light

This one involves a lot. We’ve gone to the other end of the spectrum from what pissed me off at first. Instead of being “generic”, its a false branding of “individuality”. Its also a hard thing to name. I don’t know if it has a real name or not, but I call it “dissolving into light”. It stinks. Its basically the result of one man; the idiot who designed this abomination of an album cover:

You’ve seen this at least once, haven’t you? Yeah, I bet you have.

It goes back to that “crappy 80’s design” I mentioned, but this is worse. Much worse.

What Happened To Branding?

Sometimes I feel older than I should.

This isn’t a figure of speech your about to read, nor am I over-simplifying what happened. I woke up this morning, eyes aching from the attempts to open them after basically rubbing away the protective layer on them last night and then having it grow back this morning. After I got both eyes open, watching TV, I realized something: There is no branding anymore.

I was watching “Morning Joe” on MSNBC when that hit me. I was watching the logo in the background as it was displayed on a screen and that made me think about what it meant, which, really, was nothing. It’s a sloppy logo. Joe Scarbrough is a straight-laced Republican and the logo is a liberal-minded, coffee-shop logo. It doesn’t work. It’s not a brand. The show was slapped together after the Don Imus thing and they never made the logo work for the show. Joe just doesn’t look good against the logo, against this “brand”, and he always looks awkward.

Then I started to think about my logo and branding.

To me, I’ve done a damn good job. I rarely think highly of my own work; my friends will tell you that for a fact. But I think I’ve always done a good job when it comes to branding myself. Ironic, since I hate being branded myself by people. God I hate irony these days, but that’s another day and another post.

The point, though, is that I branded myself. It’s a simple identity: Red, Black, and White using hard shapes and a mixture of art deco, constructionism, and punk. It’s a lot simpler than I made it sound, but the idea is always there. The website, the blog, my MySpace, my business cards… they all follow the brand.

These days, it seems we have an anti-branding mentality.

Look at most recent logos. They all tend to be simple, generic… and insanely boring. They all have white as the dominate color, periodically using pastel versions of red, blue, or green. God they love green. I am sick and tired of white and green logos! Honestly, why? Is this use of color to convey some yuppie idea of being “earth-smart”? I blame it on Web 2.0 graphic design and this unhealthy obsession with trying to take what Apple did with advertising and use it for yourself. In turn, we are now left with what a smart teacher in my college called “The Empty Room”.



There was a great post at LogoBlink.com that explains it down to a science!

Ultra-simple, ULTRA-GENERIC, and uninteresting the the highest degree! This? This is modern-day branding?!

Or we get a ton of faux-retro logos, and that kills the idea. When I did mine, I knew I wanted something retro, but I also wanted to keep it fresh. A truly hard mix! How do you keep people in a certain mindset without being cliche or doing something that has been done a billion times? Easy, just be YOU. The entire faux-retro thing is annoying since two trends are coming back and only one is good; 70’s-style advertising refuses to die, despite the fact it’s use of bubbles were done better in the 90’s. At the same time, turn-of-the-century advertising is coming back, with it’s focus on iconic imagery over banality. I prefer the later concept, and I’m glad to see more of it, but not too much.

But back to branding. Well, here are a few modern logos, and tell me how the imagery around it could be used to brand anything and everything from cups and mugs to bed sheets (yes, bed sheets!)

The two best concepts of branding I can think of in the last 10 years are Apple and… Spongebob Squarepants.

Apple created a brand for themselves in 1998 with the iMac, and it has not changed much in the last 11 years. Bright colors against white and the “empty room” with very simple fonts, morphing from a Serifed font to a Sans-Serif font. Elegant and simple mixed with a sense of pop-culture; a rare hybrid to get to work, and one that’s been emulated to death by everyone else.

On the flip-side, you have Spongebob Squarepants. He is, to me, the embodiment of really good, really smart branding. It’s downright hilarious to me that they, literally, were able to get him on anything and EVERYTHING. If you wanted to, if you really wanted to, you could create a 100% Spongebob Squarepants room.

Hell, this is from the Mall of America!!

Photo thanks to Bludog!

In the last 10 years, can you honestly name a NEW branding that has come out that has stuck, let alone stuck in your mind?

OK, there are a few more, but they’re all based on things from the 90’s and 80’s. Watchmen, with it’s arresting black and yellow logo and Futura font was easy to market, although I’m sure Alan Moore isn’t thrilled, and rightfully so!

Then you have Sin City by Frank Miller. Miller’s style was given a tough of 3-D reality and created a style of limited color that did, in a lot of ways, spit in the face of Apple.

Here’s a quick rundown of a few logos and companies that are doing decent jobs as well:

Geico – Cavemen, Geckos, and more.

Esurance – The ads have been brilliant and simply theirs!

Cingular – While they lasted, they had an easy to identify logo and look

Virgin – Red, White, Black, and brilliant all over!

The White Stripes – Red, White, and Black… wait…

I picked these because, in the end, you knew what the brand was and it was interesting. It’s hard to see that these days with 99% of the logos out there.

In closing, I want to encourage everyone out there who reads this, future designers and those who are looking to hire a designer, to consider everything I’ve said. The future of graphic design should not be mired in mediocrity and simply but in being creative, and even more importantly… YOURSELF. Don’t try to go out there and change the world, don’t try to make trends… simply be yourself and strive to do it well.

What Makes An Artist "Legit"?

Someone on a message board I got to started a new top called “What makes an artist legit?” It’s an interesting question, and a lot of people have opinions on it. The topic alone got around 80 different replies and comments in about 24 hours!

My opinion, my 2 cents on this matter? I have no fucking idea.

“What makes an artist legit?” is, to me, a fairly new question in human history. I think we can safely assume to a large degree that until the beginning of abstraction in art to such a large degree thanks to Impressionism and Dadaism, we were forced to ask, “What is art?” in the first place. We went from artists being these figures of society that were looked upon in aw and given money if they were smart to… well, the same thing.

When we think of an artist being “legit”, we tend to come up with ideas such as “honest”, “sincere”, “sheer expression”, and “not doing it for the money”.

So let’s look at two people: One person was commissioned to work. A lot. I mean A LOT! More work, in fact, than he could handle alone. In return, he hired people to work for him on his art while we focused on the more important stuff. He did really well and built up a great reputation. Another person is constantly drawing, painting, and creating pieces and loves art. The problem, though, is that he never sold any of his work. Nothing. Nada.

To most people, the second guy is more legit since he slaved over his work non-stop and never made a dime off it. If I mentioned he was always depressed and into self-mutilation, it starts to seem like someone who doodles and draws and writes bad goth poetry and wonders why no one likes their crappy anime drawings they have on Deviant Art. The first guy sounds like the type of guy most artists want to punch in the fact because it seems he’s distant from his art… like he’s a Creative Director or something,and most of society would say he’s not an artist, or a “legit” one.

Well, you guessed it, these people are actually really famous. Leonardo Da Vinci was able to get a ton of work and commissions thanks, not just to being brilliant, but for getting his name out there and working hard. Meanwhile, Vincent Van Gogh spent his entire life working and toiling in obscurity, wanting to sell his art and become a famous artist. In the end, he died alone, went color blind, and his art was worth millions…. and he never saw a cent.

In the eyes of many, both artitsts are legitament, not for how they created their art, but because of what they created.

I have a problem that I am willing to admit and share: I fell into the hype of the “artist”.

Society today has a meaning of “artist” that isn’t the reality. Many people think an “artist” is someone who spends their life in poverty and pain, putting paintings in the fire to stay warm and go through mental anguish and pain. Well that is true, it’s only half the reality. These same people also think that the output of the artist is always “honest”. It rarely ever is.

When I fell into the “hype” of being an “artist”, I stopped being honest. I went into a funk that lasted years where I just hated myself, yelled at myself, just felt worthless because I never thought that what I thought was “honest” WAS “honest”! Why? Because when you love what I do and create what I do, people come to the conclusion, as unfair as it is, that it’s NOT “honest”.

What is unhonest for one honest is pure honesty for someone else. I like Bill Watterson, and he always had a view of art different than me. When he created Calvin & Hobbess and went for syndication, he didn’t want anything more than the strips. He didn’t want to make cartoons, plush toys, greeting toys, stickers, t-shirts, or anything like that. In the end, he is known for being brilliant at what he did and taking the stand he did against a syndicate, something incredibly rare for an artist to take.

On the other side is… well, me. If Bill Watterson was the anti-capitalist artist, I’m the pro-capitalist one. I was born in 1985 and watched a lot of TV when I was a kid. I mean A LOT. I went outside and played, and I played with my toys a lot, but I was still a really ad-observant kid and its part of who I am. If I create something, something I want just for me, I can’t help but think how cool it would be on a shirt or an action figuer or something! I love toys, and I love having fun and decorating the things in the world around me.

A lot of people have taken this route in the modern day, too, namely a lot of street artists who I’m sure are considered “legit” despite the fact they could be making a nice tidy profit.

So what makes an artist “legit”? In the end, it means only one thing to me: Were they happy? IF you enjoy what you do, you’re as legit as anyone.

Photo thanks to Banksy! You kick ass!