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.

Why Is Modern Graphic Design So Damn Generic?!

Helvetica. Arial. Futura.

Why has is become so standard to use simple and generic fonts for everything?

I am, quite frankly, not happy with this. It isn’t entirely because of my hatred of the Web 2.0, although it is safe to say that is part of it. No, its largely because it seems to take away from a lot of creativity that is, in the end, is being zapped from it. I think it works sometimes, and even then, its only when you actually do it.

I’m just sick of this “less is more” philosophy that has dominated graphic design. Is there anything wrong with actually doing something that requires more than 10 minutes of thought? Granted, not all simplicity is what it appears; sometimes if boils down to hours and hours of work to achieve the result, but then it tends to be clever and smart. Simplicity for the sake of simplicity is the order of the day, and the “empty room” philosophy.

To a degree, its kinda ironic: People have gone on and on about their hatred for the fonts Papyrus and Comic Sans, complaining of their overuse more than their actual design. Like just about anything, it isn’t about the material itself, its how its used. Such is the case for the overt-simplicity and generic fonts I see today.

So, what would I rather see? Or, in a way, what would I like to see come back?

Well, its a lot, and to a degree, its filled with things I hate that did come back.

One thing I like is Michael Jackson’s “Dangerous” album cover. It combines the greatness of the majesty of the original incredibly ornate album cover with a wonderful simplicity and beautiful typography with a fairly simple font.

Now, a lot of this is done now, where a dynamic is attempted with the chaos against an otherwise simple background. The problem, though, is that it is incredibly hard to pull off in a way where the effect doesn’t come off as contrived and, in the end, generic in-and-of itself. So while I’d like to see it come back, I also don’t unless you know you can make it work.

So lets go to something else. In fact, this may be my favorite movie posters of all time. It sure ranks in the Top 10:

Barb Wire

That’s right: Pamela Anderson in Barb Wire. The movie isn’t good at all, and the comic book its based on isn’t much better (although in a way it inspired the comic book I’m working on now, but that’s something else). But this poster is awesome for a ton of reasons! For starters, there’s an immediate contrast created by the fact that it is the stunning Pamela Anderson Lee in her prime. Her blonde hair is up, flowing in the breeze. She’s dressed in black that goes into her gloves. The black highlights on her face, from the eyes to the eyebrows to the gun or given extra contrast thanks to the black background. Her bright red lipstick works with her rich skin tone. To round it all up, you have bright red-and-yellow text that’s given a light grunge effect that works in contrast to the other cleanliness given to Pam Anderson.

The poster and all the artwork related to this film is stunning and beautiful. The fact that I am a Pam An fan does play into it, but in the end, the reasons I gave for why this poster is an excellent example of both graphic design and simplicity done right is valid. It is minimalistic while still being exciting and interesting.

So what’s the point here? Its simple: In order to achieve simplicity that is strong, effective, eye-catching, and above all INTERESTING, relying on simple retro-effects or overt-simplicity doesn’t have to be a be-all end-all thing. A great deal of interest can be done more so by using interesting fonts and images against the simplicity of a one-tone background to create impact.

Keep designing and STOP USING GENERIC FONTS!

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 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!