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Ideas, resources and tips to help you unlock your imagination. The blog archive has years of content for artists and designers such as:

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Monday
Mar162015

No One Understands Graphic Design

Graphic design is everywhere. Our work is seen by thousands. Often we're uncredited and our role in the process is diminished. After all, we are hired to visualize another company or person's vision. When you tell someone you're a graphic designer, be prepared for the barrage of questions about exactly what that is. Part of it that is that our industry uses the term graphic design to refer to a wide variety of specialties. Sometimes that makes it easier for us to take on different types of work. Sometimes it makes it hard to tell people we specialize in print and not web...

You're more function than form

Design has always been about functionality. Whether it's to market a product or to help instruct on it's use, what differentiates design from non-commercial art is that we have a function. Let's take flat design, which web designer Luke Clum so eloquently deconstructed as a user friendly step forward in his beginners guide for Creative Blog. The premise of flat design is using simplicity to our advantage to grab attention and focus on the most basic elements. Solid blocks of color and simple type choices help using flat design very straight forward. This has become especiallyl useful in smart phone apps where designers attempt to balance branding with ease of use for consumers on the go.

You're not in an art museum...yet

"Graphic design needs it's time in the spotlight," writes Olly Wainwright for the The Guardian. While various museums and institutions are dedicated to architecture and crafts, we're just starting to see graphic design rise. Wainwright tells us about initiatives in London and how design is seen in British culture specifically. As a print designer, I found it especially interesting that print is still a huge and growing part of the industry. As much as we are told about digital, there is still a big market for analog products. Are there any initiatives in your area that show off the art of design? How do you tell people about your job?

You're not a computer program

Have you seen the video "FYI I'm a graphic designer" with mention after mention of graphic design in television and movies? "I'm a graphic designer," we hear in the film by London based designers Ellen Mercer and Lucy Streule. "So is everyone with a laptop." In pop culture, graphic design exists in a Jetson's like future where a push of the button does it all. In Hollywood, it seems like graphic designers are portrayed as if we're failed artists, that it's something anyone can do, and that there's quality design is easy. In real life, even the most well-educated designers are challenged by our work. It's still funny and cool to laugh at ourselves. There's a lot more depth and hilarity to our work! I love all of the parts where they try to explain to people what they're job is...

You're not photoshop

No seriously, Photoshop doesn't design things. A lot of designers don't even use Photoshop much for their work. I'm more likely to be in InDesign and Illustrator when I'm designing magazines and infographics. It's like saying anyone can use paint. It's very true that anyone can put paint on a canvas. It's just a tool. Anyone can cook. Doesn't make you a chef. Speaking of tools, the San Diego Reader's Ask a Hipster column explains the stereotypical connection between hipsters and graphic design. Do you agree with his assessment that it's the perfect stereotype of the mdoern day hipster.

You're not just a designer

In an interview with designbloom, designer and art director Jorge Leon talks about how he has a life outside of deisgn. "I love being a graphic designer," says the designer who works out of Barcelona. "but I can also imagine myself being a photographer or something equally creative."

Thursday
Mar122015

Awesome Secrets to Super Inspired Procrastination

If you're anything like me or the rest of the human race, you have put things off that in theory you would want to do. Yet the time to act is never right now. You haven't decided when. Even if you did know when, then we have to figure out how. Trying to move an idea from imagination to completion is really tough!

I always tell friends or even strangers that I'm waiting for my roommate, Lamount Montgomery to do all the things. Lamount doesn't wash dishes, load laundry or vacuum. Laziest roommate ever, I lament. I'm not doing it until he does! Unfortunately for both of us, Lamount is just my Cabbage Patch kid that I've had since I was a child.

“Procrastinate now, don't put it off.”
Ellen DeGeneres

The story starts in the boom of the 80s. My mom wanted to get the uber popular toy for her three kids. Sold out everywher, she took advantage of a local bank that traded the toys in exchange for opening a bank account for kids. In all these decades since, he doesn't have much to say for himself. No matter how long I wait, nothing seems to get done. Maybe a few of these tips could help me and Lamount out?

Write it down, don't memorize

DON'T be too quick to judge your ideas as good, bad or impossible.
DO write thoughts in the most convenient way possible.

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In one of the most popular productivity books out there – Getting Things Done, David Allen sets forth the basic principle of productivity: Write it down. Rather than stewing in worry, find a place to write all things down. We can make it a habit of writing down a next step rather than worrying. The "next step" is a doable task.

Write your task where ever it makes sense. It might be on your calendar, on your to do list, just in a strip of notes. I keep endless notes in the "cloud" using Google Tasks and an Android app. I save all articles, thoughts, and titles that come to mind. When I sit down to paint or draw, I already have all of my ideas ready for me to act. This isn't the time when we ask if an idea is important, good, or bad. I keep track of the terrible ideas as much as I do with the good ones. That's something I can figure out in the next steps.

Lamount doesn't write things down. I can't solely blame him when I know he has the memory of a doll. He'll never be able to get anything done. Your memory is only slightly better than a doll.

“Rename your “To-Do” list to your “Opportunities” list. Each day is a treasure chest filled with limitless opportunities; take joy in checking many off your list.”
Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You

Procrastinate, don't procrastinate

DON'T deny your tendencies to procrastinate.
DO procrastinate on one task by doing another on your list.

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"If all the procrastinator had left to do was to sharpen some pencils, no force on earth could get him do it," John Perry wrote in his 1995 online essay Structured Procrastination. "However, the procrastinator can be motivated to do difficult, timely and important tasks, as long as these tasks are a way of not doing something more important."

I've definitely found this to be true. The path of least resistance for washing dishes, cleaning, or vacuuming is when I'm running late to work. I'm most productive at work when I'm trying to leave work and get to the gym. I get the most blogging done when I placed my podcast on the top of my list. We can exploit this idea just by making our top priorities the lesser tasks. If I made vacuuming every morning a priority, my procrastinating brain will tell me to get out of the house that much faster.

Except for time spent on meditation practice, you're not sitting around doing literally nothing. Place the least important tasks and smallest as the top priority on your to do list. Plan to watch a few YouTube videos. Give yourself time to read on the internet. Which apparently you've already found time to do by reading my blog, so thanks for that. Imagine that you're procrastinating on those tasks too. Either you'll get a lot of quick dusting done, or you might just finally get to painting your next masterpiece.

While I'm procrastinating on that talk I need to have with Lamount Montgomery about how are rent is due and how he is not contributing, I might as well get some of my artwork done or at least sketch a little.

"Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials. It's a matter of doing everything you can to avoid writing, until it is about four in the morning and you reach the point where you have to write."
Paul Rudnick

Work together, not alone

DON'T just get help, be a helper yourself.
DO include others in your creative process.

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This is often a difficult idea for the most creative souls. We get so used to doing tasks on our own. Get support from others in your network. It's not an all or nothing proposition, sometimes we'll work alone and other times we collaborate. We don't exist in a vacuum. It's often appropriate to seek criticism, ask friends to remind us, or just reach out and talk about our work. The point of productivity is to both keep moving forward and hopefully finish tasks. Build in ways to take care of each other, both give and receive help freely.

As much as I enjoy waiting for Lamount Montgomery's help with my chores, it often makes a lot more sense to just take care of things myself and relieve my Cabbage Patch roommate of the pressure.

“He who sees a need and waits to be asked for help is as unkind as if he had refused it.”
Dante Alighieri

Plan it out, don't wing it

DON'T create steps without goals and guidelines.
DO plan to deviate from your plan.

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While flying by the seat of our pants is a huge part of the process, giving it some structure actually helps! How do you color outside of the lines without knowing where the lines are? (tweet this) Set deadlines and make outlines. Let's say I was typing a blog post. Which I am currently doing, coincidentally enough. It helps to brain storm a few short phrases on the main ideas, organize them, and then fill inthe blanks. Sure, when I research, read, and type it often turns out my initially assumptions were wrong. Making mistakes and successfully failing is where true innovation comes from. We can't solve problems unless we have problems.

It would be naive of me if I decide to wait for whenever Lamount is ready. I know him well enough to trust that he won't stick to any schedule I set up. Fool me once, Lamount Montgomery. Fool me once. As much as I'd love for the sun to set at midnight and for a doll to do all things for me, it makes more sense to allow for that possibility and plan accordingly.

"A goal without a plan is just a wish.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

And yeah, I procrastinated on writing a post about productivity and instead just wrote a passive aggressive letter to my roommate. I don't expect him to ever learn. I can only hope these ideas will help you experiment with how you look at productivity.

Tuesday
Feb242015

How to Get Started: Artist and Designer Networking Guide Part 1

Artists and Designers Networking Guide:

Networking is often a dirty word, yet it's helpful for any professional to have others to look to for guidance, opportunities, and support. In that sense, what are network contacts really? They are just friends with a common interest. With any friendship, we have a lot more that we share than just our interests. We look at each other as people we care about.

The New York Times reports that sociologists since the 1950s have wittled likeliness of connections down to three principles: Proximity, Unplanned Interactions, and Privacy. How can you place yourself to be physically close, have unplanned interactions, and have others feel comfortable sharing with you? Focus on what you feel good about contributing to the people in your network. This will make the process so much easier. It's not work if it's something you genuinely enjoy, just like how you enjoy your other friendships, families and relationships.

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming really interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you. Which is just another way of saying that the way to make a friend is to be one.”
Dale Carnegie

If you're like many artists, you might ave a bit of social phobia about meeting other artists. We don't want people to see us as users or opportunists. The key to this is to be a good and giving friend first of all. What are you are willing to do for others without receiving anything in return? These are the kinds of acts that will make you a quality friend and networker while still protecting your own interests. 

How to Start Networking Online

Once you have begun practicing art and have work to share, having an online presence helps with connecting. Why? Because when you start making real life friends who share a professional interest, you'll want to have a place to send them. 

You can start small just by opening a free accounts on Twitter, Pinterest, Google Plus and a Facebook Like Page. Each of these sites are free. Pick your favorite of these sites. Start by exploring what others are doing and mimic what you like about their posts. As an artist, having even a simple yet beautiful website to display your work is a great tool. If you mention that you are an artist and anyone shows any curiosity, having a place to send them makes networking easy: "Hey what's your number, I'll text you my website and you can look at sometime if you want!"

“When you act as though you like someone, you start to really like them.”
Leil Lowndes, How to Talk to Anyone

Focus first on helping others. How can others benefit from your work? When I started the Uncanny Creativity podcast and this blog, it was really because I often read articles and take notes. I started thinking that others can benefit from what I find. Working as a designer over the years, I've discovered that coworkers often haven't found the information that I have. Every creative struggles to find and create ideas. This helps when we feel as if I'm the only one who worries about my creative abilities. Showing that to others has been a drive that keeps my content focused on the readers.

How to Start With Your Existing Network

How much do you interact with the people you already know? Let's think of a few small ways we can adjust creatively everyday when we have conversations. Do your friends, family, and coworkers know about your life as artist? Tell them you're interested in meeting other artists and even discuss seeing this article, if it helps.

When I was younger, I rarely discussed my art much with my mom because I felt she didn't seem to show much interest. Slowly over time, I started opening up and just saying I visited an art show, that I painted, and would give her art. Mentioning visiting a museum, art supplies, going to an art store, and just showing how it's part of my day made us both comfortable. Her background is as an accountant, so she didn't know much about art. Yet as my mom, she knows how to be supportive and to be a proud mom.

Let others offer their own unique points of view without having any expectations. Even if they don't know anyone to connect you with, they can still be there for support as you're trying new things. 

Since you're an imaginative person, come up with ideas of something every day that you can use to encourage connections with others. Check in with at least someone you already know. You might, for example, think of the people in your network who would benefit from knowing each other, offer to introduce them. If you were laid off, who are the first 5-10 people you'd contact? Make sure you regularly talk to them and not just when in need. Look at the people you spend the most time with. Make sure to invest invest in relationships who influence you positively.

How to Start Being Curious

Make it a habit to Google your interests, problems, and thoughts. Share the absolute best articles on all of these networks with some personal comment about why you love it. The other focus is to reply to your connections online to let them know you enjoyed what they share. Compliment them and share your thoughts on their posts. When I say share, I don't mean just online. These are great topics to bring up in person too. "I saw a great article about that the other day!" Having your own interests are great for conversation and for understanding other people's interests.

"Curiosity benefits our social and romantic lives. Curious people are often considered good listeners and conversationalists. In the early stages of a relationship, we tend to talk about our interests or hobbies. One reason for this is that people tend to equate “having many interests” with “interesting,” and for good reason. Curious people tend to bring fun and novelty into relationships."
Ben Dean Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania

I know this might sound mundane or obvious, and at the same time it's great practice to say it outloud. Through reading articles, you'll also have a lot more to talk about when you meet people in your industry. "Oh wow, you're a sculptor? I was reading about new research on Michaelangelo's David!" Friends online and off will start to see you as expert, because you'll be one. Part of making connections with others is stating what you feel is obvious. To your surprise, you'll out much of what you think isn't so obvious to others.

How to Make Conversation

Being social isn't just about trying to gain. We have to really be willing to give to others. One of the rarest and yet obvious gifts we all can give is to listen. Listening is a very engaged, dyanamic and energy intesive action , showing our curiousity about what we hear, and reflecting how we've heard it. All successful conversation requires two active participants. Listening is more about finding a balance comfortable between speaking and not. The ideal balance will depend on both individuals. An outgoing person much not need as much feedback or want to be asked as many questions. A shy person might need more attention. Ideally, neither of you will feel pressured to "carry" the conversation.

“The more you engage and connect, the more engagement and connections you will have.”
Loren Weisman

Keep in mind that listening benefits both of you. You'll learn more about how they interact and have clues on how to create a good balance by taking their views and words in account. People will be more excited to hear about your ideas if they feel theirs are heard. We all fear that we might not be listened to as much and while you can't force others to listen to you, you can give them that comfort as a listener. Listening is a tool for collaborating with others effectively.

One of the simplest and often effective strategies for listening is to share a short and similar story in response when others talk. Often automated responses like "uh huh", "yeah" and even "tell me more about that" won't convey that you are listening or willing to contribute. Follow up your story with a question that asks them if they want to continue, "Oh wow, I went to the Bahamas last year and it was beautiful! What did you like most about it?"

How to Start Talking About Your Art

Be prepared with a few a standard very brief introductions to your art to be explain to anyone you meet. Less is more and find the most natural places to mention it. Sometimes there won't be a natural place, so you'll have to allow yourself to delay or it might not be the right conversation or even eventually the right person. Match the level of conversation with the other person. If they seem super interested when you mention your work, follow the thread. If they are focused on other aspects. Follow them. This technique is  similar to improv, where you agree with what was said and add your own twist.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
Winston S. Churchill

Most of all, be prepared to fail gracefully. You might just be so excited about a painting you're working on and just have to say "I'm so passionate about my work sometimes, I get caught up. Anyway tell me more about your trip?" Conversations can be tricky and don't always go according to how we might practice. Definitely I've learned to laugh at that part. For other ideas on how to meet and connect with other artists, check out the podcast episode about meeting artists.

Tuesday
Feb242015

You're not an innovator and you never will be: 7 Reasons

Optimism

People who believed that impulsiveness could benefit creativity had an increase in effort-based performance on creative tasks according to new research. Led by Alexandra Wesnousky of New York University, the study helps support the "silver lining theory": those who tend to see even their negative traits positively will be more motivated and provide more effort. Apparently, if you feel your flaws only hold you back, you won't be as creative. Tweet this

Nostalgia

Research presented in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that nostalgia can boost innovative thinking. Participants were instructed to think of "nostalgic" experiences versus "ordinary" ones. The first group were rated as more creative. If you look at your memories as merely ordinary, you won't be as innovative. Tweet this

Society

Another study led by University of Chicago Psychologist Sarah Gaither found that self-examination of our roles in society may be a creativity booster. When writing about themselves and imagining how they are perceived in various life roles such as gender, race, and family participants scored higher on creativity tasks than the group who focused on their daily lives without instruction. If you focus on your daily life rather than the roles you play in it, you might not be as innovative. Tweet this

Political Correctness 

A professor at Washington University in St. Louis tested the assumption that political correctness is a hindrance to creativity. Groups of the participants were instructed to list examples political correctness prior to a brainstorming session on how to use a vacant space on campus. Compared to the group who had no discussion before brainstorming, the political correct aware group had more ideas and those were more unique. The researchers interpret that certainty about expectations clearer helped creativity. If you are unaware of political correctness, could you be less of an innovator? Tweet this

Naps

Short naps have been shown to boost creativity and short term alertness according to a study published by Georgeton University. If you're not getting enough sleep, you can't be as innovative. Tweet this

Boredom

Boredom benefits creative thought. Researchers at Pennsylvania State found bored participants did better on creativity tests than those who were self described as distressed, elated, or relaxed. If you don't let yourself experience boredom, maybe you're not going to be as creative. Tweet this

Walking

A Stanford University study found that walking helps with inspiration. It also found that those who walked outside versus a treadmill were twice as creative, though all walkers were more creative than the sitters. If you spend all of your time sitting inside all day, you might not be as innovative as someone who goes for a walk. Tweet this

Friday
Feb202015

6 DOs and DON'Ts for Killer Creative Teams: Confession of a bad team player

In my day to day life as an art director, being a team player always has some challenges. Most of the time I think I manage pretty well, though it has taken a lot of practice. Over ten years ago, for example, I was just a fine art student at Bowie State University dealing with a dreaded group project. Cue ominous music. You all remember the collective groans we  all had when a professor started matching us up with the class full of strangers? The theme from jaws plays.

Fine art majors had the unusual requirement of taking twelve theatre credits. The structure of the group project was that the teams each had to decide themselves how to split the work and would receive a single grade for the entire group. We didn't have an assigned leader or structure, we had to decide how to proceed from scratch from that I learned a few tough lessons. How do we as a member of a team contribute and be prepared to take on various roles?

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much”
 Helen Keller

Our first assignment was to research and individually present pieces of theatre history. It seemed easy enough for us to quickly discuss which part we would each work on. Once on my own, working on my section I'd run across information that my teammates agreed to take care of. I'd worry that they wouldn't do their part, so I'd type up what excess research I found.

As a working professional, think about how ridiculous that really would be now. If I – as a professional designer – were to start editing copy. How this would show my lack of faith in my editor. Or in my ability to communicate and manage my concerns. I've had this happen to me, where a copy editor would redesign my pages according to their whims: Dude, either get a job as a designer or stick to editing copy. As pop singer Sara Bareilles once said, that kind of "help just hurts."

On one hand, I took sole responsibility for my grade.  On the other hand, I didn't take the step to even try directly addressing potential issues with my teammates. Ultimately, we discovered just before the presentation that my team member did fail to have their assignment completed. She did use my notes at the last minute. I had now encouraged and enabled her to continue to not contribute. It would have made more sense to meet well before the presentation to practice and review our work. At that point, we would have discovered the lack of committment and been able to decide on consequences from there.

DON'T be a pushover or enable others.

DO build in time to review your team's productivity.
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In my imaginary version redoing these events, we would have discussed these problem as a team. My more assertive present-self would suggest to younger me to arrange regular meetings. Use them as an chance for everyone in the group to bring up concerns. The key is to focus on behavior and how it impacts the team. Be constructive and have empathy by asking them why they are struggling. They likely already know they are causing a problem, yet are acting unable to be accountable. If you really want a helpful response, it helps to appear sincerely curious as someone who is on their side. Otherwise, they may just be glad to bring you down with their sinking ship. If they're really unable to do the task,  discuss what can be done.

These days at work, if I'm really overloaded and can't make a deadline I've learned to be politely honest and to ask for others to be the same. The regular meetings build in opportunities for positive communication and a focus on constructive criticism as part of your regular interactions.

DON'T pressure, assign blame or take productivity issues as a personal assault.

DO be aware of feelings and find constructive ways of dealing with them.
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As the semester continued, we eventually were assigned to write a play together. Conversation was a bit uncomfortable considering we were a group of introverted strangers. Paying attention to this, a team member noted we weren't geting more than a basic plot developed through our continued discussion. In the spirit of improv theatre's "Yes and" philosophy, we all nodded and had built on this thought to develop a plan. Since I had once a worked on a comic strip project once where each would draw a piece and then improvise based on what had come before, I pitched that idea for our writing play. We wrote three separate parts one after the other, with the person who's schedule allowed to finish the quicked writing our beginning and then passing it on to the next member.

We didn't know then that the "collective intelligence" of teams is not based on IQ. It turns out that it's based on the ability for team members to take turns during conversation according to research lead by Anita Woolley of Carnegie Mellon. Being aware as individuals of the "social sensitivity" of the group dynamic as an individual and how you contribute to it can change your ability to perform. Listening will help identify and work with the strengths and experiences of each team member

DON'T focus on your team's weaknesses.

DO listen carefully. 
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The teammate who I was enabling wasn't the only problem. As I was the last team member to work on the play's finale, I also had the least amount of time to study the first two parts. I felt I had a strong memory, yet didn't account for the amount of time it took to memorize and practice lines. I totally bombed during our in-class play performance.  This was one case where the reception of the performance and disappointment among my team members was consequence enough to refocus my behavior. Internally, I took responsibility for my unprepared performance and future performances for the class improved. While the group was conflict averse, conflict is necessary for change and inevitable.

DON'T underestimate the time it takes implement your plans. 

DO be prepared.
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As I was a fine art student, part of one class was to have sessions overseeing the art shows on campus. A simple job of greeting people who entered the gallery asking them to sign the guest book. One of my group members visited the show and I greeted her by the wrong name... I noticed in the guestbook after she left. It was a terrible faux pas that I addressed and apologized for next meeting.

Research by MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory shows that teams who communicate outside of formal meetings and who have increased opportunities for information communication perform better. 

DON'T avoid addressing the elephants in the room. 

DO get to know your team personally.
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As none of us had much practice with leadership, the professor took that role and discussed our team dynamic and addressed directly that she would have liked to have assigned us to different groups for more balanced. None of us had experience with the necessary decisiveness at the time. Ultimately, even if the actual group dynamics never really worked, this turned out to be a great learning experience which was the real purpose of college study. Just because it doesn't work out the way we wanted, doesn't mean it didn't work out.

When we are learning, we feel that our actions directly impact our future. According to researchers Martin Seligman and Roy Baumeister, this sense of control is linked to a meaningfulness and happiness. 

DON'T beat yourself over imperfect experiences.

DO learn from every situation and give yourself credit
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For more ways to work with others, see my podcast episode on How to Collaborate More Effectively. So how do you think I could I have dealt with all of these situations better? Have you had any terrible teamwork experiences that had very little team or work?

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