Archive for the ‘design’ Category


Read Full Post »

Let me say right off that this blog post has nothing whatsoever to do with clothes, or the small rooms in which the tidiest of us keep them. It’s about work–my work, to be precise. I’m a designer, a writer, an illustrator, and a teacher. In most of those arenas, my job entails working to others’ specifications–making other people’s dreams come true. In some cases my clients know exactly what they want, and they just want my hands and computer skills. In others, though, my job is less giving my client what they think they want than it is showing them all the things they might want if they knew those things existed.

In short, I am paid to Think Outside the Box, to Dream Up Amazing Things, to show my clients things they don’t want so they can have a better idea of what they DO want. I am paid to take risks, to court certain rejection not occasionally but every single frigging day.

And I’m okay with that. Really I am. I understand that when I walk into a client meeting I will walk out of there with (if I”m lucky) two of my three dynamite ideas rejected out of hand–and it will probably be my favorite two. I understand that I am working in pursuit of another’s dream, creating another’s vision. That’s my job. I’m used to it. I know the dangers of falling too deeply in love with a concept–any concept. It’s likely going to get shot down–and the more I fall in love with it, the more likely the idea’s quick death on the boardroom floor is.

And yet sometimes it still happens. I go to the initial client meeting. I listen to their thoughts and ideas. I take notes. And then, at some point in the process, I am struck by lightning. I know–I just know–that I’ve got pure gold in my concepts. I hurry to the next client meeting on eager feet, clutching my concepts in my sweaty hands (not really–sweat is hell on comps, and these days it’s all about email and pdfs in my world, but you get the idea).

I present my work. And my clients look at each other out of the corners of their eyes and I know that, like Michael Bolten, I have perhaps been watching too much of the wrong thing. I have allowed myself to dream the big dreams, rather than the necessary ones, that my comps reflect me more than they reflect what my clients wish to say about themselves. There I am, singing in a rich, ringing voice of being Jack Sparrow on Tortuga, Forrest Gump on the bus bench, Scarface, Erin Brokovich, when what my clients want is a nice, tight little addition to their edgy little rap.

And so I put away my braids and beads, the crashing ocean and the blue, blue sky, my deskful of cocaine, and God-help-me my Erin Brokovich suit, and I re-set my sights on crafting a nice, tight little addition to their edgy little rap, because I am a professional, and i truly do know that my job is creating art and designs that will help my clients reach their dreams and goals. It’s not about me. Some days, I am a gun for hire.

But this video is for the other days, the days when I stride into meetings with a concept that goes giving my clients what they think they want, and shows them the world they might have instead. Sometimes they want it. Sometimes they don’t.

And this video captures that experience perfectly–so perfectly, in fact, that I suspect Michael Bolton may have spent some time as a designer. So for all those people who have ever wondered how a designer feels in a concept meeting–and for every designer who has ever been there–this video is for you. Play it proudly.

Read Full Post »

It’s summer, and to escape the heat I’m taking Patrick, his friend Jerry, and Jerry’s cousin Jeremy to the movies. Patrick and Jerry have just finished fourth grade; Jeremy is a couple years older. We’re driving through shimmering heat waves and I’m giving thanks for the A/C when Jerry suddenly breaks off his end of a conversation extolling the virtues of baseball to ask, “So how do you write stories?”

I am a little surprised. Jerry struggles in school, and as far as I know hasn’t voluntarily picked up a book on a subject other than sports in living memory. My years of experience driving boys around has made me fast with an answer, though, so I say, “You start with a question, or with a person, or an event. And then you start to ask questions about it.”

“Like what?” asks Jeremy. This is our first time with Jeremy in the car, so he’s largely an unknown quantity.

I’m drawing a blank, so I throw the question back over the seat. “Okay. You want to tell a story. Should it be about a man, or a woman, a boy or a girl?”

“A man,” somebody says.

“All right. Where does he live?’

“France,” Jerry says.

I am a bit taken aback. France seems a very long way from our little town. Still, though, it’s their story. “Okay,” I agree. “What does he do? What’s his job?”

“He has a cart,” the boys decide.

“What’s would a man in France sell off a cart?”

After a brief discussion they decide on coffee and croissants. I wonder where they’re getting their information, but I am too intrigued by the process to ask.

“Is he good at it?” I ask.

“No,” they decide.

“Why not?”

“He keeps giving the stuff away.”


“His town’s poor.”

And so it goes, all the way home. We pull thread after thread, answering question after question, rapidfire. Within fifteen minutes the boys have outlined the “Cloud Writer.”

Back home, I am looking forward to putting my feet up and enjoying a cool drink. Nothing doing.

“What’s next?” asks Jerry.

“Well, next you’d start writing it down.”

Jerry’s face drops.

“Or you can start making pictures for it,” I finish, taking pity on him.

“Okay!” he says. “Do you have any paper?”

I get out some drawing paper and pencils and the boys sprawl on the living room floor. I boot up my computer and type the story into Word as fast as I can.

The afternoon turns to other things, games for them, work on one of my own books for me. But Jerry doesn’t forget. He’s a regular at our house that summer. Every visit begins with the same question: “How’s the book coming?”

Not well. I’ve become absorbed in other things. Patrick enjoyed the writing part of it, and liked getting to edit me, but art is not his forte in those years. And Jerry is more a sportsman than a man of letters. “Cloud Writer” languishes.

For one thing, I can’t think of the right setting for it. The story’s set in France, but other than what I learned in my history and art classes and a biography of Joan of Arc I read in third grade I know nothing about France. Paris is wrong for our coffee and croissant seller. It’s too big, too urban. It doesn’t have enough mysterious shadowy corners from which men in black hats and capes and bearing magic sketch pads can slither.

And then I happen upon a novel set in the Langue d’Oc section of France, in the years when the Cathars were just about to find themselves crosswise of the King of France, and his very own Crusade. The story catches my interest, and, as is my custom, I start googling place names. And that’s how I find Carcassonne, an old city surrounded by wheat fields and full of fantastical architecture, sunlit walls, boulangeries, tourists, and enough shadowy corners to delight the heart of the most mysterious stranger in the blackest cloak.

Finally, I can see the story. What’s more, I have a history and culture for the little coffee seller. The story includes passing references to Cathar priests–the parfaits. In our story, the parfaits are still present in the city. In reality, they were slaughtered a thousand years ago. The agrarian culture is there, front and center, in the failure of the crops, and the destruction of the economy. The tourists who really do flock to Carcassonne, Mont Segur–another Cathar stronghold–and Rennes le Chateau, are some of our coffee sellers’ most important customers.

Understanding the “where” of the story makes all the difference; this coffee seller isn’t some slick Parisian street vendor; he’s a simple man in a rusty black suit and a white apron, born and bred in his city, known to all, and known by all. He’s small town, small time. He’s a good man–and therein lies the key to the plot.

Jerry’s moved away. Jeremy is in high school. But at long last, I can finish their story. And it makes me glad. What those boys started  on the way home from the movies was good. If you read yesterday’s post, you have an idea HOW good.

In the end, “Cloud Writer” is a story about our dreams, and how they shape, and are shaped by, our reality. Now if I can only get the illustrations done…

Read Full Post »

So have you made it yet? Have you noticed that this chili has–ahem–no chili powder in it unless you tempt fate and deviate from the recipe? It took me years to realize that “real” chili contains chili powder, and even when someone told me I didn’t believe it. For me chili was Grandma’s chili, and it was made of more than just beef, tomato in several glorious variants, onions, black pepper, and (if someone other than me was making it) kidney beans.

Chili was driving from Oregon to Wisconsin in December, feet freezing, car windows frosted inside and out. Chili was turning onto Grandma and Grandpa’s street just as the night was closing in, and seeing their lights golden in the deepening shadows. It was opening their squeaky screen door and stepping up to the little landing where you had to make up your mind if you were going down into the earthen-floored cellar for a Coke, or on up the steps into Grandma’s exuberant hug. I always went up the steps.

Grandma grabbed us, squeezed us, gave us big smacking kisses and told us how happy she was we were there. And behind her I would see her deep pan, steaming gently, and smell the chili bubbling away.

Suitcases came inside and went directly upstairs and out of Grandma’s way in our bedrooms. And then we came back down to the kitchen and there were the Melmac bowls ladled full of chili, and the sesame-topped Italian bread Grandpa favored, and Grandpa himself, in his green workpants and t-shirt, saying, “Well, well, well, look who’s here?”

And I would open my arms to hug him and he’d say, “Careful, I ain’t showered yet,” and I hugged him anyway, smelling of sweat and Christmas trees from the nursery where he sold wreaths. And then I took my bowl of chili, and my slice of bread, and walked into the TV room where my cousins already sat with their bowls, and we talked, and laughed, and watched whatever we could get on Grandma’s TV, and that was the beginning of Christmas.

Just double-click on the graphic to download your recipe.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Susan Wittig Albert

NYT Bestselling Author

Linda C. Wisniewski

WRITER, memoir teacher, knitter, quilter, happy trail walker...

the BrainChancery

Or, "I Flew to Hong Kong And All I Got Was This Lousy Brain Tumor"

The Mighty Viking

Conquering those things we must, one story at a time

Red Tash

Teller of Tales


through the darkness there is light

Sunny Sleevez

Sun Protection & Green Info

Fabulous Realms

Worlds of Fantasy, Folklore, Myth and Legend

Someone To Talk To

Just another WordPress.com site

Heidi M. Thomas

Author, Editor, Writing Teacher

Marian Allen's WEBLAHG

This, that, and a whole lot of the other

Beneath your Covers

Paranormal books & media review blog

Pat Bean's blog

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Speak! Good Dog!

What's new--and news--at Magic Dog Press

Notes from Main Street

Just another WordPress.com weblog

%d bloggers like this: