Tomorrow is Pink Shirt Day at my kids’ elementary school. A day when bullying, and its prevention, is openly discussed. I’ll be volunteering at the school, so I figured I better get a pink shirt too. Off I went to Joe Fresh at Loblaws. As I moved through displays of discounted toilet paper and clearance Easter treats, I came upon the picked-over clothing section. The remnants of a season’s change left forlorn on the racks. “Clearance” signs beckoning like so many red cloaks in a bull ring. And so I grabbed my pink polo, a jumbo pack of double roll toilet paper, and trotted off to the cashier. Opportunities!
On my way out of the parking lot, I noticed the price of gas. Apparently, today’s high prices are thanks in part to far off speculators betting on energy futures. Opportunistic jerks.
Next came Zeller’s, currently in “everything must go” clearance mode. I found boots and shirts for the kids, pants for Jasper, and a bag of chocolate Easter eggs. Oh, the spoils of bargain hunting!
As my purchase is being rung through, I watch the register display closely. “Oh, excuse me,” I leap on a discrepancy, “those boots are marked down to $20 not $23.”
“Sorry, we have to go with whatever the register says,” is the cashier’s reply. And I pause.
“Well, I am getting a pretty good deal on the other stuff. So, ok.” I sheath my sword and stand down.
Tapping on the card swiper to finalize my purchase I ask, “will this location be turned into a Target?”
“Yes. We’ll all be terminated June 1st and the new store opens June 19th.”
“But you guys will have first crack at the new jobs, right?”
“That was going to be the case, but not anymore. We’ll just be terminated.”
And I stop what I’m doing. (I just tried to haggle over $3, while this woman is losing her job! Jerk!)
“I am so sorry. That. Is. Terrible!”
The cashier blushes, looks quickly side to side, and says a quiet “thank you.”
I finish tapping my pass code. I take my receipt, my bag of bargains, and head for the door.
On my way home I can’t help but feel bullying all around me. And I’m reminded that I’m part of the problem.
When I was in art college, I signed up for a painting class taught by an artist known for his installation and performance work. A bit of research before hand and I discovered that Tom was, and remains, a heavy weight. I entered that first class not knowing what to expect. But quickly found out it was hardcore basic painting – and I loved it! Only two colours painted on newsprint during timed still life sets. First black & white, then all the complimentary colour pairs. We learned how to use colour effectively and economically. How just a touch of yellow on a sea of purple can be like a fire brand. And then we would stop and critique. During these moments of quiet discussion, Tom would sometimes pause… “uhmm…” And we would wait. Perched on the very edge of our seats. Eyes widening with every “uhmm…” Students anxious for the gems to drop. It was a brilliant class and, to be honest, I developed a major artist-crush on Tom.
Years later, after I graduated, graduated again, and took some computer software courses, I met up with Tom. This time I was helping him with a personal zine project. Which, unexpectedly, led to helping set up two of his installation pieces – part of a group exhibition in an old warehouse. There I was, a freshly minted computer geek, some 20 feet in the air on a cherry picker, taping black paper to a giant window. Then it was inside the cavernous warehouse, helping Tom set up his infamous clothes line and giant fans. Then we had lunch – chatting in the back alley over roast chicken and salad. At the opening, I met up with Tom and saw that I was a part of something great. Tom had invited me to help, but was quietly opening a new world to me again.
Fast forward many years and I’m freelancing at an advertising agency, helping out with a multimedia project. It’s an interactive application for a phone company, and an introduction to another group of great people. One of the greats was the Creative Director, Kevin. I had never worked with him, but I knew all about him and had longed to work at the company he had co-founded. Sadly, that company was long gone, but here was Kevin. And I finally had a chance. It was awesome.
At one point during production, after yet another round of client changes, I needed Kevin’s feedback. I walked out of the development room to ask Kevin if I could show him what I’d completed. We walked back together. I sat down at my computer. And as he stood next to me, watching the animations and functionality I had tweaked, I closed my eyes.
For a brief special moment, I pretended. I pretend that I was finally a part of that not-so-long-ago company. That I was part of something great. For half of one-half of one-second, I was at Mackerel. Blasphemy – I know – but I just couldn’t help myself!
Then it was gone.
I opened my eyes, Kevin gave me his feedback, thanked me and was back at his desk. But secretly I smiled to myself. (As I’d done with Tom.)
A genuine person. And a brush with genuine greatness.
I’ve succumbed to one of my biggest foibles. And one of my biggest pet peeves. I didn’t write it down.
An awesome idea for a blog post hit me this morning. [insert eye roll here] I had thought of something yesterday, which I started to flesh out in my head. And then today – I thought of something even better! Oh, but first I’ll have breakfast, then get the kids to school, then chat with my neighbour, oh and quickly check email. Just need to follow up with this client and… and… it’s gone. Crap. Well, I still have that other idea, another kinda meh idea, several project ideas and a slew of song titles from the 80s. Crisp and clear.
Had I jotted down even the gist of the idea, I’d have it. But no. I didn’t write it down. It’s a pain in the neck when a juicy idea gets lost. I’ve tried carrying around a notebook, writing down ideas and such as they hit me. And I’m starting to think I need a notebook at my bedside – or maybe a whiteboard – to keep track of all the stuff that appears right when my head hits the pillow. (sigh)
But when I’m doing client work, I always write it down. I never go to a meeting with out my notebook. To me, it’s essential to take notes during a meeting. Especially if it’s a production meeting outlining the specs of a design project. Then, I’ll not only take notes, but go over my notes with the client/PM/CD in order to make sure I’ve got the story straight. And follow up via email (aka the written word) as the project progresses. This helps everyone – me, the stakeholders, my ass, your ass.
Now perhaps photographic memories are on the rise, like peanut allergies, but I’m amazed when people show up for meetings and don’t take notes. Most often, even the person leading the meeting or the client themselves will be taking notes. Again, perhaps it’s just me, but I think taking notes – writing things down – is essential. Never mind “design process” – it’s about getting work done.
And yet at times writing things down, Making Lists, really scares me. Drives me crazy. As if these Lists end up being documents of the day’s failures. Oh look, I didn’t get to that, or that, or even that. Crap.
However, here’s where writing it down saves your ass (and your nerves) again. Become your own client. Be present at that client meeting. Write down your ideas, thoughts and desires. They matter just as much as work. And they need to get done.
Drawing. Stylus meeting surface. Be it pen & paper, chalk & slate or wireless pen & tablet. Okay, okay, I’m getting a bit melodramatic here. But boy, do I love to draw! And I love to look at drawings. Rembrandt comes to mind. As does Betty Goodwin. And both of these artists, incidentally, are known for their printmaking – ample ground for drawing. (No pun intended)
There is a very interesting and heated debate going on in the LinkedIn “Creative Design Pros” group concerning drawing. Is it a bad thing that many current designers can’t draw? And what does “can draw” really mean?
When I first started doing “multimedia” and came across designers, even Creative Directors, who couldn’t draw, well… I was stunned. “How did you even get this job?” Those thoughts were quickly tossed. Honestly, it’s great to be able to do traditional drawing, but not at all necessary in the digital design realm. Ideas and problem solving are what really matter. Just about everyone sketches out an idea first, be it with pencil & paper or on the computer using coloured boxes & arrows. And so what?
Fast forward to another moment in my illustrious career, and I’m teaching Photoshop to a group of art school students. It was an introductory course – essentially play-time for the students to explore with the software. Then one of the students says to me, “this is great and all, but it’s not art. It’s too easy.” Whoa.
However, that impatient so-and-so did remind me (again) that it’s really the idea/story that matters. Pencils and computers are just tools (another take-away from the debate) – what are you trying to say with them?
Back to drawing.
Why do I love it so? Immediacy and intimacy. Oh. Ya.
When I look at a Rembrandt etching or a big, luscious Betty Goodwin drawing, I can very clearly see the artist’s hand. I am there with them as they search for the line, which connects to the next line and creates form.
With someone like Rembrandt, I relish in his drawing skill: his ability to build texture and form with an agonizingly huge number of tiny little strokes. Cross-hatch Heaven!
And with the work of Betty Goodwin, whose liquid bodies emerge from silky vellum, I can see her hand exploring the surface. Practically hear her thoughts as the story is fleshed out.
The immediacy of drawing, for me, presents an intimate portrait of the artist’s process. You’re so close you can taste the kernel of their idea. Unabashed here-and-now realism.
Now back to design.
I firmly believe that drawing greatly helps the design process – from initial thumbnail sketches to scribbles on a napkin to help illustrate what you mean by top navigation versus left side navigation for a website.
Whether it’s a design layout or a finished Fine Art piece, drawing allows you to economically bash about ideas right before their very eyes. Immediacy is the guts of drawing: here it is, see what I mean? And intimacy is the powerful result: this is me, here I am, just thinking out loud. It works (“you can draw!”) if that idea of yours is successfully put across. Stick figures and all.