About five years ago I went to our local library and checked out a thick graphic novel that spun a hallucinogenic tale of a guy called a “cat master” navigating the underworld of a futuristic city with a ninja cat powered by syringes of super-powered juice. Part noir mystery, part samurai B-movie, part graffiti showcase, it defied all description and I burned through it in one sitting. I returned it and promptly forgot the name. Doing a search for another graphic novel (Tokyo Ghost, another futuristic dystopian romance story I enjoyed immensely) I found this one again: King City. Highly recommended.

Date posted: May 25, 2024 | Filed under art/design, shortlinks | Leave a Comment »

At work today, while I was setting up a camera shoot, I overheard a discussion one of the subjects was having about 3D printing, and he mentioned that his local library had 3D printers to rent. Astonished, I filed this away for future reference. While inhaling my lunch at 2:30 (it was a long shoot, and there were surprises) I checked the Baltimore County Library website, and behold! they have 3D printing services. Unfortunately they’re not taking orders right now, but if and when our local branch opens back up—they’ve been remodeling for a year and a half—I’m going to pop in and see if I can get my design printed.

Date posted: May 21, 2024 | Filed under art/design, projects | Leave a Comment »

3D printing is nothing new; it’s been around for decades at this point, and people have been making cool shit for a long time. I’ve always been interested in seeing what can be achieved with different materials, and I’ve seen people design incredible things in 3D modeling software that then gets printed into solid objects. I thought I’d dip my toe in the water with a pretty simple first project: a fake car dealer badge like they used to make Back In The Day. My inspiration came from something I got off the Flintstone Scout, which still had the original IH dealer badge from Cumberland, MD stuck to the rear of the tailgate.

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I started looking for the proper typeface and settled on a classic House Industries font from the archives, modifying the S and making minor tweaks to the other letterforms to fit the era I was going for. The lower typeface was another old favorite, Bitstream Geometric 212, that I’ve had for probably 25 years. I set them up on a rectangle like some of the others I’ve seen in reference, put two beveled screw holes in place, rounded off the edges, and looked into how to build a 3D file with the tools I’ve got here.

Adobe makes a 3D program but it’s only available as a standalone package (not part of Creative Cloud) so that was out. I read up on how to build a 3D-readable file from within Illustrator, played around with the settings, and tried to bring it into SketchUp, but found that they’ve put a lot of their file import features behind a paid plan as well. So I messed with my file some more, found a free converter that switched an .OBJ file to an .STL (which most print-on-demand services prefer) and sent out for a couple of quotes. I was, frankly, quite shocked to see what they were charging: the first shop I contacted quoted me $50.02 for a piece of ABS plastic 4.5″ wide.

So clearly, it’s cheaper just to buy a fucking 3D printer than it is to ask someone to do a one-off project. Shit, I had metal laser-cut, bent, and powder coated for less than half that price. I don’t know what that plastic is made from, but it must be more expensive by the ounce than printer ink or something.

Date posted: April 25, 2024 | Filed under art/design | 2 Comments »

Back in the 80s as a highschooler and aspiring comic book artist, I was at our local mall and picked up a copy of Heavy Metal magazine from the newstand rack. A story called Rebel was the feature in that month’s issue, and I was enthralled. It was a well-drawn post apocalyptic Road-Warrior-esque story set in New York City and I stood there for an hour absorbing as much as I could. I guess I didn’t have enough money to buy the issue, because I don’t have a copy. But I immediately went home and started drawing my own version of what I had seen, which went on for about 30 pages before I ran out of story ideas. Fast forward to yesterday, where two comic artists who run a channel reviewing comic books featured the trade paperback version of the strip I seen 30 years ago. I’m glad to see it holds up as well as it does in my memory; it’s an incredible work of art.

In a strange and bitter happenstance, one of the reviewers on this YouTube channel was accused of soliciting and grooming high school aged girls, and committed suicide a few days ago after she went public.

Date posted: April 5, 2024 | Filed under art/design, entertainment | Leave a Comment »

I was surprised to see a medium-sized USPS envelope arrive in the mail yesterday, addressed to your humble correspondent; inside was a shiny new US passport featuring the new, terrifyingly bad portrait we shot here at the house where my hair looks like it’s falling off the back of my skull. I was fully expecting either a letter beginning with the words, “We’re sorry, but your application could not be processed…”, or just radio silence until the night before we’re scheduled to board the plane. It’s always great to be pleasantly surprised by bureaucracy!

I finished up a bunch of Scout II designs and posted them to my Instagram channel and to a couple of Marketplace groups, but so far there have been no bites in the storefront despite the Insta post getting a ton of likes. I would really like it if this made back some money; it was a fun exercise but I’m going to pump the brakes if I don’t make a lot of sales. Jen and I have been cranking out on a freelance project for an old friend where we’re both spending a ton of time in Illustrator—it’s time-consuming but can be done easily while playing a movie on Netflix on the second monitor—and I’d rather be doing that for guaranteed money as much as I like illustrating trucks.

Date posted: February 9, 2024 | Filed under art/design | Leave a Comment »

I’ve always loved the New York City subway signage system. I used Vignelli’s maps and design standards manual as a learning aid when I taught college. Today I learned that the MTA sells surplus signage and equipment, and you can buy it directly from them. I think you have to go pick it up yourself, though.

Date posted: December 16, 2023 | Filed under art/design, shortlinks | Leave a Comment »

The New Yorker ran an issue on AI this month, and one of the articles inside is by a programmer who has been wrestling with what ChatGPT means for his career and balancing the old paradigm of figuring out a problem for yourself through code vs. figuring out how to speak to AI to help develop that code faster. He talks about the steep learning curve he faced when starting out, and how persistence and determination help push through the hardest parts of learning that new language; how rewarding it is to sit back and think through a problem, then be able to write the code properly to solve it. It’s like painting or cooking or any one of a number of difficult skills that take time to master: there’s a particular satisfaction that comes with finishing that artwork or serving that food where everyone appreciates the craft. The successful completion of the struggle is what keeps us going. But now a bot seems to be able to do the same coding work without effort, in minutes.

Bodies of knowledge and skills that have traditionally taken lifetimes to master are being swallowed at a gulp. Coding has always felt to me like an endlessly deep and rich domain. Now I find myself wanting to write a eulogy for it.

The author is rightfully worried that his career will disappear if all we have to do is type a question into a box and have the box write the code for us. But he comes to realize that this new technology speeds up the drudgery of writing the code, and we’re still using our brains to solve problems; the box is helping by speeding up the process—and in that process, we’re learning a new kind of language: the translation. We have to learn the language the box needs to complete our requests properly. And you have to know how to think about programming, and understand what proper output is, to know how to ask the right questions.

I spent a lot of time in the late 90’s learning a couple of different languages through books; the first was a language called Lingo used by an application called Macromedia Director. I started using it after learning the basics in a continuing ed course at MICA and got good enough that my boss at the time (who was smart enough to know that the Web was the future, even if he was a lousy boss) hired me out to make an animated screensaver for a government agency. I read the Lingo book and learned enough to build a primitive randomizer to play different clips so that the screensaver showed something different each time it looped. When I was finished and my code worked, I was quietly stunned. A new world had opened up, the one my Dad had been telling me about (and which I resisted until college, when it became clear that this was the future) and I saw my place in it for the first time.

With that experience, I got my first web design gig. I learned some Perl first, and then PHP as I got further into producing my own sites. I was never completely fluent in either language—I couldn’t sit down and write a web application from scratch—but I could read and understand what things were doing, and I knew enough to fix things that were broken and add logic to change the behavior of the apps we worked on. And most importantly, I could talk to the programmers who could build things, which is a skill all on its own. I was very good at translating the concept to the people making the code.

Had I been a smarter man I would have focused solely on learning and mastering PHP, and I might have pursued a different career path. But my skills were more suited to UI/UX and I made a good living in that specialty for years until I burned out. Around that time I began to notice that the shop I worked for was leaning more heavily on templatized solutions: instead of estimating 80-100 hours for someone like me to generate two concepts, mood boards, and the designs to flesh out all of those requirements, they were finding templates they could modify to suit their needs and banking that extra billing as profit. What had once been a bespoke craft I’d trained myself to do was becoming commoditized, and I was lucky to get out when I did.

I don’t think AI is going to be able to take over art direction or brand creation anytime soon, and ChatGPT certainly can’t walk into a room and convince ten skeptical personalities to approve a concept or mediate a discussion; I’m thankful I’m not walking into programming or web design fresh out of school. And I’m extremely glad I’m not a writer by trade.

I sat down with my ChatGPT account last night and asked it to produce a couple different examples of PHP code to do simple tasks: create a form field to capture several inputs and write them to a text document; build a randomizer to display a different image on a page at reload, and write an AppleScript to resize an image. It wrote simple code that did exactly what I asked and worked flawlessly. I can see how asking it to build something with more functionality would be challenging, and require some iteration to learn how the AI needs to be asked, but it’s frightening how fast and easy the bot did its job. I’m going to practice my translation and see if I can make it do bigger better things.

Date posted: November 18, 2023 | Filed under art/design, geek, general | Leave a Comment »

I spent about three hours last night working on a project for one of Jen’s long-term clients, who’s asked us to help her with something new. Jen met her 22 years ago (!!) while working at a design studio. She’s kept in touch with us and we’ve worked on projects with her over the years, and she brought us a new and interesting assignment which will leverage our knowledge of Illustrator to the maximum. It’s not the most glamorous work but I’m strangely happy to have some side work coming in again. It’s been a long drought since I stepped back from web development but this is different enough that I like the challenge of a new problem to solve. The initial test run was somewhat tedious, but hopefully I can find a way to streamline the process and make things move faster.

Date posted: November 8, 2023 | Filed under art/design | Leave a Comment »

Yesterday after lunch I found myself under a highway overpass in Washington DC with a can of spray paint can in my hand. We were doing an activity as part of a team retreat for work, and in one of the more inspired ideas for teambuilding I’ve ever experienced, we hired a guy to meet us with ten boxes of paint cans and show the uninitiated how to use them for street art. I’ve always used spray paint for projects but never really thought about how they work for art, so it was a lot of fun to look at the existing work on the walls and deconstruct how it was created. One big takeaway was that white and black are crucial colors to highlight and outline new work, especially when it’s over older art. it’s a lot harder than it might look, and I left with a new respect for good, cleanly executed graffiti, as well as a newfound desire to go tag something.

Date posted: September 27, 2023 | Filed under art/design | Leave a Comment »

archives.design is an open-source compilation of design-related books and manuals compiled by a woman in her spare time: there’s a lot of really good stuff in here that merits deeper investigation. I’m also happy to see a bunch of books I used in my syllabus when I was teaching.

Date posted: June 28, 2023 | Filed under art/design, shortlinks | Leave a Comment »