Category Archives: Blog

Greasing the Wheels

Clown Shoes Lubrication 22 oz Bomber
Clown Shoes Lubrication American Black Ale

Presenting my latest label for Clown Shoes Beer, Lubrication American Black Ale. The launch party is tonight at Foundry on Elm in Davis Square, Somerville. Foundry is new to the area, I’m not sure when it opened, but it feels like it’s been in the Square for years. It is classic and comfortable, with elegant seating and lighting, and a slight edge that lets you know that the food will be approached with an artistic eye and creative twists. Also, they serve poutine! So, yeah, you know I’m giving Foundry the thumbs up.

Now, back to the label. This is only phase one of the Lubrication package design, as Lubrication will be the first Clown Shoes beer available in 12 oz. bottles. The smaller bottles will come in a 4-pack carrier and in cases.

The 12 oz. label presented a new challenge. Because all of the previous Clown Shoes beers were only released as 22 oz. bombers, the labels had a lot of real estate and that allowed me to develop a direction that was very illustration-centric. The 12 oz. bottle labels are considerably smaller, but require a lot of the same information, legally speaking. Featuring a prominent illustration would not be practical, yet, the illustrations are part of the brand we’ve established for Clown Shoes.

To further complicate matters, Clown Shoes is planning on releasing the Clementine White Ale to a 12 oz. bottle, too. The Clementine label was illustrated and designed over a year ago, when they only released 22 oz. bottles. Whatever solution I developed for Lubrication would have to be retro-fitted to work with Clementine and any other previously released Clown Shoes bombers.

The solution was to design a “shoe-centric” text only label for the 12 oz bottles that would incorporate a single identifying mark of the 22 oz. label, for the Lubrication it’s the white, horizontal “grill lines,” for the Clementine, the swirling unpeeled oranges. Then, on the 4 pack carrier, the illustrations will be expanded beyond the small windows on the 22 oz. bomber labels to fill one full panel of the box. This kept our illustration-based branding visible on the cooler shelf, but gave us a simplified, scalable solution for the 12 oz. labels and by extension, the case box design which could only be 2 colors.

I can’t wait to post photos of Phase 2, the 12 oz. bottles, the 4 pack carriers and the case boxes. We’re also getting custom crowns, bottle caps to you and me. They’re on a ship in the Atlantic at the moment, but they’ll be here in a few weeks. In the meantime, I’m going to crack open this bottle of Lubrication and pour myself a tall, dark and handsome pint of ale.

Vacation, All I Ever Wanted

For me, working from my home office increases productivity. I don’t have to spend hours commuting. I don’t have the temptation of office socializing to distract me. I can take a break and go for a walk and recharge myself when I hit a wall. But the one thing that really hinders my ability to work from home is school vacation.

Griffin is home for the summer. He has applied for some summer jobs, but in this economy few people are hiring 15 year olds. He has spent the past three days in my living room, ten feet from my desk, playing video games, watching cartoons, and playing ukulele. He’s also very chatty. If he slept in like a normal teenager, I could wake up early and get the bulk of my work done before he pulled himself out of bed, but he’s been getting up at 7 a.m. to go jogging, so that’s not an option. If I were younger, I could spend the day doing administrative, low-attention span work and then get the bulk of the design done after Griff went to bed. But I’ve discovered that I’m not as productive at 1 a.m. as I used to be.

So, what to do? There’s always the laptop and the coffee shop. I can get writing, billing, and production work done that way, but not much design or illustration. I could look at renting a desk at a freelancer co-op space but that cuts into profits. I could kick the kid to the curb, like my mom did when I was a kid in the summertime, but I believe my son should feel welcome in his own home, so I’m not loving that idea. I could take an on-site gig for the summer, but working in an office during the best weather of the year is the antithesis of why I work from home. Honestly, if anyone has a suggestion, I’m all ears!


Propane and Propane Accessories

Weber 200Q Grill
New grill on its maiden voyage, with chicken breasts

I was late with my Tools Tuesday post because I was out at the mall picking up my new Weber Q 2oo grill. For years, I was a charcoal girl. I had the Smokey Joe and my charcoal chimney, and I was very proud that I had not succumbed to convenience of propane. But ten years is a long life for a Smokey Joe, he was ready to retire. When I considered my options I had to admit I didn’t like it when all my guests were on the porch, but I had to be out in the yard because I was concerned I’d set the house on fire with Smokey. And honestly, “all my guests” usually amount to me, my son, and a couple of friends—I don’t have huge barbeques, I don’t need a grill of historic proportions. The Weber Q series is small, somewhat portable, and uses either camping size propane canisters or, with an adapter, a regular size tank.

The grill surface is enameled cast iron and wicked heavy. It leaves the best grill marks and apparently it seasons as you use it, like a good cast iron pan. The side tables are a convenient extension of your work area, but when you’re done they fold up into the grill, reducing the area you need to store your grill away. For apartment dwellers, it’s pretty sweet.

Weber iPad App
The grill timer is built into the cook book

Finally, the good people at Weber have released an iOS app full of recipes and tips. It also has how-to videos and shopping lists. One of my favorite features is the Grill Timer. Touch the time in the recipe and the timer pops open, ready to go. I’ll miss Smokey Joe. He was a good pal. But I must admit, I am really excited to break in the Q.

Sea Change

I’m not sure what’s in the water lately, but tides are changing. People in my life are doing things I never thought they’d do. Marriages for confirmed bachelors, pregnancies for couples who had long espoused the benefits of never having children, new websites, new businesses—hell, even the Bruins winning the Cup is a major shift in the team’s trajectory.

Have you seen the movie, Waiting, with Ryan Reynolds and Justin Long? They work at a Bennigans-style chain restaurant. The movie takes place over one day at work. It’s pretty awful, but it grows on you, especially if you leave Comedy Central on to keep you company while you catch up on some sketches and administrative work and they play the stupid movie four times in one weekend.

Justin “I’m a Mac” Long’s character is trying to decide if he should take an assistant manager position at the restaurant and he gets some spiritual guidance from dishwasher, Chi McBride. Chi explains to Justin how only a few years ago the restaurant was in a downward spiral until Luis Guzman’s character, Radimus, invented the “Penis Showing Game”. Employees started having more fun at work, morale improved, the customers came back, tips went up, it was a spiral of success. Chi tells Justin that when life is not working for you, when you’re in a rut, you need to invent your own “Penis Showing Game,” figuratively, of course.

I look around and I see all these new “Penis Showing Games,” again, figuratively. I’m seeing happy newlyweds, intelligent women with new-found purpose, proud future parents. It’s like the stale, humid air got blown away with a salty, summer breeze. It makes me want to look at my life and identify the ruts and do things differently. If the tides are changing, now would be a good time to polish up my board and paddle out. I wouldn’t want to miss the wave of a lifetime.

Greetings from Title Town, U.S.A.

I am tired. Tired of being admired… sorry, watched Blazing Saddles the other day. Actually, I’m tired from staying up late to watch the Bruins kick some Canuck butt last night. Very sorry if you’re Canadian. I was born in Canada, I like Canadians, but truth be told, the Bruins deserved to win.

Yeah, I said it. If there was karma at play, then it was wearing black and yellow. Trash talk, thuggish behavior and soccer-style theatrics can get you to the playoffs, but if you want to win, you should shut your mouth and play the game.

One of my favorite quotes is from artist Chuck Close, “Inspiration is for amateurs. I just get to work.” I’ve got it on a sticky note on my desk for those days when I am staring at the blank page, overwhelmed. I can’t say that every time I fight through the inertia and write something or design something that it’s brilliant. Quite often it’s crap. But crap is fertilizer for beautiful things, right?

Building this site this week has forced me to go through years of work, PDFs, printed pieces, illustrations, some photography, trying to figure out what to showcase here. Day to day it doesn’t feel like I accomplish much, sometimes it’s all busy work and invoices, but spreading five years of my life on a desk and taking it all in, I’m amazed how it all adds up.

Bruins’ goalie, Timmy Thomas, is a great example of that ethos. He wasn’t always a star player, he put in a lot of time playing for minor league teams, playing in Europe, trying to find his place in hockey. He was 28 before he was signed to the NHL, an old man by hockey standards. But he kept showing up, he just got to work. And last night, at 37, he was the oldest man to ever win the Conn Smythe trophy for Stanley Cup series MVP.

Talk is cheap. Persistence pays. Time to get to work.

Fake It ’til You Make It

Very, very few of us spring fully-formed like Athena from the head of Zeus. And very, very few of us are graphic design prodigies. Those who are often hire people like me to do the practical and boring work of executing their brilliance. And me? I bask in the glory of learning how their minds work.

Sometimes I freelance on-site for companies. I may be helping during a busy time, or I may be covering for someone who is on leave, or maybe I’m assigned to a short term project. For instance, a few years ago, I was asked to help the “Soft Home” department of a national retailer prepare a number of bedding files for release to the factory. I’d never worked with textile files, but once I had the specs the process wasn’t much different than releasing files for print. I simply needed to stay organized, dot my i’s, cross my t’s and think of England.

I finished faster than expected and needed something to do for the rest of the day. The department manager asked if I could draw. Yes. I’m an illustrator first and foremost, and I can draw. He asked if I could draw jewelry trees. “If you show me what a jewelry tree is,” I replied. I’m not really a jewelry tree kind of gal, I guess. He spent a few minutes showing me various jewelry trees and explained that the “Hard Home” department needed to sketch a number of potential products for factories in Asia to prototype so the buyers could make decisions for next year’s line. Could I draw a handful of jewelry trees with various floral motifs?

Now, I’m not a product designer. Never said I was. And I wasn’t hired to sketch jewelry tree prototypes. But I was getting paid for the day and I’m game for something new. I ended up staying on that job for five months longer than I was initially contracted, drawing jewelry trees and frames and desk accessories and a whole bunch of fun Halloween products and learning a ton about how these products are developed and produced.

In the same way I’ve learned how to design soccer balls and goalie gloves for Brine/Warrior Sports. I learned how to manage and update an enormous CMS for a major medical manufacturer. I’ve developed labeling and packaging for an upstart craft brewery. I showed up, I listened, I used the experience I already have to ask smart questions and I turned down no challenge. I could probably extrapolate that and say it’s how I’ve raised my son, as well.

Being intelligent is not knowing all the answers. Being intelligent is being open to new experiences and knowing where to look for the answers. An intelligent designer will grow with your business and find the right solutions to create your brand and communicate your message.

Tools Tuesday

Tools Tuesday, something tells me this could be an awkward category to carry forward!

One of the things I would like to do with this blog is showcase tools that help me do my job better. This could be a book, a website, an app, an inspiring place to take a walk, etc. Today we have an app.

I’m a Mac girl, naturally a lot of us “creatives” are. But I have used PCs, I have heard great things about Android phones, I don’t judge people by their laptops—by their music collection, yes, but not by their laptops. That said, most of the software I’ll be recommending will be for Apple products.

It took a while for me to find a time tracking option that worked for me. I wanted to avoid a subscription based model like Cube or one that would hit me with lots of expensive in-app upgrades like TimeMaster + Billing. If possible, I hoped to find an app that was affordable, universal for iPad and iPhone, and allowed me to export and backup my information. But most importantly I didn’t want to change how I do things to match the app, I wanted an app that was customizable enough to work with me.

TimeTracker by Silverware Software is pretty new to the App Store. It’s available for iPad and iPhone. It’s $2.99 with two in-app upgrades available, Device Syncing for $1.99 and Dropbox mobile backup for another $0.99. The interface is very clean and simple with a little customization available, for instance you can upload client logos or other icons to the time logs. It allows for a variety of billing options, including Flat-Rates, Pro-Bono and Day Rate and it even tracks your break time, if you like to record that kind of thing. Information is exportable in plain text or CSV for easy porting to Excel or Numbers.

I particularly like that it can remember frequently used clients, projects, rates and tasks which makes it less labor intensive to record all the important information that you might forget later, like, “what, exactly, was I researching for my client for 3.5 hours last Wednesday night? Hmmm, now that he’s questioning the invoice, I can’t recall!” You don’t want to be in that situation, neither does your client, so making the annotation of your time as automatic as possible is a definite plus for everyone.

I can’t speak to how TimeTracker would work for me if I had a number of employees. I really wasn’t looking into a solution that would apply to an office. But for a single freelancer who wants to get paid for the time she’s working, and track where that time goes. I think it’s an excellent, easy-to-learn, and affordable tool.

TimeTracker for iPhone Screenshot
TimeTracker for iPhone, Time Log
TimeTracker iPad Screenshot
TimeTracker for iPad, entering hours and information

I Rarely Go to Music Festivals Anymore

Sunday, my son and I stopped into our local grocery store to pick up some rolls for the Hawaiian Pulled-Pork sandwiches I was bringing to my nephew’s high school graduation party. As we walked in, we ran into a guy in his twenties with a bushy beard, wearing skinny jeans, Chucks and a black vest over his retro concert tee. His wife was right behind him, tight pixie cut with a streak of pink, flowing sundress and Doc Martens. Their eyes were down, their faces grim. Last came their little daughter, skipping in her pink rain boots, loving life. We passed them and my son said quietly, “We were gonna be hipsters for-EVER and then SHE came along!”

It’s tough to be the grown-up, especially when you still feel like the new kid in school. I spent the weekend at high school graduation parties and faced my own mortality with the grim look of those grocery shopping hipsters. Then a friend of mine posted to her Facebook asking advice for choosing the right high school for her daughter who wants to work in “multi-media design and art.” Should she chose a vocational and career school? A private college prep school? Or just her local public high school?

I have no qualms with vocational schools, my son attends one. But when I toured his school I remember the graphic design teacher asserting that, “your kids don’t even have to be ‘good drawers,’ because the software does that for you now.” I came home and told him he could go to the school, but only if he didn’t want to be in the graphics program!

This industry is full of people who can use Photoshop, but if they can’t think, if they can’t draw, if they can’t solve communications problems with creative solutions, then what service are they providing exactly? Give me the graphic designer who is well-read and well-rounded and I can teach them how to use the latest technology.

And that’s what I left as my comment to my friend’s inquiry. I suppose one of the benefits of being the grown-up with experience is passing it on to the next generation. That said, I still wear my Chucks pretty much everyday because I’m gonna be a hipster for-EVER.

Don’t Make ‘Perfect’ the Enemy of ‘Good’

I have needed to build a portfolio site forever. I had one associated with my personal blog years ago, but then my son hit puberty and I was forced to take down my site full of great, albeit embarrassing stories of his youth. With it came my portfolio site and I’ve neglected replacing it ever since.

The problem is a common one for designers, we want everything to be perfect. To be a good graphic designer that’s a job requirement. We need to identify every flaw and fix it until there is nothing left to fix—then look in the mirror and remove one accessory before leaving the house, right? But when perfection becomes the bottleneck that keeps you from moving forward, it no longer serves its purpose.

So, I bit the bullet and started with a wordpress template. It hurt. I felt like the master seamstress buying her daughter’s wedding gown at David’s. It’s cheating, right? But I’m tweaking the template, I’m identifying flaws, I’m making it work for me—the client—and I’m getting my portfolio online where people can see what I do and maybe pay me money to do it for them.

And that’s the purpose of communication—not to show off how clever your designer is, not to recreate the wheel—to get your message out there and build your business.

So, this is my site. It’s not perfect, but neither am I. But it’s good and that’s something we have in common.