Tag Archives: random musings

I Hate to Nickel and Dime You

What do you do with those gift cards from Amex, Visa, and MasterCard when they get down to a couple of dollars? You can’t use them on iTunes. It’s silly to buy packs of gum, or cans of soda with a gift card. You could swipe them for a purchase and then pay the difference in cash, but that means knowing exactly what the balance is, so you can max out the card. If you’re like me, you toss them in a drawer and forget all about them, which is what Visa, MasterCard, and Amex hope you’ll do so they can pocket that $1.74 or $2.76. You can imagine how those forgotten balances add up!

But if you have a Square credit card reader and account you can swipe those microcredits right into your bank account. Log onto the card’s web site and check the balance, then swipe the card into your Square account to recover whatever is left. Today I recouped $15.72 after a small fee. Not bad for junk drawer clutter!

Square Reader Tip
Thanks Grandma!

Cribbage, and Marathons, and Clown Shoes, Oh My!

Miles for Miracles Clown Shoes Basket
Beer, stickers, coasters, and tattoos, just add ice!

I’m catching up with my email after a painful tooth extraction and I found a note from my friend, Michael, who ran the Boston Marathon for the second time this year to raise money for Children’s Hospital. I’ve known Michael since we were kids, so last year when he sent out an invitation to a cribbage tournament he was hosting to raise money for the marathon, I was more than happy to sign up. I did well, considering I’m not a very good cribbage player, and won first place in the consolation round, making me “best of the losers.” I display the trophy proudly.

This year, Michael asked again that I participate, but he also asked about a donation of Clown Shoes beer for the basket raffle. Between the folks at Clown Shoes and me, we were able to assemble this pretty gnarly beer bucket of awesome.

Tim, another friend I’ve known since grade school, came down to the tournament deliberately to buy lots of raffle tickets and put them all in for the Clown Shoes prize. It was no surprise when he won, but a little bit of surprise when we realized he had walked to the event and had to carry the thing home! Always the team player, I drove him and the enormous bucket o’ beer home, I think he owes me a pint next time we’re out.

Again, I didn’t win the tournament, but it was great to see old friends, we were all there to support Michael and his charity, and according to the email I finally read this morning, he raised close to $10,000 for Children’s Hospital Boston!

Of course, if you have the energy to run the Boston Marathon in almost 90 degree heat, you don’t sit on your laurels when it’s over. Now Michael is taking part in the Best Buddies Challenge, a 100 mile bike ride from the JFK Library to Hyannisport, MA to raise money for Best Buddies, a non-profit organization whose mission is to creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual disabilities.

I’m pretty sure a bucket of beer would be little use and a heavy burden for a 100 mile bike ride, so in addition to sponsoring Michael, I’m giving him a little shout out. He’s committed to raising $1450 for the organization, and his fund raising page is here, support him if you can, thank you.

People Can Be Tools

As it is Tuesday, I was wondering what kind of tool I could post about. I haven’t bought any terribly useful apps lately and my tech toy budget is nil. But a tool is simply something useful, so today’s tool is Useful People.

You can never underestimate the importance of Useful People, especially when combined with Relationship Maintenance. One of the projects I’m working on for Clown Shoes Beer is a costume for the real Miracle Mike. Miracle is one of Clown Shoes most recent beers, and Miracle Mike is one of their truck drivers who modeled for the label illustration. He has boldly agreed to appear in costume at upcoming events to promote the Clown Shoes Minor Miracle Fund.

Clown Shoes Miracle IPA
Here I Come to Save the Day!

I designed the costume for the illustration before I knew I would be charged with recreating the costume for real, so I didn’t worry much about embossed Clown Shoes belt buckles or appliqued logos, or actual clown shoes that can be worn while running around beer events and music fests. I can’t sew. I don’t know much at all about costuming. But I am good at surrounding myself with talented creative people, and I am not shy about tapping those talents.

Phone calls went out to my friend who always has the best Halloween costumes. “Those “Ambiguously Gay Duo” costumes from a few years back, where did you find them?” To the woman who runs the daycare that my son attended, “Can you sew a big M onto a gold, stretchy shirt?” A keeping-in-touch dinner with my fabulous friend, Rachel, who works in Central Square, led me to Danger!Awesome Laser Engraving for the belt buckle. Finally, I leaned on my old pal, Google, who discovered Spears Specialty Shoes. Who knew there is a bespoke maker of clown shoes located in Western Mass? Sometimes, you have to expand upon the personal network!

The point is, accomplishing great things is rarely about having all the answers, or all the mad skills, it’s about knowing where to find those resources, bringing them on board, and managing them to get great things done. It also helps to have a cute, young man who will wear a superhero suit and cape and run around in clown shoes for you, but boys like him are hard to come by, so no one will blame you if you can’t find your own.

After the Rain

Mass Ave, After the Rain
Mass Ave, After the Rain
The Clouds Clearing
The Clouds Clearing

Yesterday afternoon it poured. I was at the Lexington Farmer’s Market and the skies just opened. I think I spent at least $30 more than I planned because in a futile attempt to stay dry I slipped under every canopy from the gelato stand to my car and naturally felt obligated to buy something from each vendor. When I got home the weather had cleared for a moment and I snapped a few shots. I love how Massachusetts Avenue in Arlington is so timeless. It could be 1960, 1980, 2011, you really can’t tell most of the time.

Social Media Disease

I spent the weekend helping to set up the Facebook page and the Twitter account for the Ukulele Union of Boston. They have a big event coming up on July 28th, a Ukulele Melee at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum and it was high time they got a proper social media presence to promote it.

I’m pretty comfortable with Facebook and Twitter. I use them daily, mostly just for my own social life. I also helped Boston Scientific with their Women’s Health Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, so I have a good take on how to employ these tools in a public relations arena. What I’m saying is by the end of the weekend I thought we were in good shape and I was feeling pretty chuffed about my social media skill set.

Then I got my Google+ invitations.

I’ve only been playing around with this for about an hour, building my circles, going through copious amounts of email addresses, figuring out who to add and where. Setting up a Google+ account is a lot of work! Maybe I’m just wiped out on social media following this weekend, but so far, I’m less than impressed. It’s not terribly intuitive and visually Google+ is blander than a mayonnaise sandwich on Wonderbread. Of course, I haven’t started using it really, so it’s hard to discern what the Facebook-killer hype is all about. Buzz didn’t work for me because I thought it shared to much, too much of what I was reading, too much of what my friends were recommending. Instead of getting a curated feed I was getting a firehose in the face. I hope the stream of information from Google+ feeds will be less overwhelming, but with the ability to share even our search results with friends, I can’t help but wonder if Google+ is going to provide more content than we could possibly consume.

What are your thoughts? Is this just the learning curve I’m dealing with? Do you see Google+ as the Facebook killer, or is it gone by way of Buzz and Wave? Does the Google model of online app development work for social networks, or should they have waited until they had something more fleshed out before going beta? Is Google+ trying to be too many things without doing any one of them well? Do I need a nap? Maybe I just need a nap.

Unicorn Chaser, Anyone?

Well, we’ve had a lot of fun these past few days, it’s been mentally exhausting inspiring so much discussion. I cannot imagine being a real public figure with people commenting on my every decision and misstep. All I’m saying is, “Please!…Leave Britney alone!”

But right when I was feeling the need for to shave my head and call it a day, my son, Griffin, performed this ditty at our local Ukulele Union of Boston and all the bad people just went away. It’s a feel-good palette cleanser to ready us all for the weekend. He’s such a cute kid. I hope you like it. Let’s talk again next week, k?

Sometimes, a Pipe is Just a Pipe

Meeting on the Mound
Meeting on the Mound

Last night, my friend, Cathie, invited me and my son to join her and her daughter for the Sox vs. Jays game at Fenway. We had amazing seats, first base line, 7th row, you could almost touch the players, it was too much fun.

About halfway through the 4th inning my phone started buzzing with Facebook posts and text messages all related to this article on Boston.com. The post was referring to a kerfluffle on Beer Advocate in which a contributor to the site launched a full out rant aimed at my client, Clown Shoes Beer, and their sexist, racist labels. The diatribe resulted in a 350 comment thread in which people both agreed with the original post or defended Clown Shoes’ right to be, well, clownshoes. It also included a comment in which the original poster quoted me out of context and made it seem like I agree with her. The thread was locked before I got home from the game, leaving me with no opportunity to defend myself.

So, this is my response to the question, “Are Clown Shoes’ labels offensive?” Sure. Why not? Offensive is a subjective term. If you look at the labels and find yourself offended, there you go. Do you have the right to say so? Abso-friggin-lutely! Shout it from the highest mountain, or your Twitter account, or your brothers’ website, whatever your bullhorn is, use it, loud and proud. Here, let me loan you a sandwich board and a bell, you can be offended Town-Crier style, I got your back.

I get it. There are things that offend me. For instance, due to an unfortunate misunderstanding of lyrics, I cannot listen to Sublime’s Wrong Way without getting offended. Politicians who proudly misunderstand the basic facts of American History offend me—mostly because they’re too lazy or stubborn to find out the right answers and correct themselves. Those ASPCA commercials with Sarah McLaughlin offend me because they always run them in the middle of South Park, or Tosh.O and then I feel guilty for laughing when we come back from commercial. So, if someone looks at the illustrations I’ve done for Clown Shoes and finds them somewhat distasteful, then you go on with your bad self and be put out. It’s your right.


My labels for Clown Shoes—which were named Best Craft Beer Art of 2011 by PourCurator.com—are not illustrated with a sexist intent. For instance, a Tramp Stamp is a tattoo placed on the lower back of a woman to emphasize her sexuality. In Germany, they call it, Arschgeweih, meaning, “Ass Antlers.” Can you imagine if we had named a beer Ass Antlers!? We have nicknames for these tattoos because they have a purpose. The woman who has one is confident in her sexuality and she is enticing the viewer to appreciate her. A woman who is comfortable in her own skin and likes how she looks is a sexy woman. Sexy is not sexist. In fact, sexist is rarely sexy.

Brown Angel is a mix between pin-up girl, Blaxploitation goddess, and hip-hop diva. She was inspired by Pam Grier in Coffy, and Rosie Perez dancing to Fight The Power in the opening of Do The Right Thing. These are powerful women, not victims, and just because they have ethnicity, doesn’t mean the label is racist any more than appreciating a Bettie Page pin-up makes one a white supremacist. As a woman, and an artist, I have a hard time with either of these images being labeled chauvinistic. Chauvinism is an attitude of superiority over the opposite sex. I’m not designing woman who are inferior, I’m designing women who celebrate who they are. So, who is bringing the inferiority? The viewer? The offended? It’s a complicated question.

Finally, and this one made me guffaw, I mean seriously spit take—Clown Shoes Lubrication. Why is Lubrication offensive? Well, first, we’ve got the name. It’s tongue-in-cheek, it’s having some fun, but the label copy pulls it all together, “Lube? Hey, get your mind out of the gutter. Social lubrication, people coming together to unwind, is what we’re talking about.” This is not a dirty joke for the sake of being dirty. Lubrication is an American Black Ale, dark as oil, but at only 6% ABV it’s one of Clown Shoes’ first sessionable beers. The social lubrication marketing gives you an idea what you’re getting in the bottle.

Lubrication illustration
Clown Shoes Lubrication, Full Illustration

Second, the illustration is apparently offensive because of the placement of the gas nozzle. Next time you fill your tank, take note of how high you hold the nozzle, I’m guessing it’s not up by your belly button unless you drive a Hummer. Apparently, our critics saw not a dispenser of fuel, but a “dong.” Yes, their words, not mine. I went to art school. I was taught to say, “phallic symbol.”

Now, let me tell you, when I designed this I was inspired by Ed Ruscha’s gas station paintings, 1950’s sci-fi robots, and by those old Texaco commercials with the jaunty hats and ties. That’s it. You get your car lubed at the service station and a tin-man requires lubrication, it works both ways. The client actually wanted to go sans-illustration for this beer, but I convinced him that it would be inconsistent with the brand and that I had a great idea! Never in my wildest imagination did I think this label would inspire such vitriol! But when you have dong on the brain, you see dong wherever you go, I guess. Ironically, robots don’t even have sex that way, there’s a lot more welding and screaming of 0s and 1s.*

So, there you go. If you find your way to my website because I illustrated some beer labels that started a tiny tempest, you will see that I put a lot of thought and research into offending people and selling beer. I also design yearbooks for elementary schools and websites for stores your mom would probably like. I appreciate this opportunity to respond to my critics and I encourage you all to drink good beer with a sense of humor and an open mind.

How to Get Your Job Printed on Time, Part 2

Remember that the salesman’s job is to get you in the door, but it’s the production artists and the pressmen who are going to get you out on time.

Ask for the moon and until that purchase order is in his hands, the printer’s salesperson is going to tell you that everything is do-able, everything is copacetic. It’s not until the job is in house and it’s too late to change your mind will you discover that your turnaround requirements are ridiculous, or your file needs some serious tweaking and trapping, or your ink densities are proof of dark matter. At that point, the production artist and press person are your best friends in the world. If you treat them right, remember their names, respect their craft and their time, they can move mountains for you. Bark at them, ask for the impossible, fail to understand what can and cannot be accomplished on a press, talk past them to your sales guy, and, well, do you ever wonder what happens when you send food back to the kitchen at a restaurant? No good ever comes of that, I assure you.

Building relationships with the people who run your jobs can be the difference between really delivering for your client or really blowing it. So, play nice, prima donna designer, you’ll thank me some day.


How to Get Your Job Printed on Time

First and foremost, forever and ever, get it tattooed on your forearm;

If there’s a holiday ANYTIME near when you want your job printed, add a week to your turnaround.

Printers work crazy hours, printers work all night, printers don’t leave until the job is done, no seriously, doctors can hand off their patients, but I’ve seen pressmen 3 days into a run and I know they’ve only napped in the break room. So, when Memorial Day, July 4th, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Arbor Day… are you following me yet? Any holiday, no matter how big or small, is a day of rest for these fellas and they aren’t giving it up with out time and a half and then some.

So, your brochure HAS to be ready to go July 7th? You need to have that sucker on a press by the third week of June, at the LATEST. I’m not kidding.

Thank you, this has been a Public Service Announcement from your Friendly Neighborhood Designer.

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!