Wednesday, May 28, 2008


I'm out of school for the summer now and have prepared The List. The List is a compilation of the things I plan to do this summer. I know, full well, that I won't even get close to completing the list. That actually isn't even the point. I will, however, take great satisfaction in crossing items off The List, and looking at some sort of progress. Last summer I didn't make a list and when September rolled around, I found, to my dismay, that I had accomplished nothing. Well, I'm sure I did something, I just couldn't remember what and had no proof.

I couldn't live without my lists. I make lists to go to the grocery store, which I promptly forget as I'm walking out the door. I make lists of things I should do, things I want to do, things I don't want to do but have to do, and let's not forget, things I will never do, but would like to think I'll get around to. Lists are my memory, my process and my bane. I sometimes find lists tucked into a book I haven't opened in years, and realize that, with a few slight differences, it could be the same list I'm building in my current notebook. Okay, that can suck. But it's also strangely liberating.

Recently I was looking through Gwen Diehn's, The Decorated Page, a really nice little how-to book about creating and using artist journals, when I came across a segment she'd included about Sei Shonagon. Sei was a Japanese courtier, diarist and poet who lived from 966 through 1013. Her pillow book is considered by some to be one of the first and best examples of good writing style. Oddly enough, I had just read another book, a novel called My Year of Meats, and I'm sorry I can't remember the author's name, who had also referenced Sei and her lists, which is why this little segment really stood out to me.

Sei Shonagon wrote in her pillow book, among stories and impressions of her time and culture, 164 lists. Some of the titles were "Things Which Distract in Moments of Boredom", "Annoying Things", "Things Which Make One's Heart Beat Faster", "Elegant Things" and "Things That Have Lost Their Power". Just reading the titles made me think about the nature of lists.

We all make lists. Sunday Morning did a segment on list making a few months ago, and while I put it on my list to blog about it at the time, now it's been so long I can't remember what they actually said about list making other than the fact that everybody seems to do it. As I prepared to write this entry I googled "list making". The best entry was an Onion article (one uncomfortably close to the truth actually - which is why the The Onion is so damn funny) and the weirdest to me was one from the Psychology Today website, that basically gave you five things to put on your list. Things like "Be Happy", "Write a Book" and "Fall in Love". Who knew it was that easy?

And by the way, I was just reading over this last paragraph and I want to reassure anyone reading this blog that I very seldom actually do homework/preparation to write it. But then, you probably already knew that.

So, back to the nature of lists. See, all of my lists are usually in the form of practical, get it done sorts of things. I put on there things like "Reorganize the buffet." "De-magazine." and "Return library books." I had never really even thought about making lists about, oh say, "Things That Are Thought About at 2am When One Has Woken From Sleep and Now Can't Go Back" or "Things That One Wishes One Could Say to the Teacher at Parent/Teacher Conferences" or "Things That Make One Cry in a Sentimental Way". This is kinda fun. How about "Things That One Finds at the Bottom of One's Purse That One Had No Idea How They Got There." or "Outgrown Things." or "Things That Taste Better Than One Thought They Would."

This puts a whole new spin on the list making compulsion. The categorization and documentation of these things is unique and immensely entertaining, in a way that "Potatoes, Rice, Onions, Oatmeal" just can't approach. I mean, my version of "Things That Smell Bad But One Sniffs Them Anyway." is probably very different from yours. Or maybe not. Maybe we shouldn't even go there.

So anyway, I'm adding another item to The List. I'm going to spend some time making non-functional lists. Categorizing and collecting my own thoughts into a journal, that, like Sei Shonagon's work, will hopefully reflect my time and culture. So that when I find the list, tucked into a cookbook ten years from now, I won't cringe that "Lose Weight." is still on it.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Back in the Saddle

I haven't posted in a long time. I know. And I could explain but that would be as boring for you as it would for me. Suffice to say one word. School.

Why I'm writing now is that one of my final assignments for this semester is to create a website for myself. This has been a very interesting process. Similar to having a blog, having a website appears to be a requirement for a graphic designer or illustrator these days. And, as usual, I'm having a hard time deciding what I'm going to look like online. Who would have thought the question would be so hard?

As I cruised the internet yesterday, looking for cool websites, I certainly saw quite a few, the Ames Brothers being one of the best, but while some of them were really cool to look at, they held little in the way of content. (And by saying this I'm NOT talking about the Ames Brothers site!) I do believe that the content is as important as the look, but again, what to say. So now I'm trying to decide what to say and how to say it. Whew. Even more fun. (Is there an "I'm being facetious" emoticon?)

I know I'll get there. I already have some ideas, but I have also been thinking a lot about authenticity. When designers, or anybody, creates a website that looks cool, really cool, WAY FAR OUT THAT'S JUST COOL, but says virtually nothing, what does that say about them? Is it necessary to put some of yourself on the site or is that just intrusive? Is it better to be honest and more transparent, if you will, and say what you think and feel about the work you expect people to buy from you, or have you create for them? Or is it better to just lay it out there and let others interpret what they will from your examples, with little or no comment to guide or inform their opinions?

I mean, on the practical side, as you look for potential customers on the internet, anything more personal, and by "personal" I don't mean comments about your home life, but more insight into your thought process and emotional connection to your work, has the possibility of turning off potential clients as well as engaging them. For this reason alone, I'm sure that there are valid reasons for less "personal". But, at the same time, there seems to be such a movement recently for a more authentic experience from your interactions with others. People seem to be looking for things that have the flavor of having been created by a real person, as opposed to the slick, manufactured look of a perfectly produced Illustrator drawing. I'm seeing a lot of texture and organic form and scratchy, blobby lettering that all says "Somebody made me." And I find that that's what I want too.

In the end, I believe it will all come down to being honest about who you are. If someone wants your work, they know they are getting something you have invested thought and energy into, and even though it sometimes looks imperfect, they will not be disappointed with the results. They know that they will get what they see.

If nobody wants it, maybe you're in the wrong business.