Saturday, September 18, 2010

Train Type

Found type (or secret code?) at 
the Southeastern Railway Museum in Duluth, Georgia.

I have a two year-old son who loves trains. Rather, he’s obsessed by them. Every time a train goes by, it’s a special event: we stop whatever we’re doing and watch.

I love to watch the trains go by too, but for considerably different reasons. Trains bring out the designer and typographer in me.

The sides of trains are covered with type that undoubtedly means something to company employees, but to me seem like mysterious abstract arrangements of numbers and letters. The messages are so starkly utilitarian and unselfconsciously ugly that I can’t help but love them. The best ones sit on a surface which usually has a weathered patina, further obscuring their meaning and adding considerably to their appeal.

I also adore transportation logos. They’re invariably rock simple, look sturdy as a house, and are adorably ugly. My favorites are those that look like they haven’t changed since the company was founded 75 years ago. But that’s another post for another day.

In the meantime, I’ll keep staring at the accidentally beautiful, abstract typography on the sides of passing trains.
More found type at the Southeastern Railway Museum.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Accidental Author (Sort of)

How many people find out purely by chance that their artwork has been published somewhere? As of a few nights ago, I’m the first one I know.

I’ve always loved books about sketchbooks and have purchased quite a few through the years. Recently, however, I made the decision to build as comprehensive a library as I can - one that could eventually serve as a resource for myself and others.

A couple hundred dollars of gift cards in hand, I spent an evening combing the Internet for new acquisitions. By midnight I had identified a dozen or so books I wanted and had looked at two dozen more. Bleary-eyed, I clicked on one more of the suggested links, leading me to The Journal Junkies Workshop: Visual Ammunition for the Art Addict by Eric M. Scott and David R. Modler.

Scanning through the “Look Inside” preview, I about soiled myself when I found some of my artwork incorporated into a collage. At first pissed off, I was relieved to see that they gave me credit in the back of the book.

Mountains of spam keep me from regularly checking the email account associated with, so it’s quite possible they had tried to contact me. Besides, I appreciate the fact that the authors are working to make sketchbooks a more valued part of art courses on the high school and college level. The fact that they plugged my site also helped win me over.

I immediately ordered the book, which arrived yesterday. A very thorough how-to book full of great ideas for materials and techniques, The Journal Junkies Workshop is an inspiring book for artists of any age.

Not that I’m biased, of course.

Check it out for yourself. Here’s a link on Amazon.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Resources for Sketchbooks, Art, and Creativity on the Web

Last week I launched a blog page to hold my sketchbook, art, and creativity reading list. Today I’ve put together a similar page for resources on the web. As I discover new resources I’ll post them to the appropriate page and will let you know about it.
I’m always open to suggestions, so please let me know about your favorite sketchbook, art, and creativity books and websites.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Promise. Or, From My Lips to God’s Ears.

I’ve been thinking about making myself an outrageous promisethat I’ll devote every waking moment to one of my five greatest passions:
  1. Family, relationships, and helping other people;
  2. Sketchbooks, art, and creativity;
  3. My practice of Aikido and other physical exercise;
  4. Nutrition, health, and a balanced life; and
  5. Any activity that helps nurture the first four passions (e.g. reading, researching)
It’s crazy, I know. Most people are only allotted two or three successful sweeping changes in lifecommitments on the scale of “I’m going to quit drinking” or “I think I’ll drop those extra hundred pounds.” That’s the reason why far-reaching New Year’s resolutions fail at a rate that justifies the cliché.

There are a couple of reasons why I believe my outrageous promise is going to work. Or perhaps I should say, there are a couple of reasons why I think this promise is worth pursuing. The first reason has to do with advice from a dead friend; the second with the importance of underachievement.

A few years ago, a former coworker died in her thirties from a sudden illness. She was a powerful, dynamic, fiercely intelligent, determined person who achieved more at a younger age than most ever could. She was a vice president in our company, an extraordinary mother to her three small children, and a good friend to the hundreds of mourners at her funeral. At the service, her husband delivered a moving eulogy about Jen and her belief in living every day with intention. She wasted no time, deciding where to allocate her energy every minute. She made every moment of her life meaningful. That was her secret.

At the funeral I decided that living my own life with intention would be a the best tribute I could offer this great woman. I developed the habit of asking myself at random times, usually when I was waiting for something or deciding what to do next, whether I was living that moment with intention. Invariably the answer was “no.”

I began to wonder: how many of those “no” moments make up my days? How much more could I accomplish if I reclaimed those moments for the things I care about most? Often, the simple act of asking myself whether I was living that moment with intention was often enough to re-focus that time on something important.

Living each moment with intention is an idealistic notion at best. If I’m going to focus my time on one of the five things that matter most to me, I’ll need to also make strategic use of under-achievement.

I know that sounds ludicrous, but bear with me. 

I first learned how to use underachievement in physical exercise. Like many beginners, I set fitness goals that were unrealistic and sapped my motivation. Through trial and error, I learned to reward myself for effort that failed to reach the mark. If I wanted to do 30 push-ups in a set, it was OK if I only completed 24; perhaps the next day I could do 25. Sure enough, the next day I was usually able to find the strength for the extra effort, and I slowly built my way up to my goal. 

I never compromised my goalsI still wanted to do 30 push-ups in a set. I simply rewarded myself for underachievement in order to keep my motivation alive and I allowed myself all the time I needed. It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you refrain from judging yourself. 

So now I know that if I’m conscious of how I spend my time, I can reclaim more of it for my greatest passions. And if I keep my goals intact while giving myself the time and space I need to reach them, I might just fulfill that outrageous promise.

Friday, September 3, 2010

From My Library to Yours

Check out the new Reading List page for books I recommend about sketchbooks, the creative process, and creativity across disciplines. I'll continue to build this list as I find out about more books of interest. If you are aware of any books that should be on this list but aren't, please let me know.