Monday, October 18, 2010


Both artists Justin Fines and Kimou Meyer do a large amount of their work by hand and exhibit an organic, rawness in their pieces, all traits that I enjoy and identify with. Meyer and Fines also share a graphic explosiveness in their pieces with line complexity and color so overwhelming that the viewer at first may not know what he or she is looking at. Adding to their similarities is the fact that both designers have received recognition from the same clients and press. In 2006 Zoo York Skateboards commissioned a series from Fines as a part of their Zoo York Artist Series. One year later, in 2007 Zoo York used Meyer's work in the same series. Additionally, both designers have had work published in Over and Over, a Catalog of Hand-Drawn Patterns, by Mike Perry. As I mentioned, there is much at first glance, that is similar between these two, but striking differences make one, in my opinion, a better visual communicator than the other.

Zoo York Artist Series Skateboard, 2006 by Justin Fines pen and computer

Justin Fines, a New York based artist uses thick lines to block off areas of different sizes and shapes in his work, both abstract and representational. He is more organic than Meyer, using lines that appear to have been drawn by a quivering or shaking hand. Fines uses simple, often three color schemes to fill in the spaces in his work which often overlap and abut each other.

by Kimou Meyer

Kimou Meyer's lines are slimmer and steadier than those of Fines. Meyer often uses a two color scheme dipicting icons of common thoughts or images that pertain to his particular project. Unlike Fines, Meyer's shapes and icons are usually seperated by negative space, and are not a mass of shape and color on top of itself. Meyer has a clear foreground comprised of icons and background comprised of a solid color and is therefore more easily graphicly communicable. Fines' work requires several minutes of attention from the viewer before he or she knows what is being viewed. That's not to say that Fines makes poor or uninteresting work, but Meyer is more quickly and easily visually read or understood.

Design Party

As I sat down to begin this blog today, my glance wandered to my absentee ballot for this November’s election sitting next to my computer. As I took in the words “Official Ballot – Vote By Mail,” I was struck with a thought about design in a not-so-obvious realm – politics.

It has unfortunately become quite common place for candidates of all viewpoints to spin their messages, especially through sound bite-favoring social media platforms. The Republican Party, however, has utilized design as a political tool in a manner and with an effectiveness that is completely unrivaled. It is not visual design which the Republican machine uses, but verbal design, crafting idealized messages to be soaked up by the awaiting public. The reason why the Party goes to such lengths is to protect its regressive, destructive nature. The Republican Party at the national level has for decades represented social bondage, environmental degradation, monopolized markets, and illegal corporate fraud, but how do they remain so successful? Design.

Carl Rove as the puppet master behind the Bush campaign on

In a strategy that goes back to before Ronald Reagan, the Republicans craft idealized messages, buzzwords, and slogans. They make pledges and plans designed specifically to touch at the emotional soft spots of people whose lives are run by fear and dogma. Through a masterfully thought out series of manipulative speeches, the Republican Party sells snake oil that destroys the very people that it promises to help. To achieve this destructive, insidious design process, the Party finds a host or figurehead for their tenets. This host in the past has been played by Reagan (who removed solar panels from the White House roof), George Bush I and II, and many others such as Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Carly Fiorina, or Meg Whitman.

All are empty vessel, blue collar, “men of the people” to put a friendly face on the Republican messages of deception. It is clear just how much about these “politicians” has been crafted behind the scenes when they speak in a debate-style format, or are forced to deviate from their pre-rehearsed drivel. In a debate, for example, if a question comes that the well groomed and stylized candidate can’t outright deflect, the true persona begins to appear. The polished self-assurance immediately disappears, and flustered, nonsensical, contradictory messages come out. It is only a brief lapse usually, but if the observer is attentive, it is tremendously powerful insight about the destructive capabilities of design, and how it is exploited by predominantly the Republican Party.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Stone Soup

One of my favorite stone soup type projects was a group exercise in a drawing class that I took several years ago. Unlike the project we did on Tuesday where all of the participants bring a different material or ingredient to be incorporated into a piecemeal whole, everybody in this class was asked to bring the same thing: a drawing implement.

When class began that day, there was a large piece of paper on every desk, folded into sixths. Each student was instructed to draw for 10 minutes, and then stop when time was called. There was no real restriction to what we could draw, other than to be simple enough to look complete after a short amount of time. After 10 minutes, we were told to refold the paper so that a new blank sixth of the paper was exposed. To successfully continue with the project, we had to be sure that the new, blank part of the paper was on the same side of the sheet that we had been drawing on initially.

After everybody had completed their folding, we each passed our paper to the person on our left. As each of us received our new piece of paper, we were instructed not to look at what the person before us had drawn. At this point, drawing resumed again for another 10 minutes, at which point we refolded and passed clockwise as before. These actions were then repeated four more times, until all six panels of each folded sheet were filled. We then unfolded the paper in front of us; that we had each most recently sketched on.

Not knowing what others before us had drawn, we each held a blind collaborative drawing that was unique and random, as each person had input with his or her own individual style. As a class, we then hung all of the finished pieces on the wall, three pages high by five wide. We discussed and decided as a group which piece should go where, and which ones looked best next to each other. Our final product was a very cool abstract group drawing, comprising of both abstract and iconic panels making up a very large checkerboard style grid, and we left it up for the remainder of the class sessions.

From Without

One great example of being inspired from without is the story behind the digital work “Emissions” by Davis artist Chris Larson. The piece is a digital, political commentary collage about the attempts to suspend California Assembly Bill 32, and pass Proposition 23 this November. Both the suspension of A.B. 32 and the passage of Prop. 23 severely hurt California’s green technology and environmental future, and Larson’s work is a direct response in protest of those efforts.

"Emissions" by Chris Larson

While the people such as Dan Logue and William Kleese have been saying and doing some reprehensible things to attack A.B. 32, it is something said by Kleese that Larson specifically reacted to. In an article entitled “Don’t Mess With California” by Cosmo Garvin in the 4/15/10 issue of the Sacramento News and Review, Kleese said of A.B. 32 “I assume you realize that this is about CO2 and not pollution.” He goes on “We are not willing to ruin our economy, our business, your lifestyle and our country over AB-32.” Bill Kleese is CEO of Texas based Valero Oil, and working very hard to compromise the environmental standards and regulations set forth for California by A.B. 32 because it will be bad for Valero’s bottom line.

Either Bill Kleese is spreading misinformation about A.B. 32 for his own gains, or he is ignorant to what constitutes pollution. Larson was incensed by the statements by Kleese in “Don’t Mess With California” and therefore created his piece “Emissions.” Kleese is depicted from the chest up, seated with head resting in hand. The Valero logo is plastered over Kleese’s eyes as smoke billows out of three smokestacks, both behind and in front of the oil CEO, melding into his hair and jacket. Grotesque neon and pastel colors fill the oil tycoon, atmosphere and background, reminiscent of the “spectacular” colors that we Californians see at sunset each day that are really the result of chemicals in the atmosphere exaggerating the natural light of sundown. The quote “I assume you realize that this is about CO2 and not pollution” is written low across the piece in contrasting hues.” The piece is meant to urge people to read about Valero’s (and greater “Texas oil’s”) role in California politics, about A.B. 32 and Prop. 23, and to make an educated decision (vote NO) on Prop. 23 on November second.


Design serves an important purpose in everyday life, often imparting style and beauty to the desires of the individual. A problem arises, however, when the individual in question has a penchant for tacky, classless goods. Taste is of course subjective, but often times I am left shaking my head and wishing that America had some sort of minimum cultural standard. The way that things are these days, even the best design or designers on the planet may not be able to inspire the tasteless masses to become something better.

A case in point is the budget fashion retailer Old Navy. After years of awful, disgustingly saccharine campy marketing (and uninspired clothing), Old Navy took a bold step towards improving the image of itself and its customer base in the winter of 2008 to early 2009. Abandoning the camp, Old Navy re-designed nearly its entire line; hired attractive, normal looking actors; and shot stylized, design-conscious ads.

winter 2008 campaign

The campaign apparently failed, as Old Navy soon returned to the horrible goofiness it has been known for, and even scaled back some of its more stylish, ambitious designs. Old Navy attempted to bring itself and its customers to a higher level of design, and it was completely rejected by a tacky flock.

current campaign
These tasteless hordes consist of the same people who run around purchasing cheap-ass ornaments of a snowman dressed in camouflage hunting gear, made in China and completely devoid of class. The same uninspired herd who wears “America - Stick To Your Guns - It’s Your Right” or “Haters Make Me Famous” or all of the other dipshit, ridiculous pop culture clothing. It doesn’t matter what the options are, in America you have the freedom to be as lazy, tacky, and stupid as you want. People take advantage of this freedom because it is an easy road to take, and you better damn believe that corporate vultures are there to exploit and perpetuate the bottom-of-the-barrel market. Honestly, there are times where I wish that we all just gave up and wore potato sacks.

Monday, October 4, 2010

There’s no denying that green design is the future. This means different things to different designers however. Some choose the more futuristic school of thought while others strive to return to nature. While both have their merits, I appreciate the challenge that is presented by having to use existing or naturally occurring materials.

Possibly I am drawn to these designs due to their tendency toward more curvilinear shapes rather than hard edges. I think it’s the same quality that draws me to art nouveau rather than art deco. There’s something really wonderful about art that is uniquely manmade and hand crafted rather than mass produced by machines.
Cabinet-Vitrine 1899 Gustave Serrurier-Bovy

Or maybe the little girl in me still fantasizes about living a self sufficient, Little House on the Prairie lifestyle.  It is my dream to live a life free from dependency on corporations and manufactuing. In fact I have started the preliminary stages of designing and building my own passive, off-the-grid home. I was inspired by a low impact home made by a man in Wales. It is literaly built into the side of a hill out of all renewable materials. Not only is is eco-friendly it is beautifully designed (and pretty inexpensive).

Low impact woodland home in Wales

Together Everyone Achieves More

The sharing of artistic inspiration and ideas is an important aspect of the design process. Whether it’s working in a group environment at school or at an office, collaborating on a special project with a fellow artist, or just bouncing ideas off a friend or relative, sharing can be a very useful tool in creating. It’s only natural that as technology and the internet infiltrate every facet of our lives, so too will they influence our creative processes.

I myself spend hours “stumbling” with the help of the website which takes me to random websites based on my preset preferences, for example: crafting, design, gardening and architecture. This has led me to innumerable sites that have inspired me and taught me new skills. It has also helped me connect with other likeminded people that enjoy crafting and creating. ThreadBanger and Cut-out and Keep are two such communities that I am now a part of.
Another online community that I am especially excited about participating in is hitRECord. This site facilitates collaboration and gives artists an opportunity to earn money from their art by working with production companies. “…rather than just exhibiting and admiring each other's work as isolated individuals, we gather here to collectively work on projects together…” explains the website creator, Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I encourage you all to visit this site and create something. I can’t wait to see what other people will do with my creations and what I can do with theirs.

Beware of Science! It May Cause Boring Toys.

As a small child I loved to play with my Fisher Price “Puzzle Ball.” You may or not be familiar with this toy; the goal is to fit the various yellow pieces into their corresponding holes. When this task is complete you pull open the ball from either end, and the pieces fall out so you can start over. What an ingeniously simple concept! This seemingly straightforward activity kept me occupied for hours. 

When thinking about the design of the toys that I grew up with, I was reminded of the newer toys that have been created for babies.  These days the only colors you see in toys for infants are black white and red. Scientists say this is because children respond the most to the extreme contrast. From a design standpoint this presents and interesting question: are we depriving our youngsters of the full experience of color?

When I was growing up children’s toys were primarily blue, red and yellow (Ha! get it? “primarily”) however more recently I have seen an overwhelming majority of toys for very young children composed of solely black and white, sometimes with the addition of red a color scheme that I personally find quite displeasing and aggravating to my senses. I remember loving color and I think that the addition of these colors to toys creates an additional teaching tool for parents.

"Piper the panda" from

While designing children’s toys seems like a relatively easy task there is more involved than may at first meet the eye. Successful toy design takes into consideration a broad spectrum of factors. Children’s toys need to be entertaining while at the same time facilitating learning, brain development and hand/eye coordination. Taking color out of the equation, severely limits creative potential and in my opinion, the end result is ugly toys in the wrong colors.

My toy taught me shape recognition, counting, hand/eye coordination and is one possible explanation for my interest in design today. From my experience, colorful toys have not caused any delay or detriment in development and cognition. People have been learning and playing with colorful toys or for centuries with no ill effects.

I am generally skeptical of new child rearing techniques; I turned out just fine without them as did generations of people who came before me. Who’s to know, in another ten years there may be new studies showing that exposing children to limited colors causes color blindness or some other issue. I for one, pledge to not buy ugly toys for my children.