Monday, June 29, 2015

Internship Sneak Peek

A little glimpse into the very early development of a new logo for the farmers market at my Riverwalk internship. All my logos start out as notes, brainstorm bubbles and quick sketches. I go through a lot of ideas, drawing everything, before I pick out a few rough diamonds for refining into two or three digital roughs.  I had a professor who used to call this stage "visual vomit" and I think that just about sums up how you should sketch everything, no matter how silly, when brainstorming. Turning on that internal editor at this stage is the fastest way to kill your creativity.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Internship Adventures

This summer I have been busy tweeting, Instagraming, Facebooking, writing, designing and photographing for the summer events for the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo (HARP). We just had one of our two major events this June 5-6, Boats, Bands and BBQ. I was running all over the 35 acres posting live updates and photographing bands and food contests.  While I'm not new to concert photography, this was my first adventure in rock/country band photography and my first treat to colorful stages.


This internship has been an experience so far with growing stories. A few weeks into my internship I helped rescue a 100 pound rottweiler from the channel (it was only three feet deep, but she refused to swim it). The night before our big Boats, Bands and BBQ event, the party animals began to show--in the form of tortoises. First it was one tortoise whose owners brought him for his weekly walk. After my Facebook post circulated, some kids brought their own tortoise the next day. 

The tortoise that showed up the day before our big Boats, Bands and BBQ summer event.
I've gotten a ton of portfolio material from just a month and a half of work and looking forward to promoting another big event and several smaller events that kick off soon. I'll post another update before long.

Digital sketches for a print ad.
A little sampling of the many social media posts I've created.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Adventures in TTV (Through the Viewfinder)

This technique was trendy in 2009 and was a way to get that grungy look before Instagram became such a thing. I still love to use TTV because it's hands-on, just the right amount of challenging and very rewarding. Every photo is different and if you collect several cameras you can have a wide range of image styles. I have several cheap vintage TLR cameras purchased just for this technique and today was a test drive of my newly purchased Kodak Dualfex (the original model with the bubble top).

The method requires a DSLR with a close-focusing or micro lens and the purchase of a Twin Lens Reflex.  Most cheap vintage toy TLRs like the Kodak Duaflex will do the trick. Many people purchase TLRs with dirty viewfinders for that grungy look and others select clean ones if they are only after the black frame look. The DSLR and TLR cameras are usually attached with a cardboard tube to get that nice black frame around the image.  Post reduction requirements are a square crop and what ever other effects you like.

A hand-constructed cardboard tube is all that is needed to join the two cameras. The length of the tube is determined by your lens's closet focus distance.
My growing collection of cheap TLRs each with a different viewfinder for effects ranging from clean to grungy.

Friday, June 5, 2015

How to Find a Great Internship

Internships are a great way to begin your work experience, learn new skills and build your portfolio while still under the safe learning environment afforded by an upper-education institution. Internships let you put theory into practice which means you can tell future employers that, not only do you understand the job, you've already gotten your toes wet and have work to demonstrate your knowledge.

Not all internships are created equal: some are superb, some are mediocre and some are worth avoiding. The signs that you are on to a great internship will start in the description and continue in the interview. If it's a bad internship, you'll receive red flags as early as the internship description.  This article gives you the tips on what to look for and what to ask in the interview to help you find your best match.

Read Between the Lines

RESPONSIBILITY: First off, almost no internship will let you take the lead on every project and make a major impact in the company; it's entry-level work, after all.  If they ARE giving you that much work, it's because they're understaffed and/or want cheap or free productivity. Red flag number one: if the description is listing full responsibility for many projects, discard it and keep googling (you're bound to find a few, especially with unpaid internships). Instead, look for a description that lists full responsibility for one or two projects.  Responsibility for one or two projects is the key to building your portfolio without overwhelming you or taking advantage of you.

SKILLS: Internships differ from your usual entry-level position in a key area--they are a learning experience. Ideally, the employer should take the time to teach you knew skills and round-out your skill set (especially if they are looking to hire you after graduation). The internship description should say things like "Intern will learn..." or "Intern will improve and expand skills in..."  Be careful with descriptions that demand a long list of pre-existing skills and don't list which skills you will learn from the company.

HOURS: Look for an internship with decent hours. Nine to 10 hours a week is about the minimum; anything less and you probably won't have the time to develop worthwhile projects.  Also, if you are at a fast-pace company, like a design firm or public relations agency, the minimal hours will put you out of the loop.  

POSITION: While searching for internships, keep in mind that you can broaden your search beyond major-specific internships. For example, if you are a public relations major you could also consider a marketing communications internship as it may require many of the same skills depending on the employer's needs. And since it's not 100% the same, you'll have the opportunity to learn new skills (like advertising writing). Graphic designers should also broaden their search, as I did. My internships were in communications but they required all of my skills in advertising, public relations, social media, photography and lots of graphic design. Graphic design is my passion, but I did not lose when I chose communications internships nor did my design portfolio suffer. These sort of rewarding internships aren't hard to spot; in all three of my internships the need for graphic design and other visual skills like photography were listed in the internship descriptions. You may find the broader experience rewarding and there might be more opportunities or less competition for these positions.

The Interview is Like a Date

Most are probably familiar with Jerry Seinfeld's joke about the similarity of dating and interviewing, but there is truth here; the interview will show both you and your employer if the two of you will be a good team. The interview is your first glimpse into how the employer can round out your education, help build your portfolio and it's your chance to communicate how you can benefit the employer.  Like dating, this process needs to be done with care and sensitivity or one of you might escape through the bathroom window.

BENEFITING YOU: It's always good to ask questions of your interviewer; it shows you did your homework and that you care enough to ask about the company.  But it's also the first step in discovering if you and the company will make a good team.  Ask them questions like "What were past intern projects?" and "What are some major projects the company is working on that you're most excited about?"  If you're not excited about what excites them, you're starting on the wrong foot before your first day of work. You wouldn't like to date a person whose passions bored you and they would probably feel the same about you.  Asking questions like "What were past intern projects?" is an excellent way to discover what portfolio projects and skill sets the company can offer without being rude.

BENEFITING THEM: Here is where you can discuss all those skill sets you have worked so hard on over the years.  When they ask about you, say things like "My passions are layout design and typography" or ask questions like, "I've worked on photo projects for many years.  Do you have projects that would benefit from studio photography?"  Of course, don't forget to bring your work so you can show them how you could be useful.  Be prepared to discuss a project or two in detail, how you conceptualized and completed to project and how you feel it would be useful to the internship. Say things like, "I would be excited to use my digital design skills from this project and apply it to your social media campaigns."

OFFICE CULTURE: This one is so crucial and so easy to spot in an interview.  It is crucial because the office culture and how you fit into it will largely determine if you are happy or miserable for the next few months. It is easy to discover in an interview simply by asking, "So show me where I would work. Can I see where everyone else is?"  

Remember sensitivity?  Save this question for the end of the interview.  If you fear any pretentiousness, reword the question as "So where is the intern's desk usually kept?" When they give you a tour, look for where your spot would be and where everyone else is. You want to be in close proximity to the other employees and within walking distance of your boss. The environment should allow for both serious work and friendly community. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Truth About Inspiration

One of the most frustrating things for a working designer or upper level design student is the myth that we wait for inspiration, or we are born with it. If only it was that easy. True, sometimes inspiration just strikes, but it doesn’t happen often.  The rest of us get down to work so we meet our deadlines.  

If you are a beginning design student, then the best thing you can ever do for yourself is to seek out inspiration rather than wait for it.  Trust me, it will be the reason why you can stick with the rigorous demands of your undergraduate design program while your design chums, those who wait for inspiration, change their majors.  Here are some tips to help you seek inspiration and get that work done!

When you are working with deadlines, you have to coax inspiration on your terms.  Instead of waiting, you will have to connect with your project and draw connections between the projects and related or even random items.  If you do this, you will have inspiration. Brainstorming is an effective way to draw connections and coax inspiration in a timely manner.

There are many different ways to brainstorm. The right way is the method that comes the most naturally to you.  I like to use thought bubbles and start jotting down everything and anything that springs to mind, then drawing connections and jotting down new ideas that result.  Give this a try, or make lists, sketch, or journal.  Whatever you do, stay loose and let the ideas come freely. The worst thing you can do to your creativity is turn on your internal editor and stop ideas as they come.  If they really are ridiculous, you can always throw them away later, but not now.

Secondary Research
It sounds scary, but trust me, you already do it and it’s fun.  It’s called Google images. Or Behance, or some other image site you prefer. The only difference now is that you’ll be searching according to the needs of your project or the ideas from your brainstorm. It’s that easy.

However, easy doesn’t mean quality.  To make your secondary research worthwhile, seek material that will help you answer these questions: what has already been done and what can I do differently?  In answering what you can do differently, sometimes it helps to look at work not related to graphic design.  When your brain makes connections between unrelated research and your project, inspiration for something unique can spring forth.  For example, I often look at paintings, fashion, and architecture for my graphic design projects.  The paintings inspire new color pallets, fashion inspires texture and pattern approaches, and architecture inspires grid structure and layout. See how anything and everything can cross pollinate with graphic design? Give it a whirl.

Another tip to help you generate quality secondary research is to print them, collect them in a binder or sketchbook, and take a couple minutes to annotate the images.  It might sound like a lot of work, but it really isn't hard.  Just ask yourself why you liked that picture and try to frame your answer in terms of technique, color theory, or composition.  Also ask how the image relates to your project.  A sentence or two is all it takes to make a world of difference.

Primary Research
This is where the fun starts. Primary research is your time to pick up the pencil or fire up the computer and start playing with the ideas from your brainstorm and secondary research.  Playing is the key, as well as staying loose.  Like the brainstorm, you don’t want to internally edit and suppress ideas, no matter how crazy they might seem.  Complete them first, take a break, and if they still seem crazy, then you can trash them.  But once in a while you will find a gem in something that you thought was crazy, and that will be the day you’ll be so glad you didn’t suppress it. Trust me.

Taking Breaks and Hobbies 
This is so important to keeping your newly found inspiration. It will also help you keep your stamina as those projects or homework assignments pile up.  Every now and then take a break from your projects.  Put them completely out of your mind and do something unrelated, like walks, friend time, or hobbies.  Hobbies are especially great as many of them use the same principles of art and design.  I love miniature architecture because it lets me play with color, texture, line, and pattern and inspires my graphic design.  My design friends knit or play music. If you are doing something with your hands and making something, odds are it will be great for your graphic design.

Interior design is one way to take a break from graphic design and art while still using the same skills in the visual elements like line and pattern.

You should also take a break from your usual sources of inspiration. If you love Google for 2D visual art, take a break from anything 2D visual art and search sculpture instead.  Or better yet, be physical and attend a gallery opening, or a music concert.  I often seek out music performances, attend movie showings, or walk in nature for inspiration in the formal elements, composition, and design that isn’t directly related to graphic design. It keeps the juices flowing without over stimulating yourself.

Now Get to Work
These aren’t the only ideas for gathering inspiration on your own terms, nor are they rules.  They’re guidelines—use them as you need them, break them, or make your own.  Now dive into those projects and never have to wait for inspiration again.