Thursday, July 30, 2015

Sketching at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science

Recent personal observational sketches of museum casts on 8.5x11inch sketchbook paper, Sharpie and Prismacolor Col-erase in terra cotta.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Best of the Summer 2015 Internship and Lessons to Share

I love an internship that lets you dig in, really contribute, learn lessons and build your portfolio. This internship at the Pueblo Riverwalk did all of that. My internship at the Riverwalk was social media and marketing. Under the marketing label, I provided communications, photography and graphic design. Today I'll share my project highlights and lessons I learned that can help you with your internships.

I had a camera in my hands since I was five years old and I actively pursued it to a semi-professional level as I grew.  However, I was just as actively told that I wouldn't make a decent living in photography, so when college admissions were received, I enrolled in my two other passions: graphic design and integrated communications.

I never let my photography die, though, and continued to pursue personal projects and enrolled in college photography courses as my studio electives to my graphic design. Thank goodness I did, because my three internships have shown me that photography is a valuable skill and something that I can make a decent living at. True, it isn't easy to make a living strictly as a photographer, but magic happens when you pair it with communications or graphic design careers.

People are visually inclined creatures and with the growth and popularity of social media like Instagram, it's unlikely to change. Visual skills such as photography, videography, animation and more are hugely valuable communications skills. Good images on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were vital to growing excitement about our Riverwalk events ahead of time, reporting live during the events and summarizing the events afterwards (and thereby building excitement for next year). Posts with good photos received more impressions, more likes and where shared more often. Never underestimate the power of good photography and never let someone discourage you from it.

Logo Design
This was a special project. After weeks of photography, Facebook posting and Tweeting it was nice to roll up my sleeves and really dive into a graphic design project. It was refreshing to brainstorm, sketch with markers and dive into Illustrator for the sake of a logo instead of a post that needed to launch live in five minutes. Graphic design for production and graphic design for social media are two different animals and I'm glad when I can do both rather than only one.  Below are the two rough designs presented to my boss, who chose the corn design.

Photography and graphic design were just as vital to my social media tasks at the Riverwalk as were good writing, communications and marketing skills. I helped contribute a large part of the Facebook posts and, during our major music events, my photography skills made all the difference. All those years avidly pursuing photography as a youth and all those college photo classes were a life-saver during this internship. (A little tip to the mass communications and marketing communications students reading this--you don't have to be a world class shutterbug to ace your social media attempts, but if you are comfortable with your camera you are one step ahead of everyone else.) 


Before my internship, the Riverwalk Instagram only had 7 photos on the account and a handful of followers.  I was the sole contributor and over the two weekends of Boats, Bands and BBQ and Rollin on the Riverwalk I added a great deal of photos and the followers quadrupled. Being a DSLR photographer, it was fun to explore other photographic options with an iPad and Instagram's filters.  Many of the filters took me back to my film days and the toy camera and cross-process techniques.

The Twitter account become my baby when my boss assigned me the task of doubling the followers. I was the sole person managing the account and over the course of my internship I became a Twitter junkie, boosting the number of tweets from a couple a month to a couple a day.


Again, photography and graphic design skills were handy in converting the Twitter stream from text-heavy to multi-media rich. The Twitter account was a crucial tool in both pre-event posts and live event updates such as notifying Riverwalk patrons when certain bands were up next.
Twitter was also handy as a substitute for the media pitch--instead of formal letters or emails, I followed many regional news professionals and wrote my tweets to answer Who, What, Where, When, Why and How and appeal to at least one of the seven  news values. It was a special day when one of the Twitter followers, news professional John Martin, arrived at Boats, Bands and BBQ and spent the whole morning capturing multiple video segments for Fox 21 in Colorado Springs.

Ad Design
Like the farmer's market logo project, it was rewarding to design for print production. These various sized ads ran in the local daily newspaper, The Pueblo Chieftain, and the monthly news editorial, The Pulp.


As all of the above projects show, it was an asset to be majoring in graphic design with skills in photography and drawing, but it was also an asset to be double majoring in integrated communications. My communications projects included press release writing, event posting and the creation of a strategic communications plan for the Twitter account, which I blogged about in my tips for writing communications campaigns.

Lessons to Share
My internship was essentially an integrated marketing communications and visual communications internship. For anyone seeking such an internship, here is my advice for what you can do while still in college. 

If you want an integrated internship, you need to integrate your portfolio. You don't have to go as far as double majoring, but if you are a communications major do consider advanced classes or a minor in graphic design or visual communications. While you are in college, build an integrated portfolio by taking a diverse range of classes.

No matter what you choose as your major and minor, it will benefit all of you to take photography classes, some graphic design and a little drawing (see below for more on drawing). Look for graphic design classes that teach poster design, logo design, advertising design and basic theory of color and composition and you will have your basic design skill-set. For communications, make sure you take a basic journalism course with an emphasis on AP style (so you can write above-average press releases) and a basic public relations writing course.

Drawing is a language. If you are a communications major you can speed up your discussions with a designer if you can draw your logo ideas. Graphic design and visual communications majors will benefit from drawing in two ways: increased conceptualizing speed and the ability to render original artwork.

Once you are comfortable with drawing (and you don't have to draw like Michelangelo to be comfortable) you can create more logos in half the time on paper than on a computer.  Different drawing styles can also be a marketable aesthetic--you can draw, scan and vectorize your creations for unique posters, t-shirts etc.

Get Comfortable with Photography
Just like drawing, you don't have to be a world-class master to get the job done, but you must be comfortable at what you can do. Practice regularly with DSLR cameras, you phone camera or tablet camera. Learn its strengths and weaknesses. I've seen people with cheap cameras get better images than pros with high-end equipment because they knew their camera's sweet spots.

While in college, look for classes that teach you basic DSLR mechanics as well as studio photography and photojournalism. You might also consider a fine art conceptual photography course as this course will teach you visual story-telling and how to convey abstract ideas in images (very handy for marketing and promotion).

Master Writing
Good writing is the backbone of integrated communications and two things will greatly lower your professionalism--spelling errors and an inability to be concise. Granted, if one or two posts has an 'it's' instead of 'its' you're professionalism won't fall through the floor, but do correct occasional mistakes ASAP. Concise writing is also crucial with today's shorter attention spans and limited writing space in social media. Nobody wants to read a long paragraph on Facebook with all the important stuff buried at the end. Break up your paragraphs, keep them short and answer the WWWWWH (Who, What, When, Where, Why and How) right away.

Answer WIIFM with Social Media
A big mistake you could make with an integrated communications internship is to assume that you know everything about social media because you use it in your personal life. I could write a whole article on the difference between personal social media and professional social media, but for this article I'll give you the biggest tip to get you started: answer WIIFM, or What's In It For Me. 

Instead of posting what you think is cool, ask yourself what does your audience want to see? Why would they care? How will you show them why they need to care?  If you can ask and answer these questions, you will have a major leg-up in social media for integrated communications.

I had a great internship, created a lot of work and learned great lessons.  Hopefully this post will inspire you and give you the tips you need to have your own great internship experience. Best of luck with your adventures!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

How Graphic Design Is Really Made

I'll never forget the day my best friend, a graphic designer, complained about how her clients thought she could pull designs out of thin air in minutes "because artists sit around making things up!" Her frustration revolves around truth--too many people don't really know what entails artistic creation.

In college, I saw this misconception (about the hard work that goes into graphic design) stump a lot of freshmen design students. If you are a student, this post is to give you a glimpse of the process behind client-based graphic design. It's meant to give you a glimpse of what you're in for so you can meet it head on, and it's meant to inspire you.

As you'll see, there is a lot of work, but there is also so much fun and creativity behind the scenes that few people ever see. So prepare to buckle down, but enjoy every minute too. As for the communications majors, art fans and design clients reading this blog, here is what we designers really do when you contract us for a project. We don't sit around staring in space as we wait for inspiration; instead we crack our knuckles and furiously busy ourselves for some magic.


All projects start with the client meeting, but it's once the designer leaves the meeting that the hard work and the magic begins.  In the case of these examples, my boss requested an icon logo for their farmers market.  My next step was to research other farmers market logos online to get a feel for what has already been done so I can create a unique design.  I wrote notes, jotted down thoughts and impressions and constructed a brainstorm bubble. Then I busted out those sharpie markers and started sketching all the ideas that were popping into my head.


I learned this process in college and a professor once called this sketching stage "visual vomit" because the point it is to get everything out, and it's not all beautiful. You'll sketch ideas that are just mediocre or down-right bad, but if you do enough, you'll find a few rough diamonds in all this mess, and those are the sketches you'll develop into roughs.


These days, roughs are usually generated on the computer. I'll make better drawings of my two or three favorite sketches, scan these drawings into the computer, and vectorized them in Illustrator.  From there I wrestle with the elements, creating variations and constantly refining them until I have a finished rough ready to present to the client. This is almost like a second stage of visual vomit as you are trying to get as many different options out of your head so you can pick the best one.
At last, after all that creativity behind closed doors, you have created the finished roughs ready to present to the client. Usually the client has suggestions for changes and if so, there is another stage of development called the semi-comp.  The design is usually done at that stage, but if there are more changes, it is industry standard to conduct one more stage, called the comp.

It is only during the final presentations and production that the public first sees the fruits of your labor without ever seeing all that development behind it, and hence the misconception that artists pull art out of the air.  It's an understandable misconception, but hopefully now you will have a better appreciation and understanding of the process behind graphic design, whether you are a client or aspiring designer. Best of luck with your future design adventures!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Drawing Is Like Bodybuilding...

Observational sketch process, Dinosaur Resource Center, Col-erase and Sharpie
...if you don't work it, it goes flabby.

I don't believe that you have to be a born artist to draw well.  Through college, I watched my own mundane doodles turn into decent drawings and I watched friends who couldn't draw to save their lives grow into classical-style drawers. Their growth was tremendous and put to rest the old argument "I don't draw because I wasn't born an artist."  The secrete is not in natural-born talent (although it can make it easier) but in practice. And like anything, if you don't practice regularly, your skills become flabby.

It's been a little while since I've had a semester with a drawing class (which was a guaranteed way of getting a minimum six hours every week of fast-paced observation drawing), so this weekend I spent some time at the Dinosaur Resource Center in Woodland Park, Colorado, to see how flabby my drawing muscles had become. I was surprised that I managed to pull some decent drawings, but I was slow. I used to create sketches like the Tylosaurus in 15 minutes, 20 minutes tops, and instead it took me about an hour.  I'll be spending the rest of my summer speed sketching and getting those muscles back in shape!

Not bad, but too slow!
My tip to visual communications majors is to bust out those pencils and sketchbooks and practice. You don't have to draw classically, but the more you draw (whatever subject or style), the better your mark-making and speed. Translation? You can concept posters, logos and more in a fraction of the time if you are comfortable with drawing. This summer, try drawing three things: photo copies, from your imagination, and from observation. Working from observation is the best way to learn perspective, 3D rendering and lighting. Imagination drawing can be done anywhere and will keep you in practice and copying from photos will let you draw subjects you might not have access to otherwise. They all have their merits, so use all three.

It doesn't hurt for other majors like mass communications students to learn a little drawing because when you are paired with a graphic designer for a promotional project, you can share your ideas in drawings. Graphic designers love visually-inclined clients, so you'll score a few brownie points.

All my sketches start with basic proportions and sighting (see the box marks?).

Then I refine the sketch and block in the main values.

During this drawing outing I tried a cloisonne style with the Sharpie. It makes the sketch a little graphic with sharper edges.