The War of Art or Sometimes You Need A Swift Kick In the Ass

When I was about eight years old and my best friend’s mom would get mad at her, she would threaten to send her to “Tough Love”. Tough Love was supposedly a place where bad children were sent to learn discipline by way of extremely long hikes, sleep deprivation, and going to the bathroom outdoors -basically, camping. Even now if you want to motivate me to change my behavior, threaten me with camping. Just the mention of it has me gasping, clutching my invisible pearls and subtly shaking my head, “No.” To two chubby suburban eight year old girls, who were never big fans of physical exertion, Tough Love sounded like torture in the woods. My parents employed the time honored technique of, “Wait till your father gets home!”, so I had not heard of the horror that  was Tough Love. I asked my friend, Diana, if Tough Love was a real place. She said, “I don’t know, but I’m not taking any chances!”

But it turns out, tough love (actual tough love, not the mythical camp for chunky girls who sass their parents) is sometimes exactly what we need. I don’t know about you, but I can get stuck in a certain mindset- and it’s never a happy, positive, “I can do anything!” mindset. Why is that? Anyway, it helps when someone can look at me and say, “Look, I care about you, but I am not going to listen to you whine. You know what you have to do-  shut up, do the work, and get going,”

Enter the book, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. It’s like a pocket-sized swift kick in the ass that you didn’t even know you needed. Like it’s namesake, The Art of War by Sun Tzu, the book is broken down into small  chunks and is a quick read. But don’t think it’s small size means lack of substance. I’ve highlighted something on almost every page.

The entire premise of the book is that we are each fighting a war against Resistance. What is Resistance? It’s that internal voice that tells us that we cannot possibly succeed, so don’t even bother trying. Pressfield defines it like this:

Resistance is not a peripheral opponent. Resistance arises from within. It is self-generated and self-perpetuated. Resistance is the enemy within.

He goes on to say:

Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.

Who hasn’t been there at some point? Without quoting the entire book, Pressfield goes on to describe the internal struggle with Resistance and how, left unchecked, it can defeat us. I love that he never shies away from telling us that art is still work. It seem to be a huge misconception that art just sort of “is” and springs forth from thought. I guess in a way it does, but no more then anything else. Getting something down on paper or canvas or computer still requires method, planning, and work.

My favorite section is called “Turning Pro” where the author describes the difference between being a “professional” and an “amateur”.

The amateur has not mastered the technique of his art. Nor does he expose himself to judgement in the real world. If we show our poem to our friend and our friend says, “It’s wonderful, I love it,” that’s not real-world feedback, that’s our friend being nice to us. Nothing is as empowering as real-world validation, even if it’s for failure.

Ouch. But completely true. He follows with a story about his writing a movie that was a universal flop and being pretty down about it. His friend asked him if he was going to give up. Pressfield said of course not. His friend replied, “Then be happy. You’re where you wanted to be, aren’t you? So you’re taking a few blows. That’s the price for being in the arena and not on the sidelines. Stop complaining and be grateful.”   See what I mean? Tough love.

So many things spoke to me in this book, but I think this next one effected me the most. If there were a way to add little stars, circles and flashing arrows to a Kindle highlight, I would do it for this passage. There is something oddly freeing about knowing your fears will always be there.

The amateur believes he must first overcome his fear; then he can do his work. The professional knows that fear can never be overcome. He knows there is no such thing as a fearless warrior or a dread-free artist.

I really can’t recommend it highly enough for anyone (not just artists) who need that little extra something to get moving.

Housekeeping note: The design page is updated with the book jacket pictures. You may have noticed the blog has a new look this week. While I really like it, I can’t figure out how to resize the font in the header so the word “Design” isn’t quite so lonely. If anyone knows how to fix it, I would so appreciate if you could clue me in! Thanks for reading and have a great week!


“Empty” Book Jacket Final and a Few Words of Wisdom

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Without further ado, here is the final version of the book jacket! If you are visiting me for the first time, the assignment was to make a book jacket for a fictitious book with the subject of our choosing. Sadly, Ray LaMontagne does not have a book coming out (at least that I know of). But if he was considering such a thing, this one could be had for the cheap! (*holding thumb and pinky up to my ear like a phone* Call me, Ray!).

My goal was to give people  who may not be familiar with him a sense of Ray and his music through pictures. In case you are still unacquainted with Ray’s awesomeness, his songs are rich with imagery, almost poetic. His style has been described as Van Morrison meets The Band, meets Neil Young, meets Jim Croce and a little Ray Charles.  In his 2011 tour he was most frequently on stage wearing a red plaid western cut shirt and worn in jeans. Plus, he’s not shy about talking his disdain for the city. He has a song called, New York City’s Killing Me that, if you couldn’t guess from the rather direct title, talks about how he’s tired of all the concrete and noise of the city and longing to get back to the country to “have a couple drinks with the good old boys.”

So, I really wanted to illustrate the warmth of his words, the richness of his voice, and the openness of the country where he feels most at home. It came out beyond what I had envisioned and I am extremely happy with the results.

In class we printed our book jackets and folded them on to an actual book. This is a crappy picture taken with my cell phone, but I was so happy with how it printed (that printer usually prints everything way dark) and looked on the book, that I had to share it. . Next week I’m taking a nice picture in the departments little photo studio and I’ll post that one in the design section (keep scrolling! There’s more below!).
And now for the words of wisdom part. In my Ray LaMontagne research, I found this really great interview from 2010 right around the time God Willing and the Creek Don’t Rise was released. Maybe it’s a little metaphysical of me, but I believe when you keep hearing the same message over and over again, it’s universe or God or what have you’s way of telling you something. So, I was kind of struck when I read this bit:

I always want to get better but, there are enough people out there that want to knock you down, there’s no sense in knocking yourself down…..Yeah, and I think that as much as I am self-critical, there is an inner strength there that has been there from the beginning and I’ve always known deep down that I wasn’t gonna let anything stop me. I mean once I knew what I wanted to do, I was gonna do it. And it doesn’t matter if anyone ever said, “you’re no good”, “we don’t like what your doing”, “go home.” It doesn’t matter. I always knew I was going to keep doing this, deep down.

The bolded sentence was almost word for word what someone else had said to me. So much so, that I think I reread that sentence three or four times thinking what a weird coincidence. As far as I know, that person is not a Ray fan or reading obscure roots music blogs. Message received, Universe. The second part is what I try to tell myself as often as possible. Even people with the best of intentions, can say something that shakes your faith and makes you question if your chosen path is the right one or just a silly pipe dream. But I choose to look at it this way- people who know me, know that “no” and “we don’t like what you are doing” has never really stopped me before, so I can’t see why this time should be any different. If I fail, then I will fail trying rather then wondering, “What if…”

As always, have a great week and be my Twitter friend!

Empty Book Jacket

It’s one of the best feelings to get to Friday and realize you’ve had a pretty good week. It’s been incredibly warm for March in Chicago, I’m right on schedule with all my projects, and my panda eyes are slowly fading. Oh and I found out Ray LaMontagne had a song on his demo album about big girls   and it pretty much made my spring.  Other then the part about having a porch, cooking, and being named Sally, it might as well be a song about me  (stop looking at me like that and let me have my dream).

But speaking of Ray, I mentioned last time that I was working on a project inspired by his song, “Empty.” Tuesday afternoon I headed out to Trantina Farm in Homer Glen. It was really better then I had imagined. The sky was super bright blue and gave the dried grasses and flowers a warmth that was exactly what I was looking for.

A few blending modes, some clicks of the transparency sliders, and a font import later and it’s about 75% finished! It’s one of those projects that just sort of came together on it’s own. The whole time I’ve been working on it, I’ve tried to keep two objectives in mind: give viewers a sense of Ray and his music, especially those unfamiliar with both, through only pictures and to make something I would be proud to show him. 

It’s seven different photos, two different textures and the font is called “Blue Skies”- with some major kerning adjustments.  I’m going to add some text on the back panel (either a short bio or the song lyrics) and I have to find a way to add his name to the spine without it disappearing. I’ll have the final version for you all next week.

On another note, I’m finally on twitter! How very 2006 of me, right? I just signed up the other day, so there is hardly anything there yet. But you should follow me, because it would be nice to have followers that are actual people instead of porn spammers telling me how hot they think I am. While I agree and appreciate the sentiment, I prefer communicating with real people. You can click the twitter widget on the right sidebar or, if you are like me and too lazy to scroll up, click here.

The Book Jacket

I don’t know about you, but I do not adjust well to daylight savings time. It’s still dark when I wake up, I’m hungry for breakfast at 11, lunch at 4 and yet somehow I’m ready for bed at 8 but can’t fall asleep until midnight. I won’t even go into my resemblance to a panda around the eye area. What I am saying is it messes me up. Anyway, while I am busy not sleeping, I have plenty of time to ponder my projects, school, music….everything, really and that’s why you get the rare mid-week, early morning post (with typo fixes and other corrections in the afternoon).

I mentioned in my last post that one of my upcoming projects is a book cover for digital illustration class and I have been having the hardest time coming up with a subject for my book. When I get creatively stuck, I look for a story to tell. But what was the story?  That was the sticking point. I looked through Amazon, nothing. Design inspiration links, nothing. The newspaper, nothing. Itunes- yahtzee (so much more exciting then yelling bingo)! Really, this should have been my first stop, because what are songs, but 3-5 minute stories?

No one has really ever inspired me more then Ray LaMontagne. His songs are have such vivid imagery and weave such fantastic stories that they are more like poems set to music.  I’ll stop waxing quixotic about Ray (yes, in my mind we are that tight that I can call him by his first name and not Your Lordship), but you get this idea- I love him. After listening to my Ray playlist about 50 times, I finally decided on the song, “Empty.”  It’s not the most uplifting song, but it creates such a clear picture. Plus, it may be the only opportunity I ever get to design something for Ray. With the lyrics about fields, flowers, and tall brown grass, I thought of this series of photos I took from a place called Trantina Farm. The photo illustrating this post is from that series and I have a ton more. They were taken at the height of summer, so to get more of that lonely feeling, I’m thinking of heading out there soon to get more of those ugly, empty early spring landscapes.

In case you are unfamiliar with Ray’s awesomeness or are like me and just cannot get enough of his awesomeness, check out the video below of Ray speaking with Elvis Costello. Even though they are speaking about the elusiveness of songwriting, what they say can be applied to any creative process. You can see it/hear it in your head, but if you hold that idea too tightly it just seems to evaporate. It’s like butterfly wings, beautiful and fragile. There is a woman in the audience at the 4 minute mark with her hand on her chin, a grin, and goo-goo eyes. When ever I see her, I think, “I hear ya, sister. I would have that exact expression on my face if I were there, too.”

Ice Mountain 2

Just in case you were sitting on the edge of your seat all week in eager anticipation of the final result- wait no longer, because here it is! There were few minor adjustments from last weeks version, the name was enlarged and I had to add the rest of the text. I can’t be the only one who, while adding text to a design, thinks, “Nooo! Not over my pretty picture!!” But I think making the text bigger did give it an extra punch and contributed to the movie poster feel I was hoping for.

Why, yes! There are more pictures! I’m so glad you asked. Here’s the printed label on an Ice Mountain bottle.















And a little closer:

I know what you are thinking, “But, Beth! You had three designs! What about the other two??”  I’m so glad you remembered! I have the smartest readers. Design 2 was handed in pretty much as-is. When I put it on the bottle, it just didn’t have the impact I had hoped. One of my classmates pretty much nailed it when she said, “It looks like a custom label at a wedding reception.” Not what I was hoping for, but lesson learned.

Which brings us to the third and final version. Our teacher told us to just be as creative as possible on this one and here are the final results: front label, back label and the labels on some 3D bottles created in Illustrator. Click on any of them to enlarge.

I’m pretty pleased with the all end results. My teacher was extremely complimentary, which really surprised me. Don’t get me wrong, he had told me throughout the process that he liked where I was going, so I wasn’t surprised he was happy with it. But during my presentation he actually said to give me anything less then an A would be an injustice. That was surprising, especially since it’s been a very challenging class for me.

Up next is brochure about celiac disease and a book jacket. The celiac disease brochure I actually sketched out (for a change!) and is a lot more fun then it sounds. The goal is to make a quick pocket guide for newly diagnosed celiacs or people on gluten-free diet, both males and females of all ages. I am thinking of a retro diner menu, but in order to appeal to men and women, color choice will be important. As for the book jacket, um…I should probably get working on that since it’s due in a week and a half.


Ice Mountain Labels

I hate when people start out their blog posts by saying something like, “I’ve been soooooo busy this week, you guys!” So, let’s just say my dance card has been a little more full then I anticipated. BUT  it gives me a chance for my favorite kind of blog post- the (sort of) behind the scenes creative process post!

For three-dimensional design we’ve been working on reimaging the 16.9 or 20 oz. Ice Mountain bottle. Once we are finished we are going to print it out, attach it to the bottle and photograph it. Plus, we are coming up with a completely new label of our own design that doesn’t have to adhere to the existing label dimensions. Cool, right?

Sometimes (okay, most of the time) it takes me a little while to come up with a theme or idea after we are given our assignment. Maybe because we are working with existing elements this one came to me quickly. “Ice Mountain” immediately made me think of one of those westerns from the 60’s. Something staring Robert Mitchum, John Wayne or Gregory Peck with sweeping landscape shots and music that swells as our hero rides to the edge of the cliff to survey the wide open space before him.

My parents have long been into all things western and my dad is a Civil War buff, so I grew up fully immersed in that kind of imagery. BUT that also posed a problem. As much as I thought of the sweeping valley views, I also thought of the old-timey health tonics that were supposed to restore “vim and vigor”.  They always had great, elaborate illustrations, swirly fonts (as my classmates know, I love swirly fonts) and tons of text. So, I decided to come up with a two versions and once I got close to finished, I’d see which one I liked better and go with that one for my final.

Yesterday in class, I printed out both labels in black and white and taped them to a bottle just to see if I favored one over the other. Now this is going to sound completely dopey, but this was the coolest thing. I wanted to go all Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein and scream, “IT’S ALIVE!!” The idea that something I created could potentially end up on store shelf someday was so exciting. But here’s the thing- I liked them both. I talked to my classmates and there was no clear winner.  I asked my teacher and he said, “Present them both!”

Version one is above and it’s about 85% finished. The jpeg is fairly low quality which makes the text tough to read, but you can see the main illustration. Here’s version 2, which with the exception of a minor sizing problem, is pretty much complete:

You might be thinking, “Hey, what’s the problem? More ideas are better!”  Yeah, that’s true. But I am lazy and this project is due Tuesday. Presenting these two on the bottle means I have to come up with a third, completely original design that doesn’t adhere to the current size restrictions.

Keeping with the old west theme, I thought about old letter press machines, wanted posters, illustrated Civil War newspapers and that sort of thing. Of course, I do not have an old-timey letterpress, so between Photoshop and Illustrator I had to work something out. Thank God for the bevel and emboss tool in Photoshop! This is about 50% finished. Instead of doing a wrap-around label like the other two, this one is going to have a separate front and back label. This one may be my favorite of the three.

Again, the jpeg quality isn’t that great, but you get the overall idea. I may burn the corners and edges a little bit to give it a more weathered, vintage look.  I also was toying with the idea of kind of scalloping the edges, but that might be a bit much. I welcome any kind of feedback, because like I said, these are due Tuesday and this last one is going into class sight unseen by anyone other then me and my readers (all two of you). I anticipate a bloodbath during critique, but I sort of go into every critique with that thought.

Once the photos are ready next week, I will post them so you can see the finished product. Until then, have a great week!