Final Project #2: The Photography Portfolio

One of my great wants in life has always been to take a photography class. I love photography, love taking snapshots. But I wanted to up my game and finally learn how to shoot you know, manually. Learn about shutter speed and aperture and everything. So I finally got off my behind and took an intermediate photography class.

Boy, did I learn a lot. And it was fun.

The final portfolio for this class consisted of 12 different shots, each fulfilling a specific assignment. Enjoy.

(Click on a photo to see it larger.)

Front / Side / Back lighting (same subject)

Selective Focus

Human Interest

Painting With Light (this is a single exposure, three different light sources in this case)

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Final Project #1: The Ad Campaign Extension

A few days back, I mentioned the marathon that was school and the raft of final projects that were due. Here’s the first in the series of projects. I was really pleased with how everything turned out.

This first project was for a studio class. (It’s basically a student-run creative agency that does real-world work for clients here in Sacramento.) Each graphic design student was paired with a photography student and given the task of choosing an existing ad campaign and designing an ad that would have fit logically into said campaign. If it was a print ad, the newly created ad had to look on-brand and advance the theme presented in the previously existing ads. (For instance, one pair of students did their version of the Diesel “Be Stupid” ads.)

I took a slightly different tack and chose the Bud Light “Too Light, Too Heavy” ad campaign, which is entirely a TV ad campaign. There were no print ads for reference, so the challenge was to come up with a situation that could be interpreted quickly in one or two shots. This was the result (call it “The Haircut”):

Now that was a fun shoot. How often do you get to tote around garden shears and act like you’re going to cut a chunk of hair out?

Everyone asked me if we actually cut the guy’s hair. We didn’t. That’s all hairstyling, baby. (Many thanks to my friend Lisa Williams for serving as not only the hairstylist, but the model holding both the scissors and the shears. And another friend of mine, Corey Hill, graciously let us ‘fro his very fluffy real-life hair.)

Several ideas were batted around for the ad, including a version at a doctor’s office where the Too Heavy would have been a doctor swinging a mallet to check a guy’s reflexes. But in the end, the haircut idea was the easiest to execute. My photographer, Janelle Robinson, and I thought about shooting this at an actual salon, but as it turned out, we didn’t really need to because both photos were so close up.

This project definitely helped me flex some art direction muscle, not to mention the post-production Photoshop skills I haven’t used in a while. It was also just neat to see this start from the concept in my mind to the actual print product.

As a side note, this piece won a silver award at the Sacramento City College Graphic Communications Student Showcase. Woot!

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The never-ending quest to learn

Today wrapped up a very hectic, sometimes mind-numbing, sometimes sleepless, sometimes frustrating five months in which I decided to take three different classes at Sacramento City College. I hadn’t taken that many classes in a while, but there were so many things I wanted to do and learn that I almost couldn’t help myself when the Spring 2010 schedule came out.

Finally, school is over and I have some of my time back. But it was a terrific time. I’ll be posting some of the final projects from various classes.

Learning new things is so essential and vital to our profession. It’s also nice to look at things from a different perspective. You sometimes feel creatively energized that way. For instance, I took a photography class and worked with photographers on a commercial shoot for a different class. Being behind the camera was not only a great experience, but it also taught me how to interact with photographers, learn more of their lingo and learn how to direct a shoot. Being an actual photographer taught me more about aesthetics and composition and having an eye for things. It’s all stuff that’s applicable to what we do as designers.

Besides, it was all just plain fun. Who knew school could be so much fun?

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Would you like motion with those graphics?

In the quest to always learn new things, one of the classes I’m taking at the local junior college is a motion graphics class. We’re learning how to use After Effects.

(I have to say, After Effects is awesome. I learned Flash a little while ago, and not having to deal with any programming is beautiful. I like keyframes and timelines. Simple stuff.)

One of our first projects was to take a previously existing bank ad our teacher had done and recreate it. We didn’t have to recreate it exactly, but it was 30 seconds and you had to animate things according to the voiceover. Here is the result:

(Excuse the resolution … I wanted to compress the hell out of it so I could get it onto the internets without waiting forever.)

Things I learned:

  • You could easily spend three hours animating the first five seconds of your clip. (Our teacher warned us about this, and lo and behold, I got sucked in.)
  • Storyboards help. A lot. Or at least writing down the key points of the script and noting what second the key points fall on.
  • Animating to a voiceover is really, really, really, really, really hard.
  • Uh, this is really a lot of fun.

I’ve gained a whole new respect for what the motion graphics folks do. It’s amazing. Our teacher also told us that we would never watch commercials the same way again after taking this class because we would learn to look at things in pieces. He’s right: I’m breaking down commercials in my head now. It’s insane. But it’s also cool to watch a commercial and have an inkling of how it was put together and how the animation works.

I don’t think I’d ever get into motion graphics full-time, but it is fun to dabble!

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Here’s what I’ve been doing… part 2

Last time, I talked a bit about one of the final projects in my typography class. Continuing on that topic, this week I wanted to focus on the other major final in that class – a semester long journal. The parameters for this project were wide-open. Beyond needing a weekly entry and being something that could be handed in, we were basically free to create anything that we liked.

Early in the semester, while reading about the early days of typography, I took an interest in the process of hand-casting letters. The first pieces of movable type were hand-carved from wood, with each different size and style requiring a new carving. Each letter was a movable module that would be hand-placed and aligned as a press plate.  Besides taking a really long time, it also meant that an experienced printer knew what just about every letter of a font looked like.

Having grown up in a digital world, I found this fascinating. While there are of course many, many advantages to digital typography, I saw a certain charm to the old-fashioned method, much like how some photographers still prefer to work with film.

I’d had a couple of dumb early ideas for my journal – one involved boots – that I’d rather not talk about.  After reading about the block printing process, though, I got a bright idea. I wanted to create type by hand – one letter a week, one for each journal entry.  Modern printers use metal lettering, but without access to a smelting furnace I figured that was a little out of reach. Wood carving was a possibility, but given that I needed 16 different letters, each fairly large, it seemed like a daunting task. Luckily, I remembered seeing my sister work with a medium that would work just fine – linoleum.


The process is pretty simple. Print a letter, trace it, flip the paper over and place it onto your linoleum, then trace it again. This transfers the pencil lead from the first tracing onto the linoleum and creates your template. From there, you painstakingly carve away the linoleum that’s outside of the letter shape and voila – instant letter block.

After some sage advice from my sister, I bought a carving tool and a couple small squares to do some experimentation. I started with one of my favorites – Garamond A. While the results didn’t turn out as clean as I hoped, I actually liked the effect. The rough edges and ink blotches were a nice change from digital perfection. I really felt that by distancing myself from the digital world, where fonts magically appear and disappear at your whim, I was gaining a better understanding and appreciation for letters.

My first journal entries were pretty dumb and pointless. Mostly I wrote about whatever I was thinking at the moment. Seeing the rough letterforms I had created, though, I had a better idea – rather than accepting the easy perfection allowed by computers, I would embrace imperfection. Each entry would deal with something that I felt was one of my own imperfections, coupled with a hand printed letter.

Pretentious? Maybe. But it sure beats boots.

COMING NEXT WEEK: THE BIG REVEAL! Ok, actually, this post is already long enough. The next part should be up in a couple of days.

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Here’s what I’ve been doing lately… part 1.

So it’s been nearly a year since my last post – whoa.

Unlike my post count, though, my design skills haven’t been stagnating. Through classes at SCC and specifically the GCOM club, I’ve been involved with a couple different projects that have really helped me expand my skills (and kept me really busy). I’ve cut back on my design classes this semester to get some GE done, and it’s actually left me with a bit of downtime which I plan to use on some personal projects – including this blog. For the next couple weeks I’m planning to go into detail on a couple of the projects I’ve worked on in the last 11 months.

For the Fall 2009 semester, one of the classes I enrolled with was the brand new GCOM class, Typography. Like many novice designers, I had no concept of typography beyond the simplest basics. I figured it would be a good opportunity to get a grasp on this crucial design discipline, and I was definitely not disappointed.

One of the final projects of the class was to design a custom type specimen with 4-8 unique letters. This seemed like a daunting task at the start of the semester, but — well actually I guess it was pretty daunting at the end of the semester as well.

This was the first sketch I did. (As you can see, my word is my tag – Thearc). You might be able to tell that I didn’t have any real direction in mind when I started these beyond some very vague concepts. I tried to have a lot of contrast on the strokes, pairing heavy and light strokes asymetrically (very artificially in retrospect). I was also experimenting with indentations and sharp serifs, but quickly decided they made the letters look too BROOTAL. You can also see that the E was proving particularly difficult to nail down.

This sketch was basically a doodle in class, so this was all off the top of my head and without any font reference. Unfortunately, with finals rapidly approaching I decided these rough, sketchy and ugly concepts were good enough and started refining them.

These were my refined sketches. Of these six, the only letter than I feel really stands out as interesting and worth expanding on is the T. It’s the only letter where the contrast in strokes really adds anything, as opposed to looking ugly and forced. It’s also the only letter that really nails the look in serifs I was going for. The R and the C might have potential with some more refinement. The E, H and A should have all been scrapped and reworked completely, but alas, I’m a student, not a font foundry. With about a week left until finals, I pushed onto digitization.

This is the final result. Digitization, as it turns out, is a lot harder than you think it would be when you don’t account for it while sketching. The C was especially difficult to translate, but I think it actually turned out better than the sketch. The one thing that really makes me cringe is the unequal line weights on the H, E, A and R. I digitized these individually, and the problem didn’t become apparent until the letters were placed together in a composition.

My original hope when designing this font was to use it as part of a personal logo. In that regard, I failed horribly. I wouldn’t think of using this text for anything besides an illustration of the evils of poor planning. Like any failed endeavor, though, it taught me two things: one, that a single set of sketches is never enough, and two, that I should have just used Bodoni.

Giambattista Bodoni: making me look like a chump since 1798.

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Latest Project: Loomis Basin Equine Medical Center

Another project is in the books, and this one just went live today: Loomis Basin Equine Medical Center.

This is another WordPress build. The design is by Barbara Lawrie of BTL Designs. I did the WordPress backend.

The good folks at Loomis Basin Equine Medical Center wanted a site that they could easily update, and wanted a little bit of a refresh in terms of the look of their site. This was their old site:

Barbara used a new green-and-red look for the site that’s really fresh and stands out. We also got rid of the clunky Flash-based navigation on the old site (which doesn’t even show up in the screenshot here). A lot of the content was also laid out differently and is a bit more modular, with photos on one side of the page and text more consistently flush left. Content was also re-organized so it’s not only easier to find for the end user, but so it’s also easier for the folks at Loomis Basin to update the contents of their site.

Also added to the new front page were callouts to the veterinary practice’s success stories and new announcements, just for more dynamic content on the front and to give vistors more entry points to see what else is around the site.

One of the more important things Loomis Basin wanted was a way to post breaking news quickly on their home page. In the new design, there is a red bar that automatically populates with the latest headline on a breaking news page, and a link to that page so people can read more.

Thanks to the WordPress-powered site, they no longer have to wait to make updates, and using the blog functionality, they can keep the Success Stories and Latest Scoop and Breaking News sections fresh.

It was a fun build, and I’m always glad to make things easier for a client!

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New year, new goals, new you

It’s almost two weeks into 2010. I’m sure the year started off with many promises to make yourself a better person, to do better things, etc. Hopefully, two weeks into the year, those goals are still alive and haven’t fallen by the wayside like so many other resolutions of years past.

Of course, it’s not just about making new goals for yourself, it’s about making goals for your business too. There is a terrific article from Freelance Folder about the 10 New Year’s Resolutions Every Freelancer Should Have. It is a terrific read — go check it out if you haven’t seen it yet.

I especially liked the points about improving customer service (because it’s important that people like you — they’ll keep telling their friends about you if you have excellent customer service!) and about constantly learning new things and keeping up with your education. Things change so quickly in this business and new techniques and technologies keep emerging, so it’s important to keep reading, keep learning and keep being inspired.

With some of those things in mind, I did actually make a list of new year’s resolutions, but these were the design-related ones on that lovely handwritten list that’s on my wall:

  • Double the money I made in freelance.
  • Redesign my design portfolio site.
  • Redesign my personal website (it’s like, 10 years out of date).
  • Have an actual, fancy, hard-bound design portfolio before the HOW Conference in June.
  • Actually market and get more freelance clients.
  • Take a photography class.
  • Kick ass in general.

2010 is the year of the personal project for me. I have a lot of old personal projects hanging around that I vow to get out the door. Sometimes you get so caught up in all the paying work — you need to eat and keep a roof over your head, after all — that the fun stuff gets lost. Sometimes you need the personal projects to stay rejuvenated and sharpen your creative skills. So this is the year I get those projects out the door and make them come to life.

My portfolios needed some sprucing up too. This will be my first full year as a freelancer, so I better step up my game.

The new year is off to a good start — it’s been busy and I’m fielding lots of inquiries — so hopefully the good times continue (and the resolve to get things done doesn’t diminish).

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Latest project: Christine McClain portfolio

My latest project just went live on Sunday at

This was a build for Long Beach-based designer Christine McClain. Christine wanted help getting her portfolio online and wanted it to be easily updated. I proposed the site be built in WordPress. She did the design and I did all the HTML, CSS and the WordPress backend.

It was a fun build. It helped me realize just how powerful WordPress can be when it comes to using it to power a portfolio. Building the portfolio page and putting in all the automatically generated thumbnails was especially a challenge, but I learned a lot of really neat tricks in solving that challenge.

I was very proud of the final result and thrilled Christine liked it too.

(P.S.: Christine is a terrific designer as well, so you should check out her work anyway. I was impressed as I was putting this site together!)

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A patch of pumpkin photos …

It’s still fall, not too cold yet (well at least for us on the West Coast).

Went to a friend’s pumpkin patch a little while ago and took my trusty Nikon D60. Sometimes it’s just fun to shoot random things. And pumpkins are very pretty shades of orange. Shot some stuff that I thought might make interesting textures or background images for fall-related things.

Feel free to use these. All I ask is if you do use them in a project, just drop me a line and show me a sample. I like seeing my stuff in action. :)








Download all the full-sized textures here.

If you want to see the entire set on Flickr, go here. There are lots of pretty pumpkins like these:


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Latest project: Turner Photography

Just proof that I’m doing actual work. :)

Another project in the books, this one for nature photographer Richard Turner.

Richard Turner Photography

This was built using a combination of WordPress and Gallery2 for the photo gallery. Pretty simple, with the emphasis on the photography. (I notice a lot of photographers prefer their websites be black … I can see why after working on this project.)

Lots of fun plugins, including the slideshow on the front page powered by ShowTime Slideshow. Tried a bunch of different slideshows, but this was the one that fit the bill best — easy to update for the client and simple to integrate. Couldn’t ask for anything more.

To see the site, visit (May I mention that his photography is pretty sweet! Especially the flowers.)

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My files are here, there and everywhere …

wd-my-passport-essential-portable-usb-driveIn this day and age, it’s important for your files to be pretty portable. Clients like to e-mail us stuff, and we as designers are pretty mobile ourselves. Freelancers aren’t really tethered to desks anymore, and some people like to work in coffee shops. I personally like to work outdoors when the weather isn’t crummy.

The point is, though, that you sometimes need access to your files … and you’re not at your main computer. Maybe the computer’s at the shop. Or maybe you’re too lazy to drag your laptop to a computer lab because you’re leaving to go on vacation right after your shift at the college (that would be me). Or you’ve got a bunch of files archived on an external hard drive and you don’t have that hard drive and you need to make an emergency fix.

That’s where having some form of online backup or file service comes in handy.

(Recently, I was without my computer and needed to edit a manual for a client pronto. I was able to access it using iDrive, download it onto the computer I was using, edited the manual and put it back online so I could put it on my regular computer later.)

There are a lot of online services out there with varying levels of storage, service and fees. This terrific article from Nettuts explains several services available and is really thorough. I actually read that article myself and based my current setup on the information in the article.

So here’s what I use (hopefully you find it helpful). It’s a combination of backup, file access and public space so that the next time a client tells me he or she has 6GB worth of files to give me, he or she can upload it easily and not tax any e-mail servers. :)

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The Importance of Being Professional

(as opposed to being Ernest … but that’s besides the point.)

There are some things that seem to be real no-brainers, but the reminder to always stay professional, even in the face of great adversity or the risk of your veins popping out of the side of your head, is something to remember always. Trust me, it pays off.

Everyone has a difficult client. Some of us have them in spades. They’re the clients who make you want to tear your hair out and bang your head against the wall.

I had one of those clients. I literally spent many mornings dreading the day and not wanting to open my e-mail because I knew there were going to be 10 billion e-mails from said client. I found myself continually frustrated because I had to explain a lot of things about the web that said client didn’t understand. I had to spend countless hours — many of which I wasn’t really being paid for — slaving away on this project.

(Side note: I must have this gene that doesn’t allow me to half-ass things or leave things unfinished or leave things done badly. It’s a blessing and a curse.)

Anyway, I persevered. Maybe against my better judgement. I vented a lot to friends. I wrote a lot of cryptic Twitter vents. I cursed a lot in my studio, in the presence of only my cats. I wrote an e-mail in a fit of righteous anger but happened to be on the phone with a trusted colleague at the time. In a moment of clarity, I read it to her and she of course smacked some sense into me and made me edit it.

But in every dealing with my client, I stayed nice. As much as I possibly could. I was forceful when needed (like when explaining that something was downright impossible). But mostly, I tried to educate — I am a teacher, after all — and keep a smile on and joke around and just be pleasant. I set firm deadlines when it seemed like the client was trying to monopolize my time and held my ground without yelling. I was killing said client with kindness (and trust me, most people who know me on a personal level will tell you I don’t kill anyone with kindness … it’s not my thing).

Finally, there was light at the end of the tunnel. The project was wrapping up. It entailed an epic exit meeting, but I was determined to stay and spend as much time as was needed to make sure the project was put to bed.

And then came the time when the client handed me a check … and it was for double what I was expecting. “We want to thank you for being a trooper and for all your time and give you something extra,” was what the client said.

So yeah, professionalism pays off, yes?

I could have popped off but then I would have lost the client and it would have gotten ugly. Instead, I got a satisfied client who now understands the value of my time. Said client wants more extra work done, but now the client is willing to pay me at my regular rate.

I’m not saying that all bad clients wind up like this. But it’s nice to know that niceness still carries some currency in a society where civility sometimes seems it’s gone down the drain.

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Thanks for the awesomeness, CFC ’09!

Went to the Creative Freelancer Conference in San Diego last week, and had an amazing time. It couldn’t have come at a better time for me personally, since I decided recently to go solo full-time and was feeling a little scared. I got to meet some awesome and fun people from around the country. And among the valuable business tips and terrific advice came this overarching feeling:

I really can do this.

It was refreshing to see so many creative folks at different stages of going solo. There were people who’d been doing this for 10, 15, 20, 25 years. There were people who just started. There were people who were in my exact boat — going solo because they had been laid off from another job.

It was so nice to look around the room and know that doing this solo venture was possible.

There was a wealth of information — I went to a pricing workshop and that was extremely eye-opening — but some of the great nuggets I heard were:

* Growth is not necessarily about growing your business, but to make it a sustainable practice. (Petrula Vronakis)

* You have to be more than interested, you have to be committed. (Peleg Top, Marketing Mentor)

* We understand our vocation is bigger than our occupation. (Todd Henry, the Accidental Creative)

And perhaps my favorite quote from the entire conference, also from Todd Henry during his talk about staying creative in a demanding profession:

“Cover bands don’t change the world.”

So pithy and so true.

I was thrilled about the conference. Now I feel like I can approach the business side of my business without freaking out. I feel like I have a strategy. And I also have a whole new network to connect with.

I’ll definitely be back next year!

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The Joy of Unemployment

Exactly one month ago, I walked into my office and was greeting with the piece of news that nobody likes to hear:

We’re sorry, we like your work, but we can’t keep you.

That’s essentially how I was laid off from my last job. And then came the expected mild panic: How will I pay the bills? How about insurance? What do I do now?

For me, the bout of panic lasted maybe an hour. I’ve always been one of those people who has Plans A, B, C, D, E and F at the ready. I’d been working as a freelance designer the past five years on the side. Losing my job only meant that I had to move into freelance. Full-time.

After a month, I can honestly say that becoming unemployed may have been the best thing to happen to me this year.

My ultimate goal in life was to go solo. This happening to me gave me the kick in the pants I needed and forced me to take the plunge. It’s been a growing experience.

Taking the plunge as a freelancer is scary. You’ve got to hustle. You’ve got to get yourself out there. You’ve got to balance the books. You have to kick ass. And have I mentioned that you have to design too?

Part of me was a little scared that I didn’t have the connections or the contacts or the client base to really make a go of this. But I think I underestimated myself. I also think I’ve been busier now than I ever was when I had a full-time job.

I’ve had the luxury of time. Time to work on personal projects and nurture my creativity as a designer. I might even get to working on some art projects to keep feeding the inspiration bug.

Of course the luxury of time is sometimes a curse. It’s no secret that time management is probably the hardest part of working on your own schedule. Finding time to finish projects, pursue new projects, meet with people and keep the house from falling apart is the daily challenge. But it gets better as you go on.

I think I’m going to enjoy this journey. And I hope bigger things are in store.

I leave with a picture a friend of mine sent me yesterday. Very apropos. (Shame I don’t know who to attribute it to because it’s lovely.)


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