Weekly Sketchbook – Winter Birds

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An exercise in “seeing”. I call these my 5 second sketches and am challenging myself to do them daily.

In using a Micron pen, it keeps me from attempting to perfect the sketch and just move on.

I am studying Indiana backyard birds that winter over for some oil painting I am working on.

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The Changing Face of Business Communications

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Visuals are becoming more and more crucial for communicating quickly, even in the dry world of business. However, business communication is becoming more dynamic with the advent of powerful digital devices to handle images, as well as the interactivity of the social media scene. A cutting edge company must embrace this and find ways to speak the language of the day to their customers, as well as employees.  Anything less and that company will be left behind. It is that simple.

Visualization of content is the communication wave of the “now” and of the future. It is not going away, so as a writer in business communications, this trend is why I returned to school for a graphics degree. (It did not hurt to be a lifelong artist and illustrator on the side.) It has been exciting to see how companies are able to tap into this newly developed creative skill and use it for their business needs.

The Newest Opportunity

This year’s opportunity appeared unexpectedly in the realm of social media, my passion.  When asked, I quickly jumped on the chance to be a member of the (volunteer) team working on the new company blog. This is with Moser Consulting, where I have my day job as an IT Senior Consultant – Technical Writer.

My official project title is Staging Coordinator. While we are currently outsourcing the technical aspects of the blog, it is my role to prep the articles submitted by our talented consulting team and supply images for those articles.

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 New Challenges

Being a technical IT blog, the challenges have been different than those encountered on my personal blogs.

  1. Figuring out how to illustrate a coding problem or business concept that is someone else’s brainchild.
  2. Choosing the medium and style for each illustration – that is the fun part.
  3. Learning to work with a system that I do not have direct access to (i.e. I can not fix a problem with my images once they are uploaded.)
  4. Setting up a simple blog process (with the team) with multiple authors – the most difficult piece.
  5. Working with an article pipeline dependent upon outside sources and a specific schedule (my own blog posts currently come as I have time because I always have more than enough topic ideas.)

The Illustrations

As far as the illustrations go, I am discovering that some are quick and easy in Adobe Illustrator.

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Or I simply use my own photos and manipulate them in Photoshop.

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This avoids all that time spent searching for a creative commons image, not that I have any problem with that. Eventually I will probably have to use CC a lot as our pipeline of articles grow.

Other illustrations take on a whole life of their own. I am currently working on a superhero illustration (see top image) – never in my life would I have thought I would be doing comic book style illustrations! But it has been a lot of fun and the style is good for IT articles (in my humble opinion.)

Examples

Here are some of my exploratory works:

Trying out my first vintage comic book look, which has then led to more along the comic book line.

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Quick cartoons. Once you have the concept, this is a very easy style executed on a Wacom tablet within Illustrator. The hardest part is coming up with the idea to fit the article.

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And then my favorite, but very time consuming one, which was executed with colored pencils.

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Hand rendered images are very “real” and vulnerable. When I am searching the web, they grab my attention. It is not a style that works for all topics, but it is one that I hope to use more in the future.

I was so inspired that I got carried away and created a whole infographic in this style. This went along with a story in When Big Data Isn’t Sexy. Being time consuming, infographics are probably not going to be at the top of my list, but they are fascinating to create.

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This has been a year of positive growth, and I am grateful to work for a company that is encouraging me to practice and develop a skill that taps into my passions of communicating, social media and creative design.

Corporate Communications

I went back to college full-time in 2009. By 2012 I was wrapping up my degree and looking for corporate work once again. A 7 month contract presented itself, during my last 6 months of classes, which married my years of IT communications with my newly acquired graphic design skills.

Initial planning

(I love organizing projects!) My portion of the project was to build the communication plan for the IT team running the program, as well as the process flow and work breakdown structure. It was fun to apply a simple branding to what can often be “blah” business documents.

 

Images

Branding

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Note: While I guided the discussions for our team name (Desktop Refresh), the in-house marketing group created the logo.

I took the logo we were given (a simple logo with blue and gold colors) and built out the brand for the team. They were skeptical about the creative brief and brand guide, finding them quite foreign at first, but once they grasped the idea, they appreciated how it simplified communication and visual decisions.

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The business was preparing to do a company-wide revamp of their computer systems. That included rolling out around 10,000 new computers across the company. As the project’s Communication Director, I was tasked with creating email blasts as well as their corporate newsletter for the project. This was a Microsoft project, so I leaned on some of Microsoft’s graphics and added some of my own illustrations.

Note: Marketing had a tight hold on anything going outside of the team, so I believe they nixed the illustrations before this was actually published. It was a bit odd working with a Marketing group that was not familiar with trained graphic designers and their processes. I was told their designers were raised up in-house from the sales team. This was a real-world eye-opener.

 

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I also created the language, including an easy-to-understand phased rollout approach, around our process and built a poster sized infographic that made it easy for the team to explain the process to the hundreds of managers this project would be impacting.

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Organizing is always an exciting challenge, but this was also the first time I was able to bring my graphic design training into the corporate mix. The project was a perfect way to wrap up my degree and give me real world experience in using design within a corporate setting.

Can I say that it was a thrill to see it all come together?

 

Buttons

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I have a penchant for buttons. It has something to do with my grandma and my Mom collecting them in wonderful old tins and jars. They were sooooo much fun!

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It should have been an indicator of my personality when, as a kid, I spent hours organizing all of the stray buttons in my Mom’s big jar. By the time I was done, all those that were alike were threaded together onto their own strings in neat little clusters.

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No, I don’t know why, except that it gave me great satisfaction. That same attention to details and organization has followed me my whole life.

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And this little grouping? A friend was cleaning out her closet. I told her to give me all those little button packets that come with business clothing. Who knew there would be so many? Aren’t they pretty? And no, at this moment I have no idea what to do with them, but being an artist and a crafter, there is no telling how they will be re-purposed.

Now the greatest fun of all is finding antique buttons. Up for an antique hunt?

The Golden Ratio

Do you notice the Golden Ratio in everyday things? Periodically I receive a pleasant surprise when I am not looking for it.

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And then other times… not so pleasant. This little curled up opossum landed in my garage trash can this past week.

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We found a happy home for him in the woods, but I couldn’t help but notice nature’s perfection, even if it was not as perfect or cute as my cat. (Ok, so I am biased.)

This has inspired me to dive into a book I have been wanting to read for some time now. Now I get to practice using the Golden Ratio in my creative endeavors.

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The Mother of Modern Infographics

We all learned about Florence Nightingale in grade school – how she was a wonderful nurse, saved lives, was a woman to look up to, and all that. I have to admit, I found it boring in my pre-teen outlook on the world, but that may have been the fault of the presentation style at the time, because she is one very interesting woman.

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However, what I want to know is why we were never told she was also the mother of the modern infographic? She created a chart (in 1858) that probably saved even more lives than her nursing, because it convinced Queen Victoria to improve conditions within military hospitals. Wow! The power of data visualization!

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Ok, so in my case, we were probably not told this because the terms “data visualization” and “infographic” had not yet entered into mainstream use when I was in school and statistics are pretty boring to kids. That point aside, with over 20 years of technical writing under my belt, data visualization has been one of my biggest challenges. How to do it right, how to convey the correct message, how to present the visuals.

I became suspicious of all graphs after my marketing manager showed me how he *really* wanted the graph to look… thus making our numbers far more visually appealing to the folks paying our salaries. Hmmm. Yeah.

I can finally relate to Florence Nightingale, after all these years, and I am very impressed! I celebrate the mother of the infographic. She has impacted my world directly.

Further reading:

Flowing Data: 9 Ways to Visualize Porportions

Wikipedia: Florence Nightingale

National Archives (UK): Florence Nightingale

A seed of my creative roots

Have you ever run across  something from your childhood that strikes a long forgotten emotional cord? That is what happened today when I came across these 2 paintings tucked among my stashed art resources such as frames and canvases.

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As I stared at them I felt nostalgia, puzzlement, as well as deep pleasure of a found treasure. At the same time I was thinking, “What in the world did I save paint-by-numbers for?” Then I saw the initials.

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No – that is not e.e.cummings, but these are the initials of my beloved uncle who introduced me to his writings!

Then the memories came flooding back of these hanging on my grandmother’s wall all my growing up years, painted by her son when he was still a young sprite battling polio in the 1950s or early 60s.

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My uncle was one of the major influences in my very early artistic endeavors. What a precious find.

So what if they are paint-by-number; there is such a funky charm, as well as deep connected-ness to sweet memories and tender relationships held within these youthful, exploratory strokes. What a treasure.

I will hang them in my new art studio.

“We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us something is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit.”
― E.E. Cummings