October 01, 2014

286: Inktober

My close friend Allan Lorde tuned me into Inktober, a drawing/sketching exercise created by Jake Parker and performed by illustrators all over the map through the month of October. Having drawn a grand total of four things this calendar year, I announced I was in before I even knew what I'd said/typed. I'd completed a similar assignment a few years ago, sympathetically hitching onto Kerry's poem-a-day-in-May challenge by spending time each day completing a sketch. It achieved great results; my drawing instincts were noticeably improved by the end of one month. So, why not do it again? And the pen/ink caveat laid out by Mr. Parker is as up-my-alley as anything ever will be, illustration-wise.

What to draw, though? Anything and everything. I figured I'd grant myself a maximum of one hour each day this month to come through with some sort of output. Some days, I imagine will be less. Some may be more, like this rhinoceros, where I had the opportunity to dilly-dally while home from work with a throat infection.

How come a rhinoceros? That's my own added challenge. Kerry and I are quickly losing track of Scout's ballooning vocabulary, so I've decided this month to draw 31 things that she can recognize. I finish inking a sketch, hand it to Scout, and if she correctly identifies it – I know I've done a successful job. Many of these things I'll also have never drawn before. Like a rhino. This is my first-ever rhino drawing. Scout ID'd it like a tiny boss.

July 10, 2014

285: Up, And Away

I was provided the opportunity at work recently to head out for a day of photography in the wetland and waterfowl mecca that is the southwestern corner of Manitoba. That in itself would be engaging enough – I can count the chances I've had to do such a thing over several years on one hand – but it was made all the more sweeter by a chance to hop in a plane and experience a gander from the air, snapping all the way. Those close to me know that, along with riding shotgun in a big rig, hitching a ride in a hot air balloon and a helicopter, getting a lift in a small plane has always been a bucket-list item. (Truth be told, the bucket-list item would really be in a floatplane, somewhere over the Canadian Shield, but who's complaining – and I still have years to go.)

It made for a long day. An 8:30 takeoff from the Brandon municipal airport meant leaving home before six for the 214-kilometre trip west. The flight was roughly three hours, flying over Pelican Lake, Killarney, Boissevain, Melita, Virden and back. Unprecedented high-summer flooding in the region was an unfortunate bonus; being able to witness swollen rivers, lakes and sodden fields from the air drove home what has been national headline news this week. And while I was scoping for very specific, bordering on technical, images, it was hard not to look out over the land and view the agricultural patterns as high art. (Note: the aerial pics I haven't included here, as they're for work purposes.)

The afternoon was spent on a solo mission, exploring the array of pothole wetlands near Minnedosa and gathering new images for our photo archives. Here, I got to hunker down at eye level and see the details. Sound swallowed up by roaring creeks. A great blue heron flushed from a patch of cattails. Wary canvasback broods skittering from my presence across the small ponds. An abandoned grain elevator, where I entered into a pigeon-infested darkness lit by a single window, startled by a galloping feral cat.

In the evening – on my eventual way home – I stopped along the TransCanada Highway at the Halfway Tree, marking the unofficial midway point between Brandon and Winnipeg. The tree has existed for eons, and can be spotted many kilometres away. I'd forever been meaning to get a shot of it, and I waited a few minutes for a brief storm to clear out to capture it under an active prairie sky.

Note: Click on any of the images to view them larger on Flickr.

May 29, 2014

284: The Phoenix

Following years of smooth sailing/status quo, an opportunity recently arrived to revitalize Conservator, the magazine published by my employer, Ducks Unlimited Canada. For years a dependable quarterly workhorse for the organization – and a staple of my workday routine – Conservator steadily adjusted and adapted over the last few years to accommodate belt-tightening. Most recently, attempts to house the magazine exclusively online eventually resulted in much internal debate to find the means to reintroduce, and reinvent, a print edition for our somewhat non-conventional (older/rural/western) readership – while attracting new readers to the mix.

The magazine has long been a centerpiece of my design career. I've had the responsibility – and the prize – of designing Conservator (and its French-language equivalent) in its entirety since 2002. Fanning out issues from those salad years through to the present day reveals a steady growth in my design abilities and sensibilities – and during the magazine's heyday of photo budgets and freelance writers I strung together spreads that evoked pride and anchored my portfolio. I explored trends, texture, colour and typography. I showed off. Sometimes I flew by the seat of my pants. The stories often inspired me, and in turn I did my best to complement them with an ever-increasing toolbox of skills and intuition.

Above: Been there, done that – the last of the red hot ice cold previous designs.

Even as times became leaner and the budget dried, I've remained engrossed in piecing together each issue. The number of magazines produced each year fluctuated and the situation trundled toward an inevitable online-only presence – a period that commenced in 2013 following one last big score: a plush, 80-page special edition highlighting Ducks' 75th anniversary that featured a cover that, for the first time, featured one of my own photos.

The online issues performed admirably enough, but there was no longer the grand prize of a paper-and-ink/flesh-and-blood printed piece in hand. I missed that, and was not alone in this sentiment. Talk began to swirl of a modest return to print, culminating in an issue released two weeks ago that showcases an new, entirely redesigned Conservator.

Above: Some guts – featuring words, messaging, and all that other non-design-related stuff.

Chief among concerns was the magazine was becoming overly institutional, and it was reflected in the design as articles became more hard-news, straight facts and concise – but less entertaining. My hands became frequently tied, as department pages fell by the wayside, swapped for a deluge of single-page articles and press releases that lent themselves to Macleans-style templating. A primary aim of the new-look Conservator is storytelling, and I couldn't be more in favour: storytelling is a key facet of design as much as it is with writing. And the better-written the magazine is, the more I want to fight for it.

Also paramount is photography. It's been Conservator's bread and butter since I hopped aboard, and I've held firm the belief for ages that for this magazine, pictures are invaluable – and as designer I'm not to stand in their way. (I know, I know, the old adage exists that Content is King and I'll tow that line, but come on: I'm a designer. Design is King.*)

To further the theme of letting the photography do the heavy lifting, I crafted a simple masthead of Garamond, tightly kerned with a custom R-V ligature, to replace the previous one that had held firm on Conservator covers since 1999. Though, only after experimenting in the concept stages with a flashier masthead (below) that I ultimately nixed. The Cabrito family and Intro, an online freebie, were selected for more decorative purposes. Two holdovers, Bembo and Gibson, remain on body copy and shorter-article headline duty, respectively.

Above: An earlier concept, thankfully felled by the wayside.

Now, as is so often the role of the designer, I quietly take a backseat and await the results, and the feedback. Early response has been promising, and if the aim of this issue is to build a renewed sense of excitement around Conservator, generate interest (and advertising dollars) and then springboard to something eventually resembling a standard, quarterly production run once again – I've done my best. 

Time will tell whether this all takes place. For now, I'm just proud of this quiet return to the game, and happy to hold it in my hands.

* OK, fine. They can both be King.

February 24, 2014

Let Me Give You Ten Dollars

During the heyday of this blog I ran a contest in which two lucky winners received plaque-mounted prints of my artwork. It was a fantastic time for all, even though there were many, many losers who did not win one of the two available prints. But being a fantastic time, I thought I would attempt to replicate that feeling with a new contest, for something everyone enjoys: cold, hard cash.

Literally cold, hard cash. Hundreds and hundreds of coins, in a juice pitcher.

Some backstory. I don't like carrying coins around, especially the loser coins, of which I consider any denomination under 25 cents. Instead, I began to place them in a juice pitcher that I swiped from my workplace's kitchen. At times when I needed small change, I would pilfer from the pitcher. Mostly though I would drop money into it, and once a year I would give the accumulated coins to my co-worker's daughter for her Halloween UNICEF campaign – back when society deemed it OK for kids to do that sort of thing. 

Since UNICEF ceased that practice in 2006, I have done the next admirable thing I could think of with my coins: stockpile them, for no use, for nobody. Until now.

I have decided to cash in my coins. Tired of the pitcher weighing down my desk and inviting (potential) thievery by years of (possibly) devious overnight cleaning crews, I'm taking the pitcher to a nearby TD Bank branch that offers convenient CoinCounter™ service, and taking stock of my riches. And I'm bringing all of you along on this crazy ride. To the person who fields the closest guess to the determined cash amount contained within the juice pitcher, I will give ten dollars. And I will keep the rest. For my baby, and other stuff.

Here are some key statistics, to help you with your guess:

1.) The pitcher and contents weigh 14.3 pounds (6.5 kilograms). I don't know how much the pitcher weighs when it's empty – that would require me to take out all the coins, place them somewhere safe, weigh the empty pitcher, and then reintegrate the coins into the pitcher. That's a lot of work. The pitcher is composed of a durable plastic.

2.) The height of the pitcher is nine inches (23 centimetres). The coins fill the pitcher to a height of 7.5 inches (19 centimetres). The diameter of the pitcher is 4.5 inches (12 centimetres). Carry the Y and the volume of the coins is I'm sure I don't know.

2a.) Click here for technical specifications for the Canadian penny. Click here for technical specifications for the Canadian nickel. Click here for technical specifications for the Canadian dime. 

3.) The pitcher contains pretty much equal parts pennies, nickels and dimes. But with the demise of the penny last year, the top is all nickels and dimes and as such, from the top, it looks a lot better than from the side, or underneath.

4.) There may be a quarter in there. Also, undetermined amounts of American coins and, I believe, a bolt.

Here is a photo of the pitcher, to provide a visual aid. My apologies in advance; my camera was set to a very low resolution when I took the picture.

Update! Here is a much crisper photo.

Ten dollars, people – no joke. Guesses can be posted here as part of a much-appreciated blog comment, on my Facebook page or Twitter stream. Guessers have until the stroke of midnight on Friday, March 14, 2014. And that's at the end of the day, not the beginning. I'll mail the ten dollars to you. Honest.

January 10, 2014

283: Me Me Me Me Me

I've done it again. Neglected the blog. No big deal, right? Everyone's neglecting their blogs. They're not cool anymore; too much work to write all that stuff. It's far easier to retweet or share someone else's efforts. In my case, I've neglected the blog, in addition to my Flickr page, any illustration and virtually all freelancing. 

The reason behind this is obvious: I'm a dad now. 

I devote my outside-the-office waking hours to Scout, and to her entertainment. It's by no means a complaint, and it certainly wasn't unexpected. The past year has been a lot of fun – a lot. Helping out with Scout's playtime. Her jumping up, and down. Standing. Shaking things. Squealing. Most recently, chasing and sussing out ticklish spots. So much fun, that I've neglected the blog, my Flickr page, illustration and virtually all freelancing. Gone parentin', as they say.

Kerry and I chuckle at the nasty habit we've developed, after Scout has been put to bed for the night. We scroll through photos and videos of her on our computer – so, even after ten months the concept of "Me Time" is still in the early stages of development. Beyond cleaning up Scout's daily wake of scattered shakables and toppled block towers, and zoning on Netflix and various social media turdholes, I typically don't accomplish a great deal on any given evening. I go to bed earlier, too. And for the most part, that's all OK.

But it increasingly feels like it's not. I'm fairly certain I've lost all momentum and ability I'd gathered over the lifespan of this blog to draw – I'm almost too scared to find out. I have been maintaining my dignity, creativity-wise, with our camera; since Scout entered the scene, I've taken over 5,000 photos – roughly 90 per cent or more of which, no fooling, have been of her. As a quality nit-picker, I've saved only about a tenth of them, sometimes erasing snot from her nose or goobers in the corner of her eye. The ab-fab standouts from this ongoing campaign currently grace a pair of über-fancypants 12x12 Blurb books (and a third, in time for her birthday a month from now). 

So there's that, and I enjoy it very much. You can see the results peppered throughout this post. That's not going to change anytime soon; I recently picked up a cheap fast-50 lens to help with portraits, and to combat the dim winter light in our house. But an additional aim for this year – beyond teaching, guarding, enjoying and otherwise sustaining my daughter's well-being – will likely be in conquering my Me Time.

October 10, 2013

A Good Man

I lost a dear friend this week.

My former art director, Tye Gregg, led the life I want to lead. He was a good man to his family, and he was a good boss to his employees. He was very good to me. He fought for me, shielded me, gave me every tool I needed (and a bottle of Valpolicella every Christmas), hand-picked me without a resume or an interview. We shared an affinity for the nature outside our windows, for birds, for optimal light conditions. For travel, weekends, the fall and time spent away. We both held dear a common belief that the most important time was time spent outside the office.

I worked hard for him, under the guise of working hard for myself and my betterment as a designer. I worked for him – and with him – for a dozen years. Formative years, as a hot-headed 23-year-old fresh from college, to an equally headstrong thirty-something who can still bristle when told what to do (stubborn, I think, appeared in every performance evaluation he'd ever given me).

But I became stronger as a designer each year, and Tye was very much the reason why. He held the reigns loose, let me grow up, stumble, figure things out, watching as I increasingly took on larger challenges until eventually we developed a kind of quiet rapport and trust that only comes after years spent together. 

I sometimes wonder whether I effectively returned the many favours he'd given me, that I took advantage of his gentle nature and hands-off approach by so often toiling quietly at my desk, producing work with little input. He'd listen – my God, he'd listen – as I sussed out my mental blocks and creative challenges while seldom reaching out for his take. I'm 38 years old, realizing I had precisely the mentor I needed – and still need – while so rarely seizing the opportunity. This remains one of my biggest professional regrets.

After his retirement, we didn't stay in touch like I sorely wish we had now. We met on a couple of occasions, and they were fun times. I so very much wish that Tye could have met my daughter Scout, that he knew I hope to inspire her with many of the qualities I observed in him. He left a message not long after her birth, containing the last words I received from him:

Just got back from Waikiki to find out about the the great big birth of your daughter. Congratulations to you and Kerry! What an amazing event this is. I hope all goes really well as a new threesome and she will fly like a bird into the future. She certainly has massively creative parents to coach her beginnings. Wow! Poppa Jeope.

September 18, 2013

282: The Cover Story

The organization that I work for, Ducks Unlimited Canada, is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year and I was tasked with the design of a special-edition issue of its members' magazine, Conservator. This in itself was not a surprise; I've handled design of sixty issues of the publication in English and French over the past 14 years. But this edition afforded me to expand beyond its typical 30-40-page length and really establish a solid visual theme and aesthetic over a publication double its normal size. Again, not the biggest whoop in design circles – but a wonderful opportunity for me. It was a great edition to be a part of.

The issue's theme – Our Bold Present, Our Promising Future – required some thought in particular, for a cover concept. Vibrant, busy, collage-based ideas were bandied about, but I was of the mindset from the get-go that the theme should be represented by a single, strong image that could cover several bases: present/future, youth/the next generation, the outdoors, recreation, conservation and of course, ducks and waterfowl. And be iconically Canadian.

(Iconically… is that a word? I'm checking. Yes, I think so. Kind of. Iconically.)

I knew of a candidate image almost immediately, that I took of Kerry's nephew Duncan near his cottage at Lake Athapapuskow, Manitoba, in 2011. He was fishing from a neighbour's dock with his dog on a summer evening at sunset, and I came along to watch and take photos. It was a beautiful time.

For the magazine cover, the image underwent only minor tweaking: cropping, some cloud removal and extension of the sky tones to enable placement of the headline copy and masthead, dodging/burning and most noticeably, the digital addition of a small, silhouetted flock of ducks. I did not reveal that I had taken the photo until after production, lest it sway opinions during the magazine's various stages of editing and approvals. The headline typeface is Gibson Bold.

July 24, 2013

What Am I Doing?

When Scout is ornery, I sometimes consider things I no longer do since she arrived. Outside of a single, late-night rerun of 30 Rock, I haven't watched television in two months. I just finished reading a book – David Sedaris' Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls – for the first time since she was born. I rarely ride my bike, except to reach my carpool. I've seen one movie in the theatre, a Stars-and-Strollers matinée screening of Mud (a very fine film), in which I rocked Scout in her car-seat with my foot. I missed the Fringe Festival. I missed spring break-up on the lake. I stopped freelancing. I've been out with Kerry, away from Scout, on only two occasions since February: once to walk to the end of the pier and back at the lake on Canada Day weekend, once for a one-hour dinner at a restaurant near our house. I don't draw, don't eat cereal and – evidently – no longer blog. 

So, what do I do?

I hold Scout in the kitchen and let her grasp at the photo of her smiling cousin on the fridge. I om-nom-nom her belly, and she squeals and pulls my hair. I carry her in the Ergo on evening walks in the neighbourhood, patting her bum and cradling her head even though she can support it now with ease. I sit on the floor and watch her jolly-jump at eye level – a lot. I carry her to the porch and let her swat at the wind chimes, and then to the backyard to pull a leaf from our maple tree. I show her the chimney swifts that chatter at dusk. I tell her squirrels are monkeys, in hopes that one day she'll think there are monkeys in the city. I gnash my teeth as she learns to put herself to sleep, screaming in her crib at bedtime. I take her picture, though more and more I opt for direct observation. I look at her hands. I look at the chub on her arms. I look at the back of her head where hair is filling back in. When she smiles wide, I look at her two teeth. 

I hoist her high in the air. When she giggles, I repeat what makes her giggle until she yawns with boredom.

June 01, 2013

281: Aboo

Scout broke our brains today. It's not been the best spring outside this year, and I think she senses it – especially after we'd made all manner of wild promises and vivid descriptions of this thing called summer. Tonight she finally called bullshit and let us have it – and with cold, wind and rain hemming us in from outside, we had no choice but to cower in the attic on our Pilates ball as she howled.

It's my duty to get Scout to sleep for the night; it's the closest thing I have to a magic touch. First Kerry induces her into a 'milk coma', then I wrap Scout in her pod (a nice way to describe what is essentially a straight-jacket). Tonight the coma did not happen, and I set to the laborious procedure from scratch, of getting her from crankypants to conked. She wailed, flailed, and then – as if declaring truce – she halted her fit, gazed at me and mewed aboo. She relaxed, and was out cold a few minutes later.

Scout's aboo is among her cutest accomplishments in life. It happens every now and then, often while being held. I immortalized it in ink, in this doodle I created for Kerry's Mothers Day card – the only bout of drawing I've managed in the 105 days since she's arrived on the scene.

May 06, 2013

280: Poster Retread Capital Of The World

poster – PechaKucha Night in Winnipeg, Vol. 14
I was hesitant about popping the poster for PechaKucha Night in Winnipeg, Volume 14 here. A vast majority of the design gruntwork had been completed with the collateral put out for Vol. 13 back in March (and discussed previously, here). And the remainder of this year's quartet of posters will be riffs on that initial piece, with some shifts in colour scheme and seasonal touch-ups. To wit, this variation here – no longer featuring the archival alley-way drawings of Volume 13; instead, swapped with a simple Slurpee.

Anyone in Winnipeg knows why there's a Slurpee on this poster. Our city's been dubbed the Slurpee Capital of the Universe for 3,553 consecutive years, and it's become an odd and self-proclaimed symbol of this place. I don't condone this distinction, but ironically, it was during my salad days that I helped play a part. As a teenager I could be seen toting/toking a Slurpee on many occasions. My mix of choice was two parts Dr Pepper, one part cream soda – but since a 7-Eleven in somewhat-nearby River Heights was the only outlet's Slurpee fountain where I could source Dr Pepper, Coca-Cola was often substituted. More often than not, my Slurpee was paired with a Maximiumm brownie – sometimes, two – which I'm not sure are still available.

I don't partake in the Slurpee anymore. Don't partake in 7-Eleven much, period. The place was well-suited to my adolescence, be it for Slurpees, brownies, Old Dutch ripple chips and dill-pickle dip, Cokes upon Cokes upon Cokes, Big Bite hotdogs or fifteen-dollar 7-Eleven fan zone nosebleed section Jets tickets (my first-ever game: the infamous 1990 "Death By Popcorn" playoff date when the Jets had the Cup-champion Oilers by the throat). It was frequently the launching pad for late-night car trips, VHS movie marathons and high school lunchtime junk food runs.

Now – as I sit on my porch with a craft beer in my hand, munching on organic, fair-trade chocolate corn chips or om-nom-nomming on a walnut brownie from the nearby hippie bakery – the distinction of my town as Slurpee Capital of the World disgusts me. Infact, these fat, grubby teenagers and their Slurpee-sticky hands need to get off my lawn.

In a nutshell, that's why I plopped a Slurpee on the next run of PechaKucha Night posters. Well, there's that, but it's also finally warm out – and I had just a whiff of a hint of a glimmer of a craving for one.


PechaKucha Night in Winnipeg, Volume 14 takes place on Thursday, May 16, at the Park Theatre. Doors open at 7:30, first presenter hits the stage at 8:20. And I'll be the emcee. These events are fantastic. Come see why.