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 ├╝ber-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.