Fellow Baby Boomer Nerds Unite

I haven’t always been a totally cool, computer-savvy, cutting-edge graphic designer and Adobe CC wiz.  (Oh! I just cracked myself up!) I am a nerd and have been a nerd since … forever. More specifically a graphics nerd.

The other day someone told me that people in my generation can’t be real nerds because being a nerd was a “new thing.”  I’m a Baby Boomer. The person commenting on my age was a Millennial. Not that that is a bad thing.  They are a generation that accepts technology as elementary to life and culture … Boomers just don’t.  Boomers are still downloading the latest version of P’Shop and saying, “Will you look at that?!!” Millennials grab their Surface Pro, sit under a tree and start creating amazing graphics driven by limitless artistic possibilities and an intuitive, almost innate, understanding of their technology.  Boomers, especially graphic designers, are still in awe of what we can do these days with one computer … don’t tell me you aren’t in awe!!!

Peace Baby!I graduated from high school in the sixties—a “college-prep art major”—and yes, I’m old. You can ask me anything and I have an opinion based on actual experience.  In the Sixties girls were modeling themselves after Gidget and Sandra Dee. The Beatles had just crossed the pond and Elvis was still hot. The Beach Boys were on the scene and gaining fame and a portable transistor radio was groovy.  We had psychedelic graphics and envelope-pushing advertising agencies, creative directors and designers. We had Peter Max and Andy Warhol.

Around that time I was learning how to use a slide rule, my Dad (also a nerd) was teaching me binary math.  I read anything by Jules Verne and Edgar Rice Burroughs.  I was tall for my age and wore glasses with big, thick lenses in cat-lady frames with rhinestones! I took math classes for fun and loved calculus, geometry and medieval art history. My ideal Saturday was spent in my room, spread out on my bed, reading John Carter of Mars novels until my Mom started yelling at me to get some fresh air.  My most prized possession was my collection of comic books—Wonder Woman. I had every issue!  I was there in front of my TV that Tuesday night for the first episode of Star Trek.  If all that doesn’t describe a nerd, then what can?

So, here I am, an over-the-hill Nerd … I still love science fiction, I named my blue Jeep Liberty “Optimus Prime,” I live for History Channel specials and wait anxiously for the next episode of Downton Abbey and the next big thing from Adobe. Working as a graphic designer feeds my math beast with picas, points and paper sizes. And the advent of the computer added a whole new dimension to my nerdiness.

So, all you Millennial Nerds, look back once in awhile to the last half century or so of Nerds and remember that your parents—and grandparents!—could indeed have been true Nerds.

All you fellow “Old Nerds” …  unite! Spend an evening with another Nerd of your own age talking about slide rules and Clingons. If you’re a graphic design nerd, spend some time reminiscing over Bestine fumes, type galleys and the music and art of the “Summer of Love.”  They may all be obsolete, but Old Nerds remain forever.

Grab Your Mouse and Heave-ho!

Graphic design is very labor intensive.  It gets physical.  Shoulders, arms and hands take a real beating. I know we appear to be just sitting there but there are some challenges to graphic design work. First, we usually work on two large monitors, and that’s a hefty scroll from one end of the left monitor to the other side of the right monitor.  At 3 a.m. after 16 straight hours of moving that cursor from the Illustrator tools palette to the Adobe Bridge preview window it’s like crossing the English Channel. I’m convinced the cursor gets heavier.

Command Central

Click this image for a larger image with explanations.

Then there’s the four million mouse clicks a day. We don’t just type in a graphic, we pull it together from several locations on our computer’s desktop. We’re always drawing shapes of some kind, or text boxes and then moving them around in tiny, tedious little increments  … click and drag, click and drag … with an iron grip on a mouse or stylus. We use virtual brushes and pens, and grab “anchors” and carefully adjust them to fix a Bezier curve. We zoom in and out, scroll up and down, right click, middle click and left click our way to artistic fame and fortune. We sit hunkered down and barely moving anything but hands and arms because those increments of mouse movement are tiny! Try moving your cursor 1 point.  See!  After awhile, you begin to ache.

Not to get too personal, but my hands hurt when I work too long.  Really hurt—with two kinds of arthritis and probably some other “syndrome” that I’ve inflicted on myself because I don’t know when to quit and relax. But, I manage to keep myself comfortable (and productive) with some simple input devices or “ergonomic” fixes that I’ve used for years.  Folks have asked me to share my “system” for keeping myself relatively pain free while I work long hours—thus, this post. I’m at my computer most of the time.  I love what I do and I live in Middle-of-Nowhere, Tennessee. So, between social media and Adobe Illustrator, I’m a happy computer user.  But it took some figuring out and some trial and error with my work environment to achieve this state of graphics bliss.

I’ve used the same desk for my two 30″ Dell monitors and various and sundry input devices (I have eight of them–listed below) since 2002. It’s one of those Ikea honkers in three parts linked together in an “L” shape.  The surface is about 35 square feet. I’ve also moved five times in the last three years so it has some mileage on it. I always set it up exactly the same way so that everything is in it’s designated place and I don’t need to learn a new routine. I just took a good look at my desk and realize that there are some fingernail gouges on the edges …. hmmm.  Must have been another long-forgotten “graphics emergency”—you know how I feel about those!  In front of the desk is a relatively inexpensive office chair.  I don’t go crazy spending a lot of money on them. It’s a chair. I remove the arms so that I don’t just sit and lean on them all day and make my elbows and shoulders hurt.  I’ve learned.

Anyway, I’m very tuned in to my ergonomics while I’m working.  I don’t force my hands to continue using the mouse if they’re getting sore, I switch to the trackball, or use the tablet—or better yet, my left hand. My Dad taught himself to use a mouse with either hand, that impressed me. I’m too clumsy. I have my  game controller* sitting at my left hand and configured to give me some mouse clicks.  That way I can give my right hand a rest for awhile.  I’ve moved a ton of mouse functions over to the left side of my pile of input devices.  My gaming keyboard is programmable and the left-most buttons are for “back” and “next” in a browser.  I’ve programmed macros in my applications and use the game controller to open a document or copy and paste—all with my left hand. So I’ve learned to adapt my work environment to my personal needs.  You get really good at using all of the devices—when they’re always in the same spot …  It’s like driving a car.  You know where the gas and the brake pedals are and don’t have to look to use them.  So my desktop is pretty much covered with peripherals and input devices all within arm’s reach.

On my desk you’ll find … moving from left to right:

  1. My 17″ Asus laptop (she’s not really a peripheral, but she’ll be offended if I don’t mention her) we call her “Big Dude” because I can barely lift her but she has a huge screen. She was purchased used and she’s done a good job! She doesn’t travel any further than from my studio to my living room. (The benefit of retirement is that you don’t really have to do graphics away from your studio.  You just wait ’til you get home.)
  2. One of my two printers, an old HP Photosmart that’s about ready to give up the ghost. What is that noise it makes!?
  3. And, of course, Giggles 2 … my Dell XPS computer.  Giggles 1 was retired and now serves as a … er … server at my daughter’s house.
  4. My X-keys XK-24 USB Keypad—which I use for a mess of text macros.  I program the date each morning and that’s it for that—I name every folder with a date first … corporate procedure leftover, I guess. I have sentences and responses that I repeat throughout my day all programmed in.  How many times a day do you type, “Thanks!”? … or “Dude!” (Okay, maybe that’s just me.)
  5. My Razer  game controller—for Illustrator and Photoshop actions and shortcut keys. Also good for Windows shortcuts.  It takes a lot of pressure off of my right hand.  And it looks cool because it lights up bright blue. You could land planes.
  6. My Logitech G105 programmable gaming keyboard.  No it’s not wireless.  I can’t work with a wireless keyboard … I keep moving it “over there” for some reason and it’s never handy. I spend enough time searching for my wireless mouse.
  7. My Kensington Expert Mouse trackball. I’ve used a Kensington trackball since my first computer. I like that I don’t grip it like the mouse, but just rest my hand on it. It’s programmable too, so I can “chord” with it and use that for click and drag.
  8. My Microsoft wireless, haptic feedback mouse. I love this mouse! It scrolls beautifully and vibrates while scrolling. And it’s all one piece with a strip that you can program for different clicks.
  9. And last, but not least, my Intuous 4 Pen Tablet and stylus.  (I know I should upgrade!) but I don’t actually draw. There are times when I need to control my brushes or pens and I use this.  I do end up with some writer’s cramp if I use it too long.

So just as in the 80’s when I had to learn to use my drawing board with an adjustable drafting chair to keep from killing my back … I’ve learned to set up my computer and work environment to cause the least amount of strain and give me the most options for using either hand for hundreds of routine tasks.  It’s saved my hands, I’m sure. And after 35 years in the industry (21 on computers) I’m still going strong.  Ooooo!  I just had an 80’s flashback!  I miss my BK High-tops, stonewashed jeans and Edie Brickell!  … can I get an “Amen!”?

**I don’t actually play games with all of my gaming devices.  I work in Adobe Illustrator, that’s entertaining enough.

Valentine’s Day … Sniff!!

I’m not much of a romantic.  Or, I may be, but I hide it really well.  So, I’m  not crazy about Valentine’s Day … the candy … I like the candy. But there seems to be a seasonally driven, uphill emotional climb from Thanksgiving to Valentine’s Day every year that wears me out.  First, Thanksgiving … of course I’m thankful! Incredibly so because I’m blessed. But T-Day takes up about two weeks of emotional juice each year and then we eat a lot. Next is, of course, Christmas …. another month-long, emotional step up for the  “spirit of the season” — of course I love Christmas … but where does all that good will come from?–is it possible to dig some of it up in July?  Then New Year’s Eve and the upward emotional high jump to “Auld Lang Syne” …. Yikes! I am now officially sobbing into my champagne. Someone kiss me quick!

Forty-five more days up that emotional hill to the sentimental pinnacle of the season … Valentine’s Day!  Now, I am madly in love with my Valentine of 34 years and want desperately to be romantic and buy him a nice card and candy … he even likes flowers.  And he deserves them!  He’s lived with a graphic designer for 34 years and understands a lot about what we need.  We’re insecure … so he encourages me and has learned to do it in a meaningful way.  He understands that we see the world differently … kind of in 2D, with ITC fonts in PMS colors.  Always looking for Fibonacci sequences in odd places. He knows the name of the font in the “crawl” in the lower-third of the conservative news he watches.  He knows never to fast-forward through the titles on my favorite TV shows, so that I can critique the graphics.  He comments knowledgeably on the latest ESPN or Golf Channel graphics.  He seems to know it before I do when Pepsi changes their logo.

Then comes Valentine’s Day …  Hubby, of course, who is a hopeless romantic! delights in finding the most over-the-top sentimental card and then writing beautiful words that actually describe his feelings.  Because he knows I’ll cry.  It’s like a challenge every year. I’ve saved every single one.

I cannot buy greeting cards.  Never could.  That’s why Valentine’s Day kills me. When I stand in the card aisle and try to find one that gives my husband a small sense of how I feel about him … I start to sob.  Really.  I frighten the other people in the aisle and they start moving their children away from me. I don’t even walk down the card aisles if I can help it.  Birthdays! Anniversaries!! Father’s Day!!!  There are so many reasons to stay out of the Hallmark store at the mall!!!  And my poor Mother hasn’t gotten a Mother’s Day card in 20 years!!!.

And then every Valentine’s Day I try to screw up the courage to shop for a card … and just can’t do it.  So, I do the graphic designer’s “dodge” and make him one — print it out on bond paper — and tape it to the bathroom mirror so that he sees it first thing on February 14.  Sometimes I even sign them. Last year was special–I printed it out with my Epson large-scale printer at 11 x 17.  Impressive.

I’m not much of a romantic.  But at least by February 15 the emotional rise takes a turn downward and all we have to worry about is where we’re going to drink that green beer on St. Paddy’s Day!  Erin go bragh!

P.S. Download the PDF for three different V-Day options … in case you too are hopelessly unromantic.

You are my sunny day!


Ahoy the New Year!!!

It’s that time of year when everyone slows down and takes an analytical look at the waning year and looks ahead to the new year with some expectations. Mostly the reason we “slow down” to take a look at the previous year is because we ate so much junk during December that we can’t move anymore. I know I did.  I baked … my daughter baked … everyone baked!  And then the majority of my Christmas gifts were edible. (Whoever invented the chocolate covered marshmallow should be sainted.)

2014 was an “okay” year for me.  Some outstanding things happened–two hip replacements, love them!!!, I retired … that’s great. I started a new online business that’s actually surprising me. I realize that the last two sentences sound like a contradiction, but graphic designers never really retire … we need to keep working to keep our hardware and software up to date!  It’s a disease and the Social Security Administration just doesn’t understand that I really do need 16 gigs of RAM and two 30″ monitors!

But, to be honest, some not so astounding things happened that are going to migrate their way into 2015 and so shape any plans or expectations I have for the new year. But I’m optimistic that everything is going to work out great and that I’ll remember 2015 as a “stellar” year.  I’m a woman of faith and Pollyanna’s got nothin’ on me!!!

I’m going to put my efforts into my new online graphics and custom fabric label business.  It’s so much fun. I’m used to graphics projects that go on for weeks … not hours! I used to joke about the client asking me to “put a pig in my logo please.”  Now I’ve actually created “logos” with squids, hedgehogs, tons of owls and monkeys, foxes and the occasional ladybug.  And I’ve learned that no matter how big or small their business is, the clients are as involved and as concerned with quality and timeliness as my large, corporate clients were.

I admire my new clients. These are people who have decided to jump off that cliff and start a business with no capital at all. Really.  (That’s what I did in 1982 when I started “Bastin Art Services.”) They’ve found me on the ‘net — or heard a friend in their knitting group talking about their new labels — and they see that they can get a few professional-looking graphics for a reasonable fee and so–with much spousal discussion and hand-wringing, I’m sure–they contact me.  I know when they place their order that the fee is coming out of their household budget, or maybe they have an online business of their own that finally earns enough for them to decide on purchasing some professional graphics.

I love working with these folks. My thirty-five years of experience makes creating the small labels, or Etsy and Facebook banners a real pleasure for me.  All those Illustrator and Photoshop tutorials for tips and tricks have helped me learn to work smarter and not harder. The new types of small-business graphics are giving me a great opportunity to learn new techniques, use new tools and truly be creative. Thirty-five years of working with hundreds of clients has given me a sixth sense that fills the gap between what clients say they want and what they really want.  (No, I don’t “see dead people” … but I do think I  hear the phone ringing when I’m in the shower.)

I guess I do look forward to another year of creativity, new techniques, new software to learn and hardware to play with … and, er, … graphics emergencies, internet outages when I’m on deadline, panicked clients, copyright issues and the dreaded retired marketing professional who has opened a handmade bead shop on Etsy and now wants to do a fully branded campaign … with a pig in their logo.

So meanwhile, “Ahoy, the New Year!!! Permission to come aboard!”


The Dubious Joy of Seasonal Graphics

I have never been able to get myself “up” for seasonal graphics.  Clients love ‘em, though!

Client: “Let’s make a site header for each season … we can put a Santa hat on the header for December and we’ll just swap it out at the beginning of December and take it down on New Year’s Day. We can create a theme set of graphics and use them on everything! Won’t that be swell?”
Designer: “Absolutely stellar idea! We’ll need to push them ahead of the annual report first proofs and how would you like them described on the purchase order req?”

merryfridayThose of you maintaining web sites can go ahead and groan now.  You and I both know that the Santa hat is still going to be there on January 5 – because that’s when the staff gets back to work – the “Happy New Year!” popping cork long forgotten.  Clients may love seasonal graphics, but they hate holiday overtime and rush upcharges.  I’m just sayin’.

I guess I can see the point for retail graphics.  If you’re a big seasonal seller, then okay, maybe a little holly here and there in December and a tulip or two in April.  But for corporate clients … other than the occasional holiday fund-raising event, do you really want your highly talented, skilled and trained graphic designers spending their time putting a blinking red nose and antlers on the picture of the CEO? Because the cost of that seasonal shamrock and sheleighly is the same as any other graphic you order throughout the year.  Designers don’t usually give holiday discounts, but we do suffer superfluous-request burnout on occasion.

And then, even once you talk us into doing something for the holidays, the inevitable brand compliance issues come up. There are brandinistas lurking behind every Menorah and bouncing Jack ‘O Lantern.  Then someone worries about political correctness and you find yourself trying to fit “Season’s Greetings and Happy Kwanzaa” on the two-inch wide visitor’s badge that now needs to be printed before Kwanzaa starts … and when is that, anyway?  And in that meeting on Friday the fellow from Regulatory asked whether it should be “Season’s” or “Seasons’” greetings.  Now who has the most recent edition of the AP Style Manual?!!!

Well, I’m retired now and don’t have to worry about it any more.  I have my own small craft business and when asked to make seasonal items … I declined.  It was swell!

With that I leave you all by saying, “Merry Christmas!!!”  Remember the Reason for the season and have a joy-filled and meaningful holiday.  — Melody


Dear Graphic Design Client …

Well, the time has come. It’s time for me to retire.  Yes, retire!  After 35 years of working as a graphic designer for other companies and corporations, I am now going to work for myself.  Which is the graphic designer’s equivalent of retirement.  Because, you see, you just can’t quit cold turkey!  First, I’m building my own Etsy shop, then there’s always the freebies for family and friends, and then charity work. It’s always good to give graphically.

But before I go I wanted to send a note to all graphic design clients.  I have a small list of three that may help you when working with another of my creative ilk.

1. There is no such thing as a graphics emergency.
Let me be brutally honest. Unless you call 911 and the EMT tells you that the only thing that will stop the bleeding is a well-designed graphic, then the problem is simply that you did not plan ahead. Oh, I know there are some genuine “rush” scenarios.  The CEO’s parachute didn’t open and the new fellow takes over a week before the annual report is being printed.  That’ll cause a bit of a panic graphically speaking. But, really, how often does that happen?

2. Graphic design is a linear process from one point in time to another.
It’s a time-intensive. We start with a blank piece of paper or monitor and go from there.  Building and adding elements, text, shapes and colors. We test ideas and toss ideas until there is something to present to the client.  Graphics don’t grow on trees and we cannot produce them fully grown at the snap of a finger. I know it’s hard to believe, but I have never been sitting on a fully developed concept just to have a client call and say, “That’s exactly what I wanted!!!”  Oh, don’t get me wrong.  Graphic designers have tons of wonderful ideas and we play and draw and create all of the time. But not once has one of them been ready before a client asked.

3.  Sometimes it’s not about what a client “likes.” 
This is a hard one.  I had a client that would never let me use green.  She didn’t like green. One of the brand colors was green, but we never used it on her projects. (Try to design an Earth Day poster with no green.) The project request and approval should be about what solves the current project dilemma and brings everyone closer to the goal of a finished presentation.  Corporate branding, time constraints and various limitations may mean that on this project you won’t get your best-ever concept done on time or budget.  As I said, this is a hard one.

That’s it. Just three things.  I’ve tried to find non-abrasive ways to say these things to clients over the years. Sometimes I managed and sometimes I just gave up.  But even as demanding and pesky as clients can be, there is no better way to make a living. Really.

The “Good Old Days” in Graphic Design History

Laundry Care TagsPeople talk about what period of history they would like to live in. The old West? Victorian times? Ancient times? Somewhere in the Future? Well, not me. I love the time I’m living in right now. I’ve completely enjoyed watching the computer age get its legs. Especially in the way computers have affected the graphic design business.

I was born for this career! I remember scratching out drawings on mimeograph stencils for a school flyer or the church newsletter when I was in fifth grade. Then in junior high (we still called it that) my Dad bought me a portable, electric typewriter to use for homework. A “Smith-Corona” if I remember correctly. My Mom was a Lockheed contract secretary for twenty-seven years and her one, oft-repeated piece of advice was, “Learn to type. You can always get a job.” And it turned out to be amazingly true. With that typewriter I honed my typing skills and set myself up for jobs in the publishing industry as a typesetter.  First, with the IBM Selectric and then with the IBM Selectric Composer version that held 4,000 characters in memory! That was the 70s. I worked on the AM Varityper Comp/Edit 4510 from 1983 to 1994 when I got my first Tandy Computer. The Comp/Edit font disks were $500 each! For one font!  The Tandy computer’s “output” was dot-matrix and wonderful!!! I spent hours watching those little dots appear and form words and images.

I remember type galleys and wax machines, X-acto knifes, drawing boards with Maylines, darkrooms and stat cameras. Illustrations were done by hand and photographed. Photographs were retouched by airbrush professionals. I also remember the sheer terror when you saw your first “blueline” … and then your first press check on any color project. Because you always worked in black and white and had to “imagine” the colors of the inks you used. You would put hundreds of dollars into a project for color separations, fonts, typesetting, photography and proofs before you ever invoiced a client. It was awesome! The adrenaline pumped 24/7. Projects took weeks to complete and hand-trucks to deliver.

But, since the first time I realized that I could “raise” the watermark on my Dad’s company letterhead with a No. 2 pencil, and this fine, lazy Saturday when I was able to crank out a vector set of full-color, high-rez printables to sell as digital files in my Etsy shop, I’ve been in love with type and graphics. I was trying to decide whether this set of laundry care tags would have been possible in 1990. Maybe it would have been, but it would have taken a couple of weeks to pull a team together to photograph or draw the illustrations, purchase color separations or stats and then have the type set on a phototypesetter. Then produce the “mechanicals” or art boards for the printer with type and FPOs (for position only) images in place. Then have the negs shot and the plates burned and bluelines created from the plates as a first proof. Then rush over to the print shop to be there when they printed the first press check.  Making sure everything came out the right color, facing in the right direction and landing in the right place. When it didn’t, you literally had to go back to the drawing board. Then the inevitable meeting with the printer about who was going to absorb which cost overrun. I remember a lot of Rolaids during that period of the biz … and booze.

Now I work with unlimited font selections, unlimited images in any format I need for pennies each! Adobe has changed my life for the better and I live from one Adobe Illustrator tutorial to the next and spend my spare time making Photoshop actions. I can automate tasks I used to have to do by hand, literally. In the “olden days,” — with any luck —  I didn’t cut myself or overdose on the fumes from the can of Bestine that was always within reach. Nowadays, I can be infinitely more creative. Work alone and sit in one place (which may or may not be a good thing) and print my own color proofs and know exactly what’s going to happen when the client prints their files. My first typesetting machine had a 17k (yes, “k”) memory buffer and my current XPS Dell Desktop has a terabyte of memory with 16 Gigs of RAM and backs up to four one- to three-terabyte external drives.

I love the period of history that I live in. I’ve enjoyed watching the digital age redefine the graphics business and seeing the creativity in the industry that’s come as a result.  These are definitely the “good old days” in graphic design.  I do miss the Bestine fumes …. and sometimes even the booze.

Not So Handy Hints

Spice LabelI remember a story my sister tells about the time my brother-in-law walked into the living room, picked up her well-worn copy of Heloise’s Handy Hints, walked to the trash, ripped the whole book in half and threw it away. Apparently he was “up to here” with Heloise and her hints. The “hint” that did it was saving small bath soap chips — we hate to throw them away but they are too small to use — and putting them in the toilet tank to keep the toilet fresh. (It was the seventies, we were just learning how to reduce, reuse, recycle.) Apparently, the small soap chips had clogged the plumbing, built up a nice thick, foamy  head in the toilet tank … pardon the pun … and overflowed all over the bathroom. Slick, gooey bubbles everywhere.

It’s a cautionary tale.

Nevertheless, I still have a quick “handy hint” I’d like to share. I like to make my own Mexican spice blend and give it away to friends and family.  No, I’m not giving the recipe away.  I still haven’t given my daughter the recipe.  The only problem I have is filling the little bottles. I can never find my funnel. I have about eight of them, but they don’t seem to have their own “place” and so get stashed here and there in my kitchen and when I need one, I can’t find it. So in order to fill the little spice bottles I use a sticky note.  Fold it over so that it sticks to itself and slip it in the jar and you can easily fill the smallest jar.  Then just throw it away.

I’ll teach you how to use the car jack to make it easier to vacuum under the bed.

P.S. I also like to make my own jar labels.