Category: design

“Make Me Beautiful”

Journalist Esther Honig wanted to examine how the standards of beauty vary across cultures. She sent a picture of herself—makeup free and hair pulled back– to 40 different graphic designers across the globe with only one request: “Make me beautiful.”

What she received back blew her mind.  (And mine.)

Some of the pictures came back with minimal changes, what I  think of as studio photo retouching. Like this image from Romania:


All images in post are courtesy of Ester Honig

Others were radically altered. This one is from the Philippines:



What struck me is that some designers changed Honig’s features in ways I wouldn’t even think of, going to extremes like changing her eye color, removing collar bones, and altering the shape of her eyes and forehead.  Read more »

Just Say No to NEA Budget Cuts

We shouldn’t have to say that the arts are important; we shouldn’t have to defend them. Earlier today, I read an article about how the CIA funded Abstract Expressionists during the Cold War, because that artistic movement, level of creativity, intellectual freedom was something a rigid communist regime could never have. Just think of that: art is cultural power. Look at how Japan has maintained soft power through its cultural exports the past twenty years. Arts are a sphere of influence as powerful as natural resources and technology.

And yet:

“A bill approved by the House of Representative’s committee on appropriations would cut funding for a number of cultural organizations, including the National Endowment for the Arts, whose budget would be slashed to $75 million for the 2014 fiscal year, a 49% decrease from the agency’s funding for 2013 before the budget sequester.

The proposed NEA cuts are part of an across-the-board reduction in federal spending that was put forward this week by the committee, which is led by Republican Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky. The bill calls for an overall federal spending cut of 19%.” -David Ng, LA Times

The National Endowment for the Arts funds dance, design, folk & traditional arts, literature, local arts agencies, media arts, multidisciplinary, museums, music, musical theater, opera, presenting, theater, and visual arts. Give them more funding and we could be a powerhouse of culture. 

So take a minute and tell your congressperson to stand behind the arts. It’s easier than ever with this link.

Hang Around An Ink Well

Check out this cool design project, where a designer hand-lettered the lyrics to Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, similar to the infamous video clip/music video precursor featuring Dylan holding up cards with the lyrics on them, as written by himself, Allen Ginsberg and others.

Photo by Leandro Senna, courtesy of

Photo by Leandro Senna, courtesy of

The designer/artist Leandro Senna says of the project:

Inspired by Bob Dylan’s ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ video, where he flips cards with the lyrics as the song plays, I decided to recreate those cards with handmade type. I ended up doing all the lyrics, and not just some of the words, as Dylan did.

There are 66 cards done in one month during my spare time using only pencil, black tint pens and brushes. The challenge was not to use the computer, no retouching was allowed. Getting a letter wrong meant starting the page over. There are some intentional misspellings and puns on the original song video, so I tried to keep that in a certain way.

Here’s the link to see closeup photos of each individual card, and here’s the link to see the video of these cards flipped through with the song overlaid. Which cards are your favorites?

And of course, if you need a fix, here’s the original video clip with Dylan. [youtube][/youtube]

Flipping Out: Sexual Harassment, Verbal Abuse, Bodily Fluids, and Fun

 Jeff Lewis banner


For about a year I worked at a family-owned bridal boutique run by a woman who communicated her moods via a complicated system of butt pinches, pats, and caresses. The more painful the hand-to-ass interaction, the more pleased she was with my quality of work. A quick, deep-tissue-bruising squeeze meant “Keep it up, girl,” while a swat was equivalent to “Oooh, today is a good day.” A series of pats in quick succession meant she was losing patience. Her palm tracing slow, tender circles on one cheek indicated an imminent death.

Maybe you’re thinking, “Karen, that sounds like sexual harassment,” to which I would counter, “But did it feel like sexual harassment?” And no, no it did not, in the same way that Kevin Bacon’s nude scene in Wild Things might have appeared sexual on the surface, but, well.

And besides, I had other things to worry about. Like the fact that for one month, during all open hours, without interruption, we were required to listen to a smooth-jazz interpretation of “Wind Beneath My Wings.” I’ve provided you with a nice arrangement here. Though not, I think, the exact one we listened to, this one comes paired with a picturesque photograph of telephone wires and a family of ravens tangled in a wind turbine.

Feel free to keep that playing while you read. Eventually you’ll almost forget it’s there. Almost.

Read more »


Is it ok if I take a post to brag on my students?

Their magazine, Scribendi, was recently selected by Graywolf Press as a finalist for the Associated Collegiate Press’ 2012 National Pacemaker Award.

The National Pacemaker Award is one of the most prestigious college media awards. Scribendi is one of seven finalists in its category, judged on content, the quality of writing and editing, art and graphics, layout and design, and overall concept. Winners will be announced Saturday, November 3 at the National College Media Convention in Chicago, Ill., so keep your fingers crossed on my students’ behalf.

Through this yearlong course that doubles as an educational internship, students gain practical, hands-on experience in proofreading, copyediting, typography, graphic design and magazine layout, professional desktop publishing software, fundraising, marketing and distribution, as well as small business management. They come a long way in two semesters. The students sign up from any discipline, which means there’s usually a couple physics majors and pre-med students along with the English and fine arts majors you might expect. They rarely sign up knowing anything about graphic design, InDesign, assessment, editing, or working in an office setting. Read more »


Cover Art, “Asters,” by Sarah Grew

Often I’m at the wrong place at the right time, meaning the right time for something wrong to happen. I’ve had to quit three jobs since moving to Germany. Quitting a job is like breaking up with someone. You want to pretend it’s working or that it can, but a voice keeps calling from an echoey quarry, Quit trying to fool yourself. And how is there always heartbreak? Maybe just mine.

The most recent failed attempt at working is the biggest work failure I’ve had in my work-full life. After teaching for a little over a month, I realized my boss was certifiably nuts—inconsistent, disrespectful, dishonest, and manipulative. I had another job offer and gave my notice (six weeks required, according to my boss, even though I’m not an employee of the language school but a freelancer so they don’t have to give me any benefits).

This is where it gets good. My former boss claimed I had breached my contract twice, though she didn’t tell me what I did that constituted breaches. The contract is in German and it turns out the English “translation” contains completely different information than the binding German one. Somehow she determined that the school didn’t have to pay me for the five weeks of teaching I’d done. Instead, she insisted that I owed the school 200 Euros. Read more »

Google’s Feet May Not Be Fast Enough

Logos by Sudhir Kuduchkar

In some fields a person is sitting at work, maybe even enjoying the job and hardly thinking of leaving, when she receives a call from a headhunter. A headhunter may sound violent, but really it is a person who invites the happy worker to interview at another company where she will earn more money, live in a more desirable place, and have a better title.

The question is how do we get our heads hunted?

Of the few people I know who have been tracked down this way, two of them have portfolios on Coroflot. What surprised me when I visited the site for the first time is how many people I know who don’t have work posted there.

Being naïve in the world of design, I imagine there are good reasons for not using the free and heavily traveled space offered on this site. I know many designers who have their own gorgeous websites. But personal websites are often not the first things to come up in Google searches. Love as I might, Google, trust I do not, Google. Read more »

Guerrilla Art: Let’s Found A Movement

Don't you want to walk down this alley?


As writers, I think it’s important to always try and use words and language in new and surprising ways. I can’t say exactly how to go about this, but you always know when you hear a killer phrase that sounds exactly right, and also sounds like something you’ve never heard before. (Some examples for me are Kafka’s assertion that “A book must be the ax for the frozen sea within us” or Li-Young Lee’s description of “the barb / called world, that / tooth-ache, the actual” though there are of course endless others.)

That being said, it seems like everyone’s a writer these days, so maybe using     words in new ways isn’t enough. Maybe we need to re-purpose not just language but the things we associate with language. There are people out there making amazing pictures out of library date-stamps and incredibly intricate and beautiful paper sculptures that are left anonymously for others to discover. Other cool people are “poetry bombing”  local thrift stores and my only question is: why didn’t I think of that?

It’s probably because I’m not very good at craft-y things, and I’m especially hopeless at visual arts (for more on skills I don’t have, see here), but I’m all about this guerrilla art thing. I don’t know that it can quite be called a movement yet, since these artists aren’t, as far as I know, organized in any way, and most prefer to work alone, but I like the idea of a guerrilla art movement a whole lot. I propose we start one. Who’s with me? We can call it Artsault. (Too obvious? We’ll work on it.) Read more »

Got 10 Minutes? How Much Time Do We Have?


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Zen and the Art of Beach Maintenance

“What makes an artist an artist? Artists are the people who have this little weird idea and they act on it, and they  keep acting on it, and regardless of the consequence or the outcome, something amazing unfolds.” 

I came across this video on the internet today. A couple, Judith and Richard Lang, make art out of discarded plastic they find at the beach. They go to Keyhole Bay in California and comb the beach for plastic. Then they take what they’ve found home and organize it in boxes so they can use it in sculpture or mixed-media art. They create some truly beautiful pieces and clean up the beach. It’s a beautiful win-win.

This got me thinking about what it is to salvage and collect things in order to use it for something larger or greater than the thing itself. This is like writing, I think. As a nonfiction writer, I observe the world around me and collect data in a notebook and store it for later use, like a topic or a piece of an essay. At least that’s the goal. Something, whether it is a bottle cap found on the ground or a random quote you heard in the line at the grocery store, can meld with another small something and a really interesting connection or product can be made. Collecting is an art and by that I mean that it’s not limited to material things. I’m not condoning hoarding of ideas or things, but we search for something and when we find it, something happens and we can’t let it be lost. If I didn’t carry a notebook, so many ideas, good and bad, would disappear from my memory, lost forever. And as an artist, as a writer, I can’t afford to let that happen.


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