Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Homework (And a Little Type History)

Here are two versions of a recent assignment to design a poster for a typeface. I picked Letter Gothic, which was designed in 1962 for the IBM Selectric typewriter. The font was often used for tabular items (like columns of numbers) because of the even spacing between letters.

The type element in the IBM Selectric was a pivoting ball (nicknamed the golf ball) that was removable, so you could change fonts on the typewriter. I think only the teacher and a couple of other older students knew what the heck I was talking about, but I remember using one in the office in the late 70s.

The first poster was inspired by the history of the typewriter and the art of the time; the second poster focused more on the properties of the font.

It’s been a long time since I worked in graphic design and much longer since I walked a college campus as a student. When I signed up for a semester length course in digital media this fall, I was sure I was in over my head. I’ve taken some workshops but never really used programs like Photoshop, Illustrator or InDesign. The first thing I did was look up the last day to drop the course.

So far I’ve been pleasantly surprised. It turns out not every nineteen year old is already an expert in Photoshop, and not everyone that grew up in front of a computer screen has a perfect sense of design. There’s a whole range of skill and talent, and although I have yet to see a grade, I think I’m keeping up.

The best surprise is how much I enjoy the projects. I love a design challenge and the chance to apply what I’ve learned. I also like deadlines – nothing better to motivate you to get your butt in gear.

Have you tried something new lately? Was it terrifying? Exhilarating? A little of both?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

I Hope the Zombies Don't Have Gold Star Memberships

There are online forums for everyone. I stumbled on one for zombie fans when they linked to an old post of mine, about a short zombie movie that was filmed in my neighborhood. Somehow my blog post got confused with the official site for the short backyard production.

Anyway, the zombie mix-up reminded me of a fun topic my kids bring up occasionally that goes something like, “Where would you go in the event of a zombie apocalypse?”

After some discussion, we always conclude we’d head straight for Costco. We can’t think of a better hideout. You could survive in that place for YEARS.

"They’ve got everything!” we declare. Food! Furniture! Beds even! To hear us, you’d think we were ready to lock down those industrial doors and set up camp right by the tube socks.

“They’ve even got make-up,” my daughter says. “Who cares if we can’t go outside, we can still look good.”

“And they have books,” I add. “And music and movies. We’d never get bored.”

We bring up the massage chairs, the exercise equipment, barbeques and umbrella tables. We list the soaps and sundries. We imagine setting up storage sheds (everyone gets their own room!) and rolling out the toaster ovens (unlimited samples!).

We go as far as to ponder what we’d do with perishable items. We’d start in on the fruits and salads, but luckily all that meat and seafood can go right into the walk-in freezers.

“Too bad cheese doesn’t freeze well,” I say with a sigh.

“Uh, Mom, it’s okay. You know there’s not really a zombie apocalypse going on, right?”

Right. Back to reality. I could really go for a hunk of brie though.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Lessons from Driver's Ed

Here I go again, letting more than a month go by without posting anything. In my defense, I’ve been without internet for a while. I had no idea how dependent I’d become on things like Google Maps.

My daughter just finished the classroom part of Driver’s Ed. I picked the closest location that was reasonably priced. If my internet service was up and running, I might have checked the street view of the driving school before enrolling. Lesson One: The risky part of learning to drive is not necessarily the driving.

Used car lots and liquor stores flanked the driving school. It was located upstairs in a two story building that also housed a smoke shop, a gold buyer and a cash advance place. Lesson Two: Sometimes you have to do things that go against your every instinct as a parent, like dropping your child off and driving away.

For the first two days my daughter walked to a fast food place at lunchtime with a couple of girls from the class. Lesson Three: Your classmates in Driver’s Ed are probably not the same students you run into in subjects like AP World History.

After the second day of listening to the two girls talk nonstop about their recreational drug use, she decided to ditch them before getting invited to light up on the way back to class. Instead she walked the two blocks back to the driving school alone. Lesson Four: Cute girls in shorts get unwelcome attention from truck drivers.

So, my daughter spent the last two days of Driver’s Ed clad in jeans and a sweatshirt. She opted to stay in the relative safety of the classroom for lunch. We both welcomed the end of day four, the last day of instruction.

“Guess what happened,” she said. “Today there was an armed robbery downstairs.”

“What?” I asked. “Where, in the smoke shop?”

“No, the cash advance place. One of the guys in the class saw someone run outside with a gun. And then in a minute there were cops everywhere. Oh, and here’s the best part – after all that, the guy got away!”

Lesson Five: Parenting teens is not for sissies.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

So Much Depends Upon Wheelbarrows and Timing

A minute after I entered the freeway it happened - the red wheelbarrow soared from the bed of the pickup truck in front of me, and bounced to a stop. Up until the moment the wheelbarrow became airborne I’d been on autopilot, fighting the stupor induced by a four-hour Indesign class and wondering if the kids had made themselves lunch.

It took a split second for my brain to register that the large object in front of me was solid and ought to be avoided. It took another split second for me to slam on the brakes and hope the driver behind me wasn’t texting or reaching for his frappachino. Another fraction of a second to realize I couldn’t stop in time, and to glance in the side view mirror and hope no one was in my blind spot when I swerved.

Minutes before, I’d been chatting with a classmate about the design exercise we’d just completed. We compared thoughts on how clumsy it felt to be wrestling with programs so new and foreign, with things like control panels and smart guides.

“Hopefully it’s like driving,” I said. “Eventually we’ll be able to do all this by reflex.”

Precisely because I stayed after class to have this conversation about complicated rules and reflexes, I arrived on the freeway at the exact moment the wheelbarrow took flight. It was as if I’d just ordered up a test to prove I actually had driving reflexes.

If I’d entered the freeway an instant sooner, the wheelbarrow might have landed in the front seat with me. An instant later and the guy behind me might have redesigned my bumper, frappachino or no frappachino.

Earlier that same morning when I’d left for class, the brake light on my dashboard flashed on. I was already late and thought about dismissing the brake situation until later. Instead I decided not to take a chance, and submitted to doubling back home to add brake fluid.

Some days just work out like that.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Chocolate Cake with White Icing

Whoops, a whole month went by. I checked my sitemeter expecting to see tumbleweeds…and whaddya know, someone had just visited from a domain called WideOpenWest. I took it as a sign I better post something before this blog becomes a ghost town.

In the midst of all the unbloggable events going on in my life, I had sudden thoughts of elementary school (a subject many writers probably visit from time to time) and cake (a subject pretty much everyone enjoys).

Those thoughts popped up when I decided to bake a chocolate cake with white icing, for no particular reason. Right smack in the middle of trying to get dinner on the table, I thought to myself, you know what would make me feel better? Chocolate cake with white icing. I can mix one up right now! I have all the ingredients! Dinner can wait.

Back in elementary school, chocolate cake with white icing was the one thing that could make me happy about being in the cafeteria. I hated everything about the place – the hot plastic trays and leaky milk cartons, the lonely search for friends while standing with a clod of beefaroni on my tray.

When I was in first grade, my teacher put me at the beginning of the lunch line every day and appointed someone to stay with me at the dining tables after everyone else had gone back to class. I guess she was worried about me because I was skinny and didn’t eat my lunch. I didn’t eat because the food was gross and the cafeteria freaked me out. The solution was to force me to spend even more time there.

Ice cream sandwich days weren’t too bad, but chocolate cake with white icing really was my deliverance. If I spotted kids coming out of the lunch line with those precise squares in the corner of each tray, even the smell of Pine Sol and gray-green corn couldn’t get me down.

In fact, eating chocolate cake with white icing may have been my favorite part of elementary school. Funny that my favorite thing occurred in the one place I dreaded the most.

So, what about you? What takes you back…what conjures up your best and worst school memories?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Wishful Thinking

The idea for this illustration came to me while standing in line outside the career center. The sun was coming up (told ya the line forms early for free classes), and our long shadows stretched out across the adjacent landscaping.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Barriers to Employment

It’s chilly outside the career center, but the camaraderie is warm. Eddie is always first in line, always with a big toothless smile on his face.

The line forms early for free computer classes. We stand under the palm trees and try not to get pooped on by excited sparrows. There’s an interesting mix of people - some are young, working towards their GED; others are shocked to find themselves unemployed for the first time in 25 years. One woman held the same job for 30 years. She was hoping to become a CPA, but her transcripts from the university she attended were destroyed. A few seniors just want to learn to email and buy birthday presents online, but most folks come in hopes of becoming more employable.

One day I notice a middle-aged woman with every feature on her face – eyebrows, nose, mouth, ears - completely encircled with piercings. She looks as though she got caught in the crossfire of some bizarre Bedazzler shoot-out. Plus, her hair is all the colors of a box of popsicles. I can’t help wondering what kind of job she is going for. I’m guessing not preschool teacher. I’m tempted to try to count the number of studs in her head - there must be over a hundred – but I don’t want to stare. She glances over at me and smiles. I smile back. I quickly surmise that she’s nice, but I still worry she’d scare the tattoos right off the manager at Al’s Auto Parts.

Some weeks ago I took a resume workshop. Mostly I wanted to know how skills like boo-boo kissing and vacuuming Doritos crumbs from car seats transfer to the job market. No one buys terms like household manager or domestic engineer.

Every few minutes the presentation was hijacked by someone else wanting to discuss how their felony convictions hinder their job search. For a moment I wondered if I’d wandered into the wrong workshop. Even the instructor gently reminded everyone about his other workshop, “From Hard Time to Full Time.” I was intrigued by the euphemisms everyone used. No one was convicted, they “picked up” a felony. It sounded like a trip to the farmer’s market. I picked up some squash, a watermelon, a couple of felonies…

There was another stay-home mom in the workshop, about my age. Her hand went up. Finally, I thought, I might get some useful information out of this class.

“Um, yeah,” the woman said, “I picked up my felony when I was eighteen…”

Okay then. I may have some things going for me. I don’t have a criminal record, and my face won’t set off any metal detectors. It’s still a chilly climate for job seekers everywhere.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Fledglings and Painting Notes

Spring is in the air, and so are the fledglings. They go whiffling around the neighborhood, practicing their frantic acrobatics. Occasionally they crash land in my garden. I want to pick them up and put them in my pocket. I want to pat their fuzzy heads and feed them tidbits. I wait anxiously and watch for passing cats, hoping they make it into the nearest tree.

Maybe I had the fledglings in mind when I painted this picture. Maybe I was thinking of the story I started writing months ago. I haven’t had time to work on it, but it flaps around in my head anyway. It’s about a bird (not the one in the picture). I know how I want the book to look. I see the shades of blue the sky ought to be and how scruffy the main character is. I painted the picture to remind me, when I find time to work on it.

Do the mama birds wonder where the time goes?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Brush With Nature

If you’re the mother of a teenage girl, sometimes the closest you get to observing wildlife in its natural habitat is strolling around the mall. This week the weather is so inviting, my daughter suggests a hike.

We pick a trail in a canyon along the San Diego River. Rainy days and warm weather have urged wildflowers and critters out of hiding, too. I follow my daughter and dog Luna, stopping here and there to enjoy green mountains dotted with purple and orange. Next to us, water striders skim along the top of the water. Lizards spring out of nowhere, stop to flex their muscles with a push-up or two, and then wriggle up piles of rocks.

We pause at the top of a hill and enjoy the burble of the stream. “What’s that on Luna’s back?” my daughter asks. “Is that a tick?”

My daughter has seen one tick in her life, at my parents’ house in New York. I haven’t seen one here in twenty years. “I doubt it,” I say, not bothering to look. “It’s just a spider. Flick it off.”

She nudges it with the leash.

“Not like that,” I tell her. “Now it’s probably on the leash. Brush it off.”

She cracks the leash like a whip.

“Ouch!” I protest.

“Oh, sorry,” she says. “I wanted to be sure I got it off.”

I rub the sore spot on my thigh as we walk on. The trail narrows as we get further into the canyon; shrubs reach out across the dirt path. We pass through a long patch of shrubbery and stop to enjoy the view.

“There’s another one of those things,” my daughter says, pointing to a spot on Luna’s back.This time I bend down to get a look.

“Ew!” I hop back, suddenly remembering why I prefer hiking on wide open trails. “It is a tick!” I flick the offending creature into the grass. We both shudder and leap around, doing the I-feel-like -I’m-crawling-with-bugs dance. Luna tips up her nose and sniffs the air.

We glance around. We’re deep into the canyon now. Besides that, we’ve taken a trail that doesn’t loop around like some other trails in the park. To return, we have no choice but to reenter the tick-infested thicket. My daughter bites her lower lip. We stare at each other and read each other’s thoughts: how ‘bout we just stand here indefinitely? No chance we can get airlifted out of a canyon just because ticks freak us out.

Resigned, we pick our way gingerly back through the woods. With stomachs sucked we sidle through the brush, trying not to scrape against any leaves. At every clearing we pause to inspect ourselves.

“I’d rather get poison oak,” I say as we march on.

“Me too,” my daughter agrees, trailing behind me with Luna. “I’d rather scratch for a week than have a tick on me for one second.”

“I’d rather spot a mountain lion.”

“Yeah, me too. At least they’re not gross and they don’t stick in your hair.”

“Or a snake,” I say.

“Oh, a snake, sure. You see those in the pet store.”

“No kidding.” I pick a leaf from my shirt. “I’d much rather…whoa!” I dig in my heels. My daughter and Luna plow into my backside.

“What are you doing?” my daughter protests.

“Snake.” I say.

“Are you serious?”

“Yes, really.”


“Right there! I almost stepped on it.” We watch the snake slip past us into the grass.


“No, it’s okay.” I say. “I think it’s a friendly snake.”

“No, never mind the snake.”

“What, then?”

“We better take back the part about the mountain lion.”

“Oh, right. Good point.” I say. And in case the spirits of the trails were still listening, I state firmly, “We were only KIDDING about the MOUNTAIN LION.”

I see a group of hikers approaching. An enthusiastic puppy scrambles beside them, a husky with big blue eyes and a coat like a feather duster.

“Watch out for ticks,” I offer as they pass by. “Don’t let her get into the tall grass.”

As soon as they pass, I start laughing.

“What’s so funny?” my daughter asks.

“I forgot to mention the snake.”

“Oh, great, Mom. They’ll yell, ‘Hey, why didn’t you warn us about that snake over here?’ and you’ll be like, ‘Yeah, yeah…snake, whatever. Didn’t you hear me? There are ticks out here. Ticks! TICKS, I say!’”

By the time we reach the car, another tick had already burrowed into Luna’s back leg. As I open the car door to let the dog and her nasty little hitchhiker into the back seat, I turn to meet my daughter’s disgusted look.

“Well then. Next time, the mall?”

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Is it Spring?

I know, it's been three months. Over and over again I tried to post something. I must've tried a dozen variations, and none of them were cheerful. I gave up.

I have to realize my limitations. When life's big challenges come along, sometimes the best you can do is try not to end up like the guys in the picture below, who apparently got tired of being described as "cute" and "sweet"...

Angry Peeps: Yellow. Fluffy. Irritable.

They're pecking butt and taking names.