We spend a lot of time coming up with ideas. Some are good and useful, and a lot are really bad and should be immediately sent to the Death Star dump. It turns out we do our best brainstorming in the car, when we’re supposed to be enjoying time away from the studio. Apparently, “enjoying time” means “thinking about work.” So be it. We’re not going to fight it. So, on last weekend’s trip to the zoo, we brought along the manuscript for our next Bobbledy Book. Matthew drove while I sat in the passenger seat with my red pen and the next book, titled (at the moment), The Imaginary Dragon. Spoiler alert: it’s about a dragon. Matthew usually writes ideas for illustrations into the manuscript, some of which I agree with, but a lot of which I don’t. This makes for some good red pen action.
But even the ones I agree with need some tweaking, so we talk about each little section and I take notes, so I can remember what we talked about when it comes time to draw. We also talk about refining the writing, so there is definitely some moving around of text and some very red-pen-appropriate demands for rewrites.
I always do the note-taking at this stage, because I need to be able to make sure that the ideas that we have during the brainstorm are the same ones that pop into my head after reading the notes. I have such a terrible memory that even sometimes just writing, “Draw the dragon standing on the mountain here,” isn’t enough. So I end up with weird little seemingly cryptic notes and pictures that look like this:
but that generally do the trick when it comes to remembering. You wouldn’t know it, but those little pointy lines coming in from the left are spears pointed in the direction of the dragon, who is that sideways lightbulb-shaped thing on the right, and the little bunny ear with the scribbles around it in the top right hand corner is supposed to be a bunch of burning trees. At least it’s clear that the king with his crown on is poking his head in from the left. Clear as a bell.
Matthew saves everything that we do, even if it’s a bunch of indecipherable doodles on the edges of a manuscript. So he was not pleased when over the course of our trip to DC some sort of sticky drink was spilled on the manuscript and stuck all of the pages together. The pages then needed to be surgically separated, and given the fact that neither of us is really a surgeon, the outcome was not ideal.
There were very few doodles hurt in the process, though, so we’ll chalk it up as a success. The manuscript will go at the top of a giant pile of such Idiots’ detritus, and we’ll just hope it doesn’t stick to whatever things get piled on top of it.
And now that that important part of the process is done, it’s time for me to get to work.
Coming up in the fall, we have ourselves signed up to give presentations at eight different colleges. This is very exciting, but also a little daunting. For the most part, we’re given an hour – the expectation seems to be we do a 45-minute talk with a 15-minute question and answer session at the end. 45 minutes seems like an awfully long time. We’ve made a tactical decision to try to keep folks from completely falling asleep by showing them lots of slides while we tell our story.
Here’s a little condensed version of it for you:
Matthew and I make stuff like crazy, pretty much all the time:
It’s nice to get to work in your pajamas:
Even though it sometimes means that you fall asleep at your desk, never having taken off your pajamas all day:
When we’re not working, Matthew generally is wrangling the kids:
And I spend a lot of time making sure our ice cream stores never run too low:
Though sometimes all of this crazy chaos that is our lives can feel tiring (especially the keeping tabs on the ice cream part), we feel like we’ve gotten more than our share of good luck:
And we love very much what we do, even if it sometimes makes us feel like we’re crazy:
That’s the basic idea, with some sage advice, creative rabble-rousing, and general dog-and-pony-show-ing thrown in. The slideshow that we’ll be taking on the road this fall has 266 slides in it. About 3/4 of those slides are slides I have to draw. This means that for the last very LONG time I have been drawing our heads into different scenarios. I have two files on my computer that pretty much stay on my desktop so I can look at all of our different expressions and try to make the best fit.
Sometimes none of the heads quite captures the expression I’m looking for, and I have to call Matthew over and say, “Look like you’re frustrated that Twitter only lets you use 140 characters”:
or, “Look pathetically hopeful that someday you will be allowed to ride a motorcycle”:
Luckily, Matthew has a strong background in theater and film that’s kept this project running smoothly. As it is, I’ve only got 18 drawings to go. Hopefully I can get them finished before our first presentation at Drake University in Iowa. I’ve got two and a half weeks – here’s hoping!
One of my favorite things about the barn is our studio. Before Alden was born, it was a big, unfinished storage room. When she came along, we knew we needed more space, and so we got to work with insulation and sheet rock.
Here’s my desk.
And here’s Robbi’s.
When we’re both working, it looks something like this.
I forgot to show you Iggy’s desk.
I write. Robbi draws. August is the Minister of Good Cheer.
He takes his job seriously.
Going to any length to keep the mood lively and the creative groove flowing.
Note: The photo(s) in this post were taken by photographer/blogger/developer/promoter of clean code Jiho Sohn. I encourage you to check out his site. Furthermore, Robbi, Matthew, Alden, Kato, August, and Iggy are currently on the Alaskan tundra, fishing commercially for sockeye salmon and trying to avoid stray bears. They will return on July 17, at which point real-time blogging will resume.
I have received occasional inquiries about my “day job,” and wonder if it might be time to shed some light on the situation.
Yes, that’s right. I have a job. This reality surprises some and saddens others when they learn of it. The truth is, the appearance of unhinged bohemian bliss is mere illusion. I do work for “the man,” but as it turns out, he is a rather nice one.
Meet Clifford, company president and engine of our enterprise.
By title, I am the Director of Special Projects for the North Charles Street Design Organization (NCSDO), a Baltimore-based strategic marketing firm specializing in higher education.
What this means in non-marketing terms is that we help colleges and universities find distinctive and compelling ways to communicate with the students they would like to attract, admit, and matriculate. In a nutshell: we make the logos, viewbooks, brochures, web sites, email campaigns, postcards, banners, posters, etc. that help the right students find the right college match. But beyond making things, we are helping our clients develop and express ideas.
We’re in the business of artful, authentic differentiation. If we’ve done our jobs right, we help our clients discover ways of expressing their communities and cultures that are so essential and institutionally specific as to place themselves in a category of one. Meaning, we help them discover what only they can claim, what only they can offer, what only they can do.
Being Director of Special Projects I get to wear a lot of different hats. I write copy, draft strategic briefs, brainstorm ideas, conduct on-campus focus groups (with anyone from freshmen to professors to college presidents), keep an eye out for talent, interview potential employees, and do anything else “the man” wants me to do. I do not carry a weapon, though sometimes I wonder if I should.
It also means, I stand in dramatically lit rooms staring pensively down at my laptop from time to time.
I write this post to coincide with the launch of our latest web site, a beautiful production, if you ask me (I realize that you did not). If you have a few minutes, it’s a fun read.
A few of my favorite sections:
A frequently updated blog offering the latest intelligence in the higher education communications game.
An interactive feature that lets you name your own capital campaign, Ten Thousand Stories style. Surely at least one of you is trying to raise $500 million?
A chance to meet our staff of sexy communications consultants.
A gallery of stunning photography with annotations from our staff. Think Flickr with a higher-ed theme.
Three short films that introduce you to our setting (a restored firehouse in downtown Baltimore) and our staff of perfectionists.
Speaking of those wonderful perfectionists, the thing I like best about working at North Charles Street is the collection of remarkable people I get to call my colleagues, a veteran group of brilliant and dedicated writers, designers, consultants, coders, and production geniuses who come together to produce (in my humble opinion) the finest college communications to be found anywhere.
So, as it turns out, when I’m not making books with Robbi, I’m making books with Courtney, Carol, Sara, Tracy, Matt, Erica, Beth, Judy, Bernice, Armand, Jose, Jiho, Dan, Aaron, Ulfras, Marian, Ronnie, and Clifford.
Which is to say, my day job is entirely in keeping with my bohemian dream.
As Matthew recently pointed out, the way these family trips work is that the family goes somewhere fun, and Robbi stays at home working at all hours on some tortured byzantine project while forgetting to eat and sleep. This particular family trip is all about me designing a new website for our new children’s book press (awesome name to be revealed later). We don’t know when it’s actually going to launch, because, well, everything depends on how much I can get done this week (did I mention I’m also trying to illustrate 3 or 4 books at the same time? No? Silly me!). But just so you know, we’re on it. It’s happening!
I am trying out the new Adobe product, Muse, to design the front page, as we want it to do something more complicated than I can figure out in WordPress. Muse is in Beta right now, which means it’s free, but also means that there isn’t a lot of documentation of how to make things work (which is why I love WordPress – excellent forums and tutorials and people who know what they’re doing). So, I’m kind of hacking around blindly, but for those of you who do print design but are afraid of the web, I think it’s a pretty intuitive tool. That said, those of you who are all about web are probably steaming about the way that Muse mangles code and makes what you do look like it’s not important. And that said, whoah lordy am I glad I don’t have to be writing code (so much) this week. Because, you see, I mangle it even more than Muse does.
So, that’s what I’m up to.
Because web stuff really taxes my addled little brain, I really have to focus in order to figure things out. And this is the part where I forget to eat. I had a doctor’s appointment yesterday and was told I had actually lost weight since my last check-up. You wouldn’t know this to look at me.
Though I didn’t get a slap on the wrist, I was firmly told that it’s a trend that should not be allowed to continue. Which means that I am on the lookout for quick, easy, calorie-loaded meals that I can eat at my computer. Any suggestions? Yesterday I found a recipe for “Dutch Baby” (thanks, angrychicken!) and decided I’d make the version mentioned in the comments with apples on the bottom. It’s basically a sweet version of Yorkshire Pudding (which we have at Swanson Family Christmases where it has been dubbed “Who Pudding” to go along with the “Roast Beast”) – buttery, fatty, delicious.
It puffs up in the oven like a popover, so you have to eat it right away. I especially like the crispy bits around the edges.
Though I’m sure it’s jam-packed with calories, I have to say it’s not much of a meal. Best served hot, I basically snarfed the whole thing down before even leaving the kitchen, and though it was 1am when I ate it, I found myself peckish again at 3. Sigh. So, any recipe suggestions would be great. And then there’s also the fact that I live next door to a bakery.
For those of you who are interested, the recipe is as follows:
1/2 C flour
1/2 C milk
1/2 C egg (the recipe called for four, but I had enormous ones, so only used two. Someone in the comments had said to use equal parts of all three, so I measured out the eggs first)
2 T butter
Preheat oven to 425. Put butter in cast iron skillet or pyrex baking dish (mine was an 8″ square). Put it in the oven until the butter is melted and hot and the pan is also hot hot hot. If you’re having apples on the bottom, slice them, sprinkle them with sugar, put them in the hot buttered pan and bake until they’re a little tender (5 minutes or so). Add cinnamon or whatever you want to season them. Mix the flour, milk and eggs into a batter. When the pan and butter are back to hot hot hot again, pour the batter into the pan and immediately return it to the oven. Bake for 20 minutes for a softer pudding, or 25 for something a little crispier. Top with sugar and lemon or syrup or jam or whatever.
Yum, yum, yum. And SO easy.
And for those of you who have gotten this far without passing out from boredom, here’s a little sneak peak at a piece of our new identity:
“A two-headed jackass,” you say? “That has got to be you guys!”
Right you are. We wouldn’t have it any other way.
We have been invited to have a table at this year’s Crafty Bastards show in DC – special thanks to Politics and Prose, who is our sponsor, our beacon of light, our general all-around awesome non-local (but local to our hearts) bookstore. If you’re ever in DC, you must check them out.
The show isn’t until October 1, but it’s creeping up on us in an ominous and lurking way that is especially terrifying given the amount of other work we have ahead of us this month.
And so, today we will be assembling 600 books. Want to know what 600 books looks like?
This is actually just the ingredients to 600 books (to be perfectly accurate, it is only the ingredients to 475 books, as I am still printing the insides to Babies Ruin Everything). We are thinking that the baby items will be big sellers, and so we’ve also made an order for some new onesies in new colors (more on that to come, when we actually find out whether they look good or not!).
So, wish us happy punching and stapling and printing and trimming and crimping and standing on our feet for the next 18 hours. We are looking forward to the cheesecake Don is promising to bring us.
This whole Daily Affirmations project is sure a hootenanny. (Wow, I just learned a lot about the word hootenanny. I was, of course, using it in the “focused discussion between key individuals” sense, and not the “folk-music party” sense.) First of all, there are 365 of them. That means (for those of you not good at math) that I need to average drawing one a day. One a day! I don’t think I do anything on that regular of a basis, other than maybe wake up (I don’t even average going to bed once a day!) (though, now that I consider that, the math doesn’t even add up on that one). This is a lot for my poor little brain to keep track of.
The Affirmations were originally printed out in an 11-page document, which contained 189 affirmations. I went through them and ranked them on a 1-5 scale. We brainstormed ideas for 5s. We put 3s and 4s in another list to improve. We shot the 1s and 2s out of a cannon over the ocean and hope we never see them again.
But then things started getting really messy.
I tried to set up a system to keep track of which ones we had solid ideas for (ready to sketch), which ones had already been sketched, which ones we were still thinking about, and which ones were complete (finals drawn). My system fell apart pretty immediately, because I couldn’t find a yellow highlighter one day, I forgot that circles around numbers can’t really be erased when they’re made in ink, etc etc. Not to mention the fact that Alden found an orange highlighter and several pens and pencils and added to my system. I found I was spending a lot of my time just staring at the pages going, “Wha??”
Matthew, and his powers of administration, suggested I make a card for each affirmation and keep them in separate piles. Genius!
Oh, but look how many there are!
I was fully prepared to chop them into submission.
What a nice, fat little stack they make.
Okay. The stack looks much fatter when you photograph it from below.
And when you hold it in your hands, with a heavy heart, looking into the distant distant future.
So of course after chopping them up, I dropped them on the floor, and had to completely re-sort them. This is likely going to be a recurring problem, so I’m thinking I’m going to have to clip these into some sort of one ring binder or something. I spent the next hour putting them into their respective piles.
The completed ones are marked across the top with a red sharpie. The ready-to-sketch ones are set aside in their own pile. And now, I’m officially ready to go.
Here’s hoping I won’t need to spend another half a day setting up a different system. Because I don’t want to have to leave any of these Affirmations half drawn. Though I suppose I could leave that one for Leap Year.