I majored in journalism because, well, when I started college I wasn’t terrible at writing and I fit that cliche mold of an overly idealistic 19 year old who thought they could change the world. (Spoiler alert: I haven’t and I won’t.) Say what you will about the dying newspaper industry and the minuscule salary earned by reporters, but one of the cool things about being a journalism major is getting an excuse to take lots of photography and graphic design classes.
Oh…wait….I didn’t do that. Dumb.
I don’t really remember what my reasons were for not taking a photography class–a class COMPLETELY supported by my major and funded by my financial aid. I think it was something about the lab hours being too demanding and I was at the point in my young life where I had a hot new boyfriend (now husband) and was more interested in hanging out in his dark room (HEY-OH). I did manage to fit in one graphic design course, but because the teaching assistant was a big-time sarcastic bully, I skipped out on most of those labs too.
As a result, I graduated sans graphics and photography know-how. It was a true shame considering I would soon develop a mild obsession with design and photography, which I would satisfy by teaching myself. There is a lot I need to learn and I know I’m very rough around the edges—especially when compared to the high-calliber pros—but I feel comfortable with what I’ve accomplished on my own thus far.
A few recent examples.
Posters and Flyers
Brochures and Other Publications (Click the image to see the entire package.)
Even Billboards (Oh yeah, I never wrote about that time I had a billboard! Fun story for later.)
I don’t pretend to know everything there is to know about all of the graphic design nuances. There are rules and techniques that I am sure I don’t follow—more out of ignorance than an act of rebellious independence—and hundreds of styles I’ve yet to explore. Truthfully, I really have only grazed the surface of possibilities, but that has me more excited than intimidated.
I write this not to pat myself on the back or beg applause from readers. But I’ll admit I’ve got ulterior motives for laying my art and my insecurities out on the table. I try not to talk about my professional life too much, but recently at work some design-oriented projects I really cared about were vendored out to The Pros. And it has shaken my creative confidence.
But here’s the thing, too often I downplay my abilities and sulk over the fact that I would probably never be a “real” graphic designer. But honestly, these days I’m less woeful about my reluctance to seize the opportunity to learn the right way in college, and more proud of what I have been able to figure out on my own. Teaching myself was an education in its own merit. I had to admit what I didn’t know, do my own research and ask for help when I needed it—sometimes even from my own journalism students, when I was teaching, which makes for quite the humbling experience. I established my own standard and had only myself to impress, and I think I’m finally coming around to believing I am an OK student. I’m not an artist savant and I don’t want to be. I’d rather find joy in making mistakes, learning from them at my own pace than creating art that I feel good about. I encourage others to embrace their interests whole heartedly and do the same. There’s no “real” way to learn to be expressive, no “right” way to be creative.
“Take your pleasure seriously.” — Charles Eames, designer
I was going through my flickr account recently, which I hate to admit is sorely outdated, and I came across a handful of pictures of the original Doodle House. We lived there a year and a half before moving to our current pad, doing what we could to make it feel like home given our limited capabilities as renters. We painted. We updated some hardware here and there. We got our start raising chickens. It was the house we lived in as newly weds and we did what we could with what we had to make it ours. I don’t have any negative feelings or weird associations with our old place, none at all. But looking back, I realize now, even with all its quirks, how much more our current house feels like home than did this little eclectic cottage. It’s kind of funny how much can change in just a couple of years.
I’ve recently come to the conclusion that I might very well be the living, breathing, walking, talking, blogging symbol of American consumerism. I sees something I wants sprawled across the pages of a catalog or draped stylishly over some hipster walking the chicest of city streets or proudly taking up real estate in a post of some brand name design blog, and I inevitably come to the conclusion that I must attain that picnic scenario, those awesome Ikat shorts, that fantastic living room–or at least a cheap knock off version of each. Every now and then I’m temporarily relieved of my obsession after some life-changing adventure, say a trip to India for instance, but at one point or another it’s certain I will find myself curled up in secret with the iPad at 11 at night, googling pictures of “homemade earring stands” so that I can emulate some totally random, completely irresistible image I saw in that catalog, on that girl at Whole Foods, in that post on Design*Sponge. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I have a shopping problem (see homemade earring stand comment above), but at the very least it’s a browsing problem. As of late, I had been eyeballing these, as Heath would say, “super omega krunk” modern orbital light fixtures.
I’m not entirely positive as to why I am so drawn toward and mystified by these quirky living and dining room accessories. I’d like to say something about how we view light as a symbol for life and I feel rejuvenated by them. Or that their incessant circular design holds some alluring magnetism. Or that proper lighting determines the mood of the room and ultimately oneself and that these examples reiterate the attitude I want reflected in my home. Yes. I’d like to say that. But really it boils down to pretty…so pretty.
Good old mom knew I had been toying with the idea of swapping out our not-so-terrible, but also not-so-special 80s light fixture for a illumination source that’s more stylish and charismatic (and remnant of something from that website, magazine, catalog, street corner, etc). Next thing I know, a mystery package from Joss & Main shows up on our door step and I’m staring this thing square in the eye.
Its formal fancy pants name is the “Aumi Pendant” but I just like to call it “SUH-WEET!” It cost $136, through whatever black magic Joss & Main works, and I was able to put those awesome waves together in about an hour while sitting on the living room floor watching a rerun of Saturday Night Live. The only trouble with it was, while it was labeled as a “pendant” it actually didn’t have traditional pendant wiring and instead was equipped with a standard plug-in for a wall outlet. But our local handyman was able to rewire the thing in about half an hour and we wound up with this impressive get up that’s still far cheaper than anything I would have been able to find at a fancy lighting or faddish vintage store. The doodle doggies don’t seem to mind the imposing orb.After all my catalog flipping and blog scrolling you might say, I’ve finally got my eye on the ball (ey….ey?!). Consumerism Shmonshmumerism. I’m a happy girl with this new, magazine-inspired, designer knock-off ball of brilliance—a stylish charm that radiates beauty, whimsy, serenity and, oh yeah, light.
Our Memorial Day weekend was pretty excellent on all counts and though not quintessentially American, at least was quintessentially us. There wasn’t hamburger grilling or lake going, but there was Broken Spoke dancing, Grandfather visiting, Greenbelt hiking and—perhaps most excitingly—thrift store shopping. What started as a What-Else-Do-We-Have-To-Do rainy Saturday quickly turned into an OMG-I-Can’t-Believe-We-Found-All-Of-This-Affordable-Second-Hand-Stuff-That-Is-Precisely-Exactly-What-We-Have-Been-Looking-For awesome Saturday. We found stuff like…
…these two framed and matted Craig Holmes prints of the Brooklyn and Golden Gate bridges. We picked them up on the cheap from Corner Collectors Market, one of my favorite Austin junk stores. Heath is planning to hang them in his classroom as a classy and educational addition to his U.S. history curriculum. Pay attention kids, that’s what you call [hashtag] wining.
Another treat for Heath was getting his hands on some old books from Recycled Reads, the Austin Public Library’s used bookstore where they sell all the titles they no longer want in circulation for dirt cheap. Hardcovers: $2. Paperbacks: $1. Watching Heath make a pallet on the office floor so he can lay in a sea of his newly acquired library: priceless.
But the real “HOLY MACARONI” moment (For me at least. Let’s be real, Heath was checked out by this point, he had books to read and posters to hang.) was finding this midcentury dresser from Room Service Vintage. It was in great condition, it cost less than humdrum Ikea furniture and it matched our other bedroom dresser like its long lost twin sister. Or actually, a taller, skinnier, prettier sister. Those were great perks, but most importantly, it met the must-have criteria I was looking for in a new dresser. Namely, it fits perfectly against this awkward, small bit of wall in our bedroom and it’s stupid cute.
“What Netflix movie did we get this week?”
“An American in Paris.”
“Oh the Woody Allen movie. Cool.”
“No, not the Woody Allen movie. That’s Midnight in Paris. This is the musical with Gene Kelly.”
“The Singing in the rain guy?”
…And so began our journey into this nearly forgotten movie musical.
My mom did a good job of ensuring I accrued a respectable number of musical titles as a child, for whatever that’s worth. Weekly trips to the public library always returned the best of Rogers and Hammerstein scores and MGM films. Oklahoma, West Side Story, Sound of Music, The King and I, Singing in the Rain all had regular dates with my VCR. Like most egocentric children, I took great delight in bellowing “Shall We Dance” and “Do-Re-Mi” through the house as loud as humanly possible and fantasizing about the day I would be cast to play the female lead in a grand stage version of each. And before you go around feeling sorry for my poor family who had to endure these homemade song and dance numbers, let it be known that ole Gretchen didn’t do much to discourage this behavior. There’s even a recording of me somewhere screaming “I’m Just a Girl Who Can’t Say No” into a microphone at the tender age of 4, which is hilarious now for reasons I didn’t understand at the time.
But I digress.
I had vague, vague memories of the 1951 musical An American in Paris being on the musical circuit that passed through our home, but hardly could recall what it was about or recite any of the lyrics from the film’s musical numbers, which is a shame considering its Gershwin score and the fact that it won some six Oscars (if you care about that sort of thing), including one for Best Picture. One thing I did remember is for a wide-release film, it was uncharacteristically loaded with ballet numbers—a quality I gave extra weight too as a once aspiring ballerina—but not much else. So, 20 years later, as I scrolled through endless selection of Netflix titles, I thought I should give An American in Paris another try. Only this time, I would be viewing it not so much as a young amateur ballerina, but as a young adult with a developing interest in art, design, and history.
An American in Paris follows the story of Jerry Mulligan, a World War II veteran, who falls in love with a French shop girl. But as is to be expected, no couple can fall in love in Paris with out an obstacle or two to get in the way of their journey to happily ever after. The object of Kelly’s affection is of course engaged to another man, while the lead character himself is being pursued by a wealthy American heiress who vies for his attention under the guise that she is a great patron of the arts with an interest in sponsoring a grand exhibition by the American solder turned Parisian painter.
Unsurprisingly, the dancing in American in Paris is top notch. Gene Kelley makes producing 24802934234 sounds at once via his tap shoes appear all too easy and 19-year-old Leslie Caron (in her film debut) performs challenging fouettés like she was born doing them. But, you come to expect dancing of the highest caliber when you’re dealing with Hollywood’s heavy hitters. The Gershwin score too is one to be admired. Most of the numbers begin as soft and pleasant ditties that slowly build into epic mind-melting compositions. But again, it’s Gershwin. You know you’re in for a sing-songy treat before it even begins.
Re-watching this as an oh-so-wise-and-worldly 26-year-old, it was not only the song and dance that tickled my fancy. The art direction played so powerful a role in this film, the scenery and background seem to be their own character (not so divergent from the way, say, Wes Anderson or Baz Luhrmanm strategically employ art, color and light as visual communicators in films today). Throughout the movie the viewer is treated to surreal and dreamy vignettes that feature Caron, Kelly and composer-actor Oscar Levant in scenes that provide an escape from the somewhat predictable, plot. In one scene, for example, as Levant and French actor Georges Guetary describe the characteristics they seek out in the perfect woman, the audience gets to see Caron provide visual interpretations of what it means to be “modern,” “classic,” intelligent,” etc. And Kelly, portraying an artist, appropriately dances in and out of famous French artworks like Chocolate Dancing by Toulouse-Lautrec. And the film culminates in a 16-minute (and allegedly $500,000) ballet, which takes place on a set that draws inspiration from famous works by Renoir, Van Gogh and other iconic artists. (Check out this great frame-by-frame comparison of the film to its artistic inspiration here.) The visual elements were stimulating, engaging, surreal…exactly what a musical should be.
I haphazardly clicked the “add to queue” button on the Netflix account to bring An American in Paris into my living room, but was pleased to rediscover a piece of Hollywood cinema that left a lasting impression and awoke in me a new appreciation for the way proper art direction helps shape a story. It has me itching to rewatch other forgotten movies of my childhood to see what else I may have missed, and to explore newer releases for the surprises that may unfold as a result of the latest and greatest technologies in visual storytelling.
Some of us aren’t fans of revisiting films—unless of course, it’s one of those mega classics like Star Wars, for instance, or The Big Lebowski. With the incalculable number of films out there, it doesn’t seem practical to some to rehash the old while forgoing the new. But taking a second look has done me a world of good, and I’m motivated now more than ever to take another peak at yesterday’s movies to discover something remarkable and rejuvinating.
I smile and allow myself to be enveloped by a medley of warm and fuzzy feelings when I imagine covering the walls of our home with one-of-a-kind art pieces that conjure up memories of times well spent and people greatly loved. But because I’m a girl on a budget, I’m not quite as fond of the price tag that comes with many unique paintings and prints, and I don’t have the skill set to put pen to paper and create epic masterpieces on my own either. To solve the conundrum of having champagne taste on a beer budget, I’ve been known to use three methods: repurpose projects my friends have created (like Eric’s concert posters), use canvaspop to print my favorite photographs, or get nifty with design software to make colorful mini-posters we can change with the seasons with minimal effort and cost.
Each method has proved an acceptable solution to my dilemma, so most recently, I’ve tried to bring extra pizazz to the house by once again employing the third of those tactics—creating art on the old lap top. Recently I’ve been carried away by the enthralling shapes of some of the succulents in our neighborhood, and I thought perhaps that recent obsession could make for some nice hallway flair. I conjured up this little number one recent afternoon based on two of my favorite neighborhood cacti.
Like me, the print is a little cheesy, but I enjoyed coming up with a way to incorporate my favorite colors and our love of gardening, neighborhood walks and each other in one fun and simple piece. I printed the finished design on 8.5″ x 11″ card stock and bought a frame on clearance at Target to spruce it up. Not bad for hallway art.
There is about a 3-4 week period in the spring where, in Austin, we experience essentially the opposite of the perfect storm:
- We enjoy moderate rainfall several times a month
- The average temperature ranges between 50 and 80 degrees
- The sun’s rays bathe the garden until around 8:30 p.m.
- The threat of a late winter freeze is virtually non existent
- Mosquitoes and other pesky insects have not yet metamorphosed from their larva state
It’s absolutely the best 3-4 weeks of the year where the temps are perfect, the insects are minimal and plant life is stunning. Without question, this is the happiest of times for man, beast and plant. I’m going to document this moment like crazy because I won’t see it again for 12 months.
All the blooms make it ideal for picking centerpiece bouquets, a hobby we can really only enjoy during this brief window of opportunity.