Thursday, September 8, 2011

Baltimore Aquarium

I am working on a new book and my favorite part of this process is the research. My current research is taking me to zoo's and aquariums. I was very lucky to find an enthusiastic aquarist at the National Aquarium in Baltimore.

I made a trip to the beautiful waterfront of Baltimore for a visit.  Though I can purchase photographs from many digital resources, it is much more fun to take my own. It is not always easy, but part of the adventure.

My enthusiastic aquarist went above and beyond. He let me come into the aquarium before the doors opened to the public. This was special because if you have ever been into one of the big aquariums, you now how crowded that get. And the creatures I was hoping to photograph are among the most popular - the Giant Pacific Octopus, the sea horses and the jellies.

Clearly the octopus was the pride and joy of this aquarist. I got an opportunity to photograph him both in the exhibit and behind the scenes - where I even got to shake the octopus's hand. When an octopus touches you with it's suction cups, it is sort of smelling you. It was really a wonderful creature. And they are very smart, so they have to be kept entertained with toys and challenges so they don't get into mischief. The aquarist gave the octopus a treat, which was in a jar with a screw top lid. The octopus easily unscrewed the  lid to retrieve his reward.

I was very intrigued by the behind the scenes spaces of the aquarium. We walked out over the shark tank on a cat walk. They would circle below us with the classic fin out of the water. We needed some JAWS music playing for the full effect.

So, my next trip is to the Bronx Zoo to find a few more interesting creatures.

Here is a photo of my new octopus friend:

Monday, July 25, 2011

Everyone enjoys a good fog

I just returned from our annual family vacation to the upper reaches of the Maine coast. The further up you go, the fewer tourists you find - except Bar Harbor of course. The Maine coast is for people who love rocks, solitude, kayaking, and really, really, cold water. It is the kind of water that if you take a swim, you feel there should be a podium with a big gold medal waiting for you when you get out.

Though there are not many things more wonderful than a crisp, sunny day in Maine, I would put fog ahead of sun any day. Fog is like snow. When it settles over the world, everything becomes quiet and mysterious. The ocean becomes very still. The  sound of the Mark Island fog horn is a bit louder, the engines of the Lobster Boats echo over the invisible ocean, and the seagulls appear out of the gloom and then disappear. All your senses become  heightened and you pay attention to the details of the world around you. Spiderwebs are thick with dew and the woods creates wonderful patterns. It is great.

Even though kayaking in the fog is a rather stupid thing to do, our cove is relatively safe if you hug the coastline. When you paddle out just a few yards, everything disappears and you really lose your sense of direction almost immediately. Then a breeze will blow and the cottage will briefly appear and then disappear. It is a wonderfully unnerving thing to do because you become completely disconnected from the world for a little while. It is like meditating.

So I love the fog. I wish I could have more fog in my life. I recommend it to everyone.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Who's at the Farmer's Market - EVERYONE

Two years ago, I was asked to design a logo for a new, local farmers market. It was a fun project which has become more than just a nice design piece.
The market has been going strong and just opened for it's third season. It has transformed the Delmar Saturday morning routine. From 9am-1pm, the market is open and everyone is there.The market has become not only a great place to get wonderful food, but the social center of the town. Who knew!
     Farmer's markets are popping up everywhere which is great for small, local farmers and our eating habits. But I think what brings people back week after week is the social scene. There are few opportunities in our busy, car centered lives to run into friends and neighbors for an informal chat. The chance meetings of friends on the street are rare. Just like play dates, we have to plan our casual get togethers. But everyone comes to the farmer's market and it has unknowingly provided the lost art of socializing. From the looks of things, this is an aspect of our lives that people have deeply missed. 
     One down side to this new found talk-fest is that you can't take a quick trip to the market. There is no way to run in for a pick of the fresh strawberries and snap peas and out. You have to slow down and plan at least an hour. But I tend to go at a fever pitch most days, so being required to put aside an hour or two to take part in a community ritual is probably the healthiest thing I take away from the market.
     So, the design of this logo has become much more meaningful to me than just a fun project. I am very proud to be part of this new phenomenon and I hope it stays around forever. If you don't have a farmer's market in your town - start one. I will throw in the logo - pro bono! Promise.
For market info:  (I did not design the website).

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Designer as obsessive horder of stuff

Sooner or later designers like to talk about their stuff. I don't mean their portfolios, but all the stuff they collect to inspire their design. It is a terrible affliction that we all share and it sometimes helps to discuss the various ways that the stuff is dealt with.

Here is just one of many bookshelves brimming with my stuff:

I also have a large flat file of my stuff and a large file cabinet. Some of my stuff sits around for years without even being noticed, but that doesn't stop me from picking up that great scrape of wall paper on the sidewalk, or beautifully illustrated postcard in an antique store. I have decided that it all mingles in my psyche somewhere to find it's way into my work which justifies the continuation of this activity.

Recently I started to go through an overflowing pile of paper samples, ribbon, corrugated cardboard, and scrapes I intended to get rid of. Here is my pile:
Like most collectors I couldn't bring myself to throw it out, so I started putting  these scrapes together to make cards. I make one card every day. When I get enough cards, I might sell them and donate the money to a worthy environmental group. I like the idea of moving some of my stuff out into the world and helping the environment. It is good for my karma.
Of course A few things make their way back into my folder for safe keeping, because after all I have to keep some of my stuff.

Here are a few of my new creations:

Let me know what you think? Until next time...keep collecting - that way I won't see it!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Contemplating The Universe

I was visiting some of my favorite design blogs today and came across this really wonderful little short created using clips from the Cassini Solstice Mission to Saturn.  You can read more at this link and view the video. Any time I see images from space, I am overwhelmed by how little we know about EVERYTHING. ( A thumbs up to Mike Wasilewski for noting the same site.)

If you want more info on the universe, Smithsonian has done some wonderful articles with stunning photos to boot. You can pour through their archives.

Anyway, take a look:

Thursday, June 2, 2011

One, Two, Three with Ant and Bee

I haven't spoken much about books so far, so I would like to present One, Two, Three with Ant and Bee by Angela Banner. If you are a young-ish person, you probably didn't grow up with this book. I am not sure many old-ish people did either. I loved this small counting book as a young child. The story was rather odd about an ant that is injured and nursed back to health by his close friend Bee. Similar to the Dressed Cat postcards, I was fascinated by the illustrations in this book. The simple, graphic style of drawing and the pattern of objects has stayed in my imagination over the years.

Oddly enough I was thinking about Ant and Bee about a year ago while developing one of my own books, when my mother came to visit and pulled my old battered copy out of her bag. "Look what I found in the closet". This was eerie. 

My younger sister did a good job of adding her own illustrative adornments to the book which is missing its cover and a few key pages, but I have since purchased a bright new, (and more expensive) copy. The book is sadly out of print.

Here are a few illustrations:

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Alfred Mainzer

Searching through a folder of old postcards, I came across a couple of lovely ones from my childhood by the Alfred Mainzer Company.
Here is a little information about Dressed Cat Postcard Series:

"These cards, known as the Humorous Dressed Cats postcards or Mainzer Dressed Cats postcards, were originally published from the 1940's through the 1960's by Alfred Mainzer Inc. in New York City, known worldwide for their postcards and greeting cards. The Mainzer company was founded by brothers Renate and Alfred Mainzer, who started the business in their New York City home in 1938. The early postcards had a rough finish, brilliant colors, and scalloped ("deckled") edges. The cards were printed in Switzerland, Belgium, Turkey, Thailand, and Spain. An additional series of Mainzer dressed cats were published as the "Kunzli edition" - these appear to be set in older European environments, and are typically not as brightly colored as the American editions. Mainzer also did a smaller series of "dressed dogs," "dressed mice," and "dressed hedgehogs."
     The artist was Eugen Hartung (or Hurtong), who lived from 1897-1973. His signature logo was a little heart with a loop or “tongue” Hartung signature in the center. That symbol should appear in one of the bottom corners on the front of the postcards, though there are a few occasions when it was cut off during the printing process. (Both postcards above have this symbol). The Kunzli postcards will show "Copyright Max Kunzli, Zurich 6/35" or "Edition Max K├╝nzli, Zurich 6" imprinted on the back either with or without an “Alfred Mainzer, Inc.” address. Some of the Mainzer and Kunzli postcards will show where they were printed. Most of them will be numbered.
     The charm of these anthropomorphic cats postcards is not just in the fact that the cats are in everyday "people" situations, but in the amount of detail in each picture - note the pickpocket on the train, for example, or the fact that most of the "better dressed" female cats have poodles as pets.
     The Alfred Mainzer Company still exists, doing much more reproduction work than postcards. Around 2005, the company had 100 of the postcards reprinted as a "collector edition." In 2009, the majority of the postcards were burned in a fire, and all of the remaining stock was sold out by the end of that year."

If you happen to have any of these delightful cards, hang on to them because they will become rare according to the information above. I grew up with these cards and loved staring at all the detail. They are both strange and whimsical.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A little more Denmark

As a designer, I seem to always be thinking about color. Any nice sample of color I come across ends up in my file cabinet. One of the most memorable aspects of Copenhagen is COLOR. Rich, bold, simple, color creates a wonderful pattern along many of the streets. These beautiful buildings have been on my mind, so I would like to share a few examples. Another moment to be grateful for the invention of the camera.

Who isn't inspired to go out and create something when you look at the color palette on display here.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


This is the inauguration of my website and I thought a blog would be a fun way to keep everyone up to date on my work and my thoughts. I will attempt to address issues related to design/books/art/and more.

For those of you who are interested in my children's books, I am working on a new book for Henry Holt and Company. We are currently putting together a table of contents and I have developed a few preliminary layouts. Because I am a designer first, I write my books by designing them first. This is not the usual approach publishers expect, but my editor seems to accept this method. Once I create a few design layouts, then the publisher can decide if they are interested in pursuing the project further. My layouts seem to have the green light and I am looking forward to getting under way.

I am trying to squeeze some drawing into each day over the summer. I have been developing a series called Monday Afternoons. Monday afternoons are meeting days in our department and I have spent many hours doodling on our meeting minutes. I began saving these doodles about two years ago and recently started composing them into drawings. Here is an example:
You can find a few more on my website. 

So here is a combination of design and more. I recently returned from Copenhagen, Denmark where my daughter has been living and studying for the past five months. As a designer I cannot help but love the simple, clean and smart design of the Danish. I have included a few examples below. I particularly love the toilet flushing mechanisms. "Big flush, little flush" So smart and so beautiful. Check it out.

big flush / little flush
big flush / little flush
big flush / little flush
umbrella stand 

lastly, the airport cart. So efficient
I wanted to bring it on the plane with me.

Thank you for visiting. I will keep you posted!