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AmperArt #15: honoring the physically challenged

Several months ago I discovered a fantastic website about everything Italian. That side of my heritage is most likely where I get my artistic talent and most surely my temper. (The other half is German which is probably why I’m a designer rather than a sculptor or painter, and very glad I am.)
They say you’re either Italian or you love Italian! So this wonderful website is for all you Italians and those who wish you were:


While perusing this beautiful and informative site, I came to a very heartfelt note by the website’s founder, Richard J. Michelli, that his brother Raymond, 36 years old, had just passed away. He was challenged by Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and confined to a wheelchair most of his life.
Then came the part that tore my heart out, as it reminded me of some of my own friends who were physically challenged:

Raymond was admired for his enduring resolve to transcend his limitations and live each moment to the fullest, as he put a smile on the face of everyone he met. Each and every attribute applies to those friends I know personally who are so accepting, so persevering, so full of spirit in spite of their debilitating challenge. I need look no further, I realized, than the words posted by Raymond’s friends, as well as his obituary, to create my AmperArt tribute. Every single word on this piece is taken verbatim from those sources.

February, with its celebration of Valentines Day and Presidents Day, is the month of love, courage and determination. With those values in mind, I honor the incredible spirit of physically challenged individuals, in the form of my latest AmperArt piece, “Challenge & Spirit.”

You may download and print a copy of “Challenge & Spirit” for printing and framing–just click on the image above. You’ll find printing and framing suggestions here.

Join other ampersand fans and receive a free AmperArt edition each month. Subscribe here.

2012: Exercise talent, change patterns

The New Year is when we vow to change our old habits and patterns. Fine, I’ll start backing up my computer on a regular basis and learn a new program or two, but I’m sticking to my junk food and calling a walk from the keyboard to the printer good exercise.

One new design exercise for the new year is looking for patterns. Every once in awhile an assignment presents opportunities that are simple design solutions if you study the elements for a little while. Sometimes the solution is very obvious, and if so it might be too simple, or already in use by another designer. It’s a good idea to keep playing with a concept until you feel it’s truly unique on its own, and relevant to the client or product.

Here’s such an opportunity: The new year numerals are to be arranged as a pattern for a background.

First I typed out 2012 in various ways–a single line, stacked, in a square, and intertwining.

The square and the crossword style look interesting, as they have the common numeral “2” which starts and ends the year “2012” so I’ll play with those. But I see a problem right off, which is that since all the numerals are not the same width, there is uneven spacing between them. One trick in setting type is to add generous letterspacing (tracking is the digital term) which spreads them apart so much that the uneven spacing is, though still uneven, far less apparent.

Okay, let’s try some basic patterns.

To accentuate the  common element–the numeral “2”–I assigned a different color to it than the other numbers:

Here’s another pattern. Note that each block is rotated a quarter turn:

And a variation in color, thus creating a pattern within a pattern:

As handsome as the monochrome effect is, I’ll try some other configurations of layout and color. How about simply rotating everything 45 degrees to achieve a diamond effect:

Interesting, but we have a another problem: “2012” does not read correctly in every instance, and it’s not a consistent pattern of angle on the numbers. After some analyzing, we come up with a better solution:

Time to add color:

Hundreds of color combinations are possible, so this is just a start (but I like it, so I’m quitting while I’m ahead).

This is the last year for awhile we’ll have more than one similar numeral in the year (“2″ and “2”). The next instance will be 2020, and that will present a whole new opportunity for a fun pattern. That one is quite obvious, so many unique alternatives are possible. Here’s the basic and most obvious pattern:

This numerical combination even allows a pattern that can be dimensional, if you visualize each shade of green on a separate plane. This would be appropriate for a product in which you can create several planes spaced apart, such as a Christmas ornament:

Maybe by the year 2020  monitors will generate  multi-plane holograms and you will have the full effect!

Patterns are fun, especially if they are challenging. Obvious uses for patterns are blog backgrounds, desktop images, stationery watermark effects, and wrapping paper.

Have a Prosperous, Healthy and Happy 2012012012012012012!

Are you an ampersand fan? Check this out: http://amperart.com. It’s my art print series featuring the ampersand. Fun & fabulous & free.

Clip Art: Condone or Condemn?

Should we condone or condemn clip art?

Though a professional designer, I use the same old elements every single day which I did not create out of my own head: the dot, the line, the color spectrum. I just manipulate them. The same goes for some everyday clip art. (The absolute best retro clip art is at RetroClipArt.com.) Rather than discarding any thought of using clip art in your layout, stop and consider this:

Clip art can be a conceptual element that establishes a theme. Take for example this little guy on a PowerPoint slide (it’s actual clip art from the 1940s). This first slide looks like the typical amateur PowerPoint presentation, but you’ll see how it evolves into a professional, powerful design.

Nothing screams “clip art” louder than a square white image against a colored background. Simply removing that field of white will take away the amateur clip art look and turn the design into something that reflects an actual layout from an earlier period in time, around the 1940s. (The font isn’t authentic for that period; we’ll get to that later.)

This is a vast improvement. Still clip art, but used professionally. In the earlier days of advertising there was a lot of clip art; but only art directors and designers had access to it, so it was being used properly.

We could stop right here, save for changing the font. But let’s take this a step further as far as layout goes. This is a presentation about communication, so we had better make sure it captures attention and communicates!

Location, location, location. Rather than shouting down into the corner of the frame, let’s direct the voice toward the message itself:

Yes, we can clip the clip art. Cropping and enlarging has made this illustration more powerful. Let’s take it a step further by modifying the clip art itself.

How about adding some color?

Might as well get creative with little touches, like filling the megaphone with a brighter gold than the man. Now, since we’re punching up the megaphone let’s go all the way.

Tear apart and manipulate the clip art further:

get creative with clipart

The larger megaphone and searing red voice from deep within add to the effectiveness of the illustration.

Now we need some typography that matches the style of the illustration. I’ve chosen two styles that were popular in advertising during the 1940s: Kaufmann script and Kabel. The weights and sizes are well-balanced here, with emphasis given to the appropriate word. It is singed with the same red that is emanating from the megaphone.

Placing the text in front of the illustration gives it further emphasis and dimension (it would be in front if it were a real sound). And coloring the script black, the less important copy, further emphasises the word “communicate.”

finished slide using clipart

I can’t imagine another illustration conveying the message so perfectly as this.

Clip art does have its place, and that place is in the hands of a professional designer.

Look beyond the square jpeg of the next piece of clip art you consider using. How can you manipulate or customize it to become a powerful, integral element in your layout? What can you do to the rest of the layout (colors, fonts, etc.) to enhance the clip art?

RetroClipArt.com has the niftiest clip art!

Take me back to 1945!The finest retro clip art I have found is at RetroClipArt.com. The styles are authentic, and they are vectorized with transparent backgrounds so your work looks professional from the start. I admire their dedication to authenticity, quality detail, and perhaps most of all giving homage to the great designers of the period. Treat yourself to some spiffy zinc cuts from the era of letterpress, at RetroClipArt.com. (I am not compensated for this plug, other than the fact that I am glad these perfectionists exist!)

See clip art used right at AmperArt.com

My series of AmperArt prints makes use of the same graphic element over and over and over: the ampersand. The whole series is based on the ampersand. You’ll see some standard clip art put to good, imaginative use in this series. Check out AmperArt.com.

Merry HalloweenChristmasValentinesEaster

Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas” could have inspired this article, but actually it was my cell phone. I was working on a Christmas card and with my phone covering part of the color palette, I realized that’s not Christmas–it’s Halloween.

Here’s what I was looking at, which looks a lot more like Halloween than Christmas:

Then I uncovered the last dot of the palette, and realized the absence of one hue changed the whole perception of the project–back to the intended Christmas palette.  Now, with the sweetness of magenta, we have Christmas back. Actually, I think it’s more a matter of elimination: pink just isn’t Halloween. (Have you noticed that in the past several years contemporary colors have been added to the Christmas palette? Purple, orange, teal and even black state “Merry Designer Christmas!”)

Here is my intended Christmas palette–it’s amazing what the addition of one color can do:

I’ll be adding a teal or turquoise to finish the palette, but I left that for later. I was intrigued by my discovery of what a difference just one color can make in defining holidays, so I experimented with other combinations. This is typically a Valentines Day color scheme, with or without the black:

But add one single color, and you have Christmas again:

Actually, there is a tiny bit of green in Valentine’s Day– the stem of a rose–but it must be a very small accent among the reds and pinks.

And how does pink figure in to Christmas? Visualize a candy cane. Besides, it sweetens the otherwise harsh combination of red and green.

Pull all the colors off the chart except black and white, and you have a very elegant New Year’s palette:

Add bright colors and it’s a festive New Year’s celebration:

Ready for Easter? Just add white to the colors above and you have pastel Easter egg colors:

Black isn’t very flattering for Easter, so we’ll grab the purple from our Halloween palette:

Add excitement to your advertising, greeting cards or holiday decorations by substituting and adding colors, or by shifting certain hues. Merry ChristmasValentinesEasterHalloween and Happy New Year!

Are you an ampersand fan? Check this out: http://amperart.com. It’s my art print series featuring the ampersand. Fun & fabulous & free.

So that’s why I’ve been early everywhere today

I had no idea the time had changed, I just kept arriving at stores that were closed or the breakfast specials were still on, until I tuned into my favorite Sunday radio program (Leo LaPorte, the Tech Guy) and the announcer announced the time. I thought he was reading the wrong clock when I realized what happened. So right now I’m still up because I can’t figure out whether I was supposed to be in bed an hour ago or I still have an hour to go. I’ll just wait till I’m too tired to keep blogging, and then crash — but not before I set the clocks ahead…or back…or whatever.


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