Sunday, May 17, 2020

Anxiety Society pin

I recently had a design job that was very close to my heart. I was asked to design a pin for one of my favorite organizations, Create More, Fear Less. I can't say enough about Create More, Fear Less. It was inspired by Kathleen Lane's experience with anxiety and the connections she made with kids she met while visiting schools with her book The Best Worst Thing. Through workshops both in-person and remote as well as through projects kids can do on their own, Create More, Fear Less inspires kids to explore, create, share, and find their way through fear.

Check it out. It's wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.

The pin I designed is a limited-edition membership pin for members of the Anxiety Society, a community of supporters who help fund the great things Create More, Fear Less does.

I knew this would be a simple design, mostly text arranged within a shape, but sometimes the simple stuff can take some doing. How can you get the most out of the smallest space, the barest of elements?

Graphic novelist Jonathan Hill, one of the many artists and writers who have designed and executed workshops for Create More, Fear Less, suggested that the pin be reminiscent of old secret society pins or decoder rings. I loved that idea.

We looked at symbols that might suggest this type of thing. The eye of Horus, stars, radiating lines, hands, triangles, keys, wings... We liked the idea of an eye because it might symbolize imagination, the mind, vision. I thought radiating lines would be a great visual element and also communicate light, growth, something positive coming from something else. Kathleen suggested an icon that might look like both a paintbrush and a torch. Maybe emerging from the eye.

It was really fun collaborating with Kathleen on this design, lobbing ideas back and forth and refining as we went. I started by spacing out the words Create More, Fear Less in a ring around the outside and placing the main text Anxiety Society in the middle. Seeing that the words Anxiety and Society each have the letter I at their centers, I tried lining those up and connecting them, turning them together into the torch/paintbrush. It took some work because the letter Is were not dead center and did not exactly line up. In the font I was using, some letters, like X were wider than others, like E and T. I had to convert the letters from live font into shape and then tweak them. Then I decided to go with a different font and started that process over again.

As is not uncommon in my design work, the idea got more and more distilled as I tinkered. The icons were looking too clunky and getting in the way of the important message of the words. It was hard to make the paintbrush/eye combo read. In the end both the paintbrush and the eye went away and just the radiating lines remained, with a few stars as accents. We'd started with a concept that was embedded in the past and ended up with something modern that still has a hint of its secret society roots.

Some samples along the journey from beginning to end.

After a lot of discussion on color, we settled on our design.

These babies are now newly-minted and ready to go out to members of the Anxiety Society in thanks for their support of Create More, Fear Less. I'm so honored to have been able to contribute a little something of my own. If you're interested in being part of the Anxiety Society and helping Create More, Fear Less do the wonderful things they do (and getting one of these pins to boot), there's more information here.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

On the occasion of her fiftieth birthday, some passages about my cousin Heather in my old kid diaries, with the spelling and punctuation errors intact

[When I talk about "towns," it's a game we used to play where we each had a tiny town made up of tiny toys. When I talk about the McLittle Theatre, that was what we kids called ourselves when we performed plays and made the grown-ups watch.]


May 13—today I went to Magic Mtn. I went on the revalusion. We saw a lady and a man fighting seamed like killing. Heather came too and Shena, Mara, Edina. Heather's birthday party.


August 28—Dear Mandy, I went to the beach with Heather, Edina, Ryan and Tom. I cought 5 sand crabs. Heather caught 55.


April 14—I am at Heather's house. I went to Swensons with her then to rolar rink. We spyed on people and we played shoot the duck. My spy person was in back of me. Heather spyed people. first one went off. Heather spyed the other. She went off. They were sisters or they liked each other.

May 24—Heather came over and we had a party. We played towns and our town adopted 2 kids Kitty cats had a baby.

June 25—Today's Mara's Birthday. I invited her to my party so she invited me to hers. Heather's at our house. She and I are making a book. it's really good. Maybe we'll get it published. Wish us good luck. 

December 28—Heather is here. We found out that our favorite Beatle Paul McCartney's 1st name is James.


August 5—I went to "Marie Calenders" restraunt. I had stew & boysinberry pie mmm! My town is having a musical. I love most of my songs & most of the's called "Best of Friends." The "Twilight Zone" today was good, about a dead man going to heaven. "Heather's town" is doing a musical too "not just another Monday" A song in my musical is Johnathan and its so pretty.

August 10—I saw "E.T." for my 3rd time. I laughed and cried so much. We (Heather & I) are writing letters to Henry Thomas, Stephen Spielburg, Drew Barrymore and other people in "E.T." I sure hope-wish-that we get letters or autographed pictures of them.

November 2—Morning: I remembered how Heather was singing "Johnathan" & "Remember Me" in school & her friend liked it so much that she asked for the words & always sings it. I'll try it at school. Night: I did my gene's report. I put words to some tunes I have. "Why can't there ever be a way," "Fortune & fame" & "What about me?" I made up a new story of how Gayle, Kristin, Tanya & I start a singing group.

December 30—Heather & I made contracts & screen tests for Edina & Frankie for McLittle theatre. We made a logo. We want to get buisness cards made. We're going to pay employees. 


January 15—I saw "Time Bandits" a movie about a little boy who goes back in time. I loved it! We thought of a whole new plot (play) "ERA" (When women take over the earth & Heather & I (men) take a space shuttle & hit a time warp.)

January 21—...Heather & I went downstairs (Almost 12:00) to make a special drink for the McLittle Theatre's party. Dad came down & Heather saw his Head Around the door & screamed. I turned & saw Him & screamed. Our drink is milk vanilla extract & sugar.

March 1—My life is like a musical. A long time ago I sang a circus song. Frankie & his friend were making a circus for Heather & I to see. I got up and started singing about what you need for a circus. Heather joined in on a 2nd verse and we sang just like a musical. I loved it. I've sang about what to do (A song called "What shall we do today", I've sang about when Mom wouldn't understand me (A song called "What do you mean by that) etc. I always just sing. My life is a musical.

May 29—We swam in the lake again. Today I lost one of my ear plugs in the water. Heather & Frankie made up a "Star Wars" presentation & after it we came home. Tonight, Mara & Heather spent the night. We swam in the pool. We watched part of "The Blue & the Grey", I turned it off & I went to sleap.


April 22, 84. Heather came over Sat. She had a great time. We watched 'Carrie' and then at night, we closed the window shades, turned off the lights, and watched 'The Shining'. That was such a scary movie that today mom told us she was lying in bed in her room listening to us scream. Heather & I clung together for dear life and dear sanity. It was maybe the scariest movie I have ever seen.
(June 7) Well, last night was the N.O.W dinner with Barbara Streisand. First, mom & I rode down to Heather's house with our clothes and everything. We got dressed & made our selves beautiful. (I went & got a dress at the mall with mom) at Heather's. A long, blue limosine picked us up and we started for the place. There were 4 seats in the back, 2 facing each other and the other 2 facing each other. We drank virgin Marys from the limo while Mom & Kathy drank champagne. It was raining. People would watch to see if we were anybody famous. We walked in after leaving instructions with our shofer (however the hell you spell it), Rob. The place was packed. I had a ginger ale & we found our seats. Dinner wasn't very great. We had dry chicken breasts with the bones still inside and some rice. Heather & I got served white wine with it. Then Heather & I decided to walk to the bathroom. In the bathroom, Heather was waiting on a stall and out came Barbara Streisand. I brushed her arm slightly as she rushed past & Heather sat on the same toilet. 
(Oct 7 8:53 (AM) ...After I finished clearing the table, Kathy, Mike, and Dad began to talk about something and Mom, Heather, and I began to talk about ourselves. Mom said I was intelligent, friendly, introverted, thoughtful, and that I don't exactly know who I am yet. She said Heather was intelligent, nice, and shy in that she hides her shyness behind Paula Pokrifki and Jane Barnhart and all the other names she uses. Everything Mom said was true.

Dec 8 9:10 AM. Right now, I'm over at Heather's lake house. We all went to Louise's last night (except Edina who was too sick) and Heather and I sat a little two-table. I was telling her all about Tricia and about my meditating and my self hypnosis. She told me that once, a long time ago, she was trying to telekinetically move a cup (as I always do) and she thinks she jiggled it! I like being able to talk to her about this kind of thing. Because, I can't talk to Tricia about it because it's more of a game to her (Tricia).

I have to write, now, about one of the things Heather and I discussed. The only E.S.P. I happen to possess is shared with Heather. When I was writing my first version of Toybox, Heather was writing another book of the same plot. Toybox is about some people who find out about the world going to be destroyed and they build a shelter under ground and wait the war out. Heather, without knowing anything about my book, started writing the same sort of story except her people hid out in a space ship. That is #1! I hadn't told her about it all! Next, I was writing Armistice and there was a character called Shark who was really mean and called people names like ''flea's snot'. Heather, at the same time, was writing Chapter 1 in which there was a sleazy character who was in the story for about the same amount of time and who spoke the same way. Thirdly, When I wrote my rat story, Heather was writing one and the main character happened to be named Cissy and one character in my rat story was named Sissy (same name, different spelling) but that's not all! Cissy went to work in a soda shop owned by a man named Mr. O.Reily who was an irish man, described almost exactly like a man in my rat book named Mr. O'Malley. Mr. O'Malley owned a restaurant called (I think) O'Malleys where the star, (Loraine) of the rat story worked. Also working there was Sissy, Mr. O'Malley's daughter.---

Sunday, May 3, 2020

book cover: wife | daughter | self

In designing the cover for the upcoming Forest Avenue Press book Wife | Daughter | Self, by Beth Kephart, I got to work with some really elegant art.

Here's what the publisher has to say about the book:

Wife | Daughter | Self is an exploration of the composite self—and the people we become in relationship to others. Married to a spectacular Salvadoran artist with fantastical stories of his youth, Kephart, in Wife, sets out to understand what makes love last. A near replica of her father—his face, his discipline, his crippling anxiety—Kephart, in Daughter, takes a journey with him into heartbreaking transitions—loss of spouse, loss of family home, loss of health—and emerges with deepened affection and respect. Finally, alone with a page and pen, Kephart, in Self, comes to terms with the person she wishes she had been and the person there might be room, still, to become.

For the cover, it felt natural that we feature art by Beth's artist husband William Sulit, who is such a prominent figure in the book. He gave me these beautiful pieces to work with:

(With the backgrounds already photoshopped out—thank you!)

He also gave us some lovely art for the interior, which included some captions in an elegant font I really loved, and which I figured should also be used on the cover.

So there I was with the art and the font just gifted to me. My task was to figure out the best way to use them: how to lay it out, what colors to use. It's a little nerve-wracking working with another artist's art. Is what I come up with going to honor that art? How do I marry my own vision to his vision, not to mention Beth's vision as writer and publisher Laura Stanfill's vision as publisher?

I worked in threes a lot when tinkering with this cover. There are three parts to the book, three selves that Beth explores. When I worked with that top image, the flowers with stems, I generally arranged three on a page, and when I worked with the mandala-like flower, I gave it three different colors, or three distinct shades of the same color, for its three different layers.

There is something so modern about the upright lines punctuating the title of Beth's book.

Wife | Daughter Self. 

Yet something old fashioned about the lovely font and beautifully rendered art. When I first started tinkering, I wasn't sure these elements would work together on the cover. I was pleasantly surprised when they did.

Side note: just now when I went to write the above, I thought, does it feel negative to use the term old fashioned? I paused and looked up some synonyms to see if I could find something better:

antiquated, historical, olden, traditional, moldy, obsolete, rinky-dink, fusty, moth-eaten, hoary, musty, stodgy, fossilized, antediluvian...

Um, no.

What I was trying to get at was something more like what this artwork is, which is timeless. And the perfect complement to Beth's writing, which is both spare and lush somehow, also timeless somehow.

It was a joy to work with William's art, to arrange and rearrange across the page. Here are some of my samples. As you'll notice, there were a few layouts I came up with that I really liked that only used two flowers, but in the end, the rule of threes seemed most suited.

Once we had a consensus as to which layout to go with...

...we went a little deeper into color. Beth and William liked blues. We consulted with our distributor and they liked the blues but favored deepening the background color. In the meantime we got a real blurb to replace my stand-in, and I played around further with the placement of the secondary text so we could add a mention that Beth is a National Book Award finalist (!).

And one last important change: I took the stems of the trio of flowers and intertwined them. After all, these are three selves intertwined in one.

Wife Daughter | Self is due out in February of 2021. More info can be found on the Forest Avenue Press website. And more info on Beth Kephart and her wonderfully prolific career can be found here. Some more art by William Sulit is here. Here's a little taste from the book.

You have blunt bangs, too-big teeth, uncurvy lips, scabbed knees. Your brother is the genius one. Your sister is the last. You are in between and unspectacular and (besides) no longer good, and so you riddle things up, you confuse them with your tattling elongations. Though you must confess that you have never gotten used to thisyour heart still pounds and your face still heats and maybe your eyes still acquire their demonic glow (you’re not sure) whenever you do lie. Easy to do but not easy to live with, lying is, and the lies are changing, the lies are changing you. You’re getting older. You’re weaving a web. The web is sticky, sometimes it catches you.