Hitting the Northern Michigan Backcountry and Ski Graphics Preview!

A couple of weekends ago, I had the opportunity to do some backcountry skiing/snowboarding in Boyne City in Northern Michigan. I have been working with Jeff and the guys at Shaggy's Copper Country Skis for quite some time and they are ALWAYS skiing in fun places up north. And it's rarely at a ski resort. Shaggy's Backcountry Adventure Club

Earlier last year, we came up with this idea for Jeff and the Shaggy's team to host a Backcountry Adventure Club so that other skiers could have new experiences outside of the resort and have the opportunity to meet other passionate skiers. On January 17, they held their first BAC at Avalanche Mountain in Boyne City, there were about 15 of us, it was a blast. People from all over west and northern Michigan. We had young guns tucking through tight tree lines and then the rest of us who were happy about the exercise, exploration and just being outside playing in the snow. We followed that up with a tour of the Shaggy's ski factory just down the road. Great day, awesome snow!

Thanks to Jeff for showing us his secret stashes! I won't tell.

And now, a preview of the new 2016 Ahmeeks!

Getting Involved: The Greater Brighton Area Chamber of Commerce

Almost a year ago, I moved back to Michigan after being a nomadic ski bum for 7+ years. I was looking to grow my business and take a go at working for myself. In February, I got a call out of the blue from a woman named Paula Millis at the Greater Brighton Area Chamber of Commerce. She had found my Facebook page and called to invite me to join the Chamber. I had no idea really what a Chamber of Commerce was for. I assumed it was for banks and lawyers to get together and do important things that banks and lawyers do. I agreed to meet with Paula and Pam (the director) to hear about membership options. It was a surreal experience, they ate meatloaf and told jokes as we sat in an office full of windows (with a strange built-in bird feeder) in the historic-used-to-be-a-hospital Chamber of Commerce building.

I had a good feeling about these people. There were definitely banks and lawyers doing important things, but there were also other people - young people! - just like me who were trying to pave the way to something awesome. Joining gave me a lot of options to choose from for growing my business- referral networking, workshops, young professionals groups, entrepreneur resources, after-hours, mixers. In the last several months, I've met so many people with different goals and reasons for being a Chamber member. I've started to get to know people and make connections who have started to feel more like friends than just potential clients. I'm not quite to the point where I'm up to my eyeballs in new work, but I definitely feel like I'm getting there.

Here's the tie in. This week, I completed my first project partnering with the Professional Women's Club of Michigan through the Brighton Chamber. I'm a huge supporter of breast cancer awareness and prevention so I was happy to donate this poster design for the "Powered up in Pink" event. The event supports Susan G. Komen Michigan and highlights some great survivors in the community.

Powered up in Pink Fundraiser Poster for Susan G. Komen and Professional Women's Club of Michigan
Powered up in Pink Fundraiser Poster for Susan G. Komen and Professional Women's Club of Michigan

The Evolution of a Drawing

Shirt Graphic Design for Ozark Threads
Shirt Graphic Design for Ozark Threads

Lately, I've had a lot of clients hire me for illustration work.  This is awesome because it's a skill that I've been perfecting in my free time and am so excited to add to my professional portfolio in addition to graphic design. A couple of weeks back, a company called Ozark Threads based in Arkansas contacted me about doing a tree design to support their "Tee for a Tree" campaign. The project was right up my alley, because, as you may have noticed, I love to draw trees! I wanted to share my process for this design because from start to finish, it was a really fun assignment and I got to use multiple techniques and get really creative with the design.

Stay tuned to if you want to grab one of the final t-shirts or if you want to check out their cause (which is really great)!

My Graphic Design Portfolio on my Deck

My Graphic Design Portfolio on my Deck

Graphic Design portfolio on my deck near Brighton Michigan

When the weather is nice, I pretty much always find a way to be outside, especially in the spring after a record-breaking cold year in Michigan. I decided that in order to do something productive and work-related outdoors, I was going to do a semi-not-so-professional photo shoot of some of my design portfolio pieces on the deck to create some fun imagery for social media and...well, this blog. Over the years, I've done some cool work for Boarding for Breast Cancer, Heavenly Mountain Resort, Mt. Brighton, Shaggy's Copper Country Skis, Wyland Galleries and Oh My Godard Gallery.

It's really fun to go through some old pieces and remember all of the great working relationships I've had and unique projects I've had the privilege to work on over the years. From Michigan, to Colorado, to Lake Tahoe and back to Michigan, I've gotten to do some pretty cool stuff. Reflecting on my portfolio almost feels like looking at a road map of all of the places I've been, things I've seen and people I've met. It's been a great journey and it has made me the person and designer that I am today.

Recreational Drawing.

Recreational Drawing.

It's been awhile since I've set time aside for some recreational drawing. I've noticed that when you get busy with non-recreational things (like work and looking for more work) that certain things fall by the wayside. I have a long list of business-related, wouldn't-it-be-nice-if-I-had-time-to-do-this-stuff kind of things that tend to get put on the back burner and stay there for a very long time.

If you go back a few months and read some older blogs, you'll find me talking about things like "down time" and having time to build a library of patterns, textures and art to use in the future (verses scrambling to create something when a new project arises). I'm happy to say that there is less down time and more go time, but, that said, it reminds me that I need to find a balance between work, life, fun and, of course, recreational drawing.

My First Hand-Drawn Font

While I've been enjoying the holidays, I've been doing my best to scrounge up just enough time to take my first stab at drawing a full alphabet...and then blogging about it. It's fun and slightly sloppy, just how I like it. I recently used it on some gift tags but I can't wait for it to find its new home on a sweet poster or logo!

This is what it looks like when it comes off the scanner from my sketchbook.

Drawing Patterns on a Sunday

Drawing Patterns on a Sunday

Michigan is experiencing the first cold spell since I've moved back. It's far more bitter than I remember, I'll admit, but it's the perfect weather for bundling up for a cold walk and then coming inside to warm up with hot tea and to catch up on some drawing. This weekend, I am "up north" visiting a friend near Traverse City, it's a great place to get some R&R and recharge. I spent a little time drawing up some patterns to add to my creative library, this is one way that I like to spend my down time when I am not as busy with work. By building a library of patterns, textures, photos, inspiration, etc, I have a full library of elements to use when the next project comes around that I've already created. It keeps me busy creating even if I don't have a specific project or design in mind. It also makes a lazy Sunday feel like a productive and worthwhile one!

Pulling it together with Bracelets

 Pulling it together with Bracelets

While I love all art projects that I do, creating art that is both unique and functional can be extra rewarding. The best part about these types of projects is the challenge of finding ways to combine all of the skills you possess, both shiny and rusty, and use them to make something awesome.

When I was younger, my mother taught me how to sew. I could hand sew, use a sewing machine, repair loose buttons, etc. I would make pillows for my grandma and I even started a purse business in middle school. I found scrap fabric in my mom’s fabric bin and went to town. I mostly gave them away as gifts but I had a few loyal paying customers. Aside from the occasional ski sock repair, I hadn’t done much sewing at all since my purse days. Until yesterday. I decided that I wanted to use some of my current, shiny skills and work them in with my old, rusty skills to create nothing other than…a bracelet.

I like to use various forms of printmaking when creating art, but, as some of you may have read in one of my previous blogs, hand-carved rubber stamps are my favorite form of at-home printing. The cool thing about these stamps is that you can pretty much use them to print on any surface using almost any type of ink or paint. You also don’t need a press or any extra-professional equipment to make an imprint. Then, in comes the scrap fabric; in this case, just some plain old blue cotton stuff that was collecting dust in my art bin. Using special paint and some existing floral stamps that I had carved a few months back, I created my own printed fabric.

Along with my cool new fabric, I brought in some upcycled fabric from an old textured bed skirt, a few abandon buttons and some vintage lace. I tore out my sewing skills and got creative using the old and new materials I had in front of me to create these lovely bracelets.

Just for fun, I’m opening an Etsy store where I’m going to sell bracelets, prints and other creations. We’ll see how it goes.



Moving across the Country.

Moving Across the Country.

The Trip:

My mom and I just took a road trip from California to Michigan. By road trip, I mean, I moved across the country with a bunch of sh*t strapped to my jeep with a dog in the trunk hoping for the best as we toured National Parks, iconic mountain towns, hot springs, cornfields, tea factories, organic farms and rolling meth labs*. It was a pretty cool trip. I finally visited Great Basin National Park, I saw Park City, Utah with beautiful fall colors and stayed at a quaint campground in Steamboat where we rented a mini cabin just big enough for the three of us. I hung out with my cousins in Denver in their new house and saw some old friends all along the way. The trip was anything but boring. It was a huge distraction from what was about to sink in: I had uprooted my entire life. Again.

*We didn't actually tour a rolling meth lab (thank God), we just saw one in full operation in Eastern Nevada. Typical.
My extremely realistic goals for what's next:

The idea made perfect sense. I would move back to Michigan and fulfill ALL of my creative career goals. Restore a vintage camper and convert it into a mobile design studio. Take Detroit by storm and help rebuild new businesses with stellar logos and good branding. I would build my design company enough so that my clients didn't mind if I took off to Paris or Oslo for a week and worked remotely. My art and creations that I made in my free time would fly off the Etsy shelves, giving me pocket change for that vacation to Costa Rica I've been wanting to take. I guess this all sounds pretty ridiculous, right? It probably does, but the good thing about starting with a clean slate, is that even a mistake can look like progress because at least you're trying. You just keep powering ahead, be proud of your decisions, and keep self-doubt and regret out of the picture.

So that said...anyone need a logo?

More to come on my new adventure in art and life. Stay tuned.

Mom, Sadie and I in front of Wheeler Peak in Great Basin National Park

What's the Difference Between Design and Creativity?

Until recently, I hesitated to call myself an artist. Despite my fine arts degree and general knack for making things, it seemed that as long as my job title was just "graphic designer," that's all I was. Over the last year, I got especially bored with relying on technology to dictate my creativity, so I decided to make a change. I added to my already-huge art supply collection and started doing more with my hands. I ordered book-after-book on Amazon with DIY art and craft projects, hand lettering instruction books, guides with different image transfer and printing  techniques. I finally taught myself some decent drawing skills and accepted my style as an illustrator (i.e. sort of mediocre and not exactly realistic). I learned how to make paper and create my own stamps. My quiver is now full of new creative techniques and I finally feel like a real artist. I truly feel C R E A T I V E. Not to mention that I have a lot more fun designing now.

So, this brings me to the question of: what's the difference between doing design and actually being creative? This may be borderline controversial, but I don't think it will break too many hearts. With things Adobe Creative Cloud,, online design certifications, heck, even videos on YouTube...anyone can learn to manipulate a photo and rearrange letters and shapes and color it with the default CMYK swatches and call themselves a designer. Websites like and devalue the true creativity that is meant to accompany good design. After my recent artistic epiphany, I feel better about where I stand in the design world. I feel that those of us creatives who are truly creative will always have an advantage over those who lack the passion and commitment to proper design.

All of this being said, words like "design" and "creativity" and "artist" and even the word "good" are all subjective. that's what makes the creative world so unique. But I think the point is that you just have to be as awesome as you can at what you do. Or something.

AIGA Type Walk in Truckee.

 AIGA Type Walk in Truckee. 

I'll be the first to admit that you have to be at least about 85% dork to get really really excited an event titled "Type Walk." Now that we have that out of the way, let's talk about it. In Tahoe, there are not a lot of opportunities to get together with other creative people and talk about the things that you love. Typography. Thick Lines. Thin Lines. Your favorite Pantone color. Your hate for Papyrus on restaurant menus. The way you find that perfect blending mode when you're trying to overlay a texture on an image. Your frustrations with people not understanding your need for white space or the color fuchsia.

The AIGA Type Walk last week was the perfect way to connect with other designers in a slightly competitive yet loving, geeky kind-of-way. We roamed around the streets of Truckee with our cameras looking for every letter of the alphabet displayed in the most prettiest and unique ways. Road signs, license plates, manholes, railroad tracks, storefronts; we found the best letters in the strangest spots. A lot of these words and letters are things that we see every day and maybe don't even notice. I spend approximately zero hours a week studying the font on a fire hydrant, but when given a task to discover the best letters in town, you tend to look high and low for whatever you think will stand out.

I loved the Type Walk, I can't wait for next year. Thank you to Bespoke and OLAB for hosting us and for the beer, swag (astronaut dog pin!) and awesome type game. And, of course, the AIGA for getting us all together (two weeks in a row - thanks rain.). You guys are the best. And thank you Liesl for being my partner in type crime:

Blackout Drawing.

Last week, the lights went out. It finally rained in Tahoe and that rain brought some lightning and thunder with it. I lost power for the better part of nine hours. It wasn’t even dark yet and I was already bored just thinking about how bored I was going to be when it got dark. But then I remembered that one of my favorite activities didn’t even involve electricity: drawing. And the best part was…there was nothing else I could do but draw. No Facebook, no TV, no e-mails, no laundry or vacuuming. Sometimes we spend so much time worrying about being so productive at every moment of the day that we forget to just stop and do something that makes us feel happy and relaxed. Just something to think about next time the lights go out!

The Tree Study. In the Non-Botanist-Type Way.

The Tree Study. In the Non-Botanist-Type Way.

I draw mountains. A lot of mountains. There are scribbled mountains, detailed sketches of mountains, abstract mountains that you probably wouldn't even say look like mountains, colorful name it. Some days, I feel like all I draw are mountains. Maybe it's a comfort zone thing or perhaps none of these mountains are good enough for me and so I feel like I just really need to drive the point home. I'll give myself the benefit of the doubt and say that I've let the mountains become my graphically artistic comfort nest and have so selfishly neglected all of the rest of nature, like a total brat. So, I took on the challenge of working on some trees.

Some of them turned out sort of cool and a lot of them were terrible. Super terrible (I only put the semi-terrible ones on here). But if you don't totally suck at something, you're not learning. I think that's how the saying goes. Another thing to consider, is that when you teach yourself how to do something (especially in the art world) is there's really no one to tell you that you're doing it wrong, and even if there were (especially as an artist), you probably wouldn't care. I think that's the gist of self-expression, ya?

ANYWAY. Drawing trees is actually pretty fun. I wonder which piece of nature will be my next victim?

Barcelona and London by the Letters

Barcelona and London by the Letters

Visiting new places is exciting for a number of reasons; experiencing a different culture, seeing new sights, landscapes and architecture, meeting new people, getting outside of your comfort zone…the list goes on. My recent travels brought me to Barcelona, Spain and many parts of England. There was far too much to see in a two-week period but I covered a lot of ground and got to visit with some old friends, some not-so-old friends and even managed to make a few new friends. I saw Big Ben, learned how to ride The Tube, ate tapas, had sangria from a tap (surprisingly good), experienced London weather and toured Goudy’s most famous works. I went to as many art museums and I could and did as much random exploring as I could find time to do.

When I travel, as many people do, I take a ton of photos. But - since I always have to be thinking about design, I wanted a way to make my photo-taking more fun for myself (especially since I’m pretty terrible at taking photos in general). That said, I decided to give myself a project to focus on during my trip. I decided to create a typography blog covering some of the interesting type, fonts, graffiti, logos and graphics that I stumbled across during my travels. It was fun snapping the photos and even more fun creating the collage and compiling my findings.

Doing this on my trip made me realize that I need to do this all the time. It made me realize that I don’t have anything to compare these creative archives to. What does street art in Barcelona look like compared to street art in Detroit? Would a logo for a restaurant in London work as a logo for a similar restaurant in Mexico City? There are so many factors that could influence art and design in a community: social trends, politics, history, current events, weather, landscape, food, people.

This was a huge eye-opener to me. It made me realize that there is a whole different angle of design that I may be missing. I’m missing what the rest of the world is doing. Regardless if it’s just something that someone stenciled onto a door as part of a political statement or if it’s a logo that some restaurant paid an agency a million dollars to create, it’s still design and it still has meaning to someone and it still has it’s place in the world.

It’s a curious thing.