At the beginning of the month I finally, finally launched Make It Legit. I’m happy that I took the time to work through it to be what I wanted it to be – especially because I decided I must make an illustration with each post, and came up with a format that got me back into watercolors after a long dry spell (literally).
Here’s a work-in-progress photo on the left for the the finished image on the site itself. Most illustrations so far are pulling references from other places.
It took a bit of work to get to that part, though, so here is the breakdown of what it took to get the site going. Maybe this will help you if you’ve been thinking of starting a blog too.
Lesson: Claiming your virtual stake early is always advisable.
I got the idea in late 2011 after it occurred to me that there were some similar themes to the advice I was giving designers to help them get unstuck. I wasn’t sure what to do with it, but I knew I wanted a way to describe it. After jotting down a bunch of words trying to get to the right idea, I landed on the phrase “make it legit” as best captured two key components: it’s about getting things made (to differentiate from ideas, prototypes or other vision pieces), and perhaps more importantly, having what gets made be something genuinely useful for people. The URL was available so I grabbed it, and after a little more thought, got the Twitter handle too figuring I could use it to announce new stuff. I am really glad I did as it would have definitely been gone within a few months (probably by the dude at @makeitlegit_ or someone else).
Lesson: Have a good sense about how much you can really say/create.
I knew it wouldn’t work for me to sort it out on the fly–I’m not the journaling type. But…there was something to the advice that seemed like it might be useful to capture. I started a running list in Simplenote to write down each of these bits of advice since I knew I could talk about them. I realized some of that advice was the result of working through things that frustrated me, and started paying more attention to that initial trigger in my day-to-day work. It doesn’t happen often, thankfully, but as it did I would make note of what it was right at the time. Later that day or week, I’d usually come around to thinking about it again, and would actively think through what was really happening there a little more objectively…and figure out how to come up with something constructive about it. That would then become a new topic.
I did this through much of 2012, and it was a handy little exercise. I started keeping track of how many topics there were, and once I hit 50, I felt pretty confident about moving forward. Even if I had nothing left after exhausting that list, that’s still a decent amount of content.
Lesson: Be thoughtful about how much to DIY.
This was the worst roadblock for me. I’m an experience designer and an artist, and I have a degree in computer science. That sounds like that ought to be the perfect combination for making a site, the elusive designer/developer combination that’s supposed to just create amazingness. I couldn’t shake this expectation for a while, and it utterly paralyzed me.
I started making progress on this once I started letting go of this, a piece at a time, to get down to the parts that were most important for me to do myself. Handcoding the structure from scratch? Not important; WordPress would be faster to set up and reasonably extensible. Make a template from scratch? Investigated for a bit, and decided I could customize the look of an existing theme and that would be good enough…plus then I could start with something responsive, eliminating another level of DIY.
The last piece was accepting Alan’s help on the setup and troubleshooting. Even though I genuinely did not want to do this part, it took me some time to let go of stubborn pride. He set up the WP install, and later on, did some troubleshooting on formatting issues I had while fine-tuning it, both of which were key to getting it going.
Lesson: Getting feedback, even on stuff that’s not all that great, helps for getting unstuck.
Around November 2012-ish, once I knew I had enough content and a vague idea of format, I started planning out color schemes, layouts, fonts, etc. Or rather, I mocked up a few things that felt somewhat half-assed to me, but it was something…at least enough to get some feedback from a trusted friend, Kevin, who was in the early stages of his own project (an illustrated book). We met to show work in progress and talk about it, and much as I disliked where my work was at, getting his feedback helped me think through what I wanted to do with it and enough confidence to get to the next stage of starting to work with the some dummy content in the WordPress template to figure out the overall structure I wanted.
After trying out dozens of themes I opted to buy one, GoodLayers by Good Space, which had the key things: it was nicely responsive, and it had both photo & text snippets for summarizing blog posts. I started stripping out content immediately, and over the course of a few days and coming back to it with fresh eyes had hacked away to an amount of content I started to like. I hit a wall on the formatting for a few items and Alan helped tackle those to free me up to think about the next level of refinement.
Lesson: Trust the basics: one for headlines, one for body.
I know font designers; I’ve worked with font fellows at Adobe. While I have a good eye for fonts, I’m not a font geek to the level of people I know. I browsed a bunch of articles about font trends, and then just decided I should pick what looks good to my eye. I knew it’d be easier to work with Google Web Fonts in the theme I’d chosen, and I also knew I wanted my headline font to be a handwritten-looking font. I went browsing and and picked out 14 different handwritten fonts from there, and 21 different sans serif fonts for the body.
I made some mockups in Fireworks to narrow it down to six or seven pairs of fonts, and for the final decision tried them out in the code. By then I’d written a sample article using one of the topics so I’d have something real to work with. This helped quite a lot for choosing fonts because I could slip into reader mode and just see what seemed easier on the eye, and better for the tone of the content. I ended up picking a font called Nothing You Could Do (love that name) for the handwritten font, and Open Sans for the body. I used these in the logo as well to make the look consistent.
Lesson: If the structure’s good, just make the pieces work together within it; don’t force it.
I ended up doing a lot more customization to the theme’s CSS than I expected to simplify the number of font sizes and styles being used across the theme. Alan figured out some of the vexing remaining styling issues, and that gave me enough momentum to shift over to the articles themselves.
I ran some experiments on the image sizes that worked best with the template and opted to work within those constraints for the illustrations. Fortunately, I found these 4×8″ watercolor pads from Fluid that are pretty close to the right aspect ratio. It’s not the highest quality watercolor paper, but it’s good for my purposes. I decided I’d be pretty strict about making clean pencil work, and finish with light watercolor shading and lines with a 005 ink pen. It’s a style that demands precision, but it’s worth it; I’ve been quite happy with the results.
Getting the writing style right was a separate effort, but fell into place pretty naturally as I thought about what I’d want to read. It had to be short enough to read in a minute or two, and it needed to have a particular point so you’d get something specific out of it. I’ve been able to stick with it so far. For here, I am not so rigorous, so this is mostly just whatever’s coming off the top of my head.
That’s it! It’s done. Or rather, it’s just begun. Go check it out.
I’m about three-quarters of the way through my Object Oriented sketchbook–the earlier sketches are here and here. My pen began to run dry, so I switched to a new one partway through this batch. In hindsight, I should have kept the original pen for shading, as it’s been challenging to do detail work with the ink-laden new pen.
Nothing like deadlines to get motivated! The Union of Concerned Scientists puts out a calendar every year with editorial cartoons about scientific integrity. I learned about the contest a couple of years ago, and somehow, each year, I let the deadline slip away from me. This year, the day before the deadline I realized it was about to happen again–and it occurred to me that the only way to break this was to treat this with the same urgency as the cartoons I drew for the Mustang Daily.
When I was doing this every day, the absolute fastest I could create a cartoon from start to finish (picking a topic, figuring out what to say, sorting out the layout, pencilling and inking) was an hour. I decided that I’d give myself twenty minutes to think of something to do. If I came up with something decent, I’d see it through. In college I used to run through the AP wire for story ideas; for this, I browsed through the UCS website to get a sense of the topics.
After twenty minutes, I had two ideas very roughly sketched out. Enough to go on! I drew these two cartoons in just under two hours. The siren lobbyists made it to the finals, which means they’ll be in the calendar. Will they end up on the cover? Perhaps, if I get enough votes!
The second batch of sketches! It’s been a few months, and I have fourteen more Object Oriented sketches to show for it. When I originally started I promised to post more when I got halfway through, but apparently I went a few beyond that. Carrying this little book and pen with me everywhere has been working in the sketch-more-often department. Enjoy!
Sometimes–actually, often–I get stuck on paintings. Sometimes I get stuck from being unsure how to fix a layout, or get a certain color or texture, and just need to set it aside so I can come back to it with fresh eyes. Sometimes, though, it just feels like the wrong time. That’s what happened on this one. I knew I wanted to create another in the same vein as the original House of Chu calendar repaint I did a few years ago, and began by painting out all of the calendar parts. It was the middle of winter, and I just couldn’t motivate myself to work on it while it was cold and gray. The only thing that came to my mind was Bunnicula, or just painting some extra blossoming branches into it. I didn’t really want to do either, so I left it out and hoped for inspiration to strike.
Spring seemed to do the trick. A week ago, after a passing glance at the mist, it occurred to me that I could fill the rest with a meandering creek to echo the shape of the Great Wall and the mist. I took a picture and sketched out what it would look like in Photoshop, and while doing that realized I could make a nice big reflection of the moon–specifically, the “rabbit in the moon“. Perfect!
I had an idea now and a fitting deadline of Easter, so here’s the progression I went through this week to finish this up. The creek and the grass detail came easily. I thought I’d see if I’d stay motivated by alternating between painting this and painting a few miniatures with the extra colors as I went (verdict: kind of). It slowed down when I got to the moon, as it took a bit of trial and error. And then: stuck again! As I looked at my sketch I decided the blossom reflections were too noisy, but I wasn’t sure what else to do.
I’d kept the first repaint next to it the whole time to get a sense of how they’d work together, so I studied it closely. I saw that I should add more of a border back along the sides for a similar look. That wouldn’t be enough though. I hadn’t considered adding any illustrative or outlined areas like the clouds and dragon foot, and saw now that it was the biggest omission. I outlined the creek on my printed sketch, and it seemed right; but despite the test run it felt much more uncertain when I started actually painting it. It was either going to fix it or really screw it up, as it wouldn’t be easy to correct. I only felt certain once I saw it done and could see that the visual theme held.
Now that I have the theme, I would love to make more if I can track down another chinese zodiac scroll calendar or two.
I have a weakness for sketchbooks, and often buy neat-looking ones in the hope that they’ll be a good motivation to draw more. I found these funky little 3″ x 3″ leather-bound books at Cost Plus World Market a little over a year ago, and decided it’d be just the right size to carry around. While it’s just a cheap little notebook, I really like the size and feel of it, and wanted to make it into a worthy standalone art piece on its own. I’ve diligently stuck to the same theme and the same marker, a sienna brush pen, to keep the look consistent even though it may be months between sketches.
Why Object Oriented? Objects, as subjects, are easy. They don’t move (usually). They don’t get self-conscious. The textures are challenging…especially the smooth, manufactured ones. It makes me look around my environment more. And it’s a term drilled into me from my computer science days, a concept I still like. I’m a quarter of the way through the book; I’ll post more sketches when I make it halfway.
Here’s a new sketch, as my half-done projects (an elaborate embroidery, and another calendar repaint) remain stubbornly half-done. This is a good example of how the materials themselves shape what I’ll draw.
I sketched this while Alan learned the fine art of pour-over coffee at Barefoot Coffee, on a tabletop made of pennies suspended in resin. I’d forgotten to bring specific drawing materials to occupy myself, so fortunately he had a pencil & sharpener and kindly lent it to me to use. I usually keep a few “artist trading card”-sized pieces of bristol board with me, though I’ve also used the back of a business card in a pinch.
There’s an inverse proportion between paper size & level of detail for me–the smaller the paper, the higher the detail I want. I’ve drawn on a few with stubborn pens that dry out or blot at random, and been frustrated with the clumsy results. I will only use a pen now if I can get a relatively new micro ink (not gel), ballpoint (good for gradation), or brush pen. It’s been a while since I used a pencil, though, which is much more satisfying and less taxing for getting good shading.
I looked around for people or objects that I could surreptitiously draw, and wasn’t really seeing anything of interest so I started sketching curves and shadows until a character started forming. Using a pencil must have tapped into the high school portion of my brain when I would make pencil-shaded drawings of elaborate dragons, gargoyles, and demons. I decided I was in the mood to draw octopus tentacles, so here’s where it went.
I took advantage of a smooth flight and an hour and a half of no interruptions to do a bit of sketching. After flipping through the United Hemispheres magazine I found this ad for the Ritz-Carlton Chicago penthouses with a nice pose of this woman and her dog. The arrangement itself is interesting, and I was in the mood to work on textures, and both the dog fur and the satiny sheen on the dress looked like good subjects.
I drew this one with a cheapo ballpoint pen in the same brown craft paper notebook that I took to Hawaii and Norway. I’m trying to be better about taking this notebook along with me when I travel, which means I’m gathering a number of drawings of people in airports.
This one’s a wall mural I painted for the nursery for our friends Hannah and Amanda. The starting point: a jungle theme, butter yellow walls, brown curtains, and a few items including a curtain and a blanket with monkeys.
After taking pictures of all of the walls, I made these mockups in Photoshop to work out the design beforehand. We ended up scaling back to two walls instead of three, and I painted this over two rainy days. I masked the square and the crosshatched lines with painter’s tape, and sketched the plants freehand. I’d attempted to paint the circle by using a string pinned to the center, but after a few dashes I realized it wasn’t curving consistently; I got better results going freehand with the rest.
While painting, I mixed the blue and green to create an extra green for variety for the plants…and after painting one bush, I realized that the mixed color blended too well. I needed more contrast, so after adding in some white it was good to go. At some point I’ll remember these kinds of things before I begin rather than during painting..! It all came together in the end. With the inspired addition of the pith helmet, it’s a room fit for baby Zachary.
A few months ago the Product group at LinkedIn moved into a new building full o’ corporate cubes and hosted a “Pimp Your Row” contest to spiff ‘em up (as documented by my friend Marissa on the Linked blog). I recently switched over to the Enterprise Hiring Solutions team, and got inspired by the Subscriptions team nearby and their Yellow Submarine theme. Hence–the Star Trek (or rather, Enterprise) theme!
My row neighbors braved the ladder to fill our row with planets, glow-in-the-dark stars, and the Enterprise (of course). There was a well-timed quote from LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman to go along with a Data cardboard cutout. We installed the awesome System 47 screensavers on our computers. And–the final piece–I created LCARS-style “interfaces” for everyone in the row that I printed and mounted behind the glass in front of each cube. I created these in Illustrator, and grabbed interesting-looking 3D wireframes from the internets.
As I built it I couldn’t help but build out a somewhat meaningful structure for the “interface”. The structure breaks down to two primary levels: the structure of LinkedIn (your connections, groups, etc) and the info on your profile (your current position, past, etc.). These presumably showing info about the “current” position, so it shows the person’s name, their role, the departments they’re in (e.g. Product, and within that, Monetization), their product (in my case, “candidate acquisition platform” or CAP), and its users.