Happy New Year!

Another year has come and gone. That means it’s time to reflect. I’ll let Garfield handle that.

Post over. Haha.

Anyway, this year was pretty big as far as churning out projects goes.

I got into some graphic design, tried to make a child theme on wp.org (still in the works), did some video work, found out I can paint, learned about color theory, started working on a couple of other sites, did a short book layout, and designed a logo. Whew! There’s still probably more, but those were the big things that I can think of.

Creative goals for 2014

  • finish my portfolio and get it launched (I have a domain already)
  • blog more often
  • get back to reading articles on Smashing Magazine and other such sites regularly
  • continue to learn more
  • stop neglecting my camera so much..it hasn’t been used nearly enough over the last year because of all the other projects I’ve worked on instead
  • have fun with everything!


How about you guys? Anything you hope to achieve in 2014?


I want to wish you all a happy and successful new year! Hope it’s the best yet!

The Musical Life

I simply couldn’t pass up this week’s writing challenge, Moved by Music. It’s like putting chocolate in front of me and suggesting I not eat it. Not happening. So, time for a little story…


It’s safe to say that music is in my blood. It was added when I started playing an instrument in school. I was never the best because I didn’t really like practicing, but I enjoyed playing with a group, especially when I got to high school. I started feeling more emotionally connected to some of the music I was playing as I started understanding just how amazing these classical composers were (and how sneaky the Looney Tunes cartoonists were to get kids listening to classical music). The passion, the tenderness, the humor, and so much more that can be conveyed in a melody or a harmony has never ceased to amaze me.

Around this time, I started paying more attention to movie soundtracks. Howard Shore was churning out some especially epic soundtracks for this little trilogy called Lord of the Rings. You might have heard about it. ;) I remember listening to one of the soundtracks and thinking about how cool it would be to be part of an orchestra that played for major movies like these. Whether or not that actually happens is still up in the air, but I digress.

You know the saying about not missing something ’til it’s gone? That happened with me and orchestra. I didn’t fully realize how much playing had become ingrained in my very being. Without it, a part of me was missing. I wasn’t sure what to do. I had recently been given a digital camera, so I started taking pictures of my instrument and felt that connection that I had been missing. The photography led me to playing around with those pictures in GIMP, which led me into the world of graphic and web design.

Since then, I found an orchestra I enjoy playing with and I’ve noticed that a fair number of my projects these days are inspired by music. Combining those creative passions turns into something I’m always happy with. I don’t try to incorporate music into so many projects, it just happens. Music is one of the most powerful forces in this world that touches everyone in some way. I don’t know about you, but I don’t know where I’d be without it

Bad design, good design

If you follow The Denver Post regularly, you may have seen their new redesign. It’s always interesting when websites undergo a makeover. Will it be more user friendly, look good, or will it be a complete flop? Well, I told a coworker about it, he clicked over, and said, “Ugh.”

Exactly what I was thinking.

What’s wrong with it, you ask?

First, here’s a look at what we have “above the fold,” meaning everything that you can see before you have to scroll.

denver post above fold screen shot

It doesn’t have the feeling of a metro area’s newspaper anymore.

  • It feels less professional- I don’t want to be seeing a widget at the top right showing a bunch of tweets and links from other sites, I want to see what other people are reading and get a general idea of what’s going on in the state/country/world.
  • It’s generic- if you take out The Denver Post title, the news site could be from anywhere. There is no real branding here. The blue nav bar? Boring. Does the Denver Post have a color scheme? If so, why isn’t it used?
  • Breaking News doesn’t stand out so much to me. I think it would be better in red text instead of blue.
  • Even though this is below the fold on my laptop, the size of the headline text under the picture is way too big. It competes with the image and demands more attention than the Breaking News column.

Let’s see what happens when you hover over one of the nav bar items.

denver post menu screen shot

I have to scroll in this menu? Really? No thanks.

While I see the use in the most recent story links being put on the right, it’s kind of cluttered that way. It’s almost like these stories were put on the right because no one would find them otherwise. There’s a sign that it might be good to rethink the content organization.

Is there anything that I actually like about the site? Yes there is.

  • I like the font choices. Not necessarily the sizes (the different sizes are pretty awkward), but the fonts themselves are nice.
  • It’s good that they tried to make a news site less cluttered, but they need to go back and give it another shot after looking at some good designs. WP has some nice templates for bloggers–templates that are nicer than their design. I’m puzzled as to why the Denver Post couldn’t come up with anything better.

Now for the good design. My favorite example would be The New Yorker‘s site.

Let’s take a look at their site above the fold.

new yorker above fold screenshot

Isn’t this great?

There’s space, branding, a widget with the most popular stories, and a slideshow with some more choices. With all these articles to choose from, I don’t feel overwhelmed or that I’m missing something. There are enough options to start with and if I want more, I can scroll down or choose a topic from the navbar.

Let’s talk about the branding for a second.

If you take out the title, there’s still a consistent look and feel to the content of the site that says The New Yorker. They took the font of the title and tied it in with other titles around the site. There’s a color scheme. There’s even a logo as a part of the header. I love how effective it is.

There’s a main call-to-action in the form of the red subscribe box in the navigation, with two secondary links elsewhere in the top part of the site asking readers to subscribe. On the Denver Post, there’s a small blue link. That’s it. I don’t think that would be very effective for business.

Slideshows are fairly popular among different types of sites these days and I think they’re especially effective for news and magazine sites to add to the amount of content displayed on the homepage without cluttering up the page and overwhelming visitors.

I think the developers and designers behind The New Yorker put in a lot of thought into the appearance and function of the site. It doesn’t feel like that with the Denver Post. Let’s hope the next design resembles a professional newspaper and not a halfhearted attempt at one.


It’s all about value

Anything that I’ve done with photography has been self-taught. It’s time to go back and learn some of the basics. One of the things that anyone in the photography or design industry (or art, of course) needs to know about is value, which is the lightness or darkness of a color. A good exercise to get the hang of how value works is to create a monochromatic scale and then use just those colors on the scale to recreate a picture you like. I found it helped me to have the original image in black and white so I wouldn’t be distracted by a bunch of colors and because it’s much easier that way. No guessing what color would be represented by a specific shade.

original image and start of painting

Original image taken by me and the start of my painting, complete with b&w monochromatic scale

This was interesting for me. I’ve never really painted before. Sure, I used watercolors when I was a kid, but that doesn’t count here. This was the first time I was using acrylic paint to come up with something a little more real. In this case, the Maroon Bells. I chose this picture because it was already black and white and I love being up at the Maroon Bells. The mountains are very impressive. Back to the painting. I started off by doing a rough sketch to get the basic shape of the mountains, the bowl of trees (making a note of where the value was changing in the area), and the lake line. Then, I went back and started painting with different shades of purple that had been mixed with black or white.

I’ll tell you this right now: painting snow is difficult. So are clouds. Go watch Bob Ross first. Even though he’s painting with oils, his technique can be modified to work well enough with acrylic. Much easier. Come to think of it, watch how he does trees as well. That also helps give the painting more texture. Also, if you’ve done a decent amount of drawing, you know to work from light to dark. It’s the opposite when you paint: you go from dark to light.

Here’s my mostly finished product. I’m going to go back and put more of a reflection in the water, then call it done.

nearly finished maroon bells painting

Just about done

It looks nice from a couple of feet away. I was pleasantly surprised by my first attempt at painting. Guess it goes to show that you never know what you might be good at until you try it out