30 December 2008

web screenshot project

Last week I had the chance to take some (badly needed) time off, for a short Christmas/anniversary trip to Prague with my family. And before that, work had been as busy as ever (when it rains...). Thus the lull in blog postings so far. I haven't even had a chance to keep up with my fledgling blog yet! We're off to a good start, then.

Anyway, the latest project I completed was a single entry page for a website – not my usual thing, being a print designer and all. But I thought, well, it's really not even a layout or template for a website; it just has to be a single page where it can be unstructured and just... well, if you'll excuse the arrogance... art. Not that I'm asserting my work is art, mind, it's just the frame of mind I had to be in to tackle a project like this, being out of my element. And this suddenly became an exciting challenge.

I was given a page as a sample, that my client really liked and wanted theirs to be modeled after (yozzan.com):

Of course, I couldn't just swipe this designer's idea, even if I brought original images into it, because a. that would still be stealing, and b. that wouldn't make me a very good designer. So I had to come up with a similar idea but still with its own look and feel. My client loved the idea of a door as an entry way, and she mentioned having a coffee-shop feel, being warm and inviting. She also loved the grunge look (which, after lots of small self-prescribed experiments through the past recent months, turns out to be much harder than it seems). So these rules of guidance, along with some specific lines of text to be included, were more than sufficient to get me going on my way.

My first mistake, as happens more than I care to admit, was that my excitement over the project outweighed the practical need to start with a pencil and paper. So I gathered some images, fruits from my labor of web-trolling and scanning, that I thought would work nicely, and just dove right into Photoshop. Here's what I came up with originally:

I only added the diagonal lines in to give it some sort of anchor, but the overall effect was pretty bad, and I think you'll agree this was far from the finish line. But after several hours of work and not lifting my head up, I felt pretty good at this point, so I sent the first draft over to the client (cringe). She did like it, but mentioned it was a bit too feminine – something I had failed to see myself. How right she was. Way too feminine, no anchor or balance, and just a plain mess to the eye. Time to take a step back.

I worked on this a while longer, taking out the most feminine aspects of the piece, and adding in some hand-drawn elements. The image was still a big mess, but at least I got all my ideas down on the page (or screen, to be literal). Keeping that in mind, I'll show you where it now stood:

Yep. A GREAT big mess. So finally I did what I should have done in the first place, which is to put pencil to paper and start sketching out ideas. Here is one of those sketches:

To be fair, I did take quite a few notes actually, as the first thing I did, even before opening Photoshop. But that was a close second.

The sketch provided me with the answer to my dilemma: some sort of balance to the page. I opted to give the feeling of a third dimension; instead of the flat front-facing door, I thought a diagonal horizon might provide an anchor point, as well as a little movement and energy. I ended up skewing the door image and pathway a bit in Photoshop as well, which gave it that little bit of extra dimension my first two drafts were badly lacking. Anyway, many hours later, here's what I finally arrived with:

The door was actually taken from a photo I took while on holiday in Prague (oh, the paradise of beautiful doors!), and as you can see I dropped the idea of the arrow; it just wasn't working. There's a balance here between making it visually interesting and original, yet making the piece have simplicity and meaning as a whole (ie, you can't just throw things down randomly and hope they work, without having a reason for them to be there in the first place). Oh, the endless struggle... what else sucks time down the drain like this noble pursuit?

Of course, at some point there has to be an end to the endless abyss of tweaking, and it always helps to give myself a final hard deadline for this reason. The client was happy, and I could finally say I was happy with the final outcome as well.

So this has been my process for this project. I always enjoy seeing other designers' layout of the process they use to get from point A to B (and all the bits in between), so I thought I should share as well.

And in what other career are there new challenges all the time? I love my job.

10 December 2008

vintage colors

I'm having to take it slow today because my 2-year-old son is home sick, so I'm taking this opportunity to indulge in one of my favorite time-spenders: building up my collection of design goodies. You know what I'm referring to: Photoshop brushes and patterns, vector illustration elements, fonts, etc. – and there are mountains of freebies out there in the virtual world. It's just a matter of sorting through the masses to find the real, high-quality ones (which is why I can't justify the time normally).

One of the areas of design I've always found difficulty with is that of color. There are loads of resources that offer view on color theory, samples of two- and three-color combinations and so on, but when it comes down to it, choosing a color palette at the beginning of each project takes time and effort. And the importance of color is not to be underestimated.

So as I sat here this morning with my son on my lap watching a Christmas show on the second monitor, I've been leisurely browsing away, building up my happy collection one piece at a time. Which brings me to the point of this post: today I came across a page of vintage advertisements (which is always fun), and I realized that many of these samples have such great colors. And frankly I would have never thought of these color combinations myself.

After all, that's what inspiration is: looking at something and realizing you never would have come up with that on your own. And it's such a beautiful thing.

25 November 2008

holiday jpeg

So I wanted to see what I could do in terms of a holiday card-type of jpeg, in this lull between projects, and for the moment I'm really into trying to hone my grunge-look skills. Here's what I came up with; the tree is solely made up of type characters. And thanks to Brän/Fractal Eye for the use of their free "The King and Queen" font.

24 November 2008

graffiti animation

Just discovered this clip from the How magazine blog. It's totally amazing.

MUTO a wall-painted animation by BLU from blu on Vimeo.

21 November 2008

creative pause

I've just finished reading an article about different ways creative people find inspiration, a chance to block everything else out and focus on a specific problem or idea. From reading the comments, it seems most people find this in the shower (which is what the post was based on). But for me, my time in the shower provides a necessary respite from daily life and the creative problem-solving that runs in the back of my mind all day. And night, for that matter. But in the shower, it's probably one of the few times I can force myself to relax, breathe in the steam, clear my head. And not have to think about anything.

Even when I'm doing other things outside of my work hours, it seems I'll always have a "program" running in the back of my mind, wheels turning to work on whatever it is I'm designing during the day, to find more and better solutions. Honestly, I don't know what other designers do, but especially when I have the clock running on a project, I want to make the most of my time by actually working on something concrete, rather than sitting and thinking... or maybe that's my problem. Sitting and thinking is such an important part of the creative process, especially at the very beginning of a project – even before the pencil and paper come out. I shouldn't discount its importance as part of the billable process.

But maybe I enjoy this multi-tasking; maybe my mind works best on the creativity part of things when it's not in the forefront with all the accompanying pressure. Hmm. Well, at any rate, that seems to be how I work best. Some of my favorite ideas have come during the night, or in that magical time right before I slip into sleep. That's when things slow down enough and the restrictions loosen up in the mind, giving way for creative freedom that's hard to justify during the day. And hey, maybe that's why I love sleep so much!

20 November 2008


Hello, and welcome to my first official post for the oratia design blog. I set this up in order to share some of my struggles and triumphs in setting up a new freelance design business in a new country, since I have just recently moved here to London with my family.

I have been a self-employed print designer off and on for almost ten years now, and having also lived in mainland China and in Hong Kong, I can tell you that moving and having to start over each time doesn't get any easier the more you do it!

So we've been here for almost two months now, and what I've been able to do so far is to finish setting up a website, and send out a lo-res portfolio to several businesses in the hopes of getting some new work. But ah. No one seems to need a new freelancer on their payroll at the moment. I know it's not easy to break into a new place where no one's ever heard of you, and the economy isn't exactly helpful for new creatives at the moment – well, to be fair, it's not real helpful to anyone right now – but this is turning out to truly be an uphill battle.

The good news is that I've still got some projects going for a couple of existing clients in Hong Kong, so those are sustaining me (us) so far. And I may have a brand new client to do some work for that was based on a friend's recommendation. Yay for friends! That's always nice. They say networking is the best tool, and I couldn't agree more for my line of work, but it's not easy to network when you're almost starting over knowing no one. Oh, poor me, right? That's why it's so important for me to get myself, my business, out there and get known somehow. (And that trail of thought about how my business IS me is something I'll need to flesh out another time, because that's an interesting one...)

Anyway, all that to say welcome. Thanks for tuning in, and here's to the hope of some two-way communication in the future. And to more work for all of us.