Hiking, Adobe, and Chronic Migraines

Last week I hiked a local mountain called Blodgett Peak with my good friend Randy. It climbs 2500 feet in just 2 miles. This was not an easy hike. Most of the mountain is controlled by the Forest Service, so the trails are neither marked nor maintained. It has steep inclines that increase in height with each step, with ridiculous amounts of loose gravel piled up on the slope. A good chunk of the hike consists of rock scrambling. I felt apprehensive because I knew the hike would be difficult, with an increased likelihood of getting lost.

Continue reading “Hiking, Adobe, and Chronic Migraines”

Call me… Command Z

This unit for my visual media class involved learning Adobe Illustrator and designing icons. The glory of this program, Ai,  is the ability to shrink or enlarge an image and keep perfect clarity. This happens because the program is based on vectors rather than rasters, which means it’s mathematically based rather than just a bunch of dots that pixelate when enlarged.  Pretty cool premise.

The assignment, after learning the program basics, was to design 4-6 original icons, wherein each one communicates a single message. The icon set needed to be consistent and to incorporate the aspects we’ve studied in our design class. So, pretty cool project. Except… I don’t draw. Not even smiley faces. I approached the assignment loaded with misgivings, but with an ace up my sleeve.

The first step was to envision my audience. I chose the consignment shop where I work. We have price tags that we print for each item. I decided that simple pictures for the various categories could help the tags be more easily identified. To keep the shop costs low, I decided to do the categories in one solid color that could change each week with the tags. My category choices for the icon design included office supplies, electronics, games, jewelry, books, glassware and many others. I still felt overwhelmed, so I played my ace.

Sporting goods sketch

I consulted Matt, who is, after all, an internet cartoonist. He sat me down with blank sheets of paper and had me sketch designs for those various topics, and then darken the one that conveyed the message the best.




Next I went to the computer and began my designs– and earned my new name. Command Z is the “undo” button on my computer. It’s my mode of operation, as well as my new best friend.

Jewelry sketch








I used basic shapes and lines, but found this

assignment ridiculously difficult. My puzzle piece to represent the game category gave me an absurd amount of grief. I even opened a jigsaw puzzle and tried to duplicate a piece, but the results were pathetic. Just look –>


Aside from lacking Ai skills, the main problem was that I didn’t “get” icons. I was attempting to draw pictures. I hadn’t realized yet that every ap picture on a smartphone is an icon, as well as all symbols for businesses and everyday life. Think Nike swoosh. Think the recycle triangle. Think “save” on a computer– an image of a floppy disk that high schoolers would not recognize in real life. But they understand it means save because of the picture… because of the ICON.

Once I connected the dots, I saw icons everywhere. At the gym they’re on all the posters, they’re on race t-shirts next to sponsor names, and on clothing we can recgonize the brands in an instant. The ability to shrink the symbol down for a business card or blow it up semi-truck size is a powerful advertising tool.

Armed with my new understanding and helpful comments from my instructor and classmates (as well as Adobe tutoring from Matt), I redesigned my icons to all be the same color. Originally I was demonstrating the various colors we use, but if they were used at my shop, they’d all be printed the same bright color each week. Here they are together, finalized:


The picture frame represents the category of wall hangings. It’s attached here as both a 400 and a 60 pixel diagram. I am very proud of the nail.

The necklace for the jewelry category was the easiest and most fun for me to put together. I deliberately overlapped the beads to take it up a notch and make it look more real– a la Marge Simpson. No, don’t tell me you think otherwise.

Next is the ball, for sporting goods. Just those little lines on it took an hour. Seriously.

And finally, the game category puzzle piece. Voted “Most Improved Player.

I have an entirely new appreciate for icons and the counter-intuitive process that makes the great ones. In the icon world, unembellished  is better. For example, the triangle on most devices means “play” and the square means “stop.” If it’s that simple, might have a chance at success. It’s genius.



Commitment to Design

I love music. I have tremendous admiration for composers. How to write a song- especially a good one- is a mystery to me. But I’m seeing a parallel in my design class that might explain why Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue is my #1 choice for the “Song I’d Want to be Stranded With on a Desert Island” compared to, say, MacArthur Park. Like a pleasing magazine layout, a good song probably begins one element at a time, and then deliberate features are layered and massaged into the music until the end product is a song you’ll listen to and maybe add to your playlist. Again, I don’t know much about writing songs, but I can walk you through the steps I traveled to create a magazine spread that will hopefully entice you to read the whole article and maybe add it to your favorites.

Here’s the end result, small and tidy. It meets all the requirements: 3 pages, 1 spread, 2+ columns, 1+ pull quote, 1+ word wrap, 2 photographs that I took myself, 3+ subheadings, contrasting typography, consistent headings and body, a 600+ word article from LDS.org with no headings… all put together in Adobe’s InDesign program.  Looks pretty simple, actually.  Well, my friend, it wasn’t. Come with me and I’ll show you.

Choices, Choices

The first task was to choose the article from LDS.org– one with no subheadings. Because conference talks today are published immediately on the internet to be studied and read, most modern church leaders write using subtitles. So I went back in time to my favorite apostle, Marvin J. Ashton, and found my favorite talk by him: “The Word is Commitment.”  My target audience is my fellow class members in my Self-Reliance Initiative class, and this message is ideal for living gospel principles or paying off debt. Next I studied it, divided it into sections, and chose subtitles. Then I decided on the quote pull. I liked “Dale Carnegie once said, ‘If you are not in the process of becoming the person you want to be, you are automatically engaged in becoming the person you don’t want to be.'” However, it didn’t seem right to quote Elder Ashton quoting Carnegie, so I went with “True happiness is not made in getting something. True happiness is becoming something.” Because that’s good, too.

I researched color and found that charcoal grey is a great for making a solid first impression at a job interview. I figured I’d contrast it with yellow. I chose two contrasting fonts that seemed a little uncommon without being weird: Bodoni 72 Smallcaps (A Modern typeset for the titles) and PT Sans Narrow (A San Serif for the body).

Worth a Thousand Words

Mini Incline; Caste Rock, Colorado, photo by Connie Wilson

The pictures were the hard part, and they played a key role in the rest of the layout. For the title page I wanted to use a photo I took of the Mini Incline in Castle Rock. I went there with my friends during the lunch break for Time Out For Women on October 9th. It’s called Mini as a contrast to the Incline, which is an old cog railway that climbs 2000 railroad tie steps up the side of a mountain in Manitou Springs. The Mini is 200 steps and 178′ increase in elevation, whereas the Incline is a mile high and over 2,000′ elevation gain. But I digress…

Originally I planned to enlarge the steps and use them as a border on the right side, with text on the left. The problem was the stunningly blue sky. The steps lost their effect if I cut the sky out, but the colors were too bright to write over, and the picture seemed too harsh and sharp for the layout. But the steps displayed the message of the article so I  kept working with it. While playing around on InDesign, I found the fx button that allowed gradient colors, and the radial option toned the sky down enough for me to insert the text over the picture. It also allowed me to not worry if the resolution got fuzzy with the picture enlarged.


Farish Recreation Area, Colorado, photo by Connie Wilson

The second picture took a couple of days and about 10,000 steps. We had rented a little cabin up in the mountains for my birthday last week. While there I hoped to find something visual that showed “commitment.” It occurred to me that I’ve seen trees that grown straight out of boulders, and that would be perfect. I took my camera and hiked all over the place. There were plenty of trees growing out of rocks, but most were aspens and we missed the golden leaves by a couple of weeks. I didn’t think a dead tree really worked with my message. I took dozens of photos of fir trees growing from rocks, but none of the pictures worked quite right. So I went with this photo of a rock pushing an aspen, or maybe the aspen is holding the rock in place. Either way, there’s commitment..

I took pictures of this from all different angles in three different sessions of daylight. That’s commitment, too.

InDesign: the Magic, the Mystery

Next it was a matter of putting it all together. InDesign was a steep learning curve for me and I can’t even tally the hours or the tears or the tutorial youtube videos I watched. But I came out with a product I like. Rather than charcoal grey and contrasting yellow, I kept the muted blue sky theme going in the colors.I grabbed the blues with the eyedropper feature. I wanted the inside spread to have partial borders along the top and outer margins. I found the slanted lines by fiddling with the text box borders. Again, the blue was too bright so I used the radial gradient features on the borders, too.

The trickiest part was altering the text box on page one to slant at and angle so there would be no words on the stairs. L-O-N-G story short: I accomplished it not by cutting the text box, but by inserting another text box of triangular shape over the stairs, which somehow forced the words to scurry to the left side. I did the same thing on the right hand side for the words on that side of the stairs.

Elder Ashton shared great insights regarding goals in this conference address. I hope the layout I’ve designed to highlight his message is intriguing enough to motivate you to read the entire talk. That would be music to my ears!

A Very Particular Set of Skills

Back in the ancient days of my youth, a person actually had to have a camera with them to take a picture. But today’s generation has photos at their fingertips by merely pulling out a cell phone. Taking a selfie or a snapshot is effortless. But by applying a few photography techniques, one can take the quality of those photos up a notch. I’m going to discuss three particular skills: Rule of Thirds, Leading Lines, and Depth of Field.

I found this outstanding photograph in the August 2017 issue of Adventure Cycling magazine. It’s on the title page of the article “Canada’s Great Trail: A dream at 125 years is ‘connected’ at 150” by Ellee Thalheimer. The photo was taken by Jean-Marc Carisse and is courtesy of Trans Canada Trail. The caption reads “Trans Canada Trail Board Chair Paul LaBarge shares a misty morning with some very appropriate avian traffic.”

I love this photo! The cyclist is herding geese, with a barren tree in the foreground and hazy outlines of trees in the background. It has a pleasant feel to it from calming colors, and is an excellent example of the Rule of Thirds.

My next photo is an ad in the May 2017 issue of Backpacker magazine, printed on page 55. The featured company is eno, which turns out to be a brand of hammocks. https://www.eaglesnestoutfittersinc.com/. I chose this picture because of  its strong Leading Lines that draw the eye to the waterfall.



My third professional photo is from the cookbook Asian Cooking: Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese and Indian Recipes. The inside cover states “Favorite Brand Name Recipes (trademark) Presents Vol. 1, No. 62, February 16, 2016, published by Publications International, Ltd. The specific photo is found on page 41 alongside the recipe for “Bean Threads with Tofu and Vegetables.”

Depth of Field is the most recognizable photography tool to me, because it’s used in absolutely every photo of food. Whether it’s a recipe, menu selection, or Pinterest food, depth of field is employed. I chose this Asian dish because the background is more cluttered than other examples, so it clearly demonstrates the advantage of using this tool.


Rule of Thirds

The first analysis is the Canadian picture that uses the rule of thirds so well. This composition rule involves laying an imaginary tic-tac-toe grid across a photo. The four places where the lines intersect are the strongest focal points. In this picture we see the cyclist at one of those points and diagonally from it, we see the center of the tree. The grid lines themselves are the second strongest focal points. Here we see the horizon with the line of geese and the bicycle.

For comparison, my neighborhood didn’t have the same misty, soothing elements. To showcase the rule of thirds here I took a photo of the freeway and telephone lines outside the YMCA in Monument, Colorado. The semi truck becomes the focal point as its at the lower right intersection. Not particularly exciting, but there you go.


Above photo by Connie Wilson

Leading Lines

The next analysis is of the eno ad, with a photographer relaxing in the hammock. This picture showcases leading lines. The bright, contrasting color of the hammock causes the eyes to naturally sweep towards the edge of the clearing, which reveals a waterfall. Although dark, the shine on the camera is a line pointing straight up, and it takes the eyes directly to the eno brand logo.

The picture I took to mimic the leading lines example is of my daughter relaxing on the front porch. Her legs form the lines that direct the eyes to the stunning autumn leaves on our tree.


Above photo by Connie Wilson

Depth of Field

Depth of Field is used to draw attention to the object in focus, whether it’s in the foreground or the background. Often the object in focus has more light reflecting from it, which also makes it more noticeable. In this photo of “Bean Threads with Tofu and Vegetables,” the details of the food are more sharply in focus than the napkin, glass and other dishes in the background.








The photo I took to mimic the one above is of a typical Asian recipe prepared in my home. Note the food in the foreground is sharply in focus, while the background method of cooking is blurred. This allows the mind to grasp all the elements of the meal, while the photo spotlights dinner itself.


Above photo by Connie Wilson

Daily we are exposed to countless photos– in advertisements, social media, books, newspapers, etc. To make a photo stand out and be memorable, the photographer uses techniques that help steer the reader to what the artist wants him to see. Skills such as Rule of Thirds, Leading Lines and Depth of Field help accomplish that goal.


Come Thou Font

This is the February 2017 cover of Adventure Cyclist magazine. I can refer you to an online  thumbnail of this picture at https://www.adventurecycling.org/adventure-cyclist/adventure-cyclist-online/2017-issues/, but you can’t get closer without paying the $45 annual membership fee. All their magazines show excellent use of typography, but this cover in particular employs several categories of type as well as other contrasting features, resulting in a sharp, memorable image.





The first category of type I’m highlighting is Sans Serif. This typefaces is characterized by letter-forms that are the same consistency throughout with no variation in thickness of the letter strokes. Another feature of this typeface is the lack of serifs, which are the decorative doodads on the end of letter strokes.









The artists also used Slab Serif, a typeface characterized by uniform letter strokes that have horizontal serifs on most of the alphabet letters. The category evolved from the need to easily read letters from a distance, as in the case of signs and advertisements.






A bonus typeface displayed in this magazine cover is Oldstyle, which has angled serifs on the letters. The curved strokes transition from thick to thin; they are replicating brush strokes from quill and ink. A line drawn through the thinnest parts would be diagonal; this is known as “stress” in the typeface world.



Sand serif and slab serif contrast nicely by themselves, but there are several techniques applied to increase the contrast between the typefaces. One is the color of the letters in the word “cyclist” (see photos above). It is schoolbus yellow (or orange, depending on your interpretation of the color of a schoolbus). All other letters are black or white, as well as the picture on the cover. The letters also range in size. One subtitle, here highlighted in blue, has shadowed font that no doubt is a play on the word “sunset.” Finally, here highlighted in pink, the image of the cyclist has been placed over some of the words so that the mind has to fill in the missing letters. It’s a neat trick.

The use of contrasting typeface categories, the size of the letters, and the grayscale page with one yellow word all contribute to giving this magazine cover a professional and memorable look.

Running in Reverse

This is the 5k race flyer from our local YMCA here in Colorado Springs. (https://www.ppymca.org/programs/adult/running-races/creepy-crawl-5k). I’m going to use it for my reverse engineering assignment for COM130-17.

I chose this picture because the ad caught my eye —  enough for me to consider registering for the race. I’ve run this race twice in the past, but the race shirts have been bright Halloween colors (orange and lime green) with spider designs that frankly I will never wear. But this octopus! With a hint of pirate! And on teal– my favorite color! It’s a classy logo, and I may gamble the $35 entrance fee in hopes that the race shirt features it.

But what makes it so eye-catching? Why does it make me consider registering, when I know from experience there’s a good chance it’ll be snowy and/or 20 degrees at the start line? The reason it’s so appealing is that the artist took advantage of the basic principles of design to rope me in. I’m going to break down the ad and analyze how each of these design aspects were used: color, repetition, alignment, contrast, and proximity.

  1. 1. Color:
    The YMCA used the basic complementary colors of blue and orange, which are opposite of each other on the color wheel. Usually complementary colors are used with one dominate color and its complementary as an accent, but in this ad they have been given equal weight. I find it works really well, though; possibly because it’s a picture of an octopus in water and not just do-dads decorating a plain background. The lettering in white also stands out really well and is easily readable.

Note: I just noticed that the website image does not have all the text that the flyer has, so I’ve taken a picture and uploaded it. The color difference is noticeable; the website version (pictured at right) is richer.


2. Repetition:

Repetition involves repeating some aspect of the design throughout the visual. In this instance, the same font was used for the dates– both the race date on the left and the registration deadline on the right– and the slogan, “Yo-Ho, Yo-Ho, A Runner’s Life for me.” Another feature that displays repetition is the dotted, swirling line that circles the central image. I think it keeps the eyes from drifting off the page because it works as a border.





3. Alignment:

Each item on the page should have a purpose and a visual connection to other items on the page. In the YMCA flyer, the lettering is left flush, in a line. The race series name, Creepy Crawl, lines up with the race date information. Also, the tag line at the bottom of the page (“Yo-Ho…”) begins at the same vertical space.  On the right, the registration deadline begins where the tag line ends.  In addition, the swirly dotted line lends a visual connection throughout the ad.






4. Contrast:

The 5k advertisement utilizes contrast to add visual interest in a couple of ways. One is by varying the position of the letters in the words. “Creepy Crawl” has letters that zigzag up and down. The dates and other information are in straight lines, but the tag line (“Yo-Ho…”) is on a curved line. Another way the ad employs contrast is through texture. The octopus is visually smooth, while the steering wheel looks rough and the water in the background looks grainy.




5. Proximity:

Proximity is a tool that groups like items together to make information quickly digestible and memorable for the reader. This ad does a great job by having three separate sections of information that each give pertinent information. The largest font, “Creepy Crawl” tells the event (5k), the company (YMCA and location),  and sponsor (Kaiser Permanente), as well as mentioning the one mile kids run option. The block on the left, in a different color and font, gives race day information. The block on the right, using the same race information color and font, gives the registration deadline and website. This flyer was designed so that all essential information for this race can be found swiftly at a glance.




The creator of this race flyer employed all the elements of design to make a professional, effective advertisement. The colors are bright, complementary, and easy to read. Repetition is used throughout the piece to lend consistency to the message. The alignment is deliberate and keeps the reader’s eyes moving around the page to each word block. The contrast is almost tangible with use of textures. And finally, the proximity of information makes it easy to scan the page and find the necessary information. It’s an impressive piece of work, and I will likely run this race solely because of this flyer.