Sunday, February 10, 2013

Painting Break: Breaking Preconcieved Notions

What color is water?  If you ask a kid, they'd likely say blue.

What shape is water?  Wavy like this, right?
These are the most basic images and colors that represent water in most of our brains.  As a designer I tap into these innate semantic cues all the time.  They are universal symbols that make our two dimensional and three dimensional designs speak for themselves.  They enable us to convey massive amounts of information into simple graphics and visual cues.

But reality of course is very different.  Take fire, for example.  The hottest flame is actually blue, while the cooler flame is red.  Yet we associate blue with cold, and red with hot.  These things can give you a headache if you think about them too much so I'll move on!

This is one of the many reasons that I feel that doing a little painting between design projects helps keep my creative brain and my rendering abilities sharp.

I decided to do a miniature painting this weekend, of this photo that I took last fall of the wake behind our pontoon:

The original photo I used for reference

I have always been intimidated by the thought of painting realistic water and sky.  But I've decided that I cannot LIVE on a lake and be afraid to paint water.  So, I am forcing myself to confront water by painting some of my favorite photos of our lake.

Look at the water in the above photo.  Funny...I don't see much blue at all, and the surface texture is nothing like my blue waves above.

Some of the colors pulled from the water in the final painting
Water is the color of whatever surrounds it.  Sure, if the sky is clear and blue, the water is clear, and the sand underneath is white, it'll look blue too.  But I don't live in the Caribbean.  And even the Caribbean blue changes minute by minute as the sun rises and sets. 

So when I attempt to paint water I break it down into simply colors and shapes.  I have to throw out all of my preconceived notions of what water is.  It really exercises your brain!!

 The final size of this painting is 10" x 8" so I printed the photo full scale for reference.  I started with a couple faint pencil lines...the horizon, and the outline of the tops of the trees.

Then look at just the overall shades to cover the canvas with.  It's very loose and sloppy at this point.  Ugly!!  I know.  I work the acrylic like water color at this point, so it looks pretty thin.  It helps to blur your eyes here to help your brain ignore the details.  Or if you're fortunate enough to have horrible vision like me, you can just take your glasses off.

Next I start to define some of the waves...focusing again on the blob-y shapes and what color they are.

Amazing how it suddenly starts to look like water when you add crazy colors like really dark gray and a really washed out yellow.

A little more definition in the sky and more detailed reflections (shapes!) in the water.

Adding the black silhouettes is my favorite part.  Now it really looks like a sunset over a lake.

 Finally, the trees and my signature!

 So here are some of those colors I pulled out of the water via Photoshop...
Aaaah, it feels good to stretch my designer brain a little, throw out the preconceived aqua blue wavy notions, mimic seemingly random blobs and suddenly see water appear!

I did this little painting in 3 or 4 hours over the weekend.  A little weekend painting break can positively impact my design projects in many ways.  But the ability to realistically paint different materials and textures ties right into what I do as a designer as well.  I am constantly asked to create realistic renderings of products and displays, and whether I do this via Photoshop or with pen and paper, I am always tapping into this basic understanding of shapes and colors, and how their placement can define materials and textures for the viewer.

Kindof a cool connection if you ask me! :-)

Friday, January 18, 2013

Let GF Design Photoshop your Home Remodel Project Ideas

Happy 2013! It's been a while since I've posted anything here, but that is in no way a reflection of my workload! I keep most of my clients' work private and don't announce my connection to most projects even after they are out there in the public's view.  Many of my clients utilize me as their "secret weapon," and I absolutely love making my clients look good in front of THEIR clients!  Being a "famous" designer has never been important to me so I really don't have much interest in taking public credit for my work.  What is important to me is that I continue to do what I love and make exceeding expectations my norm!  However, I will do my best to post more here in 2013 so you don't think that I have gone out of business.  I live and breathe design 24 hours a day  It's in my blood...I just can't help it!  In fact it's so much a part of me, it often doesn't occur to me that what I'm doing might be a blog worthy post.  So, look for more from me here this year!

I'm going to start by showing one of my capabilities, which I have kept quite busy doing for clients, but also recently did for myself.  I do quite a bit of work doing some "extreme editing" in Photoshop, and have edited many photos of homes over the past couple years.  Whether it is a client trying to decide how to remodel his own home, or a Realtor looking to show prospective buyers the potential of their listings if they were to remodel, I have Photoshopped everything from paint colors to wood finishes to new materials and furniture.  It's something that I have been doing for years with my retail fixture design projects, showing new fixture design concepts in stores, but recently I have branched out into homes.

In an effort to keep the photos of my clients' homes off the web, I'll share an example that I did in my own home. Last fall I did a major remodel on my own kitchen cabinets, painting and distressing them.  (See the painting process on my other blog, here, and more details on how I achieved the 1950's style look, here.)  I had been tossing around the idea of painting our oak cabinets since we moved in 2 years ago, but my husband wouldn't budge.  Finally last summer he said that if I wanted to Photoshop it, he would look at it.  Which is what I did...and he was sold.  Behold...the power of the VISUAL!!

You can see just how close the Photoshopped image is to the actual finished cabinets above.  I did end up painting the walls too after the fact, so they don't quite match in the Photoshopped image vs the finished project.  But you can get an idea of how realistic a Photoshopped concept image can be.  I was able to get the image in my head out on paper.  My husband knew exactly what to expect, and he got what he was expecting. 

This can be an incredibly valuable tool as many of my clients have seen themselves.  With a small amount of time and money, you can have real visuals to show various options to your non-visual clients.  The ability to visualize the final product is one of the biggest hurdles that I see between designers and their clients.  Designers are visual creatures, and most of the time our clients are not.  That's why they hire us!  So let's help them see what we see.  The ability to get on the same page visually early on is so important to the success of a project.

Click here if you'd like to get in touch with me and discuss your potential photo editing project!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The New GF Design Studio

Well, I'm all moved into my new office space, and while my studio is always a "work in progress," I thought I'd share a few pics with you!

This is an unusually shaped space in the farthest reaches of our basement.  The floor is tile, the ceiling cedar paneling, and there is built-in storage galore.  I love all the storage, however, it did pose a challenge of where to put things, specifically furniture that's normally up against a wall.  The L-shaped room consists of 6 walls: 
1) One wall covered with 6 doors (above) with access to storage shelves, 
2) another wall is the entrance to the furnace room with a built in cabinet next to it,
3) One wall has a regular door to the back yard and a set of sliding glass doors with another built-in cabinet between them,
4) The shortest wall is just wide enough for the entrance to the office,

...which leaves me with walls 5) and 6) to put furniture against: One of those walls is painted brick, so there is literally one wall with drywall on which to hang things.


Aaaah....a cool space with a function and purpose!

Above you see the one wall where I could hang things, which is where I hung my zig-zag shelf, flat shelf/countertop, and clock. That pretty much dictated where my bookshelf and desk could sit, which worked out fine, as I now face out the sliding glass doors and view of the lake while sitting at my computer.

The carpet tiles I got from Flor really softened up the space. I wanted something that I could change if I wanted to, and easily replace as needed.  Being that kids are in here too, and the dogs go in and out of the house through my office door, the ability to replace stained tiles was a must.  They are also nice and smooth, which works great for my rolling desk chair. 

I of course kept my kid-friendly goals from my previous studio space re-design. (Wow, it's weird to look back on that post when I'm pregnant, with the now 1.5 year old who's shown above!)

To help better utilize all of these walls that couldn't have furniture against them, I looked for other ways to make the surfaces work for me.

I used some peel-and-stick dry erase board material to cover one of the large storage units. It went on great, although a day later started to bubble.  I'm still trying to flatten bubbles daily, so it was a little disappointing, but a perfectly flat wall may accept the covering better than this wood storage unit.

I also bought some peel-and-stick chalkboard surface, which is really just black Con-Tact paper, but it worked great.  I stuck squares of it on the wall, and also used it to wrap some cabinet fronts on my bookshelf. (I got these cabinet door units in the as-is section for $5, but didn't want them to be red anyway, so this was a great fix!)

On the wall behind my desk I hung some cork squares, a square of dry erase stuff, a square of chalkboard, and a little note holder.  Turned on end as diamond shapes, they fit under my zig-zag shelf perfectly, and the squares tie in nicely with the squares on the floor.

The wall above my drawing board is painted brick, so it's harder to hang things.  However, I found that 3M's exterior mounting adhesive worked perfectly to mount these cork squares. I left spaces between them to continue with the recurring square theme.

The wall of doors I am now using for various things...I hung my white boards here, and mounted some more cork to fit within the door panels.  Someday when I'm rolling in cash and don't know where to spend it, I'll get myself some giant white board panels that fit the size of each door.  But, until then, my thrift store white boards work just fine!

The 1/4" thick cork is easy to cut with an X-acto blade, and was a great choice to fit within the panels on the door.  3M's Command hooks worked great here as well, to hold my T-squares. I've added more since these photos were taken.

What narrow strips of vertical wall surface I had left on "the wall of doors" I utilized as well.  Here I screwed in some steel strips that I could attach my magnetic storage jars to.

The other strip of "wall" had a recessed area, which just screamed "state fair photo booth frame" to me!

While unpacking I came across a little collection of fortune cookie fortunes, and discovered that the clear plastic corner guard made a perfect little spot to "frame" them! For some reason I just can't ever bring myself to throw away those little fortunes.  (Maybe it's because the day before my husband proposed, I got one that read "you will be married within a year.")  ;-)
Painting the ceiling white really brightened the space in a major way.  The ceiling has dropped areas, and I found a couple little ledge shelves at thrift stores that fit perfectly across a couple lengths, giving me space for storage of small items and knick-knacks.

I am really loving my new space now.  For me, the ceiling and floor treatments were what really transformed it from an awkward basement space to an enjoyable space to be in, and one void of old, bad, distracting design decisions.  Now I am just free to crank out sweet designs for my awesome clients!  I am truly blessed to be in my dream job, working for myself from my own home studio with a view! Thanks for stopping by.

New "Pioneers of Industrial Design" Stamps from USPS

Check out these cool new postage stamps that honor the works of famed 20th Century industrial designers!  These are "forever" stamps, which will remain valid no matter how high postage prices climb.  I think it's time for GF Design to stock up on postage...

Friday, June 17, 2011

New FREE Paper Pattern Now Available at GF Design!

I'm pleased to announce a new addition to my collection of free paper project downloads: a paper bird puppet!  I used to make these as a kid, and when I recently made one for my 3 year old, I added a body to it.  You can download a pdf pattern for all of the pieces (except the head which is just a rectangle of paper), and reference the fully illustrated tutorial to make it on my IDMommy blog.  Enjoy!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Designing GF Design

Would the mental image of a row of sweaty, naked fat guys in white towels enable you to develop great design ideas? No, me neither, which is why I'd like to eliminate that particular image that my new studio space puts into my head.

You may have read one of my previous posts about the total re-design of my studio space.  I had the opportunity to start from scratch in a new room, and to redesign the space to fit my specific needs and the work pattern of my three businesses.  It was great...I got it just the way I wanted!  And then, we moved.  Time to start over!  It was frustrating at first, for about a millisecond. I LOVE to design so I have taken this new space as an opportunity for another personal design project.  And what designer wouldn't love to tailor a space just for their work?!

My new space is in the basement, which is a bit of a "con" since it gets chilly during those Minnesota winters, and I have many 4, 6, 8, and million-legged uninvited "friends" who like to visit me. (But, it also has huge, glass sliding doors that showcase our 120 feet of lakeshore, so yeah, I think I can throw on a sweatshirt and live with a few bugs.)

The big distraction for me right now is the ceiling, which is covered in cedar paneling.  I am painting it white.  Sure, cedar is nice wood, and blah blah blah. Now that that's out of your system, here is why cedar is distracting to me, and why I opened this post with that...uh...very graphic image.  Cedar lined walls/ceilings make me feel like I'm in a giant sauna.  Or maybe a humidor.  Which would be GREAT if I were a sauna or humidor designer, mind you, but I am not.  I am a product and retail fixture designer. Neither Cuban stogies nor large, sweaty men with their nether regions wrapped in towels belong in a design studio.  At least not in mine. 

And it's not just a visual distraction.  The cedar smell, coupled with my two large farting dogs who nap in here occasionally, brings back childhood memories of cleaning out my hamster cage.  Yes, I will admit that since childhood I have had a sickeningly keen sense of smell, and consider it both a blessing and a curse.  Nevertheless, stinky feces-soaked cedar shavings are not so conducive to my generation of cutting edge design concepts.

We all have different things that inspire and distract us.  While I won't speak for everyone, I think it's safe to say that the environment is of utmost importance to a designer.  The environment that designers work in is directly linked to their productivity, their output, and even their overall mood.   People who work in other professions I'm sure think this is all a farce...After all, if an accountant demanded that his walls be painted PMS384 in order to perform his calculations accurately, he'd be laughed out of the room! Those crazy "artsy fartsy" people just use that as an excuse to get a stereo system and those fancy "incandescent" light bulbs in their offices, right?! WRONG!  [by the way, don't ever, EVER call me "artsy fartsy"]

The brain of the designer is just not quite the same as a non-designer.  Working in a poorly designed space for a designer is like putting that accountant in a room with walls covered with calculations that all have the incorrect answers.  Incredibly. Distracting.

As a designer, I am CONSTANTLY analyzing and mentally re-designing whatever environment I am in and whatever object I come in contact with.  This is a natural, ingrained process that has always been and will always be a part of me.  I have embraced it and made a thriving career of it.  But, sometimes it can be distracting, and since my job is to create awesome design for my clients, my space MUST be a place that stimulates me creatively and allows fresh ideas to flow...not to distract me with bad design elements.  Eliminating these bad design elements enables my creative brain to focus on my clients' needs.

And so, off I go to re-design a new space to suit my needs and those of my businesses. I am excited to be starting "fresh" again, and will surely be posting photos as they come, so stay tuned!!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Save the Art Department!

I was both disgusted and saddened this week to learn that the Lakeville school system that I once attended as a 7th through 12th grader is talking about cutting the art department due to budget cuts.  Not trim, but completely cut. 

Things like this make me furious, not just because art is at the core of my career, my passion, and my life, but because it is yet more evidence of the pure ignorance and lack of respect that the art and design field receives from the general public...those who interact with artists' and designers' output nearly every moment of every day.  So many people have no idea that artists can enter very well respected and well paying careers.  And part of that problem, is that the schools themselves, designed to prepare children for life after school, don't show respect for this field.  Music and the arts always seem to be the first thing that school boards cut when money is tight.  These school years are when it is most important to get this message across...when young kids are at the age where they are exploring their own natural gifts and passions, and making decisions about their own careers. 

Not all artists are "starving."  And not all artists only make paintings.  I could go on and on about the subject, and if you are a designer yourself, chances are you've come across these scenarios in your own life and are as frustrated as me.  One of my high school art teachers reached out to my family in hopes that we could write a few words to the school board in support of the art program.  I've copied my letter below...if any of you fellow artists or designers out there would care to add your own arguments for the art department, feel free to comment, or email me for an address where you can send a letter to everyone on the Lakeville school board!

Dear Lakeville School Board Members,

Nineteen years ago I entered the Lakeville school system through McGuire Jr. High as the awkward “new girl” in the 7th grade. I was one of those kids who was always picked last for teams in gym class.  From 7th grade on, I was bullied and picked on throughout much of the rest of my schooling.  However, one thing enabled me to hold on to my sense of pride, accomplishment, and self-esteem, and that was art. 

As a kid who earned good grades but was not the greatest in sports, I DID excel in the arts.  Art class was my one solace that got me through the school day.   When I walked through the door to my art room, I was entering MY world: my escape from the teasing and bullies...the one area of the school where I could stand tall, stop looking over my back, and do what I did best…where I could be myself and I was GOOD at it.  As I became engulfed in my projects, I was able to block out everything else, boost my spirits to get through the remainder of the day.  I learned to find pride and self esteem through my own inner gifts, not by cutting other people down.

So what about AFTER high school?  What is the big deal about art, anyway?  Don’t artists just make paintings that hang on the walls of stuffy museums, where only the elite art critics can afford them and interpret the meaning behind them?  Art adorned walls are not among Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, so we really don’t NEED art to live, do we? After all, most artists are “struggling” or “starving,” right?  That is what so many people believe, but these people have no idea how many careers stem from art and how it impacts EVERYONE on a daily basis.

So many schools offer huge scholarships for their local sports stars.  The Lakeville Sr High School art department pulled together a $200 scholarship, which was awarded to me my senior year.  The work that the art department put into raising that money meant more to me than any big donor’s contribution could. I went straight on to college where I majored in Graphic Design for a couple years, ultimately graduating with honors from The Ohio State University with a bachelor’s degree in Industrial design.

Industrial design is one of the many, many highly respected and even well-paying professions that people don’t realize that artists can enter, and many don’t even realize exists.  Industrial designers play a part in the creation of nearly every physical object created.  They design everything from the car you drive to work, the desk you sit in, to the pen in your hand.  They design the shoes that your basketball players wear, and the helmets that protect your football players’ heads. So far in my career, I have spent time designing everything from products themselves, to the graphics that represent them, the packages they are sold in, the store fixtures they are displayed on, and the overall retail environments they reside in. Today I run three of my own successful businesses, all using my artistic skills. But I am only one small example of a where art classes can launch a Lakeville student.  I am also a mother of two, and I know for certain that if the art department were cut entirely from their school, we would take them elsewhere.

Art classes give to creative students what sports give to athletic students. Art, to an artist, is just like any field to someone who is passionate about it…it is an enormous part of what defines them.  And when you send a message that art is expendable, you send a message that they and their future success too, are expendable.

The thought that a creative and artistic student could enter and exit the Lakeville school system without ever realizing their full potential is devastating.  Not just for the student, but for the community as well.  I hope that for the sake of your students’ futures, you will strongly consider continuing your art program in any way possible.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Gretchen Fleener, Class of 1997