Over the last couple of years Adobe has been extremely supportive of my career. Hiring me to do artwork for Illustrator promotions, hosting a talk at San Francisco Design Week, and now bringing me to San Diego to speak at Adobe MAX. Leading up to that event they've put together an in depth interview at Adobe Create. DAN STILES: LOST AND FOUND
An A-list panel of experts discuss retail trends – whether digital or storefront – on this week’s Biz503. Join Mark Grimes of NedSpace and Perry Gruber of Copiosis and the Transamorous Network this Friday at 1 p.m. for a lively panel discussion about Reinventing Retail. Tune into the stream at PRP.fm or join us at 99.1 fm in the heart of Portland.
Hear the podcast HERE
I’ve been working on a painting called Trigger Happy for the last several weeks, and when it came time to print some new T shirts I thought the image was powerful enough to come off the canvas and onto some merchandise. I don’t strive to be a controversial artist, I don’t get off on being shocking. I also don’t want to beat people over the head with political messages. Nobody likes Bono. What I try to do is to combine powerful symbols in new ways. I want people to look at my work and develop their own meanings. For that reason I don’t put text with my images, or lengthy artist statements. We all have our own interpretations of art. The problem with that is that sometimes I catch flak for the meanings people come up with. Take this email exchange I had today.
Person: Gotta a say, I love your stuff… but was disturbed by the picture of t-shirt with gun and smily (sic) face. REALLY??? with all the violence today, your (sic) selling this?
Me: The real question is what does it mean? Is it a statement about violence or a celebration of violence? Perhaps a statement about the American psyche? Usually I don't beat people over the head with overt messages. Guns R Bad, is a little heavy handed for my taste. Look at it, think about it. Think about the title of the piece especially. Art is supposed to be challenging. But thanks for your input. I mean that.
Person: Thanks for the schooling and take me off of your email list
Me: I honestly meant thank you for your input. I like having conversations about art with people, but I see this didn't end well. Sorry I offended you I'll take you off the list.
So, that’s that. Artistic discourse at it's finest.
To me the interest in a piece like this lies in the tension between the saccharine sweetness of the smiley face and the implied violence of the gun. This is an experiment in meaning. Giving it an implicit message would be as easy as turning the smile upside down. Gun with frowny face = guns are bad. That simple maneuver relieves the dissonance between the two images, immediately making one single meaning easy to understand, and also serving to render the art trite and boring. There is no remaining room for interpretation, there is no larger message, there is no deeper meaning. Bono has spoken.
I honestly think that if I had left the image on a canvas this person might have been more inclined to think about it as art and give it a little more thought. Or maybe not. You can't please everyone I guess.
From November 10 through December 24 my wife and I will have a Pop-Up shop at 438 NW Broadway in Portland OR, along Draplin Design Company and Folk. We started with a leaky, gutted industrial space, and turned it into a showroom with about 7 days of around the clock work.
Beyond giving us a brick and mortar store where we can sell for the holidays, it's also allowing me to experiment with some new products that I don't typically make.
This also marks one of the first times that my wife and I can sell our complete lines together in the same place. Mel has been selling her Stubborn jewelry all over the nation for the past ten years, but we rarely have the opportunity to show together.
We've been getting a ton of media attention
Shop shop shop! Buy buy buy! Everyone hates the consumer feeding frenzy that the holidays have become. And nothing embodies this vile form of consumerism more than knuckle draggers duking it out at 4am over a half price TV at Walmart. But this year, for the first year in my life, I’m a retailer. We have a pop-up shop, which isn’t quite as real as a genuine store, but nevertheless I find myself looking forward to Black Friday. Do you know why it’s called Black Friday? Because it’s the day retailers hope to get out of the red (debt) and into the black (profits) for the holiday season. Like all retailers we've invested quite a bit of money into inventory and setting up the shop. Money we don’t know if we’ll ever see again. So the notion of hordes of shoppers descending upon our store like locusts sounds marvelous.
We have become accustomed to dismissing everything in this world. Like petulant teenagers who know it all. Sometimes it’s good to look at situations from a new angle. Like when I hired people and became a boss for the first time, suddenly I saw work and employment in a whole new light. Reversing the roles and appreciating what it takes to run a profitable business is a learning experience. I still squirm at the thought of mouth breathers savagely beating one another for bargains. But the idea that people may come in, appreciate what we make enough to buy it, and move my store from being a money loser to a money maker sounds great to me.
Come on in, we’re open and we would love to see you.
XXXXXXX, thank you for contacting me. After 20 years of relentless work in the fields of design and illustration it is nice to hear that I am now considered an “influencer.” I’ve heard of brands contacting influencers, such as myself, looking to leverage our Instagram accounts to advertise their goods to an audience that is too savvy to be swayed by standard advertising. In this case it seems that you want me to advertise a design contest to other creative professionals where the winner takes home $10,000 after designing packaging for a major multinational brand valued at over $1 billion. The losers get nothing for their time because they are, after all, total losers.
I’m very familiar with the type of product you’re looking to have designed. Having, in the last several months, completed similar projects for Nike, Google, Coca-Cola, and Ford. Here is what I propose. Instead of asking the creative community to work for free. And instead of getting the type of low quality product that comes from free labor. I suggest you skip the contest and hire me directly. $20,000 should be enough to cover my time and the rights to international usage for one year. $30,000 for a straight buy out. Then once we’re done I can put the completed design up on my Instagram and influence some people to buy it.
I have time to start next week after I wrap a few things up. I look forward to hearing from you.
Did you know most wrapping paper can't be recycled due to the types of inks, papers, and coatings employed its manufacture? Introducing my new line of 100% recycled and 100% recyclable wrapping paper, available at the #pdxpopupshops.
GRAND OPENING, TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 10th, 11am to 7pm!
438 NW Broadway, Portland, OR 97209
Coffee in a Dan Stiles mug, that's what. Start your day with a big "fuck the world." Available at the #pdxpopupshops, and hopefully on my website soon, once I get to it.
My wife and I have 15 days to make this wreck of a space at NW Broadway and Glisan into a store. Stay tuned for more info
I get a lot of people asking me for advice about striking out on their own. They’re tired of working for the man and they want the creative and personal freedom that comes with being self-employed. They ask about how to get clients, how to come up with ideas, what kind of Wacom tablet to buy. However, none of them ask about one of the single most important aspects of self-employment. Insurance.
Let me start with an analogy. Let’s say your career is like the ocean. You can cross that ocean as part of the Navy on a giant ship. This would be like having a paying job at a company. You take orders, do your job, and so does everyone else. If you get hungry, you go to the mess deck, if you get hurt, you go to sick bay, if you hit a storm someone up on the bridge figures out how to get you through it. You are a cog in a well-oiled machine. Now, let’s say you get tired of being that cog and you decide to be one of those maniacs who crosses the ocean solo in a tiny boat. If you get hungry, you’re the cook. If you get sick, you’re the doctor. If the boat breaks you’re the mechanic. If you fall overboard, the whole ship goes down with you. Knowing that, you would plan accordingly. You would pack food, water, medicine, and spare parts. You would consult maps and tide charts and invest in the proper safety equipment. You would make sure everything was in order before setting out. Anything else would be potential suicide.
Obviously what I’m getting at is that going freelance is like sailing across the ocean solo. You have to wear many hats, several of which you might not like, but you have to wear them anyway. One area where I consistently see creative people failing to plan properly is the area of financial preparedness. Not a week goes by where I don’t get a tagged in a message on Facebook for a GoFundMe that goes something like this. “My friend so and so is a great guy/girl. Last week they were out with friends/on vacation/walking down the street and they fell off their motorcycle/got mugged/got diagnosed with some awful disease. They need $5000 to cover medical expenses and lost wages because, you know, as an artist they can’t afford insurance.” Let me be frank. Regardless of your age you are in deep denial if you think you’re going to make it for the next 20, 30, 40 years without getting sick or injured. It’s going to happen, and you need to plan accordingly. I made it through my teens, 20s and 30s doing all kinds of dangerous shit without a scratch, then seriously injured myself when I was 40, long after I was done living dangerously. At some point something will happen to you too.
But you can do something to keep this physical trauma from turning into financial collapse as well. Go get yourself some Obamacare. For anywhere from about $150 to $250 a month you can buy health insurance. It may not cover everything. My surgery still cost me $10k, even with insurance. But without insurance it would have been $100k. It turned a financial catastrophe in to a financial set-back. Getting sick ain’t cheap in America. Insurance is simply a fixed cost of doing business, just like your rent, your equipment, and your electricity. If you can’t come up with that kind of money take a good look at your expenses. If you can afford weed you can afford insurance. If you can afford a motorcycle you can afford insurance. If you can afford cable TV, tattoos, beer, or video games you can afford insurance. Often it’s not so much “can’t” as it is “don’t wan’t to.” I’ve always wanted a fast car. Not a quick car, but a balls out fast one. With what I pay for insurance, savings, and retirement every month I could easily make the payment on anything short of a Ferrari. But if I get cancer a fast car won’t do shit for me and my family. So I continue to drive an old Subaru and pay my insurance bills. If you truly can’t scrape up $150 a month maybe a part time job is in order. Working 3 days a week still leaves 4 other days to paint, design, and make stuff. Or maybe going solo isn’t right for you at this point in time. Keep your day job and do more freelance/painting/furniture making at night to build up your client base. Don’t set out on your voyage only partially prepared.
Medical insurance is the most important thing to have in place, but there are other financial considerations as well. Do you intend to GoFundMe your retirement too? Someday you will be old and tired. You may still be working, you may love what you do and do it until the day you die. But if you can’t afford to be sick now what makes you think you’ll be able to afford it then? Do you really want to be living hand to mouth when you’re 85? Thus another fixed cost of self-employment is going to be some kind of retirement fund. A few hundred bucks a month, every month, starting in your 20’s and you’ll be a millionaire by the time you retire. Remember, you’re going solo. Nobody tells you what to do, but nobody is going to bail you out either.
Another thing to think about, especially if you have dependents, is disability insurance. If you’re so fucked up that you can’t work then bills will begin to pile up. Self-employed people do not qualify for any government unemployment assistance or disability. Get a plan that will give you cash every month to keep the lights on. You should also consider life insurance. If your family loses a breadwinner that will be a significant ongoing financial burden for them.
Last but not least you need an “oh shit” fund. I call mine the “zombie apocalypse fund.” It is a stash of cash that you tap into in the deepest of emergencies when only money will avert the apocalypse. Things that do not qualify: credit card bills, braces for your kid, a new TV. Basically anything you “want” instead of “need.” Things that do qualify: Eviction notices, cancer treatment, your house burning down. Be your own GoFundMe. Just like old age and sickness, something shitty and expensive is going to happen to you eventually. Don’t let it sink your little boat.
I know all this makes me seem like a square-ass bummer of a guy, but it’s the reality of working for yourself. You are your own safety net. Insurance is a part of running a business, Just this week I added liability insurance to the suite of insurances I carry. Hopefully I never need it, but if I do I’ll still be in business when the emergency passes, not bankrupt and picking up the pieces of my career. Setting all this up doesn’t need to be a pain in the ass. Call an insurance broker, it’s what they do. They can set you up with what you need and what you can afford. Yes, it’s expensive, and no you won’t use it everyday, but the other choice is flying without a net and face-planting into the sidewalk when the inevitable emergency arises. When I started out on my own I went a talked to a broker that set me up with medical, life, and disability insurance as well as an IRA. I still carry those plans, with certain changes and additions, to this day. You can pay out every month for insurance, or periodically get nailed with $5,000 to $500,000 disasters. Being self-employed, whether you’re a painter, a writer, or a blacksmith means taking care of all the aspects of your business, not just the creative part.
And while you’re thinking of it, email your congressperson to demand single payer healthcare.
See Part 1 here
I wanted the type to have that retro game title feeling, line Zaxxon or Dig-Dug. It needed to be custom and done in a style that complimented the rest of the art.
I figured doing the type would be cinch. Google is notoriously lax about their logo, right? Just look at all the Google Doodles that beat the crap out of their brand. I started developing a bunch of custom type treatments that I thought looked like retro games. For instance these two.
It turns out Google isn't lax about their brand at all. Re-typesetting their name in any other typeface is strictly verbotten. No matter what I tried it was rejected by the brand police. However, it turns out you can replace letters with images. So in the end I replaced all the letters with images. It wasn't the game title I was originally looking to do, but it kept with the retro gaming look a whole lot better than the actual Google logo which wouldn't have matched the rest of the art.
THE REAL TYPOGRAPHIC PROBLEM:
Google created these machines in order to give them away as awards. Instead of trophies or plaques, companies that created award winning online advertising would get one of these in their lobby. Pretty cool right? At the onset of the project they hadn't nailed down the name of the award yet. I was expecting something like The Webby, or the Addy awards. Turns out they came up with The Stuff You Click On Awards. Deliberately long titles are funny, and that's why they did it. However, typographically it was a problem. Games have short punchy names. Pac Man, Galaga, Battlefield. Not The Game Where You Drive Tanks Around A Maze And Shoot At Each Other. Fitting all of that verbiage on the side of the cabinet would take up most of the space, and generally the longer the name the less you can mess with the type because you need to maintain legibility.
I eventually worked out a solution similar to what worked for Star Wars The Empire Strikes Back. I used different levels of typography within the word mark itself. Additionally I placed the name of the award only on the kick plate on the front of the machine. On the sides we went with my Google type.
Google wanted their real logo to appear on white somewhere on the machine, so I relinquished the marquee to their branding. As with most cases of applied corporate branding it doesn't stylistically match with the rest of the graphics or fit the space particularly well. But I was already pushing my luck with the logo police, so I gave up that real estate in spite of the fact that graphically it breaks the retro game illusion.
Note, we did wind up having to update those marquees with the new logo after the machines were already finished.
This is a great video that breaks down one view of how creativity actually happens.
We live in an era when all the information that has ever existed is now at our fingertips. While this serves as a great resource for inspiration and a deep well for plagiarism, it also serves as an endless wellspring for annoying gotcha journalism. Recently Facebook has light up with posts about the Airbnb logo being found in an old logo book.
There are three ways this kind of thing happens:
1) It was a lift. It's very tempting when flipping though an old design book or the internet to spot your solution already fully formed and ready to go. Instead of going through the painful process of creating something from nothing, you can start the process 90% finished and simply brush up the colors and shape. This is a bad idea. Not only is it intellectually lazy, but you're gonna get caught. That said, people do it ALL THE TIME. And not just with logos. The hardest part of any design process is the concept and initial form development. Some designers and artists have made whole careers out of lifting stuff and most of us have tried it at least once. Much of the advertising you see consists entirely of reusing other people's ideas, songs, and images.
2) It was "inspired by" the original. This is not the case here, as the two designs pretty much match. But every artist and designer knows exactly what I mean when I say that sometimes you see something and it inspires you to make something similar. That's how art works. Almost nothing is created in a vacuum. The goal here is to be inspired, but then create work that no longer looks like the original. Want to draw with squares like Piet Mondrian? Awesome, go nuts. But don't just make a grid of yellow, blue, and red. Do something else with the idea.
3) It was simply a coincidence. There are no new shapes in the world. Let me be clear about that. All the shapes and colors already exist. Sometimes you can combine them in novel ways, but 99.99% of the time if you dig back far enough you can find pretty much the same thing somewhere else. For example:
In the end the issue is a little more complicated than simply pointing a finger and saying "You stole that!" Maybe they did, maybe they didn't. But the internet isn't known for it's sense of nuance, is it?
Last week I got a chance to chat with my dear friend Mark Brickey on his Adventures in Design podcast. Mark and I go way back, I met him almost 10 years ago at Flatstock. We used to stay up late every night, sitting next to the pool and talking shop. Our conversations have always come easy. He has an excellent mind for both design and business, which is a rare combination. These days he makes his living those conversations on the air. This episode is free for the next month, then it goes behind the paywall.
UPDATE: Here is an easier link to use
Periodically a dream job lands in my lap. In this case it was designing classic stand up arcade game cabinets for Google. How did I get the project? As usual, they found me, I didn't find them. They saw some of my previous work and figured I was the right guy for the job.
As with many of my projects, the brief was pretty loose. "The design of the arcade cabinet should be bright fun and “Googley.” Design elements should convey the spirit of retro gaming with a modern flare. Avoid any actual game characters but think of all the classic themes. Love your style, this is a fairly open brief and should be a lot of fun." That was pretty much it.
In order to not drive myself insane I gave myself some structure to work within. The best thinking usually comes from working within restrictions. Being a child of the 70's and 80's I distinctly remember the first Pac-Man game that was installed at the bowling alley by my house. Then over the next year or two several arcades popped up in the neighborhood. Video game cabinet art was always a dramatization of the game itself. In contrast to the simplistic 8 bit graphics of the games the cabinets were usually wildly elaborate renderings that resembled the back glass from pinball machines.
In light of this, my process started with this thought. If I was 10 years old and a new game called GOOGLE showed up in the arcade one morning, what would the premise of that game be? Would it be a shooter? A maze? A space battle? What would the internet look like as a game in the 80's? My first step was to come up with some simple game ideas. For instance maybe you're a guy who surfs in outer space on a giant arrow, maybe you're a glove character that runs around pressing buttons that open portals? Perhaps you fire rockets shaped like pointers at alien attackers? Once I knew what the games were then I could try to depict them.
My next step was to print out a bunch of blank cabinets and sketch on them. Quick and rough tests to see which ideas had merit. For instance here are the glove and the rocket ideas.
Once I had a couple of ideas I liked I built several rough comps in Illustrator to share with the client. Here are a couple of examples. On the left is a game where you blast shapes (that spell GOOGLE) out of the sky with pointer arrow rockets. On the right is the glove character that I mentioned above.
After the presentation I took the client's feedback and decided to take attributes from several of the favored designs and combine them into one illustration. The rocket came from one design, the explosions from another, and the shapes in the sky were replaced by Android aliens. This basic design formed the platform for the finished product.
Tune in next week for the dramatic conclusion of this project in Part 2
Wilco in Bend, OR Aug 8, 2015. Due to the tight timing on this one the copies that were sold at the show are not signed and numbered. My copies are the only signed ones available.
A bunch of stuff is now available on my site! Including my new one for The Black Keys. As well as The Decemberists, and this year's Squamish Music and Arts Festival poster.