Today’s quote: Лучших сосок не было и нет, готов сосать до старых лет. Продаются везде. Резинотрест.

I am still not certain what observations are valuable to record during this graduate program. What I am certain of, is that I will be learning a lot of new languages: the language of typography, CSS, HTML, Python, graphics, and the countless jargon of the Design community. I think I’ll call this strange new collection of languages “Designese.” It is the combined means by which designers communicate their ideas, and inject them into the world.

The morning class (Design Principles and Practices) was interesting. We began with an exercise where we abstracted our backgrounds by improvising with given materials and the classroom space itself.

I chose to represent myself with attributes of Portland’s bicycle culture, my love of Laserdisc movies, my career in electronics, and my fine arts education.

I chose to represent myself with attributes of Portland’s bicycle culture, my love of Laserdisc movies, my career in electronics, and my fine arts education.

The center represents CMU, and each student worked to recreate elements of their journey to this graduate program. Whiteboards contain written facts about the cohort and their connections to the field of design (right), and our pictographic expression of the core principles of design (left).

The center represents CMU, and each student worked to recreate elements of their journey to this graduate program. Whiteboards contain written facts about the cohort and their connections to the field of design (right), and our pictographic expression of the core principles of design (left).

It was a bit of a mess in the beginning, but eventually this random pile of madness transformed into a visual representation and collaborative sculpture of readymade objects. Bruce Hanington took two pages of observation notes during this exercise. This was quite an icebreaker, and I generally feel very good about collaborating in the future with this group.

Over lunch I discussed a few of my on-boarding concerns with Ema. I value Ema’s insights and experience as a grad student. It was Ema and Michelle who took me on a brief tour back in the spring (when I was waiting for the admissions decision). I wanted to know if I ought to be concerned by the lack of clear course outline. The syllabus makes the expectations clear, but are still relatively vague and lacking the kinds of specifics I am accustomed to. Generally speaking, I am used to more structure (my time in the military, working at Intel, and undergraduate studies were loaded with constraints and granular, rigid scheduling). This is new for me, but I also expect that this will lead to greater autonomy in a future career - we’re receiving lots of support, but are also expected to work independently, with very open-ended criteria and high standards for deliverables. It is a continual source of comfort to know that these are the people I will face these challenges with.

In the afternoon I had my first session with Andrew Twigg. He will be teaching two of our courses this semester. For introductions, we were spared having to repeat our backgrounds. Instead, Andrew only asked for our names, where we’re coming from, and our favorite food. I chose rice, because “Rice is great if you're really hungry and want to eat two thousand of something” (R.I.P. Mitch Hedberg). After reviewing the syllabus, we had our first lecture on the topic of typography. This included two slide presentations with a brief history on the development of written communication, from cave paintings to the fonts commissioned by billion dollar internationals in the 21st century. This included an almost anatomical dive into the creation of a modern font, what they are made of, and the names of their parts. We also explored the contextual relationship between size, shape, and arrangement of text. There was a lot terminology that is still foreign to me, but I believe I’ll be able to absorb these new concepts as we begin to play with (and act upon) these various components.

One of the slides was a soviet era advertisement for galoshes (at least, that’s what I could glean from a thread on The rough translation: “There were not, and are not better nipples, ready to suck through the old years. Sold everywhere: Reznotrest.” The word “сосать” (i.e.,“suck”) is a verb with similarly vulgar dual meaning to its English counterpart. I’m not sure if this was true when the image was originally constructed. It is probably not important or worthwhile to read into it that too much.


My first deliverable is due this Thursday: 32 layout thumbnails and eight prints (on tabloid, 17 x 11 inch sheets) with font constraints on preselected text. How we arrange it will be up to us to decide, but should demonstrate Design Thinking and execution of enhanced visual communication matching to the context.

Dead Star Escape Playtests at XOXOFest 2018

XOXOFest gave me an opportunity to conduct some playtests for DEAD STAR ESCAPE! It’s a four-player tabletop, where space pirates try to escape from a black hole! I got some excellent feedback on this project and still have a lot of work ahead of me, but it was really exciting to see a game play through from start to finish with new players. The play mechanics and rules are ironed out, but I still need to update the prototype and enhance some layout and other misc. concerns.



I’ve taken the criticisms into careful consideration, and here are the latest image updates:

I spent a lot of time figuring out how to use perspective to give the blood spatter a solid “floor,” but the letters felt too flat against that perspective surface. Carl had some input on this, and the end solution was to include a 3D Extrude stylization filter to give depth and dimension to the letter “A”. There is a nice contrast with the flat letters in the background, and a slightly more gray value is applied to the background letters to emphasize this.The blood was given more detail by using the Wrinkle Tool. Overall, this is a pleasing change and I’m much happier with the results than earlier versions.

hat kind of magician would I be without a rabbit? The peer critique included an earlier, rougher version of this critter, but I’ve refined it to a point where it is a welcome distraction and not just a proof of concept. The sparse grayscale image really Pops thanks to the included red bowtie. This was created as a series of shape (Rectangle Tool) and a thicker brush setting for the outline. A heavy use of Gradient was applied to multiple Layers of the top-hat to give it a more three-dimensional appearance. Abracadabra!

The lion’s share of time went into this third image. Carl had an interesting suggestion to give the background a crumpled paper appearance. I scoured the web for a few options on how to do this. One suggested using a gradient tool in Photoshop and importing that image into Illustrator like so:

This wasn’t a bad approach, but it didn’t really “look right” in Illustrator. The better solution I found came from a multistep approach involving actual crumpled paper (Read here). I started by crumpling a folded piece of paper, and then scanning a highDPI image of it and saving the PNG for use in Illustrator. I then used the Image Trace tool to assign shapes their corresponding values (4 shades of gray). The end effect was more convincing because it was derived from the genuine object. Next, I created improved letter “clippings” for the ransom note stylization by choosing a variety of fonts and color combinations, grouped with rectangles that were altered using Transform to give them a more natural appearance.

The final steps involved creating a severed finger – because just one pool of blood in a project is never enough. I started with the Rectangle tool and created two segments, for the third segment (the fingertip), I used a pair of Ellipse tool shapes (fingertip and fingernail), which I altered with the Pen Tool. I then used a gradient fill to give the nail some depth, but struggled to find a gradient to give the finger segments an illusion of depth. I decided to hold off on that detail and used a regular color fill from the Skin Tone Library (color swatch). I then rotated the segments to give the finger a more curled appearance, and the Pen Tool to create the creases in the skin.

Solution for creating depth: I layered four stacks of cloned finger (object groups) on top of one another and then used the Eraser to create a gradation of shadows (Stylization and Drop Shadow)to create a rounder appearance. The end effect is consistently cartoonish with the rest of the image.

Finally, I created a “blood soaked paper” effect by changing the fill color of the surrounding Image Trace generated shapes and the Wrinkle Tool to give it a more distressed appearance. The one effect I want but haven’t been able to figure out is how to “crinkle” the ransom note letters themselves. They feel a bit too flat, and out of place, but after a few failed attempts with the Knife Tool to create segments I’ve decided to error on the side of caution. If I come up with a solution by Monday, I’ll be sure to update the results here.




Our first project in Digital Media / Time Design is a “Typographic Portrait.” What is a typographic portrait? It’s a combination of visual communication through stylization, combining graphical and textual elements. Here is the professor’s example:

Image by Carl Diehl, art119.

Image by Carl Diehl,

As you can see from the above example, the name represents visual elements implying both “land” and “water”. The earth-tone brown is combined with wavy aquamarine/teal. Since amphibians are able to live both underwater and on dry land, this graphical representation is appropriate.

Our first step is to select from six options and perform a similar stylization on our own name:

Hello my name is Matt … I’m a magician

I’m accident-prone

I’m losing my temper

I’m visiting Portland

I’m afraid of the dark

Hello my name is _________ (fill in the blank)

Each image has some advantage. I tend to think that it is better to make work that is provocative than safe. The “ransom note” lettering is fun, but includes a dark humor component, the “magician” is playful but a bit on the nose, the “marksman” is very literal, but exists within the context of America’s gun violence epidemic (a controversial subject, to say the least), and the “Portland” is a bit more esoteric, and depends on a person’s familiarity with the sketch comedy of Portlandia‘s “Put a bird on it”. We’ll see what the professor has to say during today’s lab.