Your logo. Is it a SUM of its parts?




Logos aren’t illustrations. They are abstractions. They tell A story, not THE story. They should work as well the size of your small pinky fingernail (in black and white) as they do on the side of an 18-wheeler in color…three colors max, please.

There are three main criteria good logos satisfy. I’ll use the Apple Computer logo as an example.

A good logo is simple. It is not an illustration with a bunch of detail. Most logos use positive and negative space very well. Think Target, Nike, and the Coca-Cola script. No outlines, no shading, no gradients to fall apart at small sizes. The Apple logo used to be banded with a rainbow of colors. The refreshed design works great big and small. It’s simple and an immediate read.

A good logo is unique. An apple with a bite taken out of it is kind of an odd mark for a computing company, no? So it’s memorable and stands out from the crowd. How many lawyers use the scales in their logos? A: Too many of them! How many roofers use rooflines? *sigh* These marks don’t differentiate; they don’t say anything special. They don’t tell us what the brand does well. 

Which brings us to metaphor, which in laymen’s terms means using one thing to stand for another. Telling a story. The Apple logo is all about that bite. Remember the Garden of Eden? That bite out of the apple=knowledge!! Perfect for a computing company…and the twist is a delight.

So check your logo for SUM. Does it compute?


Happy clients = a very happy Fourth

I am sort of walking on sunshine today, if you’ll indulge me the Pollyanna-scented appropriation of an unfortunate hit song. But good things are happening, and I’m getting positive validation from my clients. How about this, y’all:

“You rock! Nate told me about the New Faces show! That is awesome!! I saw he e-mailed you about the other gigs – this  has been an exciting day 🙂 Thank you for everything!”


“You picked the BEST ISSUE BY FAR we’ve ever done to jump in with both feet. East Nashville Underground spread looks, and reads, KILLA!!!! Be excited!!!!!”


“YOU ROCK!!!! I am so stoked!”

It’s hard to wave goodbye to the security of a regular paycheck, the 401k, and the health benefits. But I tell you what—this feedback, from yesterday and today, is pure gold. It’s one thing to know you’re doing your best, and quite another to get response that robs the world of a few extra exclamation points. 


So I’m gonna take today to indulge my photo itch, see my girlfriends, and paint the town with my main man. Next week, it’s back to working hard and hopefully, pleasing my clients again.

Happy Fourth, all. And cheers to every hard workin’ man and woman under this beautiful sun. !!!!!!



The Tennessee Fireworks Project


These images have been culled from a large body of photographic work loosely called the Tennessee Fireworks Project. Since 2004, I’ve gone on the road annually to photograph the stands that mushroom alongside Tennessee’s two-lane highways during the three weeks when it becomes legal to sell fireworks.

I enjoy returning to the familiar roads of my home state each year, working in the blazing sun, trusty Nikon in my hands. Sounds of insects, firecrackers, hot rods and laughter provide a soundtrack. I find the stands to be fascinating, formally and on a symbolic level, as they relate to nostalgia and memory, current events, nationalism, and economics. To date I’ve logged thousands of miles, met hundreds of people, and have shot over 4,000 images.

I’ve been exhibiting the images on big canvases. From traditional negatives, I take chosen frames through a digital scanning and printing process. The final step requires re-assembly onto canvas utilizing a gel medium transfer method. I enjoy shooting with film, turning to the digital world, and then using time-honored tools like paintbrushes and X-acto knives to see each piece come back to life.

Some of the Fireworks images are pure graphic design, some are documentary, some are affectionate location shots, and some of the images feel political. I’ve shot many portraits of the tent workers who I now call my friends. Fireworks are dangerous yet beautiful. The folks who sell them are often likewise—they’ve got to be tough to succeed in the business, but they also truly love the public. Their way of life is under threat. It may not be legal to sell independent fireworks for much longer.

So I am out there again this year—just me and my Nikons, in my little white truck packed with coolers and film. And once again I’m seeking those colorful stripes beyond each curve of the road. Say hey if you see me!

I’m a lawyer!


I'm a lawyer!

No I’m not.

I could read a few books on law, go sit in on a court session, and have some business cards printed up. I could call myself a lawyer and maybe even fool you. You might even hire me to handle your divorce for you.

But that would be CRAZY, right? You want your divorce lawyer to know law, to be up with trends and the issues of the day. Same with your dentist, doctor, plumber, realtor, bartender, or even your chef.

So why do we stand for a bunch of folks who run around calling themselves graphic designers, who were never educated in the field?

A computer and software knowledge does not a designer make. Listen, I got my BFA in graphic design and photography at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where I won a merit scholarship my first year there.

I went on to acquire an MA in professional media practices from the School of Journalism at SIUC. My final paper was on how graphic design has evolved to encompass both the print and digital world, and how designers can best present their client’s info on both platforms.

So I’ve got the education. I can proudly proclaim to the world that I am a professional graphic designer. But that’s not all! I have YEARS of experience designing, teaching, practicing, critiquing, learning from my employers, mentors, and yes, even my clients.

What brought this on, you ask?

I’m looking around and seeing a lot of self-proclaimed designers tout their wares as being the CHEAPEST. I’m gonna save that rant for another day. For now, let’s just all ask ourselves what we want in a creative director or graphic designer. Isn’t your company, service, or political platform worth presenting as well as possible? And don’t you want the person doing that to be the most highly educated, ethical professional available?

Really? Why wouldn’t I?


Really? Why wouldn't I?

The question, posted as an AIGA LinkedIn discussion: “Would you still be a designer if we never progressed to digital design?”

Such an odd query. It suggests that eventually designers would have tired of the profession had it remained based in hand skills. Don’t get me wrong, I love InDesign and Photoshop and the gadgets we use now—the tools that have replaced T-squares, non-repro blue pens, rubylith and those hulking Lucy machines. Truly, it’d be difficult to be a garden variety graphic designer these days without using a computer. Computers are fast and precise, and allow us to produce more rapidly.

But I was good at making things by hand, and I enjoy working by hand. So why wouldn’t I take every opportunity to work that way?

The other thing that bugs me about the question is the focus on software. Contrary to what some folks seem to believe, a person who knows InDesign does not a designer make. Graphic designers are highly trained in color theory, layout, typography and all the elements and principals of design. It’s also about the IDEAS, folks. Being able to make something in a software package is a given these days…it’s a bare minimum.

Here’s an image I created this week for a local musician, Nathan Diller. We’re running a contest tied into his video cover of “Counting Stars” by OneRepublic. We’re asking folks to visit his facebook page, like him, and then guess how many stars are in the photo. We will name a star after the person who comes closest. So go give it a try! You can find the contest here:

Such fun putting this concept, and this image together…literally moving all the little stars around, playing with color and shape and line, and photographing the results. It felt more like play than work. And isn’t that the best we can hope for in our chosen profession?

Finding that silver lining

Well, bummer. The all-volunteer group I’ve been working with to build the Nashville Community Darkroom did not meet our kickstarter goal today. We got over three fourths of the funds, but didn’t quite make it. So today I’m looking around for things to be happy about.

• I did a photo shoot last night (with FILM) for the East Nashvillian. It went great! 

• Dropped the film off today at Film Box, and I love going there. Nice folks!

• I made some tasty soup! John had some dental work done today, so will need soft food.

• We have three beautiful tomatoes from the garden ripening on the windowsill.

• I spent a lot of time today working on a facebook cover photo for a young musical artist named Nathan Diller. I’m doing some career development with him, and the image is for a campaign I cooked up. Stars and type and photography. Fun!

• Later I get to go make signs for the Gay 5K, which I’m volunteering for this year.

• Tomorrow I get to dig in and find Tennessee Fireworks images to run in the next issue of Real South magazine. They want to do a photo essay of my stuff. For money.

So yeah, counting my blessings over here. And the NCD ain’t over till it’s over. Just time to regroup and go at it again. It’ll happen, right? Right!! 🙂