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When you’ve got nothing

We’ve all had times when we stare at a blank piece of paper and will ourselves to be clever and creative and we get nothing but a headache out of the deal.

“I’m not God!” you say. Our Lord does creatio ex nihilo – (creation from nothing) I don’t. You’re not alone, we’ve all felt like liars forging ahead and trying to create interest for a story we don’t “get.”

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North Lime Coffee & Donuts

I have been considering adding an Apple Pencil/iPad Pro combination to my graphic tool set for awhile and I finally broke down and did it. What pushed me over the edge on the tablet is the redemption of time that a single mobile screen gives me. Drawing, digital painting, comping, calendar, Feedly, Olive tree, Evernote, email, text, etc come at me all in one interface.

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Sell all thou hast, and buy Photoshop

Deadlines. They are never just another day at the office. Just when you think you’ve planned far enough ahead, bluffed and cajoled to get things in on time, something gets added to the pile. It is then that one of my mantras seems extremely useful. “Sell all thou hast, and buy Photoshop.”

The story goes like this. My friend is a warm, decent, friendly guy who has suffered the ravages of age like we all do. He was the newly minted president of a large organization. As the figurehead an announcement and some photography was in order.

Now, I am usually happy to see him, but when he “dropped by” the office and the boss scheduled an impromptu, (zero planning) photo shoot, I was a bit panicked. Clearly he wasn’t any happier than I … “I only have 5 minutes” he growled.

Portrait photography should be handled by a pro. A photographer’s fees are well worth it as he/she can really do wonders with pose, light, etc. However, when your boss says “get a photo” you do it. I got him to relax and laugh, got the exposure right, outdoor morning light from behind him with a flash fill to take care of the shadows, blur the shrubbery background…yada yada.

The pressure continued to ratchet. “Let’s announce this position in the next issue” (the magazine was within hours of the deadline). IT WAS A GOOD PHOTO of an upper-middle-aged white guy. What I needed though, was a visual image of the warm, affable guy he is. Seriously, he’s funny, intelligent, has great instincts and insights … but age creates a lot of distractions. So I pulled out the magic art director’s shoe horn and went to work.

Success in these situations depends a bit on skill and a bit on judgement. You want the person to look better than they do, but you don’t want anybody to easily see what you did. It’s rather like makeup…when it’s done right, the face is what you see, not the makeup.

I blew up the high-resolution photo and I moved the lapels of his coat (cut and clone) to hide his middle aged spread. Then, I cropped enough of the photo so that the really incriminating evidence went away.  His smile has the normal number of teeth that are a bit crooked, one eye doesn’t open like the other, etc etc, so I just generally did the sort of touchups that make a photograph a bit more pleasing without removing the character of the person in the photograph.

I knew that I had a success a couple of weeks later when a staffer from his new organization’s in-house magazine called me with a question. “Hey Bob, can we use your photograph? We just can’t seem to get a good photo of this guy and yours looks great.”

I laughed and for the sake of full disclosure I then walked them through what I had done in the photograph. Before my explanation, they didn’t see it and neither did their new president.

Rules

  1. In most cases, it is better to make the ask before you make changes even if it is just the off-hand remark during the shoot, “I’ll touch this up and make you look great.”
  2. ALWAYS be honest about what you’ve done and care for the feelings/permissions of the person involved…(hence the photo isn’t here for your enjoyment).

And if you are a beginning art director, sell all thou hast, and buy Photoshop.

 

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Hire Cartoonist

When is it a business advantage to think of using a fictional portrayal of something? The advantage is that it creates a visual portrayal of a company or product’s character. A company’s personality is somewhat intangible and an illustration can help. Other times, a reference to the brand’s history or a specific visual identity that is attractive to the audience in question can also be helpful.

So if the boss screams “Hire cartoonist now!” how do we get it right?

Obviously, it has to be appropriate. A cartoon of a drooling doctor with a chain saw isn’t selling plastic surgery any time soon. However if you are putting on a haunted house, bring on Doc Saw!

It should avoid ongepotchket (too much complication) but take advantage of commonalities. For example, not all doctors wear stethoscopes, but one hanging around the neck of a character forces recognition as a doctor. The difficulty with using the stethoscope is that EVERY cartoon doctor has one so the device tends to disappear in the clutter. If you compete in a crowded field your customer’s eyes are already glazed over with similarity.

A creative example

My friends at Leading Results compete in the area of online marketing and needed to differentiate themselves. Part of their solution was the use of a brand character.

The original rendering of Roco (Leading Result’s content monster) was creative and well executed by another artist and serves his purpose well. More importantly, Roco clearly connected Leading Results’ attention to content as a core value within the brand character.

The assignment for Amazingly Creative was to keep Roco as Roco, but put Roco in different poses and activities to illustrate the key points that Leading Results would be making in other print and web materials. The turnaround time was accelerated due to various factors and Amazingly Creative was happy to comply.

The challenge in any such assignment is that activity equals mobility and all of the attendant issues. The original Roco is well concepted and executed, but the feet don’t look as capable as the hands. Thinking through hands and feet, posture and grip, stance and dynamic motion requires creativity and a healthy dose of “what if?”

However, you have to stay close enough to the original character that (he, she, it??) is recognizable and ultimately you have to ask, does it really look like (Roco in this case) is really surfing? Mining? Teaching?

If this has piqued your interest, contact me. Send me a creative brief and I will send you a rough draft, no obligation. The only caveat is that you can’t use the rough in any publication internal or external. If we decide to move ahead with an engagement, we can always formalize the agreement.