Cool Your Jets Designs

Dec

07.12

Thank You, Fresh Friday

I love music. That statement isn’t uncommon. A lot of people claim to love music. But I love music. As Woody would say, I lurve it. I loave it. I luff it. (Coincidentally) with two F’s. Presented with the choice of blindness or deafness, my decision would be swift. Blindness. Surely, it would kill my career as an artist, but I couldn’t live without the ability to share the passion and pain of Otis Redding, the unbridled joy of Sam Cooke, or the effortless soul of Stevie Wonder.

A few years ago, I asked a few friends to start a monthly club where we would all create CD mixes of the music we were most listening to at the time, share, and discuss them. The club lasted one month after I completed the first and only entry. This was the birth of Fresh Friday.

I have spent most of my life avoiding evangelism of any kind. Music, on the other hand–that’s something about which I can testify. I decided I needed to share my love of jazz and soul music with my friends who, despite their refined musical tastes, were unaware of the genius of Lee Morgan, Roy Ayers, and Lorez Alexandria. Fresh off of the creation of my website, Cool Your Jets Designs, I decided that each cover would be unique–weekly “design homework” in which I could refine my typography and compositional skills. The term “Fresh Friday” was coined by a fellow game developer whose “ties on Friday” trend became a staple among a circle of friends. After receiving permission to use the name, I figured a reference to neckties was apropos. That said, I inadvertently created the logo without realizing it in an early, unpublished mix–a cover in which I spent a total of 15 minutes. Graphic Design rule #134: Sometimes the strongest iconography is the simplest.

After laying the groundwork for the mixes, I found the weekly cadence challenging. Although creating the mixes was my favorite part of the week, keeping up with my work schedule, let alone finding time to relax, was challenging. Around the tenth mix, we were traveling to Montreal on vacation, and in order to maintain my pace, I had to work 2 weeks in advance. The covers were an afterthought; the mixes were passable. I thought about lessening the weekly rhythm when my wife turned me on to an amazing quote from Ira Glass, the creator of This American Life, my favorite radio show of all-forever:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

The quote resonated with me on several levels, the most important being: I needed a deadline. Without a deadline, I wouldn’t be motivated to produce a new design every week. My yen for music evangelism could be trumped by my late-stage procrastination. Ira implies that we need to trust our instincts–we have killer taste, and that alone should motivate our efforts. Additionally, the disappointment he references has forever permeated my artistic psyche; it really felt like Ira was talking exclusively to me. Taking heed, I made a commitment to hit that weekly deadline, not letting anything (vacations, sickness, changing jobs and moving across the country leaving behind my wife and dog for two months) get in the way.

It’s not hyperbole to say that Ira’s words literally changed my life–Fresh Friday has opened previously closed doors to me both creatively and personally. It’s funny how passion and creative integrity can bleed through your work. That isn’t meant to sound immodest. Whether good or bad, my weekly Fresh Friday mixes were a genuine labor of love and that creative ardor grew like a plant, flowering at unexpected times.

Plainly stated, I don’t believe I would be where I am today without starting and following through with the Fresh Friday project. Those aforementioned creative doors that have opened in the past year are incredible. I had the opportunity to create not just one, but two, published album covers for super-talented soul and jazz musicians, one of which was printed on vinyl. Pulling out the vinyl record and seeing a logo I designed printed on the label provided a giddy euphoria I’m not ashamed to admit to random strangers I meet on the street.

In addition to these two tremendous challenges, in the past year (year two of FF, for those keeping score), I was also offered an Associate Art Director position with the team that created Kinect at Microsoft in Seattle (which I accepted), providing the chance to work on super-innovative tech that I otherwise may not have been presented without the FF-heavy graphic design I was able to display during my portfolio review. Throughout the interview, I received more questions about my Fresh Friday covers than I did about my previous video game work, which simultaneously surprised and excited me, swaying me to eschew my normal comfort zones (and the chance to live in Sweden!) in order to pursue a career more closely aligned to my graphic design and art director goals.

I’m sharing this story to impart to anyone out there with a fervor for anything to pay attention to it. Water it. Foster it. If only for cathartic reasons, creating things for the sake of creating them not only makes you a better person, but also can lead to unexpected benefits. I never intended this project to lead to anything more than a few friends understanding who Hamilton Bohannon is. If you listened to last week’s mix (Everything is Temporary [Part I]), you may have caught the beautiful Nikki Giovanni poem nestled neatly between Alphonse Mouzon’s “Beggar” and David Axelrod’s “Wandering Star.” I specifically included that poem on the second to last FF mix to further illustrate the “Everything is Temporary” theme and to also express how I feel Fresh Friday has been in my life. The poem reads:

once a snowflake fell
on my brow and i loved
it so much and i kissed
it and it was happy and called its cousins
and brothers and a web
of snow engulfed me then
i reached to love them all
and i squeezed them and they became
a spring rain and i stood perfectly
still and was a flower

Although I am often overcome with sentimentality, this moment is of particular sentiment to me. Although it has only been two years, Fresh Friday feels like a living part of my life–it has provided comfort through hardships, consistency in times of ambiguity, and has been a creative beacon, steering my boat in directions I would not have otherwise seen. I didn’t quite realize this at first, but each mix acts as a musical diary of my life during that time. Years from now, I can listen and understand what I was going through or thinking about during these 101 weeks.

It isn’t easy saying goodbye (I never can), but I feel the need to explore new challenges, including writing and screen-print design. Comfort zones are the serial killers of creativity, and I didn’t want to see Fresh Friday become a victim. That isn’t to say I can’t post a mix every now and then, so feel free to check back and visit Cool Your Jets Designs. If not Fresh Friday, there should always be a new something every week, whether an essay or sketch or whatever.

To my fans (there are tens of you out there)–thanks for listening. And as always: Enjoy the negative space. It is your friend.

Mike