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 That said, I inadvertently created the logo without realizing it in an early, unpublished mix–a cover in which I spent a total of 15 minutes.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

May

02.12

He Came To Me First

I turned 35 last week. Even typing that sentence feels strange and unnerving. For me, aging is an unpleasant side effect of breathing. As the years accumulate, nostalgia has increasingly become my narcotic of choice.

I’ve also recently relocated to Seattle. With my wife staying behind in Austin until June to finish teaching, the sci-fi fest at the Cinerama in downtown Seattle has been a welcomed diversion. After seeing Metropolis with a live orchestra and an original print of Close Encounters, I couldn’t wait to check out the film that shaped my childhood: an original print of E.T. It is easily my favorite Spielberg film. Next month will mark the 30th anniversary of the film’s 1982 release–the last time I viewed it on the big screen I was five years old.

Even after uncountable viewings, great films have a way of surprising you. I had forgotten how Elliot’s mother is the only adult shown in the first 2 acts of the film, with Peter Coyote’s character represented only by the jingling keys hanging from belt (hence the name “Keys” according to IMDb), further emphasizing a child’s point-of-view. I also couldn’t recall the scene where Elliot’s mother is reading Peter Pan to Gertie, while E.T. and Elliot watch through the closet shutters, bonding over their mutual need for maternal love, arm in arm. And I was genuinely taken aback by E.T.’s bewildered response to older brother Michael’s gentle touch when saying goodbye–a truly wonderful moment that really gives Elliot’s older brother a well-deserved “thank you.”

Seeing the movie through older eyes brought about new overarching themes, namely: the idea of home, abandonment, and the comforts and warmth of childhood. The idea of “home” is something that has dominated my life as of late, mostly because mine is temporary for another 5 weeks. Although my job has been an anchor of positively, my life is in flux, and my “home” is still 2,126 miles away. I miss Erin and Tyler, our families, and friends. In the film, E.T. is abandoned and unable to go home. Elliot’s family life is consumed by the abandonment of his father; his home is broken. It is fitting that the climax of the film–the uninvited presence of the U.S. Government, takes place in Elliot’s own house, wrapped in plastic, dominated by frightening astronauts and faceless, shotgun-toting officials. The sanctuary of home is violated and made foreign. Interestingly, some of the movie’s strongest scenes take place in the enviously enormous toy closet which remains untouched throughout the film, bathed in warm lighting and surrounded by plush reminders of youth.

Amidst all of this brilliant metaphorical storytelling, I discovered something that I hadn’t expected. Elliot lays on the hospital stretcher, violently tethered to the the 8-bit heart monitor, and the words “he came to me, he came to me” barely escape his lips. Peter Coyote’s character kindly leans over and whispers, “He came to me, too, Elliot. I’ve wished for this since I was ten years old.” It was at this moment that I realized that I now relate to 41 year-old Peter Coyote more than I relate to 11 year-old Elliot. It makes sense, really. Erin and I are about to start a family of our own when we bring home our child next year and I am no longer Elliot.*

[*Editor's note: My wife commented that "of course it makes sense--you're 35 freaking years old." But this is the curse of latent adulthood. You are always the last to know.]

Raised among a generation of outed inner children, it’s an uneasy but necessary pill to swallow. I gazed upon the rows of young kids taking in the movie for the first time, and I could see my past and future in symmetry. A little boy was clenching his fists, literally on the edge of the seat, as Elliot and his friends take flight near the end of the film. The little girl in front of me clung achingly to her mother’s sleeve as E.T. and Elliot lay dying, unsure if the movie would have a happy ending, and then erupting in glee as it did.

Turning 35 still feels alien* to me, but I’m really looking forward to sharing these childhood moments with my son or daughter. When I take my little boy or girl to see E.T. for the first time, I can be both Elliot and Peter Coyote at the same time, enhancing the film beyond my previous expectations, something I imagine Spielberg had in mind as he created his masterpiece.

[*you're welcome.]

[Side note: While I am eager to share these moments with my future kids, I took note of another interesting Spielberg choice. While E.T. is a very personal film for him, he still allows the pop culture of 1982 to permeate the film. He doesn't impose his own childhood nostalgia--instead, the movie is full of references to Star Wars, Sesame Street, Speak 'n' Spell, Dungeon 'n' Dragons, and video games. Our 15 year "retro" fetish has stolen our youngest generation of their own pop culture identity. We are so wrapped up in our own nostalgia, we insist that everyone share the same memories. I am definitely going to make an extra effort to connect with my children over pop culture that is important to them as well. It better be good.]

Dec

31.11

Variations in the Key of Fascism

While walking our dog a few days ago, I noticed an interesting front door within our Central Austin ‘hood. I thought out loud to Erin (as I often do) that the window of the door looked like a minimalistic swastika. On a second look, the window appeared different–like a hip, modern Hebrew Aleph. This juxtaposition instantly recalled images of the film, The Believer, a fantastic independent film from 2001 starring a young Ryan Gosling as a confused Skinhead Jew. The movie is complex and strange, with the final scene being one of my all-time favorite movie endings…brilliant.

Anyway, upon seeing this door, a dichotomous image formed in my brain that I couldn’t shake; one that I thought would make a compelling movie poster for the film. I love when a simple image can tell the story without giving too much away. Movie posters that employ this level of design are my favorites (see Olly Moss). After seeing the finished result, I decided to take variations of the swastika a bit farther, completing poster ideas for The Producers and Raiders of the Lost Ark. I would like to do more of these tryptic-style movie poster designs, joining 3 movies that share a common thread and nothing more. The design will do the rest. Enjoy.

Nov

06.11

Ray Bradbury’s Incredible Foresight

Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 is one of my favorite science fiction books. Over the last three years, my cynical nature, feeding upon the disturbing news of the world, has been hard to suppress. During this time, I find myself reading dystopian classics, such as Fahrenheit 451, and finding comfort in the fact that the real world is far less oppressive. Books like 1984* and Brave New World have been rising higher in my to-read queue, and I’ve literally started to wear my cynicism on my sleeve, with the help of Out of Print Clothing‘s amazing book cover tees.

The above paperback copy of Fahrenheit 451 was published in 1963, 10 years after the book’s debut, and includes the amazingly accurate Ray Bradbury quote on the back cover. In the context of today’s smart-phone society, Bradbury’s words are extraordinary. At the age of 91, he must be terrified by the zombified swarms of iPod-listening, mobile-phone texting, Facebook-posting automatons (make no mistake: I include myself in this group). His views of healthy societal interaction would clash with a reality in which couples text each other while sitting side-by-side at a restaurant, and children forgo the actual three-dimensional world for the artificial world of the Nintendo 3DS.

However, this hasn’t quite led to the dystopian society he envisioned when he wrote Fahrenheit 451. In fact, you could argue that these new forms of communication have helped to connect people like never before. One must only look toward the Arab Spring for evidence of Twitter’s enormously positive influence. Sure, 140 words is the communication depth of a kiddie-pool, but perhaps the quantity more than makes up for the lack of quality. At least, this is what I try and convince myself everyday. As a tactile person and lover of old books and records, I’m resistant to this brave new world (apologies), but my cynical side is assuaged by the plain fact that we aren’t burning books or genetically modifying our children quite yet.

Sure, the world economy is walking a plank made out of styrofoam, and the polarization of our political system has been turned up to eleven (thank you, Frank Luntz), but the death of intellectualism is far from pronounced. After all, we have realized half of Ray Bradbury’s horrifying vision, but once you get used to it, it’s not so bad…

Right?

*Footnote: I was reading 1984 at my favorite coffee shop the other day, and 10 pages in, I literally think to myself, “I wonder what year this book takes place.” Sometimes, my inner-idiocy is simply depressing.

Aug

26.11

How did we end up like this?

I recently got back from my quick trip to New York City, and amidst all of the bickering and chaos going on right now, watching New Yorkers on the subway gave me a glimpse of something I haven’t felt in quite a while: optimism. Metaphorically, the subway is life. All kinds of people from all types of backgrounds participate, and without cooperation, the process breaks down.

As a Chicagoan for 3 years, I had the opportunity to ride the El train to work everyday, and the same applies. The doors open, we let those on the train exit, and we wait to enter. We take turns. We make sacrifices for other peoples’ comfort. Without the forced cooperation of mass transit, people seldom see past their immediate life-bubble, oblivious to the fact that living in a society of people requires acknowledging those people and realizing that their comfort effects everyone’s comfort.

This is a team effort. Like it or not, we are in this shit together.

Aug

14.11

The Art Collector

In 2000, when working for 1stbuy.com, I created an animated short intended to be used as a viral video to bring more hits to the website. After 1stbuy.com went the way of most late-90′s dot coms, I retained the rights (by “retained” I mean “took”). In 2002, I submitted the short in the Klasky Csupo (the animation juggernaut behind several Nick cartoons) online animation contest and placed 2nd overall, selling the right to Klasky Csupo for a cool $1,000! Once Klasky Csupo decided against airing the short, the rights defaulted back to me (suckers!), allowing me to now present to you… the world premiere… of…

The Art Collector.