This is my current portfolio, a gallery slideshow with descriptions of each piece can be displayed by clicking on the first thumbnail image at the top. Feel free to comment and contact me to discuss your project idea’s and other opportunities.


Clasped Heart Project

This is a recent piece that I thought of from a moment of inspiration while laying awake. The purpose of the concept was clear from the beginning as a heart transplant, organ donor, or heart disease prevention and awareness piece. I had originally filled-in the swirly interior details with several colors but the larger concept of a pair of clasped hands in the shape of an anatomically correct heart began to get lost on people, so I instead opted to leave the swirls unfilled and therefore relegate them to their rightful place as a decorative detail within the larger composition. The colors then help to accentuate the various parts of the heart and are dominantly colored various shades of purple to borrow the symbolism of bravery and selflessness that the color represents within this context.

Design Education & The Myth of Innate Talent

In his essay, “Graphic Design Education as a Liberal Art: Design and Knowledge in the University and the ‘Real World‘” Gunnar Swanson opens by comparing graphic design students to college basketball players stating, “Not just the reaction is comparable, the whole situation is. Measuring the success of college sports by the number of players that go on to play professionally often leads to players being cheated out of a real education and a chance for a satisfying life.” In the name of “fairness and survival” he proffers to relegate graphic design, literally, as a liberal art credit. Not a mere acknowledgement of graphic design as a field of multidisciplinary research, but suggesting that graphic design courses should be of no more consequence within a graphic design program as any of the other “liberal arts” courses. As he says, “Philosophy teachers, for example, do not measure their success based on whether the majority of their students become philosophers. By contrast, ask teachers of graphic design about students who don’t make careers in design related fields. Most often they are seen as failures.”

I personally do not believe this approach is solving any real issues concerning the success and failure of graphic design programs and its students but is instead seeking to alleviate the symptomatic grief of the dominant paradigm within design education. The justification being based on the assumption that:

  1. Design education, regardless of good intentions or student commitment, can only teach so much.
  2. The majority of schools are teaching at a nearly even standard of quality.
  3. That the most effective educational approach to design has not only been discovered, but is being practiced by these schools and the results are of no fault of that educational approach.

Here is the first installment of my thoughts and findings in regards to this mindset of resignation…

Design Education Can Only Teach So Much

In the book Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else, by Geoff Colvin, deeply-held beliefs and assumptions concerning innate talent, genius and excellence are confronted with a large body of scientific research of the last 30 years. As a result, an overwhelming amount of insights have been discovered about talent and genius, and while the findings don’t construe the attainment of excellence as a simple matter, it has conclusively dispelled the notion of divine bestowment, genetic inheritance and vitriolic “you either have it or you don’t” attitudes. Essentially observing that every great performer that ever lived started from nearly nothing and have had to sweat and bleed, often under the careful eye of an accomplished and well-trained teacher, for thousands of hours before they reached a level of excellence. Take Mozart for instance who is considered by many to be the definition of a child prodigy and born master. His father Leopold Mozart was himself a famous composer who had developed an authoritative approach on violin instruction that remained influential for decades. He was also a domineering father who dedicated himself to teaching little Mozart music from the ripe age of three.

Research has consistently found that great performers across many fields ranging from business, science, art, and music, have all “spent many years in intensive preparation before making any kind of creative breakthrough.” Research at Carnegie Mellon University identified more than 500 notable musical compositions and discovered that only 3 of those 500 works were produced in less then 10 years of rigorous practice, and those were produced after 8 and 9 years of practice. A similar study of 131 famous painters found a preparation period of 6 years required before creating anything that the outside world noticed, this includes Pablo Picasso. As the author Geoff Colvin states, “If talent means that success is easy or rapid, as most people seem to believe, then something is obviously wrong with a talent-based explanation of high achievement.”

However, simply practicing or carrying out an act over an over again does not result in improvement, much less excellence, this would mean that every artist would eventually reach the brilliance of Pablo Picasso after x thousands of hours of practice, which is obviously not true, much like driving a car every day doesn’t make us brilliant Nascar drivers. Colvin differentiates general practice as mere repetition and deliberate practice as intensive training aimed at “continually perceiving more, knowing more, and remembering more” about a specific field. The learning curve of the first approach plateaus after a certain threshold of competency is reached and thereafter stabilizes within the comfort zone while the latter remains permanently in the area between the comfort zone and the perplexing zone (which is where things are far too complicated for it to be of any practical use at the current stage of development).

The book, Talent is Overrated, uses well-established models of deliberate practice that have been developed in fields in which practice is critically important. These are all easily transferrable to almost any endeavor and the book does list some use cases and examples outside of the traditional applications.

  • The Music Model is based on performance in which you gather relevant references of excellence to compare with and then work your way towards that ultimate goal.
  • The Chess Model is based on studying a particular problem, developing a solution, and then comparing that decision with the decision taken by a master of the craft.
  • The Sports Model is based on conditioning highly specific areas that are fundamental to the field, simulating volatile real-world situations, and then receiving constructive feedback.

Great performers also develop a vast and resourceful mental model covering the entire spectrum of their field to a point where they are as fluent in their field as they are in their own native language. Many observers of this in action attribute the skill to an almost super-human intelligence and memory, but research has shown that outside of their field, these great performers have average intelligences and memory. Much like a limited english speaker would be envious at how fast and easy I can put together sophisticated sentences in english, but this is not attributable to any superhuman powers of intelligence or memory that I possess, but rather a learned fluency. Similarly, most of us would have no trouble visualizing the letters of an  advanced english word such as “ambidextrous” but we are amazed with a chess player who can visualize multiple moves in advance.

However fluency should not be confused with rote memorization as any student who has taken a foreign language course and is confronted with holding an involved conversation with a native speaker can attest. True fluency means being able to use “multiplicative models in which the values of some factors alter the importance of others” such as the grammar, syntax and punctuation (as well as gender and tenses) of a language to the extent that it is intuitively felt. Michel De Certeau takes this a step further in his book, The Practice of Everyday Life, by describing “everyday creativity” as the difference between knowing a language (competency) and being able to use it expressively (performance).

Design Principles Mind Map

This is a mind map on the basic principles of design that I'm currently developing

Creativity and Mind Maps

The human brain is made up of more than one million, million brain cells. A single brain cell can receive incoming pulses from hundreds of thousands of connecting points every second. After a given message or thought is passed between brain cells a certain number of times a neuronal path is slowly formed, resulting in the cells branches reaching out towards the connection and allowing the thought process to occur faster and with less effort. The book, The Mind Map Book, by Tony Buzan describes how the human brain essentially establishes what it learns by remembering:

  • Items from the beginning of the learning period
  • Items from the end of the learning period
  • Items associated with things already stored
  • Items that are emphasized as being significant
  • Items that are particularly appealing to any of the 5 senses
  • Items that are of particular interest to the learner

Each bit of information entering your brain and whenever you taste a fruit, smell a rose, listen to music, watch a stream or touch a loved one is represented in the brain by a central sphere from which radiates millions of hooks. These hooks are nothing more than associations with an infinite array of their own links and connections. A mind map is an external representation of the brains natural architecture and can be applied to any area where improved recall, creative brainstorming, and systems-level thinking would be helpful. An effective mind map will contain:

  • A central image
  • Main themes of the subject extending from the central image as branches
  • Branches containing key words and images that are associated with the higher level branches.
  • The full range of cortical triggers: word, image, number, logic, rhythm, color, and spatial awareness.

In my opinion mind-mapping should be taught in design school, at least as part of a larger course dedicated to creative thinking because the mind map utilizes and systematizes all of the skills commonly associated with creativity, imagination, and association/creation of ideas. However, mind maps and creative thinking is rarely, if ever, discussed in depth and then only as a passing wave of the hand. More often students go through 4 years of university education with teachers that simply continuously pressure students by demanding that they “wow them” and “be creative” while offering, at best, a passing mention of elementary brainstorming techniques.

In an ideal learning environment where creativity is central to the activity students should be taught advanced brainstorming techniques and than be required to present their brainstorming work at an early stage of each projects development for review. This is for the same exact reasons math teachers insist that students show their work for full credit: because they want them to demonstrate the logic that they used to reach their solution, allowing the teacher to ensure that their students’ logic is correct (or reasonable), effective, efficient, and thorough.

Schools that don’t teach or evaluate brainstorming work in their creative programs may be inadvertently basing their instruction on the concept of the ever-elusive bolt of lightning from the heavens that strikes unannounced to produce that unpremeditated eureka(!) moment. Students who are taught using this approach are not learning, they are coping, and while I give students who survive under these circumstances my congratulations, I do not envy them. By logical extension schools that base their teachings on this notion of divine inspiration, whether its deliberately or not, should be obligated to offer courses on how to burn incense for the muses, make offerings to zeus, and howl at the moon as part of their comprehensive standard course of instruction.

Can Design Schools Create Brilliant Designers?

Schools don’t have any control over how much time entering students have spent practicing deliberately, but they can operate under the principles of deliberate practice and make a point to produce students that know how to continue developing their craft following the principles of deliberate practice and who have also fully developed a well-informed personal process for creative thinking.

Gunnar Swansons’ point would have been much better served by using foreign language teachers in his analogy, as they are forced to live with the fact that most of their students won’t become truly fluent in the language that they teach. But this is not because foreign language can’t be taught in a class or that students can’t learn to be fluent in a second language if they lack “the natural talent” for it, but because many schools don’t require the kind of rigorous study that is required to become fluent in a foreign language for most of their students.

However this should not be the case for students that are majoring in a foreign language. Within this context the most irresponsible resignation of a schools’ objectives would be to simply relegate the core curriculum to another liberal arts credit under the lackluster pretense of “fairness and survival.” What is graphic design but the expressive use of a visual language with its own grammar, punctuation and syntax?

Apart from the principles of deliberate practice and creative thinking, design schools should also adhere to, and continue to actively develop, the highest forms of design education philosophies and methodologies. Prospective students should also be wary of the proliferation and pitfalls of graphic design taught as a mere vocational skill. Just as teaching students microsoft word won’t produce great novelists, simply teaching students how to use photoshop won’t produce the next generation of design talent either. After reading the collection of essays in, The Education of a Graphic Designer I have discovered that many of the leading designers, design educators, and design philosophers have spent much of their time describing what I call the 4 C’s of a quality design education: Concept, Context, Craft, and Complexity, which I will cover in another post.

Drupal 7 Custom Theming Strategies in Context

Let me start by stating that I came into drupal thinking template overrides and adding/removing divs, classes and regions within the template files was the most important thing to know in order to theme in drupal. I have since learned that most of the work can be done through configuring within the administrative interface as well as by utilizing the default div’s and classes in your CSS.

Overriding a template should only be done when you need major, site-wide structural changes to a page’s, node’s, or block’s template file such as adding or removing regions because the changes will apply to ALL use-cases of those files. Smaller, less structural – but still site wide – changes can be applied through theme functions and lastly, fine-tuned and case specific changes can be applied through theme hook suggestions. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg for all the theming strategies available to you.

These kinds of distinctions are exactly what I am trying to clarify in this overview comparing the many, many different theming strategies used by Drupal Themers and discussed in the books “The Definitive Guide to Drupal 7,” by Melancon et al (which the page #’s reference) and I must also mention, “Beginning Drupal 7″ by Todd Tomlinson although to a much lesser extent.

I am told that as an open source system, there are no hard and fast rules for using one technique over another in any given circumstance so my goal is to organize everything as best as possible into an easy to understand context in order to compare and develop well-informed personal preferences and strategies. That is, I am more interested in the when and why rather than the how.

I’m still learning Drupal and began compiling this information as a study guide rather than as a knowledgeable expert in the field, so if anyone out there can offer any suggestions or elaborate on the information here, particularly in the list of most common/practical examples offered for each technique, feel free to comment below or go to my new drupal group Students of Drupal to improve the wiki (and become a member!).

Modifying Contents, Structure, and Placement of Elements

  • The Basic page content type provides you with a text field for entering the title of the content item, and a body text area. The body field is flexible and can contain whatever the author feels like writing about.
    • Write an entire book in the body field, including HTML markup (headings, tables, CSS, and so on).
    • Insert pictures.
    • Write a single sentence.
  • An article is identical to a basic page with the single exception that an article has an image upload feature and an additional field where the author can enter what are called tags. Tags are simply words that help classify, organize, and search for related content on your site.
  • Custom Content Types and Fields are good when you want to:
    • Require that certain information is entered before the author submits the content item for publishing; for example the start date and time for an event, the address of the venue where the event is being held, and a link to the event on a Google map.
    • Have the ability to perform calculations based on the information that is captured in a content item.
    • Have the ability to sort content items by specific “fields.”
    • Have the ability to “filter” or restrict which content items are displayed on a page based on a value in a field.
    • Enforce the structure of how a piece of content is rendered on a page; for example, you may want to display information about a book and want the title to be followed by the author, followed by the ISBN, followed by the price, followed by the description of the book.
  • A block is a generic term that is applied to any self-contained piece of content, menu, or code and which are assigned to a region in structure > blocks. Standard blocks that come with Drupal include the login block, the search block, the “who’s online” block, the “who’s new” block, the latest blog postings block, and more. There are also blocks that come with contributed modules, such as blocks that share the latest weather report, your recent Twitter posts, or your current Facebook status. As a site administrator, you can construct your own custom blocks
  • Views provides an easy-to-use tool for selecting and displaying lists of content on your website. It is essentially a smart query builder that can build the proper query, execute it, and display the results. Examples of how you might use Views include:
    • Displaying the most recent news articles posted to your website, sorted in descending order by the date of posting.
    • Displaying a list of company locations as a table that is sortable by clicking on the titles for the location name, city, state, and country.
    • Displaying a list of blog postings that is filterable by subject.
    • Creating an RSS feed that lists the most recent content posted on your website.
    • Displaying just about any kind of list that you can think of, created from the content that is stored on your website, as a list, table, or RSS feed.
  • Panels are useful when you want to divide a region into multiple “mini-regions” called panel panes. *
  • Alter Hooks (p 323), ex: dynamically add HTML for new small bit of content into a region, moving content from one region to another based on certain circumstances, and changing the contents of tabs based on certain circumstances. **
  • render(), hide(), and show() (p 327), selectively renders bits of content, such as fields, inside theme functions, templates and pre/process functions. Ex: render() is essentially an implementation of a render array **, hiding part or all of a render element to allow them to be placed outside of a div, hiding content based on certain circumstances, show() reverts a previously applied hide(), render() can be used multiple times. ***

* Views can be used with panel panes to define what content should be rendered, how many items should be included in the list, and how those items should be rendered. Using Taxonomy, content authors select the appropriate taxonomy term that is associated with each panel pane, and the content automatically appears in the right spot on the right page.

** Render Arrays are structered arrays that contain nested data and other information that drupal uses to render HTML (p 321) they are similar to theme hooks in that they use template and theme functions but they are modified using alter hooks (323).

***It’s best to do these operations in preprocess or process functions in order to keep your templates clean and more manageable (329).


  • Define Stylesheets via the .info file (p 343), to be loaded for all pages
  • drupal_add_css() to conditionally load stylesheets (p 344), ex: to dynamically print as an “inline” block of css code within the <head> tag, stylesheets for single pages, specifying the weight of a file to control the order that it loads, conditional stylesheets that target specific browsers, loading external stylesheets, excluding a CSS file from the aggregation and compression process. *
  • hook_css_alter() to remove or override CSS files provided by modules and core (p 345).

*Enabling aggregation and compression for CSS files (admin/config/development/performance) on all live sites is highly recommended, as it will speed up page loads quite a bit (341).

Adding, Removing and Modifying Variables

  • Preprocess Functions (p 314) are normally used to add or tweak variables* available inside template files, for example to provide the $subject variable in block.tpl.php. Ex: dynamically adding CSS classes to variables (such as regions) as opposed to overriding a template, hiding links in certain situations, modifying the portion of content that is to be viewed in certain situations, and to create a custom variable to input a link for a type of user (318). **
  • Process Functions (p 314) ex: adding, removing, hiding, and modifying variables in certain circumstances “later in the processing cycle.” **

*use devel module’s dpm() function to determine all the available variables to work within each theme hook p.311

** These functions are run prior to the template being displayed, thereby allowing you to manipulate the variables for use in the templates themselves.

Modifying HTML Markup

  • Theme Hook Suggestions p.305 – progressively traverse drupal’s template/theme function/block specificity to target a specific template/theme function/block for one-off specific changes.
  • Template** Overrides p.293 – major site-wide changes to structure of a page, nodes, blocks, or to add/remove regions*** (291)

*These are theme specific, meaning if the site employs more than one theme it will not apply.
** The block.tpl.php file, for example, is used when a block is being rendered. Template files can be overridden by copying them into your own theme. It is also possible to make specific overrides with naming conventions, such as block–user.tpl.php.

*** Regions play a large part in defining the high-level structure of HTML markup. Typical regions include the header, footer, sidebars, and content, most of a site’s content is output inside these regions.

Rocksmith Basic Guitar Chords Charts

O.k, I got Rocksmith for Christmas and since I always wanted to learn to play guitar I’ve been hooked the past couple of days. Although, as a result, my fingers are raw and I couldn’t really play today, so instead I created some Rocksmith themed guitar chord charts. As I progress or if I get requests, I’ll create more charts.

Note: All finger positions begin on the 1st fret unless otherwise noted.

Adset for Themis Media’s Escapist Store

This is a new 10 piece adset promoting Escapist Magazines imp hoodie, which is an online gaming magazine and community that I intern for. When I was assigned this project I went to the product page on their website and noticed right away that the model images would fit perfectly in a crest. I then formed a rough sketch of the crest composition and worked out a list of elements to include that were relevant to the escapist brand. Lastly, I browsed kuler.adobe.com and used illustrator’s edit colors window to experiment with color schemes. I’m told this was the most successful merch ad in daily click-throughs, including 3rd party retailers, that they’ve ever launched.

2012 College of Design Essay

What is your personal definition of art and your personal definition of design? How do your definitions relate to your portfolio work? Why should design exist at all?

Art aims to stimulate a viewer on an emotional level and to inspire deep thought and contemplation of the artists’ personal point of view and interpretation of the subject matter. Design, however, is distinct from other artistic endeavors because of its aim to clearly articulate a message. While good design can also be seen as good art, and in that sense can trigger the emotions, good design is uniquely defined as having the intended effect in the attitude and behavior of its target audience. Therefore, designers are trained to conceptualize and organize effective visual interpretations of very specific messages.

The similarities and differences between art and design can also be observed in the creative process as well. Art is born from the imagination and guided by intuition with any intended or unintended messages sometimes not being discovered until the later stages of the creative process. In design, this process is literally reversed with the development of a well-defined message as the starting point of the creative process, which firstly seeks to define the possibilities and limitations of a visual interpretation in order to effectively convey the message. Through this process of discovery, intuition and imagination are activated by the interplay of all the carefully chosen elements within the composition, as well as the style and theme, of a design. My portfolio contains a combination of pieces that started with a well-defined message, pieces that came from moments of inspiration, and pieces that were originally inspired by a specific message and were still worthy of development but weren’t considered the best solution for the particular message.

Understanding the culture of the audience is fundamental to effective communication and the field of design harnesses well-established cultural codes, values, symbolism and narrative strategies in order to develop and utilize a visual vocabulary that can be perceived as an intuitive extension of the cultural consciousness. These observations and insights offer a unique vantage point to social and cultural paradigms and have larger sociological and anthropological implications. Therefore, design plays a role as a mantle and signifier of each societies worldview, validating itself as a valuable and significant discipline.

Design doesn’t merely serve to reflect society back to itself however, but through the creative spirit for which it rests, it helps to shape and define its culture by drawing on memory, creativity, and imagination to expand the realities and uncover new possibilities. Design also preserves the integrity of a culture by crafting a focused narrative out of the incessant cacophony of a cluttered world that is all too often oriented towards instant gratification and primitive motivations. As with traditional art, music, and literature, design makes an impact through its creative interpretation of culture and plays an ever-larger role in our consumer society as a force that excites, inspires, and informs each member of the culture to take part in their communities and to endeavor to pursue positive futures for their society.