One type of personal side-project I really enjoy working on are series. They are meditative, and you only have to start with an idea to get going. The complexity and depth of the series can be decided over time, and hopefully as the subject gets revisited it comes into focus.
A new series I’ve started is called (as of now) “A Very Brainy Alphabet”. It combines the usual visual suspects of a children’s alphabet series with brainy words that twist it a bit. The first word ready for you to take home and have a discussion with the kiddos about is…cloning.
I can already tell this series will be a challenge, striking the right balance between an interesting brainy word that can also be interpreted without being too dry or literal. Stay tuned to see how it goes!
As a break from all the vikings and Danish flags in recent posts, here is some native art from my birth state, Oregon. This WPA-era carving is on the main door to Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood. The entire Timberline building is a work of craftsmanship – I’ve only ever carved a very blocky gnome figure, so hats off to the artist(s) who carved this.
Celebrating Christmas in Denmark is a very specific and special experience. Growing up in small-town Madras, Oregon with a Danish mother afforded a chance to experience a kind of Christmas celebration bubble. While at school the preparations were All American, at home they were focused on the motherland. Making paper crafts, lighting candles on the tree, and eating the Danish holiday foods were all very different from what everybody else in town did. My sister and I happily lived in a cocoon of Nordic tradition that we shared with just each other, until I decided to move to Denmark.
Residing in Demmark for Christmas this year, I understand how my mother was able to hold so steadfastly to her traditions through all the years – they were ingrained in her as if it was a part of her DNA. Experiencing all of these traditions as part of a group instead of just within my childhood family of four caused me to recognize the patterns and cultural norms which resulted in creating the above set of 24 icons that symbolize what almost every Dane recognizes as Christmas. In fact, the entire month of December is practically a collective countdown of the 24 days of Christmas.
That Danish Christmas DNA my mother imported to Oregon has roots in a proud and nationalistic country. Denmark is a small, homogenous land that has only recently been subjected to cultural diversification through immigration. The holiday traditions belong to the people of Denmark almost as if they were a small tribe, insulated from dilution and variation in a way that is very secure and nearly ritualistic. In the USA Christmas is big, but there is always an awareness that many people don’t celebrate it or do it “another way”. In Denmark, there is no “other way” – it’s the Daneway or the highway.
For example, I once asked a Dane if we could use a different varietal of jam to serve with æbleskiver (pancake balls). Hey, who cares if it’s blackberry or raspberry or strawberry jam? DANES DO. The facial response I received told me I was pretty much off my rocker for suggesting this, and I was told “Well, theoretically you could use any jam…”. Jam theory, let’s discuss. Another time I ate risengrød (rice porridge) on a plate instead of a bowl to which a Dane passing through the kitchen exclaimed “My! I’ve never seen THAT done before!”. How I rock the boat in this little country of entrenched in quaint and sometimes baffling rules.
These are minor examples, but not recounted to overshadow the fact that such deep traditions bind a people together in a special way. Below are some of the things that are the glue of the Danish Christmas experience…
Key code to the twenty-four icons of Danish Christmas
You got it, a Christmas tree – decorated with Danish flags and live burning candles.
A large candle with 24 numerals on it, meant to burn down a little bit each day in December leading up to the 24th, when all Danes celebrate Christmas Eve.
Beer you drink around Christmas. Put the word “Christmas” (jul) in front of it, and anything goes in December.
Denmark is about the same latitude as Anchorage, Alaska – so the days are dark and sometimes filled with snow.
6. klokker der kimer
Churches abound in Denmark, so the chiming of bell towers is prevalent across the land.
7. flettede hjerter
Braided paper heart baskets that can be hung on the tree and filled with treats (esp. #24 pebernødder).
On Christmas Eve, the songbook comes forth as the entire family dances around the tree and sings songs before opening presents. Sometimes, a conga line is even formed through the entire house to sing “Nu er det Jul igen” (“Now it’s Christmas again”), after which participants collapse in a heap of exertion and bellies full of duck or pork roast.
Christmas gnomes that, as opposed to US elves that help Santa, instead run around the entire holiday making mischief (an example that one Danish Christmas song documents is “peeing in the piano”).
Kids who live in snowy areas somehow know how to build these suckers, no directions required.
Even though most Danes pay tax to the state church (which is Lutheran), Christmas might be the only time they ever attend.
A brutally competitive dice game where players steal each other’s gifts.
Small pancake-like balls formed in a special pan, served with marmalade and powdered sugar. Not just any marmalade, the RIGHT KIND. Which as far as I can deduce is raspberry.
A complicated paper craft involving weaving 4 strips of paper into a 3D star.
Find them in churches, in snowy fields of play, or in heaven.
Replicate as follows: get together with friends, make a warm drink, light some candles and have a good time.
Danes are an amorous bunch from time to time – mistletoe combined with a julefrokost* (Christmas lunch) and schnapps (#21) is a dangerous combination.
Town squares are often filled with ice for skating.
As with any Danish time of celebration, use of flags is omnipresent and overwhelming.
A rice porridge served with butter, cinnamon and sugar – often left in the attic to appease the mischievous nisser (#9).
Highly alcoholic and served at all Danish julefrokost* (Christmas lunch).
Take an orange or mandarin, stick some cloves in it, and hang it up with a red ribbon for an aromatic decoration.
The Sundays before Christmas are celebrated by burning candles, and lots of hygge (#16).
Delightful tiny cookies with a distinctive cardamom and pepper flavor, often sold in triangular bags called ‘kræmmerhuse’.
I hope you can enjoy your own slice of Danish Christmas, wherever you are in the world. Glædelig Jul!
*A Julefrokost is a traditional lunch that would require its own set of 24 icons. It involves about 6+ hours of eating, all supervised by a strict set of culinary rules that DO NOT involve putting herring and cheese together in any manner.
Try making a braided heart, cut out a few kravlenisser (clambering gnomes) and display them on a bookshelf by bending back the grey tab and putting under books, or attempt weaving a 3D star ornament based on this tutorial or color coded directions. Or, if you’re downright insane, try this.
Although I love designing and illustrating, sometimes it’s fun to take time off from the computer in my creative endeavors. This has resulted in many fun things, including concocting lemonade, painting a chinese waving cat, making the one and only Fullitzer Prize, whittling a derby car, crafting seven giant paper raindrops from the Yellow Pages, and creating furry monster portraits of my friends. Nothing and nobody are safe!
So at a recent Creative Night (an evening event where I invite people over to make things), I sewed three sunny side up egg coasters. Any surface they’re placed on automatically becomes an impromptu and unlikely frying pan. I have yet to test them on guests to see who opts for banging their hot cups down with a SPLAT and who chooses to gingerly place their beverages on the delicate yolks with care.
All you need are two layers of white felt cut in various shapes, a yellow or orange circle for the yolk, and some thread (white). First, sew the yolk onto the top white layer, then sew the two white layers together. Ta da!
This phrase popped into my head immediately upon receiving a free slip of paper from a lady on the street proclaiming that there was still a chance for my salvation, if only…
The wagging finger of of judgement turned me off, I thanked her politely, and went on my way. What did I want instead? Perhaps change agents for the lord should be giving out “one free epiphany” slips. Until that starts happening, I made one for you…
Actual results may vary…
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One of the more unique projects I’ve worked on recently is designing a Visa card for Umpqua Private Bank’s customers. These people have serious money and need a card to go along with it. Ka-ching^10! The Visa card was created in conjunction with launching a new site for Umpqua Private Bank in 2012.
After working on various nature-based and Pendeleton-themed designs under the art direction of Kate Zimmerman and Mark Jacobs at Umpqua, we chose a final design that combined a geometric sunrise in the UPB color palette with a wood pattern background that mirrored the website background. The silver parallelograms received a special foil treatment for that extra bling.
I’ve never really understood the gender symbols. As a kid, they were so far from being representative, I always wondered how people knew which was which. If they had been used to label restrooms, I probably would have chosen the wrong door half the time in confusion due to the arbitrary placement of a circle and some lines.
As an adult, my sarcastic interpretation might be that obviously the ladies had very large brains and the gents had very small…anyways, perhaps subconsciously I felt that there was a need for improvement in this graphic system, because I have now redesigned the gender icons. Without even really meaning to, here is how it happened…
While doodling during a phone conversation one day, some scribbles appeared that I liked. Often I will fill an entire sheet of paper with the same shape or squiggle as I talk on the phone or listen to muzak while on hold with the various Danish Governmental Offices that have very specific opening hours and very long telephone waits. Most of the time, the doodles are just time fillers – but these popped out as prettier than usual and I immediately wanted to use them for THIS SPECIFIC PURPOSE. Muzak = instant faux miniature branding projects? The creative process can, indeed, be confounding.