Concept Illustrations


Most projects I work on have piles and piles of unused work that don’t make it past the concept phase. This gets archived and usually never looked at again, unless I have a future project where I can use it as reference. Some of this backlog of work reminds me of all the times I tried something new or different, only to have the client choose a style that was safe or most matched my portfolio. Sometimes I’ll take rejects and rework them for my own personal edification. Mostly they languish…unless I post them on my blog!

Here are two images created for a campaign targeting both parents and teens on the same subject matter, with the headline “You got this”. This direction didn’t make the cut during an A/B social media test, in which some of the feedback was so cutting you’d wonder if people would say this to you in person. Some of the best outtakes went something like this “I hate this so much I want to look away”, “This is ugly. It looks like a child made it”, and “Pointless. Stupid”. The chosen direction (not shown) had similarly scathing comments (of course in conjunction with perfectly neutral and positive comments). Can’t please everybody!

Illustration of a teenage girl tossing a basketball into a hoop. // Illustration of a mom tossing clothes into a laundry basket

F/Yeah/That


A few years ago I made a short series of lettering pieces called Typographic Terrains, which I enjoyed drawing greatly. They were time consuming to make, though, so I stopped after a small collection had been made. Recently I was looking through some sketches from a Letter PDX event where the prompt was “blackletter”. One F caught my eye, and became something bigger than originally intended. This one was created on my iPad Pro in Adobe Sketch, so it has a slightly different/rougher quality.

patterned lettering F-yeah / F-that combo

I Think I Need A New Heart


Magnetic Fields "I think I need a new heart" new heart package

A year ago I participated in an art show at Land Gallery in Portland, Oregon organized by two design friends, Cielle & Michelle. The show was a tribute to the band The Magnetic Fields’ album 69 Love Songs, which has precisely that number of songs in varying genres. Cielle and Michelle rallied 69 designers and artists to each choose a song and make a piece of art about it. My song to interpret was “I Think I Need a New Heart”.

After signing up to participate, I immediately formed a task force within my shared studio space to work on the project in a more collaborative way. Two of my studio mates joined the show (hi Jen & Drew), and we spent many afternoons brainstorming and working on our projects. My initial idea of illustrating a new heart morphed into a packaging project (my favorite kind of project) that would feature not just one package, but SIXTY-NINE packages of new hearts. In 3D. Because you don’t buy just one raisin, you buy a whole lot of them. Historically I have a tendency to go all in, whether it’s outfits, rabbits, feathers, pianos or books, books, books, and this was no different.

Magnetic Fields "I think I need a new heart" new heart packages - fronts, batch 1

The first major decision was what format the package would take. Paper seemed too flimsy – I wanted people to be able to pick it up with confidence, set it on their windowsill and not have it tip over at the slightest breeze. Something that could fit in your hand and had a good heft to it. A few years earlier I had painted a piano, and the idea of painting little wooden boxes seemed attainable* and would give the right feel to the packages – real but not too overbearing.

*Hahahaha you silly fool.

Magnetic Fields "I think I need a new heart" new heart packages - fronts, batch 2

Lacking a skill saw of my own, I scoured Etsy for a resource to make me a lot of tiny wooden boxes. I found several people who made giant Jenga sets, which were kind of like the boxes I wanted. After several estimates and questions about wood paint later, Anthony Mirra made me a custom set of blocks to the size of 3x2x1 inches and painted them blank white.

Magnetic Fields "I think I need a new heart" new heart packages - fronts, batch 3

From my piano project I had a bunch of extra markers I hadn’t used that were industrial strength construction markers by Markal. They are thick, require lots of shaking before each use, and are made for withstanding outdoor construction site environments. EXACTLY the marker strength needed for making new heart packages. Luckily I had ordered a batch of blue and red markers which fit this project well in being limited in palette and representing the colors of blood both seen and unseen. In retrospect, I wished I had skinnier markers as the fat markers were hard to work with and limited the amount of text I could fit on a 3×2″ box.

Magnetic Fields "I think I need a new heart" new heart packages - fronts, batch 4

Materials in order, it was now time to start drawing so I whipped out 12 boxes and thought….boy that took longer than I expected. And those markers take a lot of shaking to get the ink to flow just right. In fact, their industrial smell is making me feel a bit light headed. Right around this point in the project I reached the DESPAIR & DOUBT phase that is a part of many creative projects. Will I be able to finish it? What have I DONE??? This was a terrible idea! How was I going to think of phrases for 69 box fronts, 69 box backs, and 138 box sides?!?!? The main reason for PANIC was that time was running short, and I had 57 more wooden boxes to paint in addition to a full client work-load.

Magnetic Fields "I think I need a new heart" new heart packages - fronts, batch 5

So I did what usually works well when I’m stressed out – applied my efficiency factor to the project. The initial set of 12 boxes had enough elements that I could apply them to batches of blocks at a time: 12 boxes of “triple stripes”, 12 boxes of “over the top ribbons”, 12 boxes of “top & bottom borders”. Combining that system with varying phrases in different lettering styles gave me 69 boxes at a much faster clip than the original 12. It also allowed the basic box elements to dry while I lettered other boxes, so I didn’t have to be quite so careful when holding the box and drawing on it (FYI drawing on a small angled 3D box with a fat liquid paint marker is harder than drawing on flat paper).

Sprinkled in between the New Hearts and Love Units are boxes with lyrics that reference other songs on the 69 Love Songs album such as “Yeah oh yeah”, “I don’t want to get over you” and “Crazy for you (but not that crazy)”. Each and every new heart is a one-off, numbered from 1-69, with almost the same amount of red hearts as blue hearts. Here are a few of my favorites…

Magnetic Fields "I think I need a new heart" new heart packages - favorites: oh, oh, oh / new, new new / oh sweet fool

For anyone who has experienced heartbreak (once, twice, a thousand times?), you know it comes in all forms. Accordingly, each new heart was made to fix, make light of, or prevent the endless variations of heartbreak. One of my favorite side effects of the project is how groupings of the boxes read in a lyrically repetitive way that seem to have a life of their own – Sweet young fool heart! Oh new lucky love! New true love unit!

Magnetic Fields "I think I need a new heart" new heart packages - favorites:  new, love, heart / punk, new, love machine / oh, sweet, love / new heart, new heart, new heart

Shout outs for this projects go to many – Michelle & Cielle for having a fun idea for a show and making it happen – my studio mates for giving feedback and enduring endless hours of marker-shaking sounds – and all the influences in my life that have somehow instilled in me the desire and ability to follow through on projects that bring me satisfaction – go big or go home, right?

Magnetic Fields "I think I need a new heart" new heart packages - side view

Magnetic Fields "I think I need a new heart" new heart packages - wandering hearts

Looking back, I’m glad I went the extra 68 miles because I think the project benefits from the scale in quantity. The box-by-box execution is sub-par but I love the idea that heartbreak/new love/fresh starts/first loves/last loves/ is both so prevalent that we definitely need a stockpile of New Hearts, but in each single instance it is small and mundane – ubiquitous yet excruciatingly personal at the same time. Good luck to us all.

Magnetic Fields "I think I need a new heart" new heart packages - pyramid

Thanks to Ian Whitmore for photographing the new heart packages and suggesting that we make a giant stack of them. Because if there is anything more precarious than Oh New Lucky Love then it’s a whole stack of it.

Magnetic Fields "I think I need a new heart" new heart packages - all 69 fronts and backs, and the title block

Mouse Eating Peanuts and Other Drawing Practice


Last year I bought an iPad and decided I should try to utilize it in my work to (hopefully) save time and try something new. Old dog, new tricks. So far it has been equal parts frustrating, fun, and frustrating. Yes, frustrating is two of those parts – one for the technology part and the other for having to retrain yourself how to draw when you’ve been used to a Micron pen and Office Depot laser paper for the last 7 years.

So far it has been most useful for creating the sketch phase of work in a fidelity that is higher than sketching on paper, but I haven’t been able to transfer any tasks I do 1-to-1 yet. Here are some of my more successful practice drawings, including a blue mouse in pink pants popping unshelled peanuts.

free typography, love juice cup, looking for love glasses, micron pen sketch

Strangely, the VERY FIRST thing I drew on the iPad was my Micron pen. The spatter brush is very addicting so I hope for a resurgence in 80s graffiti style so I can use it in excess. Also, whatever party this mouse is headed to, I want an invite. Look how confident he is in his high rise pants and low rise belt combination. This is a mouse with panache!

a blue mouse in pink pants carrying some cheese and eating peanuts

In summation: magic oh yeah, oh yeah, YEAH YEAH, feeeeeelings. I feel the beginnings of a catchy millennial pop song coming on…now only if my iPad could teach me how to play the guitar, I’ll be set!

hand lettering and illustrated typography: magic, OH yeah, 80s graffiti YEAH YEAH, and feeeeeeeeelings

Triple Threat


image of three women - triple threat - carrying a stack of books, a briefcase, and a young baby - march march marching

File this one under “procrastiworking” on a Friday afternoon. I have a lot of sketches in this realm, loosely grouped under the idea of a love economy, inspired by #thefutureisfemale and #metoo, Time’s person of the year, and the general movement of strong, able, contributing women coming together for good. While I don’t always feel strong, able or like a contributor, knowing there is steam behind an idea sure helps in not feeling alone and wanting to rise to the challenge. This little ditty was small so it got stuck on a stamp. More to come…what do you think?

Bonne Maman Advent Calendar Packaging


Front of box for the Bonne Maman advent calendar features a wreath of mini-jars of preserves  with the classic red and white checkered lid, one being plucked for enjoyment.

As a part-time Dane, I love a good advent calendar as part of my Christmas celebrations (read how Danes do xmas here). So when I got the opportunity to design and illustrate the annual advent of mini-preserves and jellies for Bonne Maman, I signed up faster than a sweet tooth gets a cavity. After a brainstorming round with several ideas presented, the concept of a wreath shape of 24 tiny Bonne Maman jars fit the bill by communicating “advent calendar” and being a simple holiday visual that was good for both distance viewing and close-up inspection.

Inside of box for Bonne Maman advent calendar with custom illustration and french-inspired hand lettered numerals, full of holiday cheer - sprigs of holly, bursts and sweet treats.

This project was fun for a few reasons, only of them being drawing teeny tiny jam jars (actually preserves, but I like the sound of jam better). The project was contracted through R/West, a Portland-founded ad agency whose creative director happened to give me my first real design job. Back in the mid-2000’s I worked with Elizabeth Morrow McKenzie when she ran her own studio, and she gave me my first introduction to packaging, hand crafted lettering and so many other firsts that are invaluable when getting started in your career (and especially important if you didn’t go to art or design school like myself).

Back of box packaging for the Bonne Maman advent calendar shows all 24 mini jars of jellies, spreads and honey.

The project was a quicky, the kind of “blink twice and it’s over” gig. But when all is said and done time always flies for me when I’m lettering Frenchy numerals or drawing muffins. Built primarily for sale in Costco, the box opens up to reveal the 24 doors that house miniature jars for each day leading up to Christmas. The box is wrapped in a sleeve that is more minimal than the inner packaging and contains all the fine print and nutritional information. Presented in stacks of large cardboard trays, the primary visuals needed to be Christmasy from a distance.

The Bonne Maman advent calendar is so festive you want to put it on your mantle!

I was going to put a bunch of FOR SALE links so everyone could buy this for their mom/cousin/sister/co-worker but the advent calendar was so popular it SOLD OUT. Sorry, nothing available at Amazon, Costco, World Market…anywhere. Instead, here are a few extra illustration excerpts from the project…and yes, I did hand-letter every single label individually in tiny Bonne Maman script.

Hand lettered french-inspired numbers and numerals with holiday and Christmas flair.

A very Cinderella inspired stack of french preserves from Bonne Maman.

Illustrations of tiny Bonne Maman preserve jars and sweet treats they can be use for.

Client: Bonne Maman
Agency: R/West
Creative Director: Elizabeth Morrow McKenzie
Brand Manager: Annatova Goodman
Designer & Illustrator: Mette Hornung Rankin/Bureau of Betterment
Designer: Anna Naef