Thursday, July 28, 2011

Best logo ever, secondary education division

"Yes, our spirit will conquer all …"
My pick is my alma mater, Cabrillo High School, Lompoc, Calif.

Yeah, I'm biased. Also — one wouldn't break a sweat arguing — lazy. But I'd wager a lot of hard searching would transpire before one found a better high school logo.

To start, it's unusual. Of all the violent, oppressive mascots one could conjure to represent secondary education, few could measure up to Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo and the conquistadores. Only one other California high school, in Long Beach, calls itself Cabrillo High. Though named after the same guy, the Long Beach school chooses as its mascot the jaguar. Huh? Cabrillo College in Aptos, Santa Cruz County, is home of the Seahawks. (Strange typeface, too.)


Of course, Cabrillo High in Lompoc has eviscerated, stuffed and prettified the conquistador for safe student use, so that he's no more a threat than a cuddly Disney™®© pirate. But I feel sorry for the students of so many other high schools and colleges, with their cookie-cutter mascots. Lions and Tigers and Bears. Oh, boring. I attended Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, a university world renowned for many majors (none of which I studied); its mascot is the Mustangs. Boring and bland.

Secondly, the Conquistadores mark has gone remarkably unchanged and untrammeled since 1965, when the Lompoc school began, named for the Spanish explorer and destroyer of worlds who sailed the coast nearby.

(I guess that's why the high school is so named. My junior high's mascot is the Minuteman, and since it's the school serving an Air Force missile base, I'm guessing it refers to the nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile, though the figure is a revolutionary war hero. The missile would have been funnier and more fitting.)

As with the Monterey Bay Aquarium logo, this mark's maker is unknown, but I'd like to meet him/her. Long before I thought about illustration and graphic design as something to do, I was drawn to this logo's conquistador in profile, with stark shapes in white to define the face in a black mass, and just enough detail to delineate the helmet and plume.

This is the full mark (above), with a variation on the Spanish crest (castle and lion). I'm not sure about the four stars; they might have filled an otherwise large dark space in the mark.

We used USC's "Conquest" to celebrate touchdowns,
but the band rocked it …
Here's the conquistador's profile in the school's marching band logo (right). Some color is added to the black and gold (seriously awesome color combo, by the way!), and the shapes have been sharpened, but the mark maintains its integrity. The typeface is a bit different from the main mark, but doesn't deviate much.

(The marching band used to wear conquistador helmets as part of their uniforms; now I notice they're more like black vaquero hats …)

My point is, Cabrillo has stuck with the mark throughout the years, rarely getting off track. Even my junior varsity baseball cap bears the gold elongated C on a black field, nearly a quarter-century after the school began. The school's web site displays the mark prominently.

It's almost as if Cabrillo has a graphics standards manual, like many businesses have, dictating the do's and don'ts of their logo's use. I doubt one exists, but I give credit to my old school for respectful and consistent use of its marks.

(I'm sure it wouldn't take long before someone showed me that Cabrillo has muddled the mark on its uniforms and other uses, but don't bother; leave me to my delusions.)

The graphic integrity of Cabrillo's mark, I'd bet, is the exception.

More common is the school where my children attended, El Camino Fundamental High School in Sacramento, home of the Eagles (all but one of the high schools in the San Juan Unified School District are saddled with alliterative nicknames: Mira Loma Matadors, Casa Roble Rams, Bella Vista Broncos; yawn …).

Don't mess with Boston College!
Maybe there's a reason
this eagle is screaming …
El Camino is older than Cabrillo by far, but has no visual center. Any and all eagle graphics, and every conceivable typeface is used for whatever manner and need arises. Apparently, Boston College put down the legal hammer and forbid uses of its mark, which meant El Camino, even though it had changed the B to an E and red and gold to green and white, had to stop using the mark. The football team's helmets still bear the same eagle that adorn the Philadelphia Eagles' helmets, so I'm not sure what's going on there.

El Camino has since unveiled its own mark, created by an art teacher, that combines the E and C into the shape of an Eagle's head. You can judge for yourself how it turned out (above, right); the eagle looks like it's been skinned alive, giving it a sort of Freddy Krueger look (left).
Robert Mott created this for all his fellow fogies assessing progress
on their long-ago dreams and plans.

My friend and high school classmate Robert Mott, who went on to run his own stellar graphic design shop, designed the mark for our 30th reunion (I didn't attend); though it's the farthest afield, graphically, that I've seen the Conquistador mark, Robert maintained its integrity while re-purposing it (man, I hate that neo-word) for this one-time use.

Robert was true to the logo and to his school.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Spots before your eyes!™©®*

This spot leaves plenty of room for text "callouts,"
describing the tendon's special mechanics as the
talon closes.
*(I really should trademark this; it was the headline I used back in the day when I mailed postcards featuring my work to prospective clients. Nobody else get any ideas!)

I just finished these spot illustrations for a display that will go up at the Lindsay Wildlife Museum in Walnut Creek, Calif. The display describes raptors (owls, hawks, falcons and other birds of prey), and the spots illustrate lightweight bird bones, plus something I didn't know before: How raptors hold said prey.

It turns out that as certain leg muscles pull the raptors' sharp talons closed, the tendon attached to the underside of the claw catches on the folds of a sheath around the tendon as it fold together like an accordion. The underside of that specialized talon has a jagged set of teeth that catch on the folds and holds the talon in place so that the birds don't have to contract their muscles constantly.

The roller coaster car is meant to show how
the "teeth" on the talon tendon and the tendon sheath
catch each other, in the same way that pins on the
car catch the teeth of the belt raising the car to
its eventual speedy descent. The client chose the
version without the riders.
The display also demonstrates a key factor in flight: Hollow bones. The bone structure is supported by a mad maze of bony struts in every direction within the bone. I wouldn't call it a honeycomb because that would imply order and uniformity. I'm curious, though, whether some order exists within the bone beyond my ability to see it.

I'll post the display when it's available.

It was another opportunity to work with Lisa Park-Steskal, who designed the new Old Sacramento signs for which I illustrated. (Also here and here.)

Lisa wanted a blueprint look but in a sketchy, loose style, as if the museum was jotting down relatable concepts to help visitors understand what was going on in a raptor's claws and bones.

Birds' bones are not solid, but shot through with tiny struts,
making them light for flight.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Best logo ever!

Let the arguments begin! What's the best logo?

This is my vote:

It's the Monterey Bay Aquarium logo, sans text (which has changed several times since the aquarium opened). Here's the sans serif treatment used now.

I'm having trouble tracking down its creator, and I find that puzzling, since I'd think someone or some agency would want his/her/its props.

Why do I like it? It's compact and and multitextured and multicontextual, and allows me for the first time to use the word multicontextual. At its core, it's a circle and a representation of the Giant Kelp species that forests Monterey Bay, Macroystis pyrifera. Whoever designed this took great care to show the botanical relationship between the stipe (stem), the floats (bulbs) and blades or fronds of the kelp. 
The logo as it appears at the aquarium entrance.
The typeface? Hm … my son has a nose for this.
Until he chimes in, any suggestions? It has an uncial,
old California look to it.

The kelp curls in on itself suggesting at once the curl of a wave, and fins, many and one. At the bottom, the blades/fins begin to twist around one another, suggesting a DNA double helix. The negative spaces created as the blades blend together toward the center hearken of teeth and a variety of marine shapes. Then you've got the whole cycle of life ethos going on. That's what I see in the mark, anyway.

What the charter members see.
The aquarium itself doesn't divulge much about the logo: its sole page devoted to the mark, embedded somewhere among its history, explains merely, "The logo of the Monterey Bay Aquarium is an artist's rendering of the growing tip of a giant kelp frond (Macrocystis pyrifera)." Some artist. Don't know. Don't care. Sheesh.

Hmm, not sure I've ever seen
this type treatment before …

sorta Peignot-like …
Two things would have made the mark perfect. One would have been to create tessellations of the positive and negative shapes of the floats and blades; that is, to make clearly distinguishable marine shapes of the negative spaces. The other would have been to depict the gorgeous network of veiny ridges that cover the kelp blades, and even the toothy edges of the blades.

But it's not bad, considering.

The version of the mark at the top of this post perplexes me. If it's from the original rendering, then imperfections are easy to spot, and I would have guessed this was rendered digitally. But the top edge of the blade on top is not a continuous arc; instead, it has a point at the top that interrupts the perfect arc; some of the blades and joining places are also rough, and the shapes indicating foreground and background are kind of clunky and uneven. You can see it more closely by clicking on the image.

The imperfections suggest to me that the mark was drawn by hand, and never cleaned up in digitization. Is that possible?

What's your favorite logo or mark? And who created this one? I'm dying to know.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Hopelessly devoted

This is one of my favorite cartoons from way back when, the one that convinced me I could kinda sorta maybe carve out a living as an editorial cartoonist.

It also exposes my devotion to Pat Oliphant, the dean of editorial cartoonists (OK, say it: I'm an Oliphant sycophant). Among the many I admired at the time — including the late Jeff MacNelly, the late Paul Conrad (who in a letter told me to learn how to draw; I leave you to judge his opinion; I didn't take it well), the latest Pulitzer winner Mike Keefe — Oliphant was the only one I "listened" to. Maybe a little too closely.

(Fun-like fact: Oliphant, Conrad and Keefe all won Pulitzers while drawing for The Denver Post. Pedestrian coincidence, or alarming syndrome that requires our brightest minds and tenacity of the American spirit to stop? )

Backstory: Eugene Hasenfus allegedly was a CIA "cargo kicker," delivering supplies to Nicaraguan contras, fighting the government of Nicaragua. Hasenfus' plane was shot down, and Hasenfus was found with a "black book" containing damaging phone numbers and information linking the Reagan administration (and CIA Director-turned-faithful servant-turned-president, George Bush) to a suspected trifecta of delivering U.S. weapons to Iran at exorbitant prices to fund the contras. Hasenfus, sentenced to 25 years in prison in Nicaragua, returned to the United States in an apparent "spy swap."

The 'toon shows then-Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega (who returned to become the current president) "shopping" Hasenfus to Reagan to complete the cycle of conspiracy.

I like the cartoon because of the spare composition that still establishes a street and a building, and because I had started to "shut up" with the text; in early cartoons I seemed to write all over the negative space. (Hell, the truth is I like to draw because I like looking at what I eventually draw. That others might see the art and feel some effect from it is icing.)

Looking over the collection of Oliphant cartoons my friend David Middlecamp recently bestowed on me, I'm reminded, with not a little embarrassment, how much I followed Oliphant's style.

Here's Oliphant's 'toon on the same issue, October 1986: Though he thought enough to chronicle it at all, he regarded it as a piffle in the greater scheme of the Iran-Contra scandal.

It does not reveal so much my mindful attention to his composition mastery. Maybe in future posts I'll embarrass myself on that subject.

On the larger issue of the Iran-Contra scandal, and U.S. covert operations in Central America, Oliphant was memorable and bitter. The cartoon below shows his mastery of linking one bleeding wound to another in one inexorable flow of misery, and reminding us, even as we continue in this manner, that we learn little from war:

Friday, July 15, 2011

Unveiling the Logo Overlook!™®©

Built slapdash against the Haul of Wonders,©®™the Logo Overlook!™®© is open for business!

Visitors who can somehow overlook the questionable construction will get a glorious overlook of the air conditioning units snaked across strip mall roof after strip mall roof. That blue line in the horizon, beyond that smudge of trees there? That's the ocean. Or a creek. Or haze.

Resting their eyes from all the beauty, visitors can look over or overlook (it's all about freedom of choice here at the shawndrawn®™ complex) the eponymous logos, on display as frequently as Itch-a-Sketch©™®. Which is to say, not often.

(I don't create a lot of logos, don't market as a logo designer; still, I enjoy them, especially the visual haiku they force on one's creative skills, to conjure something concise and memorable; consequently, the logos on display at Logo Overlook™©® may get dusty waiting for changeouts.)

What I call Juan Gris variations, after the Spanish
cubist painter and sculptor.
First exhibit: Logos done for Daniel Roest (say "Roost") a classical guitarist who performs with orchestras, runs an association of classical guitarists, and books his own gigs (weddings, anniversaries, conventions). Daniel needed a mark to represent his gift and his business.

He recently asked for a color version of his mark, done a while back, and that led me on a search of it, where I rediscovered a number of proposed treatments, which I like. More or less.

The final marks, above, are designed for several purposes. Daniel works with a woman flutist (flautist?) in his booked gigs, so I designed the two figures to complement one another; the male figure can still stand alone, and often does: In fact, I have not seen the logo in use with both figures, or with the text below. When Daniel Roest uses the logo, as far as I can tell, it's for the Sacramento Guitar Society; that is the mark he asked me to color.

Early version of guitar man. Eh. It's got
that idea of serving up the music, at least.
I wanted a calligraphic feel of the marks, and attempted to do so with traditional calligraphic tools. I soon descended into loop-de-loop hell, trying to get the swooshes to mix and match in line weight and dramatic angle. Ultimately, I mimicked the brush stroke, with its bristle flicks and imperfections, entirely with vector art in Adobe Illustrator.®™

Early man/woman version.
She looks too much like a
shadow, an afterthough, here.
The rooster guitar was a throw-in, just an extra personal mark that was bugging me to get out, because of the pronunciation of Daniel Roest's name. He liked it, and mentioned after that his childhood nickname was Rooster. Google "rooster guitar," and you'll find it's the fifth image that pops up. So far as I can tell, he does not use his name underneath the mark.

Earlier versions center on the feelings I get from his music, and the settings in which he mostly likely would work. Mosaic came to mind, and tile, and cool fountains made of stone in a plaza somewhere, which is how I came up with what I call Juan Gris variations.

In some ways, they resemble tests for colorblindness, which means they don't stand out strongly.

If a credit union played guitar, this would
be ideal.
The hors d'oeuvres version, left, is also supposed to evoke the setting Daniel Roest would play. The staff becomes the little sandwich, the fancy toothpick unfurls loosely into a guitar shape. Eh. Kinda lifeless, and it seems like a lot of unnecessary work went into making it work, which did, and it didn't. Plus, the toothpick sticking out the bottom of the snack? That has always bugged me.

The seasons mark, above right, is meant to embrace the world of variation in Daniel Roest's music, and the many reasons and seasons for playing for others. I dunno; it's kind of generic. My logos tend to be organic and rarely fit a geometric shape, so if anything else, they're unique. My all-time favorite logo, though, does fit all the rules for logo design: The Monterey Bay Aquarium's. That merits its own post someday, in which I sing its praises.

If you survived the Overlook, come back again when you get the courage. Otherwise, it's probably best to step back inside.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Lake Natoma monster, caught on film!

Actual footage of the end of the Fire Cracker 8k swim on Lake Natoma, July 4. My wife Nancy is narrating; my friend Paul Vega is steering in the stern of the canoe; my daughter Maura is swimming behind, having jumped in the water at the end to greet me; and her childhood friend Jenny is awaiting on the rocks below the Rainbow Bridge. Four-point-eight miles from Nimbus Flat at the other end (my wife gave me two-tenths of a mile extra credit.)

My technique at this point is shot: My right arm barely clears the water, I'm not turning my body from side to side so much, and my legs are kicking furiously against the strengthening current. But as my swim buddy Jim Morrill says, "We all swam the same distance. You just enjoyed it longer."

I wanna keep going and keep getting better. So in that sense, I won.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

… just keep swimming … just keep swimming …

Some two miles along the glassy cool water of Lake Natoma. Nancy shot this.
About a mile and a half into the swim race July 4, a feeling came so strong to me, as if the already cold lake had gone to ice: This could be bad.

I stopped to look upshore, past the first bend in the long, narrow, snaking lake, and saw none of the swimmers I had started with.

They had vanished in the distance, as I knew they would, but I held small hope they might be wading in wait, just beyond the point. Even in the first hundred yards, they opened a gap that widened without relent. Even in the first few strokes, as I watched a swimmer I had never met seem to take 10 feet of water with every stroke.

No harm was meant; they are extremely fast swimmers who could not do otherwise, whose speed became palpable by their absence the next four hours. It was their nature and ability to swim so fast, just as it seemed my nature to plod along, and wonder at their speed. I had no way of catching up to them; I was turning over my arms as fast as I thought a 4.8 mile race would merit, and I couldn't move them any faster.

The good news: I was going to eat something! The bad news: my
leg muscles would soon seize up, turning my limbs to useless logs.
This swim, I said to myself (I had so much time to converse, and a captive audience) answers so much, and yet irrigates the seeds of so many more questions. As all endeavors beyond one's reach, I suppose.

This could be bad.

But then the nose of my canoe slipped into my peripheral view, where my wife Nancy and friend Paul Vega sat, having agreed to spend the day with me. They carried packets of nutrition gel and bottles of Gatorade®™, and made me stop to eat on a schedule, and bade me keep going once I was fed.

Another strong feeling came to me at that moment: that I could not have kept going without their support. It would have been easy to tell myself I had swum a good long distance, and that it would be all right to scramble up the mine tailings on the shore of Lake Natoma and walk back to the start. But Nancy and Paul made it so I could keep going.

"Top 10 finisher," Paul said before the start, smiling and giving me a thumbs up. There were seven swimmers. I would also finish third in the "skin" division (no wetsuit). In the end, I finished in just a bit more than one-sixth of a calendar day — a full two hours behind the rest. Two hours!

Lake Natoma is man made; it follows the trunk of the American River, just below Folsom Lake, also man made, which floods the juncture of the three forks of the American River. Lake Natoma gives flood control officials more control of runoff from the Sierra, allowing them to draw, so I'm told, water from the bottom of Folsom to regulate how much cold water is released down the American as it flows more than 20 miles into the Sacramento River at Sacramento.

Natoma is cold throughout the year as a result. It's where I got used to low water temperatures to be ready for my Alcatraz swim.

Natoma also carries a current which varies depending on the volume of water released.

Jim gets ready to swim; Paul gets ready to save me. This is Nimbus Flat, at
the southwest end of Lake Natoma.
Joe Dowd decided we would swim upstream for the race, which he calls the Fire Cracker 8k (a similarly named running race takes place nearby), the least formal swimming race you could join; no entry fee; no waiver; no T shirt or swim cap; not even a race, really, just a bunch of crazies going for a swim. We go upstream, I am told, because a brewpub is right at the finish line, the old Rainbow Bridge linking civilization to the city of Folsom, where we can celebrate.

The most I had ever swum at once before this was 3.9 miles, three crossings of a cove at Folsom Lake. I hadn't been planning to, and was able to rest and eat something between crossings. The Fire Cracker 8K was one shot, start to finish, which I joined of my own free will. My swim buddy Jim Morrill encouraged me to jump in, and encouraged me that I could finish.

Watching the other swimmers move so swiftly beyond me, I realized I had to really like open water swimming for its own sake, or I couldn't do this. So began the long conversation with myself, the constant examination of what I was doing with my limbs, my breathing, how well or how poorly I was pushing the last bit of water with my hands past my hips, whether I was sighting on distant landmarks correctly.

Along the way I learned some things. Egrets by the dozens nest on that first bend of the lake, for example, in what appear to be cypress trees. They bloom like white gardenias in the tall foliage, and are protected in a sanctuary, far from trails. I wouldn't have known that without swimming past it and having Paul point it out.

Lake Natoma is extremely shallow in places, too shallow to swim sometimes, its bottom and sometimes its shore composed entirely of piles of round stones that miners pushed away in search of gold 150 years ago, and that water officials further pushed back to keep the channel open.

Below the water, the rocks glow ghostly green, coated with slippery detritus. I was happy to see them below me, to mark my movement.

Past the first bend, the distant landmarks seemed so distant, blanched in the rising heat. My calves and then my thighs began to cramp, crabbing my legs in bent poses that were difficult to extend or flex; then my ankles fused in flexion. I scrambled up the slippery riprap and stretched them, then kept going.

Stopping was a mixed blessing; even getting to the canoe to grab a gel and a sip required different muscles, which fought against the muscles I had been using and ignited more cramps, more stretching, more resolve to keep going.

I had been in so long that Jim, among the fast finishers, had arranged a ride back to the start to fetch his truck, which transported my canoe. He communicated by cell phone to my wife, and told him that he alone had swum to the finish; the rest got out at a beach called Negro Bar, about a third of a mile below Rainbow Bridge.

Paul was first to spot the beach, crowded with crowds under umbrellas for the holiday. We didn't know it was Negro Bar, but thought it was an isolated beach a mile downstream. My shoulders burning from the turning, I was relieved to hear we were close.

Then I realized why the other swimmers had gotten out at Negro Bar: The current was swift here and getting stronger, as the channel narrowed. What I laughingly lacked in speed, I decided, I could salvage in small part by finishing where I was supposed to.

Getting there was so hard, I was actually laughing into the water, watching the shadow of my body move just two or three inches at a stroke. I zigged and zagged, looking for pockets of calm water, and ended up walking over extremely shallow portions.

Paul shouted encouragement: "One stroke at a time!" I kept laughing. I had energy left to laugh. My daughter and her best friend got into the water to meet us, and I finally made it through a maze of granite boulders beneath the water, to an outcropping below the Rainbow Bridge, my knees and shins bloody from scraping them against rocks.

My shoulders screamed (they're not supposed to if I'm truly swimming the Total Immersion way; more mystery, awaiting an answer), my head felt like helium, my eye sockets felt bruised; what synapses were firing spent their time still wondering how the other swimmers finished in half the time. But I had finished; I had done something beyond what I thought I could do. I had gotten by with a little help from my friends, and only by their help.

One benefit from being so far behind the rest: I seemed to passing kayakers to be someone alone on a mission; they mouthed their admiration to Paul and Nancy as we passed by. I missed all this, of course, listening to the machinery rhythm of my breath bubbling into the water.

Paul, who always knows best what to say, said, "My advice...worry about your times or don't. Just have fun with it. You may not be a fast swimmer right now but you have made giant improvements. You may never be fast or maybe it's nearer to your future than you know."

The brewpub, it turns out, was closed for the holiday.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Tiger Shall Goof Off with the Dragon

We went for fun and frolic this year for the Kodenkan Kids' camp shirts.

Larry Carter runs the camp in the Siskiyous each summer, and this time wanted to show off the other fun the camp provides, especially jumping into a creek pool from a low cliff.

I tweaked the composition and made the tiger more tiger-y.
It's a departure from previous shirt designs, all variations on yin yang and the balancing properties of dragon and tiger.

Always fun exercises, this one gave me the chance to use the black shirt as the character's outline, so I had to build the shirt almost like stained glass, of loose-fitting shapes, each one of which I had to refine to create a uniformly thick black line and substantial shadow.

Here's a sketch for the final design, as well as some other variations:

Actual jujitsu is also fun for the campers, though just the
idea of it makes my bones groan

Another look …
Just a style variation …