On Accidents: Thoughts On Creativity from David Huyck

David Huyck's Desk

My drawing table’s natural state. Draw like a photographer: make a lot of pictures, and pick the best ones.

A couple weeks back I tweeted simply, “Is it possible to design by accident?” I had been thinking that morning about the act of design. That it tends to be about problem solving, trial and error, but does that include accidents? Brush strokes can be accidents, pottery can involve accidents, but can Photoshop be an accident?

Thankfully my friend David Huyck – illustrator, designer and professor – had some interesting thoughts on the matter which I found to ring quite true. So he was kind enough to write a piece for the site which I hope you find inspiring.

I love to draw and make stuff. I always have. But there was a long time where, even though I knew I needed to practice, I just couldn’t force myself to even try. I was caught in that gap that Ira Glass describes in this video, where I knew what was good, and I knew that what I was making wasn’t all that good. So I just didn’t draw.

While I don’t exactly regret the eight years I spent making websites and databases, I am sure my illustration career would be in a very different place by now if I had just kept drawing the whole time. Seven years into a career as a college-level art and design professor, I try to save my students from falling into that same gap.

I talk about it with them through a variety of different anecdotes. The Ira Glass video is one. Another is a something Tim Biskup said in a talk I attended in 2005: he had been working as an animation background painter, and he wanted to get better at drawing, so John K. told him that everyone has 100,000 bad drawings in them, and you just have to get those out of you so you can get to the good ones. Similarly, Malcom Gladwell asserts in his book Outliers that it takes about 10,000 hours of anything to become a “phenom” in it. Anne Lamott devotes an entire chapter to “Shitty First Drafts” in her gem, Bird by Bird.

One take-away from all those stories might be “practice makes perfect.” But a more important lesson, I think, is that you have to make mistakes. You have to screw up a bunch and make things that might turn out just awful. It’s what you do with those accidents that can make you great. Knowing that accidents are a part of the process makes risk less scary. You are more willing to try things and experiment and, yes, crash and burn. But that is where discovery happens. That is where you begin to make work that is different and interesting and yours.

All of that applies broadly to the creative process. More specifically, when I teach design, one of the more difficult things to impart is that the finished work is all made deliberately. No matter how much time a student spends on a design, the piece they turn in is up for critique in its entirety – accidents, neglected margins, printer problems and all. If you don’t fix something – whether you notice something is wrong or not – you’ve left it in the design, and your inaction is, essentially, an act of design.

Which is not to say that is all bad. When you make the same mistake enough times, you can learn your weaknesses, and you can wrap them into your process. I once asked Dan Ibarra of Aesthetic Apparatus how to tell the difference between the designs he makes and the ones his partner, Michael Byzewski, makes. To paraphrase Dan, he said, “I’m the moron who makes all these complicated tight-registration designs that take me forever to get right on press. Michael just sets up his designs to be okay if they aren’t printed perfectly.” Wisdom through accidents.

December 17, 2012 / By

Rdio’s Best of the Year 2012

Rdio's Best Songs of 2012

It’s fairly well known that I’m a huge fan of Rdio, my preferred method of streaming music. It’s got an amazing interface design, a spot-on recommendation and just he right amount of social integration so I can see what my friends are currently listening to. That said, the folks at Rdio also have pretty great taste, as evidenced by their Best of the Year playlist.

They’ve got some great categories like “Album That Never Left Your Heavy Rotation” (it was definitely Frank Ocean) or “Best Album to Take on Your Visionquest”. Definitely 12 great tracks to check out, and perhaps find some tunes you’ve never heard before.

On a sidenote I’d also suggest checking out Aquarium Drunkard’s 2012 Year in Review as well. He’s got a selection of pretty amazing but obscure albums that you’ve probably never heard. Justin’s taste is always on point so I’m sure you’ll find something new to listen to.

December 17, 2012 / By

It’s New, It’s Old, It’s A Chalet: Villa Solaire by JKA and FUGA

Villa Solaire by FUGA and JKA
Villa Solaire by FUGA and JKA

Villa Solaire by FUGA and JKA

Last week we looked at what happens when built work gets old. We saw work that got old to the clients rather quickly, old work documented across continents long after intended use, work that is getting older and more public, and a new future for an aging office complex. What you see here is a farmhouse from the nineteenth century that has a new purpose and appearance.

I’m not fancy enough to know what the proper definition of a Chalet is, but allegedly this is an example of one, but it may better be described as a luxury rental unit for folks visiting Morzine, France. The original farmhouse was built in 1826, which is insanely old to me as an American (there were only 24 states at the time!) The architects responsible for the structure’s revival, JKA and FUGA have been mindful of the significance of such an old structure– the town declared it a landmark – and used architectural vocabulary from yesteryear to inform their work.

“In typical Alpine barns the gaps between disjointed wooden planks would allow air to circulate round drying hay, but at Villa Solaire the gaps between each panel simply let extra light into the rooms inside.”

December 17, 2012 / By

A great video by Pablo Maestres for Fur Voice’s ‘All That’

Fur Voice - All That 2

Fur Voice - All That 3

There seems to be something exciting happening in Spain at the moment. Just last week I wrote about the excellent video and track by Barcelona-based duo PEGASVAS and today I have another excellent video from Barcelona-based group Fur Voice.

What really turned me on to this band was their amazing video. Directed by the Spanish filmmaker and photographer Pablo Maestres, the video is an atmospheric piece filled with beautifully composed shots and a strange, surreal tone which owes a lot to the photographic work of Gregory Crewdson. It’s clear to see that Maestres is definitely a talent to watch, and this video is his first collaboration with the excellent London-based production company A+. Fans of the band can pick up a free copy of the single from the group’s bandcamp page, or check out their album, Onto Endo, here

December 17, 2012 / By

Top Five From LAIY: Week Of December 10


Pressing Ahead: An Interview With Rosanna And Joel Kvernmo Of Iron Curtain Press
Letterpressing is such an old, wonderful printing method. Not as many people as you would think practice the craft but the few who do practice it are doing an absolutely brilliant things. Rosanna and Joel Kvernmo are huge letterpressers and run LA boutique printing company Iron Curtain Press. We visited their studio to see how the crazy tools and products that’ve made over the years. They’re super awesome! Also, if you like what you see, please enter the Iron Curtain Press calendar giveaway we are doing. Entries in by Tuesday!

How Is Echo Park Lake Looking?
Echo Park Lake has been under a screen of construction for what seems like forever. We heard news that it was starting to be filled and that things were on the up and up for the Lake: we had to see for ourselves. Last Sunday we spent the day wandering around the lake and peeping over the fence to see what was going on: there is a lot of work to be done on the lake but it is coming along. A big thing we noticed is that they’re going to be restoring a lot of elements that the original lake had. Cool!

Playa’s Mexi-China Menu
Chef John Sedlar’s Playa on Beverly Blvd is a little beacon of culinary curiosity. Sedlar is not a complacent chef and is always finding ways to intrigue and innovate. His latest effort is the Mexi-China Menu, a sampling of food experiments that pair Mexican and Chinese flavors, dishes, and more together for Transcpacific mishmashes. We had an absolute hoot and holler here.

A Chocoliday With Jonathan Grahm
Compartés is a small chocolate brand based out of Brentwood who make chocolate with an amazing taste and incredibly beautiful packaging. We spoke with young chocolatier and brand head Jonathan Grahm about his chocolates, the holidays, and what he’s most excited about in his collection. There is some really, really mouthwatering stuff. You’re going to want to gift these as he is the design driven, West Coast answer to the Mast Brothers.

A Tour Of First Congregational Church Of Los Angeles
You don’t think of LA as a city you where you’d tour architectural landmarks, especially churches. Surprise: there are a few great spots like this! First Congregational Church of Los Angeles is a perfect example of this. The 1931 built church is a step into LA history and home to many curiosities (a chapel built to the dimensions of the Mayflower, turn-of-the-century stained glass windows, the world’s largest pipe organ). They hold a free Sunday tour once a month and it is well worth the trip.

PS. If you haven’t been checking, keep up with our LA Holiday 25 gift guide!!

December 14, 2012 / By

Space Suit of the Week

Space Suit Of The Week

President Kennedy & President Johnson are fondly remembered for their contributions to the US Space Program; they each have a respective NASA Center named in their honor. Nobel Laureate Jimmy Carter is not similarly remembered, although as a vocal activist for global peace and democracy, he looks quite appropriate suited up and ready to forge the last frontier. Here Carter is immortalized in shades of blue and grey.

In this rendition, his blue eyes are clear and piercing. Instantaneously they reminded me of The Blue Marble shot of the Earth taken by Apollo 17 in 1972 during Carter’s Presidential term. That photograph is one of the most distributed and celebrated images in history: the Planetary Institute presented a short on the ‘Overview Effect’ on the 40th Anniversary of describing the experience of seeing Earth from Space and its profound effect on conveying the interconnection of all life on Earth.

That blue and white swirling marble is a delicate place in the vast emptiness of the universe: here we need more individuals like President Carter advocating to make it a better place.

ps. I stumbled across this space faring Carter a while back–I am unable to locate and give credit to the creator. Dear Internet, do you know who created me?

December 14, 2012 / By

Are Ads Coming To Instagram? Maybe.

Instagram Ads

My buddy Jon sent me this article from Business Insider stating that ads are coming to Instagram, but I’m still not sure I agree. Here’s what ad sales chief Carolyn Everson said about the issue.

BI: Will you put ads in Instagram?

CE: Eventually we’ll figure out a way to monetize Instagram.

BI: How far are you away from figuring that out?

CE: Well, Instagram continues to grow incredibly fast and we’re still a very small team when you think about the amount of people they are reaching. There are many brands that use Instagram right now to try to get a feel for how to engage with their followers. We will definitely be figuring out a monetization strategy. When that will happen, I can’t comment, but it’s going to happen.

This to me doesn’t sound exactly like “ads” per se, but trying to come up with interesting ways of monetizing Instagram streams. Notice she mentions in particular that many brands use Instagram. Here’s a couple of ideas that I think they could go with.

Sponsored Photos
Taking a page from Twitter, you’d see a photo from Target or Red Bull in your stream, even if you don’t follow them. They get their brand in front of you, pushing an even or promotion.

Brand Filters
You’re scrolling through filters when suddenly come across a Gucci filter, which makes your photos golden and shining, or Mountain Dew which makes your photos dark and gritty with a hint of green.

Popular Page Gets Sponsored
We all know the Popular page of Intagram is a wasteland of tween self portraits, sparkly nails, cat photos, and of course, One Direction photos that were taken from the Internet. Would anyone even care if this entire section was sponsored? At least the photos could be better looking.

Would I be happy about any of these? Nope. But I think it’s interesting to think of what they might be thinking. I’m personally split over the idea of ads in Instagram. Half of me wants to say “Fuck them!” they can’t put ads in, how dare they! THe other half of me says “Well they have to make a profit somehow.” For the last couple years this service has been completely free. Running a business and not making any money is pretty stupid. Either way it’ll be interesting to see what happens.

December 13, 2012 / By

Meanwhile, in Miami, a midcentury landmark gets a new friend

Bacardi Building in downtown Miami

Bacardi Building in downtown Miami

In downtown Miami, the Bacardi Building– yes, that Bacardi- has a new friend: Frank Gehry. The Bacardi Building is actually two buildings: a tower building with enormous mosaics by Brazillian artist Francisco Brennand and a smaller museum building with stunning stained glass walls. Even though the buildings have been around since the sixties and seventies, the future of the complex has been unclear since Bacardi moved from their downtown home to nearby Coral Gables in 2009.

But now the complex has been sold to the YoungArts Foundation who has promised to keep the complex intact and hired Frank Gehry to help. His job will be to renovate the complex into something more functional for an organization devoted to “identifying and supporting the next generation of artists” without defacing the landmarked exteriors of the complex. The folks who started the YoungArts Foundation are the same folks who helped start the New World Symphony and hired Gehry to build the  New World Center just a few years ago. But the results in downtown Miami will not be the same as they were in Miami Beach and Gehry’s work there to develop a new masterplan for the foundation will not interrupt the visual legacy of the site.

Here is a video of Tito Bacardi, who passed away in 2011, giving a tour of the complex. He talks about the carpet in the building, surprising aerial branding strategies, the Bacardi Cup and his favorite part of the building: the bar.

December 13, 2012 / By