Work performed by owner

I’m always looking to connect aspects of my creative profession with what other professionals do. Take commercial (or residential) painters for instance.

Driving down the highway the other day I saw a work van with the words: “Work performed by owner” on the side. At first, I wondered what that meant. Why would a small business owner want to shout this to the world?

Then it came to me. This painter wants others to know he takes personal responsibility for the work he does. When you hire him, he does the work, not a crew of minions who may or may not know what they’re doing. At least that’s the message I took away. It’s a message that inspires trust.

Instantly, I drew a connection. When customers contact my studio, I answer their questions. When I get orders on my Etsy shop, I pack and ship them. And when it’s time for client commissions or to make new things from scratch, I take them from ideas to done. I take full responsibility for the work I do. There’s no one else who gets the credit when I succeed and if I make a mistake, I own it and I fix it.

The point is, my company runs because I do the work. I don’t buy clip art to cut corners on illustrations. I don’t hire out design or production work when I have a client project. And if I need a hand-drawn font for a project, I look for ways to make it before I’ll buy it. Whether I’m working on a commission or just making things for fun, it’s all me.

You might be the same in your own ways. Your work is performed by you. We need to shout this to the world, letting others know we give our supporters personalized attention while delivering our best work.

Thoughts? Have you found being a one-person business to be a competitive advantage? In what way?


Designing Tabletop Games #4: Have A Routine

The title of this post is a reminder. Mostly to myself. Have a routine. Routines don’t come easy to me. I’m a non-linear thinker and doer. And I’m often distracted by other ideas or videos or fun things.

Having a daily routine is critical in game design. The main reason is that game design is a time intensive discipline. Every part of the process takes a lot of time – conceptualization, prototyping, play-testing, designing, illustrating, more play-testing. To keep things on track, you’ll need a schedule.

Here’s the schedule I try to keep, which may not work for you. But I’d encourage you to get a routine of some sort going and stick to it as closely as possible. As you develop your own game design projects, or any other for that matter, a routine will help you get where you’re wanting to be.

Having a routine keeps procrastination at bay. Procrastination is the enemy.

Having a routine keeps procrastination at bay. Procrastination is the enemy.

What’s on tap

In my office I have an “On Tap” wall. (I like beer references I guess.) It’s basically a wall with a giant sticky note which has super sticky post-it notes placed on it. Each note is a task. I line that task up with which day it needs to happen.

Yes, this can be done on my phone or in some other calendar. But this method means the schedule is always within sight. Even when I’ve put my phone down for a while. There’s something about writing each task out, placing it on the day it will happen, and then being able to see everything at a high level that’s really effective for me. I can’t wait to complete tasks so that I can experience removing those notes from the wall.

It may sound strange, but rituals like this are methods that work for me. Writing tasks out. Giving them a sense of place or staging them. And then executing with focus on those tasks. Rinse and repeat on a weekly basis.

A day in the life

I set my alarm for 5:00am. I’m up by 5:30. Right away I try to drink a glass of water and stretch and do some push ups. Hey, don’t laugh. I can do a few pushups!

During weekdays between 6:00am and 9:00 I’m sprinting on dayjob work. I tackle emails from my inbox then I move on to other tasks. Starting the day early means I’m able to get things done with minimal interruptions. I abhor “multi-tasking” so I really strive to stay focused. But hey, it’s a multi-tasker’s world, so I do my best.

Around 9:00am it’s time for breakfast. These days I’m keeping it light. After this I’m back at it. It’s meetings, and tasks and phone calls until 11:00am or 12:00pm.

I stay available for work through lunch. However, I try to focus for a bit on the rest of my day and how things are shaping up. Sometimes (a lot of times) the day doesn’t go as planned. Despite this, I’m still trying to land in a place where I can mark off the things on my “On Tap” chart.

By 4:00pm I’m wrapping up a 10 hour day on the job. If I’m working late, I’m thinking: How can I get done what I need to get done at a high level, but quickly? By 5:00pm I try to be done with day job tasks and take a walk/stretch some more.

On weekends I wake up at the same time and apply this routine to my personal projects. Downtime, family commitments, and other responsibilities are accounted for first though. (People first, things second.)

The night life

By 7:00pm my wife and I have already eaten dinner and are on to personal things. Sure I like a nice speak easy or tiki bar now and then, but most of the time we’re hanging out at home watching a show or maybe running errands. On days when we’re doing our own thing, I’m spending my evenings writing, drawing, or designing for personal projects.

10:00pm is when I try to be in bed. Sometimes my brain won’t shut off and other times I’m wiped and asleep by 9:00. In recent years I’ve found I’m more of a morning person. That’s when my brain is most active and wanting to be in creative gear.

One thing about getting older is you learn not to view solitary time as expendable. Time becomes more valuable. Growing up, being creative was entertainment for me, so it’s no different now. If you’re a parent, this is one way to ensure your children value their own creativity later in life. While they’re little, help them balance all that screen time with opportunities to express their own inborn artistry. If you do this, they’ll thank you later.

The point of all this is I try to have some kind of daily routine. This allows me to control more of how my time is used rather than just reacting to things all day. Surprises and urgent matters come up, but when they do I’m able to shift to them knowing I’ve been being proactive on other tasks.

So how do you organize yourself? What tricks and tips would you offer for staying on track and focused throughout the day?


Phoenix Design Week 2018

2018 marks the 10th anniversary of Phoenix Design Week. It’s a big milestone for this homegrown event and it was one of the best I’ve attended. For those who may not know, PhxDW gives local and visiting creative professionals a chance to connect, learn, and inspire each other during a week of programming specifically tailored for their career growth.

I captured some thoughts on this year’s conference and the past 10 years overall. (Oh, and I was so caught up in everything I didn’t take as many photos as I should have. I’ll do better next year!)

Had the privilege of presenting at this year’s   Phoenix Design Week – Beyond Design Conference  .

Had the privilege of presenting at this year’s Phoenix Design Week – Beyond Design Conference.

We’re more than designers

Sure, the event is called Phoenix Design Week, but over the years I’ve connected with creative professionals from all disciplines – photographers, illustrators, animators, etc. This week-long celebration of creativity kicks off with a two-day conference, which was named “Beyond Design” this year.

Design is about planning, purpose, and intent. No matter if it’s applied visually or technically or whatever. Anyone can learn principles of design. However, being a creative professional is about more than possessing knowledge. It’s about successfully applying one’s knowledge and creative process in a business setting – for yourself, clients, or employers. That’s a completely different level of one’s design journey.

Over the course of 10 years attending PhxDW, I’ve met a wide variety of people from different businesses settings. Printers, marketers, engineers, architects, developers, and others. I can truly say each of these connections has taught me something about how to stay relevant and marketable as a creative.

Ramen Doodles  = Gave a drawing presentation this year. It was a great time, packed the room and ran out of stickers!

Ramen Doodles = Gave a drawing presentation this year. It was a great time, packed the room and ran out of stickers!

Showed off some process tips and tricks using digital drawing. Opened up about time savings and using digital drawing on the job.

Showed off some process tips and tricks using digital drawing. Opened up about time savings and using digital drawing on the job.

Hey, look at this banner! Ok, that’s it.

Hey, look at this banner! Ok, that’s it.

Reasons to attend

Just in case you’ve been on the fence about investing time and money in this event, or even if you’ve been skeptical about it’s value, I captured 50 reasons to go in 2019.

  1. All the good vibes at the opening reception!

  2. Saying hi to one person can lead to new career opportunities.

  3. Listening to how others get work done helps us keep going.

  4. It’s not a popularity contest, it’s an investment in yourself.

  5. Broadening our perspective on the world helps us be more relevant as creatives.

  6. Laughing with others is good for the soul!

  7. Seeing someone who’s ok being vulnerable during their presentation reminds us we’re all human.

  8. Having lunch with others who love creativity (and ramen!).

  9. If you’re nervous about meeting people let me know, I can help.

  10. It’s an affordable local event. Adobe Max = way more investment ($1600).

  11. Sharing your career story with people who will actually listen.

  12. Browse pop up shops. Learn from their owners.

  13. Exhibit your own pop up shop.

  14. Learn more about the job market in Phoenix and trends abroad.

  15. Gain practical advice on being a better independent contractor.

  16. A welcoming and helpful AIGA AZ team.

  17. Choose breakout sessions that are right for you.

  18. Meet designers from other states you may be looking to visit.

  19. Shoot the breeze with local acclaimed printmaker Jon Arvizu.

  20. Learn how to save potentially hundreds of hours of time processing images as an illustrator. (Covered this in my Ramen Doodles mini-workshop.)

  21. Talking about tabletop game design and it’s relationship to other design disciplines.

  22. Those aweome swag bags.

  23. Getting that feeling when you know what to do next in your career.

  24. Adding one more creative friend to your circle. (Or five or ten!)

  25. Saying hi to Melissa Balkon and learning about her creative journey.

  26. Wearing your favorite hat, or shoes, or pop-culture bling, and getting a nice compliment.

  27. Smiling because you identify with what that speaker is saying.

  28. Expressing yourself in a safe environment.

  29. Getting the chance to tell someone how they’ve helped you in your career.

  30. Talking with Will Mejia about being a mixologist on the side.

  31. Learning about how you can help others in your community as a creative.

  32. Getting involved as a mentor or being mentored by someone.

  33. Hearing hip historian Marshall Shore talk about how amazing the AZ desert is.

  34. Gaining a deeper understanding of UI/UX personas and empathy maps.

  35. Talking biomimicry with ASU professor Michelle Fehler and realizing how much nature inspires our creativity.

  36. Walking into the convention center with a sense of optimism.

  37. Hugging that design friend you’re reconnecting with.

  38. Talking to illustrator legend Bob Case and his daughter Kaitlin. (Her work is amazing!)

  39. Discovering a new opportunity within your skillset.

  40. Listening to someone open up about their challenges.

  41. Discovering you’re not alone.

  42. Understanding more about the business of illustration.

  43. Grabbing dinner with friends.

  44. Asking a burning question. Getting an answer that changes everything.

  45. Benefiting from hands-on education.

  46. Squashing your imposter syndrome.

  47. Demonstrating your value and potential to your employer.

  48. Taking notes/pics and using them in a presentation to your team back at the day job = hero level initiative.

  49. Growing a strong local network.

  50. Closing party with the National Poster Retrospectus.

I have more reasons, but you know… overkill! Hey, not every year has been the greatest ever in terms of practical takeaways. Yes, some years have been more theory and less hands-on. But when I look at the investment I’ve made versus what I’ve gained, the value is exceptional.

For those of you who want numbers, over the past 10 years I estimate I’ve paid $3000 for over 200 hours of experiential content. That’s hours of instruction, the opportunity to network with peers, and direct access to potential employers/clients. Yeah, $15 an hour. The ongoing experience and career growth is worth much more than that. (More numbers here.)

Early risers. Pop-up shop friends cheesing it up before Sunday’s session! Left to right:  Melissa Balkon ,  Jon Arvizu , and  you know who . :D

Early risers. Pop-up shop friends cheesing it up before Sunday’s session! Left to right: Melissa Balkon, Jon Arvizu, and you know who. :D

Portland’s  Aaron Draplin . All around good guy. (A heavy paw keeping me on the ground there.) Also, our design friend  Kevin Varela  = photobombin’ with style!

Portland’s Aaron Draplin. All around good guy. (A heavy paw keeping me on the ground there.) Also, our design friend Kevin Varela = photobombin’ with style!

Being ourselves

Sounds obvious. “You do you”. It’s easy right? Right? Nope. We’re living in some sort of dark wonderland these days people. Lies are truth, truth is lies, right is wrong, and everything seems inside out some days. It can be very disheartening.

That’s why we need events like PhxDW. It’s one way we remind ourselves that we’re more than just eyeballs staring at screens and mobile devices. We’re more than consumer drones. We’re more than stats on a graph. We’re people. And we need to come together to help each other keep growing and keep going despite challenges. Whether that’s in life, in business, or creativity. That’s how Phoenix Design Week helps me.

I’ve been involved with PhxDW for years, but it’s not cause I have some magical energy or special skill. Presenting as a speaker, on panels, or in workshops – it’s all been out of my comfort zone. But I’m not out to prove anything to others anymore. All that remains is what I want to prove to myself. And I do this with the support of a thriving local creative community here in Phoenix.

That’s not just liberating. It’s freedom to fly.

Released a new art print series this year at PhxDW!

Released a new art print series this year at PhxDW!

Hey! Now who do we have here? :J

Hey! Now who do we have here? :J

So, do you have a Phoenix Design Week story or takeaway from this year? Share it below. You never know how your thoughts might help someone else.


Bloggy Things

One of my great fears about blogging is that I'll spend lots of time writing, but it won't really matter in terms of connecting with others. Besides this, questions such as what platform to use or what analytics to worry about overwhelm me. I already tend to overanalyze such things.

So, I'm working on changing my approach. I'm going to commit to writing 2-3 blog posts a week. Here are some topics I'm passionate about.

  1. Design – Game design / general design principles.
  2. Illustration – Drawing, on paper or digitally.
  3. Writing – Storytelling and plot development.
  4. World building – Backdrops for stories, imagery, and characters.
  5. Inspiration – Satisfaction through creativity.
  6. Randomness – Other artists, games, events, travel, etc.

There are lots of things I'm excited about this year and developing this blog into a useful resource is one of them. I hope you'll subscribe!

So hey, what are some other blogs you enjoy reading and why?