Tag Archives: art

Cartoon Yourself – Easy Steps to Transform Your Photos into Cartoons

In all my life, I’ve never found the value in getting a caricature or sketch of myself drawn. And at certain points in my life, it certainly wasn’t a lack of vanity holding me back. Maybe it just boiled down to wanting to ride the Viper at Six Flags instead of getting my mug airbrushed. Whatever it was, I sort of regret missing out on the experience. That is, until I found out recently that I could do it myself.

Wing-Ki Lo, a fellow Vanguardian and friend of mine, recently gave a presentation that demonstrated how simple it is to cartoonify oneself using Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop. In 20 minutes, she took an adorable photo of her son and transformed it into a cute, lovable cartoon—the perfect recipe for a one-year-old’s first birthday invitation.

Over the years, “Kiki” has drawn many special-occasion cards for employees here at the shop. From retirement cards to baby showers, she’s become our in-house designer for all of the fun events that make our company and its culture unique.

Take a look at some of her samples, along with a step-by-step video that shows how, with a few pen tools and layers, one can transform photos into comic book caricatures.

Your author, Eric Swenson


Art and Technology: The Balance of Innovation and Harmony Throughout the Ages

The relationship between art and technology—wide-ranging, polarizing, and constantly fluctuating—is among the most influential factors throughout the course of human history. Certain periods of time witnessed art in a position of prominence; others featured technological advancement. Art and technology have always had a complementary and complicated relationship, but in 2012, this relationship has reached a pinnacle of complexity. In order to interpret the present or predict the future of these intertwined fields, however, one must first look to the past.

By the year 1492—which marks the European discovery of the Americas—Leonardo da Vinci had entered the twilight of his life, but more than 500 years later he is still considered by many to be the single most influential historical figure the world has seen. The reason for such a legacy can be found in the aforementioned relationship between art and technology: to this day he is considered the embodiment of their dualistic role for man. The European Renaissance—ranging (roughly) from the fourteenth to the seventeenth centuries—is the period of time credited with man’s emergence from the Dark Ages; more importantly to the topic at hand, however, the Renaissance represents the first climax in the relationship between art and technology.

Man’s approach to technology (i.e., science and mathematics) prior to the Renaissance can be encapsulated by one inherent characteristic of the human race: fear of the unknown. In the sixteenth century, Nicolaus Copernicus provided the first proof of the heliocentric astronomical model, which proposed a solar system that revolves around the sun (rather than the earth); this radical concept was met with tremendous resistance, and the majority of the opposition originated from the Catholic Church. The Church was arguably the most powerful entity in the world at this time, and it strictly opposed any source of knowledge or truth outside its walls. The recently introduced and rapidly spreading scientific discipline, therefore, was considered an enemy of the Church. So while the Renaissance sparked the rise of technology, the prominence of art would continue for several more centuries.

Graphic design only became a profession in recent decades, but it nonetheless evokes the art/technology relationship from the time of Copernicus and da Vinci. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a field in which art and technology are better united. Graphic designers are artists, but they would not exist without modern technology.

Modern technological advancement—beginning in the twentieth century and exponentially increasing ever since—is unprecedented in both its rapidity and complexity. Cutting-edge technology is only cutting-edge for mere days or weeks, whereas in the past, a single advancement could define an entire generation or represent an evolutionary milestone (see: fire, wheel). The only constant today, it seems, has been mankind’s emphasis upon—and, in recent years, fetishism of—technology, to which art is a distant second. Maybe the Age of Technology will continue for centuries and art will be considered a luxury. We can’t know now, but we can be certain that the dynamics between art and technology, with mankind as the backdrop, will forever remain fluid and mysterious.

Art is no more important to man than technology, or vice versa. Creativity is neither better nor worse than logic. And a time period with more artistic innovation than technological is not inferior to its opposite. Developments in both fields, however, will prove to be infinitely relevant to the business world.

Is a marketing/communication company’s creative department involved in technology as much, if not more, than art? What does the future hold for the industry? What’s the next billion-dollar idea? Because of the way he was able to balance his interests in art and technology and thus excel at both, Leonardo da Vinci was able to theorize on concentrated solar power centuries before the invention of electricity and conceptualize a helicopter long before the steam engine was created. The potential is limitless for an individual, entity, or business that achieves such balance, harmony, and innovation between art and technology.

Author: Ryan O’Connell

A Governors Island Graphic Design Exhibit Worth Seeing

In early June I wrote a post about the graphic design show on Governors Island called Graphic Design—Now in Production. As I mentioned, the show set out to demonstrate the power and influence graphic design has on culture.

A few weeks ago, I finally had the opportunity to make the ferry ride out there to experience the exhibit for myself. (An aside: Governors Island was great; I highly recommend you go and see for yourself!) Upon entering, you’re presented with a definition of graphic design that prepares you for the work you’re about to see. It states: “Graphic Design gives shape to thousands of artifacts we encounter each day—from posters, magazines, and books to film titles, Web sites, and digital interfaces. Graphic designers employ words, images, and a vast array of materials and processes to produce the visual messages that surround us.”

The text continues by suggesting that over the past fifteen years graphic design has expanded drastically and has empowered designers to be producers with the ability to author, publish, and instigate.

One of the first things you see inside the exhibit is a wall with a long line of corporate logos, with the original logo for each company next to its current version. Then, equipped with a handful of tokens, you go down the line and vote, one by one, for the logo you prefer. It felt like the 108 bronze bowls at Wat Pho, the Buddhist temple in Thailand (also worth seeing, but not as easy to get to by ferry).

There’s a lot of talk about branding, and not just for corporations, but for other members of society as well. A brand is more than just a logo––it “consists of a larger visual and verbal identity as well as the perceived values that both define and set apart an organization, a community, or even an individual,” the wall text states.

Designers Jonathan Puckey and Roel Wouters created an interactive video that really blew me away. Viewers had the ability to insert themselves into specific frames of the film. More than 34,000 people contributed to the collective whole. The effect was really cool, and the designers said that they were influenced by Andy Warhol and Jean-Luc Godard. Take a look at a clip:

A section on books caught my attention as well. There was a great exhibit on how, in an era of extreme content competition, publishers—often the authors themselves—are coming up with new ways to break from the pack. From bindings and paper stock to the jackets themselves, book designers have to be both creative and cost-effective.

You still have a chance to see the exhibit this weekend (the last day is Labor Day). Check out the images below, and head on out before it’s too late!

Auhtor: Eric Swenson

Graphic Design Show on Governor’s Island: May 26–September 3

Minneapolis continues to play the under-the-radar-but-we’re-cool-with-that design game. It might be my personal biases, but the creativity that comes out of this city is top-notch. From architecture to fashion, music, design, and modern art, I consider the innovators in Minneapolis to be the unsung leaders of the arts.

It’s no surprise, then, that the Walker Art Center—the MoMA of Minneapolis—helped organize (with the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum) “Graphic Design—Now in Production.” This exhibition, which runs from May 26 to September 3 on Governor’s Island, is a showcase of graphic design work––magazines, TV/film, typography, information design, branding––dating back to 2000.

The angle is simple: graphic design is powerful. It’s so powerful that it can change what we believe as well as prompt social change. The power to persuade using text and images has infiltrated our culture for years. The exhibit demonstrates the extent of graphic design’s reach by showing the impact and influence designers, entrepreneurs, and storytellers have had on society in recent years.

There are also a slew of controversial stories that range from typography in design (the trashing of Helvetica) to social media (dubbed a “method of surveillance and social control”). Essentially, it’s the perfect balance of cool design, social intrigue, and industry insight.

The show is free and is open on Saturdays and Sundays. Hope to see you there.

Author: Eric Swenson

91st Season for the Art Directors Club Awards

On May 8, the Art Directors Club (ADC) will celebrate this year’s winners during Creative Week in New York. The ADC has already released some of the award winners’ names and campaigns. I’ve highlighted a few below.

Typically, advertising or design agencies take away the coveted gold cubes, but this year Creative Artists Agency out of Los Angeles ran away with four golds and two silvers for its “Back to the Start” campaign for Chipotle. The agency’s incredibly minimalist website prevented me from learning more about it, but I gather that it is a talent agency that also offers creative services (and connections to a heck of an animation team!):

I was so happy to see one of my favorite spots from last year be awarded three golds and one silver. “The Bear,” an ad for CANAL+ (the HBO of France, I gather), is just flat-out brilliant. Kudos to mega-giant BETC Euro RSCG for still being able to crank out good work.

On May 9, the ads will be available for viewing by the public in NYC. I hope to swing by and check some out. Hope to see you there!

Author: Eric Swenson

Photo-whoops! The Joys of Photoshop Mishaps

Being a creative is tough. Art directors and designers alike have so much to contend with: copy, logos, budget constraints, time constraints, creative director input, account management input, CLIENT input––oh, and the biggest nagger of all, the critic with the harshest and most ruthless taste: themselves.

So it’s no surprise that with all this pressure, mistakes are bound to happen. I get it, art directors––it’s a lot. I’m an account guy with a big, bleeding heart who feels your pain—well, unless you muck my ish up. That is unacceptable.

The rest of the world is going to laugh at your mistakes. I’m sorry, unfortunately that’s just the life you’ve chosen. You’re in the public eye and your mistakes get seen by millions.

And now there’s a forum to see even more. I’d like to point you to a website that is doing its best to find your final art flaws: www.psdisasters.com, a collection of Photoshop mistakes made in years past and available for years to come.

Be sure to check out the Greatest Hits section and see brilliance like this:

Adweek has even gotten in on the fun. The headline from last week’s page read: “Ad in Target Circular Either Photoshopped or Features an Alien.” Love it.

Okay, okay, so there’s plenty to laugh at. Again, I recognize that you sometimes only have 25 minutes to whip something together. That being said, I leave you with a site from people who clearly have 25 minutes to spare:


If you like the images below, you’ll definitely love this site. Check it out!

Author: Eric Swenson

Competition in Design: Wise or Waste?

There are many professions that promote competition. Design, in particular, lends itself to one-upping that coworker, the competition, and sometimes the jurors of an awards competition. Unlike art, design in advertising can sometimes be measured by the return on investment. Well-designed campaigns can be judged by sales figures.

Of course, it’s not always so black and white. There are herds of beautiful designs that get produced but never make the front page. There are strong strategic ideas that work perfectly for the client but—for one reason or another—don’t effectively catch fire. Blame the medium or blame media—ideas sometimes just don’t get fertilized. Conceiving an idea, it seems, takes just the right formula.

But there’s an even bigger hurdle to hurdle. Ask designers or copywriters at any agency in the world what their best ideas were, and they’ll give you their answers. Ask them if their best ideas were ever published, and I’m certain you’ll receive a resounding “No” in response.

In our industry, the best ideas don’t always win over our audience: the client. And that’s fine. The ideas that make it to the coveted awards competitions have to be ideas that have been produced. That means that the breadth of work we see is far narrower than what’s been attempted.

So is all this competition worth it? Is it worthwhile for companies to put in the added effort, costs, and resources to submit their ideas? Is it worth the long hours, the nail biting, and the limited publicity for the results?


Andrew Carnegie once said, “And while the law [of competition] may be sometimes hard for the individual, it is best for the race, because it ensures the survival of the fittest in every department.”

Love or loathe competition, it’s what drives us forward as artists (dare I say humanity?). Whether it’s friendly competition among colleagues or a battle against yourself, our need to move forward with bigger and better ideas is what helps us evolve—producing work that’s relevant and effective.

An informal survey of six nearby designers about competition showed a fun split between men and women. The women designers seemed to feel that collaboration is always the key to producing better work. The men felt that working in isolation and then exchanging ideas later was better. Both groups agreed that a spirited awards competition against other agencies would be a great way to unify ideas and kick some competitor ass.

What it would really do, however, is give designers more of a stake in our projects. Competition promotes creativity of the purest and highest order. It pushes our spirit further. It makes our ideas soar higher. Art is the essence of our humanity.

If that’s a little too grandiose for you, be sure to check out my last post on annual reports. I guess what I’m saying is, forget return on investment for a second and think about what we’re doing here.

What do you think? Competition in design—wise or waste?

Author: Eric Swenson