I just watched Chuck Close read a letter to his 14-year-old self. You should watch it too. Sorry about the ad at the beginning—the four minutes that follow are worth it, I promise. I’ll wait…

Good stuff, right?

Chuck Close was the commencement speaker at my graduation from art school. He’d just had a huge retrospective at MoMA earlier that year, and it was very exciting to have him there. Purchase College is divided up into several distinct small schools, each with its own admissions process, its own dean, and its own requirements. The graduation ceremony, however, is all-inclusive. The painters are sitting next to the biology majors are sitting next to the dancers are sitting next to the sociology people are sitting next to the filmmakers are sitting next to the designers.

But Chuck Close was really there to talk to us. The art students. This is part of what he said:

I’d like to say something to the parents of the art majors. This is probably not what you had in mind, you know? You hoped maybe—I don’t know, maybe medical school, maybe a degree in law, but I want to tell you that a life in art can be a wonderful life. Artists live better at near-poverty level income than yuppie bond traders do at much larger income.

Now, I’m sure there are plenty of yuppie bond traders out there who are plenty happy with their lives and I certainly don’t deride them for that, but you know…the world is quick to judge someone who makes their living as an artist. The arts are considered expendable and disposable, as if their place in culture and modern society is not one of actual value, but merely something decorative and extraneous. It’s nice to have something to hang above the sofa, sure, but not if it means I’m going to have to pay more taxes! So it’s good to hear something like that from a guy like Chuck Close when you’re about to embark on a career path that will likely always feel a bit tenuous.

(Of course, I was created and raised by two artists who already understood and were actively living this lesson, so I’m pretty sure they did have “this” in mind. Actually, what they had in mind was that their children would become whatever they wanted to. I’d like to think they’d still love me even if I’d become a yuppie bond trader.)

But back to that video! I’ve watched it a number of times now, and I keep dwelling on this:

Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.
Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.
Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.

I’ve heard Chuck Close use that line before, but right now it speaks so directly to how I’ve been feeling about inspiration, appropriation, value, context, and work ethics. Far be it from me to claim to be free from inspiration, but I do think Close is right. If you imagine your creative work as a spectrum, you’d have the finding and saving of the work of others on one end, and “showing up and getting to work” on the other. Life doesn’t have to exist solely within the latter part of the spectrum, of course, but the more time we spend there (and, conversely, the less time we spend poring over “inspiration”), the more we likely we are to produce work that is truly the result of what we set out to do when we decided a life in the arts was what we wanted.

When someone asks me what I’m inspired by (easily my least favorite question), the first answer that always comes to me is EVERYTHING. Or if not every thing, then every possibility of a thing. I’m constantly looking at shapes and patterns and colors, whether in nature or in art or in the way my shoes happen to be sitting in front of the closet door. Every food wrapper is considered. Furniture. Bill envelopes. Music. EVERYTHING. It doesn’t have a start or end!

Because of this, inspirational stimulation can easily become overwhelming for me. I’ve never had an inspiration board/mood board/whatever board—I find them oppressive. Aside from the pressure of influence, I dislike the act of stripping context from another person’s work. And yes, I do do that here on this blog sometimes—but I cannot have it around me when I’m in “design mode.” I show up, and I get to work. OK, most of the time. Sometimes I’m an amateur.

So here are my lessons for artist/designer types, as inspired (oops) by Chuck Close:

Not every decision you make has to be crowdsourced beforehand. Trust your gut and keep it to yourself while you follow through.

It’s OK to strive to accomplish things that may never lead to financial reward. More than OK, actually.

Try to put a limit on the amount of time you spend searching for and cataloging images for the sake of inspiration. Think more about appreciating these things for what they are, and not just how you can apply them to your own work.

Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.

And hey, maybe yuppie bond traders can apply these things to their work, too.

Thanks to Kelly at LPP for sharing the video.

It’s taken me a long time to accept the fact that I don’t really like desks. At least not small ones that are designated for tasks that don’t involve spreading out—I need space. Because of my aversion to small desks, I’ve spent an awful lot of time over the last few years camped out on the sofa with my laptop doing freelance work at 2AM, and honestly, my body isn’t happy about it. I need to be sitting at a table in order to work (and sit) properly for any length of time, and that table needs to be spacious.

That said, you know what’s not spacious? The new apartment. The entire thing corner to corner is about 450sf, and that’s including a bedroom the approximate length and width of a Sucrets tin. The kitchen and living space are one open room, though, which does open up the possibility of having a decently-sized, multi-purpose table in the room—for working, eating, cooking, sewing and whatever else requires a flat surface.

Photo: Nina Broberg for Livet Hemma

I’ve been keeping this table idea in the back of my mind for a while now. It comes from IKEA’s Livet Hemma (Life At Home) blog, which, in case you’ve never seen it, is a trove of photos and project ideas that involve stuff from IKEA used in very un-showroom-like ways. To make this table, they just used a pair of inexpensive VIKA LERBERG trestles and some simple spruce planks for the top. I love the “runner” they created by painting the center boards! The great thing about the LERBERG trestles is that they’re less than 16″ deep, so it’s possible to make a shallower table with them to suit the amount space you have—and, of course, you can cut your planks to whatever length you’d like.

Photo: Corkellis House, interior design by Kathryn Tyler + Linea Studio

I definitely don’t have enough space for a setup like this, but I do like how much storage the base components provide. The top is supported by four VIKA ALEX units from IKEA—two with doors, and two with drawers. The depth is at least 22″, so it’s probably not an option to use even one of these drawer units in the new place (did I mention it’s tiny?), but I can still dream.

Speaking of dreaming, take a look at the entire house that this room is at part of. It’s one of those rare places I could move into fully furnished and not want to change anything.

Photos: House Tour: The Dickensons, Apartment Therapy (via sfgirlbybay)

OK, now we’re really getting somewhere. The second I saw this Victorian house tour, I knew I’d be needing some neon pink table legs in my future. I love the way this looks. Once again, the support for this table comes from IKEA—four VIKA FURUSUND legs—and the top appears to just be a simple piece of butcherblock countertop (NUMERAR, perhaps?). The legs are solid, unfinished pine, making them perfectly suited for painting. They’re really just asking to be neon pink, right?

I keep picturing a smaller-scale version of this table in the apartment, surrounded by the dowel-leg side shells currently in the “old” apartment kitchen (I have two more stashed in the basement at the house), and it just seems perfect. Enough space to have Daniel and Max over for dinner, even!

Yeah, this is my own big fat work table! It’s in the room at the house that Evan is now using as a studio, and it’s awesome. The top comes from my father’s huge old drafting table (the original legs are in storage, don’t worry!), and the legs are—you guessed it—VIKA MOLIDEN trestles from IKEA. You can see some more detailed photos of the top and the cool drawer handles in this old post. It’s a special table, this one.

More than any aspect of the new apartment (yes, even more than the roof deck), the possibility of having a big space to spread out and work is exciting me the most. I’m sure I’ll still spend plenty of time planted on the sofa with my laptop, yes, but for the long hauls, it’s going to be great to sit like a normal person. A normal person with dogs on my lap, of course.

p.s. Please vote for Manhattan Nest in the 2012 Homies Awards over at Apartment Therapy. You need to log in to vote, but it’s worth it. Daniel truly deserves to win this.

I’ve had a lot of design projects in the works lately, and I thought I’d share a couple of favorites that I just finished up in the past week.

About a year ago, I convinced my friend, musician and composer Roger O’Donnell, to let me work on a complete overhaul of his website. Roger had been designing and maintaining his personal site (as well as the sites for numerous side projects he’s worked on) for many years, so it was with a bit of trepidation that I made the suggestion in the first place, but Roger was completely on board. It took a long time to migrate all of those years of content from a static site (there were literally hundreds of pages all nestled inside of directories within directories—I told him it was like discovering a giant box filled with filing cabinets inside of an enormous closet you never knew was in your house) to a WordPress-based format, and it’s still a bit of a work in progress, but I’m happy that Roger now has a website he can add news items to easily and keep up to date with information about all of his various projects.

Right on the heels of the website launch last month, Roger asked me if I’d design a poster for his collaboration with musician Adam Donen, which was to be a secular Requiem. I said of course (of course!), and the result is something I’m very happy with. Poster design is really still kind of an area of unknowns for me, but I’m finding that I really like thinking about how the eye moves and how the brain processes information when something is presented on a wall rather than on a table or shelf like a book would be.

I’d previously worked with Roger on two other design projects, the first being the packaging for Nothing Concrete, a CD sampler his label released in 2005, and then last year a poster for a performance of his Hockney-inspired work, Quieter Trees. I’ve known Roger for nearly 15 years now—the duration of my entire career as a designer—and it means so much to me to be able to work with someone whose own work I believe in and care about so much.

Roger has written more about the Requiem project on his site, and if you’re going to be in London on April 2nd, you can see it performed live with an orchestra at Shoreditch Church. I wish I could be there, as I’m sure it’s going to be fantastically dark and beautiful.

» Oh, and you can buy one! «

The poster itself is now available for pre-order. This is a rare chance to hang something on the wall that I designed, so if you’re interested in buying one (£20, including shipping to anywhere), head over to Roger’s store right away…it’s a very limited edition that will ship in about three weeks.

The redesign of Cute + Delicious is something I’d been thinking about for months before I actually started working on it. I love Alix’s blog (vegan treats, movie love and crafty fun…what’s not to love?!), and between the great photos and its fun name, it was hard to not come up with ideas for a new look. I did a lot of tweaking and adjusting and futzing before I even showed her a preliminary comp (always a nerve-wracking moment!), and I’m SO excited that she liked what I’d come up with right away. With just a few minor alterations based on Alix’s feedback, I think we wound up with a blog design that is, well, both cute and delicious. Alix was a dream client for sure, and I hope I have the chance to work with her again in the future. In the mean time, I’ll keep looking at this spinach dip and wishing I could coax it out of the monitor and into my mouth.

Thank you so much, Roger and Alix, for trusting me with your design projects!

It’s been so long since I’ve made a mix tape to share! I’m super-busy at work these days (OK, I know, when am I not busy…but it’s definitely better than the alternative), and I’ve been in all-headphones-all-the-time mode. I work in a big open space with a bunch of other designers, and as much as I love them, sometimes I really just need to tune everything out.

So here’s what I’m listening to today! Music that makes me want to GET. IT. DONE. It’s a fun mix, for sure, and every bit as suitable for listening to while speed-cleaning the house as it is for designing book covers to.

Previous Mixes:
+ Summertime Jams
+ Friendship Bracelets
+ Teen Goth Nite

You can find and follow me on 8tracks as doorsixteen.

It’s a little scary, my tiny new air plant, isn’t it? I hung it by the window in my office, and I keep glancing back over my shoulder to see if it’s creeping any closer while I’m not looking.

I have some kind of weird phobia that’s sort of like trypophobia, but not really. I feel sick when I look at clusters of things like certain kinds of plant roots (leeks are horrifying!) or rice stuck in a sink strainer. It’s impossible to explain to someone who doesn’t feel the same way, but trust me, it’s real—and my air plant is doing weird things to my mind. I can’t stop looking at it, but I also want to look away…

My air plant comes from Air Plant Supply Co., and it’s held in place by its roots and doesn’t need any soil. Every week, I have to give it a bath. In other words, I’ll probably kill it in no time! Heh. No, I’m really going to try to keep this thing alive.

The hanging pod it’s in comes from ceramacist Michael McDowell’s company Mudpuppy, who I wrote about previously in relation to one of my other nightmares, the one where all of my teeth fall out. This guy has quite a knack for honing right in on the things that make me feel uncomfortable, and I like it!

Photos from Mudpuppy

I can’t decide if putting the air plant in a ceramic baby head makes it more or less terrifying! Displaying it alongside a ceramic skull definitely adds something, but then you know how I feel about decorative skulls. The more the merrier!

OH, HEY! I just noticed that the Mudpuppy plant pods are actually on sale at right now for 30% off regular price. Full disclosure: If you use this link to sign up for a account, I will get a credit if you buy something within a month of joining. Ordinarily that’s not something I’d put here on the blog, but there’s no way to buy stuff from without making an account first. It’s an invitation-based, design-focused shopping site, and quite honestly I’m a little addicted.

My love for neon-hot pink continues to abound. I’ve noticed it creeping into my Instagram photos a lot over the past couple of weeks.

ONE I finally ordered a THERE IS THUNDER IN OUR HEARTS tote bag from Fieldguided, and of course I opted for the fluoro pink version. I lovelovelove Kate Bush, by the way. Her new album, 50 Words For Snow, is out next week—but it’s streaming now on NPR.

TWO Why exactly did I buy neon pink duct tape? You got me, but I was at Target and there it was, so home with me it went. I’m presently hoping for something to require duct-taping in the near future. I keep thinking about Bertjan Pot’s duct tape rug, too…

THREE I used neon orange ink for the hardcover edition of this book, but for the paperback (out next June), I went with Pantone 806—my favorite chip in the book, and the hottest neon pink imaginable. It’s not a color I get to use often in printed work, so I seized the opportunity!

FOUR I’ve been working my way through the same bulk package of neon pink highlighters for about 10 years now, and as of yesterday, I’m down to my last one. As Charlie pointed out, the classic Sanford Pocket Accent doesn’t even look like this anymore—in fact, they’ve dropped the Sanford name completely, and are now just branded as Sharpies. Apparently I’ve been doing a highlighter time-warp for the past decade.

FIVE Is there anything that doesn’t look better with neon pink washi tape on it? If there is, I haven’t discovered it yet. Lately I’ve been using it to wrap around packages in lieu of ribbon or string, and as decoration on top of utilitarian packing tape when putting something wrapped in brown paper in the mail.

SIX Despite the fact that my iPhone is basically glued to my side at all times, I still can’t give up my neon Post-it Notes. I always use the pink ones first and hope someone else will take the others! I write everything on Post-Its. I even stick them to my iPhone! And to my wallet. And to the cash inside my wallet. And all over my computer monitor. Like I’ve said before, I’ve gotta write stuff down.

Oh, hello there! Remember me? I’m Anna. I used to have a blog—this one right here that you’re reading, in fact! I also used to have time to do things like tile bathrooms, vacuum, go outdoors, shower, cook, think, and sleep.

I’ve written plenty here about what I do for a living, and I think I’ve made it pretty clear that I like working in-house for a publishing company. I love it, in fact. I’ve been at my job for nearly 14 years now, and I have no desire say goodbye to my 9–5 job (which is really more like 9:30–6:30, but you know what I mean). There are times, though, when I like to design something that’s not a book cover. And sometimes I also think it might be nice to have a little extra cash. More than both of those things, though, I really like to help people and make stuff look nice.

So I started taking on some freelance design work. Which turned into lots of freelance design work. Which then became lots and lots of freelance design work. Before I knew it, I was working about 100 hours a week between my full-time job and my “night shift.” My freelance hours started to outnumber my full-time hours, leaving me with the equivalent of about 2½ full-time jobs.

And that’s not alright.

If you follow me on Twitter, then you are probably well aware of ever-increasing stress levels and ever-decreasing sleeping hours, since that’s all I really talk about anymore. I’m busy, I’m tired, I’m drinking coffee, I’m still awake, I’m busy, I’m going to have another coffee…and holy mackerel, I’m so tired. Ad nauseum.

After this weekend, I’m taking a break from doing freelance work for a while. I’m not sure how long, but I need to stop, step back, and think about what I really want to be getting out of the work that I’m electing to do in my free time. I’ve learned some lessons over the past few months:

1. It is okay to say no. I know that seems obvious, and I’m sure we all think we know already, but it’s hard for me to say no to people. I think this is especially true of those of use who truly LOVE what do for a living, either because we tend to see our work as an extension of our everyday lives, or because we honestly just like to make someone happy by saying YES. Also—and I know my fellow designers with sympathize—sometimes you don’t want to say no to a project because you worry that it will wind up in the hands of someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing, and then there will just be one more piece of bad design in the world. Yes, that is a completely self-important attitude loaded to the brim with ridiculousness, but it’s the truth.

2. Money doesn’t really motivate me. Yes, it’s great to not have to struggle to make ends meet and to be able to buy nice things every now and then, but really—I don’t care much about money. I never think about potential income in relation to the work that I do. Book publishing is a notoriously low-paying field of design, and I’m okay with that. I always have been, because I love books and I love designing the packages that contain them. The same goes for the non-book freelance work that I do. I really have to care about the project (and the person or people behind it) in order with it to be worth my time. After all, if it’s not about the money, the reason take on a job has to be a little more meaningful than “because it’s there.”

3. I am always going to be one person, and there are always going to be 24 hours in a day. Again, I know that’s obvious, but I’ve had some moments of delirium lately in which I am fully convinced that if I could only clone myself or hit my head on the bathroom sink and invent a flux capacitor, then maybe I’d be able to get my work done. This is crazy-talk. No one should elect to live their life this way just because they don’t know how to say no (see item #1).

4. There’s more to life than coffee, you know (but not much more). I make no secret about my love of coffee, but that love should really be based more on enjoying the taste, the aroma, and the ritual of the brewing process—not on a desperate need to consume as much as possible in order to avoid drooling on my keyboard at 3AM. I mean…really now.

5. I am totally in the right field of work. I love being a designer. I love taking on challenges that require me to think about structure, organization, space and hierarchy. I love making grids. I love doing font research. I love showing something I’ve done to a client and having them get excited (and sometimes even cry—you know who you are!) about seeing their words or product or music wrapped up and presented in a way that perfectly represents exactly who they are and what they do. I love finishing a project and feeling like it looks like me, too. I like making stuff look good. I love that putting two colors together can make someone feel happy. I like pretty things that work well.

I’m really looking forward to getting normal amounts of sleep, though, and having time to just be a human every now and then.

I’ve been under the weather for the past couple of days and I didn’t really have the mental energy to do real work, so I used the opportunity to freshen up my portfolio site a bit. I have very little patience for or interest in designing stuff for myself, so I’ve been putting this off for ages.

I think I might actually get around to having some real business cards printed up, too. Can you believe I’ve never* had business cards? I’m forever scrawling my name and URL on the backs of receipts and cocktail napkins. Part of me feels like being able to say, “Here, take my card” will be a true certification of grown-up-ness, and that freaks me out a little. Okay, a lot. The only thing left after business cards are nude pantyhose, and I’m definitely not going down that road.

*That’s a lie. Last year I printed a sheet of 12 cards in a fit of panic before an “industry” party I went to. Then, as I was frantically trimming them down, I sliced off a huge hunk of my left thumb with an X-Acto knife. I then proceeded to bleed all over the cards. It was all very Cheese Monkeys.

So…I’m pretty tired. Exhausted, actually. I’m doing WAY too many things at once, and while there is an end to this madness in sight, I’ve been feeling more than slightly crazed lately.

I was just in the kitchen refilling my iced coffee glass at 12:32AM (Mommy, if you’re reading this, I swear I really am alright—and don’t pretend like you don’t get the late-night work crazies just like I do!) when a single thought ran across my brain:

Oh my god, this is all JUST LIKE that episode of “Ren & Stimpy” where Ren goes insane and eats soap.

Now, I realize that even just thinking that is kind of nuts, but I immediately had to go and watch the clip to see if, in fact, I am becoming a deformed cartoon Chihuahua with SPACE MADNESS.

And yes. Yes I am.

I love my job a whole lot. Designing stuff is what I do for a living, but it’s also what I do because I love to do it. Lately I’ve had the opportunity to do my job alongside a few friends who also love what they do, which makes work extra-fun.

Earlier today, I flicked the switch on the redesign of sfgirlbybay that I’ve been working on for the past couple of months. Victoria is not only one of my favorite bloggers, but she’s also one of my favorite people. Having the opportunity to work on her blog was a dream come true! Making the project even sweeter was getting to design a site around the new logo artist Shanna Murray created for Victoria. I hope you’ll stop over and take a look if you haven’t already. I think what we came up with just suits Victoria’s style and personality so well.

This was a very, very special project for me. I’m just so happy Victoria trusted her amazing blog in my hands!

I’ve known Nubby Twiglet for years, and during that time I’ve watched her grow into an incredible designer with a style that’s unmistakably her own. Nubby has a clear vision when it comes to fashion and photography as well, and as soon as I found out I’d be designing the cover for Rev Jen’s new book, Elf Girl (previously titled Elf Like Me), I knew she was the person to go to for the right cover shot. I’m pretty sure the first question I asked her was, “Hey, do you have any elf shoes?”

Nubby was a perfect collaborator—she took my art direction perfectly, and understood exactly what I needed. Her shots and styling were so perfect that I was able to come up with 10 cover concepts in a single afternoon! Very satisfying. The final cover is on the left (the book is out in October), and you can see some of the unused designs in the right.

This poster marked the second time I’ve worked with musician Roger O’Donnell. The first was about six years ago on a CD jacket, and it was really quite nice to do it again. I’ve known Roger since I was just starting out as a designer in my early 20s, so to know that he respects my work well enough to ask me to create something for him—this time a poster announcing a performance of his work—is a truly great feeling.

Last year, Roger musically recreated the David Hockney painting Bigger Trees Near Warter Or/Ou Peinture Sur Le Motif Pour Le Nouvel Age Post-Photographique, and in July of this year, the piece was performed by an orchestra of young musicians at the Guildhall School of Music. You can read about the entire process as well as watch video diaries and download demos here.

Thank you, friends. It’s been a pleasure.