Ways of Hearing

Ways Of Hearing is a six-part podcast hosted by musician Damon Krukowski, exploring the nature of listening in our digital world.

I am a big fan of podcasts, and I have recently discovered a new one that has captivated me. It is called Ways of Hearing. It is part of Radiotopia’s Showcase Series and will run for 7 episodes. I fell in love listening to episode 1: TIME. Host, writer and co-producer Damon Krukowski, former Galaxie 500 drummer (Galaxie is one of my absolute favorite bands of the late 1980s) indie rocker and author of The New Analog: Listening and Reconnecting in a Digital World, uses each episode of the series to tackle larger themes related to sound — “Time,” “Space,” “Love” and so on — and also as a way to answer a central question: Why, with so much information and processing power at our fingertips, does it often seem to be more difficult to share our experiences than before?

The series takes its title from John Berger’s Ways of Seeing, a BBC television series from the 1970s that used the newly widespread technology of television to question our relationship to images. Like Ways of SeeingWays of Hearing wants us to take a critical look at the ways we consume audio in the digital era. Please check out episode one, Time, below:

Big News

It is hard to believe that I taught my first class at the Portfolio Center/Miami Ad School almost 19 years ago this quarter. I love my students and alumni and all the wonderful people I have had the honor of working with at the school.

Big changes and new and exciting challenges await. I have accepted a full-time position as a Professor in the Graphic Design program at Savannah College of Art and Design/Atlanta beginning in September.
I want to thank everyone I have worked with at The Portfolio Center: you have made me a better teacher, a better designer and a better person. I hope I will always be considered as part of the extended PC/MAS family. This blog, Stunning Proof, has been a rewarding way to communicate and explore some of the hidden corners of design inside and outside the classroom. This will not change! So join me and look for Stunning Proof to continue to explore the wonders of design hidden in plain sight.

Books to Covet: 50 Books | 50 Covers

Top Row: The Poser (cover) designer: Will Staehle; My Father the Pornographer (cover) designer: Jamie Keenan; Impossible Modernism (cover) designers: Anne Jordan and Mitch Goldstein; Second Row: Artec Alvar (book) designer: Irma Boom; By the People: Designing a Better America (book) designer: Other Means; Design: The Invention of Desire (book) designer: Sara Jamshidi; Third Row: Seeing Things: A Kid’s Guide to Looking at Photographs  (book) designer: Atelier Dyakova, London; Sophie Calle And So Forth (book) designer: Xavier Barral, Coline Aguettaz; The Natural Flow of Things (book) designer: José Duarte.

Here are some of the gorgeous winners from the 2016 50 Books | 50 Covers Competition sponsored by AIGA and Design Observer. This year, book designers and publishers entered nearly 700 book and cover designs from more than 23 countries. After careful and considered review, the jury—Gail Anderson, Michael Carabetta and Jessica Helfand—recognized submissions that “successfully demonstrate design excellence in book and cover design.” I covet each book and cover! It was difficult to pick my favorites from such a stellar winners’ list. But here is my attempt to limit it to nine. For the full results visit:



Semiotics and Film

Katie Tynes: Magnolia
McKenzie Martin: There Will Be Blood

What is semiotics? It refers to the study of signs: meaning all the visual and sense information that surrounds us. Semiotics is what helps us make sense of all we see in terms of meaning and form and culture. How can we take an academic term and bring it into the design process?

 I gave the following assignment to my Winter Quarter Semiotics class at The Portfolio Center after I assigned each student one of Paul Thomas Anderson’s films to watch and study:

Drawing from Anderson’s films, create a poster that stands as a new sign for an existing film.

Casey Lovegrove: Punch-Drunk Love
Madison DeFilippis: The Master
Jennifer Grimm: Hard Eight
Sarai Wingate: Punch Drunk Love
Luke Romig: The Master


The Semiotics of Podcasts

Clockwise from top left: Luke Romig, It’s Your Universe; Casey Lovegrove, Bad With Money; McKenzie Martin, What the Crime?!; Madison DeFilippis, The Tell Show.

This past quarter in my Semiotics class at Portfolio Center, students worked on a new project: using semiotics, or the study of signs, to create a visual identifier for a Panoply/Slate Network Podcast. Many of you listen to podcasts on your phone or laptop. The square image that shows on the screen while your podcast is playing is the identifying mark/visual for the show. The most exciting part of the project for me, as a teacher, was to bring in the option of motion to these marks. The four examples above are simple GIF files. With the option of using motion, students were able to use the identifier to tell more of a story, set a mood, and give the viewer a better sense of the podcast.

From left: Katie Tynes, The History Chicks; Jennifer Grimm, Lexicon Valley.

Animation was encouraged but not required with the podcast identifier project. Above are two examples that function as still identifiers, but still have the potential for motion if the students wish to animate these marks later.

The students really enjoyed learning about new podcasts, listening to numerous episodes, researching the programs and coming up with visual symbols, icons and indices that create interest in the podcasts and tell compelling stories. Enjoy these examples.


Just look up…Completed

1: deutzia in the front yard; 2: behind Candler Park Golf Course; 3: The Portfolio Center front deck; 4: McLendon Avenue; 5: Ponce City Market in the rain; 6: above the vegetable garden; 7: Indiana Avenue; 8: East Atlanta; 9: above the subcontinental divide, Lake Claire Land Trust; 10: Your Dekalb Farmer’s Market; 11: Dr. Bombay’s Underwater Tea Party; 12: back deck at Dr. Bombay’s; 13: Bread and Butterfly, Inman Park; 14: orange flowers in the trees at the amphitheater Lake Claire Land Trust; 15: HodgePodge Coffee; 16: Woman Rising sculpture, Freedom Park; 17: Oakhurst; 18: Downtown Decatur; 19: Druid Hills; 20: Indiana Ave., 21: Hodgepodge Coffee; 22: Decatur; 23: Lake Claire; 24: Garson Rd. Buckhead; 25: Fritti, Inman Park; 26: Lake Claire; 27: Pullman Yards, Kirkwood;  28: Lake Claire; 29: Lake Claire; 30: The Arlo, Decatur; 31: Little 5 Points.

The results of a month-long personal project titled Just Look Up… With this year’s news becoming ever more confounding and disturbing, I found myself feeling increasingly discouraged and devoid of hope. I was hungry for a new outlook on my world so I challenged myself to take at least one photograph looking upwards, at some point each day during the month of May. This project does not attempt solve any of the world’s problems, but has succeeded in providing me with a way to look at my surroundings from a new point of view. I am finding beauty in all sorts of unexpected places during my daily travels around Atlanta. Enjoy.

Rules for Students and Teachers

Nothing is a mistake: There’s no win and no fail. There’s only make.”

A number of years ago I ran across a wonderful online list titled Some Rules for Students and Teachers. It was attributed to composer John Cage and had been posted at legendary modern choreographer Merce Cunningham’s dance studio.  Immediately I was struck by how empowered I felt when reading the list. I wanted to learn more. With a little bit of research I discovered that this list was originally made by Sister Corita Kent.

Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes.”

Sister Corita Kent

Kent’s uplifting and positive work was the subject of my last post (see below). Rules for Students and Teachers was originally created as part of a project for a class she taught between 1967 and 1968. Kent’s rules became the official art department rules at the college of LA’s Immaculate Heart Convent where Kent taught and later led the art department. Kent and Cage knew each other. In fact, the tenth rule cites Cage directly and he was the one who popularized these rules beyond Immaculate Heart College.

Consider everything an experiment.”

Choreographer Merce Cunningham, Cage’s longtime partner, kept a copy of it in the studio where his company rehearsed until his death. The list can also be found in Sister Corita Kent’s Learning by Heart: Teachings to Free the Creative Spirit.

These rules have become integral to my teaching and have kept me feeling inspired. Today I want to share them with you:

Sister Corita Kent

RULE ONE: Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for awhile.

RULE TWO: General duties of a student — pull everything out of your teacher; pull everything out of your fellow students.

RULE THREE: General duties of a teacher — pull everything out of your students.

RULE FOUR: Consider everything an experiment.

RULE FIVE: Be self-disciplined — this means finding someone wise or smart and choosing to follow them. To be disciplined is to follow in a good way. To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.

RULE SIX: Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.

RULE SEVEN: The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things.

RULE EIGHT: Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes.

RULE NINE: Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It’s lighter than you think.

RULE TEN: “We’re breaking all the rules. Even our own rules. And how do we do that? By leaving plenty of room for X quantities.” (John Cage)

HINTS: Always be around. Come or go to everything. Always go to classes. Read anything you can get your hands on. Look at movies carefully, often. Save everything — it might come in handy later.

Rule 6 on a banner at the Stanford Design School.


Sister Corita Kent: Designer, Artist, Advocate, Teacher, Hero

When I need to feel inspired, I need look no further than the bright, uplifting work of Sister Corita Kent (1918–1986). Kent was an artist, graphic designer, educator, and advocate for social justice. She entered the religious order of the Immaculate Heart of Mary at age 18, eventually eventually teaching in and then heading up the art department at Immaculate Heart College.

In 1962, Kent a visited the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles and saw Andy Warhol’s Soup Cans. She was struck by his pop art approach and produced her first Pop print that summer. Her work evolved from figurative and religious to incorporating advertising images and slogans, popular song lyrics, biblical verses, and literature.

Graphic designer and art historian Lorraine Wild says of Sister Corita, as she was known, had already been experimenting with the silkscreen printing process when she Warhol’s work:

“What she got from Warhol, clearly, was that there was this powerful imagery in pop culture that came out of advertising,” Wild says.And that if you just looked at it from a slightly different angle, you could read all these other things into it, and it already had a kind of power because the audience was familiar with it.”

Kent loved words and  freely combined advertising logos with Bible verses and quotes from Gertrude Stein, Thoreau, Martin Luther King Jr., the Beatles and e.e. cummings. In her hands, the familiar red and blue dots of the Wonder Bread wrapper expressed her thoughts on hunger and poverty.

Throughout the ‘60s, her work became increasingly political, urging viewers to consider poverty, racism, and injustice. In 1968 she left the order and moved to Boston. After 1970, her work evolved into a more introspective and sparse style. Although she battled cancer three times, she remained active in social causes until her death in 1986. At the time of her death, she had created almost 800 serigraph editions, thousands of watercolors, and innumerable public and private commissions, according to the Corita Art Center, a project of the Immaculate Heart Community that preserves and promotes Corita Kent’s art, teaching, and passion for social justice.

In 2016, Kent was awarded the AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) Medal. “Now, as Kent’s life and work becomes better known, we should remember that her oeuvre is not just graphically intelligent and innovative, it is also laden with meaning. It was created to inspire us to act for the common good, to help those around us, to resist greed and other selfish impulses, and to be part of a beneficent world community. That is the message that Kent continues to offer us in her vibrantly colored, brilliantly designed work,” according to Susan Dackerman, of AIGA.

Why did it take so long for Kent to gain recognition for her work?

Ian Berry, co-curator of “Someday is Now: The Art of Corita Kent,” a retrospective of Kent’s 30-year career says,

“An ‘artist’ was from New York. They were a man; they were an epic, abstract painter. And she wore a habit — she just didn’t look like what the, sort of, movie version of an artist looked like.”

Next Week: (Corita Kent’s 10 Rules for Students and Teachers)

For more about Corita Kent and to visit a digital archive of her work:  http://corita.org





Spring Type Hunt

Typography, or the study of letterforms, is all about training the eye to see the visible and invisible. I teach a beginning typography class at Portfolio Center, and I love to start by sending my students out around Atlanta on a type hunt. Students are told to look for interesting letterforms in the urban environment: A–Z and 0–9. It is a great way to really study form and learn a bit more about our city. It is an engaging way to begin training the eye and getting students to think about the forms and diversity of letters and numbers. And who doesn’t enjoy getting away from the screen for awhile?

I sent my new Type 2 class out on the hunt recently. They were lucky to have some beautiful spring weather for exploration. The type above was discovered around town from the newly renovated Ponce City Market to the Atlanta Beltline, Inman Park, Little 5 Points, The West End, Old Fourth Ward, Decatur, Virginia Highland, Westside, Cabbagetown and East Atlanta. As a class, we voted on our favorite examples of each letter (pictured above) and number (pictured below). 

Thanks to my spring quarter Type 2 class: Thomas Adams, Hannah Guthrie, James Harrill, Chanel Kim, Kendra Little, Keelan Lyons, Kaylin Miranda, Brian Pace, Landon Taylor and Tobi Odesanya. Special thanks to Brian Pace for creating the montage of  all the winning files. 



Begin Anywhere: some notes on getting started


Thumbnail sketches for a Type 2 poster project/Laura McMullan

“Begin anywhere…”

john cage, composer

Sometimes the hardest part of a creative project is getting started. Over the years in my own work and work with students I have developed some processes that makes design or writing or any creative work flow more easily. As we kick off a new quarter at The Portfolio Center, I want to share some tips that make starting a new project a more engaging and pleasant process.

I am not going to delve deeply into time and project management, but focus more on the process. This method of thinking helps generate lots of ideas quickly, separates the creator/editor processes and allows one to create multiple solutions.  I have found over the years that I can talk myself into doing nearly anything, regardless of mood or state of mind, if I tell myself there is a fifteen minute time limit to start. So gather your preferred tools: paper, pens, pencils and a timer and lets get started.

15 minute brainstorming session for a book about Alexander Hamilton/Michael Booth

15 minute brainstorm

Set your timer for 15 minutes and start thinking. Write down anything and any associations that come to mind. Sometimes small sketches are helpful as well. Do not judge or edit your ideas! One mistake that students make is trying to create innovative ideas and edit them simultaneously. The creative mind functions very differently than the editing mind. Let these two parts of your brain do their work separately and at the best possible time for your project. When the timer goes off, put your brainstorming notes and sketches away. I don’t even want you to look at them. Move on to another project or get outside or have a meal with a friend. Over the course of two days, try to do an additional three to four more sessions of this sort of brainstorming. Remember to set your timer and put your notes and sketches away when your time is up.

Creating and editing are separate processes—do not edit initial ideas before you get them down on paper.


After you have done 4 to five sessions of quick brainstorming and taken the appropriate breaks, you can pull out all of your sketches and notes and start looking for connections. Something you thought about in your first brainstorming session combined with an idea from session five may start to build into something interesting. Make notes and sketches. You should have a number of possible concepts and ideas from synthesizing all of your thinking.

make it visual

Once you have concepts it is time to make them visual. You may begin sketching (I still believe deeply in the importance of being able to make your ideas visual making full use of the connection between your eyes and your brain. Thumbnails, or small sketches are the way to go at this phase of a project. These small sketches allow you to work through lots of ideas quickly. Please do not get hung up on creating individual thumbnails—you need to keep moving. You can edit and develop promising thumbnails into larger sketches later in the process.

Initial thumbnail sketches for a poster project (top). Thumbnail sketches with larger sketches of best options (bottom)/Iliana Taylor

Mood boards (or inspiration boards) can help you refine the look and mood of the project. Collect imagery, type, photographs, color and pattern that represent the feel of the project. Here is an example, below.

Mood board for a book design for the novel Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides/Savannah Colbert

don’t wait until the last minute

This may be the hardest lesson to learn. There will be many projects that must be undertaken and completed quickly. But the more time you allow for the process the better the work will be. Your mind can float more freely and creatively when your work feels more like play instead of putting your creativity under the gun.

bird by bird, or step by step

Despite best intentions, we all end up procrastinating sometimes. One of my favorite stories about procrastination and becoming overwhelmed comes from Anne Lamott, in her incredible book titled Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.

Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. [It] was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

* Special thanks to the following students, whose process and sketches illustrate this post: Laura McMullan, Michael Booth, Savannah Colbert and Iliana Taylor.