Sign this?

Ah, the signature. A simple indication that, yes you were there, and you did it. The signature is a strange mistress. Sometimes she is meticulous, thought out, and done up with a steady hand. Other times she is drunk, slapdash, and barely holding onto legibility. The nature of the signature spans many topics and cultural instances, but I am going to touch on one in particular: the artist's signature.

It was ages ago when I had my first run in with the aforementioned mistress. I was young. My grandmother was teaching me how to make art on my own. I ended up creating a charcoal and pastel bust of a Zebra. When I say bust I mean it. You could land an A380 on the neck of this sucker. If you don't believe me it is still hanging in my mother's laundry room. It still makes me cringe.

But back then I was beaming with pride over my new creation. It was perfect. I wouldn't have changed a thing if you asked me to. As I held it up off the table to get a better look my grandmother came over to change my life.

She said, "Are you finished?"


"Well then sign your name."


At the time I did not have the experience, nor the vocabulary to explain to my grandmother that the word finished, to me meant, "add nothing else." She told me that if I didn't, no one would know that I did it and that we wouldn't want that would we? Reluctantly, I signed my name to the background underneath this massive striped neck. It wasn't ruined. I didn't throw a tantrum, or anything of the sort. It was just less than what I had hoped it would be. I spent some serious time getting the purple background just right. (I think it is purple. I would have to take another look to be sure.) Then I signed my -for all intents and purposes- lackluster signature with evidence of my unsteady and untrained hand. Bleh.

The signing of my work stopped becoming a conscious decision and more of a habit. It wasn't until college that I realized that everyone could care less if I signed my name or not. O wow. This is new. You mean to tell me that I don't have to sign my name? Well this changes everything. The reins were back in my hands. I could determine when a work was finished. I didn't need to wait until my namesake was stamped in the bottom right corner of a piece to call it complete.

With art school attendance came gallery attendance. It was quickly evident that almost every gallery uses labels. Sometimes the label was an entire wall or podium, but whatever form it took, there was an external signature to let you know (insert artist name) was here and indeed did this. Now I know you can't exactly call a printed label a signature -no matter how pretty the font is- but does it not satisfy the requirements my grandmother so stringently laid out for me? Yes it does. It does it without the bottom right corner of a piece becoming no more valued than the bottom line of an arduous insurance document.

I wish I would have been able to articulate to my grandmother my signature speech. I would have done it while standing on a gray studio chair and pointing a lot for emphasis. It would have went something like this:

Sign this?! For what do I have to gain by placing my name upon this piece? Surely, this Zebra with a lump in his throat cannot possibly share my name. Why then do you ask me to assign it to him? Does the background not already have a name? I learned it in school. Grapes, eggplant, popsicles, and Grimace are all purple. Purple is a fitting name to what now lays upon my page. It needs not another. Have I not already signed this work? With each brush stroke and finger smudge I have imprinted myself into this creation. This paper contains my very DNA. I do believe this well organized Double-Helix contains more of myself than my name could ever hope to convey! What then if this was a sculpture? Would the hidden overlays of my fingerprints not be enough to identify myself as the proprietor? My loving grandmother, my hands are my own. They act, at times, of their own accord. Much like our striped friend here, they do not need a name to be recognized as different. To answer your question, no. I will not sign my name. I have been penning out my signature on the paper from the moment I had sat down and touched it. I have signed it a thousand times. 

She probably would have smiled, told me to get off the chair, and made me sign it on the back.

I may be opinionated, but I know when to compromise.  



An Old Shadow

A few days ago my aunt asked me to watch the house and her dog Jack. I happily agreed. Jack is a Newfoundland and Labrador mix. He was a goofy nut of a dog is his youth but now old age has placed a weight upon him. His legs are in pain, and he seems to be going deaf. He even has the "old dog bark." The kind of bark that doesn't echo. The sound stops short in the throat and rasps into a whisper. 

When I got to the house Jack was relaxing on the porch. He was soaking wet. The goof ball was probably standing in the rain and "barking" as passersby. After finding an old towel to dry him off with, Jack was in heaven. I gave him the five star treatment. You could tell he was on cloud nine because of his leg doing the "yeah, that's the spot" dance. 

After Jack was dry it was my turn to clean up. Ascending to the second floor to get a shower I quickly realized that Jack was trying to follow me.

"It is okay buddy. I'll be back down."

He didn't want any part of that. He followed me upstairs one painful step at a time. He even stood in the bathroom waiting for me to get done. Not sitting. Not laying down. Standing there. 

"Come on Jack. I'll carry you downstairs."

Yeah right. He was acting like a girl when you go to wipe a booger on her. Dropping the shoulder and dipping away in disapproval. 

"Jack seriously man. I'll help ya."

No way. 

"Fine. Have it your way Jack. I'll meet you downstairs."

Finally Jack made his slow, laborious trek downstairs and came over to me on the couch. He still wouldn't lay down. I was starting to feel terrible. How could I convey to Jack that I have no problems pampering him? That he doesn't need to lift a paw?

If I walked to the kitchen to get a drink. He followed. He always arrived in the kitchen just as I was walking back to the living room. Jack would turn around like clockwork and come right back.

I had a new shadow. A old shadow. A jet black shadow panting from exhaustion. 

I finally realized how I had to help him. I had to sit still. No bathroom breaks. No food. Just staying still and scratching Jack softly behind the ears.

I wish I could explain to Jack how it would be better if he just stayed put sometimes, and exactly how bad his breath smells. If I could, I don't think he would care about either.

Green with Envy

Do not forget, the plight of the evergreens. 

In time immemorial all the trees of the forest proudly displayed their leaves through the breadth of winter. At the sight, the gods of ice and frost grew angry that such insignificant beings would stand indignant to the power of white and its purity.

So the gods heaped snow and ice onto the forest. Branches snapped and limbs were split. The forest cried out in pain to no avail. Reluctantly the oaks, cypress, maple, and ash all dropped their beautiful leaves to release winter's weight. The evergreens, having the largest leaves of all held fast and spat at the gods.

More snow and wind now battered the forest. The evergreen's strong limbs cracked and buckled. In an act of desperation, they began slicing their own leaves. Each leaf was cut a thousand times. The weight of the snow could then pass through the bleeding branches adding no weight.

The evergreens turned to the heavens in disgust,

“How can you be so selfish? In spring I do not shade the red flowers that they may die. I do not crush the blue bird in my branches simply because it is not green. Why then, must you choke my brothers with your snow and ice?”

Embarrassed at their actions, the gods crawled back to their thrones. Now the evergreens boast their color through all seasons. The cuts of their ancestors never healed, and even their seeds bear the scars of winters grudge with green.


The Traveler's Soul

After many days on the road, the traveler met an old Indian Chief, and his grandson. The traveler and the chief shared a handshake, but when the boy offered his hand out, the traveler did not shake it. The traveler asked the boy, “How about a high-five instead?” The boy’s arms dropped to his sides as a confused look took over his face. “What’s that?” asked the boy. The traveler knelt down and explained it to him.

“It is when I put my hand out like this, and you slap it as hard as you can, with yours.”

Excited to learn a new thing, as the traveler put up his hand, sure enough the boy slapped it with such force, that he hurt his own hand. “Why does it hurt like that? When you and my grandfather shake hands it doesn’t hurt you, does it? Why would you teach me something like that?”

The old Indian chief closed his eyes and smiled, as the traveler knelt down once more. The chief wondered how he might justify his reasons to the boy.

The traveler spoke,

“Well you see, when two hands touch, so do their souls. As you smack my hand, the pain you feel is your soul touching mine. Your soul is bitter that it cannot ask my soul more questions, so it stings as tries to push through your hand. So if our hands touch for too long, your soul will learn too much, too quick. You need to grow into your hands. As your hands grow stronger, you will be able to hold back your soul.”

“Why would I want to hold it back?” asked the boy, mesmerized.

“Because, child, there are some who walk among us, without souls. If your hands are not strong, your soul will rush out of you, into them looking for another soul. And neither me or your grandfather would be able to put it back.”

“What happens if my soul leaves?” the boy asked trembling.

The grandfather spoke in solemn tone,  “Then my grandson, you become a traveler.”

How typography can frustrate a child.

This story starts with a young boy reading Dr. Seuss. I believe the book was "One fish, Two fish, Red fish, Blue fish." The boy was riding in the car with his mother and sister to visit their grandmother. The little boy was tearing though this book at speeds previously thought impossible.

And then it happened. 

The boy encountered a letter he had never seen before. How could this be? Surely his mother hadn't lied to him? She said twenty-six. He knew the song. It must be a trick he thought. With little options the boy decided his best course of action would be to start the book over. Maybe the troublesome letter would go away and he would be able to finish the book. With a look of determination he closed the glossy cardboard cover and began again.

And it happened again...

The boy was now shocked. How could his plan fail like this? Again, he must do it again. With new fire in his eyes he finished the book - up to the troublesome letter - five more times before arriving at his grandmothers. As he was being unstrapped from the car he pleaded his mother to answer his question. Pointing to the page as if this new letter was physically hurting him, and must be stopped. Without missing a beat the mother said, "Mike, that's a "q." Of course! Quiet! The tiger was without a doubt silent upon his flimsy paper throne. 

So why did Mike have such trouble with the letter "q"? It was well within the constraints of the legendary twenty-six. The answer is simple. It all comes down to typography.

The typeface that was used in Dr. Seuss's books was a derivative of Garamond. A typeface deemed as one of the most legible fonts for print. My childhood self seemed to disagree. The reason why I couldn't understand that the letter I was looking at was a "q" was because of its descender. A descender is the part of a letter that extends below it's base. In school I was taught that "q" possessed a descender with a tiny curl. As if "J" and "Q" had a baby. In the Garamond used within Dr. Seuss's books the lowercase "q" does not have such a descender and looks exactly like a backwards "p". Even this current typeface you are reading flaunts a similar issue. 

As a graphic designer I have learned just how the selection of a typeface can make or break a publication or advertisement. My advice? Research your audience. Learn who will read what you have designed and what they will say. Hopefully you can avoid a small child thinking you don't understand the alphabet.