How Improv Made Me A Better Designer

June 22, 2009 at 2:12 pm | Posted in process, projects, Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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By kevindooley

Creative ruts are frustrating and suffocating. The sad thing is that we all go through it! For the past 4-5 weeks, I have been taking improv classes at The Basement in Atlanta. While I can’t say I’ve become the best improv actor or even a decent actor, the lessons I extract from each Thursday evening have become valuable and insightful in mt overall creativity. Improv stretches your thinking and forces you to become more intuitive. Since the classes, sketches and ideas have been erupting into my notebook.

So how do the principle of improv apply to you as an artist?

    1. Don’t be afraid of looking stupid– any idea will do.

    I don’t know too many creatives who aren’t perfectionists. While we are raising our standards for ourselves, we’re also running the risk of losing golden ideas by dismissing them too quickly. When I would sit down to do concept art, the only ideas that made the page were ideas I approved in my head. No one is going to look at your sketchbook. If something tumbles across your mind, sketch it down. Purge all ideas, even stupid ones, onto the page.

    During two-person scene exercises, one of the players would have to come up awith a scene on the spot to act out. Most of the time, the most mundane ideas would progress into hilarious skits.

    2. There is always something to add to a scene.

    Those mundane ideas would progress because the players would add different elements to the scene. Adding elements also solidifed the setting. We did an exercise where we would have to name as many different objects in a room as possible. For example, one of our settings was a guy’s bathroom. After naming out the obvious elements, the players started to name other things like “the broken soap dispenser,” “the amateur graffiti in the stalls,” “the gross, outdated pink urinal cake,” etc. (Okay, sorry for the visuals. LOL) After we named the basics, we were forced to stretch our creativity and imagination to find more to add to the setting.

    So if you were designing a logo for a automobile-related company, what kind of elements could you play with? After you sketch the obvious, what other related elements can you add to your notebook? License plate? Dice in the mirror? Seat belt? The grill? Create a pool of images to play with.

    Beware, however, that you do not compromise simplicity. In the two-person scenes, we were encouraged to add but not to add so much that the scene becomes convoluted, confusing, and unbelievable. For now, just purge out all your ideas but know to subtract and narrow down later.

    By Darren Hester

    3. Look at what you have and adapt to it.

    Okay, I modified the original lesson a little bit. The original reads, “Look at your body posture at the moment and adapt to it.” It is easier to improv a character based on your body as it is now than to come up with a character and then adapt your body accordingly. When you do the latter, you often get so caught up in trying to act and sound like that character that you neglect the relationships on stage. The scene never progresses anywhere.

    As designers, we may sometimes try a little too hard to make the most perfect, most zen, most powerful logo and we end up aggravated when it’s just not happening. Stop and look at the sketches you have now. Interrogate each concept: is this concept aligned with the purpose of the logo? Is it conveying what the client wants? Is it straightforward?

    Now, how can you improve it?

    4. Always pay attention to what people are saying and doing.

    The improv warm-up exercises were, oddly, some of the most insightful. Games like Zip Zap Zoey, King Monkey, and Patterns forced us to pay sharp attention to the flow amongst the group. It challenged us to memorize, multitask, and stay focused all at once. The point of these games? In improv, you will have to bounce actions and reactions from other players on stage. To be a coherent part of the scene, you must develop a good ear for certain phrases and concepts as they happen and extract/expand them.

    Ideas come from the least unexpected places. If you want ideas, don’t tune out your surroundings and try to visualize ideas in your head. Tune INTO the nearby conversations and activity. Someone may say or do something that sparks a new train of thought and lead you to a new idea.

    5. If you get lost or reach a dead end, return to your original intentions.

    When a player on stage would get stuck in a scene, it helps to simply return to that character’s original motivation (i.e. wanting that damn cookie, trying to cheer up a friend, trying to get rid of the nosy neighbor). When we add elements to a scene, we may find that the scene has become so complicated or has strayed so much that the player may not know where to take it.

    Similarly, we can become enamored with a couple of concepts and run with it until we reach a dead end. Return to your first sketches. Return to those notes you scribbled at Starbucks when you met your client. Return to your conversation with the client. Examine the original intentions of your client and yourself. Can you find a different path to reach those objectives?

I would have never imagined that improv classes would be so insightful to me. They gave me solutions to tackle creative blocks. Stretch your imagination, play with your sketches, and pay attention. Leave no idea out; bad ideas, after all, can lead you to good ideas.

The downside is that improv is not something you can practice alone. If you live in the Atlanta area, I highly recommend taking the improv classes at The Basement! They also have shows at 8 & 10 every Friday and Saturday. If Atlanta is a bit of a drive, Charisma Studios in Marietta will be offering an improv course too! If you don’t live in the area, please look up where improv classes are being offered in your city; it is WELL worth it!


Momocon Poster: WIP

March 6, 2009 at 9:18 pm | Posted in process, projects | Leave a comment

I’m designing a promo poster for Momocon and this is what I’ve got so far:


The theme this year is cheesy 50s sci-fi and when I looked it up, I found this quote interesting:

“People, by the 50s, had lost their optimistic confidence in the ability of science to fulfill all the dreams of mankind; instead, you saw science about to fulfill all the nightmares of mankind. The prospect of nuclear war . . . was hours away.” – J.G. Ballard<

So I ran with the idea and came up with this design. 🙂 Momocon is the 14th and 15th of March; look for me in the Artist’s Alley! I will be selling commissions and prints!

Professor Aragorn’s Promo Poster

February 23, 2009 at 7:50 pm | Posted in process, projects | Leave a comment
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Tiara has been one of my closest friends for the past four to five years. Her dad owns a business doing magic shows for birthdays and events as “Aragorn the Magician.” This year, he wants to break into the public school and library market as “Professor Aragorn,” an educational program.

So, to my surprise one day, he asked me to do a poster for his first show, “That Changes Everything!” The theme of the show is how idea and invention changed the world. Since it was a program for kids, I also wanted to include an element of youth empowerment.









There were lots of changes from the prototype for various reasons, but I think it is looking fantastic so far. I loved playing with this poster. Let me know what you guys think too!

Thrive America: The Graphic Journey

February 10, 2009 at 8:37 pm | Posted in process, projects, Uncategorized | 5 Comments
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I’m thrilled to announce that one of my clients has released installments of his interview series, Thrive America. Brent was such a pleasure to work for and I learned so much from him just in the past two months. I wanted to exhibit the development of the Thrive America logo from the very first sketches to its debut on the Thrive America homepage.


I drew these during the shooting of the Chris Heuser interview. Before then, I admit I had a difficult time coming up with ideas. To be immersed in the Thrive America process injected me with a geyser of ideas! I loved it.


Brent and his team reached a consensus and shrunk the sketches down to three contestants, mixing and matching their favorite elements.



One thing I learned while making this logo is that fonts are damn hard to match up! I made the mistake of committing to the font I had used in my sketches so I ended up frustrating myself in the end. I decided that this font was the closest I could find and that I would have to just revise my design around it.

Still, There are something lacking in this copy. it mirrored the sketch decently but the elements seemed too detached …


It was during this project that I also learned the value of a mentor. I met Michael Harper (Head Writer of Blank Stage but he has such an extensive resume that I don’t think any one title can contain him) and though our relationship has been short, he has given me incredible advice on freelancing. He suggested the fade in graph and I must say, it vastly improved the design.


Big jump. The faded intersection of the rays and the graph created a novel resemblance of the US flag. Michael and I both felt that “America” was too light in the former revisions so here, I tried to add more weight. But…


… we ultimately decided on this one. It’s simple and classic enough to capture “America” and a good contrast to the “Thrive” font.


You can see the logo here on the Thrive America homepage. I strongly suggest both budding and seasoned entrepreneurs to check out these interviews and pick up a few tips on growing your business!

Toastmasters Flyer & Banner Sketches

January 23, 2009 at 8:57 pm | Posted in process, projects, social | 2 Comments
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What an eventful week! Not only have I been officially inducted as a new member at the Cobb County Branch for Toastmasters, I am also now the Secretary for the Legacy Owls Toastmasters! Tomorrow, I will be attending a very last-minute officer training program from 8:00 am to 1:00pm. I will learn to organize notes about meetings and be in charge of marketing the club on campus; I’m always surprised to see that so many students at Kennesaw are unaware of this amazing opportunity to hone their speaking skills. I’ve already whipped up a couple of flyer designs for Legacy Owls:


I will also be designing a humongous banner that will hang off the rails for everyone in the cafeteria to see:


I’ve been connecting with so many people this week; I started with a chunk of business cards in my purse and now I’m down to two. I started this week so dismayed and now I’m radiant with optimism. I love all the opportunities that have been opening up to me.

Well, look like I’ll be turning in early tonight; that officer training seminar starts at 7:15! ( Eek! )

New Green Syence Banner

January 20, 2009 at 9:00 pm | Posted in process, projects | Leave a comment
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First off, I wanted to shout out, Happy Obama Day! 😉 I went to Obamicon.Me earlier and even though I think it sort of cheapens the original Obama poster, I couldn’t help myself:


Hehe. 🙂

Anyways, I have been staying afloat in school so far; it’s much easier when you carry flashcards with you everywhere. I’ve also been tweaking certain projects I’ve mentioned, like the Thrive America logo and the Green Syence blog banner.

The first banner I did was rejected. :{ It didn’t quite reflect Dr. Chiu’s research so I started form scratch. This time, I’m trying to combine photos AND drawings, playing with the concept of scattered scientific notes. This is what I have so far:


Not at all done yet but hopefully, this is more in line with what the client wants! 🙂

As for personal projects, I wrote outlines for two chapters of a possible comic I may embark on in the future. I’m keeping this relatively in the dark for now but it’s something I wanted to do for quite a while …

Blank Stage Productions and Green Syence

January 5, 2009 at 6:23 pm | Posted in process, projects | 2 Comments
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All the holidays are done and over with and now we must all return to work.

So what have I been working on?

I’ve just finished a flyer for Blank Stage Productions:


School starts on Thursday for me so this week, I’ll be rushing to finish other parts of the site, including a page listing my services and a page for my clients with helpful links.

I am particularly excited about school coming up; I’ll be finally working towards my new major! The only thing is that I have the dreaded …


I’m feeling pretty optimistic about this semester, though. With my schedule, I’ll have plenty of time to study, work on my graphic work, and maintain a social life.

I want you guys to check out a banner I’ve been doing for Green Syence in collaboration with Rob Chen:

green syence

green syence

green syence

green syence

I’m not done with it yet but here’s the mock-up thus far.

Rob is such a pleasure to work with. I’ve been taking a lot of advice from him and it’s already paying off so well! I highly advise my clients to check out his blog.

Business Card: Early Concepts & Final Copy

January 2, 2009 at 8:26 pm | Posted in process, projects | Leave a comment
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I am a little bummed out.

I wanted to register HavanaGraphics or Havana Designs or something similar but they’re already taken. It’s really gotten me down but I’m trying to do my best with what I have. Can’t let anything in the way, can we?

I seem to do my best work when I’m drawing or designing for someone but when it comes to working for myself, it becomes so frustrating. It plagues every artist, writer, designer, performer, musician: it’s just never good enough. I suppose I’m being much too hard on myself, but I really want to finish a business card design for myself so I can get them printed!

Here are a few designs I whipped up the past few weeks.




But I’ve finally decided on a design and I just ordered them from Club Flyers an hour ago! 🙂


The texture came from some scrapbook paper I bought from Michaels and the brushes are from Smashing Magazine. I am quite pleased with it and can’t wait ’til they come in! 🙂

Man, I’ve been watching nothing on Youtube except Disney musical numbers the past two days. Gotta love em.

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