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I’m searching for ‘green’ today. Let it pour like a visual remedy! I started the hunt this morning looking through photos of a recent journey to Spain, and by the end of the day I’ll eat all sorts of green things in a salad. The psychological effects of color can have great benefits, better than most meds. The 4 psychological primary colors are red, blue, yellow and green. They relate respectively to the body, mind, the emotions and the balance between these three. For me today it’s the need of green.

Green strikes the eye in such a way as to require no adjustment whatever and is, therefore, restful. Being in the center of the spectrum, it’s the color of balancea more important concept than many people realize. When the world about us contains plenty of green, this indicates the presence of water, and little danger of famine, so we are reassured by green, on a primitive level. Green shows us harmony, rest, peace, refreshment and love. But I want to give it to you straight… negatively, it can indicate stagnation and, incorrectly used can perceived as being too bland. Make your greens grow and you’ll be fine.

The spritzer bottle just makes me giggle, I have a passion for green plastic, and the chocolate wrapped in green makes me think of the evergreen cocoa tree, very exotic and dark. I have a new favorite artist who uses lots of it too, Matt Magee.

flat white f-NAT

We have a new director here at the Seattle Opera. After 3o years, Speight Jenkins is retiring and will be replaced this new season by Aidan Lang, who’s originally from New Zealand. Opera is big here in Seattle and so is coffee. So we weren’t surprised to hear a radio interview on KPLU, our local NPR station, in which Lang was asked to name his favorite coffee beverage.

His answer—a flat white—apparently sent the city into a coffee tizzy. For a day or two, baristas reported an unprecedented call for flat whites. Unfortunately, not many knew how to make it. In the radio interview, Lang describes a flat white as “something in between a latte and a cappuccino.” My local barista reports that he gets an occasional request for the drink, mostly from visiting Europeans. “It’s a small drink,” Jamison at Fresh Flours told me. “If you’re used to grande lattes with a lot of sugar, you won’t like it.”

Apparently, we were ahead of the curve here at Partners in Design. We’ve had a flat white coffee poster available on Etsy for some time already. Along with lots of other delicious options.


I can’t help but post a few of these, they’re delicious and preposterous! Concoctions whipped up by Andy Warhol, his mom, and Suzie Frankfurt. I couldn’t resist and just located a used copy, it should be here in a few days… in time for the holidays. The book condition described a stain on the back cover… I wonder from which recipe.

I’ll will post a few drawings of my Thanksgiving feast. If you do a food drawing we’ll post it here and make our own collective visual feast.


I hope you don’t mind if I show admiration for a collection of other designers’ work in the field of art-science visual storytelling. We also call this design realm “infographics” and this story is told and illustrated in the new book “The Best American Infographics 2013,” by Gareth Cook, with an introduction by David Byrne.The very best [infographics] engender and facilitate an insight by visual means — allow us to grasp some relationship quickly and easily that otherwise would take many pages and illustrations and tables to convey. Insight seems to happen most often when data sets are crossed in the design of the piece — when we can quickly see the effects on something over time, for example, or view how factors like income, race, geography, or diet might affect other data. When that happens, there’s an instant “Aha!”…

I picked just one example from the volume to live by today… eating. There’s a renewed interest in seasonality of our foods to make them healthier and sustainable, and these charts marvelously distinguishes each morsel in a circular calendar. Another good article I read recently gets back to the heart of the matter… seeds.




Nutella was created in the 1940’s by Pietro Ferrero. War rationing meant that cocoa was in short supply across Europe, so Pietro Ferrero mixed cocoa with toasted hazelnuts, cocoa butter and vegetable oils to create an economical spread of chocolate. Reformulated in 1949, this variety was both inexpensive and spreadable, which was a great plus-point. It enjoyed enormous success and in 1964 was renamed ‘Nutella’ and marketed outside of Italy. Nutella comes in an oval-shaped jar. The bold label contains both black and red letters! The “N” is designed to draw attention to the nuts in Nutella! But look how this solution draws so much attention to the name and makes this mark memorable. So why is this on our mind today… well today is “World Nutella Day”.

Part of the benefit of spending an extended period of time here in Civita is witnessing the ebb and flow of tourists and visitors to the town. Some days are busy; some slower due to weather or weekday schedules. What remains constant is the realization that whether 10 or 100 tourists walk up the hill on a Sunday in October, Civita will continue to go on about its business.

Jules Verne said, “Look with all your eyes, look.” The Surrealists painters recognized what they called “the potency of the everyday.” Writers and artists love details, but there is always a push and pull between the obsession with detail and the semi-conscious acknowledgement that everything will eventually vanish. Relief, essentially, mixed with dread.

It has been interesting to discover how much more there is to “see” when you really slow down and start to look. Glance around the piazza on a typical morning and you may think not much is happening. A few groups of tourists wander in through the gate…the chiesa door is open and receiving visitors…. La Tonna, one of the souvenir shops, is open for business.

Look a little closer in Civita and you might see: seismic workers heading out to the north cliff wall; a mason mixing the special pozzolano cement used here for tufo construction; Sandro making his rounds to collect and ferry Civita’s garbage to the Bagnoregio bins. Basically, you will see the life of the town in the process of being.

Much of Civita has been documented—its history, culture, architecture, and traditions. These things have been studied, talked about, described, inventoried, photographed, and analyzed. Documentation is part of why I am here on a NIAUSI Fellowship. But what about the rest?

The passing of a day in Civita—a mere 12 hours—includes, like many places, actions and events that are not usually noticed; things that have no real consequence in the grand scheme of the recorded history of this place. Does that mean then, that what takes place when nothing “important” happens is worthy of remembering or recording? My suspicion is that noticing the unremarkable might yield a different kind of map of Civita. And the process of noticing in itself could lead to a particular kind of subjective storytelling since the mind tends to question the whys and wherefores of what it sees. Observing the world in action, it wants to make connections.

The Italians have a wonderful expression: il dolce far niente, which translates as “the sweetness of doing nothing.” Too often in today’s jam-packed, work-driven, internet-powered world, it is easy to forget how to “do nothing.” Even worse, we wrongly believe that doing nothing equals uselessness. The Italians are wiser. They live il dolce far niente even when they are busy serving pranzo, mixing mortar, or ferrying wine bottles and plastic to the recycling bins. Perhaps it is the wisdom that comes from living in a culture with a 3,000-year heritage or simply an understanding that the sum of life is larger than what we can pack into an 8-hour workday. Regardless, life here is not something that can be spent, wasted, or passed.  It simply is. Every moment holds possibility. In America, some of us, myself included, frequently feel that if something is not done with a purpose it is the same as doing nothing.

Of course, there is a downside to this observation that I will call the “grass is always greener” syndrome. Our perceptions of the world are formed through categories, genres, and classifications, many of them specific to the culture we come from. Idealizing any particular place happens when we remove ourselves from our daily routines and see new ways of living. We become attracted to the potential for change in our own lives. Yet as we all know, change is hard, but it is essential if we are to continue to grow. Travel speeds that growth process in many ways by simultaneously challenging and enriching us.

The people of Civita are called Civitonici. In such an ancient place, that self-definition may apply only to the handful of families who have lived here for five or seven generations. Can someone who has lived here for 20 or 30 years legitimately call themselves Civitonici? Does it depend on whether you are a full or part-time resident? Does it count at all if you’re a stranieri, a foreigner? You may have come here decades ago and know as much if not more about Civita than some locals. But…Italians take the long view of history.

The answers to these questions are ultimately personal. One solid fact, however, is that Civita is experiencing increasing change with each passing year. Invariably this will—this must—change the definition of who and what constitutes the Civitonici. For many reasons, the city has become a destination. The influx of tourism and rising real estate prices is bringing increased commerce for the merchants but also poses the risk of losing the essence of this city and turning it into an Italian Disneyland. So far that has not happened, but it is a fine line to thread. Everyone wants a piece of something they feel they have “discovered” and when they get it, they tend to not want to share it with the next newcomer. But to survive, Civita has to be shared.

The passing of a day here, like anywhere, has its own rhythm and increasingly that routine includes many tourists and the patterning of locals to cater to the needs of these visitors, both short-and long-term, myself included. Whether this means that a little bit of the ancient soul of Civita is lost in the process remains to be seen. The decision ultimately rests with the Civitonici, however broadly or narrowly they choose to define themselves.

We’re back from the Vancouver Winter Olympics! Great international time for all!

From a design point of view…
The fashion was HOT and the mascots rocked. The overall volunteer color, and there was lots of it, was called “chill”. It coordinated well with the Olympic logo’s “winter ocean”. The leader of the mascots was Quatchi, a shy and gentle giant, a Sasquatch… he’d be a great hockey goalie. Here he is with Sumi on the side of a financial tower. I like blue AND fur… so I was happy. Read the rest of this entry »

I may get a little silly here with the description of the different kinds of tea. This is only my humble opinion, but what the heck, enough has been written by everyone else on the subject. They for the most part dutifully stay on the prescribed script.

There are four main types of tea, which are white, green, oolong, and black. However the leaves of each kind of tea all come from the same Camellia sinensis tea plant, it’s the processing of the leaves that determine their “color”. The chart diagrams the process of how tea is made… it may be helpful to know. Read the rest of this entry »

It’s quaint, but it must have been utilitarianism that drove this package solution. In design, form follows function, or in this case… form follows fish. This is one of the design apexes we have here in the Northwest design community to look up to. They say we’re only good at designing big empty, boring boxes to put our computer software in… well, also beer bottle labeling. Fast-forward 134 years since the think-tank canning of salmon here and we have Apple computer designing pretty boxes and Microsoft copycatting those boxes… dead end there. How about challenging the visual and spatial intelligence of software consumers, and becoming responsible to the resources used in packaging?

Wish I could give credit for this image… but the source is unnamed.

Look what my neighbors pulled off. This is a little bit of a Halloween recap, but it has to be mentioned on this blog. Kevin and Betsy across the street are masters in lantern making and of course a large gourd is a perfect form. The orange glow from a Jack-o-lantern is unique… nothing else communicates the same way as the candle light reflecting off pumpkin flesh.

Kevin took a Japanese saw and “sliced” clear through a hollowed-out pumpkin. Then the disks were restacked and set apart with toothpicks. I saw if from my window… not expecting it. “Look how wonderful, look what Kevin and Betsy did with their pumpkin” I said to my family. They came running. Some things on our street are now taken to be expected.

mark of a good beer

I was talking about the duomo in Orvieto, Italy… at least that’s how I remember the subject coming up… the stone striation of the façade. Alternating courses of white travertine marble and green-black basalt. And then coming into focus, right in front of me was my beer glass on the bar. The subjects couldn’t be more despairing but the designer saw a parallel. A little like the practice of Zen… lettering go of outward meaning… seeing fresh non-tangent connections. So why the picture of the beer with tick-marks?

The glass was almost empty of stout, but what remained were the rings of foam etched onto the inside of the glass. It was so distinctive. Do they tell a story or history of the beverage like the xylem of a tree? Is it a mark of quality? Does the phenomena have a name? Read the rest of this entry »


I’ve been reading that coffee is having its third wave in the USA. This time it speaks to traditional roots and the purists at heart (no flavorings, please). Portland’s Stumptown Coffee Roasters is now in Manhattan, and so the wave may span coast to coast.

I’m a tea drinker myself, but keep rowdy coffee drinking friends. A baffled friend asked me for a visual reference guide. Read the rest of this entry »

I have a fundamental weakness in character… I can’t stay away from cookies if I see them. I go into a shop for ONLY a cup of tea, dedicated not to have a cookie… and what happens? I used to love to read to my daughter, “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie”. I’ve illustrated some of my favorite cookies in Seattle, and a few tidbits to tell why I love cookies.


The one on the left is a sour cherry swirl by Tom Douglas, always nicely stacked in a basket at his shop called the Dahlia Bakery. The flower cookie with royal icing is from Seattle’s favorite Macrina Bakery. You see these in the shop in the Spring. Read the rest of this entry »


I’m stuck on my breakfast order. I’m originally from the East coast, Brooklyn before Seattle, so eating breakfast out on the weekend is somewhat of a tradition for me. Especially on Sunday… it’s an ideal way to deny the inevitability of Monday. We used to call it brunch… lazy… tasty… indulgent. In Seattle it’s “breakfast” a bit more practical, and a little less conversation (less cud chewing). Read the rest of this entry »


Streets are the fibers of our complex woven cities. Along the fibers cling an assortment of messages, free-radicals of a sort, and visual stimuli. Eccentric and exotic signage is in every town. No far-away journeys necessary to find great things. This one deserves attention, a wine shop (European Vine Selections) spotted in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. They have great wines, all for good value… Doug is a great help.
Read the rest of this entry »

Red, juicy, lusty… well actually not all of them are red as you can see… there’s the Green Zebra and the Lemon Box, and the Chocolate Cherokee. An old pink variety, meaty with few seeds, is called the Mortgage Lifter. Folklore says M.C. Byles who created this variety used it to literally pay off his mortgage during the great depression and save his house from foreclosure.


Not a vegetable, but a fruit. Forget the fig as a metaphor for passion… it’s the tomato. Chemically they’re truly aphrodisiacs. I think tomatoes are the sirens of the garden. Cooking a tomato sauce is the epitome of slow food. See what a friend does with a few heirlooms and a great pastry crust. Brandi in San Fransicco has a great foodie blog. Read the rest of this entry »

When I tell my East Coast friends that I frequent Issaquah WA… they ask if I’ve ever had a rough and tumble with Sasquatch, or if I have an ounce of city boy left in me. I let them imagine Big Foot stomping around and that my gourmet tastes have turned to road kill. The fact of the matter guys is that these days Issaquah is half asphalted and its most popular destination is probably Costco (a parking lot full of customers waiting to get cheap gas). So why Issaquah? I have a dear friend there and whenever possible we beeline it to the Issaquah Brew House, which is part of the Rogue Nation of breweries. Rogue has a dozen locations from San Francisco to Issaquah, headquartered in Newport OR.


It’s a “Cheers” kind of place, friendly faces, staff that cares about the beer pint you hoist, and about you. I’m biased, but they’re heard me say too many times this is the best beer I’ve ever had. 35 Rogue taps and 5 guest tap that are worth the visitor in themselves. The food may remind some folks of the English pub tradition… a high standard meal to have with your hoppy beverage. Read the rest of this entry »

fontanaWhat it is about jets of water cascading into the air from a simple fountain that suddenly puts one’s spirit at ease?

The last week here in Seattle has been one of blistering heat—with a record-setting 103 degrees on Wednesday. I had made plans to have lunch with one of my clients at a small restaurant here in Belltown, La Fontana Siciliana. It was a place I had often walked by, but never actually eaten a meal at, yet it had always intrigued me. Yesterday, I found out why. Read the rest of this entry »


Friends were over for dinner last night… not the Facebook kind, the neighborhood kind. It was an unusual day at work because I made a pasta sauce while I called on clients and did layout designs for the Sumner School District calendar. It really made me think about what we mean when we say “multi-tasking”. Many times the tasks are so similar that they are undistinguishable from one another. Stirring a pot, smelling the garlic and saffron both complimented and contrasted the design work at hand. No one complained about my cooking until I took it home and the aroma left with me.

Since I’m here I’ll leave a recipe of sorts. It’s not a formal recipe per se… as is often the case I just combined ingredients as I went along. This frustrates my family since they can’t return to the exact meal… but it’s about the moment.

I think the key to this dish is the farm-fresh garlic I started with. Scrawny little bulbs… but mild. Sautéed in olive oil and a little bit of butter. A couple of cups of cooked garbanzo beans (chickpeas) went in next. Read the rest of this entry »

It doesn’t take much to impress with a summer dessert if you add a little story, plus something fresh off the vine or branch, and include enough elements so every mouthful has a different flavor. One more thing, somewhere in the mix include the all-American favorite, ice cream. I did this the other night.

It all started with spotting some prepackaged wafers in the grocery… a thin layer of caramel sandwiched tight between thin waffles. The disks were about 2 inches round and only an eighth-inch thick. I thought maybe this would make a good ice cream sandwich scenario. I made space in our freezer (the hardest part of this recipe) and arranged a dozen disks flat on a plate. With a small scooper I put a ball of vanilla ice cream on each wafer. I had already grated some crystallized ginger and sprinkled that on each ice cream ball. Then I squished a cookie wafer lid on each and put them back into the freezer.


Out in the front of my house we have a small serviceberry tree. The other day a friend reminded me how good the berries were; how he sweetens his yogurt with them. Read the rest of this entry »


Even in Seattle, the coffee saturated town that it is, there’s still a case to be made for tea. Coffee—the palate-numbing, strong-tasting beverage—basically comes in one color unless you doctor it up, and lots of buzz… what can I say. In color alone, tea has me hooked. Infinite shades of green, yellow, red and brown, grays and whites. The tint itself is artful. Like an oyster that reflects the taste of the bay it cultivates in, tea is imbued with the flavors of the hillside it sprouts.

At the end of a great meal, what’s better? There’s a choice, to coddle the lingering flavors of beautiful things past… or to ingest a depth charge of bitter, head-spinning coffee? Sadly if you’re indulging every-day addictions to coffee, tea will never live up to the challenge and convert you. Wish I could help. It’s a developed taste that you will not regret. Read the rest of this entry »

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