Michael and I were watching a film the other day at the art museum (SAM) of Australian aboriginals, a clan of 27 doing a painting on heavy linen. The painting was almost the size of the floor of a small room. Out in a flat windswept settlement, the painters sat on the dirt ground around the canvas’s perimeter… all very squat. Dogs obediently watched on. They painted a communal journey of sorts—spirit and heritage that they coaxed out in contemporary media. The museum projected this movie onto the floor for viewing, giving you the artist’s perspective. Here are a few examples of paintings similar to what we saw in the gallery, and here is one (the bigger one) I imagined and drew after our visit. I think I’ll do a few more and see where they go. They would make nice scarves or book end papers.

Seattle_Public_LibraryI’ve been itching to say it since we started writing this blog… Seattle has the best library system in the US! Well just look at it, need we say more. The head librarian got everything single thing she and her committee asked for and more… and it came in under budget. The Central Branch is just the tip of the iceberg… which by the way it looks a little bit like when you approach it some city avenues… it’s only one of many newly constructed or refurbished neighborhood libraries in Seattle. Each environment is comfortable, user friendly and architectural inspiring. They all do an incredible business; each is a true community hub. Just look around it’s where the action is. They shuttle books around from one location to another at your whim with such efficiency… I think they put Amazon to shame.


This witch hazel tree blooms near our front door. This particular photo was taken last year… when snow rested on the pedals. I planted it a dozen years ago… true to form it grows very slow… come February it blooms scrawny long-pedal flowers. They smell sweet like jasmine. I wonder why some plants bloom in winter… what’s the design sense in that? Most flowers bloom in spring largely because they need to set fruit or seed and have it mature before winter.

In a nutshell… flowers first appeared on earth around 100 million years ago, 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 »

Being designers we appreciate a good package, almost as much as what awaits us inside. It’s the drama maybe. Christmas wrapping paper has been in our designer lives since day one… so we have a fascination for these unfurling designs on commercial-grade paper.

We’ve assembled a small sampling from our Christmas wrap archive to share our enthusiasm this season. Funny thing… the wrapping paper has been saved, but who knows what the gift was in these colorful wrappings. Let’s open the flat-file and see what we’ve got…

left Our dear friends Sue and Marian were inspired by the rest of the “make your own” clan one winter, 20 years ago. 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.

Give someone tickets to an independent “think” movie… loafers beware… they’re labors of love and have little monetary rewards for their directors. You won’t find the likes of “Spiderman”, “Twilight” or “Street Fighter” among them. ID films on DVD release are a convenient gift option, or invite a friend over for a meal and watch. I think you may not know of these. Our favorites are:

Limbo There is little doubt that the most discussed aspect of writer/director/editor John Sayles’ Limbo will be the ending. Unconventional and unexpected, the conclusion will inspire outrage in some movie-goers.

Other films in our opinion… Read the rest of this entry »

”Dodging” is a graphic novel for young readers about twelve-year old aspiring photographer Sam Pearl, who’s just discovered that his father is gay. This time it’s a personal creative process between the partners of our studio, Sharon and Stephen. The project is seeking a progressive publisher… wish us luck. We’re ready to continue with Sam’s story. He has a lot to accomplish by the story’s conclusion and his one-man show. Read the rest of this entry »

It would be great to be able to congratulate the designer of the Lego spruce tree, in production for 30 years. But I can’t. I’ve cast a wide net for clues, but it comes back empty. The designer’s story will remain shrouded, yet we can still cheer the elaborate form of green plastic. I think it must be lauded as a toy icon—one of Lego’s brand-defining moments—a sculptural wonder and an engineer’s folly.

Though in my search a story did emerge, more of a tale of lineage and predecessors, a timeline of a botanical oddity. If all things Lego enchant you, then you may enjoy this nice hike through the near-monochromatic forest.

Read the rest of this entry »

I’m starting a fantasy wish list. I’ll be posting individual items (gifts) or ideas as the holidays approach. There will be few limits on the selections… and undoubtedly I’ll express more greed than sole-searching restraint.

This one, a classic Josef Albers painting… just a little thing, but a window to a great many big things. It’s a 12-inch by 12-inch canvas. Only 3-color, oh c’mon, how much can it cost? It speaks to my heart and my design head. The size is another thing about it. His later “color-field” painters became too big in my opinion—appropriate only for hanging on museum walls.

“Easy—to know that diamonds—are precious.
Good—to learn that rubies—have depth.
But more—to see that pebbles—are miraculous.”
—Josef Albers

Josef and Anni Albers were artistic adventurers who were both pioneers of twentieth-century modernism. Josef Albers (1888-1976) was an influential teacher, writer, painter, and color theorist—now best known for the Homages to the Square he painted between 1950 and 1976 and for his innovative 1963 publication The Interaction of Color. The couple met in Weimar, Germany in 1922 at the Bauhaus. This new teaching institution, now so renowned for its effects on all modern design, emphasized the connection between artists, architects, and craftspeople.

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.

scary_squash

Oh my heavens it’s the scary yellow scallop squash! Happy Halloween from your pals at Partners in Design. It’s a great designer holiday, I often think of it as our very own. We knew this photo of our favorite seed packet designs would come in handy someday. Design lesson of the day: appropriate and make uniquely you own… redirect meaning. Long visual history of it in the making of collages (ORIGIN early 20th cent.: from French, literally ‘gluing.’).Boo!

judgement_study

There are only six studies like this drawing by Michelangelo throughout the world today, done in preparation for painting his “Last Judgment” in the Sistine Chapel. Its quality is soft and smudgy due to the chalk used, and the purpose and fashion in which it was executed…it was a sketch.

Sketching is something we all have in common with Michelangelo… we have all sketched to communicate an idea, simple as it might have been. Everyone. Usually the communication works pretty well. If you have a more elaborate or artful message  to convey, chances are you will rise to the occasion and find yourself more technically able. This is something I truly believe.

We recently had one of these drawings on display here in Seattle. When Michelangelo was invited back to Rome by the Pope to paint the altar wall, the resulting work, his “Last Judgment,” was a truly original if controversial masterpiece. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

NCOD-1

October 11 is National Coming Out Day, first held on October 11, 1988. This date was chosen for the annual event in commemoration of the 1987 March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. It also marks the anniversary of the first visit of the AIDS Memorial Quilt to Washington, D.C.. National Coming Out Day is a time to publicly display gay pride. Many choose this day to come out to their parents, friends, co-workers and themselves. Read the rest of this entry »

wabi-sabi_cup

A part of our “word of the day” series.
We won’t post a new one every day, but you
get the idea. Give us ideas for new words.
Foreign and made-up words count.

Wabi-sabi is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.

It is a beauty of things modest and humble.

It is a beauty of things unconventional.

The ideology of wabi-sabi is ongoing and has the need to be nurtured… as most natural systems do… or they become extinct. Saving this universe of beauty is elusive since wabi-sabi is not easily reducible to formulas or catch phrases without destroying its essence. Making rules or precisely practicing it is impossible… describing it is like holding sand in your hands.

Beauty can be coaxed out of ugliness. Wabi-sabi is ambivalent about separating beauty from non-beauty. Wabi-sabi is, in one respect, the condition of coming to terms with what you consider ugly. Beauty is a dynamic event that occurs between you and something else. Beauty is thus an altered state of consciousness, an extraordinary moment of poetry and grace.

Read the rest of this entry »

bocce_game

I’ve read that Bocce is about to explode in this country. Those of us on the Bocce court are looking around and laughing to ourselves. It would be great, but me thinks it may be the over zealousness of Bocce equipment marketers and fashion. Now we’re really laughing… Bocce fashion? Oh yes I’ve seen Bocce Bikinis. What do you think of when you hear the word “bocce”? Total blank, or are you thinking little old Italian men tossing balls on a dusty court? It may be America’s newest sport, but it’s on of the world’s oldest games. If you can imagine first played with round rocks, or even coconuts, now played with composite or metal balls. A game of skill and strategy. Simple to play and very social… better than Facebook. Multi-generational, and can be played by anyone of any physical ability level.bocceball

There’ll be more bocce talk on this blog in the future. So I’ll cut this short now. Just wanted to throw out the pallino to see if there were any other enthusiasts who are getting the bocce bug.

bocceIn my old neighborhood of Brooklyn Heights this is what’s going on there, they’re a feisty bunch… I learned to play in Seattle, we play on lawn bowling courts. Don’t get me started about the difference between the sports… it’s huge! But mostly in the head.

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florence_1

This is the first of our “word of the day” series. We won’t post a new one every day, but you get the idea. Give us ideas for new words. Foreign and made-up words count.

.
flâ-neur (flä-nûr’) n. 1. From the French verb flâner which means to stroll; a term popularized by Charles Baudelaire and other less well-remembered French writers of the 19th century; “A gentleman stroller of city streets.” 2. An aimless wanderer. 3. Someone whose mind and senses are only stimulated by improvised rambles around the world.

Hedda_lettuce

In our continuing “colors of your choice”.

I think she’s the poster child for green. She’s the queen of green. My favorite color is green. I hear Hedda Lettuce has a great act. She just debarked from Seattle on a luxury cruise to be the lead entertainer. Of course she had a lot of steamer trucks in tow. Read the rest of this entry »

coffee101

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 »

dahlia_song1

I’ve been lamenting the end of summer. Well actually it’s more like building to a panic. Dahlias to the rescue! “It’s obviously not all over yet” they trumpet loud and clear… their pedals soft, lush and wild, shameless… with no fear. So many zany patterns and dahlia-dances in their specimen divisions. For near-sighted retiring bees they must look like the size of football fields. 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.

cookies1

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 »

12th_AVE_waitresses

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 »

anthill_haiku

Walking on an Olympic mountain trail heading towards the Elwah Valley is a piece of big geological magnitude… not allowing for much notice of the smaller details. The sky finally clearing of clouds, with dramatic views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca emerging… turning vibrant and ultramarine. Just off the trailside, almost not noticing, stood an alpine anthill. Covered in dried heather needles, all gathered from nearby plants and placed meticulously. Read the rest of this entry »

orange_bandana

For our ongoing color series Susan Zwinger has contributed her poem in praise of burnt orange. Susan has collaborated with Partners in Design as both an accomplished illustrator and writer on interpretive displays.

Worldwide most humans love blue,
loose-hipped, easy nymph of the sky
and sea. Not me, when my life grows
tough, no blues in smoky dives.
I mix yellow’s sun with sheer
matadorian drama–
Russia, Mexico and China–
and run.

Read the rest of this entry »

sign_of_the_wine

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 »

lane_ending

This traffic sign always intrigues me….the iconic visual description of the narrowing road. The intended meaning is initially confident. Touché sign designer. THEN, for me, the idea morphs into an entirely different abstraction that has a contrary meaning. Using the line segments as road edges… and then narrowing the road with an angle… and some of these signs have an added element, a dashed line to express the ending of one of the lanes. You get the picture. But the “lines”… the road edges have gotten very fat, thick as walls on a house and the dashed line really looks like 3 stacked rectangles, maybe 3 windows. The slant becomes a roofline and the single lane at top looks like a chimney. It’s a 3 level house to me. The forms are breaking down to their basic abstract shapes and the conclusion can be left to your imagination.
deer_crossing
If you were to pick your favorite would you choose the deer crossing? Graceful. Leaping across a field of yellow. With the addition of a sticky dot changes the roadscape near the holiday’s… presto… Rudolph. Very literal in comparison to the narrowing road scenario don’t you think?

Read the rest of this entry »

You call it pro bono, a phrase derived from Latin meaning “for the public good”… on top of that, without charging for it. But around here we call it “doing good”. It’s an apex of humanity. It comes in all forms… from simple random acts of kindness to giving your own blood. For a designer it often means offering visual communication skills to amplify a message that you believe in. Sometimes you identify with the cause, and sometimes it pushes beyond your usual comfort zone… helping in situations outside your comprehension. Here’s one we did for Safe School’s Coalition here in Washington State.

safe_schools_coalition

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.

heirloom

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.

ISSAQuah_brewhouse

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 »

penne1

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.

2660709622_0faecd1e40_b

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 »

T-SQ-2

My hometown, NYC, still turns my head and makes me nod and smile. All of you know of the famed Times Square, you have some image of it in your mind whether you have seen its lights or walked the tar or not. Always teetering on the edge of tacky, vile, glitzy and inspiring

This summer, Times Square began to shut down on the weekends to make it the domain of pedestrians. The skyscrapers submitted to the follies of the weekend and its multi-borough citizens… the Square became a asphalt beach of sorts. Making it a place where people can go to hang out and not just to pass through, it has a chance to pass on from just a tourist phenomena and transform into a more robust civic space. Read the rest of this entry »

We each have our own color druthers, and our own color histrionics (the baby blanket color we were wrapped in). On the other hand, biologically speaking, we share some color ties (we head for the green of the savanna or we find red lips appealing). Emotions can run high when selecting a color with friends.

Color is half of my business discipline, also a good part of my visual pleasure in life. I’m entrenched in it. Swatches of it are hanging all around me. I love it when color flashbacks recall a story, and I don’t believe we dream in black and white.

Do you have the same color passions? I would like to hear what you see in a color palette. Pick a color, any color. I’ll start with the first color… pink. Let’s make a pageant of colors right here. Represent your color in any way you would like. Write it here, comment on it below, or if it’s a visual statement send it to my email address and I’ll post it. Invent a color, or let’s change the meaning of flags.

pink

There used to be a TV show on when I was a kid, it was called “Make a Wish”. It had an unchanging format that held me in rapture. The show would take one word, like fish, and then literally take it around the world! “I wish I were a fish then I would swim in the ocean that is created by rain, that came from the clouds etc, etc”. Total stream of consciousness stuff. Tom Chapin, Harry Chapin’s brother, appeared at the beginning of the show, asking the question that would open up a whole world of knowledge and fun: “Did you ever wish you were a ___?” Read the rest of this entry »

loving_day

Mildred Loving was the wife of a bricklayer. Richard and Mildred married in Washington DC and lived in Central Point, Virginia… where their particular marriage was unlawful. They were awakened in their bed in the middle of the night with the glare of flashlights turned on them by local authorities. The year was 1958. Mildred’s “crime” was she loved and married a white man. She was part black and part Indian

In 1963 she wrote in neat script on a piece of lined loose-leaf paper a letter to the A.C.L.U. for help. Their lives hung in stasis during long trials, until 1967 a ruling written by Chief Justice Earl Warren declared “the freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men”

After the landmark ruling, the Lovings turned down all public appearances. Mildred never considered herself a hero. She lived out an ordinary life, happy marriage, 3 kids, a home near family. But Richard died young in a highway accident, killed on the spot. Mildred lost her left eye in the crash. She never remarried, never considered it. Read the rest of this entry »

hylebos

Next time you’re strolling through a concrete and brick air-conditioned mall in a booming community near a major metropolitan city, imagine a stream—older than anything above the ground—flowing under your feet. That’s the story of Hylebos Creek and the West Hylebos Wetlands Park. And the Commons Mall in Federal Way, Washington is only one of several locations where the creek travels underground beneath communities south of Seattle. Ultimately, it empties out into Puget Sound’s Commencement Bay.

It may sound trite and overused, but there is nothing more well-designed, to my mind, than a diverse ecosystem and the West Hylebos Wetlands provides a perfect example of this natural design in action. Read the rest of this entry »

Interested in a garden photography swap? Email me (stephen at pidseattle dot com) your best jpeg photo and I’ll post them in our special garden Picasa album. I promise to water and weed. At the end of the summer, they’ll be a prize for the best in show… your choice of a selection of Territorial Seeds or a spiffy watering can.

Feel free to attach comments and locations. To get started, here’s my contribution of a Oriental poppy… fading like a rumpled party dress at the end of a whirlwind evening. Visit the album... it’s just starting.

poppy_fade

remedy_tea

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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