Monday, November 21, 2011

Reduction and Seduction

This latest painting was an interesting journey into the land of simplification. I started out with a very complex line drawing and had perfectly painted every aspect of every jar and shelf ridge when I stopped and asked myself, "was that really what people should focus on in this painting?" The answer was "no" and the process of reduction and "seduction" began.

By "reduction and seduction" I mean taking away the details, leaving shape and some line. Then making that shape sumptuous using color, light and texture - seducing the viewer's eye. Working in guache makes this process go very quickly because the paint is so dry is sets up immediately and you can't change things too easily. I trained in oils and miss the time I had to push the paint around the canvas but working this way has made me much more decisive.

I can draw a correlation to this act of simplification and decisiveness to creating digital art. When I am teaching I often will tell my students that since I learned design in a pre-digital era I am much more organized and decisive about my ideas. Without a computer, making changes were costly and very time consuming. In the end I believe I am a better designer because I don't fall back on computer tricks - I absolutely know what will work. I feel painting in guache is giving me the same experience. When I return to painting large oils canvases I will know what works for me there as well.

Painting presents a new challenge with every piece but the process is liberating because the knowledge gained, opens the door to technical confidence and we don't have to travel that path again.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

To Paint is to Love Again!

The title of this blog is taken from a book by Henry Miller. I don't know if it is even in print anymore but it seems appropriate for this place in my life. Henry Miller was an author who later in life found his way to painting and wrote about that journey in this book. I had no idea that after all these years I would stumble back into painting again and find the truth in that book title.

My 'awakening' began with a solo trip to LACMA for a quiet couple of hours contemplating and drawing in the French Impressionist painting gallery. I walked away with a spark that steadily grew inside of me. About a week later I woke up with an idea that was burning a hole inside of me. I realized that many of the painters, whose work I admired that afternoon had simply painted their environment. After years of living in Venice Beach, I wanted to chronicle the people of my community.

So I broke out the paints and dove right in. I love painting the people I come into contact with on a daily basis. Many of them are manning the espresso machine of my local coffee shop or cooking up my favorite Mexican food and they have no idea how much their gracious attitudes and friendly conversations contribute to my sense of community.

For artists a sense of community is a very important thing. Venice has always provided this for me. We often work in isolation, fueled by our desire to create. So when we venture out it is good to see a friendly face.

I wondered away from painting many years ago and I thought I would never find my way back but here I am. The wonderful things is that at this stage of my life I am a more evolved painter. I get it. I have something to say and it is just pouring out of me!

My mantra at this time is DON'T OVERTHINK! As a teacher I tend to lean towards over-intellectualizing the art-making process. Not this time - this time I am focused on the simplicity of the idea and preserving that. I am having fun with my technique.

In the spirit of connecting with my community I am posting my paintings on a separate blog - - where I show the work and tell a small story of what this person means to me. The piece above, Rebecca, was the first painting I did in this series. It will be interesting to see how this grows and the blog will be a great way to watch the progression of this concept.

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Creative Healing

The Red Cow by Paul Gauguin

This painting, along with many other beautiful works of art, healed my soul today. This morning I woke up with a feeling that I was wandering with no clear direction. So I bought my usual morning latte at the corner coffee shop and started to change my routine right there. I decided to walk to the beach to enjoy my drink.  I live seven blocks from Venice Beach boardwalk but I rarely cover the distance just for the pure enjoyment of viewing the Pacific Ocean.

As I sat looking at the mountains rise above Malibu and the soft blue water I thought I should visit the museum for no other reason than to let my eyes feast upon some art. So I played hooky and ran off to LACMA. There, on the 2nd Floor of the permanent collection I found the modern painters and opened my soul to them.

I stood in front of The Concert by Georges Braque and marveled for the first time at the method he used to break apart the image and still retain some beautifully rendered areas of texture and modeling. This took my breath away.

The Concert by Georges Braque

I wandered through the galleries looking at the Picassos and the Rothkos. It all seemed new to me today and I considered this an incredible gift that after all these years I can still look at these paintings as if it was the first time.

So when I finally came to rest in front of The Red Cow I saw that little creature with a new level of joy. Whatever had been bothering me evaporated and I considered the power of art to heal and inspire. Then I had it - once again - the reason I can't stop making art. The right reason.

Friday, October 7, 2011

An Inspired Tribute to Steve Jobs

This simple logo design is pure genius! Jonathan Mak, a 19 year old Hong Kong design student, created this homage. It speaks for itself - don't you think?

Monday, October 3, 2011


Yes, I said arrogance. I have been giving this some thought while I consider reinventing myself as a designer. I am amazed as I look around me how limited the thinking with some designers. If they have been designing for any length of time there is bound to be some arrogance, a sense of "I know what's what!"

I am guilty as charged but as I delve into the world of app design I can see, yet again, that all the rules are changing and I will never know "what's what." So today I encourage all of us to embrace change and open up creatively to all the possibilities of how we can create art in this new world. The are no absolutes.

The rules of good design still apply but the reasons we do what we do and the way we disseminate information is changing daily. It has been said that the digital world is a bit like the new frontier - a wild free for all. So arrogance will only be a hindrance if you want to grow as an artist. If you think there is only one right way to do things - think again.

Monday, July 18, 2011

I am the manifester...

I recently designed a book and a website for my wonderful friend Tobi Ellison. The journey I took while creating this book with Ellison has been personally transformational. It is a testimony to the power of personal visualization and powerful intention. Ellison's system for changing your thinking and accepting that the universe is constantly working to realize your requests is brilliant in its simplicity!

What I love most about his book are the personal stories of people manifesting their desires on small and large levels. It is inspiring to think how powerful the human mind and spirit is. One point that Ellison makes again and again, is that the universe does not care what you want it simply recognizes your intention.

I started painting again with the intention of resurrecting my love of creating with my hands and realizing a lifestyle that affords me time to do that. With that in mind I watch what I think on a daily basis now because I am manifesting at every moment!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Sugarholics Nightmare...

If you eat massive amounts of sugar will you turn into something sweet and desirable? I doubt it. What is much more likely is that you will turn into something undesirable. This illustration shows the worst possible scenario if "you are what you eat."

illustration by Taylor Barnes - L7 Studio

Monday, May 30, 2011

Ligatures? A Holdover From an Analog World?

Ligatures are an interesting holdover in typography. At one time they served a purpose in metal typesetting to seemlessly place two letters together - 'f' and 'l' for example - that you could not kern closely enough without putting them on a single piece of metal. Ligature type was also created to simulate merged letters similar to those in calligraphy. At the time it was an elegant solution. But is it still necessary to use ligatures now? With more and more books and articles created to be read on screen ligatures will not enhance the legibility of the type and actually create new problems.

In the spirit of typographic humor here are some new visual ideas for creating ligatures by designer David Schwen.

Thursday, May 26, 2011



noun \ˌī-dē-ˈā-shən\

Definition of IDEATION: the capacity for or the act of forming 

or entertaining ideas.

Forming ideas does have a process. It may be a little different for everybody but the more we do the better we become. The other day my students said to me that I was the first art teacher to tell them there are rules. They said they are always being told to follow their feelings and just have fun with art. I agree with that philosophy to a degree but I know there are rules and once we learn the rules we can intelligently break them.

One of the rules I honor is allowing myself time to freely play with any and all ideas when I start a new project. Everything is fair game until I hone it down to what will work for me and what will work for the client. Trying not to be jaded and judgmental requires greater and greater amounts of education. The more I know the less I know.

When I start a project I look at art. I visit galleries and museums looking for things to set my mind whirling. I walk a lot and observe my surroundings. When I present a new project to my students I do the same thing for them - I present artists but I also ask them questions that cause them to see the conditions of their environment and how it impacts their art. For example - every year I do a project based upon the work of Wayne Thiebaud. I bring in cupcakes which the students place in front of them and use as a 'model.'

Cupcake painting by artist Wayne Thiebaud

Obviously there is a sensory element and a desire to eat the cupcake that adds to the intensity of the work. But I also discuss the science of the cupcake and the ingredients that cause it to expand in the oven and create the puffed top and the flared cupcake paper. I talk about imagining the pastry bag that the icing was pumped out of. The more my students learn about what they are painting the better they paint it. 
This year an interesting thing happened - the first day of painting I could not pick up the
cupcake order in time for class so I started the project with a virtual cupcake instead. I pulled up a picture on the classroom computer and let the students reference it. The paintings were the least successful they have ever been - flat, without life or understanding of the subject. In past years this is always my most successful project so this came as a complete surprise. Today I brought the actual cupcakes in and the difference in the work was significant. It was obvious to me that if you can't fully imagine the sensation of what you are painting you need the most complete reference you can get. In time you will be able to train your imagination to create fully realized ideas that supply all the details you need to finish the work.
To me it was obvious that there is a process to creating the reference in your mind that you will pull to form ideas. As artists we need to know when to fill in the gaps. I recently saw a picture of the illustrator Maira Kalman drawing an egg slicer. Although her style is playful and not fully realistic she still needed to reference an actual egg slicer to get the full feeling of the object she was drawing.

Maira Kalman drawing and egg slicer.

The formulation of ideas is such a complex process and to begin to break it down would barely define it. But to try and understand how we personally start on the road to a fully realized work of art is part of maturing as an artist. It helps us to break faster towards our own ideas and final pieces.
Ideation is about engaging the senses and breaking up preconceived notions but at the same time maintaining a certain order to your thinking. An idea is as complex as a light bulb when you think about it. It has to connect to something to spark the energy that creates the light. What a perfect analogy!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Publishing is dead... or is it?

Chip Kidd - arguably the most talented book designer of our era - posted this video from Dorling Kindersley in the UK. He said it is ingenious and I second the thought. Please watch it all the way through because the message is indicative of the complicated times we live in.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Encuentros: Opening Minds

 Poster design © Taylor Barnes and the Encuentros Leadership Project, 2011

I just finished a design project near and dear to my heart for the Encuentros Leadership Project. I created a poster to help kids stay in school. In the process of trying to come up with an image that would simultaneously reach out to young Latino students culturally, as well as deliver a message to stay in school, it struck me once again the power of design in public places.

This poster will go up in hundreds of classrooms and meeting places where it will become part of the subliminal background of these student's lives. This particular image delivers a positive message but what about the multitude of negative and racial stereotypes they will visually encounter on a daily basis? As a designer I feel a responsibility to put as many positive images into the world as I can.

Once, when I had my multicultural publishing company, Miller Brewing approached me to design a line of images that would target young African Americans for a fundraising event. It posed an ethical dilemma since I knew they did extensive advertising in the African American community, where alcoholism among young black men was a problem. I risked discussing this moral dilemma with the Vice President at Miller Brewing and in the end we decide to minimize the presence of their logo since the money was going to provide college scholarships to historically black colleges. I remember feeling awkward bringing the subject up but in the end we were in agreement that we wanted the money to go to a worthy cause. At least it was a decision I could live with.

One of the reasons I love graphic design is the power to affect people's lives and become part of the fabric of their memories. Of course it could also drive us to drink - and smoke - and a million other things we shouldn't do. Designer's can't always afford to take the moral high ground (since we still need to pay the bills) but when we can, we should.