Friday, February 25, 2011

Banjo Fever

^ beautiful packaging for Ernie Ball tenor banjo strings

So if we haven't spoken in a while, you may not be aware that I have banjo fever. I'm mildly obsessed. I'm not necessarily interested in the banjo you may know (though I have to respect Steve Martin), rather its lesser-known practices. I am currently set on learning to play jazz banjo. Yes, that's a real thing.

If all goes well, I will one day match the style of Eddy Davis, a banjo genius located in NYC. I don't throw out the term genius lightly with Mr. Davis. He's been playing his entire life, and has truly mastered the instrument. Eddy's played with some of the greats, including Woody Allen, Patti LaBelle, Freddie Hubbard, Benny Goodman, Jabbo Smith.

(Eddy is absolutely captivating. It was so difficult to choose just one video - more here.)

There are also other forms of banjo you may not know of. How about the cello banjo? Here's an amazing video of Bach's Cello Suite no. 3 performed on a self-made cello banjo, by Robby Faverey. While cello banjos don't tend to look like this, the music is just beautiful.

Now if you want to get SUPER hipster, there is also such a thing as a banjo ukelele. That one's not really my cup of tea. But hey, now you know more about the banjo than you ever wanted to. You're welcome.

A couple of lovely young girls were walking down a country road when they heard a voice calling,"Girls, girls, help me please."
They looked around and saw that the voice was coming from a frog sitting in a puddle at the side of the road. One of the girls picked up the frog and said,"How can we help you?"
"I am really a handsome, successful banjo player who was turned into a frog by a wicked witch. If I am kissed by a girl, I'll turn back into a banjo player and will take her on tour with me throughout this land."
The girl quickly thrust the frog into her pocket. Her friend asked,"What are you doing? Aren't you gonna kiss him?"
"Heck no," said the first girl,"He's worth way more as a talking frog."

- via Jim Yates on Banjo Hangout

Yes, Banjo Hangout.

Friday, January 28, 2011

2011: Year of the Rabbit

2010, Year of the Tiger

2011, Year of the Rabbit

While I'm a tiger myself, I'm happy to welcome the year of the rabbit today! Supposedly things will be slowing down this year, which should be a nice break from the intensity of 2010. It'll be all about home and family, keeping the peace. I'm down for that.

The sketches above are just some initial drawings I did for a project last year. They didn't end up being right for the piece, but I still thought they were fun. And today, very relevant! [Hint: There's a reason for the two colors.]

Happy Chinese New Year! May good luck ensue!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sugar Land is a Real Place

In the first conversations that I have with someone, I can expect an interesting reaction to the following truths:

1) My name is Stefanie, spelled with an f.
2) Last name Pepping.
3) I grew up in Sugar Land, Texas.

That last one is usually the kicker. If the person hasn't smiled yet, by now they can't help it. I'm often met with disbelief, to which I reply, "No, really! There's even a movie about it. Sugarland Express, Goldie Hawn, 1974. Google it." This is inevitably followed by some crack about Candy Land, or how sweet the women must be. (And we are.)

Sugar Land grew around the original Imperial Sugar Factory, built in 1843. I remember spending field trips at that factory, and let me tell you something, you would be surprised at how terrible the smell is in a place that makes sugar. Alas, the building has been empty for a while now, and was demolished a few months ago to make room for residential and business development. (Destroying a landmark that precedes the town itself? Bad move.)

Sugar Land is now one of the fastest growing cities in Texas, named the third best city to live in in the U.S. by CNN in 2006. The current population is over 79,943, and growing. Since my family moved there around 1990, they've built a mall, a movie theater, an ice rink, shopping centers with places like Williams Sonoma and the Cheesecake Factory, places for nightlife, etc. Houses continue to pop up, fields continue to disappear, and traffic gets worse every year. One of the newest additions, believe it or not, is the Sugar Land Town Square. Most Texas towns start out with a square. They did it a little bit backwards.

Sugar Land is not home to the country band Sugarland. Nope, not at all. However, the prison did house a favorite new discovery, folk/blues legend Lead Belly. Professor Terry Morrow turned me on to him today. With a style similar to that of Son House, his music will take you back to the old south. In a good way.

Black Betty, lyrics possibly in reference to the Texas penitentiary transfer wagon

Let's get real, Sugar Land is a pretty strange place. Growing up there, I called it "The Bubble." I felt suffocated by the overwhelming sense of suburbia. Every store was forced to have the same tan brick color and same white type, trees grew in straight lines, houses could only be painted certain colors, and when I would visit a friend's house down the lane, chances were one in three that the layout would be the spitting image of mine. Nothing was allowed to be unique. Not only that, my family lived near the country club, where palm trees lined the streets and houses were big enough to be hotels. My high school parking lot was filled with shiny new Hummers, Mercedes, Lexuses (Lexi?), etc. At times it was completely ridiculous and I just wanted to pull my hair out.

In spite of the way I felt about it back then, I have developed a sense of pride in the place. It is actually very pretty, almost dream-like. The streets are lined with trees that were planted when I was a kid, now full-grown and lush. The crime rate is very low, and the people in the community are generally active and good-natured. When I visit home, I feel safe. Sometimes that's a pretty great feeling.

So to the skeptics, Sugar Land is a real place.

Other interesting facts:

Sugar Land has held the title of Fittest City in Texas for four consecutive years now.

The Sugar Land Town Square used the 3D projection technology used in the 2010 Olympics on New Year's Eve 2009. That's right, we're ahead of the game.

Sugar Land is unique in that it boasts the highest concentration of Asians in Texas, 34% of the population.

The climate is described as "humid subtropical." Winter temperatures average in the 60s.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The To Resolve Project

New Year's is the perfect time for reflection - we're ending one chapter and starting a new one. It can be similar to the last, or drastically different. But in order to make changes, you need resolve.

Thus Chris Streger, a designer based out of New York, started the To Resolve Project, calling for iPhone wallpapers that highlight our resolutions. Not only do they look great, iPod wallpapers make the perfect little reminders. My contribution (shown above) is about doing without the excess in our lives. Be sure to check out the rest and maybe contribute your own before 2011!

Happy New Year!!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Winter Solstice Lunar Eclipse

I sincerely hope that all of you were able to witness this last night. It was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen! At one point, in a split second, the moon went from a pearly lavender to bright red, straight into almost neon-purple, before darkening into a smokey purple. If I had seen a red moon like that 400 years ago, I definitely would have panicked. I'd probably sprinkle a ring of salt around myself and wait with a wooden stake.

The plains of West Texas were perfect for viewing. I even caught a bit of the meteor shower! I was able to get some pretty good images, see below. For a full time-lapse video, this video by William Castleman is by far the best I've seen.

images captured by yours truly from Ransom Canyon, TX, 2010

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

New England, circa 1800

As much as I enjoy West Texas, it was so good to be in New England over Thanksgiving. Boston was fantastic. Quality beer, clam chowda, printing presses, witches, scandals and political riots - enough said.

One of my favorite excursions on our trip was Old Sturbridge Village in Massachussetts, a very authentic look into New England life in the early 1800's. We got there late in the day and had to do the whole town in 25 minutes, so I apologize for the lack of description here. It was one big whirr of history and inspiration, and some of my favorite photos came out of it.


^Glass Bottles - meant for wine or liquor?

^Punched Tin Lanterns

^Ye Olde Printing Office

One of my favorite things (which I failed to get a picture of) was something we found inside of a chapel/dance hall. There was a tiny wooden throne in the corner of the room, raised above anyone else. The label? "Fiddler's Throne." I wish there had really been one there!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Et tu,

Print, HOW, AIGA, I thought you were behind us? The last few years in the design industry have been disheartening, to say the least - particularly for print designers. Print designers have suffered the worst of the downsizing - many without hope of finding a job in their beloved trade again. The last thing we needed was for the industry awards and competitions to be jumping on this band wagon.

The gorgeous award annuals of only a few years ago meant a lot to me. When I graduated college, Print Magazine was still producing those beautiful annuals that were about five regular magazines thick. It was one of those annuals that helped me decide what to pursue in my career. The work was absolutely brilliant, inspiring, concept-driven and beautifully executed. It came from design firms all over the country and ran the gamut of styles. It gave me something tangible to strive for.

The AIGA Annual, 365, was even more exciting. It was a book as thick as the bible, beautifully designed by one of our own and filled with some of the best work of our time. And the best thing about this book? It never has to go away. It can be added to your bookshelf, your physical library of creative sources, to be referenced later if needed. The possibility of permanence was a beautiful thing.

Both of these annuals have ceased to inspire. The Print Annual has shrunk to the size of 2 regular magazines, with designs that frankly inspire much less. The AIGA doesn't have this problem - they've stopped producing a physical copy of their annual altogether. What used to be a tangible reason to renew membership, even if I didn't have the time for meetings and networking, is no longer available.

Where have all of the design awards gone? Where everything else has gone - online. So if you submit an entry and win, your piece goes to a temporary spot on the world wide web, which is so large that someone has to be handed a direct link in order to ever see it. You'll likely get one good day of hits, then disappear along with the rest. And then, only your mother will remember where to find it. Or hey, maybe swissmiss will discover you and you can ride the blogosphere for a while. Yeah, you can dream.

This is exactly what the most recent HOW Poster Design Awards offer. Is this kind of recognition really worth the $40 entry fee?

And for award admirers, we will browse through the winners once and bookmark the pieces we love. (allowing less than a second to impress us.) But again, these will inevitably get lost and forgotten. I would rather pay the subscription necessary and have something physical that I can browse through for months or more. This also gives me more time to notice pieces that maybe I didn't at first.

I can agree that printed pieces can be somewhat unnecessary. Yes, we accumulate far too much trash in our lifetime. Not just trash, books that we will never look through. But the examples I bring up now, these were cherished. These are missed dearly. And I can't help but feel betrayed that the giant organizations of our own industry are aiding in moving print to web for good.

Pardon my rant. This is just one print designer's view, and if I don't say anything, these organizations may never consider this possible reason that submissions and membership are declining. Maybe you agree?