24 May 2010

Life Lessons from Graphic Design

{Product Illustration of a Tacori ad by Hanna Kang-Brown}

I remember flipping through a book on interior design by Candice Olson of Divine Design at a local Home Depot, marveling at her introduction where she says all she needed to learn about life and success came from a ball--a volleyball to be precise.  Candice went on to talk about how competitive sports taught her to rise above her competition not by having more talent, but by working harder and more diligently than anyone else.

Made me wish I had been a competitive athlete in high school and college.  Then maybe, I would be a more successful person and learn how to handle life better.  Like Sarah Palin, with basketball.

All joking aside, I have wondered why sports never gave me a life lesson.  I played soccer and softball for part of high school and maybe it's just that I was never pushed to the breaking point with those things.  I worked hard, I practiced, and I loved playing but it never translated into a major life lesson that I could draw on for the rest of my life.  Where was my life lesson to be found?  Had I missed the boat with competitive youth sports?

This last week, I found my life lesson.  And it did not revolve around a ball. It happened on a computer screen, with a mouse, working with vectors and a pen tool and gradient meshes.  It happened on Adobe Illustrator over a class assignment for a product illustration.


I know.  It's so random.  But I really came out of the darkness and saw the light.  All thanks to graphic design and a community college class.

You see, I was told to copy a product ad as exactly as possible.  Without much instruction.  My classmates and I worked on it every week for a few hours befuddled and dumbfounded.  And sometimes I slacked.  I surfed the web.  I gchatted.  It was boring and cold in the lab.  And c'mon, it's a community college class.  Not that important.

Then came the last week before it was due.  And oh dear.  The shit hit the fan.  It took so many more hours than I had realized.  I would get home from work and get on my laptop to work on my illustration to the wee hours.  In my exhaustion, I was tempted to not finish the illustration.  But I decided not to give up and pushed through even if I had absolutely no idea how I was going to recreate diamonds and make them sparkle digitally.

Those diamonds really scared the shit out of me.  I really had no idea what was going to happen when I was done with the gold.  All I saw was a blank screen. Complete darkness.  No light at the end of the tunnel.  Just my mouse and a cursor.  And somehow, I had to make a diamond band appear that sparkled and looked real.

I had noticed that every time I tried to tackle a big section of the illustration, I failed.  Draft after draft ended up in the bin.  It was only when I took a very small section of a part, in fact, the smallest section I could imagine, and then went from there, that somehow, over the course of several hours, a legitimate illustration would emerge that was something I could be proud of.  Of course, starting with the smallest section possible makes you feel like you're never ever ever going to get it done in a million hours.  But it does.  Because you're not scrapping every single draft.  And the details are so precise you want to cry.  And lo and behold, everything comes together.  

See that arrowhead?  I tried to do it with 3 sections in the beginning.  It took over 50.

And the diamond band?  I wanted to cry over that diamond band.  How the heck was I supposed to do it?  It was already midnight.  I applied the small section technique I had humbly learned while trying to do the gold arrow.  And oh my gosh, 4 hours later, I had a sparkling diamond band.  The heavens parted and the angels sang.  The light appeared, and it was exhilarating.  I shouted.  I danced.  I felt like I had created something out of nothing, and blown my own expectations out of the water. 

All because of this simple lesson:  Start small and keep at it.  Do each small thing very well.  You will realize the fullness of your goal eventually.

Now I see why I could have never learned this from sports.  Softball was all too concrete.  I could see everything--the grass, the ball, my arm.  I was with teammates, with a coach that gave me drills.  But in life, the thing we most long to accomplish is invisible and we have to do it alone.  It's not yet in existence and the task of trying to make our visions, ideas, and desires into something that we can hold and inhabit is daunting.  It's a blank screen, not a field with diamonds and pathways.  Life is a blank screen that asks us to create from our own materials and hard work.

What I needed to learn in life, I learned from graphic design, not a ball.  Go figure.


  1. From baseball diamonds to a diamond ring...well done, Hanna! I did not make the connection that you actually MADE the illustration at the top of your post. It looks legit. : )

    I agree that the process of making something that is not yet there come into existence is daunting. But I don't think it's a path we have to go alone.

    Great story; great writing. Thanks!

  2. Love it, and the design too, thanks for keeping the faith. :)

    Drinks soon!