News and thoughts from the center of Gravity

Illustration styles: Don’t think, just scribble

When it comes to my personal artwork, I constantly experiment with different approaches. Partly because I haven’t identified with a specific style, but mostly because I just like to challenge myself and see what happens. It’s very satisfying to try something different with zero idea of how it’ll turn out, whether it’s successful or not.

I settled on this scribblized style because I was looking for something that didn’t require much conceptualizing and let me just freely draw. The continuous scribbling allowed me to keep my rhythm and pencil moving without much thought or stoppage. It’s pure fun.

Below is a series of illustrations I did of my family. Pictured are my two nieces and my sister (I’ll eventually get through to the rest of the gang). Technique and timing notes at the end.




Total time to complete each piece: 70 mins
Total time drawing for each piece: 15 min

The Setup

After choosing the photo I want to use, I print it out full size in black and white (easier to identify the shade values) and trace the outlines of the face and make markings for the eyes/nose/mouth for placement. I use that same photo for the shading reference for the drawing.

The Drawing

Just old-school graphite on paper. I draw the eyes first. Always. The eyes make or break any portrait drawing so I have to make sure it looks right for my own confidence and peace of mind to continue.

Then after filling in the nose and mouth... SCRIBBLE SCRIBBLE SCRIBBLE SCRIBBLE SCRIBBLE SCRIBBLE SCRIBBLE. I try to keep all the line weight consistent, just having more lines in the darker shades and fewer in the lighter areas.

The key is to set the right value with the middle tones so the drawing doesn’t come out to dark or light. I would take a step back periodically (2-3 times) to make sure i’m not going too crazy and the values look right.

The Finish

  • Scan drawing
  • Light Photoshopping
  • Add color overlay
  • Drink (optional).

-Huy Cao

Be attractive. Dress your brand for success.


When you're creating or recreating your website, smart design is more than decoration. Smart design makes even the hottest brands more attractive and sometimes the key is in keeping it simple. According to econsultancy, 40% of people will abandon a website if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load.

That can translate to other areas of your brand. Margin Media reports 48% of users as saying  that if they arrive on a business site that isn't working well on mobile, they take it as an indication of the business simply not caring. (stats pulled from the awesome Hubspot)

Color is key in web design as it is in other areas of marketing, maybe second in importance only to color in packaging. For your website, color can affect positive or negative growth pretty dramatically. Here's a clear and cool little infographic on color from instantshift:


It's important to be aware of trends in consumer reactions. Smart design + strategy is the recipe that helps your brand exert all kinds of gravitational attractiveness. Be the Ryan Gosling of branding and don’t be afraid to channel your inner heartthrob.

Brand Velocity. Fast and steady wins the race.


In the race for brand awareness and ultimately brand loyalty, if you’re not moving forward, you’re falling behind. The days of undivided attention have all but disappeared. First to market can have a big advantage in customer recognition, and recognition has been shown to markedly increase brand loyalty. So there may be a tendency to rush your launch, your site, your direct mail, get your product on the shelf, your app on the phone before anyone else.

But it’s not just speed that wins brand loyalty. Stumbling at breakneck speed can take you out of the race. The thing about clichés is, they're repeated over and over because they're true. And this one is one of the truest: You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.

Have a plan that takes into account discovery, design, review and revisions and you won't have to limp back to the starting line because you missed the mark. Here's another cliché that really bugs me but mostly because it's most painfully true at the eleventh hour: There's never enough time to do it right but always time to do it over. Time is a crucial part of brand velocity.

Hire people that know what they're doing and will fuel your content, clarity, relevance, and differentiation—people that get your business and the target you're shooting for and will keep you honest and on schedule, and you will be on the fast track.

High on Branding. why we’ve got a need for weed

Or cannabis. Or pot or grass or bud or hemp or smoke or.... just plain marijuana. Anything but dope which is what we called it in the 1970s and which still elicits snorts of derision from my adult children when I say it. Unless it’s dope as in cool. Dope as shit.

Anyways, Now that recreational use is legal in Washington, I want a cannabis client for Gravity so bad I can taste it. Or smoke it. Whatever, the point is, there has never been a branding opportunity like this in the history of ever.

It’s going to need naming, voice, logo, marketing, packaging, creating a brand for something people have been jonesing to be legal for decades—millions using it illicitly—now suddenly this juggernaut, this leviathan of wrong and right and fun and ok/not ok product is going to be heading through the 12 items or less line with several packages of Doritos and Ding Dongs. Well there is simply no precedence for it. To a branding pro this is, pardon the pun, heady stuff.

Consider alcohol just after Prohibition. Same thing in terms of a percentage of the population always using it (making their own in the case of my Grandpa Roy) and then the liberation and libations when Prohibition was repealed. But branding and advertising were a whole other thing in those days and the breadth of products and ways to reach the audience were relatively small.

Now it’s 2014 and you’ve got a substance that millions of people want, still in a limited space with a limited supply but a wide range of ways to consume it: dried as always, oils, chews, baked goods, infusions, oh good grief, this is Everything.

And check out that target audience. Stoners, sure. No disrespect meant but like hardcore Christians and the second coming, they prayed this would happen and I can believe they are feeling the rapture. But even better and much more fun is that vast untapped, empowered, wealthy, maybe slightly hesitant but what the hell adventurous Chardonnay drinking 40-something female demographic. Okay, they don’t have to drink Chardonnay, it can be Proseco…point is, there are women who’ll want weed and that my friend is one awesome demographic. If you only market it to women, you could craft an awesome and lucrative brand is what I’m saying. But there’s more.

How fun, how new, how bad we want to boldly go where no brand has gone before. I can already imagine the smokesperson™…somebody uber cool and not too young and already a little messed up in the best way. Someone to help create the buzz. And the best part is, we’re all in on the celebration.

While many will be pushing the stuff out in whatever packs are handy and legal, there are already some stellar package designs out of Colorado and much much more to come. I’ve got to admit, even if Gravity doesn’t get in on the ground floor, I can’t wait to see how this market evolves. It’s gonna be so Far Out.

-Barbara Combs

Tips to help land that design job

Hey kids, it's mid-May and you're either just graduating or already out in the workforce wackiness looking to score the perfect position at a major agency or world-class in house brand. Okay who are we kidding? If AIGA's recent Reality Check is any indication, there are 20x more grads than creative jobs available right now and you are probably staring at your book that just two weeks ago seemed ready to wow and wondering if Subway will take you back full time.

But don't despair. These days there are myriad places for you to start your creative adventure so it's no longer just an agency world. In-house design jobs can be lucrative creatively as well as financially and co-working spaces, creative staffing agencies, and the ability to easily create your own website and promote your freelance work globally means you have choices for how you'll make your mark on the design world.

If you're set on working at a creative agency, there are some simple-to-follow guidelines that will actually help you, if not get offers from every place you interview, at least make the process a little less vague and anxious. Granted, many places have a 'drop off' policy and you'll want to be sure your book is good enough to get you a callback, but when you do get that call to come in and meet in person, this post is for you:

Congratulations! You have now actually secured an interview for a design position. The competition was fierce, but you studied their qualifications carefully, spelled the word stationery correctly and didn’t respond to the question: "How big was the last department where you worked?" with the answer "Three stories." (an actual response from someone’s application).

Of course there are lots of things you should remember to do when you bring your precious book in for a portfolio review:

  • DO be on time for the meeting.
  • DO wear good shoes. (Really. Cool shoes are the new skinny glasses).
  • DO post your work in an online portfolio so the agency you’re interested in can easily browse your work and resumè.
  • DO bring business cards to leave behind.
  • DO research the place and the kind of work they do so you can not only tailor your book accordingly but speak intelligently about their projects.
  • DO send a follow-up note or another small collection of samples with a personal comment that will help them remember you.

All good DOs. But today we’ll elaborate on three DON’Ts that have happened all too frequently over the past millenium that I’ve been interviewing designers. The following are actually pretty easy to get right and I hope they help your next portfolio review go swimmingly.

1. DON'T lie about the work or your role with it.

This is a no-brainer right? Right, but designers are marketers after all, and there may be a temptation to embellish what your role was on a job just to make you look more desirable as a creative force. Problem is, they’ll know right after you’re hired whether or not you’re the real deal. And if not, everyone’s unhappy and you may very well lose that job and your credibility.

A blatant instance of this for me happened many years ago when a young guy proudly showed a point-of-sale piece he said he’d designed. The only problem was that we had designed it. And it was on our website.

Bottom line: Tell the truth. Be honest about your skills and experience and you’ll have a much better chance of finding a great fit.

2. DON'T bring too many samples.

This isn’t the worst offense, but it can turn the tide against you if you end up boring your interviewer. If they start to look at their watch or flip quickly through your work, it’s a good sign that you’ve brought too much or the wrong stuff. If you're not sure how many projects, or specifically what type of work to show, just ask them. And never ever ever ever (really don’t) bring a dog-eared book with your sketches or personal art.

Cool tip: Your work and thought process can be helpful to see, if you do it well. One student I saw at Reality Check this year had printed little random crops of his sketches on each page with the finished piece. I got an idea of how his mind worked on each project, that his mind did work, without having to view pages and pages of sketches.

Bottom line: Only bring your best stuff and be prepared to speak clearly and succinctly about your role on each piece and why you’re showing it.

3. DON'T wait with bated breath for when you next get to talk.

You need to listen and pick up cues from the interviewer. What are they saying about the position? About their company? Interviewers love it when you want to know how their company works, what they are looking for, how you might fit in. So in general, ask, don’t tell.

Smart tip: Take notes. It helps you to not talk too much and also shows that you do want to remember what the interviewer is saying. Plus you can often forget important things they're saying when you’re nervous and notes will help recall critical details about their job requirements like having to work every weekend, or get a tattoo with the company logo on your neck, or put a dollar in a jar every time you say a swear word.

Smart tip two: Rehearse your spiel. You know how important clear communication is in design and marketing. If you rehearse what you want to say, to ask, to describe about your work and yourself, it's much easier to sound polished and confident, and maybe even enjoy the experience.

Bottom line: Getting a job should be win/win. When you listen more and talk less, you’ll find out more about the position and the studio and it will be easier to decide if you’re a good fit. It doesn’t help to snag a job where you don’t fit. You won’t last long and your resumè will show it.

That said, this isn’t just a show, it’s a show and tell. If it were all about the book, you’d be leaving it at the front counter and just called back to discuss salary requirements. So you do need to speak up and communicate well about yourself and how you might help the company. Just don't forget to listen. And pay attention to kerning and typography. And spell stationery correctly. Good luck!

-Barbara Combs