Eyeo 2014 in Sketch Notes (So Far)

Posted on by Rob Stenzinger

It's great to break out of my normal routine, hear fresh perspective, see experts share and explore the great things they make and do.

I have many thoughts on Eyeo - most of which will wait. For now:

  1. Eyeo is a great event, well curated, and the talks have been excellent.
  2. What I do have to share are the sketches I've made so far.

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Using Emotional Hooks to Build a Color Palette

Posted on by Rob Stenzinger

Creative visual challenges combine two things I love dearly: drawing stuff and playing games.

This particular art challenge is from the Quest series at Lean Into Art: Quest 11: A Rainbow of Feels. It's all about using emotional hooks as a guide to generate a color palette.

For my attempt at the normal quest I stacked the challenge cards in one big image in Illustrator, then ran the gauntlet in Sketch Book Pro on my Samsung tablet. For extra style or you could say necessity, I did each card in between newborn burping and changing.

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Played with the Squarespace Logo Maker

Posted on by Rob Stenzinger

Three top observations that come to mind about the Squarespace Logo Maker:

1. It's a well built, focused, enabling utility that helps people see **some** things that logo designers would consider such as font, layout, legibility of simple elements.
2. I've heard it mentioned a few times, in an envelope of extra positive or negative context. The reality of it strikes me as a simple, effective, yet starter tool where I'm not seeing the negatives given what I expect of it.
3. Even though it's a simple tool it gave me ideas. The design constraints it provides were helpful to give me practice in trading off all the flexibility a tool such as Adobe Illustrator provides. 

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Playing With Layouts

Posted on by Rob Stenzinger

Thinking about updating my portfolio - I decided to explore some layouts by playing with rectangles in Apple's Keynote.

Even though Axure, Illustrator, Omnigraffle, Flash, Photoshop, Sketchbook Pro, and other apps (pen and paper too) are totally capable and ready to do the job of exploring a layout, I find Keynote's simple tools a fun place to play yet produce pleasing layouts. Axure is a close second for me in both keeping me in a playful flow and cranking things out.

Some constraints I chose for this exercise:

  1. Use mostly rectangles.
  2. Stick mostly to layouts that felt like I could build pretty quickly using Bootstrap.
  3. Use a smidgen of asymmetry to keep things interesting. Asymmetry creates tension with the ease of porting to Bootstrap yet helps ensure a more distinctive layout.

I'll take a look at the layouts from this session later in the week with fresh eyes and see which grabs me.

Two Reasons I Took the 30 Characters Challenge

Posted on by Rob Stenzinger

There's a yearly art challenge called 30 Characters in 30 Days, facilitated by Tyler James of Comix Tribe. I'd chosen to take up the 30 Characters in 30 Days challenge twice before. There's many reasons to do such a thing - I have primarily two.

1) I have an urge to practice making and sharing things frequently and while working around time constraints. 2) I can explore making characters, in concept, story, and visual form via the constraints of the challenge.

My 2013 Run at #30Characters

Finished all 30 Characters in 2013!

It's been difficult yet enjoyable once again. Glad I did it and I hope to record more thoughts on this years 30Characters in an upcoming Polytechicast.

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Trade-offs In Expressing Dialog

Posted on by Rob Stenzinger

Exploring Editing

I created this quest as a way to explore something I've found super useful in making comics: editing. It's when I rewrite my dialog, re-sketch how my dialog flows, and play with how it's being expressed that I find ah-ha and extra emotional moments.

My intent for this quest: offer myself and others a comic-editing exercise via rough dialog, word ballooning, and associating it with a facial expression.

My Quest Attempt

Liaquest10 - Rob Stenzinger - Page 1.png

Up for a Quest?

We'll be talking about this quest and any of the posts other questers share via twitter using the hashtag "liaquest10" this Thursday on the Lean Into Art Cast.

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Where the Weird Kids Go

Posted on by Rob Stenzinger

In October I did a book cover commission for Pete Gilbertson's latest collection of short stories Where the Weird Kids Go.

Been meaning to post about this for weeks to share this closeup peek at work in progress. I wish I could say I waited on purpose to coincide with this sale announcement. It turns out both of Pete Gilbertson's short story collections are being featured by Amazon in different sales starting on November 29th.

Zombies at the Gates is free for download from 11/29-12/2


Where the Weird Kids Go is discounted from 11/29-12/4

Gallery of the Work In Progress

Really enjoyed this project, the short story of Where the Weird Kids go is very evocative.

A series from early doodles of the carousel animals all the way through changes in the composition, colors and on to the final cover.

The final cover of Where the Weird Kids Go

Final line art for the cover of Where the Weird Kids Go.

I thought it'd be fun to include a large version of the inked line art - feel free to turn it into blue lines to ink for fun, color these inks for fun, or both!

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World's Biggest Pac-Man

Posted on by Rob Stenzinger

"World's biggest Pac-Man" is over 100 thousand mazes linked together. Impressive project all around, from the big menu of all the mazes to the classic gameplay.

This is the maze I chose to jump in. It has large sections of empty maze filled with dots. The ghosts do some odd chasing without all the maze walls in their way, I thought it was pretty tough.

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A Quest to Create a Cast of Characters

Posted on by Rob Stenzinger

In the Lean Into Art Quest 9, Jerzy Drozd shared a series of mini-challenge cards geard toward generating a cast of characters. I found it one of those tricks where even though I know what's happening, the process and results still surprised me. I won't go over the top explaining this one, I gathered all the cards into the Papyrus app on my tablet, set a timer, and went for it.

5 worksheets, one big image.

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Quest Cards: a Mini-Art Challenge Experiment

Posted on by Rob Stenzinger

The first seven Lean Into Art Quests were each fun exercises and we've received positive feedback and seen really fun work from our fellow artists who chose to take on the quests. Even still - I felt the time crunch as well.

Earlier this month, I shared a new Quest at Lean Into Art called "Full Deck of Cards". I felt we needed to try a new approach to our mostly-monthly art challenges to make them more of an approachable warm up than a half day project.

Here's the orginal quest post with all the details and below is the full gallery of Quest 8 cards:

I gave cards number 1 and 10 a go:


From what I can tell it seems the experiment was well received. I released the cards in three phases - only sharing the next phase once someone had posted to twitter, individually or collectively, each one of the released Quest Cards filled out with their take on the exercise.

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Mail Chimp's Design Personality Example

Posted on by Rob Stenzinger

I've been a fan of the design choices for Mail Chimp's web UI and UX for years. Aesthetics and usability are part of what I respect. Their platform to create and manage email campaigns is complex, powerful, yet easy to learn. What really grabs me however is the tone and personality. For example, this.

As if to say... "Really - it's fine if you want to shut off the personality. Except you and I both know that's part of what makes this thing special".

As if to say... "Really - it's fine if you want to shut off the personality. Except you and I both know that's part of what makes this thing special".

A Quest to Be Mindfully Creative

Posted on by Rob Stenzinger

To take on Lean Into Art Quest 7, I needed to explore my own approach to time tracking, perception of productivity, and getting more focused about mindful creative activity. In it, Jerzy Drozd, instructor and quest giver for Lean Into Art Quest #7 asks "What’s the difference between Zero and 60?".

Update On episode 81 of the Lean Into Art Cast, Jerzy Drozd and I explore both the results of this quest and the naturally related topic: journaling to learn about workday rhythms.

On that very topic, in addition to taking Jerzy's quest, I also recommend listening to Back to Work episode 128: Eating Scones in the Closet.

Time is something we can precisely measure, yet have a tough time percieving and managing.

Even though I've developed some habits over the years that help me deal with my time perception difficulties - I still find I need to practice and journal. By doing so, I get some traction to make tracking and estimating a less difficult process.

Two Illustraiton Projects

Project 1: The Collective

I've been wanting to revisit this piece from 2009.

"Track your time while creating your next piece of art." Also: track the time I'm not being productive or switching to other tasks besides making the art.

For the most part, making my web comic on a mostly regular basis for 2.5 to 3 years taught me how to focus and finish art projects on a deadline. Being a parent has helped teach me to be flexible with interruptions and coordinating precious time to work on creative projects. I'm far from perfect - but I'm better at noticing when I'm off task and choosing strategies that keep me producing - even in small incremental steps.

I chose to work on these illustrations during a weekend when my wife's parents were visiting. Most "distractions" had to do with me choosing slices of time when everyone else was busy to chip-away at these projects.

"At what point in the process did you need a break?"

I find that when I get into an intense focus I will forget my normal bodily needs. In recent months I've become a little better at noticing when I'm sitting for too long, mostly due to wearing a Jawbone UP band that vibrates if I've been sitting still for 45 minutes.

"When did you stop out of hesitation?"

I certainly hesitated when it came time to deal with choosing my color palette.What I ended up doing is downloading the iOS application color scheme to explore a few of the colors I had in my Copic marker set and how they fit together.Once I found a combination that work for me I was off and running again.

"When did you stop out of frustration?"

While I do get frustrated (often because I am trying to get too much done too short of time span), that didn't really happen during this project. I knew I had very little time to get it done and perhaps that lead to it being very unlikely to run into anything frustrating. As the former Governer of Minnesota said "Aint got time to bleed.

"What parts of the process went faster for you? Slower? Why do you think that is?"

Overall I think I spent far more time on the second version of this image in the first. The initial version was something that I posted for my web comic on one of my sort of day off days. The original was rendered completely and pencil and then digitally framed with some template elements I use for my comic.

Art Project 2: The Robot

Jerzy asks: "Select a previously-finished piece of art (or comics page) that you’re pretty happy with." For that part of the quest I chose to explore adding color to a recent piece of mine which was designing a large mecha robot purely with rectangles.

Overall Time Results


  • 15 min preparation and blue lines
  • 2 hours of pentel pocket brush pen work over 6 sessions
  • 2 hours of Copic marker coloring work over 3 sessions


  • 5 min preparation and blue lines
  • 2 hours of Copic marker coloring work over 3 sessions


  • 1.5 hour to write a rough draft of notes and answering the quest's questions.
  • .5 hour to edit and post the notes

Total: 6.75 hours

Iteration and Next Time

The projects I chose for this class the ones that was pretty sure I could work on the new version in the time I had available. I like the newer versions of the artwork. Each of these pieces needed a fresh iteration.

Next time I have a deadline for illustrating a piece I'll do more accurate tracking too - I wish I'd done that for the Zombies at the Gates piece.

Drawing with Rectangles - Robots, Trees, and More

Posted on by Rob Stenzinger

This is a series of experiments in using rectangles to draw a few things both natural and human-made. One technique I found useful through this was to work loosely and not focus on perfect symmetry.

These three robots began my curiosity with rectangle based drawing.

These three robots began my curiosity with rectangle based drawing.

Buildings, perhaps to use in a future video game concept.

Buildings, perhaps to use in a future video game concept.

Drawing with Rectangles - Buildings 2.png
Drawing with Rectangles - Buildings 3.png
Drawing with Rectangles - Robot Mecha.png
Exploring how I could draw trees using only rectangles.

Exploring how I could draw trees using only rectangles.

Drawing with Rectangles - Connected Rectangles.png
An attempt at clouds, though they more closely resemble battleships or extra simplified 8-bit art.

An attempt at clouds, though they more closely resemble battleships or extra simplified 8-bit art.

It's rectangles all the way down and I think it warded into taking a little break from the rectangle sketching.

It's rectangles all the way down and I think it warded into taking a little break from the rectangle sketching.

My Art Wall

Posted on by Rob Stenzinger

A few months ago I added two lengths of wire to the wall across from my desk and I couldn't be more pleased with the addition. Not for the wire alone - each length holds about 10-15 pieces of art with the help of small and medium binder clips.

Close Up of My Art Wall

Close Up of My Art Wall

In recent year's I've been stockpiling a variety of pieces - from other artists and some I've made myself. Once in a while I'll frame a piece, more commonly I'll keep them filed safely away in a big ol' art portfolio case. It's tough to enjoy them when they're all hidden away. No longer a problem thanks to my art wall.

Art Wall - Behind my Desk. Took this photo after last Thursday's recording of the Lean Into Art Cast. Also depicted: my low-cost (MacGuyver-style) light deflector.

Art Wall - Behind my Desk. Took this photo after last Thursday's recording of the Lean Into Art Cast. Also depicted: my low-cost (MacGuyver-style) light deflector.

I'll continue to frame art, though this way I can see, enjoy, and be reminded of much more of the art in my stockpile.

Writing Fan Fiction as Character and Plot Exploration

Posted on by Rob Stenzinger

An A-Team of My Own

If I were in a position to choose a team of heroes from any genre in any medium, I could easily see myself running through a checklist of favorite stories and recruiting the protagonist from each. That's how I started this exercise, but not where I ended.

Meet my A-Team

An A-Team of My Own (Rob Stenzinger's Quest for LIAQUEST6).png

Gore Burnelli, head of the Burnelli Grand Family of the Commonwealth Saga is the defacto team leader. Once human, Gore is now nearly all machine. His skin is a reflective gold tone that contains advanced nano technology, force feilds, super computing, super strength. His wealth has intergalactic reach. Running his empire takes most of his focus, unless his immediate family is in danger. Then he's super bad-ass glowing golden Iron Man weilding martial arts with metal and force-fields.

I chose him for his vast resources, super capabilities, and his almost heartless pragmatism because that would be an interesting connection with my next character. In the story, Gore represents human adaptivity and strength with the question of how far is too far to adapt and change when you face an enemy in battle.

Toru Honda from Fruits Basket. She's an extremely emotionally intelligent young woman. All who get to know Toru come to respect and love her strength of her empathy and heartful dedication to all those around her.

I chose her to represent the difficulties and benefits of caring about all creatures. She'll be either infected by an alien or mentally linked with one early in the story. Throughout the story, the alien will try to overtake her mind and will.

Piccolo, an alien from Namek who long ago crashed his spaceship on Earth. Once a feared villain, he's now ally with Earth's powerful gathering of heroes - the Z fighters.

I chose Piccolo because he was once a very malcontent deadly self serving force - who eventually found connection to people and planet he crashed. Piccolo will need to face his internal demons while trying to tolerate the extremely different personalities of Toru and Gore. Plus, Piccolo can find ways to hold-out and possibly win when the odds are extremely against him.

The External Conflict

What can bring these characters from such different worlds together? Alien invasion. As to how they come together as a team - I see it as Fate instead of actual "we have a mission for you" recruitment.

  • Toru is now a scientist studying alien cultures - she's searching for how different alien species develop and show love. Her base is attacked as an initial assault by an alien that recently discovered the human race.
  • Piccolo was meditating under a waterfall and in a deep meditative state - awakens a deeply hidden source of inner strength. He starts teleporting all over the world where there's people in danger - blipping in and out rapidly from one place to another. When it seems he gets it under control, he blips one more time into the middle of the alien attack on the remote science base where Toru is stationed.
  • Gore rarely travels to places outside his vast property holdings. When he does, it's almost always due to paying a visit to his eldest daughter who happens to be at the research base. She funds the operation and has asked her dad and others to visit to discuss a new discovery.

Another Quest

What started this exercise was another Lean Into Art Quest, "An A-Team of Your Own". The Quests are a growing collection of mini-challenges facilitated by Jerzy Drozd and myself. To participate, explore the available quests, take one and and post a link to your results. Then Jerzy and I critique and discuss the results on the next episode of the Lean Into Art Cast!