“It is such a secret place, the land of tears.”

© Mary Garner-Mitchell. Pen and ink; Graphix board

© Mary Garner-Mitchell. Pen and ink; Graphix board

“Nothing terribly important, but your big, little sister could use an empathetic shoulder … or something …”  was the message in my email.

Within minutes, his voice on the phone asking, “Are you ok?” gave me permission to cry.

As the author of “The Little Prince” wrote, my tears came from “a secret place” that few may understand. They had been collecting in a reservoir deep, deep within for the past several months, and I knew the gene pool that my brother and I share made him the logical lifeguard. He tossed me the ring by way of his own experiences at low tide when one chooses any art as a vocation. God bless him.

Don’t misunderstand, and I don’t want your pity. I am full of gratitude for all I’ve been given by way of talent, family, friends, clients and more love and good fortune than I deserve. And, while slowed, business remains steady. Yet recently my creative spirit seems to be drowning in the sea of change within my profession.

I’m sad to say that cheap stock art now consumes my original work more often than I care to admit. I cannot compete with $30 spot illustrations, pay for health insurance, office rent, all the while swimming against a current of ever changing software and equipment and still bring jobs in on time and on budget. Fast, cheap, good – the designer’s holy triangle — as the saying goes, “choose two.”

The sharks are circling ready to gobble up guppies who have nothing to lose (but their livelihood!) by swimming in schools politely called “crowd sourcing” and “contests” — Candy Land names otherwise known as “spec work.” I have not and will never take that bait.

Worse still are clients who see graphic design as a commodity, demanding native files as deliverables, ignoring the fact that to transfer licensed fonts and stock art is copyright infringement for which I would be liable, not to mention risking the integrity of the finished piece at the hands of another of unknown skill. Their message is play by our rules or you’re not in the game. Well, I won’t play that game and risk sinking my reputation and what’s left of my industry.

I’m taking my sketchbook and going home so to speak — per my wise brother’s advice. I’ve dried my tears.

Until tomorrow.

C’est le temps que tu as perdu pour ta rose qui fait ta rose si importante.

(“It is the time you have devoted to your rose that makes your rose so important.”)
From “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Making arrangements

Arranging a bowl of flowers in the morning can give a sense of quiet in a crowded day – like writing a poem or saying a prayer.   — Anne Morrow Lindbergh

© 2012 Chip Mitchell. Floral design by Mary Garner-Mitchell. Centerpiece candlelabrum for food table at the wedding reception of Berkley Gordon and Colin Mudrick, September 15, 2012. Floral materials include coral spray roses, bridal white and peach long-stem roses, dried oak leaf and fresh “antique” hydrangeas, silver artemisia, protea, abelia, yarrow, dalhia, pale peach stock and “Love Lies Bleeding” amaranth. For more wedding floral images, see  http://www.chipmitchell.com/clients/cmp/downloads/wedding


Painting, design, dance, music, and of course flowers — all art is arranged. I think I may have mastered a couple of these, and a couple I dabble at, but I love flower arranging above all. It comes as naturally to me as breathing.

Over the years I’ve realized enormous similarities between flower arranging and graphic design.  I once told an intern back in my previous life as a newspaper art director, that page layout was similar to arranging flowers.  One needs an entry point, a focal point and an ending.  White or negative space is essential, as is cohesiveness in color and tone. And the color and tone must convey the story or theme, be it either a photo spread or flower arrangement. For focus, a dominant image married with a well-crafted headline should prevail, supported by secondary and detailed “spots” lending detail.  Same is true for a flower arrangement. One key material or blossom is supported by the punches and wisps  of select materials that will dance and enhance.  As for endings, in a photo spread, an image that is the sum of all the others before it; for florals, if not the container, then it is the collective whole of the materials that went into the arrangement.

I think the same can be said for life.  There’s the entry point — the birth and/or nurturing through childhood; some form of focus — natural gifts or education that will support and influence; and the ending — a means of grounding, closure and completeness.  Stories, be they in photos or flowers — or lives — all transfer to memory, and all, though bound to fade, color every passing day hopefully with beauty and richness.

Getting down to business …

Where did the week go?  With the Fourth of July falling mid-week, I felt like yesterday was Monday, so in my head today is Tuesday and I need another three days to get the rest of my week’s work accomplished! Needless to say, I’ve neglected my near-daily blog posting, so to make up for the lost time, I’ll take this opportunity to upload some graphic design projects that I need to have “out there” for reference. No witty words for these, except that they were produced with much effort, before the real estate bubble burst and when budgets were flush. Grayson Hill and Monument Square are two luxury communities here in Richmond. I designed their respective logos, all the print collateral for both property launches and was AD for both design and creative in marketing efforts from 2005 through 2011 in partnership with Becker & Calliott Marketing. A great account for many years.

Grayson Hill sales kit. The pocket folder was inspired by 18th-century bookbinding. Floor plan inserts accompany accompany a bound identity brochure. Design: Mary Garner-Mitchell; printing, Worth Higgins & Associates; photography © Chip Mitchell

Grayson Hill Launch Invitation. Logo-bearing wax seal completes 5 x 7 card and envelop set. Design: Mary Garner-Mitchell; printing, Worth Higgins & Associates; photography © Chip Mitchell

Grayson Hill handout distributed at launch party included site plan and list of amenities. Design: Mary Garner-Mitchell; printing, Worth Higgins & Associates; photography © Chip Mitchell

Direct mail campaign; postcard to residents. Design, Mary Garner-Mitchell; Photography, Veer stock

Monument Square launch brochure, complete with floor plans. Logo and collateral design, Mary Garner-Mitchell; printing, Worth Higgins & Associates; photography © Chip Mitchell

Monument Square stationery suite. Design: Mary Garner-Mitchell; printing, Worth Higgins & Asociates; photography © Chip Mitchell

Monument Square “Bling”! Design: Mary Garner-Mitchell; printing, photography © Chip Mitchell

Monument Square print ad for Virginia Living Magazine, 2007. Design: Mary Garner-Mitchell; photography © Chip Mitchell

Luring the Big Ones

© Mary Garner-Mitchell
Detail of cover illustration for University of Richmond alumni magazine.
Digital air brush in Photoshop

An assignment to illustrate the cover story for the University of Richmond alumni magazine allowed me to test my digital airbrush skills. The story heralded the school’s recruiting effort to “lure” star talent. Of course I was required include representation of the school’s campus, which thankfully, is indeed lakeside.  Worried that the design would be determined “by committee” I was pleasantly surprised when the first sketch was accepted ­— hook, line and sinker!