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Stubby, A Real Dog Hero

Real Dog Hero Sgt. Stubby Watercolor

I recently finished the painting of Sgt. Stubby, part of the Real Dog Heroes Series. This is a new series of paintings and drawings based on real dog heroes from search and rescue organizations, every day dogs being heroic and dogs who protected soldiers. The series was inspired while writing one morning about different canines who have done amazing things against what sometimes seemed to be impossible odds. I researched for the series by reading books from different sources and various news sites online.



Real Dog Hero Sgt. Stubby Watercolor

Stubby was the only dog to be awarded the rank of “sergeant” during World War I. He was smuggled overseas to France by his owner after he was found on the Yale campus. This loyal American Pit Bull Terrier mix saved lives and kept up the morale of soldiers by providing warnings about poison gas attacks and serving in multiple battles and actions. It was his soulful and alert expression that caught me.

Materials used: Watercolor and Prismacolor watercolor pencils and Staedler watercolor crayons on 140# watercolor paper.  Size: 11 inches by 15 inches. Price: $175 for the original painting.

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Color Secrets: Vibrancy

Color secrets: Vibrancy

Vibrancy is about how intense a color is, how strong the color appears to be. It is not just how bright or colorful it is, instead it is more about how pure and vivid the color is. Artists who use physical paints often use this term to describe how well a color matches the original paint out of a tube or to compare two colors next to each other.

Digital artists and creatives also use vibrancy, usually as a way to compare an object’s color to a background or another element. Vibrancy can be good but also bad. Two strong colors like orange and blue hues tend to look like they are visually vibrating when they are next to each other. This is why people usually try to use a vivid color paired with a duller or desaturated color. Navy and magenta, orange and a much darker or lighter  blue.



Vibrancy and Emotional Response

Colors also are subconsciously tied to emotional response. People will have different associations with A rich deep burgundy than they will with a soft pink. Soft pinks, and all pastels are visually gentle and we tend to associate them with gentle or tender concepts and things. A soft pink might be used for clothing for a baby while a dark burgundy red might be used in packaging for a perfume. These two can be paired together for an interesting twist as well. It is important to consider not just a color but how vivid the color will be and what impact that may have on a design.

Misty Rose


Vibrancy as a Wayfinding Tool in User Experience

The more vivid a color is the more it will attract attention. The button or item on the page you most want to attract people’s attention to should be the most vivid. If you have a very bright or vivid navigation banner or other elements, then it is important to give any call to action buttons a neutral area of white space around them so people can easily see the button. A lot of times on pages with other vivid colors this is flipped so the button is the darkest or lightest thing on the page, which also is a solution.


Experiment with Vibrancy and other CSS Filters

Don’t take my word for it about vibrancy, go ahead and try it on your next project. Here is a great list of old school named web colors to experiment with. Many of them are very vibrant, but with a bit of CSS you can tune the saturation, contrast and brightness  and see what happens.

There are many filters, but here are the key ones that affect vibrancy:

  • brightness()
  • contrast()
  • grayscale()
  • opacity()
  • saturate()

Let’s use Chartreuse as an example. (#7FFF00)

Chartreuse Button



Desaturated 30%

If we want to desaturate the look of the color on the button, the most fool proof way is to dim it using grayscale()

Chartreuse Button
Here is the code for the CSS style:
    -webkit-filter: grayscale(20%);
    -moz-filter:    grayscale(20%);
    -ms-filter:     grayscale(20%);
    -o-filter:      grayscale(20%);
-moz-border-radius: 7px;
-webkit-border-radius: 7px;
border-radius: 10px; /* future proof */
-khtml-border-radius: 7px; /* for old browsers */

Desaturate 70%

Chartreuse Button

So we can see by ramping up the grayscale percentage value all the way up to 70%,, we end up with a pretty quiet looking green. This would be one way to add a color change on hover without ever actually changing the color for a more subtle hover effect.

Let’s see what happens when we use saturate()

Saturate() set to 20% then 70% shown in two buttons:

Chartreuse Button
Chartreuse Button


Here is the code for the CSS style:

    -webkit-filter: saturate(20%);
    -moz-filter:    saturate(20%);
    -ms-filter:     saturate(20%);
    -o-filter:      saturate(20%);
-moz-border-radius: 7px;
-webkit-border-radius: 7px;
border-radius: 10px; /* future proof */
-khtml-border-radius: 7px; /* for old browsers */


To use 70% just copy the button again and adjust the saturate value.You can see that the saturate() is much stronger. If you want one set of code to use across images and buttons, grayscale is a safer bet for desaturation as it is more versatile. I hope you’ve enjoyed learning a bit more about vibrancy. I’d love to hear how you use this knowledge on your next project!

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Color Secrets: Brightness

Color Secrets: Brightness

There has been a trend lately in app design where white or very light backgrounds are paired with minimal use of color and flat, simplified shapes. Why this shift when sites had been trending darker and darker? Is it the Star Wars reboot? A renewed interest in futurism? Or are we just all tired of looking at gray or black displays?

As more and more sites provide lighter sites or options to choose what backgrounds we want, designers and user experience professionals will need to take another look at how people are using devices as part of their daily lives. People don’t use devices in well lit, climate controlled areas. Being able to observe and take into account the key environments where users are will then have an impact on choices about color including brightness, contrast and saturation.

My personal ideas about why interfaces are getting lighter:

  • usability in all lighting environments (indoors/outdoors, stores with poor lighting)
  • unpredictability of display brightness on devices
  • creating a neutral but positive backdrop for tasks

Usability in All Lighting Environments Makes for Happier Users

While there could be come pop culture reasons for the brave new world of lighter interfaces, when I am transitioning from indoors to outdoors, especially most often when I am outdoors, it is very hard to use apps when the background is dark. This leads to frustration which then leads to me not using an app.

One of my favorite features of the Kindle app is having full control over whether the reading pages are light or dark. Using a brighter, lighter colored background by default makes the transition from different lighting environments a pleasant experience for the user. I don’t have to stop and hunt for my display settings or growl at my phone because its idea of a bright enough screen and mine in full sunlight ARE NOT the same. We are using these devices not just to easily ignore social interactions with family members, sometimes we actually have some banking to do.


A Renewed Focus on Delight and Positivity

There seems to be a psychological component to all this use of brightness and white for interface backgrounds. There is a modern, upbeat vibe lighter interfaces can give off that helps support a positive mood and good feelings that companies are hoping people associate with their products and tools. If an interface can keep a warm vibe and not tip into coming off as sterile and cold, then the careful crafting of a lighter background color and related elements become a part of the experience, letting the tasks the user is there to perform become center stage.


Brighter, Lighter backgrounds Don’t Have to Rely on Display Brightness

Phones eat a lot of battery when the screen brightness is turned up. Like many people, I turn that setting down so I can go without charging my phone part of the day. If an app uses a light background I will have a high contrast experience even with the brightness of the display dialed down. It won’t matter if it is a desktop, tablet, phone or something else – I will consistently have a better overall experience.  It comes down to practical business outcomes really. The less time I am able to use my phone because I have it on a charger, the less I am spending. The easier it is for me to use apps on my phone or the phone screens themselves, the more money I will likely spend.


What Does Brightness Have to Do with Color?

Brightness in color theory terms is the amount of white added to a hue (what most of us think of as a color like red).  When using physical pigments, there are actual thick, opaque substances in white paint (usually titanium white) that permanently impact other colors added to it. Black is made from the physical blend of many colors together. White is the combination of all colors in the RGB spectrum, which is what all device displays use. How does this relate to the brightness of screens or the choices product designers make in background colors? When you dial up the brightness to maximum in a background, it is a way to also portray calm, serenity, confidence and peace. It also acts as a neutral background for other colors. It is a canvas for charts, videos, and interactions. It is also important to take into account the effect that too much white without some tinge or other color or good use of background patterns can have. Too much plain white can make an app or experience seem sterile, especially paired with dark colors and somber images. I think this is one of the reasons we are seeing more and more custom illustrations on websites and apps.


In the End, Our Role is to Make a User’s Day Brighter

The rise of so many different digital devices used daily by a wide range of people has shifted the design conversations I have lately. More and more people are focusing on the imagery and how they feel when using an app or site on a device. Are they frustrated? Did the app make something that is usually difficult or boring easier? Did it save them time or brighten their day?  While changing the background of an interface alone won’t save a buggy or hard to use app, it can be part improving the overall product design. When we support the goals of the user, we make the goals of our companies and projects easier to achieve too. And our days (and experiences) are brighter for it.


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Five Quick Color Tips For Your Next Project

five quick color tips

Many developers and designers I talk to are very frustrated when it comes time to pick colors for a project. It can be hard to choose the right color or set of colors for a project. I want to share with your five quick tips for using color in your next project so you can make the best user experience possible.

Continue reading Five Quick Color Tips For Your Next Project

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How to Find Your Artistic Style

How to find your artistic style

Your world view and how you express it is your style. We edit out so many things subconsciously and make choices on what to and what not to create. What do you choose to create when you can choose? What moves you?


All artists secretly long for an artistic style so different and unique from others they will be unmistakable. When I was in college, having an artistic style was a big source of anxiety. What if my work just looked like everyone else? How would I be different when we were all learning to do the same things? 


When you push yourself to experiment and grow every day, you will build your artistic style organically over time.

Parents know this anticipation as babies grow. What will their personalities be like? They are revealed slowly, day by day. Every interaction, every step, every person they meet and experience babies have reinforces or helps develop their personalities and attributes.

Our creative style is built the same way. Sure, you can learn by copying the style of other artists. At some point though you need to let go and stand on your own feet. You will take the training wheels off and notice you are creating work that is your own. That doesn’t mean you aren’t creating a visual commentary on others you have studied or seen. It is hard to create anything that does not reference something else. Art and creativity in all disciplines is both a response to the past and a bridge to the future.


There is no shortcut to finding your artistic style.

Yes you could make a conscious choice to use certain tools or create an extreme niche. It is human nature though to change and grow. To not grow is to stagnate. This sounds wrong. What about famous artists like Matisse and Van Gogh? Their work is so recognizable and iconic. If you take a closer look and study them, and in particular study more modern artists such as Picasso and Dali, you will find that even though they became famous for a small number of iconic works, their actual creative style evolved and changed over time.

As you continue to draw and paint, you will develop your style organically. The choices you make in line work, color palette, subject matter, symbols, shapes and medium all are part of what makes up your style.


Four Ways to Nurture and Develop Your Artistic Style

  1. Learn the basic techniques of your chosen medium. Go beyond the steps and find out why. By knowing WHY these techniques are used, you can make a informed decision on when to use them and build on them to make your own.
  2. Technique choices affect more than the work itself. It affects people’s perception. Their emotion. Does it look the same up close or at a distance? Are the colors jarring? Are shapes distinct far away and blobs up close? Do you use perspective or do you deliberately distort features or objects?
  3. Study artists and other creatives you admire and explore their techniques. Matisse, Monet. Van Gogh, Titian. Tindell. Many artists were making statements with their work. They were expressing emotions, their world view, frustrations, pushing perceptions. All this because of the choices they made.
  4. Start creating. Just start and create. Pick a skill or technique or subject and create. It is only by creating that you will develop your style. It won’t happen while day dreaming or binge watching shows.


How will you know when you have a unique artistic style? You might not be the first to know! As a young artist, it was my line work in pencil and pen that was first noticed by a teacher as being an artistic style. What is great about starting with pencils and pens is you already have been taught to write as a child. When you write in cursive the hand writing is uniquely yours. The same will be true for your pencil and pen drawings after you have been practicing for a while.

We get a lot of pressure as artists to have a specific style. As an artist’s skill and experience grows, it becomes less about subject matter and more about how they see the world. It saturates everything they make. 


Get out there and create.

If you start to worry about if you have a style or not, go do something that will get you out of your own head. Try a new tool. Limit your color palette. Listen to different music. The more you can focus on creating, the quicker and more concretely you will develop your artistic style.


What is your biggest struggle when it comes to finding your artistic style?