Things I was happy to have paid for in 2013

These are a few things I’ve been using a lot in the last year. I figured I’d share them. Maybe you’re looking for some comfy chinos or a pen that lets a lefty write letters and not smudges. Let me know if there’s something you think I should try in 2014!

Harry’s Razors

The most affordable razor blades I’ve ever enjoyed using. I get a super close shave even after a month of shaving at least once every day.

Moleskine Notebooks
These notebooks are a theme in my life. Some call them overpriced, but I find them to be just affordable enough to be practical and just expensive enough to make me feel bad for not using them. The small sizes are perfect for thoughts, notes, and sketches.

Shave Oil
I’ve only just discovered this fantastic category of shave product, so I don’t have anything to say about specific brands, but the shave oil I’m using has me hooked. Rub a few drops on a wet face. Benefits include closer shave, less razor burn, cool and refreshing, great smell, a bottle lasts forever. I’ll be exploring this stuff a little more (if the bottle I currently have ever runs out).

Zebra F-301 Ballpoint Pens
These are the only pens I’ve yet to use without leaving illegible smears where the letters should have been. Not perfectly smudge-free and a tad bit expensive, but they have good line quality. I can use them to take notes and make sketches. Don’t use the gel version, those are crap.

Staedtler Lead Holder
A fat, hard piece of graphite gripped firmly in talons of steel.  Makes you feel like a pro. Best sketching tool ever.

Evernote Premium
I wasn’t sure if this one was going to be worth it, but shared notebooks and premium syncing has changed how I take and organize notes. I can finally stop hoarding all those tiny scraps of paper and napkins. Keeping note-related images out of my camera roll is a boon, too.

Bombay Gin
Not much to say here, but this gin is good to sip and affordable to sip every day. It also mixes well (but what gin does’t, really?).

Apple’s iPhone is the only device I’ve ever found to increase my focus and help me set good habits. There are reasons to dislike it, but my overall feelings are positive. Since getting an iPhone, I take more (and better) notes—offline as well as digital—read more, and spend less time on the computer.

Bullhead Chinos
In an effort to expand my wardrobe, I gave chinos a try. These fit great, so comfy. Just skinny enough: they come in 28×30 and look damn sexy every day. My wife says she loves them ((I think she likes to stare)).

Cole Haan Franklin Saddle Shoes
Alyssa bought these for me as a “congratulations on the new job” present. They look sharp with jeans or dress pants (and chinos!). I wear them every day.


Four Years

Four years. I made it out in four years. College was great in ways, but I can’t say that I understand why people romanticize it. I had senioritis from day one of freshman year.

School always seemed like a roadblock to actually accomplishing something. I gained some good experiences and opportunities, but an amount of time was listening to droning, hour-long rehashes of the same information it took 15 minutes to read or a enduring a 20 minute rant in response to the ever-present question, “what’s going to be on the test?”

That’s why I wasn’t a straight-A student. I studied art and journalism. It was a surprisingly uncommon combination at MTSU, considering the relationship between both disciplines, the shared interest in documenting and commenting on society, and the mutually moderate levels of cynicism.

I sent my résumé and work samples out as the end of my final semester was approaching. I got calls back within hours and had an interview the next day. I accepted a job three weeks before the semester ended.

This isn’t about how terrible higher education has become or about how lucky I was to get a job right out of college (higher education is terrible and I was very lucky). For all the wasted time, I gained a few important things. I gained friends and a few mentors. I had so many opportunities to make my own luck and other opportunities that simply fell into my lap.

I interned with the University’s marketing department, worked with the local newspaper to sell advertisements for the campus paper, managed an ad campaign, hosted an on-campus event, led in rebuilding a student organization, and made an impression on quite a few faculty members and industry leaders.

I have a lot to show for my time at MTSU, but I still wonder if I have as much to show for the last four years as I really should. I’m not proud of many of my projects because the constraints of assignments (whether topic, time frame, or supplied materials) didn’t always allow for great work. Professors rarely gave assignments that would allow for portfolio building, nor did they seem to care that their class might not be the most important thing in the world.

My senior portfolio should have been better. It could have been better. Most assignments should have been smaller, less time-consuming, and more focused. Others should have allowed wider exploration and better expression of personal ideas and goals. Side projects should have been encouraged more, and the final portfolio should have taken a more forefront role in both journalism and art classes. There should have been more opportunities to be recognized for things other than academics.

I never got a chance to intern off campus. Between working to support myself and the coursework, I could’t afford an unpaid internship. I’ve been set up with a fantastic foundation of training and given amazing opportunities, but the ability to make the most of the training and opportunities just wasn’t what it could have been.

So here’s to a year of proving myself, a year of making up for lost time, a year of making something out of the ideas that have been bubbling in my mind for the last four years. Here’s to a year of big things. While I have a lot under my belt, I’ve lost way too time. It’s about time I actually get to do something.

Step Into My Office

Alyssa bought me a desk, so now I have an office in our apartment. Actually, she bought herself a desk. It’s okay, though. I got the better one.

We’ve only had one desk since we moved into our apartment. A mono-desk arrangement was working fine (except for a few territorial disputes) until we decided to start this design company called HelloFriend. Now that we’re both juggling projects, promotion, and personal stuff, the desk was starting to become a hotly contested piece of property. Even the drawers were a potential touchstone for all-out war.

I needed an office space; the dining room table wasn’t cutting it. My laptop was always spread out across it until no less than 2 minutes before dinner, and it came right back as soon as we would finish eating. My art homework usually involves some form of glue or paint, and lots of paper. I’m usually making a very big mess, so having an office was getting to the mission-critical point.

We thought long and hard about how we could fit something in. We argued about it, we stewed about it, there were probably even tears about it. Then I came home one day and found our beautiful antique schoolteachers desk in a corner with a post-it note above it that read, “Justin’s Office”. On the desk were arranged in perfect height-order, were The Chicago Manual of Style, my books on advertising, my typography books, and a tiny little shrubbery. On the wall above the desk, Alyssa had hung these old 1960’s ads for Sprite and Squirt.

See, Alyssa had found another desk and bought it and set it up for herself, then she moved the other desk and set up my office as a surprise for me. It was a very happy day. And now I have a fantastic little office space to call my own, which is great. It keeps my stuff off the dining room table, too, which is always a plus.

A Message In My Sketchbook

While I was at a project meeting yesterday, my wife left a message in my sketchbook. You probably haven’t seen her work, so you likely don’t see this as a big deal. She’s rapidly becoming adept at lettering.

Check out her most recent post, Words of Wisdom, and some of her other work. She’s not famous, but she’s good. I’m incredibly jealous of her skill, but I guess I’m just lucky that I get to watch her work.

Why I Watch MTV

Here’s the thing: I like to think of myself as a moderately educated, cultured individual with what many would consider to be good taste. How is it then that I sometimes watch MTV?

Aside from the obvious fact that it’s mindless entertainment and allows me to focus on other things—typically my sketchbook (which is the primary reason, I suppose)—is there actually a reason that I’m watching anything at all? Why not just sit in silence?

Part of it goes back to my creative process. I get bored pretty easily, so I need something to distract me from time to time. Also, having a diversion keeps me from taking whatever I’m working on too seriously. While there is a time and place for laser focus, working on my sketchbook or amassing content to share (read: spending hours on Tumblr and Stumble Upon) is typically a more lighthearted affair and the forced distraction helps me loosen up.

There’s another reason though. It seems that I find myself repeatedly watching, of all things, Catfish: The TV Show. It plays at a variety of time slots throughout the week, so it tends to be on when I’m watching TV. It’s also not quite as repulsive as some of their other programming.

However intentional this might be, the shows on MTV, especially Catfish, illustrate issues that are important to anyone interested in understanding how our culture is developing. While the quality of entertainment is highly questionable, I find that some of my best insights on how people think (or don’t), interact with each other, and use social media all come while watching MTV-level garbage. It’s interesting: what started as a mindless diversion became a philosophical reflection. I really am a boring person, aren’t I?

New website. Here now, but also coming soon.

I’ve been meaning to write for a while, but end of the semester course work has been getting in the way. Most notably, the construction of my very own personal portfolio website. It’s finally finished (well, mostly) and up on university space, which is to say it’s only available for as long as MTSU wants to keep it there.

The design surprised me a little, but I really like how it turned out, except for the fact that my weekly time report is telling me that I spent way too many hours on it. The real bulk of it was finding enough images of  my artwork  to have a decently full portfolio page to satisfy class requirements.

While I like how it came out design-wise, I’m not entirely pleased with the directory layout or the information structure. Also, there’s no backend, which would be ideal. I want put it up as an actual site (with  fancy URL and everything!) between now and mid-January, hopefully fixing some things—combining the about page with the contact page seems pretty obvious, as does putting up a responsive résumé in addition to the PDF. Maybe I’ll update the home page, add a blog section in place of the contact page, and migrate some (or all) of my writing over there.

Overall it does what it’s supposed to do and a little more: it showcases my style and some of my work, is easy to read, low maintenance, and it’s fairly comprehensively responsive. If you have a second, take a look at it and let me know what you think. It’s over at I’ll write again before Christmas, for sure!