Exploration and Observation = Discovery

Exploration and Observation = Discovery


Did you hear? Scientists discovered a new solar system 40 light years away. While I heard conversations about the ‘what if’ of getting there; I was more impressed with the exploration and observation the scientists had achieved.

Exploration and observation are the first two tenants of creative thinking. This is the foundation of my workshops, ArchiSketch Chicago. Get OUTSIDE to wander and see your environment, not stuck inside some conference room in a brainstorming session.

Launched last summer, ArchiSketch is about exploration and cultivating one’s own observation and artistic talent. History is my muse and is the backdrop for story combined with easy drawing instruction tailored for each stop.

Join me as we move our exploration and observation outdoors into areas of the city that you may or may not be familiar.

“Joann has a way of presenting information and story to get me to STOP and LOOK. Even though I may cross this intersection on a regular basis.”

One of the greatest compliments I could received–a lasting impression to spark creative thinking in others.

Upcoming ArchiSketch Schedule:

  • March 9th Sketching Sullivan. A three-hour hunt for Louis H. Sullivan’s iconic designs, dissecting his organic & geometric design.
  • March 22nd 3 Plazas on Dearborn. 360˚ views from each plaza, skyscrapers, grand-sized sculpture and opportunities for sketching people.
  • April 8th Lincoln Park Zoo & Garden, this is preview of the Urban Sketchers 10×10 workshop lineup.

Visit the ArchiSketch Chicago website for more information.

In addition to the ongoing Toastmasters projects, I also tap into other resources to expand my story development and storytelling skills:

Storyiz, Stanford d.school’s storytelling & visual communication studio is packed full of content and activities to create compelling & visual communication.

The Art of Storytelling by the masters at Pixar. This six-part class is free from the studio that behind Monsters Inc., Up and Inside Out. FREE.

Illuminate by Nancy Duarte and Patti Sanchez. A new book from the leaders in presentation development, design and public speaking to help leaders communication more effectively.

PS: The Willis Tower (fka Sears Tower) will be undergoing a $500MIL renovation and the kinetic sculpture “Universe” by Alexander Calder will me removed, and is not part of the new plans.

Lilacs Are Blooming! (May2016)

Mother’s Day was this past weekend, best wishes and fond memories everywhere.

My girls kept asking me what I wanted… nothing. No flowers. No brunches.

Instead, the opportunity to enjoy the Van Gogh’s Bedrooms exhibit at Art Institute of Chicago, with each of my daughters (went through this exhibit several times). Time spent talking about art, life of an artist, career, college and much more with my girls.

This is the only gift that matters, to me.joannsondy-lilacs-wh-tn

Springtime is my favorite season. I think it was also my mom’s, too. It hadn’t occurred to me that she’s been deceased for sixteen years. Memories springing into my head compounded by the vibrancy of the spring blossoms.

Cecelia, my mother, enjoyed being outside gardening. She was pretty good, the front and back yards of our suburban Detroit home were colorful and well-planned on her meager budget. She planted a variety of flowers and foliage for spring, summer and fall.  Mom’s fertilizer choices were very creative too, sometimes offending the olfactory with fish heads and manure. The end results were the envy of the neighborhood.

Among her best, the lilac shrubs with its dark green leaves and exploding blooms–from white to deep purple–gently drifting sweet perfume joannsondy-lilacs-dk-tnthroughout the neighborhood. Imagine, waking up on a warm spring morning, the windows open and the aroma from the lilacs more potent than the brewing black coffee. Lilac season is too short, only a couple of weeks.

I revisited my lilacs-inspired silk scarf design, “Cecelia’s Lilacs”, adding more blooms to the design and added border. A colorful spring accessory for any occasion. There are two variations, a white and dark lilac background. Available from my Etsy shop.


Available in two sizes: 36″ x 36″ for $120.00 USD and 26″ x 26″ for $65.00 USD. Made to order, allow up to 10-14 days for delivery.


Clutter, Chaos & Creativity

Look at my desk! Every day I attempt to keep the stacks organized. Thoughts of my arm sweeping all of it into the garbage pale are enticing. I don’t. Why? Because I’m developing several (big) projects right now and I’m in a mode of creation.

photoMy organized chaos consists of:

  • Work-in-progress
  • Family archival scans-current batch
  • Sketches and artwork for my textile designs
  • Speeches in the queue
  • Monthly planning
  • Prototypes
  • Reference materials

Let’s Get Messy

Throughout my readings and research about the creative process, there is one phase that is regarded as necessary: CHAOS.

Variety, I do a lot of things, not well, it avoids boredom.
-Isaac Mizrahi

It is the initial stage of generating multiple ideas, tagging research/examples, scribbles, sketches, picking ingredients, playing random notes, etc.

Ever observe a young child at play? It’s messy. That’s a good thing!

CURIOSITY or Open Mindedness is the child-like perspective to exploration and experimentation. We’re having fun and uninhibited.

Typically, this is when most of us give up. I have, many times. Why? I couldn’t truly tap into my playful and less-purposeful mind. I was after all, an ADULT.

Circle of Creativity

creative-flowWriter and humorist, John Cleese, has a theory about the circular process of creativity as we move from “open” and “closed” mind states.

  • Open mindedness: we’re relaxed and playful.
  • Closed mindedness: we’re impatient and tense.

Each state contributing to the overall creative process. How can you do this?

Conditions for Open Mode are space and time. Sequestering yourself away (space) from external demands and distractions. Give yourself time to focus, this is a necessity–not a luxury. Be specific if you must, set a timer for 2 hours or 30 minutes for uninterrupted time.

A discipline that can be developed over time. Be gentle with yourself. Your mind will want to check email and text messages…RESIST. Stat focused within the oasis of quiet time to be with your own ideas and thoughts.  Strengthening over time.

Closed Mode is a phase for implementation or executing on your ideas. Taking pages of notes & research and scripting a new speech. Reviewing quick sketches for larger and long-term potential.

Cycle through the Open/Closed modes as you move through your projects. Giggling and inspiring our inner child to keep moving forward; regardless of opinion.

Ideas are worthless if you can’t make them happen.
-Scott Belsky

My daughter’s room is messy, I do wish she’d tidy up a bit. I don’t nag about it as much as I used to (only if it gets too bad). Why? I don’t want her to lose the ability to use her child-like mind as she prepares to depart for college to begin a new phase of her life.

Go play!


John Cleese “How To Be Creative”

Isaac Mizrahi TED Talk “Fashion and Creativity”

Scott Belsky “Make Ideas Happen”

Visual Marketing II: Energy + Style

Visual Marketing II: Energy + Style

Immediately after hitting the ‘publish’ button on my previous post, I received the Chief Content Officer magazine. I highly recommend the magazine and website for anyone who is distributing content via a website/blog, social media and other online outlets. {Doesn’t that cover just about everyone these days!} Inside this magazine was a headline to an article on the website, “Is Design Mostly Dead? DIY Design vs Hiring a Pro?

The title grabbed my attention because, as the author/designer points out, the proliferation of the DIY platforms plus the tutorials many provide are NOT a substitute for the experience working with design skills to solve problems.

Growing up in suburban Detroit, when just about everyone worked for one of the Big 3, I’d frequently hear “what’s under the hood?” The engine. All the beautiful exterior styling didn’t matter if the engine did not have the muscle to make it go… down the road.


Items that a designer would use to create that power include:

  • Developing a color palette of limited swatches that bring a cohesiveness to the overall design
  • Selecting and limiting the number of fonts to avoid visual confusion
  • Reviewing and compositing images or graphics to extract the emotion needed for the campaign
  • Clarity of message and audience

These are just a few of the tools in a designers’ toolbox.

Can you pass me that socket wrench, please?


Form Ever Follows Function

Form Ever Follows Function

My tardiness in writing a well-thought out newsletter was delayed due to book* & presentation projects earlier this month.

I’ve been leading an Art Deco skyscrapers walking tour,  primarily along LaSalle Street in Chicago,  since I ‘certified’ in late spring. Art Deco is about ornamentation, these magnificent 1930s skyscrapers got me thinking about structure and the use of ornament (decoration).

Below is a quote excerpt from Holabird & Roche, architects of Chicago Board of Trade (1930):

“the exterior is an expression of the function(s) of the building…”

I think they were tapping into Louis H. Sullivan’s “form ever follows function.” For the CBOT, many would agree, the ornamentation is not merely decoration; it accentuating the overall design of the commodities exchange–all relating to agriculture (wheat, corn, lumber).

Why the architecture metaphor?
Frankly, there are numerous metaphors beyond architecture.
Each project, even an image for your Instagram feed requires structure and planning. We must invest the time into purpose or function, before any discussion of ornamentation. Then the mechanics of structure structure and flow of the publication will designed. Every writer I know begins with an outline or structure. Yes, even graphic designers begin with function and structure.

No amount of stock images, cheeky infographics or trendy color swatches will hide the lack of thought given to crafting a strong message and story structure; including any call-to-actions.

Working with photographic material presents a different opportunity to create a theme or visual structure for a collection. (see previous post)

I can’t tell you how many times, I’ve been asked to work on pitch deck/publication and the first conversation is about the aesthetics versus purpose, theme, content and audience.

Let’s not design from the outside inward. Sticky notes, index cards or whiteboards are simple, yet effective tools to breakdown your storyboard, eliminating the non-essential, shifting sections to improve the flow, etc.

More about structure or storyboarding:




Break out your coloring pencils to ignite your inner creative juices–coloring is the new meditation. Patterns of the Ancient World and Renaissance Patterns were developed for convenience of travel. The 6×9″ size is ideal to toss in your shoulder bag and fits nicely on hard surface like your tablet. AND, I included blank pages for your own drawings or doodles. Available via Amazon.


New Technology + Existing Market = New Pitch Deck

The past two months have been a whirlwind of activity, pushing my monthly newsletter to the back burner.  As a marketer, we all know this is a bad habit. However, focusing on successful results for client projects is a good thing.

Since early April, I’ve been immersed in several publishing projects: annual reports (2), software user’s manual, pitch decks (2 or 3), conference program, marketing brochures and simple webpages.

Today, I’d like to share a success story.
New energy technology start-up, GasTechno Energy and Fuels, hit the road in May to meet with prospective investors. Then, immediately back at the airport for an oil/gas industry event. Both required presentations and at a minimum a fact sheet.

After years of “start-up” mode, GasTechno was ready to take a more aggressive lead with its marketing. Conversations with the CEO, as the private placement was nearing completion, were about a fresh/modern design to wrap around the key message(s).

Despite the 30-slide deck, the client was rigorous with copy editing; choosing words/phrases carefully, even whittling the amount of data being presented. The use of infographics and strong visuals supported the core message.

The result was a deck that has proven itself to be great companion to the overall presentation, a successful first round of investments.

Immediately thereafter, the CEO headed to a gas/energy conference for meetings with a different audience (energy company analysts and engineers). We pulled several slides from the investor deck and updated slides from an existing presentation. A thorough “going over” to ensure overall design consistency was needed…all under very tight deadline.

The result for this hybrid deck was highly receptive. Contracts [close to being] signed and GasTechno has been awarded funds from new technology grants on state and national levels.

Congratulations to GasTechno Energy and Fuels, especially Walt and the opportunity to part of the company’s new launch this year. Much continued success!

Secrets of Self-Publishing Presentation December 19th

Are you an aspiring author looking for a publisher? 

Look no further than the closest mirror! 

I will be leading a class and discuss to help you simplify the self-publishing system, whether you’re excited about e-books or hard-nosed about hard copies. 

You’ll learn about a wide variety of author services, DIY tools and creative platforms while deciding which method of print and distribution fits your circulation aspirations. And the best part is, you’ll love who you’re working with: yourself!

This free class will be held at one of the community classrooms at Next Door Cafe in Chicago. We’ll begin at 6:30p and I’m planning on leaving enough time for Q&A. Next Door Cafe is located at 659 West Diversey. 

In case you can’t make this live event, I have prepared an, Self Publishing: Navigating the Process; loaded with description of service providers, tools and pages of resources. 

Available for viewing/downloading via Slideshare.

Repackage. Repurpose. Publish.


  • Are you consistently writing blog posts or articles about your industry?
  • Is your marketing kit filled with thought-leadership pieces?
  • Are you called upon as a ‘expert’ to address professional audiences?
  • Are you using a self-authored book as a key marketing tool?

A self-authored book/ebook as an instrument in your marketing strategy is as old as the hills. People have been doing it for centuries. Today is the day to turn your big pile of content into your own book.

Create. Collaborate. Publish!

In today’s ‘always connected’ digital world, your business book serves as a platform for your ideas and expertise; building on the foundation that you are already a thought-leader in your industry. Use a book or ebook to assist with relationship building of influencers, media and higher-level clientele.

Repackage. Repurpose. Publish.

Sit down, spend the time to review all the articles or blog posts that are stored on your computer or web server. Do you notice a theme?

Let’s work together with an editor to organize your articles and construct a book. Freshen up content, double checking facts and sources, adding imagery to enhance the key ideas, crafting a new introduction… and you are on your way to being a self-published author.

Create. Collaborate. Publish!

Production and distribution is now available to everyone. Period. Delivery and distribution to mobile devices has never been easier. The millions, tens-of-millions of smart devices in use today dramatically broadens your reach.

There’s no need to order thousands of printed books and store them in your basement. Order what you need for promotional purposes, keeping out-of-pocket expenses within your budget.

Are you ready to publish your ebook? 

Visit the Creative Aces portfolio to learn more about publishing to the iPad or tablet.

“Movement” Free PPT Template (August 2013)

I’m looking across my desk right now and imaging sweeping my arm across the top; all the papers, business cards, sticky notes, slides and magazine articles falling eloquently into the recycle bin.  Of course, I’d be lost on Tuesday when I return after the Labor Day weekend. 
Inspired by the movement of the steel ribbons of Pritzker Pavilion, designed by Frank Gehry, this month’s Powerpoint template injects some energy and movement into your presentation. The color scheme is reflective of the reflections that surround you when walking through Millennium Park.

Free download via Slideshare.

Just a reminder, that my Powerpoint templates are wrapped around the 12-slide structure “Universal Pitch Deck.” The ebook is available, here.

How to Use Right-facing Pages to Your Advantage

This year’s Printers Row Lit Fest was an opportunity to talk with several self publishing entrepreneurs or authors/artists. Bravo to all who have made this journey!

We bought books from two indie/self publishers at the Lit Fest; both books are image intensive. One photographic the other illustrative. However, one noticeable difference was the placement of (single) page images.

The book designer of the illustrative book failed to recognize that the artist’s illustrations should have been on right-facing page.

The right-facing page in ANY [printed] book or publication is the most valuable space. Our eye is naturally drawn to the right-facing page. Turn the page of a book or magazine, the physical action of turning the page reveals the right-facing page first. (Except for some cultures who’s written orientation may be different.)

Using the right-facing page to your advantage
Exhibit A: Image on left.

The illustrated book failed to create a proper title page for each section; placing the illustrations on left-facing page with no designated chapter page. The artist’s illustrations the showcase of the book.

In contrast to the coffee-table book which created a spread. Using both left and right pages to designate a new chapter.
Exhibit B: Shift the image to the right.

The noted difference between these two book designers is a designer who clearly understands foundational strategies to creating a reader-centric experience.

Exhibit C: Ideal page spread introducing a chapter or section