I want to learn something new. But what?

I recently stumbled upon this on Reddit by rtheone, whom I give full credit. The only reason I’m posting this here in full is because of the fickle nature of Reddit (in that it could be deleted at any time), but I thought it should be saved for a while here. They talk about many of the same topics I cover and care about (music, programming, graphic design, art, writing, and self-development), which makes it particularly interesting to me.

I’ll open frankly: the universe is bigger than you can even imagine and there are an infinite number of different answers to your question. In the post to follow, I’ll try to provide some answers. I will list out some of the more obvious things that you can do with little equipment, not that much money, and nobody else to do things with. But first, I want you to recognize this: this is, at most, an incomplete list. You will have different opportunities based on the environment you put yourself in. No matter what, your mileage will always vary. Regardless, there will always be new things to learn or do, you just have to get up and seek it. Let’s begin, shall we?

First and foremost, you could learn to play an instrument. Knowing how to play at least one instrument can be one of the most rewarding hobbies a person can do. Not only will it teach you about music and music theory, but playing an instrument can be relaxing, fun, and intellectually stimulating. A secret: used instruments and garage sale equipment can be extremely inexpensive. Check your local listings. Another secret: a lot of people have unused instruments sitting in their attics or closets and are willing to lend them to prospective musicians. All you have to do is ask nicely.

Ideally, you would want a music instructor who will guide you through the basics and outline what you should practice. Unfortunately, instruction can be expensive and in some places, unavailable. Thankfully, there’s plenty of resources online to self-teach yourself. On reddit, check out these posts from /r/piano, the FAQ from /r/guitarlessons, the sidebars and top posts on /r/clarinet, /r/saxophonics, /r/trumpet, and /r/drums. Not only that, but there are numerous of Youtube videos and online tutorials out there for learning how to play instruments. I highly recommend that everybody at least tries to learn an instrument at least once. Or learn many, like this guy. The music you learn to play and the experiences gained from musicality will stay with you for the rest of your life.

Let’s switch to a less common hobby. You could pick up lockpicking. As strange as it may seem, lockpicking has plenty of legal real-life applications as well and is a fun, calming hobby that plenty of people enjoy. There are very few feelings better than opening up a multi-tumbler lock. Just be sure to read your local laws on what you can and can not do.

Another great part about lockpicking: you can self-make your own equipment or buy it online for very little money. On reddit, there’s a fantastic lockpicking community on /r/lockpicking and here’s their beginner’s guide. There’s also plenty of tutorials and videos online. For example, here’s a fantastic online video series by the controversial competitive lock-picker Schuyler Towne on learning how to lockpick. If you want to cut directly to the lockpicking and skip all the videos about locks and pick making, start here.

If you have access to a computer, you can learn programming. It’s a large, fun skill that has an incredible number of uses. This guy in /r/webdev turned his career completely around in 18 months and landed himself a web development job. There’s plenty of resources online for learning programming. Here’s the starting FAQ from /r/learnprogramming that a lot of redditors are referred to when they ask about learning to code.

The FAQ can be kind of dry and demotivating, so try an interactive tutorial. They’re more exciting and helps you ease into the flow of things better. I gave you a link to a Javascript interactive tutorial. Don’t be afraid to consider different programming languages and don’t feel belittled. Learning a programming language is like learning a new spoken language, you have to start from the very basics, despite how simple they may seem. Self-plug: here’s a guide to learning how to go from knowing nothing about Java to making your own 3D renderer in Java I wrote a few months ago.

You can also learn graphic design. With free tools like Paint.Net and GIMP, you can learn how to make visual products that look nice. You can teach yourself to make a well-designed logo, to choose a typeface accurate for any given situation, or design a handout for a public event. You can apply concepts like color theory and negative space to almost anything. There’s a million practical uses for design, but it’s also quite difficult to master. Like with drawing, skill and mastery comes with practice.

Thankfully, you don’t have to do it by yourself. Like any other digital skill, there’s an incredible amount of resources online. Check out this guide from PSDTuts and read online resources like /r/design, /r/graphic_design, and /r/Design_Critiques. There’s also plenty of other websites out there that will offer free resources and tutorials. Look to them for inspiration. Don’t be afraid to mimic other people’s style as well, it’s how a lot of beginning designers learn. Just don’t directly copy them. Once you understand the basics of whatever tool you’re using, the best way to get better is to simply practice. Challenge yourself with new tasks every day and set the bar higher and higher each time.

Similarly, you can pick up sketching and drawing. Frankly, learning to draw primarily comes from practice. Spend ten to twenty minutes every day sketching something new. Or better yet, try /r/sketchdaily. Similarly, don’t feel demotivated if you start off as a not-very-good artist. I assure you, with practice, you will definitely get better.

Want proof? Check out this conceptart.org thread. Check the date. Over the next sixty pages and seven years of drawing, you’ll find the OP working a little bit every day and developing from a beginning hobby artist to an art teacher. Want to see some of his last posted works? Check here and here. That’s what passion and practice gives you.

Let’s say that drawing is too easy for you and you want to pick up something slightly more challenging. Try 3D modelling. It may seem daunting at first, but through the development of habits, 3D modelling can be not that difficult. Here’s how: download Blender and follow this online book step-by-step. It’s the best book I’ve found that goes into extreme detail on learning how to pick up 3D modelling. It has an amazing pace and is incredibly easy and fun to learn. There’s obviously a million uses for 3D modelling, from making model architecture to product design to designing 3D assets for a game or film.

You could also improve your penmanship. Every day, spend a little bit of time and develop a unique style of handwriting. Write out the alphabet a few times and add nuances to your lettering to make them stand out. Here’s a nice starter on practicing your abilities with a pen or pencil. Like with sketching and graphic design, don’t be afraid to look at or copy parts of other people’s styles. Seeing good handwriting and other people’s handwriting can be a great place to find inspiration and motivation.

It’s not a talent per se, but you could do the awesome thing and read. No library? Look at this, it’s more books you can read in a lifetime all put in a single place for free. Try to at least spend a little bit of time reading every day and better yet, immerse yourself in the books you read. If you don’t know what to read, look up the exact same question on subreddits like /r/books and /r/printsf or visit /r/booksuggestions. Be sure to go back and read classics that you were forced to read in school at your own pace. You’ll might find the experience enlightening. Reading will help improve your openness to other ideas and are fantastic references and conversation makers. Reading will generate creativity, expand your knowledge and vocabulary, and improve your ability to write. Most importantly, it’s fun.

Like reading, you could practice writing. Write more and with purpose. Expand your vocabulary by writing with a new, difficult word every single day and reusing it later on. Learn to convey ideas with short sentences but with beautiful prose. Learn to tell a story and learn to objectively state the facts. Check out /r/writing and try writing short little stories every day or every week and submitting them to /r/nosleep (for horror) or /r/shortstories. Maintain an unread blog. Keep a journal in your pocket all day. Write stupidly long posts on reddit. Write more! Try out/r/shutupandwrite if you’re having trouble staying motivated.

I also highly recommend working out and getting fit. Not only is it physically beneficial in terms of losing (or gaining muscle) weight, but it’s also emotionally and mentally rewarding as you feel better from it. You’ll feel better, healthier, and more confident from it. Here’s a fantastic start-up guide from /r/fitness. There’s not much to say about this one. You should be doing this already! If you’re not, do whatever it takes to motivate yourself to get physically active. For example, try listening to music while working out. It’ll make the time pass much quicker and make you less self-conscious if you’re in a public place. Most importantly, don’t push this off.

If you want some music to listen to, you could try to expand your music appreciation to the harder-to-pick-up genres. A lot of people say they like jazz or classical and can only cite pieces like Take Five by David Brubeck or Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata as examples. That’s all great and fantastic, but there’s a MASSIVE genre out there filled to the brim with fantastic music. Learning to love it will supply you with a near endless amount of music. All it takes is a little patience and a little know-how.

The patience comes from you. Here’s some of the know-how: check out this post from this subreddit and check outthis post from /r/jazz and check out this post from /r/classicalmusic. Take some time and patience and learn to love the musical nuances that defined genres like classical and jazz. Soon enough you’ll be humming out motifs from Coltrane’s Giant Steps or a Mahler symphony like the rest of us.

If you have some music theory knowledge, you can also try composing and making your own music. As it turns out, once you have the music theory basics covered (try this if you want to learn basic music theory and use this if you want to practice ear training to recognize pitches, keys, and chords), making “reasonable” electronic and pop music really isn’t that difficult, but hard to perfect. It’s also really fun and entertaining. /r/WeAreTheMusicMakershas a terrific guide for getting started at making your own music. This is a great starting point for the massive amount of resources like this also available online on learning how to make your own music (See a theme here? Lots of resources online. Just gotta learn to seek them out.)

If you need a DAW (a digital audio workstation), LMMS is free and not that hard to use. It shares similar functionality to the ever popular Fruity Loops/FL Studio DAW (which costs money, is professionally used, and is professionally laughed at) but lacking in some advanced features.

Let’s keep up with the music theme. You can also improve your singing. You could get a vocal coach, or you could do the hard work and practice. The best thing you can do is both. But if you don’t have the money, do the latter. Start here then practice. Practice! Belt it out to your favorite songs and don’t care. Sing in the shower, sing in the car, sing whenever and wherever you can afford to have the people around you listening (so no singing during business meetings). When you’re at home, sing while listening to a song and record yourself with a mic and a recording program like Audacity. Play it back with the original song and see how you do. Sure, you’ll think you sound terrible at the beginning, but like with all things, you get better over time.

Another thing: you’re probably not going to enjoy listening to your own voice. Don’t. You’re just not used to hearing yourself in recording compared to the sound bouncing around through your head. First of all, it’s your own voice. It’s not going to change. Learn to love what you’ve got. Some people are short. Most of them learn to embrace it and take it in stride. With practice, you can make slight changes to your tone and voicings that will improve your ability to not only sing, but will improve your ability to talk with people and give speeches emotively. Plus, there will be that day when your friends force you to sing some karaoke against your will and you’ll have your months and years of practice ready to go. Show them what’s up.

Another small thing you can learn is learning how to meditate. I’ll re-post this because it covers the gist of it extensively. You might not see or feel instantaneous ephemeral benefits, but spending 10-20 minutes meditating every morning will dramatically improve your lifestyle.

You could do the obvious and pick up sports. Ask around in your local communities. There’s almost definitely people out there who gather in local parks and facilities to play sports together at different levels. If you’re not the interactive type, learn to swim. It’s cheap, easy, fun, and doesn’t require other people to enjoy. Learning to swim is one of the most important things you should do, even if you live in the middle of a desert. You simply don’t know when you might be in a position where knowing how to swim could mean life or death. Plus, swimming is relaxing and not that hard on the muscles.

Here are some other physical activities you could pick up without relying on other people or a vast array of equipment: biking, hiking, rock climbing, martial arts, skating, surfing, skiing, and gymnastics. Having a good instructor could be extremely helpful though and is almost always preferable than not. I’ll put a little bit more emphasis on biking because it’s an incredibly useful skill to know how to do well. Biking is a cheap, ecologically friendly way of getting to local places quickly. Apply liberally.

You already mentioned learning a language. I’ll be frank and tell you I’m terrible at learning languages. I’ll tell you what I’ve heard from other people. First of all, the number one most recommended method of learning another language is the following: surround yourself with people who will speak the desired language often. Better yet, travel to it. Within weeks, you’ll know the basics. Within months, you’ll be practically fluent. Dead serious.

If you can’t move yourself around, try this website. I’ve heard good things about it. You could also try classes. Generally, they have mixed results, but it forces you to practice in a friendly environment which is better than practicing by yourself with little to no motivation. Most languages have a subreddit dedicated toward them:/r/chineselanguage/r/korean/r/spanish/r/french. Check out their sidebars or top posts to find some guides on learning each language.

Oh, and there’s dancing. I haven’t put much effort into learning how to dance… but check this out.

There you have it, a not-so-short list on the things you can do in your free time. I might add a few things every now and then if it comes to memory. You now have no excuse to be bored and let your ennui catch up to you.You don’t have to master every single thing. If you enjoy it, pursue it. If you don’t, move on to the next thing. Life is too short to not do what you enjoy. Have at it and never give up- never surrender!

Via original post on Reddit by rtheone. One final quote from rtheone from one of his other posts, “Some times, as other people mentioned, it’s just about persevering. You might simply have to push through your barriers and find the reward on the other side. Some times, though, it’s about finding a way that makes it work for you. Open up to new ideas.”

More Tips for Graphic Designers Starting Out

A while back I wrote Tips for Graphic Designers Starting Out in Indianapolis, but recently I ran across an article by Meg Robichaud entitled, Everything I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Freelancing that I think does a much better job of explaining exactly what to do when starting out freelancing as a graphic designer.

Admittedly, I winced a little bit when she wrote, “Let’s be clear. I have to laugh when every blog about freelancing starts off with ‘I quit my job so I could work for myself, and be my own boss.'”, considering that’s kind of what I did here and here, but I didn’t know what I didn’t know – and now I know – and can agree with what Meg is trying to say. Here’s what she says:

“Be awesome. Tell everyone.” – Make something good and let the world know (specifically your future clients and/or employers know) via Twitter, by blogging, on Forrst.com, Scoutzie.com, and Dribbble.com.

“Stop waiting for them to come to you, just go to them.” – If you want to get new clients or land a new job, go to the company you’re want to work for and ask to work for them. Show them your work and how you can help them out. Make it about them, not you.

There’s other stuff about time tracking and time management, but it really boils down to those these two points: 1) Do something. 2) Ask people if they want it. If you repeat that all day long, you’re going to be a success. The hard part for some people is:

a) Not being able to span the gap of time between needing to be financially successful and not being financially stable. You might have to do some things you don’t love to survive.

b) Not knowing what to produce to show people. Because you can make anything for anyone, you have no constraints, which makes it hard to choose something. Choose something and go.

c) Asking people for things when there is a possibility of the answer being no is hard. Fear of rejection is even harder for some people. Put yourself in a position where they need you.

In closing, nothing worth doing is going to be easy and there is no one out there who is going to do this for you. This isn’t a video game where you click on a business and wait for a status bar to fill up your bank account. Life is messy. And fun. Do your best and you’ll get the most out of it.

Facebook Cover Photos

Unless you act before March 30th, Facebook will automatically change your Facebook Page to the new Timeline layout. This means that your business page will no longer look the same and therefore any custom tabs or images you created for your Facebook Page will move or be changed. The biggest change is the addition of an optional “Cover” photo which is 850px wide by 315px tall. We’ve designed some Facebook Page covers for several of our social media management clients that we’d like to showcase here.

Please let me know what you think about them in the comments below.

Tips for Graphic Designers Starting Out in Indianapolis

I recently met some recent Ball State graduates at a meetup in Broad Ripple, which led me to write this post on the current state of graphic design from my perspective and how to get noticed online:

Types of Design Work You Could Do

  • Design book covers – people are self-publishing more (as ebooks and print-on-demand paperbacks), but they still need graphic design for the cover and possibly for the layout of the books themselves. Ebook platforms like for the Kindle simply use HTML so if you know that, you’re halfway more helpful than the average person. I have some resources for that here.
  • Design custom Facebook pages and Twitter backgrounds – business owners usually know they need to be on Facebook, but don’t always know how or what to makes an effective design. Learning a little bit more about how to get people to click on the like button will help you sell the service. Remember to ‘sell the hole‘, which means to sell the value, not the product.
  • Design materials to match a website design or vice versa – web designers don’t often make print materials and print graphic designers don’t always make web sites, so there is some opportunity to make a business’ brand match by filling in the gap on either side of that equation.
  • Freelance – through sites like Elance, Odesk, Crowdspring, or Vworker. You could also offer your services on Craigslist or Backpage. Some web design and app design firms also hire freelancers for project. Kurtis Beavers has done freelance work for Silver Square (web design) and Expected Behavior (app design), among others, and would be a good example for you.

Web Design and WordPress Resources

  • Web design websites for best-practices in design: Smashing Magazine and A List Apart.
  • About the business of web design: Get free advice on this forum at Webmaster World.
  • Free WordPress blog: WordPress.com – they have paid versions, but sub-domain versions are free.
  • WordPress Support: WordPress.org – here you will find many resources about all things WordPress.
  • How to get started making custom WordPress themes: this Web Designer Wall article gives good direction for WordPress newbies.
  • Other popular web platforms: Joomla, Drupal, and Sharepoint.

Indianapolis Web and Graphic Design Firms

Indianapolis Meetups

  • Verge Indy – “The hottest startup event in the Midwest”.
  • Indianapolis Marketing – Learn Marketing Strategies Tools and Best Practices for Promoting Your Business Online and Off.
  • WordPress Indianapolis – Learn best practices, ask questions, and get answers on WordPress in Indianapolis.

Web Hosts and Free Blogging Platforms

Ways to Promote Your Portfolio Online

  • Pinterest – invite-only, but very popular and growing.
  • Twitter – post pictures in addition to text tweets.
  • Flickr – be social here – treat it like a social network.
  • Dribbble – a Pinterest for designers.
  • Your own blog (SEE above for free blogging tools).
  • Youtube – use software like Jing to show the world what you can do – remember to put a link back to your blog or portfolio in the description. It will turn into a hyperlink and help you with SEO.
  • Vimeo – Anything you post to Youtube, also post here – it won’t hurt you and can only help.
  • Facebook Pages – post pictures on your wall/newsfeed/timeline – it won’t help with SEO, but ‘go where the people are’.

Lean Methodologies: Product and Customer Development

Websites to Follow

  • Ramit Sethi – I Will Teach You to Be Rich – advice on freelancing, job interviewing, and saving for retirement while you’re young.
  • Michael Hyatt – advice on the publishing industry and how to build a platform to promote your business and services online.
  • Chris Brogan – advice on social media and how to build a platform.

Please let me know if you have any questions. I’d be happy to help.

New Logo Defines What is a Water Shawl

You may or may not have noticed that we updated our logo recently. This is partly because Erich Stauffer has never had a logo other than his name, which was done with both Telablue and Watershawl. But the primary reason for changing the logo was in order to define, “What is a water shawl?”

I often get asked, “What is a water shawl?” It could mean ‘a water-filled shawl you wear around your head’ or it might not mean anything at all. It actually started as an Internet ‘handle’ or username for Erich Stauffer that he named after his stay at “Waters Hall” at Kentucky Christian University. But people never really seemed to like that truth of that answer so we set out to create a new story for the name and this is what we discovered. It also means a type of Pashmina shawl.

The water shawl that surrounds us all

If you define a water shawl as a ‘water-filled shawl that you wear around your head’ then some poetic license could be taken to both move that “shawl” inside our body and outside of our earth. There are actually two water ‘shawls’ that surround each and every one of us. There is the fluid that surrounds our brains that protects us from shogs and there is the water that surrounds the earth that provides us with rain (why do they hate you?).

How the logo portrays a water shawl

The blue ring symbolizes the water surrounding the inside of the circle where your mind might see a head, face, or the earth. The bottom section is cut to represent the slope of a persons shoulders and sometimes looks like a a person smiling, which we liked. We like to think of our clients being inside that circle and being happy with us.

Some design trouble we ran into and how we overcame it

I liked that I was able to keep the colors consistent with the web site theme, but I ran into trouble with the choice of color for the bottom part of the ring. It was originally white, but when placed on a white background, it didn’t have the effect I wanted. I experimented with adding an outline, but settled on changing the bottom color to gray when on a light background and back to white when on a dark background. We think this works well, but I look forward to your feedback.

How to Save Adobe ImageReady PSD as Animated GIF When Only JPG Appears

Adobe ImageReady Optimize MenuIf what is happening to you is like what happened to me, the Optimize menu got switched to JPG instead of GIF and I couldn’t save my Photoshop document (PSD) as an animated GIF.  It simply wasn’t an option.  I had to Google it, searching for terms like “adobe imageready not showing gif” until I found this quote, which saved me:

To create the GIF from the psd or even the jpg file, you have to have the Optimise palette open in ImageReady, and have GIF selected under the Format tab. You can then tweak the colour table, transparency, dither etc on the same palette. Then save as optimised… :)

I had to figure out where the Optimize menu was in Adobe ImageReady, but once I did that, I changed it to GIF and I was golden!

A Review of Adobe Flash CS4

Adobe Flash CS4 Professional software is the industry-leading authoring environment for creating engaging interactive experiences. New object-based animation tools make working in Flash easier and more intuitive for beginning and expert designers like myself, while powerful design tools expand your creative possibilities. Flash is the place to bring it all together and deliver to audiences regardless of platform or device. According to Adobe, Flash players are installed on 99% of desktops, so you know that the content is usable most everywhere, but it still won’t work on Apple’s iPhone.

Adobe Flash CS4 Professional contains hundreds of enhancements over CS3, including an easy-to-customize user interface consistent with other components within the Adobe Creative Suite 4 family of software. I’ve been messing with Flash the past few days, and the IK (bones) tool is my favorite added feature. It makes creating walk cycles easier, and also makes animations more interesting. One thing you should note is that the arms and legs all have to be on separate layers. If you try using the whole body shape, the movements get messed up.

The 3D tool is nice, but some of the 3d stuff can be done by using the free transform tool. Overall it is a useful feature for what can’t be done with the free transform tool.

The spray brush tool is also a nice feature. It allows you to not just spray pain with colors, but with symbols also. There are some really cool things that can be done with this, such as backgrounds.

Overall, this is a very good product that I recommend.