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Through this website and blog it is my hope to offer news bits about current graphic design challenges (my own and others) as well as fine art news. To continue with the theme of my new book, "Graphic Design Exposed," this blog will expose the development of graphic design and fine art projects. From time to time I will invite guests to blog here in order to keep the news and views fresh and informative.
Please click on the orange and white envelope icon to receive email updates.

BRANDING: Going Beyond the Logo

On 16, Feb 2020 | No Comments | In Blog, Design | By Caren Hackman

Branding is a buzz word circulated widely during marketing discussions and even in casual conversation. This article summarizes why branding is an important element in today’s competitive marketplace. In this article I will answer five essential questions.

  1. What is branding?
  2. What is the history of branding?
  3. Where did the term come from?
  4. Why is branding important to me and my organization?
  5. How can my organization optimize its brand?

What is branding?

Branding is the process that addresses the big ideas of successfully communicating a company’s unique message. Brands are created in the mind.

Brands are created in the mind.

A brand is the promise and reputation of a company.

In developing a brand identity, companies and organizations work to decipher and utilize the elements that cause consumers to relate to their products on an emotional level.

Each company or organization has a Unique Selling Proposition.

What is the history of branding?

The origin of branding began when the very first human made a utilitarian item and placed a maker’s mark on it to identify the craftsperson and maker location. Symbols were used to communicate for centuries because most of the world’s population could not read.

Brand stamps on such items as pottery offered information about the makers, the location and the quality of the item.

I recently read an article in a 2014 National Geographic Magazine about a 102-foot-long wood barge that was excavated from the Rhōne River in 2011. Archeologists were able to identify the origins of the barge because the timbers used to construct the barge bore a brand mark.




Where did the term “brand” come from?

It is thought that the Egyptians were branding their cattle as early as 2,700 BCE to identify any cattle that may have wandered from the owners’ property.

Why has branding grown in importance?

In the past, people were limited to the products at hand in their towns and villages. As mass production and easy transportation made it possible to transport goods, the brand identity of those goods increased in importance. After 1950, television overtook radio and became the community’s primary tool for advertising. Visual branding became much more important. Branding increased in importance exponentially as use of the internet expanded. The popularity of social media makes brand identity a top priority.

How can my organization optimize its brand?

In order to maximize brand value, it is important to understand your organization’s market or audience touchpoints.

Because people relate to brands on an emotional level, they may be sensitive to:

  • Customer Service
  • How organizations maximize the use of media
  • Product quality
  • Core messages received while observing company actions
  • Values
  • Culture

The last three bullets include such intangible concepts  as the company or organization’s actions, environmental concerns or labor practices.


In today’s crowded marketplace, it is vitally important for companies and organizations to develop and nurture a positive brand culture.

To do this, use the web to communicate and maintain brand values) and core message(s).

In order to define and maintain a good brand presence, continually monitor your brand to gain increased value and perception. Be consistent and maintain a strong, clear, unique and compelling message.

Be mindful of the:

  • Experience
  • Perception
  • Visuals
  • Atmosphere
  • Tribal connection with your brand

Don’t forget Sonic branding

Brand Color Recognition Quiz


a-Tiffany’s and Mayor’s

b-Starbucks and Dunkin’

c-FedEx and UPS

d-Coke and Pepsi

Can a person have a brand?

Absolutely! The two female artists depicted below built their own brand image. In nearly every photo of Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986), she appears austere and does not look directly at the camera. Many of the photos of O’Keefe show her filling the image space as a large solid monochromatic monolith. It’s certainly a surprise, after seeing her austere photographic persona, to see the luscious colors incorporated in her paintings. I don’t believe that I have ever seen a self-portrait of Georgia O’Keefe. Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) fills photo space in the same way as O’Keefe, however similarities end there. Kahlo often fixes the camera with a direct gaze.  Although the photos of her are not in color, we see fabric prints and a great deal of adornment in  her use of layered jewelry. Kahlo spent her lifetime painting herself over and over again, using a riot of color. Portraits and paintings of these two iconic artists are easily identified from the brand that they each built.

Sources and additional resources:

CERF+ publishes article about Keepsake Painting Suite of Legacy my tool collection

On 20, Jul 2019 | No Comments | In Blog, Design, Fine Art | By Caren Hackman

I am honored that CERF+, an organization that helps artists in sustaining their careers, published an article I wrote about depicting legacy tools in my work. The legacy tools are a collection of woodworking tools that have been handed down through several generations of my family. To me, each tool is a work of art and holds great purpose in the world. PLEASE READ THE ARTICLE HERE.

In truth the Keepsake tools about which the article are written represent a small selection of the broader Keepsake Suite of paintings. Included in the Keepsake Suite are depictions of my generations old utilitarian kitchen items and an old diaper pail from my babyhood. When I was honored with an Artist in Residence position at the Herbert Hoover National Historic site, I not only painted the beautiful prairie landscape of Iowa, but chose to paint Hoover’s mother’s chair in the birthplace cottage, objects inside of Herbert Hoover’s childhood Quaker school house and lanterns and tools in Hoover’s father, Jesse’s blacksmith shop. I’ve been commissioned by others to paint their treasured Keepsake tools. One of the most memorable (and challenging paintings) was of dental tools used by a dentist who traveled on mission trips to offer free dental services to underserved people. To see more Keepsake Paintings please visit

Excellence Award for ad design

On 03, Apr 2019 | No Comments | In Blog, Design | By Caren Hackman

Graphic designers like myself are happy when our work makes our clients happy. When your work also catches the eye of your intended audience, it gives a sense of pride. For the third year, an ad I designed for Claimlink Jewelry Replacement,  which ran in Claims Magazine, received recognition for advertising excellence, “In recognition of outstanding overall readership as compared to all other advertisements appearing in Claims.

Keepsake Woodworking Legacy Tools

On 01, Apr 2019 | No Comments | In Blog, Design, Fine Art | By Caren Hackman

My painting suite, the Keepsake Series, grew from my love of utilitarian objects. I am a maker and I come from a family of makers. One of us is always painting, potting, woodworking, tailoring, machining metal, and so on. 

Tools and their ability to create fascinate me. There is a great beauty in the humble tools depicted in my paintings. These items have served generations and I feel privileged to have them close by and to be able to depict them in my paintings. 

Painting: Saws from the Keepsake Series

Here is the story about a legacy collection of wood working tools moving on to a fifth generation. 

Nathan Katz arrived in the United States by way of Ellis Island sometime during the early 1900’s.  For the remainder of his life he shared a home with wife, Yetta, his daughter, Bessie, son-in-law, Joseph and grandchildren, Hannah and Martin in Red Bank, New Jersey. He worked as a carpenter, building, refinishing and repairing furniture. I never knew Nathan, but he left a storied legacy and a collection of woodworking tools that have been passed down for generations. Martin, my father, Nathan’s only grandson, fondly told me tales about growing up in the same house with Nathan and Yetta. Nathan was quick to anger, but quick to forgive. On Friday evenings he would soak in the bathtub and then offer up his calloused hands for my father to remove splinters from the week’s work.

Bessie and Joseph had little use for the tools that were stored in their basement after Nathan passed away. They stayed boxed up in an old wooden cabinet. When Joseph, passed away, my father, inherited Nathan’s large collection of wood working tools. Many of the tools occupied a place of honor over Martin’s workbench, mounted on a pegboard replete with black marker outlines that insured that each item would be replaced in the correct location.

Although his three daughters, Naomi, Nan, and I, expressed an interest in learning to use the tools, he put us off… we think he may have been hoping for a son. He finally permitted his youngest daughter, Naomi, to watch him working on projects.

–Photo: cobbler’s chair that Nathan refurbished

Using the tools was of such great interest to me that I enrolled in technical drawing classes in high school (I had to get special recommendations from my guidance counselor and art teacher because girls were not permitted in these classes). As a freshman art student at Syracuse University, I was eligible to apply to the Syracuse University Industrial Design program (SUID). My great attraction to the Industrial (product) Design program was its ready access to a woodworking and metal shop. The shops were used to fabricate mock-ups of our product designs. One way or another, I was determined to become a skilled designer and fabricator. During the years I spent studying at SUID, I accumulated my own collection of hand tools. Despite his reluctance to allow me access to his prized tool collection, my father was proud of my accomplishments as an industrial designer.

While writing this article, I asked my sisters, Nan and Naomi, if they had the same attraction to the tool collection that I felt.

Naomi responded, “As a child I would always see my father using multiple tools for projects around the house. He often included me as an observer, but I never had the chance to actually use the tools. 

Then, once I reached higher grades in school and they offered “shop” as a class, it was never offered to the girls, especially if they were planning to go to college. I look back now and wish that I could have learned all of those skills when I was younger. Now, I dream of being a carpenter’s apprentice!!!”

-PHOTO: 2018 Sister, Naomi fixing a drawer in her basement workshop.

My sister, Nan, had a deep attraction to another piece of equipment in our basement. We had an old White brand factory sewing machine from our mother’s parents, who owned a dress manufacturing company. She, too, needed to acquire special permission from the school district to take sewing in high school, because it was not part of the college bound curriculum. Nan became a skilled tailor, published two books on altering and mending garments and started her own specialty clothing company. She currently designs and creates almost all of her work garments. Nan feels that everyone (even all of those college bound girls who were not allowed to take home ec classes in high school) should learn basic mending skills and intends to teach them!  

A fews years after I married an apartment dwelling city boy, and we purchased a house. My trousseau, which included an ample collection of tools that could be used to fix up the house, enhanced our wedded bliss. We both learned skills to assist with home repair.

Photo: Painting of Planes

My father passed away in May 1993. The house where we grew up was sold and Naomi and I divided up the tools. Some of the tools are lovingly displayed, hung on my studio wall. As I write this essay, my husband is using several tools in the very next room to replace a piece of damaged drywall.

Since 1993, I’ve realized that the objects I treasure most are those utilitarian items that bear the patina of years of use. Each one of the items in my collection served a purpose and in many cases, was part of an ongoing creative endeavor. 

I am so proud that my son Joel is carrying on the family tradition as a maker.  He is a skilled woodworker, machinist, designer, and fabricator. The treasured tools are slowly making their way into Joel’s toolbox. 

I asked Joel, a skilled toolmaker and wood working craftsman about his feeling towards the keepsake tools.

Joel’s Story:

“I grew up in a world of paintings on the wall of our house, and assumed this was normal, only to learn that not everybody’s mother is an accomplished artist. The paintings I was most drawn to from a young age were the “Keepsake” series, which includes all of my great-great grandfather’s tools. This foreshadowed a great life-long attraction to the warm tones of wood and metal patina. 

As a youth I played many sports, but the only one at which I excelled was sailing. I began to volunteer every morning at a summer sailing camp, where I learned to fix 30+ year old fiberglass boats, wooden daggerboards & rudders, torn sails, and broken spars. This fixation on handwork lay dormant until after college when a new roommate, Michael, engaged me in the pastime of fine woodworking. 

Michael had been scavenging quality hardwood shipping pallets from his PhD laboratory and hoarding the de-nailed boards underneath his bed. He also built a small hand tool woodworking shop in a utility closet. I invited Michael to start woodworking next to me in my welding and metal shop. Eventually Michael dragged his grandfather’s wood lathe out of a garage in Pittsburgh down to our shop in Florida. After learning to wood-turn, I had fully caught the woodworking bug again. 

Fueled by an endless supply of urban lumber from a tree service run by our other best friend, Steven, we accelerated forward with our desire to run a real woodshop. I soon began collecting old heavy-duty woodworking machines and inviting other young makers with a passion for old machinery to join our shop. 

Joel and me discussing one of the legacy tools, a wood plane.

As a machinist, I specialize in high precision metal work. This skill is useful for making furniture and sculpture, and refurbishing old machinery. Along with woodturning and furniture making, I have also constructed large festival art installations. For one piece, I machined a dodecahedron out of steel tubing. The sculpture levitates off the ground, drives around, and sets itself back down. It can house about 8 people comfortably. The whole structure folds up to fit inside my car.

PHOTO:  Joel’s creation, dodecahedron

I believe that the ability to make is programmed into our DNA, yet it is not taught or fostered in schools with college geared curriculum. It is a central part of our evolution as humans. It is obvious now to me that it runs in my blood, but that took years for me to realize.

As such, I am now focused on starting a program for young people to learn about fabrication, design, and classical technology such as: woodwork, welding, blacksmithing, machining, silversmithing, and textiles.” 

PHOTO: Chess board/cutting board wedding gift made by Joel

Mental Health for Creatives and Others

On 05, Mar 2019 | No Comments | In Blog, Design, Fine Art | By Caren Hackman

In October 2018 I had the pleasure of immersing myself in learning about good mental health habits because, as a graphic designer, I worked with Palm Health Foundation on Train the Brain, their community initiative for brain health. I came to understand that healthy habits and training canpositively effect our brain health.

Now that 2019 is well underway, many of us are thinking about adjustments we can make to our daily routines to help be us be healthier physically and mentally. Artists, especially, should consider being proactive about healthy habits. Contrary to popular belief, artists do not have high rates of mental illness compared to the general population. On the other hand, creatives tend to have more unconventional life experiences and heightened sensitivities. 

One contributing factor to these heightened sensitivities is that visual and performing artists tend to take on projects requiring unconventional schedules, rather than working the typical nine-to-five job. Depending on the location and the demands of their work, many variables exist as creatives move from project to project. Some such variables, inconsistent income, for example, can be especially unnerving. Furthermore, the artist’s emotional experience generally changes as his or her project unfolds. Certain stages may evoke feelings of exhilaration and others disappointment. Working on location can isolate the artist from family and friends. Aside from these sources of stress, simply eating and getting enough rest can become a challenge. Failure to adequately meet such fundamental needs poses a threat to one’s emotional balance and general sense of well-being. When a person makes maintaining good physical and mental health a priority, the stability in his or her career and personal life increases.

More information about brain health can be found at

Thank you to The Rickie Report, which published an article by me on this topic. It contains some additional information and helpful links.

Participation in Stickwork Build at Mounts Botanical Garden

On 05, Feb 2019 | One Comment | In Blog, Design, Fine Art | By Caren Hackman

I was already a fan of Patrick Doherty’s world famous Stickwork when Mounts Botanical Garden in West Palm Beach, FL commissioned him to create a work of art. It was an honor to be included as one of the many volunteers who worked with Patrick and his son, Sam to create the monumental stick work that will be on display at Mounts.  The build took about three weeks. Volunteers worked with the Dohertys 6 days a week. The process began with willow trunk supports sticking out of the ground and ended with beautiful curvilinear architecture.

Me inside one of the Stickwork structures

The work is considered temporal and will age as the Florida weather works its magic. On my recent visit to see the completed stick work, I saw that some of the willow branches were sprouting leaves. As I walked through the sculpture I was greeted with a wonderful fresh scent of willow.

Early morning. Ready to begin work with Patrick Doherty and son, Sam

YogaPainter exhibits at 2019 Continuum in Downtown West Palm Beach

On 08, Jan 2019 | No Comments | In Blog, Design, Fine Art | By Caren Hackman

The 2019 Continuum Pop-up Art Exhibit runs from January 10 -19, 2019. This year it is located at 426 Clematis Street, WPB, FL. Please visit to see my 5 foot tall YogaPainter piece, EKA PADA RAJAKAPOTASANA REFLECT. Contact me, if you’d like me to meet you at the gallery. The show contains about 8+ terrific pieces of art by Florida. #WPBARTS #CONTINUUM

One World-Zero Waste logo

On 12, Sep 2018 | No Comments | In Blog, Design | By Caren Hackman

I have a passion for earth-friendly projects so I was honored to be asked to work on a logo for the new One World-ZeroWaste store. The concept was to create a logo with the curving balanced yin-yang symbol that gave the impression of earth, water, and sky and then to add friendly feeling text. Elana Axelband-Smith and her mom Bari were great creative partners in this endeavor. Check out the One World-Zero Waste instagram page! @oneworldzerowaste. This zero waste store will be offering reusable products and items created from renewable resources as well as hand-crafted products.

Second Reader’s Choice Award for my ad design

On 31, Aug 2018 | No Comments | In Blog, Design | By Caren Hackman

As a graphic designer, nothing is more satisfying than to know my work is drawing attention. I am delighted that this piece I designed received the Readers’ Choice Award from Claims Magazine because of the number of readers who responded to it.



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National Artists Service Organization helps artists build safe and sustainable careers

On 15, Aug 2018 | No Comments | In Blog | By Caren Hackman

The Rickie Report suggested I report on CERF+,a support organization that has often come to the rescue of artists who incur losses from natural disasters, fires, floods, or extreme heath challenges that might prevent them from continuing their careers. The CERF+ tagline is appropriately, “The Artists Safety Net.” As revealed on their website, their support for artists is incredibly comprehensive. I was pleasantly amazed.

CERF+ offers guidance meant to create long, sustainable careers for today’s artists. The site covers health issues through its “Wellness for Makers” program. In addition, it offers career advice, grant writing instruction, an insurance hub, and information for setting up and protecting one’s creative assets. CERF+ is essentially a one-stop-shop and guide for an artist’s career. I hardly knew where to begin describing this impressive organization. I decided that the best strategy would be to call Jenifer Simon, Director of Programs and Outreach, and have her clarify the organization’s primary mission and provide me with case histories of some of their previous work. Jenifer and I spoke by video chat.

Caren:Can you tell me please about some of the highlights of CERF+ as a service organization? Please point out features of the website that artists will find most helpful and interesting.

Jenifer:The CERF+ website is a combination of two sites that had previously been separate. The CERF site had been on its own as a service organization, while the Studio Protector site, which is all about preparedness, responding to and recovering from emergencies, had been independent. We combined the two sites within the past year to create one mega-site. The “Craft Emergency Relief Fund” is about our Emergency Relief Assistance and the “+” is all about our readiness work.

The organization is about everything that can help the artist enjoy a sustainable and resilient career. We attempt not to duplicate information already available to artists from other worthy organizations; instead, we try to focus on “filling the gaps.”

Caren: Are the content contributors on the CERF+ website employees of the organization?

Jenifer:All the featured artists are beneficiaries of CERF+.Our goal is to not only motivate artists to look at the website, but to implement some of the recommendations. We’d like to show different ways that artists can talk about having resilient careers. Some are beneficiaries of Get Ready Grants.These are in the amount of $500 and enable artists to practice preparedness to mitigate disaster. Preparing for disasters is not an attractive topic for most artists, many of whom are focused on more immediate concerns such as earning a living, finding health insurance, and getting jobs. It is a challenge to get “preparedness” on an artist’s radar.

Caren: I plan to recommend that all artists visit the CERF+ website to help with their careers. The depth and breadth of the site is enormous. It could become overwhelming. Could you please tell me the best way to gather information from the site?

Jenifer:That is a good question. We will be working on the site to make it more personalized so that artists can navigate based on their individual situations. For example, The Studio Protector and Plan Ahead tabs prompt the site visitor with an assessment that helps choose what he/she can least afford to lose. Zeroing in what would help the individual artist the most assists each visitor to navigate the site.

Caren: I was thoroughly enlightened by watching the video guide on what to do after a disaster has struck. My attention was caught by a video that offers a step-by-step approach to photographing or documenting damage and avoiding health hazards.

Jenifer: I personally had an experience where I stored some of my prints in my parents’ basement. The basement got flooded and the prints got wet. An article on CERF+ taught me that placing artwork in the freezer is a good way to avoid or reduce mold.

We are trying help artists understand that they have to treat their livelihood as a business by thinking about safety, risk reduction, insurance and sustainability.

Caren: One of the challenges for artists is to prove that their work has value over and above the cost of supplies.

Jenifer: Absolutely. If you don’t have documentation of how much your work was sold for, then you can only recoup the cost of materials. Many artists do not have business insurance because they think it is too expensive; however, it is very affordable based on the value of what is being insured. But itis heartbreaking to have your work destroyed. The personal value and meaning of one’s work is priceless. All work must be documented.                         

Caren: Jenifer, thank you so much for your time. You must be proud of CERF+.

Jenifer: I’ve never worked for an organization that has as much integrity and discipline as CERF+. We are very careful about the decisions we make. We are stewards of a kind of mutual aid created by artists. Half of our donors are artists.62% of the CERF+ budget comes from donations; the remainder is from grants. If you would like to donate to CERF+ please visit

Given Jenifer’s helpful information, I wanted to know more. Who created CERF+? I gathered preliminary information.

In 1985, the Craft Emergency Relief Fund (now a program under CERF+) began when co-founders Carol Sedestrom Ross, then president of American Craft Enterprises, and glassblower, Josh Simpson, recognized the inherent generosity within the craft community. Artists would “pass the hat” to collect monetary donations during shows and exhibitions in support of fellow artists dealing with emergencies or having a difficult time.

Members of the craft community, many working in traditional media such as woodworkers and glass, have formed very tight supportive and loyal relationships. They see each other at shows across the US. If they hear of a craftsperson in need, the group would pass the hat to assist. From here, the organization continued to grow. Hurricane Katrina made organizations that support artists and musicians realize that there “needs to be a greater presence of artists at the table when it comes to emergency assistance in general.”

A lot of artists and musicians had no safety net. They are often left out of the recovery effort because replacing musical instruments or art supplies is not considered to be part of essential emergency relief. CERF leadership helped found the National Coalition for Arts Preparedness and Emergency Response whose members include the Actors Fund, Music Cares, South Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts, among others. They have conference calls every couple of weeks to discuss current disasters, relief activities, and to identify available resources.

I told two artist about CERF+ and asked them what they thought of the organization and the website. One of the artists, Candace Knapp, has sustained a long career, during which time she has created designed and produced furniture and statues for churches. She and her husband, engineer, Bjorn Andren, have also worked together on public art commissions. Here is what she told me:

Thank you for telling me about the CERF+ website. I have donated to CERF for many yearsbecause I know this organization helps artists recover after disasters. I like reading the personal stories of artists who survived and were able to do their art again. This CERF+ website is a whole other new thing! I am amazed and impressed by how comprehensive it is,everything from marketing and legal and financial advice to health and wellness and much more.I have been a sculptor for over forty years and now I am painting. We artists are usually self-employed and have unique situations when it comes to legal and financial issues. I am very grateful that there is an organization like CERF that cares about us.  

Candace Knapp

The other artist I spoke with is Christina Barrera, an emerging artist and graduate of Maryland Institute College of Art. After working for the School of Visual Arts in NYC for several years, she will begin an MFA program at Ryder College in autumn of 2018. I quote her:

My initial thoughts on CERF+ are that it’s a pretty unique resource. I’ve seen individual articles here and there about what to do with your work in an emergency. Of course, I know of a number of emergency relief grants; but to have all this information centralized into one resource and knowing that CERF+ offers grants to prepare in advance, rather than just in the event of an emergency, is pretty special. 

The longevity of my work and my archive is something I think about a lot, and it’s part of the reason that I took some conservation-based classes in undergrad. But I think a lot of young artists aren’t particularly concerned about it until later which is probably not the best way to go about it. CERF+ is not only a great resource for this kind of practical knowledge, but their self-care and wellness section does a great job of working to dismantle the idea that “making it” in a sustained studio practice requires physical sacrifice and grinding yourself down until you’ve suffered enough to be worthy of success.

The idea of the starving artist in perpetual struggle is being challenged bit by bit, and these kinds of resources help to normalize the idea that you’re better off getting a full night’s sleep and plenty of stretch breaks rather than regularly painting through the night just because “that’s what it takes”.

Overall, I think all artists can do with more long-term preparedness. That’s something CERF+ is focusing on in terms of artists’ physical and mental health and the physical preparedness of the artwork itself. I’m personally excited to explore more, and I’ve been thinking about how to database my archive of digital images and works recently, hoping they have some new info for me!

Christina Barrera