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Participation in Stickwork Build at Mounts Botanical Garden

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.
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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

Kenny and Buddy and Now Kenny and Debby

On 05, Jun 2018 | No Comments | In Blog, Fine Art | By Caren Hackman

When Kenny was about 11 years old, I was commissioned by his parents to paint his portrait. We decided to include Kenny’s beloved cat, Buddy, in the painting.

Now, 20 years later, I have once again painted Kenny and his beloved…this time, his soon-to-be wife, Debby. I am so happy for Debby and Kenny and thrilled to be included in their celebration at the end of June.

Imperial Frame Gallery helped me select a pale cream-colored silk mat, simple, contemporary frame and best of all…museum-quality plexiglas so that the piece could be shipped to Philadelphia without breaking, while maintaining the clearest possible view with anti-glare and UV protection.  In my excitement to ship the wedding gift, I neglected to take a photo of the framed piece, but Kenny and Debby were kind enough to send me one (see below). Thanks!

Upon receiving the artwork, Kenny wrote, “Thank you so much for the portrait – we love it! Definitely one of our favorite gifts.”




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Watercolor Batik workshop

On 20, Apr 2018 | No Comments | In Blog | By Caren Hackman

In early April I participated in a fun and educational, one-day workshop to learn a new watercolor batik on rice paper process. I’ve posted details about my experiences on my sister site. Please visit

Be kind to your readers

On 06, Sep 2017 | No Comments | In Blog, Design | By Caren Hackman

In my previous blog article, I described some principles of good visual communication. I discussed the roll that good graphic design plays in effective visual communication. Design concepts and principles are ageless, while the need to become more proficient in using them with today’s media is ever increasing. This article will focus on design principles that make print and web projects easier on the eyes.

The article also will show examples of consistent messaging (i.e.,links) and common nomenclature. Below are two BEFORE examples, where I’ll ask you to guess what needs to be improved, and the AFTER examples with my suggested improvements.


BEFORE 1 WebPage

While nothing is dramatically wrong with this web page example, there are ways in which the information could be presented that would make reading easier.






AFTER 1 Web Page

The “AFTER” example is more enticing to view and easier on the eyes. The page features a large photo with accompanying type that is larger with expanded line spacing. This lets us know that the article is the “feature” or most important one on the page. Three other articles are situated below this feature. All the articles have beginning excerpts with “READ MORE >>>” links to the entire article. This strategy helps the visitor to browse the web page and locate the article for which they are searching.






The BEFORE 2 example has links placed in various colors and in varying locations. Link and button colors, styles and locations on a website should be as consistent as possible.








The AFTER  2 picture displays consistent styles for the links. Fortunately, many web design themes available for use with WordPress, WIX, SquareSpace and other providers and platforms have styles built into the themes that offer a choice of visually consistent links and buttons.




Nomenclature and Symbols

While making an effort to be creative or distinguish themselves as different, some individuals and organizations inadvertently stymy their own mission. They use creative terms that might be relevant to only their industry or they incorporate ornate typestyles that are difficult to read. Using common nomenclature and symbols insures that site visitors will be able to easily access information and interact appropriately.


Positioning the home page button, search icon, and contact information, etc. in commonly used locations will prevent visitors from leaving the site out of frustration.


This tip also applies to print design. On many occasions I’ve received a hardcopy letter requesting that I take action such as call, donate, or visit. This call-to-action (CTA) and contact information are buried in a paragraph in the middle of the letter.


It is a good idea to carefully study other sites or print materials to determine best practices. Many of the themes and templates available for use have been created by experienced designers, and will steer you in the correct direction.

One last cautionary note. Offering multiple CTAs can be confusing and cause the reader to choose not to take any action.

Choose a priority CTA to highlight and keep other options available, but in a non distracting format.

To summarize, both print and web design benefit from consistent, common use of communication elements.Pin It

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What is good communication design?

On 15, Aug 2017 | No Comments | In Blog, Design | By Caren Hackman

What is good communication design?

Since my book, Graphic Design Exposed, was published in 2012, I’ve been asked to speak to a variety of organizations. I discuss the roll that good graphic design plays in effective visual communication. Design concepts and principles are ageless, while the need to become more proficient in using them with today’s media is ever increasing.

In this blog’s next group of articles, I’ll be explaining some of the principles of good graphic design and give examples of ways to focus on the audience, improve the message, and correct common mistakes.

It’s true that professionals have training and very substantial software available to them; however, everyone has the opportunity to develop and use good visual communication skills.

Graphic design is an applied art. Visual creativity is used to solve a problem or achieve certain objectives, with the use of images, symbols and words. It is a partnering of visual communication and aesthetic expression.

Starting a project with the 5 W’s

Before any design work begins, plan carefully by asking the five “W’s”;

Who, what, where, when and why. Make your own list for every project launch. Ask questions such as:

  • Who is our target audience or market? Who are we (clearly identify yourself or your organization)?
  • What kind of media will be used to carry the message? What is the primary call-to-action? What kind of results do we expect? Where is our target market?
  • Where can we best reach members of the target audience?
  • When should we go live or send out our communications media? When should we expect responses to our message? If having an event, when is it, where is it? Why are we communicating?
  • Why is our message important? Why should our audience care?

Continue asking questions throughout the design process. Who should have the final word on proofreading? What software will be used to create the communication piece? Where can we make changes to clarify the message and draw attention to the call-to-action? When will we decide that revisions are complete? Why am I using this font, color, photo, etc.?

I am a believer in paring down a message to its most essential elements in order to avoid visual confusion and make certain that the true meaning is conveyed. Following are two of my favorite quotes.

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.

— Albert Einstein

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”

— Steve Jobs

Project Example #1 Do’s and Don’t’s

Following is an example of a graphic design piece created at its inception (Before) and the final piece after the design process (After). Please take a look at the “Before” example and try your best to list the components that need correcting before peeking at the “After” or finished design that follows it.

BEFORE design inception

By comparing the two designs we can see the differences and pick up some design tips.

AFTER Finished design

The subject of the communication piece is a special program that the organization is promoting. I’ve placed it at the top left so that it is the first item that readers see it as they begin to read.

The width of the text column is much narrower than on the original. Forcing the eye to read paragraphs of text that are excessively wide causes eyestrain. A general rule is that 50 to 80 characters per line (cpl) is comfortable. Ease of reading depends upon many factors such as the background and text contrast, font characteristics, text size, and tracking (distance between letters), and leading (distance between lines).

The photo of the people has been enlarged from the original. A picture can tell 1,000 words. Photos with people attract viewers and draw readers into the message.

It has become commonplace for a call-to-action, organization identification and contact information to be located in the header or the footer, as you see here, of communications pieces and websites. For those of us who feel a need to be original, keep in mind that you only have moments to attract a reader and communicate a message. By sticking with conventional formats the message has a better chance of being conveyed because the reader knows where to find items such as a call to action and contact information.

Notice please, the colors that are being used in the design. If you don’t know a great deal about color theory use the following rule: Create a color palette with several analogous colors and a neutral. Analogous colors are those that reside close together on the color wheel. Together they create harmony and permit the message to shine through.

Design fundamentals are important and can take you a long way in communicating a message effectively. Please comment on this article in the space provided. I am happy to answer questions.


Thought provoking post hiatus

On 06, Jun 2017 | No Comments | In Blog, Design, Fine Art | By Caren Hackman

I have been on hiatus from posting on Facebook and my and sites. Even though, in my professional life as a graphic designer, I do plenty of posting for others, I’ve taken some time from personal posting. It’s been a time of learning, observing and contemplating. Starting the posting break was not intentional. In retrospect, I believe that it has been a healthy experience.

Having the time off to be quietly observant and learn has been a pleasurable luxury. During April and part of May I visited Israel and Prague and read several books.

Me, photographed with the Franz Kafka memorial sculpture

In Israel, I spent time enjoying my family and then traveled to Prague with them. There I learned more about Alphonse Mucha and Franz Kafka. I spent time in the Jewish quarter and learned that the well-preserved artifacts from synagogues throughout Europe were in Prague because Hitler had planned to use the city as a site for his Museum of an Extinct Race. The quarter is located where the Jewish ghetto was located beginning during the 13th century.

A memorial to the writer, Franz Kafka, by artist, Jaroslav Róna stands near hisbirthplace, next to the beautifully decorated Spanish Synagogue. Franz Kafka was born and lived in the Josefov section of Prague for most of his life. It is amazing how many layers of history of different religious and ethnic groups of people exist in Prague. Throughout my visit, I was treated to many fantastical folklore stories based thinly on “real” history of some of these groups of people.

I was especially interested in seeing a progression of commercial work by Mucha because, like me, he worked as both a graphic artist and fine artist. The Art Gallery of Prague had a wonderful retrospective of his work that included the poster of Sara Bernhardt, starring in Gismonda, that brought him his first taste of fame, as well as other commercial and fine art pieces, such as his Monaco Monte Carlo poster.