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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.
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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.

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.