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Final Wall - Alt Summer

Alt Summit: Art Installation


Every year I go to a conference in Salt Lake City called Alt Summit. There’s Alt Winter in January, and Alt Summer in June. I’ve been to every Alt Summit (which began in 2009), but this year was different. This year I attended as Step Away from the Screen, and I got to participate in a new and super exciting way: they asked me to create an art installation for the conference.

Exciting, yes. But intimidating too. Creating a piece of art for this insanely creative gathering of people? How on earth? Not to mention, since I was representing Step Away… I knew I wanted the art to be participatory — something everyone could help create. So not only did it have to be good art, but it also had to be appealing enough that attendees would want to participate in creating it. Simple without being simplistic, creative without being complex, innovative without being overwhelming. No big deal, right?

So I started by focusing on the words Step Away from the Screen and wondered if I could find a literal interpretation of that objective. Suddenly I got it: Pointillism! Lots of dots of different colors which, when viewed from a distance (i.e., you have to step away from the canvas), blend together to form a picture. My idea was that I would create the base art and overlay letters that corresponded to round stickers of different colors. B = blue. R = red. G = green. Etc. People would place stickers on the letters and by the time Alt was over, we will have created a picture. A giant, pointillist paint-by-number sticker-by-letter picture.

Alt Summit - Design

With my concept nailed down, it was time to get started creating a base design. I wanted something that looked cool, but would also represent the message of Step Away… It also had to be simple enough that it could be rendered in 1” dots (which would give it an almost pixelated look). I decided that at the root of the Make Something message was the implication that you are making something with your hands, so my design was focused on hands. That and lots of color!


Then I had to figure out how many stickers to order. Which required math. And math is hard, y’all. And it’s summer, so I won’t make you do any. But I will tell you that I ordered almost 30,000 stickers.


Last but not least, I had to figure out how to overlay the letters in such a way that you couldn’t tell what the base art was. This was the most complicated part. But since I’m a graphic designer I had lots of tools at my disposal. If you’re interested in the nuts and bolts of how I did this, leave a comment and I’ll share. In the meantime, I won’t bore you with those technical details 🙂

Alt Summit - Blank Wall

The amazing folks at Cornerstone printed it out on 4’ x 8’ vinyl sheets and mounted the vinyl to 4’ x 8’ wood panels. The final art ended up being 8’ high by 12’ wide. A giant white wall, with tiny black letters.

Alt Summit - Busy Room

The wall was in the lounge where the attendees spent their breaks between sessions. So it was alternately PACKED FULL OF PEOPLE, or quiet and mellow with just a few folks here and there. This gave me time to chat with one of my favorite people, Alma Loveland from Woven Pear. They set up a cozy bedroom and encouraged you to put on their awesome socks and jump on the bed. Other great sponsors were in there too: Macy’s, Easy Closets, and TagSpire, each with their own cool presentations and installations. Suffice to say, it was a fun room.

Alt Summit - Phone Basket

My table was full of stickers of course (although 30,000 stickers isn’t as large a pile as you might expect it to be), and also a basket where you were instructed to leave your phone before you started sticking stickers. I didn’t want you to be up there stickering and receive a text and stop stickering to answer it. No no no!

Once you put your phone in the basket, you were encouraged to grab a roll of stickers and start sticking!

Alt Summit - Different Designs

At first folks seemed to be inspired by the wide-openness of the wall, and created designs and words with the stickers.

Some people would stop by throughout the day just to see how we were progressing, and to see if they could figure out what the picture was.

Alt Summit - Friends  Alt Summit - Red Zone

All in all, I was blown away by the response. I had no idea, going in, how the whole thing would play. But it really seemed to be something people enjoyed. Whether it was to take a break from the crazy Alt Energy, or just to recharge and be creative for a few minutes, I really think people had a good time sticking stickers. More than a few times I saw two people reach over and shake hands, and then keep talking while they stuck stickers. Other folks reported therapeutic effects from stickering, and hung out til they felt better. And still others (myself included) found that the wall fed their OCD tendencies. (MUST FINISH THIS SECTION!) Even Guy Kawasaki and his daughter got in on the action!

It was really exciting watching it all come together. And by the end of day one, you could really see what was taking shape.


As great as all that stickering was, I also really loved getting to hang out in one place the whole conference and getting to talk to so many people. I got to hear their stories, and what they did, and why they were at Alt, and everything. It was perfect for someone as severely extroverted as I am. I think I got to talk about creativity with just about every person who attended Alt Summer!

Alt Summit - Josh & Kelly

Day two, there was almost a renewed vigor among some people who just wanted to get it finished! And it was a lot of fun watching that happen. People would take on a whole color section and just park themselves there til that section was finished. Total dedication!


When we finally stuck the last sticker on, at around 2pm, the whole room burst into applause!

It was quite a journey, and I enjoyed every single minute of it. Thanks Alt for being made of magic. And thank you to everyone who helped me step away from the screen and make this come to life.


All photos by me or by Brooke Dennis and Justin Hackworth — from the Alt Summit Flickr Stream.

Step Away from the Phone…

So it was time for a new iPhone case. You might guess I’m fairly picky about what I wrap around my phone, and you’d be right. So I designed my own by repurposing some of my favorite Step Away art.

Then I went to GelaSkins because they have the sturdiest hard cases I’ve ever felt. A few minutes later, my new case was in production, and it arrived today. I love the way it came out, and the irony of putting the “Step Away…” command on a smartphone makes me very happy.

Would you be interested in your own Step Away from the Screen iPhone case? Let me know in the comments.

Time and time again

So, once upon a time I had babies. Little baby babies. Who had teddy bears, and rocking horses, and all the baby trappings of babydom. Before these babies were born, someone gave me a clock. The clock below. A very baby nursery clock, which we put in the babies’ nursery. Since that’s where the baby things went.

Over the years, weirdly, the babies have been growing up. And now there’s pretty much nothing left in our house that resembles anything that this clock represents. Not even in their room (they actually asked me to take this clock out of their room. So I hung it in the kitchen). Which means it’s probably time for it to go. Except I had gotten used to having a large, not-digital clock in the kitchen. So I decided, rather than get rid of it, I’d fix it and make it match our house better.

Step one: Design design design design.

This was no small task. I’m nothing if not compulsive. And having the whole world of possibilities to choose from is about as overwhelming as it can possibly get for me. So I designed clocks for about 3 months. Maybe longer. Because apparently that’s how long it takes to design ALL THE CLOCKS.

Eventually, I found myself veering toward certain looks and started refining the design and colors. I originally thought I’d be working mostly with red, as you can see above. Our kitchen has dark brown walls and I typically choose red stuff whenever I have to buy or make something for that room. So, red kettle, red dish drain, red Soda Stream, red silicone whisk, etc. But when I cut these designs out and put them on the wall, the red was too much. So I shifted to other colors that I like with brown.

Lo and behold, I actually chose a design!

But then I had to figure out how to make it happen. I was worried about the circles since it’s hard to make a perfect circle, let alone 13. And if they weren’t perfect, the clock would drive me crazy. Which meant trying to paint circles would probably put me on the fast track to crazy. While mired in puzzling this out, I decided to start prepping the clock itself. I figured if nothing else, that would motivate me to work through the puzzle as quickly as possible.

Step two: Primer

I wanted to be sure to cover all the old art completely so priming was important to enable a fresh start. I blew through this step, so I only have the tiniest portion photographed. Whoops. Needless to say, I completely covered the clock face with primer. I think I did two coats.

Step three: Paint

This was the fun part. I like mixing my own colors, so I started with a basic set of acrylic paints in blue, yellow, red, white, and black. The first blue I created was a little too dark, so I ended up painting about 4 coats. The hands of the clock are a little ornate — and brass — but I decided to stick with them and just painted them white. Also! The clock also had a pendulum. With an insert that continued the design of the clock. I ended up keeping the pendulum — painted it white — but got rid of the insert. So now it’s just an open circle, white, with the dark brown wall behind it.

Step four: Circles

I ended up buying a Fiskars Circle Cutter which worked like a charm for creating the circles. For the large, white center circle, I just took a piece of heavyweight bright white paper (I love Epson Matte Presentation paper) and cut the circle out of the center. It was a little challenging to get the green number circles perfectly centered, but I eventually figured out a method that worked. I used the typeface ITC Blair which has great, clean, retro feeling numbers.

Step five: Mod Podge

I applied all the circles with Mod Podge (on the backs and the fronts) and then, when it was all dry, I Mod Podged the whole clock face. Twice.

And voila! Our new kitchen clock! With a pendulum!

In keeping with my original challenge to myself — stepping away from the screen and making something: one thing per month — I stopped here and counted. And at the end of September, I’m pleased to report that I have actually made TEN THINGS! I’ve got some more to share with you soon, so stay tuned. Until then, YOU step away from the screen and go make something. And share it with us over here on Facebook.

Yard Art Day 2013

Follow the rainbow brick road.

Remember Yard Art Day? Well happy happy, we did it again this year!

This time around we wanted to create something that had fewer steps, and required fewer power tools, but would hopefully make an equally large impact. I’ve been drawn to great street art lately, so we decided to take our inspiration from that.

We knew we didn’t want to create something permanent since it would be in front of our house, so instead of using paint we pulverized dozens of sticks of chalk in the blender, added water, and created chalk paint.

A couple of hours later, we had a gorgeous, rainbow sidewalk!

And a couple of hours after that, we had a gorgeous, tie dyed sidewalk thanks to an unfortunately timed rainstorm.

Aaaaaaand, scene.

But it didn’t matter one bit. We had so much fun creating it that it was almost sweet to watch it melt away.

Long live Yard Art Day!


Step Away from the Screen : No. 121

Hey friends! We’re 1/3 of the way through this project!

Let’s take stock, shall we? What have you made? Anything you’re super proud of? Have you been more meaningful with your screen time? Have you tried harder to step away and do something off screen?

I would love to see what you’ve done. And I thought it might be fun for us to celebrate and encourage each other, so I’ve created a Facebook group for us. That’s RICH with irony, I realize. But there’s the dichotomy of our world, y’know? Going on screen to share with friends about the things we made when we were away from our screens. It’s complicated.

Please join me over there. And spread the word to all your maker friends.

Here’s the link:

Now go make something awesome this weekend. Can’t wait to see it!