Category: about rat

The Rich Visual Feast

Printmaking was why I got into design in the first place. Drawing was cool, but you did one drawing and that was it. I have always been fascinated by mass producing images.

I learned to silkscreen in Mrs. Hopkins’ 10th grade art class. We exposed the screens in the storage closet at the back of the room.

The first thing I printed was my interruption of Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca. I had seen the movie, loved it and created my own version of it as a one color print with lots of contrasting white spaces and dark shadows to create these forms that became a scene from Rick’s American Cafe.

I took two semesters of printing once I got to college. One was a silkscreening class taught by Lynwood Kreneck, and the other was a lithography class with Terry Morrow the head of the art department. I loved both those classes in very different ways.

I also had Kreneck for a freshman drawing class, which I think the university made him teach. The thing is, he only wanted to work with students who were committed to making art, not the kids who were there just to get a humanities credit, or worse, there to find a husband. He could be cruel to say the least.

One thing Kreneck said to the class one day has always stuck with me to this very day. “Mr Ratcliff, always strive to create the rich, visual feast”. Make something so compelling that you cannot take your eyes off it. So interesting that you can see something new in it every time you look at it. If you’re going to all the trouble to make art, make it interesting.

Just look at all the glorious detail. The pea green cabinets in the background with the red plates popping in the front with little red accents scattered throughout. This was deliberate and exceptionally well-designed. Chapeau to the Art Director.

I was watching FX’s series “Better Things”, with Pam Adlon, a funny and poignant show about a single mom raising three daughters. I swear my wife and oldest daughter have had some of the same arguments I’ve seen on the show.

Beside the stories, the best thing about “Better Things” is the art direction. It is the most beautifully shot show on television. Even the simplest of shots are cinematic and break-taking in scope. With the sound turned down, the show is beautiful to watch. The backgrounds are colorful and deep. You see into their world, understand a little better about who these women are.

The rich visual feast.

I cannot take my eyes off the show even though some of the stories can be hard to sit through. The visuals and so stunning, so evocative, so captivating, I can sit perfectly still for 30 minutes and drink it all in.

Kreneck was right. When you make something so rich and interesting, you cannot help but make the world a better place in the process.

My secret recipe

Over the years I’ve heard many thought leaders shouting from the highest mountaintops that you should share everything you know. What you give out comes back to you tenfold.

So, in full disclosure, here is the one simple phrase that I learned back in design school to solve almost every problem you can face in life:


The solution to every problem is inherent to the problem itself.


There. Now you know my secret to positioning, branding, ad creative, design problems, UX, CX and passing college algebra.

Growing Older in a Creative Industry

Steven Heller wrote a fun article on Design Observer this week entitled “How You Can Tell If You Are An Old Fogey Designer”. Being of a certain age, there is much I can identify with in his essay. But, despite his jabs at us old folks, there are a few other thoughts about growing older as a creative that are not quite so fun, and unfortunately are quite real.

Getting older in the creative fields is both a blessing and a curse.

On the plus side, there are so many problems that used to stump me as a junior designer that are instantly clear to me. I have the tools and capacity to tackle much more complicated tasks, offering solutions to problems that are thoughtful and multidimensional, the kid of answers I would not have been able to even comprehend a decade or two ago. With the radical  changes in the media landscape over the past 30 years, I’ve yet to get bored with the business or not found something wildly interesting, whereas my younger self rarely saw that something amazing was right in front of my face. I suppose some of that is maturity, or maybe wisdom.

The downside to being older is that I don’t have the strength I was once had. Recently I pulled an all-nighter, and it left me wrecked for a couple of days. Although no one wants to admit it, there is certain amount of ageism and discrimination. I can be viewed as being out of touch because I don’t use Snapchat or am not up on the latest and greatest. In my defense, that has nothing to do with age —  I’ll use a new technology or platform once I find a good use for it.

And the pay can be lousy, comparatively speaking. Most of my contemporaries are engineers, accountants or members of more respected professions, not designers or creative marketing types. Few are Art Majors and all make considerably more than me. They always have, and odds are good they always will. That is a thought that never occurred to the younger version of me who pursued the things he loved rather than chasing down a bigger paycheck. I sometimes question if this was a good route to take as I help put my daughter through college.

It’s hard getting older and working in a creative industry. I thought by the time I was 50 I’d be set. I figured I would have all the answers. Instead, every day is a new day, with new challenges. I’ve worked harder and put in longer hours over the past couple of years than I ever have. Never saw that coming. I thought my working life would get easier. Instead, it has gotten stickier.

In a way, that is a good thing. Creativity thrives on adversity. And the last thing I want to have happen in my later years is to find myself coasting. As a cyclist, I’ve always enjoyed the struggle of going uphill more than the ease of freewheeling downhill. Perhaps the same can be said of my creative life. And yours, too, as you grow older.

Origin Story, Part 1

As a child of the 70s, there were many outside influences that had a tremendous impact on me that only until recently have I comet to realize to what depth.

When I was a kid I was quite sickly, suffering from allergies and asthma like no one’s business. Living in Houston, Texas did not help matters, as year-round pretty something from every season triggered problems. Needless to say, I missed a fair amount of school. I don’t remember much of first grade, or 2nd for that matter.

What I do remember most from that time is television and comic books, things that kept my mind busy and entertained since there was little else I could do. Laying on the sofa with big stacks of comics I would read and reread. Most of those books are permanently committed to memory, as demonstrated when I watch an Avengers or X-Men movie with my family and know the plot line before anyone else.



But television was the other constant companion. Captain Kangaroo when I was younger. Also Watergate, Viet Nam and Apollo missions. I dreamt about living in SkyLab, until it fell out of orbit and crashed in Australia.

But one of the shows I am convinced had a huge impact on my life was The Price is Right. I religiously watched it when I was home convalescing, and over summer breaks before heading out to the neighborhood pool for a swim. I know that part of the attraction was pretty girls parading around in bikinis while Bob Barker led contestants through ridiculous games.



Looking back the show, what amazes me is at its core, The Price is Right is some of the most brilliant advertising ever conceived. Consumer bloodsport. The contestants would come to blows if necessary to win a can of Turtle Wax. All their hopes and dreams were wrapped up in that new blender or matching set of luggage. Life or death hinged on the careful analysis of the price of an AMC Pacer.

I can remember more of The Price is Right than I can kindergarten. This explains a lot.

The Tower

I had to lay my Moleskine Tower on the floor so that it would not tump over. 55 books, with another one in the works at the moment. When Moleskine notebooks and sketchbooks became widely available in 2006, I bought one and found I liked it, not because it was the cool or hip thing to do, but the size felt right. As did the paper. I’ve tried to go totally digital a few of times over the past 10 years, but I keep coming back to these little black books.

I have another large stack of sketchbooks, maybe an additional 100, in my bedroom, that I filled prior to 2006. Most I bought at the art supply store or Barnes & Noble, but many I made myself as I used to have the time and enjoyed bookbinding.

Back in college, many of my professors extolled the virtues of keep diaries and sketchbooks. Over the years, I have found that keeping writings and drawings is extraordinarily beneficial to creativity. Also for memory. As the years go by, I forget so much, but have found that I can open a book, read a passage or see the rough sketch of an idea and instantly be transported back to that moment in time. I find that a very simple joy in life.

Now, where to store all these book?