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A Visitor, Not a Tourist

by abby on May 31, 2011 | Comment

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Over the long weekend I took a trip to my former city of residence, New York City. I consider myself a visitor to NYC, not a tourist. A tourist does the tourist things—Times Square, Empire State Building, and eats in Little Italy. Not D and I. No, we still have an insider’s map of New York. We walk the smaller streets and sought out the tucked away patches of green grass to sip our ice coffees. D and I had 4 days of “the best of our NYC”—a good portion of that “best” involved food. Our days were structured over where we would have breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, and drinks. We didn’t want to waste any food opportunity! The consensus between us is that good Asian cuisine is difficult to find in Rochester. For this New York trip we focused our taste buds on Thai in Park Slope (Song), Korean in the West Village (Do Haw), and thanks for a great tip from an even greater friend, we had top quality Sushi in Crown Heights (Gen). Thinking about all those places now makes my mouth water. Go to any of them, next time you are in the area.

My absolute favorite dessert place is the famous Magnolia Bakery. Whether it was a good thing or not, my office used to be very close to this bakery. Just walking into the shop is a treat with its pastel palette and ultra feminine retro vibe. I just adored this fabric triangle flag banner hung above the counter. D and I shared a cup of Magnolia’s Banana Pudding in a small park diagonal from the bakery. Yum!
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Without the stress of having to be somewhere at a certain time D and I strolled the streets people watching and reminiscing. At my slower walking pace, I found examples of great typography on signs, on windows, and even in tag sale in East Village.
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I was happy that the neighborhoods I once walked through on a daily basis still remained familiar. I had no problem navigating around sans map whether it was on the street or in the subway. Just walking around Park Slope and the West Village was like seeing an old friend, each street corner had a memory to tell. There’s much more to share! In between our food extravaganzas, I did visit a couple of museums. I’ll tell you more about those adventures on Friday.

Drawing Never Gets Old

by abby on May 24, 2011 | Comment

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It feels great to be back home in the studio after spending a wonderful weekend with family for a birthday celebration. My grandmother turned 95 on Sunday! We celebrated the whole weekend. Mostly, just by sitting together and talking and talking. She’s a true inspiration for anyone, but especially for an artist. She continues to draw and watercolor almost daily. And she’s only still getting better! My grandmother has a wonderful sense of composition and I can only admire the delicate layering of color washes within her paintings. For anyone who has tried watercolor you know it isn’t an easy medium to master. My grandmother I can say has achieved this status. The walls of her apartment showcase decades of her own artwork, each one bringing back memories for me of Summer vacations of canoeing down the river and feeding the horses out back behind her apartment. She is a beautiful, talented lady and I feel so honored to call her Nana.

Back in the studio, it’s a busy few days as I’m finishing up the first round of a logo designs for a client who runs an editorial service company. I don’t want to ruin the surprise by sharing the more finalized logos, but I will share with you the state of my drawing table.

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AbbyDora Design branding
I think the more vested into a project I become, the messier my drawing table becomes. As you can tell I tend to have large brainstorming-sketch phases for my projects. I find it very freeing to be able to jot down any idea that pops into my head. You never know from where the right design will be inspired. For this reason too, I use tracing paper to quickly edit ideas and bring together two thoughts into one. It took several sketch days to pull together enough concepts to bring to the computer, but I believe it’s absolutely worth all that creative energy up front. For me my hand connects faster and more articulately to my brain than my mouse. Once on the computer there are still many rounds of revisions, but I have a design concept and direction and that’s the most important part. I hope to share with you more on this project as it progresses.

I’m off on another road trip for Memorial Day. I’ll be visiting friends and my old haunts in New York City. Enjoy the kick off to the summer season this weekend. I wish you a very happy barbeque!


by abby on May 19, 2011 | Comment

Happy almost Friday everyone! Tomorrow I’m heading on a mini road trip to be a part of the birthday celebration for my grandmother. She’s turning 94! But I still wanted to share a few things with you before the end of the week.

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RIT has posted the official photo of the RIT #26 BIG SHOT event (click on the photo to enlarge it). It looks great! I find it truly amazing that all that dramatic lighting came from a crowd of volunteers clicking flashes on cameras and waving flashlights in the air. Apparently there were over 1000 volunteers to help light The Strong Museum of Play. Wow.

To give you a better sense of how all the volunteers illuminated the museum our local Rochester news station produce a short video on it. You can actually see D and I in the background when they show the trees with the sculpture. We were standing on the sidewalk behind that metal sculpture!

In other design news, the BBC aired a funny video on the evangelical frenzy over the Apple brand. The story features a grand opening of an Apple Store in London and the ruckus it causes. I enjoyed the laugh and hope you do too. Happy weekend!

Lemon Blueberry Bread

by abby on May 17, 2011 | Comment

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Alright who told the sun and warm spring weather to take a vacation?! We’re back to the gray upstate New York sky and the cold northern wind. Not fun for me or all the spring flowers! I think it was a gut reaction to all this nasty weather that I ended up back in the kitchen on Sunday to try to bright up the day. My weapons of choice you ask? 2 gloriously yellow lemons, a cup of purple blueberries, and a sparkling glass bread pan. Yep, that’s right, I baked Lemon Blueberry Bread!
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This was a recipe I had found last year on allrecipes.com and just hadn’t had the chance to try it out. Well, the time had come. This is a great quick bread that really comes together in about 15 minutes. The hard part is waiting the hour while it bakes! I honestly didn’t adjust the recipe much. Though I will offer a couple of ideas at the end that might make this bread even more delightful. Here’s the main recipe:

Lemon Blueberry Bread
Yield one loaf: 16 servings

1/3 cup butter or margarine, melted
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons lemon juice (fresh is best!)
2 eggs
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup milk
2 tablespoon grated lemon peel
½ cup chopped nuts (I like walnuts)
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

GLAZE (Optional)
2 tablespoon lemon juice
¼ cup sugar

1. In a mixing bowl, beat butter, sugar, juice, and eggs. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt; stir into egg mixture alternatively with milk. Fold in peel, nuts, and blueberries.

1. Pour into a greased 8 inch x 4 inch x 2 inch loaf pan. Bake 350 degree F for 60-70 minutes or until a knife comes out clean. Cool in pan for 10 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, combine glaze ingredients. Remove bread from pan and drizzle with glaze. Cool on a wire rack.

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Overall, this bread turned out wonderful. The top is golden brown and offers a slight crunch, while the middle is pok-a-dot purple and moist. I was hesitant to add in the chopped nuts to the batter (usually I’m not a huge baked good nut fan), so instead I sprinkled a hand full of chopped walnuts to the top. After trying a slice of the bread, I would change my mind on the nuts and say that the walnuts were a good contrast to all the citrus flavors happening with the blueberries and lemon. My suggestion: Don’t be shy with those nuts! I also LOVE lemon zest, so I was very generous with my lemon peel. I prefer not to add extra sugar to baked goods, so I opted against adding the lemon sugar glaze. But I’m sure it’s lovely on this bread!

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Remember too that this bread isn’t just for brunch or breakfast. D and I had our second slice of the day for dessert on Sunday night. I warmed up a couple of slices in our toaster oven, placed them in a bowl, and then dolloped some low fat vanilla yogurt on top! As D told me: “You are one dangerous woman”. Go ahead, be dangerous too!

Spring Picture book Finds

by abby on May 13, 2011 | Comment

By chance I squeezed in some time this week to visit a children’s book department from a larger book store chain. I always get a little giddy walking through the children’s books. Maybe it’s the large colorful covers? Or because I always feel like I’m an insider, having worked in a publishing house? In any case, it’s such fun to see what’s popular now and to revisit old favorites.

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I first want to share with you the last Dutton Children’s Book I designed as a full time designer. The book is called Gabby & Grandma Go Green and it’s written and illustrated by Monica Wellington. Showcasing a lovely spring palette of soft pastels with an array of greens it’s a story geared for preschoolers to start “thinking green”. Gabby and her Grandma create bags out of scrap fabrics and then use those bags on an outing together. The great feature about Monica’s books is that they always have an activity at the end. In this case, an adult and a child can make their OWN fabric tote bag.

The next few books I discovered just while strolling around the displays in the book store. What I adore about these 3 books is the high quality illustration paired with a simple, but very humorous storyline.

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Say Hello to Zorro! is the first find. Any dog owners in the house?—you will laugh out loud while reading this book. It’s speaks the truth about who’s scheduling your day and how  dogs might find friendship. Carter Goodrich wrote and illustrated this book. As an character designer for such animation films as Finding Nemo and Shrek, his two dogs’ expressions and body language tell far more of the story than the short text. A must read.

The next book is A Pet for Petunia by Paul Schimd.  Featuring expressive black and purple illustrations Petunia shares her love of shunks and the trials of trying to convince her parents that she NEEDS a pet skunk. The expressive type paired with the highly animated drawings keeps the art fresh and delightful.

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Finally, there is the large picture book, Itsy Mitsy Runs Away. Once more, the illustrator, Elanna Allen, is a character designer for animation studios and it shows! Mitsy is spunky and down right adorable in her green dinosaur pajamas. To avoid bedtime Mitsy decides to run away, but Dad keeps suggesting things she will need to pack.  First, her stuffed animal, Mister Roar, then snacks, then a lamp…and the list gets bigger. The illustrations make this book so much fun to read. Between the scale changes of the art and Mitsy’s facial and body expressions this is another laugh out loud funny book.

I would highly recommend picking up all four of these books and reading them for yourself!

Sunday Morning Muffins

by abby on May 10, 2011 | Comment

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In honor of Mother’s Day last Sunday I decided that I should bake a little breakfast treat. With 3 very ripe bananas at my disposal the decision was made to make Banana Bran Muffins. I have this habit of looking over a couple of recipes and then combining them and adding my own touches. This approach makes it slightly harder to recreate the recipe later, so this time I decided to write down what I did and share it with you.

The muffin recipe starts from a banana bread recipe that I was taught to bake in 8th grade Home Economics (do they even that that class anymore?). To add the bran part of the equation I scoured the internet to find something that didn’t use a bran flake cereal, but actual bran flakes. I prefer to use what I have in the house already and thanks to a boyfriend who enjoys baking bread, we have all sorts of fun grains in the pantry. Having found the right portion of flour to bran flake here’s the recipe I followed:

Sunday Morning Banana Bran Muffins
(Yields 12 muffins)

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 bananas, mashed
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup wheat bran
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, raisins, or sliced strawberries


1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease a muffin pan or line with paper muffin liners.
2.  In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and brown sugar together until fluffy. Add mashed bananas, milk, vanilla and eggs; mix well.
3.  In a separate bowl, mix together flour, bran, baking powder, soda, and salt.
4.  Stir in flour mixture one half at a time until just blended. Don’t over blend! Stir in walnuts/raisins/strawberries. Pour batter into prepared muffin cups. Sprinkle bran flakes over the batter filled cups.
5.  Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Cool in the pan for a few minutes, then remove muffins and place on a wire rack to cool completely. Enjoy!

For an additional twist, I added sliced, ripe strawberries to half of the muffins. I placed a few strawberry pieces in the bottom of the cups and added the batter over them. Then I  used a spoon to blend it all together. I like to use a ¼ measuring cup to scoop out the batter into the muffin cups. It’s usually pretty close to the right amount with one scoop. Another great idea is to dust the tops of the batter filled cups with a pinch of bran flakes.
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There’s nothing better than a warm muffin with a dab of butter. In crazy moment yesterday afternoon, I actually added a smear of peanut butter to one! Yum! Either way, I do hope you enjoy these muffins.

The Big Shot

by abby on May 6, 2011 | Comment

I’m still relatively new to Rochester, so one of my goals during this first year is to reach out and experience the Rochester community. During the winter, I participated in the Art House Co-op’s Sketchbook II project. I used my sketchbook to explore the nightlife of Rochester by visiting just over a dozen bars in the city. They ranged from pool hall dives to a chocolatrie. Here’s a peak at what I saw:
Sketchbook Project II
Sketch book Art House

Last night with my willing partner, my boyfriend, we sought out to be a part of the Rochester scene once again. Decked out in black clothing and holding flashlights we descended upon The Strong Museum of Play.

Tonight we would participating in the photo project called THE BIG SHOT. Rochester Institute of Technology, my former undergraduate college, conducts this event. Last night’s photo was the 26th photo of a landmark from around the world.

What makes this project so much fun is that it requires a large mass of people to illuminate the selected building while a long exposed photo is taken. The volunteers use big and small flashlights and flashes on cameras to achieve the deserved lighting. For this photo, the official camera was situated on the fifth floor in a building across the street from the museum. My boyfriend and I were part of the group whose job it was to illuminate the trees leading up to the entrance and one corner of the museum itself.
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It was very chilly after the sunset, so I was thankful that one of the rules was you had to keep your light source moving AND your body too. Swaying back and forth shining my light skyward, it felt great to be part of a community project here in Rochester. In a couple of weeks, we will receive our copy of the official Big Shot photo. I can’t wait to see it!

Take Your Creativity on a Date

by abby on May 3, 2011 | Comment

I came across an article last week from the Freelancers Creative Blog that spoke about broadening the definition of creativity: “Creativity is not—nor has it ever been—about art. Creativity is about the basics of life, the forces that drive us and the solution of problems found blocking our progress.” What a freeing idea! Creativity can move beyond the computer screen and beyond the drawing table. It’s not difficult to find creativity in your daily life. You just need to look around. Love clothes? Think about how you pair together a fabulous outfit for a Friday night date or Sunday brunch. Love flowers? Think about how you choose flowers for color and texture to pull together an arrangement for the table. For me, I love to bring my creativity to my cooking. One of my favorite problems to solve is to create a dinner menu out of what is left over in our frig from the week’s groceries. My boyfriend calls this “kitchen magic”. From slightly wilted spinach and half a pepper and onion I can whip up a spicy vegetable stir-fry over some quinoa. Exercising my problem solving skills in the kitchen feels just as satisfying has stretching them while drawing. We all can be creative every day; we just need to nurture it.

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How to nurture it, you might ask? One of my tricks is to gift myself Artist Dates. It was a concept I learned from the creativity help book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Artist Dates are of your own choosing. The point is to gift yourself something fun and inspiring. Maybe that is visiting a gallery or walking through an art store to admire the colors of the colored pencils (guilty!). But it could be walking through the park to hear the birds chirp and feel the grass. My most recent Artist Date happened over the weekend. My boyfriend and I went to see “Wants and Wishes” Short Films at Rochester’s Film Festival, called 360|365 at The Little Theatre.

On our screening we were able to view 6 shorts by filmmakers from around the world. There were a mix comedies, dramas, and documentaries. It is amazing to see the power of storytelling in less than 15 minutes. One of the most memorable shorts was called Le Petit Dragon. It was an animated film about a Bruce Lee action figure and the trouble he finds while exploring the bedroom floor. Here’s the trailer. If you can, I highly recommend seeing a screening of it.

Le Petit Dragon (The Little Dragon) – Bande Annonce (Trailer)

Be good to yourself this week and nurture your creativity by going on an Artist Date of your own. I’d love to hear what you did!

PS Help celebrate your mother this week! Enter to win a FREE Mother’s Day gift. Visit: www.rachaelpassingnotes.com for details.