Just Make It Look Good

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Thank goodness May is here. Because April was emotionally draining.

I was looking forward to April ending because of all the ‘death stuff‘, then on the morning of the 30th (the last day of the month) I received an email with more sad news.

My ex-boss and friend of many years had succumbed to cancer and passed away at the age of 59.

I burst into tears. And cried all day.

But I don’t want to write another post about death (one was enough don’t ya think?). So I’d rather tell you the good stuff about my friend and one great art lesson he taught me ‘way back when’.

Call it a little tribute.

As I’ve mentioned before on the blog, I used to be a graphic designer in my twenties (remember…I’m old). I worked at a small studio out of college for a year or two, then tried to go the freelancing route at 22. A bit risky. But I was still living at home so the timing was good.

Through a mutual connection, I met Steve Buist who was looking for a little extra help around his small graphic design studio. He took a chance on me and I did some work for him off and on for another two years or so.

Then he offered me a full time position. I took it and worked at D-Zign S.A.B. for the next six years until I left to pursue animation with Steve’s blessing.

Back then, the studio was just me, Steve, another guy named LP and Steve’s wonderful wife Cheryl. Steve was a boss who wasn’t a ‘boss’. His clients loved him. His suppliers loved him.

He loved his job, he loved his family and he loved cars.

Anyone would be lucky to work for a guy like Steve. We were a little family in that studio.

I saw his three girls grow up. We knew what was going on in each others lives. We drank a lot at our little Christmas parties.

And I learned tons about graphic design.

Now, this was a time when a graphic designer didn’t mean ‘someone with 3 months of training and a MacBook’.

When I started, it was markers, paste-ups, wax machines, rubber cement thinner, x-acto knives, T-squares, Letraset and stat cameras (Google it). Half of the supplies could cause some serious health issues or cut the end of your finger off! Those were the days, baby.

Everything was done by hand. It rocked.

This was how you developed a sense of design and typography. This was how you honed your compositional skills. And this was how I could eventually find the center of anything by just looking at it.

(I later translated those skills to the computer when the industry started going that way. Beyond valuable!)

But I was still young and I was still learning. I needed advice and guidance sometimes. And when something just wasn’t ‘right’, I would ask Steve what he thought.

Sometimes he told me exactly what to fix and why.

And sometimes he told me this:

“I don’t know. Just make it look good.”

We’d laugh, I’d go back to my drafting table, and guess what?

I made it look good.


It became a running joke between me, Steve and LP.

“Just make it look good, Karen!”

And I did.

As time when on, I ended up telling them the same thing when they asked for my opinion.

“I don’t know. Just make it look good!”

It bloody well worked.

I carry that with me to this day. And smile about it.

What’s the translation of this little bit of wisdom?

Figure it out! Stop whining! Don’t over-think it! Rework it! Do better!

Do what you need to do to make it look good.

I haven’t really used this awesome lesson when teaching storyboarding until now. Because it is different than graphic design and a storyboard can’t just ‘look good’. It needs a whole lot more.

But the lesson can work for the composition of your shots.

Just make it look good.

Is your perspective not quite right?

Just make it look good.

Can’t get that character expression?

Just make it look good.

It really works better when someone actually says it out loud to you. I think that’s the secret. If you can’t find someone to do that, bookmark this post and pretend I’m saying it to you.

Because I can be bossy that way. : )

Thank you Steve.

Thanks for the job. Thanks for your friendship and guidance. Thanks for being one hell of a guy.

And thank you for that phone call on the first of April. I don’t know if you ‘knew’ when we talked that day. But I can’t thank you enough for being able to talk to you one last time. Because when I got that sad news 30 days later, that’s really all I would have asked for.

As I go forward in this life, you can bet I’ll “just make it look good”.

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(I hearby declare April 2010, ‘The Month of Death’ CLOSED thankyouverymuch.)

NOTE: I’ve also decided I don’t want comments on this personal post. They’ll be back next time. Thanks!