Sketching the Future

ecpsketch

(Also published on AIHA’s Synergist blog and my LinkedIn page.)

Vision? Check. Direction? Check. Concept? Check. Artist? Check.

With our key components in place, it was time to push forward on this burgeoning IH Professional Pathway idea.

I mentioned earlier that we did some extensive focus-group interviews with a variety of AIHA members. The seemingly random and odd questions I inserted into our question bank were about to pay off.

To properly showcase each “career stage,” we had to have scenes involving our avatars. Each scene had to be relevant and appropriate to the different career stages of development, but also be intriguing enough to catch the eye and showcase our future-forward concept.

To that end, we couldn’t really show someone sitting at their desk, evaluating reports, or holding phone conversations. Fortunately, I had a wealth of stories from AIHA members that showed they were just as active in the field as they were in their offices.

I spent a couple of weeks going over the responses from the focus groups and came up with at least two scenes for each stage. After some discussion with other members of the Marketing and Communications team at AIHA, I then narrowed it down to one for each stage.

After writing out detailed descriptions of each scene—I had to “paint the picture” for our artist, after all—I submitted them to our then in-house Certified Industrial Hygienist, Mary Ann Latko. A few earnest discussions later, we had our first look at our project.

Here’s what I had written down for our initial scene involving our early career professional:

Location is a refinery (oil or gas). Female, mid-twenties/early 30s, Asian features, shoulder-length (or longer) hair pulled into ponytail, braid, or bun. She is observing a welder, who is in the midst of construction work. (See dropbox for various photos of welders in action.) In order to have both subjects in close proximity, the welder should not be welding BUT it would be great to see some welding action being done in the background, at a distance. Possibly up higher, using a scaffold.

Female is dressed in a heavy workshirt, jeans, and work boots. She has safety glasses/goggles on (these can be “forward-future” looking) and is consulting a clipboard or tablet (possibly using a pen or stylus). She has a badge, possible lanyard/keycard, a belt accessory back (with small tools/sensors clipped or pocketed). The welder should have a welding mask (raised), tank, torch, possible cart (for a larger tank and fire extinguisher), heavy work shirt, jeans, boots, heavy oversized gloves. He could be kneeling or on one knee, bored, waiting for her assessment of his work. Welder can be any gender/ethnicity.

The immediate work area should be cordoned off in some fashion, either through caution tape, a flexible barricade, or possibly a ‘futuristic’ version of such (maybe with small flashing yellow caution lights?). A construction truck/vehicle (or part of one) could be seen as well, if desired. Try not to use smokestacks or other indications of pollution in the background, but making the area worn out, used, and grimy is fine.

Additional background people are fine, and should include hard hats and safety goggles/glasses.

Mary Ann consulted with a few CIHs and welding professionals and provided some great feedback, which we incorporated into our descriptions for the artist. He then turned back to me with some initial sketches.

sketchpad

Thanks to Mary Ann’s help, I was able to pinpoint and provide our artist with real-world examples of equipment, procedures, and gear. While he wouldn’t be using the examples directly, they did help him achieve the future-forward visualization that we wanted while still retaining some accuracy as to the common tools and resources used by IHs worldwide.

Interestingly, after we submitted the descriptions, references, and notes to the artist, we realized that our first four avatars might not fully encompass the breadth of our membership’s diversity. Adding another four scenes would have broken our budget, so we instead contracted a fifth scene that captured the “flipside” version of each avatar. Each of our alternates would have similar gear, clothing, theme, and other identifiers. (And later, the same letter to their first name.) These four would make up our fifth and final scene for this phase. They would also give us alternate biographical images, so we could double up our avatar count for minimal cost.

Our artist Klaus added the fifth scene to the project, and soon after we had our first look at the future of IH professionals.

grouping-sketch

Artistic Character

DSC_6650

Klaus Scherwinski, artist, illustrator, and way-cool guy.

Last we met, we’d figured out our scope and direction, sketched out our character ideas, and begun sorting out the method of our medium. I’d like to expand on that for this installment, as it’s probably the most-asked question I’ve fielded since the rollout of the IHProPath project.

Why not photographs?

Part of the answer goes back to a concept I mentioned previously: “future forward.” By placing our characters and their scenes a bit forward in the future, we would not be beholden to the stricter details of today. I realized this early on during our character design brainstorms – one of my experts asked me what type of gas chromatography mass spectrometer devices we’d have shown in our student scene. I balked at that, because I first had to look up what that terminology meant!

It became fairly evident rather quickly that aiming for the ‘here and now’ was not going to work. It would mean slavish adherence to every detail, to make sure we got it all absolutely correct. That process alone would add months, if not a year or more, to our tightening timeline.

It would also impact how we presented the images. Photography was the first consideration but it was soon pushed aside after the above implications. Never mind constructing the ‘perfect’ scene with all details covered – finding the right subjects would also increase the project’s time. (And budget!) Rather than go into such mind-boggling detail, I turned to a mainstay I have used in my ‘other’ life as a game freelancer: illustrative art.

Art Trumps Photography

Using artwork has a number of benefits, the biggest being the ability to create a future reality with regards to workspaces, equipment, and backgrounds. By using real-world elements in combination with more futuristic stylings, we would cement the image with identifiable material for the audience while still conveying the idea of just-beyond-the-horizon technology.

ecp-clipUnsure what I mean? For an easy illustration, look at the tablet in the hands of Melinda, our Early Career Professional. The shape, size, and obvious use of the device easily tells you of its function. But by making the screen holographic and transparent, we’re seeing a common tool of today ‘futurized,’ adding to the scene’s more advanced bend.

Notice the other object in the background, to the left of our futuristic tablet? You can easily identify it because it has a familiar shape and is a common item found in setting of the piece – a fire extinguisher. You automatically processed its presence without actively searching it out, and that helped cement the entire scene for you.

So then, my next question – how difficult would it be to recreate this entire scene as a photograph? And if we could, imagine the cost! The illustration conveys a much richer and complex snapshot at a fraction of cost that a photograph could do.

Enter Klaus

Of course, you need to make sure you’ve hired an artist with such skill and capabilities. Fortunately for AIHA, I have a few in my arsenal of contacts.

I quickly put together a Call for Artists document, which gave an outline of the project and a request for a (very) rough sketch based on a sample scene I provided. The Call then went out to several illustrators who have worked in various entertainment-oriented industries, such as comics, animation, video games, and tabletop games. While I did have a shortlist in mind, I wanted to see what this community could come up with.

A few artists responded to my proposal, about half submitted sketches and follow-up questions. Much to my surprise and delight, Klaus Scherwinski, an artist I have worked with extensively on game product in the past, was one of the respondents. He requested a Skype call, during which he proceeded to not only ask great questions about the project as a whole, but also gave some creative suggestions that we’re incorporating in Phase II, coming in 2017.

Klaus is an accomplished illustrator, working as a creative artist for more than a decade. Based in Germany, he’s worked on comic books, game publications, video game art, and at the time, had just begun branching into full-blown animation. When I found out he was not only available for the timeline of our project, but also excited about participating in something revolutionary in a completely different industry, it was a no-brainer to tap him as our lead illustrator for the project.

It would be up to him to give life to our burgeoning vision.

Collision of Culture

AIHA professiona group scene

Art by Klaus Scherwinski and Luisa Preissler; ©AIHA; used with permission.

I distinctly remember when the idea first popped into my mind. It was during the first all-staff meeting at my new employer, the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA). I was only two weeks into my new position as a Content Specialist; hardly an expert on the Association, its membership, or its subject matter.  (Go ahead and google “industrial hygiene;” I’ll wait. I did the same thing when I got the job interview…)

The more creative side of my brain – the part that has kept me gainfully employed as freelance writer and designer in the tabletop game industry – perked up during the presentation on the Association’s new Career Stages initiative. (“I sense opportunity!” Yes, my brain interrupts me a lot during meetings.) Extensive study and discussion by various committees had finalized an infographic that delineated the profession into various knowledge areas, tracks, and career stages. Made up of four stages, three knowledge areas, and three career tracks, these 12 segments encompassed the life cycles of careers that involved industrial hygiene.

The question being posed to the staff, at the time, was a way to properly identify and then represent to the membership – and ultimately the public – at large.

The immediate difficulty, as I saw it, was properly describing in simple terms the areas, tracks, and stages. As presented, the descriptors were text heavy and unwieldy for any casual audience. How could one properly introduce these stages to an audience that probably had limited knowledge as to the IH profession?

At that time, I considered myself a member of that particular audience, being only six days on the job.

As the meeting went on, I found myself thinking back to my games experience, both in developing and playing. I’d just started to introduce my local group of players to Fantasy Flight Games’ Star Wars: Edge of the Empire (SW:EOE) roleplaying game (RPG). As with most RPGs, the rulebook had information on creating characters to play within the Star Wars universe. (“What’s an RPG?” you ask? Here’s a great, succinct explanation.) These ‘basic’ character archetypes are a staple in most of the popular RPGs and feature pre-made stats, record sheets, background, and artwork. It’s an incredibly simple way to introduce new players to character roles within the universe.

What if there was a way to take the Career Stages concepts and merge them into some hybrid form of archetype characters? After the meeting, I went and pulled up a couple of these sample character sheets and called over Sue Marchese, the Director of Communications and my immediate supervisor. In halting detail, I spewed out my idea, gesturing at the characters on my monitor. To her credit, she didn’t immediately give me a weird look, nod, and pat me on the head. (I’ve since discovered she’s as much of a genius risk-taker as I am.)

Marcus station game of life screen

Station art from the AIHce “Game of IH Life” concept. ©AIHA; used with permission.

She actually stopped and thought for a moment, then gave me a weird look. “Write up a proposal and we’ll talk to a couple of people.”

I churned out a rough proposal over the next day, including several different archetype examples from games I’ve worked on or participated in, such as Shadowrun, MechWarrior, Star Wars, Dungeons and Dragons, and Cosmic Patrol. The project was tentatively called “AVATAR,” so named after how people online tend to use picture representations of themselves in various communities.

Fast forward 16 months. At AIHce 2016, AIHA unveiled its new IH Professional Pathways program. A work in progress, IH Pathways is an initiative that, when fully completed, will accomplish three goals:

  • Represent to the public what an IH career looks like
  • Provide direction and support for current IH professionals in crafting and refining their own career paths
  • Categorize essential resources and materials for current IH professionals to succeed at their current position

Over the coming months, I’ll share stories and insight into this developing program, which I believe is a unique take in the association world on career development and outreach. If you haven’t already, please visit the new IH Pathways portal and check out what we’ve already done. (Or at least, enjoy the art created by my friend and colleague, Klaus Scherwinski.)

There’s a lot more to this 16 month journey, involving a bevy of talent and your usual storyline tropes. (I’ll be sharing more in subsequent articles on LinkedIn, on Synergist NOW, and my own personal blog.) Stay tuned, as our epic voyage is just beginning!

Local Indigenous Artist Showcases the Racism of Redskin

(c) Gregg Deal

(c) Gregg Deal

(Originally posted at WeLoveDC on 10/10/14)

Those who think the continuing movement to change the name of the local pro football team is a waste of time and trivial were clearly not at the recent Art All Night event here in the District. Secreted in one corner of the venue was local Indigenous artist Gregg Deal. His project, “Redskin,” took on the racial overtones of the team moniker and projected it at his audience.

What he, nor spectators or his helpers predicted was just how pointed it ended up being.

Deal first let me know of the project in early September. What initially struck me about his proposed performance piece was the fact he was willingly subjecting himself to some serious abuse. Natives in the area–as well as those protesting football games elsewhere in the country–have always been subjected to abuses by team fans, especially if they’re open about their opposition to the name. (Witness the reactions by fans, as recalled by several Natives, during a recent taping for The Daily Show.)

So why do it, especially in an art venue? “As people of color, or more specifically, Indigenous people, we deal with something called microaggression. It’s the needle pricks in our general American society and culture that says or does things that are offensive to Natives. They’re called ‘microaggression’ because they are passive aggressive enough to get by your average person, but still aggressive,” said Deal. “For example, when I worked at the National Museum of American Indian in 2004-2005, someone asked me if I still lived in a Tipi. This would be microaggression because it’s an insane questions that is based on stereotypes, but it’s also a statement about what this person believes quantifies me as an Indigenous person.”

The term ‘redskin,’ painted faces and faux headdresses, drunken war chants – these are all examples of microaggression. Deal’s performance piece was meant to use all of these abuses, commonly found in tailgate parties at FedEx Field and used by team fans around the world, over an eight-hour period. “I ended up calling it after just over four hours,” said Deal. “All of us–my friends who were helping me and myself–were just mentally and psychologically drained from the experience.”

Bryce Huebner, an Associate Professor at Georgetown University, was one of Deal’s assistants who played a part of one of the abusive fans. “I said things that I would never say in real life, in hopes of making it clear how ugly and harmful the casual racism against indigenous people in the United States is,” he said. “I was struck by how difficult it was to start playing that role, when I arrived my heart was pounding and I could hardly speak; but more troubling by far was the fact that it became easy to continue as I started to play off of the other actors. There’s an important lesson there: if you surround yourself with people who espouse hostile attitudes, it’s much easier to adopt those attitudes yourself.”

Deal said a lot of the audience mentioned to him how truly real it felt, watching it unfold, and he agreed. “After it got rolling, the invective felt truly real, like a few situations I’ve found myself in around the District.” When I mentioned that a Huffington Post review said it was unauthentic because he had used his friends as the antagonists, Deal laughed. “They should’ve been in my place, then. It certainly felt real to me.”

Deal (seated) in the middle of his "Redskin" performance. (c) Darby

Deal (seated) in the middle of his “Redskin” performance. (c) Darby

Tara Houska, a board member of Not Your Mascots and a big proponent of the name change movement in the District, was one of the audience members. “The experience of watching Indigenous-based racism being hurled at a Native was difficult, to say the least,” she said. “Some of those phrases hit too close to home, and brought me back to moments in which I’ve experienced racism. At times, it was hard to keep in mind that it was a performance. I wanted to yell at the antagonizers to back off, and felt the hurt Greg must have been feeling.”

Both Houska and Deal were also participants in the recent Daily Show segment that showed a panel of team fans and a panel of Indigenous people who, after separate discussions, confronted each other through the show’s direction. The segment has had mixed reaction in the press, with a lot of sympathy generated for the four white fans (who all self-identified as some fraction of various tribes, but with no real knowledge of their heritage – or, in one case, how generational fractions work). The incidents taped at FedEx field later between some of the Native panelists (specifically, the 1491s) and fans weren’t shown, which is unfortunate.

“Honestly, both the Daily Show and my art performance felt very similar,” said Deal. “The racism against Indigenous people in this country is so ingrained it it’s culture that the only way a team could exist as a mascot (which is defined as a clown, a court jester, by the way…nice ‘honor’) in the first place. The Washington Redskins–and other Indian mascots–are a really good illustration of not only how disconnected America is from it’s own history, but how disconnected it is from the issue of equality towards Indigenous people is. We are literally sitting on an issue where a significant amount of this country’s Indigenous are saying ‘it’s offensive’ and the answer is ‘no, it’s not offensive at all!'”

Gregg Deal with "Colonialism"

Gregg Deal with “Colonialism”

Deal went on to say the whole movement to change the name isn’t really about offense, but about equality. “What you’re looking at is the tip of a very big iceberg of issues that are simply illustrated by this specific issue. The fact that we don’t seem to own our identity enough for someone to allow us to assert that identity appropriately, but that a corporate sports team is making billions from our image and likeness and has the audacity to fly it under the flag of honor is insanity,” he said. “Let’s be honest here, it’s not about honor, tradition, or any other lame excuse Dan or his constituents are saying. It’s about money, and the fans have all bought into supporting one of this country’s financial top one percent.”

Houska felt that Deal’s passion really came through in his performance piece, and she applauded him for taking a stand in such a public way. “I think it was a very in-your-face method to get locals aware that Natives experience racism, including the racist imagery and name of the Washington team,” she said. “We have all experienced being belittled and told to ‘get over it.’ I hope that people walked away with a sense of understanding that microaggression is a very real and damaging thing. And how it feels to be deluged by caricatured Natives via the Washington football team and having no say in it, despite being the subject of that caricature.”

Deal agreed. “I believe the term REDSKIN, if it belongs anywhere…it belongs to Indigenous people. In the same way the Black community essentially own the N-word,” he said. “While there are different schools of thought on that word and it’s usage in the Black community, it’s understood that if you use that word outside the Black community, you’re a certain type of person. The word ‘redskin’ belongs to us, and it’s not up to [non-Indigenous people] how it’s used.”

For more information on the name change social media movement, visit Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry, Not Your Mascots, or follow the #changethename hashtag on Twitter.

The Strange Comfort of Brian Jungen

People's Flag

(Originally posted on 10/16/09 at WeLoveDC)

Opening today at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) is a new exhibition that will run through August 8, 2010. Brian Jungen: Strange Comfort is a major exhibit showcasing the critically acclaimed works of the Canadian-based artist and is his first exhibition organized by a Native American museum. Jungen’s work has been on display around the world, including the Casey Kaplan Gallery in New York, the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal in Quebec, and the Witte de With in the Netherlands.

The NMAI’s first solo exhibition since its opening in 2004, Strange Comfort is exactly that. The stunning “Crux” is your first view of Jungen’s work – recognizable from the crocodile piece show in the recent ads around town – and only continues to intrigue and inspire when you visit the main gallery on the third floor.

Jungen, of Dunne-za First Nations and Swiss-Canadian ancestry, explores several themes through his art. The use of every-day objects to create Indian cultural icons is something very different, born from Native ingenuity of crafting one object out of another, a common practice with many First Nation people. Jungen commented that he grew up watching his Dunne-za relatives recycle everything from car parts to shoe boxes. “It was a kind of salvaging born out of practical and economic necessity, and it greatly influenced how I see the world as an artist.”

Shapeshifter

It shows. The first piece to greet visitors in the main gallery is a suspended whale skeleton entitled “Shapeshifter” – made entirely out of white plastic lawn chairs. (This was easily my favorite piece of the collection.) It’s utterly reflective of something one would see at a natural history museum – indeed, a visitor need only roam over to Sant Ocean Hall to see something similar. But the realization that it was made from simple white lawn furniture, the kind that nearly everyone has on their deck or back yard, makes the piece comforting, not intimidating.

Shapeshifter - front

Prince

Consider “Prince,” made entirely of baseball gloves and a dress form. Jungen captures the iconic image of an Indian chieftain with its form and shape, but draws you closer to the piece with the knowledge of its material. The simpleness of the items used redefines in a sense how you begin to see the world around you.

Totem Poles

Probably the best example of this is the series of totem poles made out of golf bags and cardboard tubes. As you look on in rapt attention, you begin to see the images of faces within the stacked columns through the use of symmetrics and cleverly-positioned handles and straps. Something so iconic of corporate deal-making and upper-class sport is transformed and brought into the foundations of Indian culture.

Carapace - side

“Carapace,” argueably the one piece custom-made for NMAI (it had to be shipped over in pieces, which Jungen then assembled to his satisfaction within the gallery, making it a bit different than previous displays), allows people to walk through it. The dome-shaped structure made out of green trash cans and recycling containers suggests a turtle’s shell, linking it to many First Nations creation stories. But in truth, the piece reflects Jungen’s interest in geodesic architecture and the environment. Again, a combinational melding of modern materials and thought with established cultural identities and nature.

Prototype for New Understanding

Overall, 24 pieces grace the entire collection, curated by Paul Chaat Smith. Other pieces of note are the Northwest regional iconographic masks made from Nike Air Jordans (“Prototype for New Understanding”), an interweaving of professional sports jerseys to make a Native-patterned blanket (“Blanket No. 7”), and delicately carved five-gallon gasoline jugs (“Monarch,” “Dragonfly,” “White Death Camas”).

Isolated Depictions of the Passage of Time

The most intriguing sculpture was an always-on television encased in multicolored serving trays (“Isolated Depictions of the Passage of Time”), representing the number of Aboriginal men doing time in Canadian prisons, color-coded to the length of each sentence. It was a piece with more sound than sight – the television is all but hidden from view though you could hear it – and once you understood his message, you couldn’t help but think. Its ordinariness took on a whole new meaning, forcing the viewer to change perspective.

Monarch

And that, at the root of it all, was what I think Jungen is trying to tell us. Out of the ordinary everyday icons of our modern world one can find a deeper meaning, infused with the uniqueness of our own beliefs, understanding and preconceptions. And often enough, you end up finding the past in the modern, bringing a sense of comfort within its strangeness.

Imagine that.

All photos courtesy of myself. View my Flickr set (will be continually updated) or check out the Flickr group set up by NMAI for visitors to share their own photo captures.