Designing Just for Kicks

When I was a kid, the cool kicks were PF Flyers. These little gems were recognized by their white rubber toe cap (or blue if you were the coolest) and a red dot on the lower back of the sneaker. They had canvas uppers (fire engine red or blueberry blue) and rubber soles. They were the then-modern equivalent of the British plimsoles, athletic shoes designed for beachwear back in the 1800s.

So fast forwarding to present day, I looked for the PF Flyer company online, and lo and behold, they are still around. The red dots are long gone, replaced by a green PF logo in relief on the back, and in a daring move, the company has added black and white canvas and leather to their line-up. PF Flyers now look a lot like Converse sneakers, but without all the crazy colors.

So what gives a sneaker company its staying power in the ever-changing world of fashion? In a word: designers. Designers are the innovators, the dreamers, the ones who keep the  brand fresh in the public’s hunt for the coolest “kicks.” Any designer who aims to do this should know where the term “kicks” comes from. There are lots of opinions on the etymology, but it is generally thought kicks came out of hobo slang, passed into jazz lingo, made it into African American slang and from there into street-style language.

One of the coolest things I have gotten to do in my career is to pick the brains of recruiters looking for these innovators, these sneaker designers. As a result, I was surprised to hear that recruiters find designers in many different areas, not just in fashion design. Recruiters from Nike, K-Swiss, Reebok and Adidas told me some pretty surprising stuff. They liked candidates with a design background, including automotive designers. Wha’??? Yes, automotive designers can become sneaker designers. The CAD skills needed for both types of designs are similar. (Maybe that is why Skechers Women’s bump toe DeLites look suspiciously like a Smart Car or a Nissan Juke, yes?)

Chemists, materials and textiles designers also need apply. Athletic shoe companies are always looking for the next materials that will make their kicks lighter, more flexible, cooler. People who study human anatomy, how the body is put together, and people who study human body mechanics, or how the body moves, are also in demand. No one will wear the kicks you design if they are not comfortable, because, well, they’re kicks, right? They are supposed to be stylish and comfortable.

Lastly, the fashionistas and extreme sports gurus can find a career niche in designing kicks. If you know street-style, how extreme sports work, can use CAD and can easily render designs, this is the career for you. It is extremely fast-paced, can be stressful, but very rewarding when you see your kicks on the street or on the runway, worn by hipsters and adventurers alike.

Can you get rich coming up with the next “gotta have it” design? Some people do. In general, salaries for sneaker design are all over the place. They depend on the geographic location, type of sneaker (athletic, extreme sports, fashion, formal wear, etc.) and the company. For example, reports that designers at K-Swiss made about $70K in 2010. As recently as of 2015 a Designer II at Nike could make about $101K per year with bonuses pushing that figure up to $113K according to

And the one question that design recruiters always, always ask: What were your favorite pair of sneakers and why? You now know mine. Enjoy the 4th in whatever kicks you are wearing!

Art Internship Ideas

For all you student artists out there trying to finish up your end-of-the-year portfolio projects, I feel your pain. The weather has finally gotten nice, and while all those liberal arts students are able to study outside out the quad, there you are, stuck in the studio. And for those of you who have not gotten around to finding a summer internship, you are probably disconsolately staring at the prospect of a long, hot summer doing something like house painting.

Well, don’t despair. You may think that all of the good internships are taken, but that may not be true. If you don’t look for internships and ask about them, how will you know? There are a myriad of directories out there for arts and entertainment, too many to list here. Check out your school’s career services, the library or your local big box bookstore to find internship directories. 

I include entertainment in this blog because if you are an artist, you should be looking for opportunities in this industry as well. The video game industry not only needs testers, they also need graphic artists and painters to bring their creations to life. Theaters and opera houses also need artists and textile and fashion designers who can help mount their productions. Casinos and hotels routinely need artists as well to keep their facilities up to par and looking beautiful.

Then there are the fashion houses, the museums, the art galleries, book and comics publishers and the auction houses who need summer help. These are the internships that seem to fill the fastest. Did you find an internship like this whose application deadline is past? Sit down and write out a list of what you want to learn this summer and what you can contribute to an internship site. Then get on the phone and call them up. Ask if the internships are filled and give them the 30-second take on why they should consider you. Be ready with an online portfolio or a mini portfolio you can send out right away.

Not interested in spending the beautiful summer indoors? There are internships in art for you sun lovers too. Check with parks and recreation departments, your local highway department or local arts festivals. Summer camps will often hire artists as camp counselors to run the art activities for the kids. You are a creative person, so be creative. One of my art students collaborated with the Phoenix highway department to design and create mosaics along the Phoenix interstates. Not sure I would want to be outside during the day doing that, but most of the layout and cementing of pieces was done at night.

So you have called many places that offer internships to only be told no? Do not stop there. Another one of my students wanted to learn about pop-up book design and production. There were not any publishers who were offering this type of internship. So we called publishers, and one decided to hire her for the summer. There is no reason you cannot do the same – call a video game producer, a theater, or a park that does not offer an internship. Call and offer your services, but be prepared. Know what you want to learn and what you can contribute and commit to. What if they tell you they can’t pay you? Negotiate for free lunch/coffee service, a stipend, or get them to fund all or part of your transportation costs like a bus pass.

Taking the initiative may mean the difference between a boring summer and one that could change your life. A risk worth taking, yes?


Career Freebies/Discounts

So I was on Facebook the other day, scrolling along and I saw this: Free Pixar Renderman Software. This is great news for the animator wanna-be’s out there. But like most things free, there is a caveat: Renderman is a rendering engine. You still need a rendering application to use it. Get the FAQs to learn more.

This got me to thinking that there must be other free/discounted resources you can use in your career or career exploration. So I got back on the Internet, and this is just a small sample of what I found. I will add more as I find them, so check back.

* Free Shipping – While technically this isn’t “free stuff,” shipping is expensive, especially when you are working in small, rural areas where you can’t get to, say, a medical uniform store to shop. A1Scrubs will give you free shipping on orders over $100. Not a nurse or med tech? Search free shipping or supplies for your career in your favorite search engine and see what pops up.

* Search Engines – Bing – Search engines have jumped on the freebies bandwagon. Bing Rewards is a bonus point program where you earn reward points for searching with Bing. You then trade in your points for stuff like Starbucks and other restaurant gift cards that you can use for business meals or just to keep you fueled throughout your busy work day. Bing rewards will also allow you to trade your points for one free year of 100GB of OneDrive storage. This can come in handy if you use several mobile devices like a laptop and tablets to stay connected to the office. This offer ends June 31st.

* Search Engines – Google – Not a fan of expensive Microsoft Office? Then try Google Docs for free. It also has free Drive storage for the documents you create. Keep an eye out for other free cloud storage. Apple will give you 5GB of iCloud storage for your documents too.

* Teaching Tools – There are a plethora of teaching tools out there for all age groups. If you are a music teacher, a student, or a musician, Chromatik gives access to free sheet music. If you are a high school or college opera student in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Merola Student ConneXion Progam will give 40 students complimentary tickets to their events, but you must apply by May 4th.

* Career Discounts – You may find discounts on resources related to your career or on every-day items like food, drink and air fare. One example: Search military discounts online and you will find thousands of them. Not in the military? Try searching under your professional associations.

* Directories – Directories are useful for finding business contacts or for researching a career; however, the print versions are often expensive and out-of-date by the time they are published. Look online. Need to contact media talent? Go on over to AIR’s Talent Directory. The site also gives info on how to contact talent not in the directory.

*Start-ups – Thinking of starting your own business? The Small Business Administration – SBA has tons of free info, including funding options and the deal on capital and angel investors here. If you need to find an investor, Chubby Brain’s Funding Recommendation Engine will hook you up with capital and angel investors, financial institutions and grant sources. You need to request an invitation code, but it is free.

* Job Training – Free job training programs do exist. For example: if you want to break into hospitality and food service, read Magdalene Chan’s blog, Job Search Central. The blog entry is from 2012, but the phone numbers should still be current.

*Libraries – Libraries often have career centers with free information and workshops. Try your alma mater’s career and academic libraries, as well as the public library. Not near a central library? Check your public library for e-membership  programs like the one at It is free, and you can borrow anything in the library ebook database or in-person at the many city libraries. You must live in NY state to take advantage of this program, but other states may have a program like this as well.

*Career Help – Some career associations will provide limited free career coaching. Check with your college career center too.  State or county career programs are another option. One resource is the Science, Industry and Business Library – SIBL in NYC which provides limited pro bono/free career coaching.

Obviously, this post is not an exhaustive list of career freebies, and you have to read the fine print so you won’t be disappointed. It is meant to give you some ideas on how to find the resources you need. And, hey, searching is free, right?




Fashion is the Career Passion

What is it about fashion that excites and engages us? People have such visceral responses to fashion trends, either loving or hating them. We also cling stubbornly to our favorite outfits or wardrobe pieces long after their trends have faded and they have started falling apart. Just ask someone who has tried to “borrow” a sibling’s favorite piece of clothing. They know the passion that these articles inspire.

That passion carries over into fashion careers as well. There is something about these careers akin to those in music and art that allow people in the industry to immerse their personalities into their day-to-day jobs, to tap into who these people really are. And a fun part of these careers is literally being able to wear your personality on your sleeve. Just looking at what designers wear whether they are on the street or at an awards show is a visual feast.

The beauty of fashion careers is that it does not take just one type of person to bring trends to the public. Introverts and extroverts need to apply. Numbers people, artists, supply chain managers, writers, marketers, retailers, distributors, graphics designers, web designers, colorists, tailors, shoe makers, textile crafters, CAD-types and automotive designers all are welcome and needed in the fashion industry. Automotive designers? Really? Yup. It is a little-known fact that the CAD or computer-assisted design software that automotive designers use is also used, with some modifications, to design footwear. You will see shoe design and automotive design influencing each other in the “bumped out” front ends of SUVs and the sleek, stream-lined silhouettes of running shoes.

Think that the fashion industry is too shallow or narcissistic for you do-gooder, public service types out there? Well, not true. Beyond all the industry charity galas, fashion needs you too. Fashion designers and manufacturers have solved some of the most stubborn medical problems, including footwear to prevent diabetic ulcers and clothing with special pockets to hold and protect insulin pumps. Fashion does contribute to the greater good. Just ask the Bolivian women who have found a way to knit heart parts for children with defective hearts.

And fashion influences can be seen in myriad other careers as well. Check out Fashion and Architecture Meet in a Night at the Opera to continue exploring these interesting influences. Enjoy!

(Opera) Fashion Hard At Work





For those of us lucky enough to not have to wear the company logo to work, we have fashion decisions to make. Do we bring our fashion sense to work, dress conservatively or wear what reflects our interests, hobbies and passions?

Nowhere is fashion more hard at work than on the opera stage where the opera production dictates the costumes. Costumes indicate the time period, socioeconomics, who the leads are, where the action takes place and sometimes even what is going to happen. Opera fashion can also influence opera house architecture as well. And architecture returns the favor.

Take a look at some of these influences:

Albina Shagimuratova never performed on this Phantom of the Opera stage in this costume, but the colors, shapes and textures are a direct match, no?



This is Renata Tebaldi’s costume from Manon Lescaut paired with the coral tree garden of the Disney Concert Hall in LA, indicating that old world fashion can still influence modern architecture.



The design on Barbara Fritoli’s costume reflects a similar pattern on the curtain of the Odessa Opera House.


Modern diva, meet modern opera house: South Korean soprano Sumi Jo and the Chinese Guanzhou opera house. Similar lighting, similar color palette


The lenticular fabric of Renee Fleming’s gown reflects the orange, black and light lavender of the Royal Albert Hall in this picture.



Modern Block Color Throwback: Shirley Verrit 1973/The Queen’s Theatre at Trianon, Versailles, 1780, Architect: Richard Mique.


The ruff of Edita Gruberova’s Maria Stuarda costume mimicking the roofline of the Sydney Opera House.

I doubt that there was a direct design correlation between any of these pairings, yet it is as if there are some fantastically weird fashion/architecture archetypes out there that get repeated again and again.

Want to see more examples of fashion influencing architecture and vice versa? Visit me here on my Pinterest board, Fashion/Architecture Meet in a Night at the Opera. And take a look at the original pictures which inspired the board.


Why It Does Not Pay to Be a Professional Flake

I was recently commiserating with a friend who had ordered customized work from someone who appeared to be professional and who had exceptional examples of her work to show. This particular artist ended up flaking out on the job: lying about the job being completed, procrastinating on delivery, asking for more more materials, more time, more money. This person was a really good artist, but compromised her reputation by her bad behavior. Don’t let this happen to you. Here are a few things to consider to keep your professional reputation intact:

*Do not promise what you KNOW you cannot deliver. Sometimes factors change and what you thought you could accomplish changes. Make your customer or supervisor aware from the get-go that what you want to deliver is contingent upon those very factors that might change. For example, material costs may go up during the project, or you may need more personnel hours to accomplish the job. Saying that you can do a job and hoping you can figure it out later just does not work either in a business or any other work setting.

*Get your facts straight. Plan your project from the beginning by projecting costs, personnel hours, delivery times, etc. In other words, have a plan to accomplish what you promised and be able to articulate it.

*Do your research. Make sure you have all the tools you need to deliver what you promised. Retrench and assess during the project to ensure you still have what you need to bring the project to completion.

*Stay in touch. Good communication skills, both oral and written, are essential to keeping your professional reputation intact. Do not surprise your customer or supervisor with doubled costs, delayed or missed deadlines. Being up front is the best way to keep your project on track and get the necessary materials and support you need as factors change.

*Evaluate your own performance and get the customer’s or supervisor’s assessment as well. Feedback gives you an opportunity to improve your services or work.

Creating the New Face of Arts Education

When I was a kid growing up in the parochial schools of Rochester, NY, we had music and art classes several times a week. They were a mandatory part of the curriculum. You were also encouraged to join whatever music ensembles that existed and expected to play at several school concerts per year.  Sometimes there were more students in the concerts than were in the audience. We received a great foundation in music without traveling to lessons and without extra lesson or instrument rental fees or auditions for private music education. When I got to high school, I just took it for granted that all high schools had their fair share of extremely talented young singers and musicians and the means to cultivate that talent.

I  guess I never realized how fortunate we were to have that kind of education available right where we were in school. I cannot believe how much this has changed now. When I worked in higher education, I watched my music work-study students struggle to find student teacher placements in the local school system. The same for student art teachers. My friends’ kids now get their arts education primarily outside school from private teachers. But what about those kids who do not have the resources: money or access to teachers? It disturbs me to know that there is young arts talent out there who will not have the same great experiences we had.

I can go on about how studying music and arts benefits everyone, not just kids. However, you can do an Internet search and read up on that for yourself. Yet, as people bemoan the loss of arts education in our schools and the lack of funding for arts programming, the need for arts education is still very real. If funding for arts education is not returned to public school systems, then we need to find a way to reframe this problem to come up with viable solutions.

In addition, the old school model of higher arts education which emphasized education and arduous practice to make it to the top has not produced a plethora of graduates who have enjoyed better career satisfaction over the years. A large number of music graduates go on to a career in something else. Music and arts schools are still turning out graduates who may be skilled at music and arts, but little else, making it hard to make a living. Those schools who are offering business and entrepreneurship classes should be thinking of ways to fill that educational gap created by the slashing of arts education from the curriculum. It would fill a need for school kids and provides jobs for their graduates.

One general solution is promoting portfolio careers for new graduates where they do some performing, some educating, some entrepreneurial programming, etc. My experience is that these graduates are chockfull of ideas, and their proficiency with computers and the Internet can only help. Teaching lessons online or through community schools of music and arts, albeit not new ideas, are some ways to keep arts education going and graduates employed. However, there must be other ways to provide arts education to those people who can’t afford private instruction on their own.

Enter big corporations. I was in a local toy store over the holidays where they did free demonstrations with their musical instruments and arts and crafts kits. Obviously, it was shilling at its finest, designed to get the kids’ parents to spend money. However, every kid who stopped by to participate in the demonstrations learned something, regardless of whether their parents bought anything or not. These demonstrations also brought people together to share ideas, different ways to create Rainbow Loom bracelets or how to record rhythms on a synthesizer, for instance.

Maybe these corporations have hit on a way to sell while educating. However it happens, we need an approach, grassroots or corporate, to bring together the students who need arts education with those who are newly educated and beyond who can provide it.