Monthly Archives: March 2014

Pursuit of the Nearly Perfect

musings on perfection. photo by DOJ
Photo by Doj

The other day, I heard some magic words from a client. “It’s perfect–don’t change a thing!” These moments are understandably rare in a creative’s life. My client’s note gave me a high for the rest of the day. Perfect. But as amazing as those words are to hear, they got me thinking about my obsession with that word. Because I am obsessed.

Growing up, an A on an exam was never enough. It had to be an A+. Always, the highest possible grade. I wasn’t satisfied unless I saw a long row of them on a report card. And soon, that relentless need permeated into other aspects of my life. Is this boyfriend perfect? Is this dress “the one”? Is my home spotless? The problem with perfect is that there’s nowhere to go afterwards. You wonder if you’ve missed something along the way. You wonder what’s next. Not to mention that perfect is pretty darn rare–some might say impossible–to achieve.

Once I was out in the world, working for others, I found that design, art, and writing are a few fields where perfect doesn’t actually cut it. Though I’d labor over a book cover or a piece of writing, it was really that undefinable ingredient, that element of surprise, that would take a work to the next level. I could play by the rules, sticking to the style guide, taking art direction precisely, making every red-penned edit, but it was that messy, unexpected something that changed the whole landscape of the work.

Perfect is all well and good. The pursuit of it can make us better. But the failure of perfection is really where inspiration lies for me.

100 Books

The 100 Books Project by Thao Thai

Like most English majors, I went through books at a breakneck speed in college and graduate school. It was par the course–Dostoevsky in the morning, Alice Munro in the evening. At suppertime? A cookbook for pleasure reading.

So, a few years out of grad school and almost ten (ten!) out of college, I thought it would be fun to track a list of books I’ve read for the year. I remember once in college estimating my yearly book consumption to be around 100. So 100 will be the magic number (see the science in my approach?). Novels, poetry chapbooks, cookbooks–any full-length work that’s bound and printed (e-books can be the exception). As you’ll see, it’s an… eclectic mix.

Visit my 100 Books page to see a list of what I’ve read so far, along with a short and sweet rating system of 1 to 5, 5 being the most un-put-down-able. Since I recently started tracking books, I lost a couple of months there, due to my unfortunate lack of long term recall. But the book journey commences!

Recommendations are very welcome! Happy reading. :)

A new portfolio site

I’ve had the same portfolio site for a year or so–and you know how it goes. The baker’s children are the last to eat, or something like that. I was helping other clients with their sites and had no time to focus on mine. The old site was fine and serviceable, but last month, I decided it needed a big refresh, and just dove straight in.

simple portfolio site by Thao Thai

I knew I wanted an online identity that was a little more playful, a little more inviting. I found some amazing retro imagery and used it in a new context, adding big washes of color and cropping tightly. That merging of the old and new helped define my direction, and I cleaned up the overall look, converting to bigger images, more readable blocks of type, and even a bit of updated copy.

homepage for Thao Thai's portfolio website

writing page for Thao Thai's portfolio website

individual book cover design page for Thao Thai's portfolio website

I learned so much in developing and programming it myself, and think that the result expresses my point of view pretty well! Here are a few things I learned in trying to define my own identity:

  1. Ask for help. My good friend and former colleague brainstormed with me (over text message!) about what my style says to her. She used words like “instinctively creative” and “passionate,” which helped a lot. Then, I joked that I wanted my site to look like what Peggy Olson’s (from Mad Men) might, if she were designing a website. It ended up describing the look to a tee!
  2. Step away. This one was hard. I tend to get focused on a project to the point of obsession (Dan can attest to a few missed dinners), but the moment I got up, even for a cup of tea, I felt so much clearer about the problem and solution at hand.
  3. Explore the options. I was torn between a few different directions. A lot of my work has an illustrative feel, but lately, I’ve been more drawn to simpler solutions. So I did a bit of both, sketching and hand-lettering for one option, then paring everything down to the nuts-and-bolts for another. Of course, I landed somewhere in the middle.
  4. Be brave about what you want to say. As a writer, I’m always conscious of audience, and a strange thing happened while working on my own site. I started wondering if my message was too splashy. Was I sounding too-big-for-my-britches? Well, if I am, my britches are at least authentically oversized. :) Voice can’t be faked and eventually, I had to tone out the hypothetical voices and go with what I thought was best. My About page says it all!

See the site in action at thaothaidesign.com! I have a few more features I want to add eventually, so it keeps being a (very fun) work in progress.

Behind the Design: Emmett Malouf Textiles

When I first saw Emmett Malouf Textile designs, I knew it would be an amazing project to work on. Owner and designer Linda Walter has been heading the company for the past twenty years, and she’s curated a lovely, eclectic collection that’s a bit French country, a bit Southwestern flair. She needed a new site that would put her designs front-and-center for clients.

We started with the mood board, which helped clarify our direction (feminine and bright, with a splash of whimsy). Then we went through a few rounds of revisions, arriving at a cream and pale blue palette that could showcase the designs. As I’ve been working on my own, I’ve begun to realize that my aesthetic leans towards the clean and streamlined, with just a bit of influence from classic layout and typography.

homepage design for luxury textile brand

Then began the programming to make it all come alive! I won’t lie; this was the hardest part. But also, in many ways, the most rewarding! The home page features a slider, and each grid page displays the collections in all their colorful diversity.

grid-page-1

collections-page

The product pages feature a gallery of images, along with some lovely copy written by Kathleen Blackburn. A contact form allows the viewer to get in touch with Linda to find out more about the company.

prod-page-2

contact-page

Best of all, I built a back-end content management system that allows updating of images, copy, and products, making this site an evergreen solution for the growing business. It was a joy to work with such a great brand! See the site in action here.

Ham and Cheese Crepes

We did a fair amount of traveling this month, and as wonderful as it was to escape these sub-zero (only a slight exaggeration) temperatures in Ohio, I found myself missing home more than usual. The thing I missed most of all? Being in my kitchen. The sounds and smells. The rituals of the hearth.

I wanted to catch sight of my worn carpet runner, the yellow teapot I use every morning. I wanted to rifle through the jumble of spices on the lazy Susan and mindlessly slice onion into a hot pan.

En route back home, I saw a video of a chef making crepes. I’m not one for sweets, but these were savory, filled with Serrano ham and gruyere, brown at the edges, but still thin enough to feel light. It was just right for my palate.

Saturday morning found me padding around in my slippers, digging up some lunch meat and a bit of pre-grated cheese. A far cry from Serrano ham and gruyere, but I didn’t feel like fussing. (I rarely do, when it comes to food.) The first batch wouldn’t hold together. In my morning fuzziness, I’d forgotten the flour. Needless to say, the second batch was much better. They were light, but filling, a grown-up interpretation of a childhood sandwich.  Salty, creamy, and simple. My favorite adjectives for breakfast.

photo of a comforting yet elegant recipe

Ham and Cheese Crepes | serves 2-4
crepes adapted from Alton Brown’s Recipe

  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup flour
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • Butter, for coating the pan
  • 4-5 slices of salty ham
  • 1 1/2 cups of cheddar cheese

Combine first five ingredients and whisk rigorously. Chill batter in fridge for half an hour, at least. (I was impatient and only waited fifteen minutes. Alton says the chilling removes the air bubbles from the batter, but mine was fine.)

Heat a small pan over medium heat and coat with cooking spray. Spread 1/4 cup of the batter in the pan and swirl to coat evenly. After bubbles start to form, flip the crepe (it’s easier than you’d think!). Fill half of the flipped crepe with ham and a generous handful of cheese. Fold the crepe over, so that it forms a half-moon. Slide onto a plate and repeat with the rest of the batter, ham, and cheese.

I had some leftover batter, so made these again the next day for lunch. They were even better the second time around.