Last summer, the Méli Mélo Charcuterie Boards — a lively collaboration with 600 Grit fine wood design — debuted in the art festival world. Maria Garcia, my former tennis partner and expert woodworker, had applied as an emerging artist to two of the nation’s most prestigious fairs — the Fort Worth Main Street Arts Festival and Denver’s Cherry Creek Arts Festival. A Colorado native now at home in Texas, Maria clearly had soaked in some of the “go big or go home” Lone Star attitude in targeting these events, but even she was slightly overwhelmed to be accepted by both.
Our 600 Grit/EnZed collaboration began with volleying ideas on the tennis court. It went something like “wouldn’t it be fun to take some of your wrapping paper motifs and translate them to wood?” After a few years of playing with the idea, mostly in our heads, we found ourselves mixing epoxy and pigments in her Dallas workshop. We experimented with maple and walnut hardwoods, metallic and solid pigments, and two designs. Maria prepped the boards for the CNC operator who used my vector artwork to rout the inlays. After several prototypes in which we adjusted motif sizes and color palettes, played with depth of routing and angled edges, we landed on the finished product and perfected the silky finish.
Méli Mélo translates to “an assortment,” which captures the essence of charcuterie and the nature of our collaboration. Once the boards began selling, Maria envisioned expanding the concept to furniture. The board motifs enlarged beautifully onto coffee, cocktail and side tables, and she received a commission for wall art at this larger scale. Maria’s furniture designs are inspired by the Arts & Crafts and Mid Century Modern movements, but the rich walnut hardwood and bright resin inlays transition across many interior styles.
What started as a friendship on the tennis court quickly became a delicious meeting of minds and materials. Talking with the art lovers venturing into our tent was energizing and Maria secured several furniture commissions in each city, a primary goal for showing at the festivals. (Prior to that, we had a brief foray into wholesale and set up shop on PaperieZ.com, selling directly to friends and others.)
While I’ve enjoyed seeing my designs in three dimensions as Maria has added new, unique product offerings, the best part of this experience by far is the collaboration. Each bringing our best to the table (saw) inevitably yields tasty results.
For more about Maria, follow her on Instagram @600grit and visit 600grit.com. She’s available for custom charcuterie board and furniture commissions. Let us collaborate with you, too!
Join my mailing list to receive monthly reads about adventures, design, marketing, other creative musing, and how they all relate to and inform one another. Follow my antics on Instagram. — Helen
Four thin textbooks arrived in a blue drawstring bag in December, our reading assignment prior to boarding a 42-foot catamaran. In late April, we were to set sail from the port just outside of La Paz, Mexico. Reading one book per month couldn’t be so bad, right? By the time we set foot on the Fountaine Pajot, however, we’d made our way through just one and a half.
Learning the sailing terms was like another language, but without the benefit of a good reference for decoding, like my French gives me clues to understanding Spanish or Italian. There was little other than colloquialisms—it took the wind out of my sails, learning the ropes, he was three sheets to the wind—as hints. I was clueless about clews, goosenecks, halyards, and shrouds. Slogging through the first book twice and quizzing myself until I could earn an honest B was the best I could hope for. It would be easier once I was on the boat, I assured myself.
The first step, after meeting our captain Troy Mills of Nautilus Sailing and additional newbie crew, was to learn about the boat’s features and functions—opening lockers, inventorying cushions, locating fire extinguishers, and counting personal flotation devices (PFDs). We learned about provisioning, the heads (and their touchy waste system), navigation devices, desalination tanks, and engines. The purpose of the first lesson was to know the boat, but also to accept that each of us would depend on the combined knowledge and actions of the captain and entire crew on this journey. Our craft was white, sleek, and stable, and would carry us out to sea without any communication from the outside world. Sheer bliss.
“Each of us would depend on the combined knowledge and actions of the captain and entire crew”
We slept aboard and floated off the dock the next morning with green buoys drifting by. Our six night live-aboard adventure to learn and earn our captain certifications was underway. Two young humpback whales—one flashing its tail, the other keeping a low, sleek profile—escorted us into the Sea of Cortez, “the world’s aquarium.” The waves were soft and sea turtles the size of manhole covers floated alongside us. A pod of partying dolphins met us as we rounded a small island, swimming fast along our twin-hulls and surfacing in graceful arches.
With nightfall came more lessons: How the right anchorage site could shelter us from shifting winds and surf so we could sleep without the risk of heavy rocking or swinging into another boat. Captain Troy could see things we couldn’t. Given his years of experience, he could quickly calculate how rough a sea we were likely to encounter by reading the waves’ amplitude and direction and feeling the wind on his face. He explained how to account for the tides with our timing on and off anchor. Why the boat was built with redundancies—from dual engines to anchor lights and alarms—to prevent a pan-pan or mayday call. How to troubleshoot using an if this, then perhaps this metric. How clear communication among the captain and crew supports good decision-making.
We learned pragmatic rules to sail by and sayings with deeper purpose, including Captain Troy Mill’s salty favorite “A boat shrinks an inch per day,” a nice way of saying keep your stuff stowed or your shipmates will want to deposit you on one of the five uninhabited islands on our journey. Everything in its place can truly prove lifesaving should the weather turn abruptly—tools stored, sheets flaked, and phones far away from a wet sink. When sailing, thinking through everything that could possibly happen and taking preemptive action prior is key. After the first day, it became clear that this week of lessons was just the beginning and there was a lifetime of learning to become an accomplished sailor. As the sun set on our first night at sea, eagle rays leaped along the pink horizon and pelicans settled into our inlet as night patrol. Fair winds and following seas. —Helen
My first few nights living aboard a catamaran learning to sail were eye opening. We were both relaxed, bobbing on crystal-clear turquoise waters, and alert to the area’s features– shorelines, rock outcroppings and coral reefs, as well as the sea conditions shaped by current, surf and wind direction. Once anchored in a lovely inlet in the Sea of Cortez, we could enjoy a splash in the water or walk on the beach. The sunsets were sensational, casting a hundred hues on the water’s surface from the sky and shore. Icy blue, peach blush, deep lapis, and silver all moved together in undulating patterns.
Less is Moor
From the outset, our captain, Troy Mills, assigned each crew member one night as host (cook) and a day as captain (skipper). Most of the time, I was taking initiative while following directives. It’s an interesting combination that resonates within working environments and other relationships, but not always second nature. I liked working the sheets to trim the sails, making slight adjustments under the captain’s direction to optimize the wind. I relished setting the mainsheet, winching, unfurling the jib, flaking and stowing the sheets—becoming a master of my post. When the captain called out “Ready about?” the crew answered, knowing their tasks and adjusting as needed. I enjoyed tying knots, calculating knots and anchor chain length, assessing wind direction and apparent wind speed, and assisting the captain with making the boat secure at anchorage. Captain Troy was both patient and assertive, using humor to bridge a safe learning environment with a pleasure cruise.
I fit well in every space—the tiny head complete with standup shower, the efficient berth with drawers and lockers secreted under the bed and overhead. Everything was designed with less is more in mind. Less weight. Less space. Less waste. The galley was compact and efficient, anything needed within arm’s length. Under the seat cushions in the benches and floors of the saloon were concealed compartments to stow a pantry of provisions. The chart table tucked into one side of the bench. The cockpit was the largest outdoor sheltered area, with the helm raised to one side for a view of all the sails through the windows and ceiling of the bimini.
Mooring practice was on day two, as we started to take the helm and learn to sail. We arrived early at a large rock, covered in barking sea lions ready to play with anyone who delighted in a murky water snorkel. We learned to drop the lines around the seaweed-laden buoy rope with teamwork—a person catching it with a hook and the other with a looped line. The helmsman made slow maneuvers guided by the bow crew’s hand signals. Once we each succeeded in driving and mooring the boat, we sailed to another island.
We settled in an inlet for our first test—all the terms and boat basics. It took an hour to fill in 100 dots to complete our ASA 101 and the entire crew was elated to have scored in the upper 90s. We swam in temperate waters with a school of puffer fish and explored the anchorage on paddleboards. Another long sunset capped off the day and a long sleep.
As we all have experienced, best laid plans can still result in unforeseen events. In the creative world we call these moments happy accidents. On a sailboat, most accidents aren’t jovial. My turn as captain at the helm gave me experience with an accidental jibe, the riskiest move at sea, primarily because the swinging mast can surprise a crew member, knocking them off kilter or off the boat entirely. Thankfully, on a big boat in light winds, it’s a learning experience. I was working on my jibing, wind to aft, changing from a beam reach to a broad reach, and figuring out the steering. Choosing a course, setting a heading, and then zigzagging your way toward it are three distinctive thoughts. I was focused on going to my point of sail in a straight line. I quickly discovered; it doesn’t work that way. Amazingly aligned with how we move through our lives and careers.
“I was focused on going to my point of sail in a straight line. I quickly discovered; it doesn’t work that way.”
After lunch in another pretty inlet, we motored out to catch the wind, and suddenly without warning, a bright orange personal flotation device (PFD) was overboard! One crew member yelled “Man overboard!” and pointed at the bobbing faux passenger, their role now established as watch—keeping their eye on it until it was rescued. The helmsman made a curvy maneuver to recover the “MOB” under power, being sure to not run it over. The other crew had a hook and line ready, giving hand signals and proximity updates (10 feet! 5 feet!) upon approach. Each crew had their turn to recover our drunken sailor under power and under sail, with each technique being slightly different. Noting the wind direction and head-to-wind inclination of the boat can help or hinder a quick recovery, so it’s important to use the conditions in that moment to your favor. And make sure your crew is on board with safe behavior.
Time is fleeting
You cannot be in a hurry at sea. Calculating sail time is affected by wind which can and often changes hourly. When you’re away from it all, you don’t have access to timely wind reports so always have a time buffer built into your plan. The “MOB” exercises took much more time than expected; being under pressure for a quick rescue, it was easy to overshoot and need to start over. The pace of sailing a large catamaran is slow which gives you lots of time to think, but not much time to react. Planning your moves instead of reacting to the moment is key to a smooth sail.
Another day, another test. In the end, we all passed and received four ASA certifications that allow us to charter a boat on our own. Naturally, learning the sea can take a lifetime, but having the basics down is a great start to a wonderful adventure. It reminds me a little of heading out into my design career with a BFA in hand and a wanderlust for learning. All the beauty of life, its twists and turns, were rushing toward me. But now, I’m in no rush. Getting saltier by the day. —Helen
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Photos by captain and crew of the journey, Helen, Karl, Troy, Rachel and David.
I’m a skipper now. I earned four American Sailing Association (ASA) certifications on my recent vacation floating on a 42-foot catamaran across the Sea of Cortez, puffer fish hovering in the shallows below. I learned the ropes (aka sheets), how to anchor, and rescue a human overboard, which was actually a personal flotation device that got a little rowdy.
I love learning new things. That’s why I signed up for B-School, a program by Marie Forleo, to help me focus on the next chapter of my business. I took the six-week online course to gain clarity, purpose, and a plan. I ended up also gathering some very simple, implementable action items for myself and my clients. As a graphic designer who supports marketing directors and small business owners looking for branding, marketing strategy and content development, I expected to sharpen some skills, but the higher-value takeaways truly surprised me.
The first thing I will be doing— and recommending to all my clients — is to make a very small website change that will make a big difference. How big? 4400% big.
Make joining your mailing list easy and obvious Apart from “Save X%” pop-ups on retail sites, most “join” calls-to-action are relegated to the footer and Contact Us page on a website. We use SEO to pull people to our site and then get all shy once they arrive! If we’re intent on growing a mailing list of qualified prospective clients, aka “our people,” ensuring visitors sign up is paramount. After all, they’ve navigated to your website because they want to hear what you have to say, right? (Call me Captain Obvious. I am ASA certified.)
Opt-in to owning it When you think about opt-in or permission marketing, it’s like owning vs renting. Owning your house pays you back over time, and you can paint the wall purple if you want. The same is true with marketing — you want to own your media and control your message and branding within its walls. “Capture” people who value and want to pay for what you offer. How? Just ask. That’s it.
Well, sort of. Some may be thrilled to hear from you, but if your inbox is as full as mine, you need a really good reason to join another list. So, give it to them. Offer an exchange — something of value for their email — and be clear about how often they’ll hear from you. This gives them a nibble of what you offer to experience it directly. Your opt-in offer can be a download, percentage off, free trial, sample, etc. Keep it simple and — most importantly — thank them when they join.
“We use SEO to pull people to our site and then get all shy once they arrive!”
On-the-fly fishing SEO, press releases, advertising, affiliate links, and social media are the focus of many. But social media is passive marketing — people have to work to find you. Most small companies relying on social media for growth will be swimming with the puffer fish. Why? You don’t own the medium. Meta owns many platforms, so they make the rules and change their algorithms often. This, and the growth of ads, make connecting with your followers ever tougher.
Coming aboard According to B-School research, email marketing is the most qualified medium with the highest control and return. Email boasts a 4400% return on investment.1 A reader is 6x more likely to click through from an email to your content than from a tweet 2 and 5x more likely to read your email message than your post on Facebook.3 If you're selling a product, email has the highest conversion rate (66%), and people will place an order that’s 3x larger in response to an offer on email vs social media.4
The Why is simple: They signed up to hear from you and you deliver. Consistent communication builds trust, relationships, and community. They get to know you. People do business with people. Make it easy for your people to be part of your circle.
“Email boasts a 4400% return on investment.”
Taking the helm During our Mexican sailing adventure, each student had their day as skipper. On Wednesday, I was in charge of plotting a course, choosing a heading, and instructing the crew on trimming the sails to capture the wind. The teaching captain was there to guide me. In that spirit, I’m captaining my own ship starting with these four action items I’ll share with you:
Create an opt-in offer that rewards those who trust me with their email.
Add an obvious “join” call-to-action on my website.
Set up a thank you message that delivers the offer.
Craft a 6-month plan to send out interesting content once per month.
Yes, part of Step 4 is writing a blog about my sailing adventure. Join my email list and I’ll let you know when it’s ready. (See what I did there?) Jibe ho!
If you would like EnZed to craft a plan for optimizing your email list opt-in, contact Helen today.
References: 1. Data & Marketing Association 2. Campaign Monitor 3. Radicati 4. McKinsey
When I took the leap from employee to owner of my own firm 24 years ago, I had no idea what roads and twists EnZed had in store for me. Like Dorothy, I followed a promising path hoping to find a home in the design and marketing industry. Along the way, I’ve met many faithful companions (e.g. Carla, the good witch) and have enjoyed rich experiences and collaborations. One character who has been in and out of EnZed’s world for two decades is Tracey Ranta. Today, I’m happy to say that she’s here to stay.
I met Tracey through volunteering with AIGA—the professional association for design. I was communications director of AIGA Colorado and she was a recent graduate from DU. We sat around the table with her classmate, Jason Wedekind (owner of Genghis Kern and Furniture Creative Coworking, where we are officed), stamping and addressing the member newsletter. She started her design career working in several small agencies. When she went freelance, EnZed was one of her clients for many years. Her design aesthetic, sense of fun and delight, work ethic and dedication matched mine. My favorite memory from that time was during the final stages of a catalog. She was wrapping up production and writing files to CDs, while going into labor. “No, it’s ok, I can finish the job. It’s taking my mind off the contractions!” True to her word, she delivered the files... and a baby! Her beautiful daughter now has her driver’s permit.
When Tracey returned to full-time work at an agency in the late 2000s, our collaborations turned to personal projects. We designed and crafted a wearable, red-ruffled paper dress for the Paper Fashion Show in 2008, an event we’ve attended together for more than a decade. Then last year, the road took another turn when Tracey was ready for a leap of her own, leaving the agency for new ambitions.
Tracey joined EnZed officially in February 2020 as Senior Designer and Art Director, putting her talents to work as creative lead on existing and new projects. A beautiful example: the owners of Elle.b Academy wanted a brand refresh and expansion for their stylist-training programs and to communicate their status as a leading academy for the application of hair extensions. Tracey created original brand elements to distinguish them in the industry and tell their story across course workbooks, Instagram and a new website. Tracey, Carla and I collaborated with Sean at Studio Nomad on the website design assets and content development.
With a portfolio spanning 25 years of successful branding, print, digital and environmental design for real estate development, recreation, retail, restaurants and the arts, Tracey excels at creating special spaces, from a brand moodboard to a new-community greeting house to a website. The following projects illustrate her brand concept design, art direction and digital marketing expertise that are now enhancing EnZed’s print design and content development offerings.
I’m particularly excited to have Tracey join me on my next design journey—to bring our creative minds together to take us new places and create new spaces. It’s been fun to see how her work has evolved in the 2010s, and I’m so glad to see her sparkly shoes back on my path in 2020.
We look forward to collaborating with you on your next venture. Up, up and away!
My love for travel started before I was two years old, when my parents flew me from New Zealand to Chicago, the beginning of what became their 30 year adventure in the United States. Each summer, we traveled. My brother and I made a nest in the back of the station wagon and we’d motor around the vast countryside of America or we’d hop on a plane to vacation overseas, taking advantage of my father’s light summer workload to see the world. Even as a child, I took in new cultures through small details and remembered each state or country by their textures, textiles, buildings and gelato flavors.
Today I see patterns everywhere I go, whether at home in Denver or in foreign curiosities. I've learned that each country reveals itself through the people’s expression of art, pattern and design. What is rendered are revered items of daily life or spiritual aspiration. Through my adventures, I’ve discovered that culture is not contained in a museum, but open to all and constantly evolving — simply walk, wander and take it in.
On my recent trips to Tokyo and Kyoto, I found objects rich in color and variety of pattern. The Japanese attention to detail is highly symbolic of their respect for others and their surroundings. Their connection to the Earth and its energy is part of their spirituality and expressed via the vermilion, gold and colorful patterns on their Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. There’s a rhythm to their spaces, creating visual patterns in three dimensions. Most of the printed patterns you find on papers and fabrics are representations of nature — flora, fauna, water and sky. Many are symbols associated with spirituality, luck, abundance and good fortune. This Kiriko clothing company article shows the most prevalent patterns, explaining their names, symbolism and origin.
The Japanese mix patterns and color expertly, which is especially notable in the multiple fabrics layered in their kimonos. You also see this in their fine art. They combine patterned papers as borders or mattes on hanging paintings and within hinges and borders on painted screens. Patterns are inlaid on boxes and painted on ceramics. Their combinations of pattern scale and object shapes within them is deft and often unexpected. Most of us are familiar with origami paper collections that fan out a gorgeous mix of patterns. The variety of these origami packs in Japan is dizzying. When I visited the iconic stationery shop Itoya in Ginza, Tokyo, I spent nearly 2 hours combing through 12 floors of paper, washi tape, journals, cards, bookmarks, pens, and shaped sticky notes. My Pinterest board on Japanese Design has an array of eyecandy featuring items with innovative simplicity or intricate decoration — all with a deliberately delicate touch.
What’s particularly interesting to me about Japanese pattern is the motifs are ancient yet very contemporary. This mix is evident everywhere in their culture and takes many forms. In modern Tokyo, it’s subway riders with heads bowed absorbed in their phones balanced by their custom of bowing in greeting. In Kyoto, it’s a hunger for shopping high-fashion brands balanced by young people renting kimonos and queuing for tea ceremonies. (Side note: The shoe selections in Japanese department stores are on a scale I’ve not encountered before. Wowza.)
Harmony and beauty come from this knack for balance. A quality I love about the Japanese people is their utmost respect for one another and their surroundings. You’d be hard pressed to encounter brash personalities or see careless littering. At the end of a rainy day, Tokyo’s subway train floor was shiny and spotless. The city’s manhole covers are famously shared on Instagram. Consumerism is high and space is precious, yet patience and civility underpin the culture. As the world capital of cute, with a love of animal ears on everything and hats on cats, I surmise that people strive to find small joys in many places or moments, especially in Tokyo, one of the world’s most densely populated cities. I’ll have to explore the country more to test that theory. Until then, enjoy these 20 photos + 20 haikus expressing my impressions of Japan (3 minute video). Arigato.
EnZed Design is an award-winning design studio established in Denver in 1996. By merging the focus of a boutique firm with full-service design, we excel in imaginative solutions. We’re strong on strategy. We consider brainstorming a fine art. We use pattern, dimension and texture to transform print, paper, and architectural surfaces. And we prize knowing our corporate and nonprofit clients see us as energized, reliable partners.