Taking a Shot

As a company that has regularly decided to just try and see if we can make a go of something (heck, it’s why Jewelboxing exists), we really appreciate people who do the same. People like Utah-based Opie Janzer, who went to school for photography, but didn’t really get into the nuts and bolts of it until she decided to throw herself into it and see if she could make it her profession. Fortunately for the great state of Utah, her plan worked. Here’s from Opie:

“I decided to become a wedding photographer shortly after my own wedding in October 2006. I was obsessed with all the wedding photos I saw online and in bridal magazines. I would collect “must take” photos in a folder and visualized each shot in my head. I just had to get a camera and start creating my own images. I purchased my first camera in March 2007 and committed to shooting my first wedding before I even owned the camera, so I began shooting professionally almost immediately, with very little time to learn the basics. But since then, my photography style has developed into something that’s fresh, colorful, and fun. I like to bring my clients personality to each photograph as well as my own.”

“I love using Jewelboxing because when I give the DVD of wedding pictures to my clients, they always gasp in excitement. They run their hands all over the case and are eager to open it up to see what’s inside. The cases are the perfect match for my photography and the quality I want to deliver to each client.”

“On the front and back, I like to highlight one large photo for each and a large horizontal photo on the inside jacket. I keep the print release separate, printing it on it’s own piece of paper. And I don’t slap my logo all over the place (in fact, I don’t even put it on the DVDs). I feel like the photos should stand on their own and my clients are purchasing a custom piece of art that should not be bogged down with my name all over the place. All my DVDs are clean, colorful, and sexy.”

Thanks to Opie for sharing with us, and here’s to hoping all forms of case-able media are coming out clean, colorful and sexy in Portland, New York, Chicago, Quezon, Murrysville, Brooklyn, Livonia, O’Fallon, Ulster, Merriam, Benbrook, Columbus, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Sacramento, Fort Myer, Tucson, San Juan, Santa Monica, Irvine, and Edmonton.

Better Than an SAT Prep Course?

We know we shouldn’t get big heads and that overt proudness is unbecoming, but sometimes it’s easy to feel pretty pleased with ourselves around here, particularly when we get letters like this one from Mason Sklar:

“I know it’s been way too long, but I really want to thank you guys for inventing Jewelboxing. Unfortunately, I only made one copy of my disk, which a college admissions guy may or may not still have and while the contents of the disk are at my site, I have no documentation of it actually existing.”

“But! The good new is that said college admissions guy was impressed with my portfolio, especially the presentation of it (that’s you guys). I got an acceptance letter from this school (which was my first choice) two weeks later, as well as a scholarship, and I’m sitting in their dorms procrastinating right now. So thanks for being awesome. High fives all around.”

So can we therefor infer that use of Jewelboxing is a sure-fire way of getting into your top pick for college? Well, it’s verifiably worked at least once before, so maybe that’s enough to start including in any promotional materials we print up.

Big thanks and congrats all around to Mason. And here’s to hoping palaces of higher learning are taking a close look at our customers in Minneapolis, New York, Boston, Columbus, Costa Mesa, Petaluma, Santa Monica, Vestal, Birmingham, Fortville, Loveland, Honolulu, Roy, Sunbury, Danbury, Kirtland, Brooklyn, and White Rock.

Spirited Ridiculousness

With Halloween just around the corner, we were hoping to find a holiday-specific Jewelboxing project to mark what is arguably the best holiday of the year. Fortunately, our hopes were realized as we caught word of creepy goings-ons in the Orlando suburb of Kissimmee, Florida (which, of course, has been regularly renowned for its “Very Spooky” listing in most national rankings). The purveyor of said horrors is one T.C. Durham, who was kind enough to take a break from his telling of ghastly tales to share with us his most recent project, the long-awaited sequel in his Trick No Treat film series. Here’s a description of the film:

“Zack (Tyler Zwick) returns to his home town and discovers the worlds last remaining ghost. Zack soon realizes that he must enlist the help of the old gang (T.C. Durham, Mike Chandler, Jacob Wilder) and kill the ghost before the ghost kills them!”

And here’s from T.C. about the project:

“Trick No Treat 3 is probably the most ridiculous project I’ve ever done. It’s random, offensive and over the top. It’s basically Ghostbusters on crack.

Trick No Treat started out as a short video intended to entertain guests at a Halloween party. For the first movie we had nothing. We had no budget and a low-quality camcorder. Now working on TNT3, we’ve upgraded to a high-definition camcorder and Final Cut Studio.

“We were worried that we would make this great movie and have to distribute it on the crappy CD cases you get at the drug store. Then, I discovered Jewelboxing (intro hallelujah chorus). With Jewelboxing’s sweet King cases, we were able to preserve the quality of the movie from beginning to end.

“We’re not professionals, we’re not art kids. We just wanted to make people laugh! The whole movie is one ridiculous event after another. But what I’ve learned from the few people that have screened our movie is that people are impressed when you take being funny seriously.”

A big spine-chilling thanks to T.C. for sharing the project with us and here’s to hoping hairs are raised and blood is curdled this week in Mt. Pleasant, Santa Monica, Louisville, New York, Singapore, Colorado Springs, Tacoma, Atlanta, Bolingbrook, Idaho Springs, Stevenson Ranch, Hagerstown, Toronto, Lubbock, Springfield, Long Beach, Houston, San Luis Obispo, and Amherstview.

What Tom Has Learned in Sunny California

Here in Chicago, the weather tends not to slowly transition between seasons, but rather decide on a sudden whim that it’s done with summer and now it’s fall, all in the blink of an eye. So now that we’re already in the thick of another grey autumn, with winter sure to follow even quicker, it’s nice to imagine those warmer states far to the west of us. Fortunately, we have California-based photographer Tom Vo to paint a picture for us of these sunny days and memorable moments:

“It was a sunny day on a beach in Aptos, CA where I was first inspired by my wedding photographer. Today, I am a San Jose-based wedding photographer and I’m still inspired every day by the different people I meet at each and every wedding. These weddings take me to beautiful wineries in Napa and the most luxurious hotels in San Francisco to the sandy beaches of Santa Cruz. What’s amazing is how much I’ve learned about life throughout this amazing journey. I’ve learned that a groom has a special look in his eyes as he sees his bride for the first time as she walks down the aisle. I’ve learned that big tough dads usually still tear up when they make a toast to their daughters. And I’ve learned that kids are happiest when they are dancing. So who gets the honor of helping the bride and groom capture these once-in-a-lifetime moments? I do.”

And here’s a bit about how Tom became a Jewelboxing user, for which we’re plenty pleased:

“I was up in S.F. with photographers, Gene High and Jose Villa at a workshop last year. That’s where I first heard about this thing called Jewelboxing. Jose raved about them and how he was using them. After checking them out on the website, I was convinced it was worth a try. After making my first one, I was completely hooked on how cool the final product looked. The templates make it easy to customize each layout and the perforations make it a piece of cake to assemble. I have mostly young, hip clients so the style of Jewelboxing suits them perfectly. They truly give us little guys a big professional look.”

Thanks to Tom for writing in and here’s to hoping all the guys, little, medium, or large, are looking pro in Los Angeles, Greenville, Houston, Idaho Springs, Middletown, Richmond, Chattanooga, Noblesville, Olive Brance, Tulsa, Providence, Ballwin, Fredericktown, New York, Chandler, Dallas, Manistee, Venice, Topanga, Springfield, Toronto, Brooklyn, and Renton.


Case Study 15: Ben Saunders

In all of the Case Studies we’ve put together over the years, we’ve talked to a whole slew of remarkable and interesting Jewelboxing users who have worked on some really stellar projects. But however fascinating those previous interview subjects might have been, we’re pretty sure that none to date have ever shared the kinds of experiences our current interviewee has had. Among countless notable achievements, Ben Saunders has explored the arctic, spoken as a guest at a TED Conference, chatted with Al Gore, and fought off a polar bear. In short, he’s a pretty interesting guy to talk to. Fortunately, Ben was very gracious to let us take a few minutes of his valuable time to do just that:

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I’m a polar explorer (for want of a better job description). I skied solo to the North Pole in 2004, an expedition Reinhold Messner called “ten times as dangerous as Everest”; I’m the third in history to reach the North Pole solo (no one’s done it since), the youngest by more than ten years, and I hold the record for the longest solo Arctic journey by a Briton. I’m 31 and based in London (I like extremes – big cities or complete wilderness!).

What was the draw for you to get out onto steep mountains and the otherworldly Arctic? Something to do with the variety of landscapes in Devon, where you grew up? Or just a desire to get out to where most other people wouldn’t dare?

I suspect it’s a combination of the above. I was lucky enough to spend my childhood in glorious countryside, with a degree of freedom that would seem alien to most kids today. But I think I’m a frustrated astronaut as well — I spent as much time watching Star Wars and geeking out in front of my Acorn Electron as I did climbing trees, riding my bike and hiking through fields.

As a follow-up, where did the idea come from to start skiing in areas like the Arctic? You just randomly picked it? That sort of terrain has always appealed to you? Or you saw that there had only been a very small group to ever attempt certain crossings and you wanted to try and get included on that list and beat some records in the process?

I was enthralled by stories of adventure — on the high seas, at high altitude and at high latitudes — when I grew up. I thought I’d end up being a mountaineer, but the polar regions seemed to hold an even more rarified challenge.

How did you make the move into becoming a professional explorer?

My first polar expedition was in 2001 with Pen Hadow. He was an incredible mentor, and despite not reaching the Pole that year, it was an immense and invaluable learning curve. I never imagined then that this would turn into a full-time career, but the reality of juggling training and fundraising, and organising highly-specialised logistics and gear meant that any sort of sensible job was out of the question from then on. I’ve been professional for eight years now, though for much of that time I was utterly broke.

Can you describe the training processes for your expeditions, climbs, marathons? Anything unique that you’ve come up with that feels like it gets your particularly ready for such extreme tests of endurance?

I do a significant amount of endurance training — mostly running, cycling (on and off-road), roller-skiing and hiking and XC skiing if I can escape London at weekends. There’s some weight training too, heavy Olympic-style stuff. Many outdoorsy types loathe the gym, but I’ve always enjoyed weight training. It’s helpful to have good mental reference points that you can fall back on in the major expeditions — times when you’ve suffered and had to dig deep — so I seek these out when I’m training.

It’s easy to get focused on the exciting parts of your expeditions, but what sort of work goes on behind the scenes in getting all the other million details taken care of, like funding and booking flights and locating equipment, etc.?

It’s like any other business — there’s a stack of mind-numbing admin that goes hand-in-hand with what I do. Despite the job title, much of my time is spent at a desk, in front of a screen and a keyboard, just like most people. I have a full-time assistant, Andy Ward, and he’s a master of juggling the strangest combinations of things — one minute it’s booking flights or hotels for speaking engagements, the next it’s a conference call to the owner of an icebreaker in Australia.

Speaking of equipment, I’m sure what you pack very carefully before hitting the Arctic. Anything interesting in your bag? Items combined to shave off a few pounds?

There’s nothing extraneous, really. I get obsessed by gram-shaving. I spent hours finding the world’s lightest titanium spoon (a titanium spork, actually, shipped over from the US) and I’ll trim labels from clothing and file down or drill out anything I can get my hands on. I did take a small teddy bear, Barnaby, on my solo North Pole speed record attempt last year. He was given to me by a school, he’s pretty lightweight, and he doesn’t complain much.

When you’re out there on the ice, skiing for nine hours per day, what do you think about? Is it complete focus or does the solitude and huge expanse of nothingness let your mind wander a bit?

On solo expeditions, part of you has to be focussed the whole time as there’s a lot to juggle — navigation, looking out for polar bears, judging ice and weather conditions, timing breaks for food and rehydration, etc. — but part of your mind is free to wander, particularly after the first week or so and you start to get into a routine. I found the quality of my memory improved dramatically in that kind of isolation. We’re all subject to constant stimulus and demands nowadays — email, phone calls, meetings, Twitter, RSS feeds, Facebook status updates, social events — and being removed from all that is remarkably liberating.

Since you’ve done a lot of solo expeditions around the Arctic, after looking at the great photos and the video you have on your site, a thought came to mind: who shot those? Some of them look like you were holding the camera but others look like maybe a photographer flew in to grab a couple of quick snapshots?

There’s certainly no one flying in! The best photos were mostly taken by a great friend, Martin Hartley. Usually we’ll spend a day or two taking hi-res sponsor and media shots somewhere in the high Arctic before I’m actually dropped to start my expedition, and he’s usually on the ski-plane or helicopter that takes me out to the start point. I’m obsessive about saving weight, so there’s no way I’d take a digital SLR on an unsupported expedition. But I do take a small digital compact and many of the photos on my site are my own.

You mention that your first time out in 2001, attempting to ski from Russia to the North Pole, you and your expedition partner survived a polar bear attack. Any advice on how one does that?

You have to stand your ground and convince the bear that you’re bigger and scarier than it is. We had a Russian shotgun, but it jammed five times before my teammate fired a shot into the air to scare it away.

Besides your harrowing adventures, you also spend some of your time as a motivational speaker, talking to schools and companies across the world. How do you apply what you’ve been through out there in the dangerous wild to students or people who spend most of their time in climate-controlled, polar bear-free offices?

I’m lucky enough to be doing professionally what I dreamt of doing when I was a kid, so I talk about the importance of dreaming big, of perseverance, dedication, dealing with failure, ignoring nay-sayers and doubters, and of making the most of the 650,000 hours that make up the average lifetime. I’m certainly not encouraging people to go out and buy skis and a sled and do anything daft like me, but I think that we all have our own North Poles — and if my story is about anything, it’s about pursuing what you’re passionate about to the best of your ability.

You’ve written pieces in books for Lonely Planet and Worldchanging and have listed on your site that your own book is due out this year. Anything you can tell us about that?

Not much, other than that it won’t be out until next year now (2010). Watch my site!

We were really happy to find that you’re using Jewelboxing to package your speaking showreel. It’s a collection of your talks? Or the promo video you have up?

We used Jewelboxing for a new speaking showreel (it’ll be up on the site soon). The problem is that it’s been far too popular! Everyone we’ve given a copy to has been blown away by the quality of the packaging and has asked us to send more. Andy (my assistant and expedition Operations Director) is becoming a dab hand at printing and folding.

When you’re back home and not right in the thick of a project, or you just need a few minutes to yourself, what do like to do to relax? Or does your relaxation involve just slightly-less-tiring training?

I have a problem with the whole work/life boundary thing, in that I don’t see what I do as a job, so I never really take time out. I can’t think of a single day in the last six or seven years when I haven’t done some form of work towards my future expedition goals. I’m not sure that’s entirely healthy, but I like to relax by reading, watching movies, and (believe it or not) tinkering with web design. My own site is homemade and I’ve built sites for a few friends over the years. I guess I have the idea of “job” and “hobby” the wrong way around, but when I’m not flat-out with polar expeditions, I get an odd sense of enjoyment from sitting in front of a text editor and working out CSS glitches, or playing with Javascript. It’s enormously satisfying, like mastering any other discipline, like bonsai, or building model boats out of matchsticks.

You’ve said that you have three major expeditions coming up over the next three years. Can you give us a sneak peek at what you have planned? Anything else coming up that you’re excited about?

Yes, three huge projects. Solo and unsupported speed record attempts on both Poles in December this year (South) and March next year (North). Only one person in history, the Norwegian Borge Ousland, has reached both Poles solo, so I could be the second. And then in 2011-12 will be arguably the most ambitious polar expedition in a century: the Scott Antarctic Expedition. It’s the first return journey to the South Pole on foot and, at 1,800 miles and four months, the longest unsupported polar journey in history.

Case Study 12: Tony Hernandez and Hephaestus: A Greek Mythology Circus Tale

While all of our Case Study subjects have crafted some truly incredible pieces of work, from motion graphics to documentary films to new typefaces, nearly all of it was created in a stationary position and in front of computers. But that trend ends here, as we recently got the chance to talk to Tony Hernandez, lifelong circus performer and creator of Hephaestus: A Greek Mythology Circus Tale, a remarkable piece of theater that blends circus acts with a solid script — the Wall Street Journal said it was “explosive, dangerous and dazzling” and Variety said in its review “it’s a pretty rare show that feels successfully directed at both family crowds and hipsters.” Tony has also used Jewelboxing to help promote the show and we’re thrilled to be included in what’s sure to be a meteoric rise to the top.

Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you got involved in the theatrical circus world?

I was born and raised in the circus, literally. Actually my family was touring with the circus when my mother was pregnant with me and we were on our way to our home in Sarasota, FL when she couldn’t hold me in anymore, so I was born in Dubuque, Iowa. I then grew up with my family traveling the world and learning the family business, which meant becoming an acrobat and a juggler. By age 6, I was the little star in the family act. I was featured on Captain KangarooKids World, and other children’s programs (you can actually find the Capt. Kangaroo one on YouTube). After we finished a 5 year run with Ringling Bros., I was 17 and bored. I knew I wanted something else in my life, so I left the the road to go to a community college. After a year of that, I knew it wasn’t for me, so I moved to Chicago where my sister had a circus school. I taught for a while and fell in love with the city. The first day I was here in ’96, I went to a friend of my sister’s house where they were having a reading of a movie called Since You Been Gone. It was the whole ensemble of Lookingglass Theatre Company including a then VERY popular David Schwimmer of the TV show Friends. I got to know Lookingglass very well and they kind of took me in like family and eventually made me a member of the company. Since then I have done a dozen productions with them as an actor, director, writer, choreographer, and producer.

You’re from the Hernandez Troupe and your wife Lijana is from the world famous Wallenda family — hoping that it’s more interesting than “oh, just at a bar after work one night,” how did you two meet one another?

Lijana and I met when she was seven and I was nine. Our families worked together in a circus one year, but our parents knew each other before we were born…ew this sounds like a planned wedding — it was not, I assure you. Anyways, we started dating years later and her parents were, like, “Well, if you’re gonna date our daughter, you need to learn to walk the highwire.” So I did (they weren’t gonna scare me away that easily). We got married in our twenties and I stole her away and brought her to Chicago. We do still work with her family once in awhile. In 2001, we went to Japan with her family and broke a Guinness world record with an eight person pyramid on the highwire. Yeah, never a dull moment in that family!

I’d wager that most people don’t have any idea of how someone gets into the circus world other than how they’ve been informed by movies and books and the idea that you have to run away from home at ten years old and ride the rails with a traveling circus. Is it something someone who doesn’t have a family background in the circus can pick up?

Absolutely, anyone who has a desire and a good work ethic can train and run away to join the circus at any age. It’s called cleaning elephant poop. Just kidding. Actually, like I said, my sister has a circus school here in Chicago called The Actors Gymnasium. And anyone, at any age, can train there. Some people go to just train because it’s a great workout — it works muscles you don’t even know you have. Others take classes with the goals of joining a circus or Cirque Du Soleil. Still others are actors trying to learn how to act from the neck down.

Can you tell us about your latest show, Hephaestus?

Hephaestus: A Greek Mythology Circus Tale (its full title) is adapted from the myth of Hephaestus. It is the tale of the infant hurled from Mount Olympus by his mother, Hera, when he was a baby because she was embarrassed by his ugliness and his disfigurement (my wife Lijana plays Hera,and I play Hephaestus). He crashes to the earth, fully grown, but has his legs rendered useless on impact. Hephaestus survives and teaches himself the art of the blacksmith, crafting magnificent works of iron and metal. In time, his abilities allow him to bring his silver statues to life to aid him in his forge. When his skills are perfected, Hephaestus begins the journey to Mt. Olympus to claim his throne as the God of the Forge. Along the way he meets fantastic humans and gods, all portrayed by world-class circus artists and athletes, including members of the Wallenda family, Cirque du Soleil, Blue Man Group, and others. At the end of the show, we do a Wallenda trademark pyramid on the highwire where Hephaestus and Ares (God of War) carry Hera, perched on her throne, across the highwire. Our story is narrated by a 10 year old girl who is reading herself to sleep and trying to drown out the sounds of her feuding parents. We see her imagination come to life.

Were you interested in mythology before writing the show or were you looking for something that you felt would fit well with mixing in your circus talents and this story seemed to help blend the two?

Well it’s actually a little bit of both. I did always like mythology — my mom would read Greek myths with me as a child. But I was actually looking for a story to mix with circus, partly because I was frustrated with Cirque Du Soleil’s vague story lines. And at Lookingglass we do rich story lines with little circus, so I wanted to pull everything closer to the middle. It was Lookingglass’s artistic director, David Catlin who brought the story of Hephaestus to my attention. I did a little research and found that it was as if it was written for me. It had everything I wanted to do, with the freedom of taking some liberties because it’s a myth. I wanted to use amazing circus artistry, elements of dance, live percussive drumming, but I didn’t want to use all those elements just for the sake of doing them; it had to fit the story. I was very cautious not to be like those other shows that leave you feeling like you missed the point.

When you come up with an idea like this, how do you go about assembling it and making plans for what will go on when and where? And how do you go about rehearsing?

Well luckily I am a member of an AMAZING collaborative theatre company at Lookingglass. I wrote the very first draft of the play and then I passed it to a few ensemble members, including Heidi Stillman who would end up being my co-director and co-writer. A handful of us picked at it for a while, including David Catlin, Kerry Catlin, John Musial, myself and Heidi. Catlin decided to put Hephaestus in Lookingglass’ Glassworks program, which gave us a little bit of money and allowed us to have workshops, readings, and get the story up on its feet.

The show features former members of Cirque Du Soleil and the Blue Man Group — how did you approach them to come join the show? And what’s a cast party or a casual summer barbecue like with that crowd?

Growing up in the circus, my “little black book of performers,” like Phil Smith of Lookingglass likes to call it, has grown quite a bit. I am fortunate to have met and performed with some amazing artists. And if I didn’t know them, I knew someone who did, it seemed. For instance, when I wrote the part about Aphrodite being a beautiful handbalancing/ contortionist I wrote it with this amazing women in mind named Olga Pikhienko (who had become a star at Cirque Du Soeil). It was kind of like writing a part in a movie with someone like Natalie Portman in mind, while you kind of know it’s not very realistic that she’ll do it. But I asked her and to my surprise she said yes. And on the Blue Man side, one of my best friends, Jonathan Taylor, who is a Blue Man, and helped me design the drumming side of things, and actually took a break from Blue Man to be in the first incarnation of Hephaestus. So luckily all my old friends and family were just eager to support my vision.

As far as cast parties go, I’m sorry to report that they are pretty mellow. Well there was this one time after a show that we all went to my friend Billy Dec’s club called Rockit Bar & Grill and we had our own roped off corner. Olga was doing handstands on the pool table and the whole club was cheering…ok, so we can get a little crazy.

Now that you’ve performed at the Village Theatre in Detroit and the famous Lookingglass Theatre here in Chicago, what’s the next step for the show? Long term goals for it?

We have been very fortunate with the success of the show and have had great reviews. Now we are trying to find a theatre space to have an open run somewhere, something like Blue Man where we run until audiences stop coming (which they never will because the show rocks!). We are also talking about a tour as well. Long term goal would have the show sitting somewhere running, while another version of the show is touring. We are currently shopping the show around to producers in New York City and other big cities, including Chicago, of course. You can look for the show to hopefully happen here later this year, or maybe early 2010.

You’re using Jewelboxing to package promotional materials for the show. Why Jewelboxing and any notes on your experience with using it?

Well, like our production, we feel like Jewelboxes are different than anything else out there, and they really make you stand out in a crowd. On the design end of things, at the moment I’m a little bit of a one man show, meaning I took all the photos you see on and in the case, designed the images, designed the box with a friend Mark Stevens (a designer who actually told me about you guys), and even designed and edited the DVD. So it’s been very helpful that the Jewelboxing templates make it easy and it’s great how simple it is to snap it all together. It really is a great design. Actually, they are printing as we speak!

As an aside, did you and your wife see the documentary about Philippe Petit, Man on Wire? If so, what did you think about it? Any of that rebellious streak in you?

We did! We saw it in NYC on opening night. It’s truly a great piece of art that moves you and isn’t that what great art is supposed to do? Lijana also bought the DVD for me for Christmas and I have already watched it like 5 more times. I just love how passionate he is about what he does. I do have a very rebellious streak, but whenever possible I enjoy getting paid for my daredevilry, not put in jail. I do love that about him and respect him very much.

Lastly, what’s next for you, or how would you like 2009 to pan out?

I am working on a project with Redmoon Theatre of Chicago and if all goes as planned, you will hear about it. I am also writing a few new things, one is a screenplay, and the other is a play that hopefully will make it’s way through the Glassworks and onto the Lookingglass stage. Also, Lijana and I are going to be performing in Tampa at the Superbowl on February 1st with my company Silverguy Entertainment (we specialize in special events), which should be fun. I also have some other big projects lining up for this year, but it’s probably a little too early to talk about them just yet…

Past Preservation

It’s always cool when you learn something new about a friend. You think you know them pretty well, but then they surprise you with something they’ve never mentioned before, like “I won the state archery championship in high school” or “I just finished writing my first novel. It’s about bees, which I’ve been utterly fascinated by since childhood.” Such was the case with our good friend Andrew Huff, who has not only been a web ally over at Gaper’s Block, but has helped us over the years with projects of ours like Layer Tennis and The Show, as well as coming along with us on more than a couple of trips to the bar. But until recently, we didn’t know about a project he’d used Jewelboxing for and once we’d heard all the details, we asked him if he wouldn’t mind sharing them on the blog. He agreed and so here’s the whole story from Andrew himself:

“At Christmas in 2001, I brought a mini-casette recorder out to my grandparents’ house in Scottsdale, Arizona, to interview them about their youth. My grandmother was born in Italy and immigrated to the US when she was 8, passing through Ellis Island on her way to Chicago. My grandfather was born here, fought in the Pacific Theater during World War II, and came home to jobs ranging from running a small trucking firm to working for the City of Chicago’s Recorder of Deeds to owning a nightclub. He was the single best storyteller I’ve ever known, and their life together was so rich that I wanted to make sure at least part of it was recorded for posterity.

“I recorded about three hours of tape that Christmas. In between stories of my grandparents’ childhood in Chicago’s Little Italy, their courtship and my grandfather’s experiences in Guadal Canal and after, I also captured the rest of the family filling in details and asking questions. On one tape, my grandmother walks through the steps of making stuffed artichokes, and then we talk about life after marriage, the move from the Old Neighborhood, and grandpa’s trucking company and the uniform company he drove for for 20 years.

“In 2003, I brought my recorder with me again. This time, it was to record my grandfather one more time: he was in the last stages of lung cancer, so it was one last opportunity to ask him questions. He told me about the bar he ran, and about the move to Arizona in the early ’90s. Three weeks later, he passed away.

“The tapes sat in my office for several years, until my grandmother expressed interest in hearing them again. That spurred me to finally have them digitized. As I prepared the files for Grandma, I realized that the rest of the family would be interested in copies, too. So a grand Christmas present project was hatched.

“I knew right off the bat that I wanted to use Jewelboxing cases for the CDs. They’re beautiful presentation pieces, and the custom templates allowed me to easily create nicely designed inserts for them. I scanned photos from my mother and my collection, produced layouts in Photoshop using the templates, and printed them up. Unfortunately, I ran out of time before Christmas to actually burn the CDs. Fortunately, I was able to print the CD labels and take them with me, burning the discs and slapping on labels while listening to the recordings with my grandmother.

“The four-CD set turned out beautifully, and fits perfectly on the shelf alongside DVDs and books. My family loved the gift, of course. I’m looking forward to repeating the project with my dad’s side of the family this summer.”

Thanks very much to Andrew and here’s to hoping for a few surprises in Arlington, Austin, Cupertino, Orsay, Launceston, Lexington, Mountain View, Old Buckenham, Belfast, Wimbledon, Surbiton, Berkeley, Oslo, Guildford, Burbank, Chicago, Brooklyn, Montreal, Meerbusch, Great Neck, Richmond, Tonsberg, New York, Woburn, Elk Grove, London, Amsterdam, Seattle, Helsinki, Stockbridge, Bonita Springs, and Edmonton.

Sara France, the Apple of Our Eye

While we think that everyone who writes into us about their Jewelboxing projects are a big deal, rare is the case when we talk to someone who has been selected for the highly-coveted spot in an Apple testimonial. So it was with Sara France, owner of the aptly named Sara France Photography, based out of San Diego, California. Sara’s long been a Jewelboxing customer and we’ve been thrilled from start that she thinks so highly of the system to include it in the process of her attention-grabbing work (she even sells her own Jewelboxing templates, should you be interested in using her photos). You’ll learn a lot about Sara in the Apple profile, so make sure you read that. For the short summary and the reason she chose to go with Jewelboxing, here’s straight from the her keyboard to you:

“I’m a Southern California based photographer, capturing weddings, portraiture, and commercial photography all over the world, landing features in many publications including Modern Bride, Ceremony Magazine and San Diego Style Weddings. I think my passion for people, photography and business have created the success I’ve had with Sara France Photography, which runs with just two people, myself and an associate photographer.”

“Jewelboxing was such an obvious choice for me with the unique, clean, and modern look of the cases along with the system being completely customizable, allowing us to make each case unique to the client without costing us a lot of time totally rebuilding the layout — our clients love that. I am very particular about products that leave my studio because every one of them is a marketing piece for my business and the Jewelboxing has the same high quality in their product and service that I demand for my clients. I created my own layout in pages for the DVD cases and they are such a breeze to print and assemble. The people at Apple were just as impressed with the finished product as I was and decided to feature my cases and business on their site.”

Here’s to hoping profiles are being drafted as we type this for all those in Savannah, Yonkers, Chicago, Waterloo, Atlanta, Jersey Shore, Jeffersonville, Toronto, Cincinnati, San Luis Obispo, Pasadena, Southfield, Brooklyn, Mansfield, New York, Valley Center, Lake Oswego, Fresno, Sunnyvale, Petaluma, Columbus and Minneapolis.

Sikhs Hit the Streets


Earlier this week, we received a note from Jewelboxing user Sartaj Singh Dhami, letting us know about his latest project, a documentary he had produced about the Sikh religion. We’re all big film buffs here and we’ve made a few shorts in our time as well, so we’re always really happy when someone like Sartaj thinks enough of our cases to package his hard work. And it’s all the more flattering when it’s a film with an important message. Here’s Sartaj’s report:

Sikh on the Street, created by my production company, Dashmesh Pictures, is a short film that challenges the perceptions of everyday Americans to what they think of those who don a turban and beard. Are they Muslims? Are they Arabs? Or are they members to another unique community?”

“The film asks people on the street who the Sikhs are. Unknown to most, 99% of all individuals encountered in the western world that have turbans and beards are adherents to the Sikh religion, a monotheistic faith based in the Punjab region of India. Since the unfortunate attacks of 9/11, many Sikhs have encountered unwanted backlash due to their unique identities by being mistaken as followers, or adherents, to Islamic radical terrorists. Filmed in 2005, Sikh on the Streetchallenges the everyday Joe to see if they know who the Sikhs are after large amounts of outreach had been done by the Sikh community.”

“With the recent success of film, such as being shown in several film festivals and incorporated into curriculums at Iowa State and Harvard University, a new level of professionalism was needed to be added that was also economical. Jewelboxing allowed for this by providing the tools needed in order to create DVD box art and casing with simplicity. By using the templates and a standard inkjet printer, our cases were created with ease, allowing for a professional look, within a reasonable budget, that promotes recipients to actually open and learn more about the project. Thanks Jewelboxing!”

Here’s to hoping that all sorts of people are being correctly identified and having their work appreciated in Gilbert, New York, St. Paul, Milaca, San Jose, Grand Rapids, Parma, Minneapolis, Fair Lawn, South Miami, Great Neck, Riverside, Kansas City, Baton Rouge, North Vancouver, Lakewood, Los Angeles, Sterling Heights, Cleveland and Salt Lake City.

Drawing the Lines

Dawson, here at the studio, always has his eye out for groups putting together something particularly interesting. The other day, he passed an e-mail reading, “Hey, check these guys out.” Check them out we did. They’re the Vilppu Store, selling educational DVDs made by famous artist and go-to animation expert, Glenn Vilppu. They’ve just recently started using Jewelboxing King cases to package their collections of multiple training discs and we got the whole story from Samantha Vilppu who runs the shop (along with being Glenn’s daugher-in-law):

“Glenn is world renowned for teaching artists, especially animators and CG artists, how to draw. His main areas of emphasis are in life drawing, the human figure and animals. In the 1970’s, he went to work at Disney as an artist. While there he quickly moved into a position of teaching the animators there how to draw. This evolved into him setting the standard for the animation industry to this day. He’s a teacher’s teacher, meaning that many people now teaching drawing or animation originally learned from him. His books are used as textbooks in many art schools across the country, and are on the list of “must haves” by the animation studios. Many of the art school libraries have his entire collection of DVDs. In fact, many artists are collectors of every educational product he has ever produced! Which brings us to why we started using Jewelboxing.”

“The regular cases that his individual DVDs had been packaged in were not ideal for the library shelves, either in the schools or in the private libraries of artists, where they like to show off their collection of all the DVDs in our bulk sets . Since we took over the store, we have been steadily improving the Vilppu image and branding and decided that we would upgrade to Jewelboxing King cases for those clients who purchased the full collections. We considered other alternatives, but decided that Jewelboxing would give us an edge of quality that the other options didn’t. Since using Jewelboxing, we have seen the sales of our sets (in which the cases are included at no extra charge) increase dramatically – in fact we have seen the two best months out of 2 years already this year, because of the increased sales of these special collections.”

Here’s to hoping everything is looking perfectly illustrated with all the characters in Austin, Montgomery, Temecula, Housatonic, Chicago, Atlanta, Scottsdale, Santa Barbara, Highland Falls, Los Angeles, Hollywood, Toronto, Spingville, Gainesville, Venice, Santa Monica, Morrisville, New York, Davis, La Palma, Brampton, Mililani, Vancouver, New Brunswick, Nisswa, Rochester and Fairfield.

Learning the Ropes, One Case at a Time

A lot of Jewelboxing users have design in their blood. These are the kinds of people who, even with both arms tied behind their back, a blindfold firmly in place, and equipped solely with a dull black crayon, could come up with something that’d make you fall over and weep from jealousy. And when they stick their work into one of our cases, it’s like a perfectly fitted glove. Just take a look at everything we’ve highlighted in our Examples + Inspirations page. Now there’s good design.

But what about for the writers out there, or the singers and bands, or that Joe Average who loves great design, but couldn’t draw a stick figure to save their life. We got to thinking about that when we found this posting on the Kermit the Blog about a new father trying to put together a nice looking compilation of moments from his daughter’s birth:

“I go nuts with these little projects and they get away from me like a tornado on a dog leash. Now I’m designing the packaging via Jewelboxing. This kind of thing is always the hardest part for me, as the visual arts kick my ass. I am the graphic world’s bitch. I looked at the examples and inspirations page at Jewelboxing I’m having a hard time even duplicating the designs I’m blatantly ripping off (hey, at least I admit it). I know I can just pop a pretty photo up with some text, but my nature won’t accept such simplicity. So, who wants to point me in the right direction? Know of any “design for the unapologetically untalented” websites I can crib from? I could ask you to advise me on choosing a color palate and such, but I’ll keep it pretty simple: How do I make it not look like ass?”

We feel for the guy, we really do. And we’ve gotten word of these types of frustrations more than once, from people who really want to use the System, but are a little intimidated. So here, for the benefit of those-less-confident, are some quick pointers.

  • Simple design can often say a lot more than a huge batch of stuff all crammed together, though it can also have the opposite effect and look like you just didn’t spend much time on your project. Think through the message you’re trying to convey and see what works.
  • People who are first getting used to their design software, be it Photoshop or otherwise, often want to try using every single effect filter. This just announces to the world, faster than anything else, “I just got Photoshop and I don’t know how to use it yet!” Try getting that out of your system. Learn what some of those other buttons, tools and options do, instead of just text and the eraser.
  • If you’ve got a photo you want to use in your project, instead of just plopping it on the template as-is, tinker with it and see what happens. Blow it up, crop a section, run it off the page so just a sliver remains when printed. Maybe you’ll see something that works great.
  • Don’t use black and white. Use some light color anywhere you’d like to use white and some darker color anywhere you’d like to use black. A lot of early designers think black and white will immediately equal “artistic,” but instead wind up with “bland.” Color is what we’re instinctively drawn toward. Use it!
  • Vary your color pallet. Sure, you want your Christmas Memories 2002 DVD to be red and green, but instead of using those exact colors, try the varieties therein, such as tomato red and forest green.
  • Chose your typeface carefully. If you’re hinging everything on some fancy font, then your design probably isn’t going to be all that successful. Simple typefaces, laid out creatively, with some attention put toward details like letter and line spacing, can mean the difference between minimalism and boringism. Not to mention an escape from the gaudiness of a comic sans binge.
  • Maintain a hierarchy in your design. The biggest thing should be the most important, the item that says the most about your project. The next largest thing, slightly less important. The smallest item, the least.
  • Try to work with balance, not equality. If you’re using three photos, use one large and two small. Or use them all the same size, but with something larger to help balance them out. Lots of things the exact same size makes for confusion. Same thing with color: if you have a lot of dark stuff in one area, balance it out with an equal amount of lighter stuff in another.
  • Steal, steal, steal. Every designer gets their ideas from somewhere else. The only trick is that the good designers lift ideas from the less-familiar. Take a look at the world around you, to nature or industrial design, and find something you like. Figure out what makes you like it. The color? The typography? Not only are you going to teach yourself some design ideas, and your abilities to incorporate them, but you’ll be learning what your “style” is too. That’s worth plenty.
  • Copywriting is sometimes overlooked by aspiring designers, but can be essential for a project. Often, it can even help to salvage a bland design as something written that’s clever and well-thought out can help excuse a poor layout, or even lighten the mood by poking fun at it. “I’m No Graphic Designer, But Get a Load of This DVD!”
  • If all else fails, always use the top secret design tools: kittens, rainbows, and unicorns.

Sure, that’s a lot of information to digest, but hopefully there’s some information there to put you on the right path to brilliant design. The best advice we always give to an aspiring designer to do is just learn limitations. Force yourself to use just one type size, one color, and one image until you’ve found something that works really well. It’s impossible to tell you how to get there, but even with a limited palette like that, you’ll eventually hit upon a moment of “a ha!” when everything clicks. Then you’ll have that concept in mind for future designs and away you go. We’ll be watching our backs.

Some of the finest designs we’ve ever laid our collective eyes on are coming out of Durham, Arlington, Midland, Rockford, Venice, New York, South Sioux City, Cambridge, Spokane, Frankfurt, Alexandria, Eindhoven, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Tulsa, Flagstaff, Salt Lake City, Manitowoc, and St. Morris.