Monday, October 15, 2012

Logos "in the wild" ... still weird to me

I still can't get used to seeing my Harrisburg Parks and Recreation soccer logos "in the wild". What began as a simple logo for my son's soccer team a few years ago grew into the opportunity to do logos for the big kids, too, and then evolved (with the assistance of at-that-time coordinator David Karpey) into the chance to design official logos for the Harrisburg Parks and Recreation sports programs.

Naturally, I started with soccer (as a fork of the adult league design I'd already done):

... then continued with baseball:

... and softball:

I never got around to finishing the flag football and basketball designs, and to be honest I haven't even noticed if the baseball and software designs ever got used. But it's kinda cool to see the two-color version of the soccer logo all over my town every Saturday of the Spring and Fall.

If anything, it's a great reminder of the many benefits of living in a smaller town, where unexceptional guys like myself can have opportunities of this sort to do something for the community simply for the love of it all: the love of a gracious God who bestows talent and desires that we serve Him and each other with it, the love of art, the love of the sport (and by "the sport" I mean, of course, soccer), and the love of the Harrisburg community.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Black Ninjas and White Tigers

This soccer season, my sons wound up on teams with opposing color schemes. My youngest son, Aidan, is a member of the White Tigers, who naturally have white jerseys with black highlights. Gavin, on the other hand, plays for the Black Ninjas and sports a black jersey with white highlights.

As in seasons past, I was interested in designing logos for the teams. And as in seasons past, I was motivated to actually do so and to get iron-on patches made up from the designs by my friend and fellow coach Wynee Bullerdick. Wynee and I have never coached together, but her son was a part of the Soccer Monsters team many seasons ago from which have launched several different coaches, teams ... and logo-lovers! So as in seasons past, Wynee offered to help fund the patch order in exchange for a share of the booty, patches she could distribute to her own similarly named teams in different age-bracketed leagues.

I did the Black Ninjas logo first. The whole black/white thing took me quickly to the Yin and Yang symbol. I wrestled a bit with using the symbol due to its connection with eastern religions, but the general concepts of balance in life and creation seemed universal enough. Besides, given that I was designing a logo for "ninja warriors", a graphic that was suitable for, say, Christian worship services was already out of reach. In the end, I offered only an incomplete yin-yang symbol.

The White Tigers design was much more difficult for me, just in terms of how tedious the work was. As I've mentioned before, I'm a total amateur at this stuff, using (or abusing?) amateur tools. No tablets with stylus input devices here. Those curves are all painfully hand-manipulated in a vector drawing application.

One thing I did this season differently than in previous ones was to avoid putting the team name in the design. I wanted to design something that was flexible enough to be reused by someone else in the future who might have a different team name altogether. This will likely be the approach I take from now on for these un-commissioned works.

If you're reading this and you have a team whose name fits, I'll be happy to sell you some of my leftover iron-on patches made from these designs! Email me at

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Phillie-area mission trip t-shirt

The ink had barely dried on my church youth group's recent lock-in t-shirts when the new Minister to Students, Trey Reid, was feeling out my interest in designing a shirt for a mission trip to the Philadelphia area. I love doing this stuff, so how could I resist?
When I think of Phillie, I think of war, revolution, liberty, freedom, etc. — you know, grade-school social studies material. From there it's but a teeny tiny cognitive step to themes revolving around the freedom that Christ offers to the believer. So that's where we went. Trey chose John 8:32 for the key verse:
Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
In terms of design constraints, Trey merely asked that the shirt be bright and absolutely not red, white, or navy blue (since it would be worn by the group as they toured Washington, DC).
As is common, I dragged my wife, Amy, into the process. We talked about various things and then independently toyed with some ideas. She was really big on the idea of using a postmark to get "Philadelphia" into the design; I was mostly thinking of ways to work a major landmark — say, the Liberty Bell — into it while incorporating the verse. When I combined our ideas, I was extremely pleased with the result:
As always, the original artwork is vector-based, infinitely scalable without quality degradation. And as always, if there happens to be someone out there who wants to recycle this design for some reason (hey, I wouldn't have believed it either were it not for prior experience), that's perfectly okay with me.
Here are some close-ups of the graphics:
My favorite subtlety is the way the postmark's curvy line calls to mind images of the U.S. flag, sitting right there behind the word "free". I wanted to ensure that "truth" and "free" were emphasized words, and took advantage of the common use of the plus sign (that is, a cross) as a conjuction. In a last-minute decision, I also inverted the Philadelphia skyline silhouette on the shirt back ("turning Phillie upside-down for Jesus!").
Feedback on the shirt has been positive, and Trey was kind enough to let Amy and I each one.  Here's a photo of the youth mission team wearing theirs:
(For those wondering, yes, I'm keenly aware of how dangerously close this shirt design comes to muddling religious and patriotic themes. In this instance, I accept that risk as a useful conversation starter.)

Monday, June 25, 2012


This week is Vacation Bible School (VBS) week at my church, which means my wife and kids are gone several weeknights in a row, and I've got about three hours to run errands child-free and enjoy some much-needed Mike time. Last night, I spent that time taking care of some stuff for the church and then playing soccer with other area soccer-loving adults. Two hours of 8 v. 8 recreational fun. In the rain. It was awesome.

Tonight, after a couple of not-so-exciting errands, I took a different course. I sat down at my music computer to record a song I composed two years ago. Typically, these short little sessions are just throw-away material -- opportunities for me to learn some new recording technique or test out some half-baked song ideas. But tonight's result was something I felt was worth keeping. And not just keeping, but sharing. So, here's the fruit of this evening's labor.

Download the MP3:

by: C. Michael Pilato

Father, please forgive my common heresy,
Where I picture You as merely a bigger sort of me.
But You are everything,
And in your grace I'm begging to remain.

Sometimes I'm afraid
With a fear of the unknown.
So I choose to do things my own way
And not the way You've shown.
But You are everywhere,
And when I call You promise you will come
And offer me some

Freedom from fear; freedom to love;
Freedom to search for You and all that You've spoken of;
Freedom to move slowly ever close...

Father, please forgive when
I shut my ears and eyes
To the many things You've promised
And I hear only lies.
You have always been,
And Truth is what You will forever be:
A Truth that offers me

Freedom from fear; freedom to love;
Freedom to search for You and all that You've spoken of;
Freedom to move slowly ever close,
And oh, the freedom to know You!
I obviously didn't go out of my way to doll up the recording. Very little equalization, and just some stock effects and judicious panning. But I was pretty pleased with some of the tones in the recording. My Taylor guitar really comes across well. And I had this odd idea of playing a tom drum with brushes which, I think, really paid off, offering both low- and higher-pitched attacks all in a single track. Fun stuff. I'd love to make a whole collection of stuff that feels this organic. Maybe after nine more years of VBSes, I'll have done exactly that!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Soccer Rockets, and the joining of the two sons

This past youth soccer season was a unique one for our family because Gavin and Aidan's ages aligned such that both of them could be on the same team. There are obvious practical benefits to this as a parent: you have half as many practices and matches to attend, infinitely fewer schedule conflicts to deal with, and only one team patch to design (if you're like me and simply can't make yourself stop doing that):

Fortunately, the benefits weren't limited to solely the practical ones. The Soccer Rockets (as the team was called) was a great group of kids from highly varied soccer backgrounds. It's pretty normal for coaches' kids to bring a good deal of experience to the field, and this was certainly the case for my boys and my assistant coach's son. Offsetting this were several players who'd never played the sport before, each bringing different levels of general athleticism, "coachability", natural hustle and aggression, etc. to the field. It was great to see all the players growing in their individual skill levels over the course of the season. But as I think back on the Soccer Rocket season (which, by the stats, was a pretty mediocre one), I'm thrilled by the evidence of the early stages of true team play.

At this age level, I'm pretty happy if I can get the players to pass the ball much at all. There's still such a tendency to want to keep the ball until it is taken off your feet, and to a point, that's no bad thing. As a coach, I want to tread carefully when instructing so that passing is understood as an advantageous and intentional offensive tactic, not just something you do when you're too scared to hold onto the ball yourself. Fortunately, several of the players "got it" and were starting to work in pairs and threesomes to move the ball around the field together. More surprising to me was that these young players (and these are kids under nine years old, mind you) were also beginning to openly communicate with each other on the field -- giving helpful direction to each other on set pieces and throw-ins, calling for passes, and so on.

So once again, another season gets filed in the history books, and we look forward to enjoying the summer break before doing it all over again in the fall, when Gavin will age up into the U11 (boys-only) league, and we'll be back to two practices and two games per week as a family. The single-team thing was definitely good while it lasted!

Monday, May 7, 2012

"Radical" t-shirts

I recently was asked to create another T-shirt design for my church's youth group's Disciple Now event. The event was ultimately downsized from a full-blown D-Now to a single-night lock-in, but as this was the first major event hosted under a new Minister to Students, we wanted to go "big" (or bigger, at least), so we sprung for the T-shirts anyway.

The theme was to be "Radical: Putting God First", with Deuteronomy 6:5 as the theme verse.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

I started as I always do: hand-drawn sketches, word maps, etc. The idea of swimming upstream (counter-culture, radical, etc.) appealed to me, especially given the symbolic connection between Christianity and fish. And I was searching for an iconic way to represent the "heart", "soul", and "strength" words. Here are some photos of those initial fiddlings:

I ended up not caring much for the winner's stage treatment of the three icons for the shirt back, so I just simplified those into three rounded icons, with a stylistic approach to the verse quote. (In fact, I got said stylistic approach from the way that block quotes are rendered by this very blog's templates!)

The front of the shirt came together pretty much like the sketch, except that I revisited the heart/soul/strength icons as watermarks, and added some grungy text:

Finally, here's the concept image I put together to "sell" the design to our pastor and youth leadership:

If you're looking for a shirt design along a similar vein and wish to recycle this one, I am, to put it rather concisely, quite okay with that. Just ask me via email for the artwork files.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

"Pause" t-shirts, revisited ... by someone else!

A few months ago, I got an unexpected email from a lady named April Buse:


We are from a church in South Dakota that puts on an annual winter retreat, much like the one you mentioned in your blog. It just so happens that the theme we chose this year is "pause." As we were googling images for our t-shirt designs, we saw your t-shirt design and LOVE the design, especially the glow in the dark GOD. We were wondering if you would mind if we used your creative design for our retreat t-shirts this year. So that we don't steal your original design, we would be willing to tweak it a little bit. Please let us know your thoughts as soon as possible as our winter retreat is in mid February. Thank you and God bless!

To say that I was surprised would be quite an understatement. I am both honored and bewildered that some random person would stumble across a graphic design via my blog (you can see the post yourself at and want to use the artwork. I mean, when I wrote that post, some part of me was thinking, "Hey, this idea seemed to work out well for us, and maybe somebody else will be inspired by it, too." But did I think that would really happen? Not hardly. I'm fairly certain that my blog readership peaks out at, like, three people. And I'm one of them.

After the wave of amazement and gratitude passed over, I confess I had less pleasant thoughts:

  • April was asking permission to reuse the design. That's great, and polite, I suppose. But why was it necessary? Because we live in a culture where reuse, remixing, and recycling of ideas has become a bad thing that must be policed.
  • She actually used the word "steal", as if her printing t-shirts would suddenly cause my own to disappear, the artwork files to be deleted from my computers, and the screens at the shirt printers' warehouse to turn to dust. I don't fault her for this — rather, I fault the loud voices in our culture that would have us to believe that copying is theft. (Psssst... it's not.)
  • She used the term "original design". Now, nearly anybody would have used the same term. But what is originality? Is not every single thing of man's making just a remix of what can be found in nature already? Just a new spin on what God has already designed?

Fortunately, my grumpiness passed quickly and I was able to return back to amazement and gratitude. "Sure you can use the design," I replied, and even sent April my original artwork files. This was beneficial, as it turns out that some changes to the artwork were necessary to accommodate the specific design elements that her group needed for their shirts. I provided all the help I could, wished her luck, and that was that. Time passed and I eventually forgot about the exchange altogether.

Well, I heard back from April the other day. She mailed to say that the shirts were a hit, and even sent me a photo of her group wearing them:

The kids in the group even chose a day to wear the shirts to school as a way to generate buzz and maybe kickstart conversations with friends about the shirt's meaning and the Gospel message. How cool is that?!

If you are a generator of creative works — especially someone who might be inclined to credit God for your talent or claim to produce those works for His service — I beg you to consider the negative impact of restrictive licensing of those works. I beg you to understand that a copied idea only makes it bigger, makes it more impactful, makes it more influential; it doesn't take anything away from the "original". And finally, I beg you shoot straight with your consumers: if you do what you do merely to cash a royalty check, please don't call that an act of worship.