It’s Easy To Do Nothing…

I have written in the past about how satisfying it is to do something new. To go out and create your destiny. What may have been mentioned in between the lines is how difficult that type of activity can be. It's easy to do nothing and watch life roll by.

Case in point, my latest adventure is rewiring my 1956 Ford Fairlane. Let it be known, I have never, ever wired, or even thought I about wiring a car. An entire car.

After three months of soldering terminals, following the wiring diagram, getting help from friends, and reading the instructions, I was ready to put the car back together. Heck, even taking the gauge pod off the dash was a challenge! We tested all the circuits fixed a few minor grounding issues and ready to put the final assembly back on. The light switch on the dash, just above the key switch has been in and out a couple of times during this procedure. I was getting pretty good at using the needle nose pliers in place of a special tool to install the light switch bezel.

It was all in, and before I bolted the gauge pod in, one final test to make sure the connections are live. I plug in the positive cable on the battery in the trunk, go to the key switch, turn the key and I see a spark under the dash. Hmm. I thought, I pull the dash panel out and inspect, nothing, turn the key again and the dash lights go on. YEAH!

Then I heard the pop, sizzle, and screech as the cabin filled with white smoke!

I ran to the trunk turned off the battery, grabbed the fire extinguisher, stood at the ready as the smoke clears, I realize there was no fire.

Whew! But what happened?

I have to say, it was pretty exciting to know that this months long project was finally over and I can get back in and mash down on the right pedal. My emotional state ran from excitement and joy to utter disappointment, anger, fear and depression. All I could think was about all this work I have done and now back to square one. I told my wife that I can easily go from anger, upset to being grateful and proud that I did the right thing in a time of panic to turn off the power source. It is easy to be angry and upset, but that can lead you down a spiral that would be difficult to come out of. I must, MUST stay in the grateful and proud space in my mind.

This my friends, is the lesson in this long story. A lesson on why, exactly WHY we do things we have never done before, to see things differently, to allow our minds to go into a creative space. A space that allows us to solve problems before they arrive, and have the knowledge to take care of the problem in the event it happens. Sure it's difficult, but we are not leaves in the stream. We are mighty oaks. Oaks that can withstand these emotional tidal waves. To know in an instant what is best to do. We learn from these instances not only about the task at hand, but how we react. How we respond. This is how we learn to act under pressure. How we solve complex issues and if we can't foresee a problem, at least we will have a contingency plan.

What near catastrophic thing have you encountered? How has that event prepared you for unforeseen circumstances?

Oh, so what happened? Apparently the carrier for the light switch was just touching the Ignition terminal on the key switch, shorting it out and causing a ton of power to go through the 10awg Ignition wire from the starter solenoid to the key switch. Fortunately, the casing on the Ron Francis Wiring and the quick action to kill the power saved from a total melt down.

Let The Kid Do It


I am still in shock and awe.

It was a couple of years ago on Easter weekend, when my Nephew Marcus told me that his school doesn't have a woodshop, metalshop or even auto shop! How can this be true. Apparently the local school districts have replaced the shop classes with computer labs. The kids are editing video for Christ's sake! So, I said, well, let's make a video together. Little did he know, we were going to record him working in the garage turning some wrenches.

Needless to say, he took to it so much he didn't want to do the video. Here's an article from the day in the garage.

So I ask each and every one of you. Bring that kid into the garage. Uncles, listen up! When your niece or nephew come over for a holiday, get them in the garage. Throw a hammer or wrench in their hands. Do some fix-it job in the house, or on the car, bike, bicycle, anything. I am sure there is a project or two in there.

You will have the time of your life and they will have a life time of learning.

Watch for Blacktop Magazine as we focus on ways the automotive industry is creating programs specifically designed to fuel the passion of the younger generation. Through scholarships, programs like "Hot Rodders of Tomorrow" and more.

Breaking Through Writers Block

breaking-blocksFor many of us Writers Block can be a devastating state of affairs. We sit and look at a blank screen or sheet of paper. We procrastinate. Check our messages. Cruise social media. Trying to find a spark somewhere.

The spark never comes. Or maybe it has and we just didn't see it because we are so stressed on what we need to do. Aha! That is the key there. You are stressed. When under stress our thinking  becomes narrowed. It's all black and white. No grey area. Either this way or that.

Did you know I offer Creative Thinking Workshops? Ideal for a group of 10-20 attendees. Click Here to Learn More!

Here is what I have learned from research and practice when I suffer from Writers Block:

  1. I do nothing. Yep, I acknowledge that I am in a block and do nothing. It's kinda like being caught in a rip-tide. You struggle and still get pushed out to sea. If you relax, then swim parallel to the shoreline, you will get out of the tide. Doing nothing gives you the opportunity to clear your mind of the stress you are under.
  2. Now I write. But I don't write for the assignment. I write my thoughts, what is happening in my head. The writing usually turns to the challenge at hand. So I keep writing, I am writing idea snippets. Nothing with structure. Just write. At this point I am brainstorming. No judgement of good idea or bad, just ideas.

Then, all of a sudden…

It happens. One of those snippets gives me an AHA! moment and I realize. This is where I will start, this is a great set-up for the hook at the end, this is what will engage the reader. I scurry to continue writing and writing and sooner rather than later, I have a finished manuscript. Sure editing will be required.

Have you ever noticed that writers block usually happens in STARTING a project. I don't recall getting blocked when it comes to editing.

The challenge is, we think we have to start at the beginning. We stress ourselves out to make it right the first time. But that is not necessarily the case. For example. This paragraph was initially written as the third paragraph. However, it fits better here.

I am sure this practice will help and if you are ever in trouble and need a creative spark, give me a ring. I would be happy to add fuel to your fire. 

  • Illustration from and old AC Spark Plugs advertisement.

Greatest Year in Automotive Design


I just finished listening to Kelly McEvers interview of David Hepworth about his bookNever a Dull Moment, 1971 The Year that Rock Exploded. Hepworth backed up his hypothesis that 1971 was the best year in rock and roll because in 1971 there were more musicians in their peak creative time (thank the baby boomer generation). The musicians were also not over produced. They would go in the recording studio and lay it down in only a couple of takes. David Bowie recorded 1 song short of three albums in 1971. Led Zepplin' fourth album, didn't even have the name of the band, album or record label on it. Only a photo of a guy carrying sticks! Fascinating.

Who would think? Well, it got me thinking about the relationship of music with the automobile. What is the best year in American automotive design? A contentious question for sure. 

There were key periods:

  • 1915 – Invention of the assembly line
  • 1932 – Ford introduces the V-8 – the quintessential hot rod.
  • 1940-41 – Height of streamline design.
  • 1950 – Fords and Mercury's built for customizers
  • 1955 – Chevrolet introduces the small block V-8
  • 1959 – Harley Earle bids adieu from GM with the biggest fins ever!
  • 1960's – The space race is on!

What about 1971 in American automotive design? Bigger is better? The muscle car was at it's peak with big block motors, wide bodies and longer wheelbases. All this just before the oil embargo and gas prices soar.

Here is where we see the difference between the musical artists and their automotive brethren. Maybe it is due to the systems in place for automotive design, because, 1971 is not recognized as a creative force.

Like all this talk about design? Take a look at our creative process

For the music industry, the creativity is measured with the artist. Without a huge machine behind them, they are much more willing to take chances and release statements of art. Whereas in the auto industry there are committees and shareholders that need their risk assured. So change is slow.

Marry the two, and It will not be until 1976 when Johnny Cash releases his automotive classic "One Piece at a Time."

Photo: Johnny Cash's "One Piece At A Time" Cadillac, Photographer: Unknown

Keith from my LinkedIn page commented, "Remember when cars didn't all look the same?" – 

My reply: YES! Sorry to say automotive designers (many coming from the same school) are all working under the common wind tunnel constraints. Either that or they are chained to copy "what has worked". This is a challenge that the auto makers most likely didn't think of, so now they only thing they can market is their badge and marque. Tesla, and many of the exotic super-car builders are the only ones with the guts to change the status quo.

Dig Deep


Last week I had the opportunity to review some student's portfolio's for the AIGA/OC. It has been a while since I have been involved in the design community in such a way. It was very rewarding. I saw a couple of student's who reminded me of when I was in their shoes, 25 years ago.

I asked each student what they were passionate about. Most knew right away. When asked, I shared a bit about my history, how I struggled to find a niche, or a specialty. I remember how scary it was to break away as a designer for everyone, and focus on a specific industry, or specialty. I shared how, with a specialty comes expert status. You dig real deep. You have to immerse yourself in that industry culture. You have to be one of them, speak their language and know who their customers are. With that specialty, you gain a unique attribute that can be very valuable to the industry.

We are not here to make pretty pictures, but to create value for our clients. We are "COMMERCIAL" artists. The result has to create an effect on the bottom line. When that result is proven, there is no question about cost. 

That was for the students.

How are you digging deep?As a professional in your industry, complacency is easy to fall in to. How are you digging deep to create the value your company and industry needs to lead and succeed?


Put In “A Good Days Work”


As I was making my morning walk, I saw a landscape truck making his way around the Orange Plaza. I thought, he is ready to put in a good days work. 

I hear the voices of past mentors, my father, and my nonno as I udder those words in my mind. Interesting how a snap shot of our daily lives can trigger. I stop at a bench in the plaza by the fountain and jot down my tasks I need to complete today to make it "A Good Days Work".

The photo above was taken back in 2013, when I saw a truck on the highway that had a logo that I designed in the 1980's, one of my very first paid gigs, on the door. The logo also features one of the first fonts I designed, called Howdy!.

Looks like Jennifer Youngquist and I have made A Good Days Work.

Bravery vs Fear


Maybe you heard the entire dialog, but as I turned on the radio in my truck, I caught the tail of a conversation regarding Bravery vs Fear and the options you have available to you (in your mind) when you are feeling brave, vs when you are feeling fearful.

I have certainly felt this, as I am sure many of you have. 

The big question is, how do you get out of that fearful funk? How do you become brave?

As a creative person in business, these two concepts are in constant dialog. It is the way we do things. If you are being creative, in most cases, you are doing something that not only you have not done before, but something that has not been proven to work, succeed.  The brave me pushes the envelope, looks for something new, is an explorer looking to discover the unknown answer. 

Then comes the presentation. Fear sets in, I start to second guess myself. Confidence. I take a deep breath, I repeat in my mind that I have faith in my work, my process and my intentions. In most cases, the client is excited and thankful. In others, the client is feeling the fear. Did I project that on them? They are unsure if the design/campaign/content will give them the outcome they are depending on. My work ethic I gained from my father and grandfather forces me to be ethical to the clients needs. To provide them with the value that they are depending on me to deliver.

So what do I do?

I challenge myself. Constantly. I do things that I have never done before. I will open a retail store to learn what it is like on the sales side. I take a ride as a monkey on a Speedway Sidecar going for a turn at near 100 miles per hour dragging my butt (literally) in the dirt. I produce an incredible amount of work. I am constantly thinking and working on building something. (that also comes from my construction family ties)

I know you do stuff to challenge yourself. Share with me and everyone what you do. It will inspire us all and help us to be more brave and kick fear in the teeth.

Creating a Consistent Brand Image

Here at the Blacktop Media Network, we are very fortunate to work for clients who appreciate the value we have to bring to their brands.

AskewBlacktop Branding has developed a consistent and robust “Brand Standards” program. The program starts with a review of your current brand equity. Basically, we work to answer the question: “How do people currently view your brand?”. The answers lie in both the visual and the perceptual quality of your brand image.

Visual Quality:
The Brand Standards become the pallet or guideline on how we present the brand identity going forward. Strict use and definitions of design elements, typography, color, and iconography are outlined.

Perceptual Quality:
Since day one, Blacktop Branding has been a leader in developing a thematic voice for brands. A good thematic concept will touch people on an emotional level. They will be able to add their own story to the theme and connect in a way that will enable them to be brand advocates. What is the theme of the company? How do you want your brand to be perceived? We see themes in use at Helpful Honda, Subaru; Share the Love, RAM Trucks; Work Hard.

The link below is the brand identity design standards of an extensive corporate identity program for Boyd’s Garage. A blacksmith and hot rod shop in rural Montana:



3 Ways “Cool Old Stuff” Helps You to Succeed.


We all need a place to go to and break away from the stresses of the day, the week, the year. This private space becomes our sanctuary.

IMG_0906I was hanging out in my sancutary the other night. Looking at some items that were as old or older than my grandfather. My Nonno came here from Italy when he was 16 years old in 1922. Hanging in my garage is a portrait photo of him and his brother with their father just before the two boys set off to live in America. He came here with nothing and lived the American Dream.

I was throwing darts, thinking about how good all this cool old stuff makes me feel. There are certain scientific circles which agree that a happy mind makes a happy body. The mind/body continuum comes from somatic psychology originated by Pierre Janet and Sigmund Freud. Also known as Namarupa in Buddhism.

I see it like this: When I am around items that are from my father or grand-father’s era, I feel as though I am part of a much larger world. I am inspired. Ideas roll in and motivation energizes me to action. And, that makes me feel good. When I feel good, I feel stronger and more resilient to the stresses in my life.

Here are the three ways Cool Old Stuff helps me succeed.


This “Cool Old Stuff” makes me grateful for the strong work ethics my patriarchs have taught me. “Good things don’t come easy.” “If it was easy, anyone and everyone would do it.”


I look at the work they have left us. The craftsmanship and design are deserving of respect. Respect in how I display the items, and respect in the work I do to continue their legacy.


The items help me to gather my focus and work on what is really important. I am reminded of the “Good Old Days” where there was great collaborations in the United States. Companies collaborated together to get great things done. During WWII manufacturers changed their plants for the war effort, the public learned to be frugal. During the space race companies collaborated their engineers and designs for the common goal.


When I am around these historical items I learn quite a bit about myself, and what we are all capable of, when we work together.

3 Tips for Great Storytelling

I have been told that I am a great storyteller.

Depending on the situation, that can be a compliment or not.

One-time while on a road trip through the backroads of Vermont in search of covered bridges, I would make up ghost stories about driving through a road very much like this one, and when I came to a climactic point I’d touch the brakes to emphasize the point. It would scare the bejezus out of everyone from grand-daughters to grand-fathers riding in that van.

And when I was a kid and had to explain the bits and pieces of model cars in the backyard, I would quickly come up with a reason that did NOT involve firecrackers.


I have taken those lessons and what I had learned in Art History and Sculpture classes at the Laguna College of Art and Design to the benefit of my clients with my Strategic Design Parameters diagram. The diagram was developed for visual communication, however it works well for storytelling as well. Here we find the “sweet spot” between the Physical, Emotional and Intellectual parameters.

BB_TriadA good story draws people in, compels them to learn more and leaves them feeling content. That’s the structure, or the Physical Parameter. The Intellectual Parameter is the part that compels them to learn more. There is something interesting, fascinating or educational that essentially sucks them in. Then there is the Emotional Parameter that pulls at their heartstrings and creates a bond.

1) Physical Parameter
Outline the structure of your story. Be sure that there is a beginning, middle and end. Sounds simple enough but without the plan, your story will ramble. I have found it best to define the ending first. What is the result you want someone to achieve at the end of the story? The beginning will create the question that the end will answer. The middle is the meat of the story. It will provide the support to create a paradigm shift in your audience and allow them to accept your solution in the end.

If there are problems in the Physical Parameter the message will be lost because the audience will be focused on the flaws. Spelling or grammatical errirs our grate exampuls.

2) Intellectual Parameter
As defined earlier in the meat of the story. The Intellectual Parameter is going to have a historical or contemporary reference that the audience will appreciate. For that to happen you must research your audience to use the proper references. Obscure references will distance you from the audience. Be careful not to overuse industry terms that they may not be aware of. Keep jargon at a minimum.

When there are flaws in the Intellectual Parameter the audience will not get the meaning of the message and cannot make an informed positive action. Be clear and concise in your meaning.

3) Emotional Parameter
In order for the audience to completely “buy-in” to your story it must touch them spiritually. An AHA moment. Something that will connect with them on a deeper more personal level. In researching your audience look for clues to what they are responding to. This could be as simple as a color choice, or as deep as a nostalgic remembrance.

A story may be well written, be full of meaning but without an equally strong emotional quotient, there will be no connection. It will be difficult for the audience to share the story. We need them to share the story with gusto!

I trust this article will help you in writing your STORY. If you would like to discuss how we can specifically assist you in your story, please feel free to call.

– Tony Colombini 949-584-5669