Catching up on some reading, I just spotted part of an article by Louis Chew on behaviors of creative people. The one that struck me as most important was that creative people give themselves permission to suck. Think about it.

Creativity sounds good theory, but it’s difficult in practice. Stephen Pressfield explains in his The War of Art,  the fear that all creatives have  is the Resistance.

“The amateur, on the other hand, over-identifies with his avocation, his artistic aspiration. He defines himself by it. He is a musician, a painter, a playwright. Resistance loves this. Resistance knows that the amateur composer will never write his symphony because he is overly invested in its success and over-terrified of its failure. The amateur takes it so seriously it paralyses him.”

Society has trained us to tie our self-worth to our accomplishments, as if success is the only metric that matters. If that’s the case, who would willingly create a piece of work that would be used to judge him, possibly to label him a failure?

For this reason, Pressfield says that we must turn from amateur to professional. Only then can we produce truly creative work.

“Resistance wants us to stake our self-worth, our identity, our reason-for-being, on the response of others to our work. Resistance knows we can’t take this. No one can. The professional blows critics off. He doesn’t even hear them. Critics, he reminds himself, are the unwitting mouthpieces of Resistance.”

The way to creativity is to create a lot, and the way to create a lot is to give ourselves permission to suck. People will forget the mistakes and garbage we make, but will remember our best works.


Here’s a little Sunday morning, behind the scenes graphic insight for you. For me, the best graphic jobs involve working with historic photos.  I learned to love the intricate detail in emulsion layers that only a chemical bath can produce. The processing is what makes analog photography so rich looking, and enhances details you’ll find lacking in digital photography. If you scan an old photograph at super high DPI, go scrounge up a magnifying glass and then compare the digital scan with the original print. You’ll be able to tell immediately which is which.

One of my clients wanted a book cover based on a historic photograph of a street scene. After doing some research sourcing the right photograph, sent a few candidates to the client for selection. I started to work on my layers with the chosen photograph, a 1930 street scene of the Feast of the Assumption in Little Italy on Mayfield Road.

Cleveland Press Collection

A beautiful street scene, but foreground clutter and other elements need edited to make room for book cover graphics. There are banner elements and iron work that I can reuse in more layers to develop a composite image. A draft of elements for the feature graphic is below, with many more steps to go to clean up the assembled graphic elements to go.

Draft of work in progress…

Once the client approves the direction of a graphic like this, I’ll move on with adding author, sizing, and developing the complete layout for front, back and spine. The final cover can’t be completed until the book text has been laid out and the total number of pages has been determined. It is the number of pages that dictates how wide the spine, and therefore, the complete cover will be.



Burning River Design is a Northeast Ohio creative company with support and consulting services in photography, design, publishing, research, curation and archives.

  • Photography (asset documentation, catalog and museum)
  • Graphic design (refreshing, restoring, and recreating images)
  • Publishing projects, including layouts for book interiors, covers, and illustrations. Read more about why you should hire a book designer…
  • Research of all kinds, such as genealogy assistance, company histories, photographs sourcing, and library crawling of all kinds. When we do the research for you on specialized topics, you can focus on your overall project.
  • Primary asset archival treatment, digital asset management, archives organization. We have over 15 year experience in archive management, digitization, and other special collections needs.

Lynn Bycko, the company founder, is a historian, curator, archivist, photographer, author, speaker and instructor with over 20 years experience.



Working in collaboration with teams and supervising others is humbling. When you think about it, nobody is born to be a manager. A friend of mine in the field of archives mentioned to me years ago that, when we are little children and asked what we want to be when we grow up, responses are “librarian,” “teacher,” “doctor” and so forth. Nobody dreams of being a library director, a principal or a hospital administrator, yet as we continue along our career paths, sooner or later we find ourselves in a position of authority.

After many years working under the direction of managers in higher education, I was offered a role with responsibility for supervising a department of university students. I can say with absolute authority that I blundered many aspects of leadership, and my crew was quick to show me the error of my ways. Like many, I was taught how to manage projects, software, budgets, but nowhere along my career did anyone teach me how to manage people.

When we speak of management, I believe what we really should be doing is coaching and motivating people as a priority, rather than managing objects and things. Properly supported and allowed room to work, your team will achieve success. After a few years of mistakes, I distilled my managerial theory into four simple rules. Every decision I’ve made that was successful followed these principles.

First, and the simplest, is that you praise people publicly, and criticize privately. There is nothing that rewards people as in sharing their accomplishments to the group. Likewise, if you want to sow seeds of sedition, blow up at them or criticize them personally in front of others. If you must criticize in front of colleagues, such as in a meeting, criticize the project detail and not the person. Make certain you offer thoughts on how to make the project better or solve the problem.

Second, we all have complaints about work. Procedures that fail, difficult persons and other obstacles litter every workplace. If you want to complain, complain up the chain of command, and never down to team members that report to you. Complaining without providing a viable solution helps motivate nobody.

Third, managers best understand how to delegate and develop workflows when they are intimately familiar with the task at hand. I never assigned a project to anyone that I could not, and would not, be willing to do myself. Managers are time challenged, and the crew you hire and train is there to help you get the job done so you can spend time on the bigger picture. Be certain you know the job you’re assigning, especially if you’re needed to pitch in and help.

Fourth, and the most important rule of management I apply, is that the manager’s job is to remove the obstacles that prevent workers from performing the job they were hired to do. This can be as straightforward as anticipating supply needs, or upgrading that desktop PC built in 2008, but just as importantly, it can be understanding how the tragedies of personal lives can impact work. It’s impossible for someone to focus on work when a loved one is in the hospital, or a spouse is laid off. Sometimes, this also means putting yourself in harms way to protect your workers, such as confronting an unreasonable administrator and personally risking a backlash.

There are many guides for managing and coaching for performance out there, but I can say with authority that applying these four simple managing principles transformed my ability to lead a team. If you’re new to managing people and projects I hope you find these helpful in your career path.

— Lynn Bycko


One of the benefits of working on projects with others (research, design, collaboration, etc.) is that you always learn something new.

Take quilting, for example. I was asked to create a quilt square using an image of Darius Milhaud and one of his dancers for a commemorative quilt gift in honor of a lovely lady celebrating her 90th birthday (I can’t tell you who… it’s still a surprise!). Who is Darius Milhaud?

Before retiring from archives and special collections, I worked with a body of materials in the Darius Milhaud Society Collection at Cleveland State University. The Society, based in Cleveland, sought to promote the work of Darius Milhaud, a member of Les Six (also known as The Group of Six) and one of the most prolific composers of the 20th century.

The rise of Nazi Germany and invasion of France forced Darius Milhaud and his wife to emigrate to the United States in 1940. Because of his Jewish background, Milhaud could not return to his native country until after the war concluded. He secured a teaching post at Mills College in Oakland, California, where he composed and collaborated with other composers during the war years.

From 1947 to 1971, he taught alternate years at Mills and the Paris Conservatoire, until poor health compelled him to retire. He died in Geneva at the age of 81, and he was buried in the Saint-Pierre Cemetery in Aix-en-Provence.

During his tenure at Mills College, Darius Milhaud became acquainted with one of his students, Katharine Warne. Warne studied composition with Milhaud during her undergraduate career at Mills College and completed compositions, sketches, and homework during her time as a student with him. Upon graduating from Mills College in 1945, Katharine Warne maintained contact with Darius and Madeleine Milhaud (Darius’ wife), often attending Milhaud’s birthday celebrations at Mills College. It was through Warne’s efforts that the Darius Milhaud Society was created.

The quilt square will become part of a memory quilt for one of Milhaud’s dancers, who later became an associate professor (emeritus) of sociology and women’s studies at Cleveland State University.



As businesses and organizations continue to migrate analog imagery to digital, sometimes they realize the only copy of an important graphic is painted on a wall, embroidered on a shirt, or part of a piece of stationary. It’s time to freshen those images up!

An example of recreating, rebooting and refreshing came with a graphics project from a cathedral, to render a bishop’s coat of arms with a new background. This new version is intended for printing on canvas banners.We’d love the opportunity to help with your project. Contact us for a quote!




When a book designer takes on a client, there are certain expectations regarding research. The cover images and typography selections need to correspond to the subject of the book. As a book designer, my best client is a true crime author, which means I need to perform some interesting searches for graphics source material. A friend once asked what was new and interesting. When I told him I was searching for corpses and good looking dead bodies,  he asked if he should be worried. I chucked and explained I was recreating a murder scene for a book cover.

Sometimes designing book covers results in curious Google searches for reference images (and I’d like to say “hello!” to my personal NSA observer as I type). True crime genre art involves gore! Blood! Corpses!  Finding good looking deceased samples is difficult.  Most accident victims are deformed in some sort of way, or the angle of perspective is wrong.  Occasionally I find a treasure trove, such as a small collection of early  20th century forensic photography shot in New South Wales, Australia. 

Once I find a decent corpse photograph, I decide what I like best about the image subject: good body parts to use in a collage, the lighting, position in repose…  there are many good uses for one photograph.  A good photograph can be revisited for different projects, so when researching photographs, keeping notes about where the photo was archived, what website exhibited it, copyright permissions, etc. is essential.

I consider myself lucky that some of my commissioned cover art came at the request of a friend and organized crime historian, since the subject matter is challenging to illustrate in a tasteful manner.  Having said that, I’m open to working with romance novelists when I can search for handsome bodies instead of dead ones. But if you’re interested in reading about murder in Prohibition-era Cleveland, check out The Sly-Fanner Murders, by Allan R. May.




If you’re short on time or cash to up your photography game, improve your design skills, or get motivated, you should check out what Creative Live has to offer. 

I only write about services that I find invaluable, so this post contains affiliate links.

If you’re a regular punch clock Joe or Jane, AND a creative, sometimes it’s difficult to find training, inspiration or advice during hours that you have available. I found trying to improve my skills by attending workshops while working at my local university library and freelancing photography impossible, because classes were offered during my work hours.  Eventually I found a solution and it didn’t cost me a dime.

The folks over at are busy putting together some of the best online classes out there, and you can stream them for free. How does this work? Creative Live broadcasts over 1,500 curated classes by experts on five channels:  photo/video, art/design, music/audio, craft/maker, money/life. You can, of course, pay to see the class, which allows you to archive it and watch it again at any time. However, to see the broadcast for free, you need to view on a specific day and time to catch the streaming.

On Air Today is the daily showcase for what topics are being covered, and upcoming classes. I appreciate how Creative Live always has entire classes ‘on air’ on all 5 creative channels 24 hours a day. No matter what time of day, there is always something interesting to watch, podcasts to download, article to read — plenty of brain food for creatives! It’s easy to get started — just sign up (it’s free) and click the RSVP next to the classes you want to watch.




In today’s edition of “things that go boom in the archives” we have a set of nitrate negatives. These were donated by a guy who stored them in his garage in a paper envelope. What makes them go boom? Cellulose nitrate! It is the material that makes the film base that is printed on with the silver emulsion. When cellulose nitrate isn’t happy (too hot, humid or lots of climate fluctuations) it decomposes to a brittle, sticky bubbly mess. The best part is it can spontaneously combust! Tune in sometime in the future for a new edition of “Things that can kill you in the archives” where we discuss why my tetanus vaccination is always up to date.