Author Archives: Howard Stein

About Howard Stein

South African-born graphic designer, illustrator, photographer, trained in the US and abroad, I have worked commercially for giant firms and tiny concerns. As a fine artist I have large abstract works hanging in corporate and private collections in eight countries.

Caught! The Spanish Imperial Eagle

The following is a long-term project, intended to be interactive and multi-platformed, that I am working on when not busy with other things. The scope of it is massive, but it begins quite humbly in these samples:

This book is an invitation to take part in a planet-sized story.

The immense and recent popularity of animals in photographs and videos in social media, suggests a level of global caring and wonder—and humor—of which we were unaware before the internet.

Animals make us laugh, at times through our tears. There is a massive call to action to save endangered species. On Twitter alone, dozens of organizations and thousands of individuals are taking part in the effort; financial aid, increased action to halt activities such as poaching and trafficking, destruction of habitat and ecosystems, as well as the closing of zones of demand that require captivity and cruelty. Animals are penetrating the social bloodstream at a speed impossible before the internet, teaching us to open fresh eyes for their value, their brilliance, and beauty. And disappearance.

Every dog one meets on the street, it seems, was rescued from a shelter. This coloring book joins in this mission. The working title is Caught!

This project stands alone, I believe, in being issue-driven, perhaps the first coloring book to connect with global crises. Action and participation are built into the book. The activity of coloring world-class illustrations combined with a short, fact-based story, lends authority and meaning to the art of coloring and is impossible to ignore.

It should break the reader’s heart in under five hundred words.

Global issues happen somewhere else. Our environmental crises are too vast for anything we do to be of consequence. Or so we believe. This book of illustrations and short stories offers a small window of possibility. a fingertip of contact, the start of a relationship.

To color an animal is to fall in love.

This project focuses on letting the animals talk, getting each endangered creature under your skin with their side of the story, based on facts about their daily struggle. In these first-person narratives these creatures have been endowed with self-awareness, and the capacity for reflection. They have names and homes, they have family and friends.

The narrative is not militant, political, or activist. It is a socially conscious, one-inch step into a forbidding future. As one goes about coloring, one shares the troubles told in each story, in addition to the meditative restfulness that has popularized coloring.

Looking after our planet is not solely a job for big organizations and massive change, but asks, more pointedly, for the participation of the individual. This is how ordinary people create real change in any arena. This book is a venue to add to the conversation and benefit the collective — to participate in a new consciousness.

Coloring books have, up to now, not entered this domain of possibility. The audience is the very same that oohs and aahs at amazing animal pictures and unbelievable videos. We have all been softened by an extraordinary act by an animal, shown to us on someone’s phone. This is the first time these two ideas, planetary and personal, exist in the same heartbeat.



There was a loud “owk!” and a sudden thud and something hit the ground. l stared into the layers of dense vegetation below, agitated, my head twitching, my eyes darting about. On the ground something struggled and struggled again but I could only see the large dark leaves shiver, like a trap, something was trapped. Then quiet.

High in this tall oak tree my mate Isbel is beside me. She has dark flight feathers, light -colored shoulders, and white flashes on the tips of her wings. She’s a dream in flight, flat V-shaped wings seem to just hang from the sky. Home is a nest on a big knotty branch, in the deep woods of these hills in Central Spain. Monogamous, we are fierce defenders of our nest against attack by other raptors.

We continued tearing the rabbit meat into small pieces for the chicks. Rabbits are abundant here now and no humans are anywhere nearby. Eagles have been shot, poisoned, caught in traps, and electrocuted close to extinction.

I was a bold young eagle with intolerant parents. Thrown from the nest at six months I’ve somehow escaped electrocution, the most dangerous threat we face. The live wires on the pylons almost always kill juveniles and females, keeping the population low. You might think there are tens of thousands of us, but there are just 230 pairs left in Spain. Why are we in such danger?

One reason is the ripping down of habitat with groaning metal machines. Roads, farms, buildings grow from nowhere and so we flee to new nests, in trees far away.

Humans turn the land upside down. No breeding and hatching will happen. Rabbits simply disappear. In the nineties a deadly viral disease hit the rabbit population and it was as if rabbits had suddenly become extinct. A catastrophic shortage of food for eagles, and our numbers plummeted.

In open areas, people who run game breeding farms deliberately poison eagles. We might find small animals recently shot. Lead hunting ammunition is used which we swallow without knowing it. Those who eat die painfully and slowly from lead poisoning.

So life is not luxury in the shady trees. Life is a flying emergency.

I left the perch after awhile, making a long slow swoop to my right to see what had happened below. In the dark shade under the leaves I found our friend Madero, on her side, completely still. My guess is she brushed a pylon while hunting, was badly shocked and it threw off her balance and navigation. Almost at her nesting tree she hit a low branch hard, and went down. High up I heard the familiar call of her mate, Novio. “Owk!” “Owk!”

Caught! El Jefe


I am the only jaguar in the United States. No others exist. My name is El Jefe. I roam around the Santa Rita mountains near Tucson Arizona, mostly at night, and mostly in secret. No human has ever seen me. Except with their little hidden  cameras. I live with a single threat. People who want to kill me. Mainly cattle ranchers. Looking down over there at herds of livestock when I’m up here and hungry, I’m going in for a kill. Cows don’t even fight. For me that’s a big piece of meat.

I am the most powerful of all the big cats, and only the lion and tiger are bigger.

I kill my prey in a different way. I bite deep into the skull right between the ears, crushing the brain. My jaw power is fearsome. The ranchers regard me with terror. My fear is getting shot.

I remain alone, I don’t want friends or need members of my tribe. All I want is immense space, hundreds of square miles. Jungle or desert, same thing.

I settled in these Arizona mountains by wandering off from the others in Mexico. When a group of jaguars are together it’s called a jamboree. You might see that in Mexico and further south, Honduras, Guatemala, and the Amazon. Those places have their problems too. In my area they want to build a giant copper mine. That will destroy the  habitat.

I am a great tree climber of trees and can settle on a limb for a nap. If I find a pool I’m a proud fast swimmer and I will kill a fish with a slap of my paw.

I eat eighty kinds of prey. And if it’s the kind that puts up a fight and starts kicking, they kick me in the belly where I have soft, loose fur. I don’t get hurt.

People have done the most damage. There is one story you should know. Before I arrived on the scene there was just one jaguar here in Arizona. His name was Macho B. The Fish and Game Service, who are supposed to protect us, set a trap for Macho B. They caught him and shot him full of tranquilizers. A collar was put around his neck.  Some weeks later they noticed that Macho B was not moving, not walking. It turned out that their trap had mangled his leg so horribly he could not walk, He was also suffering from the side effects of the tranquilizers. So they hauled him into a plane, flew him far away to a hospital and killed him.

As for me, I’m young and healthy and may start wandering again. Remember my name, El Jefe. School kids gave me that name. It means ’The Boss’.

Caught! The Marine Iguana


I’m waiting for Hurley to come out of the water. It’s freezing in there today and he stays in so long.  I watch him, the big iguana, he’s tough, but he’s old, slowing down. We all have to wait to warm up after the water. We stand still for quite a long while. Then we head to the rocks.

But today we have a problem.

Here comes Hurley now, one, two, three steps and stops. A slab of red seaweed is sticking out  the side of his mouth. He stops chewing. One heavy bad-mood eye fixes itself on the visitors.

Two girls and three boys are here from the hotel. Their idea of fun is to use a lot of beach. It’s too much energy on this nesting ground. We have our eggs buried like a minefield, under a thin layer of sand. So people playing here is never good. More stress. An egg is going to crack. Just wait.

Day before yesterday a hawk must have been high up there, circling. Suddenly we heard this rushing sound, and here comes the hawk, headlong down like a bullet. Hits the sand like a bomb all monster wide wings and massive feet, pounding the nest sucking up three babies  from smashed shells and he’s gone, woo-woo woo-woo with the wings, a well-fed, fearless climb. He came so fast, just terrifying.

The stress is wiping us out.

We swim to get the best food. People swim for no reason whatsoever. It’s not only the people that scare us — it’s the dogs, the cats and rats, scratching away the sand, crushing the baby shells, and eating our Galapagos children. At night, when the stars are bright and we look like shadows, the old iguanas tell their tales. Once this beach had ten thousand lizards. Now we are eight hundred. Every egg is a new baby, tiny and black and each one lost is forever. 

The night gets blacker, the stars turn away, there is no moon. It begins to rain.

David Attenborough’s Planet Earth ranks as one of the all-time great nature documentaries, an epic journey that took viewers to ice worlds and rainforests and down into caves to reveal the stunning biodiversity of this planet. And now, the BBC is out with a sequel, aptly titled Planet Earth II, which promises even more spectacle—and shiny new technologies to pull viewers deeper into the action.

Above you’ll find the first of six behind-the-scenes videos the BBC is releasing as companions to the new series. But not just any videos: These are 360-degree films. Click and drag on the picture and you can actually look around as the crew works its magic.

Vision Up Vision Down


Two summers ago I walked into a plate-glass window in midtown Manhattan. The glass was so clear and clean, the brass frame so polished, I walked straight up to it thinking it was a door. I hit it hard, face first. The impact was like hitting a black marble wall. I was knocked to my knees. Blood began to run into my right eye.

After two weeks something weird began to happen. Manhattan provides strings of verticals, lines, signs, poles, towers of glass, stone and steel and every vertical line I looked at appeared wavy, as if reflected in a pool of moving water. With a history of eye trouble going back to childhood, I took this in with a low range of calm, and after a few days was examined by my cornea surgeon. Doctors can be opaque. I’m describing this really strange visual phenomena I’m experiencing, and he’s just watching me and listening and I know he knows exactly what’s going on, but he will hold back on saying anything, because I need to be examined, in this case, fast.  A retina specialist was in the next room at the hospital, and after a few minutes I was repeating my story, when he interrupted me to take a look.  An optical scan clearly showed the inside of the retina required a vitrectomy, microscopic surgery where membrane is peeled from the inner surface of the back of the eye.

I’m told the condition has nothing to do with the collision with plate glass. I find it hard to believe.

Making artwork became an obsession almost in an instant when, at age thirteen, I lay on the floor in a tall dark hotel room in Zurich, my nose pressed to a huge sheet of paper, a thick stub of charcoal blackening my fingers. Ten percent vision was enough to distinguish black on white, but that wasn’t the thrill. The action was getting immediate feedback from drawing on paper.

After six months of waiting, my left eye was ready for a corneal transplant.

Over the forty years that were to follow, I did well at art school and have enjoyed a winding career. My eyes have needed multiple surgeries—five corneal transplants, cataract removal, and most recently, peeling of the retina. Life is vision up, vision down. I’m habituated to shape and color. The boundaries blur but then, life is porous.

It’s been said that luck plays a part but nothing is an accident. I was lucky. I lay on a carpet with a sheet of paper and my life opened on to that canvas. Some of that is here to see.

Below — Pattern Design using magnolias for a dinner plate. This, and the tens of thousands of images and designs I have made draw on my experiences with vision problems and moving past them into clarity, developing a visual language in which images appear new.



Intention In Attention

I am surrounded every day by a reminder of my own personality, scraps of history, and marks that may appear in my future. I am surrounded by a reflection of my labor and where it has brought me. I am surrounded by my own failure and the uncertainty of how it is solved. And in it, some contract I have with myself,  — my will to fight. To become more deeply engaged and focused. To turn away, or turn toward; and hope I am making the right choice. Saying yes to one, is saying no to another.


Windows, in Reflection

First, one needs hundreds of acres of stone and steel and glass. Why so much? Because in this case more is better. A city outshines a village. Then one needs a high state of attention, a very central kind of focus. Or the magic will be missed. This is an accidental show, a theater of light, interiors, and exteriors. The interiors tend to be in a state of stillness, even with energetic, disruptive displays. On the outside, where I stand or walk, there is continual motion, and the windows speak back, as if to say, Look at this, this altered world, thin as a pane of plate glass, fragile, spotlessly clean and clear. Watch the windows.

New York is wicked with reflected layers of life. New York is human-made, vibrating, as one moves through it. From this raw material my images are complete or they will begin.


Humanity Needs Identity

Language is new again. Words and images are deconstructed, transformed and uploaded into something radically different. The process creates curiosity, bends opinions  and steers new behavior. It requires science and art. This is what I do. My intent is collaboration in Art, Media, and Technology. To work with teams creating images of interface and interface of imagery. 20121203-IMG_2372   20090205L1029451   20091204-2009IMG_5558-2

Ferran Adrià—El Bulli

‘Taking a dish that is well known and transforming all its ingredients, or part of them; then modifying the dish’s texture, form and/or its temperature. Deconstructed, such a dish will preserve its essence… but its appearance will be radically different from the original’s.’ —Ferran Adrià – El Bulli 1994-1997




Shouts and Whispers II


“‘It is only half an hour’ — ‘It is only an afternoon’ — ‘It is only an evening,’ people say to me over and over again; but they don’t know that it is impossible to command one’s self sometimes to any stipulated and set disposal of five minutes — or that the mere consciousness of an engagement will sometime worry a whole day … Who ever is devoted to an art must be content to deliver himself wholly up to it, and to find his recompense in it. I am grieved if you suspect me of not wanting to see you, but I can’t help it; I must go in my way whether or no.” — Charles Dickens

The task is not to breed generalists. It is to enable the specialist to make himself and his specialty effective. — Peter Drucker

Patterns are graphics in a very pure form. They are made, then wait for further employment. They ask for your imagination. If there is a thread that runs through my work, it is that it is not easy; it does not offer quick and simple solutions. 




The text above was designed to cover an entire store window, a story-as-graphic. One could look through a few words and see what the store has on display behind the glass. Stand further back and see what appear to be sentences, which will combine with reflections from the outdoors. In our rushing about, these graphics make one pause and consider.


 Above: Cursevex 50-1 — Very large pattern with a host of feasible technical solutions.




Above: BSQ 1041b


Minor Games

Surprise + Clarity = Delight

Design can have a myriad of purposes: to inform, persuade, sell, or delight. To delight means to present something with a different point of view, while retaining clarity. It makes others see the world in new and different ways. We are taught a set of skills important for our growth and survival: communication, arithmetic, wellness, and many others. But no one teaches us how to perceive the world. Perhaps this is a job for delight: to delight someone is to give a small lesson in how to see the world as something good. ~ Frank Chimero


Art and Democracy

What’s still lacking is the interface. We have more information than we have skills to turn it into useful knowledge. It’s a human problem, not for lack of the technology. We are still using computers that require a ton of babysitting and human guidance to get much done with them. We need more background, policy-driven computing. The real goal of the vision is a deep extension of our senses—more knowledge and more control of our world. We want to know more about people, more about the places we’re in and where we are going, and more about the things we have and might acquire. — Mark Rolston Chief Creative Officer, frogdesign

I have in mind patterns I have created for years, forming a tissue framework that works in reverse: rather than information design content as a starting point, the idea is to begin with an abstract framework and see how the surface of it, the architectural tissue might better guide an effective interface.

Design for twenty tiles:



The Fox and The Hedgehog

Why are so many experts so wrong, yet people keep listening to them? Who really is worth listening to about the future? Philip Tetlock, the author of Expert Political Judgement builds on Isaiah Berlin’s characterization of judgment modes into Hedgehogs (who know one big thing) and Foxes (who know many things). Hedgehogs don’t notice and don’t care when they’re wrong; that’s why they’re so compelling. Foxes learn.

Hedgehogs believe in Big Ideas – in governing principles about the world that behave as though they were physical laws and undergird virtually every interaction in society. Foxes, on the other hand, are scrappy creatures who believe in a plethora of little ideas and in taking a multitude of approaches toward a problem. Hedgehogs are more easily seduced by clear narratives. Foxes are more data-driven, less willing to stake out strong positions.

Hedgehogs: “relate everything to a single central vision …in terms of which all that they say has significance.” They over simplify, don’t use diverse data sources.

Foxes: “pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory….entertain ideas that are centrifugal rather than centripetal;…..without seeking to fit them into, or exclude them from, any one all-embracing inner vision.”

One should be able to consider two sides of the argument, think in terms of probabilities rather than certainties, and be able to hold conflicting thoughts.

Foxes believe in a plethora of little ideas and in taking multitude of approaches toward a problem. They tend to be more tolerant of nuance, uncertainty, complexity, and dissenting opinion. Most innovations and new ideas are found in tiny places where others fail to look. Ignoring the hedgehogs and generally accepted thinking will afford opportunities to see familiar problems in new ways. ~ Nate Silver



Shooting Cataracts

I’m ten days out of my second cataract surgery. My eye scratches, wells with tears.

 “Oh, don’t worry, “ said the non-medical world I encountered. ‘My sister was at the movies the same afternoon.” “My uncle went out for lunch straight from the hospital.”

Not me

Eight months before we were satisfied the left eye had settled, the cataract was removed from the right I’ve had a life of eyes.  

I want to talk about photography and design, taking photographs daily,


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Art is Not About Communication

Art is not about communication.  Art is not a way of conveying information. It’s a way of understanding information. That is, creating a work of art is a means we have of making sense of the world, focusing to make it clearer, not a way of communicating some understanding of the world that we already hold.’  — James Kochalka



A Word On Templates and Custom Design

I HAD THE OCCASION TO SEE SOME WEB DESIGN WORK clients of mine had commissioned by another designer. The clients appeared quite proud of the work delivered. Until I pointed out that web design templates had been used, that these templates were widely available on the web for free, and that there were thousands from which to choose, using a simple two-word Google search.
This revelation caused some dismay and distress. The clients were certain the work done was original,  created from the ground up. I felt quite badly for them paying for custom work in good faith, but they were clearly getting ripped off and I felt a responsibility to provide some insight into what I saw. Why did I not just let it go? Because such improper practice by designers damages the design profession. Templates require simple modifications. Some added content, changes to text style and colors. It’s working with a kit of parts. Custom work, by contrast, takes time, some depth of humanistic thought, as well as technical expertise. A high bar.

Custom design works hard to be compelling, to solve problems — templates do not care. Original custom design can be reconfigured to offer new solutions — templates have no such ambition. Templates have no intention. Custom design marries itself to brand positioning—templates choke the branding program before it draws first breath.  It’s like branding behind bars. This is  problematic on several fronts. It undermines professional standards designers like myself must maintain, and as importantly, I don’t like seeing people getting ripped off by professionals in any field, whether by lawyers, mechanics, dentists, or designers. We put our trust in a mechanic, that the replaced part has not already done fifty thousand miles in two cars. The free template website is one of those parts. You might be able to drive it for a while, but pretty soon something breaks down. Will your designer be able to make seamless additions building parts indistinguishable from the template? If so, why not build from the beginning? Because one can skip over the hard part and miraculously present something born fully formed. That’s your clue as a client: The first iterations are too polished. There is no evidence of early stylistic struggle, the blind alleys, the rough starts. The best designers have all of these.

Template sites will show their weakness when new content must be added, or a change is needed in function. A part is needed and it is missing from the kit. Our designer is now stuck. He actually has to make a part that fits. He makes an element out of spit and glue and what usually happens is it just doesn’t match perfectly with the template.  Should the client find the fix unacceptable,  the cost or logistics of replacement could be prohibitive. When you employ a designer, I urge you to ask whether the work you will receive will be original work, if that is what has been promised. Original work means someone is not, at this very moment, looking at a version of it on a screen somewhere. Ask whether it can scale, be flexible enough to serve the changes companies inevitably encounter? Modified templates do not mean the work is now an original design. Templates mean your “custom” work is actually all over the web. If you are OK with that, ask yourself why.


Live in Mystery

WE NOW KNOW ENOUGH to know that we will never know everything. This is why we need art:
it teaches us how to live with mystery. Only the artist can explore the ineffable without offering us an answer, for sometimes there is no answer. John Keats called this romantic impulse ‘negative capability.’ He said that certain poets, like Shakespeare, had ‘the ability to remain in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.’ Keats realized that just because something can’t be solved, or reduced into the laws of physics, doesn’t mean it isn’t real. When we venture beyond the edge of our knowledge, all we have is art.

But before we can get a fourth culture, our two existing cultures must modify their habits. First of all, the humanities must sincerely engage with the sciences. Henry James defined the writer as someone on whom nothing is lost; artists must heed his call and not ignore science’s inspiring descriptions of reality. Every humanist should read Nature.

At the same time, the sciences must recognize that their truths are not the only truths. No knowledge has a monopoly on knowledge. That simple idea will be the starting premise of any fourth culture. As Karl Popper, an eminent defender of science, wrote, ‘It is imperative that we give up the idea of ultimate sources of knowledge, and admit that all knowledge is human; that it is mixed with our errors, our prejudices, our dreams, and our hopes; that all we can do is to grope for truth even though it is beyond our reach. There is no authority beyond the reach of criticism.”Jonah Lehrer via Maria Popova


Stay Eager

DO STUFF. Be clenched, curious. Not waiting for inspiration’s shove or society’s kiss on your forehead. Pay attention. It’s all about paying attention. attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. Stay eager.” ― Susan Sontag

STARE. IT’S THE WAY TO EDUCATE YOUR EYES. Pry, Listen, Eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long. —Walker Evans


Coat Rack, Hat & Cap Rack, Mail Rack, Umbrella Rack, Dog Lead Rack. Painted Aluminum.