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ASKING Portfolio of Sean Allen Fenn


Thank You Mom & Dad Jane & David Shieh



personal logotype

from sketches to final logo and alternate mark used for web favicon

Personal Logotype instructor: Nic Taylor, Typography




reating a logo for myself, or for a client demands more than simply choosing a font on the computer (try Papyrus) or coming up with an arbitrary mark.

Keep asking who you are. Keep asking what you want to do. Keep asking what you have that no one else has. Keep asking what you do that no one else can do. Be that.



n branding myself as an artist, I had to take into consideration the full spectrum of my experiences. I have been working as a makeup artist since I was twenty one years old. Being a musician, I wore makeup onstage with my band (and often at the goth / industrial night clubs I frequented). It was a long time ago, but I became a really good makeup artist. Now that my horizon is more broad and goes beyond the limits of a makeup artist, the logical direction it seems, at this moment, is to use my experience as a makeup artist as a point of departure for greater success. I see myself as having potential to specialize in creating advertising and identity work for beauty brands. I could become the art director of a fashion magazine. I could be the creative director of a cosmetics line. Just the same, I am willing to abandon commercial aspirations in favor of being known more in the fine art world as a conceptual artist like John Baldessari. If I end up somewhere between Andy Warhol and Stefan Sagmeister, that’s alright, too.


alright financially. She was a Wiccan and I dabbled into Buddhism, Shamanism, and even explored the teachings of Anton LaVey of the Church of Satan. The only god I worshipped was myself.


he conversation basically went like this:

“Hi mom. uh-huh. uh-huh. We’re Jewish? OK. Love you too. Bye.”



reating this personal them. She actually grew up neighborhood? Why were we any longer. “Dad,” she said, logotype demanded into recent years not knowing forbidden to have a cross in “you are almost ninety years that I explore every facet of the true identity of our family. our home or around our neck? old. You must tell me the my identity. I’m a musician, At the turn of the millenium, Why the aversion to images truth about who we really I’m a makeup artist, and she and my father went on of Mary or the saints? Why are”. After some hesitation I am Jewish. My family is more than one trip to Israel. was our family referred to as he replied, “Pues, semos descended, on my mothers She was mistaken as a relative Marranos (pigs) in our Judios!” (Well, we are Jews!) side, from Jews who were of more than one Israeli neighborhood? — she hen I got the call from expelled from Spain in 1492, citizen, to the point that it confronted her father. my mother I was living when Christopher Columbus was alarming to her. After ebruary 2002, she in San Francisco. I had a coincidentally left Spain to these uncanny experiences arrived from Israel to great job as a trainer for “discover the New World”. After in Israel, compounded by the Brownsville Texas, where MAC Cosmetics, educating generations of persecution years of mystery; not knowing my grandfather was in his staff and customers on the by Catholics, there were exactly the historical liniage home, bound to a wheelchair. latest products and makeup many families who outwardly of our family — Why didn’t A bad hip replacement techniques. I was married to a converted to Christianity and we ever eat pork? Why were surgery left him immobile. bi-sexual, former dominatrix. hid their Jewish identity. My our traditions different than She hugged him and could We had a great apartment in mother’s family was one of the Catholic families in our not hold back her questions the Castro and were doing



t was nice to know, but honestly, I didn’t really care. A few years later, after the divorce I moved to New York to find myself. Eventually I did find myself. I didn’t like him. He was a jerk.


guess you could say it was an existential crisis. My life fell apart. I lost my fulltime makeup artist job and sunk into the darkest period of my life. Not to get too weird, but I experienced a spiritual death of self. I had an encounter that made my Jewish identity relevant — more than that — vital to the core of my existence. It was an encounter with Yeshua of Nazareth (AKA Jesus). I don’t know if The Messiah Himself

was in my room that morning or what, but I was aware of this tangible presence of profound light. All I know is the weight of dispair was lifted off and was replaced by incredible Shalom; peace that I have never felt before.


am including this story because it is part of my identity. I had to explore this element of who I am to come up with a logotype that is authentic. Most people don’t reveal such personal stories in this context. Maybe it’s because I’m the kind of artist that is willing to be vulnerable enough to keep asking who I am and why I’m here.


he concept of The Messiah figure never gets old, regardless of religion. Why? Because hope never gets old. As long as you don’t give up. The artist is obligated to keep asking— to go further and come back transformed. It is the Hero’s Journey; a story of redemption. Keep asking, and it will be given to you. Keep seeking, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened.


bove are favicons, used at the top of a browser. The one at top left was the first version. At 16x16 pixels, the other two look better. The square and the circle are interchangeable, depending on the web interface. For instance, the square, when increased to appropriate size, works better as an avatar on Pinterest. The circle (top right) is currently the favicon of my professional site:

Letter Strings instructor: Nic Taylor, Typography



his was my most challenging class. Nic is my Mr. Miyagi from the Karate Kid movies in the 80s (I am old enough to remember). He forbids students to attend class without completed assignments or tardiness. I have been banished into exile from his class more than once for running late or missing an assignment. However, he is a phenomenal educator.



hy is this in my portfolio? It’s a mistake. It’s messy. It’s not accomplished. I’ve been trying to master these letterforms all year, every week striving for perfection. When you see perfect type, you know. I literally get this feeling in my gut when I see impeccable typography. It’s this reaction that goes mmgushh in my head. It’s a sound. I know it’s weird. This personal reaction is hard to explain because it’s outside the parameters of conventional description using words on paper. Every week I do this assignment. Usually it’s late on Tuesday night before Wednesday’s class, which is what Nic advises NOT to do. I say to myself, “Self, this going to be it. This is the one!” I imagine presenting it in class and Nic seeing it pinned on the wall and experiencing that phenomenon that goes mmgushh in his gut — like what happens to me when I see it — because this one is ... PERFECT.


s of the writing of this text, it has not happened yet. Every week the flaws in my work shine through gloriously.


e talks about this dynamic tension it has to have. The outside letters have to approach exactly the right space into the invisible line between too close and too far into the margin of the seventeen-inch landscape, Dendril paper. The spacing in between each letter must take into cosideration the interactions of negative space in reaction to the shapes and gestures of each letter of specified fonts; the ears, feet ascenders and descenders,

bowls and terminals, spurs and serifs of individual letters and the group of letterforms as a whole.


hat was I talking about? Oh yeah, being hunched over to draw letters is painful. Until I have a nice ergonomic drafting desk, I keep asking myself, “Self, have to draw these standing what can I do differently up, with the Dendril paper to execute the most amazing taped to a board on my Letter Strings assignment easel. As a result, gravity has the world has ever seen?” become my nemesis. It can no Am I trying too hard? Am longer assist me. Due to the I not trying hard enough? Do I need a more expensive combination of gravity and Rapidiograph pen? The pens lack of sleep, using India ink I use are Staedler pens at 0.1 with a Crow Quill pen has mm, 0.3 mm, 0.5 mm, 0.7 proven ineffective as I have mm, and are affordable on to be careful not to apply a student budget. They are excessive ink or it will drip like the Toyota Corolla of down the paper. However, it Rapidiograph pens. Maybe I looks intersesting when that need a Mercedes like the Koh- happens. To me it does, but I-Noor. I probably need the it will not be approved by 0.13 mm Koh-I-Noor which Nic. I also use a small paint lists for $43.80 and does brush to smooth out the pen not even cook me breakfast. strokes. There probably is a more effective way to get ne of the really awesome flawless results, but I am students in my class uses still exploring this matter. pennies to support a straight alvador Dali said, “Have edge ruler to to get straight no fear of perfection; lines. I tried that, and it did you’ll never reach it”. Not help me produce straight lines only do I think he was being without smudges. The prolem ironic because some of his is my posture. Hunching over to do it that way is painful. paintings are perfect, but I sound like an old geezer he was lying. Typography complaining about his back is proof that perfection is hurting. I hate that. You know attainable. I know because what bothers me? This is off of that mmgushh reaction. topic, but people who post There is literal perfection in their medical problems in the space between letters. status updates on Facebook rank Young is my graphic get on my nerves. Unless it’s design instructor. He is a really unique circumstance exactly opposite of Nic Taylor. for instance, brain surgery. That’s neither bad nor good. Don’t post a status update It’s actually beneficial from the about your hangover or you standpoint of observational have a headache or you think learning. It gives me a you’re coming down with the dichotomy of reference points. flu. That is not OK. Keep it If Nic is my Mr. Miyagi, Frank to yourself in the real, off- is my Yoda from Star Wars — line world. Am I your doctor? only taller. He teaches about No, I am an art student. I finding the unexpected. He cannot help you with your keeps asking and doesn’t diarrhea or your hangnail. take himself too seriously.





One day he was reflecting on how self-important people can be. He said, “When I kern, the world stands still”. —You had to be there.


put these flawed executions in my portfolio because I keep asking. How can I improve? Why does it seem that I’m so far away from perfection? Why does it seem to come easy for others and not for me? How many attempts do I make before I get it? One hundred? Two hundred? A thousand? Is that rule about having to put in 1000 hours at something to master it true? It probably is, but I have lost count. I still have much more to do.


t this point, the most important thing I’ve learned at SVA is not just how to kern, although that is important. The most important thing is to keep asking. Work out your salvation with fear and trembling. In other words, if you keep pushing beyond the uncomfortable part, you will break through. If it doesn’t hurt, you’re not doing it right.


am a musician. It is the same with playing an instrument. You can’t play guitar if you don’t have calluses on your fingertips. You must have some kind of insight that comes from doing it over and over again. That’s why this work is in my portfolio; I did it over and over again. I may or may not get it right before this goes to print.

NY Times redesign business day section instructor: Nic Taylor, Typography

“Investment as Religious Practice” collage from WSJ article instructor: Nic Taylor, Typography


or the first part of his class, 20 minutes or so, Frank Young leads the students in meditation. I must admit, I was resistant to the idea at first; not expecting a graphic design class to be that way. At the very least, meditation in his class is a break from the stress of most other classes. 43

I was hesitant to do this project. I discussed my concern about it with Frank. My concern was that I didn’t feel invested in it because it’s not mine. It seemed pointless of me to re-hash another artist’s work over and over again. I missed the point entirely. I had to get past my resistance.

There is no such thing as originality in the true sense of the word, because everything has been done before. Carin Goldberg made that point to our graphic design history class in the first semester. She says it’s not exactly what you do that matters, it’s how you do it.


esistance is vital to creating good art. When you feel resistance, keep asking. You are on to something. If there is no resistance, what you are doing is not worth fighting for. There must be a conflict for there to be a result. What is pleasure without pain, or comfort without discomfort?

Rodchenko remixes instructor: Frank Young, graphic design


hat is peanut butter without jelly? Or a jellyfish without the sting? Or a jellyfish sting without someone to pee on your wound?








Everyone who keeps asking recieves. He who keeps seeking finds. To him who keeps knocking, the door will be opened.



am interested in the concept of religion in the same territory as art. Both are intrinsic to human nature. Both are susceptible to exploitation, and both have potential to facilitate redemptive purposes. Organized religion and art galleries or museums, are fundamental to solidarity. They are institutions that one could consider “The Establishment�. Where it gets uncomfortable is the formation of affiliations or sects that signify opposing viewpoints. In retrospect, I made dramatic conclusions in this paper. The point I was trying to make is that to believe in something demands very specific actions that demonstrate faith. I don’t mean blind faith of voluntary ignorance, but awareness of why we believe what we believe.


Portfolio9x12 3  
Portfolio9x12 3  

I still have a lot of work to do before sending to print this week. I wrote most of the copy half-asleep. I'm a zombie right now.