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Santa Barbara, Ca

I'm a full-time rambler and contract designer with as many skill sets in my quiver as there are plane tickets in my passbook. I've worked in ornamental iron, jigsaw puzzle design, bookmaking, glass engraving, and a variety of other mediums. I'm currently living out of a backpack as I trek my way around the world.



The Seeds of Singing

Zak Erving

Location: Peña Blanca, Honduras

Kay McGrath first published The Seeds of Singing back in 1983, back when the consumer market was saturated with Star Wars and Cold War spy fiction. But McGrath's opus stood out amidst the noise, gaining a cult following and readers who, by their own accounts, obsessed over obtaining another copy decades after its release. I was stoked to be a part of the collective effort to breathe new life into her masterpiece.

Kay McGrath is currently selling this book on Amazon.

The Unmaking of a Man

Zak Erving

Location: Houston, Texas

It's no easy task to create compelling historical fiction set in the racism-fueled American South of the 1960s, but Whit Sutton did just that. The story follows a group of African-American students and the aftermath of a harrowing encounter with the KKK. For all intents and purposes, this is recent history, folks. Remember there are others out there who still think it's OK to mistreat someone because of an insignificant difference. The Civil Rights Movement may have occurred 50+ years ago, but that doesn't mean it's over.

Sutton's substantial text can be found on Amazon.

A Couple With Common Cents

Zak Erving

Location: Budva, Montenegro

Ryan and I had a lot of fun working on these covers together. His book A Couple With Common Cents tells the story of a married couple frustrated by financial woes. At this fusion of tale and lesson comes practical wisdom for the reader, as well as a handful of financial planning goodies and resources with every purchase. At only the cost of a fancy cup of coffee, Ryan's book is a sound investment for anyone looking for unique ways to keep their bank account from dwindling.

A Couple With Common Cents SPREAD.jpg

You can pick up both the print and Kindle editions on Amazon

How the Federal Government Disenfranchises Small Business

Zak Erving

Location: Santa Barbara, California

I haven't met Mr. Gill, but I'd like to extend a digital handshake to him for his exposé on the behind-the-scenes mechanism of the federal government, and how it pertains to the little guy with a business (like me!). I hoped to provide him a cover that was both attention-grabbing and content-specific, so these two concepts were what was pitched to him.  The second concept was chosen over the first (as the latter could be misunderstood as "unpatriotic"), but I wanted to feature it for the sake of showing the process that went into this title. 

If you're a small business owner in the United States, it might be worth your while to give this one a look. You can pick it up on Amazon

Easy, Cowboy: Notes on Slower Travel and Getting (Sort of) Older

Zak Erving

Vansu Bridge peeking through the cloud cover of Riga

I turn 29 this week, which might as well be 30. I survived 27 without achieving incendiary, short-lived glory (Cobain, Hendrix, Morrison) and passed through my Saturn Return with no impressive fanfare—but overall I've had a really good last few years. As with all post-college birthdays, though, it's led to some musings on getting older, and what that means for a full-time traveler.

I was supposed to leave Riga four times in the last 10 days, but the rain kept me from going north to Tallinn. Not to say that the roads were flooded or the bus routes were canceled, but I didn't leave Riga because I didn't want to leave Riga. Cold weather is a close friend of mine, and after three months of summer and sun, I was ready for the transition into fall and all the weather it brings.

A few weeks prior, I posted a survey on Facebook, asking my friends to pick my destination after Sicily: the Baltics, Malta, or Spain. The result was a tie between the first two, but my friend Gabe's compelling case for northern latitudes during the late summer broke the stalemate. And I'm really glad it did.

I've now been in Europe for three months, staying put for a week at a time in between two to three weeks of constant movement. It's been an interesting mix of backpacking and stationary travel, but if I had to do it over again, I would have moved around less than I did.

I've found that if I spend less than five days in a new place, my priorities are more in line with the typical tourist: see the sites, eat local, take pictures, and be at the bus station to get to the next point on the map. But it's when I stay longer that I immediately switch from "traveler" to "homebody." The extra time I allot myself allows me to stretch out a bit. On a daily basis, I'll probably see fewer sites, take less pictures, and eat more conservatively—but I'll also walk farther, breathe deeper, and exercise more. I manage to seek out and champion my favorite coffee shops and pubs by going to each of them multiple times, and within a few days there are a handful of locals who know my face—sometimes my drink.

Be honest: you'd probably want to stay a while too

Any traveler of any capacity will tell you that constant movement is exhausting. (And it seems to be no coincidence that the French word from which we get the word "travel" means "to work.) Seeing pieces of the world in 2- and 3-day increments might seem like a great way to get around, and to some extent it is. But the constant mental shift of having to navigate new streets and sleep in new beds can lead to travel burnout in a fairly short amount of time. We humans just aren't wired for constant migration.

For me, these weeklong breaks in quiet places have been what has sustained an otherwise frenetic pace of backpacking through central and eastern Europe. I've gone through a dozen countries since July 1, bringing the total to 16 this year. I've stayed in places for one night, and others for two weeks—and the places where I've been the most inspired and felt the most rested have been in those longer intervals.

As I'm at the threshold of my 29th birthday, I'd be lying if I said that none of these musings were influenced by thoughts about getting older—but in the last year I've gravitated towards longer stays and shorter distances between them. I anticipate my rucksack will grow a rigid shell and urethane wheels at some point, but for now, I'm still a "backpacker."

I write this entry from Tallinn, Estonia, which—I just discovered this today—has a latitude comparable to my hometown in Alaska, and shares almost identical weather patterns for the next few days. As I delve into month four of Europe (and month 10 of living out of a backpack), it's nice to know that I've found a little piece of home halfway around the world.

Stay Outta Trouble in California

Zak Erving

Location: Santa Barbara, California

Truth be told, I had a lot of fun making this series of covers for a legal resource. The goal of the authors was to provide an easy-to-read resource on employment law, which is basically like trying to nail Jell-O to a wall. (To quote the family lawyer Barry Zuckerkorn on Arrested Development, when asked if he read the brief for the day's trial, he held it up and replied, "It's very long, your honor.") Still, they had their information presented well enough that when formatting the interior, even I understood it. And that's saying quite a bit. No word on if Barry got to it, though.

Scary, Man

Zak Erving

Location: St. John's, Newfoundland 

Scary, Man  is…well, scary! I put two concepts together for this title, and I was pleased that the author chose to move forward with the one above, as the horror/thriller market seems to be saturated with book covers that are already pretty nerve-racking. But I'm more interested in the fear that builds over time, grabbing hold of one's consciousness in more subtle ways. In other words, the takeaway is greater if one can say with a whisper what would otherwise need to be shouted. I think this cover captures that idea pretty well.

Mr. Hickey's book hasn't been released yet, but you can scan for updates at his author profile on Amazon.

So I'm a Digital Nomad. Now What?

Zak Erving

Temporary office in a tea house on the Slovenian coast

Temporary office in a tea house on the Slovenian coast

Coastal Slovenia is quiet—but not too  quiet. Tucked neatly between Italy and Croatia—"the Mediterranean as it once was"—the Mediterranean as it is occupies a softspoken slab of the Adriatic Sea less than 50km long, pitting Piran and Izola and Portoroz against all of Istria and the Italian Gulf of Trieste, not to mention the grandeur of Venice, which is easily accessible in a half-day of transit. But for me, I was a bit tired of the pomp and circumstance, and was in dire need of a solid week of not moving around too much.

Not too much to ask for a full-time traveler, right? 

Koper secured my stay for a week in August, away from high-season tourists to the north and south. I had a few doubts about a place I'd never heard of, but decided I had picked wisely on the first night, when I accidentally walked around the entire town with little effort. It's perfect , I thought. One has to steer hard to hit Koper, since most travelers carry on to Piran or Portoroz, if they stay in Slovenia at all.

For the past month I'd been on the road, prototyping a new yet-to-be-finalized program with a former student of mine.  We started in Warsaw, Poland in early July, trickled down through the Slovak Republic, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, and finally Italy before the test run came to a close. What amounted to a success also beckoned me for some serious downtime and headspace. Having been living out of a backpack since December, I felt it time to give some serious thought to a question I'd been mulling over since:

So I'm a digital nomad. Now what?

If you had met me in the fall of 2011, you'd have met the real-life version of Pigpen from Charles Schultz' Peanuts. I was working at an iron forge as a production assistant, working with a top-notch team of metal artisans and welders. Because of the nature of my work, a cloud of dirt followed me everywhere. Having clean fingernails was a hope I'd long given up, and I'd resorted to showering with pumice and s-brite pads to get rid of the grime. In expensive Santa Barbara, I was making just enough money to keep on  breathing, and little else. I'd taken a 2/3 pay cut from my previous job as a teacher, but I couldn't have been happier.

You can't tell because of my mask, but I'm smiling

You can't tell because of my mask, but I'm smiling

In another city, this would have been the perfect setup for a long, fulfilling career. Unfortunately, coastal southern California isn't budget-friendly to a skilled day-laborer.

And then my hours got cut. Significantly.  My budget got even tighter, and I found myself keeping a close eye even on the miles I drove each week. I would walk into Trader Joe's and do a mental tally of my groceries for the week, often to the dime. I was happy, to be sure, but I knew that if I stayed in this rhythm for the next year, nothing was going to change, and I had big goals on the horizon.

Specifically, I wanted to become a digital nomad, someone who takes his work on the road with him, ticking off items on the travel checklist while still pulling in a paycheck. Given that I'd recently found myself in the lowest tax bracket recognized by the IRS, I felt this was the perfect opportunity to cut my ties to Santa Barbara, move in with the folks back in Alaska, and launch Sparkpunk Media.

In retrospect, I did just about everything wrong that one could do when starting a business: I had no startup capital, no clients, and no significant online presence. But of all the things I did wrong starting a business, there were two things that I did right. First, I wrote out my goals. Second, I didn't give up. Plus, there was a little bit of right place, right time in the mix (hint: to be in the right place at the right time, just stand in the right place all the time).

I've now turned around work in over a dozen countries spread across two continents and an ocean. I've accepted new work from urban coffee shops, produced it at 35,000 feet, and submitted it from the ass of a volcano on an island in the middle of a lake. No fewer than ten visits to Tim Horton's in one month have been business expenses (on account of using the wifi there), and instead of paying rent I pay for a bed in a dorm in whatever city I'm traveling. By all accounts, I've made it. I'm a digital nomad.

What do I do now?

Short of going to outer space, I accomplished everything I set out to do—and in quick fashion, by most entrepreneurial standards. My list of goals has been mostly met, but two years after the adventure began I recognize a familiar scenario: if I keep doing it this way, not much is going to change in the next year.

The mulling process began long before Slovenia, and I left Koper over a month ago. The thought process has led to some great conversations with Mike Sowden (one of my favorite writers), and though the list is still in its toddler phase, I'd like to share it with you here:

Zak's "Now What?" Goals, 2013-2014

  1. Ramblers: I'm starting a "wandering school/workshop/internship," quite possibly the first of its kind. I'm still building up the overview and curriculum, but in principle it will be an opportunity for undergrad college students to combine professional development and great travel experiences. The first session is scheduled for summer 2014.
  2. Book release: Not to be one of those guys, but I'm writing a book. No, really! I have the outline for it and everything! Think Anne Lamotte's Bird by Bird, but with a travel emphasis instead of writing. I'm hoping to release it some time in the spring.
  3. e-Commerce: I have a few services for sale on this website,  but I'm also interested in launching a small line of travel products you never knew you needed until you saw that they existed. Really, I just want the products for myself, but prototyping can be expensive, and at that point the investment for a thousand pieces just seems more appropriate. I'm looking at a spring launch date for the first product.
  4. Expand: I like designing things a lot, but the lines are getting blurrier and blurrier between schools of design. Interactive media will soon take over as the public's primary information source, and my days for being a one-trick pony are limited. I'll be branching into other fields of creativity, like coding or CAD.

So why am I sharing this list on the blog? It's simple: by making it public, I now feel responsible for following through. It's easy to defer work if goals are private. I put the pro in procrastination, but if I know that others know about my ambitions, I'm accountable to them, even if they're not even passively interested.

Of course, if you're actively interested, let me know! I'll probably need someone to crack the whip, anyways.

Get Quotivated!

Zak Erving

Location: La Fortuna, Costa Rica

I became instantly drawn to Jimmy Leo's insights and ideas while working on his latest book, Get Quotivated!  This cover didn't make the final cut, but it set the stage for the final product with the angled italic text. Inside, Mr. Leo shares 166 bits of wisdom and pairs each of them with practical action steps—a strong resource for anyone interested in exploring their creative purpose.

The Adventures of Delbert

Zak Erving

Location: Krakow, Poland 

Sometimes it's hard to pin down a concept—especially when you're given a list of over 50 words and phrases and instructed to place them inside a silhouette of a head in the order you were given them . Whew! But despite this seemingly impossible/improbable task, I had a lot of fun making this one, and I think it's an apt visual representation of the one-word description—"schizophrenic"—of the story Mr. Blanton has written.