Mental Shed Year in Review

2023 Mental Shed Year in Review

2023 has been a challenging year, and there have not been many successes to speak of. The majority of what I hoped to accomplish didn’t come to fruition for various reasons. For the last several years I felt like I was finally starting to crawl my way up the “Hierarchy of Needs” to the levels on which I could begin to focus more on creativity and philanthropy.

But this year knocked me back down to the bottom, where basic needs are at stake once again.

Still, there are a few 2023 achievements to report.

New Mental Shed Logo

New Mental Shed logo design

I tend to have plenty of branding ideas for client work, but not for my own projects. I’ve struggled with how to visually represent the Mental Shed throughout all of it’s 20+ year existence. But this year I may have developed a concept that works. Now, it doesn’t tick all the boxes, but it gets some of the important ones: Creepy shed and tentacles.

Also, it looks good on a Christmas card.

Wisconsin Travel Guide to the Dark Side

Wisconsin Travel Guide

I started working on the Wisconsin Travel Guide to the Dark Side for Wisconsin Frights around the end of 2022, and finally finished it and released it in June of 2023. In six months it was downloaded more than 4,000 times. I designed it for print, and most people would have preferred it that way, but the budget just wasn’t there.

The guide has features on creepy things to do in Wisconsin Dells (such as visiting Peter’s Kurten’s head), Ed Gein, the incorrupt priest of St. Nazianz and more, plus a regional guide to weird, unique and creepy locations.

Now I can’t decide if I should do a new edition for each year, or one general edition that can be updated as needed.

UFO Daze

Benson's Hideaway UFO Daze

For more than 30 years, a little bar on the shore of Long Lake called Benson’s Hide-A-Way was home to the annual UFO Daze celebration put on by proprietor Bill Benson. The area has been the nexus for strange lights in the sky, crop circles, and other phenomena for at least decades.

This year, I started working on a 3D piece involving a UFO gliding slowly across the surface of long lake and then soaring over Benson’s.

You can see this in motion right here.

Went to the drive-in on the Satanic Highway

Highway 18 drive-in theater in Jefferson, WI

I’ve been meaning to go to get to the Highway 18 Outdoor Theatre for a decade, and I finally did – right at the end of the season, right before the announcement that the current owner was putting it up for sale.

This drive-in is almost all original besides the digital projector (though you can see the original film projector in the concessions lobby) and it has the biggest outdoor screen in the state.

Here’s hoping someone buys it and appreciates it.

Wisconsin's Satanic Highway

But this trip served two purposes: 1. See two movies with Wisconsin connections at a rural Wisconsin drive-in (Barbie is a Wisconsin native and so was the actor who played Sloth in The Goonies) and 2. Drive down the newly minted Satanic Highway.

Officially started a new music project

Backster Effect

An idea that started in California in 2019 as a casual poolside conversation with one of my oldest friends and musical collaborators finally started to come to life this year. We settled on the name Backster Effect and have a number of songs in the works. In October—Friday the 13th—we publicly released a 44-second clip of a song tentatively titled “Our Lady of Fire.”

Backster Effect is new, challenging, and experimental as we work to weave the digital into the organic. It’s simultaneously both a big departure from what we usually do, and yet somehow still recognizably our sound that we started in a very similar way nearly 20 years ago.

Follow Backster Effect on Tiktok, Instagram, and Youtube. to see and hear more as we progress.

Creation Myths Podcast

Creation Myths Podcast

While working on Backster Effect and hearing the constant death knell of the music industry that’s ever present these days—how no one cares about music or values it anymore—we started wondering what makes us care, and how could we maybe get others to care, as well.

Our tentative answer to that is Creations Myths, a podcast and video series showcasing the journey of hardworking local musicians (and other artists) and why they do what they do. Because in all things, story is always the hook.

We got most of the creative direction hammered out, branding done, content strategy, and even an early partnership in place. Just need to start recording some episodes when there’s time.

Follow Creation Myths on Tiktok, Instagram and Youtube for now.

Reorganized my portfolio

Revolution Amps guitar amp design

I spent some time this year redesigning certain elements of my portfolio to better showcase my work, such as branding and design concepts for Revolutions Amps, branding, design, and digital strategy for Grave Digger Candles, and title treatment and key art for Squeal.

I’d like to do more motion design and sound design work in 2024.

Dominion of Terror Video

Dominion of Terror haunted house in Sheboygan

I had the opportunity to work with the Dominion of Terror haunted house in Sheboygan this Halloween season to produce a shortform video promoting the haunt on Wisconsin Frights. The people were great, the attraction is a lot of fun, and I think the video came out pretty good.

Watch it right here.

Photo published in Harold Schechter’s new book

Peter Kurten's head in the book Murderabilia by Harold Schechter

I first read Harold Schechter back in the 90s when his book Deviant about Ed Gein came out, so to get my photo of Peter Kurten’s head published in his latest book Murderabilia is pretty satisfying. I took this photo during a winter getaway to Wisconsin Dells for my daughter’s 17th birthday in January, 2020—right before all hell broke lose.

Degenerative AI

AI art

Generative AI irreversibly changed the world this year. Like many niche website owners, designers, and marketers, I started testing various AI tools to see 1) if they are going to replace people like me, and 2) if they were viable for my personal business needs.

One of the primary pillars of a successful niche website is a continuous stream of high-quality content, which obviously takes a considerable amount of time to produce. A tool to reduce those hours would be invaluable.

I primarily worked with Midjourney and ChatGPT. For my personal needs, I found them fun for a while, and maybe good to brainstorm ideas. But in the end, everything I’ve achieved with my websites has been because of my personal knowledge, my research, and my own work. If my websites focused on more accessible niches, it would probably be much easier to generate passable content with just a bit of editing, as many are already doing.

This is the reason why authenticity will be so important going forward.

For my personal needs, AI tools have mostly helped me decide what not to do, because the quality of their output isn’t great.

However, Adobe’s Generative Fill has quickly become an integral part of my workflow for expanding images and removing objects—the tedious stuff that took way too long in the not-so-distant past.

This short clip was my first real experiment with Generative Fill. Normally, creating a parallax effect like this would take hours to just fill in the holes where you cut out foreground and background elements. I cut out the trees in Photoshop and used Generative Fill to cover up the holes. Then, I brought the PSD into After Effects and did all the fun stuff there.

It took a fraction of the time and none of the frustration.

The Dirge

All in all, I’m happy to see 2023 go. I didn’t accomplish most of what I intended, and rarely even got away from my desk because I couldn’t. The year was marked by loss of various kinds, sadness, anxiety and instability. But I’m going into 2024 hoping to somehow find a way to regain some of that stability. And I’m fortunate to be a part of a few exciting projects that won’t pay the bills, but will at least help me feel like I’m achieving something.