The Chalkboard is a collection of Grain & Mortar news, events, latest work, and helpful advice.

April 15th | News

Matt is the newest addition to the G&M team, and brings a skill set that will complement our illustrative style.

We are excited for him to help us continue to push the envelope with his unique approach to design.

We were immediately attracted to Matt’s attention to detail and appreciation for hand-drawn design. We always say at the core of it we are artists and the basis for great design comes from strong artistic fundamentals, so we we’re overjoyed to find someone with such a passion for art.

With a mother who is a painter, sculptor / welder, and art teacher at Omaha Public Schools, Matt comes from a family that encouraged his creative growth from a young age. Matt has a Bachelor of Fine Arts from UNO with an emphasis in painting, and has curated and showed at various galleries in the Metro area.

Matt has spent the last year freelancing for Uphill Downhill (Target, Mnsure, Springboard for the Arts), Omahype, Duchesne, and Pink Gorilla Events.

In his spare time, Matt enjoys spending time with his girlfriend, Kay, and his cat, Bonnie. He loves drawing, painting, experimenting with printing techniques, taking Skillshare classes, and enjoying the occasional IPA in Benson.


Matt Carlsonmatt4matt3

| April 15th | News

ooh... me Likey

April 7th | News

I’m excited to announce that starting in May I’ll be joining the creative team at Zendesk in San Francisco.

While I’m sad that I won’t be spending every day cracking jokes, getting into trouble, and working on incredible projects with the team, this won’t be the end of my relationship with Grain & Mortar. I will continue to help from a distance, working part time and continuing to grow relationships in San Francisco.

I am incredibly grateful to Eric, Mike, and Kristin for the opportunity they have given me at Grain & Mortar. I have grown and learned more than I ever imagined, and I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for their generosity and mentorship.

Anyone would be lucky to join this talented team.



| April 7th | News

ooh... me Likey

March 10th | Events

We recently got the chance to travel to San Francisco to reconnect with friends old and new, hang out with some awesome clients, enjoy the warm weather, and even relax and enjoy a drink.

In Omaha, it can be easy to fall into a winter routine as we spend our days running from home-to car-to work, in order to not freeze off our rear-ends. We spend little time outside, and anyone living in the Midwest knows it’s just easier to spend the weekend at home marathoning House of Cards, rather than facing the elements to catch a concert, visit the local museum, or sit at a coffee shop and people watch. Our trip was exactly the opportunity we needed to step away from our computers, thaw out, take in a different landscape, eat way too many delicious meals, and experience San Francisco. We don’t take the opportunity to travel as often as we should, and this trip was a great reminder that doing so makes us better at design and better at running our business.



Fancy illustration & motion by Jesse & Bryan.


Trip Highlights:

  • Shared an amazing meal + ice cream with Kevin Hale from Y Combinator.
  • Shared hugs, drink, and handshakes with some dear Omaha friends who now call SF home.
  • Mike & Jesse bought new Chrome bags.
  • We had the opportunity to meet with a friend of ours, Mike Buzzard, who toured us around the Google campus.
  • Brian Singer hosted us on the Facebook campus, and we were blown away by the creative culture they have. Their design lab was legit!
  • Went to Twin Peaks, visited #thatSFtree, and went to the Sutro Baths
  • Discovered Uber.
  • We shared some drinks with Daniel Burka, whose work we’ve admired for a long time.
  • Saw lots of public urination.
  • Daniel Conrad from Beep gave us a tour of his workspace and showed us a real live Beep, which was amazing.
  • Met with our newest client Sam Clay who has a secret new product in the works.
  • Had drinks and laughs with clients Kevin & Darya Rose.


Even just a week of experiencing the culture in SF and meeting some of our current clients re-ignited our fire and reminded us why we love startups so much. It reminded us to think even bigger for our clients and for our own brand.

This trip has also helped us solidify a few things as a company. We’ve always had a passion for startups, and this past year has brought us many great opportunities to work with a variety of great new companies. One of the greatest things is to see a team throw themselves so passionately and wholeheartedly into creating something they believe in. This year, we will be dedicating more of our time to working with startups and becoming a better and more comprehensive design resource for them.

We know that creativity is at the core of what we do, and creativity comes from inspiration. This year, we are also focusing on taking more time for ourselves. We’re focusing more on our brand, and on our development as individuals. We know that it will ultimately make us better designers, better people, and more creative as a result.



Our home for the week in the Mission.


Caught a Bigfoot while shopping along Valencia Street.


Picked up some swag at the Benny Gold store.


We toured and lunched at the beautiful Facebook campus.


Facebook’s Analog Research Laboratory was one of our favorite spots.


We got to play with a Beep prototype.


Spent a sunny afternoon at the Google campus.


View of the city from Twin Peaks.


Found inspiration everywhere.


Watched the sunset at the Sutro Baths.


Three Dope Dudes.


Great coffee in SF: Blue Bottle, Coffee Bar


Sightglass Coffee at the butt crack of dawn.


| March 10th | Events

ooh... me Likey

February 19th | News

Today marks the third time since 2011 that we have updated our website, and believe it or not, we’re already planning our next version.

Our personalities won’t let us stay still. We are constantly thinking about the future of our brand, and our website is the embodiment of that. Since the web is always changing and improving, staying ahead of the curve with web technology is a challenge. Below are the items we chose to focus our efforts on this time.

  • We knew we would stick with more of a classic layout and pair it with non-traditional design elements to make an interesting contrast.
  • We wanted to showcase much more illustration.
  • We wanted to show us up close and personal. We grew up in the Midwest, we have a strong passion for design. We wanted to show what that looked like and tell our story in an interesting way, so we enlisted Scott Drickey to produce a video about us.
  • For the About section, we wanted to show an inside look as we were getting ready to for the shoot. To capture this, Daniel Muller took the photography, Scott Drickey was shooting video at the same time.
  • We did a major overhaul on our portfolio / work section. We wanted to keep it simple and clean, show the work with a nice layout and customize each page (not using templates) to show each project individually.
  • Another idea was to format the site to the viewing device. Of course, making the site responsive was a given, but we went one step further by putting some extra thought in the navigation. We added quick next and previous buttons on the mobile view. On mobile devices, users generally have to click twice to get to the next page, why not give an option for a next page button. We think more websites will feel more like apps soon enough.


Due to the size of this project, the entire team pitched in on this redesign. We couldn’t have accomplished this without everyone contributing 100%.

  • Caleb helped with all the advanced development features.
  • Bryan contributed by getting all of the videos created, prepped, and ready for the website.
  • Jesse helped with design, illustration, and iconography.
  • Miranda helped with illustration, design, and front end development.
  • Eric helped with backend development, blog design, and overall strategy.
  • Kristin helped with messaging and copy, portfolio photography, and overall strategy.
  • I concepted, creative directed, designed, illustrated, and developed.

We hope you enjoy the site as much as we did creating it!

- Mike



Bryan looking good in the camera.


Daniel Muller & Scott Drickey helped us create the photography and video for the website. Sorry ladies, these guys are taken!


The first thing we created for this website back in May of 2013.


The first design piece completed, 57 to go!

| February 19th | News

ooh... me Likey

November 13th | News

As most of you know, Barcamp is an annual “unconference” that is held in many cities across the US each year.

Each Barcamp event is independently organized, and Grain & Mortar happens to play a large role in planning Omaha’s annual event. Each year, we select a local designer to take on the t-shirt design.  For 2013, we chose Joe Sparano, a local designer and educator at Creighton University. Today, we have a guest post from Joe about this year’s unique shirts, and the idea and concepts behind it. Enjoy!

- – -

In designing the website, Grain & Mortar had made many of the t-shirt decisions already: the message (everybody’s weird, everybody’s welcome), the concept (aliens & monsters), the colors (green & purple), and the eyeballs (one).

And then together, we added some t-shirt specific limitations: it should glow in the dark, and it should be the kind of minimal shirt that designers like me and Eric would actually wear.

So the problem was: reconcile those limitations with two goals I chose myself: (1) that the shirt should reinforce the 4 speaking categories, and (2) that each attendee (in all their weirdness) could choose the category featured on their shirt.

And so the solution (like the problem) was inside the website Grain & Mortar had already designed: constellations.

The starry sky is minimal on its own, but the hidden symbols allow attendees to customize the shirt — with their favorite category, the bonus alien, or (in a few cases) entirely uncharted constellations. And the fabric pens we provided are washable, so the shirts are both minimal and customizable over and over again.

Thanks to Grain & Mortar for trusting me with their (one-eyed alien) baby! If you have a Barcamp shirt and would like to customize it again, download the star charts here.

- Joe Sparano


| November 13th | News

ooh... me Likey