The legend goes like this: Ernest Hemingway once boasted that he could write a complete story in just six words. His finished masterpiece: "For sale: baby shoes, never worn."

It's never been proven by any Hemingway historian, but the legend impressed Van Horgen, a St. Paul ad copywriter, and Anne Ulku, a freelance graphic designer in Minneapolis. The two friends decided to embark on a yearlong personal arts project. He would write a six-word story. She would design it. Every day in 2010.

"Annie and I both work for corporate clients," explained Horgen, who is principal of his own branding firm, Superhuman. "And that's good. Clients allow us to pay our rent, and buy nice clothes. But the reality is, in the battle between art and commerce, commerce pretty much always wins out."

When Horgen tapped into the dusty recesses of his artistic self for the six-word project, he found a lot of stories about lovesickness, dating and sex. ("Holes in her story and pantyhose.")

But the project morphed over time into a sort of literary diary. A September trip to Chicago yielded its own miniature traveler's tales ("Windy City, bird's nest. No -- toupee!"), as did a March cruise ("Whales congregate in a dreamtime symphony"). Ulku said her favorites are the stray, random-observation stories ("His mom dutifully shaved his back").

The yearlong experiment ended Dec. 31 ("Brought chips, took home Dom Perignon"). Now they're expanding their "Hemingway Challenge" to include other writer/designer teams. Their hope is to post a new contributed story on daily in 2011.

So far, the new site has mostly featured creations from Ulku's and Horgen's many artsy friends. (A recent edition: "There's nothing to fear except clowns.")

But they would love to see graphic designers and writer teams from all over the country (and world) flock to their six-word sandbox. "We're hopeful and excited," says Ulku.

For the 2010 project, their daily ritual went like this: Horgen e-mailed a fresh story each day before 7 a.m., including holidays, weekends and vacation days. Then Ulku transformed it into a graphic work, and posted it at (The entire collection is still viewable there.)

"Our goal was to put a new story up there by midnight, and we made it every day except two," said Ulku.

Ulku designed most of the stories in Adobe Illustrator, even inventing a new font, dubbed LulaMae, for story #001. ("Underneath the covers. Where are you?") But she also pushed herself beyond her computer. For the entire month of October, for instance, she designed the stories completely by hand, relying on markers, pencils, torn paper, black India ink and BeDazzler jewels.

For one story, she mixed flour and water and applied it in cursive squiggles with a cake frosting bag. For one October story, "He was allergic. The cat stayed," she molded a giant wad of dryer lint into letters and then photographed the mess with her trusty point-and-shoot Canon.

The most ambitious story, by far, was this one: "Without darkness, there is no light."

For that story, Ulku connected with mural artist Chank Diesel and spent more than a month transforming the narrative into a massive, grape-colored mural on the side of the Creative Lighting building in St. Paul, near Interstate 94 and N. Snelling Avenue.

"That," she says, "was very involved."

Alyssa Ford • 612-673-4116