Lazy Sunday

Saturday night was a long night.  I vended at the Chillin’ Productions Anniversary Show at the Mezzanine, which went from 8pm-2am.  Though the event was packed, my location was hard to get to, so sales were just so-so. I didn’t pay a booth fee, though, so I really can’t complain.  By the time I packed everything up and got it back home it was close to 3, but A. was sick and didn’t come to bed until 5, and then our downstairs neighbor started in with the electric guitar at 9:30, so like I said, it was a long night.

I finally crawled out of bed at around 12:45 and only had the energy to make one more reader/writer set and try out my new Xyron.  Turns out, the 510 doesn’t handle shapes of less than 1” particular well because the roller starts so far from the “feed tray.”  I’m working on a little mod right now to extend the tray to just before the roller.  The whole reason I bought the Xyron, after all, is because it’s a pain to use a glue stick on tiny, intricate pieces.

Anyway, here’s the scan of set number 2.  I used a security envelope this time.  It’s kind of nice on the light blue stock, but I think I like the Air Mail stripes better.  They look so worldly and sophisticated. I also changed the time on the clock to four.  What do you think?  I’m torn.


Today our media diet is officially over, but I still haven’t broken it yet because today is a very busy day.  I have to fulfill a custom order, pay my quarterly taxes, do the laundry, and start working on a plush monster prototype (if I get all the drawings).  I also haven’t done my books in almost a month and my sales taxes are due on July 1st, so I need to get back to that.

It’s Time to Get Things Started at Bay to Breakers 2009

This weekend the whole “family” got together to construct amazing muppet costumes and then parade around in them at Bay to Breakers 2009.  There were eleven of us total, so we got Dr. Teeth and the entire Electric Mayhem, in addition to some other favorite characters and even a Fraggle!  My photos of the actual event didn’t come out because I took them with my old camera, which appears to be broken somehow.  But I did get some okay shots of the Saturday craft-a-thon and my friend Helen got great shots of the day of.  Here’s a taste:

As with any new experience, I learned some interesting things this weekend, including:

  1. Men are babies when it comes to crafting, even the ones who are designers, engineers and architects (though not so much the two pictured above).  More than one guy threw a little tantrum and quit, and had to be soothed and cajoled into finishing his costume.  The rest complained vociferously about hot glue burns, fabric glue fumes and “impossible” fabric geometry.
  2. People love the muppets. They brighten people’s day and are hugely famous.  People were willing to go to amazing lengths to hug us and take photos with us, and tons of people offered us food and alcohol en route.  A few people talked to me as though Beaker were a real person and I was him, saying things like, “Remember that episode when you…?”  The Electric Mayhem even joined a number of real live bands we passed on the way, tripling the size of the audience almost instantaneously.
  3. Blood alcohol content and acting like a prick are directly proportional. The further we got along the race route, the drunker people were, which made them annoying, grabby and sometimes downright mean.  People tried to force me off the street to take photos, sprayed us with fruit juice, and tried to tear pieces off my costume.  But most horrendously, a guy wearing a huge strap-on shot white liquid out of it into the open mouth of an unsuspecting girl who was laughing with her friends. If anyone out there knows who he is, punch him in the face for me.  This is the kind of shit (in addition to littering/peeing on people’s front steps) that makes residents want to ban alcohol from the event.  I’m not sure I disagree anymore.

Today I Made…

…these burning barn cards from the design of the barn swallow papercut I made last week.  I envision them being used as thank you cards, but I declined to put a message on the inside, the way I did with the bacon cards.  They’re way too versatile.  I’m thinking of including a small printout of suggested messages with each one, though, like “You’re a life saver” or “Thanks for always being there when I need you.  Happy Mother’s/Father’s/Valentine’s Day.”  I also think it would be funny to include some inappropriate ones, like “Wish you were here!” or “Congratulations on your new home!”

I printed them using my Gocco PG-5 (awesome tutorial by felt cafe here), and learned some very valuable lessons in the process.  Firstly, the Gocco does not do well with very fine lines (something I already knew) and doesn’t do well with large blocks of color (something I didn’t know).  Secondly, the Gocco is very specific about the photocopies it likes.  Copies that are too dark/dense leave burnt toner stuck to the screen, so the ink can’t get through.  I tried scraping it off carefully with an Xacto knife but it stretched the screen mesh, making the holes uneven.  Copies that are too light don’t burn all the way through and again, the ink can’t get through.  I used five screens and five sets of flash bulbs before I got a usable screen, and the barn and bucket still didn’t print very cleanly or evenly.  In the end what I had to do was draw over my entire design with the Gocco carbon pen and then burn that.  As a result my design wasn’t as sharp as the original.  Still, I got about 50 decent, saleable prints out of my 60 cards, so while it was an expensive series of lessons, at least I’ll recoup my costs. The not-so-perfect ones will go in the sale bin, which is always very popular at craft fairs.  Most people are just not as picky as I am, I guess.

Tomorrow we are going to an outdoor barbecue/crafting party to make giant muppet heads for Bay to Breakers.  I’m going as Beaker and A. is going as Dr. Bunsen Honeydew.  We’ve also got people for the entire Electric Mayhem band.  I’ve lived in San Francisco for seven years but have never gotten dressed up and walked in Bay to Breakers (though some of my meats have).  I’m literally packing a suitcase full of craft supplies and today I bought a ton of fake fur at Discount Fabrics.  I’m REALLY excited for tomorrow.  Soft sculpture engineering is my JAM.

The Six C’s of Branding for Creative Professionals

As a designer, I’ve a done a little branding for other companies, but it is WAY harder to brand yourself.  Though I know all of the steps, it can still feel paralyzing, so I’ve been forcing my husband to take me through them one at a time.  And just in case you don’t have your own branding-savvy spouse hanging over your shoulder, I’d like to help you through them, too.

First of all, let’s talk about branding for a second.  What is it?  A lot of people confuse branding with advertising, or think that branding is just for companies looking to cover up an unsavory reputation with slick graphics, but branding really boils down to one thing: customer/client experience.  Branding involves not only your letterhead and business cards, but your customer service, the quality of your work, your prices, etc.  When someone hires you or buys your work, is their experience fun, inexpensive and easy, or is it sophisticated, detailed and personal?  Your visual branding, (like your logo) exists to give people an idea of what kind of experience to expect from you, so that’s the part of branding I’ll focus on in this post, but it can be difficult to distill a set of abstract concepts and feelings into the color and shape of a few letters.  Luckily, you don’t have to pull it all out of the air or know a lot about design to brand yourself successfully.  Here are the steps to get started:

Step 1: Collect

To begin with, you have to describe the experience of hiring/buying from you.  What adjectives and phrases describe your art or design style? What’s it like to work with you as a professional?  I chose to include words that describe my current portfolio (very kid-oriented) as well as words I hope will describe my future portfolio (more sophisticated and diverse).  Here’s a partial list of what I came up with:  craft, sophisticated, irresistible, inventive, clever, whimsical, reproduction, intricate, clean, intelligent, joyful, original, non-traditional materials, requiring a second/closer look, professional.  There were more, but I’ll spare you.  The point is that this is the brainstorm step, so there’s no limit on the words and phrases you can come up with.

Step 2: Cull

Now that you have your giant list of words, it’s time to put them in order.  Which are the most important feelings to get across?  Is there a particular pairing of words or phrases (like “joyfully elegant”) that is unique to you and your work?  Put those first.  Next, cross out the words that describe every working artist on earth.  Things like “creative,” “original,” and “professional” are useless in visual branding because every creative professional in the world has these qualities.  People wouldn’t hire you if you didn’t.  When you’re done, circle the top 3-5 words or phrases left on your list.  Mine were: craft, sophisticated, irresistible and clever.  My husband also added “contemporary,” to define my style within a period of influence.  Lots of design these days has either a vintage or futuristic look and he thought it was important to distinguish myself from that.

Step 3: Compare

The good news about visual branding is that you don’t have to start from scratch.  You’ll get most of your clues from other companies who already did the work (and paid a pretty penny for it).  Take the first word from your list and come up with 3-5 companies or individuals that espouse it for you.  You can see some of the logo images I collected for various adjectives below.


Notice what some of these logos have in common.  Though they’re certainly not identical, the logos in the “clever” column all use thick, sans serif fonts, mostly capitals and primary colors.  Some of them also use circles or oval shapes.  The logos in the “irresistible” column, on the other hand, use mostly lowercase letters in addition to candy colors or shiny effects.  They use no frames at all.  The logos in the “sophisticated fun” column again use all caps and mostly sans serif fonts, but the letters are much thinner and there are two which use rectangular frames.

Not shown here are some of the craft logos I collected through Imgspark (you can’t copy them off the page, sadly), which is a fantastic tool for finding inspiring images and creating mood boards online.  Those logos made clever use of graphics to imply their particular craft.  A glass company used layers of transparent colors to imply a stack of colored glass bowls, a sewing studio wrote out their name in stitches, and a paper company used shadows to make part of their logo look like it was peeling off the screen.

Step 4: Combine

Now that you have some design elements to work with, it’s time to combine them in a way that makes sense.  I decided to go with a sans serif font in all capital letters, since that seemed to be the most common direction of the companies I looked at.  But I also wanted my logo to look irresistible and tactile, so I decided to put it in bright colors, and to add just the tiniest bit of shadow to make it look like it was cut out of paper, rather than typed on a computer.  To heighten the effect, I decided to use some peeling edges like I saw in the paper company logo.  See Friday’s post for my latest proof of concept for this.

Step 5: Create

This is the fun part.  Now you get to go to places like and try out your name in hundreds of different typefaces (search for fonts by tag, like “rounded” to narrow it down some).  You can also try out Color Scheme Designer 3 to put together color combinations.  If your logo calls for it, this is also the part where you’ll sketch out an icon (like Chronicle’s eyeglasses).  Once you’ve decided on the general elements, you can still play a lot with specifics (see my page on playing with type layering, for example) so don’t be afraid to try out all kinds of sizes, arrangements and effects.

Step 6: Come Back

When you’ve got something you like, put your design away for a few days.  See if you still like it when you come back to it.  This step is really excruciating for me because it means I can’t move forward with anything else (like my new web site), but it’s also crucial.  Your potential customers will see your logo with fresh eyes so you should, too.  As frustrating as it is to have the editing process drag on, I have never regretted sticking to this step.

To see a photo journal of this process from beginning to end, check out Jon Contino’s post about branding a new software company called Lussumo.  I hope this was helpful to those of you who find self-branding as difficult as I do.  If you have additional tips, please share them in the comments.

All logos in the image above are the property of the companies they represent.  They are reproduced here through fair use for the purpose of education only and should not be duplicated or used for any other purpose.

Tax Season Sale on Bookkeeping Workshops

Hilliard Management, the company that runs the awesome small business bookkeeping and Quickbooks workshops I’ve taken is offering them at a discount during tax season.  Normally $179 for a six-hour industry-specific class, the workshops are just $99 until April 15th.  I’m a little annoyed I wasn’t privy to these prices when I took my workshop a couple of weeks ago but at least you can benefit from my bad timing.

Inspiration Station

If I want to transition into doing more editorial-prop-type work, I’m going to need to beef up my portfolio.  I’ve already done some work for book publishers like Chronicle and Scholastic, but most of it’s not very sophisticated, being geared mainly toward the kindergarten crowd.  My portfolio needs a lot more examples of the kinds of projects I’d like to get hired for.  It needs to demonstrate that I’m capable of handling more complex work of various scales, while appealing to the needs of marketing and art directors.

I’ve therefore begun an on-going brainstorm (which I will turn into a static page so I can keep updating it) of potentially interesting portfolio pieces.  The idea is not to get through the entire list, but to create enough options that at least one of them is exciting to me on any given day, no matter what my state of mind. If you have ideas to add, please put them in the comments and I’ll add them to the project brainstorm page.

  • Design a new title page for a boring magazine article
  • Design two interesting settings in which to photograph jewelry
  • Design a window display
  • Design a trade show booth
  • Design five DIY holiday gifts, and five DIY holiday decorations
  • Design a political package for an issue or candidate, including poster, bumper sticker and button (or other schwag)
  • Design a piece of wearable clothing not made from fabric
  • Create three unsettling plush objects
  • Create a pop-up card or book spread
  • Design something to indicate the passage of time that is not a clock, calendar or hourglass.
  • Shoot a handcrafted animation
  • Create a kit to help solve a common problem
  • Create a diorama
  • Create a shadow box
  • Create a papercut
  • Design something to help organize your workspace
  • Make a gross or boring job or product look sexy
  • Create a trompe l’oeil
  • Create a map of an imaginary place
  • Make a pocket square that looks like something other than a handkerchief
  • Make a memory game
  • Take photos and then alter them in a barely noticable way
  • Create a shrine to an obsolete technology
  • Create a board game to illustrate a process
  • Make a family tree
  • Diagram something emotional
  • Create an introduction/thank you piece a la Jeffery Rudell
  • Make a weird cross-stitch/needlepoint sampler
  • Design a poster for a quotation using at least five different fonts
  • Design 5 simple-to-make but elegant DIY wedding items
  • Make an advent calendar
  • Make something useful out of 100% garbage
  • Design the childhood bedroom of a fictional character
  • Re-create an often overlooked household object that is ten times larger or smaller than usual

Epiphanous: Jeffery Rudell

How do you make a living off your art?  That, my friends, is the $50,000 question.  There are the standard models we all know about, but they’re all deeply flawed in the same way: in order to be successful, you need to spend most of your time on non-creative endeavors.

Take the typical gallery model, for example.  Unless you are sponsored by some incredibly well-connected patron, you need to go to graduate school, network like crazy, and then apply for shows, grants and residencies with the hope that you will secure one out of fifty.  All of this while maintaining some sort of day job.  Where is the time after all this to actually make art?

Then, of course, there’s the DIY/self-publishing model.  You can put up your own web site, or sell your art on Etsy, thereby bypassing the need to work within the establishment and their 50% gallery commissions.  But then you need to do your own publicity and promotion, not to mention shipping, web programming, bookkeeping, etc., still while likely maintaining a day job.  This can also often entail churning out dozens of the same (more affordable) product over and over, making you a manufacturer, not an artist.

Lastly, there’s the merchandising model.  Either through licensing images or having items manufactured, you get your designs into the hands of the public through mass-produced items.  This involves many of the same things as the DIY model, only you’re focusing more on sourcing manufacturers or licensors than you are on manufacturing products yourself.

I’ve been using a combination of the DIY and merchandising models for the past few years and while it is satisfying in many ways, it leaves me very little time to do creative work.  I spend most of my day on correspondance, order fulfillment, marketing and bookkeeping.

Then yesterday I read this article on CraftStylish by Jeffery Rudell and I had a revelation: here, finally, is the model for exactly how I want to run my career.  Mr. Rudell crafts for a living, and the actual creative process is what takes up most of his time.  Of course he networks and promotes himself — that’s unavoidable — but essentially he’s a freelance art-producer.  Magazines, stores, TV shows and other media commission him to create specific art pieces for photo shoots, store windows and tutorials, within variously flexible parameters.  This is very much like being a graphic designer (a route he came out of that I have also briefly pursued), but it involves working with your hands on three-dimensional objects much more often than sitting in front of a computer screen.

Okay great, so there’s a guy out there with a career I’m totally jealous of.  What am I supposed to do about it?  Follow all the steps Jeffery Rudell did!  Luckily for me, he’s a storyteller, too, so he couldn’t resist laying out his trajectory step by step:

Step 1: Create a gorgeous and variable portfolio while working a day job for money.  I just read about him yesterday and I’ve already drafted a long list of art-director-friendly projects to work on and I’ve applied for a part-time bookkeeping gig.

Step 2: Introduce your work to valuable contacts by sending them inexpensive, eye-popping “introductions.”  Send similar “thank yous” to existing clients so they don’t forget how awesome you are.

Step 3: Say yes to everything you can do or learn to do within the specified deadline, even if it seems difficult.  By embracing challenges you become a better artist and a more valuable asset.

Step 4: Value your work highly and price it accordingly, always remembering that people are paying you for your ideas in addition to your production hours.

Step 5: Remember that it is your job to communicate ideas, emotions and experiences, not just create a pretty product.  Mr. Rudell calls his promotional introductions “(souvenirs) of the experience people have working with me.”

I don’t really know what to call Jeffery Rudell’s job (prop-maker? production artist?) but I am determined to make it happen for myself.  More on my specific steps in later posts.

Worth Its Weight: MagCloud

A few months ago I wrote a post about Ponoko, a service which allows you to create and sell custom laser-cut products on demand.  Today I was introduced to yet another interesting on-demand service: MagCloud.  MagCloud allows you to publish magazines on demand, at a cost of $0.20 per page.  They handle all the printing, binding, subscriptions and distribution, so you can focus on the creative work of putting the publication together.  Even better: while they are still in Beta mode, publisher proofs are free (excluding shipping).  All you have to do is upload a hi-res pdf.

Like other on-demand production services, MagCloud isn’t cheap.  An issue of Craft would cost $30 to produce this way — twice the normal cover price and significantly higher than the cost of a subscription.  But without advertisers to satisfy, magazines published on-demand can be a lot more streamlined about their content, which can help cut down on costs.  Have you ever noticed, for example,  how many magazines these days have more than one product review section?  Craft and ReadyMade have at least three apiece (tools, kits, books, music, etc.).  I recently learned from someone in the industry that these reviews exist primarily to lure advertisers.  Companies that advertise get first dibs on submitting products for review, thus gaining free publicity alongside their paid advertisements.

As a new service, (they’ve only been around since July), MagCloud is still somewhat limited in its parameters. Shipping is currently only available in the U.S., U.K. and Canada, and there is only one page size available (US letter, trimmed down to 8.25” x 10.75”).  They are also conspicuously missing an FAQ page.  To get all the specifics you need to look at their front page, their blog and the help section.

Still, with most of my favorite publications out of print or on the verge of total blogdom, I’m happy to see that there is hope of filling the void.  I can’t wait to see what innovations occur in publishing now that anyone can run a magazine.

Tip: You can use MagCloud publications as textbooks, catalogs and portfolios, too! At $0.20 cents a page, it’s a lot cheaper than making color copies.

A Picture is Worth A Thousand Hours

One of the ways I’m trying to save on expenses (and possibly increase my income) is by taking my own product photos.  There are lots of tutorials out there for making your own light box out of foam core, PVC pipe or a cardboard box, but I was particularly interested in this one by Drawings in Motion for making a collapsible light box.  Space is at a premium in our home studio, so being able to make a stage that folds flat is great.  I tweaked the instructions a little in order to make a 30-inch box rather than a 20-inch one (giant plush hams don’t fit in 20-inch boxes), and set up my utility lights exactly the way the author set up hers — shining in from both front corners.  Then I put a tiny charm in the box and started shooting.


The photos were awful.  I couldn’t get close enough to the charm to capture it in detail without creating horrible shadows in the box.  Clearly, a 30-inch light box was not appropriate for a half-inch charm.

Using my leftover foam core, I constructed another box, 10 inches on a side.  This seemed a much more appropriate set-up, but I had trouble fitting two big lights and a camera lens in the 10-inch opening in the front.  Even when I eventually finagled everything to point in the right direction, the pictures turned out no better than when I would shoot onto a paper-covered table near a bright window.

Turning back to the web for alternatives I found many light boxes with their lights set up differently — some shining down from the top, some coming from the sides, and some coming from diagonal corners.  This tutorial by Strobist, which lights through a diffusing material, rather than bouncing light off the interior walls of the light box, seemed to make a lot more sense.  I cut large windows out of three of my 10-inch box panels, leaving one inch of foam core all around the edge.  Then I taped some sheets of vellum over the openings and set up my lights on the left and right sides of the box.

The photos I got with this setup were okay, but not great.  All of them were too dark and required editing, but some required minimal editing and came out quite nicely, while others required significant editing and still ended up looking a little off.  The box setup is definitely an improvement over my “windowsill shots,” but I clearly still need help with some of the basics.  That’s why on Sunday I’m signed up to take a studio lighting workshop over at Rayko Photo.  I signed up early, which got me 25% off the price of the class, which seemed reasonable anyway.  I like that it’s just a one-day workshop and doesn’t require me to commit two or three months worth of mornings the way many continuing education classes do, but I’ve never taken a class at Rayko, so I don’t know what the quality of the instruction is like.  I’ll be sure to report back on my experience.

Solid foam core walls
Vellum side walls