Thursday, January 9, 2014

Thrifty Christmas! Festive DIY Pillow Cases

I know its late. But in the rush of Christmas I couldn't get around to sharing, and lets be honest - we were all too busy to be crafting anyways. So think of this as being REALLY EARLY for next year. With the holidays fresh in our minds!

One of the ways I decorated for my thrifty Christmas this year was by not getting a tree - but that was motivated by laziness more than thriftyness, and the fact that we wouldn't be home for a week over the holidays. My favourite way I decorated for my thrifty Christmas this year was with my holiday pillow cases!

I've had these 16x16 pillows for a while now, I picked them up (unused! what a find!) once at a garage sale. I made the cream cases shortly after we got married, and was thrilled with how cute they turned out and how easy it was to clean them. This year I took advantage of another benefit - swapping them for seasonal goodness!

I picked up my christmassy fleece for about $10, along with some more cute wooden buttons. In retrospect, I think the pattern is too small for the size of the pillow, but they still made our couches ooh so cozy and festive.

If you're up for the are some quick directions, without words! If you can follow them, you'll prove just how easy it is to make some swappable pillow cases. Don't forget to work with your pattern if you have one!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

This Skin Doesn't Fit

Want to know something ridiculous? I have a folder in dropbox called "website redesign." It contains 27 different designs, all created in the last two months. On my external hard drive I have roughly 30 folders just like it, all containing different takes on what my website could have looked like over the past 3 years - and not a single one has made it past development. My current site doesn't bring me any happiness, and the blog is only slightly better. Its like my skin doesn't fit...but if I peel it off before I'm ready I'll just be standing here...without skin.

I make the WORST client for myself! The root of my problem is not knowing what I want to say - is my website just a portfolio, or is it a business page? Who is my audience? Who do I want my audience to be? Do I want to show everything I do, or only what I enjoy? Is my site supposed to bring in work, or is it just available for when I need it? Since my freelance work is more or less a "side thing," I'm ill equipped to answer most of these questions. I'd have serious issues if I were trying to make a living off of it, but for now I continue to flounder around in the undefined space knowing I'm not required to sink or swim. Someday I'll have to figure out how to feed myself my own medicine!

On that note, I want to lay out some of the groundwork I do when starting with a new client, especially those who have the same problem with ill-fitting skin. Most people who hire me ARE required to sink or swim, and creating a website and marketing plan that will propel their business forward is really important.

Facing Reality

  1. Do you know what is at the CORE of your business? If you have one, return to your vision statement. If you don't have one, now is the time to make one! 
  2. Does your website suit you or suit your client? Realistically, which is more important? (hint: the answer should be obvious).
  3. Do you know your audience? Make a basic profile of some of the most common clients you deal with (age, gender, services required).
  4. Going back to your vision statement, determine what the most important things you want to communicate are. Then list them according to priority. 
  5. Going back to your audience, put yourself in their shoes and figure out what they come for. List them according to priority. It might be helpful to enlist some help on this, or get a few people to walk through this individually. 
  6. Now the hard part - put your list of priorities up against your audience's list of priorities, and take stock. Are they in line? Are they completely different? Keeping in mind that your audience's needs come first, but that the core of your business must be communicated, combine the lists and try to narrow them down. 

Finding The Fit

  1. Once you've figured out who you are and who your audience is, you've got to do some trimming. Keep in mind that you should only have one main message. Imagine trying to direct wedding guests to the reception venue, but giving them a map with all your favourite restaurants, shopping malls, and friends houses on it as well. They'll be frustrated and confused - why do they need all that extra information? Some might even end up at your favourite restaurant instead of your wedding reception. Even worse, imagine giving them that map but not telling them which location is the site of the reception. Chances of them ending up where you want them are slim to none! 
  2. Differentiate between the purpose of your website (get people to buy our pillows!) and the messages you send to your audience (our pillows are on sale, they are beautiful, we are trendy so if you buy our pillows you will be too). The messages should support the purpose, and can be sent using words, graphics, and usability. 
  3. Keep in mind that your audience has a very short attention span. If anything distracts them, frustrates them, or confuses them, you'll probably lose them. Make choices that reenforce who you are and what you do. 
Once you've answered these questions, we can design a site that communicates your messages in the right priority. This is done with the right mix of location, size, proximity, colour choices, graphics, etc. The end result should be logical and straightforward! Designing a website should be more than just putting a nice skin on confusing content - it needs to be a collaborative effort between designer and client to make sure you're putting your best foot forward!

PS. I DO have a re-design approaching... I think I'm actually getting somewhere and I hope to move forward with it soon! 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Cutting Corners

I am an absolute MASTER at cutting corners. I vacuum only the visible dirt, I cut three pieces of paper at once, and I have bruises all over my legs from literally trying to cut corners and running into all manner of things.

The result? like I said, I have bruises all over my legs. My home-made pillows often develop holes in the seams, and sometimes I have to put the chicken back in the oven. 

I've learned the hard way that cutting corners can hurt. But I've come to understand that my natural inclination to cut the corners and find new ways of doing things is an extremely valuable asset to my design work. Thankfully, design is something I've worked to understand, and its not hard to distinguish between rules that need to be kept and rules that need to be broken! That understanding, plus following processes to make sure I slow down and evaluate, means I can be sure my professional creations won't develop holes like my pillows do. 

Some corners can be cut, and some can't. I'm working to learn the difference - and make sure to deep clean every once in a while, even though it means getting in to every single corner.

Are you like me - impatiently creative? Or do you find yourself carefully crafting your vision, no matter how long it takes? 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

When Inspiration Fails [and other creative lessons]

Its been 5.5 years since I graduated with my Graphic Design diploma. I feel like the space I'm at now allows me to look back on some of the things I really wasn't prepared for, the things that nothing can teach you except real-world experience. For a while in the blogosphere there's been a lot of people making noise about doing what you're passionate about for a living. Lately I've noticed a few "I tried doing what I was passionate about…and then the passion died" posts. It made me so sad, but I also resonated deeply with the challenges that all creatives face - especially stepping out into the working world of 8 hour creative days that don't wait around for inspiration to strike. I feel like I've learned a some things about managing this challenge, and I want to share a few! These are written to the budding creative professional, but really apply to any human being trying to find their place in the world :D.

When Inspiration Fails You
Inspiration is essential to developing innovative new ideas. Without it, we'd never think to use iPads in hospitals, or old tires to make chairs, or the force of wind to create electricity. But I find that many people (student-me included!) have the wrong idea about how inspiration finds us. We take on a new project and get really excited about the possibilities. We sit ourselves down under the tree and wait for the apple to drop. And wait…and wait…. Sometimes it comes (as in the classic newton example I just alluded to), and we ride the high of the right mixture of attention to detail and problem solving that spits out magic with little to no effort. But that is not the norm! In order to keep our "creative wells full" we need to learn how to dig for water. I've learned that the majority of projects have "frustration and hair tearing" as well as "hopelessness and confusion" built in to their creative process. When we put our passions to work, its just that - work. But when we start to train ourselves to create inspiration instead of waiting for it to find us - the rewards are incredible, and all of a sudden a long-term creative career is a real probability!

When Comparison Kills You
I think this one is going to haunt me forever. "Comparison is the thief of all Joy" is one of the truest statements floating around out there! The problem with keeping your finger on the pulse of what other creatives are doing is that you very quickly switch from being inspired, to being discouraged by what you didn't think of or can't pull off. It takes an effort to shut out the voices and separate your own work from what other people are doing. I find that separating my "idea finding" time from "idea generating" time helps let the things I've seen seep in and inspire my ideas instead of directing them. We'll lose ourselves if we get caught up trying to be someone else. It's a pretty straightforward concept, but intensely hard to internalize!

When Standards Overwhelm You
The accessibility of the internet is a great asset to the work of a creative person. It's so easy to follow creative trends and the needs of our market place. We can learn from the successes and failures of others without having to meet them for coffee. Similar to the problem of comparison though, is the danger of getting carried away with industry standards for success. I think our creative natures drive us to pursue higher levels of achievement, but we let society define what that means. What if success for me isn't selling out a successful blogging workshop or getting design awards? What if success for me is finding a way to enrich my community with my skills and resources? We have to learn to separate what really brings us joy from what we think will bring us joy.

Does any of this resonate with you? Do you work in the creative industry or something else entirely? I'd love to hear from you, reader(s) :D! 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Field Notes - Bronchitis

Well. I am not about to deliver on the aforementioned "post of substance" from the last time I blogged. No, this is something else entirely.

Since returning from our European vacation I've been floating around in this strange place of fatigue and indecision. I've started and stopped numerous things, dreamed big one day and squashed it the next. I'm only just starting to feel like I've found my groove back, but with that progress comes a bit of a complication:


Ever had it? Don't. Here are some things I've learned about living (and travelling!) with bronchitis. Field notes, if you will. 
  • bronchitis means coughing. There is nay supposed to be mucus in your lungs yo, so cough it up! 
  • everyone thinks your coughing sounds like you're actually dying. 
  • doctors can't get rid of your bronchitis. They can however offer helpful tidbits like "you have big lungs!" ...thanks...?
  • airplane descents with the sinus infection that accompanies bronchitis are painful! And also silly - I swear at one point air came out my eye. 
  • cold air means coughing doesn't work very well. As a result, sore ribs/midsection/throat/head! (thanks weekend in Edmonton)
  • bronchitis makes all the essential-oil enthusiast come out of the wood-work with helpful tips and kind offerings.
  • bronchitis does not really respond to essential oils, or anything much else.
  • bronchitis makes you TIRED
  • bronchitis makes you really really appreciate your cuddly cat, your cozy home, and your loving friends and family and husband who cut you slack and take care of you. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Back! Miss Me?

Although its doubtful that anyone has missed me on the blog, I'm back!

And I thought I'd give a little update while I try to get myself together and post something of substance. First of all, today is my 25th birthday! Its strange, this one definitely seems like the end of something...and the start of something awesome. So here's to a great golden year! 

We got back a week ago from a 2 week stint on European soil. It was a whirlwind of history, food, and culture, and hopefully soon I'll have some photos together to share. I've been wary through this whole experience of over-sharing, but everyone I talk to says "I can't wait to see your pictures!" So I'll try to narrow them down to a digestible amount :D!

We had a great thanksgiving weekend with family and friends. There is normally more space between thanksgiving and my birthday, so this year I feel extra abundantly blessed as its all pilled on at once. I have an amazing, functional family - fantastic friends who know me and (still!) love me - a terrific group of people to work with and a job that somehow still keeps me interested and inspired - and an incredible husband who I appreciate more every day. And a cat that never stops purring to fill in all the space between everything else :D. 

Here's a visual summary of life since I've been home. AKA last week :D

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Dark Side? Light Side?

Every month I get to create artwork for a Phil Callaway article in the Insights magazine. I love this challenge every time - he's hilarious and heart felt and usually a perfect candidate for a cheeky illustration. In August A Letter to Blain was published, in which he encourages a young man in the way of living a life of Joy. I keyed in on one phrase, and the general love of all things Star Wars, and came up with this piece.

"Go Make A Difference. Like Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker you’ll have opportunity all day to choose the dark or the light. Brighten the world for others and the sun will shine on you." -Phil Callaway, A Letter to Blain