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

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Taking Off

On friday Dwayne and I are taking off. We're boarding a plane in our walking shoes and embarking on a european adventure. We'll eat new things and sleep in strange places and butcher new languages. And we'll have a blast, consciously aware of the way our Father has blessed us with 2 weeks of vacation time and a host of new experiences, to expand our worldviews and strengthen our marriage. It's gonna be GREAT.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Dresser Refinishing!

I won't deny it, refinishing furniture is therapeutic for me. You take something dingy and dumpy and give it a new lease on life. AND if you keep it, you add a little bit more of yourself into your home. I resent my big brand store-bought pieces some times, because they're so lacking in personality! Cheap, sure, but I can't wait until they break and I can replace them with something OLD. Crazy.

I picked up this one for $25 at Value Villiage a while back. I haven't quite found the right place for it in my house, but it looks cute none-the-less.

I gave it a light sanding, then painted it with white Behr paint/primer interior. Even though it was white on cream, it took 5 or 6 coats to get a solid cover. I picked up some sweet old pulls from the Habitat for Humanity Re-Store for .50 each, and gave them a coat of black spray paint (they were a bronze/gold). Since both paints I used were left over from other projects, I didn't have to spend anything else, so that totals this project at $27! Including a few hours of painting fun :D.

To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure if the paint without a clear coat would stand up to much abuse. I've never used a clear coat because I don't abuse my pieces much, but I think the risk of painting is chipping, and a clear coat might be necessary if you've got kids around. (EDIT: because I was thinking about it, I looked it up. Here is a great set of answers for these clear coating questions:

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Reality Vs War

Sometimes, in the middle of my normal morning routine—between resigning myself to a banana for breakfast or weighing the effort vs payoff of making a smoothie—I hear a fragment of world news.

I struggle to grasp the reality of life for those living dying in Egypt, Syria, Israel, Sudan....

It seems to me we consider 2 options.
  1. Feel a bit sad, but don't allow the reality to really sink in. After all, there's nothing you can do. 
  2. Drop everything and dedicate yourself to making a difference. After all, what is my paycheck compared to someone's life?
Of course, most of us don't really consider option 2. Thats crazy talk. We resign ourselves to option 1, "wishing there was a better way!" 

I have no answer. But I am convinced that God's heart breaks for these conflicts, and if mine remains aloof, how can I continue to pray "let your will be done"?

Image (egypt): Josef Heiss
map: wikipedia

Monday, August 12, 2013


- lost my dear cat, adopted a charming kitten (cried a few tears). joined thousands watching fireworks. soaked in buttloads of sunshine. stood by dear friends as they got married. Put together my first book design. spent too much time feeling insecure. failed to make morning runs a habit. instead made them some kind of occasional hobby. dared to dream a few times.

Here are some highlights from the July Insights.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Dreaming an Old Dream

A few nights ago I had a dream I can remember clear as day.

I emerged from the muddle of some sort of plot line that most dreams begin with and found myself astride a beautiful white horse in a field of tall grass. We stood at the top of a bluff looking out over a sea of rolling hills. As the wind rustled through the long stalks, turning carpet into velvet, I smiled and said aloud, "This is it. This is the dream. This is all I've ever wanted, and its perfect."

Then I turned, and rode back in to the muddled fog that I came from. When I woke in the morning, it was fresh in my mind. It left me feeling refreshed, renewed, and reminded that the pressures of this world are not what our Father in heaven created us for.

I'll get there someday. :)

(photo taken in Rossland BC)

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Becoming Original

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery; 
Nothing is original. All human expression is really just endless variations; 
You can't create anything new. Repetition and reference are all that is left.

In a "visual arts and culture" class in my second year DAAD program, my professor stopped her lecture and asked us all to raise our hands if we thought we were capable of changing the world. One or two people did the wavering half-raise, but the majority of us just sat there kind of stunned. Until that moment I had never realized how pessimistic my postmodern worldview was. She proceeded to explain to us how 20 years earlier when she asked that question, almost every had was raised. This was a class of 20-somethings after all: aren't we the "future generation," the ones now responsible to stop global warming, AIDS, hunger, and WWIII? But we were already jaded. 

That class gave me a LOT to think about. It helped that my prof was a vocal feminist/activist and didn't care how many students she pissed off each week, but she was great at asking the questions no one else was asking us. "Do you think you can change the world? You say you dont, but do you actually believe women are weak? Why does GI Joe have biceps bigger than his head?"

All this translates somehow into my current view of my work and the Graphic Design industry. When I graduated, I felt like I was ready to be the designer I wanted to be. I thought I knew what I needed to know and I was "it." Sure I knew I'd need to keep learning to keep up, but in a naive way I thought all I needed more of was technical skill. 

The more I work at this job, the more I become aware of how much more I want to be. I'll never be content to find a little niche and stay in it. I think its the creative spirit in me, and a deep response to my professors challenge years ago. I don't know if I can change the world with graphic design. But I know that I don't want to stop trying. Which means I have to keep striving to create something new, even though I don't know if its possible. I have to be aware of which creations of mine are imitations, which techniques are going into my tool box for a future project where I will really stretch myself. I feel like I'm "in training," and that at some point I'm going to want, need to race. 

We'll see. Maybe the nature of the beast is that I'll always feel this way. But at the end of my days, I hope that Jesus and I can look back and see that I gave it all I had, in my work and in my life. Because really this translates to everything I do. Complacency is not for me. It's not for any of us. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Illustration Case Study

As you may know, one of my favourite things to do is illustrate. Here's a peak at my process! My own version of "how its made." This illustration is from the June Insights Magazine for an article called "Battling Disappointment." You'll be glad to know after numerous corrections I am finally able to spell "Disappointment" ("its like "appointment" with "dis" at the front!" -Robyn).

I usually start with a shape in my mind. Once it forms enough I put it on paper or ipad, then begin to bring it to life. I usually use a pencil, Photoshop and Illustrator at some point in each illustration. This guy was brought into photoshop for final texturing and some extra shading/refining. A bit of graphic accessorizing if you will.

I won't lie to you, there are many times that I get my roughs done and then realize that I hadn't planned well enough for incorporating it with the article. Sometimes it takes a bit of refining to get it all to work together! Never mind working it with the other 6 or 7 articles in each magazine...

I often plan to incorporate the title treatment within my illustration. Sometimes that means starting with the title, other times it means adding it once I have most of my elements put together. In all cases I hope and pray that the title doesn't change! 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Tell Yourself the Truth - Desktop Download #4

Sometimes I stop by to read the daily slice from Oswald Chambers (from My Utmost for His Highest). Today I noticed the quote on the sidebar, and felt it resonate with how I sometimes struggle with my outlook on life.
"Am I getting nobler, better, more helpful, more humble, as I get older? Am I exhibiting the life that men take knowledge of as having been with Jesus, or am I getting more self-assertive, more deliberately determined to have my own way? It is a great thing to tell yourself the truth."
-Oswald Chambers, The Place of Help, 1005 R
Unfortunately I often find myself acting in the way he tries to steer us away from. I love how he finishes his convicting thought: "It is a great thing to tell yourself the truth." He passes no judgement: its up to us to see the truths in our own lives and know when its time to change.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Taking in the Tunes

I'm a huge fan of noisetrade, the source of loads of wonderful free music (but tip if you love what you hear!) I've turned in to one of those people I never wanted to be: a bit of a music snob. I think its a result of becoming a junkie: I listen to music ALL DAY every day, and I get sick of whatever has been on repeat after a while. So I go sleuthing for new stuff, and noisetrade usually tips me off to some lovely melodies. After a while, I started getting comments like "you're one of 'those music people' aren't you? Have you ever heard of this band?" I really don't want to be one of "those people," but I can't stop my consumption of incredible music. Well hey! That's what it exists for! 

Here are three of my recent favourites, I hope you enjoy! :D

Noisetrade prescribes this album for fans of Mumford & Sons, Of Monsters and Men, and Fleet Foxes, and they couldn't be more spot on. They have an awesome sound and not once have I pressed "skip." Oh, AND they're from Vancouver! Win!

This album has been a staple in my playlist for a while. Like the Tourist Company, they have a chill & awesome sound as well as some pretty wonderful lyrics.

Some people have a thing against live albums, but I enjoy the banter and crowd interaction. Josh Ritter has an upbeat and folksy sound, and his wry attitude make this album great for infusing a bit of energy into your day. 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Crazy Joy - Magazine Illustration

For the May issue of Insights I put together this illustration for an article called "Five Steps to Crazy Joy" by Phil Callaway. At one point in the article he mentions people who find dogs in sweaters funny, so I ran with it. I made use of my new "tattoo artist" light table :D and started with pencil sketches that became pen drawings, and were digitized then coloured in photoshop.

I love seeing these characters come to life. I don't usually have a completed concept or character in my brain when I start working, and its like putting my pencil to the paper draws them out of some corner of my mind. Yes, my mind is secretly full of little dogs in sweaters. I'll end on that.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Project: Business Cards

If you're connected with me on facebook or instagram you got a glimpse of these already, back when they arrived in the mail and I couldn't contain my excitement. I've finally gotten around to taking some snazzy pics of them, and I'm excited to share my business cards. I've been freelancing since the middle of my design diploma, and somewhere in the last year I decided I really needed to shape up and be presentable. Slowly but surely I've been building a personal brand that finally worked its way into print. Any designer will tell you that they've never had a more difficult client than themselves. (printed with moo)

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Laura the Explorer

Last week my friend Monique and I ventured onto an "abandoned" property to capture a photo for one of my upcoming magazines. After we'd nailed the location and I'd gotten the "work" done, we explored the beautiful property full of magical (and stinky) empty buildings. We definitely got in touch with our 10 year old exploring selves, and I felt giddy with my re-awakened imagination. I couldn't help but think of the lives that had been lived in those spaces, and could be lived again if a lot of time and money ever go back into that place. Every time we opened a door we were surprised by what was behind it. I love the randomness of older home layouts. I hope my future home has its fair share of strange closets and oddly shaped cupboards!

Then we topped off our adventure with a visit to some brown-eyed pups. This city girl loves her some country!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Think About Grace - DESKTOP DOWNLOAD #3

It's a word I hear quite regularly around the office. Its one of those words that becomes stagnant in my mind as I take from here, send it there, pass it over, fold it under...

But BOY. Is it important to stop from time to time and put it on the table in front of me, by itself, and contemplate what Grace means: to me, for me, for life.

You know it changes everything.

What is broken is seen as whole. 
What is soiled is seen as clean. 
What will never measure up exceeds expectations.

It changes EVERYTHING.

Today I encountered Christians who seem to have forgotten this concept, using their space on the web to pour out words of intolerance and judgement on Christians of another denomination. At first I was deeply angered, feeling their blatant close-mindedness as a personal affront. Eventually, my anger gave way to self analysis, and as I worked through my own close-minded perspectives I came back to this word.

Why do we always forget about GRACE?

download the Grace desktop image by clicking here.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Magazine Highlights: March 2013

Here are some more magazine shots. I'm sharing March today, since April hits the virtual newstands and most mailboxes on wednesday. As I put these together I realized I missed a few pages, but since they were mostly text I decided it didn't matter :D. I enjoyed infusing the easter issue with bright celebratory colours, since we have so much to celebrate this time of year :D (here is the full digital version if you'd like to read it).