Friday, 31 December 2010

Happy New Year!

It’s that strange time between Christmas and the New Year when I always wish that we could just roll the two holidays into one without the gap in between. As Michael McIntyre so accurately observed in his comedy sketch, we never seem to know quite what’s what in those days between Christmas and New Year! And of course if the New Year began immediately after Christmas Day, think what a lot of travelling could be avoided!

But I don’t foresee that anything is likely to change just to please me and in fact, the lull in the festivities gives us an opportunity to ponder that great tradition, the New Year’s Resolutions!

For years now, I’ve made just one Resolution and it’s always the same one because it serves me so well – to remind myself often that what we get isn’t always what we deserve!

It works both ways; sometimes we get more than we deserve, other times less. Oh yes, I do know that biblical saying about reaping and sowing! But I don’t honestly believe it always holds true. For instance how on earth can a child born with crippling disabilities or the elderly being abused in a 'care home' be reaping what it has sown; the same goes for the victims of crimes, accidents and natural disasters who may well be the reapers of what others have sown.

In spite of this, how often do we ask ourselves when something goes badly wrong, ‘What did I do to deserve this?’ and the honest answer as far as I’m concerned, is, ‘Probably nothing at all’. And similarly when we are on the receiving end of good fortune, it’s sometimes more appropriate to be grateful rather than thinking it’s what we somehow ‘deserve’.

Lessons from the past year and goals for the new one.
But as well as this general, all-purpose resolution of mine, I like to look back over the year as it comes to an end, and look for useful lessons to take into the new year, to evaluate the successes and failures and to set goals for the coming twelve month period.

For most of us, these goals tend to take the form of things to give up, ways to ‘improve’ ourselves in some way  - lose x pounds in weight, be nicer to the brother-in-law I can’t get on with, do some drawing every single day, for instance; and they tend be embarked upon with enthusiasm and then fizzle out by the end of January.

Goals or Wishlists?
This could be down to the way we choose and frame our goals. A long time ago I read somewhere that when asked to name their ‘goals’, few people can do it with much enthusiasm. But ask them to name their ‘wants’ and they’ll easily come up with an extensive wishlist! So maybe it’s simply a question of what we say to ourselves that makes the difference between achieving our goals  - or not.

For instance, instead of saying that your goal is to avoid fattening foods, try, ‘I very much want to fit comfortably into my summer clothes this year’.

Instead of telling yourself to be nicer to that irritating brother-in-law, try, ‘I want to enjoy the company of my brother-in-law in as many ways as possible’.

I don’t know if it works but it’s worth a try!

Have a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year!


Thursday, 23 December 2010

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

And a very big 
to all of you who have been following my blog
and especially to all those who've taken the trouble to comment on my posts. 
 I really do appreciate hearing from you! 

I hope you all enjoy a 
Wonderful Christmas,
whatever you have planned 
and I look forward to seeing you all again
after the festivities!

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

The Future of Christmas Cards

Each year I intend to send fewer Christmas cards, to stop sending them to people I haven't been in touch with, or even given a thought to, for years - apart from the annual Christmas card! But then they send me one and I hastily return the favour and so it goes on...

Thinking about this, my curiosity has just led me to revisit the statistics about Christmas card sales on the UK Greeting Card Association website hoping to discover whether Christmas cards sales are increasing  - or not! I didn't find and answer but I noticed that the most recent figures for the sales of Christmas cards are as follows:

  • Christmas cards accounted for 45% of all the total volume of greeting card sales.

  • Christmas cards accounted for only 18% of the total value of greeting card sales.

I wonder whether this is because most of the Christmas cards we send are in packs of 5,10 or even 50 and work out at a much lower price per card than other greeting cards? I know that I only buy the more expensive individual cards for my immediate family and send everyone else a card from a pack, which keeps the cost down considerably!

Many of the cards we buy in packs are Charity cards and they are generally excellent designs, good quality card and very good value! Apparently £50,000,000 is raised annually for charity through the sale of Christmas cards.

I assume that this means that I am more likely to sell my birthday cards and greeting cards for all sorts of other occasions locally at £1.80 each than my Christmas cards at the same price. My experience so far has been that a Christmas card needs to be particularly special if it’s to command a higher price than the cards sold in packs. For instance, a local newsagent - not the one who sold my Red Dragons! – quickly sold out of the cards that I made from my photos of the snow in our local park and around the church and tithe barn, probably because I added greetings ‘from Abergavenny’. (By comparison, there seems to have been a far smaller demand for my other Christmas Cards, even when I added the greeting in Welsh, as below, though I've yet to discover how many have been sold in our local Art Shop and Gallery!)

So should we be sending so many Christmas cards?
The Royal Mail delivers an average of 17 Christmas cards per man, woman and child! The staggering figure of 150 million Christmas cards and packets are handled by Royal Mail each day in the run-up to Christmas, resulting in an estimated 1 billion greeting cards being thrown away after Christmas! To me this seems an awful waste of some beautifully designed cards and I always do my bit for recycling by trimming the best of them to make into gift tags for the following years.

In recent years we have all been urged to recycle our Christmas cards by taking them to various recycling schemes such as the ones provided by the supermarket, Tesco. Another suggestion from those who are trying to reduce the post-Christmas refuse mountain, is that we should send more e-cards instead of paper Christmas cards. I think this could be a good idea in some cases, though there are still many people I know who don’t use a computer at all – and I do think that most of us still enjoy having ‘the real thing’ on display at Christmas time.

But when I’ve watched children – grandchildren and pupils – opening their Christmas cards, I’ve noticed that for the most part they are barely afforded a glance before being discarded in favour of getting on with opening the gift! At such times, the thought has crossed my mind that we might as well skip the greeting card, saving both money and paper to be recycled! But of course, such thoughts are verging on heresy to a designer of Greeting Cards, who enjoys creating them and depends on selling as many as possible of them!

Maybe, sometime in the future, e-cards will completely replace the real paper cards and the best of them will be paid for, like these gorgeous animations from Jacqui Lawson?

What do you think? 

Would you be prepared to do without paper Christmas Cards for the sake of the environment and to cut the cost of Chrismas?


Tuesday, 21 December 2010

How to make paper snowflakes!

We seem to be heading for a 'White Christmas' this year but that's quite unusual here in the UK.

So for the past few years I've been creating our own 'White Christmas' by cutting out paper snowflakes and fixing them to the downstairs windows.

They are very easy to make and can be a way to keep excited children occupied in the run-up to Christmas when we grandparents and parents are particularly busy! As many schools have closed early because of the snow this year, this could be a particularly useful activity to keep boredom/over-excitement at bay!

You will need:
  • some sheets of white A4 paper
  • some scissors, suitable to the age of the child
  • a small amount of Blutac for sticking the snowflakes to the windows. 

The trickiest bit is the folding to get the true haxagon shape and smaller children may need some help with this, though I've found older children surprisingly accurate with estimating the angles!

Snowflake Instructions:

  1. Fold the sheet of A4 paper in half, either way, according to the size of the snowflake you wish to make.
  2. Fold the right-hand corner over, as in diagram 2, making sure that angles 'a' and 'b' are as nearly equal as you can make them.
  3. Fold the left-hand corner behind, as in diagram 3, keeping the edges of the triangle you have formed as close together as you can. 
  4. Holding the pointed end together, cut straight across through all the layers from 'c' to 'd', leaving you with a triangular shape consisting of 6 layers of paper.
  5. Still holding the layers together, cut any shape you like out of the edge that you just cut.
  6. Cut a chunk out of the folded point of the triangle and then more chips and chunks out of the two folded sides, being careful not to cut all the way through to the first area that you cut out. If this does happen, it's not a disaster but you will just have some parts of your snowflake missing - as in real life!
Unfold the paper very carefully and flatten the snowflake as best you can before sticking to the window with tiny spots of bluetac -

 - and there you have your 
Instant White Christmas!

Sunday, 19 December 2010

A Smile through the Snow!

A few weeks ago I posted a photo of the 'smiley' that someone had cut in the bracken on the hillside, overlooking the park that I walk across each time I go shopping.

Then it all but disappeared and I presumed it was because the cut bracken had begun to grow again.

But no! The first light dusting of snow revealed that it's still there and smiling down at us through the snow!

And here's a closer view -

It's completely covered by the snow now but I'm beginning to wonder what it will look like next Spring.

Anyone like to hazard a guess?


Saturday, 18 December 2010

Feeding the birds continued..

I've been trying to improve on my attempts to photograph the birds in my garden but I don't seem to be making much, if any, progress! It seems as if the birds know immediately I go anywhere near the window and take flight!

This was the nearest I came to catching the blackbird in the act of eating the apple when our first snow had thawed and the second lot hadn't yet arrived -

But I did get a better shot of him sitting on the wall in the sunshine, wondering where to fly off to next -

You can just make out his one light grey feather but I'm sure the one that ate my apples last year had his white feather on the other side! Maybe a lot of  blackbirds have a white feather? I don't know - I'm no bird expert!

I haven't seen much of the blue tits lately and when they do visit my garden, they seem to stay very high up in the fruit trees, in spite of my net of seeds that I've hung from the lower branches. They seem to be more interested in pecking at the branches than my specially bought birdseed!

As you can see, the snow is back with us and causing its usual havoc on the roads.

It's even managed to turn Zeus's hair white overnight!

Maybe he's worrying about how everyone is going to manage at Christmas if our roads, railways and airports are still affected by the white stuff! I'm really lucky in that I spend Christmas at home and the shops are close enough to walk to, even in pretty awful weather conditions. 

But if you do have to travel in this unusually inclement weather, I wish you all a safe and comfortable journey!

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Information or Opinion - which is it?

Do you remember the Australian comedian, Clive James, and his frequent, hilarious references to the ‘Information Super-Highway’, back in the days when, for many of us, the internet was some strange new activity for teenage boys and their friends that required them to closet themselves in their bedrooms for hours on end and resulted in huge telephone bills?

That phrase, ‘The Information Super-Highway’ and Clive James’s descriptions of getting lost in the side roads and back alleys of the internet, are often in my mind as I hunt down some small piece of information and find myself, hours later, none the wiser but having read up on all sorts of other interesting but irrelevant subjects!

Who needs books when you can get what you want from the internet? To be sure, there’s a vast amount of information out there on the web – so much that it’s a rare thing for me to buy a non-fiction book these days! Why pay good money for a book that I may only refer to a couple of times a year when I can just look up what I need to know on the internet? Wonderful!

A few years ago I even taught myself to teach reading using Synthetic Phonics entirely through reading articles on the internet and participating in the relevant discussion forums. And in the past year or so, I’ve learnt a huge amount about greeting card design, illustration, marketing, Search Engine Optimisation, blogging... I should think there must be thousands, possibly millions, of articles, hubpages, lenses and blogs giving advice about blogging alone!

 But I’ve discovered that we need to be very careful. Some of what passes for‘information’ would be better categorised as ‘opinion’. Sometimes, if the article or blog is written with enough authority, it’s easy to forget that it’s just the author’s opinion and not necessarily based on hard evidence. Anyone with a smattering of information can, by adopting a tone of authority, pass themselves off as an ‘expert’, especially if they make liberal use of bullet points!

When we are hungry for advice or information, it’s very easy to swallow what we read, hook line and sinker. A new and enthusiastic learner will soak up ‘information’ like a sponge, without filtering out the ‘opinion’. It was when I noticed the contradictions in some of the ‘information’ and advice about blogging that I realised that I needed to be more selective about what I take on board and what I reject.

Contradictory advice is the clue
On the subject of blogging alone, some advise us to post everyday, others advise several times a day, while yet others strongly suggest we should not post too often! Respond to all comments, respond to just some comments...turn your comments off! Let your personality come through – don’t get too personal, nobody’s interested in you...and so it goes on!

In the end we have to decide for ourselves what is sound, useful advice and what is someone just churning out yet another blog post. Sometimes it’s hard for the novice to know what to believe and what not to, in which case, the only way is to ‘suck it and see’.

There will always be people with different ideas about the best way forward – that’s the way of the world. But when we’re just starting out on our learning curve, one of the first things we need to learn to do is to distinguish between solid, tried and tested, information and mere opinion masquerading as information. It’s important if we are to avoid wandering down roads to nowhere.......

Monday, 13 December 2010

Symbols of Christmas in Different Countries -

I have to confess that I still get seized with a childlike excitement at the thought of Christmas! But as an adult, my excitement is generally mixed with a large helping of anxiety, bordering on panic when I realise how much there is to prepare and how little time left to do it! I’m not, however, quite as frantic as a neighbour from years ago, who would pronounce herself ‘behind’ with Christmas in September! 

The year that we had builders doing a major refurbishment of our Edwardian house in Norwich right up to and including Christmas Eve afternoon, taught me that it’s possible to cut some corners – such as buying the Christmas Cake and Christmas Pudding instead of making them! – and still have a thoroughly enjoyable Christmas.

But, although I have recently ‘cut a corner’ and succumbed to an artificial Christmas Tree, I still enjoy decorating the house and I’d almost go so far as to say that a reason that I love living in Victorian or Edwardian houses is that they seem to take to Christmas decorations 'like a duck to water'! 

But mixed in with the excitement, there are a number of regularly surfacing ‘tensions’ to do with Christmas that have virtually reached the status of Christmas Traditions! So I’ve created a series of Christmas cards on the theme of these ‘alternative’ traditions'.  Maybe some of the humour won’t be fully understood by anyone who hasn’t spent Christmas in the UK. But then there are also things that have surprised me about US Christmases since I joined Greeting Card Universe.

I suppose it was the different category choices available on GCU that drew my attention to the differences between Christmas here in the UK and Christmas in other countries.

Whereas we would have a major category for robins – one year nearly half of the cards I received had robins on them – I don’t think we would ever dream of having ‘candy-canes’! Previously I didn't even know what they were though maybe they’ll cross the Atlantic at some point... ‘Happy Holidays’ is a greeting you’d never find in the UK and I’d never heard of ‘Secret Santa’ until I joined GCU - but I think it's beginning to take root over here. And ‘Father Christmas’ is used far more commonly than ‘Santa’ in the UK - for now!

It took me a while to work out that ‘ornaments’ are what we would call ‘decorations’ and Greeting Card Universe doesn't seem to have a category for 'candles', (unless I've missed it!) which are a common feature of our Christmas Cards. I’m still not sure what a typical Christmas dinner consists of in any part of the world except the UK. Of course, all these differences matter when it comes to designing Christmas cards for sale worldwide. For instance, this Christmas card that I received a couple of years ago would only amuse someone who lived in a country where mince pies are an integral part of Christmas.

This year, many of my online sales have been Christmas cards with their captions in a foreign language but I always wonder whether what we here in the UK look upon as the traditional Christmas subject matter, would also be appreciated in other countries.

So I’m requesting that you all do me, and hopefully other readers, a favour by writing  your countries' traditional symbols of Christmas in the ‘Comments’ box. I think it should be really interesting – and helpful when it comes to next year's Christmas card designs too!

Thursday, 9 December 2010

‘Work-Life’ Balance

Are you getting your ‘Work-Life’ balance right?
I have always been puzzled by that question because it seems to suggest that ‘Work’ is one thing and ‘Life’ is another! Is this the way most people think of their work, as something separate from and in opposition to their ‘lives’? Maybe. But I doubt if artists and others who make their living being what’s generally termed ‘creative’, look at it that way. For me, and I suspect many others, my ‘work’ is a vital part of my ‘life’.

In fact I would go so far as to say that drawing and painting and some kinds of writing are often more like ‘play’!  They involve the same elements of curiosity, imagination and experimentation that we all had in abundance as children. And this is a very necessary part of my life; it makes me feel right. feel like I’m being ‘myself’ more than almost anything else that I do.

'The only time I feel alive is when I’m painting.' Vincent Van Gogh

This has caused a few awkward moments as it’s so difficult to explain convincingly to friends who don’t feel this need to do ‘creative’ things on a regular basis. On several occasions I’ve excused myself from social visits if they coincide with time I’d set aside for myself to paint. I generally give ‘work’ as my reason, preferring the ‘tut-tuts’ that suggest that I’m being branded a workaholic, to having to explain that I’m more desperate for some ‘play-time’ than I am for company.

I wonder why it’s so hard to admit to needing time to play? Playing is so good for us and we’d probably all be a lot happier and healthier if we did more of it. But I think that for many of us - and I venture to suggest this applies to women in particular - allowing ourselves time off to play when there are so many other things and people requiring our attention is quite difficult. This may have its roots in lingering traces of  ‘puritanical’ thinking that suggests that we are not here to enjoy ourselves!

'To love what you do and feel that it matters – how could anything be more fun?' Katherine Graham

A great quote, as long as we haven’t been programmed somewhere along to line, to think of ‘fun’ as an expensive luxury that we probably can't afford.

But all that aside, for me, and probably for many artists, what prevents us from spending as much time as we’d like on our creative pursuits - that we may call ‘work’ or ‘play’ - is the fact that we need to somehow make a living!

I recently read a blog post about someone who had suggested that artists should not be paid for their work but take care of their bills by taking a ‘proper job’, making their art in their spare time. This, of course, provoked a great many outraged comments from artists and the common claim that relegating one’s creative pursuits to ‘spare time’ after a day at an unfulfilling job, was a good way to kill off one’s creativity!

But even if an artist makes it their full-time job, the whole business of bringing in some money from one’s art can be time-consuming and a drain on one’s energy. When I first began offering my greeting card designs for sale, I was told that I’d need to spend 80% of my time on marketing and 20% actually creating. And so it has been!

In fact, in the past few months, the ‘non-creating’ activities have threatened to squeeze the opportunities to draw and paint right out of my life. So for me, and probably for other artists, the imbalance is more likely to be between actually creating and all the time-consuming activities that we have to take on in order to make a living from what we have created.

I haven’t yet got the balance right – but I’m working on it, trying to find a way that I can spend at least 25% of my time on my art. I'm hoping to take a step back over the Christmas holiday period and learn some lessons from 2010 that I can put into practice in the new year. Because, quite apart from how it makes me feel to have no time paint, if I’m not giving myself time to produce the artwork, am I not, in a sense, ‘killing off the Goose that lays the Golden eggs?’


"Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life" - Confucius

 If only it were that simple!

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

All sorts of iPhone and iPad cases...

...on my other blog today! 

Frosty Ivy iPhone case speckcase
Frosty Ivy iPhone case by helikettle
See other iphone designs

By the way, you may be interested to read Jackie Walker's blog post about the birds enjoying apples, coincidentally published on the same day as my 'Feeding the Birds' post!

Monday, 6 December 2010

Feeding the birds!

In November I posted a photo of the nasturtiums that I had reluctantly removed from my garden when they began to take over the paths!

In the background were the fallen apples, that I leave for the blackbirds and I was beginning to wonder what was happening as there was no sign of the birds - until last week when we had snow!

We didn't have a lot of snow, compared to Scotland and the North-East of England but it was enough to cover the apples and, as we had some of the lowest temperatures in the UK, presumably to freeze them too!  So I thought they would be useless to the birds in their hidden and frozen state.

But that was precisely when the blackbird appeared, accompanied by a second male blackbird and a female and they tucked into the apples with enthusiasm!

I'm absolutely no bird photographer! Apart from anything else, any birds that I spot through my kitchen windows are well gone by the time I open the door! And my new camera can cause me problems in some light conditions as I can't alway see what I'm photographing! So my first attempt to catch a blackbird enjoying an apple (above) was pure chance! And so was my second -

I did a little better with the sparrows up high in the apple and pear trees because I could more or less see what was going to be in the picture -

But it took a lot of standing very still in the snow without a coat or boots on, waiting for the birds to return after they'd fled when I opened the door! I wish we could puff up our feathers like this one, to keep ourselves warm!

The following day I noticed from inside that there were not only the blackbirds and sparrows in my little fruit trees, but two blue-tits and two thrushes as well! The only thing missing in the pear tree was the 'partridge'!

I think I could get quite hooked on this bird-watching. I've never known a tiny garden with so many different birds. There's a robin too and some nights I can hear an owl very close by, though I've never managed to see it. And I'm sure the birds in Wales sing more sweetly, in good Welsh tradition, than anywhere else! Maybe it's a consolation for not having a cat these days?

But I realise that I need to improve my photography somehow, especially when I see the wonderful bird photos that Jean posts on her blog!

Maybe, one day, I'll have a go at painting them instead!

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Christmas Traditions -

with a lighthearted look at some
Christmas Traditions

These Christmas Cards are also available from UK company,


Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Handpainted Christmas Cards from GCU Artists

As I said in my previous post, on joining GCU a year ago, my impression was that most of the card designs were digitally produced. However, there are still plenty of wonderful designs available that were painted using traditional methods and here is a selection of them for Christmas.

The small size of these images makes it difficult to see  just what'is so special about these handpainted designs, so click on the images and see the larger version.

Susan Alison's watercolour 
'Dog' Christmas Tree  

Myrna Migala's watercolour
'Twelve Days of Christmas'

Diana Ting Delosh's watercolour and ink
'Polar Bear, Cub and Christmas Wreath'

Sharon Eyres' Folk Art Style
'Christmas Snow'

Steve Delmonte's watercolour and ink
Ho Ho Holiday!

Brenda Thour's 

Amy Reges'
'Christmas Yellow Labrador tugs Santa down Chimney'

Robin Chaffin's coloured pencils
'Snowman Friend Merry Christmas'

Judith Cheng's
'Tis the Season to believe in Magic'

Mary Harris's aatercolour and iInks
Nativity Scene - the Angel

Christie Black's
'For friends - Lion and Lamb - Merry Christmas'

Cindy A Teresa's acrylic
'Christmas Peace - beautiful, snowy Winter Scene'

Lane Cobb-Combs' acrylic on canvas
'Silent Night'

Barbara Schreiber's watercolour
'Merry Christmas Card - Robin with Hat'

Harriet Masterton's acrylic
'Merry Christmas'

Lyn Norton's watercolour
'Angel Harpist'

 And here's my favourite from the handpainted paper collages I made for this year - with a Welsh Greeting!

When you click on an image to take a closer look, you will also find the link that enables you to explore all the cards in the artist's store.


iPhone Cases for all!

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