Sunday, 31 October 2010

Something to smile about!

Snapped from the park I cross on the way into town.

I don't know who created this 'Smiley' to watch over us
in these troubled times, when there's talk of general strikes
and civil disobedience - but I'm really glad they did!

And for something with a Halloween connection,
click here

Thursday, 28 October 2010

10 types of blogs - which do you prefer?

I wonder whether the human race has ever before engaged in so much writing and reading as it has since the blogging habit took hold towards the end of the 20th century! 

Did Jorn Barger, who coined the term ‘weblog’ back in 1997, envisage that blogging would become so popular that now anyone who has internet access can ‘have their say’ to a potentially world-wide audience? Who would have guessed at that time that so many of us would find that blogging would fulfil a latent need in many of us to be ‘heard’, to have our own little corner of the world wide web where we can express ourselves, show off our work or simply broadcast news about our everyday lives?

A weblog is literally a ‘log’ on the web, a log being ‘a book in which records are kept’, for instance a ‘captain’s log', something like a diary or journal.  But out in the teeming blogosphere, the term has been extended to encompass all sorts of types of entries, the one thing they have in common being that they are updated regularly and appear in chronological order.

So here are a few of the different categories of blogs and links to one of my favourites in each category. (Of course there are many other wonderful blogs I could have listed but where would I stop?)

1. Online journals – often written to describe a change in life circumstances or an actual journey (travel-log). What makes them interesting? They offer us a view into something or some place where we would not otherwise have gone and if they’re well written, we can feel as if we are carried off to some far place with the writer. Some of these journals have become so popular that they’ve been published as books, particularly if they have the ability to move us as well as amuse us.

2. Artists’ blogs – again a kind of journal but with less writing and more images or videos to illustrate the day-by-day, week-by-week ‘journey’ of the artist.

3. Group blogs – a format often used by groups of artists. An advantage is that the content is kept fresh without too much of a burden on each individual artist

4. Celebrity blogs – often mostly ‘promotional’ with a few tidbits of information about the celebrity thrown in.

5. Corporate blogs – a way that a company can keep customers and potential customers updated about their products and services.

6. Promotional blogs. Similar to a corporate blog but written by an individual to promote their products. There may be some news updates but the chronological nature of the blog is relatively unimportant.

7. ‘Musings and Ponderings’ blogs. Here the objective is not to promote anything but again the chronology is generally  unimportant as the blogger writes about anything that occurred to them that they think will be of interest to their readers. Questions are often asked and readers’ responses are an important feature of this kind of blog, which seeks to fire off a discussion, either on the blog itself or at least in the reader’s mind.

8. Information/advice blogs. Many such blogs that I’ve come across, though not all, focus on tips about IT use, about blogging, about search engine optimisation etc. The blogger comes across as very authoritative and helpful, which is likely to be true as many of them make their living from blogging!

9 Political blogs – these are really online commentaries of political events, such as might be found in a newspaper or magazine and in fact they are often written by journalist. The difference is that there is a ‘comments’ option.

10. ‘None-of-the-above’ blogs! Of course there has to be a category for blogs that don’t fit neatly into any of the other nine categories I’ve listed. My favourite is –

A great many blogs, perhaps the majority of them, don’t fit into any one of these categories but are more ‘hybrid’ in nature. I would include my own blog in this! Maybe this comes about as we try to discover as we go along just what kind of blog we are writing! Or maybe that’s the way we want it to be – something for everyone. When I started blogging, nine months ago, I announced at the outset that it would be a bit of a hotch-potch and so it has turned out to be!

One of my favourites is:

Blogs fall into many categories – which sort do you prefer to read? And do you have a favourite?

Monday, 25 October 2010

Digital Art

 'Flow' by Australian Fractal Artist, Helene Kippert

This will probably sound very naive but when I first started investigating the greeting cards business last year, I was surprised to discover how many artists were using digital art for their designs. I had obviously been badly out of touch with what was going on in the art world while I was preoccupied with finding ways to teach reading and spelling in a way that would work for everyone.

My first impression was that I didn’t like it - I even had thoughts about it being somehow ‘cheating’! The furthest I would go was to use photo-editing software to bring my paintings back to resembling the originals after scanning and, of course, to use the computer to add the captions or greetings.

The difficulty was that I couldn’t pinpoint why I didn’t like digital art. So I asked around among fellow artists who use ‘traditional’ methods in their work. And the most consistent reason they gave was that it seemed somehow ‘too perfect’. One young artist mentioned the ‘pleasant imperfection’ in ‘handpainted’ or ‘hand-drawn’ art. And I do think it’s often those little imperfections that allow something of the personality of the artist to show through, that add spirit to the work. By comparison, much digital art can seem lifeless, formulaic.

I wonder whether this lack of ‘life’ in digital art could have something to do with the lack of physical movement involved in its making. Could what I know from my teaching about kinaesthetic memory be in some way relevant? Is it connected to how the physical act of writing a word repeatedly helps a student to remember a spelling? People have commented that my pastel paintings, whatever the subject, are full of ‘energy’. And that kind of painting is for me a very physically energetic experience. I always stand to paint and have been told that I pace about and almost ‘attack’ the paper – and I often feel quite physically exhausted afterwards! For me it seems unlikely that I could enter into that physically energetic state, seated at a computer.

But a few months ago, someone pointed out to me that the line between digital and ‘traditional’ art is quite blurred.

For instance, traditional drawing skills can be called upon when using a graphics tablet. And the ‘brushes’ in some ‘programs’ can give just the same sort of effect as a ‘real’ paintbrush. A huge advantage of  ‘digital’ can be the cost, especially as some graphics/illustration programs cost very little or nothing at all whereas most traditional art supplies don’t come cheap! No more expensive paper and paints to buy and mistakes can be reversed without wasting materials!

I’m almost tempted to have a go – but not quite, not yet! I enjoy the physical act of putting pencil to paper too much. But then there was a time when I honestly believed that I couldn’t write freely unless I had a pen in my hand and that has turned completely around so that nowadays, if I want to write something, such as a letter or a blog post, I would find it difficult to do without my computer! So who knows, maybe it’s just a matter of time?

I recently came across some digital art that took my breath away! Yes, really! It’s the work (above) of. Helene Kippert, showcased here, on Elinor Mavor’, Mavor Arts, where she interviews the artist. 

The thing about it is that it would be practically impossible to make art like this using traditional painting methods and it would be pointless to try! So maybe I’ve been misguided in comparing ‘traditional’ with ‘digital’ art and each has its own discrete place, like books in relation to plays and films. Maybe it’s when digital art tries to achieve the same end as traditional art that it falls short – in my opinion? Maybe digital art is at its best when it stays within its own boundaries as a separate but related ‘genre’?

What do you think?


Sunday, 24 October 2010

Sunday Smile...

.....with apologies to those who have seen this before.  

It just seems so appropriate after this week's 'fair' cuts, in which, apart from the wealthiest 2%, the poorest will be hit hardest!

Friday, 22 October 2010

Halloween and Other Festivities

Tesco is selling hot cross buns and my Easter Cactus is flowering, making me wonder whether, in my busy-ness, I’ve somehow managed to ‘lose’ a few months!

But no, I haven’t missed Christmas and we aren’t even yet quite up to Halloween! Some of our larger shops are full of bright orange and black Halloween goodies – pumpkins made of plastic, felt or real ones, witch’s hats, devil costumes, pitchforks, giant spiders, bats on elastic, false fangs, ghoulish masks and sweets in the shape of teeth and all sorts of ghastly horrors!

I wonder, though, how many of these Halloween products are actually sold because to me, Halloween always seems to be a bit of  a non-event. Apart from a couple of days in school making Halloween craftwork and greeting cards and explaining that Halloween really means the eve of All Hallows/Saints, it never seemed to make any impact until I moved to Abergavenny eight years ago. Then I was taken by surprise when I realised that a clutch of young teenage girls had gathered on my doorstep, full of giggles and a half-hearted ‘trick or treat’s. I was totally unprepared, didn’t know the form, so, Scrooge-like, I ignored it until they went away.

But the following year, I armed myself with a huge stock of the above-mentioned sweets and jellies and emptied them into a rather nicely made, lined felt pumpkin so that I would have something to offer to the ‘trick-or-treaters’ – who never showed up! So, as by this time I was teaching at home, I placed the ‘pumpkin’ on the table for my pupils to help themselves to the revolting, teeth-rotting festive fare. And they seemed to appreciate it out of all proportion to what they were actually being offered!

I have the impression that Halloween is taken more seriously in the US than it is here, where we seem to just pay lip-service to the last day of October. Maybe I move in the wrong circles, but I have certainly never heard of anyone holding a Halloween Party or buying a Halloween greeting card. And I have to confess, that I really don’t understand what the choice of ‘trick or treat’ is supposed to imply! Perhaps someone can explain how it works in practice?

Maybe it’s because Halloween is so close to Guy Fawkes night, November 5th, a.k.a. Bonfire Night, that it seems to be a bit of a ‘damp squid’ in the UK? Though even that seems to be downplayed these days, compared to when I was a child. We don’t see the children with their ‘guys’ propped up in old prams, asking for a ‘penny for the Guy’ these days – most likely there's a law against it. And of course, the selling of fireworks is much more heavily regulated and we are, quite rightly, advised to leave the bonfires and fireworks to the experts who put on public displays. Even so the fire brigades and the A&E departments expect to be kept busy on November 5th or the nearest Saturday to it.

But the public displays are pretty tame compared to the ones I grew up with in the Isle of Wight. Huge crowds would gather at the playing field at the top end of the town where the summer carnival processions set off from. A lorry would appear carrying an enormous effigy of Guy Fawkes, painstakingly dressed in a Jacobean costume, complete with lace collar and shiny buckles on his shoes and hat! 'Guy Fawkes' would be paraded on the back of the lorry, down through the town to the beach, accompanied by fundraisers collecting pennies in buckets and carrying flaming torches and everywhere young lads would be letting off ‘bangers’ and frightening the crowd!

Once arrived on the beach, the 'Guy' would be hoisted on top of a bonfire that to me, as a child, seemed to be as tall as a house! And there he was rapidly devoured by the flames as the climax to a thoroughly exciting evening for which I was allowed to stay up way past my bedtime! Even then I must have already developed a dislike of waste as the idea that the beautiful costume that someone had meticulously created should go up in flames after such a short outing, disturbed me and I was glad to go home at that point.

'Remember, remember, the Fifth of November,
Gunpowder, Treason and Plot!

I don’t know if this tradition still continues in the Isle of Wight and, if it does, it probably takes a much more ‘sanitised’ form to conform to Health and Safety Standards. But in any case, I do think that November 5th generally overshadows Halloween in the UK –  
- unless, of course, you know otherwise!

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Picture Books for Children

'Picture Books no longer a staple for children' was a headline of a NY Times article last week. 

How very depressing! Although I’ve never quite dipped my toe in the water of Children’s Book Illustration, it’s nevertheless something I feel quite passionately about. Just as I view greeting cards as one way of making art available to all, I see picture books as one way of bring art to small children. And it’s not just any old art; some of the artists I most admire - too many to name them all! - are or have been children’s book illustrators! 

According to the article, it’s not just the economic downturn that is threatening the sales of picture books. That would be understandable and hopefully temporary. No, the suspicion is that book-buying parents are ‘hot-housing’ their children by encouraging them to read chapter books at an ever younger age. No doubt they think they are supporting their child’s education but in many cases leaving out the picture book stage is counterproductive.

This may sound very odd coming from someone who insists on teaching children to read using story books with few or no pictures at all! But there is a good reason (or two!) for that. In the early stages of learning to read, we want to train children to read every word from left to right to give their reading skills a solid foundation. We don’t want them ‘guessing from the pictures’, a strategy that some popular but ill-founded reading programs have, in the past, suggested. If they use an illustration to guess a word, they are not actually learning to read! A bad habit that they will at some point need to get out of.

Another reason for avoiding pictures in the early stages of learning to read is that part of the skill of reading, especially with those to whom it doesn’t come easily, consists of training their eyes to follow the text in sequence from left to right on the page. Pictures can be a great distraction that causes their eyes to flick back and forth all over the page!

So for ‘learning to read’ purposes, the fewer the illustrations the better.

But there is more to reading that just decoding the words on the page, much, much more! It’s first and foremost about instilling in the child a love of books, something that will probably last them a lifetime! I’ve always found it sad to discover children who grow up with no books at all in their homes. So beginning with wonderfully illustrated picture books, some with just a few words and others with no words at all, a whole treasure trove of experience is opened up to the child! I remember one of my grandsons, long before he even began to read, studying the pages of picture books with an intensity that amazed me and I have a photo of my granddaughter, fast asleep but still clutching her picture book tightly in her hand!

Often, if the illustrations are any good, no words at all are necessary to fire the imagination of a child. The story will build naturally in his head! And gradually the introduction of text, read to the child until he is able to read it himself, will lead on seamlessly to a desire to learn to read independently.

During my time as a remedial literacy tutor, again and again, I’ve had parents proudly  telling me about the ‘text-heavy’ chapter books their children read to themselves at night in bed. If the child has any difficulties with reading, this is a step backwards. I know precisely what the children are capable of reading accurately and I know for certain that the books they are reading at home are beyond their reading skills and this is potentially disastrous. They will get into the habit of skimming the page and guessing and when asked to read out loud, there will be little relation to the actual words that are on the page! Not a good way to become a fluent reader!

So I would say to parents who are leaving out this crucial stage of capturing a child’s interest in books and reading, through picture books: please think again; there’s no rush to get on to chapter books! Let you child enjoy the wonderful art available through children’s book illustrators. Lay the foundations for a lifelong love of books, of reading and for that matter of art as well and let your child dictate the pace.

Learning to read and reading, or being read to, for pleasure are two related but quite separate activities; neither should be neglected and the enjoyment of beautifully illustrated picture books is one of the foundation stones on which the enduring habit of reading is built. 


Sunday, 17 October 2010

A Smile on Sunday

Trotters Independent Painters
First we had elephants painting and then dogs - now here are some Painting Piggies!

(In case anyone isn't familiar with the very popular UK comedy series, 'Only Fools & Horses',  'Trotters Independent Painters' is a reference to 'Trotters Independent Traders' from that series.)


Friday, 15 October 2010

Ways to sell your Greeting Cards - Part 4

Last time I pointed out some of the factors you will need to take into account if you decide to by-pass greeting card publishers and POD stores and make your own cards to sell. I highlighted some of the tasks and costs involved but if you still decide that this is the best way to go, there are so many other ways to sell your cards that this will be quite a long post!

Here are half a dozen of ways that I hope will help you to make your decision about which way suits you best - please feel free to add your own tips and comments about your experiences of selling greeting cards that might help others:

1. Selling at craft fairs. Many artists take this route successfully and some of the best-selling greeting card designers in the UK started out this way. But make sure you distinguish between craft fairs and craft markets as you are less likely to be able to charge a decent price for your greeting cards and sell enough of them to make it worthwhile at a craft market.

The general rule of thumb is that if it is a craft fair with a fairly high entrance fee, you will be selling to people who are prepared to pay a fair price for a greeting card. I have seen stalls in craft markets where greeting cards are sold, but they are not usually the main item on the stall, but an add-on to a range of more expensive goods.  I have discovered that the ‘normal’ price of a stall at a craft fair in the UK is around £30 for a day so be aware of how many cards you need to sell in order to make a good profit and reward you for your travelling time and the day that you spend minding your stall!

2. Selling through local craft shops, coffee shops etc on a sale-or-return basis. In my experience, most such outlets will take about 30% commission, which I think is quite reasonable. But as with craft fairs, the volume of greeting cards you can sell locally will be limited, although this may be quite adequate if you live in a city or densely populated area. Also, as with craft fairs, you may find yourself out on the road rather a lot of the time, checking whether you have cash to collect or stocks to replenish. I have found, too, that I needed to allow a fair amount of time, waiting for the shopkeeper to be free to talk to me and then time is often needed for conversation with the shopkeeper! Sometimes it can help to phone and arrange a meeting in advance but if the shop is manned by one person alone, it is hardly worth bothering to do this as they are unlikely to know when they will be busy serving customers.

3. Selling outright to shops. It always feels good to make an outright sale but unfortunately the drawback is that retailers do not expect to pay you much for your cards, however attractive they are. If a retailer intends to offer your greeting cards for £2.35 each, it is unlikely that they will pay you much more than £1. With your profit margin so low, you need to sell a lot of cards to make a reasonable amount of money. It is unlikely that you can achieve this locally but you could employ an agent who will present your greeting cards to retailers in other parts of the country. The agent, however, will need to be paid his commission, so this only makes sense if you are thinking in terms of a large volume of sales and this would require a big initial investment, either in stock, if you are using a printing firm, or in raw materials, if you are printing the cards yourself.

4. An alternative way to ‘go national’ rather than ‘local’ is to set up a Partyplan arrangement. For this you will need to recruit ‘sellers’ or ‘consultants’ nationwide to hold ‘parties’ in their own areas to sell your greeting cards from which they earn a commission. You will need to carefully research other partyplan schemes to decide on the details of your arrangements – things like the commission the ‘sellers’ will earn, recruitment arrangements and remuneration and so on. There are websites and forums where you can discover how other partyplan schemes operate and you will probably want to register  your business somewhere along the line for greater credibility. You will need to be well organised to keep track of such a scheme and you will also need to be reasonably good at recruiting ‘sellers’ at the beginning.

5. Moving from ‘local’ to ‘national’ to ‘global’, you can sell your greeting cards through your own website. This is possibly the cheapest way to run your business as no commission will be involved – all the profit will come to you! However, the competition is bound to be at its fiercest if you decide to go global and you will need to have a really unique selling proposition, or to have found a niche market that is as yet not catered for, if you are going to succeed in such a huge market! Time will also be needed to promote your website both on- and offline and a certain amount of knowledge of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) will be useful.

6. A variation or even an add-on to having your own website is to use websites like ebay or etsy. These differ from using the PODstores in that you will still have to do the printing and packaging and the shipping to the customers. But it could all help sell more cards.

It may be that you will begin with a combination of several of these outlets for your greeting cards and then refine it down to the ones that are easiest for you to manage while still bringing in the income you need. Whichever way you decide to go, I hope that some of what I’ve learnt and passed on in this series of blog posts will be of use to you! Good luck!


The suggestions I've offered are based on my own experience as someone living in the UK. But for those who are in other parts of the world, you'll find a wealth of additional information and advice on these two websites -


Tuesday, 12 October 2010

You can draw!

Drawing is the underpinning of the traditional ‘Visual Arts’ and draughtsmanship can make or break a painting. And, from what I hear, there are many who would love to be able to draw but feel they can’t, that it is a special talent that some possess but most don’t.

But if you can write your name with pen and paper, you are already drawing! What are those letters you write if not mini-drawings? And how did you come to be able to write your name? What ‘special talent’ did you need? None! You needed to have reached a certain stage in the development of your fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination – and then you needed to practice! You probably copied lines of letters, over and over until they gradually began to resemble the recognisable shapes of the letters of the alphabet.

Our cave-dwelling ancestors drew and small children draw without giving it too much thought. But somewhere along the line we decide that we can’t draw and we give up. Maybe later we decide to join a drawing class and learn about all the tips and tricks of drawing, such as perspective and negative space. And maybe we are taught that it is all about ‘learning to see’. Maybe that helps a little – maybe not. I believe that it is putting the cart before the horse.

The first step in ‘learning to draw’ is actually ‘unlearning’ what we have come to believe, for whatever reason, about our drawing ability, to remove the ‘mystique’, the idea that it is a special talent.

'When my daughter was about seven years old, she asked me one day what I did at work. I told her I worked at the college – that my job was to teach people how to draw. She stared back at me, incredulous, and said, ‘You mean they forget?’ - Howard Ikemoto.

How to do this? Try writing your name on a large enough piece of paper to leave plenty of space around your writing. Then, without particularly trying to achieve anything amazing, start to embellish the letters with the kind of squiggles and doodles you might make whilst on the phone or listening to a lecture – or watching television! Banish all judgements about what you produce. Just play with the letters for the sake of doing it rather than for the end result. Do this often until you get to feel really comfortable with making marks on paper, which is all that drawing is really!

But what if I want to draw a flower, or a person, to make a REAL drawing? Surely this is a far cry from doodling? Not really, though it is a next step. What is drawing after all? Isn’t it simply copying what you see or what you imagine? Didn’t you manage to copy the letters of the alphabet as a small child? Didn’t it take practice? It’s part of the reason that art students copy famous paintings in galleries – something you might also like to try if you have access to somewhere suitable.

But first try this: find a reasonably simple image where the drawing is clearly defined. (you can probably find something from Google images to print out if all else fails). Turn it upside down and copy it as carefully as you can. You might be pleasantly surprised when you turn your paper back the right way! If not, you simply need more practice.

Why is this such a good exercise in drawing? It’s because it eliminates all our thoughts about making our drawing resemble a specific object, thoughts about getting it right! Those thoughts hold us back. They may be the reason we gave up drawing as we passed from our unselfconscious world of early childhood to a later, more inhibited phase.

'Try to forget what objects you have before you, a tree, a house, a field or whatever. Merely think here is a little square of blue, here an oblong of pink, here a streak of yellow and paint it just as it looks to you, the exact colour and shape.' Monet

Drawing classes can be useful; but in the first instance, it’s all about ‘unlearning’ – in just the same way that the struggling readers I taught needed to unlearn the bad habits and, more importantly, the unhelpful attitudes, they had learned in a couple of years of school before we could start on the process of learning how reading works.

'The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn, but to unlearn.' —Gloria Steinem

Draw something every day. Keep a sketchbook or even a pad of used envelopes, as in Chris Fothergill's Guest Post. Don’t throw anything away and you will see progress over time. The final challenge, I think, is a Life class – you will soon see if you’re are copying what you see accurately as the human figure is unforgiving in that respect!

You may decide that you don’t want to bother with all this time and effort. That’s fine! Drawing is only one of many ways of communicating that are available to us.
'I found I could say things with colours and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for.' Georgia O’Keefe

There are plenty of others that aren’t based on drawing – writing, speaking, photography, film, music, dance....

But please don’t ever say, ‘I can’t draw’. 

'Believe it or not, I can actually draw!' Michelangelo

And so can you!

2 year-old Hamza, my youngest grandson

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Kitchen Table Cards Update

I haven't mentioned Kitchen Table Cards much for a long time so I was planning to write a blog post about how it's all going.

Then I thought, why write it all again? It's all here in my newsletter!

Friday, 8 October 2010

Making Money from your Greeting Card Designs - Part 3

In parts 1 and 2, I suggested ways to make money from your greeting card designs, either by submitting them to publishers or by selling them through online Print-on-Demand stores. Neither of these routes is likely to bring in instant earnings. So if you’ve had no success with the publishers and the PoDstores aren’t producing as much income as you’d like, there is a way you can begin to bring in money more quickly, though it involves more work and probably will take away still further from the time you can spend designing, depending on whether you have any friends or family members to help with the practicalities.

What I’m referring to, of course, is producing the finished cards yourself and finding ways to sell them. Again, there are various ways you can go about this but the first thing is to decide on is how you’re going to print and package the cards. Inkjet printers have not only come down in price but they have improved over the years, both in terms of the colour quality and light-fastness and the type of print media they will accept. But before you decide to print your own cards, here are a few points to consider:

1.    If you are to produce enough high quality greeting cards to bring you in a worthwhile income, the printing process will take up a lot of your time, especially if you do it all alone.

2.  It’s not just the printing but the setting out of the cards, ready for printing, with the details you want to put on the back, such as the name of the design, possibly the medium, your logo and contact details. I use Coreldraw for this part of the process but in the past I have used Microsoft Publisher quite successfully.

3  You will also need to find a reliable and economical source of coated inkjet card, preferably at least 260 gsm weight, envelopes and packaging, such as cellophane packets and labels. And you will need to work out the costs, including the ink cartridges, in order to decide on the selling price of your cards.

4.  Once this is all done to your satisfaction and the cards are printed, there will be the folding (best done with the bone handle of a dinner knife), trimming, for which you will need a sturdy trimmer, and then the inserting in the cellophane packets, together with the envelope - all time-consuming.

If this all sounds like too much hard work, you might consider getting your cards professionally printed. It will probably cost you somewhat more than doing it yourself because, of course, the printer will expect to be paid for his time! On the other hand, you will not have the expense of trying out different kinds of inkjet card until you find one that produces the best result.

Here are some points to bear in mind when making your decision:

·    Whether you approach a local printer or investigate online printing services, you will probably find that, even with digital printing, the printing firm will only consider printing 50 or more cards of each design. There are a few who will print fewer but they tend to be even more expensive. If you only have half a dozen designs, this may be your most practical way forward, but, if like me you are prolific in your designing, it would require a huge investment of cash and somewhere to store all the boxes of printed cards!

·    You may need to spend time making your cards into .pdf files to send to the printer.
·    Some printing firms will take your raw designs and ‘clean them up’ and set them out for printing, saving you a lot of time, but again, adding to the cost.
·    If you use an internet printing firm, you will need to allow for shipping costs and time.
·    If you use a local firm, you will need to allow time to collect your finished greeting cards.
·    You may still have to fold and package your greeting cards, depending on the printing firm you use.

Successful UK artist and greeting card designer, Alex Clark, began by printing her own greeting cards. You can now buy her greeting cards in shops all over the UK!

And you will find more information about printing and other aspects of selling your greeting cards in ‘Starting & Running a Greeting Cards Business' by Elizabeth White, though it was published in 2008 and I think things have moved on a little as far as online selling is concerned.

Please bear in mind that I am writing entirely from my own experience and that there may be suggestions that you can add which would be useful to others who are thinking about making money from their greeting card designs.


Tuesday, 5 October 2010

The Music and Magic of Poetry

I think we can safely say that Summer is over and that Autumn has well and truly arrived.  
At the moment, most of the leaves are still on the trees but it won’t be long before they fall and turn all the pathways into ‘carpets of gold’, a phrase that never fails to remind me of the Headmaster of a school where I taught in the late 1960s.
Queenswood, Herefordshire

I had previously taught in a pretty little Victorian school in the leafy, suburban commuter-belt of Surrey.  It was a typical Victorian village school, obviously old but very well kept; everything about it and its surroundings was comfortable and attractive. So it was quite a tricky transition when I moved to a large, rather drab ‘modern’ school, with a catchment area  mostly consisting of a huge council estate. Lots of concrete and a generally dreary and yes, drab environment. The pupils were very different too. It took me a while to adjust to the fact that it was the norm for nine-year-old girls to wear nail varnish and earrings in school and to hearing tales of mothers running off with the milkman!

But the headmaster, a Welshman, was in a way, a light in the wilderness! There is a saying that the Welsh are all ‘teachers or preachers’ and Mr F. was a bit of both.

Away from the children, he had some of that typically Welsh gloom that underlies their famous sense of humour. He was often to be found lurking in the stock cupboard, where he would complain endlessly about his chronic sinus condition – ‘a tight band around my forehead!’, seeking sympathy from anyone who popped in to pick up some supplies. One of his more annoying habits was to appear in our classrooms about ten minutes after the children had all left, with his coat and hat on, obviously all ready to leave, asking, ‘Haven’t you people got homes to go to?’, knowing full well that we, the teachers, had several long hours of work still ahead of us.

So we were not fully appreciative when he addressed the children in assembly, extolling the ‘carpets of gold’ which very few of them would ever have seen! 

 Queenswood, Herefordshire

 Another of our Headmaster's pet phrases for use in assemblies was ‘the magic and music of poetry’! And it could be extremely irritating when he insisted that all written work that was put on display must be decorated with a coloured border. In fact, no work written on sheets of paper, was considered complete without its decorative border.

Our classroom displays were to be works of art in themselves – which is one of the main reasons that we staff were stuck in our classrooms for hours after the school day had finished. We seemed to have a copious supply of coloured tissue paper which was liberally stapled to display boards. And there was always plenty of white card donated by a nearby factory that used it for their packaging, which we used to make white ‘frames’ for the artwork displays. This sometimes gave rise to friction amongst the staff as we vied for possession on the guillotine to cut the card into strips for the frames. Somehow, however hard I tried, I never managed to get mine to look square and my inability to perform such an apparently straightforward task caused me more frustration than it would have if  'presentation' hadn't been so high on our Headmaster's agenda!

At the time, I think most of us seriously questioned the value of all this ornamentation. But looking back, when I met up with one of the teachers not so long ago, we agreed that maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea after all. The children, few of whom would go on to shine academically, certainly learnt to take a pride in the appearance of their work, if nothing else. And the brightly decorated classrooms might have given them a glimpse of an environment rather different from that drabness that otherwise surrounded them.

Whether the ‘music and magic’ of poetry – or was it ‘magic and music’? -  made any impact on them, I really can’t say but what else can you expect from a Welshman?

‘To be born Welsh is to be born privileged, 
Not with a silver spoon in your mouth, 
But with music in your blood and poetry in your soul.’

Early Autumn in Castle Meadows, Abergavenny

Monday, 4 October 2010

Christmas Cards in Gold, Silver and Black...

.... on my other blog today!

(Also some matching coffee mugs)

By the way, do other countries besides the UK, have geese on their Christmas Cards?


Friday, 1 October 2010

Ways to make money from your Greeting Card designs – Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, I wrote about what I had learned from my experience of trying to sell my Greeting Card designs to publishers. If you’ve had no success with approaching Greeting Card Publishers, or if you are just in too much hurry to wait until a publisher finally chooses your designs, there are many other routes open to you, such  as -

Using the services of an online Print-on-Demand, or POD store.

On the whole these are more popular and better established in the US than elsewhere, though the idea is spreading and I have had some of my pastel paintings offered as greeting cards through UK company,, since 2005.

How does it work?

The American online PODstores all operate in much the same way, though there are a few minor variations in the details of how they work.

Basically, you as designer will create an account and a ‘store’ with the operator of the PODstore. You will then make your images to the exact size specified by the online store (usually 5” x 7” for greeting cards) and conform to the resolution requirements, after which you upload them to the PODstore’s website. This done, you will give your card a title and description, choose keywords that apply to your design and consign it to a suitable category that will aid customers in searching for what they need. And that’s it! The rest of it, the printing and shipping, is done by the operators of the PODstores and when your cards are sold, you will be informed by email and your commission will be credited to your account.

One of the positives about selling this way is that forums attached to these websites mean that you will not feel alone with either your triumphs or your frustrations and there is usually someone who can help you with any technological difficulties you may have. And feedback from other artists can help boost your confidence if your experience of trying to get your designs published has left it feeling a little dented. Although, of course, you are all competing for sales, there is a good feeling of community.

If this sounds too easy, there are a few disadvantages of using this method of selling your designs to be aware of –

·    The competition is huge because it is global. Greeting Card Universe alone is currently approaching 400,000 greeting cards on its website!

·    You will almost certainly need to spend a good deal of time promoting your ‘store’ and this can be a lot of work! Most artists who succeed in selling their designs in this way have a blog, join facebook and twitter and are constantly searching for ways to ‘promote’ their wares. Although this doesn’t cost money it can eat up large amounts of time that you could otherwise be spending creating new designs.

·    The commission is not great! You need to sell a lot of cards to make this more than a pocket-money operation, and those who have succeeded in earning a worthwhile amount have usually built it up over several years.

·    The lack of direct contact with customers means that the only feedback about what people are looking for comes from the PODstores’ statistics and they may not answer the questions you have.

·    You need to be aware that Greeting Card Universe has a review process for approving your designs. This review is not based on artistic merit but on practicalities, such as avoiding important elements of your design being too near the edge, using accurate keywords or tags, and placing your design in the correct categories. This can be time-consuming and sometimes frustrating but artists are assured that this leads to more sales and I have found that to be true.

·    You will only receive your commission when you receive a threshold amount so if you have very few sales, it may take a long time to receive any money at all!

Some of the PODstores you may want to check out are – (or .com if you are in the US)

More suggestions and comments very welcome!

Next week, we'll begin to take a look at the third main option - making and selling your greeting cards yourself!