Archive | Designing

Do you focus like a racehorse?

It's hard to keep your head above the flood

It’s hard to keep your head above the flood

Too many days go like this. . .

I’m working on a new snowman design and adapting it for a variety of Zazzle products. Crap, there’s another new product it would work well on. Then an email pops up that looks interesting (see below). Or, I have to wait for Photoshop to process something complicated.

My plugin crashes. My iPhone is insisting on another update. Waiting for that, I then check on a recent Zazzle sale and consider posting it to Facebook or Pinterest. If it’s Firefox, I switch browsers so I can use a handy referral tool. On the way, I have to update something else! The phone rings and I really do need to talk to my mom – she’s been “forgetting” to take her medications lately.

Where was I? Focus for creatives is hard.

Oh, I should go back to that email. I need to write a proposal for that talk about WordPress. What happened to that snowman design? Well, I might tweak a new address photo card design, or an old Christmas ornament that used to sell well. I go to look for it and am dismayed again at my old category folders on this store or that. I should make new ones. And it would be fun to design new banners and product pins.  Then someone wants to borrow the keys or ask what I think about this idea or that. I go to look for the other snowman design and run across a bunch of images I had forgotten about that would be perfect for the new watches. Oh, I need to add templates to my QC folder. Oh, wait! I just sold another wedding ornament – maybe I should make a couple more of those real quickly?

But the sun is shining and I really do need some fresh air and exercise. And someone has to run to the grocery store today. And another email just popped up with a big sale on greeting cards that reminds me I should design some awesome cards for myself this year. Oh, and I have a coupon for free business cards that I want to make, too.

And so on. It’s mentally exhausting just typing this. And every day has the potential to scatter my energy just this way!

I am not off to the races this way! The article below by Jack White is a reminder of a critical component of why and how races are won, not just run. It occurs to me that we can set up our workspace for focus and cut out a lot of distractions, but. . .

A racehorse can focus because he must and because he can. He has only to step into the flow of the race and go.

A wild horse just running around would have to be aware of his surroundings – what threats are flying in the sky above him? how many rabbit or prairie dog holes lie ahead? where is the next meal coming from? does he have a mate to run with and a colt to teach? is the weather threatening?

He can only focus on running if he watches where he is going and keeps an eye on his environment. A horse with blinders in the wild could easily be a dead horse.

A horse in a race has someone else taking care of so many details – the food, the shelter, the ground to run on. And the jockey on his back to guide his moves and urge him on. He has only to do what he guided to do and to run his heart out. For a short time.

How can we creatives – designers, writers, promoters – have racehorse times in our days?

I sure can see the benefits!

I cleared off and cleaned my desk last night. I re-arranged the ergonomics of my computer and chair. I am staying home and trying to concentrate at the computer where I am one of my worst enemies. 🙂 I just want to be able to step into the flow. But it’s not just the flow, is it? Not only is focus for creatives who also market and run their own show hard, but so are the daily measurements. The racehorse has a goal and everyone knows when the race is done. How does an artist know? A finished design? One hundred new products? Twelve sales? Eighteen posts? Fourteen hours?

How do you define your goal? This post was not on my mental list of things to do today, but needed to be written. My goal today is to accomplish a laundry list of items; number of hours isn’t the right measurement for me today.

Back to work now.

Wish me a productive day! And I wish you the same.

Keep Your Blinders On

by Jack White

I have found art to be a jealous mistress. She wants your full attention or her jealousy will find a way to destroy your life. […]

Read the rest of this article at:

This excerpt appears courtesy of FineArtViews Art Marketing Newsletter by FASO,
a free email newsletter about art, marketing, inspiration and fine living for artists,
collectors and galleries (and anyone else who loves art).

For a complimentary subscription, visit:


Zazzle Wall Decals – Enough to Make Your Head Explode!

Wall decals were wildly anticipated on Zazzle last year, but I don’t find many people designing a lot of them. I asked in one of the Zazzle forums and several other sellers said exactly what I was thinking about the Zazzle wall decal shapes.

Too many designs! I was overwhelmed and hardly made any.

I liked the idea of the wall decals so much that I decided to conquer the overwhelm for myself.

Why choose wall decals for your decorating needs?

What’s cool about wall decals? If you live in an apartment or dorm or are just scared of commitment, plenty! They are movable and re-movable, up to 100 times. (Please don’t be that crazy!) No holes in the wall. Bright beautiful colors. Fun shapes. Reasonable prices.

Wall decals are fun for kids to personalize their rooms. Names, photos of favorite people or places can be easily turned into decals. No frames, no fuss!

I also like the idea of putting a decal above a baby crib or changing table. Even the most wiggly baby or clumsy diaper changer is not going to knock a decal off the wall, so I add safety to the list of things I like about them. I guess they probably wouldn’t fall off your wall in an earthquake either, but that’s a bit more extreme!

You could use decals for weddings, birthday parties, graduations and other events where you want temporary or movable signs or art. This would be a great way to lift your party above the ordinary!

The decals, from my understanding, have white backgrounds, not clear, so you likely want a design to go edge to edge. This makes them less desirable for the popular phrase-style decorating. They’re much better suited to images and colors.

Ok, how many decals are there? About 335 styles! Most come in 3 sizes. Sizes ranges from 12×12″ squares to 48×72″ rectangles. Or 1 square foot up to 4 by 6 feet huge! Prices start at $16.95 for the smallest size. The huge ones do get pricey, so make sure you’ve got a design you love!

Designs are offered as singles or multiple designs on one sheet.

Categories include:

  • Alphabet (big, blocky sans-serif letters)
  • Numbers (big, blocky sans-serif numbers)
  • Animals
  • Business
  • Fashion
  • Food & Drink
  • Holiday & Events
  • Insects (these are CUTE)
  • Military
  • Miscellaneous (yes, you could choose a mustache or a monster)
  • Nature (Leaves to the Man in the Moon)
  • Shapes & Symbols (Circles to Stars to Diamonds)
  • Sports & Activities (Baseball bats to Tutus)
  • Transportation (Cars, Trains and Planes)
  • plus a few others

Beat the Zazzle Wall Decal Shapes Overwhelm

One reason the Zazzle wall decal shapes are overwhelming is the way you have to go through three drop-down menus to find a shape. It’s annoying. So, I decided (left brain at work here!) to have one annoying session and create a list of all the options.

Want to try designing your own? Here’s the link: Zazzle Custom Wall Decals Create

If you want a copy of the list to assist you, click on Zazzle Wall Decal Shapes Excel File. Here’s a pdf version if you can’t use the Excel one: Zazzle Wall Decal Shapes PDF.

There is  a rumor that someone made a pdf of all the shapes themselves, but I haven’t seen that and it’s not worthwhile for me to do. I went through the list and highlighted the shapes that I like and anticipate my customers will like. I can make a screenshot of any of these and create my own pattern. I recommend you do the same. The list will just help get past the overwhelm of choice!

Have decal, can travel. 🙂

Why I love digital art tools

Art Student Flop

I have a vivid memory of a summer art class while in college. It was drawing, mostly with charcoal or pencil, but occasionally with expensive art ink pens. One sunny day, we were all sitting outside on the manicured grass of the campus with the Red Cedar River rushing in brown swirls farther down the bank. We propped hard-backed drawing tablets on our laps after we had found a section of scenery to draw and sat there quietly sketching, looking up at the view and down at our paper over and over again. I was drawing a clump of white birch trees that contrasted against the green of their blowing leaves and the blue sky.

But I couldn’t draw fast enough.

And I couldn’t add a special touch to it.

I could only draw what I saw, slowly and painfully. I was competent enough to draw accurately, but no more. Even though there is something very satisfying about feeling and watching a drawing come to life on paper, I needed another dimension.

Once a tree trunk was sketched on my paper here, I couldn’t move it there without starting over. Perhaps if I had taken up painting, I wouldn’t have had such frustrations of speed and commitment and just not being able to put onto paper something my mind could envision.

Photography brings light

Photography enabled me to get closer to what I craved. When I bought my first camera – with manual controls – I could finally get closer to my visions. The speed was there, generally, and the light and scene could often be manipulated by changing position and choosing a time and setting up a scene.

It wasn’t until I first got my hands on digital art tools to combine with my photography that I could put it all together.

Photoshop and the like were magic.

I find Magic

Once I had the digital art tools and started learning, I could take a photograph and paint with the pixels it contained and bring in more lines and colors and patterns to create art that I could only have vaguely imagined before. The learning curve was steep, but the potentials endless.

Yesterday, I felt this magic all over again.

Below is a snapshot of my great-niece dressed up in a fancy fuchsia pink dress for her one year birthday. She has discarded her black patent-leather shoes and seized the TV remote control and is at the door. Maybe you don’t know that one-year-olds love doors. They will open and close a cupboard door with as much delight on the first swing as the fourteenth! She has her eye now on opening all the doors in a house and someone has just walked out of this door, drawing her attention to it.

One year old investigating the recently closed door.

One year old investigating the recently closed door.

I like what this picture says even without seeing the toddler’s face (trust me, it’s very cute!), but it’s not one with which you would do anything. The image is pretty cluttered, the shadow distracting and you can’t really tell what’s in her hand is a stolen remote. This photo doesn’t have the sparkle of a special day except in the beautiful color and texture of the dress.

A few trips through Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom and Filter Forge allowed me to create a transformed image that speaks of the magic of a little girl’s first birthday wearing a gorgeous party dress and exploring her world.

This is why I love digital art tools. 🙂

Lucky for me, Zazzle has a big sale on posters right now, so I just ordered an 18×24 print on heavyweight matte paper. It’s already queued for shipping, too!

Overcome the Mistakes Greeting Card Writers Make

Are you a greeting card writer? If you offer any cards on, you probably are! Greeting card writers do include many Zazzlers and designers for other print-on-demand companies.

Step up to the plate, Zazzlers! Become greeting card writers

Evening calm greeting card

This red canoe card is blank. While the design has sold on other products, it has never sold as a blank greeting card.

Zazzlers – DON’T say you only sell blank cards. Frankly, that’s a cop-out for most designers.

If you can’t think of anything to say, how can your customer? If you want to leave them to do the hard part, what do they need you for? And, on Zazzle, how would they ever find you?

People buy cards because of what they say AND show.

You can write better greetings – and will probably make more money in the process! People love for you to come up with something they wish they would have thought of themselves!

7 Mistakes Greeting Card Writers Make – free ebook

So, if you’re not a designer who is also a greeting card writer, you probably should be! Learn the 7 Mistakes Greeting Card Writers Makea free ebook on I was looking for something else and stumbled across this 33 page ebook by greeting card designer and writer Kate Harper. It’s a quick read with some good pointers that you can absorb quickly. (I don’t know how long it will be offered free; the regular price is only 99¢ anyway. :))

7 Mistakes Greeting Card Writers Make directly addresses those who submit verse to greeting card companies, but there are basic tenets that apply to all greeting card writers.

Do you think it’s hard to write suitable text for greeting cards? It can be! Even artistic types who create their own cards online at Zazzle or at home with rubber stamps and textured paper can feel blank when it comes to adding verse to their card.

Verse doesn’t have to mean a poem. Shakespeare is not who you should be channeling (that’s in line with one of the mistakes that greeting card writers make!) And do you really see that many rhyming verses in cards? Beyond the old “roses are red, violets are blue” style just for fun, that is.

Good verse hits with a zing and makes me believe someone knows exactly how I feel. Customers want a sentiment that is direct, short and honest.

Mistakes Kate Harper includes are Forgetting That A Card Is A Relationship, Too Many Adjectives, Too Much Syrup. While not all of it applies to Zazzlers, many designers on are also interested in other venues where it would apply.

Don’t make these boo-boos either, greeting card writers!

Ms. Harper didn’t include spelling and grammar cautions, but Zazzlers need to watch out for these errors as well. Sentiments like these are seen too often on Zazzle!

Your the best! FAIL. You’re the best. RIGHT.
You could of been a ghost. FAIL. You could have been a ghost. RIGHT.
Conradultions! Your on your way! FAIL. Congratulations! You’re on your way! RIGHT.
Cats’ are in charge. Its just that way. FAIL. Cats are in charge. It’s just that way. RIGHT

Ouch. The fails are ugly, aren’t they?

Missing You Quiet Evening Red Canoe in Still Water

Greeting has been added to turn this red canoe card into a sentimental missing you card. Who would buy this version?

Learn how to write greeting card verse yourself

Go hang out in the card section of Target for an hour. Go visit your local Hallmark store. What cards are you drawn to? If you don’t have a particular occasion in mind or aren’t newly, madly in love, you probably end up in the humor section, right? Look at how the writers draw your attention. How do they make you laugh? Are there cards that touch you?

Try to figure out why and how you can do something similar. We’re not talking about copying; we’re talking about seeing what works. The cards in the stores got past a bunch of hurdles that Zazzle cards don’t have to jump over. There’s more to learn from those who are doing it right, isn’t there?

People love to laugh and greeting cards are one way to share humor. Add fun greetings to your cards! Write sentimental verse that you wish someone had written for your wedding or new baby or the loss of your old dog. Make several versions and try them out on your friends, or ask for opinions on your blog or Facebook page. Do you see how much easier it is to market greeting cards with verses? They go with occasions or offer humor or sentiment, so they are much easier to categorize and promote!

Surprise your audience!

It’s not necessary, but would really help if you did something like narrate a National Geographic video about an obsure, fearless, impossible-to-poison-or-destroy little animal  and made it so funny that others start to care that Honey Badger Don’t Care!

You have heard of the viral Honey Badger video, right? [warning – narrator Randall is a potty-mouth] It turned the honey badger and Randall into famous icons for 2012!

What makes you laugh? What makes you cry? Probably the same things that touch others. Find the fun, the difference, the humor and the touch-your-heart thoughts and turn them into good verse. Can’t you see yourself becoming a badass greeting card writer! (OK, too much time looking at honey badger stuff gives a person attitude!)

That good verse can turn into better dollars. 🙂 You can do it.

Make me laugh.

Make me cry.

Make me pick up the phone and call my sister.

Make me not feel alone when I bury my dog.

And take that to the bank!

Christmas holiday cards are the biggest sellers for greeting cards and Christmas sales are just getting underway, so it’s not a bad time for Zazzle designers to check on their cards and add a few more with appealing text!

Or get a jump on the one of the other most popular greeting card occasions – Valentine’s Day!

Fun words work on magnets, too, everyone. And calendars. And mousepads. 🙂

Wishing you all a lovely Friday and a prosperous holiday season.


You’ve seen infographics all over the web lately, haven’t you? An infographic is simply a visual representation of some data / information presented serially or in a grouping. The combination of info and design creates increased engagement from readers as they study the different components of the infographic. People are more inclined to share infographics as well.

Charts, graphs, photographs, illustrations, 3D effects, typography and lots of color are some of the visual components.

The data can be anything. Just like displaying a rock on the windowsill sets it off as much as placing a vaseful of flowers there, data gains visual interest just from being on display. That doesn’t make it any more useful, important OR true. Just more digestible.

But really, I’m a fan! Just a skeptical one. (Too many years of corporate charting to be otherwise, myself!)

Some infographics are amazingly clever or beautiful. The first time I ever saw one was in 2006 or 2007 when I ran across personal annual reports created by Nicholas Felton. The reports comprised reams of mostly trivial data that gained meaning by its collection, compilation and display. When someone categorizes the animals they’ve eaten over the previous twelve months by Legs, Wings, Fins, Shells and No Shells, it becomes way more interesting! When they are an extremely creative and talented designer, it takes on a special character and beauty.

Today, I’ve been experimenting with a free infographic service, You sign up for a membership, agree to not sell the infographics you create with them (and a few other terms), and then start experimenting!

Life of a Hashtag: #Zazzle

I love the retro colors and typography of “Life of a Hashtag” so I began there. This infographic tool searches Twitter data for the hashtag you specifiy and sorts out some pre-specified data for you based on tweets over the past month. Here’s how “#Zazzle” turned out:

create infographics with

Not too sure I learned anything from this particular infographic, but I could see myself plugging in all sorts of hashtags and seeing where the surprises show up! If I wanted to rate my tweets higher on something like this, I’d have to actually use hashtags regularly!

BTW, I did go back to the Zazzle forums to see if I could determine what caused the little blip on September 4th. Probably the introduction of the wall decals!

Next step: to learn how to design infographics myself!  Socialable had a nice post today with 16 tools to make awesome infographics, so I’ll be checking out a few more soon and you can, too!

How about you – are you a fan of infographics?

My first “Brain” design!

You can laugh – most people would hardly call this a brain design! But it really is the first one I can recall creating that mentions the brain.

What was I thinking?

OK, this began as a photograph I took in Paris some years ago. It’s the Le Stryge (the vampire) gargoyle on the Notre Dame Cathedral. I didn’t know that at the time, but Wikipedia very kindly filled in the gaps in my knowledge. This medieval figure has been watching over the ever-changing Paris landscape for hundreds of years. You can’t tell from this angle, but the gargoyles served a functional purpose. The medieval builders were sort of like the Shakers that way, right? Ok, maybe not, but function and form were both extremely important to them. And back then, they had to create flying buttresses (extra angled walls) sticking out from structures to keep the walls from falling down and the roofs from collapsing in.

Plus, Gothic architects and builders were just starting to figure out how to incorporate windows without creating a structural fall-down hazards. They did a darn good job, didn’t they? Notre Dame is still standing. You may have heard about the stained glass windows in Notre Dame? There are these fancy rose windows that really show off what they could do.

Back to the gargoyles.

If a 21st century American were needing the function of the gargoyles, he would probably add utilitarian gutters and aluminum downspouts. Yep, the gargoyles were a rain control feature! Most of them could be seen with rain water spurting out of their mouths during a downpour. That kept the rain water a little away from the building and foundation and probably scared the bejeezus out of the illiterate population at the same time. I don’t know if the gargoyles were originally painted. Many medieval structures were once gloriously colorful. We think of them as classic stone and the painters would probably be crying at all that gray rock and wondering what happened to their brilliant red, yellow, blue and real gold designs!

So, this photograph got morphed through some delicious OnOne software and became the design you see now.

It struck me as I was looking at it that this vampire gargoyle actually looks tired, holding his head in his hands and sticking his tongue. After hundreds of years, he was really tired of sitting there with his wings still, looking at the streets and buildings of Paris.

I suddenly could relate! My brain was full of things to do, I was staring at a hundred projects that haven’t moved. So, Brain is tired. Can’t think anymore. was added to the sticker version of this design.

This is really how things get created, you know. So much depends on what is going on in the designer’s life at the moment!

How does the Le Stryge gargoyle’s expression strike YOU? What kinds of products does he belong on – if any?

Your Zazzle order was cancelled – now what?

Oh, no! A sale “went pink”

Your Zazzle order was cancelled is what that means. Whether a customer or a designer, no one likes a cancellation. If a sale is cancelled, the money information about it “goes pink” as Zazzlers say.

sale turned pink image

This order went pink as customer ordered this custom binder, cancelled, re-ordered and cancelled again.

OK, what happened? A LOT of Zazzlers get their panties in a real twist with the frustration of not knowing exactly why an order was cancelled. They fear there was something wrong with their design. I actually think some of them would like to email the customer and ask them! I can’t even imagine. As a customer, I would be outraged by that. Would you?

Why do orders get cancelled?

Rule out the obvious

Keep Calm and Carry On is one way to look at cancellations. After you have ruled out any reason that had to do with your work.

With the above cancellation, I know that particular binder design requires the customer to add an image and customize the text. Sometimes, people can’t figure out how to do it. Or their image or text doesn’t fit. Or I haven’t made it simple enough for them to do. Or, I just screwed it up. I don’t automatically rule out a design problem, so I sometimes go back and try the design again for myself. Then, I’ll decide whether to re-do the product or add a helpful note. Since this order was cancelled twice, I suspect she had difficulty with the customization.


I tested it again, but don’t see anything obviously wrong, so it’s not the design. It’s either her photo or the customization tools. If she contacts me, I can email her instructions or make a quick how-to video or otherwise help her. Barring that, I let it go.

Why don’t we get cancellation reasons?

Zazzle doesn’t send out notices for cancelled products. We just see them turn pink.

Please note, I am not speaking for Zazzle; only sharing information that has been posted in the forums already. It gets frustrating to see someone bring this issue up every few weeks in the forums, on LinkedIn and on Facebook like it’s a brand new topic. But designers want to know WHY.

I would say, for the most part, it’s none of our business. Nor is it a productive use of Zazzle’s resources or ours.

First, consider – who has the power to cancel an order?

  1. Ms or Mr Customer (we will say Ms Customer going forward for convenience)
  2. Zazzle

Customer cancellations

edit on 10/21: Zazzle revised a policy about returns according to forum info. Storekeepers in the past would not have been hit with a return after 30 days. That number is now 45 days when they cannot reach a different resolution (re-printing, credit, etc.) with the customer.

Ms Customer has the right to cancel her order, of course, but only has the ability to cancel it for about two hours after it was placed. Because turnaround times are so quick, the order will be in production if she waits too long. How to tell?

If there is an option to “cancel order” in her order history, she can cancel it. For details, go to Zazzle Customer Help.

So, why did she cancel?

  • She realizes she hasn’t customized the product as she actually would have liked, so she cancels and starts over. This is common and nothing to worry about.
  • She found something she likes better, so she cancels. It happens.
  • She figured out a more advantageous way to order. Mom says she’ll pay for it, so Ms Customer cancels and re-orders with mom’s credit card. Or using her own referral code. (That one bites.)
  • She just changed her mind. (A woman’s perogative!)
  • She didn’t have enough money to buy everything she wanted. Been there!
  • She freaked out at the shipping costs. Who hasn’t?
  • She decided to wait for a coupon deal. Hey, I do too!
  • A relationship went sour: maybe she broke up with the boyfriend the t-shirt was for. No sense in making bad worse.
  • Her political candidate dropped out of the race. Yeah, mine too!
  • She never meant to order it in the first place, she was testing prices and designs and quantities. Oops!
  • Everyone lost interest in the event or activity or item the product was based on. Honey Badger is so yesterday.
  • etc. I could go on for another page, you know!

Think about it–this can be just like carrying an item all around Target and then putting it back. Or taking it to the register and then telling the cashier you changed your mind, or your kid chose something else instead. The cashier would never ask you why you changed your mind, let alone would they call up the designer of the product and tell them a customer was putting it back or bringing it back!

Online sales are not special in that respect. People are allowed to change their minds without a third degree. It’s likely none of your business why someone cancelled an order.

If something is canceled within a day or two of the order, the customer doesn’t even have the product yet.  So, they are unlikely to see a design problem. If they did see a design problem, they probably wouldn’t place the order at all.

Don’t forget that the customer can contact you! If they feel strongly, they will send you a note or write a comment. And they can now give you specific feed back through the review process.

improperly designed tshirt

badly designed t-shirt

properly designed tshirt

properly designed t-shirt


Zazzle cancellations

There are many cancellations due to credit card issues. This is apparently more common with international sales.  Sometimes the purchase was never real; it was someone checking to see if a stolen credit card is still usable or what the limit is.

Orders get cancelled by Zazzle for a variety of more definite reasons:

  • Credit card fraud
  • Credit card address mis-matches (if customer doesn’t respond to email notification about issue)
  • Intellectual property concerns over copyright, trademark, rights of publicity violations. In that case, the product would be deleted and Zazzle would notify you of the product removal.
  • Product is out of stock
  • Customer didn’t remove a “your text here” or similar customization element. I’ve heard that Zazzle cancels an entire order for this!

From what I understand, Zazzle MIGHT fix a design problem (like on a binder, taking the design to the edge) or they MIGHT notify you if a product gets cancelled more than once for a design problem. I just have that from hearsay.


Products might be returned because:

  • It arrived late for the occasion
  • It doesn’t have real sequins on it – your images were too good (yes, this really happens!)
  • It wasn’t what was expected (the color, for instance)
  • Customer just doesn’t like
  • Quality not what they expected
  • Didn’t fit
  • Customer screw-up with customization (Zazzle offers to fix or refund these)

Remember, Zazzle has a 100% satisfaction guarantee. No questions asked. That makes customers comfortable ordering something they haven’t seen and can’t touch.

The Bottom Line

This is all a long way to say that most of the cancellation/return reasons are beyond our control as designers. Any notices from Zazzle about them would be a waste of time, really.

The few that ARE in our control: don’t use stuff that violates the terms of service and do a good job with the designing.

If you’re worried something isn’t going to print right. . . you’re probably right.

Be sure to check both the design and product views. Calibrate your monitor!

You could always order a version of it yourself and see. Buying a couple of postcards will certainly tell you if your computer monitor calibration is off compared to Zazzle!