This week I’ve been playing with fiddly bits of paper. I thought the digital color-card-swatch-chart-palette thingy I’ve been working on needed a redesign—fewer darks, more grays, another column, and a better numbering system—so I’ve been auditioning paper samples to get a better idea for how they’ll look and feel in real life.
I’ve also gotten motivated to start a Daily Drawing practice like my lovely friend and accountabilibuddy, Monica, at lalalamonique. She turns her drawings into joyous designs for fabric and furnishings. They’re wonderfully bright and whimsical, and she has a gazillion of them because she’s so diligent in her practice. Very inspiring!
I’m not sure if mine will turn into anything, but for right now, just doing it is the important thing. I’ve gotten very rusty, so to ease back into the habit, I’ve been cutting out snippets and bobs from magazines with the intention of gluing them into my planner and doing side-by-side sketches.
In his latest book, Keep Going, Austin Kleon writes, “Because drawing is really an exercise in seeing, you can suck at it and still get a ton out of it.” I love his approach. It takes all the pressure off.
The first set of color cards has arrived, and they’re lovely! I had them printed on Spoonflower’s Smooth Wallpaper, so they’re slick and clean and crisp. I think I can ratchet up the loveliness though. The bottom rows in each family are almost solid black. They make a big leap in value from the rows above, and there’s very little value change between the swatches themselves. I’m going to have to resample everything and cinch them up out of their dark depths.
I also need to take back some of what I said about using colors “willy-nilly” because the gamut issue seems to be wreaking a little bit of havoc. In a couple of spots, the values are weirdly reversed. All of the lighter values should be on the left, but two swatches in the red-orange family and two in the yellow-green family are backwards. Not a huge big deal, but good to be aware of.
So, back to the drawing board. I think these are going to be nifty once they’re fine-tuned.
The Color Family Wallpaper Sampler I ordered from Spoonflower arrived, and—Good news!—it shows that despite the fact that all kinds of beautiful saturated colors were being identified as “out of gamut,” they all printed just fine.
I started to get nervous when I was working on a set of full-spectrum color cards (like Color-aid Paper only more of them), and the triangular “out-of-gamut alert icon” on the Color Picker kept popping up. I was afraid I would have to make a major detour, but thankfully no. The “Really, Really Red” I wanted, for instance, is in fact really, really red, and not a dingy off-red or grey.
The greens do appear to be a wee bit off in the upper right corners. There’s a yellow tinge to them, but it’s not off enough to exclude them.
There may be other nuances I’m missing—I don’t think I’m a super human tetrachromate—but I feel like I can use all the colors willy-nilly now without concerning myself with their gamutness.
I finished the first set of color cards earlier this week, and I’m waiting to see how they print before I continue with the other four. The sampler also showed that Spoonflower doesn’t trim their wallpaper exactly along the design’s borders. The top and left edges are missing an eighth of an inch. Probably wouldn’t matter if I was using the wallpaper as wallpaper, but as a one-off piece, it looks goofy. Like I don’t understand how rulers work. That’s good to know though. I was able to make some adjustments on this new design and gave everything more wiggle room.
I can’t wait to get my hands on the color cards. Everything hinges on them.
While I wait for my “what does out-of-gamut look like” color sampler, which should arrive tomorrow, I’ve been playing with a couple of other wallpaper samplers I ordered from Spoonflower. I wanted to see how their Prepasted and Peel & Stick wallpapers work for projects other than wall treatments. Things like appliqué templates and collages.
But first, a quick backstory. With quilting in mind, I developed a bunch of black and white designs that I think of as “patterns that do the heavy lifting.” Without a lot of fussy piecing or appliqué, I want to be able to create elaborate compositions using fabrics that, because they’re only two colors, will create new and unexpected shapes when merged together. There are 24 so far, but before I order them on yards of fabric, I wanted to try them out in miniature collages.
The Prepasted Wallpaper Test: I thought I could potentially use both papers for collaging, but to activate the Prepasted glue, you have to wet the paper and let it sit for a couple of minutes, which seems slow and messy, so I ruled it out. As a template for appliqué, it worked much better. Instead of ironing it to the back of the fabric, like freezer paper, I just sponged it down and stuck it on. No fingertip-burning iron required. I was concerned that it would be so sticky that it wouldn’t separate from the fabric or that the glue would stay behind, but neither happened. It stayed stuck while I was stitching and peeled away cleanly and easily when I was done. Hooray!
The Peel & Stick Test: With an X-Acto knife, I cut the blocks apart and sliced a strip off of each one. To my surprise, it cut fairly easily. Since its a heavy weight and has a paper backing, I expected it to be tough, but I was able to get nice clean edges. Peeling the backing off was a snap as well. No fiddling with the corners to get an edge started, and the collaged pattern mash-up was fun too. Hooray some more!
Verdict: Very pleased with both applications and a bit stoked about the possibilities! Wallpaper = a whole new tool.
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This week, a Very Random Survey Question of the stranded-on-a-desert-island variety that came up while my husband, Brad, and I were toodling around running errands:
If you were stranded on an island and could only have one album (musical, not photographic), what would it be?
Me: Dave Brubeck’s Time Out because it’s upbeat and complex, so it would set a cheerful mood and not get boring. I also adore the cover art by Neil Fujita, so it’s a twofer.
Brad: Jimmy Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland because it has “very innovative recording techniques for its time, great songs that flow into each other, and if I’m lucky enough to be stranded with a four-speaker stereo system, quadraphonic sound.”
How about you? What album would you want to be stranded with?
This week I uploaded a new designer’s tool to Spoonflower. I’ve been wanting to create a deck of color cards similar to Color Aid Paper but with a broader range of colors (750 vs. the 314 in Color Aid’s Full Set). It would be a collection that I could print at Spoonflower and that would take the guesswork out of color selection and the disparity between screen color and IRL color. Something that could be shuffled, dealt, grouped, matched, auditioned, and coordinated to create a bunch of different, yummy, go-to color palettes.
In the process of designing the cards, though, I had to contend with the “gamut” issue: what parts of the color family were reproducible in ink and what were not. As I systematically carved away all of the unusable colors, like greys and uber darks that look the same no matter what color family they’re in, I was alarmed by how much of some color families fell into the “out of gamut” range. The cool side of the color wheel in particular (green, blue, purple) seems to shrink dramatically when you have to consider its printability.
It made me curious. I tend to question restrictions and good advice, and like my husband and his buddy when they come across a “Road Closed” sign on their motorcycle adventures and say, “Let’s see how closed it is,” as they proceed past the sign into the verboten area, I thought, “Let’s see how ‘out of gamut’ these really are.” So, I took a detour from the color cards and made a color sampler instead, using thirty entire color families. Out-of-gamut colors and all. I designed it to fit on a swatch of Spoonflower’s Prepasted Removable Smooth Wallpaper to get the most intense color they can print. The order was placed on Wednesday, so we’ll get to see what we’re dealing with in a couple of weeks.
In other news: sales!
It’s the end-of-the-year financial report wrap-up, and I actually have something to report. The design that got into the Spoonflower Challenge Winner’s Circle in October — the Khokhloma Tea Towel — has sold 9 whole times! One was bought by Spoonflower for the complimentary towel that was included in the prize package. Most of the sales were during sales, but my commission stayed the same whether it was on sale or not. Bless all the folks who shop at Spoonflower!
Breakdown for the year:
1st quarter: $1.30 for 1 Ambrosia Bites tea towel
2nd quarter: $2.60 for 2 Ambrosia Bites tea towels
3rd quarter: zippo
4th quarter: $12.60 for 9 Khokhloma tea towels
Total: $16.50 – That’s four pints of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream!
With this happy turn of events, a question that had been rattling around in my head was answered. Does winning matter? I know it isn’t true for other designers, but in terms of sales, in my tiny corner of the design world, the answer is yes. Yes, it does. The only things that I’ve ever sold at Spoonflower were challenge entries that made it into the Top 10.
The challenge for the new year? To sell something that hasn’t run the gauntlet of the Spoonflower Design Challenge. And…go!
Jumping in without any ado: old business. Way back in April, I announced that I would be doing a quarterly financial report to track how my artsy efforts were being rewarded monetarily. We’re now well into the 4th quarter of 2019, and I flew right by the 2nd & 3rd quarters like a Cornhusker football sailing past the outside of the goalpost.* So, quick like a bunny, a long overdue financial update.
2nd Quarter earnings = $2.60 from a Spoonflower sale of one yard of my “Ambrosia Bites” tea towel to the same buyer who bought the same design in February.
3rd Quarter earnings = zilch, nadda, nil.
Total for the first nine months of 2019 = $3.90. That would buy three and a half packs of Trident gum.
In other news: Spoonflower Challenges. I keep telling myself I need to focus on other things for a while, like fleshing out existing designs instead of creating new ones in all-consuming challenge sprees, but I keep ignoring my own good advice. In the last five months, I’ve entered ten challenges and started (and abandoned) three. I’m starting to feel like a challenge veteran.
The placement results have varied anywhere from Bottom 50% to Winner’s Circle, and I’ve started to see a couple of patterns. When a design comes together easily and I upload it early because I feel that it’s as good as it’s going to get, it does better in the popular vote. The designs I struggle with either technically or aesthetically and drag out to the last possible minute in the hope that I’ll stumble upon a magic solution do less well.
I’ve also noticed, however, that if I use different metrics, the opposite is true. If I ignore the popular vote and go by my own sense of accomplishment and enthusiasm, then the design that did the worse, was one of my favorites, and the one that did the best, was kind of a slog.
It put me in search of a short-hand method for depicting waves and surf and got me better acquainted with the power of Photoshop filters. And those little islands made me so happy! I wanted to live there! But my repeat was too simple and linear, my subject was too predictable, the palm trees looked too much like dandelions, and my competition was too magnificent. This was one of my favorites from that challenge: “The Fantastic Colors of Vietnam” by Heidi Abeline Jespersen placing #8. So gorgeous!
My most recent entry, “Russian Khokhloma Style Tea Towel,” came in 7th in the Folk Art challenge, but as the design was based on a well-established style with predetermined elements—berries, flowers and swirls in red, green and gold on a black background—it felt like a paint-by-number project. Very formulaic: “First I put in the strawberries, then I add the stems, then the blossoms…” Since I knew how it was going to turn out, there wasn’t much excitement or sense of adventure. Although somewhat satisfying and fun, it still felt like driving the same 200 mile stretch of interstate for the gazillienth time.
Morals of the story:
Abandon a flailing design sooner rather than later because that tough decision is less painful than spending a week watching the voters confirm what you already knew: it was only half-baked.
Don’t be afraid to step off the trail and wade through the thorny undergrowth because you never know what private oases you might discover.
Use more turquoise.
That’s the latest from my tiny corner. Hope all is happy in your world!
*Credit for the football metaphor goes to my quick-n-witty husband. He can always make me laugh.
It feels a little gauche and taboo and unseemly and awkward, but this is a blog about making a living as an artist, so I thought I should start posting a quarterly earnings report. Transparency seems like the best way to answer the question, “Is the reward worth the effort?” For the sake of full disclosure, then, in the first three months of 2019, I earned … drumroll … fanfare … dun-ta-dah! …
It’s the 10% commission I made on the sale of two Spoonflower tea towels in February. It’s still early days, so I’m not terribly discouraged by this tiny, wee number. I kind of find it encouraging. I love hearing that artists are selling. It means that people are buying and that this whole artistic venture is not all for naught. If in two years I still can’t buy a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chubby Hubby with my quarterly earnings, then I’ll have to consider going in a new direction. But, until then, let’s see if we can make something happen!
To get the sales figures up, I need to deal with my Spoonflower shop first. I only have eleven designs in there right now, and I’ve done nothing to promote them. My immediate goals are to:
add to my design inventory (Enough dawdling, already.)
demonstrate how the designs can be used (Quilts, collages, etc.)
My favorite tea towel tip is in the video: wrap up a baguette like a burrito and hand it around the dinner table. Guests can rip off a hunk of breadular goodness while keeping the loaf unsullied. Love it! It’s relaxed, but refined. A nice way to be. It’s permission to eat with your hands!
One night last month, my husband and I were watching Drunk History when my iPad pinged with an incoming notification from Spoonflower saying that two more of my Ambrosia Bite tea towels had sold. I gave a distracted, “Whoot!,” and went back to watching First Lady Dolley Madison tell the guys who were helping her save the White House’s national treasures not to roll up the portrait of George Washington like it was a “Jimi Hendrix poster.”
(If you haven’t seen Drunk History, and you can get past the swearing and hurling, it’s a great series. It’s given me a whole new appreciation for lip-syncing.)
The next morning it dawned on me that the tea towel buyer’s name had looked familiar, so I went back to review my Spoonflower statements, and, sure enough, the same person had put in a duplicate order last September. That was odd. I assumed that the first order had been a one-to-keep/one-to-give-away sort of thing, so why did they need two more so soon?
Poking around the web, I found that the buyers were hemming and selling finished Spoonflower tea towels on Etsy, and my initial reaction was, “WHAT?!?” I felt like my cat when he’s had an encounter with the neighbor’s yellow lab, and his tail freaks out like a bottle brush. Then I chilled out and acknowledged that they really weren’t doing anything wrong. I had been paid, and they were crediting the designs to “independent artists,” so not passing them off as their own. Probably not going as far as they should attribution-wise, but they weren’t stealing from any of us.
The good news: apparently my design is likeable enough to sell. Bad news: I don’t think I signed that design, and I’m a big dummyhead.
I’ve been surprised to hear Spoonflower designers say that tea towels are their biggest sellers, which shouldn’t surprise me because the one tea towel I’ve ever made is the only thing I’ve ever sold. Over and over again.
Nonetheless, I’ve never quite understood tea towels that are made out of linen or canvas. They’re fun and collectible, but I equate tea towels with dishtowels, and in my experience, if they aren’t made out of terry cloth, they just push the water around. Why would one want to own one if they don’t dry dishes? Am I using tea towels wrong? Maybe they aren’t supposed to dry anything at all? The real question, though, is, if they’re selling so well, what am I doing not designing more tea towels?!?
I’ve had a print of Ambrosia Bites hanging around my studio for years waiting for me to hem it. I think it’s time to give it a good beta testing. If I wash it enough to soften the fibers, will it become more absorbent? I still want a tea towel to act like a towel, and they’ll be much easier to promote, if I find them useful too.
Liz Craft and Sarah Fain posed that question on a recent-ish episode of their podcast, Happier in Hollywood (#73). They were identifying the differences between their “nemeses” and their “professional crushes,” people in their Hollywood circle who either irritated them because they succeeded by taking actions that Sarah and Liz found distasteful or who they wanted to emulate.
A professional crush, they said, is not a romantic crush, but is someone who is,
“doing everything you want to do and is a person you want to be. . . . Their success doesn’t get under your skin. Their presence does not grate on you. Instead, the heavens open up.”
I was surprised at how quickly I could pinpoint designers from the Spoonflower Community who fit those profiles. My nemesis shall remain nameless, but my crush is a gal who calls herself, “ottomanbrim,” a.k.a. Tina Vey.
First of all, I adore Tina’s picturesque handle, “ottomanbrim.”
Secondly, she’s a very kind person—friendly, approachable, and supportive of others’ efforts.
And thirdly, her designs make me swoon! Every single one of them. She has a mid-century modern vibe with this cool, linocut flair. Her patterns are hard-edged, but playful. She achieves what I strive to create—designs that are elegant and fun. She enters a lot of challenges and manages to maintain her style while adhering to the letter and spirit of the competition theme. Her style is so well developed and distinct that I can recognize her work in a crowd.
Part of the reason that I abandoned the Spoonflower Challenge Play-to-Pay strategy was that my efforts were resulting in a disjointed collection of designs. Lots of one-off pieces. Since I was gearing each one toward a predetermined theme, I was taking myself down tangential, dead-end paths. They were fun exercises, but they didn’t really get me anywhere.
Tina, on the other hand, has managed to avoid those dead ends somehow. She has over 300 designs in her Spoonflower shop, many of which are challenge entries, and they all seem to work together. Even in their variety, it’s one, huge, cohesive collection, which seems like a very good goal to shoot for.
So, with that in mind, I’ve been working on a group of two-color designs that stem from my Black & White Wallpaper challenge entry. One color is always white, which, I hope, will be the hook that unites them. I’m going for whimsical, clean, and graphic.
I shot for 30 designs initially because Spoonflower will let you sample in bulk for about a $1 a piece (versus $5, if you do them singly), but what I thought I could do in one month has taken three. I’m so excited about the results, though, I’m pooping pink daisies!
I have a palette in mind, but I think I’ll upload all of them in black and white, too. You can never go wrong with black and white!
“I’ve been forty years discovering that the queen of all colors is black.” – Henri Matisse
In a very early episode of their podcast, Happier, Gretchen and her sister, Elizabeth, discussed the fact that there can be an upside to the feeling of envy:
. . . envy is actually very helpful because it shines a spotlight on something that we try to hide from ourselves. We don’t want to admit that we feel envy, but if you really confront that envy, it can tell you something useful about yourself. Envy means that somebody has something that you wish you had. And when you know that, then you can ask yourself, ‘Well, is there a way that I could have that thing too?’
After I abandoned my second experiment with the Spoonflower challenges, I suddenly felt estranged from the designers who were still in the game. It was so silly! The whole Spoonflower community—people whose work I admired, whose Instagram posts I genuinely heart-ed, and whose success I applauded—had suddenly gotten under my skin. They were the same, lovely people, but I had benched myself because I’d decided that the challenges weren’t practical enough. I was pouting and unhappy, and, apparently, I couldn’t be happy for them either. It was just icky.
I wanted to be back on the team! I missed the camaraderie, the feedback, and the deadline. I enjoyed being in what Gretchen calls an “atmosphere of growth,” a state where we find happiness when we’re learning something new. I could do all of that on my own, but it was heightened during the challenges. When I recognized that I was just jealous and had no reason to be annoyed, I said, “Eff practicality,” and gave myself permission to get back in the game.
And it was so much fun! The pressure was off, and the goodwill was back. I entered the Large Scale Black & White Wallpaper challenge at the end of November last year, digging out an old mid-century modern design I’d abandoned and mashing it up with a chunky damask pattern. I still didn’t get into the Top 50, but I think I stumbled onto something promising with the two-color design. Win, win, win!
I was kind of amazed that I had found sunshine on the other side of the crapulence. Negotiating with envy is never going to help me get Misty Copeland’s dancer’s body, but in this case, it worked a treat. What a simple solution!