Major Giveaway Going On At The Crafty Branch!

Creative Business

Good morning, friends!

Most of you know I started a craft kit business last fall–I’ve mentioned it a few times in passing–and this week we’re hosting a rather massive giveaway on the new The Crafty Branch Blog with more than $350 in prizes.

Hemiversary Giveaway (1)

Clicking the image above will take you to the post with all the details and the amazingly long list of items included in the grand prize, plus the other four prizes up for grabs. You’ve got all week to enter, until noon (EST) on February 24, 2016, and I really encourage anyone who loves crafting and craft supplies to enter.

It’s true that I started the kit business after my plans to open a brick & mortar shop didn’t pan out, it was my “Plan C” this time last year, but it’s a little more than that, now. After six months of putting together kits (5 so far) I’ve learned a lot, both about the vagaries of this sort of business and about myself as well, about what I’m capable of, the parts I like and maybe the parts I’d outsource if I could. Maybe one day, depending on how things go, you never know!

It all comes down, though, to helping people be more creative. Or, more to the point, helping people access their own, innate creativity. I still believe we all are creative beings, and I still believe you can do a lot with just the stuff around you, but more and more I come to realize that the “fancy” tools and supplies out there exist not merely because someone figured out a way to market them but because, by and large, they work incredibly well! And that, while I can get by with the stuff I have on hand or can pick up here and there for cheap, investing in good tools and supplies is worth it because they will take you farther.

So when I put the Creative Mischief Kits together, I’m striving for a good mix of basics and high end. For brands we recognize and suppliers we might never have heard of. For the tools that get us started as well as those that can take us farther, beyond the scope of the kit and that will last for a good long while. Granted, that also means that our headliner kits are not the inexpensive things you find in the craft store or your local big box. Maybe we’ll come out with some smaller kits in the future, I’m still noodling around on it, but for now, the Creative Mischief kits are there for people who want to discover a new technique or hobby but don’t want to have to search out all the bits and pieces on their own. They offer convenience , wrapped up in gold tissue paper and a paper twist bow.

The giveaway that’s running right now gives you a chance to win favorites from our kits so far–both tools and supplies–plus some original art. If you’ve been curious about the Creative Mischief Kits, now would be a great time to check us out, dig a little deeper into what we do, and maybe that prize, above, will be landing on your doorstep in a couple of weeks.

Good luck!

It’s November 4th, Do You Know Where Your Christmas Cards Are?

In The Studio

What does November 4th have to do with it? Nothing specifically, just that–as various Facebook friends and email lists like to remind me–we’re 7 1/2 weeks or 51 sleeps away from Christmas. I’m already seeing gift guides in my inbox and on some blogs. I shudder to think how early the Black Friday sales are going to start (and I don’t mean on Thanksgiving, I mean I’ve already received one email with that subject line this week).

Makes you want to head for the eggnog, doesn’t it?

While you can shop up until the last few moments of December 24th, if you wait until then to send out your Christmas or Hannukah greetings, you might as well call them New Year’s cards because that’s about when they’ll arrive. The time, my friends, to make plans and take actions for timely holiday happy mail is now.

So what are your options? In relative order of acquisition ease…

  • Pre-Made boxed card sets;
  • Photo cards on a prefab background;
  • Custom-designed cards; and
  • Handmade cards

First of all, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with boxed cards you buy by the dozen: sign, stamp, done. If you want to you can even dress them up a little with some well-chosen embellishments. One of my most popular articles from my eHow days was How to Embellish Store-Bought Cards (I haven’t the foggiest why it’s on that blog and not eHow; I’m guessing Demand Media sold it, as was their right, since I was on a work-for-hire contract back then.)  The only real issue I have with boxed cards are my tendency to buy them and never send them out. Kinda defeats the purpose, right?

Photo cards are also a good way to go if you have a great family picture from earlier in the year or can organize one pretty soon. I don’t recommend waiting until Thanksgiving for this one, since that’ll be cutting it close by the time prints come back or you’ll be forced to pay exorbitant shipping prices to get them in time to send before the holidays. We did one the year we got married (thanks to a speedy turn-around of our November wedding pictures). I did the layout and design and ordered them as postcards from Overnight Prints (whom I prefer over the more common VistaPrint option, though there’s nothing wrong with VP, I use them for other things without any complaints).

"Wishing you the happiest of holidays and toasting to good fortune in the coming year!"

The picture came from our wine-blending unity ceremony and I thought it was pretty perfect for a holiday “toast.”

Todd and I aren’t generally mug for the camera types, though, so photo cards require planning. Instead, I’m much more likely to put my illustration skills to use and design a custom card for us.

One year I designed and screen-printed (on my Print Gocco) this funky monkey Christmas Card (printed in white on a navy linen background)


See, instead of Ho Ho Ho, Santa Monkey says Oh Oh Oh!

And then, the year we ended up moving the week before Christmas (fun times!), we sent out combo At Home/Christmas Cards:

front and inside copy, address omitted

front and inside copy, address omitted (even though we’re not there anymore)

But I don’t just use my artistic talents for myself, I’m available for hire, too! (Just email me!) Last year I was commissioned to create a card with a dragon in a Santa hat, reading a book in front of a fire…

Please note the book title: Fiery Tales

Please note the book title: Fire Side Tails

And earlier this year I was commissioned to create a blog header of caricatures of the author and her family members. While not a Christmas card, I’m sure you can see the possibilities. Plus you could have a large print made up and framed for your gallery wall.


This flying high family caricature could be used on a number of printed items, on a Facebook header, and is 100% unique to them.

A few things to keep in mind if you decide to order a custom illustration for your holiday cards (or any other time):

  1. Budget. Truly custom illustrations are going to run you about the same price as a mid-range photo session (at least in my area). I know that there are folks on Etsy offering family “portrait” illustrations for  $50 or less and I honestly don’t know how they can do it for that and pay themselves a living wage. My prices start at $75 for a single subject (aka 1 person or figure) and go up depending on how many people, animals, etc. you want included. A good illustrator will work with you to find a way to work within your budget by giving you options, but don’t expect them to work for free. After all, you’re not just paying them for the time they spend putting together your custom illustration, you’re paying for their unique skill and style, honed over years of practice.
  2. Timeline. The earlier the better is always a good rule of thumb. Depending on the number of “moving parts” to a commission and the number of revision rounds you go through, you want to allow a couple of weeks for a custom illustration. So, for Christmas cards, now is the time to find your illustrator and ask if they have any openings.
  3. Communication. Unlike ordering a card design through a print on demand service, custom illustrations require back and forth communication. The way I work, we start with a consultation where you tell me what you want, show me some samples of things you like from around the web, and I ask a few questions to get a better feel for the project. After that I prepare a round of sketches or mock-ups (usually 3 options, unless we’re dealing with a very specific request) and I ask you to pick the one you like best and for any changes you’d like made. I come back with the revision, you sign off on it, then I create the final art. If you’re going to be out of town or in an Internet dead zone for a few days during the process, send up a flare so I’m not wondering if you’ve changed your mind all of a sudden.
  4. Contracts. You might think a simple thing like a card illustration wouldn’t need anything more than an email agreement, but I urge you to reconsider. A good contract answers the important questions: who, what, where, how much, and–most importantly–by when. It protects both you and I, and I don’t even start sketching on your job until the contract is signed and a deposit is paid. I’d be wary of anyone who starts work without a written agreement in place as you have no recourse should the unthinkable occur and they disappear on you.

Finally, handmade cards are a way to get the custom treatment without any art or computer skills required. I put it last on the list only because it takes more of a time investment on your part compared to the other options, but can be the most rewarding knowing that you made them with your own two hands! But time investment is relative–there are lots of ways to make handmade cards that can be done in just a few hours. I’m a fan of the assembly line method for making holiday cards: do all the cutting at once, do all the stamping or stenciling in one go, put everything together, then add final embellishments. But just because you’re approaching them like an assembly line, doesn’t mean you have to make them all the same, either.

Winter Whimsy Cards

Winter Whimsy Cards (we also have a set that’s red & green, our Classic Christmas option)

Above are just four examples of the twenty cards you can make with one of my CPR Holiday Creative Mischief Kits from The Crafty Branch. (CPR stands for Cards Prepared and Ready, by the way.) For $40 you get everything you need to make 20 cards, that’s only $2 per card, including cutting diagrams and card “recipes” to get you started putting everything together. It’s up to you how you use the included stencil to embellish the cards (dry embossing, stamping, or texture paste supplies are included). Plus you’ll have paper left over to make gift tags, scrapbook layouts, or even more cards. Order your kit here and it’ll be on its way to you the next day.

So again I ask… it’s November 4th, do you know where your Christmas cards are?

The Abyss Has Been All Topsy-Turvy This Month!

In The Studio

And it’ll probably stay that way for a little while longer–there’s just so much going on!

At the beginning of the month, the first of my two Helmar projects went up: a trio of fabric-covered tombstones.


And then today, book-ending the month, my second Halloween project is live on Helmar, this time a quick pedestal project.


Also at the beginning of the month, the FACES exhibit for the local Artist Collective opened at Grassroots Coffee here in Thomasville. We attended the opening night reception on First Friday and then went out to supper with friends who came up from Tallahassee. It may seem like a little thing, but it felt pretty big as it was the first Collective show I’ve had a piece in.


The Clock Has Many Faces by Jennifer “Scraps” Vanderbeek | mixed media on canvas 10″x10″

The exhibit runs through the beginning of January. The next theme is still life… not sure how I’ll approach that one, but it’ll be a fun challenge.

Of course there was the whole process of getting the house ready for Halloween, but I’ve also been a bit preoccupied getting the new Creative Mischief Kits ready to go. We had a slight delay from one of the paper manufacturers, but everything’s in and the two card kits are now ready to ship!

CPR Holidays Winter Whimsy Kit

CPR Holidays Winter Whimsy Kit

CPR Holidays Classic Christmas Kit

CPR Holidays Classic Christmas Kit

The CPR in the titles stands for “Cards Prepared & Ready,” an idea I had many years ago about simplifying the process of sending handmade cards by batching them up together. These are holiday kits, of course, with enough supplies to make 20 cards in each. You can find more about them and place your order at

Finally, I’ve been working on my Halloween costume for this year. I can’t remember if I mentioned it before or not, but we decided to go as Wreck It Ralph and Vanellope von Schweetz this year.

Finding a pullover with both pocket and hood (when I would otherwise want neither) in the right color and size was a bit like searching for a teal unicorn. But I think my semi-DIY will do nicely!

I had to convert a long-sleeved hooded t-shirt into Vanellope’s hoodie by trimming off the bottom 6″ or so, adding elastic along the new hem to get it into shape, and then using the cut-off area to create the kangaroo pocket in the front. I finished it off with some hot-pink paracord to match the details on her hoodie.

Just needs the small "double stripe" on the one leg and I can call these done.

Just needs the small “double stripe” on the one leg and I can call these done.

I’ve almost finished painting the white tights I purchased to match the character design–I took a tip from a costume Instructable about cutting out leg-ish shapes from cardboard to act as forms for the tights while they’re being painted. So far it seems to be working just fine.

The one thing I haven’t started on, yet, is the candy scatter for my hair. I have everything I need for it, I just haven’t had a chance to put them together. I’ll definitely have it done by Halloween, but the scatter might be a bit sparse for the party tomorrow night–depends on how much I get done on my lunch break today!

Those slippers are super creepy to me. Anyone else?

Those slippers are super creepy to me. Anyone else?

For Todd’s part he’s been letting his hair get shaggy and even extending his sideburns to look more like Ralph. He bought a pair of brown overalls, a red v-neck tee, and a pair of really creepy barefoot “slippers” since Ralph doesn’t wear shoes. For the larger-than-life hands, he found a pair of Hulk hands on eBay for a good price and painted them a flesh tone. He’s planning to wrap his forearms with ace bandages over some sort of padding to bulk up a bit. We also have a heart-shaped cookie medal in the works for him.

I’ll be sure to have someone take our picture tomorrow night to show you how it all turned out!

UFOs, Not So ‘U’ Anymore

In The Studio

On Saturday I slept in. And when I awoke, I had this strange sensation of peace and tranquility. And it felt weird as hell!

This was the first weekend in I don’t know how long where I didn’t have completing deadlines weighing me down from the moment my eyes opened. I really didn’t know what to do with myself!

Eventually I decided to take care of some UFOs–Un-Finished Objects–that had piled up on my work table.

It's a little 6" album, but it could use some extender posts already!

It’s a little 6″ album, but it could use some extender posts already!

I’m on a planner kick (happens around this time every year) and raided my embellishment boxes for stickers to use in decorating my new planner pages (apparently that’s a thing; a thing I can totally get behind). So those got filed into spare scrapbook album I had on the shelf for easy access.

September-December Perfect Planner Paper Clips!

September-December Perfect Planner Paper Clips!

Then I made more of my planner clips (like the ones on today’s Helmar Blog), completing more than enough for the rest of the year. I love all my projects, but I really love how these turned out and that they’re something I can use daily. I like when my crafts are both pretty AND practical.

I love this bag!

I love this bag!

Then, finally, I finished the Conference Tote Sew-Along from So Sew Easy. The last few steps were pushed aside in favor of getting the first Creative Mischief Kits ready to roll, so the unfinished bits were hanging out in the completed shell of the bag. At least it was contained! Now that the bag is finished I’m planning on making it my new everyday-tote in place of my messenger bag that holds way too much.

That doesn’t seem like a bad thing, does it? Unless you’re me and have a tendency to carry a lot of things around “just in case” and your shoulders start to pay!

This bag is big enough to hold my planner, journal, pen pouch, and umbrella with plenty of room leftover. And it has monkeys on it, so, you know: perfect!


And speaking of the kits, the launch went really well, the first few have already made it to their new homes, and I’m now starting on the particulars of the upcoming October release. I also brought them out to the September First Friday and got some really positive feedback.

Of course, today is a holiday, so it’s more kicking around the house with no hard deadlines and later I’ll be grilling up some cheese-stuffed cheeseburgers. I’m looking forward to it!

For my fellow Americans, happy Labor Day! For everyone else, I hope your Monday is as good as it can be.

Finish any languishing projects lately?