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?

What Else I’ve Been Up To

In The Studio

After several months under wraps (hah!) I can finally reveal my secret knitting project:

I pinch! But softly...

I pinch! But only softly…

My friend Alison is expecting her first baby soon and has created a nautical nursery for the little one to come. I don’t usually knit things like blankets (the monotony does not appeal), but baby-sized is different, right? It’s the Anchor and Hearts blanket pattern from Judy’s Knitting Page and was a great project for car trips, Friday night knitting, and keeping my mind and hands busy in waiting rooms. Big Red, there, is The Deadliest Crab courtesy of designer Amber Allison. He was an absolute joy to work up and I was a little sorry to see him go! I hear he was a big hit with the father to be, as well!

In less-secretive project news, I created a dolly diorama inspired by various My Froggy Stuff videos. Seriously, the things she makes out of paperboard, glue, and office paper are really impressive. This diorama is 28″x14″ and more details and in-progress pictures can be found over on the Helmar blog.

Landscaping for dolls is so much easier (and cheaper) than landscaping for myself!

Landscaping for dolls is so much easier (and cheaper) than landscaping for myself!

Check out her Secret Garden and Water Fountain tutorials to be amazed and inspired!

It was with a heavy heart that I said farewell to the Gauche Alchemy team this month. After three years it seemed a good time to bow out and make room for some fresh faces over there, but I’ll miss the behind the scenes hi-jinks and being in the know about what’s coming next.

Walking towards what's next!

Walking towards what’s next!

The Love My Fabrics team also came to a close in May at the choice of the company owner, and my last projects over there were a quilted hot air balloon wall hanging and the outfits you see the dolls wearing, above. I hope the fabrics are still available on etsy as they really are great for sewing for dolls with!

Up Up and Away!

Up Up and Away!

Finally, I was interviewed over on Paint is Thicker Than Water yesterday. Last fall I contributed to the Monster Chores coloring book collaboration, and Jennyann is kind enough to shine the spotlight on each of the contributors over the course of this year. It was a fun project to work on (the monsters are doing the opposite of the chores they are assigned) and you can sign up for Jennyann’s mailing list to receive a copy (though I think the link for that may be down at the moment–she’s in the process of shifting some things around on her site). As part of the interview I also shared some images of commissions I’ve completed over the last little while, some that have yet to make it to my portfolio site just yet, so that was fun to share, too.

Custom holiday card illustration a friend ordered last year.

Like this custom holiday card illustration a friend ordered last year.

Well, now that I’m down to only 1 design team and the store’s not going to be taking up all my time, whatever will I do?

Like I ever have to worry about running out of projects!

Interior Trunk Release: Not Just for the Kidnapped, Apparently!

Everyday Adventures

I can’t be the only one that thought that was the sole purpose of those get-out-of-trunk-free pull tabs under the lid, right?

I'm sure this is one of those features you never hope to need...

I’m sure this is one of those features you never hope to need…

Sole purpose until Wednesday night, that is.

You see, I did something fairly dumb on Wednesday: I left my lights on and completely drained my battery. It’s not the dumbest thing ever, of course, and I know people do it all the time, but this is the first time in all my years as a car owner to do it, and yes, it’s dumb.

Especially because I’m usually religious about checking the lights when I get out of the car.

But Jenn, isn’t your car new enough that it makes noise if you open the driver’s door when the lights are on, I hear you ask?

Yes, yes it does. It’s also the same chime that the car sounds when you open the driver’s door with the key still in the ignition. And Electra and I don’t always agree on that fact.

See, Electra is a 2007 Saturn Ion 2. And Electra gets very possessive over the car key, often not wanting to give it up, especially in the summer when the steering column gets overly warm. It’s just the way she is. When she got her ignition replaced as part of that big GM recall I thought that would solve the issue but, no, apparently the attachment goes deeper than that.

To convince her that it’s okay to release the key, there’s a dance that involves recranking the car, jiggling, jostling the wheel, or releasing the car from Park and putting it back, sometimes forcefully, to give her peace of mind.

At any rate, more mornings than not, key in my hand, Electra still tells me with that strident chime that the key is still in the ignition and no I will not let you use the power locks to lock the driver’s door, you don’t want to be locked out of the car, do you? And more mornings than not I manually lock the driver’s door and make sure the light are turned off just in case.

Except that morning, obviously, and the poor battery was so dead I wasn’t even getting clicks. And I was the last to leave the office. Of course.

But it’s okay, I pay for roadside assistance as part of my car insurance, so I’ll just call them up and make use of it.

Or not, as the muzak that played while I was on hold was some Lovecraftian love-child of a 14.4 modem and a cassette tape being played backwards. It squealed and squelched and assaulted my ears. Just in case someone was listening/talking I shouted into the phone that I couldn’t understand anything over the caterwauling. But I sat there on hold for 5 minutes before it cut out on me.

So I called back, went through the phone tree again for another 6 minutes of less-screechy “music” before getting disconnected. There’s also been a voicemail from the insurance company trying to figure out if I needed assistance or not, so I called AGAIN and held for 23 minutes. Long enough for their ‘you’re call is important to us, please hold/higher than normal call volume/we’ll keep playing music til someone picks up but won’t keep making these announcements’ spiel three times. Judging from my phone history those are 8-minute loops.

About that time, though, one of the guys in the building behind my office came out to move his car and I flagged him down and asked for help.

Him: What side is your battery on?
Me: Neither, it’s in the trunk.
Him: Really?!

Do you know that it never occurred to me that the trunk release button on the underside of the dash required at least a little juice from the battery. I mean, you can use that button without the car being on at all, the key nowhere near! But apparently the Ion2 puts the car in severe lock-down when the battery dies, because I was also unable to remove the key from the ignition. And that aforementioned dance? Yeah, I couldn’t get the stick to move. No matter how hard I pressed the break or pulled the shifter, it wasn’t budging.

So, um, how was I going to get into the trunk to the battery?

That once-ridiculed interior trunk release, that’s how!

Granted, I had to get into the trunk to use it, but my backseat folds down in two sections so it’s possible. Except for the fact that the latches that keep the seat backs in their upright and locked position are released from–you guessed it–the trunk.

Thank your celestial deity of choice that the last time I put the back seats back up, one had not fully engaged its latch. And then blame Murphy for the fact that it was the smaller of the two sections that would open so that I could shimmy through. A barrette and a piece of my dignity were the only things lost in the process.

Because sometimes the thing you most need a picture of take place when no camera is handy...

Because sometimes the things you most need a picture of take place when no camera is handy…

Let’s also say a thank you to whatever still, small voice prompted me to wear pants that day–the first time in weeks. If I’d been wearing my usual dress or skirt ensemble… well, it’s probably best not to go there.

Inspiration, Continuation, and Gustatation*

In The Studio, Just for Fun

*yup, that one’s made up, artistic liberties if you will!


It’s Friday, folks: we made it through another week and hopefully everyone rocked their week as well as I did mine! Granted, it may have started slow but we are finishing up with a bang. Let’s talk about the awesome that’s going on over here, and then I want to here about your awesome as well!

Have you ever heard of a Random Road Trip? Basically it’s where you grab your gear, get in the car, and head out with no destination in mind. Maybe you flip a coin to decide whether to go left or right, or you drive on way until you need to refill the tank. The only rule is that the journey is the destination.

I’ve never been brave enough (yet!) to try a random road trip myself, but sometimes when I’m working in the Abyss I find it’s cousin: art without a cause. You have no idea where you’re headed, and there’s a good chance you’re gonna run out of gas before you get somewhere recognizable, but  you keep on arting along until some end comes your way. That’s kinda how it felt to use Kiala Givehand’s Mixed Media Inspiration Deck to create an art journal page. The results of this experiment are now available over on (preview below).


detail shot of my art journal page…

I started with no plan, just those 8 cards, but I really love the way this page turned out. The main lesson I took away from it? Watercolors can cover a multitude of sins and marry the strangest bedfellows in the process. I really must get out the paints and brushes more often!

And speaking of painting, one of the things I accomplished behind-the-scenes this week was creating a sample board for the Gingerbread Dollhouse. Yes, it’s staying pink and hopefully the neighbors won’t revolt, but such is life and such is the direction we’re going!



More on what went into the color choices in a future Gingerbread Diaries update, but for now that’ll give you an idea (of course, with everyone’s monitors being different, who knows exactly what you’re seeing above, lol).

An opportunity arose this week which I just couldn’t dream of saying no to. A friend of mine is coming up on her first wedding anniversary and she wanted something special to gift her husband. A bit of batting ideas around among friends and she’s graciously let me be the the pen to her vision.


Sneak peak of a work-in-progress–just a corner of the sketch, here.

As much as I enjoy creating business-related illustrations, those intended as personal gifts are some of the most fun to work on because you get to know the subject or recipient even better, and that comes through in the work. Once it’s finished and been gifted I’ll be sure to share the finished artwork. It’ll also make a great piece for my portfolio (which is sorely in need of an update); if you want to talk about order a commission, feel free to click on the Hire Me or Contact links at the top of the page.

Finally, to answer my made-up word in the title, this week’s favorite food is the Brie Bites from Trader Joe’s. Little 2-3 bite-rounds of soft-ripened Brie that I can toss in my lunch bag in the morning and they’re perfectly softened in time for my mid-afternoon snack, currently being enjoyed with a Cara Cara orange.

This weekend I’m looking forward to seeing the house progress in person, continuing our search for the best Chinese food in Thomasville, and a belated Mother’s Day tradition of the local Parade of Homes tour and dinner out with Mom.

What have you been enjoying this week?