Friday, June 29, 2012

June Goals Follow-Up (How'd I Do?)


1. Finish sprucing up the current designs in my Etsy shop.
Um... I made a lot of NEW designs. Guess I need to work on spring cleaning a little more. It's just so much more interesting to make new things than to fix old things. ;P

2. Add 5 new blog template designs to my shop.
Yup! Definitely did this and more.

3. Bid on 5 "real" design jobs.
Let's see... I bid on 3 jobs. Didn't get any of them. But at least I put myself through the process of inducing nervousness into the pit of my stomach. This'll get easier, right?

4. Actually get out of the house for a walk at least 3 times a week.
Three times a week? Did I say that? I think I made it out three times total. Maybe. I need to work on that.

5. Remember to shower at least every other day.
Yup, did pretty good on this one. I even did some laundry too so I had clean clothes to wear. ;)

6. Knit 3 new items for my knitting shop.
I got one hat made. Does that count? Also I started crocheting something that shall remain nameless because I might be giving it to someone who is pregnant and reads this blog and may or may not be related to me.

7. Photograph said items & actually get them into my shop, ready to sell.
Yup, got the ONE item photographed and into my shop. It was tough, but someone's gotta do it.

8. Get my design portfolio online.
Oh yeah. Forgot about this one. Anyone have any suggestions how to do this?

9. Finish one of the many books that I'm currently reading.
Finish one? Uh-oh. I think I started about three more... Hmm... Guess I went backwards on this one. ;P

10. Earn at least $200 from my various shops / design jobs.
Hmmm... well... I made $13. That's a start right? That's almost $200.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

How to Set up an RSS Feed



"What is RSS and why do I need it?"

I seem to get some version of this question emailed to me every so often, so I wanted to make sure I addressed it here on this blogging series. Basically, as a blogger... you should totally care about RSS! It's the primary way that readers read your content! There are other, less efficient, ways to keep up with a blog, but for readers who have quite a few blogs they'd like to keep track of, RSS saves the day.

RSS ==> Really Simple Syndication

Think of your blog as a newspaper. When someone subscribes to your blog, your newspaper gets tossed up on their doorstep every time you write a post... unless you don't bother sending it to print. In which case, it's as though you've just tacked one copy of it up on your front door for everyone to swing by and read if they have time.

Don't fail to send your newspaper to print!

Luckily, in this day and age, you don't literally have to hire a newspaper press to publish your work. Instead, you have to "press" an RSS feed, which people can then subscribe to and have your work instantly transported to their computers every time you hit "Publish".

You might not have known this, but blog services like Blogger automatically create an RSS feed for you. Anytime someone "Follows" you on Google Friend Connect, they're actually subscribing to your RSS feed through their Google Reader!

It's a good idea to know how to press your own feed as well, largely because it gives you a better understanding of the process. Plus, it gives your readers another option for subscribing! Everyone has their own way that they like to follow blogs, so it's nice if you have a lot of the options covered.

Feedburner is the best way I know of to press your own feed (or as they call it: "burning a feed"). It gives people the option to subscribe to your feed in their blog reader of choice, as well as receive updates by email if they so choose.

You start by putting your blog URL into this box on their front page:


It's been awhile since I've pressed my feed, but I don't remember it being too difficult. Just follow the prompts.

Once you have your feed imported, go to the Publicize page and choose one of the options for how you want to display your "Subscribe" button on your site. It'll give you some HTML code that you can put into a widget in your sidebar.


Here's what my feed looks like once you hit the Subscribe button. As you can see, Feedburner gives them quite a few options for how to subscribe.


Feedburner also has a lot of Google's Analytics power built right into it, so you can easily view blog stats about your subscribers right there. You can't tell who personally subscribes, but you can find out other things, like which blog entries have been viewed the most, which can be helpful if you're trying to streamline your future blog topics.


So basically... RSS is the process of automatically sending out your own personal newspaper to all your readers. It makes it really easy for your readers to keep up with all your latest content. Hopefully I've shed a little light on how this process works, but please let me know if you need any further clarification!

*****
This concludes week two of the Build Your Blog! series. Next week's topic: Taking better blog photos. If you haven't already, don't forget to subscribe to this blog so you know when the next edition of the blog series is ready!

Questions or comments about this week's topic? Leave them below & I will try to answer them all in a follow-up post later this summer!

*****
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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

It's easy to forget this, but... GOOD creative work takes a LOT of practice!

I was browsing through my old pins today and found this quote. Such true words and always good to remind myself as I'm going through design school. I have to have faith that if I keep working at it, my designs will eventually match my design taste! I mean, everyone has to start at the beginning, right? Some people sure make it look easy, but I have to remember that they too were once where I am now.

I think I heard somewhere once that it takes 10, 000 hours of practice to get good at something. I wonder how many hours I've put in so far?

Lessons I've Learned Through my Sketchbook

Learning to think through drawing is something I've been focusing on this year. I've always thought that I think best by writing, but as a graphic designer, I also need to be able to think by drawing.

I started a sketchbook awhile back and don't draw in it nearly enough, but it's still fun when I do. Here's an older entry:


I'm totally fascinated by typography, so sometimes try to draw quotes that I come across. When I drew this, I didn't know the first thing about how to draw a font to look decent, but it was sure fun to try different techniques:


Sometimes I can't help it and I fall back on my love of writing. On this page I was brainstorming ideas for future blog posts:


Occasionally I like to try out techniques that I come across online. It's fun to try new things and reminds me just how many different ways there are to do things:


The more I draw, the more natural it feels, which is probably a good thing. I can feel my brain warming up to the idea of expressing itself visually instead of only through the written word.


Here's a page I made just a week or two ago. As you can tell I'm still drawn to typography, but I'm starting to understand that sometimes a simpler approach to building letters can actually make them turn out better.


Art is a journey and is teaching me a lot about thinking creatively. It's a good test ground for my design ideas, and is a good way to get my brain thinking outside the box (a skill that will come in handy when I start getting more graphic design clients!).

*****
Do you have a sketchbook or art journal? What has it taught you? What inspired you to start one in the first place?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Link Dump #3


Here are a few links I've found this week that have inspired or informed me. Hopefully you'll find them interesting too! :)

I got some good tips here about saving money. I mean really... don't we all have something to learn in that area?


I love this blog - she tends to have a lot of interesting posts about how to make it in your own freelance business. Since that's my main goal in life right now, it's always helpful to hear what she has to say!


I just love this girl's art! She's been inspiring me to art journal, and now look at this cute sketchbook cover she made! So creative!!


Love this - such a cute idea! I hadn't considered writing on my mugs before, but it really does make a fun look.


And as someone who is currently bidding on design jobs, I'm discovering first-hand that people expect to get something for nothing. Really people... design does not happen in a vacuum. There are hours upon hours of training, thinking, and brainstorming behind that "simple" logo that you think costs too much. Read on...


Monday, June 25, 2012

Photos: Cat in the "Wild"

My mom's cat was being incredibly cute this week! She's a little stand-offish, which actually makes her a better photography model than my cat who sees me with the camera and comes running over to cuddle. ;P

This cat's name is Purl and she's such a little sweetheart. She LOVES being outdoors, especially at night, but we try to bring her inside before then so she doesn't get stuck outside in the cold all night.

50mm ISO 100 f/8 1/80

50mm ISO 100 f/8 1/80

50mm ISO 100 f/8 1/80

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Quit telling yourself that you Can't


Chances are... if you set your mind to something... you can probably achieve it. I not saying everyone is good at everything. (I mean, can somebody please tell those people at the beginning stages of American Idol that they can't sing?). But... it's also equally important to not talk yourself out of working hard at something that you could be really good at if only you'd stop listening to your inner critic.

God gives us all talents and gifts for a reason. Your interests and the things that you delight in are His way of helping you figure out what those talents and gifts are. Embrace that! You're the only one who thinks the way you do, and it'd be a shame to waste that because you didn't think you could (or should) try. So... get out there and try!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Introducing... a New Line of Greeting Cards!

I had a burst of inspiration yesterday and designed a new line of greeting cards! I plan to print them here locally as people order them so I can make sure they all look perfect. :)

Here are just a few of my favorites, but keep an eye out in my shop for more. I've got so many good ideas that I hope to get up within the next few weeks!

Available on Etsy - $4.00

Available on Etsy - $4.00

Available on Etsy - $4.00

Available on Etsy - $4.00

Available on Etsy - $4.00

Introducing... a New Line of Greeting Cards!

I had a burst of inspiration yesterday and designed a new line of greeting cards! I plan to print them here locally as people order them so I can make sure they all look perfect. :)

Here are just a few of my favorites, but keep an eye out in my shop for more. I've got so many good ideas that I hope to get up within the next few weeks!

Available on Etsy - $4.00

Available on Etsy - $4.00

Available on Etsy - $4.00

Available on Etsy - $4.00

Available on Etsy - $4.00

Friday, June 22, 2012

A Peek into My Yarn Workshop

This is my little bag of tools. I like to keep my go-to knitting needles, scissors, needle sizer, and row counter all in one place so that I can grab it and go! I got my row counter on Etsy; it attaches to your needle so you won't lose it, and you can just turn the end of it to count every round you do!



Here's a SMALL stash of my yarn. I have boxes more, but these are out for the current project I'm working on.



And here.... is a sneak peak at my next project. I'm trying out a little crocheting this summer. Can you guess what I'm making?



Thursday, June 21, 2012

Making a more efficient blog layout


How your blog is laid out is actually a pretty personal choice, but there are some things you can do to make your layout more efficient and user-friendly.

Why is an efficient blog layout important? When readers feel comfortable and at ease on your blog, they're more likely to come back. If they can't find common items, such as a subscribe button, they may just get frustrated and leave. You don't want that to happen!

The three most important aspects of a blog's layout (in my humble opinion) are the header, the subscribe button, and the "About Me" spot. No matter where your other blog elements are, pay special attention to these three.

1. Header

Your blog’s header is your chance to shine. It can be simple or complex, typographic or image-based... really anything you want. The main thing to remember is that you want to make it feel like YOU, and that probably doesn't include using the default header that came with your template.

Seriously... even if you don't customize anything else on your blog, you should customize your header. You only have about two seconds to make an impression on a new reader, so make sure that impression is telling them something about what makes you you!

I personally use Adobe Illustrator to make all my blog headers, although I realize this is a rather expensive option, unless you’re a student or a design professional. Here is a list I’ve compiled of free and inexpensive options:
  1. Skitch (Mac only)
  2. Gimp
  3. PicMonkey
  4. Picasa
Before you get started, you’ll want to know how wide your blog layout is. Go into your layout settings and there should be a place to upload headers. Most likely it will be indicated there what size header your template can hold. I’m mostly familiar with Blogger, but I would assume most blogging platforms handle this similarly.

Let’s say for the sake of simplicity that your blog is 1000 pixels wide. Open up your image-editing or vector-editing software and make a new document that’s 1000 pixels wide by about 200 high. You can make it as tall or as short as you want, but that’s a good place to start.

Next you’ll need to choose a font. I’ll try not to get all technical on you, but just remember that fonts have a personality. They can be stuffy and impersonal, fun and whimsical, silly, glamorous, or horribly outdated. Choose a font that’s easy to read, and “feels” like you.

Google has many web fonts that you can choose from, if you’re looking for something outside of what your computer comes with. You can also download free fonts from dafont.com and 1001freefonts.com. To install these, if you’re on a Mac, just open the Font Book, and then File --> Add Font. For you PC-users, I’m going to defer to a lovely article that I found on this topic.

So… moving on.

I’d suggest starting with your blog title. Type it out in your chosen font. Try it large and centered. Try it small and in the corner. Try is slanted diagonally. Try it in one color or many colors. Try it upside down. Once you get that looking like you like it, move on to the image, or just stick with the type only… nothing wrong with that.

If you want to add an image, think about what role you want the image to play. Is it going to be the background? An accent? Is it going to be subtle or will it shout and grab attention? Which feels more YOU?

If you’re using an image software that supports layers, move things around and under and over each other until you’re satisfied with how everything looks. Save the whole thing in a PNG or TIF image format, and then upload that to your blog template. Remember to also save a file in the native format of the software (PSD format if you’re using Photoshop, for example) so that you can go back and edit things later if you want to.

Here are a few header ideas to get you started:







2. Subscribe Button

Blogging would be pretty boring if nobody read what you wrote. I mean, yes, technically we should be writing because we love it (isn’t that why we should be doing anything?). But if you truly don’t care that anyone reads your blog, ask yourself why you aren’t just writing in a paper journal offline (although hey, nothing wrong with that… I have dozens of paper journals stashed in my closet, dating back well into the 1980’s).

Let’s assume you want people reading your blog. You’re going to need a Subscribe button. I’ll go into more details in a later post on how to do that, but for now, let’s talk about placement.

You should get that your subscribe widgets "above the fold", as they say, or as close to it as you can. This means, don't make a guest scroll all the way to the bottom of your page to figure out how to subscribe. Think of it like an impulse buy at the store... you wouldn't purposefully walk to the back of the store to buy a candy bar, but you might just grab one if you see it next to you in the check-out line! Subscribing to a new blog is like buying a candy bar. Make it easy and obvious and you just might snag a few impulse clicks.

Blogger makes all of this pretty easy with the Google Friend Connect widget. If you’re using Blogger, be sure you have this widget in plain sight, high up on your sidebar. If you’re on another blogging platform, be sure to have an RSS widget, and preferably a couple other ways to subscribe as well (email, Blog Lovin’, Hello Cotton, to name a few of the more popular ones).

3. About Me

You probably already have an "About Me" Page, which is great for listing out common topics that you write about, your basic life story, etc. You should also consider adding an "About Me" widget at the very top of your sidebar (yes, even above the Subscribe widget).

What I'm talking about is your "elevator speech", that little snippet that you can tell someone that'll reel them in and make them excited to read more.

Quick... describe your blog in 3 sentences or less...

That that info and put it into it's own little section. This "About Me" can be text-based or image-based; whichever feels more natural to you. Including a photo of yourself here is generally a good idea, although not absolutely necessary. What you're going for is the essence of who you, as a person and a blogger, are, and what makes your blog worth sticking around for. No pressure.

While not the MOST necessary part of a blog, I've found that this little snippet can really do a lot to make you seem approachable and put a potential reader at ease. A lot of bloggers write things here like where they're from, what their life circumstance is (married? student? deep-sea fisherman?), and some little quirk about that (they HATE chocolate!).

Typically right below these "About Me"s is where a person's Social Media widgets live. You can place these elsewhere, but remember that they really do fall under the category of things that you don't want a new reader to have to hunt for, so don't stow them too far down your sidebar.

Here are a few ways I've seen an "About Me" done well:


*****
This concludes week one of the Build Your Blog! series. Next week's topic: How to set up an RSS feed. If you haven't already, don't forget to subscribe to this blog so you know when the next edition of the blog series is ready!

Questions or comments about this week's topic? Leave them below & I will try to answer them all in a follow-up post later this summer!

*****
Grab a button and help spread the word!

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