CategoryDesign Inspiration

70 Candles


This was a card I made for a friend who turned 70 a few years ago. She is a good spirit and loves a good laugh. My concept was simply to attach 70 standard birthday candles to a card. Did you know that 70 candles lined up takes up 14 inches?

Of course I had to make a custom card and print it on an 11 x 17 page. I decided to make it look like the top of a cake. If you have any interest in making your own version of this, you can download my card background here. Just print on 11 x 17, score the center, trim and fold.

Blank cake background for the candles.

Blank cake background for the candles.

The big thing I learned with this project was glueing wax candles in the summer is a challenge. I started on this project several days before I needed it because I was worried the glue wouldn’t hold. It tricked me by holding up until the day we needed it. Then a few here and there decided to come off. In the end, it was okay.

If I were to do this again, I might 1) make paper candles to use, 2) wrap a little paper strip around the candles tightly to glue, or 3) make a clear pocket to cover all the candles and hold them in place.

My designer takeaway: All projects, for work or fun, offer a learning experience!

Kicking off the New Year

Last year as the new year rolled around, I got caught by the ‘try new things’ bug. It was exciting and fun. I made goals of trying new classes, reading new books, working on sketching and hand lettering, and blogging each week. But this year, I don’t have that need.

I’ve been trying to decide what should be a focus for my year, and I realized that I really just want to keep working on the things I’ve started. I like the path I’m on. What a refreshing thing to say! I want to finish up some projects that are midstream and check them off my list. I want to see if I can keep blogging and improving my design skills.


Last year, I made a goal for myself to produce a blog post each week, 52 blog posts. At first, I was rocking it. I would write three at a time and schedule them out. Then I got into the week by week mode, which mostly worked. One major thing that impacted my blogging was that I took on the social media duties as work. This severely diminished my desire to work on social media at home. I love all that I’m learning, but I’m still trying to balance that. I almost made my goal with 50 posts. The holidays threw me off at the end, but I’m proud of my output. The challenge I gave myself was to see if I had that much to say. I’m pretty close. I think I could get better. I haven’t decided if I have the same goal for this year yet. We’ll see.

So there it is. My designer takeaway: Sometimes you need to stay the course and trust that you headed yourself in the right direction. It doesn’t always have be new and exciting.

Feeling Like an Artist

Awhile ago, I listened to a Ted Talk by an artist, and something she said stuck in my mind. She said that when she started, she didn’t feel like an artist. She said she thought artists produced artwork and, maybe if she could do that on a regular basis, she would feel like an artist. I would like to do that also, but I don’t make the time.

A few weeks ago, I was asked if I do any drawing. My immediate response was that I use to do a lot in college, but I don’t find the time anymore. Then I realized that was wrong. I do draw for work; it’s just different. It’s very purposeful drawing to communicate a certain message as opposed to fine art drawing for my own reasons.

I thought I’d share a few of those drawings today. I am putting those drawing classes to use.

My designer takeaway: Designers tend to wear many hats throughout the design process. Give yourself some credit!

Inspirational Shots

As I was searching through some of my recent photos, I noticed I have taken a few inspirational shots (not of anyone or anything in particular, just a scene I liked). So I thought I’d share a few today.

Sunflowers - I love the tiny burst of the sun. These were blowing in the wind, and every shot had a different amount of sun.

Sunflowers – I love the tiny burst of the sun. These were blowing in the wind, and every shot had a different amount of sun.

I love a trip to the pumpkin patch and wish I could have a whole bin of these!

I love a trip to the pumpkin patch and wish I could have a whole bin of these!

To get this amazing glow, my husband was blowing on the fire to make it flare up. It took several shots to get it just right.

To get this amazing glow, my husband was blowing on the fire to make it flare up. It took several shots to get it just right.

I use to do this all the time, but now my kids fill my camera card. I hope I can work some more of these in!

My designer takeaway: Keep your eye open for those inspiring scenes.

Not Your Typical Yearbook

One of my annual projects for work is a yearbook. Yes, a yearbook. No, I don’t work for a school. No, I never thought this would be part of my job once I left school.

We do a yearbook for the state’s Centennial Farm and Ranch Program. This is a really interesting project. The program’s purpose is to recognize families who have owned and operated a farm or ranch in the state for 100 or more years. The yearbook is a collection of their family-business history as told by the family.

Unlike in school, where the content is generated by the yearbook staff, the content for this is provided by the families. It really varies from lengthy stories well documented with photos, to a paragraph and one image, to nothing at all. In school, we tried to make the layouts full and fun. My goal in putting the books together is to attempt to be uniform in presentation and chronological with photos (which can be daunting at times). It’s such a mish-mash that I hope all the families feel they were given equal treatment. I hope they are pleased to share their history with family and friends through this means.

This goal feels foreign to me. Usually, I strive to pick something to feature, something gets to be highlighted or the focal point. Here, I try to keep it all equal. (But, sometimes it can’t be. Sometimes a photograph just isn’t high enough in resolution to be the standard size.)

Here are a few example spreads:




Perhaps to the general public this would come across as boring, but the audience for this is not the general public. It’s for the farm and ranch families. That’s why it’s really important to remember the purpose of a project.

My designer takeaway: Sometimes the goal of a project can mean breaking the standard design “rules/best practices”.

A Creativity Challenge

Every now and then, I think when I’m feeling uninspired, I dream up a challenge for myself — to push my creativity. Do you ever find that when you’re forced to make something out of a limited number of elements, it’s more creative than if you had unlimited resources at your disposal? I do. For example, in college, we would have to make a ridiculous amount of sketches for a layout, say 50 or 100. After those first couple dozen, we’d put any option that came to mind down. Sometimes, those desperate attempts to meet the quota head a great idea.

A few years ago, I dreamed up my “100 cards in 100 days” challenge. This was really good for me. It gave me some great creative, hands-on time each day. And, I ended up with a stack of greeting cards to use. In fact, I still print them out and use them these days. I keep thinking I should do this again, but limit it to one theme, i.e. holidays or birthdays.

From my knitting class, a 24-month cable-knit girl's top.

From my knitting class, a 24-month cable-knit girl’s top.

Then I challenged myself to the once a month knitting class. I loved learning new techniques and growing more confident in reading knitting patterns, but this was a disaster for me. I missed a bunch of classes because of kid commitments. I only finished a few projects (and this really bothers me). The rest are sitting in a tub waiting to be finished or even started. My goal for this winter is to finish the most challenging project, which was a two color cowl with a complicated pattern. It requires me to sit in a quiet place without distractions (kids, hubby, TV) so I don’t mess up the pattern. We shall see!


So this year, my self-imposed challenge has been to produce a blog post once a week. When I first started my blog, I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to dream up enough content. Then I got a few posts under my belt. It’s not always easy. I do keep a running list of ideas, but I often look over it and don’t have the desire to write about any of them. My goal this week should be to beef up that list! 🙂

The next challenges I’m contemplating are to try a new recipe once a week and/or plan a new craft project for my kids once a week. I’d love to do them both, but that feels like a lot of planning and prep on my part. Who knows!

My designer takeaway: When you’re feeling uninspired, give yourself a long-term challenge to force the issue. You never know what you might come up with!

Playful Promotions

I can’t take credit for the concept (we have some pretty creative folks in our State Archives), but I had the pleasure of helping with these fun projects promoting the State Archives.

Historic Valentines
These were a last minute idea that we threw together to share on social media around Valentine’s Day. What a simple and inexpensive, yet fun way to show off both the collection of historical photographs in the archives and also give a glimpse into the state’s history.

Design wise, we went for cutesy (or cheesy). The best part is the photo anyway!

Who doesn’t love a paper airplane? This plane is a promotion for an oral history grant project that the State Archives did. It was handed out as flat sheets for people to take and fold.

My main job was making clear instructions for the plane folding. I modeled it off of some of my kids’ origami projects. (Yay for having kid stuff to inspire me!) These were a big hit. Everyone who walked by my office commented on the planes. I can tell you that coworkers were more than willing to help me test out these instructions for building this paper airplane. We even sent copies to meeting for the board that supplied the grant money.

My designer takeaway:
Every now and then, throw out the typical ideas. A little playfulness can be highly appreciated and appropriate!

A Vacation with Inspiration

I just returned from an amazing vacation, a Mediterranean cruise. What a dream! I still can’t believe we pulled it all off! Of course, the sites of Europe are always inspiring, from the ancient places to the amazing architecture to the food and way of life. I found the street markets enticing and the laundry hung from balconies enchanting. I was amazed at how all of this rich history is mixed right in with homes and modern life, as if it could all be taken for granted because you see it out your window everyday.

Here are a few of the photographs I took for inspiration (as opposed to all of those I took looking like the tourist I was! Ha!). It was fun to play photographer again!

My designer takeaway: Nothing beats getting out and exploring the world to find new inspirations.

Inspiring Children’s Books

My kids recently finished the summer reading program at our local library, and their prizes for finishing were books. One of the books they earned reminded me how amazing design can be in children’s books. I’m not just talking about the illustrations. Of course the illustrations can be spetacular! Sometimes I fall in love with a book just because of the illustrations (Who cares what it’s about, right!).

But here, I’m talking about the typography and layout — the whole package. It can be really simple and yet add so much to the story.

Here’s the new one that I fell in love with, the design and story!

I am so taken with Klutz brand activity books. These are amazing, well thought out, well designed and really fun to do!

I love this ABC book. Look at detail in letters to give them the qualities of their character. And they are spot varnished with a gloss to make them really pop.

And this book is my very favorite kids’ book. This is the one I always give at baby showers. The typography is simple, but look how it conveys the message.

My designer takeaway: Inspiration can come from everyday experiences, even when you aren’t looking for it.

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