graphic design

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I recently answered an unusual request to create a hand-lettered message from Santa Claus. I know, you’d expect this in November or December, right? Me too. But the client had their reasons and provided the text. I used calligraphy pens with red and green inks, and a sprinkling of silver stamped snowflakes on a heavy cream-colored paper with a green deckle edge to enhance the old style Christmas mood. I used to do a fair bit of calligraphy when I was in high school and even college but most of my typography and lettering projects are done on the computer now with points and vectors rather than pens and brushes.

calligraphy hand lettered Santa Claus

I was a little apprehensive about how much time it would take me to complete the project given my rusty skills. I decided that a little digital preparation would not be amiss so I picked out a typeface reminiscent of Uncial script and set the type on the computer adjusting size, kerning, line spacing and justification exactly as I wanted it. I then printed this out and taped it to the back of the heavy paper and used the lightbox to letter directly over my computer-derived draft. It wasn’t tracing as I still drew the individual letters just as I would have if I didn’t have the guide underneath. But having the word placement and line spacing all worked out freed me to concentrate on the rhythm of the letterforms. It worked so well it almost felt like cheating. I doubt anyone but another graphic designer familiar with the particular typeface I used would possibly guess that I used a computer in the process. The final letter is hand-inked on classic paper stock, just as we might imagine Santa would write it himself.

detail of hand lettered calligraphy message from Santa Claus Christmas


Let me first say that I am not a photographer. I wish I had more skills in this area but most of the time the photos I take are just point and shoot and hope that there are no little fingers or cat tails in the way.

But today I needed to take some serious photos. For a serious project. So, I gathered my gear and put my head together as best as I could.

The lighting—overcast sky—perfect.

overcast winter sky

The props and the equipment—steadfast and serviceable.

tripod and case

The assistant—essential. I don’t know why she picked that hat. Maybe she thought we were going out to photograph animals?


Now I’ll weed through 60-odd photos and hope I shot one that will serve the design well. A good original is worth far more than countless hours of photo-editing. Too bad there wasn’t budget to hire a professional photographer to obtain said original. So there will be some photo-editing involved. But hopefully with a little skill and a little luck we’ll end up with a solid finished project. As my old boss, Bob, used to say, “Even a blind squirrel can hit one in ten.”

techno geek baby girl onesies

A baby shower was held at my husband’s office this week in honor of a new baby girl soon to arrive in the household of my husband’s cohort in all things computer. The theme was appropriately “techno geek”. My husband and I tossed around some ideas for decorating onesies—the staple of the newborn wardrobe.

ASCII flowers on a baby onesie hexadecimal color for pink on a pink circle on a baby onesie

We ended up firing up the heat press and using transfer paper to embellish the first onesie with a colorful garden of ASCII flowers. Those of you my age or older may remember making similar pictures on a typewriter in typing class! The second onesie sports a large pink dot with the hexadecimal (web) color number used to specify that particular shade of pink to computers. Apparently one of the adults wanted one of these in her size. We may need to oblige as I am thinking I might want one for me as well! It could very easily be made for boys too of course.

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I’m just going to take a moment to point out that you can receive random-charm in your e-mail box by signing up in the left hand column under the fish. Or you can read on and find out about how random-charm might end up on your fridge as seen below!

random-charm logo magnetic clothespin

Some of you may know that I was once an advertising designer, I still dabble a bit. Within the field, my true loves are typography and copywriting. So I can’t do much of anything, even this blog, without giving it a little graphic touch. However, I’ve taken my time in this case. I’m allowing it to evolve in public, not something I usually do.

The font I chose for random-charm is coincidentally named Charme. Along with a few other tweaks, I impulsively set it at an angle. I did not put the typestyling through the rigorous paces I normally would but started using it right away, shock! So far I haven’t regretted anything. Then again it’s only been applied to the blog header, some mini cards/hang tags (see below) and magnet-backed clothespins. I’ve seen the clothespins done with pretty paper or fabric and thought it would be fun to put my blog name on it and throw into packages that occasionally leave my studio. So if a random-charm clothespin shows up in your mailbox, I hope it will find it’s way onto your fridge!

random-charm mini-cards/hang tags and logo clothespins


scherenschnitte or papercutting of children dancing
This is my first attempt at scherenschnitte or papercutting in the Swiss/German style. I made this artwork for the spring music program at the boy’s school. Since the program will be photocopied, I was thinking about how to create a strong design in black and white and one thing lead to another . . .

As usual I never make a simple first attempt at anything. I had to include people and words, neither of which are easy in any medium. I cobbled together my design with a combination of sketching by hand and sizing and moving around silhouettes and type on the computer to get the general arrangement I wanted. I then printed out my rough and temporarily stuck it to black paper. Rather than use the traditional tiny scissors, I used a new X-acto blade to cut through both the pattern and the black paper, allowing the knife some freedom to vary from the sketch. I cut on my Merry Glo Round light box which is a treat because it spins freely as well as lighting from underneath! I’ve always “drawn” better with scissors than with a pencil. Years of comping concepts for advertising projects and cutting the occasional stencil has made me pretty handy with the X-acto!

Overall, I’m pretty pleased with the result. I don’t think I’ll be doing a lot of scherenschnitte as it is a bit hard on the hands, but I don’t think this will be the last time either. I took inspiration from several blogs of people who take scherenschnitte much more seriously and do amazing work, particularly this one, another Cindy.

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writing in the snow

Today while the girl and I were out enjoying the sunshine we noticed strange lines, almost like writing, in the snow. I knew that we hadn’t made these marks so I wondered what they were. Looking straight down I was able to see that they were left by sticks that had been laying on top of the snow and had somehow sunk straight down into the snow! I don’t know what conditions made that happen but I thought the shadowy marks had a striking graphic quality about them.

random lines in the snow twig in the snow


img_3303Ever since I first sewed the crow tee shirt and stencilled the crow on it, the boy has been bugging me to add a tree. With a nest for the crow’s babies. I was kind of hoping he would forget about it because I really liked the starkness of the original design. But persistence won out. I’ve always been afraid of drawing trees, mostly because I’m really bad at drawing trees. Studying lots of pictures and tracing photographs of trees is giving me some confidence. Now just don’t look too closely at the nest!

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This could be a very long list but I’m going to try to limit it to an arbitrary number, say 10. I do a lot of different kinds of crafts so that makes it hard but I’m trying to think of the things I use a lot and would not want to do without. Then maybe I’ll talk a bit about each one at some other point.

  1. My Mac of course. Being a graphic designer, almost everything I do gets touched by the computer at some point.
  2. My sewing machine. I do a lot of sewing and mending, I think this is a must-have for every household.
  3. My serger. Hmmmm. Yes, I could do without it but it’s fast becoming my right hand for sewing projects.
  4. My good Japanese fabric scissors.
  5. My lightbox. I think my parents got it for me when I had just started the advertising design program. This year I got another lightbox that is round! and it spins! It won’t replace my traditional rectangular box but it probably deserves its own post.
  6. An X-acto knife and a metal ruler. I’m going to lump these together because they almost always get used together. Can I squeeze the self-healing cutting mat in here too?
  7. My Japanese sewing awls (meuchi) This probably warrants its own post as well to explain why.
  8. roll of 18″ wide white paper. Someone gave this to me when I was in college and I have been using it ever since, mostly for drafting patterns but not just for sewing.
  9. Flathead pins. If you sew anything these are really the best. Get the finer size with the heat resistant heads.
  10. Beacon’s craft glue. I hesitate to single this out but I discovered it last year and now I use it for everything. It bonds in a similar way and almost as fast as hot glue but without the heat, yet you can also apply it thin and get a repositionable bond like spray adhesive, without the mess.

Well, I can already think of a few more things, like Frances, my dressmaker’s form, made by my husband. You can read about her here.

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Here’s a plain boy’s tee shirt turned into a one of a kind piece of wearable fun with tie dye and a fabric marker. I can’t remember how I got this idea but the boy has been very much into all kinds of animals lately and maybe we were talking about lizards? Anyway, something about the chameleon’s curly tail and the tie dye spiral made me wonder if I could combine the two. I found a chameleon coloring page online that I then juxtaposed over a tie dye shirt in Photoshop to try out my idea. It looked great so I went ahead and tie dyed several tee shirts with the center of the spiral farther down than normal. If I do it again, I’ll also need to move it a little more to the right but it worked out okay anyway. I also tried several different patterns of applying the dye colors and this is the one that I was most pleased with for this particular use. After the shirt was dyed and dried I then used my lightbox to trace the design with a fabric marker. My lightbox is one of my favorite tools for crafting and graphic design. I also found a groovy font to typeset the word “chameleon” and added that to the design. Surprisingly I found several pictures of real chameleons in that bright blue combo online! But they can’t really change color to match their background, sadly that part is a myth.

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There’s a bit of a story here. My good friend Jan handles the ordering and artwork for camper clothing at our summer camp, Gander Brook Christian Camp. (My husband designed and built the website BTW, pretty sweet don’t you think?) Anyway, this is supposed to be about sewing. The last few years, Jan and I have worked together on the artwork for the tee shirts and while the colors have traditionally been gender neutral we decided to try some pink. It was a big hit year before last so we did another one this past season and I designed the typography myself and we picked out three or four colorways. Unfortunately they only come in camper/staff sizes which means 7/8 years old up to adults. Jan and I both have little girls who adored these pink camp shirts and desperately wanted one. When we were packing up the left over clothing at the end of the season I had the idea to turn a ladies size medium into a little girl dress. I lucked out in finding a long sleeve tee shirt to fit underneath that matched the color of the lettering perfectly. I turned the tee shirt inside out and went to work with the serger, love that thing. The dresses turned out quite well and our little girls were pleased as punch.

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