Take Stock of Your Photos

Yay, its a new year and now everyone is focused on “out with the old and in with the new”, right? This is a great time to look at your company’s brand, to see how well your maintaining it and review your collateral material. How often have you sat in a meeting and just as you hand out a brochure you glance down at it realizing the second that it leaves your hand the information is old and stale? I know, you’d rather not admit it but it happens to everyone.

So, while you’re reviewing your collateral material why not also take a good, long look at the photos that you’re using on your brochures, flyers and web site? Chances are you’ve grabbed some stock photo off of a cd or purchased it from a web site (PLEASE don’t steal them off line -that’s a WHOLE other story!) and just had them strategically dropped into the design. But do your photos reflect your company? Are they the same photos that you’d find on similar materials in other companies in your city? Are they working for you? Do they make your company stand out? After all, you know the old saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words”.

Why are you even using stock photos, anyway? Now, don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against stock photos and even use them in some instances. I just don’t use them all the time.

There are so many talented photographers available that its worth a little extra money to take good quality photographs of your business location, of your actual employees in the workplace to represent your company. Have you ever considered using a working action shot of the CEO or owner of your company? I love that so much more than a standard head shot. Everyone’s got a head shot, I want to see the guy or girl with their sleeves rolled up working away.

Get the picture? No, really, get the picture! You’ll be so glad that you did.

Debby is a working writer, designer, artist, photographer and guest lecturer in Southern California. If you are interested in hiring her she is available for ghost blogging, strategic marketing planning, graphic and web design, photo shoots and more. You can email her at djohnson@debrongraphics.com

New Beginnings – Plan Your Year

2011. A new year and new resolutions that won’t be kept. I have to say, I think at this point in time resolutions are really over-rated. I’m not resolving to do anything at all this year. Shocked? Don’t be.

While I’m not making resolutions what I am making are both personal promises to myself and a concrete business plan that I can really follow throughout the year. One of my first promises to myself was to step up my business and add a few more things to my plate. I know that initially concerned a few people in my life who were probably wondering where that would leave time for them. However the good, no the GREAT news is that with my business plan in place I’ll be taking more control over my time and my life and adding more hours essentially into my day.

I am so excited to be able to do this. The reigning post-it queen I am making a huge effort to work more efficiently by incorporating more digital lists (I do love several note apps I have on my phone and iPad for their new usefulness in my life) as well as making plans for every month in advance. As an example, I have a list of blog topics by week for the entire next year. Yes, that means I’m going to blog at least once a week on a consistent basis and share more marketing and design tips and tricks but the better news is that I won’t waste time while I ponder which idea to write about and wonder, “did I just write about that recently?” at which point I’m forced to go back and re-read all of my blogs for a while, killing whole hours in my day. Plus, and here’s a big plus, I can still blog spontaneous topics on other days of the week. Impulsively blogging is so much fun and I can still do it but now I WILL blog regularly. Wish you could see my smiling face! : )

Maybe even more exciting to me are the business plans that I’ve written for clients. Yay! We have a whole year of ideas that we can utilize to move their businesses forward. But you know what else we have? We have a plan…deadlines to get things off to print well ahead of an upcoming trade show. We have less stress in my life because all I have to do is look at the calendar and remind them about the project or be proactive and design it sending them off a draft that’s ready early. I positively love this because that just put me back into control in my life, gave me hope of more than one weekend off a year and extra hours into my day. Deb is a happy designer!

If you need help creating your marketing design plan for the year, let me know. I now have plenty of ‘extra’ time to help you with your work and reduce the stress in your life. You can email me at djohnson@debrongraphics.com.

So, I’ve been thinking…

I realized something as I got my year-end paperwork finished up, reviewed my invoices, both paid and outstanding, and just generally looked at the year as a whole. I spend a lot of time giving my clients marketing advice, helping them to market smarter and more efficiently but I don’t do the same thing for my business.

That always gets the leftover time that I have. Whatever energy and ideas are left at the end of a day for a week, that’s what flows into my business. Now, that’s not necessarily bad, as it means I don’t have that much time for my own marketing because I’m busy, which is the point of marketing anyway. But as I was evaluating a client’s business practices and building a 2011 marketing strategies plan for them I realized that taking the time to do that for myself would actually save me time in the long run, help me keep on track, working more efficiently and putting more fun time into my life. That seemed like a good idea.

So, no marketing resolutions this year. Only promises that I keep to myself and goals that I set for my business. The first goal? Develop my own strategic marketing plan. I’ll know every month what my marketing strategies are, my email campaigns will be scheduled and go out on time, I’ll keep in closer contact with my customers by being proactive and my evenings and weekends just might be empty enough to devote more time to my other creative pursuits.

I’ve joked about putting more hours in my day, well, this really does. Interested in a strategic marketing plan for your own business let me know. I’ll be glad to help you as well.

You can email me at djohnson@debrongraphics.com

It Must Be a Sign

I woke up this morning anxious and ready to paint and write. My fingers were itching to wrap themselves around a paintbrush, gliding the bristles through the nice, rich, wet thick paint. I could see the glistening strokes before I even opened my eyes. Long, flowing, perfect. Ahhh, such a blissful thought as my lashes fluttered open.

Along with that words danced and pranced around in my head. Lines of dialog floating around as characters chatted casually back and forth. “What a marvelous day this was going to be,”  I thought.  An amazing, creative Sunday.

That’s when my creative caravan screeched to an abrupt halt. Wasn’t there something I was supposed to do today? Oh, yeah….now I remember, I know what it is. No wonder I’m feeling so deliciously creative. I have floors to scrub. Laundry to wash and fold. A design project to get off to print. Christmas cards to write. Bathrooms to scour. I could feel my mood sinking, the creativity being sucked out like a vacuum cleaner stealing away my little creative projects that circled around in my brain.

But wait! Maybe not all is lost! A glimmer of hope fluttered across the horizon. Today was going to be a marvelously creative endeavor after all! There are three times and/or places that seem to always inspire me. Driving. Lots of great ideas and I’m so thankful for my little recorder to capture them. The shower. Did you know its really hard to write with soap on the shower wall and read it later? Cleaning house. Yep, something about cleaning makes me come up with lots of new ideas. Some might think then that waking up thinking creatively might be a sign that my house needs cleaning…I think its a sign that cleaning my house is going to lead to an amazingly wonderful, creatively filled day!

And the Light Goes On

Isn’t it funny how things sometimes just happen? I had just finished reading Julia Cameron’s newest book, The Creative Life: True Tales of Inspiration: Finding Your True North (you can read my review about that if you’d like) and had a real ‘light goes on’ moment. It was amazing. It was completely out of the blue, caught me off guard, amazing. And it was so simple. Why exactly hadn’t I thought about this before????

There I was making my bed (yes, right in the middle of the afternoon) and it struck me. It struck me hard! The book that Ms. Cameron had written portrayed her as a real live human being.  She wasn’t  ‘an author’. She wasn’t a super hero. She was a person. A real person. I felt like I got to know her, her likes and dislikes, an inside glimpse of her as just an ordinary person who happens to write.  That is when I made the connection.

I guess I’d been percolating an idea for a story for a while and it melded together with the things that I was thinking about Julia Cameron’s book and before I knew it I’d brewed up a solution to why most of my stories fall flat. The characters just aren’t real.

Let me explain it this way. You know how when someone dies, an ordinary person, the loved ones left behind suddenly sanctify them as Saint ‘Insert Name Here’.  Miraculously they have no flaws. They were perfect. Gods who walked amongst us without whom we will now flounder and live an empty hollow existence. Half the time you don’t recognize the person that they are talking about. “Uncle Phil?” you’ll ask as you hear Aunt Martha sing her praises for her recently departed saint of a husband. Yes. Uncle Phil.

Well, that’s been part of the problem with my characters I think. They are all perfect, even the non-perfect characters. The non-perfect characters are PERFECT at being the villain so they are of course perfect. Well, except to the reader of course to whom they are merely a caricature of a character. Let’s face it, if you don’t have good characters you’re not going to have a good story.  Now, here I’ve almost diverted you away from my lights on, brilliant, I finally get it moment. Almost but not quite.

So, what was it? Remember, I told you it was simple. I just need to make my characters human.  You know, like the rest of us. Let’s face it, I’m a pretty normal, regular kind of person. (No do NOT read boring here!) I try and do the right things and stay out of trouble. But, confession time, sometimes I speed. Not terrible 120 m.p.h. speeding, more like the if I get caught I’m getting a ticket maybe speeding. So why is my main character a goody-toe shoes that doesn’t speed? Or peek in her kids dresser drawers. Or sometimes walks right past litter and doesn’t pick it up. Why does she bear a huge resemblance to Uncle Phil.

And why does my bad guy have to be evil to the core? Sometimes I think if we closed our eyes and listened to stories about not so perfect characters we’d see cartoon characters flying around in our heads. Even ‘bad guys’ can have a good side. Maybe they always pick up litter, who knows?

All of this enlightenment struck me while I made my bed, stewing over the things I’d read in that little book by Julia Cameron. The story that I thought merely gave me a look into her life and had nothing to do with writing sure had an enormous impact on my writing.

Thank you Ms. Cameron, where ever you are. Here’s one writer who loved learning a lesson when she didn’t even realize she was. And here’s a special thanks from the character who got rescued by you when she didn’t realize that she needed it.

A Great Idea Just Demands Life

Okay, let’s face it. Some ideas are okay. Some are good. And some are great. The reality is that great ideas don’t come along all the time but once they have been conceived they grow and take on a life of their own. Yeah, sure, you can put them off for a while and try to ignore them. But they just won’t let you go that easily. Yes, I meant exactly that – THEY won’t let you go.

A great idea tries to be come a part of you, needling and prodding you to nurture it and let it blossom into the idea that it deserves to be. I know. I’ve had one of those ideas and I’ve stuck in a corner, stuffed it in a closet, hidden it on a shelf. Okay, not literally – just figuratively.

But my point is that I’ve tried to hide it away and it just won’t be hidden. It thinks that it deserves to see the light of day. It thinks that it deserves to be welcomed and allowed to grow into a full-fledged project.

So, if it’s so great, why am I ignoring it hoping that it will wither away and dry up into a small pile of insignificant dust to be swept away under the carpet or blown away by the wind like some dandelion? Hmmmm… now that’s an interesting question! The truth is that I just might be a little afraid to take a chance on success. I might not want to leap from a 20-story window without the promise of a safety net below.

What happens if I try and fail? What happens if I try and succeed? Perhaps both ideas scare me equally. And of that’s the case what is a girl to do?

Busily Bored…

Okay, let me start this with I have a LOT to do. My list of pending projects looks like Santa’s Christmas scroll. I could unroll it and it would bounce happily down the hallway, cascading down the stairs and continue going. I have a lot to do.

The problem? I don’t want to do any of the things that I have to do. I want to do something. I just don’t know what. Should I play a game on my iPad? Should I paint? There are gifts to make and craft shows to get ready for but “I’m not in the mood”.

The reality is that I’m just not inspired. I’m not feeling the creativity sweeping over me, surging through my veins begging to be released. Maybe that’s because I create for a living. Whether I’m designing a project, writing or painting, its all ‘work’. Now don’t get me wrong – I LOVE what I do. I am so lucky to be able to create for a living.

Just sometimes its hard to sustain that. Sometimes its hard to force yourself to sit down and begin the creative process. Once I begin the process takes over and the ideas spill forth like water tumbling from an island waterfall. Its the getting started that’s the hard part.

So I find myself reading everything I can find online. News stories that normally wouldn’t get a second glance become so captivating that I must read them. I have been bitten and infected with a deadly virus…

Procrastination. The enemy of all mankind and especially the creative mind.

Bombarded and Overwhelmed

I hear people say all the time, “I don’t know what to do”. Wow, that is NEVER my problem. My problem is that I just don’t know what to do next. It seems like the more I exercise my creativity the more I find to do. Well, that’s not exactly true. The more things find me.

Sometimes I literally cannot keep up with my notes and tickler file of ideas for projects ranging from stories to poetry to pictures and paintings. One little idea trickles into my thoughts, dancing and prancing as if to say “look at me” and before you know it that little idea is joined by its brothers and sisters and long-lost cousins – a bevy of ideas begging to be noticed.

It’s not so bad when I’m at the office in front of my computer and pen and paper but when I’m driving, well, it can be dangerous. Trying to juggle pen and paper while perched at a stoplight can be hard. Thankfully that hasn’t happened as much since I discovered its easier to use a small recorder. What a lifesaver.

I have been known to chant a story over and over, dashing through the front door, still reciting the dialogue over and over again in my sing-song voice, plugging my ears and violently shaking my head no as family runs to greet me. I have to commit the words to paper before they flitter off into the heather-filled mist.

Just having notes on scraps of paper in my ever-changing filing system doesn’t seem to make the little tykes happy. They demand to be created – for me to breath life into them, giving them substance and form. Not one at a time but all at once.

There are much worse problems that I could have. I could suffer from a barren wasteland, a dry and scratchy desert devoid of growth of any kind, cracked and dry and dying. I’m content to be bombarded and overwhelmed.

Do you ever have one of those days?

Do you ever have one of those days when ideas just keep bombarding you, bouncing around in your head, multiplying quicker than a group of rabbits in the spring? Well, today is one of those days!

Here I am all set to tackle the laundry, mop the floors and scrub the sink when suddenly I have ideas dive bombing me. What’s a girl to do? Being the creative maven that I am I guess I have NO choice but to put off those boring and mundane chores until I’ve grasped each and every little idea and safely tucked it away into its cubby hole, ready for use when I can implement it.

What a curse! : ) Forced to create instead of clean…its a burden that I must carry. Someone has to do it!

My Life is Half Done

I woke up the other day and came to a startling realization. My life is half done.  It was a staggering thought, nagging at my mind all day long.

About now you’re probably thinking that I’m grappling with some mid-life crisis. But I’m not. I’m dealing with another, perhaps more insidious problem – a life half done….things started but not completed.

I mean its all around me. Everywhere I look. The painting project propped in the corner, waiting for new inspiration. The scrapbook pages sitting on the table patiently waiting to be glued and put away in the scrapbook.  The plaster pieces naked in spots, missing paint, with dust catching in the crevices as though to taunt me. The novel that’s still a series of notes and half chapters on my desk waiting for the time when I have that ‘extra’ minute to begin deciphering the scribbled, inspired writing onto my computer.

A glance around my office reveals so much half-done, in some stage of creative development. I don’t want to die saying I wish I had written that story or painted that painting.

Will I die saying I wish I had finished it? Or is that just the way life is? A series of starts – dreams and promises of your life’s masterpiece just inches out of reach. Each beginning a realization that there is so much inside you to get out – so much potential.

I look around my office and I’m dazzled by the dreams I’ve had. And still have. Perhaps today is the day to start that new painting. And when the wet paint smears across the fresh canvas I’ll be so inspired to not only finish it but its companion sitting patiently in the corner.

I wouldn’t trade my ‘half-done’ life for anything.

And those half-finished projects? Are they doomed never to be completed for all eternity, thus serving no purpose. Or do they inspire us to keep reaching out and trying for perfection – that one thing that will live on long after my life is done?

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