Sunday, 29 May 2011

Tips for the Design Team-curious. 4. Raising your creative game

Hi again.

Welcome to the half way point of 'Tips for the Design Team-curious' ... who knew I had 8 episodes worth of 'stuff' to say about life on a DT?

[Well, I'd guessed as much ... but I didn't know for sure until I started!]

Today's is another post aimed at a wider audience of creative bloggers, not just DT hopefuls, so do stick around. 

Where Part 3 focussed on attitude and confidence I'm going to move on to some specific practical activities which could be useful for:
  • getting, keeping and making the most out of a place on a Design Teamand:
  • improving the appearance of your blog and boosting your readership.
Either of these aims, as I've mentioned before, could be used as one of those external factors we seek to:
  • motivate ourselves into action;
  • give us permission to sit down and take time to create;
  • tackle something new;
  • develop a skill; and
  • shift our work to another level. 
OK then, whether it's for your DT fitness; blog-improvement; or self-improvement here's your first tip ... use it how you will:
Click image to visit original tutorial on making paper cameras.
  • you've put your time and effort into finishing a creative project which would make a great blog post or DT submission.
  • You want to share it online and to di this ...
  • Taking a great photograph is the best way to do it justice.
Now, I'm no photography expert ... so before I pass on a few of my own amateur tips let me point you towards a fabulous series of [free] tutorials I came across just in time to share with you here:
Click to visit Lisa's photography series.
Lisa Spangler is delivering her 'Card Photography Series' via her blog Sideoats + Scribbles and so far it's been full of great, practical advice for taking better photos of your projects.

And, should you need any further convincing to try it out then how about I tell you that Lisa works for Hero Arts and took the cover photo for their latest catalogue ... so ... yeah ... she might just know what she's talking about!

As for me I really don't use my camera to its full potential. I still use the auto settings [maybe when I've finished following Lisa's advice I'll know better!] and I have negligible knowledge of lenses.

In short, I know next to nothing ... and despite that, I know I can take a half-decent photo of my work!

Here's how ...

My tips:

1. Use a tripod!  If you haven't bought one yet - you should!
  • They're not as expensive as you might fear.
I have two: a regular adjustable one and a smaller flexible type, both of which I found in Aldi of all places which set me back less than £20 for the 2.

I've had a quick look around online and I've found quite a few in places like Amazon and Argos for £20 and under. It seems a small price to pay for instantly better photos when compared to the price of a new camera!
  • Not only does the tripod cut out the blurriness caused by wobbly hands;
  • it leaves your hands free to move the object into better light, or at a better angle.
  • It allows you to easily stand back and tweak the scene your photographing ... which is actually my next tip.
2. Photograph your work as if it's going to be in print.
One of the most enduring pieces of advice anyone ever gave me about being successful in a job interview was:

"don't wear a coat or jacket when you go in to the interview room."

Bear with me on this ... it is relevant ... ish ...

You see, apparently, without your jacket on, you look - to the subconscious  mind of your interviewers - as if you're already a part of their office

Like you belong there.

I think that's genius! [And yes, I have followed the advice. Even when I was cold. And I'm always cold.]

So ... getting back to crafting ... :
  • if you treat your work with respect ...
  • if you photograph it lovingly and professionally ...
  • if you present it as if it's already headed for publication ...
... then maybe whoever you share it with will receive it in the same manner.
This could:
  • make it easy for an editor to accept that your work already belongs in print;
  • make a DT recruiter imagine your work making their blog look great;
  • make it more likely someone surfing for inspiration will subscribe to your blog and become a regular visitor'
  • make your photo more likely to be pinned to someone's Pinterest boards, which, in turn drives traffic to your blog.
A few ways to achieve a more magazine-styled shot:
  • Create a scene in your photos.   
  • Dress the 'set' with items which match the theme of your project;
    Click image to go to original post - Guest DT role for
  • add a backdrop which compliments the colours or patterns you've used.
Obviously this isn't always necessary, but it does add a professional edge to your work ... and it's fun
Plus if you're anything like me and you spend more time looking at your work on a screen [arranging, organising, uploading, blogging and linking to it etc] than you do looking at it in real life ... then a nicely composed, well lit photo of it is going to be so much nicer to look at for you too.

And you'll be so much more proud to share it when you need to. 

Once you've taken those photos ... if you don't manage to get it perfect everytime [who does?] you're going to want to ...

Master a few simple photo-editing techniques.
But by this I DO NOT mean you have to learn full-on packages like Photoshop.
Does your computer software have in-built default photo-editing package? Mine has 'Microsoft Office Picture Manager' which serves me very well.

If you don't have anything like this you can download either of these for FREE:
  • Picasa [very straightforward, easy to use, some nice additional features]
  • and GIMP [more complicated, but useful, like a 'lite' version of Photoshop. It's what I used to create all the images for this series.]
I'm not going to take up space here giving you tutorials on how to use these as there are many existing tutorials online already for you to Google.

[However, I don't rule out one-off tutorials on anything you're especially interested in. Just give me a shout if there's something you really want to know how to do.]

But, if you learn nothing else I strongly suggest you conquer:
  1. adjusting the 'contrast' levels in your photo: playing around with things labelled 'contrast' / 'shadows' / 'midtones' or 'brightness' can all instantly transform a dull photo into a brighter, clearly defined scene.
  2. 'cropping' your images: this allows you to eliminate any messy backgrounds and to focus in on the actual project.
OK then, now you've got great photos under your belt ... here's an idea for how to use them ...

Develop tutorial-writing skills:
Crafters are seemingly on a neverending quest for developing their crafty skills; collecting new techniques and having the mysteries of a new craft revealed to them and therefore nice, clear tutorials are a big draw.

And if it's blog hits you're after, they're definitely a way to go and DTs know this too ...

More and more they're making it a pre-requisite that you create tutorials during your time with them. So it really makes sense for you to practice this skill ahead of time on your own blog. 
Then, when the right call for you arises, you can simply add links to your existing tutorial examples within your DT application. Win!

I hadn't written any crafting tutorials until I began my DT role at Banana Frog but after two years of regular step-by-step posts and full-blown tutorials, by the time I began writing full features for craft magazines, including written instructions, I was more than ready for it.  
Maybe the fact that I've written the series you're reading, plus the Twitter version before it, gives you an inkling that I really enjoy pulling ideas, photos and tips together for a instructional posts ... but, if you're wondering where to begin:
  • You can read through previous tutorials by browsing through my Design Team Projects page [feel free to take inspiration from their structure .. but please don't 'borrow' the whole project ...];
  • Don't panic if you don't generally enjoy writing: Instructional writing is a lot shorter, less 'fancy' and much more about recording information than being flowery with language!
  • Take step-by-step photos of your work in progress, then simply look at the photo and write out what's happening in it. You really don't have to say much more than what you can see.
  • Imagine you're just explaining to friend how you made something.
But, if you're still not happy writing things down ... then maybe speaking's more your thing ...
How do you feel about making video tutorials?
Fast becoming a regular request in DT calls, the ability to create a video tutorial is something which, once again can give your DT application the edge over someone else and also increase traffic to your own blog.

I'd love to have the right equipment or guts to give this a go myself ... but .. well I just plain have neither[I'm someone who can't even pluck up the courage to Skype!]. But, be rest assured, the minute I do ... you'll be the very first to know/see/hear my tiny voice with its North Eastern vowels.
In contrast, if you want to pick up tips by watching someone who does know her way around a video tutorial, swing by Shimelle Laine's site.

Shimelle's videos always make me feel like making something, which surely means they're doing their job?

Whenever I watch them, it's a bit like how flicking through recipe books always makes me hungry ... even if I don't go on to make anything ... it's still given my appetite a prod!  

OK, I'll leave you alone now to go back and think about raising your creative game to a level YOU'RE happy with. All the advice is there for you to pick + mix from.

[Pick + Mix? Mmmm ... I may just have prodded that appetite again ...]

  •  Don't wait for a DT call to kickstart you into presenting your work professionally - do it now!
  • Work on your photography skills.
  • Try writing tutorials.
  • Assume the confidence and actions of someone who's already in the role you want.
  • Great photos make for great blog posts. Sometimes you don't need words. Photography skills are a vital part of improving the look of your blog.
  • Write tutorials. About whatever it is you're good at. [Within reason ... ] :-O 
  • Take up your blogging space proudly.
  • Fill it with fabulous content even if at first only your friends and cat read it.
  • Great content [a bit like water] finds its own level and the right readers, who'll apppreciate you and your blog, will find their way to it eventually.
  • If you've got a job interview anytime soon .... and you give the 'no jacket' thing a go,  [unless there's a strict dress-code! Obvs.] then do let me know how it goes!
  • Whatever it is you want to happen, act like you have it now.
  • Don't wait to be handed the permission, the confidence, the skills to get where you want to be. Chances are  you'll wait a long time.
  • Set off in the right direction now, on your own. Then watch the world try to catch up with you!
Finally ...
  • Does the whole notion of 'raising your game' actually scare a part of you?
  • Are you afraid of hearing 'who does she think she is?' from others ... or even your own inner critic?
If so then this is a good time for you to fetch a pencil to write down a quote I stumbled across a few years ago [from Marianne Williamson]. Because, really, it's the only question you need to ask ... and answer:
  • "We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be?"
And with that ... I'll leave you to begin your game-raising in peace.

I'll see you soon for Part 5.

Julie x
Please note: During the series I do NOT refer in a negative way to any teams or companies by name. I ask that, if you share experiences or opinions in a comment, you stick to this too. Thank you in advance … you can collect yourself an ‘I Play Nice’ sticker for your cardigan on your way out. 

© Julie Kirk 2007-2011 The images used throughout the series feature the projects I've made and photographed as part of my Design Team commitments over the last 4 years.
Sticky tape digi-image from Pugly Pixel.


  1. Some great tips again! Thanks for the link to Lisa's photo series, I shall read through that. Taking photos of my work is something that drives me crazy, I can never seem to get the right light.
    I love how you create a scene for your work too, I'm going to have to try that out! x

  2. Dearest sweet Julie, so glad i came on by to visit your love and very inspiring space here! Love love love this topic as im always looking to improve my photography skills! These are really awesome tips...thanks so much for sharing this with us. Have a lovely merry happy week and love to you!

  3. Hi Julie! Thanks so much for the link love! I've been reading through your DT series -- so much awesome advice!

    AND! I couldn't agree with you more about tripods! They're not the most glamourous piece of photo equipment out there, but they're hands down the most useful. :)

  4. What a fabulous series, Julie - thanks so much for sharing your experiences and down-to-earth tips.. all so useful!


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