Behind the Blog: Design Elements

Are you having a good weekend?  We’ve had a lovely one; revelling in the afterglow of Valentine’s Day (a year’s supply of marmalade for him; an amazing vintage Imperial typewriter for me – I can’t stop stroking it..), enjoying a rare glimpse of Spring with brilliant sunshine and mild weather, baking crunchy, syrupy lemon drizzle cake (only crumbs left now, and a vague sense of remorse at our lack of self-control..), and the conversion of a cheerful little corner of Harry’s playroom into a Book Nook… but more on all of that next time.

As promised, this week I’m going to answer a few of the questions I get asked most often about how I design and style both the blog and the projects which feature on it.  Fonts, graphics, layouts; it’ll be something of a geek-peek behind the blog for those who are interested.  If you simply enjoy the projects and posts themselves (thank you!), then turn a blind eye and join me again next time, but otherwise let’s start by talking about fonts, fonts, glorious fonts….

fonts for blog 1

I love browsing for fonts on the fabulous site  There are a myriad of fonts available to download for free, which takes seconds.  You can also choose to donate to the author who created each, which I think is a great thing to do, and important for communities like dafont to continue to flourish and offer such loveliness (I’m like a kid in a sweet shop when I browse).

blog fonts 2

You can find all three of these fonts by simply Googling the name, and will be able to download them all for free for private use from various sites (if you’re thinking of using them for other purposes or commercially, check the licence details; the terms are often different).

blog fonts 3

The next most common question is about how I make the labels, signs, graphics and photo montages that I use, so let’s tackle that…

I do all of my graphics and montages in – wait for it – Powerpoint (I blush slightly at this revelation; I know it is seen as the slightly stale tool of jaded business execs the world over, but I love it, and more importantly, I know it intimately) … so no sexy Adobe tools and wizardry here.  And hence this post, I hasten to add, is just about what I do, rather than what other bloggers would suggest, or what might work best for you.. You can download Powerpoint in a format to suit your computer and have a month’s free trial before you have to commit to buying; worth it if you have the time and motivation to dabble a little and explore.

I work on an iMac desktop and use the in-built iPhoto software for simple photo-editing – usually cropping, and adjusting light (gloom & overcast skies being a perennial British problem), before importing photos into Powerpoint to create montages or add text.  Before I had my Mac I downloaded the free Picasa photo-editing software onto my ancient Windows laptop and used that very happily instead.  Toys and signs I’ve made for Harry like those below were all created in this way, as were the ‘font’ montages shown above.

harrys labels

For backgrounds and backdrops I tend to take photos of interesting textures, walls, surfaces and so on, and upload these for use in projects.  I also use books of art papers like these, often scanning them so I can play with them and use them repeatedly.  The one investment I did make last year which I love is in two polypaper photo backdrops from here, one of chalkboard and one of a faux wood-pannelled barn wall (see both below)… the chalkboard in particular I use all the time as it’s so versatile.  Often though, I just wander around the house following the light, and shoot against walls and on the wooden floor; it’s simple and instant.


So, no magic; just a little bit of knowledge and a lot of experimentation and practice.  If you’re making crafty projects at home and printing out graphics, labels and the like, my final tip would be to purchase and use photo-quality matt inkjet paper (HP make some; I’m sure others do too). This gives a great intensity of colour and the closest approximation to what you actually see on the screen.  As a dabbling amateur, I find buying great paper like this is more important – and much cheaper – than buying a world-class printer.

A final word on graphics; most of my pictures and graphics are ‘homemade’, but if you’re in search of general inspiration then Pinterest is a great source; search for free printables or graphics and you’ll often find lists of resources that others have created.  One other gem, particularly for those who like vintage ephemera, is the Graphics Fairy, which has a treasure trove of free-to-download goodies.

See you in a few days for more crafting and projects; have a great week, whatever you’re doing…

Primal Instincts

Naming things; it’s a very primal instinct, isn’t it? From the time that I could write I have been carefully inscribing versions of my name onto everything I own, and indeed many things which I don’t (possession being nine tenths of the law and all that).  A therapist would doubtless put this down to my being briefly but significantly called David for the first few moments of my life, as during the general distraction and euphoria of childbirth at least one of my parents was apparently heard to cry ‘It’s a boy! Let’s name him David!‘ before being eventually corrected by the midwives. As my parents are both doctors, this anatomical oversight is hard to explain.

Like all stories that one’s brothers tell you, this is probably wholly untrue, but ever since then I have been keen to write my correct name, very clearly, everywhere.  Of course the excellent thing is that this kind of territorial behaviour is not something we’re expected to grow out of once we leave childhood behind; instead, we call it Personalisation and consider it to be a very on-trend and chic thing to do.  Hurrah. So today I have been busy personalising the entire contents of the china cabinet, using up some leftover chalkboard paint. Having hosted a bunch of friends for coffee this week and realised the error of having ten identical mugs, I’m wishing I’d done this sooner…

Tips and techniques below for those interested in giving this a whirl…

Making chalkboard teacups:

1. Choose your materials.  I used; 1) porcelain teacups; I had these at home but if you’re starting from scratch choose mugs with a matte finish for greater adhesion, or use a primer as I did for glossy bases like these. 2) Chalkboard paint, from any craft or DIY store. 3) A selection of brushes; thick for the main tag and fine for finishing edges. 4) Repositionable tape for straight lines when painting. 5. A ceramic pen or paint for your ‘thread’. 6. Sharp craft scissors for scraping unwanted paint and making the hole in your tag.

2. Mark up and paint; I used a simple tag for the outline and marked the long straight edges with tape to help me.  Don’t worry about being too exact; the chalk paint is forgiving and can be gently scraped away before finally dry.  Prime if necessary, then give it two coats, following the manufacturers instructions about drying time, before gently scraping out a circle in your tag with the tip of the scissors.  Your finish should now be pretty resilient (though not dishwasher proof), but you could also coat with a clear varnish for even more staying power if you like.

3. Add your coloured thread; I used a sparkly ceramic pen for this, and continued the thread into the cup so that it looks fun when filled with coffee.  Again, check drying times – some brands require you to bake on a low heat to fix the ink and make it permanent.

4. Personalise! I used a chalk marker pen, but all of these options (pictured) work equally well, and wipe off easily with a wet cloth so you can change whenever you like.  Of course, if you’re truly having a retro moment and find yourself mentally back in the schoolyard, this means you can rewrite the names hourly, as you change your friends and ditch your former BFF for someone far cooler and more popular. Ah, those were the days…