Feb 15, 2019

Learning Through Inspiration: Natasha Valkovskaya (Day 1)

This is part of a series on improving my cardmaking by studying other designers' cards. You can find more about the series here.

Today I'm beginning a few days focusing on the marvelously talented Natasha Valkovskaya. I found Natasha on Instagram, where she goes by the name of Craft Away With Me. That is also the name of her blog.

I selected Natasha because her cards have a fair amount of white space and I love how she adds painted backgrounds. I'm a huge fan of everything she makes. She does design work for Pinkfresh Studio, which is one of my favorite companies.


  • This is my favorite type of card -- paper, ink, and a stamp.
  • The watercoloring is gorgeous -- lots of variation and pairs perfectly with the script style font of the sentiment. Natasha explained in this post that she used an acrylic block to stamp the ink on the side of the card. Came out fantastic!
  • The gold speckles integrate the gold sentiment with the border of color.
  • LOVE the font and size of the sentiment. You can find that Pinkfresh Studio set here.
  • The simplicity of this card is very appealing. Painting a border, adding some speckles, and embossing a sentiment? No embellishments?  This is my kind of card; I can do this.

  • I cannot "do this."
  • Natasha's card is deceptively "simple." I tried Distress Oxide inks, Distress inks; watercolors; and 2 kinds of watercolor markers (there were other efforts that didn't make it into the picture.) I tried direct to paper, watercolor brushes, and an acrylic block. A lot of watercolor paper died in this effort.
  • The biggest lesson here is to know my strengths and weaknesses. As much as I would love to be able to make Natasha's card, it's not a skill I have, at least not today. Before I buy that sentiment set I better have another use in mind. 
  • I'm never going to make light and airy cards like Julie Ebersole, color or draw like Sandy Allnock, or create little beauties the same way Lisa Spangler does. Since hope is eternal, I've had to relearn this lesson several times. 
  • The best way to cope with my weaknesses is to work on them if is important to me, and/or focus on my strengths.  
  • I don't need to be able to make this particular card to enjoy stamping. There's plenty of other techniques and styles that I can do.
MOOD WHEN DONE:  The past few weeks of studying other people's cards has been a lot of fun. As frustrating as it was not to be able to recreate Natasha's card, it was a very good learning experience.

Feb 13, 2019

Learning Through Inspiration: Laura Bassen (Day 3)

This post is part of a series on improving my cardmaking by studying other designers' cards. You can read more about it here.

Today I'm back learning more from Laura Bassen a/k/a The Rainbow Queen.


  • I focused on the card on the left (although that critter is pretty cute.) My favorite thing about this card is the combination of a rainbow color scheme with a lot of white.
  • There aren't any difficult techniques.
  • Every element is perfectly laid out -- it's crisp, clean, and perfectly straight.
  • Laura's rainbow starts and ends with the purple strips, but the other colors aren't repeated. And, it looks like the darkest purples are a bit smaller than the other colors. There's a lesson there on helping the eye focus on the tree by having the purples as bookends. At least I think so!

  • One of the best ways to learn through inspiration is to take the time to identify the underlying elements in a card that I like, and then take those elements and make a card with them. The elements I identified in this card were the rainbow and white combination. I could have chosen stripes and trees, rainbows and trees, color peeking out from a detail die, etc., but I wanted to focus on the rainbow colors with a lot of white.
  • Rather than try and copy the card, this time I decided to just let my thoughts go. 
  • I had been thinking about a gorgeous new gerbera daisy stamp by Julie Ebersole. What if I bought it and painted it rainbow style? That would have taken time and, like most stampers, I was in a hurry! What else did I have? I had Julie's beautiful Mondo Hydrangea stamp. 
  • Trying to be creative or original has been a huge waste of my time and supplies, as it actually ended up quashing my creativity. I'm not sure whether it was the fear of being accused of copying someone else's ideas or the feeling that it would be boring to get my ideas from another cardmaker. In any event, I'm done with those thoughts. 
  • Colored the image using a technique I learned from Yana Smakula and mentioned earlier -- stamp with a light ink that is alcohol friendly (I used a pale pink Memento), leave the stamp in your MISTI or other stamp positioner, color with alcohol markers, and then restamp with Versamark and emboss. 
  • If I had to do it over again, I'd choose a skinnier sentiment as this one covers up the central red flower more than I like. 
My supplies:  Essentials by Ellen Mondo Hydrangea stamp and die designed by Julie Ebersole; Altenew alcohol and Copic markers (two each for red, yellow, orange, green, and purple); Wow Bright White Superfine embossing powder; Essentials by Ellen white linen cardstock; foam tape; black cardstock; Simply White Crystal Glossy White Nuvo drops; Versamark. 

MOOD WHEN DONE: This was the most valuable of the lessons since I started this series. The process of how to use another card (or any design) as inspiration without copying it too much was a lightbulb moment for me. Whether you like this card or not, if you are looking to take your cards up a notch, try out this process. Would love to know if it is helpful for you.

I'll be back (next week) with cards inspired by another card maker who I found on Instagram. She's wonderful! 

And in completely unrelated news, I was rejected for the clinical trial of a drug to treat my heart condition. You have to meet certain criteria and my numbers on one test were off by a bit. So frustrating that I cried.

However, I have a good lead on a volunteer opportunity and hope that works out. I mean I just can't stamp all day, can I?

Feb 11, 2019

Learning Through Inspiration: Follow Through

This post is part of a series on improving my card making by studying other designers' cards. You can find more about it here.


As you can see, this post differs from my previous posts in this series. I'm not focusing on particular cards by Yana Smakula and Laura Bassen. Rather, I decided to make a card incorporating some of the lessons I'm learning (it's an ongoing process) by studying their cards. 

Yana often makes her own backgrounds and pops up a variety of sentiments on one card. Laura blends ink beautifully, often repeats an element for a background, and uses white on black sentiments. So I used those techniques/ideas to make this card. 

I colored 3 alcohol markers onto white cardstock. I could have blended inks or used watercolors, but I wanted to try the alcohol markers. Unfortunately, my lightest marker ran out of ink and the middle one was on the way to doing so. Therefore, I got more of a striped effect, rather than a blend, but there is no blending police on duty here today so I used the hearts anyway.

  • Not surprisingly, its harder to come up with my own design than to rely on someone else's. Design is a skill. Some have a natural eye; others don't and need to practice (and some of us apparently need to practice for years. HA). 
  • Next time I'll lay out all the hearts before I start adhering any of them. I could have spaced them better.
  • I'll make sure my markers are good and juicy before doing this again (need to buy some refills.)
  • I added the sequins after I put together the photo. The card was missing something in the lower right. I felt it needed another sentiment, but I added a few sequins instead. Again, I should have laid out all the hearts and all the sentiments first. Didn't I already learn this lesson 700 cards ago?
  • Whether relying heavily on someone else's design or making my own, stamping is still fun and relaxing. 
My supplies:

The heart die and the sentiments are from The Stamp Market (sentiment set was a free with purchase and I don't see it on the shop yet.); Altenew Alcohol Markers (Frosty Pink, Coral Berry, and Ruby Red); Essentials by Ellen white linen cardstock (it's very white and a favorite for card bases); black cardstock; Wow Bright White Superfine Embossing powder; foam tape.

MOOD WHEN DONE:  Once again I am reminded of how fantastic it is to have a hobby I love. 

Feb 8, 2019

Learning Through Inspiration: Laura Bassen (Day Two)

This is part of a series on improving my card making by studying other designers' cards. If you're unfamiliar with this series, you can find more about it here.


You can find Laura's blog post and video on making this beautiful card, and another one, on the Simon Says Stamp blog here

  • I wanted to try and recreate a card made by Laura so I needed a card that included products that I already had (or something similar). I have 2 sets of hexagon dies (don't ask) and I really wanted to use them. 
  • Making cards is about design + execution. I wanted to take design out of the equation and work just on execution. Could I make a geometric card that was as precise as Laura's? I have hexagon dies and some sentiment dies so I figured this would be a good card to try and recreate. 
  • Laura tucked that white on black sentiment strip right under the large script hello.
  • I liked the color combination. In her video, Laura discussed using colors that were new to her.  I'll get to those colors below.

  • Making a copy, or almost copy, of someone else's card helped me focus on techniques -- blending, placing those hexagons, etc. Very valuable experience!
  • If Laura did not make a video showing how she made her card, I'd charge her with fake card making! HA! Laura used Press'n Seal. She laid out the hexagons, covered them with the Press'n Seal, placed the pieces of foam tape on each hexagon, and then picked up all the hexagons at once. It worked like a charm. 
  • Since it looked so easy, I went out and bought some Press'n Seal. I laid out the hexagons, and as soon as I put the Press'n Seal over them, the hexagons flew all over. I guess it was some type of static cling effect. 
  • I laid out the hexagons again, and this time, no they did not leap up, but the hexagons did not stick to the wrap.
  • So I laid out the hexagons again, and put the Press'n Seal over them. But this time I rubbed the plastic wrap over each hexagon with the end of a paintbrush handle, sealing the wrap to the hexagons. This worked. However, I forgot to put the foam tape on each hexagon, so after I placed them on the card and lifted up the Press'n Seal, they flew all over. Again.
  • Clearly operator error -- I'm going to master Press'n Seal one of these days. However, I ended up hand placing each hexagon one by one, and was happy with the result.
  • Laura used a narrower sentiment. I love the one I used, but it looks a bit too wide for a portrait shaped card. The"hello" die Laura used looks better, and the placement of her sentiment below fits better. I'll be more careful next time to pick a sentiment die that is more proportional and an additional sentiment that fits a bit better. 
  • If I remake the card, I'd lower the "Many Thanks" sentiment just a bit.
  • Laura explained in her video that she purposely used a different color palette. While I don't have the Distress Oxide colors that she used, I tried a bunch of different green/blue combinations and they didn't work out as I don't have enough of a range of colors from light to dark. Even with the card I made, I wish I used colors with a bit more contrast. I'll keep that in mind the next time I blend a variety of colors on a piece of cardstock.
My supplies:

Little B hexagon dies; Distress Oxide inks (Picked Raspberry, Abandoned Coral, and Fossilized Amber); Essentials by Ellen Many Thanks die (appears to be retired); Altenew Many Thanks set (used part of a sentiment); white and black card stocks, foam tape; and Wow Bright White Superfine Embossing Powder.

MOOD WHEN DONE: Happy! I enjoyed making this card and pretty much like how it came out. It took forever to make because of the mistakes I made, and because I was interrupted by participating in the clinical trial of a drug that I mentioned before. Yesterday I learned that I may not be able to participate in the trial -- basically your heart has to meet certain criteria and mine is off by a few points on one test. Frustrating! I'll know for sure next week. 

Feb 4, 2019

Learning Through Inspiration: Laura Bassen (Day One)

This is part of a series on improving my card making by studying other designers' cards. If you're unfamiliar with this series, you can learn more about it here.

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Today I'm introducing some lessons learned by studying Laura Bassen a/k/a Laurafadora. Thank you, Laura, for permitting me to post your gorgeous cards on my blog and for making such a great contribution to the stamping community.

Laura's work is instantly recognizable -- she's the queen of rainbow coloring, ink blending, precise geometrics, and cute critters. She designs for Simon Says Stamp, Pinkfresh Studio, Mama Elephant, and others. If I owned a stamp company, I'd hire her to design all the stamps and all the samples and then I'd sit back and count my money!

I had the pleasure of interviewing Laura for this blog. You can read that interview here. (It's been 3 years? Wow.) One of the things that impressed me when I was talking with Laura is her dedication to the craft. Laura is relaxed and funny in her videos, but card making is her job and she's not messing around. 


  • Color! Laura's colors are bright and beautiful. 
  • White on black sentiment. Laura uses this often, and helps those bright colors pop even more.
  • Laura's cards are perfectly constructed and spaced -- everything is in the right place and her embellishments do what they are supposed to -- add to the beauty and not distract.
  • Chose these particular cards to begin with because they did not involve tricky placement of geometric images (that's coming!).

  • Laura's cards look easy to make. They are not, and this isn't fawning. Seriously, this was the 5th card I made! I don't have a lot of colored cardstock, so I couldn't make a rainbow with cardstock and my watercolored attempt(s) didn't work out. 
  • Ink blending is hard to do well, but a cover plate hides the mess underneath.
  • Rainbow + white on black sentiment + sparkle is a winner. 
  • Details matter. I have one cover plate and it is exactly an A2 size. I die cut one layer and then die cut a second with fun foam. It was hard to line them up as the foam is flexible. I should have trimmed the edges of the die cut foam slightly before adhering the top layer. I ended up having to do it by hand and it's not perfect.
  • Using a T-Square ruler helps ensure that the sentiment is straight.  
  • However, using a ruler does not prevent stupid mistakes. I adhered the cover plate upside down (I wanted the red/orange/yellow on the top.) Slow down.
  • I want more cover plates! I want more colored cardstock! I want every thing Laura uses. However, there's a hard limit on what I will buy now, and it's fun to make do without -- sometimes.
My supplies:

Essentials by Ellen Bed of Roses Cover Plate; Distress Oxide Inks; Altenew Layered Cupcake (sentiment); White Linen cardstock from Ellen Hutson; black cardstock; Wow Bright White Superfine Embossing Powder; foam; foam tape; clear sequins. 

MOOD WHEN DONE:  I'm delighted with this card. It is fun to look at and was fun to make and give to a friend. 

I'll be back with more lessons from studying Laura, hopefully later this week. I have 4 medical appointments coming up this week, almost all related to the clinical trial in which I am participating. I am so grateful that I have this opportunity to try and find a drug to help people avoid the heart surgery I had, but going back and forth for these appointments is time consuming and messing with my crafting!

Jan 30, 2019

Learning Through Inspiration: Yana Smakula (Day 3)

This is part of a series on improving my cardmaking through studying other designers' cards. If you're unfamiliar with this series, you can learn more about it here


Today I wanted to focus on using Yana's Perfect Cardmaking Formula. Yana's formula is basically: 1. a pretty floral, 2. a skinny sentiment, and 3. a specialty paper in the background, such as woodgrain or a pattern. Here's a couple of  cards Yana made using that formula. 


More recently, Yana discussed her formula here, where she posted this card.

  • I love the idea of an easy to use and easy to remember "formula." 
  • The floral clusters and sentiment form a perfect focal point -- even though there are a lot of elements, my eye immediately goes to the flowers. A clear focal point is essential to any card. 
  • Yana mixed it up a bit. In the first card, she used a beautiful gold die in place of specialty paper. In the second, she added another sentiment on a piece of vellum. Both are clever and add a lot of interest to her cards. A "formula" can be a starting point. 

  • Love a formula! I wanted something other than a white background to tone down the bright blues and greens so I made my own "specialty paper" by clear embossing a striped background onto pale gray cardstock. (I originally made green striped paper and it was dreadful with these flowers). I don't have a lot of background stamps, but now I see how versatile they are and I'm adding a few to my wish list. 
  • Yana often pops up various elements of her cards. I popped up the sentiment, some of the leaves, and the small buds with foam tape.
  • At this point, I was a little unhappy and felt the card was missing something. I went through Yana's instagram account again and noticed that her cards looked more finished than mine. I took a quick photo of my card with my phone. That seems to help me "see" the card better. I noticed that I had colored over the little stamens on the flowers with my alcohol markers. So I added some white gel pen on top of them, and then carefully added some black marker along the edges of some of the leaves and stems to give them a more finished look. It made a difference. 
  • It's possible to learn a lot from another stamper, and then take those lessons and make something that is absolutely not a copy. 
  • I haven't bought any new craft supplies since I started this series (although I did subscribe to a kit, more on that later). I think what I am learning will help me choose supplies more wisely. 

I used Hero Arts stamps for this card, so I am including this in the Blog Name Hero's January Challenge.  

My Supplies:  Hero Arts floral and sentiment stamps (lost the names but do not think they are current); Hero Arts Intense Black ink; Wow Bright White Superfine Embossing Powder; black, white and pale gray cardstocks; Impression Obsession Diagonal Striped cover stamp; Sakura white gel pen; sequins from a specialty Mermaid mix from Hero Arts; Altenew Alcohol Markers; foam tape; JudiKins clear embossing powder. 

MOOD WHEN DONE: I'm very pleased with how this series is going. I know I don't post a lot of cards, but in the background I'm studying and practicing. I should be back later this week (or next) with some lessons inspired by one of my all time favorite people in paper crafting!  

Jan 27, 2019

Let's Talk Affiliate Marketing (and Why I'm a Fan)

I've seen a few blog posts recently from designers who participate in affiliate marketing addressing some negative comments about affiliate marketing. So I thought I'd weigh in.

Disclosure: I do not participate in affiliate marketing.

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How Does Affiliate Marketing Work?

Source: justlearnwp.com

"Affiliate Marketing" is another way of describing a commission, or in my view, profit sharing between a crafter and a company.

Let's say I participate in affiliate marketing with X Company. I buy a stamp (or, get it for free), use it on my blog and other social media, and link it to The X Company Store. You follow my link to that stamp in The X Company Store (if I'm participating in affiliate marketing, you may see the words "shareasale" quickly pop up in your browser).

Depending on the arrangement between The X Company and me, if you buy the product within a certain amount of time since clicking on that link, I'll get a percentage of what you paid for the stamp. The percentage is often around 10%, but it may vary.

Six Thoughts About Affiliate Marketing

1. Crafters with large a following are popular for a reason. They are talented -- there is something about what they create and/or how they present it that attracts a large following.

They are so good that they make us want to buy the product. 

Personally, I need their ideas. I want these crafters to stay in business and keep inspiring me.

2. Speaking of business, affiliate marketing is a business. Many crafters are no longer crafting for a hobby -- it is their job. I love this. It's about time that talented crafters get rewarded with more than a free stamp set and the honor of being on a design team.

3. A few bloggers who participate in affiliate marketing get off track by the language they use to defend or explain affiliate marketing. They focus on their time and effort, and the expense of running a blog, rather than their talent in using products so well that they generates sales for a company.

We stampers already know blogging is time consuming and expensive (we are buying the products and many of us are blogging too!). I prefer that they emphasize their talent and their value to both the stampers and the companies. Be proud of that talent!

4. Most stamp companies are small businesses. Some are very small businesses. Affiliate marketing allows these very small companies to get our attention and stay in business.

There are so many paper crafting companies competing for our attention online. In fact, the amount of new product released every month is mind boggling (a post for another day). A large established company could pay a top designer a flat fee to use a product, but many companies don't have that type of liquidity and having to pay a flat fee up front for each product would limit the number of products they offer.

5. There are some downsides to affiliate marketing. It encourages top talent to only use new products. We see sets used a few times and then we are quickly being introduced to something else. In addition, affiliate marketing encourages the top talent to use only products for which they get a commission. It influences what they pitch to us. It's our jobs as consumers to be savvy about this (again, a post for another day).

6. You'll read that affiliate marketing is at no cost to the consumer. This is tricky. It is true that I'll pay $20 for a stamp set regardless of whether I click on an affiliate link. It's possible that the price of that set would go down if the company wasn't paying a commission to the blogger. However, it's also possible that, absent the crafter's use of the product on his or her blog and social media, the company's sales would go down and, therefore the company's prices would go up to make up the loss of revenue.

For me, the more important issue is whether the stamp company gets all of my $20, or shares it with the designer that influenced me to purchase it. I vote for the latter.

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To me, affiliate marketing is a win-win-win for talented bloggers, companies and consumers. Admittedly, sometimes I forget to use it. I tend to create long wish lists, not buy most of what's on the lists, and when I do buy, I forget to go back and click on that affiliate link. I've said it before, but this time I'm committed to clicking on those links. I need that inspiration to keep learning and growing.