Kuumba and the Kwanzaa Creations Kit

Kuumba, or … Creativity. The formal Principle states: “To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.” Clearly Kuumba means so, so much more than art and music or whatnot, or even the creative process that leads to such. It means nothing less than the making of all of life better–however this grand ideal may be achieved. It follows beautifully and rather meaningfully from the immediately preceding Principle (Nia, or Purpose); is backed by its successor (Imani, or Deep Faith); all three of which in turn rest on the foundation of the the first four (Umoja, Kujichagulia, Ujima, and Ujamaa–Unity, Self-Determination, Collective Work and Responsibility, and Cooperative Economics).

Yet there is no doubt that Kuumba is most often associated with creative and artistic endeavors; and, for good reason. Is art and culture not a significant part of who you are? Who a people are? Can the arts–music, film, art, whatnot–not convey the highest ideals of love and learning? Can they not soothe you during hard times; help connect you to others and to your culture; or remind you of what really matters, grounding you in a better reality? (Yes, I know a lot of art does not necessarily do all these things … and that is okay and even needed. Not everything worthwhile in life has to be of a profound nature. But art most certainly can do these things; and, sometimes, it does.) Moreover … is the creation of art not quite a process sometimes? With everything from inspiration to actual creation, to all the effort that may take, to finished work and shared enjoyment? A process that does sometimes leave life just a little more beautiful?

Collection logo image for the Gather 'Round Kwanzaa Creations Kit at The Draw on Zazzle

Logo for the Gather ‘Round Kwanzaa Creations Kit on Zazzle
© 2018 Darren Olsen

The Gather ‘Round Kwanzaa Creations Kit is the most complicated and drawn-out “project” I have yet done for The Draw. It took about four months from conception to completion–usually two-to-three hours a day–feeling at times as though the work involved was only growing. Yet while I am not of African descent, the Principles of Kwanzaa do speak even to me, at least a little … and not least of all Kuumba. While in deference to and respect for Kwanzaa and its non-commercial nature, I had long decided against doing a Kwanzaa drawing, the key there is “a” drawing–one lone drawing like any other, soon done and placed upon several products. When instead, I hit upon the notion of doing several drawings–pieces of innumerable unrealized drawings, really–whereby families and friends could gather at their computers and themselves create something truly special and unique–it was suddenly so much more workable. Hopefully, I could create something that would allow others–families, most of all–to truly create something unique and special for their Kwanzaa celebrations … and, of course, all while sharing time together, collectively creating!

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Fresh Watches and New Product Types

Zazzle offers hundreds and hundreds of different products, from countless Makers. Of those, there are perhaps 30 or so that I typically place each of my drawings on. Why? Well, mostly because they are “everyday” items that I am familiar with; items that many people, and many homes, already have–albeit in much plainer and less personable forms! And so, I have mugs and mousepads; pillows and light switch covers; keychains and compact mirrors; gift wrap and gift bags; stamps and stickers; and so on. Naturally, not every drawing is a good fit for all these items, and some are even specific to just a handful (like “Moonlit Dreams” for my Moonlit Dreams Nursery and Shower items; “Star Back” for my Star Back Playing Cards; or “Hazards and Limits” for the Hazards and Limits Anti-Speeding Bumper Sticker). Nonetheless, they are, in general, the “set” of items I draw for.

Hazards and Limits Anti-Speeding Bumper Sticker, product at The Draw on Zazzle

Hazards and Limits Anti-Speeding Bumper Sticker
© 2015 Darren Olsen

Early on, in fact, I would often alternate between posting a new drawing (one drawing on several types of products), and posting a new product (most of my existing drawings on a new product type). But eventually, I had reached a limit in terms of items I generally wanted to design for, and so with the exception of miscellaneous items that truly are suited to specific drawings (like the bottle and can coolers and such in my Ms. Deal Progressive Nostalgia Soda Set, or the Miracle of Hanukkah Remembrance Drop Earrings and Necktie and such), for a long time, no new product types had appeared in my store … and certainly not a product type featuring the bulk of my drawings.

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Creating Ms. Deal

When I create artwork to be placed on Zazzle products, usually it is simply that: I draw a picture, scan it, tweak it ever-so-slightly, and begin placing it on a range of products. When I came up with the idea of Ms. Deal though, it all became a true project, with evolving concepts and multiple parts required for completion. What started as an idea for a can / bottle cooler only, eventually became several distinct drawings, mixed-and-matched on a small collection of products, and even a “backstory” for the products in question! Even my Star Back Playing Cards Set, which took a lot of thought and effort to bring to completion, was not nearly as expansive as the Ms. Deal project.

Ms. Deal - Assembled, colored pencil drawings by Darren Olsen at The Draw

“Ms. Deal” – Assembled
© 2016 Darren Olsen

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Placing Images for Changing Products

When placing an image on a product, it would be nice if its appearance remained consistent across different forms of the product. In particular, when placing an image on one shape or style of a product, if it still looked good on all the other ones. After all, no Zazzler wants customers to select a certain form of a product, only to be met with a less-than-good appearance of an image or, worse, empty space. Yet placing images for consistency of appearance can be a bit of a challenge. Not only can Makers offer new forms or styles of existing products, ones which have different design dimensions, but sometimes, just getting an image to look good on all the existing options can be problematic.

Designing for Zazzle thus requires some careful thought on how to go about placing images, at least if they are intended to fill all the design area of a product. (Note that the design area includes the safe area, guaranteed to remain on the finished product; a border which may or may not get cropped during printing; and a bleed area which is supposed to get cut, except not assuredly.) Obviously the shape of an image plays a big role, as does the precise placement, with centered, square images seemingly being the safest to work with. Aspect ratio and precise placement aside though, in my experience, it is usually just a matter of fully expanding the image on all the different forms of a product in turn, and then checking on all the others to see how things look. Appearance can then be optimized for all current forms, at least, simply by working on the “right” one to begin with.

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“Moonlit Dreams” and Product Inspirations

One basic approach to selling on Zazzle, is simply to put a drawing or other work on as many products as possible. That way, the effort of producing a design is maximized in terms of the number of items added to one’s store, and, hence, to the Zazzle market place at large. Not everyone does this (for instance, some Zazzlers specialize in one product type only), but many do, including, usually, myself. And when a given design truly works fine on many different product types, it is not simply about adding more items at once; it is about offering people what one hopes are all good and worthy products.

Sometimes though, certain products in particular inspire a design, leading to “product inspired” designing in contrast to the “design first” way. This can be just one product in particular, and in fact, I have a “Few of a Kinds” category collection in my store for this very reason (well, more precisely, because I want to occasionally design for very specific items). Other times, this can rather be a subset of products, because the underlying inspiration, perhaps, is an intended use or purpose, one for which only certain products apply.

Moonlit Dreams, colored pencil drawing by Darren Olsen at The Draw

“Moonlit Dreams”
© 2015 Darren Olsen

It was for such a “purpose / product inspiration” that I drew, for instance, “Moonlit Dreams”. I was thinking of something to go on a nightlight in particular, and as nightlights are often useful to kids and babies, I decided on something suitable for a nursery. From there though, with a design so “baby” in nature, I soon saw how nice “Moonlit Dreams” could be on certain other products suited to nurseries, or, even, to some suitable for baby showers as well.

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Tricky Designing with “Star Back” Playing Cards

Most of my drawings to date have been fairly straightforward to complete, including the finalized, digital images they ultimately become. Not counting any thought given to a design beforehand, usually I just sit down and work on a drawing–really figuring out then and there precisely what it is that I want to do–and, I complete it, sometimes trying out particular techniques along the way. Perhaps then I end up spending, say, three to five hours on a drawing, or maybe more if I have to work on it into a second day. Then I just have to scan it and crop the resulting digital image, after which I go about posting products and writing descriptions and such. (The latter of which, granted, can be a time-consuming and even tedious process.)

When I decided to design a playing card back though, things got substantially more difficult (particularly for a first time around with such a project), and I needed to rely a bit more both on my image editing program, GIMP, but also on my ability to think up alternate methods for achieving my objectives. Whether it was how to ensure symmetry across halves or how to draw such fine and finely detailed lines, or, simply confronting unforeseen issues, creating my Star Back Playing Cards became a really long, but instructive, experience.

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“Ring of Flowers” Items and Some Basic Zazzling

I like all my drawings to various extents, and hence, generally, the products I place them on as well. Some items and designs seem to me to be exceptionally cool though, such as my “Ring of Flowers” ones. “Ring of Flowers” is actually not a single drawing, but rather a composite of one, “Flowers on Sharp White”:

Flowers on Sharp White, colored pencil drawing by Darren Olsen at The Draw

“Flowers on Sharp White”
© 2015 Darren Olsen

Flowers on Grassy Hills, colored pencil drawing by Darren Olsen at The Draw

“Flowers on Grassy Hills”
© 2015 Darren Olsen

“Flowers on Sharp White” is pretty basic (a “long” version of my original drawing “Flowers on Grassy Hills”, itself fairly basic), but while it still looks good on its own, when three copies are arranged in a ring–and certain image editing and Zazzle design tools are used–it really becomes something special.

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