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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Solutions with Potential: The Draw on YouTube

The Draw now has a YouTube channel! But, it was not launched with a slew of videos, all set to go and entertain or inform. Rather, I needed to post a few walk-through videos (for the Gather Round Kwanzaa Creations Kit–what it is and how to work with it in Zazzle’s design interface), and as I did not wish to pay to upgrade this site to natively host videos, of course I turned to YouTube, the most famous video platform around!

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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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When Policies Change: Writing Product Descriptions

Full control over projects and enterprises is always nice, particularly creative projects. Or at least, it always feels nice. A nice thing about Zazzle then (and presumably other print-on-demand companies), is that Designers have full creative control over their work. Sure, Zazzle does have a few restrictions for art and photos (for instance, nothing that can reasonably viewed as discriminatory, nor anything that encourages drug abuse, is excessively violent, nor obscene or pornographic in a non-artistic way), but in all reasonable and understandable ways, Designers are free to create whatever they want. Of course, this extends to whichever products to post as well, plus, how to organize and present them.

Yet one is always well-advised to re-evaluate their work and practices at times, and as with being part of any community undertaking, overseen and managed by a third party, sometimes, Zazzle makes changes that encourage, or even force, Designers to react. Zazzle does these things, of course, not only in their own best interests, but those also, ultimately, of their Makers and Designers. And while such changes can understandably be frustrating at times (and granted, not all changes will directly benefit all Designers), taking time to adjust to and occasionally limiting what one can choose to do, if nothing else, they are, again, simply a part of creating and selling in conjunction with a company.

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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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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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Competition vs Cooperation

Z in a circle, logo of Zazzle

© 2000-2015 Zazzle Inc. Used with Permission

So I launched a store on Zazzle.com about three weeks ago, and a lot went into getting everything all set. (And now with setting up this blog and off-site site, a lot is still going into it all.) Not least of all was actually creating some drawings, many of which you can find in my portfolio. Nor was learning about how to best scan and digitize images for placing them on products, or the untold time spent posting the actual products and writing their descriptions and such. (Each of these are of course ongoing to a lesser extent as well.) But a bigger matter loomed over it all: what I am truly trying to accomplish, and how should I go about accomplishing it?

Zazzle has hundreds and hundreds of stores, all offering some combination of the comparatively limited number of products that store owners can possibly post. Which is to say, Zazzle has “Makers” who manufacture, print, and stock particular products, while numerous “Designers” (the store owners) supply the drawings, paintings, photos, digital art, or whatnot else to actually appear on said products. With so many, many sellers but only a comparatively limited number of fundamentally different items, how can any one store and seller expect to attract many buyers?

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