Are you smartphone savvy?

Are you smartphone savvy

[Click the image above for a close-up.]

A stolen iphone.

Not something I ever thought would happen to me, but it did, and it happens to a lot of us – almost 5,989 of us in Ireland in the first half of 2012 in fact according to Garda figures.

It was a beautiful sunny day on Grafton street, and as a friend and I stood watching some brilliant musicians performing just outside the now vacant HMV store, an opportunistic thief saw fit to silently rifle through my handbag and extract my precious iPhone5.
Discovering its absence was a truly traumatising experience. Panic took hold, and tears duly flowed.

A week has passed since this incident, and since then I’ve taken it upon myself to do a little investigating into how I could prevent it from happening in future, hopefully helping you to prevent it from happening at all.

It seems thefts are on the rise, with prosecution rates at only 20%.
I took the liberty of putting together this little infographic in the hopes that it might raise awareness of the problem, and help you prepare for the unthinkable!

Feel free to share and pin!

Sandra

Happy Halloween

It’s that time of year folks!! Halloween! When ladies dress not as ladies ought, and men look just plain silly, a whimsical time where we drink too much and somehow think its celebrating something…
Anyway, It’s all in the name of fun isn’t it!

Well, I decided to get into the ‘spirit’ (hehehe) of things myself this year, and created a (and no I’m not obsessed with her-this is actually a coincidence) Lady Gaga Born This Way inspired Halloween costume.
Born This Way features Gaga with a suit and dickie bow, dramatic pink/blonde ponytailed hair, and striking skull like make-up covering her entire face and neck!

The picture below is my take on the famous costume, and it must have been pretty decent because it won the fancy dress competition in my local! Nice one Gaga! 🙂

20121029-121005.jpg

SEO Woe – The Core Essentials of SEO

Search Engine Optimization…

It’s something all web designers have to deal with…that expectation from the client that once the design is completed the site will instantly pop up at the top of all search engine results, even..no, especially when the most common search parameters for the sites theme are typed into the search bar. Ping! There ya go, easy as that…. If only it was!

I recently ‘completed’ my first (non-familial) website for a client. I give inverted commas to the word completed as from what I can see you are never truly completely finished with a client, at least that’s how it seems to be working out! (HELP 😐 )

Search Engine Optimization Basics

The search for SEO success starts here!

Below I have outlined what I think are the minimal necessary steps a web designer MUST take in order to have their site appear in a decent position in search results.
I collated this information from various sources all over the net! From Smashing Magazine to Google’s search engine optimization starter guide and a myriad of other places, I found hints and tips to aid you in your SEO endevours…the problem I had was sifting through all of this information to get to the core essentials, so, that’s what I have here, those core essentials! Enjoy!


There are a number of things which must be done to assist the search engines and ensure they are aware of a sites existence and that your consumer will be able to find you:

  • You must ensure that the site has optimized keywords/keyword combinations throughout: In the meta title tags, meta keyword tags, meta description tags, alt image tags, and throughout the content itself.Use Google’s Keyword Tool for this.
  • The site should also be registered, verified and indexed with the top search engines (Bing, Google).

Be sure to set up a Google Webmaster Tools account for yourself, to register any and all sites so you can use the tools, analyse your sites’ contents, and register them with Google.

  • You must set up the sites Google Analytics account to monitor its’ search rank and more. (You will eventually be handing this account information onto the client)
  • The location of the business should be registered and verified with GoogleMaps to maximize online visibility. (Again you can show the client how they would go about editing this when you are handing over the site info.)
  • Increasing the number of inbound links you have and link swapping with relevant sites where necessary. (This is something the client will also take responsibility for.)
  • I also tend to add a robots.txt and a sitemap.xml file to aid crawlers.

Keywords/Keyword combinations

In order to increase the likelihood of Google ranking the site higher than others, it is necessary to optimize the sites written content, alt image tags, and meta tags for SEO (search engine optimization).

In order to find the best keywords for you, use Google Keyword Tool. You can sign up for this free tool using a Gmail account set up specifically for the website you are registering it with.

  • Set up a gmail account for the site you are working on – eg. username/email: ‘newcastlebandb@gmail.com’ Password:’ whtvruwnt’. These details can be used for any google account you want to sign into regarding the website.
  • Visit https://adwords.google.com/o/KeywordTool or search for Google Keyword Tool in Google and select the first result.
  • Sign in with the Gmail account.

*Ideally meta title tags can contain between 70 and 75 characters, and meta description tags can contain between 150 and 160 characters. Any more or less and you can be subject to penalisation.*
You now have a Google Adwords account. Use it to see what keywords relative to you are currently most commonly searched for, what sort of competition there is out there to use those words, and get suggestions on what keywords you could use.

The keywords/keyword combinations relevant to and most likely to be searched for to reach your site, must be dotted throughout the site content in order to optimize it for the search engines’ crawlers.

They must also correspond with the keywords in your meta tags.

The meta title tag, meta description tag, and meta keyword tag must be written in the head section of a html document, either within a template (to then distribute across the other pages with an update – if you are using one that is), or in the head of every .html page you are using.

It always helps to also have a look at opposition sites to see what they are using in their meta title, keyword, and description tags.

*It is important that these keywords are not simply written in groups randomly in the page. They must be written into the content in a legible and understandable format, or Google will penalise you for ‘keyword stuffing’. The must also be relevant.*

Site Verification

The same principles apply whether you are registering the site with Google or Bing (MSN, Yahoo!). Search engines require that you verify you have access to your site server in order to register it with them and monitor it.

There are three steps you must take.

    • To submit your site to each search engine visit:(Bing(MSN Yahoo!) =  https://ssl.bing.com/webmaster/SubmitSitePage.aspx)(Google = www.google.com/webmasters/tools/)
    • Sign into (or create accounts with) the search engines’ webmaster tools, and enter the URL in the specified location within to register the site. Then download the html file provided.
    • Upload the files you took from the webmaster tools in each search engine onto the server into your sites root folder.

You must set up a Google Webmaster Tools account, and a Bing Webmaster Tools account to register any sites. You can then use the tools, analyse your sites’ contents, and register them with Google.

Google Analytics

  • http://www.google.com/analytics/.
  • Click on ‘Create an Account’. Use the Gmail details.
  • Then click on ‘Admin’, then ‘+New Account’.
  • Set up your new account entering the URL and other necessary information.
  • Once you have the account set up Google will give you a piece of code and instructions to insert that code into the head of your websites index.html page.
  • Insert the code and upload the updated index.html page onto your server.
  • Go back into Google Analytics and you should be able to view your websites analytics data.

This is something most clients find very interesting. When you have completed your site, giving a client the information necessary to access Google Analytics and monitor the sites progress allows them to see the result of the work you have done. It also lets them see what links to their site exist, and encourages them to continue the work of SEO through their creation of incoming links from various relevant sites.

Google Maps Listing

As far as I can tell, this is an excellent and all too often underutilised method of getting more attention for your business. I think it is particularly effective if your business is located in, say a small town, to register your business with Google Maps as anyone trying to find the location of your type of business is this far more likely to stumble upon you first.

  • Sign in with your website’s Gmail email and password (remember our example: ‘newcastlebandb@gmail.com’)
  • Submit your information, from basic contact info to photos/video.
  • Verify your listing by phone or postcard.
  • Wait for your listing to appear on Google. Verification will take up to two weeks.

The problem with this is that Google sends the postcards out and makes the calls to the business and not to you. All too often people tend to throw out anything that looks remotely like junk mail….and a postcard from Google kind of looks a lot like junk mail to most people.

It’s important that the client and all their employees know not to toss out that card! The verification details on it are vital to the registration process.

Inbound Links

This is generally one of the lasts things I do, but it is one of the most important. Though the site itself is optimized it can take anywhere from 4 days to 4 weeks and beyond for Google to properly crawl and index a website. The best way to speed things up, and help along the indexing process, is by increasing your incoming links.

*It is vital that you create a comprehensive list of the sites your clients website/business is featured in and ensure these are updated to include a link to the site.*

Anywhere that is relevant, you should try and place links to your site. Littering the internet randomly with links will not be hugely beneficial. Search engines as a rule only take into account relevant link locations/source sites.

You can monitor where in the world your page views are coming from, what keywords potential customers are using, link traffic sources and more in Google Analytics. You can also see where your competitors’ inbound links are coming from via tools such as http://www.opensiteexplorer.org/ or through free registration with sites like http://www.majesticseo.com. There are a multitude of sites like these out there so have a wander about and I’m sure you’ll find one that suits your needs.

Robots and Spiders

Last but not least…are those extra bits of spice that make bot crawling extra nice(and efficient)! 😛

Adding your sitemap.xml file and robots.txt file are two things which help search engines’ creepy crawlies find what they are looking for.

To add a sitemap:

  • Create a .xml file. These are written differently to the html code I am used to, so I used this little gem: http://www.xml-sitemaps.com/
  • Download the file.
  • Next I uploaded it onto the server and into the root folder of the site.
  • Then I checked it by entering the http://urlofyoursite/sitemap.xml (or whatever your sitemap is called).

Hey presto! Sitemap is up!

A robots.txt file can be used to tell search engine and other robots which areas of your site they are allowed to visit and index. Only one robots.txt file can exist on your site and it must be in the root directory.

To add a robots.txt file:


And there you have it. That’s what I did. It’s a beginner’s guide and I know that there are a million other ways to improve SEO, but I also know when you are starting out all of that information can be quite overwhelming, so, I hope you get some use out of this post. If you have anything you think should be added or have any corrections for me, I’m always happy to learn, so please let me know.

Sandra signing out! 😉

Portfolio Pressure

“One week to go until my interview for a course I really really wanted to get into…and I still did not have a printed presentable portfolio. Stress o’ tha’!”

Creating your portfolio whether online or in print can be an extremely daunting task for anyone, particularly those of us starting out in graphic and web design.
I don’t know how many websites I read and re-read, and people I consulted constantly second-guessing every approach I decided upon, while trying to figure out how I would present it…sufficed to say…it was a LOT.

“What if it wasn’t what they were looking for?! What if those applying had more experience than me?! 5 days to go…and I still haven’t found a printer!”

In many ways I count myself lucky as someone who has always had opportunities to be creative thrown their way through voluntary work, and through family (whether I was ready and willing to do that or not 😛 ). This meant I already had work ready, and had the necessary preparation done, to put SOMETHING together at the very least! …

“Printer found! Success … and one day until my interview!
*promises never to let anything get this close to a deadline again*”

I actually found it difficult to find print-specific examples online. Most graphic designers tend to present their online portfolios in an exclusively web-based format, using slideshows, lightbox, and shadowbox style presentation methods. Don’t get me wrong, it’s inspiring work! The thing is, when you are physically presenting your work to a client, or are applying for a course or a job, there is less room for them to explore your style and approach. A client looking through your website has time to examine it. A client meeting you personally will only briefly flick through your portfolio, so their first impression of the work you present there and then is the only possible lasting one.

There are a few key things I would say about creating a portfolio:

1. (…and always rule number 1) Ctrl+s/cmd+s was created for a reason. Use it.

2. Space is a portfolio/design’s best friend. Cluttering up your portfolio with too many images and too much text are the murderers of good design.

3.Being precise and concise when it comes to text and content is vital. Remember, your portfolio is all about showcasing your skills and your ability to get a message across quickly and effectively. Pick out 10 of your best pieces, and use those only.

4. Lastly…use your instincts. Don’t doubt yourself. If this is your first time putting together a portfolio, then just remember, it isn’t going to be your last either.

“Printed, pristine and perfect. MY PORTFOLIO!! Place on that course…?…MINE! Heehee! :D”

You will make countless revisions of your portfolio over time, and so you should! And you may look back on the original in years to come with fondness, or with astonishment at just how far you have come since then, but either way be proud what you and you alone have created. After all… (no pressure or anything)… it is supposed to entirely represent you at a moments glance. 😉

Everybody’s going a little Gaga…

Lady Gaga. The name conjures up all sorts of images; from the Franc Fernandez meat dress she wore to the VMA’s in 2010, to the recently released and unquestionably controversial ‘Judas’ music video, Gaga never ceases to shock and intrigue the masses.

I decided one fine spring day to attempt to take on a little side project which I could in due course give to my Gaga-obsessed (okay, maybe not totally obsessed 😉 ) friend as a little gift. I didn’t count on it taking quite as much time as it did, but I am glad to say that once it was completed I couldn’t have been any more satisfied.

Lady Gaga - Single cover
Lady Gaga – Original single cover

I decided to base the painting on this image from the single ‘Born This Way’ which was released on February 11, 2011. Originally my inspiration had come from Andy Warhol’s famous painting, Marilyn Monroe (1967). Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it, I had some trouble locating a canvass fit for purpose, so chose instead to opt for a triptych.
First, I took the image of Gaga from online, and drew it out. I then took a photo of said image, put it through Photoshop, and rendered it as a cutout under artistic effects. I reduced the number of levels to four, added colour, and adjusted the settings further in order to ensure I had a three/four coloured cutout image to work with (I know, it sounds a lot like cheating, but computers are there to help right 😉 ).

Lady Gaga - Preparatory pencil drawing
Preparatory pencil drawing
Gaga
Gaga in Photoshop

Below we can see a somewhat mutilated looking post production Gaga. I did start to get ever so slightly worried at this point that things may not work out quite the way I had planned…

Lady Gaga - Preparatory photoshop cutout
Lady Gaga – Preparatory photoshop cutout

…nonetheless, I decided to push on.
My next step was to get my canvass, lay the image out on it and start the actual painting!

Lady Gaga - Halfway there!

Gaga drawing...A4, Gaga Painting...A whole lot bigger.....EEK!

The project actually took several months to complete. Life often has a way of obstructing our paths when it comes to the things we really want to do with our time.
As someone who does their best to achieve close to perfection with every project, this one was particularly head-wrecking…In the best way possible! 😉

Lady Gaga - Put Your Paws Up!
Lady Gaga – Put Your Paws Up!

Though I probably won’t see your face when you receives your little prezzie, I hope there will be a nice big smile plastered across it. If not, you can give it back because I now want one!! 😉

XX

Lace.

Hello Surfers!

It’s been quite some time since I’ve posted anything up here. Just to get myself back on track I think today i’ll post a little more about what it is that stirred my interest in Art & Design in the first place! Before you read on, I have a random question for you…What do you get if you add a spool of thread and a needle?

Before I ever knew the difference between a .png, a .gif and a .jpeg, or even knew how to turn on a computer to be honest, I was (and i’ll cheekily admit it) kind of an expert in one particular field… and though it sounds slightly cheesy to some (those unaware of it 😉 ) it is a fascinating area to be lucky enough to be thrown into at a young age. The area of interest of which I speak? Lacemaking. No it is not all crochet, not as simple as it looks, and no it is not old fashioned. It is, however, quite unappreciated in today’s technological world.

In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, before the industrial revolution, handmade lace (bobbin lace, fine crochet, needle lace/needlepoint lace, carrickmacross lace, mountmellick work, limerick lace etc. ) was a highly prized commodity used as a symbol of wealth and power, as a piece of art, and as a relatively profitable means of employment.

Finding people who still make it in large quantities is difficult to say the least. I don’t claim to make a huge pieces. I’m not that crazy… 😛 The amount of time one puts into making a tiny piece is incredible. Take this piece of Kenmare Lace(needle lace/needlepoint lace) for example:

Kenmare Lace

Kenmare Lace

If you were to extract one square inch from this roughly 4×6 inch piece and attempt to recreate it, you are talking about between 20 and 30 hours work, and that is for someone who is well practiced in the art of needle lace (calling it so for the benefit of our american friends. 🙂 Interestingly enough in older literature and quite often on mainland Europe it’s called needlepoint lace, though it has very little if anything in common with canvass needlepoint.)

Anyway, this is what I began making as a young girl. Today there are many relatively small lacemaking communities all over the world, with lace guilds in as many countries as there are variations in technique! In my own hometown I am currently part of a large project aiming to create a large commemorative Kenmare Lace Circle. It will celebrates 150 years of lacemaking in Kenmare, Co.Kerry and will (hopefully) be completed by June 2012 by a group of over 200 volunteers! 😐

If you are questioning it’s relevance, perhaps this might convince you and encourage you to have a little look at the amazing history of this once basic skill….

Kate Middleton's wedding dress

Kate Middleton wearing handmade Carrickmacross Lace

For her wedding to Prince William, Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton (like Princess Diana before her), wore handmade carrickmacross lace. The dress was designed by Sarah Burton at Alexander McQueen, and was made by the Royal School of Needlework using an Irish technique dating back to the 1820’s.

So here’s where it all began for me, and where my interest in design continues to be fostered, especially when my eyes start to turn into little squares having stared at this computer screen all day…

Kenmare Lace Circle

The Kenmare Lace Circle in progress.

I certainly hope you will consider diving a bit further into this intricate and always intriguing end of design with me. For more information on the lace and the stunning handpainted designs, and some lovely photos of the Kenmare Lace Circle in progress, please check out the Kenmare Lace & Design Centre Facebook page, and maybe take a little peek at KenmareLace.ie where you can learn more about the lace techniques practiced in Ireland. Happy diving!! 😉

Digital Circlism…Pointillism evolved?

Digital Circlism
Ben Heine is a photographer, painter, portraitist, caricaturist and illustrator from Belgium who I stumbled upon while wandering around flickr. He came to my attention not for his most well-known project (the Pencil vs. Camera image series.) but for another interesting idea on display on his website: Digital Circlism.

I found it difficult to find much information on Ben’s technique online. Most of the info I managed to scrape together was based on one or two fairly useless interviews he had done and a short wiki entry.
To be honest I wasn’t so much interested in his personality or other works as I was in his new take on the late 19th century technique of Pointillism. As a fan of Pop Art and Pointillism, Ben took both styles, and through the magic of modern technology created his self-labelled ” Digital Circlism”.

I was intrigued by this, so through trawling arts boards and other blogs, and even the ever-reliable facebook, I eventually found Ben’s explanation of how he achieves the dramatic and precise images displayed below:

Lady Gaga By Ben Heine

As I’ve been working with digital tools recently, this came quite naturally, and I’m a big fan of Pop Art and Pointillism. Digital Circlism is a modern mix of them

Marilyn Monroe By Ben Heine

“The most important thing to focus on before starting [this] kind of project is to understand the dynamic movement of [a subject’s] face.”

Ben outlines his process and thoughts behind the work as follows:

I often make a photomontage first using a bunch of references, then a digital painting and I finally apply my “digital circlist” technique.
I apply each digital circle individually on a black background with a sharp round brush in Photoshop CS4. It is essential to pay attention to the aspect of each circle (changing slightly the size and color for every circle is always better). That’s the difficult part, because one can have several thousands circles in a single portrait. It has to be done harmoniously, according to the main lines and dynamism of the subject represented.
I usually create larger circles in the lighter areas of the subject and smaller circles in darker spots. This creates more volume along with a 3D illusionary effect.

It can take between 100 and 180 hours for a single portrait to be completed, with each celebrity portrait created entirely through Photoshop (Though Ben does use other programmes, from what I can gather this seems to be his staple ).
His approach is a combination of an established technique in pointillism (the use of small, distinct dots of pure colour applied in patterns to create an image), with subject matter and a stylistic approach echoing the work of the likes of Andy Warhol (in using images of icons like Elvis Presley and Marylin Monroe). This mix is made possible however, only through creative use of graphic image editing software.

It’s interesting to see a technique like Pointillism being reinvented and recreated through an entirely new medium. Programmes like Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign to name but a few are giving us options we never had before, and making d.i.y. design accessible for everyone. Hopefully, artists and designers will use these advances to enhance art as a whole, embracing past techniques and developing them, without devaluing the skills used to create great works of the past.

For more information on Ben Heine, check out his website.

p.s. Apologies for the delayed post-Virus in the system. Gone now thank God! 🙂 Enjoy.

Re-interpreting the World Around You with Chris McVeigh

Materials in Design

From a young age I remember being taught that being an artist meant taking the world around you and re-interpreting it in order to give it new life, and new meaning. It didn’t matter if it was writing an essay at school, designing clothes, or working on an art project of some description, this has always been what I have identified as a core principal of creativity.

For me, inspired creatives who embody this ideal and find new ways of interpreting our ever-changing world are inspirations in themselves. Take Chris McVeigh for example. His work was brought to my attention through the magazine Computer Arts Projects (It’s a great publication packed with ideas, tips and techniques. Personally i’ve found it to be an invaluable tool in the learning process.)

Standing in Dublin’s Hueston station one cold day in February, I picked up Issue 146 and flicked through it only to come across this image:Brickfast anyone?

As I see it , inspiration to re-interpret can come from anywhere. For McVeigh, it comes from childhood memories, and the possibility of re-interpreting that with the skills gained in adulthood:”In the dark years after my first childhood, I forgot about Lego. I forgot how much fun it was to create a little world of my own with small colored bricks. I forgot the joy it brought me.Thankfully, my second childhood started at 30! And I love Lego more now than I did all those years ago.”

Although this image looks pretty straightforward, Mcveigh actually carefully created a Lego understructure to support the visible bricks, placing them in specific positions to achieve his desired effect. Not the most nutritious breakfast no, but it certainly gave me food for thought! 😛

I have to say though, one of my favorite Mcveigh shots has to be this one. Based on Micheal Jackson’s thriller video, it is a fun and frivolous twist on original image:
Thriller

It’s funny to think how things around us as we grow influence us later in life. McVeigh only gained an interest in photography in 2007, but since then his profile has grown greatly, thanks in no small part to ingenuity the likes of this. It wasn’t long before Lucasfilm snapped up one of his images and featured it on the front page of Starwars.com.
The bulk of McVeigh’s work however concentrates on online advertising with Microsoft featuring as one of his client lists heaviest hitters.

McVeigh is just one of the inventive and inspirational artists I have hit upon so far in my journey whose work I have learned from, felt reaffirmed by, and been encouraged by. Feel free to comment and share your discoveries with me here, and (cheesy I know 😛 ) don’t be afraid to experiment and “Dive in the Deep End”! 😀

(If you’re interested in more of Chris Mcveigh’s work, check out his flicker stream)