Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Ah, the Camping Life. Enjoy it Here in These 2 Great Clipart Collections

A quiet, open space nestled among towering trees. The lullaby of leaves rustling in a gentle night breeze soothing the raw nerves, easing away the tightness that has taken a grip on shoulders and neck. Stars twinkle overhead as a crackling campfire mesmerizes. A tent with cots and bags waits on standby for sleep to come.

To many, this is camping. Our daughter and her husband, before parenthood, made frequent visits to the deep north woods of Ontario to get away from it all. There was no hydro, no running water, no cellphone service. The site they chose even lacked an outhouse.  What it did offer was solitude, peace and quiet. They slept next to the soothing flow of the impressive French River, accompanied at times by crying loons and heralding bullfrogs.

When they became engaged, they chose this place as the spot for the nuptials, arranging to take over a picturesque lodge for a wedding getaway weekend. It was my husband's and my first trip there. Though we might often have shaken our head at their pleasure in rudimentary vacationing, we couldn't question the magic of the area. Stepping out of the car, I could see my workaholic husband's shoulders drop, as if all the cares and concerns had been lifted. The quiet and calm wrapped around us like a hug from Mother Nature and we welcomed it with our whole being.

That said, as much as we enjoyed that visit, and made a point of returning every summer for several years after, it was always to stay at the lodge. Pitching a tent in the wild might have been appealing in my youth, but all the bears in the area couldn't have dragged me out there now to sleep, eat and swat black flies.

Camping is an affordable holiday though for many people and can fortunately take on many forms. There are those who pack up tents, those who load up RVs to tour various places and those who take those travel trailers and park them in a favourite spot.

It was the latter that provided many enjoyable vacations for our family as the children were growing up.  They were golden summers that began when my parents decided to upgrade their trailer and I, having enjoyed some weekend libations, impulsively agreed to buy the old one. Extra incentive came in hearing that there was going to be a vacant lot in front of my brother and sister-in-law's trailer.

Humble, though serviceable, that little RV suited my husband, me and our two youngsters well at the time.  We were surrounded by a pack of kids the same as as our two and the close community feel of the park provided them with a freedom that didn't exist many places. The adults also enjoyed an amazing friendship that has, in some cases, endured to this day.

That utopia lasted for a good length of time, though things definitely changed when two more babies arrived in quick succession, taking me out of party mode. Eventually,  though, our older two picked up some jobs that often meant they couldn't get away for the weekend. Then a change in career saw me working every other weekend and the hassles of packing and unpacking for a crew of six finally lost its appeal. It suddenly seemed in our tiny little trailer that I still had all the chores to do that I did at home, but they were twice as hard.

Thus, with some heaviness in our hearts, we sold and said goodbye to a lifestyle that had for such a long time meant so much to us. We have returned to the area every summer since,  renting a cottage or room for a brief stay. Yet in recent years we have begun considering the possibility of returning to the park. It's beginning to seem to us that once camping is in your blood, whatever form it takes, it seems to stay there.

In a very short time, camping season will be here again. It's the perfect time then to share these collections of images from two fantastic clipart sources. Both are online subscription services that offer quality, affordable options for using images royalty-free in personal and professional projects.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Say Spring With 130 Sunny Daffodil Images from Vital Imagery Ltd's Graphics Services

There is probably nothing in the world that says spring like the sunny daffodil.

From the first glimpse of them poking out of the soil, to the lovely hue of full bloom, these cheery yellow flowers exemplify all the good stuff about the coming season. They are among the first harbingers of the warming temperatures, the advent of colour in our gardens and a sign of rebirth and rejuvenation.

After a long, dark, dreary winter, it's exhilarating to spy the first shoots sprouting from the dark, rich soil. Once that happens, we know that within a short time petals of sunshine will open to transform the mood and spirit of the world around them.

Also, like the return of the robins, the daffodils' bloom reminds us that the days of cold and snow are mostly behind us.

There's still a bit of time to wait, of course, before the daffodils have their day. Winter hangs on and for anyone who might have doubted that, you need only have spent the past week in our corner of the world. Blustery winds, blowing snow and a chill dampness were like a collection of bratty kids showing up to ruin the day with  nasty temperament and bad behaviour.

For this reason, we are pretty tickled waking up to a morning such as today's. Just a few days before spring's highly-anticipated official arrival, it was , despite a lingering nip in the air,  an otherwise gorgeous sunny morning, topped by an invigorating blue sky with nary a cloud in sight. Today, we can feel hopeful that Old Man Winter has taken his mischievous offspring and gone away. Even knowing that he has a habit of staying at the party a bit too long, every day from here on in depletes his enthusiasm for bluster. 

Such a morning is restorative. We feel spring's imminent arrival. The heating sun is making short work of the lingering snow on the roads, while icicles melt in streams from the eaves.  We know the first daffodil buds will be popping up soon, like children eager to greet a new day.  For those tired of winter, you couldn't help but feel hopeful that it won't belong before the landscape is graced by gardens of the perky flowers.

It's little wonder that the Cancer Society chose this early bloom as the symbol for its annual campaign. Since the April kick-off is only a few weeks away, since this horrible illness has touched the lives of virtually everyone, either through the loss of a loved one or having been stricken themselves, we wanted to celebrate this emblem as a representation of hope and life.

A selection of clipart to be used in spring projects, whether promotional or personal, can be found at online services such as iCLIPART.com and Clipart.com. These provide diverse content and once you have subscribed you can be assured you are legally able to use the images and need not have any concern about viruses. Get an advanced look at the spring's blooming bit of sunshine here:

iCLIPART.com Daffodil Illustrations

Clipart Guide Daffodil Illustrations

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Free Brushes and Helpful Tutorials to Create Your Own Flourishes and Swirls

flourish (n): an act or instance of brandishing: an ostentatious display: a decoration or embellishment, especially in writing: rhetoric,  a parade of fine language; an expression used merely for effect: a trumpet call or fanfare: a condition or period of thriving.

Working in the world of images as I do, when I think of the word flourish it's with an eye to those swirls and curls used as graphic accents to add visual interest to a project.  What I've also noticed about them is that they can often be all that's needed.

One rule of thumb I've found effective throughout life is that less is indeed more. There is a minimalist approach in my decorating attempts. I don't festoon myself with chunky necklaces and scarves, being more drawn to light chains and tiny baubles. Lining my closet are clothes of solid hues; no lively prints nor crazy stripes adorn them.

This preference was further entrenched in my mindeset during two decades in journalism. Get to the point early and succinctly was the best way to ensure readers were going to actually get the point.  On the advertising side of the business, it was only good sense that the design not be so full of elements that the eye is unsure of what to take in or where to look first. Design and production staff often talked about the effective use of whitespace.  One of the most successful ads the sales manager created during his tenure was actually comprised of 90% negative, or empty, space much like the Google website design.

I've often pondered the notion that novices when designing,  might tend to over think the project. A desire to add more, to look at what's been done and feel that something is missing seems a natural tendency.  It's enlightening, therefore, to see what people with experience can do.  Our daughter, always an artistic sort who has dabbled in graphic design for some time, decided to craft the stationery for her wedding four years ago. Invitations, thank you cards, etc.,  were stylish, but simple, created with images from an online royalty-free subscription source.

One of the trickiest projects was the name cards for the dining tables. Having gone with a black-and-white theme, and given the limited space on the cards, she settled on a pretty flourish as the best, and the only necessary, decorative element.

These swirls, designed to decorate and embellish,  run the gamut of styles, from unflashy to elaborate. Regardless of which is used they undoubtedly add a touch of elegance without being overwhelming. They are ornamental without being garish, attractive without being showy.

While lovely swirls and flourishes are available on sites such as iCLIPART.com and Clipart.com it's also possible to make the design personally. Using image editors, such as Photoshop and Illustrator, you can add your own special flourish to your project. Since it's Tutorial Tuesday, here are some resources for free flourish brushes and tutorials to help you design originals:

Flourish Free Brushes (645 Free Downloads)

50 Free Swirl and Floral Brushes for Photoshop

Vector Swirls, Swooshes and Florals for Illustrator

Draw Vector Flourishes in Photoshop

How to Make Flourishes in Illustrator

Create a Flourish in Photoshop Elements

Create Custom Flourish Brushes in Photoshop

Leaves, Branches and Flourishes

Floral/Flourish Design Tutorial

Free Vectory Flourish Brushes

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Find Sunny Images and Say Hello to Spring With These 2 Great Websites

We've waited for her. Eagerly anticipated her arrival. When she gets here we will look to her with, perhaps unfair, expectations. She, and she alone, can take the weariness from us, can lift our spirits, can chase away the doldrums that have besieged us for months. Illnesses will ease, viruses will flee in her presence. In just a couple of weeks, spring will finally return and  I for one couldn't be more ready to greet her.

It's been a dark, dreary winter this year. Though temperatures have been much warmer than is typical, we walked through most days with clouds hanging over us. Environment Canada claimed that the great city of Toronto  enjoyed just under 49 hours of sunlight in January, about half of the seasonal average.  While I'm not a fan of winter's chill I'd take a deep freeze with sunny skies over a world of grey any time. It has only served to make spring's allure that much more enticing.

In this corner of the world, folks are ready to let the sun shine in, with silent prayer that when spring does get here, she's in a good mood.  Already businesses are promoting their seasonal specials. Clothing stores are clearing stock and pushing the newest arrivals; goodbye to the bulky knits, hello to light and airy fabrics and colours. 

Nurseries are waking, preparing now for the busy months ahead of them when the green thumbs and the wannabes descend upon them in droves. There will be clearing and cleaning of greenhouses, reviving and replenishing of the inventory.

Spring means a shift in household priorities, too. With the increasing warmth we are drawn outdoors to take stock. As the trend continues, as the snow and mud recede and
diminish respectively, we begin the tasks of raking and tidying. Before we know it the patio furniture will be hauled out of storage. Plants will be potted, gardens seeded, beds filled with blooms.

Clothes fresh off the line, the gleam of newly-cleaned windows opened to blow away the staleness of a long-closed home are on the list of my favourite spring chores.

For now, though, we wait. Spring, like a baby, is new life. Just as we can't control the length of labour, the timing of birth,  the speed of delivery nor the gender of a newborn, neither can we know for certain what the new season will bring to us. Though we know her due date, spring might take her sweet time in getting here, offering  nothing but dismal days of damp and cool.

But just as it is with a baby, we know that when she finally does get here, it's all worth it.  We will revel in the beauty of the new life spring gives us. The colourful blooms, the songbirds' melodies lighten our hearts, minds and souls.  We savour each and every moment.

Until then, as you prepare your welcome to spring, as you create promotions or personal projects themed to this time of renewal and rebirth,  you'll be looking for beautiful images to use. Here are some terrific spring collections from two online subscription graphics resources:


Friday, March 3, 2017

Get Picture Perfect Photos of Babies and Children with Expert Tips from These 6 Resources

We are eagerly anticipating the arrival of our newest family member next week. Our son and his fiancée have been given a date of March 9 for her doctor to urge the little one along and I'm already excited for that new baby smell and plenty of cuddles.

I'm actually going to have a lot of Grandma time around then. A few days after the birth,  my daughter's two little ones are coming to visit and my husband and I plan to take them to meet their tiny little cousin. As you can well imagine, I'm already thinking of the photo ops.

Taking pictures of tots, whether they're newborns, toddlers or preschoolers can be a daunting task. In all their adorableness they are suitably photogenic.  Yet, they do present some special challenges.

Infants are often easiest because they tend to sleep. A lot. They enjoy being held so posing someone else while they hold the baby is usually quite simple. 

Never forget, however, that every moment of this photo shoot is dictated by the baby's needs and when infants aren't happy everyone knows. Besides the time spent getting the pliable darlings into all kinds of precious poses, there will also be diaper calls, wardrobe changes and snack breaks galore.

The real fun, though, comes with toddlers and preschoolers. They fidget, they squirm. They clearly aren't interested in following instructions. Their mood can swing to extremes minute by minute. Distraction is a given.

Of course, as mentioned earlier, co-operation with children under five is rare.  Spying them in a picture-perfect situation and sneaking up on them before they move on is often the best chance for success. Once they notice the camera, anything could happen. They rarely stop in one place for more than seconds at a time as fascination with everything beckons. Or they will decide to be perfect hams, voguing for the camera. Until, like the flip of a switch, they decide they're done. Trying to convince them otherwise can be a scary prospect.

As for trying to pose them ... well, that's always entertaining.

Yet, when all the hassles are over there's no question that young children are one of the most beautiful photography subjects and worth the spit up, poop and tears.  My grandchildren range in age from 17 to the not-quite-here-yet. While the eldest is less interested in being one of my photography subjects now having more than paid his dues over the years,  his cousins, all under the age of five, have come to expect the focussing of my camera lens on them. Often. How could I possibly resist any chance to capture those giggles and grins, their wide-eyed wonder and delightful personalities?

So next weekend should be fun. On the one hand I have three beautiful subjects. On the other, getting them all into a shot isn't going to be easy. When it happens, let's not forget there's still the technical stuff to work on too. It can all be a bit overwhelming for an amateur shutterbug.

Rather than hope for the best then, I've decided to do a little homework.  The thought of getting a great picture of two of my beautiful grandchildren with a lovely newborn one is worth it.  Here are seven sites that I found to be quite informative:

4 Tips for Connecting and Photographing Kids More Naturally

Photographing Tots and Toddlers

5 Tough Love Tips for Photographing Toddlers

Photographing Toddlers and Getting Them to Sit Still

10 Tips for Photographing Toddlers

6 Tips for Photographing Newborns With Siblings

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Create Fantastic Digital Worksheets and Presentations with an iCLIPART.com Pro Subscription

Every day, our children's minds are given into the care of educators whom we hope will not just teach them but inspire in them the desire to learn as well. 

Since children are uniquely different, from the tip of their toes to the top of the head, in personality and intelligence,  a one-size-fits-all style of teaching is far from effective. Finding a way to rouse students from intellectual lethargy and ensure they understand the lesson, is only half of the monumental task facing educators. It's also important they stay interested and are eager to absorb more and more information.

To do so, it's imperative that teachers find creative ways to reach those young minds,  using not just words but worksheets, assignments and lesson plans designed to stimulate. 

My two eldest kids are educators, albeit at distinctly different levels. One is working to mould the minds of middle school students, while the other is an ECE in a junior kindergarten program.  Though the approach is obviously different, the starting point is essentially the same. Whatever tools are used can enhance the experience for the students, as well as for the teacher.

I know the amount of time my son and daughter spend trying to achieve this balance. Fortunately, they're both still young enough and enthusiastic enough that they have fun devising a lot of their own materials. But what happens when the well of imagination and creativity runs dry? Or quite simply when a teacher runs out of time to prepare a lesson plan?

Fortunately, there are wonderful online resources to help out. The most well-known is TeachersPayTeachers from which educators can sell and buy lessons, printables, worksheets, etc. There are categories for all grades, as well as for homeschoolers, higher learning and adult students,  and the site offers a variety of subjects and budgets. To learn more you might want to check out this blog from EdSurge

TPT isn't the only option, however. You can take a look at some others here:

Teacher's Notebook
• BuySellTeach
• educents

While these are excellent resources for teachers looking for a little support, it's also important to note that many of these sites have created, in some cases, a lucrative second income for those interested in sharing their materials with others.  According to information from EdSurgeNews teachers "have earned more than $175 million of materials on TPT since it's launch in 2006." Given that this blog was written in 2015, one can only assume that number as grown.

Regardless of who's creating the tools for learning, they all will need good graphics. Captivating and appropriate images are a necessity for teachers' classroom materials. Here again there are options to be found online, including the fantastic, diverse content on  iCLIPART.com . What's also exciting about this website is that it offers a Professional subscription for anyone interested in creating digital worksheets, documents or presentations intended for multiple distribution.  It's perfect, therefore, for people involved in the creation of online educational materials.

The subscription price is $295 for one year. However, currently anyone looking for this type of usage can ask to receive a discount coupon code by contacting bizdev@vitalimagery.com 


Friday, February 24, 2017

7 Handy Tools to Transform Your Favourite Photos Into Sketches

"When everything goes to hell, the people who stand by you without flinching — they are your family." Jim Butcher

Family for most of us is everything. In part, I suppose, because they are there for you when you need them most. They might never forget your misdemeanours, nor let you, but they will forgive and accept.  Though they might be quick to throw a dart, they are also likely to be the first to take one for you if someone else tosses it in your direction. No poison can come from outside the circle. No one will defend you with as much ferocity.

Of course there are exceptions, but most of us can count on our family, from siblings and parents, to cousins and in-laws. Like anything else in life, however, the family you have today might not be forever. Time and circumstance has a way of changing the players. It might be a divorce, a new marriage or the arrival of a baby or two that alters the family you see today from the one you will know a year from now.

Regardless, they are the faces we most love to see.  Several years ago, while visiting an acquaintance's home for the first time, I noticed the grouping of family portraits she had on her wall. There was one featuring her, her husband and their three adult children, then one of each of her kids with their spouses and their offspring. They are updated every three years, she said, because little ones change so quickly.

A brilliant idea, I decided, and booked a sitting immediately for my brood and their families. At the time, our eldest was married with three teenage stepchildren, our daughter had just had a baby, their little sister was newly engaged and our youngest was single with a son.  By the time we were ready to update three years later, two new babies had come our way, as well as a new in-law.

Since then, though, I've had difficulty keeping up with the players.  When it comes to who's coming into this family and who's not, it's been a bit of a revolving door.  Efforts have been made to update the portraits as necessary but the result has been a mish-mash of styles.

After much thought,  I've decided, therefore, that at least for now,  I'm going back to the old days. While, the grandchildren's pictures will be put into a collage suitable for framing once I know we've been blessed for the last time, the portraits will be of my kids. Alone.

The idea also struck me that perhaps a sketch, rather than a photograph, might give those pictures enough of an artsy vibe that they could hang in place for eons. I considered commissioning an artist,  but having seen the good and bad of this type of work, was reluctant to shell out cash for something that looked absolutely nothing like the subject. Then a friend told me  she has had great results turning pictures into sketches with image editing.  Since I have some fantastic photos of my kids, I decided it might be worth a try.

Here are some tutorials and tools I found to get me started. Most apps have versions for Apple and Android.

This popular photo editing app has many stunning photo effects

Photo Lab
This picture editor has more than 600 awesome effects for your photos.

Super easy, super fast: I gave this one a quick try using a photo of my beautiful granddaughter to see what it might do. Here were the results.

Use this popular editor's artsy effects to transform a picture into a black-and-white pencil drawing.

wikiHow: Make a Colour Image Look Like a Sketch in Photoshop
Just one other effect that can be achieved with the magic of Photoshop.

Another online photo effect that turns your photos instantly into a sketch. Since little time was required it was another one for me to test out.
This one might be my favourite. Simple but with extra effects to further enhance the final results.
There are limitless options when you search online for ways to change a photo into a sketch.  These are just a few examples that a quick look revealed.