Friday, December 2, 2016

Find Christmas Magic in These 600 Glorious Photos

In just a few short hours I am ducking out of the office and hitting the road for a favourite family destination. The lovely Bavarian town of Frankenmuth, Michigan has been on the road trip list virtually every year for decades, going back to when my husband and I first met.

In those days, the charm and history were less an attraction than the annual summer beer festival. With the tunnel-vision of youth when the opportunity for a dash of fun presented itself, our focus was on socializing and partying. A group of us, numbering anywhere from a dozen to 20, headed out, the Friday morning of the second weekend in June,  some in tandem, others too eager to wait, leading the way.

From then until Sunday afternoon when the parade had finally passed us by, we ate, drank and made merry. There was a bit of shopping and a plethora of laughter. It was the best of times: Monday often the worst of times. But we were young, exuberant and healed quickly.  We would dissect the moments that stood out, rehash the events and think of more to come. Thoughts of the next year's visit were already taking shape.

Then one year it struck someone among us that this architectural homage to Bavaria, with its quaint shops and welcoming atmosphere,  might interest our children too. And what began as a frivolous mini-break for lively 20-somethings transitioned into a family excursion, with a few adult diversions in the mix. The revelation, of course, had proved accurate and the new generation enjoyed, not just the party, but the town.

Of particular interest was the gigantic Christmas store, Bronners. With wide-eyed wonder the little ones gazed at the animated displays that replicated everything from Santa's workshop to a winter wonderland.  If magic was anywhere it was in the air there as we grownups looked anew through the eyes of a child.  With sparkling stars dangling from above and cheery snowmen smiling a welcome,  the youngsters bedazzled.

The next inevitable conclusion then for my husband and me was that we must return for a weekend during the Christmas season. How much more perfect would it be to visit this fantastical place during the holidays.  So much more so that it eventually replaced the summer trip.  I recall one trip in particular, when a friend accompanied us in the hopes that her little one's growing disbelief in Santa would be assuaged by the enchantment.  And indeed it did. Old St. Nick worked his charm on the little sceptic, and let her hold on to the fantasy for a few more years.

There is nothing more marvelous than being with children at this time of year.  That's what makes this weekend's trip even more exciting. The tradition is now being introduced to a third generation, as our daughter and adorable grandchildren have been making the Christmas trip with us.  And the hope is for the rest of our family to jump on board in subsequent years.

With the beauty that is a child at Christmas in mind, please enjoy these wonderful pictures from iPHOTOS.com

iPHOTOS.com Children at Christmas

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

See Famous Paintings in the Impressive Dover Publications Collection


"You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist." — Friedrich Nietzsche

Yes, individuality is key to what I'm going to chat about today. However, let me begin first by saying that the images I am going to highlight at the end of this missive are photos of real paintings from the impressive Dover Publications collection. For now, though, I ask your indulgence as I  outline the rationale and thoughts that led to this choice.

I am the proud mother of four amazing children. Two boys, two girls, separated in total by 10 years they are all adults now,  living their lives as fate or co-incidence ordained, depending on how you see it.  As they leave behind, with all of the momentum of a speeding locomotive, their 20s and 30s,  it is with an eye to the present, to the goals, dreams and passions that excite them now.

Four children, four very, very unique personalities formed in part by family placement, experiences and whatever particular genetics came their way.  They are to me unique masterpieces — by equally unique artists.

If you could paint a personality, my eldest child, our son would best be done justice by the analytical discipline of Paul Cézanne. He is goal-oriented, deciding at a very early age that education was important and setting out to achieve his teaching degree.  He takes his work and volunteer duties seriously, but has a wonderfully droll sense of humour that makes time in his company a fun thing. His circle of friends is large, encompassing people who share his myriad of interests.  His loyalty to them, to his family and in areas of the heart is indisputable.  The responsibilities he takes on often weigh a little heavily on his shoulders.

His first baby sister has a nurturing spirit and an intense love of nature and life's simple things. She was a little mother to her younger sister and brother and a gentle caregiver if illness brought any of us down. The baby of the family for almost seven years, she possesses the seriousness of a role model for younger siblings as well as the lighthearted view of the family baby. Sweet and shy, she developed a mother tiger's fierceness when challenges came to her or any of her loved ones. Over the years she has developed admirable strength and independence.  It's balanced by a smile that brightens a room, a perpetual giggle and a love for a good party.  She is a Monet — light, life and love.

Conversely, it is the abstract, spirited work of Picasso that instantly comes to mind when thinking of an artistic style to define our younger daughter.  From the day she was born there was a sense of independence, not based in strength as much as in the fact that she never sees the world the same way as anyone else. She is an eternal optimist,  playful, open-minded and kind-hearted. She finds the beauty in every situation and every person. Given a task for which she is passionate she attacks it with verve, but has no difficulty in running from those she dislikes. There is a charming flakiness, a perpetual child within her that disarms you all the while you are shaking your head at something she has said or done.

Finally, our youngest. Colourful and charismatic, a musician of modest success, he is our Kandinsky.  The guitar is as much a part of day-to-day routine as eating.  The world he has created for himself takes shape from the music in his life — the places he has been, the people he has met, the pleasure it has brought him.  From the start he charmed his way into the hearts of his family and strangers alike. He has been the love and the bane of his siblings' lives, using wit to bewitch and tease. He is typically the centre of attention, even on the rare occasions he is being quiet and serious.  When something interests him he attacks it with fervency — not always, admittedly, to the best results.

And so, these are the thoughts that inspired the selection of images for today. The vast Dover collection has rare and unique images and graphics, including these pictures of famous artwork:

iCLIPART.com Dover Publications Paintings

Friday, November 25, 2016

Make Delightful Festive Projects With These Christmas Tree Images

It’s tragedy, drama and comedy rolled into one.  It’s the Agony and the Ecstasy. It’s War and Peace. What begins every year as A Fine Mess ends always, with certainty, as It’s a Wonderful Life.

Thus describes my annual tree trimming escapades.

Please forgive the literary and film references above, but when it comes to this seasonal ritual I've often felt that the trials and tribulations are too bizarre to be reality. Year in and year out  no matter how organized I might be, no matter how much time I allow,  decorating the tree is a painfully frustrating exercise.  A problem arises and I hopefully address it the next year, only to find another problem arising.

Yet, always, always, the end result is worth every miserable moment. There is such warmth to be found in the glow of a Christmas tree.  It's the beckoning light for family to gather around, for friends to be entertained by.

But first, the agony, the war and the mess. We've always had an artificial tree. For convenience I guess,  though that suggestion is rather laughable. The early ones were ridiculous imitations and a lot of work. Branches were stuck in individually by hand. The holes would split, the branches droop as a result.  Our modern version has far greater aesthetic appeal, but is cumbersome to put in place. Also, it came with pinecones and clumps of 'snow', that are the bane of my existence.  Not only do they fall and make a mess, but they're difficult to decorate around.

The real challenge, though, is the lighting. First it's the tangled strings, an issue we believe now to have resolved with improved storage.  Then it's the dead strings, which work fine when you check them but for unexplained reasons quit on the tree.  Progress is thus delayed until we can purchase new ones.

Over the decades the task has resulted in toppled trees, broken ornaments, mismatched lights and strings of off-colour words.

I took on this year's project early this week, in the evenings after work. Various, sadly- anticipated woes cropped up so that it took three different sessions to complete. The requisite useless strings of lights took my hubby on a shopping excursion, prior to which he was duly advised to be watchful of getting the 'warm' LED tone, rather than the cool. Of course, the next night he delivered three brand new packages of the wrong ones.

After his successful shopping the next night,  the weaving through the branches of the last quarter of the tree began. Several attempts were made to get them spaced nicely during which there was the requisite gnashing of teeth, tugging of cords and stomping of feet. Of course, none of this would be normal without the accompaniment of some profanity to spice things up.

Finally,  by 9 o'clock the job was complete. All the frustration eased away as I appreciated the beauty of this festive tradition.  Images of snuggling beside the tree on chilly winter nights, gently falling snow and  a room full of laughter and love soothed and comforted.  I had reached the joyful part of this seasonal tradition — the time to relax and enjoy the peace and pleasure of my wonderful life.

As we head into December, trimming the tree will be happening in homes everywhere, at various times, with varying degrees of success. But regardless of how smooth, or not so smooth, the process goes the end result is a welcome addition to our holidays. We celebrate here with delightful collections of Christmas tree clipart:

iCLIPART.com Christmas Tree Illustrations

Clipart.com Christmas Tree Illustrations

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Love These Affordable Christmas Backgrounds and Elements

"November is auspicious in so many parts of the country: the rich harvest is already in, the weather starts to cool, and the festive glow which precedes Christmas has began to brighten the landscape." — D. Sionil Jose

Thanksgiving is still a few days away but there's no question it's already beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Storefronts and interiors are decorated, shelves are stocked in anticipation of the Black Friday hordes.

At home, people took advantage of a warm fall to get the exterior of their houses adorned with festive greenery and lights. Then fully in the spirit, they shifted their energy indoors. Snowmen and santas took their places. Garlands graced mantels and staircases. Furniture was shuffled and the tree erected in pride of place. The efforts bring warmth to every room, an invitation for family to gather and share life, love and laughter together.

All of this takes time, of course. Busy, busy describes this season, as weeks are spent in various aspects of the holiday preparations. Besides checking off the list and decking the hall, there is baking to do and gifts to be wrapped.

Now, too, people will begin addressing their Christmas cards. Some opt for family pictures — a good way to make faces, seen infrequently, familiar again. Others send  traditional messages of peace and goodwill in cards graced by an image of pastoral winter landscapes, smiling St. Nicks or the gentle nativity scene. 

The list can be long, including the loved ones we cherish right on down to distant acquaintances — anyone to whom we wish to reach out with a message of cheer for the holidays.

My husband comes from a large family and for many a night during decades of Christmas seasons,  I sat at the table addressing and stamping a massive number of cards. Of all the Christmas tasks it was the one that brought me the least enjoyment and was the only one completed  with a perfunctory, I-could-care-less attitude.  Even receiving them didn't bring me any particular pleasure.  Nice, but nothing I couldn't live without.  For me it really all felt like a colossal waste of money at a time of year when that could be better directed elsewhere.

The problem though is that I really did want to extend greetings to those near and dear or faraway yet familiar.  How to resolve those conflicting feelings was something I wrestled with every November.

And then inspiration came in the form of an eGreeting from my sister and her husband. This, they explained, was in place of their Christmas card. The money saved on stamps would be directed instead to charity. We latched on to the idea with all the fervour of elves at deadline on Christmas Eve and have been giving money to those in need rather than Canada Post ever since, while still conveying our wishes for a joyous holiday season to everyone on our list.

Creating something festive and original to send their way is easy to with the terrific diversity of holiday backgrounds to be found with online subscription graphics services such as iCLIPART.com and Clipart.com.  You can add text to a colourful background or frame your message in a cheery border. Here are some wonderful examples to inspire you:

iCLIPART.com Christmas Backgrounds

iCLIPART.com Christmas Elements

Clipart.com Christmas Background and Elements

Friday, November 18, 2016

15 Best HTML5 Templates of This Fall to Warm You Up

Another guest blog from our TemplateMonster friends:
 
Fall is a time of cozy sweaters, mulled wine, and long walks in a park. It's also, however, the time to get back from summer vacations and start your business. Many emerging startups and small businesses only need websites to attract the right audience.

Websites today aren't just places where people can post thoughts and share photos. Most of these things people do on social media. For rising and growing business, a website is a spot to sell products or services, connect with  customers and make money. This post offers a collection of the best HTML5 templates issued this autumn. It means these themes are the freshest creations and include the greatest trends in website design for 2016.

Why HTML5 Themes?

HTML is a traditional language that has been used for a long time for structuring info on the Web and creating websites and pages. HTML5 raised the level of website development higher. It allows web developers to create top-notch responsive websites faster and with a cleaner code. Additional functionality like jQuery and Bootstrap adds zest to the themes.

Pre-made themes is a blessing for modern businesses. They allow creating a website in hours without spending resources to order a design from a web studio.

When you get a ready website theme from a trusted seller, you can be sure that you get the same website functionality as you could get from a web studio. Ready-made themes are based on the same coding principles as those used for custom made designs.

Developers of both use the same Bootstrap framework, the same HTML5 language and other technologies. So why spend thousands for custom design when you can purchase a theme for less them $150?

Creating a custom design can weeks or even months to complete.  It also takes effort to get things done the way you need them to be done. Ready-made templates save your nerves and time. You can work on it right after you buy it. Add your photos, texts and product info - and the website is ready to go online.

Effortless customization is another benefit of the ready-made theme. You alone decide what content you add to the website and how it should look. You have all the functionality to add your content to the theme or to make some adjustments according to your needs. Everything can be done quickly.

You might need some help with more complicated structure adjustments or when you need to make some serious tweaking to the layout. And it’s one of the best things about ready-made templates: you don’t have to pay extra dollars for those manipulations. Modern sellers offer free tech support as a bonus to their templates, like in case of the TemplateMonster.com HTML5 themes. You can use their help 24/7 and don’t have to pay a penny for that.

Now let’s take a look at what are the best HTML5 templates of the Fall:

Multipurpose Business Template for Respectful Website

This multipurpose business theme is a great fit for multipage as well as for single-page websites. It includes 5 niche templates that can be used for creating websites for almost any business field. With its handy bonus - Novi Builder - even a non-techie can create a powerful website.
Details |  Demo

Landscape Design Studio Template

An amazing theme for garden and landscape design firms. It captures users' attention in full with its huge mystic-looking slider that can be used for showcasing successful projects or posting promos. All PSD-files are included in the package, so you don't need to spend time for searching visual elements for your website.

 Details |  Demo

Intense - Powerful Multipurpose Theme

This theme has all the functionality and design you could wish for. Ten layouts, various header and footer styles, as well as multiple blog and eCommerce shop templates. All this allows anyone to adjust the theme to any kind of website and business niche. Advanced functionality helps customizing Intense quickly with minimum efforts. 

 Details |  Demo

HTML5 Template for SEO Services Website

A stylish HTML5 theme with Flat-style design. It includes multiple header and footer variations for any taste. Over 50 pre-made pages save you time from creating ones for each category or purpose you might have. Various Gallery types, blog designs, color palettes and others allow you to create  the best website ever. 

 Details |  Demo

White-Blue Medical Office Website Template

Another multipurpose theme with an impressive UI kit that allows creating a website not only for doctor’s services. Anyone who dreams of clean layout and powerful functionality should opt for this HTML template. Header and footer designs along with various blog page designs help you make  a one-of-a-kind website for your business. 

Business Solutions Template with Multiple Layouts

Elegant template that will be a perfect fit for a business or finance services website. Along with clean code and versatile functions, it offers multiple gallery types (masonry, grid etc.) that will help to turn this theme into a cool visuals-based website. eCommerce page addition allows creating a cool online store. 

Chic Black-and-White Theme for Photographer

This HTML template incorporates sophisticated design with full-background photo. It is imagery-focused and has all the functionality a photographer’s website may need. Responsive and cross-browser, this theme is optimized to load fast no matter how many images you store on it.

Minimalist Theme for Gym Equipment Website

This template is a part of multipurpose Intense themes. It includes 10 layouts that fit various business niches, nine additional skins and over 200 HTML pages for any purpose. Full-stacked UI kit helps adjusting this template for various design solutions. 
 Details |  Demo

Rental Company Web Template

A well-documented template for rental services website includes all PSD files you can customise to make your website functional and attractive. Font icons are fully-responsive as the rest of the template elements. It ensures smooth work of your website across all devices and browsers.

 Details |  Demo

Imagery-Focused Restaurant Template

This multipurpose theme is imagery-based which makes it a great fit for café, restaurant, catering and other food-related websites. Mouthwatering images, 13 blog layouts and a huge set of UI elements and blocks. Still nibbling at this offer? Get this theme with 35+ premade pages and gallery layouts and create your website today.

Details |  Demo

Clean Lawyer Services HTML Template

If you’re looking for a template in minimalist style - this one is right for you. Clean design with hero header will be a good base from which to create a law firm or a business website. The template includes more than 30 HTML5 pages to save you from creating new ones. Various header and footer layouts help make a website that will stand out from the crowd.
Details |  Demo

Charity Foundation Theme in Pink

This bright website theme is made to attract passionate people who aim to make the world a better place. It includes all the functionality and design perks you might need to create a charity website. Slider allows showing all events and news about your mission. Mega menu, font icons and other tiny elements will make the website very user-friendly.

Details |  Demo

Green Energy Template with Hero Header

A cool multi-purpose theme that allows creating a technology, science or any other type of website. Rich UI kit and 20+ page templates help in creating a nice and functional website for presenting your services online. Cool contact form and eCommerce page will help you to gather orders and contact your customers fast.

Details |  Demo

Food Website Template with Grid Layout

This website theme looks as sweet as the products you can showcase on it. Grid layout allows creating an imagery-focused website that will attract all the attention to the products. With its sticky menu users will browse your website with ease. PSD files and clean code make working with this theme effortless.

 Details |  Demo

Car Company HTML Theme with Rich Visuals

This templates includes a full-screen background with slider that attracts users. Parallax effect adds depth and movement to it. With additional elements - like a progress bar, sticky menu, contact form etc. - this theme becomes a great choice for a functional website for car firm.
 Details |  Demo

That’s all for now. Don’t hesitate and choose a theme for your cool website. As a bonus we offer you a cool free e-book that will show you how to get your first 1000 of visitors right after the website launch. 


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

How to Create Personalized Christmas Tags in Photshop

The bargain hunters are getting very excited. Black Friday is days away and in the time leading up to it, the sales begin. As folks take advantage of this to get that Christmas shopping under way or over with,  retail outlets, malls, big box stores and downtown businesses are filled to bursting with zealous buyers jostling others and grabbing deals. 

I love this time of year.  Searching for those perfect gifts for my loved ones is pure enjoyment on its own. But since that typically involves an outing with a friend, highlighted by a break or two for a nice glass of wine (during which we pretend the reason for this was all about going over our lists) it speaks to a lot of my favourite things.

What is different about me, though, is that I generally don't search out sales. I don't wait for Black Friday or any specials for that matter. I'm an early shopper, always have been and always will be. So if something catches my eye, provided it's within reason, I get it. Which means, that as we head into a week known for its good buys, I'm ready to say hello to getting it all wrapped up.

And this is where the tide turns. I abhor the task of making my purchases festive with paper, ribbons and bows.  I find it tediously time consuming, at a point in the season when I really have little of that to spare.  And yet, a few years ago while looking for a way to add a personal touch, I decided to make the job even more labour intensive and  create gift tags in Photoshop. Rather than pretty little labels on which I would write the recipients' names, however, the idea came to me that I could use an image to represent them. Well acquainted with the variety of graphics to be found on websites like iCLIPART.com  I knew that finding ones to suit everybody would be beyond easy.

As the project did put an aumusing twist on our Christmas morning, and, with the festive season set to kick into high gear for another year, I thought sharing a how-to might be fun.

There could be no better way to start this project than choosing an image that exemplifies my sweetie. An avid car buff who rarely takes himself, or anyone else for that matter, too seriously, I did a little search in the Cartoon category and found the perfect image #164927, literally in seconds.

Once you have collected enough images to match ever personality on your Christmas list, which really can be entertaining, it's time to create. Here are the steps you need to take:

First, open a new canvas in Photoshop by selecting File>New, then set the dimensions to 11" wide by 8.5" long. Next,  open the  (File>Open) and drag it onto the document. To adjust the size, go  under Edit to Transform>Scale and holding the Shift key move in the corner, then hit Return. (Sizing them will be a bit of trial and error, but the ultimate goal is to have three rows of tags in each direction on the document, with space for trimming.

To add your message, and/or name, switch to the Text tool, then type, Move it where you want it on the tag.



And that's it. If you want several of the same images, move the cursor to the box with the Layers, Channels and Path. Hold the Ctrl key (Windows) or Command key (Mac) and highlight each of the layers. Click on the top right corner to select Make New Group from Layers, then Duplicate Group. 


Complete this process as many times as you need. If you're not sure which one you've copied, hide the others in the Group box.



Friday, November 11, 2016

Transform Your Photo to a Watercolour in Photoshop

One of the very best things about iPHOTOS.com is the incredible variety and diversity of the content on the website. Not only does it boast professional, print-quality photos, high-resolution clipart and HD video, but with an inventory of over five million images the selection offers something for every need and taste.


However, as much as  photograph can provide the perfect visual detail to a project, there are times when it's necessary or just plain fun to play with them a bit.  For example you could take that great picture and turn it into a reasonable facsimile of a watercolour. With image editing software this is, of course, quite easy to achieve. While the process might not make the art world sit up and take notice, the results are satisfactory for most purposes and come without the expense of hiring an artist.


I actually undertook this project as a gift for my husband a couple of years ago. When his parents made the decision to sell the family farm he was devastated. Just in his teens he had neither the means nor the maturity to set himself up as a landowner.  Even to this day, when we pass by it on our many trips hither and yon, he looks toward the house with slight melancholy.


It dawned on me that while I couldn't give him the whole package, what a nice gift it would be to bring a little piece of his past into our home. A painting of the house I decided would look perfect over the fireplace in the room he was currently renovating at our place.  Unable, however, to find an artist whom I trusted and was affordable, I opted for Plan B. My photographer daughter took the picture and I took on the transformation to watercolour with Photoshop.


Author Seth Godin has said that art is not in the eye of the beholder, but in the soul of the artist. Well the 'artist' here has shown a basic understand of Photoshop over the years. Yet, when I set onto the the aforementioned project it was with a desire to learn through experimentation.


And I'm happy to say that the results were good enough, though I hadn't realized the house and grounds were considerably different than those in his memories.  I have since found an artist who can take on the more ambitious alteration required to bring his past to life.

The key point, though, was that it was fun to take an image and see what I could do with it using some expertise and a lot of trial and error.

I enjoyed the project so much I've decided to give it one more try here today. The first step, obviously, was to select a photo that would look great as a watercolour. I love this  gorgeous shot of autumn in New York's Central Park (#296795),  one of the most popular autumn downloads from iPHOTOS.com.

After opening the image in Photoshop the size can be changed to whatever specific requirements are.  My first step then was to brighten the overall picture and intensify the colours just a tad by selecting Image>Adjustments>Hue/Saturation,  and changing the settings to -3 for Hue, 2 for Saturation and 1 for Lightness.


 Next I renamed the background layer to original then right clicked and created a duplicate copy.
With this highlighted I chose Filter>Artistic>Dry Brush. The settings used were Brush Size, 3; Brush Detail 2 and Texture 1. Play with these to get the effect you like.

Then change the Blend Mode to Screen.

Highlight the original layer and select Filter>Artistic>Cutout. For this purpose I set the Humber of Levels to 7, the Edge Simplicity, 3 and the Edge Fidelity, 2. Again, however, you will want to play with the setting to get the desired results.

Choose Soft Light for the Blend Mode and you're done. Here's my work of art.