Wednesday, 23 January 2013

My Super Duper Superstore

Looking back on last year's lack of updates to this blog, you'd be forgiven for thinking I've been idle for the last 12 months. Well you'd be wrong. In between looking after Mum and keeping the house in a reasonably hygienic condition (I will NEVER be houseproud) I've been plotting.

It's been a big plot and it's taken most of 2012 to get it into a shape where it's presentable enough to unveil to the world. It's still not perfect but it's now in a good enough state to let you have a look at it.

Well my big news is... I've opened a brand new megastore over at Café Press!

When I first joined the site, if I wanted a shop that would accommodate more than one design I had to pay for it. Obviously that didn't sound like a good idea so I stuck to the basic shops, which were free to use but limited to a single graphic. So each time I wanted to offer a new design I had to open a new shop, each with its own individual name and URL. Having them all so disconnected made them difficult to manage and didn't offer a very easy shopping experience to my customers.

Now, thankfully, Café Press have removed the up-front charges for their premium shops so I've taken advantage and brought all my designs together under one new site.

The shop's called Val's Electric Octopus And Friends and here's my handy guide on how to find your way around it, starting with the home page:

1) This is a big shop with lots of sections, so never get lost thanks to this handy navigation bar allowing you to jump easily between designs and products. This is available to use on every page in the store.

2) The octopus logo on the home page and the blue title in the navigation bar take you to my Facebook page Val Woodhouse Art and Design. Give me a Like on there to make sure you're always the first to find out about any new happenings in the shops, this blog or anything else I might be up to.

3) The old style basic shops will still be open, so feel free to use them if you just want to look at one design. Clicking "Learn More" will take you to a page with links to my basic shops.

4) All the existing designs are in the new store, grouped together by themes:

Electric Animals


More Designs

5) The new premium shop makes it so much easier to add new designs, so I'm launching mine with 3 band new Scribbly Rainbows. You'll currently find these in the "~NEW & Exclusive~" section - keep an eye on this for more new designs as the time goes by.

The Scribbly Rainbows are my lively, vibrant take on one of the world's favourite natural wonders. Many causes have adopted a rainbow as their symbol, including Christian groups, LGBT Pride and Autism awareness. These products are perfect for any of those or, of course, anyone who just wants something happy and colourful to brighten up their day.

The full Scribbly Rainbow on a women's long sleeved T shirt.

Matching pairs, such as these decorative steins, make a beautiful gift idea for a favourite couple - "the other half of my rainbow".

When you click on the design you like, you'll be taken to a list of departments - Menswear, Womenswear, etc. This is similar to the layout in the basic shops but I've changed some things around to make locating products as logical as possible.

Clicking on a department then allows you to see everything in that category displaying the chosen design, eg. this is a sample from the Menswear section featuring the new full Scribbly Rainbow.

One of the advantages of the new premium shop is that I can include more than one copy of a product. I loved how the half rainbows fill the small goods like these jewellery items, so I've given you both the zoomed in and zoomed out versions to choose from.

6) What if you know the sort of item you want but you're not sure on the design? Well now I've created a brand new section that allows you, for the first time, to compare products side by side featuring all the different graphics. For this you click on the "Browse By Product" link.

All the departments are laid out in a similar format to those used in the other sections.

This time, larger sections such as Menswear are divided into subsections, in this case based on styles of shirt.

Within each section, all the similar products are grouped together so you can compare the designs side by side.

Clicking on the product you're interested in takes you to a new-look ordering page.

So there you have it! There are still plenty more tweaks to be made and lots of new products I can add but my new megastore Val's Electric Octopus And Friends is now officially open for business. (Truth be told, that hasn't stopped a couple of people already finding it by accident and I was hardly going to turn down their trade!) Come on in, have a good explore round and - better still - treat yourself or a loved one to some of the goodies on offer. It's been a year's worth of work so I hope you like it!

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Happy Christmas!

Time for my annual treat for the few of you who ever bother looking at my blog!

This year I'm dedicating it to all those new friends we've made this year, especially those who we found in the most unusual places, who've brightened our lives up and made us look at the world in a new way.

The star of my cartoon is Miss Rosie Muhlbauer, one of several dogs rescued from an unethical back yard breeder in California this June. Despite having many congenital health problems caused by inbreeding, Rosie stole everyone's hearts thanks to her fighting spirit, happy personality and unconventional cuteness and now she has over 32,000 fans on Facebook.

So here's Rosie enjoying her first proper Christmas, being spoilt rotten as well she deserves!

So a big Happy Christmas to all of you I'd never heard of 12 months ago but now couldn't imagine living without.

• You can learn more about Rosie's story from her website and her Facebook page. Follow the progress of the dogs rescued alongside her at the Help Still Needed CA Hoarder Facebook page.

If you want to see my other Christmas cartoons, here's 2010 and 2011.

Join me back here very soon when I'll be kicking off 2013 with a MASSIVE new project launch!

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Nice Shiny Dangly Things

December marches on apace and most of you have no doubt already bought your tree or got the artificial one out of its dusty box.

Sorting through the baubles is always one of the nicest parts of the festivities, I find, because the best ones last for years and evoke so many memories. This year I'm taking the opportunity to buy a few from some of my favourite crafters on Facebook because they've been such good friends and supporters. A couple of pounds seems a small price to pay in order to help their businesses out and have a little something to remember my friends by. Photos may follow providing my ancient old camera batteries behave (which they rarely do).

What's that you ask? Do I, amongst all the hundreds of products available in my Café Press stores, happen to have any Christmas decorations? Why yes indeed I do.

I have 4 Christmas designs: a snowman, a Christmas tree, I Love 25.12 and the American version I Love 12.25. They have already been made available on 2 ceramic ornaments and 2 Christmas stockings.

Now I'm delighted to announce that 5 more ornaments have been added to the range.

This group of decorations are made of hard wearing aluminium making them virtually indestructible. Meaning your tree can be dressed in something unique which you can treasure for many years to come and then pass down the generations.

I've already put my order in, well it wouldn't feel right for my own tree not to carry my handiwork!

If you're tempted, best order them NOW as it's pushing the deadline for Christmas ordering if you select standard delivery. Of course seeing as your tree will be up until after New Year you needn't panic too much about that! If you want other products from Café Press though, especially if you need them for gifts, don't delay, get those orders in TODAY (literally!)

(Please note that the standard delivery deadline from my other shop on Zazzle has already passed so please don't order Christmas stuff from there.)

Regular readers will know the drill by now - check on the left of the page for the design you like, click the button and you'll be transported to the shop. As you can see from the pictures above, the new decorations have automatically been loaded into the New Products section but will eventually be moved down to Seasonal to join their older counterparts.

Thanks everyone, now it's time for me to go and prepare my Christmas surprise for you...

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Warning - I'm About To Say The C Word

December's here again and the countdown begins to another Christmas (there, I said it). So, whether you love it or find it one big chore, now's the time to start getting everything ready so as to avoid the last minute rush.

Thankfully I'm here to help you shop from the comfort of your own armchair. I have hundreds of products available in my online stores, all custom printed with my original designs. Time's ticking away though and you have less than 1 week to guarantee standard delivery in time for Christmas. Please place your orders by Saturday 8th December to be on the safe side.

You'll find the buttons to take you to my Café Press stores on the left of this page, simply click on the design you like and you'll be able to see it on around 200 different items of clothing, homeware, gifts and novelties. Also on the left you'll see some sample products from my Zazzle store. You can also click on the words Come Shopping near the top of the screen. This will take you to all my online shop links on one page. Alternatively there's an album called Designs For Sale on my Facebook page Val Woodhouse Art & Design which shows a comprehensive list of what you can have printed on your choice of products. Each image contains the link to take you straight to where it's sold.

For this Christmas I have some new designs to share with you. When I was in the process of writing my business plan last year, a big part of it concerned designing greetings cards. It's a major ambition of mine to get a greetings range in the shops and, even though personal circumstances have got more difficult this year, I'd still love to pursue that.

For now I can experiment with ideas, put them in my online shops and, who knows, hopefully take them further and get them developed professionally in the future. My idea was for something with a simple, random, geometric inspiration but which would look very sophisticated. I wanted a design that men would enjoy receiving, because they're very under-served in the greetings card market but I know women would appreciate them too. I often play with geometric shapes, the basis for this work is a top secret master design which has almost limitless permutations and could keep me supplied with original patterns for the rest of my life! By adding a few festive shapes, I've come up with these 4 designs for my 2012 Christmas card range:

Why the boxes at the bottom? If you read my last blog post you'll remember me telling you how to customise a Zazzle mug. Well these cards have been designed especially for you to personalise in the same way. Write a special dedication to your loved one in the space I've left for you on the front cover. Then use the blank insides to add whatever kind of greeting you'd like, from a simple "Merry Christmas" to a festive outpouring of poetry. You can even put a photo on there if you like, these cards are yours to customise however you see fit. My Zazzle graphics are always there for you to experiment with and create something unique.

These cards cost £2.20 each + P&P, from

I'll be back here very soon showing you some more Christmas must-haves!

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Making a Mug of Myself

So another 9 months pass between blog posts and what the heck have I been doing with my time, you may ask? I often ask myself that too.

Sheesh. 9 months. I could have had a baby quicker. (I didn't, by the way.)

Thankfully Mum's regained some of her mobility but there remains plenty she can't do any more. So although I don't have to follow her round the house all day I still have to be there to do the urgent housework, answer phone calls (or rather slam the phone down on call centres) and remind her what day it is. Oh yes and still empty the piss bucket of course.

Strangely enough this has a plus side. It means I'm eligible for Carer's Allowance so I no longer have to worry about finding work or running a business. There's a limit on how much I'm allowed to earn on top of my benefits and I was never anywhere near hitting that so I can now get on with the fun side of doing the artwork as more of a hobby. If I happen to sell something, great. If not, it doesn't matter so much any more.

Things have been helped no end by a successful appeal against mis-sold Payment Protection Insurance on my credit card. If you've never had your PPI checked it's well worth doing but make sure you approach your lenders direct and don't go through any of those blood-sucker companies that take up pretty much every advertising slot on TV. Start by filling in the Consumer Questionnaire from the Financial Ombudsman and send it to your lender. If you hear nothing back within 8 weeks, don't just assume you've failed. At this point you're entitled to enlist the Financial Ombudsman to chase the lender on your behalf, which is what I had to do and it certainly helped my lender get their backsides into gear! My refund was hardly a fortune and I'm sure it will soon get spent but it's been enough to cushion me against my bills for a few months, lift that terrible depression money worries always cause me and free my mind up to plan new projects, buy materials and enjoy my creative time. Which is exactly how life should be.

So now I'm pushing ahead towards Christmas and I'll be updating this blog with the latest news from my online shops. I've become a big advocate of supporting micro-businesses, who are people using their creative talents and their spare time to make something unique and meaningful, for little reward. I'd much rather support a talented mum stuck at home than throw my cash at big corporations and it would mean a heck of a lot if people took that attitude to me too. Every "You Made A Sale" Email is like winning the lottery!

The first thing I'm going to tell you about in these updates is that I recently added several new mugs to my Zazzle store, this time featuring the scribbly flags that are already available on T shirts, badges, keychains and magnets.

Click the caption below each picture to be taken to the shop and the products for that country:

There are 7 types of mug to choose from for each design, which you can compare by clicking the "7 styles" link below the thumbnails, as seen in the pictures above. That brings up a screen like this:

Choose from:
  • Classic White Mug - 1 colour, 2 sizes
  • Ringer Mug - 6 highlight colours, 2 sizes
  • Two-Tone Mug - 6 highlight colours, 2 sizes
  • Morphing Mug (print revealed when hot) - 2 highlight colours, 1 size
  • Stein - 2 highlight colours, 1 size
  • Travelling Mug - 2 body colours, 1 size
  • Frosted Glass Mug - 1 colour, 2 sizes
Your choices don't end there, though. As with most Zazzle products you can personalise them with your own text or even a photo to make a truly individual gift for a special loved one or a treat for yourself. Once you've picked your mug, here's what to do.

All the graphics are centred but you can move them to one side if you want to add something else or if you would prefer a left handed or right handed display.

The Add Image button allows you to include your own photo or other graphic (just remember not to pass my artwork off as anyone else's, thanks!) The Add Text button brings up this dialogue box to type in what you want to say. Use the Enter key if you want your message to run on more than one line, as in this example.

Click the ƒ symbol in the tool bar to make your selection from over 300 fonts and dingbats. I've chosen the charmingly named Horse Puke.

Choose your font size, colour and alignment and your one-of-a-kind mug is complete!

Prices start from £10.95 +P&P for a classic white mug, with discounts for bulk orders. Don't forget to check out my Font Island mugs too, which are screaming out to be personalised. Your special someone will love you for making a gift especially for them and, as you can see, it's so easy to do.

I'll be back very soon with some more wonderful ideas for gifts and greetings to make this Christmas extra special!

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Sometimes Life Hands You A Bucket Of Piss

Hello dear readers, welcome to another blog post firmly under the label of Rants.

A month ago tonight, The Accident That Was Waiting To Happen finally happened. Mum slipped over in the kitchen and fractured her hip. It was a straightforward, clean break (resulting in 2 pins and a thigh-length scar) but it's totally thrown our lives up in the air.

I'm a creature of habit and for almost 30 years our front room has been my little world - my office, my living room, my dossing space. Now, with 48 hours' notice, 30 years of clutter had to be bagged up and shifted upstairs into Mum's tiny box bedroom so she could have her bed downstairs. At least we've been able to come to a room-share agreement so I can still use it as my office (with there being absolutely no more room for furniture upstairs) but now I have to get booted out at 10.30-ish so she can go to bed. The arrangement sometimes works the other way round. Some nights I'm really shattered and would love to turn in early but I can't because I need to be available to help her get into bed. When you're middle aged it rankles a bit when your Mum goes back to dictating your bedtime!

The living room that is now a bedroom.

The clutter that used to be in the living room that is now a bedroom and is now in the box bedroom that is too small and too cold to be any use whatsoever. Yes, I know it's a tip. I'll tidy it up when I find that elusive 25th hour in the day.

Thankfully she's fairly mobile now, she can get to the downstairs toilet and back unassisted, using a walking frame. Often she's up before me and can get dressed and washed on her own. But mostly my day consists of making sure she's OK getting in and out of bed; brewing endless cups of tea; not letting her starve (because she insists that if I do her so much as a slice of toast she's being a burden); struggling with fitting her compression stockings (so tight they almost wrench my thumbs out of their sockets); putting up with her moaning as I make her take her tablets and do her exercises; tackling the housework (it's amazing how little you can get away with and still not look like a pigsty); reassuring her that, no, she HADN'T been stupid in falling over and it could have happened to anybody; overseeing the nurses (thankfully no more visits after yesterday) and emptying the overnight doings in the commode.

Ah yes. The commode.

If a seat that conceals a piss bucket could talk, it would greet me every day with a loud, camp "goooooood moooooorrrrrrrniiiiiing!" It certainly commands the attention. So it's on with the lid, trudge up to the bathroom, dilute, empty, rinse, empty, bleach, dilute, slosh, empty, rinse, empty, flush, trudge downstairs, disinfect. It's not dignified but neither is cleaning up after a dog. I'm also the only person available to do it so a piss bucket kind of sums up my life now. That's why I decided to work from home, because I knew the day would come when I would be called upon to flush my mother's piss.

But the bucket is the least of my worries. I don't begrudge doing that or anything else to help Mum get along. She's done plenty for me over the years, time to pay the debt back. No, Jean-Paul Sartre is the man who summed up my problem perfectly - Hell is other people. By other people I of course mean my brother and sister trudging in and out of our day thinking they know best. So, for the record: I really can't be arsed to grab every penny you think we're entitled to, even given your bizarre logic that if [RACIST INSULT DELETED] the government would fall over themselves to give us millions. I haven't done that string of worthy but non urgent chores you're suggesting because I haven't found a 25th hour in the day. Getting your mother to do leg exercises does not make you homosexual. I, unlike you, am not going to second-guess how Mum will recover and start ranting about scenarios that may never happen. The physiotherapist has years of medical training, you do NOT know more about the workings of the human body than she does. Crutches are a sign of progress, not a stigma. We have our house the way it is and not the way you think it ought to be because it's OUR house and you don't frikkin' well live here.

Honestly, if anything ever happens to me I DO NOT want Negative Nancies like that hovering over me telling me I ought to know my place and not push myself to get better. Too many opinions, no consideration for the person actually trying to recover or the one who sees what really goes on all day.

So that's been my month. Absolutely no time for anything else, never mind work-
"To remain entitled to New Enterprise Allowance, you must provide evidence of continuing self-employment when we ask you... Please send your evidence to reach us by 03/02/12. If we do not have the evidence by this date, your payment will be suspended."

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Whither Fiddle-Farting?

Welcome back, I hope 2012's kicked off to a great start for you all.

Well Christmas was as crummy as I expected it to be in a house full of boredom, depression and short tempers. For once I'm not talking about myself! I've decided to put a bit of money away each week by hook or by crook and go somewhere - anywhere - else next Christmas. I don't care if it's just the hotel on the other side of town!

With the mood miraculously lightening as soon as the decorations came down, I really needed a break to get over the holiday stress. So I wrote off last week as a warm-up session to get back into gear. Some decluttering to make the most of the extra Christmas recycling collections (always a foolproof way of getting into a good frame of mind) and a bit of light creative work.

Fun with patterns...

...cack-handed attempts at bead-sewing...

...and helping my friends over at Colin's Chicks redesign their forum.

If, like me, you're a massive fan of ITV1 show Dancing On Ice, this is a fun and friendly website dedicated to the 2011 runner-up professional skater Colin Ratushniak. As he's had to miss this year due to other commitments, the Chicks are working on keeping his fans informed of the projects he's working on these days, as well as letting the Powers That Be know that there's a big demand for him to come back in the next series.

Also over the new year, I learned a brilliant new verb.


Used in a sentence:

RESOLVE to stop fiddle-farting around on the Internet or with the TV remote control and start dedicating myself 100% to my life’s work.

Taken from the list of 12 artists' resolutions posted on ArtBizBlog, the website of art business coach Alyson Stanfield. Feel free to study the list for yourself and download the poster. Plenty of food for thought on it, whether you're an artist or not.

Which of us is never guilty of fiddle-farting at least a couple of times a day? It's very likely you got alerted to this blog post during a fiddle-farting session. In fact you probably only clicked on the link because it had the word "farting" in it!

For someone like me, working from home, it's an occupational hazard. There's no start and end time, no one to tell me what to do. Home life and work life get blurred into one. I can work whenever I feel inspired and take downtime whenever I feel tired.

My business depends on a bit of constructive fiddle-farting. If I'm not on Twitter I might miss a link to a really useful website. If I don't check Facebook I could lose the chance to leave useful advice for a fellow freelancer who would then, in turn, give me feedback on my own work. Doodling my pencils over a colouring pattern is an exercise in creative problem solving and colour experimentation. It isn't just me desperately avoiding growing up, honest! In fact, let's be brutal, I write this blog not because I'm obsessed with sharing my innermost thoughts but because I hope someone takes pity on me and buys a T shirt.

So when you're your own boss, success or failure hangs on knowing when to be disciplined and when to indulge in a few minutes' fiddle-farting.

Time to take my own advice then and get prepared for a brand new year. What have I got planned? Well getting the ideas is always the easy part! I'm working on improvements to the online shops which will make it much easier for you to buy my art from me, so look out for some surprises on that front very soon. I'm also going to put together some previews of all the projects I want to work on over the year and hopefully this will help me with fundraising. There's also the big challenge of trying to branch out into getting clients from local printers and small businesses (that's really scary when you're pretty much housebound and out of practice in dealing with actual real human beings!)

The rest of the time can be spent sniffing around for new networking opportunities, showcases for my work and any other chance to flex my creative muscles. All of which, you might guess, will come from a productive session of fiddle-farting.