My favorite graphic design resources | Ballast Notes

Welcome to Ballast Notes, a new venture from Anchored Creative Studio! Ballast Notes are different resources for nonprofits and small businesses looking to DIY their brand, new graphic designers looking to learn more about freelance skills, and more. 

This is part two of a series on how to learn graphic design skills on your own time. To read about my start as a professional designer and tips on how to start your career, check out part one

On last week's blog, I wrote about my design story and some general ideas to help you get started on a possibly creative career or hobby. This week, I wanted to provide some actual, tactile links and ideas to get you started on learning.

Although I took some community college courses in graphic design, I learned almost everything I know from firsthand experience or online tutorials and resources. There's plenty of pros to getting a degree in graphic design or a related field, but I also want anyone interested in design to know that's not the only route you can take! 

Without further ado, some of my favorite resources:

For learning design skills and lettering: 

  • Skillshare: Oh, Skillshare. This is and will always be my #1. With a free trial and low yearly subscription, it's easy to try out Skillshare without committing. There are some really great design tutorials on Skillshare ranging from basics like Photoshop 101 to specific skills like creating a repeating pattern in Illustrator. All of their classes have a project associated with them, so you'll come out at the end actually creating something. 
  • Brit + Co: Like Skillshare, Brit + Co has a ton of really fun and useful online courses in graphic design and other arts. Ranging from digital illustration to how to interview for a remote position, there's a lot of useful topics in their library that show specific skills 
  • I've never personally used Lynda, but have heard great things about their online courses. I've also heard a rumor that some libraries have subscriptions that members can use for free! Most of the courses on this site are longform and build off one another, which can be good for a designer looking to really brush up on their skills or start from scratch. Their classes are also categorized by skill level. 
  • YouTube: Seriously, whenever I don't know how to create something in Adobe, I just go to YouTube. This is my number one way of troubleshooting anything. 
  • The Postman's Knock: This is a site dedicated mainly to calligraphy lettering, but I highly recommend checking it out if that's something that interests you. They have courses called "Learn Lettering for a Latte," where you can download lettering worksheets for just $5 - and trust me, they're worth it.
  • Every-Tuesday: This blog has both some amazing classes you can pay to take and tons of free blog post resources. They also have a great Creative Market account where you can purchase graphics and some lovely fonts for an affordable price. These tutorials are also great for learning specific skills, especially in Illustrator, Photoshop and lettering.
  • Adobe: You've probably seen these tutorials pop up when you load an Adobe program, and immediately close out of them - but they're actually worth checking out when you have some spare time. These tutorials also include the time it takes to run through the tutorial, so you know around how long it will take. Most are fairly quick, and it's a great way to learn to use new tools within the Adobe programs.
  • Other online or local classes: With all the free resources out there, it's sometimes hard to fork over any cash to learn these new skills. But there's a lot to be said for learning in person. Check out local studios, art spaces and more for different workshops to learn new skills and meet new people. Community college courses (in-person or online) are also a great way to learn more in-depth skills at a fraction of the cost of traditional college courses. 

For logo and branding inspiration: 

  • Pinterest: When I first joined Pinterest, it was basically just for recipes and travel inspiration. But nowadays, I almost exclusively use it as a professional resource. It's an amazing way to follow fellow creatives, create inspiration boards, and even collab with clients on the direction for their projects. Also, there's a Pinterest algorithm to find similar pins to what you've already Pinned, so it basically does the work for you! 
  • Dribbble: Dribbble is quite elusive (you need to be invited to join), but you can still browse the great work on the site without joining. You can even search work by colors, which can be especially great while trying to find color inspiration.
  • Behance: Behance is like LinkedIn for graphic designers, and is a great place to both showcase your work and find inspiration. If there's a great campaign or brand whose work I really love, I'll search them to try and find their staff designers or freelancers as a way of finding more in-depth inspiration. 

For fonts and graphics, and more:

  • Creative Market: I get 90% of my fonts and other graphics come from Creative Market. It's an amazing resource to support fellow graphic designers and artists, and is also fairly inexpensive. There's a giant variety of things to check out, from watercolor drawings to mockups.
  • Resource Cards: This is a random little website I found that lists lots of good resources for designers, like iconography sites. 
  • Adobe Typekit: It took me far too long to figure out that Typekit is included in every Adobe membership. Sync all kinds of cool fonts for free with all of your Adobe programs. 
  • Font Squirrel: Free fonts that you can use in all your projects? Yes please! 

Now that you're ready to go with these awesome resources, start creating! As you naturally find your groove with your favorite types of design to create, you may start thinking about the types of paid positions you'll be looking for. Be sure to stop back next week as we tackle that! 

In next week's Ballast Notes, we'll be wrapping up this series on kickstarting your graphic design career or interest with part three, focusing on how to figure out what type of professional position you may want to look for, and the pros and cons to those types of positions. 


Prioritizing Long Term Planning in Your Businesss

This post originally appeared as a guest article in the Rising Tide Society's October 2017 Creative Entrepreneur's Guide to Business Planning

As a solopreneur or small business owner, it’s easy for long-term planning to fall off your to-do list. Seeking out clients, promoting your business and doing client work becomes a priority during your day-to-day work, and without the right business planning in place, you can get years into your work and realize you haven’t taken the right steps to evolve your business to the level you want to be at. There has to be a better way to long-term plan than just writing ideas down and forgetting to act on them, right? The only way to achieve those long term goals you want in your business is to properly plan for them. As someone who is not naturally organized, that idea might make you want to immediately scroll right past this article and never look back. But I promise these steps are simple, non-painful ways to build structure and make big strides in prioritizing your long-term business planning.

Set up a time each week to review your ideas and prioritize them.

Sometimes I get blindsided by a great idea and want to act on it immediately. But when I look back on work I did quickly after inspiration hit me, it’s not as refined and as well thought-out as it could have been if I’d worked through it more thoroughly.

Make an idea wall.

So, what to do with those ideas you’re not going to act on right away? Store them! I need things in front of me to remember to actually do them, so I have a physical idea wall next to my desk. I have running paper lists of blog ideas, social media posts, and bigger ideas for my business. Also, I’m an avid Pinterest pinner. Whenever I see colors, branding, illustrations, and more that I’d love to use, I make sure to save them on my Pinterest boards. This way, they’re tucked away in one place so I can look at them whenever I need them.

Keep yourself in check with monthly and quarterly goals.

For all of those larger business goals, I have monthly and quarterly check-ins with myself to tackle them. As a small business owner, it’s often difficult to prioritize those big picture ideas; I use these check-ins to break big goals into manageable pieces. At the beginning of every quarter, I map out an overarching goal for my business, with smaller action items for each month of that quarter. Usually, the goals for my months and quarters evolve organically through what I’ve been putting on my idea wall and to-do lists, and fit in with the needs of both my clients and my business. For example, I already know my main Q4 goal will be to create more content through courses and blog posts. One of my smaller monthly goals might be to complete writing and designing a course for clients, or to create a social media content calendar for the upcoming year. Although priorities may change depending on extenuating circumstances, it’s often easier to set your business priorities with a clear mindset when you know what you’re choosing to focus on that quarter. Establishing clear goals and strategy for your business will help you achieve goals and see true growth in your business.

Build long term goals into your payment structure and hourly time.

Last, but certainly not least. One of the biggest (and easiest!) mistakes an entrepreneur can make is not making sure they have the time and money to allow themselves to prioritize strategically growing their business. Be sure to work at least a few hours a week growing your own business through checkins and website, social media, and blog management. Figure out the best way for build those hours into your payment structure so you feel comfortable spending non-billable hours on yourself. Building this into your long-term structure will allow you to be more organized when it come to growing your company, and not letting that growth fall by the wayside.


Design Tutorial: Creating Solid Backgrounds in Photoshop

It's my cat's birthday today! For anyone who knows me personally, they know that Roscoe Santangelo is my little BFF that I spend an inordinate amount of time with since I work from home most days. A few days ago, I set up a little birthday photo shoot for him so I could get a good picture for social media, complete with confetti (which he kept trying to eat). I wanted the background to be white, so I set up a couple pieces of white posterboard, but it didn't totally come out the way I wanted to. 

Most people assume that if they can't get the background they want in a photo, it's a lost cause. This couldn't be further from the truth, because it's actually super easy to do - all you need are some basic Adobe Photoshop skills and about 15 minutes.

Here's the steps you need to make it happen:

  • When you're setting up your photo, make sure you have something in the photo that you can base your background off of. For me, it was the while posterboard. Even though I couldn't get it all in the frame, it's still a large part of the image. And most importantly, I wouldn't have to edit the background of any of the main elements of the picture (the cat and confetti). Basically, be sure that it's easy to remove all the parts of the photo you don't want to use.
  • Once you import into Photoshop, create a Layer from your Background Layer use the Lasso Tool to select the parts of the photo you want to take out. The best way to do this is to select big swatches that include very little of the background color you want (white, in this case). This way, Photoshop can tell that you're going to want that background to look white. Once selected, hit shift + F5, or Edit > Fill to use your Content Aware tool. Make sure "Content-Aware" is selected before hitting "OK."
  • It will probably take some trial and error before Photoshop figures out what you want the background to look like, but your background will look much more natural once it gets the hang of it. After most of your image is done, you're likely going to have a few parts the Content Aware tool can't figure out, or just look a little funky. To get rid of these, use the Clone Stamp tool, which you can access in the main Photoshop toolbar or by hitting "S." Make sure you have the correct layer selected, and simply click and hold down Alt in the area you'd like to copy. Then, use the tool to paint the cloned area. Just like with brushes and Erase, you can change the opacity and brush size of this.
  • The Smudge or Blur tool is also great to use if you need to smudge up an area. 

And that's it! It's relatively simple exercise to make a big difference in your photos. Check out the video below to see my process and the finished product - it only took me about 12 minutes to remove my background and add some text to the image. 

Design Decoded: Why Do I Need a Vector Logo?

A vector format logo in all of our brand services at Anchored Creative Studio, and it's something that is purposefully listed first in all of our services. To me, it's the first thing any business should look for when evaluating the branding work a graphic designer is planning to do for them. 

So, what's so important about a vector logo?

There are two types of graphics: vector and raster. I wrote more about the difference between the two in a blog post earlier this year, but the basics are that raster graphics are composed of pixels and are a set size, whereas vector graphics are composed of vectors (intuitive, yes?) and can be scaled up or down to be as large or small as you would like. 

Because raster logos are composed of pixels, they become pixelated and blurry when scaled up or down. Pixels are tiny boxes of color that take up a tiny box (which is called a pixel).

Sounds great, but what does that mean for my business?

A pixelated and blurry version of my company logo

A pixelated and blurry version of my company logo

You know what I was saying about graphics becoming pixelated when you try to size them up or down? When you do this to a logo that's saved as a raster graphic, it gets very blurry, very quickly. Having a pixelated logo can make your organization look unprofessional or amateur. 

Always having a vector format of your logo on hand is important so you can hand it off to any organization that's using your logo for events, or in the case you need to make a change to your logo in the future. If you don't have that vector file, it's difficult to make changes to your logo while still maintaining its original integrity. With a file logo, your logo can be blown up as large as a billboard or as small as a matchbox and still look crisp and clear. 

How can I tell if a file is saved as a vector?

Vector files will have the file extension of .ai, .eps, .svg or .pdf. And that's it! If you have a logo saved in .pdf format, I would recommend verifying with a graphic designer that this .pdf is a native file, since a .pdf can also be a raster file. A "native file" is the original file the designer created the graphic in, as opposed to a copy of the file in a different format. All vector files can't be viewed on your computer unless you have vector software, like Adobe Illustrator. 

So, should I ever use a raster version of my logo?

Yes! There's a huge value to raster versions of your logo. Vector files are important for long term usages, but raster files are the versions you'll be using on an everyday basis. Raster files include .png, .jpg and .gif files, which you are likely familiar with. These files can be opened on all computers and smartphones, and you don't need any special programs to look at them. 

Any other tips your average person should know about vector files? 

When starting a new brand, have as many logo files as possible! You only need one vector file per each type of logo, but it's helpful to have large, small, and social media-sized logos for each color and variation of your logo. Most of Anchored Creative Studio's branding packages include up to 16 logo files at the end of the branding process, so the client is armed and ready to go with everything they need.

Questions? Shoot me an email! I'm always happy to chat about design questions!


Design Tutorial: Placing Photos in a Shape in Photoshop

It took me way too long to figure out clipping masks in Photoshop. I'm a little embarrassed to say that for a long time, I was cropping images to the size I wanted them to be in a separate Photoshop file and then placing them. This does not have to be the case! Clipping masks can quickly become one of your favorite Photoshop tools, and will expose you to some of the more advanced ways to make awesome graphics for your brand.

Why use clipping masks? For the purposes of what I'm explaining today, it's an awesome way to place a photo or other graphic in a certain shape. This could be a simple rectangle, or a circle, line, triangle, star, or other shape you can easily make with the Shape tool in Photoshop. If you want to get fancy, you could place an image or graphic over other graphics like handlettering or logos (as long as it fits into your brand's guidelines, of course), and even text. This is an amazing way to utilize brand patterns and make fun graphics for social media and other digital communications.

But to keep it simple (like the GIF in this post says), let's start with a photo collage for social media. For the small business owner or nonprofit that's looking to DIY some of their design work, this is a quick way to make a professional design that doesn't take a ton of time. Doing design yourself doesn't mean your design can't still look great. 

Here's the steps:

  1. Create a new document in Photoshop; make sure the background layer is color you'd like it to be.
  2. Make your shapes. If you have several shapes you're placing images or graphics in, I would recommend making each into its own layer group. It makes things a little less confusing and makes sure you don't accidentally mix up your shapes!
  3. Place your graphic(s). Save the images to your computer if you haven't done so yet. Then, go to File > Place Embedded and place your first graphic or image. Make sure the graphic layer is placed on top of your shape layer. You can move the layers around in the layers panel if you need to.
  4. Right click your graphic layer and choose "create clipping mask." Ta-da! You've created your clipping mask! If you need to move your graphic layer around to make it look better, you can do so with the Move tool, and can make it larger or smaller with Transform (command + T, or Edit > Free Transform; hold down shift to keep proportions).

Below is a short video to see exactly what it looks like in action, specifically steps 3 and 4. Any questions? Drop em in the comments! Hopefully this tutorial is helpful for your small biz.