Saturday, October 31, 2015

Stencil Art - Illustration Friday: Bouquet

I've never really done stencil art before, so this portrait of a woman in a flower hat is new for me.
Stencil art portrait of a woman in a flower hat by North Carolina artist Natalie Schorr

I was inspired by the wonderful flowered hats that Ashley Nell Tipton from this season's Project Runway featured in her runway show. They seemed to be the right inspiration for this week's word, "bouquet."

Stencils are kind of like block printing, and there are a number of ways to approach stenciling. It can get quite complicated, especially when you start getting into multiple stencil layers.

It's going to take a while to get the hang of it. However, it was a great day to play with stenciling because I was actually off work, and because I warned everyone that if I didn't get in some art therapy, I would be way too stressed to make it through another week.

They wisely chose to give me that time.

This piece is done with 2 stencils, then colored with acrylics and watercolors, and printed on heavy vintage paper with printing.

Like a lot of my current drawings, you can purchase this piece at ottoblotto on Etsy.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Illustration Friday: Villain

People often ask me if I know the people I draw. The answer is no. I mostly draw from mug shots.

Library People #146, a graphite drawing by Nortth Carolina portrait artist Natalie SchorrMug shots are in the public domain, so there is no worry that someone will come after you for use of the image. Still, one never knows how people will feel about these things.

The word for Illustration Friday this week is Villain. While a few of the people I draw could definitely be classified as villains, most are just your garden variety public drunk-and-disorderly types. Would you know a villain if you saw one?

I kind of doubt I could spot a villain in a lineup. Sometimes the tattooed stranger is really an OK guy, while the little grandmother type turns out to be the villain.

Life is funny that way.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Work of Drawing

Drawing is my comfort food. My hips might have a different opinion, so I will call drawing comfort food for my brain, and maybe my soul. And while I work at it, it doesn't feel like work.

Library People #139, a pencil portrait drawing by Natalie SchorrOne of the best things about drawing is that it requires very little equipment, is generally not messy, and you can always walk away from it and come back later, and things will be exactly the same as when you left. No worries about things drying and not being easy to rework the way you have with painting, and no monumental cleanup the way you have with printmaking.

Being able to walk away so you attend to the less enjoyable things in life, like work that actually pays you money, is important too. And so it is with my life.

Because my life is so filled with work these days, I have decided to let drawing off the hook, so to speak, by not taking any more commissions. I have decided to draw what I want, when I want, and leave the rest of life to be the work part.

This has been one of the best decisions I have made in a long time. I have quit worrying about trying to make something that has the potential to sell, and just started making things that speak to me in whatever whispered tones they have at the moment.

Of course, I do still like to make a little extra money with art, so I have revisited Etsy, and started putting some of my drawings into products on Zazzle. You can share my joy if you like, but please don't ask me to work for you.

ottoblotto on Etsy
Incomplete Thoughts on Zazzle

Saturday, March 08, 2014

I Wear My Grandad's Clothes

My grandmother died recently; she was 96. She was my last remaining grandparent, my father's stepmother. Arrangements were made to have us all meet at her home on the morning of the funeral to read the will and divide up a few things. It sounded like the tedious sort of thing you would normally equate with preparing one's taxes or having a colonoscopy. But it's all part of the life cycle.

My daughter was away at college, but I got my son and husband, and pep-talked them into getting on board with this activity. We found a pair of pants my husband could get on over all the bandage/drainage stuff that wasn't a pair of sweats, and my son coaxed his dad into a red bow tie from TJ Maxx as compensation for having to endure a day of funerary festivities.

We made it to the house with seconds to spare. We all exchanged the normal niceties and enjoyed coffee, Danishes, and grapes, courtesy of the assisted living folks who really just wanted us to get everything out so they could rent her house to someone else.

Now, I had never actually been to a "reading of the will" event, and had no idea what to expect. And really, I wasn't expecting anything beyond a free lunch and the opportunity to visit with a couple of cousins I had not seen in decades. The will was read. Some paintings and photographs were divided up with the key players getting to make a choice according to the numbers they had drawn. Then, we were introduced to "the bags." Take a bag, fill it with whatever was left. Put it in your car. Get another bag. Do the same. Basically, it all had to go.

The will calls this stuff "residue." If I were to die now, the amount of residue would be insane, but my grandparents had a very manageable amount. So everyone started to go through their stuff. And that's where the fun began.

I went to my grandmother's closet, and we pulled out hats and scarves and handbags galore. At the amusing suggestion of my aunt, all the women picked a hat, and we wore her hats to the funeral. I think she would have been amused. But it was not until we dug into my grandfather's closet that I found this gem: a circa 1976 textured polyester coat in a patriotic red, white, and blue pattern. How cool is that? I think it was the find of the day, personally.

The real find of the day, however, was the laughter we were able to enjoy. It turned out to not be weepy, or tense, or morbid. It was fun, and perhaps even a bit healing. My grandfather and I had not had any relationship for the last decade of so of his life because of his refusal to accept my decision to adopt a child of color. So I wonder how he feels, looking from beyond the grave at my son, lounging in the satin pajamas of a grandfather he never knew. Or at me, strutting about in my grandad's clothes like a hip hop star?

I guess we'll have to wait and see.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Fun With Anthropomorphics

I actually engaged in a little art therapy a couple of weeks ago, which resulted in this indifferent little harpy. She started with a digital collage, then a drawing with a sharpie that was scanned and reworked in Photoshop. I liked her so much I used her for some fun products that will never sell on Zazzle.

Zazzle is great to work with, and I have over 60,000 products there. Sadly, it doesn't come close to making me a living, which is why I also work at the Christian place and the Big Box. It is like a giant vortex, sucking the life out of me. Meh.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Quiet Face of Cancer

I did a drawing of my husband recently, which is not really unusual. I've been drawing pictures of him for the last 20 years we've been married. He is one of those rare people that, seriously, never changes. Until this time.

It was only going to be a little sketch, drawn on the inside of a discarded library book. A face I had seen for so long. Something, somehow, had changed this time. It was almost imperceptible. His lips were not as full. His look was a little harder. Very quiet differences.

I would probably never have noticed the changes had I not studied his face so many times before. I remarked to him, almost quizzically, that he had suddenly become old. Now, I am thinking it wasn't the old that I was seeing. Now I think it was the cancer.

I think it would be interesting to have a morning selfie every day for 10, 20, even 50 years, to see the differences. Would you pick up on the changes? Would it be possible to see cancer coming, like an early warning system?

I dunno.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

And I Think It's Gonna Be a Long Long Time...

Yes, it's been a long time since I blogged. I'm sorry about that. The past year has not been overly kind to me, and this year is not shaping up all that well so far, but I am determined to get back on track at least a little.

I was asked back in the fall to do a show of drawings for a gallery at a small local college, which actually got me to drawing again, only to have the show abruptly cancelled because they "didn't have time to do the publicity right," and could I maybe do the show next year.


As it was, I had been drawing all these people I work with down at the Big Box Store, and had promised them their portraits once the show was over with. So I just gave the drawings away and moved on. Here's my favorite from the group, Veretta, a cashier at the Pro Services desk. I think she looks like a modern day Mona Lisa.

You can see a selected collection of the drawings from the show that wasn't here online at Crooked Smile. I am still working on them, especially since I no longer have a deadline, and also since my life has gotten a little bit sidetracked by my husband's cancer diagnosis and because I work 2 jobs now trying to make ends meet. Art has sort of by necessity had to take a back seat as it is not really a great way to make a living. I wish it were different. And if wishes were rocket ships, we could all visit the stars.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Too Much Tequila

I did some collages for the Christmas show at the Center for Visual Arts in Greensboro, NC. They had some funny little sayings on them. I had scanned them before I added the sayings, so I could go into a program like Zazzle and add or change the sayings and type. This is one I did called Too Much Tequila. It seemed right for this darling debutante.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Fun With New Art Dolls

I made some new art dolls; a Maid Marian doll, a Hoochie Mama doll, and a Flower Child doll. They are made from shoe stretchers, collage, and a variety of hardware and kitchen items I picked up from yard sales and the local Habitat ReStore.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Repurposing Salvaged TV Antennas

In the attic of my house there were two TV antennas thoughtfully left behind by the previous owners. I was reacquainted with them this week while working on some insulation issues in the attic. I decided it was time they got repurposed.

I mounted the more complete one on top of a 4x4, and used parts from the other one around the base. All around the poles I planted some pole beans. I'll post some pictures once the beans have climbed on it. Hopefully the birds will like it as well as a place to watch for bugs on the pond, too.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Illustration Friday: Ahead

I've done these Library People drawings for years, and I've always sold them on eBay, but I've decided not to auction them anymore. Since everyone is suffering through the Great Recession, I think it is unlikely I'll get decent bids, so I am going to move ahead and just sell them on my website. Sure, my website gets a hit once in awhile at best, but I remain hopeful that things will pick up. This is Library People 126, and she is for sale at the aforementioned website,

I also sell my work now in my Zazzle store, Incomplete Thoughts. Yes, it's reproductions. I have to make a living somehow.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

New Uses for Old Golf Clubs

I don't golf. I don't even follow the sordid details of Tiger Woods' life apart from what I read in line at the grocery store. So it comes as no real surprise that I have no real need for a set of golf clubs. However, I have managed to collect a slew of them from various places. Habitat for Humanity stores are a great place to go if you have need of such things. I really needed a way to put them to work in the garden, and trellising looked like just the right spot. I used old golf clubs and mason's line in some raised beds next to a chain link fence to make this excellent support for my sugar snap peas to grow on. Their weight makes them very stable with the addition of some rock anchors. I'm going to look for some other ways to make use of the remainder of my club collection. If you have pictures of some other uses for old golf clubs, post the links in the comments.

Repurposing Vintage Postcards

I've won a number of awards on Zazzle, which is nice. Really nice. Yesterday I got two awards; a TBA [Today's Best Award] for the stamp you see here, and a Zazzle Artist Award [my first] for this postcard design I Photoshopped together from an old postcard.

The Zazzle Artist Award gets me a feature on the front page of vintage - postcards. I'm not sure how much attention it will attract. I do like taking old postcards and repurposing them with the magic of Photoshop. That's what I did with the Save the Date postage stamp. I don't think Save the Date cards were even around back when I got married, so surely they weren't around at the time of these designs. There is, of course, a matching card to go with the postage. Check out my Vintage Greetings Store for other repurposed vintage cards, thank you's, and invitations. Great stuff from vintage wallpapers, too.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Cafepress vs Zazzle Revisited

It's been a long time since I wrote a review of my Cafepress and Zazzle experiences, as an anonymous blogger pointed out just yesterday. Since I achieved ProSeller status on Zazzle yesterday as well, I thought maybe they were right, so let me share my more recent experiences.

I have done very little work on Cafepress over the last year, having concentrated primarily on Zazzle. The reason for this is pretty simple: Zazzle stores are free. Bottom line: FREE. [Cafepress, are you listening?] Furthermore, I can set my price at anything I please on Zazzle, and that's the price it is everywhere on Zazzle. Not so on Cafepress, which no longer links back to your store that you spent so much time building, and where you control the prices. Unless you spend a lot of time getting people directly to your store, you will end up with all your sales coming from the price controlled Cafepress marketplace. It's pretty good business, but not great since I am still paying for the privilege of having the store, which also has limits on how many sections you can build. No limits with Zazzle.

Zazzle allows you to build as many stores as you like, so you can have small, very focused shops. I find that putting up a big shop full of every design idea that spills from my head is a little like walking into WalMart. When a do a focused shop like Social Butterflies, which only sells butterfly designs, I get fewer visitors, but I have a higher purchase per visitor result. The bottom line being, if they come to look at butterfly designs, then they are more likely to stay and ultimately buy something since that is all the shop carries.

I now have 17 shops on Zazzle, with no shop fees eating into my profits. Because I can gang them all together for volume bonuses and such, that makes Zazzle a good deal. At this time, I make a little more on Zazzle per month than I do on Cafepress, but because I pay no shop fees, a lot more of it ends up in my pocket. Also, since I can decide what my markup can be, I can control how much I make.

The good news overall is that the economy is picking up ever so slowly, so sales are slowly improving on both sites. And I will probably keep doing business with both sites since I do make a profit on both, but my loyalty has definitely shifted somewhat to Zazzle, because free is still a very good thing.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Adam and Eve and the Children of Eden

My kids were recently in a production of Children of Eden, a musical of questionable theology set roughly in the book of Genesis. Aside from the names of the characters, there is little that refers accurately to anything Biblical, but if you like theatrical interpretation, you may really enjoy it. Or not.

I am of the impression that pretty much all plays and concerts are about 3 songs too long. Even with the relief of an intermission, they always seem to surpass my attention span by the aforementioned 3 songs, and Children of Eden is no exception.

Children of Eden starts in the first act with the creation story, and somewhere along the way we end up at Stonehenge. [Hello? How did we get from naming animals to a ring of giant stones?] In case you are not up on your Old Testament, Stonehenge does not appear in the Bible.

By midway through the second act, which is the story of Noah and the flood, I was ready to start pitching all the characters off the ark and begging God to please let the musical end. I make a lousy thespian, especially in light of the two theatre degrees I have collecting dust in a bookshelf somewhere. Let me be clear, though; the people who put on the play did an admirable job; it is the musical itself I find tedious.

My most recent trip to the Habitat Restore, however, yielded some very inspirational bits of hardware, so I decided that an Adam and Eve sculpture would be an amusing task. Since I had been a slave to my children's rehearsal schedule for the last few months, I must have a bad case of Genesis on the brain.

I hope you like my doll sculpture. It, like the play, is suggestive of the apple eating contest between Adam and Eve that resulted in their both catching cold from the sudden draftiness one frequently experiences when camping out. Or something like that. You can look it up.

This is Dolls; We're Not Making Construction

I watched a bit of that new show on HGTV called Tough as Nails. You've likely seen the ads where Cindy Stumpo snidely declares, "This is construction; we're not making dolls." Why would I want to spend my time watching someone revel in their ability to be rude and abrasive to everyone they meet? It's an easy show to turn off.

I, on the other hand, am making dolls. My supply of shoe stretchers is holding up, so I took out another heap of them yesterday and got to work on some much needed art therapy. I had been meaning to make a bovine inspired doll for my friend, John, whose stickam site is much more engaging than an evening with Cindy Stumpo. John lives off the grid in a desolate area of Texas, and has longhorn cows that wander in and out of the premises all day. Evidently, they aren't his cows, but he doesn't seem to mind, and has become pretty good friends with one named Benita, who now has her own Facebook page.

This pair of bovine beauties is made from two shoe stretchers. The legs are spindles from a local textile mill, the facial collage is from some women's magazines from the 50's and 60's, and the various other parts are scavenged from the Habitat ReStore here in Greensboro, NC. They include various cabinet hardwares, hooks, nails, brads, leather strips, and wooden spoons.

The people over at Habitat were beginning to get curious over my frequent purchases of piles of apparently unmatched hardware jetsom and flotsam. So I shared this blog address with them. I hope they will be pleased, but there is no telling what people will really think.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Recycled Materials Birdhouses 4

This birdhouse is one I call The Meter House. This house uses side cuts and regular 1X lumber. I used old tin roofing for the roof. There is a large gas meter kind of randomly screwed to the side, because I really liked how it looked.

The opposite side has some ventilation holes covered with screening and a ceramic outlet cover. The perch is ceramic as well, with a silver toned beauty ring and a piece of rusted metal roofing.

The house is asymmetrical in design, but I figure the birds won't mind too much. Maybe they'll have creative offspring.

Recycled Materials Birdhouses 3

This is another of my recycled materials birdhouses. I'm pretty fond of this one. It uses 1X lumber along with side cuts from some old logs.

There are some key ornaments, along with drawer hardware and a door stop that is doing duty as a perch. The side hole has screening in it to protect against anything getting in through the side, but it still offers some ventilation.

The roof is made from a piece of old tin roofing from a dismantled barn. I can't wait to get it up on a tree where I can watch for future tenants.

Recycled Materials Birdhouses 2

I call this birdhouse the Arizona house, as it uses my no longer needed Arizona license plate, among other things.

We found an awesome metal scrapyard the other day. They had all these bins of old brass junk, much of which I have used on this house. It includes three different styles of drawer pulls, along with escutcheon plates, beauty rings, a key, a dog tag, and a plastic outlet cover.

My favorite part is the unusual top ornament. I just hope it doesn't act as a lightning rod.

Recycled Materials Birdhouses

For the last few days I have been doing some birdhouses. We have had an unusually cold winter, and I have been trying hard to keep all the neighborhood birds fed. Since spring is on the way, I figured birdhouses would be a good idea for my little feathered friends.

My husband and I spent the better part of a day collecting some birdhouse inspirations. We got some very cool items at the local Habitat Home Re-Store, a metal salvage yard, and the junk heap where a barn had been not so recently re-roofed.

It was just uncommon fortune that Illustration Friday chose "Propogation" for it's word of the week. I figured I would be contributing to the propogation of baby birds, so I decided to post some pictures.

This particular house uses the side cuts from some logs, some regular 1X lumber, a portion of a license plate, a metal house number, a valve stem, an electrical plate of some sort, and a sculptural head that had taken a bad fall. I still have a little caulking and weatherproofing to do, but I am pleased with my results.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Outsider Art Doll #2

This is the second art doll in the series. She's a little wacky, as evidenced by the split mouth and the spring pigtails. She's also pregnant, which may account for the cookie cutter belly. She has white porcelain knob breasts, and textile spindle legs. Her arms are made from 1/2 of a salad serving tong. The main body is an old shoe stretcher.

I'm having the distinct feeling that I'm going to have these things hanging around a long time, as they are gathering very little attention so far. Just what I need, more art.

Purchase shoe stretchers for your own dolls at

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Outsider Art Doll #1

So, I did these 11 art dolls. Personally, I love to make stuff, draw stuff, create stuff. I can do it all day and night, and frequently do. I did these dolls, and decided to list them for sale on eBay, one per night for 11 nights. It seemed like fun. This is Doll #1.

The main body of the doll is an old cedar shoe stretcher. I collaged the face from pictures in some old Ladies Home Journals I got off of eBay. The eyebrow is made from some headless nails, and the hair is from copper tacks that have been wrapped in blue coated wire. There are a pair of tiny screw breasts and a porcelain knob "bun in the oven." The legs are made from spindles discarded from an area textile mill.

I enjoyed making these dolls, as I have no social life whatsoever, so doing art kind of compensates for that, but not really. In any event, you can check back here for Doll #2 tomorrow, and you can bid on Doll #1 on eBay right now. Go ahead. Really. Why wait?

Purchase shoe stretchers for your own dolls at

Friday, September 25, 2009

Illustration Friday: Pattern

“Art is the imposing of a pattern on experience, and our aesthetic enjoyment is recognition of the pattern.” - Alfred North Whitehead

I haven't done an Illustration Friday piece in a long time, but today's theme seemed appropriate to my latest project. Art Dolls.

My father passed back in January. The last several months have found my mother and I sorting through a mountain of my father's stuff. One of the things my father was bog on was shoes. He had over 300 pairs of shoes, which we have ebayed and consigned and given away. In the process, we pulled out dozens and dozens of these shoe stretcher things. I was packing them up when I was seized by an art idea, which usually assures that my own children will have as much stuff to sort through when I die as my mother and I have since my father's death.

I brought home several boxes of these shoe stretchers. A trip to the local Habitat Re-Store and Goodwill added lots of other odds and ends, and Michael's and Lowe's rounded out the project needs. So far, I am having a lot of fun cobbling together [no pun intended] these funky dolls.

They are built on wooden shoe stretchers with spindles from a textile plant for the legs. The eyes and mouth are collaged from Ladies Home Journal magazines from the 50's and 60's. There are also curtain rod finials, a wrought iron drawer pull, handmade nails, leather scraps, plastic and metal serving spoons, a cabinet hardware backplate, string, screws, matte varnish and tacks. I plan to eBay them starting next week. I hope you'll stay tuned.

So what is the pattern? For me, I am almost always drawing people, usually portraits. These dolls are kind of like portraits for me, albeit in an obvious departure from my usual work. So I suppose people are my pattern, the thing to which I continuously return, the thing that makes me feel connected.

Purchase shoe stretchers for your own dolls at

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Allure Flooring Stinks

I don't usually write product reviews here, but I want to do an informational post on the Allure Trafficmaster Flooring from Home Depot because I suspect it is important.

Recently, I bought a new house. OK, not really new, as it was built in 1986, but it is a place to live. Anyway, it is a HUGE renovation project, and I don't exactly have tons of money. I needed to put down a floor in my bedroom after ripping out the old carpet that was there. I wanted a non-carpeted surface. While wandering through the Home Depot, I came across this vinyl floating floor from Halstead Industries called Allure Trafficmaster. It comes in boxes of plank strips that stick to one another, not your subfloor, and it looked really good. Better yet, it was reasonably priced, so I decided to go with it.

I bought 12 boxes. Eleven boxes were batch #10-10-2009, and one was #10-03-2009. I took it home and let it acclimate in its boxes for a couple of days, as one usually does with flooring. Then, in the space of only a few hours, my husband and I laid the entire 12 boxes. It looked fantastic. We moved in our furniture, closed the skylights and turned on the air conditioning, and prepared to spend our first night in the new bedroom.

As I was laying in bed, I noticed the bad odor. I opened a skylight part way, but left on the air. By morning, the smell was really bad. I turned off the air and turned on the ceiling fans, opening windows all over the house. Surely it was like a new car smell, and would dissipate quickly. It didn't.

I grew concerned, so I called the Customer Service line at Halstead. The woman registered my name and concerns, and told me that if I would wash it down a couple of times with some vinegar, it should take care of the problem. An odd idea, but I tried it. For 3 days I mopped the floor with vinegar. Now, it smelled more like a pickle factory, but that was somehow better than the strange chemical odor alternative. However, as soon as the vinegar smell dissipated, the chemical smell was back.

I Googled Allure Flooring to see if anyone else had this problem. There were a few angry complaints on various forums, but many people said the smell went away very quickly, and they loved their new floor. The only people with serious complaints seemed to be the ones who had installed it over concrete below grade who were having issues with it coming apart, and with mold trapped underneath. I had installed mine on a second floor over very dry plywood, so that wasn't it.

I had asked for an MSDS sheet on the flooring when I called, and the woman very kindly sent it to me via email. There are a lot of interesting items there. First, the MSDS sheet says it is for Metroflor Vinly Sheet Flooring and Metroflor Resilient Tile Flooring. Then, over to the side, it has a box that says Allure Vinyl Sheet Flooring and Resilient Tile Flooring. So which is it? It's hard to say. Metroflor is an upgraded product that is also manufactured by Halstead, but it is not the same product. That seemed odd. The MSDS seemed to indicate that the product was pretty innocuous though, which I tried hard to find relieving. There was a second "MSDS" sheet on the adhesive that is used to lock the floor pieces together. This didn't really look like a MSDS, rather it was a report from the Fu Hong Chemical Company, Ltd. of Taiwan. It showed a spectacular list of chemicals that sounded scary but were not detected in the sample of the adhesive. So I knew what it wasn't, but that didn't tell me exactly what it was.Hmmm....

The room got worse. It was always strangely humid in the room. My bed sheets felt cold and clammy. I was already keeping the air handler for the house going around the clock, along with a ceiling fan. I kept the adjoining bathroom window open. I added an Ionic Pro and a de-humidifier. Nothing helped. I woke up each morning with a sore throat, and sometimes my eyes would run in the night. After about a month, my daughter said, "this room is unhealthy." She's 13. Maybe she'll be a scientist.

I emailed my brother, who is a noted polymer scientist, and forwarded him the MSDS sheets Halstead had sent me. He told me that they had sent an SGS [contract testing organization] report, and he couldn't tell me what was wrong because all the report showed was a list of chemicals that were NOT found in the adhesive.

It was time to call Halstead again. The nice Customer Service woman listened to my story very patiently. She asked if I would like an "abatement kit." I asked her what that was, and she said it was a neutralizer I could apply, and then a sealer. [Alarm bells are beginning to go off in my head.] She went on to say that the product was made from recycled vinyl from China [Red flag! Red flag!] and that most batches had no odor at all, but some batches did seem to have a bad smell and she didn't know why.

OK, when you start saying that something was manufactured in China, that's when I start to get worried. It's not like the Chinese have such a great track record these days when it comes to the safety of their products. Who knows what could be hidden in this stuff? I was about to enter full panic attack mode when I heard her say "... or would you just like me to issue you a credit?" Excuse me?

The Customer Service representative asked me how many boxes I had bought. I told her I had bought 12 boxes in mid June. She said to just take my receipt to Home Depot, have them call the Halstead Customer Service line and reference my name, and they would take care of the credit. I was stunned, but I decided not to waste any time on this, so I jumped in my car and headed for the Home Depot.

At the Home Depot, the woman in returns had me speak with the Assistant Manager, who called Halstead and confirmed that I was due a $550.00 refund. They promptly credited it back to my Discover card and apologized for the inconvenience.

"Don't they want the flooring back?" I asked. Apparently not. No company rep would visit or call, no return the defective product hassle, just take the money and be on your way. It all seemed so suspiciously easy. I asked my brother the scientist about it. His take was that they knew they had an issue of some sort, and that it would be easier to pay me off rather than risk a lawsuit. Interesting.

I went home and ripped out the flooring and hauled it out of my house as quickly as I could. It took about 3 hours to rip it all up and haul it out. I opened the windows and ventilated everything. I also stripped all the sheets and bedclothes from the bed and washed them thoroughly. That was Thursday. It is now Saturday. The smell is gone, and the humidity levels have evened out considerably. I slept much more easily, and haven't had any sore throats or runny eyes since.

So exactly what is the issue with Allure Flooring? It's hard to say, as I cannot afford to test the stuff to see what it actually contained. I am extremely grateful to have it out of my home, though. And while I wasn't compensated for the time I spent laying or removing it, I really don't care. What is a few hours compared with the exposure to something terribly toxic, which is what I believe was happening with the Allure I bought.

Now, in fairness, the Assistant Manager at Home Depot said that they sell this stuff every day, and mine was the first complaint they'd ever had. So maybe not all batches are smelly. But if you think you want this flooring, be really cautious. You might get more than you bargained for.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Cafepress' New Prices Spell Trouble for Shopkeepers

Awhile back, Cafepress decided to make some changes to their marketplace; they decided to price everything in the marketplace exactly the same. I suppose this makes some sense, but the way they've gone about it hasn't exactly been great. We should look at how things are panning out.

Cafepress has always let the shopkeepers set their own prices. They have also always strongly suggested using the "Premium" price tier. That's Ok by me, so all my shops have been set up that way. Recently, though, when they decided that for the marketplace all products should be priced exactly the same, they went against their previous notion of premium pricing, and priced everything rock bottom.

I am looking at my August sales here. I have sold 11 items between 5 shops on Cafepress. That's not exactly enough to make anyone dance a jig. But it's when I compare pricing that things get really ugly.

So far in August, I have made $14.30 from these 11 items, all sold from the Marketplace. With a cost of $25 per month for my 5 Cafepress shops, I am in deep doo-doo. [a highly technical term for a losing venture] Had these same items sold a few months ago when they were priced at the Premium tier, they would have brought me $37.53. Not a lot of money, but I would at least not be losing money. [the aforementioned "deep doo-doo"] So that really sucks.

Then the question is, would those items still have sold had they been priced a few bucks higher? Maybe, maybe not. It's hard to know what the tipping point is these days. Perhaps people are not spending quite so freely anymore. Still, it is a significantly smaller amount. Is Cafepress just looking for an increase in volume, which helps them, but at these prices, it doesn't help the shopkeepers. Which brings me back to the inevitable comparison with Zazzle.

Shops are free on Zazzle, which means it costs me absolutely nothing for the 14,000+ products I have listed there in 12 different, thematically focused shops. Those shops are Birds of Paradise, Biblical T-Shirts, Celtic Dreams, God Bless the USA, ottoblotto, Live Simply, Sun and Shadows, Turtle Hero, Zodiac Attack, Halloween Time, A Total Flake, and Obsessions. Whenever I get another idea for a design group, I can just open another shop. I sure couldn't afford to do that on Cafepress, which is making me re-think that relationship just a bit.

In the same time frame, I have made $24.95 in sales through Zazzle. Cost to me, $0. It's a big difference, and since Google Trends shows Zazzle still leading in searches over Cafepress, I wonder...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Zazzle vs Cafepress - a Whole New Ballgame

I've written a lot about Cafepress and Zazzle in the past. Up to this point, Cafepress has certainly been the more profitable choice in Print-on-Demand, but that may be changing.

About a year ago, I began branching out from Cafepress into Zazzle and Printfection. [Print-who? Exactly.] Not long ago, I closed my Printfection shops, as they were doing nothing; not one sale. But Zazzle, on the other hand, is really rising in the ranks of POD companies.

Let's look at Google Trends. Here, the blue line represents Cafepress, and the red line represents Zazzle, and the span of this graphic is the last 12 months. Gradually, Zazzle is being searched more than Cafepress. Interesting.

Cafepress recently went through some major changes that left a number of its shop owners with their panties in a wad. They decided to make all prices throughout their Marketplace uniform, although the prices people had set in their shops would remain the same. There was much talk on discussion boards around the internet that people were going to close their shops on Cafepress and run over to Zazzle.


POD is passive income, which means that you set it up, but it doesn't require any further affort on your part to make it make money, so if you were making money on Cafepress, why would you want to mess that up? In this economy, I'll take what I can get.

Zazzle, however, is beginning to make sales for me, which is great. Not a lot of sales, but I hope it, like the rest of the economy, will begin to improve. And Zazzle has one really big advantage over Cafepress: the shops are FREE. That's huge, since I am counting every dime these days.

I've started re-vamping my existing Zazzle shops to make them easier to navigate, since I didn't really grasp that too well the first time around; the whole sections and subsections thing is a little confusing. Plus, I've added some new, tightly focused shops, which I couldn't afford to do on Cafepress because it would cost too much while waiting for the designs to get better ranked.

I opened Zodiac Attack on Zazzle. It carries only Zodiac themed designs, but there are beginning to be a fair number to choose from.

I opened Sun and Shadows on Zazzle. It currently has only sun themed designs in it, but I'll branch out from that eventually.

Last night I opened A Total Flake on Zazzle, which has winter themed designs. It isn't likely to be real popular here in June, but I hope to have it fully stocked by the time fall arrives.

My other Zazzle shops include the new Birds of Paradise, along with Biblical T Shirts, ottoblotto, and Live Simply, which is going through a major overhaul right now. Will they come out making more money then Cafepress? It will be interesting to see.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Obsessive Chihuahua Disorder

I wrote this squidoo lens on Obsessive Chihuahua Disorder. Like my lenses on Dating Space Aliens or Retrosexual Women, it is meant to be funny. I can never decide if people "get it," although they seem to be. Anyway, I think it is a pretty amusing read if you want to stop by.

I am still trying to crack the code of what lenses actually sell something. My sales have now skyrocketed to a whole $2.34, plus I made $3.38 for just having some well ranked lenses. OK, well, sort of well ranked lenses. I can see the blank looks on the faces of my loved ones as they ask, "For this you missed The Office?"

So I have no life. Got it.

Anyway, like the meager amount I'm making currently at Cafepress and Zazzle, I am not really doing well. I suppose if I were selling some product that would remove the hair from the palms of teenaged boys, I'd be in.

Say, do you know of an affiliate program for that?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Passing

It is with deep sorrow that I announce the passing of my father. I did manage to get to North Carolina a few hours before he died, which was a blessing. I may be on and off with my posting for a bit; I appreciate eveyone's prayers.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Cafepress vs Printfection vs Zazzle Part 3

This is my third article comparing the relative success I am having with these three Print on Demand companies. If you would like to read the others first, they are:
Cafepress vs Printfection vs Zazzle
Cafepress vs Printfection vs Zazzle Part 2

Today being January 1, I'd like to look back at my December sales with each store to see how they performed.

At Cafepress I have 4 premium stores: ottoblotto, Soup to Nuts, The Happy Nest Site, and Biblical T Shirts. My 13 year old daughter also has a store: Bird Geek.

Here are my results by store. In ottoblotto I sold items from the following designs:
Obsessive Chihuahua Disorder
Pool Boy
It's My Mother's Fault
Obsessive Catfish Disorder
Unsocialized Homeschoolers Bumper Sticker
I Love My Bouvier des Flandres
Token Straight Friend
My Heart is in Forks
I Love My Irish Wolfhound
Ask Me About My Pink Slip
I Love My Alpine Goats

In Soup to Nuts I sold items from the following designs: I Love My Nigerian Dwarf Goats
I Love My Brussels Griffon

In The Happy Nest Site I sold items from the following designs:
My Quaker Parrot Ate My Homework
My Chickens Ate My Homework
Obsessive Cockatiel Disorder
Toucans Rule
Macaws Rule

In Biblical T Shirts I sold items from the following designs:
1 John 14:6
Proverbs 27:17
Psalm 139:14
Groovy Christian Chick
John 3:16 Albanian
John 3:16 Maori
John 3:16 Portuguese

In Bird Geek my daughter sold items from the following designs:
I Smell Popcorn [I wish she'd sold more]

Several designs sold multiple items. I sold 9 items from the Obsessive Chihuahua Disorder design. It was certainly the best month I've ever had, but is it enough to call a living? Hardly. All that represents an income of $217.76 [at premium price level] less the monthly shop fees for 5 shops.

I have 3 shops with Zazzle: Live Simply, Biblical T Shirts, and ottoblotto. December saw my first sales at Zazzle. Here's how Zazzle shakes down.
In Live Simply I sold items from the following designs:
Obsessive Coonhound Disorder
Obsessive Cockatiel Disorder

In Biblical T Shirts I sold items from the following designs:
John 3:16 Swedish
John 3:16 Haitian Creole
John 3:16 Slovak

In ottoblotto I made no sales.

That gives me a combined earning from Zazzle of $13.13. Wow.

I have 3 shops with Printfection: ottoblotto, Biblical T Shirts, and Birds of Paradise.
I have yet to make a sale with Printfection.

One thing you might notice about all the designs that sold: they contain no art. They are just words. I have had a huge number of my Library People on Cafepress along with other art. It just doesn't sell. So if you are looking to make money, you might take these results into consideration.

You might also see that pets, be it birds or dogs or chickens or goats, are likely your biggest sellers.

Another thing I've found is that with my Biblical designs, it is mostly the non-English designs that sell. Also, Christmas being a Christian holiday, one might think there would be more sales of Christian designs, but apparently not.

I use a variety of ways to advertise my stores including my email signature, blogs, articles, and telling everyone I know. Still, not one single sale this month came from any of those efforts, despite numerous people telling me they would be shopping this Christmas in my shops. All my sales came directly from the marketplace. Another thing to take into account.

I hope these articles are helpful to you if you are currently working in POD, or thinking of getting started with a POD company. If you have experience here that can be helpful to us, please comment.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Cafepress vs Printfection vs Zazzle Part 2

OK, for those of you who are in POD, or are considering getting started in POD, this is another in a series of random observations regarding the online POD opportunities.

November is over. We find out today that we are in an official recession, and have been for a whole year now. Duh. I certainly didn't need a committee to tell me that. However, November's sales were somehow promising, if only temporarily. Here's how it racks up.

On Cafepress, I made sales of items in the following designs:
Psalm 139:14
Don't Make Me Break Out in Tourette's
John 3:16 Czech
Guitar Boy
Unsocialized Homeschool Children on Board
I Love My Norwegian Elkhound
I Love My Flock
We are Unsocialized
Obsessive Cockatiel Disorder
Obsessive Catfish Disorder
I Love My Toy Manchester Terrier
I Love My Nubian Goats
Tasmanian Devil in Tutu
John 3:16 Hungarian
I Love My Alpine Goats
Obsessive Chihuahua Disorder

OK, that's not great, but considerably better than any month in recent memory.

On Zazzle, I made sales of items in the following designs:
None. No sales.

And on Printfection?
Zero. Nada. Zip.

Interesting. I checked what was going on between the three websites over on Google Trends. Here is the result.

The blue line represents search volume for Cafepress, and the yellow line represents Zazzle. Printfection's numbers are so small, they don't even make it to the chart.

Of course, you could make the case that since I have more designs on Cafepress, that accounts for much of the discrepancy. However, I don't have that many more designs on Cafepress, and Zazzle and Printfection offer a number of items not available on Cafepress.

All of this suggests that, although galleries are free on Zazzle and Printfection, you may get exactly what you pay for. We'll see how December stacks up.

See Cafepress vs Printfection vs Zazzle
See Cafepress vs Printfection vs Zazzle Part 3

Sunday, November 23, 2008

St Joseph Will Help Sell Your House

I am trying to sell my house so I can get out of Arizona. Could I have picked a worse time to do so? I doubt it.

My real estate agent is of the opinion that I have about as good a chance of being hit by lightning as selling my house. I can't decide if I appreciate his candor or not.

Some friends advised me that the thing I needed to do was to bury a statue of St. Joseph upside down in the front yard, and a sale would surely be forthcoming. Being as how I'm not Catholic, this was news to me, so I looked it up online, which is pretty much how I start anything these days.

St. Joseph refers to Joseph, the adoptive father of Jesus. If you will remember, he had a lot of housing issues. There was no room in the inn, so they took up residence in a stable. Then, they fled to Egypt, then they returned, but this time to blend into the quiet of Nazareth. So if you think about it, he should be plenty sympathetic to people with housing issues.

I researched online, and found that most authorities on this subject say that you should bury your statue of Joseph upside down in the front yard, with him facing your house, and in close proximity to the For Sale sign. If he faces the street, then the house across the street may sell instead of yours. However, if you have neighbors you don't like, you might try burying a statue of St. Joseph upside down pointing toward their house, so that maybe St. Joseph will get them packing instead.

Needless to say, I now have his statue buried in my yard, accompanied by many prayers. Now what I need is a good thunderstorm.

The drawing is Library People #116. 

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Illustration Friday: Pretend

I am back to drawing Library People. This is #112 in the series. It is a graphite drawing on the inside of a discarded library book. Since my husband is between jobs, like so many other Americans, it seemed like a good time to go back to these, as they usually sell. I'm not going to pretend this will get us through the current hard economical times, but we'll all do what we can.

We are trying to sell our house here in Phoenix so we can move back to North Carolina, buy a farm, and do more recycled art. Anyone looking for a nice home in Phoenix? Have I got a bargain for you.

Our family has decided to all paint rocks this year for Christmas presents, since we're trying to save for the aforementioned move. There are a lot of rocks in Arizona, so you can pick them up just about anywhere, and they're free, which is a big selling point, since even discarded library books cost money. It will certainly make for an interesting holiday.

Or not.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Return of the Library People

Library People return. It's been a long time since I did any of these. Not that they are all that difficult, but I got a little burned out on them. These are Library People #107-111, and they are, like all the others, drawn in graphite on the insides of discarded library books.

Ed Begley would be so proud.

Anyway, they are up for auction on eBay beginning tonight at 9:00 Pacific, so if you click on the picture you like, it will take you to that auction. I'm offering them in a block so you can save on postage if you buy more than one. They make unusual Christmas presents, perfect for the person who has everything.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Designing Skateboards for Zazzle

I started designing skateboards for Zazzle. I looked for a long time through the seven trillion designs they have there before I started. It's pretty incredible some of the designs they have. The long, thin design surface of a skateboard requires that you think creatively about your design composition, as some images just don't lend themselves readily to the skateboard layout. Realistically, I'm not a skateboarder. In fact, I've been bedridden for several weeks with a back injury, so jumping on my son's skateboard is pretty out of the question. But if I could, I'd probably want the one with the eyes. You can see my skateboards at my new Zazzle store, ottoblotto. Real original idea, huh?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Payloadz and the World of Instant Information

Internet marketing people are everywhere; you can't throw a rock on the web without hitting one. They've all written the definitive book, whitepaper, webinar, podcast, or whatever about how you, too, can make a bazillion dollars on the web, and for a mere $495.72, you can know their personal secrets. Yeah, whatever.
Some of them have written actually published books. I usually peruse them at my local Barnes and Noble for free, and if I find them interesting, I check them out of my local library, which is also free. You can learn a lot for less than $495.72.

One of the interesting things I learned about was a service called Payloadz. On Payloadz, you can upload your information product, be it how to compost with worms or how to make that aforementioned bazillion bucks, and make it instantly available to the entire world, day or night. You simply build a web page for your product, provide a link for them to pay through Paypal via Payloadz, and that's it. Payloadz handles the payment and download stuff. All you do is transfer the money from Paypal to your bank account and go merrily on your way.

It sounds too good to be true, and to some degree, it is. First you have to produce an information product, presumably on something about which you know a little bit. Secondly, you have to key into an audience that is actually interested in the information you've produced, be it worm composting or Internet marketing, which, when you think about it, are pretty much the same thing.

I wrote a study on Homophones for teachers and homeschoolers, which sells occasionally, although I think the actual number of people with a keen interest in English Homophones is likely pretty small.

If you have no real body of knowledge, and no inclination to produce an information product, it's not a problem. Lots of products on Payloadz have an affiliate option, so all you need to provide is enthusiasm and a web page with the appropriate links. Then just sit back and rake in the money. Or not.

There is still the issue of finding the significant number of people out there who are desperate for information on homophones or worm composting or Internet marketing, which is discussion for a different day.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Cafepress - Which Shop is Right for You?

I have 4 different shops on Cafepress. One shop is totally customized, two shops make use of the Cafepress templates, and one is a free, basic shop. Let's take a look.

My Basic Shop is Horriblescopes. It features a "My Life Sucks" design that goes along with the website it promotes, Horriblescopes is a free horoscope website I write that is of a decidedly spoof nature. The Basic Shop allows me to use any number of designs, but I can list each product only once. For example, if I list a Women's Plus Size Scoop Neck T-shirt with the "My Life Sucks" design on it, then I can't list another Women's Plus Size scoop Neck T-shirt in my Basic Shop. I can put a logo header at the top of the shop, but I can't use any kind of fun template to spruce up the shop any further. You can have as many free shops as you want. So, if you have 50 designs, you can have 50 different shops. It's a pain in the rear to keep up, though, and because your content won't be changing, it's not going to be the darling of any major search engine.

I have 2 Cafepress Premium Shops that use the Cafepress templates. The first shop is Biblical T Shirts. It features a series of t-shirts with scriptural quotes, many in multiple languages. For example, the scripture John 3:16 has designs in 16 different languages. Strangely, I have never sold an English version of this design, although I have sold it in other languages. Go figure. This shop uses a custom logo the same as the Horriblescopes shop, but because you can do so much more with the templates and customization, it looks much spiffier.

The second Premium Cafepress Shop I have is my ottoblotto shop. This was my first shop, and its focus has evolved over the years. It is about due for a facelift; I'll let you know when that happens. Anyway, it does not use a custom logo, and goes pretty straightforwardly off the template. You can see that it is possible to make a good shop using the template even if you have no HTML skills. But I think a more custom shop looks better.

My 4th Cafepress shop is the Happy Nest Site Shop. It is a shop that uses all custom stuff: custom background, colors, logo, etc. It is made to go along with another new site I am working on, The Happy Nest Site, which features bird articles, reviews, etc. It is just getting started, so there is a lot of building to do with it. Everything you read about making POD work for you says that having sites away from the POD site that offer other information and such will help drive sales your way. I guess I'll see.

So I hope this helps you if you are looking into POD sites as a way of making a few extra bucks. My advice still is that you not quit your day job just yet.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Cafepress vs Printfection vs Zazzle

Print On Demand Companies. Is this a great idea or not?

I have had a Cafepress shop for a few years. In those few years, I have managed to sell enough to actually cover my shop fees a few times, and once, last Christmas, I actually earned enough to receive a $28 check. So as a way to make a living, it hasn't exactly happened.

The Cafepress site says that they have shop owners who make 6 figure incomes from this stuff. I have tried to figure it out. I believe it is a numbers game. If you have 2 million products out there, you're bound to sell something, right? Another aspect of making Cafepress, or any of these sites work, is to write A LOT of keyword rich copy so the pages get indexed by the major search engines. This is the most boring part of it. Having to come up with all this copy can really stress one's imagination. Quite frankly, I hope no one reads all this stuff.

If you compare the three sites on Google Trends you will see that Cafepress is getting the most traffic, followed by Zazzle, and then Printfection. However, Printfection and Zazzle are showing increases in search volume while Cafepress is decreasing somewhat.

It seems to me that Cafepress has so many designs on it that it is hard to get seen just in their Marketplace. It's pretty much the same on Printfection and Zazzle. I somehow doubt many people search beyond the first 5 or 6 pages of designs, so your only options are to write obnoxiously keyword saturated copy for your designs so they will appear in natural search, or heavily promote your shops via blogs and outside websites.

I have had my shops on Printfection for a couple of weeks now, and opened a shop on Zazzle a couple of days ago. From examining my stats, I can conclude one of two things; either:

A. No one is going to these sites
B. My designs suck.

Of course, hardly anyone has visited my Cafepress sites either, despite the use of Google Adwords [a topic for another day]. So it might be option B.

I have 2 shops that have Biblical designs; Biblical T Shirts on Cafepress and Biblical T Shirts on Printfection. Half of my sales on Cafepress in the last 3 months came from the Biblical T Shirts shop there, and the other half came from the ottoblotto shop. The Printfection shops have had no sales.

My ottoblotto shop has a number of the items I have shown here on my blog, including numerous Library drawings.

I also have 2 shops that feature bird designs, Happy Nest Site on Cafepress and Birds of Paradise on Printfection. I have made only one sale on Cafepress from the site there, and nothing from Printfection. I am working on the creative copy stuff.

The good thing about Printfection and Zazzle is that their shops don't cost anything to have. You can upload a bazillion things there, and if nothing sells, you aren't out anything but your time. It only costs like $6 per month per premium shop on Cafepress, but you can only have 500 sections per shop. Of course, it will take you awhile to fill that up. Apparently, there are no limits with Printfection and Zazzle.

All these companies offer similar items for you to customize to your heart's content, and each offers a few unique items as well. Cafepress offers Print on Demand books, Printfection has glass cutting boards, and on Zazzle you can get skateboards and tennis shoes. All of which is time consuming. So maybe it will work out eventually, but I'm not holding my breath.

I have made an order from Cafepress. I can't say I was wowed by it. The printing was good, but the colors were not as vivid as they were on my monitor, specifically the aqua. I thought the printing on black was pretty good, though. I haven't tried Printfection or Zazzle yet. When I sell something and have some cash built up, I'll probably give them a try, too.

Maybe I'll be there next year...

See Cafepress vs Printfection vs Zazzle Part 2

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Soul of the House - Clutter

I did some miniature art quilts some time back. This one was called "Soul of the House." It seems peaceful. Uncluttered. A fantasy. I think about houses having history, much like the history that I find appealing in my drawings on discarded library books. It is, on some level, the remaining remnants of the romantic in me that find some strange sense of connectedness through all this. My current house, while being a very nice house, is somehow not a home. I like it. It's very servicable, but it tends to attract clutter from out of nowhere. [At this point, my mother is pointing out to me in her mind that EVERY home I have attracts clutter.] This house, however, is somehow worse, being the lack of closet space or just the accumulation of stuff over time. Or perhaps the junk mail is breeding while we sleep. That's certainly possible. I am trying to get this house ready to put on the market, so I do, in a sense, create clutter even as I try to remove it. The endless sorting through one's stuff leads to such melancholy thoughts, I suppose. I'm sure it is folly to put a house on the market just now when NOTHING is moving in the Phoenix market, but the longing for green landscapes and a general inability to grasp the culture here has made us all ready to run back to the east coast without ever looking back. And run we will. Someday.