Art and Things


 “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.”

— Gandhi

Hi! Welcome to Active Art. This website is a space to share some of my product designs, art, YouTube videos, and POD designs (print on demand). I will be adding and updating things over time so don’t be a stranger and come on by to visit now and then.

At the top of the page, you will find a listing of different pages that are dedicated to different projects. The blog will feature a variety of topics and discussions about art, the process of developing a product, and other related topics. Please join the discussion!

Finish the Project

The picture book series is finally finished. Kayla may have more to do in the future, but this series is done. This last book was planned as two but as words hit the page, I realized that to extend the story to that length, it would need scenes that did not move the story forward. After the story was written, it felt done but I knew unless it was followed to publication, it would float over me as an unfinished project that I had made a commitment to myself to complete.

Now on to finish some other projects!

Save Money on ACA Insurance with American Rescue Plan Act

This is not art related but I realize that many artists and entrepreneurs are self employed and/or have jobs that do not provide health insurance. I just hung up from a phone call that saved me about $200 a month on health insurance.

Starting April 1, 2021, more people will be eligible for more help through Healthcare.gov. I already had a medical and dental plan through the website and was receiving a partial subsidy. The price I was paying had tripled from the year before and I wanted to check if I was eligible for additional assistance.

The system WILL NOT automatically adjust your payments if you are eligible for more assistance.

The website did not offer any direction in how to apply for additional premium subsidies. I called the number they provided and a nice, helpful, and patient representative assisted me through the process of finding out if I qualified for more under the new guidelines. She stated that it needs to be filed under a life change and walked me through the application. She made it easy and quick. I would imagine that you can click on “Report Life Change” in your account and do it yourself. If you do not currently have insurance through healthcare.gov, then applying as a first time applicant should work.

More information on the Act: HealthAffairs.org

Short summary of how the website works: sign up for an account, enter information about your income, married/single, any dependents, any disabilities or conditions that affect your ability to work; The system checks for your eligibility, including if Medicaid is the appropriate option. Every state is different because some have different guidelines and some have expanded Medicaid under the ACA and some did not. At the end of the year, they send you a statement that has to be entered into your tax forms. If your actual income was significantly different than your anticipated income, your taxes may be affected. There is a cap to how much extra can be added to your tax bill.

I have described my experiences with the program. Please consult the website, contact the office, and/or talk to your tax/legal representative for full advice on your situation.

DIY Editing Picture Book Illustrations

The third book in the Kayla’s Adventures series has been published on Amazon. Kindle version is free this Sunday and Monday.

I have done some editing on all three books. This last book required a bit more than the others. The illustrator that I use puts in a lot of work, but not nearly the same amount as a professional book illustrator. There is a digit different in the price, so I do not expect the same level work. There are three main reasons that I edit the illustrator’s files: moving characters and text away from the edges of pages, consistency within the story and with other books in the series, and general aesthetics. I will show the two pages from Kayla’s Red Leaf with the most visible edits.

The top image is before, the bottom image is after.

sample from Kayla
Kayla’s Gorgeous Red Leaf

The Edits:

  • The text boxes were square but in the rest of the series, the edges were rounded. The text and the box were too close to the print edges and could get cut off.
  • Kayla was too close to the center line and could get trapped or distorted in the spine of the book (to format for KDP, each scene needs to be cut into 2 pages and resized).
  • The “gorgeous, red leaf” is part of what is driving the story, so it needed to be red. The edited version also has the leaf mirrored. The page after this is a continuation of the scene and it seemed more appropriate to have the leaf’s orientation to the characters the same on both pages.
  • In the original, the mole appears as a line drawing with flood fill coloring. The style does not match the rest of the characters, and the pose was unnatural for the scene. I found and purchased a vector image mole and a construction hat. I did a little color and color gradient changes on both and was able to alter the position of legs and arms a little. I was not able to get rid of the dog’s nose on the mole, but it’s kind of cute anyway.

I use Adobe Illustrator for most color and segment positioning edits; Photoshop for sizing and converting to jpeg prior to the final formatting into PDF for the paperback, and MOBI with the free Kindle Kids’ Book Creator program.

Kayla’s Adventures

The Edits:

  • The text and box were repositioned and shaped as was mentioned in the first example.
  • The main turtle was moved away from the center of the book. The turtle and the leaf were angled and positioned to fit in a little better. I am still not 100% happy with the choice of turtle and the appearance of the leaf, but they work well enough to tell the story without being distracting. I did place 2 of the tiny turtles a little too close to the center line.
  • I took the background from the last page of the book and kept the large tree in the foreground.
  • The yellow-green bird from the beginning of the story now makes an appearance at the end of the story.
  • The lake was added to the new scene and a turtle is swimming. The rocks and foliage around the lake were elements copied from other pages of the Kayla’s Adventures series.
  • The hole in the hill was added to tie together the ending of the story. The image is a combination of an element from another page in the Red Leaf book and layering a darker object with gradient coloring and partial opacity. This element would have been made significantly better by a real illustrator.

Unintentional edits: sometimes the colors get slightly altered. I suspect it has something to do with changing file types and switching between programs. I learn new things with every book and hope that I figure this one out with the next book in the series, Kayla and the Crystal Cave.

If you have any comments, suggestions, or questions,

please leave a reply below.

Kayla and the Ginormous Old Tree Trunk Children’s Picture Book

Book 2 in Kayla’s Adventures has made it to KDP! Free on Kindle Saturday and Sunday. (1/16-17/2021)

Kayla and Marcus run into a new friend on their way to explore the ginormous, old tree trunk.


Happy New Year 2021

I remember, a few years ago, everyone wishing a year would end because so many beloved celebrities were dying. I am pretty sure that every year since, people have been ready to start a new year with new hope that it would not be as bad as the last. I have that hope for 2021. One thing 2020 has taught me is to not try to cope by declaring, “well it can’t get much worse.”

Next year will have its challenges to be sure. I do hope that mountains become hills and miles become inches; Hurdles become thresholds and hate turns to love.

I also dearly hope that whatever combination of arrogance, ego, and honest mistakes manifests in 2021, that it does not cost as much death and suffering as it did in 2020. Even if the struggles are great, may there be enough laughter and joy to balance the scale.

From the ashes of 2020, may 2021 bring new growth

5 Essential Ideas for Packaging a New Product

This post is the seventh post in the From Idea to Product Launch Series

Series List:

The short and quick guide to packaging requirements: it depends on what you are packaging and where you are selling. Click here for a glance at some official requirements.

  1. Make the packaging attractive and functional.

Keep your target audience in mind when developing your packaging. A children’s product packaging should not look like an ergonomic can opener’s packaging. The Chair CaneTM sits between the world’s of furniture and medical devices. The people that are most likely to look at the box are medical professionals, injured people, and family caregivers. For the medical professionals, I wanted something that was quick to inspect and review. For the caregivers and injured, I wanted the box, and the information on it, to be easily understood. That is, not in medical jargon and not in tiny print that requires a magnifying glass. The instructions ended up being a smaller print than I had hoped but that is one of the reasons why I wanted pictures on the box demonstrating the placement and use of the product. There are no language barriers with pictures; no reading skill level considerations with pictures; less issues with vision impairments with pictures. Accessibility is important to consider with all packaging, but anything approaching medical equipment, should make it a priority. Accessibility is also one of the reasons that I have posted instructional and demonstration videos.

The design and color of the packaging are important. If you are selling a new cookie, having it look like something that people are used to getting cookies from, could be essential in the fast scroll world we live. I wanted the Chair Cane box to project stability and trust. I decide on straight, symmetrical lines and a blue/white color scheme. Blue is already associated with the medical realm. Blue tends illicit trust and calmness. If I were looking to create excitement, I would have likely used red, orange, or, perhaps, yellow. If the product was a spa treatment, maybe soft lines with a powder blue. The Active Art logo is blue and red, but that combination would not look right for this product. The colors contrast too much and unsettle the eye. It is why the warning box is in red. I wanted the package coloring and font choices to be simple and functional, no need for flash. I did not need a box that would stand out on a grocery shelf of 30 other items in its category, like a barbeque sauce. The examples below use blue but all use movement in some way. That may be good for for larger brands that sell mobility devices or are trying to convey advancement and forward leaning missions, however, the whole point of the chair cane is that there is no movement. It decreases movement and adds stability. There are no italics or swoosh flares.

Drive Medical

2. List what is in the box.

How many parts are included? What are the parts? How much does it weight? How big is it? (including metric measures) If color is important, what colors are included? These listings are regulated for most, if not all products. This seems like it is primarily a consumer protection. What you see is what you get. Amazon regulates product listing photos a little this way. Product photos need to make clear what the actual product being sold includes. Example: The camera tripod does not come with the camera in the photo.

3. Include where it was manufactured and by whom.

Active Art Designs LLC is considered the manufacturer of the Chair Cane. It was made in China but I do not list that company, only the country. I list the contact address for Active Art. If you do not have a separate physical address for your company, get a box (USPS, UPS Store or other).

4. International considerations.

If you intend on selling in other countries, check out packaging requirements in those countries. For example, products sold in Canada should have instructions in French and English. I will be adding, at least, French to my instructions on the next production run.

5. Safety and other things to consider.

People who use certain plastic bags in their packaging need to include warnings. You have likely seen a suffocation warning on a purchase that you have made. Products targeted at children have testing and packaging standards. Food and pharmacy items have extra requirements. Doing a little research before designing packaging can save time and money.

Inventor Freight Forwarding for the First Time

This post is the seventh post in the From Idea to Product Launch Series

Series List:

Everything was going well. I had been sent samples that looked great. I gave the go ahead and made the initial 50% payment for the first production run of the Chair Cane. Then I get a message from the manufacturer: the order is EXW. We will send you a message when the order is ready and you can let your forwarder know to pick up the shipment. I sat there frozen, staring at the screen. What is EXW? What is a forwarder?

I had clearly not researched enough about manufacturing. This was not even on my radar. I needed to arrange for someone to pick up pallets in China and get them to the USA. My original plan had been to send them directly to Amazon but I had not yet been able to get Amazon to accept the product. It a new product so more steps had to be taken prior to them authorizing the listing. I researched freight forwarding options and decided on the destination.

Alibaba freight logistics screenshot

When researching freight forwarding, I found companies I had never heard of and all seemed to have mixed reviews. I had used Alibaba to find a manufacturer. One day when I was checking my messages, the site popped up a link to their freight forwarding services. I went through the process to get quotes and it looked like most of the companies that gave quotes used FedEx for logistics and/or other steps in the process. I contacted FedEx. This is not the local FedEx office, it is a separate division. The office I was calling was in Miami; at a time when COVID-19 had just begun to hit Miami hard. Everyone was working from home and the phone system had not kept pace. My first message went unanswered and so I tried different extensions until I found a person. After the initial contact, everything was handled through email.

Through email, I was now learning about continuous bonds, classifications for customs, and customs brokers.

The continuous import bond is a type of customs bond—a bond that guarantees the U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) that the importer will make good on its payment. If the importer fails to make its payments, the CBP can file a claim against the bond from the surety company that guaranteed payment. Average is $400-500.

The Harmonized System is a standardized numerical method of classifying traded products. It is used by customs authorities around the world to identify products when assessing duties and taxes and for gathering statistics.  Another site if you are researching: https://www.usitc.gov/tariff_affairs/disclaimer

Customs brokers make sure to file all of the necessary paperwork about your shipment for you to clear customs. Is it a dangerous substance? Subject to antidumping laws? tariffs?

I received one email that asked about something I had never heard about before. After unsuccessful research, I asked the sender to explain. They told me that the question was intended for someone else. I can only guess that there is a whole language about freight forwarding that I do not speak.

Other notes: I used ocean freight because air freight is more expensive and, in the middle of a pandemic, air freight is even more expensive. The shipment was LCL (less than container load) and LTL (less than truck load). Those terms are also good to know when looking for manufacturers. Some companies are only interested in working with you if can order a full container of products. Most start ups do not have that kind of capital to throw at inventory, unless they have investors and a warehouse. I wanted to avoid loans but if you are interested in that or other SBA programs you can start here: https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/loans.

Freight forwarding is something that is going to take awhile to get comfortable handling, but with most things in life and with starting a business: if you wait until you’re comfortable, you will never try anything new.

One of a Kind Gift to Make for Children

What is a unique gift that does not have to cost a lot?

Writing a story.

You can write a story for them to read. You can write a story to be read to them.

You can write a bedtime story with deep meaning. You can write a fun rhyme.

You can write it on notebook paper or type it out. Maybe just record yourself reading it.

I chose to write a story and hire someone on Fiverr to illustrate the book. I did not pick the the most experienced and costly person I could find but someone whose samples were in a style that fit the story. There are people who will do watercolor paintings and some that stick to digital drawings.

The illustrator sent me the files in different file formats. I needed to make some changes. Once it was uploaded to KDP, I needed to make some more changes. I believe that in transferring the files from Adobe illustrator to Photoshop to Acrobat several times I must have compressed the file at least once when I saved it. The color of the images does not look exactly right. I will wait until the author’s copy gets here to edit. First, after days of staring at it, I’m tired of editing. The way I am processing the images takes each one through 3 different programs to get the format and sizing correct. There may also be another issue with the book that will not be noticeable until I am looking at the physical copy.

I did have fun making it and am already planning books two and three. Now that I have done it, I am sure the next time will be easier. There are people on Fiverr that you can send the book to and they will return a PDF file ready for upload.

If you are not doing a picture book, handling the files may be a little easier but I am betting the first time you upload it you may need to tweak your format.

There are places other than Amazon and KDP to publish your book. Teespring even has a way to set up a digital book now. I have only tried a regular image, so I am not sure how their book program, works.

KDP did have different price options. Distribution settings influenced the price minimums of both paperback and Kindle versions. There was something that seemed to indicate that because it was a picture book, there would be added fees for readers to download the book if you choose some price and royalty options. I plan on reviewing my choices and playing with the options to see if there is a better combination, but this really was intended to be a gift for a specific little one.

This was my first time publishing a book. I pondered throughout if hanging out with writers on social media/IRL was going to turn me into a writer. I could hear tweets in my head about issues I was coming across as I went through the process. To my friends that write the books with the words, I give much respect. A 32 page picture book may be as close as I get to your language artistry. Surprise!

Keep it Simple

A short post for this busy week. Keeping designs simple can often be a key to success. New products do not have to have the kitchen sink thrown in. I have seen some beautiful and elaborate packaging from Etsy store owners but how much does that add to the cost to the product? Elegant, simple, and functional packaging may be better. If your margins are good enough to spend extra, would branded freebies be a better choice?

I have one digital design that has outperformed every other listing I have across print on demand sites (numbers sold). It is just one word. It uses one color. I used the POD website’s editor to make it.

Vote Blue Black Cotton Face Mask

How to get your Product Idea Manufactured

This post is the sixth post in the From Idea to Product Launch Series

Series List:

You want to get your amazing product idea manufactured. How do you find the right manufacturer?

I mentioned in an earlier post, “What Product Idea Should I Develop“, that I spoke to someone at a company that makes similar products and they told me that I would have better luck looking oversees for a manufacturer. I will put a list of resources at the bottom of this post to give you some leads that I did not end up using, but first, I will talk about my journey.

For all of my ideas, the first place I begin a search for manufacturing is local. Internet searches, with various relevant search terms, will let me know if local is an option. I like the idea of local; support the community, able to visit the site, less shipping costs, easier delivery logistics. I thought I found a company that could make one art tool idea but it fell through. I have recently begun to research baking companies and there are some in my state and several around the country that are able to take your recipe and scale it to small or large batch. There are also private label food packers that have products you can order and add your branding. Finding someone to make the Chair CaneTM was not easy, until I found Alibaba. On this site you can browse through all sorts of products. You can order a product, order a product for a private label brand (putting your label on an existing product), customize an existing product, or work with a manufacturer to develop your own, unique product. Some companies will have a mandatory minimum for products but you can find some that will sell 1 item. Those are, generally, higher priced, existing items.

Side note: it may be worth it to check out AliExpress or Alibaba for anything that you are shopping for that you think has a high markup and you do not need right away.

I narrowed down which manufacturers I would query by looking at their product lines, what materials they work with, reviews, response rates, and if they were a part of the Alibaba Trade Assurance program. Trade Assurance is a program that holds your payments until after your receive the product or after a certain amount of time after shipping is confirmed (Ocean freight shipping takes a long time. I believe my payment was processed a certain number of days after confirmation of receipt by my freight forwarding company).

The company I chose to work with, was able to manufacturer both the metal and rubber components of my product. They had mostly positive reviews and were the right size. They were big enough to handle large orders but not so big that I would need to order a crazy high number of units. My first order was for 500 units. They offered smaller and larger orders. The smaller the order, the higher the cost per unit. I messaged them through Alibaba and have only used that messaging system to negotiate and discuss the product to ensure that there was a record of everything.

Working with the manufacturer to create my product

The first thing that had to be done was translating my drawings to engineer drawings so molds could be made. There were a few rounds of back and forth with drawings to get the measurements and design the way I wanted it. I started with a sketch that I had made for the patent attorney There were measurements, angles, shapes, and descriptions. The first drawing I received back had some measurements that would have decreased the function of the product. I corrected those and tried to provide a range of possible measurements to allow their engineer to choose what would work best for the machines and the materials. Some measurements were a little different but I did not correct as it would not change the function.

Once the design was settled, they made the molds and 3 samples. They did need to rework the first mold to make the end result better. They did that correction prior to making the final samples and communicated to me what was going on with the process. The samples were mailed to me and we started to work on the box design while it was in transit. The printer software required Adobe Illustrator file format and I used the free trial that Adobe offers. The company I used does not make boxes but they found a company local to them that does. The price of the boxes was acceptable. I probably could find slightly less expensive boxes, but they were able to look at the box samples, send me pictures, descriptions, and their recommendations on appearance and thickness of the materials. Later, during the full 500 unit run, they were able to assemble the product and pack each box.

The samples they sent looked great. I did have one issue with how the product functioned and did not want to move forward with the production if it could not be addressed. I sent some pictures and a video showing them my concern. They were quickly able to present solution options that I agreed should fix the issue.

The sample box and new sample product were mailed out. I will want to adjust some things on the next run to improve the box design but it was a go for production.

The samples that were mailed to me were all relatively small packages and the manufacturer arranged the shipments. There were some delays in these shipments. I have no idea if the delays were random, regular events or if COVID-19 was the cause of the delay. I have my guess. The full pallet shipment was also delayed. That may have been due to the increase in number of shipments coming to port at that time. I am planning on discussing the freight forwarding process in another post. I still get a headache just thinking about it; however, most of the headaches came from me just having never done it before and being introduced to new terms and considerations.

Websites to Explore for Information about finding a manufacturer

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