Illustrations for a New Literary Magazine

The Bucks County Writers Workshop and with the Doylestown Historical Society are developing a historical literary magazine by local authors, called Neshaminy. If you live in our area you know that the Neshaminy Creek is a tributary of the Delaware River and runs for about 40 miles, entirely through Bucks County.

Don Swaim, an author and radio personality, is the head of the BCWW, and it happens that probably 20 years ago my father became part of a writing club that Don also headed, so I was acquainted with him. When I heard about the project I asked if there were any need for an illustration or two in the magazine, and Don quickly assented, so I’ve drawn a few requests for him.

The first issue of Neshaminy, which should be published in early October, features a never-before-published interview with world-renowned author James Michener, conducted by Don. I drew this ink wash portrait of Michener for that piece, based on several photos I researched of the author.

Don thought a painting of the Neshaminy would be a nice frontispiece for the magazine, so I took some photos in the Castle Valley area of the creek. I imagined the art spilling over from left page to right, as in this first pencil sketch, base on my photos —

I made a tonal sketch with gray markers, below, and added a Lenape Indian in the distance, drinking from the creek. The Lenape lived in this area before Europeans settled. The word ‘Neshaminy’ means the place where we drink twice in the Lenape language.

The final ink wash painting for the frontispiece is below.

I’m really looking forward to seeing the published magazine, because at a launch party at the Historical Society a few nights ago we heard a bit about the prize-winning entries into the magazine, and they all sound like wonderfully interesting stories, some fiction, some non-fiction, some poetry. I’ve been asked to do one more illustration for this issue, and I’ll write about that as soon as it is finished.

Updated: For Artists, Comparing Etsy and Zazzle

About a year ago I wrote a post on my own experiences selling my original illustrations and cards on two online platforms, Etsy and Zazzle. It is a post that gets hits almost every day from readers – I presume, mostly artists like me. Then Zazzle changed their policies for the worse, and I deleted my account there. Now Etsy is also changing its policies, also for the worse for small business artists, so I’m updating this post to explain the new unfortunate wrinkle in Etsy’s policies.

Here is my initial post’s review of the two platforms:

My experience of ‘opening a shop on Etsy’ to display my Eagle Scout congratulations cards has been a very good one so far.  I would recommend Etsy to other artists, and I’ll explain why for me it is a better fit than another popular platform for selling product art, Zazzle.

At Zazzle you can also open a ‘shop’ page, but a big difference is that Zazzle actually does the production work on your items – whether you wish to sell your art printed on cards, t-shirts, mugs, etc.  So when someone orders your Zazzle item, it ships directly from Zazzle and you don’t see the finished product – therefore you cannot judge the quality of the print job. Because Zazzle does the heavy lifting of production and distribution, you, the artist, receive a very small percentage of the asking price.

With Etsy the artist herself has to have the products made and in stock, so she gets to monitor and approve the print quality – I like this aspect better even though it means I have to do the production myself. (I have a terrific printing partner in Cortineo Creative, here in my hometown of Doylestown.) When a buyer orders my cards, I receive the full asking price that I list on my shop page. Etsy also estimates, from a form I filled out on the dimensions & weight of my product, what the postage will be on the package, and that is added onto my asking price so the buyer pays that postage as well. Etsy provides a customized shipping label and packing slip that I can print out and put on the package; when Etsy deposits my earnings, they deduct the cost of the postage from my total earnings, since the buyer initially paid that postage cost to me.

The tradeoff in payment between the two is this: I can list my products on Zazzle for free; with Etsy there is a charge for each item in my shop. The charge is 20 cents per item per quarter of a year. So I do pay 80 cents per year for each individual card on Etsy – so far this seems like a good tradeoff, since I am being paid the full price of my cards. Another disparity is, Zazzle has a threshold you must pass before they will send you your earnings – I believe it is $50 – and it takes a number of sales to accrue that amount since you are making a small percentage of the payment on each purchase.  Etsy, on the other hand, deposits your earnings into your associated bank account once a week.

One other detail, on Zazzle, there is an option to allow your buying customers to ‘customize’ the item they are purchasing.  These custom changes range from changing the color of the t-shirt and ink color, to adding their own words to your design. While this may be attractive to buyers who want the item for a very specific purpose, as an artist I hesitate to let others adjust and modify my designs. I have complete control with my Etsy products since I do the production. On Etsy, if I offer one item in two or three different colors or other characteristics, I CAN list the variations as an ‘option’ under the main description of the product – but again, I myself have to maintain ALL the varieties of the options in stock, so I can fulfill orders quickly when they come in.

Also important, is, I have done no advertising at all – until this post – to promote my cards on Etsy and yet I’ve made a number of sales, and have received great reviews from my customers, without even soliciting reviews.

Update 01/03/19: When I learned about 2 other options with payment for Zazzle:

  1. Under your payment settings and the PayPal option at the top (in very small print) it says
    Note: For PayPal there is a minimum threshold of $50 to be paid automatically. If you have less than $50 balance after one month of sales, we will hold your funds for future use, or you may request a PayPal payment for a $2.50 fee. Payment will be made within 45 days.
  2.  And if you are purchasing an item from another Zazzle store, you may use your account’s  “Cleared Earnings” against the cost of the item you are purchasing, sort of like a store credit.

So those are two ways to ‘use’ your Zazzle earnings, other than waiting for a check when you reach the threshold.

Update 04/17/19: When Zazzle made an unfortunate change

I have now deleted my Zazzle store, mainly because they announced “accounts that have been non-contributing (that is, haven’t either (1) published a public product, or (2) had a Referral Sale attributed to that account) for the previous 15 month period will be charged a “Non-Contributing Account Fee.”  I don’t make enough through Zazzle to incur another fee, so I’ve cancelled

Etsy now has announced as follows: “Starting on July 30, 2019, items that ship free and shops that guarantee free shipping to buyers in the US on orders $35 and above will get priority placement in US search results. Shoppers in the US will primarily see items that ship free and shops that offer free shipping on orders of $35 in the top, most visible rows of search. We’ll also begin to prioritize these items wherever Etsy advertises in the US—in email marketing, social media, and television ads.”

Why am I very unhappy with Etsy’s policy change? Consider that currently Etsy takes 3.5% off the top of the selling price (which does not including the shipping fee) of each sale I make – this is their fee, which is a fair commission for the service they provide. If I bundle my shipping fee into my product cost (which would almost double the selling price of my cards) and offer ‘free shipping,’ obviously Etsy will make a bigger commission on each of my sales. 

So Etsy wants to make more money off my sales – that’s not a crime, but this is the wrong way to do it. Right now when my customers are about to make a purchase they see exactly what I charge for my items and exactly what they’ll pay in postage, and that kind of transparency is ideal for seller/buyer relationships. I would prefer Etsy be honest and just increase its commission percentage instead of squeezing small artisanal businesses to behave like Amazon, with ‘Free Shipping” as one of their big selling points. Etsy’s brand has never been ‘discount rates’, it has been ‘unique and handcrafted items’ which most buyers accept usually comes with a shipping fee.

Many other Etsy sellers have complained about the difficulty of estimating how much to bundle into their prices, to accommodate selling fees that vary wildly across the US, depending on whether the buyer is in an easily accessible city or out in a rural delivery address. If you notice some Etsy prices jumping up soon, but offering “free shipping,” you’ll know they are bundling in the shipping cost to get a better location on their search pages.

With my narrow margins I can’t afford to absorb shipping costs for my cards. If I bundle my shipping into my product price, my prices will look absurdly high and I’ll certainly lose customers. And if I don’t, my products will be buried under lots of pages of ‘free shipping’ sellers. It’s a lose-lose for me and other sellers who like to be up-front with their customers.

Etsy really has been an excellent platform, but this change is really a step down for the buyer-customer relationship. For now I am keeping my AchillesPortfolio products and prices the same and customers can clearly see what their shipping cost will be before they click to finalize their order, though I might be more difficult to find on the site.

‘Pirates of Penzance’ Opening Tonight

Tonight, June 14, the Bucks County Gilbert & Sullivan Society pirates take the stage, along with Major-General daughters and policemen, to perform a play 140 years old that still delights with its wit and soaring music.

I’m very happy to be involved behind the scenes while my husband takes his turn as Major-General Stanley, a part he imbues with genuine humor and sings with uncanny precision. My illustration for the show has served well for the poster, program cover, and in movie theater and newspaper ads.

it will be wonderful to see the show in full sail, with a magnificent orchestra, costumes, set, makeup and the million other details that support a community theater project. If any of you reading this are local, I utterly recommend the show for top-quality singing, and orchestral accompaniment. And the story’s a hoot too.

I’ll leave you with some photos of dress rehearsal, and if you want more info I’ve put a lot on the group’s website HERE. Tickets are still available at the door or thru BrownPaperTickets.




One of many fun email blasts I created for this wonderful & talented group!

Vote for the Best Caption for my Cartoon in the New Yorker

I posted about my cartoon being published in the New Yorker Caption Contest last week, and now anyone can vote for the best among the many caption submissions they received. You can click HERE to go to the voting page, and as it scrolls through the captions you can rate each as Not Funny, Somewhat Funny, or Funny. When you have scrolled through enough cations, you click on Done.

I warn you, there are a LOT of submissions, but if you leave the tab open on your screen you can come back to it later and continue rating more captions. Interestingly, I found that many caption writers came up with similar jokes, even similar phrasing. There are others that use rather unique wording or twists, and those seemed to stand out.

I believe voting on this stage closes on Sunday, then this contest moves to the next stage – next week the cartoon will appear with the top three captions underneath, and you can again vote for what you feel is the funniest of the three contenders.

I’ll leave you today with another of my cartoons – again, this one has a caption written by my dear dad, one of the funniest writers I ever knew.

My ‘Pirates of Penzance’ Poster Illustration

The Bucks County Gilbert & Sullivan Society is once again gearing up for one of the Victorian playwrights’ funniest, most lyrical and most popular creations, The Pirates of Penzance. I’m happy to again be illustrating the poster for this wonderfully fun musical. If you have ever heard the brilliant patter song I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General, this is the rambunctious show for which that song was written.

I started with a very rough pencil sketch of a group of the colorful characters – maidens, pirates, bobbies, the Major-General – in a classic triangle composition.

I defined the characters a bit more in the next sketch.

I scanned this sketch and did a rough colored pencil blocking in of the colors

I traced this drawing onto illustration board, outlined the characters and began to paint it in using acrylic washes.

And now the finished piece is dropped into the poster design, below. I hope you consider coming, this will be a terrific musical comedy!

My Art at the CB Chamber Expo

I’m very pleased to say I have joined the Central Bucks Chamber of Commerce, a rousingly active organization of business people who are productively involved in every aspect of the Bucks County community. My good friend Debbie Wagner, who owns and runs the outstanding graphic design firm The Graphic Edge, described to me the CBCC’s great benefits to local business owners, and I felt it would enhance my work and connections to join.

Once a year the chamber hosts a business expo, and I welcome the chance to display my work and meet other business owners, so you will find me at my booth there. The CBCC Business Expo will be Tuesday, May 14, from 2 pm to 7 pm at the Student Center Exhibition Hall, Delaware Valley University. The University is at 700 E. Butler Avenue, Doylestown, PA. I designed the postcard below, featuring my illustration work, to hand out. The back has a few of my gag cartoons, and I’ve created a slideshow of my gag cartoons to run on my laptop throughout the expo.

In addition to meeting and learning about your local business owners, you can also enjoy some goodies from generous CBCC members, including Annie’s Water Ice, Tru-Brew Coffee and food from Applebee’s. Also, Fine Art Appraiser Lauren Travis will do free verbal approximations of value for a Fine or Decorative Art item from 2 pm to 5 pm.

Capping off the day will be the Chamber’s Largest Business Card Exchange of the Year – from 5 to 7 pm, in between networking with new colleagues, all can enjoy complimentary food courtesy of Chambers 19 Bistro & Bar with wine courtesy of Buckingham Valley Vineyards. Major event sponsors include Provident Bank, USI Affinity, My Benefit Advisor, NJM Insurance, and Delaware Valley University. This entire event is free and open to the public – I hope you stop by to see me!

Art in Progress for ‘Pirates of Penzance’

I’m buckling up the buccaneers for the Bucks County Gilbert & Sullivan Society‘s production of “The Pirates of Penzance” in June – here’s a detail of the panoply of characters in one of my all-time favorite shows –

I have yet to paint in the background and then plop it all into place with the information details below it.

This show is an operetta, which means it is mostly sung, but don’t let that put anyone off; it is a VERY funny show, in addition to having magnificent music. (And, my husband does a wonderful turn as the Major-General!) The cast of about 25 singers will be accompanied by the Bucks County Gilbert & Sullivan Orchestra, and the show performs Friday June 14 at 8 pm, Saturday June 15 at 2 and 8 pm and Sunday June 16 at 2 pm. The location is Delaware Valley University, 700 East Butler Avenue, Doylestown, in the Life Sciences Auditorium. Want to buy tickets early and save money over the price of tickets at the door? Just go HERE to order online.