Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is undoubtedly one of the most well known Christmas stories of all time. It has been made and remade into countless movies and TV series, and its format used even more. It’s a classic and it’s my pick for this month’s book club because I was feeling festive and decided to reread it.

You probably already know the story of A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge is a cold-miser who doesn’t believe in the spirit of Christmas until he is visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, so why read it?

First off, the book is almost always better than the movie, fact. There’s so much more depth in the novella than any of the movies. There’s a reason it’s timeless.

Second, it’s the perfect way to get into the Christmas spirit, the true Christmas spirit, within a couple of hours. A Christmas Carol is only about 100 pages long. Dickens really has a gift for painting a scene. He can go from darkness to light, outrage to compassion, gloom to humour without ever breaking the scene.

SOME QUESTIONS TO PONDER AS YOU READ

  • How do you think the structure of the ghost of past, present and future would have read the first time?
  • How does reading the book compare to any other versions of the story you know?
  • Does the story still hold up so many years later?
  • Did Scrooge’s tale make you think about Christmas any differently? Does Dickens’ didactic moral still apply?

 IF YOU WANT SOME FURTHER READING TRY…

  • Watch any or all of the versions of A Christmas Carol made for the screen including but not limited to: the 2009 version, Scrooge from 1951, a Muppet Christmas Carol, and the animated Christmas Carol: The Movie from 2001. There’s even a retelling this year called The Man Who Invented Christmas, which imagines how Dickens wrote the story
  • Or, watch the Grinch which is pretty much Dr Seuss’s version of a similar tale
  • Read this review from The Guardian – when do I not include a Guardian review?

 IF YOU WANT MORE BOOKS LIKE THIS HAVE A LOOK AT…

 

Putting up Christmas decorations is pretty much my favourite seasonal activity. I love the planning, the reshaping my space, and getting to go hard on the sparkle. But decorating in a small space, especially one you rent rather than own, can pose some challenges, so I thought I’d share some of the workarounds I’ve found when doing my own decorating.

Play with scale

If your space is limited playing with scale can be a really fun way of tricking your eye into thinking you’ve got a bit more. Try using miniature versions of certain decorations. I used mini baubles on my tree last year and because it ended up having the proportions of a family tree, it made my room feel so much bigger and better decorated as a result. Or try having really big versions giant fairy lights or ornaments can add a touch of over the top fun.

Washi tape, Blu Tac, and Command Hooks are your friend

This comes as standard, but you want things you can take down again easily if you’re in a rented space. I mentioned the wonders of washi tape (way stronger than you think), blu tac, and command hooks (way easier to take down than you think) in my room design post because they’re great all year round, but they really come into their own when you want to decorate. Use them to stick up your lights, display cards, or give that decorative pine cone the attention it needs.

Fairy lights

Put fairy lights anywhere you can. They’re wonderful. Lighting can make such a big difference to how a room feels. They can give your room a lovely magical twinkle, which you can enjoy long after the 12 days are over. Pro tip: where you can avoid the battery powered ones, they never last that long (unless you have recommendations – share below!) and you can get the plus in ones super cheaply now.

Use what you’ve got

Knowing that I’m not going to be in this room forever, I’m always conscious of the amount I will have to pack up. Plus I only have limited storage space. If you’re in a similar situation it’s great to reuse anything you’ve already got. For example, I’ll be dressing up my other plants as well as a tree and using string I already have to hang bits and pieces. Making displays out of any cards you receive is a lovely way to do this too. If you’re on the hunt for DIYs, there are literally thousands on Pinterest or throw it in as a search term to Bloglovin or something similar. In the same line of thought, if you’re buying things trying and find bits you can use when it isn’t Christmas. My fairy lights (sorry to keep mentioning them) were bought for Christmas last year but I’ve used them all year, and my festive tea light holder gets turned around and used most weekends.

Think about your tree

A Christmas tree is a must for me. It’s the first thing I that comes to mind when I think of the season. It’s at the core of any Christmas decoration planning. It’s also quite hard fit into a smaller space. When it comes to trees you have 2 options, artificial or real. Artificial trees have the benefit of being cheap, reusable and available in pretty much any size you might need. But this year (like last year) I will be going for a real tree. Small trees are much easier to find than I thought, and if you get one in a planter you can rehouse it outside when the season is over, which was why I liked the idea – it means you don’t have to find somewhere to save a box filled with branches. You also get that lovely evergreen smell. But you do have to be careful to get one that won’t cover your room with needles – it’s worth the extra for the vacuuming hassle you save.

What are your Christmas decoration tips?

After my post on my commission process to help explain some of the things on offer in my shop, I want to spend a little bit more time here talking about my work, and how it actually gets done. So, today, I’m going to talk you through a recent illustration project I took on at work for my old grad scheme website.

As a quick bit of background if this is the first post of mine you’ve read, last year I was a part of the Engine Graduate Scheme. The Grad Scheme is a year-long look into the world of marketing and communications, which comprises of four three-month long rotations in various best in class agencies covering everything from consultancy, to sport sponsorship, to events, PR, data and, of course, above the line advertising.

Every year the most recent group of grads take over the website, so this year it was our turn and we wanted to give the site a bit of a spruce up. The first step in this process was moving to the Engine Group site, from our .wordpress site. Then we moved onto content and visuals, which is what we’re talking about today.

So how did we go from a need for a new style to the site that’s up now?

CREATING THE BRIEF

First off, we came up with a bit of a brief, which was relatively informal and more of an agreement between ourselves as to what we wanted. We knew that we needed something fun and colourful and that suggested we were a more creative scheme than the visuals we had before.

As well as deciding what we wanted we also had to work out what our limitations were. We knew we weren’t going to be able to get any new photography done, so we decided to go with something illustrated. We were also limited by the structure of the web pages on the Engine site, which meant we were mainly just working with set header images.

But we also knew we’d need designs that could work for our social media in terms of branding and generating content later.

COMING UP WITH IDEAS

The ideas for the images bounced off the copy, for example, the sweets in the companies page came from someone describing the choice of placements as a bit of a pick and mix. The one image I really struggled with was the scheme page, so we came together as a group (over WhatsApp because I had a meltdown at 10 pm) and tried to come up with the simplest image for building we could, which turned out to be children’s building blocks.

THE ILLUSTRATION PROCESS

Then we got to my favourite part, the illustrating! I started by gathering reference images for the portraits, then drew from those. I also found references for the hands and the sweets in the companies header. Once I’d drawn the outlines of all of the images I came up with a colour palette. I started with the red of the Engine logo and worked from there, adding a darker version of the red, two shades of the blue, and the yellow for highlights. I stuck to this palette for everything other than the skin tones, and I think it really ties all of the images together.

SIGNOFF AND UPLOAD

As anyone who has ever made a commission like this knows, the work isn’t actually done until it’s signed off and on the site. In order to get sign off, I put the designs into very basic web page scamps in powerpoint, to give an idea of how the pages would come together. Once we’d made all of the amends to the copy and visuals we needed to, I worked with the guys who run the Engine site to get everything live which included editing sizes and doing a few tests on a staging platform. I also made versions of our imagery for the scheme Facebook and Twitter.

If there’s something you’d like to work on together, or you just want to say hi, feel free to drop me a line!

I know I’m a little late to the game. But I know that there are probably some of you out there who are still looking for gift inspiration, if not for Christmas then for new year birthdays. So without further ado, here are some of my picks for gifts for creative types.

THIS BOOK

So you all know I love Adam JK. Things Are What You Make of Them is his latest book and it’s incredible. It’s the pep talk we all need from time to time. It’s chock full of great advice and support. Each page is in full colour, and is perforated so you can save it for later or even share it. This is the gift you’re going to want to get two of, because there’s a good chance that as soon as you start reading you won’t be able to give it up.

THESE TRAVEL GUIDES

Travel is one of the best forms of inspiration, and while in the age of the smart phone you might not necessarily need a printed travel guide these ones are so gorgeous that your recipient is really going to want one.

SOME CLASSES

Give the gift of learning. Picking up new skills is essential, but it can easily be overlooked. So vouchers for classes work as a great reminder, and give someone the opportunity to expand their horizons and their practices.

A STATIONERY SUBSCRIPTION

So who doesn’t love stationery? Keep your loved one full stocked throughout the year with a stationery subscription. There are plenty of good ones out there. In particular, I like the Paper Gang by Oh Deer and Post by Katie Leamon. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

A PRINT, OR TWO, OR SEVEN

It makes sense that artists love art. Getting someone a print by a maker they love is a great way to show you care, and to give them something that they’ll look at and think of you every day. You can even support a good cause or two, by buying prints where the profits are given to charity or inspire social action like The Good Cause.

SOME COMPANY

The studio can be a lonely place. Get your friend a little company.

SOME PEACE AND QUIET

So one of the best things I’ve bought this year are a pair of noise cancelling headphones. If you’re feeling a little spendy, they’re an incredible gift. They’ve helped me focus and kept me on task and sane throughout so many hours of work this year.

Writing Christmas cards is one of my favourite parts of the season. I love letter writing at any time of year but the added bit of festivity and the added excuse to write to people I wouldn’t normally is something I relish.

I mentioned in my Christmas planning post that I’d be sharing a few of my thoughts on writing top-notch cards, and this is it. This is by no means a prescriptive guide, the best cards are the ones that you write from your heart but I (at least) think it’s always nice to have a bit of nosey into how other people do it.

DRAW UP YOUR LIST, AND KNOW YOUR TIMINGS

Before you do anything, you’ll want to work out how many cards you’re sending out and to where. The further away your cards are going the earlier you’ll need to have them written. I’d suggest checking your local postage times, Royal Mail last posting dates can be found here.

 

PICK YOUR CARDS

Obviously, you then need to pick your cards. I have a set that I’m very proud of in my shop, which have just the right level of sparkly in my opinion. But you should choose the cards that go with the kinds of wishes you want to send out into the world, are you going for something humorous, are you trying something traditional, or something minimal, or are you going for all-out glitter, sparkle, and sequins? Finding cards that you want to be your marker on someone’s mantelpiece can be tricky, but it’s so nice when you stumble across that set that’s just right. Just remember whatever you buy to make sure you buy enough to have a couple of spares because mistakes will happen (if you’re me).

PERSONAL, FORMAL UPDATE, OR A MIX OF BOTH?

Now to the format, where you have two main choices if you’re going for something other than the “Dear John, Merry Christmas, Love Jane xx”. The first is to write a personal note in each card, something specific and thought through that is more about your individual relationship. The second is to go formal with a pre-written or typed insert, one of my friend’s mums is particularly great at these. If you’ve got a lot of updates you want to share with grandparents this way can definitely speed things up. Or, you could merge the two and have your pre-formatted updates go into a personal card, which is what I’m potentially thinking of for this year.

PERSONAL

This is the route I normally go down. I like to use Christmas cards to reflect on my relationships and why I’m thankful to have the people I do in my life – I guess because we don’t have Thanksgiving here. Where possible I like to include a story we’ve shared over the year. I’m also partial to throwing in a Christmas cracker style joke in there too – because they’re great and you can never have too many in your life.

FORMAL UPDATE

As I said I receive a lot of great examples of these from mums – is there anything mums can’t do? These often come in the format of a typed up insert and can be designed as much as you like and even include photos. In terms of copy, think about including the big events that have happened over the past year. Have you changed jobs? Moved house? Taken up a new hobby? Got a pet? If not, what are you enjoying in your day to day? It can be a great chance to look back over the last 12 months.

DRESS UP YOUR ENVELOPES

I love a good finishing touch, and when it comes to letters that means adding something a little special to your envelopes – of course, make sure that your address and stamp are still clear and visible. You could adorn them with doodles, stickers, or add a few extra words. How about wrapping them in gift wrap so they’re like mini presents in and of themselves? Whatever you do, add something you wouldn’t normally and you’ll feel like you’re really sending something festive out into the world and who knows you might even make a postman’s day along the way.