Camera 101 – The Basics

In summer 2011, I ordered my first DSLR. The Canon Rebel came in this sexy, sleek black and red box. I thought I was big time.

And guys. I took some shitty photos. Heck, I’m still taking shitty photos…just not as many as I used to.

I wanted to share you guys what I’m doing to ever-so-slowly get better at this little thing we call photography and how you can, too.abbey_OKC3

1. Don’t believe the hype. Lots of folks around the ‘net say full frame sensors are the way to go. They say buy the biggest and baddest camera body, paired with a brand new top-of-the-line lens and *poof* you’re a photographer. Not entirely the case (I love this post about why).  I’m still holding on to my crop sensor and still loving it. She’s a big girl, she’s capable of more than she let’s on. It’s all about your skills and how you’re working and growing behind the camera.

Also, I buy lots of used equipment. Used lenses are cheaper but usually impeccably cared for. Plus, I kind of dig meeting up with local photogs and hearing their advice, stories, etc. and buying some equipment they’ve outgrown.

2. Get legit. This is a hobby for me and sometimes a nice, small side gig that affords me some pocket change. If you want to really do this professionally and full-time, I would suggest drawing up some contracts for your clients and familiarizing yourself and your business with the legality of what you do. Because it’s all fun and games until you shoot a wedding, the bride hates her photos and then proceeds to take you to court for all you’re worth.

Of course, that’s not likely to happen. But it is possible. If you’re aiming to run a business, protect yourself and your finances. Contracts are a great way to set and manage expectations for yourself and your clients, and ensure you get paid.

3. Sharing is caring. For whatever reason, creatives can get super territorial and defensive about their work and their clients. Guys, newsflash: there is plenty to go around. Plenty of clients, plenty of creativity, plenty of money. By simply shifting your attitude from a place of defensiveness to an attitude of abundance, you open yourself up to greater and more diverse opportunities. Share your tips and process with others instead of being shy or secretive. Encourage others in the game. Celebrate the growth of others. It’s good karma and teaching is the only way to truly master anything.


P.S. – These photos were shot with a Canon t2i and an 85 mm 1.8 lens. I almost always edit images in Photoshop…I run a clean edit color base action and then top that off with some eye brighteners and (if needed) some skin correcting.

What camera Q’s do you have? What photog skills are you working on? Tell me in the comments!



Workspace: Livestock Promo Banner

I’ve been slaving away on a design for a 3×5 promo banner for my in-laws small business. In short, they raise performance quarter horses from a pretty famous and desirable bloodline. The big stud (literally) you see above was the Big Pappa, and although he is no longer alive, it’s his genetics that still form the foundation of their breeding program today. I wanted to share with you the final product and a little bit about the process behind it.

The challenge: Create a promo banner to be displayed at an event, and future livestock events

The challenge within the challenge: Brand positioning. The website goes by one name, the Facebook page by another, there’s the literal Rafter W brand, and finally, customers who mostly identify with the Willinghams – the family name behind the product. The Willingham family wanted to shift identify away from their name and toward the actual Rafter W brand.

The solution: Because the clients wanted the banner useable for a long time to come, I suggested taking the plunge: not putting the Willingham name on the banner and boldly declaring that we are Rafter W. In the long run, this saves money and hopefully helps customers make the mental shift away from the sellers and focus instead on the product – the horses. Livestock can be literally living, breathing, walking advertisements: not a single animal leaves the program without a Rafter W brand on their hip. From the beginning of the customer’s search process to finally leading the horse in to their home stall, we wanted customers to recognize and remember “Rafter W.”

As a byline, we used “Foundation of Legends” – the name of the horse sale that established the Rafter W brand within the industry. This retains a little bit of the “old” brand image for previous and returning buyers.

The images: Only one truly useable, high-res image of the stud existed. It was Blue (the stud) as you see him above, but with people in the background and trees and grass and, basically, a bunch of distractions. I removed the background and simply eliminated the standard halter he was wearing around his face using the clone tool within Photoshop. Because his hooves were covered in grass in the original image, I faded them out in lieu of a hard crop or leaving the grass altogether.

I did not alter his form or color in any other way – I believe to do so would be unethical. I think removing a halter is one thing, and boosting the color or sharpening the image of the animal is quite another. Lots of agricultural insiders have opinions about this…What do you think? Tell me in the comments.

The background, a vintage paper texture, was found and purchases through this stock site.

The fonts: The taglines are in a font called Geronimo. Purchase it here.

Other components: Because the actual brand is important, I worked in a watermark of the Rafter W. I kept content information as to the point as possible. I created the illustrations on the corners, inspired by the leather tooling on western saddles.

Overall: I definitely think it accomplishes the goal, the pieces were used with intention and it fits within the frame and style of livestock advertising today.

The problem with being new in design is knowing when to keep going and when you put down the mouse and walk away. I could resize and rearrange the design pieces until the end of time. And then, of course, I decide enough is enough and package the design – only to remember how inferior I am to literally every designer to ever open Illustrator. But then I also remember that it takes years and thousands of hours to really get good at anything. And at the end of the day, as long as the clients are happy, it is a job well done.

Especially if the clients are your in-laws.



P.S. – I really love this interview on the work process of another illustrator.

Life, Lately: June 2014


I’m starting to feel like a real, traveling gypsy. Give me a tambourine and a pet goat and I will officially fit the bill.

I’ve been ping-ponging between College Station, Tishomingo and OKC for the last few weeks. Cory is traveling all over for safety trainings while I am taking the time to see friends and continuing to juggle freelance meetings, deadlines and design projects. I’m living out of a duffle bag and kind of all over the place but it’s fun and exciting and breath a fresh air. I get to live a little, write a little, design a little and learn a lot in the process.

The blog, thereby, has fallen to the wayside a little. And, man, I hate that. I want to spill my guts to you guys about all the “big life things” that are in the works for us right now, but I’ve learned over the years that really great things – like sunrises and sunsets and all the miracles – have to unfold quietly and in their own time. And  I only need to be still and watch the magic happen…not everything in this world is dependent on my actions or interventions. In fact, hardly anything is.

So, in the meantime, I’m taking stock of what I’m up and what’s on my mind.




Making: Oatmeal, topped with brown sugar, blueberries & raisins

Cooking: Does oatmeal count as cooking?

Drinking: Beer – the perfect beverage for summer activities

Reading: The One and Only by Emily Giffin

Wanting: Another sunny afternoon by the pool

Looking: Through design books. My favorite is the Letterhead & Logo Design series

Playing: Golf

Deciding: What book to read next

Wishing: I owned all the Warby sunnies

Enjoying: Honestly, just taking the time to create and learn new things and starting my summer masters courses

Waiting: For news…

Liking: Khloe Kardashian’s indian headdress at Kidchella

Wondering: How Iggy Azalea has such a tiny waist and bumpin’ booty. Some girls are just lucky, I guess

Loving: Seeing and unexpectedly running in to old friends

Pondering: Grabbing some watercolors and giving a shot at digitizing some illustrations

Considering: Starting Orange Is The New Black on Netflix. I’m behind, I know.

Watching: Netflix. Always Netflix.

Hoping: To get out of life limbo, the sooner the better

Marvelling: At how tolerable the summer temps have been. I remember much hotter days.

Needing: Caffeine. Always caffeine.

Smelling: Honeysuckle, my favorite summer scent

Wearing: Second-hand, ripped up jeans and a SOSU shirt circa ‘78

Following: This Instagram account. WANTING ALL THE THINGS.

Noticing: When people demonstrate patience

Knowing: Better things are coming

Thinking: About taglines, call to actions, etc. Designer-y things. Oh, and feature story intros, transitions. Writer-y things.

Feeling: Optimistic

Admiring: The people who never change – in that really great, deep-down-in-the-soul kinda way.

Sorting: Clothes into piles for packing up or giving away.

Buying: Typefaces and lipstick

Getting: What I need, and luckily, what I want most days

Bookmarking: New blogs and type foundry sites

Disliking: Impatient people…Take a deep breath, chill out and wait your turn, yo.

Opening: Thank you notes

Giggling: Over texts from Cory

On fire

Last week I had the great opportunity to speak to a class of Texas A&M students about branding and social media. We talked about the components needed to build a brand and what tools and techniques are best for sharing that brand with potential customers, clients and fans.

But, what the students really wanted to know was…

1) How do we help clients who hired us for our expertise but won’t give up any creative control; and

2) How do WE become experts? How do we build our own expertise in an area – like in design, social media, writing content or branding? 

I was super impressed by the students interest in these two things specifically because learning how to sell an idea to unlikely or hesitant buyers (uh, like convincing a bunch of baby boomers that your business should hop on the Twitter train) is the single most important skill to hone ever. Besides, ya know, feeding yourself or tying your own shoes. Because ultimately, no one gets anywhere without  doing a little selling, wheeling and dealing along the way. We have to sell ourselves, and our potential, to employers. We have to sell our talent to our bosses, convincing them that we deserve that next project/promotion/raise. We have to sell our spouse on the idea of doing the dishes/putting the seat down/going to see the latest, weepy chick-flick. Learning how to quickly and effectively win people over and getting them to do what you want sounds like manipulation, but it’s not: it’s recognizing your audience, validating their needs, and convincing them to hop along for the ride that is your big (or small) idea – the one that will lead them (and you) to the solution of the highest good. It’s leading a horse to water, convincing him to drink, and having him like it so much he comes back for more.

Secondly, I was impressed the students were as interested in the process as they were the end product. “What is your average day like? How do you know what looks good/works and what doesn’t? How did you learn to do all this?”

Simple. I completely threw myself into learning the things I wanted to know about this industry. I read TONS of blogs. I practiced design, replicating things I knew were a hit with hot shit designers across the country. I took classes – eCourses, workshops, graduate courses. I went to printers, sending proofs and projects back over and over until I got it right. I practiced photography, I studied photography. I wrote every day. I ordered design, branding and business books from Amazon and even (yes, for real) checked out books from the library. I spent nine months in a corporate crash course in what not to do, what does not work, and what does not look good. Then I threw myself into learning not only what to do, what does work, and what does look good, but also learning how to execute that start to finish.

I told them you have to become a 24/7 student of what you are passionate about. You have to be passionate about learning, and learning everything – the good, bad, the ugly and what makes them so.

And as you begin to throw yourself into that work, your flame will grow brighter and brighter until you’re standing in front of a room full of people begging you to tell them how you did it.

love & light,


P.S. – This is my Pinterest board for all things that inspire me in my workspace. 

Connected & Chill: Favorite Apps for Relaxation

I love technology and social media, but I’ll confess: sometimes it really frustrates me. Occasionally, I’ll close out my Twitter feed or Facebook timeline feeling grumpier than when I opened it. Somewhere between the sub tweets and angsty status updates, I feel worn out and over it.

Some people think unplugging completely is the way to go – ditching the phone for a few hours and decompressing. But that leaves me feeling antsy and anxious – what if I miss a distress call from my sister, and she’s abducted/falls off a cliff/dies of hypothermia because I didn’t answer the phone?!?

The most helpful tools I have for chilling out and being present are actually on my phone. Below are three of my favorite apps for being calmer and happier, especially in the midst of not-so-happy situations (i.e., riding in the car with annoying people, post awkward family dinners, right-before-bed irrational freak outs, etc.)

Try them out, if you’re into that sort of thing.

1. Yoga Studio ($2.99): Whew, am I bad at yoga. Like, horrible. For years I periodically would give yoga another chance by going to a class, only to wind up wobbling around, sweaty and frustrated. Definitely not a chill experience.

Yoga Studio has me (finally) in a loving relationship with yoga. The app lets you download classes to your own personal studio, where you can access them at any time. The guided sessions can be anywhere from 15 – 60 minutes, beginner, intermediate or advanced. You listen to an instructor and watch them on the screen, plus it plays chill music so it really feels like a studio experience. Minus your face being inches away from a stranger’s butt in downward dog. No, thanks.

2. Buddhify ($1.99): Meditation sounds like something a washed up, graying hippie does after her morning doobie. But, really, it can be much more modern than that. Buddhify is a great app for starting a meditation practice, especially if you’re on the go. I use it when I’m driving, at the gym or while trying to fall asleep. These are usually times when my mind runs wild with a million random thoughts or worries, and this app helps me turn those anxious, useless thoughts into relaxing, useful thoughts. I just put in my earbuds and continue on with what I’m doing. It doesn’t get any easier. 

3. Youversion Bible App (free): I love this app even more with every update. It’s crazy organized, easy to navigate and complete with about every translation imaginable. Whenever I’m reading Eckhart Tolle or Gabrielle Bernstein, I can look up biblical references in seconds through this user interface.

I use these apps everyday, and for a few bucks they are totally worth the peace of mind. I also like that they help and guide users in ways that make taking that time for yourself super easy. You don’t need and hour and a half at a gym or on a meditation pillow or in prayer. You can spend as little as 5 minutes in any of these apps and feel clearer and happier for the rest of the day.



P.S. I’ve been over at Brit+Co. making similar lists of my favorite things and talking about the app I can’t wait to try, tips for a rainy day wedding and how to never forget your passwords again.


Comfortably Uncomfortable

So if you know me IRL you’ll hear me talk a lot about my dad. He travels for work, and often times during a work trip will go eat at a restaurant alone. For a long time I thought this was crazy/weird/sad. Who would eat alone? Now, I do it all the time. I love it. Being alone in my apartment, or eating alone in a crowded restaurant, doesn’t bother me a bit. After some practice, I started to be able to stomach it and then, eventually, enjoy it.

It’s the art of being comfortably uncomfortable. And if it’s not something you’re willing to attempt and eventually master, chances are life is going to be mega hard for you.

We all have to learn how to be comfortably uncomfortable. Doing the uncomfortable thing, or being in an uncomfortable situation, is no one’s default or first choice. You probably felt it at some point in grade school or middle school, when you didn’t want to be a tattler but knew you should say something. Or in high school, when you got paired up in biology lab with the meanest mean girl of 10th grade and you had no choice but to work together.

The thing about college, though, and all those years afterward is that we are calling all the shots in our own lives. And more often times than not, that means choosing the comfortable option because no one is calling us on the carpet for it. No one is responsible for us but us…not our parents or teachers or coaches or mentors or whoever. We set our alarms, we set our calendars, and we either run through discomfort or away from it.

We usually choose to run away from it by eating with the friend who really just rambles about herself in lieu of eating (peacefully) alone. Or moving in with a so-so boyfriend because of this illusionary momentum and because you’re uncomfortable having a conversation about your future, or lack thereof, together. Skipping the work out. Going out with your friends because you’re uncomfortable verbalizing that, this week, your savings is more important than your bar tab. Letting your friend become your roommate when you know it’s just a bad move. Choosing to immediately enter grad school because the real world is too hard, unpredictable, too…uncomfortable…to face.

We all do it, but being aware when you’re making the comfortable decision just because it’s comfortable is a good place to start changing your choices for the better. With that awareness, you can begin making steps toward (and not away from) the uncomfortable choices…like making that cold call to your dream company, or breaking up, or moving in or moving away or moving on.

Now, I’m not saying go against your gut. Your gut is always right. But I am saying listen to your own mind when it’s trying to reason it’s way out of something that your gut and heart know is the right move. Then tell your mind to shut up. You can do it, whatever it is, even if it is uncomfortable.

It’s an art, and one we can all master.



The Defining Decade

A friend and former classmate called me to talk about her latest job interview and how it went. It was for a job she really wanted, the first job she would hold fresh out of graduation with her master’s degree.

“I think what will hold me back more than anything, even more than lacking experience, is my age,” she said. I took a deep sigh because, man, I’ve been there. Graduating college early (because you busted your ass) isn’t always the gold star you hoped it would be.

As millennials, we are constantly bombarded with labels and definitions for our generation. We are the “I” Generation, self-absorbed and entitled. Or, equally as often, I hear that I am “just a baby!” (doting older women love to say this, usually with a wave of their manicured hands) and I have “all the time in the world” to do anything I want to do. The message is that twentysomethings can’t do anything or – equally discouraging and debilitating – that twentysomethings can do anything and everything and have all the time in the world to do it. 

The hard bottom line is that neither message is true. I can explore and try out new things and take some chances. I cannot, however, afford to piss away my twenties in the name of fun and expect fully to wake up on my thirtieth birthday with a loving partner, a viable pregnancy, a spacious home which I own and the career of my choice. And neither can you.

If we (twentysomethings) want those things in our thirties, or before thirty, I have to take small and intentional steps today to get there.

If you are a twenty something going through the quarter life crisis, you’ll love “The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter and How to Make the Most of Them Now” by Dr. Meg Jay. Dr. Jay specializes in the twentysomething years, and throughout the book addresses the major topics so many of her counseling clients struggle with: career, dating, money and fertility. These seem like big things, way off in the distance, things we don’t need to bother with now. But…We can’t get there tomorrow, or many tomorrows from now, without doing small things today.

“Twentysomethings are like airplanes, planes just leaving New York City bound for somewhere west. Right after takeoff, a slight change in course is the difference between landing in either Seattle or San Diego. But once a plane is nearly in San Diego, only a big detour will redirect it to the northwest.”

What we do now determines whether or not our path to our final destination is a smooth one, or if we come barrel-rolling and crash landing at the last minute into those things we really want for ourselves: like romance, career, financial independance and a family.

It’s easy to put off thoughts of marriage or partnership, or a baby, or a career, or a retirement…it’s heavy stuff and we are forced to make big decisions at the most unstable time. How can we focus on what we want in a family (marriage? kids? no kids? roth IRA?!) when we are preoccupied with inconsiderate roommates and b-rate jobs we have to have in order to afford school. Which, by the way, we really need to study for.

Yes, it’s easy to justify this or that, or talk around the big things. But statistically, we don’t have that kind of time. Our twenties – all of it, from the stroke of midnight on our 20th birthday till the final minute of our 29th year – matter. Because, as Dr. Jay points out:

“Eighty percent of life’s most defining moments take place by age thirty-five. Two-thirds of lifetime wage growth happens in the first ten years of a career. More than half of us are married, or dating, or living with our future partner, by age thirty. Personality changes more during our twenties than at any time before or after. The brain caps off its last growth spurt in the twenties. Female fertility peaks at age twenty-eight.”

Those are the scientific facts, things all doctors and psychologists and sociologists know to be true. Intially, that really scared me. Everything about this book scared me, and it will probably scare you. But it also allowed me to reexamine where this jet is headed, and also take a moment to appreciate and celebrate the great things about being a twentysomething: the excitement, the challenge, the opportunity of creating the life I want to live and love. This book, and this blog post, is a call to all twentysomthings: we matter. These years matter… Probably more so than any other decade of our lives.

If you feel stagnant, or unsure, or like your generally about to lose your cool because you’re so overwhelmed with decisions…Pick up this book. It’s probably going to make you sad, and angry, or even a little disappointed in yourself in certain areas. But you’re also bound to feel proud, too. And excited, and ready to pull out your map and throw some darts, to stake claims on the things you want in this life. And you’ll feel empowered to go out and get ’em.



PS – If you want to dive deeper into this topic, check out Dr. Jay’s TED Talk.  Share it with your friends, or parents, or kids…It’s a hard subject but, in my opinion, the most important conversation we can engage in as educators, parents, partners and a workforce.


photo credit for second image: martinteschner via photopin cc, text overlay by me.