Monday, December 7th

Design Challenge Winner, September 2020, Holiday Spirit – Tammy Moody


What was your inspiration for your winning card? Please walk us through the process of
how this card went from an idea to a greeting card. 

I just wanted to create a Christmas card that spoke to 2020. I basically imagined Santa
going from house to house this year- and it occurred to me that there is no way he could
ever practice safe social distancing going into hot spots! Lol Then, I thought Nope- he
can skip me this year- I’ll buy my own gift. Then I thought I needed to use a sarcastic or
wisecracking animal and what better animal than a cat to do that. So, I searched for
images of cats in Santa hats and found one immediately and everything just sort of fell
into place.


Holiday card sales are picking up.  Which of your card designs do you predict will be
your best seller this year and why?

Well, I think Product ID: 1550210 will probably be one of my best sellers because it’s a
patriotic themed card with a snowy landscape that features a little country snowman, an
old barn, and a red truck. I really like these kinds of cards myself and after the year we
have had, people need something that takes them out of the moment and reminds them
of things that are relaxing and good in life.

Strange year this year with COVID-19.  How has this impacted your work as an artist?
For me, I just tried to concentrate on Covid-19 related cards mostly and thinking of you
cards this year because people were so isolated and they needed relevant cards to
send to friends and loved ones. I think my heart was lent to the families who have lost
loved ones and to the healthcare workers who were putting their lives on the line to take
care of those affected. I just wanted to contribute to people in some way and this was
one way I could do that.


You have created some COVID-19 themed cards.  Which is your favorite and why?
I think my favorite Covid-19 related card is Product ID: 1609146 because it features a
a group of cows who look like they are getting ready to walk in a grid across the pasture
to find some form of human life. I have cattle and they do come and look for you if you
are not where you are supposed to be at a certain time of day. Anyone who has cows
could attest to this. I love animals, so this one is just personal and funny to me.

Ok, now for the fast five, fun questions …Sour candy … love it or hate it?
Absolutely, love lemon sours!

What is your best scar story?
I was bitten by a copperhead when I was four and I have a large scar on my foot from
that. We were swimming at a river while vacationing in Missouri when it bit me. We were
50 miles away from a doctor, so my oldest sister had to make a tourniquet and use it on
my foot to keep the venom from spreading very quickly. My Dad threw all the kids in the
station wagon and sped over the hills to the nearest doctor’s office. I think I was in
better shape than my seven siblings by the time we got to the doctor’s office because
they were all car sick from the wild ride.


Are you a traveler or a homebody?
I am a homebody. I like to take a two-week vacation about once a year, but aside from
that I stick close to home. I have lots of animals, so I like to be there and take care of
them. I liked to travel all over when I was young, but not so much anymore.


What is your greatest irrational fear?
I worry about my kids way too much. My kids say I watch too much Dateline because I
am forever asking them if they have their pepper spray with them or if they are going out
with a group of people and not going places alone. They ridicule me a lot over it, but I
just want them to be safe.


If you were a vegetable, what vegetable would you be?
I would be a potato. I’m kind of complex, but stable. People can count on me to be there
and find comfort and support when they need it.

Wednesday, September 23rd

Design Challenge Winner, July 2020, Hair or Hare – Melinda Pritzel of Yowzers

Please list any awards or contests you’ve won outside of GCU.

I’ve won several slogan contests, a Springbok Puzzle Image contest (Marble Madness is the name of the puzzle I contributed the photograph for)

and I’ve written for Hallmark (A little gift book called Thanks Mom) and Chicken Soup for the Soul, Angels All Around.

Please list the URLs of your 3 favorite cards in your storefront and why they are your favorites.
I think we become attached to each card we create as designers.  There are a few that I’m particularly fond of.
I submitted this image to a Hallmark pet photo contest and it wasn’t a winning entry.  Instead of pouting, I decided to design the card myself and submit it to GCU.  It was, I believe, my first submission and it’s my best selling card.  It has earned far more at GCU than the winnings would have been through the Hallmark contest.

Funny New Mower for Father’s Day Goat Eating Hay card

This was a fun card to write.  My husband is my most serious critic and he loves this card.  He’s a lawnmower connoisseur and over the years, I’ve been subjected to the constant banter of lawnmower terminology.

Funny Cat in Pink Beach Chair with Umbrella Litter Box Encouragement card

My cat, Tahiti, was very cooperative with this idea.  This card won the Best Design Challenge Submission in 2018.  I probably spent more money on props than usual (I usually limit my prop spending to $5 when designing a card) but it was totally worth the effort.

What was your inspiration for your winning card? Please walk us through the process of how this card went from an idea to a greeting card.  

I’m generally an impatient person.  When I have an idea, I get right on it and sometimes, I complete a task only to review it later and ask, “What was I thinking?”  I thought about hair and tried to pair it with cats because I have a million cat photos.  The original design had the phrase, “I heard you had some hairball scheme to retire.”  It should have read, ‘hairbrain scheme’ but for some reason, I had the word ‘hairball’ in my hairbrain and didn’t realize until I actually posted it that it was incorrect.  I had to change the image before it was reviewed so I was in a state of panic.  I’m sure the reviewers think I’m a nut.

What sparked your interest in art? Did you start as a young child?  

My dad was an architect and he was an amazing artist.  He used to draw us in caricature form and we loved it.  I found that, although I don’t consider myself an artist, I can accomplish some humorous works of art through the use of photography and photoshop.

Do you have formal training or are you self-taught? 

I took a class in black & white photography when I was in college, just to fill some time in my senior schedule.  I loved it.  I also took an online class in portrait photography through our local community college.  Other than that, I’ve learned through the mentoring of friends and a lot of practice.

Is your work done by hand and then scanned or do you work entirely on the computer?  

I’ve done a little work by hand, like when drawing font for a Christmas card, etc.  Most of what I do is in photoshop.


Have you ever/do you currently have a job other than as an artist?  

My degree is in business / legal assistance and I work part-time for a financial advisor, however, I’ve been on the hunt for a job with benefits.  This is a crazy time to job hunt.

What GCU artist(s) do you admire?  

This list is lengthy but the short list would include LisaCrisafi and Kathleen Johnson.


Ok, we have to ask.  The cats in your designs, tell us all about them!

Most of the cats in my designs are photos of Tahiti.  She was a rescue cat that my oldest son adopted from a local shelter.  When my son moved into his own home, he said, “She likes you better than she likes me so I’ll leave her here if you want me to.”  I was elated. She became my caregiver during my chemo treatments.


The most recent cards contain photos of my son’s kitten.  Once again, he rescued a kitten, this time from the railyard where he works.  This kitten is a little ornery and very curious.

What would we be surprised to learn about you?  

I’m actually quite handy around the house when I need to be.  I’ve replaced a garbage disposal, done some minor plumbing, repaired a washing machine, learned to drywall and installed a couple of light fixtures.

Thursday, September 17th

Design Challenge Winner, June 2020 – Laurie Schneider

Congratulations on first place winner status for June’s design challenge for GCU artist Laurie Schneider.
June Design Challenge – Formula

Please list any awards or contests you’ve won outside of GCU.

Editors’ Pick on Zazzle for my raccoon calendar and I won Hallmark’s card contests, four times. The best part of winning Hallmark was a lady from Canada purchased the one with Bullwinkle on it and tracked me down through the Wildlife Association. She sent me a letter and we have been corresponding ever since. Like me, she is a Wildlife Rehabilitator and has a passion for raccoons

Please list the URLs of your 3 favorite cards in your storefront and why they are your favorites.
This one is one of my favorites because I love unusual Holidays and I think my little men look adorable
This is a favorite because it is a very good seller and I had lots of fun making it.
This one is a favorite because I created it for my own son-in-law.

Please list any of your professional social media sites.

I have a business page on Facebook and a website for my designs which works pretty well for me.

What was your inspiration for your winning card? Please walk us through the process of how this card went from an idea to a greeting card.

The inspiration for my winning card was my husband, I have been happily married for 43 years. My love for him makes love and romance verses seem to come easy. Also, I love to challenge myself and the contests give me ideas I normally would not think of. The steps I went through with this card were first I went through the big stock images having to do with formulas, when I came to the couple’s image I knew immediately that was the one and at that point the front message and inside verse just came to me.

What sparked your interest in art? Did you start as a young child?

I have been interested in photography ever since I was really young. and as a result of that, I have tons and tons of photos I’ve collected over the years. I have been privileged enough to have three federally licensed raccoons for fourteen years and they quickly became my main subjects. Thanks to GCU I found a place for their images. Thinking of different designs I could do with their images made me interested in digital art and I have been having fun ever since. I have many subjects now, but my heart will always be with my favorite subjects: my awesome boys (raccoons).

Do you have formal training or are you self-taught?

I am self-taught mostly but have taken courses online, and purchased and read lots of books. I am always eager to learn different techniques. With the opportunity that GCU provides and their wonderful review team, I have been able to grow and learn over the years. I feel fortunate to be part of this site.

Is your work done by hand and then scanned or do you work entirely on the computer?

Most of my work is done on the computer from my personal photographs downloaded from my camera and other resources.

Have you ever/do you currently have a job other than as an artist?

I own and operate Schneider’s Quality Painting for a living as well as buying, renovating, and selling houses. My non-paying job (my passion) is wildlife rehabilitation which I have been doing for thirty years.

What GCU artist(s) do you admire?

The GCU artist I admire is Doreen Erhardt. She is a very talented artist and gives so much of her time to help other GCU artists.

You’ve entered several GCU’s Design Challenges, what advice would you give to other artists who are hesitant to enter?

The advice I would give other artists who hesitate to enter the contests is why not, what do you have to lose? It gives you the opportunity to challenge yourself and forces you to leave your comfort zone. It is not about winning, it’s about growing as an artist but if you do win you get a lot of exposure which is great for your store so why not give it a try?

What would we be surprised to learn about you?

What someone who knows me might be surprised to learn about me is I have a fear of horses. The reason they would be surprised is that I am fearless when it comes to wild animals, insects … I have rescued animals stuck in fences, in attics, under houses, you name it, I’ve done it. Snakes, bats, raccoons, coyotes, beavers, just to name a few of the animals I have rehabbed. I think horses are beautiful, magnificent animals and I have always wanted to be around them more to overcome my fear but I have always been too busy with my wonderful family, work and animals.

Monday, September 14th

Design Challenge Winner, May 2020, Happiness is … – PamJArts

What was your inspiration for your winning card? Please walk us through the process of how this card went from an idea to a greeting card.

I wish I had some words of wisdom here but this one was pure luck! I was thinking of creating a new Coronavirus card and up popped this image in the stock card search results. Once I saw the expression on the dog, I knew I wanted to make a card from it. That dog is priceless, he looks like he is evaluating every word the kitten is sharing, maybe a little judgment going on there but obviously coming up with a wise solution as he lends a sympathetic ear. I love images that appear to tell a story and take it from there, hence it seemed a great fit for the challenge and I decided I would enter.  I like to laugh and so do my closest friends, so being true to who I am, the inside verse has a lighter side to it in addition to a sincere thank you.

This isn’t your first GCU’s Design Challenge win.  What advice would you give to other artists who are hesitant to enter?

I would say don’t feel shy about entering, you have nothing to lose and a few goodies and some exposure for your work if you win a place in the challenge. The GCU artist community is very friendly and supportive and it is an opportunity to have a little fun within the GCU community with no pressure. I would wholeheartedly encourage you to take the plunge and enter and join in the fun!

Like this winning card, many of your cards feature funny animals filled with personality.  What is your favorite animal and why?

My favorite animals are small rodents, it’s a thing, ask my family. I don’t have any as pets now, but hamsters, mice, chipmunks, if they are tiny with tiny beady eyes and tiny hands, they just melt my heart. Check out a Sengi Mouse and tell me that is not the cutest thing you have ever seen. That nose!

You’ve been a member of GCU’s artist community since 2008.  How have you seen your card designs evolve or change since the early days?

Yes, I have been here a long time. When I found GCU I thought it would be fun to create cards from my many floral photographs. No idea what I was doing and I was totally new to greeting cards outside of my usual holiday cards that I made for personal use. My daughters were elementary school age at the time and this was my little creative escape. I also at the time had a very early version of Photoshop and was teaching myself how to use it to edit photos and played around with creating all sorts of digital effects that were so overdone. I can honestly say some of those early designs left a lot to be desired and are long gone.

As the years went on I learned more Photoshop skills from practice and online sites (there is so much help out there) and I started to put more thought into creating greeting cards with a purpose and message. I started to appreciate how the use of different fonts and text placement are just as important as the image when creating a greeting card, how all these things working together made it more appealing and professional. More recently I have played with combining Photoshop effects and hand painting and that is what led to some of my funny animal cards. Lately, I have been revamping some of my old photo cards by going back to my original photographs and creating digital paintings through a combination of Photoshop effects and using my pen tablet, essentially hand painting over the image, much as I would if I were doing an oil painting. That way I can bring out what I want in the image and change anything that I did not like in the original photo. I am always trying something new and love any chance I get to create and play.

The Design Challenge was Happiness is …  How would you finish that sentence for yourself?

Happiness is finding anything that was lost.

This was a Stock Card Creation (BigStock) only challenge.  Any tips on finding the perfect stock image?

Outside of a nice sharp image, I would look for one that tells a story like the dog and cat image that I used. Look for images that will catch the eye of the shopper or make them want it because it is cute, dramatic, romantic, silly, etc.

There are many rewards for the Design Challenge Winner.  Which is your favorite and why?

I certainly like the card credits, always helpful, but it is also nice to have some badges to display on my storefront because I started this venture in 2008 knowing nothing and now I can show my family (that thought I was crazy) that I wasn’t crazy after all. Ha!

Mid-year is a good time to start design cards for the Winter holidays.  What are your plans?

I’m thinking about getting a new digital painting underway, maybe a winter floral or maybe a winter scene. I am leaning toward natural, simple designs this year. We shall see what comes forth!

Ok, now for the fast five, fun questions …

  • If you were a superhero, what would your superpower be? – The Mastery of Chi
  • What is one thing you miss about being a kid? – Running forever and NEVER getting tired.
  • What makes a good friend? – Courtesy, kindness and honesty.
  • Would you rather be a giant rodent or a tiny elephant? – Tiny Elephant, for sure.
  • What is your favorite scent / smell? – It’s a toss up between bacon or magnolias!
Monday, May 11th

Design Challenge Winner, February & March 2020 – Linda Gladman

Congratulations on first place winner status for both February and March design challenges for GCU artist Linda Gladman of Bright Star Cards

February Design Challenge – Wild About You

March Design Challenge – Shower, Showers, Showering

Please list any awards or contests you’ve won outside of GCU.

I’ve won a few gardening and photography challenge awards including a few on Facebook.

Please list the URLs of your 3 favorite cards in your storefront and why they are your favorites.

This card was my very first ever design!

I had a creative vision out of my love for nature and animals of the design and from there I was challenged to bring it to life.  I did not have any formal training, teachings, research or knowledge on how to accomplish this.  I just pushed through with trial and error and loads of perseverance.  To my surprise this design was my top selling card of 2019 and earned me 2019 “Hottest Seller” award.   I’m very thankful!

This card was inspired by a wood sign I painted for a customer whose parents
were celebrating their 50th Wedding Anniversary.  Some of my card designs are inspired by products I’ve created through my small business The Decor Nest.
This card was brought to life from my love of animals and gardens, particularly at Easter time.  It also challenged me in a variety of ways!

Please list any of your professional social media sites.

@brightstarcards on Instagram

The Decor Nest on Facebook

What was your inspiration for your Wild About You winning card? 

Simply my imagination!  As soon as I read the design challenge words, “Wild About You”, I immediately envisioned a chubby, lovable hog.

What was your inspiration for your Shower, Showers, Showering winning card? 

The design and idea just popped in my head.

What sparked your interest in photography?

My passion and love for nature and animals sparked my interest in photography.

Back in the day (lol) on my 18th birthday, I received my first “real” camera from my mom.  To this day this is one of my fondest memories.

A year later, I was married and at that time being a photographer was not considered practical so I went to business college and pursued a career in office management and bookkeeping while still embracing my passion for photography on an amateur level.

Do you have formal training or are you self-taught?


Honest answer.  Easier models, people or pets?


What would we be surprised to learn about you?

Possibly, that I’ve never eaten seafood.

I have, however, won a 35 lb lobster at a charity event.

(I gifted the couple that sat next to me)

Monday, March 16th

Design Challenge Winner, January 2020, Classic Blue – Liz Van Steenburgh

What was your inspiration for your winning card? Please walk us through the process of how this card went from an idea to a greeting card.
I put just the color on the card template at first and stared at it for a while. At first it invoked a feeling for a nautical scene, but in the end, I decided I loved the contrasting light blue found in the ribbon graphic. I also like the way the pink flowers popped against the classic blue.
Pantone’s Color of the Year, Classic Blue, stirred a bit of controversy along the lines of it being ho-hum and boring. Your card is anything but ho-hum.What were / are your thoughts on Classic Blue as Pantone’s color of the year?
I love the color of the year for 2020! I prefer it over the bright colors that have been chosen the past few years. It’s very soothing and versatile.
This isn’t your first GCU’s Design Challenge win. What advice would you give to other artists who are hesitant to enter?
Just do it! There’s nothing to lose and it can get those creative juices flowing.
You also received a 2019 Founders’ Choice Award for your custom front text Chinese New Year card Customize Chinese New Year of the Rat for Boy card. Tell us a little bit about this card and it’s similar winning predecessor Customize for Boy Chinese Year of the Rooster card.
This card, along with the little girl counterpart, are two cards that I update each year for Chinese New Year. I add the current animal of the year in place of the previous one and they are well-received each year by customers.
Like this winning card, many of your cards feature lovely, colorful flowers. What is your favorite flower and why?
I love all flowers and am very partial to graphics and card designs that incorporate flowers in some way. I would say daisies are my favorite, if I had to pick just one.
You’ve been a member of GCU’s artist community since 2008. How have you seen your card designs evolve or change since the early days?
Absolutely! I still have some cards that kind of make me cringe when they sell. Whenever that happens, I try to update or modernize it by changing something about the card, usually the font or more specifically, the size of the font. Why did I make text so big on old cards?! Back when I started though, I didn’t save the designs in a psd or layered file, so some cannot be easily changed. Tip to newcomers … always save a layered copy of your original!
Ok, now for the fast five, fun questions …
If you were a superhero, what would your superpower be?
To stop aging!
What is your favorite ice cream flavor?
I love vanilla ice cream, but coffee flavor comes in a close second.
What is your hidden talent?
It’s not so hidden, but I’m a pretty good sewer and crafter. I love all types of crafts and haven’t done nearly enough of it in recent years.
Would you rather be a giant rodent or a tiny elephant?
A tiny elephant. They are mighty regardless of size. I despise rodents (year of the rat was difficult!)
If you had to eat a worm, how would you cook it?
I’d probably put an Italian spin on it. Anyone for some worm parmesan? (yuk)
Monday, February 3rd

Michelle Lanou Design Challenge Winner, November 2019

In Remembrance of Dad this Christmas

What was your inspiration for your winning card? Please walk us through the process of how this card went from an idea to a greeting card. 

You asked about my inspiration for the November challenge fusion card design.  Well, this card was inspired by a personal event.  My dad passed away unexpectedly this October and with the holidays approaching I thought about Christmas without my father.  The design challenge asked us to incorporate different elements and glasses and a book were a couple of the items that were mentioned and stood out to me.  I had come across these things in my dad’s personal belongings as I was going through his belongings, glasses and a bible.  It all blended together to make the card that won this challenge.

The theme was Fusion Design with a list of specific elements to incorporate into your design.  Was that easier or more difficult for you than GCU’s usual design challenges? 

I really liked the fusion design challenge, it gives you a head start in designing a card with items for ideas.  In fact, the first challenge I won a few years ago was a challenge that was similar.  The challenge was to incorporate certain colors and items in the design. I painted my Sleigh bells ring in a winter wonderland card which became a very good selling card for me.

You’ve won several GCU’s Design Challenges, what advice would you give to other artists who are hesitant to enter?

I urge artists to enter the design challenges!   I sometimes feel a bit intimidated in entering depending on the theme or idea I have entered, but, you just never know if your card will be a winner! Try to look over the challenge every month and see if it might be one that pulls at your creative self, design a card, and enter. Ask for help if you are unsure of the rules or how to enter, Doreen is great at getting back to you. Winning challenges has improved my exposure and I am sure it has improved my sales greatly over the years. It’s well worth the effort.

You have created many lovely frosty scenery Christmas cards. How do you get inspired and in the “merry” mood?

How do I get in a merry mood:) Well, I have always had a special heart for Christmas.  The colors, the joy, the season of magic. I think about the memories of my childhood Christmases and Christmases with my own children and grandchildren.  I think all these things just tug at me to share my feelings through painting.

Which card is your favorite of your Christmas cards and why?

I looked over my Christmas cards and really couldn’t pick out a sure favorite, but I think I lean towards the winter wonderland card and the city park Interfaith card.  I think there is a mood with these cards that people pick up on for their own holiday season traditions.

Tell the truth, did you send holiday cards this year and if so did you send one of your own cards or send a design by a different artist? 

Truthfully, I sent out a lot of cards this Christmas season.  A lot of my own and a few other artists also. I wanted to reach out to family and friends after my dad’s passing because that reminded me how important they all are to me.

Ok, now for the fast five, fun questions …

If you had to be allergic to something, what would it be?  

I think it’d be holiday movies. Haha. I can watch them over and over and never get sick of them!

What is one thing you miss about being a kid?  

The simplicity and innocence for sure.

What makes a good friend?  

Someone who is there for you no matter what.

What is your favorite ice cream flavor?  

Chocolate for sure!

What is your hidden talent?  

Repurposing I guess. My mind is always thinking of ways to reuse something instead of tossing it.

Monday, October 21st

Betsy Bush — Design Challenge Winner — Sept 2019

Betsy Bush, Design Challenge Winner, September 2019

What was your inspiration for your winning card? Please walk us through the process of how this card went from an idea to a greeting card.

I had the email from GCU Forum Wanted Cards in my mailbox regarding wanting Adopt a Shelter Pet Day designs, and as I was scouring my design resources for anything about hands I came across the little family holding hands with a dog and I thought I would address the challenge as well as the Wanted Cards request. Fortunately in the same bundle of graphics there was a cat I could incorporate into the design.

Did this occasion/category resonate with you in supporting animal shelters?  Are you/were you a pet owner?

Most definitely! We have a local woman who quit her job and used all of her built up retirement to create an animal rescue. I once donated many of my cards in a basket for raffles for one of her fundraisers. I also have done a few little designs for her to use on Facebook to encourage people to adopt from her rescue. A couple of  years ago she was featured on the Harry Connick Jr. show. She works so hard as do all of her volunteers to make a difference in animals’ lives. I just wish I could do so much more to help.

To answer the second question, Yes, I have had many cats and dogs over the years, all of which have come from a shelter, or in most of the cats’ cases, from being dropped off at our house as we live in a very wooded area and people do this thing all the time. It makes me so upset, but at least we have been able to care for most of them and found the others a good home.

One of the rewards to being a Design Challenge winner is being able to use the winning design, should the artist choose, in a new series and using Fast Track review for all cards in the new series.  Will you leverage this design for more cards and if yes, what other occasions / categories?

I haven’t given thought to a series with this design.

Holiday card sales are already in full swing.  Do you have new holiday card design(s) that you think / hope will be popular sellers this year?  If so, please share a link.

Yes, I would really like to see this design be popular this holiday season. I am almost done uploading the entire series.

Ok, now for the fast five, fun questions …

1-What one accomplishment are you most proud of?My graphic design work. Never in a million years did I imagine I would stumble upon something that would bring me so much joy and an amazing sense of accomplishment!

I would be remiss if I didn’t thank Greeting Card Universe for being the driving force behind my accomplishments. If not for the support of Mindy,Team GCU and the Community members, the entire experience of my design work just would not be the same at all.

2-What’s the most unusual item in your desk / work space?

A black and white drawing of Frank Zappa incorporated into an antique vanity mirror that hangs right over my monitor.

3-What is your greatest irrational fear?

I am very afraid of the dark.

4-Who was your childhood actor/actress crush?

Davy Jones and David Cassidy. One day I found out that my mother went to high school with David Cassidy’s mother. That was a cool bragging point!

5-What was your first paid job?  What did you love or hate about it?

Working in a little clothes factory with a lot of older local women in the little Pennsylvania Dutch community I moved to during my last 2 years of high school. It was a huge culture shock for me to move from the suburbs of New Jersey to this little place, and oh boy could those old ladies gossip! I found it very amusing, especially because you could tell they were whispering a lot about my friends and I because we were so young and we provided a lot of material for their cackling!

Wednesday, September 25th

Teri Francis — Design Challenge Winner


Teri Francis of Squirrel Hugger, Design Challenge Winner, August 2019

Please list any awards or contests you’ve won outside of GCU.
I don’t usually enter contests. Only did this one because I was curious to learn how to do the Stock Cards on GCU. It was really a fun experience, and I look forward to doing more in the future.

Please list the URLs of your 3 favorite cards in your storefront and why they are your favorites.
All of my favorite cards came about as a result of some personal connection to the intended recipient. I try to keep that in mind when creating cards. What would the person receiving this card need or want to hear? What would mean the most to me if I were the recipient of this card? Those are the 2 questions that I strive to answer in every greeting card I create. Here are my favorites, in no particular order:


What Have You Been Up To?
Still have the framed photo that inspired this one on my desk. One of our kitties got into the yarn basket and had a ball. We snapped a photo before untangling her. This was originally a pen-and-ink drawing that I later filled in when I scanned it into Photoshop. Not my best work, but certainly my personal favorite.


Oh Nuts – Belated Birthday Card
Just happened to snap this photo at the right time to catch the squirrel’s expression. I also needed a belated-birthday card at the time. The two just seemed to mesh together in a fun way. BTW–the squirrel in this photo is Buttercup, the same squirrel that is used for my Squirrel Hugger logo. He and his brother were orphans that my mom hand raised and released to the backyard. Anything with Buttercup on it automatically falls into my favorites.


Happy Mother’s Day Mom
I got these roses at the supermarket checkout to practice different lighting techniques with a new camera that I had just bought. I set them up in all sorts of different ways, with and without wine glasses, natural lighting, strobe lighting. My mom was there, watching all this go on for hours, assisting when necessary, and ultimately opening the bottle of wine and telling me to take a break after shooting about 400 photos. I have such wonderful memories of that day — and the results are seen in dozens of my cards. This one, after much trial-and-error processing in Photoshop, became one of my favorites, and more importantly it was a card that my mom kept and treasured until the end of her life.

Please list any of your professional social media sites.
I don’t do the “typical” social media marketing that most others use. My early experiences with on-line marketing resulted in too many DMCA letters, legal fees, and headaches, so I reverted to old-fashioned B-2-B marketing through emails and newsletter updates to my client list, which includes event planners, hotel/hospitality industry contacts, etc. That’s worked out much better for me. As a result of those bad experiences, I now work under several different names, so that if one or two IP stalkers get hold of my work, they cannot rummage my entire collection of work. I do keep a website (DeluxeBridalWeddingInvitations) that is very difficult to find unless you are on my “by invite only” list, and I’m pleased to say that in 7 years that I’ve maintained that site, there has not been one theft or copy-cat problem. I also do some Pinterest Pins prior to major holidays.

Luxury Ink Invitations

What was your inspiration for your winning card? Please walk us through the process of how these cards went from ideas to greeting cards.
I was working on “coffee” themed holiday card ideas for a local coffee shop owner prior to the Design Challenge. This was my first time trying out the Stock Card creation process, so the first search I did was “coffee Christmas” and I was surprised by how many wonderful images came up in the results. I was drawn to the photo of a coffee cup with the snowflake cream, surrounded by coffee beans. First, it’s a great eye-catching image, but most importantly it was winter-holiday themed but without any kind of religious or sectarian references — important for business owners who send holiday greeting cards to customers and clients of all faiths. As a coffee-lover myself, java equals joy — so the first thing that came to mind for the cover text was “Peace, Love & Java”. The inside verse was just what every coffee-hound loves to hear, “… filled to the brim …”, along with traditional holiday wishes.

What sparked your interest in art? Did you start as a young child?
Yes, I’ve been drawing and painting from the time I could hold anything that made marks on the walls, lol. Love for animals of all kind has been a passion throughout my life, so it’s no surprise that horses, cats, dogs, squirrels and bunnies were my first subjects. When I was in school, I learned to do calligraphy as well as pen-and-ink drawings. Even though all my professional work is done on the computer these days, I still love to pick up a pen with a firm nib and just draw for fun and relaxation. I took up photography as hobby several years ago, again mostly wildlife
and nature shots, but I found a great challenge and fondness for taking photos at sporting, dancing, and auto racing events — basically anything that moves fast. I’ve shot many events that I had no prior interest or knowledge of, but I’ve found that looking through the lens of a camera opens up the “creative eye” in your mind to see things you would otherwise miss. And that is something I don’t get from simply drawing or painting. I heartily recommend it to anyone who has a desire to pursue a career in creative arts. Just pick up a camera (even a cheap one) and go for a walk on a familiar path — once you start shooting, you’ll see things you never knew were there.

Do you have formal training or are you self-taught?
I had some fabulous art teachers in both middle and high school that inspired and encouraged me to continue with art as a major influence in my future. But I was working, and I liked making money, and didn’t really see art being a viable career for me. I took business, writing, and marketing classes in college, which came in handy for paying the bills. Then, in my early 40s, life took some unexpected turns, and I found myself being drawn back to art as form of relaxation and coping. I began to learn how to “draw” in Adobe Illustrator (15 years later and I’m still in the learning phase), and around the same time started selling some of my artwork and photos through microstock companies such as BigStock and Shutterstock. A customer let me know she had purchased several of my drawings (Irish-themed) to be used on greeting cards … and it was from that one chance interaction with a customer that led me to look for on-line greeting card suppliers, and I luckily found GCU!

In general, is your work done by hand and then scanned or do you work entirely on the computer?
All of my professional work since 2004 has been done on computer, although I still enjoy doing artwork by hand for my own pleasure. In the early 2000s, I did scan some of my earlier artwork and polished it up in Adobe Photoshop — there are a few of them on GCU and at the microstocks. But I find that the time and detailed “clean-up” work involved with scanning and processing hand-drawn artwork is more burdensome than if I just create the same or something similar from scratch on the computer. There are some artists I admire at GCU whose brilliant brush work and fine art skills would make it worth their time to do such refinements. But my art is not that elegant, so it’s really a matter of weighing my time investment.

Have you ever/do you currently have a job other than as an artist?
I’m an old galoot, so I’ve had many jobs over the years in addition to my on-line ventures. Early in my career I was mostly involved with marketing in the hotel/restaurant/hospitality field. When health and family issues turned my world upside down, I worked part-time for a group of psychologists. That was interesting! I worked for them for 21 years while I was developing my art and learning to sell my work through the internet. There couldn’t have been a better team of cheerleaders to have on your side. I retired from the psych practice to take care of my mom, whose physical and mental decline required full-time care.

What GCU artist(s) do you admire?
So many! These are just a few whose work always stands out.
Diana Ting Delosh: Awesome artwork, adorable little animals, very sweet cards.
Maria Dryfhout: Loved Maria’s photography (especially of her beloved animals) since my early days in microstocks. She makes beautiful cards.
Sandra Rose Designs: Very professional designs, polished layouts and typography.
Tom Rent: Tom can find a picture, a funny quote, and a reason to celebrate any occasion with a smile. Love his humor.
Norma Comes: Norma has a great eye for color and balance. Loved her work for a long time.
Doreen Erhardt: Doreen is just a fabulous card-maker. She understands both the artistic and marketability perspective. And she is a wonderful, generous person who is always willing to help.
Teri Nelson Kuster: Teri’s work is relatively new to me, but her cards stand out, and I’m very impressed with her ability to fashion just the right typography for the design and the occasion.

Squirrel Hugger? Ok, you must tell us where that comes from.
As I mentioned before, animals of all kind have been a great influence in my life. My parents were “pet” people, my mother particularly could make a pet out of almost any creature alive. She would have squirrels, bunnies, chipmunks, and even birds scratching at the backdoor every morning for a handout. And if they were hurt, inside they came to be patched up, fed, and comforted until they healed and could be released. Remember, this was in the 1950s-1960s, and there weren’t many wildlife refuge places around in those days. So, as my mom’s health declined, I sort of took over feeding and care of the furry and feathered crew outside. When I took up photography, I began with the squirrels, birds,and bunnies in the backyard — they’re beautiful, they move quickly and unexpectedly, and they’re just darn cute. I posted some of my photos on Flickr, and I was shocked by the interest from all over the world in our little critters, particularly the antics of the squirrels. I soon picked up the nickname “Squirrel Hugger” from those photos. It became my handle on Flickr, and over a period of years, some of our most adventurous squirrels, namely Ratface, Buttercup, and Rambo, have made their way into news articles, advertising, and even television background settings (and some GCU cards too!). So, when I came to GCU and was asked to pick a name for my store, it seemed like a perfect way to pay homage to the adorable fluff-balls that helped me start my on-line business ventures. I’ve often joked, if I had known then that it might be successful, I’d probably have chosen a different name. But all these years later, I’m so pleased and proud to still be known as “Squirrel Hugger” both personally and professionally.
BTW — While I certainly appreciate and encourage everyone to care about injured and orphaned wildlife, there are so many wonderful wildlife rehab places in every community these days. I’m a strong advocate for helping wildlife best by getting it into the care of professionals who are skilled and equipped to treat and rehab them back to their natural environment.

What would we be surprised to learn about you?
Most people are surprised when they learn that in addition to my obvious interests, my guilty pleasures are Star-Trek, hot-rod cars and the rock band Queen. Captain Kirk and Freddie Mercury reside side by side in posters over the computer in my office. When I’m working, the songs most likely playing in the background are “Don’t Stop Me Now” and “Under Pressure.” : )

Thursday, August 15th

Shoaff Ballanger Studios, Design Challenge Winner, June 2019

Shoaff Ballanger Studios, Design Challenge Winner,  June 2019
Shoaff Ballanger Studios is a collaborative wife-husband team consisting of Susan Shoaff-Ballanger and Jay Ballanger.


Please list any awards or contests you’ve won outside of GCU.
Both of us have had our pojagi fiber art (Korean patchwork) accepted and exhibited internationally in South Korea at the Pojagis From American Friends, Cheongju International Craft Biennale, Cheongju, Korea. Susan has also been the Art Educator of the Year for the State of Missouri.

Please list the URLs of your 3 favorite cards in your storefront and why they are your favorites.


We love the details in the various items and the cat in Susan’s illustration. There are so many textures and colors in this vibrant but melancholy scene. The card was originally drawn for Susan’s mother when she was away at college, as was the Cat a Day Keeps the Doctor Away card.
We chose this one because of the pojagi Korean patchwork (original stitched piece by Susan) and how we could incorporate it into the Korean 100th day Baek-il theme.
We love the Catholic saints theme and have a varied selection in our storefront. This one was chosen because of the vibrant color scheme and abstracted shapes.

Please list any of your professional social media sites.

What was your inspiration for your winning card? Please walk us through the process of how this card went from an idea to a greeting card.
The steampunk theme was fun for us as we thought about how to include some kind of animatronic animal or mechanical creature into the card design. We scoured numerous photographs and illustrations in the GCU Stock Card Creation page looking for mechanical animals. The chameleon was so interesting and perfect for the challenge. We also love puns so “chameleon” and “a million” worked perfectly.

What sparked your interest in art? Did you start as a young child?
Both of us had an interest in art as young children. Jay was creating bulletin boards in his house at the age of ten, with a monthly / seasonal theme. Susan took as many art and craft classes as a child, as her mother would allow. Both of us were adventurous, curious, and creative children.

Do you have formal training or are you self-taught?
Both of us are formally trained and since we have been married have attended numerous art and history classes/workshops together at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, Shakerag, the University of Minnesota-Duluth, and Cambridge University in England.

Have you ever/do you currently have a job other than as an artist?
Jay is currently an elementary art teacher and has also worked as a speech-language pathologist at the elementary school level and as a clinical communication disorders supervisor in the university setting.  Susan has now retired from a forty-year teaching career as an elementary art teacher/supervisor and as a university professor of art, art education, fibers, and design.

What GCU artist(s) do you admire?
We have to give a shout-out to Gail Pepin and Sue Nollmeyer for their nice reviews and comments on our cards. We should call them the GCU Cheerleaders! We also love the work of Paris Bottman  and have enjoyed and purchased her work for many years.

What is it like working with your spouse?  Advantages? Disadvantages?
Working together for us is a great experience. We have been collaborating for over forty years on our fiber art works. We get to bounce ideas off of each other and it is always good to have a second pair of eyes. Jay will search the GCU Forum for new card requests and discuss it with Susan to get some ideas of what the finished card might look like. We have learned not to take the criticisms to heart and to trust each other’s opinions.  Max, our standard poodle, and Betty our miniature poodle are not much help in the critique area.

What would we be surprised to learn about each of you?
Susan wants to live in an RV and escape northern winters and Jay grew up on a farm and knows how to build fence and load disagreeable livestock onto trucks.
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