A Picture’s Worth


What is a picture worth today?

“A picture’s worth ten thousand words.”

The phrase is attributed to advertising executive Fred Barnard of Printers’ Ink, who first used it in 1927. Almost a century later, a picture’s value is higher than ever.

Everybody knows that images make things pop. Tweets with visual content get more retweets; Facebook posts get more shares. Some bloggers add an image every 75 – 100 words to keep people scrolling.

Marketing research emphatically proves visual content pushes sales, increases click rates, and attracts attention way more than text alone.

  • Readers process visuals quicker than blocks of text. On average, users read only 20% of words, but add images and Presto! More engagement.
  • Eye-tracking experts claim that readers spend longer on sites that present information graphically. In fact, infographics can increase web traffic by 12%.
  • Images aid memory. One source found that adding an image to an audio clip increases the listener’s memory rate from 10% to 65%.
  • Social media marketers weighted images as their most important form of content. It makes good business sense when research shows landing pages that include videos have a higher conversion rate than ones without.

Or… Here is the same set of stats in an infographic I created.

Spilling Ink Sample Infographic from Canva Template (1)

Where did your eye go? Which did you unpack, the text above or the infographic?

So, if text alone doesn’t cut it, what’s the humble wordsmith to do?

Build a Web-Toolbox!

Not too long ago in a blog post here, I claimed that infographics were the domain of talented graphic designers. That was back in 2015, when when I was just discovering the wonderful world of graphic design. With powerful tools like the Adobe Creative Suite at their disposal, designers can create wonders and true works of art.

But the Adobe Creative Suite is a set of advanced tools that require pretty heavy-duty training and an artistic eye for best results. The Creative Suite is available as software or can be accessed by subscription online via Creative Cloud, but either way it’s super costly.

Write what interests you & you'll never run out of ideas (2)Good News for the Un-Artsy

There are lots of affordable options writers can use to create fabulous visuals—including infographics. Making graphics takes a bit of time, especially when you’re learning, but it can be fun.

I rarely write an article, story, tweet or post without thinking about how I can enhance it with visual content. Here’s one of the first graphics I made using a template from Canva.


Creating Gob-smacking Visuals

“Empowering the world to design.” That’s the logo of one of my favourite webtools, Canva. In addition to being a serious design tool, Canva is a playground for discovering and building designing skills. That’s attractive to me, a designer wannabe. I know my limitations, but they don’t keep me from  having fun—and indulging in creative procrastination.

I had a ball designing my own schmicko business cards and matching  invoices for my freelance work. I regularly use Canva to make images for Facebook pages and Twitter. I even had a crack at creating a logo for my new creative business venture with my writing buddy Kellie Byrnes. More on that another day, but until then, here’s a teaser. This is a placeholder I made for our Facebook page header while the business is under construction.

sm copy of Landing Soon

My Very Own Infographics

I’ve created a few infographics from scratch with not-too-bad results, but I’ve had better luck using Canva’s templates as a starting place. The results are more pleasing because layout is the tricky bit for the untrained designer. The “What’s a Picture Worth Today?” infographic above started as a Canva template. It took me less than an hour to customise it. I’m the first to admit a pro would do a far better job, but not every graphic deserves the finesse (and cost) of a professional designer.*

Favourite Canva Features

Canva comes with some features I really appreciate. It offers a free version for humble writers like me. Upgrade to the premium membership and you get a 30-day free trial period before you pay US$12.95/month or $9.95/month if you pay an annual fee. The paid version offers some important tools, like resizing and team sharing. Check here for Canva’s current pricing.

So far, for my basic needs, the free account has done the trick, although I often drool over the luscious images and icons I can’t access.

Here’s what I love about Canva:

  • It provides an ENORMOUS bank of elements to draw from – shapes, icons, images, and pictures. There are heaps of freebies like the ones I chose for the infographic above. Some have a small price tag (US$1), which you buy with credits. And there are really slick ones available exclusively for premium members.
  • There’s a nice variety of fonts.
  • The dashboard provides a tool to adjust kerning and leading (spacing between letters and lines). Big ♥!
  • Canva provides pre-sized templates for various social media platforms.

A few useful features are missing from (free) Canva:

  • Canva doesn’t provide (as far as I can tell) an eye-dropper tool for colour matching. This tool lets you “pick up” a colour from somewhere in the image, which is very handy. Colour matching is limited to the standard palettes or dependent on figuring out a particular colour’s code some other fiddly way.
  • Flipping elements is possible, but there’s no user-friendly button. Sometimes I don’t have the time to watch a how-to video.
  • Canva doesn’t group its fonts into categories, a feature that would make font pairing a little easier.

Canva’s How To

This video shows the basics of how to use Canva. For more instructional videos, check out the Canva Youtube Channel.

Ali’s Top Tips for Visual Content Creation

I source images from Unsplash, a wonderful bank of free, high resolution photos. Unsplash photos look fantastic, and some are suitable for adding text. Here’s a Facebook Page image I whipped up by adding text to an Unsplash photo.

Mondays are ruff withoutthe Roundtable

[N.B., TSW! (Time Suck Warning): I could easily piddle away half a day on Unsplash, scrolling through the gorgeous photography!]

Best of all, Unsplash images come with the following license:

All photos published on Unsplash can be used for free. You can use them for commercial and noncommercial purposes. You do not need to ask permission from or provide credit to the photographer or Unsplash, although it is appreciated when possible.

I’m happy to credit their photographers, which I usually do at the end of my posts. One good turn deserves another, especially for fellow creatives!

Over to You

What are your favourite webtools for creating graphics? I’d love to see your handiwork, so pop a link in the comments.

* Outsourcing Graphic Design

Fiverr is an example of a company that will quickly create graphic design images for you, but don’t forget to think local and support your nearby creatives and graphic designers!

Image Credit:

Header: Photo by Brigitta Schneiter on Unsplash

Pug: Photo by Toshi on Unsplash

The Whys of Blogging Fatigue

Blogging Fatigue ala Rockwell

“Why am I doing this?”

This is the way the pep-talks about blogging fatigue start between Me, Myself and I. One of us has been a bit cynical and out of sorts lately, but I won’t point any fingers.

I’ve been blogging since 2008, and it’s been a fun journey. By fun, I mean satisfying. Not the jolly, belly-laughing kind of fun. Or the “Far Out! Look at my stats skyrocket” kind of fun. It definitely hasn’t been the “Whoopee! I’m rolling in cash” kind of fun. Just good ol’ satisfying.


Huckleberry, my puppy. Lots of work and joy wrapped in a furry bundle. Kinda like a blog…

Blogging is hard work, but good work. I learn heaps. I polish my writing. I have a reason to write, which is really important for someone like me who likes to have a project or seven on the go.

In practice, blogging is a lot like looking after a puppy. As in, it’s full on. Actually, it’s more like minding one of those insane Tamagotchi™ digital pets. Can anyone out there in the blogosphere give me an AMEN? (There’s a fun blog post idea there for anyone who has the drive to knock it into shape! You’re welcome.)

So, yeah, lately I’ve noticed these little burbles of discontent around my blogging. The number of posts on both blogs has dwindled, taking last year’s steady flow to this year’s drip, drip…drip. Apparently, my blogging get-up-and-go got up and went south for the season.

Me, Myself or I (not naming names) is battling a bout of blogging fatigue.

What happened?

Why is the satisfaction lagging for Me? (Oops! I named names. Sorry, Me).

I (the counsellor in our little trio) got Gestalt with this question, and here is what I came up with. There are a few things at play.


I preach it all the time: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” As a school counsellor (who really shouldn’t preach), I witness the misery that comparison wreaks in the lives of young people as they struggle to accept themselves in a world bombarded by impossible standards and photoshopped images. 8433086525_189f34a2e2_m

For a little player in the blogosphere, forty hits a day sounds all right. Until I hear about the blogger (writing the same kind of posts as I am) who got 4000.

And then there are the “Like” buttons at the bottom of the post.  Thank you to all my regular readers who click the Like button. You guys are awesome; please don’t stop clicking that button. It makes me smile. But when I go to read other blogs and stumble upon a post about pre-war potholders with 189 likes? Seriously?

I start wondering…maybe the Cosmos is trying to tell me the children’s literature and books and love of words I write about are not as meaningful as potholders. Do you see what I mean about comparison ripping off my joy?

In my defence, I’m not consciously comparing myself to high-flying bloggers (or even low-flying, pre-war potholder posters). It’s a side-effect of skilling-up on the Net. In my efforts to learn to write better and blog smarter, I have to wade through so much tedious horn blowing. So many of the voices out there are touting enormous incomes, huge followings, and viral pieces as the only hallmarks of blogging success.

Satisfaction doesn’t get a headline–at least not an SEO-ed one.


If you catch yourself feeling frustrated about blogging, check to see if you are comparing yourself to unrealistic standards or trends. Instead, try comparing your present track record with your past one. Celebrate improvement and strategise about everything else.

Nebulous Markers of SuccessBlogging Fatigue 2

What makes a blog or its blogger a success? The Internet screams this answer: Making big bucks and having a huge following.

That isn’t why I started blogging. I just wanted to carve out a space and a reason to write. Even now, I don’t covet the ephemeral fame of a viral blog post. (Of course, I wouldn’t poo-poo it if it happened…) And I don’t have the time to find and wheedle sponsors. I toyed with affiliate programs, but they are not my cup of tea. And I’ve heard the income they generate will barely pay for said cuppa.

After defining what I wanted Spilling Ink to become, I set some specific goals for 2014. One way to achieve my goals was to post at least once a week. I did it for a year. I posted regularly, and no matter what anyone says, that is a feat. Hats off to the bloggers who come up with fresh ideas and crisp content day after day. I hired a blogging coach, and refined my efforts.  Seeing the steady growth in number of hits and my blogging skill at the end of the year was satisfying.


Here’s one thing I discovered about blogging in the above exercise of 2014. Trying to carve out a space for your blog is a bit like trying to build a sandcastle with dry sand. It doesn’t hold no matter how fast you scoop.


Make up your own definition of success for your blog, and set some SMART goals to reach your success. S=specific, M=measurable, A=attainable, R=relevant, and T=timely. If success means your blog generates money, go for it. Learn everything you can. If you’re after satisfaction, join me. And remember to keep your eyes on your prize–not someone else’s.

Fuzzy Focus

“Why AM I doing this?” That’s still the question. Here’s the answer: Not for the original why of 2008/9.

Way back then, I was kick-starting a writing habit. And I mean kick-starting in the pre-crowdsourcing sense of the word, the physical, grunting way you kick a rusty old motorcycle into motion. The blog I cut my teeth on, Consonance, and the next one, Unlocking the Attic, gave me a reason to write regularly. I’ve come a long way since that first post on language learning. Some of my early posts on the old sites make me cringe. But others make me smile, cackle, and even tear up.

Blogging worked! Now, seven years later, I have not only an established writing habit, I also have a fledgling writing career. My writing and I HAVE come a long way, baby! I’ve guest-blogged, written for online magazines, and been published in print magazines. My fiction has placed in and won competitions. I’ve written four novel manuscripts, and I have a New York literary agent working on selling one of them. I even have to use an application to keep track of my numerous submissions. Heck, now a days, I’m a bona fide, certified author. I’ve  got the rejection letters–and a few of the other sort, the acceptances and paychecks–to prove it! Yay!

Blogging helped get me here, and I intend to use it to keep me moving along my writing journey.

What to blog about next...

What to blog about next…


Refine not only your blog’s focus but your personal writing goals. Revisit them regularly, and don’t be afraid to re-refine those goals! Things change–you grow and the market does too.

Next Step?

It seems to Me (and I and Myself agree) that I have to figure out what blogging needs to do for me in 2015 and beyond. I know it has something to do with my author platform. And if that isn’t a shifty beast, I don’t know what is.

While I figure that out, here’s hoping this post has rebooted my blogging mojo and fired you up too.

Over to You

If you’re battling blogging fatigue, you have my commiseration. It sucks to lose the joi d’écrire–the joy of writing. I hope you tap back into that joy quickly. Trust that it’s still there; it’s just masked by weariness and disillusionment. To reëmerge, it needs you to rest and refresh your soul.

For practical steps, I recommend the Problogger series Declaring War on Blogging Apathy by Darren Rowse.

If his suggestions don’t give you relief, dig deeper to the level of motivations. I suggest you ask yourself a few tough questions. Try to figure out when and where your mojo lost its oomph. If you’re comparing your success to the success of others, try defining your own!

Best of luck!

Creative Commons Image Credits

Two Bloggers, after Norman Rockwell by Mike Licht

Comparison is the thief of all joy #chalkgram by Kyle Steed

A Pompeian Beauty Blogging, after Rafaele Giannetti by Mike Licht

 Romeo, Romeo, WTF Romeo? after Wm Powell Firth by Mike Licht

My daughter took the shot of Huckleberry, who’s much bigger now.

Blogger’s Note: This post, like many of my posts, has been edited after publishing. In this instance, I amended the content when my mojo finally came home.

Smartphone Photo Dojo

Photo Dojo

Photo of a Dojo


In my quest to take better blog pictures with my iPhone, I’m learning to be fearless about asking for assistance. Recent cries for help led to a chance conversation with a colleague, whom I’ve since signed up as my unofficial photography Sensei.

Last week I shared Sensei Paul Swanson’s basic smartphone photography tips. This week, he agreed to write a guest blog post on photographic composition.

Take it away, Paul.  (*Bows deeply and backs away…)

Sensei Swan’s Photo Composition Tips

Disclaimer: I’m not a professional photographer, but as such I do have a regular income. (Sorry, hard-working shutterbugs; I couldn’t help myself).

These days, you are likely to capture your dearest memories with a smartphone or at best a small compact camera, not with professional gear. So this should be reason enough to learn a few simple secrets from the pros and put them into action. And, it’s actually much, much easier than you might first think…

OK, Super-Fun Photo Dojo Time!

Lighting is Everything

Stop taking photos in poor light. Too dark and it will be blurry. Too bright and it’ll look like the surface of the sun. Too much of both and you’ll only get half a photo at best.

If you’re inside, consider turning on some lights. If you’re outside, just move around. Otherwise, just don’t shoot; there’s no point.

What you want is an adequate and even light on the subject of your photo (puppy biting its tail, child covered in spaghetti, etc.). You’ll know it’s right because the first photo will look natural and won’t be blurry.

The Almighty Rule of Thirds

Rule of Thirds

Rule of Thirds example (with pre-blurred student)


Stop putting individuals in the middle of the frame. Yes, really, stop it. Be a pro and use the rule of thirds. It’s just as easy but looks way better.

Just put the subject off to the left or right, about one-third across. Now, check the height and put their head about one-third down from the top. Presto! You’re royalty amongst amateur photographers!

Your camera can probably even display an on-screen guide (a grid) to help you do this every time, just check the options menu.

Get Some PerspectiveIMG_20130822_092901

Stop taking photos dead on, use perspective. Shoot looking back from one side or the other. Get down low or up high to make it come alive. This means you’ll have to move…yourself. You might even feel a little silly at first, crouched in the corner looking back at the ceiling, but the memories are worth it! Have a go–it’s lots of fun.

Children Come in One Size: Short.

Stop photographing the tops of children’s skulls. Get down to their level, eye to eye. Crouching or sitting will help you achieve this in most cases.

IMG_20140629_150310~2 (1)

Only Interesting Bits

Stop taking photos of everything you can see when you’re really only interested in one thing. You could use zoom if your camera has it, but it will often result in blurry photos.

So just move closer to your subject. If your subject is just one thing (glorious latte art, a wart on your big toe, whatever), consider getting REALLY close and use some perspective for good measure.

Filters Aren’t Photography

Notice there’s been absolutely no mention of applying vintage filters or other effects… They’re primarily intended to take crumby photos and cover up all the terrible things you’ve previously been doing. But, just imagine what you could produce with them now that you have been sensei-slapped into shape!  The possibilities are endless…and horribly faded and vignetted beyond all recognition. OK, filters have their place, but in twenty year’s time, don’t say you weren’t warned.

Sensei Swan out.

Over to You!

Domo arigato gozaimasu to my sensei. Got any composition tips you’d like to share? Leave a comment.

Image Credits: Dojo by ..::Fighter-Arts::.., Creative Commons 2.0

Rule of Thirds, Perspective, Shortie & Dad by Paul Swanson on his smartphone, used with permission

5 Tips for Better Blog Pictures

I suffer from photo envy–along with a cluster of other photographic maladies. As I scroll through my friends’ clever shots and seemingly carefree set-ups, the fever of envy burns. Just look at this shot by my friend and colleague, Paul Swanson:

photo (8)

I can’t blame the smartphone camera; it’s the same as everybody else’s. Compared to my friends’ crisp, clear shots, mine are a fuzzy, muddled mess. If I had a dollar for every photo opportunity I’ve screwed up over the years, I’d have enough money for a hot DSLR camera with all the trimmings. Bet that would fix my picture taking woes. (I’m kidding, don’t worry!) Some of my photo-fails hurt worse than others.

Picture This…

Like the time I took my daughter Kiki to a book launch hosted by her favourite author, Isobelle Carmody. Afterwards, at the book signing table, Isobelle grinned at Kiki and said, “Cute hair!”  Both of them sport the same ultra funky micro-fringes (bangs). “It’ll make a great photo,” I said, waving my iPhone. I lined them up and snapped away quickly, mindful of the queue of people behind us.

Isobelle said to make sure we shared the photo on her Facebook page. My daughter was stoked.

The micro fringe shared by daughter and author.

I think we all know where this story is headed… On our way back to the car, Kiki checked out the photo. Instead of a happy-snap of a famous author and fan with matching fringes, we had three abstract art pieces. Blurs, swirls, swooshes…or something.

Three bad photos! Who does that?

I handed her my phone. “Quick! Run back and do a selfie of the two of you.” Off she dashed.

“I’ll stay far away for luck…” I mumbled to myself.

Isobelle had left, sadly. Yet another photo-op screwed up by Mum.

Reliable photography skills not only help with familial harmony, they are essential for freelance writing and blogging. I realised earlier this year that I must do something to mend my bumbling photographic ways–quick-smart.

I set myself a challenge for the second half of 2014: Figure out what the heck I’m doing wrong and learn how to improve my pictures. I started by creating a Pinterest board called Pretty Pictures, where I pin links to helpful articles and inspiring photos.

 Analysis of My Photo-Fails

I blame my eyes–and age (which is novel, because my hormones get the blame for EVERYTHING else.) A big part of the problem is the fact that I can’t see a damn thing that’s closer than my arm length + 11¾ inches. Reading glasses help, of course. But retrieving them from the black hole that is my handbag will mean my subjects have to wait around, yawning, tapping their foot, and glaring at my back.

At least that’s how it feels to me.

Which leads to another part of my problem. I rush. I bluster. I freak a tiny bit. (I can feel your eyes rolling–I know–It’s stupid! Just settle, Ali!) I know I should chill, but I don’t want to inconvenience people. I worry about being annoying which is, well…annoying. All of this causes my hands to tremble.

You get the picture…

Photographic First Aid

I was making fun of my photo-catastrophic prowess to a long-suffering colleague, and he kindly shared some photography pointers. This is one of the guys who regularly extricates me from technological pickles of my making. I’m going to list Sensei Paul Swanson’s tips here in the unlikely event that anyone out there shares my issues. I highly doubt it, but, hey–it’s a big planet.

5  Tips for Better Blog Pictures

  1. Hold the phone horizontally rather than vertically. This step minimises some of the wobble-factor.
  2. Use two hands. (Hang on–Are there people who can do it with one?? Sheesh. As it is, taking pictures requires the coordination and agility of Houdini.)
  3. For added stability, use your elbows to brace your arms. Rest them against your tummy or hips as you frame your shot.
  4. Use the phone’s physical button (usually the volume control), rather than the awkwardly placed button on the touch screen.
  5. When your shot is framed and your subjects are ready, exhale. Then click. That’s a marksman’s trick for stilling your whole body right down to your trigger finger.

Hmmm. It sounds like Paul knows who he’s dealing with–an über-goober who forgets to breathe! He also advised studying up on the Rule of Thirds to improve photo composition, but that’s a subject for another time. Maybe a guest post. (Sensei Paul, I’m winking your way…)

At the top of this article, I mentioned I was battling a bout of photo-envy. Paul’s shots are the main source of said envy. The picture at the top shows his amazing composition skills. He’s not a bad photography Sensei, either!

Photo Credits: Paul Swanson, used with permission | Daughter’s selfie also used with (reluctant) permission.