The 25 Minute Rule: How I Stop Procrastinating

Sometimes the challenge of keeping up a long term art project like PTP is not coming up with ideas or worrying about how poorly I draw men, but rather simply the act of working on it every few days.25-min-rule

At while I enjoy drawing paper dolls and drawing paper dolls is my hobby, it is not my only hobby nor is it always what I want to do. Times like this, like these last few weeks, I begin to dread working on paper dolls.

Not because I don’t want to do it, but it because it just feels like “too much.”

I open my in-progress folder on my laptop and everything feels like so much work. There’s a dozen paper doll sets sitting there. None of them are finished. Some are months old and the idea of working on any of them is entirely overwhelming.

On some days when I feel this way, I ignore the problem.

I ink or I sketch. I come up with things to post on Twitter or I work on simple coding projects like re-sizing most of the blogs older images to a larger format.

But I can’t keep that up for long. Not when I have a little backlog as I currently do.

So, I would like to introduce my readers to what I call the “25 Minute Rule.”

The 25 Minute Rule: Once 25 minutes are spent on a task, you can stop.

The 25 Minute Rule is simple. It is how I get started when I don’t want to get started on something. I just promise myself that after 25 minutes working on a task, I can stop working on the task. It gives me permission to leave in the middle, but also the knowledge that 25 minutes isn’t that long of a period of time.

Like right now… Right now, I have dozens of mostly, partly, sorta finished stuff that I could work on and nothing I want to work on. I look at my in-process folder and all I see is problems… This one needs tabs. This one needs to be resized. These need to be colored. This needs to be…


My work in progress folder is actually usually messier than this.

Intellectually, I know that all I really need to do is, as my father is fond of saying, “apply the seat of my pants to the seat of a chair.”

I really don’t want to. Fighting my procrastinating ways can be so hard.

So, here’s what I have been doing in the evening for the last few days. I get home from work. I make dinner. I eat and then I set up my laptop on the dining room table and write down on a piece of paper what I am going to do. My having my task in writing, I hold myself to it.

Last night, my piece of paper read, “Clean up line work on Mini-Maiden Sets”

The Amelia Bloomer inspired steampunk paper doll set I spent last night working on.

The Amelia Bloomer inspired steampunk paper doll set I spent last night working on.

Then I set a timer and I did it for 25 minutes.

When my timer went off, I stopped. Sometimes, I don’t stop. Starting is the hard part, so sometimes I keep going and then I look up and an hour has passed. Last night though, I had a list of other things to do- mostly involving cleaning my house.

Here are the results of my 25 minutes of labors.

25 minutes later, she's actually looking pretty good.

25 minutes later, she’s actually looking pretty good.

So, I hope my 25 Minute Rule works for other people. It has helped me draw, clean and exercise. I find no matter how little I want to do something, I can almost always force myself to do it for 25 minutes or, if it is something I am really dreading, fifteen minutes. I struggle to start projects when they feel overwhelming and this helps me. Maybe it will help you too.

Rachel’s Five Rules of Scanning

scanning-rulesAfter I wrote my tutorial on how to clean up line-work, it occurred to me that I should talk a little about scanning. I didn’t have space to do it in the linework tutorial, but I do have a few thoughts on scanning. Here’s some advice from someone who scans a lot both for my hobbies and for my job where I usually am the one digitizing historical materials.

Scan in High Resolution.

When I was first learning how to cut wood, I was taught- You can make a piece of wood shorter, but you can’t make it longer. In other words, cut a little bigger if you have to choose. Since slicing off an inch is easier than realizing you’re short an inch.

You can always reduce the resolution of an image, but increasing it will result in loss of clarity.

Resolution is something people seem to get confused about, so let me try to explain. Resolution is always measured by the number of dots per one linear inch (in the US, other places use the centimeter). This is shortened to DPI (Dots Per Inch) for as most printers or Pixels Per Inch (PPI) for digital media.

No matter how high PPI (Pixels Per Inch) your image is, the internet has a resolution of 72 PPI. Meaning, if you create an image that is 200 PPI and measures two inches tall, when you post it on the internet it will appear to be 5.5 inches tall. ((22 PPI * 2)/72PPI = 5.5)

Some professionals work as high as 1200 DPI, but I think that’s a bit much. Bare in mind that professional publications are usually printed between 300 and 400 dpi.

Choose your File Format Carefully.

There are many digital file types. I’m going to talk about a few common ones here.

“JPEG” stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group- a fact mostly useful to show off your knowledge, but won’t really matter much. It is sometimes also called a .jpg or a jpeg. JPEGs are always compressed files. JPEG is designed for compressing either full-color (24 bit) or grey-scale digital images of complicated real world images (photographs). It is a great format when there is subtle color change in an image, but using a high compression rate can result in loss of quality.

“GIF” stands for Graphics Interface Format. It is an 8 bit format meaning that maximum number of colors supported is 256. GIFs are always compressed and rarely used these days.

“PNG” stands for Portable Network Graphics format. This was an updated version of the “GIF” format and literally supports millions of colors. It is the format I usually use for my web posts as it tends to compress to a small size without loss of detail and my paper dolls are full color without a lot of subtle shades. PNG has largely replaced GIF on the internet.

“TIFF” stands for Tagged Image File Format. TIFF was originally designed for scanners as a universally acceptable format in a time when scanning companies all had different formats they were using. TIFF images are not compressed as a default setting. This is the preferred format for archival scanning, because there is no compression. However, the lack of compression results in very large sized files. Therefore, TIFF files are rarely posted or shared on the internet or printed from. TIFF files can handle bi-level (black and white), grayscale, palette-color and RGB full-color images.

When I scan, I scan at 600 dpi as an uncompressed TIFF files in greyscale, since I work in black and white.

Save your raw files.

I call my rough scans “raw files”. Theses are my 600dpi uncompressed TIFF files, usually in greyscale. They are very large files.

I keep them in a folder called “Raw Files” it contains all the raw scans dating back a long long way. Sometimes, you have to go back to the very beginning, so keep a copy of the unaltered scan in case you need it.

Hopefully you won’t, but if you do than you’ve got it. I have only had to go back to these files once or twice over the years, but I have been grateful I had them if I needed them. (Usually, because I accidentally deleted something.)

Know you Scanner and Choose it Well.

I have used HP scanners, Epson scanners and Canon scanners. They are all a little different. Learn your scanner settings. Read the manual. Get comfortable using it.

If you are scanning full color art work, than carefully check how many colors the scanner can read. A colored pencil drawing, for example, can literally have millions of subtle shades. If your scans are coming out poorly, than is it your scanner? Your scan settings? Or can your scanner just not handle the color depth.

I don’t own an expensive scanner. I use an all in one printer with a cheap scanning bed. I work in black and white, so I don’t worry about color loss. If you do worry about color loss, invest in a good quality scanner. If you do invest in a good scanner, avoid letting it get bumped or knocked around.

Prep your Image.

Before I scan, I erase all my line-work carefully, than I correct any problems I see.

I stick a piece of white paper between my sketchbook page and the next page, so the image on the page behind won’t bleed through.

These things make sure my scan comes out pretty good the first time. Re-scanning at the high resolution I want in takes time and I don’t always have that time.

So, these are my rules of scanning. What are your rules? Anything important that I missed? Let me know in a comment.

Confessions of a Paper Doll Blogger

One of the things I have been collecting lately on Pinterest has been blogging prompts and ideas. It was from this list from The SITS Girls that I discovered April 30th is National Honesty Day. I missed National Honesty Day, but I thought it would be interesting to post a few things on this blog that I wouldn’t normally post or share.

My Confessions…


— I’ve gotten two emails from readers who thought I was African-American due to the large ethnic diversity of my paper dolls. Figuring out how to politely dissuade them of that notion makes me feel really awkward.

— I live in terror that I will someday draw something and someone will email me telling me that my depiction of their race or culture is wrong and/or racist. This is why I do not draw traditional clothing of other cultures. (Actually, there are about a dozen reasons I don’t draw traditional clothing of other cultures, so maybe I should do a whole post on that…)

— Sometimes I get really strange thank you emails. One came from a bible camp leader who was planning to use my Knight paper doll to teach girls about the “armor of abstinence” and I politely asked them to not do so. Nothing against abstinence or armor, but somehow the idea of sex ed and my paper dolls being in the same room sorta freaked me out.

— Technically, I still owe my best friend a paper doll inspired by the Vorkosigan Saga series by Louise Bujold. It’s very shameful. Someday, I will get it done… (Of course, if she’s reading this she is rolling her eyes at me.)

— Every once in a while someone makes a request, usually a perfectly reasonable kind request and I think to myself, “Isn’t it enough what I do? How dare you ask me to do more? You entitled twit.” Then I drink a glass of tea, calm down and remind myself that I am TOTALLY over reacting. Please don’t stop making requests. I really don’t mind getting them, except sometimes… late at night… after a bad day at work… when I’m in a grumpy mood.

— I was once told my Cybergoth paper doll was inappropriate for children. I suggested that the offended individual avoid giving it to children. See… Problem solved.

— I draw very cartoony paper dolls, because I really don’t know how to draw hyper-realistic ones. Usually this doesn’t bother me, but sometimes I feel like a fraud, especially when people ask me for drawing advice.

— I am grateful everyday for the wonderful readers and fellow paper doll bloggers on the internet who remind me that I am not alone, that my hobby isn’t too strange and that my love of these fragile ephemeral paper toys is something worth sharing.

So, these are my confessions. What are yours? Are there times when you feel like I do about your readers? Or about your art? What’s the strangest email you’ve ever gotten? What’s the one thing about your art you’ve never admitted bothers you? Anyone willing to share your thoughts?

Terms of Use: What they Are & Why You Need One

terms_of_use_statementsI went years without a Terms of Use statement. I didn’t want to bother writing one and I know enough about copyright to know that my general site notice was enough, in fact, the moment an artistic work is created than it is protected, regardless of whether or not a person actually places a copyright statement on the item.

However, I had some paper doll images stolen by a for profit enterprise and although we came to an equitable arrangement, I realized I had made a huge mistake by not making my terms absolutely clear. I might know a fair bit about copyright, but my readers likely don’t.

So, I drafted a terms of use and then posted it.

I know writing a terms of use statement is a little frightening, but the language doesn’t have to be scary. Still, there are times and places to be funny and charming, but your terms of use isn’t one of them. Be clear and simple in your language. Also, include contact information, because if people have questions, they should be able to ask them somewhere private and you don’t want someone claiming that they couldn’t get a hold of you.

Here are some questions to consider while drafting a terms of Use:

  • Who has the right to profit from your paper dolls?
  • Who has the right to print your work in multiple copies?
  • Can people post your work in other places? Under what conditions? With credit? What form should that credit take?
  • Are you waiving your copyright? Remember, once copyright is waived for an image, you can not get it back just because someone used it in a way that you do not like.
  • If someone draws an outfit for your paper doll (or creates a “derivative work”), can they post it? Can they profit from it?
  • Is your work licensed under something like Creative Commons? If so, that needs to be made clear on your site as well.

Once you have written your draft statement, ask a friend to read it for editing and clarity, then link it somewhere obvious. Mine is under my About tab and in my header. I know that seems like a lot, but I don’t want someone saying that they couldn’t find it.

And I get questions regularly from people who say, “I was reading your terms of use and I wanted to know if I could…” I don’t mind these questions. It means the Terms of Use is working and findable.

Lastly, I should note: I am not a lawyer and nothing I have said here should be construed to constitute legal advice. I am an archivist and librarian and paper doll lover, nothing more… nothing less.

Questions? Thoughts? Have you ever had your work taken without your permission? How did you deal with it?

Organizing Blog Posts… Calendars and You!

The blog calendar. I never said it was attractive.

The blog calendar. I never said it was attractive.

I talked about my Red Binder a little while ago. I love my Red Binder, but I wanted to write about the other tool I use for organizing blog posts.

It’s a calendar.

I use Calendar Labs to create my monthly calendars. I like Calendar Labs, because you can choose which day to start your weeks on. Since Marisole and Friends Paper Dolls always post on Mondays, I can choose to start my weeks on Monday, rather than Sunday. I find it’s easier to plan if I do it that way.

As you can see from the photo, the Calendar gets filled in as I figure out what is going to go up each week. I took this photo mid-November when I was still figuring out what the month was going to look like. These posts often change and move, but my general goal is to have two printable paper doll posts and one non-paper doll post each week. At the bottom of the calendar, I keep a list of what posts I think I am going to have completed in time to post them in any given month.

Since I work in spurts to activity, its possible that I might have four or five pages of paper dolls ready to go up. Now, I could post these all in a row… which would be great for five days.

The problem is that the next five days there would be nothing.

In Blogging, consistency is just as important as frequency.

So, while I might want to show off what I’ve done from a long Saturday afternoon spent working on blog things, I know the smart thing to do is to space out the posts and the calendar helps me to do this. It also gives me breathing room and space and makes sure that I know I’m going to have something up each week. It allows me to plan vacations or busy times of my life without having to worry about the blog.

Does it mean I always manage to get up everything I wanted to get up when I wanted to get it up? Nope, often not, but it sure helps me map out each month and it lets me know if I am going to be desperately short.

What I hate, more than anything else, is realizing at 8pm on a Saturday night that I don’t have a Marisole Monday & Friends post even drawn for Monday. Can I get it done in a day? Yes, I can, but I won’t have any fun doing it and the product won’t be very good. So, I usually don’t. I need to know ahead of time if I’m out of scanned materials.

I think sometimes blogs function under the assumption of spontaneity. There is a tendency to assume that someone just sat down at their computer and produced in a moment a wonderfully written post with great photographs.

I don’t really think that happens. (Maybe I’m wrong? Any other paper doll bloggers want to chime in here?)

A great post comes from planning, from knowing what you want to post and then carefully putting it together. It’s a labor of love and it always takes time. Spontaneity is a myth.

Blogging & Paper Dolls & Organization

As I’ve mentioned before, my apartment flooded.

After it happened, I moved. I got myself back together. I bought some new furniture. I had some wonderfully supportive friends.

One of the things I did this weekend was update the Red Binder.

The red binder is home to all important blog documents.

The red binder is home to all important blog documents.

What, you might not unreasonably ask, is the red binder?

This is how I stay organized. It is called the “Red Binder” or, sometimes when I can’t find it, the “Where the @$^&@# Did I Put That Binder”, but usually the “Red Binder” and in it lives a copy of every serial paper doll on the site and quite a few of the non-serial ones.


The most important blog documents are the master copies of every paper doll series.

The most important blog documents are the master copies of every paper doll series.

I have every paper doll base doll in a plastic sleeve in the binder with multiple copies (usually three to five) and this keeps me from losing the base dolls and it makes sure that I know where they are. Since I tend to sketch when I have time, I usually carry one to three base dolls with me, so I have something to draw off of if I’m watching a movie or have a slow evening at home. I don’t have a dedicated studio space, so I have to be able to carry around my art with me.

The Red Binder usually also houses my calendar where I chart out what posts will go up when. Since I always have multiple things in the works, having a chart keeps me sane. It also allows me to prioritize. For example, if I have just done a fantasy set, I might choose to work on a modern set next for the same series or if I have a holiday coming up, then I try to remember to draw something for it. Though this year, it’s not looking likely that my Halloween project will be completed in time.

If you’re planning on blogging about anything- paper dolls or otherwise- I recommend keeping a calendar and a binder. It’s helpful to have everything in one place. Any thoughts from other bloggers?

Paper Doll Blogging: Advice and Thoughts

I recently got a very kind email from a reader named Whitney.

She asked what advice I would give to a someone starting a paper doll blog, because she was thinking about it and she wanted to know what I thought.

The truth is that I’m not an expert on blogging nor am I an expert on website design or SQL or marketing or social media (I don’t even have a facebook page) or really anything else. Problogger has a really solid listing of articles about blogging and blog starting. I’d also recommend reading up about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and the pros and cons of various platforms. Doing homework before you start will make you happier later. I promise.

The thing about paper doll blogs (and really all craft/art blogs out there, I think) is that you’re making all your own content.

Making all your own content is time consuming.

So, here is my one big tip that keeps me sane…

Work as far ahead of yourself as you possibly can.

I know this seems like cheating somehow, but it is the only way I can do this and keep sane. I think it’s is better to have one or two posts a week, consistently, than to post ten and then not post for three weeks.

I like to hope my readers agree.

Next time I’ll write a little about making goals and how I keep naturally disorganized self organized.

Questions? Thoughts? Drop a comment below.

Paper doll blogging: Setting the bar low…


Disclaimer: I am not an expert on blogging, website design or anything else. I don’t make money doing this and I don’t have a ton of readers. Continue at your own risk.

The trick to blogging I think is this: Set the bar low, so you can achieve your goals.

And no, I am not kidding.

I might want to post every day, but there’s not a chance that’s going to happen. So, if I say I am going to post a paper doll every day and than I fail to post every day, I feel that I have let people down.

At which point, the spiral of self-doubt and guilt sets in. This is a bad spiral.

Instead, I say, I’d like to have post once a week. I know my schedule says four times a week, but my goal these days is a post a week.

I’m moving. I’m starting a new job. I can not keep to my old schedule.

And I think one post a week is about the minimum for a blog to keep itself running. So, that’s my goal. One new paper doll post a week. Sometimes I make this, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I go over it.

But if I felt like I had created an expectation that I would post everyday and failed to meet it than I would end up just feeling guilty and bad about neglecting the blog and I feel guilty and bad about that enough already.

This is supposed to be fun. When it stops being fun, I seriously need a new hobby.