Creativity Under Pressure

Whether it’s a logo for a client, website copy, or an advertising campaign, those of us who work in creative pursuits are constantly looking for ways to harken our muse.

Last month, I participated (for the third time) in Inktober, one of my favorite ways to challenge myself creatively. The assignment: create an ink drawing related to the daily one-word prompt. Post it on social media. Repeat each day of October.

You can see all of my Inktober 2020 drawings on IG @andrewbartoncreative.

The prompts are pretty obscure (dig, dizzy, fancy), so it’s a good exercise for the right side of the brain. Some days are easy. Some days I’m crunched for time. Some days nothing comes to mind, or I just don’t feel creative. Those are the days when the magic happens.

You hear authors and comedians talk about their commitment to a daily writing practice. It’s the same principle. Starting around the second week of the challenge, I hit a wall. I have literally nothing interesting, original, creative, or not-boring to put down on the paper. That feeling means (at least for me) that I’ve used up all my old tricks. It’s time to get out of my comfort zone. The pressure of the deadline forces me to seek new sources of inspiration.

Inktober is as much about showing up as it is about coming up with a good drawing every single day.

I’m not exactly sure how inspiration works, but here are some things that help me come up with Inktober (or client work) ideas.

  • Keeping a sketchbook. My trusty sketchbook is my ever present companion. It’s my favorite tool for getting my ideas down on paper. 95% of what I put in there never sees the light of day.
  • Reference photos. When I see something interesting or creatively stimulating I snap a photo and put it in my folder of “inspiring images.” 

  • Distract myself. For example, the prompt on Oct. 16 was “rocket.” I didn’t want to do a cliche image of a rocket, but I was having trouble thinking of something interesting. In the middle of the day, I went to the grocery store, and the word “rocket” was on my mind. I spotted one of those carts for kids … with a spaceship theme. I took a picture and it turned into the drawing above. 
  • Keep it simple. When I can’t think of anything amusing, I’ll go for simple instead. Like the one above. The image itself isn’t all that original, but I tried to create it in a different way, such as adding elements of pointillism or trying a different pen or technique.
  • Experiment and fail. Be willing to try something entirely new and different. And be OK with the results — good or bad. Failing isn’t fun, but it’s how we learn and grow. I definitely missed the mark with several Inktober drawings when the ideas in my head didn’t quite materialize. I’ll let you decide which ones fall into that category. 🙂
  • Add a twist. Do something expected but add your own twist or an unexpected element. The Oct. 13 prompt was “dune.” I went expected (desert) but added something unexpected (a hobbit from one of my favorites, “Lord of the Rings”). 

Participating in Inktober is one of my favorite creative pursuits. I’m challenged daily, and I tend to discover something new. Above all, I like how deadlines produce results. 

Have a great week,


In the COVID Era, Animation is the Future

I predict that in the next 12 – 18 months animation will be EVERYWHERE!

It’s already happening. I was watching old episodes of “Survivor” the other day and noticed two distinct types of commercials. There were the ones obviously filmed before Coronavirus (people in groups without masks). Then, there were the commercials filmed in our “new normal.” The newer spots used lots of flashing graphics, moving text, and still photography. If they did use video, it was either an isolated person OR an impersonal clip that obviously came out of some stock video library somewhere.

So What?

So you want to figure out how to keep your business thriving, don’t you? Me too. And throughout this pandemic, I’ve been taking a cue from hockey great Wayne Gretzky who said he always tried to think about where the puck would be, not where it is right now. In short, the puck is heading to dynamic, eye-catching animation!

Let’s Define “Animation”

For our purposes, animation is anything graphical moving on a screen (as opposed to live action like “Friends” or “Seinfeld”). This could be anything from an animated GIF to Marvel’s “Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse.” If you’re paying attention, you will see animated graphics (or motion graphics) everywhere. And I predict you’ll be seeing a lot more considering that much of the film production industry is delayed or canceled this year.

This move toward animation makes perfect sense. When people can’t physically get together, they can’t make movies. But animators can adhere to social distancing practices and create engaging content from their home office. In short, work-from-home computer nerds (like me) have made another significant step in taking over your world.

What Does this Mean for Marketers? 

You too can take advantage of this medium in growing your business. You probably don’t need to make a movie, but there are plenty of ways you can use motion in your marketing to stand out from the crowd. And whether you have $500 or $50K, here are a few ideas you can use regardless of your industry or business.

  • Scroll-stopping social media posts – it doesn’t even have to be fancy, just a little movement can make your posts pop (I demonstrated this on my last blog post).
  • Time-saving “explainer” videos to educate prospective clients about your products/services (here’s one I made recently).
  • Peppy GIFs to spruce up your email blasts.
  • Dynamic data visualizations to give life to a boring report (e.g. an annual report).

There are TONS of ways to use motion graphics and/or animation in your business. Are you sold? Are you ready to get something animated? If so, get in touch.

Have a great week,


And if you’re ready to discuss your next (or first?) animated project, drop me a line.

Pandemic Pivot

Three New Services I’m Offering

What’s the business buzzword of 2020? Pivot. Many of us started the year with grand plans and lofty goals. By mid-March, those were tossed aside and lay smouldering in the corner. Business owners were making a collective shift to find new ways to survive (and maybe even thrive) during a pandemic. 

I, for one, was planning to launch my second Heyward the Horse children’s picture book. I shelved the book for the time being and began to look for new ways to help my clients and bolster my revenue stream. 

Over the last few weeks, I’ve developed three new “pivot projects” that are gaining traction in the marketplace. 

1. Monthly Photo Subscription. Just about every business is generating content for their website, social media channels or email campaigns. One of the challenges is finding and creating great images. Stock photos can look like, well, stock photos. Plus, you don’t want to use all the same stock images everyone else in your industry is using. 

For this client, I created a mix of photos, sketches and typographic images.

To solve that creative conundrum, I’ve launched a monthly photo subscription. You receive 10 custom images each month. These might be graphics with nice typography, hand-drawn sketches, or free (to you) curated stock photos. See the thumbnails above for examples. We’ll work together to determine what you need for your brand. You’ll stand out in your marketing with unique, customized images.

“Andrew Barton’s work has definitely helped me raise engagement on LinkedIn. He has this incredible talent for making intangible concepts come to life in fresh ways.”

Dr. Laura Camacho, Mixonian Institute

Price: 10 images/month for $500 (with a 3-month contract)

2. Animated Upgrade. Why not spice up your social media posts and email campaigns with a short animated video or icon? For example, I created this icon for the Charleston Beer Fest. But, instead of a static image promoting the festival’s food trucks, I developed an animated image. The result is more eye-catching. 

Static Post: Plain and boring

Animated Post: Shiny!

PRICE: Varies depending on complexity of image and animation. Shoot me an email to discuss your project.

3. Live Zoom Doodles. Raise your hand if you’ve been living in a Zoom room lately. We’re all spending more time in video meetings, and most events and training have shifted to virtual gatherings. They can be SO painful and boring, am I right?

And if you’re hosting a webinar, conference, or lengthy staff meeting, it can be tough to keep everyone’s attention. Zoom doodles to the rescue! 

Sample of my zoom doodle style.

Here’s how it works: I attend your webinar and take notes in the form of doodles. You can switch from your screen to mine so attendees can watch me doodle live. Depending on your preference, I can doodle freely or stick to your notes. At the end of the webinar, I’ll send you the artwork for you to use in your marketing efforts. 

PRICE: $150 / hour. 

These are three ways I’ve pivoted during COVID-19. While none of us could have anticipated something like a global pandemic, it has forced us all to innovate.

Which one of my pivot products can help your business? Email me to get started at

Have a great week,


My Best Year Ever

In my very first year of running my own business, I had a great year financially. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was a VERY atypical result for most independent graphic designers. At the end of that year, I made the hubristic goal to increase my profits by 150%. I made a sign. I pinned it on the wall of my office and waited for all my money to roll in.

Six months later I was still waiting. Twelve months later I tallied up my profit for the year and it was lower than the year before. Yikes. Apparently, new clients weren’t just going to fall from the sky, and my goals weren’t going to self-fulfill. 

Clearly, I needed a new plan. 

Try Try Again

Over the years, I haven’t gotten much better at goal setting. But in 2019, I stumbled across a book recommendation from the bishop in my diocese. He had named it as the No. 1 book all his priests should read to have a productive year. I was intrigued and picked up “Your Best Year Ever: A 5-Step Plan for Achieving Your Most Important Goals” by Michael Hyatt.

The book, YBYE for short, is a practical system for setting and achieving goals over the course of one earth year. It breaks down the process of goal setting to be both manageable and challenging. Best of all, it’s a short book with a simple system.

I developed seven goals for the year. I assigned each goal to a quarter and spread them out evenly across the year (as recommended).

Results So Far

But how about my actual goals? Am I hitting them? Well yes and no. I’m happy to say that my main success has been the goal of tracking my time and reviewing my progress on a weekly basis. As for the rest of my Q2 goals, they have been absolutely wrecked by the coronavirus.

What can you do? Adjust. Like a lot of business owners, I’ve pivoted my plans in 2020. For example, I hit pause on publishing and promoting my second Heyward the Horse children’s book. In its place, I created a new goal of developing an author/illustrator website by May 1st. And I made it!

Secret Sauce

OK, so what really changed in 2020? A few factors: 

  • The Magic Book? – Michael Hyatt’s book is not magical, but it connected with me. I like the way he communicates and his system.
  • The Flex – I adapted his system to work for me. There’s a recommended worksheet that I tried, but it just didn’t fit my workflow. I’m still following the key concept, but I tweaked the method a bit to fit me. 
  • The Weekly Review – I gave myself permission to spend time every week reviewing my goals. Game changer. 

Lastly, my mindset shifted. In mid-2019, I admitted to myself that I was dissatisfied with some things in my life and I was ready to do something about it. So I did. 

Have a great week,


Post-apocalyptic Survival Skills

An adventure in primitive pottery

Have you ever thought about what you would do if you found yourself in a world without electricity?

pencil drawing of sandwich

I’ve been wondering about this ever since I was a teenager. The question occurred to me while reading Mostly Harmless by Douglas Adams. The hero finds himself stranded on a primitive planet and realizes that despite all of his modern sensibilities, he has zero survival skills. Eventually, he identifies something he’s good at and settles on the honorable profession of village sandwich-maker.

While that story isn’t exactly post-apocalyptic, the scenario is the same – when the lights go out for good, how are you going to be a valuable member of your tribe? It’s almost certain that the cannibalistic clans that emerge from the chaos won’t need insurance salesmen, Realtors, or graphic designers. We’ll be the first to go. I’m not worried though, because last year I figured out what my new profession will be.

My First Taste of the Dirt

Some 15 years ago, I worked at a summer camp in North Carolina. Despite having no previous pottery experience, I found myself in charge of the ceramics hut. Pretty quickly I learned how to work with clay and I quickly fell in love with the craft.

While I loved that summer, pottery is not a hobby I’ve kept up over the years. I got distracted by my new profession: graphic design.

pencil drawing of bucket of mud

Fast forward to our family vacation at the lake last summer. I watched as my kids played in the water and kicked up muddy clay from the lake bottom. A family friend casually mentioned that when she was a kid, she used that same clay to form small cups and bowls, simply sitting them in the sun to harden. It was a lightbulb moment. Even though I’d seen this same cloudy clay-water dozens of times, I never realized that it was the same basic stuff that potters use every day.

Armed with a shovel and under the gaze of many an odd stare, I dug up a bunch of mud and brought it home. Over the next couple of months, I researched the best way to strain this bucket of muck into usable clay. It took many tries. Eventually, I ended up with my first baseball-sized lump of clay. This was – no fooling – one of my proudest moments ever.

Getting Lit

The next puzzle was how to fire the clay without a kiln. I settled on the ancient technique of the pit fire. It’s the same method primitive peoples used. Basically, you dig a hole, insert your greenware (dried creation) and light a fire over it. My friend Ken, a real-life and ridiculously talented potter, pointed out that I could use my chimenea instead of a pit. So thanks to Ken, Google, YouTube and the weird chimenea that conveyed with my house, I successfully “pit” fired my first self-harvested clay. I couldn’t believe it.

Christmas Gifts

OK, so I had figured out the process, but what was I going to do with 10 pounds of clay? I needed something to justify the dozens of hours I’d spent on this project. This wasn’t as easy as it sounds because pit-fired pottery is not “food safe”. Luckily, my neighbor had her yearly candle-pouring party coming up (just in time for Christmas). Candles would make a great gift!

I turned the clay into 20 hand-sized bowls, fired them and then poured the candles. My wife decided to knit washcloths to go with each package. Then our kids created bookmarks that we added to our gift packages. (What can I say, we’re a creative family!)

It’s empowering to know that even without my precious computer, I can be resourceful and make practical art. And like I said at the beginning, when the lights go out and the world descends into another dark age, I’ll have a skill to help feed my family and justify my existence in the village. If you’re still around then, swing by my pottery hut and we’ll swap goods.

What will your survival skill be?

Have a great week,


Explainer Videos: From Complex to Clear

As a marketer, one of the key roles in my profession is to clearly communicate the client’s message. Believe it or not, it can be a real challenge to identify and articulate that message. Sometimes, the client doesn’t even know what their message is. This happens when they are so close to their work that they can’t envision what it’s like to learn about their product for the first time.

In some situations, particularly start-ups or new technology, the benefits they offer are enormous but hard to explain. Simplifying complex messages is one of my favorite parts of the job. And clients appreciate an outsider’s perspective as we work through the process. I ask them to (temporarily) let go of buzzwords and internal analogies in order to embrace a more “user-friendly” language. It requires an extra level of trust on their part.

I recently completed an animated explainer video for meQuilibrium. My challenge was turning their science and technology into something anyone could understand. As their Google listing summary says, they are an “engagement and performance platform that harnesses behavioral psychology to unleash your workforce resilience, agility, and full potential with a fascinating, yet complex product.” 


If you work in the HR space, you might be able to make sense of this paragraph. The rest of us, need a tl;dr. (pssst .. “tl;dr” is internet jive for “short summary”). Here is that summary in the form of an animated explainer format:

tl:dr They provide a “digital coaching platform” so your employees can be more resilient.

In our video-crazed age, explainer animations are a terrific way to demonstrate how a product works. A video like this can take anywhere from six to eight weeks to produce as we work through the process of writing, storyboarding, creating assets, animating, etc.

It’s an involved process, but the end result is a piece clients can use on their website, on social media, in email campaigns and even in sales meetings. And if I’ve done my job right, we’ve taken something complex and made it clear and simple.  

I was really pleased with how this video turned out, and so was the client. Wondering if an explainer video would work for your product or service? Let’s talk!

Have a great week,


My 1 Million Cups Experience

Networking + Coffee + Sketches

In 2019, I decided to expand my networking efforts to meet other professionals and better connect with fellow entrepreneurs in our community. Sure, I might end up with a new client, but what’s really great is learning about other businesses and meeting new people. For me, it’s an excellent way to boost creativity and spark ideas. 

Here in Charleston, there’s no shortage of business groups and networking opportunities. But after trying out 1 Million Cups (1MC), I committed to attending each week’s event in 2019. The first thing to know about 1MC – and they tell you every week – “it is NOT a networking group, it’s a relationship-building group.” Take this with a grain of salt – it’s definitely network building. But, it’s the best kind of networking. I have truly made some new and enjoyable friendships there.

The Format

The weekly format, if you’re curious, is basically a Locals-only Shark Tank Lite + Coffee Meet and Greet. Each week, an entrepreneur gives a 6- or 7-minute presentation about their startup business. Then follows 5 to 10 minutes of helpful questions, friendly feedback and positive affirmation from the audience.

The presenter lineup is impressive and frequently fascinating. I’ve heard presentations ranging from professional mermaids to biohazard cleaners to business development software solutions. The organizers do a great job of curating the speakers and protecting the culture – which is great, because 1MC has really good energy and attracts interesting people from a wide variety of professions who are ready to help. And helping is definitely a core tenet of 1MC. One trick I’ve picked up is to ask people, “How can I help you?” It’s a much better way to connect (and help) people than to simply push them your business card.

And to top it all off, 1MC is free.

The Sketches

As regular readers of my blog know, I never leave home without a sketchbook, so during the presentations, I often do sketches while listening to the speaker. I try to pull out interesting or key pieces of information to include in my sketches. I do the initial drawings in pencil and ink them later.

Here are a few:

Benchmarq: This company specializes in website design and development for nonprofits that conveys their mission, engages supporters and raises more money.

The Brain Diva – Carrie A. Boan NeuroLife Coach: Carrie helps executives and entrepreneurs position themselves to control their thoughts, words and actions for success in professional communication, mindset and sales.

PrepMonsters: This company creates gamified software to help students prepare for standardized tests. Students watch short YouTube-style videos to learn concepts and then reinforce these via practice questions built into video games. 

Annnnd … here’s a few more. I like doing these. 🙂 

My weekly networking experiment in 2019 was a success, so I’ll be back at 1MC each Wednesday in 2020. Will you join me?  

Have a great week,


Are business cards dead?

I do my fair share of networking and I’m always surprised when I meet anyone who doesn’t have a business card. They usually say – with some embarrassment – that they haven’t gotten around to it but it’s on their list.

The other day I met a successful small business owner who said he intentionally doesn’t carry one. His strategy was to immediately connect with people on LinkedIn via smartphones. My curiosity was piqued and it got me thinking. In our smartphone, digital contacts, LinkedIn world, do paper business cards still make sense? 

I’d argue business cards aren’t dead or outdated, but they have evolved. Business cards remain a relatively inexpensive way to market. They’re a tangible reminder of a great new professional contact or a meaningful conversation you shared. They, of course, aren’t the only way you market yourself, but they can serve an important function in providing a first impression of your business. 

As we approach the start of a new year, most people are turning their attention to growing their business. That usually means attending networking events, joining an entrepreneurs’ organization or signing up for a business owners’ mastermind. This could be the perfect time to reconsider your current cards. Is it time for a refresh? Ask yourself these three questions:

1. Is it worth keeping?

Consider adding something beyond your company logo and basic contact details. Add to your card a concise description of the problem you solve, your specific services or the value you provide. If I come home from a networking event with four business cards from insurance agents, how will I know the difference between them? What can you add to your business card so you stand out from others in a similar industry? 

2. Is the “feel” right?

Does your card express who you are and what you do? Does the tone fit you? Casual. Fun. Secure. Trendy. Timeless. If you’re in a creative industry, have a creative business card. If you’re not in a creative industry, how could use creativity to make your card (and business) stand out? You can also consider an unusual size or texture to express your creativity.  

3. Is it up-to-date?

Does it have all the necessary information? This may seem obvious, but check and double check that your card has easy ways for people to get in touch. If you’re rarely at your desk, add a cell phone number to your business card. Make sure you have an email address (not just info@) and a physical address, especially if you have an office or storefront people can visit. 

Networking season is just around the corner. Do you have networking events, professional conferences or trade shows on your calendar for Q1? Now’s the time to give your business card a critical review and make some edits.

Have a great week,