Creating our 2020 holiday card: Dissecting the creative process

Holiday cards have been a time-honored way for companies to reach out clients, colleagues and even competitors during a special time of year.

In my work as a freelance artist over the years, I have created unique cards for hundreds of clients that express the specific message they want to communicate. And what I’ve learned along the way is the best cards look like fun, spontaneous season’s greetings — but these gems also actually contain the most forethought and planning.

So, I thought a walk-through of how we created our holiday card would be a good snapshot of how many messaging campaigns go from the pre-concept brainstorm to finished product. This is, so to speak, how the sausage gets made. And, like many such sausages, sometimes the ingredients aren’t the gourmet, choice cuts of meat you might hope for. This year has not been overflowing with joy and glad tidings; more like, it’s been murder hornets and news cycles that make every other year seem like a cozy Norman Rockwell painting. Still, even a catastrophe can be drawn on as a shared experience, and there are some “new normals” we can all relate to.

Any solid idea begins with a brainstorm. Even if you wake up in the middle of the night with what you think is the best idea ever, you don’t lock it in until you run it by the team and see if it can be improved with some back-and-forth development. More viewpoints will perhaps reveal better, more impactful ways to communicate a concept or find weaknesses that need to be smoothed out. Sometimes the really grand idea you had is eclipsed by one that pops into someone else’s head as the proverbial spaghetti is thrown against the proverbial wall. And ideas aren’t children: we don’t have to love them all equally, and if yours doesn’t make the cut, no hard feelings.

Often, brainstorming (by oneself or with a team) results in several viable ideas. For this year’s card, I drew five thumbnails based on initial conversations: The team hoisting a giant champagne bottle, the team as ornaments on a tree, the team sporting personalized face masks, and two that eventually merged to became our final — all of us “connected” via a Zoom meeting.

Once the thumbnails were voted on and a direction was set, I went to work on my part . . . you might think that means sitting down to draw, but the most important part of my job at this stage is gathering source material. Years of struggling with bad source photos has taught me the best way to communicate with people on what they can do to help me make them look good. As with all client-service operations, cooperation is a must in order to get the best results. I assembled not just perfectly lit head shots (courtesy of our wonderful photographer Tiffannie Bond) but also a few more candid pictures that were at the right distance and angle, and something reflecting current hairstyle. I find that some non-staged photos help me get a more spontaneous, fun cartoony drawing.

Along with photos, I assembled information. Each Zoom rectangle allowed me to create a patchwork quilt of each person’s “feel” or “habitat.” In much the same way a communications firm wants to get a handle on a “company culture” in order to craft an image or campaign that suits them, I wanted to have each rectangle show off a little about each person. Nadia is into yoga, while Bobby has a collection of scarves from football clubs. And, as we all know, during this pandemic, pets have ended up guest-starring on a ton of zoom meetings (cats always think any meeting should be about them, don’t they?).

In the end, after sending the final image around to get approval from all involved, we had a nice little collage that showed how we — just like companies across America and abroad — have been working “together” while apart during 2020. Throw in a few interconnected gags and a “Leave 2020” button, and we have a project executed from concept to final: a fun image that pulls the eye in, entertains with some humor and also serves as a time capsule for this moment in our history and how we’re working through it.

And, like any good project, it keeps on giving. Content can (and should!) be repurposed if it’s worthwhile. Which is why, at the completion of this card, Brian Rouff said “we should do a blog on how the card came together,” and Alex Raffi chimed in, “and a video!” And, with all hands pitching in, we did just that.

Celestia Ward is the newest member of the Imagine Communications team. She works as our PR coordinator and has a long history of working in the editorial field while drawing cartoons as her secondary vocation.

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