Dear Santa, you can take over now

In 15 days, I’ve participated in four holiday markets, growing my number of email subscribers by over 200 (welcome, new folks!), stocked my wares in three new retail stores, and managed online sales. I’ve just dropped off the last of my Christmas orders at the post office and delivered a client’s set of dinning room chairs newly reupholstered with my fabric. Starting tomorrow, I’m taking a hiatus to sleep full time. So, Santa is in charge now. You can direct your last minute gift requests to the North Pole.

My first year being on the vendor’s side of the holiday madness was quite the adventure.

Ashley_packed_up-500x500px-150dpiI learned how to condense a 10′ x 10′ exhibit booth worth of stuff into this pile.

Ashley's car packed for holiday marketI learned how to maneuver that same pile of stuff into a single load in a Honda CRV (I’ve added “magician” to my resume).

DSC_4689-500x500px-150pdiSaid pile somehow looks like this unpacked.

Ashley and her sonI got some help from a pretty adorable elf (little does he know he’s recruited to work my booth as soon as his head clears the display table).

Kathy wearing my scarfpillow on customer's couchThere were multiple episodes of the warm fuzzies when new customers sent me photos of my wares on their person or couch.

new painting with a dead birdI also honed my time-management skills – somehow, I squeezed in starting a few new paintings last week. This Royal Northern Flycatcher will be my next subject.

Rachel wins the print drawingThe cherry on top after the chaos was informing Rachel of Monroeville, PA that I randomly drew her name (out of all my new email subscribers from the holiday markets) to receive a free print of my work. She picked “Pin-tailed Manakin on Blue 1“. It suits her well, don’t you think?

And with that my friends, I’m out! I hope Santa is good to you this year.

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Mark your calendars for these upcoming holiday markets

The interwebs are great for staying connected and all, but nothing beats saying hello in person. So, I hope to see your beautiful face at one or more of these upcoming holiday markets that I will be participating in. And to my blog subscribers, that discount code I sent you last month applies to these events – just mention it when you check out.

These markets are the best place to conquer your holiday shopping list. And I don’t mean to brag, but the Handmade Arcade made the cut for Buzzfeed’s top 35 indie craft fairs worldwide. This is serious crafting, people.

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I’ll have giclee prints of my original paintings, pillows, scarves, stationery and phone cases (and possibly some new reupholstered chairs if I can get my act together in time). Between myself and the 80+ artists exhibiting, great finds are guaranteed. So, here are all of the details of each event  - go ahead, put it in your calendar:

I Made It Market 2014 flyer

 

handmade arcade poster

 

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For those that need a copy/paste friendly version:

I Made It! Holiday Market
November 28, 2 – 8 pm
November 29, 11 am – 5 pm
623 Smithfield Street, Downtown Pittsburgh
See more at www.imadeitmarket.com

Handmade Arcade
December 6, 11am – 7pm
David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown Pittsburgh
See more at www.handmadearcade.com

I Made It! Holiday Market –  Last Minute Shopping at the Boyd Community Center
December 13, 10am – 3pm
1220 Powers Run Rd, Pittsburgh, PA 15238
See more at www.imadeitmarket.com

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My process step by step

George, the stuffed Passenger Pigeon has gone home to his drawer at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. It was great getting to know him as he stared at me day after day while I painted his portrait. But, as they say, all good things must come to an end (literally in his case as an extinct species of 100 years). The process of creating this homage was well documented and gives me an opportunity to share how it works.

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Step one is covering the canvas with a solid color in acrylic paint, followed by a flat pattern.

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There’s no room for error with anything that’s added from this point forward because the next layer of painting is done in oils – if I did make a mistake, I couldn’t paint over it with the background color because you can’t paint acrylic (water-based) over oil. So I’ve developed a way to eliminate or at least minimize mistakes – before I continue painting, I draw the bird(s) that will go in the foreground of the painting on craft paper exactly posed and sized as I want them on the canvas. Then I carefully cut them out and lightly tape them in place.

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Now I use a color of oil paint similar to the background to trace the silhouette of the bird so I know exactly where everything goes.

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And then I paint it in with oils.

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I usually freehand the foliage and insects because a stray brush stroke of a flower petal is far easier to “fix” than any part of a bird. Sometimes I add a design in gold leaf, but I don’t think this one needs it.

So there you have it – a finished ”Passenger Pigeon on Mint.”

Painting is still only one part of what I do. I’m also a textile designer and seamstress/maker. Just this week, Ben Saks of Float Pictures finished a video documenting my process from start to finish. So I will stop typing and let you watch. Enjoy!

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Nice to meet you, Kehinde Wiley!

Kehinde Wiley and Ashley Cecil

Who do you admire for their work more than anyone? If you’re an architecture buff, maybe it’s Frank Gehry. If you love a good fiction novel, maybe it’s J.K. Rowling. For me, it’s an artist, of course – Kehinde Wiley. A hefty book of his elaborate and exquisite portrait paintings always sits close at hand in my studio to remind me what swinging for the fences looks like.

So, you can imagine how ridiculously excited I was to meet him recently at Ginny’s Super Club in Harlem. I asked my date to hover near me at the bar, camera ready to go, as I approached Kehinde to say hello, give him due praise, and ask for a photo. I realized this must be what it’s like to have a celebrity crush when I had to remind myself not to act like a giddy teenager meeting Justin Timberlake.

For several hours, I had the honor of sitting in the artist’s presence while enjoying a multi-digit course meal created by the culinary mastermind, and friend of Kehinde’s, Chef Marcus Samuelsson. There was a brief Q and A session where Kehinde elegantly answered some tough questions from his dining companions. My favorite was about his process of asking complete strangers on the street if they would model for his paintings. The question went something like, “What was your most uncomfortable moment of inspiration?” His answer:

“I was thrown in jail in the Congo for asking young Congolese people to form a line and assume certain poses from art historical sources. We didn’t know that it was the national election. We didn’t know that there were suspicions surrounding Westerners in the country. I didn’t know also that there’s no way of explaining that you’re in Sub-Saharan Africa to explain a new way of looking at Sub-Saharan Africa. You show the books, you try your best to explain in what broken French you have. But in the end, it was decidedly uncomfortable to spend the better part of a week in prison, especially given that you were slated and scheduled to paint the president of that nation.”

I left the event feeling both inspired and frustrated. The latter plagued me because I was reminded of what’s possible and how far I am from accomplishing it. But a good challenge never hurt anyone.

And so the year of checking things off my bucket list continues…

 

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Painting in progress, September 23, 2014

My latest work-in-progress is highly atypical for me – not for any aesthetic reason, but because I loathe pigeons. This bitterness blossomed during my stint in London, where all pedestrians compete with these aggressive and plentiful nuisances for scarce sidewalk space. However, I’m challenging myself to get up close and personal with the urban winged pest in honor of the 100th anniversary of the extinction of a specific variety of the bird, the Passenger Pigeon.

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The painting has taken me to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History for visual reference material. Typically, I have access to their extensive ornithology collection. This time, I learned that there are limits when it comes to extinct species. Yet, I lucked out and was allowed to borrow a “crappy” specimen missing a tail and a patch of feathers on the breast. The mangled bird is temporarily sitting on my desk, staring at me as if to say, “it’s a good thing I’m stuffed lady, or I would peck your eyes out.”

Passenger_Pigeon

Today, I drew the bird on paper at exactly the scale and position I want it on the board, which is already prepped with an intricately painted design. I’ll carefully cut the bird out of the paper and trace its outline onto the board before painting it in. In the end, it will loosely resemble the photo above (plus some variety of orange foliage and Darkling Beetles).

While I’m cohabitating with this creepy bird, it feels appropriate to name it. The very last Passenger Pigeon died on September 1, 1914 at the Cincinnati Zoo. The bird went by Martha, named after Martha Washington, American’s first First Lady. So, I will call my pigeon George, of course.

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An artist’s dilemma: working the social interwebs

First, a quick tech notice: I recently changed the method I use to deliver new blog posts to my email subscribers. All of my phalanges are crossed that my technology jinx doesn’t botch it, but if you receive multiple emails, have trouble viewing the email, or anything else less than desirable, please email me (ashley@ashleycecil.com).

Marketing. For me, it’s akin to gardening – if I had all of the time in the world, I would be a pro. However, I always seem to be running on empty when it comes to time. But I get it – if you don’t spread the word about your work, how will anyone know you’re out there doing your thing? So, I do what I can to tell the world, “I’m here (painting)!”

Obviously, I blog, and you read it (and you’re awesome, by the way!). I’m on EtsyTwitterPinterest and LinkedIn. I’m also lucky enough to catch a writer’s attention from time to time, such as Sara Bauknecht, who recently featured me in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette’s Sunday Edition “Stylebook Snapshot.”

Post Gazette Stylebook Snapshot June 2014

And then I convert folks to blog subscribers at events by doing drawings for prints and such for people who provide their email. For example, Ashley Noble, who signed up for my blog updates at this year’s Three Rivers Arts Festival, won this print, which is already framed and hanging in her house (congrats, Ashley!).

Print give away winner

Nonetheless, people tell me I should be on Instagram and Facebook (not my personal account), submit my work to art blogs and style magazines, and do handstands outside of my studio (just kidding, no one has ever suggested that). Perhaps it’s time to reevaluate how to keep up my marketing momentum.

So, I’m curious to know, how do you connect with artists or other people doing creative things you love? What should I drop? Be honest now, have you ever bought art via an Instagram discovery, or a magazine feature? I’m counting on your clever insights to hone my shameless self-promotion. You’re a smart cookie when it comes to finding creative and beautiful things, I know it.

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Ready, set, shop!

Ashley's on Etsy

The recent addition of textile products to my art inventory made my shop-less website seem rather inadequate. I mulled over my e-commerce options ad nauseam, and, as is often the case, ended up going with the first thing I considered. Yep, I’ve got a shiny, brand-new Etsy shop.

For all of you who have been patiently waiting to get your hands on my new textile products and/or giclee prints, get your wallets out. Your time has come.

Currently, I have infinity scarves, pillows and giclee prints on archival fine art paper available (the chair already sold, sorry). Note cards, smart phone cases and more chairs are on the way. If you’re interested in my original paintings, let’s chat via email (ashley@ashleycecil.com).

Happy shopping!

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Nice to meet you, President Obama!

Ashley-Obama-500x500px-72dpi Photo credit @billpeduto

Last weekend, the events coordinator at TechShop Pittsburgh (where I’m a member and textile department regular) called to ask a very unexpected question, “Would you like to be at the TechShop on Tuesday when President Obama is visiting?” Hopefully, I said something more articulate than what I was thinking, which was, “Are you serious? Uh, yeah!” Clearly, I proceeded to jump in place and fist pump the air while remaining on the phone trying to prevent my voice from reflecting my giddiness.

After a thorough vetting by the White House of my upstanding citizen-ness, I was given the go ahead to report to the TechShop on Tuesday to join other TechShop members to meet the most powerful man in the world. We waited (a long time) for his arrival. He eventually appeared, and as he made his way to his stool to speak, he approached a few us (myself included) for a moment of direct eye contact and a strong handshake. Amazing.

Why did get to shake his hand you ask? Because I was seated in the first row, in front of Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Senator Bob Casey. My head was literally obstructing their view, which is how Mayor Peduto got this shot of me asking the President a question. How did I get the photo? Bill Peduto tweeted it, of course. I can’t make this stuff up.

The question I posed to the President was about today’s environment for mothers who are entrepreneurs. In a nutshell, he said it’s difficult for moms, and more broadly for families, to run businesses in the US where the support systems for them is among the worst of all developed countries. However, he’s seeing a shift where employers are acknowledging the need for flexibility for parents, and in turn they get happy employees who give 110%. For entrepreneurs, he basically agreed that it’s a challenge and hopes that people continue to evolve their thinking about professionally penalizing businesswomen with families.

Apparently, this was a hot topic because I was literally yelled at by three news anchors at the end trying to catch my attention to interview me about my own experience being a mother and small business owner. I’m told I was on live TV. Although, unfortunately, the interwebs seem to have caught no trace of such footage.

Yes, I contemplated giving President Obama one of my scarves for Michelle, but  then I thought, 1. He must get enough gifts to fill a football stadium, and 2. multiple Secret Service agents told me repeatedly not to hand him anything. I did as I told by the very intimidating men in suits with earpieces.

And that was my Tuesday.

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Paintings to patterns: the learning curve

My work as an artist entails a variety of skills that work in parallel to painting, such as photography and digital photo editing. Now that I’m creating textile products with my paintings, that skill set is broadening even more.  I love a challenge, but paradoxically hate the learning curve of acquiring a new skill because I want to instantaneously be a pro at every new task. This is why mastering turning my original paintings into repeatable patterns for fabric production has been a humbling experience.

Clearly, the internet is at fault for misleading me to believe that making swatches of pattern would be simple. After watching some YouTube videos and reading a few instructional guides, I was convinced it would be a snap. Four weeks later, I had become a hugely unpleasant human with eye spasms from staring at my computer screen, and hardly anything to show for it. Throwing in the towel, I called (possibly cried) for help.

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My first phone-a-friend was to Pattern People. By the time I had called them, I actually had made significant progress with one pattern from my “Bugs on Baby Blue” series of four 6″x6″ paintings.

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I’ll spare you the technicalities, so suffice it to say the hang up was getting my pattern “key” (sort of like the object of a tessellation) to line up correctly. You can see in this screen shot that I was very close to a clean swatch of pattern, but that tiny bit of misalignment made a blurry mess. I felt somewhat consoled when Claudia from Pattern People emailed me saying “wow, this was a complicated one!” Apparently, I prefer take on the most difficult projects first.

After my Pattern People lesson, my good friend and Photoshop guru Evette Gabriel came over to sit down with me and gently tell me what else I was doing wrong. I mourned the loss of many hours spent on patterns I suddenly realized had to be redone and moved on (deep breath).

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Here’s the light at the end of the tunnel – I made a full recovery from this experience and the end result was a simplified version of the pattern utilizing one of the four paintings. Better yet, the fabric has been printed AND sewn into scarves. Yes, scarves. That’s right, now I’m learning how to sew because I figured the only way to overcome my hatred for learning curves is to drown in them. Fortunately, my sewing machine seems to like me infinitely better than Photoshop does.

These scarves are one of many I’ll be posting to a new shop page on my website most likely after the Three Rivers Arts Festival, circa mid-June. Alternatively, you can buy them at the Arts Festival, along with the original artwork. Your patronage will make all of this hard work worth it!

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Derby week roundup

Whew! What a whirlwind of trip to Louisville to promote the Early Times Mint Julep bottle. I’ll spare you the endless details about last week’s pre-Kentucky Derby festivities and just stick to my top five favorite moments:

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5. Seeing old Louisville friends at bottle signings. Facebook is great and all, but there’s nothing like a real hug, face-to-face with people who care.

 

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4. My first TV interview. Ok, so it was only a two minute blurb, but it was surreal moment to be on the set of WDRB with Candyce Clifft talking about my artwork. My husband told me not to talk with my hands. Clearly, I didn’t listen.

 

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3. Giving away a signed bottle to a new Pittsburgh admirer. Rachel Weaver of the Tribune Review ran an article about the commission and included my offer to give away a signed bottle to a randomly selected new blog subscriber. The gesture was meager compensation for the fact that the product isn’t sold in Pennsylvania, but I was thrilled to meet Tom from the South Hills and sign his bottle.

 

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2. Seeing my painting wrapped around a taxi, which I also got to sign. The cherry on top was discovering on Twitter that country music artist J.D. Shelburne also signed it! That’s sort of like meeting a celebrity, right?

 

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1. The glorious and ridiculously large hat I wore to the Oaks. I borrowed it from a friend in Louisville who has a marvelous sense for fashion, so I wasn’t concerned about seeing it in advance. I was sold when she told me, “You can’t put it on until you get there because it won’t fit in the car while it’s on your head.”

Now, onto the next big thing. I’ve got to sew, sew, sew in preparation for the Three Rivers Arts Festival. T-minus four weeks to go!

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Early Times Mint Julep bottle signings

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It’s Derby time, folks! That means you need a ridiculously large hat or a seersucker suit and definitely an Early Times Mint Julep (possibly several). Luckily for you, I happen you know where you can get bottles of the latter signed by yours truly. I’ll be in Louisville to sign my name to your heart’s content Monday through Thursday of next week. Here are the details:

Monday, April 28th:

  • 3:30 – 5:00 PM, Kroger Hubbards Lane, 291 N. Hubbards Lane, Louisville, KY 40207
  • 6:00 – 7:30 PM, Kroger Prospect, 5949 Timber Ridge Drive, Prospect, KY 40059

Tuesday, April 29th:

  • 3:30 – 4:30 PM, Hunters Station, 236 Hunter Station Rd, Sellersburg, IN 47172
  • 5:00 – 6:00 PM, Bottles Unlimited, 427 State Street, New Albany, IN 47150
  • 7:00 – 8:00 PM, Bridge Liquors, 110 Knable Lane, New Albany, IN 47150

Wednesday, April 30th:

  • 3:30 – 5:00 PM, Kroger Middletown, 12501 Shelbyville Road, Middletown, KY 40243
  • 6:00 – 7:30 PM, Party Mart, 4808 Brownsboro Road, Louisville, KY 40207

Thursday, May 1st:

  • 3:30 – 5:00 PM, Liquor Barn Hurstbourne, 1850 S. Hurstbourne Parkway, Louisville, KY 40220
  • 6:00 – 7:30 PM, Liquor Barn St. Matthews, 4301 Shelbyville Rd., Louisville, KY 40207

Come say hello. My Sharpie marker will be eagerly awaiting to meet your bottle.

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Commemorating Judith Kasdan

Judith Kasdan Scholarship

Earlier this year, I had the great honor of creating an award to memorialize one of Pittsburgh’s outstanding residents. Judith Kasdan, as her daughters describer her, “taught in the Pittsburgh Public Schools, owned a children’s shoe boutique, served as President of the National Council of Jewish Women, and earned her Law degree at age 56, subsequently passing the bar exam and serving as an Allegheny County Public Defender. She was a fierce supporter of programs to improve the lives of women and children and had a keen motivation to make the world a better place.”

To honor Judi, her three daughters established several memorial projects. One is an annual staff recognition award for an employee of the Hillman Cancer Center where Judi was a patient. Another is a scholarship at the Duquesne University School of Law where Judi earned her J.D.

It was a heart-warming process to work with Judi’s daughters to create a design with visual elements that symbolically represented her spirit. I was also thrilled to be able to use my current style of painting for what will be fabricated into a free-standing award.

Green Figbird on Blue

Knowing that I would have an unused original painting at the end of this project, I decided to push the artwork beyond what I needed for the award design. The image directly above is the finished painting, including a Green Fig-bird and a design in 22k gold.

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In laying out the elements of this painting, I had to be very careful about where the Green Fig-bird was placed because I didn’t want it to overlap with anything else so that the bird could be easily removed for the award design in Photoshop. This required cutting out the bird drawn by hand on craft paper. This allowed me to move the bird around on the painting so I could decide where it looked best before committing to its final spot. Once in place, I lightly traced around the paper silhouette with paint and then went to work rendering the bird. The rest was freehanded around it.

Now the Kasdan’s have a personal design to commemorate their mother and recognize deserving medical staff and law students. And I have a new painting (and print) available, which you can see in person it at the Three Rivers Arts Festival!

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Textile Thursday

Fabric-swatches

I’m counting down the days until the Three Rivers Arts Festival, where I’ll be open for business in the artist market at booth 26. This is an exciting milestone for me because it will mark the launch of textile products printed with my paintings.

Today was an especially fun step in the textile-making process since test samples of a variety of custom fabrics arrived. The day flew by while I was calibrating colors by comparing my original paintings with the initial yards of test fabric and a color map with hex codes (a.k.a. color IDs).

Now I’m onto creating patterns of the single images so the designs repeat continuously. This is no easy task, I promise you. I’ll save that explanation for another day.

 

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Bucket list commission: Early Times Mint Julep bottle

 

2014 Early Times Mint Julep bottleMy personal bucket list includes “make a painting for the label of a bourbon bottle.” It may seem obscure, but I hail from Louisville, Kentucky, and bourbon is to Louisville what ketchup is to Pittsburgh.

Several years ago, I pursued this dream and tried getting my foot in the door with the big wine and spirits producer in my home town. No bourbon label came of it, although some fantastic alternatives unfolded. I dropped the ball, moved first to London, then to Pittsburgh, and, well, just forgot about it.

Then last year, the Brown-Forman Corporation contacted me to gauge my interest in contending for the commission to create a painting for the label of the 2014 Early Times Mint Julep bottle.  Keep in mind, this is the official drink of the Kentucky Derby; over 120,000 mint juleps will be served the week of Derby at Churchill Downs alone. When I got the phone call informing me that I was selected for the commission, I started to look around the room for hidden cameras, thinking it must be a really mean prank that was being caught on tape.

It turns out it wasn’t a prank, and I did create the painting last fall (progress shots are below for your viewing pleasure). It has been very difficult not to talk about it until now, but thank goodness the word is out! Just yesterday (within one day of the press release), the bottle was featured on WDRB and Louisville Business First, and it got a quick blurb on Shaken News Daily.

This is just the beginning. I’ll be in Louisville the week prior to the big race, promoting the product at Dawn at the Downs and bottle signing events. I also hear talk of billboards and taxi ads. Pinch me, and cheers to checking things off the bucket list!

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Editorial illustration for NTEN’s Change Journal

NTEN March '14 Change Journal cover illustration

Years of focusing the content of this blog on charitable causes and organizations has resulted in many wonderful friendships with nonprofit professionals. Sometimes those friendships have led to new work, which is the case with this editorial illustration for the cover of the Nonprofit Technology Network’s Change Journal (“A Quarterly Journal for Nonprofit Leaders”). The full issue isn’t available until later this month, but you’re in the camp of lucky folks who can get a sneak preview here.

I’ll be creating the cover artwork for all four of the 2014 issues, so why not sign up to receive each of them, for free no less!

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