A few years ago, my wife and I went looking for coffee-themed calendars to be used as gifts for coffee-loving friends. We were very surprised to find none in the calendar kiosks at the local malls or at coffee shops and very few to choose from online.
Being creative people, we decided to create our own calendar, using Cafe Press to print them. Our first calendar used black and white photos and was received very well by our 2 friends.
About the same time, I’d been working on a drawing style I had created called Sketchtoons where I mixed loose sketches with hand-written notes in my Moleskine sketchbook. I decided to do a new calendar, creating Sketchtoons for 12 coffee drinks.
In this article, I’ll document how I came up with the ideas, drew, scanned and colorized them for use in calendars and other items, and then marketed and sold the calendar with no budget.
Sketchtoon Coffee Calendar by Mike Rohde
Concepts and Research
The first task was to select which coffee drinks I would feature for each of the 12 months of the year. I had the classics settled (espresso, latte, mocha, cappuccino, iced coffee, cafe au lait) but needed several more unique drinks, not available on any other calendar, to round it out.
This worked wonderfully, as there was good historical and technical information I could use to create customized text for my Sketchtoons.
Once I’d selected my 12 drinks and had reference materials gathered, it was time to start the sketching process. Using a Moleskine Pocket Sketchbook, I first penciled out the structure of each drawing, then created the illustrations on the page. The last step: drawing the title of the drink and writing in the text on the left and right sides.
Scanning and Colorization
Once the illustrations were complete, I scanned each drawing from the Moleskine, then created a master high-resolution Photoshop file, with each illustration on a separate layer.
Next, I created a common background image of rough, dark brown texture on the top and bottom of each drawing, and created 4 background colors to cycle through the 12 months.
Each illustration was then colorized, using layers above each background color for the white tones, cup and coffee colors and lightened areas behind the descriptive text:
Once the colorization was completed, I exported each illustration, with colorized layers, to a single, high-resolution PNG file (created to specs provided by Cafe Press for the calendar).
Each PNG graphic was uploaded to Cafe Press, and finalized with a description and pricing choices. Cafe Press items have base prices, on top of which you may add a specific dollar amount for your profit.
Marketing and Sales
I didn’t have a budget for marketing, though I do have my Rohdesign blog with a fair number of readers. I shared details of the calendar: drawings, and when the calendar went up for sale as well as follow-up postings.
I also added a link to the Cafe Press page for the calendar in my email signature and uploaded images of the calendar to my Flickr account.
INeedCoffee.com also provided exposure, as I had been a contributor on the page, I was able to submit a small ad for the site and on my contributor profile page.
I’ve recently purchased an iPod touch, and one of the options is to install your own wallpaper on the startup screen. I decided to take the artwork from the calendar and create vertical wallpapers of each illustration.
Being a former Palm PDA user, I realized a square format version would be nice to offer to Palm and classic iPod users, so I created a square set too.
The free wallpapers were popular, and though I can only connect one download of the wallpapers to a sale, I think it helped expose the calendar to more people.
Finally, I chose two local coffee shops I frequent and gave each of them a calendar as thank you for their cafes. This also may work as exposure to other coffee lovers who see the calendars hanging in their shops.
In the end, I sold 80 calendars through Cafe Press and have received many compliments on the calendar from those who have bought them for others or themselves. Our friend who started this project was very pleased with hers.
Based on this year’s calendar project, I would change a few things, mainly getting the calendar ready in September rather than November, allowing buyers to see it sooner.
All in all, I found the project a very interesting experiment, which I think went quite well. I’m planning a revised version of the same calendar design for 2009, and am considering a new calendar with different designs and possibly a different theme.
If you’re considering creating your own calendar, check out Cafe Press. It’s free and pretty easy to set up an account, and you might even earn enough money to take your friends out for a coffee.
Professionally, Mike focuses on user interface, user experience, visual design, and icon design for mobile and web applications at Gomoll Research + Design in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
As an author, Mike has created the popular Sketchnote Handbook and Sketchnote Workbook series of books with Peachpit Press.
In his illustration practice, Mike uses his unique drawing style to amplify and clarify ideas. His work has been featured in REWORK, the best-selling book by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson; The $100 Startup, a best-selling book by Chris Guillebeau; and The Little Book of Talent by Daniel Coyle.
As a sketchnoter, Mike provides live, real-time sketchnotes of events, meetings, and experiences in venues across the United States.
He is the founder of The Sketchnote Army, a website dedicated to finding and showcasing sketchnotes and sketchnoters from around the world.
Mike has also shared his thinking, design process, and samples of his design and illustration work at his personal website, rohdesign.com, since 2003.