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Nuts and Bolts: Design Challenge Tips

August 11, 2017

Nuts & Bolts – Design Challenge Tips

We are pleased to bring you a guest post by GCU artist Betsy Bush of Dragonfire Graphics and Birthday Cards Cafe:

Greetings fellow GCU designers,

I hope everyone is having a wonderful day so far!  I feel so privileged to be writing to you in the Nuts and Bolts section of the Community Blog. I am here to offer some tips I use when designing for the Community Design Challenges that GCU offers each month.

I appreciate so much the time and effort Doreen puts into bringing these challenges to us. Also, the time of the judges and Mindy for trying to give us a fun and creative way to design new cards to bring us more greeting card sales success! Before I begin I just want to give you my statistics of the designs I have entered into the challenges since they began. I have entered 27 contests, placed either 1st or 2nd in 11 of them, and 18 of the 27 designs have seen sales. A few of which have seen many sales. I tell you this because I am so thrilled to have these designs to offer that I would have never had if it had not been for the challenges. You can see all the winning entries on GCU’s Design Challenge Pinterest board.

I really want to encourage everyone to take the time to enter these challenges. They are fun, interesting, and I believe they give us a chance to try new things, learn new things, and give us practice on our skills. OK, onto the tips!


Read and Reread the Challenge Requirements:

This tip stems from my not doing this! I entered a design in which I completely missed the MAIN requirement of the challenge due to my faulty Evelyn Wood reading skills! (Does anyone remember who Evelyn Wood is?) Anyway, just a few minutes can save you a lot of work. I did end up with a fun design as a result, but this isn’t something you want to have happen if it is close to the challenge deadline!


Embrace the Theme:

Try to give the latest theme a really good think. Don’t just jump in and create for the sake of getting it done. Ask yourself, “What can I do differently to really make my design POP!”

Use your life experience and think about how the theme may pertain to something you experienced that could be used in your design and verse.



When trying to think of a different angle, don’t be afraid to search for something new, under addressed or offbeat. An occasion, a religion, a cultural event, etc.

Become really familiar with your subject matter so you can do the occasion justice.

Thanks to the Peace challenge I can tell you all about Native American Day, a day I had never heard of before, because I did extensive research on it when I decided this would be the focus of the design.

The next tip takes me to how I came to choose Native American Day.


Scour your Resources:

This is exactly what I did when the Peace challenge came about. Many times I let my resources give me inspiration for a design. I found a dreamcatcher made of feathers and it led me to research Native American culture and I found Native American Day. And, if you’re like me you just can’t wait for the latest email of the new offerings

from the HungryJpeg, Design Cuts, or any of the numerous design resource sites. Definitely an addiction of mine! A resource you may have not ever noticed in your files may become the shining star of a Design Challenge win!


Take your Time:

When creating your design, second guess everything you have done. Make sure it is up to your standards. Ask yourself, what can I add? What can I take away? What is making this design stand out?

For the April 2015 Kid’s Imagination, Create A New Animal theme, my design folder has 126 files dedicated to creating that design! The reason being, I worked SO hard on the first design I created and it just didn’t cut the mustard, so it was back to the drawing board! It may seem like wasted time but it wasn’t. I learned so much about combining elements and using photoshop tools I never used before.

Inside Verse:

Don’t forget to take your time with your inside verse, as well! We all know matching the sentiment to the design is key. I always try to imagine I am the recipient and am reading the inside. Try different ways to make a play on words, or puns, if the sentiment needs

lightness or humor. If a serious occasion, I don’t like to be too somber, just supportive and sympathetic.


Big Stock Creations:

We all know how awesome it is to have a resource like BigStock in our design toolkits.

When using their photos for the challenges, the judges are looking for serious attention to adding appropriate verse to the picture. Here again comes the time for taking your time.

Look at the picture you have chosen and really think about what it is telling you and how you can relay that message to the customer to make them want to chose your design.


All of these tips may sound like second nature, but it never hurts to have a reminder.

Take care, I look forward to many artists’ Design Challenge entries in the future!

Challenge yourself and you won’t be disappointed!

See all the Design Challenges posted.


And, as Mindy always reminds us: “The difference is made in the details.”


GCU Community Manager


8 Comments leave one →
  1. August 11, 2017 2:30 pm

    What great tips, Betsy! It’s so nice to hear your enthusiasm and to know these challenges inspire you to experiment and grow as an artist. That’s exactly what we hope for each month. 🙂

  2. August 11, 2017 6:48 pm

    Thanks, Doreen!
    I love the challenges and really want to inspire others to jump on the bandwagon!

  3. August 14, 2017 1:35 am

    Great tips and most of all it’s always good to read requirements several times.. I even jot notes down or even print off the rules etc.. thanks Betsy.

  4. August 16, 2017 10:27 am

    Thanks for the article and congrats on your many successes. Your win record is impressive!

    I certainly agree with you that the Challenges inspire creativity and I’m glad that GCU offers them.

  5. August 16, 2017 12:03 pm

    Thank you, Stacia!
    I am glad you liked it and am so glad you love the challenges, too!

  6. PamJArts permalink
    August 18, 2017 7:28 pm

    This post is so insightful, Betsy!
    So many great tips and reminders for those of us that don’t enter too often.
    Thank you for sharing your experience.

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