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Monthly Challenge: August


Someone said to me recently, “Screens keep me from being able to do the things that make me happy.” Do you find that statement to be painfully true? I know I did.

So here we are in August. Summer’s last chapter is upon us — school has even already started for some people — which means it’s time to make the most of the days we have left. Here’s your monthly challenge: put your screen down RIGHT NOW and go do something that makes you happy. It can be anything, not just making something. Play 18 holes of golf; drive to the mountains for the weekend; call a friend and take a walk together; read a book you’ve been meaning to get to; send a real birthday card to someone; get an adult coloring book and color page one.

Whatever it is, just go do something that makes you happy. Then share it with us on Facebook, or Instagram using #stepawayfromthescreen.

monthly challenge - freedom

Monthly Challenge: July

monthly challenge - freedom

Photo from flickr by The unnamed.

Welcome to July, friends! It’s the month of independence. Canada Day, Independence DayBastille Day (France), and Fiestas Patrias (Peru) are all celebrated this month. And we’re always up for a celebration, right? Heck right!

But here in the USA, over the past few weeks, rights, privileges, and liberties are being discussed in complex and serious ways. The Supreme Court decided same-sex marriage was legal just one week after a gunman killed nine people in a predominantly black church in South Carolina. And both of those events, along with their ripple effects, have consumed us, regardless of which side of the story your beliefs land on. And that is the reason that I have chosen FREEDOM as our monthly challenge for July.

What does freedom mean to you? Have you been impacted — directly or indirectly — by the recent events I mention above? Are there other issues of freedom that are dominating your attention right now? Are you just looking forward to watermelon, bbq, and fireworks on 4th of July? Or is it some complex, human combination of all of those?

Regardless, spend some time thinking about freedom and what it is for you, and use those thoughts to inspire you to step away from the screen and make something this month.

Then share it with us on Instagram by tagging it #SAFTSchallenge, or by posting it in our Facebook group.

Can’t wait to see what you create!

Having trouble coming up with ideas?
As the month goes on, if you’re having trouble coming up with something to make for your monthly challenge, visit our MOTIVATE page where we’ll be providing prompts to get your creativity flowing. And don’t worry. Once you start flexing this muscle more often, it will become easier and easier to come up with something to make. I promise 🙂

Final Wall - Alt Summer

Alt Summit: Art Installation


Every year I go to a conference in Salt Lake City called Alt Summit. There’s Alt Winter in January, and Alt Summer in June. I’ve been to every Alt Summit (which began in 2009), but this year was different. This year I attended as Step Away from the Screen, and I got to participate in a new and super exciting way: they asked me to create an art installation for the conference.

Exciting, yes. But intimidating too. Creating a piece of art for this insanely creative gathering of people? How on earth? Not to mention, since I was representing Step Away… I knew I wanted the art to be participatory — something everyone could help create. So not only did it have to be good art, but it also had to be appealing enough that attendees would want to participate in creating it. Simple without being simplistic, creative without being complex, innovative without being overwhelming. No big deal, right?

So I started by focusing on the words Step Away from the Screen and wondered if I could find a literal interpretation of that objective. Suddenly I got it: Pointillism! Lots of dots of different colors which, when viewed from a distance (i.e., you have to step away from the canvas), blend together to form a picture. My idea was that I would create the base art and overlay letters that corresponded to round stickers of different colors. B = blue. R = red. G = green. Etc. People would place stickers on the letters and by the time Alt was over, we will have created a picture. A giant, pointillist paint-by-number sticker-by-letter picture.

Alt Summit - Design

With my concept nailed down, it was time to get started creating a base design. I wanted something that looked cool, but would also represent the message of Step Away… It also had to be simple enough that it could be rendered in 1” dots (which would give it an almost pixelated look). I decided that at the root of the Make Something message was the implication that you are making something with your hands, so my design was focused on hands. That and lots of color!


Then I had to figure out how many stickers to order. Which required math. And math is hard, y’all. And it’s summer, so I won’t make you do any. But I will tell you that I ordered almost 30,000 stickers.


Last but not least, I had to figure out how to overlay the letters in such a way that you couldn’t tell what the base art was. This was the most complicated part. But since I’m a graphic designer I had lots of tools at my disposal. If you’re interested in the nuts and bolts of how I did this, leave a comment and I’ll share. In the meantime, I won’t bore you with those technical details 🙂

Alt Summit - Blank Wall

The amazing folks at Cornerstone printed it out on 4’ x 8’ vinyl sheets and mounted the vinyl to 4’ x 8’ wood panels. The final art ended up being 8’ high by 12’ wide. A giant white wall, with tiny black letters.

Alt Summit - Busy Room

The wall was in the lounge where the attendees spent their breaks between sessions. So it was alternately PACKED FULL OF PEOPLE, or quiet and mellow with just a few folks here and there. This gave me time to chat with one of my favorite people, Alma Loveland from Woven Pear. They set up a cozy bedroom and encouraged you to put on their awesome socks and jump on the bed. Other great sponsors were in there too: Macy’s, Easy Closets, and TagSpire, each with their own cool presentations and installations. Suffice to say, it was a fun room.

Alt Summit - Phone Basket

My table was full of stickers of course (although 30,000 stickers isn’t as large a pile as you might expect it to be), and also a basket where you were instructed to leave your phone before you started sticking stickers. I didn’t want you to be up there stickering and receive a text and stop stickering to answer it. No no no!

Once you put your phone in the basket, you were encouraged to grab a roll of stickers and start sticking!

Alt Summit - Different Designs

At first folks seemed to be inspired by the wide-openness of the wall, and created designs and words with the stickers.

Some people would stop by throughout the day just to see how we were progressing, and to see if they could figure out what the picture was.

Alt Summit - Friends  Alt Summit - Red Zone

All in all, I was blown away by the response. I had no idea, going in, how the whole thing would play. But it really seemed to be something people enjoyed. Whether it was to take a break from the crazy Alt Energy, or just to recharge and be creative for a few minutes, I really think people had a good time sticking stickers. More than a few times I saw two people reach over and shake hands, and then keep talking while they stuck stickers. Other folks reported therapeutic effects from stickering, and hung out til they felt better. And still others (myself included) found that the wall fed their OCD tendencies. (MUST FINISH THIS SECTION!) Even Guy Kawasaki and his daughter got in on the action!

It was really exciting watching it all come together. And by the end of day one, you could really see what was taking shape.


As great as all that stickering was, I also really loved getting to hang out in one place the whole conference and getting to talk to so many people. I got to hear their stories, and what they did, and why they were at Alt, and everything. It was perfect for someone as severely extroverted as I am. I think I got to talk about creativity with just about every person who attended Alt Summer!

Alt Summit - Josh & Kelly

Day two, there was almost a renewed vigor among some people who just wanted to get it finished! And it was a lot of fun watching that happen. People would take on a whole color section and just park themselves there til that section was finished. Total dedication!


When we finally stuck the last sticker on, at around 2pm, the whole room burst into applause!

It was quite a journey, and I enjoyed every single minute of it. Thanks Alt for being made of magic. And thank you to everyone who helped me step away from the screen and make this come to life.


All photos by me or by Brooke Dennis and Justin Hackworth — from the Alt Summit Flickr Stream.

House Rules

Hey kids! I thought it might be time for another story about something I stepped away from the screen and made. Yeah? Okay! This story has a few “parts” to it, so I thought I’d break it down into bite size pieces.

Act 1 —

Scene 1:
About a year and a half ago, I started writing our family’s “house rules.” I had seen a few of these lists floating around the Internet and really liked what they were all about. Especially in a house with kids. So I started working. Not diligently, but whenever something occurred to me, I would add it to the list. I kept the list on Evernote so it would be with me wherever I was.

Scene 2:
One night I was sitting on my couch looking around the living room. The staircase is a dominant feature of that room because it is right smack in the middle of it. All our walls are painted different colors, but the stairs are white wood. It occurred to me that I needed to do something creative with the stairs. I mean, here it was, a giant canvas right in the middle of the living room and it was just plain white. So I added that to my ever-present, ever-growing list of “things to think about and do someday.”

Act 2 —

Scene 1:
The house rules were coming along nicely, but there was a problem: Where was I going to put it once it was finished? We don’t have a ton of walls in our house (years ago previous owners knocked down most of the walls turning a boxy, compartmentalized, 1930’s era bungalow into an open, airy, modern feeling home. We love it, but we don’t have as many places to hang things as we might like.), and most of those walls were already exhibiting art, as we’d lived in the house for 6 years.

Scene 2:
One daydreamy afternoon, I’m thinking about our stairs, and what fun thing I could create for them, when suddenly it all comes together for me. The house rules! On the stairs! One rule per step. I counted the steps (13) and opened the house rules document. I had 9 rules. Surely I could come up with 4 more.

Act 3 —

Scene 1:
The stairs were, upon close inspection, pretty banged up. 6 years of a family of 4 on white stairs? Yeah. Might need a little paint. So that was the first part of the project. meanwhile, I was trying to figure out the best way to get the words on the stairs. I considered freehand painting, sharpie, and stencil painting, but I’m a fairly compulsive person (understatement), and I know that any imperfections would drive me crazy. Finally I decided on vinyl. Choosing the typeface and, more importantly, the color took a while — the stairs are surrounded by yellow, sage green, red, and brown walls. What color would work with all of those? We ultimately decided on a steely blue grey. And practical, clean DIN for the font. I designed the words and had them printed at my favorite sign company for about $40.

Scene 2:
Got the vinyl back as one big sheet. While I cut the lines apart, I also stressed about how to apply them so they’d be straight and also spaced the same distance from the wall (remember — compulsive). I decided left-aligned would work better than centered, and would also look more modern.

Act 4 —

They came out about a million times better than I even hoped they would. And the kids love them. And I love them. And we have even invented a game around them. We frequently find our cat, Mark, hanging out in the middle of the stairs. So we decided he would choose our rule of the day. Any time someone walks by the steps and sees Mark there, they yell out the rule he’s sitting on: “Mark says WORK HARD!!” Or “Mark says, SHARE!”

Here’s the complete list of our house rules. I strongly encourage you to think about what yours would be, even if you don’t turn them into something on display. It’s pretty interesting to consider which behaviors are important enough to you and your family that you would classify them as “rules.”

Be Kind.
Laugh. A lot.
Work Hard.
Play Fair.
Tell the Truth.
Offer to Help.
Ask Nicely.
Hug and Kiss.
Say Thank You.
Respect Others.

Mail US


It’s time for another Step Away project! This time I took on the mailbox.

When we moved into our house 7 years ago, we inherited a plain, black mailbox mounted on the wall of the front porch. It wasn’t interesting, but it also wasn’t offensive. So it stayed, but with the plan that someday I wanted to make it better.

Now that I’m in the middle of my Step Away challenge, I decided the mailbox’s time had come. First thing I did was paint it. (So quickly that I didn’t even get a picture of the previously black mailbox. Oops.) We have a dark brown house with white trim, yellow window boxes, and a yellow door. Orange seemed to be the perfect counterpoint to all those colors and a few coats of spray paint made it so.


I wanted it to have a little more to it, though. And I’ve always loved vintage mailboxes that say “POST” or “LETTERS”, so I started gathering pictures. But I couldn’t help but feel like the whole “vintage mailbox” thing has been played out. So I was also trying hard to figure out something else I could do.


Then one day I  was looking at the last photo above. The one that says U.S. MAIL on the side. Suddenly the words flopped themselves in my mind and I saw something altogether new:



And voila! Our new mailbox!


Yard Art Day

Okay friends. I’ve been bombarding you with STEP AWAY FROM THE SCREEN for almost 2 months now — over fifty different designs — and I have yet to show you any of the things that I’ve done when I actually stepped away from the screen. Soooo, wanna see some? Oh good — I hoped you were going to say yes!

I’ll start with my favorite so far.

But first, some background:

A few months ago my friend, and amazing photographer, Deborah Triplett had a dream.

“It is my dream that for one day people remember that child within them that likes to play creatively without any judgment or restraint. And to show the world that Charlotte is so much more than a banking town. And for us all to get insight into the city in which we live — to cross neighborhood boundaries. To be inclusive. Art can do this.”

She decided to call it Yard Art Day. And it got people excited. Very excited. So excited that over 200 homes in and around Charlotte participated by creating some art for their front yard. And on Labor Day, we all yard crawled around town to see everyone’s creations.

As soon as I heard about Yard Art Day, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. And since it was going to be in our front yard, I felt like it should be a whole-family project. So Bob and I started talking. And sketching. And talking. And sketching. We have a history of making things out of reclaimed palette wood, so we knew that was the medium we wanted to work in, but beyond that, our ideas were as diverse and all-over-the-place as they could possibly be. Eventually we settled on a basic concept: reinterpret a picket fence.

So Lucy and I went out to find reclaimable palettes, and Bob and Zoe started working on breaking them apart and cutting them into different lengths.

Then we “sketched” a layout with the garden hose — making curvy waves along the length of our yard — and placed the boards on the ground, following the curves.

Then we started pounding the boards in the ground.

And then it started raining. But we kept pounding.

Then. After all the boards were in the ground, we got out the spray paint.

Last but not least, we put in some signage. So the neighbors would know what the heck was going on in our yard.

And voila: Our finished Yard Art Day project — What’s (Y)ours Is…

The basic concept is this: a picket fence is intended to separate “ours” from “yours.” This side of the fence is ours; that side of the fence is yours. Our picket fence, instead, was intended to draw you into our space, not to separate you from it. We were inviting you to walk along it, wander with its curves, explore the space around it. As such, the fence was both ours and yours. A term we coined (Y)ours.

Here’s a quick video I made which also explains the basic concept of the piece. It’s just shot with my phone, so it’s nothing professional. But it enables you to see the whole fence, which is fun. And I explain a little more about our thought process, if you’re interested.

Our goal for Yard Art Day was to create something that we were proud of. Something beyond just decorating our front yard. Instead we wanted to create something interactive and interesting to look at that was also thought provoking. We were all four very happy with how our piece turned out. So happy that, in many ways, this project launched my whole Step Away from the Screen initiative. That’s why I wanted it to be the first Step Away project I showed you.

Do you have any yard art? Would you put art in your front yard? I’d love to hear.


PS. We kept the art up for a few months. But eventually the grass grew too tall around the boards and we had to pull them up. This pile of wood impelled us to build a fire pit in our backyard and we invited friends over to make s’mores over our yard art with us. All in all a perfect project!

Step Away from the Screen and Make Something

I’m launching something new at Upside Up this year, and I’m super nervous about it, y’all. It’s a 365-Day Project, which means I’m planning to post something here every day. Yes — you read that right. Every. Day. And I’ll need you to help me stick to it. Because you may have noticed, I’m hilariously not good about posting regularly.

So what am I doing? I’m giving myself both a design challenge and some much-needed motivation. See, I’ve been feeling for a while that I’ve lost touch with my “maker” side — the part of me that makes stuff. If any of you know me from high school or college, or even my early years in the “real” world, you know me as a person who makes stuff. And that’s what I was for pretty much my whole life. Lately though, with kids, work, and blah blah blah life, it feels as though I’ve ceded that part of me to the “not enough time” cliche. So I’ve come up with a message to motivate me:

Step Away From The Screen and Make Something.

Turn off the computer. The phone. The tv. Get up off the couch. Get out of your desk chair. Get out of bed. And make something. Anything. With your hands.

And for my design challenge, I plan to create a design, every day, of that very message. And maybe by spending a whole year with those words, they will sink in and I’ll find my maker self once more.

And heck, maybe it will even inspire some of you, too.

So that up there is design #1. The first of 365 designs. I would love to hear what you think. And I want to thank you, in advance, for making me stay on task 🙂

Now step away from the screen and go make something!