Kelly Kautz

The blog of Kelly Kautz, a copywriter and content strategist based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

How to Make Silhouette Studio Stencils from Photos

A few weeks ago I saw a stunning series of bird prints by Claudia Zill, and I wanted to try a similar technique using my Gelli® plate.

To do so, I needed bird stencils. So I made my own using JPEGs and Silhouette Studio software.

Making your own stencils, I've learned, is surprisingly easy if you have a little basic Photoshop knowledge.

Make Silhouette Files From Photos in Under 10 Minutes

1. First, find an image you want to use. I chose one of my mom's bird photos because it had a simple background and fell under a Creative Commons license.

2. Delete the background. You can do this by opening the image in Photoshop and using the Magic Wand tool or Eraser. I used both. I left the branch, but you could delete that too and trace the eraser around the blue jay's feet.

3. Make the image black and white. I did this by adding a Threshold adjustment layer (Image > Adjustments > Threshold ... ), then adjusting the Threshold Level under "Properties" until the bird was entirely black.

4. Save the image as a JPEG.

5. Open the black and white JPEG within the Silhouette Studio software. To do so, click File > Open. Then adjust the File Type in the bottom of the pop-up window to show JPEGs. Select your image, then resize it as you see fit.

6. Within the Silhouette Studio software, open the trace window. (It's the icon in the top-right toolbar that looks like a sandwich with blueberry jam.) Choose "Select Trace Area," and drag the selection area around your image. ThenIMPORTANT!uncheck "High Pass Filter" in the Trace Settings window, so the entire image appears in yellow.

6. Under "Apply Trace Method," select "Trace." Next, select and then delete the black image so you're left with nothing but a red outline. That's your stencil!

7. Save your stencil as a .studio file on your hard drive, or to your Silhouette file library. Then cut out your stencil!

Get MY Free bird stencils for the silhouette

Download the blue jay and five other Silhouette bird stencils for your own art projects! These are all made from Creative Commons-licensed photos. Just click on this shared Dropbox link to see and download the .Studio files.

I'd love to see what you create!

Post-Thanksgiving Art Therapy & Abstract Landscape Collage

Pregnancy hormones. Seasonal affective disorder. Holiday blues. Depression.

I could attribute my mood to any number of things, but the fact remains: I've been feeling down. Thanksgiving wreaked havoc on our comfortable routine. My two-year-old fought me at every turn. He refused to eat and refused to nap, and by the end of the weekend the whole family felt irritable.

I excused myself during one of his tantrums to go cry in the car. It didn't help. I returned feeling worse than ever. We ate peanut butter and jelly and watched too much "Diego."

When Liam went to bed, I got out my art supplies. I'd enrolled in Ashley Goldberg's online class "Paint. Plan. Play" the week before and wanted to try her scraped paint technique. (It's simple: you just use a credit card to scrape acrylic paint across paper.)

I made about a dozen papers in all, using a mix of pink, mint green and navy blue. My mood brightened. The mental fog cleared. I felt restored.

I've always seen art as a means to an end. I'm making these papers to use in collage. I'm studying composition so I can make better artwork. I'm going to sell these one day.

But that night made me realize that the process is just as important as the product. Because that instant boost in mood meant so much to me. It meant: Maybe I am not spiraling into a lengthy depression. Maybe I am not the world's worst mother. Maybe I don't have to be the world's most talented artist to find joy in making art.

Every time I look at these papers, I feel that same joy. And I know that any time I need a lift in mood, I can break out the paints and make more.

The next night, I turned a few of my favorite painted papers into finished collages. Looking at them makes me happy, too.

How to Make a Book Trailer

I've been doing a lot of research on book trailers lately. I work at a video production company. I write scripts in my sleep. So when my editor suggested I make a book trailer to support my book proposal, I thought: "Piece of cake."

Now I'm eating my words.

What are Book Trailers, and Why Do So Many People Hate Them?

Book trailers are videos meant to spark interest in a new book. They're often modeled after movie trailers. And they're often maligned, even by authors who use them well.

Case in point:

I responded to Chuck Wendig's tweet by asking what book trailers he actually liked. He didn't answer. Presumably he's too busy writing more books and cashing royalty checks. (To be fair, he did write a blog post on the topic back in 2012.)

But here's the thing: Wendig's book trailer for his Miriam Black series is really good. It showcases everything that's delightful about Miriam Black (unforgettable characters, a great narrative voice) without any fluff.

Book Trailers: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

I've watched at least a dozen book trailers since then. Everything from big-budget numbers to simple stop motion and author interviews.

Here's what I learned: there's no formula for a good book trailer. Is the book funny? The book trailer should make viewers laugh. Is it dramatic? The trailer should take people's breath away. Is it lyrical? The trailer should have a lovely, lyrical script.

Above all else, a book trailer should leave viewers eager to read the actual book. It should give them just enough information to know what it's about, then leave them wanting more.

Here's a book trailer that does just that:

This video has high production values, but author Tim Ferriss documents the entire process—complete with storyboard sketches and video treatment.

I've been working on my own book trailer this month. And while I don't have Tim Ferriss's budget, I hope to share my own video-making process with you, and ultimately create a successful book trailer. 

Will I succeed? I have no idea. But every step of the way, I'm going to be asking: Does this make viewers want to read the book? And if the answer is no, I'm going back to the drawing board. Er, storyboard.

Here's my current book trailer script, just in case you're curious:

Let me know what you think!


In Praise of Pausing

I've been working on a memoir for about two years now, with lots of starts and stops. I've thrown out hundreds of pages.

pausing.jpg

Ramping Up, Then Slowing Down

This year I worked with a mentor, Wendy Dale, to finally get the right structure in place. I read Save the Cat! by screenwriter Blake Snyder. I outlined the dramatic arc of every book I read and studied its strengths and weaknesses. I began to understand what makes a story come together. 

In spring I finished a chapter-by-chapter outline of my memoir. Then I got pregnant and completely shut down. Between the constant morning sickness and the mental fog, I couldn't imagine writing anything. I played computer games. I watched TV. I steeped in boredom. 

My Second Wind

About a month ago, I got a second wind. I decided to finish the rough draft of the new outline before the baby comes in late January. Since then I've been writing a thousand words a day and a chapter a week. I've never been more productive. 

I realize now that I needed that break between the writing and intensive study to let all the new knowledge sink in. They way compost needs time to break down so it can support new growth. 

Stopping vs. Pausing

In addition to writing, I'm also taking an online essay-writing class taught by Amy Paturel. Each Wednesday she sends out a quote to discuss. This week she sent one from Stephen King's book, On Writing

“Stopping a piece of work just because it’s hard, emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea. Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.”

I've always had mixed feelings about stopping. I feel guilty whenever I miss a day of writing. I worry that I'll die in a car crash and never get to accomplish my dream, because I was too busy watching "Teen Mom" and playing Minecraft. But I also believe in honoring life's ebbs and flows.

Cheryl Strayed wrote something in her advice column, "Dear Sugar," that has always resonated with me: 

"When I was done writing it, I understood that things happened just as they were meant to. That I couldn't have written my book before I did. I simply wasn't capable of doing so, either as a writer or a person. ... I had to write a lot of sentences that never miraculously formed a novel. I had to read voraciously and compose exhaustive entries in my journals. I had to waste time and grieve my mother and come to terms with my childhood .... and grow up." 

When should you take Stephen King's advice, and when should you look to Cheryl Strayed for permission to let the work progress as it will? 

I think it comes down to self-knowledge. Are you stopping out of fear and avoidance? If so, examine that and then get back to work. You feel bad now, but you'll feel better when you've broken through and returned to the page. 

Or do you need a pause, because you're tired and depleted and you need time to reflect and refill the well? 

Sometimes it's hard for me to tell the difference between stopping and pausing. But this time, I know I made the right decision. I'm glad I paused. Because the wind in my hair has never felt better.