Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Beginnings of the Useful Calendar. But, wait: Aren't All Calendars "Useful"?

I was getting ready to do a little show-and-tell about some design innovations I'm working on for the 2016 edition of the Useful Calendar, when it occurred to me that I should probably first give you a little background on this annual project of mine—the story behind it, and why I call it the "Useful Calendar."  It has changed quite a lot since I began it 10 years ago. 

The first Useful Calendar in 2006, and a few other early editions, on letter-size card stock (cartridge paper)

Introducing the Useful Calendar

I've been compiling the Useful Calendar since 2006, when it was a free promotional item for readers of the Minneapolis Observer, a monthly newspaper my husband and I used to publish. I had seen promotional calendars from other businesses, and felt that they weren't informative enough or convenient enough in format to be truly useful.

I included dates that I thought would affect planning, and put it all on one page, so that a person could glance at this calendar and quickly see not only the date of Easter, or day of the week for the 4th of July, but also major local events that can obstruct traffic and parking, and cultural events that a considerate person might want to know about so they don't plan a community potluck luncheon in the middle of Ramadan, for example.

At the same time, I did not want to clutter it with what I considered to be frivolous or promotional events, even those that promote worthy causes. So, no Coffee Day or cancer awareness, or even Black History Month. Because I wanted it to fit on a page and still be a readable font size.

And that's why I called it the Useful Calendar.

How a Calendar Led to an Etsy Shop 

Soon after I created the first Useful Calendar, the Observer went out of business. We then launched a much smaller publication called MOQ (Minneapolis Observer Quarterly), a literary zine about "exploring the bucolic city," and I continued to create the Useful Calendar under this new moniker and give it away to subscribers and others to promote the publication. Really, though, I made it because I found the calendar useful and I hoped others would too. It was too much work to create it only for myself.

In 2009, I also made it into a set of cards, because I really liked the idea of having a smaller, pocket-sized version of the calendar that I could keep in my purse. I made them the size of Artists' Trading Cards (ATCs, 2-1/2 x 3-1/2 inches), because I was into those at the time. I then designed and made a paper pocket to hold it, and laminated it with packing tape for durability. 

An assortment of pockets with the 2014 calendar cards
This innovation was, in truth, also all about me, and what I found useful and pleasing. But I truly hoped that others would think so, too.

So I launched an Etsy shop, which I called Arty Didact, reflecting the way I like to combine art and information (i.e., didactic art), the calendar being a primary example of that. I have steadily added many different products to my shop, to the point of it becoming rather too eclectic, but that's another story.

The 2011 version introduced the Chinese zodiac animal as a theme, and included a few planetary notes, plus made-up names for the full moon dates, which are circled.

When working on the 2011 edition, I was pondering what to illustrate the calendar with, when I hit upon the idea of using the Chinese zodiac animal. It was the year of the rabbit, and the drawing I did for that year's calendar soon became the iconic image for my Etsy shop.  

Just as selling the calendars led me to open an Etsy shop,  opening an Etsy shop changed who I was making the calendars for, which led to further changes in the focus and format.

Read the rest of the story here.

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