Thursday, July 4, 2019

The Business Card Test

My Moo cards are printed and ready for Amsterdam!

A tradition at the annual international Urban Sketchers Symposium is to exchange small cards with other sketchers. Like business cards, they usually include contact information on one side and a sketch on the other – a fun and easy way to remember people we meet and to stay in touch with them. When I get home from the symposium, I tape all the cards I’ve collected into my sketchbook, and they are among my most cherished souvenirs as I think about the many sketchers I met. I’m looking forward to doing it again later this month in Amsterdam.

I used to print my own at home, but I got tired of all the cutting, so I’ve been ordering cards and stickers from Moo the past few years. Since the materials are digitally printed, a batch of cards costs the same, whether you choose to print the same image on all cards or a different image on each. The online tool for setting them up is easy to use; the hard part, for me, is selecting the images.

This sketch tells a story about the
place where I live, but at this size,
I can't even see what it shows.
Considering that I sketch every day, you’d think I’d have plenty to choose from, but that’s not the case. What I’ve learned from printing these tiny cards is that a sketch that looks OK in its original 6-by-9-inch size doesn’t always look as good when it’s reduced to 2-by-3 inches. All the details I was so pleased with in the full-size sketch are barely visible. High contrast and strong values are even more important in a small format. If I had a mediocre composition in my sketchbook, you can bet it doesn’t improve when the image has been shrunken down to a card.

At the same time that I’m choosing images that might reproduce well in a small format, I’m also thinking about subject matter. Since I know I will be giving the cards to international friends who may not be familiar with my home, I try to select images that might give them a sense of “the place where I live” (to paraphrase the manifesto). You see? It’s a tall order.

Choosing images for my Moo cards is a humbling experience. I flip through the digital scans on my hard drive by viewing thumbnails at about 2-by-3 inches, and I’m lucky if I can find even a dozen that pass the Business Card Test. It has become an effective way to set an ongoing goal for myself: Make a 6-by-9-inch sketch that will still look good when it’s 2 by 3.


  1. Good lesson on how much values impact the sketch!

  2. This are lovely. If only I was going to Amsterdam . . . Have a great time. There will be Yorkshire Urban sketchers there. Just not this one :)

    1. I wish you were going, too! Will look for the Yorkshire sketchers!

  3. This is definitely food for thought, Tina. My biggest sketching problem is too much concentration on details and not enough on shapes and contrast. Your 2x3 test might just get my brain thinking right about such things. Thanks.

  4. Here's an idea (too late for this year, but maybe next). Print cards with your contact info on one side, but leave the back blank. Then take them with you when you go to coffee shops, around the neighborhood, Seattle tourist spots, etc and sketch tiny scenes directly onto the back of the card with a fine-tip permanent ink pen (like a Micron). I did this for the Chicago USK workshop and it was so much fun. Each one was unique; some were not the greatest, but it was a great memento of me and my town.


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