Celebrating Milestones

Why to Wake Up Anniversary Danielle Geva

Today is the one year anniversary of my first book, Why to Wake Up.

Welcome to a rare Thursday post. As much as possible, I try to post on Wednesdays. Why? I don’t even remember. It’s probably a combination of consistency and some outdated stats about readership and engagement. But today is a special day, so made up rules be damned.

Today marks the one year anniversary of Why to Wake Up. Exactly one year ago I published my first book, and this time I plan on properly celebrating the milestone.

When I first started consulting, I celebrated every achievement. Closing new clients was a big deal, as was completing projects successfully. Then as the years went by, the novelty wore off. I stopped acknowledging personal milestones, and client ones felt more like checking off boxes. When a client secured funding, I’d insist they celebrate. Then I’d ignore my own advice, and focus on the next steps.

I wish I took a moment to recognize major achievements, and even find new minor ones to be proud of.

The thing is that I’m only realizing this all now. Habits stick unless you actively work to change them, and that can only happen once you decide change is needed. Meaning the same behaviour continued even after I opened my new art shop. I missed out on truly celebrating completing my first new piece of artwork, making my first sale, and being a part of my first art show. I may have shared my appreciation on social media, but these awesome accomplishments didn’t register as deserving.

During a recent milestone birthday, it finally clicked how hard I’ve been on myself. I treated achievements as meeting the bare minimum expectations. Then I would obsess over how things could have gone better. Even now, I’m tempted to write about the millions of mistakes I’ve made. But today I’m not going to think about self-improvement, or plan the next project. Instead, I’m finally going to take the time to proudly reflect on how incredible it feels to have published my first book.

Visit the shop to order your own signed & numbered copy of Why to Wake Up.

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Geometric Serviette Art


Geometric art seems simple, but it has to be done right to be hypnotic. Since each measurement has to be exact, most of the artwork tends to be digital. Despite this challenge, I wanted to create a physical piece by hand to blend the modern and traditional. The inspiration comes from a pair of glass candle holders that look like beautiful 3D stars, yet are used for ancient rituals.

Since I am a novice when it comes to geometric art, I started by watching tutorials. As someone who loves to improvise and draw freeform, it took a lot of practice to create decent 3D shapes and draw in perspective. After doing some research, I came across a shape that consisted of 12 triangles. While the candle holders would make for a beautiful still life painting, this shape was the perfect fit for a bold abstract piece created with serviettes.

When I was younger, my grandmother saved unique serviettes for me until I had a pretty decent collection. My intention was always to create art with them, but I ended up hoarding them instead. I was excited to finally use them, as serviettes were the perfect traditional medium to contrast with the modern 3D shape.

The shape’s illusion of depth was the result of 3 different shades. I had so many serviette combinations that it was difficult to pick the winning 3 patterns. I decided that if the artwork ended looking good, I would create a series of 3 with my favourite serviette trios.

Things did not go smoothly when I finally got started. My first technique was to lightly sketch the individual elements onto the serviettes, and onto the page. Even though the pencil marks were faint, they still ended up showing though. Gluing the serviette directly onto the paper also resulted in another problem. The clear glue was too wet for the delicate napkins, and the pieces that didn’t lose their shape or tear ended up being full of wrinkles once they dried.

Since the initial research was extremely helpful for my process, I took a break and searched for advice from other artists. I discovered the world of Mod Podge, and how to use saran wrap to keep the serviettes smooth.

My second technique was to glue the serviettes onto individual shapes of paper, and then glue the paper onto the page. It was much easier to get the size right for the individual elements, and I could double check everything by fitting the pieces together like a puzzle before gluing them on. This method seemed promising, but the results weren’t great. The paper was far too thick, which made the whole thing look uneven and messy. I also started realizing that a white page was the wrong background, but I had an idea for what might work.

Danielle Geva Art 3

After using up many serviettes on failed attempts, things got better once I got the right glue and used a thinner printing paper for the individual elements. Painting a colourful background would distract from the bold serviette patterns, but instead of a white background I switched to a black canvas panel. While canvas is a classic, the black panel felt more adventurous. The whole piece looked even better once I changed the layout to landscape.

While the original shape was overly complex, at some point I experimented and became obsessed with different types of geometric triangles for the final artwork. They weren’t much easier to recreate out of serviettes, but they looked better as a series.



Geometric Florals is a delicate combination of pink and grey floral patterns. It was extremely tricky to work with the fragile serviettes, especially as the light colours revealed any imperfections. Triangle Garden has bright patterns of flowers, leaves, and grapes. It is very playful, and looks best against the black background. Golden Penrose has golden floral patterns befitting of a luxurious room. The Penrose took several attempts, but ended up being my favourite of the series.

The series is available for sale in the shop.

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Experimenting with watercolour paints

After my Decanter series (which I wrote about here), I wanted to experiment with a medium I had not used much. Watercolours were always around, but I mostly avoided them and opted to use gouache instead. My ideas always felt too intense for the delicate paints. Even though I wanted to give watercolours a chance, I was still hesitant.

Before actually painting anything, I just observed other artists. I discovered some interesting techniques and was finally excited to try them out. Then it started to rain and inspiration struck. The transparent paints were the obvious fit for rain.

April Showers Splatter

First, I wet the page to create gloomy yet light clouds using blue and purple hues. Once the cloudy background was dry, I was eager to try to splatter the paint to replicate rain drops. I picked a bright pink colour to hint at spring blooms, and got started with a tiny brush. Then I grabbed a larger brush to create more depth and movement on the page. The watercolours perfectly captured April Showers.

April Showers.jpg

Sunset Drive Blow Painting

Later that week it rained again, only this time I was in a car. The experience felt completely different with the wipers pushing the rain across the windshield. It seemed impossible to replicate until I was reminded of the straw blowing technique. By combining the watercolour with a ridiculous amount of water, you’re able to quickly spread a paint drop with a straw before it dries. Once again, I painted a cloudy spring background as the first layer. Then I mixed colours to create a vibrant orange to represent the rain on a Sunset Drive.


Photographing Watercolours

When photographing April Showers for my shop, I walked around Toronto’s waterfront. My intention was to find a shady and green spot, but the painting looked best against a fairly sunny concrete step. I liked how the step seemed to have been affected by the elements, and decided my search was over.

Next I kept an eye out for a good location to photograph Sunset Drive. I looked around for a spot by the highway, but it felt it would distract from the painting. As I was walking home, I noticed a wire fence on the ground of a parking lot. I didn’t know if it was about to be put up or taken away, so I quickly snapped a few pictures. Even though I didn’t have the painting with me, I knew it would make for the perfect backdrop.

If the artwork looks like it’s floating above the fence, now you know why. One thing that helped combine the two images was flattening the painting before photographing it. Even with painters tape, the paper had warped a bit with the amount of water I had used. A large stack of books helped solve the issue, and glassine paper kept the painting protected.

It was definitely worth experimenting with watercolours, and I can’t wait to paint with them again. In the meantime, both April Showers and Sunset Drive are available for sale in the shop.

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Waking up is hard to do

Why to Wake Up book by Danielle Geva

Productivity articles all seem to insist on waking up early. Their rationale? You’ll be able to focus on important work before the distractions of life demand your attention. This sounds great at 2am, but much less compelling a few hours later when my alarm goes off.

If you’re anything like me, everything’s a blur early in the morning. It’s only after the sun sets that I regain clarity and drive. Then when the world sleeps, I can finally enjoy the peace others experience at 5am.

Luckily, I learned this early about myself and plan my schedule accordingly. The thing is that without early meetings and morning deadlines, sleeping in becomes incredibly tempting. Waking up later is one thing, but lying in bed for hours afterwards isn’t healthy when it becomes a habit.

One morning, I was feeling particularly low and needed as much motivation as possible to get out of bed. I decided to list every random reason to wake up. The only thing more therapeutic than writing is list-making.

The forgotten draft becomes a book

A few years later, I found the forgotten list and couldn’t help but add to it. The simple act of listing reasons to wake up was almost as motivating as the reasons themselves. This time I was determined to share the list with anyone struggling to wake up. However, instead of publishing a blog post, I wanted to publish a book. After constantly encouraging friends to author books, I had inadvertently convinced myself to create one of my own.

Around the same time my favourite illustrators were all working on their own projects. Instead of illustrating for other authors, they were launching books where their beautiful illustrations dominated. This inspired me to turn my list into a book of illustrations. The format was perfect as sleepy readers would have a much easier time with images than pages full of text.

The plan was to write down 50 relatable scenarios. I hit a wall at 30. Instead of wasting time staring at my screen, I stepped away. This may sound like giving up, but it’s far from it. Sitting at a desk stifles creativity, and a change in my surroundings would help me generate new ideas. Refuse to let anyone make you feel guilty about your process. Even yourself.

Over the next few days, I watched downtown commuters rush to work. I imagined their morning routine, and scribbled down notes. I also kept a notepad on my bedside table to document my own mornings (and came up with reason #35 on a weekend). When I returned to my desk to type the notes up, I started with the title. As soon as I typed “Why to Wake Up”, my fingers moved to complete the sentence with obvious reasons I had managed to overlook.

Illustwriting for beginners

Next, each reason became a caption for an illustration. I’ve always felt more comfortable sketching in pencil, because the sketch can evolve and be erased until perfect. This process was useful when figuring out the best way to convey the captions, but resulted in overly complicated drawings. Ultimately, I used pen to create more natural and effortless illustrations.

I came up with even more reasons while sketching, and ended up with 56. Compatible reasons were paired for facing pages, which I then tweaked for a stronger connection. Next, I scanned the illustrations and quickly regretted drawing some too close to the fold of my sketchbook. Any illustrations that couldn’t be saved by the scanner’s settings had to be redone.

It was only after viewing the first draft on several devices that I noticed my rookie mistake. Even though I had meticulously edited each illustration’s bleed-through, their background was still visible against the PDF. I realized that the only solution was to remove their background entirely using Inkscape. The extra work and wait was worth it though, as the transparent background made the book look significantly more polished.

Book formatting is tricky

Quick research revealed that Word isn’t ideal for book formatting. But I decided to ignore the warnings. Learning to overcome Word’s obstacles sounded much better than the recommended alternative. There was no way I was spending weeks searching for, evaluating, and figuring out how to use specialized publishing software.

While Word is fairly tricky to navigate, there are several book templates available online that made it easier. These templates can be used as is, but I used them as guidelines for custom formatting my 6’’ x 6’’ book (the perfect size for any nightstand).

A common complaint with Word concerns its two page view. When you open a book, one written in English that is, the interior cover is on left and the first page is on the right. However, printing shops require separate files for the book’s cover and its content. As a result, Word displays the first page on the left. This is troublesome visually, but also impacts the formatting.

At first, I simply added a blank page to represent the interior cover. This way I could better see the pairs of illustrations and modify their order. Then, I removed the blank page and used odd section breaks to ensure that the title, first illustration, and about author pages were on the right side page. Section breaks also helped keep margins accurate, especially for the larger gutter.

Another issue was switching images. If I deleted an image and imported a new one, then all of the captions would be in the wrong place. I finally discovered the replace image function, which ensured the other elements would remain in their original position. Understanding all of Word’s image settings was essential for a book of illustrations.

Last minute panic

After the content was ready, I created the book’s cover in Inkscape. I wrote a description of the book and a call to action for the back cover, and placed an ISBN and barcode below.

Designing the front cover was much more daunting. Even though I had my heart set on an inception concept from the beginning, I suddenly panicked. I worried that the front cover wouldn’t be legible, and switched to a plain text cover.

Right before printing, I asked a friend for feedback and they urged me to stick with the original cover. I listened to their advice as I realized that the cover of a book should evoke curiosity and entice potential readers. If anyone was confused, they could always find the title and author name clearly printed inside of the book.

Off to the book printers

Once the content and cover were finalized, I saved them as a high resolution PDF by selecting 300 dpi on Adobe Acrobat. All that was left was to pick a printing shop. After doing some research, I decided to contact The Printing House (TPH), TLAC Toronto Printing, and Sure Print & Design in Toronto.

According to reviews, TPH seemed to have hit or miss customer service. However, I was curious to see if their prices were affordable as a large chain. I emailed customer service for a quote, and they quickly replied back asking for my preferred location. I answered and then never heard back. Since the location was pretty close, I stopped by while waiting to hear back from other printing shops. The service was decent, but the price was insanely high. My guess is most of their customers are financial district employees with expense accounts.

TLAC had the most positive reviews on Google, and their customer service still exceeded expectations. While I trust that they would have done a great job printing my book, their quote was too high for my first batch.

Sure Print & Design had fewer reviews, but they were all positive. Their site is by far the most helpful, and they even had an online calculator for instant estimates. Sure Print & Design’s quote was within my budget, and their excellent service won me over.

Finding and deciding on a printing shop took longer than expected, but Sure Print & Design printed and shipped the book in record time. The whole process from inquiry to delivery took only 8 business days. The book itself was flawlessly printed and bound, while the high quality paper looks and feels great.

Waking up is hard to do, but reaching over to grab a physical copy of my first book helps.

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Projections aren’t goals

Every project needs a clearly defined goal to have any chance of succeeding. Once the goal is set you may know which way to go, but projections will determine how you get there.

Start by setting ambitious goals

Goals are meant to be ambitious. Instead of reminding yourself that ‘low expectations lead to no disappointment’, go with the ‘aim for the moon and land among the stars’ saying. Also, it may be time to surround yourself with more high-achievers.

My latest goal was to publish my first book. I thought that setting a goal around sales would take away from the accomplishment of creating the book. Then the marketer in me reminded the hippie in me that it’s about your intentions. More book sales mean more people enjoying the book. It means covering printing costs and funding future projects. It even means increasing donations and awareness to important causes.

When setting a goal for your project you want to be ambitious yet realistic. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone sold over 107 million copies. That’s a great long-term goal for an author, but not a realistic one for my three month timeline. Especially for a book of illustrations. Researching similar illustration books, and focusing on their early sales, is a better route.


Estimate projections based on data

Projections are estimates of how many book sales you expect to generate with various sales and marketing strategies. Best case scenario, you have you own historical data to improve the accuracy of your projections. I don’t. Even though I have nearly decade of marketing consulting to inform my calculations, my experience with self-published books is limited. Along with online research, it’s a good idea to chat with others and learn from their success (and mistakes). This will also help you to breakdown a channel like press into the relevant publications for your audience.

If you’ve heard of quant based marketing, you’re already familiar with working your way backwards. However, this method won’t work unless you understand that projections aren’t goals. Unlike goals, projections aren’t aspirations. You can’t fudge the numbers when the total is lower than your goal. If the numbers don’t add up, you need to keep on researching new strategies to find better ways to reach your goal.

How to use projections to achieve goals

Goals are successfully achieved when you pick strategies based on projections rather than bias. A common trap is picking your favourite strategies despite their low projections. Whether you’re prioritizing your enjoyment or skill, you can’t hope to magically stumble on a tactic that outperforms the projection. The projections are all based on proper execution. Finding the right tactics for each strategy is a given, and your expertise will only ensure there’s less of a difference between the estimate and actual outcome.

You can’t ignore high projections either. It doesn’t matter that podcast ads have a greater reach, or that Instagram ads have a higher conversion rate. The only important metric is the total number of book sales each platform drives. As long as you’re within your budget and timeline, the cost shouldn’t deter you. An expensive strategy that delivers quick results is better slogging away for months with lower returns. This way your time can be better spent on planning a future project to maintain momentum.



Projections can only try to reduce failure

As much data as you may have, projections are still only estimates. A projection doesn’t know that your content marketing strategy will fail because your domain will be down. This reinforces how crucial it is to select the best strategies to mitigate risk. You may miss your target, but you’re still much closer than if you had started with low performing strategies.

Taking the time to make projections can also minimize your losses by making it easy to adapt. If your original content marketing strategy fails, you can repurpose your content. Projections will help you decide if switching to guest blogging is an easy out, or if it will actually be worth it.

Experience fuels future success

Measuring your success if important, even if there is none. Reflecting on how effective you were will help you avoid mistakes and improve the odds of your future success. Once the project is done, you’ll also be able to compare your initial projections with real results. Understanding the cause of the variance, is the key to becoming better at making increasingly accurate projections in the future. You may discover that you can aim even higher, and feel confident about setting bigger goals.

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