Monday, November 22, 2010

Design Tutorial on Rectangle Cards

In my first semester teaching Freshman Composition, I had a student bring a graded paper to me and ask, "Why did you add the commas there?" My mind was a total blank. I knew with absolute certainty that the commas belonged, but I'd forgotten why. I recovered nicely by saying, "Let's look that up in your handbook so you'll be able to find the answer yourself next time." Smooth, eh?

That night, I read the entire handbook to refresh my memory about the rules. And I've never again forgotten the rule about commas around nonrestrictive modifiers.

So when several people asked me how I'd come up with the sizes of the rectangles on this card, my first thought was that I'd just used the Force. I didn't think about them. I just made them.

But then, as I considered the question within the context of all I've studied about design in the past eight years, I realized that I've just internalized the rules enough that I don't consciously think about them. But they are there, nevertheless, working away for me every time I sit in my craft room.

I love rules. Especially this one because it's the heart of pretty much every card I make in one way or another.

The Rule of Thirds

This is what happens when I free-hand something, so now you know why I rubber-stamp whenever possible. But this crudely drawn chart shows the rule for card design perfectly...because it's not precise. It's a rough guestimate of thirds, and that is all you need. Seriously. These lines are the guides for most designs and they are very flexible. You can remove lines at will to create zones of white space and of stamping, as I did on this card, or you can use the top left or bottom right intersections of the lines (the sweet spots) for your focal point placement, or you can add borders along a line to anchor matted images on a card.

Here's a sketch of the actual card, including the precise measurements of the rectangles. The card is a standard 5.5" x 4.25" card.

As you can see, the blocks are arranged to take advantage of the rule of thirds...not exactly precisely, but close enough for government work.

I started with the left-hand block by stamping the grass onto a scrap of cardstock and then cutting it down to about 2/3 the height of the card. Then I trimmed it a bit more and made it narrow. Then I stamped the smallest block and cut it out so it was about 1/3 the height of the grass block and wide enough to go across the card nicely...about twice as wide as the grass block. Finally, I did the same to the bigger block, but this time I did actually measure and do the math so it would fill the space available properly.

I do all my measuring and cutting with a craft knife and 6" square quilting ruler. The ruler is see-through, so I can place it directly over things and see exactly where I need to cut.

The spacing of the blocks is's all got to be even or it'll look really unbalanced. The spacing between the rectangles themselves must be the same, and then the margins around the edge of the card must also be the same. To do this, I placed the rectangles on the card and fiddled with them until it all looked even. Then, I stamped the sentiment BEFORE popping up the rectangles because honestly, sometimes those dimensionals really get in the way of stamping.

Now, here's where I get a tiny bit obsessive. With all the blocks placed properly, I carefully remove one, apply SU dimensionals at top and bottom, then place it where it belongs WITH TWEEZERS. Then, I repeat until all blocks are stuck.

I hope this explains the process in a way that encourages you to loosen up and play with the rule of thirds in your own designs. It's important to realize that this layout "I" came up with isn't at all original to me. Let's face it. There's only so much you can do with a 5.5 x 4.25 canvas. Plus, this rule of thirds is tried and true and has been around for eons. I'll bet the ancient Greeks used it for designing their temples.

Now, the new card for today trades rectangles for squares, lines them up along the top horizontal line of thirds, and uses my new Martha Stewart bow punch.

Dang, that Papertrey Silent Night set is more than worth the $24 I paid for it!

stamps: Papertrey Ink, Silent Night
ink: SU cherry cobbler, always artichoke
paper: Papertrey white
accessories: Martha Stewart bow punch, square punch, dimensionals, dark red rhinestones


  1. I love this card! These bows are cute, that's a punch I'd love to get.


  2. Thank you for this great explanation of the Rule of Thirds. Clear and concise - just like your cards! I think I will make a rough sketch like yours and place it right on my desk. Thanks so much!

  3. have i ever told you how much i LOVE visiting with you every day?!!
    you are the best!

  4. Thanks so much for the information. I'm with you, the rule of thirds is great I probably have always done this without even realizing I was doing it. Beautiful card!

  5. Hi Susan, I have to admit, yesterday when you mentioned that you were going to share your design on this card, I thought to myself it's the rule of thirds, so I'm silently patting myself on the back here:0)
    My art teacher at school was just the best teacher and she told me all about this, all those years ago. I remember getting my head around perspective in the same way but you are so right, it's like the commas it gets internalised and you just do it automatically.
    You are so good at identifying and addressing these situations, I wonder you don't/didn't try teaching? Just a thought.
    Thank you for your great tutorials, you make it a whole lot of fun:0) xxx

  6. great tutorial! love those visuals and the measurements.

    and your card is cute. love the bows!

  7. i love the way you explain this! i also love how you advise us to loosen up right after the paragraph explaining how you use tweezers to place your elements just so LOL

  8. WOW! Your explanation of The Rule of Thirds is "Simplicity" in of itself. Thank you so much for all your explanations and for your wonderful cards.

  9. Susan, as usual, you totally ROCK! I, too, love to understand rules (don't always follow them, but like to understand them...) and your explanation was clear and well illustrated.
    At this season of counting blessings I hope you can feel how many of us fans count you among our blessings!

  10. All those years of design school and I needed this refresher! Thanks so much. You are such an inspiration!

  11. awesome explaination of the process and I love your comma story! You have to tell us ... how many punches do you really have?? I didn't even know MS had a bow punch!!??

  12. H-m-m-m-m-m...I may need that bow punch! I love how the curly-Q's in the C match those in the squares! Great card as is the rule of thirds card - LOVE that one! The design, colors...just a great card as are all of your cards! You have truly been an inspiration to me - just wanted you to know that. And I can't get enough of your Daisy stories!! Almost, but not quite, makes me want a dog. I do love dogs - all animals for that matter - but prefer cats for their simplicity of care.

  13. Oh I adore these little "rule" lessons! Now the trick is to wrap my brain around it! lol I feel like a stalker of your work -- thank you for sharing all this helpful information!

  14. Susan, what a beautiful Christmas card! The little red bows with the rhinestones look very festive over these lovely flourishes. Thank you for the rule of thirds reminder. I think I need to do what Nina suggested and keep a rough sketch on my desk:)

  15. Thanks for spelling out the rule of thirds. I have instinctively grasped *some* of it, but not enough to be consistent. Or even, I guess, to know that that is what I was doing.

    Jiminy crickets, what is the deal with that MS bow punch?? I had just sworn off specifically-shaped punches like (meaning not geometrics), but now I don't know. It is adorable and pure genius, all at once.

  16. You are a great teacher, Susan. Thank you for the lengthy explanation. I learn so much from your blog. I love today's card - I might have to case it using one of my flourish stamps.

  17. This tutorial really helps me. In the future I'm going to draw out the thirds on a scrap the same size as my card and use it as a guide to help me place my chosen elements. I didn't know about removing lines to create spaces for stamping or white space. Thanks for the detailed explanation plus the images showing it. Hope you have a wonderful thanksgiving.

  18. Another super beautiful card! Thanks so much for the refresher on the rule of thirds. Years ago we upper elem teachers used to use a film called "Donald Duck in MathMagic Land" that explained the math involved in building. DD even took the part of Pythagorus! Wonder if it's a DVD nowadays?

    Susan, is there a 'trick' to cutting against a 6" sq quilting ruler so I don't cut/knick the plastic of the ruler? Maybe the craft knife blade just slides along the edge & behaves itself? I've been too "un-loose" to try it! Many thanks.

    carolyn w

  19. A new Martha Stewart bow punch!?! You meanie!

    I love rules too--design and grammar.

    Love your card with its red swirls, bows, and bling.

  20. Carolyn,

    If you're careful, it won't cut the ruler. I have had the same 6" square ruler for about 6 years now, and don't have any problems. But I try to stay very focused and pay attention to what I'm doing every time I pick up the craft knife. It's just wayyyy too easy to cut yourself!

  21. Love the comma story -- I was just explaining the nonrestrictive thing the other day, and it took awhile before I remembered the actual word "nonrestrictive" - but it came to me eventually!

    Great explaining today, design-wise, too!

  22. Just a quick note to say how much I like the cards you've made using the squares and rectangles. I'm familiar with the rule of thirds - but mostly because my hubby has explained it based on his photos.

  23. MARTHA STEWART BOW PUNCH?!?!?! *thud*

    Oh, and I knew about the Rule of 3, but not how to easily figure out those panels. Thanks for the drawing and explanation!

  24. Great tutorial, and what a classy Christmas card!

  25. Freshman Composition and design? What a smart teacher you are!! You make it all make sense!!

  26. The Rule of Thirds makes all the difference in a card that is aesthetically pleasing and one that looks "off"! Thanks for explaining it so clearly! I'm bookmarking this post!

  27. I always love your tutorials on card design, it helps me to understand why some cards are great and some are just so-so. Oh, and now I'm going to have to buy the MS bow punch because of your beautiful card!

  28. Great card. I like the presents and the layout.

  29. can I just say....Dude you rock!

  30. That Christmas card is stunning... I love your work!


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