Create Your Own Great Photo Book 2.0

Update September 2017

“Steady As A Rock”, published last month, via Amazon’s CreateSpace, an illustrated book by Anna Cohn Donnelly.This is the fifth book that I’ve help Anna self-publish. She is an illustrator and writer; all personal stories that she shares with family and friends. “Steady As A Rock” is about how she found Rock Steady Boxing to help manage her Parkinson’s Disease… more importantly, the support of her new ‘family’ and community. Anna’s book will be featured in an upcoming edition of the Rock Steady Boxing newsletter and I hope that it will be shared with others who are trying to manage his/her PD. 


** Accepting new projects right now for holiday season gift-giving. Contact me to discuss your project and how we can collaborate to bring your book to life.


Create Your Own Great Photo Book

  • Have you ever wanted to create your own photo books?
  • How do you start?
  • What are techniques to make it look professional?
  • How do I get it printed?

An introduction to self-publishing techniques to create your own amazing book using your photographs or illustrations.

Discover techniques to create and publish of your own photo book, plus an introduction to self-publishing options (print and digital formats). Ideal for photographers, illustrators, architects, chefs, historians and many more.

Topics covered:
  • Image Sequencing & Storyboarding
  • Page Layout and Structure
  • Cover Design
  • Image Preparation
  • Overview: Shutterfly, Lulu and Blurb

Start Creating Your Own Photo Book

* eBook format is 21-page PDF, compatible on desktop and mobile devices.
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My Invisibility Cloak: Self-Confidence

My Invisibility Cloak: Self-Confidence

I bumped into Heather, sitting at a neighborhood sidewalk cafe, my fellow Toastmaster talked about career and future plans. What Heather said next… surprised me; complimenting my self-confidence and self-assurance.

“Bearded Iris” pastel painting, (c) Joann Sondy August 2017. Created for my daughter’s birthday.

Wow! I had no idea that people saw or perceived me in this manner.

Recently, people have been noticing my confidence. What?! Me?! Since when?

Truth is… I’m just like you. Knees shaking. Unsure. Introverted. Fear of public speaking. Imposter syndrome.

Many of my Toastmasters’ friends are kind to say how well-rehearsed and prepared as a speaker. It’s true… I practice A LOT; just ask my husband. Rehearsal, not to be rote or mechanical, practicing to become [extremely] familiar with the content, refining my body language and voice and perfecting timing.

I was extremely nervous when delivering my last speech. The content was a subject I’ve been researching deeply the past few months. Valerie, my evaluator took note that I was overtly focused on my content and should have ‘lightened up more’ to engage more deeply with my audience. She also commented about my note cards (a topic for an upcoming article and speech “Val stole my security blanket”).

“I’ve taken several tours and you (Joann) are the best docent so far! Great time, thank you.”

Cheeks flush, I was glowing with modesty after shaking the gentleman’s hand following my CAF ‘Treasures’ tour a few weeks ago. The guest did not know that it had been months since I had lead this amazing tour. Days beforehand, practicing at home and asked a friend to join me for a practice tour.

Success=Self Confidence. Self Confidence is Preparedness.
Urban Sketchers Chicago 10×10 Lincoln Park Zoo & Garden Sketchwalk

The Toastmasters speech projects and evaluations have helped me tremendously to overcome fear of public speaking and concentrate on scripting good stories or content. My constant journey of learning about creativity, focus and confidence has added to my arsenal of confidence.

Resources for you:

  • The Tools, Phil Stutz and Barry Michels; especially chapter 2
  • War of Art, Steven Pressfield
  • Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert
  • Deep Work, Cal Newport
  • Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp

Join me for a Chicago Architecture Foundation walking tour.

Drawing is Thinking

Drawing is Thinking

When you were in school, did you get caught doodling?

Have you ever got the evil eye from a co-worker for doodling during a meeting?

You were on right page!

A study, sighted by the Journal of Cognitive Psychology, found that doodlers could easily recall ‘dull’ information 30 percent more than non-doodlers. Break out your pen or pencils and notepad…doodling is greatly encouraged.

Like writing, there are benefits of doodling and sketching:

  1. Cognitive development and increased memory
  2. Improved concentration
  3. Creative confidence

Drawing is essential for the brain development in children; as a learning process and technique for making observations or problem solving. While at the same time improving their memory skills. This combination leads to achievement in other subjects, particularly math and science.

It is our own translation, the imagery from our mind, which we create the visual references (aka details) that we’ll draw upon in the future.

Have you been to a conference or meeting with a live sketch artist? One of the pioneers in this industry, Sunni Brown, believes that she and her team develop concepts through pictures that words alone cannot describe. The pictures are not about aesthetic quality, but rather the quality of the learned and learning experience; developing a visual language.

Milton Glaser’s iconic logo

Drawing (sketching or doodling), like meditation, is a self-exploration that connects us with our ‘self’ on an intimate level. The adroit action stimulates us to a comfort level–enough to keep us awake, focused and engaged. Researcher believe that we reach deeper levels of concentration and this is where we develop richer concepts.

“When you draw an object, the mind become deeply, intensively attentive. Drawing is thinking.” Milton Glaser, acclaimed graphic designer continues, “It is that act of attention that allows you to really grasp something to become fully conscious of it.”

Here’s John Hendrix, author (Drawing is Magic) and illustrator, “As adults we often stop having fun. Drawing when we were kids was fun. Finding enjoyment is the essential first step to finding good ideas.”

When we ‘draw out’ our ideas, we’re releasing our imagination.

John Hendrix’ book “Drawing is Magic”

Every heard the phrase, “conceived on a napkin”? What tools do you need to facilitate thinking? PENCIL AND PAPER. No need for a computer, tablet or special app for you smartphone.

When we externalize our ideas on paper it makes it easier to re-constuct them, transforming the “spark” into a good idea, great idea… a gift to mankind idea.

Drawing is more than thinking: it’s MAGIC.



The Atlantic, Cognitive Benefits of Doodling

Sunni Brown, TED Talk, “Doodlers, Unite”

Write It Down!

UPDATE 1/14/16:

I’ll be delivering this speech at Ignite Chicago on January 31, 2017, held at the Catalyst Ranch.

5 Minutes / 20 Slides / 1 Passion

I’ve attended this several times and it is always a fun night.

Your cheers and claps would be greatly appreciated, register via EventBrite using the promo code SPEAKERFRIEND

See you then!


This is the speech I needed to complete my Toastmasters’ Advanced Communicator Bronze level in my quest to improve my communication skills.

What if…

  • There was a process that could improve your ability to learn and recall information?
  • That same process, and its simple tool, could help increase your concentration?
  • And, spark your creativity?

Benefit #1: Learning and Memory

Writing by hand, has been proven to stimulate parts of our brain, called the reticular activating system (RAS), which filters all the ‘stuff’ our brain needs to process everyday.

When we write it down, we give importance to that which we’re focusing on at the moment. I’ll repeat that in case you’d like to write it down, we give importance to that item at that moment.

A name. A date. An address. The morning to-do list. Weekly shopping list. Your bucket list.

The physical process of writing, placing pen (or pencil) to paper, brings that item to the forefront.

There are several research studies available that examined {college} students who took handwritten notes versus students who used a device (notebook or tablet). Which group do you believe performed better overall? The students who took handwritten notes.

It is the physical process of writing–placing pen to paper–that brings that item to the forefront. Writing it down improves our ability to learn and recall information.

Interesting observation about the students who used a devices; the researchers concluded that they were essentially scribing the professor’s lecture; an important skill when we need to transcribe something verbatim.

Writing, either cursive or print, (my own–an awkward combination) is very important to brain development. Do you have kids in school? Ask them about their method of notetaking during class.

Benefit #2: Focus

We are confronted with barrage of information from ALL directions EVERYDAY! Let’s face it… most if it is a distraction.

Did you know the adult brain processes 60,000-70,000 thoughts per day. (There’s a joke in there, I’ll set that aside for another speech.)

The deliberate ACTION to process a thought slows down our brain; thus requiring more mental energy. We are engaging our motor skills when while writing.

Research is suggesting that writing (reading and drawing) are droplets in the ‘Fountain of Youth’ to ward off the detrimental effects of Alzheimer’s disease and/or dementia. Not protect, but lessen the effects while keeping our brains active as we age. 

Write the letters. Break out the journal. Send the postcards.

During an interview, acclaimed author, Truman Capote, said that he wrote the outline and first draft of “In Cold Blood” before he sat in front of the typewriter. Joyce Carol Oates uses hand-written notes and drafts beforehand, too.

Benefit #3: Spark Your Creativity

A pathway for our thoughts, ideas and emotions, writing, as well as sketching, is a channel from your head outward. I personally believe that the heightened creativity is really the result of benefits #1 and #2. Bringing an item to the forefront and concentration.

One of the simplest and beneficial gifts you can give, in my opinion, is a sketchbook (or journal) and pencils to anyone. Enable an individual to cultivate his/her own creativity through the expression of ideas, thoughts and emotions.

Now, some of you might be thinking, pen and paper… that’s sooo old school! You’re not the only one.

While doing the research for this speech, I ran across an article on the Harvard Business Review entitled “Dear Colleague, Put the Notebook Down.” The author states, if you are invited to a meeting with her that you ‘should leave your hipster journal and pens at home’ insisting that taking notes by hand is a waste of time. She wants to be able to ping you digital references, assets and links for your immediate consumption. She went further, after you get back to your cubicle and transcribe your handwritten notes into a project management application, approximately 10-25 minutes, that is a WASTE OF TIME. This time adds up over the course of a fiscal year at a cost to the company.

Coincidentally, the same day I read this article, I received an email from my favorite hipster journal company announcing its latest product the “Smart Writing Set.” The three-part system consists of a newly designed Moleskine paper tablet, a stylus and smartphone app. The notes and drawings made in the paper tablet are digitized via the mobile app, available for iOS and Android. Moleskine is not the only company with similar technologies.

Recap, the benefits of writing:

  • Stimulates our brain for learning and memory.
  • Helps us concentrate by filtering distractions.
  • Heightens our creativity by providing a channel from our head to paper.

Writing is a mental workout. Keeping our brains SHARP!

History of Pencil (sidebar)

In the 16th century, a dark grey almost black substance was discovered in England, it became the first marking element when the herders where marking their sheep.

Woodworkers in the 17th century were producing graphite as marking tool. It wasn’t until the 18th century that the graphite was encased in wood.

Cross the pond to New England, during the mid-19th century, in Joseph Dixon’s woodworking plant, he mechanized the production and patented the machine that planed the wood for pencils. His machine could produce 132 pencils per minute. Dixon marketed his pencil as “American Made.” The Dixon Ticonderoga is a staple and one of our most enduring products, ~ 1/2 billion Ticonderoga pencils are manufactured yearly.


Wall Street Journal, “Can Handwriting Make You Smarter?” (April 2016)

Mashable, “7 Ways Writing by Hand Can Save Your Brain” (January 2015)

New York Times, “The Story Behind a Nonfiction Novel” (1966) George Plimpton

BuzzFeed, “Joyce Carol Oates Has The Most Inspiring Writing Advice For Authors” (July 2015)


Clutter, Chaos & Creativity

Look at my desk! Every day I attempt to keep the stacks organized. Thoughts of my arm sweeping all of it into the garbage pale are enticing. I don’t. Why? Because I’m developing several (big) projects right now and I’m in a mode of creation.

photoMy organized chaos consists of:

  • Work-in-progress
  • Family archival scans-current batch
  • Sketches and artwork for my textile designs
  • Speeches in the queue
  • Monthly planning
  • Prototypes
  • Reference materials

Let’s Get Messy

Throughout my readings and research about the creative process, there is one phase that is regarded as necessary: CHAOS.

Variety, I do a lot of things, not well, it avoids boredom.
-Isaac Mizrahi

It is the initial stage of generating multiple ideas, tagging research/examples, scribbles, sketches, picking ingredients, playing random notes, etc.

Ever observe a young child at play? It’s messy. That’s a good thing!

CURIOSITY or Open Mindedness is the child-like perspective to exploration and experimentation. We’re having fun and uninhibited.

Typically, this is when most of us give up. I have, many times. Why? I couldn’t truly tap into my playful and less-purposeful mind. I was after all, an ADULT.

Circle of Creativity

creative-flowWriter and humorist, John Cleese, has a theory about the circular process of creativity as we move from “open” and “closed” mind states.

  • Open mindedness: we’re relaxed and playful.
  • Closed mindedness: we’re impatient and tense.

Each state contributing to the overall creative process. How can you do this?

Conditions for Open Mode are space and time. Sequestering yourself away (space) from external demands and distractions. Give yourself time to focus, this is a necessity–not a luxury. Be specific if you must, set a timer for 2 hours or 30 minutes for uninterrupted time.

A discipline that can be developed over time. Be gentle with yourself. Your mind will want to check email and text messages…RESIST. Stat focused within the oasis of quiet time to be with your own ideas and thoughts.  Strengthening over time.

Closed Mode is a phase for implementation or executing on your ideas. Taking pages of notes & research and scripting a new speech. Reviewing quick sketches for larger and long-term potential.

Cycle through the Open/Closed modes as you move through your projects. Giggling and inspiring our inner child to keep moving forward; regardless of opinion.

Ideas are worthless if you can’t make them happen.
-Scott Belsky

My daughter’s room is messy, I do wish she’d tidy up a bit. I don’t nag about it as much as I used to (only if it gets too bad). Why? I don’t want her to lose the ability to use her child-like mind as she prepares to depart for college to begin a new phase of her life.

Go play!


John Cleese “How To Be Creative”

Isaac Mizrahi TED Talk “Fashion and Creativity”

Scott Belsky “Make Ideas Happen”

Cosmic Journey of Three

Cosmic Journey of Three

A walk through the Adler*

A recent walk along the three levels of the Adler Planetarium guided me through the exhibits to the theaters with ease. Reminding me of the graceful, yet powerful of use of THREEHow do we consciously or unconsciously incorporate this into our work?

The use of three segments or divisions can be used to construct a presentation, write the speech or develop visuals. Artists and architects have used “3” for centuries. It’s simple, keeps us focused; more importantly, our audience focused.

Note the three parts of this stalwart advise for speech:

  1. Tell ’em what you’re going to tell ’em.
  2. Tell ’em.
  3. Tell ’em what you told ’em.
Patterns of Ancient World Coloring Book
Simple. 1.  2.  3.

Three most recent projects on my desk:

  1. Book by illustrator and writer, a family legacy story. Limited edition, printed.
  2. Expanded version of my husband’s first book Saigon Shuffle, which we self-published almost ten years ago. Projected release end of September.
  3. Coloring book for grown ups, I self-published a Patterns of the Ancient World coloring book, available via Amazon.
Three products to assist with your projects:
  1. Slideshare is now part of LinkedIn. Post slideshows, PDFs directly to your LinkedIn profile; great for entrepreneur and business profiles.
  2. Canva: online and tablet platform to to create visuals online; tap into library of free and paid assets. 
  3. Adobe Slate new free iPad app to create visual stories quickly; might be a new method to present to clients or blog. entries.
My youngest is beginning her SENIOR year of high school… where has the time gone
Joann Sondy
Designer & Publisher
mobile: 231-633-0945
social media: @joannsondy
* Adler Planetarium, located along the Chicago shoreline, was the nation’s first planetarium. Opened May 1930, designed by Ernest Grunfeld for Max Adler; the twelve zodiac bronze bas reliefs by Alphonso Ianelli grace the exterior. National Register of Historic Places and National Historic Landmark.

Pitch Session Evaluation: Technori Pitch Chicago (Part 2)

Last month I attended a PechaKucha Chicago and Technori Pitch both very impressive and kudos to all who stepped onto the stage with a story to tell. Both community based, with PechaKucha more entertainment versus Technori business oriented. 

My interest was in the presentation styles, the delicacies of ‘how to say it’ and ‘get to the point’.  The following observations rely heavily on my Toastmasters evaluation protocol.

See my review and ‘takeaways’ in my PechaKucha article. 

Technori Pitch is a monthly showcase of innovative starters, showcasing what they have just launched.

Designed to be a showcase of launching startups, Technori Pitch gathers 550 people together in Chicago, every single month, to watch as five startups launch on-stage. With a production quality that far exceeds comparable events, Pitch is designed to elevate the startup showcase to a level on-par with theater experience.

October’s theme was non-profits and/or social conscious companies. Arriving a few minutes late and standing in the back while the keynote speaker, a fund manager gave her introduction about the marketplace for such investments.

Upon reviewing my notes, I began to notice a pattern:

  • Taming Your Bridge Words
  • Move Away From the Lectern
  • Graphics/Images Connect with Your Ideas
  • The “Ask”

Ah, Oh, and Um–Taming Your Bridge Words

The keynote presenter was highly educated. However, I somehow sensed that she might have been called upon at the last minute to participate and lacked adequate rehearsal/practice. And, her use of bridge or filler words (“so”, “um”, “ah”) was extensive.

Move Away From the Lectern

Chase Auditorium, where Technori Pitch is held, has a lectern on stage; which might be a permanent fixture. Recalling it was in the same place during a taping of “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” show last year. This lectern or podium was an anchor for most of the presenters throughout the Technori evening. Thus, you are standing in one spot, hugging onto the lectern and creating a barrier with your audience. Only one presenter stepped away from the lectern, expanding his space and connecting with the audience.

Graphics/Images Connect with Your Ideas

A presentation (speech or keynote address) requires planning. Period. Once you have your idea and outline, it is time to work on the slides. Writing your speech and planning the slides should you hand-in-hand. This process cannot be rushed. The rewards for all the advance planning are a clear message, confidence and an attentive audience. 

Here are a couple of things to consider when working with your designer or presentation coach with regard to graphics.

  • Refrain from downloading images from the web unless you have purchased or acquired via appropriate usage licensing. A fuzzy, blurry, out of scale image is amateurish and should be avoided.
  • Select images that best convey your idea and invoke emotion
  • Avoid using tables of numbers. Instead stay focused on a key number or outcome and display it boldly with a few words. 500,000 Acres Saved in 2013
  • Charts: Unless your writing a scientific paper, use charts simply and elegantly. Far too many presentations overload a slide with a chart, add data points, footnotes, explanations, etc. 
  • Keep it simple.

The “Ask”

Elise Zelechowski, Rebuilding Exchange, is a young female executive director operating in an industry dominated by men; she was extremely clear about how much money her organization needed and how the money would be invested/used. Clear and direct. While a few others were ambiguous or chose to rely on their financial model. 

Another method, used by Rich Johnson, Spark Ventures which connects organizations and to children in-need, he cited results already achieved and then stated, “I need your help.” Explaining the breakdown of the investment (rule of 3!) to help raise children out of poverty. Sharon Schneider, Moxie Jean an e-commerce upscale resale children’s clothing, also illustrated “why do I need the money?” and how the investment will be put to use.

How Do You Conquer “Creative Frustration”?

I’ve been working a logo project all morning and making little progress toward anything I’d like to share with the client.

This is the second logo project in less than a week. I’m not complaining. I really like the client, we’ve worked together before and now he’s starting up two businesses right now.  He knows my work, recommends me to other professionals, I know the market, I deliver.

I deliver. (Can’t believe I wrote that phrase.)

Back to the question, how do you conquer “creative frustration”? (Or gettin’ unstuck?)
Google returns 4.5+ Million results on the topic of ‘frustration’ — I’m getting the feeling the this is a common but taboo topic.

The prevention of progress seems to be where I’m at with this particular project. What am I doing about it?

  • Saved my work and closed the AI file. Put my hardcopy sketches away.
  • Surfed my favorite news sources on the internet — same as before, nothing new.
  • Logged onto my FB stream — nothing going on there.
  • Ate lunch (which was totally unsatisfying)
  • Went for a walk.

This afternoon in Chicago, a light snow is falling, temperature is ~ 25F, no sun; I took the pooch out for his afternoon stroll.

Walking seems to be one of my best re-energizing activities. I’ve also been experimenting with 3-5 minute meditations at my desk.

Does music help you? What genre? (I’ve been addicted to “Martini in the Morning” lately)
A few of my resources:

Dan Goodwin’s “A Big Creative Yes”
Jonathan Mead’s “Illuminated Mind”
“Anxiety Slayer” by Ananja Sivyer and Shann VanderLeek
I would live to hear your tricks, post them here.