Running a Blog Design Network, Interview with Eric Shafer from CreativeFan

This time I had the opportunity to do interesting interview with the owner of my favorite blogs, Eric Shafer of CreativeFan. CreativeFan is one among several major design sites that regularly share the design inspiration and tutorials quality.

1. Tell us about your site. Presidia Creative, CreativeFan, and all their network. How do you find time to manage them?

Thanks for the opportunity to share a bit about myself and my ventures with your readers. Presidia Creative was my initial venture into blogging, starting back in 2008. Originally, I had been writing guest articles for AudioTUTS+, just sharing some information I had learned while working at a recording studio here in Chicago, but I had started developing an interest in graphic design and digital art, and I also enjoyed sharing information with readers. At that point, I had almost no idea what I was doing, but I got myself a WordPress installation and a free theme, and just started posting digital art inspiration. The site was rather well received, and I was able to provide inspiration and resources to readers on a daily basis. However, in late 2009 I was looking to build a bit more of a community feel, and I was also interested in publishing tutorials on digital art subjects, so I came up with the concept of CreativeFan as a network that could meet this need. I love digital art and enjoy learning about 3D, painting, graphic design and other creative media topics, but I found most of the tutorials on the web were lacking and didn’t cover techniques that were applicable beyond just the tutorial artwork.

So, in December of 2009, CreativeFan officially launched, starting with the main site, and shortly after, Design.CreativeFan launched, where I hire some of the best digital artists I can find to write up about their work. I have a few regular authors for it, namely Joe Moore, a friend who I recruited from deviantART, and Bruno Kenzo, a graphic designer whose work I stumbled across on a number of websites. CG.CreativeFan launched a bit later, and has had some absolutely incredible contributions, with my personal favorites being the matte painting tutorials by Stas Lobachev, although all the tutorials I’ve gotten a chance to publish so far have been very well received.

Finding time is definitely a challenge, but it just helps to remind myself that there are readers out there who are counting on the daily inspiration and weekly tutorials to stay inspired and to learn new things, so for the most part, it’s the community that keeps me going.

Running a Blog Design Network, Interview with Eric Shafer from CreativeFan

2. Based on your experience running these sites, what’s the secret to a successful blog?

For a successful blog, there’s a few main characteristics of successful blogs that I’ve found. First, a blog has to provide quality and original content. Even if it’s just original roundups, it’s important to provide something that people can’t find elsewhere, so whether you’re finding tutorials that no one else has seen, publishing useful tips or tricks, or your own tutorials, providing a unique aspect is incredibly important. The second is just promotion of the site. It’s a sad reality that the best blogs and sites on the internet often go unnoticed, because they are impossible to find through search or social media. Once you have some great content, you have to get the word out. Community news, social media and SEO are great ways to get this done. Lastly, you just have to be dedicated to what you’re doing. Pick a niche that you care about, and then stick with publishing articles on your schedule, and you’ll achieve at least moderate success through blogging.

3. Is blogging just a hobby or it has become a business for you? What’s the best about blogging in your opinion?

Blogging for me right now is a mix between a business and a hobby. While I’d love for CreativeFan and Presidia Creative to provide the financial support for me to take it full time, currently, with tutorial expenses and other costs, it’s not quite there yet. However, with future sites and ventures, along with growing traffic and advertising revenues, hopefully it can get to that level. At the end of the day however, I’d rather provide great tutorials that people appreciate. Knowing that you’re providing value to the community and keeping people inspired, motivated and happy is by far the best part of blogging.

Running a Blog Design Network, Interview with Eric Shafer from CreativeFan

4. You post so many inspiration on the site. Where do you find inspiration to share?

I find inspiration everywhere, from major art sites, other bloggers, technology updates, friends, pretty much anywhere I can find it. I watch a lot of people on deviantART, read daily inspiration posts wherever I can find them, and am really active on social media, so that’s where I tend to find most of my inspiration. A post usually starts with either some SEO research about a good keyword to target, or more often, a really cool artwork appearing in my deviantART watch. That single artwork alone can serve as the inspiration for a post, as long as I can find some other examples of a similar topic, effect or style.

Running a Blog Design Network, Interview with Eric Shafer from CreativeFan

5. You are very active in social media with 3.000+ twitter follower and 1.000+ follower on Digg. Do you have any tips or trick on social media to share?

Social media is one of those things where you get out of it what you put in. Basically, if you’re there to spam or promote useless content, you won’t see any success. But, if you team up with people who are dedicated to providing quality posts, and then you contribute your own material, you’ll do really well. So, if you’re on Twitter, don’t just tweet your own links, on Digg, don’t submit all your own posts. It’s really easy to start chasing the traffic and revenues, but in the long run, you won’t be as successful. People often boast that they know some secret trick to control social media, but in reality, the best tips are the simple, common sense ones. Be active, talk to people, share quality, and you’ll build your own following.

6. I have seen your 3D work on DeviantArt, you also wrote on AudioTUTS+. Are you a jack of all trades type? Do you other hidden talent on your head?

Well, formally, my education is in computer technology with a focus in information systems, so I’ve worked a lot with software and database design, but in my free time I love to learn new things and challenge myself. Creativity and artistic ability are actually two of the biggest challenges for me, as I tend to be more technologically-oriented. Freshman year of college I started working with audio production just out of curiosity, and then I landed an internship at a local recording studio here in the Chicago suburbs over a holiday break, and learned a lot from the engineer and one of the producers who rented space there. So, using that knowledge, I continued to study on my own, and then started working for AudioTUTS+ because I found that a lot of people were interested in audio production, but since it’s hard field to get started in, there was a lot of demand for knowledge that I had. While working for them, I also picked up a bit of an interest in web & graphic design, and did a bit of freelance web design in addition to attempting to create space-related artworks. Over time I have just continued refining my interests and adding more to them, and right now I’d say that I’m interested in creative media as a whole, from design, music, blogging and art.

One of the best things about the internet is that there is a ton of information out there all available and accessible, whether it’s through a site like CreativeFan, or just on Wikipedia. If you’re curious about how something works, or how to do something, or you ever wished you could do something, just browse the web and you’ll find that you’re not alone, many people have a similar interest and there are training resources for it. For example, right now I’m working on learning to play piano, since musical knowledge is important for audio production as a whole. Just browsing YouTube alone, I’ve found tons of useful videos on technique and music theory.

So, hopefully as I continue to grow, I can keep adding new skills and knowledge to my toolbox, and continue to provide lots of inspiration, training and help through CreativeFan and Presidia Creative.

Thanks again Mohammad and all the readers at Desain Digital.

Running a Blog Design Network, Interview with Eric Shafer from CreativeFan

You can find Eric Shafer in these sites:

A big thank you to Eric for his time doing this interview. I hope this interview inspires our community to stay creative and keep sharing.


Interview With Steven Snell, The Man Behind Vandelay Design and Vandelay Premier

Today, I have a rare opportunity to interview one of the biggest guy in the design industry, Steven Snell. Steven Snell is founder of, and owner of Vandelay Design and Vandelay Premier. He has also wrote in some high profile design sites, sucah as Smashing MagazineFreelance Switch, Psdtuts+, and WebdesignerDepot. In April 2010, Steven sold his blog, with a spectacular price, $50.000. Now Steven is starting a new project in Vandelay Premier.

Interview With Steven Snell, The Man Behind Vandelay Design and Vandelay Premier

1. Hi Steven, thanks a lot for taking the time to do interview. Let’s start with short introduction of yourself. Where are you from? What is your background? What do you do for living? How long have you been active in this field?

You’re welcome Mohammad. Thank you for the opportunity. I currently live in Pennsylvania (USA), I moved from New Jersey a few months ago. I run Vandelay Design, which now includes Vandelay Premier. I started Vandelay Design about 3 or 4 years ago and I did some part-time design work, mostly for friends and family, before that.

2. You use to work a full time job and now you have a career as a freelance designer. Plus, your background is not design. How hard was it to make this decision? What is your advice to anyone who wants to start freelancing?

That’s right. I actually worked full time as an auditor for several years and I began doing some part-time design and blogging work before quiting the job to go full-time. I got started with web design as more of a hobby but I really saw a lot of opportunity, not only with design but with online business in general. After working for a few years as an employee I had a strong desire to work on my own, and the combination of web design and blogging made that possible.

It wasn’t really a difficult decision to quit my full-time job. I was making pretty good money from my part-time work, enough that I was confident that I could make the jump without very much financial risk. My advice to others is to start freelancing part-time while you still have a full-time job, if possible. It takes a lot of the pressure away since you don’t have to start making significant money right away, and when you are ready you can make the move to full-time.

3. As a full time freelancer, what do you like most? What is the challenges compared to full time job?

The things I like the most are the flexibility and the endless possibilities. I earn a living through a combination of client work, ad sales on my blog, and now recently through the membership program at Vandelay Premier. So most days I get to chose what I will be working on, rather than having a boss tell me what needs to be done. I’m able to travel and still work (right now I am typing this interview from a hotel room), and most importantly, I am in control of my future and my earning potential. As an employee I was limited to small raises and advancement was only possible when a position opened up. The last year or so of my employment was when the economy started to decline, so it was frustrating to get a great review from my boss only to get a tiny raise because the company was limiting raises to all employees. I like having more control over what I earn, and I have much more motivation to work hard and do the best job possible.

The challenges for me are maintaining a healthy work/life balance. It’s easy to work really long hours but that is not a good habit to develop. Another challenge is time management. I have a lot of different things going on at once but I still need to find time for tasks involved with running the business, like handling finances or working on long-term plans for the business. I also have to keep improving my skills, and it’s often hard to find time to follow tutorials or just experiment on my own.


4. How many sites do you run today? How you manage time to run all those sites?

I run Vandelay Design and Vandelay Premier, plus I also have a network of 8 sites that includes 6 galleries that are updated almost every day. I actually just listed that network of 8 sites on Flippa, so hopefully they will be sold soon. Finding time for everything is not easy, and that’s why I have decided to sell those sites and have all of my time to focus on Vandelay Design and Vandelay Premier. About 4 months ago I also sold, which is a blog that I started 2 years ago. I sold that because I was just about to launch Vandelay Premier and I need all of the time I could get.

5. Based on your experience running some big blogs, what is the secret to a successful blog? Not just popular but also profitable blog.

I think the keys to buidling a successful/popular blog is to focus on the content, and to put in a consistent effort. I’ve seen many blogs over the past few years that had plenty of potential, but the blogger lost interest or didn’t have patience. Building a blog takes time, especially if you are doing all of the work yourself and not spending money on advertising. You’ll have to put in a lot of work before you start to see the rewards, but once it starts to pay off it will be worth the wait.

For building a profitable blog, I think one of the keys is not to try too much monetizing too soon. At the Vandelay Design blog I didn’t start selling advertising until I had over 100,000 visitors per month. At that point it was really easy to sell the ads because there were a lot of advertisers who were interested but hadn’t been able to buy ads before. I think it’s also important to step back and look at the possibilities every now and then. Don’t just get stuck in the habit of only having banner ad sales as your only monetization method. Take some time to think about other ways that you could monetize the site and be willing to experiment.

6. If you have to choose between being a designer or a blogger, what will be it be? Why?

I’d probably say designer, but I would prefer to be able to work on my own projects as well as designing for clients. Blogging is fun, but it’s not always easy to have something to post about.

7. I noticed that you focus on church website design and I believe you are a religious person. Does religious is a strong factor in your success?

My faith (I am a Christian) is a factor in everything I do. I try to work hard and trust God with the details, and He has always provided for me.

8. Final question. Can you share advice to people who would like to follow your success?

My advice is to work hard and don’t give up. Like I mentioned earlier, I have seen a number of bloggers (in the design niche as well as plenty of other niches) who have a lot of potential, but they are not willing to put in the work that it takes to be successful. If blogging or design is only a hobby for you, that is great, just enjoy it. But if you want to make it your career, don’t let a slow start discourage you, keep working to improve yourself and you will get there. Even now that I have a career that I really enjoy, I have endless amounts of things that I need to improve upon. I just try to focus on always improving.

You can find Steven Snell in these sites:

Thank you for your time. I hope your experience helps our local community here. We don’t have many local design blog here, so this interview will be a great resource for us.

Interview with Richie Thimmaiah from Richworks

As a blogger and part of the design community, I have great opportunity to know many people in the design industry. Now, let me introduce you to Richie Thimmaiah owner of richworks. He’s a new blogger but have done a very good job in his site. I also wrote a tutorial for his awesome site which you can read here. Lanjutkan membaca Interview with Richie Thimmaiah from Richworks