How I Refreshed My Blog With Style and Spirit

Illustration of the author sending a magical horse into a computer

I’m so excited to say that the Running Horse: The Life of an Artist and Programmer blog was re-launched in August 2023! This is something I’ve had in mind to do the past couple years, and it feels so good to see it all come together.

Over the past months, I’ve chatted with folks about this re-design effort. A couple questions came up multiple times so I thought writing a post answering them would be helpful. I hope reading about my process helps anyone else planning out a blog, portfolio, or any other body of work (it is not an easy task).

What needed change?

I needed my blog to rise up to the amount of visual design emphasis that is inherent in my software development portfolio.

When I launched this blog initially in October 2020, I specifically picked the Independent Publisher 2 WordPress theme which is text only, as I wanted to focus on writing without the pressure to create visual design assets. That was a smart move at the time, I am glad I did that because it enabled me to create a lot of content I otherwise may have never had the time to write and publish in 2020-2022. However, when I thought about how I wanted my blog to feel later on — something with imagery that would grab the user when content pops up on social media, something that feels more like my work, something that would be both beautiful and fun — I knew I needed to change direction.

This is how I worked through the change:

I considered a middle road that was more graphic-design focused. I spent some time looking into blog teaser graphic options. Things like, combos of text and photos, all text with fun typography and color blocks, etc. I had a couple articles like this as open tabs on my phone and was just never inspired or motivated by them. I realized I needed to create illustrations entirely my own, and by hand.

Now, this was intimidating for sure. I have been very out of practice drawing and painting, but I knew that illustration was what this blog needed so I needed a strategy for getting back into it. I eased into it . I decided that, instead of jumping right in, I would reacquaint myself with my artistic side by creating handmade letters. Some of these were birthday cards, others were to thank people who have recently had a positive impact on my life in different ways. In these letters, I chose imagery that reflected each person — like flowers someone’s son grew in their garden, Pok√©mon my husband likes, etc. — which made it easy to figure out what to draw (and therefore, removed a barrier to creating).

The first letters were created over the course of a few weeks. After creating a few, I felt ready to make the blog illustrations. I got in touch with who I am as an artist, enveloped in a spirit of gratitude for the people around me instead of worrying about how good my drawing was.

This all happened a time when my toddler became increasingly fascinated with books. These days, we look at illustrated books at home and at libraries at least an hour every day — including huge childhood favorites of mine like Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are and Chicken Soup With Rice. This has helped me get back in touch with my creative spirit.

In this blog, there is now an illustration per post. Altogether, the blog is now like an illustrated autobiography combined with wisdom for folks in creative and technical careers. Over time, I’m sure the illustration style will evolve.

It was a great deal of work to go back and illustrate all prior posts, and for that reason I removed a couple posts that didn’t feel as cohesive and didn’t continue with a couple posts I began writing. It also meant I needed to table blog posts I had in mind to write in order to take care of existing ones first. Going forward, it will be more manageable to create an illustration per post — at least, I think so.

Lastly, in terms of visual design, I also changed the primary image that represents this blog. Previously, it was the running horse logo art. Now it is a self-portrait with the horse entering a computer, which represents my fusion of the artistic with the technical and of the physical with the digital. If it weren’t for the horse subtitle “The Life of an Artist and Programmer” one might think the blog is about art or horses. I think the new image better captures what this blog is about.

Did I code my own WordPress theme from scratch?

I didn’t. This was a hard decision! I have experience with CMS development in Drupal, and it’s been on my mind to explore WordPress theming. I have mostly used WordPress on the user end, not the developer end. As a developer, it is tempting to want to do it all.

I decided against creating a custom theme because the visual design work already required so much thought. To do both at once would have been too much. In fact, if I had made this decision earlier, I think I may have started on this blog refresh earlier. I believe a part of my procrastination was overwhelm about changing two aspects of the blog at once. So for future projects, that is something I will keep in mind.

Would I make a custom theme in the future? Absolutely! That is not a priority right now, the Wisteria theme I chose meets my expectations. If in the future I was just changing the theme, not any other aspect, I think that would be doable.