A Little Lesson On Typography

As a designer I’d say improper use of typography is my number one pet peeve.  There are so many bad typefaces out there, so little knowledge of kerning, leading, and combinations of typefaces, it really can overwhelm designers.  Conversely, the anatomy of type is quite complex, and can overwhelm non-designers.  So, here’s a little lesson on serifs and san serifs, good typefaces, and typefaces to avoid. First, here’s a great diagram explaining the anatomy of type, and the link provides a great resource if you’re interested in learning more about the anatomy of type.  Although I'm only going over serifs, san serifs, some of my favorite typefaces, and typefaces to avoid, this can help you understand the complexities of typography.


What is a serif?

A serif /ˈsɛrɪf/ is a small line attached to the end of a stroke in a letter or symbol,[1] such as when handwriting is separated into distinct units for a typewriter or typsetter.

What is a sans serif?

san serif also known as a sans-serif, sans serif, gothic, san serif or simply sans typeface is one that does not have the small projecting features called "serifs" at the end of strokes

Both serifs and san serifs have their place, and often look great together, but there are so many variations out there and most people end up using Times New Roman (if you’re not writing a paper, please avoid) and Helvetica/Arial (Arial is the Microsoft rip off of Helvetica, and don’t get me wrong- Helvetica is a wonderful typeface, but at this stage in the game, there are many amazing san serif fonts that can replace it).  Although these are safe choices (if you truly don’t care about type and want a clean look then go for them) there are so many more beautiful choices out there which can help you achieve a look even better than you imagined.

Good Typefaces

Now that you have an idea what serif and san serif fonts are, let’s learn about some amazing typefaces in both the serif and san serif categories.  The following are some examples of typefaces you can use in lieu of your typical fonts.  A great resource for free amazing fonts is Google fonts.  These are most often used on websites to keep consistency among webpages on various browsers, but they can also be downloaded and used on print pieces as well as online or on your computer.  They also have a very handy feature where you can type in your copy and it will show you what it will look like among all the fonts and in word, sentence, paragraph, and poster form.

My favorite San Serif Google Fonts:

  • Open SansThis font is often used on websites to achieve a clean look without using the standard san serif code, but you can also use it on anything.
  • Julius Sans One
  • Dorsa 

My Favorite Serif Google Fonts:

My Favorite Fonts (not found on Google):  Some of these have to be purchased.

  • Gotham: My absolute favorite font of all time!

  • Novecento: This is only in all caps, but I love this font for headlines!   


  • Didot: This is one of the best serif fonts out there, and I highly recommend using it.


  • Baskerville: This is also one of the best serif fonts out there, it also gets my stamp of approval!


Typefaces Designers Can't Stand:

There are many different typefaces out there that make me cringe, but these are my top least favorite typefaces of all time!

  • Comic Sans: Never use this for anything.  It's not cute, and it makes designer's go blind.  Please spare us, we need our eyes!
  • Bleeding Cowboy: Although this might have worked for the project this typeface designer created it for, that's pretty much the only thing it should have ever been used on.  When I see it, I see red.
  • Papyrus: For some reason people think this font works for beauty products, natural products, Greek restaurants, Middle Eastern products/restaurants, Italian restaurants, yoga businesses, you get the idea.  It's one of the most over used decorative fonts ever.  Every time I see it I cringe at the thought of someone coping out and once again using this font.  So please, don't use Papyrus!

There are many amazing typefaces out there, and these are just some of my person favorites.  Conversely, there are many awful typefaces out there.  I didn't cover fonts that come on your computer because at this point I have over 900 fonts and no idea if I purchased them, got them online, or if they came with my Mac, but I hope this little lesson helps you in picking your next font for whatever you may need it for!

Sarah McMahon www.modernsoutherner.com


Product photography is something necessary in my world.  I own an eco-friendly vintage/retro shop, ELEVEN26, and I literally wear all the hats- including product photographer.  As a designer, I taught myself photography because it’s sort of a requirement, as are many skills you’re not often taught as a designer, but for me product photography became a mission.  So, here are few tips I’ve learned along the way, and I hope they’ll help anyone needing/wanting to dive into product photography.

Natural Light

I love natural light.  If I had my preference it’d be natural light all the way.  Unfortunately, we live in a world of many lights, and sometimes the natural light doesn’t work well.  When there’s a perfectly sunny day, and all the elements come together correctly, I’d much prefer natural light when shooting any type of product.  For those times when the clouds impede the use of natural light, I do have some great recommendations that help me along the way.

Table Top Photo Box

This is a lifesaver for those smaller objects that need a crisp background and some height.  I often use my TTPB when shooting jewelry, kitchen items, and other various smalls.  Instead of having to bring out the big guns (backdrops), I just easily set up my TTPB and I’m ready to go.  I love the ease of this box, and that it just folds up simply into a neat little portfolio.  It also comes with various backdrops (white, black, blue, and red) which for editing are amazing.  I often usually only use the white backdrop, but the others have come in handy for editing.



Light Ring

I ♥ my light ring.  Do you hear me world!?  I LOVE MY LIGHT RING!  OK, that might be a bit dramatic, but I really do find my light ring to be very helpful.  It’s especially helpful when I’m doing some sort of unconventional shoot where I need a lot of light focused on a particular item.  It helps deliver a nice amount of light (and you can adjust the amount of light, the direction of light, etc) directly to an item.  I often use this when I’m doing a staged shoot where the lighting might not be ideal.  Basically with this you just have to make the call on whether it will deliver good light or not for a specific shoot.  Give it a try, experiment, and be ready to fall (sometimes) in love with the light ring!


Photography Umbrella

Another lifesaver for me is the umbrella.  The possibilities are endless when it comes to using an umbrella.  They can help soften and diffuse the light when nothing else seems to work.  I often use my umbrella attached to my light stand, but sometimes I play around with direction (and even holding the umbrella in just the right area).  I can’t imagine not having this bad boy on my side, so I would suggest adding it to your photography arsenal.


Well, I hope this helps all the budding product photographers out there, and gives you some basic direction on what items will help you in your pursuit of product photography.  These items are all great staples for any photography, but I just know for product photography they’ve all save my booty on more than one occassion.  Photography is about playing with the elements, adjusting and fine tuning those elements, and getting the best outcome you desire.


Sarah McMahon Modern Southerner

Freelance Tips Most People Aren’t Sharing

I’ve been a freelance graphic and web designer for a while now, and I’ve come across a lot of tips I wish I had known before I started my grand adventure in freelancing.  I searched high and low for information that would help me in my pursuits, but honestly the best information I’ve collected has been by experience.  Perhaps that’s how it goes, but I think most freelancers are holding out on valuable information.  I’m not sure why, I’m assuming to keep the competition at bay, but I personally don’t see that side.  I have confidence in my design abilities, and I don’t worry about the competition.  I only worry about myself, perfecting my craft, and becoming the best version of me that I possibly can.  In life and art I believe in the collective, and that applies for sharing information, so here are some tips I hope will help you budding freelancers.

1.  Searching For Work

Don’t use oDesk, Elance, or any other bidding site.  Sure, you might find an odd job here and there, and that’s fine, but you will not find solid, appreciated work.  You also have to contend with low bidders from all over the world.  People in other countries will lowball bids, get the job, and leave you in the dust.  For them, this might work with conversion rates, but for you, it’s impossible to be valued at $10 an hour.  Total waste of time.

I have known people to find odd jobs, but not steady, meaningful ones.

Use these sites:



Authentic Jobs

Behance Jobs


2.  Rejection/Professionalism

If you’re not used to it, get ready.  I don’t know how many firms I’ve contacted, emails I’ve sent out, hours I’ve spent collecting information, and ultimately didn’t end up with even a courtesy email.  Yep, people are rude.  I personally find it incredibly rude to not answer someone with a simple two second “thank you, but no” email.  Which brings me to this bonus tip, ALWAYS RESPOND.  I don’t care if you’re spread so thin your eyeballs are flat, you have to get into the habit of answering everyone and promptly.  Why?  Because it’s professional.  I look at it this way, those people should be lucky you’re remotely interested in their firm and their work, and the only polite, professional thing to do is respond.  If you’re so busy, make email templates, and this goes for freelancing as well.

Also, email is in your pocket 24/7 so USE IT.  I have my phone with me all the time, and I’m borderline obsessive with checking my email, but I don’t miss a thing, and I promptly respond to any work related emails I get.  If you’re not under the watchful eye of a boss, you have to be that boss, be responsible, and prove to your clients that you’re reliable.


3.  Portfolio

You have no idea how important your portfolio really is.  I’ve come to realize that your degree is toilet paper.  Seriously, no one cares about your degree.  “Oh, you went to college, that’s nice, crack open that portfolio.”  This means online and off.  You have to have a kickass online portfolio, as well as a print portfolio, especially if you’re a web and print designer, which most of us are.  If you’re not interested in web design, if you suck at it, if you dread the words, that’s fine, but find someone who can help you code an awesome portfolio because if you aren’t online, you’re not going to get anywhere.

Same goes for print.  If you’re going on an in-person interview, they want to see your portfolio.  Spend $200 or so bucks to get a nice brushed aluminum portfolio, and a nice leather carrier for it.  Why two portfolios?  Because you unzip that leather one, pull out that aluminum portfolio, show off your awesome work, and then show them samples.  The larger leather portfolio will keep all your samples crisp and clean, just like a potential client wants it.


4.  Discipline 

It’s important, but don’t let it scare you away from freelancing.  Almost every bit of “helpful” freelance advice talks explicitly about discipline and how important it is.  Yes and no.  It’s not as big of a deal as you might be thinking.  We hear the word discipline and suddenly we’re full of self-doubt, but there is hope.

I’ve never been so free in my life, and although there are times I have to make myself work on something I’d rather not, I always get the work done, professionally, and on time.  How?  I want to eat.  Yep, when you’re a freelancer work suddenly equals food, utilities, car payments, and a whole host of other needs/wants.  This is a good motivator for discipline.  Plus, for me, I don’t want to let my clients down, so if that means staying up all night to finish a project, then bring on the caffeine.  Don’t let the discipline portion scare you.  “Can I do it?”  “Will I be disciplined enough?”  Sure, you might not be, but don’t let that be a factor in whether or not you freelance because if you really want this, you’ll find a way, and you’ll probably surprise yourself in the long run.  Honestly, don’t you have to be disciplined to wake up and go to work everyday anyway?  It’s much better when it’s on your terms.


5.  Don’t Be A Design Bitch

Sorry, but that’s the best way to put this portion.  You are valuable, but you’re only as valuable as you make yourself.  What I mean is, if you devalue yourself, others will devalue you, too.  It’s like the saying “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have” well graphic design is no different, in fact this applies even more to designers because you can make yourself look good!  If you’re not making yourself look and sound as good as you want to be, then no one will see how truly valuable you are.

I’m not saying don’t take stepping stone opportunities, but don’t let those stepping stone jobs walk all over you, you’re walking on them to get to the next point.  There is nothing wrong with that.  The truly valuable designer will continue to grow and prosper and those employing you know this.  They can see the diamond in the ruff and they know deep down if you’re not paid well and valued you will be leaving them behind in pursuit of something better.  It’s how the world works.  If your goal is freelancing, then you have to break some hearts along the way.  They’ll recover, I promise.  I’m not saying burn bridges or toot your own horn, that just makes you a jerk.  I am saying value yourself, invest in yourself, and do what’s necessary to get to the next point, but don’t be a jerk!  Everyone you come in contact with is a connection, so leave good impressions.  No one will hate you for being true to yourself, but they will hate you if you go about it the wrong way.  Ultimately, kindness is your best friend, and will help you in the future.



The honest truth is most people don’t want to freelance bad enough, and that’s TOTALLY FINE.  It’s also another reason fearing the competition is useless and takes energy away from your personal journey.  Not everyone is cut out for it, it’s not appealing to everyone, but for those of us that it is appealing to, I hope this helps you in your freelancing journey.


Sarah McMahon Modern Southerner

Hello, I'm Sarah McMahon {Guest blogger from Modern Southerner}

Hello everyone!  My name is Sarah McMahon and I run Modern Southerner.  I’m a freelance graphic designer who is currently submersed in the world of web development.  I also own an online vintage/retro store ELEVEN26, and recently I started a booth in a local vintage/retro store in my current town of Knoxville, TN.  I’m going to be guest posting for BlueHaus every 3rd Monday of the month, and I’m so excited to bring interesting content your way!  I’m planning on delivering posts on freelancing, graphic design, the proper use of typography, my product photography methods, and I’ll probably incorporate some web development tips! As I’m sure you know, Ashley lives in Colorado, and I have some roots originating from there.  My maternal grandmother was born and raised in Loveland, CO.  My mom even lived out there for a year when she was 9.  In addition to that, I was born in Teaneck, NJ, but I grew up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.  Most of my family still lives in NJ.  I like to say I’m a New Jersey born, Mississippi raised hybrid because they are two totally different worlds (and I have a neutral accent, I'm always being asked where I'm from).  Now I’m somewhere in the middle in Knoxville, TN.

Before moving to Knoxville I lived in Hattiesburg, MS where I attended The University of Southern Mississippi.  While there I changed majors a lot, took way too many classes, and finally settled on a degree in Graphic Design.  It’s a few years later, and I’m so thankful I picked that major.  I love everything design, and it's been a great foundation for web development!  After graduating I worked as a designer for USM, but ultimately I wanted to strike out on my own.  Then an opportunity to move to Knoxville came up, and here I am!  I really like Knoxville, it’s a hip, health-conscious, active, fun little city that’s on the verge of some explosive growth.

That's me!

This is Sebastian, he's my sweet Maine Coon.

This is Clementine, she's my fun puppy.

I love the mountains and I'm in them every chance I get!

Well, that’s a little bit about me, and I can’t wait to start blogging for you!

Sarah McMahon

http://www.modernsoutherner.com http://www.sarahamcmahon.com http://www.eleven-26.com