Alison Garwood Jones

Process Junkie

March 25, 2019

Preview of Spring Designs at Daisy drawings

While my students were working on their group projects this week, I had a moment to myself. So I drew a daisy, then two …

Back at my desk the next day, I had the beginnings of my Spring/Summer collection for Pen Jar Productions.

The ingredients that went into this recipe were:

1 Above Ground Art Supplies Premium Hardbound Sketchbook

1 Uniball Vision Pen (Fine). The waterproof ink is key.

4 colours: Daniel Smith’s New Gamboe, Hansa Yellow Light (Lemon Yellow works too), Sap Green and Payne’s Grey.

PhotoShop (I finally understand a fraction of it!)

1 HP Scanner (the glass plate is so small. I need to upgrade)

1 art board from Curry’s

1 elastic (from a head of broccoli) and two sunny yellow clips to hold the pages down for photographing

1 Amazon Basics Portable Photo Studio

I hope you love process as much as I do.























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Virginia Woolf and Alice Munro in conversation

March 11, 2019

In my latest comic, “She is the House,” I imagine a conversation between two generations of writers.

Virginia Woolf and Alice Munro discuss the challenges of being a writer when you’re a woman.

It’s been 90 years since Woolf published, A Room of One’s Own, and 51 years since Munro wrote her short story, “The Office.”

I brought them together because the questions they raised about solitude and productivity are still just as pressing.

Things I think about.


Virginia Woolf and Alice Munro in conversation - comic by Alison Garwood-JonesVirginia Woolf and Alice Munro in conversation - comic by Alison Garwood-Jones

Virginia Woolf and Alice Munro in conversation - comic by Alison Garwood-Jones






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January 11, 2019

Alison Garwood-Jones shows off her Marie Osmond Poster.

At a time when jaws were agape over Farrah & Cheryl, I had Marie. Because of her, I bobbed & conditioned my hair, worked harder on my smile, & took up figure skating. I also committed to perfecting the sassy comeback with my brothers. #BrunettesInAWorldOfBlondes, #GoingCoconuts

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Morning memories

January 10, 2019

Shell hunting on the Isle of Guernsey, 1951.

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Student Success Stories

January 8, 2019

Do what you love - Illustration by Alison Garwood-Jones

Illustration by Alison Garwood-Jones

If you are on this page because you’re thinking of enrolling in my U of T  Digital Strategy course I can see you! Seriously. I’m glad you stopped by.

Whenever I take a course — I took Creating Comics and Graphic Novels (2489) last fall — I always Google the instructor. I want to know who they are, what they are accomplishing outside of class, and if they have an original spark before I commit to spending several months with them.

I’ve been teaching Digital Strategy and Communications Management since the fall of 2014.

In that time, digital communications has evolved (and devolved) by leaps and bounds. My course has adapted with every twist and turn social media has taken, and it provides up-to-the-minute strategies on how to build and market your blog, vlog or podcast.

As a digital journalist, illustrator and the web series host of Willful, I know a thing or two about combining creativity with an entrepreneurial spirit, and how key digital tools are to showing your work.

U of T Learn More Illustration by Alison Garwood-Jones

Illustration by Alison Garwood-Jones

Let me share a couple of success stories so you can see how some of my former students have leveraged the course learnings to start new projects, or to land some really cool gigs in digital, marketing and PR:

Andy: Andreanne was already an established beauty blogger at  A Certain Romance  when she signed up for my class last summer. Her goal was clear: she wanted to increase her visibility and get her first paid gig as a blogger/influencer. By week 2 of the course, she had crafted a focused SMART goal (take the course and I’ll explain what that means). By week 12, she had organically increased her subscribers by 54% and her pageviews by 140%.  Shortly after the course was over, Andy was offered an unpaid community management internship with a natural beauty company (which she declined). She also interviewed for a paid position as a community manager/content creator for a beauty distributor. She decided it wasn’t a right fit, so she kept looking. In the meantime, an offer to do her first sponsored post came in. This past spring, she hit the jackpot when she was picked to be the new Web and Social Media Editor at Canadian House and Home‘s French Edition, Maison & Demeure. This week, she got her business cards! Fun fact: for Andy’s first assignment, she was tasked with translating into French one of my feature articles from Canadian House & Home, then promoting it on social. The way I see it, we’re all in this together.

Photo of Andreanne Dion, beauty blogger

Photo: Andreanne by Nick Reynolds

Kamini: Kamini signed up for my class hoping to gain some new digital skills during her job search. She created a WordPress blog about her cat Hewitt. Do we really need another cat or cupcake blog. Yes, if it’s funny and well-produced. Last spring, when Kamini was preparing for a  job interview with Portable Intelligence, she was  used her blog as her portfolio, and reviewed all 12 class decks so she felt prepared. Things went well and she ended up showed her blog and some of her cat videos during her interview.  Last June Kamini said yes to Portable Intelligence and became their Digital Marketing Specialist. It was her very first job in Canada since moving to Toronto from India. Go Kamini! PS: She has since retired her blog URL. Hewitt has moved on.

hewitt the cat

Hewitt by Kamini

Julian: Julian was the first student I had who chose to use the course to set up a podcast. The idea of creating a series of  fun and plain-speaking interviews for young gays who were new to big city living had been percolating in his mind for some time. In the fall of 2016, Julian debuted The Sassy Gay. Since then, he has kept a regular posting schedule and the show has become a recognized source of support in the LGBT community. Posts include: The Epidemic of Gay Loneliness and Coming out to your mom. He has also branched out and created a web series called Process where he interviews artists. Julian told me he was inspired by the class to challenge himself in the audio and video storytelling spaces. I’m proud of this guy.

• Shiva: Shiva Kumar Shunmugam took my online class in the Winter of 2016. He was one of the most active and engaged students in this class of 35. So much of what Shiva did and said was rooted in kindness and his strong desire to help other students who were adjusting to the demands of digital communications in their workplaces. When Hurricane Harvey hit metropolitan Houston last August, Shiva, who manages the social media accounts for Beaumont, a town in northern Alberta. This Digital Strategy grad donned his superhero cape to help a family reaching out for help on their social media feeds. Here is a teaser from CTV:

BEAUMONT, Alta. — Shiva Kumar Shunmugam was wrapping up a lazy summer afternoon tending to social media feeds for the Alberta town of Beaumont when a strange request came into the fire hall’s Facebook page.

“Terrell houses are flooding need help,” it said.

Beaumont, Alta., a town of about 18,000 just south of Edmonton, doesn’t have a Terrell neighbourhood and the area hadn’t seen a drop of rain in almost a week.

Shunmugam quickly realized he was dealing with someone in Beaumont, Texas, a community not far from Houston, that has a Terrell Avenue and was hit by Hurricane Harvey.

A woman near Dallas was seeking a rescue for her daughter’s family of four who had floodwater rushing into their Beaumont home.

In her frantic search for help, the mother mistakenly happened upon the page for the fire department in Beaumont, Alta., 3,800 kilometres away.

Shunmugam swung into action. Here he is:

Shiva Kumar Shunmugam

You can read the full story of Shiva’s life saving community management tactics here. Suffice it to say, I’m proud to know this guy.

Since I started teaching, I have witnessed many success stories. One more pops to mind. A lot of people who come to my class are fleeing dying industries.  David was a copy editor at The Hamilton Spectator who felt confident enough with the new digital smarts he acquired in class to seek a job as a Communications Associate at the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing. “It was only a matter of time before the paper let me go,” he said. Like so many, David abandoned print media in favour of a communications job with more growth potential and stability.

Join me this term if you want to learn how to adapt to the new digital economy, or apply a strategic mindset to an idea you have for a written blog, web series or podcast. To learn more, check out this webpage from the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies.

I hope to see you soon,






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7 things my customers taught me in 2018

December 31, 2018

Last summer, the initial delight I felt in seeing my sketchbook drawings on a digital pillow template inspired a new design business in 2018 called Pen Jar Productions.

Now my quirky line drawings are on totes, tees, scarves, and, coming next month, enamel pins! (In these politically-charged times, more of us are wearing our values on our lapels).

Here’s a tour of my studio, where it all happens.

Print-on-demand technology that offers freelancers, like me, automatic fulfilment and shipping has been around for several years, but I only woke up to it in 2018.

ICYMI: here’s an Instagram Stories video I made explaining how my pillows go from a sketchbook drawing to a finished pillow:

As we move into 2019, the things that used to be background noise in my life — benchmarks, brand recognition and break-even points — have taken on a new urgency.

In search of answers to my marketing and accounting conundrums, my podcast lineup has expanded to include:

Shopify Masters
Good Company with Grace Bonney
Pivot Podcast with Jenny Blake
The Agency Leadership Podcast

In the end, though, customer feedback is the best way to learn. Here are the seven things my customers taught me in 2018:

Offer smaller tote bags

I’m tall. Six-foot-one tall. So when I decided to add totes to my mix, I sourced a bag that fit the length of my frame.

Toronto Island Tote Bag by

I forgot to think about how the bag length would work for a petite woman. Isn’t everyone 6’1″?

Then I met Amanda. She lived and worked on the Toronto Islands last summer.

I was wearing my merch one evening when she stopped me and asked if she could slip my ferry tote over her shoulder.

“I love it!” she said. “But it’s too big for me.” I hesitated. No matter. She pressed fifty bucks into my hand and the next time I saw her she modelled the workmanship of her city-side tailor, who lopped off two inches from the top of the bag and the handle. Et voilà!

Toronto Island Ferry Tote Bag by

Amanda modelling her new “Off To The Islands” tote bag by
Toronto Island Ferry tote bag by PenJarProductions.comAmanda’s “Off To The Islands” tote bag hanging out in her sailboat. By

Sign your work

I made some swift sales last month at the Algonquin Island Association Christmas Boutique. at the Algonquin Island Christmas Bazaar At the 2018 Algonquin Island Association Christmas Boutique. It’s blurry, but you get the point.

A woman named Rochelle came up to my table and gravitated to my chiffon scarf featuring scarlet chrysanthemums. “Can I try this on?” she asked.  And off she ran to the ladies room to play with knots and flourishes.

Crimson Mums Chiffon Scarf by

Last week, Rochelle emailed me with some positive feedback and advice:

Hi Alison, Just wanted to let you know that I am enjoying your (my) scarf. You know, your name, signature, initials should be somewhere on your beautiful work. Everyone and anyone should know that it’s a Garwood- Jones artwork. (not that there is anything lacking in your business approach, I just think you’re being modest)

Lovin’ it. Thx.
Rochelle from the island sale. 

How can you not appreciate honesty like that?

On my 2019 To Do list — Fire up PhotoShop and start adding to the corner of every design file on my Shopify site. That’s how you scale, baby!

When you’re a one-woman show handling design, marketing, and sales, it’s easy to overlook the obvious.

Put a face to your business

“People like to meet the maker,” Kyla Walker told me not long after I became an artist partner with Notion, the folks who print and ship my merch (see Kyla in the Instagram Stories video above).

Building an online presence for your business is key. And while Facebook and Instagram ads are still effective, they’re not enough.

You need to put a face to your business and talk to folks, one-on-one, about what do and why you do it.

I researched the craft fairs I could afford to take part in this year and became a craft lady retailer at two: The Ward’s Island Gala Weekend and the aforementioned Algonquin Island Craft Fair. We’ll see what 2019 holds.

Charge what you’re worth

As my business grew, the leads started trickling in. That’s good! Several people inquired about custom pillow designs — “Will you draw me and my boyfriend?” asked one. “I’d love a portrait of my grand piano!” said another — all the while expecting me to charge the same price as the pillow designs I can scale, like my Toronto Island Ferry Pillow.
"Off to the Islands" throw pillow in aqua by

When I earnestly explained that a custom portrait for $20 (my average artist markup) is not a sustainable business model, they all walked away, except for one.

These customers taught me that when you inquire about a custom anything (scarf, pillow, tee), you’re buying the original pen and watercolour art, not just the swatch of cotton that it comes on. Some get it, some don’t. You keep pushing forward.

Note to self: no freelancer can afford to operate like Fiverr.

Getty Images of monkeysSometimes the requests you get as an illustrator can make you feel like a dancing monkey with a tip cup. Source: Getty Images.
Hire a business coach

Technically, this wasn’t a customer tip. But I gasped in surprise when I found out that entrepreneurs I know have had, or still have, a business coach to guide their decision-making. You can do that? I’m so used to being DIY.

As your business grows, I’m finding that it’s really important to understand the ins and outs of accounting, especially when it comes to tax time. If you don’t understand it while you’re small, you’ll be in big trouble as you get bigger, if you get bigger.

Head coach Pat Summitt talks to Shanna Zolman #1 of the Tennessee Lady Vols during a break in the action against the Michigan State Spartans in the Semifinal game of the Women’s NCAA Basketball Championship on April 3, 2005 at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

It’s personal

“My father was a ferry boat captain on the Sam McBride in the 1940s.”

That’s what one woman told me when she saw my Toronto Island Ferry Pillow at a craft fair.

Although she wasn’t a sale, she gave me something more valuable. My pillow, she said, brought back a fond memory. I miss my dad too.

I’m starting to gather a lot of these kinds of stories. Yesterday, Teresa, a customer who has one of my “Joe The Reporter” throw pillows perched against a wingback in her home, emailed me to explain why this illustration resonated with her,

Joe The Reporter Throw Pillow by

Ask for context shots

In the age of social media, customers are only too happy to share how your product looks in their home.

Again, trying to juggle all aspects of my business, I initially forgot to ask for the photographs.

Many customers sent pictures to me pretty much as soon as my packages landed. And, if they didn’t, I now knew to ask them for home decor shots.

To everyone who supported and cheered me on in 2018, my sincerest thanks for making this new adventure so worthwhile.

Happy New Year!

Best Nine 2018, for
From my sketchbook to your home. Best Nine, 2018 at

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Women and burnout: a comic

December 28, 2018

My newest comic: an update on women’s progress through the current shit storm. Always remember: “Art should not be about impressing others. Art is about engaging in a candid dialogue with yourself.” ~ Dan Rather
Comic By Alison Garwood-JonesComic by Alison Garwood-JonesComic by Alison Garwood-JonesComic by Alison Garwood-JonesComic by Alison Garwood-JonesComic by Alison Garwood-JonesComic by Alison Garwood-JonesComic by Alison Garwood-JonesComic by Alison Garwood-JonesComic by Alison Garwood-JonesComic by Alison Garwood-JonesComic by Alison Garwood-JonesComic by Alison Garwood-JonesComic by Alison Garwood-JonesComic by Alison Garwood-JonesComic by Alison Garwood-Jones
Comic by Alison Garwood-Jones
Comic by Alison Garwood-Jones

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Dog love

December 27, 2018

Dog drawing by Alison Garwood-Jones

Our house guest this Christmas is a beast named Henry.

He does all the things that endear dogs to humans.

We love him.

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My Top 10 Takeaways from Social Media Week Toronto, 2018

November 15, 2018

#SMWTO Social Media Week Toronto 2018Illustration by Alison Garwood-Jones

If you are a social media user in 2018, do yourself and your friends a favour and be adaptable, patient, proactive, and hopeful. And share some of your professional failures on LinkedIn. In an Insta-perfect world, people are looking for ways to better connect with and learn from each other.

These were some of the overarching themes I took away from the first two days of Social Media Week Toronto, 2018.

Organizers Michelle Pinchev, Elle Bulger and their team at Pinch Social spent months lining up 50+ Canadian and international speakers and participants.

In turn, they gave a packed audience a “state of the nation” on digital marketing, including the ramifications from the fallout from data breaches and how algorithm changes on Facebook and Instagram are forcing us to rethink ways to better reach our target audiences (hint: Reddit and Pinterest are both experiencing a boost).

Social Media Week 2018, Speakers Lineup

Photo: Pinch Social

If you couldn’t make it, I hope this round-up helps you understand where we are taking technology, and where it is taking us:

10.  B to B storytelling works best on LinkedIn Publishing (its baked-in blogging platform) and the LinkedIn newsfeed. Salesy B to C posts fall flat almost every time. ~ Goldie Chan, Top LinkedIn video creator.

Goldie Chan

Photo: Goldie Chan

9. A play button is the most compelling CTA on the web.  If “content is king,” then the king of content is video. “Today, video is the most effective way to communicate what’s important to you; it makes your audience feel much closer to you and your ideas than any written post ever could,” says Jason Hsiao co-founder of Animoto.

PS: just don’t shoot poorly-lit talking head videos at your desk. Get out in the field. Mix it up. LA native Goldie Chan (above) shoots her Influencer Tips videos at Disneyland. Often in costume. What’s your angle?

Jason Hsiao of Animoto

Photo: Jason Hsiao

8. Pre-scheduling cut-and-paste content is out (sorry, Hootsuite and Buffer). Why? Because viewing behaviour differs across platforms. As Hsiao reminds us, we go to Facebook for updates, Instagram for inspiration, Twitter for what’s current, and YouTube for education. All of this requires different headers and CTAs.

viewing habits on social

Photo: Alison Garwood-Jones

7. Not ready to be a social media activist? Fifteen-year old Hannah Alper, who calls herself a member of the “massacre generation” (as in mass school shootings) says, “one person, one action, and one moment can make a difference.” It’s never too late to use your voice. Let the good take back social.

Hannah Alper

Pick up a copy of Hannah’s latest book, Momentus

6. Instagram has an organic reach of about 50% (versus less than 1% on Facebook). It is still the platform with the highest engagement. But with the recent departure of founders, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, further rejigs, unfriendly to users, are only a matter of time. Get ready to adapt again.

5. If you are still waiting for people to find your website, stop it! Take your message to where the conversations are already happening on social.

4. Create for mobile: Square video is currently the most effective format for viewer engagement. The verdict is still out on the rising popularity of video shot in vertical/portrait mode (à la Instagram Stories and IGTV). Whatever aspect ratio you settle on, be sure to add captions because 30% of viewers are watching your video on their phones with the sound OFF.

Unsplash Photo

Photo: @Shuganth on Unsplash

3. Diversify your social media strategy. “Consider new options outside of Facebook and Instagram,” says Aletta Brandle, The Globe and Mail‘s Social Media Strategy Lead. Reddit has the highest time spent of all the social media platforms at an astonishing 11 minutes/day. But you need to understand how Reddit works before you wade in, says Brandle. Before you advertise, join some conversations. And don’t push your brand. “If your content survives on Reddit, it will survive anywhere,” says Brandle. If you want to find out how her first Reddit ad campaign played out, her blog is an excellent resource for her A/B testing.

Social Media Week Toronto 2018Photo: Social Media Week Toronto, 2018. Brandle is in the centre with the striped shirt.

2. Pinterest was built for people who want to discover a product. So why aren’t you there? “Users on Pintereset are further down the sales funnel than on any other social platform,” says Brandle. “50% purchase after seeing an ad.”

1. “We need to regain conrol of our data and our attention to fix our slide into a dystopian world.” ~ Ramona Pringle, CBC contributer, Associate Professor, RTA School of Media, Ryerson University.

Social Media Week Toronto 2018

Photo: Social Media Week Toronto, 2018



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Holiday Gift Guide: For The Writer In Your Life

November 14, 2018

A while back, I made a bunch of ink and watercolour drawings with a film noir feel. I couldn’t decide if I was growing a cartoon strip, or just testing out a new sketchbook and pen? I still don’t know. This is as far as I got:

I couldn’t let go of what I had created. When I started placing my drawings on pillows and laptop skins, I thought my reporter (a guy I called “Joe”) was such good reminder of the march of time and technology.

I decided to make quick video about Joe.

Joe fits perfectly in an environment with a lot of books, paper, pens, and memories.

If you would like to give him as a gift to a friend or loved one, meet me over at my shop, Pen Jar Productions. Go to Pillows > “City Living,” or find Joe under “Tech Accessories.”

From my sketchbook to your home, Happy Holidays!


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