Say It With Sawhorse

For as many years as I can remember, I’ve been hilariously commemorating milestones in my family.

From countless Happy Birthday celebrations to many Merry Christmas mornings, and every imaginable holiday and festivity in between, I’ve created custom cards to acknowledge each occasion.

Although my craft has evolved a long way from my early finger-painted inspirations at age 4, I started doing something uniquely personal with each card about 15 years ago, and it’s a tradition that has continued to this day.

So, what is it that sets these custom cards apart from the store-bought mainstays that made Hallmark a household name? That story begins back in 2003 and I had just arrived in Toronto, ready to take the advertising world by storm.

Want to know what got me hooked on marketing in the first place? Read Scratching the Itch for more adventures in advertising.

Put on a funny face.

An important asset in any young advertiser’s arsenal is the ability to edit and manipulate photographs and images. As a course requirement of the program I was enrolled in at Centennial College, we were tasked with learning how to use Adobe Photoshop. It was in this class that I first dabbled with face-swapping and photo manipulation–a skill set that would eventually inspire my card crafting creativity.

One of my first attempts was a birthday card for my father. I have many fond childhood memories of playing catch with my Dad, cliché as that might sound. Baseball seemed an obvious theme to play with, and when I came across this classic capture of Babe Ruth, I knew I’d found my inaugural canvas.


Naturally, the card was a home run hit! Flushed with success and itching for a new challenge, my sister would be the next lucky victim recipient. A fanfic-inspired, aspiring young-adult rom-com writer, it made sense to give her the full Harlequin, damsel-in-distress, romance novel-esque treatment. And, speaking of fan-fiction, the card on her next birthday would pay homage to a certain mother-daughter duo from Stars Hollow.


It was always a raucous affair when my Grandfather’s birthday would roll around each year. He was often known to regale us with tales of a life well remembered – from boyhood hijinx and misadventures as a young man, to his time and travels overseas following WWII. I would draw inspiration from his stories and create custom cards that captured his whimsical essence and endearing rascality. Before each meal he used to say “beans, beans, the musical fruit – the more you eat the more you toot – the more you toot, the better you feel – so beans, beans for every meal“!

The tradition continues.

Last year, for his birthday, we took Dad for a day at the horse races. It’s been a tradition in our family, started long before I was even born, to spend a day betting on ponies each year. Now that I have kids of my own, it’s a ritual we all look forward to as soon as the weather starts warming up. I tried something a bit different with my card for Dad this time around – a sort of caricaturized, bobblehead effect. And, in the end, it was another winner!

This past weekend, we celebrated Dad’s 70th birthday. A milestone year by any measure! Although COVID-19 kept us from throwing the big bash we had hoped to, we still marked the occasion with a small bonfire gathering (at a distance) and roasted marshmallow s’mores for all. This was my most recent card to Dad, with the inscription reading – “look at the bright side…at least you’ve still got (most of) your hair”! It was dubbed the “Larry Dennis”.