Playing With Words

March 19th, 2013 WordPlay Posted in Grammar, Just For Fun, Vocabulary and Spelling, Writing, Writing Tips and Tools Comments Off on Playing With Words

playing with wordsIf you enjoy writing, you must like words. The typical English speaker has a vocabulary of around 2,000 words, and those with a university degree may have around 4,000. Still, that’s not an enormous number. William Shakespeare used something like 20,000 words in his writing, but Shakespeare had a dirty secret. He made up thousands of those words himself.

This might sound like a pretty bad idea. After all, words are there to be understood, and if you invent words yourself, how can anyone understand what you mean? Good question, and yet if it worked for Shakespeare, it can work for you. Often Shakespeare turned nouns into verbs, added prefixes or suffixes, joined words together, or borrowed parts of words from elsewhere. He invented words like eyeball, frugal and gossip.

Do you think I’m just confoozling you? Or do you find preconfabricated words hard to understand? Well, ermahgerd!

These days, corporations have whole departments dedicated to making up words (not to be confused with the departments dedicated to making up numbers – that’s Accounts.) Think iPhone. Think Wii. Think Youtube.

It’s all good, clean fun.Inventing new words, like incanderous or fediciously (don’t ask me what they mean) is easy. So why be stuck for the right word again? Just make up one that sounds like the kind of thing you need. And far from dumbing down the language, it opens up opportunities to say something new. I think that must be a good thing, surely?

About the Author
Steve Morris expounds, articulates and wrestles with words and thoughts at Blog Blogger Bloggest.

Make Your Own Clip Art Using Photos and Picnik

July 19th, 2008 WordPlay Posted in Blogging, Cartoons, Clip Art, Entertainment, Free Clip Art, Free Graphics, Free Images, Free Online Tools, Free Photos, Just For Fun, Make Your Own Clip Art, Photography, Reviews, Tips and Tools 7 Comments »

focal-soften-shapes-pencil-sketch-duotone If you aspire to create your own clip art, you’re not limited to just using graphic elements. As you can see in the gallery below, you also can alter photos to achieve a variety of effects. Don’t know how to use Illustrator or Photoshop? Don’t worry; you don’t need to. You can use the free online Web application Picnik and still achieve professional results.

If you’re unfamiliar with Picnik, you might want to read the previous post detailing how it can help you make your own clip art. In this post, I’m only going to cover how to alter photos. Some of the methods that apply to making clip art from scratch are used with photos, too, so I’ll link to the other tutorial from the word Shapes any time it’s applicable.

1. To begin, you’ll need a photo. If you don’t have any in your personal collection, I suggest downloading one from Stock.Xchng. (See WordPlay’s Stock.Xchng review for the very liberal parameters flower-posterizesurrounding using photos from their site.) Most of the photos below came from StockXchng, and as you can see, the quality is excellent.

Even if you don’t have a great photo to start with, the good thing about using Picnik for making clip art is that you could even turn a bad photo into something beautiful. Another great Picnik feature is that if you’re a Firefox or Internet Explorer user, you can just right-click any photo you find and have it open in Picnik. (Click here for more information.) If you use Stock.Xchng to get your photos, though, I recommend also saving a copy of the photo to your hard drive with its original name. This will allow you to go back to Stock.Xchng later, enter the photo name into the search bar and find the photographer. You can then leave a comment in the photographer’s Comments box with a link to the photo’s location. Not only is this the right thing to do, but some Stock.Xchng photographers make it mandatory if you use their images. But there’s a benefit to you too. Each time you leave a link in a comment, you get a link back to you from Stock.Xchng.

2. Once you have your photo, either right-click and choose the option to edit it in Picnik go to and click the Get started now! button, and then the Upload Photo button. (If you decide you don’t want to use that photo at any time, click the Home navigation tab and you’ll be given the option to delete that photo and upload another.) The photo will automatically open into the Edit screen. Unless you need to make adjustments to your photo (crop, resize, fix red-eye or other edits), click the Create navigation tab.

Picnik_effects3. Once in the Create area, the three tabs you’ll use to create the effects shown below will be Effects, Text and Shapes. I went over Text and Shapes in my previous tutorial, but many of the looks below will also require the use of the Effects menu. Fortunately, Picnik has marked each effect clearly, so it’s easy to choose the one you want. If I’m undecided, I often “audition” each effect on a photo until I see something I like. You can find some surprising and wonderful new looks this way. You also can combine effects by saving each one and layering others on top, and making adjustments to each look by using the features within each effect. If you ever don’t like the look you get from Effects or any other Picnik feature, just click the Undo button at the top right of the page to remove it.

4. Once you get the basics of using Effects, I suggest playing with them to become more familiar. There are myriad ways each can be manipulated, which leaves endless possibilities for being creative once you’ve gotten the hang of it.

Visit Picnik

Here are the images I created with Picnik:

Click any of the photos below to see a larger version.

Original Photo Photo Altered with Picnik
1024270_children_of_africa focal-soften-tint
This photo was altered by using Focal Soften + Tint.
Photo by Sias van Schalkwyk
1031997_cowboy_sunset cowboy-sunset-create-shapes
This photo incorporates a variety of Shapes (bursts and lightning bolts around the edges with vines layered on top and an eagle in the center).
Photo by Vector Dapner
Schloss_3 lake-heat-map
This photo was altered using Shapes (clouds and eagle) + Heat Map
Photo by Dave Schloss
Clark Gable Clark Gable
This photo was altered using Shapes (vines and thought bubble) + Text.
Photo from the public domain
1028940_guitar_hero_d boost-HDR
This photo was altered using Boost + HDR-ish.
Photo by rubinho 1
1031841_bright_pink_flower_2 focal-soften-shapes-pencil-sketch-duotone
This photo was altered using Focal Soften + Pencil Sketch + Duo-Tone + Shapes (chunks of squares)

Photo by Taryn Kaiser

1036399_strawberries_1 strawberry-create-shapes
This photo was altered using Shapes (sourpuss face line drawing)
Photo by Ove Tøpfer
See more clip art made with Picnik:
Gothic Fantasy Clip Art
Animal Clip Art
Flower Clip Art
Engagement, Bridal Shower and Wedding Clip Art
Summer Clip Art
Election Clip Art
Inauguration Clip Art
Black and White Halloween Clip Art
Halloween Pumpkin Clip Art
Halloween Masks
Fourth of July Clip Art
Thanksgiving Clip Art
Don’t want to spend the time to make your own clip art? Try WordPlay’s collection of quality free clip art sources. Or visit Avatar Central, which lists all our image resources.

Make Your Own Free Clip Art with Picnik

May 23rd, 2008 WordPlay Posted in Clip Art, Free Clip Art, Free Graphics, Free Images, Free Online Tools, Just For Fun, Make Your Own Clip Art, Tips and Tools 23 Comments »

imageAs you can probably tell by now, I’m a little obsessed with free clip art. In the past I’ve written about other free graphics programs that can help you turn photos into clip art and do other fun things like make multi-purpose labels and Christmas cards, or create your own cartoons. But I think I might have found the most versatile free tool yet in Picnik. Not only can you alter photos with it, but you also can use their extensive selection of free graphics to make professional quality clip art. Here are some examples of clip art images I created in Picnik in just one afternoon:

clip_art_american_flag clip_art_bird clip_art_heart free_clip_art_happy_birthday
clip_art_pink_ribbon clip_art_butterflies clip_art_vote_2008 clip_art_spring_wreath

Click on the images above to see larger versions. Click here to see more samples of clip art made with Picnik. Also, see our 2008 election clip art made with Picnik.

To make images like these and many others, just follow these simple instructions:

1. To make your own free graphics, you need a file like this one, which is just a 200 pixel x 200 pixel square or this one, which is a 200 pixel x 400 pixel rectangle. Both have white backgrounds. (Because of the backgrounds, these files will seem invisible when you click on them. To download, put your mouse in the upper left corner of the resulting blank screen.) Feel free to use either of these or make your own blanks of any size in Photoshop, Fireworks or any other image program. The reason you begin with a blank slate, so to speak, is because Picnik requires that you upload a file to alter. Most people use Picnik to alter photos, but since you’re going to make your own clip art, you’ll need a white background. You also could use a colored background but for the sake of simplicity, let’s stick to white for now.

2. Once you’ve downloaded a blank .jpg onto your hard drive or created your own, go to and click the “Get Started Now” button.

3. Once inside the program, click the “Upload Photo” button and choose the blank file from your hard drive. When your file has been uploaded into Picnik, you will see it (although barely, because it’s a white image on an almost-white background) in an interface that has five tabs across the top. Choose the “Create” tab.

Picnik_clip_art_size 4. Once inside the “Create” tab, the button you will use the most will be “Shapes.” (If you want to add text to your clip art, you’ll also eventually want to use the “Text” button too.) To begin designing your own clip art, choose “Shapes” and then scroll to see all the available images on the left. Keep in mind that all the images in black can be altered to appear in any color, so at this point all you’ll care about is choosing a shape. Click on an image to insert the shape onto your white “canvas” .jpg, then drag the corner with your mouse to make it the size you want. (See the image above.)

5. There are a variety of Picnik features you can use to alter your clip art. They require a little getting used to, but once you’re familiar, you’ll probably love playing with them. Here are some of the main features:

Change colors by moving the white circle that appears on the color spectrum.
picnik clip art adjust fade
“Fade” the color by sliding the Fade bar. This not only mutes the color, it allows it to “float” over other colors and create layers. (See the butterflies and bird clip art above for examples.)
You can insert an image on top of another image (in this case, a flower on top of a circle) and then rotate it. To rotate, hover your mouse over the circle that sticks out at the top of the image. When a circle with two arrows appears, move your mouse to rotate the image in the direction you want it to turn.
To create a mirror image, as I did with the flower above, just add another flower, then click the “Flip” button on the left. You can also flip vertically by clicking the “Flip ” button on the right.
To add text to your image, click the “Text” button at the top of the “Create” screen, then type in the word(s) you want. Then, choose a typeface by clicking on it and size the type by sliding the “Size” bar. You can also fade the text color by sliding the “Fade” bar. If you want your text to appear on two or more rows, you’ll have to go through this process separately for each row.

Once you’re done playing, click the “Save & Share” tab to save, e-mail or post your masterpiece to any number of locations, such as Flickr, MySpace, Facebook or even your own Web site.

If you experiment with the features shown above, you can create some amazing things. And if you need software to edit photos, Picnik can perform that function as well. But that’s a subject for another post!

* Visit Picnik *

See more clip art made with Picnik:
Gothic fantasy clip art
Animal Clip Art
Flower Clip Art
Engagement, Bridal Shower and Wedding Clip Art
Summer Clip Art
Election Clip Art
Inauguration Clip Art
Black and White Halloween Clip Art
Halloween Pumpkin Clip Art
Halloween Masks
Fourth of July Clip Art
Thanksgiving Clip Art
Christmas Images
Don’t want to spend the time to make your own clip art? Try WordPlay’s collection of quality free clip art sources. Or visit Avatar Central, which lists all our image resources.

Free Graphics: Fun Badges and Seals for Your Blog

March 22nd, 2008 WordPlay Posted in Avatars, Blogging, Cartoons, Clip Art, Free Clip Art, Free Graphics, Free Images, Free Online Tools, Free Software, Just For Fun, Make Your Own Clip Art, Reviews, Tips and Tools 12 Comments »

“Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges!”
Blazing Saddles, 1974

Web graphics sample 2Clearly the bandito who uttered that immortal line from Blazing Saddles didn’t have a blog. If he did, he’d be thrilled to have access to these free graphics, which include some pretty cool official-looking badges and seals.

I’m a real advocate of lightening up when it comes to blogging, which is neither rocket science nor the cure for cancer (unless, of course, you actually blog about rocket science or cancer cures). But even if your subject matter is serious, it’s often still appropriate to have a little fun with your content.

The following free Web graphics applications can help you interject a little of that fun into your blog. They allow you to choose your own text and colors to create badges and seals that can be used as icons, to illustrate a blog post or even as part of your blog design.

The Official Badge Generator offers three badge styles: fire, police and sheriff. You can use any colors you can think of, because they have an intuitive HTML hex-code color selector for each component of the badge.

Web graphics sample 1

Web graphics color pickerIf the term “HTML hex-code color selector” intimidates you, don’t worry. As you can see from the image to the right, their color selector only requires that you drag icons to the color you want. For me, playing with the colors was part of the fun; there’s just something humorous about a purple and teal sheriff’s badge.

I played with this tool for hours because it’s like a coloring book for grown-ups. Except when I was done playing, I had a collection of cool usable Web graphics.

The Official Seal Generator is equally fun. I played around with this for my movie trivia blog and ended up with an icon I now use on the home page. Here are some of the designs I came up with:

Web graphics sample 3

The Official Seal Generator uses the same interface and tools as the Official Badge Generator, so once you’ve used one, you’ll know how to use the other. They’re oh-so-easy to use, so as a newly appointed member of the Web Police (and I have the badge to prove it), I command you to go and have fun with these free Web graphics tools!

Update (5-21-08): New designs have been added, so there are now five badge and seven seal designs.

You might also be interested in these other resources:

Image Chef: Free Image and Video Generator

February 11th, 2008 carlajc Posted in Avatars, Blogging, Clip Art, Free Clip Art, Free Online Tools, Free Photos, Just For Fun, Make Your Own Clip Art, Photography, Tips and Tools 5 Comments »

Image Chef largeAnyone who reads this blog knows I’m a collector of free clip art and free photos. That’s why I fell in love with the Image Chef online free images generator. It gives you the opportunity to turn Image Chef’s large selection of photos into your own personalized clip art, and even create animated video clips with the text of your choice.

Image Chef’s slogan is “just add words and serve” and they aren’t kidding. If you can point a mouse and type a word or two, you can create amazing custom-looking graphics, perfect for blog posts or avatars.

Image Chef sample 2The easy-to-use Image Chef interface >>

You can use Image Chef even if you don’t sign up for a free account, but you’ll have to save your images to your hard drive before you leave the site. (They only store images for account members.) But it’s worth signing up for, because members receive other free benefits. For example, you can e-mail your images or easily post them to MySpace, Hi5, Blogger, TypePad widgets and your Friendster profile. You can also use Image Chef photos on mobile phones for image-based chat, personalized wallpapers, video greetings and video ringtones.

Visit Image Chef

My Image Chef gallery
Here are some samples I created for WordPlay:

Image Chef sample 6

Image Chef sample 5

Image Chef sample 4

Image Chef sample 3

Image Chef sample 1


Image Chef sample 8



Image Chef sample 9


And here’s an image I created for my cat Joseph who has recently started peeing all over the house:


Cat image
Visit Image Chef


Thanks to FronTools for bringing Image Chef to my attention.

You might also be interested in these other resources on WordPlay:



Two New Free Cartoons Added

December 16th, 2007 carlajc Posted in Cartoons, Clip Art, Free Clip Art, Free Graphics, Free Images, Just For Fun, Tips and Tools Comments Off on Two New Free Cartoons Added

I’ve found two more cartoonists (actually, one found me) who offer free cartoons for your blog. So, welcome Dan Gibson and Johnny Ancich, whose work is shown below. These free cartoons have also been added to the collection on the WordPlay free cartoons page.


Past Expiry free cartoon

Past Expiry Cartoons
by Johnny Ancich
Johnny posts at least two new cartoons each week. You can download individual cartoons from his site by clicking the link above, or you can get them in a widget by clicking here.


Gibbleguts cartoon

by Dan Gibson

Dan Gibson creates a new cartoon every weekday. Click the link above to get a widget that will display the cartoons on your blog.

Free Cartoons for Your Blog

November 26th, 2007 carlajc Posted in Cartoons, Clip Art, Entertainment, Free Clip Art, Free Graphics, Free Images, Free Online Tools, Just For Fun, Tips and Tools 1 Comment »

Sometimes you have to forget all about vocabulary words, grammar and the like, and just laugh. The following cartoonists want to help you do just that. These artists have generously offered these free cartoons for your blog or Web site:

I N D I V I D U A L   C A R T O O N S

BZ Toons cartoon sample

BZ Toons
by Brian Zaikowski
Brian Zaikowski makes his colorful free cartoons available for use in blogs, Web sites and newsletters. You’ll find a link at the Web site that will allow you to download all the cartoons in one 8 MB file.


We Blog cartoon sample

We Blog Cartoons
by Dave Walker
Dave Walker offers these cartoons free for any blog, including those that make money. If you want to use his cartoons for a company Web site, however, you must contact him through his blog for a quote. Click here for the exact conditions of use.


(requires code)

Andertoons cartoon sample

by Mark Anderson
Mark Anderson offers his free daily cartoons for use on any blog, as long as it doesn’t have adult content. You may change the font colors to match your blog, but he asks that you don’t make any other alterations to the code.




Looking for other free content? You might also be interested in these other resources on WordPlay:

Copyright 2007

DVD Holiday Movies

November 14th, 2007 carlajc Posted in Entertainment, Just For Fun, Movie Review 2 Comments »

Maybe I have obsessive-compulsive disorder, but I watch the same holiday movies, year after year. I used to have to comb through my TV Guide every week from the end of October until Christmas, hoping not to miss any of them. But now that we live in the DVD age, I’ve been set free from that bondage.

Here’s my must-watch list, month-by-month:


To Kill a Mockingbird Collector’s Edition

To Kill a MockingbirdI know most people wouldn’t consider this a holiday movie. But those who’ve watched it would probably agree that the final moments invoke the spirit of Halloween. I won’t ruin the ending for those who haven’t seen it; I’ll just say that it’s scary in the way that only old-fashioned story-telling can be. There are no special effects; it isn’t even in color. The characters have been so well-developed by the end, however, you feel like you’re right in that black-and-white world of Atticus Finch (played with distinction by Gregory Peck) and his children, Scout and Jem. I always make sure to watch this right around Halloween, but you don’t have to wait until next year. No matter when you watch it, this is about as close to perfect as a movie can be.

DVD extras (on two discs):

  • Interactive menus
  • Scene access
  • Cast and crew interview
  • Featurette: Fearful Symmetry: The Making of To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Featurette: Movie by Gregory Peck’s daughter Cecilia that chronicles both her father’s speaking engagements and his later years
  • Audio commentary by director Robert Mulligan and producer Alan Pakula
  • Original trailer
  • Subtitles


Home for the Holidays

Home for the HolidaysMy choice for November isn’t quite as highbrow as To Kill a Mockingbird. In fact, it’s probably a 180-degree turn from Scout and Jem’s wholesome world. But that’s okay, because this movie has something Mockingbird doesn’t: it’s hilarious. The movie follows Claudia, played by Holly Hunter, as she joins her dysfunctional family for Thanksgiving. When she meets up with her brother, played by Robert Downey Jr., at the home of her crazy parents, and her uptight sister and brother-in-law, the action gets progressively weirder. But it isn’t all craziness; there’s a love story, too, as Claudia connects with her brother’s friend who has come along for the ride. By the time the movie ends, you’ll probably have had at least a few really good laughs, along with the satisfaction of watching someone who doesn’t know which end is up find love.

DVD extras:

  • Scene access
  • Trailer
  • Interactive menus
  • Audio commentary by director Jodie Foster
  • Subtitles


White Christmas

White ChristmasI’ve literally watched this movie almost every Christmas season since I was a little girl. As corny as it is, it never wears thin. There was something magical about the combination of Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby. And when you add Vera Ellen’s dancing, Rosemary Clooney’s singing and Edith Head’s costumes; you have an infinitely watchable movie. Schmaltzy? Absolutely. But that’s one of the things I love about it. If you watch the movie, make sure to catch the DVD extras so you can hear Rosemary Clooney share some of the experiences she had while making the film.

DVD extras:

  • Interactive menus
  • Scene access
  • Cast and crew interviews
  • Retrospective interview with Rosemary Clooney
  • Audio commentary with Rosemary Clooney
  • Two original theatrical trailers
  • Production stills
  • Subtitles

Copyright 2007