Deciding on sentiments can be the easiest or hardest part of card design. There is no middle ground for me. Most often it helps if I plan to create a type of card before I delve into making. Theme selection is frequently dictated by low stock in the shop or by requests for a certain variety of cards.
Once my theme is established I will pull all the sentiments for it. This in itself can be a project since I store my stamps and dies by brand. I find it difficult to store by theme, as most stamp sets have multiple themes, but I digress. In this phase, I will also select patterned papers and embellishments.
There are other times I build elements from components in my stash. I design parts for later card designs. The elements at the right are an example of that.
I assembled each one with bits laying on my desk or from my stash box. Using die cuts, tags, and journal cards. As I was creating them I added small sentiments that felt like they fit the element.
This practice often gets the juices flowing, helping me work through a creative block or to jump-start me out of a creative rut. It takes the pressure off. In a way, this process is a warm-up to my card creation, and the magic just kind of starts to happen naturally once I'm started.
The card on the left shows how the finished elements are turned into cards. By adding it to a textured panel and mat before adding it to the card base, the completed card makes for a fun birthday.
Most of my designs fall out of my brain with ease, some of them are created using inspiration photos, and others have been a real struggle.
The ones I struggle with are the ones that look a certain way in my head, but just don't turn out the same in real life. I often remind myself that my cards are all handmade, not Hallmark and someone will love them even if I don't.
There is no clear formula for sentiment selection. It may sound a bit hokey, but I just kind of let the card I'm creating talk to me and tell me which sentiment it wants.