Get To Know Our Speaker: Ashton from Something Swanky Desserts & Designs

Hi there! I'm Ashton from Something Swanky Desserts & Designs. And I am over-the-moon excited to be speaking about DIY Blog Design at the Build Your Blog Conference in two weeks!  Can you believe it's coming up so soon?? Wow!

I want to tell you a little bit about me and my blogging "experience"so that you'll have a better understanding of the perspective I'll be taking when speaking to you at the conference, which is: you don't need need a fancy design degree or expensive software to create a blog design that is beautiful, functional, and completely custom!

Here's the deal: I have absolutely no formal training, education, or experience in web and/or graphic design.  None. And, to be completely honest with you, I can't even find my way around Photoshop. It makes
me dizzy. I am completely, 100% self taught.

Still interested?

I've evolved quite a bit as a blogger and as a designer. My site, Something Swanky, was originally meant to be a website for my home-based cupcake catering business. But as I began to network and get to know other bloggers, I became completely engrossed in the blogging community and wanted to be more involved. So I broadened my blog to include all dessert recipes. It wasn't long before I stopped catering all together in order to focus 100% on blogging. As I searched for ways to drive up my traffic, I realized my blog was seriously lacking something really, crucially important: a good design.

I hired a designer. And she did a wonderful job creating a very cute look for my blog. But within a week of making that purchase, I found myself itching to move things around again, and to adjust this element or that. I knew I couldn't afford to hire a designer every time I wanted a change. As my husband and I live on a pretty modest
still-in-school income, I couldn't afford to buy some fancy illustrating program to create my own graphics either (even if I had known what I was doing)!

So I began to dig around Google, just doing simple searches for things like, "how to make a blog button?" and "why won't my header center?" and "what's the best way to organize my blog layout?" It didn't take long before I had a pretty decent grasp on how to use HTML in blogger.  I could put the different blog elements where I wanted them, and could even manipulate some of them to be a little more custom.

My next big challenge was, how do I make this design LOOK GOOD and look like ME?

And that's when rocked my world.

PicMonkey is an online photo editing site. Many of their tools are free, but you can sign up for a monthly membership (they'll have a yearly subscription soon too) to access even more of their awesome stuff. Every design I create is done in PicMonkey, and I big, fat, puffy heart them!

Why? Because I don't feel like a moron on their site. Because I can use their tools without needing to learn some special graphics language. It's super user friendly and very intuitive. And once you know one tiny, little technique-- the blog design world is totally at your fingertips!

So what is this magical technique I speak of? I don't exactly have a name for it, but I've heard it called "white washing." White washing is awesome. It's an easy way to create a blank "canvas" for any design. All you need is one white washed image to keep on your desktop, and using the overlays and text features on <a
PicMonkey you can use it for all sorts of designs-- from headers to social media icons!

Here's how you do it:

Step 1: Go to

Step 2: Upload ANY photo. It doesn't matter which photo, just pick one :)

Step 3: Click on "Overlays"; Geometric; select the rectangle shape, and change the color to white.

Step 4: Stretch the rectangle to cover the entire photo, and click on "merge."

(Note: the location of the "merge" button has moved to the top center of the screen since I took this screen shot)

Step 5: Save this photo to your desktop and name it something you'll recognize, like "blank" or "white." Naming it will also ensure that you don't accidentally replace your original photo with a white rectangle!

Now, any time you want to add a new element to your blog, you can open up this "photo" (be sure to re-size it to the specific dimensions needed for your element) and start designing!

Here are a few of the design tutorials on my blog that use this trick as a starting point: