Five years ago, Nikkel, along with wife Elaine, started selecting a Tabor Christmas card from the cards by students in the graphic design program.
“I started noticing the quality of the work of our graphic design people, and I said to myself that we were missing an opportunity to showcase the quality of this work to our broader constituency,” Nikkel said.
Since then, Nikkel has visited the class each year the course is offered in order to engage students in a real-life design project.
“Bruce invites me to make a presentation to the class,” Nikkel said. “This is interesting because it’s always in September, and he has the room decorated for Christmas. He has cookies and punch and Christmas music playing.”
Then, amid the holiday atmosphere, Nikkel makes a presentation about what he would like to see in the Christmas card.
“Generally, (the presentation) is pretty generic,” he said. “I always like to use the idea of something that is simple but elegant. And it’s got to have our name in it, it’s got to have a Bible verse, it’s got to have a Christmas greeting.”
After delivering basic instructions, the students ask Nikkel additional questions about what he would like to see.
“It’s really as though I’m the client and they’re designing something for their client,” Nikkel said. “It’s exactly what they should be doing.”
Selecting the card
After the students meet with Nikkel during September, they are turned loose to design their own idea of what best incorporates the standards Nikkel set forth.
Once the students complete their design process, the reigns are again turned over to Nikkel so he and Elaine can select the card that will represent Tabor during the Christmas season. The cards’ designers remain anonymous.
This year, Gaskell’s card was selected from among 12 entries.
“What we liked (about Jenny’s card) was the idea that you had this image of the manger on the front of the card when the card is closed,” Nikkel said. “When you open it, you see this die-cut of a kneeling figure—which is nice in terms of a person doing homage to Christ, to God. On the back you get that same kneeling figure with a partial cross.
“It was just a nice theme and a nice way to present the theme.”
A theme of peace
Gaskell said the first thing she did for the project was select an appropriate verse for the message she wanted to convey—a message of peace.
“In my life at that point, I was just really stressed and feeling a lot of need for God’s peace in my life,” Gaskell said. “I just felt really lost.
“So I wanted a card that spoke peace to people. And peace was a word that was just kind of floating around in my head.”
After deciding on her initial message, Gaskell searched the Bible for specific messages of peace. She said she found five to 10 verses.
After narrowing her initial search to two verses, Gaskell began designing a card around them.
“I always had the one-fold card (in mind),” she said. “I always had the concept of the star on the back, and then fading on to the front as well because I wanted to go in more of a direction of taking Jesus and his birth—of what happened— and bring that up to the present—what that means for us right now. ”
Designing the card
Gaskell said she worked on the design for a month and a half—some 36 hours outside of class.
“I probably started over twice or three times,” she said.
She said students in the class weren’t allowed to see each other’s work for at least two weeks at the beginning of the project.
“Until we all had our own separate designs going in their directions, we weren’t able to see everyone else’s to keep it spread out like that,” she said.
Gaskell said she “did a lot of praying” about the project and spent hours using trial-and-error to create her design.
“Trial and error is the best way to describe it just because I would try a verse, kind of design around that, then we would go to critique and get some feedback. All these little things started affecting it and kind of built it in to what it is.”
The hardest part
For Gaskell, the hardest part of the process was choosing which Scripture to use.
“Picking the verse was where a lot of the frustration came from—trying to match this feeling that I wanted to convey through the card,” she said.
She settled on two different verses. On the front she used Isaiah 9:6, and on the inside Philippians 2:10-11.
“(Using two verses) ended up being a good thing because it’s Isaiah, Old Testament, Jesus is a baby; then it’s Philippians, New Testament, what Jesus means to you. That sort of thing. It worked out good.”
After hours of designing and fine-tuning her card, the night before Gaskell’s deadline arrived.
“A bunch of us were staying late in the lab just because the card was due the next day,” Gaskell said. “I remember that week was busy for me anyway. I was just stressed. So we’re all in there trying to finish everything last minute.
“I printed out one of my cards and it was taking me forever to get it. I was having alignment issues, it wouldn’t line up.”
Finally, she managed to get a perfectly printed card and went over to hand-cut every detail of her card—a mandated step.
“I was cutting (the die-cut) out and I turned it over and realized I was cutting (the back image),” Gaskell said. “I was like, ‘NO!’ I had to go back through and stay even later.
“At that point, thoughts of winning this stupid (contest) were way out of my mind. I was like, no way, my card is not that good. It’s all messy and everybody else’s is way cooler.”
Because so many people were waiting in line to print, Gaskell said she was “sitting there poking around on the Internet” and decided to make a last-minute adjustment.
She decided to change the font.
“That is a huge deal because this is the font the card needs,” she said. “The fact that I grabbed it the night before out of frustration is fun for me.”
Gaskell said she was surprised when her card was selected the winner.
“Then I just got crazy excited and started telling everybody,” she said.
Gaskell said winning the contest boosted her self-confidence.
“I was just proud of myself because I never viewed myself as a really good graphic designer,” she said. “I knew I had some natural talent, some natural skills, but there are so many people who are better than me.
“I viewed myself in the lower half of the class. Whether that was actually true or not, I can’t say. But just succeeding and showing that my work is worth something—that was huge to me. What I even got more from (the project) was just confidence in myself.”
“God was just kind of using that to help boost my self-confidence and say, ‘OK, you are worth something. You are precious.”