Need something a little out of the ordinary for that special someone in your life? Meet the Dunmurry man with a card up his sleeve
A brush with death during serious illness inspired David Ross to make his hobby into a thriving business, learns Una Brankin
Every year on his wife's birthday, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, and Christmas, David Ross presents her with a unique card, designed and handmade by himself.
The good-humoured Dunmurry man started making greeting cards for Careen and their three children more than 40 years ago.
A former health, safety and environmental officer for a leading soft drinks company, he loved to create themed illustrations to suit the different personalities of his family.
But it took a life-threatening illness and a long period of recovery for David (71) to take up card making as a full-time hobby and, more recently, as a small business.
In 2011, he contracted a serious strain of swine flu and was rushed, semi-conscious, to Lagan Valley hospital in Lisburn.
"I don't remember much about it, just doctors with masks standing over me now and again," he recalls.
"My organs were starting to shut down. My son Scott (38) came over from England, so I must have been bad.
"I pulled through, though I could hardly walk and was confined to the house for a long time."
During his recovery time, David's weight went up to 18 stone.
"The doctor sent me to Slimming World and I lost three stone - I'm 5ft 10in and down to 15 stone now," he says.
"It's a lifestyle thing, not a diet. Once I reached my target weight, I asked to become part of the social team.
"I enjoy it. It's a good laugh. I was the only fella when I first went, but there are a few more now."
Originally from Grantham in Lincolnshire, David spent six months recovering from his illness and took early retirement, as he was nearing 65.
With free time on his hands, he enrolled in a crafts class in Belfast and began creating a wider range of quirky cards. "I was always into art in a small way, but I didn't have the time for it," David explains.
"I went to the class after I retired and got the bug. It gave me an interest, so I went into more depth with it.
"I've taken over the front room of the house for this - it's my man cave.
"Fortunately, my wife's a fan. She's always asking me to make a card for so and so and her work pals at the local shop, Hall's Mace, where she works part-time."
Along with a selection of traditional greeting cards for birthdays, anniversaries and so on, David makes bespoke, personalised cards and others telling the recipient to 'RELAX', among other sentiments.
He also obviously knows how to flatter a woman of a certain age. One of his stand-out designs features an elegant Helen Mirren-type in a sparkling dress, and the message, 'You Don't Look A Day Over GORGEOUS'.
For some of his more wacky imagery, he uses mounted stamp illustrations by American artist Tim Holtz, favouring his cartoonish Crazy Birds collection.
One of these surreal birthday cards is festooned with a goggle-eyed Crazy Bird with a top hat and an elongated beak, carrying the message 'What you believe in comes true/Believe in something absurd'.
"The idea is, basically, you don't really have to live in the real world all the time," says David. "You can step outside the box, but still be grounded. That's what I like to do.
"There's one with a guy in an evening suit, for example. I thought, 'Why does it have to be black?' So I made it pale blue and added a VIP ticket to go with the message, 'Have A Star Studded Birthday'. People buy cards such as that because they like something different."
As demand for his creations grew by word of mouth, David set up Craftysod Cards and made a selection for retail in his local Mace in Seymour Hill and Something Different in Dunmurry.
Finely detailed and highly original, Craftysod Cards sell for £2, of which David receives £1.50.
There's a golden-age Hollywood theme in some of his designs, featuring glamorous women and dapper men.
Some of his more intricate cards are also inspired by steampunk, a sub-genre of science-fiction that incorporates 19th century steam-powered machinery design.
The currently trendy theme was used to spectacular effect in Hollywood blockbuster Sherlock, starring Jude Law and Robert Downey Jr.
"It harks back to the old Victorian era, when they built massive machines and steam engines, all cogs and wheels," says David.
"That era is very popular with the youngsters - they get dressed up in that type of gear and leathers. It's about adapting things to be out of the ordinary.
"I don't draw as such, but I add a bit of sketching to some of them and I love colouring in with ink.
"For most of them, I use sling-rubber stamps from craft magazines and dip them in ink. You can buy them in sets, too. Once I discovered those, I was flying."
After David got down to his target weight at Slimming World, he was asked to join the local board and now helps with the weigh-ins at the Beechlawn Hotel meetings in Dunmurry.
His role has led to multiple orders from members, including prayer cards, and he recently received a bulk order from the Women's Institute for a wide variety of greetings.
Meanwhile, walking and cycling have helped David keep his weight stable, an important consideration for him, given his sedentary hobby.
"I usually spend about two hours a day pottering around thinking of what I'll do next," he says.
"I do enjoy it. You don't notice the time going. I made 100 cards at Christmas and there's only 15 left. Careen was bringing me in cups of tea. I was in there six hours.
"Christmas cards sell well, and I get the odd request for Halloween, too. But it's not about the money. I could charge more, but why should I? I'm getting paid for something I really enjoy. I'm happy with the £1.50."
At present, this dedicated craftsman is planning on renewing a Facebook page he abandoned, despite plenty of hits and admirers asking why it had vanished.
He's in demand this week for Mother's Day and is currently making a selection of Easter cards. Then, in three years' time, he will have a very important personal commission on his hands, when he and Careen, a popular and long-standing member of the Mace on Rowan Drive, celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.
This will be an opportunity for David to pull out all the stops for the celebration.
As well as Scott, the couple have two daughters, Diane (34) and Davina (39), a former sign writer, and three grandchildren, who are also on granddad's special greetings list.
He says: "The first card I made Careen was for her birthday. It was floral with lace and a ribbon. The kids were still at school at the time.
"All the family get cards. I make them according to their traits. I still make Careen a card every birthday, Mother's Day, Christmas and Valentine's Day.
I up-cycled the living room furniture and painted it for her, but I don't think she'd agree that I'm any good at interior design. I think I'll stick to the Craftysods."
- Craftysod Cards, including personalised cards made to order, can be ordered from David at 077 3505 0777 or bought from Hall's Mace, Seymour Hill and Something Different in Dunmurry