Wednesday, March 12, 2014

So what? Sew postcards!

I think I may have found a new appreciation for sewing. Thanks to my playtime yesterday (working on my contribution to the Great Big Stitched Postcard Swap), I have some big ideas percolating about combining all the different stuff I do: digital vector illustration, watercolor, paper crafting, sewing, acrylic on canvas paintings.

I almost didn't sign up for the postcard swap. I definitely don't need more stuff to do, especially projects with deadlines. Some days I consider it a really big accomplishment if I take a shower. And my youngest is almost a preschooler… so it's not like I have the new-mom excuse anymore.

When I was about nine years old, my mom, who has loved to sew since she was about that same age, decided I was old enough to learn. So she taught me, but I never really liked it. All the measuring and cutting and seam ripping -- a process I didn't particularly enjoy, all to make projects I liked, but didn't LOVE.

So my sewing machine sits inside a sewing cabinet in the other side of my house -- away from the dog (she's young and still chews table legs occasionally), away from the kids and my computer and art nook (A.K.A. a corner of the family room.) I rarely sew, mostly because of the cabinet's location, but also, out of sight, out of mind. Yesterday I decided to move the machine to the little table next to my computer desk.

I went into making the postcard with no ideas about color, no preliminary sketches, nothing but a little box of scraps, ribbon and sequins that didn't even go together. I just cut and added stuff, used a bunch of fancy stitches that I've never used before, and it was fun! I wasn't following a pattern or plan, just winging it; creating and making decisions about what to add or do next the whole time I was sewing. I think that had a lot to do with it.

So now I'm wondering, what if I made mini quilts like this? Scanned them in? Added them to my vector illustrations and scanned in pen sketches and watercolor blotches? I'm excited to try.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

2014, the Year of Good Stuff

I've always wondered about the philosophy of "everything happens for a reason." If I look back at situations that got me to where I am today, personally and professionally, I can definitely connect the dots. Everything influenced what came after it.

So, A (no money for college) led to B (a "cheap" state school fully funded by student loans) led to C (my freshman roommate who moved to Chicago) led to D (me moving to Chicago) led to E (meeting my husband and having three awfully boisterous but wonderful little ones), led to F (a Christmas present led to my art licensing career), and here I am.

But, does everything REALLY happen for a reason, or do we figure out a reason for everything that happened, after the fact? Do we have any control over it?

The point of all this is, I think sometimes it's good to be proactive to make sure that they're GOOD things happening. (Though I do believe that something good can be found in just about everything. Case in point, the cat "accidents" (ugh) over the past week resulted in a sparkly clean laundry room.) With that in mind, here are the good things I'm planning for 2014:

  • Paint (take Flora Bowley's Bloom True e-course)
  • Develop a truly awesome portfolio (MATS Part B & Bootcamp should help)
  • Get a couple new licensing partners in the Home, Gift and Wall Art categories
  • Figure out the details for an art/craft book I want to write
  • Update my website, including only the stuff I really love to do (and deleting the stuff I don't)
  • Be more calm more often
  • Draw every day

Monday, December 2, 2013

Make Art That Sells, doing what you love, and finding joy along the way

I recently completed Part A of Lilla Rogers' insanely rigorous yet wonderful online class, Make Art That Sells, which concentrated on bolt fabric, home decor, children's books, wall art, and gifts.  It's a jam-packed five weeks full of tips, tricks, advice, and info on five different art markets, lots of drawing, lots of self-doubt and ultimately lots of growth.

Some of us MATS students decided to do a little blog tour all about the class, and today along with Victoria Johnson and Emily Dyer, it's my turn!

I was seriously impressed with the talent of my classmates. Here are just two examples:

Victoria Johnson
Art created during MATS by Victoria Johnson

Victoria is so good at effortlessly combining hand-drawn and digital, and making them work together beautifully to create cohesive and awesomely cool things that would appeal to a wide range of ages, myself included. (I'd love to have those plates in my kitchen!)

Children's book illustration by Emily Dyer

And I was really impressed with Emily's cut paper designs -- she does them by hand, and it was such a treat to see her in-progress photos! The cut paper illustrations are incredibly intricate and beautiful all on their own, and make a bold and unique style when combined with digital, like in the illustration above, that reminds me a little of linocut, which I love.

Investing in myself

I went into MATS after a bunch of years in graphic design/illustration, with two licenses for my work, but no idea what to do next -- no clue what steps to take to get to that place I didn't even know I wanted to go to.

I decided, I'm at the point in my life where I know I reeeeally love art licensing, a lot, and I want to do more of it. And MATS seemed a good investment in myself so I can reach that goal.

There was a lot of talking myself out of it before I actually went ahead and signed up for the course (barely a week before it started, naturally.) I wondered, since I've been marginally successful so far -- or maybe just really lucky, would I get a lot out of this course? I've never spent nearly as much for an online course… is the cost worth it? Is it really as awesome and life-changing as others have claimed?

Well, if your average art/business of art class is a two-scoop ice cream cone, MATS is like a twenty scoop, five banana mega ├╝ber banana split with ten kinds of sprinkles, peanuts and pecans and a gallon of caramel and chocolate sauces, with a cherry on top, and you must eat the whole thing in about a half hour. Yes, it IS absolutely all that and a bag of chips.

What's it all about?

During five weeks, you get info and advice about five different markets. You get a ton of really useful tips about how to break down an otherwise Big Scary Important project into tiny, manageable and fun steps. You get advice on how to make the most of your time, despite your own personal circumstances (full time job, kids + pets to take care of, whatever else you're juggling.) You get advice about being true to yourself, finding joy in everything you do, and making stuff YOU love, work that will ultimately sell because all that joy will shine through! The whole course, from Lilla herself to all my fellow students, is infused with excitement, positivity and joy. Surprisingly so. I haven't felt this much a part of a like-minded community of artists since college!

My collage/digital hybrid wall art

Crying over plates

During the class, I hoped to get inspired to try mediums again that I haven't used in years (oil and acrylic, collage) and ones I still use but not as much as I'd like (watercolor), and possibly use them in new ways. My work has been feeling kind of stale and I hoped to figure out how to combine traditional mediums with the digital that I do 90% of the time nowadays. During MATS, I thought I'd pick up some insider tips about breaking into markets I haven't tried yet.

I started out excited, optimistic and inspired. After a week of struggling with my bolt fabric design, I was a bit discouraged. After two weeks I actually cried, my plate designs were that bad. After three weeks I thought maybe I should give up new markets and stick to what I know.

I was surprised to realize I have not much of a clue when it came to wall art, home decor, and gifts. In retrospect, I've never designed plates, and my oil painting days were many years ago, and I realized I need to just RELAX already and enjoy the process (that's where Lilla's brilliant idea to do minis --drawing lots and lots of icons before tackling the actual project -- really helped me out!)


What I learned:
  • People buy your joy
  • There's room for all good art
  • Everyone is at a different place in their art journey, and wherever you are now is right where you need to be!
I just love that phrase: "people buy your joy." It's so true. Thinking back to my most successful work, those were also the ones I most enjoyed creating. The ones I'd get so wrapped up in, I'd forget to go to the bathroom and feed the children, and things I had cooking on the stove always burned.

Did I do everything I wanted to during MATS? Well, I got out my acrylics and collage stuff and painted on canvas. I found some new ways of working. I filled up a sketchbook. I drew in Starbucks. I have a million ideas for things I want to create. I now have more knowledge and confidence to make good work. And I'm excited to put all these ideas into practice. So yeah, in case you're wondering, I'd recommend the class… it was definitely worth it!


And now, a list of blog tour participants!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Maybe I should take up drinking?

When I signed up for Making Art That Sells, I thought it would be just what I needed at this point in my art licensing career. I have my Silhouette and Timeless Treasures licenses, and client projects, but my work felt sort of stagnant. I've been wanting to bring in some more hand-drawn imagery especially into my fabric designs, but am not sure quite how to combine it with digital. I was hoping the class would help sort it out.

I thought it would teach me a lot and be a lot of work (it is both)… but I had this notion that it would be tons of fun. Strangely and surprisingly, I'm finding it difficult and frustrating, and in classic melodramatic Jen style, it's having me doubting my talent and ambition and feeling discouraged and mopey.

The first week was bolt fabric… fun and easy, right? Nope. It was like my friend's husband in his bowling tournament: I crashed and burned. Fun sketching… but frustrating coming up with a print I was even sort of happy with.

I was slightly nervous about week two (plates), which I have no experience designing for…. again I had lots of fun sketching, but the final assignment was the same kind of thing as week 1.

Then last week was children's books, which I do have a bit of experience with. I really enjoyed creating the week's assignment -- I was excited to work on it! -- and thought the final result was a bit better than weeks 1 & 2, but it has the same stiff, uncomfortableness as my other two assignments.

This week it's wall art. I'm feeling even more anxious about it.

It's probably that I'm putting too much pressure on myself to come up with something super awesome. If I was still 21, I might try drinking a few beers and working on my assignment.

Once semester in college, I took a figure drawing course with a very colorful professor. She always wore black clothes, patterned knee socks and black Chuck Taylors. I remember us giggling over her artwork when we found out she created sculptures of giant phalluses (we were only 20 or 21, after all!)

One night some friends and I imbibed before starting in on our homework, which was drawing each other in charcoal. The next day we hung up our work in the studio. Judy came in and studied the drawings. She commented on mine, not knowing whose it was. "Such freedom, so loose and wonderful! Whose is this?" "It's mine," I replied, "but not my best work. I had a little to drink before I drew it." She said, "Well, I'd say you need to drink EVERY time you draw!" Everyone laughed.

I've never forgotten that. It was said jokingly, but there was a real lesson within: lighten up, have fun, stop taking everything so seriously! Tap into your humor and quirkiness!

Art has always been fun for me, and if it's not, like these past couple weeks, I need to figure out how to make it fun again. So, with that, here's what I want to accomplish during the rest of MATS:

- HAVE FUN and enjoy the process; play lots.
- Remember this is NOT a competition.
- Remember that everyone's taste is different & everyone is at a different place in their art.
- Play with combining hand-drawn / hand painted stuff with digital.

Okay? No big deal. Calm down. It's all good. Everything will look better in the morning. I can so totally do this. Yay team. Breeeeathe. Go into the studio and make some great stuff!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Bellydancing badly

At least that's what it felt like this week. Last week's Make Art That Sells assignment was deceptively simple -- design a set of  2 to 4 bromeliad-themed plates -- and I thought it would be a piece of cake (slight pun intended.) I love plants and I can draw them pretty well. I predicted I'd have lots of free time this weekend because I was going to be done early.

Ha ha.

Surprisingly, I felt all week like that time I got the bright idea to sign up for a new-mom bellydancing class. Kids as young as infants were welcome, so I brought my 5 month old and 2 year old.

I was uncoordinated and uncomfortable during every class; didn't have a clue what I was doing. Plus, as I was trying to remember where to put that damn scarf so I didn't trip over it or slip on it, I had to keep a close an eye on my wild older child who would dash out the door and run free, screaming down the hall and outside if given the slightest opportunity.

That bromeliad assignment was really, really frustrating. Sadly, I didn't enjoy about half of it.

I started out studying bromeliads and drawing very detailed and realistic studies. They were nice, but I'm trying to loosen up. So then I did some fast sketchy drawings and used some different tools: dip pen & ink, and watercolor, drawing with the brush. I liked the drawings, but what to do with them???

One of my favorite looks is when sketches are combined with more finished illustrations and everything is done in a range of mediums. That's what I tried first: a cluster of multihued plants growing vertically, pen, pencil, watercolor, vector all on one plate. But I hated it. It was NOT working.

Then I tried a simpler, one color layout using just the sketches. That didn't work either.

Then I tried a simple multicolored border just on the edge of the plates. It was delicate and pretty but a little too Grandma. I definitely wasn't going for Grandma. I kinda felt like crying out of frustration.

Then I tried using the same sketches but changed the layout to more of a messy wreath / border type design around the edges of the plates, with the plants going every which way, and with a bird hidden in each design. It was better, but nothing like what I originally wanted. That's what I settled on, though. Maybe it'll grow on me.

The most frustrating thing was I couldn't figure out WHY the layouts weren't working. I still don't know. Maybe it's my inner struggle: traditional, realistic renderings vs. retro mod stylized sketches. Maybe it's my use of color. Maybe I should spend more time on my initial sketches, or on cleaning up the scanned-in drawings. Maybe I just need more practice designing something other than fabric and single diecut designs.

Anyway, plate week is all done. I'd like to revisit it someday because I do like that stuff... I just had no idea how difficult it was to do!

This week is Children's Book Illustration, which I feel much more comfortable with. Character design I can do in my sleep (evidenced by 2,129+ of these wacky little drawings)! I just *know* this week will be better.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


As I wrote in my last post, I decided kind of at the last minute to sign up for Make Art That Sells, Part A. It's now one week into the class and I've finished our first assignment, creating bolt fabric with a vintage Pyrex-style casserole and berry theme.

Going into the class, I didn't expect week one to be particularly earth-shattering for me. I've been designing fabric for a couple years, took two fantastic classes with Michelle Fifis (Sellable Sketch and The Ultimate Guide to Repeats) and have my work licensed (although the majority of it is in the scrapbooking market, and just one print is licensed in the fabric market...), so I thought I had my style and method figured out, although maybe it just needing some fine tuning.

As it turns out, I was totally wrong. I realized I'm bored, bored, bored with my work and need to do something new. It was kind of tough going this week!

I started out the week sketching in my usual style (realistic) and with my usual mediums (Pigma Micron pens, watercolor, colored pencil). Then I drew directly into Illustrator the way I usually do, stylizing the forms so they weren't too stodgy (because in my mind, realistic = stodgy and stylized = retro cool.)

I put together a retro style print as I usually do, and hated it. It was fine, but I had no motivation. Part of the point of this class is to grow, which means trying something new and taking chances.

So I scanned in a bunch of my sketches, tweaked them a little, traced and colorized them in Illustrator. The final print was more exciting than my usual stylized vector stuff, but not quite there yet. It wasn't really vintage kitchen; it was more sketchbooky floral. It wasn't Pyrex/casserole dish enough; I enjoyed drawing berries and leaves so much more than dishes, so it had mostly botanical motifs.

It was hugely frustrating and I felt like I put in hours and hours and got absolutely nowhere -- pages and pages of sketches and no fabulous, professional print collection to show for it.

But the final print was more "me", a little quirky, and had much more of the hand of the artist in it, which I love seeing in others' work. It's a stepping stone in the direction I've wanted to go for a long time, but never knew how to get there or even begin. So I call it a success. Kind of.

Next I think I'll try sketching larger, with less attention to the details, and with a different tool (watercolor paper / brushes) and see where that leads. I'm excited to get started!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Maybe taking myself seriously, for once...

I'm an artist and a mom. I've wanted to be both things as long as I can remember.

I know the mom part of what I'm doing on a daily basis is really important -- raising my children to be good humans, to care about others, be kind to animals and the Earth, to learn and read and grow. But oh boy, they are draining!

I never feel rested, no matter how much sleep I get. I haven't finished a magazine in one sitting since before my six year old was born. It's rare I have a chance to write an entire blog post or email (my husband is entertaining the kids in the other room as I write this.)

My children make me feel old. In good/bad news, I never get carded any more when buying beer, but I finally look my age.

On the art side of things, in recent years I've discovered the world of art licensing and have been lucky to be able to earn a real living from it. I feel amazingly lucky every time I sit down to draw something, knowing that someone will want to buy it.

I'm always thinking, what can I do to do more art? How can I make my work better? How can I better balance the mom/artist thing?

One problem is the ever-present mommy guilt. That nagging voice that tells me anything I do for me, alone, is taking time away from my children and is selfish. I should spend every moment with them, spending time with them, being present for them.

Then I found a babysitter (yay!), and suddenly have six hours a week completely kid-free. It's October... Part A of Make Art That Sells is also held in October...

Hmm, mommy guilt versus the chance to figure out how to make my good art really great, maybe even figure out how to combine drawing and watercolor with digital, and rectify it with my retro-mod vector Illustrator style... What to do??

It was a big decision. It's a time commitment; how big, I didn't know. I do have the babysitter, but will I need/want more time? I do tend to be a nit-picky perfectionist. Can I afford it financially? Will I have enough motivation? Can the kids survive for five weeks eating cereal for dinner, watching TV 24/7, and driving themselves to school? (kidding!)

I've tried lots of stuff over the years, and nothing got me as kid-on-a-Christmas-morning excited quite like art licensing (fabric design, pattern making in general & illustrating digital dies, in my case). I know I never want to go back to the world of corporate design (that is, a "real" job), if I can help it.

I decided, the heck with the pro/con list making, what better time than the present? Jump in, see what happens, what's the worst case scenario? I create some new work that I otherwise wouldn't? I try some new mediums or some old, forgotten ones? The timing is just right, the kids will be fine, it'll all work out in the end. So if not now, then when???

Like having a baby, there's never a perfect time. Just jump in and take it one step at a time! So here we gooooo....!