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....!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Priscilla Patchwork Skirt Tutorial

I'm excited to have another tutorial is also appearing on Riley Blake's blog today, yay! This was fun to put together... hope you enjoy it!

I’m a big fan of long, flowy skirts and I love the look of patchwork, but don't have enough time these days to make entire quilts. This project is a great way to get that look without spending days or weeks cutting, pinning, sewing, basting, quilting and binding.

This skirt is sized to fit my older daughter who wears about a size 7-8. If you use fewer squares or fewer tiers, it can easily be adjusted for a smaller girl, or you could add squares and tiers to make a larger size, even for an adult. I had enough fabric left over to make a second skirt for my younger daughter, who wears a size 5. (Measurements for size 5 appear in parenthesis.)

It makes a rather full, almost-circle skirt that flies out rather well when the wearer spins around. If you'd like it to be not quite as full, just eliminate some of the squares, using the same ratio of squares (see *formula, below, to figure it out!)

To make it longer, you could either add a row at the top, or a row at the bottom. If you add a top row, use about 7 squares for it; if you add a bottom row, use 30 squares. Note: Adding a top row will make a skirt with less bulk at the top which may be more flattering for an adult.

The more variety of fabric coordinates you have, the more boho/gypsy it will look. For my version, I used a selection of fabrics from Lila Tueller's Priscilla collection, mostly in the blue colorway since my daughter's favorite color is blue. To me, the fabric’s design feels a little bit Victorian and the colors are very springy and feminine, which makes the skirt more sophisticated than boho, but different fabrics could completely change the feel of the finished garment.

There’s no pattern, because all that’s needed are 45 7”x7” squares — all you need is your fabric, a good ruler (I recommend a quilting ruler), cutting mat, and rotary cutter.

The skirt is easy to sew… it's just a lot of careful cutting, pinning, and straight seams. The hardest part is gathering each of the three the tiers and lining them up to sew together. Hey, if I can do it (despite the perpetual chaos that comes with three kids aged 6 and under, a puppy, a geriatric cat, two cockatiels, and a fish) anyone can!

Priscilla cottons

Fabrics Used — Lila Tueller Designs’ Priscilla

Supplies needed:
  • 2½ to 3 yards total of coordinating fabrics, about 1/8 quarter of each
  • rotary cutter
  • quilting ruler
  • 3/4" elastic, about 1" longer than the diameter of the wearer’s waist
  • The usual sewing paraphernalia: pins, thread, sewing machine, scissors


1. Measure & cut: Cut 45 (36) 7” squares from your fabrics. (NOTE: Included in that 7" size is a 1/4" seam allowance, so each tier will actually measure 6-1/2" high, making the finished skirt about 19" long. You may want to eliminate the bottom tier if making this for a very young child.)

Stacks of 7 inch squares ready to go

You’ll be sewing three tiers: the top tier is 10 (8) squares, the middle tier is 15 (12), and the bottom tier is 20 (16).

*Or use this formula to figure out how many squares you'll need if you're making it larger or smaller: amount of top tier squares; amount of top tier squares + 1/2 amount of top tier squares = middle tier; amount of top tier squares x 2 = bottom tier.

Lay out your squares on a table or floor in three rows to represent the three tiers, switching around fabrics until you’re happy with the layout. I tried to make sure that none of the same color or same patterned fabric ended up next to, above or below each other, which didn't work out quite as planned, not having taken into account the gathering that makes the lower tiers narrower. It still worked out okay! Of course, having lots of coordinates to choose from will give you more options.

2. Pink edges: (If you have a serger, you can skip this step.) Using pinking shears, trim the vertical edges of all the squares to prevent fraying. This also eliminates the need to zigzag stitch each seam after sewing, which I'd ordinarily do, since my kids, as most kids, are not particularly gentle on their clothes.

3. Pin & sew: Pin 10 (8) squares together for the top tier and sew, using a 1/4" seam allowance. Pin 15 (12) squares together for the middle tier and sew, using a 1/4" seam allowance. Pin 20 (16) squares together for the bottom tier and sew, using a 1/4" seam allowance. Serge the seams if desired (not necessary if you pinked the edges.)

4.  Gather tiers: Adjust sewing machine to longest stitch length, adjust your tension way up, and sew a straight stitch about 1/4" from the top edge of the middle and bottom tiers. Pull one thread to gather fabric until the top width of each tier matches the bottom of the tier it will be sewn to.

Pinning & sewing tiers together
5. Sew tiers together: Pin right sides of tiers together: top tier to middle tier, middle tier to bottom tier, adjusting the gather if necessary so the widths match up. Sew using a straight stitch. Zigzag stitch or serge along the edges you just sewed to prevent fraying — it’s more important to reinforce seams here, since there’s more stress on these seams than on the vertical ones in between the 7” squares. This can take significant fiddling to get them to match up properly... just be patient... it'll look great!

After sewing tiers together, it actually looks like something!

Note: I always put the gathered piece on top and the flat piece on the bottom when sewing; that way I can make sure the machine isn't pulling out the gather as I sew. I get so frustrated when I mess up and have to rip out all the seams and start over, which happens a lot! so I'm all for tips and tricks to prevent that!

That's what happens when you don't zigzag or serge the edges... lots of stray threads!

6. Sew side of skirt: Pin right sides of skirt together and sew, then zigzag or serge the edges to prevent fraying.

Note: It seems to be easier, for me at least, to sew the tiers together when they're flat. Some tutorials have you sew each tier together on the short side, making a tube, then gather and sew all the tiers to each other. I think having them flat makes it easier to measure and pin, so that's what I'm recommending here.

5. Create waistband: Fold over 1/8" of top edge, press. Fold sewn edge down again, creating a 1˝ channel, press and sew again, leaving about 1" open. Feed the elastic through the channel, putting a safety pin on one end of elastic to help it slide through more easily. Overlap ends of elastic, hand sew or machine sew together. Blind stitch the 1" opening closed.

Hemming. 3/4 of the way through, my fancy machine broke a needle and kept giving me an 
error message... so out came my mom's old trusty Singer that can sew through fingers 
(really! it's gear driven)! That's why I didn't zigzag my edges.

6. Hem: Fold over 1/8˝ of bottom edge, press. Fold entire seam over again, press, and sew in place.

Topstiching tiers

7. Topstitch: Sew a straight stitch just above the seam where each of the tiers are sewn together. This is totally optional, but I think it gives the skirt a really nice finishing touch and makes it look more professional.

That’s it… Now your little one has something new to wear to school, or just for spinning around the livingroom! :)

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Education & bucket lists

3x4 cards available in the Silhouette Online Store

Seven days until first grade. I remember when I was six going on seven: we were learning to read with Dick & Jane style books. My eldest, that same age now, can read Magic Tree House books (though she *is* a bit rusty after the summer break... bad mom that I am, I only took her to the library about a dozen times since May.)

The middle child is starting half-day preschool. The youngest is going to hang out with Mommy and spend lots of time in the carseat dropping off and picking up his sisters.

I'll never get used to the ability of days to go by snail slow but the years to zoom by lightning fast. Why is that??? Why can't they stay little, portable, protest-free and daily nap-taking for a few years? There's so much I want to get done, so many places I want to go!

I want to make a quilt. At the rate I'm going, those summer dresses I'm going to someday design and make for the girls may be ready as going-off-to-college presents.

I'd like to paint and decorate the house. We've been here almost seven years; I think it's time.

The pets need attention. The garden needs watering and weeding. I need to finish putting in that block border in the front yard and plant some shrubs.

I'd like to get out my fine art stuff and paint again. I'd like to make use of the oil pastel and dry pastel sets I have squirreled away in various subterranean nooks and crannies.

I'd like to read that stack of magazines on the basement stairs and kitchen island because I'm just sick of stepping over them / shoving them to one side or another / throwing them into the front closet when people come over.

There are a bunch of little interesting spots in our area I'd love to check out: zoos, butterfly houses, free splash parks, playgrounds-a-plenty. Someone braver than I might do it with Three Little Musketeers, but since our eldest Musketeer has just within the past few months acquired the ability to do what she's told when she's told to do it without (much) protest (like "it's time to leave, let's go"... you can't imagine what a scene she used to make! like, all the other people within a half mile would turn and stare at the haggard mom with the screaming like a banshee kid), and the youngest still needs a daily afternoon nap, and I'm overwhelmed and need daily morning coffee to keep up with full time mom / client work / my own illustration work / late night showers, those places remain unseen by us as of yet.

That reminds me, I need to find a babysitter.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013


(what peace & quiet results in)

My parents, who live a couple states away, had their 44th wedding anniversary last Friday. They were pretty shocked when I walked into their house just before lunch!

It's been almost four years since I went "back home" (using the term loosely, since as of this summer, I've lived out here as long as I've lived anywhere else). Lots of changes: my parents moved, my brother and his wife bought a house and had a baby, everyone bought new cars and acquired new hobbies (growing hops, building sheds). It was time for a trip.

(I actually had photos printed!)

I left the kids, husband, and pets home alone. To the outside observer (me) when I returned home, they survived quite well.

I had almost three full days of peace and quiet. I drew in my sketchbook and got out my old watercolor kit. I slept late. I showered every day. I didn't have to cook, get drinks for anyone, walk anyone, clean up after anyone, scoop any litter boxes, feed any pets, break up any fights, mediate any disagreements, soothe cranky toddlers, entertain bored preschoolers, pay attention to demanding almost-first graders. It was lovely.

More than that, I got to meet my niece (a combination of her parents' personalities, the outgoing nature of my eldest and ability to stay out of trouble of my middle child), got to see everyone's new house (so much familiar stuff in new settings), and completely surprised my parents -- my dad, brushing his teeth and mom, folding laundry; neither who had any inking I was in town -- that was the best!

Monday, July 22, 2013

All done but only 85% happy

I guess it's no surprise that I'm not totally thrilled with the end result. I never am, at least immediately after finishing the project. Weeks or months later I'll look back and realize its not half bad, or even that it's pretty good. This morning it looks like a big pile of blargh.

My eyes are blurry after my weekend of marathon point tweaking! I finished up late last night, like almost 2AM, and thought I messed up while uploading. My clicky finger *may* have gotten a bit impatient. So I sent an email to them; turns out they got SOMEthing. Hopefully it's the whole jpg. I really need to chill out sometimes.

Working on this brought back memories -- of that half-sphere climbing thing at the park by the Buffalo Zoo (need to dig out the photo of 4 year old me and friend on one with my giant sideburned dad standing alongside), the rocket slide (we had one outside our kindergarten classroom), those merry go round things that made me sick to my stomach, that pedal car that scrawny me never could quite pedal.

We had a tire swing tied to the cherry tree in front of our house and an old metal swingset in the back that had regular swings and a sky scooter. Swinging was one of my favorite thing to do as a kid. I have flashes of memories: standing on and falling off the sky scooter and ending up with a mouthful of sand, watching the combine work the field next to the house and feeling so proud to be five and able to swing as high as I could, the wren that would nest in the open end of the swingset every spring, poison ivy growing over the old stone wall that we were forbidden to climb on for just that reason... Good memories.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Panicking & Illustrating

That's what I always do. I think of all these great ideas, then wait until almost the last minute to start, then get almost immediately discouraged and panicky because the vision I had in my head is *not* what's happening in my sketchbook / on my computer.

Somehow in the end it always works out. Why is it that in the meantime it must always be such torture???

I'm a little more stressed out than normal because this is an ultra-important illustration. It's for Lilla Rogers Global Talent Search, and the winner gets all sorts of really fantastic stuff like a 2-year contract with Lilla Rogers (whose artists and clients I have admired hugely for years... heck, even her website is fun to look at!) and a bundle of amazing licensing deals.

The competition is going to be stiff. I think all the "real" illustrators (those with years of experience and a long list of clients) are participating, too, so I'm feeling a little bit inadequate. I have no idea how many. I don't think I stand a chance. But then why did I enter, you ask??

Because with three little kids, a geriatric cat, three cockatiels, a puppy, and no babysitter, I need something like this to motivate me to make something amazing. I know I can do it -- and I love drawing wacky little vintage-inspired characters -- I just need the proverbial kick in the rear to ignore the dirty dishes, laundry, constant interruptions for more entertainment, more ice, more crackers, more drink, the perpetual household to-do list, and focus (ha, focus, what's that??) on my drawing.

Anyway, this is what I wrestled into being last night at about 12:30 AM. It's a decent start. It's only due Monday by 11 AM. Ha.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Sew what?

My 2nd quilt ever

I think I'm a fabric hoarder. My stash is now overflowing out of my sewing cabinet and fills three plastic bins in the basement.

Why don't I just get to work and make some stuff?? I WANT to... but... I like some of the fabrics so much (like Alexander Henry's Folklorico collection) I don't want to cut them up. But mostly, I don't have the time or space right now to set up a big sewing project.

In four years, #3 will be in all-day kindergarten and the puppy should have grown out of her devil phase (she had better be, before she eats our entire house and yard...); and THEN I have big crafty plans.

In the meantime, I have been feverishly working my way through  Jennifer Chiaverini's Elm Creek Quilts books, like how I marathon-watched Mad Men and Downton Abbey on Netflix. And I'm making a list of stuff I want to make and do:

  • A modern quilt 
  • Seat-back organizers for the car
  • Dresses and skirts for me and the girls
  • Curtains for our abnormally tall patio door
  • A faux stained glass panel for above that abnormally tall patio door
  • Paper/fabric hybrid crafts
  • Woodworking something or other
  • Knitting
  • Take lots of naps
  • Get a haircut

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Birdcages, Family Trees and Tragedies

A couple months ago I signed up for Kerry Bradford's History Project. I've always been interested in genealogy, and I especially love anecdotes about characters like my great-great-great grandfather who had flaming red hair and was a soldier in the Prussian army, or the story of how my great-great grandfather lost an eye (it's a bit gruesome), or my great-great grandmother Wilhelmina who loved to sew. I wanted to record those little details about myself for my kids and their kids -- why zucchini gives me the willies, why I kicked a nun, why I love nature.

During my reminiscing, I thought a lot about things I did and experienced that led me to here and now. It's funny how, in the midst of things, nothing makes sense and at times it's utter chaos, yet years later it's crystal clear that one thing definitively led to another which led to this moment right now, and things DID work out just fine after all.

Or, everything happens for a reason. And, things always look better in the morning (as my parents' Dutch friend John Hoomans was fond of saying.)

I knew from the time I was three that I wanted to be an artist when I grew up. In college I assumed I'd be a painter, exhibiting in galleries and working odd jobs in the side. However, my first job after college was laying out supermarket flyers for mom and pop grocery stores in Chicago. I hated it. I hated the stress and the cigarette smoke in the art room and especially hated putting so much effort and care into something so disposable, something that made no difference to anyone in the world except the owner of the store and the owner of the printing company I worked for.

I tried some other things... children's book illustration, mural painting, teaching, graphic design, crafts, jewelrymaking.... nothing really ever fit. Then serendipity led me to art licensing. It was perfect. I loved it!

Except there was still that nagging, occasional feeling that I wasn't making a difference. To me, my family, sure, but to the world at large, not so much. I volunteered my design skills here and there, but I'd think about it sometimes... what else or what more can I do?

My college friend Brenna was published in a book, which my husband bought me this year for my birthday (the book is hilarious, by the way.) I read it in a couple days and started following the blogs of some of the authors. Along the way I followed links to other mom blogs and, in addition to tales of normal mom life, holy cow... I read agonizing stories about kids just like mine that one day are bringing home backpacks full of schoolwork and odd little bits of paper and rocks, and the next day they spike a fever that turns out to be something much more, or they're in the ICU in acute organ failure, or they slip through the fence surrounding a pool... it's one of my worst fears as a mom of three, and reading these stories is truly 

In particular, one mother, Kate Leong's blog really stuck in my mind. Their little boy Gavin looks so much like my two year old. Gavin's story is amazing, he overcame RSV, botulism, and supposedly permanent hearing loss. He was doing SO well. One day last week he developed a slight fever, and went into cardiac arrest, and way too quickly he was gone, just like that. I followed along on his mom's blog. It was heart-wrenching. In the midst of it all, his parents made the decision to donate Gavin's organs... SUPERhero Gavin, off to save lives, read the sign on his bed. 

At the same time last week, a friend of a friend's little boy's liver suddenly quit working. He was fine, then one day he was jaundiced, then he was in the hospital awaiting a liver transplant. He just had the transplant and I hear he is doing spectacularly well.

What amazes me in all of these stories, and in daily life with my own kids, is how resilient and fearless they are. Reading about these kids going through chemo or surgery reinforces that for me. They deal with much more than most adults could. Like superheroes. Gavin's mom Kate wrote many times about how her son is a superhero. That struck a chord and sparked an idea.

So here's my plan. I designed a bunch of coordinating superhero-themed shapes, in honor and memory of these superhero kids and their families. The shapes are going to be available in the Silhouette store this week. I'm going to donate my royalties (my portion of sales) from the shapes to four charities, one per week, for a month. I haven't decided which charities, but I'll figure that out in the next couple days. The charities will directly benefit children, though, I do know that.

I hope this little thing that I *can* do will help someone, just a little bit.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

3D watering can instructions

Here is a downloadable JPG with instructions for my 3D watering can, available this week in the Silhouette store.

I've been experimenting with cylindrical shapes lately, and they are quite a bit more challenging than straight-edged ones. I cut and assembled over three of these before I got it right. Usually I can envision 3D shapes in my head and they generally turn out like I thought they would... not so much these curved ones!

Please let me know if anything isn't clear. I need to step away from Illustrator now. :)

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The sketchbook, c. 2009

I used to do some freelance work for a Chicago creative agency, and for Christmas '08 they sent me a sketchbook. It was right after our second child was born, and after over three years of pregnancies, newborns and babies taking over my world, I resolved to get back to my roots -- fine art -- and fill up the sketchbook the following year.

Of course, stuff happened (baby #3, we tried to sell our house, husband got a new job, I got a new licensing deal), and the sketchbook remained 95% empty until recently.

When I got really obsessed with fabric designs, I started finding inspiration for prints all over the place. I needed a place to record them, and found that neglected sketchbook.

Sadly, it's not the only one. I have a big box of half- and quarter-filled sketchbooks, and even a stack of blank ones I bought for (why, again??) some long forgotten reason. Maybe it was before marriage and kids, when I had a regular paycheck and aspirations of wandering all over and recording it all in travel sketchbooks.

Some of my favorites: Canson and Arches make nice wide-format watercolor sketchbooks that are perfect for landscapes. (I have a couple of those... still blank... but I've used their paper in sketchbook form with mixed media (Canson), and for many-layered watercolors (Arches) and have been impressed with the quality.) Moleskine also has a watercolor one that's great for recording a really wide-angle view, since it's a flat bound book, not wire-bound. (I have one -- but it has only three quickie watercolors from 2010 in it.)

The good news is, that sketchbook from '08 is just seven pages from being full. Mostly on both sides of each page, too!

The bad news is, the sketches are really just that: quick, ugly, chicken-scratch-y. Mostly done with a half dried out Pigma Micron pen. A few magazine scraps glued on here and there. Nothing I'll ever win an award for. But all together, I like them. They're full of ideas, but not too precious, and there are a ton of them.

Now I have plans for the rest of those sketchbooks in that box in the basement.


For anyone who loves pen, pencil, watercolor, a spiral bound blank book, and a couple hours of free time, here are a few of my favorite artists and sketchbooks for inspiration.