Tuesday, December 12, 2017

you are enough, part two (and the giveaway winner!!)

Today I'm announcing the winner of my recent giveaway. (Thank you to everyone who helped me celebrate my new fabric collection!!!).

But first I wanted to share some things I've been thinking. I wasn't completely finished with thoughts from the other day.

One of the things that I love about these days that lead up to the end of December is the chance to close one year and begin afresh with another. It's a time to reflect and plan and set goals. It's also a time to celebrate all I've accomplished during the past twelve months. Every year, no matter how challenging or dark, has things to celebrate. It's important to remember that.

houseplants, winter, amaryllis, geraniums, spider plants, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

The flip side is that during all this reflection it's easy for our thoughts to linger on all the ways we've fallen short. Goals not accomplished, plans abandoned or derailed, failures. Even if we did accomplish our goals or carry out our plans, it's tempting to wish that we'd done more. And if we look around at what everyone else is celebrating... sometimes our accomplishments can feel a little flat.

Stop.

Stop with criticism.

Stop with comparison.

Stop being hard on yourself for what you didn't accomplish.

color, watercolor, color swatches, color splotches, color palette, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

There's always more we could do. Even when we reach our loftiest goals there's another dream waiting. And that is good. That keeps us moving forward. But let's stop for a moment and look at what we did accomplish. Let's CELEBRATE what we accomplished.

Next year is there, waiting. Fresh and new and ready for plans and goals or maybe just intentions. For now, you are enough. Right now. As you are.

You are enough.

watercolor, clay pots, terra cotta, sketching, watercolor sketches, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

You are the only one traveling along your path. You're the only one stumbling on those specific rough spots. You're the only one encountering just that fork in the road. You're the only one with that unexpected detour. You are doing the best that you can. And it is enough.

Be gentle with yourself. Encourage yourself. Celebrate yourself.

Ok?

And now, on to choosing the giveaway winner!! (Definitely something to celebrate!).

giveaway, tins, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Thank you for all your kind words about my new fabric collection. Thank you for letting me give autumn one last hurrah. Winter is definitely here now. We have snow on the ground. Maybe you do, too?

It's so fun to listen to what you had to say about your favorite seasons. So much beauty in each one. Autumn got the most votes from you and then spring.

The winner likes spring the best...

giveaway, giveaway winner, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Congratulations to Glenda C! Send me an email with your address and I'll mail off your tea towel!

To each of you, I'm sending joyful thoughts. Savor these last weeks of 2017.


Friday, December 8, 2017

Lara Gastinger -- A Sketchbook Conversation

Today's Sketchbook Conversation is with Lara Gastinger. I discovered Lara on Instagram and was completely enamored with her gorgeous, extremely detailed botanical illustrations. She's a really nice person, too, and after I invited her to share her sketchbooks here, we had a nice chat about art. Her sketchbooks are rich with observations and are true nature journals.

Over the course of this series we have seen so many different ways of keeping a sketchbook and I am so happy to have Lara here today sharing yet another. Here's her story:

I am a botanical artist and illustrator who strives to document the plants around me and tell people about them through my art. As a trained student of plant ecology, I combine both my love of science and art in my sketchbooks. I view myself as someone who is documenting and observing nature through my journal. I specifically strive to capture the changing seasons and my observations of plants around me that embody the seasonal transitions. I keep a sketchbook to learn the plants and their habitats around me, to observe seasonal changes especially in this time of climate change, and for myself to experience peaceful meditation with pen to paper in this ever increasing digital world.


Lara Gastinger, sketchbooks, nature sketchbook, nature journal, sketchbook journal, nature sketchbook journal, Sketchbook Conversations

I have been keeping a nature journal ever since I was a teenager and met Claire Leslie Walker and she introduced me to how to keep a field journal. This particular seasonal perpetual journal that I am showing here has been maintained for over 16 years!

Whenever I am feeling uninspired, all it takes is a walk outside and around the block. To get maximum inspiration, we go camping or hiking in the Shenandoah National Park which is very close by. There is always something new in nature to see, be curious about and to draw!


Lara Gastinger, sketchbooks, nature sketchbook, nature journal, sketchbook journal, nature sketchbook journal, Sketchbook Conversations

I have custom made journals with Fabriano artistico Hot Press paper that is 140 lb. I use micron pens (size 01), Niji water brushes, a portable set of Schmincke paints and sometimes my handy swatches of Peerless watercolor on my back page.

I encourage everyone to obtain a blank journal that is a portable size and proceed to date the pages so that each spread represents a week. All you need is to write or draw an observation each week. This could be as elaborate as a full drawing or just a note. Be sure to include all relevant information (date, weather, who you are with, what do you hear/see) and then next year on that week, you will return to the same page and add something else. It becomes so rich as the years build up upon each other and you will become so knowledgable about the plants around you!

Lara Gastinger, sketchbooks, nature sketchbook, nature journal, sketchbook journal, nature sketchbook journal, Sketchbook Conversations

Thank you, Lara, for sharing your sketchbooks with us today!

Dear reader, you can connect with Lara:

And if you're in the Charlottesville, VA area, you might be interested in taking one of Lara's classes. You can learn more about them here.



Missed the other Sketchbook Conversations posts? It's easy to catch up at the series web page.

And for even more inspiration, check out my Artist Interviews



*Photos in this post ©Lara Call Gastinger. Used with permission.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Autumn's Last Hurrah -- A New Fabric Collection (and a Giveaway!)

Happy December! Last month of the year. Where did the year go?

art print calendar, desk calendar, Watercolor Art Print Calendar, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Are you in a full-on winter (and/or Christmas) mood right now or are you still savoring the last days of autumn?

I'm a summer girl through and through. I love the abundance of the summer garden, the warm air and long days. Being barefoot. Eating from the garden. Cutting flowers to bring inside. In summer, I feel truly alive and energized.

Even so, I try to embrace each season as it arrives. There is beauty in every one. Each time one season merges into another, it feels like the first time, but also beautifully familiar. New things to discover and observe; old memories jogged. And there's something comforting about the cycle and rhythm of growth to rest, like the cycles of our days and of our lives.

Nature directly inspires my art, whether I'm painting the first flowers of the year or a tomato plucked from the garden or an acorn found on a walk or a plant growing on my windowsill. I cannot resist the beauty and magic of the natural world.

When I introduced my first fabric collection, it was a love song to summer. I called it Summer Bliss and it celebrated the joys of my favorite season.

And now, with a couple weeks left in autumn, my second fabric collection is here! This one is called Autumn Joy and like Summer Bliss, it celebrates the beauties of the season.

fabric, fabric design, spoonflower, surface pattern design, watercolor, botanical watercolor, watercolor fabric design, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

There are seven different designs, with the themes interwoven and repeating so the fabrics can be coordinated.

fabric, fabric design, spoonflower, surface pattern design, watercolor, botanical watercolor, watercolor fabric design, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I had fun painting moths for this collection. For some reason moths make me think of autumn. Perhaps it's their nocturnal habits, or maybe it's because one autumn I kept finding fat moth caterpillars and the association stuck in my head.

Of course, I've included more obvious autumnal beauties, too.

fabric, fabric design, spoonflower, surface pattern design, watercolor, botanical watercolor, watercolor fabric design, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

The collection actually consists of 14 prints because I've sized each pattern in two scales.

fabric, fabric design, spoonflower, surface pattern design, watercolor, botanical watercolor, watercolor fabric design, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Having different options will let the fabrics work for different projects, both singly and combined.

fabric, fabric design, spoonflower, surface pattern design, watercolor, botanical watercolor, watercolor fabric design, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

The same print combined in different scales could be really fun.

fabric, fabric design, spoonflower, surface pattern design, watercolor, botanical watercolor, watercolor fabric design, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Although I still haven't put together (or even cut out) my Summer Bliss quilt (it's on my unbelievably long Fun-Projects-to-Do list), I'm already dreaming of an autumn one.

These designs are now available for purchase on Spoonflower in a variety of substrates (learn about them here) as well as on wallpaper and gift wrap.

I really love these patterns and I hope you will, too. To celebrate I'm having a giveaway!


2018 Tea Towel Calendar, Nasturtiums, Watercolor Nasturtiums, Spoonflower, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I'll send the winner my 2018 Tea Towel Calendar.

tea towel calendar, watercolor, nasturtiums, spoonflower, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

To enter simply leave a comment below. Tell me what your favorite season, is or what you love about autumn or maybe a project idea for this new fabric collection.

I'll choose the winner next Tuesday, so get your comment in by December 11th to be entered.

Good luck! And thanks for all of your support and encouragement.


p.s. this is blooming in the window in my studio right now:

nasturtiums, gifts from the universe, magic, joy, nature, flowers, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

A gift from the universe.

Friday, December 1, 2017

An Interview with Abby Glassenberg

This month's Artist Interview is with Abby Glassenberg. Abby is the sewing pattern designer, craft book author and teacher who runs the blog and podcast While She Naps. She's also a cofounder of the Craft Industry Alliance. Recently when the New York Times wrote about changes with Etsy, Abby is one of the people they made sure to consult for the story (you can read the article here). Abby sends out a weekly newsletter and it's one of the few that I always read.

I'm so happy to have her here today.

Abby Glassenberg, Interview, Sewing, soft toys, family

ab: You have an undergraduate degree in history from Johns Hopkins and a master's degree in education from Harvard. You worked as a middle school social studies teacher before becoming a textile artist and mother of three girls. What drew you to sewing and blogging in the first place? Did you grow up sewing and creating? What role does your background as historian and teacher play in your business today?

ag: I’ve always been crafty and enjoyed making things with my hands. Growing up I loved origami and making beads from polymer clay. I took art classes afterschool in junior high and high school and have always found art-making to be relaxing and satisfying.

I learned to sew in 8th grade Home Economic class. Before that time I had no exposure to sewing. We didn’t own a sewing machine and neither my mother nor my grandmother sewed. I was a terrible Home Ec. student and ended up getting a C- on my final project, a pair of Bermuda shorts with the wonkiest seams you’ve ever seen! But, I saw the potential in sewing of making real, useful things and I was hooked. I used some of the money I’d been given for my Bat Mitzvah to buy a Bernette 330, a very basic Bernina machine. I didn’t really know how to use it very well, and didn’t have anyone at home who could help me, so although I sewed off and on for the next two decades I would often get frustrated or confused by a pattern and give up.

Abby Glassenberg, Interview, Sewing, Sewing Machine, Bernette

In 2004 I was teaching middle school Social Studies and left my job in March when I had our first daughter, Roxanne. Shortly thereafter I discovered blogs through an article in the New York times and decided to start one myself in May of 2005. I called it While She Naps because it was really just a way to document crafty things I was doing while my baby napped. Quickly I began focusing on sewing and with the blogging community behind me I finally figured out how to use that Bernette 330 to make my ideas come to life.

Abby Glassenberg, Interview, Sewing, Turtle, Soft Toy

ab: You turned your passion for designing and sewing into a thriving business, but your business is much more than just sewing and designing. Over the years you've meticulously crafted a patchwork of related income streams to make up one unified whole. Did you start out from the beginning with a plan of where you were heading or did your business grow more organically? What is your favorite part of what you do?

ag: The business definitely grew organically. If I’d had a plan I wouldn’t have named it While She Naps which to me sounds like a mommy blog! From the start I enjoyed sewing stuffed animals and that led me to begin sewing birds which were really more like soft sculpture. I had a few shows and then wrote my first book, The Artful Bird, with Interweave in 2011. Right after it came out I pitched my second book, Stuffed Animals: From Concept to Construction, because there really wasn’t a comprehensive guide to soft toy design in the craft book market.

The process of writing those books opened my eyes to two things. First, the profit potential of selling patterns and second the legal and economic issues at play in the crafts industry that I hadn’t understood before. After the second book came out I began selling my own PDF patterns which continues to make up a large portion of my income and I began writing about and exploring the bigger issues at play in contracts, royalty structures, licensing deals, etc.  That work led to my podcast where I interview industry leaders and to Craft Industry Alliance, the trade association for craft business owners that I co-founded in 2015 with Kristin Link of Sew Mama Sew.

Abby Glassenberg, Interview, Sewing, Felt Menagerie Kit
PROJECTS FROM THE FELT MENAGERIE KIT BY ABBY GLASSENBERG, SAMPLES MADE BY PATTERN TESTER KELLY FLETCHER.

ab: One aspect of your business is educating, empowering and advocating for creative entrepreneurs. Your thoughtful take on the craft industry is valued by so many creatives and I know I echo quite a few others when I say that your newsletter is one of only a couple that I read word for word each week. On your website you state that your newsletter open rate is over twice that of the industry standard and your newsletter click rate is almost seven times that of the industry standard. So many people who are your readers (and podcast listeners) aren't your customers. How do you feel about that component of your business and what advice would you give to other creative entrepreneurs who are also cultivating communities of people who are not necessarily customers?

ag: I say go with your gut and keep things simple. You're 100% correct that when I first began writing about the industry and including industry news in my weekly newsletter many of the people in my audience were pattern customers interested in sewing stuffed animals. That meant some of my content wasn’t relevant to them. Over time, though, my list has diversified so that many players in the industry including publishers and executives subscribe. As my newsletter has gained in popularity I’m now able to monetize it directly through classified ads, same with my podcast that I now monetize through sponsorships, and those companies pay for those opportunities. Although I couldn’t have predicted that things would develop in this way it just felt right to continue forward because that’s where my passions lay.

Abby Glassenberg, Interview, Sewing, Quilt

ab: In one of your newsletters you mentioned that you like to respond to every email you get, not because you have to, but because you enjoy it and because you believe that building relationships, one by one, is how you build a good business. Has this ever backfired for you? On the flip side do you have an example of an out-of-the-blue email that you answered that led to a valuable relationship for your business?

ag: That’s true, I do answer every email. I really enjoy reading what people write to me and writing back. I learn so much from my readers! They’re really important to me. I can’t say it’s ever backfired per se. I’ve gotten some crazy emails and some that are highly critical at times, but I have a thick skin and I’m fairly good at setting limits so I don’t think it’s been a problem. So many great things have happened to me through emails I’ve received. Right now, for example, I’m on a plane on the way to Houston for Quilt Market. I’m able to go because a fabric company emailed me out-of-the-blue and asked if I would teach two business-related sessions for them. That gig paid for the trip!

Abby Glassenberg, Interview, Sewing, quilt, fabric

ab: Not only do you wear many hats, but you do a lot. How do you manage to fit everything into your days? What strategies do you have for times when you're feeling overwhelmed or uninspired? What are your favorite ways to relax and de-stress?

ag: I really have two jobs. Beyond my business I’m also the stay-at-home mom to our three daughters who are 6, 11, and 13 years old. Although at times I chafe against the time constraints of having to work around my family’s schedule, it’s actually the best thing for me. I have limited blocks of time to work and so I’m super productive! I will say that this year it’s proved challenging to find time to sew during the week. I do a lot of other kinds of work on weekdays like interviewing people, pitching story ideas and collaborations, writing, and editing. On the weekends, when people aren’t in their offices, I sew. Right now I’m working on an English Paper Pieced baby quilt and I’m designing a muppet-style puppet which will soon become a pattern.

Abby Glassenberg, Interview, Sewing, muppet, puppet

ab: You've mentioned before that although your blog and your business have changed a lot over the years the one common thread is that you continue to always follow your curiosity. Can you talk a bit about what that means for you? What drives that curiosity? Where do you see it taking you next?

ag: I feel like the home sewing and quilting industry is a microcosm of the whole world. Every social, political, and economic issue that takes place more broadly is also playing out here in this niche and so I find there’s an endless amount of interesting stories to discover right here. The mainstream media only covers craft when there are big things happening like Etsy’s IPO and this leaves a huge space for me. In an industry that previously had very little press coverage, I’m the press and I absolutely love that role.

Abby Glassenberg, Interview, Sewing

Thank you, Abby, for taking us into your sewing room and sharing your thoughts with us!

Dear Reader, you can connect with Abby:
While She Naps
Instagram
Facebook
Pinterest
Twitter
Email


Want to read my other artist interviews? You can catch up here. And find more inspiration from the Sketchbook Conversations series of mini, sketchbook-related interviews, all of which can be accessed here.



*Photos in this post ©Abby Glassenberg, While She Naps. Used with permission.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

You are enough

How are you doing? Did you make it through this past week's frenetic bombardment of sales messages? (But really, it's longer than that, isn't it? It started before last week and it's still going on). Am I the only one who finds it so exhausting?

simple joys, simple beauty, home made candle, candle, doily, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I'm never really comfortable with the whole Black Friday-Cyber Monday (week) thing. It's just too much. This year I stopped to pay attention to how all these messages (at times frantic, almost panic inducing... don't miss out, HURRY!, TODAY ONLY!, FINAL HOURS!) were making me feel, and what they're designed to make us feel. That we don't have enough, and more than that, that we ourselves are not enough if we don't buy this or that shiny thing, whether it's for ourselves or as gifts.

I can choose to avoid stores and sales flyers and website advertising, but I can't avoid my email (at least not for long). I stepped away from it for about 15 hours or so this weekend, but when I came back I couldn't believe how many messages had accumulated.

Exhausting. And disheartening. The US celebration of Thanksgiving (which, yes, I know, is tangled up in troubled history and politics of its own) gets trampled beneath capitalism. Greed overshadows gratitude.

simple pleasures, joy, bread, baking, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

That, perhaps, is an oversimplification, but not entirely untrue. How many of the emails in my inbox this past week encouraged thankfulness or inspired quiet reflection? How many of those messages spoke of recognizing my own abundance? How many urged me to celebrate simple beauties, the kind with no price tag attached?

garden, autumn, sage, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

A few. A few voices speaking up in the middle of that cacophony. (Like this one. And this one. And this one).

The truth is, I am enough and I have enough (so many people in this world do not) even if I miss out on buying those shiny things.

This morning I looked out the bathroom window to see a sunrise sky filled with color. I came back to the bedroom, opened the curtains and sat on the end of the bed watching the sky. One cat on one side, the other on the other, both purring. It was a moment that I could have easily missed. Fleeting beauty and peace and contentment. We have opportunities for those peaceful moments each and every day.

watercolor, painting, process, botanical art, botanical watercolor, botanical painting, painting process, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Don't miss out.

And remember, you are enough, too. Just as you are.


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Dreams, Winding Roads and Gratitude: A Joy List

It's been a while since I've done a Joy List here, but with Thanksgiving this week I thought it would be a good time to focus on gratitude. My heart is filled with gratitude right now.

houseplants, flowering plants, bulbs, flowering bulbs, amaryllis, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I know it's been a challenging year for many. So much in the news to bring us down. It's been a tough few years for me. It isn't easy, latching onto a dream and fighting to make it a reality while life, well, life does its thing. Life's what happens when you're busy making other plans, right, John*?

gardening, winter, autumn, marigolds, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Looking back over these last seven plus years since I first set out to change my life, it's interesting to see the twists and turns and where they've brought us. I know the roads ahead will continue to wind, probably in some more unexpected directions. While you're in the thick of it, it can be hard to keep the faith, but you just have to keep going.

violas, gardening, flowers, winter, november, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I regularly share the dreams I'm realizing here on my blog, but lately, one of the biggest and most exciting dreams belongs to Matthias. Last Friday he had a soft opening for his computer repair shop. It's right on Main Street in our little town.

Mac Help LLC, Computer Repair, Viroqua Wisconsin, Matthias Minnig

That dream wasn't even on the horizon seven years ago (I don't think it was even a year ago) and it probably wouldn't have been possible if we'd followed the path that we'd originally set out on.

None of this has been easy, and I know there will continue to be challenges and setbacks and bumps in the road, but I'm sharing this with you because I want you to keep going, too. Whatever it is that you're dreaming and striving for. Hold onto those dreams and also let go of control. Allow for twists in the road. Allow for detours. And enjoy the journey.

One of my big twists in the road was starting to teach on Skillshare. Seven years ago I would never have dreamed of teaching online, but it's been so rewarding. During the span of my giveaway contest it's been wonderful to see the student projects coming in.

Skillshare, student projects, painting goldfish, painting violas, watercolor, art classes

This is a sampling** from my new goldfish class and the viola class. I love teaching beginners and knowing that you're setting off on your own journeys. You may or may not discover a passion for watercolor, but my intention is to encourage you to experiment and play and not give up. Being a beginner can be hard, but it's also so important. It's a precious time of learning and growing and not something to be rushed through.

Thank you to all of my students. You bring me so much joy!

And now for the giveaway winner!

Skillshare, Giveaway, Contest, Random Drawing, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Congratulations, Linda Smith! You'll be hearing from Skillshare about your free year's membership soon.

Something else that has been bringing me joy is hearing plant stories from people on Instagram. With my latest houseplant paintings I've opened up a discussion about the memories and experiences we have with plants. It's at the heart of my art, this connection to plants and flowers and nature and I think that's why my art resonates with the people it does. Plants remind us of our histories. Of people we've known and loved. Of times past. I love hearing these sorts of stories (take a look here and here and join in on the conversation if you'd like). Thank you to each of you who have shared your story.


I want to share one more thing with you today before I close with the rest of my Joy List. The connections that I've made through my blog and on Instagram mean so much to me. It's wonderful to meet kindred spirits and to have you here cheering me on and to cheer you on, too. There is so much creativity and passion in the world and that brings me hope. One sweet kindred spirit is my friend Carla. Carla lives north of me in Wisconsin (though we haven't met in person yet). It brings me joy to see her following her dream of being a flower farmer. Her business, The Little Garden That Could started as a flower stand and has grown to a subscription service and now is also sharing garden joy all year long with lovely photo note cards and houseplant deliveries.

The Little Garden That Could, Note Cards, Carla TePaske
The Little Garden That Could Autumn Card Collection***

To celebrate her new ventures she's having a giveaway on her blog now the lucky winner will receive all four cards from her autumn collection. She's announcing the winner on Small Business Saturday.

Phew, that's a lot for one post, but as I said at the beginning, my heart is filled with gratitude. I am so grateful that you're here reading these words. I hope that you are taking time to notice joy even on dark days. I always think that it's most important to focus on joy and gratitude on those dark days, to even write a Joy List of things you're grateful for.

Here's some more of mine:

  • mixing colors for a new painting
  • watching birds at the birdfeeder
  • potato leek soup with leeks from the garden
  • an exciting collaboration with an Internet kindred spirit
  • being surrounded by plants and flowers
  • family visits and holiday plans
  • snoring kitties and greyhounds (and a third greyhound in the house visiting)
  • Botanica!
  • a few days of sunshine
  • the new Philip Pullman book

I hope your list is filled with many good things! Have a wonderful week. I'll be back next Tuesday.




*"Life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans" is in the song Beautiful Boy by John Lennon and the idea can also be traced back to a Reader's Digest Magazine from 1957.

**Photos by my students on Skillshare (left to right, top to bottom): Linda Smith, Alicia (., Petra G., Marije Verkerk, Suteja Rao, Linda Smith, Joanna Hall, Sandra Homewood, 5 Flavors

***Photo by Carla TePaske, The Little Garden That Could

Friday, November 17, 2017

Kristen Afionis -- a Sketchbook Conversation

This week's Sketchbook Conversation is with Kristen Afionis. I'm delighted to have Kristen here giving us yet another example of the fact that there is no right or wrong way to keep a sketchbook. It's inspiring to me (and I hope it's inspiring to you, too), to see so many different styles and media and themes. Whether or not you're encouraged to keep your own sketchbook, my hope is that you're inspired to speak your own story, whatever that may be.

Here's Kristen's story:

Hi! I’m Kristen and I am so excited to be sharing my sketchbooks with you. There is something so beautiful and mysterious about a sketchbook and I find it such a joy to be invited in to share in another’s story.

Sketchbook Conversations, sketchbooks, Kristen Afionis, My Giant Strawberry

I’m a self-taught artist living on the shores of Lake Erie in Western New York. I started painting and drawing about a year and a half ago as a way to fulfill creative longings. Not long after, I picked up sketchbooking as an accessible way to practice my new and evolving skills in a manageable time frame each day. I get up each morning between 4.30-5.00am so that I can work for a few hours before the rest of the house begins to stir. These quiet hours give me the time and space I crave to explore undisturbed. It’s my favorite time of day.   

Sketchbook Conversations, sketchbooks, Kristen Afionis, My Giant Strawberry

My sketchbooks have become my most treasured possessions and I enjoy looking back through them (usually with a large mug of chai tea latte in hand). I have found that new inspiration always pops out from old work, often in exciting and unexpected ways. It truly feels like opening a gift each time I open an old cover.

Sketchbook Conversations, sketchbooks, Kristen Afionis, My Giant Strawberry

Music is a great source of inspiration and whenever I’m feeling stuck a change in station usually helps to get new energy and ideas moving. My current favorite Pandora stations are Bon Iver, Philip Glass (a composer), Coleman Hell, and Lisa Gerrard. 

Sketchbook Conversations, sketchbooks, Kristen Afionis, My Giant Strawberry

I also draw inspiration from nature. My seven year old daughter and I have a practice of hiking and taking photos to draw from later. I keep a nature journal documenting any interesting bits of information I observe. Sometimes I print the photos and tape them in my sketchbook and then break down what I see into parts and pieces. Other times I tape a specimen directly into my book and add details to it later. This tie to nature comes across heavily in my work.

Sketchbook Conversations, sketchbooks, Kristen Afionis, My Giant Strawberry

I have just about every type, style, and size of sketchbook and I am always working in many of them at once. For me, each has a different purpose. Some are for wet or mixed media, some are for drawing and doodling with pen, and some are working sketchbooks that I almost never share. 

Sketchbook Conversations, sketchbooks, Kristen Afionis, My Giant Strawberry

The working books are filled with scratch marks, super quick shapes to get the idea of something, notes to capture ideas, color swatches, and sometimes my daughter’s doodles too. They’re not pretty but they are just as important to the creative process as the pretty ones.My favorite sketchbooks are the small pocket-sized ones because they are so easy to travel with and manageable to finish a spread in a short period of time. This, This, and These are my favorites.

Sketchbook Conversations, sketchbooks, Kristen Afionis, My Giant Strawberry

I love art supplies and I am always trying out something new. My favorites are: watercolors (especially Winsor and Newton), FW acrylic inks, Dr. Ph Martin’s black India Ink, Sakura micron pens (especially sizes 005, 01, 03, 1), and a white gelly roll pen.

Sketchbook Conversations, sketchbooks, Kristen Afionis, My Giant Strawberry

Sitting in front of a new and beautiful sketchbook can be anxiety inducing! Get up and move. Do some yoga, take a short walk, dance around to energetic music and then go back to your book. Make a mark, any mark, and then another, after that it gets easier. Try standing. I find that the ability to move and the idea that I can easily walk away helps my brush flow more freely. Enjoy the process and what comes out.  Not everything I make I love but everything I make has value. Happy Creating!


Thank you, Kristen, for sharing your story with us today.

Dear Reader, you can connect with Kristen:


Missed the other Sketchbook Conversations posts? It's easy to catch up at the series web page.

And for even more inspiration, check out my Artist Interviews



*Photos in this post ©Kristen Afionis. Used with permission.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

focusing on my indoor garden: painting sansevieria

I mentioned last week that my focus has shifted from outside to in.

sansevieria, snake plant, mother in law's tongue, houseplants, watercolor painting, art process, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

It happens every year as the weather gets colder and my outdoor garden begins its winter sleep. Despite the fact that I live in cold, snowy Wisconsin, I'm not a winter outdoorsy sort of girl. I don't ice skate or snowshoe or ski or ice fish. (Most of those sound a bit like torture to me). To be honest, on frigid days I don't even relish going for walks with the dogs. I prefer to watch winter through a window, snuggled beneath quilts and crocheted blankets with a steaming mug of tea by my side and a kitty on my lap. (Which is really more fantasy than reality).

cats, black and white cats, rescue cats,

Crowded around that window (whether I'm staring out it or not), are a party of potted plants. Everywhere I've lived -- from my childhood bedroom to my college dorm to my first apartment to today -- there have been plants in my windows. I can't live without them.

begonias, houseplants, potted plant, indoor garden, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

What about you? Do you share your home with plants?

To me it's so interesting how trendy houseplants are right now (just Google "crazy plant lady" to see what I'm talking about). This trend points to the fact that we all yearn for a connection to nature. A houseplant is an easily contained, easily cared for bit of nature. Not only that, plants are good for us. They're good for the air we breathe. They're good decoration. But more than that, they're good for our spirits. It feels good to nurture something and have it thrive (but on the flip side, I've learned not to take it to heart if a plant doesn't thrive -- it happens. Even to me and more than I'd like to admit*). There's nothing quite so exciting as spotting a bud on a flowering plant and watching it develop, grow and bloom.

lipstick plant, houseplants, flowering houseplants, indoor garden, Aeschynanthus, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

It's no wonder houseplants are so popular.

I'd have a house full of plants, popular or not. And for me, one of the things I love is the inspiration they bring my art. I've been painting houseplants almost since the very beginning of learning how to paint. They call to me. And I cannot resist their call. Even so, it had been ages since I last painted a plant in a pot.**

Maybe that's why the call was so strong this time.

This time it was my snake plants, or Sansevieria, calling to me.

Another common name is mother-in-law's tongue. Funny because my snake plants came from my father-in-law. Last winter Matthias rescued a huge, overgrown, floppy plant that his father wanted to get rid of. After letting it dominate my living room for months, I eventually hacked it apart, keeping only the most well-behaved parts, planting them in two smallish pots.

jade plant, snake plant, begonias, houseplants, indoor garden, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Stories, history, experiences with plants are one of the things I love about them. We all have these sorts of stories. I'm betting you might even have some about about snake plants. Maybe your aunt grew one that bloomed when she put out on her back porch every summer and you'll never forget the fragrance of the flowers. Or maybe you never liked snake plants after cutting your finger on the edge of a leaf from your mother's plant.

Whether or not you have a history with them, if you're looking for an easy to grow houseplant, the sansevieria is it (in fact, I recently came across a blog post advocating it for the perfect plant for a windowless bathroom -- though I wouldn't go quite that far).

The simple shape of their leaves make them fairly easy to paint, too.

sansevieria, snake plant, mother in law's tongue, houseplants, watercolor painting, art process, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I had fun with this one, especially once I started painting the patterns on the leaves. I took a little video just to share that painting details doesn't have to be a careful, meticulous process, it can be loose and fun, too.


I ended up painting two variations (there are so many variations of color and pattern and leaf shape -- something else that makes plants so compelling in the home and on paper).

sansevieria, snake plant, mother in law's tongue, houseplants, watercolor painting, houseplant paintings, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Both are available in my shop.

And now I'm on a houseplant painting roll.

christmas cactus, zygo cactus, schlumbergia, watercolor, paint palette, paint mixing, paint swatches, process, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

What ways have you been finding to connect with the magic of nature this week?




*I don't believe there's such a thing as a green thumb. There's certainly a spectrum of how interested people are in plants, but ability to make things grow? Anyone can do it if they pay attention. Know what your plant likes and doesn't like (have a plant that needs full sun? Don't put it in a north facing window where the blinds are always closed. Have a cactus that likes dry soil? Don't constantly water). Even so we all make mistakes. There are so many great resources on plants. Looking for a book to get you started? Try something by Tovah Martin (she's my absolute favorite!), Elvin McDonald or find a really cheap used copy of this oldie but goodie: Crocket's Indoor Garden. I'd love to know about any favorite resources you have, too).


**The last two houseplants I painted didn't have pots because I became obsessed with painting crazy-entwined orchid roots. You can see them here.