Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Falling off the Sketchbook Wagon (and getting back on again)

Almost every week I share a conversation with an artist who works in sketchbooks. These artists give encouragement and share tips from their experience. What tools they like to work with. How to stay motivated and inspired. I started this series after my 2x2 Sketchbook collaboration with Dana Barbieri ended because I wanted to dig deeper into reasons and uses for sketchbooks, because I wanted to connect with other artists and because I wanted to continue to inspire you (and me, too).

I've shared my own thoughts on keeping a sketchbook in this space (including my history with sketchbooks). Working in sketchbooks wasn't a natural thing for me and there was an enormous hump of fear, uncertainty and feelings of intimidation for me to scale before I was able to get comfortable with the practice. Now I have quite a few sketchbooks in process that I use in different ways.

sketchbooks, art, process, art materials, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

But to be honest, it has been a LONG time since I've worked regularly (every day or almost every day) in a sketchbook. The more time that passed, the harder it was to face the possibility of that blank page. I'd pick up my main book when I was working on a project... I have rough planning and practice for commissions in there. I have three pages of pencil sketches from when I was working out the design for my Nasturtiums Tea Towel Calendar. But daily sketches? Ive fallen out of the habit of them.

sketchbook, art process, design, nasturtiums, tea towel calendar, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

It's easy to do. Life gets in the way. We're busy, tired, uninspired. The why doesn't matter. The real question is how to get back into the habit once you've fallen out of it.

I put my sketchbook and my box of markers on the coffee table in our living room with the intention of making it easy to pick up in the evening if we're watching something on Netflix or Amazon.

Day after day the sketchbook and box of markers sat there unopened.

Some days  I had good reasons (excuses). We were watching something with subtitles. I had a cat on my lap.* Other days I was just too tired or uninspired or not sure what to draw.

I took my sketchbook with me when we went on vacation last month. Brought some markers, pens, the set of Inktense pencils I've been wanting to play with and a water brush to try. The supplies weighed down my backpack and their presence weighed me down, too. Other than filling my water brush with water from Lake Michigan, I didn't touch my art supplies.

Back home I felt bad about not having done any sketching on vacation. I put my sketchbook on the coffee table, again, and scolded myself. But, again, it just sat there. I felt guilty. Inadequate. And the fact that week after week artists were sharing their thoughts about keeping sketchbooks here on my blog made me feel like a hypocrite.

Then last week I made myself pick up my sketchbook and markers. No secret. No trick. I just picked up my book and doodled some wonky triangles in a vaguely quilt-like design. It wasn't great, but it was something. And then the next day I picked up my book again.

mushrooms, sketches, sketchbook, microns, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

And the day after that, too.

sketchbook, drawing, botanical sketches, roses, microns, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

It's not easy to overcome the inertial of inaction. It's not easy to face a blank page. Maybe it's harder when we're constantly faced by other people's pages that look pretty damn good (I'm almost certain that 100% of their pages don't look as good as you think they do).

sketchbook, sketches, markers, doodles, geometric doodles, carrots, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Really, there's only one way to do it. And that's to pick up the sketchbook and get busy.

Last week Jen McCleary talked about how doing something is always better than doing nothing. It's the habit that matters, not what's on the page. Inspiration, being in the mood... they're not prerequisites.

It's so very true. And it doesn't only apply to sketchbooks. Whatever habit you're cultivating, just do it. Don't think about it. Don't worry over it. Just do it.

What practice have you been resisting lately? How are you going to make sure you get to it?





*When I read the book Your Inner Critic is a Big Jerk by Danielle Krysa I was struck by how many of the excuses artists gave for not making art involved their cats. I thought those excuses sounded pretty lame. At the time we didn't have a cat. After we adopted our current cats, I realized, again, how much cats can get in the way of things like working in a sketchbook.

cats, artists, studio, sketchbook, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Friday, October 13, 2017

Jen McCleary -- a Sketchbook Conversation

Today's sketchbook conversation is with Jen McCleary. Jen is a Philadelphia-based digital, collage and jewelry artist and I think you'll really be inspired by what she has to say (I know I was!). Here's her story:

I've kept a sketchbook on and off from high school when I first decided that being an artist was going to be my life's work. But I'm not really much of a drawing person, and I never stuck with it consistently. The first time I really fell in love with the idea of keeping a sketchbook was during a semester spent in Rome during art school. One of the classes was called "Sketchbook," and it involved going around to different sites in the city to draw. I would have gotten bored quickly if it was just a class about doing observational drawings, but luckily the teacher was into doing mixed-media work herself and encouraged us to think differently about what materials we used and the whole idea of a sketchbook. I started experimenting with different materials and pasting in scraps of paper and other things that I found during my wanderings around the city. The most amazing thing happened–one day when I was walking home to my apartment, I found a spiral-bound planner book that someone had lost. It had obviously been outside for a long time and was soggy from rain, so I figured nobody was going to claim it. I took it home, dried it out, and used it for my sketchbook class. I hate blank pages as a starting point, so it was really cool to be working in a book that already had things written in it, a nice patina from being left outdoors, and so much connection to Rome. That book (and others I made during that semester) was a real turning point in developing my artistic process and interests. 

Jen McCleary, Sketchbook Conversations, My Giant Strawberry Blog, sketchbooks, artists, inspiration

For years after that, I worked inconsistently on some art book projects, but never really kept a regular sketchbook. At some point, I fell in love with the idea of doing a daily art project– just something small that happens every day (or as close to it as possible). I was reading a lot about habit formation and productivity, and I liked the idea of a project slowly accumulating over months or years. I made some short-lived attempts at keeping a daily sketchbook or doing a daily drawing, but never really stuck with it. I did successfully do a daily photo project from 2009-2014, in which I attempted to take a photo every day and post it on my website. I mostly used the Hisptamatic app on my phone, which had a lot of interesting filters. It was fun, but I got tired of it after almost 5 years. It seemed less interesting since Instagram became really popular and everyone seemed to be posting daily photos with filters. I also started working from home full-time, which limited the variety of things I was around to photograph. 


Jen McCleary, Sketchbook Conversations, My Giant Strawberry Blog, sketchbooks, artists, inspiration

I started my current daily art journal project in August 2014 after I stopped doing the daily photos. It took a few attempts before I figured out what I really wanted to do with it, and it didn't become anything close to a daily project until January 2015. I think that constraints can often act as an enhancement to creativity, so I started out trying to limit myself to doing representational drawing. But I wasn't enthusiastic about it and it seemed like more of a chore than a joy. So I eventually decided I'd have no constraints regarding materials (my favorites are cut paper, ink, and Dr. Ph. Martin's concentrated watercolors). I tried several different sketchbooks and finally settled on the 5" square size of Hand Book Art Journals. The size is perfect for a small, quick drawing and the paper is thick enough to handle water-based media.  At some point I decided to start posting photos of my daily pages on Instagram, and people started telling me how much they enjoyed seeing them every day, which was really nice and also motivating. This is very much a personal project that I do for myself, but it's also nice to know that anyone else appreciates it too! This past year I started doing time-lapse videos of the creation process- I just use my iPhone and a stand that clips to the edge of my art table. 


For me, this project is about trying to make art a priority every day. It's also about the idea that doing something is always better than doing nothing, and just having fun and exploring materials. It's about getting comfortable with sharing things that aren't finished or perfect. Some days I have more time and motivation and I end up doing pages that are more complex, and others I just do something super quick like swirling some ink around on the page. If I'm away from home I try to bring the book with me and usually just end up doing an ink doodle. Some pages are pretty and some are just kind of boring, and that's ok. Some days life intervenes or I'm just not feeling it and I don't do anything. At first I started just skipping those days in the book, but at some point I started pre-stamping the dates on each page (using a stamp I got from an office supply store). I like having the days pre-stamped because it provides a little bit of accountability for each day. Once the dates were pre-stamped, I started drawing frowny faces for the days I didn't do anything. Then I decided that seemed a little punitive and started drawing one frowny face and one happy face. Which I think is a great representation of my attitude about doing a daily habit–some days it doesn't happen, and that's not great, but tomorrow is another day. 


Jen McCleary, Sketchbook Conversations, My Giant Strawberry Blog, sketchbooks, artists, inspiration

At this point, doing this project really does feel like a habit and a part of my day. I usually try to do the pages in the morning. If I have time to spend on larger art projects, then I think of this as a kind of warmup. If I don't have time to focus on making art that day, then at least I have done a little bit of art! I think a lot of people consider art-making to be a matter of inspiration and/or talent, but I've come to believe that it is more a matter of just showing up and doing the work, as often as you can. I'm not always in the mood to do sketchbook pages, but I do it anyway because it's a habit and I've committed to posting it online daily and it feels better to do it than to not do it. But 99% of the time, even if I'm not in the mood or feeling very inspired, I end up feeling much more motivated just by having done something. I do scans of all my journal pages and use them in my digital art process, and sometimes a page that wasn't that interesting on its own becomes just what I needed for another piece. 



So my advice to someone who is just starting out is to figure out how to keep making stuff as consistently as possible, without worrying so much about being motivated or inspired or even about having talent. If you want to make art, just sit down and do something, anything. If you do something every day for five minutes you will end up better at it than if you never do it! Also don't get too stuck on the idea of everything you make having to be "good." I think it takes a whole lot of time spent making "bad" art to learn how to make "good" art. You don't necessarily have to share the "bad" things with the world, but it can be incredibly liberating to do so. I think there's such a tendency these days to be so careful about how we present ourselves to the world, to curate our photos and posts and life, and it can be interesting to subvert that and to be realistic about how much work, false starts, mistakes, and do-overs actually go into making art. 


Thank you, Jen, for sharing your sketchbooks with us today and adding your voice to the conversation.

Dear reader you can connect with Jen:



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 ©Jen McCleary. Used with permission.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

How I Learned to Paint

The other day I got an email from someone who wanted to know how I learned to paint and draw. She had been researching self-taught botanical artists and stumbled upon me. I regularly get emails with questions and requests for advice, but never one with quite this question. It really resonated with me. Seven-ish years ago I was in that same place. I desperately wanted to know "the secret" to becoming an artist. I had no idea where to begin.

watercolor, paint palette, color palette, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

How does a person who has no art background go about learning how to make art?

It's a good question and depending who you ask you'll get answers ranging from "it's not possible" to "follow these steps and you'll soon be rich and famous".

If I've learned anything on my own journey it's that 1. it's not impossible 2. there is no "secret" 3. it takes time and patience.

watercolor, paint palette, color palette, sketchbook, color swatches, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Perhaps that's a simplistic summary, but it does sum up my experience. Of course, everyone's experience is different, but learning anything takes time. And I truly believe that if you have a passion for something (even just an imagined something) you should embrace that passion.

One thing that I don't see a lot of in books or blogs or online courses is the acknowledgement of a learning curve. When you're first learning to walk you're not going to be able to race Florence Griffith-Joyner. If you're picking up a paintbrush for the first time what ends up on the page isn't going to look like something by Georgia O'Keefe.

watercolor, painting, learning to paint, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Analogies aside, except for a few select (gifted) individuals, first attempts at anything are going to look pathetic beside those of someone who's been honing their craft for years. That's just common sense. Your 1,000th attempt might still look pathetic viewed from certain perspectives. Learning never ends.

painting, watercolor, learning to paint, cyclamen, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I'll say that again.

Learning never ends.

But let's go back to the beginning. How do you learn how to draw or paint?

One of the questions in the email was whether I'd learned from books. I remember being on the search for THE book when I was starting out. The one that would answer all my questions. The one that would make me into a painter. I emailed artists I admired asking for recommendations. I brought home piles of books from the library.

I LOVE books, but none of the books I consulted were THE book. Since then I've discovered even more beautiful and inspiring books, but in my opinion, none of them will turn you into a painter.

books, art books, inspiration, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

How do you learn how to paint?

Paint.

Keep painting.

Paint some more.

painting, practice, botanical watercolors, process, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Yes, read all you can. Study techniques. Take classes. But reading or watching someone demonstrate a technique is not the same as putting brush to paper.

I teach classes on how to paint. I truly enjoy it. I want to encourage you and to share what I've learned, but by watching my classes you will not become a painter. No one's class will make you into a painter. Only YOU can make you into a painter.

I'm not trying to dissuade you from learning to make art, quite the contrary. If you have a nagging desire (even a secret whispered desire) to make art, do it. If your first paintings are bad, so what. Keep painting and be patient.

Art, like anything, takes practice.

Four years ago, after having been painting for three years I painted my first nasturtiums. I was happy with those paintings, though I still had a ways to go. Last week I was working on painting these:

watercolor, painting process, nasturtiums, botanical watercolor, Anne Butera

And the tea towel calendar I created from another recent nasturtium painting placed in Spoonflower's top 25 designs (thank you to everyone who voted for my design!!!).

watercolor, botanical watercolor, nasturtiums, 2018 Watercolor Tea Towel, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Art takes practice. Lots of practice.

But it doesn't have to hold you back. Be freed by that thought, not constrained by it. Let knowing that things take time release some of the pressure.

watercolor, paint palette, color palette, color mixing, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

A couple more thoughts before I close this post. In addition to practicing the movements of your pencil and brush, you'll need to practice your observation skills. In order to draw or paint a subject you need to be able to truly SEE it. Our brains are amazing. They make up missing information. They translate shapes into meaning. Sometimes, though, that translation means we don't fully experience the way something looks. How petals attach to a flower. The shape of a leaf. Where a shadow falls. If you want to paint or draw you need to see without your brain getting in the way. Observe shapes. Observe light. Observe color.

Pay attention and be curious.

And don't forget to have fun.

Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry, Sketches, pencil, sketchbook, drawing

How do you learn how to draw and paint?

Observe.

Draw.

Paint.

Wishing you a beautiful and creative week.

Friday, October 6, 2017

An Interview with Rochelle Greayer

Rochelle Greayer is a garden designer and writer and the founder of Pith and Vigor Magazine, but she used to be a rocket scientist. I was curious about her story from the moment I first stumbled upon it. Back in 2014 I received a copy of the debut issue of Pith and Vigor (and wrote about it here). I've been following Rochelle on Instagram ever since. I'm delighted to have her here chatting with us today.

Rochelle Greayer, Italy, Artist Interviews, My Giant Strawberry

ab: Hi, Rochelle, thanks for joining us. So first, I have to ask you about your jump from being a rocket scientist to garden designer and writer. On your website you say that you used to develop software to fly satellites and F-18 flight simulators. How did you end with this as a career? What prompted you to turn to gardens and writing?

rg: Changing careers was kind of a big deal - and it was something that wasn't easy for me to be brave about. But, when you get to a point of being just miserable on a daily basis and then you cross that with an opportunity to jump, sometimes you have take the leap.

I was working at Nortel Networks in the UK (which was nowhere near as fun as working in the aerospace industry - but similar technology) and the campus that I was at was closing down. All of us were being laid off over the course of about 18 months. I had lots of time to prepare and was offered a generous package that I used to go back to school (to study garden design). I'd been miserable at work for a while, which had led me to question myself, my sanity, my goals, my everything.

I did a lot of soul searching, knowing that as much as I loved (and still love) cool technology, science and lots of nerdy things, being in that industry as a working woman wasn't a good match for me and I was burnt out on it.

Figuring out that garden design would be my new direction was the result of a revelatory experience at the Chelsea Flower Show. I like to say that the Chelsea Flower Show changed my life (cue the dramatic heart wrenching music) - But it is true. I'm the offspring of ranchers and farmers in Kansas, Colorado and Montana. My childhood involved lots of time in the garden and messing around on the family ranch. Gardening was always functional and a way of life. Never was it associated with design, or cultivating beauty, or anything trendy or fashionable, and the thought of hiring someone to plan things would never have crossed my mind. I'd never even heard of Landscape Architecture (the ASLA was not doing their job very well back then!) let alone "garden design".

But, since I was living in London, I went to Chelsea. It was a revelation see that there was a huge industry around gardening, design, landscaping, landscape architecture and all things related. To see garden designers treated as rock stars, and gardens (that can cost millions) erected for less than a week all in the name of promoting and celebrating this industry I didn't even know existed was mind blowing. The decision to be part of it was made that day (I picked up applications to every school that had a booth at the show) and it felt so great.

Rochelle Greayer, Roses, Artist Interviews, My Giant Strawberry

ab: In addition to writing and designing, are there other creative outlets you enjoy? Did you consider yourself creative and/or artistic when you were growing up? Would you call yourself an artist today?

rg: I’ve always been creative. When I was a kid, I drew a lot. I also participated in the craft shows that my mom and aunt used to hold in our house every year during the holidays (they were doll makers). My favorite ‘product’ was a series of wire sculptures that I created when I was in about 5th grade - each depicted figures playing a different sport and I mounted them on blocks of wood. Imagine a wire version of the wooden artist manikins - playing different sports. I really wish I still had one or two of them, but they sold out. In my mind they are really, really cool -- but I sort of think if I were to actually hold one on my hand and look at it today -- I’d think it was pretty elementary. The mind plays tricks and when you are 10 you are sometimes absurdly confident.

These days I really enjoy graphic design and collage, and I am obsessed with teaching myself how to draw/create interesting maps of all sorts of things.

I struggle with calling myself an artist today - I’d like to, but always feel like I am not sure I’ve earned the privilege. And by doing so, I’m inviting someone to criticize me for being pretentious.

Rochelle Greayer, Italy, Sketchbook, Artist Interviews, My Giant Strawberry

ab: According to the bio on your website, you cherish your "Colorado roots", "Montana blood" and "rancher's sensibility". Was this background at odds with your experience studying at the English gardening school in London when you were starting your career as a garden designer?

rg: Not really. Though, as I said before - the idea of hiring a garden designer seems so luxurious or slightly ridiculous and that is something I’ve struggled with for my entire career as a designer. I understand who and why people should and would hire a designer, but I struggle to rationalize why someone would hire me to do something I’d never hire someone for. And that isn’t always good for business.

I’ve come to terms with it though -- and realized that I’d much rather teach people to do for themselves (hence writing, speaking, and teaching are an ever increasing part of my repertoire). And in the process, I hope they can learn things that will make them happier and the world healthier and more beautiful. That is much more in line with my mindset than pursuing people with lots of disposable income to hire me to make something that they probably will never interact with in a meaningful way.

P.s. I don’t take on design clients anymore… can you tell?

Rochelle Greayer, Artist Interviews, My Giant Strawberry

ab: How does that down home, western background and your former life as a rocket scientist inform the way you approach gardens, gardening and writing?

rg: First of all, I see my garden as an ongoing science experiment (and I think others should as well). I am constantly trying things out, letting things die, testing - moving things along and generally wreaking havoc on any plan I might have once had. Some years are really good - some not so much, but I learn from all of it.

Rochelle Greayer, Artist Interviews, My Giant Strawberry

ab: I'm always curious about how other creative people handle creative blocks and dark times. What techniques do you use to work through uncertainty or doubt and return to a place of positivity and productivity?

rg: This is hard. I am not sure I have a good repeatable recipe for this on a consistent basis. But I will say this - I recently spent 6 weeks (this last summer) in Italy. While I was excited, I knew going in that I had mixed feelings - I was terribly nervous about spending so much time away. Part of the trip would be my whole family with my husband and part without (all of it with my kids though). He would go home to work - he didn’t have enough vacation to do the whole thing.

I’ve never taken trip that long and I was somewhat obsessed about the perception of it. (i.e. what kind of woman am I - am I the kind of woman who goes it Italy for 6 weeks while her husband comes home in the middle of the trip to actually work for a living… umm...NO! - but then obviously yes). But something happened on the trip that I didn’t expect. I went into the trip very lost creatively, and very frustrated (with the decision to shut down the paper), a bit depressed and entirely burnt out. I was really working hard to dig myself out of the rut that I was in, to no avail. I’d been stuck in it for more than 6 months at least. I was having a meltdown because I couldn’t even tell myself what my goals where…I lacked focus and everything I tried did little to help me find my path again. I couldn’t even answer the question of what I wanted to do next (only what I didn’t want to do). I’d read these things that would say, “what is your vision of a perfect life?” I literally could not imagine what would make me happy and excited. I was not in a good place.

But somehow being away solved it. I came back to tell a friend that I felt that by magic, not focussing on fixing the problem had somehow fixed the problem. Her (rather wise) response was: No magic - I just stopped caring what everyone else thought, and was away from any possible judgement, and that is what allowed me to get back to myself. She is right - no magic. Travel removed me from the obsessive judgement that I thought others had for me and that I heaped upon myself. I am still trying to work out how to keep myself confidently on my own path - not worrying about what anyone else thinks - without having to go to Italy for 6 weeks. I know that when I figure this out, it will be the core of how I consistently move through future blocks and dark times.

Rochelle Greayer, Artist Interviews, My Giant Strawberry

ab: Can you share a bit about your trip to Italy and what inspired and energized you while you were there?

rg: Besides just being away and living in the moment…It was so good to walk. I love to walk and I really hate to drive. Walking not only gets my brain working better (physically) but it is at a pace that allows me to take things in. I just get so much more out of life when I am walking more. I’m constantly inspired creatively. If I could change one thing about my everyday life it would be to eliminate my need for a car (way easier said than done!). 

Rochelle Greayer, Artist Interviews, My Giant Strawberry

ab: Earlier this year Pith and Vigor transitioned from print to digital. When you announced the decision, you stated that you'd been waffling over it for 10 months. What was the hardest part about the decision and how has the development of the new Pith and Vigor taken shape? What's next on the horizon for you and the magazine?

rg: I am not sure - and I am trying not to overburden myself too much with figuring it out. I have this fear that trying too hard to figure it out will somehow make me slip back into the darkness I was in before.

So, for now I am getting back into some good creative habits like writing daily, creating more often and generally using time that was once dedicated to being an editor, publisher, and distribution agent to get back to being what I am best at and what I enjoy. I am loving blogging again - that is something that really took a hit when creating the magazine.

Letting the idea of ‘print’ go has been utterly liberating. I think that thinking that ‘print is so important’ tied into the ‘what everyone thinks’ mentality. ‘Everyone thinks’ that when it is printed it is somehow more valuable. I’ve come to think that is old fashioned thinking and it is something I am happily letting go of. Print is lovely and I do miss working on layouts and I’m not saying that print is dead or I that am never going to do another print project... but for now, I am finding new ways to create online. And the upside is that (literally) millions more people see it and I let a lot of stressful things go allowing me to be a whole lot more prolific.

I’m also working on a couple new projects that I am very excited about. You could probably guess what they might be - but for now, I am keeping them to myself.

Rochelle Greayer, Artist Interviews, My Giant Strawberry

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


Dear reader, I hope you enjoyed learning a bit more about Rochelle. You can connect with her:



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 ©Rochelle Greayer. Used with permission.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

being present, finding joy, shining your light

Sometimes it seems relentless. The heartbreaking news. One story, one disaster, one trauma after another.

roses, peach drift rose, faded flowers, beauty, joy, garden, autumn, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Sometimes there are things we can do to directly make a difference, donating money, voting, writing to officials.

garden, autumn, dahlias, morning glories, hearts in nature, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Sometimes there's nothing we can do to directly make a difference to an ugly situation.

garden, nasturtiums, orange nasturtiums, nasturtium vine, brick patio, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

But I don't think that means that we are completely powerless to make a difference. To make a difference in this world. To make it a beautiful, joyful, hopeful place.

Be kind. Be YOU, sing your song as no one else can (whatever that "song" may be... I'm not talking about literal singing). Release love into this world. Over and over and over again.

watercolor, painting, moths, Luna Moth, Polyphemus Moth, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

For me that means I'll be growing my garden and making art and teaching classes and writing this blog and sending newsletters with messages of joy.

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

We need to also focus on what is good. Put our thoughts, our effort, our conversation, our energy on what is positive.

black and white cats, rescue cats, adopt don't shop, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

And finally, or maybe first, we need to cultivate peace and love and joy within ourselves. This is so important. We can't shine when we're fizzled out, when we're frazzled and heart sore and depleted. Take time for yourself. Replenish. Nourish. Cherish.

For me that means writing in my journal. Walking through my garden. Pausing to be fully present and notice what is around me. Writing a Joy List and taking time for gratitude. Paying attention to the moment and to the wonders of this world. The crackle of fall leaves. The changing colors of the goldfinches in the garden. The feel of sun on my skin. The fresh coolness of the breeze. The scent of sweet peas (that are still blooming). The sweetness of a tomato eaten right from the vine.

sungold tomatoes, autumn tomatoes, garden tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Hold on to hope, my friends. Never give up on the power of beauty and joy and LOVE.

black eyed susan vine, Autumn, garden, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Keep on shining.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Melanie April Houten -- A Sketchbook Conversation

Today's Sketchbook Conversation is with Melanie April Houten, a watercolor artist and teacher in Sarasota, Florida.

Here's Melanie's story:

Hello! I'm Melanie, I am excited to share my sketchbooks with you! I've always kept some sort of diary, even from a very young age. My first one was a 'hello kitty' diary with a lock - and I've been collecting journals ever since. I've always drawn - always written - but hardly ever actually finish filling a journal before I've started another one. I'm slightly obsessed with journals of all types, shapes and sizes and usually have several going on at once.

sketchbooks, Sketchbook Conversations, Melanie April Houten, Watercolor, Painting, Process, Art Process, Artist Studio, My Giant Strawberry

My current favorite is the spiral bound Field Watercolor Artist Journal by 'handbook journal co.' It's created with Fluid watercolor paper in either hot or cold pressed - I use cold press - and it's really wonderful.

sketchbooks, Sketchbook Conversations, Melanie April Houten, Watercolor, Painting, Process, Art Process, Artist Studio, My Giant Strawberry

Spiral bound books are best for me... as sometimes, when I really don't like something - I have no problem tearing it out! I find that just knowing that helps me go with the flow and create just to create... and typically I don't end up tearing anything out.

sketchbooks, Sketchbook Conversations, Melanie April Houten, Watercolor, Painting, Process, Art Process, Artist Studio, My Giant Strawberry

I create a lot of my little 'planets' - it's my way of testing color combinations and seeing how paints react with water and each other. They've taken on a life of their own and I've just created a class on how to create galaxies and cosmic effects based on these experiments.

sketchbooks, Sketchbook Conversations, Melanie April Houten, Watercolor, Painting, Process, Art Process, Artist Studio, My Giant Strawberry

What I paint beyond that is truly up in the air each day - I have a love affair with feathers, but then, there's a random lobster or something crazy mixed in there too. Artists!

sketchbooks, Sketchbook Conversations, Melanie April Houten, Watercolor, Painting, Process, Art Process, Artist Studio, My Giant Strawberry

For inspiration, I also clip photographs and images from different types of magazines and collage them into a journal. I love looking through this book when I need a color fix. It never fails to inspire me.

sketchbooks, Sketchbook Conversations, Melanie April Houten, Watercolor, Painting, Process, Art Process, Artist Studio, My Giant Strawberry

My best advice for starting a sketchbook is - try a spiral bound one - tell yourself that if you don't like something, you'll just tear it out - it takes the pressure off. Once the pressure is off, you'll end up creating something you don't need to tear out! Also - date your entries and track your progress. If you do experiments with color or tools - be sure to record what you did.

sketchbooks, Sketchbook Conversations, Melanie April Houten, Watercolor, Painting, Process, Art Process, Artist Studio, My Giant Strawberry


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

Dear reader, you can connect with Melanie:



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 ©Melanie April Houten. Used with permission.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

There and Back Again

My vacation has come and gone. Two weeks ago I last sat here writing to you and trying to get everything prepared before we left.

And now I'm here again, trying to get back into the swing of things.

fortune cookies, fortune cookie fortunes, vacation, joy, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I found those fortune cookie fortunes the morning we left when I switched purses. Our trip really did end up being sunny and carefree.

Vacation, Beaver Island, Sunshine, Lake Michigan, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

We traveled to Beaver Island (I wrote about a previous trip there here, and Beaver Island also appeared in my 2x2 Sketchbook collaboration with Dana Barbieri which you can see here).

vacation, Charlevoix, lighthouse, greyhounds, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

The trip involved a 10 1/2 hour drive (through the beautiful Wisconsin and Michigan countryside) and a 2 hour ferry ride.

ferry, boat, vacation, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Unplugging from the internet did me good.

vacation, Beaver Island, Lake Michigan, Beach, Ferry, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

As did walks on the beach and through the woods.

Beaver Island, vacation, boardwalk, woods, nature, greyhounds, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Spotting wildlife (and saving turtles crossing the road).

turtles, vacation, Beaver Island, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Reading. Hunting for rocks and fossils and shells. Kayaking. Frolicking in the water with very happy dogs.

vacation, Beaver Island, Font Lake, retired racing greyhounds, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

It was restful.

retired racing greyhounds, Beaver Island, Font Lake, vacation, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Serene.

vacation, Beaver Island, Font Lake, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

And over much too fast.

vacation, Lake Michigan, sunset, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Back home I buckled down for multiple days of marathon painting sessions (with no help from a certain two kitties who seemed to have missed us quite a bit).

studio, painting, botanical painting, studio cats, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I needed to finish a painting I was creating for a special project. It truly was a marathon. Long (sweaty -- we returned to summer heat) days of painting, that had me questioning my sanity and my abilities. I nearly quit a couple times, but eventually did finish the painting.

nasturtiums, botanical watercolor, watercolor, painting, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

And I finished the computer design work to create my 2018 Tea Towel Calendar for Spoonflower.


Just in time to enter their Design Challenge Contest.

Last year I placed in the top 25 designs (thanks to everyone who voted!!)


and my design was available from Roostery as one of their Special Edition Tea Towels as well as for sale on Spoonflower as a DIY option.

Like the 2018 version? I'd LOVE to have your vote in the contest! Voting opens up on Thursday.

I'm busy with a bunch of other projects this week and although I miss the lakes and the woods, I'm happy to be in my studio.

I hope you have a lovely week. See you on Friday with another Sketchbook Conversation!