Leaving Out your Supplies

A few years ago, I did a video for Creative Jumpstart about what I do to get creative. One of the things I shared in that video was leaving all my art supplies in plain sight. I find that it has a significant impact on my creativity and on whether I use my supplies or not.

The image you see above is the configuration I set up for 2014. On the other side of the desk are my stamps, washi tapes, my sakura watercolor box, sewing machine, and some supplies I use less often. And this side is all the art supplies I use to do my yearlong projects. The only thing not shown is my Albrecht Durer watercolor pencils which I use daily, religiously and own in every color. I love and adore them. They are far and above my favorite product.

I often get asked what I use and for Christmas this year I got a few new things and I also made a resolution to use a wider variety of products so I can learn and experiment. Due to all this, I thought I can do a post on what I have, how I store it and how I use it. Hopefully this is helpful.

For the most part, I store all my art supplies in three black plastic containers. The containers are actually the boxes from the lego advent calendars my kids had for previous holidays. I find they are almost perfect for my needs. They are not super sturdy so I keep the new ones each year and swap them after 1-2 years of use.

Right in front of me is the container with all my acrylic paints. I tend to use mostly Golden and exclusively heavy body paints. It’s what I like and what I am used to. I haven’t experimented a lot with other brand names so I am not making any political statements, just this is what I have. I paint the tops of each tube so I know what’s inside quickly.

To the right of that, I have another one filled mostly with my new supplies:

In the front are the Montana pens which I want to remember to use and experiment with this year since I just got them. Behind them, to the right, are the Conte pencils for sketching and some color pens I’ve had for years. And then RH oil Pigment sticks for facial colors, another new supply I want to make sure to play with. And finally my tombow watercolor markers which I love and use relatively often.

Next to that is a basket with my two notebooks and the ATG gun which I use a lot, and a towel to wipe paint. Behind that is my lesser used products or tall stuff like rulers, scissors, etc. I have the copic markers and Pitt pens back there, too. I use those less often, for now, though I might move them up to behind montana pens since I have room there.

Next up is the container to my right:

This one has a lot of variety. The Caran D’ache Neocolor II water soluble crayons, Derwent Inktense and Graphitint pencils, Col-Erase pencils, Stabilo CarbOthello pastel pencils, Faber Castell Aquarelles and Art Grip pencils. In the second row: Posca pens, Prismacolor Pencils, Frixion erasable pens and markers, guache paints, water soluble oil pastels, and Faber Castell gelatos. Then I have lots of Pitt Pens in black and Sakura Microns in 0.005, which I use for everything. I also have mechanical pencils, erasers, and the Stabilo All pencils which I use all the time. And finally some other pastels and sticks that I use less often. And the new Sennelier Pastels I got for Christmas (yes, I was really well spoiled this year on art supplies.)

And finally, inside the basket that holds my ATG gun, I also have this:

These are peerless watercolors and the arrangement and idea and everything comes from the awesome Jane Davenport who explains it all in detail here. I took these with me on the flight to CHA this week and I love love love them.

What you don’t see in the photo is my PenPastels which are stored away and end up never getting used. I firmly believe this is because they are not out and I am trying to find a way to keep them on my desk too so I find myself reaching for them.

I know this seems like a lot of stuff, and it is, but I use every single one of these during the course of each week and I know that’s because they are sitting right there within my reach. Each item that I put away or make inaccessible never, ever gets used. For example, I put away my Liquitex Ink! bottles and even though they are on my desk, because they are less accessible, they never get used.

So if you want to start using the art supplies you have, my first recommendation is to find a way to have them out in the open! I hope this answers some of the questions and please feel free to leave me comments if you have more.

Off to do some art!

My Sketching Adventure

I’ve had quite a few people ask me about my sketching process so I decided I’ll do one long(ish) post and then can update as more questions come up.

I’ve wanted to learn how to sketch for quite some time. I had it on my list and took quite a few portrait classes but I just couldn’t really get the hang of it. I wavered back and forth on what I wanted to do and I wasn’t satisfied with my results. On April 11, 2011 I decided to give it a solid try. Since that day, I’ve been sketching every single day (with very few exceptions). I’ve done over 500 sketches. I wanted to put this first because, more than anything, it’s the daily sketching that actually allowed me to improve. So if you want to sketch better, my number one recommendation would be to sit and sketch.

Please note that I am not claiming to be a great sketcher or talented or whatever. I am working on my sketches every single day. Some days are better then others but overall I’ve improved a huge amount. And this is all due to sitting down and sketching daily.

Classes I took:
A lot of people ask me which classes I took. There wasn’t one class that taught me what I know. I have, however, taken a lot of classes and they each helped in their own way. Here are some:

those were the main ones that affected my sketching, but here are a few more that involve drawing that I loved:

What I got most from the classes was ways to integrate them into my art to develop my own style. I got the lettering from Lori (and how I wish I were anything as good as she is.) I found my watercolors in Alisa’s class and I found out about my favorite watercolor pencils from Cathy’s class. Classes are great but won’t really do the trick unless you put in the time and do the work.

There are excellent books, too. Again, if you do the work, it will work. Danny Gregory is a personal favorite of mine.


Here’s what I use daily:

My sketches are 4″x4.5″ this is so I can glue them down in my moleskine notebooks. I’ve grown used to the size and like it.

I’ve experimented with a lot of other materials. I’ve also done graphite for a long time. I recommend you play before you buy. Art materials are expensive.


This, too, went through several iterations. At first, I drew from other people’s sketches. I started with black and white and then did some color. Then, I drew from my photos. Now, I draw from photos I like. I keep all my ideas in a pinterest board. Each morning, I check pinterest and design seeds to see if there’s something new that catches my interest. If not, I draw from what I’ve pinned. This is, by far, the most time consuming part of the process. I limit myself now, so I have to pick something within 15 minutes. Otherwise I can do this for a long time.  I keep to simple things and I seem to be drawn to food, jars, tea/coffee etc. I’ve done a few “scenes” but mostly I draw single items.

The words/thoughts on my pages come from the feelings that day’s image evokes.  I think about why I chose the image and then write down what comes up.


I outlined my process here. It hasn’t really changed from there, except now, I do some finer work with the watercolor pencils, I add a word, some thoughts, and draw a border. I will try to take more step by step photos so you can see. I also have a video of me sketching so you can see what I do here. It’s not great but it helps.

Basically, I wake up, exercise, shower, and then go to pinterest, pick a sketch idea and go to town. Every. Single. Day.

Some things I learned:

  1. Repetition is key. I know I’ve said this already but the best way to get better is to practice. Practice. Practice. And then practice some more.
  2. Pay attention to lines: there are very few perfectly straight lines in nature. Or even in most man-made things. Look carefully. Making things look more organic is often about keeping your lines flowing and less rigid.
  3. Look and don’t assume. A lot of drawing is looking and seeing properly. We have a lot of iconic images in our minds and when we look at things we don’t really see what’s there. So a lot of it is learning to use your eyes and not your brain.
  4. Pay attention to the light. I think shadows and lights make a picture come alive like nothing else. They show you depth which is really important. Things cast shadows and you need to look for them. This is where photos really help me cause it’s easy to see where the light source is in a photo. (Easier than seeing in real life, at least for me.)
  5. Draw what you like. Not what you think you should. Not what others do. But what you enjoy. It will help with #1.

As I said, I am far far from an expert. Many of my sketches are still laughably bad. But I like doing them and I will continue for as long as it’s fun and I am improving. My goal for 2012 was to find my own unique sketchy voice and I think I have. For now, I like the style but I might explore more and change things around so I am pushing myself and learning more.

If I missed anything you wanted to know, add a comment and I will update.

You can see all my sketch related posts here. It shows my whole journey.  And here is a post I wrote specific to 2012 that shows a shorter summary of my 2011 journey.


Abundance of Ideas

I was thinking about abundance and sharing this morning as I ran on the treadmill. I was watching one of Donna Downey’s Inspiration Wednesday videos and thinking about how some people worry about sharing tips/tricks or thoughts or ideas freely for fear that you will give your best ideas away and you won’t have any more.

But that’s the thing with ideas: there’s so much more where they came from and the best way to generate more is to use up the ones you have.

Sometimes, when we hold on to them, they become so precious. It almost paralyzes us with fear that it’s the one and only good idea we will ever have. I find that the freedom you get from sharing many ideas freely is that no one idea becomes all you have. You get more ideas and then you realize you’re capable of generating endless ideas.

There’s a common saying in fiction that there’s no such thing as a new idea. And I think this is true. Most stories have already been told. What’s not been told is your unique perspective on life. Your way of seeing life. Your way of recounting events. Your way of processing emotions. Those are unique to you and can never be copied or taken away from you.

I know I don’t make my living from creating art so I respect others might have different opinions, but my recommendations is to not fear putting your ideas out there. I feel like sharing creates abundance. It feeds a part of your soul that puts seeds of new ideas down inside you. At least that’s what I found to be true for me.

And I also appreciate it when others share their ideas, creativity, way of seeing the world with me. I took several of Donna’s Pan Pastel classes because of the free inspiration Wednesday videos. I knew her style of teaching and doing art would speak to me and I might not have taken them had I not seen her style for free first. Same for Christy. I took her classes cause I’d seen her free videos and liked them.

Just like in everything, there’s a balance to be reached here, too. If you’re hoping to have income from your art, you don’t share everything for free, of course. But you also don’t have to be super-secretive. You don’t have to think that if you give a bit for free, people will never pay for the rest.

And you don’t have to worry that you only have one good idea. If you use that up, you will see that you have more. Sit down to do art and they will come to you. Open up to the world and start a dialogue and more will come to you. Look around for what truly inspires you in the world and more ideas will come. Connect with others and more ideas will come.

Soon you will have an abundance of ideas only because you were brave enough to let the one precious one go.

Focusing on the Joy

Last week, I had the privilege of being on the Paperclipping Roundtable. I’ve been on the show twice before and have enjoyed every single time. I also listen to the show pretty regularly and always find it enjoyable. So when they asked me again, I was honored and excited.

I think the conversation was interesting and thought provoking. At some point, I said something that I didn’t think was controversial but I guess it was. There were comments on both directions and I’ve been tempted to respond a few times but never managed to do it. So I thought it might be good to share some of my thoughts with you.

Let me give you a short bit of context. The show was about how to get started. Staring at the empty page and getting blocked. We each talked about our process a bit and then some about what helps us unblock. There was some talk about design principles which is where I said that I was worried about the focus on design principles and perfect photography lately. Here’s what I meant:

I feel like sometimes we tend to over-stress ourselves and add a lot of restrictions to our art. If it’s your job or a service you provide, I totally understand the need to strive for perfection (or at least excellence) but since scrapbooking is a hobby for most of us, I feel like we should try to lower the stress-bar on it. And we should do whatever brings us most joy. For some people that’s learning design principles, for others it’s photography. For others it’s playing with paint. For others it’s just having fun with product. And then there are those who love journaling.

In my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with any of these. I am not interested in telling others what they should or should not do. That’s exactly my point. Only you know what part of the process brings you joy. All I was saying was that instead of focusing on what others are doing/saying, you might want to find out what brings you joy and do that since, theoretically, that will mean you feel happy doing it! I hope this makes sense.

If design principles give you joy (like it does for Noell) then go for it. Learn all there is to learn. Use them. I specifically said in the show that I learned them too and use them and love them. I was just saying that I worry some people who might not care for them are feeling pressured to do what everyone else is. That people sometimes worry about looking good. Doing what others say is the right thing to do. And I was just encouraging people to remember that this is their hobby and they should find what gives them joy about it and that, finding that, will likely overcome the stuck feeling.

When I did my LOTD, I realized what matters most to me is a combination:

1. Find the story you want to tell
2. Come up with a representative title (generally a sentence)
3. Use small photos
4. Use white background

these are what set me on fire. Having my small photos, white cardstock and title, I am all set. I am happy. I am joyful. And the process goes smoothly (for the most part) for me when I have those.

So my point was that each person should figure out theirs. If you don’t know, you can try learning design principles, or photography or journaling or different products or whatever. There’s no one right thing, in my opinion. We’re all different people.

So I wasn’t saying “it should be fun and design principles aren’t fun!” or that “It should all be fun and don’t worry about your page looking pretty.” I was just saying that I am worried that everyone seems to be emphasizing design principles and perfect photography and if these aren’t what excite you, it might cause you to struggle more. And that you should make the pages for you and your loved ones, not for the internet. That’s all.

It’s totally ok if you don’t agree with me. But I wanted to be clear that I wasn’t bashing anyone’s system or way of doing it. I was just saying that I want some pressure off since it’s a hobby and something we do for fun. If doing an excellent job and focusing on design and photography is fun for you, that’s great. These things *are* fun for me. I have a photography company. I take professional photos. I studied design at school. I even have a minor in Art from college. I work for a few manufacturers and take the scrapping seriously. I do try my best. I try to do right by the people who were kind enough to offer me opportunities. I don’t take any of it for granted.

But I also try to remember that it’s a choice. I chose to do this hobby. I chose to tell our stories. And I want to make sure, for me, it stays fun and joyful. So finding the part that gives me most joy and focusing on it is a priority for me. And since doing that made me happier and less stuck, I was suggesting maybe others can try it too.

And, for me, these thoughts are not specific to scrapping. It’s for any hobby. Anything we choose to do with our free time. Ideally it would apply to work, too but that’s more restrictive and might not always work out. But, with the little time we have in this world, I try to make sure that things I choose to do in my free time bring me joy.

Maybe I wasn’t clear enough in the show. Maybe I am still not clear. I hope I am. Either way, I am totally ok with each person doing whatever they want.

As long as it makes them happy.

Sticking To It

About fifteen years ago, I was really interested in writing. I had joined a few online communities and wrote short stories regularly. I took classes, I even wrote classes. I started multiple novels. I worked on this dream for a few years, relatively consistently.

I didn’t really get better.

And eventually I just walked away from it.

I don’t remember making the conscious decision (though I must have somewhere along the line.) And I did have a few isolated instances in the last ten years where I tried to get back into it. But it never stuck. I walked away before I even gave it a shot.

Back when I was doing it regularly, there was a girl in my group that was writing very actively. She had already been writing daily for a long time but she was persistent. She submitted to magazines, went to writer’s conferences, wrote, wrote, and wrote, and edited and then wrote more. Over the years, I’d go back to visit and be amazed to see that she was still there, still writing.

And last year, she published her first novel.

I cannot tell you how happy I am for her. I’ve always wanted to see her name in print. Always. Because I was always so amazed at how persistently she tried. How she just never gave up. How this was clearly something she was determined to do. How she obviously loved writing. She didn’t just write. She did the editing, the critiquing, the submitting, the proposals. All the hard work, the boring work, and everything in between.

And she stuck with it.

She stuck with it for years and years. Long after all others gave up. It takes a lot to stick with something for over fifteen years. To just keep trying and trying and trying. That’s something most people don’t seem to appreciate, in my opinion. When we look at others’ success, we often don’t realize the exorbitant amount of work it took to get there. The sheer volume of output, effort, and time.

Sure, there are exceptions. But, they are few and far between compared to those who just do it with a lot of hard work and sweat. I’ve experienced the value of “sticking with it” first hand. I know that when you try and try and try, you do get better. More importantly, you get more comfortable with it.

It’s like a new pair of shoes. When you first get them, they are so pretty but so so uncomfortable. You have to wear them again and again before they get to that wonderful place of feeling like they were made for your feet. It takes time and perseverance to mold them. I think the same thing applies to art forms. To writing, drawing, scrapbooking, photography, or whatever else you’re trying to learn to do.

You have to stick with it.

Long after you want to give up. Long after everyone else thinks you should give up. Past that feeling of “I might never get this right.” And the “I have no idea why I keep trying.” You just do it. You stick with it. And eventually it clicks. And then it’s fun. And then you want to stick with it. Now it’s not even so much about the goal anymore. (maybe a little bit still but nothing like the beginning.) It’s become your norm. What you do. No one is even questioning it anymore because it’s what you do.

and then…

That’s when the good stuff happens.

When you’ve stopped caring about the end and started enjoying the journey. When those new, beautiful shoes are feeling like slippers made specifically for you. So much so that you don’t even notice you’re wearing them anymore.

That’s when the rewards come in. And, sometimes, they’re not even as sweet as they would have been in the beginning because, by this point, you’ve realized that you already got the bigger reward: the internal joy and satisfaction that comes from spending time doing something you love.

And then you’ve won.

All because you stuck with it.

Not Working Ahead

Back in December, one of the goals I set for myself was this:

Slow down and be aware: I tend to be an over-achiever which is great but because I am so task-oriented and accomplishment-focused, I often rush through things. I am focused on the end and I don’t enjoy the journey. I don’t slow down. I don’t take my time, explore, learn, grow as much as I could. So my plan this year is to slow down considerably. Take my time drawing. Take my time reading and thinking. If some things don’t get done, that’s ok. I think that much more growth happens when we slow down and approach things mindfully. Since my word for this year is savor, this is something I plan to pay extra-attention to. One change I made from last year was to aim to reduce some of my daily tasks. My goal is to do 4 sketches a week and 4 art journal pages a week instead of doing 7 of each. This way I get a few days off and if I want to I can complete a sketch over two days.

We’re now into the fifth month of the year and I don’t know if I’ve done this. There are definitely moments when I have. And, other times, I’ve rushed through the art just to “get done.” However, there’s a part of this that I’ve been working hard on: not working ahead.

I have a tendency to work ahead. This way on any particular week, I don’t have any tight deadlines. So if my layouts are due in a month, I will do them right now and be done. I used to do that for the blog, too. Create a bunch of art journal pages so I have a bunch of posts lined up. But one of my goals this year was to do this less.

I feel like consistency helps me with my creativity. When I work ahead and pile a bunch of art/layouts, I then take a long break. During this time I don’t feel like doing art. I don’t scrap. I have no ideas. I get rusty. I get lazy. I’ve learned, over time, that what inspires me most is doing. When I am creating regularly, ideas come to me. I feel more inspired. I feel more driven to create.

And when I take a long break, I get lazy.

This year, I’ve been trying to scale down the art but also keep it more regular. I actually do two art journal pages a week. If I am super-inspired I might do one more but it’s rare. I do one collage a week and then the savor project and the daily sketching. It would be nice to add one layout a week, too because my inspiration on creating layouts has waned a lot (especially since I do the Savor Project). I try not to overdo it. (At least for me.) I don’t sit and create ten pages in one sitting. If I’ve filled my goal for that week, I stop.

I save some for next week.

I take small breaks instead of feverishly working ahead and then burning out. If this means some weeks I have no art to post, I prefer that to taking a long break. This also keeps me more in the present, I think. I was ahead on Art Journal pages and Collage pages from early on in the year so I have a little breathing room on those if I have a dry week. Savor is always running one week behind, so that gives me time to catch up, too. But, honestly, I just try not to stress about it. I feel like the discipline and presence makes it work better for me.

This way, I have some art to do each night of the week. I try to collage on mondays, art journal on tuesdays, do my savor prep on wednesdays, do another art journal page on thursdays, and then finish my savor project on friday. the weekend is my backup for whatever’s not finished. And maybe I can scrap a layout each weekend, too. I don’t schedule these thoughts posts either. I want to make them about “now.” About how I am feeling in the present. It’s all part of being more aware. Being more here.

This does not come naturally to me. My instinct is to work ahead, get done, have it off my list. But I am learning that there’s something to be said for slowing down and creating something every single day.

So here’s to not working ahead. Here’s to being present. Here’s to controlling instinct and tying to be more aware.

So far, so good.

But, always a work-in-progress, of course.

Update on My Notebooks

I’ve had several questions as a follow-up to this blog post about my notebooks and how I stay organized. I figured a little movie might help.

Let me know if this helps and if you have any other questions.

And two small things to mention:
1. I apologize I’ve been exceptionally bad about emails and comments lately, I will catch up soon, I promise.
2. I am in the process of reenabling emails so if you’re subscribed to receive posts over email, you will slowly start getting them again.

Structure, Willpower, and Stress

If you’ve been reading here with any regularity, you’ll know that I live a relatively structured schedule. I’ve always thought that the structure allows me to get more things done. As it turns out there is a correlation between “willpower” and “structure.” The more things are scheduled, the less they require use of willpower. You don’t have to motivate yourself to do it. You do it cause it’s the next thing on the schedule. This is also why “every day” works better than “3 days a week.” Because if it’s every day, you can’t put it off to tomorrow. It has to get done today and tomorrow and every other day.

I understand that structure doesn’t work for everyone. I respect that we’re different. But I also challenge you to give it a try. Pick one thing and create a schedule around it. Just for that one thing. It can work like magic. And getting to keep more of your willpower to then use on other things is just an added bonus.

Having said that, I have had times where my own schedule stresses me out. Some days, a lot of unexpected things pile up and I find that my sketch (that I usually do at 8:30am) is still not done at 6pm and I am stressing. At that point, I have two choices: I can let it go or I can let the stress go and just tell myself it’s a choice I made and it will bring me joy to sit and work on it.

Letting it go is the easy thing. Ok maybe not for me. But it still feels like the easy thing. At the end of those kinds of days, I feel wiped and frustrated and all I want is to lie on the couch and watch TV or surf the net.

But here’s the thing….

On the days when I do let it go, I am always bummed when I go to bed. I feel a small feeling of self-disappointment and a big feeling of blahs. For me, TV or net-surfing is like cool-whip (in Melody’s terms): it’s an activity void of soul-lifting. I can do it for hours and I feel just as empty (if not more) afterwards. Whereas if I do the hard(er) thing and sit at my table and sketch, within 15 minutes, I am completely engrossed and by the end I feel more fulfilled and my soul is much happier.

However, there are times when the activity I’ve put off on my schedule is not soul-restoring and/or I am truly wiped and I need to get sleep. So now we’re not talking soul-less web-surfing vs. sketching but sleep vs. something that doesn’t have to get done. It’s on the schedule cause I put it there. I would like to do it but the idea of doing it is causing me a large amount of stress or guilt when instead I really really need the sleep.

In that case, I get sleep.

As a side note, I have learned to prioritize sleep over pretty much anything. Sleep is important for my body and soul and brain.

The idea here is threefold:

1. Structure is good for you. How much structure and what to put on the schedule is up to you and make sure to keep a good balance between encouraging and suffocating.
2. Sometimes things don’t work out and your schedule goes awry. Remember that you created those activities for a reason and remember to choose what lifts your soul over the mind-numbing activities even when you feel you’re too “tired.”
3. If you’re actually tired (and not just being lazy like in step 2) then remember that you created the schedule and you can let it go. Sleep trumps pretty much everything.

Letting yourself off the hook for one day does not mean throwing the schedule out the door. Sleep, rest, and get back in the game tomorrow. We get a fresh start every day.

And if this happens a lot, review your schedule. Change it. It’s yours. It’s there to serve you. If it’s not serving you, change it.

I look at my schedule as a way to give myself permission to do the things I want to do. It’s not my chore-list. I don’t put the laundry or dishes on there. Ever. I put my own tasks. Sketching, exercising, journaling, etc. Things for my soul. In my opinion, even those things can require willpower. Putting them on the schedule gives me permission and allows me to do them without depleting my willpower.

And each time I check something off, I lift my soul up just a little bit more.

What I do to get Creative

Alas, it appears I don’t feel like writing today. It’s not often, but it happens every now and then.

So instead of leaving you empty-handed, I will share the video I made for my friend Nathalie’s January Jumpstart class. We were each asked to do a video on how you get inspired to be creative.

Here’s my video:

And if you found me through Jump Start so this is a repetition for you, I apologize for repeating it.

Hope you like it.

And, yes, I clearly need some video practice!

Enjoying vs Creating

Here’s something important I learned in the last two years: There can be a difference between art you like to look at and art you like to create. This seems obvious and simple. But it isn’t. At least it wasn’t for me. For the longest time, I’d look at layouts or art journal pages I loved and try to recreate them.

But then I’d hate my version.

And I could never understand why. It happened enough times that I just gave up trying to emulate anyone else’s art. I started to think I just wasn’t good at creating and I should walk away. Everyone can’t be good at everything and maybe art just wasn’t my thing. I was quite frustrated and pretty ready to give up.

Until I walked away from others’ art and just spent some time creating my own (a lot of it!) I didn’t realize what was wrong. The art I was emulating wasn’t what came naturally to me so I wasn’t doing a good job of creating my own version. It just didn’t feel right. And neither did the end result. Once I gave my head and heart some space from everything I was looking at, I was able to slowly find my own way. And now that I am more comfortable with my own voice, I can look at these pieces of art and clearly see that they’re just not the way I create.

That doesn’t mean I don’t like looking at them, however.

I enjoy a variety of art (and sketching, scrapping, etc.) Many things appeal to me visually. But what I like to LOOK AT is not the same as what I like to CREATE. That differentiation is crucial. For me, it meant the difference between giving up art forever and creating art every single day.

Huge difference.

Now that I’ve learned this, here are a few things I like to do:

1. Take a break from looking and focus on doing: I take breaks from looking at anyone’s art or scrapping and just spend time creating my own art. I’ll do daily sketching, or layouts for a month so I can really dive in and find my way or explore my own ideas or my supplies. Just for me. Not to copy something I liked or recreate an idea. I do it again and again and again until the ideas get bigger and deeper and the art becomes mine.

2. Dive deeper and pay attention to why I find something appealing: Often times, when there’s a piece of art or a layout that I love, I try to take a step back so I can figure out exactly what I like about it. Sometimes it’s the color combination, other times it’s the size of the images, or the size of the page. It can be about the sentiment and nothing about the design. Taking a step back and digging deeper allows me to see what part really speaks to me so I can emulate that instead of the whole page. It allows me to take things I’m inspired by and incorporate them into my own way of creating art.

3. Remember that enjoying looking doesn’t mean I will enjoy creating: Another one that seems simple but I’ve learned that awareness is super-important and not to be taken for granted. Being aware that this particular piece of art speaks to me visually but isn’t one I’d like to create allows me to not even attempt to emulate it. This way I can truly enjoy the art and never move into the realm of self-disappointment. I love looking at all sorts of backgrounds but I only create layouts with white backgrounds. It’s what I do. There’s nothing wrong with what others do and there are many layouts that appeal to me but do not have a white background. I just put them in a category of “love to look at” and leave them be.

So, if you’re where I was and finding yourself unable to create the art you admire in others, just remember that there’s a difference and maybe you’re working too hard to create something that doesn’t work for you.

Maybe it’s time to enjoy others’ ideas and then create your own.

Doing What Lights you Up

One of the frequent comments I get here is about how I do it all. Where do I find the time? How do I manage? How can I possibly have time to do everything?

The answer is simple, of course.

I don’t.

The list of things I don’t do is way longer than the list of things I do each day. When people read my blog, they assume I do everything they do plus the things I do. Just like we assume a writer’s published book is how he writes or a blogger we admire has only the life she blogs about. We fill in the blanks. But we don’t fill them in accurately. Sometimes we assume the best, other times we assume the worst. We are rarely ever assuming the truth. I can even say we never do.

But what I was thinking about today isn’t even about how we are inaccurate so much of the time. It’s about quantity. I don’t think that doing so “MUCH” is an achievement by itself. Quantity is time consuming but not hard to produce. What’s harder is quality. And I don’t mean quality like creating an artistic masterpiece. I mean the quality something adds to your life.

There are some activities that lift your spirit up so much that doing them truly makes your day better. Not in the same way as checking off a to-do list item. For example, I exercise every morning. I do it as soon as I wake up, while it’s dark out and before I’ve checked my mail. It’s not an activity that lights me up. It doesn’t make me happy when I think of doing it and definitely doesn’t make me happy while I do it and often times not even after. I am just grateful it’s done. I am committed to doing it because I know it’s beneficial to my heart and body and health. But that’s it.

Then there’s the sketching. I often start my sketch while the kids are still at home and then finish it after I’ve dropped them off at school. Those 20-30 minutes spent on a page are some of my favorites in the day. When I am sketching, I don’t worry about the passage of time, I don’t feel frustrated. Most of the time, I don’t think at all. I just sit there and get into the joy of it. I feel like my sketches need a lot of work. There are many others whom I admire and wish I could be like. I yearn for more talent, better eye, clearer understanding of perspective, etc. etc. But despite not being anywhere near where I wish I were talent-wise, I still adore my sketching time. It’s an activity that definitely lights up my day.

There are other activities that add value to my life. Like the journaling helps me get organized and helps me sort out my head. This is exercise for my brain and soul just like the treadmill is for my body and heart. I need them both. But they don’t make me lose track of time the way sketching does.

So when thinking about how to spend your time, I say don’t worry about HOW MUCH you’re doing but worry about WHAT you’re doing. Are you taking care of your soul, brain, heart, and body? Are you doing things that light you up? Even if it’s one single thing. Even if it’s just for 15 minutes a day.

Sometimes we pile so much on our todo list that the whole days goes by without a moment of light. Without a moment of pure joy. When I watch my little son and see how many times a day he laughs all by himself, I find myself wishing for the same. I want to laugh with joy too. I want to do something that makes me so happy. This is not a race. And if it were, I think the ones who win are not the ones who do it all.

It’s the ones who do what gives them the most joy.

So look at how you spend your time. Look at your 2012 list. (I’m sure you have one.) Pick one thing that you know will give you joy. Don’t worry about all the others. Just do that one. Today. Right now. Do it for 10 minutes.

I promise you will be glad you did.

Finding My Art Journal Voice

Apologies for posting two reposts in one week. This is a post I wrote for Julie’s Art Journal Everyday series in November. It talks a little bit about my art journaling journey and process. I wanted a copy preserved here.

The first time I decided I wanted to keep an art journal was in 2007. I had a 7-gypsies book in my stash, I decorated its cover with a photo I took and my word for that year.

I was super excited to fill its pages. During the next few weeks, I made a few collage pages. Some inspired by artists I admired, others using techniques I’d learned in the classes I took online. After the initial 4-5 pages, I didn’t touch that book again until 2010. When I finally finished it last year, I felt a sense of relief. Three years of trying again and again, and I was finally able to finish one art journal. I’ll admit that it was a lot of effort. I spent every single day in November of 2010 creating pages, just to finally be done with the book. I remember feeling frustrated each day and while I was proud to have completed it, the book just didn’t feel mine. It felt like a collection of my version of other people’s techniques and styles. It was beautiful. It just wasn’t “me.”

When I made my list of projects for 2011, art journaling weekly was at the top of the list. I knew I wanted to art journal more (I’d wanted to art journal more since 2007!) but I truly didn’t have an idea what that meant. What exactly was art journaling? When I looked around to people whose art I admired, I saw a wide variety. There was acrylics, collage, watercolor, fabric, drawing. I can go on and on. Instead of feeling inspired by the variety, I felt confused and frustrated. I didn’t know what was “right.” Where should I start? What did an art journal really look like? I signed up for a bunch of different classes, all claiming to teach me how to “get inspired.” But they just managed to confuse me further.

And then, two pivotal things happened. The first one was a blog post by Julie. I had seen similar week-long pages by Judy Wise and admired them, but I had never before thought I could create them, too. Julie’s post and the way she broke down her process was exactly what I needed. So I purchased the same journal and immediately started doing my own week-long pages. I used a wide variety. One week it would be watercolors:

Then doodling.

Then acrylics.

And then back to watercolors.

This project was a great step for me in unleashing my inner-artist. I would create some background pages on the weekends and then each day, I did a little bit of stamping, some coloring, and some writing. It felt very doable and I had a lot of fun with it. You can see all my pages here.

As much as I loved this new weeklong project, it wasn’t enough. I wanted to create those beautiful, artistic pages I saw others create. I kept searching for my artistic voice. I signed up for every class I could find online. My second pivotal event was taking Christy Tomlinson’s She Had Three Hearts Workshop. I’d already taken a previous course by her and it was good so I signed up for this one thinking it would be fun, too. But it was so much more than that, for me. As part of her class, Christy demonstrated several different mediums. She used videos so I could see exactly how each medium worked and there were a few that I had never tried that spoke to me.

Her class finally gave me the inspiration to sit down and create some pages. (Instead of just looking at them, bookmarking ideas, and never creating.) I bought a few new supplies and started to create daily. Within a few weeks, I’d accumulated a bunch of pages and while I liked these more, I still felt like something was lacking. My pages looked off to me but I kept creating and trying these new mediums anyway. One day, I was talking to my husband and I asked him what he thought of my most recent page. He said it was pretty but that the colors looked a little muddy.

It’s going to sound weird but, for whatever reason, it was exactly what I needed to hear at that very moment. His words made me realize the problem I had all along! If you’ve ever seen my scrapbook pages, I always use a white cardstock background. I like the way colors pop out on white. And yet, when I sat to art journal the first thing I did was to paint my background. That’s what all the classes tell you to do. It’s supposed to help you overcome the fear of the “blank page.” But I hated the way blue looks against a page with a yellow background. I disliked that a colored background meant any layer I added didn’t have the true color anymore. So, the very next day, I used a white background instead:

And suddenly, everything clicked for me. I’d finally found my way. Throughout the next few weeks, there were several other things that fell into place to define my personal way of art journaling but it all started with that white background. It freed me to let go of many other preconceived ideas I’d gotten from my classes.

So let me walk you through how I create a simple art journal page today and all the decisions I make along the way:

The first thing I do is cut a piece of paper. I do not use a journal. I like my pages to be loose so I can stitch all over them, so I no longer use bound journals. This, too, was a big change from the classes I took. They almost always tell you to get a journal.

I then pick some stencils I like and happy, bold, heavy body acrylic colors and create my focal point. Yet another no-no for art journaling according to the classes I take. You’re supposed to do your background first and focal point last. Not me.

I rarely use water. I tend to take my dry brush, dip it in the paint and go for it. I like the look it gives on the dry paper. Oh, and I use watercolor paper and I never gesso. I like the texture the watercolor paper gives my page. I don’t like how gesso feels. Unless the medium desperately needs it (like acrylic ink!s) I will not use gesso.

So here’s how it looks after my initial step. I just used two stencils and then similar colors to create a bit of a border. It’s messy and not tidy:

The next thing I do is stamp my saying. Each of my art journal pages have a saying. A meaning, a thought. To me, it’s a crucial part of the process. I do the same thing with my titles on my scrapbook pages. It’s the meaning behind this page. Why I created this particular page on this particular day. Most of the time, it’s a thought on my mind. Very rarely, it can be a quote or a song lyric. As I was stamping this one, I made a mistake and I wanted to keep the photo so you could see that it happens all the time:

That “f” is supposed to be a “t.” So I used gesso to erase it (another advantage of a white background) and re-stamped on it when it dried. Here’s the page with the full title:

The next thing I do is use some of the stamps I have as texture and layers. I’ve accumulated these over time and I have a baggie of them so I can use different ones on each page. (Though I always seem to prefer the same few stamps.)

Here’s how the page looks once I’ve stamped on it some. This is another area where I make it my own. I have a stamp I use on every single page. It’s my “signature.” It’s the little “be you” stamp on the upper left corner of the photo.

I then added some pen outline to the butterflies and circles to tidy them up a bit and make sure they popped out. The last thing I do is stitch all around the page and I am done. Sometimes I might stitch on my focal point, too. But not this time.

You might find it too sparse or even boring. That’s totally ok. The thing about art journaling is that it’s personal. What speaks to me might not speak to you and vice versa.

After four years and many, many, many pages, I feel like I am finally finding my personal voice and style of art journaling. I create a page almost every day and most of them are simple like the one above. I love the process and the end result. Sometimes I vary the look and try something new. But most of the time, I stick to what I love and what speaks to me.

That’s the trick with art. Doing what speaks to you. If you’re struggling like I was, I recommend throwing all the “rules” you’ve learned out the window and trying some new things. Here are some ideas of what you can try:

1. A different type of paper
I tried everything I had at home and bought a few new things. I finally found one specific paper I love the feel of and now I use that most of the time. I also found I love watercolor paper and not canvas. I love loose paper and not bound.

2. A different medium (watercolor, acrylic, pan pastel, pastel, oil, etc.)
I much prefer heavybody acrylics. I also adore pan pastels. I use watercolor on my sketches, but rarely on my art journal pages. I do like the feel of watercolor pencils and have it on my list to try them more often. The medium you use can make a world of difference. Don’t go out and buy a bunch of things but see if you can find a friend to borrow supplies from or see if you can go to a local studio for open art time.

3. A different background
Try using white. Try putting tissue paper all over the background. Or stamping all over it. Try using black paper. Kraft paper. See what speaks to you.

4. A different order
Dare to do your focal point first. Do the journaling first. Or create a page with no focal point. With three focal points. Just experiment on your own with doing things in a completely different order so you can see what inspires you the most.

Most importantly, the best thing you can do is to keep creating. Before I discovered my way, I made over 200 pages. If I hadn’t made all those pages, I would never have discovered that I didn’t like the way the colors looked muddy. I would never have found the paper I like or the colors I prefer. Lessons and bookmarks are great inspiration, but you can only learn and grow by trying. By experimenting and finding your own personal preferences.

Give yourself the time and space to play and discover what feels authentic to you. Take it from me: you do not have to do it the way everyone else does. We are all different and we have the space to express our uniqueness; that’s what makes art so incredibly powerful.

Thank you for letting me share my own journey with you