Friday, July 24, 2015

My Creative Life: Art

I wrote earlier about my time as a musician. That was a long time ago and it feels like a different person lived that life. When I decided to stop playing oboe, I moved to a different state and sold my instruments. That was the only way I could really start over without answering painful questions every day. I had a fantastic oboe and English Horn that I didn't want to rot in my closet, so I sold them to other musicians. They are hopefully still living a good musical life without me!

I let myself go a little wild and be a kid for a few years in my mid-twenties. I'd been so serious and focused as a young musician that I needed that time. Right away I also started painting. I didn't want to fall too quickly into another obsessive career, but it kind of happened on its own.

Knowing all about music school, and knowing people who went to art school, I made the decision not to go back to school. I didn't have the money, and I wanted to explore art in a more organic way. Mostly it's been the right decision for me. In the last 20 years I've read tons of art books, taken workshops, worked for Riverhouse Editions making etchings, and even had the wonderful experience of working for Laura Wait as a studio assistant helping her make hand-made artist books and prints. Being a self-taught artist is kind of a misnomer. It's more about being a self-learner and tapping into all of the resources around you to learn what you can from them.

1 Potato, 2 Potato, 3 Potato, 4
I want to tell you about finding my calling. Which sounds silly. But it's happened to me 3 times in my life and it's an incredible feeling to discover the thing that resonates with you so perfectly. I found my calling making potato prints.
Couch Potatoes
Yep. I'm a goofball. I don't remember what prompted me to cut up russet potatoes with a razor blade and print them with acrylic paint, but I did. And it was SO FUN! I couldn't stop for about 3 days. I told my friend at work about it. I was working at a frame shop (a skill I highly recommend for any 2-D artist) and my friend said, "Hmmmmmm, maybe you should try linoleum prints."

I got a couple of linoleum blocks from the art supply store but I was too cheap to buy the cutting tool. So I carved this print with a razor blade. (Don't try it!!!!! Buy the cutting tools!!!!!) It's a commemoration of my truck's odometer turning over to all zeros.  I can't believe I pulled it off at all. I drew directly on the block and my drawing skills weren't great. I didn't really understand the way the print would be a reverse of what I was carving. I painted acrylic ink on the block with a brush and printed it by hand. And I LOVED the process. It was so much fun I could barely stand it. I wanted to do it for my whole life!

So I went out and bought a linocut tool and ink. And this is the next print I made:

I've discovered that it's the process of making a print that I love- monotypes, etchings, solar plates, letterpress, linocuts, whatever. I just keep making linocuts because I can do them at home without a lot of equipment and no press. One day I will own a press, but I'm so used to printing by hand that I don't mind it, and I can get effects that I couldn't get on a press anyway. Those first potato prints led me directly to becoming a printmaker. And I still want to do it my whole life!

Many years later I reprinted my beloved truck from that original block and put her in a field of stamped tulips. It looks like she's having a nice little vacation from the road. :)

But back to being a self-learner. I know that I can learn anything I want to. Sometimes it takes a while and it would be more efficient if I could just go to school or take some workshops. But I can't afford them. If it's something I really want to learn, I will take the time and find the resources I need and practice. I definitely know about practicing from being a musician.

There's one thing I didn't even realize that I needed to learn until recently though- self confidence. Some people seem to be born with it, but not me. I learned it as a musician, but I never learned it as an artist. Starting completely from scratch as an adult making art is no way to have built-in self confidence. I know I have great skills in some areas, and there are lots of areas that need work. But overall, my artwork is at a much greater level than my confidence. And it's time to change that!

What I've found that helps is listening to and reading inspirational material for creative people. A lot of it. And then I do any of the things they suggest that make sense to me. If I hear that I should join Instagram and post lots of art photos, I'll do that. If I hear that art directors still really like to get postcards in this digital age, I'll do that. If I hear that I should share more personal information, I'll do that. (See- I'm doing it!!) If I hear something that doesn't make sense to me or I think it's wrong, I won't do that. But lots of those little tidbits add up and help me feel confident in my business and my presentation. My favorite podcast for inspirational art business ideas is the Creative Pep Talk by Andy J. Miller.

I also like to listen to interviews of creative people and how they generated their own success. Here is a recent post with some favorite podcasts. It can be depressing to hear about someone else's great artistic life and achievements if you also want that for yourself. But then when you hear how they started out you realize that all beginnings are awkward and success wasn't built overnight. One of my favorite illustrators, Carson Ellis was a cocktail waitress in her twenties. She lived cheaply and spent as much time drawing as she could. Check out this great interview with her on Pencil vs Pixel.        

There is an inspiring interview with Anna Joyce on Jennifer E. Snyder's Creating Your Own Path podcast. Anna started her textile design business at a time when she couldn't get a job elsewhere. She had $3000 in savings and enough money for childcare for 3 months. And she dove in with all of her energy. Here is one favorite quote from the interview: "The number one thing that people should pay attention to if they are starting a creative career is taking themselves seriously. And when you take yourself seriously, others take you seriously. And if you really have a lot of passion, it's just about follow-through at that point. There are a million people that talk about wanting to do something and so many less actually do it. So if you have a goal and you just keep chugging away until you reach that goal, it's so much easier to reach the next one. So take yourself seriously and follow through with all of the things you intend to do."

And finally, when people compliment my work I really listen and take in the compliment. I was raised to be a humble girl and it was hard to learn to be publicly proud of my work. But I work hard and I'm really good at some things! So each little unasked-for compliment I take and use to build the strong base of self-confidence that I'm building. I'm not the person to build a skyscraper, but I've got a really good foundation for a cozy home right now. Thank you for coming over to visit. When I get the walls and roof done, I'll have you all over for a party!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Our Home Picture Book Dummy

I got all of the drawings done for this picture book dummy! They are small- each spread is 4 1/2 x 8 inches. But they are pretty detailed. 

I was pushing myself to work quickly so I could have this dummy done for the LA SCBWI Conference which is next weekend. Even though I was trying to get through the drawings quickly, this is the second complete dummy that I've done for this book and I've been thinking about and doing artwork related to this book for many years. So it's well thought out even if a bit rushed. Sometimes a deadline is all it takes. I would have liked to have time to finish a linocut for another spread, but that will have to happen later.

Here are the Instagram photos that I took along the way.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

My Creative Life: Music

I've been wanting to share a little bit about my life as an artist because right now I'm working on something that is so important to me that it's making me very introspective. I wasn't always an artist though. I didn't draw a lot as a child. I wanted to be a writer and I did write stories and poems as well as reading constantly. And in 5th grade I started playing oboe and became focused on music.

Usually in bios I mention that I was a musician because it explains why I didn't go to art school. But I gloss over that part of my life because it's not relevant. Does anyone ever live a life that is linear with only one purpose and no side trips, though? NO! If it seems that way when reading your favorite person's bio, you can certainly imagine that they left out quite a few side trips that contributed to their life view, but weren't really relevant to the bigger picture.

I want to explain something I discovered because there is an off chance that it could help someone else. But also because the way I handled this one challenge was not so great. Hopefully I've learned over the years and am facing my current challenge as an artist better that I did as a young oboist. I'll talk more about that in my next post.

The oboe when played well has the most gorgeous and haunting sound. It's a tough instrument to learn though, especially because you also have to learn to make your own reeds. Here is a YouTube video of Eugene Izotov giving pointers about and then playing a beautiful solo from Rimsky-Korsakov's Scherezade if you'd like to hear what the oboe sounds like.

I graduated with a Bachelor Degree in Oboe performance from the University of North Texas. The photo above is from my senior year. Our conductor was the incredible Anshel Brusilow.

After graduating, I knew I wasn't ready to be on my own without a teacher. I auditioned for a Master's program at the most prestigious school for oboists. I wasn't accepted. So I started taking lessons from the wonderful oboists in the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. I had challenges and setbacks, but nothing I couldn't have gotten through with time. But after college, my heart wasn't in it. That's because there was something I thought I'd never be able to do well enough to become successful. I couldn't articulate quickly enough. People tried to help and suggest alternative ways to improve but I felt like I'd hit a wall. I had so much potential in other areas, but my tongue just could't keep up with my fingers.

I'd showed my college teacher, Charles Veazey that my tongue was connected almost from the tip down to the bottom of my mouth. We vaguely thought that might be related to articulation or fast tonguing but we didn't know what to do about it. And this was so long ago that there was no internet or we probably would have done a little online research.

I wound up quitting oboe two years after college. I'd been playing regularly in an orchestra and having plenty of gigs. Things were generally good but I felt a little lost. I needed guidance and a strong teacher to help me figure out my weird problem. I probably should have applied for a Master's program at UNT and continued to study with Dr. Veazey but instead I quit.

I've been thinking about all of this a lot in the last two years since my daughter was born. She had big problems nursing which led me to reading about different things on the internet (how handy!) One issue was tongue-tie. That wasn't my daughter's problem but OMG, it was MY problem! Apparently I was a very colicky baby which is understandable because babies with tongue-ties can't suck properly. Sorry for all of the crying, Mom & Dad!

This problem has been known for an incredibly long time but around the 1950's doctors started dismissing tongue-tie as a made-up issue. It's recently becoming more widely known again. It's absurd how often science denies ancient knowledge only to find later that it has merit.

I'm sad that this minor handicap that could have been easily corrected changed the course of my life. I may have quit playing oboe for another reason along the way, but maybe I'd still be playing today. I did love playing in an orchestra. Sitting surrounded by musicians in the middle of a performance of Beethoven or Brahms or Debussy or works by any of the great composers is a transcendent experience. It's not the same as sitting in front of an orchestra as a listener. As you perform you are hyper aware of everything around you. You are nervous, you are confident, you are thinking on your toes, you are responding to so much stimuli, you are electrified! And now when I hear my favorite classical pieces I feel like crying, so mostly I don't listen.

I still have lots of musician friends from my earlier life, and if you folks or anyone else reading this encounters a young person who seems to be having this same problem, it's an easy surgical fix! Please investigate tongue-tie as a possibility.

I did discover after I quit playing oboe that I'm a very creative person. And I'm so happy to have become a visual artist! But one of my biggest hurdles as an artist is believing in myself and having confidence. I know this is partly because I walked away from my oboe career and that makes me feel like a quitter. I just didn't have the information and help that I needed at the time. Now my challenge is to learn self confidence. And I have a lot to say about that because I've been making great progress. I'll post about that and making my way as a self taught artist next time.

I only have 2 photos of myself playing and the other one is too dark to see. So even though this isn't how I usually sat or practiced, I thought I'd share this old picture. My boyfriend and I were in the middle of a fun vacation but I still needed a little time away from my vacation to be alone and play my oboe.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Blurb Portfolio

This is the first time I've had my work printed into a book instead of putting the images into the sleeves of a portfolio binder. It turned out really nicely!

I used Blurb to make the book and used their online layout option which was easy. The one I made is 12x12 inches, has no dust cover, and I used ProLine Uncoated paper. The paper is wonderful!!!

Here are some photos:

Monday, July 6, 2015


I've been furiously drawing the artwork for my dummy, Our Home. There's nothing I'd like to post yet so I thought I'd share some of the great podcasts I've been listening to while drawing.

I've been loving podcasts about creativity and art career strategy. It's such a good feeling to get inspired and have some new insights into how to be a successful artist while drawing, carving, and painting. Listening keeps me focused on the art in front of me also. I tend to get less fidgety and distracted.

So here are a few great podcasts I've found. If you know others, please share them with me!

Andy J. Miller's Creative Pep Talk
Andy shares lots of concrete tips on how to improve your art business and gain clarity about your work.  And who doesn't need a pep talk? I know I often do! He's fun and inspiring and definitely full of good ideas.

Creating Your Own Path with Jennifer E. Snyder. These are weekly interviews with creative people. And Jennifer asks great questions that lead to interesting answers. 

Todd Henry's Accidental Creative Podcast.
There are years worth of podcasts here about all things related to art. Todd also has guest speakers who share their own insight.

The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators
These are conversations with  children's book industry professionals, authors, and illustrators. You can hear them if you are a SCBWI member.

These are interviews with lots of different people hosted by Alec Baldwin. I was skeptical at first but he's an excellent interviewer!

This is a great way to learn about lots of different topics. Each program is based on a theme and has excerpts from several different TED Talks and well as exploring the theme with the speakers even more than in the original talk.

Pencil vs Pixel is a series of interviews with different creative people.

The ones below are actually videos, but you don't have to watch them, they work well as something to listen to while creating.

Reading Rockets Interviews with Children's Authors and Illustrators There are so many great interviews here with the giants of children's books! They usually talk about their childhood, how they got into creating children's books, and a bit about a book that they created.

Creative Mornings is a lecture series that I just started exploring. There are so many of them!!

TED Talks Everyone has heard of TED talks, right? There are so many that it's hard to know what to listen to. I usually type in the search words "art" or "creativity" to find something interesting.

So have fun listening and let me know if you know other good ones!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Our Home Finished

Here's how the print I've been working on turned out. I'm pretty excited about it! This will be the cover for the dummy that I'm working on now.

Above is the linoleum. I carved it without attaching it to a backing block this time and it worked fine. I had to have a rigid board to support it while printing so it wouldn't move. Printing big images by hand is always a little challenging. The bigger the linocut, the more likely it will shift a tiny bit while I am rubbing the back and give me a bad print.

Here's a photo of me carving the sun rays. I swear my nose isn't really that big! It must be the camera angle. :)

Pulling the print up to peek is always a favorite moment. I love seeing how it turned out!

Here's how the black and white print looks. I left space a little thin and splotchy so when I add gouache it will show up more and look neat.

This is what the front cover will look like and the sun will be on the back. Yay for Our Home!

Monday, June 22, 2015


This recent linocut of the Ugly Duckling and his siblings discovering water for the first time is my entry for Susanna Leonard Hill's illustration contest. If you are an illustrator, go check out the contest on her blog!

Here is more of The Ugly Duckling text by Hans Christian Anderson:

The following day, the weather was glorious, and the sun shone brightly on all the green burdock leaves. The mother duck came down to the water with her entire family and jumped in with a splash. "Quack, quack," she said, and one after another the ducklings leaped in after her. The water closed over their heads, but in an instant they were back up again, floating along beautifully. Their legs paddled along on their own, and now the whole group was in the water- even the ugly gray duckling joined in on the swimming.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Carving Our Home

I've been working away at this linocut for the cover of my dummy, Our Home. I included my reading glasses in this photo because they are a necessary tool! The other day I kept making little slips and mistakes. It was driving me crazy. A linocut with this much detail will have plenty of imperfections, but  I made 3 or 4 bad cuts on the very same house and it's because I couldn't see well.

I've only been wearing reading glasses for about 6 months and they are the weakest ones. But lately I've felt like my eyes were failing! Which was understandably upsetting. Then I finally realized that it's my lighting. A light right over the top just makes a glare on the linoleum. But lights to the side show me the shadows and that really helps my brain interpret the information. So I'm back on track and happy carving!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Our Home

I'm really excited to get back to one of my favorite picture book dummies. It's title was Home, but since Carson Ellis' book Home came out I felt like slightly changing my title. Carson's book is really wonderful by the way, and I'd definitely recommend it!

So I'm going with the title Our Home. I sketched out a new dummy quite a while ago and didn't get further with it. But Ive pulled it out to finish and it reads well without too many changes. So I'm diving in! I'm going to be simultaneously cleaning up the sketches and carving a big linocut for the cover. I hope to have one or two linocuts and the new dummy finished by the time I go to the SCBWI LA Conference at the end of July. I'm working fast!

Here is the drawing on tracing paper for the block I'm about to start. Actually, for the first time I'm going to try carving a large piece- 19x10 with the linoleum unmounted. So I guess I can't call it a block.

And here's a super quick mock-up of the layout of the cover. I can't wait to get started!

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you might be sighing and thinking, "She's going to carve ANOTHER picture of the Earth?" And I feel your eye-roll and I sympathize with it. But I guess I just have to keep after this theme until I get it right. Cross your fingers with me that this will be the best version yet. :)

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Ugly Duckling Postcards

I ordered these postcards from Moo and they are so nice! The print and paper quality are excellent. And the packaging that they arrived in is outrageously gorgeous.

I put one of these images on each side of the postcard. So they aren't really postcards in the sense that you could mail them. But hey, they send you envelopes too.

If you are willing to pay the extra, their Luxe postcards are worth the money!

Monday, June 8, 2015


I'm going to be a guest artist at Make Studio's kid's art camp for one day this summer! The week I'm going to be a guest, the kids are creating their own creature and doing something different with him every day. I'm going to help them write stories and make their own books about their creatures.

We are going to cram a lot into 3 hours including writing a story, making a simple pamphlet-stitched book with a cover, and writing and illustrating in the book. So of course I had to make one myself first. I resurrected an old book dummy of mine, made changes and shortened it, and now I'm working on Maybelle and the Monster as an example for the class.

Here is my storyboard. I'll be giving them a blank storyboard as well as some ideas for getting to know their character and getting their story started.

I was thinking about lettering and trying to get the text to show up on a dark background. I think I will bring my letter stamps for the kids to use. I'll use them for my book sparingly also.

Here's a line drawing from the book of Maybelle reading to Hector her cat. After all of the drawings are done in black colored pencil I get to color! Yay!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Beautiful Swans

The Ugly Duckling grew up! Here he is meeting other swans for the first time. I think swans must be the most beautiful birds of all.

This is the new block on the right next to the first Ugly Duckling block I did on the left. You can see how the black ink stains the block and gets down in the little crevices. It's impossible to get completely clean and it doesn't really matter because the printing surface is the raised, top surface. As long as I get the top of the block clean I can store it and print off the block again if I want to.

Here is the first print I pulled off the block. This is my FAVORITE part of printmaking. Pulling that sheet of paper up to see what the new print will look like!

Thursday, May 28, 2015


This spring a friend of mine asked me to create a piece for her friends who were getting married. After talking about the image layout and looking at lots of photos, this is the print I made for Hannah and Kevin (and their very large dogs!!)

I haven't met Hannah and Kevin. I heard they like their picture and I hope they really do!

Doing commissions is hard because you often don't really know the person who asked you to create the art, or you don't  know the recipient, or you don't know the setting that was requested, or whatever, but it's IMPORTANT that you get it all just right anyway.

So I ask a lot of questions and hopefully get some reference photos. And there's always Google Images when you  are feeling lost. When I have a general idea for the image I usually run it past the client verbally or in an email and make sure I'm on the right track. If that goes well I do a drawing and show the client. Everyone who has asked me to make something for them has already been really familiar with my work. So I don't worry too much about if they will be able to envision what the final piece will look like based on the drawing. It will look like one of my linocuts!

I thought I'd share some of the other commissions I've done in the last few years.

This teepee is near Hayden, Colorado and was commissioned as a birthday present for the owner of the teepee by his very sweet girlfriend. I asked her if she minded if I made the print into an edition and had it available for sale for other people too. She thought that was fine, so I made it to go with a series of Colorado images that I sell locally as originals or cards.

This is a picture of my friend, Liz and her beloved dog, Smokey who passed away. She asked me to make a piece where they are sitting under a tree at sunset. I made this one a little more stylized but hopefully it still shows the love between the two of them.

This one was very hard. A coworker asked me to make something for the parents of a baby who passed away. She was a twin and her sister is living. My coworker wanted to give something personal that would commemorate Allie Mae. I wanted it to be small so they could tuck it away and only look at it sometimes if they wanted to. And I didn't want to try and do the baby's likeness because it would have been too sad and I don't think my artistic talents are up to it. So here is the symbolic piece I did. I not only feel  sympathy for the baby's parents, but I also have a lot of respect for people who make sympathy cards.

This one is a much happier story. A lady I've emailed quite a bit but never met in person collects my artwork. She had a fall and winter linocut of mine and wanted to get spring and summer images as well. She picked my Crows print as the summer picture and asked me if I had any spring pictures. And I have some that would maybe pass as spring, but I asked if she would wait while I made her a new piece that would go with the Crows. In this case, she didn't want to hear anything about the new image. She wanted me to surprise her. Like the Teepee, I asked if she would mind if I made it an edition and other people could buy a print also. 

So here is a spring picture and it's especially relevant this year with all of the rain. There are Sandhill Cranes because they fly through our area every spring and fall. These cranes are towing rain clouds. The river is high and there are glacier lilies blooming. 

Happy spring to all of you!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Ugly Duckling Painted

Here's how the first Ugly Duckling print turned out. I didn't originally know if the central image and the border would fight, but I think they are working together ok!

I've just started carving the second image. I'll post that when there is something worth seeing.

I wanted to share a little inspiration for the style of this linocut. I've always loved doing borders, but they are sort of old-fashioned for illustration. Sometimes I give in though, like in Dreaming of Flowers above.

One of my favorite illustrators who uses a lot of black and is not afraid of decorative patterns and borders is Julie Paschkis. She has a wonderful blog about children's books with several talented friends called Books Around the Table. Here are some of Julie's illustrations:

There's a Czech illustrator named Josef Paleček who I discovered online while poking around. Wow! I just love his colors, textures, and his style. Here are some of his Ugly Duckling illustrations:

And in an older style- Maxwell Armfield. I love the detailed paintings with the ancient style borders and text.

I just wanted to share some of the beautiful illustrations that were stirring around in my head as I created my own version of The Ugly Duckling. Thanks for taking a look!