Looking Back and Looking Forward

Today is my birthday. I love birthdays. When I was a child my mom always made them special (she still does!). I guess I never let go of the joy of celebrating my day.

Anne as a child with an armful of roses

Most years I try to do something interesting. Go somewhere I’ve never been before. Eat good food, maybe at a new restaurant or maybe an old favorite. I even make sure I take the day off from work.

I don’t fret about getting older or worry about what the numbers mean. Not even when they’re big. Three years ago, on the day I turned 40, I started my day by taking Matthias to a chemotherapy appointment. Celebrating my birthday within that context, when things felt so uncertain, getting old sounded really good. It still does. I have hopes and dreams and intentions for the future and I have a beautiful image of me as an old woman with white hair and funny outfits making wonderful art.

The other day I finished the last pages in two sketchbooks and it inspired me to bring out all my finished sketchbooks and arrange them in order by the date I finished them. Not all were dated, so I had to do a little detective work (note to self: always date your sketchbook pages!).

All the Sketchbooks I've Filled Up So Far on My Creative Journey

I’ve filled up 11 books so far (and have 6 in progress).

These sketchbooks tell the story of my (adult) art journey. I can page though them and witness my development as an artist. Most of the pages don’t mean much on their own. But as part of a larger whole they’re precious.

The first book begins in January of 2010. I’d been dreaming about making art for about a year at that point (two of my New Year’s Resolutions for 2009 were “Make some paintings” and “Draw”), but I hadn’t done much with those dreams. Even in 2010 it took me most of the year to overcome my fears and begin painting. That first book is mostly sketches for sewing and crochet projects, but slowly in the following books I began to take more risks, try more things and truly grow.

A recent page in one of my sketchbooks celebrating the glory of the coming spring in the form of tulips with watercolor and ink

Looking through my sketchbooks and thinking back to those tentative first steps and to all the little steps that followed (some tentative and some much more confident) made me pull out a few of my old journals and look through them, too.

My life was so different before I made my leap into creativity. I was unhappy and I knew I wanted something more. I knew I needed a change. It certainly wasn’t an easy road and I don’t think I ever dreamed I’d end up quite where I am today. Living in a small town and working in a library? Yes, I could picture that. Having my art published in magazines and books? Exhibiting my paintings? Teaching art online and in person? Sewing clothes with fabric I’d designed? Those dreams all seem too big. And yet, here I am.

Anne Butera in her studio wearing a top made with her butterfly fabric from Spoonflower

Every December I like to look back at all I’ve accomplished over the year and look forward to all I wish for the coming year. Sometimes during the day to day of life in progress it’s easy to lose sight of all our successes. The failures loom large. Our frustrations assume a weight they don’t deserve. Taking time to look back, remember, celebrate how far we’ve come is important. A birthday is a perfect time for it.

My word for this year is GROW and although I have a lot more growing I want to do this year (and beyond!), it seems right to look at all the growth that’s gotten me where I am today.

If you’re feeling impatient or frustrated or discouraged with how slowly your journey is progressing (whatever kind of journey you are on), take some time to remember how far you’ve already come. Take some time to settle into the slowness of your own unique story. To savor its sweetness (because it’s yours!). And if you have big dreams that seem very far away, remember that every little step you take brings you that much closer to them.

Thank you for joining me on my journey. For cheering me on. For encouraging and supporting me. May the next 365 days be filled with joy, with creativity, with wonder.

Celebrating The 5th Handmade Joy Exchange

Back in January I opened an invitation to the 5th Handmade Joy Exchange. I hosted the first one in 2012 and three more after that. Each one was such fun. It was great to get to know some new people, to facilitate new friendships and to help spread joy around the world.

Handmade Joy Exchange


This time I had 19 people join from 12 US states and 4 other countries (India, France, UK and Italy)! Some were people who had participated in the other exchanges and some were new. I matched people up randomly and there were serendipitous pairings. Laura who is from Italy but now lives in the UK (and recently became a British citizen!!) was matched with Christina in Italy. My mom (who’s participated in each of the five Joy Exchanges) was matched with Kelly who lives a few minutes walk from where my parents lived over 40 years ago. Joy at work!

It was wonderful to hear from the participants as they received their packages. So much thought went into the crafting and art making.

I was sad to hear that one package went astray, but I’m hopeful that it will eventually find its way to where it’s going.

Painting, sewing crochet, paper craft, book making… such creativity!

Want to see?

Bits of Handmade Joy Created by the Exchange Participants to Send to Their Partners

From top left to right (top to bottom): Prerna, Laurie, Sarah, Sonia, Tracey, Chris, Stephanie, Cristina, Kelly, Tara

Bits of Handmade Joy Created by the Joy Exchange Participants and Sent to their Partners

From top left to right (top to bottom): Sharon, Karen, Angela, Ida, Carol, Laura, Margaret, Caron, Cynthia (not pictured)

Read a bit more about the Exchange from the participants’ point of view in these blog posts:

Karen from Sew and Sow Life

Cristina from Nature and Paint

Laura from It Is Forbidden to be Bored

Thank you to each of you who participated! And for those of you who didn’t, maybe you’re feeling inspired you to send someone a surprise in the mail? Even just an unexpected postcard will spread a little joy. The world always needs more joy.

 
Battling the Winter Blahs

Spring might be on its way (according to meteorologists it’s already here), but it certainly doesn’t feel like it in Wisconsin. Does it feel like spring where you are?

Daffodils Bring Cheer to Winter Dreariness When They're Blooming Inside

We had our first snow of the season back in October. Since the beginning of the year we haven’t really been without a cover of snow on the ground. This week started out COLD, but this weekend it’s supposed to rain and sleet and snow. Around town there are icicles and mountains of snow. The roads and people’s driveways are getting narrower and narrower and the snow is getting ever dirtier. If bulbs have started pushing their way out of the ground I wouldn’t know it. (Do they even grow beneath the snow?).

Winter isn’t my favorite season. Yes, I love the magic of new-fallen snow; of glittering, ice-glazed trees and the cobalt blue of the sky set against all that white. And yes, I like spending a cozy day inside in my pajamas, baking and cooking and snuggling beneath blankets, reading books and watching movies. But I miss flowers. I miss running out the back door to pick herbs or pull carrots or search for ripe tomatoes. I miss eating fresh kale everyday and walking around barefoot and not having to don boots and coat and hat and gloves each time I go outside.

Some days it’s fine, but other days I feel so blah. I’ve found it helps to have some battle plans in place.

Orchids Blooming in My Studio Brighten the Winter Dreariness and Provide Inspiration for my Art

Grow something!

My little collection of orchids growing in my studio never fail me at this time of year. The first one opened up last month and they’ve slowly been taking turns adding their colors to my space (and inspiration for my art!).

I’ve been gathering seeds for my garden, but haven’t started any just yet. Soon. Until then I have sprouts growing in my kitchen.

Anyone Can Grow Sprouts Inside for Fresh Greens During the Winter

Sprouts are an easy way to garden any time of year. No matter how small your space, no matter which way your windows face you can grow sprouts. (Here’s a simple overview of growing sprouts on the Mountain Rose Herbs blog).

Make something!

I’ve been on a sewing kick lately. I finally got a new sewing machine and now sewing is much more fun (and so much less frustrating!). I’ve even been using some of my own fabric (Spoonflower is offering free worldwide shipping til 11:59 pm EDT March 8. I need to decide quick which other of my designs need to become clothing!).

Sewing a Top With Two Scales of Fabric Designed with My Nasturtium Watercolor Print

But I also have lots of fabric in my stash to use up. I’ve been especially inspired by Sonya Philip’s 100 Acts of Sewing and her classes on Creativebug.

I’m also planning out crochet projects (this sweater is next) and still (slowly) working on some embroidery. When I’m obsessively working on a project I don’t have time to feel blah.

This week in her newsletter Abby Glassenberg was talking about feeling a bit down about her business. Her husband told her to “go make something”, which ended up being just what she needed. And the result? A new sewing pattern, shared with the world.

A Basket of Colorful Yarn is a Joyful Inspiration

Get Moving!

I’m not really a fan of exercise. Yes I like going for walks (especially when the weather is nice), but otherwise I’d rather sit and read a book (or paint). For ages I’ve wanted to try to change that, but for me, it’s not easy. Recently I bribed myself into doing some yoga by designing a couple pretty yoga mats (you can find them here).

I’ve been trying to do some each day (on my moths mat), starting with beginning practices on YouTube (thanks, Dana, for recommending the Yoga with Adrienne channel!). It’s been changing my perspective. Exercise isn’t something you need to struggle through, but is rather a devotion to yourself.


Treat yourself!

It doesn’t have to be big. Treat yourself to a pot of daffodils (thanks, Mom, for the ones in my living room!). Treat yourself to a bar of exquisite chocolate or a bag of loose leaf tea. Matthias and I like to pick out an interesting cheese to try when we shop at the co-op in town. Trying a new art supply is another fun treat, whether it’s new paints, a new sketchbook or a fun marker or pen. Little treats like this make the day special, which is just what I need when I’m feeling blah.

A gold leafing pen is a a fun art supply treat to make your day (and your sketchbook) special

Nurture yourself!

In addition to taking time for things like yoga, I’ve been focusing on other self-care rituals. Epson salt baths with essential oils. Face masks. I used to make a lot of natural products and regularly devote time to self-care, but it fell aside because I’m “too busy”. I recently checked out Stephanie Tourles book Organic Body Care Recipes from the library as a reminder to get back to it.

last summer I infused apple cider vinegar with calendula flowers to use on my skin and in my hair

(Also a good reminder to get out the vinegar I infused with calendula flowers last summer and use it in hair rinses, baths and skin toners). Most natural body care “recipes” are so simple and don’t take a lot of time. One of my favorite face masks has only one ingredient: honey. I know I’m not “too busy” for that and I’m guessing you aren’t either.

Dress the part!

One thing that always improves my mood is wearing clothes that make me feel good. I love pairing fun colors and patterns and layering different textures. Much of what I wear is made by my own two hands, giving me even more of a boost.

I used two scales of my  watercolor nasturtiums fabric from Spoonflower  to sew this version of McCalls 5388. I added pockets and lengthened the top to make it more of a tunic.

I used two scales of my watercolor nasturtiums fabric from Spoonflower to sew this version of McCalls 5388. I added pockets and lengthened the top to make it more of a tunic.

Last month Rachel Awes and Kelly Rae Roberts teamed up on Instagram for a week-long challenge to wear spring in winter. What a fun way to bring a little more joy into your days.

I hope you haven’t fallen into the winter blahs, but if you have I hope some of my ideas will help you break free from them. I’d love to know what you like to do to cheer yourself up, too.

Wishing you a joyful weekend, no matter the weather.

Trying (and loving) New Things: Acrylic Craft Paint

Recently I’ve had to edit the wording of my bio for a few different things. In one version I say “She works primarily in watercolor but also loves challenging herself to try new things.” It’s true.

Trying new things is fun and exciting. Part of the fun is getting to play with new supplies. Whenever I hear another artist mention a certain brand of paint or sketchbook or other tool, I can’t help but start fantasizing about trying it myself. Even if it isn’t something I would otherwise have considered.

Maybe I’m just very suggestible. Or maybe it stems, in part, from early in my art journey when I believed other artists had the secrets to making good art. The right supplies were one of them.

Over the years I’ve learned the true secret: make a lot of art.

But knowing it doesn’t stop me wanting to try new supplies and tools (doesn’t trying new things ensure I make more art?).

Last fall I purchased a set of acrylic craft paint and have been using it in my sketchbooks. You might remember me sharing some of these spreads from my collaborative sketchbook with Dana Barbieri:

a spread from Anne Butera’s (right) and Dana Barbieri’s (left) second collaborative sketchbook

a spread from Anne Butera’s (right) and Dana Barbieri’s (left) second collaborative sketchbook

Dana used gouache on the left side of the book to paint her swan. I painted mine with cheap craft paint.

Craft Smart Paint is Available from Michaels

It’s Craft Smart brand from Michaels. The set I bought comes with 24 beautiful colors. Just seeing the bottles in my studio in their thrifted colander makes me happy.

Thrifted containers store my paints and other supplies in my studio

The colors mix beautifully and I’ve had fun experimenting with them.

I would never have considered using craft paint in my art practice, but when I saw it mentioned in Katie Daisy’s list of favorite supplies (she prefers the Martha Stewart brand) I began thinking about it. Then I took a class with Pam Garrison on Creativebug and in it she recommended the Craft Smart brand. Of course I couldn’t resist after that!

Here’s a spread in my sketchbook inspired by Pam’s class:

Sketchbook pages with craft acrylic paint inspired by Pam Garrison's Creativebug class

One beauty of these paints is their versatility. They work a bit like gouache and using more water with the paint gives delicate watercolor effects.

another spread from Anne Butera’s (right) and Dana Barbieri’s (left) collaborative sketchbook

another spread from Anne Butera’s (right) and Dana Barbieri’s (left) collaborative sketchbook

If I hadn’t painted those swatches, I wouldn’t have been able to guess that they were created with acrylic craft paint.

Use less water and it is very opaque.

another spread from Anne Butera’s (right) and Dana Barbieri’s (left) collaborative sketchbook

another spread from Anne Butera’s (right) and Dana Barbieri’s (left) collaborative sketchbook

Layering and blending work equally well. I’ve even used them mixed with gouache. The deep pink of my flamingo was painted with gouache, but the rest of my page used craft paint. I can’t see much difference in how the paints look on the page. Can you?

another spread from Anne Butera’s (right) and Dana Barbieri’s (left) collaborative sketchbook

another spread from Anne Butera’s (right) and Dana Barbieri’s (left) collaborative sketchbook

These paints are beautifully matte. They don’t feel plastic-y or heavy on the page, either.

another spread from Anne Butera’s (right) and Dana Barbieri’s (left) collaborative sketchbook

another spread from Anne Butera’s (right) and Dana Barbieri’s (left) collaborative sketchbook

Although I usually recommend you use the highest quality materials you can afford, I actually think in this case the cheaper paint would be a better option for someone who’s just starting out.

a page of birds in Anne Butera’s sketchbook painted with acrylic craft paint

a page of birds in Anne Butera’s sketchbook painted with acrylic craft paint

It’s easy to work with and gives beautiful results. The price is nice, too. Spending $14 for a set of 24 paints in 2 oz bottles means experimenting and playing and making art isn’t quite as scary as it would be with a set of 12 1/2 oz tubes of gouache that cost $40 (or more).

When I was a beginner I worried about “wasting” supplies and I’ve heard from many people over the years that one of the big things stopping them from working in their sketchbooks is a fear of “ruining” them. Paint is meant to be used (In fact, sitting in its tubes or bottles for years can ruin it).

The only way to learn how to make art is by making art. Experimenting. Playing. “Wasting” paint

monarch sketches in pencil and acrylic craft paint, decorated with gold leafing pen

monarch sketches in pencil and acrylic craft paint, decorated with gold leafing pen

and markers and pens* and pencils… Trying new things opens up your creativity. (And gives you a good excuse to shop for some new supplies!).

I even used acrylic craft paint for this canvas I painted for the  KVR Art Fundraiser **

I even used acrylic craft paint for this canvas I painted for the KVR Art Fundraiser**

What “new” thing have you tried lately?


*the gold leafing pen above is one of a few new pens I’ve tried and loved recently. In future posts I’ll share my thoughts on them and other art supplies

**The Kickapoo Valley Reserve hosts a community art event each year. The canvases, created by area artists “of all ages and talents”, are auctioned off to support their programs. This is the first year I’m participating. The theme is Nature in Flight.

More Thoughts on Blogs and Blogging

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts (in comments and email) after my questions about blogs in last week’s post. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking after reading what you wrote; your words brought about a few epiphanies for me.

A pitcher of roses brightens any day, but especially one in February

Why would I write something on my blog that I wouldn’t read myself? I love reading blogs that share glimpses into other people’s worlds. I love seeing other people’s creative spaces, learning about their creative practices and their creative processes.

As I mentioned last week I got out my “real” camera and in doing so was inspired to look around my world through its lens, something I hadn’t done for much too long.

I truly believe that our world is magical, even the most ordinary bits of it, but I know how easy it is to fall into the habit of rushing through our days without noticing that magic.

Instructions for living a life.

Pay attention.

Be astonished.

Tell about it.

—Mary Oliver

So here I am, trying again to reclaim my purpose for my blog, my energy for it. Without worrying about what the “experts” say. Without getting hung up on doing it “right”. Without agonizing over numbers.

Anne Butera in Her Studio

I’ll be paying attention and being astonished and telling you about it. I’ll be painting and crafting and sharing my enthusiasm for the magic of creativity. I’ll be sharing my ups and my downs, my struggles and my successes. And through it all I’ll be encouraging you to embrace your own creativity and to discover daily joys. The most important goal for my blog is connection.

Yes, a lot of lovely blogs no longer exist, but as Simone said there are “loads more to be discovered”. What a beautiful thought. Are you with me?

Some of you mentioned a couple favorite blogs in the comments last week. I’d love to know what others are your favorites. Please let me know which blogs you like to read and I’ll add links to them to my list below. Let’s celebrate writing blogs and celebrate reading them, too. I dream of a blogging renaissance!

Being (and Loving) Yourself (or, On Blogging)

When I’m planning I write blog topics on my calendar for each week, often scheduling the whole month at once. Sometimes those topics will be crossed out or directed with arrows to other weeks. Because inspiration supersedes planning, sometimes a post will bounce from week to week to week before I finally get around to it and then sometimes by the time I sit down to write, I can’t entirely remember what I wanted to say.

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. It’s kind of a silly holiday, but as I’ve said before, I like it. February isn’t a very exciting month. It’s often dreary and cold and by this time winter’s charm is beginning to wear thin. A day set aside in the middle of the February to celebrate warm cozy feelings (and chocolate) is right up my street. I understand the flip side and all the reasons Valentine’s day is an ugh sort of day for many, but I like the idea of spreading love, of sharing joy, even if it’s just with yourself. Perhaps especially if it’s just with yourself.

Hearts cut from my Watercolor Blue Roses Pattern

We can be so hard on ourselves when what we really need is love.

I have to admit this post has bounced around on my calendar a bit and I can no longer remember my original intention for it (I don’t think it had anything to do with Valentine’s day). But considering what I wanted to say today and how I got here has me thinking about blogging in general.

Back in June on my old blog I wrote about being authentic and in July in this space I wrote about being rebellious, both posts, in part, about blogging. I still have some of those same feelings. I still wonder what my readers (you) want to hear and I’ve begun to wonder about the relevance of blogs today. I haven’t been reading blogs regularly at all lately, and some of my favorites have changed so much while others have disappeared.

My messy studio work table with lots of projects in progress

It’s interesting, when I look back at the links I shared in my post about blogging (on being rebellious), I see that:

I end up asking myself, what now?

I don’t want to quit writing this blog and I’m not certain I need a break, either. Maybe it’s just the winter blahs.

Flowers on the Meyer Lemon Tree in my Studio Window

And so, perhaps my blog and I just need a bit of self-love.

What does self-love look like for my blog? I don’t know. Maybe it’s being even more rebellious than I thought I was being. Maybe it’s writing about topics that bring me joy. Maybe it’s sharing something just because it’s fun (for me). Maybe it’s getting out my real camera (sadly neglected for months and months) and taking photos not to illustrate anything, but because something catches my eye (like those lemon flowers). Perhaps, most of all it’s letting go of any expectations (mine included) and simply being myself.

What does self-love look like for me? Well, confidently being myself is always at the heart of it (and not always easy). More fun is taking time to do things just for me. Brewing up my favorite oolong tea. Savoring a square of dark chocolate. Spending time soaking up sunshine on a cloudless day. Going somewhere I’ve never gone before. Spritzing my face with rosewater as an afternoon pick-me-up. Wearing a pair of thick, soft socks. Watching the birds at my feeder. Planning out my garden and buying seeds…. It’s probably an easier question for you, too.

Now for one that’s not as easy… I’d love to know what you’d like to see in this space. I’m not going to do a formal survey, but want to know your thoughts. What posts do you most like to read? What do you wish I would talk about? What do you want more of (less of)? Share your thoughts in the comments or send me an email.

Thanks for being here reading my words. I hope you have time this weekend to do something just for yourself.

I Made Shoes!

Last week I shared my fears around hand sewing and how my belief that I wasn’t “good” at stitching kept me from trying embroidery. I’m not sure if it was that belief, or if was other fears that kept me from using the espadrille kit I bought at the end of August.

At first I couldn’t make up my mind about which fabric I wanted to use. Butterflies (to match my top)? Goldfish? Blue Roses?

Once I got the right fabric there was always something else more important to do than sew a pair of shoes.

Then I started second-guessing my fabric choice. I sewed a pillow with my fabric in velvet and started to wonder if maybe velvet would be more fun than linen.

Although I could convince myself that each of theses delays was perfectly reasonable, if I’m honest it was fear that stopped me from tackling the project.

I guess it does make sense to think of making shoes as kind of scary. Very few people make their own shoes, right? Making shoes is hard, isn’t it? You need special tools and skills, don’t you?

But let me assure you that despite my fears (and beliefs), it wasn’t difficult!

The kit I bought is from A Happy Stitch, Melissa Q'.’s Etsy shop. Melissa has lots of different options including children’s sizes. Some of the kits come with fabric, but she also has kits that don’t.

The Espadrille Kit that I Used to Sew a Pair of Shoes is From the Etsy Shop A Happy Stitch

I purchased the “I Got it Kit” which has everything you need to make a pair of espadrilles except for the fabric. It really is a thorough kit. (If you want to learn more about all of the “bits” and about their environmental impact, Melissa wrote about it here).

I used linen for the outside of my shoes and Kona cotton for the inside, both in my small scale goldfish design from Spoonflower. A fat quarter of each was more than enough fabric for my pair of shoes.

Getting Ready to Cut out the Pattern Pieces for the Espadrilles with My Goldfish Fabric

I have to admit that I get nervous reading sewing patterns. Often I feel like I don’t know what they’re talking about (thank goodness for Google!). The instructions with this kit were very clear. There’s even a link to a video (which I never ended up needing to consult).

In Progress Goldfish Espadrilles

Even though it wasn’t difficult, it was slow for me. My sewing machine gave me trouble (as it often does). Pinning the fabric to the soles so that everything fit just right was slow. Sewing top to bottom took some strength (and patience). But it was such a satisfying project.

IMG_5310.jpg

I can’t wait to be able to wear them!

If you’d like to try your hand at making some espadrilles, I highly recommend this kit. What’s even better is the fact that Melissa is so kind and helpful. I emailed her a couple times with questions and she responded right away with cheerful, encouraging suggestions.

The Shoes I Sewed with My Goldfish Fabric from Spoonflower and the Kit from A Happy Stitch

Sewing these shoes, working on learning embroidery, getting back to painting… all of it is teaching me, again and again, the art of patience. The art of slowness.

Patience. Slowness. They’re important lessons. They go way beyond a pair of shoes, a colorful sampler or a finished painting.

The Lies We Tell Ourself and How to Break Free From Self-Imposed Limitations

Are there things you wish you could do, but “know” you can’t because you don’t have the talent?

Around ten or twelve years ago, before I got the rose tattoo on my ankle I studied images of roses and planned out a design. I even made a sketch and brought it and lots of photographs with me to my appointment. I clearly remember telling the tattoo artist “I want something like this sketch, but I can’t draw”.

A Sketch I Did for the Tattoo I Got On My Ankle Back Before I Believed I Could Be an Artist

For some reason I believed I couldn’t draw. Many other times I remember telling people, “I’m not an artist”. Worse, I said it to myself.

It would be a few more years before I started to question my belief. Maybe I began to realize drawing and art-making is something I could learn, not an innate ability. Or maybe it was just that my desire to make art outweighed my belief I couldn’t do it. My first paintings weren’t so great, but with determination and practice I got better.

“If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint’, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.” —Vincent Van Gogh

I think we probably all place limitations on ourselves based on lies. Maybe someone said something to us in the past and we’ve since adopted their beliefs as our own. Maybe personal experiences “taught” us lessons that simply are not true. Or maybe “expert” advice tells us that what we’re dreaming isn’t possible.

For a very long time I’ve wanted to try embroidery, to create my own designs and bring them to life. Again and again I would tell people (and myself) I’m not good at embroidery. I’m not good at hand sewing. I’ll just stick my fingers with the needle and bleed all over the fabric if I try to sew by hand. I imagined I could create designs but would need to find someone else to embroider them.

But recently I began to imagine I could try again to learn. Over the years I’d broken free from some of the other limitations I’d put on myself, why not this one too?

I have lots of fabric and I have lots of thread stored away in the closet in my studio. Last week I pulled out some of both and sat down to begin learning. With the help of Rebecca Ringquist’s class on Creativebug I tried my hand at some stitches. It was fun.

A Sampler of Embroidery Stitches I Created Recently

Now I’m completely hooked and my brain is exploding with possibilities.

Those stories I told myself about not being able to embroider weren’t true just as the stories I’d told myself about drawing and painting weren’t true.

My word for this year is GROW. I’ve been keeping it at the forefront of my thoughts. I’m trying new things. I’m experimenting. I’m setting aside my self-imposed limitations and it feels good.

Maybe nothing will come of my experiments. Maybe nothing will come of my dabbling with embroidery, but the act of breaking free from limitations, of overcoming fears, of questioning my beliefs… that is true growth.

So tell me, what is it that you would like to try and what’s been holding you back from trying it?




Plan Your Year and Move from Dreaming to Doing

Somehow January has come and now is almost gone. Are you feeling on top of your goals or is overwhelm starting to settle in?

The other day I realized that although I had ideas for what I wanted to do in the coming year I hadn’t sat down to plan anything. I knew I wanted this year to be a little freer than in the past. I knew I wanted to have time and space to learn new things and to develop and grow as an artist without the constraints of rigid goals and to-dos. But I soon realized that if I didn’t have a framework for my learning I would drift aimlessly. Without some goals and to-dos I might not accomplish anything at all.

Sound familiar?

My Snow Covered January Garden

It’s all too easy to jump into a new year filled with excitement and intentions and forget how much work (and planning) it will take to realize our goals. Partway through January we might begin to feel discouraged when we see we haven’t accomplished much (yet).

Quin on My Lap While I'm Working on the Computer

In her weekly email last Sunday, my friend Ruby shared her feelings of overwhelm and urged her readers to take “deep breaths and carve time for pure enjoyment”.

What does it mean to “carve time”? I see it simply as a matter of planning.

I’ve been watching online classes while eating lunch this month. I noticed Bonnie Christine has a new class on Skillshare and the other day I watched it with my soup. Your Roadmap to Surface Design: A Step by Step Framework to Crafting Your Career might sound super specific to pattern design, but I think many of the ideas that Bonnie shares in the class are useful for anyone with creative business dreams. To me her words were a good reminder of the importance of planning and focus.

I know how important planning is. In the past I’ve been very specific when setting goals and scheduling my year. And I know that without focus it’s all too easy to fritter away our time with unimportant tasks.

And so, armed with a renewed sense of purpose and excitement I sat down this week to plan out my year.

At My Painting Table Planning for the Year

It feels good to be clear about what I want to accomplish and how I’m going to do it.

What about you?

If you’re feeling a bit of overwhelm or a lack of direction, take some deep breaths and then spend some time planning out your year. Go slowly, give yourself space and enjoy the process.

Even if you don’t have dreams of a creative business, you can benefit from a little planning and scheduling. Want to sew more of your clothes? Want to begin a yoga practice? Want to grow a successful garden? Want to travel to Florence? Want to learn how to dance? None of these things will happen unless you plan for them, unless you schedule them, unless you carve time for them.

A New Watercolor Pattern of Tomatoes by Anne Butera of My Giant Strawberry

Get your ideas down on paper. Write lists. Scribble deadlines on your calendar. Having things written down always helps me.

In case you need a little direction with your planning, I’ve created a couple worksheets I’d like to share. This general goal planning sheet and year at a glance planning sheet are a good place to start. I originally created them a few years ago (and shared them on my blog back then, too).

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts. What are you dreaming about for 2019? What would you like to accomplish? What would you like to learn? Need a cheerleader? I know all about Big Dreams and slowly bringing them to reality.

What You Do Matters and Thoughts on Diversity and Healing the World with Beauty

I’ve had a lot of thoughts swirling around in my head this week. I’m going to try untangling them here, though perhaps things might get messier in the process. I’d love for you to jump in with your thoughts, too. I want this space to be a safe place to share ideas and perspectives. I want it to be inclusive and kind and supportive. I want to spread joy and beauty and love and I want this joy and beauty and love to help heal our world.

mushrooms and snails.jpg

I no longer “watch the news”, but I do try to keep up with what’s going on. Reading headlines, delving into articles, watching videos or live streams of important events. I know each of us keep involved in the way (and depth) that works best for us. It can be difficult not to get overwhelmed. There’s so much heartbreak. So much that’s frightening or maddening or both.

I am fortunate to have the privilege of being able to “turn off” the news when it gets too much. I’ve had my share of hardships, but I’ve never had to worry about where my next meal will come from. I’ve never had to worry about the safety of my family or wonder where we will sleep.

Last weekend I was feeling the heaviness. What I do day to day — my art, my classes, this blog, the Handmade Joy Exchange — felt so small and insignificant, frivolous, even, in the face of the world’s brokenness.

A Page from the second collaborative sketchbook by Dana Barbieri and Anne Butera

After reading and watching more about the US Government shut down and about migrants seeking asylum I read about the devastatingly low population counts of monarch butterflies. Then I stumbled upon the discussion raging on Instagram in the knitting and craft community around racism and diversity*. That there is a vein of division and anger running through a community I’ve always thought of as being loving and supportive and kind was eye opening to me.

Our world is clearly hurting.

And there is no easy remedy.

Paintings from an art night I taught for the girl scouts last week

The other day the Stampington & Company newsletter featured my article from Artful Blogging Magazine as a free download. The news at the time I wrote the article was especially ugly. In that way not much has changed. My words came back as a reminder as I re-read what I wrote:

At times when heart-sickening headlines dominate, what I do in my little corner of the world seems so small and insignificant: a painting of flowers, a joy list, an incitement to do something creative and pay attention to the world’s glimmers of magic. Art is a small thing. Blogging is a small thing. In the face of the world’s darkness, what difference does it make? It’s easy to doubt the value of what we do when what we do is small or seemingly so. But then I’m reminded of the quote attributed to Mother Teresa: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” I certainly don’t compare myself to a woman who devoted her life to the service of others, but I find solace and encouragement in her assertion that what we do matters, even when small.

My Article in Artful Blogging Magazine

What I do matters. What you do matters, too.

I just finished reading the book House of Dreams. It’s a biography of L. M. Montgomery. When she was writing Anne of the Island World War I had just broken out. L. M. Montgomery “felt ridiculous writing about college parties, exams and romances while the world was falling to pieces. But as she had promised herself years earlier, she meant to be a ‘messenger of optimism and sunshine’”. Maud’s life was difficult and at times very unhappy (she suffered from mental illness and took her own life), but what a beautiful gift she gave to the world.

Last Sunday Matthias and I went out to brunch at The Rooted Spoon. I wanted to see my art in place when the restaurant was open. We had such a good time. The food was delicious. The atmosphere was festive.

At the Rooted Spoon in Viroqua Wisconsin Enjoying Brunch and a show of my watercolor paintings

Seeing my work on display there was a “pinch me” moment. I’ve gotten so many compliments on the show. One of the words our server used to describe my paintings was “happy”. I’m so glad that the joy comes through when people look at my art.

I know that there are no simple answers. There is no easy fix and perhaps no fix at all for the world’s ugliness and pain. But each of us can do something.

I’m going to keep making my art, keep sending it out into the world. I’m going to keep sharing encouraging and optimistic thoughts here on my blog. I’m going to keep sharing what I know about art making in person and online.

Now that I’ve had the racism present in the knitting and craft community pointed out to me I’m going to work on my own thinking. Work on my own actions. In person I strive to treat everyone kindly, to treat everyone as I’d like to be treated (working in a library this comes as second nature. The foundation of the public library in America is that all are welcome). I now live in a community that is 96.5% white. Where I used to live was 47.2% white. Although I love living in a small town, I miss the diversity of culture. Through the internet I can connect with many different kinds of people from all over the world. I need to ask myself how diverse is the online community of people I follow and encourage and support? How can I be more inclusive?

And finally, as I think about and plan my garden for the coming year (one of my favorite winter activities), the plight of the monarch butterfly is never far from my thoughts. Somewhere I read that it’s possible they could be extinct in 20 years. This article has lots of helpful advice. I have some other ideas brewing, too. Stay tuned.

Life is a work in progress. And I’m finding that my choice of GROW as my word for the year is just right.

 

*I first heard about the blog post that kicked off the discussion from my friend Ishrat. After that I popped around reading other perspectives. I found this post by Atia of the blog Bright Blooms to be a thoughtful thread in the conversation (her blog and Instagram are lovely and I was so glad Ishrat introduced me to her). Jen Hewett’s thoughts, shared in her Instagram Stories, were especially thoughtful and eye opening (and made me embarrassed to revisit my Artist Interviews and see the lack of diversity there). Gaye Glasspie (whose Instagram is filled with her orange knitting and her gorgeous afro) shared a quite a few thoughtful posts and perspectives (read her toe analogy). GG led me to Caliesha and the moving video she shared in her IG Stories.

I know many, many more people have joined in this discussion and I’ve read quite a few other posts and threads. These are just a few; they affected me and they struck me as respectful and clear headed. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments and/or add links to other points of view in the conversation and remember that I do want this space to be respectful and kind. Kindness matters. Always.

An Invitation to the 5th Handmade Joy Exchange

The Exchange is now closed. Thank you to everyone who has joined in! Stay tuned to hear about what everyone creates!

In 2012 I organized the first Handmade Joy Exchange. People from 4 countries and 6 US states participated. Since then I’ve hosted 3 more exchanges, the most recent in 2017. That year I had 40 people from 16 US states and 7 countries participate. What a lot of JOY!

I began the exchanges because I thought it would be a fun way to connect with other bloggers and I wanted to bring more joy to the world.

Things never fell into place for an exchange last year, but this year it was one of the first things on my calendar.

The Fifth Handmade Joy Exchange Hosted by Anne Butera of My Giant Strawberry

I announced it first to my JoyLetter subscribers* and was amazed by the immediate response. I think I was right in my assessment that we need more JOY in the world right now!

Do you want to play along? Here’s how…

How to join the exchange:

First, let me know you want to participate by emailing me with your name, mailing address and any links you want to share (blog, instagram). Sharing these links is optional, but will give the person who’s matched to you an idea of what you're interested in. Also, if you have a blog or are on Instagram (neither are required) you can post about your experience once the exchange has finished.

Next Friday I’ll email you with the name and address of the person you’ll be creating for. Note, this is not the same person who will be sending something to you. This element of surprise makes it more fun!

What you need to do:

Once you know who you’re creating for, you can get to work. Draw, paint, sew, collage, embroider… the medium is entirely up to you and not limited to those options — just make sure it brings you joy and that it’s created with the intention of bringing its recipient joy, too. This time I’m suggesting that you create something flat so it’s more easily (inexpensively) mailed. (Stuck on ideas? See what people created in past years here, just scroll down to the section on the Handmade Joy Exchange).

Take a photo of your piece and email it to me before you send it out. Your package needs to be in the mail the first week of February.

Afterward:

Let me know when you receive your package. I’ll try to wait until everyone has received their Handmade Joy and then I’ll post about the exchange on my blog and on Instagram, sharing photos of what everyone created and linking to any blog or instagram posts that you create. I’m hoping this will be around the second week of March. I’ll be in touch with everyone to let you know my plan as time draws near.

Sound good?

I really hope you’ll join us. I already have participants from France, India, Vermont, California, Massachusetts and Wisconsin and love the thought of Joy being created and shared across the globe.

If you have questions that I haven’t answered, please email me.

Here’s to a joyful start to the year!

Welcoming 2019 and Choosing a Word for the Year

Happy New Year!

I love this time of year. The feeling of being a bit out of time. The chance it gives for reflection and planning. It’s hopeful. Energizing. Anything feels possible at this time of year.

Welcoming January and Turning the Page to the first of the Year in This 2019 Watercolor Calendar by Anne Butera

The new year has the beauty of freshly fallen snow, a new notebook, untouched art supples.

Possibility,

Do you feel it, too?

I’ve been making all sorts of lists these past couple weeks. Not really resolutions, and not quite goals. They’re intentions, but also ideas. Things I’d like to try. There are some specific projects and things that are already on my schedule, too.

I find it helpful to be organized. To get things on my calendar. To make lists. But I’m also trying to be a bit more free this year. To be flexible. To go with the flow without getting flustered.

This is the seventh year I’ve chosen a Word of the Year.* I’d been jotting down ideas starting sometime over the summer, but the word I ended up choosing didn’t come to me until a few weeks ago.

GROW.

GROW: My Word of the Year for 2019

I want a word that isn’t focused on accomplishment. Sometimes growth happens underground, unseen as a plant develops its roots. If that’s what my year looks like, I’m OK with it.

I want a word that’s more about learning and experiences. One that’s open to possibilities and the unexpected. I want a word that speaks to improving myself, even if it is slow or messy or not entirely visible..

I hope to GROW my art. GROW my business. GROW my garden. GROW as a person.

It’s a beautiful, hopeful word. And if feels right.

Have you chosen a word for the year? I’d love to hear about it.

If you’re having trouble choosing one, here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Start with your goals and work from there.

  • Don't have specific goals? Think about what you want or need in the coming year. This can be concrete or more abstract.

  • Keep it simple and don't overthink it.

  • Write in your journal and/or pay attention to your thoughts (especially when you're doing other things like driving, taking a walk or a shower). What do you keep returning to in your mind?

  • Scan through a dictionary or thesaurus and see what jumps out at you.

  • Make a list of all possible words, looking for synonyms and then check the definitions -- sometimes there are secondary meanings of words that will help you decide.

  • Take your time; after you jot down your list set it aside. When you return to it later see what resonates.

  • Look back at your past year: what have you learned about yourself? What do you want to invite more of into your life? What do you want reduce or eliminate from your life?

Other things to consider:

  • Is one word enough? A collection of words, a phrase or a quote might suit you better.

  • Or maybe choosing a word isn't right for you.

  • Choose a word that speaks to YOU. Don't worry about anyone else's choices.

  • Aim high, but choose something doable to keep from being frustrated or disappointed.

  • Think about parts of speech. If you're looking for an invigorating, active year a verb might be best. If you're looking for a year that is nurturing, healing or inward focused, a noun or adjective might be best.

  • Listen to your heart and be honest with yourself.

  • Take it seriously, but also have fun.

Give yourself some time and space. Give your dreams some time and space. Embracing possibility doesn’t mean you need to put pressure on yourself.

Here’s to a wonderful year for us both!

*In case you’re interested, these are my past Words of the Year. The date takes you to my blog post at the beginning of the year and the word takes you to my post at the end of the year: