Posts in creativity
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.

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.

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.

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:

2018 -- a Year in Review

Reviewing a whole year is a hard thing. Once you sit down to do it you realize how slippery the days can be. How difficult to contain with words or even photos.

I had my fair share of failures, mistakes and frustrations in 2018, but I don’t want to focus on them here. We can learn from our mistakes and I’m certainly using those lessons as I plan for the new year, but my focus for today is celebrating the good stuff.

I am so grateful to be doing what I do. Making art. Writing this blog. Teaching. I’m grateful for you, whether you’re a customer, student or simply pause here on occasion to read my words.

Even though it can be tricky condense a year into a definable whole, I find it satisfying to look back and remember all I’ve accomplished. (You can see past posts on my old blog for 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011). Maybe you like to do it, too? If you feel as if you’re moving forward at a snail’s pace it can be helpful to look back and see how truly far you’ve come.

I chose PRESENT for my Word of the Year for 2018. I’m not sure how successful I was at remaining Present throughout the year, but it was a good reminder that I continued to turn to. I never did manage to make meditation a habit, but I wrote in my journal nearly every day. Mindfulness is something I’ll continue to carry with me into 2019.

I began 2018 with a Gentle Nudge Towards Creativity (and a typo, since fixed, in my image for it — pondering mistakes and missteps in the beginning of the year was good for me and my business, I think).

A Gentle Nudge Towards Creativity -- Crafting a More Creative Year

My intention was to be more creative throughout my days, to focus more on making all the time and to be able to wear me-mades as much as possible. It’s easy to let creative projects slip for lack of time or energy and I wanted to try to turn that on its head. Sewing and crochet were two things I wanted to tackle in part because I already had a lot of fabric and yarn stored away in my studio closet. This push didn’t really have anything to do with my business, but it had to do with me as a person, which in turn affects all areas of my life.

Some of the clothes and accessories I sewed, embellished and crocheted in 2018

Some of the clothes and accessories I sewed, embellished and crocheted in 2018

Looking back I did tackle (and finish) a lot of personal projects in 2018 and I want to do more in 2019. I’m still dreaming of a way to integrate art-making and crafting as part of my business. Fabric design is part of it, but I want to take it a step further. Stay tuned!

As for fabric design, I created a new a fabric collection in 2018.

Into which I added one of my absolute favorite designs, also created this year (and available in a larger scale than seen below).

I love how it turned out and so did lots of other people. It was voted a community favorite on Spoonflower and it’s sold very well. I updated my designs from past years with new dates and they’ve been popular, too.

Because I loved creating these tea towels I decided to share my process in a class on Skillshare.

In total I filmed and taught four new classes on Skillshare in 2018.

I began teaching in person this year, too. I taught three series of watercolor classes at the library in town (where I also work part time). I had no idea how teaching in person would go, but I ended up really enjoying it (and learning a lot from my students — many thanks to everyone who took classes with me this year!).

Through the month of February I had a little exhibit of my paintings at the local library.

Paintings by Anne Butera on Exhibit at the McIntosh Memorial Library in Viroqua, Wisconsin in February of 2018

I’ve had some paintings on display at Matthias’s shop in town this year, too.

Anne Butera's Art on Exhibit at Mac Help in Viroqua, Wisconsin

My art got some nice recognition further afield in 2018.

Anne Butera's Art Was Featured in Publications Around the World in 2018

My nasturtiums painting was on the cover of The Essential Herbal Magazine in September/October. One of my illustrations was included in Flow Magazine’s 2019 Tear off Calendar. I was a featured designer on the Pattern Observer Blog in November. And perhaps, most exciting to me, my 2019 desk calendar was featured in Cottages and Bungalows Magazine!

Printing last year’s calendar was so frustrating and I knew I needed a change in how I did things. This year I had my calendars professionally printed. It made things so much easier for me and allowed my 2019 calendars to be my most successful yet.

Something completely new for me this year was my first time on a podcast. I was interviewed by Angie Noll on The Not Starving Artist Podcast in May.

Sketchbooks continue to be an important part of my art practice, although my work in them often comes in ebbs and flows.

This year I started another collaborative sketchbook project with Dana Barbieri.

a page from the second collaborative sketchbook by Anne Butera and Dana Barbieri

We aren’t sharing our pages the way we did with the first project and that has made working in the sketchbook feel very free. In 2019 I hope to hang onto that free feeling and dive even deeper into my own sketchbooks.

One big change this year: I moved my blog from blogger to my website. In a lot of ways I wish I had done it earlier. It feels good to have everything in one place. I’m not entirely certain which direction I want to take with my blog in 2019. Any thoughts from a reader’s perspective?

The backbone of everything has been, of course, my watercolors.

Some of my watercolor paintings from 2018

Some of my watercolor paintings from 2018

Looking at all these paintings makes me look forward to 2019’s gardening season and having ample subjects for my watercolors.

2018 was a weird year in the garden, but I wish I had taken more photos. Even in their imperfection the photos I did take bring me so much joy (especially when everything out there is frozen solid).

A View in My Garden in 2018

The beauty about a garden is that each year we get a chance for a fresh start. It’s also the beauty of this time of year. When January rolls around we get a fresh start with our lives, a chance to think and plan and decide what’s most important for us in the new year.

I hope that you are looking to 2019 with excitement and hope. Here’s to a joy-filled, beautiful, creative year for us both! Thanks, again, for spending time on this journey with me. See you again in 2019!

Happy Solstice

Happy Winter Solstice to you.

It’s the longest night of the year and the official beginning of winter (though around here it’s been feeling like winter for a few months now).

I hope you are able to take some time for rest, renewal and creativity today and in the days ahead. I know how chaotic the holidays can get (if we let them). Maybe you’ve been working on taking things slow like I’ve been trying to do?

And maybe you’ve been sneaking in some time for making. Gifts, yes, but also for yourself. My sketchbook has been the perfect place for a few minutes of creative escape.

If you think you’d like to escape into a sketchbook, too and are looking for a little inspiration I have a new Skillshare class* called Defeat the Blank Page designed to help you discover inspiration when you don’t know what to do with the empty page.

If you’re still making gifts and you’re looking for ideas, Bonnie Christine shared some easy DIYs on her blog the other day. And Mountain Rose Herbs recently posted a collection of their best recipes of 2018, many of which are perfect for gifting (roll-on perfumes with essential oils? Yes, please!). Want to craft your own wrapping paper? Alisa Burke rounded up some of her favorite wrapping paper tutorials the other day on her blog.

But don’t forget to take some time for yourself, too. Brewing up a cup of hot spiced chai and curling up with a good book feels like the essence of luxury to me. You?

And my journal has been calling to me lately a bit more than usual, too. Spilling my thoughts onto the page. It’s one easy bit of self-care that anyone can fit into their days.

As the year draws to an end I like to think about all I’ve accomplished and to plan for the new year. I’ve been thinking about my word for 2018 and what I want my word to be in 2019. The pages of my journal happily accept it all.

I’ll share more of my thoughts about 2018 next week.

A Pair of Jasmine Flowers Opened on My Plant This Week and Fragranced Almost the Whole House

Until then, I’m sending you light and love. No matter how or if you celebrate in this coming week, I hope you are able to discover each day’s little joys. Thank you for spending time here with me, reading my words.

 

*You can try Skillshare for 2 months free. You’ll get access to all of my classes and thousands more from teachers around the world. There’s no commitment and you can cancel any time.

Stealing Calm Amidst the Chaos

This has been a chaotic week. Or maybe I should say, my studio has been in chaos. I’ve been filming my next Skillshare class and somehow my studio always ends up looking like a small tornado has passed through whenever I’m filming. Having my sewing table and ironing board set up in the room hasn’t helped matters. I have a few other projects in the works (including preparing for an exhibition!), and I haven’t been making as much art as I’d like.

For the most part I keep my studio fairly neat, but I also know that when I’m in the middle of projects, it will get a bit messy. I’m ok with the in-process chaos most of the time, but right now it’s like I’m working in an obstacle course. Packaging customers’ orders has involved a bit of juggling of piles of sketchbooks and supplies, too.

My Messy, Chaotic, In Process Studio

My messy studio is a good metaphor for life. We’re busy. We’re juggling multiple priorities. It’s messy and often feels as if there aren’t enough hours in the day.

Deep breath.

Hoar Frost on the Roses in My Winter Garden

This week I stole some time. Just for me. I sat at the kitchen table in my pajamas, drinking coffee, eating a rice cake and writing in my journal. Matthias had already left for work. The house was quiet. I’d spread peanut butter on the rice cake and drizzled a little bit of honey. It felt so cozy. I savored the stillness. I decided I wasn’t going to let myself get carried away in the rush of the day. I gave myself permission for slowness. For quiet. I had a list of things I needed to do, but I knew there was enough wiggle room to give myself the morning. A bit later I went up to my studio and worked on a couple sketchbook pages. Just played with paint and did some drawing. No pressure. No rush. No need to worry about the outcome.

Winter is a time for slowing down. For quiet. For being cozy indoors. Often we don’t honor this slowness, but instead carry on like usual, often at an even faster pace with the busyness of the holiday season. I know I’ve said before that this disconnect is difficult for me. I try to remind myself that slowing down is not only OK, but natural. And we’re allowed to make our own choices. I’m allowed to choose what is best for me. You’re allowed to choose what’s best for you.

A Sketchbook Spread from My Upcoming Skillshare Class

For me that’s meant slower mornings. It’s meant brewing loose-leaf tea. It’s meant snuggling up with books and cats. It’s meant pajama mornings and pajama days. It’s meant a weekend away with friends. I’ve been shifting to more contemplation, dreaming, working in my sketchbooks. I haven’t been as present on Instagram.

But unplugging is hard. There’s so much pressure to Accomplish Important Things. I feel guilty if I don’t have “something to show for myself” at the end of the day. Isn’t calm an accomplishment? Aren’t ideas important?

Yes!

So here’s a reminder (if you need one). Slowing down is good for you. It’s good for your health. It’s good for your creativity. It’s good for your relationships.

Here’s to a lusciously slow weekend for us both!

Making Do and Making Art

What are your barriers to creativity? What keeps you from making or doing on a regular basis? A lack of:

  • time?

  • space?

  • money?

  • materials?

  • tools?

  • knowledge?

  • skills?

  • inspiration?

  • energy?

  • confidence?

Or is it something else?

I think most of the things on this list challenge all of us at one point or another. I know I’ve struggled with them.

Sometimes we put limits on ourselves based on imaginary constraints. We even use language making our limits sound hopeful or dream-inspired instead of constraining. I caught myself thinking “when I have time to reorganize my studio, I’ll set up a permanent sewing table. And then I’ll be able to sew more regularly.” I even started fantasizing about the thrift-store table I’d find or repurpose. What I was really saying was “I can’t sew right now because I don’t have the right space to do it.”

Was it true? No. And I finally realized it. I brought a folding table up from the basement, shifted things a bit and brought my sewing machine out from the closet.

I set up my sewing machine on a folding table in my studio

It might not look pretty and the table bounces a little when the machine is going full steam, but it works. I even crossed a couple sewing projects off my list this week (although one was a bit of a fail as I shared on Instagram).

A pillow cover sewed with my fabric design in Spoonflower's Celosia Velvet

I love my new pillow* and wish I’d done this sooner.

I wonder about some of the other constraints I put on myself. Are they true?

I’ve been dragging my feet on a few projects, putting them off for various reasons. If I look closely at the reasons, I see there are ways around them. I can make do and then get on with the business of making art.

Don’t have enough time? Fit in a few minutes of making. I was able to fill a page in my sketchbook on a day when I only had about ten minutes to work.**

Don’t have the right space? Rethink the space you have.

Don’t have a lot of money for fancy supplies? Use what you have. (My blue roses fabric design was painted with one color of paint).

These sketchbook roses were painted with one color of paint and eventually became one of my favorite fabric designs

Many of our constraints can be overcome. We can shift our thinking. We can look at our situations creatively. We can listen to what we’re truly saying and combat our fears. We can make do and make art.

Lately I’ve been telling myself that winter is my uninspired season, that without my garden I can’t create any serious art. Yes, it’s true I often hit a slump during the winter, but it’s also true that I’ve created some pieces I love during the winter. (My blue roses were painted during the winter and all of these paintings were created during the winter, too).

these watercolor roses were painted without live flowers as models — one in the spring and the others more recently

these watercolor roses were painted without live flowers as models — one in the spring and the others more recently

Although I’m still working on overcoming my slump, I’ve been focusing on playing in my sketchbooks instead of creating “serious” art (whatever that is). Perhaps my art, like my garden needs a bit of rest in order to begin growing again.

from my second collaborative sketchbook with Dana Barbieri — my page is on the right

from my second collaborative sketchbook with Dana Barbieri — my page is on the right

It’s amazing what ideas come out of sketchbook play. Giving myself time and space to experiment and dream is just as important as other types of making.

Picasso said, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find your working.” Figuring out ways to rethink our restraints and restrictions, to pull apart the barriers to our creativity is important work.

What about you? Is there something holding you back from being creative? How might you reframe your situation so you can begin making?



*I sewed the pillow cover with my small scale Watercolor Rose Garden in Blue design in Spoonflower’s Celosia Velvet fabric. The fabric is vibrantly colored, so soft and was easy to work with. You can find it here and learn more about the fabric here.

**It’s also important to remember that we all have a lot of time each day and how we fill it is up to us. Prioritize what’s most important and leave the other stuff out. (Bonnie Christine shared some interesting thoughts about this on Instagram the other day).

On Dreaming Big

When I first started writing a blog and named it My Giant Strawberry one of the things that appealed to me about the name was how it spoke of my big dreams. Back then I had a lot of dreams, but I never imagined I would begin painting or that painting would become a main focus for me.

Since then a lot has happened and I’ve realized so many of my dreams.

I’m still dreaming.

I think it’s important to continue dreaming no matter where we are on our journeys and no matter how often we fail to reach those dreams.

Joy, Fortune Cookie Encouragement and Dream Jar Inspiring Me to Keep Dreaming Big

Dreaming big inspires us to keep going. It helps us to stretch and to grow. There IS always a higher mountain.

I have failed so many times.

That jar you see in the photo above? It’s my Dream Jar. I made it early last year (and wrote about it in the Joy Letter here and on my old blog here). On little slips of paper I wrote dreams, intentions and invitations for the year. The inspiration came bouncing around the internet to me. The idea is to write your dreams down and meditate on them daily. Keeping them in the forefront of your consciousness helps to focus your attention and bring about action (and success).

Dreams from My Dream Jar

Although I don’t meditate on my dreams daily, I do try to come back to them regularly. Quite a few of my dreams have come true this year. I did, to a degree, participate in Me Made May and my illustration was included in the Flow Calendar.

But plenty of the other dreams in my jar haven’t come true (yet).

A Failed Dream (so far) from My Dream Jar

As I shared on my old blog, I still haven’t won a Spoonflower contest (and in truth, my rankings in the contests I’ve entered have been less and less successful than the very first contest I participated in), but I’m not letting go of that dream. I hope someday the time will be right.

It’s ok to put our dreams aside for when we’re ready for them, or maybe for when they’re ready for us.

It’s also ok to let go of dreams if they aren’t the right fit. I’ve had a few of those this year and that’s ok. It’s a learning process. It’s part of finding our way and creating the path that’s right for us, not the path we think we should be taking.

Sometimes I feel down about my failures. It’s natural. Rejection is hard. Failure is hard. But I’ve found that when I’m feeling down about one failure another success comes along to reassure me that I’m headed in the right direction.

Yesterday when I was working at the library the new issue of Cottages and Bungalows arrived.

The February/March 2019 Issue of Cottages and Bungalows Magazine

I opened it up and saw that one of my BIG dreams had come true.

My 2019 Botanical Watercolor Calendar is Featured in the February/March 2019 Issue of Cottages and Bungalows Magazine

That’s my 2019 calendar in there pictured beside Vera Bradley, PaperSource and Rifle Paper Company! (One of the slips in my jar says: “Have my art featured in a major magazine”).

The 2019 Botanical Watercolor Calendar by Anne Butera of My Giant Strawberry

I’m still pinching myself.

As we head towards the end of the year I always like to look back and celebrate my successes. When I’m busy with the day to day it’s easy to forget just how much I’ve accomplished. Late in December I often share a year in review on my blog.

For me looking back is fun and it’s also helpful for planning the coming year, too.

I hope that you are dreaming big. I hope that you are celebrating your successes, both small and large. (I’d love to celebrate with you, so if you feel moved to share I hope you will).

Thank YOU for being here reading my words, encouraging me and cheering me on. You help me to keep dreaming.

Any Step Will Do -- How to Move Forward with Your Creative Journey

I had another post planned for today, but lately it seems that my blog keeps getting hijacked by a desire to share what’s on my mind. I’m ok with it and I hope you are, too. I want this space to be an honest reflection of who I am. I want it to open up conversations. I want it to create connection and inspire you on whatever journey you’re taking. I’m grateful for every comment and every email. If you have thoughts you’d like to share with me or if there are certain posts you wish I’d write, I’m always open to hearing your ideas. Leave a comment or contact me here.

Anne Butera Painting In Her Studio in the Summer Surrounded by Flowers and Wearing her Butterfly Fabric

For a while now I’ve been in a weird place in my art journey. Knowing that I need to change, or am on the cusp of change, but not knowing how to do it or what that change is supposed to look like. I know I mentioned it last month.

I continue to write about it in my journal. I continue to ponder what to do and how to do it. But instead of moving forward, I end up standing still. Yes, stillness can be part of the process, but eventually I need to begin.

My Silly Cat Quin Likes to Help Me When I'm Working at My Computer

Back when I was just starting to make art, an artist I follow on Instagram posted something about how she still had a lot more practice to do. At the time I didn’t get it. Her art was wonderful. I wished that I could draw and paint as well as she did. That she could make such beautiful, compelling work and yet be dissatisfied with it was baffling to me.

Now, I get it. Artists are always developing and growing and changing and learning. In fact that’s true for everyone, artist or not. A creative journey doesn’t have an end point. You’re never going to “arrive”. And what would you do if you did?

a selection of nasturtium paintings — all are available  in my shops

a selection of nasturtium paintings — all are available in my shops

I had been describing my current situation as being at the crossroads, but yesterday I visualized it in a different way. I’m standing on the edge of a swiftly moving stream. To continue on my journey I need to cross the stream. There are stepping stones in the water, but they’re slippery and far apart. There is no clear path across. I have been standing on the bank for far too long. I’ve been telling myself that my hesitancy is due to uncertainty. How do I proceed? Which stepping stone do I choose? But if I look honesty, I can see that what is stopping me is not a lack of clarity, but fear. Fear that I might stumble. Fear that I might slip into the water and get wet. Fear that I might choose the wrong stepping stone, get stuck and need to turn around.

Instead of moving forward I’ve been giving myself tasks to do while I wait on the bank. Those tasks stand in my way of moving forward. I fill up lists of intentions and goals and to-dos, but none of those have anything to do with crossing the stream. Many of them have to do with what I hope to find on the other side.

You see the predicament.

I wrote something in my journal yesterday that I’d like to share with you:

a surprise gift from my garden — nasturtium cuttings blooming in my studio in November

a surprise gift from my garden — nasturtium cuttings blooming in my studio in November

  • I am craving clarity

  • I am craving focus

  • I am craving quiet

  • I am craving attention (my own attention, lavished on myself)

  • I am craving single-tasking

  • I am craving being present fully — with the good and the bad

  • I am craving finding joy in this moment, not in the one I wish I were having

  • I am craving art, even if it is messy, ugly or bad

  • I am craving play and fun

  • I am craving a release of the BS

I know my next step simply needs to be a step forward. Any step will do.

I know I will make mistakes. I know I will stumble at times, but that is all part of the journey. When I was first learning how to paint I made lots of mistakes. I stumbled quite a bit, but I kept going. I think I’ve forgotten that stumbling is necessary. These stumbles will be no different than the other ones. I simply need to keep moving forward.

a page from my second collaborative Sketchbook with Dana Barbieri (my swan is on the right)

a page from my second collaborative Sketchbook with Dana Barbieri (my swan is on the right)

What about you? Are you on a creative journey? A personal journey? How are you progressing? What have you been craving in your life and how are you planning to make it happen?

You don’t need to tell me; try writing it in your journal. You might be surprised by what you discover.

Thanks for being here. Wishing you joy.