11 Ways to Invite More Joy Into Your Life

When is the last time that you were filled with joy? How happy are you right now?

I often talk about joy. The joy I find in the magic of nature. The joy I find in creating and sharing art. I talk about keeping Joy Lists and I call myself a "Joy Collector".

Of course, like everyone, I don't always feel joyful, but I do believe I have the power to invite more joy into my life.

Here are some ideas of how to do it:

  • Get outside! When the weather is beautiful, take advantage of it. When the weather is not good, do what you can (wear warm boots, take an umbrella...) to make it bearable. Taking daily walks is a great way to make this happen. Bonus if you're walking with a friend and/or a dog (or two).

Walking with Greyhounds
  • Pay attention. When I am fully present I am able to feel the most joy. Be aware of what sensations you're feeling. Keep your eyes open to the beauties and magic that surround you. There is so much magic in this world (like this and this).

  • Surround yourself with flowers. Plant a garden if you have the space for it (you'll have the added bonus of garden visitors like birds and butterflies, too). Pots on a balcony, a windowbox or a houseplant on the windowsill are great if you don't have a yard. If growing real flowers is a challenge for you, treat yourself to cut flowers (your local flower farmer will thank you) or cultivate a "garden" of floral art or fabric in your home

  • Limit screen time. This can be a hard one, but I think it's important. Especially if you find yourself feeling bad by comparing your life to what you see online. And with your eyes on a screen you're likely to miss some of the magic that’s going around you, too.

  • Write in a journal. Even if what you're writing in your journal is not joyful, connecting with yourself, how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking can help you to release negativity and invite joy. A journal gives you the freedom to be 100% yourself. It's a wonderful place to show some self-love and for pep-talks. Joy and Gratitude Lists fit perfectly between the covers or a journal, too.

  • Read or listen to a good book. Books and stories have always been my thing. Getting lost in the magic of words is one of life's greatest pleasures. It's why I ended up a librarian before I started painting. Thanks to public libraries everyone has access to books (and movies and magazines and newspapers and music...). Audiobooks are great for when your eyes and hands are busy (in Lilla Rogers' Creativebug class she recommends them as a way to block out our inner critics). Podcasts are another option. I recently discovered the podcast Levar Burton Reads and am looking forward to having him read to me.*

  • Reach out and make connections. Spend time with people you like, with people who laugh and make you feel good. If possible, limit your time around negative people and do your best not to let them bring you down. Cherish each day with those you love. Our days together are finite.

  • Share your life with a pet (or a few!). Matthias and I have two cats and two dogs. Each and every day they make us laugh. Each and every day they share snuggles and hugs and love. There are many, many homeless animals waiting to be adopted into loving homes. My days would be so much less joyful without my boys.

Rescue Cats Bring So Much Joy Into My Life
  • SLOW DOWN. This one is hard for me. It's a message the universe often has to shout. I'm often in a rush. Being in a hurry, putting pressure on myself to get on to the next task makes me anxious and it keeps me from fully enjoying what I'm doing. When I get to the end of a day and wonder just was it that I did all day, I know I've been going too fast. Even when life gets busy, I know I can slow myself down. It takes awareness. I’m working on it.

  • Learn something new. As I mentioned the other day, trying new (or different) things is good for your creativity. Learning something new is joyful, too. Bonus points if it includes making something with your hands.

  • Take a break. It's important to give yourself a rest. Take time off. Let go of obligations for a while. Wind down and regenerate.

Find Joy in the Little Things

What about you? What ways do you invite more joy into your life?

2019 Tea Towel Calendars and Coordinating Fabric

I want to thank everyone who voted for my Tea Towel Calendar design. Although this year’s tea towel didn’t place as high as in the past, my Blue Roses tea towel is now one of the Community Favorites on Spoonflower.

It’s now available to purchase from Spoonflower as a fat quarter of fabric that you can hem yourself or from Roostery as a finished tea towel.

I created this year’s design to coordinate with my Watercolor Rose Garden in Blue fabric.

Painting the roses with Prussian blue gouache this winter and then creating the repeat pattern was such a joy.

Prussian Blue Gouache Paintings in My Sketchbook Will Later Become Part of My Fabric Design

Designing tea towel calendars has become an annual tradition for me. It is a lot of fun (the calendars make great holiday gifts, too).

Last year I painted nasturtiums, which, you might have noticed are one of my very favorite flowers to grow (and to paint).

My Nasturtium Painting Created to Use in a Tea Towel Calendar Design by Anne Butera of My Giant Strawberry

Recently I updated that design with 2019 dates (I also added white space to the edges to make hemming much easier).

The nasturtiums tea towel calendar coordinates nicely with my nasturtium fabric.

It makes fun napkins. But you don’t have to take my word for it, see for yourself in Karen’s blog post. In that post you might recognize another fabric used for napkins:

The Watercolor Kitchen Garden design coordinates with the tea towel I created for 2017. So many sweet motifs. It’s now updated it with 2019 dates, too.

There is something so satisfying about seeing my art on utilitarian items like this. Looking again at my designs I’m itching to do some more sewing with my fabric.

Do you sew? What sorts of projects have you been working on or dreaming about? I’d love to hear about them.

I’m behind on my sewing, but I’m so excited about this project on my to-sew list!

It will have to wait, though, because I'm taking a little break to unplug and spend time in nature.

Until next week, I hope your days are filled with many simple joys and small beauties.

Joy List Monday

It's been ages since I've done a Joy List Monday post  (I've never done one in this space), but this morning I am overflowing with joy and wanted to share it with you (and encourage you to discover some joy at the start of a week, too).

Sunflowers Blooming in My September Garden

We have been having the most perfect weather and once again I'm struck by how easily the weather affects my mood. But more than that, our area was hit with devastating storms and record flooding. We made it through fine, but many people around us lost so much.* The sunshine and clear skies feel hopeful.

We spent as much time outdoors this weekend as we could, soaking up the sunshine and savoring these perfect days. I had other projects I could have been working on, but this late in the season I didn't want to be inside.

A Jumble in My September Garden

My garden is a jumble right now. Plants flopping over from the weight of flowers or fruits or seeds. Many things past their prime and plagued with powdery mildew or rot. BUT there is still so much beauty. Flowers are still blooming everywhere I look.

September Roses Blooming in My Garden

We're still eating daily from the garden. The bees and hummingbirds are enjoying the flowers and the chickadees and goldfinches are eating the seeds of spent sunflowers and coneflowers. So much beauty.

I've been working on letting go of summer (and not beating myself up over all the things I didn't get to do this year). I've been working on taking things slowly. Not rushing myself and not letting myself feel rushed. It makes a big difference, even when things are busy.

And Joy Lists always help, too.

Here's today's:

  • sunshine, blue skies and perfect weather
  • garden salsa on repeat
  • sunshine coming in the windows, again, as the sun shifts its seasonal position in the sky
  • my nasturtiums on the current issue of The Essential Herbal Magazine
  • my sweet JoyLetter subscribers (I'm giving away a copy of the current issue of The Essential Herbal Magazine to one subscriber... I'll be choosing a name on Wednesday, so if you want a chance to win, sign up before then!)
  • a walk through my parents' meadow with grasshoppers leaping at each step
  • visits with extended family last week
  • my 2019 Tea Towel Calendar design (you can vote for it in Spoonflower's contest here)
  • upcoming time off
  • eating apples picked from my parents' trees
  • projects, plans and ideas

I hope you are finding joy and beauty surrounding you today, too. I'd love to hear what's on your list.


*I'll be donating 10% of my sales from the month of September to flood relief.



Why trying new things and even making mistakes is good for your creativity

When you're learning how to do something or if you're building up a business, it's important to focus your energy in one direction.

When I first started teaching myself to paint I didn't do that. I sewed. I crocheted. I was selling handmade purses and jewelry on Etsy. I was trying all sorts of things and learning and experimenting. Eventually I came to realize what I wanted to do more than any of those other things was paint.

At first I didn't want to "give up" everything else. Even with the advice I kept running across, I was hesitant to focus on just one thing. But over time I saw how valuable such focus could be. Focus allows you the most growth. It gives you purpose, direction. It makes everything clearer.

And so I painted, letting go of my other projects, narrowing my attention to art. It made a huge difference to my development as an artist and it brought some wonderful opportunities.

I'm a naturally creative and curious person, constantly overflowing with ideas. I have so many projects I want to tackle and things I want to try, but I also know I can't do everything.

Despite what it might look like sometimes on social media, no one can do everything. We must choose how we spend our time and that means something always gets left out.

While pondering this I went back to my old blog and found these words in a post written about three and a half years ago

"I've come to realize it's not abandoning dreams that's happening when we let go of ideas and desires which aren't right for us, it's refining an understanding of who we truly are."

Isn't that a powerful thought? It's beautiful to imagine this clarified understanding. To me it sounds filled with self-love.

On Instagram I'd seen a few people mention Lilla Rogers' new class on Creativebug. It's called Treasure Hunt Your Artistic Style. When I first heard about the class I discounted its usefulness. I know what my artistic style is; I don't need to hunt for it. But I was curious and yesterday I watched part of it. 

It's so interesting to look at what I like and dislike. To nestle in to what I love and think about why I love it, about how what I love and who I am influences my style.

Flying Pigs on a Shelf in My Studio Bring Me Joy Each Day

But what does any of this have to do with trying new things and making mistakes?

Both trying new things and making mistakes help us refine our understanding of who we are. More than that, trying new things keeps us curious. It keeps us moving forward. Almost two years ago I went through a long creative slump. Since then I've thought a lot about creativity, inspiration and creative energy.

Creativity is not a static thing, but sometimes we can get stuck in a rut. Although focus is a wonderful thing, it can sometimes lead us into the rut. Being ok with the idea of creative ebbs and flows helps a lot, but so does being open to new things. Experimenting. Changing gears. Having fun.*

Reminders in My Studio

The "It's supposed to be fun" note came from Ria Sharon, a gift in one of her newsletters. It's a great reminder not to take things to seriously, a reminder I often need.

Although it takes time and energy to try something new, we need to remember to hold onto the fun.

I recently started crocheting again in the evenings. Instead of hemming and hawing I simply chose a pattern (the hardest part for me) and got to work.

A Top I Crocheted Using One Dog Woof's Wildflowers Tunic Pattern

It was a simple pattern, but in picking up crochet I challenged myself to try something different and to learn something new. The pattern taught me a new technique which started with quite a bit of mistake-making, but ended up empowering me with a new skill.

Last weekend I pulled out my fabric stash, unearthed my sewing machine and sewed a top. Trying a new sewing pattern, looking at fabrics and matching them up, thinking about future projects... all of those things stretch my creativity. They help me problem solve. They open me up to new ideas and possibilities. This carries over into my art, too.

A Top I Sewed with the New Look 6284 Sewing Pattern

The tomato and eggplant pieces I painted last week were a change of gears for me. A slight shift of subject matter, yes, but also a change of format -- square -- and a change of paper type -- cold pressed after painting mainly on hot. Doing something different doesn't have to be BIG, but it can open up big possibilities.

Trying something new can help you face your fears, too. I never draw or paint people, in part because I find it a bit scary. But I think in order to continue to grow as an artist I need to stretch myself and face those fears. I've been dipping my toes into those waters with Charlotte Hamilton's 31 Days of Faces Creativebug class (talk about making mistakes!).

A 2 Minute Marker Sketch Portrait Created with Charlotte Hamilton's Creativebug Class

It feels good. All these creative experiments. All this play. 

Trying new things gives you a different perspective. It makes you ask the question "what if?". Like the question I asked last week: What if I roast eggplant with taco seasonings and use it instead of meat in my tacos? I did that this week, too.

My focus has not changed. Watercolor is still my passion.

A Watercolor Painting of Dahlias in Progress in My Studio

I might be sewing and crocheting in my free time. I might be drawing wonky-looking people in my sketchbook. I might be experimenting in the kitchen and even making soap, but I'll still be painting every day. I think my paintings will be enhanced by all my other creative play.

So what about you? Have you tried anything new lately? Or maybe come back to something you love but haven't done in a while? The changing of the seasons and beginning of the school year is a perfect time to embrace "back to school" thinking. I'd love to hear about it!



*Working through my own creative slump and pondering it afterwards helped me to create a Skillshare class designed to help you break out of a creative slump

Summer Love Songs and Savoring Each Day

It's the last day of August. I can't quite believe it. Throughout the month I've been noticing the beginnings of fall. It seems early this year.

Summer's my season and although autumn can be beautiful its arrival always makes me a bit melancholy.

I will miss:

Some of the last roses blooming in my garden
  • cut flowers from the garden
  • tomatoes and peppers and herbs (and all the other edibles)
  • endless salads (kale, kale and more kale)
  • being barefoot (or if shoes are necessary, sandals)
  • leaving the house without a jacket
  • spending whole days outside
  • having the windows and doors open (and cats stretched out in windowsills)
  • bees and butterflies and hummingbirds
  • the songs of crickets and cicadas
  • late sunsets
  • the color green (and all the other colors)

I could keep going, but you get the picture.

A little toad is a welcome garden visitor

This week in our area there's been terrible flooding. We weren't hit badly as we live in town at a high point (and my parents, out in the country, are on a ridge), but it's heartbreaking to see devastating flooding happening more and more frequently so close to where we live. It puts my troubles in perspective. Reminds me, again, to savor each day.

So instead of lamenting the loss of all I love about the summer, I've been making a point to savor the days.

Each day.

I try to stop what I'm doing periodically and pay attention to everything around me, to be fully present. Stand in the garden and feel the grass between my toes, to note the perfect beauty of the moment and send off a thank you to the universe.

Three years ago on my old blog I wrote about painting a "love song to summer".

It's one of my favorite paintings, the biggest I've ever done. Truly a love song to my favorite season. 

Some years I paint a lot during the summer. Some years I don't. Creativity ebbs and flows. Energy ebbs and flows. In the summer it's always a challenge to stay inside when my garden is calling me to BE OUTSIDE. It's a bit ironic because summer holds the most inspiration for my art.

In a way you could say that a majority of my paintings are love songs to summer. This one, finished the other day, certainly is.

As are the vegetable (or fruit, depending on your perspective) paintings I've been inspired to paint this week:

What better way to celebrate the joys of summer than to paint them?

Although, I think eating them is a prefect celebration, too. In the summer with abundant garden produce it's easy to quickly pull together delicious meals. 

Many days I make the easiest tomato salads. Large chunks of tomato dressed with shavings of onion, shreds of basil, splashes of balsamic vinegar and a bit of salt and pepper. Nothing tastes more summery.

And eggplant, chopped (with the skin still on), mixed with splashes of olive oil and a shake of some salt and pepper roasted in a 400 degree for about 40ish minutes is a versatile addition to pasta or salads or rice. It pairs as easily with Italian flavors as it does with Asian ones and I'm thinking about trying it in some tacos, too.

I'd love to know how YOU have been celebrating the season these days.

Will you join me in renewing a commitment to savor the moment, in focusing on gratitude as we shift from August to September and begin the transition from one season to the next?

For me, I think it might be a good time to bring out my Joy Lists* again.

I hope your lists are long.

Magic in the Garden, Part 2: Black Swallowtails

Back in July I spotted some black swallowtail caterpillars on the parsley in my garden. I was thrilled to see them. I think butterflies are some of the most magical creatures in the garden.

These caterpillars were pretty small and I didn't recognize them at first. Their early phase doesn't look at all like their later ones*. In fact, at this point they looked kind of like bird droppings, a natural defense as protection from predators.

Tiny Black Swallowtail Caterpillars in the Parsley in My Garden

I found five caterpillars in all and I watched them obsessively, checking the herb bed multiple times each day to see their progress.

Black swallowtail caterpillars feed on parsley, dill and fennel as well as things like carrots and queen anne's lace. Some people consider them a nuisance and other people plant their favorite foods to attract them to their gardens. Although "my" caterpillars ate a lot, they left plenty of parsley for me.

As they grew their colors changed quite a bit and they became more recognizable.

A Developing Black Swallowtail Caterpillar on the Parsley in My Garden

Slowly their numbers dwindled. I don't know if they were just hidden in the foliage or if they left or were eaten. One day after we had a big storm I couldn't find a single caterpillar, but I never stopped looking.

A couple days later one appeared on the opposite end of the herb bed where it had crawled up a fennel stem.

A Black Swallowtail Caterpillar Getting Ready to Pupate

It didn't seem to be eating much or moving around. It was so chubby! I figured it was getting ready to pupate.

I looked for information about the process, wondering how long it would take for the caterpillar to pupate and how long it would spend in the chrysalis. As I mentioned last week, I learned that black swallowtail caterpillars form a silken thread to hold them in place while they're in the chrysalis.

A Black Swallowtail Caterpillar Attached to a Stem of Fennel with a Silk Thread and Getting Ready to Pupate

I learned something else, too. They don't form a chrysalis to enclose their bodies the way a moth spins a cocoon. When they shed their exoskeleton for the last time as a caterpillar it reveals the chrysalis beneath.

I was fortunate enough to catch it happening.

A Black Swallowtail Caterpillar Beginning to Shed its Skin and Reveal its Chrysalis

The caterpillar wiggled and wiggled and the outer layer peeled back, almost the way you or I would peel off a sock.

A Black Swallowtail Caterpillar Shedding its Skin and Revealing its Chrysalis

Once it began the process was finished quickly.

A Black Swallowtail Caterpillar Almost Finished Shedding Its Skin to Reveal its Chrysalis

And by the end the transforming butterfly was still attached to the fennel stem with the silken strand. It continued to wiggle around for a while before settling down to rest.

A Black Swallowtail Chrysalis Attached to a Stem of Fennel in My Garden

I wasn't sure if the butterfly would emerge this year or not. If it's late in the summer, black swallowtail butterflies will remain in the chrysalis overwinter.

How late is late? I couldn't find a definitive answer. With our August weather feeling more like September I wondered if this would be considered late. 

I checked the chrysalis every day. Not much changed. But then about two weeks later I noticed it had gotten darker and I could just about make out the patterning of the wings beginning to show through. I knew it wouldn't be long before the butterfly emerged.

Tuesday morning was cold and wet and dark. I worked in my studio a bit before going out to check on the chrysalis. 16 days after the caterpillar shed its skin to reveal the chrysalis , it was empty.

The Empty Black Swallowtail Chrysalis

Why had it chosen such a bleak day to emerge? 

At first I didn't see the butterfly anywhere. I was looking too high. Matthias spotted it nearly on the soil at the bottom of the plants in the herb bed.

The Black Swallowtail Butterfly Emerged from Its Chrysalis

The day remained wet and dark and cold. I kept running outside to check on the butterfly. It stayed where it was, perhaps waiting for the sun or a rise in temperature. When I left for my job at the library it was still there, but by the time I came home it was gone. 

I keep hoping that I'll be in the garden and see a black swallowtail fluttering around my flowers, but so far, I haven't. And that's the funny thing. I haven't seen them in the garden at all this summer, though the presence of the caterpillars proves there had to be at least one. I'm grateful I was able to witness the life cycle in all its magic. Perhaps next year I'll raise some caterpillars indoors.

What about you? What magic have you witnessed lately? 


*Each phase of a caterpillar's development is called an instar and is measured by the shedding of the caterpillar's exoskeleton.

Magic in the Garden, Part 1

I am constantly amazed by the magic occuring just outside my back door. When I I step into the garden it's with a sense of childlike wonder. There's no need to conjure giant strawberries. I just need to look

A tiny seed grows into a plant that will feed me all summer long. A flower unfurls to reveal a spiral of petals. Dew drops gild the intricate weaving of a spider's web.

A Dew Gilded Spider's Web

You can't tell me that's not magical.

There's magic at an even more basic level: color, taste, fragrance... Each is amazing when you stop and think about it, when you pay attention.

A Mug Filled with a Colorful Bunch of Nasturtium Flowers

I am constantly surprised and delighted in the garden and reminded how much there still is to learn. Observing the black swallowtail caterpillars this year has been such a joy, and a learning experience! Did you know that before they pupate these caterpillars create a silk thread harness to keep them attached to the branch? Can you spot it in this photo?

A Black Swallowtail Caterpillar on the Fennel in My Garden Preparing to Pupate

I'll share more about the caterpillars once the butterfly emerges from its chrysalis. (Fingers crossed that I'll be able to witness it).

Magic happens in the garden in other ways, too, like an anemone flower suddenly appearing in a pot of (summer-killed) ranunculus.

A Surprise Anemone Blooming in My Garden

No doubt a mistake at the garden center, but magical nonetheless.

One year I had a squirrel plant a peanut in one of my houseplant pots. It sprouted inside at the end of winter. I repotted the peanut and ended up harvesting and roasting the nuts at the end of the season. Not something I would have ever thought of doing! Another year had potatoes sprout in my compost pile, one more gift from the universe.

I think when we're open to these bits of magic they occur more frequently. Or maybe we're just better at noticing them. This summer I was dumping kitchen scraps on our compost pile when I saw something green and growing in the corner of the pile. It was a begonia.

Begonia Boliviensis Survived Dormant all Winter and Then Burst Back to Life

Some of the plants were purchased as annuals for the garden and brought inside at the end of the summer. Last autumn I brought in a few varieties of Begonia boliviensis. Very quickly they began to languish and then each of them collapsed into nothing in the way of children's thumb puppet toys. I left them on the windowsill for a while in case they might sprout back up, but nothing. They were very clearly dead. Because everything was frozen outside I emptied the pots into a tub in the basement, waiting to add the soil and roots to the compost pile come spring.

Begonia Boliviensis Plants on My Potting Table

But apparently they weren't dead after all. The tubers were dormant and waiting for warmth and sun and rain to begin growing and blooming again.

These little plants could be a good lesson. Definitely a reminder to be open to grace, to joy, to magic. But also, as an encouragement not to give up. Don't give up, even when things look darkest. Sometimes we just need to wait for the next season to bloom again.

Where are They Now? Catching Up with Some of the Artists I Interviewed

You may have noticed that I'm posting on a Tuesday instead of my usual Friday. I'm working on sharing some shorter posts between my regular posts. I'm not sure how often I'll do this, but it's fun to experiment and try some new things in this new space.

And speaking of trying new things, I've been contemplating starting up another interview series. What do you think? Do you enjoy reading interviews with creative women who are living their dreams? Are there specific kinds of questions you wish I would ask? Let me know what you think.

In the meantime, I thought I'd catch you up on what a few of the women I interviewed on my old blog have been up to lately (and if you weren't around for the original interviews, you can go take a look at those, too). The bravery and success of others helps us all to find a bit more courage in ourselves. I've said this before and I'll say it again, we're all in this together. Let's learn from one another and cheer each other on.

Sarah Venema's was the first real interview I did on my blog. Sarah is a Colorado-based professional photographer whose work is stunning and whose positive outlook is so inspiring to me. Her photographs capture "sun-drenched, love-filled laughing moments".  (My not-so-secret dream is for Sarah to be my photographer, taking photos of me in my studio and garden for my website).

Sarah Venema Selfie Project

Recently Angie Noll interviewed her on The Not Starving Artist Podcast and it was a lovely, inspiring conversation. Angie has interviewed many inspiring women and I hope you'll find some time to listen to her interviews. Learning about others' successes and definitions of success, especially those that might go against the norm, is encouraging when we're trying to forge our own paths.

In February of 2016 I interviewed Jayme Marie Henderson who writes the blog Holly and Flora. At that time Jayme lived south of downtown Denver and worked as a sommelier in a landmark Denver restaurant. On her blog Jayme shares her cocktail inventions, often focused on local, in-season ingredients. Her photography is gorgeous and I always enjoy seeing snippets of her garden and hearing her honest thoughts about her life which are often sprinkled throughout her posts.

Jayme Marie Henderson -- Holly and Flora and The Storm Cellar Vineyard and Winery

Not long after our interview Jayme leapt for a big dream and today she and her fiancé are co-owners of The Storm Cellar Vineyard and Winery on the western slope of Colorado. They've transitioned to living on the property and farming the grapes full-time with a goal of offering their first wines for sale next summer. It has been a monumental amount of work and I am so excited for her! You can watch the trailer they created for this project here and follow along with the vineyard on Instagram here.

One more for today... In March of 2017 I interviewed Jill and Kayla Haupt, the mother-daughter team behind Under a Tin Roof. I "met" Jill and Kayla in the issue of Artful Blogger Magazine where I was also featured. Kayla's article really resonated with me and I was curious to get to know more about her.

Jill and Kayla Haupt Under a Tin Roof

This past year these women have skyrocketed their dream of a handmade, country life even further when their family purchased a farm and added a CSA to their offerings. It's been beautiful to watch their progress (follow along on Instagram and their blog).

What about you? What successes have you been celebrating lately? Let's celebrate together!

Or maybe you're still dreaming. What have you been dreaming about? I know it's scary to leap for your dreams. It's hard to risk failure. And when you look at the successes of others it can be intimidating as well as inspiring. The truth is that no one's success comes easily. Every one of these women has been faced with failure. But they kept going. I hope you'll take a little step today in the direction of your dream. I promise you, it will be worth it.



*photos in this post © the artists


Watercolor Sunflowers from Start to Finish

Sunflowers embody the spirit of summertime. Of buzzing bees and hazy days. Shrill cicadas and fluffy white clouds floating in blue skies. They're some of my favorite plants to grow in my garden. I love the flowers, so many shapes and colors and sizes, but what I like even more is that they feed the bees and the birds.

My garden is filled with flowers calling me to paint them, but right now it's the sunflowers I couldn't resist.

It's been a while since I've painted a larger painting, one that takes many hours to finish. It's nice to paint small and quick, but there's something much more satisfying about a larger piece. It's more difficult -- takes more concentration, more patience -- but the end result is much more substantial.

Each painting starts the same way. I wash the old paint off my palette. That in itself is energizing. A fresh start.

Washing My Paint Palette to Prepare for a New Painting

One of my favorite parts of the painting process is mixing my colors. I study my subjects and decide which colors I'll need and try to re-create them with paint. I do this mostly intuitively, but I also consult my sketchbooks where I've painted swatches and made notes on color mixing.

In My Studio Mixing Colors on My Watercolor Palette in Preparation for Painting a New Piece

When I was first learning to paint I was impatient to get started and saw things like practicing color mixing as "busywork". So not true. If you want to learn how to paint with watercolor spend as much time as you can mixing and testing colors. I find it to be soothing and meditative. It's a bit magical and the colors always bring me joy.

Once my colors are mixed I make some rough sketches in my sketchbook, trying to figure out my composition. And then I make a very light sketch on my watercolor paper.

In My Studio Sketching out a New Painting

(Can you spot my studio assistant hard at work?).

I don't start painting right away. I prefer working with the paint once my mixed colors have dried on the palette. I'm able to get a much broader range of tones working this way. Using the wet mixes there's so much water that the colors end up very light.

Once the paint is dry I get started. One petal at a time, letting each dry before painting an adjacent petal.

The First Stage of a Watercolor Painting of Sunflowers by Anne Butera of My Giant Strawberry

I layer and blend colors while the paper is wet and then go back to add more layers and finish it off with fine details.

The Process of Painting a Sunflower with Watercolor Involves Many Layers

The details are what bring the painting to life. 

I Paint One Flower at a Time, One Petal at a Time, Finishing Each with Fine Details

It helps to have the flowers on hand to refer back to, especially when adding the details. I noticed that the base of each of the petals of this light-colored sunflower was a brighter, warmer yellow. When I went back and added some more yellow it made all the difference. I wish I had a "before" picture to show you, but when I'm in the groove, I often forget to photograph. Below you can see the contrast in the next flower between the petals with details and those without.

Notice the Difference Between the Petals That Have Gotten Details and Those That Have Not in this In-Progress Sunflower Watercolor Painting

I am constantly rotating the paper when I'm working on a painting. Sometimes I knock things off my table in the process, but it makes painting so much easier. When I film my classes for Skillshare I struggle with trying to make sure I keep the page in the view of the camera and in-focus. Trying not to move the page is SOO hard.

Painting Details on the Back of a Sunflower is Just as fun as Painting a Flower From the Front

The rules of composition suggest that an odd number of flowers is more pleasing than an even number. Maybe it's the rule-breaker in me, but I often paint an even number of flowers. In this case there are three different varieties of sunflower so perhaps the two smaller flowers are acting as one.

The finished painting feels balanced, but not in a boring way.

A Finished Watercolor Painting of Summer Sunflowers by Anne Butera of My Giant Strawberry

Although there were times throughout the process that I doubted everything coming together, my mantra was "you've got this". Each day I was excited to get back to my painting table and pick up where I'd left off. And the finished painting (now available in my shop) is so full of joy. Looking at it I can just about hear the buzzing bees and droning cicadas.

Now what should I paint next?

How I use My Garden Part 1: Creating a Portable Studio

A friend recently mentioned she was curious about how I use my garden and the things I grow in it. Her question got me thinking.

She's right, it's interesting to learn how other people use their outdoor spaces. And I love seeing garden bouquets that combine unusual plants and flowers and reading garden-fresh recipes.

I talk a lot about the fact that my garden inspires my art, but I don't really explain how that happens. So I'm planning a series of posts along those lines. If there's anything in particular that you're interested about, please leave a comment or send me an email.

Morning View in the Garden of Botanical Watercolor Artist Anne Butera

Oh, and while I'm mentioning comments, have you had any trouble leaving one? I had an email last weekend from someone who did. I tried to troubleshoot it and I did a lot of tests, but couldn't recreate her problem. I'd love to know if it's an isolated event or if others are having trouble, too. If you've had trouble leaving a comment can you let me know?

Now back to the garden!

A Gardenia Flower Unfurling in the Garden of Botanical Watercolor Artist Anne Butera

Today I want to talk about using my garden as an extension of my studio and specifically, how I've created a portable studio I can take with me when I want to make art outside.

In truth I don't usually paint outdoors -- I find it difficult -- but I do work in my sketchbooks, write and read in the garden. And I'm often photographing plants, flowers or wildlife as possible reference for future paintings, too.

Simply being present in the garden gives me a chance to slow down, to pay attention and to observe what's going on around me. It's the only way to notice things like the caterpillars growing in the parsley, the hummingbirds visiting the runner bean flowers, the toad hiding beneath the fence or the hummingbird moth hovering around the scented geraniums.

A Garden Toad

I've read that for a gardener a bench in the garden is never really for sitting down because gardeners are always too busy. Perhaps I'm a lazy gardener, but I always make a point of having time to savor my space, not just work in it. The weeds aren't going anywhere, but the perfect days of blue skies and puffy clouds won't last.

I usually drag out piles of books, my computer, sketchbook and other "necessities" when I'm spending time in the garden, even if I don't end up using them. Sometimes I get more from simply sitting still and tuning all my senses to what's around me than from drawing or writing about it. 

An Impromptu Outdoor Workspace in the Garden of Watercolor Artist Anne Butera

But I do like to be prepared. For being able to capture the curve of a flower stem or the ruffles of a petal or the pattern made by overlapping leaves. I like to have books handy for inspiration or just for the joy of escaping into stories. If there's computer work I need to catch up on, like sending emails or writing blog posts, why do it inside if I can do it sitting on the patio with my laptop instead?

Over the years I've created and re-created portable studios. Bags or baskets to carry my stuff outside and in. Boxes of essentials at the ready so I don't have to keep running up to my second-floor studio for something I've forgotten.

I recently found a wicker picnic basket at the thrift store that is perfect as my portable studio.

A Wicker Picnic Basket Makes the Perfect Traveling Studio in the Garden of Botanical Watercolor Artist Anne Butera

Here are some ideas of what you might want to include in your portable studio:

  • a sketchbook or sketchbooks
  • a journal or notebook
  • a pencil and pens for writing and drawing (Microns are my favorite to draw with)
  • colored pencils
  • markers
  • a travel set of watercolors and a water brush
  • watercolor or Inktense pencils (these are NOT my favorite, but I've been playing and experimenting with them lately) and a water brush
  • books and/or magazines
  • a camera or smartphone*
  • a laptop*

*being outside is also a good time to unplug. If I don't bring these things with me, I won't be distracted by them. The choice is entirely up to you.

Of course, you don't need a basket to hold your traveling studio. A backpack, messenger bag, tote or suitcase would work just as well, or better, depending on how far you need to carry it.

Outdoor Marker Sketches in the Sketchbook of Botanical Watercolor Artist Anne Butera

Even if you don't plan on creating in your garden, a portable studio is useful for when you're traveling or if you don't have a dedicated art-making space in your home. It's also great to take with you on a hike or a visit to a nature center or botanical garden.

My Instagram friend and fellow artist (and gardener) Eva Shorey recently shared the bag she made for nature walks. I think I'll have to do some searching around the internet for other artists' portable studio ideas, too.

What about you? Do you take creative supplies with you when you're out and about? I'd love to hear about your version of the "portable studio". 

On Blogs, Blogging and Being a Little Rebellious

Starting this new blog has been so energizing. Although a fresh start wasn't my intention when I moved to blogging on my website, it's been an unexpected, but very welcome, consequence. The thought of having a fresh space to craft into whatever I want has filled me with ideas. I'm excited to share some new posts with you. But first I wanted to talk a bit about blogs and blogging.

This new little watercolor painting of two nasturtium flowers is now available in my shop

This new little watercolor painting of two nasturtium flowers is now available in my shop

My old blog and I changed and grew a lot over the years. My journey to become a watercolor painter was documented in that space. I shared projects I was working on (painting and not), thoughts I was pondering and encouragement (for myself and my readers) to discover joy. I introduced interesting people and shared recommendations -- of books, of art supplies, of recipes. There were ups and downs (in my blog and my life). I stumbled. I made mistakes. And I also celebrated my successes.

There's a lot of pressure to Be Successful and as creative people we can get bogged down in the comparison game. It's easy to focus on the negative, the rejections, the missed opportunities. Although I think we can use rejection to inspire us to move forward, I also think it's important to celebrate our successes. My blog will always be a place where I invite celebration, mine and yours (share yours with me!).

Deadheading Geraniums and Finding Beauty in the Spent Flowers on My Potting Table

Through blogging I've met so many wonderful, creative people. Forging connections and creating a space for shared celebrations is important to me. Each of us is unique, interesting, quirky. It's one of the reasons I started the Artist Interviews and Sketchbook Conversations. It's the reason why I ask questions in my blog posts, why I welcome comments and make sure to always respond to them. I truly believe we're all in this together. It's not a competition. There is room for us all. The world needs what you bring to it. Isn't that something to celebrate? 

My Two Black and White Rescue Cats Are Often Snuggling on the Chair in My Studio

This new blogging space won't be much different than my old one. 

Over the years on my blog (and in my creative life in general) I whittled my focus, pared down what I shared, concentrated my attention. And yet at the heart, behind my pictures and words is a real person. I'm driven by my interests and passions and my quirks can't help but show through. This past winter I was feeling a bit antsy and I realized that part of it was that I'd whittled too much away. I wanted to get back to other creative pursuits. I wanted to sew and craft and be creative with more than just paint. Turned out it was just what I needed.

A Silly Selfie in My Studio Modeling a Shawl Crocheted with the South Bay Shawlette Pattern

One of the most common pieces of blogging advice I've seen is to write with a very narrow focus. Abby Glassenberg's The Creative Blogging Cookbook shares that same advice. But she also writes "People aren't actually niche. People are complex. They have more than one deep interest. Nobody's life follows a strict and narrow road. And we're always changing and growing."

A View in My Garden with Lauren's Grape Poppies Blooming Beside Borage

This is so true. It also explains why the blogs I most enjoy are those that reveal the people behind the words and photos on the screen. It feels as if there's a movement going on in the blogging world, a breaking free from too-narrow constraints. Here are a few people who have been inspiring me lately:

A Black Swallowtail Caterpillar Enjoying the Parsley in My Garden

And so, yes, I'm feeling energized by this new space and by thoughts of being rebellious in my own small way.

This new watercolor painting of three zinnia flowers is now available in my shop

This new watercolor painting of three zinnia flowers is now available in my shop

Ok, your turn. What sorts of blog posts do you most like to read? Who has been inspiring you lately? Is there anything you wish I'd write about in this new space?

Sketchbooks, Fear and Letting Go

Do you keep a sketchbook? Right now I have nine sketchbooks on the go, which might be a bit overkill.

A Pile of My Working Sketchbooks by Anne Butera of My Giant Strawberry

But each book has a different purpose. They're different sizes and different types of paper. One of them is nearly filled and two I recently started for very specific projects -- one dedicated to color and the other as a garden journal.

Blue Watercolor Color Play In My Color Themed Sketchbook by Anne Butera of My Giant Strawberry

I think one of the reasons I have so many different sketchbooks is that I've been chasing the myth of the Perfect Sketchbook.

The Perfect Sketchbook is a book you'll adore working in. Every page you create in it will look great and flow effortlessly. You and the Perfect Sketchbook will be inseparable and it will be, in and of itself, a work of art.

That's an awful lot of pressure, don't you think?

A Page From My Garden Journal Sketchbook Capturing the Joy of Tomatoes Developing in My Garden by Anne Butera of My Giant Strawberry

These myths exist everywhere in life, not just art. Maybe you've chased some yourself.

No sketchbook (or any other tool, material, person or device) is going to do all that. In fact, the only thing that makes a sketchbook perfect is you working in it. The work might not be pretty or neat. It might not make sense to anyone but you and often it doesn't resemble a work of art. And yet, the act of working in it is just right.

Experimenting with Inktense Colored Pencils and Drawing Goldfish in My Sketchbook by Anne Butera of My Giant Strawberry

Sketchbooks are about practice and growth. They're about play. They're about experimentation and asking questions and figuring things out.

For so long I was hesitant and intimidated by sketchbooks, even after I'd begun making art. It was interesting and encouraging to find out that I wasn't the only person who felt like this. Throughout my Sketchbook Conversations interviews I heard some of the same thoughts and feelings echoed by different artists. For me and for many of us the hesitancy stems from fear. Fear can be so limiting.

Sketching Out Possible Layouts for Paintings in My Sketchbook by Anne Butera of My Giant Strawberry

Even now, often days (or sometimes weeks) go by between my working in any of my sketchbooks. I'm busy. I'm tired. My inspiration ebbs and flows. But part of the reason I don't work regularly in my sketchbooks comes back to fear, even after all these years.

The same sort of pressure that revolves around the Perfect Sketchbook can get tangled up with the idea of working in a sketchbook, or being creative in general. We want it to be perfect, or at least good. We want it to be easy and work out right away. Add in anxiety from thoughts like, "I should be working in my sketchbook" and doubts when we compare our work to what we see on social media and it's no wonder creating becomes difficult!

What's In Bloom? Trying Out Inktense Colored Pencils In My Sketchbook While Drawing What's Blooming In My Garden

Maybe you feel this, too? Maybe it's not sketchbooks; maybe there are other creative outlets you're wanting to explore but keep putting off? 

Why don't we let go of expectations? Let go of a desire for a certain outcome. Let's free ourselves to make mistakes and make messes. We can give ourselves permission to ask questions like "what would happen if I do this?" and "I wonder how I could accomplish that?" and "what if I use this tool/material/supply/technique"? 

Using Markers to Brainstorm Barn Quilt Designs in My Sketchbook by Anne Butera of My Giant Strawberry

Let's give ourselves time and privacy to create. Don't worry what anyone else would think of your sketchbook pages (or whatever endeavor you're wishing to embrace...). Even if we choose to share (which we don't have to do), this practice is ultimately personal, for no one but you and me.

I'm re-committing myself to my sketchbooks. Not as an obligation, but as a joy. Are you with me? It doesn't have to be sketchbooks. Maybe it's sewing or dancing or cooking or photography. Let's re-commit to creating without fear.

The other day I was reminded again of this path I'm on. When I opened my box of colored pencils to work in my sketchbook I (re)discover this quote on the inside of the lid:

Hidden Inspiration -- William Blake Quote About Joy In My Pencil Box by Anne Butera of My Giant Strawberry

"He who kisses joy as it flies by, will live in eternity's sunrise."      -- William Blake

Sometimes messages from the universe come at just the right time. When I'm busy kissing joy, fear will have less power over me. Embrace the act of creating and there's no room for fear.

We can do it together.