Posts tagged art
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.

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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!

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.

Successes, Failures and Celebrating Where We Are

This morning there is a blanket of snow over everything. When I checked the thermometer it said 23. And yet I have more energy and feel more inspired today than I have for a long time because the SUN is shining.

I have been so tired lately. The change of season — the cold and wet and dark — is exhausting to me. And I’ve been wavering back and forth between discouragement and excitement in my work. I’ve had to remind myself to be patient. I’ve had to remind myself of how far I’ve come.

This November marks eight years since I first picked up a paintbrush. In 2010 I took part in Art Every Day Month and began learning how to paint with watercolor while also sewing and crocheting. At that point painting hadn’t yet become my main focus. And as you can see from this post on my old blog, I wasn’t very good at it.

When I’m stuck in the day to day, it’s easy to forget how far I’ve come since I began my creative journey. Fresh failures, disappointments and rejections loom large, temporarily overwhelming my successes. It’s easy to focus on all I still want to accomplish instead of celebrating all that I’ve accomplished so far.

My art is in the 2019 Flow Calendar!

My art is in the 2019 Flow Calendar!

I know we all feel like this sometimes. Even the most successful of us struggle with these feelings (see this recent post by Holly Becker, celebrating her new endeavors but also admitting how she feels like she’s not doing or accomplishing enough).

I’m not sure what the answer should be. Sometimes it’s easy to shake off these feelings. There are days when all it takes is a little sunshine. Sometimes it’s not so easy.

It helps me to take a step back and to make some art just for fun. Play in my sketchbook, enjoying the process without worrying about the outcome. Delighting in color. Savoring using different tools or media.

Last week you got a glimpse of a spread from the collaborative sketchbook I’m working on with Dana Barbieri. Here are the finished pages:

A Page From My Collaborative Sketchbook With Dana Barbieri

If you’ve been around a while, you may remember the first collaborative sketchbook Dana and I did.

That project was featured in UPPERCASE Magazine and working on it was a turning point in my relationship with sketchbooks.

Anne Butera and Dana Barbieri Featured in UPPERCASE Magazine

This time Dana and I don’t have a schedule and aren’t sharing our pages. Keeping it (mostly) private is very freeing. In these days of sharing everything online it’s easy to forget that sketchbooks are supposed to be a place of creative freedom. They can be messy and fun and the only person you need to please is yourself.

Chicken Sketches in My Sketchbook

I think the key to long-term success as an artist is pleasing yourself first. By success I’m not talking about money or likes or followers. I’m talking about satisfaction deep in your spirit. About joy. Creating can be hard. It takes courage to ignore negative thoughts from your inner critic. It takes courage to learn how to do something new. To make terrible art and to keep going anyway is an act of bravery.

Eight years ago I was scared to admit to anyone that I was an artist. Today it’s hard to remember the apprehension I used to feel.

Giving Myself a Pep Talk in My Sketchbook

I don’t know where you are in your creative journey. Perhaps you don’t consider yourself an artist (and maybe you don’t want to be, which is perfectly OK!). Or maybe you have a yearning to create — to embroider or sew, to grow a garden or cook, to dance or write poetry. Art is not only painting. Whatever it is, do what brings you joy. Try new things. Create your own definition of success. Ignore your inner critic and stop worrying about meaningless numbers. Celebrate where you are RIGHT NOW. Yes, you may have further to go, but instead of focusing on that, take a look at how far you’ve already come.

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.

 
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.

 

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