Posts in sketchbooks
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.

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.

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).

Allowing The Change (And New Calendars)

I’ve been thinking a lot about change lately. In part with the changing of the seasons as I wrote last week, but also because change seems to be all around.

Giant Sunflower Seed Heads from My Garden

Isn’t it always?

The other day on her blog Flora Bowley shared her only painting “rule” and it’s simply “Allow the change”. Such a good rule not only for art-making, but for life in general. Change is always happening and it’s better to step back and let it come than to constantly fight it.

Marigolds and Purple Basil Hanging on in My Autumn Garden

I do feel a coming change in my art (and my business), or maybe just the need for change. In truth, I’m already constantly changing and making changes. Sometimes the changes are tiny, things that only I would notice. There are changes on my website and this blog. There are ebbs and flows in my creativity and in my focus. Some changes are seasonal — and it finally makes sense to me that as a botanical artist it should be this way — and some are not. Learning new skills helps to shape some changes. And others come as a sort of trial and error as I navigate my way through art and business.

Sometimes changes come easily and sometimes I really stress over them.

Zinnias in My Autumn Garden

This is the 6th year I’ve designed a calendar with my art but it’s the first time I’m having someone else print it. I really dragged my feet about this decision and kept putting off making it. I probably should have done it last year, but I was so reluctant to give up control of the process and the moniker of “handmade” (even though I was using a computer and machine to make them!). Printing and trimming them myself was so labor and time intensive. The paper and ink were expensive, too, and at times the paper I was using was hard to find. Financially it didn’t make sense for me to print them myself. And then last year I had printer problems which made things even worse. Wasted time. Wasted materials. I know it was the universe telling me it’s time to move on. Even so, when I started working on my new calendars this summer, I put off looking into printing options.

Now that they’re printed I look back and wonder why it took me so long to take action on a change I knew was necessary.

Recently Amy Butler announced that she is leaving the quilting industry and her new collection out this month will be her last. When I first started making quilts and learning about fabrics (and their designers), I became smitten with Amy’s designs and her “midwest modern” aesthetic. Getting glimpses into her studio in books and magazines (and online) was both magical and inspiring to me. Although I was a bit shocked by her announcement, seeing an icon in a creative field change direction like this is also inspiring to me.

Dahlias Still Looking Glorious in My Autumn Garden

Change is an inevitable part of life. There’s no way around it. Even when we drag our feet about decisions for change, we know it will eventually happen. I’m going to work on being more open to change. To let go of preconceptions. To allow the change.

I know it won’t always be easy, but I’m working on it.

an encouraging note I wrote in my sketchbook

an encouraging note I wrote in my sketchbook

Are you with me?

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

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.