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

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

mushrooms and snails.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

Our world is clearly hurting.

And there is no easy remedy.

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

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

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

My Article in Artful Blogging Magazine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

An Invitation to the 5th Handmade Joy Exchange

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to join the exchange:

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

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

What you need to do:

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

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

Afterward:

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

Sound good?

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

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

Here’s to a joyful start to the year!

Welcoming 2019 and Choosing a Word for the Year

Happy New Year!

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

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

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

Possibility,

Do you feel it, too?

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

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

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

GROW.

GROW: My Word of the Year for 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Start with your goals and work from there.

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

  • Keep it simple and don't overthink it.

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

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

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

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

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

Other things to consider:

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

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

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

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

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

  • Listen to your heart and be honest with yourself.

  • Take it seriously, but also have fun.

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

Here’s to a wonderful year for us both!

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

2018 -- a Year in Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My art got some nice recognition further afield in 2018.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some of my watercolor paintings from 2018

Some of my watercolor paintings from 2018

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

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

A View in My Garden in 2018

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

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

Happy Solstice

Happy Winter Solstice to you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Stealing Calm Amidst the Chaos

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

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

My Messy, Chaotic, In Process Studio

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

Deep breath.

Hoar Frost on the Roses in My Winter Garden

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

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

A Sketchbook Spread from My Upcoming Skillshare Class

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

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

Yes!

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

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

Making Do and Making Art

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

  • time?

  • space?

  • money?

  • materials?

  • tools?

  • knowledge?

  • skills?

  • inspiration?

  • energy?

  • confidence?

Or is it something else?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

On Dreaming Big

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

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

I’m still dreaming.

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

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

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

I have failed so many times.

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

Dreams from My Dream Jar

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

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

A Failed Dream (so far) from My Dream Jar

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

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

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

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

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

The February/March 2019 Issue of Cottages and Bungalows Magazine

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

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

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

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

I’m still pinching myself.

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

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

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

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

The Answer to Slowing Down? Gratitude

How is possible that Thanksgiving has already come and gone? If you celebrated it, I hope it was peaceful, joyful and filled with love.

It seems I’m always pondering how fast time is flying by and how I’m not able to keep up with it. Am I the only one? Do you feel this way, too?

Dahlias from My Garden and Pumpkins from My Mom's Garden Before the Frost Ended the Gardening Season

These past few weeks I’ve been so busy and my attempts at slowing time down haven’t exactly been successful. I know through the end of the year things will continue to rush past, definitely at odds with nature’s pull urging me to s - l - o - w d - o - w - n.

And I think that’s the biggest problem for me with the transition from summer into autumn and the slide into winter. My connection with the flowers blooming in my garden makes me feel the need to slow down, too. Winter is a natural period of rest, and yet our society just keeps rushing along.

Sometimes I have to paint something just to paint it and the watercolor brings me joy

So what’s the answer? Rush along with it and exhaust myself? Fight it and end up uninspired and irritable? Find some sort of middle ground?

Liv Sulerud is an empath, healer and coach. I get her newsletter and recently these words arrived in my inbox “Seasonal shifts have always affected me deeply. And one of the most challenging things for me is the way the dominant culture pushes on as if nothing is different.” Yes! I thought. Exactly! She went on to say that “Mama Earth is slowing down and so can you.” Her words brought me hope and reminded me that I am the one in charge of how I navigate my days.

And so I am committing, again, to slowing down. To settling in to the natural rhythms that I’m feeling. To taking time for myself. To nurture and nourish. To rest.

Yesterday was Thanksgiving here in the US. A day to give thanks for all of our blessings. I wish that instead of getting lost in the shuffle of commercialism and holiday sales we could linger with our gratitude.

In truth, there’s no reason that I can’t. That you can’t. That we can’t. Gratitude is the perfect way to slow our thoughts. It’s the perfect way to still the rushing and calm the overwhelm. Won’t you join me?

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.

Being in the Middle

When I sit down to write to you it’s usually with a plan that I’ve been thinking about for a while. I usually start writing about a week before I’m planning on posting. I have lists of topics. I have a schedule. But sometimes things don’t go as planned.

I think it’s important that we (as artists, but also as people) admit that life can be messy and that things don’t always go the way we hope they will. It’s easy to share the successes, less so to share the fumbles. But if we don’t share our messes, our struggles, our failures, we end up projecting inaccurate, picture-perfect stories of our lives.

Today I planned on sharing a studio tour and writing about cultivating a creative space of your own. I recently rearranged and cleaned my studio and I thought it would be perfect timing.

The view into my rearranged studio. Although it looks pretty good here, it's still unfinished and not ready for a full tour.

But the fact is, although my studio is rearranged (and looks pretty good in the photo), it’s not finished. I’m hunting for a couple pieces to help me organize some supplies and so far I’m not having any luck finding just what I’m looking for.

Ordinarily I’d simply skip to another post idea from my list. But none of those projects are finished, either. I’m stuck in the middle.

Working on carving a block inspired by my collaborate sketchbook with Dana Barbieri.

The middle is an awkward place. It’s unfinished. It’s messy. It can be uncomfortable, chaotic, confusing.

This is true no matter what the middle might be. The middle of baking a cake. The middle of organizing your closet. The middle of creating a painting. Middle school. Middle age.

But the middle is also a place of magic. It’s filled with possibilities and growth, with dreams and ideas.

I’m feeling in the middle not only with the projects I’m working on, but with my art in general and with my business.

I have a whole list of unfinished sewing project. This tea towel calendar* is just one of them.

I have a whole list of unfinished sewing project. This tea towel calendar* is just one of them.

And that’s ok. The more I think about it, the more I realize that nearly all of life is lived “in the middle”. Once I get where I’m going it won’t be long before I begin another journey.

So hang in there. If you’re feeling uncomfortable or awkward keep going. If life feels messy or chaotic or constantly unfinished, don’t be discouraged. We’re all in this together. Enjoy the process. Savor the details that makes life so magical.

Flowers and Leaves from My Autumn Garden in My Studio
 

*Now through Thursday, November 8 all fat quarters of my fabric, including my three tea towel calendars are 50% off at Spoonflower! Which means I’ll be adding more unfinished projects to my list.