Monday, December 28, 2015

Doing More Better: Which of These Things is the Most Me?

A few months back, I posted about how I have major commitment issues when it comes to settling on one particular style. It's why my craft box is always overflowing, I'm constantly taking new classes, and none of my patterns and designs look like they came from the same person.

But this is a pretty big issue if you are ever trying to sell or market products, or if you're just trying to DO MORE BETTER. It's great to be an experimenter, creator, dabbler and learner... but how do I find the happy medium between creating stuff I love (and enjoying the process) and creating a recognizable "identity" that people want to invest in?

So today I'm taking a first step and identifying the list of all the styles and techniques I've been dabbling in and assessing each based on how uniquely "me" it is, how comfortable I am with the technique and how sell-able/marketable it is.

Ready??? Let's GO!

Abstract Doodles/Shapes/Patterns

Me-ness: 10
Comfort Level: 10
Sell-able?: 2

Pros: As I mentioned last time, this is the most "me" style. It's something I developed over many years and seems to just magically come from my hands without a lot of effort. It's what initially got me inspired to learn how to make digital, repeat patterns (so that I wasn't spending HOURS filling an entire page, though sometimes that is therapeutic).

Cons: I've had a lot of trouble translating these doodles into digital form or marketable products. They just lose something and feel too simple.

Abstract Q-Tip/Bubble Wrap Acrylic Painting 

Me-ness: 10
Comfort Level: 10
Sell-able?: 3

Pros: I started making these funny abstract paintings with Q-Tips a few years ago. I love the colors and the process.

Cons: Again, not 100% sure how to translate these into digital form or products. I'm just not sure what exactly what marketable kind of things they would look good on.

Cartoon Animals and Anthropomorphic Ice Cream Cone Drawings

Me-ness: 6
Comfort Level: 5
Sell-able?: 8

Pros: After trying for a while to make my abstract drawings work, I gave up and started practicing drawing things that look like things. These drawings are super easy to translate into digital patterns and projects.

Cons: While I definitely think these reflect a part of my personality, I tend to feel like I'm faking it and trying too hard to emulate what I see out in the marketplace. I love these patterns, but they come from a very different place than my abstract stuff.

Block printing and screen printing

Me-ness: 4
Comfort Level: 3
Sell-able?: 6

Pros: Printmaking is one area where I can let some of my abstract-self loose and it can be somewhat easily translated into other things.

Cons: I need a lot more practice, refining and again, the translation isn't always perfect. One exception is this veggie print, but I can't really count that because my brilliant, creative husband did the carving and printing.

Hand Lettering

Me-ness: 6
Comfort Level: 5
Sell-able?: 8

Pros: I've been obsessed with handwriting for a long time and have definitely gotten caught up in the hand lettering trend. I've made several gifts and commissions for friends.

Cons: There's a whole 'nother conversation to be had (don't worry, not today) about a specific style of hand lettering that I'm good at. Similar to this list, I could/should be narrowing down what style of lettering is the most "me." Also, I could do with a lot more practice and training to be better at this. Good grief.

Watercolor/Gouache Painting 

Me-ness: 3
Comfort Level: 2
Sell-able?: Who knows???

Pro/Cons: I debated even adding this to the list because this is something I basically just stuck my toe in the water with lately. I really enjoy painting, but it is by far the technique I would need to work on a lot. I haven't even really attempted "productizing" this stuff.

What Did We Learn?

Ok! That is a super long list. And as I was writing this, I think I definitely had a few insights:

1) The styles/techniques I feel are the most "me" (and least influenced by outside forces) are sometimes the hardest to translate into something sell-able (because they came from my weird brain, not from something I saw on Pinterest).

And vice versa, the things that I consider sell-able, are things heavily influenced by what I see in the marketplace and are things I feel less comfortable with when it comes to the technique.

2) I think there could be a lot of options to combine styles between what I consider "me" and what I consider sell-able/marketable. Though, it's hard to find the exact right balance...

So I guess that should be my next step: more experimentation! I read this great blog post by a professor at RISD about discovering your style. The bottom line? Trying a million different things and not narrowing yourself down before you're ready. So maybe I'm not as far off the path as I sometimes feel like.

I'll just wrap up by saying as always, I'm sharing all this info because I most certainly am not the only part-time dabbler out there going through this. I hope other people find my process interesting and helpful and stick with me as I take it (slowly) step-by-step.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Eat Your Vegetables: A Pattern Project Nine-ish Months in the Making

Today I wanted to talk about the creation of this veggie pattern I made because, as a creative dabbler, this is how things usually work for me... slowly but surely over a long, long time. 

Sometimes I find this really discouraging--the fact that sometimes I just don't have the time and attention span to create whole collections or see things through in a reasonable amount of time (what's "reasonable" anyways?). But sticking to something... even if it takes nine months is still a completely worthwhile and rewarding process. So here we go:

Waaaay back in the early Spring, when we were block printing up a storm, my favorite collaborator, husband and lover of all things gardening and vegetable-ly carved these sweet block prints. I immediately felt like they would make an awesome garden-inspired pattern.

(If you know Kevin, you know that he is obsessed with his garden and is known to be found on any given day out in our back yard collecting a horde of tomatoes as well as eating greens plucked straight from various plants... carrots, peas, lettuce, beets, basically anything.)

Some unspecified amount of time later (May maybe?) I finally got around to printing and scanning them. Here's what the prints looked like when cleaned them up using my computer:

The radish was definitely my favorite. Again, possibly weeks/months later (and after hassling Kevin to carve me a carrot), I finally started playing around with them in Illustrator, added some appropriate colors, and here's the half-drop, repeat pattern I ended up with:

Now we're somewhere into the Fall... maybe late September... I used Spoonflower to print out two yards of it on their basic combed cotton with two particular projects in mind... a blanket and a pillow cover for a specific, farm-y room we're working on (I know, the suspense is killing you right???). 

Here's what the fabric looked like along with other fabrics I picked out for the room. 

And TADA! After months in the making, and a lot of sitting around and doing other things like going to work and taking well-earned naps, the pillow cover and blanket were finally done. (The blanket is back at the top of the post). For the pillow cover, I used the envelope-back method because I like to be able to wash things, but zippers are hard...

For both projects, I chose to use a gold minky fabric for the backs and let me tell you... I'll be happy if I never delve in to using minky EVER AGAIN.

A Brief Aside About Sewing w/ Minky:

One, use safety pins, many many straight pins and a walking foot. Two, use a long stitch length. And three, give yourself an extra hour or two to calm down after you stop tearing your hair out. THEN PUT IN MORE PINS!

End of Aside.

Anyways, as I continue (in obvious fits and starts) to do more better, I felt like this was an important process to share, because I have to remind myself... it's ok if it takes me nine months to go from concept to finishing a final project. I can't get discouraged because I'm a little ADD when it comes to stuff and the past nine months have been particularly crazy.

Sometimes out there in the cyber-insta-world it feels like other people are just cranking out amazing stuff left and right... and that is totally cool if they are. But I'm a person with a crazy, full-time job and a lot going on, and I feel like it's so important not to compare my output to full-time professional sewers/bloggers/artists.

So, I'm celebrating the completion of these small, very personal projects, taking a breather... and then jumping in to the next project!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Ink, Print, Moo, Repeat: CreativeBug's Screen Printing for Beginners

Four or five years ago Kevin and I bought a Speedball screen printing kit to experiment with. Kevin made a few shirts, including these shirts for Team Battery Brewing, but I pretty much just helped because I found the whole process kind of intimidating... a lot of setup and A LOT of clean up.

But as I was browsing CreativeBug's classes I saw this class for beginners, taught by Hilary Williams, that used tracing paper stencils as opposed to blocking fluid. So I figured that it was more my speed. I have to admit though, it still felt like a lot of work. Man, this makes me sound super lazy...

Boo tracing paper!
Basically, you cut out a stencil in tracing paper, tape it to the back of the screen and pull your prints. But, I learned pretty quickly that the tracing paper was a no go. It wouldn't lay flat and the edges bled a lot (see left). So I upgraded to Contact paper, which was a significant improvement, but I still had to practice quite a bit to get the right amount of ink and the right technique.

My biggest struggle was positioning the paper... Our screen is kind of stained from previous projects so it was basically impossible to see the CLEAR Contact paper stencil in order to "register" the paper... which ultimately led to some guesswork/slightly off-centered noses. I didn't take any pictures of the actual printing process because I can't multi-task. The other thing that made this difficult for me was just the waiting around for my screen to dry in between attempts. I think people who do this a lot probably have multiple screens and a lot more patience than me.

Yay Contact paper!

Overall though, I think Hilary gave some awesome tips about screen printing in general. She did a great job of balancing simple instructions without making it too basic/boring if that makes sense. It was easy, but still engaging. I watched the videos ahead of time and then basically remembered the steps as I went so there was no pausing, backing up, pausing, replaying, to figure out what I was supposed to do. This is HUGE in my book.

And even though my noses were kind of crooked, I was pretty pleased with the results. I think this cow will look very cute in a certain cow/farm themed room we're working on ;o) And even though I had a couple of times (grrr tracing paper) where I was ready to throw in the towel, I'm glad I stuck it out. TBD on how soon I'll dive into it again, but definitely a fun first try. Christmas cards maybe?

Definitely another great CreativeBug class! What next? Embroidery perhaps?

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Fall Inspiration For People Who Just Aren't That in to Fall

Oh hey there. I know I just dropped off the face of the blog/earth for a few months and BLAMMO it's Fall now. Even though I'm grateful this year in particular for the break in 90+ degree days... Fall is probably my least favorite season on average. BUT, I'm trying to be more positive, so here's a list of things I actually DO like about Fall:

1. Plaid

It's possibly because I was forced to wear nothing but navy blue plaid to school for many years, but I have a strange affinity for all things tartan.

Have you ever seen this website, Plaid Maker, that lets you generate/download your own custom plaids? It's so much fun! Maybe this year I will upload a swatch to Spoonflower and print my very own plaid fabric for EVERYTHING. Brilliant!

2. Halloween (Candy and Pumpkin Carving)

Ever since we bought a house, Halloween has become a personal favorite holiday. Like a nerd, I like to decorate our stoop with fake spider webs and tombstones and purchase too much candy to hand out eat. 

This year I felt like our decorations were insufficient so I sewed up this little front door pumpkin banner with some burlap and canvas I had on hand. I feel like one of those huge craft nerds when I say that I had all the materials for this ON HAND.

3. Baking

While baking is not necessarily limited to the Fall months (scoff)... I've recently been watching a lot of episodes of The Great British Baking Show. It is the best. Also, because of the reduction of 90+ degree days it is now bearable to turn our oven on.

We went apple picking a few weekends ago and picked about 20.5 lbs... so that's a lot to work with. I've made biscuits, apple cake, apple muffins and (ambitiously) Tarte Tatin.

So anywho, that's what I've been up to. Hopefully have some new sewing and artwork projects on the horizon, and have been skimming Creative Bug for my next class. Feel free to chime in with suggestions!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Advice I Have Not Taken: My Thoughts on Picking a Style

A few weeks ago as I was ruminating over my place in the world, I mentioned that my latest, biggest fear was that everything I’m doing is NOT GOOD ENOUGH (crazy talk, right?... right?) and I’m progressively trying to improve and DO MORE BETTER. 

One area that’s pretty clear to me where I could be doing better is in having a defined style. I think if you read basically any design blog or book, the #1 piece of advice from artists/business owners/everyone is to have a clear, distinct, unique voice and style.

 And as a habitually distracted creative-type… this poses a pretty big challenge for me. Challenge #1: I love experimenting. Experimenting and learning new things is basically all I’ve been doing lately. 

Challenge #2: When you are learning new techniques, or when you are researching, or when you are just following other designers on social media… it’s tough not to be influenced. In my mind it works this way, “oh look, I love this style and it is super popular right now, I should do something like that.”

 Neither of these are necessarily BAD in my mind, and let me be clear, I’m not talking about COPYING someone else’s style (because, let’s be honest, I don’t have the attention span or talent to even go there). 

But when you are reading day-in-and-day-out that you need a refined style… that you need to pick one thing to be good at... it makes you think a lot (and possibly worry some more about being not good enough). 

And to me, there’s at least one style that I think is clearly “me.” And if you have known me for any period of time… this will not surprise you in any way whatsoever. And those are the doodles.

I started this blog to share my cover-the-page-with-weird-shapes doodles, like the ones throughout this post. It’s probably the only kind of drawing that comes naturally to me and that isn’t really influenced by other things I see. 

I just get obsessed with a shape, develop that shape, and then go nuts with that shape. I have done this since I could hold a pen in my hand. I just love, hand-drawn, tiny, repetitive patterns. Like this:

 Now the challenge is: how do I embrace that? How do I develop that in to something? How do I take what else I’ve learned to do and incorporate those things?

The answer: I don’t know. And as I’ve said before… I’m trying to share and embrace the process and worry less about not being there yet. So stay tuned and we’ll find out what happens together. Needless to say, there will definitely still be experimenting.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Washing With Color: CreativeBug's Watercolor Classes

Happy summer people! I just wrapped up CreativeBug's Beginner and Intermediate Watercolor classes taught by artist Yao Cheng. I loved her rapid-fire, just-go-with-it and move on style. The pieces came together quickly, so that even if something didn't turn out great... it was easy to move on to the next thing. Here's a quick run down and a few samples of some of the work I did during the class.

In the beginning class, Yao starts with color theory, basic brush strokes and a few abstracts. In the second half she turns her focus to leaves, trees and wreaths. The abstracts were fun, but I was really impressed how she conveyed the ease of the natural subjects. I had no idea I could paint things like this! Room for improvement but I love them!

I took many art classes as a kid from an amazing artist in Jacksonville, Jennie Szaltis. She taught me to love a number of mediums including batik, but I have to say I really hated watercolor (which is so sad because really, she is a wonderful teacher/artist). I just felt like I sucked at it. It wasn't my thing. This class really challenged that assumption.

The intermediate class moved into florals, layering and landscapes. One thing that is cool about watercolor is that sometimes things look really different when they dry. The peony on the left looked miserable when I finished, but I actually kind of love how it dried. Magic!

Here's a bouquet. Again, I liked it much more once it dried. I was using some older brushes and paints so sometimes things got a little fuzzy.

This was my attempt at the all-over floral pattern. Need to work on my spacing and layout but I felt like there was a lot of potential.

Here was a layering piece. My colors got a little weird (again, old paints maybe?) but it was a cool technique.

Ok, last of all, my landscape... which brings me to the one criticism of the class. To no fault of Yao's, sometimes they've edited the video so that it sort of fast forwards through more detailed sections. I know they don't want the videos to be too long, but with Yao's quick style I found myself having to pause and back up A LOT in order to keep up as I was painting along. Food for thought.

Overall, highly recommend these two classes. I really gained a new appreciation for watercolor and I'm looking forward to playing more and practicing. (See more class reviews here and here).

Monday, June 1, 2015

Inspiration: Photos From Our Cross Country Vacation by Train

What could possibly compel a person to take a train from Washington D.C. to San Diego, California? The #RomanceoftheRails of course! (It's a thing). I really wanted to share a quick rundown of our recent vacation and (more importantly) some of my favorite photos of the beautiful scenery, flora and fauna we saw along the way...

We started from D.C. to Chicago on the Capitol Limited train which winds it's way through the Appalachians following the Potomac River through Maryland. This is not a picture of the mountains but a bunch of new railroad ties stacked up. I just loved how it looked.

We spent our first night on the train, and then woke up rolling along the shores of Lake Eerie somewhere in Ohio before arriving in Chicago.

Unfortunately Chicago was very cloudy so we didn't take too many pictures there. Later in the day we caught our next train, the Southwest Chief, and crossed the mighty Mississippi River.

To get through the Rocky Mountains, the train climbed through the Raton Pass in New Mexico, an original part of the Sante Fe trail. Super historic if you're in to stuff like that (like ME).

The prairie and the desert were both so surprisingly beautiful. At one point a herd of deer/antelope were running full speed next to the train. We sang Home on the Range, it was amazing.

We stayed for three days in Flagstaff, Arizona and took a day trip up to the Grand Canyon. This was absolutely a highlight of the trip. No picture can do it justice because it's really an amazing feeling to be standing on the edge looking out.

We also drove down to Sedona and hiked Boynton Canyon. It was about 6 mi. round trip. The rocks were unreal. No wonder people think they have magic vortex powers.

There were tons of these agaves all around. I loved the light green color against the bright red/orange rocks.

We hopped our last overnight train to San Diego where we spent another couple of days. We took the Surfliner train from L.A. to San Diego which glides right along the Pacific Ocean. While in San Diego we went out to Coronado Beach to soak it all in (California that is).

I also realized my childhood dream of visiting the San Diego Zoo. I took a ton of pics there so I will probably at some point do a whole post about that, but I loved this big sloth who was feeling surprisingly spunky when we passed by.

All in all, it seems cliche' but this was an awesome way to see the country. Even the factories and farms through the Midwest were beautiful and fascinating to see. Riding along, staring out the window for hours, getting a real sense of the size of the U.S., and watching the landscape melt from hills to mountains to GREAT lakes to the rust belt and the bread basket and the prairies and the desert and the mountains and the canyons and the ocean and 12 total states (and D.C.)... there is just no other way to describe the experience except INSPIRING!