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!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Declaration On Doing More Better

Several years ago I decided to take a class called The Declaration of You with artist Jessica Swift and career coach Michelle Ward to help me figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. Sadly, and to absolutely no fault of theirs (because they are amazing), I really didn't get anything out of it. Here's why... for a really long time I haven't really understood what or whom I wanted to be (or as a microcosm of this issue... what this blog is about).

On the one hand, I'm incredibly lucky/blessed to have a relatively stable 8+ year career in corporate public relations which has moved me around the country and afforded me a comfortable lifestyle for a practical chick.

On the other hand, I've always dabbled in the creative arts, and I absolutely love having many creative outlets. I started this blog during my first year in the corporate world when I really just wanted to share the doodles I was creating during long teleconferences with my family and friends.

My struggle has always been that these two things have often felt at odds. I have "work me" and "artsy/doodling/sewing/whatever me." I don't really aspire to quit my day job, but I also always feel like I should be doing MORE with my so-called hobbies. And my definition of "more" is very murky...

"Work me" = Peggy Olson... at least in my head
This has been causing me particular stress lately because, for probably the first time, I feel like I've actually been getting a tiny tiny bit of traction in various forums as a result of some of the classes I've taken  (1 contest win, 1 Spoonflower sale and 130 new Instagram followers to be exact). Suddenly, I feel this urgent and possibly ridiculous need to capitalize on this tiny tiny bit of momentum or god forbid I miss my chance to do "more."

However, because of my real-life job, I've always had a somewhat time-constrained approach to my creative output. I try things, some turn out ok, some are weird hot messes, some could be better if I actually practiced... and I've always posted all of it, you know, just because. If you look back through this blog you can see what I mean. It's a bit all over the place. And all of this new overthinking has made me feel like none of it is good enough.

I honestly don't know where I'm going with all of this except to say that after some long, hard thinking I've realized: 1. that I really want to do better. I want to practice and take more classes, I want to take less crappy photos, and I want to make things that people really like, and 2. I also want to embrace (and hope others are interested in following) this process I've been going through.

I think there are a lot of people out there like me, trying to do "more" with their hobbies while balancing a full time career (or family, or whatever). I just want to be open and honest about how that's going for me (even when I don't have the time/energy to take perfectly styled photos).

"Doing more better" could be making money, attracting more followers/readers, or just feeling fulfilled.... I haven't figured it out what the actual goal is yet, and it honestly doesn't matter, but I just hope some people will find this mishmash inspiring and join me in my sometimes sloppy/misdirected/messy efforts to doing more... better.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

What Have You Learned Lately: Online Creative Class Round Up

Over the past two-ish years, I have become obsessed with taking online classes to learn new design and craft skills. As you may know, I never attended any kind of design school (apart from a few basic classes in my Journalism undergrad). Through the years, I was always on the hunt for various art classes, but I could never find the time or motivation to actually go to an in-person class.

But lately I've been noticing a huge crop of new design and craft classes, led by some of my very very favorite artists, cropping up all over! I've dipped my toe in the water here and there, but I wanted to briefly share my experience with the classes I've taken in case anyone else out there has any interest. So here goes!

I Still Love Calligraphy with Melissa Esplin

This was one of the first classes I took back in 2012. At the time I paid $99 plus materials (paper, ink, pen, nibs). Currently the class is $130 and includes materials, and I believe she has been updating her videos and content since then. My favorite part about this class was getting feedback directly from Melissa and the structured practice exercises. I have to admit that I haven't kept up with my pointed-pen practice, but this class really improved my understanding and appreciation of hand lettering. See more...

Pattern Camp with Jessica Swift

This class probably had the MOST impact on me in terms of learning technical skills that I now use all the time to create repeating patterns. I have admired Jess for a long time (and also took her Declaration of You class). I met her at a craft fair once in DC and was completely, ridiculously, embarressingly star struck.

Anyways, Pattern Camp is a great overview on how to make repeating patterns in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. I paid $130 for the class and it was worth EVERY PENNY (I believe prices have rightfully gone up but Jess is regularly running specials so check her blog! Worth it!). I already had a copy of Illustrator/Photoshop so I didn't have to pay additional for that.

The videos walk you through each step from concept to creation, and it was great even if you've never used the software in the past. This class offered the option to go through it "live" during a specific weekend which I highly recommend. Jess and my classmates' real time feedback through the Facebook group and webcasts was extremely helpful and generally made me feel like a rockstar. See more...

Design, Carve, Print with Jen Hewett

Jen is another artist that I've been stalking admiring for many years, so when she opened up a new online block printing class I waited less than five minutes to sign up for $99. Like Pattern Camp, this class offered and "live" option, which again, was so much fun which some great teacher/class interaction.

I had tried block printing before but Jen's class really helped me improve my efforts and understand the right materials to use, particularly on fabric. I tried my hand at printing a full yard of fabric to make a tote bag, and also combined several of my block prints with my digital skills to turn out some pretty fun digital patterns. See more...

Creative Bug Fabric Design with Heather Ross, Lizzy House & Denise Schmidt

Creative Bug is a subscription site that I signed up for in March in order to watch their fabric design class co-sponsored by Spoonflower. It's only $4.95/month which seems like a ridiculous steal for the amount of classes and content.

The Fabric Design class was really good in learning more about the artistic process that these three amazing designers use in developing their fabric collections. I really loved their personal stories and seeing how there really was no "right" way to do things. I think it was less helpful in the technical department (where Pattern Camp really excelled), but for $4.95, I enjoyed it immensely. See more...

Creative Bug Drawing & Illustration Basics with Heather Ross

Following the Fabric Design class, I also started watching the Drawing & Illustration Basics class taught by Heather Ross who seems like another person I want to be best friends with (sorry if that is creepy). This class touched on sketching and painting everyday objects and creating conversational artwork. Heather's style isn't exactly the same as mine, but I loved trying something different. Her mantra that everyone can draw was really empowering because I have often felt that I couldn't draw "things that look like things." See more...

Lynda.com Adobe Illustrator Essential Training

Finally, the last class I'll talk about was on Lynda.com. This was another subscription, about $40/month. The site, which was recently purchased by LinkedIn, is geared more towards career development vs. hobbyists, but this class was really helpful and in depth. It definitely gave me a great foundation and more confidence in working with Illustrator which I had never used before.

All in all, I hope to keep jumping in to these classes and would love more recommendations if you know of any. I love learning new skills and techniques and really hope that more artists will be sharing their passions through this type of setting in the future!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Drawing & Illustration for Dummies

Continuing with my spate of recent online classes, I recently finished watching Heather Ross' Drawing & Illustration Basics on Creative Bug. In the next week or so I'm going to be posting a REALLY BIG round-up of all the online classes I've taken, but I wanted to share some of my attempts from Heather's class in particular.

Heather really focuses on drawing everyday objects so we started out with some little things little clothespins and push pins.

Next we moved on to some more complex sketches of things like flowers.

Up to this point in the class, I basically was just drawing whatever she drew, but then I diverted and started sketching some things from our backyard (I mean, it IS spring and EVERYTHING is blooming!)

In the second part of the class she focused on filling in the sketches with gouache, which is a type of opaque watercolor paint that is hard to spell. I was immediately very intimidated, because the bulk of my forays in to painting are decidedly abstract, but I soldiered on at her encouragement that "everyone can draw/paint."

SO I gave it my best effort and was mildly impressed/happy with the result! Lots of room or improvement though.

Finally, she talked a lot about making conversational artwork... again, not something I do naturally... but I loved the little painting she taught us to do of a ladybug hiding under a mushroom. Check out #cbugsketchbook on Instagram to see like 15 of my classmates versions of this... pretty freaking adorable in my opinion.

I think this class was really interesting and pushed me to attempt drawing more things that I usually immediately am like... "nope... can't draw flowers, sorry."

Unrelated to what was taught in the class, I also decided to try my hand at some brush lettering which I really loved and hope to do more of in the future. Sort of an easier (for me) way to get a calligraphic style without the frustration of bending metal nibs (curse my heavy hands!).

Stay tuned for another post coming up in which I will share my deep thoughts and general fangirl-ness from a bunch of the online classes I've taken. If you've been thinking about learning some new stuff... this post will be for you!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Ready, Set, Sew: Race Day Tank Top

I have to admit that I'm not always the most enthusiastic runner. My motivation has a lot more to do with the clothes than the many other benefits of running. So I decided, after my first tank top turned out pretty well, I needed to try out Spoonflower's Performance Pique fabric to make a running tank for the Pikes Peek 10K race this past weekend.

I again used an existing tank top (with a racer back) as the pattern, which worked out pretty well, but I tried another method for the binding and ended up with straps that were slightly different sizes (oops!). I also wish I had made it a little bit longer, but overall it fit pretty well.

I really loved the fabric. It was light and surprisingly great quality. I think it will hold up really well over time. I picked my Block Print Blossom pattern in Hydrangea for the task. 

Here's a pic at the finish line! I'm always the happiest when its all over. Photobombed by the Geico Gecko of course. 

It was really cold at the start so I wore my jacket through the first few miles, but was delighted when the sun came out! Good thing I remembered my sunscreen ;o)

Anyways, after all my crazy fabric design projects of late, I decided to try something a little different. Here's a sneak peek... more to come!