8 Solid gold nuggets of advice I have received as an artist

I’ve been actively pursuing an illustration career for two years after a 15 year stint in corporate America. How am I doing? I’ve never been so busy or felt so creative in my entire life! In fact, I'm managing so many different creative projects at the moment, that I forgot to eat lunch yesterday.  What? That’s huge. I have never forgotten to eat in my life. As I reflect on the past two years, it occurs to me that there are some shiny golden nuggets of advice that have consistently helped me in my new career. I practice them all the time, and they have all led to great things for me. Maybe they will help you too?

Here are my 8 solid gold nuggets of advice I have received as an artist:

1. Create/Sell Your Joy: I have loved drawing all my life. One of my first memories of how art saved me happened when I was 5 years old. I won 100 dollars in a drawing contest sponsored by Zales Jewelers, my Dad's employer in the 70's. I’ll never forget it. We were so poor at the time, my parents started crying with joy when they read the award letter that I received in the mail. Wow. We really needed that money. I guess Zales didn't pay all that well. Ha-Ha. Here is the award winning masterpiece. The judges must not have been very discriminating as I drew my dad with only three fingers on his left hand. But, check out those groovy duds.

In high school, my advanced art history and studio classes created an escape for me in the midst of a tumultuous home life.  In college, I got my BFA in illustration and then, naturally, promptly took a job in retail upon graduation.  To my credit, I did spontaneously move to San Fransico, the most creative town I’d ever been. And eventually, through "on the job" training, I carved out a career for myself in the visual merchandising/marketing world. 

Old Navy Chevy

Old Navy Showroom

While I had a creative role at Old Navy for a very long time, as often happens, I faced major burn out in my final year there. Retail moves at the speed of light, and if you "can't hurry up and be creatively brilliant," it's going to be a struggle! Before leaving my design gig at GAP, Inc. in 2013, one of my last ditch efforts to recapture the excitement that brought me to marketing in the first place was to start sketching every day. Instead of working on the computer, I drew by hand.  At home, I sketched my greatest joy, my precious English Bulldog Cookie.

To my surprise,  I ignited a spark that I knew I needed to hold on to and fuel. I attribute this nugget, "Create your joy" to one of my favorite ladies on the illustration/educators circuit, renown artist and agent Lilla Rogers. One of the questions Lilla addresses in her book, I Just like to Make Things, is: "Why should you create your joy?" The answer is "Because people WILL BUY IT." I believe that. Last year I started a side business drawing and embroidering custom pet portraits that has been quite popular and just the most fun, rewarding and meditative art practice in my repertoire. Because DOGS = JOY. At least for me they do.

2. Create Art Everyday: Creating my joy is how I began the practice of creating art everyday. Drawing just makes me so damn happy. Sometimes at night, color combinations swirl in my head and keep me up thinking about all the great stuff I want to draw. Sometimes I can hardly wait for the morning so I can put that pen to paper. I haven't had a passion like that in a long time. And, maybe it's because I always have art on the brain, but I noticed a funny thing happening: I began to hear this mantra everywhere from successful artists and coaches alike. Sometimes in the form of "Put your art first" or, "Make time for your art",or "Create a daily studio practice that you love."  It's so powerful to make that studio time work for you. It will also make you a more well rounded and skilled artist. Clearly my studio practice involves wine.

3. Use Cheap Paper: This simple piece of advice that I use every day, again, comes from Lilla Rogers. She encourages us to just be crazy and free and uninhibited and messy. Use up that paper. Because ideas will flow and things will happen. It’s true. If you are a perfectionist like me, you want to get everything perfect with no mistakes. That first page in your new sketch book is precious and will set the precedent for all musings to come. BAH!! I say tear it out and scribble on it!

Here is a snapshot of my first ever sketches from my Lilla Rogers 2014 MATS BOOTCAMP class. I used bond paper and nice markers. I cut out the mistakes and glued the "good" sketches to a board. 

I'm surprised I didn't frame this for display! Here are the sketches I did outside yesterday with some old brushes, some scrap paper, and cheap watercolors.

They are now in a pile on my studio table. I will scan them and use them in my new series of abstract patterns. I like both sets of doodles the same, but I definitely had more fun with the loose brush technique. I recently created my best work from loose sketches like these.

Here is the very first pattern I created from those super stylized precious drawings from 2014.

I know more now.

4. Talk, Talk, Talk: Well, this one is a doozy. It’s very hard for artists to talk about our own work. For me, I don't want to inundate people with my world or seem boastful. But, I think there is a right way to "spread the word," and this is tied to the concept of creating/selling your joy. Simply share your excitement! Lisa Congdon talks about this in many of her classes and her essential guidebook for artists, Art, Inc. It's good advice that I think about almost everyday. And it works. When I started creating art again after two decades, I was so jazzed about what I was doing that I began sharing photos of my work with friends and family on social media. I wasn't trying  “sell” anything or direct people to my portfolio because I didn't have one yet!  I just posted things like, ‘HEY GUYS, LOOK WHAT I DID TODAY! I’M SO EXCITED ABOUT THIS (diorama, collage, painting, bulldog shaped cupcake).” 

Excitement and joy is contagious. I’m interested in what makes artists tick, or inspired! Why wouldn't people feel the same way about me? PS. Thank you to all my friends and family who have supported me and my work over the past two years. I’m glad you all love dogs as much as I do.

5. Network /help others: I've heard this advice from so many artists, and coaches. It's hard to credit it to any one person. I used to hate networking. But it's not that awful or hard! You don't even have to leave your couch now with the internet. I began joining virtual art groups everywhere! Linked in, Facebook, and Instagram. What I learned is that there is a lot of crossover in the community.  Not only did I learn about new opportunities like classes, and competitions, but I made new like-minded friends. My brave move of "joining the party" opened up several doors of opportunity for me. Here is an example: Because I had been a fan of the blog at PatternObserver.com (of which I learned from a fellow designer in the Make it In Design summer school class user group on Facebook), I subscribed to their newsletters. When there was a call for entries on new designers, I contacted them. And then, when I was featured in Pattern Observer, an old college friend of mine who also subscribes to their blog recognized my name and we began talking again over email.


Guess what? He’s contracted me to design a series of typographic t-shirt designs for the very cool company he works for. Super thankful to the universe for that one, and also proud of myself for putting myself out there.

Conversely, I recently received an email through my website from a very nice young woman who wanted advice on how to get into editorial illustration. I really thought about her question a lot, and I hope my email response helped her. Kindness is not hard. And it always comes back around. 

6.  Never stop learning. Continue to evolve your talents: I credit this nugget to Lisa Congdon, a fabulous artist, educator, speaker and fellow dog lover. She’s a real nice lady too.  In her classes she talks about how there is always more to learn, and how we are always developing as artist. Even the most experienced artists continue to take classes to evolve their talents! Lisa has inspired me to take classes whenever I can. In all sorts of mediums. Two of the most memorable classes I took this year had nothing to do with drawing: a pom-pom making class that my friend and I attended as a fun afternoon social gathering, and a FREE watercolor class taught by the famous John Muir Laws…..I don't think I have made pom-poms since I was in 3rd grade, and I surely haven't watercolored for decades!  Both were a lot of fun and I enjoyed my self so much, that…guess, what? Through the beauty of "spreading the word" on Facebook, a  design teacher friend from the Gap days suggested that I try my hand at teaching at the Richmond Art Center. Huh. Never thought of that. This October I will be teaching a pom-pom making workshop at Richmond Art Center for our community's annual Day of the Dead celebration: Skeletonfest. B00-yah!

My name is spelled wrong, but still! I'm so excited for this event. This winter, I will be teaching some studio classes at the Center as well! Who knew!?!

7. Buy this book: The Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing & Ethical Guidelines

This one is so easy. I credit this piece to multiple people as well, but it's my sister who convinced me to bite the bullet and purchase this book as an investment in myself. You must own this if you are a working artist. Because artists must diversify their skills in order to make an income, this is the bible for us. Since 2013, I have earned a (small) income doing everything from story boards, to logo design, to licensing, apparel design and production work. I now know how to write comprehensive contracts, and price my work for what it is worth. The handbook recently saved me from setting a really bad precedent in a tempting offer from a well known media entity. PURE GOLD I tell you!!!!

8. You are ready now: Why wait until you are skinnier, richer, more experienced, (insert adjective here).  Eff that. Do it now . If nothing else, you will get practice and, as I alluded to before, practice makes perfect. This summer, following this tidbit of advice from many people (including life coaches, artists and the POTUS),  I decided to reach out to agents. I was nervous — I wasn't quite sure I had my style down, and I had no published work. But, what I did have was a decent portfolio and a white knuckle fear of remaining in the research phase forever. In the end, after receiving numerous rejection letters, I met the right agent at the right time and now have representation and a big boost to my confidence.

I will persevere!  SIDE NOTE: rejection never gets easier.

So there you have it. Take it if you need it. None of these nuggets have brought me a fat wallet or fame. Only hard labor will do that and I am still very much working overtime. But, I feel richer for having remembered these bits and I wanted to share the wealth with you. Have a great weekend, you guys!

Cajun Crustacean Pattern Mash Up!

Wow this months bootcamp assignment was fun. As a tie in to Lilla Roger’s MATS: Creating Collections for Home Decor Class beginning in June, she gave us the assignment of designing plates with a crustacean theme. Now, I hate shellfish, but adding googly eyes made it doable for me. Juxtapose that with the hot trend of a colorful, modern pattern background, and I'm in! Here is some of the visual references provided to us. I absolutely love these decorative plates at Lula’s Pantry.

Our mini assignment was to draw crustaceans in all their spidery, crusty and pointy glory. Check! Did you know that the potato bug is considered a crustacean too? I added turtles to my sketches because they’re cute. We were told to think about rendering these in dark colors like the inspiration above.



But wait, that’s not all! There was a second part to the mini assignment, and that was to create gorgeous patterns in color. I am  a big fan of color, and I've been experimenting with different palette. Here’s one I liked comprised of these inspiration tears:

So we put the crusties together with the patterns and created some lovely home decor pieces. I went bonkers and created a zillion. Here are some of the out-takes:

I also did some cartooning for my own delight!

In the end, I chose the three best designs that filled our design brief objectives. I call my Cajun inspired dish ware line “laissez le bon temps rouler.” So fun.

Today, Tuesday, the class gallery is open for public viewing! There are over 250 submissions and everyone did a fantastic job. Have a scroll through the many different takes on a theme here.

Until next time, Soignez vous-autres (Y'all take care)!

Rock bands, dinosaurs, and pom-poms, oh my! Influences for April's Bootcamp assignment

This was a fun one, you guys. The April brief took it up a whole nutha' level in making this a real world assignment: a poster design for the upcoming Make Art That Sells Global Art Gathering, a live event being held in Brighton, UK on June 12th, 2015.

Here is an excerpt of the brief:

Create a single design that works as both a poster and a postcard, for the ADVERTISING market.

The poster should be designed at full size 20” wide x 30” high, portrait.

[as for the style] consider where the poster will be used. It will be displayed on the seafront and around the city of Brighton, which is a highly creative place. The poster should appeal to men and women, and to a very hip crowd. … Ensure that your lettering is clear and legible.

We were given copy to include, and a specific color palette, which I think is lovely.

As all of our Bootcamp assignments begin, we were given a “mini” of hand lettering the words: THE GLOBAL ART GATHERING. Okay. So, this is right up my alley. I love typography and I love writing. I send hand written snail mail ALL THE TIME. And, I’ve been practicing my lettering a lot over the past year, to beef up this section in my portfolio:

So, this is where I brought out my pens, paints and markers. Lots of this is crazy doodly junk, but I did find a few useful sketches.

Sketches, books and COFFEE!

I have pages of this stuff!

My most time consuming study was this script lock-up which I later refined in illustrator using anchor points and bezier curves. I'm glad I spent the time because I'm really proud of the way it turned out in it's final rendition.

Brighton is so interesting! I WANT TO GO TO THERE.  Look at all these gorgeous images I found!

The Brighton Pavilion

Brighton Pier Amusements

Brighton Pier Ferris Wheel and Seagull

The pier is like our Santa Cruz pier, only 1000 times cleaner, arty and way more sophisticated! If I have my geography right, one of the most interesting tidbits that I “dug up” is that Brighton has an association with dinosaurs and fossil discoveries.

Brighton Pier dinosaur postcard, 1947

Awesome. That got me thinking….

Tea Rex?

During the development phase of this project, we were in the throes of redecorating our home office a la “Fillmore Room West.” My husband has a great collection of concert posters that heavily influenced my designs.

I had also attended a Pom-Pom making workshop as Makeshift Society, SF, and that got me thinking about confetti, and festivities and general colorful fun. I took some really great photos that day.

Pom-Pom remnants

You can see how this creative expedition infiltrated my mind to produce one of my final selections later in this post.

In the end, I exhausted every inkling of every idea that I had in order to come up with these three designs:

Tea Drinking Dino at the famous decorative railing on the Brighton Pier

I loved this design the best, but thought that the next one fit the whole concept better.

I love this hipster art maker!

After taking polls among my friends, family and classmates, I chose to submit my hipster arty seagull. Thanks, everyone for your awesome feedback, especially Dionne and Martina, art directors extraordinares! I love this little guy and his art maker tattoo. I had great fun with the textured, layered background, the fancy swirls in the famous Brighton Pier railing, and of course, the hand painted typography. I think this poster design really does capture the energy of the event. We'll see what happens next!

The class gallery went live today. There were 300 submissions from our class of 700; so many different takes and mediums. I think you will enjoy having a scroll through these inspirational pieces:

Click here to check out the beautiful posters!

The prize for winning the competition is, naturally, to have your poster printed and displayed out and about Brighton, a corresponding postcard printed and distributed, $500.00 and the pièce de résistance, a one-on-one portfolio review with artist agent, Lilla Rogers. Wow! I could use all of those things. For now, I am very happy that I have three great new portfolio pieces. Thank you Lilla rogers and Make Art That Sells Bootcamp for the amazing opportunity!

Brooching the Subject: a Study in Edwardian Jewelry, Steampunk Fashion and Hamsters

Whelp, our first month of Bootcamp is coming to an end. It was just the creative kickstart I needed for 2015. I was on the road for 3 weeks, so having an assignment with a hard deadline kept me accountable. Oh, and the subject matter was super fun and, coincidentally, educational!

Our "mini" for the first week was to draw lots and lots of Edwardian brooches. Now, I love me some sparklies, but I didn't know what made a piece of edwardian jewelry 'edwardian.’ Enter the internet:

Deriving its name from the era of Prince Edward VII (1901-1910), the notorious playboy of the British monarchy, this period became known as a time of lighthearted luxury. The end of the 19th century was a time when the rejection of the industrialized, “machine-made” jewelry caused an about face in fashion and design almost overnight: jewelry went from large and ostentatious to ethereal and delicate, borrowing feminine motifs from 17th and 18th century styles. Typically, an Edwardian brooch is very ornate, symmetrical, contains garlands or vines, colorful facets & opals and fine, tarnished metal work. Notable footnote: Outside of England in all other parts of Europe, this era is also known as La Belle Époque. Good to know!  Look at the gorgeousness of all this stuff I found on Pinterest.

and here are my sketched interpretations:

Some vintage baubles that I spotted at a consignment shop in Virginia:

During my trip, I met my step sister’s granddaughter for the first time. She is 4 years old and has a male pet hamster named “Wendy.” Isn't he/she cute?

I just had to sketch him/her:

And finally, our assignment: to create a journal cover using the drawings we did of our Edwardian brooches.  I came up with two designs: 

One pretty belle époque lady:

And one adorable french hamster surrounded by a wreath of sparkly gems and “carats:”

As this bootcamp class is part of Lilla Rogers’ MAKE ART THAT SELLS series, I chose to submit the journal cover that I was most likely to buy: "Le Beau Chou Chou" which means, "the pretty little pet" (I'm  a sucker for animal characters!)

One more thing. During my second week in Virginia, I was invited to attend Marscon with my friend who was doing recon to see if her steampunk jewelry booth might fit in next year. That was a fun unexpected surprise! What a bunch of lovable nerds. Here we are dressed for the occasion. My friend, Lois of Victorian Magpie put together the corseted outfit I am wearing in this picture.

At the conference, we attended a Shakespearan reading of Star Wars.  I also attended a discussion on the influence of history on what we call “steampunk” today. Guess what? The Victorian and Edwardian eras most definitely had an influence on this style. While the jewely movement of the Edwardian era was a direct backlash to innovation and machine made products, we mustn't forget that starting with the Victorian era, great advancements were made in science changing 19th century society in profound ways.  The most obvious innovations were trains and ships (both steam driven) as the primary methods of moving goods, materials and people. Hence, steampunk! Here are some photos from the conference.

This is a Colonial Jet Pack Man. Duh.

So there you have it. Full (sparkly, symmetrical, vine covered) circle! UPDATE: The Bootcamp gallery went live Tuesday, January 27th. Check out all the fabulous classwork and everyone's unique interpretations on the same theme.