Ornament suggestion for travelers

We've been enjoying the holidays in Malaysia, where people take their mall decorating, very, very seriously.
 Christmas decorations are EVERYWHERE here.
 But I confess I kinda miss my happy collection of more humble ornaments that are back in Bellingham, WA, in a box in my basement.
 Still, my son really wanted to put a tree up. So we did.
And thanks to my souvenir of choice when I travel, our tree is actually pretty full (because we've been traveling a lot while living in Asia).
What's my souvenir of choice?

It's anything that looks like I could turn it into an ornament. Key chains. Silly small stuffed bobbles.  sometimes even bookmarks. Especially if any of the above are handmade. I throw them in a box and before Christmas, I turn them all to ornaments.
That way, when I'm decorating my Christmas tree, I'm reminded of all sorts of fun adventures of the past. 

Thought I'd share in case anyone out there will be traveling for the holidays too.

Merry Christmas!

Illustrating one word: STAMP

Ever seen the musical performance, STOMP? Ya, well, this is inspired from that.

A little over a week ago STOMP (not STAMP) thundered through the KL convention center and I was lucky enough to see it. Of course the word STOMP and the word STAMP are closely related but STAMP is appealingly more crafty, so I plucked it from the thesaurus as a word to illustrate in a new idea-generating challenge I’ve devised for myself. The challenge is to occasionally pick a word that somehow represents my previous week or two and illustrate it.

Now and then it’s a challenge for this particular artist to be brave in her own work, to work with her mousey side, to let go of her inner critic and just be bold where it strikes her to be bold and also too, to share her art (send it out into the world somehow no matter how insignificant it sometimes feels). So I remind myself today, to STAMP out my own impressions in life, freely, boldly, and in a spirit of playful dance.
Also too, since I brought up the performance (STOMP, that is), here's a link to a sort-of kindred video, HOUSE BEAT. It has a more handmade feel than STOMP; It's fun percussive music made with random sounds from around the house. It's also been one of my favorite youtube videos for quite some time. Enjoy!

Gratitude Labyrinth Walk in Hong Kong

We stumbled across this labyrinth outside a church along a park path in downtown Hong Kong over Thanksgiving Weekend. I love Labyrinths, and have traveled far and wide to walk various labyrinths in the world; so it was fun to stumble across one in the heart of a city that was already busy enchanting me.
My son Oscar and I walked it together. I have to say, I'd never walked a labyrinth with train crossings before, so that was fun.
When we reached the center we both listed things we were grateful for, in the spirit of Thanksgiving. We took turns. "I'm grateful for being in Hong Kong with you Mommy."
"I'm grateful for being in Hong Kong with you, Oscar!"
After we walked out of our grateful centers, I taught Oscar how to hopscotch skip-walk the Labyrinth.
So we skipped in and out of our grateful centers a few times together and then went on our way.

Things from November that made me happy or made me think

The last month has been one of the busiest travel months for my family of our entire time in KL, and it was a fabulous, fabulous month. We traveled to Chang Mai, Thailand; Cameron Highlands, Malaysia; and Hong Kong (for Thanksgiving). WOW!

My muse has also been busy delighting me with many fantastic art ideas in the studio, so I've been working, working, working. How much can I cram into one little month? Although I'm not sure when or what I'll share here, because a lot of what I have been up to is writing and not drawing, I've been loving the experience.

Anyway, while I let some blog posts from all of the above simmer (which part do I write about? Which parts do I share? I think I need some time to sort it out...), I thought I'd try something new here that I've wanted to do for quite some time.

I'll call it my November Treasure Hunt LIST. What is it? It's a random collection of crafty tid-bits and arty links that I thought might be fun to share, all things I stumbled across in Novmeber and jotted down as the month went on in preparation for sharing here. Maybe I'll try to do this again sometime; it was fun.

I hope you like it too...

Strawberries from Cameron Highlands


  • This video that a few friends posted on facebook made me smile wide with wonder. Did you know that a collection of starlings is called a murmuration?
  • This article in the New York Times clued me in on a fantastic charity that builds libraries around the world, especially in places where kids lack access to many books. The charity is called Room To Read and I LOVE what they do. I've been daydreaming about ways I can contribute in the near future... How about you?
  • I loved this article from the New York Times about a woman who built a treehouse in Brooklyn. Don't miss the slide show, the pictures especially made me smile.
  • Okay, I wasn't a horse girl, but umm... I would have gladly transformed my bike into a horsey bike when I was 9 anyway. Fun!
  • My favorite sweater accidentally went through the wash after I visited Cameron Highlands (it's actually cool there). Sadness! Maybe someday I'll splurge on one of these colorful beauties to replace it.
  • This article, from Wired, that talks about how constraints and rules can expand creativity, rung very true to me. How about you?
  • In the books vs. electric books category I offer a couple of interesting bits:
  1. Another NYT article, this one about parents still preferring actual paper picture books for kids as opposed to digital picture books. Loved this article and felt like it caught my own exact POV on this one. I've collected quite a few picture books on my I pad and I even travel a lot, which could mean maybe those are the books I read my son when I travel. Umm... no. I still bring picture books. And even if my son does enjoy some of the I-books, he still prefers the actual physical books. As do I. So ya, I firmly believe picture books are here to stay, no matter the digital revolution in books. 
  2. That being said... There were two pretty awesome picture book apps that came out this past month that I think stand out in their genre. Look for the Harold and the Purple Crayon digital app and the Mo Willems' app "Don't Let the Pigeon Run This App." Both use the medium well while staying true to the spirit of the original books. (That being said, I still like the books better).
  •  How about a google image search of the month. Ya, let's do it. I've been day-dreaming of ways I'm planning on changing up my living space in Bellingham when I move home soon. In that spirit, how about a google image search for something crazy like Patchork Chairs
  • And since Thanksgiving weekend is always a big part of November (at least for Americans like myself), how about this article affirming my beloved daily practice of keeping a gratitude journal (again from the NYT).


An Alternative Gratitude Practice

This post comes from a comment I put up on Andrea Scher's blog recently as a suggestion for an alternative to keeping a traditional gratitude journal. Thought it might be a fun thing to share on my own blog in the spirit of Thanksgiving back home.

What moment of your day stands out to you?
 A while back, on a day when my gratitude journal felt forced, I tried starting a “favorite moment” journal. It was such a simple thing to do, I’ve continued the practice, and it’s been surprisingly light and rewarding and so so easy (while still going deeper).

I have a dated calendar (a cute one that makes me smile) and at the end of the day I just write what my favorite part of the day was. Just one sentence: “my favorite part of the day was reading stories to my son,” or something of the sort. It’s simple and small and it never feels like I’m trying to twist bad days into good. But it does help me wake up to small moments I perhaps take for granted on bad days. It also helps me recognize patterns in what are my favorite moments, which sometimes surprise me. I think it’s a good alternative “gratitude” practice, especially for days when you just don't feel grateful and you are sick of beating yourself up feeling guilty over it.

Because even on a crappy day, you can still pick a favorite moment of the day. And even on the worst days, taking note of that favorite moment usually brings a smile to my face. Which is welcome and nice.

P.S. I do also keep a daily gratitude journal, and even though some days it's hard to follow through with it, especially days that kind of suck, I have indeed stuck with it for several years now. And I'm so grateful for the perspective it offers me. I suppose after awhile the discipline of it sort of took over as habit and just like regular exercise, it helps keep me strong and healthy. So I'll keep it up.

How about you? How do you count your blessings?

Happy Thanksgiving!

P.P.S. Speaking of Andrea Scher's blog and since I mentioned it here, she put up such a fantastic Thanksgiving post on stealth blessings that I simply must link to it (and for those who don't always like making gratitude lists, there's respite for you there too). Enjoy!

Elephants on my mind

Sometimes I marvel at what experiences leave their mark enough in my mind so that ideas, or even art or story, are born from them. Many times it's small, seemingly insignificant parts of an experience that nag me to be turned into something or other in my art.

Other times it's big, obviously awesome, predictably crazy adventures that do indeed lead to big, awesome and crazy adventures in my art. 

And so it is this last week with elephants for me.

I've been obsessed with a new idea (one from my picture-book-idea-a-day journey) that all stemmed from my son and I taking elephant rides several times over the past year.

So I've dived into the idea, answered the muse and am LOVING the adventure. It's totally out of my comfort zone, but in just the right way. The way that makes me feel like I'm stretching my art muscles and pushing myself to my limits. All of which makes me feel totally alive and invigorated.

But at the same time. Gulp. If I think about it too much (as opposed to just going for it) makes me feel nervous.

When you leave the unknown and dive into adventure, you never know what you'll come up with. You may try a new restaurant that ends up being your absolute favorite noodle place in the entire hemisphere. Or you may wonder why you wasted your calorie intake on such slop. That's the way adventures go, you just don't know if you'll end up with shiny awesome experiences or if you'll end up with a whole lot of ugh. 

But you don't find anything new and exciting if you don't try new things. And even if you get the ughs instead of the ahas you still usually know how to better aim your trials next time. So, I'm in my creative realm. Letting go of my land legs. Riding Elephants, if you will.

What about you? Is there an idea that is just a bit more than you think you are capable of, but you really love it? Why not splurge and take an hour to give it a try. You may end up with a bunch of stuff to delete or crumple up, never to be shared with anyone. Or you might find a new way to stretch your muscles. Or! You might end up on a wild and crazy artistic adventure that fills you with delight, thrill, and a bunch of, "Ya, why not?" feelings.

I suppose, as you can tell, I root for the adventure.

A Picture Book Idea, every day in November

My muse thrives off of brainstorming. So it's with great enthusiasm that I'm jumping in to Tara Lazar's (now) annual November challenge: write down a picture book idea every day for the month of November.  It's a sort of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), for picture book writers with an equally silly name: PiBoIdMo, Picture Book Idea Month.

I participated last year and collected many usable snippets and ideas — one of which I've even written into a story I like and have even begin making into a dummy. Anyone else care to join?

It's very hard to share my ideas before they become real, solid, finished (or-nearly-finished) stories (it always feels a bit like squashing a firefly when I share an idea I haven't worked on yet), but I'm trying to figure out a way to share a bit more of what I come up with this year. Maybe I'll draw a few sketches from my ideas? We'll see. But I can promise you my new idea journal is about to gain lots of scribbles and scratches. And that makes me smile wide. Thanks for the challenge Tara!

Superhero Photo class, and pictures in Cambodia

From an assignment in Andrea's Superhero Photo Class.

One of my favorite bloggers, Andrea Scher, recently decided to offer a playful online photo course.

I couldn't resist.

It just sounded so fun. And so low-key. And there was no concrete reason to take it other than fun.

 I have this habit of taking a crazy amount of pictures. I look for color, shape, light. But it's all just playful.

Sort of an extension of my excessive journaling habit I guess.

Red-shirted girl in the distance

Anyway, the class exceeded my expectations.  It was fun. Super fun. Superhero fun! 
 There were no goals to make serious art, just an opportunity to play and share (and do photo treasure hunts!) with other like-minded playful (mostly) amateur photographers.
My mother and my son holding hands

The class also happened to overlap with my family's trip to Cambodia last week.

For once on a trip, I wasn't feeling guilty about how many stupid pictures I was taking, and worrying over looking like some sort of camera-happy Hawaiian-shirted stereo-type of an American abroad.

Instead I embraced my practice as a way of appreciating the moment. I was no more obtrusive with my pictures than I've ever been (Let's just say the overly shy girl isn't one to walk around with a camera dangling from her neck, She leaves that to the real pros, like my uncle, or to the bolder amateurs, or to the tourists riding big buses).

Anyway, If anyone out there likes to take pictures, especially in a playful way, I highly recommend Andrea's course.

One of the surprising highlights for me was the group flickr pool, where we shared photos and commented on each others pieces. It was so fun to participate in the exchange!
Plus it hardly took anytime. Maybe 10 minutes any day I felt like checking in. Yet I still gained a lot. 

Andrea will be offering another class soon, I believe. I hope, if you like to play with pictures, you'll join her.
And um... Cambodia?
Blue umbrellas at Angkor Wat
Ya, well, WOW!
Trees draping over mossy textured ruins,

 bicycles, bicycles, bicycles,

And some of the most amazing sites in the world.

Some dreams fall in your lap like an apple dropping from a tree. Other dreams you yank and yank and yank at the door, but it just won't open. Both have their place in my life. And I'm happy to say that while I keep yanking at the door of my biggest dream (and dang that door can frustrate me), I'm at least eating my apples. 

In the Tree Tops, walking with trust

The above picture was taken in Australia and the picture below was taken last week in Kuala Lumpur.

What do these pictures have in common (besides both having my son in them)?

They marked the beginning of two different canopy walks.

In Malaysia it was at the Forest Research Institute, where they reclaimed an old industrial wasteland and made it jungle again (above). 

In Australia we walked among the giant tingle treetops (above).

But at both I found myself walking on tiny, looooong bridges, high, high up in the trees.

Amazing. Fantastic. I loved it.

But... these walks were not exactly for the faint of heart.

They felt like small practices in bravery (not to mention yoga breathing).

They were exercises in trust.

They felt a bit like what it feels like when you put your art out in the world, actually.

You trust that the journey will be a bit thrilling, you'll be glad you did it, you probably won't crash to the ground, but things will feel a little shaky and uncertain, even if exciting.

And your view on the world will be different, at least for a bit.

 There may even be anchors along the way, to help calm your nerves, even while keeping the view.

You probably won't fly, but it might feel a bit like you are.

You might even decide to go for it again...

What a cheesy post.

 But a bit of truth is there somewhere, I'm sure.

If not for being an artist, then at least for being an adventur-ess.

Now, back to the ground.

Painting with Vegetables

 Well, he won't eat most of them.
 But they sure are fun to paint with!


 Look, Mom! Blue hands!

 I suppose Oscar does eat carrots. At least with ketchup.
 And he actually kinda loves corn.

 And now he loves painting with corn!

Shearing Sheep

Sometimes, when I return to my blog after a good travel adventure, I feel overwhelmed. Too much I could share. What the heck do I choose? How do I put anything at all into a blog-sized bite. Other times I feel raring to go with lots of posts and only the question of how many is too many?
 My trip to Western Australia left me wondering how many posts are too many. So at the risk of over-sharing, here's another highlight from my trip: I visited a sheep shearing farm!
One of my favorite books as a kid was Tomie dePaola's Charlie Needs A Cloak, and I felt a bit like I was stepping into a small part of that book at the farm. After all, I saw sheep getting sheared! Just like in the story! (No weavers though).
Another cool part of the sheep shearing farm were the dogs.

 I had never heard of the sort of dog that runs on top of sheep! I think it's called a Kelpie.
 We even got to feed a baby lamb.



Fifteen minutes into our boat ride we saw...


 Two of them!


 They were young whales, or so our guide told us.

So they were curious.

Which could explain why they hung out with our boat for 40-50 minutes,

popping their noses up,

 swimming back and forth under and around the boat,

and sometimes even waving their noses at us when we waved at them (it's true! the guide told us to try it, and it worked! Curious whales sometimes play with people like that, he said).

It was one of the most magical moments of my life.

My son loved it too.

 We also saw two Southern Right Whales involved in, ahem, courting.

They were a bit less interested in our boat though.

We even saw sea lions.

 It was a day I'm certain I'll never forget.

P.S. This was all while still in Western Australia, for those who didn't read my last couple of posts.

Drawing Kangaroos

 My family and I just got back from a trip to Western Australia!
 It's a relatively remote area of the world where there are possibly more kangaroos than people.
 We had a wonderful time there.
And speaking of kangaroos, we saw lots and lots of them.
Some in dusk-lit golden fields.
Some hopping across or next to the road at night like a deer would back home (scary!).
 Some at a wildlife park.
 And even a few joeys who were being raised by a good-natured farm couple who had taken the orphans from their road-killed-mothers' pouches.
Of course I drew quite a few.
 But my favorite was watching them jump.
 Boing, boing!

Photo play with dragonfly pictures

 During the Muslim holy month of Ramadan I attended a break-fast (not breakfast, but break-fast) meal at the Islamic Art Museum with some friends (for those back in the U.S. who may be unfamiliar with Ramadan customs, Muslims generally fast during daylight hours during Ramadan). The Islamic Art Museum is one of the most beautiful places in KL. It's a quiet haven of contemplative art; I always feel renewed or inspired after spending time there.
 While we were waiting for the sun to set and for the restaurant to open, I noticed a dragonfly that had died in the most lovely spot, looking out of the most lovely window.
A window in the Islamic Art Museum.
I took way too many photos of the dragonfly.
It caught my imagination; it looked haunting.
Using a couple of arty photo apps on my phone (hipstamatic and instamatic amongst others), I tried to capture the mood and emotion the dragonfly evoked in me . 
 Some of these I made later, using the photos I took while there.
But anyway, here are a few of my favorite results/experiments.
RIP, beautiful dragonfly.

A moment of zen in the clouds

 Today is my birthday!
 I'm off to Western Australia this week to celebrate.
 Meanwhile I thought I'd give a little reverse birthday cheers to anyone out there reading this.
 Here's a few photos, a little moment of zen, from the flight I took last month from L.A. to Seattle.
 When the weather cooperates on that journey, you see mountain, after mountain, after mountain. And it's absolutely beautiful.
I wish for you a mountain-top moment or a head-in-the-clouds good-version-of-dreaminess today.
Cheers to a great day!

SELL OUT! Tips for hand-selling stuff, BONUS TIP, tip #12

Well folks, Labor Day is fast approaching back in the U.S.A. marking the end of another summer. At the beginning of the summer I started a SELL OUT series of tips on hand-selling homemade work without losing your soul or compromising your integrity. I started with the summer craft show season in mind and now that the summer is dwindling to a close I think this will be the last in of my bonus tips. I hope the series has been helpful to someone out there and anyone who’s participated in craft shows this summer has had phenomenal success.

Tip #12 for great craft show sales (BONUS TIP): Accept credit cards!!!

Okay, I realize this one seems a bit silly. But anyone who frequents craft shows or farmer’s markets knows why I say it. Not all artists take credit cards. It’s a pain to set up collection, if you don’t regularly do shows it’s a pain to figure out how to maintain, it costs the artists extra money etc. etc etc.

BUT. If you are selling stuff, you have to figure out a way. Go to the bank and figure it out.

I totally failed at this one for many of the first years I sold at craft fairs. And I BLEW IT. I knew it was dumb then but after I remedied the situation I figured out just how dumb. You can double or even triple your sales by accepting credit cards (I did). If you ever sit around groveling after a show because you didn’t sell as well as you wished you had, but you don’t take credit cards, umm…. Hello? You have yourself to blame, stop groveling and go to the bank and solve this problem.

I think this is especially important advice now, at least in the United States. People don’t carry cash as much as they used to. They are used to paying for things with debit cards and credit cards. You will make LOTS more sales if you accept credit cards. LOTS. I promise.

On that blunt and silly note, I'm officially retiring the series on being a good seller at craft shows. It was fun to revisit my craft show glory days and think about sales again. Perhaps someday in the not-to-distant future I’ll have my booth set up at another fair somewhere again, this time selling more of my collage art, and happily SELLING OUT!

What I personally took away from the Illustrator Intensive in L.A.

Last week I posted some highlights from the amazing Illustrator Intensive at the 2011 SCBWI Conference in L.A. It's been a few weeks since the Intensive -- a good amount of time to offer a small bit of perspective on what I took away from the day, personally. SO...today I’m getting a bit more personal and reflecting on...

5-minute drawing.
Things I took away from the Illustrator Intensive in L.A. regarding my own work and art:

-WOW! (Did I say this already?)

-A feeling of needing to stay true to who I am, individually, as my own artist self. Insecurities are part of what make every artist grow, but so too are my own individual approaches to how I work. I feel proud and psyched for how I work and for my work in general; and I want to take better ownership in my individuality, while also always aiming towards growth and improvement in my work.
Imperfect daily play drawing.
- A feeling of excitement to come back to my studio and play. I'm the sort of person that thrives with semi-spiritual daily practices. I journal regularly (and write things I'm grateful for everyday), I do yoga daily, and of course I draw and make art regularly. I've tried before to start a DAILY drawing practice (quick 5 minute drawings), but haven't figured out a way to connect with the DAILY part of it on a level that made it sustainable. I've always been too critical of the outcomes. Or too serious about it or something. It seems rather obvious to say me now, but I think viewing the exercise as play, and well, not exercise, is the key I've been looking for (Isn't it funny how some AHA things are so obvious?). My art is often best when I don't take myself too seriously. A daily practice of drawing play  = very appealing and (at least so far) fulfilling.

-Listening to the artists share details about their tools and what they use to draw or paint inspired me to buy a few new drawing tools when I got home (art stores aren't quite the same in KL, which has added to the fun). We'll see how the play influences my art.

More daily play in drawing.
-Umm... Something I can let go of. YAY! I have been entirely too paranoid in the past that I work too slowly. I think this is a classic case of my inner critic going overboard. Sure my finished collages don't take 5 minutes, but I realize my habits are completely within the realm of normal after hearing the artists saying how long their finished pieces take them. I usually take 2-3 days with an average collage, with the rare detailed specimen taking a day or two extra or a day less. I thought that made me a slow-poke. I believe I thought that because I envied people who finished paintings in an hour. The thing I should always keep in mind when my inner critic blasts me for the time I spend on a piece: I NEVER EVER miss external deadlines (and only miss internal ones -- sometimes -- because I purposefully challenge myself to aim for the impossible). After the illustrator intensive in L.A., I've realized that being paranoid that I work too slowly is a paranoia I need to put to rest. (Now... under-submitting or being slow to submit my work because I'm a perfectionist -- that is something I aim at improving on. Because I am way too slow to submit my work… and I know it).

So far my daily play sketchbook features a lot of Oscar.
-There's a bit of a determined tigress in me when it comes to my art; and I repress her too often. I feel inspired to let her loose more. I think this is a good thing. I believe I rather look like and come across as a mild-mannered-but-quirky librarian, but that librarian within has also a fire in her belly, and I'd like it to show in my work more. I guess what I'm trying to say in an awkward sort of way is that the artists at the illustrator intensive have inspired me to be braver. To tap into my own emotions more when I make my art. To be brave enough to share more of those emotions in my work. Cheers to that!

I’d love to hear what others gained, personally, from the day, if there’s anyone out there who was there who is reading this. Please share in the comments!