ReCouture 2020!

I am so excited to share that I submitted a design for the ARTS Council of the Southern Finger Lakes’ fundraiser, “ReCouture“… and it was accepted!

ReCouture is an annual fashion show featuring designs made entirely from recycled materials. Last year’s show can be viewed on YouTube:

The 2020 show is on May 2, and I’ll be blogging my progress here with weekly posts on Thursdays.

I don’t want to share my sketch just yet, but I will share my mood board that I used to put together my proposal.

My design is focused on grocery store waste, especially the tension between non-biodegradable plastic waste (of which there is a LOT, even beyond shopping bags) and biodegradable food waste (of which there is also a LOT, which many people don’t even think about, perhaps because it is biodegradable), and the way these two categories of waste intermingle in our food system and in our wider ecological system.

The part I’m most excited (and admittedly nervous) about in my design is the material I’m using for my skirt– kombucha leather. Friends, I have officially become a kombucha farmer. I’ll share more about my process next week, but suffice it to say it involves brewing a LOT of kombucha, and growing a LOT of slimy SCOBYs. But it’s okay, it’s all in the name of art (and environmental awareness), and will hopefully turn into something like… this!

In addition to the kombucha leather skirt, I plan to create a train made of plastic bottles + produce bags, and a bodice made of coated (plasticized) cardboard cartons. Intrigued? Stay tuned for more, including a step-by-step of how I create my kombucha fabric!

Week 2: Elements of Design in the Wild

Now that we know what the elements of design are, we can start to look for them in “the wild” and explore how different artists use them in their work.

For today’s exercise, I’m returning to my style treasure hunt pinboard to look at the elements of design in pieces I like. How are these artists using the elements of design? What impact does each element have on the piece? What sorts of strategies seem to be at work (hint: that’s what will take us into next week when we talk about principles!).


When thinking about a “point” as an element of design, I wanted to explore how artists draw the viewer’s attention to particular point in space, rather than how they draw a particular point itself. Basically, everything is or can be a point… so how do you go about emphasizing one over the others?

I’ll start with this pin of the cover of a book my daughter loves (Uni The Unicorn).

There are lots of points in this image. But your eye travels right to the point where the little girl and unicorn are touching foreheads. Why is that? The composition of the image creates a heart shape between the girl’s and the unicorn’s heads, with the center of the heart right on their faces, especially their closed eyes. Also at that point, the unicorn’s nose is nuzzling the girl’s arm– and the girl’s arm is hugging the unicorn. All of these pieces of the image draw your attention to that particular point between them, creating a warm fuzzy feeling and sense of cozy friendship when you view the image.

We’ll talk about composition next week (spoiler: it’s a principle), but it’s important that the point is the focus of attention in this piece. It’s a somewhat abstract concept, but it becomes super concrete when you think about the goals of this image. If the viewer’s attention weren’t centered on that point, the feeling of the image would totally change.

When trying to gauge focal point in a piece of art, think about where your eye lands first. Is there anything in the piece that feels particularly magnetic? In this one, for me, the center flower draws and holds my eye. There’s a lot of movement outward from that point as well, but it serves to emphasize that center focal point, like a set of reverse arrows. Color, bounding lines, and the movement of other elements (flowers pointed away from it) all serve to direct the eye to the flower in the center of the red diamond.


Probably my favorite element– the one that I’m both drawn to the most as well as the one I struggle the most with– is color. Let’s look at how some of my favorite artists use color in their work.

I love bright, saturated colors (probably no secret there). I also love flat, stylized color. The color in this landscape isn’t totally flat, since it is brushwork, but the variation is incidental and not intended to be shading or other indications of form (form is created with other elements, which I’ll get to below). This color palette is fairly complicated– I count at least 13 different colors (including shades and tints). There are some interesting color principles at work here as well, but I’ll wait until next week to get in to those 😉 The overall effect is cheerful and vibrant, suggesting a lot of life, warmth, and action in this place (even though we don’t see any people).

Confession: I combed through my pinboard trying to find an example of a limited color palette to contrast with this one… and I just don’t have any. Even for the artists that I pinned who are usually known for more limited color palettes, I pinned examples with 5+ colors in them! I love color.


This is just from a vector stock image site, but I like the wreath (and have a few similar ones that I’ve painted myself). Line in this piece creates both shape and movement. We all know wreaths are circles, but rather than drawing a circle and calling it a wreath, the unnamed artist drew curved lines that approximate a circular shape. The leaves (shapes) all stem off of the lines in the same direction, creating a sense of clockwise movement.

In Lisa Congdon’s landscape study above, line creates form– the slant of the lines on the roofs of the houses suggests that they are not flat rectangles, and the repeated curved lines in the blue and green half-circles suggests the movement of water in a pond.

Likewise, in the example below, lines are carved into the block to create the impression of shading around the edges of a form, giving the impression of depth and texture.


Space is a little tricky to talk about without getting deep into the principles, but you can see a nice use of space in the pin below.

There’s no bounding line to show the edges of land or water, or even color distinction between earth, sea, and sky. Instead, the balance of positive and negative space, and the relative placement of objects in those spaces, clearly shows the viewer that this is a boat on an ocean approaching a mountainous shoreline.


I think floral drawings are awesome for exploring shape– flowers seem so complicated when you look at them (and, okay, they are), but they’re actually made up of a bunch of simple shapes. Take the following examples:

These are circles! Literally just circles, repeated and overlapped and subtracted from each other.

This one is a little more complicated, but you can still see the circles repeated over and over (and overlapped, and also stretched into teardrops). Add in some lines and curves and voila. Flowers. They’re definitely not photorealistic flowers, but every viewer would still recognize them as flowers.


We touched on form a bit above, in the discussion of line. It’s hard to separate form from other elements, because you need the other elements to help create the impression of form. You can find examples of form in nearly every pin above.

Here is a new one that uses almost every other element to indicate form:

The curves of the lines on the mermaid’s tail, in her bikini, and on her necklace indicate the curve of her body. The high contrast in color between her hair and body, as well as the placement of her colorful hair behind her body (using space!) indicates depth and dimension. And finally, there’s texture as well as variation in color and line weight in her hair that helps to give it a sense of dimension.


Last but not least, texture. I am not big on texture, aside from illustrated surface patterns. I tend to favor flat, graphic design-y blocks of color, but there are some subtle uses of texture that I really appreciate.

I like how Kenard Pak used both the natural texture of watercolor (maybe digital watercolor? I read that he uses both) as well as line to create the crunchy texture of the fall grass. I also love the subtle texture of the background trees that gives the impression of thinning leaves, and the foggy texture layered on top of it that makes you almost feel the chill in the air (along with giving a nice depth to the illustration).

I think this illustration is more in line with how I’d use texture, personally. The frozen ponds look crackly thanks to both watercolor and line, and there is a subtle variation in texture on the houses and haystacks that gives them some dimension.

And that wraps it up for my exploration of the elements of design “in the wild”! On Friday, I’ll try my hand at analyzing one or two of my own pieces of artwork to examine how I used the elements of design (and to what effect) and where I might push myself to take a few more risks (and what they might accomplish).

Week 2: Elements of Design

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So far in my DIY Art School “orientation“, I’ve spent some time thinking about how one develops an artistic style, and what influences me specifically. I went on a treasure hunt of other illustrators’ work that I admire and that have elements that I would like to emulate.

So, um.. what are these “elements” we speak of? Is it that je ne sais quois that makes you go “ooooh!” when you see a piece of art you like? Is it like saying something has “good character” or “sits well” with the viewer? Not so much.

Elements are concrete components of a work of art or design, and the principles are “strategies” the artist uses to apply the elements in a way that makes it visually appealing and coherent.

Okay, that’s nice, you may be thinking. Why should I care about these academic-y concepts? All I want to do is make art.

The better you understand the elements and principles of design, the better you can apply them to your own work to make it more visually appealing and coherent– or totally unappealing and incoherent, if that’s what you’re going for! The point is, the elements and principles of design are tools in the artist’s toolkit as much as brushes or pencils or paint are. You can keep them in mind while creating to think strategically about how to achieve your goals for a given piece of artwork.

Since these things are so foundational to art and design, this week I’m exploring each of the elements of design in depth. First, I’ll look up how they’re defined, then I’ll hunt out real-life examples of them in action, and finally I’ll create a few sketchbook entries that illustrate each one for myself.

Next week I’ll take a stab at the principles of design in the same manner.

Read on to get started defining the elements of design!



Let’s start at the beginning. Points are perhaps the most abstract of the elements of design, but also extremely concrete. A point is a conceptual “dot” in space– it can be a literal dot, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s simply (and oh-so-complexly) a location that draws a viewer’s attention. It can be used to define other elements, or it can be defined by other elements. Let’s bring this idea into the realm of the real with a couple of illustrations:

a single point, 4 points defining a line, and 9 points defining a shape

a conceptual point, defined by other elements (lines and shapes)


Color is one of the first things we learn when doing art as children. We learn to identify colors, and then to categorize them into “primary” and “secondary”, and then how to mix them. Red and yellow make orange, and yellow and blue make green, etc. We all know color, right?

But there’s more to color than meets the eye. Oh wait, no, that’s not right. Color is what meets the eye, but there’s more to what meets the eye than we’re taught in elementary school.

The basics of color we all learn are actually just the “hues,” the general names of each color of the rainbow (spectrum of visible light). But when considering color we also have to think about the value (proportion of white or black in a hue), temperature (warm/ cool), and saturation (concentration of the color), all of which create the infinite permutations of the rainbow.

Add to that the fact that our perception of color is subconsciously driven by different cultural and psychological factors, and you have yourself one complicated element. Color choice and pairings can evoke different moods and feelings for different viewers, some near-universally and some more idiosyncratically.

I’ll be diving into color a bit more by playing around with different palettes on Wednesday, but here is one small example. These circles are all the same hue (red), but you wouldn’t say they’re the same color. So what is different about them?

They’re all the same hue! I altered the brightness in the first circle, and the saturation in the last circle. The middle circle is the “original”.


Much like color, line seems pretty self-explanatory. A line is a line, right? We all know what that looks like.

But, also like color, lines are deceptively simple. A line is never *just* a line. Lines can convey boundaries and solidity, but also movement and dynamism. Lines can be thick or thin. Heavy or wispy. Straight or curved. How many different types of line can you think of? Let’s look at a few examples:

Thick to thin, wavy and textured lines. They’re all lines, but they’re all different. How might we use them in a piece of art?


Here’s another somewhat abstract concept– space. Space is defined both by what it is (eg. contained by a line, or a blob of color) but also by what it is not (eg. everything outside of that line, everything outside of the blob of color).

Space can be tricky (and fun!) when you manipulate it to convey the relationship between items. I’ll get to this more next week when we talk about principles.

This might be easier to understand with an example:

Space defined by a line, by a color, and by what it is not (the color around it).


Shapes are pretty much what you learned in school (thank goodness, right?!). Circle, square, triabngle, rectangle, etc. But shapes can also be less rigid– think blobs and amoebas. A shape is just any (flat, 2-dimensional) space that is set apart from the space around it.

One of the cool things about shapes is that they are usually combinations of other elements. Shapes can be defined solely by color, by line, by texture, or by points. Take the examples below– all of them are circles. But like the example for color above, they’re not necessarily the same shape. What sort of visual impact does defining shapes differently create?

Shape defined by color, by a series of lines (but not a bounding line!), by texture, and by… a blob?

One of the key skills artists and designers must learn is the ability to see shapes in everyday objects. When you’re drawing a mug, for example, you don’t sit down to draw a mug per se. You draw a circle. And then a couple of lines (or maybe a curved rectangle) off the edge of the circle, and then another circle below that. Then you draw a half circle (or a couple of curved lines) on the side of the rectangle. And what do you have? A rudimentary mug. Add color and shading and detail and voila, art.

I didn’t say it was a very *good* mug…

(Side note: This reminds me of a funny meme I saw recently:



Forms are similar to shapes in that they are enclosed space, set apart from the space around them in some way (eg. lines, color, texture, points, etc). But forms are special because they’re 3 dimensional (oooOOOOooo). But don’t worry, no special glasses needed to see them. Forms are primarily defined by line, shades of color (eg. darker or lighter colors to indicate that parts of an object are closer or farther away), and texture. Take these sketches from my sketchbook as an example:


Texture describes the qualities of a surface, including shapes, forms, and even lines. And texture is so much fun, you guys!

Texture can be physical– as in, you touch it and it feels rough or smooth (yep, that’s an element of design), or visual– as in you look at it and you think “oh, I’ll bet that feels rough”.

But roughness and smoothness are not the only textures! Surface patterns can also be textures.

Physical texture (crumpled paper), shapes and colors used to give the impression of scaly texture, and lines used to give the impression of a feathered texture.

Lines, color, shape, and points can all be used in different combinations to convey a sense of visual texture. Physical texture can be created a million different ways depending on the medium you’re using. For example, as a painter I could just lay my paint on extra-thick (or thin!) to create a particular texture, or I could add a medium to it to help build it up on the surface I’m using. I could add torn paper or other fibers to create a textured collage.

Embroidery is a fascinating medium to explore the elements of design– all of the different stitches create shape, color, line, point, and texture at the same time! (but I suppose the same could be said of paint 😉 ).

That covers all of the essential definitions. On Wednesday I’ll begin looking in the “wild” for examples of how other artists use the elements of design in their own work. Check out the links below for some further reading and references.

Further Reading + Viewing

Week 1: How to Find Your Artistic Style

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My first set of assignments for DIY Art School Orientation all revolve around thinking about my artistic style. “Style” is one of those things that everyone talks about, but it can be hard to define. It’s a sort of “know it when you see it” concept.

If someone has a well-defined style, you can identify their work without even seeing a signature or a byline. We often think of style in connection to fashion– a person with a “sense of style” combines different pieces of clothing in unique ways. Style can be found in literally anything people produce– I can recognize certain photographers’ styles based on composition, subject matter, and the way they edit in post-processing. Or different academics’ styles of writing based on sentence structure, word choice (ugh, jargon), and conceptual model. Cooks develop styles of making food, whether it’s in-line with a well-established tradition (eg. French cuisine) or simply a set of go-to home cooked meals. Style naturally develops when you do any activity over and over and over again.

I watched several videos and completed a couple of reading assignments about finding my artistic style, including:

I think the main takeaways from this week’s explorations can be summed up in three central ideas.

1. Borrow, Steal, Get “Inspired”

Art isn’t created in a vacuum. I think when a lot of would-be artists are young, they have a romanticized notion of being a lone wolf, holed up in her/ his (okay, usually his) attic studio, agonizing over paintings or typewritten pages, all alone day-in, day-out.

There seems to be this idea that, to create truly original art, you have to separate yourself from societal influences.

Yeah, that’s silly.

One of the most useful foundational concepts held in my previous profession (anthropologist) is that people are always already a part of a social group. We need other people (besides our mother) just to be born! It’s actually physically very difficult and dangerous (but not impossible) for humans to give birth alone, unlike many other animals. People are social creatures, we especially don’t do well being alone for extended periods of time. We eventually become mentally unstable, which is why extreme isolation can be so dangerous.

(Side note: any other fans of the Nine-nine? Occasionally bringing attention to serious issues, and always with humor! That’s Jake Peralta in solitary confinement, FYI)

My point is, we’re surrounded by people with their own ideas, making their own stuff. And we can’t help but see it and think about it before going out and making our own stuff. We’re constantly borrowing, stealing, and being “inspired” by other people, whether consciously or not. We’re social creatures. It’s just part of what we’re hardwired to do.

Both Lila Rogers’s class, as well as Christine Nishiyama’s classes, suggest looking at what you really like– stuff around you that makes your heart beat a little faster– to figure out where the roots of your style lie. In other words, make your inspiration a conscious activity. In addition, make it mindful! You don’t want to literally steal someone else’s work and claim it as your own, even “accidentally” :-/

I started this exercise by adding work by my favorite illustrators to a Pinterest board. I’ll admit, I was kind of bad at this. I think I just like a LOT of stuff. I was only supposed to collect 5- 10 things that I REALLY like, and I ended up with several dozen. Oops. I limited myself to artwork, even though style grows out of so much more– music, movies, physical objects, even food or travel experiences. I think as I go on, I’ll continue to add non-art items to this board to flesh it out (and whittle the existing selections down a bit).

In one of Christine’s classes, she reviews several periods in art history and analyzes different characteristics of the work, such as color, subject matter, technique, etc. This is a great exercise to do not just with the “masters”, but with any contemporary artist or illustrator as well– and with your own work! My next blog post will explore a few of my pins in closer detail, analyzing what it is about them that draws me in so much, whether the line work, color, subject, composition, or something else.

So, identifying your inspiration– or sources, or references, or influences, or however you want to think about them– is just the first step in borrowing/ stealing/ being inspired. Jerry Saltz pointed out in his “33 Rules For Being An Artist” that everyone starts out as copycats. But it’s not enough to simply reproduce what you like (as if that were even so simple!).

You have to synthesize it, assimilate it into your own psyche and muscle memory, so that what you create is an amalgam of many different sources of inspiration and thus, uniquely yours!

You should definitely read this book. I found myself saying “yes!” and “of course!” and also giggling (because humor) at many points. It’s one I keep going back to, and I don’t do that with many books.

Austin Kleon talks about this in his book Steal Like An Artist— it’s his first “rule”, in fact! Your work must be greater than the sum of its parts. Or, if not greater (maybe that’s the ideal situation ;)) at least wholly different from the sum of its parts.

I love his example of genetics to illustrate this: you have genes from both your mom and your dad, but you are not just mom + dad. Your mashed-up genetics make you entirely unique. Maybe someone who doesn’t know you well would confuse you for one of your parents, but certainly none of your friends would. Likewise, maybe someone who doesn’t know your artistic work well might confuse it for one of your sources, but it should be mostly identifiable as yours and only yours.

2. Make What You Want to Make More of

aka: like attracts like

One of my goals with my DIY Art School is to put together a portfolio that I could start circulating to potential clients. The goal with a portfolio is to demonstrate what kinds of work I can do… but also what kinds of work I want to do.

In her Creativebug class, Lila Rogers says “What you show is what you get.” You won’t be hired to do editorial illustrations, for example, if all you show are repeat patterns. In your portfolio, like attracts like. If you show lots of one type of work, or have a very well-defined style, you will be hired for that work or that style, and so you’ll produce more of that kind of work/ style.

This isn’t a difficult concept, but it is a little tricky, especially if you’re already working and/ or have an established portfolio, but it doesn’t quite look like the sort of thing you want to be making. The key, then, is making time for personal projects that reflect where you want your style and work to head. 

In my case, starting out on my own from scratch (without even professors telling me what I should/ shouldn’t be doing!) is kind of a benefit. All of my projects are personal projects, and I can focus on wherever my interests lie. Of course, the drawback here is that I have many, many interests, and a rather short attention span, which can lead to a scattered and unfocused portfo— ooh look! Something shiny! 😉 

Another way to approach this idea is, as Kleon says, to “write the book you want to read.”  By making what you like, you’re guaranteed to have at least an audience of one (yourself). And if you like something, there’s a good chance that other people like it, too. Even if they don’t like it, you’ve made something that makes you happy, which is something even if it doesn’t pay the bills (he also suggests you keep a non-art day job, which is very sound advice, IMO).

3. Keep Making Stuff

Style isn’t fixed, just as you-the-person aren’t some static, never-changing thing. Your interests change, your goals change, your personality even changes as you mature (hopefully… goodness knows it would be awful to be a 70-year-old with the personality of a 3-year-old… ahem).

But, if you freeze up and refuse to challenge yourself– or even refuse to make things that you’ve always made– your style will stagnate as well. In order to mature as artists (and as people!) we’ve got to put in the work.

That’s right. Two Nine-nine references in one post! Nerd alert.

So keep making things! Make the same stuff you’ve always made, that’s fine. The thing is, human beings terrible at reproducing things exactly as we see them, whether it’s our own work or someone else’s. So even by drawing the same flower (or chair, or whatever) over and over again, you won’t be able to help but change it a little each time. And those incremental changes, over time lead to stylistic evolution. Imagine if you applied incremental changes to multiple drawings or paintings each day! Just think of how much you’d grow and develop as an artist!

Now, the challenge is to find the time… 🙂

Week 1: Style Treasure Hunting

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Hello! And welcome back to DIY Art School Orientation! If you’re new here, be sure to check out the overview on this page, and the syllabus right here. After you get caught up with my first post, come on back and see what’s going on today 🙂

Today I’m going on a hunt. Not a bear hunt. Not a lion hunt. A style hunt!

In **her class on Creativebug, Lila Rogers suggests “treasure hunting” a variety of things you love, and contemplating what you love about them. Likewise, **Christine Nishiyama’s Skillshare class walks students through a style influence exercise that includes mapping different sources of inspiration.

I decided to adapt these exercises to focus only on illustration (for now), and to think specifically about the defining elements and techniques these artists use that I would like to emulate in my own work (this is a bit of a preview of next week when I’m going to review the “foundations” of art + design).

Not surprisingly, I found myself drawn to some of the same illustrators over and over– they have well-defined styles, and so use many of the same elements and techniques repeatedly in their work. The main artists whose work I love, love, love and which I am going to look at here are Lisa Congdon, Brigette Barrager, Sarah Walsh, Andrea Lauren, and Dinara Mirtalipova.

I think the thing they all have in common is that they are “perfectly imperfect” in their representations of people and things. None of them are setting out to create photo-realistic paintings, and they’re often drawing people or flowers or animals that don’t necessarily exist in “real life” 🙂

(I’ll add that it’s super interesting to see how their work has been licensed in different ways, and how they work in different media for personal projects– if you click through to their websites you can see how their styles translate from a 2D page into something 3D, whether a hand-made personal project or a manufactured brand collaboration).

One of the things I like to paint the most are houses, so it’s no surprise that the largest number pins on my board were house-related. While I admire the skill necessary to create precise architectural renderings, the styles I’m most attracted to are more fairy tale-esque and illustrative. I’m all about the charm and character when it comes to houses– both in drawings and in real life!

The first one I’m drawn to is this street scene by Dinara Mirtalipova. I have a thing for street scenes in general, particularly rows of houses. What I love about this one is her use of black, especially to bring attention to the little details– the curved balconies, the embellishments around the windows, the textured doors, the cats on the roofs! All of the details make the scene SO charming. I think by using so much stark black it not only makes them stand out, but also gives it an extra layer of fantasy-illustration. True black is not very common in nature, even in architectural scenes, so when you use it to outline or add in detail linework, it emphasizes the fact that this is intentionally not a photo-realistic rendering.

Something I find interesting about this one is her use of color. Usually Dinara uses a more saturated, flat color palette– and a lot more red! This street scene is much more muted, textured, and earthy (it looks like she may have used a watercolor or ink wash under the linework). The illustration is still really clearly identifiable as hers, I think because of the black details.

This house by Brigette Barrager is so “perfectly imperfect”– the wonky lines and uneven windows give it so much personality. She uses very little true black (just in the wrought iron grates and a little in the roof), but it still has the fairy tale-like character to it. You kind of feel like you’re about to step in to a children’s book (which I like!).

Even though she doesn’t use much true black, there is still a lot of contrast in this painting. The background colors are super muted, making the house pop. The details– like the bushes and the lower windows– are very dark and stand out a lot against the white house. The pinks in the upstairs windows play nicely with the greens in the bushes around the house. I think that helps to make the painting feel polished and complete, especially when the lines and textures are deliberately wonky.

The colors!! I looove flat, saturated colors. One of the things I like most about Lisa’s paintings is how she uses color to define shape (but note the difference from her drawings– see below!), and then goes in later and adds linework– so the color and the line really stand on their own and do two totally different things (define shape vs define texture and details).

Of course, I also love the geometric, impressionistic elements of this painting– it is unapologetically *not* a photograph. But at the same time– there’s no question as to what each element represents! I also like the way she plays with perspective and makes the ground somewhat flat.

Did I mention I like flat, saturated colors? Yes? Okay. I think that’s part of what draws me (frequently!) to block prints and stamps. Andrea Lauren has such a great style– I love **her book and find the compositions in it so inspiring. I think it’s a nice example of “modern folk art.”

I get frustrated because my carving skills aren’t up to par, but I love the effect. I used to do a lot of cut-paper art, and like the sharp definition it gives to shapes. A lot of the work I’m drawn to accomplishes that in different ways– like block carving– by using high-contrast, highly-saturated colors to define shape.

I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m *afraid* of drawing people, but I don’t often feel like I *succeed* at drawing people… especially faces! That is why I am so, so impressed by people who do it well. Sarah Walsh is kind of known for her people, especially people with diverse appearances. I love the hard edges in this illustration, and the way she combines flat saturated color- shapes with textural overlays (digital brushes, line) and plays with transparency in a few key places like the food. I like the wonky perspective (kind of like Lisa Congdon’s)– you can see everyone’s eyes even though the viewer is from a slightly overhead angle.

Flowers! I love flowers. I really love leaves, though. While the traditional sort of soft, washy- watercolor flowers are lovely (and I’d like to learn to paint them), I love these folksy flowers and other foliage by Dinara Mirtalipova best. The color is what jumps out at me first– the saturated pinks, oranges, and reds, contrasting with the greens of the leaves. And then you notice the more subtle gold and yellow leaves filling out the composition. It’s such a nice balance of contrast and subtlety, and gives your eye lots of reasons to meander around the whole piece. There’s also a lot of contrast in size– BIG big flowers, and little little ones, all blooming together. Like in several of the other examples I’ve looked at, a lot of her shapes are defined by color, and the details are brought out with high-contrast (both white and black) line work.

More flowers! Lisa Congdon is kind of known for her linework, and here she uses it to create all kinds of fantastical flower shapes. I find it interesting to see how different her painting style is from her drawing style (at least, this looks to me like it was done with a micron pen, perhaps). Whereas above she used color to define her shapes and line to bring in the details, line is the dominant feature here. It both defines the shape of the flower as well as the textural details of each. Color is brought in as another way to highlight details and complete the overall composition. 

I love the saturated, flat colors (it almost looks like they were filled in with the live paint feature in Illustrator, but I *think* she works primarily with traditional media). I think using the secondary and tertiary colors here really works with a somewhat broad color palette. It keeps the level of contrast from becoming too “buzzy” (see next week’s discussion of color 😉 ).

This is the cover image on my daughter’s (current) favorite book, Uni the Unicorn, illustrated by Brigette Barrager. I love the overall composition here, and the illustrations throughout the book are just as charming. I like the use of secondary and tertiary colors, and the fanciful flower shapes– they’re not too fanciful, though. You might expect to see some of them in an actual field of flowers.

And finally, this whimsical print by Sarah Walsh. I love the composition and collection of somewhat random, fanciful things (potted plants, prehistoric animals). I love the color palette. And I love the way the paint strokes (and gradients) are visible within the object, but the shapes have sharp, clear lines. I think this piece is a nice reminder for me that *anything* can be a composition– it doesn’t have to be a scene in order for it to be a complete, polished piece.

Want to see more work by these talented ladies?? I either own and love these books, or have them high on my wishlist!

  • **Uni the Unicorn (illustrated by Brigette Barrager) — one of my 4-year-old daughter’s favorite books, responsible for sparking her current obsession with unicorns, and for introducing me to Brigette’s illustrations
  • **Imagine a Forest: Designs and Inspirations for Enchanting Folk Art (Dinara Mirtalipova)– a lovely how-to-ish book on Dinara’s folk art style, I credit this for dragging me out of my post-baby creative slump last summer!
  • **Art, Inc: The Essential Guide for Building Your Career as an Artist (Lisa Congdon) I love this book of practical advice (not so much featuring her artwork, though), and will be re-reading it during the 4th quarter of DIY Art School for sure.
  • **The Joy of Swimming: A Celebration of Our Love for Getting in the Water (Lisa Congdon)– I don’t own this one, but it’s high on my wishlist. I was excited to learn that Lisa started painting in her 30s (like me!) and even more excited to learn that she’s a pretty badass swimmer (I am not so badass, but I love to swim).
  • **Playful Painting: People (Sarah Walsh)– This one is on my to-purchase list for February. I’m love Sarah’s style of painting people, and can’t wait to pick up a few tips and tricks from this book!
  • **Hats of Faith (Sarah Walsh)– This is on my “to purchase next” list for my kids. I read somewhere that it began as a personal project for Sarah, which I think is super cool!
  • **Block Print (Andrea Lauren)– I love this book of printing projects. I haven’t completed any of the projects yet, but the designs inside are so inspiring! I pull it out whenever I need a quick dose of creative inspiration.

Come back next week when I review some of the foundations of art + design, and apply this same analysis to my own portfolio-to-date in order to think about where I can challenge myself and push my boundaries. In the meantime, I’d love to hear who some of your favorite/ most inspiring illustrators and artists are 🙂

Week 1: Orientation

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Happy New Year!

I’ve officially kicked off my DIY Art School adventure, starting with a two-week “orientation.” During this little warm-up to the main event, I’ll be easing in to work with a few fun “assignments.”

My focus this week is reflecting on my own artistic style and how I might want to develop it. I’m watching a couple of videos in Christine Nishiyama’s Art School Bootcamp on Skillshare, and starting Lila Roger’s class, “Treasure Hunt Your Artistic Style” on Creativebug. After watching these videos, I’ll create a mood board for my style as it is right now, and think about which areas/ techniques I’d like to expand or refine.

Next week I’ll recap some of the fundamentals (basic color theory, principles and elements of design, a bit of composition) and do a self-assessment of my portfolio, such as it exists right now! Then, I’ll get to start on the meat of the project, with a focus on illustrating plants and animals during January.

During these two weeks of orientation, I’m re-reading Austin Kleon’s awesome book Steal Like An Artist, and reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way for the first time. I’m also checking out a blog post by Jerry Saltz (discovered via Austin Kleon’s excellent newsletter), 33 rules for being an artist.

I’m hoping all of this will help me get my head on straight as I dive in to the practice-oriented part of my adventure. I’ll be doing sketchbook exercises every day starting… NOW, and posting those to Instagram daily. Each month I’ll designate a set of exercises from Creativebug to fall back on if I am feeling stuck or uninspired.

My “real” projects don’t really start until after orientation, but I’m kind of chomping at the bit to open up a few new pans of watercolors I got for Christmas, so we’ll see where that takes me over the next few days 😀 

In terms of blog posts, throughout my DIY adventure I’ll review the video courses I watch and books I read, share any projects I make, and write reflections on my own process and ideas about creativity. At the end of each week I’ll do a “work in review” post, recapping my sketchbook work and what I completed during the week. I’m aiming to blog about DIY Art School 3 times each week.

Whew, think that’s enough?!?! I’d best get a move on, those videos won’t watch themselves!


This week’s resources:

DIY Art School – Welcome

Hello! And welcome to my DIY Art School.

What is DIY Art School? I’ve decided that for the calendar year 2020, I’m going to pursue a consistent and systematic exploration of art + design. Independent of any institutions. Using resources available for free or otherwise low cost. And you’re welcome to follow along!

My goals with this project are:

  1. Develop a consistent daily art practice
  2. Explore art and creative theory in a way that helps me to incorporate new ideas into my practice
  3. Expand my illustration and design skills
  4. Develop an illustration- and design-related portfolio that I can begin circulating to potential employers
  5. Get a better idea of where I want to focus future personal projects

I’ll primarily be using resources that I’ve already purchased or that are freely available, including online classes, books, podcasts, and blogs. I would encourage anyone following along to check your local public library for resources first (inter-library loan rocks), and then any public university libraries you might have nearby. Fun fact: you can purchase memberships to most in-state public university libraries, and you can hang out in the stacks + read books for free without even being affiliated!

I’ll officially start on January 1. I’ve divided the year into four quarters, each with a different theme. Each month has a focus that ties back into the overall theme of the quarter, and allows for deeper exploration into a particular topic. I have reading and written reflection assignments, as well as video classes to watch– but art is something you learn by doing, so my emphasis will be on completing daily, weekly, and monthly projects, all aimed at developing my skills and ultimately building my portfolio.

So maybe you’re asking, “um, why? Why do it this way? Why not go back to art school if you want to go to art school?”

Excellent question! I’m so glad you asked! As it happens, I spent a lot of time in post-secondary education, but did not actually go to art school. Lately I’ve been regretting that particular life decision.

I’d love to go back to school but… actually, I wouldn’t. 13 years as a post-secondary student was plenty, thankyouverymuch. And then the 4 years I stayed on as a college instructor was even more than plenty. But if I learned anything in that time, it’s how to learn things. So I thought I’d put those skills to use learning something new, on my own, on a shoestring budget.

If that’s something that sounds interesting to you, I invite you to follow along with me! Watch the videos, read the books, try the assignments, and join in the conversation in the comments. I’d love to have your contributions. If not, I’ll still be posting regularly here on all topics related to creativity and craft, so stay tuned 🙂


More information is available at the links below:

FAQs are here.

The complete syllabus is available here.

Reading materials and supplies are listed here.

And all of the posts in the series will be listed here.

I look forward to seeing you in orientation!

Friday Roundup

Hello again! Time for my weekly “things I’m loving” roundup ?

1) Side Hustle School

I started listening to this podcast around Christmas last year, after hearing it mentioned on yet another podcast I listen to! I’m a little addicted to podcasts, I’ll admit. I tend to have one running most of the day. Side Hustle School is short (10-15 minutes), so I’ll save up a week’s worth and listen to them all in one stretch. It’s not difficult to do, because Chris Gillebeau has recorded an episode every. single. day. since January 1, 2017.

For those of you that don’t know, a “side hustle” is an income-generating activity that you do in your “spare time”, without quitting your day job. I love this podcast for a bunch of reasons. I think first and foremost, I like the host’s presentation. I’m a sucker for corny jokes and puns. Plus, he’s a cat person (and he thanks his cat at the end of every episode). Each episode profiles a person who has come up with a unique– and sometimes really weird– side business that earns then at least $500/month. When I say weird, I mean “hand-sewn chicken armor” levels of weird. I love the focus on “lessons learned” in each profile. The idea here isn’t for listeners to go out and replicate the business idea, but to take these lessons– which Chris draws out as part of his own analysis– and implement them in translation, so to speak, in their own original business idea.

Side Hustle School has the added benefit of making me feel even more productive while I’m listening. I’m learning! About how to make extra income! Yay! It’s the perfect thing to listen to while I’m walking or painting.

2) Early Morning Play Time

I am currently responsible for the care and feeding of a 6-week old infant, which means I’m keeping some less than ideal hours. But I’m trying (keyword: trying) to take advantage of the early morning wake-ups to squeeze some more creative time out of the day. I’ve been making an effort to drag myself out of bed after the little one’s last nighttime feeding, rather than roll over and go back to sleep. I do a short yoga practice, and then sit with my morning cuppa to play in my sketchbook for at least 15 minutes. Let’s be real, 15 minutes usually stretches into 30, unless my 3-year-old wakes up early. The 15 minute “limit” is just so I can say “come on, why are you hesitating? it’s just 15 minutes!” and then get my butt in the chair.

This week, I worked on a spread using some scrap paper from my big manila folder o’ collage paper. I was inspired by some images I saw in a magazine recently of simple, eclectic stuffed animal toys. While I was playing with those shapes, I came across the Shanghai skyline that I had printed and cut out years (years!!!) ago after visiting (in 2001!!!!!). On a whim, I glued it to the opposite page. I really loved the color palette I was playing with, and decided to do some triangles in the sky above.

Like I said, playing. No real rhyme or reason, but it was good practice in telling the voice of hesitation (and planning! and over-thinking! and analysis!) in my head to pipe down, and just get to work cutting and gluing. It was quite meditative!

3) Spice Dragon Red Chai

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I went on a bit of a hot cocoa bender during my recent pregnancy (and immediately after, TBH). To wean myself off of excess sugar, I’ve been trying to drink more herbal teas instead of cocoa (bonus points for hydration, right?). Since I drink them without sweetener, they need to be robust and flavorful enough on their own for my tastes. I am sad to say that the pickings for tea in my area are pretty slim. I’ll often stock up on unusual varieties, such as Stash Tea’s Gold Cup Chai, when I’m visiting my parents or mother-in-law in larger metropolitan areas. I recently had a some Amazon points to spend, and decided to try a new flavor of tea. My criteria are pretty strict: in addition to being decaf, the tea can’t contain any added flavors, artificial or natural. My main reason for including natural flavors in that criteria is that I hate the taste of Stevia, and it’s often included under the umbrella of “natural flavors”. And artificial flavors… well, they just taste “fake” to me.

Enter Spice Dragon Red Chai. Let’s get the criticisms out of the way: I know that chai is the Hindi word for “tea”, and the traditional drink is not associated with Chinese dragons, or China at all, for that matter. And rooibos, which is the primary ingredient in this beverage, is from South Africa. Let’s just call it… multiculturalism, okay? Okay. Because I really like this tea.

It’s warm and spicy, and since it’s rooibos there isn’t even a tiny bit of caffeine in it (purists will argue that that’s because there’s not even a tiny bit of tea in it, but who cares about purism?!). The flavoring comes from actual cinnamon and cloves, not “cinnamon flavor” or “clove flavor”, thank goodness. I think it’s the perfect late evening beverage, when I want something that is almost-dessert-but-not-quite. Because let’s be honest. When I want actual dessert, I’m just going to down a pint of Ben and Jerry’s.

Happy weekend, all! Hope you are finding lots of little things to love as well <3

Mindful Monday: What do you do with your fabric scraps?

Welcome to Mindful Monday, the weekly series where I talk about the intersection between mindfulness and creativity. How can we incorporate more mindful practices into our creative lives? How can being more mindful of our creative practices enrich our experience of them?


I’m not sure if it’s just the New Year, or the home stretch of my pregnancy (5! weeks! left!), but I have had a strong urge to sort and organize during the last two weeks.  I probably should have focused on “practical” spaces in my house– like, say, the kitchen. But instead, I dove in to my stash of art, knitting, and sewing supplies.

I mean… that’s practical, right? The more organized I am with my supplies, the easier it will be to maintain a creative practice post-baby… not to mention sew adorable baby clothes!

In the process of digging through my fabric stash, I found several 5-gallon zip-top bags filled with scraps I had packed away during a move a few years ago, fully intending to re-purpose them for projects “someday.” I’m starting to feel like “someday” may not materialize for those scraps.

Naturally, discovering the scraps led me down a rabbit hole trying to figure out what to do with them.

Sure, I could just throw them away. But one of the reasons I enjoy sewing my own clothing and accessories is because I worry that industrial textile goods produce too much waste.  Some of that waste comes from hastily- and cheaply-produced items wearing out quickly, a lot of it comes from the culture of “disposable clothing”, and some of it comes from the manufacturing process itself (eg. the amount of energy it takes to produce, ship, and sell an item). Creating your own clothing allows you to be more mindful about how you’re using the resources that end up as clothing on your body.

For example, I’m confident that the quality of things I can sew has finally surpassed what I’m willing to spend money on at big box stores. I can make something more durable than a blouse I buy at Old Navy, and it is more likely to be made from sustainably (or at least thoughtfully) produced textiles. The fact that I made it myself means I am far more likely to invest time in mending or repairing it if need be, before I give it away. Granted, this might be due to the Ikea effect… but also possibly because I genuinely like everything about the item I made because I selected each component myself– style, fit, fabric, etc.

I realize that my home sewing scraps are a drop in the bucket of total textile waste, but tossing them in the trash still feels like a waste of resources, and runs contrary to my goals and motivations for sewing in the first place.

(as a side note– I also can’t abide wasted paint, particularly not acrylic! I take anything left on my palette after a project and create a new background in my sketchbook, or use it as an excuse for a little messy art journaling)

However, a lot of the ideas floating around out there for “upcycling” fabric scraps seem a little…. how do I put this? Making something just for the sake of making it. Like, it’s not something that I would need or use, and making it would be roughly equivalent to performing retail therapy in the dollar section at Target (yes, guilty). If I’m going to make something from my scraps, I want it to be something that I’d actually like to have– otherwise, I feel like there must be people out there who can put the scraps to a good/ needful purpose. Novel idea, I know.

My first question in contemplating my scraps is whether I have any projects already on my list that could *use* them. With a little creative forethought, I could create some awesome colorblocked kids’ clothes, like the examples included at the end of this post. I think that is probably at the top of my project list/ plan for these scraps.

The remainder of my scraps that are too small to use will probably be held in a box until I have enough to serve as stuffing for a pillow or plushie (I do envision a number of plushie projects in my future…).

I also contemplated taking my scraps to a Creative Reuse Center. The nearest one(s) to me are about a two-hour drive, but I do occasionally make the trip up that way for other reasons. Unfortunately, none of them have responded to my emails asking about fabric donations! Alas. Many thrift stores also take bags of fabric scraps to sell to textile recyclers, who shred them and downcycle them into industrial fillings or insulation. And– the best option in my opinion– sometimes thrift stores will even take art and craft supplies to sell as art and craft supplies! Which makes them both a great place to donate your unwanted items and to shop for your next project!

These would be my top three options for repurposing fabric scraps, but the following project ideas also held some appeal. If I ever get through my currently way-too-long backlog of intended projects and UFOs, I will tackle one of these (or, when the need arises 😉 ):

  • If you enjoy making jewelry, or need some new accessories, these fabric button necklaces are a cute idea.
  • I could possibly see doing something like this somewhere down the line, and making “fabric twine” out of larger scraps that I don’t want to use in a sewing project for some reason (maybe they’re too ugly??). The twine could be used as piping or other embellishment… or simply as twine around the house!
  • On one blog I read, a commenter said she sewed all of her scraps together to make a larger piece of scrappy fabric. I thought that sounded pretty cool– frankenfabric! You could potentially use it in a quilt project, or for a pillow sham, or even to make one of these floor cushion/ poufs (which could also be *stuffed* with scraps when you’re done assembling them). This lady has another option for turning teeny tiny scraps into “new” fabric that is more like a fabric collage and involves quilting and iron-on sheeting. I don’t think I’d ever do it myself, but if you enjoy fabric collage it would be a fun idea.
  • My great-grandmother used to make braided rugs– the consistency of her colors makes me think she used fresh cuts of fabric, but you could very easily use scraps as well. You could also make a slightly different style called “Amish knot”. We have enough rugs around our house, so I probably wouldn’t do this until we needed a new one.
  • Annika Victoria has a whole series of videos about projects she made with scraps– including this cute plushie that is both sewn from scraps AND stuffed with scraps. I especially like this project because she was filling a need by making it (she needed a gift for her niece), rather than just making something for the sake of using up supplies. (If anyone knows where to get that transfer paper for less than a gabillion dollars, please let me know!!)

What do you do with your scraps, fabric or otherwise? Do you repurpose them? Donate them? Toss them out?



Friday Roundup

Welcome to my weekly roundup of “things I’m loving”– stuff that made me smile this week!

1) My husband’s reorganization of our daughter’s books: In preparation for Baby #2 (due in February), we’re doing a little sorting and reorganizing in our house. We moved our daughter’s sizable book collection from the playroom/ craft room up to her bedroom, since that’s really where we do book/ story time. My husband– not usually one for thinking too deeply about the aesthetic presentation of things– single-handedly relocated all of the books. I heard him bumping things around for a little while upstairs, but didn’t think much of it. But then, when I went to put some clothes away later, I noticed how he had arranged all of the books on the shelves! By RAINBOW COLOR!!! This just made my heart sing. I think our daughter likes it, too 🙂


2) Spotify’s “Piano in the Background” playlist: Now that it’s officially too late to listen to Christmas music (even though our tree is still up), I’ve had this peaceful playlist on permanent repeat in the background while I work. It doesn’t matter what type of work I’m doing, it always sets just the right mood.

3) GGH Merino Soft Yarn: Okay, I know this isn’t extra-super-special yarn or anything. It’s probably considered “craft store yarn” in Europe, amirite? And hardcore knitters would probably roll their eyes at me. I confess, I usually buy craft store yarn here in the US (there is no local yarn store in my town, and I’m on a budget). But, considering the price of this yarn (~$5/ skein, not much more expensive than what I’d buy at my local craft store), it’s really lovely quality! And so much more pleasant to knit with than the merino I’ve bought locally. I’m using it for Epic Knits’ Yarn Quest 2018, and plan to buy some more to make socks when I’m done with this project. 100% wool, and superwash, so it can go in the washing machine! So, hip hip hooray for Euro craft store yarn!