Look Away And Draw

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Mister Rogers sweater of optimism

My own imagination is the main reason I put off starting an illustration. I dream up some idea, and in my mind it stays amorphous–not fully formed or solid, yet perfect. Therefore, any pencil stroke that begins the actual illustration looks horribly inferior to the idea in my head.

And as much as I grumble about doing my daily drawing practice, my grouchiest, briefest efforts keep resulting in the best images. I think it’s because I’ve dropped my standards as low as they’ll go: just put the pencil on the paper for a few seconds and call it “done.” There are no expectations, and therefore, it’s hard to feel disappointed. I’m just glad I can claim that I did my daily practice.

However, I observed a way to side-step this perfectionism or whatever you call this fear that keeps us from starting a project because in making it, we might muck it up. I’ll call it: “look away and draw.”

I got the idea from my 2.5-year-old friend, Dot. She and I were drawing one day, and I noticed that she’d choose a pen color, set the pen down on her blank paper, and then look away behind her at the closet.

I thought she was getting distracted, and I was about to re-focus her on her drawing when she spun her head around, looked at her paper, and squealed because what had been a blank, white page, now had vibrant swirls of color on it. I hadn’t noticed that she’d been moving the pen while she looked away at the closet. She thoughtfully chose a second color, set the pen down, looked away, drew, and looked back with delight and satisfaction.

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Dot’s drawing. I see a blue-haired lady and a red-faced man.

I don’t know if I’m telling you to do your creative work blindfolded–but I have known writers who turn their computer screens to dark and then start typing without being able to read as they go. What struck me about Dot’s process is her zealous curiosity and thrilled satisfaction.

Rather than fretting about how the project won’t hold up to the ideal in our minds, we could be curious about how it will turn out, curious about what other paths it will take as it comes together, excited to see how it takes shape rather than focused on the finished image matching the ethereal idea in our minds. We could feel satisfied that we’re working on something, however it’s turning out.

The whole creative process might be more satisfying this way, but the hardest part for me, the getting-started-part, would be less painful, and I’d be less likely to put off getting started if I could think, “Hm, I’m curious to see how this will look…”

I heard a story on public radio about a study that showed that people who faced nerve-racking things to do (like a job interview) felt less stress and had lower blood pressure when they said to themselves, “I’m excited!” rather than “This is so freaking terrifying.” Well, I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I’ve done it. I was so anxious about some things that I made myself say, “I’m excited!” out loud. I felt like an idiot for a quarter of a second and then: it worked! I felt capable and fine, not freaked out.

So–put on your Mister Rogers sweater of optimism, cultivate curiosity about how your project will unfold, stand in your power pose and say, “I’m excited!”

We can feel ridiculous together while getting a bunch of creative work done and out into a world that needs it.

Serve The Whole Chicken

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I had a dream about my friend Michele. We were talking on the phone, and she admitted she was having a tough time and struggling. Then, she said with a resigned sigh: “You know, you’ve got to serve the whole chicken, not just the sweet parts.”

I woke up laughing and wondering what the “sweet parts” of a chicken are and then realized I’d rather not know.

But I love the saying so much I’m working on creating lettering to embroider it on kitchen towels for Michele and me.

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It’s an important message for me in creativity and in life. I so often waste energy and stifle creativity by trying to avoid discomfort, disappointment, and disorder. And yet, like Michele said, you’ve got to serve the whole chicken. The “un-sweet” parts can’t be avoided, well, not if you want to live a creative and vivid life, anyway.

Plus, I’m learning in my drawings, whether it’s a flower or creature, when it turns out “cutesy” and bland, I’m avoiding a painful truth. When I let the less savory emotions into the drawing, even for my simple flowers or whimsical creatures, the drawing has much more to say and stays interesting long after it’s finished.

It’s a hard lesson for me to live. I’d rather everything be a sunny 70 degrees all the time, but maybe that would actually zap creative drive?

you’ve got mail

I had so much fun writing letters for the write_on challenge in April that I created a new product for Carrot Condo: Customized Letters. They’re handwritten, illustrated, old-fashioned snail mail. Creating them has been as satisfying as I’d hoped.

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You can subscribe to a monthly letter for yourself or as a gift to someone else. You tell me a little about the letter recipient, and I take it from there: once a month, a handwritten, illustrated letter arrives in the mail. Something cheerful to look forward to amidst the bills and junk mail.

Every letter is unique, which keeps it fun for me and personalized to the letter recipient. They get all the fun of a pen pal without having to write back, and I get monthly writing projects and inspirations to sketch and draw.

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Once I’ve written the letter and created drawings to illustrate the pages, I decorate the envelope, choose a stamp, and send it off. Walking to the “blue box” has never been more fun!

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This project has revived my love of writing and it’s helped me get closer to a long-time goal: combining my writing with my drawings. I get new ideas with each new letter. Sometimes the letter inspires the illustration, and sometimes the illustration sparks a story for the letter.

I can sell only a few subscriptions because the letters take a long time to make, but once one subscription is finished, I can put one back in my shop–this way, I get to create snail mail all year long. Happiness!

Circular Stationary and Spiral Letters

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envelope illustration

Writing 30 letters in 30 days for the write_on challenge proved to be a turning point in my creative life:
Handwriting letters brought me back to my roots. It felt meditative and deeply satisfying. And because I had a specific audience to write to, my writing topics and voice flowed out happily and abundantly. For at least two years now, I’ve been stuck in my writing with none of the joy or satisfaction writing has given me my whole life. This natural flow of ideas and voice was an incredible relief.

There’s so much more, too–new Carrot Condo products brewing as I type, new friendships, and incredibly timely realizations and insights that just keep broadening my creative vista. But the most serendipitous story is this one about some round-shaped stationery.

IMG_5170When I was maybe six years old, a girl named Jessica and her parents came to visit us. At the time, I don’t think I understood who she was, just that I would have someone to play with. I remember we slept on the floor of what my parents called “the den,” and I was really impressed with her sleeping bag. That’s pretty much the extent of my memory.

However, a picture of the adult Jessica with her husband and first child hangs on my parents’ wall, and a few years ago, Jessica found me on Facebook and mailed me some things from the man who would have been my grandfather, except I never knew him. What I didn’t comprehend as a child is that Jessica’s father and my father were stepbrothers. They lived in the same house for at least a summer, maybe longer, and were friends.

Jessica had seen my post about write_on and requested a letter. I had just mailed her letter when I visited my parents and asked my mom if I could look through a box of stationery she let me use when I was a kid. I remembered loving the designs, and I thought they might inspire some of my own.

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the stationery I made for Jessica

When I came across this circular design, my mom said, “Oh! I remember writing to Mike on that stationery when he was in the Air Force. I wrote in multiple colors in a spiral. He said it drove him crazy to read it.”

I said: “Mike? Jessica’s dad?”

“Yes,” she said.

Unfortunately, Jessica’s dad died many years ago, far too young. And yet, here I was, holding a piece of stationery my mom had used to write to him long before Jessica or I existed.

“Can I have a piece of this?” I asked. That night, I went home and, a little too excited to write as neatly and painstakingly as I’m sure my mom did, I wrote a second letter to Jessica. In a spiral.

When my mom talked about the letter she’d sent Jessica’s dad, it was told like a story about something that happened recently. He’s obviously still loved and well-remembered. It felt good to see proof that we live on in ways we maybe can’t imagine. It felt good to send along a note to Jessica from her dad.

Also, I just realized, the reason my mom has this box of stationery is because the man I knew as my grandfather (but was really my step-grandfather), worked at Mead Paper Company and routinely brought us gifts from the employee store. It was because of him my mom had the round stationery to write on.

And, it’s because of him and my mom’s good taste not to ever use it that we still have this:

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I think I tore out the first and only sheet to be used, but hey, 45 sheets for 59-cents!

My experience writing letters felt magical, especially this second letter to Jessica. Handwritten letters feel radically different than email or texts or even typing a letter, which are all good. But none of those would have un-earthed the round stationery.

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stationery illustrations

pretty script w/envelope

I am finding that handwriting and illustrating letters feels meditative, calming, and deeply satisfying. Writing one word at a time in a limited space makes me thoughtful and focused, which is a relief from this frenetic world and my frenzied mind.

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Once I know who I’m writing to that day, an image leaps out of my pen onto the stationery. I don’t have time to question it or to revise it, and this is loosening up my creative muscles.

These monkeys, for example–I love them!

If I had set out to make this a design for my shop, I’d have drawn and re-drawn the image at least six times. Nothing wrong with that, exactly, but this spontaneity felt refreshing and surprising, which is how I hope the illustration felt for the recipient.

My handwriting is as difficult as it’s always been, however, I learned today that if I choose the right pen (a fussy one that forces me to slow down) and have an idea of what I want to say, I can actually write quite nicely. My letter was too private to take a picture of; otherwise, I’d show off my pretty script and provide proof for those of you who have known my handwriting!

It dawned on me one day to decorate the envelopes, too. I felt quite proud of myself, and still do, but look what I found on Instagram this morning by Naomi Bulger! So clever!!

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by Naomi Bulger @naomibulger

I’m not even half-way through the write_on challenge, but this experience has already given me new ideas for my Carrot Condo shop. And today, I stopped by a craft store in PDX and scored some vibrant-colored materials for one of my projects. Can’t wait to tell you all about it, but as you know, I work at a snail’s pace. So, once April’s write_on challenge is over, I’ll use May to make stuff!! So happy to feel inspired and grateful to everyone joining me in this challenge.

 

Search #write_on or @eggpress on Instagram or visit me: @carrot.condo to see more letter writing loveliness.

30 letters in 30 days

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Did you once love writing and receiving letters by mail? For years now, my mail has mostly consisted of junk and a few bills. I miss the surprise of seeing a friend’s handwriting, colorful stickers and doodles, and the thickness of an envelope containing pages of story and musings.

And I remember spending long, satisfying hours hunched over a desk writing letters to friends, anticipating their reply.

So, I’m taking part in a challenge for the month of April. Would you like to join me?

It’s called “Write_On,” and the mission is to “promote joy, creativity, expression, and connection through hand-written correspondence.” The task: write 30 letters in 30 days during April, which happens to be National Letter Writing Month.

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stationery set available in my Etsy shop

Although I imagine quiet, thoughtful hours at the desk neatly “penning” letters to dear friends — my life just does not work that way right now. So, I’m sure the month will be a bit frenzied, my handwriting less than stellar, and many one-page letters dashed off and sent. Nevertheless, I’m doing it!

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Egg Press, the company that pressed my political postcard, created the event. Egg Press staff all take part in write_on. Here, Katelyn is standing next to their idea boards from previous years. Notice the bagel on the bulletin board? Yes, someone figured out how to mail a bagel.

My goals, so far, are to make my letters mostly thank you letters. Some political, many friend-neighbor-family focused. And, as much as time allows, I want to illustrate my own cards and stationery.

But really, I want to let the letter writing take me where it will. I want to get back to those days of much slower (and sloppier in my case) communication that involved so much reflection and love and consideration. Also, serendipity. I’m not sure who all I’ll write to, what they’ll say in response (if anything), or where it will all lead. I just know it will involve pens, color, stationery, cards, stamps, stickers, and walks to the “blue box” up the street to mail my letters.

You can do it however you wish, as long as you write 30 letters in 30 days, starting April 1st. I’ll be sharing updates on Instagram and here, and I’d love to hear how you’re doing as well.

 

Pressing Onward

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letterpress political postcard

“You should try letterpress,” my husband said. This was his solution to the rather expensive black-and-white printing estimates I’d received so far.

If plain old copies are spendy, letterpress will be totally out of my price range, I thought. But, I contacted the three companies he forwarded to me anyway. The first: doesn’t do postcards. The second: isn’t taking new projects. The third? . . .

. . . Amazing, supportive, kind, instructive, inspiring response! The printing cost compared closely to the other printers, but it would be in color, on luscious paper, and pressed like a real piece of art!!

Egg Press (insert hearts here) took my design, worked with me to smooth it out for the plate (see image below), and printed gorgeous two-sided postcards. You can see the dent of the press in that top picture, right? You can feel it too!

Katelyn worked with me at Egg Press, and when I went to their super-cool studio in an old warehouse overlooking the train tracks in NW Portland, she gave me a tour: opening a vault door, leading me up wide wooden staircases through a cold and dim warehouse, sliding back a huge heavy iron door to reveal:

a brightly lit, exposed brick studio filled with presses and work spaces, ink and paper, binders and cutters, and people — artists and designers and press operators. People whose talent would easily intimidate me but who were all so nice I tried to come up with a reason why I needed to stay there all day.

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political postcard drawn by me and printed by Egg Press!!

I am so proud of this 4×6 postcard, and so grateful for the supportive experience I had with Egg Press and Katelyn. You’ll see a picture of her in my next post. I’m taking part in a writing event Egg Press is hosting. You can join me if you want. More soon!

In the meantime, if you have messages you need to send to politicians, organizations, or agencies, this bold, patriotic blue letterpress postcard will catch their eye! (You can shop for them here: www.etsy.com/shop/CarrotCondo).