I hope you all had a good Thanksgiving weekend. We sure did, but I’m kind of exhausted from all the eating and merry-making. Back to working! Speaking of which, I had an incredible time at the Llewellyn sale a couple of weekends ago. I met three more amazing artists, and went home with a print one of them gave to me.
This Saturday, December 2nd is the Lewis Holiday Bazaar and Tree Sale, 10am-3pm, at 4401 SE Evergreen Street in PDX.
One thing that’s difficult to show at these sales is my Customized Letters. Since they’re all personal letters, I don’t share them, just snippets (like below … I’m thrilled about these snails and slugs and very surprised to be so excited about snails and slugs!)
One customer thought I wrote letters on behalf of someone else. Like, rather than being from me, written by me, signed by me, I’d write it as if I were the recipient’s friend and sign it, “love Joelle” or whatever. This made me think, maybe I ought to change their name. Maybe call it: Snail Mail Subscription…?
Well, it’s a fun challenge to have. These Customized Letters/Snail Mail Subscriptions are the most time-consuming product I have, but incredibly satisfying work!
I’ll be at the Llewellyn Holiday Market this Saturday, November 18th, from 10am-5pm at 6301 SE 14th Avenue. Stop by and say hello! They have a lot going on:
I had a great time last weekend at the All Saints Bazaar. The vendors on either side of me (Alshiref and Jo Lupton) were both incredibly talented and equally nice. They gave me some good advice, helped me when my credit-card reader stopped working, and kept me company during a long day.
I met some new customers, too. Adults who love to color stopped by and bought cards. A few others bought stationery for gifts. And one memorable visitor was a little boy who totally cracked up when he saw my mittened octopus card. That made my day! The card is supposed to be funny, and seeing a kid, maybe 5-years-old, get the joke was gratifying.
So, off to Llewellyn this weekend. Then it’s the Lewis Holiday Bazaar and Tree Sale after Thanksgiving, Saturday, December 2 from 10am-3pm. Phew!
I will be selling Carrot Condo creations at three events in Portland this year. The first one has been happening for 62 years. Can you believe it? This is my first year taking part, and I’m really excited about it:
I’ll have my hot-off-the-risograph-press cat poster and cards. They’re kitties with a message, designed to represent all types of people working together whether they love it or not (some cats are looking pretty grouchy), whether they agree with each other or not, and whether they look alike or not.
Carrot Condo will be at these three events–hope to see you there!
Saturday, November 11 from 9am-4pm is the All Saints Holiday Bazaar at 3847 NE Glisan Street.
Saturday, November 18 from 10am-5pm is the Llewellyn Holiday Market at 6301 SE 14th Avenue
Saturday, December 2 from 10am-3pm is Lewis Holiday Bazaar and Tree Sale at 4401 SW Evergreen.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
When 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.
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:
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.