monsters lost: love found

It worked out to tie finger-puppet monsters to my Valentine’s Day cards for my kiddo’s class:

We had two left over that we raced in little cars after breakfast Valentine’s Day morning. The cars’ license plates said: “B.YOU” and “JUSTB.” Good Valentine’s Day messages, which made us think of “Our Person” at the gas station.

First, you must know that in Oregon, we are not allowed to pump our own gas. IMG_7343You pull up to a gas station, roll down your window, and wait for an attendant to help you. I’ve never liked this process, but a few years ago, we started going to the same gas station because of one particular attendant.

She’s petite with naturally wavy graying hair, and seems shy until she smiles. Her smile says a lot, full of genuine care and attention. Because I didn’t know her name, I started calling her “Our Person,” and now, if she’s ever not there, my kiddo laments with true concern, “Where’s Our Person?”

Racing cheerful monsters in even more cheerful cars made us think of her, so the kiddo colored my “It’s fun to share with a friend” card in vivid pink for her, and we attached it to a chocolate bar. On our way out the door, the kiddo insisted on bringing his two finger-puppet monsters by stowing them away in the hood of his coat. I figured he wanted to show them to our friend.

At the station, we hopped out of the car (we didn’t need gas), found our attendant, and gave her the treat. She appreciated the surprise and took time to admire the enthusiastic coloring. As we left, the kiddo realized his finger puppets were gone. We looked everywhere and decided they must have fallen out at home on the porch. When we got home hours later, the kiddo glanced around the porch but didn’t ask about the missing monsters. I decided I’d better not bring them up.

Two full weeks later, we pull up for gas. It’s crowded and someone else helps us, but through the mash of cars, “Our Person” glides over, says something to the other attendant who moves away, and there she is, smiling in our window. We chat, and then she says:

“Oh, I almost forgot. I have something that is yours. I’ve been putting it in my pocket each day in case you stop by.”

And out she pulls the two finger-puppet monsters! There they are, waving their sinewy arms excitedly. IMG_7647I notice a smudge of black on each of them and realize they must have fallen out of the car right under a tire, and, well…I probably drove right over them as we left the gas station.

The kiddo and I are both thrilled, but what he’s too young to ponder is this: Every day, for two weeks, “Our Person” has been putting the little monsters in the pocket of whatever pants she wears that day, pulling them out at the end of the day, and putting them in the next day’s pocket, just to be sure she has them ready for when we stop by.

It’s a small gesture that says so much about attention, kindness, care, and concern for others.

Her thoughtfulness and deliberate kindness fuels my hope in humanity as a whole. I’ve never liked Valentine’s Day, but for this year it turned out to be a good chance to celebrate friendship and kindness and to appreciate people for who they are. JUST B.YOU

monster love

Monster cards colored for you.

Hello and happy Valentine’s Day! My monsters want to wish you a light-hearted and colorful day because sometimes Valentine’s Day is just too much pressure.

Colored for you and some to color yourself!

Color these creatures however you wish (or get them already colored by yours truly). Attach a piece of candy, sticker, poem or joke, and show your friends some love.

You can also use the backside as a postcard:

Turn it into a postcard. (Our local post office confirms they’re the right size and weight for a postcard stamp.)
Color them all however you wish!

My family plans to color these ourselves and tie on a finger-puppet-monster for each kiddo. I think I can punch two holes in a corner, push some yarn through, and tie on the finger-puppet. I’ll share a pic in Instagram once I’ve got it figured out.

Happy day of love!!  Or…if you want to be really cool…tell everyone, “Happy Oregon’s Birthday!” because my state’s birthday is also February 14th. I know, some might say that’s more nerd than cool, but not me.


the deep satisfaction of snail mail


One of my favorite projects at Carrot Condo right now is my Customized Letters: two handwritten pages, both illustrated, and tucked into an envelope (also illustrated) and mailed once a month for five months.

So far, most of the letters have been purchased as a gift to someone. The customer tells me a little about the recipient: they like coffee, their non-profit work keeps them busy, they love books and the beach. Then, I write.

The recipient receives cheerful, fun mail each month and an excuse to put their feet up and read for a few minutes. No need to write back. All the fun of a pen pal without any of the obligation.


What is not so simple to describe is how deeply satisfying these letters are for me to create. I have a real audience to write to (not a vaguely imagined editor), a real purpose (letter due February 5th), a prompt (he loves dogs), and a length limit. And, once the letter is created, I send it off. It’s not tucked away on a shelf or on my hard drive waiting around for a place and purpose.

Sometimes the illustration inspires what I write; sometimes the other way around, but the process always begins with looking at the recipient’s name, reviewing what I know about them, and just thinking about them for a few minutes before I start.

And except for one subscriber, I’ve never met any of the people I’m writing to.

A 70-year-old man named Tim Johnson recently wrote and mailed 108 handwritten letters in 108 days. He’s the first to come close to describing my experience (and I read four books about letter-writing before putting Customized Letters in my Etsy shop).

He says a lot of great things, but this was spot-on: “these letters demand more time, thought and effort than the typical email, but my reward is a sense of creative satisfaction as I come up with a soliloquy custom-made for a particular person.”

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Creative satisfaction, yes. And because each letter is unique and shared only with that recipient (the most anyone else sees are the pictures here), I don’t draw the same thing or tell the same story more than once, which gives me a rewarding creative challenge.

Fascinating how such a simple thing, a handwritten letter, can be so fulfilling. If you want to give it a try, egg press organizes a letter-writing challenge called write_on every April. Keep an eye on egg press’s blog for details. Taking part last year is what inspired my Customized Letters, and I plan to take part again this year.

Perhaps this Customized Letter project is only beginning …

Happy writing! (And, as always, thank you for reading and for your interest in Carrot Condo; I’m so glad you’re out there!)

last craft sale of 2017 & snail mail?

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. IMG_6878

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!)

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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!

Perhaps I’ll see some of you Saturday!

see you at the market …

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.

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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!

Upcoming events…

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.




Look Away And Draw

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.