enjoy a feeling of accomplishment: write a letter

April is National Card and Letter Writing Month. It’s fun to receive a letter, but it’s also incredibly satisfying to write a letter.

color-it-yourself stationery available in my shop

Receiving a letter is fun because it’s rare these days to see something handwritten and personal in the mail. Handwriting adds meaning to the simplest of letters–it’s not uniform like a typed font is, it has variations in shape, darkness and lightness, and direction. (My aunt’s handwriting sloped extreme left, for example.) And the writing changes where the writer rushes or pauses to think. Like a fingerprint, a handwritten letter conveys the writer’s individual personality.

Writing a letter, however, holds just as much magic. I write letters to friends and family, but also to people I do not know and will never meet. I sell Customized Letter subscriptions in my Etsy shop. They are most often purchased as a gift. The buyer tells me a few things about the recipient, and I write and illustrate five letters just for that person and mail them over the course of a few months.

I’ve found I can connect with just about anyone because I get curious about their interests and look at my own life differently. One of my favorite letters ended up being about a mysterious rock I found at the Oregon coast. I was pondering what to write in my 12th letter to a long-time subscriber when I found the rock. I got curious and consulted two self-proclaimed “rock experts” which led to a bit of a spat! When I returned to my letter, I saw on the recipient’s list of interests “rocks and minerals”!! I spun the experience into an adventurous tale. Until that letter, I’d never thought I had any interest in rocks at all.

Unlike a text or email, a handwritten letter has a limited space, a few pages that fit into an envelope that a 55-cent stamp can deliver. The slower pace of handwriting and the limited space crystalizes what you want to say, brings you to simple basics and essentials. A letter also has a finish line–after an hour, maybe, you’re done. You fold it and mail it, it has a place to go, a home to reside in, it’s “published” so to speak.

The USPS started the national month of letter writing in 2001 because “card and letter writing is timeless, personal, and immediately tangible.” I think the tactile quality of a handwritten letter is irreplaceable–it’s bulk and texture so different from mass-printed junk mail.

While there’s nothing wrong with email messages, and text messages have arrived from friends in the exact-right-moment to save my sanity more than once, it’s also nice NOT to get an immediate response. You write your letter, mail it off, and then…who knows? Maybe your person will reply. Maybe not. Maybe it will be six months later and all the more surprising. Handwritten letters are kind of selfless. They’re created for the recipient as a neat little gift in the mail. A letter can be savored and left out to admire or provide some cheer during busy days.

I know sometimes people worry about what to write about in a letter. The truth is, so much is conveyed in your handwriting and the look of the letter, that you don’t have to say anything profound to make it a great letter. Tell the person you’re writing to about your day or week–what keeps you busy? Describe your breakfast that morning, or describe your whole morning. Trust that whatever little snippet you have to share about your day-to-day life will be interesting to the person receiving your letter.

If you want help getting started, please check out my letter-writing booklet. I include prompts to help you start your letters as well as ideas for making your own letter-writing supplies.

Take some time this April to write a few letters and see how it feels. Try two letters a week. Or, if you’re feeling ambitious, write one letter every day. Friends and family are good people to start with, but you can write to strangers too. I mailed a letter to a house I pass by regularly that always has flowers blooming in the yard, even in January. So, I wrote them a thank you letter, to let them know their yard cheers me up.

Once you get started, the magic and satisfaction of letter writing will keep you inspired, and your list of people to write to will continue to grow.

Happy letter writing!!

be what you might have been: learn to longboard

Acrylic roller-skate pin available in my Carrot Condo shop

A lot of people are roller skating right now. I see their extra-tall bodies lurching toward me from a few blocks away, the sudden flail of arms, the clomp-clomp-clomp of heavy skates recovering balance. Occasionally, someone glides by gracefully, totally in the zone.

It takes time to learn how to maneuver through the world with wheels laced to your feet.

When I turned 40, I decided to learn how to longboard. It just seemed so cool and badass. I borrowed a board from a colleague. She gave me a lesson and jogged reassuringly beside me as I practiced up and down her street.

Add this quotation, or one of your own favorites, to my original drawing here.

I took the board with me on vacation, scouting out smoothly paved streets for practice. And then, one day, I got it.

I sailed clean and fast on that board for at least fifty feet. Far enough to know it felt as freeing and badass as I’d imagined. Far enough to realize I didn’t know how to stop. Far enough to come to a crossroads.

If I wanted to get better at this, it was going to take time and energy to practice, and I was going to have to be okay with the risk of injury. I’d caught myself in enough falls to know how hard and fast a 40-year-old body can hit pavement, and I knew the Jedi-yoga skills that saved me from smashing my face wouldn’t last forever.

I’m not kidding about the Jedi-yoga skills–in one amazing moment, I flew face forward as the board flew out behind me. My right leg was way up high in the air, my left hovered somewhere off the ground, and I could see the individual shapes of asphalt rushing up toward my nose. But then, my arms and legs realigned with my torso, and I landed standing up straight at the end of the block as if nothing had happened, but I felt like the entire planet had shifted a few degrees. This was going to take some getting used to, and those kinds of spastic near-falls would be part of the learning process.

When I came home from vacation, I returned the longboard to my colleague. It had been a fun experiment, but when deciding whether I had the time and the courage to keep practicing, I felt a tug in a different direction. I realized, if I was going to muster some bravery and make time in my life, I wanted it to be for art and writing–two life-long passions that never managed to get my full commitment.

It took trying something totally new for me to rediscover what I had wanted all along.

I’m glad I tried to longboard. I still feel pretty badass for having tried. But I’m even more grateful that it reawakened me to what I had always wanted and gave me the courage to stay with it. Whether you’ve got the stamina for roller skating or longboarding, or you feel the quiet pull of half-full journals waiting to capture your thoughts, I whole-heartedly believe what George Eliot says: it is never too late to be what you might have been.

Happy new year!

A Roller-Skate Family Portrait. This was a fun commission for a mom, two daughters, their brand-new skates, and the shared adventure that awaits.

gift ideas from my online shop

unique gifts for all occasions

My shop Carrot Condo is stocked with new work!

Roller-Skate pins for your backpack & stationery to color or colored for you.

Illustrated guide for crafting letters–what to say and how to say it.

Produce portraits to remind you of the simple things in life.

As well plenty of other things from cats and coloring books to monsters and butterflies.

Thank you for visiting my website and shop. I hope you find a few things for yourself and others that bring some cheer into your everyday life.

opening the creative mind May 16…

My friend Robin Vada and I will be teaching our Opening the Creative Mind Workshop Saturday, May 16th at the virtual Compose Creative Writing Conference.

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In our workshop, we practice meditation techniques combined with writing prompts to break through creative blocks and find new perspective. It’s serious work with powerful results, but we end up laughing quite a lot too. Robin is a delight to teach with, and we always manage to find lightness and joy in our workshop.

The conference was supposed to be in-person, but the faculty boldly shifted it to online and made it free! Here is the link to register.

Kim Stafford, who recently concluded his tenure as Oregon Poet Laureate, will be giving the keynote. I can tell you from personal experience: he never disappoints, and it seems no matter what the subject or what state the world is in, you leave a conversation or reading with him feeling capable, uplifted, and full of a grounded, realistic hope.

I hope to see you there, in this digital space where we’ll come together from our individual homes or offices and connect, create, and compose.

Thanks for following my creative journey at Carrot Condo,
–TRISTA

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giving it a go: 2 hours and fear meets its match

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It’s a new year, a new decade, and although I feel apprehensive about new year’s resolutions, I made a few for 2020.

For Carrot Condo, I’m committing to 2 hours of creative work Monday-Friday. It’s week three of this, and proving much harder than it sounds. I am sticking with it nevertheless.

I’m learning to push through resistance: yesterday’s sketches seemed to be going nowhere, but I was also nowhere near the end of two hours. I kept going, and by the end, three projects started to take shape.

I’m learning that two creative hours pushes all other work and obligations to different spaces in the week: admirably, I found myself prepping Tuesday’s dinner late Monday night, but that made room for some creative work (not two hours, but some) the next day.

I’m learning that two disciplined hours can accomplish more than I’d imagined, but: I have to ignore hunger pangs (pretty sure they’re just my brain trying to distract me), the compulsion to check my phone–when it dings but even when it’s silent and staying out of my way, and the weird pull of my mind to go do something else…anything else…brains fear creation for some reason. Or fear expression. Or discovery. I dunno. I guess it’s just fear. That brings me to another resolution:

Another resolution for my life in general that applies to creative work is about fear. I experience it in all kinds of variety: dread, hesitation, worry, anxiety, fret. Fear is so familiar to me that its absence is actually unsettling. I think, “Oh no, I feel great, that’s bad, something bad might happen and I won’t be ready.” As if worrying is at all the same thing as being “ready,” and as if one can ever be ready for the unknown.

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There’s no getting rid of fear, it’s kind of who I am. But I can give it a counterbalance. So, when fear shows up in one of its many forms, I balance it out with an openness to opportunity.

It’s simple, and kind of a mind trick, but it makes room in my brain for imagining how things might work out well, even great. It broadens my perspective.

So, when my sketches weren’t going well, I stayed with it because my two hours weren’t up, but I also gave myself a pep-talk, telling myself it was good to be at the desk giving it a go, and maybe these sketches aren’t what I expected but what else might they be? That was enough openness to other possibility that I changed one sketch in a way I liked, in a way that surprised me. Whether I do more with it, I don’t know yet, but it resulted in one more possibility for a theme I’m working on, and it felt kind of exciting.

I’m back at it today. So, at least for 2020, I’ll stick with these two resolutions and see how they play out.

I hope the new year is starting out well for you, whether you made resolutions or not. I have much more planned for you to see eventually. Until then, thank you for your support of my creative endeavors!

–TRISTA

selling all the stuff!

UPDATE:  last show for 2019 is Jolabokaflod. It’s in a beautiful building, there will be live music, good food, and an impressive array of books, books, books with the authors and illustrators right there to sign copies. See you there!

Saturday, December 28th
PDX Jolabokaflod (Yule Book Flood: Cozy, literary, Icelandic tradition brought to Portland.) Visit the link to read organizer Margaret Pinard’s lovely description.

2:00pm to 5:00pm
Nordia House
8800 SW Oleson Road
Portland, OR
– – – – – – –

If you live in the Portland area, please come by and see me at one of these five shows!

I’ll be doing the super-cool “Jolabokaflod”–a cozy, book-lover’s celebration of the new year brought to Portland from Iceland. I’m also doing The Procrastinator’s Market for the first time. It’s organized by the farmers market, so I’m assuming that means: produce and jams and salsas along with the handmade creations.

Stop by one of these sales if you can. I’d love to see you!

 

Thank you, as always, for your support of my creative life. Knowing you’re out there in the world, following along and cheering me along, motivates me to keep plodding along and creating “all the stuff”!
DONE!
Saturday, November 2nd
All Saint’s Holiday Bazaar
9am-4pm
3847 NE Glisan Street
Portland, OR
Saturday, November 16, 2019
Llewellyn Holiday Market
10am-3pm
6301 SE 14th Avenue
Portland, OR
Saturday, December 7th
Lewis Holiday Bazaar and Tree Sale
10am-3pm

4401 SW Evergreen
Portland, OR
Saturday, December 14th
The Procrastinator’s Market
9am-3pm
Clackamas High School main building:
14486 SE 122nd Avenue
Clackamas, OR 97015.
Organized by Happy Valley Farmers Market

domestic artifacts: appreciating you and your hard work

In spite of all the excitement of summer ending and school starting, I’m proud to say that creative work marched, crawled, and occasionally raced along. I’ve got new creations in my shop. The one that surprised me the most is a coloring book.

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My Domestic Artifacts coloring book is a collection of line drawings revealing the beauty, function, and even stature of everyday household objects.

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close up of one page

As I collected the drawings into pages and then a book, a story started to write itself. First, it was notes on the margins of my sketches. But then, as I inked the final pages, my permanent marker landed itself on a fresh page of paper and wrote.

I’d been thinking a lot about the quotations and the story that ended up coming out in this book, but I had not planned on sharing it with anyone. I’m glad my creative mind took over and added words. The book feels complete, even before it’s colored.

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The story is about finding my sense of self as a homemaker away from “the world” and a career, and discovering the powerful role a home plays in creating resilient, positive people.

More pictures and details available here.

I also have more cat creations coming!! An enamel pin and a sticker sized for water bottles are in the works. I should be able to show you those next month.

In November and December, I’ll be selling my work in person at some winter craft shows in Portland. I’ll share details soon. Until then, I hope you enjoy the fall, and thank you — as always — for your support of my creative life.

-TRISTA

tiny cats, tiny owls, big excitement

New tiny stationery sets –with stickers!!!— are finally finished and available in my shop. It took many months, but so many great things came of it. First of all: stickers!!!

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Nine 1-inch round cats on vinyl: tiny but mighty!

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Nine 1-inch round owl stickers on vinyl–hoot! hoot!

Secondly: two more sticker designs to seal each stationery set in a little square package, 4.5-inch square to be exact. They take some time to cut and fold, but they look quite cute all lined up on my desk right now.

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Lastly, and most exciting for me–I met new people who helped me make the entire stationery set better–sharp images, clean folds, smooth envelopes. And, of course: stickers!!! Meeting Alison and Erik at impress creative print + design services was a turning point for me and my Carrot Condo business.

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I’d walked past “impress” inside the Bindery building on NE Sandy in Portland a few times, and admired the look of their shop each time. I assumed they only did “big projects” for “big businesses.” When I realized this was just my self-doubt sneaking up on me, I made an appointment.

The happy result? Alison and Erik have lots of printing experience and wisdom, they’re both artists in addition to their print careers, they understand what I am trying to do and have great ideas, and…best of all…they’re both super nice. Working with them has given me a sense of freedom–I draw what I love without worrying about how I’ll print it. Instead, I think, “Alison and Erik will know how to do this!” and I just keep drawing.

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There’s a lot of cutting, folding, and gluing required to complete each stationery set. It takes me about two hours to package six sets. But it’s fun! I’m so happy with the feel of the papers and the clean folds, that I hum along to some tunes and think through the details of my next project.

Happily folding, packaging, and appreciating your support,

–TRISTA

you can do this with one hand tied behind your back

This is the second time I’ve done The 100 Day Project. Two times now, I’ve drawn every single day for 100 days straight.

Just take a minute to count to 100. I mean, seriously: 100 days in a row!

Am I glad I did it? Is it worth it? Should you do it? What did I get out of it? Any surprises? Short answers: yes, yes, yes, so much I can offer you only a partial list, and surprise at the end.

What I Got Out Of The 100 Day Project, a partial list:

Even a 5-minute sketch is better than no creative work that day. And, no matter how disappointing that sketch might be, I’m more primed to do satisfying work the next day than if I’d skipped a day and not sketched at all. Any creative work is better than no creative work.

I’m sorry to say, that malaise, disappointment, perfectionism, dread, and procrastination still hound me. However, I now know that this is a normal part of the creative process, and daily practice has taught me to abide these negative feelings. The bad feelings do not mean the work is bad. And, at least 50% of the time, after a few days of abiding malaise and creating anyway, I came out of it with new ideas, better ideas, renewed conviction and energy.

The only way to get motivated is to do the work. It’s annoying but true. The feelings of motivation and determination return only when I start to work. I know, cart before the horse and all that. Just go, start, do, and the feeling of motivation will come. Usually. If it doesn’t, well, give it five minutes and go about the rest of your day and come back tomorrow.

Even if I skip half of the days of the challenge, I’ll have 50 sketches I didn’t have before. But I probably won’t skip half the days because once I get started, I don’t want to quit. GETTING STARTED IS ALWAYS THE HARDEST PART! Way harder than sticking with it.

And so, so much more. But that’s what I’ve got to share for now. But, THE SURPRISE:

You can do this–no matter WHAT is going on in your life. I know. Trust me.

My 80-year-old mother broke her wrist (crushed it to pieces, really), moved in with us overnight, left everything familiar behind, and had to have surgery the day this challenge started. I sat in the surgeon’s waiting room, fretting about anesthesia and her recovery and wondering if I should bother doing the 100 day project this year. But, I pulled out my sketchbook and started anyway.

My mom with the wrist of her dominant hand broken, filled with screws and plates and stitches and surrounded in a heavy cast; my mom more tired than she could admit, probably in pain, and surely bewildered by the upheaval of her whole life; my mom, suddenly unable to shower, drive, cook, or style her hair, did the challenge.

She did the challenge!

She drew tiny pencil and ink sketches every day for 100 days with her non-dominant hand!

I watched her the very first day, and the fingers of her non-dominant hand cramped so fiercely that two of them stuck straight out. She kept inking in her drawing anyway. Those of us lucky enough to watch this process can tell you that 100 days later, she has two sketchbooks full of lovely, thoughtful drawings. Truly remarkable.

The take away: if you’re having a hard time with your daily practice, tie your dominant hand up in a sling and try doing your practice with the other hand.

Puts things in perspective. You can do this … with one hand tied behind  your back … because it matters, your vision matters, your voice matters, and creative work is your path to expression and helping bring light and love and joy and acceptance into this world.

Good luck, and thank you–as always–for reading my blog posts and following my creative efforts for Carrot Condo.

–TRISTA

 

creating my own path

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Things are moving along slowly but steadily here at Carrot Condo. I’m starting to accept this snail’s pace because I’m noticing that a little effort every day builds faster and faster the longer I stay with it.

In other words–exciting stuff is happening, but I have nothing–yet–to show you. Four projects are in the works, and I’m excited about each of them, but also, each of them have held challenges and complexities I didn’t anticipate. Then again, each of those challenges led to something great: new people helping me, new skills, better ideas than the initial ones, and more resilience.

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That’s the thing about this creative path…I might be creating tiny cats, a coloring book to help you feel good about life, and monsters, but what I’m gaining from the effort is resilience, determination, problem-solving skills, patience, and a little toughness.

Actually, a lot of determination and toughness. Life outside of art-making, you know, the other 99% of my life, remains unpredictable and surprising. It recently gave me a big shift in my role, in my routine, in my time and energy. I discovered that on the hardest days, I was the most driven to fit in a few minutes of drawing. I kept thinking about a writer I admire, Karen Karbo, and her decision to move to France. As I followed her posts about this big change, I learned: it’s not “now or never” when it comes to doing what you want to do with your life, maybe especially art. Instead, it’s: if not now, when?

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The #100 Days Of Practice teaches me again this year that even a tiny bit of effort daily can be started any time, like now, as in: go do it! And staying with it long enough, let’s say, oh, maybe 100 days? Can start to build the path for your life that you’ve been longing for; it just takes patience at the beginning, and some kindness to yourself along the way, because it doesn’t always look pretty, but it’s a path!!

Well, as always, thank you for reading. By the next blog post, I should have at least two projects to show you. They are soooooo close, but not quite finished.

–TRISTA