Why We Love “AIE”

My husband and I refer to this character as “AIE,” short for attitude is everything. She almost stayed hidden in my sketchbook rather than becoming a Card You Can Color.


I’d intended to draw a serious image of a woman walking through a frightening wilderness using the strength of her inner self to get through the difficult situation. When AIE started to materialize, I was embarrassed and frustrated. She looked so silly compared to the important idea I’d meant to express.

I finished the sketch anyway and went to the kitchen to wash dishes. A few minutes later, my husband marched into the kitchen, legs and arms out straight, chanting cheerfully, “At-ti-tude is ev-er-y-thing!” My mood lifted immediately. The kitchen felt lighter and brighter.


It was then I embraced the yogi-dinosaur. While I’d had something more “mature” in mind, I loved AIE more and more with each draft. It cheers me up to look at her, and I’m thinking of drawing myself a larger, poster-sized one for our office. We’ll see.

For now, she’s available as a 5×7 card. Two more “mature” designs are in my shop as well. I’ll tell their stories here soon, but for now, you’ve got AIE here to cheer and brighten your day!


Seize, Rather Than Cease, The Day!

“My Manatee” by Dawn Furstenberg

I’ve been feeling glum about Carrot Condo, unable to find time, energy, motivation, inspiration to create. On Wednesday, while on a walk, I considered dropping the whole thing. I could just cook and clean and tend our kiddo while getting my resume in shape for a “real job.”

But then something amazing happened.

I had walked to a post office I never go to because it was closer than my usual place. I’ve been sick and felt puny. On my way out, I decided to get a cup of coffee and followed a vague memory of a little cafe I hadn’t been to in nearly a decade. I managed to meander right to it.

Before I could order my drink, however, I saw some coloring books on display. But not just any coloring books–the very first coloring book for adults I’d ever seen. It was three years ago at Crafty Wonderland–before I left my job, before I became a mom, and before even a hint of the coloring-book craze had begun.

I recognized the art instantly and remembered seeing the artist sitting behind a folding  table against the back wall of the cavernous hall Crafty Wonderland fills with hundreds of artisans, craftspeople, and shoppers. Her single book, simple display, relaxed demeanor, and clean black-and-white art felt refreshing amid the chaos.

In that instant at the coffee shop counter recognizing her coloring book, I remembered what I’d originally wanted to create: black and white illustrations to color that include words (stories and poems). This is exactly what she does. I remembered looking at her in awe but also with the realization that I could do this too.

“Do you know the person who makes these coloring books?” I asked the barista, kind of stunned that the books still exist in spite of the elaborate fantasy-floral-puppy-dog designs that dominate shelves today.

“I make them,” she said.

“Seriously?!?” It was so unlikely that I’d be here, at this particular cafe, at this particular time, just when I’m feeling most low about my own art to bump into the artist who inspired me in the first place. Now she’s inspired me twice.


This is Dawn Furstenberg, she has three coloring books as well as cards*, sells her work in a few shops, works two jobs, is thinking of returning to school to become a teacher, and is working on her fourth book (mandalas).

She said her third book “Seas the Day” is her most personal and sometimes hard to share publicly. So, of course, that’s the one I chose to read. It’s exactly what I want more of in this world–bold, clear, black and white illustrations and an honest, personal, thoughtful story of a woman healing herself and finding her joy again. (How Stella Got Her Groove Back gone nautical and punk.)

When I was 18, I made a high school graduation gift for my friends. I silk screened a poster that was supposed to say “Seize the day.” Unfortunately, I failed to notice that I’d written “cease.” Only one friend pointed it out, and I was mortified. But, it’s apt here. I have been “ceasing” the day, managing to turn fun into obligation and labor. Not sure how I do this, but running into Dawn, seeing her work, and reading “Seas the Day” has buoyed my spirits and lifted me back to the surface of my own self-imposed aquarium.


*Cards!! I know!! Some of you know that I’m most passionate about my Cards You Can Color, even though books seem to be what’s more popular. I’d not seen any other cards to color, and I wanted to go back and ask her a dozen questions about printing and paper and ink. But for now, I’m going to get back to working on my next cards. Two are nearly ready to print.


Trying Too Hard

Argh. It took me a couple of weeks to realize it.

I looked through my daily sketches, and with each page, my drawings got tighter, smaller, and more and more scrunched and bland.

And then, I let go. I let go of an idea I thought I really wanted to accomplish. But, when I let it go (or you could say I gave up), the next pages show larger, looser, more playful images until I got to a simple flower last night that I really like. (You might see it on a card soon.)

How do you try without trying? Set goals without stifling yourself? I guess I’m figuring that out right now.

It reminds me of when I was teaching a literature class and I assigned all but two short stories in one collection. To my surprise, at least half the of the students were so curious about why I hadn’t assigned those two stories that they not only read them but requested that we discuss them in class!

Having a story assigned made it seem hard and forced. The same happened to my illustration idea–it felt difficult and forced, restrictive.

Still, having total freedom can create writer’s/artist’s block. I saw that when I was teaching, too. If the writing topic was too broad or completely wide open, only a tiny number of students thrived. The rest struggled miserably.

So, there must be a middle ground. For now, I’ll keep up with the daily effort through all of its ups and downs. I’m learning I have a theme I never tire of (flowers) as well as strange little creatures I had no idea were in my imagination, like these dancing couples:


Carrot-Paced Creativity

The new year has begun, and slowly but surely, new projects for Carrot Condo have been decided and deadlines penciled into my calendar.

Version 2
Nevertheless, there are so many things I want to create and so little time. Feeling frustrated one day, I grumbled to myself: I should have drawn a slow, slimy slug as my logo instead of a carrot.

But then I remembered one of the first times I grew carrots. I planted them at the same time as some squash. Nothing happened with the carrots, but within a few days, the squash sprouted bright, plump leaves shaped like Mikey Mouse ears.

By the time the squash vines were growing inches per day, the carrots flashed tentative peace signs–two tiny leaves making “V” shapes barely a quarter-inch above the soil.

Test strip for graphite pencils.

Even when the carrots finally possessed lush, fuzzy greenery, it was impossible to know if anything edible grew below. The squash produced sage-colored boulders that yielded juicy, bright orange flesh.

Turns out, the carrots had been doing the same work in a much quieter and subtle way. We harvested a bounty of long, lean, sweet carrots, some orange and some purple. They stayed crisp and sweet for months.

While I’d sometimes rather be the squash, showing quick progress, the carrot logo turns out to be even more perfect than I’d thought. Projects here at Carrot Condo are humming along, slowly but surely. Like the carrot underground, I’m not yet sure what some of it will turn into–there’s one new character I can’t wait for you to meet. She just popped out onto my sketchbook one day and has been delighting me ever since. I’m not sure if she’ll be a book or a card or something else.

Drawing while power-washing.

I’ll have pictures and stories of progress to show you soon, and new products available by May 1st.  So, stay tuned, and thank you for following along with my carrot-paced creativity.


I’ve decided to draw every single day for 365 days straight. This article from The Washington Post inspired me. Want to join me? You don’t have to draw; you could commit to doing something else.

I started on Monday, December 7, and I’ve already missed one day, but I’ve also created seven pages of drawings I would not have otherwise. And, look at this! I sat down to draw a rain cloud and this little guy appeared. I don’t know what he is, but I adore him!

Here are my guidelines if you want to do it my way, or adapt these to fit your goals:

  • Draw (or whatever you choose to do) every, single day.
  • Doesn’t matter what I draw or how long or how well; I just have to do it.
  • If I miss a day, I get right back on track the very next day.
  • There is no working ahead; this isn’t for cute Instagram pictures but for forcing art into every day of daily life until it’s as much a part of my routine as the dishes and laundry.
  • I have to report on occasion to stay accountable. I’ll use this blog and my Carrot Condo Instagram account and the hashtag #365daysofpractice because it doesn’t look like anyone’s using this so we can find each other easily, and because practice in order to develop a healthy habit and further transform into the people we want to be is what this is all about.

You could do anything for 365 days that is realistic and adds fulfillment to your life:

  • meditate
  • write
  • exercise
  • eat veggies
  • read a chapter/poem
  • do something helpful for someone else
  • memorize a word in a language you don’t know
  • listen to a new-to-you song, band, or album

You can start whenever you want. Will you let me know if you decide to do it? I’m deeply curious about what you’ll take on for 365 days, and we can encourage each other to keep going when it gets tough.

You can post a comment here, you can email me (trista AT carrot condo DOT com), or you can message me in Instagram (link is to your right if you’re on a laptop; at the very bottom if you’re on a iPad/iPhone).

The more of us engaging in something thoughtful every day, the better, right? Good luck!

Carrot Condo’s First Craft Show

I sold my books and cards at the Madeleine Marketplace bazaar yesterday, and it completely exceeded my expectations.

IMG_1239I signed up and paid my booth fee with just a few goals, to learn as much as I could about:  setting up a nice display, talking about my work, and using Square to accept card payments. I learned all of that and more.

One of the best things about my experience were my two neighbors: Panda With Cookie who makes plush toys like this dinosaur; and Paul Gerard the writer-hiker-tour-guide-taxi-driver-craft-show-MVP.

IMG_1240I’d been at my table five minutes and had exchanged maybe two sentences with Panda With Cookie when she offered to email me suggestions for craft shows I could apply to next year. I was already so excited to do this show that I’d practically skipped into the building, but her quick generosity tripled my happiness.

PaulGeraldDisplayThen, Paul introduced himself. I recognized him from shows I’ve attended as a customer, and I felt really lucky to be next to his table.

First, he surprised me by glancing over my books and saying “Congratulations! You wrote four books.” He said he meets a lot of people who tell him they have a book idea, and they ask him all about publishing and cover design, but he usually learns they haven’t written the book, not a word of it. “Most people don’t even start,” he said.

This brought me back to the basics. I’ve been so excited to launch Carrot Condo, that I don’t think I ever took a moment to step back and appreciate the four books and set of cards right there in front of me, completed and in the world, from idea/daydream to reality. I let myself feel proud for a few seconds, then got back to fidgeting with my display.

Second, Paul surprised me by saying “I’m retiring. This is my last show.” Most of the vendors there knew him and obviously loved him. Apparently, he’s said he’s retiring before but then comes back, so they didn’t seem to believe him.

However, for the next six hours, he not only entertained me with with his easy humor, he kind of taught me all he knows. He gave me an extensive database of places where I could sell my books, told me stories about his experiences at shows, and then gave me all of his table display stands when we were packing up.

So now, I have all kinds of sentiment woven into my table display: my mom’s table cloth, my best friends roller cart that holds everything perfectly, and Paul’s display stands. I’m already feeling ready for next year!

IMG_1242Lastly, the customers at the bazaar were incredibly nice. Some people looked through my books quietly, others had questions, and many bought books as gifts.

Imagining my books or cards wrapped up and given as a gift motivated me to keep working at making these better and better and better. I left the show with two pages of ideas. Now, I need to let things sit and sift and then figure out which project to do next. I might be asking your opinion on this in the future.

Thanks for reading and being part of Carrot Condo’s journey!

A Family That Colors Together …

Kathy’s bookmark. No surprise. Kathy paints rich, gorgeous canvases and teaches art.
bw bookmark
Bookmark before talented coloring happens.

…gets 45 minutes of focused quiet, or learns about making decisions and preparing to win or lose.

After the launch party, one family was so excited to color they stopped to buy colored pencils then went straight to their dining room table and colored together for 45 minutes.

Try to enlarge the picture of C., the little boy, holding his bookmark–it’s meticulous! His mom told me that for the words “Read Good Books,” he’s thinking of animals whose names start with each letter (R = racoon, E = eagle) and then coloring the letter the same color as the animal. Future engineer here maybe?

Thank you to Gary Speich for these photos!

IMG_1077IMG_1078 (1)I also got to see C.’s first page from “Sometimes…” where the whale swims down the street, and C. made the rooftops rainbow! I never would have imagined something so brilliant!!

Then, there’s the family whose evening coloring time paid off … literally. Josh, Katie, and Rosie colored together in the evenings at the dining room table. They talked about each of their decisions to choose certain colors or add things to their pages and inspired each other to be creative.

I also heard that Rosie was very, very, VERY much hoping to win a prize at the launch party. I fretted … what if she doesn’t win? I knew her parents had talked through this possibility with her, but I couldn’t stand the idea of her being disappointed — she’s been one of my biggest supporters, and she’s only 5.5 years old!

Well, the first award was announced: “For The X-Factor: we can’t name it, but we absolutely love it, Josh is the winner.” Up walks Josh, Rosie’s dad, for this amazing page (the trees look like they’re levitating):

Click here to see “ShyPanda.”

Then, you won’t believe this, but the second award was announced, and it was Katie, Rosie’s mom! She won for “Most Vibrant, this one is so striking, we can’t stop looking at it.” For good reason. Look at this:

Click here to see “Sometimes…”

I learned later from Katie that at this point, Rosie was sniffling and trying not to cry that she hadn’t won anything. But, three awards later, the second-to-last award was announced, “Most Charming: we want to wrap this one up in a bow and keep it like a pet” went to … you guessed it … Rosie!!!!

Click here to see “Fortis & Lucita.”

You see why I asked five people to be impartial judges. Such effort and talent and time went into coloring these pages. I knew I could never make a decision. Little did I know an entire family would each win an award on their own individual merit. Kind of a perfect storybook ending, don’t you think?

Some day, I’d like to invite a group of all ages to color one afternoon. We’d color the same page, from the same story, then hang them up on the wall and look at all the differences.

I love that the reader of these storybooks makes each book totally unique by coloring it their own way, using their own interpretation, and their own preferences. No story ends up the same once colored. This makes me infinitely happy!

And The Winners Are …

I asked five friends to serve as judges of the coloring contest for Carrot Condo’s launch party because I  knew I would not be able to do it. After deliberating among themselves (look how serious they are),

Dave Andersen, painter and professor, announced the winners

and greeted each one with a fist bump: The first four of seven categories are posted here. The final three will have a post of their own because it’s such a great story.

“Most Meticulous: such precision and attention to detail boggled our minds” went to Gloria (who also happens to be my mother and a featured character in “Follow Your Heart, Trista Gay!“):

IMG_1156This one raised questions about what kind of pencils to use for coloring. I’ve got a separate post about that drafted for the future. There are some fun options out there, as long as the pages are printed on thick, receptive paper.

“Most Enthusiastic: this page makes us want to jump up and down” went to Otto, who colored both front and back. The judges said his work reminded them of modern art.


“Most Thoughtful: this one makes us sigh with contentment” went to an entire family: Charlie, Kaitlin, Avery, Diane, and Morgan who added a googly eye, a poofy cloud with sparkles, 3-D flowers and a star.

IMG_1152“Most Unique: this one looks like no other; we think it’s visionary” went to H, who used metallic pens and decorative tape. (The metallic is hard to see here, but the panda and the bird both glitter and gleam.)

IMG_1155When H pinned her entry to the bulletin board, she said, “I think ShyPanda is my spirit animal.” I’m still smiling about that!

The One That Got Away

Version 3
Before I show you the Coloring Contest results, you have to see the one that got away. When posted on the bulletin board at the launch party with all the other entries, I think it looked like a page nicely colored. When you compare it to my original page, however, you’ll be wowed. Here’s the original:
FollowHeart coloring page blog

Here is the “after” as colored by Akira:

Look at everything Akira added to my original:  a dog, a little girl in a #5 jersey, a witch, an owl and ghost, an extra painting on the wall, and one painting turned into a little chicken! Oh, and a mouse!

I’m stunned by this page!!!  Akira’s drawings blend so smoothly with mine that it looks like these additions were there all along.

What am I going to do about this? I’m thinking of contacting Akira to see if she wants to collaborate with me on a new storybook you can color. A good idea, no?

Okay, stay tuned. I’ll post the first four categories and winning entries next. And then, there’s a great story that goes with the final three winners. Plus, more pictures from during and after the launch party.

Carrot Condo almost launched

Prizes are wrapped, cookies and lemon bars are in-the-works, coffee will be brewed, and then … we’ll be ready for for Carrot Condo’s launch party.

Just friends and family, but even so, it feels like a big event to me.

I’m really looking forward to seeing how people colored the pages for the coloring contest. There will be one page from each of the four books. I want to know how people experimented with coloring a panda bear, and I want to see how different the same page can look when interpreted and colored by different people. Mostly, I am looking forward to seeing the books “alive” once colored by someone else.

I’ll let you know how it goes and share a few pictures here soon!