Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Good, the Bad and the... Beautiful

Oh my, have these been trying times of late. One heartbreaking story after another in the news. Even our little town's newspaper (where the police blotter is usually filled with stories of escaped cows in the road) has had more than its fair share of heartbreak lately. At times like this its easy to feel overwhelmed. To feel helpless. To feel hopeless.

But, oh, is it important that we don't let that happen.

gardening, garden, late summer, autumn, lisianthus, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I was thinking the other day about my article in Artful Blogging. I wrote it last summer and the magazine came out last fall. I wrote: "Art is a small thing. Blogging is a small thing. In the face of the world's darkness, what difference does it make?... sometimes I struggle to keep my faith in the importance of beauty at a time when heartbreaking news headlines seem to be more frequent." Sadly, the frequency of heartbreaking news headlines has not decreased. Will it ever? I don't know.

watercolor, paint, color, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

But I think that my faith in the importance of beauty, in the strength of doing "small things with great love" has grown over the past year.

There will always be ugliness in this world, but there will always be beauty, too.

roses, garden, late summer, beauty, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

There will always be hatred in this world, but there will always, always be love.

studio, studio cats, art studio, watercolor, 2018 Watercolor Art Print Calendar, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

This weekend I was reading a community magazine. Based in Decorah, Iowa, Inspired calls itself "an experiment in positive news." They are celebrating their 10th anniversary this fall. In the letter from the editor, Aryn Henning Nichols writes "It's so easy to feel completely helpless when we read the daily news. 'What can we possibly do?!?' we ask ourselves. Talk to your neighbors. Make friends. Build community. Start to understand each other a little more every day. This is what we can do."

meadow, wildflowers, country, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Her words resonated so strongly with me. Community is a powerful thing. Here on the internet I value the community I've become a part of.

watercolor, art, process, color, paint, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

The kindness and encouragement. The inspiration and the love. I am so glad to have each of you here reading these words, leaving comments, sending emails, supporting my art.*

art, watercolor, packaging, wrapping, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

One thing that has struck me moving from the city to a small town in the country is how people help one another here. Our town certainly isn't perfect. There's more than a little tension between the old timers and the transplants, but community is strong. People support small businesses here. Business owners encourage and help the growth of new businesses. People are friendly. They wave and smile at strangers. And it still boggles my mind that the fire fighters are all volunteers (I recently went on a tour of the fire station and was moved by the selflessness of a volunteer fire department).

We don't need to join the volunteer fire department in order to make a difference, though. Be kind. Show love. Compassion. Understanding. Encouragement. Shine a light into the darkness. Add your beauty to the world, whatever that beauty might be.

watercolor, goldfish, watercolor goldfish, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Beauty is important. And yes, I believe that it can change the world. Won't you help me do it?

studio, cats, joy, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I'm going to be taking a little blog break, an internet fast and a vacation. My next post will show up on September 26th. Sending each of you thoughts of hope and joy and love. Keep on shining your light into the darkness.



*Thank you to each of you who voted for my design in Spoonflower's Fall Design Contest. Sadly, my design placed 65. Yes, I was more than a little disappointed, but I do value each of your votes and all of the kind words about my piece. And don't worry, I still intend on releasing my design as part of a new collection I'm working on. Disappointment will not change that.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Pamela Farmer -- A Sketchbook Conversation

Today's Sketchbook Conversation is with Pamela Farmer. Pamela is a freelance surface pattern designer living in the Bay Area of Northern California. She says her work has been described as “quirkily sophisticated.” I hope you'll enjoy getting a peek into her sketchbook and her pattern design process.

Here's Pamela's story:

I’ve been keeping a sketchbook since 2010. It’s a place to play, or to work out ideas for my surface pattern design. Obviously the times when I get into the zone, and cover an entire page in a design are sheer delight. But if I only produce a page of unrelated doodles, that’s original fodder for future designs too. In fact, often I’ll just work on ideas and individual motifs for a pattern, and those will come together in Photoshop or Illustrator.

sketchbooks, Pamela Farmer, Pattern Design, Art Process, Sketchbook Conversations, My Giant Strawberry

sketchbooks, Pamela Farmer, Pattern Design, Art Process, Sketchbook Conversations, My Giant Strawberry

sketchbooks, Pamela Farmer, Pattern Design, Art Process, Sketchbook Conversations, My Giant Strawberry

Recently I’ve been doing the #100daychallenge, and posting my work to Instagram. I chose to work with flowers, and I expect to be done in the next week or so. It’s been fun to see the reactions to my work. It’s helped me to remember that even the simplest designs have a place.

sketchbooks, Pamela Farmer, Pattern Design, Art Process, Sketchbook Conversations, My Giant Strawberry

sketchbooks, Pamela Farmer, Pattern Design, Art Process, Sketchbook Conversations, My Giant Strawberry

I love to work with Winsor & Newton gouache. It’s a totally different experience to approaching a clean page with a pencil and eraser. Spontaneous decisions come easier with a brush in hand. And you can always paint over something that didn’t quite work out. Hand painting brings a lot of richness to a piece that you can’t match with computer aided design.

I also love Copic markers; they flow beautifully, giving surprisingly smooth color for a marker, and the brush tips are especially versatile. (Some of the images I’ve included show the front of one page, with the reverse of the previous one.) The bleed and feathering can be a bit of a problem, but recently I experimented with Live Trace in Adobe Illustrator to make a repeat from one of my Copic marker doodles and found the result to be quite satisfying after just a little finessing.

Often I’ll lay down blodges of color with my Copic markers, and then paint over them with my current gouache palette.The toning colors really make me happy.

sketchbooks, Pamela Farmer, Pattern Design, Art Process, Sketchbook Conversations, My Giant Strawberry

I’ve been working in Blick sketch books or Canson Mix Media pads. Both are hard to get on my scanner, so lately pages have been being pulled out. (Eek!) Ink bleeds through the Blick pages, so you can use only one side, and they aren’t heavy enough for gouache or watercolor. The Canson paper is great for painting on, but I don’t like the big coil that holds the pads together. I guess I’m on the hunt for my next favorite sketchbook; something that lays flat, with paper strong enough to carry wet media.

sketchbooks, Pamela Farmer, Pattern Design, Art Process, Sketchbook Conversations, My Giant Strawberry

I know I’m at my most creative when I’m making art everyday. I’m more engaged, less timid, more inspired to create. As a bonus, I toss aside “mistakes” less often, instead working them until something interesting emerges. Overall I’m just happier! So if you’re starting a sketchbook practice, keep going with it, and sketch sketch sketch!

sketchbooks, Pamela Farmer, Pattern Design, Art Process, Sketchbook Conversations, My Giant Strawberry

Thank you, Pamela for sharing your sketchbooks and your art process with us today!

Dear reader, you can connect with Pamela:




Missed the other Sketchbook Conversations posts? It's easy to catch up at the series web page.

And for even more inspiration, check out my Artist Interviews




*Photos in this post ©Pamela Farmer. Used with permission.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Introspection, Ebb and Flow, the Changing Season and Recent Art

I write in my journal (nearly) every morning. It's a ritual for me. Time to slow down and think about things or to clear my mind of chatter or worries so I can move on and focus on my day. I've always been a journal writer* and over these last few months my journal has been especially helpful. It's been a bit of a hard year for me and I finally am coming to an understanding of why (sometimes I think I'm a slow learner).


That my choice of words for the year included the word "nourish" should have given me a hint of what I needed this year.

The ideas of ebb and flow and balance have been concepts I've been struggling with (here, here, here). It's hard to be at peace during the "ebb", but getting comfortable with rest as part of the process of creativity is so important. Perhaps that's one of the reasons I struggle so much with winter, the earth's season of rest.

garden, summer, autumn, zinnias, lavender, flowers, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

So many of you are looking forward to autumn, but I never like to let go of summer and all its bounty.

dahlias, flowers, pitcher, Fiesta Ware, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

There's still so much going on in the garden and looking through photos from past years gives me hope that the frost will hold off and the flowers and vegetables will keep going.

squash, squash flowers, butternut squash, gardening, summer, autumn, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I'm surprised every day by a new discovery. Like this late poppy blooming among all the seed pods:

poppies, Lauren's Grape Poppy, breadseed poppy, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

It's ok to be a late bloomer.

It's ok to be a slow learner.

It's ok to go with the ebb as well as the flow.

Savor both.

watercolor, painting, heirloom tomatoes, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Those tomatoes might end up in my 2018 calendar. I finally got around to working on it and now I'm excited. Stay tuned!

I'm also excited to say that my marigold painting will be on exhibit at this year's National Heirloom Expo this week (starting today!).

marigolds, orange marigolds, watercolor, botanical watercolor, painting, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

My painting is one of about 25 paintings curated by the Hudson Valley Seed Company in an exhibition put together in partnership with Baker Creek Seeds. If you'll be in Santa Rosa, California this week, go take a look!

Thank you to everyone who voted for my design in Spoonflower's Rustic Fall Design Challenge. I truly appreciate your encouragement and support!

fabric design, watercolor fabric design, surface pattern design, autumn, botanical watercolor, moths, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

There's still (a tiny bit of) time to vote if you haven't yet.

In other news, I've finally updated my Etsy shop with notecards and notebooks.

Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry, products, notecards, Etsy

There are six sets of notecards ranging from a collection of 8 cards to a mini-collection of two.

Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry, products, notecards, Etsy

I had the cards printed for a special request from one of my favorite customers and I figured I'd order enough to restock my shop, too.

Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry, products, notecards, Etsy

They're printed by Moo and are really lovely in person. They come with brown kraft envelopes.

Making my customers happy truly brings me joy. Right now I'm working on a commission for a new customer that's also helping me get back into the flow of painting fish!

watercolor, painting, goldfish, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

The timing is perfect because my next Skillshare class, planned for October, is all about painting watercolor goldfish. I haven't painted any in a long time. It's so different from my botanicals and it's been fun.

Ok, that's enough news for now.

I hope you have a wonderful week, that you're able to go with the flow (or the ebb) and savor life's beauties and joys.



*the little peek I gave of my newly rearranged studio a couple weeks back shows my journals on the top shelf. I just started Volume 40. The earliest book, with actual words -- I have a couple from when I was VERY young and couldn't yet write -- is from 1988. It has a lock, the first couple entries start "dear diary" and it's filled with silly things, many of which are about "boys".

Friday, September 1, 2017

An Interview with Ann Wood

Today I'm chatting with Ann Wood. Ann is an artist who works with fabric, paper, vintage and found items. Her creations are magical and melancholy and it's hard to sum up everything she does in just a couple sentences. I am delighted to have her here today sharing her story and her art.

Ann Wood, artists, artist interview, My Giant Strawberry

ab: As a self-taught artist who embraced the role of artist after years of thinking I couldn't, I am always curious about other artists' backgrounds. You say that you sew because you "come from sewing people" and that stitching is "a language [you've] spoken for a very long time". What other artistic training or background do you have? You are a painter as well as a stitcher. Did you go to art school? How has your journey led you to where you are today?

aw: I have almost no formal art education. I follow my curiosity. I grew up around creative adults - everybody was always making something, reading, exploring and talking about those interests. I loved to sew, and draw and paint and sculpt - with whatever I could get my hands on. Often what I could get my hands on was fabric and paper. I was and am interested in transformation - the possibilities of things.

Ann Wood, artists, artist interview, ship sculptures, My Giant Strawberry

And I have always loved fabric. I still sew from bags of scraps I had as a child. My mother was a sewer and a saver so there is tons. And she continued to collect and save antique and vintage fabric for me even during my obnoxious late adolescence when I abandoned sewing for a while. She was excellent at providing well timed inspiration - in books and music as well.

Ann Wood, artists, artist interview, fabric, thread, studio, work space, My Giant Strawberry

ab: You grew up in Massachusetts surrounded by the woods in an environment that fed your imagination and where the magic of nature helped to fuel your curiosity and play. Nature continues to be an inspiration in your work today, but now you live and create in Brooklyn. Do you find it difficult, creatively, living in the city?

aw: There are things I love about the city and things I put up with. I’ve gotten used to a way of life - having so much so close - a level of activity, sound, odd conveniences and inconveniences that I worry I’d feel lost without.

Ann Wood, artists, artist interview, fabric sculptures, sewn botanicals, botanical art, My Giant Strawberry

When I think about leaving, which I do think about more and more, I think about what I’ll miss and what I’d love to escape from. I fantasize about having a car, and a place to park it - crazy dreams like that.

Ann Wood, artists, artist interview, sewing, work space, My Giant Strawberry

Things I love: The libraries, particularly the picture archive in the Mid Manhattan Research Library, great fabric stores, and I love to explore the shore here - Far Rockaway, Dead Horse Bay and the dune system at Fort Tilden.

Ann Wood, artists, artist interview, work space, artist work space,  art dolls, My Giant Strawberry

ab: What are your favorite ways to feed your creativity and refill the well?

aw: The well feeds itself. Ideas are self perpetuating - one thing leads to another. Showing up keeps things flowing. Working, trying things, failing. Asking the second question and the third and so on. Wanting to see what’s around the next corner keeps me in motion. Curiosity is always my guiding and driving force.

Ann Wood, artists, artist interview, sewing, ants, bats, art dolls, My Giant Strawberry

And a lot of my inspiration is internal - exploring memories and moods and trying to express those things, trying to find my way deeper into my imagination, off the well lit path and express those ideas as completely as I can.

Ann Wood, artists, artist interview, rag dolls, art dolls, My Giant Strawberry

ab: Working in a sketchbook is a regular part of your creative expression. Can you share a bit about the role your sketchbook practice plays in your art? What led you to start a sketchbook? How did diving into your year-long daily sketchbook practice affect you as an artist?

aw: Watching myself work reveals things to me. When I show up everyday I learn more about my imagination, my patterns, my ruts and inclinations. It strengthens my idea building muscles. It is in simplest terms good exercise. Full disclosure - I do take breaks once in a while. Sometimes by accident and sometimes on purpose. The down side of the breaks is coming back to the rhythm of the daily practice. It’s much easier to keep going than start. The upside to the breaks is I begin to miss it. I feel the difference. I feel how much I benefit from it.

Ann Wood, artists, artist interview, sketchbooks, work space, My Giant Strawberry

ab: You've been blogging for over 11 years now. You are a prolific blogger and your blog is honest, open and thoughtful as well as being interesting and, of course, beautiful. How did you fall into blogging and what made you stick with it? How have changes in blogs and blogging affected you and the way you blog? How do you stay motivated and inspired to keep blogging?

aw: I started seeing blogs for the first time in 2005 and the idea was fascinating to me. At the same time for the first time in a very long time, I was making self determined, self directed work, on a regular basis. I had done freelance creative work most of my adult life, making things for various commercial purposes, mainly, objects and paintings for film and advertising and some illustration but there was a lack of purely self motivated and authored work.

In May of 2006 I gave myself a small, manageable assignment: to make a cardboard horse everyday (monday through friday) until I had 100. I did and exhibited the group at a gallery in Los Angeles about a year later in 2007. I also started my blog and posted each horse for some accountability and a record. There is lots of info about this here.

Ann Wood, artists, artist interview, horses, paper sculptures, My Giant Strawberry

Everything else flowed from those little horse experiments, that beginning. I got tons of ideas and became better at carving out time for my own creative work - and most importantly it got past the fear of starting. The blog became a part of my life and 11 years flew by somehow. The blogging situation, and the internet in general are a vastly different landscape now. And there is lots about those first years I’m nostalgic for. Everything is so much more complicated and expensive now.

Ann Wood, artists, artist interview, paper sculptures, horses, My Giant Strawberry

ab: You describe yourself as an introvert, as being "hermity". I think a lot of creative people are energized by solitude. I certainly am myself. On the blog post where you talked about being an introvert many people commented, relating to your feelings. Can you share a bit about how your thoughts on being an introvert have evolved over the years?

aw: Acceptance, peacefulness and comfort have come with age and experience. I don’t worry about it as much anymore. I don’t fight with my temperament.

Ann Wood, artists, artist interview, cat doll, My Giant Strawberry

And I try not to fight with anybody else’s - I love this quote from D.H. Lawrence:

“This is what I believe: That I am I. That my soul is a dark forest. That my known self will never be more than a little clearing in the forest. That gods, strange gods, come forth from the forest into the clearing of my known self, and then go back. That I must have the courage to let them come and go. That I will never let mankind put anything over me, but that I will try always to recognize and submit to the gods in me and the gods in other men and women. There is my creed.”

Ann Wood, artists, artist interview, sewing, stitching, My Giant Strawberry

ab: You have an affinity for "less loved creatures". Mosquitos, bats, ants, pigeons... Your work resonates with many people, which makes it clear that "less loved creatures" have their enthusiasts. From where do you think your affinity stems? I especially adore your stylish ants in their miniature world. What have been your favorite "less loved creatures" to create?

aw: I like the contrast, dealing with reviled creatures in an affectionate way. And I have a life long attraction to melancholy things and a sort of fairytale darkness. That’s the sensibility I try to give those creatures.

Ann Wood, artists, artist interview, mosquitoes, art dolls, My Giant Strawberry

The ant project is one of my most favorite projects of all time- a collaboration with Fortuny. Nothing delights me more than creating a miniature world.

Ann Wood, artists, artist interview, ants, cosmopolitan ants, My Giant Strawberry

I made cosmopolitan ants and gave them art and mid century furniture. There is even a tiny feather duster and tiny ant rag doll. Later in the year I decorated their miniature apartment for Christmas. It was as much fun as a person can have.

Ann Wood, artists, artist interview, ants, cosmopolitan ants, art dolls, My Giant Strawberry

ab: You sew. You draw and paint. You blog. You create sewing patterns. You teach workshops. What's next on the creative horizon for you?

aw: Lots more sewing patterns are in the works. I love everything about creating them - especially the cover art and packaging.

Ann Wood, artists, artist interview, sewing pattern, birds,  My Giant Strawberry

I will also have kits available for the first time before the holidays. There are some new workshops in the beginning planning stages - there will be at least one in Europe and I’d love to do more.

Ann Wood, artists, artist interview, art dolls, toadstools, mushrooms, sculptures, My Giant Strawberry

I would also love to collaborate more - step out of my own creative bubble. Collaborations have been the beginning of some of my most significant periods of growth. I’d love to do more projects like the ant world - create a more fully formed narrative for some of my creatures. And paintings- before the end of this year I’m going to bust out of my sketchbook and create some larger works. That is my vow.


Ann Wood, artists, artist interview, sketchbook, painting, small paintings, art, My Giant Strawberry

Thank you, Ann, for sharing your art and your thoughts with us today!

Dear reader, I hope you enjoyed today's interview as much as I did. You can connect with Ann:



Want to read my other artist interviews? You can catch up here. And find more inspiration from the Sketchbook Conversations series of mini, sketchbook-related interviews, all of which can be accessed here.


*Photos in this post ©Ann Wood. Used with permission.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Don't Fight It

Those words are for me. A pep talk of sorts.

nasturtiums, Alaska Nasturtiums Mix, Garden Flowers, Summer, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Fall is coming. If you're in the same hemisphere as I am, perhaps you can feel it too? (If you're on the other side of the earth, are you feeling the stirrings of spring?).

In truth, it's been feeling like fall this past month. August has been more like September (but with fewer tomatoes, though they're starting to ripen now).

tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, unusual tomatoes, garden, harvest, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I guess this happens every year. Fall starts to arrive and I want to run in the opposite direction, back to the beginning of summer (where did summer go?). Which is, of course, not possible, so instead I vow to savor all the summery things before they're gone for good (or, rather, till next year).

roses, garden, flowers, Aunt Honey Rose, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Perhaps it's a bit ironic, then, that this last week or so I've been working on autumn-themed art.

watercolor, painting, process, color swatches, color palette, moths, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Moths aren't inherently autumnal, but the colors of this cecropia moth make me think of fall. This painting was one of those that started off a little shaky. I wasn't certain that everything would work out and I made some mistakes along the way.

watercolor, watercolor painting, watercolor illustration, moths, cecropia moth, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

But I kept working at it and I was happy with the end result. Sometimes all you have to do is keep layering paint (and not give up... that is always key).

My plan with this painting was to begin working on a collection of autumn-themed fabric designs. I hoped to be able to finish one in time for Spoonflower's Rustic Fall Design Challenge. The deadline was good motivation.

autumn, fall leaves, moths, acorns, fabric design, surface pattern design, Spoonflower, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I'd love it if you would vote for my design. You can vote for as many designs as you like.

Now that this pattern is finished, I'm ready to get back to more summery things.

garden sketches, garden sketchbook, botanical sketches, summer, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Savor the rest of August.

flowers, zinnias, dahlias, black eyed susan, snapdragons, summer flowers, garden Flowers, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Enter September with my eyes and my heart open to it's beauties and joys.

spider, nature, spider web, garden, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

There is always something to savor. There are always beauties and joys. Don't fight it. Embrace it. Whatever "it" might be.

Have a lovely week, my friends. I'll see you back on Friday with an exciting, inspiring artist interview.