Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Summer, Joy, Picking Flowers and the Giveaway Winner

Life continues to speed along. Here it is, the middle of August. Signs of fall are everywhere. The robins stopped singing weeks ago. Acorns are beginning to fall. The weather hasn't been summer-warm. The sun is setting earlier and earlier each day. Recently I found myself in a bit of a panic... wait, I haven't been truly enjoying summer, it can't be over...

summer flowers, flower arrangements, garden flowers, artist work space, studio, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

One thing I haven't been doing much of this summer is cutting flowers to enjoy in the house (I guess I didn't learn). I've been "saving" them. The zinnias seem to be blooming one flower at a time and I've hardly had any flowers on my beloved nasturtiums (until the last couple days, that is). I hate to cut the only flower on a plant. But soon there will be no more flowers in the garden.

nasturtiums, garden, summer flowers, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I noticed a book at the library the other day: If I Had My Life to Live Over I Would Pick More Daisies. That title has been resonating with me ever since. I didn't check out the book, a collection of essays, stories and poems, but later I looked up the phrase and found a couple versions of the poem here. Truly, just what I needed to hear. Sometimes I can be too serious. Too focused. Too careful.

And these lines:
More errors are made solemnly than in fun. The rubs of family life come in moments of intense seriousness rather that in moments of light-heartedness. If nations - to magnify my point - declared international carnivals instead of international war, how much better that would be!*

With the weight of continuous heartbreaking news, with the state of the world as it is and has been and seems to continue to become, I wish all of us a bit more fun, more joy, more beauty.

Over the weekend Matthias and I visited a farm planted with a maze of sunflowers. 

sunflowers, sunflower maze, flower maze, Wisconsin, Summer, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

It was magical. The flowers went on and on and on.

sunflowers, sunflower maze, flower maze, Wisconsin, Summer, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

You couldn't stand among the sunflowers and feel anything but joy. The weather was perfect. The bees were buzzing. It was good for my soul. (I posted a video of it on Instagram that you can see here).

I started thinking about how if we all could take time to feed our spirits with such beauty, such joy, such peace, then perhaps the world wouldn't be in the state it is.

I know that nothing is quite so simple. And yet, each act of kindness makes a difference. What a gift this field of sunflowers. The family whose farm it is charges no money for people to walk the maze, to cut a flower to bring home...

We all have our gifts to give. Maybe we aren't marching in protests. Perhaps our acts are different. Acts of kindness. Acts of love. Acts of beauty.

garden, roses, pink roses, roses and raindrops, Aunt Honey Rose, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Kindness matters. Love matters. Beauty matters.

This post has gone in a different direction than I'd originally intended, but all of these things have been on my mind. In addition to putting the finishing touches on my studio. 

art studio, work space, storage, studio, office, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

And filming and editing my next Skillshare class. 

viola flowers, floral inspiration, art inspiration, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

And trying to savor and enjoy each fleeting day.

Trionfo Violetto Pole Beans, purple beans, pole beans, garden harvest, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Thank you to each of you who entered my giveaway. I had 29 people comment on my blog and 54 people comment on Instagram, with some of you commenting in both places. I truly appreciate all of your kind words about my art.

I wrote all of your names on little scraps of paper and put them in this bowl.

giveaway, names in a hat, drawing, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

The butterflies were by far the most popular design, but the winner, pulled out at random, loved the nasturtiums the best.

giveaway, prize drawing, winner, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Congratulations, Carla From the River! Please send me your address and I'll mail out your package!

I'll share more about my studio, my garden, my art, next week. (And of course, there will be a Sketchbook Conversation later this week, too).

Wishing you a week with many chances to feed your spirit.



*from the poem "If I Had My Life Over, I'd Pick More Daisies" version by Don Herold found here

Friday, August 11, 2017

Helen Hallows -- a Sketchbook Conversation

Today I'm chatting with Helen Hallows. Her art immediately caught my eye when I first saw it. Her voice is so strong in her sketchbooks and I think you'll enjoy today's peek inside their pages. Here's Helen's story:

I am a mixed media artist based in the Midlands of the UK. A deep connection to nature flows through my work, inspired by the landscape and my garden. 


Helen Hallows, garden, art studio, artist work spaces, Sketchbook Conversations

My work is about a sense of a place and I use colour to express my relationship to a place. 


Helen Hallows, mixed media, art, Sketchbook Conversations

I sell my original artworks in galleries and at art events as well as producing a range of limited edition prints that I sell through my website. 


Helen Hallows, artists, art studios, art display, Sketchbook Conversations

I have recently published my 'Summer Sketchbook' which contains drawings from my sketchbooks, closeups of my artworks, photos of my studio and text that describes my process. It is the second of a series.


Helen Hallows, Helen Hallows Summer Sketchbook, sketchbooks, art books, Sketchbook Conversations

I keep a sketchbook so that I can experiment with compositions, find the narrative of my work and explore media and ways of seeing the world. It's where the process of making art happens.


Helen Hallows, Mixed Media Art, Pattern Design, Sketchbook Conversations

I have been working in sketchbooks for about 25 years! 


Helen Hallows, mood board, art inspiration, seeds, creative manifesto, Sketchbook Conversations

Before that I kept diaries that also had a visual element. Sketchbooks were a way of keeping track of ideas when I was studying art and design. 


Helen Hallows, artists, sketchbooks, creativity, Sketchbook Conversations

My background is in woven textiles so there was also an element of collating colour swatches, dye notes and technical information. 


sketchbooks, mixed media, Helen Hallows, Sketchbook Conversations

As a textile designer, working to briefs I used my sketchbook to collect imagery and inspiration (this was before Pinterest existed!) and to work out new designs. 


Helen Hallows, artists, sketchbooks, Sketchbook Conversations

Now my sketchbooks are drawing based as part of my process of creating mixed media art works in paint, collage and stitch. I draw to initiate a new project or series of work.


sketchbooks, Helen Hallows, mixed media, collage, art, Sketchbook Conversations

Going to new places inspires me. I draw in a naive style, and look for shape, colour and pattern in what I see. 


Helen Hallows, artists, sketchbooks, inspiration, Sketchbook Conversations

I teach workshops in creating mixed media sketchbooks and after teaching I always want to go home and do more drawing, inspired by how others have worked with my techniques and materials.


Helen Hallows, art inspiration, collage, Sketchbook Conversations
In my sketchbooks I work with paint, charcoal pencil and collage. 

art supplies, artist tools, art inspiration, Helen Hallows, Sketchbook Conversations

I love to draw with a soft charcoal pencil, there’s a dynamic, grainy line that I love.

sketchbooks, Helen Hallows, drawing, Sketchbook Conversations

I always tell others not to whisper. I think it is important to draw with a decisive line. 

Also to turn off the negative voices and to listen for your own creative voice. Don’t get daunted, keep on keeping on.

Helen Hallows, collage, mixed media, Sketchbook Conversations

Thank you, Helen, for sharing your story here with us.

Dear reader, you can connect with Helen:



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 ©Helen Hallows. Used with permission.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

New Products and a Giveaway!

Hello! I feel as if I've been gone a long time. I've spent so little time on the Internet lately. Been absent from Instagram, too.

I'm itching to get back to some art making. My studio re-vamp is coming along. I'm typing this at my new (to me) desk. I have a little more organizing to do. Some shelves to hang. And then things can get back to normal around here. Maybe I'll share a little tour of my space next week.

Today I wanted to show you my newest products from Society6. I introduced a few products back in April and now I have a few more.

watercolor butterflies, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry, Surface Pattern Design, Society6, zipper pouch, carry all pouch

For a long time I've wanted to sew up some zipper pouches with my fabric designs, but I never seem to find the time. I was curious about the ones available from Society6 and had some printed with my butterfly fabric as a test.

watercolor butterflies, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry, Surface Pattern Design, Society6, zipper pouch, carry all pouch

The smallest easily fits a phone and other little bits. The largest is big enough for a full-size iPad (or one of my Society6 notebooks).

watercolor butterflies, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry, Surface Pattern Design, Society6, zipper pouch, carry all pouch, notebook

They're very sturdy and the zippers are incredibly heavy-duty (perhaps a bit overkill, even). The interior is lined with black fabric and includes some pockets. If I were to sew my own I'd choose a pretty coordinating fabric and a daintier zipper in a color to compliment the design. But if I were to offer hand-made pouches for sale I'd have to charge more than what these cost from Society6 (they're $15, $19 and $25 or all three sizes for $42... plus Society6 regularly runs 20% sales).

I've thinking about possibly offering some pouches for sale around the holidays that are filled with goodies, similar to the Emergency Joy Kits I shared a couple years ago on my blog.

joy, gifts, emergency joy kit, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Filled with things like chocolate, lip balm, tea and notebooks, they'd make nice gifts.

Right now the zipper pouches are available in my Society6 shop in three prints: butterflies, goldfish and nasturtiums, the same designs that are available as notebooks.

watercolor surface pattern design, watercolor nasturtiums, watercolor butterflies, watercolor goldfish, society6, notebooks, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Which brings me to my giveaway!! It's been over 2 years since the last time I've done a giveaway here on my blog. I think I'm overdue for another one.

I'm giving away one my notebooks from Society6.

watercolor surface pattern design, watercolor nasturtiums, watercolor butterflies, watercolor goldfish, society6, notebooks, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Simply leave a comment here and let me know which of these three designs you'd most like,

watercolor surface pattern design, watercolor goldfish, society6, notebooks, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

whether it's the butterflies, goldfish or nasturtiums.

watercolor surface pattern design, watercolor nasturtiums, society6, notebooks, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I'll choose a winner and announce it next Tuesday. I think I'll tuck a few of my new notecards (which will be arriving in my Etsy shop sometime in the next week or so) into the winner's package, too.

botanical watercolors, notecards, greeting cards, floral watercolor, floral notecards, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Good luck!

Thank you to all who entered. The giveaway is now closed. Read about the winner here.

Friday, August 4, 2017

An Interview with Janine Vangool of UPPERCASE Publishing

Today I'm chatting with Janine Vangool, the publisher, editor and designer at UPPERCASE. I've shared before how inspiring I find UPPERCASE Magazine and its books and I'm delighted to have Janine here with us sharing her thoughts. Sit back and enjoy!


ab: Hi, Janine, so glad to have you here chatting with us today! UPPERCASE "celebrates the process of making, the commitment to craft and the art of living creatively". Can you share a bit about what it means to you, personally, to live creatively? How do you juggle your business and your family while also prioritizing your own making and creative living?

jv: It’s my pleasure!

I was a freelance graphic designer for a dozen years before I started UPPERCASE. So for my entire adult life, I’ve supported myself through my creativity one way or another. But I’ve never treated “being creative” or “living creatively” as something other than simply who I am—I’m just creative in different ways in different situations. Being creative on demand for a client is one thing, taking time to sew or crochet for fun is another, and working on my publishing business is another sort of creativity. I like having various outlets for creativity: from solving problems, physically making something, or creative ideation and strategizing when it comes to my business. They’re all fulfilling a greater creative drive, I guess!

When it comes to work/life balance, I don’t like to use the term “juggle” because it implies a level of difficulty (and stress) that I don’t think needs to be part of the equation. My work is part of my everyday life. Being a parent is also part of my everyday life. At any given moment, one will take priority over the other, but one identity doesn’t take over the other. I’m a creative entrepreneur. I’m a creative mom. I’m both of these things all the time.

My husband Glen handles customer support for UPPERCASE a few hours a day, so we really are living and working on UPPERCASE-related things a lot of the time. But the reward for that is that we do have quite flexible schedules and we always have time for family.

Janine Vangool, Uppercase, Interview with Anne Butera on the My Giant Strawberry Blog


ab: Uppercase was a studio, shop and gallery before it was a magazine. How did it evolve from that first incarnation to what it is today? Did starting a magazine at a time when many long-lived magazines were stopping production feel like a risky decision to make? Did you ever imagine you'd be where you are now, 33 issues later, with circulation up and the magazine cherished and collected by many from all over the world?

jv: Yes, it began as “UPPERCASE gallery, books and papergoods” in 2005 in a public space in my city’s downtown. The front half was a gallery and I sold greeting cards and stationery that I designed and sometimes made by hand. The bookshelf initially contained other publishers’ books but I dreamed of doing my own publications someday. The back end of the shop was my design office where I did freelance for arts and culture-based clients.

By 2009, I was feeling unchallenged by client work but was really thriving on the entrepreneurial side of UPPERCASE. I had published a few books by then, based on gallery exhibitions. Through my blog and online shop, I had developed a nice little following who I hoped would appreciate a new quarterly magazine, also named UPPERCASE.

At the time, many mainstream magazines like Martha Stewart’s Blueprint or the first incarnation of Domino were being shut down. (There weren’t a lot of indie magazines like there are now!) There was a void in my own needs as a reader and began to think that others might be feeling the same.

I had a line of credit, some eager early subscribers and crossed my fingers and just dove in in producing the first few issues. It was slow and steady and took YEARS and lots of hard work and some really stressful times before it became sustainable financially. But I’m so glad I stuck to it!

Janine Vangool, Uppercase, Interview with Anne Butera on the My Giant Strawberry Blog


ab: Your most recent project is your Encyclopedia of Inspiration, an open ended endeavor which you began with three volumes, Feed Sacks, Stitch*Illo and Botanica. The first two volumes are already in print and the third is on its way. How did this project come about? What made you decide on these three volumes as your starting point? Now that you're close to being finished with the first volumes, are you planning on diving into creating more?

jv: Even though the quarterly magazine is really enough work (I do all the curating, design, marketing, etc), I find that I always have more ideas than pages! And as a designer, I love conceptualizing and making books. So the Encyclopedia of Inspiration series is a way to address some of these ideas with more dedicated pages—I enjoy really diving into a subject matter!

Feed Sacks emerged through writer Linzee Kull McCray who wrote about the topic in issue 24. We had talked about doing a book on the beautiful vintage fabrics for a number of years before I was able publish the book as part of this new series. Stitch*illo developed from a trend that I saw emerging, of artists using thread and stitching in their illustrations and sewers and crafters telling stories through their textiles. Botanica, which I’m currently working on, is an assemblage of all sorts of creativity inspired by flowers and plants. It’s quite eclectic and I look forward to sharing it with readers this fall.

I’ve got a list of possible next ideas, but I haven’t quite decided which ones I’ll be persuing. But once I have them decided upon, I’ll do another crowdfunding call on my website, which is how the first three were funded. And there will be open calls for folks to submit to them as well.

Janine Vangool, Uppercase Encyclopedia of Inspiration, Stitch*Illo, Interview with Anne Butera on the My Giant Strawberry Blog

Janine Vangool, Uppercase Encyclopedia of Inspiration, Stitch*Illo, Interview with Anne Butera on the My Giant Strawberry Blog

Janine Vangool, Uppercase Encyclopedia of Inspiration, Interview with Anne Butera on the My Giant Strawberry Blog


ab: I'm always curious about other people's sketchbooks. In one of your newsletters you mentioned a project you were doing in your sketchbook, painting patterns inspired by vintage feed sacks (I love this idea, btw!). Do you regularly work in a sketchbook? What part does it play in your creative life and/or in your business?

jv: Alas, I don’t use a sketchbook very regularly anymore. Perhaps it is all these years being a magazine editor, but I find that I think in words more than pictures or sketches now (as opposed to when I designed for clients). I use Evernote and my laptop to jot down my ideas because they’re more agile that way—I can assign tags and sort and duplicate and change and nothing is ever lost.

I have been making a conscious effort to return to drawing and painting, so I’ve done a few “feed sack portraits” in gouache in a sketchbook, to reacquaint myself with painting. Something I haven’t done much of in the past twenty years.

Janine Vangool, sketchbook, feedsacks, Interview with Anne Butera on the My Giant Strawberry Blog


ab: In 2015 when you were a judge for QuiltCon you suggested developing a line of fabric with Windham Fabrics and your dream of creating Uppercase fabrics started to become a reality. Since then you've released two Uppercase Fabric collections and you've shared a lot of sewing and quilting on your blog and on Instagram. When your first fabric collection was coming out you mentioned that you weren't (yet) a quilter, but that your mom was. Was your mom's sewing and quilting an early influence for you? What role has sewing played throughout your life? Are you ready, yet, to call yourself a quilter?

jv: My mom did women’s clothing alterations at home when I was really little, so I remember having lots of frilly 1970s hems to play with and I use to make little doll clothes with them. My grandmother was also a professional seamstress who made draperies and had industrial sewing machines in her basement. Both of them taught me to sew.

In her retirement, my mom has become an avid and prolific quilter. (I started an instagram account for her, but it looks like she’s spending her time sewing instead of posting to social media! https://www.instagram.com/havensquilts/). She sewed some quilts for my first Windham collection and has helped a lot. She was on vacation in Hawaii when I was working on the look book for the second collection, otherwise we’d see her sewing efforts in there, too.

I suppose I can call myself a quilt designer since I’ve developed a few that others have made patterns for. I’m not calling myself a quilter yet. I have one that I finished using vintage fabrics and quilted by hand with a running stitch. I tried making one for my most recent collection and it started out strong—I still like the design—but it ended up kind of a funny puckered disaster. Don’t ever try to make your first quilt on a deadline. And if your sewing machine is making a mess of it, don’t keep sewing, it will only get worse! Ha. I do like sewing and piecing, but I think I’ll need to invest in a better machine before I attempt actual quilting. I am doing some English Paper Piecing—I prefer making things by hand. It’s more relaxing for me.

Janine Vangool, Uppercase fabric, quilts, windham fabric, Interview with Anne Butera on the My Giant Strawberry Blog

Janine Vangool, Uppercase fabric, windham fabric, Interview with Anne Butera on the My Giant Strawberry Blog



Janine Vangool, Uppercase fabric, quilts, windham fabric, Interview with Anne Butera on the My Giant Strawberry Blog


Janine Vangool, Feedsacks, Quilt Blocks, Uppercase Magazine, Interview with Anne Butera on the My Giant Strawberry Blog

ab: You are a self-proclaimed optimist and seem to fearlessly embark on one bold, creative adventure after another. I'm sure, though, like all of us, you have your share of dark days. What techniques or practices do you use to help you return to the light and overcome uncertainty?

jv: To be a positive person was a conscious decision I made early in my career and it has helped tremendously. Being a freelancer and then a shop/gallery owner and now publishing… those are all careers in which failure can be a likely outcome. But thinking positively and working really hard and earnestly is how I keep going.

In the really stressful times of my business, I’ve trusted myself to make the right decisions. I don’t second guess—I make my informed decision and stick to it. This helps me through times of uncertainty… trusting oneself is really important. I don’t want it to sound like I’m over confident or brash, simply that I trust that I will make the right decision based on everything that I know at that point in time. Then I step forward and am ready for the next challenge.

If I’m feeling burnt out or tired, I try to do something else or I put work aside entirely. A bubble bath is always a good temporary solution. And if there’s a lingering problem, I try to figure out what it is. I tend to pile on my projects, so giving myself permission to take time off for a few days can do wonders.

Janine Vangool, Uppercase Magazine, Interview with Anne Butera on the My Giant Strawberry Blog


ab: You are such a strong advocate for creatives of all types and an inspiration for so many, both through the wonders shared in your publications and the beauty of your own work. If you could offer one piece advice for someone on her creative journey, what would it be?

jv: Thank you, Anne, that’s nice of you to say.

That’s a tough thing to answer with one piece of advice. I think that there are two reasons for someone on a “creative journey”. Either they have a destination in mind, or they’re wandering. Either is fine. But I think the experience is easier if you decide what kind of trip you’re on. Are you ok with wandering and making surprise discoveries along the way? Great! Or do you have a specific goal and things you want to learn? Great! Just know what kind of journey you’re on—then plan and pack accordingly.

Janine Vangool, Uppercase Magazine, Interview with Anne Butera on the My Giant Strawberry Blog

Janine Vangool, Uppercase Magazine, Interview with Anne Butera on the My Giant Strawberry Blog

Thank you, Janine for being here today!

Dear readers, I hope you enjoyed this interview. You can read more about UPPERCASE and subscribe on the website. Be sure to check out the UPPERCASE blog and see what Janine is up to on Instagram, too.




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 ©Janine Vangool. Used with permission.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Practice, Rest, Change

I'm writing this at a desk that, although usually cluttered, is now almost completely empty. And the rest of my studio is in a chaotic state of transition.

For a couple weeks as I sat and wrote in my journal I'd look up at my studio wall and think about how I should really re-organize, purge and finally finish aligning my studio with how I work today. Buttons, crochet hooks, crochet thread, yarn... these things don't need to be on display or easily to-hand for the everyday workings of my studio. But then I'd get tired by the idea of all the work involved (after all, I've done it before). I set the idea aside as a winter project.

watercolor, watercolor art print calendar, botanical watercolors, studio, artist studio, work space, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

At the same time I was ignoring the increasing pain I felt in my wrist as I worked at my computer, wrote in my journal, and eventually, also, as I painted. After doing some research and talking with Matthias I knew I'd have to do something about it. Changing my computer work area is part of that something. Re-arranging, reorganizing and decluttering became rolled up in the project, too.

I find it a bit ironic that just after extolling the value of daily art and practicing, I suddenly have to take a break.

watercolor, botanical watercolor daily painting, coneflowers, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

They say that change is the only constant. Sometimes, though, I want to hunker down and keep things just as they were.

garden, summer, poppies, purple poppies, breadseed poppies, lauren's grape poppy, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I rested this past weekend. Or tried to. I spent the days out in the garden -- inevitably weeding, trimming and tying things up -- but also observing and noticing and savoring the details I'm usually too much in a rush to see.

garden, summer, lilies, oriental lilies, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

August is here and I have lots of plans for it (and beyond), but I'll also be listening to my body. I'll be resting. Rejuvenating. Nourishing. Myself. My studio. My business.

As part of the ebb and flow of creativity (and life), it's good to pause sometimes. To be still. To be quiet. To think and imagine and plan. All too often such stillness, without progress, without forward motion, can feel like idleness, like wasted time. It's not. I need to remind myself of that.

Maybe you need the reminder, too?

I'll be back on Friday with an inspiring Artist Interview that I can't wait to share with you. See you then!