Josef Frank




As many of you know, this past September I went on a three week adventure to Scandinavia. One of the highlights of my trip was seeing the surface design work of the late Swedish designer, artist and architect Josef Frank. Frank, who was born in Austria but emigrated to Sweden in 1933, was a pioneer in the Swedish Modern movement of the 20th century and a member of the Stockholm design company Svenskt Tenn. Frank, who also painted and designed houses & furniture, is particularly well known for his pattern design. These designs are ubiquitous in Sweden, and so it was particularly thrilling for me to go there and see them first hand.



One of the most exciting places I visited was Svenskt Tenn, which was founded in 1924 by Estrid Ericson, who recruited Josef Frank to her company 10 years later. Together they created the boldly patterned interior design style that continues today. Visiting the brick and mortar shop, located at Strandvägen 5 in Stockholm’s posh Ostermalm district, is like stepping back in time, and also into another world. Even the interior of the elevator is wallpapered!



Admittedly, I love Frank’s designs as accents, and am not sure I’d ever want an entire sofa covered in his fabric (as beautiful as it is) or an entire room covered in his wallpaper.


But as a pattern designer myself, I am in awe of Frank’s forward thinking designs and find them to be incredibly beautiful and intricately detailed works of art. If you read Swedish artist Elisabeth Dunker’s blog Fine Little Day, you may recognize this Josef Frank wallpaper that is in her gorgeous kitchen. I love how Elisabeth incorporates this traditional Swedish pattern into her cozy modern home.



You can read more about my Scandinavian adventure in the Travel & Adventure section of this blog (scroll through to find images from Stockholm). I also wrote a shopping guide to Scandinavia for The Fox is Black, which you can find here.

Have a great Thursday!

CATEGORIES: Inspiration

Bedding for Land of Nod



You have no idea how excited I was when Land of Nod asked me to design some crib bedding, and I was even more thrilled when they told me they wanted me to design something in my retro-style buildings motif. So happy to announce that 1001 Good Nights Crib Bedding is now available!



The Crib Skirt has the word “Goodnight” embroidered onto it in different languages. The entire set, all 100% cotton, includes several different pieces to choose from, all sold separately, which you can view here.




Thank you, Land of Nod! You can purchase the bedding here.



Goodbye (sniff) San Francisco, Hello Oakland



{A rendering of the house in Oakland I’ll be moving into in two weeks}


Twenty-two and a half years ago, the day after I graduated from college, I moved with a suitcase of clothes and two boxes of belongings to San Francisco. Everything I owned fit easily into my parents’ car. They picked me up in the East Bay town where I attended college and drove me over the Bay Bridge to my new home — known affectionately by locals as “The City.”

San Francisco is a City (with a capital C), and while it’s not a huge city (it’s only 7 miles x 7 miles wide), it is far larger and more urban than any place I’d ever lived. I was arriving on my own to make a new life here. I had no job, no idea how to get anywhere, and no concept of the lay of the land. I rented a room in the basement apartment of a friend of a friend at Taravel and 22nd Streets where I stayed for the next three months until I moved to another neighborhood.

On my first evening in San Francisco, my new roommate Beth and I took the bus to the Bridge Theater on Geary Street to see Cinema Paradiso. In one evening I did three things that I’d never done before: 1) took a city bus 2) went to a historic Art Deco theater (and not a suburban cineplex) and 3) saw a foreign film.  As I laid in bed that night, I was literally euphoric. A whole new world was opening up to me. I’d only been here 8 hours, but one thing was true: I was already falling in love with San Francisco and my new life here.

Over two decades have passed since that evening, and, as you may have guessed, I never left. Until now. Two weeks from Friday, I’m packing up my Mission District apartment to leave my beloved city for Oakland, back across the Bay Bridge. I have been known to say emphatically to friends over the last 20 years, “I AM NEVER LEAVING SAN FRANCISCO. I LOVE IT TOO MUCH.” Clearly lots of other people love it here too — and that’s not surprising. It is utterly beautiful, diverse, rich in food, art and culture, gay friendly, colorful, wonderfully weird. The economy is good here, too. Lots of people have money. The tech industry thrives here. Facebook and Twitter and Google are either here or a stone’s throw away.

Four years ago my partner Clay moved into the apartment where I’ve lived for almost 10 years. And now as we enter our middle years, we are ready for a slightly larger living space, a yard, a quieter street. But the problem is, we can’t afford that in San Francisco anymore. The wealth of this city has driven apartment and home prices up and up — especially in neighborhoods that are quiet and tree-lined. So we are heading over to Oakland, a larger but slightly lesser known city about eight miles across the bridge. Oakland has a lot to offer — more affordable housing, fantastic parks and outdoor space, farmer’s markets, great restaurants and galleries, beautiful shops, diversity and warmer summers.

I am really excited to try something new. In some ways this feels like a new adventure. I am thrilled to have a slightly larger place to live (though many people would call our new house tiny) with a big yard in a nice, quiet neighborhood still central to urban life. I even found a studio space that is 1/3 larger than my current space for $600 less a month than I pay in San Francisco (!!!). And Oakland (when there is no traffic) a only 20 minute drive from San Francisco, and a few train stops away.

But this is a double-edged sword. I love San Francisco. It’s my home. I have spent over 1/2 of my life here. I became an adult here. Every major event in my life has happened here. Part of me feels like I am about to lose a limb. Truthfully, if it weren’t so expensive, I would stay.

And that is my story: part happy, part sad. I plan to make the very best of this promising life change, despite my heartache. But I sure will miss you, San Francisco.


Drumroll, please…


Screen Shot 2013-01-24 at 8.47.01 PM


Remember last month when I showed you my new business cards and told you I was also revamping my website and blog design? Well, I”m so happy to announce that my new website is finished! It was was designed by the amazing Feb Sansaneeyakiat, who also designed my last website. And let’s be clear: I loved my former website. But, I am one of those people who likes to freshen things up periodically, and technology has come a long way over the last two years, so it felt like time. Feb is always a pleasure to work with. I gave her very specific art direction, and she was brilliant about executing the site as I’d envisioned it.

You may also have noticed that I’ve also got a new blog design. This space I designed myself to coordinate with the colors and look of my website. My amazing developer Chris took care of making it all work on the back end. One new thing about my blog? There is now an RSS link over there to the right for those of you who would like to subscribe.

And now I hope you will go check out my new website! Lots of things to see over there.

Happy Friday. Have a great weekend!


Maira Kalman




Most artists I know have some artistic hero or heroine, someone they aspire to be or to emulate, not necessarily in the style of their work but more in the kind of person they are, the kind of work they make, and the kind of life they live (or we imagine them to live). For me, this person is Maira Kalman. I was introduced to her work years ago by my former partner, Marguerite. Marguerite (a designer herself) loved the work of graphic designer Tibor Kalman, who was Maira Kalman’s husband (he died in 1999). Marguerite had every book and magazine Tibor Kalman designed (at least that she could get her hands on). It was through this association that I learned about illustrator Maira Kalman, and that was long before I ever laid a paint brush to paper myself. I followed her work in the New Yorker and in her early children’s books, and then watched her rise to fame several years ago with the publication of illustrated books for adults and a major retrospective of her work at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco (which I was fortunate enough to see in 2010 and was life-changing for me).



Kalman has worked as a designer, author, illustrator and artist for more than thirty-five years. I think what appeals to me most about her vast catalog of work is that most of it is essentially a visual record of her life — what she sees, what she experiences, what she finds absurd or interesting. I love her painting style (which it should be noted is very different from mine — so loose and wonderful), her use of color, and the way she incorporates hand lettering into her illustrations.



I love Kalman’s adventurous spirit, her willingness to try new things, her quirks. At the show at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, I was exposed to her less widely known works in photography, embroidery, textiles, and performance.


{photo credit: Rick Meyerowitz}


I also love Kalman’s personal style and her sense of humor, both of which come through not only in her work, but also in the talks she gives. Recently Kalman spoke at the New York Creative Mornings, and I wanted to share that video with you. Another favorite talk of mine is the TED talk she gave in 2007 (which I have listened to about 10 times over the years).





It is on my life list (the list of things I want to do before I die) to meet Maira Kalman one day, maybe to even share a meal with her. I tend to hold on to big dreams, and this is one of my greatest.

Happy Wednesday.

CATEGORIES: Inspiration

Frequently Asked Questions :: Making Use of Studio Time



{my studio work table in October 2012}

Hi friends! I’m back today with another installment of Frequently Asked Questions. Before I get to today’s question, I wanted also to let you know that yesterday I was profiled on Design*Sponge’s Biz Ladies series. I answer lots of questions about starting, building and sustaining my small art & illustration business. You can check it out here!


Okay, back to today’s question. Recently I’ve been getting emails from people asking about one thing in particular: how do I make the best use of studio time? I think this challenge is especially formidable when we don’t have a paying client job that forces us to the studio or kitchen table to work. In other words, how do we motivate ourselves to get to the studio when the purpose is simply to make new work and not necessarily to finish a deadline? And then, once we are there, how do we use the time efficiently?

Note: for many people their “studio” is their kitchen table or the desk in their living room. What I’m really talking about here is working, whether you have a studio outside your house or not!

On getting yourself to the studio:

+Create a personal challenge or daily/weekly project. Do you respond well to parameters and structure? Do you enjoy a personal challenge? Start a “drawing a day” project or “a new medium a week” — or something unique that gets you making new work on a regular basis. Collection a Day 2010, 365 Days of Hand Lettering, and The Reconstructionists are all personal projects that have forced me to create on a regularly. And while none of them paid initially, they all led to more work in the end and in a couple of cases, book deals. The key for me was not just doing the daily practice, but sharing it publicly on the internet. That held me accountable and increased my visibility as an artist (which leads to more work).

+Make set studio hours. Often when we are self employed, we lose the structure in our day that we may once have had when we had a job. So until we find a good routine, we may feel lost or overwhelmed about how to organize our time. When I was first starting out as an illustrator I didn’t have much paying client work yet, so getting myself to the studio was hard. It seemed like I prioritized everything before getting to the studio — even going to the gym! So one solution to that was to set “studio hours” that I adhered to every day or every week. Once I set them up, I went to my studio during those hours to make new work whether I had a deadline or not. Here’s the crux of it: treat getting to the studio and working on your portfolio like you would a job.

+Find something that inspires you and use it to stimulate a new body of work. Jack London once said, “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” There are always things that interest us. In fact, many of us have interests that keep us up at night reading or scouring the internet. For example, for years I’ve been obsessed with Nordic culture and landscape. Since 2011 I’ve used that personal interest to make over 40 new pieces of personal work (paintings and drawings based on my obsession). Over time, these pieces have led to fine art sales, gallery shows and illustration work. Use your passions to drive your work.

+Get goals around building your online portfolio. Your online portfolio is one of the most important reflections of who you are as an artist or illustrator. Use building and perfecting your portfolio as a way to motivate yourself to make new work. The stronger your portfolio, the more work you will get. Set goals around strengthening sections of your portfolio and use studio time to work on meeting those goals. Are there specific kinds of illustration jobs you’d like to get? Make work that reflects your interest in those jobs.

On using time efficiently once you are in your studio:

+Turn off the internet and your smart phone. Need I say more?

+Set your alarm to take regular breaks so that you don’t burn out too early in the day

+Bring food, water and snacks. Stay nourished.

+Bring headphones and music or podcasts that help you keep your head down and your hand drawing.

+Set small goals for what to accomplish each day.



A Short Documentary Film :: Like Knows Like




I recall telling you a couple of weeks ago that I was sheepish about sharing videos and films in which I am featured, and today is no exception. Recently, two amazing (talented and kind) filmmakers from Amsterdam followed me for an entire day and made this short 5 minute film about me. It’s part of a series called Like Knows Like in which the filmmakers follow artists whom they discovered via the internet to find out what they are like in “real” life.” You can see some of the other films they’ve made so far on their site.

The film is beautifully shot and Bas and Marije were a joy to work with, and yet I’m still feeling shy about sharing the film. This is the furthest into my apartment I’ve ever let anyone with a video camera. You’ll also see a bit of my studio as well. The film catches my trademark “scowl” as I paint (which makes it look like I am mad, but is really just the expression I have when I am concentrating). I talk about my work, and love, and my relationship. But as I said last time, I am trying to get over my fears of feeling too exposed. So, here is the film! And, I hope you enjoy it. Thank you Bas and Marije for being so wonderful and for featuring me!



A Verb for Keeping Warm




I was delighted when my friends Adrienne and Kristine of A Verb for Keeping Warm asked me to illustrate a new image for their amazing yarn and fabric shop in Oakland. I decided the design had to include their dachshund, Cleo, and their Angora bunny, Marcel. And, of course, I decided the pair had to be wearing sweaters and drinking tea.

This might be one of my favorite things I’ve ever drawn. Animals in sweaters, yes.

On that note, happy Friday. I’ll be back Monday with the next Reconstructionist! And thank you to everyone who sent me a birthday wish via Twitter, Facebook and email yesterday. I was overwhelmed by your kind words. Thank you!



On Turning 45




At some point several years ago, I started to feel shame about my age for the first time. This was around the time I was turning 40, and it was a seminal year for me: I left a leadership position and career in the non profit world to take a stab at making art for a living. But while others were praising me for making a later-in-life career change into uncharted territory, I was secretly ashamed that I was just beginning at 40. Compared to most people launching their illustration careers, I was old. My insecurity had little to do with my physical appearance. I wanted to be 25 simply so I would fit more easily into the world I was joining.

Admittedly, it’s weird to think about having shame about aging. We have no control over aging, and it happens to everyone, every second of the day. Everyone who is now 25 will eventually be 40, and everyone who is 40 will eventually be 55. As we exist, we age. And we can’t always predict what twists and turns our lives will take. I happened to figure out pretty late in life that I liked to make art and that I was good at it. How could this make me feel ashamed? (Society? Our obsession with youth? Probably, but that’s another blog post). In some ways I had more internalized shame about my age during this period of time than I’d ever had about my sexual orientation.

In the end, I mastered turning 40 quite well. Eventually I conquered my shame about being the oldest person in the cohort of illustrators whom I considered my peers. I realized over time that all of the life experience I’d had gave me some advantages that I wouldn’t have had at 25. And no one seemed to care that I was older. I fit in just fine. I made friends. I got ample work. In the end, it didn’t matter.

Somewhere in there I also determined that I would embrace aging. I would talk freely about my age, and I’d wear it as a badge of honor. I wouldn’t stop dying my hair weird colors or mixing stripes in my outfits. I’d look to Advanced Style for inspiration, just as I looked at The Sartorialist. I’d celebrate the changes in my body instead of trying to fix them. I’d get more manicures. I’d wear weirder and weirder glasses. I’d continue to be myself, but with even more flair.

Today I turn 45. And this is going to be a good year. I’m getting married (for the first time) to someone I’m crazy about. I am moving from my small apartment to a house in a few weeks (more on that later). I am working on four books that I’m really excited about. I’m going to Paris this summer. I am embarking on my sixth year of being gainfully self employed as an artist. I am happier than I have ever been.

Let’s do this, forty-five.



Learn Watercolor with Emily Proud



{recent watercolor painting of apples by Emily}

You may remember last month I wrote about the work of Emily Proud. I am so excited to let you know that Emily is teaching a watercolor class on March 2 in San Francisco! The class will be held at Makeshift Society, and you can register here.

Watercolor paint is wonderful, forgiving medium. In this three hour class, Emily will teach participants how to use several watercolor techniques and some basic principles of composition, rendering, and color. I highly recommend this class for both beginners and experienced painters alike.


{Swoon: I love this watercolor rendering of berries by Emily.}

Happy Wednesday, friends!


New Cards with Hello Lucky!




I am so thrilled to announce my collaboration with Hello Lucky on a new set of letterpressed greeting cards! I was so excited when they contacted me, because I’ve been a big fan of this San Francisco based company for years.

Bonus: if you’d like to learn more about the cards and my process for designing them, there is a little interview with me on the Hello Lucky Blog this week. You can purchase the cards here. And if you are retailer, wholesale information is located here.



Thank you Hello Lucky!

Product Photos by Edyta Szyszlo Photography.


Frida’s Closet


 {my favorite Frida Kahlo photograph}

Ever since I heard they’d finally opened Frida Kahlo’s closet and put it on view for the world to see, I’ve wanted to dash to Mexico City. Several years ago, The Frida Kahlo Museum in Mexico City acquired the clothes which have been in storage for 59 years. Trunks filed with dresses, shawls, and accessories were opened, restored and put on display. The exhibit, Appearances Can Be Deceiving: The Dresses of Frida Kahlo, is a collaboration between the museum and Vogue Mexico.

{photo courtesy Museo Frida Kahlo}

Can you imagine? The clothes of a style icon finally opened 59 years after her death? Inside were not only articles of her clothing but hundreds of personal items, including photographs, love letters, medications, jewelry and shoes. The curator, Circe Henestrosa, talks in the video below about how emotional it was for her staff to open up Kahlo’s closet to see the dresses, to smell them, and even to see all of the medicines she took. “You feel them, like the essence,” she says. As a collector and a lover of old things, I can only imagine how exciting — and awe inspiring — this must have been.

 {the exhibit explores both ethnicity and disability}

And why were they locked up for so long? When she died in 1954 Diego Rivera (the famous Mexican muralist and Frida Kahlo’s husband), locked the closet doors and vowed never to allow anyone to enter fearing the contents would be mishandled or ruined. When Rivera died, the contents were entrusted to a friend, Dolores Olmedo, who promised that they would not be opened until her own death. She died in 2002. Finally the museum decided to open the closet, and they were thrilled with what they found. The clothing she chose both helped to disguise her physical issues (she suffered from polio and wore a brace on her back and leg) and also to celebrate her culture (the Tehuana dresses Kahlo wore regularly were made by indigenous artisans and represented the matriarchal Tehuantepec society).

The exhibit is the first opportunity for the public to see the contents in person. Separately, a book was published in 2008, which includes 95 photographs of Kahlo’s newly restored clothing.

Appearances Can Be Deceiving: The Dresses of Frida Kahlo will run until November 2013.


CATEGORIES: Inspiration

Me & The Good Life Project



Full disclosure: I am mortified at the sight of myself on video. The first time I watched myself talk for 20 minutes after giving my Creative Mornings Talk I needed a stiff drink. However, a) I’m trying to get over worrying about my crooked mouth or sounding like a dork and  b) I had so much fun talking to Jonathan Fields of The Good Life Project last month that I’m sharing this 45 minute interview with you. It was filmed in my studio, and I talk about a lot of stuff (more topics than I can name here). I hope you enjoy. Thank you, Jonathan!

Psst: You might also like some of Jonathan’s other interviews, including interviews with Seth Godin and Brene Brown and a myriad of other creative entrepreneurs.



Changing Things Up



The other night while watching a film, I got a sudden flash of inspiration to make big abstract paintings. The film wasn’t about paintings, or even art. In this particular scene in the film, something in the background was blurred — or abstracted. And whatever it was looked like a gorgeous painting, a big swath of magenta on beige background. Maybe it was the color the caught my eye? I am not sure.

I have been thinking for many months about changing things up in my personal work, and so this was just the flash of inspiration that I needed. Making abstract work has always frightened me. When I was first learning to paint 13 years ago, I figured abstract painting had to be easy. And then I tried it! And I discovered that making a successful abstract painting was insanely hard — at least for me at the time. And I’ve not tried it since.

I love the quote above by Degas. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the importance of embracing the “beginner mind” (but more on that another day). For now, I’m off off to prep some panels for abstract paintings. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Happy Wednesday.




{Untitled, 1960, Agnes Martin}

For years I wanted more: more work, more love, more friends, more connections, more opportunities. I yearned for my life to expand. And you know what? It did. Because when you are open to more good stuff in your life, you get more.

But recently I hit a wall. All of a sudden I want less. Not necessarily less good stuff. Just less of everything. Maybe you know what I’m talking about. Because it was like this: more work, more love, more friends, more connections, more opportunities turned into more obligations, more commitments, more pressure, more overwhelm.

So 2013 is all about less. I’m under-planning. I’m saying no, even when I want to say yes. I am saving time to do nothing. I’m not going to invent plans or projects just because I have an empty hour or day or month in my calendar. I am going to learn to be okay with less.  I won’t be busy, overbooked, exhausted, overburdened. I did that already, and it’s completely overrated.

When people ask me how I’m doing I’m going to say, Great! I’m enjoying my life and feeling relaxed. And it will be true. I’m not going to say I’m busy, because I’m not going to be busy. And, besides, I dislike that word and what it has come to represent in my life.

Other people are talking about this very thing. Erin wrote an excellent post about the topic here in the context of her own life. And I’ve referred before on this blog to this excellent NY Times article from last year called The Busy Trap. I’m absolutely sure others are thinking and writing about it too.

I’ve never been so excited about less.