Leise Dich Abrahamsen




I have become recently captivated by the work of Leise Dich Abrahamsen, who I discovered last September when I was visiting Stilleben, the most perfect shop in all of Copenhagen. Abrahamsen is a Danish artist who also appears to have a shop in Copenhagen (which I appear to have missed on my trip! Note to self: must go back!).



On her blog fraleise, she posts nearly everyday images of her work, her life, her inspirations and her travels about. About the blog, written in English, she says it “is about everything in life that amazes, excites and inspires me. welcome inside.” It is, indeed, a feast for the eyes.









{All images courtesy Leise Dich Abrahamsen}

Happy, happy Tuesday.

CATEGORIES: Inspiration

Chicago :: Flashback 2006



{A photo I took at an El stop on my trip in 2006}

I leave this morning for Chicago. I’m speaking at Moxie, a conference for creative professionals that happens tomorrow. I started thinking a lot in the last few days about the last time I visited Chicago. That was in 2006, and I went to compete in the Gay Games. The Gay Games (formerly known as the “Gay Olympics”) is a sporting and cultural event that happens every four years (just like the Olympics). In the early 1980s, gay and lesbian athletes were a hidden and marginalized community (inside an even larger hidden and marginalized population of people). That began to change when the Games were founded in 1982. Now the Gay Games is one of the largest sporting events in the world! In 2006 the Games were held in Chicago, and I was lucky enough to go and compete in swimming. I had been swimming competatively almost my whole life, minus college. I am a strong swimmer for sure, but not college athletics strong. That kind of dedication was not something I could fathom as an 18 year old.


{Standing in the registration hall for the Gay Games VII}

I came back to swimming when I was 27 years old. I joined a Masters team in San Francisco that is mostly gay, but open to all swimmers. The event in Chicago was my probably my 30th masters competition, but my second Gay Games — I’d also competed in the Games in 1998 in Amsterdam. The 2006 swimming events were held at the University of Chicago Aquatics Center, and every day my teammates and I caught a bus from the The Magnificent Mile get to the pool. The University’s aquatics center is vast and beautiful. I was also a team coach, so I went nearly every day to the pool whether I was competing or not. I happen to love being around swimming pools; the smell of chlorinated water makes me giddy.



On the eve of the start of the Games, there was an enormous opening ceremonies celebration at Wrigley Field. As my teammates and I walked toward the stadium, along with thousands of athletes from all over the world, there were anti-gay protesters all around us. It was the first time in my life I’d ever encountered anything like this in person.


{My teammate Dave standing next to the protesters so I could snap a photograph}

Of course, we all laughed (probably out of nervousness) and tried to make light of it. The weirdness of it all was eclipsed by the enthusiasm of the crowd as we entered the stadium. Thousands of people came to watch the opening ceremonies and cheer on the athletes. I still get chills just thinking about it, even this many years later.



Over the next several days, I competed in seven swimming events, both individual and relays. Freestyle was my stroke — I swam everything from the 50 meters to the 1500, and most things in between. That week, I won six gold medals and one silver medal in my age group. It was, needless to say, one of the most exciting weeks of my life. My team did really well overall at the Games too, and we were all pretty excited.



All of this happened seven years ago, and my life was so different then. I was still working a full time job. I hadn’t yet adopted Wilfredo or met Clay. My art career had barely started. Swimming, next to my career in education, was the most significant part of my life. The following year, I left my team and gave up swimming competitively when I decided to dedicate more of my time and energy toward my artwork. I was also burned out after 11 years of practicing several times a week with my team, coaching and traveling to compete. I still swim several times a week now, but not on a team and far less seriously. Looking back at these photographs makes me remember what an amazing and huge part of my life competitive swimming was: how much I loved my teammates (many of whom are still good friends today) and what a rich experience it was to be part of a swim team founded by & for gay and lesbian athletes.

When I look back at stuff like this, I realize I never could have imagined that my life would have changed in the ways that it has, for better or for worse (I was actually pretty happy back then; my life was just different). It makes me realize that while we can influence a great deal of our future by our choices and intentions, so much of it is just chance. Who knows where we will all be in another seven years.

Have a great weekend, friends.


My Nordic Adventure: Journal Entries, Part One




{Journal Entries from Day 12 of my adventure in Scandinavia}

When I was traveling in Scandinavia last year, I kept a travel journal for the entire adventure. Every evening after a long day of exploring, I took my thoughts, my water color paints, my pens and any ephemera I’d collected and document my day. I used one of these gorgeous Large Moleskine Watercolor Books to record everything. I have never been an art journal keeper, except when I travel. The joy I experience when I keep a journal like this makes me wonder why I don’t engage in this kind of activity in my regular life. While traveling, I find it really grounding to re-assemble my day (and all of the visual inspiration I found) in pictures and a few words.

As part of My Nordic Adventure series, I’ll share with you some of the pages from that journal. First up: two different days from my time in Copenhagen. The entry above was from Day 12 and the entry below was from Day 13 of my trip. Copenhagen is a really colorful, lively city and I cannot wait to go back and visit there again.


{From Day 13 of my Adventure}

Happy Thursday.


Jon Rendell 25′ Radius



{Day 5: a wheel of brie}

You all know I love a good 365 day personal challenge and that I particularly love challenges that have interesting constraints. Photographer Jon Rendell began a project on January 1 of this year in which he photographs something every day within the constraints of the 25′ radius of his apartment. It is simply called 25′ Radius. Further constraining Jon are the fact that he shoots only in black and white and uses only natural light. Jon is interested in pushing himself “to find inspiration in unexplored compositions and natural light.” Each day Jon posts one photograph taken that day on his blog.


{Day  108: a dead daffodil}

Jon happens to be a friend of mine. We met back in 1999 where we worked together at the same non-profit organization for the next 8 years. Jon has always been exceptionally creative —  the kind of person who sees beauty or complexity in things that the average person would not.


{Day 95: Jon’s legs against the shadow of the his balcony}

Jon’s passion for photography has been lifelong. In the mid 60s Jon’s father gave him the family Box Brownie (Kodak). He was 8. In the 70s, 80s and 90s he progressed through a series of 35mm film cameras along with the associated traditional darkroom techniques. The year we met in 1999 he got his first digital camera. Since then I’ve watched his passion and skill flourish. Jon also has a great sense of humor.  I love this project Jon did a few years back called On the Level in which he photographed San Francisco homes built on steep hills, and then adjusted them in Photoshop so that they appear as though they are tilted.


{Day 72: “guacamole”}

I am always anxious to see what Jon posts each day as part of his project. What will he find that he has not shot before? What new angle will he take? Will it be literal or abstract? Will he see a new quality of light as the seasons change?


{Day 54: wet chair on the balcony}

Jon reminds us through this project  that if we look at the same thing for long enough and with an open enough mind, we can actually see one thousand other things — that even seemingly inanimate objects change and fade over time, sit in light differently, shine differently on different days. In some ways, Jon’s project is an exercise in contemplation.

You can visit Jon’s project here, and view his website portfolio here.  Follow him on Facebook daily updates.

Happy Wednesday!

CATEGORIES: Inspiration

My Wallpaper in Gorgeous Spaces



{The kitchen of Daniel Kanter of Manhattan Nest}

You may recall that last fall wallpaper company Hygge and West launched my new line of wallpaper. It includes the Triangle pattern (above), Ferns and Bohemian. Designing wallpaper might be one of the most exciting jobs I’ve ever had. Just last week Hygge and West launched removable wallpaper tiles, which are easy to remove without leaving any residue – ideal for temporary installations. They are also perfect for renters and high traffic areas and projects that would be difficult with traditional wallpaper. Daniel of Manhattan Nest, who rents an apartment in New York, recently used the yellow and black Triangle tiles to wallpaper his kitchen, and wrote about the experience here on his blog, including “in process” photos!


{More from Daniel’s kitchen on Manhattan Nest}

The removable tiles come in the black and yellow pattern, grey and pink, and black and white. Thank you Daniel!! It looks amazing.

In other news, Makeshift Society, my favorite co-working space in San Francisco, used rolls of my charcoal and gold Triangle pattern on one of their walls (pictured below). I can’t wait to head over there and take a look at it in person!


{photo by via Hygge and West}

If you love either the removable tiles OR the rolls of my wallpaper, you can purchase all of it here. Rumor has it Daniel is hosting a giveaway for the removable tiles on his blog very soon! Not sure about color or scale? Ask Hygge and West to send you samples (just use the drop down menu).

Have a great Tuesday, friends.


Anna’s Designs for Our Big Day



{our wedding invitations, designed by Anna Dorfman}

When Clay and I became engaged last year, we began to think about all the ways we could involve our talented friends in the design of the day. And one thing we knew for sure: we wanted Anna Dorfman’s hand in our invitations and website design. I’ve been friends with Anna, who lives in New York and writes the blog Door Sixteen, for several years. I adore her style and her aesthetic. While we do not live in the same city, Anna and I talk nearly every day on social media, and occasionally email and text. Last year I had the privilege of working with Anna on a book cover for Simon & Schuster where she works.  I also got to spend nearly a week with Anna last May, and visited her dreamy home in Newburgh with our friends Victoria and Jenna. Anna and I share a deep love for chihuahuas, cute animals in general, pops of neon pink, and yummy plant-based food. She’s a delight to work with: generous, kind, thorough, and exceptionally gifted. She is always up to something amazing.

I knew I wanted some bright colored flowers on both the website and paper invitations, and I sent Anna some that I painted, along with some other art direction. It turns out that what I thought I wanted originally was not what I wanted at all — and Anna designed something even better in the end. The process of designing anything can be rife with the back-and-forth haggling over details, but almost none of that needed to happen in this case.  First came the website design back in February. Anna nailed that the first round. I believe I cried when I saw it, and Clay squealed! Anna kept asking “Are you sure there isn’t anything you’d like me to change?” Nope, we said. It’s perfect!

Screen Shot 2013-04-19 at 7.18.22 AM

{screen shot of our wedding website}

The invitations, pictured up top, were the next to come through. We had them printed on textured linen paper. On the back side are all the details of the wedding (which we want to keep private). We could not be happier.

Thank you, Anna, for all of your generous work on this. It was the best wedding gift we could ever imagine! See you in June!

Happy Friday, friends.


CATEGORIES: The 2013 Wedding

My Nordic Adventure: Chairs, Part One




Who doesn’t love a good chair? My trip to Scandinavia offered a treasure trove of seating delights. This week’s addition to My Nordic Adventure series is an assemblage of paintings I made of a few chairs I saw and loved in Sweden. Many of these I saw at the Nordiska Museet in their collection of Swedish decor through the ages. Have I mentioned how much I love that museum? You can read about my visit there here.

Happy Thursday, friends!


It Gets Better, A Fundraiser



{Mia holding the compilation of illustrated quotes she made with her friend Devyn}

My 13-year-old niece Mia is a special kid. She’s warm-hearted and compassionate, conscientious and engaged. Last year I wrote about what it’s like to be an aunt to her here. If you’ve been reading this blog for long you may remember that Mia, who lives in Portland, came to stay with Clay and me this past summer to attend CCA’s art program for middle school students. She’s coming again this summer to live with us and go back to that program. We are so excited.

Mia is always up to something amazing, and her latest project is a fundraiser for It Gets Better, the project that communicates through video to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth around the world that life gets better. The project also creates and inspires changes needed to make it better for gay teens. You may remember last year my partner Clay produced and appeared in an It Gets Better Video for CCA, where she works. Middle school students are often bullied for being gay or even appearing gay, leading them to feel like they have nowhere to turn. Mia and her friend Devyn were touched by the project and wanted to support kids their age around the world who were being bullied. They decided to make a book of illustrated quotes from It Gets Better videos to sell to raise funds for itgetsbetter.org. In their own words:

“We created this booklet to benefit the It Gets Better Project (itgetsbetter.org) because we want to support gay teens. Gay teens are five times more likely to commit suicide, and that is something we need to stop. The money raised from the sales of this booklet will go towards the It Gets Better Project, an organization fully devoted to helping LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) youth feel better about themselves, and to stop the bullying.”

I’m so happy to announce that the book is now for sale. You might recognize my lettering on the cover, and that’s because they asked me to illustrate it. I was so happy to contribute to this great project.


The books are $5.00 each. Every page is illustrated by Mia and Devyn (who are both amazing artists).



Get one before they sell out, and support this fantastic project. Thank you, Mia and Devyn!


On Getting (and Using) Another Chance




Last week, you may recall, I stopped blogging for a few days. My life has become chaotic recently, and I needed to let a few things go temporarily. To compound the overwhelm, I was feeling like a failure. Last January, after two years of a packed work schedule, I decided that 2013 was going to be different — that I would take less work, be less busy and just do less in my life in an effort to enjoy myself more. You can read the post I wrote about that decision here. I had a great opportunity in early January to make that happen. At the time, I was working on only a few projects and I was set up to have a year of balance. As a freelancer I am lucky: I get to decide what work I take and what work I decline. No one forces me to take a job when I don’t have time in my schedule. And that’s a great thing.

But something happened. Sometime in mid-January, a whole bunch of work, including two book offers and six illustration jobs, landed in my inbox. And I said yes to all of them, in a flash, without much thinking. Two of the books are huge endeavors. One because I’m writing it (and not illustrating it) and another because it includes 900 illustrations (which I had 4 months to complete). Last week, things came to a head and the impact of my workload (and being way out of my comfort zone) made me realize I had made a huge mistake. I had done everything I said I wouldn’t do. I had taken on too much, was busy and overwhelmed and miserable.

A former coworker calls those moments when you realize you have made really bad decisions “come to Jesus” moments. I am not religious, so for me this is was not literally a “come to Jesus” moment. But figuratively it was. Now is the time I have to step back and face the facts. I have to attempt to learn from the impact of my decisions. The impact was that I was working 11-12 hour days, 6 days a week to meet all of my freelance work obligations. All the while, planning a wedding and trying to be a good partner to Clay. The impact was insomnia, not eating well, bad anxiety, exhaustion.

There was a time when I asked the universe for “a lot of work.” I thought that’s what I wanted. When you are starting out as a freelancer and you have very little work and struggle to pay the bills, often times “a lot of work” is the goal. And, on top of that, you want great jobs and clients. Over time, I got all of that: a lot of work and amazing clients.

So what happened? I think the main problem is that I am still learning how to say no to exciting opportunities in service of a better quality of life. I want to do it all. Last week I attended the TYPO Design Conference in San Francisco. Designer Satsuki Shibuya gave a great talk on this very topic. A bout of frightening illness caused her to totally re-evaluate her work/life balance. She reminded us simply that we cannot do it all. Humans are not bionic. And, that, in fact, our lives (and our work) will be better if we take on less. DUH, I thought. It’s such a simple concept, so why is it so hard for so many of us to grasp? Do I live in fear that if I say no, I’ll never have a great opportunity again?

Which brings me back to January. I can’t rewind the clock. I made commitments to clients that I need to fulfill. And I need to do my best work for all of them. So, for now, I’m still working a lot. And I’m still pretty tired. But what I do get is another chance. I can decide never to let this happen again. I can decide to start over once this hectic period ends in June.

I love what I do. I love being an illustrator and I love working hard at it. I love my clients, and the vast majority of the work I’ve had in the last three years has been incredibly exciting and fulfilling. I want to keep doing exciting work for great clients. But I’ve realized I’m not going to love my work anymore unless I also have time for breaks from it — to hang out with friends and my partner, gather new inspiration, make personal work, play, explore, be adventurous.

Thank goodness for second (or third or fourth) chances. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.


Stepping Back



{A little spot in my new studio}

My life has been a whirlwind of activity: planning a wedding, writing a book with strict chapter deadlines, illustrating another book of 900 drawings, working on a third book (that one is much further along), and other illustration jobs, speaking engagements and life commitments. I have like I said I wouldn’t, taken on too much. I have failed, utterly failed, at not being busy.

I have always been one to push the envelope, and I have certainly pushed it this time. When will I learn? I am not sure. This could get really boring.

For the rest of this week I am going to take a break from this blog, mostly because my time is so limited. Thank you to those of you who visit here daily. This place is one of my favorite in the world, like a retreat from everything else. I like being able to share it with so many people, and I am grateful that you come to share it with me. I’ll be back Monday with my regular litany of posts.

See you then, friends.


My Nordic Adventure: Stockholm Signage




Raise your hand if you love signage. I am one of those people too. I particularly (like most sign buffs) love old signs. There was a time when I would drive around different towns with my camera looking for old signs to photograph. I love signs for the same reason I love to collect certain things: the typography, the color combinations, the use of icons.

Scandinavia has some of the most beautiful signs in the world, and today’s My Nordic Adventure installment is an homage to some that I saw and loved in Stockholm, Sweden. The thing about Stockholm (and many of the places I went in Scandinavia) is that even most of the new signs were beautiful. Even the street signs are graphically cool.

I think what makes signs in countries outside your own often more interesting is that they are just so different from what we are used to. Even the use of language on the signs becomes artful or inspiring or funny. At some point I’ll get around to drawing the signs I saw and loved in Copenhagen, Helsinki and all over Iceland too.

You can see all the previous installments in My Nordic Adventure series here, and you can learn more about the project here.

Enjoy your local signage today, and happy weekend!



My Desk on Refinery29!



{Photos by Rachelle Manning}

Little known fact: I have a home office in addition to my studio, and today it’s featured on Refinery 29, along with 5 other desks of Bay Area creative women.



This is, of course, the desk I set up in the office in my new home in Oakland, where I moved from San Francisco in February. My new house, as you can see, has great light. I love being able to look out over the backyard when I’m working. You can read an interview with me about the space here.



I love arranging spaces. Above are some of my favorite books and trinkets on my desk.

Thank you to Angela at Refinery29 for including me, and Rachelle for taking great photos. They were so nice to work with.

Happy almost-Friday!


On Owning All of It




Last night I went to hear Cheryl Strayed speak. For those of you who don’t know Cheryl Strayed, she wrote the National Best Seller Wild and last year released Tiny Beautiful Things. Ever since reading Wild (and I am currently reading Tiny Beautiful Things), I have fallen in love with her, not just as a writer and story teller, but as someone who, because of her life experiences, is an incredibly authentic, empathetic, wise woman. She is also, by the way, a fantastic and charming public speaker.

Last month, I signed a book deal with Chronicle Books. My book is due to be released in 2014. This book is different from the others I’ve worked on, and that’s because I’m writing it, not illustrating it. In the end, there will be 30,000 words in my book. Aside from this blog, on which I post five days a week, I have never written much in my life. So I have become increasingly interested in knowing as much as I can about the writing process. I am devouring essays and podcasts by writers about writing. I think it might be akin to someone who realizes they are gay, and then reads as much as they can about the experience of other gay people. I am a writer now, and, in order to understand my own experience, I want to know what the process of writing feels like to other people.

Last night someone in the audience asked Cheryl Strayed what the editing part of the writing process was like for her, and how did she decides what to fight to keep in her books and what to let go of. Her answer was very comforting to me. She said, you know, when you write a book, you hand it to your editor (sometimes more than one), chapter by chapter, and she gives you her opinion about what should stay or go and what should change (and that lots can change in that process from the original manuscript). She said that sometimes you have to fight for the things that you want to keep in your book, but that you also have to balance that with trusting another person’s opinion about your story and what might make it better. And, she said, most poignantly, this is no different from being in a relationship or parenting or life in general. Sometimes you have to listen to yourself and fight for what you want, and sometimes you have to let go and trust other people to decide what is best.

I just started writing my book, and have barely finished the introduction and the first chapter. Already there are times when I feel totally cracked open by the editing process. I am a humble writer. I know I have so much to learn. And so I welcome the critique and feedback of my editors (I have two), because I know in the end it will make my book better (and they have been, by the way, amazing and generous with me so far). And yet, it still feels hard and overwhelming to work on something for hours and hours, only to have it changed and altered and critiqued. For some reason, it feels harder than when I go through rounds of changes with my illustrations for clients. Maybe my writing is more personal to me than my art? Not sure.

Another thing I learned from Cheryl Strayed last night is that the pain of editing a book is necessary, just like the pain of editing your life (your relationships, your work) is necessary. I am learning that owning the entire experience of my life, even the really hard and shameful parts, is critical, not just to being a good writer, but also to being a good human. And I am always aspiring to be a better human, even if I am occasionally a shitty writer.

On that note, I’m off to finish chapter one.

Happy Wednesday.






{My first abstract paintings, hung in my living room. The neon paint is more neon-y in real life.}

You may remember this post back in January in which I discussed “changing things up” and making abstract paintings (as opposed to my usual literal drawings and paintings). Shortly after I wrote that post, I indeed started painting a pair of two abstracts on 24×24 inch panels that would go side by side.

And then, as happens sometimes, life hit me like a hurricane. I moved, got 1000 illustration jobs and two new book deals, and those two paintings got thrown to the wayside.

That is, until this past Sunday. In an attempt to stay connected to the a more pure, not-for-work-or-money-art-making process (since I spend so much of my time illustrating for clients), I am trying to spend some time in my studio every week (and it usually ends up being on the weekend) just playing around. And this past weekend I did just that, and I worked for several more hours on the pair.

They each have about 20 layers of paint on them and I kept adding more till I got them just how I wanted them. And now they are hanging in my new living room. Making them was pure frolic (and so different than my regular process) and I cannot wait to make another.

Happy Tuesday.