Tools I Use & Love



I am often asked, especially on Instagram, what tools I use and what resources I take advantage of in my business. While I am happy to share most of my tools and resources, I can’t possibly share all of them (both because I can’t remember everything and because that would take too long). The following tools are some that I use and love, and I hope you find this list helpful!

First, as always, my disclaimer: I do not speak for all artists here and what will work best for you or anyone else. I speak only for myself! I am also not representing any of these companies. I also can’t vouch for how any of them will work for you and your process.

I also link to many products here on Amazon, because they carry pretty much everything — and if you live in an area without a local art or printing store, Amazon is a great place to order supplies. That said, I encourage you to shop small local businesses for these products, and I also encourage you to search the internet for other places that sell art supplies if shopping on Amazon isn’t your thing.

Products, Hardware & Creative Software

Black pens: I love Micron pens. Most of you who follow me on Instagram see that I draw with Microns everyday. I love this pen, and I have several in each width, from very tiny tips to thick “Graphic” widths. I do all my lettering with Microns. They are permanent and acid free. Find the widths that work best for you (I tend to use .03-.08 the most often). Buy them here. I also like these black brush pens by Sakura.

Colored pens: I use Koi Brush pens and Gellyroll Pens, but mostly in my sketchbook. Some Gellyroll pens are archival, and those I use in the artwork I sell.

Gouache: My favorite brand of gouache is Acryla. The color selection is lush and they mix nicely. It is more opaque than many gouaches and might be because it’s an acrylic-based watercolor paint. Gouache is matte in finish and I like this, especially when I’m painting on paper.

Watercolor: I also use both Holbein and Koi watercolors. Both are rich and lush.

Acrylic: I use both Golden and Liquitex Professional acrylic paints for my larger abstract work on wood. If you are lucky enough to live near a Blick Art Store, they have an amazing selection of both brands of paint (along with the Acryla gouache I referred to above).

Brushes: I purchase whatever firm, flat head or tiny head brushes are on sale for either watercolor or acrylic painting. I go through brushes really fast, so I buy whatever is on sale or feels nice to the touch.

I also use X-Acto Knives and regular old scissors for paper cutting (note: be extra careful with these, especially if you have small children! Put the cap back on when not in use).

Paper: I am not a paper snob! I draw on vellum or regular drawing paper and paint on watercolor paper. I use so much paper that I usually purchase what is on sale. Canson and Strathmore are fantastic paper brands but there are many other great papers out there. Find the papers you like the best by experimenting. My sketchbooks are just regular everyday cheap sketchbooks, and sometimes if I want the pages to be thicker, I glue every other page together with an acid-free glue stick. I do occasionally work in a sketchbook with watercolor paper, which is a nice treat.

Computers: I have two computers. I have an iMac with a large monitor, which is great for Photoshop editing when I am working on illustration gigs. I print from that computer onto my Epson 3880 (see below). I also have a MacBook Air which I use for everyday stuff and some editing in Photoshop.

Printer: Many of you ask how I make my art prints. Since 2008, I have owned and used an Epson 3880 printer, and I make all of my open edition (non limited edition) prints on this fine piece of machinery. The ink is NOT CHEAP (about $60 a cartridge and there are about 8-9 cartridges) but it lasts a long time.

Printer paper: I find that Epson Paper is the best for Epson printers, and I use Premium acid free Epson matte paper for all of my art prints.

Scanner: I scan my work as a regular part of my workday and find that the Epson V800 scanner does the job well. Like with any scanner, you have to play around with the controls to make sure you are scanning in just the right way (scanning artwork is different from scanning negatives or photos). Once I scan my work, I edit it in Photoshop (see my note about Adobe Creative Cloud below). I learned how to use Photoshop to edit my artwork many years ago by taking tutorials on and also asking people with more experience for help or lessons. Then I practiced everything till I became an expert at it. Much of what I scan is larger than the scan bed, so I scan in parts and piece together with Photoshop tools. Another skill I taught myself over time.

Creative Software: I use the Adobe Creative Cloud for all my design software, and the program I use daily is Photoshop (I also sometimes use Illustrator).

I work with a Intuos Pro Wacom Pen Tablet for editing my images or for digital drawaing in Photoshop.

I don’t know how I lived without my desktop USPS postal scale (and I use Etsy’s shipping feature to make my USPS labels). Highly recommend both if you are an Etsy seller.

I really love Moo for business cards and postcards. I purchase their Luxe business cards for an extra “wow” factor! Their quality is gorgeous and mine are always a conversation starter.

My Website

I’ve been using Siteground for web hosting. I can’t recommend this company enough. They have hosted several of my web sites.

Since 2011, I’ve used WordPress for content management on both my blog and website. It’s user-friendy and free!

Sara Jensen Design designed both my blog and website. Sara and her husband Thor handle everything for me from design, development, site updates, and more. They are the bomb.

Other Resources and Tools

We use Mailchimp for email marketing, which I send twice a month. You can sign up for my email list here at the bottom of my website.

I’ve been on Etsy, the handmade online marketplace, since 2008.

I highly recommend the Graphic Artist’s Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines for crucial information on pricing your work, contracts, licensing information, and more. It is the best book out there on the topic, period.

We recently signed up with Hootsuite for social media scheduling and monitoring. So far so good.

My Business Classes and Book

Become a Working Artist (Online Course)

Art Inc.: The Essential Guide for Building Your Career as an Artist (Book)

Online Art Classes

Sketchbook Explorations (online class)

Basic Line Drawing (online class)

More classes coming soon! Stay tuned…

A closing note: yesterday my 15 year old niece came over for her first day as my studio assistant. She is an aspiring and already prolific artist and has plans already to go to RISD to study illustration when she graduates from high school. Several times yesterday she said to me: “Wow, these pens are SO NICE!” or “Wow, this is the nicest Wacom Tablet I’ve ever seen!” and “That is such a cool scanner!” I said to her, “Someday when you are a professional illustrator you will have nice equipment too!” So this is all to say that much of what I own, I own because I make my living as an artist and using high quality materials and equipment makes my work better and my clients and collectors happier. I had none of this stuff (except for maybe the paint) when I started out as an artist. That said, there are many other alternatives to the stuff I’ve listed that are less expensive and still great. I encourage you to use the materials and equipment you have and find the stuff that works for you. Don’t ever use not having the “right” materials as an excuse for not getting your hands dirty and creating!

Have a great Wednesday, friends!


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.



Frequently Asked Questions :: Supplies


{the view from one of my work tables, taken in 2010}

One of the questions I get frequently is: What kind of supplies do you use in your work? So today I’m going to share a little bit of that with you. Art-making is a process of experimentation. I think it’s always smart to occasionally try new supplies (whether it’s a new medium or a new brand of medium), just to see if you might like something a little bit better. Taking advice or tips from other artists is also helpful. I have learned so much from the recommendations of friends.

Again, as always, my disclaimer: I do no speak for all artists here. I speak only for myself. These are the supplies I like & use. They may not work for you.

1) Paint. I use gouache. I occasionally also use acrylic (which mixes easily with the kind of gouache I use). I also occasionally use water colors. I like gouache because it is smooth, and it works well for me on a variety of surfaces. It is easy to both use thick (out of the tube with a little water) and to thin out (like water color with a lot of water). It does not have the “grip” that acrylic has, which can make it difficult when you are painting on a smooth, hard surface like masonite, but with practice that becomes easier. My favorite brand of gouache is Acryla. The color selection is lush and they mix nicely. It is more opaque than many gouaches. And that might be because it’s an acrylic-based watercolor paint. Many other gouaches are used with the binding agent gum arabic. Gouache is matte in finish, while acrylic paint can be a bit shiny. I like this, especially when I’m painting on paper.

2) Pens. One word: Micron. I love this pen, and I have about three in each width, from very tiny to thick. I do all my lettering with Microns. They are permanent and acid free. Finding the widths that work best for you (I tend to use .03-.08 the most often) can take some time, but I do use other widths for detail work or filler. I get most of my Microns at Flax Art & Design in San Francisco where you can pick and choose from a variety of sizes and colors.

3) Pencils. I use a regular old #2 for most of my drawings. And a good quality gum eraser. I sharpen often. I also use blending stumps and fixative.

4) Brushes. I don’t spend too much money on expensive brushes. I tend to use brushes that are about 6 inches long (I prefer these to long handled brushes), and I sometimes even buy the cheaper variety pack. I go through brushes very quickly (even expensive brushes). I tend to use angular, bright and flat brushes, along with liner brushes for detail work. Some of my brushes are so tiny that you can barely see the hairs on them! This is a great brush shape chart. I like brushes that are smooth (important for the kind of work I do), but also stiff (I don’t use water color brushes which can be softer). Experimenting with brushes is also important! It took me years to figure out what kinds of brushes work best for me.

5) Paper. I work on watercolor paper and regular drawing paper, depending on what I’m painting or drawing. I buy whatever is on sale, but I always look at whatever I buy to make sure it feels right (yes, touch the paper before you buy it!). I keep a variety of weights and colors around. I sometimes prefer painting on off-white paper rather than pure white because it scans better and looks less washed out.

6) Panels. I work on both wood panels and gessoed masonite panels. I like cradled panels the best because they are ready to hang. Sometimes I work on canvas too. I’m not wedded to any brand. I tend to buy what looks good quality and seems affordable.

7) Other. I also use Exacto Knives and scissors for paper cutting. I also use painters tape and a metal ruler for creating straight edges. I love circle and other shape templates. I use a Black and Decker Hand Sander to sand edges and smooth surfaces or add some distress to my work on wood. I sometimes also use transfer paper to transfer my sketches to the painting or drawing surface. When doing collage I use archival quality glue or glue sticks. Sometimes I use a glue gun when I’m making three dimensional work. I also own a miter saw to make frames for my paintings.


I didn’t go to art school, so much of what I’ve learned about supplies has been through experimentation. Sometimes I don’t even know if I’m using the “right” materials! But I love what John Cage said once: “Art is whatever you can get away with.” And, as a mostly self-taught artist, that as been my story.

You can view previous FAQ’s here. Happy Friday.


Frequently Asked Questions :: Transitioning to Full Time Artist


Hello friends, I’m back with another Frequently Asked Questions post! I inadvertently took a break from FAQ while traveling and am finally ready to get back to them!

So today’s question is one I get a lot. It’s about making the transition from full time employment to self employment: How did I do it? And any tips?

{The usual disclaimer: I’m going to share with you my personal transition story and a few things I learned along the way. This is my story only, and is not meant to be scientific expert opinion!}

My story:

I was really lucky. I had worked for the same non-profit organization for several years (and worked with many of the people at another non-profit organization for years before that). So I knew my boss and my colleagues well. We were friends. They all knew I was an artist and that I was beginning to show and license my work. So when I did begin the transition to leaving my full time job to make art, it came as no real surprise to everyone. So, I guess that leads us to Tip #1: don’t hide the fact that you are a serious maker from your coworkers. When you leave your job, it will not come as a surprise to anyone. You might even get a lot of support for your choice.


I’ve been in a relationship now for four years, but when I began the process of becoming self employed (and it is a process), I was single. So it was really important to me that I made decisions that were financially responsible, because I had nothing to fall back on, not even savings! I decided that my first step was to go part time at my job, instead of leaving entirely. This gave me some steady income but also more time to work on building my art practice. Again, I made this transition easily because I had worked with my boss for years, and she supported my life choices. I realize this kind of transition isn’t possible for everyone (nor is it the right thing to do in every situation), but it can be helpful. That leads us to Tip #2: make the transition less abrupt by working part time for awhile as you build your new business.


Around the same time I went part time at my job, I began talking to a friend about opening a retail shop together. The shop would sell some of my art, prints, etc, but it would mostly sell the work of other people (stationery, housewares, etc). The purpose of opening the shop was to generate some extra income. It would allow me to be fully self-employed, and would provide me with another form of income. I just wasn’t making enough from my artwork yet to make a living on that alone. When we opened the store, I finally quit my job entirely. I made art a few days a week and worked in the store a few days a week. Technically it wasn’t too different from working a part time job, except I was fully self-employed (and it was a lot more fun!). This leads us to Tip #3: When you make the move to quit your job, think creatively about how you can supplement the income you generate from selling your work with other entrepreneurial endeavors (things like teaching classes, monetizing your blog or opening a storefront like I did.)


Eventually my art and illustration practice began generating enough income that I could move on from the brick and mortar shop. I loved owning the shop with my friend (and it was great experience), but I really wanted to be a full time artist. It’s important to remember that supplementing your art/making income with other stuff (a part time job or another entrepreneurial endeavor) may need to happen for a number of years before you can spend 100% of your time doing what you love. It took me several years! Also, in the meantime, I was working really, really hard to promote my work and to build my portfolio. This leads me to Tip #4: work hard (even before the transition to full-time self-employment) to build your portfolio and let the world know about what you do. I say a lot more about this in this FAQ post.


I’ve been working as an artist and illustrator since 2005, but it’s only been in the last two years that I’ve been working full time at it. I still supplement my art income on occasion with things like teaching and public speaking (and those things are on the topic of art-making, so they feel really authentic). If you think (and take action) creatively about how to make a living (ie: what else can I sell? how else can I make money in ways that feel authentic to me?) you will have a greater chance for success.



Frequently Asked Questions :: Why Don’t You Allow Blog Comments?


{Gemtastic, graphite and gouache on paper, 2010}

Today’s FAQ: People can’t leave comments on your blog. How come?

My answer: Let me say first that I think comments are great. I think blogging is an extremely valuable forum for discussion about all kinds of issues–about politics, child-rearing, art, design, life, etc. etc. So if you have comments on your own blog and value them, I get why you do. If you enjoy commenting on blogs, I get that too.

Here’s a bit of my personal story: In 2005 I started my first blog which I kept for a number of years (it no longer exists on the internet). That blog allowed comments, and I found that I got way too wrapped up in:

a) Whether people were commenting at all. For example, if a post had no or few comments, did that mean it sucked? Or was boring? Did it mean that piece of art I posted was horrible? I put much more weight on comments than I should have.

b) Whether I was obligated to respond to all comments and questions. I just didn’t have time, and yet I felt a responsibility as a show of appreciation to my readers. If I went to bed without responding to my commenters, I felt horrible. I didn’t like feeling that way.

c) Occasional negative comments. I didn’t have many, but they would appear every now and again, some from trolls, some from earnest but cantankerous readers. I felt like I gave those comments way more attention in my own mind than the hundreds of positive comments I would receive in a month. I didn’t like that either.

So, in the end, all of this caused me to close down my blog. Instead of being enjoyable, blogging felt stressful.

So when I decided to start blogging again, I asked myself what would keep it enjoyable and sustainable for me. The answer? No comments. And you know what? I’ve kept this blog for almost a year and it hasn’t felt stressful once. Not having comments helps me avoid get too wrapped up in what other people think about my work or my life decisions.

What I love is that if folks want to tell me how a post made them feel or if they have questions, they usually email me. After this past Tuesday’s post, I got six lovely emails the same day from readers. I also get a lot of feedback on Twitter and Facebook.

The lesson here? Make your own rules for your life, and let what feels right for you be your guide.