Block Printing E-Course!

12/17/14

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Friends, I’m so excited to share a new online ecourse by my friend Jen Hewett. In this sure-to-be-fabulous two day class, Jen will use videos, photos, and downloadable notes to guide you through the process of block printing on fabric. At the end of this class, you’ll know how to print your own custom fabric, which you can then use for tea towels, bags, quilts, or other fabric and sewing projects. Awesome, right?

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The course will take place online on January 31st and February 1st 2015 (PST), and will be accessible to you until March 3rd, so if you can’t take the class on that weekend, or if you want to work at your own pace, you’ll be able to access all the course materials through March 3. You will also have access to an exclusive Facebook group, where you’ll be able to ask Jen questions, as well as network and get feedback.

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And from now until December 31, 2014, you’ll get the early bird price of just $99 for the course! The price will go up to $109 on January 1st. Go get it!

I can vouch for Jen’s fantastic teaching: here I am earlier this year taking a block printing class from her in which I made some fabulous yardage that I used to make a dress.

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You design and carve your own blocks, so you can make your patterns unique to you. To learn more about the course and what supplies you need and to sign up, go here!

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Happy printing and happy Wednesday!

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Troy Litten

11/21/14

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Travel passes from Troy’s first trips abroad

If you have been reading my blog for any amount of time here, you may remember my friend Troy Litten. I’ve written about Troy before (almost a year ago to the day, as a matter of fact!) and his various projects and you may have even met him at one of my art openings (he’s a devoted friend). When we became friends, Troy and I instantly bonded over our love for travel, for design and for collecting old stuff. I finally had the chance to sit down with Troy and interview him for my Interviews with People I Admire series, and I was so excited, because Troy is one of the most interesting and talented people I have ever met. For most of his adult life, Troy has traveled the world more frequently than most of us, and early on — before the internet or Instagram  — he began documenting his travels in ways that have now become iconic. For many years Troy made his living as a designer, but along the way has dedicated hours and hours to his greatest passion: travel and photography. He now makes his living using his stockpile of images to create beautiful products — games, home decor, and stationery to name a few.

I sat down to ask Troy about how his obsession with travel and documenting began, where it has taken him, and a little bit about how his mind works. This is the longest interview I’ve ever published, and it’s filled with gems (including incredible images) from start to finish. Enjoy!

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Lisa: You’ve been traveling most of your adult life, and you are now in your late forties. How old were you when you became interested in traveling the world? What was your first trip out of the country and what do you remember about it? At what point did you begin the style of documenting your travels that you have become known for?

Troy: Hailing from the rather rarefied confines of Northwest Ohio, I didn’t experience much of the world outside my immediate existence (the family road trip to Disney World doesn’t count) until I backpacked around Western Europe during the summer of 1987 while in college, the definitive start of my interest in traveling the world. Among many memories are discovering my love of watching the world pass by from a speeding train, surviving on bread and cheese, realizing not everyone speaks English, youth hostel co-ed showers are a thing, meeting people my age from all over the world, replacing a stolen passport is a pain in the ass, spending nights in train stations awaiting the first train out, Europe is full of old stuff and American tourists, and that I wanted to see much, much more of the world.

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Pre-flight entertainment on Bangkok Airways, 1998

After graduating design school in 1989 I lived and worked in London for a few years and in 1992 set out for a six month trip with my friend Grit, starting in Berlin and traveling through Poland, The Baltics, Finland, Russia, China, Nepal, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Afterwards I worked in Hong Kong for a while before returning to the US, first to New York then to San Francisco a few years later, continuing to travel and see the world at every opportunity.

Throughout my travels I was finding so much of interest to document, and my love of sharing what I was seeing of the world around me inspired me to begin creating postcards and mail art to share with friends and family. This was the beginning of my style of documenting my travels I’ve become known for.

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Hand-made postcard featuring Japanese street characters, created after Troy’s first trip to Tokyo in 1997

Lisa: Back in 2005 you published your first travel book called “Wanderlust” (of which I proudly have first edition copy!). In it you documented your travels through unconventional photos of regular things like signage, airline food, cheap hotel beds, train tickets and rotary telephones. This kind of collecting and documenting of the “mundane” has become popular in the last ten years but you were one of the first (if not the first) to share it widely. How did people react to your style of photography and documentation ten years ago compared to how they react today? What has changed?

Troy: Wanting to make something with all the photos and ephemera I’d collected on my travels, I created my first book proposal, titled “One-Way Non-Stop Hello Kitty”, in 1998. Two years later my somewhat more realistic proposal for an engagement calendar caught the eye of my first editor at Chronicle Books and “Wanderlust” was born. A set of 30 postcards and four journals were quickly followed by an address book (with images of public telephones from around the world), a travel journal, an engagement calendar, and in 2005 the “Wanderlust” book.

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Fueled by an appreciation of and fascination for all forms of visual culture, communication, and expression, Troy travels the world documenting hisexperiences and adventures. The result is “Wanderlust”, Troy’s series of travel-themed books, journals, postcards, notecards, and more.

I’ve continued to add to the “Wanderlust” series ever since, a total of 18 titles in 12 years, with the most recent being the “Skulls” and “Streets” journals published last year.

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Wanderlust “Skulls” and “Streets” journals

Through a unique presentation of travel photos, ephemera, and design, “Wanderlust” created a travel experience that anyone who’s ever traveled could relate to by focusing on the commonplace experiences (or “mundane”) such as trying to sleep on an airplanes, waking up in nondescript hotel rooms, ordering meals in foreign countries, finding your way around a new city, the people you meet along the way, and the souvenirs and mementos you return home with. As one reviewer at the time put it, “Wanderlust” “…created one of the most realistic accounts of the beauty, adventure, frustration, boredom and wonder of travel.”.

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Spreads from “Wanderlust”

I believe the premise of my work—that the joy of travel isn’t about getting there, but about all the fun you can have along the way—is as relevant now as it was when the book was published, as is my style of photography, documentation, and design. Now of course with camera phones and social media there are many more people documenting and sharing their daily lives and travels through photos, although I find an intriguing narrative, and the discipline to combine photos into a story to arrive at engaging universal experiences, is often lacking (I’m trying really hard not to use the word over-sharing).

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Troy’s morning travel ritual: cups of coffee from around the world, print available in his Etsy shop

Lisa: Do you know where your obsession with the “mundane” or “ugly beautiful” (as I like to call it) comes from? When did it begin for you? What role does the idea of obsolescence have in your work or how you think about your work?

Troy: I consider myself a bit of a loner/outsider/introvert and often tend to prefer observation to participation when I travel. Being instinctively drawn to the details around me that get overlooked or ignored or are thought of as inconsequential/unimportant/unappealing (the “mundane” or “ugly beautiful”), I find I can enjoy, appreciate, or simply find humor in just about anything (from cheap hotel rooms to bad meals to extended airport delays), which really comes in handy when I find myself in unfamiliar environments and situations. As Paul Theroux (one of my favorite travel writers) said, “Travel is only glamorous in retrospect.”

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Off the beaten track in Tokyo, 1997

Last year I found myself traveling to a very different place when I spent two weeks in ICU at hospital with my Mom. I found myself drawn to documenting the unfamiliar and rather scary surroundings—the beeping machines and high-tech medical equipment, antiseptic hallways and waiting rooms, the signage and seriousness of it all—in an attempt to understand my thoughts, emotions, and fears. Sharing this experience through the photos I posted on Instagram and the interactions with my followers really helped me cope with the situation and taught me a lot about the importance of the visual world around me and the impact it has on me, wherever I may find myself.

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Instagramming from the ICU, 2013

The idea of obsolescence in my work is something I’m increasingly thinking about. Many of the places I’ve visited over the years have seen dramatic changes in the visual landscape and more and more of what I’ve documented no longer exists. For example, I’ve always loved old neon signage and have a large collection I shot throughout Eastern Europe in the 1990s, much of which no longer exists. And my collection of public telephones from around the world, now a mostly irrelevant technology, I consider important as historical documentation of a moment in time fast disappearing.
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Illuminating Eastern European neon signage circa 1990s

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Public telephones from around the world, print available in Troy’s Etsy shop

Lisa: You also have an obsession with Eastern Europe. Tell us about what appeals to you about that region of the world, visually and otherwise.

Troy: I first visited Eastern Europe in the early 90s while living in London. The Berlin Wall had just come down so I visited my friend Grit in Berlin and we spent all our time exploring East Berlin on bicycles. I also visited Prague at this time, which was just beginning to dust itself off.

What first struck me about this part of the world was the “time warp” feeling, and my realization that it won’t last, that the things that made it interesting to me would not survive the approaching wave of westernization and standardization, the papering over of the beauty I found with Coca Cola and Marlboro billboards and glitzy marketing and advertising (such as you can now find on the sides of the trundling old-school trams). The no-frills graphic and product design, utilitarian architecture, and quaint signage—often naive, flimsy, unadorned, poorly printed/constructed, out-of-date—were by virtue of their flaws touchingly human and original and like nothing I’d seen throughout my travels thus far.

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Colorful Ladas, Skodas, Trabis, and more on the streets of Eastern Europe

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Earth tones and extra hard bristles, the only toothbrushes available at the central department store in Prague in 1991

Over the last 20+ years I’ve visited Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, The Czech Republic, Slovenia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Belarus, Georgia, and Armenia. This past summer I returned to Eastern Europe, sharing my travels via daily posts on Instagram (@troylitten, #trippingwithtroy_europe2014). Although much has changed, I still find this part of the world inspiring and love documenting what remains from the past era as well as the changes I see.

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Instragamming Eastern Europe, 2014

Lisa: You are also an avid collector of the things you find on your travels. What are some of your favorite collections? What are some of the weirdest?

Troy: Yes, I’m a bit of a hoarder when it comes to collecting things I find on my travels. This harks back to my approach to finding beauty in the details of a journey and how every interaction with a place, including the things you find along the way, contributes to a better understanding and appreciation of the experience. Buying packaging in the shops, scouring the sidewalks and gutters for discarded pieces of paper, collecting airmail stamps at post offices, searching out vintage postcards, and collecting old stuff at flea markets are an integral part of my everyday life on the road. Many an old rotary phone has returned home with me in the bottom of my backpack.

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Vintage rotary phones at a Minsk flea market, the blue beauty hitched a ride home with Troy

One of my favorite travel collections are the scrapbooks and journals I filled during my trip around the world in 1992. The China chapter of my scrapbook reminds me of evenings spent emptying my pockets of tickets and bits of paper in dimly lit hotel rooms, removing labels from stuff I’d bought, and drinking warm local beer while documenting the day’s treasures and adventures.

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Traveling China with a blank book and a gluestick, 1992

I’m fascinated with travel tickets and collect them everywhere I go. It’s unfortunately getting harder and harder to find unique tickets due to the increasing modernization and standardization of transport systems the world over.
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Calcutta bus tickets printed on reused bits of paper, 2001

My collection of cigarette packaging from around the world is an interesting comment on the choice of English brand names for foreign products, and the often humorous and inappropriate results.

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Light up a “Stewardess”? Drag on a “Disco”? A pack of “Yak”?

I also consider my photo series as collections (you were the first to point this out!) and I have many series I’ve been documenting for years—from figure signage to “You Are Here” signs, cheap accommodation, train/subway/bus travel, markets, post boxes, and wall murals—that I add to whenever I visit a new place. One of my favorite photo collections is hand-drawn signage.

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Markets + hand-drawn signage = happiness

When I travel I’m always on the lookout for details that capture something about the culture of the place I’m visiting, such as my series of photos of buzzers and bells at the entrances to buildings in Istanbul. The colors, conditions, and often rather shoddy workmanship are one of my favorite impressions of wandering the streets of such an ancient, crowded, disheveled, and amazing city.

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Istanbul buzzers and bells, print available in Troy’s Etsy shop

As for my weirdest collections I must admit I photograph the colorful splash guards in public urinals and can’t quite bring myself to throw away the lint I rescue from my clothes dryer after every load. Don’t ask why.

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A pile of dryer lint

Lisa: You and I share a love for images of ordinary things arranged neatly on a grid. Why is this so appealing to us?

Troy: I blame (and thank!) my love of things arranged on a grid on my Swiss-influenced design school education. Order, color, form, composition—basic design principles that I learned in school and honed throughout the years—still very much frame my approach to both my professional work as a graphic designer and my personal work. I’m always searching for structure in the world around me and aim to compose images that make sense to me visually and satisfy some inherent urge to understand, rationalize, and control my environment. I believe this is a discipline we both share, albeit arrived at through different educational and professional practices and personal experiences.

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T-shirts organized by color at Troy’s favorite Ohio thrift store, 2013

Arranging ordinary things neatly on a grid (a “Troygrid” in Troyspeak) is also for me a way to present my photos in a straightforward manner that allows for easy comparing and contrasting. I also think that utilizing grids to present similar images can result in an impression of a particular thing, place, or experience that one single photograph can’t quite capture.

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Groovy Shanghai tour buses, 2007

Lisa: What is a favorite place you’ve visited and why?

Troy: I may be interpreting your question a bit differently than intended, my favorite place I’ve visited is a place I can visit over and over again regardless of where I am, the place between departure and arrival. Traveling by air—above the earth and suspended in the sky—inspires me to contemplate where I’m coming from and where I’m going as I leave one place behind and anticipate the adventures that await upon arrival. It never ceases to amaze me that I can board a plane in one place and 12 hours later find myself on the other side of the world.

And ever since traveling overland from Berlin to Hong Kong in 1992 (including seven days on the Transiberian from Moscow to Beijing) I’ve loved traveling by train, watching the landscape speed by, observing and meeting other passengers, and moving deeper and deeper into the unknown.

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Troy’s seatmates on the train to Jaipur, India, 2001

Lisa: What are some of your recent travel-related projects?

Troy: My first puzzle, “Transit Graphics”, was published by Galison this past spring. The artwork is a collage of drawings of travel signage I’ve documented throughout my travels and I’ve really enjoyed sharing my love of signage through this new format. “Muchos Autos”, my next puzzle with Galison, will be published early next year and features photos of cars on the colorful streets of Latin America.

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“Transit Graphics 1000 Piece Puzzle” available at galison.com and other fine retailers

This year I’ve begun exhibiting my work in gallery shows around the country, including Bedford Gallery in Walnut Creek CA, Kiernan Gallery in Lexington VA, and Black Box Gallery in Portland OR.

Next year The Art Group in the UK, one of the world’s leading art publishers, will be releasing four of my pieces as fine art prints and canvas wall art. My favorites are “Air Mail”, a collection of air mail stamps and stickers from around the world, and “Late Night TV” featuring photos of TV screens with off-air test patterns and graphics from various locales including Japan, Hungary, China, Spain, and Morocco.

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“Air Mail” and “Late Night TV” fine art prints soon to be published by The Art Group

Lisa: What are you currently working on and what are some of your dream projects?

Troy: I’m currently doing some thinking outside the grid and exploring ways to combine the photos and graphics I collect to capture a sense of place through unexpected juxtapositions and arrangements, such as combinations of photos of distressed wall surfaces and drawings of graphic motifs documented while exploring Istanbul.

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Impressions of Istanbul, 2013

Some projects I’m working on a bit closer to home are documenting the garages of San Francisco (where it’s nigh impossible to find a parking space) and a typographic homage to the San Francisco street corner. Street names in SF are stamped into the concrete at street corners, and the impact of the natural and man-made environment on the letter forms—leaves and flowers from the many trees, trash and cigarette butts, moss, broken car window glass—captures for me the unique beauty and grit of the city.

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The garages of San Francisco

I’ve also begun to explore drawing as a new medium through which to share my collections and my love of things like signage, ephemera, and even hardware stores (one of my favorite places to browse). And it’s also nice to spend some time away from the computer for a change.

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Drawings of stop signs from Troy’s photo archive

A current dream project is creating a book of impressions of Eastern Europe in the 1990s through photographs, ephemera, and writings in collaboration with two good friends and travel companions, Grit and Sean, who have also traveled extensively through Eastern Europe and share my appreciation for the visual aesthetic and historical importance of this unique time and place.

I would love to curate/create an immersive gallery exhibition that explores our connection with travel and the world around us through the presentation of common travel experiences utilizing both still and interactive elements that allow viewers to react with the content, share their experiences, and respond to the experiences of others. I also hope to continue to find new ways to share my love of travel and design through new publishing formats, editorial endeavors, and surface and product design applications of my photographs and drawings.

And of course keep traveling.

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Troy’s trusty travel companion, 22 years and still going strong

Visit Troy’s website & blog here and his Etsy shop here. And don’t forget to follow him on Instagram. You will not be disappointed!

Thank you, Troy, for sharing this incredible interview and your beautiful images with us!

Have a great weekend, friends!

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Danielle Krysa, aka The Jealous Curator

11/05/14

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{*Rosa’s Garden, 16″x20″, above, left (detail, right) from Danielle’s new collection of work, featured today as part of this interview. Scroll down to the bottom of the post for more information about this collage series.}

On January 10, 2010 I first became acquainted with someone who has become a really important person in my world: Danielle Krysa. At the time, I mostly knew her as The Jealous Curator, and we “met” because she wrote to me to let me know that she’d written about my then brand new Collection a Day project. She was, incidentally, one of the first people to write about my project — she wrote about it just 10 days after I began (the project lasted a year and was written about later by extensively by magazines, bloggers and newspapers). Anyhow, fast forward a couple of months and we had more contact, and then she began including some of my artwork in her blog, and then again featured my work on her blog the following year when I had my first major solo show in 2011. Our friendship was solidified in 2012 when she asked me to host a San Francisco Girl Crush party in my studio, an event where women signed up to come to my studio and spend the day eating and talking about the creative process. Danielle came to San Francisco from Vancouver to help organize and set up the event, which was a really fantastic (and led to many lasting relationships among the women in the room that day). At that party Danielle met an editor from Chronicle who was also in attendance — and since then has made two beautiful books with the publisher, Creative Block and Collage. I am so honored to be part of both of those books. And so happy the kismet of that event has led to so many amazing opportunities and friendships for both of us.

What most people know about Danielle is that she writes a popular blog called The Jealous Curator. Through her blog, Danielle shares the work of artists she admires (er, is jealous of…more on that in a second). Danielle has, four years after starting her blog, become a really important voice in sharing the work of emerging and newly established artists from around the world with thousands of people who read her blog everyday.

What’s interesting is that Danielle launched The Jealous Curator in February 2009 as a place to show artwork that “made her jealous in a bad, toxic, soul-crushing way,” she says. “I was literally getting stopped in my tracks every time I saw work that I loved. It was awful.” But luckily for Danielle she worked through all of that, and five years later, that ‘jealousy’ she says “has turned magically, wonderfully, and thankfully into inspiration.”

And that’s a good thing, because what most people don’t know about Danielle is that she’s also an artist — a really, really talented artist. And she’s recently begun making a brand new body of work after a hiatus. Danielle’s journey as both an artist and a blogger is the focus of my interview. This interview is part of  my Interviews with People I Admire series here on Today is Going to be Awesome.

Without further ado, let’s get this interview with Danielle started!

Lisa: You are a designer and an artist, and you are obviously quite passionate about art in general and the work of other artists. I imagine at some points (maybe even daily) you spend more time writing about other people’s work on your popular blog than you do making your own work. How does writing about art (especially the work of artists you admire) both hinder and help your own creative process? What have you learned about how to manage all of that since you started your blog in 2009?

Danielle: In the beginning, finding art that I loved really hindered my own work. I was discovering amazing, inspiring, fantastic work every single day, and it felt like everything had been done in every color, and all of it was so much better than anything I could ever make (or so I told myself). But as time went by, and my bookmarks list grew, I realized something very important. It dawned on me that the world is a pretty big place, and there is in fact enough room for anyone that wants to create. Sure, your work might not suit every gallery, or every homeowner’s wall, but there will be a place for it. So make it! And now I do. Here’s a strange little tidbit for you though. Whenever I finish a piece I’ll look at it and think “would the Jealous Curator write about this?” If the answer is “no” I keep playing. Weird?

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Lisa: Not necessarily weird, but really interesting! Let’s talk more about that. Recently you’ve reignited your studio practice. What prompted that for you?

Danielle: For years I’ve been telling myself: “Oh, I’m too busy with The Jealous Curator to think about my own art,” but it wasn’t until I started working on my book, Creative Block, that I realized I was totally using that as an excuse to chicken out. Before the book even hit shelves, I started trying the unblocking projects that the artists had given at the end of their interviews. They’re all so good! That got me started, but what really motivated me were all of the conversations I was having with my readers at book signing events AFTER the book came out. All of these people were really putting themselves out there. Pushing through blocks and trying new things “thanks to Creative Block.” I was so inspired by all of them, and I realized it was time to put that whole “practice what you preach” thing into action.

Lisa:  Tell us about the work you are making now. What have you learned, if anything, since you began making more of your own work again?

Danielle: Oh, this is a long answer so I apologize now. Ready? I was a painting major in University. Right before I graduated I had a terrible professor tell me (in the middle of a huge, humiliating critique in front of my classmates) that I should “never paint again.” And I believed him, I guess, because I haven’t painted in 19 years. I didn’t stop making art, but I switched to collage because it was easy and fun and totally didn’t count as art in my mind, because it was easy and fun. Anyway, in June of this year I decided to face my fears head on (practice/preach thing again) and start painting. It was awful. It was not fun. I kept trying, but found myself wandering off to the thrift shop to look for good collage material. I realized I was excited to make collages, and so I wondered, why wasn’t I just doing that? Because it was too easy and too fun.

Then my second book,  Collage, hit shelves in September. I got dozens of emails from painters and photographers saying “Oh, I love collage, but I’m not very good at it. It’s so hard!” What? It’s not hard. It’s easy and fun and not real art… right? A week or two later I was having coffee with an artist in Vancouver, and was telling her the story about the terrible painting critique when I was in university. She asked what the work looked like, and so I described it. “Oh, I was cutting pieces of the canvas out, sewing them back on, gluing pieces of textures paper over it, etc.” She stared blankly, paused and said… “So you mean, collage.” Holy crap. I’d been a collage artist for 19 years and had no idea! A-ha!!!! I have never felt so free, and so excited about making art.

My name is Danielle, and I am a collage artist. Bam!
Sorry. Longest answer ever, but I just had to share.

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Lisa: I love that story so much!!! What is it about collage that you are so drawn to? Both in your own work and in other people’s work?

Danielle: It probably stems from the fact that I’m a graphic designer by day. I love bold/graphic images, and strong composition, and a good collage has both. I also think it’s really exciting when an existing image is given a whole new purpose, and a brand new story, especially when the new narrative has a bit of a wink or cleverness to it.

Lisa: What is your favorite part of your own creative process, the part that is the most exciting to you?

Danielle: It’s all about found images for me. I could spend hours in thrift shops looking through old books. Once I’ve found “the perfect pages” I run home as fast as I can, and then spend hours (literally) cutting and cutting and cutting. At that stage they’re just funny/random clipped images, but very soon they’ll be assembled into a new story that never would have existed anywhere else had I not found them, snipped them, and glued them together. That is very exciting to me!

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Lisa: You published a book with Chronicle Books called Creative Block where you talk to successful artists about their own creative blocks. Why is it important to talk openly about creative blocks? What do you hope people get out of the book?

Danielle: It’s funny how rarely people actually talk about blocks. And you almost never hear people admit that they have inner-critics and self doubt, but everyone does. I think talking about it just makes all of us realize that we’re not alone. As I got the interviews for the book back from artists, I was so relieved to read that even very accomplished, successful artists doubt themselves from time to time. I want people to read the book and know that if they’re feeling stuck or insecure that they shouldn’t give up. They’re part of something bigger: a huge, supportive, like-minded community of creative people who also get stuck sometimes. I want them to do all of the unblocking projects, and I want them to have fun making, because there’s nothing more satisfying to a creative person than making something you love!

Lisa: How do you work through your own creative blocks?

Danielle: Slowly. But they don’t stop me any more. I’ve learned that blocks are just part of the deal when you’re a creative person. I take a breath, realize it’s not the end of the world, and just keep playing around in the studio. There is a quote in the book that I love, by Laura McKellar (an artist from Australia). She said “You should never stop experimenting. That is how you become a genius.” I love that and totally believe it! Playing, failing, experimenting: those are the keys to finding your way out of a block, and the direct route to stronger work.

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Lisa: You write about and promote at the work of other artists every day. Tell us a story about a time when a post you wrote about another artist led to something really cool.

Danielle: Yes! This is absolutely my most favorite part of having The Jealous Curator. Here’s a story that just happened this past spring. An American painter named Anna Jensen sent me a link to her work and I loved it and wrote about it right away. Literally the day after I wrote about her, I got an email from a gallery in Paris. They had seen the post and asked if I could connect them to Anna, as they wanted to give her a solo show… IN PARIS?! So, I e-introduced them and off they went! But that’s not the end of the story. Anna set up a Kickstarter project because she couldn’t afford to get herself, and all of her paintings, to Paris. She had raised a bit of money, but not quite enough, so I wrote another post asking my readers to help get Anna to France, and they did, (and then some)! Her show opened in July and, boy oh boy, I wish I’d been there with her. It was so, so, so exciting!

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Thank you, Danielle, for sharing your story with us! And for sharing your own work and the work of other artists with the world everyday. Thank you also for your beautiful books. You make the world a better place.

{*About Danielle’s work, pictured throughout this post, in Danielle’s own words: This series is called “Rosa’s Garden” and each piece is named after a rose. My great grandmother’s name was Rosa and she lived in a little mint house with lots of roses in the garden. She also lived through the roaring 20’s and had a bit of an edge to her. Yet another reason to love her! These pieces all started with hours and hours of cutting out roses, all the while thinking of her and my grandmother and her daughter, Blanche. The other bits and pieces (including an image of the house I lived in when I was little) found their way into this ode to the women in my family.}

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The Great Discontent :: The Magazine

09/05/14

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By now you may be familiar with The Great Discontent — a site launched in 2011 dedicated to interviews with artists, designers, musicians and other creative folks about beginnings and risk. I was interviewed by founders Ryan and Tina for TGD back in 2012. You can read my interview here.

Now Ryan and Tina have launched a print version of The Great Discontent, also filled with interviews. Issue #1 is an absolute stunner. Vying in weight with the Vogue September Issue (it’s 9×12 inches and 272 thick matte pages), this tome is filled with interviews with some of my idols —  including Elle Luna, Aaron Draplin, Tavi Gevinson, Debbie Millman, and Lotta Nieminen and many others. The pages are designed by the very talented Frank Chimero.

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The interviews in Issue #1 are themed around “leaps” — essential (albeit) scary things we must take as creatives to propel our work & careers forward. In the words of Elle Luna (from her interview): “I believe that if you step into uncharted territory, you are also stepping into total abandonment, potential humiliation, and a space where nothing is guaranteed: there is no case study or road map. I have so much respect for anybody who will step away from what they can do in order to find what they must do.”

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Every interview in this issue is a treasure. You can purchase the Great Discontent, Issue #1 here (they even have an awesome digital version!).

Have a happy Friday, everyone!

 

CATEGORIES For Sale | Inspiration
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Jennifer Orkin Lewis

09/04/14

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You may recall that last year — about one year ago, to be exact — I did the first in a new series on my blog called Interviews with People I Admire. I posted one more interview the following month, and then POOF! No more. You know how these things go, don’t you? You have a great idea and then somehow life gets in the way? Well, I’m back at it, and I’ve decided to pick this series up again, this time in earnest. And so today I present to you Jennifer Orkin Lewis, otherwise known as Augustwren.

This series is really about people who are doing (making, painting, writing, designing, drawing) things that I think are super cool. And Jennifer Orkin Lewis is doing something really cool. She has a sketchbook project which is really unique and pretty much blows my socks off most days. I discovered her work (and her sketchbook) several months back on Instagram, and I am so glad it happened.

Jennifer is an artist and illustrator who lives outside New York City, and last year in 2013 she decided to paint in her sketchbook every day for the month of April. That project eventually led to painting in her sketchbook every day, with a few self imposed parameters (more about those in our interview). You know how I love a good daily project, right? Well Jennifer’s is destined to become legendary if she keeps it up. I’ve since befriended Jennifer on the Internet, and I’ve also found her to be incredibly kind and humble (two qualities I also admire); and I’m also excited to meet her when I am in New York City in a couple of weeks. Now for our interview!

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Lisa: Jennifer, I discovered your work on Instagram, and then the following day I saw your work in Uppercase Magazine. You post daily photos of paintings you make in your sketch book, which are so beautiful, by the way! I am so impressed by your discipline and the diversity of what you paint. How and when did this daily practice begin for you? Was it intentional (like you got up one day and decided to start painting in a blank book every day) or something that evolved more organically over time?

Jennifer: Thank you so much, Lisa, I’m so honored to be interviewed by you! I actually have wanted to do a daily project for many years but never quite figured out what that project would be. In April 2013, I decided to do a painting a day for the month. I didn’t put any restrictions on myself and I ended up spending hours each day on them. I finished out the month, but it was stressful. In May I did it again but my rules were that I would limit it to 1 hour and I would only paint food. I finished that challenge as well but I felt too tied down to that theme and I didn’t experiment enough. I picked up the sketchbook I’m using now last October and I started painting in it. Something clicked and I really liked how the paint went onto the paper, its size, the fact that it wasn’t a gorgeous sketchbook. I kept painting in it so when January came it just flowed that this would be my daily project. I decided to post them all on Instagram to hold myself accountable to painting everyday.

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Lisa: Since you began your daily paintings, how has your art practice changed? What do the daily paintings do for your creative practice and discipline?

Jennifer: I’ve definitely gained confidence, just knowing I can get up every day and produce something new. I’ve never really thought of myself as particularly disciplined, so I have surprised myself. I have loads of 1/2 finished sketchbooks on my shelves.  A great result from the practice is I now have hundreds of pages of personal reference material. I’ve gone into it to look for color combinations for projects, for the shape of a flower,  a technique.
I also have to say that all the amazing followers on Instagram and Facebook have been totally encouraging and that helps me keep the discipline up.

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Lisa: How long do they normally take? How much time do you spend each day painting in your sketchbooks? How many books have you painted in so far?

Jennifer: It is a 30 minute painting daily. That said, when I start the 30 minutes I usually know what I’m painting, my paints are out and ready and I’ve done a really quick pencil sketch.  (3 minutes tops) I usually finish the page in 20-30 minutes, using a timer. When it goes off I’m finished no matter how done I think it is. This is the first sketchbook I’ve ever even come close to finishing. I don’t ever want to stop now, I’m making up for lost time!

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Lisa:  I am so intrigued by your subject matter, and I love how sometimes you share next to your sketchbook what you used for reference. How do you decide what to paint each day?

Jennifer: This is by far the hardest part. Sometimes I wake up knowing exactly what I’m going to paint, a bouquet of flowers I just bought, a self portrait, a stylized face, bugs. It could be anything. Sometimes I sit down and pull out a book that inspires me and I look at it for a little while and I get an idea that feels right. I might pull out an old photo or a post card of a piece of art and I’m inspired to paint from that. I definitely have days though where I feel like I’ll never come up with an idea. Then I might pick 2 or 3 oddball colors and just paint flowers. The worst days are the ones where I feel I’m making a mess and I’m frustrated the whole time. I really look at the sketchbook as a place to experiment. It’s not meant to be perfect so I try not to worry about it too much.

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Lisa: In addition to sharing your reference, you often also share the materials you use alongside the sketchbook, which helps to how people how little you need to create a rich painting. What mediums and materials do you use in your daily paintings?

Jennifer: I primarily use gouache, but I’ll add acrylic, craft paints, pencil, gel pens. I paint directly onto the paper. Sometimes the painting bleeds through so I’ll just paint the next page a solid color and paint or draw over that. About 1/4 way through I started spraying them with fixative because they were rubbing off on one another. Now they stay pretty clean. The sketchbook is a $4.00 book from the Japanese store Muji. I want to start playing with other materials soon to mix it up a bit.

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Lisa: Tell us about how else you spend your days? You went to school for textile design. Do you still do that kind of work? What other illustration projects do you do?

Jennifer: This summer I was very busy illustrating a cake cookbook for Abrams books. It’s really fun, called Sitting in Bars with Cake. The publication date is next March. I’ve also been doing Lilla Rogers Bootcamp and just finished a terrarium piece of art for her Global Talent Search. I also license art for greeting cards and other products. My work tends to be very patterny, not surprising coming from my textile background but I’m not doing any actual fabric at this moment.

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Jennifer: What are your dream projects?

Lisa: Hmmm, I’d love to work with Anthropologie, I want to illustrate more books, and do some lifestyle editorial. I’d also love to have a gallery show. There are so many dreams. I also have always wanted to paint on ceramics. I don’t know where I can do that, I need to look into it!

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Thank you, Jennifer (aka Augustwren), for the lovely interview and for sharing your work & process! You can find Jennifer’s work here on her wesbite; you can follow her on Instagram (that’s the best place to follow her daily paintings); and you can follow her Facebook fan page here.

Next interview in this series coming soon: designer & photographer Troy Litten!

Have a great Thursday!

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Words for the Day :: No. 35

08/18/14

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One of the questions I am asked most often is how – as a working artist – I deal with things like comparison, disappointment, self doubt & rejection. I have talked before about the idea of charting your own path & living your own life and even touched on it last week toward the end of this live interview. Recently, I found the quote above by Anton Chekhov, and thought it perfectly summed up what I less eloquently try to say.

Art making, while enormously rewarding, can also be rife with disappointment and feelings of vulnerability. The idea is to make friends with the struggle and continue (stubbornly) on your own path. I’ve written before about this idea of embracing difficulty and fear (and talked about it in this lecture). I think it’s enormously important.

I also think it’s important to remember that everyone struggles with self doubt and angst, even extremely successful & well known artists like Gerhard Richter — just watch this touching documentary about him and you will see how vulnerable he is about his work.

Have a good Monday, friends.

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Father Jan Rossey

08/01/14

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We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep. -William James

The day before I got married last year, I got an email from someone I’d never met. This is not unusual for me. My life is somewhat public-facing — I keep a blog that many people read and I post daily images of my work & life on Instagram. I get emails almost every day from people I don’t know —  asking me questions or letting me know what they think about my work. Around the time of my wedding in 2013, I got a lot of congratulatory emails from people around the world — and I loved them all.

The email that I was most touched by, however, came from Father Jan Rossey. The first line of the email said this: “I wish you both a wonderful day tomorrow and a wonderful day every day of your married life. May God bless you and keep you.” He attached the beautifully lettered image, pictured above, to the email. Father Jan went on to explain that he was a Roman Catholic priest and monk in the monastery of Caldey Island. He also explained that he was an amateur lettering artist, letter carver and calligrapher since 1978. He learned calligraphy from the best teachers in the world: John Stevens, Brody Neuenschwander, Tom Perkins and John Nash, the Family Boudens and many others.

“Some time ago,” he said, “I came across your work and I love it very much. I like the ‘simplicity’ [which is not so simple] of your lettering work and drawings. I myself turn more and more towards the same simplicity, pencil drawn letters. Apart from some lettering I carve text in stone also. If you’re interested I’ll send you some pictures of my work.”

I was so moved by this email. First, a Roman Catholic priest and monk who lives in an abbey across the world in Wales was emailing me to wish me — and my soon-to-be wife — a happy wedding day. Second, this accomplished calligrapher was complimenting me on my lettering. It made my heart feel full, and made me feel a love for humanity. Here we were — two people from different generations, from two different worlds — finding connection. Father Jan and I corresponded a bit after the initial email, and I never forgot about him.

Fast forward to a year later. I got another email from Father Jan, this one entitled, “Happy Anniversary.” I quickly opened it. “I wish you a happy first anniversary of your wedding,” he wrote. “Lisa, I must say I’m very much inspired by your work and by the way you look at things in life. Last Christmas I had to make the Christmas crib here at the monastery and I took you [and Marimekko] as inspiration.” Father Jan attached this photo of his beautiful patterned trees. I thought I might cry that moment — how beautiful are these trees!!

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Father Jan continued: “Also your hand-lettering and drawings made me try myself. So I handlettered and illustrated one chapter of the Rule of Benedict, chapter 4, ‘The tools for Good works’.  As a token of my appreciation for you and as a late wedding-present I would like to send you a copy of the little booklet [A6-80 pages], but then I need you mail-address. It might inspire you in turn.” He also let me know that he was packing to travel to Tautra in Norway “not to make you jealous of course,” he said, which made me laugh because everyone knows how much I love Scandinavia! He was going on retreat in preparation for his Solemn Profession as a Cistercian Monk.

I quickly wrote back to Father Jan and thanked him for the offer of his book and gave him my address. I was really excited to receive it. Several weeks later I received Father Jan’s beautiful book.

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The book is called RB4 – The Tools for Good Works, and it is an illustrated version of Chapter 4 of the Rule of St Benedict, traditionally known as ”The Tools for Good Works.” The Rule of St. Benedict was written for monks, but Father Jan thinks everyone can benefit from living by the rules — or at least attempting to! Some of them are rather challenging! Anyhow, father Jan not only hand lettered the rules, but also illustrated them. The illustrations are based on everyday household tools. Here are a couple of examples:

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Even the end-pages of Father Jan’s book are beautiful!

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How does a monk living on an abbey on an island in Wales create such a beautiful book? Well, the same way any of us would: with pencils, pens, and, of course, Photoshop! Father Jan has some serious skills. If you would like to purchase a copy of RB4 – The Tools for Good Works, you can do so here.

After I received Father Jan’s book, I sent him a copy of Whatever You Are, Be a Good One, which he received last week. “Your beautiful book arrived this morning,” he wrote. “And it is a great thrill to take it in hand as it has such a tactile cover.”

I leave you with that, friends. And with these words from Herman Melville: “We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.”

Have a happy Friday.

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Create Explore Discover Retreat

07/21/14

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For the past two years I have attended a really wonderful retreat in California! It’s called Create. Explore. Discover. and this year it’s happening October 24-26 at this gorgeous spot in Truckee.  Organized by the amazing Sarah Stevenson, this year retreat features workshops by such dynamic artists and craftspeople as Mati McDonough, Anne Weil, Andrea Jenkins and Courtney Cerruti, and I am so excited to attend again. I’m not teaching this year, but I will be giving a short talk and leading an evening activity! The rest of the time I’ll be taking some of the workshops myself.

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The retreat includes insanely delicious food and wine (the most important thing, right?), fantastic art, photography and needlework classes, beautiful surroundings (complete with fall foliage) and the most comfortable beds in the universe! There is ample time for relaxing, too.

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I’ll be there again this year and I hope you’ll join me! Through July 30 you can get 10% off your registration by using the code cedlc2014! Space at the retreat is limited, so sign up early before it sells out. If you live in the area, you can register for day passes too! You can register here.

Have a great Monday, friends!

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Quarterly, Creativebug & Me

06/16/14

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Friends, I’m so happy to announce a collaboration between Quarterly Co, Creativebug & me!

For Creativebug’s first Quarterly Co. box they’ve collaborated with me to design a box packed with imaginative inspiration. Not only will you have everything you need to draw a gorgeous piece of art, but there are a few more exclusive goodies from me! They’re packed to the brim with curated art supplies (including some of my favorite products) and a limited edition piece of art. I can’t ruin the surprise and tell you what’s inside, so treat yourself!

If you’re interested in receiving this doodler’s-dream-of-a-box, sign up here.

You can learn more about Quarterly Co. here.

CATEGORIES For Sale | Inspiration
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New York Recap No. 3 :: Art!

06/03/14

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{Abstract painting by Amy Sillman (whose work I love in general, which was one of my favorite pieces in the 2014 Whitney Biennial}

One of my absolute favorite activities in the universe is looking at art in NY. Clay and I had a busy week with many commitments when we were there, so we didn’t get to see as much art as we’d normally like to, but what we saw was stellar. We were able to catch the Whitney Biennial, which was jam packed (with people and with art), each floor curated by a different person. I enjoyed the fourth floor the most, which was curated by Michelle Grabner. She featured many female artists, and the most paintings & textiles (which of course I love).

Another highlight was the Lynda Barry show at Adam Baumgold Gallery. The show was chock full of original cartoons and really old stuff by Barry. For Barry fans, this is a must! They are also for sale and the folks at the gallery are wonderfully kind and helpful. I didn’t buy anything but, boy, did I want to!

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{One of Barry’s original cartoons on display at Adam Baumgold}

We also went one day to the Brooklyn Museum, where we saw both the Ai Weiwei exhibit (Ai Weiwei: According to What?) and the Swoon installation. Both were phenomenal.

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The scale of Ai Weiwei’s work is something you must witness in person. Here I am observing “Ye Haiyan’s Belongings”. You can read more about the show here.

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{Ai Weiwei Installation made from rebar recovered from the earthquake in China a few years ago.}

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{Above: if you are a Swoon fan, you will love the gigantic installation she made in the museum’s rotunda.}

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{Clay and me outside the Dia: Beacon}

Last but not least we went to the Dia: Beacon with our friends Anna and Evan who have a home nearby. I’d heard about this place, but it is also something to behold in person. A former Nabisco box factory, it’s been transformed into a place for large scale modern art. I cannot wait to go back.

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{Agnes Martin at the Dia}

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{Clay inside a Richard Serra installation at the Dia.}

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{Sol Lewitt wall drawings were fantastic!}

Have a happy Tuesday, friends. I’ll be back tomorrow with a preview of work I made for my upcoming book signing and show at Poketo in Los Angeles.

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Tiffanie Turner :: HEADS

05/07/14

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If you’ve been paying attention on the interwebs over the last week, you might have noticed there is a lot of talk about an exhibition of gigantic crepe paper flowers happening in San Francisco right now. That exhibition, which opens at Rare Device on Friday, is the handiwork of artist Tiffanie Turner. I first met Tiffanie when she came to an event in my studio in early 2012. At the time, she was interested in getting back to making art — she is a licensed architect who left the industry several years ago — and was looking for new creative pursuits. She has in the two years since engaged in a multitude of serious creative projects — all of which are documented on her blog. But none has caught the attention of her fans (and the general public) as much as her giant paper flowers.

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Through HEADS, Tiffanie explores the organized chaos and rhythms of nature — and in some ways (I’d hazard to guess) it explores (and may bring a sense of order) to the “chaos” of her own life. Each flower, made from crepe paper, takes her 35 to 80 hours to make — a true feat of strength and perseverance for Tiffanie, who lives & works in a small apartment in San Francisco with her husband and two kids, who are 4 and 8 years old.

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HEADS opens with a reception this Friday May 9 from 6-8:00 p.m. at Rare Device. You can read more about Tiffanie and her stunning flowers on this fabulous article published this week by The SF Chronicle. All photos by Sarah Deragon and Tiffanie Turner.

See you at the opening & Happy Wednesday!

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Will Taylor :: Bright Bazaar

04/25/14

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About two years ago I met Will Taylor online, probably on Twitter or Instagram (I can’t remember exactly). Since 2009, Will has kept a blog called Bright Bazaar, on which he writes prolifically about interior design and his commodious love for color. Aside from having a really fantastic eye for design, Will is simply one of the most genuinely authentic and kind people you will ever meet on the interwebs. One of the most exciting things that’s happened recently for those of us who love Will and his bold aesthetic is that he’s recently written a beautiful book. The book, called (aptly) Bright Bazaar: Embracing Color for Make-You-Smile Style (St. Martins, 2014), features not only Will’s own gorgeous home in the UK, but the homes of many people who revere and use color in magnificent ways. Lucky for us, it’s released TUESDAY, April 29 in the US! I got an advance copy and I can’t want to share some of it with you.

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In his book, Will offers recipes for “Color Cocktails” and their coordinating mood boards (see the amazing examples above and below for “Tangerine Dream” and “The Citrus Twist”), along with step by step advice to create color-filled rooms. This book is particularly great for people who love the idea of using color but are intimidated to decorate with it.

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Almost every inch of this 191 page coffee-table-sized book was gorgeously photographed in bold color by ultra talented Andrew Boyd. The text is super easy to follow, accessible and light-hearted, just like decorating should be! Bright Bazaar is organized not only by color family (there is even a section on decorating in black and white) but also by room, like home offices (see below). There is even a section on outdoor spaces.

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Will is currently on tour in the US and signing books all over! Check his blog for when he might be in your neck of the woods.

I leave you now with this photo of Will, because a) it’s adorable and b) behind this stunning book is a real person, who works really hard and does it all with a generous heart. Oh, and he’s go amazing style himself, wouldn’t you say?

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{photo of Will by Kiana Underwood}

Thank you for being you, Will, and thank you for making this book! Friends, you can get it here and in most bookstores.

Have a happy weekend, friends.

CATEGORIES Inspiration
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Corita Kent & Happy Weekend

04/11/14

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Last week when I was in the beautiful city of Ventura, I stumbled into the most amazing used book store (one of the most amazing I’ve ever been in, in fact). And I found (without really looking) this first edition book of poetry by Gerald Huckaby illustrated by Corita Kent (aka Sister Corita). You may recall that last year I hand lettered Sister Corita’s Art Department Rules, and I have been on a hunt for her iconic work (in whatever form & state I can find it) as I am in stores and flea markets. So I was really excited to find this book. BTW: they had different Corita Kent book that was signed, but it was a wee bit out of my price range! Anyhow, the inside of City, Uncity is even more glorious than the beautiful cover, pictured above. Here’s a sample spread:

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This spread just happens to be oriented vertically, but most spreads in the book are regular horizontal spreads. I’m keeping my eyes peeled for other Corita Kent books and posters as I’m out and about these days.

On an entirely different note, this morning I spoke at TYPO Design Conference in SF and it was a great experience! Many of you have been asking, and my talk was recorded, so when it’s up for viewing on the internet, I’ll let you know.

Have a happy weekend, everyone!

CATEGORIES Inspiration
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Blair Stocker :: Wise Craft

04/03/14

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Every now and again a friend calls on me to illustrate something for them. To me, this is the greatest honor: when someone you’ve known for years actually wants to work with you. Maybe some of you can relate — it’s a special experience. Last year I got an email from my agent — my friend Blair Stocker was writing a craft book and she wanted me to illustrate some of the projects. Truth be told, Blair’s book has SIXTY amazing projects in it, and I only illustrated a handful. But it was a super fun project, especially because I got to interact directly with Blair to get the illustrations just right.  I can’t wait to share some photos with you.

Blair’s book is called Wise Craft: Turning Thrift Store Finds, Fabric Scraps and Natural Objects into Stuff You Love. It’s based on many projects from her longtime blog, Wise Craft — and, of course, some new ones too. Instead of throwing away things like old dishes or shirts, Blair teaches you how to remake/reuse them, adding special touches to make them unique. This book is also particularly great for folks (like me!) who like to thrift for special treasures and then use them in projects. The book is divided into four seasonal chapters, with designs that reflect different holidays and the like. Here are some of my favorite projects from the book:

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{Dip Dye Toile Dishes}

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{Bead-bombed Tote Bag, with my illustration in the upper right}

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{Spooky dishes}

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{Summer Sherbet Picnic Blanket, with my illustration on the right}

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{Hand Painted Journals}

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{Hottie Rice Pillow, with my illustration on the right hand page}

You can purchase Blair’s beautiful book here or wherever craft books are sold. I’ll be making those dip-dyed ceramics very soon (stay tuned for a post on that!)

Have a happy Thursday!

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Austin Kleon :: Show Your Work

03/26/14

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I can’t say enough good things about Austin Kleon’s latest book, Show Your Work! If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you may remember that a couple of years ago I met Austin when he was in San Francisco and also wrote about his previous book, Steal Like an Artist. I’m a big fan of Austin’s approach to creativity and sharing your talent. I get emails and questions all the time from fellow creatives who are just starting out about how to “get my work out into the world” or how to “promote what I do as a creative person.” I am so happy that I now have Austin’s book to recommend. It’s really fantastic.

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Through stories of his own personal experiences — and with great humor and humility — Austin shares 10 big ideas about what he’s learned about sharing & promoting, including:
+share something small every day
+tell good stories
+don’t turn into human spam
+stick around
These are just a few of my personal favorites.

Austin’s book is based on the premise that sharing — and not hiding — your process (how you do what you do & how you think about what you do) is what draws people to you and helps you gain a following that can provide a sense of community and even help you make a living from what you do. This book is great for creatives of all types, from writers to artists and makers of all kinds.

Austin is currently touring around signing books and talking about his ideas, and I highly recommend going to meet him in person if he comes to a location near you — he’s incredibly smart, inspiring and engaging.

Happy Wednesday, friends! You can see a list of all of the places to purchase Austin’s book here.

CATEGORIES Inspiration
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