Monday, February 20, 2017

Indecision, Impatience and Joy in the Moment

For weeks I had been having a hard time making up my mind. I never used to have trouble with that. I'd leap into decisions, following my heart, not my head. At some point things changed. I started second guessing myself. Thinking, thinking, thinking instead of listening to my heart.

Last week I finally made a couple decisions.

flowers, bulbs, paperwhites, narcissus, houseplants, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

One of them was cutting my hair. Silly, really. I continually go through the same cycle of growing out my hair and then eventually cutting it only to grow it again (and cut it again). Not a serious decision at all. Not one with lasting ramifications (it always grows back). And I'm glad I did it. I feel lighter and ready for spring now.

I hoped that the other decision would bring just such an immediate change, but it didn't. Although it was my decision, the outcome was out of my hands. I had to wait and wait and wait for an answer (I still won't know for sure until later today). Over the weekend the waiting was driving me batty. I had trouble focusing on any task. I was too distracted to work on my art or the other projects I'd planned for the weekend.

flowers, houseplants, pittosporum, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

And then I realized something. I was wasting time with impatience and distraction when I could have been enjoying the day. The weather was amazing. Sunny, warm, springlike. I had ample time for projects and a sunny studio in which to work on them.

And then I realized something else. Not only had my impatience been undermining my ability to savor the moment, but so had my indecision. Being in my head worrying, thinking about "what ifs", weighing (again and again) pros and cons -- all of that goes against being present in the moment. It keeps me from noticing the beauty and joy of the day.

flowers, houseplants, pittosporum, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I'm not saying that all decisions should be made flippantly or without any thought, but dwelling on something that I've already considered steals my joy and wastes my time.

Making those realizations helped me to take a time out. I scolded myself and then made a quick mental gratitude list. I stood for a moment soaking up the sunshine. Then I tackled one of my projects. I went for a walk. I made tacos. I enjoyed the rest of the weekend.

Often we don't have control over the situation, but we certainly have control over our reaction to the situation. It's so easy to forget that. To get carried away by emotions or worry.

amaryllis, flowers, houseplants, bulbs, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Being grateful is a perfect way to pause the worry. Writing a Joy List can always help.

Joy List Monday: 

a weekly ritual
a reminder to stop and pay attention to the little beauties and graces that make life magical and to set aside time for gratitude each day

Are you with me?

Here's my list:

  • more and more flowers showing up on my houseplants
  • a string of sunshiny days and the promise of spring
  • happy dogs
  • having my parents over for tacos
  • thinking about life at this time last year and being grateful for Matthias' recovery
  • a steaming mug of tea
  • rhubarb coffee cake
  • my studio
  • 28 people (so far) who have signed up for the Handmade Joy Exchange (there's still time to join us; I'd love to have you!!)
  • being gentle with myself
  • a slow Sunday filled with laundry, organizing, cooking and little projects
  • taking time -- for reflection, for quiet, for gratitude and for just being in the moment
Wishing you joy and time to savor it.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Flowers in Winter -- Two New Paintings and Dreams of the Garden

Since returning from my Creative Retreat, I've shared pages from my sketchbooks and peeks of pieces I've done on scraps of watercolor paper (one of my favorite ways to sketch and play and practice), but none of what I've shared has been "serious" art.

And although I did a lot of playing during January, I also completed a couple botanical watercolor paintings.

The wind chill was in double-digit negatives, but I couldn't resist bringing a little blooming orchid plant home from the store (zipping it up in my coat to shelter it from the cold on the way home).

Yes, I already had many -- I won't admit how many -- phalaenopsis orchids in my studio, but their buds haven't opened yet.

And I needed flowers.

orchids, houseplants, flower buds, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry


Until then, there will always be flowers on paper (this time aided by my new sweet plant).

watercolor, botanical watercolor, orchids, watercolor wreath, phalaenopsis, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I'm working on a non-flowery commission right now, but perhaps when I'm finished with it some of my other orchids will have opened. I have a vision for my next painting.

Possibly the hardest thing about winter for me is that I don't have a garden filled with flowers (and herbs and veggies) out the back door for inspiration.

Painting from photo inspiration just isn't the same. It lacks the connection I get when I'm sitting with a flower in front of me.

There are few things as joy-filled as bringing the garden into my studio.

An armload of flowers

peonies, garden inspiration, studio, artist studio, workspace, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

or a handful of tomatoes.

tomatoes, nasturtiums, summer flowers, botanical watercolor, watercolor painting, artist studio, artist workspace, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I know, I know. I have plenty of subjects to paint at any time of the year, but when I want flowers, nothing else will do.

                       "There are always flowers for those who want to see them."
                                                  --Henri Matisse

I always want to see them.

watercolor, roses, roses watercolor, watercolor wreath, botanical watercolor, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

This rose wreath painting was inspired by a sketch from last year.

watercolor, roses, roses watercolor, watercolor wreath, botanical watercolor, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Without looking at the date, I would have said the sketch was done in the garden in the summer, but I would have been wrong.

sketchbook, botanical sketchbook, botanical sketches, roses, rose wreath, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Apparently that one was also done in the depths of January, working from photos, my imagination and memory.

As much as I enjoy sketching like that, there are few things as magical as sitting in the garden with my sketchbook and micron pens, connecting with nature while I fill up a page.

That time will come.

Until then, I'll be in my studio. Dreaming and planning and painting and drawing and savoring the magic that exists all year long.

I hope you will be savoring, too.

p.s. both of these paintings are now available in my shop. You can find them here and here.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Cornelia Dümling -- a Sketchbook Conversation

Today I'm excited to launch this year's Sketchbook Conversations series with Cornelia Dümling's sketchbook story. 

I'll let Cornelia take it from here and share an inspiring look at her sketchbooks and her creative journey:

Hello, my name is Cornelia Dümling and I am honored to talk about my sketchbook practice on Anne’s blog. Such a pleasure, thank you for inviting me!

I am a self-taught artist working on a career as a professional illustrator. I live in a little house with my sweetheart husband and my two rambunctious boys on the outskirts of Hamburg in northern Germany.

Although I always loved to draw and paint I was only keeping diaries for a long time. Then I didn’t even do that anymore, because I got frustrated that I filled them with thousands of words without ever looking at them again. As a teenager I didn’t have the confidence and courage to turn my love of drawing into a profession and trained for something else. The years went by and I missed being creative more and more. About two years ago I reached a point, where I realized how much I desperately wanted art and creativity back in my life. After reading Danny Gregory’s „Creative Licence“ I started my first „official“ sketchbook. And I tell you, I was scared to the hair tips at the thought! I wasn’t sure if I’d ever make it to the finish. 

Cornelia Dümling, Sketchbook Conversations, Sketchbooks, My Giant Strawberry

My first sketchbook was a jumble of practice drawings, written notes, and other things tumbling through my mind. Because I wasn’t so very confident about my drawing skills I read Betty Edwards’ „Drawing on the right side of the brain“ which flipped a major switch and changed my approach profoundly. From then on I focussed deliberately on NOT thinking what I was drawing. I try to see things as lines only, and to work from one line to the next. That works marvelously for me. I can slip in this meditative state quite easy now. 

The realization that it is basically all about lines, shapes, and colors, made the search for motives a lot easier: All of a sudden everything seemed game. I like to draw a wide variety of things. But as a mother and working from home I am not much out and about and tend to draw things in and around the house, the kids, our stuff, and so on. I like to indulge in urban sketching when I happen to go to the city center or on travels. 

Cornelia Dümling, Sketchbook Conversations, Sketchbooks, My Giant Strawberry

And food. Oh my! A very fascinating subject for me. There are such wonderful, intriguing  patterns, textures, and colors in fruits and vegetables; it fascinates me no end.

Cornelia Dümling, Sketchbook Conversations, Sketchbooks, My Giant Strawberry

When stuff happens, this is life after all, I document what has happened, relaxing and debriefing at the same time. This ranges from the very deep, to the mundane and even the ridiculous. 

Cornelia Dümling, Sketchbook Conversations, Sketchbooks, My Giant Strawberry

But even after the boost by Betty Edward’s book I was struggling to sketch regularly. You might have noticed by now that I am a voracious reader. And again a book solved the problem of regularity for me. I tumbled over Carol Marine’s „Daily Painting: Paint Small and Often To Become a More Creative, Productive, and Successful Artist“. This one made me realize that drawing every day was not an option but a basic requirement if I wanted to grow truly. From then on I had a new goal: Drawing something daily without excuses or harsh evaluations. Having drawn something, even if I wasn’t happy about the result, was the goal. Before, I tended to be very perfectionist - and critical as a result, but that changed now. The goal was achieved by having drawn something, not how it looked or how long it took me. The sketchbook turned into a fun place, where I could experiment, get to know tools, materials, and myself. Soon after I stepped the game up a notch by opening an Instagram account and posting the sketches five to six days a week minus holidays and vacations. I don’t make it every day, but often enough. So I am quite happy with it. Instagram turned out to be a good source for inspiration and community, I would not have had access otherwise. It is interesting and encouraging to see the reactions of other people to the things I make.

I adore themed sketchbooks by other artists and tried to do that too, but then it happens I don’t have that special sketchbook with me but my urge to draw is so big that I decide to draw in the sketchbook I have at hand and bam! I have my big, funny, wild jumble again. Thanks to digital programs I could sort my sketches if I wanted to do so. If being the operational word here. 

Cornelia Dümling, Sketchbook Conversations, Sketchbooks, My Giant Strawberry

I have sketchbooks in all varieties and sizes. I needed to find out what papers I like and how they react with my preferred mediums. Well, actually still do. I seem to like formats between A5 and A4, no matter if square or landscape. I like watercolor and fountainpens. Not all papers stand up well to that. My Leuchtturm 1917 sketchbook does well with limited amounts of water, but I flooded it regularly anyway. I pasted stuff in, stamped, and did how I pleased and now the thing has about double the volume as it had before. But I love it! This is the beauty of sketchbooks: They are a mixture of playground and research lab and you are the one who calls the shots. I don’t fear messing up expensive paper, it’s no disaster if the composition is off, it is a place without fear. Something everybody should have. And to me it has turned into the backbone of my artistic existence. It helps me grow, try out new techniques, or even to realize that there is something new I need to learn. That is the moment I look it up, or take a class. There are so many sources available! It is awesome. My sketchbooks are not sacred. I allow even my kids to scribble in them if I need to entertain them in a waiting area.

If you are starting out with a sketchbook make it your own. You are the one who is making the art in it and you are the one who makes the rules. Don’t compare yourself too much with others. Be inspired and don’t look down on yourself but take satisfaction in every page - even the ones you don’t like. Most often the failed ones are those that teach you loads. Sometimes it is very helpful to watch what you are doing and ask why. This is how I realized how attracted to food and patterns I really am. And knowing this helps me to determine which direction I want to pursue. You are starting and every page is a step towards more experience and skill. And this is so nice about sketchbooks: You document your way so you can look back from time to time and enjoy the pleasant realization of how much you grew.

I hope my sketchbook journey was helpful to you. I bless your own sketchbook journey with all my heart!

Thank you, Cornelia, for sharing your story with us here today!

Dear readers, you can find Cornelia on: 
Instagram (to see the sketchbook pages) (search for Cornelia Duemling to see her recipes)

or per email:

Missed the other Sketchbook Conversations posts? You can catch up here. And for more inspiration, don't miss out on my Artist Interviews.

*Photos in this post © Cornelia Dümling. Used with permission.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Joy List Monday and Love, Love, Love

I've admitted it before and I'll admit it again. I'm a bit of a sucker for Valentine's Day. (I've written about it here,  here, here and here).

hearts, heart rocks, joy, love, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

The world always needs more love. Always.

Really, I'm up for any excuse to celebrate. Especially in the depths of winter. We all need cheering up. We all need something special in our days.

But we need don't need a date on a calendar to tell us when and what to celebrate.

Any day can be a cause for celebration, an "excuse" to bake some cupcakes or make special dinner or send a love note or wear something that makes you feel pretty. Just because.

lilies, sunshine, home, houseplants, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Truly, every day can be cause for celebration.

And isn't that the point of keeping Joy Lists? To find something to celebrate every day.

Like noticing surprise flower stems on a houseplant

begonias, houseplants, indoor garden, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

and discovering that the flower buds look like tiny, polka-dotted hearts.

eyelash begonia, flower buds, hearts, begonias, houseplants, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Or reveling in a string of sunny, sunny days. Or finding gardening catalogs tucked into the mailbox. Or taking a sip of tea and realizing it's the perfect temperature.

Are you with me on this?

It can be so easy to be overwhelmed by the ugliness of the news or the heaviness of the weather or the heartbreak of personal disappointments or even just the (all too sudden) arrival of Monday morning. Yet while all those things are happening, beauty is happening, too. Wonder. Joy. Magic.

Let's not let the ugliness win. Fight back with love. With beauty. With celebration. With joy.

Joy List Monday: 

a weekly ritual
a reminder to stop and pay attention to the little beauties and graces that make life magical and to set aside time for gratitude each day

Here's my list today:

  • a fabulous day out with Matthias and my mom including the most wonderful lunch (where they brought my tea in the perfect teapot)
  • spotting four bald eagles on our drive
  • a bunch of lilies perfuming the whole house
  • my indoor garden
  • some lucky thrift store finds
  • inspiration, beauty and light found here, here and here
  • beautiful, delicious eggs from my parents' chickens
  • getting my closet purged, cleaned and organized (best feeling ever)
  • the response so far for the Joy Exchange
  • garden dreaming and planning
  • embracing imperfection and playing in my sketchbooks
  • a fun lunch at my parents' house
  • making connections with other artists online for Sketchbook Conversations and Artist Interviews
  • dog snuggles
  • some exciting projects
colored pencils, sketchbook, cardinal, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

What's on your list today?

p.s. I still have a few calendars in my shops (here and here). They're on sale now if you want to snatch one up before they're all gone.

watercolor art print set, watercolor calendar, 2017 Calendar, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry, sale

Friday, February 10, 2017

An Invitation to the Handmade Joy Exchange

About five years ago, when I was still new to blogging and my creative journey was near its beginning, I had an idea for a joyful exchange. I imagined handmade bits and bobs created with love, wrapped up in joyful packages and sent around the world. I imagined beautiful little creations of hope traveling across the country and over oceans. I imagined mailboxes glowing with joy and love and hope.

For three years I hosted the Handmade Joy Exchange (read about it herehere and here) and bits of handmade joy were posted with love and traveled around the world.

crochet, roses, tea, handmade, crafts, cozy, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

And then the exchange took a little break. My Mission was still that of beauty and joy, but I couldn't figure out how to fit the exchange into what I was doing.

watercolor, painting, swatches, color, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Until now.

This year, with all the stresses of news headlines continually filled with hate and violence and messages of exclusion, I think it's time to fight back with joy and beauty and love.

fabric, butterflies, surface pattern design, Summer Bliss Fabric Collection, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

And so I'm sending out an invitation.

joy, love, exchange, handmade, creativity, swap, made by hand, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Of creativity and joy and love.

colored pencils, art supplies, colors, inspiration, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I sent an early invitation to my JoyLetter subscribers on Sunday and within minutes of sending the email I had people signing up.

Won't you join us, too?

craft supplies, thread, colors, inspiration, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

What's involved.

1. You have until February 23rd to sign up for the exchange. Simply email me your name and mailing address (and website/blog if you have one).

2. On February 24th I will assign the swap partners. It's not a direct match, so your package will be a surprise!

3. Make something by hand with joy and love. It can be anything you're inspired to create.* In the past creations ranged from crochet pieces to paintings to jewelry to sewn pieces to collages and on and on (take a look at the past exchanges for inspiration if you're stumped, but don't feel at all limited by them or by the photos in this post!). Take a photo of what you create and send it to me so I can share it later on my blog.

4. Get your Handmade Joy into the mail no later than March 17th.

5. On April 21st I'll publish a celebration post concluding the exchange, sharing a photo mosaic of all the Handmade Joy creations and linking to blog posts by anyone who wants to participate in a blog hop celebration of the exchange.** One thing I learned from past exchanges is that getting all the packages where they're supposed to go in an international exchange like this can take a LONG time and that's why I'm allowing five weeks from mailing to blogging.

herbs, lavender, flowers, harvest, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Please let me know if you want to join the exchange. And if you know someone you think would be interested, invite them along, too. The Handmade Joy Exchange is open to everyone.

yarn, craft supplies, colors, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I hope I'll be hearing from you soon!

Keep the faith and enjoy your weekend.

*I've had questions about monetary value and I understand the concern behind the question, but I'm not going to limit it. Many of the people who created pieces for the exchange in the past do not sell what they create and don't value their creations in this way. Be generous and give what you feel moved to give.

**If you have a blog and would like to participate in the blog hop, simply write about your experience and share photos of what you created and what you received. Plan to post it on or slightly before April 21st and send me the link to your post so I can link to you.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Some Thoughts and Insights About Sketchbooks from my Creative Retreat

Over the past few weeks I've been lining up artists for my Sketchbook Conversations series. I'm really excited to begin sharing them with you. Look for the first one a week from today.

During my Creative Retreat I spent a lot of time working in my sketchbooks again. And thinking about why I work in sketchbooks at all. As the interviews started coming back and I read what others were writing I was struck by some similarities in our thinking. Insecurities. Fears. But also, once we push past that initial hesitancy, a sense of freedom. Sketchbooks are, or can be, for your eyes only. A place to try things out, to play.

sketchbooks, marker, doodles, drawing, houseplants, mittens, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

There are some pages in my sketchbooks that I'll never show to anyone. Awkward experiments that haven't worked out. Hastily rendered pages created when my heart just wasn't in it or my focus distracted. There are also mistakes. Accidents. Messiness.

What I've come to realize is that this is the point of sketchbooks. Sketchbooks afford us the freedom to make mistakes and have accidents. Mistakes and accidents are crucial to growth. Growth can be hard and painful. And I think that's part of what sometimes makes me reluctant to work in my sketchbook. Although it's fun and freeing, sometimes it's also just that, WORK.

gouache, sketchbook, painting, roses, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I wrote myself a little note on my inspiration board/side of my desk*. It's at the bottom and says "do the work".

It's a good reminder.

Other times sketchbooks don't feel like work at all.

sketchbook, sketches, marker, flowers, garden flowers, summer flowers, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I've been playing with marker in one of my sketchbooks lately. In the evenings watching Netflix or DVDs from the library. It's fun not to have to worry about the outcome. Sometimes my sketches are realistic and sometimes they're entirely made up.

sketchbooks, marker, doodles, flowers, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I don't often do made up. My art can be so serious and careful. And I love painting that way, but it's also nice to loosen up and play. It doesn't always work out, but I've come to realize the end product isn't the point.

For that reason, although I think there's value in sharing our sketchbooks -- on blogs, on Instagram, etc -- to help hold us accountable and to foster community, I see the other side, too. The value of creation in private. Our inner critics can be very loud without opening ourselves up to the possibility of external criticism, too. There's also the danger that we'll start creating, not for ourselves, but for outside acceptance and approval.

I guess the most important thing I'm taking away from my Creative Retreat and from the inspiration of the Sketchbook Conversations posts is that I keep creating, keep playing and working in my sketchbooks.

I hope you'll be inspired to create, too. Maybe sketchbooks aren't for you. And that's ok. You don't have to create with paints or markers or pens or pencils. Creativity isn't limited to sketchbooks or to any specific medium or outlet. Listen to the whispers of your spirit. Follow your heart and your imagination. They will never lead you in the wrong direction.

I'll be back on Friday with an exciting invitation. See you then.

*The art on the side of my desk is mine except: 1) postcard with the dresses from Uppercase Magazine's Feed Sacks Volume of the Encyclopedia of Inspiration, 2) "You have cool hair" card from Moo, 3) bird bookmark -- design by Dana Barbieri printed by Uppercase Magazine, 4) black and white floral and hand lettered illustration print by Dana Barbieri

Monday, February 6, 2017

Joy List Monday and a Gift for You

It's been a while since my last Joy List Monday post. It's nice to be here writing one again.

I hope you'll write a Joy List today, too.

To help you with that I have a little gift I've put together for you.

Joy Lists, Joy List Monday, Gratitude List, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

If you subscribe to my JoyLetter you'll have gotten your link to these downloadable, printable Joy and Gratitude Lists (please let me know if that's not the case). If you're not a subscriber, you can sign up now and receive your link.

The text and imagery is all in black so you don't need a color printer.  You can use colored pencils or fine tipped markers to color them if you'd like.

Joy List, Gratitude List, Downloadable Gift, Printable Gift, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Or you can print them on colored paper or card stock.

Joy List, Gratitude List, Downloadable Gift, Printable Gift, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

There are four blank lists on one letter-sized page. Print as many as you want so you'll always have one on hand to keep track of your gratitude for life's daily joys.

Once you start paying attention, you'll see that there are many, even on the darkest of days.

Lately, I'm grateful for the gorgeous sunshine we've been having after what seems like months of grey skies. I can't help but feel joyful on a sunny day. It's like I'm a plant and get my energy from photosynthesis.

houseplants, sunshine, flowering plants, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I imagine my real plants loving these sunny days, too.

In the above picture you get a glimpse of the flower stem on one of my oncidium orchids.

houseplants, orchids, Sharry Baby, Oncidium Orchid, Rubber Plant, Begonia, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

It's hard to photograph in part because of the size of the arching stem and the sheer number of overlapping flowers (the stem is over 3 feet long and it's covered with probably 75 individual flowers).

orchids, orchid flowers, oncidium orchids, Sharry Baby Orchid, Houseplants, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

If I'm honest, this orchid (a variety called Sharry Baby) is not a very photogenic plant (I think the yellow oncidiums are much prettier). I don't care, though, because I love these flowers for another reason. They smell amazing. Some people describe the scent as that of chocolate, but to my nose it's more sugary and vanilla almost with a hint of peppermint.

Similar in fragrance to another flower that's blooming for me right now.

cyclamen flowers, pink cyclamen, Houseplants, Heart Shaped Leaves, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

I'm so glad I didn't give up on this little cyclamen. It was covered with scale, my nemesis in the indoor garden. The leaves are so tender that scraping the insects off the them didn't really work. I used cotton balls dipped in rubbing alcohol and gently rubbed them off. It seems to have done the trick. I'm sure they're not permanently gone, but I think I'll be able to keep them in check from here on out.

I don't know what I'd do in the winter without my indoor garden.

sketchbook, watercolor sketchbook, watercolor sketches, paint swatches, watercolor swatches, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Even so, I miss being outside in the garden with grass beneath my toes and blue skies above the trees, but winter doesn't last forever and it's important to make the most of each day, no matter my seasonal preferences.

Joy List Monday: 

a weekly ritual
a reminder to stop and pay attention to the little beauties and graces that make life magical and to set aside time for gratitude each day

winter, squirrel, snow, Matthias Minnig, My Giant Strawberry

The rest of my list:
  • flannel sheets
  • the antics of backyard squirrels on the roof* and at the bird feeder
  • freshly baked cookies
  • various projects in the works
  • taking things slowly
  • finally realizing that it's ok to get rid of my Facebook account
  • testing out new materials
  • finishing a couple new paintings

What's on your list today?

*The photo of the squirrel in the snow on our roof was taken by Matthias. You might remember the corn cob on the roof? Yes, the squirrel was searching around in the snow to figure out where he left it.

Friday, February 3, 2017

An Interview with Lisa Estabrook

Today I'm chatting with Lisa Estabrook, "a mother, a graphic designer, an artist and an obsessive gardener". Through her art and her blog she shares a spiritual, healing connection to the world of plants and flowers.

I'm delighted to have her here sharing her story with us!

Artist, Gardener, Lisa Estabrook, Artist Interview, My Giant Strawberry

ab: Lisa, you are an artist, graphic designer, gardener, wife and mother. Can you share a bit about your background? Did you major in graphic design in college? How did you come to start painting flowers? Where did your obsession with gardening come from?

le: I grew up in London, England, which is probably one of the biggest cities in the world. But there is an area that goes all around the city called the “greenbelt” where fields, parks and houses are preserved, and this is where my home was. So I was fortunate to be able to spend a lot of time outside as a child, walking everyday across the fields behind my house to school and I had plenty of special places I would visit and play. I can't say that I was obsessed with gardening as a child, it was certainly more of a chore, like raking leaves, but again there was much time spent outside.

In English high schools the junior and senior years are devoted to A-levels, where we would study in depth only three subjects for the two years. Art was one of my subjects, so I really got to study in-depth and build quite a large body of work. Of course I never felt like I could make a career out of being an artist, so when I went to college I studied for a graphic design and marketing degree that I thought would make me more employable (successful?).

After graduation, and a couple of years working for EuroDisney in Paris, I moved back to the US with my American boyfriend. For six months or so, while we were trying to figure out what to do with our lives I picked up my sketchbook and started painting. Funnily enough, even back then, all my art involved flowers. We then moved to Maine for my soon-to-be husband to study traditional wooden boat building and I got a job in a design studio. Maine, unlike the UK, has very distinct seasons and the call to be outside for me is strong. It didn't take me long to start my first garden.

Forget Me Not, Artist, Gardener, Lisa Estabrook, Artist Interview, My Giant Strawberry

Every house that we lived in, and we moved a fair bit, I would make a new garden. It started as a creative urge and a desire to create a beautiful outside space. It was my main creative outlet and the garden at each new house was a new blank canvas. But that only scratches the surface. Gardening became integral to my health and well-being. It was the place I would go to be alone for a while, my therapy, my workout (making new garden beds is a lot of work!) and often a source of food. I always felt a little sad when we moved because I would never get to see the gardens mature. Bit of a metaphor really for me and my heart's work, because it was at least another 15 years, three daughters and five new gardens, before I felt I could put my roots down and flourish.

Artist, Gardener, Lisa Estabrook, Artist Interview, My Giant Strawberry

ab: Like me, your garden is an extension of your studio. Tending the plants and connecting with them is part of your art. Tell us a bit about your garden and what your workspace is like. What is your creative process? What helps you when you’re feeling stuck or uninspired and how do you nourish your creativity and stay inspired during the long Maine winters?

le: My gardens are a constant work in progress (just like me). We bought our current home in 2010. The land originally was wooded with a typical suburban lawnscape around a fairly uninspiring 70’s home. I could see the potential though. Each year I create new beds, restore some aspect of the woodland and let bits go wild to see what surprises the land holds. It’s always changing shape, evolving. There is sort of an overarching plan, or vision, but mostly I’m just winging it and just working intuitively with the land. The exact same thing could be said for my artwork.

Garden, Veggie Garden, Vegetable Garden, Raised Beds, Artist, Gardener, Lisa Estabrook, Artist Interview, My Giant Strawberry

In 2012, after 12 years as a stay at home, homeschooling mom, finances forced us to put the kids in school and I opened up my graphic design freelance practice again out of my finished basement. We sectioned a portion off and called it “the studio.” It has one small window but a good amount of natural light. As soon as we can we have plans to put in a full-size window and replace the door to the outside, also with glass. The studio is functional and not so beautiful…(yet), but it has a wonderful, calm energy to it.

Work in Progress, Studio, Artist Studio, Work Space, Poppy, Painting, Artist, Gardener, Lisa Estabrook, Artist Interview, My Giant Strawberry

It was another year before I picked up my paint brush, and I had no idea what I was going to create, but out poured my gardens. I've always had a keen interest in herbal medicine, alternative and natural health so it didn't take me long to connect the dots that each plant I would journal, sketch and paint was exactly the medicine than I needed in my life at the time. The Soulflower seed was planted.

Sketch, Botanical Sketch, Yarrow, Artist, Gardener, Lisa Estabrook, Artist Interview, My Giant Strawberry

Life is busy with three kids and my primary income is from my graphic design work, so it's not every day that I get to sit down and paint. I try to carve out time one day a week for my own artwork, and in between I walk everyday, whatever the weather, write and sketch in my journal, and take a lot of photographs. After years of unsuccessfully trying to create some structure and security in my life, I am learning (slowly) to approach each day with an open heart and without too much of an agenda. That way when I feel the inspiration to paint, the subject matter, the thoughts and the relevant experiences are fresh in my mind and current with my day to day life. I always refer back to my journal, photographs and sketches where I magically find a trail of “seeds” that sprout into a new painting and simultaneously a new understanding of my personal journey.

Painting, Work in Progress, Borage, Botanical Watercolor, Artist, Gardener, Lisa Estabrook, Artist Interview, My Giant Strawberry

ab: What strikes me about your art and your business is the openness with which you share difficult truths about yourself. On your blog you reveal uncomfortable feelings, fears, challenges. What inspired you to be so open? Was this difficult for you? What has the response from readers, customers, family, friends been like?

le: Oh yes! What I know is that when I create, part of the process is in response to what is going on in my life, and part of the process is how nature always, always, always supports that process. So I felt actually, and after much soul searching, and beating about the bush, that if I was to truly share my work with the world, I needed to share all of it. I have been opening the door to my process VERY VERY slowly as I learn to trust that what I have to say may help inspire and support others in their lives, and I have a deep understanding that this sharing, in whatever form it may take (art or writing or speaking) is part of my soul’s purpose. While it has not been easy, it has also been super helpful in my own personal growth and understanding. And amazingly, every time I feel fear creeping in about what I am doing, someone will write or comment, and tell me how much my work has helped or inspired them in some way. My family is supportive too, although they always give me a little bit of a hard time, you know, asking me if I can hear the carrots screaming as I try to prepare dinner etc.

Sketchbook, Dandelion, Botanical Sketchbook, Artist, Gardener, Lisa Estabrook, Artist Interview, My Giant Strawberry

ab: One of the things you have shared on your blog is your need for solace and healing. You had been struggling with headaches and generally began to realize that things weren’t quite right in your life. How did you come to understand what you needed and how did you find solace and healing? What tools and practices do you use to help fulfill your mission “to deeply understand [your]self and [your] life”? How do you nourish yourself?

le: There is a general human consensus that life is hard and then you die, and we spend a good deal of our lives not accepting responsibility for our actions, our health or well-being. and instead look to external sources to blame or to fix us. A whole lot of fear and suffering. Of course this is part of my story too. The process of trying to figure out what was/is causing my headaches, and fix them, became a personal journey and more of a process of elimination. A peeling away of layers upon layers of stories and beliefs that I have carried, perpetuated, and that do not align with who I am, what I believe or how I want to be in this world. I came to understand my headaches as a catalyst for this healing work. They were in fact a gift! And every time I shed or reconcile a layer of what I am not, I can feel my heart open and expand to encompass all that I am. I can’t imagine a life where positive personal growth is not a thing. I can't imagine a life that is not meant to be lived with love and joy, in spite of (and in honor of) the suffering.

Sketches, Sketchbook, Work in Progress, Studio, Artist Studio, Workspace, Artist, Gardener, Lisa Estabrook, Artist Interview, My Giant Strawberry

For me there is a constant curiosity. A need to understand. This probably contributes to my headaches. :) But we can’t possibly understand all the whys, so we have to trust and we have to find balance and I try to do this in all areas of my life. So, everything in moderation, learning to follow my heart, discovering where I find joy and the overall intention for my life to positively impact others. Positive ripples right! And I find great peace in that. Self-care is not my strength and I am learning how to nourish myself, but I do know that I need a lot of alone time and a lot of time outside, nutritious food and a tidy (if not clean) house to live in.

Garden, Artist, Gardener, Lisa Estabrook, Artist Interview, My Giant Strawberry

ab: Your signature product is your Soulflower Plant Spirit Oracle Deck. It includes 44 plant spirit cards and 2 more informational cards. Each of the plant cards is illustrated with one of your beautiful paintings and also includes information about the properties, energy and spirit of the plant. This is clearly a labor of love and I find it so intriguing! How did you embark on this project? I’m also curious about your definitions and descriptions of the plants’ energies. Did your conclusions come entirely from your own experience with plants or did you also research them? Can you share a bit about how you use these cards and how you’d recommend others use them?
Soulflower Plant Spirit Oracle Deck, Artist, Gardener, Lisa Estabrook, Artist Interview, My Giant Strawberry

le: My Soulflower Plant Spirit Oracle Deck took almost two years to create and represents not only my journey of healing and self-discovery but also me learning to trust that there is a reason why each and every one of us is here and it is often so much more than we realize. I didn’t think I could do it, but every step of the way, seemed to just fall into place. I had no idea how many cards there would be but the first one was Dandelion.

Dandelion, garden, Artist, Gardener, Lisa Estabrook, Artist Interview, My Giant Strawberry

It sounds so contrived, but I really was trying to figure out my purpose in life and Dandelion was my prayer, my wish if you like, to discover my way. And so then I was off. I had a mission and one by one the plants made it known who was next! All of them grow in my gardens or in the woods surrounding my home and I am very familiar with them all. The words, the messages, are definitely my own experiences and what resonated with me both physically, emotionally and mentally. I have a long history with most of them so I was well aware of many of the medicinal qualities and that contributed to my understanding. Of course, I did look to see what others have said. And sometimes it has resonated and sometimes it hasn’t. There is also so much more to say about each one, and every time I revisit one I learn something new. I hope that my blog posts will expand on the messages by directly sharing my experiences, but it’s not so easy to always put these into words! Another work in progress and maybe I will make a book somehow out of them in the end?

Sketch, Botanical Sketch, Hawthorn, Artist, Gardener, Lisa Estabrook, Artist Interview, My Giant Strawberry

I use the deck everyday. It is part of my morning ritual and often I simply ask, “For my own highest good, and the highest good of all, what message do I need to receive today?” Quite simple really, and always thoughtful, it gives me a place to start my day and I almost always reflect back at the end of the day any insights and experiences. It’s fun to see the patterns that occur and how appropriate the messages always seem to be.

Plant Spirit Oracle Deck, Artist, Gardener, Lisa Estabrook, Artist Interview, My Giant Strawberry

I also use the cards when I am feeling stuck or in situations where I find myself taking my (transient) feelings too seriously and not connecting to the underlying need that wants recognition. It can help you discover a new perspective and/or challenge your thinking, and always, always is a supportive way to tap into and trust your own heart’s wisdom. The more I do it, the more confidence I have in my ability to be well and prosper and the more awareness I have of all the support the universe truly has flowing towards each and every one of us.

Clover, Red clover, Artist, Gardener, Lisa Estabrook, Artist Interview, My Giant Strawberry

ab: What suggestions do you have for tapping into the energy and healing of the plant world without using your Oracle Deck? Are there resources, tools or practices that you would recommend? What techniques do you use to gain understanding and to banish negativity and embrace joy and gratitude in your life?

le: Oh that is easy! You don’t have to have my oracle deck to tap into the energy and healing of the plant world. Everyone is aware of the energy of flowers for example, they just don’t always remember. Just think how flowers have the power to light up a room, how we bring them to people feeling unwell, or use them to decorate for special occasions and I think you will remember. So you can purchase flowers, you can take photographs, print out pictures from the internet, whatever, and look at them often and you do need to spend time outside. You need to touch the trees, touch the grass, pull the “weeds’, rake the leaves whatever. You need to take a deep breath in, in awareness of the magnificent gift of the plant world that is the oxygen we breathe, and you need to breathe out sharing your carbon dioxide back to them. Such a beautiful simple thing and it reminds me daily how supported and connected I am to the Earth. Breathe. Simple really.

Winter, Snow, Dog Walking, Artist, Gardener, Lisa Estabrook, Artist Interview, My Giant Strawberry

Thank you, Lisa, for sharing your art and your story with my readers and me.

Studio, Workspace, Artist Studio, Artist, Gardener, Lisa Estabrook, Artist Interview, My Giant Strawberry

Dear readers, you can find more of Lisa's art and her new blog musings on her website.

You can also follow her on instagram: @my_soulflower

and Facebook: SoulflowerPlantSpiritArt 

Missed any of my past Artist Interviews? You can catch up here.

*Photos in this post © Lisa Estabrook. Used with permission.