November Challenge: Make Time To Paint
Confessions of a Recovering Perfectionist
Imagine you’re in third grade--your habitat diorama not only extends into several shoe boxes, but at the center of your Stonehenge of micro dioramas lies a lake with real water in it. Now imagine you are a Freshman in High School and you stay up all night perfecting your Monopoly themed “Freshman portfolio” and have your first coffee the next morning. Fast forward to your senior project where a solid essay would have sufficed, instead you insisted on putting on a production of The Fantasticks--not only staring as the main ingenue but also directing and producing the play.
Sounds impressive, right? Well, sure it was! And did I get extraordinary praise and accolades for these elaborate and (dare I say) over-the-top projects, of course I did. Was I a total brown nosing teacher’s pet?!?! You bet your booty I was!
All my life I have received great praise and derived a tremendous sense of satisfaction and self worth from going above and beyond in all that I do. I relished the moments when people would call me a “Leslie Knope.” My perfectionist tendencies have served me well both in the classroom as a student and as a teacher. It lent itself well to role as a librarian. I’ve always considered my “prior proper planning” to be my winning feature! I was ready for anything. You should have seen the dossier I gave to my mother when she came to help us out when I gave birth to my daughter. There were five pages about the dogs alone!
Until about a year ago, I felt like this quality was not only a main part of who I was as a person, but also the biggest thing that I had to offer this world. About six months into my new role as mom, I started to struggle with postpartum depression. It became pretty clear that it is impossible to be the perfect mom, doing all the right things. The depression made it increasingly difficult to do simple tasks, let alone excel at them. I felt like if I didn’t do everything perfectly then I was a bad mom, a bad wife, and ultimately a bad person.
Right around this time, a little thing called COVID-19 (maybe you’ve heard of it) arrived on the scene and made it infinitely clearer that nothing was predictable. Oh, did I mention that right around this time I decided to start my watercolor stationery goods business?!?! (A true perfectionist move--to jump into a large project even when you’re in way over your head.)
Now, I don’t regret starting my business at that time. It actually was incredibly helpful in getting me through my PPD (along with therapy and medication) but my mindset at the time was “I’ve gotta do it all” and “nothing but the absolute best”. Needless to say, this led to a pretty quick burnout and many a panic attack. I had gotten my shop up and running, sales were going well, everything looked professional, but I was a HOT MESS. I wasn’t sleeping well, I could hardly eat, my stomach was in knots, I didn’t have anything to give back to my family emotionally. I was no longer able to do my best work. Something had to give.
In working with a parenting coach, Christy Keating at The Heartful Parent, I realized that this perfectionist lifestyle, while serving me well in the past, no longer worked for me. In having a child, a family, and a business, as well as my own self to care for, I could no longer pour myself into projects in the same way. That was a game for my 20 year old self. (But honestly, I probably could have used a lot more balance back then too).
With juggling multiple areas of my life, the planning and predictability, the “perfect-ness” if you will, was no longer serving me. It was actually holding me back. Instead what I needed was a plan with flexibility--a plan that allowed me to step back and say, “actually my daughter needs my attention right now,” or “I could really use a nap.”
I know this message may seem counterintuitive to most small business owners--we’re constantly told to hustle hustle hustle, no rest for the weary, no pain no gain, blah blah blah. But since deciding to take a step back and break up with my perfectionist ways I’ve actually been able to be more productive during the times that I am working. Additionally, I have an exponentially better relationship with myself and my family.
This year, my word of the year is GENTLE, so I am constantly remembering to be gentle with myself. This means gentle with the goals I hold myself to, gentle to myself when I don’t meet expectations, gentle with myself when I need a break.
If this sounds like something that might be a good step for you, I wanted to share a few things that helped me leave behind my perfectionist ways.
- Breaking up with my to-do list. Now I don’t totally go rogue or anything. I still have tasks and goals, but rather than having 100000 things to do each day for the whole week and feeling like a total failure when I only accomplish one of them and everything else gets derailed--I now have a list of what I need to accomplish for the week and a few bonus items if I have the time. Each day I take a look at the list and think about what I’m in the mood for that day. Some days I’m really in the mood to write delightful blog posts and other days I just want to paint. Some days I need to just do some yoga and play with my daughter. I try to plan my days intuitively, based on how I feel that day. Obviously there are going to be times when we can’t do this, but by living intuitively most of the time, it helps us not burn out when we have to put our nose to the grindstone. This is one of the benefits of being my own boss.
- Knowing it’s okay to not follow through sometimes. Whenever I would say I was going to do something, you can bet that I made that bitty boo happen. Did I kill myself doing it?!? You betcha. But did I do it?!?! Of course. Many times these things didn’t even really matter to anyone but me. For example, I made a goal with myself this year to send one letter a day. Old me would have freaked out if I didn’t stay on top of it. Old me would have made it happen even at the expense of other more important things. New me is not doing a great job with my goal of one letter every day, but when I am able to write a letter here and there it has been much more enjoyable when it’s being written out of pleasure rather than sheer stubbornness. There is strength in releasing tasks that are not serving you at that time.
- Saying NO! This is one that I know a lot of folks, especially people pleasers like myself have trouble with. When making my goals for this year, I made sure to be pretty clear about what I did and didn’t want to accomplish, and I’ve gotta say, it’s helped make it a whole lot easier to say no. If it doesn’t serve my goals, it’s not happening. I’ve had a couple requests to create materials for styled shoots for wedding vendors and since I am stepping back from weddings this year to focus on my products, this was an easy no. And you know what?!?! It felt good!
- Watercolor as a Medium. While the above list works well for anyone in any line of work, I have to say that watercolor itself is great for helping me let go. I don’t know if you know this, but water doesn’t exactly do everything you want it to. Watercolor is an art form where you can plan and manipulate the paint as much as you want but sometimes water will still have her way with your painting. I’ve actually found a lot of peace in this. I’m learning to love the unexpected beauty of water’s wily ways with every painting.
- Therapy and Medication. I would be remiss if I forgot to mention these two crucial ingredients. Therapy has helped me to unpack a lot of why I feel like my perfectionism determines my feeling of self worth. Medication has helped take the anxiety out of letting some things go. Rather than focusing on the things I’m missing, it has helped my brain to quiet down and focus on what I am doing in the present.
I know I am not the only one who struggles with these feelings. I hope these little tips are helpful for you too.
If you want to know more about how I broke up with my to do list, I’ve provided a little handout cheat sheet so you can try it too. Sign up for my email newsletter to get the PDF. My newsletter is where I share all my discount codes too! EXTRA bonus! Woohoo!
A Guide To My Essential Watercolor Supplies
When I first started, I didn’t know where to begin, so I found a list like this and started exploring. Everyone has different tastes, but this is what I like. As you play around and explore your style, you will probably find things that work better for you, and that’s great! It’s all part of finding your groove.
In this blog post, I’ll share a little bit about the types of supplies you need to get started with watercolor. This is mostly aimed toward folks who are a bit more serious and ready to invest a bit of money for high quality supplies, rather than a basic Crayola set. The one thing about watercolor that I’ve found is that the quality of supplies can make a world of difference.
Be sure to check out the link at the bottom to get my FREE supply list.
You can’t just use any paper for watercolor painting. I mean, you can, but don’t be surprised if the water just slips off the paper and bleeds all over the place. Here are a few things to consider.
TYPE OF PAPER:
Watercolor paper is specifically made to allow the water to stay wet on the page long enough for you to work with it, but also to not move around. There are tiny ridges called tooth on the surface that help grip the water and keep it in place. There are two types of paper that are most often used. Cold pressed watercolor paper and hot pressed. Hot pressed is smooth and dries faster. Cold pressed has deeper tooth and allows you to manipulate the water and paint a little longer. I work exclusively with cold pressed watercolor paper.
You also want a sturdy weight. I use 140 lb cold pressed paper for things I'm going to scan. I prefer 300 lb cold pressed paper for custom portraits. The sturdier the paper (aka the higher # lb), the less buckling you’ll have. Have you ever accidentally dropped your book in the bath and all the pages start to wrinkle? (No?!?! JUST ME?!?!) Well imagine if that buckling happened to your beautiful watercolor painting you just made. That is why you want a sturdy paper.
Watercolor paper can come in individual sheets, pads like a notebook, or blocks. A block of watercolor paper is like a pad where there are multiple sheets but all the edges are sealed together. This also helps your paper from buckling. There are ways to pre-treat your paper to stop it from buckling, but this is great if you are lazy like me! Sometimes it will still warp a bit if you use a lot of water on the page, but I try to avoid that by putting tape around the edge for some extra security.
Round: This is what I use for the most part. These allow you to use pressure to get a really thick stroke and a very thin stroke with a light touch. I find that these are the most versatile.
Flat: These are great for getting good crisp lines or filling in a large area with paint. I don’t use these a ton, preferring the flexibility of the round brush, but some people love them!
Wash and Mop: If you like doing washes (think sunsets or big meadowy fields) this is going to be a great brush for you. If you like mostly small detailed painting, this might not be necessary. I think it is always good to have at least one, just in case. I don’t use it a ton in my work, but it is really handy when I need it. It helps you cover a large area with water without parts of your painting drying up first.
Rigger: These are brushes with really long bristles. These are good for detail lines and since the hairs separate a lot, it can be good for adding texture. I don’t like using these as much because I don’t feel like I have as much control, but they can be especially great for watercolor lettering.
Animal hair or synthetic: If you’re vegan, this is a very easy decision. If you’re not, it can be harder. When synthetic brushes first came out, while they were cheaper than animal hair brushes, the quality just wasn’t the same, but synthetic brushes have come a long way since then. There are many wonderful synthetic brushes out there. If you’re just getting into Watercolor, I suggest synthetic brushes because they are cheaper and still give you incredible control.
Brushes come in different sizes and what size you get really depends on what you paint. If you are working on a large scale, you probably wouldn’t really need an itsy bitsy detail brush and a size 1 or 2 would be just fine. If you are working on a teenie tiny scale, the detail brushes may be the only thing you need. If you’re just starting out and want a good assortment to cover your bases, I recommend getting a 1, 2, 4, 6, 8 round brush and a size 12 mop brush.
There are so many brands out there and I have tried a bunch. In my early days I got a bunch of brush sets off of Amazon trying to find a favorite. Let me tell you, I got a lot of duds. Buying brushes is really hard to do online because you can’t quite get a sense for how they spring and wiggle around. After much trial and error, I’ve found I really like Princeton Select, Princeton Snap, and Princeton Velvetouch brushes. You can check out a video of my favorite brushes here.
Okay, so you have your brushes and your paper! You’re almost set to go! Let's talk paint!
Watercolor paint can come in many different forms. It can can come in in a tube, like a tube of toothpaste--these come out wet. It can come in pans, which kind of look like eyeshadow--they are hardened, dry watercolor that you activate by wetting it. Lastly, you can get watercolor in liquid form, almost like calligraphy ink. I mostly use tube watercolor for my realistic paintings, since I like the flexibility of painting with wet or dry paint. I like using liquid watercolor when I am doing watercolor lettering because it helps the paints blend smoothly and requires less set up.
Watercolor comes in different quality levels. There is normal grade watercolor and there is professional grade. Here is where you don’t want to skimp. Getting professional grade watercolor makes sure that the paint is really smooth and won’t clump or look grainy (called granulation). When you’re searching for paint, make sure it says "professional-grade" on it. If you’re getting paint from a small business, usually in pans, check the reviews. Some colors perform better than others, just based off of what they are made from.
This really depends person to person. If you’re just getting started, you can really get away with a red, yellow, blue, and a black (neutral tint is my preference instead of black). With these four colors, just like you learned in elementary school, you can make most of the colors. If you paint a lot of florals, you might want to add in a pink and a green. If you do mostly oceans and skies, you might want some more blue variants. As you paint more, you’ll find you start to get your favorites. Some of my favorites are: yellow ochre, neutral tint, phthalo turquoise, prussian blue, and oxide of chromium.
I really like Winsor & Newton professional watercolors tubes. For liquid paint I like Dr. Ph. Martin's Hydrus Fine Art Liquid Watercolors. Liquid watercolor is great for watercolor lettering. For an opaque white, I will either use a Winsor & Newton gouache or Dr. Ph. Martin’s Bleed-proof White.
Y’all! This is the easy one! You can use water from your tap and just a couple of cups to hold it! Pro tip - make sure it looks very different from your coffee cup!
Holiday Hacks to Make You Look Like You Have Your Shit Together!
Do you have that friend who always has her act together? She never forgets a birthday, she’s the first to RSVP to events, she even gets her Christmas cards out the first week of December. You KNOW she isn’t waiting until the last minute for holiday shopping, AND she checked off her whole gift list before the end of cyber Monday! How the heck does she do it?!?! If you, too, struggle with details like this, I am here to help!
Here are some tips on how to stay on top of all things holiday.
It is a good idea to START NOW! Now is the time to get going! Especially if you are looking to get a custom piece made for your loved ones. Artists need time to get these projects done and if you book your commissioned piece early, they are going to be less rushed on your piece too! You won’t have to pay for rush shipping either.
Make a list--even if you’re waiting for Black Friday to do your purchase, make a list ahead of time. I know that my sister loves puzzles, so I know to keep my eye out for any elaborate puzzles that come across my path. Write down the name of the person, the type of item, and the store you want to get it from. Sign up for that store’s email list so you get first notice of any products, especially if they only have a limited number. You’ll probably get a sign-up discount too! When you sign up for my newsletter, you get a sweet welcome coupon code!
Sending gifts early is especially important this year with all the USPS cuts. Packages are taking longer than expected to be delivered already and it will only get busier the closer we get to the holidays.
There are lots of fun ways to add some festive flair to your holiday wrapping. You can get fun wrapping paper and add cute gift tags or sprigs of nature if it’s for someone local. I like to get butcher paper and decorate my own. I’ll be putting out some Instagram videos to share how I do this soon!
If you’re wanting to go with an eco-friendly option, you can make gift bags out of fabric! My mom made us some and she just used two rectangles of fabric and sewed a hem with a ribbon inside for a draw string. Definitely a good beginners sewing project.
If tape is your enemy and you hate wrapping presents, then see if the places you’re shopping at will gift wrap the items for you! We sure do! For just $6.00 we will wrap your present and write any note you’d like and ship it off to it’s destination. Who needs the paper cuts anyways!?!?!
Let’s be real, the holidays are going to look a little different this year. Many of us will not be traveling to gather with loved ones. Let them know you care with a greeting card!. Tell them what you loved about the holidays you’ve shared with them and how you can’t wait for a raincheck next year.
Want something a little more personalized? You can get a family Christmas card printed. We are offering a very limited number of family holiday card design slots. Sign up for yours here. If you have your heart set on custom holiday cards, now is the time! We can even print out a holiday letter and get your envelopes addressed printed for you--talk about easy! The season is always so hectic, let us handle it for you!
This is my favorite! I have a minor (INTENSE) obsession with the little felty creatures. This year I am trying to start making my own Christmas Village out of my felty critters! We also got a potted tree that we can bring inside for the season and put back outside to continue growing. There are so many types of decorations, it can be overwhelming, but think about your style and values. I love delightful charm and we are trying to find ways to be more ecologically minded so these two elements fit perfectly for our holiday decorations. Do you love opulence? Maybe a tree with all gold ornaments is for you! If you love snarky sayings bust out the punny decor and you are good to go! Whatever your vibe is, my best hack is to think about the types of things you like and go nuts on the sales after Christmas so you get all your items at a discount! Then you can dream about them the rest of the year!
Aftermath: Thank you notes.
Okay, so imagine...Christmas is over. You’ve cleaned up the wreckage and scrubbed out all the candy cane sticky spots off your couch. All you want to do is relax. Oh wait, what is that? The nagging pull of decorum and responsibility?!? Did Aunt Edith get me the candle or the blanket? Who gave your child that toy that sings that you’ve already hid the batteries for? Don’t leave your thank you notes to chance! Keep track of your loved ones generosity with our Thank You Notes and Thank Yule Log(coming soon!)! Never forget a thank you note again!
Whew! How exhausting! I think it's time to sit back with a cozy blanket, some fuzzy slippers, a good book, and a big ol' mug of peppermint hot chocolate!
Behind The Color-Coordinated Coffee Mug
“I don’t know how you do it? I didn’t even have time to brush my teeth!”
This is something that has been said to me on many occasions when I tell people I’ve just started a business before my daughter turned one.