Smithereens, Post No. 8: Expressions!

Posted on by Rebecca Green

Smithereens: [smith -uh-reenz] Plural Noun. 1. Small pieces, bits.
Smithereens are tiny pieces, fragments of a larger thing. In this series of blog posts, I share small slivers of my process, thoughts on materials, and insights into the larger world of illustration.  

A couple of years ago when I dove into the publishing world, I learned quickly how little I knew about character development. Not only did I have to draw a character consistently, but also to individualize and understand their range of emotions. This is unfortunately not something I learned in school so it’s been an interesting journey to find a way to convey expressions in my characters. Because the lines are so simple and sparse, every little nuance or tick can drastically change the entire mood and emotion of the situation. For this reason, it usually takes drawing the characters 6 million times before I start to see their personalities come out. Once that’s done, I can play more with their emotions.
The most valuable tool I can use to understand and convey emotion, is to feel it myself. 


I think we all tend to do this when drawing emotion. It really helps to 'act it out'. (Good thing we spend a lot of time drawing alone, since we'd look rather odd weeping or looking vengeful while working (although now that I'm thinking of it, those are emotions that come up while making art too!) When I need to find the best stance, facial expression, etc. for an illustration, I literally just act it out while paying attention to my own body's instinctive actions. When proud, my chin goes up. When nervous, I shrink. When eager, my eyes open and my body moves forward.

Last night when I was drawing these next studies, I asked my husband to act out these emotions and he almost exactly copied my postures! Now, we're two in billions, and all humans have different ways of feeling emotions. For some, proudness might be quieter, fear might be running instead of freezing, eager might still look timid. It's our responsibility as illustrators to understand the characters enough to be able to accurately portray not how we would feel, but how they would feel.  

Besides body posture and color, one of my favorite ways to portray expressions is in the eyes and eyebrows. You can have the simplest lines and still put so much emotion into a face. Below are some examples of what can be down in just a few strokes!

Now that I have the hang of creating basic characters and emotions, my goals have shifted and expanded. In the future, I'd love to vary my character shapes, adding personality into their build. I'd also love to add more movement in my work, showing emotion through lines and layout, rather than having all of the focus be inside the character. I want people to literally get swept up in the emotion. I don't want to make you weep, but I want to make you weep! Make sense? 

What tools have you found helpful in creating dynamic characters and expressions? What's the hardest part of portraying emotion in your work? 

Alright guys! I hope this weekend is filled with all the best emotions and expressions.
Happy Friday and Happy Expressing! 

Smithereens, Post No. 7: Picture Book Illustration

Posted on by Rebecca Green

Smithereens: [smith -uh-reenz] Plural Noun. 1. Small pieces, bits.
Smithereens are tiny pieces, fragments of a larger thing. In this series of blog posts, I share small slivers of my process, thoughts on materials, and insights into the larger world of illustration. 

What goes on behind the illustrations in a picture book? (I'll give you a hint...way more work than I ever imagined!) I'm just skimming the surface, having only finished three, but each one gives me a new light into what I know, what I definitely don't know, and how I can improve. 


Today I'm sharing a behind the scenes look at Iqbal and His Ingenious Idea, which is a Citizen Kid book written by Elizabeth Suneby and published by Kids Can Press. An excerpt from the publisher:
"It's monsoon season in Bangladesh, which means Iqbal's mother must cook the family's meals indoors, over an open fire. The smoke from the fire makes breathing difficult for his mother and baby sister, and it's even making them sick. Hearing them coughing at night worries Iqbal. So when he learns that his school's upcoming science fair has the theme of sustainability, Iqbal comes up with the perfect idea for his entry: he'll design a stove that doesn't produce smoke! With help from his teacher, Iqbal learns all about solar energy cooking, which uses heat from the sun to cook --- ingenious! Has Iqbal found a way to win first prize in the science fair while providing cleaner air and better health for his family at the same time?"

This book proved most challenging in the area of research, though the publisher was quite generous in providing reference materials which are always incredibly helpful. I began the project was by first testing what style would capture the characters and setting in a realistic but interesting and playful manner. I also tested materials to see what worked best, and decided ultimately to do the entire book in colored pencil. (Which later turned out to be a short-sighted decision - more on that later.)  

*** These reference drawings are drawn from photos, and since I no longer have the original reference materials, I'm not sure who to credit for the originals, though these drawings are for study only.*** 


Once the publisher had approved the initial hand drawn look of the first sketches, I developed the main characters, Iqbal and his sister Sadia.


I then drew thumbnails to share an idea of the layouts and concepts. I find it best to work this simple from the beginning so if there are any major changes, they can be addressed at this stage.
The Art Director made suggestions on adding more white space and varying the perspectives of the illustrations. I tend to draw everything from eye level, but I'm trying to challenge myself to add interest in the from of perspective (worm's or bird's eye view) or adding the ground in at an angle. These drawings are only about 3-4". 


Once we finalized the layout and design, I sketched the drawings at full size, which was around 9x18" (I draw them in spreads, meaning both pages at once). I draw most sketches in blue or black colored pencil. 


At this stage the art director and I went back and forth, making subtle changes to layout, setting and characters to prepare for the next stage, which were the linears, or final lines before colors. I should say at this point - I'm sharing this as an experience, but not as a complete instruction for what you should do, because I, as always, overcomplicated the process by doing the final linears on tracing paper, which only meant the final lines had to 'finally' be drawn once again on the actual paper. *face palm*


I used a lightbox to transfer the linears onto bristol paper, and created the finals in colored pencil. Here's where the poor medium choice comes in - while I love the look of colored pencil, I didn't realize I had so many full bleed illustrations at 9x18". For colored pencils working one little line at a time, that's quite the undertaking! While it's not the biggest book in the industry, for someone like me who is quite new to picture books, it felt monumental! In the beginning I planned to be a purist and only use traditional media without digitally editing but either my fear or smarts saved me and I added all the rain digitally. I did do the smoke traditionally with gouache and neocolor crayons and I gotta say I was proud of that. (!) 


There you have it! A simplified behind the scene version of a picture book. What did I learn from this process? A couple of things...

1. Make it simple. I did too many drawings here - between the sketches and linears and finals, I was essentially drawing the same thing three times and that's where I start to lose my spark and spontaneity. 
2. Check the size before finalizing your material. I would have saved lots of time had I allowed myself to use gouache or watercolor as a base layer. Alas, I'm happy with the colored pencil look, but it added lots of extra hours. 
3. Add variation and white space. This is a hard one for me. For some reason, I always plan for illustrations to be rectangles with full bleed. I'm trying to loosen up and not cover every square inch of paper. 

Have you worked on a picture book? What are some of the lessons you've learned? I'd love to hear them! 



Interested in more behind the scenes? I recently joined up with Sketchbook Skool to teach a class where I invite you into my studio. I share insights on the creative process, I walk you through my sketchbooks, dive into materials and of course, provide you with a painting demonstration. (and...there will be homework!!)  

The Whimsical Sketchbook:

"This kourse is designed to inspire your creativity as well, by immersing you in the lives and the studios of five brilliant artists who use their sketchbooks as incubators of stories, emotions, and vivid new worlds.
We’ll learn by sharing their step-by-step process in a 12 different demos using everything from gouache, markers, ink, crayons, collage, iPads, colored pencils, watercolors, pastels, and more.
Their passion and invention is sure to rub off on you every week, and inject creativity and whimsy into the pages of your sketchbook too."

Instructors include: Mike Lowery, Vanessa Brantley Newton, Miriam Bos, Anna Denise Floor, and myself!

If you're interested in signing up, the class begins June 18! 

That's it for now friends, have an absolute lovely weekend. xoxo









Smithereens, Post No. 6: Drawing from Life

Posted on by Rebecca Green

Smithereens: [smith -uh-reenz] Plural Noun. 1. Small pieces, bits.
Smithereens are tiny pieces, fragments of a larger thing. In this series of blog posts, I share small slivers of my process, thoughts on materials, and insights into the larger world of illustration. 

What's the first thing you do when tasked to draw something new? Google! Me too, me too. But while the magic of a plethora of images at our finger tips is unprecedented and completely beneficial, it does leave a bit to be desired. And this missing bit is...

YOU (and your life and your perspective!) 

What comes to mind when I say drawing from life? Those stuffy still life classes where you're realistically rendering a bowl of dusty fruit, a glass bottle and a wrinkled up sheet? Not quite. (YES those classes are valuable and we should take them seriously and it's monumental to set up basic and skilled foundations in drawing - drawing professors, don't hate me!) While these set ups are important, they can be uninspiring to think about revisiting, so this is not what I'm talking about when I say 'drawing from life'. I'm talking about looking at the world with your own eyes and choosing which way you are going to represent it. 

This all came to mind when I was choosing how to represent fish. 

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Now to be fair, I wasn't only using online images as a starting point. I went to the library to scour books featuring underwater illustrations, photography and painting as I began to draw. (The drawing above is not the first round - remember Post No. 4 about Stylizing realistic images?) The thing I realized after my first drafts though, was that all of my fish were coming out quite two dimensionally. They were all drawn from the side, and not only that - it was hard for me to get a grasp on the scale of some fish since they are often photographed alone and out of context. 

SO I took a trip to the Aquarium and do you know what I learned? It's freaking hard to draw fish from life!! They don't hold still very long, and they're actually quite three dimensional - not too flat at all. 

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I saw them from a whole new perspective - my perspective. And this isn't a narcissistic statement - I mean, they're their own precious selves, but I realized the problem with drawing from photos, is that you're literally drawing through someone else's eyes. There is a whole other human in between you and the object and they decide what you capture - you can't truly find all possible angles of an object or creature unless you see it with your own eyes. 

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Why I hadn't considered it, I'm not sure, but I never even thought about drawing a fish from the backside until I saw them swim away from me. And then the lights starting exploding in my head - all these opportunities I hadn't realized I was missing. Fish butts! But seriously, I was able to draw them in shapes that challenged my brain instead of using muscle memory to draw what I thought a fish should look like. I also saw other details I'd have missed in images - shadows the animals cast over the ocean floor - the way the water reflects the light and the movement which is constant in the water, swaying strands of leaf and coral. It's really just breathtaking. In regards to materials, I just used a green ink pen, which let me make bold intuitive marks, instead of trying to 'sketch'. 

A couple thoughts to follow up - I know we can't all afford to go to Aquariums nor do all of us have access. On the other end of the spectrum, some of us might be able to take a drive right into the ocean and witness what the actual ocean looks like! And what about things we literally can't witness in person? That's where we have to be thankful for the incredible and dedicated photographers who spend their lives recording the majesty of this Earth. It's all relative, but know that when the option does come up for you to see with your own eyes and record the world from your own point of view, it will always, always be worth it. 

Happy Friday, and Happy Drawing from Life!

PS. These fish are part of a large project that will be revealed this Fall in Nashville! I can't wait to share more with you!


Last week I visited the Cleveland Institute of Art during their Spring Show and had a memorable and fantastic time. The faculty, building and the students honestly made me want to go back to school and I was blown away by the level of talent I saw from the illustration and animation students. The morning of my presentation started off with an hour demonstration, where I worked on a personal piece in gouache, colored pencil, and neocolor crayons. Afterwards, I gave an artist talk in their lovely theatre, sharing my journey as an illustrator, from gallery work to editorial work - and eventually how I ended up in the publishing world. My agent, Nicole, was there to introduce me for the presentation, and that along with the wonderful questions the students asked just made it a dream talk. (For me anyway, hope the students enjoyed it! ha)

 Photo by Robert Muller/CIA.

Photo by Robert Muller/CIA.

 Unfinished Demo Study! (An hour goes by fast!) 

Unfinished Demo Study! (An hour goes by fast!) 

 Photo by Greg Wilson at

Photo by Greg Wilson at

If you want to learn more about the visit or my illustration practice, the school did an interview which you can read here! 

Thank you again to the kind folks at CIA for hosting me,  and to the students who are sure to have amazing careers ahead of them. 










Smithereens, Post No. 5: Color Palette

Posted on by Rebecca Green

Smithereens: [smith -uh-reenz] Plural Noun. 1. Small pieces, bits.
Smithereens are tiny pieces, fragments of a larger thing. In this series of blog posts, I share small slivers of my process, thoughts on materials, and insights into the larger world of illustration. 

Blue will be the death of me. Green, green I can do. (Not just because it's my last name!) What about grays and ochres and peaches? Yes. But blue, it confounds me every time. I just double checked the portfolio page on my site and sure enough, you'll be hard pressed to find a sufficient amount of blues. It's my goal to conquer it - perhaps I should just do a painting of all blue fruit! What a lovely challenge that would be. 

There are a myriad of ways artists can choose color palettes. Because it'd take me hours to dig into the world of color theory, I'm going to stick to what I know and use on a daily basis when choosing colors. It all comes down to one word, which I learned from Vyanna Slattery, my Design Drawing teacher in college: Matrix

This Matrix was his way of explaining the hue that encapsulates a piece, or that's how I understood it anyway. It's the lighting, environment, and overall atmosphere of the world you're creating. It's what really ties the whole image together. This is the very first thing I consider when starting a piece and it simply reflects the time of day, location, and the intended mood.


While I like to experiment using a strict limited palette, what I'm sharing today is an overview of illustrations** with multiple colors - but how I narrowed them down to specifically capture a mood. Generally, the color scheme is the first thing I plan - and by plan, I mean I just concoct a dreamy image in my head. I then dig through all my art supplies to find the colors that feel right for the project. This narrows my choices but still gives me range to explore the palette without having a strict limited number of colors. For instance, in the above illustrations - I would pull out all my purples, grays, peaches, etc. and intuitively use those as I move around the piece. As you can see in all of them, they have a secondary warm or bright color that shows up in 2-3 places. I use these spots of color to balance out the illustrations and create movement. 


Same for the the lighter, more golden toned pieces. These older paintings would sometimes get a golden/umber glaze in oil over the entire piece to pull them together into the same lighting and atmosphere. Now that I'm working with water based mediums and can't rely on a coating to filter everything through the same lens, it's more imperative than ever to think about the atmosphere from the beginning. Because I don't entirely pre-plan or map the colors, I have to sometimes redo paintings, or change and layer different colors a couple of times until everything is balanced out. This is just part of the learning process and the more I paint, the more I find what colors work earlier in the process. If you are nervous about color, placing your drawing in a digital format might help you map out colors. This does not work for me because I'm terrible at digital coloring! 

Once I became a little more comfortable with color, I could start to add interest to projects, like the illustrations in A Little Princess. I created 19 interiors for the book and each illustration had a main thematic color, either to accentuate the environment, or create variation among the pieces. 


So what do you do once you have your colors all picked out and ready to go? I like to fill in larger areas first - just get the big colors down. Then you can start to add in patterns and texture, and decide where your accent colors will go. Balance out your shadows/dark areas and take advantage of your highlights - those can really make an illustration sing. And don't be afraid to mess up - you might have to do a painting 3 times before you've really found your groove with the color. 

What sort of process have you implemented when choosing color palettes? What is a color you just can't seem to wrap your brain around? Whatever it is, I think the most important aspect of creating a palette is choosing the colors that really speak to you - when you use those, your intention is sure to come out in the final. 

Cheers and Happy Coloring!

**A lot of these illustrations are very old, so please excuse the fact that they were all basically self portraits, thus the lack of diversity. I'm happily working on newer illustrations that incorporate humans of all kinds, and I strive to be more inclusive with every piece of art I make. xo. 












Smithereens, Post No. 4: Stylized Non-Fiction

Posted on by Rebecca Green

Smithereens: [smith -uh-reenz] Plural Noun. 1. Small pieces, bits.
Smithereens are tiny pieces, fragments of a larger thing. In this series of blog posts, I share small slivers of my process, thoughts on materials, and insights into the larger world of illustration. 

Drawing people was 'easy' when I created realistic work in college. Yes, there were formulas and there were rules....but there were formulas and rules! When you're trying to draw real people in your style, that's where things get tricky. Because the equations and guidelines just sort of fly out the window, don't they? How can you look at a photo (or ten photos) of a person and draw them in your own visual style without getting too caught up in the realistic details? 

I've spent the last ten years doing just this and have created some little formulas of my own - take that realism!! Would you like to know this super complicated, very tricky, and almost impossible wizardry? 

Four Words: Put the photo away. 

Not at first of course, you'll need to look at something! And I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start from the beginning, shall we? 

*Today I'll be drawing Anne Frank, who is someone I've always been inspired by, though just thinking about her and seeing these images busts my heart open. I realized I didn't have a clear example to show you with my previous work so I did a quick sample of the this process for this post. 

1. Gather references - dig online, go to the library, request photos - and if you can take the photos of the human yourself, do that! Also great to gather references of clothing, backgrounds, any small details that might add personality and story to the illustration of your subject. What time period, culture or location are they from? Can you add pieces of these realms into the illustration? 

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2. Draw, draw, draw. This is my least favorite part (and the sketches I'm least likely to share!) but it's necessary. Don't try to make anything too perfect, just pay attention to the features and characteristics of the subject. The shape of the face, eyes, eyebrows, the shapes of the nose, or the hairstyle - these are all monumental features in a person. Draw objects, clothing, etc if you think those will be helpful in the final illustration. 

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3. Here we go: put the photos away!! You don't need them anymore - you're now working solely off of your first studies. Do a second round of sketches, just by looking at your initial drawings for reference. Try to mix up posture, perspective, layout, etc. to make the drawing your own. Remember - it's the goal to break away from the photos. 

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4. Ready for it? Again! Put the first set of drawings away! For the third round, you'll only be drawing from your second round of sketches. Is it starting to feel more like you? More in your style? Usually at this point, I start to see the character evolving in my style and I feel more comfortable capturing their essence in my own visual vocabulary. 

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5. Start your final! Once you settle on a sketch and you've got your line work done and ready to fill in, start painting (or screen printing or drawing or inking, or whatever you do!) I usually don't go back to the initial references, but if you need to peek at details like eye color or clothing, do so, just put the photo away again. Remember, this is a creation from you, not a photograph. 
** Since this is a quick example, I left out a lot of details in my drawing - like the pattern on her diary, flourishes that would have allowed the viewer to know where and what time period she's from. I really recommend building those details into your final illustration. 

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And what's more - this wizardry works not only on people, but animals, plants, buildings, and anything you want to stylize. This process has helped me tremendously as I've had to research for illustrations, while keeping the drawings in my style. Do you guys have any tips that you've found helpful for translating real life into your personal art approach? 

Cheers and Happy Stylizing! 





Smithereens, Post No. 3: Process

Posted on by Rebecca Green

Smithereens: [smith -uh-reenz] Plural Noun. 1. Small pieces, bits.
Smithereens are tiny pieces, fragments of a larger thing. In this series of blog posts, I share small slivers of my process, thoughts on materials, and insights into the larger world of illustration. 

Art is a process - making anything is a process. Living is a process! We often see what comes at the end of this process: the shiny beautifully wrapped effortless painting, the gorgeous illustrations in a book, the magazine cover we can't stop staring at. It's a wonderful thing to be propelled by these pieces of art, but it can definitely hinder us too. Like many of you, I love seeing behind the scenes. What decisions were made, and how they affect the outcome are more fascinating than the end product.
I've been making art long enough that I've recognized my process pattern (though I'm still learning!). I know it takes me dozens of attempts to finally land on the one. And that sometimes that one isn't the one at all, and I end up ruining it, and seeking a new contender for the final piece. 
Lately, I've been doing preliminary work on the IPad, and it saves SO much time. I have thoughts about my digital vs traditional work and that'll come in another Smithereen post, but for now, it's a super easy way for me to visually explain process. Today I'll be sharing the process for Storytime Dreaming, a mural I painted at Parnassus Books last year. Though I started sketching ideas loosely on paper, I did the bulk of the planning in Procreate (with the default pencil brushes). Below you can see the evolution of the animals, and how I placed them in the final design. 

As you can see, I tried many different animals, views and options before settling on those that made their way to the final. 

Once the design was approved, I created the illustration in colored pencils (with digital edits) for a poster that the bookstore could print and sell. This made the color planning for the mural easy! 


Then came the actual painting! I projected the mural onto the wall via a projector and did the lines in white paint (that I knew would be covered up). I used a high quality wall paint and mixed in acrylics where I needed some differences in color. 

What I want to highlight here, is not necessarily the project per se, but the process it took to get to the final. There are always so many drawings and attempts that don't get shared, and often when I go back to share my process, I'm even surprised at how many times I had to circle around the piece before I ended up settling on the final. It's never a straight line, but a zig-zaggy mess of exploration. If you'd like to see more posts about process, check out The Great Cape Breton Escape  or The Unicorn In The Barn .
Also, this post has made me realize how little of the process I actually share with you. My goal is to be better at sharing the whole process and not just the sketches I like!

What do you notice about your own process? Do you usually go with your first attempt? Do you have to draw something a hundred times before it's good enough?

Cheers and Happy Processing! 

PS! I was under the weather on Friday, so I'm getting this post out to you a little late! Hope everyone's weekend was great!


Smithereens, Post No. 2: Visual Journaling

Posted on by Rebecca Green

Smithereens: [smith -uh-reenz] Plural Noun. 1. Small pieces, bits.
Smithereens are tiny pieces, fragments of a larger thing. In this series of blog posts, I share small slivers of my process, thoughts on materials, and insights into the larger world of illustration. 

These last couple of months found me at an all time low. You might remember me sharing what was quite possibly the worst burnout I'd ever faced. I still can't say with certainty that it's over, but what I can say is that despite feeling a complete aversion to drawing, I did not give up visual journaling. I started consistently journaling last year, partly due to personal situations, but also, it was the only act of creating that I felt was mine. I didn't have to share it, in fact I planned on never sharing it. Don't get me wrong, sharing my work with anyone who wants to see it is one of the most rewarding and uplifting things about making art. But with it, also comes sort of an unspoken constraint. We feel we must constantly share for fear of falling behind, or worse, being forgotten. And when everything is on display, that tiny sacred spark can feel vulnerable and out in the open. That spark can even go out.


It didn't even occur to me that while I was stifled by art, I loved sitting alone for sometimes hours, doing just that: writing and drawing. It hadn't presented itself as art because I saw it as a way to be present, record my life, and celebrate moments instead of overthinking and overcomplicating the process. My lines were unburdened by my usual thoughts: "Is this your style? Doesn't it look too much like this person, or that? Who's going to buy this? Is this what the client wants? How do I draw this, and why do I feel like I don't know what I'm doing? Who am I? What will people think? I'll just erase this and start over 8000 times.". 


I use ink so I can't erase. I use black so I don't have to think about color. I draw what I see, what I remember, and often how I feel - which keeps things simple. Truly, these pages feel indulgent and personal, and I find myself. My source and creative spark comes out when I just let my hand record my days. 


One of my favorite times to journal is on trips - I can record my days in a detailed way that isn't possible with photos. I also hate flying, so recording the trip on my way home on the airplane is immensely relaxing. While I usually don't work from photographs in my journal, sometimes it's just impossible to sit and draw something, no matter how badly you'd like to record it. A couple of weeks ago I visited The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, for instance, and there was NO way I could draw all of the details I saw. I took like 10 million pictures and have been slowly recording my visit...


It's a totally different experience drawing from photos vs memory, and while I have more experience with the latter, I do think it comes in handy to snap pics and record your life from the photos. It allows me to really capture details that not only inspire me, but will probably find their way into my future illustrations...


I have found this practice to be incredibly rewarding. Here's what I've gained/learned:

+ My visual journal is a space that is all my own.
No comments, no interference, no expectations. It allows me to be really intuitive about my line work and my thoughts. 

+ I have a long standing record of my everyday.
I love the idea that later in life (please let me live long) that I'll have a recording of the ordinary things. Like the Thai food I ate in a small town with my husband on a Sunday or the thunderstorm that kept me up all night, or the time I wore a long sleeve shirt on a humid August morning and my neighbor said, 'Waitin' for cool weather?' or the man who runs to the bus stop past my house every morning at 7. All of this I record. 

+ It really helps my drawing skills.
Imagine drawing just about everyday, but it doesn't feel like work. I know now how to draw a lot of food, places, people in airports, my dog, red salamanders, flower vases at restaurants - anything is fair game! 

Do you guys keep visual journals? Travel journals? A way to record your days? Is it a goal you have, but aren't sure how to get started? I think the simplest thing to do is pick up a journal you love - some of mine have dotted pages, some are just blank - and grab a pen! It doesn't have to be fancy, a regular old pen will do, although my favorite to use is the 01 Micron. And remember, nothing is too ordinary to draw. Start simple by writing about your day - what did you see, what do you want to remember? Is there something in your home you can draw? Don't over think it - just start laying down lines. And don't get frustrated if the drawing skills aren't where you want them to be, because every day you'll see your drawings improve, and journaling will be the fulfilling experience it's meant to be. 

Cheers and Happy Journaling!