It would be weird for me to have a week all about “getting creative” without talking about Betsy Ann Paper. I’ve been really lucky to branch out and take on some new creative endeavors this year, but Betsy Ann will always be my baby.
So, today I want to chat about the whole process behind what I do to create cards (something a few of you mentioned you’re interested in- who knew!) but also why I do it and how it impacts the way I experience painting in general. Basically I just ramble about art for a few dozen paragraphs.
There are sort of competing ideas out there about art and working. Some folks tout the whole “Do what you love! Love what you do!” (and then make posters and put them on Pinterest) while others insist that once you make your passion your job, you lose your love for it.
I find neither to really ring true for me. Painting for myself and painting for Betsy Ann are entirely distinct things, really unrelated in my mind.
I don’t love making cards. I mean, of course I enjoy the finished product. I like looking around at a desk covered in pretty paintings and matching bright envelopes. I even like coming up with original designs. But, sitting and painting the exact same image over and over isn’t exactly what I’d call fun. It’s work (work that sometimes makes my wrists ache in the middle of the night). And it doesn’t have any impact on how much I love painting for myself (though it does leave me with less time to do it).
Besides all that, it’s just different. When I’m painting something for myself, usually the idea just comes to me. I suddenly know what I want to see on the canvas and I get almost itchy because I’m so anxious to make it. I even sometimes sit and trace it with my finger on my leg, or sketch on a napkin because my whole body seems twitching with the need to get it out.
Betsy Ann, “work” art, is approached totally differently. Instead of starting with an idea or an inspiration, it usually starts with a question. And then , I sit and think of the best way to answer it. “What would I want on a ‘thank you’ card for a friend?” There isn’t some inner need that was satisfied by painting that jack o’lantern or cat. It all started with, “What makes me think of Halloween?”
The question, though, goes a little deeper than that. As with most art, I want to evoke an emotional response. Not just, “I can tell this is for Halloween because it’s black and orange and has a pumpkin on it,” but more like, “This makes me feel the way Halloween felt as a kid.” Maybe you know what I mean? Stores right now are completely full of ghosts, pumpkins, witches, but only once in awhile do I see one that makes me feel like I just got in from trick-or-treating for a mug of hot cider. Only every so often do I think, “THAT! That feels like Halloween.”
That whole confusing puzzle is made a little harder because I try to simplify even more than that. More than just boiling a holiday or event down to a feeling and then an image, I also try to figure out how to make that image using as few lines as possible. The obvious reason is that I need to be able to replicate it over and over, every time someone orders a card. But, more than that, I think there’s a sort of beauty to simplicity. If I were to sketch every detail of this little boy’s face, I don’t think it would have the same impact as those few spare lines. I really just love the idea of being able to convey a whole entire picture with just the fewest strokes. The tricky thing there is that it sometimes requires more skill than you’d think at a glance. I often worry that I cross that line from “minimalist” to “too simple.”
I also try to simplify the colors. I like to use a unifying palette for each line of cards, because color pairings can look so pretty. Holidays like Halloween seem pretty easy (black and orange, hullo). But sometimes, choosing the exact shade makes all the difference, and can be tedious work.
That whole process of coming up with images, refining them, simplifying them, and choosing colors for them can take weeks of thought and effort. Once it’s done, I sit and try to replicate each design a few times over. Often, as many as half of the designs are thrown out at this stage because (though they’re simple), they’re difficult to repeat exactly right. With each replication, I develop little sight guides for myself (use this many scallops on the cake stand, keep it about a thumb’s width, etc), and sometimes they evolve and change a smidge.
Once the designs are finalized and the colors are chosen, each card goes through a four step process: pencil sketch, ink, erase, and paint.
Then, card and envelope are embossed, slipped into plastic sleeves (or a cute yellow box), and bundled together with baker’s twine.
There’s something really nice about seeing a bunch of painted cards, wrapped and tied and neatly stacked, and knowing all of the work that went into them. It’s almost like a sense of accomplishment. I guess that would be the one overlap between painting for myself and painting for my job- that feeling of happy pride when you step back and see that it’s finished.
Do you do something you “love” for work? Have you found that it makes you approach your hobby or your job differently, or are they still separate and unique?
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