I have loved paper my entire life. And I have been a paper crafter for as long as I can remember.
When we’re young, it’s funny how much we can adore our hobbies. But it rarely enters into our minds that we could one day be known for them or make a career from them.
Paper art has woven its tapestry throughout my life: from keeping art journals and scrapbooks in high school, college, and through my 20s, to girls nights with my best friends, and making handmade cards to send to each other once we had all been married and lived in different parts of the country.
Collecting vintage books brought more joy than collecting more expensive items, and my happiest memories are getting dusty in an antique shop searching for treasures instead of in a mall or more conventional shop. And how I’ve always loved the excitement of opening a mailbox to find a physical piece of care from someone else. How holding a physical card or postcard scrawled with handwriting has always meant so much more to me than a text, DM or email. I’ve always been an old soul. An analog lover in a millennial culture.
Life is a mixture of hardships and joys. Difficulties and silver linings. Sometimes the difficulties and trials are so overwhelming it’s hard to look past them and see any good. But if we can, sometimes silver linings appear in the most surprising of places. Sometimes our hardships are the exact things that open the door for our joys. How strange life works sometimes.
I’m a strong believer, though, that the silver linings are seen when you don’t give up during the trials … when you continue to hold on to hope and push forward, even if your pace is much slower than the “average” person’s. If you keep putting one foot in front of the other moving toward your goals, eventually you’ll get there. Or a pretty good version of there. It might take longer than you’d like. It might not look like someone else’s journey. But if you keep going, you’d be surprised at the progress you’ve made when you take the time to turn around and look at the accomplishments behind you.
“The world breaks everyone and afterward many
are strong at the broken places.”
— Ernest Hemingway
My life has not gone according to my plan. I had fully thought I would have a thriving career in my 20s. With everything figured out, everything accomplished “on time,” everything being a success. Because I was driven and focused and knew what I wanted. What happened instead was a severe battle with endometriosis and multiple rounds of tumors, multiple surgeries, chronic pain and chronic fatigue. What also happened was a lifelong battle with panic attacks, severe anxiety, PTSD and depression.
My younger self would never have seen these hurdles taking me out in the way that they did. I’ve always been a fighter. A never-give-upper. An encourager of the hurting. A champion of the ones in pain. I worked as a crisis counselor and a minister. I always thought if I pushed myself enough, I could “keep up.” But sometimes things are stronger than we are. Sometimes things we fight with all of our might still can overpower us.
This does not mean giving up. It just means adjusting our expectations of ourselves and allowing ourselves grace. Grace to heal. Grace to work at a pace our bodies and minds can handle. Resting when rest is needed. Being honest with others when our health is affecting us. But it does not mean giving up. Because not giving up means that you can still reach so many of your goals. The timing might be different than those around you or than what you expected of yourself.
But doesn’t that make it all the more special and meaningful when you reach a milestone? When a goal met has come from perseverance, tears, sweat, determination and pure love of what you’re working for? Isn’t it that much sweeter to reach your goals when so much of yourself has gone into them, and they haven’t come as easily? I’m a firm believer that people who experience sickness, pain and hardships have a deep appreciation for things. For the things they’ve worked for. Accomplished. A deep appreciation for even the smallest things in life.
When many years of your life have been spent in bed, struggling to do simple tasks that most people take for granted, the smallest things fill you with a sense of joy and appreciation. Getting outside and seeing the blooming flowers or the vibrant changing leaves in the fall. Feeling the warm sun on your face or the cool breeze of autumn bringing about change. You drink it in. Grabbing a good cup of coffee in a beautiful coffee shop and savoring each sip. Antiquing and finding small treasures that fill your heart. Exploring a town. Hiking a trail and surrounding yourself with nothing but trees and mountain views. For someone whose days are filled with constant pain and fatigue, little things are huge things. Noticed things. Appreciated things. Things your heart holds onto.
And that is what my art studio became. A collection of treasures, of memories, of moments and prized possessions. Nothing in it is frivolous or without meaning or function. My studio is a sanctuary that fills my senses with vintage paper treasures, antique books, mindfully made art journals, calming plant life, large windows that filter in comforting natural light, unique antique storage … all carefully curated with intention and love. All a reflection of what makes my heart come alive.
Because of my health issues, I spend most of my time at home in my studio. For someone whose natural joy springs from the outdoors and exploration, being homebound was something that I had to adjust to. I began to study the Danish practice of hygge — intentionally creating a space of coziness, comfort and peace. It includes things like bringing the outdoors in, burning candles, sipping warm beverages and making your home a sanctuary. And I dove straight in.
Always a plant lover, adding houseplants throughout my studio was an easy thing. My problem lies in having too many plants and not enough space — ha ha. I keep them in rich terracotta pots, antique china teacups and other interesting things I can envision a plant spilling out of. It’s how I approach storing my art supplies as well. Antique china teacups and bowls become holders for my shop items. Vintage boat-part boxes house my wax seal stamp collection. Antique boxes and tins are filled with vintage stamps and other small treasures to collage with. Vintage brass items hold my pens, markers and paint brushes, as well as a cactus or two. Antique cupboard drawers from an old grocery store, which still proudly display the store’s name in stamped metal, hold antique papers, book pages, midcentury magazine ads, beeswax candles and photography props. Antique cameras serve as bookends. And my most-used work space in my studio is an antique drawing desk. My studio is a studio of these small and sometimes large … treasures. Small items, large items — but all items that represent my heart.
I’ve often referred to my studio space as a place of “Easter Eggs,” or things with meaning to me that the casual passerby might not notice. A vintage paint-by-number painting showcases one of my favorite towns on Long Island, New York, where I’m from. In fact, many pieces of New York, my home for most of my life, where I was born and raised and lived until my mid 30s, are scattered throughout my studio. Treasures picked up upstate in the Catskill Mountains. Vintage postcards from Long Island, which I still consider home, even though we currently live in South Carolina. Antique paper goods from New York City. Seashells from the beaches I grew up on.
My heritage and family are also represented in these Easter Eggs. Persian rugs and antique furniture pieces passed down to me from my parents. As well as smaller things, like a vintage brass whale paper holder or an antique printing tray that holds my collection of rubber stamps and washi tapes. Russian nesting dolls and Ukrainian hand-painted eggs given to me from my beloved Ukrainian grandmother. A hand-carved edelweiss plate representing my paternal side. Special antique bookplates hang on the walls from our antiquing excursions.
Yes, my studio has the normal things a stationery artist would need. A professional printer, a desktop computer, mailing supplies. But they are surrounded by hand-sewn linens, greenery, antiques and the most intimate of treasures that are appreciated by a heart that appreciates the little things.
The little things are the big things to me. And maybe being so sick has made me appreciate them even more. I’ve always been sentimental. I’ve always been observant. I’ve always been appreciative. I do not feel thankful for the years of pain, the months spent bedfast, the trials I’ve had to face. But if the silver lining is experiencing joy whenever I see a vintage postcard and feeling truly fulfilled and enveloped in love whenever I’m in my studio, how can I complain about that outcome? I could complain about my life, I guess. How physical illness and anxiety have impacted my life so greatly. But I cannot complain about the appreciation for beauty that those hardships have produced. And I can’t complain about the most beautiful studio I’ve had the chance to create in, one that was brought about partially because of my appreciation for details, the little things and the nature of hygge.
My studio itself is a vintage treasure of sorts. My favorite things in life are older things, unique things … things with character, age, cracks and stories. I love the romanticism, the mystery, the stories behind things with character. So it’s no wonder that my current studio is my favorite that I’ve had, as it is in an old textile mill that was transformed into a loft. The windows are large antique frames that span almost floor to ceiling. The walls have exposed bricks and cracks, pipes from machinery that once ran in the mill. There is character here, and I love character. And it matches so well with my aesthetic of vintage lifestyle in both my artwork and my studio decor.
“Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.”
— Helen Keller
Another silver lining, I realized with a lot of surprise during a very trying time in my life where I was recovering from a few surgeries in a fairly short amount of time, was that this slower-paced life, this “not being on time with my goals,” allowed me to pursue the biggest goals in my heart — paper art, crafting, stationery and home decor. If my life had not been sidelined, I would have pursued a career in psychology and ministry, both of which I went to school for. Which would have been fine. I loved both. And I love helping people.
But if someone had said to me: If money and time were not issues, what would you be doing? I would have said: Working with paper. Creating and selling stationery. Reminding people how beautiful an analog lifestyle could be. But I never would have pursued it. Having so much time on my hands during bouts of illness and recovery allowed me to pursue these passions. To get back into creative journaling, letter writing, collage. To meet others with similar passions. To form relationships, open up a shop, and even start to design my own stationery. As I grew my social media presence, as opportunities started to open up to me, as I started working with larger companies, it occurred to me: None of this would have happened if I hadn’t been forced to live a slower lifestyle. The very things that tried to destroy me opened up doors for my happiness.
And again, I would never, ever call debilitating sickness or severe anxiety happy things. They are the opposite. I honestly did not know pain so deep could exist. But when I looked for the silver linings on those very scary storm clouds, I began to see them. And then I began to consciously keep my eyes out for them. I began to focus on my blessings as well as my hardships. And I was determined, as I have been determined every day of my life, to not give up. To keep pushing forward. And each time I feel discouraged, I look back. And I see opportunities I never thought I would have. Magazines I’ve been published in. Companies I’ve collaborated with. And I tell myself: This is because you haven’t given up. To quote Winston Churchill, “Never, never, never give up.”
“If you get tired, learn how to rest, not to quit.”
My hopes for the future are to continue growing my stationery business. To continue spreading my passion for analog things like creative journaling — which combines art, collage and words into journals; sending out “old fashioned” snail mail that is beautifully decorated with artwork; and making art with my favorite medium — vintage paper. I also hope to grow with my love of vintage and hygge lifestyle. To continue to post photography of candles burning in antique brass holders, gorgeous old bookplates lining my walls, tea in delicately detailed antique china cups. Plants growing out of brass holders, vintage postcards lining my workspace. To me, decor is art. Life is art. And one of my greatest goals in life is to give others a place of peace and escapism when they see my studio and my artwork.
Every day, I aim for peace, for mindfulness, for hygge. And I hope to spread it to anyone who sees my work or my studio. These practices have uplifted me. And I hope they uplift others.
I also hope to be an advocate for those with anxiety disorders and endometriosis. Struggles can make you feel like there is no good ahead. How I long to be an example for someone who has experienced these things but who also continues to fight and continues to hope. How much strength hope can give us. And how much hope art can as well.