Have you ever tried to plan joy? It doesn’t usually work. But I can plan ways where I know I will find it. First, I had to figure out what brought me joy, so I made a list.
1. Spending time with my husband, Dan.
2. Being outdoors.
3. Drinking a great cup of chai.
5. Seeing dogs. (We got married at a local dog beach.)
7. Seeing new things.
I could think of only one type of place that would potentially have everything on my list: coffee shops.
There are seemingly endless assortments of visually stimulating coffee shops all over San Diego. So once a week, my husband and I head off to a different coffee shop. Dan loves to read, so he’s not just watching me as I sketch.
I don’t have a studio like in the issues of Where Women Create. However, if I go to coffee shops, I can switch up my environment every week, and I will always have something new that inspires me. Plus, there’s a cup of hot chai and baked goods.
Dan and I started going to coffee shops once a week just before COVID lockdowns. Once things started to open up again, we were even more determined to go and support our local businesses — even if it meant taking our coffee to go and sitting in our car. I would just draw whatever I saw out the window.
I always post my drawing on Instagram, and I like to leave a little review about the place in hopes that it may help get a few more people in the door. I am not sponsored by any of the coffee shops, but I have sold sketches to several of them after they saw the post. I am happy to say I have been paid in part with chocolate-peanut butter banana cake and ravioli.
I am glad my whole family understands my sketching habits. My daughter and I took a weekend trip to Santa Barbara, and we found the most beautiful coffee garden called Dart Coffee. I could have sketched there for hours. It helps that my daughter likes to sketch, too. There was live music, orange trees, blue sky, plenty of dogs and little kids all over. The fence was a glorious lime-green color, and there were white lanterns in the trees.
“The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.”
Thich Nhat Hanh
When I am in the mood to draw a lot of stuff, I go to Cafe Bassam in Hillcrest. They have the best antiques and unique paraphernalia everywhere. And there are always dogs.
If I want a backdrop of gorgeous desserts, I go to Extraordinary Desserts in Hillcrest. The cakes have actual flowers on them, and they are always arranged so beautifully.
At the former Pannikin in La Jolla, I would draw under the most majestic tree — and they had the best baked goods. They also had an antique red motorcycle on the wall. And, of course, dogs. The owners now run the Flower Pot Cafe and Bakery nearby, and they have my artwork on display.
When I want a crepe, I go to Café Madeleine in South Park. I know there will always be dogs, and the chairs are those cool French-looking woven chairs against a bright red wall.
“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen
Most of all, I love to draw people. I sketch from life and try to sketch without anyone noticing. I very rarely sketch from a photo. It’s much more interesting and challenging to draw when people are active and not “frozen.” I like to catch those unstaged moments, and I try to catch what people really look like. I want to capture that extra chin, that furrowed brow, or the weekend “bedhead.” That’s what gives character and makes them relatable and oh-so interesting to draw.
When schools were shut down, I posted my sketches on Instagram for use as coloring-book pages for kids bored at home. Nancy Warwick from Warwick’s, the oldest family-owned bookstore in America, saw my sketches and commissioned me to do a three-panel installation of the timeline of their 125-year history. Additionally, I created an outdoor mural, wrapping around two walls, depicting 20 famous authors who had done book signings at the store.
I have been doing illustration since I graduated from ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California, over 30 years ago. When I take on a client’s project, it takes weeks of planning. The commissioned subject matter is sometimes not what I would choose to draw. Where’s the joy in drawing toilet parts? Some jobs can take many weeks of approvals, and it sometimes takes months to complete a job.
One of the ways to work with something that doesn’t thrill me is to simultaneously be working on something that inspires me. While I had the toilet-parts account, I also worked on my children’s book, Different Just Like Me. I was inspired to do the book because my daughter developed vitiligo, a loss of pigment, when she was a baby. It started to spread like wildfire when she was 4 years old. We were at a baseball game, and April was asking about everyone around us. She asked: “Why is that man so tall? Why doesn’t that man have hair? Why does that chair have wheels? How come that person can bring their dog here?” … and so on.
At the same time, people were asking about her vitiligo. I tried to explain to her that we all may look different, but we are all so much more alike. I couldn’t find one book with everyone all together, explaining how we are all different but so much more alike, so I wrote and illustrated Different Just Like Me.
The book has sold all over the world, and I was even invited on Oprah. The subject for the show I was on was gratitude, and I had sent her a thank-you note for the idea she had shared about keeping a gratitude journal. At the end of each day, I would write five things I was grateful for that day, and it honestly changed my life.
I started a habit of looking for the positive each day, and I was guaranteed to find it, even if it was as simple as being grateful for my car starting or seeing a butterfly on a flower. Well, the producer liked my note and called, and we got to talking, and I mentioned my book, and they asked if I could be on a plane the very next day. Of course, I said yes. I got to meet Oprah and her sweet dogs —and I even stayed at the world-famous Omni hotel.
“Follow your passion. It will lead you to your purpose.”
I continued to follow Oprah, and she inspired me to do a series of drawings where I focused on a variety of women, one or two women per drawing. That became “10 Women.” The idea to put them together as a group of 10 began after hearing an interview with a presidential candidate.
A reporter had asked what type of woman constituted a perfect 10 in the candidate’s mind. The candidate answered with a salacious description of breast size and other physical attributes. It infuriated me on so many levels. First, why would a reporter even ask that question? Second, a man running for the nation’s highest office reduced the value of women to the size of their body parts. And third, no one has the right to “rate” anyone.
The only reason women should be associated with the number 10 is if there are 10 of them. It made me think about all the sketches I had done of women in my series. To me, all of these women had so much more value than the sum of their body parts.
When I sketch in the coffee shops just for myself, nothing is planned, and I use a pen, so I don’t even think about erasing anything. I take it as it comes. I don’t think about whether I am composing perfectly. I don’t worry about who might approve of it. I just do it, and I know it will be done in maybe an hour at the most. Every time I start the drawing, I am sure that I have put my pen down in the wrong spot, but I keep drawing. As I draw, I sometimes hear that little voice that says it’s not looking “right,” but I keep drawing. I have to remind myself that it’s not about the finished product; it’s about the process and finding the joy in that moment.
I do my commissioned pieces in my cozy little studio space at home. I also create artwork for fabric and wallpaper that is available on Spoonflower, and I have prints on Etsy. My cats, Phoebe and Dash, love it when I let them into my cozy little studio. They either sit on any piece of paper available, or they plop down on my palette. I will never get all the fur out of my paint, so I just leave it. I figure it will be the way they determine if my art is truly mine someday. There are times I need to keep them out, but they stick their paws under the door — and Phoebe has figured out how to open the door handle by jumping up and grabbing it.
I like my little studio, but I am also grateful to be able to have a change of scenery once a week when I go to the coffee shops and take life and art as it comes.
That brings me joy.