making

Painting hacks (and it's ok if you're not doing it right)

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Recently when I wrote my frequently asked questions post, I deliberately neglected to answer one of the questions I get asked the most often… “Can you teach me how to paint?”

The truth is that I have never felt confident enough to ‘teach’ painting, because in order to teach something it helps if you actually know what you are doing yourself! I am completely self-taught when it comes to my illustrations, and by “self taught” I mean I just keep painting, experimenting and practising… I haven’t read any books or watched any YouTube videos to improve my techniques.

(Although I’m actually hoping to remedy that this year, and take some formal lessons in botanical illustration at the Botanical Gardens in Melbourne, so maybe one day in the future I’ll have something more useful to share on here.)

But in the meantime, rather than teach you how to paint in any strict, best-practise or rules-based way, I am going to share some of the tips, tricks, hacks and techniques that I have stumbled across so far on my illustration journey.

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Why it’s ok to not do it right

Because I’ve never received proper training, it is highly possible that the things I share are not the best way to do things, or that I’m simply “not doing it right.” And I think it’s important that we all seek ways to feel comfortable with this, when it comes to our own creative work.

“Not doing it right” is why I’ve held back on sharing too much in terms of how-to-paint content in the past (fear that I’m not doing it right, and fear that I’d therefore be teaching you to ALSO not do it right).

But now I’m thinking differently, and I’m going to call myself out on this defeatist attitude. Really, it’s just another form of “imposter syndrome,” the feeling most of us experience sometimes (or often) - especially when it comes to creativity - that we are not good enough, even when others appreciate our creations - and that any minute, the world will see us for the failures we secretly believe we really are.

Why do our brains do this to us?? This blog is not the place to explore the depths of human psychology (although I do talk a lot about imposter syndrome and the Inner Critic in my Create with Confidence course), but today I will stand up to my own Inner Critic and hopefully bolster you to stand up to your own, by sharing my perfectly-imperfect tips for watercolour painting.

My hope? That you will a) find some tips in here that are useful, but b) even if nothing here is useful, that you will feel empowered to experiment, play and create, without the constraints of “doing it right.” Just go for it!

Ok, shall we get started?

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1. It’s ok to pencil first

You know those Instagram and YouTube videos in which people deftly put wet brushes to clean, white paper and in a matter of minutes create beautiful floral wreaths or sleepy cats on cosy couches, or potted succulents in greenhouses full of charm?

Yep, I can’t do that either.

I sketch my picture out using pencil first (2B because anything darker becomes harder to rub out later), then use waterproof black pens (my preferred brand is Sakura Pigma Micron) to draw it exactly the way I want it to look. Depending on what I’m wanting for the finished product, I add in more or less pen detail, and when that’s done, I rub out the pencil marks.

By the time I come to do the painting, it’s really not much more than colouring in.

2. Painting tools (otherwise known as “You can get your paints from the supermarket”)

My father always used to tell me “It’s a poor workman who blames his tools,” and this is as true in the art-room as it is in the workshop, garden or kitchen. To whit: great tools can make life a lot easier, but they are no substitute for elbow-grease and practise.

For many years, I used sets of watercolours and gouache paints picked up in a toy-store and supermarket respectively. From time to time I still dip into my kids’ Crayola paints, and have used them for all kinds of projects, including illustrations I’ve been paid to create. Until two years ago, I was still using the used gouache paint set my grandmother gave me when I was 10 years old.

In case you’re wondering which is which:

  • Watercolour paints are made by mixing colour-pigment with binder. The paint is applied by wetting it and then brushing it onto paper. Once the water dries, the binder fixes the pigment to the paper. Watercolours are super-versatile because you can make the colour stronger or weaker depending on how much water you use, and you can easily blend them together or layer them over each other in-situ (i.e. on the painting itself) to create almost any colour or shade you want

  • Gouache paints are very similar to watercolour paints, except that an extra white pigment (like chalk) is added, to make them brighter and more opaque. (Think Toulouse-Lautrec posters and you’ll know what gouache looks like). You can also blend gouache and watercolour with one another to create just the right colour or intensity you want

Even now, my “best” paints are really hobby-grade paints (I have Winsor & Newton watercolours in a set and Reeves gouache in tubes). I’m sure an upgrade would be a good thing, but I haven’t made the plunge so far and, if you’re starting out and don’t have the means or desire to invest just yet, don’t let that stop you: some decent brushes (my favourites are 'Expression' brushes by Daller-Rowney) and a good feel for colour-blending are all you need to create lovely paintings.

Which leads me to…

3. Colour-blending 101

Alright, most of us know that there are only three primary colours (colours you can’t mix from others): red, yellow and blue. With the help of black and white, you can realistically create all the colours, shades and tones you need with just these basics.

Luckily for us, most paint sets come with a lot more options, so when we are ‘blending’, it’s to create subtlety and more realism. This is how I blend my colours:

  • First, I get a non-porous palette on which to mix my colours. I have an old plastic paint palette that used to belong to my grandmother, but anything non-porous will do. I also use dinner-plates, the plastic lids of my paints, anything I have handy at the time

  • Onto that palette, I add a small amount of the first colour, either by adding a lot of water (via my brush) to a hard colour in a paint set, or by squeezing a tiny bit of that colour from a tube

  • Next, I add my second colour to the palette - nearby but not touching the first - in the same way. And so on for any subsequent colours. So for example if I was making purple, I’d do this with blue and red.

  • Now I’ll bring a tiny bit of one colour into the middle, and a tiny bit of the other colour into the middle, and mix them together. Based on what that looks like, I’ll add little bits more of one or the other colour, until it looks right. At this point if necessary, I might bring in some other tones, for example a bit of yellow to give it warmth, or white to brighten it up, or a tiny bit of black to tone it down.

  • The trick is to do all of this gradually, one small bit of colour at a time, so that you can rectify any mistakes or any time you’ve overdone it with one colour, and build up slowly until you get exactly the shade you want.

  • If necessary, I test my blends on a scrap piece of paper, just to see how they look once they dry, and also to test how much water to add, to create the look I’m going for.

  • Once I’m happy, I use this new colour on my painting. If I find I’m running out, I start the process all over again but make sure to do it before the original blend has run out, so that I can match the shade as closely as possible so that my painting remains consistent.

4. Colour-blending combinations that come in handy

While travelling for five months I had only the smallest of travel-paint sets, so I had to do a lot more blending to get the colours I like, than I do at home. I am drawn to a muted colour palette with soft, natural tones. But my little travel paint-kit was full of bright and primary colours. Here are some of my personal thoughts on colour, and some of my favourite combinations to achieve the tones I love.

First of all, I have something to say about black. I’ve learned from experience that black can easily dominate a watercolour picture. Look around you: most of the things you think on first impressions are black are not actually true black - most likely they are a kind of dark grey, or a warm kind of black or a cool kind of black… do you see what I mean? For this reason, I almost never use actual black in my paintings (other than in the ink outlines). Instead, I either water it down heavily until it becomes a kind of grey, or I use this blend in the top row…

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TOP ROW: The “sort-of black” here is achieved by blending dark blue and dark brown together. If I want a warmer black I add more brown, if I want it cooler I add more blue. Because it’s not “true black,” it looks more natural on the page.

SECOND ROW: I mix light-brown, orange and white together with a fair bit of water to create this kind of neutral sand, which forms the base for all kinds of other colours I need. It goes well with greens, and is also a good starting point for skin-tones, as it can go lighter, darker, or a touch pinker

THIRD ROW: I paint a lot of botanicals, but find the ready-made greens are often unnatural. Also, there are just so many shades of green in nature, just one or two won’t cut it. Depending on what I have to hand, I most often mix a lighter green with a darker green, and then play with adding either light brown, yellow, or the sand I created in the second row above, to get the right tone for the leaf I’m painting.

FOURTH ROW: I’m not a fan of “candy pink” but I love a duskier pink in everything from flowers to sunsets to balls of knitting and an old lady’s hat. I get this by blending the dark red in my paint set with a kind of fire-engine red/orange also in the set, and then adding white until I get the exact depth I want.

BOTTOM ROW: The dove blue/grey here is one of my favourite colours, and I get it by mixing royal blue (as opposed to the dark blue of the top row) with dark brown, and white. It is a much prettier and more natural sky than just watered-down blue, and by adding a tiny bit more brown I can turn it into a lovely, soft grey, that is nice for animal fur, for example, or to add shading and texture to the bark of trees.

(NOT PICTURED BUT HANDY): Purple is quite difficult to make. Most of us know to blend blue with red, but too much red and you quickly get brown instead. I try going lighter first: I’d probably blend the dusky-pink and dove-blue colours in the bottom two rows together, to create a soft kind of lilac, then I’d add more of any of the colours in those two rows bit by bit, in order to get the exact tone I wanted. For me, this is easier than starting from scratch with just red and blue.

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4. How to shade a painting

One of the easiest ways to bring a painting to life is to add shading. This not only makes whatever you’re painting look more three dimensional, it also adds interest and texture to what you have created. Imagine a painting of a cactus in a terra-cotta pot. You could simply paint the pot a terra-cotta kind of orange, OR you could create shading to help it look round, rough-to-touch, and give it that lovely aged patina that real terra-cotta gets.

Here are some of my tips and hacks for shading a painting:

A consistent light-source

The most important thing is to imagine a consistent light-source. Imagine shining a spotlight on whatever it is you are painting, or imagine which way the sun is shining or where the window is. Keep that light-source consistent in your entire pattern. It will do all kinds of weird things to people’s brains if the shadows on one part of your picture are on the left, and in the other part they are on the right. Light doesn’t do that (unless you’re a surrealist painter).

It’s lighter where the light is (duh, Naomi)

If the light is coming from the right, everything on the right-hand side of your picture (from terra-cotta pots to trees to animals to a bottle of wine) will be lighter and brighter on the right, and darker on the left. If the light is shining straight in front of your thing (like your terra-cotta pot), then it will be lighter and brighter in the middle, and get darker on either side. If the light is coming from directly above, the leaves at the top of your plant will probably be lighter than those at the bottom.

Shadows are not only about light and dark

Shadows don’t have to be created by simply applying lighter and darker versions of the same colour. Here are some of the ways that I create shadows in order suggest a light-source and create interest:

a) By using more or less intensity of the same colour (by adding more water to make it less intense)

b) By putting a watery drop of dark-blue, black or dark-grey into the areas that I want to shadow, after applying the first ‘main’ colour

c) By blending up two versions of a colour, one that is darker and/or more intense for the areas that are to be in shadow (for example in the case of a terra-cotta pot, I will often blend up two versions of the neutral ‘sand’ colour I shared above, one that has slightly more light brown in it, and another with a bit more pink. The first will be my main ‘in the light’ colour, and the second will be the darker shadows)

d) By using a completely different colour for the shadows, which might be unexpected but, because it is darker or stronger than the lighter areas, still tells viewers’ brains: “this is shadow.”

e) By painting the object one colour, and then “blotting away” the part I imagine to be in the sun, by pressing a paper-towel down over that part. Pressing the paper towel down immediately will remove all the colour. Instead, I like to wait a short while (a minute or thereabouts) and then press - that will take away some of the intense colour, but leave a softer version.

What ever technique you use to create shadows, if you want to have a soft or even invisible transition between the light and shade sections, a good tip is to take a clean, wet paintbrush and gently brush water over those “transition lines.” I don’t always bother with this because sometimes I like things to look a bit more rough and deliberate, but you can create a very natural, organic transition from light to shade if you want to, just using water in this way.

Here are some examples of different ways I’ve created shadows:

  • In this partial painting of a castle in Dinan, I used a watery dark blue to create the shadows, despite there not actually being any “blue shadows” on the golden stone walls

  • In this painting of a whale I made for a Boots Paper greeting card, I used a rather unnatural aqua blue as the shading at the bottom of his belly. The brightness of the blue, and contrast to the much more washed out almost-white of his body, creates the shade I wanted, while also suggesting a watery “whale in ocean” feel that I wanted, despite not painting the ocean

  • In this greenhouse mail-art picture, I used three different blends on the terra cotta pots to show the light, middle and dark sections of the pots (and to add interest and texture), and blotted some of the way almost entirely, then added white paint, in the areas I wanted to appear super-light. (Here is another picture of pots in which I was - slightly - more subtle in the shading)

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5. Paper, and paper towels

Paper weight

(As in, the weight of the paper, not the old-fashioned paperweight that your grandfather kept on his desk).

In general, it is best to paint with watercolours and gouache on paper that has been specially made for that purpose. Watercolour paint is thicker than ordinary paper, which helps to stop it from going bumpy and buckling with all that water. So to give you an idea:

  • Ordinary copy-paper is usually 80gsm (gsm just stands for “grams per square metre” and refers to the weight, or thickness, of the paper)

  • A fairly average watercolour paper thickness is 185gsm

Obviously, you can experiment to see what works for you. I have used copy paper plenty of times in my mail-art, and just flatten it down under books overnight if it buckles too much.

But if you pop into an art supplies store and ask to buy watercolour paper, it can be a little overwhelming. There’s weight, there’s texture, and there’s all those different methods of making the paper itself. How do you choose?

Here’s what I have experienced so far (although please remember - see the top of this longgggg blog post - that I am an amateur):

  • Rough, textured watercolour paper looks fantastic on those old watercolour landscape paintings you might have seen. It gives a lovely tactile feel to the painting

  • If you want to paint something for printing (such as something for a book or stationery, like my illustrations for Boots Paper), the texture might go against you, because it will stand out too much against the smoothness of the page elsewhere

  • Paper that is “hot pressed” gives you that smooth feel I’m talking about, and the other benefit is that the paint dries quite quickly on it so you can layer your colours on quickly

  • Paper that is “cold pressed” tends to be slightly more textured (though not necessarily as rough as the old-fashioned paper I mentioned earlier) so the paint stays wet longer if you want to create some effects using water and blends. (As an example of this, take a look at the image of food around a grey dinner plate I shared earlier: the dinner plate was left blank because a logo was going to be added inside it, but for subtle interest, I used a lot of water to create that slightly ‘bleeding’ effect you see, reminiscent of glazed pottery)

  • Most watercolour paper is either cream or white - think about what you mostly like to paint when you choose, and the tones you prefer. For my Boots Paper illustrations I use a slightly more creamy background, because that is what Boots’ owner, Brenner, prefers. For my own work I like a brighter white, because I prefer cooler tones

Preparing the paper

Confession: I never do this. I mean never. I have never even tried it. However… best practise is probably to stretch and then tape down watercolour paper, to ensure you have a perfectly flat surface, and that the paper doesn’t buckle with all the water you apply.

Perhaps if I painted more landscape-style images with big wash areas, I’d have felt the need to learn how to prepare my paper sooner, and have cultivated this good habit. Because my illustrations are mostly quite small, it hasn’t been an issue (so far).

If you want to learn how to prepare your paper (or want to teach me), here’s a tutorial.

Paper towels

My favourite painting tool, other than paints, brushes and water, is a trusty paper towel. My favourites are the kinds that have little patterns embossed on them. I always have one or two paper towels beside me when I paint, and I use them to:

  • Clean brushes (after I’ve cleaned them in water, I wipe them off on paper towels to be sure they don’t have any paint residue left on them)

  • Blot away mistakes (if the paint is still wet, you can blot it with a paper towel and you are magically back to blank paper! Even if the paint has partly dried, try wetting it thoroughly with a brush, then blotting)

  • Blot sections of an image to create a feeling of light and shade, as I mentioned above

  • Create texture. If there are embossed patterns on the paper towel, it can be fun to actually use this in my painting: I press the paper towel over the paint while it is not quite dry (but not super wet or the paint will disappear) to create a fun, mottled pattern

Here is a short video in which I use a paper towel to create light and shade in my picture, let the paint partially dry (while I sip tea, naturally), then create a new layer in a different colour.

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I hope this blog post was useful! I feel a little bit silly and vulnerable writing about “how to” on something I really do just muddle through, and feel about as far from being an expert as you can possibly imagine.

This lack of training probably makes me a fairly poor instructor: if there was something you were wanting to know from me about how I do my painting, but I’ve failed to mention it here, feel free to ask away. Likewise, if this actually is useful to you and you’d like to know more (such as some tips on drawing, for example, which in all honesty would be equally bumbled-through), let me know and I’ll see what I can come up with.

But no matter what, I DO hope this long post inspires you to pick up that dusty old paint-set (yes, the one you picked up for your kids at the supermarket) and wile away an afternoon playing with colour.

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Frequently asked

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I thought it was about time I answered the questions I receive the most, somewhere that they could all be found in one place. Have I missed something you’d like to know? Feel free to ask away in the comments, and I promise to reply.

Here we go…

How do you get watercolours to show up brightly on brown kraft paper?

The secret is they’re not just watercolours. I also use gouache paints, which look and feel pretty much the same, but are chalkier in consistency, and brighter and more opaque on the paper. Back in the old days, poster artists often worked in gouache. I mix my gouache and watercolour paints together within my images (and often combine them with one another to create the exact colour and consistency I want).

What pens do you use in your artwork?

I use fine-line archival ink pens for outlines and details in my paintings, and to write the addresses in my mail-art. The ink is waterproof, so it doesn’t run with the paints. My favourites are these Sakura Pigma Micron pens, and I have a collection of nib sizes that range from 005 (very fine for detailed work) to 05 (thick and bold, good for addresses).

Where can I find likeminded pen-pals?

There are loads of places to find people to write to. Pen-pal groups, yes, but also other projects and programs through which you can brighten someone’s day with a handwritten letter. I shared a list of some of my ideas for the show notes of this podcast episode with Tea & Tattle (scroll to the bottom of the show notes to find the list). I also teach about finding like-minded people to write to (and people who will write back) in my letter-writing e-course.

What camera do you use on your blog and Instagram?

To be honest, 99 percent of my photographs these days are taken using my iPhone. I have a DSLR Olympus PEN camera that I love, and it definitely takes better pictures, but the reality is that I can’t always carry it with me everywhere I go. The iPhone lets me capture small surprises and spontaneous moments in my day, no matter where I am.

Whats happening with the Meals in the Mail project?

Ahhh, that project. Meals in the Mail remains one of the favourite projects I’ve ever run. Here’s where it’s at: at the start, I promised to turn all the recipes into a book, but I received more than 250 letters (after expecting 20-50). To share the recipes, mail-art and stories in this way would make for a book that was around 750 pages long, which would be as unwieldy and impractical as it would be impossibly expensive, so I had to rethink.

I dabbled with the idea of giving the project its own blog instead, but that felt flat to me, and didn’t do these wonderful letters justice. So right now I am in the midst of making the recipes myself, one at a time, and talking to the makers about their food and the stories that make them special, for a podcast project. I can’t wait to share when it’s ready.

When will your snail-mail book come out?

Soon! The copy is finished and edited, the cover is done, and the design is in place. I am finalising some extra illustrations needed, and then it’s off to print. More about this book here.

How do you find the time for all your creative projects?

I could be glib and say there’s never enough time, and that’s certainly true to an extent. I’m definitely not as productive as I’d like to be (case in point the snail-mail book above, which has been in progress for more than four years!). But I do have some tips for finding or making time to be creative, or maximising the little bit of time we have. I’ve put them all into a little e-book called “Time to Make,” which you can download for free when you subscribe to my newsletter (which you can do here).

How can I do more with my creative ideas / start selling my creative work?

I teach all of my knowledge on the personal aspects of creativity (creative block, perfectionism, confidence, time, those sorts of things) in my hybrid coaching and e-course, Create With Confidence which runs once a year. For people who want help going public to share or sell their creative work I have a self-paced course called the Sales & Social Masterclass for Makers, which you can join at any time. I also share tips for free in my newsletter, and am happy to answer your questions via email.

Why and how did you come to spend so much time in France?

Think of that self-imposed sabbatical as me cashing in my ‘holiday savings’ after seven years of not stopping. The idea was my husband’s, after he knew he’d be heading to Italy for work in 2018, and thought that if the children and I were nearby we could all meet up.

We chose to stay in Brittany in France because that’s my family background on my father’s side, and we wanted the children to learn a little of the language and culture that was part of their heritage. At ages four and six, with Scout only in her first year of school, it was an ideal time to travel, before missing so much school became a problem.

I am lucky that I work from home, so I didn’t need to take leave from any bosses. I worked ridiculous hours in the lead-up to the trip, which in retrospect wasn’t the healthiest of ways to save money (ever heard of just “not spending,” Naomi?) but even so, we will be probably be paying off the debts incurred during this time for quite a while.

It was worth it.


That’s it from me for now. As I said, please feel free to ask me anything I haven’t covered yet here. Or (better still), tell me about you! What do you love, make, do, feel?

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Tea at dawn

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This is when I do my best work. In the pre-dawn, while most of the world sleeps. 

I'm not a masochist, nor a particularly motivated person. It's just that I'm a morning person so I wake early naturally, and of course it makes sense to get as much work done as I can while the children sleep. My brain is rested, and rejuvenated, and I can do my best work at this time. I wrote my book The Art of Mail almost entirely between the hours of five and six in the morning. I write most of my blog posts at five, and that's when I research and craft most of my courses. 

Last month I put out a survey in my newsletter, asking people to share with me the biggest challenges they faced when it came to being creative. I gave them a list of choices, based on previous conversations I'd had. Hurdles they faced, like needing accountability, lack of confidence, and too many distractions. I received hundreds of responses to this survey, and the number one reason - in fact more than 80 percent of people ticked this box - was this:

"I want to be more creative but I don't have enough time.

A lot of them felt super frustrated with the popular 'wisdom' that is often spouted about finding time: "If you want it badly enough, you'll make the time." They felt disempowered by this statement and, personally, I think it is cruel. It's one thing expecting people to take responsibility for their own lives - which we all should! - but it is way too simplistic to say "You don't want it badly enough" to someone who struggles to make time for the things that give them joy. 

I have a job, and that takes time. I am trying to build a business, and that takes even more time. I have a husband and two small children. They take a LOT of time. My husband works 80+ hours a week so I essentially run our house on its own. That takes a good whack of time too. I don't have a car, so even getting from A to B if I need to do something like buy milk takes more time out of my day than it otherwise might. This list could go on, as I'm sure yours could too.

And it's not as though I could drop any of those other responsibilities, even if I wanted to (I generally don't want to). I need to work because my family relies on my income. I need to look after my children because my husband is at work and, while they have school and childcare on some days, they also need their parents! I need to cook and clean and otherwise run the house because if I didn't, we'd be living in a pile of rubbish comprised of dirty clothes, lego pieces, dust bunnies and food scraps, while eating takeout for every meal. 

But where in my busy life - or in yours - is the room for creating? For making just for the sake of making? For learning something new? For playing with art? For self-improvement? 

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Right now I'm working on a short course made specifically for all those lovely people who responded to my survey, about how to find (or make) time to be creative. It is about guilt-free ways we can use more of our time for the things that spark joy, and train our brains to be more creative, without feeling as though we need to drop our responsibilities or small pleasures. 

That will come very soon (if you happen to be awake at 5am Melbourne time on most days, you'll be able to picture me sitting at my desk with a  hot cup of tea, writing it). In the meantime, today I thought I'd share something else that several people in the survey asked for: an idea of what a typical day looks like for me. How do I divide up my time, they wanted to know, to fit in all those things. 

The short answer is, of course, that I generally fail in one area or another. I'm not super-human and I regularly feel as though I'm playing catch-up, or having to reshuffle priorities. Also, my day - just like yours - is never typical. So, bearing that in mind, here is a rough idea of what my days look like on one of the three days a week that my children are in childcare. 

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The day always starts with tea

5am: I make a cup of tea and take it into my office (a tiny, windowless room that is actually a converted wine cellar. It is always more cluttered and messier than I'd like it to be). I work on a key writing project, such as course material, book copy, blog posts. At some point during this time my husband usually gets up, showers, and leaves for work. 

6.30am: The children get up. I close the computer, we have cuddles, then get breakfast ready. We put on music (the children call it "calm music" and generally it's classical music at this time of morning), and we sit at the table together to eat. I try not to rush this and I try not to have my phone in my hand. We talk about the day ahead. What's on at school or kinder, any reading they've been doing, events that happened the day before (often they are too tired and their heads are too busy to talk in the afternoon, but it all comes out over breakfast). In Scout's case, there are often elaborate discussions about what she will wear for that day.

7am: While the children are still eating and chatting, I make their lunches and pack their lunch boxes, then check they have everything they need packed in their bags (hats, sunscreen, lunches, bottles of water, tissues, readers, library books, signed permission slips, and a change of clothes in case of over-enthusiastic water-play). At this point I often also realise I have forgotten to let the cat out, so I open up the little outdoor room where she sleeps. 

Honestly, mornings are mostly lovely. Last year they were hectic, but now we are in a rhythm, and most mornings we have fun. Sometimes we change up the "calm music" for something more lively, and take a moment to dance together around the kitchen. 

(At some time after breakfast, I aim to post an Instagram picture. I choose this time because I find that for me, a lot of my tribe are also online at that time, so we can chat and be engaged. I don't post unless I am relatively confident that I can respond to comments, and comment on other people's posts, during the next half hour. That's why if you follow me on Instagram you'll notice that I've been quiet lately. I don't feel it's fair to post a picture and then walk away, so I haven't been posting all that frequently of late, since mornings have been quite busy). 

7.30: The children play or read books while I go upstairs and make the beds, shower and dress, pick out clothes for them to wear, and water the upstairs plants if they need them (it's hot here right now and upstairs is like an oven, so they need watering almost daily). 

8am: I get the children dressed, brush their teeth and my teeth, do Scout's hair, and hunt for their shoes (generally at least one of them has lost at least one shoe). We need to be out of the house by 8.20am on two of the three days. On Tuesdays, all of the above still has to happen, but we need to be out of the house by 7.30am at the absolute latest, so imagine everything occurring at double speed. 

8.30am: Drop Ralph at kinder, settle him in, then walk Scout to school. 

9am: Say goodbye to Scout at school, then walk home, picking up a coffee on the way to bring home, and sometimes checking the PO Box for mail. 

9.30am: Finally I sit back down in front of my computer in the little windowless office. There are four core activities I do in my business. I always try to maintain a balance of these four in my week (preferably even in my day) because if I spend too much time on any one of these, or neglect any one of these, my business suffers. 

1. COMMUNITY: That means responding to comments and emails from my students; responding to questions on Instagram; replying to other emails; and caring for the Me & Orla community (I am a TA/VA for Sara Tasker) by responding to comments and questions from her students. This is also when I'll work on questions, strategies and responses for the people I mentor on a one-to-one basis. 

2. PRODUCTS: To make money in my business, I actually need to be constantly making things that I can sell. Writing courses, writing books, making colouring books, establishing master-mind groups, painting stationery designs for Boots Paper (I am the in-house illustrator for Boots), writing paid magazine articles, painting privately-commissioned pieces.  

3. PROMOTION: By this I mean all the things I do to share my work and my business with my tribe. This blog, updates to my website, my newsletter, Instagram, unpaid magazine articles, magazine and podcast interviews, pitching story ideas to magazines, and guest blog posts. A lot of people have asked me to create video tutorials and this is definitely something I'd love to start doing, but (as you can see) I have a lot to fit into three half-days already, so we'll see!

4. RESEARCH & LEARNING: My business is less than five months old, and I started it without planning or strategy (I wrote about that here), so I have a LOT to learn. I listen to podcasts a lot because I can do that while I'm painting. I research and read material online, I read books, and recent courses I've done include two on Instagram with Sara Tasker, one on Pinterest with Melyssa Griffin, some smaller courses on selling without being sleazy with Jessica Lorimer, and I've joined the Soulful PR community with Janet Murray. I also booked a one-hour coaching call with Jen Carrington that helped give me a lot of clarity. 

Depending on what is going on on that particular day, I prioritise COMMUNITY first, because I don't want people to wait too long to hear from me. Then the balance of PRODUCTS or PROMOTION will depend on what I have going on. For example right now I'm working on that "Time to Create" course I told you about, so I might prioritise that a little more heavily. When I'm ready to release it, or my book comes out, I'll move more into PROMOTION mode.

But to maintain some balance, I try to spread things out. I spent an hour on emails and comments this morning, now I'm writing this blog post. Afterwards, I'll dig back into writing the course. Last week, I spent the bulk of my time painting the artwork for the cover of my book, and the week before that I was editing the copy. Because of all those things, I've fallen behind on the promo side - this blog has been woefully neglected, as has Instagram. So I'll be working on redressing that balance soon.

I like to do my painting and drawing work in the afternoon. My brain is getting tired (remember I've been up since 5am!), so after lunch I'll sit down to paint, while listening to podcasts or audio books, so I can combine my PRODUCTS tasks with my RESEARCH & LEARNING tasks. 

3.15pm: I leave home to pick up Scout from school, then we walk back together, just in time to pick up Ralph from kinder.

4.15pm: We all arrive home and the children have some afternoon tea. We sit at the table again, and pull out any homework that Scout might have (she is only five so it's just readers, and school is so new - we started at the beginning of Feb - that she still enjoys them). 

While the children play, I clean up a bit. Clean the kitchen from meals cooked during the day (my grown-up step-daughter Em is living with us right now so there are several meals going on), empty and wash up lunch boxes, pick up clothes and toys that got scattered about that morning but which I didn't prioritise because I wanted to get straight to work, put on a load of washing, vacuum. Those kinds of things. 

5pm: The children have either a bath or a shower. If they shower, I sit in my windowless office which is right next door, and answer any 'community' questions that have popped up since that morning. If they have a bath, upstairs, I use the time to respond to any comments or questions on Instagram while supervising them as they play. Or I fold the laundry.

5.30pm-6pm: Sometime around this point, the children have dinner. It's only light: normally salad with some kind of protein like tuna or ham or egg or cheese, followed by fruit. On school days they are never particularly hungry but are always exhausted so they just want to go to bed. Then we brush teeth, and go upstairs to read stories. 

6.30pm-7pm: The children are in bed. I come back downstairs and clean the kitchen again after the children's dinner. Normally this is when I'd start to cook dinner for the grown-ups.

Lately though, we've been trying something different. I was finding I'd start cooking this late, so the food wouldn't be ready until 8pm, and often Mr B would then be in meetings or functions and so he wouldn't want to eat at all, and the food would be wasted (plus I'd be exhausted and then have to do even more washing up). Instead, we've started ordering "clean foods" meals from YouFoodz. I can see myself getting sick of them but right now, I like that they are fresh (not frozen), and come in recyclable containers so while not ideal, at least they don't go into landfill. I grab one and either eat it cold, pop it into the microwave, or stir-fry it on the stove-top. I miss cooking, but this certainly saves me at least an hour a night! Once my business gets through this intensive early-growth stage, I look forward to cooking again. 

7.30pm: After dinner, I settle in to work. At this time of night I'm not at my best for crafting words or retaining research. Instead, I do most of my painting at this time. If I have PRODUCT work to do (painting for Boots, or a client, or my book etc), I do that. This is also when I create the templates and paint the samples for my newsletters. If I don't have painting to do, I use this time to write letters to people, edit photographs for Instagram, and make mail-art for the joy of it. If I'm painting or editing photographs my brain is mostly free, and Mr B and I like to binge-watch whatever our new favourite show is on Netflix while he signs thousands of letters. I do sometimes laugh at the incongruence of painting a beautiful, peaceful botanical illustration while people slaughter each other on Vikings, but that's just how I roll. 

10.30pm-11pm: I do the final round of washing up (a lot less since YouFoodz), feed the cat and lock her up, hang up any wet washing from that load I put on earlier, and generally ready the house for the next day. If things are quiet I go to bed. If I'm busy or on a deadline, I can stay up much later, although I don't think I've worked past 1am more than a few times. After a few late nights, I'll often give up and go to bed earlier - about 9.30pm - to catch up. I have to be up again at 5am the next day, or 6am if I'm tired and need a sleep-in, to do it all again. 

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So... that's what my day looks like three days a week, give or take afternoon kid activities like ballet or karate or French lessons or swimming. On the other two week-days I have Ralph at home with me, so there are no big blocks of working time. I do my early-morning work, then after school drop-off he and I usually go out to the park or somewhere, but he goes down for a little nap after lunch and I work then. I prioritise COMMUNITY during that nap hour and then, if there is still time, I pick from either PRODUCT or PROMOTIONS, depending on what's on that week. After Ralph's nap we pick up Scout from school, and the afternoon progresses in pretty much the same way. 

On the weekends, I'll still work in the early mornings, and again at night on painting, if we don't have to go out, and occasionally in the afternoons if the children have naps. But mostly, I try to make those days about family time. Because Mr B works such long hours, we prioritise the time that he is home to spend time together. Sometimes that has to involve cleaning the house, but we get out and about as much as we can on at least one of the weekend days. 

One last thing... 

I realise my hours are long, and not particularly sustainable. Please don't think I will be encouraging or expecting others to do the same things when I teach my Time to Create course. I'm at a point in my life where I'm building a brand-new business, and my time is extremely limited, so I'm squeezing every last morsel out of it. I don't intend to do this in the long term, and I don't expect anyone else to do this. 

What I do love about my busy life right now is that I have, by trial and error, managed to block out specific times for specific things. For example, I'm not working while supervising the kids. I used to do that and I felt doubly guilty: guilty that I wasn't paying proper attention to my children, and guilty that I wasn't paying proper attention to my work. I don't look at social media while I'm with the kids (except when supervising bath times), nor do I answer (many) emails in front of them. I sit at that meal table and we chat, actively listening to one another, and making eye contact. Then when I sit down at my desk to work, I'm all about the work. My phone is on silent and often in a different room. 

It's not perfect, but as someone who has freelanced for the better part of 15 years, I feel like I'm finally getting into some kind of workable rhythm, even while having small children around. 

How about you? I'd love to know how you balance your work / family / fun time. 

(Everybody sing together: "You can't hiiiiiiide / Your tired eyes....")

(Everybody sing together: "You can't hiiiiiiide / Your tired eyes....")

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Botanical project: leaf skeletons (non toxic)

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Whenever I discover a leaf skeleton in the garden it feels like a little piece of magic. Rare good luck, like finding a four leaf clover or seeing a double rainbow. The circumstances for nature to create a leaf skeleton have to be just right: damp enough for the fleshy parts of the leaf to decompose, sheltered enough (probably under other leaves) to encourage microscopic organisms to eat away at those leaves, and somehow exposed at just the right time for me to find the leaf while all those lovely veins are still in place, before it breaks or blows away. 

I love to send leaf skeletons as gifts in my mail. They are something special, precious, a memento from my garden or a walk I've taken that is tinted with enchantment. But because they are so hard to find, I wanted to learn how to help nature along, and make my own leaf skeletons. Turns out there are several ways to do it, following processes that range from a couple of hours to a couple of weeks, and using everything from water and pantry ingredients to caustic substances requiring rubber gloves and goggles, and straight-up bleach.

I have tried three of the non-toxic methods, and am here to share them with you today.


Step 1: Pick & prepare the leaves 

No matter what method you use, some steps to making leaf skeletons are always the same: 

  • Choose your leaves: for best results, choose leaves that have a strong vein system. Tougher, more waxy leaves have better results than softer, younger leaves
  • Clean the leaves: gently rinse them in a bowl of water, and wipe any dirt or mud away with a soft cloth. If the dirt is stubborn, use an old toothbrush to (gently) scrape it away

Step 2: Choose your method

How you choose to make your leaf skeletons will depend on the time you have available, the materials you have in the cupboard, and how willing you are to work with potentially caustic substances. Here are the pros and cons of the three methods I'm sharing today. If you click on any of the methods below, you'll jump straight to the relevant instructions. 

a) Water

Pros: 
* Completely safe
* Nature's method
* Gentle on leaves

Cons: 
* Takes several weeks
* Gets gross and smelly

b) Bicarb & baking soda

Pros: 
* Completely safe
* Easy to find ingredients
* Relatively fast results

Cons: 
* Can be rough on leaves
 

c) Washing soda

Pros: 
* Supposedly faster
* The Internet loves this method (lots of tutorials)

Cons: 
* Dangerously caustic
* Hard to find ingredients
* Can be rough on leaves


Step 3: Make your leaf skeletons 

a) Water method

  • Take a shallow dish (like a baking dish) and fill it with water. The dish should be ceramic or glass, not metal (I don't know why. Maybe it's to avoid rust, or has something to do with the minerals or chemicals in metal?). Place the leaves in the dish (it's ok if they're on top of each other) and weigh them down with something heavy to ensure they stay covered with water. 
  • Leave the water to sit for between three and four weeks. It will get murky, and start to smell really bad (like a vase when you've left cut flowers in it for too long). 
  • Take one leaf out of the murky water, place it on a flat surface, and gently try to brush away the gunk and membrane from the leaf. Use an old toothbrush (softly), or a paint brush if you're worried the toothbrush will break the leaf. If it's too tough, put the leaf back into the water and give it a few more days to soak. 
  • Rinse the leaf in clean water. If necessary, continue brushing away any remaining pieces of the pulp while it's in the water. Once you're done, lay it on a paper towel to dry.  

b) Bicarb soda & baking powder method

  • Dissolve equal parts bicarbonate soda and baking powder in a saucepan of water. I used one tablespoon of each, and approximately a litre of water. 
  • Place your leaves into the pot, and bring it to the boil. Reduce to a simmer, stirring it gently from time to time. The water will froth up, and will get brown and murky. 
  • Watch the leaves until they have softened, and you think they are ready to clean away. This could take several hours (I was using hardenbergia leaves and it took about an hour and a half). If necessary, top  up the water from time to time to ensure they leaves remain covered. 
  • Take the leaves out of the saucepan and place them into a shallow tray of clean water. Using and old toothbrush, gently try to brush away the gunk and membrane from one leaf at a time. If the leaf is too fragile, use a paint brush instead of a toothbrush. 
  • Once you're done, lay the leaf on a paper towel to dry.  

c) Washing soda method

Note: washing soda is not the same as baking soda. Washing soda is sodium carbonate: it's a powerful cleaner and non-toxic, but is highly caustic and definitely not edible. Wear gloves and goggles while working with it, and try not to inhale any dust that might float up when you stir. 

  • In a saucepan, dissolve 3/4 cup of washing soda in about one litre of water. 
  • Place your leaves into the pot, and bring it to the boil. Reduce to a simmer, stirring it gently from time to time. The water will froth up, and will get brown and murky. 
  • Watch the leaves until they have softened, and you think they are ready to clean away. This could take several hours (for some reason the camellia leaves I was using took forever - like about six hours - but general consensus on the Internet is up to two hours). If necessary, top up the water from time to time to ensure they leaves remain covered. 
  • Take the leaves out of the saucepan and place them into a shallow tray of clean water. Using and old toothbrush, gently try to brush away the gunk and membrane from one leaf at a time. If the leaf is too fragile, use a paint brush instead of a toothbrush. 
  • Once you're done, lay the leaf on a paper towel to dry.  

How to make washing soda

If you can't find washing soda at the shops, try this easy at-home process.

Pre-heat your oven to 200C (400F). Spread two cups of baking soda evenly on a large baking tray, and place it in the hot oven for about half an hour. You'll know the transformation has happened when you look at the powder: washing soda is more grainy and dull than baking soda, and when you stir things around (not with you fingers!) you'll see it doesn't clump together. If you're not sure, grab some baking soda and put the two side by side, to see if they look different. 


Step 4: Press the leaves 

  • Leave cleaned leaf skeletons in a warm, sheltered place to dry for approximately one hour. 
  • Once you are sure the leaf is completely dry, place it between two paper towels and store it under a heavy book until you are ready to use it. 

Step 5: Decorate 

I prefer to leave the leaf skeletons their natural colour, but you can absolutely play with other decorative ideas if you wish. After all the pulp has been removed but before you dry and press the leaf skeleton, you could place it in bleach to whiten it, or in food colouring. Alternatively, once dried and pressed, you could carefully paint the leaf skeleton (metallics look really great!). 

That's it! If you decide to make these, let me know how you go. I'd love to see how they turned out, and learn what you think of the process. 


ps. I've been working on a little video to show people how to make leaf skeletons using Method 2 (the baking powder and bicarbonate soda method), as part of a "botanical crafts" course I'm developing. The video is not finished yet but, in the meantime, I've created a printable tutorial using screen-grabs from the video to give you a more visual step-by-step guide, if you think that will help. You can download that tutorial here: 

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Stickers nine ways

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A few months back I announced that I had started illustrating for ethical stationery company Boots Paper. We have been steadily adding more greeting card designs to the collection, and there are many other new products in the wings, but the designs that have me the most excited right now are a series of stickers

I have been painting these for months, and they're finally here, printed onto clear plastic so they kind of work like decals on just about anything. Here are nine ways I've been using my stickers lately, to brighten up my everyday jobs. 

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1. In my garden-jobs diary (I keep a seasonal diary so I don’t forget to mulch or prune or fertilise or sow seeds. This weekend was all about fertilising, pruning and planting) 

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2. On notes left on the 'fridge for my husband, because we both work such long hours we can often go hours without seeing each other for anything more than hello-goodbye conversations 

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3. On messages in mini-envelopes for children (I sometimes pop these mini-envelopes into the normal-sized envelopes I send to the parents, so the kids get their own letters)

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4. On hand-written recipe cards I send to people in the mail 

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5. To decorate my planner and bullet journal 

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6. On my shopping lists (because that makes the lists look pretty but also because the picture draws my eye to the list when it’s on the ‘fridge, and I’m less likely to forget it on my way to the shops) 

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7. Prettying-up gift tags in my snail-mail bundles

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8. To decorate #thousandpostcardproject postcards

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9. In my notebook 

There are even stickers decorating my Macbook right now, though I haven't taken a photograph of them. That was five-year-old Scout's idea, but I do think it's kind of cute. 

How about you? I'd love to know if you have any ideas! 


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ps. have you heard about my new letter-writing and mail-art e-course?

Over four weeks, I will guide you through multiple methods of making beautiful mail-art and creative, handmade stationery; teach you the art of writing and storytelling; help you forge personal connections in your letters and find pen-pals if you want them; and share time-management tips so even the busiest people can enjoy sending and receiving letters. Register your place or find out more information right here

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Natural cold remedies from the pantry

Last month was pretty much the busiest month I've experienced in my life. I was so busy, I was getting up at five and going to bed at one, or two, or three, every night.

Day after day, night after night, I worked, and rubbed my stinging eyes, and coughed up dust from the renovations that were also going on around me. Mr B start a new job so he also was ridiculously busy. We barely saw each other except to sigh and to say "This life is crazy!" as we passed each other, bleary-eyed, in hallways at dark hours when ordinary people should be sleeping. The house became filthy. I can't even begin to tell you how filthy. 

And, not even remotely surprisingly, I caught a cold that I couldn't shake. 

When the symptoms just wouldn't let up, and I was denied the best remedy of all (sleep!) I put out the word on Instagram to see what other people recommended when it came to natural remedies for sore throats, stuffy noses, sinus headaches and general funkiness.

The advice was so helpful (I'm all better now!), and entirely achievable with a handful of ingredients from the pantry, that I thought I'd share some of the remedies with you, and painted some little illustrations to show them some love. There is nothing toxic in here, and no brand names, just nature's own cold-busters and immunity-boosters. 

@michellecrawford suggested a Turmeric Tonic by Meghan Telpner: juice together ¼ cup of fresh ginger root, ¼ cup fresh turmeric root, one peeled orange, and one peeled lemon. Mix 30ml (1oz) of this mixture together with a cup of hot water. (Keep the rest for later). Stir in raw honey, ghee or coconut oil, and sip. Repeat every two hours.

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@ohmabeldreams suggested a mixture of honey, lemon, and apple-cider vinegar

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@plantivorousrex said sopa de ajo (Spanish garlic soup) was the way to go for a cold-fighting meal. I found this recipe on SBS. 

@plantivorousrex also recommended making an onion poultice to relieve congestion. I found this recipe from Sarah on The Healthy Home Economist: Chop and lightly saute two onions and in a splash of water. The onions should be lightly cooked, but not browned or caramelised. If you want to, add in ¼ cup of grated ginger. Carefully drain the onions (and optional ginger), and spread them out in the middle of a tea-towel. Fold the long sides of the tea-towel over the onions, then fold the ends over that (wrapping it "burrito style," Sarah calls this).

Making sure it is not too hot, place the onion poultice either on your chest, or on the souls of your feet, and leave it there for 20 minutes. Productive coughing should follow. The poultice can be gently reheated in the microwave and reused throughout the day, with a fresh one made every 24 hours or so

@rhibe said to eat raw garlic mixed with honey. "It is rough but always works for me."  Similarly, @justordinaryfolk recommended chopping up a raw garlic clove, then swallowing it down with a drink

@lydiaswildlifeart made hot orange drinks to fight colds: squeeze two oranges in a cup with two teaspoons of honey, then add hot water

@finevandewinkels suggested a mixture of freshly-grated horseradish and honey

Another recipe from @finevandewinkels was a drink made by mixing ginger, turmeric, cinnamon and honey with warm milk 

@beekeep.visitingwildflowers suggested mixing ginger, lemon and honey with a pinch of cayenne pepper. I'm not sure from there how it should be taken, either down in one gulp, or stirred into a hot water drink. Your thoughts? 

@dottyteakettle said "I swear by the curative properties of a powerful veggie thai green curry - hot as you can stand - made with lots of garlic, ginger and chilli." Here is a recipe from Jamie Oliver

@ofsimplicity suggested grating fresh ginger into a cup of tea, or just hot water, and adding a squeeze of lemon

@a.little.adventure shared a mixture that she said was disgusting, but helped: Mix cider vinegar, grated ginger, chopped chilli, garlic, and lemon juice together, then drink as shots

@onething_atatime shared her family's traditional recipe for a cold tonic. "My mum is Sri Lankan... this tonic was from her grandfather and best when drunk at that first tickle in the throat," she advised. Into a dry pan put 1 teaspoon of coriander seeds, three cloves, and a one-inch piece of fresh ginger. Roast them over medium heat until the oils begin to release and the spices become fragrant, but do not burn. Now add another one-inch piece of ginger, this time finely sliced, and about 300 millilitres (just over one cup) of water, and boil vigorously for a minute or two. Strain the tonic into a cup, and add honey to taste. 

If you make a double batch you can top up the spices with boiling water and let them steep for the next time you need them, refreshing each batch about four times with water. The steam vapours are also good for clearing out the nose. 

@nadaelfaham recommended this practise for a sore throat: squeeze a lemon onto a tablespoon of honey without water. Do not swallow it right away, but try to keep it still for two seconds on your throat to make a fine coating. @nadaelfahm also suggested a ginger-lemon infusion - let it cool before adding honey. 

How about you? What is your go-to natural remedy for colds? 

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An announcement

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Hello! Are you there? 

I have a couple of announcements to make today, the first of which is that I have a brand new website! The web address is the same - www.naomiloves.com - but what you'll find inside it is quite changed. I really hope you like it. I feel like it better represents who I am and what I love. 

The only problem is that I may well have lost all of my readers along the way. 

You see, this new website wasn't supposed to go live for another two weeks, during which time I was supposed to be able to figure out how to update things so that anyone who subscribed to this blog, or followed it via an RSS feed-reader, would still be able to read it without making any changes. Or, if I failed to sort that out, I'd at least be able to advise people of the new system before the changes were made.

But these things don't always go to plan and I didn't get to make the updates I had hoped for, or let anyone know what was going on. The site went live yesterday, ready or not, so here we all are. And I am writing to you today, dear friends, while wondering if you are out there at all. 

In case you ARE still reading (thank you!), let me tell you a few little things I love about this new website: 

* To go with my lovely new website I have a lovely new logo, which you can see at the top of this email. I drew the pictures but I have to thank Brenner Lowe from Boots Paper for coming up with the concept and doing all the fancy design work. I love it so much! I think she summed me up pretty well with the combination of plants, tea and letters

* If you click on the "Mail hub" link in the website menu, you'll find a collection of all the different snail-mail projects and resources I have going on right now, which makes it a really-fun area to be if you like that sort of thing! 

* Finally, I'm super excited and nervous to announce a new e-course on letter-writing and mail-art that I have created, full of tips, tutorials and a great big stack of new resources. I get asked a lot of questions about making mail, so I designed the course to answer all of the most common questions. I'll share more about that soon - it launches in August

I really hope you like my new website and, if you ARE still reading, I'd love to hear from you! It's no fun writing into the abyss...

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Dreams come true

boots cards This is one of the most exciting announcements I've been able to make in a very long time. 

Earlier this year, I received an email from the owner of my favourite paper company, Boots Paper (I wrote about them here), inviting me to design my own stationery! I sat there at my computer, reading that little message from one of the most beautiful, high-quality, ethically-produced stationery companies going around, inviting me to put my own stamp on their products, and had to pinch myself. 

I decided to play it cool and act like this was the kind of invitation I received every day, as opposed to what it actually was: a dream come true. Moments later I utterly lost my cool and immediately hit reply with a resounding YES. I think I might even have written "This is a dream come true." 

The original brief was to create two different notebook designs, the type that I would love to use myself if I was to sit and write a lively, personal letter (or write a lively, personal shopping list, for that matter). I got straight to work, and sent in those paintings, and then we started on some more. Swing tags, stickers, greeting cards, postcards, envelopes and more; featuring animals, botanicals, people, retro hobbies, food and hygge. And so much more. 

And today I am proud (SO PROUD) to announce that the very first of my designs are now available for sale on the Boots Paper online shop, as well as in Boots stockists all over the country.

They are the greeting cards you see in this blog post: hand-drawn and then painted by me in watercolour, gouache and ink; printed on 100 percent recycled paper; with matching envelopes that have been printed on the inside; all hand-assembled in Gippsland, Victoria.

Eeep! 

There's more to come, so please excuse me while I go and paint some more. xo

 

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ps. If you like these or any of the other Boots Paper designs, they ship anywhere in the world, and everything is hand-packaged beautifully. Just take a look at this package sent to me on a recent order! Leave a little note for the lovely owner, Brenner, to tell her I said hi. 

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Meals in the Mail (a new idea)

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* UPDATE 16 JULY 2017: please note that the official date to send recipes for this project has ended. However, you are still welcome to take part. There are no guarantees that your recipe will make it into the book but the sooner you send it, the more likely it will happen. I will be too busy delivering my Your Beautiful Letter course to start the book at least until the end of August, so any letters that arrive before then will still be part of the project. * 


I've had an idea. Shall we write a book together? A recipe book? 

Often I tell people that one of the nicest, easiest (and completely free-of-charge) gifts to enclose with a letter is a recipe. All you need to do is write or type it out neatly, fold it up, and there is something personal, thoughtful, and useful for your pen-friend.

Over the years, I have received some wonderful recipes in the mail, from family, friends, and strangers alike. First, I was thinking I might like to turn them all into a little "meals by mail" recipe book to share with you. But then I had a better idea: what if we were to share all of our recipes with each other? 

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Recipes 3

So here is what I propose: 

1. If you want to take part, simply send me a letter. You need to send it by post, not email or in the comments. My address is: 

Naomi Bulger  "Meals in the Mail"  PO Box 469  Carlton North Vic 3054 Australia

So that this project doesn't drag on forever, let's say your letter needs to be postmarked by 1 July, 2017, to be included. 

2. In the letter, you will need to enclose two things: a) a recipe that you love (write it, type it, illustrate it if you like! anything as long as you like the recipe and it's legible); and b) some words telling me what makes your recipe special. They could be a sentence or an essay, or anything in between. Maybe the recipe was given to you by someone you love, maybe it is part of a family tradition, maybe you cooked it for a memorable occasion, maybe it's simply something that is always popular with your friends or family... just share with us the special meaning behind the recipe. 

3. It's not at all required that you decorate your envelope or include anything else, but of course you are welcome to do so and, if appropriate, I'll try and feature some of the more decorative envelopes etc in the book for inspiration. 

4. Maybe I'm the only one who thinks this is a good idea (Oh! Lonely me!) BUT if I receive enough recipes, I promise to turn them into a recipe-book or zine (how many recipes do you think I'll need for a book? 20? 30? More?), celebrating the recipes, the letters, and the wonderful way that food links us to people we love and memories we treasure.

Plus, I promise to send a free copy of the book or zine to every contributor. 

Are you in? Let's do this, to celebrate food, nostalgia, hand-written communications and community all in one go. Then we can stir, sizzle, mix and bake each other's recipes, and weave them into our own stories. And I would really appreciate it if you could tell your friends, because maybe they want to share their recipes, too! 

ps. These recipes, from top, are from my great-grandmother (via my mother), Ashwatta (via Ashwatta's Art on Etsy), and Meaghan (via @polaroids_and_snailmail). 

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Pie fail

pie-ingredients pie-making

pie-done

This is an appeal to the people of Florida, to rescue their famous dish from the slander that is about to follow...  

While writing my way through a giant stack of vintage postcards for the thousand postcard project, I came across this wonderfully lurid recipe-card from the 1960s or 70s. The children and I decided we had to give it a try before sending it on (it ultimately went to my cousin in the UK - it was 68 of 1000).

After all, I figured, "Orange meringue pie. I like oranges, I like lemon meringue pie, this is going to be delicious!")

Spoiler alert: it wasn't.

Maybe it's my fault. I'm not much of a baker. Or maybe it's the postcard's fault. The instructions were pretty vague and, never having tasted this pie before, I didn't really know what flavours I was supposed to be going for. 

Whoever or whatever is to blame, this pie tasted like orange-flavoured cough-syrup. Only gelatinous. And nuclear reactive in colour. 

So, dear People Of Florida, how is this pie supposed to taste? What did I do wrong? And do you have a better recipe for me to try? 

::               ::               ::               ::

ps. For anyone not from Florida who is brave enough to try this (WHYYYYY???), the ingredients are on the front of the postcard that you see pictured here. The method, printed on the back, was as follows:

Combine orange juice, sections, grated rind, sugar and cornstarch. Cook on low heat until clear. Add a little hot mixture to beaten egg yolks. Return to hot mixture and cook about 5 minutes longer. Remove from heat. Blend in lemon juice, butter or margarine. Pour into baked pie shell. Be sure filling and shell are both hot or both cold. Cover filling with meringue. Bake in 350° oven until lightly browned.

There were no instructions for the pastry or meringue, so you'll just have to wing those bits. Tell me how you go!

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