December 20, 2015

A Green Christmas

 Winter Forest Note Cards
I think we are heading for a green Christmas. It's so unusual in Montreal not to have at least a bit of snow on the ground at Christmas. It's what everyone is talking about here. The skating rink boards were installed weeks ago in the park across the street but there isn't a snowflake or a sliver of ice in sight.

There's not really anything one can do so, while dreaming of snow, we are going about our days and getting ready for the holidays. Today it is colder but the forecast for the week ahead is for mild, rainy days.

The photo above is of tiny rain-soaked crabapples in my garden. While I was taking this photo and others on one of the rainiest days of the past week, a patient, slightly soggy Meeko waited for me on the back porch. Such a good boy.

I have been painting. If you follow me on Instagram, you will have seen my progress photos of a watercolour I just finished of a small winterberry branch. This is my favourite kind of painting to do--a study of a natural object. I have another step to do as this will be a special print, actually one that was suggested to me by a lovely customer.

When I was purchasing the winterberry branches to use as my painting references at a local garden centre, the sales clerk told me that their spring bulbs were 80% off. I already planted over 350 bulbs in November but the ground still isn't frozen and the price was hard to resist. So I purchased some more spring bulbs and added them to my garden this past week! Planting spring bulbs in the garden in mid-December! The silver lining of this odd weather.

November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving and a Sale

 Happy Thanksgiving from Trowel and Paintbrush
I want to wish a 'Happy Thanksgiving' to all of my friends and customers who are celebrating today in the United States. I hope you have a lovely day with family and friends.

I hand-lettered this message this morning in watercolour and then surrounded it with some of the nature finds I have in my studio. I wrote the words in pencil, fleshed out the letters and then filled them with watercolour.

In Canada, we celebrate Thanksgiving in the month of October! It's always on the second Monday in October. I've always been a little jealous of the American tradition as I feel you have a more formal beginning to the holiday season. In Canada, there's a very long gap between Thanksgiving and Christmas and I never feel quite ready. Meeko's ready for the holidays though. He told me so.

I've been busy this month although I haven't been posting here on my blog very often. If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you will have seen that I've been working on a new series of flower paintings. I will be working at creating prints of them in the next few days. If I have time, I am also hoping to include them in a special project.  I'll let you know.

I also wanted to mention that I am having a holiday sale in my art shop. You can get 20% off, now through Monday, November 30th. Just use the coupon code SHOP2015 at checkout.

 Trowel and Paintbrush

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November 3, 2015

November Musings

 Set of Pansy Prints
I've introduced a lot of new work to my shop recently. During the past week, I introduced a new collection of pansy prints. They are available individually and as a set. I have a real soft spot for pansies. Aside from being beautiful flowers, they are associated with many childhood memories. I used to pick pansies in my grandparents' garden. An extra layer to those memories and associations is the fact that my grandmother's name was Viola.

This past week, I also had something to celebrate. I passed 2,000 followers on Instagram! I appreciate the people who follow me there so much. Instagram is definitely one of my 'happy places'. It's a great place to feel encouragement and inspiration. A real hub of creativity.

Because I have been working on the computer so much the past couple of weeks to convert paintings into new prints, I find my afternoon walks with Meeko extra restorative. On Friday afternoon, I decided to walk a little farther than usual on a road we don't usually take. The road is bordered by corn fields. It was so beautiful.

That was the day that I learned that Meeko is the colour of a corn field in autumn. Now you know too.

While I do love autumn, November is not my favourite month. I miss the flowers in my garden. I find the lack of daylight hard. It makes taking product photos more complicated. I don't like that it's already dark when Chloé gets home from school. I start to feel the pressure of the impending holidays. I have lots of things to keep me busy in the weeks ahead which is good. Colder days will mean that I can start to walk regularly in the little forest with Meeko again. We've already been a couple of times.

With plentiful studio time and Meeko time, I'll get through November just fine.

October 26, 2015

My Herb Watercolor Collection

I have been working so hard the past few weeks on introducing new prints to my shop. I had a stack of paintings just waiting for me to spend some time with my computer and printer. Today, I listed my Herb Collection prints in my shop. I am such a perfectionist and I am thrilled with how they turned out. It always matters to me to get the details right. The paper I chose to print them on is really lovely. I don't think that the photos do justice to the delicate detail of the watercolour images and the beautiful texture of the paper. You can have a closer look at the six images in my shop. They are: basil, sage, thyme, lavender, summer savory and mint. I hope you like them!

The herbs in the top photo are from my garden. I picked bunches of them a few weeks ago to dry. I hung them from a big, beautiful branch that I had trimmed off of my spindle tree. That branch now hangs on my dining room wall right above the computer where I am typing this post.

I love having herbs in my garden and I will really miss them this winter.  Here is one of my favourite recipes from this past summer. I formed soft goat cheese into balls and then rolled them in a combination of fresh herbs. I put them in a jar full of olive oil and kept them in the fridge. They were absolutely delicious on slices of baguette. A real hit! The leftover olive oil had bits of herbs and goat cheese in it and was perfect in salad dressings and in pasta recipes.

While I am itching to get back to painting, I have a few more prints to make. Next will be a set of four pansy prints based on paintings I did a few months ago. After that, I will be framing a selection of my small watercolour paintings to sell in my shop. They will be perfect for holiday gift giving!

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I wanted to take a moment to say thank you for the overwhelming response to my last blog post. It was difficult yet comforting to know that so many of us have been feeling the same things about our Etsy experience, especially during the past year. Thank you for your support. It means so much to me.

October 20, 2015

The Breakup

A little over a year ago, in September, Etsy changed dramatically. They had already been making changes that were unpalatable for many of us by distancing themselves from their handmade origins and allowing manufactured products. In September of 2014, they changed the look, feeling and heart of their site by removing the treasuries (curated collections of products) from their front page. Making treasuries was a creative, collaborative exercise that I enjoyed very much. It was a way to get to know other shop owners from across the world and to actively promote beautiful products. My paintings would sometimes make it onto Etsy's front page and it was always a huge thrill.

The front page change was a shock to many of us as it didn't just affect the look of the site but the entire way that we had interacted with it and each other. I didn't fully understand how emotionally invested I was in Etsy until then. I spent days in tears. My husband would come home from work and find me in front of the computer with tears streaming down my face. "Etsy?" he would ask. Yes, I would nod. It's hard to explain. But the shift was profound and I know many others who were similarly affected.

After the initial shock and the realization that this was a permanent change, many treasury teams disbanded. What was the point of them if hardly anyone was going to see the treasuries they made? Some stores left Etsy and set up shop elsewhere. Others held on, hoping that maybe the new version of Etsy would still hold worth and meaning. I guess I was one of them.

The closest analogy I can think of is the realization that your loved one has changed profoundly and that they may no longer be 'the one'. It's hard to make a complete break. You want to believe that the time and emotion you invested are still worth something. You distance yourself. You separate but you leave a change of clothes and a toothbrush at their place, well because maybe? So my Etsy shop has remained open.

One of the most positive things that happened to me last autumn was being invited to be part of a fabulous group of handmade artists and vintage shop owners called Tributary Goods. They created their own collaborative shop of products outside of Etsy and have provided support to each other as most of us began the process of setting up our own independent e-shops. We get each other. There's a lot of strength and a ton of humour.

If you have read my blog this past year, you will know that I bought my own domain name and opened a Big Cartel shop in January. It was a good first step. While I liked how it looked, in June I moved my shop to Shopify for the increased flexibility it gave me in terms of the design and organization of my website. I am very happy there. I love how my shop looks and I am impressed on an ongoing basis with the customer service that Shopify provides. It's stellar. It also makes me proud to be associated with a growing, innovative Canadian business providing e-commerce opportunities to merchants worldwide.

Last month, Etsy rearranged the categories on their front page. Art is no longer a main category. If I was sticking around because I thought that maybe they still loved me, I guess this made things abundantly clear.  There were no tears this time.

Today is the fourth anniversary of the day I opened my shop on Etsy. While my love for Etsy as a company is not there anymore, I know I learned a lot from them. Most of all, I feel huge gratitude to everyone who has bought art from me online since October of 2011. I'm also thankful for the friends I have made there among fellow shop owners. So many amazingly creative people.

I still have some products in my Etsy shop but I am not renewing them when they expire. I am only listing my new paintings and prints on Shopify now. Slowly but very surely, I am moving towards creative control and independence, and concentrating on positive change. Blue skies and possibilities. Do you know what? It feels really good.

"I feel huge gratitude to everyone who has bought art from me online."

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Update -- I wanted to say thank you to everyone who has read this post--over 500 people at this point! Thanks to all who took the time to comment whether on my blog, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or privately. It's good to know that I am not alone and that we've shared similar emotions about the changes on Etsy and that many of us are on the same journey to find independence, stability and artistic integrity elsewhere. Thanks for your support. A big hug to you all. ~ Kathleen

October 2, 2015

Hydrangea Love

When the seasons change, I'm always a little sad about what I need to say goodbye to, but what awaits me often makes up for it. Like autumn and hydrangeas. Yes.

If I were to list my favourite autumn flowers, hydrangeas would be at the top. There are others (Japanese anemones and Turtleheads come to mind) but it's hard not to love those gorgeous billowy flowerheads with their delicate tones of pink and green. I have four types of hydrangeas in my garden: Hydrangea paniculata grandiflora, Hydrangea paniculata 'Unique', oakleaf hydrangea and Hydrangea macrophylla. The two that do best in my garden are Hydrangea paniculata grandiflora (PeeGee) and Hydrangea paniculata 'Unique'. Although the PeeGee blooms are beautiful (they're in the photo at the top), the Unique blooms are my favourite. There's more space between the flowers so you can appreciate their individual, graceful shapes.

Hydrangea paniculata 'Unique' and asters on my painting table
It was still in progress at this point.
I started a painting last autumn of some of the Unique blooms. It was almost finished and then, for some reason, I put it away in my painting drawer. I can't really remember why. I got it out again last week and with fresh hydrangeas from the garden put the finishing touches on the painting. It just needed a little more depth in places and a few more details.

Here's the final result. I tried to convey the frothy softness of the flowerhead while also capturing some of the delicate details. I hope to have it available as a print in the next few weeks.

 A print of this hydrangea painting is available

I need to get out into the garden as much as possible in the days ahead. The nights have been very cold the past few days so things are going to change dramatically. This weekend, I plan to bring the last tomatoes in and cut some herbs for drying. And more hydrangeas!

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Drying tip: I like to dry the hydrangeas and enjoy them throughout the winter months. I read a tip years ago by a favourite gardening writer, Lois Hole, on her preferred way of doing it. She suggested placing the cut hydrangeas in a vase in about an inch of water and letting it evaporate. She said that the flowers retain more colour this way than if they are air-dried. This is the way I always do it now.

September 21, 2015

An Apple Story

This past spring you may have seen my Instagram post about a crabapple tree in our backyard. I was very excited to see blossoms on this tree as it hadn't bloomed in over ten years. 

This is what I wrote at the time:
This is the crabapple tree that the blossoms I'm painting are from. This tree makes me so happy. This is the first time it's bloomed in about 10 years! It started as a small weeping crabapple. It didn't make it through one tough winter. I cut it back. This tree grew from its base and is now about 12 feet tall. I even wondered what kind of tree it was since it only ever had leaves. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw the blossoms on it last week. What a beautiful lesson in not giving up on something and having patience. #mygarden #garden #tree #crabapple #patience #nothingisordinary
Well, imagine my surprise a few weeks ago when I walked beside that tree and saw not crabapples but apples on it! I was very, very excited and called everyone in my family to come out and see it. Then, of course, I had to paint one of the apples. 

 Apple watercolor painting
I smile even looking at my painting. Our first little apple. So proud. This is one of the things I love about gardening. There are constant surprises and rewards, as well as reminders that we are not in complete control. My guess is that my original weeping crabapple tree was grafted onto an apple tree base. When the crabapple top died, the apple portion sent up a sucker from the roots and that is now my beautiful 12-foot tall apple tree.

I am happy to say that I have 5 x 7 prints available of both my apple blossom and apple paintings. I just listed them in my shop today!

Click the photo to see my 'Apple Blossom' print in my shop.
Click the photo to see my 'Apple' watercolor print in my shop.

From now on, I will only be listing my new work in my own shop on Shopify and not on Etsy. I hope you will visit it every now and then. I will be adding more things in the weeks ahead. It's going to be a great autumn!

♥  ♥  ♥  ♥  ♥ 

September 3, 2015

When Two Makers Meet: Trowel & Paintbrush and Ohhh Lulu

It was a very rainy Wednesday morning a week ago when I finally met my friend, Sarah Norwood, and her sweet daughter Isabel in person for the first time.

In January of 2013, Sarah and I both volunteered to take over the Canadian Etsy team called Team Canuck, now known as The Canadian Collective.  We didn't know each other at all except for both being members of the same team. Over the past three years, we have corresponded countless times about the team, Etsy, our online businesses, motherhood, our pets and everything else in between. We have shared laughter and tears. One of the coolest things was when we found out that we both were born on July 1st, Canada Day!

Despite our drenched state, I think we look pretty happy!
Sarah lives in Orillia, Ontario. My parents live in Gravenhurst about a half hour away. Because Gravenhurst is a seven-hour drive from where I live, we don't get there more than a couple times a year and our visits tend to be busy with family. I've thought so often about meeting Sarah and finally we made it happen! Sarah volunteered to drive to Gravenhurst so we could meet at the wonderful open-air farmers' market that takes place there every Wednesday during the summer.

That morning it didn't just rain, it poured, but we didn't care. It was exciting to see each other in person. I am also so happy to have met Sarah's baby, Isabel. What a sweetheart she is! The facial expressions she makes are completely adorable. She looks like she can't quite believe she met me either!

A model wearing one of Sarah's lovely creations.
If you don't know Sarah's beautiful lingerie business Ohhh Lulu, you should have a look. Her creations are exquisite and are all handmade by her. She also sells sewing patterns of some of her pieces. She was just featured in a big article this past weekend in the Globe and Mail about handmade Canadian lingerie. I am so proud to know her!

When at the Gravenhurst Farmers' Market, I can never leave empty-handed. Aside from the happy memory of meeting Sarah and Isabel, I left with butter tarts to share with my family, chipotle hot sauce, mango jam, some Thai dipping sauces and this gorgeous succulent garden!

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August 22, 2015

A Tiny Garden Friend

When my husband was mowing the lawn this morning he noticed this sweet baby toad. It was so tiny! It waited around long enough that both Chloé and I were able to hold and observe it. It was understandably scared of us big humans. Chloé then placed it into the safety and shelter of the flower bed. Close encounters of the cutest kind.


August 11, 2015

A Rainy Day is a Studio Day

It rained all night and it is supposed to rain all day. It's good for the garden. I love the scent and find the sound comforting. It also means I have no excuse not to spend the day in my studio. I started cleaning it yesterday and need to continue my work. I am so tempted just to clear a spot in the middle of the mess and start a new painting but I know a cleaner, safer (yes, it got that bad) workspace would be the best thing.

I took these photos from the shelter of the back door this morning. I love how you can see the rain in the photos! Do you see the diagonal streaks?

The last painting I did was a commission. The customer requested two flowers of significance to her family but left the approach and composition entirely up to me. I couldn't ask for a more pleasant experience. Still, I am looking forward to doing a painting of my own choice. Plus, I have several watercolors from past months that are almost finished and are still waiting for final touches. I also have frames for some of my original watercolours that I need to assemble. I have new prints to create. Oh boy. So much to do. But first a clean studio.

I opened the screen door for Meeko to go out this morning and he immediately sat down. For the moment, he'd rather look at the rain than be in it. Maybe he'll join me in my studio later for moral support.

"The best thing one can do when it's raining is to let it rain." 
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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July 23, 2015

July Garden

We've had lots of rainy, stormy weather lately but this morning was glorious and can be summed up in two words: sunshine and bees.

It is so nice to see all of the activity and life in the garden at this point in the season. I feel weirdly proud that the bees like my garden and spend so much time in it. The bees aren't the only ones who are busy. I've been trying to garden every morning when the weather has cooperated. A couple of weeks ago, I figured out that if I spend two to three hours working in the garden each morning that, at the end of two weeks, I will have managed to work in each of my flower beds. So that's been my morning routine. I get up, make myself coffee and head outside. I paint inside in the afternoons when it's too hot to be outdoors.

All gardeners know that a weeded garden is only a theory. I am not foolishly expecting to have a perfect garden nor do I want one. I just want to feel less embarrassed about its state if we have visitors and to be able to to sit in a chair occasionally and admire it instead of feeling like I need to jump up and fix something right away.

This morning I pruned and weeded the back perennial bed. It's looking pretty full and lush. However, the end of the bed that extends beyond the right side of the photo is going to need work. It has become shadier and shadier in the past few years to the point that I've lost some of the plants. My oriental poppies are gone among others. It's hard to lose things but gardens tell us what they need and the right end of this particular bed is crying out for shade-loving plants. I may divide some astilbe and hostas from other parts of the garden and move them here this autumn.

Speaking of hostas, they are blooming in the front yard and were looking absolutely gorgeous this morning. These are 'Francee'.

Other favourites from my garden tour this morning include my Summer Snowflake viburnum (Viburnum plicatum) and a stunningly beautiful poppy.

The vegetable garden is also bursting with colour at the moment including this blue borage plant that reseeded from last year. The warm colours in the background come from ripening tomatoes, squash blossoms and nasturtiums. It's exciting to see so much happening at once but not everything is thriving. This morning I discovered that my hot pepper plant has wilted and my eggplant is struggling a little. In a garden, nothing is static which provides both its pleasure and ongoing challenges.

"The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature."  Alfred Austin



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