It’s a beautiful (though cold) sunny day. I’ve been working on a few projects and thought it might be fun to snap a pano pic of my little work space–the office/studio where I spend most all of my time. It’s pretty cramped in this 10 x 12 room, but packed full of color and scraps of things in varying degrees of progress. I have a big window which can be a blessing and a curse (depending on the time of day and the season). No air conditioning, so some summer days can be brutal. And when we put down new bamboo flooring shortly after buying the house about 12 years ago, we accidentally covered up the heat vent in the room. Floored right over it! Yep. So during the winter, I use a small space heater to take the chill off.
I usually use the desk (to the right of my chair in the photo) when I am illustrating, coloring, or working on the computer, but there is also a long table in front of the chair where I do my painting, embroidery, and other types of messier work that needs space to spread out. The chair? It’s pretty nice. Black leather, ergonomic and all that but you can’t tell because it is currently heaped with several sweaters, my butterfly blanket and ‘Little Bird’ pillow.
Sometimes, when the printer under my desk malfunctions, I have to sit on the floor to pull it out onto my lap to unjam the paper. My dogs find it amusing but I don’t.
There are days the clutter gets to me and I spend a few hours putting all the pieces back into cases, boxes, folders and drawers. I dust and vacuum, wash the windows, throw away candy-wrappers and dried up tea bags. It looks nice. But for the most part, my reality is stacked to the ceiling with piles on every flat surface that will hold something. Because I am busy.
Once in a while I run across photos of pristine studio spaces on Pinterest and Instagram. They are wondrously large and clean spaces with sparse yet expensive modern furniture and accessories, perfectly painted walls, and perhaps a luxurious white fur rug on the perfectly shined hardwood floor. And a French bulldog sitting on the rug. Next to the white couch with trendy matching pillows placed just so.
I am not knocking those pretty spaces, but really. Where’s the work? Where’s all their shit? The messy stuff that’s needed to actually create something? I think I feel envious of those spaces, for a second maybe. But they are not real.
Hard work & attention to detail makes happy customers & a happy artist
The original edition of Ruby Charm: 25 Artful Illustrations for Coloring Enthusiasts started out as a simple concept. Illustrations aside, I wanted to create a book that serious colorists would appreciate and use. Though dreams of being picked up by a publisher were (and still are) appealing, I wanted my first book to be made the way I envisioned it: spiral bound at the top (so it’s easy to flip through the pages, the book lays flat, and the binding doesn’t discriminate between left or right handed colorists); a thick and sturdy back cover so it feels more like a sketchbook; illustrations on one side of each sheet; and a plastic protection sheet that could be inserted between pages. I did some research, ordered supplies, and got down to business.
The first run of my book (as well as my Black Magic book which has sold out) has been a success on Etsy. I’m not cruising the Caribbean or anything, but I managed to sell enough books to cover some of my costs, pay a few bills and justify a second printing. And perhaps more importantly, it has given me confidence and momentum to keep moving forward.
When I received the latest batch of pages from my local printer, I took some photos and a few (amateur) videos to show how I put the book together since it doesn’t come mass-produced from a store, but instead, my hands and humble (and usually very cluttered) little studio. Here’s how the Artist’s Edition is made …
It took some time to complete all the illustrations (months and months of drawing all day, every day) and after I had them all done, I converted them to vector images through Adobe Illustrator, then formatted and saved them as PDFs. This can be a time-consuming process involving many hours staring at the computer screen and repetitive clicking. Plenty of technical details I won’t get into here.
I copied all of my PDFs to a thumb-drive and quite happily brought it over to my local printer. They helped me choose a high-quality, acid free and archival card stock for the main pages, and tinted card stock for the last three pages in the book. The plan was to print 50 copies of each of the inside pages, plus the cover and introduction page.
The naked, unpunched version of the Ruby Charm coloring book
A few weeks later, I picked up several boxes of my pages and was super excited … until I got home and reality smacked the smile off my mug. I made a really dumb mistake. Instead of giving the printer individual files to print, I should have put all the of pages together in order, in one PDF, so that they could have printed a collated version of each book. What was I thinking?!
Live and learn, yes?
After getting over my moment of stupidity (and wiping the crumbs off my kitchen counters), I laid out all the stacks of pages in the order I wanted the book to be assembled, including the cover page, introduction page, and the black cardboard back cover. I ran out of counter space and had to use the dining room table and a few chairs, too. Fortunately, my sister was here visiting from North Dakota and she and my daughter helped me pick up one page from each stack until we had 50 new stacks of now collated books. Assembly-line style–team work does make the dream work.
Once the books were collated, I then punched holes in the pages with the used Alpha Coil-E machine I bought off of Craig’sList. What a lucky find that was! Though the machine can’t punch holes through the thickness of the entire book, I could punch about 7-10 pages at a time. And though it did save me time, it still took a while to punch all 50 books. The cool thing about the machine is that it not only punches the holes, it also helps zip the spiral coil through the book once you get it started. Still a lot of hand work despite the hard work of the machine.
Setting pages into the machine for hole-punching
Here’s a quick video of the cover being punched. Machines can be super helpful but the process is still slow as there are a few steps to follow: make sure your pages are flush to the top and sides of the stack, make sure your machine settings and page guides are correct, and keep all of your pages in order!
Snipping the plastic protection sheets
Yep, this part of the process is really stinkin’ tedious, but I wanted the book to have a decent sheet of plastic that colorists could remove and reinsert under whichever page they wanted to work on. Colored pencils don’t pose a bleeding threat, but I use watercolor pencils a lot of the time in my own work, and I know that many like to use markers, too. The card stock I chose for the book is fairly thick (and each illustration is printed on one side only) but I still wanted to be sure bleed-through would never be an issue for my customers no matter what they used.
Using Fiskars nippers to snip
I found a great little pair of Fiskars nippers at Joanne Fabric and use them (after the plastic sheets have been punched) to snip a small notch above each hole. Two snips per hole, and I can only snip two sheets at a time otherwise they will slip out of alignment. It takes some time.
Inserting the coil
The most important thing you need to do to make sure the coil goes in smoothly is to be sure all the holes are lines up properly. So each book gets a bit of a smack-down on the top and side edges to be sure there are no rogue pages that have slipped out of alignment. Once I do the smack-down, I start twisting the coil through the holes.
After I twist the coil in about an inch or so, I take it over to the binding machine, lay the coil edge against a spinning rubberized cylinder, and if all goes well, the coil just zips right through the rest of the holes. It works perfectly about 1 out of five times. The other four times, I have to force the end of the coil through a few more holes, then try the cylinder again. It gets the job done eventually.
When the coil is all the way through, I then kink and clip the ends off using a special pair of nipper-pliars that came with the binding machine. It took a little time to get the hang of this. I accidentally snipped instead of snipped-then-kinked plenty of times. It is supposed to happen in one fairly fluid motion and you have to firmly squeeze the handles together at the end to get the kink. The kinks keeps the coil from coming off.
Notice I keep the tissue paper (which comes between each sheet of plastic) on the book while I am working on it? This helps keep my smudgy fingerprints off the cover. 😉
Signing the book
The last step, after the book is bound and checked for issues, is signing. I hand sign each book before it gets packed away in a box for safe keeping. Most all of my first batch of books were signed with an olive Triplus fineliner, but I started using Moonlight Gellyrolls recently. Fun stuff!
My apologies for my mediocre video skills (it’s not my thing, yet) but here is a flip-through of the contents of the Ruby Charm – 25 Artful Illustrations for Coloring Enthusiasts book. It is now being referred to (and sold as) the Artist’s Edition since I also have a full digital version of the book on Etsy (in addition to single pages and bundles) and am coming out with an expanded CreateSpace version on Amazon before too long. The paper quality will be inferior to my handmade book, but it will still be fun and it will make my book more affordable for my overseas customers.
That plastic really likes to cling to the cover. The wonders of static. Oh, and if you are curious about that plastic cover / insert, here’s how it works!
You can use the tip of your fingers or the tip of a pen or pencil to push the little plastic tabs back onto the coil. Or you can snip them off completely and just let the sheet float around between the pages of any of the books you are coloring.
You can also snip the little bent piece of plastic at one end of your coil and untwist it so that all the pages fall out if you prefer. Good for working on pages one at a time, or for taking pages out you might want to frame or give away. You can always twist the coil back on by hand, but I haven’t discovered a great way to secure the book again. Maybe a small piece of tape wrapped around the cut off end of the coil? A really small rubber-band? Hmmm.
Now that I’ve been at since for about 8 months, I think my hard work on this book is paying off. The most satisfying part of the whole experience has been getting to know my customers through Etsy, Instagram and Facebook, and enjoying a creative collaboration with them. I may design the pages, but they bring those pages to life with their own visions of color and pattern and their own techniques. It’s a collaborative effort that not many other types of artists get to enjoy, so I feel blessed. And my coloring friends have been so supportive of my artwork – it keeps me motivated to keep creating and pushing myself and my small growing business even further. So thank you, friends! Cheers to past, present and future creative adventures!
Very proud of the reviews I’ve been receiving – thanks, everyone!
Anyone who knows me well knows I am a blanket junkie. I’ve got them all over the house. On chairs, in closets, in boxes and hampers. We even have a few in the Jeep. And we use them. A lot. Especially during the colder months when the wind is howling down on us from the north and the snow piles up. But even during our gorgeous northern Michigan summers, early mornings and late evenings can be chilly.
So how fun would it be to wrap up in the wings of a fanciful luna moth?
This vivid luna 51 x 60″ throw is based on an illustration I did of a botanically inspired Luna moth for an adult coloring page. I used a variety of colored pencils to bring the black and white line drawing to life, and since then, it has morphed into several products (including pillows and a ceramic travel mug I love and use every day) in my Society6 shop. I ordered two throws – one for myself (which I keep on my chair in my studio) and one to sell in my Etsy shop. That one sold within hours of listing and is now on it’s way to Canada, but there are more available at Society6 including two larger sizes: 68 x 80 inches and 88 x 104 inches.
Yep, it’s listed as a “butterfly” instead of a moth. While working with my design files I lumped a bunch of illustrations together under a “butterflies” folder on my computer and so “butterfly” was stuck in my head while uploading items to Society6. Whoops. Slow down, mama.
Many years ago (well before I became a mom) I was camping with friends at the Greenwood Reservoir in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Along the way to the outhouses one rather misty morning, before anyone else was stirring, I discovered the wings of about 6 Luna moths scattered on the ground under a lamp post. Their bodies gone; a Luna massacre. I was horrified and fascinated. The wings were huge and the most beautiful shade of green. I remember carefully picking up a few of the wings so I could bring them home, but over the years, moving from place to place, they have disappeared. One of many little life experiences that continue to shape the art I create today.
By the way, if you love moths, please check out the gorgeous soft sculptural creations by CuriousObjectsCo – Larysa is a very talented artist, and I dream of having one of her moths on my wall some day. She uses richly textured fabrics and beadwork and her moths are just stunning.
So these 100% polyester throws (manufactured via print-on-demand through Society6) are super soft and warm. The inside is lined with really soft, fluffy white Sherpa fleece, and the fanciful botanical-themed moth floats on a misty, silvery-grey background.
In my experience, these throws get even softer when washed (and they can be machine washed with cold water on a gentle cycle, then tumble dried on a low dryer heat setting).
Oh why didn’t I title this one March Hare when I had the chance? Too late now … it’s up on Etsy and ready for your coloring enjoyment!
I spent about 12 hours on this illustration from rough sketch to finished black and white line drawing and it was an enjoyable piece to work on … though all the curls and leaves of the fiddle-head ferns caused my hands to cramp up last night. Oh to be young again with better eyesight, too. My glasses are getting a little loose and I am tired of continually pushing them back up my nose.
I was thinking about the Easter bunny the other day and how rotten it is that I lied to my daughter about the Easter Bunny (and Santa for that matter) yet try to teach her that lying is wrong. What’s wrong with that picture? At any rate, I’ve been wanting to draw fiddle-head ferns and thought this would make a good composition for a coloring page – Easter and Spring themed without the plastic eggs and candy.
I started to color the illustration in (partly to test out the design but also to have a partially colored piece to show in my Etsy listing) and used a base layer of Caran d’Ache Museum, Faber-Castell Albrect Durer, and Staedtler Aquarelle (though mine are very old) watercolor pencils. I blended with a water brush, and then once it dried, started refining and blending with layers of colored pencils (mostly the same brands plus Prismacolor and Irojiten pencils). I also hit it with a few dabs of Sakura Souffle gel pens. It will be a while before this one is done – too much on my plate to play – but it was fun to get a start on it. And this rabbit’s face just makes me giggle.
Going Digital: First coloring book now available as a downloadable, printable series of PDFs!
The cover of Ruby Charm: 25 illustrations for coloring enthusiasts, collection no. 1
I was a little worried about making my first book of illustrations available for download, mostly due to stories about other artists seeing their work appear in places they never authorized and having their hard work stolen. Either people who steal the art don’t realize how many hours go into a drawing (plus the added expense of materials, marketing, etc.) or they simply just don’t care. Either way, it had given me pause and I’ve been reluctant to give it a go. Until now.
I’ve gotten to know a number of people in the coloring community over the past year and have faith that people will do the right thing. And I believe in karma. So I took all of the illustrations from my original spiral-bound book and put them into a series of 5 PDFs (plus two of my newer drawings, Autumn Cat and Paisley Fox) and made the digital version of my book available through my Etsy shop. Exciting times! This will benefit my overseas customers who have found that shipping the physical book is almost as much as a copy of the book itself!
The original spiral-bound book is still available through Etsy as the “Artist’s Edition” and each one is personally assembled and signed by me. My first batch of copies had sold out, but my dear local printer ran off another batch (on high-quality 80# Lynx card stock) and I assembled and bound them at home–just like the first batch.
Heading to Amazon!
I am also in the process of creating an expanded version of my original book through CreateSpace on Amazon. It has been a time-consuming process and I am running a little behind the schedule I set for myself, but I am pretty happy with the draft. The primary illustrations are plates (printed on one side of the page only since bleed-through can be an issue on lower quality papers) but there are pages in between that will contain stories, new small drawings you can use to plan out your colors for the actual plates, coloring tips and a collection of color charts (I think about 10) that you can fill in with your own colors at the back of the book.
I asked colorists on social media about their thoughts related to CreateSpace paper and was surprised to hear how many people really liked it. Far many more than I imagined. Others said the paper wasn’t ideal, but that they copied illustrations from their books onto the paper of their choice anyway (and kept the books uncolored), so paper quality wasn’t a big deal. That surprised me, too–how many people kept a copy of a book untouched so that they could make new copies of drawings they wanted to try again. Smart! And then there were a few people who said they absolutely hated CreateSpace paper and completely avoided books published through CreateSpace. Which was what I expected would be the overwhelming majority of responses to my query. But since the mix seemed all over the board, and since I wanted to be able to get my books overseas more easily and affordably plus have more exposure through Amazon (a girl’s got to make a living), I decided to add the CreateSpace book to my collection.
For the next few weeks, I’ll be putting the finishing touches on the book, creating the cover, and wrapping up a number of small new illustrations to add into the mix. I’ll post an announcement on my blog as well as on my Instagram and Faceboook accounts when it is ready!