Inspiration Found In My Basement

shelves basementEarlier this summer we cleaned out our basement. It was way overdue! Our Victorian house was built in the late 1800s, with a large walk-in brick and stone basement that is basically dry. It wasn’t until all the junk was removed that we realized what a really great space it was! We had been talking about doing some renovations to the house, taking the washer/dryer out of the basement and bringing it upstairs to eliminate carrying a laundry basket full of clothes down 2 flights of stairs. We needed more storage space, some closets and cubbies for winter clothes, boots, hats, scarves, mittens, a place besides the attic to keep our luggage and Christmas decorations and stuff. So now right in front of us was this huge new open space that had been filled with years of accumulated junk, samples of products, rejected possessions from old college dorm rooms from our three daughters, boxes of old clothing, boxes of unused pots and pans and boxes of who knows what?, etc. One side of the basement was used as a workshop by the Captain and had all his tools along with ban saws, lathes, drills and other shop items for his wooden projects. That room also had become a catchall for things we didn’t need or want anymore. When in doubt, it went down to the basement. All of a sudden there was the very large open space waiting for a little TLC. It was a revelation. Stacks of boxed items had all but hidden the assets of this large area. We had just forgotten what we had since we basically couldn’t see it anymore covered as it was. The beauty of the space was that it also had a door that went directly outside to our driveway, making access so easy to right where we park our cars.

We could redo the door and entry way and make this a new more convenient way to enter the house especially in the snowy winter months, instead of trekking up the back stairs, over the bricked in area and up the stairs to the deck and then into the kitchen. Inspired by all this wonderful new space, we quickly reevaluated what we had been discussing and met with an architect to draw up new plans. She came over with the builder and they immediately saw the potential. Within a week, new plans were drawn up for a great mudroom with tons of storage along with a workshop and office for the Captain and a large storage room to hold our holiday treasures and luggage. I went to work on the outside and redesigned the entry way to the door into the basement, met with a stone mason and came up with a wonderful plan to incorporate the landscaping with a new stone wall and brick path to our new “First Floor” of our home. In about two weeks time we start these renovations which include taking the washer/dryer and bringing it upstairs to the second floor new bathroom which will be part of a small addition that will bump out over our deck. So when I tell you that inspiration is in your everyday life and all around you, I couldn’t think of a better example than what we found in our basement! So go down and take a look in yours. Maybe you have a room or two down there waiting to be discovered!

.door to drivewayside entrancebasement plans


Boston Swan Boats

swan boatsI have been visiting the Boston Gardens since I was a very little girl. It’s a family tradition for most of us growing up in the Boston area to make the pilgrimage into the city and walk through the beautiful Public Gardens, take a ride on the Swan Boats and buy a bag of peanuts and feed the ducks. It is a spectacular place filled with magnificent gardens of colorful tulips, daffodils and all sorts of wildflowers with a lovely hand-dug lagoon lined with weeping willows that dip and sway into the water as you glide past. These iconic red and green Swan Boats have been available to families since 1877. They are long and slender with two row boat type pontoons at the base and a life-like giant swan at the rear of the boat that is peddled by a driver sitting inside the swan shape. There is no engine as the boat is basically run by the driver using a bicycle type pedal system that glides the boat around the lagoon. The pond is filled with ducks and swans and overlooks the city scape of Boston. It’s a beautiful and peaceful place filled with inspiration every where you look. From the well manicured magnificent gardens to the historic architecture surrounding the park to the statues and bridges that adorn the Boston Gardens. We visited recently bringing one of our Granddaughters to take her on this traditional family pilgrimage. I couldn’t help but think of all the times I have visited here with my Mom and Dad as a child as well as all the times we brought our own girls here for their Swan Boat ride. The famous children’s book, “Make Way For Ducklings” really put the Swan Boats on the map and the statue of all the little ducklings from the story is also here in the Public Garden and a favorite with the children! It’s really a wonderful family place. The day that we visited the park it was filled as usual with all sorts of people walking around, taking photographs and just enjoying the scenery on a particularly beautiful and very hot summer’s day. I made a few notations in my sketch book so I could create a painting of the Swan Boats when I had some time after I returned to my studio. I have now worked up this gouache painting of the Swan Boats within the skyline of Boston…thinking that perhaps it might become a hooked pillow for one of my clients? A trip representing wonderful memories of days gone by, now shared with our ten year old Granddaughter Molly. Inspiration always seems to be able find us no matter where we go!boston city scape

Inspiration on a Rainy Day.

graduation angels Every now and then I love a good rainy day and today was one of them. I had spent the day before at the beach soaking up the sunshine, enjoying the blue, blue sky, while having lunch with my friend Diane. So I was fine with staying in today and getting some work done. I find rainy days inspiring. I think it’s peaceful when it rains. It cools things off and makes everything feel fresh and clean. It’s Mother Nature doing her thing and the garden certainly needed it! I had Mozart playing in the background. The house was all clean, the laundry was done. I was free to create without hesitation or worry about other things I might have to do. I also had a project that I was working on that needed my attention and I was inspired to complete the job. As the rain picked up a bit I noticed that it was starting to get very windy. The leaves on the trees outside my studio window were bristling back and forth as I looked outside to make sure that everything was OK. We really needed the rain today so it was a good thing. It’s almost an excuse to stay in and get things done. There is no temptation to head over to the beach to steal a few hours in the sunshine or take a dip in the ocean. Or to sneak out to play in my garden since I had just bought some perennials on sale the other day that needed planting. So I pulled out all my sketches for the project I was working on. I needed to create more of my “Always An Angel” characters for various themes the client and I had discussed. I was ready to proceed. I pulled out my drawings and sketched out a number of new characters. Then I spent the afternoon painting and working on the messages that each little Angel will convey. Listening to the noise of the rain coming down has always been a favorite thing of mine to do. I like the various sounds the rain makes on the window especially when I am going to sleep. So between the pitter pat of the rain drops, the bristling of the leaves and the wind chimes in my garden and Mozart’s wonderful music I had a very inspiring day! Do you ever feel inspired on a rainy day?

West Elm Retail Inspiration

succulentsRecently I had the opportunity to visit a West Elm store while I was in Michigan.  I had received their catalog and seen the products on line, but I had never had an opportunity to visit the brick and mortar. West Elm is owned by William Sonoma out of San Francisco. They carry a contemporary line of home furnishings with everything from tabletop to furniture and wall art. What was neat about the store were the color stories they told and how they organized their product selections. Everything was labeled and grouped according to color…Cayenne, Ocean, Nightshade, Platinum, Ivory, Horseradish….and succulents were everywhere. I was shopping with my youngest daughter Sarah and she fell in love with their terrariums. Of course it brought me back to the seventies where everyone had terrariums on hand-made macrame hangers with colorful beads sporting peace and love symbols dangling from each pot. Seems they never really went out of style. I love succulents as well and have quite a few in my kitchen and some out on my deck displayed on an old wooden bench. I find them inspiring with their unusual shapes and leaf formations. The color stories were nice. Each grouping of products were represented by a color that was labeled in a frame right in front.cayenne and bisque There was one group with the color story of Cayenne that included textured woven pillows, glass bottles, lacquer trays and some pinch pots. They also included an interesting ivory bisque candle holder with holes all over the sides that allowed for the candle light to flicker through. From a design point of view, it was easy to see how you could work some of these products in your home. So many people have trouble visualizing how they can use the products they see in stores in their actual home settings. West Elm has made it easy for you to visualize. I think this kind of store is a great inspiration for us for a number of reasons. I like the way they merchandise their products according to their color stories and styles along with the simplicity of the whole layout of the store. It’s comfortable. It’s easy to walk around and see it all. There is no mystery to it. They even have a “loft” in the middle of the store for you to sit down on a comfortable sofa and take it all in. Intermingled amongst the collections here and there were these sweet little “punches of green” succulents that gave a touch of whimsy along with a texture to the whole store. I actually did a few line drawings of succulents on the plane on the way home, making notations in my sketch book of what colors predominated in the store along with what formats the designs were presented on. Just another way to find inspiration in your everyday life…..having your sketch book along for the journey is always handy…you never know what might inspire you to take out your pen and draw.

ocean and grey

ceramic texture













Be A Child At Heart…

grandkids in a line A long time ago I had an incident happen to me that has stayed with me all these years. It occurred one night after an evening out with my girlfriends, without kids or husbands. We had a lot of fun laughing, giggling and just being girls. We returned later in the evening to a friend’s house where a cookout was taking place. We continued to laugh and chat. I was being particularly silly that night! It was a carefree evening with no responsibilities. Suddenly, in the midst of our delightful evening regaling each other with stories and laughter, one of my friend’s Mother’s looked over at me with great disdain and said “Carol, when are you going to grow up!”…I  guess she thought that I was being too silly and I was taken aback by her comment, but I responded “I hope I never will!!”

I know that I am a child at heart! I love working with kids, having taught school for ten years before going full time into my design business. I love to be around them. They get so excited about the simplest things in life and are so expressive, so uninhibited that anything goes. I find it contagious being around them. When my nine Grandkids are here, I become one of them, playing and dancing and having fun right along side of them. They enjoy everything…they skip, they prance, they jump, they dance their way through life. No puddle is too big for them to plow through. There are no barriers for kids, they are curious and open and eager to learn something new. My Grandaughter Tessa was over one day helping me in the garden. She was about 10 or 11 at the time. She looked up at the pink Madevilla vine growing on a trellis in a whisky barrel nearby and found a teeny tiny frog peeking out from inside the blossom. Immediately she had to pick him up and talk to him and of course name him. He was very cute and very very small. But, she took it a step further by finding an old cardboard box and making a home for her new little friend. She added grasses and a small dish of water for him to enjoy. She wrote his name on the outside of the box. She was so inspired  by what Mother Nature had created that as a result, she then created an environment for the frog to live in. Mother Nature=inspiration=creativity!!

I think many people as they age and become adults loose that “sweet spot” in their life. They actually forget how to have fun and laugh. They get a bit too serious and seem to forget that child that they once were. They only do things they think are meaningful, not frivolous or carefree. Perhaps that was the problem for my friend’s Mom that evening so long ago. She just couldn’t relate! Finding your “Inner Child” is important to maintaining that balance in life. My Dad was a good example of this. He was a senior Vice President of a prestigious local bank in our area. He wore a suit to work everyday. And yet, underneath that very proper banking exterior beat the heart of a child. He loved kids and they loved him. He was the kind of Dad that got “down on the floor” and actually played with us. He made things with us in his workshop. He played games and made games for us to play. He taught us all about animals, which he loved. We not only raised parakeets and had several dogs in our house, but we had boa constrictors, owls, milk snakes, turtles and other various creatures that he would come across and welcome. Sometimes he would come up the garden steps and then quickly vault over the garden fence because he could. He had a twinkle in his eye all the time and people loved that about him. As a result, he was very creative and inspired by so many things. He took oil painting and pottery lessons well into his later years. He carved birds and pineapples and mushrooms out of wood. He entered art shows and won ribbons. He made furniture. He maintained a beautiful garden. He raised orchids. He wrote poetry and stories. We always had the best Halloween costumes and our pumpkins were the envy of everyone in our neighborhood. My Dad was a true Renaissance Man…because he never forgot his “Inner Child”.

That ability to find inspiration all around us in life is there for everyone. We just have to tap our “Inner Child” and recall what made us so happy and so uninhibited in the first place! There is something so remarkable about the ability of a child to be so receptive to everything they see. They don’t see the reasons why NOT to do something. They just simply DO it. They are curious and eager to learn about things and they act like a sponge as they absorb all that surrounds them.

So, my suggestion for you today is to become “Young at Heart”….and when that next rainy day comes around, make sure to run through the puddles ….in fact…stomp your feet and splash around in them…get wet, throw the umbrella away and feel the rain on your face…be playful and youthful and say hello to your “Inner Child” that is still waiting for you to play with them once again!!

Art Supplies….love at first sight!!

Years ago there use to be this show on TV that gave you the opportunity to win so many minutes in a grocery store race running up and down the aisles picking out whatever food items you wanted then tallying up the total at the check out to see who spent the most money. Then that person would win all the food that they had collected.
paint and brushes  For me, I always wished it was an Art Supply Store instead of a grocery store. As long as I can remember my senses would be on fire when my parents would take me to an art supply store to get new art stuff. When I was a freshmen in college, we were required to buy a freshman kit that was made up of a variety of art supplies we could use over the four year Degree program, including a variety brushes, all sorts of paints, pencils, papers, knives for mat cutting, erasers, compass, etc. I still can recall the excitement of receiving my “kit” and touching each and every one of the wonderful contents inside the kit. I could hardly wait to use each and every one of them. I still have the large yellow water color brush that was in my Freshman kit! When I go to an art supply store I usually have to stop and take a deep breathe before I enter the store. Everything is so inspiring, so colorful, so useful, so intriguing that I have to almost scan the entire store, taking it all in very quickly, then slowly and carefully as I proceed up and down each magical aisle to look at every single item that they carry while trying to figure out how I can justify buying them all. For years Santa Claus would bring me art supplies in my stocking for Christmas. He knew my love of art! One year he brought me my first oil painting set, complete with a wooden carrying case with a very large red bow and filled with over a dozen brand new tubes of wonderfully intoxicating oil paints along with these very cool long oil paint brushes, varnish and turpentine. I was so excited. Then my Dad bought me an easel to use with the oil paints so I could look really professional…I was only 13 years old! And what artist doesn’t want her own studio, so he made a studio room for me down in our basement and built me a desk so I would have a place to do my drawings. I thought I had died and gone to Heaven! A Studio…my own oil paints …an easel…I mean how cool was that! I often got new supplies for my birthday. Whenever we traveled to someplace new, I had to find the local art supply store as soon as we settled in. When I was in college I studied in Italy for a while. I can still remember going into this small art shop in Florence and seeing all the simply gorgeous Florentine art papers that were hand-made there along with beautiful brushes and pigment colors. While others were shopping for leather and shoes, I was happily in love with all the hand-made art papers imprinted with gold leaf highlights. It was a “Disneyland” for artists. I couldn’t believe how wonderful the shop was…….. it was overwhelming and so inspiring. I wanted to live there!  And, along with that feeling of awe and desire to own it all, I was inspired to see what new mediums I could work markers in a mugwith. What special quality does that type of paint have that might help me in my designing? How do these graphite pencils work when I am sketching? Does the paper inside this sketch book work with pen and ink or only pencil and how will my drawings look with the texture of this type of paper? Each new supply wasbleed proof white an opportunity to me to try something special. It’s like when you are a kid and you get that first box of crayons and the great smells of the crayons all together take over your senses and all the colors are lined up so majestically in the box and how perfect each crayon was since it had never been used…why it was the most wonderful thing to get those creative juices flowing! And, how cool was it to have a large box of crayons that had a sharpener built into the box? To this day, I still am that little kid who is all excited when I go into an art supply store. The packaging of the supplies, the multiples of brushes, paints and papers to choose from, the stacks of unique supplies that I have no idea really what they do, the drawers of pastel chalk, the boxes of gouache paint, the plastic containers, the rulers and compasses, the bins of erasers and the enormous and massive amounts of pens…all kinds of pens you can draw and sketch with…….. and what opportunities they may enable you to create with and what fabulous designs you will come up with as a result of having them in your possession. It’s love at first sight!


Surround Yourself….

me painting …………… surround yourself with things that you love, things that make you happy, things that you enjoy looking at anstudio bookshelvesd things that could potentially inspire you. My studio is a place like that. It is filled to the brim with lots of wonderful things including samples of many of my products that I have designed over the years. Sometimes I look at them and wonder what I could have done differently? What could I do now to make them more fun, make them have more function, make them better…. be more in the “now”? I also have a few little things here and there that I especially love like little gifts my girls have given me, special mementos from the Captain, photos, toys, things I collect from our many trips and things that are just fun to look at. Just a few life is beach salt pepssunglass spreadersyears ago I had a couple of clients who came to visit my studio to discuss a potential licensing deal. As they stepped in the studio they both just let out this very loud GASP almost in unison! They were dumbfounded as to all that was around them!! I pulled out a couple of chairs and they sat down with pen and paper in hand and started writing what they liked as they looked around the room. They both agreed that seeing all these samples of products that I had designed was very inspiring to them. It gave them ideas for more products! The Art Director looked at a product she particularly liked and suggested we do this and that to it…. we’ll make it a bit larger and give it a function! It was great to see their reaction! As a result of that meeting I ended up designing a small collection for Pier One that did very well!  I think it is the same for me when I am creating something. I look around at products from past licensing deals and I still find inspiration. Each of us has our comfort zones and I think that surrounding yourself with all of that you love can only help you to feel warm and creative and inspired! When I am designing in my “nest” the rest of the world just spins by as I happily create inside. Immerse yourself in whatever you love…be it antiques, vintage fabrics, collectibles, game boards, old photographs and see how that creates a wonderful environment for you to be inspired.
samples on shelves shelf with products

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Being Curious……

be curious inkAre you curious? I am. There is so much around us all the time that it’s really hard not to be curious I think. I notice everything around me, especially the colors of things. I often refer to the “Paynes Grey” sky on a stormy day or the “Azure blue” ocean when the sun is shining down on the sand under the sea. I am also curious to learn more about how things work, how they are put together and what makes them function so well. Doing product development all these years has made me think as much about the function of an item as well as the design.  Being curious gets us thinking. You wonder about things, you want to learn something more. You are inquisitive and as a result, you learn something new. We are eager to learn about new things. It makes us sit up and take note of something we see that interests us…and perhaps that very thing that we are wondering about will inspire us. So I suggest that you act like a sponge…absorb it all in…it will nurture you and make your mind turn over with excitement for something new. It’s like feeding the brain with fertilizer…called curiosity. It makes it grow and keeps it fresh and alert. I love to get excited about something new as I discover whatever that thing is that inspires me to look further. So just a short thought today to try to be really curious about your world and all that is in it. You might want to draw something that you find and put it in your sketch book or at least give it more than a fleeting glance. Who knows what you may find? It’s good to wonder and be curious.sharpie

Keeping A Sketch Book and “Sky Sketching”

keep a sketch bookKeeping a sketch book is not only fun, but it’s a great exercise to keep your drawings skills fresh and current! I carry a sketch book with me that just fits into my bag so I can jot down ideas as I go along or do a sketch of something I find interesting along the way. When we travel on a major trip, I write in the book every day, using it as a journal as well as a sketch book. Later after our return, I have a wonderful record of where we went and what we saw as well as thoughts, ideas, sketches, drawings and all sorts of information that I can review and read over later. It’s nice to be able to recall what I saw and what excited me enough to jot it down in the first place. I often refer to these sketch books many weeks afterwards, especially when I am putting together my photos to make sure I have the accurate name of what the place that the photo depicts. I love to look them over and see what ideas I can glean from them as well as any concepts I created from something that inspired me. So think about that, it’s really a good way to keep your sketches together in one place, dating them as you go and even just to use as an everyday idea book. It becomes a reference for you as you sit down to create something new to have these to look over and refer to as earlier ideas that you came up with. Let me share with you a few of my sketches to show you how I keep them and add to them with color swatches or other materials that are generated later on…you never know what might come out of these sketches and often I do refer to them as I am thinking about what I might create next for a design. I always seem to sketch on airplanes and have literally dozens of books of concepts that I have thought of as we are winging our way in the “friendly skies”. Sketching is also very cathartic I think…just link your brain to your hand and let her rip…I have created many product lines “Sky Sketching” over the years…just put the tray table down in front of you, sit back take out your book and your pen and enjoy the ride!sketches 1sketches 3

beach sketchbeach sketches 2beachwalk sketch 1

Mother Nature

a photo of geranium leaves

Mother Nature always has such wonderful examples of creations that can inspire us. They are all around us all the time. One just has to “OBSERVE” and notice them. This gorgeous chartreuse colored geranium has the most amazing “hand-painted” looking leaves. Within the lighter chartreuse color in the center of each leaf is a darker color green that almost looks like someone came along with a paint brush and made these marks…… just intrigued me. Each one seemed unique with the placement of the darker green color moving from the center of the leaf to the left or right of the center on some of the leaves. I photographed the geranium to use as reference material and then I sketched a leaf on drawing paper and inked it in.

inked leaf Each leaf is different. Some of the centers have a more dark green pattern than others. Some have just a trace of the darker color and not always in the center. Mother Nature likes to mix it up a bit for us so we never get bored! I loved the leaf. The color is dreamy. The shape of the leaf is so sweet and perfect. I was in awe. I studied it and then decided to carve the image of the leaf that I drew into a rubber block so I could print them and create some new designs. Perhaps they would be for note cards or a little garden collection of tags. I wasn’t necessarily clear on the final outcome, I just thought that having the ability to print the leaves would give me some creative flexibility.

leaf carving blockSo I traced the drawing that I had sketched of the leaf onto some tracing paper and then rubbed the traced pencil image onto a rubber block. The imprint of the leaf comes right off on the rubber block, but I just darkened the image a bit with a pencil to make sure it was easy to see before I started to carve into the block. After I carved out the leaf image, I stamped it onto a green ink pad and then printed a bunch of leaves on the paper. I added a bit of marker to create the darker green hand-painted look of the actual leaf detail I described. I am not sure what my final design application of this leaf will be, but I wanted to show you an example of how something as small as  just a single leaf can inspire us to create! Sometimes doing this sort of exercise will get the old creative juices flowing and one thing will lead to another idea and before you know it you are making note cards and stamping tags for gifts and creating your own wrapping paper…really the sky is the limit as to what you can come up with…so enjoy and let Mother Nature take you for a creative journey! She is always a wonderful travel companion!

leaf print samplesgreen leaves on tags