The elemental act of creation itself

My 30 Days Of Hand Lettering challenge has ended and the most important thing I learned is something I already knew: the best way to get your creative juices flowing is to create.

Whenever I do these 30 day creative challenges (and anyone who’s doing NaNoWriMo right now will back me up on this), I am reminded of the value of a daily practice, especially the practice of creation, pure and simple. I’m not talking about ART – the polished, finished product, the shiny, hang-it-up-in-Etsy, send-it-to-the-publisher, play-it-on-stage, put-it-on-film end result of our best artistic efforts; I’m talking about the very elemental act of creation itself, which starts with putting your ass in the chair and making something happen. When you commit to making art every single day, not everything you make (or write, or compose) will be beautiful, or even good. But it will be invaluable for the muscle that it exercises in you, and for the daily reminder that yes, you are committed to living a creative life, however messy and frustrating and maddening that commitment may sometimes be.

Because, in the end, it also feeds your soul like absolutely nothing else can.

Mark Twain


To celebrate the end of the challenge, I’m giving away art! Leave a comment on this post about your own creative practice (or about whatever else is on your mind), and just before I post again (on November 27th), I’ll choose one commenter to win a 5×7 print of any piece I hand lettered during the challenge. You can check out everything I did on my 30 Days Of Hand Lettering Pinterest board.




In shop news, for the month of November, I’m offering free shipping for all U.S. orders of $30 or more. ‘Tis (almost) the season, and art makes a great gift. Plus, I have Christmas cards:

Six watercolor winter scenes…


and six cranky Christmas critters.


Something for everyone, and you can mix and match.


Finally, I’ve joined Instagram. I’m still figuring it out, but I love it already. If you’re there, come find me!



  1. Karin on November 14, 2014 at 7:45 am

    I love your hand letterings! You always come up with something wonderful during your 30 day challenges–and make it look so easy! 🙂

    This stood out to me: “When you commit to making art every single day, not everything you make (or write, or compose) will be beautiful, or even good. But it will be invaluable for the muscle that it exercises in you, and for the daily reminder that yes, you are committed to living a creative life, however messy and frustrating and maddening that commitment may sometimes be.” Yes yes yes–that’s exactly the point of these challenges, isn’t it? Forcing yourself to write, make art, or just say YES gets you in the habit of embracing something new and unfamiliar. And the most beautiful things in life are unpredictable. When I did the 30 days of writing, I knew not everything I wrote was going to be ok. Some of it is complete crap (in my opinion, but I’m my own worst critic). But it was worth it for the parts that I do cherish and felt proud of.

  2. j on November 14, 2014 at 8:15 am

    Exactly! I think for a lot of artists, whatever their medium, it’s hard to remember that not everything you create has to be a masterpiece, that to create something beautiful, you have to be willing to make something terrible. Quite often, it’s the terrible thing that eventually turns into the beautiful one in the end. Shitty first drafts apply in every art form. Thank you, Karin. xo

  3. Jonathan Bernstein on November 14, 2014 at 8:22 am

    The only bad song I’ve ever created was the one that I didn’t allow to move from my mind to paper.

    • j on November 14, 2014 at 8:26 am

      Beautifully said, Jonathan. It reminds me of the Wayne Dyer quote: Don’t die with the music still in you. (I should hand letter that one.)

      • KjM on November 14, 2014 at 11:46 am

        😀 You should, indeed.

        • j on November 14, 2014 at 12:01 pm

          I will, now that the motion has been officially seconded. <3

  4. Travis B. Hartwell on November 14, 2014 at 9:33 am

    This is a great struggle of mine. I’m not in the habit of getting words on the paper as much as I should, so when there is something there I want to say, it doesn’t come easy. A lot of times I’ll have ideas, but they never seem to be able to come to light, because the process isn’t part of my soul yet. Or if it has been, life has got in the way so it isn’t anymore.

    • j on November 14, 2014 at 12:08 pm

      I think that happens a lot, Travis. I was talking to one of my dearest friends and she was saying that she hadn’t missed a workout day even though she’d been sick for the last few days. I was impressed because when I’m sick, I’m a baby, and I most certainly don’t work out. She said, “I have to. I know if I let myself off the hook one day, it’s easier the next time and the next time, and pretty soon I’m not working out anymore.”

      I think that’s what happens with our art(s) too. And not only do I think it gets easier and easier not to do it, I think it gets harder and harder to reengage. Our art gets all clumped together with our feelings of guilt and inadequacy for letting our practice go in the first place. But as Tanabenana says below, baby steps are the answer. I believe that. Commit to a week (or even just a couple of days) where you write something, even if it’s just a few sentences, and even if the sentences sucks, every day. Ease yourself back into your creative space. I think too often we try to do more than we really can, and then we get frustrated with ourselves and stop again.

      My thoughts, for what they’re worth. xo

  5. tanabenana on November 14, 2014 at 11:57 am

    “But it will be invaluable for the muscle that it exercises in you…”

    That is the very essence of being creative. I’ve become far too flaccid and flabby with my art. Well, except photography, which has soared. But I used to draw all the time. I was a calligrapher. I played piano—I improvised. I cooked with greater breadth and depth than I currently do. I’m passive.

    All of this is to say: I need to get doodling around again. I need to change it up. Away from my computer, that is. I just wish I had more motivation. It feels so far away and long ago.

    Baby steps. Baby steps.

  6. j on November 14, 2014 at 12:20 pm

    You’re right, it is the essence. It never ceases to amaze me how we humans get so resistant to the very things that make us whole and happy. I do it too. It’s like we understand intellectually that we will feel better when we start creating, but translating that into action is a whole other thing. That’s one of the reasons I’m constantly announcing to everyone what I’m going to do, so someone besides me will know if I did it or not. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve said to Chad, “I’m telling you I’m going to do this so you’ll ask me later if I did it.” Feel free to tell me you’re going to do something creative. I promise to ask you about it later. ; )

    And yes, baby steps. I am a big, big believer in baby steps.


    p.s. I think I want to try calligraphy in 2015. But even with that, I’ll probably take a class, so there are assignments. I’m an accountability junkie.

  7. Tana Butler on November 14, 2014 at 12:23 pm

    Oh, definitely take a class, so you can get feedback and instruction. I’m unfortunately self-taught at everything I do—but I’m about to embark on four digital courses for Photoshop, Photography, Dreamweaver, and another one I forget. I bought a package.

    I guess LEARNING is inherently creative. I’m excited to be taught!

    (You can just call me Tana. The TanaBeNana thing is just because I needed a handle.)


    • j on November 14, 2014 at 12:33 pm

      Learning is definitely creative, especially when you’re learning about the tools we use to make art. (I’m making a note, “ask Tana Photoshop questions,” for future reference.)

      Also, I like TanaBeNana because it has one meaning when you say it, and another when you read it. And it’s way better than Judy McBootie, which was one of my nicknames back in the day.

      • KjM on November 14, 2014 at 1:06 pm

        Well, “Judy” isn’t so bad (meant in all *sorts* of ways) though, with a middle name of “Jude” and going to an all-boys middle & high school, having it transmuted to “Judy” did get annoying at times (the fact that it also set up its own odd resonances in my brain is neither here nor there for the purposes of the point under discussion—but I digress, as usual) and I can see how the “McBootie” part of it could be less than amusing…wherever was I going with this?

        I dunno.

        So I should quit now while I’m ‘way behind, right? 🙂

        • j on November 14, 2014 at 1:55 pm

          I get it: McBOOTIE, behind.

          What? You don’t have a 12-year-old brain that went there? It’s just me?

          And Jude is cooler than Judy; the song isn’t “Hey Judy.”

          And just to be clear, you should never quit. ; )

          • KjM on November 14, 2014 at 4:12 pm

            “It’s just me?”

            Yup. Just you. 😮

          • j on November 14, 2014 at 6:48 pm

            It usually is. ; )

  8. Lydia on November 14, 2014 at 12:29 pm

    Huz used to tell me, when things were difficult, “go crochet something!” And he was right. Even if I just wound up ripping it out, being reminded of my capability of creation was HUGE. It literally opened my brain.

    • j on November 14, 2014 at 12:39 pm

      Me too with doodling. It feels like the fastest way to get me back in touch with me.

      I’m learning to knit right now. I just finished a scarf for Chad that took me a ridiculously long time to knit, and it’s best if you don’t look too closely. Still, there’s something very soothing about the act of knitting for me, something about the rhythm and the growing, tangible result. I don’t know if crochet is the same way, but I’m betting it is.

      • Lydia on November 14, 2014 at 12:49 pm

        more of an “it was STRING. And now it’s NOT. AND I DID THAT.” 🙂 When I learned to crochet, the girl who taught me would only do it for half an hour at a time because she said it hurt too much to watch me. 30+ years later… 😉

        • j on November 14, 2014 at 1:58 pm

          Ha! My thought was, “this poor yarn was so gorgeous, and then I did THIS to it.” But I get what you’re saying. Making something out of nothing (or a sweater out of a string as the case may be) is what this whole creating thing is all about.

  9. Pam on November 14, 2014 at 12:59 pm

    As you know, I agree that creativity is a “make stuff, make stuff, and keep on making stuff” deal. I would add–have fun at least 67.877% of the time. (Preferably more, but not really always, because doing challenging things isn’t necessarily FUN but is important.)

    Love your results on this 30 day challenge!

    • j on November 14, 2014 at 6:47 pm

      Why, thank you! And I agree 100% with your 67.877% guideline. Math for the cause! Yay!

  10. Lisa on November 14, 2014 at 1:06 pm

    Creation is a state of mind. We create art, we create our own lives. This is why I love your hand lettering of the Rumi quote about not acting small…we are all works of art in progress! I was also really excited to see your Love Warrior print in a Tshirt! I ordered one for myself. I would also love to see this print in a bumpersticker, so all of us Warriors of Love could know each other on the road 🙂

    • j on November 14, 2014 at 6:51 pm

      “Creation is a state of mind.” <--- Love that. I want the t-shirt! Thank you for ordering a t-shirt! I did make a bumper sticker for someone. Send me a note, and we can definitely get one made for you. : )

  11. KjM on November 14, 2014 at 1:23 pm

    “…committed to living a creative life, however messy…”

    There’ve been many times (oh dear, now I have “Miss you nights” by Cliff Richard wandering about my head…it’s being that kind of day) when I’ve been in the midst of creativity, in the “zone” or just doing the work of editing, and my heart (“…hath shaken with great joy…”—now I’m channeling “The Wayfarer” by Padraic Pearse) has, indeed, been shaken/shaking with joy/emotion because it is so much what I relish doing and I think, “Why can’t I always be doing this?”

    Realities, I’m afraid. (Perhaps, indeed, I am afraid.) And also it’s true that reality and I have never been BFFs.

    But, in my shambling, stumbling, way I get my rear in gear (or at least in chair) and create, much of the time. And I’m cooking again! Something I used to do, but had let fall away. Now it’s back.

    Sometimes it’s no more than food on table. Other times, so much more.

    And baking, something I never’d done, but now going for it.

    It may not be every day, but there’s evidence to suggest commitment to a creative life.

    Thank you for reminding me, J.

    And oh, by the way, good God woman you can write! I took a look at your Huff Post articles.


    • j on November 14, 2014 at 6:57 pm

      “Sometimes it’s no more than food on the table. Other times, so much more.” Love that. And I can tell the difference. I love eating the so much mores.

      And yes, yes, yes! It’s all about doing the work (or play, when we’re really lucky, and in the zone). Creativity begets creativity.

      And thank you on the HuffPo pieces. They were straight from the heart, which is always the best place to write, yes?


  12. christywilson on November 14, 2014 at 2:18 pm

    oh your cranky cards crack me up and make me so not cranky!!! i am trying to make a practice of doing fun art in the evenings with my kids…easy stuff like stamping, watercolour pencils, doodles, typewriter fun….and always some glitter glue! thanks for sharing your 30 day challenge….AND a chance to win some of the magic! xo

    • j on November 14, 2014 at 7:03 pm

      Thank you, Christy! How fun to spend evenings doing art with your kids – a glorious, glittery mess, as I envision it. xo

  13. Nancy on November 14, 2014 at 3:14 pm

    Chuckling here….a giveaway brings us out of the woodwork, eh? I think I need the cranky cards, though this year I will decorate, and have a holiday party on the 20th for my staff. I do something like this once a decade, whether I need to or not. Hehe.

    This month I have actually focused more on creativity for myself. I’ve cleaned off my desk, made it a space where I can create something – even though my desk wasn’t perfectly cleaned and I haven’t yet decided how to equip it with containers to hold my creativity tools. I’ve also taken more pictures this month than I have since the famous road trip where I met….gasp….J Clement Wall!!! Have you met her? She is fab-u-lous!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Love you,


  14. j on November 14, 2014 at 7:06 pm

    I’m chuckling too, but I’ll happily take the art-love!

    Take a picture of your clean desk – I want to see!

    As for J Clement Wall, she’s made far more fabulous by the company she keeps. xoxo

  15. Jen on November 14, 2014 at 7:57 pm

    I write every morning – getting up between 3:00 & 4:00 to fit it in around my work schedule (my Instagram account is filled with images of my morning journal). I don’t necessarily do anything with that writing; I just know that I need to do it. When i miss days because the schedule is tight or I’m somewhere that isn’t conducive to writing, I find that I lose the habit very quickly. The words don’t flow as easily; I get too damn distracted to make anything.

    …now I’d just like to get to that stage with my photography 😉

    • j on November 15, 2014 at 7:16 pm

      Wow, Jen, you’re my hero! That’s amazing. I can’t imagine getting up at 3 or 4 to do… well, really anything. I was feeling all cocky and heroic for getting up at 6:30 to walk my dog first thing. What you’re doing is much more awesome and inspirational.

      And your photography is stunning. Whatever you’re doing on that front is working!

  16. EstrellaAzul on November 15, 2014 at 5:37 am

    My creative endeavors as of late are, umm, basically nonexistent. I really want to get back to writing and blogging (Remember that little break for two months thing I meant to do until the end of summer? Yeah, it’s November.), yet somehow it eludes me.
    Hoping for a paid leave in December, during which to finally get some rest and the creative juices flowing again. I was thinking of buying X-Mas cards this year instead of making handmade ones as I have done for a couple of years now, but you and your post have inspired me not to give it up.
    Thinking I need to hold myself accountable for at least that, and I know that once I start creating something, even something as simple as a Christmas card, the creativity I put into it will feed itself and grow grow grow, hopefully into a few travel articles if not also regular blog posts.

    • j on November 15, 2014 at 7:21 pm

      Actually, I took forever to do those six Christmas cards; it wasn’t very simple!
      ; )

      I know what you mean, though. And sometimes, you do have to ease yourself back in – baby steps, as Tana said. Want me to ask you about those Christmas cards? I can be your accountability buddy.

      • Estrella Azul on November 18, 2014 at 8:56 am

        You know, I’d like that, j!

        Of course mine won’t be doodled, but they’re still be handmade and take up time. So yes, baby steps, definitely.

        • j on November 18, 2014 at 2:05 pm

          Yay! I’ll check back in a week or two! xo

  17. Patti on November 15, 2014 at 1:39 pm

    I have to make sure I am following you on Facebook.

    • j on November 15, 2014 at 7:24 pm

      Yes, we should be friends. I wholly endorse that idea. The more people to play with me over there, the better. That said, if you’re saying that because of my question to subscribers, don’t worry. I’ve gotten a lot of email responses, and everyone’s pretty much voting for me to leave it the way it is. : )

  18. Alarna Rose Gray on November 17, 2014 at 2:29 am

    Those gorgeous grumpy Christmas animals speak for me on the Christmas subject! Have missed stopping by here, but your sketches always make me smile when I spot them 🙂

    • j on November 17, 2014 at 11:59 am

      Ha! Really, as wonderful as this time of year can be, it’s also often hard, and for some people it’s downright sad and stressful. So I guess part of my motivation for creating the cranky critter cards was to acknowledge the struggle that the holidays can be. I’m glad they resonated with you. They were so fun to draw; every time I got to the point of drawing a Santa hat on a grumpy animal’s face, I’d start laughing. I told Chad, “Even if these don’t sell, I love them.”

  19. Annie Neugebauer (@AnnieNeugebauer) on November 17, 2014 at 7:54 am

    Fabulous! You know I agree with you about creating every day. (Remember AIS? 🙂 I’m glad you continue to challenge yourself and be inspired by new things. You’re always a breath of fresh air, j.

    • j on November 17, 2014 at 12:00 pm

      Ass In Seat, baby. Words to create by. Thank you, Annie. I feel the same way about you!

  20. Linda on November 17, 2014 at 10:22 am

    Your blog and art always inspires me. Sometimes it seems we are thinking the same thoughts! I really like your idea about commenting on Facebook – I think it sounds like a good idea. My office is getting a remodel today so that I have a space for writing and a space for art – no excuses about not being able to create because I don’t have time to clear the space!

    Now I need to come up with some challenges myself!

    • j on November 17, 2014 at 12:02 pm

      I admit; I’m a little jealous about your office remodel. I would so love to do that. In the meantime, yes, think of a challenge! I seriously think it’s one of the best ways to kick start a regular creative practice. Let me know when you’ve decided what you’re going to do, and I’ll cheer you on!

  21. Becky on November 19, 2014 at 4:40 am

    Is it too late?!? Did you pick a winner? Okay, okay… admittedly I haven’t read the post yet, because… a giveaway!
    And everything you create is extraordinary… so, a giveaway!!

    • j on November 19, 2014 at 5:47 pm

      Nope! Your name will be in the hat! (And thank you.)

  22. Nina Badzin on November 19, 2014 at 7:44 pm

    Oooh! Pick me pick me! Is it too late? I LOVE your work. What have I done creatively or what is my process . . . ? I work 5 mornings a week. I keep lots of lists. I’m always looking for ideas. The looking, for me, is part of the creative process.

    • j on November 19, 2014 at 10:44 pm

      Aw, Nina. I love your work! Twinsies! It is not too late. You’re in the mix. I’m off to read your latest friendship advice now! xo

  23. […] Some happy news! I drew Christy Wilson’s name from the hat and will be sending her the hand-lettered piece of her […]

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