Monthly Archives: February 2016

Drum Roll, Please!


Tonight I’m unveiling my latest creative endeavor: a Paris-themed coloring book. It takes about 50 hours to draw one of my books. I start with printing the lettering on heavy weight drawing paper, followed by sketching the main pictures in pencil. Then I go back  over those in ink, erasing any stray pencil marks. Next, I use an ultra fine sharpie to draw in all of the designs that fill the page. When all the drawing is done, I scan them into the computer and create a quarter-inch border to frame them out.

Filling the page is actually one of the  elements that sets my books apart from others; I fill the paper without repeating the main design over and over. (Yes, there is repetition in background elements like flowers, hearts, grids, etc., but even these are varied somewhat.) Don’t get me wrong, there are some really great coloring books on the market (I’m particularly fond of Creative Cats by Marjorie Sarnat), but many others leave me nonplussed. For example, I love some of the mandala books, but I dislike that half the page is empty white space. (I know, using the negative space is a design element. I just don’t like all of that emptiness when I’m coloring because it feels like wasted paper to me, so I usually end up drawing in a bunch of doodles around the center image to fill up the page.) I’ve also seen some coloring books that fill the page, but do so by repeating the same design over and over. While a theme is fine, I prefer some variation. I love seashells, but I don’t want to color 12 of them that are exactly alike lined up in rows on my paper. (I guess my creative side rebels against that level of organization.) Of course, this perfect repetition also makes me feel like the image is computer generated, or perhaps an artist drew the first one, scanned it in, and then tiled it to fill the paper. Either way, it’s just too perfect for me.

Another element that sets my books apart is the paper. The covers are made from 90 lb. recycled cardstock while the inside pages are printed on 70 lb Rainforest Alliance Certified 
Vellum. I’ve tried several kinds of pens, markers, and watercolor techniques with good results. (Only the Sharpies really show through to the back of the paper, but even they don’t bleed on to the next page.) In addition, the binding is always on the short side or top of the page to allow more room for moving your hand around and getting to small areas of the design.

As  you can see, a lot of thought goes into creating a coloring book around here. So without further ado, here are some pictures to give you an idea of how the new book turned out. If you’d like to see this book (or other themes: Cats, By the Sea, Bugs and Butterflies, Angels!)  in person, we will be at the American Legion Cruise-In for Vets car show on Saturday, March 5 at Poston Butte High School in San Tan Valley. Books are also available on the “Color Your Own” tab of this blog or by contacting me via email ( or on Facebook.




Buying Local Helps Us All


This week my Advanced Placement English Language and Composition students practiced writing a timed essay that required them to synthesize six short sources dealing with the locavore movement. (Locavores are people who get the majority of their foods from local sources.) As I read their essays debating the merits  of purchasing locally-grown foods, I thought about how the buying local idea applies to all products and services. While I realize that it is not always possible to buy something made locally, when we do it helps our communities in many unseen ways.

For example, this weekend a nearby neighborhood is holding a craft fair on its greenbelt. The vendor fee is low – making it attractive to small businesses like mine – and half of the fee (along with funds from a raffle) goes to help a veteran with medical bills. So, the small amount of money I pay helps someone who has honorably served our country; helps the small business that is organizing the event, who will pay local employees and buy goods at local stores; helps the local economy through sales tax revenues generated by purchases; and helps the small business vendors who use the money gleaned to grow their businesses and pay for local goods and services.

The revenue is not the only impact local business have on our community. Studies have shown that small, independently owned operations contribute to social capital and civic engagement. Think about the craft festival again. It is a fundraising event to help someone within our community. Participating makes me feel good because it allows me to help a neighbor. It makes me feel like I am part of a larger community that cares about others. It doesn’t matter that I don’t personally know this man. His service is important to me, and this is one way I can show my appreciation. As a matter of fact, service (in general) is important within communities, and I don’t mean the kind that high school kids do just so they can get a seal on their diploma or put down hours on a college application. I mean the kind of service that requires a real commitment: service to your family, to your faith, to your students and schools, to your neighbors, to your country, etc. This kind of service comes from being an active community member. Small businesses are at the heart of that community contributing (according to some studies) as much as 250% more to non-profits than large businesses.

In addition, small businesses provide an interesting array of goods, frequently upcycling someone’s discards into something useful and artistic. When you purchase from an artist or a crafter, you are purchasing something unique and interesting – something you won’t see on every shelf in every big box store this season. This also adds to a sense of community because it draws attention to the diverse talents that our neighbors possess and (sometimes) pushes us to find our own latent aptitudes while maintaining a one-of-a-kind vibe in an increasingly homogenized world.

So next time the opportunity arises, take a look at that local shop on the corner, eat at the little mom and pop place down the street, or browse through a farmer’s market and craft fair for the ingredients to a great meal or for a great gift. You’ll be helping your corner of the world in a myriad of ways.

If you’d like to read more about the impact small businesses have on communities throughout North America, take a look at the summaries of studies put together by the Institute of Local Self-Reliance.

Bling Makes Everything Better


I’ll admit it: I’m a clutz, and as a clutz I have spent my fair share of time in casts, boots, slings, and braces. Each time I am prescribed a supportive device I consider decorating it in some way. I’ve thought about doodling all over casts, sewing bits of colorful fabric to slings, and adding embroidered touches to braces. Each time, however, something stops me. I’m afraid it will look silly, or I’m afraid it won’t match the clothes I want to wear next week, or I’m afraid people will make fun of me. You get the picture.

Yesterday I learned that I have a nasty diagonal break in one of my toes (Did I mention that I’m not very graceful?) and I’ll have to wear a small post-op boot for two to four weeks. Even though I requested something in pink camo or leopard print, the nurse returned with basic bulky blah black. Immediately, I told the doctor I might have to “bling it out,” to which he replied, “I wouldn’t expect anything less from you, Jenny.” Well, that did it. It was practically a challenge, after all. So after my Lochinvar picked up some supplies and took me home, I set about doing something fun to my new fashion accessory.

I considered scraps of lace but decided they were too light and airy for such a big shoe. Then I looked at braided sequin trim, but it was black and just too subtle. Finally, I settled on some big blingy rhinestones. “That’s the ticket,” I told myself (with Lochinvar’s encouragement) as I arranged them on the top of the boot. But, just as I was about to apply the first drop of glue, I almost stopped. Those same nagging questions of how others would perceive me (and my obnoxious boot) popped into my head. Only this time, something else popped in, too.

I remembered a television show called “Pushing Daisies” (2007-2009) that had a couple of “crazy aunt” characters, one of whom wore an eye patch. Every time she was on the screen, that eye patch matched her outfit. Those patches had jewels, rickrack, flowers, brocade – you name it, it was fair game as an embellishment. At the time, I admired how the writers had the character own that “disability” in a humorous way. I liked that there were never excuses about having a whacky eye patch because she was crazy, just acceptance that it was an extension of herself.

As I thought about that character, I started gluing on the rhinestones. After all, if the boot is going to be an extension of me for any length of time, I might as well own it, too. Today, when I wore it to school, I even wore a dress so everyone could get a good look at my handiwork! To my surprise, people didn’t laugh at the boot. They laughed with me about the silliness of the whole thing, and many of them admired my glitzy shoe and my chutzpah for wearing it. My students thought it was fun, and several of them (who had been in such devices before) said they wish they had decorated theirs. Even my boss liked it and said I should sell them!

So, even though I have to wear this clunky boot, I have proven a primary fashion rule about confidence being the biggest part of any look. If you’re going to wear it, rock it! This idea holds true for pretty much everything we do in life as evidenced by such tried and true wisdom as “Go big or go home,” “If you’ve got it, flaunt it,” and (my personal favorite) “No guts, no glory.” Sometimes, I just need to remember who I am. Now, I wonder what I can do to dress up those arthritis gloves I’m always wearing.


Think Ink


A few days ago a friend and I were talking about coloring books and our favorite pens / pencils. I confessed that I really am not a pencil person (though I do enjoy watercolor pencils) but I love markers. I usually use Ultra Fine Sharpies, but I’ve recently come to enjoy my Zig Clean Color Real Brush Watercolor Pens (24 pack) because the colors are vividly bright and they blend well. These pens, as you might expect, are a little more expensive than many others (though they’re probably in the medium range for price), and my friend laughed and called me a “pen snob.” While it’s true that I love pens, markers, paints, pretty much any kind of inky substance, I never thought of myself as a “snob.” After all, I’m interested in a good bargain as much (if not more than) most people. As a matter of fact, I actually got a bargain on my Zig Pens, but I had to order them from an importer and wait for them to ship on a slow boat from Japan. So, in response to her admonition that “Some of us can’t afford fancy markers,” I took a trip to Dollar Tree and purchased a set of each kind of colored pen to give them a go. Some were keepers, and some weren’t. Here’s what I found out:

The package of 20 fine tip markers is pretty good for coloring.  The colors are vibrant and the fine tips make it easy to color details. The markers weren’t overly wet and didn’t bleed through the paper. (Though I always put a piece of card stock under the page I’m coloring, just in case.) They were a little on the scratchy feeling side, but gave good coverage. In addition, the barrels are pretty slim, so they were didn’t play well with the arthritis in my fingers. However, adding on soft grips (also available at Dollar Tree) would remedy that easily enough. Overall, these are a good choice if you don’t want to fork out much money, if you go through markers quickly, your kids play with them, or your friends walk away them at the end of a coloring party.

This package of mini gel pens is a great size to carry in your purse or backpack. The colors are vivid and the coverage is good (comparable to other gel pens I’ve purchased at a craft store). As with other gel pens I’ve used, I had to flick the ends a few times to get the ink going (Since the gel ink is thicker, it can be a little persnickety.) However, once the ink started flowing, I didn’t have any problems with them. Since they are so small it might be necessary to put them in a little zipper bag to keep them from getting lost in the bottom of a bag, and (like the other skinny pens) a soft, fat grip would improve ease of use. Overall, these worked pretty well if you want a miniature set of coloring pens to take on the go.

These skinny stick pens came in two sets – neon and metallic. The ink flowed more smoothly than the gel in the mini pens, especially the metallic colors which have a pearly finish. The coverage is good with a nice opacity. Again, they could use some grips, but I would buy these for the vividness of the neons and the lovely metallic sheens.

This set of three gel pens have an attractive design and a comfort grip built into the barrel. However, the grip was in the wrong place for me (which shows the advantage of adding your own), and I had trouble getting them started. I actually had to take the end off the pens, pull out the ink cartridge, and shake it down several times before these would write. They had a scratchy feel even after the ink began to flow and took a couple of fine lines off the design. I wouldn’t buy these again.

While I don’t usually color with ball point pens, the nostalgia factor on this one is irresistible. I had a four color pen when I was in high school that enabled me to doodle up the margins of every notebook in red, blue, green, and black. So, when I saw this pen with ten colors, I knew it had to go home with me. As with any ballpoint pen, the coverage for coloring isn’t ideal. It takes a couple of coats to get an opaque area, and by then the ink may soak through or the ball point may tear the page if it’s thin. However, this pen was so much fun (and comfortable because of the fat barrel), it has to go to school with me so I can doodle my way through dull meetings.

This set of three ball point click pens seemed like a fun choice for the bright colors and comfort grips, which were soft and easy to hold. The coverage was pretty average for a ball point, but they were annoying because the ink kept cutting out. I tried just writing to see if that worked better, but it didn’t change the performance. I wouldn’t even buy these to grade papers.

I like the candy stripe look of these ballpoint pens, and they worked better than the rest of the ballpoints with smoother ink and better coverage. The colors are cute and they have a fine tip to get into small spaces. However, they are VERY skinny and need a grip to be comfortable for more than a few minutes. I like these, though, and I would buy them for grading and doodling. (I’m just not crazy about coloring with ball point pens.)


As you can see, I didn’t even get to color with this set of ProMarx Grip pens. The grip was too hard to really be of any benefit, and only two of the pens worked. (Trust me, I tried to get the other two going!) These weren’t worth the dollar I paid for them.