Sketches from the garden

My partner, Roger, and I walk to the community garden in our complex twice each day. In the morning, we water, prune, harvest, transplant, tend the compost bin and check for multi-legged interlopers. In the evening, when the sun has mercifully dropped behind the buildings, we visit again to admire it's beauty and end the day surrounded by the quiet miracle of nature.

Our community garden is set up on a circular pattern, with an outer, community ring and an inner, private ring.

 Our community garden. The inner ring consists of private gardens, ours is on the left, with roses in bloom, and the outer ring is open to the community, with herbs, flowers, and veggies for clipping.

Our community garden. The inner ring consists of private gardens, ours is on the left, with roses in bloom, and the outer ring is open to the community, with herbs, flowers, and veggies for clipping.

Gardens are a kaleidoscope of color, mostly shades of green punctuated with bright spots of red, orange, purple, pink, and yellow. Sometimes, in the morning, when we walk up to the garden, the sun will be hitting a hibiscus bloom or bright yellow sunflower in such a way that the bloom seems lit from within. The beautiful green foliage falls away from the spotlight in deference to the intense, vibrant colors of the bloom.

Sometimes nature lets you know, with color, when you should pay attention to your crops, and sometimes, the edible treats blend in amongst the foliage, rewarding the patient observer. Little green tomatoes and lovely green okra captured my attention on one visit, as they sit amongst the green leaves.

 ©2015 Joan Chamberlain. All artwork and illustrations contained throughout this website may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission of Joan Chamberlain Designs.

©2015 Joan Chamberlain. All artwork and illustrations contained throughout this website may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission of Joan Chamberlain Designs.

 ©2015 Joan Chamberlain. All artwork and illustrations contained throughout this website may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission of Joan Chamberlain Designs.

©2015 Joan Chamberlain. All artwork and illustrations contained throughout this website may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission of Joan Chamberlain Designs.

Why do I like to draw food?

I feel the need to explain my fascination with food. It starts in the garden. Many people seem to be intimidated by growing things, as if a “green thumb” is a genetic trait they weren’t endowed with at birth. Green thumbs are acquired, like any skill, through patient experimentation, observation, a tolerance for delayed gratification, and a willingness to change course. I know, it sounds tedious, but I think it must be like any sport, where one perfect “hit, swing, basket, shot" is all it takes to hook you for life. The rewards of the garden are nothing short of transcendent. To watch a mere speck of a seed, that could be brushed away, mistaken for a speck of dirt, turn into a Jurassic vine that sprouts enormous globes of delicious cantaloupe is an indescribable joy - until some sneaky four-legged critter discovers its delights as well. 

Harvesting fruits and vegetables from one’s own garden is not only satisfying for the actual food it puts on our table, but it heightens one’s appreciation for the endless supply of nearly perfect produce that ends up in our grocery stores. How on earth do they get carrots that look like that?! Here are the carrots from my garden:

They’re itty-bitty, with lovely green, frilly tops, and I love them. We chop them up and add them to our salads like little orange jewels. Vegetables and fruits are as interesting and colorful as flowers - just look around the produce department. The colors, textures, shapes. It’s like that bar scene in Star Wars - there are some of the most improbable shapes and textures, all just sitting there like the familiar apple. How can you not want to draw this stuff?

 The humble horned melon.

The humble horned melon.

Back to the drawing "table"

On the heels of returning home from Surtex, my partner and I headed out to the opposite coast to attend a wedding in Atascadero, CA.

 Roger and I enjoying a gorgeous day at his niece's wedding in the rolling hills of Atascadero, CA.

Roger and I enjoying a gorgeous day at his niece's wedding in the rolling hills of Atascadero, CA.

As beautiful as it was, I don't recommend covering two coasts in a week. It took me that long after returning home to know when was an appropriate time to get up or go to bed.

My equilibrium returned yesterday when I finally got back to my drawing board.  In the interest of authenticity, I will reveal my "drawing board" as a spot in my guest room, right by the window that looks out onto the lovely plaza at the complex where we live. From this perch, I can keep up with the French Open on tv, keep an eye on the plaza, and spend hours drawing with a fine mesh of screen between me and nature. There are more convenient areas in my home for me to work, but my propensity to create a spot by a window where I can see what's going on in the world wins every time.

In the last home I owned, I had created a lovely art studio that had garden doors that opened out onto the patio. I had a beautiful fountain installed that gurgled gently in the background, flowers and bird feeders were in view whenever I looked out the garden doors. So why I almost never created art in that room must reside in some childhood preference not defined by adult logic. I preferred the dining room table at the front of my house where large windows looked out past my front patio and onto the street and any activity passing by.

I guess most artists dream of a spacious studio with ample northern light and plenty of space to store all of our tools. At the moment, I'm perfectly content to gather my tools, a cool drink, and occupy the sunny spot by the window.

Reflections on exhibiting at Surtex

My head has been spinning since Surtex 2015 wrapped. That's a double-edged sword. There's this glorious creative stew of ideas weaving their way through my thoughts and daydreams, calling out for concrete, tangible expression. I was up at 4 a.m. CST this morning because I just had to put pen to paper to unload my thoughts. And that's the other side of the sword - so many thoughts on art to be made, marketing ideas to be implemented, people to thank, new contacts to reach out to, trip advisor reviews to post on all of the incredible restaurants where I had memorable meals, and the list goes on. I'm new to this and keenly aware that I need a system for managing the multi-armed hydra that is Surtex!

Before I take you along on that journey (in subsequent posts), let me list a few immediate thoughts about the show and the city:

  • There is no shortage of artistic talent in this world.
  • Most artist/entrepreneurs are amazingly generous with their knowledge and resources.
  • Speak to as many people as possible. You never know who you will meet, or what you will learn that could dramatically affect your business.
  • Feedback on your art is enormously helpful, but simply listening and observing can be worth the price of admission.
  • Arrive early each day and stroll the aisles. Inspiration is everywhere, and there's no better time to take it in than when the aisles are relatively empty.
  • NYC is still one of the craziest places on the planet. Never say "Well, now I've seen it all!", because, guaranteed, you will see something even weirder around the next corner.
  • Buckle your seat belt when you take a cab ride.

One final thought (well, not really, the thoughts just keep coming): I am declaring a Creative Calendar Year, like most companies have a fiscal year, that runs from Surtex to Surtex. I know there will be other events or input from other sources throughout the year, but the sheer amount of new information generated at Surtex makes it the winner in the creative ideas category.

Surtex begins in less than 24 hrs!

We arrived in New York two days ago and I took the opportunity to set up my booth on Friday, May 15th, the first available day for set-up. Thanks to all of the wonderful artists who blogged about their past experiences setting up, it was fast and painless. The Contact strips work beautifully for hanging posters and banners. I was finished in just under 2 hours. 

I'll bring my portfolios, postcards, and business cards in the morning and look forward to the start of the show.
 Wish me luck!

Three-ring circus: Part II

Once committed to exhibiting at Surtex, I decided to follow Tara Reed's suggestion and develop my portfolio with a minimum of 12 collections, and approximately 100 images. I set up a list of items necessary to do the show, i.e. business cards, banners, handouts, portfolio, etc. and a time frame for the 6 1/2 months leading up to the show. My items list has changed very little over the last few months, but my calendar has undergone some major changes.

There are many incidental things that crop up as one moves toward a trade show that require a fair amount of time, like producing ads for various publications, obtaining insurance, filing copyright, writing press releases. I'm not new to trade shows, but I am new to exhibiting at Surtex, so many of these things had to be generated for the first time.

I printed out full page month-by-month calendars and worked backwards from the show date, developing a time frame for printing, shipping, and actual creation of artwork. Some weeks I got ahead of schedule, and some weeks I swapped projects for unexpected things that came up.

My general plan of focusing on creating the art first, then taking care of the administrative items, seems to have worked well so far. I was able to create the minimum amount of art I needed for the show, with the hopes of creating more after I got all of the necessary administrative items taken care of. I can create art up until the last minute, but I can't leave the printing till the last minute, just in case something has to be redone.

One thing that made a big difference for me as I began this process was a discussion that Tara Reed and Paul Brent offer on branding. Paul has a lot of great information on focusing one's art for a strong brand. I viewed each piece of art and marketing material through the lens I got from that course, and I feel it has helped me understand my art and my process so much better.

So, here we are a month out from Surtex. All of my ad copy is in, insurance forms supplied, booth counter and electricity ordered, banners are at the printer, business cards and handouts have arrived, copyright filed, portfolio printing is underway, hotel and airfare taken care of. My next item of business is working on my press kit and reaching out to my target audience. To that end, I took an excellent webinar from Jeanette Smith on PR for Licensors (, which I will be working through. Stay tuned. The plates are still spinning….


Three-ring circus: Part I

 April 16, 2015

Preparing to exhibit at Surtex for the first time is a grand plate-spinning act, and the closer it gets to the actual show, the more plates appear.

I decided to exhibit at Surtex 2015 in November of 2014. I knew that was a tight window given that I had NO portfolio for licensing. I had exactly 10 pieces - 6 large botanical drawings of fruits and vegetables and 4 smaller ones. I had sent those images to 6 art licensing agents, expecting an enthusiastic response as I had in 2002 when I sent out my portfolio of floral images to 12 publishers. The response? Crickets. So, what would possess me to think exhibiting at Surtex was a good idea?

I was going to be in New York in May with my partner - he had a conference to attend - so I knew I would attend Surtex at the very least. When I thought about walking through the aisles, looking at other artists' booths, I knew I would regret not being one of them. So I decided to go all in.

I started with an online search of agents and artists that I found on the Surtex website of previous exhibitors. I quickly realized that art licensing had changed rather dramatically since I had submitted that first portfolio. I had gotten an immediate, positive response from a third of the publishers I approached based on individual images of botanical subjects. There were no coordinating patterns or borders or holiday images.

I came across Tara Reed's website ( and decided to take her licensing course so I could get up to speed on how to approach the licensing market 12 years after my first foray. Her course provided the structure I needed to get back in the game.

Thank you, Tara. You are generous, knowledgeable, and inspiring. Looking forward to meeting you in NYC!


Spring Forward

Welcome! For my first blog post, I'm going off topic. As much as I love creating art for licensing, my attention wanders when spring appears. There are flowers to plant, seeds to disperse in the vegetable garden, and birds to watch.

Spring delivers so many delights. If the winter holidays are anticipated for their delectable, once-a-year, edible treats, springtime delivers on a whole other sensual level. The bright, backlit, lime green baby leaves sprouting all along tree branches, the jolly yellow daffodils and goblet-sized tulip heads bobbing in the breeze, and the birds - my favorite. "My" doves are back, shopping the window boxes for their next nursery. My joy can hardly be contained. An opportunity to watch another nest be built, twig by twig, into a perfectly imperfect little circle which will contain two lovely little white eggs.

And then that magical day, after several weeks of parental vigilance, a teeny ball of fuzz emerges, then another. I watch as mom and dad take turns feeding the babies. They're greedy little buggers. They grow until the fuzz gives way to feathers, barely covering the architecture of the spines that will support their weight as they fly.

I've watched two broods hatch and fly away, and it looks like another dove couple will choose one of our window boxes for a new generation of dovlets. I've seen it all before, and still I can't wait to watch again.

Dove couple 2014