How to be Happier and More Effective In Life

Another journal transcription, this one I’m putting up to share with family.

*When crisis or events truly beyond our control happen, this perspective refers to how we react to what we can control.

An internal locus of control refers to feeling that you yourself are in charge of your life, the choices you make lead to success or failure, rather than external forces exerting pressure on you to bend you to their will. Those with an external locus of control are more likely to feel victimized, blame others, be pessimistic, focus on “what if” scenarios, have less resilience, and greater apathy. They sometimes become manipulative, reasoning that others are manipulating them, in an attempt to gain control of the external world that provides them with validation.

Internal locus of control shows higher rates of happiness, less stress, and more feelings of being empowered. The opposite perspective is sometimes framed as being faith in that a higher power will controls one’s life, but the two can be merged when seeing that God gave us free will and wants us to use it, to learn and grow, and affect the world in a positive way. We feel better when we attend schoolhouse Earth, rather than being used as God’s pawn, a built in reward system for using our free will.

Internal locus is associated with higher need for achievement, and self motivation. A fixed mindset believes they have natural talents that just occur, an internal locus of control leads to a growth mindset, where you are always looking to improve your talents by working hard, making a plan, and getting input from others. Those with an internal locus have a higher sense that they can impact the world around them, leading to greater satisfaction.

To Nurture an Internal Locus of Control:
1) Define your values and beliefs. When we have regret, that is because we were not acting in our true nature. We can regret missed chances as much as we might regret our own actions, both should be evaluated to help define who we are, and we should act accordingly.
2) Become aware of your choices and accept them. Systematically evaluate your choices. Be aware of what you truly can’t control, and where you may have made better decisions. Ask for help when needed, an outside perspective aids evaluation.
3) Embrace failure, that is how we learn. Those with an external locus of control will avoid situations that may involve failure, those with an internal locus of control will go out and do something they know could result in failure and use the experience to refine their future outcomes. Go ahead and take calculated risks, using your experience as a guide.
4) Accepting the choices we made and failure as a result also leads to accepting when we are responsible for negative outcomes that impact others, apologizing, and striving to do better or rectify the situation however we can.
5) Focus on solutions when you encounter problems. When something bad happens, don’t let it be all you think about. Focus on what you’ve learned from the experience, come up with an actionable plan. Distract yourself if needed, but see what plans you can form when you calm down.
6) Spend time in introspection. Try to truly understand yourself, and your limitations as well as your strengths, what you can rely on and build upon. Build the skills you need. Base your decisions on actionable goals, broken down into achievable steps.

You Have Done Good – Yes, You – I Mean It

We leave fingerprints on people’s lives. I didn’t come up with that. I would say Sierra did, but when I really think about it, she probably didn’t either. Someone said it to her. It affected her. It left a mark. She shared it. The mark stuck on me, as well.

Then there was Chris, the disenchanted waiter. He affected me in the strangest way, completely accidentally. This must have been… 1994? I was a teen. I remember him very clearly, every toss of his hair embodied drama in action. If he didn’t have a fantastic story full of adventures to complain about, he would he sit in our booth (this was Denny’s), light up a cigarette, and loudly complain about his customers at the table nearby, within earshot. He once brought my friend the wrong order, and when he spoke up, Chris said, “Well, the sign does say Denny’s” and walked away. He did not fix the order, ever.

We loved him so much. He got all of our allowances in tips. He lived in the office, and the manager wouldn’t fire him because customers drove across the city to see him, and we would riot if he couldn’t get to work due to a lack of ability to get to work or like, not having a bed and stuff.

Anyway, once upon a dark and dreary long night of the soul, I was feeling fairly forgotten in a city far away from my friends and home, and Chris popped into my head and I laughed. My heart warmed with joy at the antics of that asshat, and I knew I would never forget him until the day I died. Then I realized I had no way to tell him that. Then I realized how shitty his life was at that time. It likely means he took a while to recover, and he probably at times became so close to broken or, well… probably even might have broken and maybe he needed to hear something like some random person far away would never forget him, he would always bring them joy, no matter how many mistakes he made. I was sad I couldn’t tell him.

Then, the weirdest thing happened. I wondered if anyone ever thought that way about me. Grocery cart races popped into my head. And the thing with the prom dresses, the prank with the foaming candy, that time they didn’t tell me a crowd was gathering to hear my spontaneous song. I could go on, and have actually been invited to a few parties because of my ability to do so. I’m just saying, that dark period of my life wasn’t the only period of life that I’ve had, and that night I realized a few things may have happened that probably make me actually a bit rather hard to forget. In the way of good things, with laughter, and song. I’ve probably left fingerprints.

It happens digitally, too. It’s easy to dismiss internet culture as not “real”, even telling people to “touch grass” indicating we need to focus on “what’s real” over “what’s not”, but that’s not really what’s happening, is it? Yes, the internet is manipulating us heavily, in ways that exaggerate or completely misrepresent reality, if we aren’t careful. But also, passing conversations from the days when forums were still popular are still with me. People who were just a picture with a user name of nonsense next to them really were people, they really did give me advice, comfort, laughter, a feeling of community.

We leave fingerprints. We can use that. We might even be able to smudge the world into the shape we want it to be.

I am at a phase of my life where my role is changing. My life was rough, but I had guidance. Yes, therapists. Yes, a few key people who were kind enough to step in and fill a role other adults in my life wouldn’t. Not just them, though. Some people weren’t even talking directly to me. Sometimes I was confused, or lost, and I overheard a conversation somewhere. The journal I started keeping, I got the idea when I realized a couple of those people had a journal on them that they would pull out, something they could rely on when they needed to present a logical argument. News clippings often backed up passages where they wrote down their thoughts, and then they shared those thoughts with people in their community.

Only a handful of those people have come into my life, and I remember them still. I think of them when I see activists online, getting weary. I remember I sent one a personal message letting her know that even though my interactions with her were nothing but likes, her words were being remembered. I’m glad I did that, because soon after she became targeted by unfair harassment, I hope I helped. As I mentioned, I feel my role is changing, like instead of maybe sucking up all that healing they were throwing my way, maybe now I can start doing what I can to turn some of that support outward, because I see a lot of tired people, and when I say things like “I want to show people how to see the world a better way”, I get replies saying it’s just not worth the effort.

I think maybe we as a species need feedback. We are social creatures. But the work of trying to reach out to others, you can’t always see the results right away. You might not personally see the results of what you have done at all. Those results might be kept secret, locked in the memories of people who will carry you with them forever, sometimes without knowing your name. I know this, because I have those secrets. I’ve spoken to people who have those secrets. It happens. It’s a part of human life. Don’t give up. We all leave fingerprints.

A Secular Devotional Journal

I have a tool for navigating today’s turbulent world. I have what I think of as my secular devotional journal, and I know that’s a thing that is out there, but I don’t know what others look like, or how they go about it. But, I did something with mine recently that was really cool, and I wanted to share it, because it made me feel good, and we all need a little hedonism in our lives. I got through to someone (face to face, in the real world), and it felt excellent.

No scandalous details provided, sorry. Not of the event, nor of the trauma involved. Just the method I used to calm down, and explain my position more clearly. I will, however, admit to being the emotional person. I’ve been in years of therapy, starting with childhood, and have a (dusty and relatively unused) BA in psych. I was talking to someone I know is intelligent and compassionate, but not about the same issues as I am. Nor do they have the same approach to conflict.

The journal is the evolution of an attempt to review my skills. I’ve been sitting at home comfortably, and my ability to maintain my chill during difficult conversations has grown slack. My degree is looking like so many wasted dollars, my ability to explain my opinions based on my education has grown fumbly and weak.

The journal starts with a guided meditation (a prayer or calming motivational passage will do, maybe a soothing poem about nature), followed with topics organized like a bullet journal. The topics are notes on subjects such as de-escalation, differing perspectives, logical fallacies, and (most recently) notes on a webinar I attended for standing up to street harassment (of any type). When I am angry and frustrated at the world, I pick up my journal and read the meditation to get my chill, and then review my notes. That way, I know I am more prepared for discussions that make me angry, frustrated, and likely to panic.

I highly recommend this practice. Those notes are what helped me be more confident and calm during a critical discussion recently (combined with breathing and soothing skills). The discussion itself reminded me of things I wanted to make sure I kept in mind. To give you an idea of what goes in my journal, below is my reaction to that discussion, something that I typed up on the computer and revised, and am now about to transcribe into my journal.

Sometimes what we focus on the most makes it seem as if we are speaking different languages, and we may have different approaches to conflict resolution. Some people come from an environment where feelings were respected, and the phrase, “Stop, that hurts my feelings” is met with acknowledgment, and the behavior stops. This is done out of respect for how people have different comfort zones on different issues, this can be difficult to navigate, therefore the rules of acknowledgment remain consistent, giving the encounter predictability.

Sometimes, the request is met with an attempt to calm the feelings by discussing the problem logically. This strategy tries to cool the waters of conflict with logic, to decide the most productive way to look at the situation. The logical person tries to respectfully explain their perspective to aid balance. When they respond to claims of hurt feelings by trying to discuss their perspective and are told to stop the behavior, this is seen as a selfish attempt to control them.

When the rules of acknowledgment are not met, the emotional person might see it as disrespect, and the attempt at explaining their perspective as telling them that they did not have the right to have their emotion. When they try to explain why their comfort zone has been violated, this is met with being told they are not being logical, even if the emotion stems from a traumatic experience. They feel they feel they are being shamed for having a normal human reaction to events beyond their control. They can become even more hurt and flustered by this, and when their arguments devolve, it is interpreted as an attempt at emotional manipulation. In the environment the emotional person comes from, a mutual immediate respect for emotion allows them to back off and calm down, before discussing things in a more respectful way. If there is lingering trauma, these rules give a person a safe space to react, and regain control, and this becomes valued highly.

To the person from a background that respects logic over emotion, this can represent a power struggle, and emotional immaturity. After all, a breath of fresh air can clear the mind. Many have been through trauma themselves, and their coping skills work just fine. When they tell the emotional person that they need to just let the bad feelings go, or try to offer their motivations to give perspective, those from an emotionally respectful background can become enraged, as the rules of engagement have been broken, their stability is threatened. Those taught to respect emotion are also taught logic, but they are taught to navigate stress and biases differently, and the rules that provide them with stability are ignored, while the other person insults their approach.

It becomes worse when both are compassionate people. The emotional person might become frustrated with what they see as part of a cycle of abuse, feeling they are being told they don’t have a right to feel an emotion or react to stress, and this is part of how manipulative people in their lives have gained control over them. They want to reach out to the logical people and explain what they feel is basic empathy. They want to teach them about how to maintain safe emotional space, and how good it can feel, and they are met with criticism.

The logical person with compassion might want the emotional person to learn how to control their emotions, and feel if they tried harder, they would not need to try to control others around them. They might see discussion of chemical imbalances or psychological distress as signs of a weakness that needs to be combated with better emotional regulation and control. It’s very possible, though, that the person from a supportive emotional environment came to that environment as part of their experience with therapy and their attempts to heal, they might not be at a part of their journey where they are ready to easily dismiss the stress, or there could be a real physiological reason for their emotions, and criticism of their emotional control is seen as an attempt to shame them into feeling worse, until they behave to try to meet approval of someone whose ideals they don’t agree with. They feel giving in would be weakness or a lack of self respect, and they end up in a true power struggle, thus confirming the logical person’s belief that the request for emotional space was an attempt at control all along.

A Few Offerings

I am very much enjoying the path my project is going down. It looks like it will be three parts, and I’ve finished the research and most of the writing for the first two thirds of the coloring book. I’m mostly alternating between that and layout planning, but recently decided to stop and sort out a few things about techniques I’ll use when drawing the pages.

This meant I ended up with a few drawings to play around with, and I thought I’d seize the chance to pay a little quiet heed to the Redbubble algorithm gods in the hopes that my art supplies can start to pay for themselves. Supposedly, releasing designs on a weekly basis can help increase their visibility, so I figure I’ll give it a shot. Every Friday I’ll post a new design or a recolor for a bit, see how it goes. That would be this store: –> the one right here.

Rather than posting an announcement every time something goes up, I thought it would be less spammy to have a little gallery to pin. Since I can’t really think of a good reason to keep the upcoming designs a secret, and in fact it might benefit me to provide people with a chance to request something now, here’s a little preview of the designs and recolors I’ll be occasionally posting over the next few weeks. If you see something you would like on a shirt or book or whatnot, certainly let me know and I will definitely put it up right away, I have fancy paper and inks to buy. All recolors of the skull over the pitcher plant have both a tall version and square version that removes the dome and stems.

Anyway, it’s time to stop playing around and get back to this project, toodles!

Page One

I like how my swamp ecology coloring book project has evolved. I’ve been frustrated with how slowly I’ve been moving forward, but I’m glad I allowed myself time to experiment with various media and work on my skills before I committed myself, because I’m excited about the changes I decided to make.

Originally, I wanted something simple for young fingers, something that educated, presenting the information in a storybook way. Now I’m leaning toward graphic novel, but still a coloring book. I’m far too excited about illustrating hydrochloric acid digesting a fly to keep thinking I want to target a younger audience. Thinking of it as something for young readers means I kind of hold myself back, while this perspective means I’ll feel more like I’m expressing myself.

Plus, thinking of it as a coloring book means I spent too much time trying to make my lines perfect and clear, I ended up overworking everything and becoming unhappy with my results. I always get so sad when the last of the sketchy lines are gone, I think it’s time I lived up to the fact that I like things a little messy, a little imperfect. So many graphic novels I have loved because there were often sketchy lines left behind here and there, it’s like peeking into the artist’s process, life, soul. Whatever it is, it means too much to me, I might like the challenge of refining my art to look better, but if I’m never happy with my art because I tried too hard to make it perfect and it became empty to me, I will never release it.

Anyway, here’s a draft/sketch of probably page one. I finished up the last bit of research for chapter one (How a Venus Flytrap Digests Its Prey), and I only have a draft, but it’s a chapter and this is page one, and I finally feel like I have begun. To commemorate the occasion, I’ll add a coloring page to my meager gallery of early offerings.

This project will cover a lot of info, and some of it (maybe all) will be animated as well. I’m still experimenting with my process, but it feels a lot less like fumbling around with a vague idea and zero confidence, and more like I’m moving forward on a project that will expresses what I want it to in a way that feels like me.

A Dinner Date With Your Dog

This is a recipe designed to be shared with your pets (I have checked safety for cats, though I focus on dogs here). It’s adaptable to whatever meat you wish. It is not meant to be your pet’s complete diet, just a meal you can share to add variety while still paying attention to their health.

Skip to the recipe.

This time of year, with hearts decorating half the isles in the grocery store, we love to shower our loved ones with treats. It’s widely recognized that gifts of candy and a fancy dinner can demonstrate your love to a partner, but often the desire goes beyond romance. We include the children in our lives, both giving treats to them and encourage them to share treats with their friends. Naturally, many of us want to include our pets. I can see the evidence of that in how quickly the Valentine’s day doggie treats vanish at Target.

There’s reason for this strong connection between love and food. The bond over sharing food is recognized beyond this holiday. Festivals and celebrations across the world feature food, and sharing it to celebrate each other. The reason for the season might be lost on our pets, but the significance of bonding through shared enjoyment of treats certainly isn’t.

It’s disappointing when a vet tells you to stop, that your doggie’s health might suffer otherwise, especially when you know the treats communicate so much to your dog. One of our Pomeranians is a senior who struggles with joint pain, heart disease, failing eyesight, and alopecia (he went almost entirely bald after a groomer inexperienced with Poms clipped him too close, it took a couple of years to start growing back). All of these are problems I can ease somewhat by paying attention to his nutrition.

I bought an excellent book by the Dog Food Dude, did a bunch of internet browsing, even doodled bullet journal pages. Then, I spent the last couple of years doing what I could to help him within the constraints of time, energy, and budget. What I can do varies, as our situation varies throughout the year. But, we’ve learned to make it a priority to do what we can for Baby Bear nutrition-wise. He has more vitality, and I’ve gotten most of his hair to grow back.

Sometimes, money is tight, but time is plenty, so I cook the food for all three dogs from scratch. I learned the hard way to not make a large amount of a recipe, a sample large enough to last a few days will show if they are willing to eat the same thing long term. Switching things up every now and then is definitely appreciated, and leftovers can be divided into portion sizes and frozen, making it easy to maintain a variety while still cooking in batches.

However, I usually don’t have money for a fully balanced diet when I resort to this. I tend to see it as a healthier substitute for low quality dog food, and not something I do long term. In theory, home cooked food is more nutritious. In practice, if I can’t afford vitamins to add, then it’s better to get the highest quality kibble I can and enhance it with a couple of tricks. Gluten-free and hypoallergenic kibble is preferred with Bear’s joint pain, to keep down inflammation as much as possible.

Then I pour bone broth over it to help his joints, and top it with a few sardines or squirts of fish oil. I might add a few roasted carrots or sweet potatoes to help his eyes. Other things I might add, if I can get them, would include coconut oil, seaweed, and organ meats like heart, kidney, or liver. You can find other things to add online, but also pay attention of lists of foods to avoid for both dogs and cats, they are different.

It isn’t that difficult to do, and the results are worth it. The problem comes when the family wants to eat something fried, or with heavy spices, and the dogs think that looks much better than some roasted sweet potato sprinkled with seaweed. It’s a struggle to say no to good doggies, especially when the bond through food obviously means so much to them.

This can be solved by setting aside a few dog safe foods during cooking and putting them on the edge of your plate, and also by making something designed for everyone to share. This recipe is a guide for the latter.

This can be done with a pound of any meat, but naturally the goth in me couldn’t resist the darker side of the season. Heart is a source of vitamins B2, B6, and B12. It also has iron, zinc, and selenium. Using organ meats as a source of protein can help add variety to the diet, and at a fraction of the cost of the choice cuts.

As it turns out, beef heart is wicked delicious. It tastes like steak, but the texture is different. The muscle fibers don’t get stuck in your teeth. It’s a texture that might be described as a little bouncy. It almost reminds me of agar jelly, but more firm.

As the family’s resident weirdo, I was the only one delighted at the thought of cooking organ meat for my dogs, and sampling it. There are still certain organs that the humans in my family aren’t anxious to try, but as soon as the scent of beef heart rose in the air, it was like a magnet drawing curious tasters who came back for seconds and thirds.

You have a choice of one of two ways to cook it. The civilized method would be to slice the heart into even strips, and saute them as such. For those who love chaos and darkness, I suggest throwing the whole thing on a cast iron skillet, sear it, and then lower the heat to prevent too much char. The center will take a while to heat up, and it will bleed, bleed, bleed. Sip some red wine out of something with a skull on it, and hum your favorite horror movie theme. Turn frequently to prevent burning. It can be sliced into strips or chunks to serve. The result will be something that will delight those who love a range of textures and flavor on their meat.

In selecting ingredients, avoid onions, garlic, chives, leeks or anything in the onion family. Go easy on seasoning as much as possible in general, especially salt and hot spices. If you don’t like the result, remove some of the food for your pets, then season your own remaining portion how you wish.
Go easy on seasonings, especially peppers and curries, but a little bit is okay. Cats might avoid foods with pepper added, and may be more sensitive to digestive upset from it.

Use bone broth for the liquid, to give as many beneficial nutrients as possible. If you want to cook chicken or pork, you might want to substitute half the broth with apple juice. Do not try grape juice as a wine substitute in a sauce (or wine itself). If I don’t mention an ingredient specifically, always check if it’s toxic to your pet. Avoid oily foods and supplements for cats, though they might like a sardine as a garnish.

The basic meal format I use for sharing is a starch topped with vegetables, then a meat, then a sauce. If you like, you can simply make a plate and toss bits to the floor if they are good doggies (they are). Or you can serve them in their own dish, mixing in some kibble with the starch. This also gives you a chance to add things that some people might not want on their plate, such as ground flax seed, or coconut oil. If mixing in something for omega 3 fatty acids, stir it after cooking to prevent nutrient loss. Aim to serve dogs up to 40% protein in puppies, 30% in adults, and 25% in seniors. Just cook the meat separately so you can eyeball this and avoid a lot of math.

If you have an ingredient you want reluctant pets (or kids sharing the meal) to eat, such as green beans or peas, you can purée them into the sauce, or serve the meat and veggies as a pâté. Put it on a bed of rice, shaped into a heart, and drizzle sauce over it. Show it off on the innerwebs. You can also sneak ingredients into meatloaf or meatballs.

Tomato sauce can be used, but only from ripe tomatoes without a hint of green on them. Add something such as carrot puree to thin out the tomatoes, and serve only a little. Dogs can benefit from a little olive oil and basil as a dressing to the starch, but cats should only have a limited amount of oil or it might upset their stomach. Avoid dairy based sauces, which leaves mostly gravies.

For a starch, I usually use brown rice, gluten-free egg noodles, or barley. Brown rice and barley can be prepared before you start cooking the meat, egg noodles can be dropped in boiling water as the sauce is being made.

If using brown rice, I cook it in my rice pot, with vegetables in the steamer insert, rather than sautéing them like I do in the recipe. You can cook the meal however you like, thinking of it as a stir fry, stew, pasta with meat sauce, or a one pot meal. Eggs are also an excellent protein source, sometimes I include a few sliced hardboiled eggs as a “garnish”.

If not using heart, use lean meat, no more than 10% fat. I usually cook the meat in a stainless steel skillet, deglazing with a drop of bone broth to start the sauce. To thicken sauces, I use corn starch or rice flour, as a lot of pets have a wheat allergy.

No grapes or raisins, avoid anything in the onion family, curries, cumin. Go easy on spicy peppers, if feeding a cat you might want to keep them out entirely. Go easy on sugar, it can mess with their digestion.

Things to use
There is more, this is just what has occurred to me to check for safety in my cooking, therefore made it into my notes. Use enough rice and veggies to serve all who are eating, leftover sauce and meat can be frozen in individual servings, to be warmed up and served over freshly cooked starches.

Starches and Grains:
Black Beans
Brown rice
Gluten free noodles
Red Beans

Green Beans
Sweet potatoes


Sauce thickeners:
Rice flour

Heart over Noodles
This is a make as much as you like, and season to taste kind of recipe.

You need:
1 beef heart
Gluten-free egg noodles
Beef broth
Zucchini, cut into chunks thick enough to not cook too quickly.
Sweet potato or carrots, cut into thin pieces to make sautéing easier.
Just a pinch of salt and pepper

Start warming water to boil. Slice beef heart into even strips. Sauté in a skillet on medium high heat, letting the juices blacken and stick to the pan. Move the meat to the side. Sauté vegetables, and move them to the side.
Throw the noodles into the boiling water. Use the beef broth to deglaze the pan and make the sauce. Season the sauce lightly, whisk in about a tablespoon of cornstarch, and stir as it simmers until it is the desired consistency. Drain the noodles, top with the veggies and meat, then the sauce, and serve.

Garden Journal Sketchbook and Palette Worksheet

I am mightily enjoying my new journal, even though I’ve been working on it since November, and have only just finished my first real entry. I am not fast at this, but I like where it’s going. Over the last couple of months, I’ve gotten starter supplies of watercolor, watercolor pencil, and gouache to enhance my colored pencil game. It’s been years since I’ve played with these, I gave away all of my art supplies except my colored pencils long ago. Every page will be an experiment, but unlike the mess that is my normal sketchbook, it will be a thought out and planned experiment with a purpose, helping me build so many skills at the same time. I love this stuff so hard.

Now it’s time to move onward. I’ve learned just enough about telling monocots vs. dicots to figure out this could be useful info for me to have. I’m not usually interested in identifying grass-like plants, so it’s not a skill I’ve picked up yet. As the kind of person who finds treasures in “weeds”, knowing more about grasses has always been on my to-do list, so it looks like it’s time. Plus, I recently got some vanilla cuttings, and I know zip about orchids. I can study that, and my ginger. I’ll meander that direction now, and use the illustrations to refine my color blending skills using my new fancy worksheet I whipped up.

This should make things go more smoothly than fumbling around with different colors each time. I designed it thinking I could print it out on any paper I wish, then test whatever material I wish, but I’m low on printer ink. Figures. Anyway, if you want to try it as well, here you go.

This Season Just Became So Much More Fun

I’m not a fan of exploring nature in the winter. I’d rather browse books of sketched winter scenes, while under a blanket with some cocoa. This normally makes winter rather dull for me. This year was looking up to be a little better, with about a dozen small containers of infant carnivorous plants to tend to. Still, I’ve been sad to think of the dormant season, watching my little porch bog slow down and slumber. I figured I’d pass the time by focusing on refreshing my art skills a little, but at some point I lost or gave away all my art books. I’ve only been drawing again since February, and half of that time was spent familiarizing myself with my new digital tablet.

So, I splurged on three new books over the last couple of months, and while they are all lovely and worth every penny, I’ve gone full fan girl on The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling, by John Muir Laws. It’s about an inch thick, and every page has me itching with excitement to get drawing. I ran across the book looking for spider anatomy, leading me to his excellent guides on his website. I had to wait a month before I could squeeze this book into the budget, and it was so worth the wait.

Besides providing a quality basic education on art and composition, it is also excellent for teaching you how to look at your subjects with new eyes, and a fresh curiosity. I love my little tiny seedlings, I wander over to them and look at them several times a day. But, sadly, they don’t change much from one viewing to the next. Even having plant babies indoors wasn’t taking the disappointment out of winter. Only now, simply spending a couple of days with this book has me asking new questions. Each little arrangement is starting to become a home of mysteries to explore. I also have some pet spiders and isopods to observe, and unidentified plants coming up in my terrarium. My life is now full of subjects to investigate while my garden sleeps.

Plus, I get to multi task. Each session of observation can serve to not only practice looking at the world with the eyes of a scientist, but also a chance to use the skills taught in the other two books I spoiled myself with. They are both beautiful enough to be coffee table books, if we had a coffee table. Or guests to impress. Regardless, they are relaxing and inspiring to browse through. This is going to be a lovely winter.

What I Learned Sampling My Palette on Redbubble Merchandise

Earlier this year, I realized I wanted a very specific mug with a Venus flytrap line drawing on it (currently the banner on this blog), and I could draw it myself using my photos as a reference. I got the red for my design by sampling an area of my flytrap’s leaf, and happily awaited my new mug (and impulse matching tote bag).

I was disappointed when they came. A little. Not too much. The red on my mug was too yellow, and my tote bag was too blue. I wasn’t surprised though, I knew enough about design to know that a lot of palettes are made with specific inks in mind, and I was basically rolling the dice colorwise. If I had printed the photo of the plant, it probably would have been fine. The results of the color would have been covered up by nearby colors averaging it out. Isolating a color with an eyedropper tool and using it to fill a large area meant any problems with the color would be magnified.

Testing your palette means that you know beforehand how your colors will behave on different materials. I would like to be able to use my Prisma pencils or the palette in my drawing software (Autodesk SketchBook), and know that I can rely on them. My first samples used a minimal palette and logic based on what pencil tins I would take with me on a roadtrip, unfortunately my minimal approach was a bad idea.

My samples showed me that I couldn’t trust fairly standard colors as much as I thought I could. I eliminated a few I really liked, and didn’t have something to replace them with. I should have tested a larger range of colors. The images I uploaded to my shop for the next round of samples (when I can afford them) addresses that. The new image samples all the pencils I have on hand. It’s not meant to represent the complete range of the brand. There’s almost 75 of them on my image, though.

Comparison of mug sample to the magnet, showing a vast difference in one red and some subtle differences in others.

Because I spent all my money on the more limited samples, I can only discuss my results from those, but they’re useful. I couldn’t afford to get a sample of everything. But, I know from experience that ceramic and cloth are a must. I also got a card, the range of stickers, and a magnet to see what I could soft proof and what I could not.

Comparing my samples to a test print from my home printer and my laptop screen.

I can indeed use my home printer to soft proof cards, as well as matte and glossy stickers, as long as I keep a few things in mind. Cards seemed to be a little more dark or saturated, and greens seemed a tad more blue. Stickers weren’t as saturated, due to a very slight difference in texture that allows a hint of white to come through.

Your own experience with your printer would tell you if you need to get samples on these materials, but I’ll tell you right away to not bother with both glossy and matte stickers. Just get one or the other, they were almost exactly the same. However, transparent stickers and magnets seemed to get slightly different results. That’s fine though, they’re inexpensive enough to get samples of.

Cloth is generally lighter, brighter, and less saturated. At the same time, it seems more vivid. This is probably because the actual ink is more saturated, but the white parts of the cloth show through. I’m basing my results on a mask, but it might be worth the effort to order a wider range of cloth samples. Things with a tighter weave will show more detail, a looser weave will lose more saturation.

The ceramic surface feels glassy smooth, but the colors themselves are a little textured, almost like paper. This causes the colors to be a little more reflective and brighter. Red tones are more vivid. Drinking coffee out of this mug while I draw is way more satisfying than I thought it would be.

The next time I order samples, I will order transparent stickers, a mug, a magnet, a cell phone cover, a mask, a zippered pouch, and a tote bag. When combined with soft proofing, that should provide enough information for fairly reliable results on a range of products. After that, as long as I’m careful to not use my colors in a way that might create a shade that goes off of my palette, my designs are fairly safe, and the only samples I have to worry about ordering are the things I want to own in the first place.

Because the process of organizing these samples took a couple of days (partly because I was dealing with about three decades’ worth of pencils), I went ahead and put my palette up in my store so others can use it and not have to go through all that. Even if you use different software, you can use my sample with an eyedropper tool and compare it to the image below. If you order on something that provides you with a lot of information (like an iPad cover or something else that I haven’t tested), please let me know and I’ll update this page to add your information and link to your results on your own site and store (if you like).

This leads to the part where I point out this means my store is now open. In fact, I have a whole new promotional page that has some free downloads as well.

Maybe you want to sample my palette, maybe you like my art, or maybe someone in your audience will. Please share, I need to raise the money to buy more samples, and I’m hoping the usefulness of this article will help me reach people willing to buy my products. I especially want a zippered pouch to hold my pencils, I have no idea what the material on those is like, but that would be a great reference to have right on the pencils. I’m hoping it will be a plastic type canvas that shows detail well. I also kinda really want a flytrap hardback journal for a bog garden diary.

P.S. – That first mug idea I had, the one that fueled the desire to start designing things? I knew I would be revising it and ordering the revised version in the future anyway, so I decided it would also do as a sample for how well the item held up to serious wear and tear. It became my only drinking mug, and I put it in the dishwasher daily, right next to where the jets came out. Don’t do that. I think a slip of paper with my last mug said it was dishwasher safe. If so, that would be only an occasional dishwashering with cooler temperatures, away from the jets. If you really like a mug from Redbubble, hand wash only. Once the flaking started it did not stop, even when I switched to hand washing. Guess I also need a new flytrap mug.

P.P.S. – I almost forgot. I have a goal. If I get 1000 followers on Instagram, Joe will work with me on getting a better camera. I really enjoy taking photos, but my camera is actually a camcorder. I can’t even adjust some of the settings on it. Take a look at my Instagram, and follow me if you think I deserve an upgrade.