Time capsules: documenting your life with journaling

I recently came across a suitcase of old sketchbooks and journals, dating back to 2008, even a few pieces from art school (too long ago to mention). I packed these up and stored them before I moved to Germany about three years ago. I could almost see little puff of dust escaping out the suitcase as I unzipped it. I'm so happy I kept these notebooks and sketchbooks - they document a time period in my life that go way beyond what Facebook or Instagram snapshots can do.

Flipping through these pages remind me of how much I have done, all the ideas that I've had and projects that that I've worked on. They also show me how much I have evolved over time, as a person and an artist. I cringe at my drawings from a few years ago - it was evident that I needed a little more swagger in my drawing wrist. It's funny to read old lists of what I want in life - many of the things are the same and some are very different. I had the foresight to make some journal entries during 2009, the year I packed my little car and drove from CT to San Diego in search of a new life. I'm so glad I scribbled down some thoughts so I can remind myself what I was thinking and feeling at the time.

Here is the first entry from that six-day road trip (it turns out I only made three, I guess I was too busy looking for work and an apartment):

It's surreal for me to see such a tiny notation in my 2009 calendar for my big move to San Diego.  

It's surreal for me to see such a tiny notation in my 2009 calendar for my big move to San Diego.  

"5/11/09 - My 1st day on the road
Emotionally drained - that's the phrase of the day! I'm in Ohio, I feel ok, but I'm tired and just want to stare at a wall. It's quiet here, the weather was nice today - perfect driving weather. I left around 9am - didn't dilly-dally too much, just wanted to get outta there before I got sentimental. Jen texted me in the morning and triggered a small crying session, but it was needed. I had Wendy's for dinner. Recorded myself as I ate, for a performance that my friend is doing this Friday. He will be dressed up as this bunny character - it's a really cool costume. I guess the bunny is gonna dig through a trash can and find a tape recorder and try to eat it or something then play it. So he will be listening to me babbling - actually the whole audience will be. Not sure if it's what he's looking for, but it's the best I can do because, like I said - I'm drained and don't have much brain power right now. Time to watch TV..."

Reviewing my art that I've produced over a decade or more, I start to see patterns not just on a visual level but also the voice that is speaking underneath each sketch, painting, mural and illustration. I also see a voice that had not fully discovered itself yet. Some works I look at and think "What the hell was I thinking?" and with others I think "Damn, that's pretty good!".

With all this being said, I realized that I need to keep a journal on hand to continue documenting life's daily challenges and victories. I regret not having done much of that these past few years, but it's never to late to get started. 

Returning to the U.S. After 15 Months in Europe

This will be last blog installment about my one year(ish) German adventure from which I just returned two weeks ago. I’d like to think it was some sort of deftly executed U.S. reconnaissance mission, but it really wasn't.

I never thought I would miss the U.S. as much as I did. I'm surprised how influenced I am by my American upbringing. I never thought of myself as a patriotic, flag-waving citizen – and quite frankly there a lot of things in U.S. culture that I think are absolutely absurd. But for the first time in my life, I really began to appreciate some things American culture has to offer.

One of the questions I got asked when in Germany was “So, what do you miss about the U.S.?” This was a surprisingly difficult and complex question to answer! I think my hesitation in answering gave the impression that I didn’t miss anything. But in fact I just needed time to really think about it. I could give a predictable answer like “Oh, I miss juicy hamburgers, big cars and hand guns.”  But that would be a lie. Ok, I’ll admit, I did miss American burgers, but that’s not what I missed the most.

What I really missed the most

The following six items would be on the top of my list of most missed experiences. I would say only the last two are U.S. specific; the others could be applied to any immigrant living in any country.

Speaking American slang

Speaking American slang

1. Speaking American slang

No language barrier

No language barrier

2. Understanding how everything works and what to expect

Figuring out administrative stuff, such as visa and driver's licenses can be mentally exhausting. Even small items such as how to tip, how your phone plan works, understanding your rental contract are all an added challenge in a foreign culture.

4. No language barrier

3. Not feeling like an alien  

When you're in your own country, you blend in with the other citizens, but when you're an expat, suddenly feel like the awkward new kid in school.

5. Customer service

Placing value on customer service seems to be a a uniquely American thing. Once you get out of the U.S. and any area that caters to Americans, you quickly realize that the motto "The customer is always right." doesn't work quite the same.

6. An innovative and entrepreneurial culture

This is something I never really thought of before, but when you live outside the U.S. you realize not all countries champion entrepreneurship like the U.S. does.

So there you have it! As usual, I could make the list much longer, but who the hell has time to read a rambling blog? I'm happy to be back in my comfort zone, but also very curious to do more exploring of Europe and beyond. Maybe there's another comfort zone waiting to be discovered.



Three Reasons I Started My Own Comic*

This week I officially launch my weekly, online comic Spoonville. I thought this month's blog posting would be a good opportunity to give you the low-down on my reasons for starting this creative endeavor. 

1. The Money

Let's face it - artists make a ton of money! I've heard it's the quickest and easiest way to bring in the moolah. I mean, why else would I spend so much time, energy, sweat and tears into my art...for the love of it? pppffft! Pa-leeeze. Soon I'll be trading in my commuter bike for a Porsche.

2. The Fame

I have my very own blog, so I'm pretty sure I'm on my way to world fame as we speak. Soon Spoonville will be the talk of the town! I'll get VIP treatment at all the fancy restaurants and I'll get paid like mega bucks to speak at public events (not to mention the red carpet treatment). I'll probably have to hire body guard to ward off all the crazy fans. Or maybe I should just learn Jiu-Jitsu ... anyways, these are some things I need to ponder over.

3. The Merchandising and Animation Opportunities

If Charles Schulz can do it, surely ANYONE can, right? It can't be that hard to scribble out a few drawings a week and have your own nationally syndicated comic strip with animated spin-offs. 

* Reasons listed maybe be slightly skewed from actual reasons. 

You can visit Spoonville on Facebook and Twitter.

Street Art (n' Stuff) in Europe!



Living in Germany since last January, I've had the chance to travel to several different areas in Europe and documents the sights.

I've read that Paris, London and Berlin are among the cities with the best street art. Though I suspect you need some time to explore and find the good stuff : ) If you have traveled and Europe and have some recommendations - let me know! Not all that I've listed here qualifies as "street art", but I thought it was cool. Here is a compilation of what I've seen so far during my travels.... 




Every street corner reveals little works of art.


I only had one day to explore London, so didnt't get to venture out of the more touristy areas.


Most of the murals are graffiti style, but you can find a little surprise one in a while (ok, the chalk drawings are a more literal interpretation of "street art".)


I was surprised at how much mural work there was in Genoa, Italy - many of these garage doors are painted with a mural. This is a beautiful city!


Unfortunately I didn't get to see much street art in Berlin, but maybe I wasn't in the right areas. Most of what you see is in East Side Gallery, which is one of the last remaining parts of the Berlin Wall.  Though not officially "art", the photos of the cement blocks are part of the Holocaust Memorial that you walk through.


It's not "street art" but I did find many crucifixes along the bike paths through the vineyards.

BOLZANO, ITALY (along the Alta Via 1 trail)

This was the most surprising find. Along  the rugged trails in the Dolomites, someone took the time to paint this frog rock. Maybe "trail art" is a more accurate term.

The Illusion of Light and Shadows

There's something about light and shadows that really soothes the eye. I guess I could do research on the scientific reason as to why us humans are attracted to depth in images, but I already spend too much time on the net. I'm guessing since that we live in a 3-dimensional world our eyes are built to receive and digest lovely indications of depth (i.e. shadows, light vs. dark, cool vs. warm colors) and by nature we crave that. I tend to indulge in lighting my illustrations so I thought I would share how I go about doing that - from sketch to finished image.

The key here is to make the scene believable, even if it's not 100% accurate. So I guess in a sense you become a car salesman convincing a customer that not only is the Hyundai Elantra a great car, but the most awesome car you will ever buy in your life.

1. I start with a hand-drawn sketch. Why not go digital? Eh, the tablet doesn't feel right and I guess I need to feel paper and pencils in my hand. I then scan the drawings in Photoshop.

2. In Photoshop I clean up the images and create separate layers for the different visual elements. This allows for more control over placement, size, coloring, and opacity. For example, in the image below I have a layer for each character, the background, and several additional details I added in later (the plane, smokestacks, birds, fence, and sticker on signpost). Keep in mind that all the coloring layers are in the "multiply" blend mode - and the texture layers are in "color burn" and "overlay" blend mode. I suggest playing around with those settings and see what you come up with : )

Here is a video tutorial on How to use Blending mode in Photoshop CC.

3. Now I block in the foreground shade. I imagined this bus stop scene taking place under a large tree. And as we have all observed - shade from trees are not one massive blob, but a shadow dance of many, many leaves. I made a layer of a dark blue and masked it out. Then I removed bit by bit the "shadow dance" until I thought it was convincing. Sometimes I consult with Google Images to make sure the lighting is believable.

4. I added additional shadowing on a separate layer.

5. And now the color! We begin with the background color. The blue sky on a separate layer from the tree/grass.

6. Another layer is added for the foreground objects.

7. Now the characters are colored in on another layer.

8. One of the biggest challenges of working in Photoshop is to make the images not look so "Photoshoppy". So I have added a yellow layer (6%) and a water color image to add "texture". I have also added several details, such as the balloon reflection, text on the bus sign and the little sticker on the sign post. As the image comes to life, I have fun adding in little details - this also helps with the "believability" factor.

9. Additionally, I have added another "texture" layer (image of paint strokes on canvas) and a faint shadow around the edge of the image to give a more old-photo look.

Voilà! If you have any questions - please feel free to comment or email me at anna_guillotte@yahoo.com.