Daily Sketches in Canada (continued)

Here is the story of our trip to Manitoba in daily drawings.

The clouds in the sky spoke volumes. Toddler cuddles were filled with whispered songs and stories. And the waves of Lake Winnipeg recited haikus as they lapped against the stony shore.



June was a month for slowing down.

The roses and peonies were in bloom. The days were sunny and warm (but not yet the sweltering heat of mid-summer). Our smiles widened, our laughter rang between the trees, our hearts opened wide to the delights of fresh blueberries and ice cream, and barbecues in the long evenings.

This June Little One and I flew to Canada together to spend time with my mom. We're resting, napping, and running around in the back yard. It's wonderful to reconnect with family after so many years. And to imagine many more such summers to come.

Top 5 Highlights for June:

1. Spending time with my mom in my home town in Canada.

2. Baking some delicious banana bread to share with friends and neighbours.

3. Planting jasmine, lavender, clematis and box hedge in our garden.

4. Having babyccinos, mommyccinos and grandmaccinos at the local coffee shop with my daughter and my mom.

5. Watching thunderstorms roll across the Canadian prairies. They rumble through town in the evenings, and the next morning the air is so fresh and clear, like it's been scrubbed clean by the rain.

Books read: 

1. A house with four rooms by Rumer Godden

2. Tell it Slant by Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola

3. The Fairy Tale Girl by Susan Branch

4. Martha's Vineyard: Isle of Dreams by Susan Branch

5. A Fine Romance by Susan Branch

6. Everything Belongs by Richard Rohr

{Looking at this I realize I haven't read any fiction this month! I'll have to focus on fiction in July.}

By the numbers: 

8: Hours in an airplane with an active, curious toddler

3: Hour nap for toddler on the above flight (yay!)

1: New boiler installed in our house

3: playdates (and fun coffee times for the moms)

60: cups of decaf coffee (Or more, at least two per day. Is this something I need to reduce?)

11: sketches in my moleskine sketchbook (check my Instagram to follow along as I fill the pages.)

May Stats: 

Instagram: 485 (+13)
Pinterest: 141 (+2)
Bloglovin: 898 (+4)
Facebook: 945 (+3)
Twitter: 507 (same)
Mailing List: 401 (sign-up in sidebar for bi-monthly updates and freebies!)

(Please pick your favourite platform and come follow along!)

Posts from Past Junes: 

The Diamond Jubilee in Pictures
Unleashing your Inner Creativity
In my Cape Town studio
Reinventing the Resume

Goals for July: 

We will be holidaying in Canada for a good portion of July, so I intend to enjoy every moment. I want to slow down and listen to my heartbeat. I want to chase my little one around the yard, and roll around in the grass.

Other than that, I want to:

+ re-invorgate my daily drawing habit while I’m on holiday. Stay tuned for lots of sketches of the great Canadian prairies.

Are you writing a monthly review post? Feel free to share a link below in the comments. Let’s celebrate our accomplishments! 


Daily Sketches in Steinbach

I have been trying to capture small moments from our trip to Manitoba in my sketchbook. 

Stay tuned for more!  

Going through boxes of memories in the attic.

Exploring the hidden recesses in the back yard with Grandma

Having my teeth cleaned....


Un-planning my life

The other day, in the late afternoon, Little One and I listened to the complete piano sonatas by Mozart at top volume.

The day had been chaotic, and I hoped that the soothing tones and rhythms would quell the thirtieth (or was it fiftieth?) toddler-tantrum of the day.

So, we listened, we took deep breaths and we read a story.

We floated on the music for half an hour, and then started the quiet ritual of bath, dinner and bed.

It was the simple act of letting go, just for a moment, that changed the tenor of the day.

The afternoon before had sat down with my journal, determined to plan my life "once and for all." I turned to the next blank page and drew bullet points down the left-hand side. This was to be my "list to end all lists." I was finally going to feel like I was leading my life, instead of it leading me.

I sipped my decaf.

I stared at the blank page.

I wrote two, maybe three ideas down.

And then I realized something important.

I write the same lists, day after day, week after week. I write them because I think they're going to help me feel more in control and more accomplished. But they don't: so I repeat the process over and over.

But... lists are flat.

There are linear.

They don't, in fact they can't, reflect the messy, three-dimensional complexities of life. So, I write list after list in an attempt to control the chaos, but instead they make me feel more frenzied and frustrated.

I have decided that this summer we are going to follow rhythms instead of lists. We are going to float with the ebb and flow of the day. We are going to sleep when we're tired, drink when we're thirsty, eat when we're hungry, and dance when we're happy. We will run in the rain and bask in the sunshine.

All those bullet points on my lists were like a sack of bricks slung over my shoulder. It is liberating to let them go.

I will listen to beautiful music and let go. I will daydream and let go. I will draw and write and let go. The folding and scrubbing will happen (as they always do), but I won't spend time dwelling about them, or writing detailed schedules for them.

I am finding, when I let go, even cleaning can become a kind of meditation.

This week I am un-planning my life.

What are you doing?


My Week in Drawings

It's June already? Where did the time go?

Summer in London: the roses are blooming, the wisterias are long gone, and everyone is in a brighter mood. We've just had beds dug into our yard, and I can't wait to start planting flowers!

The ballerina completes a grande jeté and lays an egg.....

Those colours! 


Make your notebook extraordinary

What is a notebook?

A notebook is paper, card, glue, and perhaps a twist of thread to stitch the binding together.

The components are simple.

But notebooks are magical.  As soon as you purchase one at the stationery store and scrawl your name in the front cover, it has been transformed.

It is no longer just paper, card, glue and twine; it is an extension of you. When you add yourself to the ingredients list it isn't just any notebook anymore, it's your notebook. There is no other like it in the world.

You add your thoughts, your habits, your visions, your goals. It is messy. It is neat. It is dog-eared. It is imbued with your personality and emotions. Sometimes your notebook is the only safe place to express those emotions...

Not only that.

It is your notebook at this specific time and place. A notebook you bought and used two years ago will bear no resemblance to the notebook you bought yesterday. In that interval of time you have changed and matured, and the notebooks will reflect that.

To make your notebook extraordinary, and like no other, all you have to do is sit down and: write, scribble, sketch, glue, paste, cut, doodle, or do whatever else you feel like doing at that moment.

And then it is yours.

And it is extraordinary.

Because you are extraordinary.



We’re almost half-way through the year (where did the time go?), and I’ve decided that I’m going to start posting monthly reviews on my blog to help me count the hours, one by one, for the remaining months.

Life can be pretty crazy, especially with an adorable, energetic, curious, insistent toddler underfoot. It’s so easy to run on the daily treadmill of tasks, to-dos, and routines without taking time to step back and remember the wonderful moments, and look forward to the things I am planning for the future.

I recently wrote a post saying that I refused to use the word “busy.” It’s so easy to glorify being “busy” for the sake of it.

It can become the reflex answer for almost every question.

How was May? 

Oh, it was busy. 

Of course it was.

But busy doesn’t explain anything. Busy belittles the accomplishments and undermines the real, valuable work we’ve been doing.

So, rather than busy, let's say May has been a full, rich month....

Top 5 Highlights for May:

1. Cycling with my husband and daughter to admire the thousands of rhododendron bushes in the Isabella Plantation in Richmond Park. (see photo above)

2. Having coffee with a wonderful friend at the British Library.

3. Sending out my first “Studio Friends” mailing list email. Every two months I’m going to share studio updates and links to free printable I’ve designed. (Feel free to sign up in the sidebar! I’m planning to design a series of yoga cards for the next instalment.)

4. Starting to edit a novel that I had put aside for a few years. Now that I’m looking at it with fresh eyes I can see its strengths, but also where it needs to improve.

5. Designing our garden.

Books read: 

1. A notable woman — the journals of Jean Lucy Pratt.

2. Diary of a wimpy kid by Jeff Kinney

3. Madam will you talk by Mary Stewart.

4. Simple Matters by Erin Boyle.

By the numbers: 

2: Museums visited (National Gallery and British Library)

1: Birthday party attended.

2: runs through Richmond Park (more like run, walk, run, walk, walk… walk….... walk.....)

11: illustrations painted for the Mattie’s Magic Dreamworld series

4: sketches in my moleskine sketchbook (check my Instagram to follow along as I fill the pages.)

{My progress chart for the Mattie books}

Yoga Pose for the month: 

Every morning I do a sun salutation to get my body moving, and prepare my mind for the day.

If I have time and energy I often add other favourite yoga stretches into the routine to push my mind and body in different directions. However, I've started to get into a groove (not quite a rut) with the poses I choose. So, I've decided that I want to focus on a new pose each month for the rest of the year.

This month’s pose is: Camel Pose or Ustrasana. When I do it I can feel my chest expanding, and my heart opening up to the world.

May Stats: 

Instagram: 472
Pinterest: 139
Bloglovin: 894
Facebook: 942
Twitter: 507
Mailing List: 412 (sign-up in sidebar for bi-monthly updates and freebies!)

(Please pick your favourite platform and come follow along!)

Blog Posts: 

Mantras for this moment
My week in verbs
How to make work easy OR six necessary things
Get your hands on some free printables

Goals for June: 

June is a month I’ve been joyfully anticipating for a while. We’re flying to Manitoba to spend time with my mom and my extended family. It is my goal to enjoy every minute. Even the jet lag. Even flying with a toddler.

Other than that, I want to:

+ finish the first draft of my current writing project before I fly.

+ have a good portion of “Mattie” painted so that I can take three weeks off work without feeling panicky about it.

+ re-invorgate my daily drawing habit while I’m on holiday. Stay tuned for lots of sketches of the great Canadian prairies.

I keep my intentions and goals on track by having a double-page spread dedicated to lists and brain-storming at the beginning of each month in my planner.  It’s like my landing page. Every time I open my planner I check back with my monthly page to see how I’m doing with my goals and plans.

Are you writing a monthly review post? Feel free to share a link below in the comments. Let’s celebrate our accomplishments! 


Mantras for this moment

Painting is meditation for me. 

I breathe slowly. I can almost feel the paper through my paintbrush. Time slows down. All that matters are the colours, the water, and the rhythmic strokes of my brush. 

Each brush stroke is a mantra. 

A mantra is something, usually a word or phrase, that is repeated and that expresses one's basic beliefs. 

I believe a brush-stroke can be a mantra, too, as it expresses silence, and colour, and light, and our connection to the force of continuous creation. 

My mantras change every day. Sometimes the brush-strokes are enough. Sometimes tap-tapping on the keyboard in a silent room is enough. 

But sometimes I need something more concrete to cling to when I'm being buffeted by the winds of the world. 

Here are two mantras that are getting me through the day right now. 


This has been a steady mantra for me for years. It repeats itself quietly in my subconscious without me noticing, and then not so quietly in my conscious when I need the support. 

Tough day with a toddler? All shall be well. Mountains of unfolded laundry? All shall be well. Another polite rejection letter? All shall be well. Feeling lost in life? All manner of things shall be well.  

All I have to do is put one foot in front of the other, faithfully, and repeat the phrase: all shall be well.

And it will be.  


I repeat this over and over when I'm feeling out of synch with where I am in life. It could be my home. It could be my work. It could be my body (sometimes I don't feel at home in that, either). I repeat "belonging" quietly under my breath and visualize everything in my life being at home, or wherever it belongs. 

Let my illustrations find a home. Let my stories find a home. Help me to feel at home wherever I am. 



This is as much an exhortation to inhale and exhale as it is a mantra. I find that when days get difficult or complicated I hold my breath; or I gasp; or I sigh; or I exhale sharply in annoyance. 

Sometimes I pause in the middle of "the hard thing" and remind myself to breathe. When I inhale, deeply, I can feel the muscles in my upper back and shoulders expanding, and when I exhale they loosen and relax. 

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. I tell myself. 

With breath comes inspiration. After all the word "inspire" means "to breathe in."  

Whether my mantra is a brush-stroke or a phrase or a breath, it always makes me feel refreshed and ready to face anything. 

Do you have a mantra that speaks to you? 

All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well. 
St. Julian of Norwich (1342-1416)


My week in drawings and verbs

 I love verbs. 

When I hear a verb I feel that I am right in the action, swinging along with the story. 

So here is my day in verbs.... 

Reading // I just got a rather large amazon delivery, which made a random day in May feel like Christmas. So, I'm anticipating breaking the covers of: Tell it Slant by Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola, and A House with Four Rooms by Rumer Gooden.  Now I just need to find some quiet moments to start my journey though the pages. Also, Swatch by Julia Denos, which is a poem of a picture book. Just perfect in every way. 

Listening to // Right this minute I'm listening to Little One trying to sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on the baby monitor. We're still preserving the morning nap, even though most days it ends up being "quiet time" rather than "sleep time." She sits in her cot, babbling and singing to her three darling stuffies. 

Sipping // My second cup of decaf coffee. Only decaf or else this... 

Painting // I'm working on my fourth illustration for this week. If I want to finish my current two picture books by my deadline I have to paint four illustrations per week, minimum.  This is to allow me time for a holiday (yay! Canada!), and time at the end of the project to repaint or fix any illustrations that don't meet my exacting standards. I have three baby-free mornings, and five afternoon naps in which I can work. Every minute counts. 

Seeing // The gorgeous, skim-milk-thin, post-rainy-day morning light. The grey clouds are low and gossamer. I expect they will burn off by the afternoon. 

Running // Errands... not marathons. Little One and I have lots of tasks to complete today, but once we're done, hopefully the afternoon will be perfect for duck-feeding by the river. Once we've gone for our doctor's checkup... bought some new shoes... stopped by the pharmacy... and run around the Bentall's shopping centre examining all the knee-high window displays (why do stores display everything so low!?).... 

What are your verbs for today? 

Running to the river... always at top speed. She's the fastest 18 month old I know. 

A notebook to hold all the lists... 


My notebook collection

This weekend I spent some time organizing my studio, and I thought it might be fun to take you on a tour of my notebook collection and show you how I use them.

My Journal

I have been keeping journals continuously since I was 12 or 13 years old. I started in sweet looking cloth-bount diaries, then moved on to Mead 5-star spiral bound scribblers, then decided that I needed to be stylish and chic, and graduated to moleskines.

I write an entry almost every day. Normally I describe what happened that day (or the day before, if I'm writing first thing in the morning), and outline my thoughts about my projects or things that might be happening in my life.

However, I don't always write journal entries in my moleskine journal. I keep a concurrent journal in a Scrivener file and sometimes I brain-dump my thoughts into that. It's nice to be able to type at the speed of my thoughts, instead of waiting for my hand and pen to catch up.

I'm not precious about my paper journals. They're messy. They're full of scribbles. They're peppered with mis-spelled words and incomplete sentences. Sometimes I only have the time to write quick lists about the day -- things I saw, things I thought about -- in a rapid logging style. My journal is for un-selfconscious experimentation and expression. It's where I push my voice to its limits and figure out what my heart really wants to say. It is utterly private, but at the same time, there isn't much in there that is deeply secret or unsharable.

My Sketchbook

I recently moved from a moleskine pocket sketchbook to a normal sized one. At first I liked the smaller size of the pocket book because I could wedge it between diapers, wipes and bottles in my hold-everything bag. Now that Little One is older, and we don't need to bring the kitchen sink on every outing, I've opted for a slightly larger notebook. It gives me more freedom to decide how large I want my sketches to be. 

This sketchbook is all about daily experimentation and play. I'm not enamoured with the moleskine sketchbook paper. It only does an adequate job of dealing with watercolours and some pens bleed on the paper. That being said, I quite like that I can't be precious about what I'm doing. I feel free to make mistakes because these drawings are only for myself. 

I have many other sketchbooks which are the workhorses for my various jobs and projects. For those I normally use A3 or A4 Seawhite of Brighton sketchbooks. They're big, bulky, fantastic, and rarely leave my studio. 

My Personal Dictionary

This is where I have to admit to you that I'm a nerd; I'm completely, hopelessly nerdy. When I'm reading and I come across a word I don't know, want to use more often, or think is particularly lovely, I write it and its definition down in this little notebook. 

I don't know where I got this book from and it started off as something different. It's first iteration was as a book of lists: things I wanted to bake, things I loved, etc.  But, it turns out that a book of lists didn't inspire me. 

But a book of words? 


Here are a few of the words therein....

caparison: ornamental covering for a horse

fulsome: complimentary or flattering to a excessive degree

dilatory: slow to act; intended to cause delay

furze: gorse (a type of plant). Thorny, evergreen, small yellow flowers, grows in the moors. 

pellucid: translucently clear

plaints: another way to say "complaints" 

numinous: having a strong religious or spiritual quality. 

Will I ever use any of these words in every-day writing or speaking? Probably not, but I love knowing that I have enriched my vocabulary with them. 

My Inspiration Notebook 

Whenever I read inspiring passages or facts I copy them into my inspiration notebook.

In essence, this is like an old "commonplace book," which is defined as a notebook into which notable extracts from other works are copied for personal use. 

I'm on my third commonplace book. At first I copied clichéd quotes and song lyrics (I was in my teens). In my second book I copied beautiful paragraphs from novels, and useful paragraphs from non-fiction. 

In my third book, in addition to recording beautiful and useful things, I'm also trying to incorporate more poetry. 

I need more poetry in my life.

My Gratitude Journal

My Easter resolution this year was to keep a gratitude journal. I've flirted with the idea for years; scribbling little notes in the margins of my journals or day planner, but I've never stuck with it for longer than a few weeks, because I've never had a concrete plan.

I realized that if I listed three things I was grateful for every day, that would be 1095 happy things to remember over the course of a year.

I wanted a special notebook to motivate my in my quest for gratitude, so I ordered the gorgeous "Line A Day" diary from Chronicle Books, which is a perpetual diary that runs for 5 years.

Think about this: five years of daily gratitude would record 5475 happy moments.

My Day Planner

My day planner is a black moleskine notebook with squared pages. I have quested high and low, though stationery stores across three continents, and never found my perfect planner. My main requirements are: a weekly view where the daily portions are vertical instead of horizontal, so I can write lists; and lots of space in the margins for weekly lists that are not day-specific. 

For much of last year I used a planner that I had made in inDesign and had printed at our local Notting Hill printing shop. However, after six months the ring binding was in shreds and pages flew hither and thither whenever I opened it. 

Since moleskine notebooks have the strongest binding of any notebook I know, I bought a book with squared pages and ruled the spreads myself. 

I LOVE this little planner of mine. It is my brain. It is my time-keeper. It keeps me sane and helps when I feel overwhelmed. Everything gets written down, so nothing is forgotten (at least nothing important). 

And, there are plenty of pages in the back for me to keep notes on projects I'm working on, books I'm reading or want to read, random lists, and weekly recipes so that I always have the ingredients lists on hand. 

It's a mess, but I love it.

What do you think? 

Do you have any notebooks you can't live without? 

And, would you like a more detailed tour of any of the above notebooks? Please leave a comment to let me know. 

And, as always, show your love by pinning on pinterest, sharing on facebook or twitter, or hearting in bloglovin!