Create Explore Discover

October is here! The past few months have been a whirlwind of creative/work projects and I’d like nothing more than a weekend getaway at the Create Explore Discover art retreat in Truckee, California. It sounds like a terrific time. In its 4th year, the retreat runs from October 24th – 26th and draws a diverse group of women: from working artists to weekend explorers to moms looking to uncover their creative spark. Located at the eco-modern Cedar House Sport Hotel in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the retreat features art classes in instant photography (with Andrea Corrona Jenkins), painting and collage (with Mati Rose), image transfer (with Courtney Cerruti), and knitting and crochet (with Anne Weil). A mini-photography session (with Alessandra Cave) and a special art project (with Lisa Congdon) will be included in the weekend events as well.


Beautiful setting, great food (hotel restaurant Stella offers innovative local fare), and great classes taught by notable artists. A few spots remain open so if you’re free, hop over to the registration page for sign up details.

Friday night begins with an opening ceremony and special art event with Alessandra Cave. Saturday includes morning and afternoon classes, lunch at Stella, followed by an evening wine reception and special art project led by Lisa Congdon. Brunch, class, and a closing ceremony wrap up the weekend on Sunday afternoon. A new pop-up shop hosted by the Nevada Museum of Art is also included and will feature art and books by instructors along with wares from retreat partners Alessandra Cave Photography, Bespoke Stuff & Things, Casey D. Sibley Art + Design, Lisa Congdon Art & Illustrationredlinedesign®, Stancan Design, The Cedar House Sport Hotel, Uppercase Magazine.


Create Explore Discover founder Sarah Stevenson is a mixed media artist, photographer, creative events planner and owner of redlinedesign® studio. This wasn’t always her career path though. She spent most of her professional career as an interior designer in Chicago where managing large-scale design and architecture projects for Fortune 500 clients. Tired of the 80 to 90-hour work weeks that afforded little time for personal creative work, Sarah left the corporate world for a more fulfilling lifestyle and created her art and design studio in 2010. One year later, she utilized skills learned from managing large-scale projects to launch her first art retreat. A small gathering of women came to learn, connect, collaborate and share their creative voices. The retreat has been going strong ever since.

Curious to find out more about Create Explore Discover, I also talked to some of the instructors Courtney, Alessandra, Mati Rose, Anne, Andrea, and Lisa about their creative habits, businesses, and inspiration sources. Here’s what they had to say.

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Tell us a bit about yourself and your creative business.

Courtney Cerruti – I call myself a Maker Extraordinaire because I do a little of everything and I make something everyday. I’ve lived mostly in the SF Bay Area and spent a year in Bordeaux, France when I was in college. I had my first show there, which was painting, photography and printmaking. This speaks to the fact that I can never settle into one medium!


What do you like most about teaching art?

Mati Rose McDonough – Getting to know the students as we sit across each other and paint. Seeing how we share so much life wisdom at the table and witnessing the incredible art that is created in such a short time.

I’ve grown as a teacher in that I truly trust the process of creating and to push past the resistance and “ugly stage” and “self-criticism” and lean into the work. Time and time again when I can lead students through this process, incredible work emerges.


Do you practice a daily creative habit? If so, can you tell us about it?

Courtney Cerruti – For me, taking one small step a day toward where I want to be creatively is approachable and less intimidating. Starting a habit or a routine of doing a drawing a day, or even just jotting down a daily observation can help you start on the path to a creative life.

Andrea Jenkins – For the past year, I’ve been writing a sentence a day. As a dancer, I practice putting phrases together in my head when I hear music that inspires me and I try to move everyday, in some way, for at least ten minutes.  I don’t always do *all* of these things but I try. It’s a practice, it’s a conscious choice. And when you practice long and hard enough, it really does become an integral part of who you are.

Sarah Stevenson – My daily creative life includes, writing, photography, sketching and painting. I am constantly working at my skills as a photographer and mixed media artist and finding inspirational imagery that I can photograph. I begin my work each day, writing a blog post, writing morning pages and weaving some sort of creative activity throughout my regular business day. I will say some days are better than others and I do not always have time for a creative activity. If I can’t do something creative, I try and read a book, look at inspirational magazines or cook with my family.

Lisa Congdon – Well, it’s my job to be creative. So I have no choice, which is really hard sometimes! So I there are some really basic things I do to keep my juices flowing. First, I get at least eight hours of sleep at night. Young artists might be able to pull all-nighters and still make interesting work, but not me! I find that rest is really, really important. When you get down to it, creativity is just a form of brain function. And your brain can’t function well unless you’ve had enough rest. I also try to eat really regularly and as healthy as I can. Being nourished is really important.

I also try to make friends with every voice in my head that tells me I am not good enough or my work is bad. The main killer of creativity is negative self-talk based on shame and feelings of inferiority. I do whatever I can to push through those feelings. I work hard to not compare myself to other artists’ work or accomplishments and to stay on & honor my own path. I work hard to ignore non-constructive negative criticism. That can be really hard, but with practice, it gets easier.

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If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?

Courtney Cerruti – I’m pretty lucky to live in California. Its really beautiful here and there is endless inspiration. I recently went to South Africa, and I’d love to go back. I really want to go to Mexico and Japan in the next 5 years and I’ll take a trip to Paris any day, at the drop of a hat, always.

Andrea Jenkins – Like most artists, I am deeply inspired when I travel. Portland, Oregon and the Pacific Northwest will always be special to us for a hundred different reasons. When we moved this past summer, we spent two weeks traveling across the country, came down the 101 into California and then east via old route 66. Loved every minute of it and was hugely inspired by the entire journey. In love with California, specifically San Francisco and Palm Springs for the way the landscape and colors define them as cities. Will always love New Orleans for the history, mystery and romance of it, will always love New York City for the energy and the millions of stories that hide in every crack and crevice. As for abroad, I love Italy and France, for all the reasons everyone else always loves them– the people, the history, the art, the food. To travel, to see the world, this is one of the most important things you can do for yourself as artist.


List a few of your favorite places online for art and creativity.

Anne Weil – Creature Comforts: fresh, modern, great taste in art and home décor, great DIYS

House that Lars Built: progressive and charming taste with fabulous original ideas

Sugar + Cloth: bright, white, clean pastels, simple + easy DIYs and recipes, always pretty

Oh the Lovely Things: quite simply the loveliest of things.

Thanks for sharing, Ladies!


Two for Wednesday

Two more Portraits of a House

cape house bw 6
Hasselblad 500cm | Ilford Delta Pro 3200


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Hasselblad 500cm | Ilford Delta Pro 3200


October 3 (plus a photo ebook just for you)

Whew. It’s only 3 pm but the little one and I have already finished a good afternoon’s work. We went to his doctor’s appointment, dropped off film, popped into a photo booth, and picked up veggies at the farm stand in town. Back at home, he walked from the living room to the kitchen and back a zillion times. He sneaked into the bathroom and deciphered the mechanics of the toilet. I fed the brown rice sourdough starter, peeked at the first stages of coconut milk (!!) kefir, negotiated nap time (and lost), then finished last minute project edits.

Nikki & Cody 10_14 photo booth

Fast forward to dinner. Roasted carrots and tomatoes, green salad with yogurt dill dressing, mashed potato pancakes. Homework, book talk, clean up — off to bed kiddos. Note the tiny inflections in the little one’s voice, how he sings after then with me as I rock him in my arms to sleep. There is more. Always so much more. One moment to the next. Find time for photo and writing edits. Stay up too late. Wake throughout the night. We’re in the throes of teething (still).

Past bedtime. Back to the page. It’s easy to feel like this snapshot in time will go on and on. One crazy sleepless night into the next. Then I remember. It changes. It always changes. Pick up the camera and the pen. Record the chaos. Go.

About that ebook I mentioned . . .

When you sign up for the Art & Lemons newsletter, you get a copy of my new photography ebook: 10 Tips for Capturing Awesome Photos Every Day. It’s jam packed with useful information that you’ll use every time you pick up your camera! Have a lovely weekend.




recently + friday links

September is hoppin’ and I have a number of new projects I can’t wait to share with you (soon)! I’m in the photo editing room today catching up on work but I wanted to pop in and share some links to get you through the weekend. Oh and before I forget, my e-course Develop Your Photo Habit & Style, has a new Facebook page, stop by and give it a thumbs up and follow the links and updates for more photo inspiration. Happy Friday, Friends!

cape house bw 1
Hasselblad 500cm | Ilford Delta Pro 3200

Recently around the web:

+ Portrait of a House

+ Hot hot heat at Chilifest!

+ Behind the Kitchen Door at Coco’s

+ Red Fire Farm’s Tomato Festival

Friday Links:

+ This beautiful new novel, Neverhome, by Laird Hunt

+ On the pursuit of happiness and taking life-altering risks with Chris Guillebeau

+ A Visual Mixtape: New work at the Los Angeles Center of Photography

+ Figs for Fall!

+ Crunchy cauliflower salad

+ Twenty questions with Miranda July

+ Ultimate photo playlist

+ Field + Supply Arts and Crafts Show in the Hudson Valley (mark your calendars East Coast folks!)

+ Art retreat (wish I could go)


Apple-Cherry Dumpling Pies (Vegan and Gluten-Free)

I’m 15 pages into Larry McMurtry’s epic masterpiece “Lonesome Dove”. So far so good, except for the little time I have to read. At this rate, I may finish all 843 pages in 6 months, maybe longer. I may need to hold off on this one until winter when I have no choice but to hunker down on the weekends and read. I may have to go with the audio book here. I’m also 3 pages into Thomas McGuane’s short story “Motherlode” (published in The New Yorker, September 8, 2014) which echoes Cormac McCarthy and the Coen Brothers. The speed is swift and the twists, so far, unexpected. If you’ve read either or a have a good (and hopefully short) book to recommend, let me know!

Cut Apples

I taught a cooking class last night on homemade dumplings, four savory recipes including sweet potato gnocchi, chickpea four dumplings, pierogi, and parsley dumplings, and one sweet apple dumpling recipe. So much prep work goes into each class. From recipe creation to proofing dough. I haven’t been posting as many of the recipes here, but will try to post them more often. For the apple dumplings I made a second gluten-free version that turned out to be my favorite. After I came home, I finished some work, noted changes I made for the gluten-free dumplings, then tried to read but passed out instead. Today, we’re celebrating the little one’s first birthday. I may stick a candle in one of these dumpling pies for him. After one bite, he’s a dumpling pie fan.

Apple Cherry Dumpling Pies


Apple-Cherry Dumpling Pies (Vegan and Gluten-Free)
makes 6 dumpling pies

For the dumpling dough:
1 ¼ cups gluten-free all-purpose baking mix (I used Arrowhead Mills, you can use your favorite brand or homemade blend)
¼ teaspoon sea salt
1 ½ tablespoons natural cane sugar
8 tablespoons coconut butter (solidified coconut oil)
8 tablespoons ice cold almond milk
½ tablespoon apple cider vinegar

For the apple filling:
3 apples (about 1 ½ pounds), peeled, cored, and cut into 1-inch chunks
½ cup packed turbinado sugar, plus extra for sprinkling on top
½ cup dried cherries
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon sea salt
¼ cup (½ stick) vegan butter, softened

To make the dumpling dough: In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, salt, and sugar. Cut half the coconut butter into the gluten-free flour mixture with a pastry blender or work it lightly with the tips of your fingers until it has the consistency of cornmeal. Cut the remaining half into the dough until it is pea-sized.

In a cup, mix together the ice cold almond milk with the apple cider vinegar. Drizzle the almond milk and vinegar mixture into the flour by the tablespoonful, gently mixing it after each addition. Knead the dough a few times, adding more of the almond milk mixture until it holds together. (Gluten-free pastry tends to be crumbly; use a bench scraper to gather the dough as you roll and shape the pastry.) Roll the dough into a ball, then press it into a disk and wrap with plastic wrap. Refrigerate dough at least 20 minutes before rolling out for the dumplings.

Preheat the oven to 400F. Line a baking tray with parchment paper.

To make the apple filling: Mix the brown sugar, dried cherries, cinnamon, and salt together with a fork in a small bowl. Add the vegan butter and mix well. Stir the chopped apples into the sugar mixture.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Using a bench scraper or knife, cut the dough disk into 6 wedges (first cut the circle in half, then cut each half into thirds). On a lightly floured surface, shape each dough wedge into a ball, flatten with your hand, then roll each one into a 7-inch square.

Spoon 2 tablespoons or so of the apple filling in the middle of each square. To shape the dumplings, bring the 4 corners of the dough up and around the apple and pinch the corners and edges of the dough together, use a bench scrape or your hands to gather the dough and hold it in place. Prick the top of each pastry several times with a fork to allow steam to escape. Place them on the prepared baking sheet and freeze for 20 minutes.

Sprinkle the dumpling pies with turbinado sugar. Bake the dumpling pies for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven to 350F. Bake for another 15 minutes, or until golden. Let the pies cool to the touch before serving.


september 10

We just returned from a birthday celebration weekend in Boston. It was a surprise party for David’s birthday that had been in the works since July. He knew about the Red Sox game on Friday and The Replacements show on Sunday. What he didn’t expect was the party on Saturday night at Mei Mei with friends he hasn’t seen in over a decade from his old neighborhood growing up all the way up to graduate school days.

Plum Island 1

Dinner from Mei Mei was supposed to be dropped off at the Harbor for a surprise boat trip out to the Islands at sunset. Dark clouds stretched overhead. Lightning flashed. Tornado talk ensued. The boat trip was cancelled. We reserved early seating at the restaurant and vowed to brave the seas another day.

Plum Island 2

Mei Mei started out as a food truck in Boston in April 2012 serving creative Chinese-American street food with local and seasonal ingredients. They opened up their brick-and-mortar spot a year later.

Plum Island 3

Every bite was top notch from the magical kale salad tossed in a rice wine vinaigrette served with garlic panko breadcrumbs and a side of feta; Veggie Farmer’s Market Fried Rice featuring sweet corn, beets, carrots, green onions, and rice; Scallion Pancake Flatbread Sandwiches with garlic bean hummus, seared summer squash ribbons and crispy shallots; Sweet Corn Fritters with Sriracha aioli; and Ground Pork Dumplings with pork, cabbage, herbs, and spices. Fruit salad with whipped cream and miso caramel cookie crumble along with chocolate cake were served for dessert.

Plum Island 4

We finished the leftovers last night, so it’s back to the kitchen today.

Plum Island 5

On Monday afternoon, we drove to the southern tip of Plum Island and tried to keep fistfuls of sand out of Cody’s mouth while simultaneously following Luke out to the tide pools to search for hermit crabs. Thickets of wild beach plum, bayberry, honeysuckle, and beach grass line the dunes. So long summer.

Plum Island 6


still life (plus Moms Who Click)

It’s Thursday…

Cape House 1

At the writing desk today, but I wanted to pop in and say hello and to share this feature Moms Who Click (Thanks, Ladies!) did with me. It’s a great site for the creative/photo minded. Read more, here.


Conversation with Lisa Congdon (Art Inc.)

I recently had the pleasure of talking to artist Lisa Congdon about her new book, Art Inc. It’s an essential guide for creative types who dream of making a living as an artist. Lisa debunks the starving artist myth and offers practical steps to create, build, and sustain a profitable business. She details a variety of ways to make a living from their art: illustrations, licensing, fine art sales, print sales, teaching, and more.


Art Inc cover

Lisa also shares experience from her own career as well as advice from successful art world pros, including Nikki McClure, Mark Hearld, Paula Scher, among others. Art Inc. will change the way you look at art + business, in a good way. It’s a must-read-then-apply for all creative types! Be sure to check out the book trailer for Art Inc., it’s so good.


Onto my conversation with Lisa. Enjoy!

You first started making art as a hobby in 2001, five years later you began showing and selling your work. Today, you make a full-time living as an illustrator and fine artist. Looking back on your art career, what key steps did you take in order to turn your art practice into a business?

I did so many things, and all of them I cover in Art Inc, but the most important step I took was putting my work into the world, both sharing it on the internet and also sharing it publicly through participating in art shows. It often feels incredibly vulnerable to share your work publicly. We wonder, “Will people like it?” But it’s an emotional risk we all have to take at some point if we want to find our audience – the people who appreciate and pay money for our work. Another thing I did was spend a lot of time thinking about what I really wanted to do as an artist. I brainstormed all of my dream projects and then worked slowly and methodically to try to make them happen. In some cases this meant learning new skills and in other cases it meant reaching out to people I wanted to work with. I still do that on a regular basis, because as we meet some goals, we have to make new ones that feel exciting to us in the present.


What made you decide to write a business book for artists?

I was actually approached by Chronicle Books to write the book! I’ve worked with Chronicle as an illustrator for many years and have a great relationship with them. I had never thought about writing a business book before that point! But the more I thought about it, the more I decided that sharing what I’d learned as a working artist and interviewing other people who had things to share could be a great service for people who were starting out. I didn’t have a book to help me when I was beginning, and I had to figure a lot of stuff out on my own. There were books out there, but none of them felt current or relevant. I hope this book helps fill in that gap for some people.


As an artist, what was the experience of writing Art Inc. like for you?

It was really challenging, actually! I have never written a book before (I’ve illustrated many) and so I had to learn about not only how to write seven separate but connected chapters, but also to write a business book – which is a very different kind of writing that what I do on my blog, for example. I am used to writing personal essays, but business writing has to be much more straightforward and super clear and precise. This was tough for me at first, but my editor Meg Ilasco was a tremendous help at that. The more I got into writing the book, the easier it all became. And I really loved interviewing people for the book and learning from them too. When I turned the manuscript in, it was almost 50,000 words and we had to edit it down to 30,000. Editing sometimes feels more difficult than writing. Figuring out how to pare the book down to the essential elements was a really interesting – and ultimately satisfying – process!


How much time do you spend promoting your work verses making new work?

I would say the things I do that fall into the “promotion” category make up about 30% of what I do, but that includes interviews, blog posts, preparing for speaking engagements, book events, social media time, newsletters, and more. But really the main focus for me always has to be studio and art making time. It is my life’s goal to always keep that stuff at the forefront.


What role has keeping a blog played in both your artistic process and sales?

Blogging is a very natural and easy place for me. I love keeping a blog, almost as much as I love making art. I think because it feels so natural to me and I love doing it, I have generated a large blog following. I think when your enthusiasm shows, others enjoy it too. I use my blog as the “home base” or “landing place” for most of my content – new work, event announcements, personal essays, features on other artists, etc. And then I share that blog content on social media platforms like my Facebook Fan Page and Twitter. This has helped exposure and sales of my work tremendously. I think having a “place” on the internet where people can find you is key – for some it’s a blog, for others it’s Instagram (I love Instagram too), for others it’s Tumblr or Pinterest.


Can you offer a few ideas for artists on how to grow an audience online?

The first thing to remember is that your following will not come overnight! So patience is key. I have over 50,000 fans on my Facebook fan page, but at one time I had 2. You have to start somewhere, and over time if you keep at promoting what you do, people will follow and your audience will grow exponentially. I recommend finding the visual places on the internet that feel like a good fit for you – whether it’s Instagram or a blog or a Tumblr page (or all three) – and use them every day to share what you are doing, share your creative process, and give people an inkling of an idea about who you are as a human being beyond your art. Always be genuine. And be consistent in your posting – make sure you are posting at least once a day Monday through Friday. But also, don’t over post. Remember not to bombard people with too much. Find your sweet spot and slowly, day by day, your audience will grow.


How do you handle rejection?

Oh, rejection is tough. For me, it has gotten easier over time. One of the gifts of getting older (I am 46 this year) is the ability to separate the personal from the professional. In other words, over time I have learned that if someone doesn’t like my work or doesn’t think it’s appropriate for a particular project or award or whatever, it doesn’t mean my work doesn’t have value OR that they don’t like ME. It’s not personal. Of course, rejection still always stings! I just try really hard to go quickly back to focusing on what I have accomplished or thinking about how much I love what I do. And that helps.


You have an incredibly strong and beautiful artistic voice. Do you recall a moment when you realized this is the work I want to make?

First, thank you! Second, it’s important to remember that always in the early years of your art-making process there will be a lot of experimentation and you may feel very lost. That was certainly true for me. Up until about 2011 (and I started making art in 2001) I felt fairly vague about where I wanted to focus my art and illustration practice. And then in about May of 2011 – after 10 years of painting, collage, drawing and sewing – a light bulb went off in my head. That rare light bulb moment (I don’t actually have many of them) came after a period of intense struggle. And I did realize, yes, this is the work I want to make. And my career took off in a really significant way after that. And I don’t think that is a coincidence! Of course, since then I have discovered other kinds of work I want to make (I am always exploring and experimenting). And I have always refined my art practice even more. But I hope that never changes. I always want to be shifting my voice slightly.


Who or what inspires you and why?

I am inspired by my own desire to create, mostly. Of course there are people – writers, artists, athletes – who inspire me (too many to name). And I am clearly inspired by nature, design, color, shape, typography, and all of that. But what gets me out of bed every day is my desire to create and also to share what I create. I spent the first part of my life till not knowing what would make me happy, and feeling frustrated. So once I discovered what it felt like to create – the sense of total satisfaction after a day or night of hard work on a piece of art – there was no going back. It is the feeling I get inside that inspires me. I am very internally motivated.


Any advice for aspiring artists?

Making a living as an artist is not something that happens by sitting back and dreaming about it. There are specific and strategic things need to do to get your art into the world, build an audience and start selling your work so it can become your livelihood. Those are the things I talk about in Art Inc. Of course, everyone’s path will be different – you have to find the path that works for you and that you are willing to put time and energy into. But the good news is it’s possible if you stay true to yourself, are strategic and do the work.


What’s next for you?

Oh, gosh, so many things! The big projects I’m working on right now are two more books with Chronicle. They are illustrated books (no more business books in my near future!). One is due out in 2015 and the other in 2016. I am also excitedly preparing to teach a business class based on Art Inc at the end of September through CreativeLive, which you can learn more about and register for here.



Hi, just a quick note to say I’m sharing a story about marbles, authenticity, and advice from strangers (oh and photography too, of course) over at Mortal Muses today.

Northampton Alley

p.s. Jump over to Life in Black & White for to enter a spot in my new photo e-course or a Polaroid camera with film!


color field + ground

A quick glimpse of a new film series: color field + ground.


Read this short story earlier, Last Meal at Whole Foods. A young man’s mother is dying. He’s practical in his storytelling and is unable to show physical tenderness. What is left out is the heart-wrenching part.