Monthly Archives: July 2015

Happiness Project Reflection 7: It’s All About the Relationships

relationoships_loresGood morning!

My 365 Day Happiness Project Reflection blog series have already reached #7!  Wow!  I’ve got two more to share after this, so hang tight 🙂

I love building relationships.  I thrive on relationships.  I like thinking about them and talking about them.  I’m not only talking about romantic relationships but all kinds of relationships.  Friends, family, co-workers, neighbors etc.  There is something very magical about how humans connect with one another.  You meet someone, get to know each other, and create a space for this person in your life.  I just find it so fascinating!


One of the BEST THINGS that came out of my 365 Day Happiness Project was I got to connect with so many new people who like what I do.   Some of them are locals, and many live all over the world.  I’ve been lucky enough to connect with some of my heroes through the project, too, which would have been almost impossible if it wasn’t for the internet!  There are many things I wish could be different about social media, but one definite positive is now someone like me could reach a much wider audience with a click of a button.

For the last year or so, I’ve been focusing on relationship building a lot, especially with my art/illustration business.  Why?  Because having a positive and meaningful relationship with people who support your work has many benefits even though some of them may not be visible.

I used to accept compliments from my family and friends very reluctantly when they told me they liked my work. Because, well, they are my family and friends.  They wouldn’t tell me even if they think my work is crap, would they?  I’d tell myself they’re saying that to be “nice.”  They don’t want to hurt my feelings.  In my head, I decided they don’t really think my work is that great.  They buy my stuff because they want to support me as a person, not because they really want my stuff.  Sound familiar?

As I put myself out there more and more lately, though, I’ve been feeling a little bit different about it.  The truth is, your friends who support your work are the best kind of audience you can ask for.  You want to surround yourself with people who like and care about you as a person.  They care about you personally and want you to succeed!  They do think your work is great because you made them.  They encourage you and appreciate you.  How could you not want them as your audience??


One obvious benefit of having a good relationship with your audience is you build trust.  And why is trust important? It is because customers buy from people they trust.  As someone who’s trying to make a living from selling services and products, it is super important to me that I earn the trust of my audience.

I often see on my neighborhood Facebook page people asking others “Do you know a trustworthy car mechanic?” or “I’m looking for a realtor.  Who do you recommend?” You can compare and read hundreds of reviews on services and products online before buying anything.  I totally follow this pattern myself and buy services and products from people I know and trust or recommended by people I trust.  I know their work is good, and I don’t have to worry about them taking advantage of me!

Just like your family and friends, your audience who like and trust you as a person can be your powerful personal brand ambassadors.  And that is so cool!!


So, how do you build trust?

In order for the relationship to develop organically, you can’t just show up when you need something from them or treat them like a dollar sign.  When you put out quality work consistently as a down-to-earth, real person  and treat them with respect, people will start trusting you.

I’d like to view my relationship-building work like gardening.  You tend the soil, sow seeds, and nurture them.  Some seeds will sprout and give you nourishment.  Some will never sprout because the condition wasn’t right, or the seeds weren’t viable.  Sometimes it takes years for it to bear fruits.  Some plants will self-seed and keep coming back year after another.  Failed crop doesn’t necessarily mean you will never succeed.  It’s an opportunity to learn and try something new next time.


Relationship-building takes time, energy, and skills.  It can be discouraging when you don’t seem to get anything in return from your effort immediately in the form of increased sales, for example.  But don’t underestimate the value of intangible benefits.  People telling me how much they love my work and how my work inspires them are worth more than gold to me.

Words of appreciation and encouragement are my number one Love Language, and I will keep making and sharing art even if I never made a dime as long as someone tells me my art has made their world a little bit better.

Fear not, though, because if you’re putting out quality work consistently and treating your audience with respect and kindness, you will see results.  My daily art practice has helped me to grow my audience, and many doors have opened for me since then.  I can only imagine more opportunities coming in as I quit my day job and focus more time and energy on my art business this summer!!!  Woo hoo!

Here are a few things I’ve been doing to build a positive relationship with my audience:

1) Engage with my audience on different social media platforms  i.e. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and my blog.  I like to respond to all the comments and questions I receive as quickly as possible because I appreciate them taking the time to say something nice or ask questions!  It always feels so nice when people I admire and follow respond to me.

2) Share my life and what I know with my audience.  This is something new I’m trying with my weekly blog posts.  I want to share different parts of my life with my audience through my writing.  I’m intentional about what to share – I don’t want to talk about myself just for the sake of talking (plus that is not something I enjoy anyway…).  I want my sharing to have a purpose.  I want to inspire and motivate people to pursue their dreams by sharing my successes and challenges.

3) Send special mini blogs to my monthly art subscribers.  I’m not sure if you know I sell some of my art products through my Etsy shop.  This year I started a Gift of Happiness art subscription service where people can receive a new product from me every month.  Because I appreciate their support so much, I send them a special blog telling stories and processes about each product every month.  I also send them hand-written notes and postcards occasionally to say hi 🙂  I offer a 6-month subscription as well in case you’re interested in joining the club for the second half of the 2015!

4) Send a personalized hand-written note to my customers.  This is similar to my point above, but when I send out my orders to customers physically, I put a personalized hand-written note thanking them.  It’s a small thing, but I want to add a little personal touch.

My following is still pretty small, so I’m seizing this golden opportunity to pay close attention to every and each person who wants to engage with me.  As my audience grow over time, it will be more challenging, but I will do my best to show my appreciation and engage with them as much as I can.

First and foremost, I make art because it feeds my heart and soul.  But my journey is much more enjoyable and rewarding because of the relationships I have with people like you.  THANK YOU for following along on my adventure!!


Besides reading my blog and saying nice things (which I appreciate SO MUCH), you can also support me by signing up for my e-newsletter!  As my blog becomes more process and self-help orientated, I decided to start an e-newsletter as a primary way to let you know about events, products, and services.  If you don’t want to miss out on exciting new opportunities, be sure to sign up!


I’ll be talking about how to overcome a common disease know as “Comparing Yourself with Strangers on the Internet Syndrome” on my Happiness Project Reflection blog post next Sunday.  See you then!

xoxo Yuko







Happiness Project Reflection 6: Practice Makes Perfect?


Hello friends!  I hope you’re doing well.

By the time this blog post comes out, I will have told everyone I know that I’m quitting my day job at the end of July!!!  It’s super scary and exciting.  I’m taking a break from having a regular job so I can devote more time and energy into pushing my art/illustration career forward for a while.  I will write more about my exciting life change later in another blog post! Stay tuned!  It’s a HUGE change, believe me!

Now back to our regular programming 🙂

Today I’m reflecting on the concept of “practice makes perfect.”  I mentioned on my Why I Want to Write Regularly post that I set a goal to write regularly because I’ve never felt writing was my thing.  It takes me a long time to put my thoughts on a paper in a coherent and compelling way.  In order for me to feel comfortable putting something in the world, I need to be able to formulate my thoughts, analyze it  and organize it.  Over and over.

One of the many benefits of doing the 365 Day Happiness Project was I forced myself to draw something every day.  Before that, I drew occasionally.  I would draw when I had specific projects to work on and then get busy with other things in my life.   I knew that wasn’t a good practice if I wanted to be a working artist/illustrator.  How would I know if I like having a career in art if I didn’t know what it’s like to draw every day all the time?

I also mentioned in my Your Imperfections are OK post that you may never feel your work is “100% perfect” no matter how much you practice.  You will get better, though, and you will find your voice or your “style” through consistent practice.  In fact, it may be the only way to get better and develop your own style.

In the beginning of my 365 Day Happiness Project, I would sketch in pencil first and then trace it with pen because I was afraid to make a mistake.  I was also trying different styles of hand-lettering and writing too.   I would create the lettering separately, scan in both the drawing and lettering, digitally color them in, and make one picture to post.  Sometimes I would use a drawing pad to write my words.

I made these drawings using this method:



I quickly became tired of how very time-consuming it was, and so I began experimenting with just drawing with pen without first sketching with pencil.  It was scary at first.  My drawings were already kinda wonky, so it didn’t make a big difference in the quality.  But I grew to like how relaxed and organic everything looked.  Not to mention time-saving!  Well, except for when I couldn’t get something right and had to draw over and over… :p

These are examples of pen drawings from the early days:


I use Pigma Micron pens in case you’re wondering.

You might notice that I was much more experimental with my hand lettering in my early days.  I wanted fancy hand-lettering to be my “thing.”  I took a hand-lettering e-course by Seanwes and drooled over many fancy hand-lettered pieces on the internet.  Although I still love beautiful hand-lettered pieces and try a few different styles now and then, I settled on these very casual hand-writing/lettering styles.  I think it works well with my overall style.

tortilla-chips_web lilacs_web


I still just draw with a pen or a paint brush for many of my works.  I love that that’s my style.  It’s not “perfect” but it is “me”.  Simple, relaxed, and friendly.  Just the way I want you to feel when you see my art!

I’m going to say this again.  Don’t worry about becoming “perfect“: It is a dangerous trap for many of us.  What you want to see is improvement in your work over a period of time.  It’s easier to see your improvements if you compare your work from a year ago vs. a week ago (unless you put in many many hours of practice in one week!)  Are you happier with what you made?  Are you consistently producing high (or higher) quality work?  Are you putting in your best effort into your work?  What about your work says it’s yours?

Close out of your Instagram or Pinterest feeds now, and get making your own thing 🙂

You can do it!

xoxo  Yuko




Happiness Project Reflection 5: Showing Up as Yourself is Hard



Today’s post is a little bit related to my last post about being successful with your goals.  I talked about the importance of measuring your success by your actions rather than counting how many followers or “likes” you get on social media.

So how can you be “yourself” on social media and other platforms when you feel insecure?   What’s so special about me?

My life is pretty uneventful.  I have a day job at a non-profit organization.  I do art when I’m not at my day job.  I live with my nerdy husband, one cat, and two budgie parakeets.  I’m an introvert and a home body.  I love good sci-fi shows on Netflix.  I crochet.  I don’t drink or go dancing.   I drive a 2000 Honda Civic.  Quality alone time is pure gold.  My life does not exactly scream glamour.

I’m also a practical person.  Naturally, I see flaws and tend to be critical.  It sometimes gets in a way of me being a kind/compassionate/thoughtful person I’d like to be.  Shall I say I tend to be “glass-half-empty” kind of a person?  It is more so when I’m feeling stressed.

As for my art, I like to make simple, child-like drawings.   I didn’t go to art school.  I feel insecure about it when I see other people’s works that are more dignified or meticulous.

If you ask me what I think of myself on a really bad day, my answer would be something like this: My life is boring.  I’m a boring person.  I’m anti-social and critical.  And I draw like a kid, so I’m not a real artist.

Imagine if I had a 365 Day Unhappiness Project and drew about things that sucked every day for 365 days.  What would that look like?  I would probably find an audience for it, but what impact would it have on me or people who followed my work?  Not a very happy one I imagine.

Aren’t you glad I chose happiness instead?

Working on the 365 Day Happiness Project was a good mental training.  To find my material, I was scanning for things that made me happy no matter how small it was.  Yes I still complained and whined about things that didn’t go well, but I had to acknowledge that at least one thing made me happy every day and project it onto the world.  My glass was a little fuller.

Because I wasn’t winning a lottery or saving puppies from wild fire every day (or ever), I drew about small happiness for 365 days.


When I think about the heroes I follow, they all have something in common.  They work hard to produce very high quality work and also admit having flaws and struggles.  And they work through their struggles and share their growth process with others.  Their courage and willingness to be vulnerable inspire me to no end.

I connect with their work because I feel connected to who they are.  Although my art career is nowhere near theirs, I can relate to their struggles.  To me, they are real people just like you and me.  I want people to feel like they have the connection to real me, too.

So how do you project your authentic self to the world in a way that’s inspiring to others?

First, you want to stop the tape that plays negative messages in your head.  I’m not talking about the constructive criticisms you receive from people you trust because it’s important to listen to them (especially if the same theme comes up repeatedly) and improve upon them.  I’m talking about the negative things you tell yourself that are only true in your head.

And try to find ways to re-frame it in a more compassionate way.  For example, I could change my unhelpful internal messages to more positive ones:

  • My life is boring. –> My life is stable and peaceful.  I work hard to maintain the stability and take calculated risks.  I’m surrounded by caring and responsible people.
  • I’m anti-social. –> I love being an introvert.  I love people and seek deep connection and engagement.  I’m creative and imaginative.  I’m emotionally independent.
  • I’m critical. –>  I pay attention to details.  I’m analytical and notice ways to improve things.
  • My drawings look like kids’ art. –> Kids are the most creative people on earth.  I’m glad I haven’t lost touch with the innate creativity and sense of wonder.
  • I’m not a real artist. –> I express myself through drawings and paintings.  That makes me an artist.  People appreciate what I create and pay me to create art that is uniquely me.  I’m providing value through my art.  I love being an artist!

Isn’t it a lot nicer?

There is absolutely no benefits to being mean to yourself.  Who you are and who you want to be are usually not that far apart.  They might just be wearing a different outfit, or your lenses may be a bit out of focus.

To be able to show up as yourself and inspire others, you first need to be OK with who you are.  Push the pause button when you catch yourself putting yourself down.  Replace those unhelpful messages with something more loving.  It’s a skill, and you will get better at it as you practice.  Fake it till you believe it.  Go at your own pace.

I know this is going to be a life-long work for me.  Be vulnerable. Be real.  Be graceful with my flaws.

Thank you for reading!  Have a good week, friends 🙂

xoxo Yuko





Happiness Project Reflection 4: What Does Success Look Like?

success_loresHey friends!

How’s your summer going so far?  I’ve been busy working, drawing, making block prints, and of course writing these blog posts!  As I said before, I’m not a natural writer.  It takes me hours to write these posts plus creating a title illustration for each post.  But I’m proud of myself for setting a new goal and working on it!

So today I want to talk about another reflection from my 365 Day Happiness Project.  How do I know if the project was a success?

When you’re an artist or anyone who shares your “stuff” online, it is very easy to get caught up in the numbers of  “likes” or followers you get as an indicator of your success.  Look at all the famous people you follow and admire.  They have tens of thousands of followers!  It sure looks like success to me.  After all, if nobody knows who you are, how are you going to make money from your art, right?

I recently read a couple of  studies that talked about how our brains react to social media like an addiction.  It’s so easy to get an instant gratification through the social media, and dopamine will keep you seeking more rewards.  You anticipate the satisfaction of receiving the instant positive feedback that come in at random times.  Easy access to information via our devices make it so easy for us to fall in to the dopamine induced loop.

Do you check your facebook, twitter, Instagram, email or (fill in the blank) ALL THE TIME to see how many people liked what you just posted??  I’m certainly guilty of it.  I want the validation.  Here is what my loop looks like: Does what I create mean anything to anyone?  Yes I know my family and friends think it’s cool, but what about other people?  Do you like me?  Do you like my stuff?  Oh great, someone does.  Phew. I can be at peace for the next 5 minutes.  REPEAT.

It’s a dangerous trap anyone could easily fall into.  Although it is human nature to want external validation and feel good about yourself, it becomes an unproductive cycle when number is the ONLY thing  you care about or it is the only way to measure how successful you are.

When you set personal or professional goals, it is crucial to have an internal gauge to measure how you’re doing.

Let’s look at my daily happiness project, for example.  Did I draw and post my happiness illustration every day for 365 days?  Yes!  So that’s a success to me.  I know this is a very simplified way of looking at it, but do you see how I had almost 100% control over the outcome?  That is the key.  When you leave your success up to random things like how many people will like it, it is very hard to stay engaged with your goals.

What if I said my goal was to gain 10,000 new followers by the end of the project.  I certainly didn’t reach that goal.  Does that mean I was not successful?  I would’ve felt less excited and proud even if I completed the same tasks.  See what’s going on here?

While it is important to gain and maintain followers for your work over time,  let’s not put so much weight on the number itself to measure how successful you are or how good of an artist you are.

By focusing only on the numbers, you’re placing your energy and time away from your real work.  You could be practicing to get better at your craft.  You could be brainstorming your next product ideas.  Instead you’re going from one social media to the next every 5 minutes just to feel that satisfaction.  And feeling sad and depressed when you don’t get as many “likes” as you did the day before.

Instead of focusing on the numbers of “likes” and followers, you could focus on the quality of relationships you have with your followers.  You can pay closer attention to them when your following is still relatively small.  You would rather want to have a smaller group of really engaged followers than a huge number of followers who are not engaged with your content at all.  It’s an opportunity afforded only to those who have a smaller, more manageable following.  Take advantage of it while you can!

People have different ways of managing their “habit” of checking their social media accounts constantly.  I want to share some ideas and suggestions here!  A lot of it has to do with removing the temptation and anticipation of instant gratification.

  • Close your social media tabs on your web browser while working.
  • Turn off the notifications on your apps so you won’t get distracted visually or by the sound.
  • Schedule time to check your social media accounts intentionally.  You can do once in the morning, once mid-day, and once at the end of the day for example.
  • Put your smart phone on airplane mode if you need an uninterrupted chunk of time to focus.
  • Check them when you’re intentionally taking short breaks.  Indulge yourself as much as you want.  But when the break is over, be in the “work” mode 100%.

While I was working on my daily sketch project, I learned what would get more “likes” than others.  For instance, cats (and other cute animals) got more positive response.  Does that mean my other work are worse?  Absolutely not.  It just means those things resonated with more people.  Be aware of the balance.  If you like cats and that’s the only thing you want to draw, then go for it!  But if you hate cats (or you want to be known for something else), don’t feel like that’s what you have to draw just to gain followers.  At the end of the day, if you’re not being your authentic self, your audience will not be able to connect with your work.  And you will be unhappy for putting yourself in that position!

Another thing about shooting for a certain number of followers is – you will never be satisfied.  At first 100 followers seem like a big number.  Then you see other people with 1,000 followers.  When you finally reach your 1,000, you notice people who have 10,000 followers.  It just goes on and on.

I also noticed that there are many, many talented artists who make 100% of their living from their art who don’t have a very big social media following.  Or no social media presence at all.  Do I consider them successful?  Absolutely!!

Yes, do appreciate when your following grows.  Try to connect with them.  But try not to make it the only thing that matters to you.

Your success should be measured by your actions.  Are you doing something every day to reach your big goal?  Are you prioritizing things you said you valued?  When you look back at your work from a year ago, can you see your improvements?  If you can say yes to questions like these, you’re being successful.  Make sure to recognize and celebrate small successes every day!

Thank you for reading!! Have a wonderful week 🙂

xoxo Yuko