Category Archives: Sumi Ink

Work Hard and Play Often


Hello friend,

It’s October!  WOW!  I feel like I’m saying this every month…but where has the time gone??

At the time I’m writing this post, it’s still September.  September turned out to be a really busy month.  I’m grateful for all the opportunities I’ve gotten, and I definitely over-committed.  Plus we had a loss in our family and had to take off several days to attend an out-of-state funeral on top of it.

So I’ve been working a lot to stay on schedule with my commitments and due dates and not doing a very good job of taking a break.  I don’t like it, but I signed up for this.  Sigh.

I’m still planning on taking a week off to step back from my day-to-day and recharge (a.k.a. small scale sabbatical) starting Monday, October 5th!!

I’m still preparing a blog post for you next week, so don’t worry 🙂  It’ll probably be a shorter “sabbatical” post but still be a good one.  I’ll also report back what I’ve done in the sabbatical week in my future blog.  Stay tuned 🙂

I’ve been talking a lot about why you want to work hard every day to achieve your goal. Today I want to share how “play time” is also very important for artists.

When I say play, I’m not talking about go-carting or laying on a beach in Hawaii.  Yes, those things are important, too, but I’m specifically talking about creative play time.  It can be doodling or any self-directed creative projects.

I’m gonna talk about doodling here because most of my self-directed projects start with doodling.

Doodling is great.  It’s free-flowing.  It’s loose.  You can experiment all you want, and nothing is a mistake.  Nobody is telling you how to draw or what it should look like.  It’s fun and engaging.  Because doodles often represent the core of what you like and do well, they are great tools to discover and deepen your voice too.

I love Lisa Congdon's doodling manifesto so much <3
I love Lisa Congdon’s doodling manifesto so much ❤  Doodling rules!

In doodling, you might find a medium you like or discover a composition you haven’t thought about.  Because there is no mistake in doodling (YES!), you can try all sorts of color combinations and styles, too.  I sometimes start doodling and don’t like what I draw.  But then I look at it later and re-work it and end up liking the results.

By doodling every day, you exercise your creative muscles every day.  You’re building a creative muscle memory of how to get into your relaxed yet focused mode.  And that is the optimal state you want to be in to do your best work.  It’s kind of like meditation.  The more you practice being present, the easier it gets to access that part of you.

Because my doodles often represent what makes my work unique and special, I find inspiration for most of my future work from my doodles.

Here are some of my doodles that turned into actual work/products:

1) Watercolor abstract paintings

When my husband is not traveling for work, we usually watch a couple of shows on Netflix during and after dinner.  I usually doodle while we’re watching (or listening, more accurately) something in the evening.  I like doodling sort of abstract motifs while watching something because it doesn’t require the precision and care that more representational drawings might require.  If it’s wonky, it’s OK.

Anyway, I doodled a series of small watercolor abstract paintings over a course of several days.  Just loose, fun, and flowy experiments.

But I really liked how they turned out, so I turned them into postcards!  I used Moo Printfinity service so I could print multiple designs without committing to printing a larger number of each.  I’m very happy with the quality of their postcards!


I made the postcards for my monthly art subscription customers for September.  And I showed it to the manager of my neighborhood art gallery, and now they carry them in their gift shop among other goodies I made.  These are also available for purchase here.


I also showed them to the owner of Geraldine’s Counter, one of the best diners in Seattle :), and he’s agreed to show my work there during the month of October.

I managed to finish 8 pieces to show.  And here is me and a few of my artwork!


I can also turn these new paintings into postcards, prints, phone cases etc. not to mention selling the originals.  Possible multiple income streams from artwork that came out of fun doodle projects!

2) Sumi drawings

I like drawing with sumi ink and brush.  Like so many other Japanese kids who grew up in Japan, I took Japanese calligraphy lessons every week.  Having a nice handwriting is highly valued over there.  We’d sit up straight on a little cushion on the floor and practice writing on a rice paper with a brush dipped in sumi ink.

It’s such a zen experience for a kid!  Writing with ink and a brush really forces you to concentrate.  And the sumi ink smells really good…

I took an art class a couple of years ago, and in one of the classes, we drew with sumi ink and brush.  That was so much fun!  I thought sumi ink was for serious writing only.  But no, you can also be free and fun.

yellow flower
Sumi ink & oil pastel drawing I made in a drawing class (2013)

Anyway, I started incorporating sumi ink in doodles and casual sketches too.  I just love how rich the black is.  And the smell reminds me of the quietness in calligraphy lessons and my childhood in Japan.

One day I was doodling teacups and teapots in sumi ink.  I just like drawing everyday things and wanted to see how they’d look as ink drawings.  Well, I loved how they turned out so much that I sent them to the print shop right away!



Some of you know that I participated in the August sketch challenge with Janine Crum #makewithme – I’d receive a prompt for a drawing every morning and would share it with the community.  On day 5, I had this brilliant idea of starting a sketch in sumi ink for the rest of August.




As I was looking at my growing sumi drawing collection, I thought, why not turn them into a calendar!?  I’ve been wanting to do a calendar for a while, so it was perfect!  I’ve created several new drawings to add to it, and my 2016 calendar is available on my Etsy shop!



3) My botanical doodles  

Flowers and plants are my most favorite subjects to draw.  They’re so perfect and break my heart a little bit.  They’re my go-to motifs when I don’t want to think too much about what to doodle.

Here are some of my recent botanical doodles:




They’re so much fun to make, and can’t you just imagine them as fabric or wrapping paper designs?  That’s totally on my list to do 🙂

See how creative play time isn’t just for play?  When you work as an artist, there is no clear boundary between work and play.  When you create art for yourself or just for fun, it’s still helping your art practice and professional growth, too.

I have just a few practical tips on doodling:

1) I use sketchbooks that are good quality but not very expensive.

My favorite is Bee Paper Company Super Deluxe Sketchbook (6×9), and Canson Mix Media Sketchbook (9×12) for everyday drawing.


I know if I use more expensive sketchbooks, my doodling experience will be more precious, and I really want to keep it as casual and accessible as possible.  Also, smaller sized sketchbook is good for carrying around when you’re out and about.  You fill up the page pretty quickly, too, so that’s satisfying when you don’t have a lot of time.

2) I have drawing materials that are portable and easy to use.

If you’re not a daily painter, just a thought of setting up to paint may deter you from having a daily doodle practice.

Except for sumi drawing and my serious watercolor painting, I use pens and markers a lot.  My favorite is Micron pens for line drawings and lettering, and Koi brush pens and Gellyroll pens for coloring (They’re from Sakura of America).  I also have a stackable watercolor discs (don’t know who makes them but you can get it at many art stores) and water brush pen from Pentel and love them!

I conveniently have the photo of everything I’m talking about!

They’re handy for carrying along with my small sketchbook, too, when I’m out and about.

3) Doodle every day.

You knew this was coming, right?  Doodling is art practice!  Incorporate it in your daily life.  My favorite time to doodle is when my husband and I watch shows on Netflix after dinner.  I also find pocket of time, like while I’m waiting for a friend at a coffee shop, to doodle.   Many artist have a daily practice when they get up in the morning, like August Wren, who does beautiful 30 minute painting every day!

If you need extra inspiration for creating time for a daily practice, read my previous post on this very topic!

Do you feel inspired to doodle more now?  If you take away one thing from this post, it would be “relax and have fun.”  OK, technically that’s two things, but you know what I mean 🙂

Just put the pen to the paper and see what happens.  Draw lines and shapes!  Layer a bunch of different colors!  Some people experiment drawing with their non-dominant hand.  Don’t have a sketchbook?  Just draw on a scratch paper.  Or add something new to your old drawings!  Possibilities are truly endless.

And I have a special blog post coming this week that may help you get started! I’m participating in a Draw Yourself Back to Nature Blog Hop this coming week with Kelly from Wings, Worms, and Wonder! What that means is, from Monday 10/5 through Friday 10/10 Kelly and other artists will create a special blog post and give nature drawing tutorials.

hop 2 day 3 graphic

I’ve always wanted to do tutorials and was very excited when Kelly approached me to join this collaboration. So even if I’m on sabbatical this coming week, you get one bonus blog post from me on Wednesday 10/7 🙂 I’m also doing a sweet giveaway for folks signing up for my newsletter in the post, so don’t miss this opportunity! (If you’re already signed up for my newsletter, you can still enter :))

See you guys next week!

xoxo Yuko









I don’t have a to-do list. I schedule it.



I shared on my last blog that I went on a solo retreat to start my full-time artist life and my process of creating my artist manifesto.  So that’s how I spent my first day and the morning of day 2 on my retreat.

Today I want to share with you what I did the afternoon of my solo retreat day 2.

My second big goal for the retreat was to organize and prioritize my goals and to-dos and schedule the action items on my calendar.

When I made the decision to transition out of my day job to become a full-time artist, my mind was filled with dreams and ideas.  As exciting as it was, it was also overwhelming.

My mind was going really fast.  At any given moment, it sounded like this…

“Maybe I should re-brand?  Oh, I totally need to update my website.  My portfolio is totally out of date.  How many shows am I doing this year?  When am I gonna create new pieces for my shows?  When is the deadline for the commission work??  Wait, oh do I need a new logo? “

That was going on in my head while trying to wrap things up at my day job.  Since I was there for so long, and there were many transitions happening at the same time at the office, it was crazy.  I was up to my eyeballs with everything.  I was putting in way too many hours at my day job and coming home exhausted.

It was just too much.  So in order to stay sane, I decided to just focus on my transition at my day job and wait to start organizing around my business until after I quit.

When I scheduled the solo retreat on my calendar, I could feel the stress level go down right away.  It gave me something to look forward to and gave me a permission to not think about all the “to-dos” until the retreat happened, except for some urgent issues.

Fast-forward to my retreat day 2 –  I was ready to tackle my ever-expanding to-do list.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with all the tasks you need to take care of, this process may be helpful!

Unlike my brainstorming session for my artist manifesto, where I went from small to big, for this I went from big to small because I already knew the “big” tasks and needed to narrow down on smaller, bite-sized to-dos.

Here is my process:

Step1: Come up with the larger categories. 
For me, I started putting categories like “shows,” “website,” and “social media” on sticky notes and lined them at the top.

Step 2: List subcategories under each big category. 
For this step, you want to come up with smaller actions for each category.

For example, for my “website” category, I identified that I needed  to re-design the site, get new photos, and write new contents.  These are still sort of general categories but small enough to start thinking of what actions need to be taken next.

If I knew there were any hard timelines, like art shows, I would list them on the sticky as well.  Items with timelines are easier to schedule because I can schedule the action items by going backwards.

For instance, if I’ll be at a holiday craft show on November 5 to 7, I need to set up a day before (Nov. 4), I need to pack a day before that (Nov 3), and make sure I have everything I need at least a few days before then (Oct. 31) etc.

I can estimate how much of what to make and how long it would take me to make them.  I also need to think about how long it takes to order/ship the supplies to make my products.

Sticky notes are great because you can move them around.

Subcategories and action items go under each category.

Step 3: Put action items (i.e. your to-dos) on your calendar.
Once I felt like I got all of the ideas on the sticky, I sat down at my laptop and opened up Google Calendar.

You might be wondering why I would want to schedule them as opposed to just having a general “to-do” list?

It’s partly my personality – I’m an INFJ and do my best work in a structured environment.  I like having a plan.  I like knowing concrete steps to take to achieve a goal.  If you share similar personality traits, you’re probably nodding your head right now.

I also think it creates an accountability.  By putting things on your calendar, you’re making your intentions more tangible.

While I was juggling a day job and the art business on the side, I was using Outlook calendar and paper calendar at work and Google calendar for art.  Because my paper calendar already had a bunch of on-going meetings from my day job on it, I decided to ditch it and go on-line 100%.  I just needed a new start 🙂

Also, my paper calendar didn’t have enough room  for each day (I liked using the monthly calendar) to fit all of the action items.  It’s easier to edit and move things around online than on paper, too.

Here are some tips and things to think about while scheduling your to-dos:

  • I made sure to schedule regular time for workout.  I am a sedentary person naturally, and since I’m not getting any younger and don’t have a good health insurance any more (one drawback of not having a regular day job…) I need to pay extra attention to my health.  I was going to the gym 3 times a week before, and I’m upping it to 4 times a week now.  I like to get a good workout in first thing in a morning.  It gives me more energy, and it doesn’t interrupt my work flow later in the day.
  • I scheduled regular hours for recurring things, like planning for my monthly subscription services, blogs, newsletters and such.  I can reschedule this as needed, but it’s just easier to set it as recurring appointments.
  • I scheduled time at the end of each day to make a quick check list for the next day.  It is nice to end the day knowing I will attend to important things the next morning.  I also don’t have to worry about it while trying to sleep!
  •  Although it’s tempting to be doing short-term cash generating things all the time i.e. shows, commissions, products etc, I made sure to schedule a regular time to learn new skills and work on long-term goals as well.
  • For goals I didn’t have specific timelines for, like updating my website, I scheduled one hour a week to focus on it without any specific action items.  Each week, I will do something to move the project forward and/or create new action items for the goal.
  • I color-labeled items so I know at a glance if there is something different I need to pay attention to – for example, my regular work stuff is green.  For shows, I used pink – just a reminder that it’s coming and I need to prep for it way in advance.  For personal items, like lunch with friends, I used yellow.  For learning, I used blue.

I’m not gonna lie – it was super tedious and mind-numbing.  By the time I finished, my eyes were crossed and my brain was all foggy.

But it was SO satisfying to put everything on the calendar and toss all the sticky notes at the end of the day!!!  Woo hoo!


I’ve been working on my own and following my calendar for a couple of weeks now and have noticed a few things:

Things take longer than I thought it was going to.
This is the biggest lesson I’ve learned so far.  A quick email turns into several involved conversations.  Putting together a show application takes longer because I can’t figure something out on Photoshop etc.  I was scheduling my tasks pretty tightly back-to-back, so I’ve learned to put a buffer in or schedule longer chunk of time to be more realistic.  This way, if your task doesn’t take as long, you can tackle something else on the calendar or take a mini break.

When inspiration hits, be flexible.
Let’s say I scheduled one hour for writing a blog post, and I scheduled something else after it.  But if I’m on a roll and just coming up with awesome blog post, I won’t stop when the hour is up.  Seize the opportunity when inspiration hits.  That’s when you produce the best work naturally.

Except, be careful not to fall into the “productive procrastination” trap.  Let’s say I scheduled time to write a blog post but don’t feel like it.  I still have time til it publishes, and I have other fun stuff to do, like coming up with a new design for a block-printing project.  So I do that instead.  And I wait until the last minute to write my blog, and I’ll never be ahead in writing.

It doesn’t feel unproductive because you’re doing something for your business.

While it’s important to be flexible, if you scheduled something that you’re not super excited about, try to stick to it.  It’ll get done, and you can move on to something more enjoyable as a reward!

Take a break.
What I’m noticing is – it is true, when you’re doing something you love, it doesn’t feel like work.  So I want to do it all the time.

I’ve been working on my art business in evenings and on weekends for the last couple of years while having a day job, so it has also become my habit to just do the work whenever possible.  It doesn’t help that my husband is away for work most of the summer.  I just keep going all day, every day.

Over the last weekend after a craft show, I noticed how tired I felt, and my creative energy was drained.  I was experiencing a mini burn-out just two weeks into my full-time artist life!  That’s not a good sign.

I need to nurture my passion and creative energy for a long-term success.  So on Monday, I took it easy – I ran some errands, did some organizing around the house, and framed a couple of  new art and hung them on the wall.  It definitely helped.

My hero Sean McCabe takes one week off every 7th week for a small scale sabbatical.  That’s when he steps away from the day-to-day business and does whatever to recharge his energy.  I so admire that and want to schedule mini-breaks here and there as well.  Probably not a whole week off yet but one day a week to start with.  OK, I just scheduled my week-long mini sabbaticals on my calendar starting October!  I’m doing this 🙂

It feels scary to take a time off because I don’t have a paid vacation any more, and there are so much to do.  But if you get burned out, it’s all over.

I never want to get to a point where making art no longer makes me happy.

Self-care is so important guys!!

Oh, and here are some art that came out of my solo retreat 🙂  My friends’ gorgeous dahlias gave me plenty of inspiration between work sessions.



How do you organize and prioritize your to-dos?  I’d love to hear it in the comments.  If you have a more flexible, spontaneous  personality type,  how do you stay on track?

Hope this was helpful! Take care and talk to you soon!

xoxo Yuko

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