Doodling on TP for a Good Cause: or Why I Shouldn’t Drink While Drawing

Answering the Call: Art for a Good Cause

So last week, browsing the interwebs, I saw a call for artists to donate art for an upcoming auction to support Buncombe County Schools. (That’s the county that Asheville is in, for all my far-flung friends.) I donate art to several auctions each year, and when I clicked on this one, I saw “CALL TO DOODLE” and “TOILET PAPER ART” and thought, Okay, this is interesting. I read the description: draw on up to 3 squares of toilet paper, name your pieces, drop in the mail to donate. I thought: “Oh, cool. Doodle on toilet paper. I can doodle! I like to doodle. Done!”

I wasn’t sure how all of these squares of toilet paper would be auctioned, and part of me thought that maybe all of them would be sold in a bundle, the way some print portfolios are sold. I imagined someone making an enclosure for all of these little squares of art, and wondered: how would the buyer display them? In a quilt-like fashion on the wall? Would this end up in a special collections library? How long would these survive?

Because this auction would benefit local school art programs, this was a no-brainer. I had no idea what I would draw on toilet paper, but I figured I’d think of something as the deadline approached. A couple of nights later, I sat down with my pens and sharpies and three squares of toilet paper, and started doodling. I’ve been trying to keep up my practice of drawing every day, even if it’s just for an hour. Sometimes that drawing time is for a cartoon for a friend, or a freelance project, but sometimes it’s just to calm down and relax and do something that isn’t “work”— you know, with high stakes and a deadline.

I sat down that night to doodle and relax, and draw whatever popped into my mind first. I drew some cute-ish animals, like I generally do by default, and thought, “Done! That was fun. I’ve never drawn on TP before. Experimentation with new medium achieved.” I snapped some photos for the entry form, put my squares in a protective plastic sleeve, and dropped then in the mail to Asheville.

Sidebar: it’s kinda hard to draw on TP. I figured it would be, and chose my pens with the softest tips. Still, it wasn’t easy. But I thought: DOODLE. Low stakes. Have fun. The drawings were cute, and I had some lighthearted activity time, and just went with the flow of what my pens would do. I didn’t even think about paint, or charcoal, or any other media (WHY NOT, LAUREN??), and just thought “Doodle. They said doodle.”

Girl, Put Your Glasses On

They did not say “Doodle.”

The day the auction went live (May 15), I got an email from Laura Mitchell, the wonderful lady who organized this event, and there was a link to the live auction (you can bid online until May 23, so go check it out!). I clicked on the link to see everyone’s doodle drawings, and y’all there are some gorgeous pieces of TP on that page. There are legit painted squares, and mixed media pieces, and charcoal. There are tiny portraits, landscapes, and even some 3-D collage. As I scrolled through them, I thought, “Dang, these people doodle like rock stars.” Mine look like something I drew on a cocktail napkin while I was bored and somewhat hammered at a party.

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And then I saw the headline, in a bigger, bolder font. It did not say “Call to DOODLE.” The auction was titled “CALL TO DOODIE.” Which is really, so much funnier, because who doesn’t love a good art / TP / toilet humor pun. But somehow I missed that when I found the initial call. Maybe it was the font. Maybe it was because it was after 10 p.m. and I was drinking a big glass of shiraz. Maybe it was because I didn’t have my glasses on.

The point is, I felt a little crummy because I would have spent more time on these if I’d read a little closer. I wouldn’t have doodled goofy cats. I might have tried a little harder, and made something that didn’t feel so ephemeral. But then, how long will a square of TP last? (When you see some of these, believe me, you’ll want to devise a way to make them last, like sandwich them between sheets of plexiglas in an airtight frame, or preserve them in amber or glass.)

What Does Last

I know the point here is the AUCTION part of all this. It’s that there are over 120 little squares of art in this auction, and it’s that a whole bunch of artists came together to draw and paint and create for a good cause, and it’s that a whole passel of gracious people have already placed their bids and will be helping kids in Buncombe County. The point is not what you draw on these little squares, but why you draw on them, and why you bid on them, and why you dream up an idea like this auction anyway: because you want to do something kind and meaningful that benefits someone else. And heaven knows we need all of that we can get right now.

Still, I’m a little embarrassed. As I was writing this post, my fella peeked over my shoulder and glimpsed the photo of my cat on the TP square and emitted a very masculine squeal of joy and called it “adorable.” To which I said, “Wait, wait. There’s more. Let me tell you about this auction and why I shouldn’t be allowed to drink and draw.”

By the end of the story, he was crying with laughter. An hour later, he’s still chuckling, mumbling “Call to Doodie” to himself. So maybe someone else out there will get a little kick out of this kitty, too. More importantly, it’ll do a little good for the kids in Buncombe County.

Want to check out the auction? Of course you do! There really are some amazing pieces in there, and the wide variety is something to see. Place your bids online until May 23. And to everyone who organized this auction, drew on squares, catalogued our TP and placed their bids: y’all are all rock stars, and you’re going to make a bunch of kids really happy.

The Love We Need Right Now

 

Searching for those Small Acts

The last several weeks have been hard. I’ve limited my social media time, and limited my news-watching time. There’s an awful lot that feels like it’s spinning out of control, and there’s a lot happening in the world to feel angry about. Some days I feel overwhelmed, like the anger isn’t on the fringes any more, and it’s lodged itself inside me like a parasite. I’ve always tried to see the good in the world—the beauty and the love—but some days it feels like that’s getting harder and harder to do.

But you know what? I have to look for the good: the beauty, the compassion, the love. Otherwise, I think I’d just give up.

It’s hard to find it sometimes, but it’s still there. Sometimes I have to scroll through a lot of garbage on my Facebook or Twitter feed to find it. Sometimes I realize I’ve spent a half an hour scrolling through posts that are making my cheeks burn with rage, but then I land on a post about a kid doing some awesome, like this one, who wrote a letter to her mail carrier and it sparked boxes and boxes of letters of gratitude and love that circled the world. And then I’m glad that I waded through all the nonsense, because it was worth it to find that gem. (That feels like the pattern on a lot of days, but in the end, i keep telling myself that those moments, the ones that make my heart swell, they’re worth the struggle to find them. They make it easier to find more like them, and they make me look harder for the good in the world and less likely to dwell on the horrible. Because let’s face it—if we want to have less horrible, we have to all be better together.)

It’s times like this that I have to surround myself with love stories—all different kinds, not just the romantic ones—because they’re out there, even though on some days it feels like they’re buried deep. It’s not hard to be good to each other. It’s not hard to be kind, to tell someone thank you, or to let someone know—even a stranger—that you appreciate them, that you care. That their story matters, too.

I strongly believe that we all just want to be loved, and valued, and appreciated. And sometimes, the world is moving so fast, with all of its complicated moving parts, that we forget to stop for a moment to connect with each other. We get so caught up in our deadlines, our work, and our own personal battles that we forget to stop for a second, and say “thank you” or “I love you” to that person in our life who really needs to hear it. And the thing is, you don’t always know who it is who needs to hear it—so why not give these words freely? It certainly doesn’t cost us anything. That’s why I’ll continue to sew masks and ship them to folks who I’ll likely never meet. It’s why I’ll keep hand-writing notes to people who buy a simple greeting card in my Etsy shop. It’s why I’ll keep shouting “Thank, you, we appreciate it!” to the FedEx and UPS carriers when they scurry up the walk to leave a package at the door. Because sometimes we have to slow down long enough to show some love. And if this time is encouraging us to do anything, it’s that.

Need a Good Love Story to Inspire You?

Some days I have to give up on being productive. And that’s ok. We can’t be productive all the time, and we can’t expect ourselves to be “normal” during a time like this. Some days feel like a roller coaster of emotions in my house, and I know I’m not alone in that. Some days, I need something to inspire me to focus on the good, to keep looking for the beauty out there. So where do I find these things? I’m one of those folks who turns to books and movies pretty often to get inspired and sucked into a good story. Here are a few I’ve found recently that have given me a good dose of dopamine, and hope. If you want to escape for a little while, check them out.

  1. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012). A sweet, funny, heartfelt coming of age story directed by Stephen Chbosky, based on Chbosky’s 1999 novel of the same name. Stars Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, and Paul Rudd. I can’t believe it took me so long to watch this movie, but it was fantastic. On Netflix.
  2. Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016). A fabulous comedy-drama written and directed by Taika Waititi (you’ll know that name from Jojo Rabbit), whose screenplay was based on the book Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump. I laughed. I cried. I felt hope again. It’s on Netflix.
  3. The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy. It had me at this excerpt: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” asked the mole. “Kind,” said the boy. A friend posted photos of the illustrated pages each day, and I had to get a copy of my own. I’m so glad that I did. Not only are the words beautiful, but the 100+ illustrations are, too.
  4. Night on Earth (2020, Netflix). A pretty amazing documentary that uses special cameras to get crystal-clear video of what happens on this planet at night. Fair warning: it’s addictive.
  5. Upworthy.com. It’s a good antidote to the other daily news. They delight in sharing the good, the kind, and the heartwarming.
  6. Never Have I Ever (2020, Netflix). Created by Mindy Kaling, this series reminds me a little of Freaks and Geeks, and has all the feels: heartwarming, funny, and smart. I’m trying not to binge-watch.
  7. After Life (2019, Netflix). Hands down, the best thing I’ve seen Ricky Gervais in. It makes me laugh, and cry, and laugh again. It’s the story of a crotchety widower who’s learning how to keep going, and keep looking for the good in spite of losing his love. Season Two just started.
  8. I also follow illustrator and all-around inspiring person Emily McDowell on Instagram. If you like things that will warm your creative spirit, you should, too.

 

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Sewing was Practical; Now it’s an Act of Love

My sewing station, aka the living room.

For the last three weeks, I’ve been sewing fabric masks. This is not something I ever expected I’d do in my lifetime, but here I am, buying up fabric and spending my free time sewing pleats and curves, and trying not to stitch my fingers together. At first, I thought having all of this time at home would mean lots of time to say, write my next book. But you know what? I can’t concentrate on writing. I can’t even think about a book right now. What I can focus on is trying to do something useful. Practical. Beneficial to someone else.

Then: A Corduroy Alligator

Years ago, my mom taught me how to sew. Just like my grandmother taught her when she was a girl. Over the years, I fumbled my way through a few dresses, some skirts, some tote bags—nothing too fancy. My skills were limited. (I vaguely remember my high school Home Ec class, in which I sewed a wonky apron, a quilt square, and a tie snake with buttons for eyes.) In my thirties, I took a quilting class and made a pretty awesome wall hanging that has the most crooked seams you ever saw (remember Frankenstein’s monster? That’s the kind os seams we’re talking about here). As it turns out, I’m better at making “artsy” things, where it doesn’t matter if the seams are straight and there is no need for things like darts and gathers and zippers.

My mom and my grandma both sewed partly out of necessity, partly out of practicality, but mostly out of love. My mom made most of the dresses she wore in high school and college (and she’d kept some, which she showed me once, and nearly caused my head to explode). She used to wait for patterns the way we wait for a new album to drop. When I was a kid, she made clothes for me, too. (I didn’t always like them, of course, but in retrospect, the fact that she made things like pants and blouses is seriously amazing to me.) But the coolest thing she ever made for me was an alligator costume made out of green corduroy one Halloween. (I think I was about 8, and I’d give almost anything to have that costume now.) It was two shades of green, and she used a sharpie to draw on the scales, and I thought it was the most awesome thing I’d ever seen. And I kinda wanted to wear it all the time.

My grandma did the same thing. She made her own clothes, and like my mother’s, you couldn’t tell they didn’t come off a clothing store rack. That is to say, the seams were perfect and the clothes fit their owner like a glove. My grandmother sewed my mother’s wedding gown, and her veil. It’s still hanging in my parents’ attic, and I’m still amazed every time I see it.

My granny sewed too—what I remember most is the quilts she made for everyone in the family (and y’all, we had a big family so this lady was BUSY). She was always trying out new quilting patterns, and I remember finding her quilt frame set up in a spare bedroom once—I was baffled by the contraption, and couldn’t wrap my head around how she used it. But when she presented me with a finished patchwork quilt, it was magical. To this day, I feel like a part of her is with me in that quilt.

In my family, the ladies sewed partly because they didn’t have the luxury of buying in a store. But really, they sewed out of love. Because we make handmade things for the people we care deeply about. We hunt down the right materials (the ones that suit them just perfectly), and we take our time to learn the pattern or create one especially for them. Then we take our time in making this thing, and we fill it with love because we’re thinking about that person the whole time we’re making it, imagining their face when they see it, how they’ll use it, how it might make them happy, how they’ll always have this part of us with them.

All those years ago, when my mom taught me to sew, I just thought maybe I’d make some cool dresses. Maybe a quilt. I never thought that I’d be sewing hospital-style masks, hoping that it might protect someone, or save a life. Sewing was just this novel thing for me, but now it’s something entirely different.

Now: A Different Way to Show You Care

Now, as I’m sewing these masks, I’m thinking of the doctors who have treated me over the years, the nurses who cared for my family members every time they were admitted into a hospital; the nurses who cared for my mother and grandmother as they were dying of cancer; the therapists who helped my grandfather; the caregivers who showed such kindness and compassion to my family members (and remember, we were a big family, so that was a LOT). And that’s just my tiny window of experience: if you take those people and multiply their number by ten thousand, or a hundred thousand, or a million, then you approach the number of health care workers who are on the front lines—right now, today—fighting to keep us alive. And that’s not even touching the all of the others out there protecting us—because there are so many of them, in so many professions, going to work every day to help someone else, and hoping they don’t come home and infect their loved ones.

So now I’m re-learning all the tricks my mom taught me (a piecing chain, making bias tape, clipping the curves). I’ve watched tutorials, I’ve joined some groups, and I’m still struggling to sew straight seams, but I’m getting better. I bought fabric online, on sale, and I’m fortunate to have a little money that I can spend on cloth, elastic, and thread that won’t melt at high temperatures. I’m extremely lucky that I can work from home, and stay safe and isolated, and sew for a few hours when my regular work is finished for the day. I don’t have kiddos that depend on me for care, and so I have this luxury of a little extra time to spend on something else that is deeply personal—and some days feels like a tiny drop in the bucket, but still feels like the one thing that I can do to say thank you to some folks taking care of all of us, and pay it forward—just a little.

My little sewing machine has seen more action in the last three weeks than it’s seen in the last twenty years. Partly, I’m sewing out of practicality, but mostly it’s out of love. And gratitude. And hope that we can all have a little more compassion for everyone around us, and do our part to protect each other.

Because it’s up to us. We’re in this together.

***

>> If you’d like to sew some masks to donate to hospitals or clinics, check out Relief Crafters of America, where you can get patterns, tutorials, and information about shipping your finished masks to folks who will send them to areas that need them the most urgently. (Different groups have different patterns that hospitals have requested, so be sure to get that info before you start sewing.) There’s also Sew. Some. Good. based out of Greenville, SC and the Carolina Mask Project. And these are just a few that I’ve joined—there are tons of groups out there you can join, and if you don’t sew, you can donate fabric or supplies. Every bit helps. Every way that you help matters.

>> If you want to make a mask for yourself, or for your friends and family members (because yes, we should all be wearing one if we have to go out in public—it protects you, but also everyone around you), then check out these two easy tutorials for a pleated design and a curved design with a pocket for an additional filter. Here’s another with fabric ties instead of elastic.

Let’s Make Art Together

Like many of you, I’m feeling a bit lost right now. I’m holed up at home, grateful to be here with someone I love. I’m able to work from home a little. I’m also making more time for art every day, because it’s fun, and it’s calming. I’m fortunate to be part of a really amazing Facebook group where lots of artists have gathered for an online course, and the support there is truly incredible. (If you’re curious, check out Lilla Rogers’ MATS website, where she’s got some amazing classes. And some freebies.)

This is a hard time for everyone. It’s a time when we need to stick together, and be good to each other, and care for our community. It’s also a time when we need to reach out to one another, and be there for each other, and know that we have a support system.

I feel like I’m not in a position to do much, but here’s what I can do. I’m drawing every day, and I’m sharing some coloring pages that you can download, for free, every day that I can. (I’ll shoot for every day, but I might miss my deadline now and then. Life’s a little bananas right now. But I’ll do my best.)

Click here to download your first bird pages.

Each day, I’ll post new coloring pages on a special webpage on my site. I’m also going to post updates and other useful links over on my Facebook page. (It’s my artist page, not my personal one.) I’d love to use that page as a creative space where we can talk about the fun, inspiring, creative things we’re doing and making with each other in the coming weeks. (Did you color a page? Share it! Did you find a link to an awesome learning tool for kiddos? Share it there. And come say hi–I’d love to hear from you.)

I know some of y’all are looking for fun, free activities for your kids (and for you, too!) to keep calm and have a little normalcy right now. I’ve been seeing some great resources in the last couple of days, like virtual tours of museums, free art museum coloring books you can download, and even celebrities reading our favorite books. I’ll post those things on my Facebook page, and you can post what you find, too. I’d love to use that page as a place where we can share resources, talk about creative things, and support each other.

The next few months might be really, really hard. Harder for some of us than others. We might be in isolation for a little while, but we don’t have to be alone. Come check out my page, and let’s make the most of this together.

🦊  🌿  🦊  🌿  🦊

SEPTEMBER UPDATE: Thanks so much for visiting here! I’ve left the first free download to coloring pages in the link above. After lots of drawing, and lots of free downloads, I’ve collected my favorite 10 pages into a bundle that you can purchase over on my Etsy page. I’ve also added some other fun downloads there, like color-it-yourself birthday cards that you can print yourself, and some colorful Zoom backgrounds, and some cute illustrated letters about animals and their weird little habits. Your interest here inspired me to keep drawing through a really difficult time, and inspired me to design more greeting cards and make more prints (I had not done that in a while—sigh…). I’m so grateful for all of you who visited here, and popped over to my Etsy shop, and bought cards and other pieces of art to support my small business. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. 💗