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National Maple Syrup Day

Syrup grades largeHappy National Maple Syrup Day!

December 17 is a day to celebrate, appreciate and enjoy maple syrup. Pure maple syrup, that is; not pancake syrup, which contains no maple syrup at all.

Celebrate by sweetening oatmeal with maple syrup, topping vanilla ice cream with warm maple syrup, or drizzling syrup over a delicious stack of pancakes, waffles or french toast.

If you’re feeling extra festive about National Maple Syrup Day (and have maple trees in your backyard), celebrate maple syrup by making your own! Learn how.

Did You Know…You can use maple syrup as a healthy sugar alternative in baked goods and desserts? Simply replace the sugar with an equal amount of maple syrup, then, for each cup of syrup you use, reduce the quantity of liquid ingredients a recipe calls for by 1/4 cup. Replace liquid sweeteners with an equal amount of syrup. Find out the health benefits of maple syrup.

Sources: holidayinsights.com, punchbowl.com, purecanadamaple.com
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An Interview with Jerry Scott and Rick Kirkman

Jerry Scott and Rick Kirkman  are the creators and producers of the popular comic strip, Baby Blues. They have been writing it together since January 7, 1990, and it was picked up by King Features Syndicate in 1995.

Jerry, you work on Zits with Jim Borgman and Baby Blues with Rick Kirkman—that’s a lot of time with kids/adolescents. Do you ever go see rated R movies just because you can?
JS: You bet. But I cover my eyes at all the appropriate times.

What was the last really great movie you saw?
JS: Moneyball, Super 8, Rango, Hugo, The Help, Midnight in Paris… is that more than one?
RK: The latest would be Midnight in Paris. My list of recent ones would be about the same as Jerry’s, except I haven’t seen Rango, but I’d put Tangled up there.  I have to say, I find more compelling work on TV these days than in movies.

Can you tell us a little about your creative collaboration with Rick? How did the two of you become partners?
JS: We met when we were both living in Phoenix in the mid-seventies (gasp!) and discovered a mutual interest in cartooning. Rick was doing magazine cartoons and taught me how to make submissions to magazines. Neither of us made much money at it, but we never got tired of it and just sort of naturally drifted toward comic strips. Creating and producing a syndicated comic strip is a lonely job, so we decided to do one together so we’d have somebody to talk to (and to blame whenever the strip wasn’t funny).

Baby Blues has been in syndication since 1990, yet the material is as funny as ever. How do you come up with so much new, funny stuff?
JS: We have agreed that one of us is to always have at least one funny kid in the house at all times.
RK: I finally had to draw the line with a twenty-something in the house, deal or no deal. Luckily, my niece just had a baby. But she’s NOT moving in with us.

You both have children—how influential are they in your work?
JS: They might classify themselves as victims, but influential is a nicer word. Rick’s kids were the models for early Baby Blues, then mine came online. It’s a great thing to be able to make every embarrassing moment, disaster and frustration in the house into a profit.
RK: Best of both worlds: you get to shamelessly exploit them while they’re young, and then hold it over them about how you supported them with it—that is, until they get smart and figure out that you actually owe them for all the material they provided.

If you couldn’t do this as a career, what would your second choice be?
JS: I’d be a painter. A ridiculously successful one, if possible.
RK: Rock star, if I was any good, which I’m not. Professional tennis player, if I was any good, but I’m not. So, that leaves writer…

What kind of material do you read in your spare time?
JS: I read a lot of fiction – all types. I’m a fan of John Irving, Donald Ray Pollock, Chuck Palahniuk, Michael Chabon and a lot more.
RK: Fiction as well—John Irving, Michael Chabon, Stephen King, among others. I like suspense-genre novels and the occasional non-fiction book. I also read magazines—including articles about Apple products—and newspaper articles.

Wanda is a stay-at-home mom, which can elicit opinions from both other stay-at-home moms and moms who work outside the home. Do you get a lot of feedback regarding this? Does it influence her character?
JS: I wouldn’t say that we get a lot of opinions about Wanda’s career choice, but it seems to me that it’s a pretty even mix between women who think stay-at-home momming is the ideal, and those women who believe that working outside the home is the way Wanda should go. That said, Baby Blues isn’t a comic strip run by committee. We let the characters do what they will do.
RK: I think there was more feedback about it in the beginning as Wanda struggled with her decision more. As time went on, that became less of an issue. It’s a personal dilemma, and every mom (and dad) deals with it her/his own way.

Are there any big happenings coming up for the MacPherson family?
JS: Nothing planned, but that’s the way life works most of the time, isn’t it? They’ll never see it coming.
We will be publishing a hardbound Twentieth Anniversary book this fall that’s a must-read for Baby Blues Fans. It’s called BBXX. Rick has been working on this book for quite a while, and it’s going to be awesome.
RK: There’s no master story arc, just the way it is in life. I like being surprised…unless it’s another child. There’s just no more room in the panels. We’d have to take over another strip’s space if that happened.

When you look back over your long, successful career, what would you consider to be your “lucky break”?
JS: There have been several. I would have to say that meeting Rick Kirkman at a time when I was trying to figure out what to do with my life professionally is a big one. After that, I think it’s been a matter of making my own luck through hard work and preparation.
RK: Ditto, meeting Jerry. Meeting my wife, because having a child that deprived my wife and me of sleep at just the right time was, believe it or not, a break. Our other child deprived us of sleep, too, but the timing wasn’t quite right. 

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5 Awesome Personalized Calendar Ideas

You’ve heard about our Custom Photo Wall Calendars, and you’ve seen how easy it is to create one. If you’re struggling to come up with a theme or choose worthy photos from the hundreds you’ve taken over the years, have no fear – we’ve put our heads together and we’re ready to share our ideas with you. Go ahead…pick one (or two, or three) and get customizing!

1. Baby’s First Year – Your best friend welcomed a little bundle of joy to the world just about a year ago, and you want your gift to outshine all others at the upcoming 1st birthday bash. So, gather a picture of the little guy/girl from each month of the first year of his/her life and help your bestie relive that precious year all over again. Don’t forget the bathtub and spaghetti face moments. The other party guests have no hope (mwahaha).

2. My Best Instagram Photos – You’ve spent way too much time choosing the right filter and the most promising hashtags for those oh-so-artistic cell shots just to let them fall off the feed and never be seen again. You have like 200 followers and National Geographic ‘liked’ your #bestnatureshot for crying out loud! Put them together into a calendar and enjoy them on your wall all year long. Or better yet, try our new Personalized Social Photo Booksand let our app pull your Facebook or Instagram photos into a photo book instantly!

3. Best. Vacation. Ever.– You love vacation- everyone does. Whether it was that long and torturous road trip from New York to Florida, or that Mediterranean cruise that left you on cloud nine, there are memories from vacations you don’t want to lose. A calendar with your best vacation photos would make the perfect gift for your travel buddies.

4. My Favorite Dishes– You’re a regular ol’ Bobby Flay. The only reason you watch the clock all day at work is because you can’t wait to get home and heat up the kitchen. Because you’re such a culinary genius, you obviously snap a shot of every single one of your mouth-watering creations. Now those would make a perfect kitchen calendar!

5. I Am the 12th Man – You’ve held season tickets for the past 8 years, your tailgating parties attract everyone parked in lots A and B, and your closet looks like a team store. Everyone says it, but you really are the biggest fan. We know you’ve been to way more than 12 or 18 games, but put yourself at the stadium every day with a calendar featuring photos from the most memorable ones. Sure, you and the mascot can go on two months.

If you have another awesome personalized calendar idea, please share it by commenting below! Remember: You can start a Custom Photo Wall Calendar on any month of the year, and they are printed on quality paper stock. So, you don’t have to throw those calendars away when the 12 or 18 months are up. Consider framing each image to create a wall collage, for example. Hmm…perhaps another blog post for the future?

A big thanks to our guest blogger for the day, Christine D., for her awesome ideas!

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Interview with Sherri Buck Baldwin

Sherri Buck Baldwin’s studio, Heart in Hand Ltd., is located in Madison, Wisconsin. Here she finds inspiration in the beauty of the changing seasons.

Buck’s favorite subjects are her gardens and the birds that visit the feeders and houses. For the past twenty years, Buck’s artwork has appeared on many Christmas and greeting cards, calendars, and a wide variety of kitchen, decor, and giftware items. She is also a published illustrator of children’s books such as Special Friends and What’s Inside Miss Molly’s Locket?.

See all of Sherri Buck Baldwin’s 2013 calendars.

Please describe your art style and technique.
I have been an artist for most of my life and I enjoy creating artwork in a variety of mediums, which include primarily ink, watercolor, colored pencil, soft pastels, and most recently, relief printing. I have also just begun to experiment with combining digital art with my hand drawn imagery. I enjoy drawing more than painting because I like the control it allows so I usually prefer to combine watercolors with ink or pencil rather than painting with them alone. I majored in printmaking in college, specializing in etching and stone lithography due to my love of linework. Drawing with soft pastels gives me the opportunity to loosen up my highly rendered style.

The birds you include in your art are incredibly detailed and lifelike.  What’s your inspiration for achieving such realistic depictions?
For several years now I have produced a calendar with birds and flowers as the theme. It started out as “Birds in the Garden”, but is currently titled “Birds and Blossoms”. I am an avid gardener, but no garden is complete until it is populated with all variety of birds. I put out feeders which entice several bird species to visit, and place birdhouses in several areas of my large yard to entice them to stay. I look forward to each spring when the wrens return and their song fills the summer days. I am fascinated with photographing birds and my camera is always on the tripod pointing out my studio window directly at my feeders. With a remote control shutter I can be quite successful at getting shots of birds coming and going from the feeders. My biggest challenge is capturing them in flight since I like to draw them with their wings outspread. It is often surprising to see how much they look like they are swimming through air. I have created extensive photo files of birds which I study when I work on my bird art. Two years ago I was rewarded with a visit for several days from a Varied Thrush which is native to the Northwest, but somehow found itself in Wisconsin one winter. It became a subject for my 2012 Birds and Blossoms calendar.

Your paintings have amazing depth and a rich pattern-upon-pattern effect.  How do you accomplish that?
My bird calendar images are actually two layers of artwork. The top layer is drawn in colored pencil on frosted Mylar, while the layer underneath is a collage created from vintage paper ephemera I collect. I like the resulting transparent, layered artwork. The combination of printed materials, especially antique maps, underneath the bird’s bodies and wings is quite evocative. It’s hard to believe that a creature as small and fragile as a hummingbird can fly all the way from Wisconsin to Mexico, so I like to place a piece of map from both their summer and winter destinations underneath the body of the birds. Bits of lace, vintage writing, and words like ‘fragile’ have also been tucked underneath my bird drawings. It’s subtle, but an interesting added dimension to the artwork.

How do you come up with ideas for your art?  Please describe your creative process.
My ideas come to me most often when I am outdoors, especially when walking my dogs or working in my gardens. Whenever I feel stuck, I grab their leashes or my garden gloves and head outside. I’m lucky to live in Wisconsin, with its beautiful lakes and rolling hillsides.

Please describe the environment where you work.
My studio is located in my home and the room was added onto our house by my husband. I have been able to work at home for the past 24 years while my children were growing up and that is something I have been extremely grateful for.

You’re also an avid gardener.  Please tell us about your favorite plants and experiences in the garden and the role they play when you create your artwork.
Gardening is a passion of mine, one that I discovered after I married and moved to Wisconsin. I grew up with a gardening mother and realized I had absorbed much more about the subject than I thought I had when it came time to contend with a yard of my own. Now, most of my entire front yard is a garden, with only a small amount of lawn. Not confining my gardening efforts to the backyard is something I learned from going on several garden tours throughout England, one of my favorite destinations. I enjoy practicing the art of fruit tree espalier and have trained two pear trees into flat candelabra shapes against a wall of my house, with six additional dwarf apple tree espaliers trained in a cordon around two curved rock walls in front of my house. Espalier is a technique for training fruit trees against a wall in order to conserve space. I created a deep perennial border along the entire length of the lawn in my backyard. In addition to my home garden I tend a local park’s garden on the lake where I have created ‘drive-by’ garden borders in 3 medians in the road for a total of 150’. Each year I try to plant surprises for the village residents, like tall sunflowers mixed in with the perennials. My favorite flowers are the simpler shapes like tulips, sunflowers, poppies, and hollyhocks. The patio outside my studio is filled with containers of all sizes in the summer, which are planted with annuals that hummingbirds are attracted to, like lantana, abutilon, and salvias of all kinds. I also grow herbs in pots as well as a few vegetables.

Tell us what a typical day for you is like.
I’m an early-riser so my day begins soon after dawn. Once my pair of Border Terriers is walked I head into my studio for most of the day to put pen, brush, or pencil to paper. I also spend time emailing with my designer in Texas on projects we are working on for my own line of paper products. I am excited about finally realizing this dream after spending nearly 25 years in the world of art licensing.

How long does it generally take you to complete a painting for your calendars?
I try to complete a calendar drawing or painting in a week, but sometimes it takes a bit longer due to the detailed nature of my work.

Are you as good at cooking and preparing food as you are painting it?
I enjoy cooking with the herbs and vegetables I grow myself, as well as the produce I get each week at Farmer’s Markets in my area. My efforts are usually well-received by my family. My teenage son is the resident tomato-growing expert and a pretty good cook, too.

How did the ideas and paintings for your new Field to Market calendars come about?
Madison, Wisconsin, has a weekly Farmer’s Market with a national reputation for the quality of the produce for sale and I am fortunate to live only a few minutes away from this weekly event around the Capitol Square. I head there early on Saturday mornings with both my bag and camera in hand. The tables laden with vegetables, fruits, breads, jams, and flowers are stunning to behold and wonderful subjects to photograph. With the growing trend for buying local organic produce it seemed a good time to combine these colorful wholesome images into a calendar called Field to Market. I enjoy painting the rich colors of blue-black eggplants, red strawberries, orange carrots, all the various shades of green lettuces, and the sunlight shining through jars of jams, honey, and vinegars. It doesn’t get much better than that!

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Interview with Mary Engelbreit

In 1977, Mary Engelbreit took her portfolio to New York and received a suggestion from one art director that she try illustrating greeting cards. Mary took the advice and quickly found that the single-frame illustrations for greeting cards were ideal for her style and sense of humor. Once Mary focused her talent on greeting cards, success came quickly. Today, thousands of retailers sell Mary Engelbreit calendars, T-shirts, mugs, gift books, rubber stamps, ceramic figurines, and many other  products to her countless fans.

Be sure to read our heartwarming story about a customer and how much Mary Engelbreit’s work meant to her and her mother.

See all of the 2013 options in Mary Engelbreit’s calendar line.

What was the first picture you drew?
I drew a picture of my parents when they were all dressed up to go out one night — I was so impressed with their finery I had to get it down on paper!

When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
Probably from that moment! Really, as long as I can remember.

Is Ann Estelle a fictional character or is she based on a real person?
Her personality is based on me, but I named her after my maternal
grandmother.

How do you pick the quotes to go along with your art?
Before I settle down to do a calendar or a big batch of greeting cards, I take a couple of evenings to go through my quote books and/or troll the Internet quotation sites for quotes that really inspire me.

What inspires you?
Daily, everyday life inspires me, the situations that we all find ourselves in at one time or another.

What are a few of your favorite pieces of art that you’ve drawn over the years? Why?
I always tend to like the drawing I’m working on at the moment, but I do have some favorites. “Life Is Just A Chair Of Bowlies” is one of them. I also really like a calendar drawing from a couple of years ago– “The World Is Full Of Cactus”, and another called “Must. Change. Attitude.”

What do you like best about being an artist?
Just being able to express myself and reach so many other people by doing so is really great!

Do you draw all new art for your calendars each year?
Yes, I do, although I do have help coloring them all in. If I had to color in all those skies by myself, I think I would pack it in.

What is your family life like?
Chaotic, fun, frustrating — just like everybody else’s.

Do you own a Scottie dog?
No, we have a half shitzu, half poodle, all cute little puppy who goes everywhere with us, named Sophie.

What do you like to do in your free time?
I love to embroider all manner of things, and I read quite a lot, mainly mysteries and fiction.

How long does it take you to complete a new piece of art?
I would say a calendar drawing takes anywhere from 10 to 15 hours depending on how detailed it is.

Does the décor of your house resemble your artwork? Do you have cherries and fried egg flowers throughout your house?
I don’t anymore, although I used to. Our house now is very light, done mainly in yellows and oranges, and it’s a lot less cluttered than my earlier homes.

Do you ever get tired of drawing?
Never.

Which artist do you admire most?
I love William Joyce, Lizbeth Zwerger, Johnny Gruelle, Arthur Rackham — I could go on and on!

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An Interview with Shelly Reeves Smith

 

Shelly Reeves Smith began her career in 1988 when she and a friend co-founded a greeting card company, Among Friends. Twenty years later, her illustrations of home and garden can be found on cards, stationery, books, gifts and home decor.

Smith lives in the Ozarks of Southern Missouri with her husband and son where her surroundings provide plenty of inspiration for her work. When she is not painting or spending time with her family, Smith dedicates her time to her bluegrass band, Lonesome Road.

Take a look at the Shelly Reeves Smith calendar line at Calendars.com.

Tell us about your musical talents and your band Lonesome Road.
I grew up in a musical family. My father, mother and brother all sing and play. During my high school and college years, I was fortunate to get a job performing at a country music show in my hometown in Missouri. I also met my husband through those music connections.
The Lonesome Road bluegrass band started in 1997 as a group of friends who enjoy playing together. We all have full-time jobs, but we get together about once a month to perform at local and regional bluegrass events in the Midwest.  After 15 years we’re still going strong and having fun.

How does it inspire you?
As artists know, paintings need to have a place in them where the eye can “rest”. As a visual person, I guess I need that in my surroundings, too. Our little community in the country is the perfect place for that. We live in a farmhouse built in 1915. It’s surrounded by springs and creeks, fields and woods. My parents were both raised on farms, so I guess I’m naturally drawn to farmhouses and everything about them. Everyday things like tables and chairs, porches and windows, kitchen and garden tools can be so expressive. They, and the signs of our use on them, tell stories all by themselves.

What else provides inspiration for your art?
I’m inspired by my family, especially my son, Ison, who is now 2 ½. I also find endless inspiration when I study the Bible and when I read the work of talented people like Kerry Boone.

How long does it take you to complete a typical painting that appears in your calendars?
It takes me a couple weeks from start to finish…from concept, to pairing the idea with the verse, the rough sketch marked up for color, the final sketch, the finished watercolor painting, plus the verse and border art that accompanies it. Of course, that is if all goes as planned!

What makes watercolor your preferred medium?
I started out with colored pencil, but I like watercolor because it can be either soft or bold and it allows the painter to build up to brighter colors gradually. It also provides opportunity for “happy accidents” – like the unintentional splash of color that ends up looking purposeful. Unlike most other mediums, watercolor allows one to see through to the sketch beneath. That glimpse of the graphite sketch behind the color is charming to me.

Are they real places, or do they spring from your imagination?
I sure hope they are inviting. That is my goal. They are sort of an amalgam of real and imagined places, from either my current surrounding or from memories.

Do you begin a painting with a Bible verse in mind?
Yes, it is a big part of the equation. I have a little book that I keep with my Bible where I record verses that are meaningful. When making decisions about the calendars images, I usually look first to that book for inspiration.

Tell us how you work with Kerry Boone, who writes the sweet, secular verses that complement your art so perfectly.
Kerry is one of the kindest and most talented people I know. Because we are friends, we appreciate the same kinds of things – the simple life and the value of close relationships –so working with her is like working with a sister. She is a prolific writer with a large body of work from which to choose. We often select verses for the calendars from her existing work. At other times I’ll send her a sketch of calendar ideas for a certain year and ask her to either pull a line from work she has (that I haven’t seen yet) or write something specifically for those images. She always comes through with some little thought or phrase that takes my breath away.

Is your home as comfortable as the interiors we see in your artwork?
I want my home to be comfortable and enjoyable. It’s often easier to create that in a painting than in real life, but it’s always the goal.  For variety, I try to paint interiors in various decorating styles, but I always end up coming back to the traditional American style. I guess we’re drawn to what speaks to our hearts.

Are you a good cook?
I’m clumsy in the kitchen, so I’m not a natural cook. But I love to cook and I really enjoy painting images that involved good food and gatherings like in the cookbooks I designed with Roxie Kelley. While working in her restaurant and bakery while in college, I personally served and prepared most of the dishes in those first two books, so they were like old friends. I also learned a lot about baking and gracious entertaining from her. The most important part of meal preparation, however, I learned from my mother…simply love the people you’re serving. That’s something we all can do well!

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Thanks Given to Calendars.com

A customer called in to Calendars.com asking for Mary Engelbreit 2012 Desk Calendars. Knowing that the year was almost over and these calendars were close to useless, our customer service representative wanted to make sure she actually meant 2012. That simple question provided a heartwarming story that we had to share.

Joann’s mother loved Mary Engelbreit; she was one of her favorite artists. Years ago, Joann bought her mother a plaque of one of Engelbreit’s painting depicting a mother and daughter with a touching caption that reminded her of their relationship. Her mother passed away this year on May 22, and when she went to her mother’s house to sort through her belongings weeks later, she noticed her mother’s Mary Engelbreit calendar. The calendar was still on May 22, and on that day was the same depiction of the mother and daughter from her gift years prior. Joann felt comforted by this strange coincidence, and wanted the 2012 desk calendars to give as keepsakes to the other women in her family.

We were so touched by this story, that we had to share it with the Engelbreit studio and Andrews McMeel publishing. Through a joint effort, we were able to send Joann a print of that painting signed by Mary Engelbreit herself.

“Thank y’all so much for requesting it or doing whatever you did to get that to me. I’ve framed it and have it in my office and it is almost like having my mother there… Thanks again and Happy Holidays.”

This is why we love our jobs. Happy Thanksgiving and be sure to spread joy when you can.

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Black Friday comes EARLY!

Surprise!

We decided to start our Black Friday sales EARLY! Everything on site is 10-60% off, including our Custom Calendars, and every US standard order ships FREE!

What are you waiting for? Start shopping!

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Interview with John Sloane

John Sloane always wanted to be an artist, and his talents were noticed as he went through school. His teachers encourage him to develop his talents, and he decided on a career as an illustrator while he was still a teenager.

Sloane opted to pursue a liberal arts degree, but spent his spare time in college developing his skills in painting and composition. Shortly after his graduation, he began to obtain free-lance commissions and has since developed a loyal clientele of publishers and collectors.

Sloane’s paintings highlight the beauty and variety of nature in all four seasons and the simple pleasures of country life. Check out John Sloane’s 2013 Country Seasons calendar line at Calendars.com.

You’re able to capture perfectly the sense of each season. Do you have a favorite season or particular time of year?
I love experiencing every season, so I would have to say that my favorite season is whichever one I’m in at the moment. Whenever possible, I like to paint pictures in the months in which they are set, as this allows me to feel and observe the many nuances of the season from life. I enjoy trying to capture the feeling of the sky in different seasons, the foliage of trees in summer and the texture of snow in winter.
 Of course, an observer soon notices that there are many seasons within each season, as nature is in a constant process of unfolding. I think the most challenging months to paint are November and March, as those months are bare and rather colorless, and it can be hard to come up with new ways to portray them. But I have found that some of my favorite paintings turn out to be for those months!

Many of the scenes you paint have the feel of a bygone era.  How do you accomplish that without having lived during that time?
I have always felt an affinity for anything old-fashioned, so I just naturally tend to think in that way. I find old houses, barns, horses and buggies, antique autos and period clothes to be much more interesting to paint than their contemporary counterparts. Also, I admire the ideals of traditional country values and the importance of our nation’s agricultural heritage.

Your Victorian farmhouse, Hearts Haven, that you and your wife renovated sounds like a labor of love. Tell us about it.
It is indeed a labor of love.  Growing up in the city and suburbs, my wife and I shared a life-long dream of someday living in the country. We were fortunate to find a small nineteenth century farmhouse for sale, in need of renovation and situated in a lovely country setting. I was just young and idealistic enough at the time to be willing to undertake what would become a huge challenge of renovation. I think that over the years we have replaced or re-built just about everything on our old house, from the foundation to the roof. For one summer the entire house remained jacked up on a hydraulic lift as a new basement was dug and concrete was poured under it!And I designed and built a wrap-around veranda for the house. My dream was to be able to sit with my wife on an old wooden swing on an open front porch. Working together, we made the dream come true.

The places you depict in your paintings are so lifelike. Are they real places, or do they spring from your imagination?
The subjects of my paintings are imaginary, though they are often based on places I have been. Each painting usually begins with a kernel of reality that inspires me, and I then let my imagination take over. It has been said that writers often write the kind of books they would like to read. I guess I paint the kind of scenes I would like to inhabit.

People and animals populate your idealized landscapes. Are the people based on people you know?Do you have pets, and do you include them in your paintings?
Like my landscapes, the people in my paintings are a blend of the real and the imaginary. I like to include figures in my paintings whenever I can, in order to give life to the scenes. Often I will pose myself or my wife, attired in appropriate costumes, in order to get just the right look for what I’m trying to achieve. Sometimes family or friends are called on to pose.
 Over the years, all of my dogs have been featured in my paintings, as well as local farm dogs, animals and wildlife.  

What inspires your paintings?
Living in the country and enjoying the cycle of the seasons as I do, I would say that just about everything is a potential source of inspiration. I have so many ideas that it can sometimes be difficult for me to choose what to paint next. Sometimes a scene will inspire me to paint, while at other times an old-fashioned activity will be the starting point, and a scene will develop around that. In each series of paintings, I always try to present an interesting assortment of images and moods.

Tell us about the space where you paint.
I paint at home, in my finished basement studio that I had specially built when the house was renovated. In it I have plenty of room to paint, work tables, a cutting board, a storage area and a darkroom. I also have plenty of shelves where I keep a large collection of audio books and music CD’s. I have always loved listening to audio books while I paint. As I listen, the hours of work seem to fly by.

How long does it generally take you to complete a painting for your calendars?
I am very methodical in my creative process. Each painting takes me about a month to complete, from the conception to the final brush stroke. I begin by making thumb-nail sketches of my ideas and developing my subjects patiently until I am satisfied with the composition. I make a small but very detailed preliminary sketch, trying to work out all potential difficulties before I get to the final drawing stage. Once I’m satisfied with the design, I transfer it to my large drawing board by means of drawing grids and eye-balling the image, drawing lightly, square by square, until the entire outline is transferred. From there, I refine my final composition freehand in pencil. After that, I’m ready to begin painting. The more figures or architectural details and perspective that are depicted in the picture, the longer it takes me to paint. But I can usually finish everything within about thirty days.

You’re incredibly prolific. How do you maintain the discipline required to continue to create for so many years?
I don’t think of myself as being particularly prolific, but I am steady in my work habits. As a self-employed person, I learned long ago the value of maintaining discipline in my work days. I am now working on the new series for what will be the twenty-ninth collection of my calendar paintings. That will make 348 paintings painted in as many months!Yes, it’s prolific in the long run, but it is the result of long and steady work, over decades. I am especially fortunate to have the opportunity to share my vision and my art for so many years.

What’s a typical workday for you like?
As I hinted earlier, I am a creature of habit, so my workdays are pretty much unvarying. I begin every morning with a long walk with my dog down the old cow path through the meadow behind my house. I find these walks to be creatively stimulating, as I often get some of my best ideas while on these outings. It also keeps me from spending too much time sitting at my drawing board.
 After breakfast, I usually spend some time on business and e-mails. As soon as possible, I head into the studio. I customarily paint through the afternoon and evening, while taking periodic breaks and walking my dog. I sometimes think that I spend as much time walking my dog as I do painting!
 It may seem like a long working day, but my enthusiasm for each painting carries my along.

If you could choose to live during the times that you depict in your paintings, would you?
I think we are blessed in the present day with the highest standard of living in history, so I wouldn’t choose to live in the past. Nevertheless, I believe that many vital traditional values and folkways have become lost or obscured over time. Each year I am saddened by the ongoing loss of the natural countryside to the relentless sprawl of urban development. In the years since I began painting, I have witnessed the gradual loss of many irreplaceable old barns, farmhouses and farmlands.  Part of my mission in painting is to celebrate traditional ideals and to capture and preserve the symbols of our vanishing heritage.  

Your fans have purchased your calendars for years. To what do you attribute their popularity and longevity?
The imaginary world that I depict in my paintings is my dream of an ideal realm of peace and rustic beauty. It is a contemplative world where life follows the unhurried cycle of the seasons. By contrast, the real world continues to rush on at an almost impossible pace, and day to day living can become quite hectic at times. I like to think that my paintings offer viewers a peaceful place to rest from time to time, a spacious country of the mind, far removed from the stress and distractions of daily living.

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An Interview with Valentina Ramos

After 15 years working as a graphic designer, Valentina Ramos started to create other arts and crafts in her Miami studio. From these creations, Valentina Design was born, and her artwork has been reproduced on clothing, posters, stationary, and bedding. Valentina’s signature style consists of colorful, detailed images and intricate designs in black ink.

You can enter to win an autographed Valentina Art Print in our 30 Days of Giveaways contest!

We have several other great prizes to give away in November as well.

Where did you grow up?  Did you spend hours doodling as a child?I grew up in Venezuela. As a child I really enjoyed spending time drawing and coloring in. I spent many hours creating and dreaming up images.

How did you come to your current signature style? And how did your beloved Rapidograph mechanical pens figure in your distinctive look?
I’ve always been drawn to highly detailed artwork. I think I started to develop my signature style with Rapidograh pens when I attended a Graphic Design School. I was once set a project at school, which was to create a poster in pointillism with a Rapidograh set, and I found the project to be really therapeutic and meditative.

Tell us about your creative process.
Honestly, I don’t have any set rules to my creative process. Every single day is totally different! The only constant variable in my life is the need to create something every day.
Most of the time I work by project. I have a list of clients with specific requirements, and in some ways that is easy because I know what I should be doing ahead of time.  Many times (and I mean, many, many, many times!) I hit a creative block. I usually call those moments “my downtime”. If I feel totally uninspired, I then have to just take my pen and some paper and draw something, or I just start doodling, and many times I surprise myself with a new pattern or image.

How did it feel to see your artwork in such a popular television show as The Good Wife?
Honestly? It’s awesome ;) From the first email from the show producer to finally seeing the prints in the show, I was thrilled! To receive so many emails from people because they recognize your work… it’s just awesome. It’s a big sense of accomplishment.

Who are your favorite artists, past and present?
Oohhh I have many favorite artists. The list will be huge! And also the list constantly changes. Right now I can’t get enough of Gustav Klimt, and Charley Harper is always going to be a full force of inspiration in my artistic life.

The 2013 Valentina calendar features whimsical animals. What is your favorite animal?
Definitely the Elephant. I can paint elephants every single day, but I think people will get bored. ;)

“In dreams and in life, nothing is impossible.” “Something good is going to happen.” Did these sayings that are on many of your pieces of art help you personally to achieve your goals?
Absolutely! Brilliant colors and uplifting messages are a big constant in my artwork and life. One of the biggest motivators on my artist career is to inspire other people to reach their goals, to follow your dreams, for that reason I always try to create art with positive messages.

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