Money stresses me out. And thinking about how to monetize something I love – art in my case – has always seemed stressful too. You can probably list all the typical concerns I had:

  • Monetizing will make your hobby feel like work.
  • It won’t be fun anymore.
  • You’ll do it because you have to, not because you want to.
  • Your work won’t be as good if it’s done for money and not some higher artistic calling.

These ideas were weirdly ingrained into my subconscious. Probably because I kept hearing these messages from people and the media and that amorphous blob we might call society. Don’t we generally accept these ideas as true, at least for some cases?

Let’s Talk Artists and Money

Monetizing Your Interests
“Morph”, oil on canvas, 2013.

The relationship between art and money in particular is a tricky one. On one hand, we have the starving artist trope. What has contributed to this idea are the dozens of now-famous artists who were never appreciated during their lifetimes. On the other hand, we have abstract artwork selling for millions of dollars while the general public looks on and scoffs, “my child could have done that!”

So somehow, artists are both dreadfully poor people with no hope of making a decent living AND mysterious beings who have the ability to become millionaires with a well-placed scribble or paint splatter. Obviously, the reality is far less exciting. But these tropes exist in my head (and probably yours) nonetheless.

The Mythical Artist: Creativity as Sacred, Special, and Limited*

Another myth is something we might call the sacredness of art (or any creative act). Artists (or writers or musicians) don’t simply create. They lay around and wait for “inspiration” to strike, and when it does, they become incredibly prolific and produce masterpiece after masterpiece. At least, until that inspiration dries up.

*Doesn’t this title sound like a journal article? I think I’m ready for grad school.

I Can’t Do It for the Money

So with an image of art as a divine act and confusing messages about my ability to ever make money with art, I never thought too seriously about running an art business.

One, I had other things to do. Two, because I doubted my ability to produce great art under pressure. If I had to wait for inspiration, how could I create art on demand?

What if doing art for money killed my creativity?

Or I accepted a commission but then didn’t have any inspiration?

Or worse, what if my art turned out no good and the client ended up hating it?

But now, having started an art business, I worry about none of that.


How Do You Get Over the Fear/Discomfort/Stress of Monetizing Your Art?

I can’t know exactly what will help you get over any discomfort with monetization, but there are two points that helped me: having a real product in mind and keeping my focus where it needs to be.

A Real Product

The final push that led me to start an art business was my desire to create a specific product: enamel pins. As I began setting up the foundation for an enamel pin business, it became a natural step for me to sell other forms of art.

Currently, I’m selling prints and pins. I don’t do commissions, which were the main source of my past worries. But in the future, who knows? I know now that “commissions” for me will never look like some broad, undefined art project full of uncertainty. If I offer commissions, they’ll be a specific product I know I can produce, like pet portraits or witchsonas, to name a couple products I’ve seen other artists offer.

Having the physical product in mind made it clear exactly what I needed to do to get into business. Now I’m well on my way, with one pin currently in production and up for preorders, and a pin set in progress.

Profit is Not the Focus

The second change I needed to start an art business confidently was to not focus on profit. I’m sure this may sound naive or like a luxury to some. But I don’t mean you should only do art for art’s sake or that you shouldn’t sell or market your work. I’m talking about changing your mindset. Shifting my focus away from monetizing has freed me from any concerns about inspiration, productivity, and enjoyment.

I still enjoy doing art, because I do art that I enjoy. I’m not especially worried about inspiration or productivity. There are days when I’m full of ideas and keep reaching for my sketchbook to capture them. Then there are days when I’m too busy with work and other projects to muster the energy for new ideas.

Then What Is the Focus?

I’m running an art business for myself. It’s my way of pushing myself to make art more consistently. I don’t expect to make a significant amount of money from my artwork, and maybe that’s the starving artist trope still talking, but I’m okay with it. This is a side hustle, not my main gig.

But You Still Need to Do the Work

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not sending my art out into the world and just hoping someone will buy a few prints. I’m serious. Otherwise, I would have stuck with social media and left out the art shop. Just because my mindset isn’t centered on money doesn’t mean my business isn’t. Think of this split as the difference between a company’s vision and values vs. their business goals.

My vision is about producing art I love. But my goals involve getting this business off the ground. I like what freelance writer Christina Vanvuren says about goals. Wanting to make $5,000 a month is nice. But “making $5,000” is not an action you can take. Actions you can take include designing and creating products, building an audience or following of potential customers, and promoting your work regularly.

In content marketing, your primary tasks are creating valuable content and promoting it. You should spend 80% of your time on one and 20% percent on the other. Guess which one should take up 80%?

Promotion. Good marketing practices say you should spend far more time on promotion than content creation. Because your amazing content can’t do a thing if it’s left alone in the dusty corners of the Internet.

My Turn to Work

While I’m still drawing, painting, or designing pins every day, the most important daily task for my art business right now is promotion. And that’s what I’ll do with you now. It would be hypocritical of me to say “promote yourself!” and then not mention any of my projects, don’t you think?

I could tell you to follow me on social media at @Monicartsy (on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Vero) OR ask you to visit my Etsy shop OR even preorder my first enamel pin (this cute little Zebra plant that’s only available at a discount until March 14th). But instead I want you to focus on my biggest project right now: an enamel pins series on Kickstarter.

Monetizing Your Interests - "Succs in Cups" Seasonal Succulent Enamel Pin Kickstarter layout with 6 pin designs arranged on a light purple gradiant background. The left two designs are yellow-green succulents in 2 blue and pink teacups. Center two designs have a succulent growing in a glass and another darker green succulent growing in a paper coffee cup. The right two designs feature succulents in a blue mug and purple mug.

True to my current plant-hoarder branding, I’ve designed a series of succulent pins. Part of the appeal of succulents is that they’re cute and you can plant them in all sorts of cute containers. Don’t deny it. I personally love seeing succulents in cups. Currently, I have succulents growing in teacups and cocktail glasses. So I ran with that idea and added fall and winter variations.

Right now the fall paper cup might be my favorite, but I’m also really satisfied with the stars added to the winter mugs (a last minute change suggested by my sister Alyssa).

Monetizing your interests - 2 winter succulents in mugs designs, one blue mug and one purple mug with a gold star design on the outside

I’m really not much of a salesperson – I was never any good at those school fundraisers with all the cool prizes – and in any case, funding or preordering one of these pins is your decision. Maybe you don’t want to fall into the black hole that is enamel pin collecting. I can respect that. It’s too late for me, but good on you.

But I’d still love it if you took a look, and if you like what you see, spread the word to your friends.

Help me with that promotion!



This post is part of a monthly series where I record my process of starting an art business. I’m sharing this process as I go so I capture all the little stressors and small victories along the way. Here’s a real-time look at one person’s journey to starting an art business.

Mindset and Reflection

This month, it was unexpectedly difficult for me to write this blog post. I started drafts several times and then postponed my work. I even pushed back my schedule (this series is supposed to go live the third Tuesday of every month). And then I split it into two blog posts.

For this half of my February posts, I’m focusing on art products. I’ll cover:

Art Prints

Digital Downloads

Enamel Pins

Pin Manufacturer


What Kind of Art Should I Sell?

I knew my answer immediately. I started an art business wanting to make enamel pins. And that’s what I’ll do. But pins are expensive to manufacturer and can take up to two months to go from design to product-at-your-doorstep. So my question became “what else can I offer while I’m waiting on pins?”

The first thing that came to mind was art prints.

Art Prints

Every artist seems to sell art prints. And why not? They already have the product and it seems only natural for an artist to sell straight up artwork. But on the other hand, I was thinking, “does anyone buy art prints online?”

Obviously they do. But was it a big market? Even as an artist, I’ve never purchased an art print online. I’ve never had the desire to. I still don’t. But I have purchased prints and artwork at galleries, art walks, and events. An artist friend of mine said she’s the same way.

So with some reservations, I decided to give it a try. Because selling prints is easy right? Well, yes and no.

How to Make Art Prints

After I decided to sell art prints, I realized I had no idea how artists do this. Where do they print their artwork? What are the cost-efficient options? What kind of paper do they use? What printing method is best? And oh my gosh, how am I supposed to ship a print without it getting bent or outright crushed?

In retrospect, I was a little dramatic. But suddenly, it seemed like there were a million things to consider. Maybe if I’d purchased online prints before, I wouldn’t have had this little crisis. When I stopped wondering and started looking, I found four options:

  1. Printing from Home
    My printer is a nightmare, so I immediately cut this option.
  2. Printing from an Office Supply Store
    Think FedEx, Office Depot, or Staples. This option is very cheap and typically uses laser printing. (Home printing is usually inkjet.) Their paper options are limited, but at some places (or possibly all?) you can bring your own paper for them to use.
  1. Printing from an Online Business
    There are probably several businesses like this out there. Many are photo printing businesses, but the one I found was mentioned on an Etsy forum and offers fine art prints as well. I won’t mention their name yet since I’m still deciding on whether I like this service.I received free print and paper samples from this company, but unfortunately they were all photo paper. In the end, I decided to just buy a few fine art prints to see if I like them. I’m really hoping I do.
  1. Printing from a Local Print Shop
    This is probably the most professional option. You can usually get giclee prints, which are very high-quality and more likely to be considered fine art. I haven’t looked into this option because I only found out about it recently. I also don’t need fine art quality prints for Etsy.


Right now I tentatively plan to go with the online business, as long as the fine art prints I ordered turn out well. The Office Depot prints I ordered were available for pickup the next day and the paper quality wasn’t bad, but you could see the difference in color. Going with the online business means higher print prices and slower delivery, but the quality seems worth it. Or I’ll offer a couple different paper options in my Etsy shop.


Digital Downloads on Etsy

Prints aren’t available in my Etsy shop yet, but there’s a quicker, cheaper alternative: digital downloads. In theory, digital products are excellent for a business owner. After you’ve uploaded the product and made your listing, it’s basically passive income. Buyers make a purchase, download the files, and do all the printing themselves.

In practice, I’m not sure how well this works. There are thousands of digital download listings on Etsy, so I suppose someone is buying them. But I get the sense that products with a specific purpose sell better than art prints. To test this idea out on myself again, no, I don’t think I’d buy downloadable art unless I really, really loved the artwork or I had a specific use in mind for the print.

But I did see an adorable set of tea labels that I would consider buying. Even more so if I had sticker paper and a decent-quality printer. Gift tags, banners, greeting cards, and bookmarks also seem to be more popular in the realm of digital downloads. You’ll probably see me trying out a few of these in the future.


Enamel Pins

Here’s the product I’m really excited about. Because I have a lot to share. Mainly that my first enamel pin is currently in production!

Art Business Products - Zebra Plant Succulent pin mockup

It’s a zebra plant, naturally, and is similar to the first plant in my “Mini Succs in Pots” print. Here was my process:

  • Create pin design
  • Struggle immensely with digital art
  • Research manufacturers
  • Contact manufacturers for quotes
  • Choose and get started!

Designing an Enamel Pin

For me, designing can be split into two stages. The fun, idea generation part and the painful struggle to transfer your design into a digital form part. But before we get any further, I’d like to make sure we’re all on the same page. Because if you aren’t into pins yet, you might be wondering…

What are Enamel Pins?

You can look at a picture of a pin and get it, but when you’re designing a pin, it helps to understand the manufacturing process. In a pin mockup, the line art acts as a barrier to separate the colors.

Art Business Product - ReboopsDesigns Sailor Scout Enamel Pin Designs
Used with permission from ReboopsDesigns

Manufacturers create a mold with the line art acting as raised barriers. Then they fill in the recesses with the right colors. So no gradients or colors without a line separating them. You also want to avoid fine details to ensure that manufacturers can get enough color into the recess. The way the colors are filled in depends on the manufacturing process you use.

Soft Enamel vs. Hard Enamel

All the pins I’ve purchased have been hard enamel pins. Here’s the difference.

With soft enamel, each section only receives one coat of enamel paint. The result is an uneven surface with metal ridges (line art) higher than flat colored sections.

To make hard enamel, the colored sections receive multiple layers of paint until the filling reaches the top of the metal mold. The top surface of the pin is polished for a smooth finish.

I strongly prefer hard enamel pins. Soft enamel often looks a little messy to me, especially if it’s a big design. But they have benefits too.

Soft Enamel Pin Pros
  • Cheaper to produce
  • Greater range of color
  • Colors possibly more vibrant
Hard Enamel Pin Pros
  • Very durable
  • Smooth surface looks cleaner
  • Looks better (in my subjective opinion)

So although soft enamel pins cost less, I think the quality of hard enamel is worth it. That’s why you may see pins with a big price difference. People usually advertise hard enamel pins as such, but may not specify when a pin is soft enamel.


The Quest for the Perfect Manufacturer

I already went into my digital art struggles in part two of this series, so now let’s talk manufacturers. I’m about to drop some insider knowledge on you. Ready? Finding the best manufacturer is every pin maker’s struggle. You want a company that’s easy to work with and has a low ratio of B grade to standard grade pins.

In our digital, always-online age, you’d think this would be easy. Couldn’t you just Google “enamel pin manufacturers” and look at reviews?

No. You can’t.

Pin makers are strangely secretive about their manufacturers. I guess it’s best to keep your manufacturer to yourself so they’ll continue to have a low turnaround time? Is that it? I don’t really know, but I’ll keep mum for now too. But this only applies when you work directly with Chinese manufacturers.

There are several pin businesses in the US and Europe. Except they all use Chinese manufacturers too. They’re middlemen, so you’ll only end up paying more than necessary. The benefit is that you receive a more customer-friendly experience. They usually have prices displayed online, extensive explanations of their manufacturing process, and several samples of their prior work.

Here’s a list of businesses I considered:

Shoutout to Zap, who will touch up your design for you, and Night Owls, with the most adorable website ever.

But in addition to these four businesses, I considered four manufacturers I found through Alibaba. I asked for quotes from these four and Night Owl (who doesn’t have prices on their website) and heard from four out of five companies. Zap, Cooper, and Stuck Up all have prices listed on their sites, so I used those for comparison.

When working directly with manufacturers in China, the language barrier and shipping costs are two things to consider. Personally, I didn’t have any trouble with the language barrier and found it almost comforting to work with someone who’s not a native English speaker. Maybe I’m just missing Korea. I only had one awkward moment when a manufacturer referred to “shipping” as “freight” and it took me longer than it should have to understand.

Shipping will naturally be more expensive but since productions costs are generally lower, the overall cost is more competitive than most American or European manufacturers.

One thing I like about working directly with manufacturers is that you get to see the cost breakdown. Your design mold will be around $60 to $80 and the cost per pin ranges from $0.50 to $2.00. Keep in mind these prices are only based on the manufacturers I contacted.

Stresses and Successes

Since yesterday’s post included this month’s Stresses and Successes, I have nothing to report…except that you can now reserve a Zebra Plant Pin for a discounted pre-order price! It would mean a lot to me if you took a look.

See you with another art business post in March!

Art Business Product - 3 Zebra plant pin mockups listed in a horizontal row: black lineart, gold plating mockup, and black nickel mockup

Other posts in Starting an Art Business:



I did it. I started an Etsy! Last month I said I was starting an art business and now I have the physical proof. Done.

Art Business Etsy Shop Storefront

Well, not even close. But rather than look ahead, this post is a moment to pause and look back. To take stock of my progress and then keep on going. To be honest, it’s a little annoying. In my last post, I was high on motivation and the thrill of starting something new. Now I’m in the trenches. I’m not interested in stepping out and reflecting on my progress because I have so much more to do – why don’t you just let me work? But I set up this schedule for myself, so here I am, writing this post even though it’s already a day late.

The big accomplishment of the past month was launching my Etsy shop last week (which you can find under “Monicartsy”, just like any of my social media accounts). But even before that, I was doing a lot of work, even if I didn’t have anything to show for it yet.

Stresses and Successes

Each month I’m writing out my “stresses and successes” as a quick way to identify what was really stressing me out at the time and document my wins. Here are this month’s stresses and successes:


  • Figuring out what to sell (other than pins)
  • Not knowing where to start with art prints
  • Choosing the “best” way to print art
  • Not knowing how to ship art prints
  • Digital art, in general.
  • Struggling with line art in Photoshop
  • Worrying I wouldn’t be able to provide the right file type to manufacturers
  • Whether I needed to learn vector art
  • Whether I needed to learn Illustrator
  • Being a perfectionist about my pin designs
  • Writing this post!


  • Continued to make and post art consistently
  • Started an Etsy!
  • Cleaned up 2 art pieces digitally to get them print-ready
  • Listed digital prints for sale
  • Received sample prints from two companies
  • Started a business log/journal
  • Finished my first pin-ready design in Photoshop
  • Figured out Pantone colors
  • Inspired to sketch out tons of pin ideas
  • Created a short list of possible manufacturers
  • Compared manufacturer services and quotes
  • Choose a manufacturer!
  • Negotiated effectively for add-ons
  • Received and approved my pin mockup for production!


Digital Art, My Nemesis

Digital art was probably my biggest struggle this past month. So traditional artists, sympathy? Digital artists, keep on doing your thing. (But I guess maybe it’s the digital artists who can really understand what that beginner struggle was like.)

Digital art is hard! You might remember that not too long ago I was at scribble level. I’m still learning and nowhere near proficient – maybe just good at hiding my flaws. But a pin design is a pin design. No way to dress it up. It is what it is. If a line is squiggly, it’s squiggly for everyone to see.

Now it feels weird, but I had a serious I’m-not-sure-I-can-do-this moment with line art. I couldn’t get my lines smooth, any scanned artwork looked super messy when I opened it up in Photoshop, and none of the “Tips for Smooth Lineart” articles were helping. I had no idea how I was supposed to finish a clean pin design, let alone convert it to a vector file in Illustrator. Everything was overwhelming. I was probably pretty tired too.

I messaged a pin maker friend to let out my angst. But she kind of ruined my moment.


Oh, my lines aren’t completely smooth or straight either lol, her message read.

My manufacturer actually accepted a jpeg file – they didn’t even ask for .psd!


Just like that, my worries were invalid. I finished that stupid pin design and even though I wasn’t sure I’d use it, I finished. I finished my first pin design.

Now I’ve made a handful of pin designs and it’s no big deal. Lol.


Stay Tuned…

This post was a little shorter than usual, but that’s because I just wrote a massive 2000+ second post for this month. So if you have any questions about the Stresses and Successes here, hold on. Chances are they’ll be answered in tomorrow’s post. Keep an eye out for it!


Other posts in Starting an Art Business:


From February 3rd to April 29th, the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center is showing two video installations by Chiho Aoshima: City Glow and Takaamanohara. A Japanese pop artist with ties to traditional media and themes, Chiho Aoshima’s work is unique and strange. As one of my art idols in high school, Chiho occupies a special place in my heart.

Aoshima’s work is considered Japanese Neo-Pop. On the modern side, she draws inspiration from pop art in the vein of Takashi Murakami and anime films. You can certainly sense similarities to Hayao Miyazaki’s iconic films, but make no mistake, her work is very distinct. But naturally, Chiho Aoshima also draws from historical and cultural roots. She names ukiyo-e or 17th-century Japanese woodcut prints as a significant influence. Think that universally recognizable “Great Wave” piece by Hokusai.

Chiho Aoshima post: Hokusai's famous The Great Wave woodblock print with a massive wave on the left and a small Mount Fuji in the distance, seen underneath the wave.
Katsushika Hokusai “Under the Wave Off Kanagawa” or “The Great Wave” 1830-32 woodblock print

Aoshima also draws heavily on Japanese Shinto mythology, with her work Takaamanohara translating to a Shinto word for “heaven” or if you want more detail, ” the plain of high heaven.”


Surprising Facts about Chiho Aoshima

Although I loved Chiho Aoshima’s art in high school, my research at the time wasn’t exactly extensive. There’s a lot I didn’t know about the artist and some of these facts might surprise you too.

  • Chiho Aoshima is not a formally trained artist. She earned her degree in economics, then did a 180 and taught herself to use Adobe Illustrator.
  • She was hand-chosen to be part of Takashi Murakami’s art collective, Kaikai Kiki (an easy name to remember for any Drag Race fan). Murakami is a well-known Japanese pop artist who established a “superflat” style of pop art.
Takashi Murakami self-portrait titled Kaikai, Kiki, & Me: On Blue Mound of the Dead, featuring cartoon image of the artist and two tiny cartoon characters (Kaikai and Kiki) standing on top of a pile of mostly blue cartoon skulls
Takashi Murakami, “Kaikai, Kiki, & Me: On the Blue Mound of the Dead”, 2013, Acrylic on canvas, Taken at Busan Gwangbok Lotte Gallery 2015.
  • Aoshima’s work is darker than I remembered. I’ll get to this later, but both City Glow and Takaamanohara have dark undertones, one more overt than the other. It caught me off guard.

City Glow

I might have gone into the exhibit backward, but I began with City Glow, Aoshima’s older work. It was pouring rain and thundering when I entered.

Chiho Aoshima City Glow Room with wide video art installation projected as a narrow rectangle along the right-hand wall. In this freeze-frame, there is a light colored skyline of plants and distant buildings, set against a dark purple sky. It is raining heavily.
Freeze-frame of a room with Chiho Aoshima’s City Glow, 2005, Video installation, at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center.

The dim room carried a long projection across the wall. Sit on one of the benches or beanbags (which I love by the way) you can’t even get the entire piece in your line of vision. Stand against the back wall and there’s still too much to take in at once. This a common theme in Chiho Aoshima’s animations.

City Glow takes up close, right in front of, or even within the scenery. Leaves, flowers, and small creatures loom before you, establishing a sense of scale. You are but a tiny part of this scenery, craning your neck upward to even see the tips of blades of grass. The opening scene places you beside two enigmatic figures. You learn later that they are anthropomorphic buildings, blank-faced creatures that move much like trees in the wind.

Chiho Aoshima City Glow Opening scene of City Glow video projection. The projected animation is primarily green, covered with animated plants. In the foreground, there are two anthropomorphic buildings with anime-like faces.
Freeze-frame of Chiho Aoshima’s City Glow, 2005, Video installation, at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center.

The next piece, Takaamanohara, has similarities to City Glow, but get ready for your eyes to be even more overwhelmed.


After watching full seven minutes of City Glow, I didn’t know what was going on. I wanted to watch it again, but there wasn’t much time before the museum would be closing, and I needed to leave time for Takaamanohara. In the next room, I found longer, more expansive video projection. The size of the two could have been the same, but Takaamanohara spanned a wide landscape. Instead of being surrounded by creatures that tower over you, the viewer takes on the role of distant onlooker.

Chiho Aoshima Takaamonohara freeze frame of a colorful city of anthropomorphic buildings against a bright, highly saturated blue and pink sky.
Freeze-frame close-up of Chiho Aoshima’s Takaamanohara, 2015, Video installation, Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center.

We are spectators who see natural disasters from their insignificant start to the destructive finish. But like City Glow, different elements compete for your attention. It’s Where’s Waldo? meets I Spy, but with movement and no indication of what you’re looking for. There’s a sense that you’ll never be able to take it all in, never be able to notice every detail, even when those details should be obvious, like a giant, monster-like woman scaling a building.

But you’re not alone in your spectator role. The sentient buildings sway and move and turn like slow giants to watch events as they unfold. The experience is bizarre and surreal.

Chiho Aoshima Takaamonohara freeze-frame showing the video projection at an angle, focused on a cluster of anthropomorphic buildings on the far left end of the screen, all turned to watch something in the distance.
Freeze-frame of Chiho Aoshima’s Takaamanohara, 2015, Video installation, Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center.

After Takaamanohara, I went back for a second viewing of City Glow. It’s more immediate, the messages a little more obvious, but there are parallels. Despite the cute faces and hyper-saturated colors, there’s a definite tension and you can’t quite shake once you’ve felt it. Even after all is well again, with rainbows and fairies and sparkles, you know that if you stay long enough, the fires and monsters will return.

I don’t quite know how I feel about City Glow and Takaamanohara. But I have a nagging urge to go see them again.


Jennifer Steinkamp Title Image Sketchbook page


This month there’s an exhibit at the Fine Arts Center (FAC) that I’m excited to see. Don’t worry, you’ll see a blog post on it as soon as I visit. But that exhibit had me looking through old FAC archives for ideas and I came across the work of Jennifer Steinkamp.

Judy Crook in Colorado Springs

I last saw Steinkamp’s work in October. Her work was displayed in a dim room, the kind that you hesitate before entering in an art museum. Approaching the dark entryway, you see flashes of light here and there that your mind processes as video. Still, you peer inside before entering, and then move into the room slowly. There’s something about Steinkamp’s work that makes you want to move slowly.

This piece, titled Judy Crook, is a three-screen projection. There’s a massive digital tree displayed on each wall, to your right, front, and left. But I’d be remiss not to mention that my attention next goes straight to the beanbags. There are beanbags on the floor. People stand in various states of stillness around the room; only two teens speaking in hushed chatters, faces lit by the glow of their phone screens, are using the beanbags. But I know what I want.

Confidently and comfortably, I sink into a bean bag in front of the teens – no distractions – and settle in for the ride. Like many installation projections, your attention is torn. You watch one image move but out of the corner of your eye there’s another that seems to be doing something interesting too. Most viewers in the room seem to have come to a rhythm, or at least I have. Watch one tree for a while, switch to the next, then dart back to the first when a sudden change in color hits the screen. It feels indulgent, switching views as I please, but art is made for the viewer.

The trees are obviously digitally animated. That is to say, they look fake. A little bit cheesy even, like early animation but not that bad. I call a bluff on all the reviewers who describe these threes as elegant. There’s something strange about them. I think of the deleted scenes of an animated movie, the ones that they never ended up refining for the final movie. These trees are raw.

But their movements are mesmerizing. These trees are so obviously fake, are just over the line, but they move like real trees. Or at least in a way that we could see trees as moving. They’re like an artificial time-lapsed video: the branches twist in what you imagine to be wind, leaves bud, grow, change into brilliant colors and fall, landing in a heap on the floor.

It was a good time.

Jennifer Steinkamp Judy Cook
Jennifer Steinkamp. Judy Cook. Video Installation. 2012-2017. Website accessed Feb 5, 2018.

I didn’t take any photos of the work to share, but I can do you one better. Visit Jennifer Steinkamp’s website above or here, click on one of the tree images, and enjoy videos of Judy Crook. And then imagine being in a room surrounded by three of those trees projected at 8 to 20 feet tall.

Marie Curie in Busan

It wasn’t until I went back to look at Steinkamp’s work on the FAC website that I suddenly found her name familiar. It turns out I’d seen one of her pieces while living in Busan, South Korea! Unlike the Judy Crook trees, which I found to be an interesting and peaceful experience, I LOVED the Steinkamp piece I saw in Korea. It was called Marie Curie.

I frequently the Busan Museum of Art (BMA) while in Korea, for the art of course, and also because shockingly, admission was free. That didn’t seem to be a big appeal for the general population though, because most of the time the BMA was pretty empty. The day I saw Jennifer Steinkamp’s work was no exception.

At the end of one long gallery was an enclosed section with that same dark entryway. No one else was around, so I didn’t know what to expect when I rounded the corner. What greeted me was a room covered with projections of branches. Think Judy Crook but a close-up of only the branches. The images looked still for a moment, but then I realized they were constantly moving, slow then fast then slow again, leaves and flowers swaying in a common rhythm. These walls were covered from top to bottom. Each wall was a bit different – fewer flowers here, differently shaped leaves there – but the room was a unified whole.

You enter the room and become tiny. Massive branches dance across the walls, swaying, sprouting flowers, and waving leaves. They are fake, sure, but it doesn’t really matter. Their movement is infectious. You can’t help but feel swayed too.

I walked around the room slowly, then quickly, and then may have done a few twirls. The leaves and flowers were playful; something about being among them feels like running across an open field with wild cosmos and sunflowers and pretty weeds that have grown too tall.

Visit Steinkamp’s site to view Madame Curie stills and video clips for yourself, but I’ll warn you, they capture very little of the full experience.

Jennifer Steinkamp Marie Curie
Jennifer Steinkamp. Marie Curie. Video Projection. 2011. Website accessed Feb 5, 2018.

Apparently, this is what I thought of it in 2015:

Jennifer Steinkamp Marie Curie Sketchbook sketch
Sketchbook page


Succs in Pots Title Image with succulent drawings in the background. Title text reads "The 8 Types of Succulents I've Drawn (and Owned)"

In building the foundation for an art business, I’ve been doing a lot more art. Naturally. What might not be natural is how much of that art has been of succulents. But the identity of plant addict is one I’m coming to terms with.

I saw an article a while back about how millennials are filling the child-shaped holes in their hearts with houseplants. Sure, I can go along with that.

Some of the most recent artwork I’ve done have been pages of succulents. Although I intended to use these pages as a way to draw a wide array of succulents, I filled a whole page with succulents I own or have owned…and didn’t even cover them all. This addiction might be worse than I thought.

But since each of these succulents has a story, I’ll share those baby pictures with you now, in one easily accessible blog post. Stick around (or scroll down) to the end to see a sneak peek at the second succulent page I haven’t yet posted anywhere.

Mini Succulent Pots

Here’s the full page. 16 plants. 9 still alive and well, 3 in a questionable state, and 4 no longer with us.

Succs in pots - Page of 16 colored pencil succulent drawings, 4 across and 4 down. Each plant is a different species and is in a terra cotta pot which is one of three colors: red, orange or yellow.

Now for close-ups and proud parent captions.


The Ones that Started It All

Succs in pots - 3 succulents drawn in colored pencil arranged in a horizontal line. The first is light green with an orange pot, second is dark green with a red pot and the third is light green with hints of red in a yellow-tinted pot
From left to right: Sedum adolphii/Golden Sedum, Sedum hernandezii, Crassula perforata variegata/”String of Pearls”

These are the first three succulents I ever purchased. I picked them out from Home Depot (probably) and they’ve thrived on beginner luck ever since.


The Elusive Ones

Succs in pots zebra plant drawn in colored pencil in a red-tinted clay pot
Haworthia fasciata

Writing an article about zebra plant succulents is one of the things that got me interested in succulents. So you can bet that I was looking for one of these. But none of my local stores ever seemed to have a zebra plant. Or if they did, it was part of a larger arrangement, which was just cruel.

Finally, on one bright day, I obtained my first zebra plant, from a Home Depot on the other end of town. They must have sold like hot cakes because I’d never find them in the same location twice.

Sadly, my favorite succulent wasn’t meant to be. Three have them have died on me. But love the way most haworthia succulents look, so I jumped at the opportunity to get this cool-looking plant:

Succs in pots cool haworthia drawn in colored pencil with light green at the top and a violet-red gradient near the bottom of the plant. It's in a red-tinted terra cotta pot.
Haworthia reinwardtii/”African pearls”

It died on me too.


The Patriotic Ones

Succs in pots - 4th of July colored succulents with blue, white and red succulents in a horizontal row from left to right
Senecio mandraliscae/”Blue chalk sticks”, Senecio haworthii/Cocoon plant, Sedum adolphii/”Firestorm”

For the 4th of July, I bought red, white, and blue succulents. They looked amazing. Until the “blue chalk sticks” died off and the fuzzy white ones shriveled up. The red ones are another variation of Sedum adolphii. They’ve turned mostly green with less light indoors, but are survivors.


The Pale Ones

Succs in pots - Colored pencil drawings of two succulents in orange-tinted terra cotta pots. Both plants have a pale blue-green tint with pastel pink or purple on the tips of their leaves.
Graptoveria/”Opalina”, Pachyphytum bracteosum

These two have similar coloring and are both sensitive. Apparently, they don’t like to be touched because the oils on your skin wear away their protective pastel coating. So any spot you poke has a permanently green mark that’s darker than the surrounding area.

I’m on my second pachyphytum. It was a scraggly plant with most of its leaves missing in the clearance section. Although my first pachyphytum died of sudden unknown causes, I like to think I’m making up for it with this “rescue plant.”


The Fuzzy Ones

Succs in pots - 3 colored pencil drawings of succulents in a horizontal row. All three plants are fuzzy with various shades of green leaves with brown tips.
Kalanchoe tomentosa/”Teddy Bear”, Cotyledon ladismithiensis/”Bear Paws”, Kalanchoe tomentosa/”Panda plant”

I love that there are fuzzy succulents. And that they’re all named after bears. But once again, I seem to have bad luck with these varieties. I got these three around the same time and arranged them neatly in a communal pot. The Bear Paws didn’t seem to like having roommates and didn’t last long. The Teddy Bear was doing fine but has been strangely stiff since the first freeze…

Meanwhile, my Panda plants seem to be surviving winter just fine and loving their space.


The “Hardy” Ones

Succs in pots - a colored pencil drawing of a single succulent in a yellow-tinted pot. It's a sempervivum with leaves that are light green with purple tips.
Sempervivum/”Isella” Not pictured: Sempervivum/”Ruby Heart” and Stonecrop sedum

Near the end of last summer, I finally crossed a line. I order succulents online.

They arrived quickly, well-packaged and not at all harmed. Since these were hardy outdoor plants, I stuck them into a planter outside. For a few months, I enjoyed seeing them grow rapidly, produce chicks, and change color according to lights and temperature.

Then one not-so-cold winter day, I decided to eat my lunch outside. I glanced over to the planter where my outdoor succulents were and did a double take. There was NOTHING THERE. The planter was empty except for torn up leaves and trampled dirt.

I don’t know what animal did this, but I hope they got indigestion. If that’s a thing animals can get.


The One That Grew on Me

Succs in pots - A colored pencil drawing of a Kalanchoe succulent in a red-tinted terra cotta pot. The plant has green leaves that fade into a purple gradient at the tips.
Kalanchoe longiflora coccinea

I bought this succulent because it looked different and then sort of regretted it. It looked like a regular plant. There was nothing cutesy or succulent-like about it. But I planted it in a wine glass with a cactus-shaped neck and let it grow.

This plant is surprisingly hardy. And the tiny baby leaves that pop up at the top are bright red at first and then morph into a violet-red/green gradient. It’s quite nice and is actually low-maintenance, unlike most of these other ungrateful succulents.


The Mystery Plant

Succs in pots - Colored pencil drawing of a tall thin plant that's leaning over to the right. Two new shoots come out of the base of the plant, which is in a red terra cotta pot.

One of my plants came with a little sprout in the same pot. I assumed it was from another succulent and planted it in its own little pot. And that plant has grown nonstop. It graduated from a toothpick support to a chopstick and is still getting taller. The lower leaves have started to produce their own sprout. Any leaves that fall off seem to develop roots instantly.

Is this even a succulent?


I had a lot of fun drawing these – even though colored pencil blending takes forever. So much fun that I started a second page of succulents drawn from a top view.

Here’s a sneak peek before these hit my Instagram:

 Succs in pots - a cropped image of a page of colored pencil succulent drawings. There are 9 plants visible, all from the top view, in various stages of color.

Which do you like better?


Productivity Hacks To-Do Lists title image with background image of hand writing in a notebook

Productivity Hacks: Make Lists that Don’t Suck

I’m a pro at making lists that suck. You know when the number of things you have to do is so overwhelming that you just have to write them down? Or those daily lists you make with all the things you want to get done, but inside, you know is completely unrealistic?

Yeah, those were my kind of lists.

The thing is to-do lists are great for productivity. But that’s if and only if they’re done well. Just scribbling down everything you need to do in list format and hoping you’ll be able to cross out most of them by the end of the day won’t cut it.

So how do you make lists that don’t suck? I’m glad you asked.


Use Separate Lists

You might have wildly varying items on your list, from work tasks like uploading a new blog post to personal goals like working out or studying Korean.

But we approach these goals differently, as we should. The work tasks on my list almost always get done on time, because they’re work. Someone’s counting on me to do them. The personal tasks not so much.

In school, we’re able to get away with putting everything on a to-do list – or those free school planners – because they were all work tasks. You might have listed homework and projects in your planner, but many of these were finished in the same day too (or they weren’t supposed to be, but you were a master of procrastination).

Personal goals are all on you. You might need to create systems to keep yourself accountable, like taking a class or finding a language partner. So keep work and personal tasks in separate lists, and be prepared to do a lot more work defining your personal lists.


Break Down Anything Too Vague or Large

Another reason we have difficulty accomplishing personal goals is that most of them are too vague. Or worse, they’re listed as a vague task with no ultimate goal in mind.

“Study Korean” has been on many, many lists of mine. But this list item sucks because:

  • It leaves too many possibilities.
  • It doesn’t actually tell me what to do.
  • It doesn’t refer to a goal.

“Study” is an incredibly vague task. What is studying anyway? Is it using a textbook? Memorizing vocab? Watching Korean dramas and hoping you absorb the language?

Unless there are more details you’ve laid out behind the scenes in your brain, you’ll have a hard time motivating yourself to tackle this amorphous command to study.

On the other hand, if you use a textbook or website and plan to get through one module a week, your goals are suddenly much clearer. You can take your weekly goal and break it down into daily tasks. You can keep a list of long-term goals, but your daily to-do lists should only have small tasks.


Pro-Tip: Capture everything.

Originally I had a few more tips for this post, but then I started reading David Allen’s book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. It sounds good, doesn’t it? Well, this book IS GOOD. And much of Allen’s system is focused on lists.

One of the first principles is to capture everything. Allen’s reasoning goes like this:

Most of the time, we waste mental energy trying to remember what we need to do. Instead of relying on our memory, we should everything out of our heads and onto paper. Or an app. Or your organizing system of choice. He includes personal and professional tasks alike, from planning a family trip to setting up client calls. The more comprehensive and reliable your capturing system is, the more your brain can rely on it and stop worrying.

I’m not even halfway through the book, but this seemed like a pretty good gem.


Other Productivity Hack posts:

#1. Productivity Hacks: Do Your Laundry

#2. Productivity Hacks: Eat Treats. All the Treats.


Starting an Art Business Prologue Title image

This year is off to a good start…because I’m starting an art business!

I’m careful to say “starting” and not “started” because I’ve yet to open a store or create a product. But even though I’m still in the foundation-building stage, I’ve started to make moves.

One of the first changes you’ve probably noticed is that you’re on a new website. will be the new home for this blog and my art portfolio. My former blog site,, is now the domain for my professional, academic website (and home to a new blog).

I wanted my first original post here on MHA to be about these changes. But when I stopped to think about how I could make this post valuable for you, dear reader, I thought why not do a series on starting and running an art business?

But If You’re New to This, Why Are You Writing about Starting an Art Business?

Short answer: Because if I waited until I felt like an expert, I’d never write anything.

Obviously, as a new business owner, I can’t tell you about the 10 Best Ways for Artists to Market Their Work or How I Made $6,660 in One Month! but I can share my successes and struggles as I go.

There’s something fun about going along for the ride and following another person’s journey. And right now there are a lot of minuscule things that are confusing and difficult to figure out. Later on, I’m sure I’ll forget all about those little struggles, but maybe someone else coming after me will have the same questions. And they’ll be able to come here, see my messy thought process and relate. Then hopefully find some answers.

So once a month I’ll give you an update on how this art business thing is going, the roadblocks I’ve faced, and my progress. In short, this is the FAQ that no one asked for. Because when I’m a rich and successful art entrepreneur (said no artist ever), I won’t remember the details that stressed me out in the beginning. You’re welcome in advance.

My hope is that someday this series will be able to serve as a blueprint for one way someone might go about starting an art business.


Origin Story: Motivation for Starting an Art Business

Since this post is a sort of art business origin story, I’ll go into my motivation. This will probably be the fluffiest post in the series, but I’ll go into the nitty-gritty details in later posts.

So motivation. I’ve loved creating art my entire life. But what pushed me to finally start an art business?

I’ve already written a little bit about this topic in my New Year’s post. Amid my spin on New Year resolutions, I also wrote about the negativity that discouraged me from doing anything with my art.

But along with those negative messages, I’ve received positive comments. These have built up for years without me even realizing. From overt, amazed reactions to my art from friends to remarks from my dad that are so subtle I almost don’t register them for what they are–encouragement. But the comments I remember the most are the ones that just assume I’m already successful:

“Where’s your Etsy store?”

“What are your rates?”

I’d humbly reply, Oh I don’t have a store. Actually, I don’t really sell my work. But those comments always left me thinking.

What finally pushed me over the entrepreneurial line wasn’t a big motivational moment or a massive show of support from family and friends. It was enamel pins. That’s right, enamel pins. Way to shatter the emotional lead-up. I’m talking business today.


Pins, Pins, Pins!

Starting an Art Business. Group of 5 enamel pins displayed on a canvas tote bag. Top row has two Steven Universe pins (Peridot and Garnet), while the second has a heart with crystals coming out of it, No Face from Spirited Away, and an Eevee (Pokemon).
Pins from Pinyatta, Just Peachy, Alagaesha, and Jennifairy

I’ve fallen fast and hard for the enamel pins trend. And I blame Reboops aka my childhood friend Rebecca. My first two pins were gifts from her. She hit me with my favorite fandom, Steven Universe. I retaliated by stalking online pin shops for Black Friday deals and getting her back with Sailor Moon and Overwatch.

But I didn’t stop there. I ended up buying pins as Christmas gifts for my sisters, Alyssa and Mandy, and myself. (You can’t blame me–it was Black Friday and free shipping was involved!)

Starting an Art Business a set of 2 food pins from KimChi and Just Peachy on a wide, green and pink backing card. One pin is a chip dipped into guacamole that reads "You're so extra" and the other is a donut with the words "come for me" below it. Donut come for me.

Then one day, Reboops asked my opinion on whether she should try making pins. She’s an awesome artist who already has an Etsy store and does tons of artistic things. She was my secret artistic rival as a kid.

Obviously I said YES.



Then I said making pins sounded fun and it was her turn to say YES-100%-GO-FOR-IT. And both our minds started churning. That’s how I imagine it anyway.

In reality, she got started right away and I got stressed out. But before we get into my stress, I have to go on a tangent about Reboops making awesome progress already! I see you, rival! If you like Sailor Moon or general cuteness, you definitely need to check out her Kickstarter.

It’s already guaranteed to be funded, but I want her to at least get to Sailor Mars. You can go ahead and support her now because I’ll catch up later.


So I started seriously considering an art business online because I want to make pins. But now I’m planning art prints, keychains, and well, still looking into what I’d like to offer.

Stresses and Successes

Each month I’m going to include a list of stresses (apparently you can use the word this way) and successes. I can already see how some of my stresses were silly and unnecessary but I genuinely struggled with them for a while.

And my successes may not always be big wins, but they’ll be a list of accomplishments and steps I’ve taken in the past month. So for this half-month:


  • Coming up with a business name
  • Wondering what username to choose for my new Instagram
  • What kind of art to post on Instagram
  • Not having a consistent art style
  • Choosing a name with domain availability
  • Separating my art blog from my writer website
  • Creating a storefront
  • Etsy or Storenvy?



  • Created a new, simple domain name (monicaheilmanart)
  • Moved my art blog to the new site
  • Set up SSL (https) on my new site
  • Did a lot of blog transition grunt work (replacing broken links, setting up redirects)
  • Started an art Instagram
  • Began posting consistently and building an audience
  • Created an art Twitter and Facebook
  • Drew a few preliminary pin designs

I won’t go into all of these points, but here are the main ones and how I’m dealing with them:

Business Name

I was surprisingly stressed about creating a business name. Partially because if I didn’t have a business name, I couldn’t start any of the other things on my list! I also placed a lot of weight on Instagram and my Instagram name, because my thought process went like this:

-> Want to make pins

-> Need an art business to make pins

-> Need a strong online presence as an artist to have a successful art business

-> Instagram is awesome for online presence and artists

-> Need the perfect Instagram account

-> Perfect Instagram account requires a cute, preferably witty name that people will remember

As a result, I have a couple notebook pages crammed with business name ideas and word association lists. I went to my sisters and forced them to come up ideas with me. I then made a short list and checked to see which of those names were available as a .com domain.

Finally, I ended up going with “monicaheilmanart” for my domain and using “monicartsy” as my social media handle. Monicartsy was the name of my original Instagram and I definitely spent no more than two minutes on it.

And you know what? I feel just fine about these names. Since I don’t have one specific type of art I’d like to sell, these names give me to freedom to go in multiple directions or even make significant changes in the future without feeling like I’m not staying true to a name.

Buying a Domain

To be honest, buying a domain was probably completely unnecessary for an art business. Several platforms like Etsy, Storenvy, and Big Cartel let you host a beautiful storefront right on their site. But I already had one website that I wanted to split into two. started off as my art portfolio back in college. I started an art blog on the site too, but then abandoned it. When I began freelance writing, I added my writer information and clips to that site and started blogging again to keep the site active. But it was making less and less sense to host an art blog on my freelance writer website (although I did write about art for one client). I’ve wanted to separate my art content from my writing business for a while, and starting an art business was the perfect opportunity to do that.

I know I’ll continue blogging about art and it was no problem to add another domain to my existing web hosting plan. I’m already comfortable running a website and owning a domain is kind of fun. So for me, an art website makes sense, even though I plan to use other platforms to sell my work initially.

Etsy or Storenvy?

Both! I agonized over this for a bit until I read an article that said there was no reason you can’t do both. And so I will.

Etsy is so well-known that it’s the easiest way for people to find your shop. They charge listing fees and take a percentage, but name recognition seems worth it.

I discovered Storenvy though other enamel pin shops and really liked the layout. Their storefronts look like an independent storefront, not just a user’s profile. Storenvy also has a marketplace similar to Etsy’s where you can discover other creators and buy their products. Another big plus is that Storenvy doesn’t charge any listing fees, so I’ll be able to leave up as many products as I want indefinitely. That sounds pretty good.

I’m sure that later, I’ll have much more to say about each platform.

Art Style Inconsistency

I’m still unsure about this one. Finding your “own style” is a big concern for many artists. I’ve through several stages with “style”:

  • Searching for my style
  • Believing that nothing was original so trying to create your “own style” was pointless
  • Creating whatever I wanted not caring about consistency
  • Realizing that consistency is vital to marketing yourself
  • Accepting that a style doesn’t have to limit your work

Since I stopped searching for a style to call my own in high school, maybe I’ve stagnated on this front. But your art style seems to have a way of creeping up on you. On my new Instagram, my only criteria for the art I’ve been posting is that a.) it’s interesting and b.) it’s good. Curating for quality has turned out more consistent than I expected. I lean toward detailed work focused on lines rather than shapes. Or maybe it’s just all the plant drawings. Those create consistency too.

Starting an Art Business Zebra Plant Scratchboard with an Xacto knife and scratch on the right. Background is reddish-brown wood.


So at this point, I’ve gone through the process of setting up a website and social media accounts. I’m posting and creating art more consistently, while also following existing online art businesses I admire.

If you’ve stuck with me this far, kudos! This post was a long one and I might keep the others in this series shorter and more focused.

Are there any topics you’d like to hear more of or questions you have so far? Let me know in the comments!


Instead of Resolutions, I Have a New Year’s Theme

The New Year is almost here and the time for resolution-making is already underway. Confession: for several years in a row I didn’t remember to make resolutions until after New Year’s. Starting off by procrastinating like a pro. But this year, enough of the bloggers I follow are posting about resolutions so I can’t feign ignorance or say I just forgot.

One blogger/entrepreneur I follow is Michelle Ward, the When I Grow Up Coach. She’s fabulous. And apparently, for the last several years she’s chosen a word of the year. For example, last year was “Be” and this year’s “Compassion.” She then structures her resolutions and orients goals around that one word.

I don’t have a single word for the next year – although this sounds fun and maybe I will end up choosing one – but I do have an overarching idea I’d like to use to guide me through 2018.

In 2018, I am going to claim my dreams.

Hey, it might sound cheesy, but it’s the best wording I got right now.

If you’re anything like me, you have a lot of things you’d like to do or hope will happen in the future. But recently, I came to a moment of clarity about waiting. Waiting sucks. I wouldn’t voluntarily wait for anything if I didn’t have to. Waiting for a video to load, waiting at a traffic light, waiting at the DMV — no one wants to do any of that.

So why should my dreams – the things I want to do with my life – have to wait? Like every guru ever says, there’s never a perfect time to start [fill in dream here].

And in my mild epiphany, two examples of pointless waiting immediately came to mind.

New Years Theme Title Image with sunrise in background and text that reads "Instead of Resolutions, I Have a New Year's Theme"

Waiting for Permission

The last few months I’ve been applying to Sociology Ph.D. programs. In the process, I repeatedly found myself saying and writing things like “I hope to incorporate my interest in art” or “It’d be wonderful if I could apply my Fulbright experience and study topics related to Korea.” At first, these statements might sound fine. Nice even. Oh, how good for you, wanting to combine other interests into your degree.

But it’s been months and I’m still just “hoping.” I started to sound like a broken record to myself. Is there a moment when I’ll magically gain the ability to pursue all my interests? Is there a god of Ph.D. research hovering over me, deciding whether they’ll grant me permission to study what I want?

Waiting on the “Impossible”

I’ve been waiting on my art dreams for even longer.

You can’t make a living off of art.

You’ll be a starving artist.

Art is just a hobby.

I never tried to do anything big with art because from the beginning (read: my whole life), I thought it was impossible. But just as a good artist friend pointed out to me, there are more ways for artists to support themselves than ever. The internet is a unicorn. Artists can now gain exposure from a global audience, sell their work, and even receive regular funding from sites like Patreon. It’s pretty incredible.

New Years Theme Sunrise over the ocean in 2016

Time to Start Moving

Sitting around and hoping isn’t actually getting me anywhere. Either I commit and take the steps to get there, or I just keep hoping.

Like my desire to pursue multiple interests in a Sociology Ph.D., no one is going to tell me when and how I can start more seriously pursuing art.

So in 2018, I’m going to claim my dreams. Here’s how I’ll start.

Hit Some Textbooks

With sociology, all I can do is wait to hear from schools–NOT! I may not have secured a place in any program yet, but I want to study Korea, so I’ll be hitting the Korean textbooks again this year. My goal is an hour of Korean language study or practice a day.

I had a language-learning fire lit under me while reading an interview with sociologist Fatma Müge Göçek. She wants to study Kurds in Turkey, so she’s learning Kurdish. Let me repeat that. She’s learning an entirely new language to be able to study what she wants. Mind blown.

Well, wait, I thought, maybe Kurdish is similar to Turkish, Dr. Göçek’s native language. A quick Google search confirmed that nope, they’re from different language families. Mind blown again.

Build Business #2

As for art, there are so many possibilities, it’s overwhelming. But at some point, I thought, how am I running a business as a freelance digital marketing writer, but not an art business? So in can expect to hear some news on an art shop. Keep your eyes on Etsy or Storenvy.



Productivity Hacks: Eat Treats. All the Treats.

The holiday season is upon us! I don’t know what it’s like at your house, but at my house, this means a sudden increase in treats. Home baked goods, store-bought pastries, delicious gifts from family friends, and of course, that giant tub of somehow-holiday-related popcorn.

productivity hack treats popcorn bucket viewed from above with three types of popcorn separated by a three-way cardboard divider

My family went all healthy on me in the two years I was out of the country, so having all these treats around is a real (but pleasant) shock. Fortunately, if you’re loaded with treats too, you can use this to your advantage. Turn those treats into productivity! And if you’re lacking treats, you now have an excuse to go out and buy some.

Can Treats Really Increase Productivity?

Why would you even question the power of treats? Treats have a long history of boosting productivity. What else would we mean when we talk about using the carrot and the stick?

In short, this tip is a combination of two common productivity tips: eat breakfast and take breaks.


We know we’re supposed to eat a good breakfast. It gives you energy, keeps your stomach from growling too loudly, and has nutrition or something. But not everyone has time for a hearty breakfast. And if you’re like me, you can’t stomach much food in morning anyway.


Taking breaks is good too. Science has proven that we need breaks to maintain focus and productivity. But in a culture where hard work is so highly valued, it’s easy to feel guilty about taking breaks. So we don’t. The problem is, we need breaks to keep our brains from going to mush.

We can agree that eating breakfast and taking breaks are healthy. We can also see why people skip breakfast or let their work drag on until they aren’t even working efficiently.

So what if you combined breakfast and breaks?

As an unsuccessful user of the  Pomodoro method, I think breaks are nice, but not particularly motivational. What if I take a break and it ends up stretching on for hours? (This is purely hypothetical, of course.) Getting to eat a pastry though? That – and my rumbling stomach – will get me to work faster to get to a stopping point. Then after I’ve had my break + pastry time, my mind is refreshed and my body has more energy.

Food and downtime – and not just during lunch – is a necessary part of any good work day. And if you don’t believe me, here’s a story.

A Story about How Food Helps You Work

After teaching in South Korea for one year, I moved to a new city and new school. At my old school, in my old teacher’s office, we always had snacks. You could count some form of communal food always being available.

Maybe one of the four teachers I shared an office with would go on a trip and bring back a specialty bread from another region. It might be someone’s birthday, so we’d have a cake. A parent might have brought a gift of fruit or pastries to a parent-teacher conference. Someone bought rice cake for the entire school because of a wedding, or a promotion, or someone’s child turning a year old. There were many excuses to eat rice cake.

But guess what? When I moved to my new school, I found out the office food situation was even better. That’s because nearly every teacher in this larger, 8-person office was a middle-aged woman. So they did just bring any old snacks.

Instead, we had fresh fruit almost every day. We still had snacks and rice cake for special occasions, just as I did at my former school, but the variety of foods available in our office was simply lovely. Having good food around also encouraged people to bring more good food.

At one point, I had a tub of oatmeal for the times when I wanted a mild breakfast. Another teacher had a stash of cup ramen. We both shared at some point because although oatmeal is pretty boring compared to ramen, most of my Korean coworkers had never tried it before. So I suppose I contributed to the healthy, novelty-food image of our office.

With all this food around, I never powered through my work on an empty stomach. All I had to do was walk across the room and help myself.

productivity hack treats image of wood table that has a tray of fruit including three peaches, two green apples, and a banana. Behind the tray is a place of sliced pastry bread. In the front to the left is a coffee mug with an owl design.

Plan to Treat Yourself

Food keeps us happy and, you know, helps us survive. But you shouldn’t be aiming to just survive each work day. Take care of yourself and listen when your body’s hungry or mentally drained.

So to increase your productivity, take breaks. Here’s what I recommend:

Take a mid-morning break to chow down on a treat. Or mid-afternoon. Whatever works with your schedule and stomach. I tend to get ravenous between 10 to 11 am, no matter how much breakfast I’ve had. That’s why I recommend a food treat, instead of a more abstract one, like social media time or mindless Internet browsing.

If my house is devoid of holiday treats or I’m rushing to meet a deadline, I’ll treat myself in a smaller way – better quality coffee, a latte, whipped cream on a beverage – something I can consume while working.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t feel that you “deserve” a break or you haven’t been productive enough yet. Recharge, regroup, and come back to the table when you’re ready and able to put in the hard work.