Working with an Illustrator


I adore creating personalized holiday cards, and have had a grand time designing them for our family and friends over the years. More recently, I have moved away from the traditional family photographs for custom illustration. It becomes a win-win, because I get to work with amazing artists to make an artwork our family will keep for years to come (and through the holiday cards, I can also share that creation — combined with Studio Red’s design — with family and friends).

Over the past 2 years, I have worked with the talented artist/illustrator Jessica von Braun in Dallas, Texas. When looking for illustrators on Etsy, I stumbled upon Jessica’s work and immediately fell in love. She has been a joy to work with and took time to answer my questions on the custom illustration process; Jessica offers some great advice for working with illustrators like herself.

Illustration, like graphic design, has some similarities for a positive client relations. For the client, it is good to be familiar with the artist/designer’s work. Before work begins, agree on the scope of work (so their are no surprises for either the client or the creator) Clearly define what is a must in the final piece (usually want to respect current brand if not starting new) an what the timeline. And most importantly, let the process be fun!

What advice would you give a potential client on how to best work with an illustrator on a custom order?

I have a few points here

• Really familiarize yourself with the artists various styles and previous work, not all artists are gifted at all things, no matter how great they are. Some artists specialize in portrait work that’s very spot on, some more on representational works and so on, its not always a great idea to, for example, approach an artist who specializes in landscapes to paint a pet portrait for you, or visa versa. So be really comfortable with knowing who you are commissioning and what you are asking them to do.

• Agree ahead of time how many small edits are possible along the way, and if edits along the way are even a possibility. I like getting a clients feedback along the way, and as a client it’s helpful to point out what you like along with what you might like to see a change on. Try not to envision the end product too much and enjoy the process. It’s a collaborative process, the artist is interpreting your ideas and wishes, but its as much them as the client.

• It helps to list out any “musts” you have - special flowers, colors, etc - if you don’t see them in the sketch or progress shots after you have mentioned them before, say something, sometimes I let projects get away from me when I am on a roll with them and really in the groove so to speak, so sometimes i forget something that may have been really important, it’s better to correct it sooner than later because depending on the piece and the medium changes get harder and less possible along the way.

• Enjoy the process! No one else is getting what you are getting and it will be a lifetime memory!

What is your design/illustration process?

I’m going to talk about my watercolor/mixed media process here;

• Fist I’ll come up with a sketch based on the clients ideas and my own, I’ll typically message the sketch to the client and there are usually a few small alterations, changing some positioning, maybe tilt a head this way or that, I try not to detail this first sketch too heavily in case I have to make some major change.

• Once I get a sketch approved I go over the painting with an ink pen and then brush over it with water, it a sometimes unpredictable process and is fun to do because it usually sets the tone for the painting. After this there is usually another update for the client.

• I then go in with colors, this is usually a longer process as I wait for layers of paint to dry, it’s hard for me, I’m an impatient painter. Usually I force myself to set the piece aside and work on smaller pieces while waiting.

What is your ideal client?

"Enjoy the process! No one else is getting what you are getting and it will be a lifetime memory!"

An ideal client is someone who knows what they want, but also knows to let the artist have fun. The more artistic freedom the artist has and the happier they are, the better the final work will be. Hands down. I like knowing what I am drawing but still having some say in what will look best. the artist knows themselves well and if they know the client will work with them and their ideas they will be excited to work. Sometimes I have commissions that require different moods, so I don’t always work on them in order, I pick up the ones that fit how I am feeling, I try to stick to a schedule as best I can, but my best works aren’t linear. If you see an artist working on personal pieces in between commissions it helps for the client to understand that these pieces are just as important to your commission as the artwork you are waiting on, I often do warm ups of a personal nature before tackling commissions. Some days I’m right on it and other days I don’t have the right mindset to paint at all, so I reflect and look for inspiration.

What is has been your most nightmare illustration experience (no names!)?

This was a long time ago, and I’ll be vague, but in my early illustration career I would take on projects that would take hours upon hours for very little compensation, and I didn’t know how to say no, how to charge or where to draw the line. I had a client who wanted me to do a portrait for her, we agreed on a price (for one person) and then when I arrived to take reference photos of her she wanted it to be her and her four adult children as well, who were all there and ready for photos....and I was so overwhelmed and didn’t want to be rude I didn’t say it wasn’t what we had agreed on, painting five people is a lot harder than one, I ended up doing the piece but it was difficult and took much longer than anticipated. It was just as much my own fault for not speaking up, i ended up struggling throughout the project and not delivering my best work no matter how hard I tried.

Any other words/thoughts you would like to share?

Have fun! Enjoy the process! Enjoy your artwork that is your and yours alone! It’s a treasure!

Please check out this amazing artist/illustrator:

Jessica von Braun

With Great Sadness... Goodbye Bees


So, this was a tough summer.... I had to find a new home for my honey bees.

First I need to say: I love my honey bees.

However, I could not keep the winged-wonders in my backyard (I had 2 active hives and 1 nucleus colony). I had been stung several times early in the summer due to bad luck (no issues with honey bee stings the past 3-4 years) and when trying to get a little striped lady out of my office one almost fatal summer afternoon, she stung my fingertip.

Within ten minutes, I had problems breathing and my skin was on fire and itchy. I could not stop scratching. Hives erupted all over my body. Threw myself in a tub of epson salts and water. Thank goodness I have been keeping up-to-date epipens and Benadryl with my bee keeping supplies... my husband Theron was available to make the injection.

I put the call out to the DC Beekeepers association for help. Then the saga was written up by avid beekeeper, Caroline Boucher Hutton:

Alston Taggart’s storied bees are nearing a happy ending. Huge appreciation to her for the loving care she gave them for years, and for her generous donation to the school program at DC International.

Denise Lyons coordinated the move last night. The two larger, main hives were moved (mostly) without a hitch and set up at DCI last night.

The nuc presented a problem because it was so heavily bearded, though. After some brainstorming and consultation with our fearless leader (Toni Burnham), we decided to return early this morning and move the colony to larger equipment and re-attempt to move it in a few days. As you can see, the hive was fit to burst! But they are now in space that is twice as large. We left the empty nuc gear so that the box-clingers could migrate over at their leisure.

We would also have been sunk without the help of newly Andrea, John, and Carlos (new-bee volunteers recruited to help move the bees.) THANKS!!!!

HUGE SHOUT OUT to the super bee-committed women who have taken my honey bees to their new home at DCI. Thank you Denise Lyons and Caroline Boucher Hutton for your strong commitment to these amazing creatures.

Sad that I can no longer care for them directly, but happy to offer my graphic design services for free for any pro bono bee causes/needs!

Envision • Lead • Grow


Envision • Lead • Grow — a non-profit on a mission to end the cycle of poverty through entrepreneurship — had a conference here in Chevy Chase, MD at the 4-H Center May 31-June 3. This organization reached out to hundreds of girls in seven different cities (Memphis, TN; Greensboro, NC; Atlanta, GA; Baltimore, MD; Philadelphia, PA; Richmond, VA; Norfolk, VA) about starting their own businesses. The top performers have been invited to our Entrepreneurship Institute. The girls in attendence have created profitable ventures and are looking to grow their businesses further.

It was an honor to meet these young women (middle school and high school students) and learn about their unique passions. The girls had such businesses as making charmed bracelets, selling artwork, creating artist baked goods, and sewing scented spa wraps. They had a lot of great questions about graphic design, and it was fun to give them some advice to help forward their business.

Their mission is to create 1,000 new girl bosses by 2020 nationwide. To learn more, check them out:

Love their tagline: Little girls with dreams become women with vision.

Nectar Flow


My girls are busy (boys are lazy - no surprise…LOL)!  We are now in nectar flow season, when the bees are loving bringing home the nectar from local flowers and trees such as the Linden and Black Locust.  So how did we get here?

Well, about a month ago, my husband (maker of best self-leveling hive stand ever and dispeller of lazy boy myth begun above) and I went into to do our Spring cleaning of our single over-wintered hive, with the intent of dividing the hive (called creating splits) and creating our own queens with the OTS (“on the spot’ created by Mel Disselkoen) method.  I love this method of developing a sustainable and chemical-free apiary.  Essentially, you take a more active role and help your bees rear their own queen and break the Varroa Mite cycle (so do not have to use harsh chemicals).

We took out each frame, cleaned off the propolis and burr comb (goop on the edges so lots of scraping) and looked for the queen.  40 frames (frames hand vertically, 8 per box / super) and a bee-stung foot right later (note to self to ALWAYS wear my rain boots with my bee suit and not to not shake out a box of bees on my foot - I am not one of those cool / foolish beekeepers that goes in unprotected), still did not find the illusive queen.

We divided the hive in two, notching 1-3 day old larvae on selected frames to encourage worker bees to create their own queen in the 2 newly-divided hives.  A queen is created by continuing to feed royal jelly to the larvae beyond the worker bee level (worker bees are fed royal jelly, worker jelly, and bee bread -- mix of regurtated bee phlegm from plant materials — delicious) that seems to help develop her bigger / longer body and protects her ovaries so that she can lay eggs.  Amazingly, the major factor in the type of bee is simply what the larvae eat and is “chosen” by the hive.

A week later, we went back into the 2 hives.  In the first one,  queen cells had been made and were empty. This was great news and explains why those bees were a bit hot and grumpy!  In the second hive, we found the old queen right away (had doubts about queen finding skills after previous week).  So, we took the over-wintered queen and placed her in a small 5-frame box (called a Nuc, or nucleus hive) with a couple brood ( bee babies) frames and renotched frames in this second hive to help their new queen production along.  

By pulling the old queen, we created an artificial swarm.  A swarm is the sign of a healthy hive that has survived the winter and  is ready to divide and go out into the world.  Unfortunately in our urban environment, only a small number of those swarms can survive unassisted.  This negatively impacts honey collection since essentially half the workforce is on “strike!"

We look forward to checking back in on the buzzing ladies to see how all is going.  Hoping to put a honey super on the small Nuc and be certain the other hives have enough room for their honey stores.

Anti-Gravity Yoga


A fun way to turn your world upside-down!

Using silk hammocks (at Crunch Chevy Chase), you have a great space to play and explore — its a wonderful opportunity to check in with where you are in your mind, body and spirit. Just like yoga, the movements follow the flow of the breaths, looking to dive deeper into oneself as movements progress and shift. AntiGravity Yoga is an aerial yoga and suspension fitness technique created by Christopher Harrison. It is very accessible: one can monitor one’s own resistance so the class can be as easy or challenging as you choose. 

How do you feel afterwards? Its like a great massage—the contacts points of body to hammocks help release tight muscles (might be uncomfortable at first, but after multiple classes your body becomes accustomed and actually craves the deep release). After class, you will be stretched to your maximum height (usually ¼” to 1½” taller — however, the effects are not cumulative!)  and you will feel lighter and refreshed.  Come fly with me!

Ciao!  This is Sofia Ligustica, an attendant bee...


Ciao!  This is Sofia Ligustica, an attendant bee from the Court of the Red Queen, long may she reign! I am the beat reporter for the Daily Buzz, the most popular hive periodical with a readership of over 5,000 (though to be clear I understand it was over 50,000 last summer).  When I am not grooming and feeding my lovely Red Queen, I spend my time reporting on the activity of the hive. 

Because of my glorious Italian roots, the winters are pretty hard on me and the hive.  We get pretty plump over the winter, growing as much as 30%, but who can blame us?  There’s little to do beyond eat and sleep as it’s too cold to go outside. We spend our time "shivering" our wing muscles to keep the hive at a constant 92 degrees F. That said, being Italian has many benefits.  We’re more friendly, more clean and build the best combs (have Michelangelo to thank for that).

Speaking of food, our forager bees are starting to leave the hive when the tempeture is above 50 degrees F to see whether there is any delicious pollen and nector available. While these brave ladies have gone as far as two miles, we haven’t found anything substantial yet, but it’s not for lack of trying. I sure hope Spring comes soon since we’ve gotten down to only a couple frames to conserve heat. I must say it’s been tight quarters for me and my lady friends.

Meanwhile, the mortuary bees have been complaining of their long hours of work, carrying out the winter dead and helping to make the place clean for new bees (we lost almost 35,000 this winter). The Red Queen has started personally inspecting every single brood cell, and woe betide the poor worker bee that does not meet her high expectations.

February 11, 2018

February 11, 2018

Well, the Queen has let me and the other attendants know that her mind is soon to turn to replenishing the hive.  I cannot say I understand the magical workings of our hive, but we are all about our Queen and keeping her alive. We are literally lost without her (we will not survive!)  That said, duty calls; so I will leave you with wishes for a Happy Valentine’s Day. 

Long live the Red Queen!