Resources at Vanilla Arts Co.


Not everyone finds me from this website…

Maybe you caught on to me from Pinterest, Instagram, Patreon, or YouTube... yes, I've been casting my nets wide to gather students from all over.

And some of my live and local students have no idea that there's this whole 'nother internet side to my classes.

Where you found me isn't the point, I'm just glad you're here!

But I do worry that some of you may not be aware of all the project resources I have available here on my main site, especially if you read my blog through an aggregation app or only take the links from Facebook.

For every coloring project- every class and every stamp I sell, I try to offer more information- and I try darned hard to offer a lot for free. The resources vary by class or project, and a lot depends upon how many times I've run the class (and where). Obviously, if I've presented a project several times, I've had time to accumulate more process photos and blog resources.

Anyway, I wanted to take time out to run some links past you... just to make sure you're aware the resources exist!

free stuff:


vanilla arts online instruction:


Vanilla livestreams at Patreon:


local classes at Remember when in Macomb, Michigan:


I hope this helps. I'm trying to cross link pages as much as I can now but I figured a good ol' fashioned blog post might catch some of you quicker than stumbling across website pages!

Project Portfolios are not only for Professionals


My students often bring old projects to class

Because of the way my classes run, very few students actually finish a full image in class. Class time is essentially for learning a technique and for troubleshooting problems. The real work happens at home, so I'm always thrilled to see finished pieces.

I also love seeing what students have learned in other classes. It's great to hear about what other teachers are teaching, that helps to keep me on my toes!

But here's what I've noticed:

It's very rare for a student to show me a portfolio.

Nope. Most students bring one of two things:

Do you shove your projects into a sketchbook? Boy, do we need to talk! |
Do you store projects in file folders? Boy, do we need to talk! |

Either they drag out a sketchbook with loose drawings shoved in-between pages of other drawings.

Or they bring the File Folder of Death.

Can we please talk about this?


I'm about to make a suggestion...

And I know about 50% of you are going to object.

Or at least feel a little squidgy about the concept.

You need to start compiling a portfolio.


Yes, you.

Okay, let's hear the objections:

You're not an artist you're just someone who likes to color and this stuff is just class exercises and it's only mediocre work at best because someday you're doing to do these projects again and it'll all be perfect then and you'll think about putting THOSE perfect projects into a portfolio but why in the world would I tell you this stuff is worth putting into a portfolio???

I know. Portfolios are something artists do.

Real artists. The kind who wear berets and striped shirts and have officially been licensed as artists by the Worldwide Bureau of Artists Who Do Real Art (that's the WWBAWDRA for short). 



Portfolios are not an artist thing. They're an everyone thing.

But here's the twist-

I'm not telling you to start a portfolio to protect your artwork.

That's a given. It's common sense; proper storage of your pile o' projects helps keep them from getting torn or dog-eared.

And yes, it's especially important to protect Copic, colored pencil, or watercolor projects from sunlight. Sunlight does do nasty things to projects sitting out in the open. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

That is not the reason why I want you to start binding your projects together in portfolio format.

Here's my ulterior motive: 


You will learn more from your own history than from any other source

And that includes teachers like me.

Do you have a pile of projects just sitting there? Boy, do we need to talk! |

I can only teach you a technique.

You have to discover how to use that technique to your best advantage.

It's a self discovery process.

You need the ability to look back at projects you did last month, last year, two years ago, and even the stuff from wayyyyy back when you thought Donny Osmond was hot stuff.

Your cache of work is a record of what worked and what went horribly wrong. It's a valuable learning tool.

Flipping through the pages of a portfolio is the ideal way to make observations and comparisons. You forget most of what you learn in class, I'll bet 90% of what I tell students is completely wiped from their brain within 48 hours.

But you knew it long enough to use it in the project. Seeing that project helps you remember. Seeing a good project next to one that failed helps you diagnose and prevent carrying that bad technique on into future projects.

Portfolios aren't just a collection of past projects, they're the key to success on future projects.


So what kind of portfolio system should you look for?

Easy is the best.

You want your portfolio to be as simple as possible, something that takes only seconds to house your projects.

We're trying to eliminate the tendency that humans have to stack stuff. The last thing that we want is for you to stop shoving your projects into a sketchbook and start shoving them into a "to be filed someday" pile.

Portfolio sleeved-books are an easy solution to storing your past coloring projects |

Back when I freelanced, I used to mat all my good stuff and slide it into an acetate sleeve, then the whole thing was bound into a screw-post style hard-bound booklet. I also had a digital portfolio where everything was professionally photographed and then stored on a website. And yeah, both of those portfolios styles are pretty much a beret-wearing-mustachioed artiste kind of thing. 

But this is what I do with my class projects now and this is what I'm suggesting.

Plastic cover presentation books with clear PVC sleeves inside.

There are two styles, one with the sleeves permanently bound, the other is more of a ring binder system (usually 5+ rings). The ring style make it easier to re-order your projects but the perma-bound style is more compact and easier to store.

Pretty much all portfolio binders come with black sheets of paper in each sleeve, so it takes only a millisecond to pop your project into an empty slot.

Mount your projects to cardstock before placing them into a portfolio binder |

If you're feeling fancy (and I do recommend getting fancy) you can center mount your project on a piece of cardstock before sliding it home. Projects mounted to the correct size cardstock are less likely to fall out later.

I use double sided tape but if you want something less permanent, consider using adhesive photo corners to hold your project down.

Crop your art in a manner that best shows it off. I prefer keeping things square with a guillotine trimmer but occasionally it's nice to fussy cut an image (especially if the finished project is close to the binder page size).

For smaller projects, you can mount two projects to a page.

The point is to keep it all clean and crisp looking. Don't mount projects on colored or patterned paper, you want the art to shine, not the background! Stick with gray or black for best results, and keep the entire book uniform, this isn't the time to show off your extensive collection of cardstock.


What about the exceptions?

Maybe some of you work large (or teeny-tiny). Good news, portfolio/presentation books come in many different sizes.

And for all you card makers, those who generously give away their best projects? I definitely recommend photographing or scanning your art before you work it permanently into the card and send it off to Timbuktu or Kalamazoo. 

The same holds true for those who make 3D items or work on alternative surfaces like canvas or wood. Your camera, even a phone camera can be a life saver.

and psssttt... if you're photographing your own handi-work, please resist the urge to do the card-making blogger thing. Don't photograph the whole entire card from a pleasing angle in front of a nifty backdrop with four props alongside. That looks great on blogs but we're looking to record the art itself, not memorialize your still-life-shooting skills. Take that photo dead-on with no angle, in good light and with crisp detail.


Begin your portfolio today and keep using it

You'll thank me later.

It's a valuable learning resource and it looks great on your coffee table!

Watercolor: Make a Peerless Watercolor Palette


My goal this year is to do more personal projects...

As a teacher, it's really easy to fall into the curriculum trap where everything you produce is either a teaching reference or a prospective lesson.

Make a Peerless Travel Palette |

So my solution to this hole I'm sitting in is simple: get the heck out of my studio! Now that the weather's warmer, I'm forcing myself to unplug and head outdoors for some soul-building field work.

In fancy art circles, we call working out-of-doors "en plein air" which roughly translates to "you can't take your 900 pound ceramic watercolor palette with you".

Yep, if it's going to be me and my dog drawing/chasing ducks in the park, I can't exactly drag along my studio paints.

So I went shopping- a little Home Depot, a little Amazon, and a quick stop at

Make a Peerless Travel Palette |

Here's my new travel kit

(warning: affiliate links ahead...)

First off, I needed a bag.

I know that sounds like putting the sleigh before the horse but because I knew the palette could be any size, I figured I'd find a great carrying case and then create the perfect palette to fit.

I found this bag on Amazon. If it came in red, I'd declare it utterly perfect. The pockets are deep, it has pencil & brush storage up front, and these handy little flaps to keep your inside stuff inside.

Make a Peerless Travel Palette |

The best part about this bag is something I didn't realize until Mr. Fed-Ex dropped it off on my doorstop- this bag has a hard board backing, sewn inside the back panel.

Once I'm on location and have emptied out my bag, the bag can lay on my lap as a mini-desk!

What's perfecter than perfect?

Oh, if only it came in red...


Next up, Peerless Watercolors!

There are lots of portable watercolor kits on the market. I do own and love my Winsor Newton watercolor makers, but I do not like juggling multiple markers in one hand while I paint with the other.

And yes, the practical part of me thought about buying a small empty travel palette. Because I use tube watercolors, it would have been very easy (and economical) to simply fill a smaller travel palette with my favorite watercolor paints.

But as I said earlier, I'm in a rut and doing the same ol' things with my same ol' stuff (only outdoors) really wasn't jingling my bells. So I ordered a 60 color set of Peerless Watercolor swatches.

Make a Peerless Travel Palette |

Peerless swatches are little cards embedded with transparent and vibrant watercolor. They work just like the watercolor coloring books we had growing up. Simply touch a card with a wet paintbrush to rehydrate the color, then paint your project. Because the color is intense and concentrated, you don't need to carry around a big swatch.

The problem with Peerless cards is that they arrive like a deck of cards... NOT very travel friendly. I Googled up a storm to see how other crafters were storing their Peerless. Most people are using photo albums with 2-6 colors per page. With 60 colors, that means lots of page flipping and wet swatches touching each other and generally getting nasty. Oh my sweet heavens, spare me that kind of color contamination!

I also wanted a white mixing surface. I almost never use a color straight up as is.


Hello Home Depot!

Make a Peerless Travel Palette |

This is corrugated PVC plastic. You'll find it in the same aisle as plexiglass and sheets of replacement glass for windows and picture frames. If you're not handy enough to enter the hallowed halls of Home Depot, Amazon has the same thing.

This stuff is sturdy, lightweight, and pretty inexpensive.  I paid $5.48 for a 18 x 24 inch rectangle. That was enough for one, three page travel palette (plus scraps). 



Make a Peerless Travel Palette |


I've used this plastic before for other projects and it cuts very easily with a craft knife (this is the best one ever, it doesn't roll away!!!).

I cut 3 panels at 7 x 10 inches. That's large enough to hold 30 swatches on a single page and it fits very easily into the bag. I could have gone slightly larger but then the math for the swatch sizes got weird.

artist + weird math = great angst

A T-square, a large self-healing cutting mat, and a brand new knife blade make this part of the job very easy and precise.

Make a Peerless Travel Palette |

The cut edges are not sharp but because I'll be handling this palette a lot, I wanted a more finished edge.

I ran a line of white electrical tape around all four sheets and burnished it down with a bone folder. The electrical tape may shift over time and with wear, so I'm not thrilled with this solution... but it works for now.

Plus the mitered edges makes my inner OCD patient smile.

Make a Peerless Travel Palette |

I used my Cinch machine to bind the three panels together with .75" wire. Cinch wire cuts easily with wire nippers.

The plastic sheets are 4mm which was a smidgen too thick to fit into the Cinch but I was able to squish just the end area with a bone folder. Then each compressed sheet slid in very easily.

I bound my palette along the short edge. That's another big difference between my palette and the other tutorials out there. I wanted long and narrow so that I can clip it closer to my project. I don't want the wind catching a tall palette like a sail when I'm outdoors.

Make a Peerless Travel Palette |

Here's where my palette starts to differ greatly from other internet tutorials.

Because I intend to mix colors and because I know the swatches will be damp when I close up my palette, I wanted space between the swatches and the mixing surface.

Even if not wet, these swatches can contaminate each other if they make contact color-to-color.

Plus, I suspect that wet swatches pressed up next to plastic means they'll dry really slowly and could grow mold or fungus over time. Ugh!

Make a Peerless Travel Palette |

Little adhesive backed vinyl bumper feet solve this problem and insure that even when folded, the swatches never touch the middle page mixing surface.

Here's an end shot of the closed palette. The pages all have a nice air gap.

Yes, it takes a hyper-critical perfectionist weirdo to think of these things...

Make a Peerless Travel Palette |

Here's the swatch cutting process.

Each of my swatches are 1/6 of a card, adhered to a sheet of watercolor paper with Tombow tape. When a swatch wears out, I'll rip it off and replace it with a new 1/6 piece.

I left room next to each swatch for the color name and a wash sample.

I used double sided Gorilla tape (super sticky stuff) to stick the entire card to the palette. One card on the inside of the front cover, one card on the inside of the back cover. The middle sheet (with the feet) is left blank as that will be my mixing surface.

Make a Peerless Travel Palette |

Warm colors on one page.

Cool colors on the other.  Yes, I'm missing a color. It was supposed to be 60 colors but they sent two Amethyst cards. I'm still not sure what color I'm missing...

Make a Peerless Travel Palette |

Here is my palette at work.

For smaller projects, I can tape the watercolor paper right to the mixing page. For outdoors, I will clip the entire palette to the side of my journal.

I'm not happy with the way the paint beads up in some areas, that makes mixing harder. I'll pull out some 3000 grit sandpaper later (super fine for polishing jewelry) and rough up the surface slightly. 

Make a Peerless Travel Palette |
Make a Peerless Travel Palette |

Here's my travel bag loaded up with supplies.

I've got room for 2-3 journals here. Or I can throw in my case of Winsor & Newton Watercolor Markers.

Add some water to my flask and I'm all ready to go!

Make a Peerless Travel Palette |
Make a Peerless Watercolor swatch palette |

Yep, I even made a label for the front cover.

That's it, one travel palette chock-full of pretty Peerless Watercolors in a grab-'n-go messenger style bag.

I'm all set to go a-painting in the wilds of Michigan...

... if only it wasn't 42 degrees outside.



Art Supplies: Worthless if you never take them off the shelf


"Remember that you must die"

My daughter and I were digging through a box of art supplies the other day. She offered to throw away a bag of old tubes of paint she found.

Notice that I said "old tubes of paint" not "empty paint tubes".

That's because I own 15 tubes of worthless oil paint- completely full but totally dried out.


What's the story?

I purchased them back in art school. They cost me dearly.

Art school isn't cheap and scholarships were rare, especially for a private art college.

I worked two jobs. I lived way-way-way off campus. I drove a car that left engine parts in my wake, almost as if I'd need the broken bits of rusty muffler to find my way back home each night.

I probably ate a lot of Ramen noodles to purchase those paints.

the paints are dead but the lesson isn't- use your treasures before they die |

It was a big investment for me. I didn't buy a kit. Instead, I methodically chose smart, versatile colors. I didn't buy the small sizes because I had big plans. Nine foot long canvases kind of plans.

I kept my new paints in an open cigar box on my desk. Sometimes I unscrewed a lid, just to smell the linseed.

But people with a day job, a night job, and 16 credit hours do not have time to paint for fun. With each semester and every change of major, the paints moved further from my sight. First, they slid into the drawer, then into a supply tub, then into the closet.

But I knew they were there.

And I didn't want to touch them until I had the time to use them with passion.

The years passed, a husband, three kids, two houses, three careers...

By the time I could use the tubes with passion they were hard and crumbly. Oil leaked out and now the entire set is coated with the sticky sheen of pure regret.

But I won't throw them away.

Because they remind me that tomorrow never really comes.


We live in one big long today.

Unless we face a serious tragedy, there is no magical moment when life makes a 180 degree pivot. Most of us never have a grand demarcation point. The closest we often get to an instantaneous life alteration is watching it happen to others in books or movies.

And yet we all expect the John Williams anthem to build and for a fairy godmother to show up and sing "Now is your moment, now you are changed!"

But honestly, most of us just trudge along, day after day. Real change is a slow morph over spans of time. Our changes are so subtle and slow as to be hardly noticeable.

Tomorrow never really arrives because today always feels a little too much like yesterday.


But Real time is finite.

And art supplies do not last forever. 

Colors fade, solvents evaporate. It's lost money if you don't use paint or ink while it's fresh.

You can't treat paints and glazes and pastels as if they are too pretty to waste.

Even if it's something non-perishable, maybe a beautiful rice paper or a fabric that makes your soul sing... If you horde it in a box, waiting for the perfect project, there's a pretty good chance that by the time you get around to actually using it, your taste will have completely changed.


And here's the real tragedy: I may never paint with oils again.

I have no interest in oils anymore. There are other things to love now.

I am no longer the girl who wanted to paint gigantic slices of fruit on canvases too large for your living room. I have slowly morphed into a grown woman with a more mature approach to art.

And because I didn't use my paints while I was still that oil obsessed girl, the only record I have of her are color studies and class assignments.

I have cracked tubes of paint, not beautiful art.


Think about your own beautiful supplies. What are you saving for someday?

Stop waiting for the perfect project, the perfect idea, the perfect touch of inspiration.

There is no perfect... or at least there won't be a perfect anything until you sit down and start making something.

Time flies. "best if used by..." dates expire. Tastes change. We move on to other passions.

The pleasure doesn't come from setting up a shrine of colorful supplies. It comes from using wonderful tools to make beautiful art.


Use your treasures while you can

Memento Mori- remember that you must die.