Dear Chelsea

Copyright Kate Brennan Hall

Copyright Kate Brennan Hall

This is an ink drawing I did of my oldest daughter when she was a preschooler; on one of the many afternoons we spent painting, drawing and making collages together. We’d create a bunch of fun art and then plaster a whole wall full of her creations. They made me happy just to look at them.  Sure, I was the “professional illustrator” but Chelsea (and later her sister Martha) taught me so much about creativity; more than anything I’d learned in art college or on the job. She wasn’t worried about perfection, the end “product” or, if her creations had any larger meaning. She was totally immersed in the act of making, playing and enjoying the process of creating. And to this day she has retained that quality of experimentation and play in her work.

Today is her birthday. I’ve joked across the years that it took having a baby in January to finally help me be able to appreciate this month. So happy birthday dear Chelsea. The world is a brighter and happier place because YOU are here. I love you, Mom.  p.s. Let’s keep making art together!

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Postcard Project

Copyright Kate Brennan Hall

Copyright Kate Brennan Hall


Copyright Kate Brennan Hall

Copyright Kate Brennan Hall

A couple months ago I was asked to create two postcards for the Waterloo Convention & Visitors Bureau (WC&VB) in Waterloo, Iowa. It was such a fun project to work on.

The first design was influenced by Mid-Century Modern designs. I limited my color pallet in order to create cohesiveness within the many elements I needed to feature. I’ve been thinking a lot about quilting lately and the stories that they tell and so that influenced my design ideas. The second postcard was made to reflect a nostalgic feeling—like the kind of postcard you’d find in a vintage shop. I enjoyed taking artistic liberties with the 4th Street Bridge shape and playing with warm vs. cool colors. The hand-lettering was done in my sketchbook and the client liked it so I scanned it and placed it into my illustration. The postcards will be printed in a few weeks and should be available via the WC&VB main office.



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Perspiration vs Inspiration

Copyright2016 Kate Brennan Hall

Copyright2016 Kate Brennan Hall

I was born with a somewhat photographic memory. I didn’t realize I had this *gift* until I was in college. My roommates and I were discussing a grueling test we’d just taken in an art history course. I told them how, at one difficult point in the test, I just looked up at the blank overhead so I could *view* my notes I had studied. I could *see* my handwritten notes (in my mind…I wasn’t cheating! 😉 They made it clear to me that not everyone had this ability to call up imagery like course notes, phone numbers, etc.

I have this same talent for remembering faces that sometimes puts me in awkward situations. A few years after college I was in a bookstore in a city two hundred miles from where I was raised. I glanced up and saw a sales clerk and at that very same instant I *saw* a photo of him that I’d seen when I was about eight years old in one of my siblings high school year books. I could *see* the photo of him sitting on a chair with a young woman in a cheerleading outfit sitting on his lap. Curiosity got the best of me so I approached him and asked him if he was from my home state and he replied with a puzzled look but stated that yes, he was from there. I asked him if he’d attended a certain high school and again, he said yes. I didn’t want to alarm him so I finally just said, “You wouldn’t know me because we’ve never met—but I remember you from a photo I saw when I was a young girl. There was a photo of you in my sister’s year book and for whatever reason I recognized you all these years later (20!) from that photograph and my curiosity got the best of me.”  Did I mention that in the intervening twenty years he’d changed hair styles, added glasses and I had never seen him in person?

Flash forward to this age of social media and constant sharing of images. This gift of having a somewhat “sticky” brain can sometimes be a burden. I don’t want, if you will, my brain being clogged up with excess imagery. I want my mind to lightly look at images via social media and then quickly move on. As creatives we all are influenced by the collective work of those around us in music/film/writing/architecture/theater/dance/design/fine arts. But influence is different from heavy handed “inspiration”—the kind that borrows too heavily from another creative. So more and more it feels like my job as an illustrator and printmaker is to keep focused on working hard (perspiration) with my own set of ideas/imagery/writing. To design using imagery that is fresh but also based in my own set of experiences. To not be distracted by what’s “hot” in the market place and not borrow from copyrighted/trademarked designs. I tend to look at this endeavor as a marathon (in the best sense) of listening to my inner voice while also hearing what my customers are responding to in my work. I’ve always tried to do this but now it feels even more important in this age of social media.  As Corita Kent wrote all those years ago in her Immaculate Heart College Art Department Rules: Rule No.7 The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things.

So that’s my goal for 2016 as I come up with new designs for my goods. To continue to keep my inspiration coming from my own perspiration (a.k.a. hard work). Thanks for joining me on this journey.



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Birdhouses for Hartman Reserve


A few months ago my family was asked to donate our artistic skills to decorate bird feeders that would be auctioned off to help our local nature reserve.

They gave us three sturdy birdfeeders that were primed and ready for us to paint, etc. The first one ended up being a collaborative effort between me and my youngest daughter. She was short on time so she painted what she could and then I finished the piece by playing around with my artist proofs. My Rachel Carson screen-print seemed a perfect fit for a birdfeeder. I had just installed some new letters on our newspaper box so I had vinyl letters lying around. I decided to have a little fun by placing them within the feeding area. Mini bill-boards for birds!



My husband decided to create roofing shingles by cutting up vinyl tile left over from a recent bathroom renovation. I love the little chimney and the little birds peeking out of the window/door.



For the third birdfeeder I decided to try out a “travel” theme; beginning with an old map of London that helped us, back-in-the-day, make our way around that city. Maybe birds could use it? (smile)
And then I used some of my all time favorite travel postcards (created by WPA artists during the Great Depression) that I collected from road trips across the years. An ample coating of modge podge sealed them all up from inclement weather and then they were delivered to the wonderful folks at Hartman Nature Reserve. I hope we get a chance to do this again! Cheers, Kate


LondonBackofBirdHouseKate CHRRPinsideLondonKate LondonCLOSEUPMapTravelPostcardsKateFront



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Be gentle with yourself

copyright Kate Brennan Hall

copyright Kate Brennan Hall

After working 12-15 hr days for the past eleven months trying to keep up with orders/printing, etc…. I decided to take this advice. I opted out of selling at any holiday pop-up shops to save my energy for fulfilling orders via Etsy/my stockists. The #peace I’m feeling this a.m. is all the confirmation I need about my choice.
Thx to all who support my small art biz. I never take your kindness for granted. Cheers, Kate
#katebrennanhall #handmade #teatowels #screenprinting #illustration #hand-lettering #textiles #patterns #homegoods #dscolor #welcome #makingaliving#makersgonnamake #kitchen #foodies

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Shop Small Saturday Musings


The upcoming Shop Small Saturday on 11/28/15 has me pondering the current trends in the Arts & Crafts Movement and, shopping small. When I began this journey (sounding very LOTR Frodo-like here) of creating screenprinted textiles and prints, I assumed I would transition into the licensing world; creating designs that would be licensed to large companies who would then apply them to various products and sell them in stores. I started researching the art licensing section of the art/business world and the more I dipped into it, the less certain I was about that model. Yes, in my profession as an illustrator I am accustomed to my work being printed on to everything from books to billboards. But the more I learned about where and how licensed goods were manufactured, the less I liked that model: outsourced manufacturing of a gabillion units (helloooo landfills!) created by cheap labor in countries that often abuse their environments for the sake of productivity. I read about container ships full of cheap mass-produced goods flooding our marketplace. I heard about jewelers on a certain *handmade* site being unable to compete against this flood of low-wage jewelry.

So I decided to structure my business as a small-batch creator of handmade goods. My working definition of *small batch* is much like someone making artisanal cheese (see The Life of Cheese: Crafting Food and Value in America By Heather Paxson):

1. Creating my products by hand in small batches that are custom fit to the needs of my stockists/customers in order to avoid wasting precious resources.

2. Printing in a just-in-time mode to avoid excess inventory/landfill usage.

3. Buying my towels from a U.S. based company and my shop supplies from a mom and pop vendor.

Am I being too idealistic? Maybe. But this method fits with my overall world view: I’m a steward of this planet and while I’m here I need to do what I can (little things add up!) while producing a product that adds beauty and is functional (towels are reusable!) and doesn’t drive down the wages of my fellow artists, who, are just trying to earn an honest living. Yes, I cringe when I see kitchen tea towels (only $2!!!) at big box stores. I know what a towel costs before you print on it and believe me, the person that printed on that towel most likely only made fifty-cents that day.…sigh.

And then I made small changes in my own buying habits:
I try (when possible) to purchase small batch goods from artisans/shops who honor small-batch practices. I try to purchase handmade gifts from local shops and artists. So the next time you set out to purchase holiday gifts/homegoods, I encourage you to look for labels that indicate a product was made in the U.S.A. and even better: by a handmade artisan. You’ll be supporting an artist/shop while also most likely helping your local/state/federal economy not only survive but to thrive. It’s a win-win for everyone.

I hope this posting doesn’t come across as preachy. I’m just offering up another way to look at shopping that helps the small shop/artist out here. (Ask anyone and they’ll tell you I always enthusiastically root for the little gal/guy! 😉  And lastly, thanks to all of you for purchasing my goods for yourselves and for sending them out to friends and family. You are helping my small cottage business thrive and I truly appreciate it.

Here are some great shops/artisans right off the top of my head that would very much welcome your business! (scroll down)



Stockist (mine) * Special thanks to these fine folks for carrying my goods!


Barn Happy    |   Cedar Falls

Mohair Pear   |    Cedar Falls

Hatchling & Hens    |    Cedar Falls

Fancy Pants   |    Decorah

Plaid Peacock   |    Waterloo

Stew’s   |    Kalona

White Rabbit  | Iowa City

Vintage 35  |  Valley Junction in Des Moines

First Avenue Collective     |     Winterset  (opening Nov 2015)


Pinder Pottery    |   Galena


Homespun    |    Indianapolis


Ugly Glass & Company    |   Kansas City


Wedge Community Co-op    |     Minneapolis

Swag      |      Northfield

Highway North/Groundswell    |    St. Paul


MADE on Mass     |     Lawrence


Salty Not Sweet    |    Cleveland


Made: Indie Emporium     |     Tulsa


The Anchor     |     Fayetteville

State + Pride Provisions   |  Hot Springs


Stitches in Time via Hurd Mercantile and Company   |   Rockford

Artists/Small Batch Folk:

(email me kate (at) if you want to be added to this list. I get *lazy* when it comes to typing so don’t take offense if I failed to list your name in the original list…;)







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Art Opening at Cup of Joe


Hey Friends! Here’s an invitation to join me at Cup of Joe on Monday, November 9th 7-8 PM
It’s a chance to gather and let me thank you for all your kindness and support of my handmade goods. I hope you can make it.
Cheers, Kate

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Go ahead: say it with love

Copyright Kate Brennan Hall

Copyright Kate Brennan Hall

Friends have told me they admire how I give compliments. (thank you dear ones but truly, I often stumble/blurt/sound silly…) They say that they often think such thoughts but that they stop themselves from actually saying//writing//giving—compliments.

So here’s a gentle reminder:

Compliments cost nothing but they are priceless.
Your kindness matters.
These kind words can often be the *fuel* that keeps someone going during challenging times.
Sincere compliments are a great antidote to all the social media snark.



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My Cup

Copyright Kate Brennan Hall

Copyright Kate Brennan Hall

I’m pleased and excited to say that my hand screenprinted kitchen tea towels/totes/aprons, etc. are now on display at Cup of Joe – Cedar Falls.

COJ is the most charming coffee shop—the second you enter your senses are engaged by the wonderful aromas of fine coffees & teas.The walls and decor embrace you with funky vintage lamps, tables and all sorts bits and bobs. And now, my lucky goods are on display there for next few weeks. They’ll have my goods available for sale during this show only. So stop on over and get a warm cup of something, enjoy the atmosphere of COJ and see my works dancing across sweet clotheslines.

Okay, that’s my newsy voice (above) but now here’s my behind the scenes thinking:

I am so excited to have my goods on display at COJ. Years ago when we first moved here I would take our daughters there for a yummy cup of hot cocoa and we’d sit there smiling in that tranquil space—taking it all in. Beautifully colored walls, a different vintage lamp gracing every vintage table. Stacks of great magazines to read. Music played at the just the right volume to allow for conversation but also allowing it to wash over you after a hard day. It felt so welcoming and rejuvenating. And it still does all these years later. To have my work in this space feels like I’ve come full circle. It was a space that gave me peaceful breaks in my heavy duty mothering years when my creative life was good— but needing to run at a lower speed. Little by little these past three years I’ve been able to extend the reach of my creative efforts and it feels great. I told Dawn, the kind and generous owner of COJ, that this show came at exactly the right time. It feels like a celebration of all my hard work and frankly, it’s great to have so much wall space to include so many of my pieces. I stood back after we’d hung the show and it hit me: My creative cup is very full!

Ever grateful, Kate


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Experiments with Textiles Equals Fun!

Copyright Kate Brennan Hall

Copyright Kate Brennan Hall


Here’s a fun Dinosaur cloth napkin print I framed the other day. I like the contrast of fun dinosaurs on a traditional napkin. I found these vintage napkins a while ago in a shop in St. Paul. They sprang to mind when I was in the midst of printing my dinosaur towel/pillowcases. It was a gamble (will it look funny? will it work together?….sometimes vintage = too-precious-to-use) but I knew the minute I lifted my screen from printing it that it was….fun! It would be a nice addition to a child’s room OR a young-at-heart person’s bedroom/kitchen.

Framing ideal: I pressed the napkin, sewed it onto archival printmaking paper and put it in this elegant white frame.
****I’ll bring it with me to sell at the upcoming Vintage & Made Fair this weekend in West Des Moines. See ya there! Kate

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