writers block?

My goal is to write a couple of times per week, but I'm having trouble making myself SIT DOWN and do it. I have so many ideas for new designs swirling around in my head all the time that I have no problem picking up the iPad or my journal and sketching out 5-10 new drawings at a moments notice. But writing... it isn't really second nature to me. 

Any bloggers or writers out there have any suggestions? I found a few motivational posts on Pinterest (like this one and also this one) with things to write about, but (true to Laura-form) I keep reading through those lists trying to decide what I want to do. Hahaha. 

So... right now I'm just going to REMIND MYSELF of this super fun quote I found recently:

The most effective way to do it, is to do it.
— Amelia Earhart

And... I'm doing it. I'm writing about nothing, but I'm WRITING. 

retreat

I have always romanticized painting en plein air. Know what that is? 

The official definition is "pertaining to a manner or style of painting developed chiefly in France in the mid-19th century, characterized by the representation of the luminous effects of natural light and atmosphere as contrasted with the artificial light and absence of the sense of air or atmosphere associated with paintings produced in the studio."

In layman's terms, painting "en plein air" means painting outside - what is right in front of you. The term was coined in the late 1800's during the impressionist movement in France by the likes of VanGogh, Renoir, Monet, Cézanne, Rosseau, and so many more. Monet famously painted hundreds of different views of his garden at his home in Giverny, and recently, art conservators even found a dead grasshopper embedded in the brush strokes of one of VanGogh's paintings.

Painting en plein air is something i love to do, but it's a luxury I really don't make time for. 

That's why I REALLY want to go to an artist retreat. A quiet picturesque place where I can bring all my art supplies and just paint or draw. Like this place in Virginia. It sounds just luxurious and LOOK at the photo gallery! How can you NOT be relaxed and creative in a place like this? You can take any kind of classes you want (painting, printmaking, drawing, etc.) and you have plenty of free time to just sit outside in the gorgeous "plein air" and get creative. 

I hear what you're thinking - why can't I just set aside a weekend around home to sit outside and paint? I could... and I probably will one weekend soon... but it's different. If I'm at home I'm distracted by the dishwasher and tv and phone and kids and cooking and laundry and a billion  other things I SHOULD be doing.  

So for now, I guess I'll see about buying myself a travel easel and supply box like this or this or even this

Weekend road-trip

This past weekend was an epic road trip adventure through the incredible state of Alabama.

Friday started with my book, Amazing Alabama, being used as decorations for the Alabama Society Daughters of the Revolution state conference on Friday afternoon. I was so incredibly honored, and the ladies all LOVED the centerpieces.

After the DAR conference, Maggie and I were joined by our friends, Shannon and Avery, and we headed north! The first stop in our trip was the Florence Lauderdale Public Library for a book talk. We really had a great time learning about Alabama, the history of coloring, and we even learned some new coloring tips and tricks! 

After the book talk was over, we enjoyed some local Florence flavor at Trowbridges (who is celebrating their 100th birthday this year). If you eat there, you have to MAKE SURE you get the pineapple orange ice cream, which is on the list of 100 Things to Eat in Alabama Before You Die. It's super creamy and delicious! After filling our bellies, we went to see Leo III and Una, the sibling lions on the campus of UNA, the Rosenbaum house (Alabama's only Frank Lloyd Wright house), and Ivy Green, birthplace of Helen Keller. We even got to see the infamous water well where Annie Sullivan taught her "water".   

The next day we drove through Cullman on the way home and stopped at the Ave Maria Grotto. This is one of those hidden gems in the state that everybody should go see at some point in their life. The dedication and artistry of Brother Joseph was incredible. 

Our Alabama road trip came to a close with a trip to Whataburger, a visit to the marble quarry in Sylacauga, and a road trip classic... coke and peanuts! These 2 little girls had never tried this southern delicacy before... What kind of mother am I???

Backtracking just slightly, I wanted to say that throughout our entire trip, we had fun getting our Past Ports stamped. If you don't have one yet, you can get them HERE. If you don't know what they are, you can learn about them HERE. It's a really cool booklet that's $10 and you can go around on your own epic Alabama road trip getting stamps from all the 67 counties! In fact, you can use it in conjunction with your very own copy of Amazing Alabama - get your Past Port stamped and color the county you're visiting. 

Maggie and Avery already have 3 stamps (I've got 4)... how many do you have?

Mini-tutorial

One thing I love to do is write fun titles on everything. Whether it's for my kids' school projects, or my journal/calendar, or our weekly menu, or on to do lists... I just like to make things LOOK special. If it's pretty, I'm more likely to look at it or pay attention to it. Those of you who know me know about my colorful bullet journal/calendar. It just makes me happy to open it up and have all these colors and fun stuff staring back at me. 

Anyway, I wanted to give you a quick rundown of how I make one of my fun titles. This is my favorite way to create them and it's super easy. I'm not using anything you can't get at Target or Walmart. Since today is the first day of March, we're going to letter the word "March" in a fun spring green.

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After I get the word written with my super fancy CRAYOLA MARKERS (heehee), I'm going to go over it with a quick outline. In this instance I'm using a professional drafting pen, but any felt tip or gel pen will work. 

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So far, so good... right? Next I'm going to take a light grey marker and create a slight drop-shadow on the letters. I like my drop shadows to be to the bottom right (personal preference).

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At this point you COULD be finished. Or you could add a bit of a white highlight to the letters (like I did) with a white gel pen. It NEEDS to be a gel pen because they sit up on top of the paper and whatever else pen/marker/color you have below it. 

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There you have it! A nice bold fun header for whatever you're working on! 

If you try this technique, shoot me an email or tag me on IG at #alabama.pen.paper !!!

 

Work in progress...

You all know by now that I have published a book called Amazing Alabama - our state's first coloring book. It took me a little under a year to complete and each of the 67 counties has its very own coloring pages. I'm not originally from Alabama and didn't get to take Alabama History in the 4th grade, so this was a really cool research project for me. 

Well, now I'm working on the Georgia version. It's not going to be called "Gorgeous Georgia", but if you have any other ideas for a good name, please shoot me an email and let me know. Anyway, Georgia has 159 counties (as opposed to Alabama's only 67), so this book will be structured a bit differently. Not ALL of the counties are going to have their own page - mainly for logistical reasons. Nobody wants a 180 page coloring book that would probably cost $40! Not to worry - all of the counties will be represented. 

I actually grew up in Georgia - Athens, in fact. My Dad was in sales and used to drive those Georgia backroads all the time. He has been really instrumental in helping me figure out neat "off the beaten path" things to include. I'm about 1/8 of the way through right now. That's not as far as I'd like to be, but I'm having to do a lot of weeding through... Georgia has a TON of really neat things! I've been sharing a few things here-and-there on my Facebook and Instagram, so if you don't already follow me, you NEED TO. Hey, you've got to stay up-to-date with everything! 

 

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One of the really cool things I had to include is in Athens (Clarke County). Did you know that there's a tree that doesn't belong to anyone? The (very edited) story goes like this: a man died and left a trust in the name of his favorite tree (yes, a TREE) so that it would be taken care of in perpetuity. This tree is rightfully called, "the tree that owns itself".

 

Bulloch County, GA is home to the U.S. National Tick Museum at Georgia Southern University. Let me tell you - let felt like CHRISTMAS when I found that little gem!

 

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This one is still in the sketch-phase, but the world's ONLY life sized elephant funerary monument is in Colquitt County. Did you know that? I sure didn't...

 

Cobb County, in north Atlanta, is home to the Big Chicken, a fast food beacon that has been around for over 50 years. At one point it was scheduled to be torn down, but the people of Cobb County pitched a fit and started a petition to save it! If you've never seen the Big Chicken, you really need to make a special trip. 

 

I'm already planning an epic Georgia road trip this summer with one of my daughters. We're going to try to hit all 159 of the counties. Has anyone else done this? I need to get a brand new crisp (properly folded) Georgia map and draw out a route for us... tell me I'm not the only one who still does this...

What neat things have YOU found along the backroads in Georgia that I need to make sure we see?

Bullock County, Alabama

Back before Christmas I had the privilege of meeting Midge Putnam, from Bullock County, at a meeting in Opelika. Midge is like a one-man-band, and I get the idea that she's really good at what all she is involved with! She works with the Red Door Theater, the Tourism Council of Bullock County, she's a Spanish Teacher at Conecuh Springs Christian School, she's an active mom, and she's also really involved in the local Girl Scouts! Anyway, we started talking about ways she could get me down to Union Springs for a series of book talks. It started out small (I was just going to come to a local bookclub and talk), but I had no idea how incredible this day would turn out to be!

Several weeks ago, after she and I had already nailed down our plans for the bookclub talk, she sent me an excited email saying that ALL the 4th graders in Bullock County were getting their very own copy of my book, and would I mind coming a bit early to visit the schools. 

We visited 2 schools that day - the first one being Union Springs Elementary School Those kids were so excited and they asked really incredible questions. They quietly looked through their books and followed along as I talked about several of our state's 67 counties. Their Principal, Marvin Lowe, really should be proud of his smart, excited kids who are so eager to learn. And at Conecuh Springs Christian School, we were joined by Debbie Collins' sweet 4th grade class to learn all about Bullock County, coloring, the Bicentennial, and a whole host of other things that our state's 67 counties have to offer! 

A HUGE "Thank You" to people like Midge who see how endless the possibilities are when it comes to educating our youth and getting kids EXCITED about learning. I know Amazing Alabama is a coloring book, but if I can get just one person to show a new interest in something they learn about our incredible state, then I think I've done my job!

Let's talk about color...

What are your favorite art materials for coloring?
— the #1 question I get asked when I am talking to groups about my book

I think it goes without saying that crayons have had their day. Everyone has picked up a crayon at some point in their life and most of us remember the smell with fondness. Today I usually chose something other than crayons, but I'm not saying I don't ever use them (ok, I honestly can't tell you the last time I've picked up a crayon). Since the sharpened tip gets worn down so fast on crayons, they are really only good for coloring right out of the brand new box (unless you get one of those huge delux boxes that has the little sharpener on the back), or coloring large things - like the sky, the background, etc. Crayons are also wax-base, so there's no mixing them with other materials. The wax resists ANYTHING water based (markers, pens, etc.). 

Speaking of water based markers and pens, that brings me to one of the coloring implements I can't do without - Crayola Supertips. You can buy a set of 50 of these at Back-To-School time for about $3, or you can click on this link to order them on Amazon. I love these because they're cheap, they come in TONS of colors, they don't bleed through (most) paper, and they have this neat thick/thin tip so you can practice calligraphy (crayligraphy) with them. 

Another ink-based product that I REALLY like is a nice set of fine tip pens. My FAVORITE set is the Staedtler Triplus Fineliners (link here), but the more inexpensive Paper Mate Flair Pens (link here) work well too. They both come in oooooodles of great colors and are PERFECT for writing or coloring in those tiny hard-to-reach spaces. You can find these at Target or WalMart (as well as Amazon) and the prices are going to be comparable. 

But I would be remiss without mentioning (in depth) my favorite thing to color with - Prismacolor colored pencils. I bought my first set in 1997 when they were on my supplies list in college (fine arts classes) and I've never looked back. I have since bought several sets over the years to supplement my old ones (as I wear them out), but some of the originals are still around. Prismacolors are the best because they're professional grade and the lead (it's not actually "lead", but that's what I'm going to call i) has more pigment and less filler, so the color is richer and brighter. They can be layered, mixed, smudged, and you can draw over them with your fine tip pens (or markers) since they're not totally waxy (think: crayons). Now, you can use Crayola brand colored pencils if that's what you have - there's no requirement for buying the super fancy colored pencils. What I AM telling you though, is that once you use the good ones, you can totally tell the difference in the quality and the way they feel. My kids are completely spoiled and have to have to use my pencils when they have school projects... In their eyes - all others are inferior!

One drawback is that these pencils are quite a bit more expensive than the generic or Crayola version. A tin of 72 Prismacolor colored pencils will set you back around $80 if you buy them in a Michael's or Hobby Lobby, but you can get the EXACT same thing on Amazon (this link) for under $25! 

When you have your pencils, pens, markers and coloring book (hopefully you're coloring in my new book, Amazing Alabama) all laid out and ready to color, please HUMOR ME and remember these 5 simple rules:

1) PRACTICE! Coloring is like learning and instrument or playing sports - if you don't practice, you're never going to get any better at it!
2) GO SLOW! It's not a race. You don't have to finish the entire coloring book in 2 hours. Really take your time and build/blend your colors to get a really nice effect... without destroying the tips of your freshly sharpened pencils!
3) Keep your pencils sharp and re-cap your markers/felt tip pens. Coloring with sharp pencils gives you more control over where you add the color, and re-capping your pens should be a no-brainer! All the water-based pens/markers that we are using are going to dry out if left uncapped. Protect your assets and make sure your caps are securely fastened!
4) Always, always, ALWAYS test your ink first! I included a tester page in the front of my coloring book, but if the book you're using doesn't have one, just flip to the back page to test your markers. You need top make sure you're only coloring the image you intended to color - and not the page below (bleed-through). 
5) You don't always have to follow the rules. Coloring is about experimenting and trying new things, so have fun and get CREATIVE!

Read Alabama...

I'm so incredibly honored to be included among the other 3 incredible authors who are participating in this year's Read Alabama events in Jasper, Alabama. 

CLICK HERE to learn more about the event, get directions, or to add it to your calendar!

Quick question...

Ok, I think it's pretty darn awesome that we have sold over 1500 copies of Amazing Alabama on Amazon... not to mention the other ways people can purchase my book (Books A Million, Barnes & Noble, NewSouth Books, my website, and at countless museums and gift shops around the state).

But take a look at this:

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The above map shows where in the country Amazing Alabama has been purchased from Amazon. Other than the usual suspects (locations around Alabama and the southeast), I've sold books to people in California, Colorado, Washington state, Missouri, Illinois, and Massachusetts (to name just a few).

**happy dance**

Therein lies my question: What (other than the incredible artwork and insightful research - heehee), compels someone to purchase a coloring book (from a relatively unknown author/illustrator) about a state all the way across the country? Did they live here at one time? Are they a coloring book collector like me? Are they getting ready to move here and wanted to learn a bit more about our incredible state? 

Inquiring minds want to know
— The Enquirer (TM) 1981

Random holidays that are TOTALLY worth celebrating

Recently I did this survey thing on Facebook where you see what random national holiday falls on your birthday. Mine is National Pasta Day (October 17th) and I couldn't be happier. Well, that got me to thinking about all the other strange holidays we celebrate as a country (some bigger than others), and there is REALLY a holiday for just about every day of the year... and some days there are more than one! When doing all this super technical research (read: procrastinating and goofing off), I came across this list : 12 Totally Random Holidays Every Designer Should Celebrate. The article lists holidays like National Sweatpants Day (Jan 21), Eat Ice Cream for Breakfast Day (Feb 18), and Drawing Day (May 16), but I've got a few more that I'd like to add to this list. 

Handwriting Day January 23

This is something I'm trying to get better about. When I get to writing too fast, I'm super sloppy. I'm trying to slow down and really concentrate on writing neatly.

Napping Day March 12

Seriously? This is TRULY a holiday I can get behind!
(checking calendar to make sure I'm free this day...)

No Housework Day April 18

Ok, most days are "No Housework Day" for me... but I'll totally celebrate it on April 18th!

Read a Book Day September 6

Again... clearing my calendar for this day! I absolutely LOVE to read and I've got an enormous reading list right now.

International Coffee Day October 1

Ok, I honestly celebrate this every day, but I'll be happy to make this a special holiday!

Author's Day November 1

YAY! I had NO IDEA this was a holiday! ESPECIALLY since my first book, Amazing Alabama, was officially published on November 1, 2017! It was meant-to-be! 

Make a Gift Day December 3

EVERY YEAR I like to sit down with the kiddos and make Christmas gifts. Whether we do it for one person or multiple people on our list - making gifts is something we (I) love to do! This year I'm going to have to start thinking of something SPECIAL to make on "Make a Gift Day". Maybe I'll create a DIY and you can make a gift with me! 

What random holidays do you remember to celebrate each year? Certainly I'm not the only one who can TOTALLY get behind National Inspire Your Heart With Art Day (Jan 31) or National Coloring Book Day (August 2) or Candy Corn Day (Oct 30)... Right?

The business of design

So, this title is totally misleading. I'm no businesswoman. I didn't take any business classes in college. I failed (my only failing grade - but I STILL failed) economics (micro and macro... so maybe that's TWO failing grades - whatever) and only took enough math to suffice for my fine arts degree.

For 15+ years I worked in the corporate design world and my schedule was all laid out for me. Fast forward to the summer of 2016 - I decided to branch out on my own... become my own boss... be a business owner. And not just any business - I wanted to be a work-from-home artist! 

It's incredibly rewarding, but I had no idea how hard it would be to WORK at home.

At least if you go into a place of business, it's understood that you're there to work. When I go into my office at home, there are 50,000,000 (that's a lot of zeros... but totally accurate) distractions throughout the day. The dog needs to go out. The dryer just buzzed. Dinner needs making. The neighbor's dog got out of the backyard fence AGAIN and I've got to go take her home. Oh look - there's the mailman. Dad calls to chat. One of the kids wants a popsicle. I've gotta make lunch. Someone ran through the sprinkler (again) and I need to cover the wood floor in towels so they can change clothes. 

Needless to say, my productivity hasn't been quite what it should've been. 

2 years later - here we are. I'm now in a place where I understand where I'm going wrong and I'm taking baby-steps toward a more productive business model. I'm still no business-virtuoso, but I'm working on it... slowly but surely. One thing I did today was open up my first business checking account. YAY ME! Next, my plan is to get all my business expenses (capital, licenses, software, office supplies, etc.) captured into a financial program like quickbooks or something. I think I'm going to set aside some time this afternoon to research those (as well as the one that I can sign up for through my bank). Any suggestions would be helpful.

I've also been thinking a lot about how to increase productivity. Here are a few things I've written down in my bullet journal (sorry I can't remember where these came from, so I can't credit the OP): 

What other productivity tips-and-tricks do you have? Maybe MY #1 should be to schedule out my ideal day. That way I can account for design time, drawing time, business time (instead of putting THAT part off 'til I've got a mountain of stuff to sift through), and housework time. 

Well hello there!

Remember me? I'm your fun and funky pen-and-ink artist... the one whose ashamed and appalled that it's been TWO MONTHS since posting anything. I know, I know... but I've had quite a busy couple of months launching my new book, Amazing Alabama, traveling all over the place hosting book talks and coloring parties, we moved my stepson and his girlfriend into their new (adorable) little house, we had family here for Thanksgiving, more family for Christmas, celebrating an engagement, more family after Christmas, football (GO DAWGS)... I'm POOPED! 

For now, I'm going to leave you with this little piece of SOLID GOLD!

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Thankful for November...

If you've been following me on Instagram (@alabama.pen.paper) or on Facebook (Alabama Pen & Paper), you will see that I've been trying to get in the Christmas spirit while listening to carols and drawing up some new Christmas designs for cards, stickers, gift tags, etc. But today I realized that I'm completely overlooking the best holiday of the year - Thanksgiving! 

So to celebrate (and ask the Thanksgiving turkey-gods their forgiveness) - I've created this sweet little FREE Thanksgiving download. Click the image below to download a PDF file and have a super great time coloring! 

Pebble Hill

I'm going to back-track a tiny bit this morning and talk about something incredible that happened last week. On October 26th, Caroline Marshall Draughon Center for the Arts & Humanities (aka: Pebble Hill) hosted my Amazing Alabama book launch party and we really had such a great time! I talked about my childhood growing up NOT in Alabama, my research, gave a few fun facts about Alabama that I learned along the way, we had refreshments, I signed books, and we had a super fun coloring party! There were people in attendance that I knew, people I didn't know, and even a few students who were there for class credit and they were taking notes. NOTES! About what I was saying... about my COLORING BOOK! But it was made even more special by the fact that my Dad and Stepmom and also my Aunt drove 6+ hours to be here for it. 

A HUGE Thank You to Kellie Wilson for taking the great photographs. Not only is she a dear friend, but she's also a really talented photographer!

Amazing Alabama progress pics...

Y'all, I LOVE seeing your gorgeous coloring pictures from Amazing Alabama. It's so exciting to see how much everyone is enjoying coloring in their books. Whether you color with crayons, colored pencils, markers or felt tip pens... I would LOVE to see your beautiful artistry!

Please tag #amazingalabama or @alabama.pen.paper if you post to Instagram or Facebook so I will definitely see your fun colored Amazing Alabama county pages! 

From one artist to another...

I really don't have the words to describe New York. We walked over 45 miles in the 6 days we were there, saw some incredible artwork (more on that in a bit), ate some FABULOUS food, saw some quintessentially "New York" neighborhoods, rode in a yellow taxi, the subway, AND a taxi boat, saw 2 Broadway plays (one of which was actually in the "Broadway Theater"), ordered food from a street cart, got honked at while crossing the street... and that's just the tip of the iceberg! 

Now, being an artist and reading books about art and artists, and studying art and artists, we HAD to hit a few art museums while we were there. We didn't get a chance to go in the Guggenheim - even though we took a picture of it (from the street), but we did go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the MET) and the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) and between the 2, I thought I had died and gone to heaven! 

Saturday we went to the MET and we ended up staying 7+ hours and totally closing them down. We were seriously some of the last people in the building and we didn't even see half of everything. From Matisse to Van Gogh (we saw the sunflowers, the cypress, and his SELF PORTRAIT) to Cezanne to Monet, this museum was right up my alley.  When you think it couldn't possibly get any more incredible, we even got to see a Leonardo Da Vinci (I was so in-awe that I didn't get a picture. Sorry.)! Steve was even surprised to find that the MET is the home of Emanuel Gottlieb Leutz' painting of Washington Crossing the Delaware. I must admit, it's a bit surprising to round a corner and see this larger than life (seriously - at least 20 ft wide) painting that you've read about and studied your entire life! It's exhilarating and awe-inspiring, to say the least. 

Wednesday we were flying out at 4:15, so we decided to walk to MOMA before heading to the airport. Once again, I was ASTONISHED by the paintings that are there... Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso, Matisse, Dali, etc. Some of these works were the ACTUAL works that I studied in Art History 101... I definitely had my little freak-out moment when I got to see The Starry Night... 

There were a TON of Picasso paintings at MOMA, but I honestly think I blacked-out from excitement. When I came to, with tears on my cheeks, I was a bit disappointed that this was the only Picasso I managed to take a photo of.

Oh well, I've got them all in my memories.

The city that never sleeps

My 40th Birthday is next week, so my husband suggested we go to New York to celebrate. I'm super excited - neither of us has ever been! We're staying about a block off Central Park and are planning on doing a bunch of touristy stuff (Empire State, Ellis Island, Staten Island Ferry, etc.), but we both have other MUSTS in mind as well. I definitely want to go to the Brooklyn Art Library and the Russian Tea Room, and we also both want to go to the New York Transit Museum.

Steve and I usually plan our trips down to the minute, but we're both kind of flying by the seat of our pants on this one. We have a shared google map with places we'd either like to go or restaurants we can't afford (but will take a selfie in front of anyway) , but other than the few things we definitely want to do, we're open to anything. 

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A little partisan debate...

Fall brings with it some wonderful things - October, my birthday, falling leaves, cooler weather, pumpkins, mums, scarves, boots and candy corn. My life is better in the fall when I can easily get my hands on these delicious little orange/yellow/white beauties. In fact, my husband and I have a serious love affair with candy corn mixed with peanuts. Anyway, I resisted as long as I could, but the other day I broke down at Kroger and bought several bags of candy corn and a jar of roasted peanuts. Oh RAPTURE!

Let's count the positives about these beauties:
1) They're like this heavenly miniature bite of Payday candy bars.
2) They look adorable in a little jar on the counter.
3) I don't care to hear any negatives... they're perfect!

That's a jar full of happiness.

The other night I fell asleep on the sofa and Steve, in glorious rapture at being left alone with the blessed jar of candy corns and peanuts, posted something on facebook about them and a very partisan debate ensued. I am extremely shocked and hurt by all the negativity surrounding candy corns. Seriously, what's wrong with people? I don't need that kind of negativity in my life, people!

Candy Corn + Peanuts = Angels singing from above! 

To show my love and support, I am offering another FREEBIE to download and color. Click on the image to download.

Any and all donations to the cause can be made in the form of more candy corns and peanuts (they've got to be roasted)... just shoot me an email and I'll be happy to tell you where to drop them off!