Row Houses - Washington, DC © Sara Halperin

Row Houses - Washington, DC © Sara Halperin

I’ve decided to do a feature every Wednesday on this blog featuring photography or artwork. It will be a simple image, nothing more and no explanation. Today’s image is a photograph that I took myself, but I intend on featuring a new artist or photographer each week, so if you would like to have your artwork or photography featured, or if you have suggestions on who should be featured, please contact me.


017. Time Out!

Sometimes I forget that the best thing a creative person can do is shut out everything else and just take a time out. We all need time to unplug, unwind, and unthink.

I recently wrote about what I would do if I could create my own schedule and how I’d like to find a way to stay on a permanent vacation. In addition to the benefits of spending time away from electronic distractions, staying away from others’ opinions in general can be extremely beneficial when trying to create something new. In the days of hyper-connectivity, it’s hard not to be influenced by other media, including television, radio, internet, phone calls, and even face-to-face conversations.

While I respect and value the opinions of my family, friends, and colleagues, I have come to the conclusion that I need to set aside time for myself away from the phone, the internet, and people if even for a few hours a week. So, I’m going to schedule SaraKate Blackouts – blocks of time when I can just lay outside on a blanket and appreciate the shade a tree offers in DC humidity, do some painting, write in my journal (yes, I actually have a real paper journal … not that I use it enough!), go on a long walk without purpose or destination, make a decadent homecooked meal, well… you get the idea. Basically anything but errands, work, or connecting with other people. I plan to schedule this in a few hours at a time, starting with this Thursday evening. I’m not sure it will be the same time every week or even if the duration will stay the same, but I’ve got to start somewhere and what better time to start than now?

That being said, I leave you with one of my favourite quotes on meditation and reflection:

The gift of learning to meditate is the greatest gift you can give yourself in this life. For it is only through meditation that you can undertake the journey to discover your true nature, and so find the stability and confidence you will need to live, and die, well. Meditation is the road to enlightenment.Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying

Some hefty #followfriday recommendations from the forefront of social media at BlogPotomac:

  • Amber Naslund (@ambercadabra): Amber is one of the most passionate people around. Her blog is thought-provoking, timely, and relevant. If you’re interested in branding, you should read her blog (AltitudeBranding). If you want to learn from her in many ways, follow her on Twitter.
  • Beth Harte (@bethharte): One of the friendliest people and has a great mind for social issues, not just social media. She knows people, which is the most important part of marketing. Get to the Harte of Marketing with her blog or follow her on Twitter for updates, both venues have volumes of valuable content.
  • Sonny Gill (@sonnygill): I’ve been following Sonny on Twitter for a while now, as well as reading his blog and he’s got great content about using social media and how to make use of the conversation. He’s smart, and a smart dresser, too!
  • Frank Martin (@frankmartin): I just met Frank last night, but he’s a delight in person and on Twitter. His Tweets are phrased to make you process, think, evaluate. He writes a blog about marketing, called Marketing Magic. A great #followfriday for sure.
  • Pamela Martin (@pamelamartin): I also met Pamela last night, wife to Frank, directly above. She’s a fun, funny, and interesting woman in her own right and has great Tweets. She writes a blog called ScatteredSpirit. She also shares my love for fashion, so that’s an obvious plus, as well.
  • Arik Hanson (@arikhanson): Arik is the man behind CommunicationsConversations and a down-to-earth chill guy. He was kind enough to organize a pre-BlogPotomac dinner meet-up for the lot of us last night and was a great host.

There were so many more amazing people that I got to meet in the last two days. I learned so much and had a ton of fun while I was at it! I really hope to make it to another event like this in the future, perhaps the third and final BlogPotomac in October! For now, though, keeping up with all these great minds will have to occur on Twitter.

Cold and Frosty Beer

Cold and Frosty Beer © Sara Halperin (sweetpaperdoll)

There are some simple things which always remain essential to enjoying summer and for me, one of them is Sam Adams’ Summer Ale. Another is spreading out a blanket across a patch of green grass and sitting in the sun, reading a good book. Hamburgers and corn on the cob, humid days followed by thunderstorms and then drier air, outdoor concerts, sticking my feet in the sand at the ocean.

For me, the essence of summer is where all these things collide and I feel like a kid again, wanting to swing from trees and run around barefoot, picking strawberries from the ground. Summer is my favourite season and I just thought I’d share a little bit of it with you.

This post was inspired by my evolving online education in social media, public relations, graphic design and web development and this content-rich blog entry by Arik Hanson, who outlines his free and easily accessible online Social Media MBA.


When I started college, I put my love for fine art on the back burner in order to educate myself in something I thought would be both more lucrative and more worthwhile. Toward the end of my four years at my university, I found myself applying to many jobs, thinking I would get some experience and likely need to go back to school in order to finally get into mediation, teaching, or professional research. I observed my friends who had studied crafts and trades, who had received practical, hands-on experience in their respective fields, producing amazing things. I had shied away from studying art because what could be practical in that? I didn’t want to be a starving artist forever.

Ironically, my friends who studied in arts and design, communications, journalism, audio production, and media arts had full portfolios and were able to market themselves well. It was those friends who were accepted easily into graduate schools or found themselves employed with full potential for a long and exciting career in their fields.

In the years since my graduation, I have felt that I lack a creative outlet. Everything leading up to this point in my life is now pointing in the directionof learning graphic design and website development, so I decided (at least for now) to ignore traditional means of studying this field and to get my (mostly) FREE education online.

Here’s an outline of what my invaluable online education looks like:

Instructors: VeerleGrace Smith. Chad Engle. Cameron Senior. Jacob Cass. Chris Spooner, among others.

Required Reading: NetTuts+. PsdTuts+. MyInkBlog. SixRevisions. Minervity. Web Design Ledger. Smashing Magazine. You the Designer. Web Designer Wall. Web Designer Depot.

Syllabus: The syllabus is fluid and fits to my schedule, because I decide when I have time, when I don’t, and when I should finish any projects I might be working on. This could include anything from the importance of writing clean code to manipulating photographs or working on a mock-up of a layout for a new website.

Labwork & Homework: Reading up on new blogs, following links on Twitter, finding websites that speak to me and viewing the page source, sketching in my Moleskine. I do a lot of work in Dreamweaver and Photoshop, but you could just as easily use minimalist text editor like WordPad or TextEdit and a free image editing software like Gimp if you wanted to save the money on those programs. 

 It’s such a great way to learn and I have gained a lot of knowledge and exponentially increased my skill set in just the past couple of months since I have made this decision to seek out my own education rather than enroll in a program. I look forward to learning more in the area as I add to all the lists above. Once I have sufficiently mastered html, CSS, and converting a PS layout into html for a website, I can move on to learn other coding languages. I plan on furthering my hobby in photography and teaching myself how to use Illustrator to round out my graphics skills.

This version of education may not exactly be orthodox, but it is certainly time- and cost-effective!

If you have suggestions on other blogs or websites to read or programs to use, please feel free to leave comments. I’m always looking to learn more and appreciate input from friends and colleagues. 



I know this entry is a day late (since I said I was going to post weekly on Tuesdays and it’s now Wednesday), but with good reason and I think you’ll find it fits the content to post a day later anyway. 😉

Over this past week, I took a long weekend and vacationed in Boston. I attended an academic conference on Harry Potter, which was sponsored by the Leaky Cauldron, entitled LeakyCon2009. My roommate and I drove from DC to Boston in my little Toyota Prius and blasted AC/DC and Journey with the windows down. Once we arrived, we napped and showered and met up with some other friends for dinner in the North End. We walked leisurely and took the long way from our hotel via the Freedom Trail, which features many of the historic sites in Boston. I didn’t check my email once.

We spent the next day wandering around the downtown area and met up with more friends and family for lunch, before heading to Cambridge for some shopping (and a new tattoo!), then went back to the hotel for the Welcome Feast on the first night of the conference. By this time, I had all but forgotten about email. I was revelling in the fact I hadn’t touched a computer in 48 hours (though I do admit to having posted and checked twitter once or twice).

The conference was in full swing and I immersed myself completely in academia, discussing religious allegory and feminism in Harry Potter, learning how the publishing of one novel (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, or for the Brits out there, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone) led to increased enthusiasm for fantasy in children’s literature and excitement for children’s literature in general, and how the fans of Harry Potter took values from the books and implemented them, starting the HP Alliance. During the day, I was an academic, taking notes on lectures by speakers such as Lev Grossman, John Granger (aka HogwartsProfessor), David English, Melissa Anelli, and Gwendolyn Limbach; by night, socialite, connecting with friends and spending way too much money on great food and atmosphere.

It was so energizing and refreshing to get time away and connect with friends on such a purely personal level, face to face and without deadlines looming. I felt like I could get time to myself and that I wasn’t being selfish just taking little bits of time for myself. Without worrying about obligations, my schedule was flexible. No one cared if I wandered into a talk a few minutes late (to quote John Granger, “Don’t worry. Come on in. We’ve just gotten started.”), no one faulted me if I took notes they couldn’t read (they simply asked for translation), and everyone was eager to offer their own ideas and take questions.

It was a lovely little break. Walking through the Commons and the Public Gardens in the sun just made for grand getaway and I wish I could have stayed longer. But, here I am, back at my desk and back to the same old grind. Now, what I need to do is find out how to unplug on a regular basis.

How do I bring a bit of vacation into my everyday life?

This is something I’ve been thinking about for ages… how do I take the proper amount of time for myself without falling behind in the steps I need to take to fulfill my goals. Or, as the professionals say, how do I find my work/life balance?

I need to set aside time everyday to go to the gym, exercise, or just take a walk; I need to read more; I need to journal more. These things sound like a list or resolutions, though. And, in a way, they sound like additions to my to-do list. What I really want is a permanent vacation. And by that, I don’t mean never working or lounging around a pool all day. I mean that I want to find more time to take care of myself.

I plan to do this in steps:

  1. Find out what it is I need.
  2. Make a list of those needs.
  3. Set aside time and money to fulfill those needs.
  4. Reevaluate needs.
  5. Repeat Steps 1.-4.  every so often.

So far, my list of needs includes:

  • reading
  • journaling
  • exercise
  • eating healthy
  • a clean and organized living space
  • adequate sleep
  • face time with friends and family
  • singing (even if it’s just along to music in the car or in the shower)
  • keeping a finances balanced
  • spending time outdoors

I’d really like to know: What are your needs? How do you keep a good work/life balance? What do you consider a ‘vacation’?

Now, it’s just setting aside time and money to fulfill these needs. Wish me luck!

While I was out in Bethesda, Maryland this past weekend, taking in what was to see at the Front Row fashion events, I was inspired by the artwork of Maggie O’Neill (O’Neill Studios LLC). Though she has an undergraduate degree in Political Science, O’Neill continued her education in Photography and Digital Imaging before pursuing a Masters Degree in Fine Art. It wasn’t until she completed her first exterior mural that she decided to go into utilitarian and public artwork.


Girl's Night Out Portraits by Maggie O'Neill

O’Neill now has a 2500 square foot studio in Kensington, Maryland and a team of professional artists to work with. There is no doubt that this is what she was meant to do, but it took her a long and winding road to get there.

When I spoke with her on Saturday, she told me that she just “fell into it”. And that sounded appropriate enough.

Even with my own background in International Relations, I’ve recently been working in a field that doesn’t utilize those skills or draw on my area of expertise. However, I’ve taken great joy in the parts of my job that allow me to draw on my own creativity, especially those which allow for design and aesthetics.

So, I guess you could say that I fell into my passion.

I have always and forever been an artistic and creative person and took more joy in learning about artwork than any other subject in school. I never thought, though, that being an artist could be a profession. All my life I was fed stereotypes of the starving artists; the Beatnick, the wandering writer, the sojourning painter, the sketch artist at the street fair. Never once had I thought I could make a liveable wage working in aesthetics. And so, when the time came to go to college, I didn’t study drawing or painting or crafts. In fact, I didn’t study any kind of skill at all, really. I went to school in the discipline of International Relations.

Now, in my later twenties, I appreciate so much more the need to have a skill and the motivation it takes to build a career in a profession that I both love and feel I contribute something absolutely unique to and, of course, can make money from – at least enough to live on.

I’ve discovered, or fell into, a new passion: graphic design.

Graphic design is everywhere. It’s accessible, it’s necessary, it’s a part of every organization and business. It’s not as lofty or noble a goal as my original (an international mediator), but there is something gratifying in knowing that you’ve created something both beautiful and useful.

I fully intend to keep creating beautiful, useful pieces of art, for that is my passion.