Viva la sketchbook

Hey there. Here we are in 2022! I hope your year is starting off well.

To be honest, I’ve been feeling a little bit blah.

It’s probably the pandemic still raging, the inability to travel or see family and friends (the ones outside Malawi!), and the fact that New Year’s is probably my least favorite “holiday” to begin with.

There. I said it.

It may be because I am such an incessant to-do list maker, planner, and (when I’m lucky) goal achiever, that the mere thought of being pressured by everyone else to improve myself or my life in any way even more than I already try to do all year round makes me start to smoke out the ears worried that in fact, I didn’t do ENOUGH.

Everyone/ self, take a deep breath.

Repeat after me. “I am enough. I have enough. I do enough.

Thanks friend and Boston textile artist, Stacey Piwinski for that handy little mantra! It’s amazing how often I use it at the end of a busy day.

I also defiantly wrote around this time a few years ago that on New Year’s I wasn’t going to change a dang thing! Read my blog post: Get Fat, Sleep In, Change Nothing

So there.

Anyway, in the spirit of renewal and new beginnings, and all that jazz, I would like to think about how 2021 was actually my best year in a long time in terms of creative mojo, experimentation, and just having a bit of fun.

FUN! Yes please to more of that in 2022.

It’s the only way to deal with all the changes and uncertainty the last few years have brought to us all.

My 5 Small Creative Breakthroughs and Fun Experiments in 2021

1.) What’s Old is New! Look Ma… No Electricity.

I have been happy making illustrations and digital paintings for clients over the past few years but I also really wanted to start making something completely “mine” that is not for or dictated by clients.

Creative breakthroughs. Illustration by Kristen Palana
One of my digital illustrations made for UNFPA Malawi to be used on a fleet of mobile health clinics for Malawi’s government.

In my blog post from May, There’s Never a Good Time to Make Art. (Make It Anyway), I gave tips on how to get out of your creativity rut in five easy steps.

I then proceeded to be my own guinea pig and went and took my own advice.

It’s not like I haven’t been creative. It’s just that I was ONLY making art for clients and wasn’t sure anymore what my own work looked like. I also felt highly dependent on my computer and the digital painting techniques I’d developed in Photoshop.

I used to be a painter back in the day (aka the 20th century) and I wondered if somewhere inside I still was a fine artist. You know… in case the electricity goes out, which it often does in Malawi!

The results were pretty amazing considering that I started with a big fat nothing in terms of having time, space, or energy to start making a new body of artwork that didn’t rely on glowing screens.

Creative breakthroughs.
little brown job
Don’t judge a book by its cover! This ordinary brown bird (aka: an “LBJ” in the birding community) is usually hard to identify, often female, and does not always generate excitement when spotted. She may not be much to look at, but her song is incredible. Made for anyone who needs a reminder of how extraordinary and appreciated they are. See more

2.) What the Bleep is a Kalulu? My New Online Gallery

In 2021 I decided to fast forward and set up my art gallery… a full twenty years ahead of schedule!

You see, being a “real artist” and making and selling artwork in traditional and online galleries was something I thought I’d maybe do one day when I was retired.

But after these many months of pandemic, and also getting sick myself in January of 2021 (thankfully only mildly sick!), I thought… “Eff it. Life is short. Let’s do this now!”

If you’d like to see more of my own artwork made both on and off the computer, come visit me at: Ma Kalulu Studio.

The platform I began using in 2021 is Art Storefronts. -They are a full web hosting platform, marketing engine/ university, and P.O.D site specializing specifically in helping artists with their art businesses.

I have learned so much about having and running a lucrative online art gallery from their tech support, workshops, templates, resources, and community.

They are not for everyone however, as they require a monthly subscription fee and the set-up cost can be seen by artists just starting out as too high.

If you are still in beginner mode, you can also try my giant list of free or low-cost Print on Demand resources for artists and creatives here: 7 Ways You Can Start Earning Money Online Today

But what the bleep is a Kalulu?

Kalulu is the Chichewa word for rabbit in Malawi. Rabbits symbolize abundance, creativity, rebirth, and luck in many cultures and I thought it would be the perfect mascot for my new studio/ online gallery.

Our desire as humans to try and influence our lives and bring about a sense of control and good fortune by evoking “magical imagery” goes all the way back to ancient times. I create images that can be used as wishes or creative visualizations for positive things like good health, love, protection, abundance, success, etc.

I believe colors and patterns can help heal emotional wounds, conjure up energy, and serve as vehicles for spiritual connection and growth.

Symbols and characters acting out narratives can educate, tell stories, and inspire personal reflection and even positive social change. I aim to use colors that evoke strong emotions and to utilize symbols and patterns that have cross-cultural significance.

Creative breakthroughs. Sacral chakra
Blossoming is a meditation on being in balance with one’s own creativity as well as the ability to more easily enjoy and feel deserving of all the pleasures that life has to offer. This image symbolizing the sacral chakra, can inspire pure creative energy, passion, more harmonious relationships, and joy. See More

By the way… who wants to WIN and inspire a bit of creative mojo in 2022?

In January I am giving away a 12 x 12 inch canvas print valued at $102 of Blossoming: Sacral Chakra Meditation. (Pictured above.)

The canvas print comes ready-to-hang and will be shipped free to the winner. If you are already on my email list then you’re already in the draw.If not, CLICK HERE -> Enter to win the print

3.) Into the Metaverse I Go! Beep Boop.

It’s not a good year if you didn’t do something a little wild and wacky.

Boston artist (the one with the cool mantra earlier…) Stacey Piwinski and I had an art exhibition up in the Metaverse in the art district known as ArtGateVR.

That’s right. We wanted to dip our toes into creating an art gallery and show experience in the (very much under-construction!) virtual world known as the Metaverse.

We also had a panel discussion on staying creative and connected from afar and during the pandemic in early December of 2021.

Wait. What is the Metaverse EXACTLY?

I’m a huge fan of the Ready Player 1 (and 2) books and movie. So when I learned that there was an art district in the Metaverse (like “The Oasis” but so far, less dystopian), I immediately wanted to explore and play around. So I set up a show and a talk.

Creative breakthroughs

We ended up starting off in Facebook Live, and then gave instructions for attendees to meet us in our VR gallery. Everything was amazing except the food! (Will the Metaverse ever have munchies?)

If you missed In VR: Stay Close Apart- Maintaining Friendship & Creativity in 2021: A Panel Discussion
-I recorded it! (*Feel free to skip the first 5 minutes to get right to the intro.)

Watch the Replay » Here!

To visit our show in the Metaverse go to and download the free app. Once in the main lobby, you’d have to click the space bar to get the menu. Then look for Ma Kalulu Studio (Art by Kristen Palana) by using the menu arrows. Then click to go in. Yes, a bit clunky but it will improve with time…

Thanks to all who joined our talk. It’s still up for a bit, though I may be changing the show in the days ahead to an NFT collection. Which brings us to….

4.) NFT Experiments (More Beep Boop…)

Beep Boop. It’s early days, but that’s the best time to invest in your favorite artists (cough cough…wink wink).

“A non-fungible token is a unique and non-interchangeable unit of data stored on a blockchain, a form of digital ledger. NFTs can be associated with reproducible digital files such as photos, videos, and audio. ” Thanks Wikipedia! Learn more

Invest in artists that you think will grow and be successful over the next years/decades and their NFTs’ values will go up with time.

Creative breakthroughs. NFT experiment
This is my very first NFT experiment. It uses scenes from my award-winning animated short, “This Too Shall Pass.” My NFT collections are at:

I dipped my toe into the world of NFTs. I plan to make a shimmery, painted/animated collection of colorful joy tokens in 2022. But if you are curious now, here’s my first baby experiment, featuring… my babies. Cheers!

In the weeks and months ahead in 2022 I’ll set up a proper collection with digital and animated versions of original drawings and paintings.

Let me know what image or animation or custom art you might like to see in there.

Come explore my latest NFT experiments.

5.) Getting Groovy With Artist Groups and Collectives

There’s strength in numbers and one of my favorite small creative breakthroughs of 2021 was joining up with a group of artists who run on the same wavelength as I do. They are Artovida Collective.

Artovida not only partners with artists around the world in making awesome products that are eco-friendly and have a positive impact on the world. They also partner in giving back to various charities that their artists are passionate about.

Artovida leggings. Creative breakthroughs
Soft, luscious , artsy leggings…

A giant thanks too to everyone who recently helped pick leggings designs for my brand collaboration with Artovida Collective. Here are the ones (above) that got the most votes.

They are now live and available as both full length or capris. Here’s the link! Artovida Leggings -Kristen Palana  

For those asking me about the eco-friendly Artovida lunch totes and the Apple watch bands, those should be ready soon, maybe even in the next week or so.

You can get to know each of these other unique Artovida artists and their products as well:

Tobe Fonseca:
Amy Diener:
Troy Wiley:
Dana Walker:
Amber Moran:
Tarah Singh:

Thanks! These guys rock!

As for my causes I support through Artovida and my website, here they are:

causes I support

Did you have some great creative breakthroughs in 2021, small or large? If so, please put them in the comments below.


Receive inspirations, advice, tutorials and more by following me on Facebook, see what goes on behind the scenes in my art studio over at Instagram, and connect with me on Twitter.

That’s all for now!

Hope you are staying well and do drop me a line if you have any questions or want to let me know how your own creative work is going.



Creative breakthroughs. Comfort frequencies drawing.
These rainbow-patterned circular designs came through me, bursting with energy as if I were channeling a color-coded message from the great beyond. They are meant to inspire optimism, happiness, and to dissolve anxiety. Learn more