Opening Image

I am so excited to be featuring a guest on my blog this month, especially one I admire as much as Cindy Tan from Stayinbed4ever (don’t you just love that Instagram name!).  If you already follow Cindy on Instagram, then you will be familiar with her wonderful artwork and be used to laughing out loud at her fantastic take on life!  She is guaranteed to cheer you up every day.  Cindy’s Instagram account can be found here.

I asked Cindy a series of questions and she has been kind enough to answer them below, along with some more beautiful pictures of her artwork.

Cindy's workspace


When and how did you get started with journaling?

I’ve always been a bit of a scribbler all my life. When I was young (around 3 or 4) my father would bring home loads of scratch pads and I would fill them with series of little drawings that would tell a story, and as I got older, I started adding written stories to my drawings. I was a huge fan of children’s authors Beverly Cleary and Maud Hart Lovelace, and tried to emulate both styles, as different as they were. As I got older, I started keeping a personal journal in bound notebooks and, as is the case with a lot of people I think, they were filled with truly embarrassing teen-angst navel gazing and declarations of love for different 80s bands (I was sure Nick Rhodes from Duran Duran would fall in love with me if he only got to know me!)

I was also quite the bookworm and dreamt of being a writer. (Still do!) I started taking fiction writing workshops in college and beyond, which helped me hone in on a sort of minimalist flash-fiction writing style, trying to draw a full story from a brief scene of just a few short paragraphs. I learned to observe subtle details and develop an ear for dialogue. My writing style, for both fiction and personal journaling, was influenced by short fiction writers like Raymond Carver, Mary Robison, and Amy Hempel. Also Roberta Allen, who is a writer and artist, and includes sketches in her story collections. I was still doodling and drawing, but not as much as when I was younger.

After my daughter was born, I journaled much more often because I wanted to document those early days with her. I discovered an online community of urban sketchers and was amazed by a few artists who could create full scenes, tell a complete story, with just a few short strokes of the pen. I gave urban sketching a try and discovered I was pretty terrible at it, but when I shifted my focus to “domestic sketching,” scenes of ordinary daily life, like the pots hanging in my kitchen window, or some toiletries grouped together, I sort of found my niche.

In bed sketch

How often do you write in your journal?

I generally try to write or draw in my journal at least a few times a week. I’m told that when I don’t have the downtime to do this, my personality changes. And not for the better. Oops!

Do you have an artistic background?

My dad was a medical illustrator when I was young, and my grandfather wrote stories and poems, so there were some artistic influences in my life. I’ve always taken art and creative writing classes when there was an opportunity, though it was a pretty casual education. It never occurred to me to try art school or anything, because I didn’t think of myself as a serious artist with big statements to make. Most of my learning has been through my own practice and taking inspiration from what I considered to be “real” artists.

Out the door

How did you develop your illustration style?

I’ve tried different art media (acrylics, pastels, gouache, and watercolor) and nothing really took. The pieces were OK, but nothing special. However, I’d always been a fan of simplicity and clean lines, and I realized I liked my sketches before adding paint. So I started focusing on line drawings and not worrying about color.

The illustrations in my Hobonichi started with little doodles and I was looking at Roberta Allen’s artwork for inspiration. I started posting on Instagram, thinking I might join the planner community since I am obsessed with good notebooks. My posts that included illustrations started getting more responses than any other kind of post, so I kept going with that kind of content. At the same time, I was still documenting the funny things that my daughter or husband would say and wanted to accompany the stories with sketches, but I was also pretty wary of putting their images online. I noticed a few artists sketched figures without facial features, and that seemed to be the perfect solution for me.  

Eventually, I started adding watercolor to my drawings, primarily because I wanted to play with my water brushes, but also to change things up in my Instagram gallery. I watched tutorials on YouTube and followed a few watercolor artists on Instagram to help me with my technique. I’m still learning!


How do you manage to convey expression in your people, especially as they don’t have faces!? 

Body language is everything! The tilt of the head, the angle of the shoulders, the way the feet and hips are positioned. I try to pay attention to those details because they tell me so much. Of course, this makes me very reliant on reference photos because it’s hard to hold on to that much detail from a live and fidgety source!

How do you remember those funny conversations that you want to capture?

I have a pretty terrible short term memory, so I try to write everything down as soon as I can. This applies to my day job, as well as my personal life and hobbies. I think the way I write conversations comes from my college days when I was doing creative writing and learning how to write dialogue or describe a scene. For a long time I carried around a pocket sized Moleskine for that purpose. But since using a smartphone, I now jot down random thoughts and conversations in the Notes app, usually when I’m on my train or bus commute. Sometimes I’ll make a note as something is happening in real life, and that’s when my husband and daughter roll their eyes at me because I keep them waiting!


What are your favourite tools?

Oh, boy, let’s see… I like to sketch and write with the Uniball Signo in brown-black ink (0.38mm) because it flows so smoothly and the black-brown color is softer and has a bit more dimension that straight up black ink. I also like the Micron Pigma pen in sepia, I think, which is a cool-toned brown and because it’s great for precision (0.25 mm). I used to just put pen to paper and hope for the best, but these days I am penciling in sketches first, with a Pentel drafting pencil (0.3mm).

For painting I use Yasutomo Niji water brushes and an inexpensive Angora watercolor set, as well as Winsor & Newton Cotman watercolors, though I’ve been thinking I want to upgrade to professional quality paints. I also have some regular watercolor paint brushes, which I use when I want more control.

And, of course, all my journaling and sketches go into my beloved Hobonichi Techo!


Anything else you want to share?

Don’t be afraid to just jump in and give it a try. Journaling shouldn’t be for anyone but yourself. I’ve heard so many people say they don’t have artistic talent, but when I see their work it will be beautiful and unique! Also, don’t be afraid to make mistakes–that’s how you learn and grow. Just practice, practice, practice until your family yells at you to put down the pen and come to dinner.


Cindy has very kindly offered to answer any questions, so please feel free to bombard her below 🙂

Also, as a proud owner of some of Cindy’s artwork, it would be rude of me not to let you know where her Etsy shop can be found!  Just follow the link here.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog post and don’t forget to follow Cindy on Instagram for daily updates of fun!  I am moving house on 22nd August and hope to be far more active on here once I am all set up.  In the meantime, I hope you have a wonderful month. xx

Books           Workspace with cats

10 thoughts on “Guest Blog Post – Cindy Tan, Creative Journaling Inspiration!!”

  1. Helen, thank you so much for this post, I am already in love with Cindy’s drawings, gonna head right to here IG!!! Thank you!😙😙😙😙😙😙

  2. Thank you so much for featuring me, Helen! I can’t express how much of an honor this has been for me (well, I can if you go by the squee-ing and jumping I did on the train-it’s ok, I’m used to getting weird looks.) ❤️

    Lena-Thanks so much for your kind words and visiting my IG! Please say hello! 😊

    1. Cindy – I am so happy that you agreed to be featured on my blog! You know that I have been a long-time fan of your art along your take on life. Thank you so much for allowing me to share your work here xxx

  3. Thank you for sharing Cindy’s work. It’s so beautifully creative and so simply illustrated yet tells such beautiful narrations.

    Must try to just let go and put my hands on being creative with this inspirational work.

    1. Thank you for leaving such a lovely comment. I’ve been a big fan of Cindy’s for a long time and was honoured that she agreed to share her work on my blog. I agree, it can be difficult to let go and relax with creativity can’t it. I hope you have lots of fun with it though and find your flow xx

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