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Anne Butera: In Full Bloom

By Renee Brincks | Spring 2024

Viroqua-based botanical painter and writer Anne Butera experimented with various roles before building a creative business that’s rooted in joy.

Working with watercolors, it seems, is a little like life. Creating something beautiful requires patience and practice. 

“When you paint a flower with multiple petals, you can’t paint the whole flower at once because you will have a big blob of messy color. But if you paint one petal at a time, those colors will go where you want them to,” says Viroqua, Wisconsin-based artist Anne Butera. “It took a while for me to learn that, but the more I practiced and painted, the better I got. I was building my confidence as well as building my painting skills.”

Anne Butera in her garden
Anne Butera cutting flowers in the garden outside her home in Viroqua, Wisconsin.  / Photo courtesy Anne Butera

Anne uses watercolors to capture moments in nature and time, like spring blossoms and blades of grass growing in yards across the Driftless. Her delicate, detailed plant and petal images grace prints, cards, calendars, wallpaper, and fabric, all available through Anne’s online store/ blog, My Giant Strawberry. She also teaches online art classes and encourages creativity through a regular email dispatch dubbed the Joy Letter.

From the outside, Anne’s career looks like a steady string of artistic accomplishments. But the artist and writer explored assorted interests and directions before pursuing a full-time creative career in the late 2010s. As she navigated the twists and turns of adulthood, it wasn’t until she was 34 that she purchased some watercolors and taught herself to paint. 

Monarchs in the Spring by Anne Butera

Early explorations

Anne was a creative child who learned to love nature while playing in her family’s suburban Chicago backyard. She attended college in Ohio before landing in Cleveland with Matthias Minnig, her then-boyfriend, now-husband. Anne worked at an art museum, took some creative writing classes, held various library roles, and returned to school for a master’s degree in library and information science. 

After a few years, as she and Matthias talked about moving somewhere new, Anne also reconsidered her long-term career plans. Around that same time, in the fall of 2010, her parents bought some land near Viroqua, Wisconsin. They invited Anne to help them settle in.

Anne shows her painting process with violets. / Photo courtesy Anne Butera

“My mom and I moved and lived together for a year. We planted an orchard and raised baby chicks. I focused on crafting and started teaching myself how to paint. It was a very creative, inspiring time, but I was making no money,” she says.

Anne returned to Cleveland, armed with her renewed sense of creativity, and took a part-time bookstore job. She continued developing her painting skills and expanded My Giant Strawberry, a blog she had started shortly before that year in Viroqua. 

The title came from Anne’s childhood, when the fireflies, birds, vegetables, and flowers filling her family’s garden inspired lively fictional tales of a giant strawberry and pet giraffe living in the backyard. 

Insistent that the young dreamer recognize the difference between imagination and fact, a kindergarten teacher brought Anne’s stories to a halt. Years later, Anne wanted to reconnect with the fearless, wonder-seeking person she’d been as a child. By naming her blog My Giant Strawberry, Anne honored that curious, playful version of herself. Her early online posts documented creative projects and provided an avenue for connecting with other artists who shared inspiration and encouragement along the way. 

Over time, Anne started earning money from her art. She dabbled in fabric design. She submitted paintings for exhibitions held across the United States. Eager to trade Cleveland’s big-city energy for easier nature access and life in a smaller community, she and Matthias moved to Viroqua in late 2013.

And then, out of the blue, Matthias was diagnosed with cancer. 

“That just put everything up in the air again,” Anne says.

As Matthias went through treatments, Anne began working at the local Viroqua library and continued making art in her spare time. Matthias has since recovered and is doing well, but the experience reminded them to live in the moment. 

“For both of us, it highlighted that you really need to do what you want now because life is short,” Anne says.

Anne Butera's art process
Anne experiments with different flowers and styles in her sketchbooks throughout the seasons. 
/ Photo courtesy Anne Butera

Establishing a business

Painting, blogging, gardening, and practicing gratitude kept Anne grounded through the ups and downs. They also raised her visibility as an artist. A blog post listing joyful things sparked a similar weekly exercise, and that morphed into Anne’s Joy Letter email. Twice a month, her newsletter spotlights creative prompts, inspiring stories, project updates, and a mix of photographs, videos, and illustrated images.

Anne likens it to a note from a friend. “I just share encouragement and remind people to look for things that are joyful and beautiful,” she says.

In 2016, the online learning platform Skillshare contacted Anne about teaching art classes. She hesitated to say yes at first, because she was still mastering her own painting techniques. However, she realized that her blog already encouraged creativity. Teaching was a logical next step.

Anne now produces online courses that explore painting with watercolors, making block prints, establishing a daily art practice, overcoming creative challenges, launching an art-related website, celebrating the seasons through sketchbook activities, and more.

Anne Butera
Anne teaches classes through the online learning platform, Skillshare. Her students get to explore subjects like painting with watercolors, establishing a daily art practice, launching an art-related website, and more. / Photo courtesy Anne Butera

Rather than teaching participants to follow a specific painting style, Anne encourages them to overcome fear and embrace creativity.

“I want to reach people who were like me. Maybe they were creative as children, or they weren’t but always wanted to be, and now they’re thinking, ‘I’d really like to try making art.’ I encourage those people to get past the hesitation and just try,” she says.

Anne displays new sunflower stickers. / Photo courtesy Anne Butera

That message inspired Karen Houlding, the Seattle-area artist behind the I Am Chasing Butterflies blog. After taking several of Anne’s Skillshare classes, Karen considers the Wisconsin artist an influence and a source of support.

“Anne really encourages play and experimentation and curiosity,” Karen says. “That action of play helps so much when you get into her more detailed classes, where you’re painting leaves, flowers, birds, or butterflies. You have more confidence because you’ve already been playing in your sketchbook.”

In her classes, Anne shares lessons that come from her own experience. 

“As a self-taught artist, I started out not knowing what I was doing. And yet, I’ve come very far,” she says. “If I can do it, other people can, too.”

Encouraging connections

Anne actively builds community through her classes and website, responding directly to questions and regularly sharing links to students’ work. Karen Houlding even met one of her closest friends through Anne’s class on starting a blog. While the two have never gathered in person – one lives in Washington and the other in North Carolina – they regularly schedule video calls to chat.

Anne also supports local artists as a member of VIVA Gallery in Viroqua. The cooperative, which is celebrating 20 years in 2024, relies on volunteer support for its exhibitions, events, and outreach.

People can purchase Anne’s work, like this “2024 Garden Joy Tea Towel” at / Photo courtesy Anne Butera

VIVA member artist Mike Lind first met Anne when she showed art at The Rooted Spoon, a former cafe and event space operated by Mike’s wife, Dani. At VIVA, he has been impressed by Anne’s willingness to help. 

“We’re all very busy, and sometimes people are hesitant to put in a lot of time. But Anne came in and said, ‘What can I do? How can I help? Let me take this on,’” he says. “I sing her praises related to her work, but her overall message is equally as important and beautiful. It’s about being positive, looking on the bright side, and contributing to the community.”

Similar messages anchor each of Anne’s classes, blog posts, and newsletters. Embrace the moment. Notice glimmers of magic. Cultivate creativity. Choose joy over negativity.

“There’s so much in the news that is miserable, and it’s easy to get pulled down by that. I’m constantly reminding myself to slow down and see what’s beautiful in the world,” Anne says. “I love the quote from [Pulitzer Prize-winner and “Charlotte’s Web” author] E.B. White: Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder.”

Renee Brincks

Renee Brincks ( writes about inspiring people, unforgettable places, and projects that make the world a better, happier place.

Learn More
Visit to check out Anne Butera’s work, and to purchase gifts, register for classes, or receive Joy Letter emails. You can also see Anne’s botanical watercolors in person, displayed at Viroqua’s VIVA Gallery, located in the Viroqua Public Market at 217 South Main Street.