Still Shot of an Autumn Morning

Beautiful, chilly Colorado morning. Hazelnut creamer in my coffee. Beloved cranking away at his craft behind me. Good music enhancing the already serene atmosphere.

I just downloaded the contents of a book I will be painting (yes, the old fashioned way) the cover for. I’ve got two other book cover commissions slated for the coming year, and I’m suddenly realizing I need to create a deadline schedule for myself so I don’t wind up buried in 18 hour days. I’ve certainly been there. I have the RSI to prove it.

I’m [more than] a little delighted to recall that one of my dream professions when I was young was to be a book cover artist. And here I am doing it. Granted, I’m just breaking into the profession, and I’ve still got a lot to learn about art. It’s a lifelong education, being an artist. There’s always something to learn — techniques, cheats, nuances… But being a Buddhist, I long ago embraced the concept of the beginner’s mind. Open eyes, open heart and a well-maintained sense of humility are essential in both pursuits.

My 2014 convention schedule has been on my mind a lot. For the first time in a while, I’m going to plan out the whole year in advance, ideally attending most of them as a professional and/or panelist. I’ve got to practice what I preach and extend my reach beyond the comforts of home. That means budgeting for a few out of state events, and assertively contacting local con organizers so that I’m not a late addition with a handwritten badge. It also means having a body of work I can display in art shows and sell in the dealers’ rooms.

Life doesn’t happen when you want it to, but it sure does respond to your proactive participation in making it do so. I’m simultaneously further ahead and behind where I thought I’d be at this point in my life. I learned a long time ago, though, that any mistakes you make can be turned into lessons if you open your mind to it. I’m not going to tell anyone how to live their life. I am going to do my best to be an example of working hard and never giving up on a dream.

Happy Saturday to you. May it be full of dreams and goals that make your skin worth living in.

Sunlight Through Leaves

Practice What You Preach. Ask For What You Need.

They always say, “Practice what you preach,” right? For once, I think “they” have it right.

I recently began hosting life drawing panels at local conventions here in Denver. I started this trend up at AnomalyCon in March. My most recent panel was at MalCon in September. This time, instead of just leaving folks alone to draw, I injected suggestions and feedback as they were working. I had a small turnout, but fantastic feedback from my attendees. One of the recommendations I gave them was to continue their good work by practicing gesture drawing at home and out in the world. Of course, I had to explain the concept. Not everyone is familiar with the term or the awesome results that can come from this practice:

A gesture drawing is work of art defined by rapid execution. Typical situations involve an artist drawing a series of poses taken by a model in a short amount of time, often as little as 30 seconds, or as long as 2 minutes. Gesture drawing is often performed as a warm-up for a life drawing session.

I ran into an amazing instructional manual a few years back, based on suggested reading for an art class I was attending, The Natural Way to Draw, by Kimon Nicolaides. The publication date — 1941. Sometimes the best things we have to learn have already been taught for ages. I recommended it to my attendees…and then remembered my 1969 edition gathering dust on one of the bookshelves in my art studio.

I have never subscribed to the adage, “Do as I say, not as I do,” so I pulled it out, dusted it off and started thumbing through the opening chapters, only to feel a little discouraged. I don’t know about you, but I don’t happen to have a live model available 24/7 at home. I live with a wonderful, talented and visually engaging human being, but with his work schedule these days, I see more of the back of his head buried in the monitor than I do his face. Don’t get me wrong. His strong work ethic, dedication to his craft, and unstoppable passion for writing make him a constant inspiration to work hard and reach for my own dreams. But I’m sure you’ll agree, at this point, he’s not the best candidate for a drawing model.

I was relaying all of these thoughts to my erstwhile model when it occurred to me that one thing has changed since Kimon Nicolaides wrote his seminal instruction booklet. He didn’t have the internet. Naturally, I bee-lined straight for the computer and Googled “drawing model.” Lo and behold, the 1st hit on my search results page was a website dedicated to supplying timed images for gesture drawing and beyond:

Figure & Gesture Drawing Tools for self-educating artists.

Just goes to prove that another thing “they” say really is true. “Ask, and ye shall receive.”

You Just Might Find…You Get What You Need

I’m home and recovering from COSine, a scifi convention based in Colorado Springs. It’s one of the smaller cons I’ve attended, but didn’t lack in quality programming. With a variety of panel topics such as The Hobbit – Is it worth three movies and three years?, Building a Relativistic Spaceship and Achieving a gender balance in Fantasy and Science Fiction (to name but a few), there was no end to fantastic discussion the whole weekend. I had no responsibilities this time around, but still wound up attending many of these, and getting some real quality time in with my fellow artists & authors as well.

That’s the beauty of small conventions. You get to meet literary celebs like Kevin J. Anderson & S. M. Stirling and have true conversations with them (yes I did, and they’re both warm, intelligent and amusing people). You also get to spend time with those folks you’re in the trenches with, comparing war wounds as well as writing and marketing strategies.

I always return exhausted and yet energized; and it’s always worth it. This weekend I came home with a couple of new friends, a small art commission, a deadline for a short story submission that I’m pretty excited about, and a plethora of ideas for panels I myself may be on at the upcoming AnomalyCon this March. I call that a win!

How was your weekend?

Sam Knight, Quincy J. Allen, Mary Kay Kare and David Boop.
The Hobbit – Is it worth three movies and three years? 2013-01-26 13.14.10

Finding the Beautiful in Life

I was discussing schadenfreude with Quincy J. Allen this evening, and while looking up the precise definition (satisfaction or pleasure felt at someone else’s misfortune.), I found a reference to its opposite:

Muditā (Pāli and Sanskrit: मुदिता) in Buddhism is joy. It is especially sympathetic or vicarious joy, the pleasure that comes from delighting in other people’s well-being rather than begrudging it.

I was a rather lonely and insecure child, occasionally jealous of my schoolmates’ expensive toys and clothes. But life taught me to revel in the joy of others. Christmas is like that for me. It’s not about spending exorbitant amounts of money, meeting expectations, or “topping” anyone else’s gift ideas. It’s about the wonderful delight I get to see in people’s faces when something touches their hearts. My dearest grandmother once told me, “God is the lump in your throat, when something makes you so happy you cry.”

The picture below is one of of those moments. At MileHi con last year, Quincy got to meet Steven Brust, one of his favorite authors and a charming man. I’m a huge fan of Brust’s work myself, but Q’s delight at the event was infectious to all of us who were with him.

This is just a reminder to see the joy all around you. Even in hard times, celebrating someone else’s delights can lift us up and remind us what makes life worth living.

Quincy meeting Steven Brust

A little, and a little, and a little…

Something wonderful happened a few weeks ago (and this morning), but today seems an apropos time to share it. I got into a headstand. Not all that surprising, considering I’ve been practicing yoga since 1999.

Still, this was a heartwarming achievement for me. I tore my left rotator cuff last winter. I was in agony for a couple of months. A simple trip on the sidewalk would send me into indescribable pain, and my hand would go slack. Even sleep was difficult. I kept rolling onto the bad side and waking myself up. It has been a slow and uncomfortable recovery, and I’m still working to regain all the mobility in my left arm.

For the most part, I have succeeded in seeing this whole experience as just another one of those things; just a challenge meant to be overcome. During the hardest part, though, I worried I might never be able to do a number of things, including stand on my head, and it brought me to tears. Yoga is my bliss, my consolation, my center, my serenity, my sanity. I knew I would adjust and accept if it wasn’t meant to be. After all, that’s one of the things I’ve learned since I began practicing.

Words cannot express my gratitude and joy at regaining something I had prepared myself to lose. My teacher used to say, “A little, and a little, and a little.” That’s what got me here. Perseverance and persistence, and a whole lot of hope. I got me here, by getting on that mat and not giving up. And I don’t intend to ever do so.

It’s the small things you do every day, without really seeing the results, until the luxury of time and perspective allow you to look back and connect the dots. They mean more than the large milestones. They’re the unsung heroes of our lives, making it better in such tiny increments that the wonderful parts sometimes sneak up on us.

I wish you many small victories!

Namaste

Hanuman, known for his strength, perseverance and devotion.
Hanuman. Known for his strength perseverance and devotion.

Words Can Be Powerful Tools…

…especially in the hands of an author. Hopefully, they’re used with wisdom and compassion. I am certain they will be in this case.

A Foundation for Roswell ~ Quincy J. Allen

Scribblings From a Writer’s Chair

The short story I’m preparing for a December submission is coming along nicely! About 90% done with the first draft, and I believe revisions will be minimal.

I am. Loving. This story.

I will most likely roll it into a subsequent novel. That will probably mean much much much more research, but if there’s one thing the Renaissance Faire did, it turned me into a research junkie. And I’ve got a fellow addict in Matthew Boroson, who’s already flooded my inbox with fantastic material. By the way, Matthew just won a first place award in the Speculative Fiction Category for his brilliant novel, City of Strangers, at the Colorado Gold Writers Conference 2012!

Now, if I only had time to do some accompanying art for it. But my drawing hand is reserved for two highly esteemed associates in the writing industry, Guy Anthony De Marco and Sam Knight. More on those stories as they develop!

Back I go to my my indomitable heroine and my latte. Hope you all have a wonderful and productive day!

A New “Perspective” on Art and Artists

Recently, I painted a huge poster for an upcoming event at one of my jobs. It was challenging, since it’s a retail store, and I didn’t really have a conducive space to work at. But I always put 110% of myself in when I’m creating something from nothing. I set myself up in the training room, working entirely with tools marked down from the store, and set to creating something my supervisor would be proud of. While working on this and a few other art projects there, I’ve lost track of the comments I received that left me puzzled and just a little frustrated. They went something like this…

“Oh, goofing off, I see!”

“Are we crafting today?”

“Ah, you must be the new sign maker.”

“Having fun?”

“Are you still working on that”

“When are you getting back to work?”

Granted, these comments were made in light hearted, conversational tones. And I didn’t let them distract me from my goals or ruin my day. But it got me to thinking about the modern perception of what an artist (writer, costumer, leatherworker, etc) is. Some people think we’re the ones who never grew up, who never got a “real” job, and never took responsibility for our lives. We’re slackers, dreamers, idealists, rebels. Well, I guess we are rebels in a way…

We’re more than rebels, though. We are pioneers. We either opted out of, or were not born for the 9-5 grind. I had a superviser take me into her office one day and say, “Let’s face it, you suck at answering phones.” I agreed with her. For whatever reason, be it ADHD, a creative brain, or just lack of aptitude in that environment, answering a phone while trying to work on three projects at the same time would completely derail me. But when I draw, paint, design or write, I find myself in an accelerated place of learning and achieving. My brain goes haywire, and I find that I’m thinking 10 steps ahead. I’m in the zone. It’s like I’m supposed to be doing this. And I am. I gave up administrative work because I was not good at it, and I found I had a talent in something completely different. In giving up a standard job, I gave up a lot: regular benefits, paid holidays, sick leave, predictable paydays… I’ve had that upon occasion in the graphic design positions I’ve held over the years, but I’ve been laid off of most of those jobs due to the economy.

Still, it’s who I am. And it’s who many of my friends are. Many of us are working from home, busting our butts, being our own bosses, juggling deadlines, setting our own schedules, doggedly researching the best ways to promote ourselves, and finding new ways to keep our goals achievable and met. We have to work harder to make less money than most of our peers.

When I work on a drawing or a painting, it takes more energy than you’d imagine. I can spend days trying to find the right idea in my head. I’ll sit down, and stare at the blank page or canvas before I know how I want to begin. Once I have the course plotted, I’ll spend hours bent over my paper/computer/canvas, focusing intently on what I’m making. Occasionally I’ll remember to get up and stretch when my back, neck and eyes start to complain. I’ll rail against the clock and the fates at my deadlines. But in the end, when I am finished, I am a new parent. This is a part of me that I have taken out of myself to share with the world. Each week, I create something from nothing and send it off into the world, turning back to prepare to do it all over again. You’ll never see me stop doing this, in spite of the difficulties. It’s what I was born to do. I can feel it in my bones.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun, and we enjoy what we do. Otherwise, we’d be masochists! We do what we love for love of the craft. But we also commit to a lot more challenges than are readily apparent. There’s an unsung heroism in going off the beaten track. We’re grateful and touched by the appreciation, support and patronage we receive for our work. But we’d probably do it anyway, because something inside of us tells us we’re doing exactly what we’re supposed to be doing.

The next time you talk to an artist, writer, costumer, or anyone who has a creative vocation, try to see past the glamour of pursuing a dream and getting to play for a living. Try to see the dedication, self motivation and self discipline, that upon occasion are our only fallbacks.

Writing “Shattered”


I’ve been seriously upping my game this year. I started writing again about 3 years ago, after a hiatus too long to mention. And I couldn’t be happier. Honestly, part of the reason I stopped was because my writing skills weren’t up to the par of my imagination. A lot of life has happened since putting that pen down, and I believe I’ve gotten better at describing environment and emotion. I’ve also learned some of the tricky task of subtlety (my mother always said I was as subtle as a jackhammer). The biggest challenge for me now is writing believable dialogue. I’m tackling that hurdle in a short story I’m preparing for submission this Winter.

This flash fiction piece was an excerpt from my journal of free writing; the lavender paisley one I bought 3 years ago, that set me free and reminded me there’s good stuff in there if I want to share it. With a little guidance from Quincy J. Allen, I augmented and refined it into something I’m moderately proud of, even more so since it’s the first piece I’ve ever submitted publicly.

It’s a moody story, but I’m proud of the tone I set. Hope you enjoy it. More to come!

Shattered

For some continued enjoyment, here are links to some of my favorite local authors’ submissions to this very same contest:

Quincy J. Allen: The Devil and God

Guy Anthony De Marco: Seeds

Sam Knight: Broken

Mary Villalba: Encounter

Josh Vogt: The Way the World Ends

The Invisible Navigator

Isn’t it funny how you can try to run up the same hill infinite times, but it’s not til you give up and head in another direction that you succeed? I’ve been struggling to rework a story idea, first as a graphic novel, then as a webcomic and currently a written work. It’s been like trying to sprint through a tar pit. I have read, researched and meditated, waiting for the answer to appear. And my muse is silent as the crypt.

Then 72 hours ago, a short story idea occurred to me. This one is practically writing itself. The concept keeps snowballing, and I think I may have enough material to eventually turn it into a full length novel. My veins run with adrenaline and I write down notes often. I feel…purpose, and a direction.

You can try to steer the boat [of life], but you rarely know what’s around the next bend. I think that means the navigation of your life is something that’s never completely in your own hands. Call it divine or call it chaos, it still means you don’t always get to pick the destination. For me that means it’s time to let go of the wheel and grab hold of my pen, for all it’s worth.