Pulling Faces

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I absolutely LOVE drawing faces.  I love the detailed mapping of a face, and how the simplest little line or shade can change the entire look of someone, for the better or worse.

In school we learned the proper ways of facial proportion for artists, and if you want to get better at drawing faces, it’s the absolute way to go (something like this).  You focus on how to lay out the face by using the eye as a specific unit of measurement.  It is mathematical, it is precise, and it is also fluid and easily adaptable…each face is different, but easy to measure, if you pay attention to the proper structure of proportion.

If you follow those guidelines and those measurements (and how they pertain to each person you draw), the person you’re trying to draw will look very much like they’re supposed to.

But once I learned all that and it made sense, I started to have fun with it.

Picasso once said, “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”  And for anyone just starting out, I’d always recommend learning the basic foundations first.  Not because you can’t HANDLE doing it on your own….but because it’ll make you a better artist in the long run.

But once I learned the structure of proportion, instead of laying it out in advance, I began to start in one spot, and just see where it takes me.  Here’s a line.  What’s next door?  Oh, it’s darker here, and lighter a little bit over there….

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Now I very RARELY (alright, maybe even NEVER) draw with any sort of preplanned layout, or sketch out proportions in advance.

Instead of measurement and preciseness, I draw a line, look at what’s around it, and make some rough guess as to where it all fits in.  Sure, it’s not precise, but it’s more enjoyable to me, to see where the face will take me.  That’s where the fun part and the personality in drawing comes from, for me.

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Sometimes it works, and what I end up with is basically what I was hoping for, with a bit of that magical distortion that makes my brain smile.

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And sometimes it doesn’t, and I get to the end and it’s not quite what I thought it would be.  And even though I THINK I’ve followed my own directions as I look at my reference, there’s something that doesn’t work.  As if, despite following my map, I took a wrong turn somewhere.  Something that’s off, that isn’t making it sing…

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Sometimes it’s a little simple thing and it will change the entire look of everything.  Sometimes it just can’t be saved.  Either way, it’s more fun to me to create this way than aiming for absolute realism.

Sometimes a face is so simple, with such simple characteristics that you have to play very close attention to the tiny little details to have it even come close to making sense.  The tiniest line in a carefully placed area can change someone’s entire look.  And I mean that literally:  one. single. tiny. line.

Babies are difficult that way.  Babies, artistically speaking, are circles with simplified features floating in a sea of smoothness, with very little lines around to tell you where to go, or where each thing fits in relation to the other.  Babies are hard.

But so are some adults.  I drew Angelica Huston recently three times, and still couldn’t get the simple subtleties of her face quite right, even with my altered proportions.  Actress Lena Headey (Cersei from Game of Thrones) has such a unique face that has continued to elude me–with such simple but heavy expression even just in the slightest move of her eyebrows, or the littlest smirk.

This is probably why people who are typically deemed “beautiful” or “handsome” don’t seem so at all to me:  their faces are devoid of personality, wiped clean of any imperfections.  They could be ANYBODY.  They look like the same polished versions of eachother with different styling options.  They seem empty.

In MY world, imperfections are absolutely what make someone interesting.  One of my very favorite lines is from Francis Bacon, who said, “There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.”  It’s the odd things that make us beautiful, make us interesting, and give our faces stories to tell.  The things that make you different, make you stand out, or make you uncomfortable?  When you remove the emotional reaction, those are the very same things that make you SPECIAL.

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I sort of fall in love a little with someone’s lines when I draw them.  Not romantic love, but more a VERY deep appreciation of their shapes, their lines, their uniqueness.  I think that (aside from just not wanting to give attention to negativity, or show disrespect to any survivors) is why I have trouble drawing serial killers or concentration camp survivors, or some other such mortifying characters.

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There are so many stories that faces can tell…especially when you find the unique thing about them, and celebrate their differences and individual strangeness!

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The Fisher King and the Man in the Moon

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Just because I don’t know Robin Williams doesn’t mean I can’t miss him.  Just because I miss him doesn’t mean I don’t feel loss for other people who maybe weren’t so much in the public eye, or that I don’t care about other more worldly events going on the news.

I’m not usually too affected by celebrity news, but I’ve been having a bit of a hard time with this one.   My WHOLE life, his movies, tv shows, and comedy has been there, in so many wonderful characters, in so many wonderful ways.  From when I first saw him as Mork as a kid, to now.  He inspired me, he made me laugh.  He touched so many people with the simplest of expressions.  He could make you laugh in one moment, and melt your heart in the next.  I don’t know another comedian who could do that.  He’s just always been there. 

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The point is that someone, no matter who it was, touched our lives and it’s okay to feel sad about that.  It’s a testament to me that peoples’ lives, big or small, affect all of us in some way, even if we never know it.  We feel the loss of someone when they have touched us in some way.  We feel worse when someone’s story, someone’s life, has reflected something in our own lives. 

To me, it’s also a testament to that saying that you should “be kind always, for everyone is fighting a great battle.”  That person who was a total jerk?  Maybe they’re going through something difficult right now.  

Like many people, I struggled with depression when I was in my twenties.  Recently, my mom and dad were cleaning their shed and found an old self-portrait I did at the time.  It’s not at all flattering.  I didn’t want it to be.  I wanted to show how worn out, how sick of it all, how emotionally EXHAUSTED I was.

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Thank goodness I don’t feel that way anymore, and looking back on it, it’s like looking at a completely different person that I can’t even relate to anymore.

Do you remember The Fisher King?  (It’s one of my VERY favorites of all time.  To me, every Gilliam movie is amazing, but Gilliam with Robin Williams was magical.)  Do you remember how the shock jock’s flippantly insensitive words inadvertently set off a chain of events that damaged the life of William’s character, who he had never even met?  People are important.  Especially in a world where it’s so easy to type a few errant nasty words on someone’s post, the things you SAY are important, whether you know it or not.

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And I think aside from just missing his magic, that might be what has affected me so greatly about his suicide, and the internet reaction to it.  It’s just reminded me to do my best to ignore people that build themselves up by making “superior” comments or make a point to spread negativity, and remember how important it is to connect with the people in your life, and to spread the positive around a bit.  If you surround yourself by that negativity in people, it eats into you, it brings more negativity to you, draws it in like a magnet.  That negativity they focus on pulls you down with it.  And as much as you might sympathize with them or want to help them, sometimes you just have to step away a bit.

And this new news about the onset of Parkinson’s…in a weird way that made me understand a little better.  I’ve lived with chronic pain for over 10 years, and the idea that you eventually might not be able to do certain things the more something progresses is an absolutely terrifying one.  Not one worth my dying over, but I get it.  I get that pain.

No, I didn’t know him.  And knowing him wouldn’t have changed anything.  But I know other people in my own life, and maybe connecting with them will help in some small way.

So it doesn’t matter if he’s a celebrity.  He touched peoples’ lives.  Don’t feel ashamed for mourning him when so many others need attention, too.  Not grieving for one person doesn’t show more appreciation for another.

Instead, appreciate the people in your life.  You MEAN something to them.  They mean something to YOU.  Even if you don’t see it, don’t know it, don’t FEEL it….I promise you, you do.

Sometimes you just have to look a little harder for it. 

If you look for bad things, I promise you, YOU WILL ALWAYS FIND THEM.  Instead, I try to actively search for things in my life to appreciate.  For things to feel good about, no matter how small.  And if you cannot find them in your own life, there are so many ways to create them for someone else, and that generosity will create good in your life.  And if you’re always looking for those good things, I promise you, you will always find them, too.

So I’m going to do my best to focus on the positive… 

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National suicide prevention hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Info on Soldier suicide prevention

Me and the Legos

I’m assuming that most of you (especially if you have kids) have all seen the Lego Movie by now?  If not, you should–it’s AWESOME!

(I’m not sure if I’ll be throwing in spoilers, so if you worry terribly about that sort of thing, part of me says maybe you shouldn’t read any more of this post. And another part says, really—calm down, it’s just a movie!  In any case, if it doesn’t make much sense, it’s because it relates to it.  But hopefully, it’ll still make sense.)

Anyway, it struck a chord with me, especially when I realized that I’m…well…I’m totally a Lord Business.

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(This is a “Mom Business” doodle I sketched, and the 5-year old painted with watercolors)

Like I assume most parents do, I initially bought “big kid” Lego sets so Myla could learn to build all the magically fun things that are on the box by following instructions that are so simple they don’t even need words. And maybe it’s because I’m a bit obsessive, but the same thing happens in our house as what I assume might happen in all of yours: the kid eventually loses interest, and I end up building them all myself.

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When a person like me spends hours and hours putting a complicated Lego spaceship together, the urge to superglue it in place so it never ever moves or gets broken or taken apart ever again is very very difficult to resist.

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This is where the kid comes in. I have begun to realize that Myla doesn’t really care WHAT the final product looks like. She loves the characters. She loves that she has more Lego blocks to play with. She loves Lego Superman and Batman and Pepper Potts. She loves mixing the other characters around, swapping out their body parts until they all look like they should belong in Cloud Cuckoo Land.

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For a Lord Business like me, that’s just crazy talk.

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(A face I started sketching that Myla later turned into Lord Business sitting in a pile of Legos)

Where I like to follow the instructions step by step, the kid would love to just rip open the bags and play. While I enjoy methodical organization, she prefers errant, whimsical chaos. This has taught me that the message of the movie is true: you can’t REALLY get the most out of your Legos if you Kragle them so they never move, or only play with them the way that’s on the box.  You’re supposed to use your imagination.  Sometimes the best fun comes from using something in ways you never expected. Where I see the box as instructions for a goal meant to be victoriously accomplished, she sees them as VERY loose suggestions.

It’s a whole other world for someone as “type A” as me. But I do find myself fascinated by it.

I consider myself a pretty creative person, flexible to quite a few mediums, and adventurous in always trying new ones. I like to draw, paint, sculpt and sew…but there are some places where my creativity just shuts down to a screetching halt. The first place is in the kitchen. The second is with Legos. Give me some chicken and veggies, and I can get about as creative as a VERY simple stir-fry. That’s about it. Hand me some Legos with no instructions, and I might be able to build a chair. Or a very very simple spaceship.

And here’s where I turn into Emmet, and try to embrace my inner Master Builder.

My favorite character from the movie is Metalbeard. The story goes that he and his pirate crew tried to defeat Lord Business, and were destroyed, his ship and his body blown to bits so all that remained was his little Lego pirate head. Being a Master Builder, Metalbeard survived by rebuilding himself from bits and pieces of his ship.   I built him from the kit and it took me ages (in between day-to-day kid and house stuff). I was so stinkin’ proud of how cool he looked when he was done!

But after months in the Lego box, he’s started to fall apart. I’ve tried my best to patch him up, but without my instructions, I’m pretty lost. So I’ve tried adding this or that onto him. Bits of a palm tree. Parts of the Batwing.  Like Emmett, it equates to sticking two blocks together and throwing them at the bad guy.  Under my building supervision, Metalbeard’s days are sadly limited.  But the idea of him is still there, and I love him.

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I want to be a Metalbeard, taking bits and pieces of different things that I love and slapping them to myself so that they work like new.  (Actually, that’s sort of like a mockingbird, right?)

You lose a little of that devil-may-care spontaneity when you grow up. There are times I choose to sit & play with Myla and my mind is completely blank, void of any possible scenario we might create. There are other times when the simplest, silliest things entertain us both.  There are even better, more rare moments, where she is playing on her own and doesn’t know I can hear all the wonderfully creative things she comes up with.

So I’ll continue to follow the kid’s lead on things like that. She builds without the concern for failure. She builds without the worry of “messing up.” Because to her, just enjoying the time playing is what it’s about. And isn’t that pretty much what I learned from her when we started drawing together?

Proof positive that kids already know a few things that adults have forgotten. Once you grow up, it’s a constant struggle to run back to that childhood place where grownup stuff doesn’t matter and things are fun just for fun’s sake.

A place, maybe, where “everything is awesome…”

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(A Lego Superman collaboration between the kid and I, where Superman has decided that if you want a goshdarn spaceship built right, you’ve got to build it yourself)

Guardians

I grew up on science fiction.  My dad was a big sci-fi fan, so when we’d go to the video store (yes, I understand that’s an ancient concept these days), he’d choose anything so long as the cover had space, spaceships, or aliens on it.

I remember seeing Star Wars when I was younger, and collecting figurines and spaceships.  Alongside the wooden playhouse my mom designed for us in the backyard of our little house in Oklahoma, my dad built what was meant to be the head of AT-AT.

I remember staying at home with a sitter while my parents saw what they thought was a grownup movie about aliens, only to take my sister and I out the very next night when they realized how good (and kid-appropriate) E.T. was.

I remember one of the very first “grown up” movies I saw was Blade Runner.  I was blown away.

So I think it’s fair to say that me & sci-fi go way back.  Which is why of COURSE I loved Guardians of the Galaxy.  I’m not going to review it, or go into in-depth conversations about how it relates to the comics (which I have not read, and don’t really intend to), but it was a fun little movie, and I enjoyed watching it.

What makes a sci-fi movie “real” for me is the characters.  I love them, humor, flaws and all.  GotG had some great ones, and nearly ALL of them interesting-looking enough to draw (which is why my IG feed has been flooded with all sorts of amazing character sketches from various artists).  For me, GotG has a similar campy feel as Fifth Element did, with a sense of humor, and a lot of colorful characters.

So, of course, I couldn’t help but draw a few of ‘em, too….

(Don’t worry, I don’t think I’ve got any spoilers here…)

I tend to start off on the beaten path, so one of my favorite characters was Drax the Destroyer, played by WCW’s Dave Bautista (who was so good I forgot he was an athlete-turned-actor).  Drax is extremely literal (as am I).  I could totally relate to him, as a lifetime of literal misunderstandings have made my own life a bit confusing.   He has one of my favorite lines in the movie, saying “Nothing goes over my head.  My reflexes are too fast.  I would catch it.”  I had to get my blue & red ballpoints out and sketch him.

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Later, I sketched the character named Yondu (played by Walking Dead’s Michael Rooker) who controls a deadly arrow with his whistles.  This one I sketched in ballpoints, and highlighted with acrylics, and I’d just like to say that it was QUITE hard to draw a person whistling.  Just sayin’.

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I have a couple of characters I’d still like to draw if I don’t run out of steam…like Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and everyone’s beloved Groot.  I’m trying not to get overwhelmed by the plethora of inspirational imagery in that movie, so I think a couple more drawings and I’ll be okay.

Guardians of the Galaxy is rated PG-13, so I know a lot of kids went to see it, but aside from the fact that Myla is only five, heavy action understandably frightens her.  Sometimes that can be a little challenging, trying to find kid’s shows that have no “bad guys,” and where no one gets hurt and there’s no conflict whatsoever, but I’m also quite okay with her enjoying the simpler things.

So when there are shows that come out where the marketing and products are EVERYWHERE, or other kids are talking about it, I like to tell her the simplified version.  Instead of telling her the entire story of GotG, I tell her about the characters, so she still knows what everyone’s talking about, but doesn’t have to actually see the “scary show” herself.  And in my doing so, she has developed a love for characters she’d never otherwise see: like Khaleesi, Daleks, and in this case, Rocket and Groot–as has most of the sci-fi world.  I show her little video clips of the characters on YouTube sometimes, she asks me questions, and she loves ‘em.

So the next time she asked to draw on some heads (as we do), she immediately turned one into Groot, complete with a little leaf on his shoulder.

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And seeing Rocket in stores out & about, she asked lots of questions about this little raccoon character.  She thought it’d be funny if he had bubbles coming from his gun instead of bullets…

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So there ya go.  Nothing like a little sci-fi influence for your day!

Playing with Mermaids

Inspiration comes in strange places.  With the excitement of Austin Wizard Con looming, I have been playing with all kinds of ideas for the table display and the idea of little knick-knacks to show.  And since I follow a ton of very talented artists on Instagram, I was inspired by them to try something completely new for me:  molding and casting.

So I watched a few videos on YouTube, and now I’m an expert.

I won’t do a full DIY step by step, since I don’t really know what I’m doing and this is all new to me anyway (trust me, this is one of those situations where you have to just jump in and try it).  But I’ll give a rough rundown of the basic steps, just to show you what was involved…

Step 1: Sculpt something.

I used Super Sculpey, and tried to come up with a little sculpted version of the mermaid girl Myla & I made.  (I realize she looks very little like the original, but Myla said she was cute, so I think it’s okay…)  Since kids have a natural magnetic attraction towards clay, I sacrificed a handful of Sculpey and let Myla make her own mermaid.  (She modeled her after a character on Doc McStuffins, who is not, in fact, topless–but she couldn’t remember what her top looked like, so she just gave her breasts.  I’m not sure if I should put a censored black bar over kid-sculpted breasts?  I just go with it)…

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Step 2: Make a mold.

I got my kits from a company called Smooth-On (who have TONS of great videos on their site).  I won’t give you every little detail on this, since the directions are really easy (and on the box)…but the basic idea is mix This with That and pour.  (Plus, if I told you everything, I’d ruin all the messy fun for you.)  The main thing I learned during this step:  make sure you mix it REALLY well.  If you don’t, it doesn’t set right.  I made mine from silicone rubber in a plastic cup.  I nearly didn’t mix enough for the tail, but it turned out alright.

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Step 3: Cut your sculpture out

You know that bit of instructions that you think, “Ah, that’s not a big deal, I’ll just sort of wing it”?  Well, turns out sometimes they tell you those little tips for a good reason.  When I put my sculpture in the cup to mold it, I forgot to mark on the cup where the back side of her was.  So when it was time to open her, and I “guessed,” I guessed wrong, and sort of sliced up her face.  The stubby arms were apparently a little too weak for the whole process and broke off.  And the body crumbled because I hadn’t fully cooked her.  But the mold itself turned out fairly good.  And Sculpey can be touched up a bit, so I patched her up and fully cooked her, and she was just fine.

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Step 4: Pour plastic/resin into the mold.

The first go-round, I tried a liquid plastic kit from Smooth-On.  And along with my repeated advice of making sure you mix everything the right way, I’ll add a couple of pointers I learned:  First thing is that it’s probably a good idea to wear gloves.  Initially, I gave that bit of advice a big ol’ “Pshhhht, whatever.”  But plastic nearly ALWAYS gets on your hands, and it feels super creepy, like when you get superglue on your fingers.  Blecch.  And later, when I tried pouring resin, I had a bit of a leak in the silicone mold (it was a different mold, and I had two “air holes”), and it leaked hot resin ALLLLLLLLLLL over my work table.  Trust me, that’s not fun at ALL.  So my bit of advice there?  make sure you don’t have a spot in the mold that might leak.  And lastly, GIVE IT TIME TO CURE.  I’m very impatient.  But hot plastic hurts.

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Step 5: Plastic mermaids!

So I messed up quite a few mermaids, but after some trial and error, I was able to get a few decent-looking plastic mermaids!  Fun!  I couldn’t figure out why their faces were bubbly, though, until I looked closely at the mold, and realized that the mold itself had bubbles set into it.  Whoops.  Later I made a better mold, and made it smaller and on its back, so I wouldn’t waste so much silicone rubber.  That helped clear up any bubble issues, and gave me a much clearer mold.  Apparently, having her on her back, and pouring the silicone in the corner and letting it sort of “seep” into the face on its own is the big trick with that. (I HAD done that the first time, but she was positioned upside down, and all the details of the face were on the bottom, leaving lots of chances for air to get trapped in there.  Whoops.)

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Step 6: Paint that junk

So with a handful of funky mermaids, I decided we should go ahead and paint’em up.  Why not?  And since they came out wonky, I let Myla have a go at them, too.  7 myla painting

I had a little trouble painting on the actual plastic with acrylic paint.  (Myla had no complaints.)  I even tried a basecoat of brown primer for plastic, but it just didn’t look so great.

6 paintMyla had an awesome time painting them, though.  She painted her McStuffins mermaid, along with a yellow-haired one (modeled after a Monster High doll), and a green-skinned Ariel.

8 mermaidsLater, after making the bubble-free mold, I tried casting in resin, instead of the plastic…and despite MANY failed attempts (note the mutant mermaid army in the background) I finally got some good ones!

photoApparently, again–the trick is very careful mixing.  In my very limited experience, I’ve learned that if your mixture is off, it can do all sorts of wonky things to your cast.  I haven’t tried painting these resin casts yet (I’ll try that later), but I’ll be sure to post the outcome!

With new projects, there’s always a level of intimidation for me.  That casting kit sat in my art room for about 5 months before I actually got the courage to try it.  But you know–when you do, it feels awesome to have finally figured it out!  Even if you end up with an school of mutated fish-women, you can’t really consider it a failure if you’ve learned something.

So jump in and try something new!  I promise, it’s worth it.  Wonky mermaids and all.

Wizard Con!

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I can’t tell you all how excited I am that we were able to fund the Kickstarter to create our book–a compilation of the collaborative doodles that never could have happened the way I envisioned without the help of so many people.  Now that the campaign is over, and I’ve got all these wonderful books to show for it…what the heck do I DO with them all?

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Welllll….you can buy copies of the books online at the “Book” link above…

But my younger sister (who has two teenage daughters, and is a VERY cool mom), suggested a comic convention!  Her daughter dabbles in cosplay, and conventions are one of her favorite things to do.  But a comic con??  For US?!?

…Well, why the heck NOT?

So I’ve decided to take our doodles to the Artist’s Alley at Wizard Con in Austin from Oct. 2-4!!!

This will be my first convention EVER, and I’m a little nervous.  Not so much about breaking even, or making more than we put into it (that would be great, but not at ALL why I’m going), but because (of all things) of the CROWDS.  The thought of swarms of people everywhere makes my heart thump and my lungs wither.  I don’t like crowds.  AT ALL.  But I’m hoping that sitting at a booth all day for three days, it won’t be SO bad.  It’s not like I’ll be fighting my way, shoulder to shoulder, through people if I’m mostly at my booth, right?  At least, that’s what I”m telling myself.

When I was younger, my mom used to do craft shows.  Not rinky-dink little garage sale shows, but HUGE art-focused craft conventions all near our various army duty stations throughout Europe.  As kids, my sister and I used to help her set up and tear down, take money, bag crafts, and personalize them.  We used to trade or barter with the other vendors, and got to see all their booths during setup, before the public came in.  I realize a crazy huge comic convention is WAYYY different, but I’m wondering if there are actually any similarities behind the scenes.  We’ll see!

My sister suggested something fun, too:  “You could even dress up/cosplay as one of your collaborations!”  I love watching costume shows like Heroes of Cosplay, and I love the work and care that goes into those costumes.  I designed Myla’s C-3PO Halloween costume using cosplay techniques  And while I don’t want to sit all day at my booth in a full-blown costume, I MIGHT be able to pull off some little harness wings (like a grownup version of what I made for Myla) and wear them as an elaborate version of my favorite of our collaborations:  the moth woman at the end of our book….

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Wouldn’t that be fun?

My husband & I agreed, it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to have Myla there all day, so the husband will watch her at home.  But they’ll  visit me there from time to time.  She’s even asking me if I can make her a Nightcrawler costume..

I’m planning on selling copies of our “Share With Me” book (maybe even have a few pre-signed options, if I can get the munchkin to cooperate), copies of our little book of short stories “Tail Tales,” doodle pages, postcard sets, and stickers.  I’m also going to sell some prints of some of our more geeky doodles.  And who knows what else!

Maybe I’ll put some markers out for people to doodle on a page or two of our own book copies, since the book was really designed to be doodled in, interacted with, and shared.  We’ll see!

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Maybe I’ll have pie.  More people will come if you tell them you have pie.

(Ha!  Sorry, old South Park reference).

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So if you’re anywhere near Austin, Texas in early October and want to check out what we’ve got, I’d love love LOVE to see you!   I’ll be there hiding behind my booth with my moth wings and a smile!

The Nightmare Monkey Girl

…And then there are projects you keep around for years and years and years, because you don’t understand them, but they just compel you for some reason anyway…

So, once upon a time, I sculpted a monkey head from Sculpey.  I’m not sure why.  It’s just what came out.  But I saw her VERY CLEARLY in my head.  Shriveled, sort of like a baked apple. Gnarled hands.  I saw her in derby gear, for some reason.  I wasn’t exactly sure where she came from or what she was doing…but she was there, annoying me, and I just needed to get her out.

I sculpted her head, and got it exactly the way I wanted it, first try.  And then it sat there for years.  And years.  And YEARS.

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It sat there for so long because I just wasn’t sure what to DO with her.  So about 3 years after I sculpted her, I decided to give it another go.  I sculpted her gnarled little hands.  I wanted them to be ape-like, and wearing roller derby gloves, because, hey–that was what she looked like in my brain.

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A little acrylic paint really added some creep factor into the face & hands…

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So now what?  The best I could figure was that I’d make her like a stuffed animal.  This was well before I had done any research on how to meld Sculpey with fabric, so I did the best I could.  I made doll arms and attached them with thread through the loops in the wrists and up near the armpit, then secured the edges with fabric glue.  I wanted the hands to look “wrapped,” so eventually I figure I might wrap & glue the hands to cover the seam.  But honestly, who knows?

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I had gotten some doll skates years ago, when the idea first nagged me, and I attached them to her doll feet.  I attached her limbs to a simple hairy monkey doll body I made.  In my head, I had hoped to maybe paint tattoos all over her arms and legs…

In any case, she sat there for a while longer in this phase, just looking all mournful.  Probably mad at me for creating her in the first place without a solid plan.  But hey, monkey girl–that’s sometimes how it goes, okay?

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From time to time, Myla would pick her up and ask me if I was done with her.  “No,” I’d say.  “I’m not sure WHAT I’m doing with her yet.”  I told her she kind of creeped me out, to which Myla replied, “I think she’s a CUTE creepy monkey girl.  But she needs some hair.”

In my mind, she has dreadlocks.  Gnarly, dirty, dusty, stick-covered dreadlocks.  With leaves and twigs and stuff stuck in them.  I follow a dollmaker on Instagram who uses wig hair from salon shops, but that idea with this monkey girl creeped me out more than even I could stomach.  So I went with this tattered yarn.  Which, unfortunately, is cotton candy pink…but maybe one day I will dye it dark brown.  Or maybe she’s a natural pink, who knows.  (Myla votes to keep it pink).

I sculpted her little helmet so that it slips on and off quite easily, and stay on fairly well.  It needs little stickers or doodles or something all over it, just like a REAL derby monkey ape-girl thing…

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And here she is at this stage.  And she’s sad.  And sort of pitiful, because most likely, she’ll lie her for a very very VERY long time.  Unfinished and uncertain.  And I think she knows it.

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So there you go.  The nightmare monkey girl that has haunted me for years.  Maybe if I pass her image on, she’ll stop haunting me, and tell me how to finish her.  She’s like a little monster in the corner you forget about until suddenly she catches your eye, and gives you the shivers.  Myla still thinks she’s “cute.”

But for all of you out there who will now be haunted by the Nightmare Monkey Girl:  YOU’RE WELCOME.

Mwahahhahahahahah!!!

A Creative Epiphany

Oh my gosh, we just discovered a new show.  And in kid-world, anything that keeps the same goshdarn show (whichever it might be) from being on repeat over and over again is definitely something to celebrate…

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We have Amazon TV, and they just released a series called “Creative Galaxy,” about art and creativity for kids.  I’d love to say that they gave us money to blog about them, or at least a stuffed animal or a visit from a character or something, but they didn’t, so this is all our own experience.

So Creative Galaxy is about a little alien named Arty (of course), and his sidekick Epiphany (which, I told Myla, means “a good idea”), and they go around the galaxy “solving problems with art.”  Okay, it’s just as perky as any typical kid’s show, but the cool thing about Creative Galaxy is that they introduce the style of certain artists (sort of like I’ve done with Myla with our own projects   in the past), and explain what the artist was trying to do with their art.  They talk about Pollock and his “action painting.”  And they have lots of clips of real kids showing how to do simple fun crafty projects.

The only down side to this show in OUR house is that it gives Myla a million crafty ideas that she wants to try ALL RIGHT NOW!  But that’s okay.  We pick and choose, and then we get crafty.

Recently, I expanded Myla’s craft area, since it had started completely taking over both the living room and kitchen tables.  We used things we already had around the house, and now it’s easily accessible to her, and right next to my office area (since I work from home on my computer).  She loves that there is enough space to sit on top (she REALLY gets into her artwork!)  so we don’t even need space for a chair.  There are office organizers for her pens and paper, as well as the bins next to it for other craft supplies like paper plates, foam, stickers, and paper bags.  Perfect for all sorts of craft time!

art area

There’s nothing more that Myla likes than a stuffed animal.  I think she may actually be addicted.  I may have to look for some sort of help center for wayward stuffed animal addicts, actually.   So inspired by the show, Myla decided one day that she wanted to make her own “Epiphany” doll.

Epiphany is Arty the alien’s little sidekick.  We’re not sure what he…or she…really is, exactly, but Myla thinks he’s cute.  She started by drawing the shape onto a piece of felt.  Since she wanted it to be stuffed, I showed her that she had to have a front and a back piece.  Then she cut little arms & legs out.  I had her help me sew a simple stitch around it on the sewing machine (I often have her put her hand on it to help guide it), and then came her favorite part:  the stuffing!

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When we do spontaneous projects like this, the rule is that we have to use things we already have, or we can’t do it at all.  I happened to have some little pompoms on a string, which were a bit wonky, but worked well for the little puffball on his head.  Thankfully (despite being a perfectionist) she seemed to like it just fine.  It bothered me a little, but I always let her have the last word on when it’s “done.”

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She wanted him to look a little more like the photo, so we got the paints out to color the eyes and spots.

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And there he is, the final little Epiphany character!  Created (almost) entirely by a 5-year old!

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Sure he’s a little wonky and imperfect.  But the fact that she made him (almost) all by herself is something she’s VERY proud of.    There are some times that the final piece doesn’t look like how she imagined and a wailing pitiful freakout ensues (we’re working on that), but I think it’s good for her to see the outcome of her decisions, whatever they may be. Simple decisions, when she can make them, make her feel more involved, like she had some sort of say in what we’ve created, and makes her more emotionally invested in it.  Sure, I could’ve made her a doll, but would she learn how it was made?  No.  She’d just get the benefit without the effort.

I don’t always indulge her in dollmaking–actually I often steer clear of it, or we’d end up making a dozen dolls a day.  But on occasion, and with some boundaries, it’s fun to see where her creativity takes her!

Drawing Christine

I’ve mentioned before how inspiring Instagram has been for me (and I am extremely grateful to Diane from Design Recharge Show for talking me into it).  One of my favorite things about seeing artists’ work on IG is getting to see the behind-the-scenes process.

Sometimes when you look at the final piece from an artist whose work you love, you are so inspired by the end result that you start to get frustrated with your own style.  Some artists make it look so effortless!   And if your own road is a little bumpy, you might have the urge to not even bother.

But no one starts & finishes in the exact same spot–even the old painters had a process!  One very strong memory for me was visiting the Musee d’Orsay in France.  I saw a room where on the wall was posted a small paper where an artist had doodled a simple man with a scythe.  And then another of the same figure.  And another.  And another.  It was like he was obsessed–to my memory, every wall in the room was FULL of rough painting studies and drawings, little sculptures, and sketches of this same figure, until FINALLY, at the very end of the room, was the painting–a very simple farm scene, called Paying the Harvesters, by Léon Lhermitte.  And the thing was, the man with the scythe wasn’t even the only figure. I was blown away…not so much by the painting (which was amazing), but the amount of work that was behind it.

I don’t have the kind of patience for that level of detail…but I do know that art is a process.  Personally, I paint as if I am rushing to save the life of a dying emergency room patient, and I don’t even have CLOSE to the level of detail that Monsieur Lhermitte had.  For me, there is a magic world between rough sketching and overworking a piece…and sometimes you can work a long time on something and it just still doesn’t look right.

I also know that art doesn’t “just happen.”  Ask any artist you love to show you their work from their younger years, and you will see the full spectrum.  You may not see the hours and hours of time they’ve spent lovingly delved into their sketchbooks, but it’s there.  You don’t magically “become” good without lots and lots and LOTS of practice.  It’s not the supplies.  It’s not the paper.  It’s the not the medium.  It’s the passion that fuels you to practice and practice and practice.  Even my namesake, Michelangelo, once said, “If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it would not seem so wonderful at all,” as well as,If you knew how much work went into it, you would not call it genius.”

And even the best artist you know?  They will have a different process in a year.  If they are worth their salt, they most likely will know that the saying, “Ancora imparo” (most often attributed to Michelangelo), meaning “I am still learning,” is so very, very true.

I am no master, by any means.  FAR from it.  I am ALWAYS learning.  But after years and years (I am practically ancient), I am fairly comfortable in my process, so I thought it would be fun to walk you through a painting.  This is not “How It Is Done.”  This is how I do it.  And this is only how I SOMETIMES do it, because I am always trying new things.

I decided to draw my best and longest-time friend, Christine.  I have known her face for around…WOW.  NINETEEN YEARS.  That’s major (especially since I move around as much as a traveling circus).  She and I have been through it all and back, and have STILL stuck around, even though we’re so often miles and miles apart.  The last time I painted her, I was in college, and she still has it hanging in her living room.

So, with a photo for reference, I sketched.  I always sketch in ballpoint pen (I may have mentioned that I love ballpoints).  I used a photo I took from when I visited her right after she had her daughter Lila.  I am aware that a better likeness might be obtained from gridding or tracing of the main shapes, but for the most part, I like the personality that jumps in there when I don’t try to go for 100% realism…

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I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do with it yet, but I added the decorative Polish flowers around her and wanted to use the negative space in an interesting way.  I usually go from a sketch to acrylics, but this time, I thought I’d try something new, and used my Prismacolor markers to block in the main color.  By this point, I didn’t like the curly flower swirls at the top, so I decided I’d get rid of them somehow.

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Here’s the funny part about Prismacolor markers…..they are SO good at blending…but they sometimes react in a funky way to ballpoint pen.  This process used to terrify me, but I am used to it.  I use this process with the collaborations I do with our daughter…I just had not yet gotten comfortable with it on a portrait of a beloved friend.  GAH!  She’s PURPLE!!  –Calm down.  Don’t worry.  The ink soaks into the page, and if you push through it, it spreads, and you can blend it all in fairly well.  Those of you thinking “why not just skip the ballpoint?” you have a valid point, but I just can’t because: BALLPOINT.

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Thankfully, I have learned to follow where my wonkiness takes me, and after a bit more blending, the colors start to settle and soak in, making them finally look a little more natural.

CHRISTINE-4 I often work with a very light skin palate (even on darker-skinned people), so the markers were a good exercise in really filling out the skin tones.  Again, those swirls on top have got to go.

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I darken the hair to sort of hide the swirls, but at this point, I’m still not sure how I’m going to handle them, so I work on the background, which I wanted to be a flat sort of teal.

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So I am a big fan of Bokkei (Maria Björnbom-Öberg)–she even did an art trade with me (which I’ll cover in an upcoming post)!  She works in both marker and colored pencil, and gets AMAZINGLY realistic detail.  So I wanted to give her process a try, and dusted off my old Prismacolor pencils (I swear, they don’t sponsor me).  Me and colored pencils have a love/hate relationship.  I WANT to love using them, but I just CAN’T.  It’s not them, it’s me.

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So I tried and I tried and I tried some more.  And I finally decided to go back to my trusty ol’ acrylics to finish it off.   Aaaahhh, acrylics.  You always KNEW I’d be back.

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So there you go.  After much struggle, after all the hassle of the variety of tools I used, I finally went back to my old standby.  It’s by no means perfect.  But you know what ?  I tried new things.  I also covered those head-swirls, changed up the background color (I have a MAJOR thing for light blue and red, probably because of this).  I tried new things–some worked out and some didn’t.  And that’s totally fine.

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The thing is, if it’s important to you, you’ll find a way.  You’ve got to jump in with no reservations.  You can’t be afraid to make mistakes–mistakes are INTEGRAL.  They’re part of the whole process!  They’re NECESSARY.  If you do something and mess up, what’s the worst that happens?  You waste paper.  You waste time.  But if it is something you love, it is never a waste.  The main thing is this:  no matter how good you are, no matter what your skill, you will be fine…as long as you ALWAYS KEEP LEARNING.

Teeth

(SPOILER ALERT:  If you believe in the tooth fairy, you might not want to read this post.  I’ve never seen her, but that doesn’t mean she’s not real.  She probably is.  Shhhhh…  Just look away, and keep on believin’…)

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It’s a really creepy thing when your kid starts losing body parts.  Part of you knows it’s a rite of passage, a sign of growing up, and a necessary development…and part of you is just totally creeped out.

It was like that with her bellybutton stub–I couldn’t WAIT for that thing to fall off.  Thoughts of that thing still make me shiver.  I remember the elation and relief I felt when I opened her PJs one morning to change her diaper and IT WAS GONE.  Whew.  Funny thing…as a parent, you get used to puke and poop, and all kinds of bodily issues….but everyone has their own line in the sand, I’m sure.

When our daughter started getting her first wiggly tooth, I was strangely excited–it meant she was growing up!  Another fun little marker of development.  But if anyone thinks I was gonna pull that thing, they’d better think again.  I’ve had a lifetime of dental issues.  I have nightmares about teeth.  No way.

But despite my ick factor, after days and weeks of this wiggly tooth, I tried wrapping a towel around it and pulling, I tried twisting, I tried begging and pleading.  Nothing worked.  So it was a bit of a surprise when we were playing around one morning, and I noticed her tooth was gone.

“I must’ve swallowed it!”  She said.  Eeesh.

Thankfully, my very good friend Christine had made us a little monster tooth pillow, so we had that covered.   Instead of the tooth, we put a little tooth drawing in the pocket…

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Then came the questions: “How will the tooth fairy find my tooth?  How will she get it if it’s in my intestines?  Will she have to look through the toilet?”  Oh jeez.  Now, trust me–I’ve told her the “truth” about the tooth fairy before, but she just doesn’t want to believe it.  Which means I have to go along with and even expand on these goofy ideas she has….something you’d THINK I’d be creative about…but I’m just not.  Usually I ask her what SHE thinks.  “Maybe she makes the tooth fly to her, wherever it is.  Maybe she uses magic to just make it show up.”

Uhhh.  Yeah.  Okay, let’s go with that.  (I’d hate to imagine any alternatives…)

My sister and my mom were both VERY creative with tooth fairy things, and thank goodness for Pinterest.  I found this little tooth fairy receipt to put in the pocket.  They suggested glitter.  I hate glitter, but I have some glitter, so I did my best.  (I’ve heard about the wonders of glitter spray, so I’d suggest that for future use.  But I just used what I had around the house, which means I didn’t have any magical glitter spray on hand.)  My sister used to fold origami dollars, and that sounded fun and easy.  So I made a little origami dollar butterfly.  And since I happened to have some chocolate coins from the day prior, I tossed that in for good measure (job security for the tooth fairy and all)…

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When this next tooth started wiggling, I tried to be a little more brave, but that sucker wouldn’t come out.  My mother in law came to visit.  “Will you pull her tooth?”  I asked.  “NO WAY,” she replied.  I had a friend over for a playdate.  “Will you pull her tooth?”  I asked.   “NO WAY,” she replied.  Hm.  I think this might be part of Daddy’s official duties once he returns from Afghanistan, since no one else can stomach it.

Thankfully, tooth #2 came out on its own at daycare.  They wrapped it in a napkin and I didn’t have to deal with it at all.  Success!  No more uncomfortable wiggle when I help her brush her teeth!

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This time, I dispensed with the glitter altogether…but only after a failed attempt nearly blinded me, and left me with a horrible-looking receipt so bad-looking that I had to reprint.  Sooo….plain paper will do, as well as an origami heart dollar this time.

pillow2Soooo….what the heck do you do with the TOOTH?  My mom always said she threw them away.   Strangely, it felt sentimental for some reason.  On the other hand, I suppose I’m pretty ambivalent.  It SEEMS like I should keep it, but….what the heck do you do with a bunch of TEETH?

I follow this artist on Instagram named Scotty Munster, who–aside from being an amazing tattoo artist and illustrator, paints these amazing little bottles with creepy teeth on them:

scottyInspired by those bottles, I decided I needed to paint one myself…

jar jar

I opted for a little more of a “cute” look.  wasn’t sure WHY…or what I’d use it for… But I put her little tooth in there for now.  I’m not sure how I’ll feel about a big ol’ jar full of teeth later on down the road, but for now, I put her little tooth in the jar.

…Is that weird?  Yeah.  I guess.  But it wouldn’t be the weirdest thing we’ve got in this house.

So what’s tradition in your house?  Does the tooth fairy come?  And what do you all do with all those TEETH!?

Thankfully, daddy will be home soon, and maybe HE can be in charge of the next wiggly tooth.  :)

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