I don’t normally like to be in the spotlight…I’m more a “behind the scenes” kinda lady. But since this blog began in the spirit of sharing, I thought that just for today–while it might be extremely awkward and uncomfortable for me–it’d be fun to continue with that tradition, step out of my comfy little coccoon, and share a few random facts about me and my little world.
It’s sort of long, so if you’re not interested in reading it ALL, feel free to skim. If you’re not interested in reading it AT ALL, I hope you enjoy all the pretty pictures…
I learned to draw from my mom & dad. My parents are both artists, so I learned early on the importance of shapes, shading, fine art, a respect for the traditional masters…and always rinsing your paintbrush.
A have a younger sister. My sister is a few years younger than me, but has two teenage daughters (I got a late start in the kid department). Aside from our mom, my sister’s been the biggest mom-spiration to me when I had Myla. She’s very talented, creative, and WAY tough. I go to her when I need the flat-out truth about whether or not I should be worried about something, or if I just need to “suck it up” (as they say in the army).
I spent four years in the U.S. Army as a Photolithographer. Basically, I printed maps and scowled a lot. I dealt with some VERY difficult people, but I also learned that I’m pretty stinkin’ strong. Despite the difficulty, it changed parts of my personality forever–for the best. Plus I got to roll around in the dirt in the woods. And remember that time I found a 5-inch centipede in my field gear?? Good times.
I got a late start. My husband and I were married for SEVEN years before we decided to have a kid. Best decision EVER. I never really considered having kids, I just never really gave it much thought. It was my husband’s awesome idea, really, so he deserves a million high fives. I just needed some time to give it some actual serious thought. She wasn’t an accident, though–she was VERY thought out…probably TOO thought out. But once I’m in, I’m all in, and she’s been the most challenging–and most absolutely magical–thing to ever have happened to me. I always say that if I’d never had her, I’d never know, so I’d be quite happy and fulfilled, thank you. But I can’t even begin to explain how much happiness she’s brought to me, and how intensely ecstatic I am to be her mom.
I played roller derby for a few years. I wasn’t super great or anything, but it felt REALLY good to skate around and knock other girls down. And when YOU got knocked down, you didn’t even mind. It was worth it, as long as it was a good hit. I sprained my collarbone and my jaw in derby, got countless fist-sized bruises, separated my fibula from my kneecap area, and twisted my ankle, and it was all worth it. You could all hate each other, and then get on the track and still play a great bout, and hug each other afterward because of the general respect it takes just to get on the track. I can’t explain how much I love derby. (Sadly, I don’t play anymore, but I still love it.)
This also might explain why I started putting Myla on skates when she was two…
I tattooed myself. Not something I’d recommend to everyone, but I have some prior tattooing experience, and I felt confident I could pull it off. It was awkward, and at one point I was afraid I was totally going to mess it up, but I love it. It’s from a retro photo of a girl roller skating with a pillow strapped to her butt, except I drew my own derby skates on her. It sort of signified my whole “all out–but carefully” attitude about most things, especially in derby. Bonus: the little girl had SUPER curly hair like Myla.
Although someone recently told me I don’t LOOK like it (whatever that means), I have many tattoos. I even trained a little to learn to tattoo from artists in different places we’ve lived. I never really developed this skill the way I would have liked, but I have had some very brave friends who let me tattoo them over the years.
Myla wasn’t always interested in drawing. We spent three LONG winters in Fairbanks Alaska, which is well below negative temperatures for 8 months out of the year. My husband was deployed. Myla (who had just turned two) and I spent a LOT of time indoors. We had to find ways to entertain ourselves. This usually involved tea parties with water, stacking up megablocks, baking soda & vinegar volcanoes, and trying not to climb the bookshelves. Eventually, it turned into fingerpainting and drawing on ourselves. It was hard, but it was fun. By the time she was three, she began turning her little doodles into “monsters,” and was suddenly VERY into drawing (and has been ever since).
I like to sing. I don’t have a picture for this…but I learned guitar in high school pretty much so I could have something to sing along to. I have an alternate-life fantasy that I could play Fantine in Les Mis, Judas in the musical “Jesus Christ Superstar,” or Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors (mainly because they have the coolest songs). Bonus trivia: I get teary-eyed at the National Anthem and some spirituals. Basically anything with the big feels.
If I could have dinner conversation with any of my favorite inspirational figures, I’d want Terry Gilliam, Sia, Jim Henson, Amy Poehler, Maurice Sendak, Beck and Tom Waits. Okay, so it’d be a pretty big dinner party, but think we’d all get along.
I am a horrible cook. I am not domestically skilled in the slightest. Anything I do in that field is purely functional. All of the creativity I have in so many other mediums stops dead cold at the threshold of the kitchen. One thing that has helped: getting one of those services that sends ingredients to your house for you to make your own DIY weekly meals by following a set of instructions. It’s a worthwhile splurge. It’s like paint by numbers: I don’t really know what I’m doing, but BAM–I have a delicious meal when I’m done.
I’m a perfectionist. The funny thing is, I THOUGHT I was pretty “laid back.” This line from my sketchbook explains it all: “I didn’t want to be perfect. I just didn’t want to make any mistakes.” …Yeah, I actually SAID that to a counselor once, and it wasn’t til those words came out of my mouth that I realized THAT was what being a perfectionist IS. I think it got worse with the deployments, and having full responsibility of the happiness and care of our kid on my own in Alaska. That’s a lot of pressure! Nothing in our lives is perfect, of course. But the fact that it wasn’t (and couldn’t be) and I expected it to be, frustrated me and made me feel bad about the way I was handling things. It’s weird, but I’m working on it.
Random tidbit: If you had asked me when I was five, I might have told you I wanted to be a ballerina and a vet. Which is funny, because I’m completely clumsy (and I’d just make a horrible vet).
I hate magicians. I repeat: I. HATE. MAGICIANS.
Another random tidbit: When I was a kid, I used to think if I practiced hard enough, I could learn telekenesis. Don’t ask me why. It was a combination of a bunch of sci-fi movies and strange books. I was a weird kid.
In my natural habitat, I have a potty mouth, which sort of blossomed during my time in the military. Despite this, I DO NOT swear in front of Myla. Sometimes it’s hard, but I’ve learned to appreciate words like, “goshdarnit” and “DANG.”
We have two dogs. A boxer named Scout, and a boston terrier named Adie. They are both old ladies who love and tolerate eachother. And we love and tolerate them immensely.
Adie (the boston) was my “hairy baby,” so she especially took awhile to warm up to Myla when she was born (mainly this occurred when Myla became old enough to eat–and floor drop–solid food). Scout, however, has always been a big sweet teddy bear (except with other dogs. She has dominance issues, probably from being bossed around by the boston).
I’m forty-one. Yeah, you heard me. If you’re young, I know that sounds ancient, but you know what’s awesome about forty? I. Don’t. CARE. I know who I am, and I’m pretty happy with that. I’m introverted, but I’m not shy. I’m awkward, but I can handle myself. I’m like a happy little snail with my shell, and I come out when I want, and I tuck in when I want. And I’m totally comfortable with that. Now the fun part is getting to know OTHER people!
I have a back disorder that I discovered after an injury in the army. I have some fairly rare thing called B27 in my blood that they don’t really understand (my sister has it too, surprisingly). They classify it as “spondyloarthritis,” which basically means “ongoing chronic back pain that we don’t understand and can’t really do anything about.” It’s always been a sharp pain in the same exact spot. Sometimes I am fine, and other times I’m in so much pain that I can barely walk. It’s become such a normal thing to live with, that even I get tired of complaining about it, so I just grin & bear it, because what else can ya do? But it basically means I’m in some level of back discomfort AT ALL TIMES. I’ve tried every treatment I have access to–from injections to infusions to medication–and they’ve all either had horrific side effects, or didn’t help in the slightest.
I love my job. I work from distance as a graphic artist for the army’s MWR in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. I design posters for all of their events & facilities. I worked in-office for a couple of years, and when my husband was relocated with the army, I was lucky enough to have them keep me on. I love the people I work with–they were a great group when I worked in-office and they’re a great group from far away. Working from home sometimes means that my “desk” is occasionally on the floor, surrounded by dogs, and that in between work orders, I can throw a load of laundry in, or empty the dishwasher.
So that’s about it. And now I feel a little…exposed. Not my ENTIRE life in a nutshell, by any stretch…but enough to have fun with. So while I hurry and wrap myself up tightly and snug back in my snail shell, what are some strange and interesting facts about you? Think of three things, and comment–tell me some trivia or quirks about your own life!
Have you ever had an idea that wouldn’t go away?
Ages ago, in a sketchbook, I toyed with an idea…what if aliens came down to earth in robot bodies, using the faces of our beloved icons to gain our trust so we’d let down our guard so they could more easily take over the world?
I know, I know. It’s an old chestnut, and old theme that’s been played out over and over again.
HA! Okay, just kidding–I know it’s weird. But that was my thought and it wouldn’t go away. So I drew two little sketches: one of Gandhi (which I can no longer find), and one of James Dean. And they sat in my sketchbook for YEARS.A year or two ago, I came across them again, and thought I’d give one a try…and pulled out the Gandhi to paint it.
And I liked it…but I didn’t love it. Because it wasn’t what was in my head.
So recently, I got a new sketchbook, hoping to get some ideas out…and I tried again, this time with James Dean. And it looked lame. Because it wasn’t what was in my head.
And one day, when Myla was flipping through my sketchbook, she said, “Oh! What is this?” I told her it was an alien in a robot suit, but I couldn’t get it to look right. “Can I try?” she asked. And of course she could.
And it’s AWESOME! I loved it immediately. It wasn’t quite what I had in my head, but with her new point of view, I think I have a great basis for a really fun and cool perspective. More fun, more playful that the very detailed thing in my head that I couldn’t get out. I can’t wait to work on it!
I think part of creating good art is that struggle artists go through in trying to make what’s in their head make sense in their own medium.
I’m starting to discover that although I enjoy the work of so many amazing artists, sometimes when I struggle with a piece, it might be because I’m imagining it in someone else’s style.
Weird, right? Let me explain: I’ve been struggling with another piece, one of Myla with her ghost-rats (she had two pet rats that died and she believes they’re running through the fields where we buried them, “playing with their ‘chothers.”). I tried it a couple of different ways, and even got as far as starting to paint it:
And for whatever reason it didn’t look right to me. And it was terribly frustrating. So I drew it again, in a different way, in my sketchbook. And it still didn’t look right. Because it wasn’t what was in my head.
So I closed my eyes, and tried to listen to myself. What does it look like in my mind? What do I WANT it to look like, if this version isn’t working? And surprisingly, what came to the surface was not my own work, but that of Casey Weldon…
You heard me. I imagined SOMEONE ELSE’S WORK. His work is lit beautifully. In my mind, my painting should have had similar lighting and playfulness and reverence…but it didn’t. And I was actually hindering myself by trying to make it look like HIS work.
It’s one thing to be inspired by someone, and another to fault your own work for not being like someone else’s. I have to realize that no matter WHAT I DO, this piece will never look like his. So I tried it again in my own way, and tried to listen to my own voice. And again, I asked Myla for her input. And this is what we did:
A part of me mourns for that beautifully painted imaginary piece that’s in my head, but I know it’s not real. And it’s okay! Sometimes a little perspective gives you new insight, and changes your opinion about what things SHOULD be and what they actually are.
I am lucky I have a creative little 5-year old for instant “fresh perspective” insights, but there are other ways to break out of your preconceived ideas…
1. Just start DRAWING. Have a sketchbook that’s JUST for ideas, wrong or right. Take “notes” in it, get quick ideas, but don’t limit yourself to “getting it right.” When I do this, it is UGLY. It’s very nearly stick people art. But at least the idea’s out.
2. Listen to yourself. I work from home, and I can tell you it is VERY rare that I don’t have music, tv, an audiobook, my phone or a movie in my face while I work or draw. It’s a bad habit that I’ve been doing for YEARS, and it’s not really fair to my brain / imagination / creativity. I plan to make more time to just SIT with my sketchbook and LISTEN.
3. Don’t stop trying. So the pieces above didn’t work. Am I going to stop with that? Well, I will if my brain is happy. But if those ideas keep trying to get out, I’ll try it again. And again. And again.
When I was in high school I was lucky enough to visit the Musee D’Orsay in Paris, and of all the incredible work I saw, the most memorable to me has always been the experience of walking into a room FULL of hundreds of sketches on paper and napkins and scraps–all of a man sitting with a scythe. Over and over again, this same image repeated in different ways. You can tell the idea was in the artists’ head, and he tried again and again to get it out. The room was FULL of drawings, rough paintings, even some small sculptures of this same figure, over and over, in a hundred different ways.
..And at the very end of the room, as big as the wall, was the final piece…
It’s called “Paying the Harvesters” by Léon Lhermitte. And the man with the scythe wasn’t even the only character in the painting. I think of that room often, and wonder sometimes, after all those hundreds and hundreds of drawings…did he feel like he “got it right?”
Sometimes, you get your idea out the best you can. Sometimes you get in your own way. Sometimes you beat it til something beautiful comes out. Just listen to your voice and you’ll figure out what to do.
I think about this time last year, I mentioned my distaste for Valentines Day.
But having a kid always gives you a chance to find a new appreciation for things you might not have even liked before. I always ask myself if there’s an opportunity to do something fun that I would actually like to do…so I asked Myla what we could design for V-day.
“Sugar skulls!” she said (she has seen Book of Life a few times lately). I considered how to make that work for valentines, and even asked friends to help with puns (like “no bones about it,” or “don’t be a bonehead” or something), but we decided to go a whole other route after we saw this:
They’re cute little candy huggers, and they’re perfect! But since I have neither a custom cutter or the patience to hand-cut 25 of them with an x-acto blade, I tweaked the idea a little, and we went with her second idea…
They’re so easy. Yeah, these look a little wonky, but that’s because I hand-cut them with scissors while I watched TV, and it took all of about 10 minutes. If your kid’s got mad scissor-skills (ours does), you could even let her help…(unless she’s SUPER engrossed in drawing her own imaginary superhero robots…which ours was, at the time). Kids don’t care if it’s wonky, though, because: MONSTERS AND CANDY.
A few glue dots and some Dove heart candies later, and they were all done! I’ll even pass along my monster template, and you can feel free to customize it, if you like! Just right click it and save it to your desktop. Stick a glue dot on the belly, press the heart candy down, stick a glue dot on top, and fold the hands over…And BOOM! Sort-of instant valentines.
So there you go! Whether you can’t wait for your roses and chocolate, or you’re a humbug like me, I wish you all a very happy Valentine’s Day!
(…Or at least I wish you lots of candy. Whichever you prefer. …Mmmm, candy.)
“You’re really good at drawing, mom. You’re even better than that lady that’s better than you.”
Um. I wasn’t quite sure what she meant by that, but it sounded like a compliment.
Then, with her head down, she said, “I’m not even as good as you. I don’t paint very well at all.”
Ouch. Now I know she doesn’t really feel that way. But being a mom of a whole 5 years of experience (trust me, I know from my sister–a mother of two teen girls–that I’m STILL in the beginner levels), I have learned enough to see this more as a confidence cry than an actual honest declaration.
She KNOWS she’s only five years old, and that my own many many (MANY) years on this earth has just given me a bit more time to improve in my artwork. She knows that the more time she spends on something, the better she’ll get at it. And she knows it’s not good to compare yourself to others, as long as you’re having fun.
She knows all that. But she wasn’t just being disingenuous, and she wasn’t fishing for compliments–she just needed to feel something positive. A reassurance that she was on the right track.
But it hurt my heart for her to not be able to see how awesome she is when she does what she loves. So I whipped up an idea to let her run with.
We’ve drawn together many times before, and our collaborations are fun. But it’s not often that SHE does the painting herself.
I had an extra piece of cut wood from an older project, and I sketched a face.
That evening, I laid a tablecloth on the carpet in the art room, gave her a few of my older (but still decent) brushes, and my palette of acrylic paints. I told her it was hers to paint any way she liked.
So she immediately went for the green.
Apparently, they had learned that song “Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah” that day at school, but to her ears, it sounded like “DINO…” And she imagined some happy little dinosaur-girl who (for some reason) was dancing around in the kitchen.
Using my “grownup” paints is a really good way to teach her to control the paint…that just a little change in water or pressure, how you mix the paint, how you thin it….it ALL affects how the paint goes on. All I did was watch her, and tell her how she could make it work when the paint was too thick or too thin. She noticed that when there’s too much water and not enough paint, it dries very VERY light….but that a little paint can go a long way if it’s thinned down with water a little bit. I thought of myself as bowling bumpers: letting her do all the work, but there just to make sure she didn’t completely throw a gutterball in frustration.
And after awhile she said, “You can paint with me, if you like.”
I told her that it was her project…that I had wanted HER to do the painting. “But I really like painting with you,” she said.
So I did.
I tried not to add TOO much detail. I didn’t want to discredit what she’d already done by completely painting over it. Her only request was that I not change the colors she had already chosen. AND OF COURSE I WOULDN’T! Why would I? They were already awesome.
So here’s how it turned out in the end…
And here is her sticking it over her own face…
I didn’t want to alter it TOO much, but I also wanted to join in with her, since she asked me to. I made sure to ask her before I did anything. I let her give me direction. And watching me, she picked up that a quick way to make scaly dino skin without too much detail is to paint dots on the face in a darker color. She learned that a little darker or lighter makes shadows & highlights. She ASKED me about these things, not because I sat her down for a lesson…but just simply from observing a fellow artist.
So I told her again: I have many years of experience, but I am not finished learning. I am ALWAYS learning. I love to learn new things. I love to watch other artists, and try the things they do, learn the things they do.
Yes, I have been drawing a lot longer than my five-year-old. But she has parts of her imagination that I no longer have, that are fantastically wonderful. Her artwork is just as valid as mine, and quite often even more amazing. Everyone has value. It doesn’t help to compare yourself against someone else. There is always room to grow and learn, no matter what level you’re at. And wherever you’re at–if you have a love and a passion for it (whatever it is)–that is an amazing thing.
…and GOODNESS, the response from it was overwhelming!
I’ve done posts in the past on the doodles I put in her lunch, but it’s been awhile since I shared them.
So a few things have changed…I didn’t like plastic baggies (’cause I’m about 73% hippie), so after awhile I got fabric bags, and just drew on a quarter of a paper towel. I used to love the notes my mom left in my lunches when I was a kid, so the idea was that since Myla can’t read yet, I wanted to leave a little something in her lunch to make her smile. She knows that hearts mean “love,” so I made sure to always include a heart on them. And since kids’ interests change SO quickly, I also tried to draw whatever she was into for the day, be it mermaids, Groot, Wonder Woman, or C3PO…
One day, when she was talking about school, she said sweetly, “if you WAAAANT, you can color them in….” (As an artist herself, I’ve learned that things seem “unfinished” to her when they’re black & white.) Now, if I didn’t want to, I wouldn’t. But I’m always up for a challenge…
It started out small with just a little color here & there, using her kid-markers…(but they really bleed into the napkin a lot.)
Finally, I started using a set of colored ballpoint pens, and sometimes some shmancy Prismacolor colored pencils, which are pretty quick & easy.
Sometimes if I’m really stuck, I’ll ask her what I should draw for her (she doesn’t get to see it, though, til the next day at lunch). Usually, though, I just think about what she’s been “into” that day. What her favorite doll is…or toy or show or character she made up.
This is a character she created, after some heavy Lego Ninjago influence. It’s a dragon-ninja. And on her napkin at lunch time, she gets to tell everyone about it, and they can jibber jabber about whatever cool things kindergarten kids talk about.
So now it’s become a daily thing. Every evening, I get her lunch ready, and sit down with a napkin for a quick doodle. It doesn’t take much time at all, really–especially for what you get in return (which is that you make your kid smile at lunchtime).
She doesn’t actually use them to wipe her hands. They’re all still in her lunch when she comes home every day. From what she’s told me, they sort of become little conversational pieces with the other kids at lunch. She’ll say “Oh, it’s the green crayon from Color City! Have you seen that?” Or, “This is little creature I made up myself, and mom drew it! ” …Which is fun for her.
I even occasionally dabble in banana doodles (like the Baymax one in the very first pic above). At first, I tried using a toothpick to “etch” it in (I think I had seen that somewhere? Probably on Pinterest.)… The results, while kinda cute, were a bit wonky. And it was awkward to draw. The point of it is that it’s supposed to be fun, quick…and EASY.
So I tried it again with a regular ol’ ballpoint pen and THAT was much more magical. (I highly suggest a ballpoint pen over a toothpick if you ever feel the urge to draw doodles on a banana.)
Last time I posted about the lunch doodles, I heard such great stories from you all about your own lunches as kids or the lunches you make for your kids–word problems, math problems to solve, love notes, banana doodles. Such wonderful things!
So there it is. I asked her once if she was getting tired of the doodles in her lunchbox. She said, “Oh, NO, mama! I will NEVER get tired of them. Please don’t ever stop.”
So, chalk that along with her verbal promise that she will “NEVER ever EVER be a stinky teenager,” and I guess for now, I’ll just take her word for it.
Even if she’s twelve. Hahah!
Having so many hobbies comes with a small price…where the heck do you put all your ART STUFF??? I’ve been lucky enough that everywhere we lived, my husband helps me make space for an entire art room or art area of some sort, to house all my art supplies.
So in the spirit of sharing, I thought it’d be fun to walk you through my art room…
When we were young & first married and lived in a tiny one-bedroom apartment, my workspace was just a big ‘ol industrial tool box. I kept all my paints, paintbrushes and tools in there, and they were in really bad shape. But I’d drag them out, lay them on the floor, and paint or draw whenever and whereever the mood struck.
Over the years, my work space has been everything from just a spot on one end of the couch, to the middle of the floor, to a rickety old art table in our very first house, and I’ve been grateful for every bit of it. I’ve had many many work areas.
But when we first moved to Texas, this is what my art space looked like:
Not too shabby! It’s an IKEA bookshelf/desk combo. But the desk space was always completely overtaken by whatever project I was working on at the time. A quarter of the desk is taken up by the sewing machine, and the desktop itself is covered in cut marks (because who needed a cutting mat, eh?). I placed a little table at one end for Myla (which was much too small for her, and consistently got covered in her projects), and the shelves at the end of the bookshelf were full of her art supplies. It was crowded, awkward, and I always had trouble finding things. The table desk itself wasn’t always the most secure mount, and one time it COMPLETELY collapsed with everything on it (much to my panic), and although I later reinforced it, I’d always been concerned that’d happen again. The other side of the room (not pictured) was full of broken bookshelves filled with junk. Literally, junk that I was just hanging onto that I reeeeeaaallly needed to get rid of, being held up by broken-down, falling-apart bookshelves. Still, I created lots of fun things there, and life was good.
But then when my parents moved to a smaller house, they got rid of a TON of furniture, and offered me a big wooden corner desk they had. I didn’t really have a concept of what it looked like, but I figured it’d be good and sturdy, and probably make for a much better arrangement than what I had setup. So after hauling it in pieces from Oklahoma in our truck, and after much toil and frustration, I finally installed the desk completely and did a huge art room overhaul.
The desk space now: BOYYYYYY was I glad we adopted that desk–what a difference a good desk space makes! There’s SOOO much room to spread out several projects at one time….
To the left of the desk, the IKEA bookshelf still comes in handy, holding all my finished Dream Creepers up top. The box in the top right is my resin / mold station. On the shelves I keep sketchbooks, some fabric, sculpting tools, patterns, beads, jewelry supplies, glue guns, my iron, sewing supplies, and paper.
(Also pictured below: the Boston Terrier, who assumes when you have the camera out, it is to take a photo of her.)
To the left of the bookshelf, is Myla’s little workstation. It’s basically a flat end of the wooden panel from the black IKEA desk laid flat on the floor (since she usually spreads her stuff all over the floor anyway). I “acquired” the window panel from my mom (thanks, Mom!), who got it on a visit to Japan…There are signed photos on the wall of Jim Henson (one from when I sent him a fan letter as a kid).
To the left of Myla’s space is the TV. (There’s also a closet full of mostly fabric, but don’t open that or everything will fall out.) The TV holds cutout stands that Myla and I did for the Austin convention last year. On the walls are some of my favorite roller derby shirts, mounted in embroidery hoops (a SUPER easy & fun project). And there’s one of the little plastic drawer bins for Myla’s stickers and paper and art supplies.
My “new” big ol’ desk: As for the desk area itself, I’ll walk you through it, from left to right. On the wall are some old paintings, along with three little shadow box sculptures my sister & nieces did for me. The hanging shelf holds a few of the ornaments and necklaces in my Etsy shop. There’s also an adorably colorful monkey-mermaid made by the very multi-talented Kendyl from BreakfastJones.
The edge of my desk: There’s an old Ottolight my mom gave me to try out, some portfolio booklets stuffed with some of the nicer finished drawings and collaborations. And I decided not to TOTALLY mess up this desk, and got a cutting mat. Tucked in the corner are my paintbrushes and my full set of Prismacolor Brush-tip markers (thankyouverymuch, Jerry’s Artarama in Austin!). There are about four in-progress projects on that desk. And those little mirrors next to the lamp? No, they’re not so I can stare adoringly at myself as I work…They’re actually so I can look up at the reflected image of the TV every now & then as I paint, since the only down side of this layout is that the TV is positioned BEHIND me, and it’s too much work to reroute the cable to face it the other way. Usually, though, I just listen to podcasts or audiobooks on my headphones anyway.
On the wall is artwork by Sarah Soh, the magnificent Aaron McMillan, Eduardo Vieira, and a portrait of another inspiration–Tom Waits–by John Mueller from BigPigInk. On the corner shelf, there’s a beautiful little tattooed lady sculpture by Goreilla (Sean Regalado), a little Wednesday paper doll by Ann Lim (Itzbitzart), and (although you can baaaaarely see it, a teeny weeny little hippo sculpture (cute little hippo butt cheeks and all) by Cassandra Jerman. Nearly all the artwork I’ve started collecting is from art trades done with artists I’ve “met” through Instagram. (Have I mentioned how inspirational IG has been for me? It has been.)
And the right side of my desk, with my sewing machine. The end of the desk holds some little shelves that a friend gave me when she moved, as well as a stack of projects and…well…STUFF.
On the wall is artwork by Zack from Oldesoul (who shares my love of Jim Henson), the very talented Maria / Bokkei (who did a derby portrait of me, as well as one of Myla and Donkey), and a print from the fantastically magical Lori Nelson (whose art space I had the pleasure of seeing firsthand when I visited in New York–I LOVE seeing where people create!). Oh and all my army stuff in the big red triangle.
So there it is! My lovely little workspace. And while I oftentimes STILL just spread out on the living room floor or curl up at the end of the couch with a sketchbook to spend time watching shows in the evenings with my husband, the new work area is a “happy space.” It makes me feel GOOD to go in there.
It’s my happy place to be. Sometimes, I just go in there and look around, and it makes me want to create things. So hooray for happy spaces! Where’s your happy place? Does your space inspire you? Is it a small little peaceful area, a big studio space, or a tiny spot in your room? Where do you like to create?
Sometimes I get asked if Myla and I still draw together. My answer, in short, is that YES, we do…but that it’s sort of changed a bit.
The collaborations we did were fairly simple, and happened–as I described in the post–pretty spontaneously, at first. Now that she’s a little older (she’s five ANDAHALF now), she’s not so interested in just simply adding a body on to a head I’ve drawn. While she does still enjoy it now and then, her interests (and mine) have changed quite a bit. So while our past collaborations were a such a wonderful and fun experiment, and we still do enjoy doing them from time to time, we find so many other ways to share our artwork with each other.
I started the new year with some new supplies, anxious to try some new things. Recently, I tried out some mixed media board, drew a picture of her sleeping, and wondered if it would work if I asked her to draw what she might be dreaming…
So she added onto what I had drawn, telling me what each thing was, and what it might mean. I asked her questions about it, had her tell me dreams she might’ve had in the past, and if she could draw them.
I later added on some pen detail, to sort of clarify what I thought she was trying to convey (based on what she had told me), and give it some decorative, dreamlike imagery.
And this is what we made. She dreamt of rolling toys, and the Shcar she had created. There’s a dragon in the top right, who carries her babies in fire. Most of her dream is protected by a unicorn with a shield-horn that wraps around her as she sleeps.
She was happy when she saw it finished, although it didn’t come without critique…she said I had forgotten to color the eye of the Shcar white (I later amended it for her), and that in her mind, the unicorn was actually supposed to be BLACK….but that one she was willing to overlook.
Another time, I wanted to draw her from a photo I had. When I showed it to her, I said, “I want to make a drawing that tells a story about creativity, and how your mind thinks of wonderful things. do you have any ideas?” She grabbed the pen right away, and started drawing…
She included dragons playing with her hair, dreaming of Legos. She’s imagining the Shcar she designed. She gave herself wolf ears, for fun. There’s a peacock on her shoulder, disappointed because he thought her hair was worms. And a sleeping mermaid, resting peacefully on her shoulder. I don’t know what any of it means. But I don’t HAVE to. It’s her creativity, it’s her mind. It doesn’t have to MEAN anything.
Again, she gasped with delight when she saw how I had finished it, but again, she had critiques. The mermaid was initially colored wrong. It’s apparently a toy she has (I had misunderstood which one), so I corrected it.
She asked why I drew circles around her eye, and I told her I was trying to draw the idea that artists see things in a different way than some people do. That it’s almost like having “special eyes.”
She asked me, “why do I look so sad?” I showed her the reference photo I used, and said, “In the picture I used, you weren’t sad, just thinking. I didn’t mean for it to look sad, I just meant it to look like you were thinking.” I told her that when I was younger, people often thought I was mean because I would quietly stare off at nothing while I was thinking, and that (along with my squinting because of bad eyesight), it made people think I was annoyed when I wasn’t. That made her laugh. She loves stories of when I was younger…
Speaking of when I was younger, Myla once said to me, “I wish I could play with you when you were a kid. We would have so much fun.” So I thought it’d be interesting to draw the two of us, around the same age, playing…
Before I gave it to her, I said, “if we were kids, what kinds of things would we do? I used to like to catch bugs, I liked dinosaurs and robots, aliens and animals. I bet we’d ride bikes together.” She thought that was awesome. But the first thing she drew was the “loves” above our heads.
(Awhile back, she asked me what my “love” would look like, and I drew a heart with BIG BIG arms. Hers was an envelope with wings to fly with you wherever you go.)
She drew our Donkey to the right, since we both have loved him for YEARS (I got him when I was around 8, and she’s had him since she was a baby). There’s a spider catching a fly in a web below us, which we’d probably both be fascinated and grossed out by. On the bottom left, she and I are riding bikes. You can barely see (as my hand is nearly covering it) that she is pouting on the bike, because even as a kid, she imagines I’m probably still the boss when we ride bikes…
Here’s the piece nearly done…
And the final piece: Myla and me, roughly 4 or 5, playing. And she’s right….we’d probably have been the COOLEST of friends. (..And I’m pretty sure I’d take turns on our bikes…)
She smiled a big smile when it was done, and had only one thing to say: “Perfect.”
Aside from my regular face studies, in my drawings and paintings this year I’ve decided to make more of an effort to try to tap into illustrating a message, or a meaning, or a feeling. I don’t mean a STANCE–I’ve not got any political or legal or religious statement to make in my artwork (there are others who excel magnificently in that), but more of something that means something TO ME.
I find (as an illustrator) that it’s one of the defining differences between “commercial illustration” and “painting”–I know I take things way too literally. There is not often any deep, hidden meaning in my work, and I’m totally okay with that. But this year, I’m going to try to tap more into what I’d have to SAY (if anything) in a painting….something I’ve never really done, unless it was a melancholy, depressing image when I was upset, like pitiful gothic teenage “woe is me” poetry.
And that’s exactly what happened with the first one I tried. I was in a hormonal funk I couldn’t get out of. Everyone has “down” days, but this one seemed neverending. I had no motivation. I wanted to cry all day FOR NO REASON. It felt like someone handed me a huge boulder to carry as I went through the day, and it weighed down everything I did. I had trouble really describing how crushing this feeling was. Instead, I tried to see if drawing it might help.
It felt like pointy-beaked birds nesting in my hair. It felt like ribbons of tears. It felt like a dark cloud. Still, drawing it still seemed to trivialize it a bit. It still felt like bad teenage poetry.
I debated showing it to Myla–I didn’t want to worry her or upset her. But when she saw it on my art desk, she asked about it. I told her I was doing a painting about feeling sad, and was trying to show how it makes you feel. She asked if she could add on, and why not? She drew a dragon tangled in the hair, trying to hold on. There are x-rays to “show what’s inside.” And little wind-up mice, crawling all over–into the heart, chewing the hair, chewing at the bones. She hesitantly asked if it was okay if she drew something creepy (because there’s a time and a place for creepy things, and school isn’t one of them..and also because it was my drawing and she wanted to know if it was okay), and I said of course–that it was what the drawing was about, that I was trying to show things that bother you, that upset you. She drew the thing that creeps her out the most–zombies (which she only knows about courtesty of the halloween sections at the grocery store, and the game “Plants and Zombies,” and from a few kids at school).
So she helped me with this one. And to me, it seems like a stereotype…a morose self-indulgence. Maybe I’m just uncomfortable with negative feelings. It must’ve helped, though, because the horrible funk passed not long after.
But every new journey starts with just one little step, and that’s my goal this next year…to try to see (from time to time) if I can start with very simple, little ideas, and get them on paper, without it being all melodramatic and serious. Not because it’s a “new year” and I have to “make a resolution” (I’ve mentioned how I feel about that)…but because I love trying new things, and it just happened to coincide with the new year. SO there. :)
And while I’m taking my own little journey, I’m wondering how it’ll influence Myla’s views on her own drawings. She is VERY literal (like me). She has an AMAZING imagination, but she’s not sure (spatially) why I have made things float around in the paintings above. I’ve told her the idea behind why I did it that way (that I’m illustrating dreams and ideas instead of THINGS), and she’s nodded, deep in thought. I can tell she’s mulling it over.
But I don’t think this means my artwork will get more “SERIOUS”–I think humor is a big part of what I enjoy (and not taking yourself too seriously is EXTREMELY important to me)….I just think it’ll be fun to see where digging a little deeper takes me. Where it takes us. Because as long as it’s fun and it’s making us happy, who CARES what it means, right?
…So what new things are YOU trying?
Myla loves to create. I’m not sure if all kids have this same sort of passion for different things, but with her and art, it doesn’t seem like just a hobby. It’s a fierce, overwhelming, and wonderful passion.
You can see it in her face when she has an idea. It’s in her posture, in her body positioning. It’s in the endless scraps of paper, staples, and tape scattered all around her feet.
She gets an idea, and starts pacing as she thinks it through out loud, figuring out a plan, then hunches furiously over her workspace, anxious to get the idea out. I recognize it because I do it, too. It’s just amazing to witness in someone else.
Sure, this means her workspace is in constant need of being cleaned & straightened up. Sure, we have tons and tons of projects taped to the walls, stuffed in drawers and baskets, and tucked away in scrapbooks and closets. But to me, having her be able to make an idea turn into reality, no matter how big or small, is worth every bit.
So the first day of January, Myla woke up saying, “I had a dream about a doll I have never seen before–but in my dream, it was mine.”
She wouldn’t stop talking about it. It overtook all conversation.
I asked her to describe it, so she rushed to her table, saying “I’ll just draw it for you.”
As she sketched it out, she asked, “could we maybe try to make it?” I didn’t really understand what she was describing, but when I said we could try, she sketched out step-by-step instructions.
“First, a tube out of fabric.” (Most likely, this idea came from watching me make my little Dream Creeper dolls). “Next, stuffing. Then, wooden wheels on the bottom. We could even use the wheels from one of my wooden racecar projects.”
It was a sort of sheep-car. She called it a “shcar.”
There have been times she’s had ideas that, for whatever reason, were impossible to make, and I’ve had to say no. But when I’m able, I like to do what I can to help her make an idea come to reality. Mostly because I know how GOOD that feels…
And when we work on ideas like this, the general guideline is that we have to use things that we already have in the art room. Thankfully, with a little wonky ingenuity (and after only an hour or so), we made it happen.
It would be much easier to have said “no.” It would have been very easy to “shush up” a kid. To tell her to go make something on her own, to not bother you, to go play.
But if she’s passionate about an idea, and you can help her make it happen, then wouldn’t it be nothing but good to TRY?
So here is Shcar.
Shcar is wonky and misshapen. His wheels wobble. But you know who thinks he’s awesome? Myla does. Because she helped create him. And I don’t think it’s the actual DOLL that she loves as much as the idea she had that became a real thing.
She’s shown kids at school her Shcar, but they unfortunately don’t see the magic in it that I do. I told her it was okay–that artists see and think about things in a different way than a lot of people–like we have magic in us–and that makes people see artists as “weird.” But honestly, I wouldn’t trade my “weird” creative brain for all the “normalcy” in the world.
I don’t think anything but good can come out of encouraging creativity, and encouraging someone’s passion. You have to be willing to recognize that passion and respect it, even if you don’t understand it. You have to make room for it, and feed it so it can grow.
One of my all-time very favorite things on this (despite the “stoner” reference) comes from director Kevin Smith:
So whatever you’re passionate about, KEEP DOING IT! Instead of discouraging it in others, KEEP DOING IT! And whenever you see it in someone else, whether you understand it or not, encourage them to KEEP DOING IT!
I’m not really a big celebrator of New Year’s…I don’t make a point to stay up & watch the ball drop, or give a kiss at midnight. Never have. I don’t MEAN to be a humbug about it, I just don’t notice it. But I do appreciate that people see the start of a new year as a new beginning; a chance to start over with something, to begin again, to try new things. The slate seems clean, wiped away of any negativity of the past, and full of endless possibilities.
But the thing is that EVERY day is like that! Every single day you wake up, every hour, every minute, every MOMENT…..it’s a chance for a brand new start.
You can CHOOSE to see the bad side of things. Negativity always speak MUCH louder than anything else. It’s REALLY easy to find it because it speaks so loudly (especially online, amIright?). It seems bigger, because it’s full of hot air. But if you look a little harder, a little CLOSER, you’ll find there are “good things” EVERYWHERE. They’re often smaller, much simpler, much harder to see, but there are infinitely WAY more of them, like the tiniest little fireflies, lighting up the whole sky for you. And sometimes, the things that LOOK like a negative might be a positive in hiding. It might not seem like a positive thing in your world, but as unpleasant as it might have been, it might have HAD to be there to be a positive force in someone else’s life.
So do what you love. Do what you feel. Share the things you love with the people that love you.
You don’t have the change the whole world at once; that’s too big a challenge. It’s too much to tackle all at once. But you can make a BIG difference in a very big way, by starting very small. With kindness. With sharing. With generosity. With empathy. With focusing on the positive. With GRATITUDE for the things you DO have.
You don’t have to pound your fists in anguish so much against the machine…just step out of its way. Be a stone in a passing stream. Do something small in your own world. Do something that’s a little scary for you. Do something different.
Those mistakes? They’re not always mistakes. There’s a chance to change them, and turn them into something better, every minute of every day.
I believe in change. It’s solid; it’s real. It’s a strong force that will happen whether you understand it or not. Try to embrace it and roll with it. It might take you places you’ve never dreamed…
So happy new year, everyone! But also, happy new month, happy new week, happy new day…I hope each one is better than the next one for you!
New York is full of people.
As someone who gets panicky at the thought of getting swallowed up by crowds and crowds of people, all touching and pressing into eachother, this thought was quite intimidating…but thankfully, not enough to hot-glue me to my home. So last week, I ventured out of my little cave to travel to New York to visit fellow artist Lori Nelson for the opening of an art show called Beasticon, to which she had graciously invited me to contribute.
As an army brat, I’m no stranger at ALL to travel. I’ve wandered over all PARTS of the U.S. and Europe since I was young. I LOVE IT! But as I get older, for some reason, the frenzied swarm feeling I get in a crowd makes me uncomfortable, and I do my best to stay away from those situations. (I used to stock up and hide out in my apartment for nearly the entire WEEK of St. Paddy’s Day in college when I lived in Savannah, Georgia, just to avoid the crowds.)
I’ve actually been to New York before, but in a different place, in a different time, to visit my very best friend. It seems like every person’s experience in New York is probably VERY different parts of the same elephant…
The cab ride there, jammed into the streets bumper to bumper and side by side hundreds of other cars when I first got there was slightly disconcerting. I was happy I wasn’t driving. “Holiday traffic?” I asked the cabbie. “Just rush hour,” he replied. I finally arrived in my friend’s lovely neighborhood, and could even see the Statue of Liberty as a little speck far off in the distance from her rooftop.
The day of the show, while Lori worked on fine-tuning things in the gallery, she sent me on my way to explore the Museum of Natural History. No problem, I thought, only slightly nervously. I was wandering the streets of Paris on public transportation when I was 16 without knowing the language, I could surely handle New York! She made it easy and sent me to the direct train there.
As for the crowds and crowds on the subway? I actually (strangely) felt quite comfortable there. I LOVE people-watching. And probably because everyone was actively GOING somewhere, I didn’t feel as swallowed up and impeded…it felt more like being part of a huge circulatory system, everyone moving, everyone going where they’re going, and not really getting in the way of anyone else. I liked that. And I think I ultimately decided it might not be the CROWDS that make me so uncomfortable as much as it is the feeling of my movement being restricted–my ability to GET OUT impeded–that puts me in a panic. (Good to know…)
Do you all remember me talking about my art drops? How I made five ornaments, and I was going to hide them all along my trip? Well, before I went in, I stopped at a side cart for a falafel, sat at the “Soldier” bench in front of the Museum of Natural History, and left my little artwork behind, tucked in a crevasse. (Later that same day, I actually got a wonderful email from the family who found it–a father taking his kids to the museum had stopped for a hot dog and they found it. The mom sent me an email thank you, telling me it made them smile–which made ME smile. Joy!)
“Would you like to go the bar, Mica? Would you like to go out and party? Would you like to see all the monuments and landmarks typical of our great state?” asks New York. “No please. I’d rather just go to the Museum of Natural History.”
Here are a few photos from the Museum, which had so many beautiful things to look at. Myla loves okapi (who doesn’t love something that looks like a giraffe with a zebra-butt??!), so I was sure to take a photo of them to show her later, and most people seemed to walk right past these amazing murals…
I kept waiting for the displays to blink and come to life, because doesn’t that happen in the movies? I feel like most of what I know of New York comes from movies…
I was hoping for a larger insect exhibit, but I made my way to the additional butterfly exhibit…I prefer moths and beetles, but the butterflies were beautiful, and I found one case with a few beetles in it…
I kept hoping butterflies would land on my hand or my arm, but apparently they sensed my longing, and avoided the opportunity for a photo op.
Next up: the Hall of Biodiversity. Holy cow! And kangaroo….and turtle…and…well, you get the idea. A full wall showing the different classifications of species in the world, with some amazingly artistic layouts… (Later, when I showed Myla the photo of this, she asked, “So, were they all DEAD?!??”….Uh. Yes.)
Apparently, they had an origami demo recently, and in one large hallway, this beautiful Christmas tree was FULL of origami animals of all kinds. It was amazing! I wanted to stuff it in my suitcase and take it all home.
My favorite room, though, was the ocean room with the big blue whale. “You have to see the whale room,” the lady at the front desk had told me. “We’re famous for that.” I wasn’t expecting much, but after the hustle of NY life, this room was quiet and dark, with only ocean sounds playing over the speakers. It made me take a deep breath. It made me sigh. It made me calm. It was sooooo relaxing that I decided to get my sketchbook out and draw for awhile. Nearly an hour later, I figured it was probably time to head out…
I got back just in time for the show to begin, and people started coming in right away. There was such a mix of different types of art, installation, and sculpture, it was altogether fun to look at.
There was a performance by Matthew Silver, who is apparently a New York staple, popping up all over to remind us that in a daily life full of technology, we might want to “slow down,” to “stop buying stuff,” and that “love is the answer.” I had done a portrait of him for the show, and he was nice enough to pose with (and even sign) it.
One great treat was getting to meet people I had only known online. I’ve followed the work of fellow ballpoint artist (and painter) Michael Fusco (who goes by @aicixhxan on Instagram–Aic Ixh Xan meaning “As I can”), so it was amazing to meet him in person, and see his amazing sketchbook firsthand, as well as talk art and ballpoint pens with him.
I will admit, that I have a great difficulty being a social butterfly, so while I did my best to mingle, I often just sat sketching in my sketchbook or people-watching (both of which I LOVE to do) at the front desk where a few of my books were, which caused several people (understandably) to mistake me for the secretary. (I work way better one-on-one. Crowds of people really do confuse me…) While I was sitting there drawing, a little girl came up to me and asked if she could draw for a minute, too. Not because she knew that I collaborate with my daughter. Just because she saw me sketching in a sketchbook and wanted to draw, too. :)
Next day, Lori showed me all over the rest of New York. We went to Stephen Romano’s gallery, and I saw the works of several contemporary artists I actually recognized and was very familiar with, and met a few great people. I got to see Lori’s studio near the Manhattan Bridge. She took me to the Neue Galerie, where we saw the works of one of my long-time favorite artists, Egon Schiele (who is sometimes very NSFW).
And whoops, uh-oh. I nearly forgot to hide the rest of my ornaments! After the Schiele exhibit, outside the Neue Gallery, I tucked one behind a no parking sign that was taped on a lamppost. Later, I balanced one on the ledge of one of the mosaic lampposts near Gem Spa. Lori took me to her favorite dumpling place, Dumpling Man, where I made her order ALMOST one of everything, and now it is MY very favorite dumpling place. (OMNOMNOMNOM)
Finally, we caught a show at the Cotton Candy Machine, where I also was able to put a few books up for sale, and got to see a larger-than-life piece that Lori did (and she showed me the bug that met an unfortunate end in the resin coating of the painting).
So there it is. My trip to New York to visit the Beast. And I learned one thing…..
New York is full of PEOPLE. And they’re not the intimidating, heartless, tough-skinned people they show you in the movies. It’s a place where you can ride the subway arteries, and pop up in a variety of VERY DIFFERENT WORLDS. Each stop is a new planet. I met some wonderful people, and while I still carried my snail shell, I found I didn’t always need to hide inside. So thank you to Lori for inviting me! Thank you to all the people I met. Thank you to New York, for not swallowing me up. I had a fantastic time.