Swords and Fear-Squirrels
It started with an episode of Adventure time called “Ocean of Fear,” in which the main character, Finn, has to conquer his fear of the ocean, which is personified as a smoke-looking creature coming out of his bellybutton, ultimately (SPOILER!) chopping its head off with his grass sword (DANG I love Adventure Time!).
That stuck in my head (as Adventure Time themes often do)…that Fear comes from your own body, and is created by you and your experiences, and that it’s up to you to just live with it tormenting you, or to destroy it.
So one day, I had Myla pose for me (because I’m an artist and it’s awesome being able to use my family as reference) with a toy dagger she has. I wanted to reference the episode in some way subconsciously, but I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do with it yet…
Hold up. Wait. This goes a little deeper than that…
Recently, I did an interview with Mother Maker, where I was asked about working and making a living from my art, and it occurred to me that maybe people don’t know that I DO have a full-time “day” job. I’m a graphic artist that works for MWR in Missouri, and I can do it from a distance at home, which I am SO extremely grateful for.
I always thought that maybe it wasn’t as respectable that I wasn’t able to “make a living” full-time on my artwork alone (goodness knows I’ve tried), and sometimes I’ve felt a little bad for that. Like I wasn’t “successful” (whatever that means).
But I realized in that interview, that exactly the opposite is true: the fact that I have a full time “day” job actually allows me the freedom to create in my home time. I don’t have to create artwork for other people unless I choose to. I don’t HAVE to take commissions unless I choose to. I don’t HAVE to illustrate toothpaste or Christmas trees unless I choose to. I can pay my bills with my job, and create in my extra time. I may not have 8 hours a day to create, but I just have to find it in smaller increments–something I became good at anyway when I had our daughter. Because of all that, I have the freedom to do things JUST BECAUSE I WANT TO.
And that’s pretty darn “successful” in my book.
So back to the doodle.
(Actually, come to think of it, I think that’s why I call them all “doodles:” because they’re just mine, and they don’t have to be finished if I don’t want them to be. I show them to share, but I don’t HAVE to. They don’t ever feel “precious” or “sacred” or “untouchable.” They’re just like special buddies you can scrap around with.
SO (ahem). Back to the doodle.
I used to HATE pencil (PTOOIE!). But our art friend Mab Graves sent us her pencils, and I was compelled to try them out with a clean heart…and I found a new respect for graphite! Ballpoint pen will always be my favorite, but I actually came to really appreciate pencil. I didn’t always like the feel, but this was smoother, less gritty, and with the help of Workable Fixative, you can spray it to keep it from smearing, and then when you paint on top of the drawing, it gives it a really interesting look.
So I started by drawing Myla from one of my reference shots. I was playing with proportion, and wanted things to sort of be out of whack a bit.
I had other plans, but as you work on something, it sort of “talks” to you, and sometimes if you listen well enough, it’ll sort of “tell” you want it wants. So even though it wasn’t initially the plan (and let’s face it: I’m not exactly a planner when it comes to art. I do what I want right as I do it, and RARELY do I ever draw it again to replicate somewhere else), it seemed to want buildings behind it. Old German buildings, specifically. I grew up in Germany as an Army Brat, and I’ve always missed the feel of cobblestone roads and buildings all smooshed together at odd angles.
And then, for some reason, I thought of Fear again. For me, it’s never been just one big looming thing that I can pinpoint. It’s often just little worries that gang up and annoy me, or pick at my hair. My Fears seemed more like squirrels: something quick and elusive. Something interesting, flitting around your head, but something you’re not allowed to get too close to. And they’d be sort of like a patronus, but made of smoke, never quite fully taking form before disappearing and leaving you with just that hint of nervousness and uncertainty…
(And I’m not even sure I fully understood that until I wrote it out just now.)
I drew the girl (Myla, but not really Myla) with a sword, ready for whatever’s next….except that I wanted her to be calm about it. Like she sees it, but she knows she can handle it.
Next up, I tried a tonal study, where you just lay out the tones in greys, so you can work out what parts should come forward and what parts could stay back.
(On a similar topic, while I absolutely ADORE outlines, I’ve been playing with the idea that there shouldn’t be any lines–that things take shape based on lights and darks. A light thing stands out only because the things around it are darker. I played with that a little here, but I’m still a sucker for an outline.)
I worked in acrylics on her skin, more as an experiment. I have been LOVING the way watercolor looks on top of graphite (after spraying on a fixative), like old etchings. But I wanted to see what acrylics would do.
I primarily used only about three colors to fill in light washes on the buildings. It’s a struggle, as I have a LOT of trouble finding interest in painting backgrounds, but I understand that it really does add great context to a piece. (Maybe the buildings are a subtle self-reminder that these fear-things stem from experiences you had in childhood, since mine was primarily spent in Germany…)
And as fancy and deep-thinking as I just made this all sound, it’s really ultimately just a doodle in my sketchbook, stemmed from an episode of Adventure Time. Maybe it’s not hanging in a gallery or painted in depth on a 15-foot canvas, but that’s okay. Maybe it doesn’t have some deep cultural impact, but that’s okay. I’m the luckiest girl in the world to have an art-related job, and still get to make art for myself in the meantime.
And that’s more than okay. ❤
C’mon, Grab Your Friends…
This year, Myla decided she wanted her birthday party to be Adventure Time-themed…and I was TOTALLY down with that. Because I’m a pretty big fan of Adventure time. And all of the characters. And songs. And everything.
I always look forward to the cake, because even though I stink at cooking a meal, I can bake the heck out of a cake. And when I decorate, I pretend like I’m on Ace of Cakes or something, and do my best to make it special.
I started by sculpting these Marceline and Marshall Lee figures from Sculpey, and building a little cardboard ax guitar and bass for them, since Myla requested they be the centerpiece.
And although I know kids aren’t a huge fan on fondant, I had read that you could paint on it with food coloring, so I gave it a try…
I started by rolling out a little plate full to practice on, and gave Myla a plate full to let her try it, too. I had read that you can put food coloring onto a plate like paint, but instead of water (which makes fondant gummy), you can mix it with vodka (don’t worry–the alcohol evaporates!). So we gave it a try, and it was SO MUCH FUN. It wasn’t even a struggle–it was just like painting with paints!
Once I decided it was going to work out pretty well, I settled on that as the final decorating method for the cake.
The night before her party, I baked, iced and cooled the 2-story cake. I broke a chunk out of it, which thankfully I could piece back together and glue down with icing, since it’d be covered in fondant. And since I’m terrible at fondant, it was full of wonkiness and lumps, which I promptly covered up in more decorative icing. BOOM.
Next, I waited til the kid was in bed so I could reeeeeally focus (plus, I told her that the final cake should be a surprise), and got down with painting TONS of characters all over the cake, around the clay figures. (I realize cake pros would cringe that the centerpiece isn’t edible, but I’m an artist, and I do what I want.)
I had intended to color it all, but as I started working, I realized I really really liked it in just black outlines, so I went with that…
(I swear, I love SO many of the characters on this show, and they’re SO much fun to draw….)
So there it is!
We blew up some purple balloons, which I decorated with Sharpie markers to look like Lumpy Space Princess, and downloaded these fun Adventure Time character masks from HappilyAfter Designs on Etsy.
I got several little goodies for the take-home bags, like Adventure Time slap bracelets and figures from Ebay, little individually-wrapped burger gummies, and random dollar store things. I also got some blank wooden beads and painted very simple character faces on them, and tossed them in little snack bags with random handfuls of beads and necklace string so people could build their own necklaces.
The least expensive goody bags at the craft store were these blank white ones, so I kept up the plain character theme, and drew them again on each bag, in Sharpies.
And that was that! Along with a few helium big balloons we bought online that my husband filled at a flower shop and a plastic table cover, it made for a pretty good Adventure Time-themed party!
Myla chose to have her party at a gymnastics center, where they have trampolines and a huge foam block pit with a rope swing over it. The good thing there was that they gave the kids an hour to play, a half hour to eat cake & ice cream, and then they boot you all out of there! So cool. No big cleanup, no mess at home, no all-day event. And the kids get worn out! WOOHOOOOOO.
And the cake? Yeah, the cake was a hit. Yay!
And remember my birthday sewing story a few posts back? Well, I took the fox pattern I bought from DolphinWing and made Myla the little arctic fox character who wears an orange shirt that she’s drawn for awhile and created herself.
(I think the dog approved. I’m not sure.)
So aside from all the party planning and prep, the big news is that WE HAVE AN EIGHT-YEAR OLD ON OUR HANDS, PEOPLE. She’s still so sweet and kind, smart and creative. I couldn’t ask for a cooler kid.
She’s a funny little goofball who still loves to draw and create, and had the best birthday week ever! Happy birthday, Myla!