A Weekend, A Sketch

Long weekends don’t mean too much to me, generally; I always have Mondays off. Brother came up from Massachusetts on Friday evening, though, and stayed with me and Brackett through yesterday. We checked out the newly renovated Dogfish Bar and Grill for lunch yesterday (I can recommend the 128 Free Street Sandwich) and then Brother and Brackett picked up some vinyl and a few Super Nintendo games at the Electrcic Buddhas nostalgia shop around the corner. They proceeded to beat Goof Troop in under two hours—a game that had seemed impossibly difficult when I was a child. Brother headed up to our parents house yesterday evening, and I’m following in a few hours. Sadly, I have to return my mother’s car. It was easier for her to leave the vehicle with me last weekend than for us to figure out the logistics of her and my father dropping me and another friend off in Portland on their way home from the retreat in separate cars in time for a scheduled event back home. It’s been really nice having wheels for a few days.

I can’t share the painting I was telling you about last weekend yet. I’m really happy with how that’s turning out, but it’s not quite done. My week was subsumed by another worthy project (yes I did make art during the week this week, though it was for a different purpose [an exciting one!] than my usual stuff) so I haven’t made too much more headway on that painting or my other digital art. I did make a sketch yesterday that I finished today, though, so I’m sharing that instead. I’m working on an illustration for the picnic scene in Chapter 4 (Wanderlust Chapter 4: City of Shadows) and right now I’m planning where everyone’s sitting and what they’re doing. I’m hoping to round up some friends to shoot reference photos this week (friends in Portland: I need about two more models for a picnic scene—let me know if you want to help!), so it will be good to know what poses I’m looking for ahead of time. I’m thinking Vanya will be in the background of the scene taking a swig of his drink. I realized I’d never drawn that before, so I did the following sketch as a study, using some stock photos as reference.

Screen Shot 2014-05-25 at 10.42.29 AM

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Weekend Retreat

If you read my last post, you’ll recall that working from home is a real struggle for me, even if I’m working on the things I love and the things I want to be doing. This past weekend, I received an amazing gift of time and space that let me do more work in a few days than I’ve been able to do in a long time.

There is a Franciscan Monastery and Guest House in Kennebunkport, Maine. It’s a ten-minute walk from the beach by road, and has beautiful, well-manicured grounds with walking trails through the woods to various shrines and down to the river near the mouth of the sea. Every year before the tourist season begins, the Guest House hosts a retreat for the Secular Franciscans from the surrounding states. A Secular Franciscan is a Catholic who takes vows to follow in the footsteps of St. Francis—but Secular Franciscans aren’t monks, and they are allowed (and encouraged) to get married and live in the world. My parents are Secular Franciscans, and they’ve been taking me on this retreat since I was very, very small.

When I was a kid, there were always older kids at the retreat who babysat and took care of the younger ones while our parents were at the retreat sessions. They took us to find tide-pools near the beach, brought us walking on the trails, and played frisbee and football with us on the lawn. We would sit at our own kids table at dinner, away from the adults, and steal second-helpings of pudding and third-helpings of very sweet iced tea.  As we got older, we became the babysitters for the younger kids. Now I’m twenty or so years older than I was at my first retreat and my parents have aged accordingly, but my parents are still some of the youngest of the professed Secular Franciscans. There weren’t any young families with children at the retreat this weekend, and there weren’t any gaggles of young children running around the grounds the way we did when we were kids. Some of us still come back as adults, but this weekend all my childhood friends were busy (the baby of our old crew was attending his Junior year high school prom) and I was pretty much on my own. And, in terms of making art, that was exactly what I needed.

While my parents went to the retreat sessions and spent their time in prayer and reflection, I went to a conference room on the third floor of the guest house and worked on a digital painting. Given large blocks of time to myself in a space without distractions, I was able to focus. I didn’t even have to worry about feeding myself, because the retreat included included bountiful and delicious home cooked meals served up three times a day. All I did on Saturday was eat, paint, eat, walk to the beach, paint, eat, walk to the beach, paint, spend some time with parents and dears friends, and sleep. I’m excited to show you the painting I was working on; it’s almost done! And of course we can’t be on retreat all the time, but sometimes time away from home shows us what we’re actually capable of when we don’t allow ourselves to be distracted. It was a good way to get back on track mentally and creatively, and I’m hoping to bring a little bit of quiet and focus with me as I travel through the weeks ahead.

Have you had any retreat experiences that have allowed you to get more creative work done that you could do at home? Where do you go when you need to focus?

Time Management 101

It’s Thursday, and I have the day off. I was working Thursdays for several months, so I’m not used to this yet; it feels perilously like a Monday, and I have to keep reminding myself that the weekend will arrive sooner than I think. I’ll get some stuff done today. Important keeping-the-ship-afloat stuff like laundry, dishes, and tidying up the apartment, and I’ll do some writing and artwork on down the line as well.

It’s hard for me to arrive at the place where the story and the canvas are the only things that matter. I get overwhelmed by everything else, and even within my own work I get overwhelmed by the choices. Should I write today, or paint? Is this editing the most important thing, or should I be writing new scenes? Should I be working on this painting that’s for improving my skills, or should I be taking reference photos and getting at the meat of a new illustration for the book? Decision-making is not my best skill, and it takes mental fortitude for me to even decide where to begin. And, if in addition to my pressing need to be someone who actually makes books and art rather than just talking about it all the time, the dishes also need doing, the floor needs vacuuming, the laundry needs putting away, it becomes even harder to choose my work over the work that keeps me happy and comfortable in my space. (I’m not a very good housekeeper, but I also get miserable when the house is a mess. It’s a constant battle, and the more I lose the less I feel like cleaning or doing anything.) This doesn’t mean I’ll actually do all the dishes instead of writing all the things when I get home from work; it just means I’ll feel bad about not doing either and watch another episode of House on Netflix. When I get home from work, I’m just too tired to prioritize and make decisions. I’m not too tired to do stuff—if there’s a scheduled event I’ll change into some nice clothes and go back out there—but if that stuff I’m trying to do is solely for my own happiness and personal improvement, then it becomes ridiculously hard to rally.

Today, I’ll get to the art because I have time to do the dishes first and pack up the laundry. I’ll do some writing at the laundromat, and then I’ll come home and have a cup of tea and keep working. I have all day, so all the things I want to do are more spread out and a little less pressing. I’m not so overwhelmed by the stress of deciding which to tackle in an alarmingly short space of time. I’d rather work only on my days off than never work at all, but I think my task for the upcoming weeks is to find a way to remove the stress of decision-making from my process when I get home from work. To transition from day job to vocation in a way that doesn’t open the door for all the doubts and decisions that I just can’t deal with at that point in the day. Does anyone have any ideas?

Do day-to-day decision hinder your workflow too? How you deal with the conflict between the creative and the mundane, when they’re both fighting for the same real estate in your 24-hour day?

What I did on a Sunshiny Day

Yesterday was Sunday, and Mother’s Day, and perhaps the most beautiful day we’ve had in Maine yet this year. Temperatures in the 70s, sunshine, everything you could ask for. My apartment, which tends to be a little cold during the winter, has actually been overheating. I forgot it did that. This winter was especially brutal. I’ve always lived in places with cold and snow in the colder months, but this year it seemed to just keep coming. I’m still a little paranoid about this Spring thing. I don’t quite trust it. Warm weather? Us? Must be some kind of set-up. Where’s the catch?

Yesterday was too beautiful to stay inside, so Mr. Huntington and I took the ferry to Peaks Island, the most popular of the islands in Casco Bay right off the coast of Portland. My roommate Brackett met us at the ferry and gave us a quick tour; his family has a cottage on the island and he happened to be out there the afternoon we decided to take our impromptu trip. After walking around some rocks by the sea and getting a tour of Brackett’s cottage, we walked down Island Ave to the ferry landing and sat in the sunshine and ate ice cream while waited for the next boat back into town.

The rest of the day was taken up with dinner, and laundry, and not much else.

What do you do when it’s a beautiful day, and you’d rather be outside than at your computer desk writing?

Is there value in disciplining yourself to the desk, to the work? What sacrifices do you make to further your craft, and where do you draw your lines? How do you navigate the boundary between distraction and things you need, things that feed you?

A Tale of Woe

Three weeks ago, while on a flight from Philadelphia to Jacksonville, my computer died. I didn’t do anything to it, it wasn’t jostled or harmed in any way. I was just scrolling around while I drank my in-flight ginger ale. I let the macbook attempt to connect to the in-flight wireless, and took a look at that illustration I’d been working on for a couple weeks.

Guess who?

Guess who?

And then my macbook slowed down, and stopped responding.

So I restarted it!

And never got past the long-in screen.

So I tried again, and again. Eventually the startup screen showed a blinking image of a folder with a question mark. This was the exact opposite of reassuring.Pmhp4

Consensus was, I had a busted hard drive. There went all my plans of being a semi-productive writer and illustrator while on vacation. The good news—the really excellent news—was that I’d backed up my entire computer before I got on the plane that morning.

I had no choice but to enjoy my florida vacation completely guilt free. I spent a lot of time with family I don’t see very often. For most of my life, holiday gatherings have been a four person affair (my mom, dad, brother, and me), but this Easter I celebrated with…well, we never did get a head-count, but at least 35 relatives of some degree or other. In Florida, everything everywhere was green, a nice contrast from the Maine of a few weeks ago. I went running by the Suwannee river, went swimming in the ocean in APRIL, paddled a kayak through salty inlets to the sea, and saw dolphins, wild horses, an alligator, and many birds.

Back in Maine, my first prerogative was a trip to the Apple store. They checked my computer in on Monday and told me I could pick it up on Tuesday. I had both days off, and the half hour bus ride to and back from the Mall took a good chunk of time from both days. On Tuesday, there was good news! They hadn’t needed to replace the hard drive; only the connector cable. All my stuff was still there, and my computer was back to normal. Much rejoicing, etc. I brought it home, and commenced browsing the internet and getting caught up on my favorite webcomics. And then, my computer, staaarted    to       slooooooooow                 dooooooooooooowwn.

I restarted it, and got stuck on the log-in screen for a long time. Like, half an hour. It kept trying really hard to function normally, but it took an intolerably long time to accomplish anything, and eventually crapped out every time. The nice fellow on the Apple Support line was able to schedule me another appointment at the store for after work the following day, an appointment I missed because my work day started and finished a half-hour later than normal, without warning (this week, my schedule changed to two hours earlier instead). In the end, I couldn’t go back until Saturday, where my computer was again admitted for repair. Got it back on Sunday, good as new, this time with a brand new hard drive.

And that’s the story of why my productivity has plummeted for the past three weeks. Now it’s the weekend. I have three days off in a row, I’ve warmed up with writing a blog post, my apartment is less of a mess than it gets sometimes, and I just finished my second cup of coffee for the day. I’m going to get to work.

I probably won’t accomplish a lot in the next few hours. I probably won’t meet my goals this weekend, this month, or even this year. But I have to keep plugging away at it, a little bit at a time and in whatever way I can, or I’ll never get anywhere at all.