As Is: Maybe it’s Magic, Maybe it’s the Work I Did

It’s November! While I haven’t been writing a novel, I HAVE been working very hard on a creative project. Possibly harder than I’ve ever worked on any creative project. I’m so excited to share it with everyone—but it’s not quite ready yet. It IS, however, very real and in a far-too-late-to-turn-back-now stage of production. I’ll be making an announcement here and on social media during the first or second week of December, so STAY TUNED.

I’m committed to keeping the project details a secret, but I wanted to tell you how I got here. On November 1st I read Anne Lamott’s pep talk for National Novel Writing Month, and I was really struck by the following quote:

“…You start now, as is.

‘As is’ is the portal to creation, to new life. ‘As soon as’ is a form of delusion and therefore soul death.”

Anne Lamott
The first Punky (8.28.19)

A few days before reading this I was sitting at my temp job, where I had a lot of time between tasks, and I decided to start drawing, just to draw. I drew a little rectangle and turned it into a dragon. I gave him some spots, and named him Punky. Then I drew a slightly more detailed dragon, trying to just draw and not get caught up in perfection, and I liked that one so much that I posted it on social media—my first art post in a long time. That same day it occurred to me to do some research, and I learned about a new process that completely changed the way I was thinking about a big project. The next day, I drew another version of Punky, and then I started designing my project and thought up a way to scale it down for December release. By the time I read Anne Lamott’s pep-talk, I had sketches and concept art, a thorough plan, quotes from multiple production companies, and a drawing of Punky for every single day of work. I shared Ann Lamott’s talk on Facebook. I was starting “as is,” and it was working. I titled Punky the As-Is Dragon, because that’s the whole point of him; you can’t be worried whether you’re drawing him right because he’s just a rectangle and there isn’t a wrong way to do it. He allows you to start where you are, and by the time you’ve drawn him you’re warmed up, you’re thinking about lines and color, and you’re ready to get to work.

Dragon Sketch (10/29/19)

As I continued to work and my big project began to feel increasingly real, I wondered: “Is this really all it takes to start making exciting art? Do I just have to decide to start where I’m at? And if that’s all it takes, why has it felt like I’m beating my head against a wall every time I’ve tried to make art for the last several years? Why couldn’t I do this earlier?” And that’s when I spotted the flaw in the “as is” philosophy. You first have to create the conditions that turn your “as is” into a place where your work can thrive.

Punky (10/29/19)

A year ago, I was using a 6-year old laptop with a broken trackpad and about 20 minutes of battery life that could barely run photoshop. My “new” drawing tablet was broken, but I could sometimes get the ten-year-old drawing tablet to work if I jiggled the cord just right. So in February this year I invested in a 12.9” Third Generation iPad Pro and an Apple Pencil: the best of the best of Apple’s drawing-capable products. I’m still paying it off. I was buying this at a time when money was very tight (just like now LOL), and I wondered: can I justify buying professional-level tools when I haven’t made any professional-level art in a long time? But if I hadn’t made that investment, I couldn’t have made any of the art I made this November.

Punky (10/31/19)

Once I had the iPad, I had to learn how to work in a whole language. It was my first touch-screen, and it doesn’t support Photoshop, which I’d been working in for more than a decade (and even if it did, other, cheaper programs are catching up and surpassing Photoshop for drawing). Everything I did in Procreate (the drawing program I’m using now) and on the iPad in general was so frustrating. Even very simple things would leave me stymied; I alway knew there was a way to do what I wanted to do, but I didn’t know how to do it. And every time I turned to Google for help with very basic tasks, I got a little more comfortable, and a little closer to the workflow I have now. Over the summer I used my iPad to design a shirt for my hashing club, which forced me to watch a lot of tutorials and discover some ways I didn’t want to work. In September I signed up for a free “Getting Started with Procreate” class at my local Apple store. I figured that, worst-case scenario, the class would give me some time to sketch. But it turned out the class was just me and the instructor, and I was able to spend the hour asking him every question I had about the program, rapid-fire. He even helped me with some basic iPad file management. I don’t think I’ve ever learned so many directly applicable things in such a short span of time. And thanks to that class, as well as those frustrating months I spent finding answers, when I started working on my big project I was able to just USE Procreate without being constantly frustrated that it isn’t Photoshop. I think I even like it better!

PorME Shirt 2019
Punky (11/4/19)

In addition to the technical aspects, it’s not a coincidence that my big project happened while I was working a low-stress temp job that allowed me time to draw on the clock. It’s not a coincidence that I didn’t get started on the project until I had the peace of mind of a permanent position lined up for after the temp assignment ended. It’s also not a coincidence that I was able to pour so much time and energy into this project during a time when I’m unable to run due to plantar fasciitis. Which might make you think that I’d make more art if I ran a little less—but I absolutely wouldn’t be making the art I’m making now if I hadn’t spent all that time running. And I wouldn’t have been able to make this project happen in such a short space of time if I hadn’t been sitting on the overall idea for more than a year. Most of the concept was ready to go. So even when it felt like I wasn’t making any progress, I was actually on my way, and putting all the pieces together. This November, when I started “as is,” I started on the strong foundation I’d already built—and in just a few weeks I was able to complete some ambitious work that I can’t wait to show you.

Punky (11/13/19)

I also worked really hard. I’ve put so much time into this. And I couldn’t have done it without help; the endless encouragement of my roommate at every stage of the process, the monetary AND moral support of two dear friends, the “That’s a great idea, you should do it,” of my family when I told them about it. And drawing Punky as a ritual really did help me to start “as is.” He helped me find a way back into my work every day, and I have 18 drawings of Punky for 18 days in a row of drawing. You have to start “as is,” every day, because how else will you start anything? But when you’re trying, and failing, and it feels like you’re not getting anywhere, maybe the work you’re doing now is building a better as-is for tomorrow.

Punky (11/7/19)

December Sketches (Sketch With Me!)

Officially closed out NaNoWriMo at 58,504 words. No, I didn’t make 70,000, but I’m still writing. And forget NaNoWriMo; it’s December. As usual, I’m trying to sketch every day of December, for a total of 31 sketches. I haven’t actually finished the challenge yet, but perhaps this third year will be the one!

I haven’t done my Dec. 1st sketch yet, but here’s the self-portrait I made yesterday. It’s my third annual Monday After Thanksgiving Self Portrait. A little less relevant since I didn’t actually get a day off for Thanksgiving, and also Monday was still in November this year, but what can you do?

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You can find my 2013 portrait is here, and the 2014 portrait here.

And, calling all artists, are you looking for a challenge? How about 31 sketches in 31 days this December? Join us! You can post sketches to your blog, and we also have a facebook group for posting sketches and encouragement. Just search for the closed group December Sketch-a-Day Challenge and request to join. Hope to see your sketches!

Day 13

Almost two weeks into the December Sketch-a-Day Challenge and I am caught up. What’s more, I never even fell behind—I’ve actually sketched something every day so far! I’m not going to post every sketch here, but I’ve been doing a series of portraits based on Photobooth pictures of friends (along the lines of the self portrait I posted last time). Here they are! Various levels of completed-ness, of course, and all created entirely in Adobe Photoshop. Thanks so much for letting me draw you, friends!

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Day 1

December Sketch-a-Day challenge. It’s happening. I can’t tell you how excited I was when two of my friends posted sketches to the facebook group today before I’d even started thinking about my sketch for the evening. And here’s that sketch, by the way, my second annual It’s The Monday After Thanksgiving, Work Sucks, and I Need a Haircut self portrait (you can find last year’s here.) And remember it’s not too late to join the december challenge;  you can post sketches to your blog or find us on facebook by searching for the December Sketch-a-Day Challenge facebook group.

I probably won’t post sketches here every day, but I thought I’d let you know that I’m off to a good start.

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NaNoWriMo and December Sketch-a-Day Challenge

Winner-2014-Web-BannerI finished NaNoWriMo today. I wrote my 50,000 words, and that’s a wrap for November. Here’s the graph; I even managed to stay pretty close to par all last week, despite traveling to Boston for a really lovely Thanksgiving dinner and weekend with cousins and friends.Screen Shot 2014-11-30 at 6.25.21 PM

I have a lot more time to do creative work than I thought I did, but I need to be working hard every month of the year, not just November. Last year, in the wake of NaNoWriMo, I instigated a Sketch-a-Day challenge for December. I didn’t finish in time, but Ruthanne of A More Colorful Life sure did and I still think it’s a great idea. So this year, I’m doing it for real. If you need an artistic kick-in-the-pants, please join us! I’ll link to your blog if that’s where you’re posting December sketches, and if you’d like to join the online December Sketch-a-Day Challenge community, do a Facebook search for the group I made (it’s called December Sketch-a-Day Challenge) and request to join. The goal is 31 sketches, 31 days.

The Sketch-a-Day Challenge is my big goal for December, but I don’t want to stop writing. I also don’t think I told you anything about my NaNoWriMo novel? It’s the self-indulgent telepathic dragon novel I never knew I had to write, and I don’t think I’m even fifty percent through the story at 50,000 hastily-written words. I have a lot of good stuff, especially good ideas, but a lot of those words are unusable and a lot of them will change once I figure out some answers to the Big Story Questions, and I’m finally at a place where I know which Big Story Questions I should ask. So I’m going to keep working on it. Most especially, I am going to take some time for outlining and researching and organizing—all the things I didn’t have time for during NaNoWriMo. I know I need to do lots of non-word-count related work on the story, and I know my sketch challenge will take up the majority of my daily creative energy, so I am setting a very small writing goal of 500 words a day. This makes a total of 15,500 words for the month. That’s sure a significant drop from 50,000, and I’ll top it if I can, but I think 500 words and one sketch every day will be enough to be getting on with. And I think I’ll get tired. But I think I can do it.

What are your goals for December?

Celtic Bull and Status Update

I was reading up on my Celtic Mythology, and I took a break to sketch an illustration I found in the book. The following is a sketch of a drawing of a stone carving of a bull. According to Celtic Gods and Goddesses by R.J. Stewart, the original can be found in Burghead, Morayshire, Scotland (Stewart, 16).

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I’m working, but I’ve been really discouraged these past few days. Sometimes, it’s easier to focus on all the times you’ve quit and let things slide than it is to focus on all those other times you’ve started up again and worked your hardest. You start to recognize every platitude and new strategy as something you’ve said and tried before, as something that obviously didn’t work because here you are again, back to where you started. I also recognize that the negative energy doesn’t help, so I’ve been cleaning and organizing and seeking positive inspiration (thanks, Dad) and taking care of myself (12 mile bike ride, woo!) and working. Writing the words and making the pictures is, ultimately, the only way to prove to myself that I can.

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.

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A New Painting

I could spend a lot more time perfecting this painting, but I’ve been working on it off and on for almost a year now. I need to move on. It’s a set piece with Vanya and Taniel, Wanderlust main characters. I painted in black and white because my book illustrations are black and white, but it’s not an illustration of any specific scene. Click the image if you’d like to see it a little larger.

VanyaTanielNewNewEarth

This is a digital painting created in Adobe Photoshop. Comments and constructive criticism are very welcome. Everything’s still a learning process, and I’ve discovered since graduating that I have a very hard time finishing anything without deadlines. Part of this is that I’m still figuring out my style, and how far to polish things while retaining a sketchy and loose quality to the work. Still figuring out whether the sketchiness is a choice, rather than a lack of skill or inability to take an image to the level I would like to achieve. At any rate, I think I’d learn a lot more by completing pieces and then making more work, rather than by agonizing over a very few pieces that never reach completion. I hope that “finishing” this piece, and sharing it here, is a step in the right direction.

People have told me they enjoy seeing my rough work, so here are a few in-progress pics for the above completed image:

First, I sketched this sketch and decided I liked it:Screen Shot 2014-03-22 at 11.49.03 AM

 

Originally, I wanted a futuristic city-scape for the background (I’d been watching a lot of Doctor Who, okay?):

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Then I started using photos of myself for anatomy reference. Someday this will be the first step, instead of the oh-crap-I’ve-already-started-drawing-and-now-that-I’ve-spent-three-hours-on-this-pose-I-realize-it’s-not-anatomically-possible step.

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Suddenly clouds, more anatomy reference for Vanya, and All The Trouble In The World with that face. I used a de-colorized still from a Studio Ghibli film for reference while working on the clouds.Screen Shot 2014-03-22 at 10.55.37 AM

I decided the city was way too much trouble, but still wanted to keep the blimps. Face is getting there.

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And nearly there. Goodbye blimps, hello castle.

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And the rest is mostly lighting and finishing. Scroll back up for the [as] finished [as it’s going to get right now] piece!

Ruminations on The Struggle

So I’ve ben sketching. It took me three months to post 31 sketches, but this week, I’ve done that many since Wednesday. I’ve also been thinking a lot about the struggle to make art, about what it all means. I’m at a point in my life when I’ve recommitted myself to my artwork and writing countless times, and I’ve been ruminating on how delusional it is to believe, every single time, that I’ve figured it out, that this is what I do from now on, that I won’t need to recommit myself again because this is it, forever. I’ve been thinking about how invigorated I am by change, by new routines and new ways of working, and how bizarre it is that with each NEW thing I think I have found the thing that will ALWAYS work. I’m realizing it is the change itself that always works.

This scares me, because I worry that in my quest for change, for newness, I will never be able to finish anything. This reassures me because I have been working on Wanderlust, a single project, for seven years, and I’ve never given up on it, not even for an instant. I get discouraged and stop working on it for months or years at a time, but I never truly lose sight of it, and I’ve never considered quitting. It’s only my methods of working that change.

I read an internet article recently about what separates amateurs artists from professionals. One of the things listed was that amateurs are always working, always perfecting, and never finished (I’ll try to find the article again to post later on, but right now I’m trying to finish this post before work). If I want to make the leap from amateur to professional, I have to start finishing things. I have to start sending Wanderlust out, I have to start getting rejections. I’ve been thinking about the amount of work I need to complete before I can do that, and I’ve been thinking about how to get it done.

We had one warm day last week. It got up to fifty degrees (F). I’m still in a good mood.

My current New Thing is returning to traditional media for sketches. It’s important to work with yourself, I think, to make things as easy as you can for yourself when you are asking for big efforts and great things. I, for instance, have developed an aversion to pencil dust. I don’t like it on my fingers, I don’t like how it collects in the bottom of my backpack when I store pencils and a sharpener in one of the pockets. So I was sketching with pen, for a while, and I bought some mechanical pencils the other day. They’re pretty annoying for filling in large spaces, and using them for loose work goes against everything I’ve been taught, but for right now they’re what I need for remembering anatomy and working through thumbnails as I prepare to dive into, and maybe finally complete, some real work and some illustrations for Wanderlust.

sketches