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

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A New Challenge for December

So I won NaNoWriMo. Here’s the proof:

Screen Shot 2013-11-30 at 6.44.32 PM

So, yay me?

It was a pretty cool thing to do. I wrote 50,000 words, and I’m glad I did it, but I don’t feel satisfied by this victory. I’m still hungry. It was fun to work on a different project for a while, but finishing NaNoWriMo doesn’t mark any progress on any of the other goals (writing and art) that I’ve been trying to achieve for the last couple years. I proved I have enough time to 50,000 words in a month. This month, I need to use that time to get stuff done.

I liked having a monthly project, though. That’s a nice, solid amount of time to focus on something. In December, instead of having a word goal for each day, I’d like to make some art each day. Therefore, I’m challenging myself to make 31 sketches during the month of December. My idea is that these can be warm-up sketches, twenty-minute sketches. A short exercise that won’t necessarily use up my entire creative output for the day (I’m hoping I’ll be able to sketch and then write, or sketch and then work on a more complicated artwork), but that will at least ensure SOME amount of creative output.

What do you think? I’d like to post sketches on the blog; do you want to see them? And would you prefer daily sketch updates, or a dump of several sketches every few days or week?

Here’s today’s sketch. I call it Grumpy Self Portrait. I tried to capture that back-to-work-the-Monday-after-Thanksgiving feeling, and I really focused on the expression and the asymmetry of my face. (And yes, I did a sketch yesterday for Dec 1, so this is sketch #2. I’ll share #1 later this week.)

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Please tell me what you think about the new project, and how often you’d like to see updates on the blog. Also, if any art folks are interested in joining me for this December Sketch-A-Day adventure, please let me know; it would be great to have some company. 🙂

 

The Creative and the Subconscious

I dreamed the other night that I owned a beautiful book. I’d acquired it at a great discount at one of those places one sometimes acquires beautiful things at a great discount—the bargain bin at NMU’s bookstore, in this particular case. It had a sapphire and lavender cover, the colors fading and drifting into each other like a sunset. Think the cover of Bitterblue by Kirsten Cashore (one of the [many] [really good] books I am currently reading), but shinier. It wasn’t a story book; it had pictures and text and paintings of magical creatures and words about how to write and how to make art and references for mythology and all other sorts of things. Or only a few of those things, or none of those things at all. What I knew was that it was a beautiful book, and full of all the wisdom and inspiration that I most especially need. Something I was glad to have, and something I wanted to hang onto. With a lot of reverence, I placed the book on my shelf—and here, I ran into trouble. The spine of the book held both the title (some word written in silver flowing script, with multiple S’s) and an image of a white creature, either a dragon or a unicorn. When I placed the book upright, so that the title ran the correct way and the book would open right-side up when pulled from the shelf, I discovered that the creature was upside down. Ah, I said. It was a discount book, after all. I flipped it over, so that the creature was upright and centered, braced against the bottom of the shelf—and now the words were upside down, and ran the wrong way. No matter how many times I re-oriented the book, I couldn’t get it right.

Maybe you’ve already guessed my metaphor.

Nothing’s changed. I still want Wanderlust (the writing, the art) more than anything, but I’ve gotten lost somehow. I’m tripping between the pictures and the words, not sure what I should be working on, and unable to accomplish, or finish, anything—and all the time hunched beneath and wading through the pressures of REAL LIFE, and most days too tired (or too engaged in other things) to make headway on creative projects at all. I don’t know which end is up. I don’t know which way to hold it, and I can’t seem to get it right.

I present you with this blog post sheepishly, ashamedly, like a thief who returns a stolen object at arm’s length, ready to run. I haven’t been following your blogs, or reading your tweets or keeping up with any of you, my internet friends and supporters, and some real life friends too. When I withdraw from the internet, I do so pretty completely. Also, I noticed that each of my sporadic posts over the past MANY moths ends with something like, “I promise I’m going to start blogging more regularly. No, I mean for real this time.” Therefore, this time, I make no promises. What I usually forget about blogging, though, is how it makes you write. Writing is writing. All practice helps. And right now, I do need help.

One more thing. Something I’ve been ruminating on for the past few weeks. November starts in, what, a little over a week? I am… eep… considering doing NaNoWriMo this year. You know, that crazy thing where you write a novel in a month. I’m still undecided, but more tempted than I’ve ever been before. More on that to come. Maybe. If we’re all very lucky, and I manage to write another blog post soon.

-G

First Week in Portland

So I’ve moved to the city. To the Big Town, if you will. It is not the biggest of big towns, but it is the biggest town in Maine, and it’s a whole lot bigger than both my college town and my tiny hometown. So far, I like it a lot.

My little room is great, my roommates are great, and I’m excited to start my new job. I got a free haircut today by volunteering as a hair-model for someone learning how to cut hair, and she did a great job! I even went for a really great run this morning. And, perhaps most importantly, I have a really wonderful desk. We found it at a yard sale yesterday, and my dad helped me move it in this morning. It takes up half the room, but that’s okay. I want my creative endeavors to occupy the most important place in my life, so my desk should be the most prominent thing in my bedroom. It’s symbolic in all the right ways.

And actually, I’m going to keep this blog post short because I just want to get to work. I’m also going to eat dinner, but mainly the getting to work thing. Ciao!

Drawing Without Deadlines

At about 11 am this morning, I posted the following status on the Wanderlust Facebook page: I’m working on a new Wanderlust illustration! Okay, it’s not actually for the book, but it’s got the characters and it’s in the same style. What do you think: Can I finish it in time to post it up on the Wanderlust blog by the end of the day?

It’s 8 o’clock in the evening now and I haven’t finished the illustration, but I have been working on it almost literally all day. I made that facebook post to challenge myself, because as I embark on the “Finish ALL the Illustrations!” stage of Wanderlust, I’m terrified that I won’t be able to get anything done without the pressure of deadlines. I’m also terrified that I won’t be able to draw anything good. Today, even if I’m not quite ready to show you yet, I’ve proved to myself that I’ve still got what it takes to sit and draw all day. I really like how this illustration is turning out and I’m enjoying working on it—two self-esteem boosters that make me excited to begin the rest of the illustrations for my book.

Here’s an itty-bitty preview just to whet your appetite, although it doesn’t give you a sense of the whole piece at all.

Screen Shot 2013-04-20 at 8.18.04 PM

 

The next challenge is to see if I can actually finish the piece within the next few days. If I can’t, well, then we’re in trouble… or at least back to wondering whether I’ll survive as an artist without scholastic deadlines.

-G

That Face

My relationship with making art is a lot more complicated than my relationship with writing. I have a few theories about that, but if I start writing that blog post right now I’ll be working on it for days. Right now, I just want to share this unfinished sketch with you. It’s hardly the most exciting art-thing I’ve done this week, but I need a little more time to finish the other pieces before I share them with you. I’m not even working on Wanderlust illustrations yet;  I’m just trying to get used to working with visual media every day, and I’m challenging myself to try new things and to bring a few pieces all the way to completion. This, though, I probably won’t finish or work back into—unless you think I should?

Adobe Photoshop © Grace Makley 2013

Adobe Photoshop © Grace Makley 2013

 

I used the really quick sketch of Vanya from last week’s post as a starting point, and he picked up the smirk somewhere along the way. There are probably already enough sketches of him pouting.

Vanya’s pouting face is something of a touchstone for me, artistically. It’s an image I return to whenever I’m experiencing a block or looking for a way to move forward, and something I never quite get tired of drawing. Artists: do you have any images or characters you draw over and over, or return to every time you get stuck? Writers: Do you have any themes or images in your writing that you use the same way? Please leave a comment and share your thoughts!

My Running Revolution

I started running again last week, and it’s changing my life.

The other day, my dear friend and email correspondent Constable Maelstrom and I discussed the concept of agency. How it’s easy to let things happen to you in life, and it’s easy to just float along and assume you can’t really control the stuff that makes you feel good, or the stuff that makes you feel bad. Well, as Constable Maelstrom said, to hell with that. When I went for a run last tuesday, I took agency in my life and my health. I said, to hell with not feeling good, and to hell with worrying about things I can’t control. What I can do, right now, today, is go running. I can do this good thing and choose to feel incredible, rather than letting the days pass me by.

Did I mention it was raining last Tuesday, when I took that first run of the year? I’m a warm weather person, and while I know that running is something I enjoy and something that enriches and improves my life, I have always allowed my running routine to be controlled by the weather. Tuesday was pretty daring for me, going running in the rain and the barely forty degrees. I went again Wednesday, when it was 37˚ and sunny. Lower than my ideal temperature, but I bundled up and did okay. Then, on Thursday and Friday, a cold wind blew. “It’s winter again,” I moaned. So much for my healthy routine! But it was sunny again on Saturday, so I did the thing and jogged around the block. On Sunday, it was cold. I sang in church, I joined my parents and their church group for corned beef and cabbage (and roasted carrots and Irish soda bread), I wrote most of a blog post, and we all finished Argo (which we’d started the night before. Good movie). At the end of the day, I felt kind of antsy and desperate. At dusk, and in just under 20˚ Fahrenheit, I went for a run.

This may not seem like a big deal to you, but for me it was huge. Prior to this week, I’ve never gone running in temperatures under 40˚, and under 50˚ only on very rare occasions. On Sunday, I took agency away from the outdoor thermometer. I stood up and said, I’m the one who gets to control whether or not I run on any given day. Me. I get to choose.

Since then, it’s been awesome. On Tuesday, I ran in a snowstorm. On Wednesday, I ran through the post-snowstorm slush. Yesterday, even though I’d given myself permission to take the day off, I ran because I ate deep-fried seafood for lunch (so yummy) and I needed to do something healthy to counteract the sugar-sauce and the grease. I’ve been for eight runs in the past ten days, and I feel incredible. I have so much more energy for every aspect of my life. My tummy is shrinking at an alarming rate (anyone else excited for bikini season this year?), and I’ve had the courage to take agency in other things, like correspondence, creative work, and employment. Good things just keep happening. We had a great set at the pub last friday in which I barely messed up my harp solo at all, and then we left early to jam with old and new friends until midnight. I’m making exciting new friends, and I’m having exciting new conversations with some of the old and dear ones. I even found a job to apply for (read my last post on Writing with a Day Job!), and it’s valuable work for which I feel well-qualified. I can’t tell you how excited I am about everything—and I think it’s all happening because of the running, and because of my choice to feel great.

All good blog posts need a visual, so here is a photograph of me.

DayoftheRun01

It was taken in Thailand, looking across the river into Laos. Here’s what the photo doesn’t tell you:

On the day this was taken, I’d had a terrible morning. Imagine being stuck on a bus for two hours with the radio set on the sappiest, most saccharine english-language love songs you can imagine—within a month from the worst break up of your life. Plus, my legs were absolutely covered with bites from monster mosquitoes that itched with a persistance American mosquito bites can only dream of. It was was also getting to that point in the three-week trip where we’d had so many new and incredible experiences, almost more than I could take, with relatively little time to recharge. It’s also possible that I was hungover. We finally piled out of the bus into at least ninety-degree weather onto a rocky plateau, the sun a hard orb above, and went for a hike just below the cliffs where we could look across the river and see some cave paintings. I was cranky, antsy, upset, and full of that bad sort of energy that boils around inside and makes your skin crawl. Even though it was the sort of weather where you’d sweat your brains out just standing still, I needed to run. When we hit the the part of the trail that headed back over land to the bus, I cajoled one of the guys on the trip to join me in a run. And then, I ran my heart out. I sweated and huffed and barely kept up, but I set my feet against the hard rock and pounded forward into the blazing sun and the still air and ran out all my anger and frustration and heartache. This picture was taken that afternoon, and you have no idea how much sweat had drenched and dried into my clothing and hair, but I think it’s one of the most beautiful pictures of me from the whole trip.