August 2010

In my day, we had sketchbooks. And they were uphill, both ways…

Random smart ass remark on yesterday’s blog post led to doodling and made me to want to talk about “journal” used as a verb.

The whole “art journaling” thing–my spellchecker doesn’t believe journaling is a real word, and I feel its pain, nouns should stay nouns, goddamnit–seems to have exploded at some point in the last year or so. At least, that’s the point where I found myself in a bookstore, standing in the art section, which usually bleeds into craft on one side and photography on the other, and instead of the usual knitting-and-polymer clay, it was suddenly full of spines with the word “Journal” and “Journaling” and lots of subheaders about creative journeys and getting in touch with your inner artist.*

Never loathe to pick up a new art form–I’ve had a lot of fun with assemblage, after all, which mentions journaling occaisionally–I have flipped through some of these books.

Understanding continues to elude me.

I think it’s somewhere between a sketchbook and a scrapbook and an assemblage art piece. Or something. The books (and they have magazines! There are whole magazines devoted to this! With articles with titles like “Journals That Heal” and “101 Secrets to Beautiful Backgrounds”) tell you to be bold and experiment, and don’t worry, there’s no way to screw up, this is your personal journey, there’s no wrong way to do it!

Then they show you dozens of carefully composed collages, heavy on the cut-out Audubon birds and art papers, laden with inspirational quotes, generally rendered by people with magnificent handwriting.

There may not be a wrong way to do it, but clearly some ways are more right than others.

If I was producing stuff that looked like that, they would not be “journal pages.” They would be “mixed media” and they would be “for sale” and I would be somewhat closer to paying “the rent.”

It is entirely possible that every person who does this is actually producing those, I don’t know, but I suspect sampling bias may be involved. (On the other hand, there are artists who’s sketchbooks are unbelievably elegant tightly packed miracles of drawing. My mother is guilty of this. My sketchbooks have large blank swatches and frequent obscenities, and it becomes obvious after awhile that I don’t really enjoy drawing. (Painting, I like. Drawing is more of a necessary evil.))

So I am skeptical. I am also skeptical of the themes of most of these proffered journal pages…it’s always hopes, dreams, the courage to create, soaring with your own wings, imagination, and Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Seriously, do cicadas never fly down these people’s pants?

I don’t know. I don’t want to slam anybody who gets a real, meaningful thrill out of dream-hope-believe etc. I draw hamsters with bras on their heads, I seriously do not get to judge anybody else’s creative outlet.  But I do find myself gazing at all these visually different but very much similar samples, and wondering if the editor just left out the pages with the incontinent beagle.

At some point, as I wandered the internet, attempting to fathom this mystery–was there something here I could use? I like writing! I like art! I can buy cool paper! This is just an autobiographical comic with an off-screen narrator, right?–Kevin came into the room and asked what I was up to, and I attempted to explain.

“But you have a blog,” he said.

“It’s different. I think.” I stared at the monitor, where some very nice woman rhapsodized about her journaling and how it was so freeing and inspiring and how she grabbed a few minutes a day to paint backgrounds, which, I have gathered, is not like what I do when I paint backgrounds, which is generally just tedious and involves atmospheric perspective.  “It’s…uh…artistic advice. Or growth. Or something.”

He gave me that one look. (Yes, the one some of you are giving the screen right now. Don’t think I can’t feel that!)

“I have no idea,” I admitted.

Never let it be said, however, that ignorance–or profound skepticism–stops me.  If I had an inspirational quote that I was going to stencil on the wall, my forehead, and the pages of my hypothetical journaling journal of journalness, it’d be the one from Twain that goes “All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure.”

I located a watercolor moleskine, and attempted to prepare a background on two of the pages, in accordance with prophecy and Somerset Studio.

It didn’t go well.

I then proceeded to write small amusing blurbs and draw bad cartoons of myself on the backs of the prepared pages, because it turns out having a small portable sketchbook is actually pretty good for writing down such immortal sentiments as “There are never enough opportunities to use Thieves Cant!” and “Why do we even have to have a conversation that begins with “Are those dirty socks on the windowsill?”**

Two days of this later, I decided that I was by god going to do a mixed media piece that reflected one of the sentiments in my journal, goddamnit. I shall not be defeated!  So I picked the one on the very first page, the one that I felt really said something significant and worthwhile and relevant to my life.

6 x 9, mixed media.

Apparently there is no way to do it wrong. So there.

As traumatic as it would undoubtedly be to part with this deeply personal work, torn from the darkest pages of my journaling, I’m willing to make this sacrifice. For…um….personal growth. Or something.

Prints available.

*I am not sure if I have an inner artist. I’ve been making do with the outer one for awhile now. Probably other people do have inner artists, for ease of storage purposes. I sometimes think I may have an inner accountant, since somebody in there worries about money, but that’s not quite the same thing.

**True Story.  An eight-year-old was involved.


There is nothing inherently, externally wrong with today. The weekend was lovely. And I have gotten stuff done today , it was fine and unobjectionable stuff, but I am nevertheless depressed and growing more so, for absolutely no reason except that I have PMS and haven’t heard back on the edits for my book for awhile and didn’t sleep well, and the upshot of everything is that I don’t want to do anything except maybe take a very long nap.

I know it’s PMS. I just wish that knowing that mattered.

I am attempting not to brood, and more importantly, not to wander into the bleak artistic underbelly of the internet. Reading about other depressed artists is fantastic if you’re a genuinely depressed artist yourself, but when you just have PMS, it merely leads to more brooding, as you talk yourself into all kinds of hysteria and attempt to assign actual meaning to your hormonal angst and let go of creative blocks that aren’t actually a problem for you in the first place, and you attempt to give yourself permission for something or other (I cannot help but envision this as a permission slip, saying something like yes, little so-and-so is allowed to go on the class field trip to the historic rope factory) when about the only thing you ought to be giving yourself permission for is sleep and potato chips.

This way lies madness and self-help books and “journal” used as a verb.

All that’s really happening, of course, is that the uterus is wandering around going “Hey! Anybody in there? No? Alright, let’s get this crap out of here!” and the ovaries, which are among the most personally malicious parts of my anatomy, are sulking and snarling that if they aren’t happy, nobody is going to be happy, and my endocrine system, a dumb, good natured Labrador type, is cheerfully playing fetch with all the hormones they keep throwing out.

Which is quite unpleasant enough without convincing oneself of further despair, thank you very much.

Art Confessional: Self Portraits

I never finished this painting, because while the background was kickass, the less said about the foreground, the better.

I come before you today, O best beloved, to confess one of my great artistic failings.

Actually, two.

No, not that I’m basically lazy and have more or less decided that I have proved my ability to paint an extremely complex background and thus no longer feel the need to prove it, not the fact that I have, on a half dozen occasions in Digger, copied and pasted previously drawn panels of Ganesh so that I don’t have to keep redrawing a statue that, after all, doesn’t change at all, not even, speaking of Ganesh, the fact that I occasionally screw up what side his broken tusk is on and then don’t go back and fix it. Nor is it the related fact that I am not a perfectionist, which is somewhat shocking in artists, but to which I credit rather a lot of my success.

It’s not even that I have, on at least one occasion, drawn species together that I know were separated by vast stretches of geologic time (Ambulocetus and Dodo, I’m lookin’ at you!) although I admit, I do feel a certain degree of guilt over that.

No, this is a much more basic failing.

I’ve never done a self-portrait I was even remotely happy with.

Artists do self-portraits all the time, it’s part of the schtick, half the webcomics people I know do quirky little comics of themselves, and I am eaten alive with envy of this, because I keep doing self-portraits and they keep sucking.

This is intimately tied to the second failing, which is that I have never yet worked out a stylization of humans that I was happy with.

With a larger nose and ears, I would be a hamster in a trenchcoat.

Seriously. It’s not just me. If I just couldn’t draw myself, we could have a long talk about my self-image and I could nod politely and agree that I have issues and then just draw myself with a bag over my head or something and call it good.

But it’s not just me. I can draw hamsters and wombats all damn day, but cartoon humans break me. I can do little kids, to a certain extent–they look sort of like hamsters, right?–but not adults, and even the kids are awfully limited. This is why the humans in Digger are so visually weak compared to all the other characters, and why I make most of them wear veils.

Now, semi-realistic, detailed portraits? Not a problem. I don’t do them often, but I can do them. My gallery is littered with examples. There’s a vaguely anime-esque style that I come back to now and again, and I’m pretty happy with it. But a quick little silliness? A five minute doodle to illustrate, for example, The Time The Cicada Flew Down My Pants? No. I try, and it’s awful, and eventually I default to hamsters. My con badge is a wombat, and believe me, it’s not because I have an active inner wombat persona.  When I did a semi-autobiographical comic, I drew myself as a chupacabra.

The end result of all of this was that, based on all the drawings that kinda represented me, fellow artist shatterstripes once said that her mental image of me was a vague impression of something short and chunky that never wore pants.

The only thing about this that works for me is the little Hello Kitty-esque demon heads on the boots.

This was, of course, inaccurate. I am not at all short.

It is a rather embarrassing thing to admit, when you’ve been a working artist for over a decade, that you can’t doodle humans worth a damn, even though most of the artists reading this probably already KNOW this, and have been politely not mentioning it, because we generally don’t bring up one another’s failings in public.

But I keep trying.  I try character design after character design, I beat my head against it, I try styles not even remotely my own, in hopes one will click, that I will finally find SOMETHING that work, something that feels natural and that I can dash off when I don’t want to sit and do a full painting, I just want to immortalize yet another time I was running naked through the house with binoculars.

There is precedent for this. I took ceramics for two years in college because I was really bad at it, and it infuriated me, since that was the first time in life I found myself being painfully bad at something I really wanted to be good at. (Life being what it is, this has happened to me plenty of times now, but I have not gotten significantly more graceful about accepting it.)


Maybe it’s the nose.  So many styles of cartooning humans seem to involve the nose being minimized or vanishing completely, but I have the impressive nose of a Roman senator, and if you remove it, I no longer look as if I’m plotting to stab the emperor on the steps of Pompey’s theatre, and thus no longer look quite like myself.



These honestly weren't bad, and led to a couple of paintings, but they also took a long time to draw, and various kind parties pointed out that I was making myself a lot fatter and with much worse hair than is actually the case.

I did those three vaguely autobiographical pieces in pink based on the above designs, and those were fun, and came out relatively well, but they were also not all that accurate, and they took at least as long to draw as anything else, so my hope for a graceful stylization that I could whip off as easily as a hamster did not materialize, despite rather a lot of attempted doodling.

Cute style, might work for someone else, but she looks like she might pal around with Holly Hobby. This is not a girl who has ever given a blowjob or accidentally flushed a sock down a toilet.
Marginally better, but I started to get a weird Family Circus In Fetish Gear vibe, and it still just didn't FEEL right.

While preparing this blog post, I went through my fairly vast archive of old abandoned sketches, and found exactly ONE quick doodle of a human that appealed to me.

There! Like that! Only without the bunny ears!

The only problem I have here is that my attempts to duplicate this look only seem to work if the character looks disgruntled and ready to punch someone. My life being what it is, I really don’t spend that much time disgruntled, so the kinks haven’t worked themselves out yet, but I do have hope.

This has no bearing on anything, but I found the sketch while I was digging up self-portraits, and really need to do a painting of it, damnit.

Horned Girl

12 x 24, mixed media

I painted this a good year and a half ago, and thus have no memory whatsoever of what I was thinking about at the time, except that apparently I was still in my vague-Klimt phase, and somehow that spawned a horned girl and her horned rat. Meanwhile, the painting has been kicking around my studio since then, and I keep meaning to get around to scanning it, and then I don’t.
I finally did scan it. Possibly I am just trying to avoid going down and putting more red paint on the walls. The bits that are done look fantastic, but lord, that’s a lot of paint…
The metallics failed to scan yet again–there’s a fairly intricate gold spiral pattern on part of her clothes, which stands out from the copper in person, but not on the scanner bed. Ah, well.

Prints available! Original for sale! Etc!

Go ahead and put it in my backyard

Following all the kerfluffle about the Islamic center that might hypothetically be somewhere near Ground Zero, I would like to make the following statement.

If anybody is looking to built a mosque in Pittsboro, North Carolina, you are welcome to put it in my backyard. I doubt anybody is, but if they were…

There’s a couple of reasons for this, one of which is the relatively commendable one that we have freedom of worship in this country, goddamnit, and being Muslim is absolutely are valid as being Lutheran or Jewish or my own vague humanist. And I am not one of those idiots that think the existence of a radical fringe of any religion means that every member is a terrorist, otherwise I’d be calling the cops on the local Baptists and screaming about clinic bombings, and really, this is just pointless and exhausting for everybody, and there are enough Baptist churchs around here that such behavior would really cut into my free time.

I freely confess that the other reasons are self-centered, though.

First of all, the wooded space behind the house is eventually gonna get turned into some sort of subdivision, whereupon I can kiss my beloved pileated woodpeckers goodbye, as they require large tracts of wooded area, and our little patch isn’t gonna be enough. I would much rather have a mosque. I imagine it would take up less space than a full subdivision and might leave some trees for my woodpeckers.

You want a muezzin and a prayer tower, too? Knock yourself out. I have a beagle. A call to prayer multiple times a day is nothing.

Secondly, we have far more churches than restaurants in this town. The majority are Baptist. There are also a couple of Mormon, a smattering of Catholic, some Presbyterian, and if you go a little way into the unincorporated areas, you get a lot of Methodists, more Baptists, and on the distant fringes, a lone Buddhist center and the Society of Friends. Go most of the way to Durham, and there’s an Eastern Orthodox place, but it can’t even be considered geographically part of my town. I would love a mosque just for variety.

Thirdly–and this is the really selfish one–the Spanish-language Baptist church about a mile down the road (and which would doubtless incense a good number of people who also object to mosques) causes no trouble to anyone and is directly responsible for the presence of the one really good Mexican restaurant in town. And I will accept a great many things if it means I can get good huevos rancheros.

So I have this fantasy that if we got a large enough Muslim population to support a mosque, we might get a corresponding ethnic restaurant. Maybe more than one. Islam is a geographically diverse religion, after all. We might get an Indian or Middle Eastern place. Heck, we might even get Croatian! (I have no idea what Croatian food is like, but as we have maybe a dozen restaurants in Pittsboro–including the Pizza Hut and the Taco Bell–I will be happy to try it out.)

Do I agree with every tenet of Islam? Hell, no. I don’t even know all the tenets, but I’d be really amazed if I did. But I don’t agree with a lot of the tenets of Christianity either, and we’ve managed to co-exist in town. We shop at the same stores and no one has died or anything. Yes, ideally I’d prefer a Sufi branch set up in my backyard, since I have a great love of the poetry of Rumi, but really, as long as you’re not batshit insane, I’ll extend you the same courtesy I do to every other religion–I’ll assume you’re not all assholes unless you prove otherwise.

Do I have problems with the way that some branches of Islam treat women? Sure. Who wouldn’t?  But y’know, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that if decent Muslims are anything like the decent Christians I know, they spend a lot of time facepalming and going “oh god, these people do NOT represent me…” In fact, I bet it bothers you even more than it bothers me.  So, y’know, I think we’ll probably manage.

Come on over. Put your feet up. Kevin will cook you a halal casserole. I will be over once the parking lot is laid out to try and convince you to put in native plant beds on the islands instead of grass. It’ll work out.

Slice of Life: Religious Division

We’re headed off to a baptism.

KEVIN: Fortunately, the Lutheran baptism is short and to the point…

URSULA: They dip you in cream of mushroom soup and sprinkle crumbled potato chips over you?


URSULA: Oh! No! It’s a jello mold and they sprinkle fruit chunks over you!

KEVIN:  (rolls eyes)

I am told there will be food and beer afterwards, which beats the Catholic ritual, anyhow.

Redroom, redroom…

It is possible that if I had known it would take three coats of red, plus a coat of primer, working out to a solid gallon of red paint PER WALL, that I might have given green a bit more thought.

One long wall done. And it is red, really red, fire-engine red, Fiestaware red, shaving cut blotted on toilet paper red.

I sagged down, exhausted, and said “If we hate this in six weeks, I’m gonna cry.”

Kevin, surveying the newly red wall, said kindly “If we hate it in six weeks, we’ll just live with it for awhile anyway.”

I almost hate that I am going to cover that wall in bookcases soon. I worked so hard on it. It is so very red.

Also, I love spackle. Spackle is awesome. It is like the universe saying “Ha! There is a hole! This is damaged!” and me getting to say “Nuh-uh!” Spackle gives me faith that nothing is irreparable–not hearts, not credit scores, not Middle Eastern politics.

Possibly my sudden desire to form the First Church Of Put A Little Spackle On It, It’ll Be Fine is proof that I am overtired and have been breathing too many fumes.

Tomorrow…another wall! The one that’s all windows, so there’s hardly any painting!

My ass. Ow.

Finally got my taxes done. Despite pre-paying scads (well, by my standards) AND having a credit from overpaying last year…well. Ow. I think I must have jumped over a bracket or something. I had expect to be about spot on…and…well…not so much.


But I can’t complain too much. This is about as much extra as I owed back in ’08 when I had to frantically run the Taxman print fundraiser to cover my expenses…and instead of turning gray and frantically checking my options, I can just pay it outright. Sure, it knocks out my Dragonbreath royalties for the last six months, but at least I GOT the royalty check before the IRS came knocking. It goes in, it comes out a week later, but at least it was there.

My savings account may never get to the downpayment-on-a-house point (my ultimate goal–not that I need to buy a house, but it’d be awfully nice to have the option, in case something goes horribly wrong) at this rate, but at least in two years I’ve gone from “OH GOD OH GOD OH GOD” to “wave at the money as it goes wooshing by.” Which is definitely progress.

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