Upcoming book cover that was extremely up my alley. More to come from this project soon!
This past weekend, I exhibited at a tiny table at Spectrum Fantastic Art Live in Kansas City, Missouri, and per usual, it’s brought up a lot of feelings that have taken a while to condense into words. I have difficulty setting aside time to put my inner life into writing, at least on social media. This often applies even when a fairly major life event calls for it, as it sometimes seems that one must maintain a positive shell for the sake of one’s ‘audience.’ Frankly, I find this overwhelming and exhausting. My inclination is often to slip into that weird internetty ironic distance, or simply say nothing at all. It’s sometimes fun, but it’s not necessarily how I want to present all the time, and I’m trying to work on it.
The push and pull of how to go about being open and vulnerable as an artist has been on the forefront of my thoughts for a few months now, and it’s difficult to parse because it always leads back to the question of why any of us picked up a pencil in the first place. Did the little images in your head come to you, graciously, as a life-raft of control when you were trapped in tumultuous circumstances, or were they accumulated out of a collector’s sense to manifest your thoughts, in case they slip away? Is it about curiosity and technical play with your medium, or about sharing your story and gaining validation that yes, it’s Pretty F’ing Cool? I’ve come to think that it’s sourced not in some melodramatic “core of pain” but that the root is buried further, under a feeling of simply being slightly-outside. The impulses to control, collect, manifest, play, and share follow after. As much art-making is a primarily solitary field, it’s not just a mentally outside place, but a physical one as well. Keeping a clear perspective on yourself and your work can become a bizarre dance, its own push and pull between self-worth and technical skill. It's hard to know, fully, where you stand.
After two years off, with all this swirling around in my head, returning to Spectrum Live was like sloughing off a too-tight old skin. Four years ago, Spectrum 2 was my first real convention experience, and the deep-end cold shock of entering a space dedicated to our very specific type of picture-making was the biggest kick in the pants I’ve had since art school. Seeing so many heroes, living legends, many of whom I’d copied and admired for years, as well as new peers whose work spoke to me on levels I couldn’t articulate led me to question every holding pattern, every bad practice, every excuse I’d adopted in my work. Here was proof that there was a space for stories, and room to bring my own visual voice into the world! Here were so many who had kept doing the thing they’d loved, come hell or high water, and had bettered themselves, found support, and seen their work soar as a result.
Until I trundled onto the floor with my suitcases this past Friday and started seeing all the familiar names of friends, peers, and living art legends hung above the tables, I didn’t realize precisely HOW much I needed that environment again. The last two years have been fairly good to me, but my past not-so-nice life experiences often keep me in a state of hyperawareness, readiness that the next bad thing is around the corner, and often paralyzed with fear and self doubt. It’s not a good look. I’ll be turning 34 this year, but despite that, I often feel like a poorly socialized, deeply troubled child with few to connect with. After years of therapy, I have come to understand that it’s a feeling that can be tempered, but won’t be going away - especially in my more raw, stressed moments. To attend an event full of peers, and especially for Spectrum, is to simultaneously fortify my armor while removing it, all while honoring why the armor was needed in the first place. It’s a feeling of being uplifted, supported, and understood in a way I’ve rarely experienced.
The word “tribe” has been used a lot over the past few days, and I find it very apt. There is joy in seeing incredible imagery, discussing techniques and swooning over staggering I-Never-Would-Have-Thought-Of-That compositions, to be sure, but the thing that continually brought me to tears over the weekend was that so many of us, of all levels of experience, remained so kind, open, and bewildered at the love they received. Every "I LOVE YOUR WORK!" was met with an equally ferocious "I LOVE YOUR WORK TOO!" Imposter syndrome and mental health practices were a topic of continual discussion. The awards show on Saturday night was the emotional high, as was tradition, as we all made space for a night of pomp and reverence, honoring new voices as well as established ones. Bill Carman and Jeffrey Alan Love’s speeches spoke to me in ways I’ll be parsing for many weeks to come as I re-enter the studio and start to work again. I hope the show will only see further success, and I can't wait to see what beautiful images are made in the interim.
All of my thanks to Cathy and Arnie Fenner, and John Fleskes for giving us this little time to connect with open hearts, silliness, and curiosity. You guys have created a place for us all. Thanks, too, to Jerry Trapp for opening his home to us all, listening, recording our time there together, and being a relentless font of love for the whole community. Thanks also to Brynn Metheney and Michael Manomivibul for being open to dragging my mopey, self-depricating ass to that first Spectrum, when I was actively hating myself and my work. You two were fundamental in setting me on a very different path, and I’m excited to see where it goes. I’m honored to count you among my oldest and best friends.
I also owe so much to my fiancé, Adam, who is surely among the top ten most patient humans to ever have lived. To have such support and ceaseless encouragement for the first time is something that I never stop being grateful for. <3
This show and its community is something special, and I consider the pilgrimage to Spectrum to be vital. See you guys next year. <3
Pictured: lovely gifts and purchases by Cory Godbey, Ashley Lovett, Kate Pfeilscheifter, Dawn Carlos, and Happy Dragons.
My two contributions to the Miyazaki Spirit show, which opened at the new Sketchpad Gallery over the weekend. A few months ago, I was privileged to be contacted by Time Beards, the show's curators, to exhibit at an exciting new space alongside a pile of illustration and design talent from my little Bay Area 'scene' and beyond!
The lineup also included work by by Luke Harrington, Craig Drake, Tracie Ching, Nicholas Kole, Kevin Wilson, Malisa Suchanya, Krystal Lauk, Brynn Metheney, Patrick O'Keefe, Chris Koehler, Jacob Magraw, and Jeany Ngo. Eventually, the show received a few high-profile write-ups on various pop culture blogs.
In no time, the list of attendees shot up into the thousands. Despite the inclement weather, San Franciscans and non-locals alike stood in lines that wound down long city blocks for up to three hours, but none were turned away, and none left disappointed. Estimates topped out at about ten thousand approximate visitors to the gallery over the weekend. The response has been so overwhelming that the gallery owners have decided to host another opening for the weekend of March 12th in order to meet demand.
Many of the original pieces have already sold, as well as some of the limited edition poster prints that were available on site, but remaining prints will be available on the gallery’s website once the show is over.
Personally, this has been hands-down the most insane response to an art-related event that I’ve never seen, and I am tremendously grateful to have even been remotely involved!
Watercolor and Acryla-gouache, 13x17
Torn between love of homeland and romantic love, the Irish hero Oisin returns to the mortal world after spending 300 years in the land of youth, Tir na Nog. His fairy wife has given him her horse, and has warned him not to dismount. But of course, his feet touch the ground, all that time catches up with him, and he flits through all the seasons of a lifetime in seconds.
“‘O flaming lion of the world, O when will you turn to your rest?’
I saw from a distant saddle; from the earth she made her moan:
‘I would die like a small withered leaf in the autumn, for breast unto breast
We shall mingle no more, nor our gazes empty their sweetness lone
In the isles of the farthest seas where only the spirits come.’”
-William Butler Yeats,
The Wanderings of Oisin
“The Witch’s Knife”
Watercolor and Acryla-gouache, 13x17
The proud, long-suffering little mermaid is offered a way out at the hands of her beloved sisters. Romantic love, familial love, love for one’s own ambitions: all take their own course, but after a point, any connection between them cuts like a dagger.
Be sure to check out all of the amazing pieces for this week's challenge over at the Month of Love site!
Watercolor and Acryla-gouache, 13x17
My first instinct when confronted with conceptual art prompts is to fill the void of the (intimidating!) idea space with narrative, and this piece is no exception. I thrive on the tactile narrative details, the bits and bobs - who is present in this scene? What do they look like? What are they carrying? What's the weather like? What species of tree are endemic to this region? There's a thrill in trying to accurately transcribe the images created in my mind's eye while reading, purely because they're so ephemeral. There's a filter that lies somewhere between brain and hand, and it contributes to a piece involuntarily - whether in the lineweight of a stroke or the stiffening of a gesture. To me, at least, sometimes the sloppiest sketches are most accurate in describing the dream-image, and every step after that is a Sisyphean boulder-roll to return to that font of energy. The process often reminds me of putting words to a dream - poignant moments from sleep feel so much smaller once you relate them out loud.
Very early on, for this piece, I settled on Midsummer Night's Dream, which features three stories of love and disguise, but the most interesting visually is that of the royal couple of the fairies, Titania and Oberon, who are having a bit of a marital spat. I set out to do a straight interpretation of the play, but an Angela Carter story that I’d recently read wound up tinging all of my sketches…. so I gave in and just illustrated that instead. Carter was a British author who is best remembered for her efforts in un-Disney-fying fairytales and distilling them to their baser elements. Inthe short story “Overture and Incidental Music from Midsummer Night’s Dream,” she turns her sights on Shakespeare, and offers a little prelude in the form of a bawdy parody, set before the story of the play begins.
So. In this adaptation, the barely-mentioned reason for Titania and Oberon’s feud in Midsummer, the “Indian changeling,” is drawn to the center of the story, and is transformed into the sexually ambiguous figure of “The Golden Herm.” The stately setting in the play, a forest outside Athens, is replaced with the Romantic's landscape in England: a groomed, if soggy, garden. Queen Titania, now a baby-hungry buxom giantess, seeks to possess the Herm and to mother it as her fertility-goddess instinct calls. Nature is in tumult, and torrential rains strike as a result of King Oberon’s sexual fury at not having the Herm - and, by extension, Titania herself. All the fairies have colds. The Herm punctuates his/her narration with sneezes. Meanwhile, Puck appears as a shape-shifting sex fiend, and he, too, scrambles to possess the exotic little figure. Throughout, the elemental couple never acknowledge one other, each driven my their overt slack-jawed gendered-ness and their inherent instincts - to breed, to seed. The Herm, however, wants nothing to do with anyone. He/she is inherently complete, content (with the exception of his/her cold), held at a distance in a magic bubble, confounding everyone’s desires.
The story is bizarre, absolutely explicit, vulgar, and a lot of fun. At risk of contradicting myself, for marketability's sake I wasn't willing to draw a literal depiction of the story, but opted to try to show the story in one image. Thankfully, desire can be seen in a glance, a gesture. Titania is wreathed in green, buds and mushrooms, animals and infantile faces peeping out from the moss, while Oberon looms overhead, announced by the dark of a storm. Puck lecherously looks on, twined in his antlers. All only have eyes for the tiny Herm.
The trappings of gender and the instinctual autopilot of desire can make any two people feel that they're not speaking the same language with one another, magical golden changeling or no. Ironically, Carter saw Shakespeare himself as lost in translation through time, hijacked by high culture, tidied up and censored for public consumption by the repressive morality of the Victorians. “Overture…” works from a feminist and post-colonial perspective to un-castrate the popular, sexual, and political thrust of Shakespeare, stripping away the boys-marrying-girls gender binary of the original Midsummer to re-insert a bawdy, dark magic.
Be sure to stop by the Month of Love site for a steady spew of incredible work, and maybe next week I'll go with some less wordy subject matter! :P
“Light is the left hand of darkness
and darkness the right hand of light.
Two are one, life and death, lying
together like lovers in kemmer,
like hands joined together,
like the end and the way.”
February already? If you must.
But the first peeps of spring come with a great honor: a few weeks back, I was kindly invited by Kristina Carroll to participate in this year’s Month of Love art challenge project. It’s headlined by some insanely talented folks who produce jaw-dropping work (and it’s set to become a no-doubt highly-sought book project soon!). Last year, I joined in on a few of the prompts for the sister project, Month of Fear, which runs in October - and found it to be very energizing in terms of setting a pace and theme. Sometimes you just need the right kind of limitations to stretch creative muscles.
The final act of one of my favorite stories, The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. Le Guin, sees its two protagonists, driven out onto the largest glacier on the wintry planet of Gethen.
The story is somewhat inscrutable, you’re thrown into a wonderfully wrought culture as abruptly as Genly is. There’s days of the week to learn, jargon, mythic histories of the Gethenian people woven in throughout. The story plays with bias, point of view, with what’s left unsaid. In the end, there’s understanding and love: romantic love, friend-love, and love of home …but each is the kind that’s tinged with regret.
Genly Ai is the First Mobile, a lone Envoy from the federation of planets to which Earth belongs, and he’s been sent to attempt to convince the political rulership of the world’s nations to join. But nothing is simple. Gethen’s culture is rich, its history is long, and, to Genly, its people are wholly baffling: the Gethenians exist as both male and female at once, and enter a sexualized state every month. Individuals can be fathers to some, mothers to others. There has never been a war on Gethen. Genly is wholly unprepared for a society and political system without political system without a sexually-derived dichotomy. There has never been a war on Gethen. His one advocate, Therem Harth rem ir Estraven, sacrifices her career as an influential minister to save the in-over-his-head Genly. (Written in 1969, the book uses the “he/him” pronouns for Gethenians in a neutral nonsexual state. In later books, when Le Guin refers to Gethenians, she uses “she/her").
Eventually, they’re forced out onto to the ice. There, Genly and Estraven haltingly bond - they’re truly alien to one another. But they learn to trust, and be comfortable with their differences in order to complete an unprecedented 81-day trek across an inhospitable landscape. During the journey, Estraven enters kemmer - the sexualized Gethenian state - as a female, and Genly, who thinks of her as neutrally male, ignores the implications. Their actions ultimately lead to sweeping change across the entirety of the planet. History will view them as heroes.
A bit narrative-heavy for the first shot out the gate, I suppose, but I get really excited when there’s a rich story working under the surface. That being said, quite a few elements of this piece were some refreshing non-comfort-zone subjects for me - corporeal people, for one, and people wearing bulky clothing, for two. The lighter, stormy color palette came about when the piece was nearly done - I washed a crisp blue sky out in favor of an overcast one. Snow and ice were also a particular challenge - I haven’t seen much of either, so much reference was needed. I’m a forest creature at heart.
Anyhow. I can’t say this enough, but I’m so thrilled to be included on this project! More to come next week!
Occasionally I spot the fruits of an art meme going around on social media, and it looks like just-too-much irresistible fun. That's what happened when I spotted some adorable renditions of "witchsonas" going around Twitter. I effectively jumped off the deep end for a morning drawing warmup, and... well... things got a bit... dark. It's barely a self portrait, yet she strangely bears a resemblance to me in the morning, before I've had my tea.
At nine years old, my assigned seat in the 4th grade classroom was near the bookcase, in a far corner. Being the studious type, I would often speed through any homework in class, and peer at the bookcase. One set of books, in particular, held my attention - each sporting a bizarre illustration with something that looked like a centaur-like-pegasus-like... thing on the cover. It was dark, baffling. Somehow, I had to read it. Very uncharacteristically of my quiet bookishness, I brazenly walked up to the teacher, and simply asked if we could read it in class. Imagine my surprise when, instead of being reprimanded, the teacher allowed it! During the reading, the rest of the children were confused, and often bored - but I was thrilled to my core. The book was Madeleine L'Engle's Wrinkle in Time.
Inasmuch as you can be defined as a person when you're nine years old, Wrinkle in Time was a threshold into multiple paths for me - a lifelong interest in science, a love for reading, the soaring interconnectedness of its philosophy, and the odd comfort the story offered me (as a very Meg-like child) that "fitting in" at school doesn't matter a bit when you've got a universe to save. As a rule, I try and reread the first two books of the Time Quintet every year... yet somehow it feels far too hallowed a thing to try my hand at this most-fanly of fan art. Well, until now. I'm intending this to be the first in a series of pieces dedicated to books I've loved.
I scoped out many different compositions, each with the intention of being viewed as a book cover: the protagonists, fleeing or feeling the scope of the challenges in store. Many of the compositions featured a graphic tesseract icon, which eventually I dropped purely because this amazing piece solved that problem so effectively.
I wanted to embroil the children in something larger than themselves, as they were in the story - not merely to show them fleeing from some undrawable "baddie." The antagonist that Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin face is depicted simplistically in the tale (simply referred to as "The Black Thing") but it collectively refers to anything springing from the worst aspects of ourselves: our fear, our hatred. The Black Thing is in us, in the children. It sings its own song. It caresses.
Above, in the stars, hover the shape-shifting, time-bending entities known as the Mrs. W's (Whatsit, Who, Which). Although they twine tendrils down among the children, they're held at a distance, fundamentally removed. Etched in starlight, they watch protectively, but leave the children to face their challenges alone. They're lit with starlight, bannered by hints at their angelic nature.
This piece was finished over a longer period than planned, (a spat of winter illness slowed me down) but I'm fairly pleased with the results. I'd like to revisit the kids' faces, some of the shapes, and perhaps work the graphic tesseract idea back in. While on some level I don't think I'll ever truly capture the joy of discovering L'Engle's classic for the first time with a pencil and paint, it feels just plain good to produce work dedicated to a story that I love. I'm certainly looking forward to more!