The Tribe

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.

Are you a Good Witch, or a Bad Witch?

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.

I suppose this is represents the side of my personality that performs blood rites, steals children, blights crops? Sure!

I suppose this is represents the side of my personality that performs blood rites, steals children, blights crops? Sure!