Year End Reflections And A New Project

As I mentioned earlier, after the completion of my “Unlimited”series I’d been experiencing a bit of artist’s block. I tried playing around with a couple new ideas, but nothing seemed to stick.

Design is pretty much my constant state of existence similar to, you know, breathing, so I stayed busy with commissions, crafting, my day job, and involvement in the Creative Team at my church. It was one of my projects for the team that would be the inspiration for my next piece. Upon the usual late December reflection, I discovered the themes explored in this piece really parallel what I’ve learned in this last year.

The series this image was designed for was titled Whole Heart, and though I hate being videotaped, I was somehow coerced into it so you can view this video explaining the concepts and thought behind the design. For a medium I chose a simplistic watercolor illustration with bold colors and sharp outlines. This would make the image clear and easy to read on a small app icon as well as in larger print form. The style would also appeal to any age from kids to older adults. I was surprised how even with a “story” that seemed so basic, people could strongly relate to it on multiple levels. Hearing how touched many were by image made me want to develop the concept into a more detailed piece in my usual surreal, mixed media style. Right now I just have the pencil outline, but keep checking back for in-progress shots!

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The girl in this piece is doing something absolutely terrifying, and in no way should she be smiling or feeling any positive emotions such as liberation or elation, and yet …

I’ve always read things or heard speakers in inspirational youtube videos talk about the difference between joy and happiness, but for the most part it just sounded like a bunch of nonsense to me until this year. Suddenly – I get it. Happiness is about things that make you feel excited and content in the moment – it’s situational. Joy is about a balance of fulfilling what you need to be content, doing what you can to fulfill the needs of others or even the world or society as a whole, and learning how to deal with and process those desires that are not yet fulfilled, or those instances in your surroundings that are unjust, upsetting, or draining. Joy is about being your best self not just personally but in how you affect others.

Self care has been a huge buzz word this year, from making being comfortable into an art with lists of specific tenants required to reach maximum coziness level such as in the Danish hygge trend, to the increased conversation around kids needing “personal days” or “mental health days” in school just as adults get personal days off from work to reach their optimum ability and stay healthy. Articles about self care tend to revolve around taking it easy and giving yourself permission to indulge guilt free for the most part, but I read a really great article recently that discussed a far less popular part of self care. I suggest you read the entire thing for yourself, but the main highlighted, bold font point from this article reads as follows …

“True self-care is not salt baths and chocolate cake, it is making the choice to build a life you don’t need to regularly escape from. And that often takes doing the thing you least want to do.”

Self care could mean finally making that counseling appointment you’ve been putting off. It could mean finally seeking help for your alcohol or drug addiction you’ve been struggling with. It could mean having an uncomfortable, challenging conversation with a friend or family member. It could mean either temporarily or permanently cutting a toxic person out of your life. Doing the hard things will give you not the temporary happiness that comes from giving yourself a free day relaxing in front of Netflix with a fuzzy blanket and a bottle of wine (Because you’re still going to have to go back to that job you hate after the sun sets on your mental health day … I speak from direct experience.), but the joy of a life you don’t need to regularly escape from.

I have felt the most content and fulfilled this year than any to date in my adult life, despite the fact that I still experience bouts of anxiety from time to time, I still experience periodic stressers in both work and personal life at pretty regular intervals, and the fact that the news cycle and goings on in my home country of America have really, really done a fantastic job in 2017 of pushing the exact buttons that make my blood boil.

And that is definitely an awesome thing, but it is not even all about my own or your own personal well being or fulfillment. More and more, I don’t think the point in life is necessarily to be happy all the time; I don’t think happiness is the endgame.

Most moral people tend to think that the reason we shouldn’t do bad things is because though we may think those things will make us happy, there will be some deep, dark void inside of us that will eventually eat us alive or something. Unfortunately, I don’t think that is always the case. I think there are plenty of people who are perfectly happy celebrating greed, lying, assaulting and bullying, and causing great harm to others … until they get caught. Just turn on the news. That is why the level of our happiness does not always correlate to a good life lived. We may feel happier and more internally at peace living with our heads under the sand, ignoring all the problems and injustices going on in our world, accepting the unacceptable because “I can’t do anything about it, so why should I worry?” But … if every single one of us did that, how would anything ever change? Not that every person is called to be a world changer that will end up in the history books, but plenty throughout history have put themselves in some pretty miserable conditions in order to speak up for what is right – certainly not the road to happiness and internal zen – because the purpose of life is not simply achieving momentary happiness over and over and over again.

My hope for this new year is that we all continue to grow into our best selves, and continue to flourish in awareness, in empathy, in bravery, and yes, in joy.

Come at us 2018, we’ve got this :).

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Reunion … Alternate Title: Holy Crap I’m Old.

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Just this past weekend was my 10 year high school reunion, to which I actually made an appearance despite many fervent vows over the years that I, when the time came, most certainly would not. When I think of high school, I just think of awkwardness and lots of crying. I will let the following Daria memes do the talking for my overall thoughts on the whole experience, seeing as we were pretty much the same person. I even kind of looked like her when I didn’t wear my contacts.

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I put in a half-assed effort at mingling, but the real reason I was there was to see my core group of friends who I am still close with to this day. The golden opportunity of us actually all being in the same place at the same time was too good to pass up. The following day, I attended a baby shower for one of them with the rest of the squad, which is another thing that made me feel all awkward and adult-y.

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It is actually one of my life goals to never change a diaper even once, and I think I am putting in some good strides towards its achievement. I wish her all my love and the best though, and can’t wait to meet the little miniature version of my best friend sometime soon.

It’s funny to think about how completely 99.9% different we are after 10 years, but in some ways still so very much the same. This idea is something I touched on in my last post about my new project. You’re always going to have thoughts about the past like “I wish I would have known, I wish I would have done …” etc. etc., but putting some things in perspective early on never hurts. To conclude, I will leave any current highschoolers who may be reading this with some things I wish I would have realized that would have made the journey a little less tumultuous.

Not to use a cliche phrase, but you do you.

If you are naturally more introverted and are content to not be flapping your gums 24/7 during a school day, then don’t feel pressured to interject yourself into conversations just so that you look more “social” or “normal”. You will end up completely draining yourself. On the other hand, if you are aching to talk and get to know people but are holding back because you feel like you may say something awkward and embarrass yourself, don’t – just let it out. I mean, you totally will do it, that saying something awkward thing, but it happens to everyone and if you’re confident and can just laugh at yourself no one is going to give you a scarlet letter for it. By the way, you’re going to put your foot in your mouth plenty as an adult so you might as well practice up.

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Definitely work hard and do your best, but enjoy learning. Don’t overestimate the significance of high school as it plays into the rest of your life so that your only goals are to look good on paper.

Don’t waste your times on classes, clubs, or activities just because you feel like they somehow make you “look good.” Seriously, if I wouldn’t have spent every day coming straight home from school and going right down to the basement to draw until bedtime, I would not have the skills I have today in the field I actually ended up going into as a career. Having a long, exhaustive list of all this stuff that you do is only just that… a long exhaust(ive)(ing) list. Spend your time doing what you like. If that’s being involved in 15 different sports and after school clubs, then more power to you. If it isn’t, then don’t sweat it and don’t let anyone make you feel like you’re lazy just because you have different ways you like to spend your time. You’ll wish you had as much free time as you do now when you’re an adult with a full time job.

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Don’t obsess over having a date for formal dances.

Dates are boring. I had exponentially more fun during the homecomings I attended in a group with my single friends. You’ll have plenty of time for uncomfortable dinner dates as an adult, trust me.

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It’s ok to not be invited to parties. They aren’t that fun.

I know fomo can be rough, and as one who understands I have but one life to live and wishes to maximize the potential joy and newness of every moment, I still struggle with it hardcore to this day. But, I promise you, you truly aren’t missing anything. When you’re in your mid-20s, you will actually start making up excuses to avoid having to go to parties, because gigantic loud house parties filled with sloppy drunk people and bad music are tedious.

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And lastly, your hair doesn’t look bad.

No one is looking at you that closely, because in all actuality they are too busy obsessing over what their own hair looks like. I used to be hard-pressed to be out the door an hour and fifteen minutes after waking up for school, and that was with showering the night before and my mom making my lunch. Now, I get ready for work and am in the car in 20 minutes, and I don’t actually look like an ogre from outer space. Score!

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If you just aren’t feeling like high school is the “time of your life” it’s supposed to be, take solace in this … It’s basically all uphill from here.

The C Word – Every Artist’s Worst Nightmare

Though I’m sure many sweary virtuosos out there could come up with a laundry list of words unspeakable in polite society that begin with C (I’m pretty sure I know some of these people, quite well actually), the word I’m talking about in this case is criticism. Artists put so much emotional energy, so much of themselves into every piece, it is hard not to take “I don’t really like this” as “I don’t really like YOU, I don’t like your THOUGHTS, I don’t like your FEELINGS, YOU as a person are UNACCEPTABLE”. We have to develop a pretty thick skin.

My junior year of college, I had the opportunity to meet with a guest artist and have them review my work. I’d gotten kind of lucky up to this point, and most feedback I received went along the lines of “Whoa, this is so cool!” so I wasn’t too worried. I got there early for my scheduled appointment, and waited, and waited … and waited. I had carried my laptop bag and ultra-gigantic portfolio case packed full of stuff all the way from my apartment, through the woods, to the art building (I sound like Little Red Riding Hood). At that time I didn’t work out regularly, so I was feeling the strain on my non-existent biceps. I had also been wearing a winter coat, and seeing as I tend to sweat like a 45 year old obese man, by the time I had been standing in the heated building for more than 5 minutes I was embarrassingly drenched. I had to keep holding my stuff because I was just awkwardly standing outside a door in an incredibly narrow hallway where people were traversing, and there was no unobtrusive spot to set everything down. I thought my arms might break off. After waiting for an hour, it was my turn to meet with the visiting artist. I got 15 minutes before he dismissed me. In that 15 minutes, I was told that my art looked like it was done by mental patients or someone with no prior artistic knowledge whatsoever, but that it was “interesting and unique” (Seeing as I know many wonderful people who have needed mental health assistance at one point or another, I didn’t take the first half of his comment as an insult at all, though probably not the best choice of words.). I was also asked pointedly if I was trying to be an artist or an illustrator, the word illustrator spoken as if it was synonymous with “cocaine dealer”. I’m still not sure I understand this disdain. He also kept comparing me to the earlier student he had gone over by an hour with, to the tone of “He’s making art about important social issues and here you are drawing robots and silly cartoon animals”. The thing is, this kid and I were totally different people with totally different life experiences. To try to speak about what he was discussing with my art would be ignorant and a little offensive – I had never been close to any of those issues, why should I be spouting off about them as if I know? Even for my more whimsical pieces, I always have a message in mind that spurs me on to create the images that I do. There are different ways to speak, both in ways that are graphic, blunt, and in one’s face and also ways that are more symbolic and open to multiple interpretations. We need all types of art.

The next week, my drawing professor asked how it went. When I told him an abridged version, he simply scoffed and said, “Oh, well he has no idea what he’s talking about”. But, we should never entirely dismiss a critic despite their bedside manner. We simply have to sift out what is constructive from what is just a difference of taste or opinion (also knowing that some people just have that wonderful grouchy, never satisfied personality type). At the meeting I was also told that the figures’ proportions were off in some of the ink drawings of people that I brought. It was a movement-heavy piece including quite a few people on a busy street, but instead of getting references for each different position, I collected a few references to use for the main figures and for the rest simply filled in the blanks with guesswork. Now, even if I have to pose and take them myself I get references for every detail that is going to be included in a piece. It is time consuming, but worth every moment for the stress-free creation process from then on out as well as the end result. I was also told in some of my portrait drawings that the central figure looked disjointed from the background, as if cut and pasted on top of a flat stage-set. This is because I would always detail first not what part of the drawing made sense to begin with, but what part I found the most interesting (for me, always the person). Whenever you completely detail the foreground before the background whether in drawing or painting, it is much harder to try and color around that fully detailed, finished object and therefore you end up with the cut and paste on top of the background look. Background to foreground : this is something I tell my own students to this day.

In the years since then, I’ve done solo shows where the venue wants everything BUT the one or two pieces that I had considered amongst my favorites and had been really excited about exhibiting. I’ve had pieces of mine rejected from display due to a complete misinterpretation of the message, which then ended up upsetting someone. I’ve sold hand-sewn dolls at art fairs and had a begging child’s mother say right in front of me, “No, I’m not getting you one of those dolls they’re too ugly!” Art elicits strong reactions, that’s what makes it so powerful a force for communication and inspiring thought and change. We don’t know another person’s story, what causes certain images to trigger a negative reaction inside of them. Artists can’t take these things personally. Just because someone doesn’t like a piece that we’ve done doesn’t mean it should go in the garbage, but at the same time we need to recognize when negative feedback could be absorbed into our process to teach us how to do better next time.

Yes, on the surface, this is just a personified octopus slumped over a desk. Titled "The Devastating Awareness of Absurdity", the title is a concept drawn from existentialism. This image embodies the absurdity that we as humans face when we are forced into meaningless roles in which we will never fit, and don't belong living within. It also may just amuse someone, and if it encourages a smile, then that's good too.

Yes, on the surface, this is just a personified octopus slumped over a desk. Titled “The Devastating Awareness of Absurdity”, the title is a concept drawn from existentialism. This image embodies the absurdity that we as humans face when we are forced into meaningless roles in which we will never fit, and don’t belong living within. It also may just amuse someone, and if it encourages a smile, then that’s good too.

Another one of my drawings I brought to the critique. This is why you don't get discouraged just because one person doesn't care for a piece you've done - It was so well received elsewhere that I ended up using it as the main image on my website's homepage, as well as my logo for all business cards and print material before the newest one.

Another one of my drawings I brought to the critique. This is why you don’t get discouraged just because one person doesn’t care for a piece you’ve done – It was so well received elsewhere that I ended up using it as the main image on my website’s homepage, as well as my logo for all business cards and print material before the newest one.