Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Refugees Teach the Artist: Remembering The Land Before Time.

Let's travel back in time, shall we....

The year is 1988.
     I am 8 years old and completely convinced that my grown up life will be spent in merriment among the colorful and diverse group of puppeteers at the Jim Henson Studios.  I never once thought in the slightest that I would have any other profession nor had I drew very many  pictures up to that point in my life. I didn't consider myself an artist. I considered myself an aspiring  puppeteer and fancied myself quite good at it.

     I had made a puppet stage out of a Whirlpool dishwasher box and had a small collection of  puppets that my parents had given to me among the very many puppets I had made from old socks.  I used to perform puppet shows from my family from plays I would get at the school library or plays that I had been a part of in my church that I still had copies of.  I can only imagine what they thought of all this, but I certainly thought my shows were AMAZING. :0)
Even that year for Christmas, I received a very very  cool gift from Santa. It was my very own ventriloquists dummy puppet.  He was modeled after the iconic Mortimer Snerd. His name was Corky and he was a farmer, at least he looked like a country farmer. I didn't name him. The puppet company that made him I think names the puppets. I suppose I could have changed the name if I wanted, but I was OK with Corky.  I was so very excited about it and I practiced all the time to become very good at "throwing my voice."  My second greatest role model at that time in my life was Sheri Lewis and I can remember watching her Christmas Specials growing up.  She was an amazingly talented performer and a brilliantly creative puppeteer.
I wanted to be just like her.  So I practiced and practiced ventriloquism and (in my very humble opinion) became pretty good at it.  So much so that aside from the countless family and friends performances, I performed in front of a large audience of strangers at 2 separate School Talent shows.  Not bad for a slightly ambitious 4th Grader, huh.

     I still posses this relic from my childhood and Corky lives on a bookshelf in my studio apartment.   He currently is wearing my Red Nose from Red Nose Day this year because he is currently feeling  clownish and humorous.  I suppose, if I wanted, I could train up those rusty ventriloquism skills of mine and  it might be a fun party trick to have up one's sleeve, but I digress.  We should return to the year 1988.

     There were 2 very good animated features that were being released that holiday season: Disney's Oliver and Company (a modernized Dickens's Classic Oliver Twist told from the point of view of Dogs and Cats in New York City) and Bluth Studios' The Land Before Time (a story of the journey of a motley crew of dinosaurs that get  separated from their families and their journey to find them.)  I was very excited about both and definitely wanted to see both, but when you are 8, you don't always get to see all of the films you would like to, so you have to order them in the order that you are most excited about them.  If having to choose, Oliver and Company was my number one choice.  (Keep in mind this was many many moons before I dreamed of being a Disney animator, animation geek, Disney Nerd or a visual artist in general.)

     I don't think my parents wanted to see either film, nor did any of my siblings, because they did something that year that was unprecedented:  they dropped me off at the Mall Cinema-Plex somewhere in Virginia and allowed me to go see the movie on my own.  I was so elated that I got to do this. It made me feel like I was a "Big Kid" and it was probably the planted seed that made me so excited to do things on my own.  It was certainly a defining moment that underwrote my high regard for personal Independence.  I still go to movies alone to this day and I thoroughly enjoy that experience.  It's almost like stolen time.  In any case, I had my ticket stub for Oliver and Company and headed down the movie theater hallway to my theater.  I remember being surrounded by so many people as they came and went. It wasn't overwhelming at all for me to be in that crowd of complete strangers hustling and bustling during the Holiday Season going to see whatever movie they had chosen that evening.  I remember when I came up to my theater that was playing Oliver and Company, it was directly across from the theater that was playing The Land Before Time and I had a small moment of shoulder angels and devils.  I had, for a moment, considered going to see Land Before Time instead.  I felt mischievous because I had a ticket for a different film, even though when I was older I understood that all the movie tickets cost the same.  However, when I was 8, I wasn't completely certain of that. I used to think that different films cost different based on their popularity. I have no idea why I thought this, but I had. So I was going to theater hop over to Land Before Time after watching Oliver and Company. I ultimately decided the adventure too risky so I just saw the movie I had come there to see.  I ultimately was very glad I decided on Oliver and Company because it was decades before the film was allowed to be released for Home Video. It was apparently held up in disputes over copyright issues.  So I was glad to have seen it when I did, because otherwise I would have been an adult when I would have seen it first.

     It's ironic that the film that was my second choice had far more of an impact on me as an artist today.

     The Land Before Time was eventually released on Home Video the following year and my parents I believe rented the movie then eventually bought me the film for a Christmas or a Birthday.  I still have the same VHS copy and it still plays pretty well in the VCR. I kept it over the years because not only was it a wonderful film that I still enjoy to this very day, but also it's kind of a sentimental treasure that I can't seem
to let myself part with, so it's still around.

     So I watched/listened to the Land Before Time last week as I was cooking in the kitchen and I had an intriguing epiphany.  I think the reason I love the film so much is that it's story is so visceral, still culturally relevant, and told in a way that makes it's message something that everyone of every culture and age can understand completely.

     For those of you out there that have never seen the original film (I'm not talking about it's 20 million money suckering sequels. I'm talking about the very first film,) it is the emotional story about a group of unlikely young dinosaurs that are separated form their families by a predator, The "Sharptooth" (a T-Rex) and an Earthquake that splits the land in half leaving the young dinosaurs on one side of the divide and their
families on the other.
The young dinosaurs are then forced to go on what is seemingly a perilous journey to not only find their families again, but also to find "The Great Valley," a land rich with green food that is a stark contrast to the barren landscapes they are now doomed to tread upon to find their way there.  It's a very emotional and heartbreaking film, very powerful animation that speaks to the entirety of the human race.  I remember being so very upset when Littlefoot, the young Brontosaurus protagonist, looses his mother in the beginning of the film.
I was traumatized and I can remember crying when it happened. I couldn't imagine anyone having to  grow up without their parents.  I admit, even still, when I watch the  film, even though I know what is going to happen, it still grabs at my heartstrings and can move me to tears when Littlefoot hears his mother's voice in reflections or in the clouds in the sky or even in the long cast shadow of his own body. His heartache is felt universally and it still gets to me when I watch it.

     When you read between the lines, The Land Before Time is a Refugee's story.  It  tells the story of a War-torn country from the perspective on a young child that lives in such a dangerous environment.  The young dinosaurs are essentially orphaned by War which, in the film, is represented by predators, like the Sharptooth, and natural disasters, like the earthquake and the volcano.  In a world where none of the dinosaurs intermingle with any other dinosaur that is not of their own kind, these young dinosaurs who have no one else are quite literally thrown together with each other and they have to work through their differences to survive and find a way back to their families.  Its a very powerful analogy that tells of the vigilance of young spirits and the Strength in diversity, and the power of determination and perseverance in the face of the something quite daunting and the seeming impossibility that they would survive.

      What impacts me most about watching this film recently is that it has reminded me of the reasons I chose to work in Children's media to begin with.  The opportunity to tell stories with rich and powerful messages on a level that EVERYONE absolutely EVERYONE in every part of the World can understand, appreciate and be enriched, touched or impacted by in some way.  It's not an easy task to do and any children's or young adult author will tell you it's much easier to write a novel for adults than it is to write for younger audiences.  The reason is your limitation on words.  You have to tell you story with fewer words and still make it interesting, impact-full and powerful.  It's quite a challenge and there are several crazy folks out there, such as myself, that get excited about taking up that particular challenge.

     Standing in my kitchen and listening to that powerful story again reminded about why I chose to work in this field and refreshed my fervor to do it.  It reminded me of my love for the chance to tell something  universally; something that ANYONE could understand.  It was a reminder from my past as to why I  have chosen this journey I am on, sometimes seeming impossible and daunting.

     It was like a voice form the sky saying,"Remember who you are." Lol.  However that is from a different animated film all together.

     But, like Little foot and his companions, I continue through the barren wastelands and onward with hope to the Great Valley, or in my case New York, to see where the next "leg" of my journey takes me. It's a refreshing breath of crisp cool air to watch this film again and makes me very excited about my move this year.

     As Littlefoot's mother says in the film,"Somethings you see with your eyes, others you see with your heart."

     To all my friends out there that have not as of yet seen this charming gem, I encourage you to watch it.
The Land Before Time is a wonderful piece of animated cinema that everyone should see and enjoy.
I hope that you will enjoy it as much as I have over the years.

until next time, friends...
Keep sketching, keep thinking, keep laughing and most important of all, 
keep making art.  

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing: An Exploration of the Dark and the Light inside All of Us.

"But then I sigh, and, with a piece of scripture, 
Tell them that God bids us do good for evil: 
And thus I clothe my naked villainy With odd old ends, stol'n out of holy writ; 
And seem a saint, when most I play the devil."
-William Shakespeare (Richard III)

     What's in a Villain? What makes one a Villain? Do Villains really know they are one?

How do they get to that point?

     I have been thinking a good deal about this subject lately.  I have been thinking that I may perhaps have 
been one in my own story as of late.  Though, I have felt vindicated in my actions, I hadn't considered that 
perhaps, (though considering the circumstances that one might have reacted as I have done) I hadn't 
noticed how I have hurt others in my path until I have stopped to look at what wake I have left behind 
myself.  And though I will not apologize for how I have felt nor how I have dealt with the hand I had been 
given this year. I do stop to reflect that I honestly feel bad for others I may have hurt along this way.
It's made me feel like a bit of a villain as of late and marvel at the somewhat poetic nature of the 
destruction I have also caused.  I am by no means innocent and my thoughts have bent around this for 
many days now.  

     I have not been a space where creativity has come easy as of late, but I decided that I would make myself try to complete a project this week and be happy about it.  So I decided to participate in Illustration Friday.  This week's topic was "SHARP" and at first I thought of teeth (My JAWS nerd showing through candidly) However, I did not want to do another shark piece as I did one about a year or so ago and it was JAWS related and I was not in the mood to repeat myself or feel like I was just doing nothing but repeating 
myself artistically. This week I wanted a challenge, and that is exactly what I got.

     With teeth, my second thoughts drift from the shark to another rouged animal that seems to get the bad 
reputation all of the time, the Wolf.  The Wolf has been a standard Villain in many classic as well as 
modern folk tales.  The Three Little Pigs, Red Riding Hood, Chicken Little, Peter and the Wolf and so on 
and so on don't make the Wolf out to be much more than a most horrible and feared creature.  The Wolf is 
usually and more than likely playing the villain all the time in any story.

     Villainy has always been an interesting subject to explore.  That very exploration has become quite 
popular in modern day literature, film and even theatrical plays. Gregory MaGuire's enchanting novel, 
Wicked: the Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, has sparked an interest and even following 
for this sort of subject matter. The idea of the humanization and development of a very-usually flat 
archetype and the understanding of the journey of how one gets to the point being a villain.  MaGuire's 
story was made even more famous by its adaptation to the hit Broadway musical, telling the powerful and 
sad story of how the Witch from the West became so terribly Wicked.

     I've also enjoyed the exploration into one of my favorite Disney animated films, Sleeping Beauty, and it's 
iconic Villain, Maleficent.  The Angelina Jolie film is so fascinating.  Maleficent was always my favorite 
Disney film villain because she seemed so incorruptibly evil and delved out her terror with precise un-recklessness abandon. She is somewhat of an iconic character and the 2014 live action adaptation of the story enriched the development of her character so much.
 I love how it shows not just the soft side of what a villain is but also the human side of one. It also attempts to explain how one gets to such a terrible and dark place.  In both stories that journey of bitterness, callousness and aloof mean spirit always begins with an open heart and love. But like most love stories it is plagued with betrayal, pride, misunderstanding and heartbreak.  I can't help but reflect on this and not think that perhaps I played the villain for other characters in their story, even though I may not have played a villain in my own.  Perception is a tricky thing and I enjoy how it was crafted in both those stories, Wicked and Maleficent.  But, as I said, I reflected on how I might have been a villain to others around me and I wanted to bring these thoughts to the table this week in my illustration.

     The Wolf, though the villain in many tales, is actually revered and respected in other cultures. Wolves 
figure prominently in the mythology of nearly every Native American tribe. In most Native cultures, Wolf is 
considered a medicine being associated with courage, strength, loyalty, and success at hunting. Like 
bears, wolves are considered closely related to humans by many North American tribes, and the origin 
stories of some Northwest Coast tribes, such as the Quileute and the Kwakiutl, tell of their first ancestors 
being transformed from wolves into men. In Shoshone mythology, Wolf plays the role of the noble Creator 
god, while in Anishinabe mythology a wolf character is the brother and true best friend of the culture hero. 
Among the Pueblo tribes, wolves are considered one of the six directional guardians, associated with the 
east and the color white. The Zunis carve stone wolf fetishes for protection, ascribing to them both healing 
and hunting powers.

     In Egyptian culture, there was a god with the head of a wolf (Wewawet).  Wepwawet's role was to protect and lead the deceased through the Underworld (hence his name). He also accompanied the king while hunting and while in this capacity was called "the one with the sharp arrow who is more powerful than the gods." Wepwawet was also thought of as a messenger and the champion of royalty. He was said to be 
"the one who has separated the sky from the earth."

    Villainy is completely subjective and is in the eye of the beholder and one man's hero is another man's 
villain.  Not that I in anyway feel like a hero in any story, but I am beginning to see how I could have been 
the villain in someone else's story.

     So I wanted my "SHARP" piece to be a portrait of the Wolf, misunderstood and menacing, revered and 
condemned.  I liked the idea of how we can all be both.  We are all light and we are all dark.  We are all 
heroes and yet also villains.  So this is why I chose the imagery as I have.

Little Red Riding Hood
Jessie Wilcox Smith

     When I think of Sharp, I think of knives and teeth but also I think of a very well dressed individual.  A blade can be sharp, yet also someone can be sharply dressed and I wanted to include both interpretations in 
my illustration.  I have always enjoyed the phase,"A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing."  It describes whoever it is 
put to as both innocent yet dangerous, a conflicting duality. It's a very image provoking saying; very 
illustrated.  So I had a vision of a very dapperly dressed attractive Wolf character in a fine suit made of 
wool (sheep's clothing.)  I envisioned him "framed" by the full moon so often associated with him and 
illuminated around the moon would be a "haloed' Native American influenced pattern to allude to the other 
cultures that revere this animal that others more commonly villainize.  To send this message in an image 
as a reminder that we are all capable of being simultaneously both terrible and heroic.  I find the concept 
so rich and powerful that I just had to draw it.

     I embarrassingly admit that my attempts at the earlier part of this week were dauntingly underwhelming.  I have pages in my sketchbook full of deformed wolf heads as I sketched and sketched to get what I was 
seeing in my mind onto the paper. It looked like I was more a Dr. Frankenstein than an artist of any sort. It 
looked I was readying myself for an experiment that you would read about in a horror novel. lol.
Then midweek, everything just "clicked." I was just connecting to what ever it is we artists connect to out 
there in the universe and he came right out of my head and onto the page.  I was so excited, I was beside 
myself and glad that the good drawing was coming back. I'll be candidly honest here and say that for 
some weeks, I have not drawn a single thing that I would say was worth residing anywhere except my 
drafting table's side trash can. It reminds me of something one of my favorite college professors said to 
all of us students,"You have to get through all the Bad Drawing before you Can get to the Good Drawing."  
And that has stuck with me ever since.  That is why it is so important to draw daily for any artist.  Most of 
the time we want to but there are times we have to push ourselves when we really aren't "feeling it." This 
has been one of those times for me. Ultimately I think it turned out quite well.  
Immediately after I finished the sketch, I set up my light box and prepared to ink the illustration same night.  I was on a roll and really didn't want to disconnect from the Creative Ether.

Illustration by Sandra Diekman

     There is a wonderful artist that I follow on Facebook. Her name is Sandra Deickman and I really fell in love with her art and aesthetic. You can view her work and follow her blog  I highly recommend you check her out. She's amazing! She draws the most beautiful animals and I just find myself lost in her color, texture and linework.  I was really in the mood to experiment and have been wanting to imbue some of the things that I saw that I liked in her work, into my own. So I experimented with using line in a way that I usually do not to create shape and form.

     After I inked my drawing I took to the illustrations as I normally do, half traditional media half digital media. I scanned in the inked piece and did the color collage work digitally as I normally do.  I had some very specific ideas about the color choices. I wanted his fur to be soft and warm in color and have an intriguing texture. I tried a few different scanned resources form my scrap library. I tried a few different hand made papers and some fabric scans but nothing really was reading "wolf fur" to me.  I then came across an 
actual fur coat that i had bought at a flea market with the sole purpose to scan for texture use in 
illustration work. It had some very rich and beautiful textures to the scans when the scanner would bend 
the hairs flat. SO that is what I used to manipulate into the layers of the Wolf's fur.

     My next challenge was to create the Wool suit. I toyed with some actual photos of sheep's wool, but 
ultimately ended up manipulating a scan in of a blue fleece blanket I had. Yes the white/grey wool in the 
illustration started out Blue. Cool huh? lol ;0)  I wanted his tie and garment accessories to be red to 
represent blood.  His vest I made blue and purple as those were the original colors I was going to use for 
the Moon.  In the end I ended up with pale yellow. Very local color, I know, but the blue and purple just 
were not working and not helping the "frame" read as a Moon. I wanted to use only primary colors for the 
Native American pattern as primary colors are the origin of colors and I wanted to remind the viewer that 
a villain may be terrible in a small frame of time, but they began as something quite different. And lastly 
the eye color choice was self-portrait-like as I was feeling like this illustration and project is a reflection of 
my own feelings of how I have hurt some people recently in my journey this year.

     Before I wrap this post up, I want to give a big shout out to my good writer friend, Tracy.  She gave to me an excellent idea when I was showing her the sketch of the illustration as I was working on it.  She felt that the wolf needed a Sheep Lapel Pin very much like how politicians wear an American Flag Lapel Pin 
when they campaign.
I Love Love Loved the idea. It was brilliant, Tracy! So the Wolf is wearing his Sheep 
Lapel Pin in his campaign to try and change his bad boy image. It makes me giggle to think of a wolf 
trying to politically campaign to sheep. It sounds like a good idea for an animated short or short story.  
So thank you once again, Tracy for the capital idea.

     Well this pretty much sums up everything I wanted to say about this piece.  I will continue my exploration of the dark as well as the light and understanding of the balance between the two. I invite you all to do the same.

     I leave you with two songs that are Post-Related: ENJOY! :0)

until next time, friends...
Keep sketching, keep thinking, keep laughing and most important of all, 
keep making art.  

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

I am the Heart Warrior. I Have SURVIVED

     “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
-Eleanor Roosevelt

     "If only you'd have know me, before the accident. 
For with that grand collision, came a grave consequence. 
Receptors overloaded, they bust and disconnect, 
'til there is little feeling. Please work with what is left."
-Ben Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie)

     It's an excellent quote. However, I don't think I have looked fear in the face, but I have lived through this horror and I have created a Heart Warrior. I had been working on some Art like this piece to help me through the rough time.  To express how I feel in a constructive way, instead of just burning their house down, which would be bad, but equally satisfying.

However, I feel very conflicted this past week in light of Historic events. Ill get into that in a bit. the context
is important (I promise.)

     I had thought I was doing quite well recovering from the emotional manipulated Destruction of Pompeii my Ex put me through this past 6 months:  Constantly sucking me back in with kindness and promises of "we'll work it all out" only to break up with me all over again so I could not fully recover from the blow as he kept knocking me down by emotionally manipulating me, the situation and the ways in which we communicated with each other.  It was a trick, a cruel one that he used to punish me.  It's really made me
think of how much of a Monster that makes him.  It also makes me question what kind of person does that, really.  It's a pretty cruel thing to do, especially when all I wanted was to actually work things out, to find a solution and work through the problems. But he blocked any sort of progress or possibility for that. There are really only two kinds of people in this world: Problem Identifiers and Problem Solvers.  B (my Ex) certainly is not the sort that likes to Solve Problems, only make them worse or make more problems.

     In any case, Heart Warrior, was a piece that I began well over a year ago.  As you all know I participate in the Illustration Friday weekly inspiration illustrations from time to time.  Well around the end of April (2014) they posted a topic "Survivor."  B and I had just started fighting more than we have ever fought at the beginning of that month. I moved out of our bedroom and into the upstairs (my studio at that time) and he did not speak to me for about a month.  It was a very rough time, obviously, and affected my ability to work on art or to really do anything.  Until finally I forced myself to do something and a week before IF Friday posted Survivor they posted Natural.
I had created an illustration of a Green Tea Leaf meditating. It was a projection of the state I wanted to be in. I wanted to be calm, and alright where I was at, which was certainly not the case. I wanted to be anywhere except where I was at.  I can definitely say:  no one knows how to throw a cold shoulder like my Ex, B.  He's a frigid and distant man and I honestly don't know how I or anyone ever falls for him. The man is heartless through and through and does not care for anyone except himself.  It makes me feel like a fool not to have seen it sooner.  We were together 6 years, and he was able to discard me as a person with no effort at all.  It's a little embarrassing to admit being treated in such a way, but that is how I was treated.  I was made to feel insignificant, small, meaningless and worthless.

     So a week later, IF Friday posts Survivor and I have the idea for the piece I completed today.  I just was not strong enough emotionally at the time to complete it.  I sketched it out kinda sorta.
  I had a vision of a Heart (the muscle not the icon)  walking strongly down a road in the middle of a desert. He'd be covered in stitches and scars, implying he had been torn and ripped to shreds but slowly pieced and stitched and pulled back together again.  He's on the road, a Survivor of cataclysmic or apocalyptic events.
 I wanted it to feel like a Mad Max or Resident Evil (3) sort of Universe, where the land is barren and devoid of green or nourishment of any kind. I based his clothes and weapons off concept art for both of those films.  He looks very worn and torn which is how I have felt.  It felt very apocalyptic and war barren.

     There is a beautiful Japanese philosophy called Kintsugi.  When things break into pieces, they are mended back with gold. They believe that you should honor the history of the object. That all it's experiences are important and should not be hidden or forgotten.  It is what makes the object beautiful.  I love the sentiment and have thought about it a lot recently.  It's the reason I pulled this idea back out of the morgue and began working on it again.  I knew that I could finish the piece and really needed to for myself.  So I drew this little Heart Man and showed all of the scars and places where he had to be pieced back together.  It's important to show fragility and weakness sometimes other wise the display of strength that comes after doesn't have the same impact or importance.  I have planned a few pieces that relate to this philosophy in the context of my recent breakup as a therapy for myself.  I am channeling strength from the creative ether from this practice, I believe.

     That is how I felt then and certainly how I am feeling about it now after being dragged through possibly the worst 6 months I have ever experienced at one person's hand.  I made a decision around that time that I shouldn't sacrifice what I wanted to do with my life for someone who could treat me as if I meant nothing to them and make me believe that they didn't.  What purpose does it serve to make someone you care about feel that way, anyway?  It was then that I decided that I would move to NYC and continue to pursue a  career in Illustration. Which I am working on doing this year (making it happen).

     Thus far things are falling into place and I feel, now, far enough removed from this messy and nasty breakup that he put us through to move forward with my plans unencumbered by an emotional tie to him. This sentiment has been driving the car, so to speak, ever since and I have been creating art that would allow me to vent out my frustration and anger about these past 6 months.  Until... Marriage Equality is made legal last Friday with the ruling of the Supreme Court.
Then all I can think about are all the plans that we had to marry each  other and for our future life together, etc.  They were like shelves of  empty photo albums full of memories that will never happen. Not for us  anyway.  Every Facebook photo of a smiling same-sex couple, one  right after the other, happy that they can FINALLY be married, like bombs dropping in my stomach. I guess the timing couldn't have been better. We break up and then we are finally able to legally marry. Bitter Irony and it has made me feel conflicted for several days about him and about what we were to each other.  Things are not amicable between us, mostly his choosing. We don't speak to each other or have a way to, again his choices. He seems to have the inability to forgive others and move on. Among his uncanny ability to manipulate and freeze out others, he also can hold a grudge like no one else I've ever met. It's unfortunate that our biggest obstacle in working things out or even being friends has been him.

     You can't keep from getting your heart shredded and stomped on but you can choose what you'll do  next.  I chose to stitch this little heart back together, nurse it back to health with a lot of liquor among other vices and get him back on his feet, armed to the teeth, on the road and ready for whatever is coming next in life.  It's a great unfortunate truth that my Ex will not allow us to be amicable and that he chooses to behave in very immature and nasty ways that hurt us both instead of trying to be part of the solution.  I ran across something Deborah Reber (young adult fiction writer) had said about breakups, “Letting go doesn’t mean that you don’t care about someone anymore. It’s just realizing that the only person you really have control over is yourself.”   I can't control how he has chosen to act, but I can choose how I live my life and what I am going to do with it.  I hate that he made me choose between him and advancing my career as opposed to trying to find a way to stay together and accomplish my goals as well. But, it has made me realize that the "team" he always talked about just meant "Team B" and not "Team B&L"  It's obvious my needs and what is important to my life are not important to him unless it's convenient for him and he doesn't have to sacrifice anything or be challenged in anyway.  It's sad because that's how relationships grow and become stronger. So for better or for worse and because he chose to set up the parameters of the situation this way, his string gets cut and he gets let go.  Ultimatums instead of Solutions is such a terrible way to be.

     But, I guess that's just my opinion.

     So all stitched up with scars and all, I track my way through the rest of this year until I will move to NYC at the end of this year.  I will miss all my friends here but am VERY READY to Start my new life in NY. A fresh start and a new sunrise to shine on my face, scars and all.

until next time, friends...
Keep sketching, keep thinking, keep laughing and most important of all, keep making art.  

Thursday, June 18, 2015


"Sure I may be tuckered, and I may give out, but I won't give IN!"
-Molly Brown (The Unsinkable Molly Brown, 1964)

     At 11:40 pm on April 14th, 1912 An Unsinkable ship hit an Iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean and began to sink.  1,317 people stepped on the bow of that ship expecting to make it to land again. Only 710 survived.
Molly Brown was one of those 710 that were lucky to survive.  But do you ever really survive an event that cataclysmic?  I can only imagine what it must have been like to be there stranded in the water on the life boats, half glad you were safe for the moment,  half crushed by all the death surrounding you and the endless pleas for help from 1500 others that drowned and froze to death that horrible night.  Freezing to death yourself out in the cold air wondering if you were going to die out on that icy ocean waiting to be rescued, terrified you may never be before its too late.  Four hours on that ocean waiting before aid did finally come. However, just because you were pulled aboard safety and brought once again to dry land, I'm certain the haunting visions and screams followed those 710 the rest of their days on this planet.

     I hit an Iceberg this year. I feel as if I have been scrambling to get to the life boats and escape the inevitable sinking of this Titanic.  After 6 years you get attached and bonded to a person.  To listen to them tell you they are much happier in your absence...

     Well it feels like hitting the iceberg and feeling it shred your hull as it scraped and tears down your side.
Then you begin to be submerged in the icy cold waters.  And this breakup has been like that icy cold water.
It chills you to the bone before it freezes you to death if you don't get yourself in that life boat and start rowing...  

...and rowing and rowing and rowing....

     This piece has kept popping up in my mind with that one single message I placed at the bottom of it 3 years ago:
"Strength and Courage in the Face of Devastation."  

     I felt so compelled by that message, such an evocative message when paired with that image. It resonated something to me then as it certainly has now, just these recent past months.  It is a call to muster your courage, to brace yourself when the unexpected happens, to HOPE.   You will survive, you can survive that Cold Freezing Dark Night and Menacing Deathly Waters. You will come out of it all Stronger Braver and Wiser and then finally get to place your foot on dry land once more, grounded in yourself.

     Molly Brown became an American Legend, not only because of her survival of the Sinking of the Titanic, which is what made her famous, but the story of her life reads like something right out of a collection of All American Fairy Tales.  Born Margaret Tobin in a three-bedroom cottage, near the Mississippi River in Hannibal, Missouri, on what is now known as Denkler's alley. Her parents were Irish Catholic immigrants. She had six siblings (two of which were half from both parents previous widowed marriages.)

     At age 18, Margaret Tobin relocated to Leadville, Colorado. She found a job in a department store were she met James Joseph Brown, nicknamed "J.J.", an enterprising, self-educated man. His parents, too, had emigrated from Ireland.  Brown had always planned to marry a rich man but she married J.J. for love. She said,
      'I wanted a rich man, but I loved Jim Brown. I thought about how I wanted comfort for my father and how I had determined to stay single until a man presented himself who could give to the tired old man the things I longed for him. Jim was as poor as we were, and had no better chance in life. I struggled hard with myself in those days. I loved Jim, but he was poor. Finally, I decided that I'd be better off with a poor man whom I loved than with a wealthy one whose money had attracted me. So I married Jim Brown.'

     But not only did Molly find true love and happiness at such a young age, incidentally she found wealth as well.  The Brown family acquired great wealth when, in 1893, J.J.'s mining engineering efforts proved instrumental in the production of a substantial ore seam at the Little Jonny Mine of his employers.  They bought a $30,000 Victorian mansion in Denver, Colorado, U.S., and in 1897 they built a summer house, Avoca Lodge in Southwest Denver near Bear Creak, which gave the family more social opportunities. Margaret became a charter member of the Denver Woman's Club, whose mission was the improvement of women's lives by continuing education and philanthropy.  Adjusting to the trappings of a society lady, Brown became well-immersed in the arts and fluent in French, German, Italian, and Russian. Brown co-founded a branch in Denver of the Alliance Fran├žaise to promote her love of French culture.

     Molly and J.J.'s truly was the All-American rags to riches story, a fairy tale where Cinderella and Prince Charming might live happily ever after in their Colorado Castle. However, Fairy Tales are Not Reality and life is never really like a fairy tale most times and things fell apart romantically for Molly and J.J.  After 23 years of marriage, Margaret and J.J. privately signed a separation agreement in 1909. Although they never reconciled, they continued to communicate and cared for each other throughout their lives. The agreement gave Margaret a cash settlement and she maintained possession of the house on Pennsylvania Street in Denver, and the summer house, Avoca Lodge in Southwest Denver near Bear Creak. She also received a $700 monthly allowance (equivalent to $18,374 today) to continue her travels and social work.

     So when Molly boarded the S.S. Titanic that fateful day in April in 1912, she boarded it alone.
It truly was her own Strength, Courage and Tenacity that saw her through that tragedy.  She often said that the love for her children and the hope of seeing them again was also what got her through that night.  She was, after all, boarding the ship home to see them after her visit abroad to France.  Even after her separation from her one true love, the devastation of the Titanic and the nasty family brawl with her children over finances once J.J. died, Molly still continued her charity and educational work for women and underprivileged.  It was this very Spirit that Earned her the nickname "Unsinkable."

     Through all the tragedy, heartache and adversity she had to overcome in her lifetime, she still kept on with a vigilance that many of us in this world can only admire.

Strength and Courage through Devastation.  I have thought about these words so many times these past 6 months and I have actually tried to write this Blog Post SEVERAL TIMES previous since My Titanic struck the Ice last January, but for some reason, I would just delete 98.5 percent of what I had written and start all over again.  Just reading this post right now, you probably wouldn't think to yourself that I had spent 6 months off and on writing and re-writing it (mostly re-writing it), but I have. Though I normally loathe reading/writing overly personal things on the public online forum as I usually feel it's borderline "whiny" if not overly so, I knew deep down I needed to write about this piece and how I felt about it when I illustrated it and how I feel about it now and what it means to me in the current context of where I am right now in my life.  I also wanted to say it in a way that might connect to others going through the same experience or a similar one. I wanted this piece to not only express my love and admiration for such a brave woman in American History but I wanted my expression of her to inspire others and help them get through their Icy Cold Nights.

     This piece was originally made as a reaction to the Capsizing of the Concordia back in 2010.  It made me think so strongly of the Titanic and how similar the incidents were, but also how thankful I was to how dissimilar they were and that the death toll for the incident on the Concordia was much much lower than the Titanic's.  I was in the mood to create a new FatMan illustration and I felt that I had found my inspiration in the terrible accident.  I would use the legendary visage of the Unsinkable Molly Brown to inspire hope in others during times of hardship, whether it be the Concordia or just anything, really.  How ironic that I would create something that would eventually help me cope through a tough situation in my own life years later.

     I started with just sketching a hybrid of Molly's countenance and blending it with the typical "FatMan" Characteristics I have come to include in that series of illustrations.  As you can see from the sketch I had to work it a bit before I was finally satisfied of a good Molly-FatMan hybrid.  As per usual the FatMan is always shown in profile.  I know I have mentioned it in previous posts, but being shown in profile is a visual evocation and symbol of power.  Since the FatMan character has kinda become my artistic muse, the profile is perfect.  More specifically in this illustration, I wanted to evoke the power of strength and courage that Molly had displayed in the tragic sinking of the Titanic.

     I began researching photographs of the real Molly Brown and based the dress she is wearing on an actual dress that Molly wore when she gave Captain Arthur Rostron an award for his heroic rescue of the Titanic survivors.  I had a lot of fun recreating the pattern from her blouse in the photograph.
As you can see the photograph is in black and white and like many of the photographs from that time, there is no reference for color.  So the color of Molly's hair and of her dress are based on the hair and wardrobe of Kathy Bates, who plays Molly in the American film, Titanic. Also I wanted to use alot of purple in her dress.  Not only because the purple would harmonize quite well with all the blues I was using in the night time icy ocean  surrounding her in the illustration, but also because purple is a traditionally regal color and has been used in portraits of majestic European families for centuries.
 It is said to evoke the power and majestic nature of person who wears such a color and radiate it from them.  I liked that idea and infused a bit of that into this illustration; radiating hope, strength and power to all who see her.  She is holding her oar upright, again evoking that Egyptian iconography of power and strength.

     On a quick side note: if you don't believe the evocation of power from simply being in a particular pose or posture, read about the Wonder Woman Pose. Just google it, if you dare...
or you just click on the handy dandy link I have provided below.

     The rest of the illustration work, after figuring out the color composite sketch, really goes like clockwork. That is the REAL FUN of Illustration: getting to play and experiment to create textures and balance lights and darks with color, etc.  At least, that is the fun part of the work for me.  I do enjoy the challenge of all the creative preliminary work that comes before it, all the drawing challenges and such. However in the middle part of the illustration process, you get to put a movie or record or audio book on in the back ground and just enjoy the simple pleasure of making art.  More specifically, in this case, digitally painting.  Anyone who enjoys the pastime or profession of painting understands the absolute zen nature that the activity brings.  I very much enjoyed painting her.  I did capture some screen shots of the work in progress as you will see below to see some of the process of this illustration.

     I worked on this piece over the coarse of 2 weeks off and on. From the work in progress shots you can kinda see where I focused and when. Since it's been some years since I created this work, it's a bit fuzzy as far as my time line.  Essentially I sketched out the illustration, inked it and then scanned that in the computer. I then made a rough color composite sketch of what I wanted the color to kinda sorta be.  I then began painting (digitally).  I work in many painted layers of varied opacity, so the process is slow but yields some nice results when I take my time to do it the way I want it to be done. I started with her head, hair and hat. I then painted her dress and blouse. I then painted her oar, boat and all the other boats in one stint. Then the Titanic, iceberg and ocean detail pretty much finished the piece.  Lastly I created an illuminating effect from the moon onto the illustration.  That pretty much sums up the process of this illustration.  I only spent 2 weeks on the piece itself, but it reaches out far beyond that frame of time with it's content and message.

     So my Titanic did strike an Iceberg last January? Yes.  And the captain of my ship no longer wanted to cruise along side me? Yes. Did I have to jump ship for my own survival from drowning in a relationship where I was not loved back? Yes, I did, but in all fairness I was ordered to jump and pretty much forced overboard (very similarly to how Molly was forced into a life boat that night.)  Am I resentful of the outcome? Yes, slightly so. Although, I'm not certain if the damn ship wouldn't have sank itself anyways. If a captain wants a ship to sink, then the ship eventually will, if anything out of self-fulfilled prophecy/projection. In other words, if you continually say things are going to happen a certain way, then, subconsciously, you are working on making that come to fruition.

     I have learned this about my experience:  You have two choices when the boat is sinking. You can either drown on the sinking ship or you jump in that Life Boat, grab an oar and start rowing for shore or rescue or whatever else life may be bringing you. Either way, the boat is going down. You can't save it no more than you can make someone love you, that doesn't.

So choose: Life or Not Life.  I choose Life.  The good thing is that sometimes when your rowing along, people can pop in and out of your life boat with you. People that are going through something similar, that get it, that get you and it's nice to have someone pick up an oar and row some of that way with you as I'm certain they are also glad for the company as well: Your Row Buddies (as I like to call them.)  They may stay for a short time or they might stay for a little while and then hop boats, but in either case, enjoy the time you have and be grateful for it.

"Strength and Courage in the Face of Devastation."  
     It's not so bad when you realize your not bearing the tragedy of it all on your own.  So take hope in that, Titanic Survivors, whomever you may be out there.  You are not alone.  Look to Molly for the inspiration to find the Strength to get through it and you'll be right as rain once again, stepping on that shore wiser and closer to yourself than you were before.

So until next time try to stay afloat in the storms of your life, weary travelers, and as always
Keep sketching, keep thinking, keep laughing and most important of all, keep making art.