Thursday, September 20, 2018

Don't Be A Scaredy Cat on Illustration Friday!

"Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. 
The fearful are caught as often as the bold."
 -Helen Keller     

  1. 1.
    an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.

    "drivers are threatening to quit their jobs in fear after a cabby's murder"

    synonyms:terrorfright, fearfulness, horroralarmpanicagitationtrepidationdreadconsternationdismaydistressMore

  1. 1.
    be afraid of (someone or something) as likely to be dangerous, painful, or threatening.

    "he said he didn't care about life so why should he fear death?"

    synonyms:be afraid of, be fearful of, be scared of, be apprehensive of, dread, live in fear of, be terrified of; 

     Nothing to FEAR today, though, because it's Friday!... But not just any Friday, it's Illustration Friday! However, FEAR is the topic of this week for I.F.Friday, and my mind, of course, gets bent around that topic and guides some of the week's thoughts.  ALSO, it's getting very close to Halloween and it makes me want to start drawing all sorts of Halloween-y kinds of things. #AutumnHasThisAffectOnMe ;0)

Still from "Hyde and Hare" Copyright Warner Bros. Animation 1955

     I find myself finding this topic rather relevant to what is going on in my life right now; not that I'm being chased by Monsters, per say... At least, not physical ones. No, fear has all been rolling around chasing me down in my conscious and unconscious thoughts for months.  As many of you know, I am at the precipice of both an ending and brand new beginning in my life. In my middle age, I have decided to up root (as much as I, myself, can really have) and move across the country, start a new life and pursue a new career path. ( I've been jokingly referring to it as my own personal mid-life crisis. lol)  Some guys buy a fancy and fast car. Some guys divorce their wives and find a new partner half their age. Me, I decide to move across the country and start a life from ground zero, because, you know, I'm just weird like that. ;0)  This is a scary prospect when I slow down long enough to look at what I'm really doing (not that I've had much time to slow down at all this past year. lol.) I've never done anything like this before on my own. I've done a lot of things on my own, but nothing quite like this; nothing so life changing. I know other people who have done this before. Some have done it many many times, but I haven't before now. So, to me, it's a bit scary, and I'm OK with being a bit scared. I think it's healthy and kinda expected. Which brings me back to the topic at hand: fear.

     Fear is a basic human emotion that all of us experience on a pretty regular basis, some more than others and to some extent with more intensity than others.  It's an instinctual reaction hard-wired into our system to help us stay alive as it triggers all the right signals when we are in danger and it helps us to be prepared for situations that could threaten our very survival... So it's not something we could surgically remove from our Psyche, if that were even possible. Nor should we remove it.

     However, in these modern times, fear has become an external commodity used as a tool to manipulate and control us. Our media uses it to increase their ratings, corporations use it to sell us products, religious leaders wield it to control their flocks, politicians employ it to gain votes... and on and on and on, whilst everyone else is left to sort out the psychological effects of such inundated bombardment. To be honest, sometimes it surprises me how any of us are able to get up out of bed,let alone not huddled in a padded party cell somewhere/nowhere.

   I theorize that we all turn this excessive inundation of fear internal.  I'd dare say there is no force more self destructive than when we internalize our sense of fear in the world.  It will keep you from accomplishing anything you want to in you own life.  I recently read an article (because I am a total geek like that) on how to identify signs that your own fear is the greatest obstacle anyone faces in their endeavours to accomplish whatever it is that they are trying to accomplish. It has some very relevant and enlightening points.  I found myself in some of them.

Promotional Poster for Hereditary, Copyright PalmStar Media 2018
A quick, but somewhat relevant aside:
     Have you ever scared yourself before?... I mean really really really scared yourself before to the point that you find yourself, as a grown adult, sleeping with your lights on that night?  I will admit that I find myself in this predicament from time to time, and, just so you all know, I'm not above sleeping  with the lights on.  It keeps the Eebbie Jeebbies at bay, and I'm OK with that. Lol.  I have, off and on, been reading the books that Ed and Loraine Warren wrote about their investigations into the paranormal (made most recently famous by the Conjuring film franchise.)  The writing style of their books can be odd at times, however, it is the content of their writings that puts the little hairs on the back of my neck at full attention.  I end up being so creeped out that I can't fall asleep with out some lamps on around me... I must be FULLY protected lol.  Also, most recently, I saw the film Hereditary in the theater and I must say that it lives up to is reputation as being "The Exorcist" of our generation.  I was SO unbelievably disturbed after watching it (at night of course... when will I learn lol) that, again, as a grown man, I slept with all the lights turned on. All this conjecture brings me to what Scaredy Cat is about at its core, conceptually.

Through the Looking Glass by John Tenniel, 1871

     The upside to all of this is that, of course, the first step in solving a problem is being able to see/identify it for what it is.  If you can see what it is your are afraid of, what it is that keeps you from your own personal successes, then you can begin to figure out a solution around it.  You can't eliminate fear, but I think it is possible to re-chanel it, shift that negative energy into something that can propel you instead of it being something that is working against you. It's not really going with the flow more so than learning how to manipulate the flow into the direction you wish to go in. This really is more a "Through The Looking Glass" version of visualizing what it is you want in order to be able to achieve what you want.  We all know you will never be able to do what you can't imagine yourself doing. Re-Chaneling the energy your fear manifests within you is almost the mirrored brother of that.

Peanut Butter 2018
     This is exactly what my illustration this week is all about. I wanted to visually express how we each are and manifest the things that not only scare us most in life, but also the things that create the blocks and obstacles on our paths.  For me, Scaredy Cat represents that quite well.  The illustration is a Crossroads.  We see how the cat (a kinda sorta illustrated caricature I very loosely based on my cat Peanut Butter) casts her long shadow onto the wall that is right in front of her.  Peanut Butter is, in all reality, very much a scaredy cat.  She is so sensitive and so cautious that she often runs to hide under the safety of the bed or the dining table when confronted with the outside world of unfamiliar things, people and experiences.  She prefers to watch the world through the window as if it were a television program.  She may be a real life scaredy cat but I don't love her any less for it.  She is so very sweet and sensitive.

     The wall (of a presumed building.)  One could say that the exterior wall of the building is more of the representation of an obstacle than the cat's shadow.  I completely disagree. As people we don't walk into or through buildings.  That is just ludicrous. What do we do? We walk around them or navigate through predetermined openings and throughways.  Buildings visually represent structures, parameters to work around and within more so than to run into.  There is always exceptions to this, but, those exceptions entirely depend on concept and context.  In my illustration the building is just a wall opposite another wall that would assumed be behind our cat. She is in an alley way. The buildings exterior walls represent guidelines that illuminate/create a path, more so than obscure or block it.

     It is the Shadow, the looming and ominous presence of something that could be dangerous that stops our cat in her path and sweeps her gaze to the side to see what it is that is making her hair stand on it's end. A shadow that, we can assume, that she is transforming into something ominous and possibly dangerous. The more she stares at it, the more it lures over her, the more it rises, the more she feels threatened, the more tense she becomes, the more she feels she needs to prepare to defend herself... and on and on... a cycle that is obviously has now distracted her from moving forward. Where was she going? We don't know, now. That Shadow is all that she can think about. But what does she do now?

     This is the key to what I really wanted to draw and express. It's not just the fact that we can scare the wits out of ourselves better than anyone else can, it's the choices we make form the precipice that our cat friend is perched upon.  It's a very thin line, a crossroads.  It's either Fight or Flight, our other hard-wired instinct that helps us survive in life. I can't tell you how many times I see the crossroads analogy used in books or film or television or visual art. It's a very strong and powerful metaphor: a universal truth that every human can identify with and relate to. "Would you go Left OR Right," says the small blue worm to Sara in the fantasy film The Labyrinth (Careful, my age is showing here.) It's not only the choices we make in our life that define us, but I also believe that it is our own personal fears we carry in this world that manipulate our decisions on those choices that ALSO define who we are. To put it simply, some people will always choose a car or a train or a boat to travel by because they are oh so afraid of the experience of flying.  This is a very rudimentary example, but I think if we all took a long quiet look within the dusty cob-webbed closets of our minds, we may, indeed, find those skeletons that we all know are there, but are afraid to confront.

Some technical things to say about this illustration:
     I admit it felt rushed. I did put it together over the course of 2 days.
I was on a tight timeline so didn't have a lot of time to devote to it, but still wanted to put something together this week for IF Friday. I think that it emotes what I want it to emote, but I may revisit this piece and this subject at a later date when I have more time to devote to it. I ended up changing the composition for this piece at the last minute partly for conceptual reasons and partly for economical time reasons. The original concept included more of the alley way and a city sky line etc.  It pushed the shadow cast wall too far over in the end and, in my opinion, lost the true meaning of why I was illustrating that image in the first place. So I changed the angle of the picture to have the Shadow curve and physically "Loom" over our feline friend more so.  I also had played with cool/warm color contrast on the wall and the shadow, but they just didn't seem to be working out exactly as I had imagined them to. I ended up compromising on my color choices in some ways.   Honestly, I'm OK with how it turned out, but I think I could play with it more, refine it more, I think. I may just be over thinking it due to how much time I had to complete it in. Overall, I'm pleased with its outcome (for now. lol. My inner perfectionist is giving me some side-eye.)

So, what am I getting at, right? What is my point with Scaredy Cat?

     I want to challenge us all with Scaredy Cat. I include myself in this challenge. I want you all to find a quiet space where you can self-reflect some and then I want you to invite a skeleton or two out of that old dusty closet you keep them in. I want you to have tea or coffee with them. I want you to go to the movies with them and then have an in depth discussion afterward. I want you to go out to lunch and have a long chat with each other... Get to know what it is inside you that scares you most. Chances are, you will find that you imposed that very fear upon yourself at some point. Give that fear a NAME.  Give it a FACE.  It will help you, I promise, because once you know what it is that scares you most in this life, you can figure out a way around it.  You can begin to do all the things that you have wanted to do, but for some reason (your own fear), haven't begun doing.  I believe that this is a great exercise that helps all of us in whatever it is we are wanting form this crazy life we are living.

The Skeleton Dance, Copyright Walt Disney Studios 1929

     If you are interested in reading the Article I earlier referred to, please click the skeletal link above. It's titled 6 Signs That Fear is Holding You Back by Dr. Matthew James.  It was published on Psychology Today's website and it's a very interesting read... I encourage you all to kick off your weekend with his article. (And yes, I totally ripped off that Helen Keller quote form his article... I just couldn't resist. lol)  In the meantime, I hope you all have a SPOOKtacular Weekend.

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

Monday, June 11, 2018

I Am a Heart Warrior: I Have Survived... Twice.

“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

"I wish you did know me, before the accident. For with that grand collision, came a grave consequence.  The receptors overloaded, they burst and disconnect, till there is little feeling. 
Please work with what is left."
-Ben Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie)

Below is a Post that was originally published in July of 2015.
     I had taken it down due to the nature of how many people, locally here that know both B and I, reacted to this post. They saw it as rather ungenerous and mean spirited. However, I would disagree. It is an honest expression from my experience of how all of that year went down. It was not a very good year and I would say to those people now that B as a friend to you is a far different treatment and set of behaviors from B the boyfriend or partner. The two difference are so stark in contrast, that I would say they are like Jekyll and Hyde. As unsavory as the thought may be, B treated his friends better than he treated his partners. I, personally feel it shouldn't be that way, but I can't control how another person chooses to behave and chooses to treat others. I can hear Hoggle (from the Labyrinth) saying,"It's Not Fair!!!" And Sarah would just simply reply to him,"No. No it isn't... but that's the way it is."

     I have included the original text that was published in 2015 and have also included interjections/updates (in RED) since I have learned the answers to some of the questions ("Questions... Questions that need answers."-Gandalf) I had back then, and, now, that there is more of the story to tell of it.  So, I'm telling it as objectively as I can for being emotionally involved in it.  It's somewhat of a reclaiming exercise.

     The above are excellent quotes. 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.)

     Like the above statement indicates, in 2015 (the first and worst time we broke up) I did work on Art that was intended as therapy for myself, to help focus on my feelings and taking all that negative/destructive energy and transmuting it into a space for creativity, self-reflection, self-love and personal progress.  It appears a coincidence that I reference the arson of my Ex's home.

     One of the therapy pieces I am working on this year (I don't work on them often; only when I need to) is a piece where my Ex's house is engulfed in flames and I am walking away from it. I had posted a photo of this piece in progress and it caused quite a commotion locally with some of his peoples. However, the funny (but not really funny) thing is, not a single one of those peoples actually asked me what it was about, save one. They just assumed I was making some arsonist threat or that I was unhinged or that I was just some bitter angry man. NONE of which are accurate. There was only one person who actually asked me what was the drawing about and I appreciated that. No one else involved actually condescended to be so reasonable, not even my Ex.

     The image is a symbol of my old life (Duh!) and I am making my way away from that life toward a new one, purifying it's loss and the pain that it has caused me through fire and the burning down of it (a symbol of purification and rebirth.) Anyone who studies symbolism in art could have come to that very obvious conclusion, but folks in this town would much rather jump to conclusions, crucify me, and write me off as some monstrous crazy man rather than to simply and reasonably ask me what it means. So... #Whatever (my eyes roll out of my head and onto the floor.) I'll elaborate more on that work when I complete it and write a post about it. In the meantime, back to the Heart Warrior...

     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 certainly is not the sort that likes to Solve Problems, only make them worse or make more problems.

     B has set up the same parameters to limit communication and manipulate our situation to suit his personal agenda and purposes. I'm less inclined these days to be as affected by this strategy as we spent 2 years in couples therapy trying to work it out after getting back together at the end of 2015.  The sad realization after all that therapy was that B is just this kind of person. He is not necessarily a Monster as I previously stated, but he certainly is petty, selfish, cruel and manipulative.  He definitely would be more interested in exacerbating a situation rather than exert any effort to improve it... Unless there was something "in it for him." This time around, I have no interest in working things out as I did in 2015.  I only have an interest in moving forward.

     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 form 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.

     None of this assessment has changed much in the past 3 years. B still throws a mean cold shoulder, he is still frigid and distant, and he would still prefer I feel small, insignificant and meaningless.  I would amend my previous statement in that I don't find him heartless. He is just merely selfish, petty and vindictive.  He is more of a "out of sight and out of mind" type in that if you aren't right in front of him physically, his affection and feelings are only proportionate to your distance to him physically. So if you are far away, he doesn't have the time of day for you.  So, for him, it is quite easy for him to discard others, regardless of history, investment or nature of attachment.  So not heartless but just equipped with a very small heart, perhaps.  My Cancerean nature can't quite wrap my mind around how anyone could be "for real" like that; so compartmentalized and detached. However, I'm learning to accept that that is who he is and I can't change it.  I try not to take that treatment so deeply personal (as if I'm being singled out by him, even though it does feel that way) and it is a challenge not to take it so personally.  I don't always succeed with that. After those 2 years in couples therapy, I try to remind myself that he would treat anyone this exact same way, not just me. It doesn't really make me feel any better about it, but it does help me to accept it more now. especially since history has, more or less, repeated itself. I don't feel as foolish now, after everything that has transpired, because I see the pattern now for what it is.  

     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 a 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.

     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 now 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 otherwise the display of strength that comes afterward 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.

     I never did complete the other works that I referenced above. I think at this point, I don't really need to.  When B and I got back together at the end of that awful year, I got many of the answers that I was desperately in need of when I originally wrote this post.  And therapy gave me the rest of what I needed to, in reality, piece myself back together in a way that I never would have been able to do back then.  Although, the end result between B and I turned out to be exactly the same (toxic and incompatible), I think that I am more OK this time around and this breakup... After all, it was my choice that ended it, but only because I knew B is not the type of person to look at things that way and see them for what they are and for how we both were an for what we both need that we aren't providing to one another. It wasn't always this way, but it became this way. It's sad, but it is what it is.  

     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 that could 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).

     I still sometimes am angry about this point. He really did put me through a lot, unnecessarily, and if you truly love someone else, this is not how you would treat them, angry or not angry at them. To the latter point above, I have returned to my goal of leaving Georgia and moving to NYC to pursue what I actually went to college to learn how to do. Don't get me wrong. Graphic Design has been good to me and I will more than likely continue to do it to some capacity. However, the real goal is to eventually illustrate full time and let GD be my previously life. I really need a change and look forward to this move this next Winter.

     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 was so not true. I still feel at times that I'm not "over it" per say and at that time I was very encumbered and emotionally still tied to him. I guess I was just trying to wish it so by speaking/typing it into existence as if it were incantation.)   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 or punches 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.

     Marriage... Funny thing is that we got back together, went to couples therapy and still fell apart again in the very same way. This transforms bitter irony into textbook definition for insanity. I'm not exactly certain why we both felt that the outcome would turn out any different than it had previously.  We went to therapy with the idea that it would help fix our problems in the relationship. On the contrary, at least for me, it just helped me see very clearly how the two of us really weren't good for each other, regardless of how we felt. We just didn't work at the core of things. To be very honest, personally, it boiled down to trust. I never quite trusted him again after 2015.  That year and the way we treated each other just changed me, permanently. There was just no going back or unseeing what you saw beyond the veil. He did insist/imply several times that we should get married. The thought, after all that therapy, quite honestly terrified me.  I knew then that I just didn't trust him nor probably would I ever be able to again. If he had actually proposed to me (which he never did. He always implied that was apparently my responsibility to propose should that ever happen) I would have said no. I don't think forcing us into a legal marriage would have saved us anymore than when heterosexual couples have children to "save their marriage." That logic is ludicrous and has never worked in history. So, even though it was legal for us to get married, we still didn't. That should tell you something right there.

     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 alot 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. (He still acts this way: childish and petty. We've known each other for 10 years.  This could have been quite amicable.)  I ran across something Deborah Reber 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 B 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.

     I still feel very strongly about the above paragraph.  B is still very "Team B" and not "Team Couple" or "Team Compromise" or "Team Teamwork." He is still very much a one way street and that was really my breaking point in deciding to end this almost 10 year relationship. This was, of course, following an argument we had had via text 500 miles from each other which was then succeeded by him "breaking up" with me via text. The man couldn't even give me the courtesy of a phone call, much less wait until we were face to face (after 9 years.) Then pretends that it never even happened days later. I knew right then, that this relationship was never going to work. If we were just friends, then we should be just friends. However, B is the kind of guy that refuses to be friends. Like Ms. Reder states, the only person I have control over is myself. When I look back and reflect on this relationship, I am saddened by a terrible realization. When I look at B, now, I can't see the man that I fell head over heels in love with 9 years ago.  I see a stranger; someone that I can't even recognize any longer. I see someone that, given any other circumstance, if I met them today and hadn't known them previously, I really don't like. It's sad, but it is true. I don't even know who that person is when I come into contact with them these days. That truth is just crazy to me when I think about it from time to time now. :0/

     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.  For those of you out there going through a breakup this year, keep your chins up.

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

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Strength and Courage in the Face of Devastation

This post was originally published June 19, 2015.
I should have never removed it.

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

     At 11:40pm 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 (9 years as of 2017) 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 scrapes 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 Française 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, 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. 

Kathy Bates as Molly Brown in Titanic (1997)

     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 public online forums as I usually feel it's borderline "whiney" 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 the death toll for the incident on the Concordia was much much lower.  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, wether it be the Concordia or just really anything.  How ironic or fortuitous 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 show 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 a lot of purple in her dress.  Not only because the purple would harmonize quite well with all the Blues I was using in the Nighttime 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 the idea of infusing 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 above.

     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 course 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 went onto her dress and blouse. I then did her oar, boat and all the other boats in one stint. then the Titanic Iceberg and Ocean detail.  Lastly I created a luminescent effect from the moon onto the illustration.  That pretty much sums up the process of the 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, though 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.

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