Sunday, December 25, 2016

ROCKing Some Christmas Spirit on Illustration Frida.... I Mean Christmas Day!

     Yay! It’s Illustration Frida… Well not really. Happy Illustration Christmas!  I was meaning to get this finished and posted by this past Friday, but the universe said,”No!” and when the universe says,”No!” you just have to have your rage moment and move on. lol.

     To be honest, I wasn’t even planning on participating this week as it was the Holiday week (for those celebrating Christmas) and even if you had finished all of the Christmas Shopping, there’s still just stuff, stuff and more stuff to do and get done… It’s like a Clown Car full of Special Holiday Chores… Merry Christmas to me, right?!?!  This week’s topic is ROCK and that was my second reason for not wanting to participate.  I usually like to make the illustration themed to a Holiday if one is close to it and I couldn’t think of a way to combine Christmas and a rock…  I mean, who ever heard of a Christmas Rock, really?  

     I had thought about illustrating a child from somewhere on the planet, someplace rural that specifically celebrated Christmas, and write my own holiday version of the Rock Soup story.  However, writing a story is pretty involved, even if you are using a pre-existing story that has been around for ages as a base for a new interpretation… You still need a lot of time to re-interpret, create new elements to the story, theme/craft it to your specific location, time and set of characters, etc.   and I was already on a time crunch in general just from holiday-clown-car-things-to-do.

     So in my mind, I justified not doing something this week…. until I just decided to put in the words Christmas rock in a Google search… you know just for the hell of it. I had some eggnog and was wanting some amusement at the time.  I came across an image that not only makes me smile, it really inspired me to doodle/draw something for this week’s Illustration Friday challenge.  I just loved the Santa clause with a Mohawk! It is pretty Metal.  So I decided to just spend some of my little me time I had this week on drawing and doodling. I meditated on the idea of a Punk Rock Santa Clause and just doodled to see if anything came form the idea.  I ended up with a cute little character sketch after about an hour or two of playing around with different ideas.

     To give you a timeline, this was Thursday evening… Yeah, I really did wait till the last minute, kinda-sorta.  I really spent most of the week just thinking of an idea, but no idea really developed. (Don’t you just hate that?)  SO most of the week was wasted in wrestling between the “I should come up with something this week” and the “no, there's really no time for it this week” and the “well even if you wanted to do something, what the hell can you do with ‘ROCK’?”  

     SO long-story-that-shouldn’t-be-a-long-story-short… I drew something in the 11th hour now creating a sort of pressure to complete it before work Friday morning.  

Friday came, and with it the Four Horsemen…

     I had such a bad morning this past Friday, I felt like some slapstick character on some mediocre prime time sitcom.  It wasn’t bad enough that I was already recovering from being sick recently also. These were the events that followed:

Episode One: The Volcanic Vacuum
     Previously in this week, I had taken apart my bag-less vacuum cleaner to clean it.  All of the pieces are dishwasher washable (according to the manual’s cleaning instructions) so I washed a load just for the vacuum cleaner.  In the interim, I discovered another part that is near the top of the bag-less bag compartment area. I realized it too screwed off and could be cleaned.  I stopped the dishwasher so I could add the other part. I began to unscrew that part and then my life became a Warner Brothers cartoon for 10 minutes.  If you’ve ever seen, in a cartoon, how a bag of flour accidentally is broken open, then you will know how there seems to be more material that falls out of the bag, than appears that could fit into it in the first place. Then there is a hazy cloud of smoke that fills the entire room and passes over the camera until all you can see is white across the screen…. then you see two blinking eyes.  
Well my life very much resembled this Friday morning as there was an erupted flow of cat hair, liter, dust, dirt, threads, lint, bits of paper, and other various things that can end up mysteriously on a carpet.  It was a cloud mass of hazy duty garbage that descended form the top of that vacuum cleaner and all over the floor.  It was the irony of trying to clean the vacuum cleaner, I made an even bigger mess that I was not able to clean up, because the only thing that cleans dirt and dust off of the carpet is (you guessed it) the vacuum cleaner that couldn’t be operated as it was disassembled being cleaned.  But that’s fine… I can wait.  So when the dishwasher is done cleaning the parts, I reassemble the vacuum cleaner, getting ready to cleanup the inopportune mess that puked itself onto my floor. I place everything carefully back where it goes, I plug in the vacuum, it turns on… but there is NO SUCTION…  NONE!  The damn thing was broken form me trying to clean it. At this point I was only slightly annoyed and in truth (in case your a curious person, such as myself, the answer is yes. That pile of dirt is still on my floor.  I am currently in a warranty battle with the manufacturer as I have had the vacuum for less than a year.  Good Times, but this particular Friday morning wasn’t done with me yet.

Episode Two: The Cantankerous Computer
     So after the epic fail with my vacuum cleaner, I decided perhaps I should continue work on my Punk Rock Santa as it was (early) Friday morning and usually Illustration Friday changes their word for the week around noonish on Friday.  Since I ended up coming up with a drawing, inked it and scanned it in, it was time to finish it to color.  Working on Art is always great therapy for a frustrating situation. Doesn’t always pan out, as it depends on how frustrated I am and how willing my mind is to let something go, relax and focus on a new task (even if that task is comparably more fun than Holiday chores.)  So I turned on my (old) computer and waited for it to load… Well it only loaded to a certain point before freezing. I thought to myself that this was quite odd.  I shut it down and started it up again… again it froze.  Shut down, restart… frozen again, shut down, restart, freeze again… At this point I was beginning to become more frustrated.  After an hour of fighting with the computer, it shut down, but when I pressed the power button…. it decided not to come on at all.  This is when I began panicking.  All my mind could do was repeat the same phrase internally for what seemed like eons,”Oh My God. The Computer Just Died. Oh my God! THE COMPUTER JUST DIED!”   

My panic was exacerbated by the fact that I had intended to do a back up of what was a little over a years worth of new work that wasn’t backed up.  I was waiting for the Holiday break to have the time to do it.  I was really in a bad state.  I called a local computer company that does repair work and luckily they were open at that hour.  I took the computer down there.  When they opened up the computer, they discovered that the real power button had just come loose, which was an easy fix.  However, the computer was still not loading all the way properly and continued to freeze after several tries by them to load it.  They reviewed over the hardware and explained to me that the computer had had so much wear that it truly only had maybe a month’s worth of life left, if any, and it would be more practical or me to purchase a new computer instead of sinking money into what they were certain was, at this point, a money pit.  My heart sank at this news. Not necessarily that I would have to surprise invest into a new computer, but that it was possible that all the information on the computer was gone, if I hadn’t backed it up (which I hadn’t)  This was quite a blow, especially after dealing with the vacuum cleaner on the same morning.  
So not only was I not going to be able to finish my little festive Punk Rock Santa illustration, I may loose a lot a lot ALOT of personal work.  

This was a terrible start to my morning…. But wait.  The Universe was not finished throwing some curve balls at me that morning.

Episode Three: Lamenting a Leaning Ladder Shelf
      So I have these very nice little leaning ladder shelves in my studio apartment.  I like them because they are efficiently practical but also pretty (yes, I said pretty.)  I had 3 of them already, and had purchased 2 of them as a gift to my partner’s daughter this past year on her birthday to help organize her bedroom.  Anyway, they can only be purchased online and I found myself, quite recently, in need of another one at my place.  SO I ordered it weeks ago and it had arrived last week.  It was my plan to put it together over the holiday… Well after, the vacuum and computer and illustration fiasco, I had to calm down some and I gave myself a project to do.  I had decided I would just try to Keep Calm and Carry On with some nice coffee and putting the new shelf together while watching some holiday movies to cheer me up a bit.  Good strategy, huh? Well, I had put 5 of these shelves together before and pretty much knew the deal and how to go about assembling them.  The hardware that came with this particular shelf was, I believe, not manufactured properly. Some of the screws were striped and I was having a hard time getting the screwdriver to turn them. 

This in combination with improperly drilled holes in the wood led to… well you may have already guessed: The wood slip apart as I was trying to put together the 2 main support beams that the ladder steps shelves attach to…. I'm not proud of what happened next, but honestly, I'm not certain I could have stopped it…. I simply and plainly right at that moment as soon as my eyes sent the image of those broken beams to my brain, I LOST MY MIND!  I can’t really explain what physical transformation occurred at that moment (for maybe 10 seconds or 45 of them), but I believe that I transformed into a dinosaur; a real live dinosaur.  I’m certain my neighbors heard the strange roaring sounds that were emanating from my apartment.  Also I may have thrown some of the shelve pieces across the apartment.  One can never be too certain when you’re in your dinosaur form, truly.  

     So yes. Very frustrating things happened on the cusp of a very cheerful holiday.  I had thought about a previously illustrated piece that morning, Red Hot Rage, and how I was very much like it.  It’s not an image that I was proud of myself being reflected in. However, I will say that since those events, things have been much better.  My work day that day was fun.  I love my work family and we always have a good time there.  We were all kind of in fun crazy moods, partly because I think we all get a little “senioritis” right before  our holiday vacation.  We work hard and play hard and it’s always nice to be around them.  (TO my work crew: I hope you all are having a really nice and relaxing holiday. See you guys next year! Luv ya!)   Also that same evening, B and I went to do some Christmas shopping in a town nearby where we live.  He also took me to a movie to cheer me up.  We went to see PASSENGERS, and it certainly did the trick.  I had a very nice end to a day that started out quite rough.  On a quick aside, let me just say this about the film we saw… WOW! That movie was just absolutely a delightful surprise.  It was SO VERY VERY GOOD. A real treat that I recommend for everyone to go see in a theater.  Don’t wait on this one. See it soon, if you can.  Very well written story and characters.  It’s the Magnolia of this decade.

     The incidents of Friday have since cleared, leveled out and have been more or less resolved.  Saturday morning, I was able to eventually get that computer to load all the way and I was able to retrieve and backup all my art files and photos form the last year and a half (apparently the last time I backed the computer up… I know right?!?! Shame on me for not being more diligent.)  I was also able to finish this past week’s ROCK inspired Illustration Friday Challenge, my Punk Rock Santa.  The vacuum cleaner will be covered and replaced under the manufacturers warranty as I have owned it for less than a year, so that’s good.  I also have a new shelf on it’s way, being replaced for free also.  I just need to box the broken one back up and send it back to them.  So things have eventually worked out in a positive way, more or less and that makes me happy and more relaxed as I enjoy today (Christmas Day.)

     One of the things I thought about over the course of last Friday was to list (in my head) at least 10 things that I did enjoy about the Holiday Season.  It helped calm me back down and to re-transform back into my human form from my dinosaur form. And in conclusion, I wanted to share those 10 things with you all today:

10 Things I like most about Christmas:

1.)  Holiday Music.  
I very much enjoy listening to all my holiday albums on repeat all through the month of December. Every year.

2.) Cool Weather.  
Now, in Georgia, this literally shifts form minute to minute. We really do have all 4 Seasons in one day, but I enjoy it when it gets cool. I can wear my flannel, coats, scarves and hats. You can also sit in your yard with a nice fire.  I love the smell of a campfire. This leads me to the next thing I love about this time of year:

3.) The Smells of the Holiday.  
I can’t tell you how much I enjoy the scent of pine, peppermint and things baking and cooking in the kitchen.  I talk about the smell of home after you cook a meal and I truly do believe it is part of the experience of the Holidays.  It’s certainly on my list of favorite things.

4.)  Decorating Your Home.
No matter what holiday you celebrate in this season, there is always a sense of excitement and anticipation when you just know it is time to unpack those decorations and find places for them to live for a month or so.  There’s just a tremendous joy that it brings to me to participate in that particular activity.  Its very nostalgic. It’s also like finding buried treasure, because if you’re anything like me, each item you unpack from the box or been, whether it’s an ornament or a nut cracker or a strand of garland, there usually is a memory attached to each one.  It makes me smile when I put them up and also each day that I return home and see them this whole month.  Its a treat we all get to experience each year, if you appreciate it. The next favorite thing kinda-sorta ties into this as well.

5.) Retail and Business Holiday Decor.  
I always love shopping at this time of year because there is just an added warmth to every store when you see their holiday decorations.  The colors the smells the music.  Most places really go all out to create a genuinely warm and magical holiday shopping experience.  It’s about the only time of year that I don’t mind going into stores to shop for things.  i usually view this activity as just another obligatory chore you have to do.  But this time of year, I just love it.
This also extends to special items that are only sold around this time of year. I mean this more particularly for restaurants.  For example, I'm a huge fan when Starbucks starts carrying Sugar Free peppermint syrup.  I must admit, I am truly a sucker for that place and I love love love a peppermint latte (not mocha. just peppermint latte.)  It’s a real treat when I can enjoy one.

7.) Holiday Lights.
I love how the city and it’s residents put up lights all around.  It makes things festive.  I smile on the inside as I drive around and see everyone’s colorful and energetic light displays. 

8.) Holiday Movies.
I actually sometimes start my holiday movie watching in October.  I really just can’t wait to watch some of them.  I have them on constantly as I cook or if I’m cleaning. I also have them on to watch/listen to as I’m working on art around this time of year.  I’ll watch them over and over again sometimes and I admit, my more favorite ones, I’ll watch year round.

9.)  Shopping for Other People.
I can’t really explain the immense joy that I get from shopping for special surprise for the peeps in my life.  I kind of think of it like a little game.  I try to find the thing that they might find most interesting or cool or something they may have mentioned to me previously sometime that year.  Its fun for me to create my Christmas List.  I get a kick out of their reaction. I’m always curious to know what they will think of it or if it will surprise them or will it make them smile big.  That’s the fun of gift giving for me.  I do like unwrapping gifts also and I love and appreciate it when someone gets me something, but if I’m truly honest, the fun of it, for me, is shopping for others. Maybe that’s weird, but I have a great deal of fun doing it.  

10.) Quality Time with Family and Friends.
This is the thing I love most about the Holidays.  I love going over and sharing food, stories and playing games with the people I love most on this planet. Granted, we all tend to do this year round.  However, there is just something so special about it within this small little frame of time each year.  People just seem to appreciate it more, maybe. I’m not certain. Maybe it’s all of these things combined that create the magic of the Season.  Who knows?  But I can tell you, this last is what I love absolutely most about the Holiday.  

     …But these are just a few of my Favorite Things.  And in reminding myself about what I like most about this time of year really made the difference for me last Friday.  It revitalized and necessitated my Holiday Spirit.  I would challenge you all to make your own list. It’s a fun excursive and makes you truly appreciate the Holidays more.  

     I leave you all with one of my favorite Holiday tunes that got a lot of play this year.  For those who are celebrating today, Merry Christmas! For those who are celebrating other Holidays, Happy Holidays. And for those feeling miserly today, Bah Humbug! lol.  JK  ;0)
I hope you all enjoy the illustration of Punk Rock Santa, and find a little Rock and Roll in all your Holidays. 

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

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Let the Joy of the Holiday Season STICK with you on Illustration Friday!

     Yay! It's Friday, Illustration Friday, and I'm kinda sorta on fire about the Holiday Season.  I've started to hear Christmas music everywhere, The entire city here is decorated for the Holiday Season, you can smell peppermint and all spice everywhere, and, I don't know about you, but I have already begun the Christmas Movie marathon on my TV at home.  The home is filled with the joyous laughter of it.  I just LOVE it! lol.

     This week's topic is TAPE.  I originally was going to skip participation this Illustration Friday as I had put so much in the previous week's Thanksgiving Day post and illustration. I honestly was a bit tired after all the Holiday, illustrating, writing, cooking and traveling.  Don't get me wrong, I love that Holiday and I thoroughly enjoyed it... I enjoyed it into thorough exhaustion also. ;0)   I also couldn't think of a way to illustrate a kid or write a story pertaining to "Tape."  However, after a bit of thought, this little guy came dancing into my head and I couldn't stop thinking about how adorable he was...

     So, I just had to draw him. Now, there are just certain traditions or activities that one does around the the Holiday Season that really just seems to encapsulate magic... actual magic.  It really just brings me joy and I can't stop smiling.  I would have to say that drawing this little Tape Elf fit into that category for me.  I thought he'd be fun to draw, as one of the activities I absolutely love to do this time of year is to wrap presents and Christmas Tape, obviously, is a large part of that activity.  I usually put on some Christmas Music or put on a Holiday movie, etc., and just relax into wrapping.  It's almost zen like, really.

     When I first began drawing my Tape Elf, I doodled several thumbnail possibilities of what he could be doing. In the end though, I settled on having him holding some presents, as gifts are generally what Christmas Tape is associated with.

     I have lately been conducting a personal experiment of sorts with myself.  As most artists our in the world, we all have full time jobs we go to during the week and then after work we come home and draw. You stay up late late late and draw.  This has been my life since college.  Well after so many years of staying up late... you just kinda get tired of staying up late and then relying on your morning coffee to bail you out the next day. All hail to the gods of morning coffee. lol   Anyway, I have found that on the weekend, when I'm working on Artwork in the morning time, I tend to be more productive. So, I thought I would try a little experiment.  I have started going to bed Super Early, for me anyway, and then hopping out of bed at around 5am to start the day.  Crazy right? Well for those of you all that know me well, you know that I had previously NOT been a Morning Person. I deplored mornings and spat upon the idea of them. lol.  Well, I must confess, after 2 weeks on this experiment (including weekends) I have found that I rather enjoy getting up early, working on art, heading to the gym, eating breakfast and then off to work.  I really really enjoy this format.  Ladies and Gentlemen, I, Lewis W. Porter have discovered mornings, glorious mornings. lol  I have a feeling it may stick just like my vegetarian diet experiment I conducted 10 years ago.

     I relate all this, 1.) because it is very new and so previously out of character, but also 2.) most of this particular illustration was created in the wee hours before the morning's light.  I felt very energized and ready to draw each morning this week as I awoke to work on him.  It was a lot of fun and a real simple joy.

     I did some very quick research on Scotch tape (as that is the kind of tape I usually get for Christmas Wrapping) but also because I just have this grand fondness for the plaid pattern that Scotch uses on their packaging.  I had wanted to dress my little Tape Guy as Santa, but (as I said earlier) I have begun binge watching my favorite holiday movies, beginning with Elf (starring Will Ferrell.)  I just absolutely LOVE LOVE LOVE this movie and in the back of my head, I heard my little Scotch Tape Guy shouting "I Love You! I Love You! I Love You!" just like Buddy the Elf.  I can actually hear him squeal with joy when the name "Santa" is uttered by anyone. lol  (If you've seen the movie, then you'll know what I'm talking about.)

     So the decision was made pretty quickly to make him an Elf and not a Santa.

     My favorite part about working on this illustration was creating the plaid pattern from scratch. I did have many scanned in swatches of plaid patterned material, but I felt that it would just make the illustration too flat. So I decided to construct my own by hand.  Each little marking in that pattern I drew individually by hand; one mark at a time.  It was important to do it this way and it was fun to draw it as I don't think I've ever drawn a plaid pattern by hand before, and I have to say I think it turned out well and much better than just placing a fabric swatch.  One of my favorite phrases is,"God is in the details."  I have always loved that phrase, because it truly encapsulates what makes the "interest" in any work of art interesting... It's the details. Maybe you don't always notice them, but I can guarantee you would notice their absence.  Anyway, my point is that I knew one of those key details for this piece would be that plaid pattern Scotch is so well known for.

     I would say my second favorite part about working on this illustration was all the doodle snowflakes.  Those were fun to doodle also.  I purposely didn't sketch them out first.  I wanted their appearance and placement to be organic and I drew them on the spot as I inked the sketch.

     I hope that you all are inspired to feel the Joy of the Holidays when you look at this Little Tape Elf.  He certainly puts a smile on my face every time I see him.  Enjoy the rest of your weekend and find some Holiday Joy of your own.  I, personally, will be setting up my Christmas Tree and decorating for the Holiday Season.  I'm very excited and look forward to it every year. Happy Holidays, Everyone.

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

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Dreaming About Spiders on Illustration Friday

     Yay! It's Illustration Friday... Well sort of.  It's Actually Thursday, but I'm posting early for the Holiday.  For all my American friends out there, Happy Thanksgiving!  I'm also posting early this week, because both the illustration and the short story this week are themed for the Holiday. This week's topic is SPIDER.

     Every year around this time, I am both simultaneously excited and saddened.  I know the history of this holiday and it's not a very happy one.  The myth that Americans tell their children in school is, well... a myth.  It's not really the whole truth.  I always wonder what Native Americans think of the Thanksgiving Holiday and this wonder is the inspiration for both my illustration and this week's story.  However, before we get into all of that:

First, a story:

Ahote Dakota Dreams of Spiders:
A Thanksgiving Story
~Lewis W. Porter~

     The branches crunched under her feet as she ran through the forest.  The lush pine greens were speeding by her in colored flashes.  She was running faster than she thought she could, but was not afraid that she would fall over.  Her feet were cold and bare, but she didn't care.  She had to keep up with the rest of them as they all ran through the woods towards it; towards what was coming...  Because, it WAS coming.  She didn't know what it was, but she kept running anyway.  Crunch. Crash. Crunch.  The only other sound she could hear at this moment, beside the breaking branches were the fast whisping of her feet as they slid by each other, or was that the sound of her shallow breaths as she raced to keep up. She couldn't tell. Crash. Crunch. Crash. And then she heard it; the sound of the ocean waters lapping upon the shore.

     The others began to slow. So did she.  They were at the foot where the forest meets the waters.  She peeked out between the thick brushy pine branches.  Then, she saw it; a very large boat, the kind the ghost people come on, black as soil, with sail after sail after sail stretching their great arms.  The ship was coming in fast, so fast, she didn't know if they should move further back into the woods for safety.

     That is when the great black ship crashed on to the rocks. There was a stillness and a silence.

     Then she heard the screams.  All that came with her began to scream as they looked upon the horror that was coming out of the ship.  At first she didn't understand.  It seemed as if a wave had begun to pour from the hole that was made in the ship, but it wasn't water.  It was pitch black, blacker than the ship itself and it didn't flow like water. It flowed upward; up onto the ship until it was covered, white sails and all. Covered in dark furry blackness.  Every now and again she could see spots of red glittering through the fuzzy dark waters.

     What was it?  What was that black water?

     Then, comprehension came. It wasn't water they were watching spill out from the ship.  They were spiders. SPIDERS!  Hundreds! Thousands! So many she could not count.  And almost, as if the spiders were waiting for her to see them for what they truly were, the dark fury red eyed waters began to poor and flood from the ship, onto the rocks and up the bank toward the forest where they all stood.  All that had come with her, gave out screams even louder than before and all turned to run. To run from the wave of spiders that were quickly covering everything and everyone around her in the forest.  She couldn't run fast enough.  She was covered by the wave.  She could feel all their furry legs crawling over her.  All she could see was blackness. BLACKNESS!

     And that is precisely when the spiders.....

     "MOTHER!" Ahote Dakota screamed at the top of her lungs.  She sat up in her bed so fast that she thought she'd fall off of it.  She was breathing so fast. She rushed her arms and hands all over her as if to brush something off of her, but there was nothing there.  She was alone in her bedroom.  It was not completely dark,  there was a nite-lite plugged in beside her, but it wasn't really necessary.  The sun had begun to slowly peek out above the clouds.  It was dawn. She was in her bed. She was safe.  Ahote was safe.  It must have been just a bad dream. Ahote cried again for her mother to come, but not as intense. The fear that she had felt when she first awoke from her terrible dream had already begun to fade. However, she was still alone and she had realized that her face was wet.  She must have been crying while she was asleep.  She longed for her mother's comfort.

     Shimah Dakota came rush through the door. "Ahote! What is the matter? Why are you crying?  Did you have a bad dream?"  Ahote's mother wrapped her arms around her her daughter and began to rock back and forth slowly.  "You're OK, Ahote. You're OK. You're with me and everything is going to be OK."

     When Ahote had calmed down enough for her to speak, she told her mother that she indeed had had a terrible dream that frightened her so badly.  She didn't tell her mother what it was.  She didn't mention the spiders.  She wasn't entirely sure why. She just felt that perhaps it wasn't important now that it was over.  Shimah bade her daughter to get out of bed and begin getting ready for school.  Ahote thought that if it wasn't bad enough that she was almost frightened to death, going to school on top of it seemed less than appealing to her.  She wrinkled her nose at her mother.

     "Don't look at me that way, Ahote, it is a school day and you will be going today; bad dreams or no bad dreams. You aren't ill so you're going. You should hurry. The bus will be here before you know it."  Shimah left Ahote's bedroom and Ahote could hear her now in the kitchen preparing breakfast.  Ahote got ready for school and joined her mother in the kitchen.  She ate breakfast with her mother and they laughed as they normally would on any school morning.

     Ahote then grabbed her school things, her mother kissed her and wished her a better day than her morning start had been, and Ahote walked to the bus stop.  Ahote and her mother are Native Americans.  They are part of the Dakota Tribe. However, they do not live on the reservation with their other tribe members.  They are some of the few members who have decided to live in suburban city neighborhood.
     This was her mother's choice.  Ahote didn't fully understand it, as she enjoyed visiting the rest of the tribe when her mother would visit Ahote's grandmother, as they often would do; at least twice if not three times a week.  "I'll tell you all about it one day, Ahote, when you are older." Shimah would say to her daughter, when Ahote would ask why they lived in the suburbs and not on the reservation.  So Ahote went to the public school with all the other suburban children her age as well as riding the bus to and from her school.  Ahote didn't mind her school, in fact she honestly really loved it.  There were all kinds and all colors of kids that lived in her neighborhood and that went to her school.  None of the kids made fun of her for being a Native American, because at Ahote's school, there was every color under the rainbow, and she liked that.  Sure not all the kids got along with each other all of the time, but she had plenty of friends and she was happy there.  She often smiled when she would think of herself as a band on a rainbow.

     There was only one time of the year that Ahote really felt separated form the rest of her school, and unfortunately, that day was coming up very soon...

     National Thanksgiving Day.

     She always had felt conflicted about that particular holiday as she was taught 2 very very different versions of the Thanksgiving Story each year.  The one that most of the kids know and think about when they think of the holiday is the one she learned about at school.  The other version of the story is the one that her mother and her grandmother would tell her about at home... and they were VERY different stories.  This time of year always gave Ahote a little bit of nervousness.  One of the other things that Ahote does at school differently from the other children is that she changes the words to My Country Tis of Thee, just some.  Instead of singing "Land of the Pilgrim's Pride," she sings,"Land of the Natives' Pride." She always smiles when she does this. It makes her proud to sing the song when she does and no one really notices that she's singing them differently.

     That day and class, everyone was making a turkey out of a hand print.  Ahote never really liked the activity very much so she slowly poked along on making hers.  She knew she wouldn't be taking it home anyway.  She would throw it away in the trash can before getting on the bus home. Even though her family did celebrate the holiday, there were still certain traditional activities that her mother would just prefer she not participate in, like the hand-print turkey.  The sad thing was that Ahote really did love the Arts and Crafts time at her school.  She really enjoyed drawing intricate and colorful patterns; the kinds she would see when she would visit the Dakota. However, the Hand-print Turkey was a bit lack luster in comparison, she thought.  So not to cause a ruckus at school, she makes her turkey, but then disposes of it before she gets home.

     As the bell rang for the end of the school day, the teacher called across the room,"Don't forget tomorrow, children, that we will be in the auditorium instead of the class room to pick and rehearse parts for the school's Thanksgiving Day Pageant."  Ahote stopped in her tracks.  Could this have been what she had been thinking about in her dream. The dreaded Thanksgiving Day Pageant.  She shivered some at the thought of the coming day.  She was always picked to play the part of Squanto, and she always hated doing it.  Not because she didn't think that Squanto had been an honorable man from her history, quite the opposite actually, She just thought the way that the Thanksgiving Story was told at her school didn't really resemble what the real story was, that her mother had told to her.  And for that reason, she didn't feel that the pageant represented Squanto's people or any of the Native Peoples in a respectful way.  In all honesty, she felt like it was a betrayal to her mother and grandmother and she just didn't like participating.  She could try to fake being sick, she supposed, but she knew her mother would see through it...  She just had to endure the next few days, just like she always had to.

     That night after supper, Ahote was glad to see her bed.  The thought of the coming days made her feel very very tired.  She was asleep before she even knew it.

     When the black fog dissipated there was a vast field, filled with many people.  It looked like the Dakota reservation but it was not. It was elsewhere.  The people where both ghost people and the native people she recognized.  They looked like the Dakota tribe, but they were not.  There was fighting so much fighting.  The ground was green and red and black and the sound was almost so horrible and loud that her ears almost stopped hearing it all.  There were shouts and there were screams and ghost people were hurting native people and native people were hurting ghost people.  It was more than she could bear to watch but she couldn't close her eyes.  The black fog was like magic and once it lifted to the horror she was seeing, she could neither un-see it nor close her eyes.  She ran to hid under a bush that was close by.  No one seemed to see her or take notice of her.

     Then all of the fighting just stopped. It stopped and everyone turned to look at the dark black skies.  She could see things falling out of the clouds like rain, but it was not rain. The things were bigger than rain drops.  they looked like... like blankets.  Dark black blankets were falling from the sky. Everyone watched as they rained down down down upon the field.  As they drew closer and closer, she could see red spots begin to appear on the black furry blankets.  They only appeared to be falling upon the people all the people, ghost and native alike,  as if to cover them for sleep or warm them from a harsh winter. But these blankets were not friendly, no. They fell upon the fighting people as if they were eating them. The blankets were eating all the people. It was such a terrible sight.

     Then the blanket mounds began to transform into large black spiders.  And she was once more surrounded by them; spiders everywhere she could see across the field.  She knew at once she couldn't stay hidden, because they were all looking at her.  They could see her in the bush.  She darted out from underneath the bush and was about to run because she just KNEW that those giant spiders were going to chase her...

     ...but they didn't.

     The spiders just stood there and looked at her, no. They could look through her, inside her, like they were reading her mind.  She at once, was no longer afraid of them and before she could ask the question she had been thinking in her mind,"Who are you? Why are you here? What do you want of me?" The Black fog took her.

     Ahote awoke again in her bed, heart racing, feeling a bit panicked. She looked around the room as if she expected to see the Giant Spiders in her dream, but of course, there was nothing there except the pale growing light of Dawn breaking across her bedroom windows.

     At breakfast Ahote told her mother about both of the dreams she had had and about the spiders.  She just didn't understand why they seemed so scary yet they didn't seem like they would harm her.  Her mother raised an eyebrow.

     "Ahote, I'm not as of yet certain what they mean, but I am quite certain that your dreams are trying to tell you something. I know that Thanksgiving Day is coming and you always seem to be upset around this holiday, but I promise you that everything is going to be OK. We will be fine and we will celebrate that day the way we always have. Together and we will see Grandma Dakota and we will eat and eat and eat." Shemah tickled her daughter as she said this and it made them both laugh. "I'm going to see your Grandma Dakota today actually to make plans for our holiday. I will ask her what she thinks about your dreams and we can talk about them when you get home from school today."

     This made Ahote feel much better.  She finished breakfast and headed out to catch the school bus.

      That day in the auditorium was grueling for Ahote.  Even though the teachers and the Principal had student after student read for each part, She knew they would do as they always did, give her the part of Squanto, the friendly Indian Chief who helps the poor Pilgrims through the winter by feeding them and teaching them how to grow food.  This always made Ahote groan form the inside.  She really disliked playing that part, because she felt like it was a bit of an insult to her, her mother, for having to watch her do it year after year, her tribe and her native people as a whole.  It was kind of sort of correct but not really.  She felt as if she was trapped inside a Fairy tale version of what really happened.  She always hid her dislike and accepted the part graciously. The teachers and the principal would smile as if they were doing her some kind of big favor. Honestly she just wished they would give the role to the next kid who wanted it, so she could dress up as the Turkey.  That part of the play always made her laugh, the dancing turkey, but she knew they would never give her that role. She would be Squanto forever until her last days at the school.

     That evening at home, Ahote sat at the dinner table with her mother.  She had brought home some books form the tribes library after talking with Grandma Dakota.  "Ahote, I think the Spider or Spiders you are dreaming about are just your Spirit Animals."

     Ahote made a grimacing face. She didn't much care for spiders or many insects for that matter.  She would never harm them as she was always taught to respect all life... But she didn't really want to go be very friendly with them either.  Ahote decided that she would let them go about their business and they should let her go about hers. Coexist but not invite them over for sleepovers. Blah!

     Shimah laughed as Ahote made a second face of disgust."No, I'm serious Ahote. Your spirit animal is supposed to be your guide. See here." Shimah pointed to the illustration and writing in the book.  "The Spider represents the wild spirit of creativity and allows you to navigate through the ebbs of flows of life.  They are the weavers of life's fate when they weave their intricate webs.  Essentially they are the weaver's of life and it's story."

     Ahote was becoming quite fascinated with the idea and it made her feel less afraid of her dreams now.  "What does it mean when you see them in your dreams, though?" Ahote asked her mother.

     "Oh yes! That actually is quite fascinating and I think you'll like the answer.  Grandma Dakota helped me find this book here."  Shimah pulled another book out from the stack.  Ahote saw that it was decorated so beautifully with colorful images of dream catchers and animals on it's cover.  Shimah opened the book to the page about the spider.  She and Ahote read the page aloud together.

     "When you dream about a spider, chances are they are trying to tell you something very important about a direction your life is taking.  They are associated with such attributes as Patience, Receptivity or Openness and Creativity.  If A spider appears in your dream, especially if it is your totem animal, then pay very close attention to what it is trying to tell you."

     "So you see Ahote, the spiders in your dream aren't trying to scare you, they are trying to tell you something very very important about yourself or your life's path.  If you dream about them again, try to see what it is that they are doing and see if you can find some meaning in it with whats going on around you, say perhaps at school, or the pageant that I know you don't like participating in."

     "But Mother, it's just that they always pick me to play the part of..."

     "I know, Ahote. I know what they do and I know how it makes you feel. Do you remember what I told you about that?  It is our job to be kind and loving as the Dakota, even when others are wrong.  This is how we honor those that came before us. This is how we honor each other and this is how we honor this world we have been so graciously given."

     "I know." Ahote said as she smiled up at her mother and Shimah smiled back at her as she closed the book.

     "Well I hope this was helpful, or at least helped you feel better. Now get ready for bed."

     Ahote did feel better and she was not afraid or weary when she fell asleep in her bed that night.

     The dark fog came and lifted once more, and when it did, it revealed a small farm in a field.  There were many  people once more, ghost and native alike. They were not fighting, they were sitting around 3 long tables. There were so many of them and they were laughing.  There was food, so much food; as much food as there were people, if not more food.  Squashes and Pumpkins and corn and cornbread and fish and deer and turkey and duck and so much more.  It seemed like a Feast After the Harvest.  So many things in this vision seemed so familiar to her.  Then she realized the scene she was really witnessing was the scene of the First Thanksgiving, but how it truly happened.

     All of a sudden there was a very loud horn that echoed across the field and the farm.  It came from the forest a distance away.  She now found herself sitting at the table with all the people around her.  They all stopped what they were doing and looked toward the sound of the horn.  It was still calling.  Everyone was just so still. It was almost as if they were frozen, like in a museum.

     That is when the tables began to shake.  They rumbled and bumbled.  The plates and food began to rattle and move and fall off of the tables as they shook. It was quite a noise.  Then the people began to shake and quiver.  Their faces seemed to both melt and change form right before her eyes.  The people were transforming. But what were they transforming into? She couldn't tell.  Then like a wave starting from the top of the table, a dark furriness began to appear.  It whooshed down past her to the very end of the table.  When she looked back around her, she found that she was surrounded by the giant spiders.  She wasn't afraid even though they were much much taller than she.  they seemed silly actually because they were sitting at the 3 long tables just like people would, with all of their legs and everything.  She almost giggled, but she didn't.  They were all looking at her with that strange look once more. The look as if they all had something to tell her. Something important.  She remembered what her mother had told her."If you see them again, try and listen to what it is they are trying to tell you."   So she listened.  She didn't hear anything.  She leaned closer to the inside of the tables, and that is when she finally hear it; a whispering as if a thousand voices were all trying to say something to her all at once.  She leaned in even closer and strained her ears.  The whispers became louder and  then louder and the louder and then...

     ...Ahote's eyes opened to the breaking light in her bedroom.  She wasn't sitting up. She was lying down still in her bed.  She was smiling.  She wasn't afraid of the Spiders in her dreams anymore. She finally understood what it was that her Spirit Animals were trying to tell her.  She sprang out of bed that morning excited about what was to come on this day; the day of the school's Thanksgiving Pageant.

    It was late afternoon and Ahote, nervously peeked out from behind the auditorium stage curtain.  She saw the auditorium filling up with all the parents of the students that went to her school.  Many she recognized, many she did not.  She was arguing with herself in her inside voice whether or not this was a good idea after all. She was a bit nervous. She wondered if her mother was going to be mad with her, or if they would kick her out of school for the stunt she was about to pull.  She didn't know and she couldn't be worried.  The Spiders had told her that this is the right path and her mother did say that if you listen to them, they will not steer you wrong.  She pushed the curtain back in place and headed back to where the rest of the children had gathered behind stage to wait for the play to start.  On her way back she pulled out a handful of different colored magic markers that she had borrowed from her classroom.  She had decided that it wasn't really wrong to take them, as she intended to give them back to her teacher after the performance.  When she joined the group of students backstage, she saw that she wasn't the only one that was nervous.  Many of the students had worn tracks on the floor from pacing back and forth in their sneakers.  There was also a group of adults she hadn't really seen before.  They must be parents that volunteered to help with the play.  Ahote drew a deep breath and walked over to one of the adults.

     "Mam? Excuse me, but I really need to use the rest room."  Ahote said to the volunteer parent.

     "It's down the hall, sweetie. Hurry or you'll be late getting on stage."

     Ahote hurried to the girls bathroom and went into one of the stalls, closing and locking the stall door behind her.  "Alright, Ahote, It's now or never. Time to get to work." she said to herself.  She opened the stall door and peeked around to see if anyone was there.  Good. The coast was clear.  She snick back to  where the group of kids were but kept just out of site of everyone.  She couldn't let anyone see what she had done, just yet.  Not yet.  Timing was everything for this to work.

     As the children filed into the backstage of the auditorium and took their place on the stage, she heard the parents clapping and she knew that the pageant had begun.  She quickly made her way from her hiding spot and through the backstage door.  She walked out on stage and everyone just stopped to look at her.  Ahote looked out on the audience and saw that all the parents and teachers were jaws dropped staring at her.  She was covered from head to toe in an intricate and colorful pattern that resembled a spider's web or a dream catcher. It was difficult for everyone to tell which.

     There was such a stillness... until Ahote finally spoke into the silence.

     "My name is Squanto. I am the leader of my tribe and I have come here today to share with you a vision.  Last night, I dreamt of spiders and they came to tell me of the future that shall come to pass.  They have given me a very important message that I must share with you all.  Today is a happy day.  We will break bread. We will share food and stories about our peoples.  We will laugh and we will sing and we shall feast upon the bounty that lay before us.  But I have come to warn you all of the Shadow that is coming.

     After today, there will be fighting and sorrow and heartbreak.  Many of my people will perish. Some of your people will perish.  My people will loose their homes and they will journey across many many moons of difficulty and sorrow.  We will not be friends always as we are on this happy day.  This shadow is coming for each and every one of us and we can do nothing to stop it.

     It is a sad future that the spiders fortell to me, but we must not be afraid.  We must hope.  The spiders tell me that there is a light after this shadow.  A light that will break upon the broken land as like the dawning of the sun; the dawning of a new hope where we may all begin to heal.  The spider's message is a simple one. They say we are to look back upon this happy day and remember.  We are to look back upon the Shadow and remember.  They say it is our job to be kind. Be kind and love your brother. Be giving and love your sister.  We are all the same on this day. We are all equal in the eyes of our creators. From this new dawn we will no longer be different, we will be one.  We will once again break bread and share stories and laugh and sing not only with our families but with each other, for we are all one human family on this earth and our time here is a gift. It is our duty to remember each other. Be Kind. Be Loving. Share what you have with those who have nothing.  That is what this day is truly about.  The spiders have spoken on this day; a day of giving thanks for all we have and for each other."

     There was a silence as Ahote finished speaking.  She looked out into the faces of the audience.  They were frozen and still, as if they were in a museum... and then she heard it.

     The parents began to applause.  The sound grew louder and louder and louder like water waves crashing upon rocks.  They began to stand and clap and clap and clap.  Ahote's fellow classmates stood on stage and clapped. Ahote even clapped herself.  She joined hands with all the students on stage and led them in a bow.  The parents clapped louder.  There was hooting and hollering of excitement.  Ahote felt the best she had ever felt on any Thanksgiving, EVER!  Everyone then quieted down once more and sat in their seats.  Ahote and the students took their seats at the long table that was on the stage and the pageant continued.

     After the assembly Shimah came and hugged Ahote. "I had no idea you were going to do that, Ahote, but I must say that I am so very proud of you. You listened with your heart and followed it. I really couldn't be more proud than I am right now. However, I must say it is going to take weeks to get all of this marker to come off" They both laughed and Shimah hugged her daughter once more.

     Ahote's teacher and the principal of the school walked up to where she and her mother was standing.
For a moment, Ahote just KNEW she was going to be in trouble for her stunt.

     "Ahote," said the principal,"I must say that I was worried when I first saw you come out on stage, but that was the MOST WONDERFUL speech you gave! I absolutely loved it! We all did and we would like to make it a permanent part of our Thanksgiving Pageant each year, if you are up for it.  I think it captures everything that the Holiday has come to represent."

     Ahote was overjoyed and agreed to play her part in the pageant the exact same way.  Her mother and her headed home.  It was now time to prepare for the holiday.  Ahote was elated with joy this year and couldn't wait to tell Grandma Dakota all about it.

     Ahote never had a bad Thanksgiving Day after that day of  the pageant.

The End.

     Now a few words about the story:
Most Native Americans do not celebrate American Thanksgiving for obvious reasons.  Many tribes call the holiday A Day of Mourning.  You really can't blame them.  Many have felt that the actions of the Wampanoag to not only be a mistake, but a betrayal and disgrace to the native tribes.  I won't go into all of the horrors that befell the natives, I kind of review over them in a way in the story I wrote.  I tried not to be too graphic as the audience for the story was also meant to include children. I do think it is important to teach American children the whole story of what happened and not just the warm and fuzzy parts.  Like it or not Thanksgiving has a very dark and bloody history that can not be separated from it.

     And that is really how the idea of the story came about from the idea of how does a Native American, that attends a public school, feel about this Holiday.  I wanted to write a holiday story from their side, or try to with my limited knowledge of what it is actually like growing up native, let alone a native that does not live on a reservation; a native that is just integrated with everyone else that would attend a public school in America.  I knew there had to be a percentage of the population that had. So what was it like for them?  I became quite curious about that with this holiday quickly approaching.

Jacqueline Keeler

     As I was doing my research, I actually came across a very intriguing article that was written by a Native American that actually did attend a public school.  Jacqueline Keeler is a member of the Dineh Nation and the Yankton Dakota Siuox.  She not only went to a public school, but also celebrates the Thanksgiving Holiday.  In her fascinating article, she discusses what her experience was like and why she chooses to celebrate the holiday, in spite of the fact that many other Native Americans do not.  I found her article so positive and empowering.  She really has come to a peaceful space with the dark history of the Thanksgiving Holiday.  You may read the full article by clicking on her photo above. It will link you there. I high recommend it, especially in the context of celebrating Thanksgiving. It's a great read!

     The next element that needed to be incorporated in both the illustration and the story, was of course, spiders (as this is the topic of the week.)  Around any holiday, I really like to theme my Illustration Friday submission with that holiday.  So it was, at first, a bit of a challenge connecting the dots from spiders to Thanksgiving Day.  I knew I was wanting to create a piece that felt as if it had a Native American Art influence.  I also wanted to continue my personal challenge of illustrating children form around the world and writing a story about them.

     I had thought of a piece I did years ago, also for Illustration Friday.  It was a personal totem that stacked my 2 Spirit Animals: A Tortoise and A Spider.  And that is when all the elements came together.  I would illustrate a native American child and their story would be about how they felt participating in the Thanksgiving Holiday traditions that are often a part of American public schools.  The Spider will be her animal spirit guide and it will try to communicate to her how to handle her feelings about the holiday's history and what it has evolved into, in terms of how it is celebrated now.  That's really the origin of it all.

     Just a quick aside about the details of their names:
Ahote is a native American name that means Restless One. I thought it was appropriate for her as the story is about her restlessness over her dream-visions.  Her last name, Dakota, is just to pay homage to the woman who's article inspired most of my story.  She is part of the Dakota, so I made Ahote and her family a part of hers.  Also Ahote's mother, Shemah's name means Mother.  I thought it would be best to just directly connect her name to her role in the story.

     As far as the illustration goes, I of course, set out to find as much visual reference to "draw" from to create the character of Ahote.  I did a lot of sketching, caricaturing, a lot of bad drawing, etc before I came to something close to what I was looking for.  You know the problem, when an artist sees something in their head, is that the visions aren't always so clear.  Much like Ahotes dream's, you only see slivers or glimpses of something in your mind.  However, it is rare that you can see the whole thing.  This is mainly the reason I end up sketching alot until I see something that resembles what I think the image in my mind is... I know it sounds odd and confusing, but let's be honest.  If artists could always see their vision clearly, sketching would be unnecessary. They could just draw out exactly finished what they saw in their mind's eye.  So I labored and labored.

     This week, as it is the Holiday, I was also pressed for time.  I originally was going to draw out Ahote and have her framed by a dream catcher that was covered in colorful patterns and, If you looked closely at it, could see the spider in the dream catcher (as if the dream catcher was it's web of divinity).  This of course had to be scaled back to something I could actually finish in time and post about for today.  Also I originally was going to draw the make up she would have worn in the final part of the story, but I really thought it took away from her by doing so.  SO, I settled for just making her costume something really nice and inspired by the visual research I found.  I also gave her a stuffed spider to hold to reference not only the IF Friday Topic, but also the story I wrote about her.

     The most challenging part of this illustration was getting all of the texture and color to work just right with each other.  I really wanted it to emote that Autumn and Thanksgiving feeling from it's color scheme.
I had used a photo I found of corn as a reference guide for color on her skin to her dress. The patterns were based on some stock patterns I had found, but all of their coloring was based on actual photographs of young Native American girls that I had found.

     This pretty much sums up what all I was going to talk about for this week's piece.  I hope you all enjoy the rest of your week.  Again, for all my American friends, I say Happy Thanksgiving to those who are wanting to celebrate it's positive side. To those who are remembering that today is also a solemn one, I want you to know that part of me is thinking about you today also.  If you are mourning today, my condolences to you. I truly am sorry for the horrors that your people have endured.

     I leave you all with a comical clip from one of my favorite Thanksgiving films that also references Thanksgiving's dark history with tongue and cheek:

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