I really wish I could come back after a full-on month-and-a-half and show you a boatload of work that I’ve completed, but that is not the case.

Which is not to say, yet again, that I am not doing any art. I completed a piece since last we met (it’s on Insta and on DeviantArt for the curious, though I won’t post it here directly until I have enough to do a full “art dump”). I have another that’s in the digital painting stages, another that’s a pencil sketch still getting reworked, a few drawings that I will likely post (but will never evolve beyond the sketch stage), and several ideas still waiting in the wings.

Work’s just been kicking my ass again, is all.

Returning to work full-time has been so wonderful in so many ways — I’ve been feeling more productive, I’ve been feeling more social, I’ve been more physically active, eating on more of a schedule, yada yada yada. Lot’s of good to having a schedule, a sense of normalcy, and regular social interaction again.

I’ve also been more tired, more emotional, more anxious… you get the idea.

It’s been a mixed bag, but ultimately I am happy to be working again. I’m just struggling to find a balance, as I always am.

Normally — ha, I say “normally” when it’s really only been the last three years — normally I would be doing Inktober in October, but because of both my own burnout and because of the debacle surrounding Inktober last year (if you don’t know, you can Google it, it was a kind of a big deal in the online art community), I will instead be participating in Drawtober, which is six prompts spread over thirty days. The official Twitter is @Drawtober, and the official prompt list is here:

#Drawtober2021, if you are interested in participating. I’m currently most excited about Fortune Teller, Living Curiosities, and The Ring Master — I might take certain liberties with that last one, but hey, creative interpretations are always encouraged.

Anyway, I am still here; I am still keeping on. I have a zine I am waiting for a response on as well, so I am keeping as creatively busy as I am mentally/physically/emotionally capable of being, I am just very bad about telling you all about it. I am considering doing NaPoBloMo in November (as opposed to NaNoWriMo) and blogging every day, but I’m really going to have to wait and see what shape November looks like it will take before I make that commitment. I’m hopefully, though; I have a lot of both personal and creative things I want to get out there.

Last but not least, it was absolutely gorgeous the last two days — perfect sweater weather, absolutely beautiful. I am glad to see fall. I am glad to see the earth still spinning.

Stay safe and sane, and I hope to see you soon.

Art Updates

So of course, weeks after expressing hope and optimism about the way COVID was trending…. well, you know.

I’m still incredibly happy to live in Massachusetts, where 75% of the adult population is fully vaxxed, where my kid’s school district and my own district both have mask mandates, where my city is doing block party vaccination clinics.

But yeah…. even here, it still sucks.

Right now, I’m trying not to panic about Bear’s return to school — I’m hammering into his head, with probably annoying regularity, the necessity of keeping his mask on no matter what — and checking literally ever two to three days for updates about vaccines for his age group. They still think they might get emergency authorization for 5 to 11s by Sept./Oct. and if that’s the case, then we will just hold tight and muddle through until then. Fingers crossed.

I do wish they were offering in-person classes as an opt-in model, which would give parents flexibility and keep the numbers down — I would likely opt-in, myself, since the last year of online school ended in a near nervous breakdown for me, and a child on meds and enrolled in therapy, so clearly online school wasn’t exactly working for us.

Anyway. I’m trying right now to focus on those things that I actually have some control over. I’ve been producing less art lately, but the quality of said art I think has made a sharp and noticeable improvement.

I’ve been seeking out zines to apply for, and have two on the horizon that cater to very niche interests of mine, both of which are still in either the interest check stages or just closing out mod apps. I’m guessing I will need to apply, so I’m pretty happy that I have a few prides of work to send in when the time comes.

We have been keeping active in out safe circles — we’ve had a few game nights, some sleepovers, a few play dates, and some visitors. Life goes on, I suppose, and I’m hopeful for better times ahead.

Stay safe and sane.

The Question of Realism/What is Art?

You can tell I’m not really “in” the art community — uh, “the art community” here being defined, I guess, by the YouTube art scene, because that’s where I spend most of my time consuming artistic content — because I keep uncovering debates and arguments that I honestly didn’t even know were things.

For instance, I had no idea that “is realism real art?” was a debated topic, but, um, apparently it is?

I was blown away. I… don’t know why, because my time in fannish online spaces has proven to me that literally everything generates discourse these days. I guess because I felt like, growing up, any talk of art, or visits to museum, etc., focused so very much on lauding those works that most accurately represented reality — the paintings depicting flowing hair you wanted to run your fingers through, piles of fabric where you could practically feel the texture, fruits and breads and wine that made your stomach rumble and your mouth water. And we would gape in awe because of how closely it mirrored the subject, because of how precisely and skilled the artist was at directly capturing the scene in front of them.

Don’t get me wrong, we marveled at impressionists and abstract artists and surrealists too, because of their bold use of color, or their composition, or how visceral and unnerving certain paintings were. But there was always a definite sense of awe when confronted with the work of particularly skilled realistic painter. It never even crossed my mind that what I was looking at wasn’t art, you know?

I guess the argument, as far as I can tell, is that while realism is a skill, it’s not so much “art,” as there is no “creativity” involved. The artists aren’t bringing anything of themselves to the piece.

I… again, I wasn’t sure how to respond. I don’t know that I ever consciously assigned a hierarchy to what makes art, art. I don’t think I ever looked at a piece and weighed its worth on a scale using a set of variable metrics. Art was good if it was skillfully done, whether that be what I guess we’d call “traditional technical skill” (i.e., the drawing/painting is realistic and an accurate representation of the depicted subjects), or if was skilled in the sense that it was deliberately and intentionally styled, and showed technical mastery in other ways, such as composition and color. But I never thought of the “skill” and the “art” as being different things.

And going even further, I’ve seen a very popular definition of art being a work that elicits a response. I know, for me, my favorite artists have always elicited a “wow” response in me; something that impressed me on an intellectual (“The technique here is stunning”), emotional (“Looking at this piece makes me viscerally uncomfortable”) or purely aesthetic (“I find this beautful, and it brings me joy”) level. Does that response become meaningless if it’s tied directly to my perception of the artist’s technical skills? Weren’t many of the painters we now consider canonical masters elevated to that level by virtue of their technical talent?

I mean, I supposed I do understand the idea that art should be transformative in someway, but you can very much create photorealistic surrealism, especially if you use a composite of reference images (which is what I do — use a composite of reference images, not create hyper-realistic art, ha. Not even close, my dude). Does that make it more valid as art? Or, put aside surrealism — if someone created a composite image of any kind, drawing on multiple sources to create a scene of their own making, is that a creative endeavor and does it elevate the piece to “real art?”

What makes art, art, to you?

I first became aware of this as a point of contention while watching Temi Danso, who is a hyper-realistic artist as well as an entertaining YouTuber. This is her take on the subject (and her take brings up another good point which is — what if an artist has aphantasia (as my wife does)? Does that disallow them from doing “art,” or does that make them less valid or valuable as an artist? Is there maybe just a hint of ableism hiding away in there?)

June Wrap-up

So I’ve started actually moving again in June, wrapping up several pieces that had been languishing, ignored, on my hard drive for weeks or months. I took a few reference photos for other drawings I want to do in the next few days, and still have several more to take — I realized the other day that of the five A-to-Z redraws I was supposed to do in May, it has taken me until the end of June to complete just two of them. I’m still interested in revisiting several of them, so I will have to do some reference photos for them this week, as well.

Life keeps moving. We’ve been venturing into the Outside World a little more, establishing household routines, buckling down and actually making strides on goals we’ve been talking about for ages. Life has some semblance of order and routine, and we are secure enough within our social bubble to finally be making plans with friends and family again.

I am glad, as I am often actively glad, to live in Massachusetts, where we have more than half the population fully vaccinated (and 70% of the actually elligible population), and a 0.33% positivity rate. I’m hoping the trend continues; I’m liking this controlled return to something approaching normal. I’m liking having something like a life, again.

Stay safe and sane, all.

Ambitious Morning

I woke up this morning, made my bed, did my skin care routine, brushed my teeth, and headed downstairs where Bear worked on his summer academics workbook while I made us omelets, whereupon we ate breakfast, and I cleared the table, loaded the dishwasher, and wiped down the counters.

Mornings like this are incredibly dangerous, because they allow be to labor under the delusion that not only do I maybe actually have my shit together, but that maybe I can 1.) heap more helpings of crap on my Plate O’ Tasks, since I’m handling everything so gosh darn well, and 2.) tell other people how to get their shit together, too!

I am painfully sure I am not technically qualified to do either of those things, but damn it, I’m gonna do them both anyway. I mean, you knew that, right? You knew that’s where this was going?

I started a project ages ago that kept having false starts. It was a YouTube project, a one-person podcast of a sort, and I continue to really like the idea behind it, even if I could never master the execution in that particular medium. The obvious solution — obvious to Present Day Me, who has now had a little bit of distance — is to simply change mediums. I have a blog, and a small but extant blogging audience. Just do the project as a series of blog entries, obviously.

The gist of the project was ways to inspire creativity and to keep creative in the midst of chaos — chaos here being high-levels of everyday brand stress, particularly for those who have low thresholds for that sort of thing. As someone who feels burned out on the reg by the basic expectations of adult existence (wait, I’m supposed to shower every day? Hang on, coffee isn’t a substitute for water? But it’s literally bean water!), I do feel at least somewhat capable of speaking from that perspective, and there have definitely been strategies I’ve used that have benefitted me (ahem, when I could actually motivate myself to use them. But you know, that’s on the individual, right? You can lead a horse to water, and all).

So yes, in the very near, perhaps nigh immediate future, expect a regularly occurring series about keeping creative in the midst of chaos. I will likely be adding links to the entries on my Writing archive page as well, if anyone finds them especially useful and wants to return to them.

As is likely suggested by my chipper ambition, I got all my routine chores done and the house in back to baseline, which means I feel a little more free to be a little more creative again. I spent yesterday taking reference photos and started on that sweet, sweet self-indulgent fanart,* and today I’m hoping to wrap it up, and start to wrap the other two active art projects I still have going, one of which is months old at this point (and which I legitimately forgot about until I had to open my digital art folder on Sunday). After that I have three more pieces conceived of as digital, and then I’m going to take a break from digital art and try doing more sketching and watercolor.

Speaking of watercolor, you all should go check out Emily Artful over on YouTube; I’ve been watching her for about a year now, and she’s always interesting and engaging to listen to, and her art is beautiful. She’s always worth a watch, but in light of the events of the last few weeks (if you are curious and don’t know, it’s easy enough to look up), I thought she was deserving of a little extra love.

Stay safe and sane. I’m back on the wagon with language learning, so I’m off to re-start (it has apparently been five months??!?! So I should probabaly totally restart) my Finnish lessons.

Take care.

*Fanart of Zoga from Worthikid’s animated short CAPTIAN YAJIMA. Kira and I have recently been watching and rewatching all his stuff pretty much non-stop, so they’ve been fresh on my mind again. I’m glad to not have entirely abandoned Tumblr, since there is some great Worthikids art and stuff over there, and I pretty much have a ready audience.

Tangentially, someone (who I can’t find now, because of course) tagged their art of Zoga “a gnc (gender-nonconforming) icon. I don’t even know what gender they’re not conforming to, but they sure as hell aren’t,” and I was like, yes! Yes! Gender goals!

Last Days ’til Summer

So, that whole thing about being less of a stranger, huh?

This year has been interminable. While I’m still immensely relieved that I was able to return to work, I am still reeling at trying to readjust — one day before the end of the year. Part of the problem is that I am already burnt out from everything that came before this transition — the months of chaos, of worry, of literally trying to do two (or more) things at once every moment of the work day, the unpredictable workloads, the constant need for vigilance even when it looked like I might have a ‘free’ moment — and part of the problem is, since being back, I haven’t really been able to settle into a routine. I’ve been shuttled back and forth all over the building, filling in for one teacher after another, subbing because the school can’t hold on to subs right now. I’ve not adjusted to my routine because there has barely been a routine to adjust to.

But it’s almost over. And I’m trying to look ahead at summer goals.

Summer goals are… complex. I, of course, want to maximize my time and use the opportunity to catch up on, shit, everything. Reading, and cleaning, and renovating, and writing, and art, and my son — Jesus Christ, my son. This year has been crap on a cracker for him, with his social outlets snatched away and both his moms haggard and exhausted by absolutely everything. I can’t promise him an exciting summer, since the world is in such a state of (cautiously optimistic) uncertainty, but I should be trying to provide a structured one. A patient one. A kind one.

But that balancing act — my needs vs. my wants, vs his needs, vs his wants — has never been my forte. I get too wrapped up in one or two things, I let too many things fall by the wayside, I promise myself I’ll ‘do better,’ and instead drown in self-loathing and make the situation that more prolonged and painful. I have to navigate a whole minefield of deeply ingrained bad habits and neurodivergences.

And then there is a mess of personal drama. I can’t get into it right now for various reasons, but trust me when I say the mire of that is bubbling away in the back of my mind, the resultant fog clouding my mind whenever I drop my guard.

So there are obstacles, but I am trying to make something of this. Trying to establish some sense of routine and normalcy, and scaffolding for success.

To that end, I’ve been trying to concretize some of my goals – which, as I said, is complex, since “my goals” really encompass things I want for myself, my son, and our family as a collective. They also span from creative goals to schedule goals, to concrete events to attend/activities to do. Given the vastness of all of this, I’ll give my best approximation of my goals as of this moment:

Goals for Bear:

Return to the library. Even if it’s just for curbside pick-up (I don’t feel like trying to wrestle him away from other kids, and if he weren’t hyper-tactile and sensory-seeking, maybe it wouldn’t be such a big deal, but his standard of interaction is immensely rooted in close physical contact and we still aren’t doing that). But still — I don’t know how deeply I got into this, but his testing came back, and his reading and comprehension is at the 4th grade level. So I want to encourage him to do some reading this summer to continue to develop a love of reading to match his ability level.

Find easy-entry crafts and activities for everyday. I’ve started a Pinterest board, because I’m a Basic White Female(-presenting-ish Person), with Summer ‘Bucket Lists’ and activity and craft ideas that don’t require special supplies or planning, so that I’m never scrambling for something to do with Bear.

Get him into a routine. To that end, I added easy to make summer breakfasts to my Pinterest board, so that we can have a cornerstone for a summer morning routine, and bought him academic workbooks that we can work in for an hour or two a day. We also got a Responsibility Chart with customizable chore options, and he and I are making a printable Daily Routine Chart on Canva, in the hopes that, if he is involved, it will make him more likely to do things.

Goals for Me:

Devote at least an hour or two a day to something creative. I’ve been putting off doing basically anything creative for the last couple of weeks because I’ve been so burnt out, but with the whole summer available, I hope to make this a greater priority.

Resume language learning. For me, this means Finnish and Amerian Sign Language. I’m not aiming for fluency in either — honestly, I just think Finnish is fun to speak, and ASL is something I’ve been wanting to learn since I was a kid — but I was making real progress in ASL before the pandemic hit (I was having fun with Finnish, but retaining none of it; to that end, I bought flashcards, so hopefully writing things down will help me this time around).

Read at least one book every two weeks. I’m not a speed reader, but I read roughly a page a minute; an average novel of, say 350 pages should take me under seven hours, which is about a half hour a night over two weeks. That’s so, so doable, right? I really have no excuse.

Clean the house and pick one “focus” chore a day that’s outside the realm of household maintenance. Meaning, I get the house clean, right? And then every day I do my maintenance chores and then pick one thing that doesn’t fall under “maintenance” to tackle. For example, my goal for this Saturday is the downstairs closet. My goal for Sunday is spackling the holes in the walls. My goal for one day next week (going to depend on when I can get to Home Depot) is to paint the wall in the bathroom. A little at a time, no stress, no pressure. A summer full of small tasks will add up to big changes come fall.

Do at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise everyday. That can be using my stepper, playing RingFit, or going for a brisk walk.

Make progress on my Bucket List. Hi, I have a Bucket List over at DayZeroProject. Have you heard of it? Cause I’ve been ignoring it for a long time. I want to take a good long look at it and make time over the summer to work at some of the projects (luckily there is some natural overlap between my summer goals and my Bucket List goals).

It’s a work in progress, but I also don’t want to overburden myself, so I might leave it as is, see how the summer plays out.

I’m just glad to be done. Just glad to be able to rest, even if only a bit. Even if only for a while.

Stay safe and sane.

A Slowing Down

I’m trying to be gentle with myself, as I find myself slowing down creatively. Not for lack of ideas or desire, but because of the huge schedule upheaval — which was also a total upheaval mentally and emotionally — and the resulting lack of energy and just general burnout. I still count the return to work as a net-positive for me and my mental health, but it definitely has had it’s drawbacks.

I have been working on two digital pieces — one is a redraw of my “C” entry for A-to-Z 2021, and one is just an original piece, and I did two pencil drawings to practice males figures/faces. That has, sadly, been the extent of my output in May.

I am actually much further along in this piece than is indicated by this (weeks old, at this point) Insta post, by the way.
A total redraw of my A-to-Z piece.

These last few sketches has made me realize that I think I might be cycling back to wanting to do more traditional art — graphite, Prismacolor, pen. I’ve been focusing primarily — I mean, in a practical sense, almost solely — on digital art, which has been a lot of fun, but it shouldn’t be surprising that, like most of my interests, I cycle through phases when it comes to preferred art mediums. I started this year very interested in acrylic painting, then moved almost entirely digital. Seems like pen/pencil is well overdue for a resurgence.

I can feel myself fading fast, and it’s only 5 pm. Hopefully I can get a little bit of sketching or inking time in before I fully collapse.

Trying hard to be less of a stranger. I’m hopeful that this summer will be a creative oasis.

Only time will tell.

Stay safe and sane.

Working working working

Yes, yes, yes — I have been slowly picking away at a couple of art projects. I have. Honestly. You all can check out my Instagram for progress shots of what I’m working on. I’m in the thick of two pieces at the moment, but I have one I’m itching to start on (but I need to take reference photos, first), one that has literally been languishing as a pencil sketch in my sketchbook for probably about two months now, and one really silly, self-indulgent piece of fanart I am really aching to work on, but probably won’t get to for a while.*

Part of that is, starting Monday, I will be back to work full-time.

In the classroom.

It will be my first time in a classroom since March 13th, 2020.

Ya’ll must remember (or at least those of you who have been around since then) how absolutely desperate I was to get work-from-home accommodations. As a hypertensive, pre-diabetic, clinically-obese person, I was absolutely terrified for myself during the early days of the COVID pandemic, and as a parent, was scared to death about bringing the virus home to my kid (who would then in turn bring it to my parents (who would have been my childcare), who are both high risk and live with two immunocompromised housemates).

I sent email after email to HR and my building principal, emailed my (brand new; like literally she had been hired weeks before the school year started) department head, and had actually started looking into both medical leave and work-from-home opportunities were I not afforded the accommodation.

Needless to see, I, uh, I really wanted this.

And I appreciated having it! I recognize I was lucky to be able to get these accommodations (whether or not it should be a matter of “luck” and not just standard pandemic protocol is another story — but the fact remains, for the reality of the world we live in, I was very lucky), and I did my best to do my job within those parameters. I think I succeed, to the best of my abilities. But goddamn, was it hard.

This was a ADHD nightmare. Focusing on a screen for seven hours a day was torture. The tech issues were irritating. Having Bear routinely meltdown or blow-up practically at my elbow while doing his own on-line schooling gave me heart palpitations. Having no delineation between at work/not at work was confusing and demotivating.

But then the vaccines came. And… well, it’s complicated.

I’ve got to say, first off, that I still think we are jumping the gun in packing schools back to full-capacity. Not everyone can get vaxxed yet. Schools are already over-crowded, I don’t trust the three-feet that DESE says is “all we need,” and disrupting kid’s schedules with only four-and-a-half weeks left in the year is ridiculous. So, as A Thing? Like, as a decision as a whole? I think it’s a poor one. I don’t understand why we couldn’t have just waited until September and started fresh. In a year full of upheavals, why add one more to the pile for these kids? Hell, why add one more for any of us?

And yet… with that being said, if it’s happening now, at least I feel ready for it.

Sweet Christ, do I feel ready for it.

My wife is now fully vaccinated; she’s not at her two weeks post-vaxx yet, but she got both shots, and the efficacy rate for her right now should be hovering around 80%, and my folks are getting their 2nd shots today. With me being fully-vaxxed, the chance of me picking up and transmitting anything is pretty miniscule to begin with, so between my own vaccine status — and the pack of K95s I picked up yesterday to wear to work — they all feel a fair degree of confidence in my return.

My coworkers are nearly all fully vaccinated, my kids have been getting vaxxed steadily, and now with the approval for ages twelve and up, we are having in-school vaccine clinics for eligible and willing kids.

If I had to go back this year, this is the time to do it, I guess.

And just on a personal level… this year has really done a number on my mental health. I hadn’t realized how much of my social quota is filled simply by going to work an commiserating with my coworkers, seeing my kids, etc. I’ve felt such a disconnect from my job — which is hard, for me, since I love my work — and so alienated from a place that has been sort of like a second home for me for the last sixteen years that in the last several weeks, I will be honest, I feel like I’m just phoning it in. Just, doing the bare minimum to scrape by until the year winds down.

I hate it. That’s not how I want to be. That’s not the way I work.

So, this whole going-back-in-late-May thing is a terrible idea. But as far as terrible ideas go (and in so far as, I really don’t have a choice), I’m all in.

This weekend will be a period of mental adjustment and self-care in preparation.

See you on the flip side. Stay safe and sane.

*On a lighter note, for anyone wondering about the “self-indulgent fan art” I’m dying to do, it’s The Wicked Zoga, from the Worthikids animated short “Captain Yajima.” Shit, they are the most adorably chaotic thing and I am madly in love with them:

Polishing Up

I said I was going to do redraws of my five favorite A-to-Z Entries, and damn it, I meant it.

Original sketch for my “A” entry:

And here is the finished drawing, Aldwyn & Amara:

Surprisingly happy with this one; I love the rays of light filtering down!! And the beading on her tunic!! And the highlights on Aldwyn’s wing!

I love far more about this than what I hate. I don’t even think I hate, to be honest; there are things I could have done better, but I hate none of it.

How refreshing is that??

I am working on wrapping up some stuff I started prior to A-to-Z — some of it from long before A-to-Z, to the point where it’s noticeably stylistically rougher, but I’m still fond of it, I’ve put in quite a few hours on it, and it’s a goal of mine to not abandon projects anymore, so I will likely still wrap and post it at some point.

Related to art and projects, a big project that I was an artist on recently, The Fat Folks Tarot Deck, is live for pre-orders! The art is stunning, and includes the work of 77 artists in just as many styles. This is a body-positive, fat-positive, queer-positive, trans-positive Tarot Deck, and all the proceeds go towards Trans Lifeline! Please, if you are someone who is into Tarot, consider picking up a deck! This is my piece for my card, the Nine of Pentacles:

Things are moving along. I’m going to be working on my next A-to-Z revision, which I think is going to be my “C” entry. I’ll be honest, the more I look back and start to more fully conceptualize, the more I think I am ultimately going to be doing more than five works.

Not that I’m complaining, to be honest.

Hope all is well. Stay safe and sane.

A-to-Z Challenge: U is for “Unfinished”

And with that, I am abandoning A-to-Z.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m quitting. I would feel worse about it, except it’s served it’s purpose, hasn’t it? I’ve generated twenty ideas, and I’ve already got five I’m excited to work on, plus three completely unrelated ideas I want to work on. Right now I’m putting it off because trying to come up with an idea and a vignette everyday is creatively stressing me out. I’m itching to work on the ones that appeal to me; I’m excited to go back and weed out my Top 5 (I have three clear frontrunners, but I need to figure out what to put in the final two slots).

As I said before, I am pretty confident this is my last foray into the A-to-Z Challenge, so in some ways I am slightly disappointed to not be seeing in through to the end, but — more than that — I am happy to have gotten some rich experience and inspiration out of it. I’ve got some art ideas that deviate from my rather formulaic portraits, and that in and of itself is exciting, but I’ve also got the start of some flash fiction/vignettes/short stories that I am eager to return to (I’m especially excited about my “I” entry).

Good luck with the final week of A-to-Z, everyone.

I’m eager to get to work on my next projects.

Stay safe and sane.