A-to-Z Challenge: Day/Dismissal/Direct

Today was a poor mental health day for me; I didn’t sleep much, and everything seemed overwhelming and oppressive. I managed to do a very, very rough sketch, but I didn’t write a vignette to go along with it. However, the prompts — day, dismissal, direct — have very strong sense memories for me, and the scene I sketched resonates with me quite a bit.

When I was in high school, my school building was, for all intents and purposes, on a riverbank. We were not directly on the banks of the river, I guess, but when the river flooded — which was not uncommon in the spring — our school would have to close, because the parking lot would become unusable, many of the roads in and out would become dangerous to navigate, and some of the basement-level classrooms would flood. This would mean, mid-day sometimes, they’d have to call the day and send us home.

This was in the mid-90s, pre-cell phones, and our school had two office phones and one pay phone off the social studies hallway. The lines, as you can imagine, for a school of about a thousand students, were unbearable. So, for those of us who lived within walking distance, walking was often the less frustrating option.

My best friend and I would usually leave together, heading towards my house; now, while the girl in this sketch is wearing a uniform, that’s sort of a conflation of the experiences of my high school and middle school experiences. My high school had a massive strict dress code, but my middle school had a proper uniform. Given how badly the surrounding streets would flood, we would often be wading in Catholic school khakis and buttons downs through knee-deep water, squelching most of the way through the city, along the flooded park, back to slightly drier land and busier streets. The rule was, because our folks hated us walking home through that much and mess, that if we were to do it, we were to take the most direct route to the house, which was about a twenty, twenty-five minute walk.

So of course we routinely stopped at a bodega to grab snacks and pet their cats.

The bodega I remember the most was almost claustrophobically small. There were bins of tostones and bundles of sugarcane on the counter, shelves of Goya treats and soft drinks in the cooler by the door. The huge, tortoiseshell cat would lay on the understocked shelves, watching you out of his one good eye.

We’d stop on the stoop to unwrap gold foil packs of Maria cookies and pop open cans of tamarind soda and guanabana juice. By the time we got back on my house, our feet would be rubbed raw, the flood water staining our pants stiff.

Flood days are among my fondest memories from high school.

Day Four done! Onwards and upwards to Day Five. I think I have up through “K” planned, but this weekend I’ll have to buckle down and load up the random word generator again.

It’s getting later and I have felt exhausted all day. Stay safe and sane, guys.

A-to-Z Challenge: Correspondence/Craft/Contact

I added a row every time I missed you, it said. Stitch upon stitch upon stitch for every lost kiss, every missed movie night, every meal eaten at a place set for one. There were days I was afraid there wasn’t enough wool stocked in all of Vermont to keep up with how much I missed you.

“Sappy ass,” Victoria muttered, her mouth twitching up at the edges. She looped the scarf around her neck, once, twice, the length of it sweeping her feet, spilling over the edge of her bed as she lay down. She held the letter parallel to the mattress, squinting through the one eye not obscured by her duvet.

By the time you get this, we’ll be on the cusp of Spring, Danielle continued. I thought I should send it to you while you could still make some use of it; and honestly, if I held on to it for any longer, there’s a good chance you’d open the door one morning to find the fraying ends of it encroaching on your doorstep. It’s really in everyone’s best interest that I send this out now.

Victoria closed her eyes, breathed in. The wool smelled faintly of the peppermint tea that it had been packaged with, and the cloying smell of Danielle’s ginger and lemon soap. It smelled of morning coffee, and the cedar logs that she’d burn as she worked on her knitting on the couch, the TV on but turned low, bright colors and a low hum in an elaborate pantomime.

One more term, she ended. One more term, and my life will be mine again, ad your again. Ours again.

Ours again,” Victoria repeated. She closed her eyes, gathered the feet of felted wool in her arms and held tight, imagined the curve of Danielle’s back against her chest, the flutter of a heart beat beneath her pressing hands.

Day Three! And, uh, only one day late! This was a “planned outage,” so to speak, so I’m not exactly upset about it; having Sunday off lends itself to being a make up day.

As a reminder, this month I am generating three words to use as an inspiration for a sketch and a short written vignette. The ones that I like the most will be taken and fleshed out — the sketches turned into proper full digital art pieces, the vignettes fleshed out into proper short stories — in May. I’ve got to be honest, this is the most enthusiastic I’ve been about an A-to-Z in the last several years.

I’m neither in love with not particularly upset about this entry; I like the quaint idea of writing actually, posted letters to your love; I kept penpals for years as a young adult, and well into adulthood (I was collecting snail mail penpals via LiveJournal well into my 20s), but I feel like no one does that anymore. Which is such a shame. Who doesn’t like getting mail?? Still, of the three I’ve done so far, this is the one I’m least attached to.

Hope everyone is doing well in their challenges. I don’t anticipate this is the only art I will complete this month — I’m currently working on a digital piece, for example — but I’m also not going to force the issue, either, since May is going to be a busy month already, though I’m actually really looking forward to it.

Stay safe and sane, everyone.

A-to-Z Challenge: Boat/Beach/Business

“Hey,” Dara says, shouldering her cell phone as she dug her back foot deeper into the damp sand. “Make it quick, I’m wrist deep in salt water here.”

“Oh God, Dara,” Chris’s voice is choppy, the wind breaking against receiver like the waves again Dara’s feet; he must be on the road. On a call, on the road, with the top down — that sounded like him. Poor reception was an easy out if the conversation suddenly wasn’t going his way. Typical Chris.

“Dara, please tell me you aren’t still running that gross bootleg seafood racket,” he said. She could hear the sneer in his voice, which was rich, coming from someone who, up until two summers again, would be right next to her, holding the goddamn bucket. “I hope you have a good lawyer lined up, Dee, because eventually you are going to find yourself on the recieving end of some kind of food-safety lawsuit.

“Chris,” she sighed, tipping her bucket to let the tide wash in a particularly lazy crab, “I sell sea food out of the back of a hatchback. I’ve got a goddamn pressure cooker in the backseat and a Polar cooler full of condiments. If people can’t tell this is a caveat emptor situation, then that’s on their fucking heads, quite frankly. Tell me — If you were the guy who got sick eating steamed crabs out of a nineteen-year-old trunk, are you gonna fucking admit to it?”

Chris hummed.

“Fair point,” he admitted.

Day Two! Late on this one because Friday nights at my house are “family sleepover” nights; my son climbs into our bed, and we watched movies, play online games, and listen to the radio until Bear falls asleep. Since post-Bear’s bedtime is when I generally do my art, that didn’t happen last night.

Anyway, this one is fun; I like the idea of illustrating something more oriented in space, something that would require me to attempt an actual background, but by the same token, I feel like sand and water is going to be a bitch to draw. Anyway, to once again refresh what is happening, I am using a random word generator to some up with three words a day to inspire a sketch and a brief snippet/vignette. In May, post-challenge, I will choose my five favorites to expand into a full-fledged illustration and a longer, more thorough written story.

Going to post the “C” entry tomorrow, as a means of catching up, and be back on track for Monday.

Stay safe and sane.

A-to-Z Challenge: Animal/Arrogant/Aid

That’s your father’s side,” her mother sighed. “Stubborn as an ox, and twice as thick.”
“And strong,” Amara countered. She raised her chin, her head bobbing slightly as Aldwyn adjusted his balance. “Strong, and resilient. Unmoving. There are worse creatures to be compared to.”
Aldwyn cawed; Amara heard her mother drawn in a startled breath. She grinned.
“Adwyn agrees with me,” she said.

We could get you a nurse–“
“I don’t need a nurse,” she sneered. “I don’t need a nanny, or a caretaker, I don’t need fussing about at all hours of the day. I need eyes, for God’s sake. Find me a nurse with better eyes than Aldwyn. Then we can have this conversation.”

Day One! Always exciting to start a new challenge. Let me lay out the parameters again; I’m using a random word generator to generate three words to inspire a rough sketch and a few sentence of a story. The goal for April is idea generation; I will spend May fleshing out my five favorites.

Today was A, and the words were animal, arrogant, and aid. Here we have a young noble named Amara and her faithful, literally eagle-eyed companion, Aldwyn. Amara is blind and quite effectively uses Aldwyn as a service animal, though her mother is not fond of the arrangement.

I find the premise fun and intriguing, though I don’t know if this will be one of the piece I continue in May. I’ve had very mixed experiences illustrating birds, but we’ll see.

On to the next! Stay safe and sane. I’ll be starting my blog hopping tomorrow.

March Wrap-up & TDoV

This was such a productive month for me; and with actually perfect timing, I’ve run short on fully-formed art ideas, and tomorrow begins the A-to-Z Challenge where upon I will be creating sketches and vignettes based on words from a random word generator. My five favorite sketches will then be expanded upon and developed, and that will be my task in May.

For those interested, I will likely be streaming at least some of my A-to-Z efforts at twitch.tv/rarelytidytwitch. My streams are for self-motivating and are generally quiet unless people come in to chat. Happy to talk to people who show if they are in a chatty mood!

Also, before I go, let me also say — happy Transgender Day of Visibility! Friendly reminder (or introduction, for newcomers), I am genderqueer and married to a lovely trans woman, so we spent today on social media making ourselves as visible as possible!

(All these images are slightly cropped due to Insta’s 1:1 images ratio. Full images can be found on my DeviantArt, linked under the Art menu).

An Emotionally ExhaustingWeek

A few things this week:

I’m writing this slightly more than 48 hours post-full vaccination!! I got my second dose of the Moderna vaccine at Gillette Stadium on Saturday at a bit past 11 am. The whole vibe there could only be described as “festive,” honestly. It was an absolutely gorgeous day, and most (possibly all?) of the people coming through the West Clinic were there for their final doses. I walked in at 11:05 for my 11:18 appointment (technically, three minutes earlier than I should have, but I wanted to hit the bathroom first — hey, Gillette is over an hour drive from my house, and I had my morning coffee before getting in the car, ok?) and I was sitting in the post-vax observation area by 11:16. The observation deck door was open, with people post-vax milling about outside, taking selfies over the field, so of course I had to step outside. God, what a gorgeous day. Being outside has become a rarity for me; being outside on a gorgeous spring day, knowing that I could finally breathe a little easier, was an amazing feeling.

Watching that number go up in real time did funny things to my insides, guys. Just, the idea that — while we aren’t out of this yet — that this is finite. It was an emotionally as well as physically exhausting day.

The side effects hit a few hours after I got vaxxed, and peaked mid-afternoon on Sunday with chills, body aches/weakness, and a pretty bad headache. Still, given how hyped up the possible side-effects were, I feel like I got off pretty easy. I had certainly felt better, but I had most definitely felt way worse. I spent Saturday and Sunday on the couch and in bed, drinking a lot of water and watching a lot of YouTube (namely Simply Nailogical, NerdECrafter, and any and all James-Acaster-on-panel-shows compilations I could find), and after crashing last night around 10:30 (very early for me, who usually doesn’t go light’s out until about 11:40), I woke up this morning feeling pretty good. My arm is even less sore than it was after my first dose. I’m incredibly excited for more and more of my friends to get their final doses so we can start getting together again.

And to continue the ride on the emotional rollercoaster, tomorrow is, at long last, Bear’s IEP evaluation. I have nothing but respect for Bear’s teachers, but the remote learning journey is absolutely failing him, and casting in stark relief all of his learning and behavioral issues. As a highly-intelligent, hyperlexic, inattentive, hyperactive, emotionally dysregulated child, he is basically the perfect combination of both a young Kira and a young me, and we — and Bear’s teachers, for what it’s worth — are banking on a diagnosis, and hoping that getting an IEP in place will help when we finally get back to in-person lessons in September.

Oh man, September. I keep thinking about going back to work, and every time I do, I start crying. I miss going to work. I miss seeing my coworkers and my kids. If fall is one of my favorite times of the year in ordinary time, this fall is going to be the most highly anticipated ones in my life.

That’s it from me. Stay safe and sane, everyone.


What differentiates the rundown from the wrap-up (which I’m angling to post on the 31st)? Basically, I thought it was time for a check-in, but don’t want to post any of the work I’ve completed in March until the actual end of March. The 31st will be the official “wrap-up” where I will post the pieces I completed this month. And guys, I’m going to be honest, I’m pretty excited about my output this month already, and I still have nearly a week left.

Most of — hell, actually the more I think about it, it might actually have been all — most of the work I’ve done this month has been digital. When our stimulus checks hit, we knew we wanted to spend at least part of them on something frivolous, as we have been lucky enough that there were no bare-bones essentials that we were lacking. So I bought myself a Surface Pro.

Now look, I have been having a good time with my Huion tablet. When I first bought it, I was unsure how much I’d like it — I hadn’t used a tablet since college, and back then it was my sister’s old Wacom, which functioned a lot like the Huion. Both are traditional drawing tablets without their own displays, which requires a separate computer/device with which to draw. I remember at 18, not being especially artistically skilled to begin with, and well mired in what would become a lifelong struggle with the habit of abandoning things I was not immediately good at, not loving the physical disconnect between what I was doing on the tablet and what was actually transpiring on the screen.

I don’t know if something improved between then and now in terms of the quality of the product — the tablet’s responsiveness or sensitivity or whatnot — or if it’s just my own changing attitudes and priorities (including the fact that I spent my own money on my tablet, unlike the one that my parent’s bought when I was younger, so I felt a much more pressing need to actually get use out of it), but that disconnect meant less this time around. I still felt residual pangs from it — I still preferred to sketch on paper — but it was something I started to get better at.

But then the stimmy hit, and my laptop, despite being only two years old, was — quite frankly — trash (and often co-opted by my son, anyway). So why not treat myself? So then I got the Surface Pro. And drawing directly on the screen? Ugh. A fucking dream come true.

It’s made everything so much faster. Since Monday, I finished three pieces. Like, from reference pics (which I took myself) to sketch to scan to ink. Three pieces. Done.

I am still primarily sketching on paper — I just like doing it that way, which is fine. The extra step of scanning isn’t a problem or especially time consuming, but I’m considering doing some sketches directly on the Surface for A-to-Z next month. I’m also considering streaming my sketching sessions on Twitch — I recently got a Twitch account and have been streaming my drawing to an audience between one and five at any given time, ha ha, but it’s fun and it holds me accountable (and it’s attracted my sister to the streams, who used to be the artist between us and still likes the process, even if she doesn’t have time for it herself, as well as my sibling-in-law, who is currently living in Ireland and it likewise an artist).

Anyway, if anyone is interested in following my on Twitch, I’m at twitch.tv/RarelyTidyTwitch. I don’t have a set streaming schedule, but the hope is, “most night, around 8 pm EST.” I won’t be streaming tonight, or tomorrow, but if I’m feeling up for it after my second dose of the Moderna vax on Saturday, I will be.

My wife and I are having a date night to watch the new James Acaster special, so I will sign off.

Stay safe and sane.

Blogging A-to-Z Theme Reveal

A few years ago, challenge months were the only times I’d really get any creative work done.

If nothing else positive has come out of 2020, at the very least, that has been a refreshing change in my life.

I work on art and creative projects regularly now. Not all the time, maybe not even as much as a could or should, but — Jesus — a hell of a lot more than I used to. Challenge months are no longer the one time of year I can be guaranteed to be creative — in fact, in the past twelve months, trying to push myself too hard with monthly challenges was actually kind of deterimental.

Trying to cram two challenges into last April (A-to-Z and NaPoWriMo) not only yielded less than satisfying results (with a couple of exceptions; I was pretty happy with a few of the drawings I did, and a couple of the poems) but burnt me out and had my throwing in the towel in 20 days. The year before I did both of those and tried to do Camp NaNoWriMo as well, and that was just a trainwreck; the fanfic that I planned on working on for Camp, and which I had been plugging away at happily, off and on, for weeks before that, totally stalled out when the pressure was on.

So this year, a low-key task. Now that I’m a lot more regularly creative, I don’t need to cram all of my “making” into April. I can use April for drafting, sketching, outline, idea generation.

So, my April Blogging A-to-Z challenge theme is… creative vignettes.

I plan on using a random word generator to generate three random words beginning with the letter of the day. I’ll then creat a rough concept, a rough sketch, and a brief, few sentence long back-story/narrative to go with the piece — my five favorite to be fleshed out in May and beyond.

I am actually super excited about this idea. I’m not commiting to finishing anything during April, sacrificing quality for speed, but I am commiting to coming up with new ideas that I can play with at my leisure — which works for me for all the nights that I sit around lamenting the physical urge to doodle but with no actual idea for what to work on. It happens less often these days, but it’s still nice to have some ideas at hand for when the mood strikes.

I’m super looking forward to reading what other people are writing or creating for the coming month. I am going to try to be better about engaging with other blogs in general, and there’s no better time than April to do it.

I will be uploading the sketches to my art Instagram, and while I will also be embedding them here, I still welcome new followers. I post a lot of unfinished and in progress sketches as I go.

Happy blogging (well, I guess happy prepping, at this stage). Stay safe and sane.

Paper, not Precious

I have a few YouTube vices, if “vice” is even the right word. Special interests? Obsessions? The gist of it is, I have a few niche things that I really like indulging in on YouTube, and one of them is sketchbook tours. I love me a good sketchbook tour.

The thing is, most of the sketchbooks tours remind me of… you know those “lifestyle” YouTubers, who do home tours, and everything is blindingly white and pristine, and every pillow is perfectly coordinated, and the entire home is in perfect thematic harmony — colors, patterns, even textiles carried over through every room in the house — and your first reactions are at war with each other: “Oh my God, who even actually lives like this?” and “Oh my God, why can’t I live like this?”

That’s me, but with sketchbook tours. Some of these sketchbooks are enviably beautiful, but are so detached from my reality that they leave me a little loopy; almost a little defensive. That, by the way, is a “me” problem; let’s be very clear. But surely a lot of you must know what I mean, at least in the realm of home tours or lifestyle vloggers — there’s a idyllic quality about everything they do, everything they show you, and some of you must be both envious of that perfection but also a little nonplussed; “how do you ‘live’ in a house that pristine?”

I feel that way about these sketchbook tours. And look, I can’t help that that’s my gut reaction, and I bear no ill-will to those people who curate such perfect sketchbooks, with fully colored, fully realized artwork on seemingly every page. They are beautiful. What you do clearly brings you joy. Some people just are, innately, very naturally able to curate neat, complete, well-organized spaces. That’s where they thrive, and they have absolutely every right to proudly show it off.

I think the problem is that this is the only side of it we generally see, and the “fault” in that lies with those of us not showing our chaotic messes of sketchbooks, not those who curate more elaborate, methodical ones. When I first got into watching arttubers, what stood out to me was how intimidatingly polished the work in some of their sketchbooks looked. Now, some of that is likely a result of practice — a practiced artist’s sketches are going to look more skillful than an amateur’s.

But it also occurred to me — way, way later than it should have — that some of that is also a result of knowing you intend your sketchbook as a piece for consumption. You are going to work in your sketchbook more and more carefully, if your sketchbook is something that you are planning on sharing for mass viewing. Which, again, is absolutely fine, and which is something that I obviously love seeing, given the ammount of time I spend watching sketchbook tours, lol. Seeing page after page of lovely doodles and art bring me a lot of joy.

But — it also almost made me stop sketching.

So I want to start us sharing our less-than-picture-perfect sketchbooks. The random, half-finished heads that have never heard of “perspective.” The random doodles done while on the phone. The scraps of totally unrelated notes that aren’t exactly art, but dammit, you needed paper and that’s what was available. The same flowers you doodled in your 7th grade algebra notebook and still haven’t managed to outgrow. The rough sketches — or sometimes even vague descriptions of sketches — for drawings you’re “going to do.” Hands — oh, sweet Jesus, the (barely recognizable as) hands. The pages you let your kids scribble on because you needed just five minutes of quiet.

All of it. Every single thing.

So let those picture-perfect sketchbooks be aspirational; it’s never a bad thing to strive to be more than you are. Let them inspire you, let them give you ideas for sprawling art spreads, and creative new ways to fill your pages.

But don’t let them shame you; I highly, highly doubt that was ever the creator’s intent. And don’t let them keep you from doing what you need to do to get moving, from using your sketchbook in whatever way best allows your ideas to grow and flow. Don’t let them allow you to convince yourself that your messy, half-formed, done-in-five-minutes-in-a-Zoom-waiting-room doodles aren’t “good enough” for your sketchbook. Your sketchbook might have personal meaning to you, but as a tool, it’s not something precious, guys. It’s paper. It’s only paper.

I hope you are finding time to continue to be creative, and that you take solace and joy in your creativity.

Stay safe, stay sane, stay creative.

February Wrap-Up

Wait, I…. didn’t I just do one of these? I was a little less than a week late getting my January write-up out, and February is a short month — two facts, both of which I was aware of, but — holy hell, that went fast.

February was sadly not especially productive, art-wise. I started a few sketches that I’m going to turn into more finished pieces. I think there are four of them total, three of which I’ve posted as WIPs on social media:

The dandelion eyes one is what I’m currently working on digitally painting, and has been the bane of my existence for over a week. I was experimenting with different kinds of shading on it, none of which were turning out right. I’m not saying it was a waste, because I definitely learned some things about how to shade skin, and about how I, stylistically, may want to utilize these techniques (or not) from piece to piece. So, it was definitely a worthwhile experiment, but in the end I wound up scrapping two layers of shading that took, all told, probably about eight hours, and that unquestionably does something to your morale, to see that work go down the drain (even if the skills you learned can be used elsewhere later).

To be honest, most of my brain space this month was taken up trying to schedule my COVID vaccination! My district let me know that because of my position in specialized programming, I qualified to get vaccinated — I just need to set up an appointment. Which, if you’ve attempted it yet, is far, far easier said than done. Massachusetts has a fair number of vaccinations sites, including one about a mile from my house, which was exciting to me until I saw that it was booked literally through the next phase of vaccinations. There were waiting lists at the two next-closest locations, and the openings for the MassVax cites went as quickly as they showed up — a slot would open at Fenway when I refreshed the vaxfinder page, saying it was updated “just now,” and by the time I clicked through, they were booked solid again. I’d get notice of a dozen openings at the Doubletree, and when midway through registering, was told someone got there quicker.

There were tears, I’m not going to lie.

This past Tuesday, I was waiting to start a round of consultations I do twice a week just before 10 am. I was antsy and looked at the clock; I had about a half hour before I was meeting with anyone. So, almost idly, I loaded up the VaxFinder.

There were 1100 slots just opened at Gillette Stadium. For a Saturday.

I leapt on that so fast, I swear to God, I think I got literal fucking whiplash.

By the time I was finished booking — a process that took maybe five, six minutes? — they were booked up again.

But I got it. I made it. I got my first dose of the Moderna vaccine yesterday, February 27th, at 11:30 am.

My next dose is March 27th, also a Saturday, and about a week before my wife should be qualified to get her own first dose. I’m ecstatic. I know this isn’t the end — this is the beginning of a slow re-opening of our lives. We will be wearing masks for the foreseeable future (I am a-ok with that), we will still be limiting our social circle and checking in with folks before we go to see them, but there will be a little more space to — literally and figuratively — breathe.

The EMT giving me my shot yesterday (an actually really cute young thing named Sean): Is this your first dose?
Me: Yup!
Him, throwing his arms up in a celebratory gesture: Such an exciting day!

It really, really was.

Here’s to a more productive March.

Stay safe and sane. And if you can — get vaccinated. It feel so good to breathe again.