Arisia

It’s Arisia weekend. I’ve written about Arisia a lot over the lifespan of this blog, though of course only the last iteration, from last January, is still around. Arisia is a general interest geek/fan convention with a focus on speculative fiction and media (though it’s also about art, and costuming, and history, and science, and martial arts, and steampunk, and swordfighting and robotics and theatre and dance…)

It’s been the highlight of my year for nearly a decade; four days where I get to stay in Boston — one of my favorite places — with a few thousand other people with similar interests, where I get to hang out with my brother (who regularly works at the con), where I can introduce my son to and encouarge him in his own nerdy interests and endeavors, where I can talk about and listen to others talking about my interests and passions, where I can be around artists and makers and creators and just sort of exist among people with who I feel comfortable. Some cons I am very social, some cons I am only incidentally social, but I always come back from Arisia feeling excited and rejunevated and inspired.

Needless to say, Arisia is not happening this traditional sense this year. Which is hard. At a time where I feel the need to escape and “get away” the most, I’m absolutely unable to. And — I’ve said this on Twitter already — don’t mistake me, it was absolutely, 1000% the right call. No one should be attending or hosting a convention right now. But it still hurts. It’s still a major fucking bummer, and I think I’m within my right to be bummed out by the situation even though I understand it’s necessity.

So this year we went virtual. It’s… different. It’s impressive how, between the convention’s interface, the zoom panels, and the Discord, they’ve made it relatively immersive and have replicated, as closely as they can in a virtual domain, the feeling of the convention. I’ve really enjoyed the panels I’ve attended so far, and despite all odds, I’ve managed to capture a little bit of that excited, creative spark, in spite of the situation.

It’s not exactly the same, of course; my brother isn’t here, for instance. He usually works security for the convention, and this weekend is generally the only one the entire year where I can guarantee some time with him, and neither is my mother. Bear isn’t running through the hallways doing karate and donning hand-made bat wings and a steampunk fascinator. There are no endless lines at Starbucks, or wandering the lobby barefoot at 1 am, or grabbing curry fries to go at MJ O’Connors before hitting the Masquerade. No sketching in the backrow while I wait for the Dr Horrible Shadowcast to get things set up.

Oh, man. I’m making myself sad. Suffice it to say, it’s not the same. But that doesn’t mean it’s bad. This has been (hell, this is; it’s not over until tomorrow at like 4) a great virtual convention.

I just missing… going place, you know. Doing things.

But for even this virtual con to make me excited to make? To make me eager to create more? That’s something. Come on. That’s got to count for something.

Arisia, I can’t wait to be back in person in 2022.

Take care of yourselves, everyone.

Artist

In an attempt to get back into reading while still pursuing my Special Interest of the
Moment, I (digitally) took out a couple of library books about art. The one I’m working through right now is called Show Your Work, by Austin Kleon, the author of Steal Like an Artist.

I have this perpetual concern that I don’t complete enough work to ever gain any credibility as an artist, or that I don’t have the raw talent to ever confidently call myself one. I came late to the game in terms of doing art; or, at least, in the corners of the internet art world in which I lurk, it certainly feels like I have. Realism is not really something I strive for; I think I would like trying to dip my toes in it at some point, but I really loved more stylized, illustrative works, so those are the sorts of artists I’m following. People who produce webcomics, independent illustrators, character designers.

And, oh my God, so many of them are so young. Decades younger than me, sometimes. Sixteen, seventeen, eighteen years old, with a few years of consistent practice under their belts. Then here I am — pushing 40; having stalled out of drawing entirely at about fifteen, with very little consistent practice even before then; two years into teaching myself to draw, with myriad gaps and fits and starts in between.

And I know it shouldn’t be discouraging. I know. I know the factor that separates us really is time — time devoted to learning techniques, to practicing, to actually doing. I can see the progress I’ve made it two years, even with all the interruptions I’ve had; imagine what I’d be doing if I didn’t have a full-time job, a child, the responsibilities of a household, raging ADHD…?

So every once in a while, it’s nice to get a reminder like this:

There’s this idea that’s hard to shake, that I’ve spoken about extensively before, that you’re not an artist until to reach a certain level of skill. But remembering that artists grow and evolve, and that even mediocre artists are artists — I’m defined by the act of creating, not the quality of the art I create. And the more art create, the better that art will be.

I mentioned to my wife today — this year has been markedly different from the last few. This year, my periods of “art frustration” — feeling “empty,” feeling like I have no ideas, or no inspirations — have been unusually few and far between. They haven’t been non-existant, of course, but the bigger impetus to my output this year has been general stress and ambient chaos — and frankly, I am just going to put it out there that I feel like most of that has been well fucking warranted.

But I’ve had ideas. I’ve had a steady flow of thoughts and projects that I’ve wanted to work on. I’ve pushed writing to the backburner for now because art for my in more muscle memory, and with how crazy the world has been and the toll that has been taking on my mentally, that seems like it’s for the best, but I’m even starting to have ideas for writing projects again (I fully intended to start NaNoWriMo — ha!!! Like I wasn’t going to be driven to the brink of losing my shit by the election), and am keeping a running tabs of ideas to work on when things calm down in the world, both the one outside and the one within.

It’s almost like, once you start creating — once you move from the doing nothing to the doing something — you start to gain momentum.

You start to notice yourself getting better, and you start permitting yourself to dream bigger and take more risks.

And you start wanting to do more, and more, and more.

This is the first year of my life that if someone asked me, I would tell them I made “art.” I haven’t made the leap to not qualifying the word yet; I’m afraid I would still append “amateur” to “artist.”

But last year, I would not have even used the word “artist.”

I’m making strides. Earlier this year, back in March, I took a leap and submited three of my pieces to a local exhibition that was meant to elevate the work of women and non-binary artists. Sadly, this was the week before COVID really took hold and lockdowns began, and I don’t know — with my city still in the red zone, and cases rising again — when or if that will ever actually happen. But that doesn’t take away the fact that I took that shot. It doesn’t make me less proud of me for taking that leap.

I just took another huge (for me) leap. I don’t want to say what it is yet (“I’m not superstitious, but I am a little stitious”), but I will let you know when decisions have been made and plans are set in place. I am cautiously hopeful, but whatever happens, I am proud of myself for putting myself out there and taking a chance.

This year has been good for some things.

I hope you can think back on a few bright spots. I hope you can carry something out of this year that brings you hope, or comfort, or pride.

I hope to post more frequently. I know, I say that a lot. I’m trying.

Stay safe and sane, my friends.

A Little Each Day

I want to go back and see when it was, exactly, that I bought my tablet, but honestly, it doesn’t really matter. The fact that I’ve had it for any length of time without breaking it out to take it for a test run is sacrilige, quite frankly. And I know for a fact that I can count the time in months rather than days or even weeks. Totally unforgivable.

I finally started in on an analogue drawing a did a couple of weeks ago. After yet another long bout of producing little-to-nothing, I sat down on a day off and decided to just commit something to paper for the fun of it. And honestly, despite having no pre-conceived notion of what I was going to do (or — let’s be honest — because I had no pre-concieved notions of what I was going to do), I had a blast, and was quite content with what I came up with.

Last Friday I had nothing but consults on the docket until 1:25 pm, with — I knew — a high probability of getting stoof up. So I staked out space in front of my wife’s computer, logged into my virtual meeting rooms, and loaded up PaintShop.

My consultees never showed, but I started teaching myself rudimentary, inefficient digital painting.

As I’m sure is obvious, this is pretty early in the painting process; I’ve laid down flat color as part of the background layer, and am adding more layer with contouring, highlights, shadows, etc. It’s bare-bones basic, and probably an incredibl inefficient and messy way of doing things, but… you know, I’m figuring out how to make the machine do what I want it to do. Maybe not in the easiest way, maybe not the fastest way… but actually in a pretty fun way? Like, it’s cool thinking, “hey, I’d really like to get her hair looking a certain way,” and then puttering around and figuring out my own homebrew way of getting that to happen.

Maybe I’ll actually watch/read a tutorial some day. That day isn’t today. Probably not tomorrow, either. But some day.

I spent another hour and a half working on it today, and I’m hoping to wrap it up by the weekend (I’m bound by my work schedule and by Kira’s computer use; if she’s home, I can’t use her computer, so it’s going to take longer than I’d like it to, but I will get there eventually).

Hope you are keeping creative, safe, and sane.

Where I’m At

I’m an idiot and left my sketchbook at my mom’s house when I visited today. I had it with me because I was in the middle of a drawing I have been planning to do since literally May, and only got around to starting it yesterday. Positive side, I finished it. Negative side, I… left it at my mom’s house? And while all the line art is finished, I was hoping to not only work on it more tonight (details, shading), but also hoping to start blocking out the next piece in the series (I’m doing “modern” illustrations of the Major Arcana — I know, I know, everyone and their mom has done a Tarot thing. I just really love all varieties of Tarot art, and it feels like a good, structured way to practice doing some anatomy drawing with references, and still put my own twist on something I enjoy.)

Even though it seems like using references is something I should have started out doing and then began moving away from (or not; I know a lot of artists much more advanced than I still use them), this is my first time drawing using references in earnest; I stumbled upon SenshiStock (her handle is included in the embedded Tweet below), and immediately knew I had to start using her service. I always felt weird, the few times I did use a picture to help me with anatomy, because I was never sure what the source was, and always felt this niggling sensation of, “should I be referencing this picture?” (even though my reference never bore any resemblance to the original images; I would use multiple images references for a single drawing and nothing was ever recognizable), or the reference photo itself would be problematic (not well-lit, distracting background, poor image resolution, etc.) Finding this resource happened at absolutely the right time.

I’ve also started contributing my own reference/modelling photos to a niche gallery specifically for fat and fat-positve artists (which is password protected to keep out underaged kids as well as fetish artists), and have so far submitted (and had accepted) four photos, which I’m very happy with. I joined them on Discord as well, and despite being a social phobic little worm, I am looking forward to actually conversing and networking with other artists. This, this is the 2020 shit I signed up for.

Things have been up and down; I keep getting news about work that I’m having an intensely difficult time decipering, and I’m not entirely sure if it’s because it’s really that opaque, or if I’m genuinely just dealing with such a high level of brain fog that I am completely incapable of parsing even the most basic information. It’s really anyone’s guess. But I have managed to be more productive, and I have been more happy with the output this week — both in quality and quantity — than I have been in a very, very long time.

Hope everyone is having a day that is productive, relaxing, or — the dream — a balanced mix of both.

Stay safe and sane, people.


Unrelated, but at what point does the desire to not cause any family drama (however minimal) take a backseat to the desire to not have to read stupid, racist shit on your Facebook timeline? Asking for a friend.

Drawing Dump

A relatively small dump, but here are the three completed drawings I mentioned yesterday. They are also posted up over at my DeviantArt for anyone interested in following me there, I will likely do followbacks (if that sweetens the pot, ha).

I am settled it at my mom’s, getting ready for a second cup of coffee and an early lunch. I touched up these drawings, updated a few defunct links on my websites, cleaned up my DeviantArt a bit; we have Dateline on in the background, the A/C going, and all in all, I’m feeling pretty relaxed (or at least as relaxed as I’ve been able to get lately). Have some goals for the day, but the primary one is to chill for a bit.

Maybe some art will follow.

Take care, all.

GISH

This will be the next almost-week of my life, so if there is radio silence, forgive it.

There will hopefully be lots to share (including the full list, for those who are not participating, though that will obviously have to wait until the hunt is over; I’ll try to remember to save a copy before Saturday) by Saturday afternoon/Sunday morning, but until then I encourage you to familiarize yourself with the wonder that is GISH, and consider — assuming it continues on to next year, which would be its 11th — joining us next time around.

GISH: THE GOOD HUNT

Chalk one up to Perseverance

So, I’ve been hyping myself up to do a YouTube channel, and I’ve been really getting into the idea. It’s something that been on my bucket list for a while — to make an active push to have a successful, consistent YouTube channel devoted to something that I’m interested and invested in. Now, I’m realistic, and I don’t really have an ambition to make a career out of YouTube, so my definition of successful is, ultimately, maybe a few hundred viewers and regular engagement.

I’ve spent the last week writing some scripts for some videos — self-care for creatives, a few writing exercises, with other things planned for the future. I’ve been very excited that I finally had an idea for something that I felt I could do that might actually be of interest to someone else, instead of just vlog updates on my NaNoWriMo progress (side note: I love to watch NaNoWriMo vlog, so this isn’t an indictment of other people making said vlogs. It’s just, every time I film one myself, I watch it back and honestly just can’t fathom that someone would want to look at my face and listen to me ramble for ten minutes. Just… ugh).

Anyway, I wrote some pretty intricate scripts for these videos, and set up a prime spot in my room to film, all with the expectation that I would be able to actually film the first video (I’ve scripted five, thus far) on Saturday, when Kira and Bear were out of the house visiting my in-laws. When they left a little after lunch, I sat down to punch up and polish the first few scripts, give my phone a final hour or so to charge, and went up stairs to film.

And that’s when the trouble started.

First of all, the most reliable piece of equipment I have is my phone, which probably isn’t all that unusual. My phone isn’t the most expensive or impressive, but it makes decent videos in decent lighting, and we had decent lighting upstairs. Seemed like things would go well. Eh… except that my video script was fifteen minutes long, so between re-shoots, retakes, and just wanting to have a slightly more polished look than my vlogs, meant hand-held recording was out (my arm is usually ready to fall off after a three to five minute vlog). I don’t have a tripod that will accomodate my phone, so that was out, and the only surfaces I have in my room are my bookcase… none of which align well to my face. Ok. Ok. So.

Plan B is to use the video camera my father-in-law gave us, which is… literally nowhere. What the actual fuck. I literally talked to my wife about wanting to do a YouTube channel like, two weeks ago, while lovingly fondling the camera. I wouldn’t have told Kira to put it into storage. Would I? If I was in one of my moods, I totally would. Shit. And she’d do it, because I asked her to, and she, like, actually listens to me most of the time. Damn it. Ok, moving on.

Plan C was the SLR camera my father-in-law also gave us, um, a long time ago. It was cutting edge once upon a time, but we’ve had it since the birth of out son, and Bear is fast approaching six years old, and it was only gifted to us because it no longer served my father-in-law’s own photographic needs. But, I mean, it just needs to film a clear video, it doesn’t have to be, like, cutting-edge HD. Which, good, because it certainly wasn’t cutting-edge HD; sadly, it also wasn’t a clear video. So, among the accouterments that accompanied the camera when it was handed down was a USB cable, a case, a few extra SD cards, and not a single set of instructionS. No manual, not even a pamphlet explaining the default settings. So, while I’m sure there’s a way to adjust the apeRture or some shit so that the camera actually utilizes the objectively shitty lighting present even in the most well-lit room in the house, I had no resources to reference in order to troubleshoot it, and oh, man, I was not in the frame of mind to just try to “figure it out.”

OKAY. So. I have now exhausted the options I have available to me to actually record a YouTube video. I should just give up, right?

NO. Hi, hello. My name is Jess and I just bullshitted invented the “visually-augmented podcast.”

No, not a “visual podcast,” those exist and are basically exactly what I failed to do. The “visually-augmented podcast” uses still and animated images and vocal cues to alert you to interactive segments in the video, such as screen-sharing segments and how-tos. Yes. Because I plan to screen-share to demonstrate the writing process for several of the games and prompts, I had to establish that there was, or would be, a visual component, while still acknowledging that, yeah, there’s not a ton of “relevant” video in the, uh, video.

So… how is this going to go? Are people going to buy into it?

I don’t know. I think my advice is pretty decent, I think the games and exercises I’m doing are good, I even think my still images/graphics are fun. It’s not what I wanted, but I’m making it the best that I can.

Perseverance, baby. That was my word for 2020, and every damn day it feels more and more like the right one.

I’m going to make this work, ok? Okay.

Tidying Up

After much debate, my wife and I decided to bring my in-laws into our quarantine bubble. They’ve been extremely careful and well-isolated, and expanding out to include them in our bubble meant that for the first time, a week and a half ago, I had my first day alone in over four months.

Blessed be.

I got a backlog of cleaning done, stripped the couch and refreshed the apholstery, vacuumed the living room, and got in a lot of podcast listening, YouTube viewing, and mental peace and quiet. This past Ssaturday, they repeated the excursion, this time returning with my sibling-in-law Tenri in tow. Tenri is 24 and Bear is in love with them, and so in the ensuing two days (they leave tomorrow around noon) has been attached at their hip. This has meant, once again, that I had a chance to catch up on my weekly chores, chill out and listen to some of my backlogged podcasts, and work on some creative projects.

Guys, today I wrote two thousand words.

For perspective, in the entire nineteen previous days of july I had written eight hundred, total.

This is big.

Tenri leaves tomorrow, but I feel like I broke through that inertia barrier and I am excited about where this project is going and looking forward to opportunities to work more on it. It did, however, shine light on my desperate need for project organization.

I use Google Docs primarily, with occassional forays into analogue writing in a variety of notebooks when I feel like getting away from a screen would be more conducive to productivity (I find myself falling down YouTube/Twitter/TVTropes/Wikipedia rabbit holes way, way too easily). Google Docs is great for its conveinence, in that I can just navigate to a doc, open it, write what I want and peace out without ever having to worry about losing anything — for someone who lost several thousand words of fiction in the late-90s and early-aughts on Microsoft Word because of random power surges, this is wonderfully freeing.

It does, however, mean that I have about a thousand documents titled “Untitled.” Or titled with the doc’s cryptic first line. Or half a dozen docs that are essentially different parts of the same project, but I got fed up looking for the original doc because it was titled either Untitled or Something Cryptic, so I just created a new doc and then the process repeated itself because I never remember to properly name my docs… anyway, you get the picture.

Or, as what’s happening with this current project (and what started to happen with my Camp NaNoWriMo poetry proejct as well), in an effort to keep things together, I have notes, outlines, and the beginnings of an actual coherent piece all together in one document, which, I suppose, certainly keeps things together, but also makes in a slog to weed through and to cross-reference (I need to look something up in my notes after I’ve been writing for an hour? Ok, so, scroll up twenty pages. Ok, now scroll back down twenty pages. Ok, so… now you forgot what it was that you looked up. Also, you forgot where you were in the story, because of course you aren’t even writing the story as one cohesive unit, no, you’re writing it intersperesed between sets of notes and bits of outline because you are a human dumpster fire).

Anyway, as eager as I am to get back into this project, I think I’m going to take some time tonight to organize my Google Docs, create some folders, weed through unneccesary and empty docs (ever create a new Google Doc and realize you don’t need it?? But now it’s sitting there in your Drive? The next time you need a new Google Doc, do you go back to that unused one and utilize it? No, you make another new Google Doc, because you’re a fucking monster). I’m confident and pretty self-assured in how this project is going; I can get a fresh start on it tomorrow and it’ll be a-ok.

Tonight though, I think it’s tea, TV, and some Marie Kondo-style tidying up.

Stay safe and sane, everyone.

Tactile

Still working through some serious art block. I think I have an idea of something I’d like to draw, but I’m just not feeling it at the moment. I’m still doodling — wouldn’t even call what I’m doing sketching, honestly, it really is doodling — more or less nightly, and I’m currently attempting the #SixFanarts Challenge (check Twitter for a bunch of way, way more talented artists’ attempts at it), which is at least keeping me drawing. Still, not feeling particularly inspired on that front at the moment.

So I decided to go back to an old love, which is Sculpey, and decided to make some altered boxes.

These are just the tops, removed from the (Altoids) box for ease of construction and baking. The eye and stitched skin one went surprisingly quickly (the skin tones are all tints from an old Wet and Wild eyeshadow palette — a really great Dollar Tree find that I always keep in my Sculpey kits (if you’re making anything with skin tones, a neutral matte palette is so much better than mixing colored Sculpey; that also applies to baked goods, like if you’re making cookie or cake charms)). The fruit one, though, took what had to be at least two and a half hours because of all the individual pieces, but I absolutely adore the vibrant colors and am probably proudest of that one.

I don’t have a ton of other altered box ideas in my head at the moments (well, maybe one or two) but it’s really gratifying to be able to switch mediums when one just hasn’t been working out for me, especially after so long (been at least, I’d say, two years since I’ve touched Sculpey).


My family’s murder box (Hunt a Killer subscription box) came today, woo! So tonight after Bear goes down I’m pouring myself a big glass of wine, cracking open my Murder Book (yeah, I have a notebook that is specifically my Murder Book, for working on the cases), and getting on Facebook Video Chat to knock out another suspect with my mom and brother. Not the worst way to start the long weekend.

Tomorrow, masks on, we’re going to have a socially distanced yard visit with my family; it’ll be the first time I’ve left the house/been in the car/seen them since March 12th. I’m super high anxiety about it; I feel my chest constrict every time I think about it, but I’m afraid if I don’t take the measured, safe steps now, my anxiety will become more and more insurmountable (we’ll all be outdoors, masked, more than six feet apart (they have a decent sized yard) and we’re all fairly low risk for carrying it, since aside from grocery stores and pretty isolated office work, none of us have left the house in nine weeks, and we are all being super cautious; it’ll be fine. It’ll be fine).

I know places are starting to open up — too soon, but there’s nothing I can do about that — but stay safe and keep staying in as much as you can. This isn’t over, but if everyone actually did their damn parts and acted responsibly (I wish I had confidence in my fellow Americans acting responsibly but, honestly (and sadly) I don’t) it might be manageable for now.

Anyway. Stay safe, sane, and healthy, everyone.

Before & After & Dungeons & Dragons

I’m still fighting some hefty art block; I went from having a running roster of ideas at the ready to spending hours doodling and gesture drawing just to come up with something.  I know that I’m going about things the “right way,” i.e., actually sitting down and going though the motions to unblock myself instead of swearing off drawing until “inspiration stikes,” but it’s still frustrating.

That being said, I finally went down to the basement and grabbed my Inktober 2018 sketchbook, and, again — wow.  There actually wasn’t a ton of stuff in it analogous to anything I’ve been drawing lately, so I just took the two drawing that were full-face portraits and am comparing it to a drawing I completed last weekend, on Mother’s Day:

So… that’s encouraging. I still have a long way to go, but holy hell, did I come a long way already.


Today was a low-key day. I finished a drawing (which I’ll upload later), puttered around the house a bit, called my mother, and embarked on what is sure to be a journey full of ups and downs — started to learn how to play Dungeons & Dragons.

Bear has been asking my husband to teach him for the last few weeks. I’d like to say it was watching my husband run his own D&D and GURPS campaigns over the last three years (twice a week, from out home via Tabletop Simulator and Discord voice chat), but no. No, it’s because he’s overheard us listening to Dungeons and Daddies1 (not a BDSM podcast) for the last six months, and has decided it’s the coolest thing in the world. So my husband has essentially been shown up in the eyes of his son, by four fictional (and debatably competent) dads on a podcast very much not intended for children. I think we’re going to win an award for parenting some day guys, I really do.

The first stage of the campaign was character creation — Bear decided to be a Fighter hill dwarf (or “dwarb,” as he says) and I’m a Druid halfling named Veerle. Bear has apparently heard and retained enough of the aforementioned podcast that he began wildly casting spells that a. he cannot cast because he does not have magic, and b. did not apply in any way to the situation:

Bear: I Rage!
Me: You rage?
Bear: I Rage at them!
Me: You don’t have Rage.

Bear: I cast Speak with Animals!
Andy: You can’t. You have no magic, and there are no animals here.

Bear: I attack with a spell!
Andy: You… you have no magic. And there is no one here to attack.
Me: We literally just arrived in town. We haven’t even seen any people yet.

Eventually I just looked at my husband and mouthed “I cast Magic Missile!,” because I feel like playing with him is going to be stuck in a very innocent version of the Dead Alewives skit.

Sketch is from ’96 (I remember it from high school) but this animation is cute.

All in all we played for about two hours; Bear’s first time in combat, his first roll was a crit hit and he took great pleasure is describing how he cleaved a goblic clean in twain; I, uh, crit failed at least one of my rolls and by all rights should have been permadead, but we fudged the rules since I was the only other player and Bear didn’t want to play alone. He got a kick out of it and is looking forward to playing more tomorrow. It would be nice if this could become a weekly thing, but we’ll see how long this holds his interest.

Hope today was a day of some rest and relaxation. Stay safe, sane, and inside.


1 Highly, highly recommended. I often re-listen to it at night before I go to sleep, and I’ve woken my husband up laughing on even the n-th re-listen.