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.

Busy Hands

I think I’m going to recommit to learning American Sign Language this week.  It’s been ages (I don’t even know how long, honestly) since I’ve gotten any practice in.  I stalled out at Lesson 13 sometimes in probably February and just haven’t gotten back to it.

I know a lot has been said, including by me personally, about not feeling pressured to be “productive” or to emerge from quarantine with a bevy of new skills in tow.  But my anxiety has been hovering around baseline (with a lot of restrictions on social media consumption), and if I’m in a headspace conducive to pursuing an interest, I might as well — I certainly have the time to fill.

Even though it’s been a while since I’ve pursued any ASL studies, I remember feeling about it the way I feel about drawing now: how strange and unfortunate it was that I put off practicing it for so long under the baseless assumption that I would be no good at it.  And not just “no good” to start — everyone starts out not being good — but never any good.  I had somehow convinced myself that I would never get any better at either skill, because I had this perception of myself as being uncoordinated.  Which, to be fair, I am; but there are different kinds of coordination, and coordination can be improved with practice.  Within a couple of weeks of starting sign practice, I was remembering and recalling signs, able to show some dialectical variations; I was actually learning.  I was getting better.

So I’m going to start setting an alarm for 2:00 pm each day, and take an hour or so to work on ASL.  My work is done for the day by then, and any chores I do with any regularity should certainly be out of the way by then.  Let’s get back on track.


Speaking of improvements, I recently unearthed the mini-sketchbook I bought from Dollar Tree back in 2018 when I decided I was going to try my hand at Inktober, and oh my God, is that sketchbook a revelation, let me tell you.  Again, I know I have a long way to go, but it’s amazing how, even with sporadic practice (it’s really only since December/January that I’ve made art/drawing a regular part of my routine) my art has grown in leaps and bounds.

I have three new drawings to upload anyway, so I think I’ll try to find something relatively analogous (in subject matter or composition) for each of those in my Inktober sketchbook to do a side-by-side comparison.  That ought to be good for a laugh.


I spent some time today working from a resource my husband uncovered on Twitter¹ called Croquis Cafe.  They have both a Vimeo and a photo reference gallery of nude models for gesture drawing, anatomy drawing, etc. and it’s really great.  I did a few sketches of their model Tamara and was happy with the results.  (Also, please notice the emphasis — the subject matter is entirely non-sexual, but it is still full nudity, so NSFW, if that’s relevant to you).

Stay busy, safe, and sane everyone.  My husband is picking up reusable face masks for us tomorrow, courtesy of a friend who made them for us for free (two each for Bear and I, five for Andy since he’s an essential worker).  I’m hoping this makes me feel secure and safe enough to leave the house to go for walks and get a little fresh air, since I am actually starting to get a little stir-crazy.


¹ I deleted and recreated my Twitter yet again, because I still don’t know exactly what I want to use it for.  I start doing Twitter writing challenges and amass a following of folks who are very much Twitter Writers, and then I lose interest and start posting about, like, DnD Real Play podcasts, and I just know they’re all going “WTF?” and meanwhile my reading list is just haiku and self-promos (which is an absolutely valid use of Twitter, but I’m definitely not the target audience).  If you use Twitter for a smattering of personal.creative things, hit me up: @milkandkerosene.  I have zero followers and like, two tweets at the moment.

Daily Life and Daily Sketch Dump

Since giving up on my April Challenges (good on those who followed through!), I’ve gotten back to doing regular ink work, sometimes in conjunction with watching some tutorials, sometimes just one my own and off the top of my head.  These are not photographed for the gallery (I’ll take better care doing that some other time), but here are the as-of-now finished versions of my three latest sketches.

I completed the foreground the first sketch (the fairy) simply in order to test a few pointers I got from a YouTube video¹.  I opted to fill out the image today while on a conference call, since I still felt in looked a little sparse.  I could have been more conscientious about the shading on the flowers, but over all it was always intended as a “quick sketch,” so I’m not going to agonize over it.

Second drawing I did just as a quick study of hands, since they (and feet, and to a lesser extent, noses) are still the body parts that give me the most trouble.  I added the plant yesterday, and the roots, extra leaves, and quote today.  Again, for something that was sort of spur-of-the-moment, I’m satisfied (looking forward to breaking out those new microns, though; look at the weight behind some of those hatch lines).

Third one I’m just really, really happy with.  Figure and birds were drawn partially from three different references, flowers were free-handed.  Completed it yesterday in its entirety while listening to podcasts.


Bear has been having a difficult time, lately.  He’s up every night and in our room, something that had become a rare occurrence before COVID-19 and quarantine became his day-to-day reality.  He says he’s happy about being at home because he can be with me and play whenever he wants, but I can tell it’s hard for him.

We’ve been letting him out on the porch in the nicer weather; I hesitate to let him downstairs because it’s already difficult keeping him and his friend next door apart.  They started out yesterday chatting from the porch and her window, and then moved to her being in her yard and them both drawing with chalk together-apart (she on her retaining wall, he on the porch), when we noticed the volume of his speech getting quieter.  He and she had pulled their jackets up around their mouths like face masks and were trying to sneak into the yard together.  Something similar happened today, as well, but this time he had an intense crying jag after.  I don’t want to keep him inside, because I think that’s counter productive, but I don’t know what to do.  I try to be as direct as possible with him about the severity of COVID and the seriousness of the quarantine without scaring the absolute shit out of him, but he’s five.  Even though he’ll tell people he can’t play with them or that they can’t see each other because of quarantine (something he’s repeated to his cousin multiple times over video chat when Ben inevitably asks him when they’ll see each other), he just doesn’t fully “get” it.  Which is a blessing, in some ways, but a curse in so many others.

His teacher messaged me to set up a Zoom conference tomorrow at five with a few of his classmates, which I think will do him a world of good.  I asked him today what the first thing he’d want to do after quarantine ended was.  He said, “Go to school.”  I think he needs the face time with his teacher, if no one else.  He went from seeing her every day and giving her a hug before we left to suddenly not seeing her for, we told him, two weeks… three weeks… six weeks… not again until at least September, at which point she’ll no longer be his teacher.  I honestly mourn his ability to say a real goodbye to his teacher and classmates.  It’s the same way I feel about my Seniors.

I myself had a Zoom conference with my department today, and scrolling through the three pages of attendees faces literally made me tear up.  I’m not an especially social person, but I’ve always taken for granted how much of a social thing work is for me, and how far that went towards fulfilling my social needs.  With that gone, I’m sort of lost.

I’m hoping to get more art done today, but barring that, maybe some binge watching or some work down in the basement.

Hope you are all holding up and being kind to yourselves.


¹ I’m considering putting up an old-school “links” page, for things like my favorite YouTubers (ArtTube, BookTube, general entertainment), forums I frequent, podcasts I enjoy, etc.  We’ll see if I can get that done by the weekend.  That’s the goal.

A One-Day Weirdness Oasis (plus some art)

Since dropping my two challenges, I’ve gotten my house mostly clean, started up a new project at a fandom wiki, and done two pieces of art, so overall, I do feel like I made the right call.

In the past I’ve used monthly challenges to force myself to do creative work, and while he challenge would push me to create stuff for a month, I would then go into creative hibernation for basically the rest of the year.  The last several months, I have been actively creative.  The challenges were great fun in getting me to conceptualize ideas and open up my mind to what could be art fodder (song lyrics!  What a fucking treasure trove of inspiration!  But also, simple things!  Women lounging in bed!  People gathered at a funeral!  It doesn’t have to be a sweeping and grandiose landscape, there is beauty in the mundane!)

While visual art has been sort of booming (or at least, not stagnating), I do have a lot of work to do to kickstart my writing habit outside the confines of poetry challenges.  I’m going to have to set aside some time everyday to just, I don’t know, free write?  Try to construct/compose a poem?  Put pen to paper, at the very least.  I’ll let you know how that goes.

But none of that is happening today, because today is the one-day, stay-at-home, mini-GISH!  I’ve talked about GISH in other iterations of this blog (which really isn’t helpful for a large number of people currently here, but long-time readers may recognize the name). GISH is normally a week-long multi-media international scavenger hunt combining bizarre challenges, acts of creativity, radical kindness, and general weirdness, run by Supernatural’s Misha Collins.  It’s one of the highlights of my year, and I’ve headed up my own team since 2014.  This year our regular hunt will be in August — whether or not the quarantine is still in effect, with items being modified for those of us still under quarantine — but this one is designed as a fully at-home hunt, with proceeds directly benefiting COVID-19 relief efforts and feeding low-income kids.  Kick-off is at 3 pm EST, and it runs for a full 24 hours; I’ll be able to share what we’ve completed by 3:30 pm tomorrow, so I hope to have some fun stuff to share with you all by then.

Until then, these are the last two pieces I completed.  I have severely mixed feelings about the drawing; I love, love, love the monstrous mouth.  I think the shading and coloration on it are wonderful.  I am upset by her head and face; I messed up on the mouth, and the lines for her hair were faint and I definitely outlined too “wide,” i.e., her head is bigger than I would have wanted it.  The biggest issue I have, though, is my cheap pencils don’t blend and don’t give the coverage I want,  I need to invest in wax-based pencils like Prismacolor.

The painting is not 100% complete, but I like the concept and am moderately happy with how it’s turning out.  Acrylic will probably never be “my” medium, but I feel like I’m getting incrementally better.

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I just want to end by saying, I know I talk about feeling the need to make “good use” of this time, and I want to clarify: we are experiencing trauma.  I know that, and I need other people to know that.  Everyone copes with trauma differently.  Keeping busy and doing projects make me feel better; they help me manage my anxiety, they make me feel proud and accomplished.

That being said, I will gently suggest that if you are mentally and emotionally capable of doing so, finding a hobby or a past-time to fill the time, simply because in my experience it makes time pass more smoothly and gives my mind something else to focus on.  But it’s not a competition.  You don’t owe other people “productivity” during this time, and maybe your new “hobby” is finally binging every show you always swore you’d “get around” to, or developing a five-star island in Animal Crossing.  That’s fine.  If that’s helping you cope, that’s wonderful.  But try to find something to keep you afloat; you don’t have to defend what that is to anyone.

Stay safe, stay sane, stay inside.

A-to-Z Challenge: Engine Driver

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Today was the best day Bear has had in a long time; since the start of quarantine, his mood has been volatile, and he’s become hugely argumentative.  Which is not surprising, nor do I blame him, but dealing with my own internal struggles (quarantine-related and otherwise) coupled with the fact that I am now alone with Bear for the entire day while also trying to work/conduct some classes and tutor him means I, myself, have not always acted or reacted in the most positive way, and the onus for changing this whole dynamic was on me.  I made a very conscientious effort to not lose my temper or raise my voice, and while it was not a perfect day, it did run a lot more smoothly, and we managed to both be very productive.  Bear got all his school work done, a number of enrichment activities, and I got a lot of chores done, as well as my A-to-Z challenge.

Ink and colored pencils.

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The Engine Driver

I’m an engine driver
On a long run, on a long run
Would I work beside her?
She’s a long one, such a long one 

And if you don’t love me, let me go
And if you don’t love me let me go 

I’m a country lineman
On a high line, on a high line
So will be my grandson
There are power lines in our bloodlines 

And if you don’t love me, let me go
And if you don’t love me, let me go 

And I am a writer, writer of fictions
I am the heart that you call home
And I’ve written pages upon pages
Trying to rid you from my bones
My bones
My bones 

I’m a money lender
I have fortunes upon fortunes
Take my hand for tender
I am tortured, ever tortured 

And if you don’t love me, let me go
And if you don’t love me, let me go 

And I am a writer, writer of fictions
I am the heart that you call home
And I’ve written pages upon pages
Trying to rid you from my bones
I am a writer, I am all that you have home
Home

And I’ve written pages upon pages
Trying to rid you from my bones
My bones
My bones 

And if you don’t love me, let me go
(And if you don’t love me, let me go)
And if you don’t love me, let me go

Ten

I realized last night while finishing up my latest drawing that I had completed ten micron drawings so far this year.

Ten.  I don’t think I finished that much art all of last year.

I keep reassuring myself that I’m getting better; that my follow through — at least with regards to creative endeavors — is getting better, but it’s good to see the objective proof of this.  It’s not just a “feeling,” it’s a measurable truth.  I’m still not where I want to be, in neither quantity nor quality of output, but I feel like I’m making valid strides towards that goal.

I’m not thrilled with the latest, but I drew it fairly quickly because it was something that I conceptualized quickly and had no real emotional investment in.  Given those truths, it actually came out pretty well:20200229_153136

And the one before that — because I just realized I’d never posted it — upon which my mother remarked, “that one, I like” because it’s the only one I’ve shown her that’s been “pretty.”  Sigh:

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I’ll be putting the latest batch up in my Gallery later today.

I’m feeling sort of blah and down this weekend; not depressed, because it’s not that I feel disinterested in life — it’s more like, there’s a lot of things I’d love to do, but none of them are accessible or feasible at the moment, and that in and of itself is sort of a bummer, plus I’m just feeling fairly low energy and lethargic.  On the plus side, tonight’s dinner is leftover Chinese takeout, so in lieu of having to cook, I might take the time to clean up the parlor and spread out my acrylics to play around a little tonight.

Saturday night.  Go have fun, however you define fun for yourself.  You deserve it.

Vacation

Tomorrow is Friday!  And Valentine’s Day to boot!  Andy and I actually make fair effort to prioritize couple time (a privilege, I recognize; we are incredibly lucky to have my retired mother live so close by and  be perpetually willing to babysit), but it’s still nice to have an “excuse” to go out and be self-indulgent.

Bear is staying at my parents’ house tomorrow night, so Andy and I have the evening and the earliest part of Saturday to ourselves.  Honestly, having the morning to ourselves feels like so much more of a treat — not being awoken to the sound of a five-year-old trying to teach himself how to play “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” on the recorder is a luxury you don’t recognize until you start being roused every morning at five a.m. by a one-man woodwind concerto.

Tomorrow is also, notably, the last day before mid-winter break, and I am so excited to have a week to pursue personal projects; I haven’t had a break that was filled with familial or domestic obligations since August, and I’m incredibly excited to get time to work on some creative endeavors (and a little bit of self-care, as well).

Today I did quite a bit of reading, and am 3/4 of the way through The Sun is Also a Star (I’ve got a soft spot for YA fiction, but haven’t been reading much of it in the last few years), and about 1/5 of the way through The Fifth Season.  I also did a little bit of art and wrapped up not one, but two drawings:

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Tomorrow is Friday!  Sing a little song, do a little dance.  You have arrived.