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.

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.

On Lockdown

No 31 Day Challenge today, because today’s prompts seemed like it was essentially a repeat of Day 12, so I’m skipping it.  Not going to rehash what we’ve already gone over.

The Governor has just made an official announcement that 1.) all schools in my state are now closed through April 7th; 2.) all bars and restaurants are closed; and 3.) all gathering of over 25 people are prohibited.

So I’m now at home — mostly alone, since Andy works security and still has to go in, at least until further notice — with a five year old.  Who, by the way, thinks this is the greatest thing ever.

I’m going to try to keep Bear’s weekday routine as close to usual as possible, which means up early, breakfast, circle time, chores, some academics, arts and crafts, and then independent art or reading (basically hobby time).  I also found some basic Draw With Me tutorials for little kids and some pretty simple beginner recorder tutorials so that maybe he can learn to make a pleasant noise on that damn thing.  I’m hoping that I’ll have the opportunity to do some of the things that I’ve been putting off as well.

My Quarantine To-Do

  1.  Clean the basement and the garage.  Once the weather gets nice and the worst of this passes (hopefully), I’d like to open up the garage and use it to augment the finished basement as a gathering spot, as well as use it as a more expansive arts and crafts studio.
  2. Continue with my Sign Language learning.  It’s once again been a very long time since I managed to sit and study lessons, and I feel it slipping from me again, so I want to try to devote at least an hour a day to it.
  3. Read more.  Our library is closed, but I have three books currently out on digital loan and a massive bookshelf filled with books that I’ve never read.
  4. Catch up on TV and/or start some shows I’ve been putting off.  Killing Eve, Derry Girls, Shrill, and Fleabag are onlya few of the shows I’ve had recced to me, and I’m hoping to have time to sit and actually consume new media.
  5. Start painting with acrylic again.  I got the house cleaned today, and I actually have space, as well as time, to spread out my paints and actually work.
  6. Plan out a topic and start setting up posts for Blogging A-to-Z, and get in the habit of note-taking and brainstorming for NaPoWriMo.  I often like to keep to the prompts for NaPo, but it’s not a requirement, and some prep might be good for me this year.
  7. Play some online games with my friends and family.  I’m trying to set up a movie night via screen-sharing on Discord, and my siblings and I want to pick a night to play Card Against Humanity or Uno online.
  8. Do some self-care.  Exercise, maintain a hygeine regiment, treat myself in small ways (pick up a hair mask or an exfolianting face mask on a grocery run, painting my nails a fun color, etc.), do some crossword puzzles, remember to gratitude journal everyday.
  9. Start a YouTube channel.  
  10. Create some ‘zines.  I often have little, fragmented ideas for art or stories that really don’t lend themsleves to something long form, so this would be a great time to turn them into something short form.  And hey, maybe even eventually sell them.
  11. Finish up my fanfics.  All, what, five of them by now.
  12. Pratice calligraphy.  My father-in-law is a master calligrapher, and bought me a set of pens and gifted me an old, ornate book for me to learn, and I’ve just been putting it off.  Maybe now’s the time.

What are you all doing while you’re homebound?

It’s Sunday.  This… suddenly means less than it used to.  Chill out, relax.  Nothing to do now but stay safe, sane, and busy.

Recovering

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I’ve not been keeping up with my creative endeavors, but I’ve not been entirely slacking, either — I’ve got one more day, officially, with this challenge before I move on to lips, though at some point I think I’ll need to revisit noses (I hate them.  I hate them, I hate them, I hate them). Lately I’ve just been trying to recover from being sick — because inevitably, when I take a sick day for any reason than actually being basically bedridden (as I did this past Monday), it is all but guaranteed that I will get terribly sick in subsequent days.  So, getting sick wasn’t exactly a surprise so much as it was confirmation of the curse that’s followed me for well over a decade at this point.

I was determined not to take an additional sick day as a point of misplaced pride, so I carried cough drops, kept my hands clean, and went through a lot of Kleenex and hand sanitizer.  This is our last week before mid-winter break, a beautiful nine days off with no obligations, before the long haul of March (the month of No Days Off and MCAS testing) hits us full force.

Being sick knocked me on my ass, though.  I’ve not gotten any sign work done, and even reading has kind of been a slog, since my head has been full of cotton and I’ve been distracted by how badly my throat hurts (ugh, it had been a while since I had a full-on sore throat, and it is such a miserable experience).  All of that has more or less subsided (throat is still tender when I yawn, but swallowing is okay now).  I’m starting to look forward to getting back on track with my art, now that my head can actually hold onto thoughts beyond “So tired, need sleep.”

Today Bear and I sat down and did Valentine’s for his class.  Oh man, let me tell you — what a wave of nostalgia when he brought home The List of Classmates.  I remember sitting down every year and spreading things out in front of my like I was some master craftsman — colored pens or pencils, tape (if I was sending a goodie along with the Valentine), stickers, envelopes — and crossing names off with this, like, refined precision.  It was honestly probably the most organized and on top of things I had ever been (or like, would ever be) in my life.

Bear and I picked out Toy Story valentines, but he wanted to do something a little Extra.  There were some Valentine’s packs that had little treats, but most were candy (and the school has a no food treats rule, because of food allergies), and the ones that weren’t were stickers for properties that we’d never heard of.  So, Bear and I spent the afternoon making bracelets for his classmates.20200209_141155
I’d had the elastic laying around from a mail trade with an online friend about five years ago, and the plastic beads let over from making pride charms seven or eight years ago.  The letter blocks were an impulse buy from Dollar Tree within the last two years, and I was thrilled to finally get to use them for something.  The whole ordeal — letting Bear address and sign all the cards, making the bracelets, sealing them — took about two hours.  He had a great time, and it was nice both spending time with him, feeling like a Pinterest Mom for once in my goddamn life, and getting to do something moderately creative after nearly a week of stagnation.

Tomorrow is Monday.  Starting is the hardest part, but chill out, charge up, and start strong.  You can totally do this.

Food for Thought

Day Five in The Week of Eyes:

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It’s in no way perfect, but I feel like looking at this drawing, even in isolation from the rest of the face, it’s clear that the intention is smiling/happiness.  If I want to be a more expressive artist and better at rendering the human face, I feel like this is stepping in the right direction.

Yesterday we met up with some friends and their one-year-old for lunch at our favorite local Indian restaurant.  Bear surprised me by trying subji, chicken korma, and some samosa — and liking all three!  Of course, he filled up on naan, tandoori chicken, and a huge mango lassi (which our waiter had put in before Bear was even seated; they know him so well), so he didn’t eat a whole lot of the new food.  Still, I’ll take what I can get.

We’re still in the, “all I want to eat is mac ‘n cheese/chicken nuggets/fries/corndogs” phase, though we seem to be inching slowly into slightly better territory.  He’s all for fresh fruits (apples, bananas, grapes, blueberries, cherries), and he’s started eating things like seasoned chicken breast, homemade meatballs, soups, and turkey sausage, along with fruit purees and organic fig and fruit bars.  So, it’s slow going, but it’s progress.  At least I feel like he’s getting a few servings of fruits, veggies, and general nutrition along with all the processed junk.

I’m very careful, as I want him to have a healthy relationship with food — one that I was never able to have — to avoid telling him that any foods are “good” or “bad” foods, just that some are “more nutritious,” and some are “less nutritious,” and we need to learn to balance them.  Far be it for me to take away his chicken nuggets!  Just, maybe he could eat them with a side of fresh carrots now and again, you know?

You know, there was a time when I thought maybe part of my “art” would be cooking; that I’d be able to forget myself and escape into creating delicious food, but something about cooking — maybe the mess inherent in the process, maybe the multiple step recipes, maybe the necessity of multitasking — that exacerbates my anxiety in all but the absolute ideal circumstances.  If my home is otherwise pristine, if I’m mentally relaxed and have ample time, I still enjoy playing around with recipes, but between my hang-ups in the kitchen (as a cook) and my son’s (as an eater), I have periods of being especially ambitious followed by long stretches of the most simplistic meals imaginable.  I mean, Bear doesn’t complain, but sometimes I have to wonder if I’m part of the problem.

Speaking of, tonight’s dinner was grilled cheese (a classic), which gave me time to sit and finish my third micron drawing.

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Tomorrow is Tuesday.  Keep climbing that hill.

Small Break

Today was a much needed day away from holiday and cleaning responsibilities, though going to my parent’s house is always a mixed bag.  They love Bear and Bear absolutely loves going there, but literally all the do is argue with each other and put each other down.

Bear, fortunately, is usually too absorbed in his own thing to notice or care, but I have to sit there and just weather it while they each try to sort of sway me to take their side in whatever bullshit argument is happening at any given time (they don’t do this in front of the other, so I’m not put on the spot to take a side and defend anyone, thankfully; it’s more like, when the other party leaves the room, I get ranted to in this conspiratorial way that suggests they think I must be “on their side.”  It’s been happening for basically my whole life, and at this point has moved beyond uncomfortable to simply annoying).

I catch myself, occasionally, when I’m annoyed at Andy, having to bite my tongue to avoid doing this to Bear; in my case, it’s to keep myself from muttering something like, “Of course, your dad didn’t put the groceries away again,” or something else fairly innocuous, but still, I don’t want to get into the habit of doing what my parents do.  The issues you have with your spouse are yours, and while I try not to judge, deciding to sit and fume over them instead of working them out is a choice, and one that you are making everyday.  But don’t try to make an issue you have with your spouse into an issue your kid has with their mom/dad.  That’s unbelievably petty and unfair.

Anyway, as much as I do genuinely love them, I could rant about my issues with my parents all day, but I’d rather not.  Most of the day was quite pleasantly spent.  I got a quick nap while Bear watched Sia music videos, and my sister and her kids loved their gifts.  I bought my sister Lore Olympus-inspired candles from a maker on Etsy, and her eyes literally bugged out when she opened the box.

“I LITERALLY ALMOST BOUGHT THESE!  I even messaged the girl to ask her about the fragrance!”  So that was super, super satisfying, and made my day.  Also, Lizzy was really into the Sweets Shoppe cart I bought her, and literally pushed it around all day, shoving coins into people’s hands and making them buy Popsicles.  All in all, a successful year of gifting.

Back to The Big Clean tomorrow, starting with the kitchen.  I will probably do more Before and Afters, even though the Before in this case is hand-wringingly bad, because we haven’t done dishes in, uh, days, because of the holiday, being out, not having gas (or hot water), etc., etc.  But it will make for a much more dramatic After shot, so there is that.  I’ve got to start a running list of storage accessories etc. that I’ll need to instate some organization and get myself sorted, and then maybe a Dollar Tree trip before the weekend is out.

I’m hoping by Monday I’ll be more or less done, and I can get started on some crafts and personal projects and otherwise enjoy New Year’s festivities before getting back to the daily grind of working parenthood.

Holidays

My son is five (and if that didn’t happen in the blink of an eye), and this feels like the first real year we’re experiencing the whole “magic of Christmas” with him.  I think he got the general gist of Santa and gift-giving and what-not last year, at four, but his ability to articulate his excitement and the sheer up-shoot in the level of said excitement is just exponential.  Last year, it kind of felt like he was along for the ride; this year, he’s pulling the sleigh.

Which puts a little pressure on us, I guess.  I don’t know, I feel like we went a little buckwild this year, when generally we try to restrain ourselves from going overboard with gifting.  I, especially, grew up with intense financial anxiety which has not abated at all over time (if anything, it’s gotten worse), and I refuse to go into debt over trying to having The Biggest and Best Christmas.  Bear is never lacking, never without, and while I think Christmas is a nice chance to splurge, I refuse to let my own mental health suffer so I can out Just One More Present under the tree.

I think it’s another way in which I am trying so hard to very conscientiously not be like my mom, who (after the Santa charade was up), would spend days leading up to Christmas lamenting how lame our holiday was going to be and mentally brow-beating herself over her inability to do More, More, More.  And every year, the actual resultant display of gifts on Christmas morning was almost embarrassingly lavish; looking back on some of those childhood Christmases, I actually feel something bordering shame.  It was all just So Much.  And I appreciated the sentiment (still do), since my folks hustled hardcore around the holidays to give us the extras we often went without the remainder of the year.  But then they always felt the need to keep up that momentum, or worse, out do it year to year, and that just isn’t always feasible.  I’m not going to get myself in that situation.

Bear has woken up every morning since about the 18th asking if it’s Christmas yet, so he is quite excited for tomorrow, when I’ve promised him baking Christmas cookies, Christmas movies, a game of Qwirkle, making a holiday video message for Facebook, playing Christmas games online, and keeping at eye on the Santa Tracker.  We’ve got a holiday open house at a friend’s tomorrow night after my husband gets out of work, so hopefully Bear will be well and tuckered out by the time we leave the party.  We’ve been trying to set ground rules about when it’s ok to wake Mommy and Daddy up on Christmas morning, but given that he doesn’t have a clock it his room, the best we can do is, “not until you see the sun.”

He is deathly afraid that Christmas morning will be cloudy.

I’ve been thinking a lot about holiday traditions; we didn’t have a ton as a kid, but there were a few things that just elicited an almost Pavlovian response; like, as soon as we put on those heavy crushed velvet dresses, or as soon as the Animaniacs Christmas special came on, as soon as I could smell my mom’s hair spray and the sharp, ozone scent of the curling iron.  Just these little sensations and experiences that triggered a Christmas Nerve.  We each opened one present on Christmas Eve, snacked on antipasto, went to my Grandmother’s and my cousin Helena’s open house, and then all caught a few hours of fitful sleep before all waking up and congregating on the pullout couch in the living room to watch late night TV.

We haven’t developed anything consistent yet, but it also occurs to me that Bear’s holiday experiences are going to be fundamentally different as an only child than mine was, with two siblings two and three-and-half years younger than me.  There’s no one for him to have those late-night Christmas moments with, which are honestly the thing I look back on with the fondest and most vivid memories.  I’d like to come up with something, though, something that will say “It’s Christmas” for him the way those little rituals did for me.

Does anyone have any small Christmas traditions they’d like to share?