Sometimes, I sit down to paint, overwhelmed by the urge to paint, but nothing comes to mind. I end up listlessly browsing the 'watercolor' and 'gouache' tags on Tumblr and Google image search... most of what turns up is idyllic flower portraits or gardens or puppies or something else cute and wholesome.
I have a natural aversion to that kind of kitschy cuteness. The more I browsed for "inspiration", the more I furrowed my brows and frowned.
"Man, this stuff is boring."
And then it hits me that I still have some skinned coyote feet in the freezer and bam, inspiration hits me like a truck.
(You'll get the story of why I have coyote feet in my freezer... later.)
It was to be my first really serious gouache piece in a while. The last full-on painting I did was in my oil painting class a year ago, and because oils are made of condensed demon's blood and are hellbent on making your life miserable, the idea of doing another painting (until now) kind of rubbed me the wrong way. And by 'rubbed me the wrong way' I mean 'plagued me with fever dreams of the Reflective Objects and Elaborate Geometric Patterns Still Life.'
But, today, gouache was calling my name. And my blank pieces of aquabord were feeling lonely. One thing led to another.
Adding color to the underpainting was thrilling and frightening. As an artist, paint thrills you, and no one else gets why washes of ochre and burnt sienna get your heart racing.
The final product: Wholesome, endearing, warm-fuzzy feelings. Wook at the widdle paaawws!
Being an animal-person before I am a person-person, I always notice animal bus patrons when I board. Sometimes it’s a homeless-looking person pushing an altered baby carriage full of scruffy Yorkshire terrier/Chihuahua/miniature pinscher mixes. Sometimes it’s just an apathetic-looking lab or medium-sized mutt sitting at their owner’s feet. The people who bring dogs on the bus are secretly my friends, because they probably can’t afford a car, but they make time for their dog/s. I always think the dog people are pretty cool, not only for having socialized dogs, but for having the guts to not feel reserved or hesitant for bringing a dog on a bus. “Why shouldn’t I bring my friend on the bus?” They strike me as reasonable people.
Except for this one guy.
He had a mop of blondish reddish hair stuffed under a black beanie hat and a two-sizes-too-large black raincoat. His dog was about a twelve-pound poodle mix, black and quiet. The man sat quietly, though somewhat coldly, in his seat. I passed him and took a seat towards the middle on the parallel window seats, as opposed to the perpendicular seats the dog man was sitting in. He was only about a row of seats away from the other set of parallel seating, reserved for elderly and wheelchair folks. This is important—bear with me.
Everything’s going well on this bus ride. I ate breakfast that day, so I was content, listening to my iPod and people watching. I like to see who comes on the bus, because let’s be honest, they’re the most interesting people at any given moment. The same was even more true that day, because a man heavy with coats came in, hobbling, hunched over and scruffy. But he had a nice face, the face of someone sound in mind and expressive in opinion. That’s just the feeling I got from him. His hunch, I realized as he turned around to plunk into one of the parallel seats in front, was smooth and black and panther-like. It was a black cat, yellow eyes, clinging to his shoulders and backpack. Looking like that was a perfectly reasonable place for a cat to be.
I smiled, and smiled, and smiled. I secretly hoped he’d see me smiling so he’d know I approve of his shoulder-cat ways. But I was kind of far down the bus, so he didn’t see me. He hesitated before sitting, and the cat caught on to his signal. It leapt down expertly onto the bus window ledge. I noticed then that the cat was attached to the guy’s jacket with a thin red leash. A woman in the row in front of dog man gave a small surprised, “Oh!” when the cat hit the windowsill. The man acted as if nothing had happened, sat down, and retrieved his cat from the windowsill and set it onto his lap.
A few bus stops passed. The dog man was leaned forward and had the cat man’s attention. I couldn’t see the dog man’s face, but the cat man’s face was becoming more and more furrowed. The conversation wasn’t pleasant—it was clearly not about the cat’s name, how long they had been a shoulder-cat, or anything of the ilk.
And honestly, there are gaps in my memory. But to my credit, it all happened so fast.
A black man with bad teeth stood up and moved between the cat man and dog man, he was intervening. At some point, their conversation had turned foul. The intervener had wide, challenging eyes and a commanding posture.
I paused my music.
“No, man, shut the fuck up. Shut the fuck up! I don’t care what you have to say!” The intervener’s words powered over the rumble of the bus.
The thinner voice of the dog man replied in similar speech. Thoughtless cursing, empty threats. At least I hoped they were empty. I and many other bus patrons watched with quaking eyes. So far, the cat man and the dog man were still seated, the intervener was the only one standing.
My guess so far was that the dog man said some rude things to the cat man, who had every right to have his pet on the bus as the dog man, and the cat man hadn’t taken it well. Words exchanged, intervener didn’t like where it was going, and got involved.
But it didn’t simmer down. The intervener’s fire fueled them.
The cat man was sending his comebacks like ammunition, the dog man now escalating to gestures and threats. Threats like, “Mess you up so bad,” were tossed around. At this point, still empty. I prayed that they stayed empty. My heart felt like it was in my throat beating overtime. The dog man called the intervener something that I didn’t catch, but it sure caught him.
“I’m a what? I’m a what?!” He repeated, staring at the dog man, daring him. It had become personal. The dog man stuck a nerve. The N-word, maybe? Something else? It wouldn’t surprise me if that was the case…
The dog man stood up and jerked in what looked like a punch, but it was false—no impact. I thought about the little dog snug under his other arm. At this point, the cat man had the police on the phone. His even voice lit up the bus, “Yeah I’d like to make a complaint please. About a guy on—on the 150 bus route, yeah. He’s disturbing everyone and getting violent—yes. Reddish hair. Black poodle dog. He’s—yes. Yes. He’s getting off now. He’s at the stop by… [Street name.] Yeah.”
The cat man stood up, collected his cat, and bustled around as if his anger urged him to fight. He held the phone away from his face and held his other arm close to him, as close as he could get to crossed arms, looking victimized. The cat just hung on as usual.
A little bit before the dog man left, a crisp-looking businessman had sat across from me and glanced at the situation and said with an eye-roll, “Drama.”
Throughout the whole event, the cat and dog remained composed and quiet. Even when their owners stood up, threw fake punches, or had a stranger yelling over them. They were more socialized than their owners, and they weren’t even the same species.
And people ask me why I’m more of an animal-person than person-person.
It’s Thursday, and that means the critique is today. Critiques are generally categorized in my mind as “not a big deal” and something I can easily wing.
It’s only when I see the other student’s work that I start to feel my nauseous anxiety start to rise, like boiling water in my chest.
My inspiration board and fabric sample board combo is 20”x30” when it should be (per the requirements set by the instructor) 30”x40” and no smaller. Mistake number one. I pray and pray that another classmate will make the same mistake, but my eyes dart around the different boards with no hope. Everyone had nice, big boards. And to salt the wound, most of theirs are tidy, creatively organized, and generally less thrown-together. Unlike mine. Mistake number two. At this point I’m entirely certain that when I go up there to present, I’d be that student that everyone mutters about, saying, “Woops,” and, “Oh, here we go,” under their breath. Totally certain. There could be no other outcome in any scenario my brain produced. So, thanks to my brain, I’m nice and freakin’ nervous.
I’m slouching in my seat, plowing my hands over my face as if I could wipe away the feelings. The instructor, Michael, gives feedback to another student and he mentions that their sample board and their inspiration board have no cohesion, and that he can’t see how their inspirations led them to choose those samples. I had chosen my samples based on what looked easiest to do. So what did that say about my inspirations? That I aspire to be a lazy good for nothing, someone who doesn’t care if the edges of their inspiration images are peeling or their boards too small? I’m rotting away inside, my internal layers sloughing off like slimy onion skins.
And since the order of presenting is determined by attendance list, curse my early-in-the-alphabet surname, I’m up next. And I’m a husk. But when you hit bottom, the only place to go is up.
So I’m up at the front. I stand by my work in my cute-as-sin jacket (thank god for this jacket) and I give my very impromptu presentation.
I start out by saying, yeah, my boards are too small. But at least the fabric one is really layered…? (Oh my god, Maranda, you’re depressing. Honestly. There’s nothing you can do to fix this.)
The rest of the presentation goes by like a blur. I think I might have said something about being inspired by nature, the internal workings of living things like bones and musculature, and fantasy races and creatures, or something. You know how memories get when you’re panicked. Spotty, an unfinished jigsaw puzzle.
When Michael gives his feedback, he starts with, “First of all, look. You know your boards are too small,” there goes another layer, “I know your boards are too small… But never open a presentation with a spotlight on your own shortcomings. As an artist, you have to own your work and stand by it.”
Okay, I usually don’t do that, but anxiety talks for me sometimes. I choose not to mention that because it sounds like an excuse, so I just nod. He goes on to critique the board as usual. Nothing outrageously negative, nothing outrageously positive. He has it down to an art. He makes me feel actually good about my boards, when I, not minutes before, was seriously considering the possibility that spontaneous board combustion would be a blessing. I think, “Wow, this is going way better than I anticipated.” I don’t feel like crying, or melon-balling my eyes out, or forsaking my career as an artist, or anything. Like I thought I would.
So I take my seat next to James, an outrageously confident and charismatic, sharply-dressed guy, who leans in and whispers, “Good job!”
My mind catches a snag and I bumble around my, “Thank you.” That’s weird. I didn’t think my explanations were that good. And surely he didn’t mean the boards themselves…
After a couple other presentations, it’s our ten minute break. I grab my wallet and practically tear out of the classroom. Not from fear or anxiety, but from hunger. (Typical Maranda behavior.)
Standing in line at Parnassus, the coffee nook in the basement, my nerves are further smoothed by the easygoing coffee shop and its assortment of organic and ethically-sourced snacks. Don’t ask me why. It just reminds me that there is some good in our world of Cheetos and Coke-a-Cola.
One of my classmates in front of me in line orders a 12 ounce hazelnut latte. I’m feeling dangerous, so I say, “That sounds good.”
He turns around. Tim’s a good foot or so taller than me, blonde Top-Ramen hair and a svelte aqua sweater vest. He gives a hesitation, which sparks my mind into a frenzy. (Oh man, why’d you say that? That was a private customer-to-barista conversation. You weirdo. Creeper. Way to go.) So my stupid mouth continued, “The latte.” As if he was confused as to what I said sounded good.
He makes a noncommittal, “Yeah,” turns around, but then swings to face me again and says, laden with sympathy, “I felt so bad for Laura.”
Which then cascades into a one-sided conversation about our classmate, Laura, whose speech impediment and lack of cohesive trains of thought rendered her presentation to goo.
So I order my food and latte and stand at the end of the counter with Tim. He’s the kind of outgoing person that stands slightly too close to other people while talking, which just makes me hate him for being so confident. I don’t understand confidence. Tim looks at me and says, “I liked your boards. I’m really excited to see what you do. Like, I wanna see some of your sketches.”
I might blush. Please don’t blush. I just spit out a, “Thank you,” and he continues.
With a laugh he says, “My board is just ball gowns.”
It’s my turn to shine. Hey, Tim, I can be outgoing, too! “Yeah, I saw yours. So elegant. Just… radiating elegance.” He’ll appreciate my word choice. He seems like the kind of guy who appreciates elegance. Probably.
He snatches his latte off the counter and says, not missing a beat, “Yeah. Dresses and ball gowns are like snapshots of important events in your life, you know? Coming of age, your prom, your wedding. I grew up with seven sisters and they always had beautiful dresses and I never got that.”
“Wow. That’s a lot of sisters. But I never thought of it as a snapshot, that’s actually really beautiful. I like that.” True words, not just small-talk, coming out of my mouth. It’s been known to happen.
In the valley of the conversation, another classmate ducks into the coffee shop.
“I liked your presentation,” she says to me, nothing but smiles.
Okay, this is too much. I’m practiced at it by now, so I say thank you without goofing on the rhythm.
Was I really too caught up shooting myself in the feet to realize that I had bulletproof shoes?
When we get back to the classroom after chatting about cultural appropriation and collective white-people guilt, me being a sideline member of the conversation as usual, another student passes me. I have no idea who she is, but she says, “Good job on the presentation.”
Are you kidding me, four people?! At that point I’m ready to scream, laugh, run out of the building, or hug everything in the vicinity. It’s a very confusing time. It’s hard for my brain to reset itself, to switch gears from Cripplingly Self-Depreciative and Certain to Fail to the flip-side of Maybe I Should be Proud. Even though my boards were too small, and the papers slightly curly. Even if I was nervous enough to die.
Of course, my brain hasn’t had enough with me, and it says to me, “Maybe they’re just saying that because they thing you need a confidence boost. You were pretty panicky and nervous looking. They’re just trying to be nice, they didn’t actually like your boards.”
So I sit through the rest of the presentations, eating my spinach Caesar salad wrap, sipping my latte, choosing to believe that my presentation was pretty effing good. A surreal feeling of, “You did good, kid,” sweeps over me. I stand in the middle of it, glancing around awkwardly, wondering how to act.
So, in my stupor, I just sit back and enjoy it for once.
You did good, kid. Just accept it.
I made a thing!
So, BOUND TO ASHES is getting closer to being a final draft. Some might say that a final draft doesn't really exist, but we're using 'final' as loosely as we can. Anyway, I sent draft number six to my beta readers. (Hi, beta readers!) Just sitting back and waiting for their feedback, now. Resting on my laurels. Basking in my accomplishment. Because even if it's nowhere near being published, yet, it still feels good to have a written, re-written, and polished work under your belt. It's a good feeling.
And I made a book cover, just to brush up on my graphic design skills*, and to finally have an image for my book.
But there is no rest for the wicked, dear readers. I'm back to working on THE CHILDREN OF CADUCEUS, the sequel, right now. (You know, the book that I wrote in two months last year... it's got a sound story, but whoa, do the meaty bits need some TLC...)
So that's what's been going on this past month. Besides the usual-- wedding plans, book reading, doodling, mentally preparing myself for school again, etc.
Until next time.
* 'skills' also used loosely
Two new critters to add to the family today!
Gouache • 11"x17" • Aquabord
(I promise that's how you spell Aquabord. Trust me.)
I started this painting with no plans to make it a macaw-- or a bird at all, really. I just felt like that way was a good day for hyacinth-macaw-blue. And it was! But I didn't start painting a bird until my friends around me spoke of spirit animals, and that my friend Jennise is definitely a macaw. And thus, my subject was created for me.
I think I like gouache because it's the closest thing to digital painting. It stays where you put it, you can reanimate it with water, the colors are always bright... Mmm.
Digital • Painter X
This little guy was also done on a relative whim-- like most of my art nowadays. (Do what works for you.) I saw a post on tumblr of the happiest coyote known to man and decided he needed to be immortalized through art. And, potentially, a tattoo. (It's really just a thinly veiled excuse to do my crosshatching/scratch board technique I'm so in love with.) Click on that link-- the whole photo set is bound to make you smile. Who knew a dead snake could be so much fun? And that magpie is so judging. Have lots of fun, everyone. Until next time~
I had a few thoughts today.
(Yes, I know, thoughts-- the fabled mind activities written in lore!)
I was thumbing through my favorites folders when I came upon the Digger Omnibus Kickstarter, which was outrageously successful to no one's surprise. At the bottom, towards the end of the updates, were two videos of Ursula Vernon. I enjoyed them, but that's not the point of this-- point is, I got to thinking. (There we go with the thoughts thing again. I am on fire today.) I thought, Ursula Vernon was like me, once. In college, working on a degree, but on the side, doing what she really loves. For her I imagine it was art, and an anthropology degree. (I know these things because I'm an insatiable fangirl.) For me, an art degree and writing on the side. And I thought, Maybe she was as determined and dream-ridden as I am now. Maybe once, when she was a starry-eyed college student (ha, ha) she had dreams of being a published author. She probably had no idea that her webcomic would earn a Hugo award or have multiple successful works under her belt.
And I thought, Maybe that's what my future will be like.
I can only hope! And work hard, of course.
As you may or probably may not know, I have two books under my belt-- both unpublished, one in its 6th draft, the other in its 1st (aww, lookit da widdle baby book!) I wrote the second book in last year's NaNoWriMo and haven't touched it or even read it since then. But recently, curiosity finally struck, and I started reading it. Not to proof or edit, just to read and remember. Most of the writing memories were fresh enough for me to think, Oh yeah, this part! I remember the inspirations and process of coming up with that! Those were the days! Et cetera. But one part, one tiny scene, really stood out.
It's inconsequential. It's cute. It involves killing machine spider-robots reprogrammed to be slightly-less-murderous, performing an awkward wave at one of the characters. And this scene made me laugh. A genuine, I-wasn't-expecting-something-this-funny-or-cute laugh. A laugh as if the writing belonged to another writer. I didn't remember writing the scene, but it was apparently good enough to register a genuine response.
And then I started to cry.
I hardly ever cry from happiness, but this was one of those times. Because my writing, even on the first draft, was good enough.
I might be a 20-something college student working a retail job and pounding away on writing projects in my limited spare time, but someday, I'm going to be Ursula Vernon. Or, you know, the Maranda Cromwell version. That one tiny scene gave me affirmation that I can make it, and I have a lot of time to get there.
I hope that when/if I'm a famous author/artist, I'm as humble and easygoing as Neil Gaiman. (And that I'm over my dumb habit of putting the I before the E.)
His book reading and signing at the Town Hall in Seattle was glorious. His reading voice: velvet. He answered the questions with good humor and honesty and allowed us a glimpse into his brilliant brain.
I had fun, to put it simply.
And when it came time to have my things signed, I handed him the painting seen above. He exclaimed, "My dog!" ...But read it again in an English accent. DOG! And bees! And I had mentioned that I tweeted him earlier asking if he would accept gifts. He replied that he was glad he said yes to that.
Then he signed my kindle case and book and said, "Come here, give me a hug." And you don't say no to that. I don't care who you are.
And you know when you're so nervous, or scared, or generally just hyper-aware of your surroundings, everything goes in slow-motion? Yeah. That. I experienced wobbly-knee syndrome and perpetual-smiles for the first time. (Okay, second. Being proposed to did that, too. Or maybe it was just the mead... Kidding babe, love ya. ♥)
Anyway, I'm off to write. Gotta capitalize on the residual inspiration from yesterday.
I've been seriously pursuing writing for a few years. Over this time, I've fallen more and more in love with it. Yes, for the obvious reasons: it's satisfying to create something, I love designing characters, and reader reactions and feedback are solid gold. There is no better feeling than writing the last couple words of a 90,000 word manuscript. But let me tell you why I really love writing and why I continue to do it to this day.
Yeah. They're usually annoying, right? But every once in a while you'll make a typo that you fall in love with. Like in my previous blog post, "Contain your excrement" is way funnier than "Contain your excitement." And it was totally by accident. A Freudian-esque slip of the fingers, if you will.
Take this for instance.
I'm writing a scene in which the main characters find themselves trapped, taken captive by an opposing force. They break out and take down a guard to demand the whereabouts of the rest of their company. The guard is pinned by unreal force-- a superhuman amount of pressure on his back, holding him down, he's sure he's going to die. The main characters almost get him to talk and are resorting to violence out of desperation. If the opposing force catches them, they're sure to get a bullet in the head. And me, on the other side of the keyboard, I go to type, "Jules moves past Ashton to talk to the guard." Or something to that effect. And you know what my hands do instead? "Jules moves pasta." Pasta. So her friends have a guard captive, crushing his ribs on the concrete floor, demanding that he expel his intel, when they turn around to see Jules holding a colander full of noodles.
"What? I'm hungry."
So there you have it. This is probably about 75% of why I keep writing. Goofy typos and my mind running with it.
We all gotta keep going somehow, right?
Yup, drawings. I know, right? Try to contain your excitement! Totally almost wrote 'excrement' right there, and yeesh, what a typo that would have been. Aaaanyway.
Left image features Ashton and dog Punk, characters from my book. (Which at this point might not ever be written completely, ever. Seriously, I've re-written this hunk-o-junk like four times.) But check out them dog feet. All six of 'em.
Lately I've been pretty addicted to the draw-erase-draw-erase technique. Like scratch board that works in both directions. The rhythm is so... perfect. Giving and taking away marks like a benevolent art god. What do you mean, 'power trip'? I just love how it makes everything seem so dense and three-dimensional. And black and white art is always stylish. Always.
And admittedly at this point I'm trying to write enough to fit the giant space this tall-ass image has created for me. Thanks a lot, Ash. You're a pal. A seven-foot-tall-pal. Punk, this is partially your fault, too.
Oh and you can click the image if you want to make him even taller.
Tiefling butt! Gasp! (How lewd.)
Title of this piece: "Your Inner Fire". Alternate title: "Shameful Excuse to Draw Fire". Some of the scratch board techniques I mentioned earlier are here, too, but now in violent color.
Fire is one of those things you don't really have to know how to draw, but if you get the general shapes kind of right, people will fill in the blanks for you. Because, think about it, fire never holds still. When you look at a photo of fire for too long, it stops looking like fire, because it's not flickering and fidgeting like fire does. So what I'm saying is that I know how to get away with crap like that because reasons.
Man, does this artist draw nothing but naked Tieflings? I mean come on.
"Somehow Not Sincere" was the first piece that I really tried out the scratch board technique. Love at first sight, let me tell you. My favorite part is doing deep black things that are super shiny-smooth, like those horns. One wiggly line tells you the texture and color of the object without even trying. Way to go, wiggly line, you're an inspiration. You're doing god's work. Or something.
Even looking at this piece makes me want to do the scratch board thing more. Which is kind of dangerous because it took 100% of my artistic drive to finish the fiery thing up there, so, yeah. Such is life.
Well, there you go. I had to dust off this blog sometime. Hope it was good. Peace be with you, denizens of Internetia.
Good golly miss Molly it has been a while since I've posted. It's been pretty crazy over here, folks. New job, three fine arts classes all one right after the other, re-writing my book, waving my arms at my dog in hopes he'll understand me more clearly. It's a charmed life, what can I say.
More activity in the summer. Pinky promise.