A Sketch in Time

I attended an open drawing session at a local art school after Labor Day Weekend. It has been years—since 2007 when I graduated, specifically—since I really devoted any time to academic study. I was very out of practice, to say the least. I can’t even say the three hours I had available to me to draw from a live, nude model, was academic in the strictest sense. I really was just trying to get a likeness with correct proportions. I realized the following mistakes that I made:

        • I didn’t bring the right materials
        • I failed to plan out the figure, hence, I “ran out of paper”
        • I focused on detail too early, resulting in an incomplete piece


My goal was not to take away specific ideas for other projects, much less create a saleable piece. I just knew I needed to stretch out and work muscles that have been at risk for atrophy. You’ll notice from the drawing that the medium I used worked against me, or I worked against it. Hard conte pencils were not the right choice to cover large paper in a relatively short amount of time, when factoring in a few quick gesture sketches on newsprint to warm up. With all the breaks and those initial studies, I had about an hour and a half on the drawing. I ended up with a somewhat sloppy, if not stylized, work. There are also visible corrections, which is not a bad thing for a study. Notice that I corrected the length of the kneecap to the ankle, but didn’t erase the erroneous first positioning. I really wanted to capture the man’s feet; they had a very prominent structure. You’ll see I did a quick study to the left of the drawing of his right foot, just to compensate for my poor planning. The model had a very interesting face, so I didn’t work hard enough to resist my compulsion to go in with the detail.

I left the studio in a slight state of unrest, but I don’t know if I was justified in feeling that way. I display this work not with pride, but with a truthful humility. There was more for me to take away from this session, and even more for me to bring to the next one.



Lunshea’s Bath

I started this drawing over a year ago, and set it aside early on to sporadically work on it for several minutes here and there. Last month, I resolved to finish the piece, and am glad I did.

I was interested in the erotic image of a voluptuous backside against the stark contrast of a pitch night and a bright, gibbous moon. The paper-thin wings add the fantasy element.

Lunshea is Celtic for “moon fairy.” She is luxuriating in the large body of water as she cleanses herself. In homage to names of classic works, Lunshea’s Bath seemed an appropriate title for this piece.

I decided to wait a week before I apply fixative to the drawing. I see now that she needs some beads of water to accompany her wet hair. I am debating if I want there to be strands of water dripping off her wings. I don’t want to guild the faerie.

My goal is to produce at least a dozen fantasy images, primarily faeries, and turn them into prints, bookmarks, t-shirts, etc., and reserve a table at the 2012 Comic Con. I suspect I should pick up the pace a touch if I were to have any chance of accomplishing that. In the meantime, my husband wants to turn the final image into a t-shirt for himself. Besides agreeing that it would make a cool shirt, it is also an opportunity for advertising.“Hey, where did you get that shirt?” 

Sophie’s or Hobson’s Choice?

Time and time again, I find myself at an impasse. While I am never bored, there is a burden to having more than one creative passion, especially when not in the position to devote more than a couple hours a day, at most, to any one art. I know, poor me, right? Seriously, though, it can be a double-edged sword if you don’t have the freedom of  complete and unadulterated movement. I carry some level of frustration and unfulfillment with me at all times. The logical thing to do, especially since I can’t quit my job in this economy, is to make a choice: art, music, or writing.

Well, outside of my blogs, the writing would be the easiest to send to the gas chambers (apologies for the crude analogy, albeit based on a work of fiction). While the written word is my favorite form of literal communication, and am very proud of whatever I put on screen, it is the medium I am least passionate about if a relative measurement can be put on an emotion. However, it is vastly easier to squeeze in writing when I’m at work. Yes, I confess to occasionally working on my blogs when I should be reconciling revenue accounts. Shame on me.  I’ve also written a lyric or three, as well as a couple of stories. That is the beauty of working on a computer all day. It is also pretty easy to write down ideas in a meeting and make it look like I am taking notes on the topic at hand. Disingenuous? Maybe. But, I have my priorities, and they aren’t in accounting anymore.

So, would I give up the writing? I don’t think I have to completely, considering how accessible the activity is. That leaves art and music.

I am able to sketch during my lunch hour. I don’t always do that, but the option is there. Being in a cubicle, I can’t bring a guitar and work on tunes. When I had an office with a door, I could do that and just play quietly. Those were the days. But really, that is all picking at bones to barely sustain me. The productive work should happen outside the office. There’s all night to work, or at least a few hours, right? Wrong, not if I want to eat, spend time with my husband, do chores, run errands, have a social life, and deal with whatever else comes up. I also have to go to bed at a reasonable hour so I can get up early and work out. If I am not healthy and have energy, I can’t work; that is non-negotiable. Can I catch up on the weekends? Responsiblities don’t take scheduled time off. I get several hours in on a good weekend. Then, I am left with vacations. What can I say? I mean well, but those books just don’t read themselves. Sigh.

I did finally answer the question for myself if I had to make that Sophie’s Choice between art and music. It would have to be the music. While I am equally passionate about all of it, and I lose track of time when I immerse myself in them, music touches me in a unique way. I can’t explain it completely. Again, if I could measure a relative emotional response, the feeling I get from writing music—when it is good—is transcendent. I feel on top of the world. It is, in a word, sublime.

But to leave art behind, never to pick up a pencil or set a brush to canvas again? That pain would be unbearable. Since I do not have children, it is the closest approximation for me as the level of sacrifice I can fathom. I would have to be in dire straits in order to make that choice. I shudder at the thought.

Does that leave me with a Hobson’s Choice, i.e., no choice? Perhaps. Right now, I am riding a cool wave of creative energy. I am making great progress on a painting I have been nursing since the beginning of the year (post to follow on that), I have done the same for a fantasy drawing and hope to complete that in the next week (post will follow, as well). I have two titled songs in progress, as well as the germ of an idea for a third one. I am about to start writing a children’s story, and my husband and I are researching markets for a vampire story we completed a couple of months ago (see the post titled “Bite While It’s Hot ” from March 7, 2010). There is an upside to chronic insomnia, I suppose. Oh yes, and there are my blogs. They are the easiest way to reach out to as many people who want to read what I have to say, as well as let them know what I am up to. Who could ask for more?

Me, I suppose. I want more time, more energy, and more money. Because, I never want to get to the point where I have to make that choice.

My first field study fling

I decided that one thing I would do during my vacation from my 9-5 job is some outdoor sketching in the form of field studies, which differs from my usual lunchtime clandestine sketching sessions in the park. There is a church in my neighborhood that always catches my eye, and I’d remind myself that one of these days, I should sketch it, if not do a fully realized piece. With that in mind, starting with the most visually appealing local landmark seemed a good place to get my toes wet with en plein air art. Even though the church covers almost a whole city block, I was most drawn to the spire with its (inaccurately timed) clock. I set out with my sketch book, pencils, travel watercolors, and micron pens. Two hours later, I produced the image to the right.

The pencil drawing itself could have stood alone, but I was so drawn to the greens and terra cotta tones that I had to capture a color study, as well. My years-long separation from watercolors, along with using a cheap Van Gogh brand travel kit (don’t assume the master painter’s name a quality product makes), made it a slightly frustrating exercise. I had to experiment with the greens to get the right tone and value, which I achieved towards the center of the spire.  The sky was a very calm and vivid blue. Because of the tiny, low quality brush that came with the kit, the brush strokes required to cover the paper made the sky read as more tumultuous.

While I was fully prepared with the art materials needed, I failed to bring a hat or sunscreen. I happened to pick the squatting spot that had full sun exposure during the whole session. I didn’t expect to spend two hours in that spot, but I was reminded how intricate and complex—and beautiful—church architecture is. I came away with a headache, dehydration, sunburn, but filled with a sense of accomplishment that made it worth it.

Secret Journey covers

Secret Journey–Pure Version

Secret Journey–Deluxe Version

The Police is one of my all-time favorite bands. While Invisible Sun is arguably their best tune off of Ghost in the Machine, I have always been drawn to this little gem. The soaring synthesizers and Sting’s falsetto give me goosebumps. Being an unplugged performer, I presented myself with a challenge to somehow meet the original at least half-way in capturing the emotions that the band conveyed so ethereally.

Initially, I was compelled to cover the tune for academic reasons. Through much coaching, I found that allowing my voice to flip back and forth through different registers, instead of fighting it and causing strain, would be the best use of my vocal abilities. Since Sting did the same—he starts in chest voice and sings the chorus in mixed—I thought playing the song would be a great exercise for me.

With just the acoustic guitar to accompany me, I wasn’t happy with singing the chorus so high. It just didn’t sound right. I retooled the melody to sing the majority of the song in chest voice, and switched to mix to add drama to the performance to compensate, for lack of a better word, for the diminished fullness and production of the original song.

I also changed the chords up a bit. I kapoed the guitar at the 7th fret, but retained the correct chord shapes. So, for example, the A-minor of the original became an E-minor. Even though I still sang it in the same key of  The Police’s version, the ringing alternate chords add an interesting layer.

Attached is the initial recording of just me and a guitar. Then, for the second one—the “Deluxe” version—I added a second guitar, bass, and backing vocal. For that second vocal, I sang the chorus in Sting’s range to both tip my hat to him, as well as add more fullness to the sound.

These mp3’s aren’t super robust when uploaded in this format. Please turn all volume controls completely up.

Bob Dylan and Neil Young Mashup

All Along the Watchtower-Ohio

I have been very interested in musical mashups—the product of combining two or more songs in one piece of music—of late. Besides giving me an opportunity to learn more tunes, it is a great songwriting exercise, as it requires creativity to find common threads or write new ones in order to tie the concepts together.

Last week, I realized that I had forgotten what the original recording of Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower sounded like; I automatically would think of Hendrix’s version. As I was listening to it online, boom! it hit me—I sensed similarities to Neil Young’s equally brilliant Ohio. At the time I did not know why, but I immediately downloaded the tabs for both songs to try them out. I was wonderfully surprised at my findings.

First off, Dylan’s music is basic enough that other chord progressions could be substituted as harmonizing compliments. In this case, only one was needed—Young’s D5. I noticed also that the syllable count for each lyrical passage was the same or similar. I had to re-work the cadence a bit, but Dylan’s lyrics fit over Young’s famous riff.

More significantly, the respective messages could be tied together. Ohio was based on a specific event—four unarmed Vietnam protesters were shot to death at Kent State University in 1970 by the National Guard as they set to stop the demonstration. I saw All Along the Watchtower as a theoretical dialogue and the ensuing doom at the folly of fighting for a principle that eventually led to that fateful day. Dylan’s joker and thief represent the crowd of students rising above the establishment—in this case, the invasion of Cambodia—to only be shot down by the wildcat that symbolized corporate society (and the National Guard). Young’s chorus could be woven into Dylan’s poetry as a possible solution to the joker and thief’s dilemma. How do we fight an entity that is bigger than us? I sang Dylan’s last line and the wind began to howl in a foreboding way that could segue to Young’s anthemic rant. No matter what we do, something akin to this happens: Four dead in Ohio.  

This is a very rough demo. I did it with one track, multiple takes. I had to keep re-recording for many reasons beyond my control. It took several passes before I realized the ticking of the wall clock could be heard on the recording. Then, during one take, the lyric sheet inexplicably fell off the table and caused a rustling sound to accompany the tune. By the time this version came around, I was pretty fatigued overall, but already resolved that night to finish this. Recording is a laborious process, to say the least.

Well, it’s progress

After about a six-month dry spell, or should I say my “creatively parched” period, I am lifting my stiff legs back into the saddle . . . again.

I go through this all the time, and I trust most artists do, as well. We are on again and off again more than your average Hollywood relationship. There is always some hurdle or road block to divert our creative path, further challenging us to produce the body of work to immortalize us in a positive way. I keep on referring to the collective, as my only solace in my constant struggle with consistency is that, in truth, I am not alone.

More times than not, it is due to a lack of time, energy, and motivation. I am rarely at a loss for ideas. I just . . . can’t get it together most of the time. I will myself almost every day to make it different than the prior one. Yet, I am still performing the same uninspired song and dance. Basically, I make excuses for not wanting to put forth the effort.

It is all frame of mind and perspective. Think positive and progress—good or bad—is more obtainable. Simple, right? [No] Still, I’ll give it a whirl and summarize my past two weeks.

I ended my long abstinence from performing in front of an audience and did my first open mic in 10 years. I performed Styx’s Renegade (a spirited if somewhat dorky choice) and my original—One Second (see earlier post of the same title for the attached recording). It went very well, if I do say so myself. A couple of friends even came out to show their support. A week after that, I played Renegade at my vocal coach’s gig. The pub was sparsely populated, but no matter. Dammit, I did it. The seal has been broken, and now I feel confident and inspired enough to keep this ball in the air.

Second, I started my first painting in seven months. I finished Bona Fortuna (see earlier post of the same title) back in April. While I did set up another still life shortly thereafter, it remained untouched since. I realized that part of my problem was that it wasn’t grabbing me. So finally, finally , I dismantled it and worked on a new idea. It is untitled at this point, but I can reveal that my intent is to combine something beautiful with something dark. Oh wait, that is what I am always inclined to do. Anyway, I used pieces of an antique tea set I posted about early this year, and paired it with other props to tell a rather sordid tale. At least, that is what I hope will be conveyed. I will post my progress soon and discuss what I have in mind for the piece.

Now, if I can keep this momentum going and keep a clean house and work out regularly and make my deadlines at work and get enough sleep and walk the dog and pet the cat and spend time with my husband AND still keep my social life from dying a tragic death and . . . ugh, never mind. I just made myself weary again.

Happy thoughts happy thoughts.

When at first you don’t succeed?

I have been a bit dry the past few months. While I have smatterings of ideas, I have not recorded any (new or existing) material. I have set up my next painting subject, but have yet to apply brush to canvas. The two drawings in progress remain on my art table at the same stage I left them months ago. The story I was co-writing has been stuck in the middle of the same scene since  . . . and you get the idea. While I won’t call it writer’s block, per se, it certainly has not been the most creative of times for me. I can’t blame it on one thing. If I could, the impedence would possibly be easy to push aside or eradicate for daring to get in the way of my artistic vision quest. No, it is rarely that simple, nor is it easy to explain whereof my funk originated. Life, as well as myself, sometimes get in the way. That is my excuse, and I am sticking with it.

Not to wallow in self-pity, but indulge me for a moment. Snapping out of it, so to speak, would be less daunting if I received even a nibble of encouragement. Okay, that isn’t completely true, but I will get to that in a bit. Back in June, I entered my latest piece, Bona Fortuna, in a popular artist magazine’s annual competition. Comparing past winners with my painting, I found it comparable and believed it stood a good chance of placing at least as an honorable mention. Well, the announcement was made on their site last week that all the winners were notified. I logged onto my e-mail and found only junk. I even checked my spam folder: zippo. While I was not completely discouraged, as I was realistic that the chances of winning weren’t tremendous, it does make it more challenging when I am struggling with ways to fan the flames inside me to keep that passion and drive going. On top of that, I could not even get into one of the largest local arts festivals. I guess it is who you know. It is difficult to set a precedent with those organizations when they won’t let you in to begin with. I wish I could adopt Groucho Marx’s philosophy to not care to be a member of a club that would have me. But blast it! I wanna play too.

Okay, I’m over it. All I can do is keep putting myself out there. Even Rasputin got some tail just by the sheer quantity of women he threw himself at. It would be nice if it didn’t cost money. These contests and festivals charge entrance fees to cover the jurors’ review, so I understand the necessity of it. For the most part, it is an immaterial amount. However, those costs do add up if incurred repeatedly. And really, until my name becomes more familiar—or more to the point—luck is on my side, I need to step up and throw what I have at the wall and see what sticks. Thank goodness for tax deductions.

As for the aforementioned nibble of encouragement, I do have to admit that the lightbulb is finally going on for me with regards to my vocal lessons. I am figuring out how to sing more properly to improve the longevity of my voice, as well as build on its strengths. I don’t even mind that age has shaved a little bit off the top of my vocal range.  I lost my love of singing over the years (again, its complicated), and am now rediscovering it. I do strongly suspect that I will be up for stepping behind the mic again fairly soon.

With this post, I hope to breathe new life into this blog along with my drive to create. I shant let them gather so much dust again.

Faerie Queen Work-in-Progress

This is a rough and dirty photograph, i.e., not edited in Photoshop, of a genre I have been wanting to explore further as a career path. The black on the right side is part of my drawing table. I didn’t bother cropping it since this isn’t a completed piece as of yet.

I have read many how-to books on fantasy art, and take a particular fancy to faeries as a subject. A recent visit to a local comic book convention and its artist alley galvanized me to finally scratch this itch. Since this was also included in my 5-year career plan that was a requirement to write for my graduation, I have run out of excuses to delay this further.

While I admire the work and success of Amy Brown and Jessica Galbreth, I strive for a more realistic style. Licensing my work is definitely a consideration for generating revenue and exposure, but I’ll keep my eye on more readily achievable goals at this point. I will spend a year building up a portfolio so that I may exhibit at the comic book conventions starting in 2011. There. I put it in writing. There’s no turning back now.

So, back to the work at hand. I’ve had many fantasy drawing ideas pop in and out of my head the past few years; attached is not the best of them, but it was a concept I could make real with what was around me. The idea popped into my head the day after the convention, and this time I decided to do something about it. The sceptor was designed from an artificial daisy-type flower, along with my hand. I was going to stop there. I decided the hand should not be disembodied, so I looked in the mirror for the model of the queen. The diadem was a simplified drawing of one I actually have—I bought it at a Ren faire last year. I got a matching slave bracelet, but decided that it wouldn’t make sense with the “royal” subject. I didn’t want the hand to be naked, so I added a ring.

This drawing is not near finished. I made the rookie mistake of putting a graphite drawing on a textured, colored paper. The former was more the mistake regarding my preferred style. While I can cross-hatch in tone, I am a blender by nature. That paper does not play nice with the level I achieve in creating a more realistic-looking work. Therefore, I need to transfer this drawing to bristol board. I am not looking forward to re-doing the chainmail on the diadem. Blek. This original will not be pitched. I plan to make a gray-tone, i.e., graphite, charcoal, or ink, as well as a colored version of each work. Once I transfer the drawing, I can go over the original with pastel.

I feel there needs to be something in the background to bring the piece to completion. Whether it should be part of her wing, architecture such as a window, or something more abstract, requires a mulling session.

Bona Fortuna

Here is my latest accomplishment—a still life painting that my husband set up and titled, but I of course, took the last 10 months to paint. Those were not active 10 months, mind you. I’m not that slow. I was just terribly apathetic and ambivalent about the concept of this piece. I briefly touched on it in an earlier post: https://amaranthiarts.wordpress.com/2010/03/01/no-luck-of-the-draw/

Even after completing this, I was displeased. After much persuasion by the inspiration for this work, I’ve settled on being pretty dang proud of it, enough so that I will be entering it into a magazine competition. Do I expect to win? No, but as a coworker told me the other day, You can’t win the lottery if you don’t play. (I am playing the Illinois Lottery once a week, incidentally, but not winning. Theory and anecdote are both compelling, but rarely the twain shall meet.)

My ambivalence, as it turned out, was due to the conflict over owning the process from start to finish. Basically, this is not a still life I conceived. I pride myself in my original, and dare I say, unique, ideas. But this time, I just painted what I saw. It was my interpretation and I took some license, but still. I was (painfully) reminded of a story that my husband and I are currently working on for an idea I created. Does that dilute his involvement, to the point that he will feel detached from the final product, thus not proud of his contribution? That would be a resounding ‘No.’

After being presented that irrefutable argument, I had no choice but to accept the consequences. I had to paradoxically set my ego aside for admitting my specious feelings to allow myself to be proud of my achievement. And it was a bit uncomfortable at first, but I’ve come to terms with the possibility that I pulled this one off.

As for the premise, it is up for interpretation. It has an obvious mafia theme to it. Note the double entendre with the Latin title. I debated between painting the skull an actual bone color and how the object actually was (it was a plaster cast of a skull), and decided to keep it white, similar to bleached bone. My work at times can gravitate towards pathos, macabre, and other equally fun emotions and states of mind. I haven’t figured out why that is. But, that is a conversation for another time.