It took me most of my 51 years on this earth to realize that resolutions are society’s way of setting us up for failure, or to create a surge in gym membership revenue, at the very least. We’ve all been there, with the same pressure to cease repeating the mistakes of the prior year. We spiritedly bust out of the gate (after nursing the NYE hangover, of course) into the dawn of a new year and all its opportunities. Surrounded by January’s frigid darkness, enthusiasm starts to dwindle as endurance begins to lag, until we slow to a walk through February to catch our breath, only to crawl into March. Or something like that.
Perhaps I should resolve to be more optimistic.
More times than not, I just make mental note of what I want to change, do more or less of, etcetera. Since we ushered in a new decade, it seems fitting to document what I want to achieve. I write this knowing it may turn out to be more of a multi-year plan with no hard finish line. While deadlines can be galvanizing, life sometimes puts up a hurdle or three during the journey to enlightenment. It is easy to venture down that fork in the road called discouragement, the first exit sign an oasis of “I suck” and “why bother?” Hence, the aforementioned failure of resolutions.
Moral of the story: Resolutions can suck it. Still, I need to bone up on my chess game of life, plan my moves so that I can focus on what I should do differently as opposed to giving it a label that dooms me to an inevitable checkmate of despair. At the very least, avoid a stalemate of indecisiveness. Yes, I forced that metaphor. Just like I am forcing myself into accountability for my past failings.
I should probably move past all the negativity and focus on the task at hand. I put my list into three categories: Creative; Professional; Health. Here are my . . . goals? Plans? Ambitions? Objectives? This is what I intend to do.
These are general . . . things . . . that require focus to improve my professional life and health.
Write in my blog more often. This isn’t really at the top of my list, but since I just paid my annual renewal fee for this site, it seems a fitting start. It has been at least two years since I posted anything here, so I should make the $18 worth it. And remember my password, while I am at it. Anyway, it is easy to let this fall by the wayside, as my day job and all its documentation requirements and emails result in writing fatigue. I realize that, particularly in my struggle to write this post, this creative muscle has atrophied and needs to be limbered up and exercised more. I don’t have a schedule in mind, but at least once per month is not unreasonable. With this post, January is checked off. See you in February!
Draw the majority of days. I can’t target every day, because it isn’t realistic with the demands of my full-time job. If I drew— even just for five minutes—184 days this (leap) year, that is technically the majority. That is 3.54 days per week. I have my studio space, a litany of ideas, a plethora of projects, multiple sketchbooks, and numerous artist social circles. There is nothing preventing me from just doing it. One can only achieve mastery if one practices, and often. I haven’t reached the proverbial 10,000 hours, but there is only one way to get to Carnegie Hall.
Sing like no one is listening. Here is another atrophied muscle. I don’t sing much for the sheer pleasure of it, much less for practice. When I do, I default to my head voice. Because, it is quieter and safer. It is my mixed and chest voices that need work. When I belt it out, my voice is full and powerful. I own a multi-unit property, so I get self-conscious that my tenants will hear me screwing up and think, “Our landlady has gone off her nut.” In lieu of doing the slumlord squeeze on them, I should just decide to stop caring what other people think. I paraphrase both my husband and a friend who started out as my vocal coach, “Just. Fucking. Sing.” Okay!
Blow the dust off my instruments. I have seven guitars, a banjo, mandolin, violin, ukulele, piano, flute, and various harmonicas. I can’t say I know how to play the winds, but I certainly can manage all the strings and percussion (technically, it’s a clavinova). Even though I gravitate more towards visual art these days, I started out with music. It shouldn’t take much to pick up the guitar and noodle, or play a classical piece on the piano. Why don’t I? Lack of motivation, fear of failure, blah blah blah. I bore myself to tears and make my guitar gently weep from loneliness with the same excuses.
Note to self: I have to change the strings on my Martin. Bah!
Write the songs that make me sing. I generally noodle around with ideas, but haven’t written a new song in at least three years. I know I have talent, and my hiatus is not due to a dearth of ideas. While I am at it, I should record the ones I have written. I have the technological tools, I just have that aforementioned lack of motivation topped with an abundance of fear. No one needs to hear my cacophonous flops, so it should be a safe place to screw up. I trust even Sting has a rubbish heap of bad and rejected ideas. Get over myself!
I am an accounting manager by day, but it is not my passion. The only goal I have for my day career is to focus on expanding my position in order to rise out of the pit of ennui so that, on some level, I can actually enjoy what I am doing. I’ve been on autopilot for years, and it makes me dread almost a third of my life. Until I can retire, I need to make the most of this.
The professional intentions are focused on my art business, AmaranthiArts. I set up the LLC last year and my accountant will include the expenses (no revenue, sadly), on the 2019 return. I need to get serious, if for no other reason than the IRS generally gives only three years before turning a profit is required. Otherwise, it risks being classified as a hobby; thus, not deductible as a business. Here is a list, in no particular order, of projects that require my diligent attention.
- Graphic novel. My husband and I wrote the story back in 2012, and decided in 2014 that it should be illustrated instead of just sold to a magazine for chump change. I bought a dedicated sketchbook last September for the character design, and have filled up four pages. Full disclosure, conceptual work, i.e., from my head to the paper with little to no photo reference, is terrifying to me. Even though I’ve settled on the phenotype of the anti-hero, I still tense up and am insecure when I work on it. That needs to change, and I aim to be finished with my studies so that my husband can design the layout of the book. Can I actually start illustrating this mofo by 2021? We shall see. I have to keep reminding myself that this story needs to be seen. It is just too good to languish.
- Comics. I am in the process of inking the third strip of our comic, The Geww, which is inspired by our adorably unique dog. We are deciding if it should be published as a regular web series, and/or compiled into one book. That decision will be made once we get a dozen or so pages under our belts. In addition, there are a couple opportunities to collaborate with other comic artists for other projects, which will get my strong consideration. The more I put out there, the more I might be recognized. Ostensibly.
- Faerie mash-ups book. I have a series I am (slowly) creating with mechanical pencil. I made a list of 25 faeries, and have completed four of them. Once I reach the target, they will be compiled into a book. Each pinup will have an accompanying poem, written by yours truly. No, this will not be done in a year. If I could quit my day job. . . . It would be great to aim for one per month, but that still might be ambitious, as they take 15+ hours to draw. Did I mention I am slow?
- Faerie series. I’ve had an idea for years, which I will keep under wraps, and only unveil it once it is complete. I am too paranoid that the idea would be taken if I put it out there. Can I create at least one of them this year?
- YouTube. Yes, I set up the channel, and just have to start loading it. I should probably record a video while I am at it. Right now, I am working on proof of concept. There will be a lot of work and expenses involved putting the wheels in motion. I would like it to go live this year, but must forgive myself if it doesn’t happen. I can’t expect it will be a big money maker, not to mention that the last I checked, YouTube requires at least a year and thousands of views and subscribers before the channel is considered for monetization. Regardless, the idea I have is too good to pass up. If there is even a pittance at the end of the tunnel, I must explore it.
- Conventions. I displayed at my first con last year, and it was a good learning experience. No sales, of course, but it was a small event that gave me room to cut my teeth. Setting up a table at conventions should be a part of doing business as an illustrator, so if I want to be a professional, I need to act like one. Since I did one last year, can I surpass that this year?
- Web presence. I am active on social media, but I need to set up a website. There are enough do-it-yourself hosting platforms that make it achievable for minimal costs. I also need to make my work available for purchase, and there are plenty of resources that make it achievable.
Whew! That was exhausting. How can I focus on my health when I am piling so much on my plate? Well, everything is designed to fulfill me. If I don’t focus on myself, particularly my creativity, my emotional, mental, i.e., cognitive, and physical health suffer. If I abandon my creative side for more than a week, I am prone to getting depression and anxiety, which exacerbates insomnia. If I am tired, it is harder to be positive, eat well, and exercise. It is a vicious circle.
Outside of that, I don’t have a specific list in mind besides the usual housekeeping. Basically, the healthy things I do, I need to do more. I will add meditation to that list, even though we have a complicated relationship. I try it for a while, get frustrated with it, then give up. Lather; rinse; repeat. I can’t lean on the lack of time excuse, despite all of it that will be eaten up if I actually keep to everything I listed out on this post. According to Zen, if I don’t have time to meditate for an hour, I should meditate for two hours. Whoa there, Buddha dude. I’ll try five minutes a day, for now.
I think that about covers it. Here’s to a productive year, and decade, even. Cheers!
Back in July of 2005, I spent a month in Florence, Italy to attend art school and live the Bohemian dream. My average day started with a Renaissance drawing class, complete with a break at the local bakery for a café Americano and pastry. After class, either I stopped at an eatery to spend a mere two Euro on a panini (how I miss the ignorance of the exchange rate) or at the grocer for food to prepare a meal in my apartment by the Duomo. After lunch, yawn, it was naptime. A couple hours later, stretch, I’d wake up and head outside to wander around, take in the sights, sketch, and shop. Sometimes I would go back to the art studio to work. When evening rolled around, I connected with my mates for dinner, conversation, and possibly a concert, museum visit, or whatever else struck our fancy. Those were the days. How I yearn for the carefree lifestyle of the unfettered yet dedicated artist.
Being on a tight budget, I was quite frugal with my money. I couldn’t resist, though, the opportunity to purchase made-to-order plaster casts from the school’s sculpting instructor. I selected a skull, as well as a wall-mount head of St. Jerome. I thought 90 Euro was a great deal for the two, considering I didn’t have to pay for shipping or sales tax. Never mind that the U.S. equivalent was about $150. Every bona fide artist has a plaster cast to use for academic study.
I couldn’t risk my acquisitions getting damaged, so I wrapped them in towels in my carry-on luggage when the time came to return to the States and, alas, to the responsibilities awaiting me there. Unfortunately, that required me to check an extra piece of luggage, costing me 75 euro for exceeding my baggage limit. Okay, the casts weren’t quite so economical anymore, but there was no turning back.
After a peculiar request from security to see the contents of my bag, I sat down to await boarding. Our flight ended up being delayed several hours due to an impromptu air traffic controller strike. I noticed that the work ethic was a bit more lax than in other countries. That was in stark comparison to Germany, most definitely; we missed our connecting flight when we arrived in Dusseldorf. They didn’t give a scheiße that it wasn’t our fault we were late. Germans are on time no matter what, verdammt! I was stuck there for the night, because the next flight to New York wasn’t until the following morning. Frick!
Looking every bit the peace-loving artist in my hand-made, ankle-length flowing, purple skirt, I arrived at the airport after my complimentary stay and meal at the airport hotel. That was nice of them, although it wouldn’t surprise me if they hit Italy up for the tab. I lugged my bag onto the conveyor belt, and moments later an irascible security guard picked up my carry-on. With a guttural demand he indicated for me to follow him off to the side wall, away from the screening area. He dropped the bag onto a table and tersely ordered me to open it. “They are plaster ca . . . “. I couldn’t even finish my explanation as he barked like a German Shepard, “Pull them out!”
Okay! Jeepers. I even had to remove the casts from their terry-cloth cocoons to prove to him that I wasn’t smuggling something, or whatever he suspected from this yoga-loving hippy. What up? I even listen to Dylan, damn it! And what gives with the harsh treatment of one of his sisters-in-Deutch? (I’m only half German, but it’s a matter of principle.) At least he yelled at me in my native language. How magnanimous of him. The thought did cross my mind that I got a teensy taste right then for what the Jews had to endure. On top of everything else, dealing with those Nazis must have been one serious slice of Hell. I know, that is sick and wrong of me to contemplate. However, those German guards are scary mean, even the ones who don’t pack heat. American cops lose street cred when they use Segways to troll their beat. Put a legion of Germans on them and they’d be fit to blitzkrieg Poland. I’m just saying. Anyway, he was mollified (relatively speaking) after he confirmed what I tried to tell him in the first place. Really, how many terrorists dress like gypsies? I was a bit insulted. Did I get an apology? Nein!
I all but forgot the shoddy treatment when I boarded the plane, as I was treated to the luxury amenities of a business flight. I got to stretch my legs, nosh on warm nuts, and wash them down with red wine in an actual glass. I stretched my legs and ate a hot lunch while I watched a movie on a personal television. I reclined to my heart’s content when I wanted to sleep.
My stopover in New York meant that I was required to abandon that sweet ride. I had to go through airport security again in order to change planes. As I went through the same rigmarole, I was emotionally prepared this time and gave the attendants an unsolicited description of what I was carrying. They started laughing as my luggage made its way through the x-ray. I walked through the sensor as I offered to show them the contents, “I can open my bag and remoooo-holy SHIT!” The screen showed what could easily be mistaken for two severed heads suspended in some morbid aqueous humor. No wonder. Although, I doubt traveling executioners are all the rage. If they exist, they wouldn’t be carrying their spoils, and they certainly wouldn’t go through a German airport with them. Still, Occam’s Razor should have been poking Herr Wachmann in the back when he was treating me as if I were channeling Izzy Borden. Ugh, whatever. I shared the laugh as I offered again to prove that I wasn’t an axe murderer. They assured me that it was okay and I could go through to my gate.
Is there a moral to this story? Well, there is a possible inference that serial killing is a more accepted practice in the good ole US of A. More importantly, when traveling abroad, there are other costs to consider than actual hard dollars expended:
One panini: $3.60 U.S.
Two artistic plaster casts: $150 U.S.
Penalty for exceeding baggage limit: $135 U.S.
The experience of being mistaken for a jet-setting psychopath: Priceless
Who doesn’t know Bob Ross—the inordinately hirsute art instructor and television personality? His half-hour program, The Joy of Painting, aired from 1983 to 1994, and brought the creation of decorative art into millions of homes around the world.
Don’t get me wrong by my sarcastic pun of the title—Bob Ross had a significant influence on the art world. He discovered and shared a way to make painting accessible and inviting to those normally daunted by the idea of picking up a brush and applying it to canvas. He made it fun and leisurely, and sparked creativity in children who happened to catch his program on public television, including yours truly. He was also philanthropic; he donated his programs and paintings to public stations, and made his living only from the sale of his books and instructional videos. He can’t be faulted for that, right? Of course he can!
First off, I must point out the obvious: What was UP with that frizzy ‘fro, and why so much of it? To top it off, it was a perfect sphere around his skull, like a halo in a medieval painting. How was hair that unruly cut in such a way that every last coiling strand was tucked into a pristine bubble? It was like Mr. Miyagi went all bonsai tree on him every time before the cameras started rolling. Was that beard a continuation of the mop growing from his scalp? It was like he bought it by the yard and wrapped his head and face in it like a keffiyeh.
Bleh. I just got bitch-slapped by an annoying thing called my conscience. I logged in fully intending on ripping this poor guy to shreds until only a pile of viscera and fringe was left in my wake. I just can’t do it, for the simple reason that this guy was just too darn nice. Besides the aforementioned generosity, he clearly made a career out of doing something that he loved. Plus, he worked up until the year before his untimely death—of cancer, no less. Why did it have to be cancer? Bah! Grabbing onto his nappy coif and dragging him through the mud just would not be sporting. I might as well kick a terminally ill child’s puppy while I’m at it. Dammit. Blast you, Bob!
So, I am left with going gentler on his legacy. I’ll try to still make it fun.
Even as a kid, I noticed the preponderance of pine trees in his paintings. It seemed like everything had a pine tree. If you don’t believe me, here are a few examples:
They moved to the right. Those sneaky bastards.
And they mated and multiplied. Horny rascals.
There is more evidence, but frankly, I was getting annoyed uploading these photos and positioning them. They aren’t in every painting, but they are in a lot of them. A lot. Plus, he painted them the same way. He scooped up paint with his palette knife, made a line on the canvas to suggest the trunk, then took a dark green mixture (probably ivory black and phthalo green) on his brush and whoosh whoosh whoosh, painted the foliage by smashing the brush in alternating angles down said trunk. It was difficult for this method to not be singed into the viewer’s memory, because he did it so often. What does this mountainous landscape need? A pine tree! How can I make this river scene idealic? A pine tree, of course! What shall I do to round out this galactic tableau? Whoosh whoosh whoo . . . okay, that probably didn’t happen. I think I’ve made my point with this one and can conclude that the dude really dug pine trees. I’m partial to painting skulls, knives, and droplets of blood in my pieces, but as Bob would always say, “It is your world.”
While an art student, I posed the following question to some of the faculty: Would Bob Ross do well in their class? Every time, I got a resounding “no”. It turns out that Mr. Ross’s mane got tangled in the craw of many professional artists, and was apparently keeping Thomas Kinkade company (that’s a different post and I refuse to pull punches). Why the animosity? Because, he made it too easy. Basically, he took the art out of art, or more to the point, he removed the mystery. How can artists who devote their lives to their craft have it be reduced to such simplicity? They spend months on each piece, laying their emotions bare on the canvas, to only have it trivialized by one man, albeit a well-intentioned one. I admit, as an artist myself, I find the argument compelling. Painting is an extremely difficult undertaking, and takes years to master, if at all. The greatest artists don’t necessarily rest on their laurels; even Rembrandt felt like he still had much to learn. I, along with many others, have spent years and thousands of dollars on an education to achieve the goal of creating lasting works. Truth-be-told, I don’t care to have my passion rendered inconsequential by some hack. There, I said it.
Excuse me while I spit out the sour grapes. PLORK! Okay, I’m over myself. While it is uncomfortable to dilute contempt that positions our egos on a high horse, it is the magnanimous thing to do. While the quality of his art is questionable, I must credit him for starting me on the artistic journey I will be on until the end of my days.
Thomas Kinkade is a whole different story. He’ll reap the whirlwind once I decide to critique him.