Friday, October 20, 2017

Making of a Maker - Third Friday Post - October 20th

The Road to Here

If there is one thing I have wanted to share most from my experiences in life, it is how I became a maker of things. And by that, I mean the long road to "here". From those first inspirations and indulgences as a child to the present moment.

This weekly third Friday post will focus on exactly that.  And maybe even exploring side-roads to talk about what and where "here" is exactly, since it is always changing. 

If there is one thing I want to put across right off, it's that what I offer here is just ONE individual's perspective on how it can be achieved. I cannot even be sure I see it clearly in retrospect. I can only talk about the beginnings, the course changes, the bits of luck, inspirations and decisions that led to here and now.

I do NOT think my way is the right way for even a good chunk of folks who want to be artists or indulge in creativity full time. What my path is, is one more viewpoint that perhaps you can take something from it all and go forward with it in your own pursuit of becoming the working artist you want to be. 

So where to begin? 

How about this, I believe you can reinvent yourself time and again ( I certainly have) but what I've come to learn, all thee years later, is that you have to embrace, or at least make peace, with who you are inherently. Where you come from. What "made" YOU.  

You don't have to live in and with it every day if it was, as it sometimes can be, negative or shadowy, but I think that you do have to give it more than just a nod of acknowledgement. 

How many times have we all seen that artist's statement, written in the third person, that just doesn't tell you anything about the artist at all. Oh, it's a list and who's who of degrees, schools and  mentors to be sure. But then you turn and what you see on the paper or canvas or in three dimensions doesn't seem to have anything to do with that at all. I se that less and less, of course, and I'm happy that we seem to be moving beyond that as a whole in our world. I don't care where you went to school, where you reside, how long you've been drawing those concentric circles etc. . . I care about where you came FROM. What inspires youth now and then, and who you are inherently and how that is honored today in your life. 

I came across a "modern artist" who was quick to tell you, in third person, about walking the same streets of Europe that the masters did and sitting at Van Gogh's cafes, living abroad. . .  but who was a midwest farm kid by birth. I never met that particular artist but I am guessing that no matter how they cover it or try to rearrange the parts, the farm-kid's spirit and essence is still there in everything they do and all that they are. Yet it seemed they were trying so hard to separate themselves from it. I know because I did that for years too. But now I'd say it's important to embrace it. You can reinvent yourself and still honor and pay homage to those beginnings. 

I say that because for me, going back to that origin, creatively, became a huge part of my road to here. Childhood imagination. The same one I used to escape school bullies and that filled the many hours I had alone in my room as a kid, was still there waiting for me when I ran out of "adult artist" costumes to try on.  

Keep in mind that before I came to this realization, I DID create sooooo much. I performed the music I wrote on stages, had gallery shows and was part of collective exhibitions here and there. 

What Interested me then was making something from nothing. Even in those childhood, neighborhood sports-playing days we were always making due with less. Less players, less equipment, less than ideal places to play. Gravel instead of grass, slanted side streets instead of level lots. . . sharing gloves and bats, hoping someone brought a decent ball. . . but regardless, we played just the same.

Outside of sports, which was never a full time interest, my attention was put into to creating worlds. With action figures, costumes, props etc a few of us spent entire days lost in scenarios from space exploration to digging out of post apocalyptic ruins, to medieval knights. Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Lost in Space, Planet of the Apes and so on.  Strangely enough, though it was becoming quite the thing and I was aware of it, I never got involved in role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons in those years.
We were, perhaps, the last of the "outdoor" generation of kids. Even on the worst of days weather wise, we spent as much time outside as we could. I mean, when else were we going to be able to pretend we were on that snowy, ice planet of Hoth other than when we were slogging around in the midst of a 12 inch snowfall with gusting 40mph winds! 
But I've discovered the amazing worlds of Role Playing Games as an adult and I can see the parallels between the experience we had in our outdoor imagination-born adventures and role playing in the tabletop gaming world. 

Paul Lafarge, an essayist, author and long time D&D player and enthusiast, writes how gaming is like reading a book:  

"You start outside something (Middle Earth; Dickens’s London; the fascinating world of mosses and lichens), and you go in, bit by bit. You forget where you are, what time it is, and what you were doing. Along the way, you may have occasion to think, to doubt, or even to learn. Then you come back; your work has piled up; it’s past your bedtime; people may wonder what you have been doing. In a society that conditions people to compete, and rewards those who compete successfully, Dungeons & Dragons is countercultural; its project, when you think about it in these terms, is almost utopian. Show people how to have a good time, a mind-blowing, life-changing, all-night-long good time, by cooperating with each other! And perhaps D&D is socially unacceptable because it encourages its players to drop out of the world of competition, in which the popular people win, and to tune in to another world, where things work differently, and everyone wins together."

As we grew a bit older, reaching 'tween years, that small group of us who relied on imagination separated further from the sports playing kids just as the reached that peak competitive phase. My social/play group dwindled to three and, often times, it might just be two.  

Of course, the advantage I had over even the D&D kids was that I didn't need a group to have my most memorable fun. The worlds that I explored individually in my alone time, and there was an abundance of it, were the best. Still, to this day, I can recall the games, the characters, the little places in my mind that I would return to again and again. 

So lets lay the groundwork for this Third Friday post series like this:

I am a product of many events, circumstances and actions. Like all of us, I made choices, took roads that were more or less traveled and, at times, had to double back to find my way forward again. But in the midst of all of that, there has been a firm, foundational knowledge that the world around me is a magical place. A place of possibility. And that the world we experience and see is just a fraction of what is out there for us.

When that world around me became less than magical, I changed it. When the people around me became less supportive, too destructive or just got too caught up in their own version of the real, adult world, often meaning they gave up on their own dreams and creativity, I left them behind. When the places I've lived became less than magical, I've moved. And I'm aware how that could seem like I am running from something but, in truth, I am protecting something deeper. 

And I'd say the greatest lesson I learned was to treat your creativity like a gift of creation itself. I have come to think that our creative pursuits should be treated much like having a child (or kittens, baby birds, puppies. . . whatever you prefer) Your idea for a creative life is born or hatched as the case may be. . . And it needs your attention, care and, especially early on in it's infancy and development, your nurturing and protection from certain influences and experiences. You wouldn't turn your child over to just anyone to "rear and raise", and you wouldn't take just anyone's advice about how to raise them. . . so treat your creative work the same way. It's your dream, your pursuit, your passion. Your child. 

It most certainly can be harmed by the wrong hands, the wrong mouths, the wrong hearts. 

And, most of all, what parent out there would tell you their life didn't change drastically when their child was born or, to a lesser degree, when a new pet came into the house. We rearrange our lives to take care of them, yes? You put aside many of your other pleasures and indulgences to be there for it at all times, right? 

Then that is how you should approach your creative notions too.  

Ultimately, if you are really going to develop the creative soul you wish to bring forth. Even the idea of "success", of making a living from it, is just another point on the map, and the map we draft is a lifelong pursuit of putting beauty, whimsy, color, imagination, words, imagery, ideas and thoughts. . . even utilitarian items. . .  into our world. 

I make a living at what I do. I work harder than I have at anything else in my life. More hours. Like a small child, it's not something I can put away at 5pm, turn off the lights and go home. Since I reached that goal, I've come to realize that it's just another rung of the entire ladder of my life's journey. I want to evolve and grow with it. Whether I can make MORE money from it is immaterial because I know i can adapt and change MY life to suit it. 

To close this first installment of the Making of a Maker, there is a poem I adore that I actually was first shown by my Zen teacher. She thought it was perfect for me then because at the time, as I tended to from time to time, I was struggling with these same issues of the making and care of a creative life. To this day, some 15 years later, it remains one of my favorite poems and I think that it sums up the creative soul, the maker, that dwells in all of us so well. 

The Way It Is
William Stafford

There’s a thread you follow. 
It goes among things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

Thank you for reading, following and commenting! 
Keep MAKING!!!!!

Nicolas XO

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Beginning in October of 2017 I started to follow the following format for my blog, posting every Friday and under the following headings:

1st Friday of Each Month - New work ( New to the shops and a look at the making of one item each month)

2nd Fridays - Inspirations and Oddities (Links and thoughts about what inspires me) 

3rd Fridays - The Making of a Maker (advice and shared experiences of how I got "here" to where this is my full time job.)

4th Fridays - The World of Bewilder and Pine ( peeks into the world of the Bewildering Pine, the stories and books to follow and all around fantasy world making)

Friday, October 13, 2017

Inspirations and Oddities - October 13th

This is the first edition of my Second Friday blog posts.  In these I'll be posting links to what inspires me and my work. Blog posts, Wikipedia pages, imagery, books etc etc

So without any delay, here is this month's entry on "Inspirations and Oddities"


"I’ve written in other venues about the “thrill of the hunt.” And by that, I mean the hunt for that one back issue of a comic series you loved, that old album by the band you loved, or that out of print book by that author you loved. These “hunts” were a big part of my youth, and the very concept is gone now. Everything is easily found on the Internet with a few keystrokes."  -  Monte Cook

The world is filled with inspiring and amazing things to take in. As a child those discoveries led to the worlds of my imagination. We didn't have everything at our fingertips and, as Monte suggests in that quote above, it is now common to find almost anything within moments on the internet. But is that true? I really think there are still untold worlds to discover. Pinterest, for all of it's amazing possibility, seems to narrow the treasure trove based on algorithms that they think shows us what we want to see when beyond those first pages of results one finds a world deeper than the most favorited or popular of images.  Instead, it's when I choose an image, then look at it's similar images and then pick one, repeating the process a half dozen times that I finally come upon something I really want.

I have to dig, search, follow trails and spend time to get there. The best of what is out there is often not found on page one of my search results but buried in the depths.

My news feed is devoid of the glut of negative world events but loaded with National Geographic, Scyfy, Smithsonian etc. I'll download a dozen previews on Ibooks just hoping to find that one self-published or lesser known gem. I want the mystery, the new, the inspiring and the possible.

What I am saying I guess is that I am not certain the thrill of the hunt had been totally removed. . . just that the means to enjoying it are changing with technology. What I worry about is that the DESIRE for the hunt is being lost with the ease modern technology provides.

These days I compare the internet to taking pre-arranged travel tours. Back when I used to travel in my early 20's. I usually had a departure and return date and then filled the between with whatever I was inspired to do or see that day. I only took one arranged, group tour, and that was of Greece and Turkey because it allowed for seeing 5 of the Greek islands and a much desired stop in the ancient ruins of Ephesus. While the entire group often went everywhere together, taking in all of the exact same locations, restaurants and sights, I always set off on my own to find the out of the way places and local cafes.

In Ephesus as they took in all the planned sights along the ancient streets, I spent my time there sitting on the actual communal benI walked along the streets following the wagon and chariot ruts cut into the heavy stone over their ages of use.

In Greece, at the temple of Poseidon, the group all took the usual photo op and hurried out of the wind down to the gift shop while I stood alone facing that stiff wind overlooking the Aegean sea and tried to imagine what it was like to stand at that temple when it was in it's prime.  In Delphi, when they ran off to lunch and gift shopping, I wandered down to the temple of Athena where we had spent all of 10 minutes as a group, so that I could sit there alone and imagine myself coming to Delphi though the olive groves of the valley below, hoping to receive the oracle's wisdom. . .

The whole trip went like that and every time we reconvened on the bus or at the hotels, I'd be asked all sorts of questions about where I went and what I did. Where I ate. What I saw. As if I was on a different tour! 

All I did was go off on my own and explore. . . that's what it takes today to find the "treasures". 

In this monthly post, I hope to share a bit of it with you. :)

Hoping you'll find a little inspiration here! PLEASE feel free to send me links to what inspires YOU! Let's help each other in that hunt for the unusual and the treasures of the internet!



I use the word paracosm a lot. It perfectly describes my childhood experiences in imagination and also what I strive for daily as an adult. I'm definitely in the world of my making more than not which leads to being a pretty blissed out guy.  I am often asked "Are you ever in a bad mood?" and, of course, the answer is yes. I'm human (really, I AM!) But the smiling face people see most of time is DIRECTLY related to my paracosms and the world I dwell in most of the time.

Much of the outside world is not allowed in. No horrors of the news, no clocks, phone on silent always, no pop-ins from other people. I put strong boundaries around it to keep it safe and it pays off. I get to create, imagine and invent each and every day with little interruption.

Four years ago, one of my favorite bloggers, Andrea over at Falling Ladies created this blog post:

Paracosm  - In the four years since I have returned to that post time and again for a bit of inspiration and just for the magic of the world Andrea hints at there. Often I am hoping to find more of it somewhere that I did not see before. . . that's the power of magic! Thank you Andrea!

Here are a few more for this month:
The Hermit Monks of Karouliya - I needed a remote, hard to access setting for the "monks" of my world. But my world is not very vast and is self contained sooooo . . . this post inspired me greatly. The website, though loaded with active content and ads that sometimes frustrates me and my laptop, is alike a random WOW generator! I go once a month and find at least two or three things in our world that I never knew existed.

The Hama Water Wheels - How about water wheels for moving water in a tech challenged world? I'm a visual person and while I could see waterwheels in my mind quite easily it was nothing as grand as these gasp-worthy structures dating to the Byzantine world.

The Singing Tree  - Need an inspiration for a truly new musical "instrument" or ancient mystery? Oh, it's out there!

And a monthly Book Suggestion too!

I just finished listening to Neil Gaiman read his "The Ocean at the End of the Lane." I'm neither a fan nor a critic of Gaiman's work. It's hot or cold for me. I love some, can't get thru a few chapters of others, but this story may be one of my all time favorites. It's really about that struggle between the worlds of childhood and adulthood and every bit of it is magic. Both Sofie and I agreed that it sounds "true". Like there is no part of it that you can't imagine being possible.  And of course I identify totally with the boy in the story. I was that boy. I had magical encounters of my own and I often returned to them time and again when life seemed overwhelming.  they remain like polestars to me today.

Magic IS everywhere and I just need that reminder sometimes.

Friday, October 6, 2017

First Friday - New Work - October 6th

First Friday - New Work

Hi all!

Welcome to the first post under my new blog format. First Fridays are reserved for giving you all a peek at some new work. This might be work in progress, truly new creations and/or a series of in progress pics of one or more pieces to give you all a little insight into the way things take shape around here on a daily basis.

It can take a week or two to complete a piece from it's beginning. Mostly this is due to working in batches thru the various processes and, with two completely different shoppes to stock, create for and manage, that can often stretch the time it takes for completing a piece even further. At any one time I can have between 2 and 3 dozen pieces going in some form. Yep, that's why my  actual "work area" can be as small as 4 or 5 inches square!

This week's post will give you all a little inside look at how I create some of the statues in Shadow of the Sphinx. I began this piece, a 9" tall standing statue of Nephthys, the Goddess of Mourning, about 10 days ago.  I get a few requests a year for Her in one form or another, the most popular being Her kneeling pose. Looking back, I am amazed at how this shoppe has become a bigger and bigger part of my creative world. The requests I get are so varied and not limited to Egyptian/Kemetic antiquity. I've done Mayan, Inuit, Greek, Roman, Norse and Celtic pieces too when requested and  always think how wonderful it would be to expand that in the shoppe itself but I can barely keep up as is most months without setting off down yet another road!

The most satisfying part of this work is that, for me, the ancient Egyptian pantheon has been a part of my life since I was 6 or 7. I've written before about how I painted hieroglyphs all over my bedroom closet walls at 12 hrs old, much to the chagrin of my mother when she found them, and how I used to make statues, crowns and amulets out of tin foil and my grandmothers endless craft supplies.  And I believe I have mentioned how I used to draw a few of the ancient deities, Anubis, Bast, Djehuty, Auset on the tops of my feet in pen or marker to protect me from nightmares and school bullies.

So it should be little surprise that when I came into working with polymer clay, the first thing I actually thought to try and make was a small Egyptian statue. And it was sooooooo bad. Those foil ones that I made when I was a kid were more realized (foil is a very underrated material! ) But something made me stick with it and keep trying. :)

Over the 7 or so years I have been doing this work, I've figured out a lot about how to make statues, faces, and all the little details that are involved. There are no tutorials, no instructions from the masters of old. . . just lots of antiquities and images to look at. I added in the making of amulets and, eventually, all sorts of non-traditional polymer pieces. I did have a little experience working in clay, but quickly found that it's nothing at all like working with polymer.

Of course, I am always going to be a rather undisciplined maker-of-things, which when it comes to statues means I cannot guarantee the height of a piece at the beginning. I use my eyes to tell me if the proportions are correct and I do not worry about perfect symmetry or balance (except in the faces).

Now, here are some images and short descriptions of the process along the way from start to finish on making the Nephthys statue I completed this week:

Every statue starts as lumps of raw clay. Basic proportions are made for the body, head and base or plinth the statue will eventually stand on. I'm not exact here since so much will be added and cut away but, over the years, I've become pretty adept at starting with the right amounts. Basic body shaping helps to get that where I want it. 

Quick form of the body allows me to gauge the finished height a bit better. Once I have that form, I'll make the head to size and then put feet right on the base, this is to allow me to preserve the tiny details like toenails etc because the body will still be handled quite a bit. Arms are added to the body and ears to the head and posture starts to take shape. After an overnight rest so the clay firms up again, I sculpt a little tighter to the the finished form and add the neck plate/aegis, sculpt the hands to the body and insert the tiny Ankh charm in the right hand. At this point, the statue is fired in the oven for the first time. 

Once the statue is fired, I'll add the headdress and start some of the clothing details.  The tall headpiece is a rendering of Nephthys hieroglyph, thought to be a house/building/column with a basket balanced on top. When the statue is fired a second time, painting begins. First a layer of acrylic matte as seen in the second image and then, when dry, the first layer of the metallic pigment, bronze in this case. 

A second layer is added after another overnight drying. Then the final coat of pigment and the reactive patina are applied. In the middle image you can see how quickly the changes begin to appear. I began at the top, working down the statue and you can see the greener coloring coming through on the headdress even though it was only done a few minutes prior to the rest of the statue. The final image shows the patina about two hours in. It's pretty close to done but I'll give it the rest of the day to sit and develop. Then a final sponging of the metallic pigment back overtop creates 
the final look of the piece. 

And there She is!!! Nephthys in her final form. Over time, the pigment will fade in luster and look truly aged. The headdress is removable for shipping, easily inserted into the head on a guide wire.  

So that's a peek into the making of one of my statues. In future first Friday posts, I'll focus in on smaller parts of the process like making heads, clothing etc. I never make two the same, always trying to give each customer a slightly unique look to their statue. In this case, I combined aspects of two traditional renderings of Nephthys from antiquity to create this one. 

And here are a few more pieces of New Work as well!

Hope you enjoyed this peek into the making of some of my things! Thank you for reading and for inspiring me as well! 


New Fairy Houses with Patina rooftops!

Reliquary gargoyles. . . finished a few weeks ago but they still need their story! :)

New Clara Voyant mini tombstone for Halloween!

A new blue reactive patina to simulate the look of ancient faience work! Totally maddening and hard to control but soooo worth it as this little Taweret/Hippo shows. . . She is is just under 3" tall!

<>oOo<> Nephthys <>oOo<>

Nephthys is a member of the Great Ennead of Heliopolis in Egyptian mythology.

Nephthys was known as the goddess of mourning. She was the goddess of night, rivers, sleep, and nature as well. When Nephthys became the goddess of mourning she also became a guide and protector of the dead. When people died their ''Ba'' would be tested by 40 gods, many of whom met up with Nephthys.

Nephthys had many siblings. Her parents were Geb the god of the earth (a goose) and Nut the goddess of the sky ( a female form arched over the land with stars over her body) . She was the sister of Auset/Isis, Osiris and a twin of Sutekh. 

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Beginning in October of 2017 I started to follow the following format for my blog, posting every Friday and under the following headings:

1st Friday of Each Month - New work ( New to the shops and a look at the making of one item each month)

2nd Fridays - Inspirations and Oddities (Links and thoughts about what inspires me) 

3rd Fridays - The Making of a Maker (advice and shared experiences of how I got "here" to where being a "maker-of-things" is my full time job.)

4th Fridays - The World of Bewilder and Pine ( peeks into the world of the Bewildering Pine, the stories and books to follow and all around fantasy world making)

Friday, September 29, 2017

Turning a Page

Hello everyone!

So, I just wanted to give you all a quick update on something exciting as it pertains to my blog!

I have struggled for years to find a rhythm with keeping my blog active.  I kept wanting to discover some magic structure that will allow me to be more regular and offer more of what is going on in the creative world around me.

With the wealth of new projects, ideas, undertakings etc, I have once again allowed my posting here to slip and I want to change that going forward.

So here is what is happening. . .

I am pledging to post each and every Friday of the month. To try and make this a reality, I am going to give each Friday of the month a "theme".

Starting with October, (my favorite time of the year), I will be offering posts on the following general topics based on the number of the Friday of the month.

1st Friday of Each Month - New work. This will not just be newly finished creations but I a peek into the actual making of one of those new items each month. From start to finish. Photos, materials, techniques etc.

2nd Fridays - Inspirations and Oddities - Links and topics that I've come across that inform my work, my writing and just my insatiable curiosity for the strange and wonderful in the world we live in, past or present, and beyond. Research is a big part of my creative world and I can think of no better way to stir that "making pot" than to share those things I've found.

3rd Fridays - The Maker-of-Things -  a look into how I got "here", from an over-reaching teenage dreamer to being a full time creator.  So, snippets of those early childhood memories, the long and winding road of experimentation and failure along the way and all of the other creative ventures I tried and moved on from.  Plus some all-around advice for creating a life that supports living as a creative soul and working maker. This will be only my experience so it will not resonate for some, I know, but I think it worth expressing to hopefully help those who wish to follow in those creative footsteps.

4th Fridays - The World of Bewilder and Pine! - Many of you know that I have been focused on writing a novel and short stories centered around the world I created, the Bewildering Pine. So these 4th Friday posts will offer small peeks into that world. Details about the folk, the place, the history etc. Where these things come from in me and where I'd like to see them go in the future. Eventually, maybe early next year, I'll even offer snippets from the book itself as it moves forward.

5th Fridays, on the rare occasion it happens, well, we shall see!

Hoping Autumn is shining in your worlds!
Thanks for coming along for the ride. . .


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Six Things I Am Happy About

Just creating lists today and decided to make this one to share with you all. :)

1. (Oh and this is number one by a MILE!) After more than 50 years, there is finally going to be a female Doctor Who! Jody Whittaker is taking the role in 2018 and I could not be happier or more excited! I still love to watch "my  Doctor",  the 4th Doctor Tom Baker, and I can't imagine anyone topping him for me. Though Peter Capaldi came very close the last three seasons with his dour, sarcastic leanings and those wickedly, wild eyebrows.

Anyhoo, this is lonnnng overdue and I have held out hopes we'd see our first female actor in the Doctor's shoes since the role of the Master was given, in a stroke of GENIUS, to Michelle Gomez a few seasons back.

I hope Ms. Whittaker will capture a whole new audience and generation with the role and I cannot wait to see her create the persona and make the role all her own.

2. Darci Lynne - Ventriloquism has always fascinated and, as a small child, frightened me. . .  it's always been there on my periphery as a somewhat mystical talent/ability. . . then someone sent me this link to 12 yr old Darci Lynne's audition for America's Got Talent: All I am saying is, whatever you may think of these types of talent shows or of the art of ventriloquism, it's something you'll never have seen done so well before and the final few minutes of the video are a tear inducing, feel good moment. :)  You GO Darci!

3. Levar Burton Reads Podcast - I love a well told short story and I love the actor Levar Burton. This new podcast has just a handful of episodes right now but I suspect it will be around as long as Levar wants to read to us. This week the newest edition was a story that I read last year and would have listed in my top 5 short stories of all time but, after hearing Levar read it, I'd say it's now my all time favorite short story. It's a tear jerker, so be warned. But it's just beautiful. . . it's episode 11,  " The Paper Menagerie" by Ken Liu. It's the most recent episode and the link to his podcast is below. I'd also suggest episode 9 called,  "1,000 Year-Old Ghosts", which I had never read, but which is now also in my top 5 of all time. (it's getting crowded in that top five these days!)

4.  Comic creator Gail Simone received an Ink Pot award for her work in the comics industry at SDCC last month. Gail has done so much for inclusiveness in the comic industry, writing diverse characters and bringing very modern storylines to the page that no one else would have thought of or written nearly as well. She's worked on Wonder Woman, Red Sonja, Batgirl and a host of others. If you don't know Gail's story, she is a former hairdresser who is now one of the biggest names in writing comics and, if I can share a little secret with you, Gail used to cut MY hair back in the day some 20 years ago. lol And I am not surprised at all that she has reached the heights she has. . . her compassion, fierce heart and fiery wit all combine to make her a force. . . and she just gets better, and more outspoken, with time. Cheers Gail! :)

5. Back to School - It's that time of year . . . again.  Just walking into the store the other day and seeing all the notebooks supplies etc in the front aisles gave me that same feeling I always got as a kid. I've said here before that I feel like September is the start of my year. A reset and check in that is, for me, far more effective than the New Year's tendency of a lot of people. Some of it is truly that something, namely Autumn's essence, is in the air! I am sure that some of it to do with all the school years of my youth. What I remember most was that, coming from a family who did not have a lot, it was the one time of year I could ask for art supplies, paper etc etc and NOT get that "look". lol  So that feeling of having what seemed like endless notebooks, BLANK paper, new crayons, gel pens or markers. . .  whatever was cool at the time. . .  and other implements for drawing and daydreaming, the possibility of it all. . . I don't think I will ever outgrow that nostalgic reminder or the way it rises in me again this time of the year.

6. County Fairs - Also took in our county fair in the past week. There is not much that compares to a county fair in a rural area like this. From the animals (cows, pigs, goats, sheep, ducks, chickens and more rabbits than you could ever hope to see!) to the beautiful fabric art (quilts, weaving, knitting) to the master gardener's garden and the exhibit halls (baking, canning, cake decorating, flower displays etc) it's a great time. And I won't even get into the food - will they never stop coming up new with things to batter and deep fry? :) I settled for a pronto pup and pizza. Passing on the favorites of old like elephant ears, curly fries and funnel cakes. Also, we tend to go on day one as early as possible. I imagine that by day three and four the usually smiling and delightful folk who work every facet of the fairs must be at wits end by then. . .

OK, New work coming in a day or two but I wanted to share that all with you and I hope there are dozens of such things in YOUR world making you Smile! Please feel free to share some of them here with me!

Until the next. . .


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Inspiration - Stepping into Another World

Before I start rambling I want to say/share three things up front.

One, I am glad there are ALL kinds of people in this world. I would not want everyone to be, think or see things as I do. I recently heard of a young man who walks across the country. That's what he "does". Sometimes he works odd jobs for cash and sometimes he is graced with the kindness of strangers who help when he is in need, And you know what? I think he is as important to our world as the doctor or the sanitation worker or the teacher because, like all of us, his story can inspire. It can ignite an imagination. It can offer hope for those who feel like they themselves are an outsider or a little lost.

Two, I do NOT believe I have the answers for most young or aspiring artists. But I DO believe the way Sofie and I got "here" can be as inspiring and offer a glimpse into another way to live life. Choices that can be made today. Especially in a world that seems hell-bent on sinking everyone into debt, identity crisis and existential despair before they are 25. It's still about choice. And, since we are here to say "Look, we are doing it!", then I think it's worth hammering that point home sometimes.

Three - My Zen teacher used to say that our ambitions and pursuits in life are akin to cupping your hands together and then having someone pour cups of sand into them, each cup representing a different undertaking or passion. One cup at a time, for each new pursuit, passion or focus you take on. At some point, the only way to take on another half cup of sand, a new pursuit or passion, is to let go of some of the sand you already hold or the newly added sand will fall off the sides. Or you can fill your hands by only adding a part of, say,  6 or 7 different cups instead of at the whole of 2 or 3 of them. In addition, some of the sand in your hands also will likely leak out as you try to open your hands wider to hold/make room for the new sand. . . now you don't have a full grasp on any of those passions. . . that simple visual, and recognizing it was perfectly indicative of my own way of trying to do or take on too much,  always made me smile.

Anyway, on with it. . .

One of the things I love about writing little stories, and now a novel about a fantasy world, is that it requires me to get out of my own world. Literally to step, thru the senses and experiences of the characters, into a place foreign and unknown.

But in many cases the inspiration for what I create DOES come from this world we live in, though it may be, as in my case, from another time.

This week I was writing a scene where my character needs to travel quite a distance in one chapter to make some deliveries. I was halfway thru when I realized that I had no idea exactly how far some of the places she needed to go were spaced from each other. They were there on the map, of course, but the terrain, the roads etc had only been lines on that map til then. She had a full basket to carry or barrow to push. Though the light is longest this time year in the story, it seemed a long way to travel . . . at least by our modern ideals.

So I turned, as I always do, to a very detailed book of life in and around early Victorian London.   And what I find when I do this sort of research is exactly how far we have come, and how far we have fallen back, in terms of what we are capable of and/or willing to do in our own daily lives.

Reading about Victorian London market vendors who did not live in the city proper, but who came in from the surrounding countryside, and how they would rise in the middle of the night and start out for the city by 2 or 3AM. They would walk up to 6 or 7 miles (10 or 11KM) pushing a barrow or carrying their goods with them to reach the market. Then they would turn around and walk back home after the market was done or when they had sold out of their goods, often purchasing what they themselves required to haul back with them.

This was NORMAL for so many people.

For folk who needed to do this daily, the idea of leisure time was so rare an occurrence. Other than Sunday after church, they had perhaps no more than a half hour each day before falling into bed exhausted. Then waking four or five hours later to go and do it all over again.

To find that place to write from, when we live now in a world where some people I've known won't get up and DRIVE five minutes to the store at a still reasonable hour because it's "too far" or they're "too tired" is rather hard to comprehend. Have I ever walked/hiked that far when it was not just for sheer leisure or hiking for personal enjoyment? No, I do not think I have. Not once, let alone day after day, carrying a heavy bundle or pushing a barrow, just to survive.

And I do not want to compare myself to those hard working people of the Victorian era but when I read these things I realize that, even today, this is why I seclude myself in the world of my choosing.  Blocking out much of the outside world.

We live in a world that embraces bigger cars and trucks, more conveniences, more ease and comfort at the expense of, literally, our own well-being, more all-in-one stores, faster and further reaching ability to travel and more choices and options on everything and anything you can think of.

Now I am not saying I wish to live in Victorian London. Well, maybe in the world of Larkrise to Candleford. . . the books I've read certainly cover, in all the repulsive detail, the smoky darkness, the noise, the dirt, the smells and the discomforts just as well. But I DO feel that the idea of walking a few miles, of rising before the sun to accomplish or pursue goals, should NOT be a shock or a tribulation given our modern convenience filled world! It's certainly not a true hardship. And it should not come with the cry of others saying "oh, how horrible". Those Victorian market sellers are people who did what they had to in order to survive. To build a life. To feed themselves and their families. It was routine. It was just life.

In building the life I have now, I had to do a similar sort of "research". With the exception of a few Zen monastics I knew there were really so few examples in the city of people who chose to live with less. It seemed so out of the box to set out finding a place to live that was inexpensive, yet felt safe. A small, functioning town where we could get by without a car at all. Without highways and off ramps. Choosing to go with no iPhones or telephone data charges, no cable tv or satellite/dish.  No eating out, which meant cooking all our meals at home from scratch. Using coupons all the time at the stores. Stocking up when something was really cheap. Now, the "research" in this case was close at hand. . . these were all things my mother and grandparents imparted to me, by their own life examples, as I was growing up. They lived thru and were part of the Great Depression and war-era generations that got by and sacrificed to survive. My own mother, a single mother working a service industry job, doing whatever she had to so we could be comfortable and safe. These were the very best examples I could have had, that much I know.

We never had much. . . but I never once felt, or look back now and see, a lacking of anything important in that life we lived.

Somehow over the years those sacrifices and willing choices became the signs of  an "impoverished life". Again, I say, really? I know people who literally cannot cook a meal at home. Who can't navigate a grocery store without calling home on the i-Phone to ask where things are located. . . let alone those who would not be alright for one day without their cell phone on them at all times.

On my last two trips on a city bus before we moved I had two very different experiences that highlight the extremes. In one, on a bus filled with middle school age kids heading home from school. In the two dozen or so of them who likely take this crowded ride home every day, most were just being kids, laughing, yelling, sharing things from their Facebook and twitter feeds on their phones. In the midst of it all sat one girl, headphones plugged into an iPod, sketch pad out drawing away, oblivious to the din around her and, I like to think, daydreaming in a world of her own making. She didn't interact with the other kids at all though she clearly knew some of them. At every stop, as one or more of them rose to leave, they had a dozen kids that they had to say goodbye to as they made their way thru the crowd. When this girl reached her stop, three others got off there too. Yet she kept her headphones on and, with just a wave to another girl sitting nearby, she walked alone towards her home. I got a little misty eyed recognizing something inside her that was also in me at that age and I thought, "there's a girl who is always going to be just fine."

In the second experience, two high schoolers, boy and girl, sat on a far less crowded bus and the girl was sharing with him some of the trouble she was having at school. The boy, his face buried in the screen of his phone, was distracted, obviously. At one point she said something to him about it and he apologized, saying he had to keep an eye on his phone so that he would know where his stop was. She seemed dumbfounded, and said, "But you take the bus home every day!" and he replied, "I know, but I need my phone to tell me which stop is mine." I looked out the windows at the passing street signs, landmarks, restaurants etc etc and wondered how has it come to that? At 12 or 13 I used to navigate the streets of a fairly large city, take streetcars, make transfers and figure out how to traverse the maze-like streets and alleys if I had to get somewhere walking. I worry for kids like that because that young man has created a world too. One that it seems may not work to his best interests going forward. One that, in many ways, may limit his choices and shrink his world in not-so-advantageous ways.

For Sofie (who also grew up in a frugal minded family) and I, the choice was simple. Still is. We would not have been able to get to this point, making a full time living as makers-of-things, working from our home  studio every single day, without having made those sacrifices at the start and without having had the experiences of our own childhoods when we had to rely on ourselves far more than most kids today ever will. We could not have done it without the examples of self sufficiency in our own families that showed us the way.

That's just a fact.

So, was it/is it worth it? No question. Do we feel like we sacrificed anything vital? No, not at all.

Today we are more self-sufficient that ever, I believe. We have zero debt, we have IRA's and a good little savings nest egg.  None of which was a reality when we started this quest together and most of it is possible because of how we chose to live our life and how hard we work to maintain it. Yet we actually make LESS than we ever did working "career jobs" in the city when we couldn't seem to stay ahead.

By the way, we DO have a car now too. One that a little old lady drove once a week or so to the grocery store. Literally! We named her, in honor of Barbara, the woman who owned it for it's first 24 years, hence the name "Babs".  So when we got Babs, that 24 yr old car had all of 16.000 miles on it. The woman's son, who was a friend of mine, just wanted the blue book value. . . which was $300.  Babs runs like a dream and we continue to treat it as the previous owner did, driving it mostly for necessity too. We have had to put gas in it just twice since February. :) Our mechanic tell us if we take care of it as we are, she'll outlast most cars a quarter her age.

What did we give up then? Well, it's a short list. Being close to family. City conveniences. Looking outside of ourselves for entertainment. But even giving up those few things brought more "perks. . . less obligation, less opportunity for frivolous spending, less anxiety and, as far as "entertainment" goes,  I personally have read more books in the last five years than in the previous 20. As a child, reading and discovering new books and new worlds was my salvation. . . so that has been like finding an old friend again.

I've had people tell me outright,  "Oh, I could never live like that." and "You sacrifice so much!"

So much?  To enable me to do the thing I've wanted to do all of my life instead of wishing and just shrugging my shoulders at the seemingly impossible thought because I won't entertain the idea of "world-building" a life that this can support? Those are the folks that I want to remind of what daily life was like for most people just 150 years ago. Heck just 40 years ago. Remind them of the days when, say, TV was free and you had to get up off the couch to change the channel . . . and likely get up again in 5 minutes to mess with the rabbit ear antennae to get the station to come in halfway clear.

Seriously, it was not that long ago that even those simple, everyday things were very, very different.

In writing stories about a world like the Bewildering Pine, it feels like such a comfort to dive in, once again, to creating another way of life. To explore world-building thru these tales of many different elven folk and the secrets their little world hides. It's not a moralistic tale at all or, at least, not in it's planning. The whole of the original plan really was to take two or three dozen of "those would be great characters in a book" people I have known or met in my life and set them at odds as elven folk within a world that is not quite what it seems. Each with their own part to play be it part of the larger quest or just figuring out how to live their own small lives and be true.

The book is also a nod to my own family roots. To that ancestry and their new beginnings. To the changes that passing time brought in their world and even to the lost language and customs of the "old country" they left behind.

Mostly though, it's just another way of continuing what I have been doing my whole life. Creating a secluded, safe world where I can disappear and let my own imagination be the only guide thru.

On the written page or in real life (and real life is what I am talking about here!) it's all really just a matter of world-building and, in world-building, one thing remains the constant. . .

ANYTHING is possible. You just have to create it!!

And as for that Zen lesson I mentioned, it took me awhile to get it. . . in response I used to raise my hands up in front of my teacher and say. . ."Good thing I have large hands!" :)


Sunday, July 2, 2017

New Work - July 2nd

Welcome everyone!

Summer is on it's downward swing already, days getting shorter as we're headed to my most favorite season of all, Autumn.

This month, instead of just a string of new work, I wanted to share a few images and thoughts with you about something I think is often misrepresented in the art/craft/maker world.

The creative workspace.

In this internet age of "lifestyle blogs" where people do their best to present their life, their travels, their world, their day to day activities as an unending stream of peaceful moments and perfectly placed home bliss. I'd like to offer the artist/maker-in-waiting, a slightly different viewpoint. . .

THIS is what my work table looked like one day last week, as it does most days.

An average workday of projects old and new, many in process and this is a LIGHT day! Includes paints, files, craft wood, brushes, and two drawers filled with miscellaneous magic. 

Every surface I work upon is speckled with paint, or patina or clay!

A separate work area for sculpting-in-progress and tools. That is the potted Medieval Walled Village in it's beginning stages front and center. You can see the final piece below. 

There is never a day where the tables are clean or neatly arranged. Not totally. An organized chaos is as close as I get.

The point I want to make is this. If you want to be maker of things, a painter, a sculptor, a writer, a woodworker. Whatever it is. It's going to be a life and pursuit filled with messes. Some literal and some figurative. Too many people, I believe, let the fact that they don't have the "right space" or enough space, keep them from moving forward.

There is such a desire in life to present the picture perfect side of ourselves but ART, my dears, in any form, is found mostly in and thru the messes. Not in the perfection.

So set your life up to allow for and accommodate the messes. That "studio" you see in the above pictures takes up what would be the living room/dining room of our place. What would be our "spare" bedroom is the packing and shipping room and is wall to wall packing materials, wash tape, glue dots, paper cutters, metal shelves, boxes, tissue papers, bubble wrap and another shipping work table too.

I know people who have tucked their art away for years because the thought of taking a room in their house to dedicate to it is unthinkable. "Where would guests stay?" "Where would we eat or watch tv?" Well, our guests have to sleep on a fold-out couch (which is crammed between the work space AND a FULL SIZED, 4 heddle, weaving loom!)  and we crammed a tiny pub table in between all the work spaces for ourselves to eat our meals at. We don't have dinner parties and we don't have a bedroom for long term guests. Those are the sacrifices we made. And might I remind you, we do this full time.

In a world where people are more and more given to trying to present their lives, their homes, their  every waking hour as an instagram moment. . .  we offer you the unending reality of creative MESS.

A creative Etsy friend of mine calls herself a "maker-of-messes".  And I like that very much.

Here's to the mess-makers!! The "perfect" ones in my book!


And here are a few new work photos including the potted Medieval Walled Village! Enjoy!

The timbering is all done by hand, tiny strip by tiny strip!

I don't make these often but oh I DO love them when done!

A traditional Slavic amulet but a little stylized my own way!

A new addition to Shadow of the Sphinx. My own design, not taken from an ancient example. 

Ram headed ancient Egyptian deity Khnum. Another favorite to create.

This was FUN! A custom request for an Edgar Allan Poe mini tombstone with a raven!