Friday, January 26, 2018

The Bewildering Pine - Inspiration Is Found All Around - 4th Friday Post - January 26th

Hi Everyone!

It's time for my fourth Friday post again.. Fourth Fridays area peek into the world I am creating for my fantasy novel titled, "The Ledgerkeepers"

I'll be focusing over the coming moths on the things/places/tales from our world that have inspired my fiction and stories for this book.

Some of you know I began the world building for the book over 18 months ago. A slow process that I immersed myself in fully. I was well aware when I began that I might only use 1/10th of what I create, at least in the first book, but I needed it all to have the world make sense to myself as the narrator.

Choosing what to show is not difficult. Most of it is dictated by the characters actions and the setting they move through but there are always some bits of coolness that you just want to have in there no matter what!

So with my plan being to unveil the near complete Bewildering Pine map here next month, I wanted to talk abut about what inspired that map from our own physical world.

I knew the world was going to be set in a post cataclysmic landscape. The entire geography shifting and leaving many of the inhabitants of the pre "Great Upheaval" world in survival mode. How that might shape this world physically was a lot of fun to ponder.

The idea of a place surrounded by immense sea walls on three sides and incredibly high mountains on the fourth that rose up splitting a larger landscape and basically creating a large bowl shaped land t to the south hat rises to outward towards it's edges and slopes downward from north to south. Accessibility or departure is only via the bay whose natural defenses are tricky and dangerous in their own right and nearly imperceptible from the Great Sea beyond.

The climate is sub arctic but warmer several months of the year to allow for a massively productive growing season (the short-season). An ancient Pine forest spreads along the base of the mountains and there are two rivers that originate in the mountains. There is a round peninsula at the furthest point south that holds a large bog where all the runoff collects and saturates the loamy soil. It's a fantasy novel so I was able to stetch the bounds of reality a bit. It was only necessary that these things were all possible in the climate and then I could bend them to my writer's will a bit.

So in thinking of the form and function of the landscape, I simply looked to our own world for examples that gave me the "ok" I was seeking. I could have done all this research on the internet but I went to the main branch of our county library to try and capture some of that old-time investigative fun of looking through a stack of books!

This image really started the whole notion of the sheer cliffs and a very inaccessible landscape from the sea. 

This pic of the Andes mountains was perfect to inspire the mountain range which I wanted to be volcanic, sharp-featured staggered ridges and massively tall/impassible in my low-tech world. Also, it inspired a legend of the mountains being the remains of the last living giant's teeth. . . and that led led to an expression of surprise used among the folk: "Bezik's teeth!"

These bogs and the walkways that run through them are the inspiration for a similar area, known as Berwick, in my world. 

And this strange landscape in the Faroe Islands gave me the idea for the "bowl" shape with rising cliffs out at the edges. 

 So that's where the world began. Well, my fantasy world.   Having a starting point gave me the canvas for making the map, which is an ongoing work as well, and I hope to share it with you next month on fourth Friday!

Thanks for reading!!


PS: I recently listened to a short Sci-Fi-Fi story called "Repairing the World" by John Chu as read by Levar Burton on his Levar Burton Reads podcast. What I loved most about the futuristic world the story is set in was that there were only a few indicators that it WAS in the future. Rifts in the fabric of time that can be repaired and the use of mechanical dragonflies as messengers.  The story is completely about the main characters and the prejudice that survives in that future world,  the way society views people on it's fringes.  Leaving a very real and scary notion that things may not get better in every way as we move forward in time. . .  Well worth a listen though!

Friday, January 19, 2018

Making of a Maker - The Art of Packaging (Part 1) - Third Friday Post - January 19th

Hey everyone! Hoping this finds you all well and enjoying the winter days wherever you are!

This week I wanted to begin a two part post of my third Friday, Making of a Maker blog. For these next two third Fridays (February 16th will be part 2 btw) I wanted to talk about the importance of how your art/creation/craft/product is received when you send it out into the world.

Let's just say it here and now. . . I LOVE packaging.

I have had a few dozen ideas in my life that were just for packaging of a product. Ideas that had no product to go in them mind you. Just a name/look/design that I thought would be cool  or interesting. Jewelry, figurines, music CD's etc. They just come to me as any other creative idea might.

When I got into making art for sale, I knew that I would put a fair amount of time into how that art looks when it is received.

I have three different shops on Etsy, My Fairy houses/figurines/oddities, my Ancient Egyptian statues and amulets and my digital art prints. Each has it's own thank you cards and notes that I use with the items when they are shipped. I designed the cards and print them myself but there are a dozen good printing services out there too that you can use. I print my own more so I can tinker and play with the design over time and not have to have a large run of cards printed at any one time.

Today I want to focus on the packaging for pieces from Shadow of the Sphinx.

So below is the packaging and accompanying cards for a small statue, a figure of Bes, who is a multipurpose protective deity that is found in one form or another in many ancient cultures from that region. He's a rather jovial fella to my eyes but others find him a bit scary and I do suppose that was the purpose in antiquity.

With the exception of my largest statues, all of the amulets and pieces from this shop get packaged in very much the same way.

With each order, I make the gift box for it by hand so that it fits the piece and it's warping, perfectly. With each statue being completely handmade, no two are ever quite alike.

I use a black, smooth-textured, almost velvety paper called Plike. I order it in 12x18 sheets which covers most all that I do.  TO date I have made roughly 1200 boxes now so while I know it seems a daunting task to figure out how to make them, and it was at first, I have it down to a science now.

The box for the Bes took me 3 minutes to measure, cut (on my favorite packing room tool, a Fiskars slide cutter), score and fold.

Then I punch holes in the top flap for a gold organza ribbon for statues or black and copper raffia for amulets, and I attach a handmade name tag on the front. That tag is a two step process. First, on brown paper, I print the name of the deity in a hieroglyph surrounded blank space. So in this case it reads, "Bes Altar Statue". Then I cut that out and glue it to a frosted gold card stock paper and cut the final tag from that so that the gold is a border and then I adhere it to the front of the black box with a few super strong glue dots.

With each piece I include the stamped card envelope and handwritten thank you card, a business card with the Etsy address, a card that features a bit of general information that I've collected about the deity purchased and a slip of paper that describes the process of making the piece and my policies for future returns if repairs are needed or just to reapply the shiny patina if desired as they do dull/age further over time. If it's an amulet, I also include an "amulet care" paper for that since they are made of clay and fragile to wear on a day to day basis.

Now these all I print in small quantities ahead of time and have cut out and ready. I have over 60 different deity description cards and the box tags for amulets AND statues for most of them. The sometimes-amusing thing is how often I am out of the card/tag for the very one I've just sold.

I think there is a little gremlin who eats them because I swear I print mulitples and then they just seem to disappear!

This, I am a little embarrassed to say, is the EASIER/Less involved of the two shops to package items for. lol :)

Next month, on the Third Friday, I will focus on the packaging for a fairy inspired piece from Bewilder and Pine and share a few of my thoughts about why I think that packaging has been so vital to the shop's, and my own, success.  Also, because I am asked this more often than almost anything about my packaging, I will share with you why I NEVER put images of the packaging IN with the photos of my listings.

As for Shadow of the Sphinx, I receive quite a bit of feedback in the reviews people leave and in private emails about how the packaging made the customer's day when they opened the box or how they were so happy to give it as a gift.

The theme is simple, the execution not so much. Smooth black paper boxes and gold flourishes with a whole lot of personal touch. People really respond to it and it's become the branding for the shop. The few retail shops I sell thru are thrilled to have the packaging to go with the items. I've been told that the packaging  has even "swayed" customers to purchase my work, which is usually a bit more expensive in those shops, over something that is mass produced.

Well, that is all for today!

Wishing you all a magical weekend and thank you, as always, for dropping by!


(Typing pet peeve of the day: Auto-correct/spelling keeps changing the name Bes, even when capitalized, to Bestsellers! REALLY? Not "best" or "Bess" or even besties?)

Friday, January 12, 2018

Inspirations and Oddities - Second Friday Post - January 12th

Hey everyone!

So it's been an incredibly hectic start to the new year here! It seems like it might be late February before we can get "caught up" and then I will be taking off 12 days early in March to go home for a visit which will, of course, put me way behind again I suspect. *sigh*

It's best to just keep the focus on the day in front of you when it all feels a bit overwhelming and that is usually what I prefer to do anyway. Sometimes though I can't help but look ahead and it's never a good idea really! lol

So then, deep breath. . . and let's focus here and now and I'll just take a treasured moment with a cup of coffee and a date and almond pastry to share with you this month's inspirations and oddities! :)

First, and I could spend an entire blog post on this one, is an Irish animated film that we watched recently called "The Song of the Sea".

Song of the Sea follows the story of a 10-year-old Irish boy named Ben (David Rawle) who discovers that his mute sister Saoirse, whom he blames for the apparent death of his mother, is a Selkie who has to free faerie creatures from the Celtic goddess Macha.

This film, every frame of it, is entirely hand drawn, a rarity in this modern age of digital and, I believe, it is part of what makes the film so breathtaking. This had been on our "to watch" list for a few years and we almost removed it because we rarely seem to take or make the time in any one evening to watch a full length movie. 

I am SO glad we watched this though!!! Now that I'm infused with the beauty of Song of the Sea, I have to say that this is one of the most visually stunning animated films ever made. It's awe-inspiring and filled with absolute magic. 

One of countless beautiful still-frames from "Song of the Sea"

Now, as I am always looking at the natural world for inspirations for my written stories I thought I'd share a few links to some of those wonders that I have yet to figure out what to do with but which will remain on my list for the future. :)

How about a world that has "glass" katydids? Ohhh, that would be OUR world! :)

Glass Katydid

I've heard of luminescent jellyfish and have seen many photos of them. . . but never saw one in action in the deep!

Halitrephes Jelly

And one more. . .

The reality of the prehistoric world of dinosaurs gets more interesting all the time!!!

Duck, Duck, Duck. . . Dinosaur?

And lastly, I've mentioned before that I have been quite taken with the world of RPG's of late. What began with Gary Gygax and the original Dungeons and Dragons over 40 years ago has become a force again in our world with a resurgence today and it seems to only be growing and expanding in it's creative influence. So a shout out to Wizards of the Coast who achieved a rather impressive feat. Topping MANY best seller lists this past month with their release of "Xanathar's Guide to Everything".  Amazon, USA Today, Detroit Free Press and on and on. . . it's already the most successful D&D related book of all time and what makes it more amazing is it sells as a "non-fiction" book because it's a rules and world primer! Only in D&D my friends could a non fiction book about a fictional game world become a best seller! :)

RPG's are creating a whole new generation of storytellers and I find so much inspiration in the way these stories are collaboratively told. The sci-fi/fantasy genre is only going to grow in the coming years which is great news for all of us who love the places they can take us.

Hoping your week ahead is INSPIRED and at least a little ODD!!

Thank you for reading!

Friday, January 5, 2018

Five Words for 2018 - First Friday Post - January 5th

Happy New Year to you all! I hope the first days of the year have been bright and inspired in each of your worlds. :)

Over the years I've had quite a few people ask about the words I choose each New Year as my focus words for the coming 365 days. Thinking of it again of late, I have been more focused on exactly how that process works and the answers were a bit surprising to me,  so I thought I would share them here with you as well as the words that I've chosen for 2018.

I tend to not spend too much time choosing the words each year. At least, not right at the end. I start thinking of them early in December and by the last days of the Year, I pretty much have the new words settled on.

What I discovered this last week or so as I thought about 2017's words was that the words really reveal themselves to me and I learn the most about them in relation to myself at the END of the year!
All year I DO see them above my calendar or on my desktop and I take time with them all at some point, maybe picking one for a day to really focus on or apply. But it is at the end of the year, when I am looking back, that I seem to find how those words worked for me or what I learned over that year as it pertains to them.

Last year, one of the words I chose was "Vagary".  Strange word, right? It is. . . and I chose it for it's more archaic definition which I only discovered as it was Merriam Webster's word of the day sometime before and it just sort of stuck with me in the back of my mind.

"In the 16th century, if you "made a vagary" you took a wandering journey, or you figuratively wandered from a correct path by committing some minor offense. If you spoke or wrote vagaries, you wandered from a main subject. These senses hadn't strayed far from their origin, as vagary is probably based on Latin vagari, meaning "to wander." Indeed, in the 16th and 17th centuries there was even an English verb vagary that meant "to wander." Nowadays, the noun vagary is mostly used in its plural form, and vagaries have more to do with unpredictability than with wandering."

I chose the word hoping that it's own wandering in the sense of it's definition over the years might help remind me to wander in my creative journey. To stray from the well worn path. To pay attention to, or think back on, my own wandering journeys in life. Maybe even to be a little more unpredictable creatively. So how it affected me on any given day I cannot recall BUT I know that as I spent time over this last week of the year looking back, I DID practice and invoke vagary and I can see how the wandering I did in my creative work paid off.

My life, I came to see, has been one great adventure in vagary. Changing careers four times, each by choice even when things were just fine in the previous ones. Striking out on the cusp of 40 years old to begin an art practice/Etsy shop by taking up a new medium of polymer clay. Moving across the country on a gut feeling just before I turned 24. Living in a big city til then, then a small town, then onto another big city and now a small town again.

Yes, I've wandered. Strayed from the path. Practiced vagary before I even knew the word had that older meaning.

So in realizing that these words seem to etch themselves deepest at the end of the year, I decided to choose five words for 2018 and went with simpler, less archaic choices. lol

Because these are words I might easily overlook in that search for a little pizazz. (Ooooooh wait. . . pizazz. . . hello word for 2019!)

For 2018, I chose these five words:

Challenge - challenge myself to try new creative ideas, follow inspirations, push forward on my bigger long term goals, stretch my comfort zone into the difficult and uncertain creatively and challenge myself to venture into realms not yet explored in myth, fantasy and sci-fi reading. 

Value - Value my work and my time. I have often undercharged for just about everything I've done in life at some point or another. I forget, when say we are speaking of custom orders, to factor in the time spent communicating, planning, looking for materials I need and trying and retrying techniques etc. Maybe it's meant to show me how to value my time by accepting fewer commissions so I can do even more of the work my heart wants to do. I've also recently begun donating to funding art projects on kickstarter. I'm learning to discern value of what I give to there as well since I cannot donate to everyone I would like to. 

Whimsy - Sofie laughed at this one because, really, do I need a reminder of this? lol But yes, I do, and in this case I am thinking most of my writing. Finding the balance between a good, emotive and large scale story and the magic of a fantasy world. A small example: It's all well and good that I've included the plausible use of messenger birds for long a distance/expedient message delivery system but where's the whimsy? Ahhhh, so then I decide that these are "honey guides",  birds who find their way home or to another location based on a particular scent/strain of honey that they are conditioned to seek out and identify. And they have small quivers on their backs to carry the messages. There are real "honey guide" birds in our world though they are not messengers. . . all I did was stretch the truth a bit there to make them more homing pigeon-like if one could train them to discern the various scents of the honey over distances. :)   So yes, finding whimsy around every corner in the year to come. 

Organization - OK, yes. . . Boring! But boy could I use a bit more of this. Work space, packing room, notes and ideas, recipes, you name it. I tend to let things get a bit too in disarray before I tackle them and that's never fun.

Routine - As in a more monastic sense of the word. Monasteries have always fascinated me no matter the type or the belief. I've spent time in a Zen monastery here in the NW though I am also drawn to the Benedictine rule and Franciscan sects and the schedules they keep. Now if the pslams and vespers were say, writing and creating time instead, I'd be in a robe faster than you could blink an eye!!  The simplicity of the life and the repetition of it is what draws me.  I need it to be my most productive.  Work periods, meal periods, end of day etc. Not so regimented that there is no room for spontaneity but certainly most days, most weeks, and most hours are best filled with that scheduled intent for me. 

       So what will those all bring? Well I hope to share anything along the way if it pops up but it will likely be the end of 2018 before I can look back and assess all the little things that came to pass under each heading.  Once, in the Zen monastery, I was sent out into the world after a weekend retreat with a task. To pick a location and watch the entry door of said place for a few hours. Just to observe how people reacted and related to that door. It seemed pretty Zen and I expected to not "get it" because, you know. . . Zen.

None of the openings of the door were memorable in and of their own BUT, at the end of the day, the cumulative effect was very striking. I saw such a variety of ways people approached the door, how close they got before grabbing the door knob, if they were regulars I could tell because the door had a "hitch" to it, the doorknob was rickety and lower down on the frame than normal. Also, the door opened in and not out as most non-regulars seemed to expect it to. I saw how some people held the door for others while some were so in their own heads they didn't notice the person right behind them. I noticed people approach confidently or with a strong step and others cautiously and tentative as if the door might bite. . . And on and on. All of that from observing a door over a period of time.

So that's how I find the words work best. Over the long haul. I don't expect an enlightening occurrence any one time I choose to focus on a word. But 12 months from now? We'll see. ;)

Next month I will be back to my usual First Friday post showing new work.

Thank you for coming by, as always,