Post Categories

Spring Painting and the subtle sense that this too shall pass

I’ve spent a lot of time either in the mountains taking photos of the Rockies for my Colorado Rockies series, or painting in my studio. After weeks of prep and painting I was accepted just this week, into the Boulder Open Studio tour that happens each October here in Boulder County.

theFingersCU-RMNP

This will be a time for artists to open their studies up to the public and collectors, as well as show our work in the library gallery downtown Boulder. It’s an honor to be included in the tour.

Lately I paint mostly on wood. I like painting on MDF, which has a coat of paint to start off, but MDF is a bit fragile. If it were to drop just right it could damage part of the board. So I’ve taken to attaching wood struts on the back of my boards using a two part epoxy that is solid. I’ve also switched from MDF to thin plywoods.

I like painting on plywood because of two things. The firmness of the board allows me to lean in and draw and later to just work on the painting without the give of canvas. I also like the texture that plywood adds to my painting. Even though I sand, and put three coats of gesso on my boards, each sanded, the plywood texture comes through a little. This allows me to use that texture to get some nice results while painting. The boards have a nice tooth, and I can swipe and dry brush over these raised areas and it just adds to the painting.

I know some people have a prejudice against working on board. The traditional media for ages now has been canvas, but even during the Renaissance they worked on board, and much of that is still around. I think there is some misunderstanding that perhaps to pick the wrong board might mean your art will not be around forever, but here’s the thing, is there anything more fragile than canvas? How easily it can be ripped, bumped or destroyed. Over time it absorbs the moisture in the air and warps.

At the basic level art in some way is acknowledgement not just of the endurance of nature, it is an acknowledgement that the Rocky Mountains I love to paint for instance will be gone some day too. Art acknowledges and bears witness, but the flipside is that it acknowledges the fragility and passing of this world.

So in some ways when I’m painting or even up high in the Rockies taking photos and being a witness to the Rockies there is a subtle sad mourning, for the rockies and all things that come to pass. I can sit up there, feet planted in the snow and I take an array of photos that I’ll later stitch together in my studio as panoramas with super high resolution. I use those panoramas to pick what I’ll work on next. While I’m sitting there, as the witness, I feel at some subtle atomic level I can feel that tiny shift of the Rockies receding as they are. Some day they will be gone, and already in New Mexico they have receded into the Earth again. It is sad, it is beautiful, it is part of this incredible changing world we live on and sometimes all you can do is bear witness to that one moment.

Art is just another thing that will not last forever, there is no best board or canvas I can build, it too shall pass.

Artist Dysmorphia

I’m going to just go out on a limb and admit it. I have artist dysmorphia. Yes, it’s a term I made up a few weeks ago being tongue in cheek with my wife about something that seems to be a real thing if I’m being honest.

IMG_1768

My artist dysmorphia is about how I see my art. While i’m up close an in the zone, I’m usually in a pretty good head space with my art. My brush is flowing, or I’m using the palette knife to get the effect I want. I’ll spend hours, sometimes the entire day and then occasionally I go across the room and sit on my tiny couch in my studio to look at what I have.

Suddenly the satisfaction I was feeling dries up. At times I’m not even sure what I’ve painted, it looks distorted suddenly. The depth or texture I was going for seems to collide into an ungodly juxtaposition of noise and I can no longer see the image. I muscle through it after a my disappointment, and start mixing colors and then up close I start to slide back into the zone, lost in the painting.

Some days I can fend off this dysmorphia until the painting is actually done. Sometimes I’m in the middle of the painting and I can’t figure out if I’ve done anything good at all. I sit and wonder at times like this. Do other artists feel this way? Do famous actors watch themselves on screen and the dysmorphia kicks in where they can’t stand to see their own face? For a writer, maybe Neil Gaiman himself, they look at their work and wonder, “what the hell did I just put on paper?”

Maybe some of the dysmorphia is about getting into the zone, giving yourself to that flow of energy and opening yourself to the muse, that drives you to create. Many artists talk about that feeling that the work, the writing, or the performance or the art comes through them. Maybe this is part of the dysmorphia?

An alternative explanation is that perhaps the dysmorphia tends from that place of perfectionism, in which nothing is ever good enough. In that position it’s an unkind voice that is always criticizing the artist, writer, performer.

Still, I do what artists do, I keep going through the dysmorphia sometimes not sure what I’ve created at all, creating not because I consider what I do good or great, but creating because the spirit needs to create period.

Painting the Rockies

I’ve spent a lot more time up in the Rockies painting hoping to get into the Boulder Open Studio this year, trying to finish up a series. Some of these are large, the largest is six feet long, the smallest 3×2 feet.

IMG_1757

IMG_1762

IMG_1759

IMG_1760

Neverest on Steam Greenlight

I’ve released my game Neverest to Steam Greenlight today as planned. It takes a login (being part of the Steam community) to vote for a game, but you can see my release on this page if you view all releases, or search for Neverest.

https://steamcommunity.com/greenlight

neverestboxart

Neverest green light

In the midst of being a home-schooling dad, playing architect to design the barn/studio, as well as designing and building big barn doors myself, I’ve been finding time here and there to work on my video game and other art work. I fit it in almost anywhere I can, sitting in outside a class my sons are taking, or late night when we are on vacation. I also was gifted a three day weekend in a cabin retreat in the rockies to push on my game by my loving wife Sheryl.

The real trick now is getting past the self doubt that says a lone developer cannot put out a game with the goals I have, that it’s just not good enough.

Self doubt is insidious. It says no matter how hard you work at something, it’s not good enough yet. Of course there is the part that says an Indie developer can be like an author/artist and create interactive worlds the way an author writes a novel. This is more true in these times when using off the shelf game software like Unreal and Unity allow the artist to create in ways they couldn’t without huge support teams previously. To me so much of this is obeying the urge to create and following inspiration when it comes.

Now, as the new year starts, I feel my game is in a good place to submit to Steam Greenlight. So that’s my goal this week, to cast my lot and see if I can make some traction with Steam, (aside from my goal of hanging four massive and heavy barn doors), both tasks are daunting in their own ways.

All the parts are ready for my steam upload, it’s just a matter of uploading and committing myself to hitting that button. Some images below, but the world of course is much larger than these images can capture, and so many things I just want to keep secret and will not reveal.

never6

never2

never20

never3

never17

Neverest sketches and render update

It was a year ago that I jumpstarted this game idea having shelved it. I partly lost momentum in game development when I switched to Unreal 4, trying to keep up the momentum now. Some of these ships will appear in game, but not everything I design or even build does.

neverestBoat2

IMG_8802

No, not all these sketches are good, the point is that as an indie developer there really isn’t time for me to sit down and just design for months, but rather it’s sketch, design, test, model, texture, light, game program, test, repeat.

IMG_8803

neverestBoat1

Dyslexic confessions of a Dad

I have a confession to make, it’s time that i told a little bit more of my story, which is really our story and what I’m tinkering with in my art studio this past year. Almost a year ago I dropped everything I was doing in my studio, the paintings, the children’s books and focused on one thing, a game I’m making to help my son (and others like him) with his dyslexia.

This is not a super easy subject to talk about, although dyslexia is somewhat common there is still a lot of judgement of both the child who has dyslexia and even the parents. The child is often judged as not being smart at all, unteachable is a word used, and the parents are judged as neglectful.

What people often fail to realize with dyslexia is that we have people who have brains that clearly work differently than others, and dyslexia is just one example of this. This doesn’t mean dyslexics are not smart, often they have ways of contributing beyond what others can because of a unique way of thinking.

One example is Jack Horner, the noted Paleontologist who has been the inspiration for the paleontologist in Jurassic Park, he graduated high school he says, with a D–. You may not be able to see that correctly, that is a D-minus-minus. In his words his teacher said that he “Failed, but I never want to see you again.”

Alongside the dyslexia is the fact that my wife and I homeschool our sons. We left Los Angeles, now almost ten years past, so that I wouldn’t spend countless hours working on film visual effects and have no relationship with my family. Over the years we have learned to juggle and share family life, and work life.

I moved from putting all my time in the entertainment industry and more time with my sons exploring museums and doing art with them. This is when I began to see the way we educate our children in museums differently, and started to come up with creative ideas for educating them visually, and interactively. I began sketching out ideas of how to use my visual effects skills in this way.

Like my son, I’m a very visual thinker and a tinkerer. Right now I like to think of more dynamic ways to get information across to people, especially when a museum display or some other form is failing to make people see it, and as a visual thinker I do think people have a failure of imagination when it comes to visualization what the world, and universe around us looks like. Listen to this veritasium video to get an idea of how the education system can fail to really inform us about just how vast our universe is for instance.

My family started out on a sometimes frustrating journey with my son’s dyslexia, which makes his own interaction with the world sometimes difficult, and can make even the smartest kids, feel like failures. It can lead to loving family members or friends being shaming and judgmental. It can lead to parents pushing their kids and asking why they “aren’t trying?”

Dyslexia is not related to the intelligence of a person, as we see with many very prominent dyslexics like Jack Horner and Richard Branson. Branson talks about his Dyslexia in the video below, and he like many see it as a positive, not a negative. I want to make it clear, I see my son as gifted, super creative, and his dyslexia as the most obvious unfortunate label that often gifted and creative people receive, making them feel unteachable and like they aren’t smart. Labels like this can undermine a person and make them give up. This is because we live in a world that only has one metric for determining intelligence (generic tests that squash creativity).

As an artist, I am well aware that the world has one metric for judging intelligence, and leaves out wide swathes of others whose brain works vastly differently.

Imagine for a second an alternate universe where instead of children being tested in school for math, memorization, and punctuation, they are encouraged to be creative, open, explore and be funny. They get to do art, build things, play music, and play and there is no test because you can’t test the best way to bring an individual’s gifts out. When you graduate you have to show your gift, a demonstration or sharing without judgement.

Perhaps in an extreme version of this alternate universe if you can’t draw, or play an instrument, make an invention out of a pile of stuff, or do an improv play then you fail. In this universe math, punctuation and memorization are not used as the metric to determine your intelligence, there is a celebration of many kinds of intelligence over memorization of facts.

Perhaps in some way in education we squash that internal education that may have been passed down over many generations. What if we are going against the very nature of a child and family that specializes in something over generations. The family of musicians, or the family that loves to study nature by scuba-diving. What if for every graduate we suppress another Mozart, another Cousteau. This isn’t about saying that we have a “genius” among us, or putting people who think differently on that specialty pedestal, but honoring something deeper in them, a specialty that their brain and spirit are working towards.

My point is that we often test people and give them the feeling that they are less than others based on tests that favor a particular brain type, a particular calling.

Before someone jumps in to suggest the many teaching approaches to “resolve” dyslexia let me say that we have tried several different approaches with professional tutoring that are very involved and take a lot of dedication from all of us, as well as mind/body exercises that are supposed to help balance the brain etc. I’m not saying that all these techniques shouldn’t be used, but so far for us, some have resulted in more frustration, and others in tears being shed. That isn’t to say that there isn’t a lot of great information out there, and a lot of good techniques that have resulted in very good results for children with dyslexia, or that we have stopped trying. I however am very skeptical when I hear that someone thinks they have the cure for dyslexia.

While trying these tutoring programs for my son, I began to tinker in my studio with a video game idea to help kids who struggle. This wouldn’t be a game like “reader rabbit” but a game more like Myst, that i hoped would be something a child would just want to play, and that in a way I could hack their brain by just getting their interest.

I dummied up a test of the game, in software I was just learning (Unreal 4) and showed it to my wife and son. I didn’t show too much, and although I felt I was on to something, I dropped it and returned to writing, while we tried yet another approach for the dyslexia.

After another round that was frustrating for all, my wife asked me one day, what about that game idea I had. I dusted off the game and dove into it fully putting all my energy into learning the software, and trying to bring my visual effects skills up to speed in this new arena.

I’ve worked hard on this game, and I test it with both of my sons, who enjoy playing it. There is still much I’m not saying about my approach except to say this, the idea is that I want my son to have an experience that is fun, that is enjoyable.

I am trying to build an entire world in support of his struggle, but also to celebrate him and other dyslexics like him.

I personally see my son. I see him as smart, I see him as gifted, amazingly creative. If I have problems thinking through programming problems sometimes I talk to him about it to get his insight into other ways of thinking. My son is endlessly creating, he is always learning, he is not afraid to try new things, I see his intelligence each day, and I know there is no way this is going to hold him back in life.

I don’t see my game as an end all to approaches for dyslexia, i’m hoping it can be used as another tool, hopefully a fun one, to engage a child’s brain and creativity rather than pushing them to memorize and work through frustration. I’m not even judging the various approaches to working with dyslexia, but like the variation in personalities and brains, they don’t work for everyone and I just want to tinker with this a little.

There is a lot I’m not saying in this opening confession, what else I’m doing in the game, what some of the goals are. I’m hoping to make something that is artistic, and helpful, but it’s a long slog, especially when you are creating alone. I work daily with sometimes self imposed goals, like how can i make this beautiful, but also have it playable even on not very good computers? How can I make this enjoyable and keep drawing the child in for the ride?

I still have much work to do, but I realize at this point it might be the time to begin talking about this game, and how a visual thinker is trying to work with something I perceive as a visual thinker problem.

Moss on a Rolling Stone

We are all familiar with the saying, that moss won’t grow on a rolling stone. It’s a saying I took to heart a long time ago, taking in the idea that I would keep growing and changing. This is a tough thing in life, because although moss won’t grow on a rolling stone, no one mentioned that the stone will continue to accrue miles, need oil changes, different warning lights are going on the dashboard of that rolling stone. The stone is still rolling, with signs that it’s slowing down but bearing some polish, bumps and cracks from the years rolling.

mossRenaissanceMan

I think about these things as I head towards my fiftieth birthday because I’m always trying to consider how to use my time wisely when I come down to my studio each day. I think short term, making short lists, exercising more as I approach that fifty mark, and meditating more. I also plan more long term, with a stack of books I’m writing/illustrating, games I’m developing, a series of landscapes I’m working on and furniture I’m building.

The way I often express my mixed emotions about where to spend my time, is saying “I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up”. I feel though that Emilie Wapnick who gave a Ted Talk on this subject captures the idea succinctly, she self identifies as a multipotential person. A term I like because it respects the idea that some of us feel drawn to more than one field.

https://www.ted.com/talks/emilie_wapnick_why_some_of_us_don_t_have_one_true_calling?language=en

One of the problems I run into is that probably like many of my art friends out there, I have a lot of interests – and no short comings of ways to spend my time, from sculpting to painting, to writing.

I have also left the beaten path. I have left behind the safety of having a career in visual effects and a title that ranged from Look Development artist to Digital artist etc. I have to somehow define myself without the safety of a bi-weekly paycheck, movie credits, and an office. This sort of thing undermines some of my self identity because in our culture, perhaps especially for men, we find self identity in our careers.

Although I check things off my life’s bucket list, things keep popping up on the list. I want to play a 12 string guitar I remember from a vivid dream I had last night playing a Taylor dreadnaught that I played in Los Angeles maybe 15 years ago every time I visited McCabe’s Guitars on Pico. It’s a dream that seems to pop up into my consciousness because I always think of guitar playing as a sort of soul toy. Until last night I didn’t even remember the Taylor Dreadnaught and waking from my dream I picked up an iPad and looked it up, there it was that crisp Taylor Dreadnaught.

Worst website ever, best guitar shop.
http://www.mccabes.com

My list keeps growing, partly inspired by my sons who have loads of interests too, and push me to keep my skills up. I want to learn how to weld this year, run a CNC machine, solder electronics better. I want to tackle some great mysteries of life, like WTF those electronic diagrams are all about? I want all these things and yet that stone keeps rolling picking up miles.

WTF-electronics

I know I’m a fortunate man who can use my free time to think about what projects I want to put my time into, but I’m also saying I struggle with that urge to do too many things too. I keep beating myself up, asking why I can’t choose just one thing and wondering if there is something wrong with me. Why did I feel the need to open a jewelry page on Shapeways this month? The urge to take some of the many digital objects I create and make them real overtook me. To me sculpting jewelry is like part of sketching. I make sketches in my art pad while out drawing with my youngest son, and then turn those real in Zbrush. It is one of the most direct paths to creating something and putting it into the real world that I have, sometimes only a matter of hours between design to sculpt as my experience with all the software and drawing over the years has made these things faster for me.

https://www.shapeways.com/shops/daevsdiversion

I think what I’m also talking about is listening to what’s inside. There was a time in my life when I was so unhappy and depressed that I stopped creating artwork. I put away my supplies and thought that my diversions and interests were responsible for my fragmented time and mindset. The problem is I became more unhappy, I became unsure of myself. Locking that creativity away only caused it to swell inside me, like something about to explode.

It came out playfully, and I followed it and since then the demand for me to listen and create has grown. Which is a blessing and a curse as many artists know, but I also think you may know that you don’t have a choice but to listen and follow.

This is not to say that in some field of dreams way, if you follow that dream great things will happen, and you need to build it and yadda-yadda. I think though that building for ourselves is the first step, and we can’t really know if it will be received out in the world, and that too is part of the struggle for artists/writers/musicians and other creatives.

I don’t have any great words of wisdom to comfort people whose work doesn’t get received. Just that i know we need to keep creating, and follow and if we don’t we only suffer all the more.

Gaming Around in Edutainment, er um... Edugamement?

Studio time for me is always limited for a stay at home dad who home schools, so I always have to pick my battles. For the last couple years some of that battle has been chosen for me by nature, due to Colorado Floods and lately the threat of more floods. Right now I am just finishing up my barn designs (in Sketchup, actually my blueprints should be ready to pick up today), that means part of my brain and time are freeing up to return to other personal projects like my video games.

A view from my currently untitled edutainment adventure.

A view from my currently untitled edutainment adventure.

Untitled Edutainment game by Daev.  In progress using Unreal 4.

Untitled Edutainment game by Daev. In progress using Unreal 4.

I hit a technical wall with Unreal 4 previously, having decided to use this instead of UDK which was littered with unresolvable issues related to save game, shadowing large scenes that included landscapes and foliage and other problems related to streaming levels (and shadows). When I took up Unreal 4, the word was that it was far easier to make games than UDK, but the problem is the learning curve is much higher to digest much of the new ways to do this, and I just didn’t have the time to devote to it.

It was really my visit to Los Angeles that gave me the inspiration to dive back in again, having spent time with friend Michael Conelly at Black Thorn Media. http://blackthorn-media.com

I found keen minds to discuss video games, game engines and new tech like the Oculus. The enthusiasm of Michael in particular left me with that desire to dust off my games.

Some of the reasons I wanted to dive back in surround the interest I have always had in using games in education, or maybe closer to Edutainment, ( boy I hate that term, can we think of something better?). This desire came about in the wake of leaving the VFX industry and Hollywood, to spend more of my time as a dad instead of someone doing overtime crunching on films, or time on L.A. freeways commuting ( a part time job in itself).

Splitting work time/family time with my wife, I tend to visit a lot of museums with my sons on my days out with them. I can’t help but look at museums and my visual thinking mind kicks in and wants to come up with improvements in giving information to the people visiting. My visual effects mind kicks in and starts dissecting what would be a better way to produce the graphics, and my latent scientist kicks in and wants to simply make this stuff more interesting to kids rather than reading a dry placard packed with facts. I want to see their imagination kick in, and get them to use their hands to interact.

denverScience

Part of the ongoing issue I have with the museums we love so much, is that so little of the tech changes. Aside from being expensive investments, the main reason for this is that museum displays are often built by people who build entire displays that are resilient to lots of abuse, but the software to me is not overly impressive, it is typically far less interesting than anything you could possibly do in video games, and this is important considering most children play sophisticated video games, that often look far more engaging than museum work. (Excluding Planetarium work here which is another subject entirely). Here’s an example; to give my sons an idea of what ancient Italy looked like I took them into Assassin’s Creed just to climb around the city and explore. To them it’s like going back in time. Aside from all the killing involved in titles like these (which I do none of with my sons), they have the potential to be great edutainment portals instead of games of mayhem and death.

assassCREED_2

My sons asked me recently what happens to the environments for games like Assassin’s Creed and I told them that they all go into a digital land fill, like Atari’s ET went into a real landfill. Sensitive souls, they mourn this loss like me, because to me these would just be great places to explore minus the killing and adventure. This is not a commentary on the video games themselves, or their value, but that there is another intrinsic value beneath this, that I don’t think is getting tapped. That sounds lofty I know, but consider how Google uses satellite imagery and models from Sketchup to make a very full experience in Google Earth. The possibility expanded when they allowed us to view cities back in time, albeit in a limited blurry Sketchup quality way.

googleCREED

Part of the problem with software at museums is that I don’t feel that it gives a real sense of grandeur and inspiration that can come from visuals, so in effect it feels like so much of this software is being developed by people who are technical, but not necessarily visual. Children are very visual, and since I have child like brain dammit, I think I can take some of that child-like expertise into this realm.

Progress is picking up for me in my studio again, but I’m still digesting some of the new ways that Unreal is using blueprints in their engine to create things. It is NOT entirely logical to a visual thinker. The engine is more impressive than ever, the visuals are stunning and I see the potential speedup after I get through some technical hurdles. There are freebies such as calculating large areas for A.I. to navigate about which was a huge time strain in UDK. Reflections and other subtle effects are improved and not for the first time Unreal’s Render reminds me of my Alma mater in visual effects, Rhythm & Hues who had a stunning renderer that I often miss.

Untitled Edutainment or um, Edugament.. by Daev. In progress using Unreal 4

Untitled Edutainment or um, Edugamement.. by Daev. In progress using Unreal 4

I’m hoping to have my test game level dummied up in the next few weeks. Dummied for me of course means that I try to get pretty far with the models, textures and lighting. I’m not trying to take this to Assassin’s Creed levels visually, but there definitely is that possibility, although it’s a lot to put on a sole Indie developer and I have other edugamement game to work on, okay, I can’t think of a better word, edutainment ideas in my notebooks that I’d like to get to as well, sorting through NASA imagery right now for some of those.

Bringing into Focus

Just a quick update to show my book coming into focus. Even amidst some self doubt lately, I’m still slogging through and trying to make progress. Thumbnail images come down as I develop the whole book. I make decisions based on the big picture and how images work together throughout the book. These two images show the progress since October.

gravityUPDATE2

Layout for "A Little Space". Trying to get a feel for the story and what can be cut.

My goal is to have a working first draft by mid-January. There is still a lot more work to do, but it’s nice to look back sometimes and just see the progress, as a gauge of whether I still have momentum or not.

A Little Space Update

I’m working more quickly lately, having made the decision to stop producing my book, A Little Space, with traditional media and switching to using Photoshop.

aLittleSpace_11-SM

I miss at times the fluidity that comes with using traditional media, but there is a trade off. Transferring my drawings to paper, exploring and then starting over, is a slow way to work. Still, painting with photoshop is awkward, not intuitive, and gives me no ability to work with paint in a way that I would through various techniques like dry brush, water color, drip, splatter and lets not forget impasto. Yes, there are brushes in Photoshop, but they don’t work like natural brushes or actual paint, and paint doesn’t actually blend, which is perhaps the worst sin of all.

What I like is that I can block in the look of my book much more quickly. My layout wall which was enlarged thumbnail sketches a few weeks ago, is quickly becoming full color test prints, ten out of sixteen so far.

aLittleSpace_12-SM

One of the benefits of working in Photoshop quickly is that I can experiment with the entire color palette of the book, and the overall look. I’m not just art directing each page, but how all the pages relate to each other. Does the color fit? What is the style I want to finish each image? Can i use the paper texture? These are the questions I ask myself, and the images I alter, influence the direction the story takes.

The story is about a little boy who loses his gravity, I read it to my sons recently and got some pointed feedback from them. They didn’t like the ending. At the end of the book he comes back around the moon, back towards the Earth, with the implication that he goes home happy. My sons didn’t like that solution. They want to have closure, and felt anxious that maybe he never makes it back to Earth. It was brilliant criticism and I’ve made sure the boy makes it home, even taking the story a little further thanks to their insight.

There is still more work to do, but the goal is to have an updated portfolio for the SCBWI winter conference in February, and two different books printed for the show. I have one book already done, this one doesn’t have to be fully complete, but I’m trying to get it as close as possible before then.

After I block in the rest of the pages I’m going to see if I can switch from Photoshop to a more painterly program so I can take this a little closer to what I see in my head.

Second Generation Artist

I wanted to talk about one of the influences in my art that i’m reminded of on some nights when my son sits in my studio doing his art and I am working at my computer on illustrations or my video game work. I’ve told him how in our very packed house growing up, with eight children and two adults, space was scarce, especially private space.

My bedroom at one point was the loft at the top of the stairs, where in winter months my mother would move her art table (from the enclosed front porch) to the bottom of my bed so she could continue working. On some nights she would work late, and I’d fall asleep listening to the light clacking of her metal knife as she edited books.

My mom was a graphic artist. Back in the days before books were created on computers and easily edited, artists like her would make essentially slave wages to manually lay out each page on full two page spreads. She would cut pages up with exacto knives and using wax lay them down on the page. I’m probably screwing up the order of things; I think the next step was she’d retouch full size negatives that were made of her frankensteined together pages. At this stage she’d remove any lines that showed up, and ink with a tiny metal pen the dust and scratches. It was a time consuming process that was under appreciated by her bosses.

Back in those days I took comfort falling asleep listening to her work at the bottom of the bed, lit from below by the light table that cast a soft blue glow across the room. I remember it clearly, from the smell of the paint to the way it faded from gloss to dull.

My mom is one of my art influences. It may not be obvious to some because she was never a published artist, although she wrote children’s books that only my siblings and I got to enjoy. I still have early memories of her working, though. Red ink, flowery designs for things that I don’t even have conscious memory of what they actually were she was working on, still find their way into my books, sometimes just the color alone as homage (like the red griffin in Monkey Marbles).

Her writing endeavors never came to full fruition, but I still appreciate the efforts she made. In between time that she was raising eight children and then later taking care of a stroke stricken husband, she would write children’s picture books. Let me underscore that again: she had EIGHT children and a SICK husband and still somehow found a little time. Holy shit, I can barely find my way with two children and still have energy to write and illustrate.

I’m a second generation artist, but have spent much of my career working in computer animation, visual effects, and architectural work. In some respects I’ve followed my mom’s path, doing work for others and ignoring the internal need to create things more personal, because, you know, food and stuff. This probably accounts for some of the hard times I’ve gone through during my career because I wasn’t listening to the internal voice that said I wasn’t content. It may also account for the need to still do something personal and let the stories out that I feel I need to release.

My mom is 82 years old now, and I wanted to write this blog post now, when she is still here with us, to let her know how grateful I am for not just the hard work she did raising eight children under impossible odds, but for her influence on my art, and her encouragement along the way. Having recently gone home to help her move out of her house, I was reminded of it again when I found perhaps my oldest portfolio. The artwork I found? Well, to me it was okay, and sometimes just plain embarrassing to behold. I blushed when I showed some of it to my wife. Somehow I continued to find encouragement and turn those awkward stumblings in art to something real. Let’s be honest: sometimes I feel like I’m still stumbling a bit.

Someday I hope to be a published author – you know books published that children actually read. I think if I do it will not just be an accomplishment for myself, but for my mom, too, who influenced me.

I’m a second generation artist. To me that figures as importantly as the fact that Andrew Wyeth is the son of NC Wyeth, that Stephen King’s children are also writers, or that Ben Stiller’s parents are Stiller and Meara. Like them, I have it in my blood, and for that I am grateful.

Open Studio

It’s been busy here lately as I try to ramp up in my studio more and more, and get focused on my art and writing again.

Original study of Griffin. Mixed media, using candy foil and acrylic paint.

Original study of Griffin. Mixed media, using candy foil and acrylic paint.

Having missed the yearly Open Studio walk of Boulder again this year, I decided to have my own open studio after our return from the east coast, so the last weekend of October I pulled together my work and opened my doors.

I showed a variety of work, pulling out artwork from over the years that I’ve been developing for books, or other paintings and drawings, as well as a few flood damaged pieces that I didn’t have the heart to throw away. I displayed these too, because they are interwoven in my story now.

My sons hadn’t seen much of my art, and my smallest son kept asking, “Did you write this story?” or “Did you create this artwork?” to which I’d reply yes and show him a little more. My oldest son wants to know why I’m not published. He asks this question innocently, because the only world he knows is a world where children are encouraged to create. I can’t really explain adequately that it’s not as easy as all that.

griffin4

griffin3

griffinStudy

The sampling above is representative of the hundreds of drawings and studies I did while developing Monkey Marbles. I tried mixed media like the foil study at the top, and then did hundreds of drawings before turning to color studies. This book of course is on the side lines as I develop new works right now, and I am already trying to decide what to rework when I come back to this book. That is not a worry for right now, though as I’m focusing on a couple other books for the Winter SCBWI gathering in NYC.

Part of what I wanted to share is my process. That when I develop a story this is some of the method that I work, and some of what I like to explore as an artist, to me there are countless ways to explore as an artist. Everyone works differently, this wasn’t a how you should, just how I work. I begin with thumbnails of my book that I pin to an art table or my wall. I then enlarge each thumbnail on the scanner and draw on top of it. In the old days I used to do this all on my light table. Each iteration was painfully redrawn if I found that I didn’t like some element of the composition or the characters etc. Now my process is to streamline what I’m doing. I still like to work traditionally, but my studio is a blend of digital and traditional. One of the things that I showed people is that instead of making physical models like someone like James Gurney (Dinotopia) creates, I make digital environmental models for my scenes now. Then I can be like a film maker framing my shots. This cuts my time down tremendously in deciding what I want a shot to look like in my book, as well as letting me work out details of the environment like furnishings and architecture in three dimensions first. Probably the best benefit is that it allows me to bypass working out perspective drawings from scratch with a ruler.

aLittleSpace_1

aLittleSpace_2

Besides the children’s books that I’m developing, I showed other artwork, too much to show here. In the last couple days before my show, I managed to repair some Indie video game work that I let people play including some prototyping work using the oculus which is always fun. What’s not fun about ghostly cats?

twoMonkeys2

twoMonkeys1

twoMonkeys3

The show for me was about pulling together the stories, the artwork, much of which I had forgotten myself, and trying to jumpstart myself from being the artist in flood recovery mode, to getting my work together again, finished and out. Aside from connecting with people and showing them what I’m doing, the show for me was about trying to find focus again post flood, and get energized about what it is I’m trying to do.

Impatiently bypassing Creativity

We often begin life with impatience, sometimes through epidurals and c-sections to start us on our journey into this world. If we are slow to speak, we are prompted and encouraged with some anxiety. If we are slow to read, the anxiety becomes even greater, and after that each new hurdle in learning is laced with fear of being left behind, and thought of as stupid. How will children who don’t score well, reflect on parents? Will our children be able to succeed? Will they go to an Ivy league school? Will this go on our permanent record?

Theodor Geisel : aka Dr. Seuss.  became successful writing in his 40s.

Theodor Geisel : aka Dr. Seuss. became successful writing in his 40s.

We are tested, pushed, measured in so many ways and most importantly we learn to compare ourselves with others. There are generic tests, and generic methods for teaching children to think of the world, and in the midst of all this push to teach students to memorize times tables, and understand word problems, creativity gets increasingly left behind. Daydreaming is considered a dangerous notion in terms of learning, and leads to diagnoses like ADHD.

By the time we are young adults we’re finding ourselves ushered into careers and jobs we barely remember entertaining. Many of us suffer from an underdeveloped use of our creativity, and still have that longing to engage that creativity – yet we persist often robotically through jobs, and eight hour work days, and job reviews that our careers seem to hinge on, while commuting two hours daily, and suppressing the need to be creative.

Toni Morrison, published her first novel at 40.

Toni Morrison, published her first novel at 40.

In today’s world we also compare ourselves to others as artists, always tearing ourselves down as never being good enough. You couldn’t possibly be as good as Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Toni Morrison, or name your favorite artist, so why bother? We are impatient with our first attempts at a new medium, whether it’s writing, or oil painting and very often the door quickly closes. We equate monetary success with creativity, because so often that is what the world has celebrated. What if following a creative path meant inventing something that no one has even thought of before? It could be ground breaking, and yet go unrecognized, uncelebrated. Such were the impressionists when they began their ground breaking work.

Self doubt though, even for successful artists is an ever present beast. VanGogh, Cezanne, being examples of people who struggled with their art.

Robert Frost : Published his first collection of poems at 39.

Robert Frost : Published his first collection of poems at 39.


Art though is an accumulation of experiences. It is a step by step process of honing skills, and having self discovery and discovering what you want to say as you create. It may take years to get to your opus, but artists who get to their most celebrated works often take decades to get there.

More importantly for the person who is creative, and not listening to that inner voice that says, “write!” or “paint!” or “act!” then these people never get to follow that voice and experience any of the self discovery that might come from following this path.

It is risky business for sure. You may spend twenty years writing poetry, and honing your craft and hoping to connect with an audience. Creativity and being an artist has something to do with communicating, yes, but it also has a lot to do with simply expressing something that wants to come through.

So is it risky business? What if what it gives is something along the lines of meditation, self knowledge, and introspection? Are these things not valued because they don’t have a direct and linear monetary value?

I’m not writing this because I don’t suffer from self doubt, I am writing this because I do suffer from self doubt, and the persecuting voices that either say it isn’t important, or isn’t good enough. A lifetime of training that minimized creativity in schools (art and music for instance) in favor of geometry, trigonometry etc. Those things that could be measured to prove how smart we are vs those things that could help us to become more creative. Creativity is essentially squashed and in the end creative people sit on that creative energy and resist letting it up.

Years ago, I cut off from my artwork for a period of time. When I did, I felt bottled up, unhappy and cut-off. When I listened to those musings inside and started to write, and draw and paint again, there was an explosion of energy that came out. I learned that it was folly to cut off from such a big part of myself and now I feel out of sorts when I don’t get enough time to be creative.

So the question is, are you cutting off from your well-spring? If so, how can you let it in? When you open the door, be patient with yourself. Remember that your creative self has been bottled up, crammed down and abused for decades. Try to be gentle with yourself and let it come. Listen to the voices that want to create and simply do what we all do, try, practice, fail, and try again.

Life is what happens

I’ve spent three weeks now on dusty detours away from my studio. Between trying to restore gardens, barn cleanup, installing the new pump system and designing the barn restoration post flood, my plate has been more than full.

Untitled

While working on the barn this week I came to the realization that there is more damage to the floor than I cared to admit, and that means I’m likely the contractor who will be rebuilding the barn, because I won’t be receiving enough money to hire someone with the insurance money, just enough to buy materials. This was quite a blow to me to realize this as I had basically finished the barn just before the flood and now I’m not only looking at rebuilding it, but doing the somewhat daunting task of demolition to parts I’ve constructed.

I realize now that it won’t be days or weeks before I can get back to personal work, but likely months with little dives here and there into my work. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, and has made me grouchy and depressed as I try to press through the work at hand.

With my wife Sheryl’s help, I realize I need to slow down, this is all going to take more recovery time, and I need to embrace it more, resent it less.

Untitled

sigh. I’m not good at this I admit.

I want this thing to be done so I can get on with doing my “real” work, or you know, figuring out what my real work is supposed to be. So I work on the yard, and the designs and then try getting work done starting at midnight on illustrating books or creating games.

I put a lot of pressure on myself to get everything restored, while figuring out what I’m going to be when I grow up, and it’s taking it’s toll on me.

So where does this leave me? The last couple weeks I decided to abandon using Sketchup as a means to design the barn changes, and use Maya instead which has made me much happier, but there are still some challenges left as I get orthos and perspective images ready to print.

original view of open stable.

original view of open stable.

It’s hard to let go of expectations as days, weeks and then months trickle by dustily. I’m trying to let go today, or rather embrace, and in doing so wanted to share my drawings of the project I try to keep at arms length, the stable workshop renovation.

This is what I’m working on right now, maybe I should be more proud of it.