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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.


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.


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.

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.


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.

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.

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.


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.

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.

Book Making Marathon weekend.

Just a quick update on my book. My wife and sons have gone out of town this weekend to support my work getting this draft of my book done. I just printed out the last stand in page. There is still lots of work to be done on each illustration, but overall, I’m trying to bring the book into focus and see what changes I want to make. Already this morning I realized I need one more page, but I’m not sure I have it in me this weekend with everything else I’m trying to pull together. The goal; pull as much as I can for this draft so I can print my demo book (I used to make this stuff by hand but no longer, I send to MixBook currently).


I’m very grateful to have the support of my family, both in helping me think of ideas and of course posing endlessly for me. I really put the boys through a lot of calisthenics for this one.

It’s the point in creating a book where as it comes into focus and clarity, there is that sneaky self doubt that creeps in and asks, “what the hell are you doing?” I would like to say I ignore that voice, but it’s pretty insidious at times.

Of course there is that other side of me that says, “keep going – don’t stop”. I’ve never run a marathon but I imagine it must be a similar argument. So this is my marathon weekend trying to get this all ready so that I can take a break and go away next week with my family.

Tomorrow my goal is to massage the text (essentially re-write it) and at some point I’m going to send some digital copies to friends and family to read to their children.


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.


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.


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.


Can I coin the word, Un-Corporate, instead of Incorporate?

Incorporate carries so much pressure in this world, you must incorporate to create a business, and businesses are typically about getting bigger, making more profit each year, and getting the goose to lay as many golden eggs as possible. Corporations are usually interested in the bottom line, not the individuals in a company and many companies are guilty of not treating artists well (I’m referring here to the visual effects and gaming industry but the same can be said about many corporations I’m sure. The bottom line is workers at most companies are not part owner of the company, they fill a role and as one manager told me, everyone is replaceable).

I’m not a big supporter of the must grow model. As an artist, the idea that corporations can drive art never seems like a good plan to begin with. The idea that companies think that they can just grow infinitely seems beyond flawed, after all we live in a world with limited resources, yet we have this paradigm that everything must get more profitable (i.e. sell more stuff) every year. Can we really?

Let’s look at the latest criticism of a company like EA games, who won the award two years in a row for worst company. Their focus was on releasing games on time, and making sure no one could hack their games, is how the story goes online and it’s likely true. I’m not saying that they aren’t doing amazing things, but there is a clear focus on deadlines and profitability over all else.

Then there are companies like Mojang, who created the ever-popular Minecraft and have until now resisted the pressure to go public with their company, and I applaud them for not falling into this trap. Go bigger, let someone else own you, and then watch yourself implode when your investors are disappointed with their returns. The day Mojang opens up to the stock market, I’m thinking their days are numbered, or at the very least their creativity will suffer for profitability as the company becomes a true Corporation.

As an independent artist, that likes to make games, write books, and paint I’ve been more about keeping things small and getting more and more personal at this point in my life. For big companies efficiency also means the opposite of what I find I need in my life. Artists perform smaller and smaller pieces of production.

When working at Rhythm & Hues I once proposed we go the opposite way, and put scanners at artists stations, give technical directors zbrush, photoshop and anything else to make us creative. This was not one of my most well received ideas.

I realized over the years, that I’m an artist who likes to work in his studio and have all those things at my finger tips so I can do just that; explore, create, make mistakes and try again. I like being an artist who learns different thing, so yes, I enjoy using game engines, and sculpting in Zbrush and painting in various painting packages. To me the more experience I have, the more effectively I should be able to wield my preferred mediums, but in the corporate art world, this is not a paradigm that typically exists. Artists see one small part of the beast, and as you gain experience you are encouraged to stop practicing the trade to manage teams of artists, until eventually you are cut off completely from the thing that you once did as a creative endeavor, in favor of a pay raise and a title.

I guess the bottom line for me is that I hate to be pigeon holed. I love to paint, and I love to create on the computer, and write, etc, and yet there are some things I miss about working for a big company which is what brings me to the wish to Uncorporate.


What’s missing, in working independently in my studio is my daily interaction with friends and colleagues, creative people.

It’s true, I have sort of a paleo-lifestyle. Not only do I work from home, but we try to foster a lifestyle where we are with our kids, so we home-school, my wife works from her office and this all makes things more complicated I admit. It means working for myself I don’t just have unlimited time in my studio, for now it means my time is somewhat limited, but then again the time I spend in my studio is of my own choosing right now, and that’s a pretty big gift which is in no small way due to the my wife now supporting us as I dabble in various arts, since I quit teaching a year ago.

Once I’m working in my studio though I feel that loss of community that I had at corporations and even teaching. I want to be able to share my ideas, or get feedback on why a particular piece of programming isn’t working. Instead I find myself going to facebook to see what people are up to, and I end up reading five little articles and get completely sidetracked for an evening from my goals.

Now it’s true there are forums I can go to and sign up for. There are Indie gaming communities, there are places like Unity forum and the Unreal Game Forum. These places though are not exactly communities in the manner that I’m hoping for. For starters, I don’t really know who people like “Snake-Man” are. People hide behind Avatars. Hiding behind Avatars means you don’t have to actually connect with people as humans, and it makes it easy to troll sites and knock people down. There’s a lot of trolling on sites, essentially you’ll ask for help on a tricky bit of code, and get a vague and condescending answer which is the equivalent of “fuck off” but not in so few words.

I have just found a writing community here in Boulder. They are real people and not avatars. They get together every two weeks, and this has lead me to my idea of Uncorporating as an Indie game developer.

The idea in essence is to get some like-minded indie game developers together and start my own private forum. It would be a forum by invite only to allow some isolated indie game developers to have a place to find critique and support, and where their work would stay private, not get exposed to the entire web but to a select few that choose to Uncorporate.

The idea of Uncorporating is to share in a way that is not competitive but supportive. I feel that there is some loss working in a vacuum and that independent teams who band together can be more than the sum of their parts, and have a better chance at making creative pieces.

That’s the theory anyway. Look at film-makers such as Guillermo Del Toro. He credits part of his success to bouncing ideas off of people like Alfonso Cuaron. His small group of independent film directors would critique each other, and support each other and I believe it made for a strong group of like-minded directors doing unique works as seen in works like Children of Men, Pan’s Labyrinth, The Devil’s Backbone, Gravity.

So that’s where I am. I’m on the fence, trying to decide if I’ll launch my small forum, to Uncorporate as it were and find some like minded indie developers to form a small community. I’m not sure what’s stopping me at this point, self doubt, fear or rejection surely (why won’t Guillermo Del Toro return my emails?).

My web developer tells me, “If I build it they will come” but I feel skeptical and yet longing for some of that community that I once had around my work.

The backwash

I usually write about various things associated with being an indie artist, working outside of Hollywood and trying to find a new path.

The last couple days have seen some major setbacks, not just in terms of losing work, but in fighting to keep our home against raging forces of nature. I know that sounds like a cliche, but to illustrate what I mean I’ll describe a little of my last hours at my house.

I slept last night with my cell phone close by, and at 2am, I saw a text from emergency services warning again of flash flooding. I arrived in the morning to my neighborhood to see sure signs that the entire area was covered in a swath of high water. Fences were down, water marks of debris littered the street and yards on “high ground”.

There at my house the water was still surging, far more violently than the night before. Fast racing waters circled the house, like a fist. Areas of sandy silt peeked out, letting me know the water had been higher. All debris was gone, thankfully because I had removed so much fencing that had sealed in my yard like a pool built by beavers.

I got to work in the backyard, filling whatever bags I could find with silt, and packing them against the back glass doors looking into the yard, once filled with greenery now a frothy sea that was unrecognizable. The pool now gone, the garden with the bench I built for my wife, gone.

There beyond the stable, that I’ve been struggling to turn into workshops, was the monstrous creek. Working on the deck filling bags, was unnerving. I felt as if I were swimming with a monstrous great white shark, or a dragon that undulated up and down.

This is a story without an ending yet. I have no idea how the house will fare again tonight. Trying to save the house from the surge was my priority. My artwork was in hard to reach places in the garage, ground level. I pulled what I could, and the rest I left while hurriedly trying to build walls, take down fences, etc. I have no idea how they fared. My computer is with me but disassembled and parts are missing. All of it was clipped together carefully and not meant for a hasty evac.

So we are in limbo tonight. My sons want to know when we can go home. My youngest son, who knows what I do on computers wanted to know if the movies I was showing him were fake, did I animate them he wanted to know? No, this isn’t CG I told him, that’s really our yard, that’s why we can’t go home yet.

Beneath some of what happened is my frustration with Boulder county. without getting too deeply into that story I will say that I proposed a three foot high stone perimeter wall to my barn/workshop which was rejected out of hand in favor of flood vents. Having seen first hand what major floods do, twice now (remember the nor-easter in NJ?) I know that anyone who has been through such knows it isn’t just water, it is silt and debris. In this current flood, the debris in my yard was a hundred feet long and three feet deep, then there is the silt, soft piles two feet thick cover the property.

Flood vents would be easily stuffed up, and needlessly expose my structure to moisture year round. They are in short: a joke in the face of nature and yet I have bent over backwards to accommodate Boulder county, and had to put my plans to finish a wall and flood gates on hold while waiting for them to approve my drawings. This is something btw, I spend almost all my spare time working on. I create designs and documents for presentation to two separate Boulder county offices, and not just once, no, there is a pre-permit process too which I cannot fathom. Essentially I hand mountains of paperwork three times and always I am asked for more. It is a process that seems designed to stop home owners from doing any home improvements, including simply changing a window or door, this is not a joke. It’s law and means employing inspectors to approve the door or window, and other inspectors, and flood inspectors etc. I guess it is a joke.

I’m frustrated with this, because in the slow approval process for my workshop, I have had to stop construction and wait. I could have built my wall, and better protected my workshop and home, if not for the laws of Boulder which are in fact meant to protect my home, or are they?

So I am in the backwash. All the hours of construction I did are likely destroyed. All the work I put on paper was just that, work on paper, as if to interminably slow down my progress. The many hours I have put into countless drawings for the county (for work I’ve already done mind you) have stopped me from doing artwork of my own. It has consumed my studio time. So yes I feel more than a little frustrated with this and Boulder County, whose logic defies reason. Their answer when I ask them questions, is “that is the way it is, it’s the law.”: Like a robot reciting something on voicemail instead of a person talking to a home-owner.

On top of this all my personal work is not accountable for anymore. I have no idea what will become of it after this, or the home I have tried to save this week.

Manly misadventures in Sewing.

I could write a long post about my misadventures learning to sew, in an attempt to do something special for my wife Sheryl’s birthday. I won’t make this long though, a sampling of my misadventures. It was fraught with misdirections, that included starting projects that I couldn’t finish, buying too little fabric and having eyes rolled at me in fabric stores because of my ignorance of all things to do with fabric and clothes, and that sort of thing. It dawned on me that I have a lot of tools, but none of the tools or know-how associated with this kind of hand made giftery. Yes, I just made that word up. Just to sometimes not feel so dejected I would hurry over to Home Depot to run an errand where I would feel comforted in knowing my way around tools that are not associated with sewing. Still, I’d eventually return home to the “secret” box that held the sewing machine I hastily bought not two weeks ago, turn it on and make something each night, good or bad that was the goal. After all, I asked myself, how hard could it be?

Exactly how do you attach sleeves?  Why can't i just glue this right about here...

Exactly how do you attach sleeves? Why can’t i just glue this right about here…

I know that is not a very insightful thought process. Perhaps I was not thinking clearly after many weeks trying to rebuild our home in one way or another following the Colorado floods. Still, I couldn’t get out of my head this idea of making something for my wife. I had planned it months ago, but one thing or another delayed my start, and then the Colorado floods happened and I thought it wasn’t meant to happen. I had to rebuild my studio before I could even consider trying.

It wasn't enough to make pajama pants, i had to learn on smaller things first.  That's why i made the little shirt for our smallest son, and the test pajama pants for our other son. At least that way I could mess up on a small scale first.

It wasn’t enough to make pajama pants, i had to learn on smaller things first. That’s why i made the little shirt for our smallest son, and the test pajama pants for our other son. At least that way I could mess up on a small scale first.

The idea wouldn’t go away though, so I started pondering it while mucking mud, pulling down walls, and as my new studio took shape I thought again about it more seriously. The thought process here wasn’t just to make something, but rather to continue stepping into the role of a husband and father that didn’t just take interest in what his family wore, but was willing to step into the role of making things, that so often women do for their families.

I thought of what Louis CK said about Father’s Day, and stepping into fatherhood; “don’t be mom’s assistant, be a man.”, he chided me. Yes, I always take things that Louis CK says personally.

I also think of what he said about making mistakes as a father. I make lots of mistakes as a husband and father. This project, which I tried to execute in less than two weeks mostly in the middle of the night, was somewhat misguided and the end results? Well, the results are riddled with loving mistakes and a total misunderstanding of how to actually sew.

Here's a mistake. I made this drapey sort of blouse, and I couldn't figure out how to finish it.  Arms and front band holding me up.  But I'm real good picking out fabric.

Here’s a mistake. I made this drapey sort of blouse, and I couldn’t figure out how to finish it. Arms and front band holding me up. But I’m real good picking out fabric.

Often I would roll my eyes after trying to understand the non-existent directions that come with patterns I had chosen. I soon realized they were meant for people who already had a working knowledge of this subject, which I clearly don’t have.

I wished I had just made something out of oak, oak and I have an understanding.

I continued though. It wasn’t that failure was not an option, it was that even in the face of everything we have gone through lately with the floods, giving up was not an option. I didn’t give up on our house during the floods, and I wouldn’t give up trying to do something special for her birthday.

oh why did i pick a pattern with sleeves?  And this slippery material? What made me think that was a good idea for a beginner?

oh why did i pick a pattern with sleeves? And this slippery material? What made me think that was a good idea for a beginner?

In the end I had to rely on good ol’ duct tape to help me finish up this blouse. I just couldn’t see how to finish attaching it. I had to make sure sleeves and edges aligned when it wasn’t laying flat on floor. So I did what any artist with loads of duct tape and extra R16 rated insulation would do; I quickly sculpted a duct-tape sewing dummy at the approximate size of my wife (who I went to repeatedly for hugs so that I could surreptitiously size her).

When I pull out the pins this blouse slips to the floor quickly, so I'm pretty sure I have some work to do, but more likely it will hang to low on one side, and slide off her shoulders, beautiful fabric, ineptly handled.

When I pull out the pins this blouse slips to the floor quickly, so I’m pretty sure I have some work to do, but more likely it will hang too low on one side, and slide off her shoulders, beautiful fabric, ineptly handled. Luckily I have several more yards to work out the kinks.

It’s an imperfect present for sure. It’s more of a promise though, to keep showing up and celebrating my wife’s birthday, our marriage, our family and the life we are creating together, flood or not. I’m hoping she can see past the mistakes the dropped stitches, the dangling threads and unprofessional back-stitching to see that it was made with love. It was made to celebrate her forty second trip around the sun, and to show her how crazy-grateful I am to have her in my life that I was willing to put down my tool belt, put aside the digital medium, and the oil paints… and go someplace new for her.

Destruction As Art

A good friend of mine, Daryl Munton, once saw me destroying my artwork. I was moving, and going through a hard time and I was purging, he tried to stop me, because he is a good friend. I destroyed some large paintings, illustrations, lots of things went into an angry heap. I think he convinced me to pull the now bent Emmy award out of the heap, it sits in my studio not as a reminder of awards, but a reminder of catharsis. It’s one missing wing, and globe held distorted overhead.

It was cathartic. I lightened my load, as I let go of things I didn’t really need. In the end, I was trying to get at the core of who I am, and trying to figure out what I could part with and what I couldn’t. I was purging and reseting the playing field so I could find new paths. I’m not saying I understood all that at the time, but over time I have come to understand the need for purging and lightening our load. There is an importance in reviewing the past, and deciding what we need to let go of. There is health in doing this, both mentally and physically considering too how many of us cannot let go of anything from the past.

There is value in death and rebirth.

The flood here in Colorado is a reminder of the gift of purging, destruction as a part of growth. It’s a reminder of what it means to get to the core of what is important. So often we work hard to build a life, and define ourselves by the things that we collect. George Carlin talks to this far better than I could ever, but suffice to say I had too much stuff, and the flood came in and reminded me of this. My studio was cluttered like my mind, and now feels lighter, poised and ready for what is next, what do I REALLY want to create? It’s asking.

My first night sleeping alone in our house, with the creek waters still too close for comfort outside, I couldn’t sleep, and this continual inability to sleep in the wake of the flood has worn me out. That night though, in fitful sleep I latched onto a song to help me. I listened to Limbo No More, by Alanis Morissette. Each time I would wake up I would roll over and listen to the song, hearing it at a level I haven’t really heard it before, it brought me comfort from the sound of the creek outside, and the quiet of the house all around me except for the pumps and air filters running in each room:

My house, my role
My friends, my man
My devotion to god
All the more feels indefinite

I was able to sleep that night in the house, because electric was restored, and heat went back on, the house came to life, but alone here for days by myself I saw the house differently. It wasn’t just the destruction around me, but the lack of living people here. It felt empty, and I could see clearly that my home was not in this stuff, but back with my wife Sheryl, and our sons, Everest and Asher. Those are the things that make this a home, and make the house feel alive. It was a stark reminder to me of the last purge in my life. This one my stuff was being ripped away, and I was separated from what was important, my family, but they were there waiting for me.

Anything and everything woke me that first night back. The rumble of a truck far away, or the rattle of wind, or a smattering of rain and I’d roll over and hear the song again as I tried to sleep. My sleepy mind listened, the song had three clear acts like a story, a definite story arc.

My past in a heap
Thrown out most of my things
Only kept what I need to carve
Something consistent and notably me

I thought about the flooded barn out back as I woke up that night. The barn/workshop project in back of the house, that I have devoted two years to restoring has always been like a work of art for me. The artwork here though is about a place of creativity for me and my sons.

It is a place of possibilities. In the workshop I’ve built play structures, and in the center the goal was to make a doorway; The portal I called it. The portal went through the center of the barn out to the creek, where anything could come alive for my children, any time period could be reached. The goal was to make doors with trees carved in them, the gaps looking straight through the barn. Three sets of doors aligned I imagined, like a forest within.

The question about art to me is this; What does it do for us? It should reflect something about the world back to us. Yes, it can be magic portals, or intellectual challenges. Right now, my yard is like the greatest Andy Goldsworthy. It is pure destruction. It is transition.

It shows the impermanence of the world around us, how very Buddhist of our little creek to bring this.

So the lesson should be returning to my studio not just what can I do without, but really, what can I do without?

We are definitely in Limbo here. There is no doubt about that, so much of our routine has been interrupted by this flood. Our yard, my studio, and the workshop all destroyed. Now we get to rebuild and re-emerge. Things that my amazing wife Sheryl is surely more qualified than me to talk about as her work is all about life’s transitions; (

I will say that as an artist I see the possibility in the destruction and the meaning, the bigger picture around it all, and a reminder of how far I’ve come since that first purge so long ago.

Colorado Flood steals our Color : September 2013

It’s hard to explain exactly what we’ve been through the last two weeks with the Colorado floods. It is surreal. It has been daily triage to either try to stop the flood, minimize damage, or try to recover in some small way. There is silt everywhere, mold growing, tons of soil to muck out as we try to clean up. It is overwhelming, too overwhelming to put into words right now when each day has been a struggle to keep up, or to stay one step ahead of more mayhem.

So I’ll start with some images to show what our small creek, Left Hand Creek, looked like and why we loved it here. I’ll show the barn/workshop that i’ve spent two years renovating and making into a workshop space for my sons and myself. Then I’ll show you some of the images afterwards of the mayhem and how this place was transformed from an emerald garden, into a moonscape that is moist and full of bacteria and mold, and water that still flows uncomfortably close.

The yard at various times of year.



The barn (actually a stable) was open on one side. I got caught by the county for enclosing it without permits. Boulder County has been a thorn in my side, not the least of which is because they didn’t like my designs for flood doors, which I believe could have minimized our damage had they let me continue my work.







The rest of these images are of the flood impact on our land, some from the beginning, some right after showing my studio full of mud, and others as waters receded a little bit. There is a big contrast between the images, what we expect to encounter each time we come here, and what we are confronted with. Even tonight having worked in my studio late, pulling down walls and encountering mold growing, I feel another wave of overwhelm. I work at full-tilt hoping to set things right, and still trying to comprehend that recovery will be anything but quick here.














Why I went to the Metaphorical Woods

My wife Sheryl, a counselor for people in transitions reminds me that so often what people share in blogs and on Facebook are superficial or false representations of ourselves. I think so much of this comes from always having to look like we have things under control, we have our game on. Every post is like an addition to our resume, our “permanent record”.

This blog is not meant to be that, but rather a posting about my journey to live a life that I want to live that includes doing more personal work, and being with my family in a meaningful way. Yes, ultimately I’m still trying to find out who I am, and what I’ll be when I grow up.

The truth is that I didn’t want to wake up one day and realize I didn’t know my children and the most I could boast in my life was having done lots of great furry animals for films.

So today I’m going to post about my doubts, and the strange direction that my career has taken since I left Hollywood and working in Visual Effects. The truth is that even working in Visual Effects, has a false glamour around it. It is a difficult industry to be in, with long hours, and crunches that mean working seven day weeks, 12 hours a day to deliver a show. It means getting home when your children are in bed, and leaving the house before they wake up.

The money was good, the artists and people I knew were exceptional in the industry and leaving friends behind was not easy. Leaving all this was a bummer, except when I realized I was giving up my time with my family for a big paycheck and a film credit.

I decided to leave Los Angeles in 2006, after working at Sony Imageworks. Having left my friends and familiar environment of R&H where I had been for over a decade, I worked long hours at Sony and yet, the new environment amplified a feeling of being isolated and alone. The plan had been to work for years and save money, but I realized too much was slipping away quickly, so we packed up with a job offer to teach in Colorado.

I came to Colorado not because of the great field in Visual Effects, Video Games and Animation. The truth is there isn’t much here, and the market here has not been kind to me. Having arrived I began teaching for little pay, and long hours. Small companies snubbed me when I tried to find work locally. I found small jobs here and there as a freelancer, and when money grew tighter I took on freelance jobs out of state which was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do to a small son and pregnant wife that I left behind in Colorado.

A friend recently asked me to tell him how I made the transition from Los Angeles to Colorado and I found myself writing all of this and more. I wrote about my rocky journey here, the ups and downs, and the fact that there have been a lot of downs. I hope I didn’t discourage him too much because I don’t regret my decisions.

I’ve spent the last two and half years creating the Game Art department for Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design, while working on my own games and work on the side. I felt proud of the work I had done at RMCAD building their fledgling department up. The truth is that teaching really leaves little room for personal work, especially when dealing with a technical industry, such as making video games. As I usually do, I threw myself into the job, dedicating long hours to creating demos and notes for students. In the end the college wanted more of me, more hours, more meetings, more, more, more. This didn’t work for me. After all having turned down lots of money and prestigious companies in California, why would I say yes to low pay and long hours now? I made the decision again to leave my job and pursue my own work flying solo.

So now I split my time between my studio and raising our two sons who we home school. My wife counsels and on studio days I am in my studio either painting, or working on video games and interactive books of my own design, more of which I’ll soon post to my blog.

I am at the start of my journey again it seems. I enjoy this some days, I feel challenged by it and stressed on others. There are some days I pound my fists when I can’t get a piece of code to work and there are some days when things flow. Overall trying to make a full video game alone is daunting most days. I have thousands of assets to create and texture. I have characters to design and sculpt. There are stories to write, and gameplay to programmed and tested. It’s a confusing mass of feelings trying to do this solo. It is both exhilarating and sometimes isolating, as I’m sure many indie artists and indie game developers feel.

On top of that is the doubt, that the long hours dedicated will result in a game that quickly vanishes or fails. That’s part of the journey though, to experiment and try something personal and see what happens. It’s a journey that means failure is based on my own actions, not on a studio producing a game or film, just me. This of course is preferable to me right now in my life.

So yes, failure is an option.

I left Los Angeles where I was making six figures and working on great visual effects, to my small studio in Colorado, where in January I earned a mighty $24 dollars off of my first interactive children’s book that I published to the iPad. I’m grateful that my wife is now earning enough to carry us, as I work on these things. I’m grateful too that even at it’s most difficult times I traded in my cubicle for time with my sons who often work in my studio with me now. I believe that my sons being able to experience what I do for my art and work are important and lost things in our culture where once family and work were side by side. It may mean nothing to them now, they just expect that dad is always around but someday they’ll understand that I chose to be here in a culture that demands that we separate.

What’s odd is that I feel that it is a both a low point and a high point for me. Financially, I’m bringing in nothing right now, but I am in a more creative space than I have ever been, and that is part of the reason I’m on this journey.

That’s why I went to the metaphorical woods.