Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Sign?

At 3 A.M. this morning, I wasn’t asleep ‘cause why would that be the case, my new desk up and decided to shatter. With a cacophonous tearing roar, the poor thing ripped itself in half, lengthwise. It was very much as I would imagine sea floor spreading at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean occurs. In that respect, it was kind of cool. In every other aspect, it just pissed me off. So, if I’m less than chirper today, let’s keep in mind my now useless piece of furniture and the function it normally plays in my daily life.

If there is a silver lining to such an odd event, it has to be that I spent the last week thinking I was drawing too much and writing too little. Nothing like a bedroom studio in utter disarray and broken stuff to slow down my drawing production… But seriously, I did put a lot of thought into the amount of time I spend drawing verses writing and the rewards I receive, mostly of the creative and moral kind rather than financial, for doing both. Then, because I’m a type A person with a thing for detail and precision, I collected data about how much time I spent drawing and writing along with a running tally of what I produced via writing and drawing. Then I made pie charts and bar graphs if only to have stark, visual aids to clearly present all the accumulated data to my ever skeptical brain.

All in all, it was pretty brutal stuff. I’m pretty sure if every artist did this, the world would quickly find itself devoid of anyone stupid enough to call them self an artist. When you suck the fun out of it and just look at things in terms of numbers, making art is always an ugly affair.

What I came away with was confirmation of my growing disenchantment with putting the bulk of my time and energy into the visual arts. The last decade was all about about sitting and drawing. I got some very lovely books out of that time, but I think I pushed it as far as I could. In the balance of time spent working versus time spent doing whatever, I did everything possible to make drawing the primary function of my conscious life. I have no regrets but I think on some level, I just got bored. I’m sure had I been showered with truckloads of money, I would have found a way to keep going and not been bored, perhaps by installing a fountain next to my desk that spewed ambrosia all day long and was maintained by a team of albino monkeys in tiny, bib overalls and little white caps…

This decade is about something new. And the biggest newness is a major shifting of the balance from drawing to everything else in life. Of course, since that is the biggest and therefore the most important change to be made, it turns out to be hard as hell. Honestly, it’s not going well. Hence me collecting data, tabulating numbers and making charts.

It turns out I still spend 75% of my creative time messing around with the visual arts. I think you can do can do the math to figure out how much time I devote to writing. Now, that would be fine if I was landing contracts with the novels or watching things like Hop Hazard Love fly off the online shelves; but as we know, for underground authors like myself, everything moves slow. If I want to be a kickass writer, I need to flip those numbers. At this point in time, given what I know about making books, my future has more words in it than pictures. The trick, it seems, is to align my working brain with that notion. ‘Cause here’s the kicker, that 75% of time spent mucking about with paint or drawing this or that usually leads to a lovely new piece of paper ready for the recycling bin or a wondrous piece of art that has no where to go but into a box and stuck on a shelf because I learned a long time ago that I’m not a huckster, gallery artist shelling meaningless drivel into a world already full of shallow, empty crap.

So… the self destroyed desk, a sign? Am I reading too much into this or has the Universe sent me the clearest message possible? And on the very day I stumbled upon this quote by F. Scott Fitzgerald:

I hope you live a life you are proud of. If you find you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.

The sun is about to rise around here…  Jersey City is so much prettier at night, or only pretty at night… I’m exhausted and miserable. If ever there was a day to start this mess over, this might be it. Fingers crossed, everybody.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

FC Bayern!

It’s been a week already? Huh. I guess it has. So, outside of Bayern Munich utterly crushing Hamburg (8-0), has anything else happened?

The funny thing about trying to figure out the best way to exercise my creative energies is that it sounds like it should be really easy and turns out to be rather difficult. Some of that has to do with the difference between making something for commercial consumption versus making something beautiful and meaningful, perhaps, only to me. You might think the two would dovetail nicely, and for a time I think they did, but no, they rarely do.

I look back at my creative behavior in different eras. There were the early days when I was clueless but excitable. There were the college days where I had my head packed with a lot of what would prove to be kind of useless information. Then there were the wilderness days when I wandered near and far, taking a stab at anything that seemed to offer even a hint of promise in making my creative path clearer. Then came deep poverty and the glorious writing. After that, the illustrated books. And now, it’s something new. Obviously, it’s too soon to know what all this “now” means, but I still have to make something so that, in the future, I can look back and say, “Oh, those days were the ___ days. Oh, good grief…”

On a philosophical level, I think all this change has a lot to do with being a far less worrisome soul. I don’t seem to thrive when I’m worrying about stupid things outside my control. Yeah, I know, nobody does. And yet, how often to we find ourselves stressed out about such nonsense or know someone who constantly destroys their happiness and potential worrying about things they can’t begin to predict or affect. It’s all such crap. It’s the very crap I’d been worrying about for the last few years as I struggled to find a magical promotional trick or skill to be more successful in the riotous and downright ugly world of book sales. It was a lesson in depression. I’d toss and turn the night away imaging new or better ways to be the best artist possible and make my work more accessible. It took a while, but now I understand there isn’t a more foolish reason to run oneself into the ground.

As I’ve said before, it’s time to get back to basics and to make things because I want to make them. If they go somewhere when I’m done, that’s great. If that somewhere turns out to be  bigger than anything that’s happened previously, that’s great too. But if not, I don’t care. It’s not like such things really factor into what I’m going to do next. By the time you get to see what I’ve done, I’m well on my way to finishing the next thing. It’s that attitude, call it a touch of insouciance, that keeps me moving forward in a healthy, relaxed and excited way. That’s when the good stuff happens, even if I’m not quite sure what the good stuff is.

Keeping in step with such thinking, I returned to a habit I had going a few years ago: odd, beautiful, esoteric, little drawings done rather quickly in red pencil, inside a circle the size of a CD, made just because I like the feeling of starting my day by hitting one out of the park. Despite their size, they are very much “everything but the kitchen sink” drawings, composed from information from photos, dreams, memories and pure fiction. Not that you’d know any of that to look at them. You’d think they were accurate(ish) depictions of reality. But that would be so boring. I mean, isn’t that what photography is supposed to do. Anyway, with the elation that comes from such a simple/creative act, I move on to the all the dumb crap I have to do over the course of the day, knowing I’ve made my world that much more wondrous.

Is there a point to all this drawing, will it change how I go about making books or art, is it a selfish distraction, will anyone ever see them…? Who cares. If nothing else, and this is the important part of today’s ramble, I fall asleep imagining what I’ll fit inside the next red circle. Beats the hell out of endlessly worrying about the sales numbers on some book I barely remember making…

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

It’s Always Something…

Another Tuesday, another announcement about my cool, Box Book project. Not only is the print version of Hop Hazard Love available, but the Kindle version of said title is available as well. As I do not have a Kindle or iPad, I would love to get some feedback on how the eBook looks. The demo version looked good, thanks to Mandy’s format tweaking skilz, but I believe there is a difference between what my computer can show me and the real deal. It’s not like studying the print version, which is pretty much exactly the same for me as it is for you.

The next step is to go on the offensive with shameless self promotion. If there is one thing that is definitely not my forte, it’s shameless self promotion. Of course, we’re talking social media self promotion, which is even more annoying despite the fact that it’s easy as crap to do. I was wondering, since you guys are my most trusted and loyal advisors, if there was something I could do that I haven’t already talked about? Some avenue you know about that might help me lure one more lonely soul into the all encompassing warmth of my creative universe… I have plans for all the basics: Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, etc., but I’m open to anything that seems like a good fit. Just drop me a line and I’ll give it a try. With this Box Book thing, anything is a good idea until proven otherwise.

Meanwhile, in the small chunk of time I have to myself, I write and paint. It’s far from exciting but it’s all slowly coming together. I’m in one of those phases when I find myself more likely to have success writing by hand rather than typing. We know I vacillate between which of those two processes I like more. As much as I like the speed of typing and the ease with which I can manipulate the text, there’s something downright peaceful about taking my pen and paper and sitting in the morning light, far from any digital distraction, and getting to work. The busier I get, the more I’m attracted to anything simple, quiet and lo-fi. I found myself quite busy this past week, traveling in and out of the city, which meant my best time for writing was my commute. Again, pen and paper saved the day.

Then there is painting. Have I mentioned how hard it is to stop painting, especially to do so long before I’m physically exhausted? It’s really weird. For instance, Sunday, I spent about 90 minutes painting. For a lot of people, that’s a good chunk of time. For me, that’s a light warm-up. In that 90 minutes, I finished the painting I started last Sunday and began two new paintings. I could have easily painted into the wee hours, but everyone started talking about eating dinner and being social, so I cleaned my brushes and put everything away. But it still felt strange to stop when all the cylinders were firing.

However, my little painting time taught me a lesson I’d learned and forgotten a long ago: with watercolor, great paper is a lot better quality than decent paper. The last time I was serious about watercolor was 2001. I got it in my mind I could make full sheet paintings and they would be awesome. Being much closer to my college days and having far fewer expenses, I could afford to buy sheets of Arches watercolor paper and attempt painting after painting. I had some success, but my heart wasn’t in it and I gave up.

Fast forward a decade or so and you find me taking up painting yet again. Contemporary me doesn’t have huge reserves set aside for my painting addiction but I do have all the various papers left over from five years of experimenting in illustration. There’s a lot of weird stuff sitting around that I feel compelled to use because I bought it and it should be used to make something. But that’s not really true. Or it’s half true, it should be used to make something, but I’ve learned it should not be part of my watercolor painting experience.  Put simply, the great paper does things the decent paper can’t, plain and simple. There’s no point in spending my time and pigments on paper that doesn’t augment the painting. Consequentially, as I go forward with my paintings, I intend to go forward using the best supplies that exist. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but it’s progress. I’ll take what I can get.

And that’s about it.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Box Books, A La Maison!

Everyone bundled up and enjoying winter? There’s only six or so weeks left to be pounded by snow and arctic winds. I need to enjoy this weather while I can. Soon enough, it will be a thousand degrees with 100% humidity and I will be miserable. I’m talking about city humidity, which is far more oppressive than suburban or rural humidity. So, winter…. Weeeee!

Hop Hazard Love is now a book. And a pretty nice book at that. It took a bit of doing, more than I thought, to get everything correct, but now that it exists, I’m quite proud of it. The illustrations are good, the printing is nice, the cover works. All and all, not a bad start for me in this Box Book experiment. Another book to add to my body of work. If you’d like to buy a copy, here’s a link for you to follow, boom!

Soon, the eBook will be ready for sale as well. For all the little problems I had bringing the print book into reality, getting the eBook ready has been an even larger job of work. Honestly, I thought it would be easy. Having built a file good enough to take to press, I imagined it would take a day or two of messing around, converting the print version to something eBook ready. Yeah, not so much.

My ignorance of how eBooks function actually worked against this particular project. Turns out, eBooks allow the reader to choose the font they want to read. I didn’t know that, which was problematic for Hop Hazard Love because I have two protagonists, each with their own font. That meant I was dictating the font you were supposed to see, something, it turns out, is antithetical to the eBook design. Being an artist, I find the whole thing ridiculous. I mean, you’re supposed to see things the way I see them, that’s the whole point of me doing something you hadn’t thought to do, but whatever. So… that was one hurdle.

The real pain came later, when it turned out the program for converting my file to something eBook-y decided to hate every paragraph indentation in my novella and to hate each indentation differently. Instead of seeing my text with a nice indentation and subsequent sentences making lovely paragraphs, I had whacky crap going on everywhere. It looked like I let a three year old edit my book. There were even spaces in the middle of words, something I still don’t understand. But that was the case. Had it not been for Mandy’s mad computer skilz and adroitness with her smart phone, I would have been completely screwed. It took a few hours of research and experimenting to solve the format problems and several  hours more of me listening to episodes of Buffy and changing the layout of every, single indented line in the whole novella. We’re talking a serious pain in the ass that I couldn’t have avoided if I tried because it was such a strange, unexpected problem that I never could of imagined it. Thankfully, I should be able to avoid it in the future (knock on wood).

Lastly, there was the issue of getting the illustrations to fall on the correct page. Turns out the flow of an eBook requires some tweaking to give it the feel of a print book. The illustrations look far more like the originals in the eBook version, but getting them to stay where they belonged took more effort than I thought it would. Again, not a problem I’d expected to deal with. Again, Mandy’s mad skilz came to the rescue.

Needless to say, getting this project ready for the eBook market has been a painful learning experience. But, I would like to think, in making all these mistakes, well, that might be the wrong word because they aren’t mistakes as much as difference  between the print idea of a book and the electronic idea of a book, I’ve learned how to proceed more smoothly in the future. As you know, I’m all about the next book, so…

Meanwhile, there’s the painting. Not sure where it’s taking me, but we’re making good time. I’ve had enough successes to start daydreaming, which is never a good thing. I’m trying to rein in my crazy before it gets out of control. For now, that means not dreaming big. It may sound silly, but it is the truth. At times, my "college" thinking gets the better of me and I start believing art doesn’t matter unless it’s big. I know, how stupid, I mean, Girl With Pearl Earring by Vermeer is barely bigger than a square foot. But old lessons about how to make a living as a gallery artist are hard to unlearn. Plus, there is something downright sexy about a huge, beautiful sheet of pristine, Arches, cold press goodness. Of course I want more and more of it. Sheet upon sheet. The bigger the better. Stacked to the ceiling. Or well, not so much. Those delusions were fine when I was twenty years old and clueless, but they no longer fit my world or my desires. I’m forty and focused like a frickin’ laser on a shark.

Or I damn well hope I am.