& You’ll Be in a World of Pure Imagination (or, a brief workspace tour)

Things happen when you sprain an ankle and have a hard time hobbling anywhere – they pile up. Things pile up on desks and chairs and the floor and by the time you can walk easily again, your once-organized chaos has reverted back to a simpler form: catastrophe. Now that my foot has healed, I buckled down to clear out and re-organize my workspace so I can paint, draw, and write without using a ball of string to find my way out again. Since I love seeing tours (be they in video or picture form) of art studios and workspaces, I decided to make a small tour of my own. Commence away!


I need to keep my space whimsical but functional, with bits and pieces that inspire me. It all tends to gravitate toward the magical; like ‘if Gandalf had been a Ravenclaw Professor.’ Probably teaching the History of Magic and Charms.

IMG_0463

On the right side of my desk I have a box containing all my watercolors (the top is decorated with a Celtic-style sun/moon emblem, made by my friend Ian). On top of that is a box that holds the pencils and pens I use for my artwork. Standing on the box are a little brass leprechaun from my friend Hannah George, and a rat skull from a coffee shop in Omaha. Sitting on the waterproofed slab of wood are various jars holding sea salt, water, dip pens, paintbrushes, feathers, rulers, and two magic wands for all my painting + spell-casting needs.

IMG_0464

To the right of my desk, siting on my vintage steamer trunk, is the printer (covered with rabbit fur to help it match the rest of the room) and a letter tray; the letter tray holds all my ink bottles, water droppers, watercolor tins, tape, and odds and ends. It also features another jar of feathers, a volcanic stone mortar + pestle, a hornet’s nest, Boba Fett, the Ancient One, a Predator, a Galor-class Kardassian Warship, and AARRRGH! from Trollhunters (my favorite show in the world next to Prison Break).

IMG_0465

On the left side of my desk I have a stack of Chinese calligraphy paper upon which sits some vellum envelopes, a box of colored pencils, a stack of leather-bound journals, a wooden raven, several bottles of glitter, my crystals, and Vortigern, the skull I use when give art lessons. (Leaning against the pencil box is George’s foot. George is a decorative skeleton whose body resides in Florida. George’s foot is one of the best gifts I’ve ever received. Don’t ask me why.)

IMG_0467

After that comes the crate with my various pads of art paper, sketchbooks, envelopes, and extra journals. It’s guarded by Jareth, Newt, and Snart; as well as Gringott’s. Also seen are my waxes and seals, and two jars of miscellany, including my pipe and a fan (printed with samurai. It doesn’t get much cooler, iron war fans excepted).

IMG_0466

Underneath my desk lies the rest of the artistic miscellany – the leather folder in which I stuff my completed artwork; old sketchbooks, jars of magic things (from Melody, who gifted me George’s foot), old sketchbooks, paper cutters, and the like. I also have my favorite art + design books lined up; John Howe, Alan Lee, Tony Diterlizzi, Ed Org, Alphonse Mucha, Stephanie Pui-Mun Law, and others. Sitting on top of ‘The Hobbit: Art & Design’ is my Loch Ness Monster, Vincent; a gift from my bro Lauren and knitted by her sister. (His name is Vincent because he’s dark blue + glittery and therefore starry.)

IMG_0468

IMG_0469

The walls feature a unicorn, masks, Thorin’s map, a Carnival poster from when my dad was a sophomore in high school, a painting of Big Ben (painted by my sister), Studio Ghibli prints, keys, lights, and some paintings I’ve done for myself – Frankenstein’s Creature (specifically Luke Goss’s portrayal from the BBC Miniseries), Jareth the Goblin King, Prince Nuada, and Reylo.

IMG_0462

And there you have it! My workspace keeps me inspired; not only because I curate things I love but because so much of what you see was given to me by friends and family (seriously I think maybe half of what you see was bought by me + for me).

What does your workspace look like? Please let me know in the comments!

Advertisements

I’ll Let You in on a Little Secret

Practice does not make perfect and your life is a lie.

Is your mind blown yet? I can explain. We all grew up hearing ‘practice makes perfect’ and believing if we put in the time, if we just Did the Thing over and over and over and over and over, we would eventually become experts. I became aware of something recently, as I sketched and sketched and sketched some more – but before I tell you what I learned, let me just quickly explain something to you.

Creative growth isn’t a straight line. The artists I know work hard, their artwork improves, and then suddenly—down it goes. It’s very much like a roller-coaster. Each rise to new artistic heights is preceded by an extreme dip down. It feels like you’ve lost 99.9% of your talent and you’re three years old again, except this time you’re terribly self-conscious and aware of just how bad your art is. This happens, because creative growth is wibbly-wobbly. That’s the scientific answer.

Recently, my favorite nomadic troglodyte sent me an email. Now, Hannah is a renaissance woman – you name it, she’s dabbled in it. (Except alchemy, I think; we’re planning to learn that one together.) She had a good eye for art, but felt she needed to improve. Her email was an excited one – she was making progress. Huge progress. Leaps and bounds of it, because she’d been watching a YouTube series on improving your art, and it was working.

The thing is, it wasn’t that she hadn’t been drawing steadily before. She had. She’s been involved with artwork since I’ve known her, and that’s been years (and years). But it wasn’t necessarily the practice that improved her artwork. It isn’t necessarily the practice that improves mine.

It’s awareness. See, I like to sketch. I like to doodle. If my mind is otherwise occupied (a documentary, a sermon, a lecture) in order to stay focused on that, I need to be doing something with my hands (hence growing up as a Church Serial Doodler, when I wasn’t eating a box of raisins). The trouble with ‘mindless’ anything is the lack of awareness that accompanies it.

You aren’t going to improve if you aren’t conscious of what you’re doing. Any savage can dance. Anyone can doodle, and lots of people do – but there’s a difference between sketching and mindful sketching.

Sketching looks like putting a pencil to paper again and again and getting similar results each time with no significant improvement, because you aren’t really paying attention.

If you could hear my thoughts while I’m sketching mindfully, however, it would probably sound something like this:

‘The line of his forehead is too shallow, I need to bring it out. That eyebrow isn’t dramatic enough; gotta fix that. The nose is kind of disproportionate – his mouth is good, though. Wait, I need to choose a light source so I can add shading in the right places. Hair doesn’t naturally fall this way, even if it’s voluminous – it does if it’s windy, so I’ll make sure his clothing looks like there’s wind as well. Hang on, his neck isn’t looking right where it connects to his back, I need to look at a reference – ah, there we go. That’s much better. Now to make these folds of fabric drape realistically.”

And so on and so forth. Mindful sketching means looking at your work with a critical eye. It also means you look at references. It means you’re aware of things like shading and environment and expression and weather. It means when you draw something you don’t like, you purpose to figure out why you didn’t like it. And it means, rather than tuning out of your drawing, you tune in.

Once you start to really see your own work, you’ll begin to see mistakes (and improvements). You’ll begin to see what you could do better, and you’ll work on those until you get it right, and then you’ll fix something else. You will always, always keep improving because there’s always room for it – and so no, practice doesn’t make perfect.

But mindful practice just might.

IMG_8633
January, 2017
IMG_8938
April, 2017

Let’s Talk About Art

I realize the tagline of this blog says writing, art, etc. but is 90% writing and 5% etc. Today, to shake things up a little bit, I’m focusing on the OTHER 5% (finally) and talking about art. Actually I’m asking you guys some questions about art, which is totally the same thing.  Lately I’ve been giving heavy thought to the question how can I make a steadier income with my art and my lovely fellow human on Facebook and Instagram have been throwing out some frankly genius ideas.

IMG_8641

Here’s the thing – art takes time. It takes years of practice. It’s hard work – and people like art. Some of us even love art. We love seeing a favorite character come to life, or one artist’s take on a film concept. Art makes life better – but it can also be expensive. I’ve had so many people tell me, “If I had the money, I would so commission X piece from you.”

As someone who’s definitely never fallen into the ‘rich’ category, I can say from the bottom of my heart, I feel you. And I want to do something about it.

Some of the suggestions tossed out to me are as follows:

Why don’t you sell pages of your sketchbook once you’ve finished them?

IMG_8857

What about blind date with sketches — someone buys a sketch from you and doesn’t know what they’re getting until it arrives? (This would probably be a monthly thing – think OwlCrate or BirchBox, but with sketches — possibly multiple sketches per ‘envelope.’)

IMG_8832
‘Now that IS lovely!’ — John Howe, making my day/week/2017

What about accepting commissions for those color sketches you do?

IMG_8834

IMG_8698

What about offering custom trading cards? (These would be available in various mediums.)

I LOVED these suggestions, and when I publish my ‘commission info’ page on this site, you’ll see these options available for purchase. However, my Facebook and Insta peeps aren’t the only ones out there – I want to hear your ideas. What would YOU like to see? What artsy dream do YOU have?

Check out my art on….

DEVIANTART

TUMBLR

INSTAGRAM

And because I like to be a little unconventional, I’ll be open to unusual methods of payment. Have an unused Target/WalMart/WHEREVER gift card lying around? You could totally trade that for some art. Have a product you sell, or something unused-but-neat sitting in a dusty corner? Feel free to suggest a barter!

LEAVE YOUR REQUESTS, IDEAS, AND SUGGESTIONS IN THE COMMENTS SECTION BELOW! I’ll go over them and see what I can do to make my artwork more accessible for you.

January Giveaway!

img_8516

For a while in 2016 I had a sketch giveaway for all my blog followers at the end of each week. While I loved the idea, it became too much – I would get caught up with writing, art commissions, editing, and life in general and before I knew it, I’d completely forgotten about the giveaway. So in 2017, one of my blog resolutions was to revisit the idea of art giveaways, but at the end of each month, and with more mediums. This being the end of January (it flew by!), I’m here to announce that the winner of January’s art giveaway is

SparksOfEmber!

Shoot me an email at mirriamneal@outlook.com and I’ll get it sent to you ASAP! See you all in February!

 

The Artist’s Secret Weapon

Before you ask where I was, I’ll tell you: I had the Flu from Hell and was laid up for the last week, hence the lack of posts. (At some point I’d like to reach the point where I have enough posts queued up where you don’t suffer, even if I am. Cough. But we’ll get there.) However, I’m on the upside of recovering now, and can look forward to a Christmas without the flu next year. Onward!

img_8321

Today, I am here to talk to you about one of the most important weapons in an artist’s arsenal. Pens and brushes are all very well and good (and, one might argue, relatively important in the grand scheme of drawing) but the weapon I’m discussing today is the one thing that can make or break a drawing. It’s the difference between the life and death of your sketch. It’s the vital difference between getting your proportions right and re-creating Frankenstein’s monster (or a Picasso). The secret weapon is:

Know when to take a break.

Ever since I began drawing sheets of sea monsters as a toddler, once I began a piece I didn’t stop until I had finished it. I needed to complete the drawing before I could peacefully begin another task – which was, more often than not, drawing another page of sea monsters. I carried that behavior into my adulthood. Once I begin something, I am loathe to take a break from it until I’m finished. Unless a drawing is giving me a particular amount of grief, I’d rather remain bent over it for three hours when I’m on a roll than take a break every half-hour.

But once I began taking breaks halfway through, I discovered something upon returning. Nine out of ten times, the drawing I had thought was perfectly proportioned was, in fact, lopsided. The perspective was off, and more often than not, the eyes were extremely uneven. This frustrated me to no end. When I was hunched like Quasimodo (note: I do not recommend hunching) over the piece of artwork, it looked perfect and everything seemed well-rendered. When I looked at it with fresh eyes, I saw I was sadly mistaken, and there’s a reason for it.

When we spend a great deal of time looking at the same thing, we become absorbed in the detail. Instead of seeing ‘the big picture,’ we are caught up in shading the corner of the eye, or detailing the nose or the lip.

Instead of seeing the drawing as a whole, we begin to see it in pieces.

Our mind’s eye becomes so used to seeing the drawing one tiny section at a time that it blurs everything else together, creating the illusion of a proportionate drawing. We literally become unable to truly see what we’re drawing, until we take a break.

I have to remind myself often to stand up, to walk around, to go look at something else for five minutes or more. When I return to look at my drawing, I can once again see it as a whole and not simply a detail here and a detail there.

In his journals, Leonardo da Vinci also praised the virtues of pausing your painting and taking a stroll, because he understood how the artist can become so absorbed in the minute that they become incapable of seeing the entirety.

Note: You don’t need to take a break every five or ten minutes, but every half-hour or every hour is a good idea. If you begin to take breaks more frequently, you could lose your stride and getting it back might prove discouraging.

So, in the words of Eliza Hamilton, take a break! Look at other artwork, move around in different lighting, look at various shapes and colors before sitting back down and continuing on with your work. Your drawing will thank you.