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After the last post discussing how things have been going for me over the past couple of years, I realize I wanted to talk more about the Ladies of the Months and what this series means for me right now. I realize that after years of chasing freelance work and trying to break into game/RPG/publishing companies with my portfolio that I made an unprecedented decision…
…I decided to invest in myself.
The Circle of Self-Doubt
To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with working for other companies/employers other than yourself. Goodness knows I’d probably be making more money right now if I did! However, the race to be hired was becoming tiresome for me, personally. Every time it seemed people were interested in my portfolio, they wanted me to work for an unrealistic wage OR my work didn’t match their projects. “Thank you for sending in your work. We will keep you on file” was an automated message I saw too often.
Somewhere along the line after numerous rejections and/or low paying bids, I realized I was running in circles. What did I really want from these jobs, anyway? Validation? A decent wage? Listening to my friends in the industry (particularly the folks over at One Fantastic Week), I wondered if maybe these jobs weren’t as glamorous as they seemed? So much of an artist’s creative work is used for products they have no monetary stake in.
Even saying that, I’m not going to lie. It’d be very nice to have a Magic the Gathering or high profile book cover gig under my belt, but is being hired for jobs like that the only thing that makes me a ‘real professional artist’? It certainly feels that way sometimes. This feeling was yet another road block in choosing to work for myself. I needed a ‘real’ gig to make me a professional and spending time on doing my own stuff was a waste when I should be making work to fit in to get me hired elsewhere.
Even then, my gigs with self-publishers and the companies who did hire me still did not feel like enough to make me ‘a real professional artist’, even if I was. This notion of validation is one of the worst fallacies of this industry that keeps people with valuable and marketable ideas from investing in themselves because they’re too busy doubting themselves and their own worth to even consider it.
Something changed for me in the past couple of years. With the advent of crowdfunding and Patreon, a little light led me off the beaten path. Investing in my own ideas started to look more feasible. I started up my own Patreon and have been growing with it slowly, but surely, as I work on the Ladies of the Months series.
The Ladies were something I wanted to work on for myself but also a project I judged to be marketable and appealing to others beyond my own scope. I could make many products from them, including calendars, prints, art books, coloring books, etc.
One of the best real results I’ve had so far is that in being over halfway done with the series currently, I have a stellar consistent body of work I can show off! Lately, I’ve started formulating Kickstarter plans for the future, even if my first try at Kickstarter was a failure and a blow to my ego that I almost didn’t recover from.
I also need to share that I’m lucky I have a supportive partner who helps keep us afloat. There have been times we have had to suffer and scrounge. Thankfully, we’re in this together and we accept these consequences together. He’s been with me when I’ve made these decisions, he’s with me when I mess up, and he’ll be with me with this grand scheme of mine succeeds or fails. My husband’s faith in me has helped me more than I can express! If I didn’t have his support, things would be so much harder. I’d probably be working evenings instead of being able to focus on this venture full-time.
We can’t travel as much as we want. We can’t buy everything we want. We can’t go out to eat with friends often. When we’ve had medical emergencies, we cringe at the thought of the increasing debt and have sometimes delayed doctor’s visits. These are the realities of choosing to make less money while you’re building a business and didn’t have a lot of money to start off with. Save before you take the leap. It will help you so much! We actually had savings, but medical emergencies hit us pretty hard. It can be really scary at times!
The Untaught Freelance Skill
In choosing to invest in myself, I’ve had to say no to some gigs so I could maintain momentum on the Ladies. That crushing feeling of guilt and self-doubt comes every-single-time I say no! I could be growing our finances more if I just worked overtime, had no social life, and slept less. I’m trying not to compromise my mental and physical health just to stave off this guilty feeling. It doesn’t do me or my loved ones any good.
They really should teach the delicate art of refusal to all artists. It is okay to say no to a gig that you’re unsure about. You are not an entitled Millennial for doing so. You are not a loser. You should be paid fairly. You should believe in the value of your own projects. If you truly need money, no one should think less of you if you take a non-art job or do decide to take a crappy gig. Do what you need to do. Take care of yourself! You are the only one you should hold yourself accountable to, not the elitists who will tell you you’re not a real artist/are a sellout/ starving artist etc. if you do this or that.
I’m going to call this untaught freelance skill Self-Accountability. You are your own best judge and you know what you need to do to survive and succeed at your goals. You may take risks, but take them with full awareness and make a decision you can’t blame on anyone else.
I’m not sure yet if the light that led me off the path is a Wisp leading me to my doom, but I’m eager to find out! My worst fear in this life is to die with regret. The chance of failure is worth the feeling that I at least tried to do the things I have always wanted to do and that maybe, just maybe, I led a remarkable, or at the very least happy, life!
And if the Ladies of the Months fail to be a monetary success? I will at least still have work that I’m proud of, that’s meaningful to me, and that has a type of longevity in its versatility of subject matter and potential merchandise. The immense feeling of having completed something so ambitious will last me a long time and gratify me on an emotional level that can’t be bought with money.
When I first started this blog, my intent was to share my journey as an artist. Over 2016, however, I noticed most of my posts here have been Sketch Diaries about my creative process. It’s time to get back to form with a long rambl-y semi-personal post!
How is my artistic journey going these days, anyways? 2016 was an odd year for me. I didn’t go to any conventions or do any big events due to a limited budget. Being so disconnected from the art world made me feel pretty bummed about this past year. However, taking a break from being in the scene was time that I really needed to get my myself in order, business, personal, and art-wise. I’ve managed to stay hyper-focused on producing art for the Ladies of the Months, which has been one of my central goals and drives of late.
Finishing this series has taken precedence for me for multiple reasons. I have a bad habit of flitting from one project to the next and following my excitement down a new rabbit hole before actually figuring out how I can market and sell what I’ve created. This happens so often for me, especially because I have so many multiple art styles vying for my attention, from the friendly colorful stylization of my Monster Girls to the elegant tediousness of my Art Nouveau work to the painterly surreal narrative art I’ve been ultimately trying to evolve my work towards.
Last year, I came to the realization that this is a huge part of my lack of success as an artist. I’m not a bad artist, by any means, but my huge amount of varied work and lack of cohesive presentation, as well as any consistent large body of work I could market to consumers hinders my success. I have so many things sitting on my computer that I’ve moved on from without properly utilizing them (ie. the Monster Girls and my Rapunzel comic). How do I choose which ones have value for me to complete and which ones are better left as a learning experience? I’m still learning the answer to that question. As far as I can judge, it’s a matter of being honest about the quality of the end product and how marketable it actually is to an audience.
For the future, I want to change my love of different styles into a strength. For me, this has meant learning when and how to pick similar things in my art and sort them better into websites and ‘brands’ that appeal to their unique audiences. I’m at that point in my artistic journey where I’ve stepped back to take stock of my large varied body of work and how I can make what I’ve already created work for me.
For instance, the Ladies of the Months can aid me with approaching the Fine Art market. My Monster Girls can be the central attraction at anime conventions. My narrative art can appeal to the crowd open to Imaginative Realism or my fantasy writings. This seems like such an elementary observation now, but it’s taken me the past 5 years (the time I got my business license) to realize how to funnel and package myself as an artist. I’m learning to embrace my experimental nature, while also reigning it in and becoming more able to recognize what I can utilize for my business before I move on to that next adrenaline rush of a new project.
All in all, I’m more hopeful this year that in the near future I’ll finally start seeing myself being as successful as I want to be and that I’ll make a clean, clear connection to the audiences who enjoy my art. The big picture is finally becoming clear, as is my own mental image of myself and where I want to be as an artist. Slowly, but surely!
A lot of my slow boiling realizations about my art and how I connect with my audiences have come about thanks to Greg Spalenka’s wonderful Artist As Brand workbook. I very highly recommend it!
Rather than write a long blog post, I rambled about my art goals in a video instead. Did I meet last year’s goals? What are my goals for 2017? Watch on to find out!
The Short Version:
2016’s Summary of Art
My Favorite Piece of 2016: Lady of November
2017’s Art Goals:
- Finish the Ladies. I have 5 masks and paintings to do. I can do this!
- Refine Patreon, make it a bigger part of my life.
- Try crowdfunding again. Coloring books are the first order of business!
- Return to conventions. Aiming for one convention per quarter, either live or mail in.
- Finish up my NaNoWriMo novel. Kalara was so much fun not to finish the story and share it!
- Monetize the Monster Girls with stickers, coloring pages, enamel pins, etc.
- Create video reviews for The Muse’s Library.
- Try to get outside of social media with my art. Make local contacts.
- Study fundamental anatomy and color theory. Make a study schedule and stick to it!
- Be gentle with myself! Don’t let disappointments crush my confidence. Stop and enjoy life!
I’m excited to share this character portrait of Tsu-Yin Aasha Hou Kapoor, She Who Knows Ten Thousand Things. Daughter of high-born sorceresses and chosen of the Unconquered Sun, Tsu-Yin left a life of comfort to pursue epic adventures and a grand destiny as a Solar of the Twilight Caste!
She’s from the same tabletop roleplaying game as my character, Kalara, if you all recall meeting my gunslinging businesslady earlier this year. Exalted is such a fun game full of amazing Eastern-inspired imagery and epic level action!
For Tsu-Yin, my brainstorming began with the many beautiful references of Indian clothing and character drawing references provided by Tsu-Yin’s creator, Minis-sketchbook.
Tsu-Yin’s mood board on Pinterest.
Tsu-Yin was described as excitable and energetic. She comes from a life of comfort and is finally able to see the world for herself. She’s also a martial artist with a snake-inspired style as well as a sorceress. I knew from her concept I wanted a friendly and optimistic pose, something more energetic than whimsical.
Brainstorming began with a sheet of gesture sketches to help me discover Tsu-Yin’s personality through pose. Finding a good compromise between energetic and aesthetically pleasing was pretty challenging! None of my initial poses really fit her perfectly.
My journey continues with Lady of November! I’ve been looking forward to this Lady for quite some time, being a November birthday, myself! She’s a very special Lady who challenged me more than any of the others had before with the ambitious ideas I wanted to implement.
November, November! I’ve been looking forward to this month for a while, not only because it is my own birth month, but because it represents my favorite time of year – Autumn and a time of spooks and spirits! I decided to skip ahead in this series so that I might be able to finish some of the later Ladies by the time I reached the end of this year. But never fear, the other Ladies of the summertime will be explored come next year!
Lady of November’s mood board on Pinterest.
Here we are finally at the merry month of May with the Ladies of the Months series! So many of my closest friends and loved ones are May babies, I knew that this month needed to be extra special!
Lady of May’s Mood Board
Inspiration & Research
As ever, brainstorming begins with research. I start by looking into the meaning and namesake of the month of May. May is purportedly named for the Greek goddess Maia, meaning ‘the midwife’, with the month also the time the Romans venerated Bona Dea,”The Good Goddess”. I focused my research on cultures of the northern hemisphere, as they tend to celebrate similar seasons. For this series, I’ve focused much on the themes of the shifting beauty of nature, which reflects itself in countless ways in the way that people celebrate holidays around the year.
May Day, Beltane, and the May Queen traditions (among others) all informed the thematic image for Lady of May that was growing in my mind. The month of May conveys the start of Summer, blooming flowers, the celebration of youth, and the height of our abundant life before the harvest and the cold of winter begin to creep in.
In the end, I envisioned the Lady of May as a dancing, joyful young woman crowned with flowers, the May Queen who celebrates the height of summer.
So far, this particular Lady has gone even smoother than any of the past Ladies! The ideas have come together rather quickly and I’m excited to move forward. With my theme of a dancer chosen, I began by exploring different kinds of dancers in my reference hunt on Pinterest.
For Lady of May, the imagery from the season that resonated with me from my research was the May queen’s crown of flowers and her connection with dancing, youth, and joy. My reference hunt led me to beautiful recreations of Slavic flower crowns and the dancers of the Bharatanatyam tradition. The wardrobe of the dancers and the idea that a dancer becomes an instrument for the expression of spirit resonated with my concept for Lady of May, who is in and of herself, an embodiment of the spirit of the month. The fresh flowers crowning the hair of Indian brides also made it onto my mood board as another lovely example of the tradition of crowning women with flowers for symbolic and sacred purposes.
While Lady of May is inspired by all of these themes, I still wanted her to represent a wholly unique interpretation that doesn’t tie specifically to any particular culture, as all of the Ladies in the series are meant to represent their own unique embodiments of spirit. As such, Lady of May’s fashion sketches combined inspiration from both Indian and Japanese dancers.
With each Lady, I try to tie their birth flower into their wardrobe. Notice the Lily of the Valley imprint on her belts and the Hawthorn in her ponytail and sash. The design on the trim of the dress on the right is indicative of the red berries that both Lily of the Valley and Hawthorn have. Fun Flower Fact: The Lily of the Valley’s berries are quite poisonous while the Hawthorn flower’s berries can actually be used to treat a number of ailments!
Window Design Elements
Next, it was time to design the window! I went a little overboard with detail on this design because I wanted to emulate the intricate designs of Indian mandalas, while bringing an Art Nouveau flair with the Hawthorn and Lily of the Valley motifs.
The first sketch I made for the design was too simplistic while the next one was too detailed because of the layers of borders. In the end, the final design was a balance between the two.
References, Composition, & Color Test
With the window design and fashion of Lady of May figured out, it was time to bring it all together into a single drawing! I created a collage of reference photos to help give me a more grounded guideline to use for the line art. This collage includes things like bits of scarves, flowers, hair, jewelry, all cobbled together to make something vaguely similar to the final look I’m going for. From this collage, I create a line art base that I carefully tweak to match my own imaginary elements.
As for the composition, The Lady’s wardrobe elements, window, and foreground flowers are so complex that I decided to go with a very simple background that implies the trailing ribbons of the Maypole tradition. These ribbons also help reinforce the flow of her pose. There are some tangents I still need to fix in the line art (the way her left foot and left side of her skirt touch the background flowers), but I can fix those when I transfer the lines to paper. For now, the next step is a color test!
Making the choice for what colors to use for these paintings has been one of the most challenging tasks for creating this series. If the colors are off, she might not represent her birthstone well. Lady of May needs to represent Emerald, but also too much green in this composition will make it flat and uninteresting, while not providing good focus and flow for a viewer. I did quick color flats in Photoshop to test out different options before I put paint to paper. It’d be far too easy to mess this up by skipping this step!
Well, this didn’t help me out much because I love all of these choices! 2 and 4 are my favorite options because I like the clear silhouette of each one. The contrast between the dress and the sari in 2 is lovely, but is there enough green in this to represent Emerald? The contrast between the sari and dress in 4 is also nice, but is there too much green now? Ah choices!
The Final Painting
In the end, I chose the 2nd color scheme, but with a cool grey background to make the warm colors pop with contrast.
[Time Lapse Video Coming Soon!]
It’s been a long time since I’ve posted any sort of personal update here! I’ve been super busy with my nose to the grindstone on the Ladies of the Months series attempting to make something of it while my longtime boyfriend is being the main breadwinner. It’s a rare chance to really put my focus and attention into something grand without having my attention split by a day job, so I’m taking it!
Speaking of my boyfriend, we’ve had the opportunity of a lifetime to move into a rental house for a great deal! We’ve got a few months to pack up and move to the new location, so it was about time I went through my body of work and made an honest assessment of it. I’ve known this for awhile in my heart, but I’ve been slowly, but surely, moving away from Art Nouveau work. After I wrap up the Ladies of the Months, I feel like it’s time to really give my passion for character-driven fantasy art and writing a proper go!
And did I mention that the new place will have room for separate writing study AND studio spaces? As well as a garden? I am SO hyped to set up the new space!
With all of this in mind, it’s about time I retired that old work that’s no longer representative of my quality level as an artist or where I want to go with my work. There’s no point in clinging to it, especially with this move coming up!
I’m a little intimidated discontinuing about 80% of my older work, but that’s great incentive to make so much more new work that saying goodbye to all this old stuff won’t matter later! I’m sure Art Nouveau won’t be disappearing completely from what I produce. There will simply be less of it while I focus on other artistic paths. In the meanwhile, this is the best time to grab any of my older work, if you want it!
The following prints are being DISCONTINUED!
After they are gone, they are GONE FOR GOOD, as I will no longer be printing them!
Buy them here for as low as $1!
If you’ve ever wanted any of my older work, now’s the best time to grab it! Once these are sold, I am not re-stocking any of these selections.
Hope you all are well. See you after the move with pics of the new studio space!
My journey continues this month with Lady of April! Lady of March broke through creative boundaries with her unique imagery and presentation. That once again made the pressure high for Lady of April! I had to work through art block with this piece, but in the end, powering my way through equaled something grand!
My research began initially with some overlap with Easter, since Easter is a movable feast that can take place in March or April. I initially thought I’d make March and April inverted twins of sorts, but I moved away from this idea by the end, though you’ll notice both Ladies still stand in water, representing renewal.
Over the course of my research, I discovered the festival of Demeter which is a famous April celebration. Women dressed in white take torches into the dark of night, representing Demeter searching for her daughter, Persephone, the goddess of Spring.
I also noticed many cultures in the northern hemisphere take this time of year to honor trees with arbor festivals. In the end, the imagery of fire, light, and the growth of trees that came up during research helped April to emerge in her final form.
You’ll notice in some of the thumbnails pictured below, I represented Easter by including rabbits, symbols of fertility and light bringers, though I eventually moved away from this imagery in favor of focusing on the Lady holding a tree, evoking her as a giver of life and promoter of growth. In the end, I preferred this unique imagery over repeating Easter’s themes.
A mood board helps organize my muse’s random visions into something I can translate into my painting.
I’ve been working on a lot of tedious Art Nouveau of late and, while I love it, I decided to indulge in this little project after hours to help me unwind from the seriousness of that particular style. I’ve been doing a lot of tabletop gaming lately, thanks to a friend who sucked me into a game of White Wolf’s Exalted setting.
This fun side project began as an urge to draw the character from our Exalted game as well as to create cover art for a short story about her that I wrote. In our game, I play Kalara Vadras, a gunslinging Eclipse Caste, the diplomat of our Circle of players, and a no-nonsense businesswoman with a sordid past of betrayal and revenge. Here’s one of her early character sheets.
I’ve been gathering references for our game for over a year. I love it when digital image hoarding pays off! Kalara’s particular visual influences include Indian guns, Chinese fashion, and a generally non-Western collection of fantasy elements.
Like this board? You can view and Follow it on Pinterest here!
I also drew a lot of inspiration from one of my favorite comics currently being published right now – Monstress. The art by Sana Takeda and story by Marjorie Liu are simply exquisite!
The Asian Art Deco steampunk aesthetic fit so well with what my mind’s eye conjures while we play Exalted. Check out the cover to the comic, you’ll see what I mean!
Early on during the image’s sketch phases, I decided to push the image away from a detailed comic book style and more towards this anime-esque stylization thanks very much in part to Monstress’ influence.
Next, I did a lot of posing in front of the webcam, as opposed to thumbnail sketches. This was meant to be a fast and fun image, so I decided to keep it simple and skip the planning step.
While posing, I kept in mind that I wanted her very symbolic crucifixion scar to be very noticeable to the image, which meant focusing a lot on expressive hand motions. The 3rd pose on the far right ended up being my winner because of the diagonals that lead the viewer’s eye around. That pose also feels the most natural and emotive.
Finally, here’s an animated GIF of my image’s evolution.
You can can watch a more in-depth video about this piece’s creation at my YouTube channel.
Final Cover Image:
Prints and products of this piece are available at my Etsy shop!
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