Top Post of 2018 and a Dilemma

Since I’ve been writing more, and adding comics from the archive recently, traffic on my website has been up. Cool, right?

So, without further ado, the most visited post from 2018 is…

…drumroll…

Still this guy.

What is that, you say?

Well, if you’re new to the world of Jill, you might not know that I used to blog entirely random creative stuff. This is a post from 2010. 

…a POST FROM 2010…

…is STILL my most popular post. I mean, I’m exhausting myself here with creative growth and semi-quality content. But this knockoff movie craft has developed his own world on Pinterest and is sending people to my website who probably get here and wonder why they are looking at nonsensical art and mom comics when they were really hoping for geeky crafting tips.

So, this brings up an interesting problem I have had over the years.

I put my art out into the world. My growth. Myself. Me. And, yes, that includes some fan art. That includes some things that are trendy. I even had a comic hit the front page of Reddit.

Once.

It would be really easy to shift gears and ONLY do that. Only create things that gain approval. In fact, it can be really hard to pour your heart and soul into something that no one seems interested in, only tomorrow to do something that has zero originality, and everyone adores it and shares it on Pinterest forever and ever.

I have also felt weird pressure to define my brand – my online image. So I make sense to people who don’t know me. (But I don’t make sense to people who DO know me…so…)

But let me tell you, folks, I am not making money on anything here. (I do sell some paintings, and my picture book is doing awesome right now…) but the comic? Pretty close to zilch. It’s a labor of love.

So, as I move into 2019, I am going to make a big effort to stop making such a big effort at things that don’t seem to matter. I am going to be more true to myself, and pursue the things I want, random as that may seem.

And I hope you come along. If not, that’s quite alright. I can recommend some good nerd crafting blogs for you.

Creative Mindfulness

‘The Feeder’ – 2012, (mixed media & digital)

So, my new effort to get up at 5am every morning was totally ruined last week by a house full of sick people. (Of which I was one.) Actually, I’m still a little unwell, but since I was up at 3:30 snuggling with a four-year-old who was having a coughing fit, here I am, awake at 5 again!

On my mind this morning is the subject of mindfulness – another habit I have long believed was out of reach. Mindfulness is being fully present in each moment. Experiencing complete awareness of what is happening to you, around you, and inside you.

Mindfulness is hard for me, because I am creative. Creative people tend to be daydreamers. Daydreamers are very not mindful. But creating can also be hard for me sometimes, because I am not mindful.

Creativity doesn’t spring from a void. It comes from noticing things around you. Really noticing. Noticing first, and then letting the wonder start to seep in. If you live in your imagination, you can only work with what is already in your head. To grow your creativity, you have to expand your perception of the world around you. You capture all these little things, ideas that can turn into something new when you take them out and use them. To do that, you have to be mindful.

I find myself perpetually distracted. I am never doing and experiencing something at the same time. My thoughts are very fragmented. I might be doing the dishes, but I am thinking about a story. I might be working on a story, but I’m thinking about how the dishes need to be done. I’m trying to rein all that in and learn to be at least conscious of when it is good to let my mind wander and when it is good to be fully in the moment.

(It is probably worthwhile to note that while writing this post I looked up three things on google, adjusted my WordPress “publicize” settings and did a search for something on ifttt… So, yes, I have a lot of work to do in this area.)

Do you have any “mindful” tips to share?

The Cake Boss

I’m up earlier than early this morning with a sick child, and I didn’t feel like writing my usual existential crisis blog post. So here’s a short story I recently did for my writing group. First time writing in first person, present. Give me some feedback in the comments.

 

The Cake Boss

I tap my fingers on the counter, holding the phone six inches away from my ear as the owner drones on without needing any help from me. She may be a terrific baker, but she doesn’t understand anything about my process. My cakes are “to die for.” At least, that’s what the customers say. The crème au beurre is perfection. The filling defies gravity. So delicate, yet holding up an impossible number of layers. My cakes are already in demand at every wedding and exclusive party in the city, though I’ve only been working here three months. There’s a waiting list a year ahead. Not that I plan to fill all those orders. That’s why she’s so desperate. Somehow she senses I’m not going to be here long.

She has tried to entice me to give up my secrets, but she knows that if she presses me, I’ll just quit. I’m not trying to steal her glory. This is a side gig. It has helped me get where I need to be. But I still take pride in my work. I can’t do anything halfway.

She’s still talking. She sounds smug. She won’t find the secrets in the recipe cards she stole. Those are just mundane recipes for ordinary chefs, and I am no ordinary pâtissier. The important secrets are in my head.

Those secrets make the difference to the serious clients. Like the one I worked on this morning. The Cake of Immaculate Technique is still waiting in the back of the cooler, inside an empty bucket, where I left it before going to lunch. This is different than my “to die for” cakes. She couldn’t even fathom the feat I accomplished with this one. It’s hidden, because this is a side job. Cash. A whole lot of cash, to be clear, and the owner most definitely isn’t getting a cut. 

I think I’ve missed something in the conversation. I bring the phone back to my ear and ask her to repeat herself. Impossible! She is telling me she knows about the cake in the bucket – no – she has the cake! She came and got it while I was at lunch. Damn it! 

They’ll be here any minute. The party is tonight. I don’t have time to make another! Of course I won’t get paid if the job isn’t done, but the money is the last thing I care about right now. My reputation will be completely ruined. I’ll be ruined. Everything is crashing down around me, but she’s still talking. Oh. Her. Right, I keep forgetting about her, as the constant drone of her voice is easy to tune out. She is saying that she has poured a glass of wine and is going to spend all afternoon with my cake. She’s already had a few bites and she’s close to figuring out the secret of my impossible filling. Then she coughs. Just a small sound, but I know she’s out of words for good, so I hang up the phone.

Maybe the ambassador would be tempted by a perfect slice of my perfect cake, and I can still salvage my career.

Not A Morning Person

I have been waking up at 5am lately. 

And by “waking up,” I mean, setting my alarm and dragging myself out of bed before I have any actual reason to wake up. No, I don’t have to go to work. I have nowhere I need to be. I sit, I drink coffee, I pull out my journal or my laptop, I meditate, I schedule, I pray, I write, I draw.

Maybe this is a normal thing for you, but it is definitely not for me. I have had the limiting belief all my life that “I am not a morning person.” Which means – I don’t even try. But lately I have been realizing that 5am is the best and only true window of time in my day that I can be mentally productive. Two of three kids wake up on their own around 6, which means I have never even tried to wake up before them. I hate 6am. The only thing worse than 6am is 5am. So, for the last decade, I have worked at night, when I am fully awake. But after a long day of going in so many directions, I may be creative, but I am also completely unfocused.

Michael Hyatt calls a limiting belief “a misunderstanding of the present that shortchanges our future.” When I teach art – I hear these all the time. “I’m not good at art.” “I’m not very creative.” “I can’t draw a stick figure.”

We just accept these things about ourselves, and who knows where they come from? A second grade teacher? A parent or sibling? A complete stranger? Maybe we grew up hearing other people talk about their limiting beliefs, so we assumed this was how the world worked.

You identify the things you aren’t good at and it gives you an excuse not to try. 

I could write about the other limiting beliefs I have had – “I’m bad with names.” “I can’t do math in my head.” – and tell you how I have knocked those out, but this is an art blog so I’ll stick to things vaguely relevant. Suffice it to say, I am suddenly challenging everything I thought I knew about myself.

At 5am in the morning.

Giving Thanks

October 20, 2013 – from the “October Game” Challenge. Pen & Watercolor

Today is Thanksgiving, and as I’m up super-early and the house is quiet, I am reflecting on all the things I have to be thankful for. Of course, I will be thankful for all the materially good things in our life as we sit down to a typical American Thanksgiving spread – complete with a deep fried turkey. I will be thankful for friendship, from those at my table to those I have never met in person. I will be thankful for our health and well-being (if there are no complications from the aforementioned deep fryer.) All of the usual thanksiness.

But this year, what I am most thankful for is the abundance of opportunities I have to grow. I have a chance every day to be a slightly better version of myself. I am constantly challenged by my children and Phillip to reevaluate who I am, what I really believe, and how I make decisions.

And I am thankful that the Creator of all creativity has given me the ability to see something new about myself or the world around me every single day. There is something to learn, each day, to make my life and the lives around me better. To teach something. To make better art. To tell better stories. To see past my limitations and find new creative challenges. Life is good.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Back to the Literal Drawing Board

I’ve already mentioned going back to the drawing board with the graphic novel I have been working on & posting. So, here’s the plan:

In order to get to the right place with this story I am writing it out in brief prose to get a solid feel for how I wanted the story to come across. (I had previously been working from a script, but I am feeling like some of my ideas weren’t as fleshed out as they could be.) I will show the storyboards for each chapter, and maybe some of the final art that worked/didn’t work in the episodes I completed. Then, it’s new storyboards that hopefully reflect good pacing and better communication of the story. I am posting this all here on the website in the hopes that I’ll get some feedback along the way – good/bad/ugly. I’ll try to organize the info so the story can be looked at/read in a more cohesive way than blog posts. This whole process is new – and a chance for me to learn what works to tell a story visually. Please leave comments & feedback!

My Creative Hair

People often express envy of my hair. But they don’t understand the chaos that comes with a curly mop of hair.

(There’s a point to this. Stick with me.)

Many people have hair that responds to the environment in a small range of fairly predictable ways. Curly hair does not live by such constraints. Curly hair has a wide range of possibilities within any given set of conditions. And it doesn’t have to respond in just one way. It is creative. It can choose to respond in multiple ways simultaneously. Straight, wavy, frizzy, fuzzy, spiral curls – all can coexist in an inexhaustible number of combinations. It is chaos. The more I try to tame the chaos, the worse it usually gets. I am not adding structure to my hair with the addition of styling gel – I’m adding more variables. Yes, the results can be beautiful, but also overwhelming.

People often express envy of my creativity. But they don’t understand the chaos that comes with creativity. 

Many people respond to their environments in a small range of fairly predictable ways. Creativity is about removing those constraints. The more creative you are, the more possibilities you can see. You do this by never accepting that options are limited. You may not know the question to ask, but you know there is always the potential to ask a question that will lead you to an answer that is new. An answer that is creative. Ask enough questions and you can arrive at a place where there is an inexhaustible number of possibilities. This is creativity. It is chaos.

I often have no idea what to do with my hair. So it gets pulled back into a pony tail holder. I can’t control it. Also, often, I have no idea what to do with my life. Not because I’m out of ideas, but because I am working with too many ideas. It’s a very different problem, but the results may look the same. I make no progress at all. I do the emotional equivalent of pulling my life into a pony tail holder.

So, if you are striving to be more creative, understand that you are going to have to get comfortable with uncertainty. The more questions you ask, the less sure you may be of the answers. You have to say goodbye to the way other people style their lives. And if you have a creative person in your life who never seems to accomplish anything at all, have a little sympathy. They see the world very differently. Yes, the results can be beautiful, but also overwhelming.

The Art of Me

Seth Godin defines art as “a human act, a generous contribution, something that might not work, and it is intended to change the recipient for the better, often causing a connection to happen.”

I’m struggling right now with what it means for me to be an artist. Sure, I can draw and paint – I can even write. And you may wonder why that isn’t enough. But the real art project is not my latest watercolor effort, or the story I’m working through. The real project is ME.

I am not just looking to improve my drawing skills. I want to fully realize my potential. To make “art” that is true to myself in a way that takes a risk, makes a connection, and contributes something to the world. But it is amazing how hard it is to get out of my own way. I am always conscious of my image. Most people don’t see me as insecure, but I am. I worry about how others may perceive me – whether anything I am doing even makes sense.  It doesn’t matter if it makes perfect sense. I’m still figuring it out. It matters that I am doing it for the right reasons, with the right goal in mind. That goal is to make things that only I can make. To find “me,” as cliche as that sounds. I’m the art.

Dangling From The Trees

 

In the story I’m working on, Leap, I have my main character jumping off a cliff with homemade wings, only to have those wings fall apart, causing her to plummet and get snared in the tree limbs. I love that panel. I know just how she would feel if she were actually conscious at this moment.

Ray Bradbury is famously quoted as saying

“Jump off the cliff and build your wings on the way down.”

I’m a jumper. A wing-builder. But I always end up dangling in the tree limbs wondering what went wrong. I’m in one of those moments right now. I’m hanging there, upside down, blood draining to my head, wondering if I’ll ever really fly. Or if this jump + crash + recovery + repeat process is the sum of my future.

So, here’s my agenda through the end of the year. I am taking Leap back to the literal drawing board, to be sure that a story I feel can be awesome is actually being served by the decisions I am making, and not just being rushed through so I can say it is finished and move on. I will be removing it from Webtoons & Tapas, and posting every part of this process here as soon as I get myself organized.

I may  not turn into a professional wing-builder. I may still jump before knowing what I’m doing, but I am at least going to make an attempt to learn from some of my mistakes.