June Make Art Not War

Apologize for missing… Well, June’s updates! I have spent most of the month playing catch up on projects, Pokémon Go, and planning for conventions. Say what you will about Pokémon Go; it has been a lot of fun and we’ve been very motivated to go out, get active, and catch ’em all. That said, I have been shipping projects off to the next stage like crazy, which means more time for my own stuff and a slew of releases that’ll come out this year yet.

For today’s post, I want to talk about tips and tricks to help you persist and continue making art by tossing in some examples of what I did this month. Before I get started, I do want to highlight there’s a huge difference between making, promoting, and selling both your art and yourself as an artist. No two business practices are alike, and this is especially true if your primary income does not come from your creations. That’s okay, and that’s incredibly normal. There are dozens of business models to choose from, and what works for you may not work for someone else.

I understand the tendency or urge to compare yourself to other artists, but I often find that can be very damaging to all involved. Interacting with folks online can produce a slightly skewed view, because often artists present the best sides to themselves in order to avoid upsetting or steering fans away. I have mixed feelings about that, because while making art produces a lot of joy we are still human beings who have thoughts and opinions, good days and bad. I feel the only way to get past envy and jealousy, in particular, is to possess the confidence to be yourself and make more art.

After a while, you will find your own voice and way of doing things that won’t be reliant on anyone else’s approval — within reason. Art often has a lot of collaborative components to it, and knowing how to work and interact with other people is just as important as having the raw skill and talent. Learning how to deal with people is definitely its own job, especially in an era where the barrier between fans and creators is non-existent. Regardless, focusing on your art and establishing boundaries between you, other people, and the work is crucial to being persistent, because many pros produce art on a consistent basis in order to remain financially viable. To do that, you have to find the means to light a fire under your own butt. It’s hard, yes, but not impossible.

Okay, I want to walk you through some additional tips to help you persist!

1. Ask Yourself Why You Make Art. Whether you freewrite for half an hour or meditate on this thought for a while, knowing why you make art (outside of any financial obligations) can be a helpful reminder and gentle nudge to keep at it. I would even go so far as to make a series of definitive statements, and then edit them down to one mantra that you’ll make an art project for. I’m going to put this on my list, too! I often come up with a mantra for certain projects I work on, but beyond “bringing people joy” I haven’t thought about the whys and therefores and hows because being an artist is both something I do and who I am.

2. Identify What’s Bothering You and Get Help if Needed. Oh dear, this is a big ’un and a hard tip to personalize for you. So, I’m going to use myself as an example. I had spent quite a bit of time planning my project load for 2017, to make room for Make Art Not War but also my own projects and initiatives. As much as I did not want to admit it, I was overwhelmed and daunted to push forward on organizing. My beads were organized three or four different ways, and before I could inventory everything I needed to finish sorting through what I had. Ugh! Inspired by a dear friend, I decided to get help and invited someone close to me to tackle sorting with me. What would have taken me six months, due to the emotional baggage that comes from cleaning old messes, we did in two days. Now that I have a good headstart, I’ve been moving forward really quickly and even managed to start a bin for Etsy inventory! Huzzah!

3. Embrace a Mindful Quiet. We are bombarded with news, opinions, brand names, and information every day and, after a while, you hit information overload and you need a break. It’s okay to sit and be quiet for a little while, or meditate with an app like Headspace or Insight Timer. You’d be surprised how a little peace and quiet can work wonders for you. I am a musician by nature, and sensitive to sound. But, I’m also a writer and sensitive to words, too, which often translate as music in my head.

4. Be Gentle With Yourself. Say it with me: “It is okay to make a mistake.” You will screw up, and mistakes are normal! Only you can decide how grevious your error was, what steps you might take to rectify it, and who you need to make peace with or apologize to. It sucks, but you can’t affect anyone else’s actions or responses, unless they want to change. Certainly, fixing other people’s mistakes will add more to your plate that you probably don’t need. Being gentle with yourself, though, also relates to doing anything new. When you’re new, give yourself the opportunity to learn, to fail, and to learn from those mistakes. You got this!

5. Do Three Things That Make You Happy. If you’re already being too hard on yourself, analyzing how to move forward can be really taxing. I cannot stress the importance of doing things that make you happy, because you are a complex being with loads of thoughts and feelings, hopes and fears. It’s okay to be sad, to be frustrated with yourself, and take a break for a little while to get relief to move past it. You know yourself the best, but sometimes you need an excuse to be kind to your inner artist.

I’m sure you have other tips and tricks to help yourself keep at it. Good luck! And, more importantly, make some art!

Mood: Caffeinated.
Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: SO MANY
Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Hunting Pokemon
In My Ears: my Classical Aetherium playlist
Game Last Played: Pokémon Go
Book Last Read: Epic Fantasy anthology
Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Harry Potter marathon
Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge and Rules
Latest Releases: In Volo’s Wake for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Unknown Armies Books 1-3, and Kobold Guide to Gamemastering.
Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update. New project update coming when I get time.

An Immeasurable Loss of a Gaming Giant

Celtic Wheel

I don’t know how to talk about the sudden and staggering loss of Stewart Wieck, if only because we started working together after he founded Nocturnal Media on Prince Valiant and Scarred Lands1. Of all the people in the industry, he has been a gentle bug in my ear, continually prompting me to put out my own game. Stew was incredibly kind and thoughtful, the type of person you wanted to work with. I will remember Stew for being enthusiastic about games and, more importantly, the people in it.

You’ll forgive me if I cut this post short, but I feel that whatever else I might say would be insufficient compared to those who knew him longer and better than I did. To better understand this tragedy, Rich Thomas from Onyx Path Publishing has put together a post called Goodbye, My Friend about Stew and their time together at White Wolf and beyond.

1. If you’ve come to this post seeking news about Scarred Lands, please know that this is a difficult time filled with grieving and decisions that have to be made by the family. The parties involved will make additional announcements as soon as they are able to. For my part, I am finishing up the development for Ring of Spiragos as planned, to round out the three adventures.

Mood: Indescribable. We’ve lost far too many in the RPG industry these past few years, and Stew was far too young.
Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Enough that I had a caffeine withdrawal today.
Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Hunting Pokemon
In My Ears: Harry Potter marathon
Game Last Played: Pokemon Go
Book Last Read: Epic Fantasy anthology
Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Hunger Games.
Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge and Rules
Latest Releases: In Volo’s Wake for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Unknown Armies Books 1-3, and Kobold Guide to Gamemastering.
Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update. New project update coming when I get time.

A Moment of Love for The Originals

Vampire Avatar

Apologies for sporadic posts and MANW updates; I’ve been focused on getting stuff done and am back into a general routine. I plan on blogging more regularly next week; July may be a bit sporadic as well, if only because I have two conventions in July. The hustle is real! I really have to focus and shuffle more projects off into the ether, but I’ll be back soon.

Last week, I got caught up on The Originals; I’m now ready to start season 4. It can’t stream fast enough for me.

And now, a moment of love for Elijah.

Mood: You mean it isn’t August?
Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: I LOST COUNT ZOMG.
Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Hunting Pokemon
In My Ears: Cinna
Game Last Played: Pokemon Go
Book Last Read: Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora
Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Hunger Games.
Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge and Rules
Latest Releases: In Volo’s Wake for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Unknown Armies Books 1-3, and Kobold Guide to Gamemastering.
Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update. New project update coming when I get time.

Alternate Rules for Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge

June 2017 Make Art Not War Challenge

When I started this journey, I did so as a means of prioritizing my art over the things I can’t control. As it turns out, there’s a lot I don’t. I can’t control whether or not the U.S. goes to war. I can’t control the uptick in racist, xenophobic, and misogynistic acts. I can’t control so many “big picture” movements and shake-ups, blow-ups and gaffes. The only thing I can, is me–or so I thought. Sometimes, I do get overwhelmed and I’m finding that is very, very common because life doesn’t stop and start with a headline.

How to cope? There’s a prominent idea that, to be successful, you have to shut off all your emotions and be productive as if you were a robot. That has never been the case for me, and I feel dealing with emotional stress isn’t talked about a lot. This is supposed to be the fun job, the glamorous gig we’re lucky to have. Only, the expression of emotion is something fans do/have/expect in response to our work. Now, I am a fan-turned-creator making works for other fans to respond to, which is one of the reasons why I make art. Emotions are part of being human and they are natural after all. Sometimes, we feel things that are so compelling we have to make art and that vehicle, that physical manifestation of our emotions, is how the artist connects to the audience. Other times, we shut down completely due to a thousand tiny bites, those little cuts that chip away at our confidence. Or, in my case, harassment.

Emotions are important to making art. Forgiving yourself for getting sick, falling into a depression, needing a vacation, etc. is so important, because there are many myths about the suffering artist that are works of fiction for a reason. To suffer, to be happy, to be angry or sad…those emotions are part of who you are and they may not necessarily be reflected in your work. You don’t have to suffer to make good art, and anyone who tells you that probably doesn’t realize this mantra causes you harm. Pain can be a catalyst, but it is not the only emotion we draw upon as artists. The beauty of being human is that we deal with our emotions very differently, and that is something no “one-true-wayism” can ever address. However, feel too many emotions and you can get overwhelmed, shut down, and not make any art because you are reacting to your brain weasels. For artists, this is a danger because there are a lot of reasons not to make art in a culture that struggles to define its value.

The flip side to tapping into your emotions is to veer toward routine. Discipline, which was the foundation for my Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge, is important to making art. It matters because making art consistently is the only way to become successful as (or learn how to be) an artist. You cannot sell what you dream about making. You cannot paint a masterpiece if you’re still learning techniques. I know that can be a hard pill to swallow, but making art has to be our core competency and primary focus as artists. However, like emotions, there is a dark side to too much discipline. When you plot, plan, and form routines, you wind up punishing yourself when your actions don’t satisfy your intent. Maybe, you’re the type of writer who now knows you cannot write every day, for example. That’s okay. As I’ve said before, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, because how you make art folds into figuring out your process. Your process doesn’t always impact the end result, provided you keep at it.

For these reasons, I am proposing alternate rules to help you customize this template for your needs. I want to reiterate that my challenge is here to help you feel empowered to make your own choices as an artist. I cannot stand over your shoulder and force you to write; I cannot overpower your personal brain weasels; I cannot give you the secret to making art or being successful as an artist. There is no secret other than to sit down and actually do it. Right now. Not five years ago, not three weeks from now, but today.

With that in mind, here’s the original pledge followed by a customization:

Original My Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge pledge:

  • I pledge to devote one hour a day to my original art.
  • If I don’t feel motivated, I pledge to write down the reasons why I wanted to take this challenge for fifteen minutes or one-to-three pages whichever comes first.
  • I pledge to mark down on the calendar whenever I complete a day’s efforts.
  • As the challenge creator, I pledge to create a weekly accountability post every Wednesday beginning on January 9th. Comments will be open. Hashtag #makeartnotwar2017 #manw2017
  • I pledge to check into social media twice a week for personal use, and once a month with my local community of artists and writers.

Alternate My Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge pledge:

  • I pledge to devote five hours a week to my original art.
  • If I don’t feel motivated, I pledge to explore what is blocking me from making art. I can do this by talking to a peer, writing one-to-three pages, or meditating.
  • I pledge to acknowledge and celebrate the projects I’ve completed for Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge.
  • I pledge to evaluate how I’m doing, by checking in bi-weekly. Hashtag #makeartnotwar2017 #manw2017
  • I pledge to review, refine, and reduce distractions, like my time on social media, that are affecting my ability to make art.

As you can see, the new rules shift the focus slightly to incorporate your feelings. There are other customizations as well, because not everyone has the same schedule or means to support the ability to make art. Sometimes, materials are expensive or the allotted time is shifted to account for a family emergency. That’s extraordinarily common, and often I think we forget that the opportunities we have aren’t what everyone else has, too. Further, customizations like this don’t significantly change the challenge goal, what they do is fine-tune the experience to your needs while avoiding extremes. I have total faith that you will customize these rules based on your lifestyle, to make room for making art when you can. Be kind and give yourself some credit!

Lastly, I want to point out that self-evaluation may yield interesting results for you. You might find out you’re suffering from a mild depression. You might recognize that a change in your job or activity levels are impacting your mental-or-physical health. You might notice that you are more isolated than you’ve been in the past, or the political atmosphere is so charged you don’t realize you’re being triggered by current events. I cannot stress the value of self-care enough, and should you find yourself in this position please do not punish yourself for not making art. Your health is so important, and while making art can be cathartic in many ways it is not a replacement for getting the medical help you need.

Be well, and I hope that you are figuring out the next steps on your journey as an artist.

Mood: Moody like the weather. It’s stormy, it’s sunny, it’s rainy in 20 minutes?
Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: A solid three.
Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Hunting Pokemon
In My Ears: Fish tank and Captain Whinypants snoring.
Game Last Played: Pokemon Go
Book Last Read: Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora
Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: The Originals Season 3.
Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge and Rules
Latest Releases: In Volo’s Wake for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Unknown Armies Books 1-3, and Kobold Guide to Gamemastering.
Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update. New project update coming when I get time.

Enjoy One of My Horror Stories for Free!

“Prey” is one of the older pieces I wrote, and it will probably show up in a personal collection at some point. I tend to look back at my older stuff and wince, but this piece is one that I’m still proud of. “Prey” first won a contest quite a few years ago, then was picked up by and performed on their podcast. (If you prefer to listen to Flash: Prey read by Christina Ellis rather than read it, be sure to click through!)

Anyway, I wanted to offer “Prey” to you here on my website, as my way of saying “Thanks, for reading!” I hope you enjoy the story!


A musky scent drifts lazily on stale, moonlit air. Alara knows this scent—fear—it holds little meaning to her. Her hawk’s eyes narrow as she circles above the cemetery searching for her dinner. Focusing on a small, brown mouse huddled against a piece of stone, Alara dives to strike. The mouse sees her and freezes.

Something hot hisses and sparks, burning her dinner to a blackened crisp. Alara leaps to the night air, squawking in alarm. She lifts higher caught by the smell of pungent, moldy earth and burning candle fat. Faint sounds penetrate the smells; a harsh voice interrupts the monotonous droning. Alara knows the voice—it belongs to her master.

Circling above the voices, Alara’s winged form is thinly veiled by the moonlight’s smoke-filled mist. Syllables turn into well-formed sounds; she knows little of the language of men. Swooping again, her watchful eye catches white, wriggling worms breaking free from the ground before her master. Her body streams through the air, diving for her prey. Clamping down on the worm, she leaps to finish it off, but the thing won’t let go.

Alara spits wriggling flesh out of her beak. A human hand rises from the ground and creeps forward. Her master’s mouth turns foul; blackened sparks of menace fly from his skinny lips. The more he speaks, the faster the unnatural thing turns over well-shoveled earth. Alara looks from her master to the rising form and loudly complains. Nothing here is safe to eat.

Carefully placed candles burn brighter than a midday sun. Shaking her foggy head, she casts off a ravenous glare that bores into her feathers. A naked hand grabs for her wing and misses. Alara lifts gently above her attacker and dives, pecking at it. Fingers pry at her tail feathers, she screams out in pain and flings herself on her master. Instead of saving her, he throws bits of oily words at her, coating her wings. She knows her own scent now—fear. A face appears before her, her master’s face, holding something sharp that glints in the moonlight. Inhuman eyes glow as he pulls back his knife. Alara juts forward, pecking blindly at whatever is in front of her.

Howling in pain, her master stops the flow of menacing words. The candles’ light dims; Alara pecks her master again and again with wings outstretched. He swings the knife at her, his anger thick. Pushing herself off the ground, she attacks his eyes with her talons. Black ooze seeps along the deep grooves in his face. Her master drops the blade and Alara forces herself up to a low hover. She cannot move, or fly, or breathe.

Opening her beak, she gasps for precious air. Black ash swirls around her, stinging her eyes. Somehow, she finds the strength to peck hard, claw harder until she has no master left.

Too exhausted to lift her head, Alara crashes into a deep sleep, dreaming of mice and fish and morning’s light.

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