Oh My Watercolor! Photos and a NASA-inspired Creative Prompt

Galactic Starry Space

Hello, hello, hello! I hope you’re doing well. Today, I’m happy to share with you part one of a two part project I’m working on. As you may recall, January’s theme for my year-long creative challenge was “Play!” Last night, I tried a new technique I’ve never attempted before–watercolor! A few weeks ago, I wrote a poem about hope and decided to illustrate it. Thanks to my friend and comics professor Ursula Murray Husted, she suggested I do the lettering separately because I’m using cold press paper.

Before I get to my photos, I have a new Creative Prompt for you. It’s all about spppppaaaaaaccccccceeeeeeeee!

Creative Prompt: Using NASA as Inspiration

Today’s prompt is for all you writers out there. Did you know that NASA publishes a photo of the day? Photos are a fantastic way to get your creative juices flowing, because they act as an anchor to generate ideas. Sometimes, they post pictures of moons, astronauts, nebulas–oh my!

Using NASA’s Photo of the Day as inspiration, write about that photo. You could:

  • Tell a science fiction story starring a heroic scientist or astronomer
  • Write a poem about how space is big. Reaaaaaalllly, really big!
  • Describe how you’d live on the surface of a moon
  • Create an alien ship or species that lives on a spaceship
  • Design a want ad for astronauts flying to Mars

Or, if you’re all out of ideas? You could write a fan letter to NASA, instead. I’m sure they’d love to hear how wonderful their scientific exploration and efforts are, and how their photos inspire you!

From Watercolors to Nebulas

Since I wanted to try something new, I thought I’d post some pics to show you how I took my background over the finish line. New is scary–even for me! The first picture is of a background that I knew I was going to add stars to. I chose colors I might see in a nebula, to give the background a little dimension. The color does vary a little bit–I also learned that lighting makes all the difference in the world. Definitely need to keep that in mind for the future!

Step two was to add the stars. I thought about where the stars might be visible, since some gaseous clouds would be thicker in spots than others. To add a little dimension, my first instinct was to add two shooting stars (e.g. comets).

Ehhhh… I wasn’t happy with that second comet, because the perspective felt off to me. I didn’t want to paint over the whole piece, but I didn’t think it worked, either. So, I decided to paint over it and add more black for more contrast. This is what it looks like before I added more stars.

Annnnnnnd, voila! The final version! Believe it or not, this is a picture I took from my iPhone in much better lighting. I’m pumped, because I don’t have to scan it and the photo really brought out the layers of paint I was working with. For part two of this project, I’m going to hand-letter my poem. You’ll see that in a future post!

Creative Prompt: A Time Capsule You’ll Open In Four Years

Wonder Woman Avatar

Today’s creative prompt is inspired by the Presidential Inauguration and, in part, by famous artists and actors like Octavia Butler and Bruce Lee who wrote down the definitive goals they had for their careers. Simply, my idea is to use the words “I will…” and then list what you will do during the next four years.

To turn this into a creative prompt and kick your artistic nature into high gear, create a time capsule for your future self instead. You might write a letter to yourself and seal it away, only to be opened again in four years. You might find a shoebox or some other container and fill it with slips of paper to remind yourself where you are now, what you hope for, and what you think will happen. Or, you might take this as an opportunity to find images and pictures to record for your future self; these are elements that you believe are super important that you will hang on to–no matter what.

Creating a time capsule, either through letter writing or by using your physical space, gives you the gift of time. It removes a small piece of yourself from this moment and helps you visualize yourself in four years. It’s also a way to bring hope and clearly pinpoint what you’re feeling as well, and that can be powerful on multiple levels. Though, if you want to go the traditional route and put artifacts in the capsule, that’s great, too!

The key for this prompt will be to remember where you put the time capsule four years from now. If you’re writing a letter to yourself, I would put it in a sealed envelope and attach it to December in your 2017 wall calendar. Then, I’d continue moving the envelope to December 2018, 19, and 20 until it’s read to be opened. Alternatively, you could go the digital route and use a service like My Time Capsule, instead.

MANW Check-In, Making Art as an Act of Protest, and Two Prompts

Cthulhu Scribe by Drew Pocza

Welcome! Today’s the first weekly check-in for my Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge. Many of my fellow challengers are using the hashtags on Twitter and Facebook (#makeartnotwar2017 #manw2017) and posting works in progress or art they’ve made. As the visibility for this challenge continues to grow, I want to remind you that you can join at any time. There’s no sign up, and the rules are designed to help you stick with it and keep making art.

How are you doing? I don’t know about you, but my creativity is exploding. I feel the enthusiasm and creative energy you all have, and I’m feeding off of it to experiment and channel it into every aspect of my life to focus on doing, doing, doing. I’ve made three pies so far (Ahem. I LOVE pie!), I’ve designed, torn apart, and am restitching a MANW bracelet, I’m neck deep in character creation, and I feel little pops of “Oooo… I could do…” all over the damn place. In other words, I am embracing this month’s theme–PLAY–fully and in every sense of the word.

The last tatters of whatever filter I had are burning away, and what I’m left with is (my Italian/musical friends will understand this) a feeling of “il più forte”. I am loud, and I am getting louder. It is reflected in my prose, it’s mirrored in this blog, and it’s definitely impacting the way I feel. The passion that burns within me wants to come out, and that’s definitely resonating.

I’d love to hear from you, so feel free to post your thoughts in the comments below.

Tracking and Adjusting for Missed Days

To keep track of my challenge efforts, right now I’m using a super simple system to ensure I’m sticking (Hah! Hah!) with this. I picked up some gold star stickers, and for every day I fulfill the challenge I add one to that date on my calendar. The cost is less than $5 for stickers like these, and you can find them at Michael’s, Amazon.com, Staples, Oriental Trading Company, etc. If you can’t pick up stickers (or don’t want to use them), drawing stars or smiley faces in a bright (e.g. non-black) color works just as well. The result? You’ll keep adding stars, hearts, etc. and have a visual, clear picture of the days you’ve made art so far. Awesome, right? So far, so good for me!

Please remember: what you get out of this challenge will be what you put into it. There is NO judgement happening on my end, because for many of you it’s difficult to make art every day. The challenge is here to help you be your best! If you miss a day, try writing down the reason why you missed it. To get back up to speed, take your allotted time and split it in half. Then, figure out what you are giving up: maybe it’s a half an hour of TV or gaming, maybe it’s chatting on Twitter, maybe it’s reading the news. It’s amazing where that time goes, and figuring that out will help you long-term.

Making Art as an Act of Protest

Following the election, I’ve seen a lot of discussions about what it means to make art when the pendulum swings toward extremism or fascist regimes. Regardless of your thoughts on the subject of our current political climate, the idea that there is “one way” to be is incredibly dangerous for many, many reasons. If “man” and “woman” wind up putting a single image in people’s heads, it sets an impossible standard for hundreds of millions of people who don’t live up to that. When impossible standards fall down, that’s when people get hurt because bullies become emboldened. Victims say: “You’re hurting me. I’m me, I can’t be that perfect image. Please don’t do (or say) that again.” A bully says: “I don’t believe you. It’s your fault if you don’t measure up. You’re imagining the pain I caused. You’re weak. You’re making it up for attention. Trust me, I know what’s best for you.” And so on, and so forth. It becomes “us vs. them” because the “us” doesn’t accept that the “them” will step into line and follow their lead no matter what. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as “us”, because there’s no such thing as the ideal or perfect human being.

Because the truth of who we are as individuals is far more complex than an idyllic image, I feel that making art is one way to attest to our true selves and our identities. Your art, whether you intend it to be or not, is a statement. Being present in who you are and sharing your art with the world–even in the face of rejection and hatred or through the vehicle of commercialism–that is an act of defiance. That is you saying: “Here I am. This is the art I made. I hope it makes you laugh, cry, dream, hope, wonder, think differently about me, recognize my humanity, empathize, etc.” How far you draw out that innermost part of yourself in your art, either consciously or unconsciously, is always up to you. Regardless, at the bare minimum, anything you make–from knitted socks to a painting of the statue of liberty crying–shows that you were here.

Lastly, I want to mention that fighting for the right to exist is not a privilege and it’s not exciting to me. It’s necessary. This struggle is not new, and unfortunately artists don’t have the power to stop wars on the battlefield. We do, however, have the ability to affect hearts and minds of survivors and victims, and that is what we’re often called to do in times of spiritual, moral, and physical conflict. Now that a fresh round of conversations about worker’s rights, health care rights, refugee rights, LGBTQA+ rights, and women’s rights are in the public eye again along with talks about ethnocentrism and patriotism, it suddenly feels as if the apathetic masses (a.k.a. the proverbial zombies) are waking up to fight. The reality, however, is that some people have been fighting all along, and this is especially true for people who hail from traditionally marginalized or underrepresented groups.

Creative Prompts: Personify Your Rage & Envision a Futuristic Habitat

What we’re experiencing as artists is a hot mess of feelings stemming from a cultural zeitgeist that many of us cannot ignore. This spirit of the times will influence our art to varying degrees; it could result in characters yelling, a sub-plot about oppression, a bleak landscape or photograph, etc. It could, if we’re not careful, also result in inaction and an unwillingness to make art. Why bother? What power does an artist have? How can we, the small and the unknown, make a difference? For all these reasons and more, this is why I mentioned how important it is to protect the work–especially if you cannot allow anger and fear to seep its way in. By protecting the work, you wind up doing something else: you protect your heart, too.

In light of this, I have two creative prompts for you today that tackle both ends of the emotional spectrum. The first helps those of you who are angry to embrace that feeling, to get it out of your system, and to attest and affirm your emotions.

Creative Prompt: Personify Your Anger

Anger is often viewed as a negative feeling, especially if we allow it to go too far (e.g. Pyrrhic victory), but it is also transformative. Often, anger and rage are attributed to the masculine and the strong; if you’re not the Hulk, for example, you cannot be angry. Anger, however, is a human emotion that every last one of us has the capacity to feel. Our personification of this emotion, is what informs our comfort level with it. It is the fire elemental that dances on a field of flowers turning beauty into ash; it is the phoenix that destroys itself in an endless cycle of destruction and renewal. When we douse the flames, we feel empty, hollow, and full of guilt. And yet, our anger pushed something out of the way so a seed can sprout in its place. That seed, fragile and precious and full of life, could not exist if it weren’t for our anger.

For this prompt, personify your rage and turn it into a character. You could:

  • Draw fan art of Phoenix, Ghost Rider, the Human Torch. Don’t be afraid to gender-bend or play with costumes!
  • Sketch a political cartoon
  • Cross-stitch a phoenix
  • Knit or crochet a dragon
  • Write-up a new character
  • Paint yourself in the heart of a volcano
  • Write a heavy metal/industrial song

What does your rage look like? For me, that personification turned into a modern version of the Greek Furies. I developed internet furies who survive off of ‘net rage for Gods, Memes, and Monsters to channel my feelings into monsters. Yours could be completely different. It could be a terrifying beast, a mutant, or a force of nature. By personifying it, you’ll identify what your anger looks like and have a visual of this personal aspect of yourself.

For those of you who aren’t feeling angry right now, my second creative prompt is to create art that taps into your hope and forces you to imagine a better future.

Creative Prompt: Envision an Ideal Habitat

Post-apocalyptic and dystopian futures are all too common when the cultural zeitgeist carries doom and gloom, and that can influence the stories we tell. I suspect that the creation and demand for horror, dark science fiction, post-apoc, etc. will begin to swell again, because dark futures are a means of exploring our deepest fears to show us how we can survive. For others, especially myself, the exact opposite is true: we need messages of hope to understand that a brighter, better future is possible.

This prompt explores your vision, and draws upon your hope. Even if you have just a tiny bit of it, as long as you have the desire to tap into that positive emotion, this prompt could be a lot of fun for you.

To envision a futuristic habitat, think about what an ideal home might look like in five hundred years. Then, use your talent to bring that vision forth. Here’s some suggestions! You might:

  • Design a Rube-Goldberg house
  • Use LegosTM to build a futuristic space habitat
  • Be inspired by NASA’s work and create a deep space habitat
  • Pick your favorite flower or vegetable and use that as the inspiration for a totally green, non-synthetic home.
  • Choose your favorite animal. Instead of a habitat for humans, what would a futuristic home look like for them?
  • Challenge yourself by writing a few restrictions down before you start. For example, you might note that your habitat has to be completely self-sustaining, made only of synthetic, recycled, or organic materials, or has a low manufacturing cost.

Whether you use whimsy or utility, designing a futuristic habitat forces you to reach outside of yourself and place your faith in a better tomorrow. It still utilizes your emotions, but in a different way to problem solve and create a pie-in-the-sky scenario.

That’s it for today, dear readers. Don’t forget to check in if you’re taking this challenge!

    Mood: Out of f*cks
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Four cups of coffee.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Pissed I haven’t gotten to the gym.
    In My Ears: “Let It Go” by Idina Menzel for Frozen
    Game Last Played: Dragon Age: Inquisition
    Book Last Read: Research materials for work.
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
    Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge and Rules
    Latest Releases: Read my end-of-the-year list of releases for an overview of what I’ve put out for 2016. Check out Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling and, if you like it, consider leaving a review.
    Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update.

Make Art Not War With Me In 2017 (Part One)

Back when Bush, Jr. was in office, I remember thinking to myself that his presidency would solidify the shape of the future. Either we were going to figure out how to stop the divisiveness that was forming between the two major parties, or eventually that divide would become a chasm they couldn’t cross without a common enemy. I don’t know whether or not I’m right. When it comes to politics, I think about patterns as opposed to saying one President or another is totally to blame. My concern has always been about bi-partisanship, because people aren’t as reductive as we think they are. We’re complicated. Can our politicians set aside their differences and come to the table to attend to the needs of governance? And, perhaps more importantly, why have we given in to extremist or fringe ideologies? What is the solution when people are reduced to sides, and you’re either for or against one another?

I think about what happened when Walker took office and began attacking the Wisconsin unions; people were so angry that they started to sing the Star Spangled Banner. Afterwards, I witnessed how yellow journalism had to paint a clearly one-sided war against Unions as having “two, equally-numbered sides.” The subtext for attacking the unions was politically-motivated, because unions tend to donate to Democratic campaigns, and that was a blip in the larger conversation. Anyway, 100,000 protesters against the governor’s policies, and a handful of opposing protesters bused in–both filmed as having equal weight and numbers. Even then, it took six-to-eight weeks for anyone to pick up on what was happening, and by then it was too late. The idea that this was an organized, violent protest began circulating. The truth, was that so many people organically came to protest, that they needed to be organized. Unions were “dirty thugs” and “fat cats”. Teachers, firemen, machinists, state workers and, much later, police officers became the bad guys. And, because they became “the” bad guys, you couldn’t walk anywhere without being impacted by the us vs. them mentality. You were either for or against your neighbors, co-workers, friends, family, and everyone else you interacted with.

Emotionally, it was very trying for a lot of people. There was no escaping it. On the ground we were also experiencing one thing, and the media and politicians who were afraid of people speaking up were depicting another. I don’t blame the media for what happened, though. Part of this, was what I feel is a technical issue which is the same problem that has facilitated fake news. When telling a story, which is what all articles are, appealing to people’s emotions is the best way to get eyeballs on the page. Instead of the news being delivered to a rapt audience via a newspaper in the morning or at night, or via the nightly news at a specific time, we have 24-7 news which is not sustainable. So, news that affects people on a local level gets stretched out ad infinitum, because the outlets have to stay in business somehow. Now, however, now that journalists are needed again and advertorials, fake news, and what “sounds” good is valued over facts… Well, you can see how people can get easily confused or frustrated, especially when they’re living and feeling the effects of what’s happening on the ground. Even then, the emotions generated by the news aren’t within the full spectrum, because outrage is more shareable than hearing how people are hurting–just look at what’s happening in North Dakota and Flint, Michigan. But, outrage doesn’t offer solutions and eventually people get tired of hearing about a situation, which allows more harm to happen.

Fast Forward to the Present

I cannot imagine what a Trump presidency will be like, and I’m not politically-savvy enough to know what the long-term effects will be either. I suspect there will be a lot of fighting, misinformation, and us vs. them on a national scale and, if my dreams are any indication that a battle is coming? A McCarthy-esque battle is coming for the soul of this country that will be felt in every city, town, and suburb and may have global repercussions. People are already getting hurt, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, but much worse–there are a fair number of folks who don’t believe that crimes of hate are on the rise.

Worse, the traits that used to be associated with being a good American–empathy, compassion, helping the poor–seem to be regulated now to “bleeding heart lefties”. That leaves me speechless, that the very best of what it means to be human is regulated to a political ideology. If you’re a good person, you’re frowned upon for being weak. Being decent is no longer a goal to shoot for, it’s something to stomp on, and I don’t know why.

So what can I do? I have a teeny tiny amount of fame, friends I don’t see often enough, a small but growing readership, and a lot of peers that are struggling right alongside with me. I’m your average jane schmo artist with a big mouth, a big heart, and a lust for making art and reveling in the joy and resulting conversations. That’s what I know how to do, but I also know something else. I know what my life experiences have taught me, and I know what kind of a person I could have been if I wasn’t open to learning. I know a lot about the industry (enough to make me dangerous), and help where I can, when I can.

Unfortunately, I can’t fix what’s coming. I’m not a politician. I’m not loaded. I’m not powerful. And, I don’t want to be “known” for my politics, anyway. What I can do, is make art. I believe that a story can change the world. The problem is, no one knows which one that will be–which is why more stories will always need to be told.

What does this mean for 2017? I’m creating a Make Art Not War Challenge for myself, to push the boundaries of what I normally do. I’ll post the specific details in a follow-up post, but more than that… I want you to consider taking this challenge (or something like it) with me. Hobbyist, part-time artist, full-time artist, whatever! Art is needed now, more than ever, because this is how we can remind each other of all the complexities and depths of emotions that we share as human beings.

    Mood: Hump Day Redux
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: There’s no bottom to this coffee pot.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Blargh, blech, blargh.
    In My Ears: The wind. (Seriously, it’s strong as hell out there.)
    Game Last Played: Dragon Age: Inquisition
    Book Last Read: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Game of Thrones
    Latest Artistic Project: My sekrit project.
    Latest Releases: Read my end-of-the-year list of releases for an overview of what I’ve put out for 2016.
    Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update.

It’s Inktober (Photos)

Jack The Pumpkin King Avatar

It’s Inktober! Opted to post some of the pieces I’ve been drawing for fun. I’m having a blast playing around with different types of inks and markers when I can. I’d really like to get into Copics, but the Prismacolors work great, too. Crayola markers are warping the paper a little too much. Love the pigment, don’t like the effects on paper they have. Feels great to get back in the habit of drawing again, and I’m having fun with it. <3 vampire-skull




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