A New Munny… Because Art is Awesome

Monkey NinjaPicked up the last Munny from a local shop today. The accessories were fantastic. Hair, a cape, huge axe and a teddy bear. Just in time for Halloween.

Here’s a picture of the one I did before. I had help with the basic lines from my friend Leanne Buckley, which was sorely needed since it was my first one and I was getting used to the materials. Pretty excited about this one because once I get a good design going, I can work on the one I REALLY want to paint… My blank My Little Cthulhu!

I’m really enjoying the opportunities I’ve had to dive into my artwork again. It’s nice to catch a break from words every once in a while and have fun.

Day 74 of 100: Reinforcing Silence

Today’s post will point you to an article on the SFWA.org blog that I feel is extraordinarily relevant to being creative. The author, Leo Babauta, spoke to several writers, actors, musicians, etc. on the value of solitude and what it can do for you. Then, he goes on to explain how participation is also crucial. You can’t have one without the other and, if this social media sabbatical has taught me anything, I am finding that to be the case in my own life.

Here’s a quote from the article:

I’ve reflected on my own creative habits, but decided I’d look at the habits that others consider important to their creativity. I picked a handful of creatives, almost at random — there are so many that picking the best would be impossible, so I just picked some that I admire, who came to mind when I thought of the word “creative”.

This was going to be a list of their creative habits … but in reviewing their lists, and my own habits, I found one that stood out. And it stands out if you review the habits and quotes from great creative people in history. — SOURCE: The Number One Habit of Creative People

There’s several great quotes in the article and it does offer quite a few tips. The Number One Habit of Creative People is definitely worth a read if you have your time.

Fighting the Seriousness of Writing with Silly Stupid

I don’t know about you, but I get serious’d out. Yep, there’s absolutely no other phrase for it. Just out. I was reading some of my old posts the other day, and I was laughing at how oh-so-very-professional they were. To some extent, they had to be due to what was going on at the time, but I’m straying from that and mixing it up a bit.

Just as one example of how I’m getting serious’d out, is when I think about the publishing industry. The only thing that I’ll ever bet money on, is that you never know where an artist — including yourself — will end up. It’s impossible to bet on what will happen in terms of success, because you don’t know. Even then, it’s all relative. Even then.

One of the ways I’m coping with the uncertainty of the industry, is to simply sit back, ignore the news and laugh when I can. I feel there are so many serious discussions, so many things people worry about, it’s not healthy to stress about it so much that it creates writer’s avoidance behavior. The news has no bearing on my work. The only thing that changes for me is my path, and I’m always adapting/shifting/changing/growing. Always. What I don’t lose sight of, however, is the next story.

I was going to offer sage advice, but instead I will offer you two things: an XKCD strip that’s extremely relevant and Sushi Cat for some silly stupid fun! Because really, silly stupid fun is a good remedy for super seriousness.

Sushi Cat is a blast if you haven’t played it. You guide the cat through sushi-filled goodness to ensure he’s got a full belly. Along the way, he falls in love with a stuffed kitty and faces his nemesis: Bacon Dog. There’s the original Sushi Cat, Sushi Cat: Honeymoon and Sushi Cat 2. It is addicting, but the levels move pretty quickly.

By the way, here’s the strip I mentioned. Note the last panel. I defer to XKCD‘s wise, wise words of wisdom which are applicable in any field, for any man, woman or child.

Marie Curie Sage on XKCD WebComic

Ditching the Ego in Favor of the Basics

One of the things I’ve been doing, is nurturing my inner artist. It’s something I haven’t done in a long, long time. Not because I didn’t make room for it, but because I was hung up on something. I was never sure what that was, until a few weeks ago.

My ideas are sophisticated, but I feel like I could never “get there.” I used to be in graphic design, but I’d reach the point where I couldn’t advance, and then I’d stop. Either out of frustration or because something else, something more important came along. Then I’d meet someone, as I often tend to do, who’s very sophisticated in their craft. Either online or off, I get drawn to people whose styles I enjoy. Drew Pocza. Echo Chernik. John Kovalic. Leanne Buckley. Jeff Preston. Liz Danforth. Michael Whelan. Alex Ross. Keith Haring. Mike Mignola.

And the list goes on.

When it comes to my own artwork — whether that be calligraphy or jewelry making or whatever — I’d freeze up because I’d see these very. awesome. people. do very. awesome. things. Only, I could do those things, one day, if I had the time to practice what was already there. What I had already started to do, but abandoned because I wasn’t “good” enough to move forward.

To get around that? I’ve been going back to the basics. I’ve been focusing on technique and learning about new materials as opposed to worrying about this amazing idea for “X” that’s in my head. I’m not selling it or sharing it or doing anything other than worrying about those fundamentals. So far, I’ve started with jewelry making, but I will be expanding out from there. Each technique I learn I’m gradually moving into more advanced ideas to progress from “simple” to “complex.”

Applying This Principle to Writing

This morning, though, it occurred to me that a lot of writers experience the same thing. You have this awesome idea in your head for a novel or whatever, but you’re worried about the execution. You don’t know how to get the words to flow right on the page, so you write halfway through a story and you stop. Or you become the perpetual fan of another author, admiring what they do, because you don’t think you can do the same thing.

The thing is, dear readers, you can. You really, really can do whatever you want — provided you have the patience to learn. While creativity often has roots in natural aptitude, it’s also about having the right mindset and allowing yourself to be creative in a non-judgmental environment. That frame-of-mind requires you to remove all of your objections, all of those people who told you “I can’t” or “You’re dumb” or “You’ll never be…” and focus on the work. Or, as Christine Merrill once told me: protect the work.

Even if you’re not an experienced author, you still have work to nurture, to protect. It may be unfinished work or developing work or learning-how-to work, but it’s still yours. It’s still your baby. If you can’t write a novel right off the bat, don’t beat yourself up. Would you write a symphony if you just learned how to sing? Sure, you could be a prodigy, but most authors aren’t. Like pianists, practice makes perfect.

Instead of making excuses or apologizing for what you can’t do: remove your ego. Remove the idea that just because you can’t do something, means you’re a failure. You are not. Just get that out of your head. Think of yourself as a student and try working on the basics instead. Grammar. Punctuation. Sentence structure. Action scenes. Love scenes. Description. Etc.

And don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t do. Not right now, not when you’re learning. Accepting criticism, dealing with editors/agents/publishers, revising and applying comments to a story is part and parcel to being a writer, but that comes further down the road. For now? Fall in love with the words. After all, if you don’t love to write, then whatever else happens next is meaningless, because in your heart — you’ve already set yourself up to fail. You’ve said: “I can’t do this because I’m not good enough.” Instead, I’m recommending that you say: “I’m new, so I’m allowed to make mistakes. One day, I will tell the story that I want to write, but right now, I’m going to focus on learning how.”

The nice thing about focusing on my artwork, is that I’ll have examples to share with you further down the road. It’s a lot harder to explain that with writing, which is one of the reasons why I highly recommend you pick up Nascence by Tobias Buckell. If you want writing advice, this is the book to get because it does something that most writing advice books don’t — show you his failures on the story level when he first started out. That, dear readers, is invaluable because that is something that’s not easy to teach. That’s something you often have to learn.

On the Voynich Manuscript and Other Ancient Texts

When you write in the realm of horror, dark fantasy and science fiction, you’re often required to read and research different topics for reference. Like many other authors, I’ve poured through copies of ancient texts to get behind the myths and legends, to view them with a critical eye.

Working on Argentum, for example, required a deep dive into researching Alchemy. That field is interesting because there’s a lot of symbolism and allegory there. Formulas were coded into paintings, and there was often a dual-edged meaning embedded in the rituals. Alchemy wasn’t just about transforming one physical medium into another, it was about transforming the self. In many paintings, some of which you can see in this awesome art book from Taschen entitled Alchemy and Mysticism, there are parallels between the birth-death-resurrection cycle prevalent in Christianity and other religions. Indeed, this book correlates a premise using art. Really fine work, here.

As interesting as that may be, it’s important to understand these works in context. What was happening during those time periods? Why would these ancient texts need to be secret? Well, if you think about it, organized religion back then in many parts of the world isn’t like it is now. You could be killed or thrown in prison for your beliefs. Although Alchemy was practiced as a scientific art for hundreds of years, for many it also required varying amounts of secrecy. Remember, the history of Christianity is a turbulent one that affected every corner of social, scientific, religious and political development in certain parts of the world for many, many years. The references to Christianity in the Art and its formulas weren’t always obvious; there were often many artistic and visual references to other things that acted as symbols for the process.

In other words: these texts are important for more than the words written on their pages. I feel they can’t be read with stars in your eyes, though that is what some people tend to do. It’s always been that way, though. The words “ancient” and “magical” have always inspired people, for a promise of power. Just recently, there was a book called The Secret which sold millions of copies worldwide. What was this tome about? The Law of Attraction. Nothing new to see here. Brilliant marketing, though.

Voynich Manuscript

When I was reading up on other texts, I stumbled across the Voynich Manuscript a couple of years ago. Immediately, when I hear about some mysterious and ancient text it raises an alarm for me. I’m pretty grounded, even though I went through a short phase in my late teens where I wasn’t. Reading further, I understand that there’s a lot of theories about this unusual manuscript from the mid-to-late 1400s which many believe originate from Central Europe.

First, it hasn’t been deciphered yet and there are strange illustrations in it. Just as one example of my thought process, there’s discussion about why plumbing (e.g. pipes and whatnot) was used to depict the biology. Some Alchemists used to boil their bodies in hot water and scrub all the hair off to purify themselves. Bathing as a ritual was an important one for many years; people didn’t take daily showers and baths back then like they do today. Bathing is also relevant to a baptism, too. So, the paintings may not be direct representations, but allegorical illustrations drawn to represent something else.

Now, after having looked at the illustrations and having read the theories, I have a few of my own. Let me be very clear on this: my thoughts are purely speculative since I haven’t put the time in nor have I poured over every word. Seeing a book like this makes me wonder not what the book is saying, but why someone would write it in the first place. Since it isn’t a modern hoax, there’s a theory that it was created for the Holy Roman Emperor at the time, who enjoyed rare and unusual books. If this were true, e.g. created for someone’s enjoyment, what would the creator of the book get out of it? Crafting something like this is a time-consuming process, so there would have to be some larger gain behind this or other story.

Instead, I feel this book might have been coded so no one would understand it, perhaps not even the person (or persons) who wrote it. In other words, there is no cipher because it was never written with one in mind. I don’t believe this manuscript is gibberish, either. It could simply have been written to document rituals in order to solidify their meaning in the writer’s mind. What the Voynich Manuscript could be, then, are the ashes of a life-long pursuit of rituals that cannot be replicated by anyone else.

Take, for example, the strong repetition of words. If I wanted to perform a secret ritual (or a series of them) for a life-long goal, routine would be crucial to me to ensure success. (Just reviewing the illustrations by themselves, you can see that the creator(s) of the Voynich Manuscript have some scientific leanings.) But what if I got stuck (e.g. couldn’t come up with a code or cipher purported to be rampant in Alchemical and other mystical texts)? For the sake of sticking to routine, which is crucial to those who have performed Alchemy and other arts like it, then I’d use the same word over and over because I needed to write something there. Here, the words may not be important as the writing itself, unless the repeated word is an anagram or cryptogram. In that case, the author might feel the word was a magical one, and should be repeated like a chant to imbue power into his concentration or ritual. (Abracadabra is just one of many examples of purported “power” words best used in repetition.) Perhaps the author read his words out loud as he was writing them down. For an Alchemist, that act would add another layer of symbolism and ritual to it.

My next step would be to research the time period and location before closely analyzing the manuscript, to see if I could narrow down the culture and atmosphere to help bring relevance to the text. What were the religious attitudes of the 1440s and beyond? What political influences were occurring at the time? What was the lifestyle like? Education? Literacy? Etc.

Sure, these are just my thoughts. And yes, there’s no way I could be certain I’m right. But here, I’m not trying to be accurate beyond a shadow of a doubt. Here, I’ve explored a mystery to show you how my author’s mind works. After all, researching or theorizing about the Voynich Manuscript is not all that dissimilar to thinking about how a character might have written that book, and for what reason, all those centuries ago.

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