Every once in a while, I will dig through my old files — whether it be to organize and archive or because I’m feeling a little nostalgic for bygone days. So, I thought it might be fun to start posting some of my particular favorite writings, musings, and drawings.
“Migration” is a creative nonfiction piece I wrote in college. I hope you enjoy it! 🙂
For as long as I can remember, a small family of Mallard ducks has made a home in our backyard. I cannot recall when they first appeared. Before long, however, their presence became a familiar constant and an endless source of childish amusement.
Every fall, my parents place a black vinyl covering over our in-ground pool to protect it from the cold winter elements. Then, every spring, ice that has accumulated over the cover begins to thaw, and the water creates a rudimentary pond. The world slowly comes alive. Thousands of tiny white seeds have separated from the parent trees that stretch their arms over the small hillside, encasing the pool in shade. The seeds create an imitation snow-shower as they float down toward the ground where the makeshift pond collects them. There, they wait for fertilization.
When that happens, I know that it will not be long before the ducks return.
My mother once told me that ducks migrate every year to the place where they were born. “Their eggs must have hatched somewhere nearby,” she said. As a child, I wondered why they would choose to return to such a minuscule body of water when there were ponds and lakes all over that would much better serve their needs. Still, I always had fun watching them float around. Their tiny duck-tails would wag as they dipped their long necks under the water in search for food. Sometimes I would stand outside, my bare feet on the cold brick that ran along the edge of the pool, and throw them pieces of bread. I felt bad that there were no fish in the pond for them to feed on.
Although I didn’t understand their reasons for returning year after year to our tiny suburb residence, I could understand their need. There was, after all, no place as wonderful as my home. To this day, the house itself possesses no extraordinary qualities. It is a simple split-level, muted gray with dark slate shutters and a one-car garage. The backyard was always big enough, I suppose, although the pool and a steep hill took away most of the play space.
As a child, I made up for the lack of space by making use of the small section of property at the front. A large tree that stood in the middle of the grass (at least it always seemed large then) became the spot where my friends and I would tell stories and daydream. In spring and summer, the driveway turned into an artist’s canvas. I became Picasso, Monet, Van Gogh, and Da Vinci. I colored the black concrete with dusty chalk that landed more on my skin and clothes than on the ground.
In the fall, I helped my mother rake leaves under that tree. I would impatiently scoop the leaves up with the rake or my hands and pile them as high as I could. Once finished, I would leap backward into the large mound. Leaves scattered when my body sank into the spongy middle. Foliage crunched beneath my weight. After a moment, I would scramble to my feet and help my mother place the leaves into large, bright orange trash bags with pumpkin faces on them to decorate the yard for fall harvest.
Once the first layer of snow blanketed the ground, I would bundle up in warm winter clothes and race out into the front yard. My clunky boots crunched down and sprayed white powder into the air with each step. I scooped up big chunks into tiny gloved hands. Ages later, cheeks and nose rosy red from the cold, I would finish my biggest and best snowman ever then collapse into the snow and make a snow angel.
Life never got much simpler or happier than those small moments.
We moved into that house sometime before my sixth birthday. Previously, we had lived with my grandparents for a year while my father looked for a job after his retirement from the military. The move affected everyone, but, being a rather nomadic family, we did not fear it as much as some. We had all become fairly numb to the effects, and I was little enough that I didn’t really understand it all, anyway. For me, the move seemed like some sort of adventure.
Being so young, it took me a little while to get used to my new situation. I had learn unfamiliar surroundings. At first, the mysterious creak of the stairs and the strange shadows cast upon my walls in the dark made for a difficult adjustment. For several nights I remember sneaking into my parents’ bedroom, where I curled up on the floor next to their bed with my “Little Mermaid” comforter and pillow. My dog and protector would trail faithfully behind me. He twisted his little reddish brown body into a tight ball behind the crook of my knees and rested his head on my calf. Being in the midst of the people I held most dear blanketed me with a sense of peace. It calmed me and led me into dreamless sleep.
My family never really had a physical representation of home before. No material possession stayed with us long enough to have real value. Thus my attachment for the new house took time, and my earliest memories are of a more expressive nature.
I remember most breathing in the warm, familiar scent of my mother’s baking after a long day at my new school; the feel of her skin as she enveloped me in her arms in greeting. Many nights I curled up on our cozy, worn-in old couch and rested my head on my father’s stomach, tucked under the crook of his arm. There, we watched television and bonded.
For me, as a child, home was not a place. Home was, instead, intimately tied with my family.
As I grew older, things began to change and evolve. I began middle school. My eldest brother left for college. Even my home felt the effects of time: we remodeled the kitchen, I moved into my parents’ old room, and they knocked out a wall to make a larger master bedroom. However, despite the outward differences, my home still held its old familiarity.
The concept of home changed a bit for me, as well. I began to test my wings, wandering ever-so-cautiously out of my nest to test the waters. Soon, I could hardly recall a time when the outside community was not a part of me.
Many hot summer days I walked with my friends to Kerber’s, a family-owned farm about a mile from my house. It was a large farm with a small convenience store at the front. Small picnic tables lined the outside, under an awning. A small bell chimed each time we opened the door, and, change in hand, stepped up to the counter to buy homemade ice cream. The trek back home was through winding streets and random backyards. The sun shone high overhead and warmed my skin. I can still taste the rich, creamy flavor of mint ice cream and chocolate-chips melting on my tongue. Those types of memories tend to stick.
Despite my desire to explore, the comfort I found within my home, and my room especially—could not be matched by any outside source. Hundreds of different images — artwork, posters, even stickers — covered so much space that most of the peach-colored walls fell invisible to the eye. The furniture left much to be desired, at least until I got a new bed in high school.
I remember the day my parents bought it for me in celebration of my move into their old room. I felt like a queen with a bed to match. To solidify the illusion, I purchased netted fabric to drape along the bed’s four posters, adding a bit of fantastical flair. That day marked the beginning of my transition into womanhood. My room grew from being just a space to being an extension of me, an explosion of color, of ideas, and of passion.
My room also became my sanctuary. I can remember times when I used my room as an escape from the outside world, and I would lock myself inside and pretend that I was someone else. Or, when sad, I would grab hold of my favorite stuffed animal, a large white polar bear. I called him Barnaby. Barnaby and I would curl up on my bed and I would sob into his soft fur over some petty fight between my friends and I, or an argument I had just incurred from my mother. Rusty never wanted to be left out. He also curled up with me and licked my face as if to tell me that he was here, and I was safe. And of course, I was safe. I was home. That was all that truly mattered.
Despite my increasing need to assert my independence, I managed to maintain a strong tie with my family and home all through high school and into college. It was not until I transferred from my hometown college to go to school over an hour away that I began to truly assert my independence. I began to think of myself as an extension of my home, and no longer part of the framework.
In the beginning, I found it difficult to detach myself from that which I knew and felt comfortable with. I drove an hour each way to be at home every weekend; sometimes, several times in a week. I just needed to breathe in the scent of my father’s cologne, or feel the warmth in our kitchen envelop me as I helped my mother cook dinner. I called my parents once a day, just so that I could hear the sound of their voices. I missed my bed, my room. I even couldn’t wait until I could throw my arms around Rusty’s furry neck and hold him tight.
Slowly, though, my homeward trips became less and less frequent. I became involved in groups on campus. I made new friends. I threw myself into my art and literature. I fell in love. My attention focused on looking toward the future rather than clinging to the past. The transition did not occur without some growing pains, but I survived. I am thankful for all that my home, and my family, has given me over the years, but I don’t regret the move forward. I understand now that even the tiniest of ducklings has to one day leave the nest.
I consider myself luckier than my two brothers in that I spent much of my life in that house. Mine is an interesting position, to understand what it means both to grow up in one location and to grasp the deeper, more intangible interpretation of the word “home”. For me, the meaning is interchangeable. Home can be anywhere as long as I am with the people I love. However, no matter where I go, what situations I am in, I know that, like that little family of ducks, I can return to the place of my childhood, the physical home I have come to love.
I know that it will always be there, full of old memories and new. For me, there is no greater comfort.
When it comes to art, I never really had any other option. It chose me. From my very first breath, it grabbed hold, wove itself into the very fiber of my being. As soon as I could hold a crayon in my chubby little grasp, I have been drawing.
Yes, art chose me. But I chose illustration.
My childhood gave me the chance to dream of all sorts of different careers. A nurse (that didn’t last long), a musician, an animator. Finally, in college, I settled on a degree in Studio Art, with a focus in graphic design. I enjoyed the way design allowed me to use my art as a way to communicate and draw people in. Graphic design allowed me to move into a full-time career of development (a bit of a jump away from the art field, I know, but I have mentioned I am also a huge geek!) — but always, my passion has been to illustrate.
Why picture books?
Simply, I love children. Growing up, I was always the child who mothered the others in her class. I often played the mom every time we dressed up. Later, I stayed behind to assist with children’s church when the rest of my friends moved up to youth group. In youth group, I stayed behind to become a youth leader. During college, I worked at my church’s preschool center, when led me to an art teacher position at a preschool for a year on the east coast.
So, for me, marrying art and my love for children seemed natural. Not only do I love art, but I love telling stories (both with words and with pictures). Illustration always seemed the have that perfect combination.
No matter what I choose as my career, no matter what path life takes me down, I know in my heart I will always be an artist.
When reading a story, I easily slip into the main character’s shoes. Every emotion, every experience, I feel as if my own. When they cry, I cry. When they feel love or joy, my heart nearly bursts (okay, not really, but I swear it feels like it sometimes!). I enjoy a well-written plot as much as the next book lover, but well-written characters… they are the substance and life of any piece of literature.
(Yes, I am one of those readers that have book crushes. C’mon. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice? Are you kidding me? *swoon*)
Writing a story is really no different. The art of creating a character, of fleshing out every tiny detail that makes a well-rounded, three-dimensional protagonist or antagonist — that’s what I love best. And, it’s one of THE most important steps! (And you should listen to me, because I am smart, and I know all.)
The best characters, to me, are multi-faceted and compelling. They have depth. They act unpredictably and keep us guessing at each page turn. Take a moment and think about a character, your favorite character in all of characterdom (is that a word? No? Well, it is now!). Now think about all the things you love above that character.
Done? Okay. So, if you took a moment to think about it, I bet you’ll have noticed just how complex that character is. When you flesh out a character, they become more real. Otherwise, they turn into an archetype, or a cartoon version of themselves. They don’t seem real. And if they don’t seem real, readers probably won’t relate to them.
The thing is, writing a multi-dimensional character isn’t as hard as it sounds. Many times a character comes to me before I have even an inkling of a story. They speak to me and all I have to do is put pen to paper – they do all the work. Other times require a bit more… diligence on my part, but as long as I’m not staring at a blank page, the pieces start to come together without too much thought.
So, to avoid the dreaded blank-page fear that many of us creative types harbor, I like to write up a character profile (I’m a geek like that. I like lists and things.) At the very MINIMUM I will jot down the following:
Brief history / back story
To help my fellow writers (or artists, because a character profile can be a just as great a tool for drawing a series or illustrating a story!), I am offering a character profile sheet for download.
This piece was done as a recent wedding present. I thought it would be perfect for this week’s Illustration Friday prompt, which is “Party.” I’d definitely say they are having a little party — especially the lone woman dancing. 😉
Illustration Friday: Party. A woman dances on the bar, smiling and in her own little world, while a man nearby playfully hits on two Russian women.
(Just don’t tell him I say so – I’ll deny everything.)
Seriously though, I can’t really imagine how someone so left-brained, so… logical can put up with the whirlwind that is my existence. We have this little joke that the inside of his head is a tiny Hitler screaming at everyone in German. (I’ve been told my sense of humor is rather dark. I apologize in advance.)
In turn, he quips that I am the butterfly girl from Blind Melon’s “No Rain” music video, dancing aimlessly through a field of wildflowers. If you have no idea what that music video is (do they still do music videos?), then I am happy to present, for your viewing pleasure, “No Rain” by Blind Melon. You’re welcome.
(Random side note – that girl does look remarkably like me as a child.)
So, back to the joys of living with a creative, right-brained, artistic individual (that is to say: me, individually. I make no claims that all other artists are exactly like me. That would be weird.).
How accurate is my Dear Husband (DH) on his assessment of me? Let me count the ways:
A compilation of my husband and my various alter-egos.
My DH will often (daily) find me standing in the middle of the room with a vacant look on my face, lost in my own thoughts. (And forever frustrated that I wonder why I am always running late).
No day ends without the question, “Have you seen my phone?” being asked (out loud, by me, in intense frustration) at least hourly. I have once left my phone in between the top lip of our freezer drawer and the bottom lip of the refrigerator door. (There is photographic evidence.)
I will begin conversations in my head, continue them out loud, and expect DH to follow along. Usually, I get a blank have-you-lost-your-mind stare.
I take forever to get to the point of a story. I blame creative writing classes. (Backstory, people!)
My moods change without notice, and often.
Too many fragmented, unfinished thoughts run through my head before I jump to the next ones. This makes me a bit scatterbrained.
I am insanely stubborn. To the point of obsession.
I am selectively OCD. Things visually can drive me crazy, but I will “walk over a pile of dirty laundry to fix a blind that is one centimeter off.” (DH’s words)
I cry at least once at every Disney movie. Ever.
(Have I mentioned I’m emotional?)
I love naps.
Shiny objects distract me.
(Like, really emotional.)
I overthink everything. No lie. I will stare at something I’ve created until I hate it.
I am passionate. (Another word for emotional.)
Most things I do are spontaneous scattered rather than goal-oriented.
(And, yikes, that’s only a quick snapshot! )
What do you think – is this list fairly accurate of a creative individual? Feel free to add any other “artistic” descriptions in the comments below!
Probably a strange thing for an artist to claim, to want to lack the ability to see colors correctly. I do not mean this in the literal sense. To be color-blind has two different connotations and I can see color just fine. I have no desire to lose that ability.
But, I do want to be color blind.
adjective | col·or–blind | \-ˌblīnd\ : unable to see the difference between certain colors : treating people of different skin colors equally
I cannot in good conscience say that I am truly color-blind, as much as I would like to. Prejudice runs rampant in our society — whether it be toward race, socioeconomic status, sexuality, religion… the list goes on and on. No one person is truly color-blind. We all judge (and have been judged by) others.
We can easily say that we are accepting of others, but it is much more difficult to act upon in a world where opinions are given more freely than any other time in history (thanks to the internet and social media). Behind the anonymity of a computer screen, we become the world’s biggest critics. We condemn. We spew words of hatred, words meant to divide and tear down. We fear what we do not understand, and fear leads to hatred. Hatred leads to violence and pain.
In light of all of the horrible acts that are being committed in the world today (the Orlando shooting of the Pulse nightclub, police-on-civilian brutality, civilian-on-police brutality, ISIS attacks across the globe), I feel compelled to look inward. I like to think I am a good person. I give to charity. I feel empathy toward those who are suffering. But, I can do more. I can be better. I can do my part to end the cycle.
Because, when does it end? Where does it stop? Who will be the ones to say: enough is enough?
Enough with hatred.
Enough with blame.
Enough with division.
It stops when we quit feeding the monster. Focus instead on love, acceptance, and compassion. Love your neighbor. Three small words. One powerful and unyielding command.
It does NOT state: Love your neighbor IF…
Love your neighbor IF he makes as much money as you.
Love your neighbor IF she has the same skin color.
Love your neighbor IF his love is heterosexual.
Love your neighbor IF her beliefs are the same as yours.
It simply states:
No exceptions. No excuses.
Now is the time to act. Stop feeding the hatred. Stop feeding this sense of “me vs. them.” We are all in this together. We are all on this planet together. We are all striving to make this world a better place for our children, and our children’s children.
We all have those moments when inspiration disappears into a black hole of drudgery. “I’ve got writer’s block,” we say. Or, “My muse has left me!”
Whatever we may call it, the dry spell that comes every so often in every creative’s life is nothing to laugh about. For many of us, the act of creating is akin to the act of breathing. It is vital to our survival.
The inevitable always happens. When it does, what can we do to keep the creative oxygen flowing? I have compiled a list of tricks that I have found over the years to keep me creating, even when I have no creativity left. (Most of these will be geared more toward visual art, but almost all of them can be interchangeable to different types of creative avenues).
Keep an ideas journal. Recently, I have started jotting down ideas as they come to me into a sort of scratch-pad journal. This is great for a couple of reasons: A) I don’t forget ideas that I have (because, let’s face it, I’m a total scatterbrain); and B) I can reference those ideas during times when I can’t think of a good idea to save my life.
Look at art/writing prompts. Illustration Friday is a wonderful resource for artists and illustrators! Each Friday, they post a word, and thousands of artists create something to illustrate that word. There are also many posts on Pinterest for writing and art prompts. You can do a search, or follow me to see things I’ve pinned already.
Read abook. Research a particular subject matter. Start reading through books of a similar genre. Whatever the type, just read! I often get ideas in the middle of reading a really good story. And, you could take it a step further and expand on the type of entertainment. Movies, TV, plays, concerts — all of these are great avenues to foster creativity.
Immerse yourself in learning something new. Do you prefer writing fiction? Try your hand at poetry. Do you draw people really well? Try drawing animals or machines. Take a class. Learn a new technique or medium. The opportunities are endless!
Change your location. Even if inspiration has not struck, the simple act of stepping outside of familiar settings with a sketchpad in hand can be beneficial. There is never a shortage of things to draw, both inside and outside.
Look at things from a different perspective. I mean this literally and figuratively. Even if you have drawn it a thousand times before…draw it again! Try a different view. Use different colors. Try different times of day. I guarantee you will learn something new every time.
Learn from others. “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” (Charles Caleb Colton.) So, go out and imitate! Write fan fiction. Sketch some of your favorite characters. Watch biographies of your mentors. Not everything you create has to be 100% absolutely unique (and there’s a pretty good chance it’s not, anyway. Only five plots and all that jazz). The important thing is to make it yours.
Try philosophy. Sort of. I just mean, ask questions. Hard questions. Make yourself think. Things like, “What would happen if I___?” or “What does it mean to___?” Often just asking questions opens up a whole new world full of possibilities.
Listen to music. There have been so many times that I will be staring at a blank page in horror, with no earthly idea how to manifest something from nothing. Those times, I often turn to music. Whatever mood I am trying to convey, that is the genre I choose. It usually doesn’t take long for things to take shape in my mind once the music starts flowing.
Take a mini break from life. I will be the first to admit that stress stifles creativity. Sometimes, in order to break through a dry spell, we must get away from the things that cause us stress. Whether a stay-cation, vacation, excavation (okay, maybe not that), do something you enjoy and leave work at work.
“We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time.”
Those are my favorite things to try when I am struggling to find inspiration. I would love to hear your thoughts! What sort of things to you do to tap into your creativity?
I came across these while looking through old files. While the comic quickly fell into the mythical land of unfinished projects, I figure they ones I completed are still cute enough to pass along on here. 😉
There are times when an idea plants itself in my head, takes root, and refuses to fade.
(Usually those times happen late at night, just when I am trying to fall asleep.)
Last night, I had one of those ideas. Having earlier finished a new book, one particular scene caught my fancy and it wouldn’t let go. So, being the obsessive-compulsive that I am, (very) early this morning I took pencil to paper and sketched out the basic architecture. Still it remained. I then blocked in the highlights and shadows. Then, color.
Hours later, I finished the sketch to my (not-really, but I needed sleep) satisfaction.
It isn’t often that a story will do that to me. Take hold of my thoughts so obsessively that I can think of nothing else until the idea becomes a tangible manifestation. Since this one had that effect, I thought I would write up a quick review, because if you like fantasy, especially that takes place around the turn of the 19th century, I think you’ll really love this book.
First, the scene I depicted (below) is a small one where Matthew Glass removes India Steele’s coat for her. A simple gesture, but the whole moment is wrought with romantic tension and I loved the chemistry they shared. So much so that I had to sketch it.
Matthew Glass assists India Steele in removing her coat.
Now, for my (brief) review:
India Steele is desperate. Her father is dead, her fiancé took her inheritance, and no one will employ her, despite years working for her watchmaker father. Indeed, the other London watchmakers seem frightened of her. Alone, poor, and at the end of her tether, India takes employment with the only person who’ll accept her – an enigmatic and mysterious man from America. A man who possesses a strange watch that rejuvenates him when he’s ill.
Matthew Glass must find a particular watchmaker, but he won’t tell India why any old one won’t do. Nor will he tell her what he does back home, and how he can afford to stay in a house in one of London’s best streets. So when she reads about an American outlaw known as the Dark Rider arriving in England, she suspects Mr. Glass is the fugitive. When danger comes to their door, she’s certain of it. But if she notifies the authorities, she’ll find herself unemployed and homeless again – and she will have betrayed the man who saved her life.
This story has everything I look for in a quality, entertaining piece of fiction. 1) A strong female lead, 2) a dark and mysterious male character (I admit, they are my weakness), 3) eloquent writing, and 4) lots of quirky humor and banter.
It kept my attention and while the story unfolds at a leisurely pace, I did not find it overly sluggish or at all boring. There was just enough mystery to keep me turning the pages. The characters are well written (although the villain aspect was just a tad one-dimensional for my tastes).
I will be the first to admit: when it comes to vacations, I am a planning machine. There is something magical about seeing all the little details of our trip… planning makes it even more real. But, when it comes to characters… the process is a bit daunting. I never could figure out why, until I realized that the act of staring at a blank sheet of paper scares me. My mind goes blank.
Once I figured that out – Eureka! A character expression sheet was born! Below you can see an example of expressions I created to help me come up with the finished illustration to the right.
I recently came across a wonderful, (extremely!) in-depth article on this subject: “Human Anatomy Fundamentals:Mastering Facial Expressions” by Joumana Medlej. At one point, the author discusses different cues used by performers when conveying an emotion. They use different tones of speech and exaggerate body movements while “an illustration needs to make up for real-life clues that are not present on paper.”
She then continues to break down a litany of different facial expressions and the subtle differences in features that make up these emotions. It’s a brilliantly written how-to article and I highly recommend it.
While I think my expression sheet is a great starting off point, in the near future I plan on incorporating many of Ms. Medlej’s tips into a more comprehensive Character Profile document, so be on the lookout! ♥
I had the wonderful opportunity a couple of years back to do an all-day Illustrator’s Intensive in Nashville. We worked with Laurent Linn, Art Director at Simon and Schuster, Emmy-award winning puppet designer for Jim Henson’s Muppet Workshop, and all around great guy (if you haven’t checked out his debut novel, Draw the Line — definitely go take a look!)
The workshop was amazing – I met all sorts of wonderful illustrators with whom I still keep in touch, and I got a lot of very constructive (and positive!) feedback. If you ever have the chance to do something like this, I highly recommend it! I will definitely be getting back into it now that my life is calming down a bit. 🙂
I am a professional artist who specializes in pop art, illustration, and graphic design. My work includes both digital and a mix of traditional wet media. (Check out my art gallery to view my work!) I find inspiration from animation (e.g. Disney and Japanese anime), fantasy, fairy tales, and those magical little moments in everyday life.