Wednesday, December 24, 2008

I built a light box!

Well the holidays are upon us, and I realize it's been two weeks since my last post... lots happening here as per usual in December! While my blog has suffered somewhat from this craziness, I'm still working on my various art and craft projects, and also obtaining or practicing the requisite skills needed to improve my online shop - always learning, always learning!

So I decided to build a light box. These are something that pro photographers use, and they can be expensive to buy. If you google "build a light box" you'll get a number of sites with instructions on how to make your own - granted probably not as nice, but for small shops with a limited budget they can do the trick. I ended up spending under $20 total for everything I needed, and last Sunday afternoon I put it together. I don't have pictures of the actual box (my studio is currently doubling as a holding room for Christmas presents and I can hardly walk in there right now, it's a complete disaster), but I figured a few before and after shots of my items are in order.

So, without further ado, here is the before shot of my Ocean Swirls notepad:

And here is the after, using the light box.

Here is the before shot of my second notepad on Etsy:

And the after shot:

Now, I know I have a few photographers that visit here, so let me add that I still have a LOT to learn in regards to taking good pictures. For starters I'd like to add a second lamp to my box, on the side, so I can get brighter frontal shots while still avoiding glare. But looking at these comparisons, I'd say it's an improvement, don't you think?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Latest Project - Mini Notepads!

In my last post I mentioned a project I was working on but didn't elaborate. Now that I finished a couple of them I figured I'd stop by and post a little bit about them! I'm calling them mini notepads, but some refer to these kinds of notepads as "jotters". Basically both terms refer to a smaller size notebook, often portable, in many cases (mine included) having a key ring for attaching to bags, backpacks or purses.

I had a lot of fun making these, and I'll definitely be making more of them. I'm using the covers of rescued hardback books for the covers (the term "rescued" here means snatched from trash bins, or picked up at yard sales.. which is very often one step away from trash bins for books, at least according to most yard sale owners). The front illustration on my mini notepads is an original, signed by me, which means no two will ever be alike. I hand-cut, hand-punch, and hand- everything else these little books, which is a decent amount of work, but I think the amount of effort that goes into any craft does tend to show in the end result. And in the end, so far every book I've made seems to kind of grow into itself, they take on their own little personalities, much like my writing used to do back when I actually wrote stories (sigh).

Plus these are refillable - the paper size is exactly that of a 3x5 card cut in half. And they're durable, made to last, or at least to survive a toddler (as I'm discovering). These are two reasons why my left brain is happy about them - it appeases my practical nature *grin*.

Anyway, enough talking about them! I posted one to Etsy for now - you can check that one out by following the Etsy mini plugin on the upper right corner of my blog. The second one I made for my mother-in-law for Christmas (shh don't tell, those of you that know her). The illustration on the front is called "The Learning Tree" and it was designed specifically for her. Here's a pic of that one:

And lastly, here's a pic of the one I'm "field testing" (lol). I call it "The Flying Commas", which is kind of a personal joke on me - I won't bore you with the story behind that one:

Anyway, I'll be making more of these. I've got two more that I hope to finish up in the next few days. For tonight, though, it's back to my water soluble pencils!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Current Projects

I figured I'd take a few minutes to post pics of some of the projects I'm currently working on. This first one is my first completed project using water soluble graphite... the picture doesn't do it justice and the flash is reflecting off some of the graphite (I'll have to figure out how to take pictures of pencil drawings!), but I love this piece and here's why:

It's called "Zeke Nudges Coffee Bean". If you notice in the lower left corner there's a little finger... well that's my 2 year old son. When I was taking pictures he was being a very big help, and in fact I got some great shots with him, too. In this particular shot he was very concerned that that little coffee bean might not make the picture, being so far away from the rest of the pile, so he kept nudging it closer to the bunch. The memory of that made me smile so I kept the final piece with his little finger included! I think it adds human interest :).

Anyway, water soluble graphite is a very interesting kind of pencil, and I'm definitely going to practice with it some more. I have no experience with watercolor, and there's some strategy involved with mixing these pencils and water to make a good finished piece, so that's where the learning curve comes in.

I'm also procrastinating on my latest graphite piece, the first in my Poker Face series. This is Antonio (gotta figure out how to reduce that flash glare):

I've always liked the "unfinished" look in some of the pieces I've seen from other artists, but whenever I try it mine always come out just looking... well, unfinished. I've still got work to do on him, I've just been lazy about it.

Lastly, I'm working on another project that I'm not going to talk about just yet.. too early. But it's exciting, and I really hope it comes out the way I'm envisioning!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Purist's Artform

So I discovered that I was included in a second treasury (thanks StratusSilver!). The curator's initial comment was that pencil sketch is a purist's artform. I found that to be oddly flattering. I think that pencil artists, particularly those working in graphite, sometimes get overlooked in favor of other more vibrant and colorful mediums. The truth is that I find working with pencil fascinating. It's amazing to me that graphite alone can create such wonderful works of art. Some of the best graphic artists can draw water, or the surface of the eye, or variations of a cat's fur, in such clarity and fine detail that it seems impossible that it was done with simple graphite.

I'm playing around with colored pencils but I'm not drawn to them the way I am with graphite. They're good as a supplement, and I'm happy to use them as such. I've also started playing with water soluble graphite pencils - I officially ruined my first piece over the past week! - but I'm reading up on technique with these unique pencils and I'm excited to give it another go. Hopefully some time this week I'll be able to get some practice in with those.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Pursuit of Excellence

I was reading something this morning about the difference between the pursuit of excellence and the pursuit of power, or recognition, or control - basically fill in whatever word here that might make sense in your own life that implies something personally gained. The pursuit of excellence is a God-given desire. It's a need to learn, to grow and improve. There's a satisfaction in knowing that you are strectching your gifts or talents, and an enjoyment in seeing the efforts of your work produce results. It's a contentment at the end of a hard day's work.

The pursuit of power (or recognition, or control), on the other hand, is a desire that others recognize or acknowledge your gifts. It's a self-centered desire, based on the approval of others, and really has nothing to do with improving your work or who you are or what you know. It's a need to be admired, or at least appreciated.

I'm tagging this post with my Left Brain, Right Brain tag because I think for me it has a lot to do with this difference. My left brain is always trying to figure out how to profit from what I do, how to make sales, how to spread the word about my work. My left brain wants to be recognized, admired. My right brain, meanwhile, isn't at all sure it even wants to make a sale - there's a nervousness about expectations once someone actually pays money for something created. My right brain just wants to create, to learn, to improve, and then to create some more. My right brain is satisfied with the process, while my left brain will only be satisfied with a measurable, profitable result.

Needless to say I feel far more satisfied with my art when I'm immersed in the process. On days like today I question the wisdom of even having an online shop - except that I believe hoarding one's talent is also the quickest way to lose it. I release it to the world because creative energy must always be on the move, must be free to ebb and flow, regardless of whether or not I make any sales. I tried the hoarding bit, and I ended up not creating anything. So it's off and away, out into the universe, and I release my expectations of what happens to it after that.

So there, left brain.

Friday, November 21, 2008

More Fun with Treasuries

So I managed to grab a spot to post my own Treasury over at Etsy! Since treasuries only last a few days I took a screenshot of it so I could remember and be proud :

And, happy coincidence, at the same time that I managed to get a spot in the treasury lists, someone else posted a treasury featuring one of my prints! Bad Day Ben has a proud spot in a treasury featuring faces, thanks to a seller named MyLadies.

The only thing about treasuries that bothers me is that four of my entries (the four on the right) are alternates, so they don't get seen by anyone but the Etsy admins. I understand this is so they can fill in if/when something on the list gets sold, but it was really hard to make the decision as to who got "real" spots and who had to stand on the sidelines. All of these Etsy artists are very talented!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I just love this treasury, created by netamir:

Weird and wonderful!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Left Brain, Right Brain

Some days I actually miss my job. And it surprises me, but it really shouldn't. Because I'm both-brained, the left and the right sides of my brain demand regular attention. Over the years I've discovered that in order for me to find fulfillment in my life, I need to embrace both the logic and the creative, on a daily or at least almost-daily basis. Ideally, I need to find a life's work that is a blend of both. Failing that, I need a career in one and a passion in the other. Or something close to that.

This isn't easy to find, faithful readers.

Left-brained jobs very rarely have room for creativity. My career included fixing computers, building networks, and even programming for an HR shop for a time. One could argue that there's a kind of creativity in solving problems, and there certainly is... but simply not the kind my right brain was craving. During the days and weeks (ok, months) that I didn't have time for much else besides work, my brain would make up for it at night in the form of dreams - crazy, wild dreams. Argmageddon stuff, or superhero stuff, or men with no faces handing me notes (this one turned into a story that I ended up selling to a small press).

Now that the tides have turned, and I spend my time creating, I find that I'm craving the other side. Last night I rebuilt my laptop, because I felt compelled to do so. I fix other peoples' computers, I window shop for the latest tech toys (irony: lots of time, but now no money), I learn new programming languages (.NET for dummies).

In the Spring, I will officially start working towards my Master's degree in Instructional Technology, a moderately left-brained field that allows for a little more creativity than my previous work. But I think this time I won't abandon my art, no matter how busy I get.

Still learning. Always learning!

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Prints are here!

And they look GREAT. I'll be posting them in the next few days, but I couldn't wait so one of them is now up at my Etsy store! Her name is Mistletoe, arriving just in time for the holidays! Find her here:

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

It's Etsy-Love!

One of the things I really enjoy about Etsy is when I start digging around and discover a real gem, one that hasn't been on the front page (at least not that I'm aware of). Maybe it's a new shop, maybe it's a smaller shop or just one that isn't widely publicized. Yesterday I went to Etsy's voter page to vote on the best Christmas greeting card (what a hard decision that was!), and stumbled upon a seller called SmallPaintings. This seller is from Romania and they have a small and recently-opened shop, but oh-what-wonderful pieces are found there.

So for this week's Etsy-love post, let me say this little sailor has captured my heart:

I think he would be perfect for my as-yet-unadorned bedroom wall (five years and counting, I just haven't found the right pictures yet... until now, that is!). If SmallPaintings were to produce a few more nautical-themed prints in this same color scheme (hint, hint, wink, wink), I'd probably have to pick up the whole series.

Oh, and to answer the question I'm sure everyone's asking, I also voted for this seller's Christmas card. Find these and more of SmallPaintings' stuff here: .

Monday, November 10, 2008


I just finished the initial scan and edit of Amanda, my latest pencil sketch. She gave me more than a little trouble with getting her scanned in, but I guess I can't really blame her. I drew her on cheap paper that has humidity damage at the top - I didn't notice the extent of that until now - so the paper was wrinkled and extremely hard to scan properly.

But in the end that was a good thing, as she gave me an incentive to go buy quality sketch paper. I figure now that I've fallen back in love with sketching, I should actually work with tools of reasonable quality!

I'm going to experiment with digital color on Amanda, but regardless of what I decide there I will have prints made up of the original BW version of her. Personally I love pencil sketches just as they are, but my husband thinks color might add interest, so I'm willing to give it a try.

For now, here's a peek at her!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Hooray for productive nights

Amanda (my pencil sketch) is officially done. She's definitely one of my favorites! I'll post a pic of her once I get her scanned.

Started another "Flower of Power" painting, as yet unnamed - because she hasn't told me her name yet. Some of them wait until the very end to introduce themselves.

Now off to bed... up early for yard sales in the morning :-).

Subject and Technique

I managed to get some work done on my latest project last night (stayed up wayy to late), and I have to say I'm really excited about her. I had picked a different subject for this latest pencil drawing to challenge myself, and for probably the last week I stared at my chosen image and wondered how I would even start. She's a little Asian girl about four years old, so there are no life lines on her face yet, no story there. What's more, she's sleeping, so I didn't even have the eyes to get me going. I thought there was no story there at all.

Boy, was I wrong. Once I started the lines I realized that everybody has a story to tell, no matter how young or old. She's simply beautiful, and I didn't see the fullness of that until I was drawing her. How the shadows play differently over her peaceful face. How her chubby hands reveal that all-too recently she was just a baby, and in many ways she still is. I love drawing hands as much as faces, they're so full of life.

I purposely did two things in my efforts last night: one, I kept my left brain firmly out of the room, opting instead to trust the process without intervention. And two, I kept my lines open and free, maintaining the energy that I think makes a piece live on its own. I prefer sketching with these open lines for that reason, because I feel there's more energy in the finished work. There is of course some editing to finish the piece, and the real challenge lies in knowing where to stop editing to preserve that energy. So tonight (or maybe my son's nap time, if I get lucky!), I'll focus on a very light editing. I think the piece has some terrific energy and I don't want to ruin it (lord knows I've edited the life out of my share of drawings).

I had some interesting thoughts on my choice of subject while I was letting my pencil wander:

A few months ago I took a drawing class, "Multum in Parvo" (Much in Little). The instructor asked us each to pick an object to focus on, and he emptied a bag of items out onto the table. I was dismayed by the choices: plastic toys, metal bolts, bottlecaps. So I slipped outside and picked a wildflower that was growing in the crack between the sidewalk slabs. I just couldn't fathom drawing something that wasn't alive. I can do flowers, people, wood. Anything with a story. When the class was almost over, out of curiosity I picked up a bottlecap and tried to draw it. I couldn't even get past the first line, there was simply nothing for me to grab onto. It had nothing to say to me.

This might be true for a lot of artists, but since I don't know many others I thought it was interesting.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Off to the Printers!

Four more designs sent off to the printer this morning. I'm excited about them, especially the Christmas design! I can't wait to see how they turn out. For those of you who are paying attention, I kept the fifth design home for a little while longer. It's not quite finished, and I haven't decided what direction to take it in yet. It still has something to say, I think.

Aside from that, I haven't been able to do too much this week due to a sick child. I don't think there's anything worse than watching your precious little one be completely miserable and under the weather. Happily he's on the mend.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

It's Etsy-Love at First Sight

So, I'm going to start a regular series of posts devoted to the things on Etsy that I've fallen in love with, even in the short amount of time I've been an Etsy member. This will be a weekly event here on my blog, although to be honest it could easily be daily, as there are so many marvelous things on Etsy to fall in love with!

I'm starting with a necklace that I decided will be either a Christmas gift to myself (if I can afford it), or an incentive for me for selling X number of items (X is yet to be determined, and changes depending on my mood). For those who don't know me, I'm very picky about necklaces. It must be beautiful but not typical, graceful but not delicate, simple but not boring, and practical enough to wear every day. Silver is my metal of choice (platinum is actually my metal of choice but usually not in my price range). And I want unique. Which is why it always takes me a very long time to find a necklace I love, but when I DO find one, I tend to wear it all the time.

Enter this lovely piece, called the NestEgg Necklace, from allthosethrees (I even love the seller name!):

That little cutie peeking out the top of the silver is a vintage pearl - my birthstone! These are handmade, and I'm just humbled by the quality of craftmanship that must go into making them. I love, love, love this piece. Find this necklace and more at .

Friday, October 31, 2008

Etsy Mini

Note the cute little preview of my Etsy shop on the right side of your screen...


What a neat feature that Etsy has provided.

Bad Day Ben Designs is Live!

We have liftoff! Bad Day Ben Designs is now a live store, woo!

I have a grand total of four items listed in my little Etsy store. But there will be LOTS more on the way...

Go check it out:

Strange Discoveries

I never realized how much mistletoe berries look like eyeballs. It's making for a very interesting painting...

Thursday, October 30, 2008

H'Ween Fun

My son is two this year, and holidays are becoming more and more fun with him as he gets older and understands more about what the special days mean. For Halloween his preschool is throwing a "Fall Party", where all the kids are asked to dress up as a character from their favorite book. With very little notice (I found out Monday) and no budget whatsoever, I have to say I think the end result is pretty cute :-). Of course, I could dress him up in a brown paper bag and I'd still think he's pretty cute, but I admit to being a little biased. I added a pic of his favorite book for comparison.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Left Brain, Right Brain

My sister-in-law recently told me that I am one of the few people she knows who are "both brained", i.e processes things both on the creative and the logical levels. I've been thinking about that a lot lately, and wondering why I chose a career path that put me decidedly in the left-brained world (cold, hard logic), to the exclusion of my right brain. The easy answers are of course money, job safety (although a fat lot of good that did me with being recently let go), and marrying a man who is very dominantly left-brained.

But there are lesser reasons, too: in my family of origin "creative" also meant volatile and unpredictable, and to avoid that I simply tucked that side away and ran to the "safety" of logic. Plus, I was (and still am) completely lacking any kind of confidence when it comes to the results of my creative energies. Showing the world what I produce from out of that nebulous and often puzzling place is scary to me, it makes me feel very vulnerable and unsure of myself... which is exactly why I need to do it.

But my biggest hurdle in working out of my right brain is turning out to be coming from my left brain. She's been dominant for so long that she keeps trying to intervene, to direct, to self-edit. Before I even put pencil to paper she's saying "oh no, not there, you'll ruin the whole thing if you make that line". And so I must take steps to keep her quiet while I'm working. She seems to go to sleep somewhere after 9PM, so nighttime seems to be where I get the most done. I've noticed too that with any kind of white noise - the TV, the radio, the husband talking - my left brain is occupied so my right brain can work unencumbered. Alcohol works (although too much of that and both brains go to sleep, leaving me with a completely non-working brain).

The irony of this, of course, is that I'm using a process of logic to figure out how to silence my logical mind.

Anyway, all this to say that yes, I am both-brained, but it can be as much a curse as a blessing sometimes.

Monday, October 27, 2008

little love blue: and the winner is...

I just TOTALLY won the cute little acorn and leaves set over at Littleloveblue's giveaway! Announcement here: little love blue: and the winner is...

While you're there, check out her stuff. So very adorable!

Back to work

My migraine has finally resolved itself, and I managed to squeeze in some time on my latest project. It's the third in my "Flowers of Power" series, and I get immense enjoyment out of creating them. The first two will be made available on Etsy very soon, just as soon as I get my prints back!

I may have limited time to work on projects this week, as I have to scramble to make my toddler's costume for his preschool party on Friday, figure out what to bake for same party, come up with a last-minute birthday gift for a party on Saturday that we just found out about, and work with my advisor to hammer out a class schedule for next semester.

Oh, and work out a budget that will convince my husband that we really can afford to continue as we are without me returning to "traditional" work, i.e. full-time employment. Because we can, and I want to focus on the important things in my life right now: my son, my education, and my art.

Every day I can spend doing any of those three things is a precious gift to me.

Friday, October 24, 2008

It's a Bad Day

I managed to trigger a migraine today, and despite all my efforts, I simply can't SEE clearly enough to work on the projects I really wanted to work on today.

It's a Bad Day, Ben.

Off to find a dark place.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Pic of my latest project

Here's a partial pic of a sketch I've been working on. I was getting pretty annoyed with the paper - it's called sketch paper but it's really far too smooth for my tastes, I can't blend the way I want to blend. I suppose it's a habit from my pastel days that I need to get in and rub everything. I also went a little crazy with the charcoal pencils that were included in my pencil kit... but after scanning it in I kind of like the effect.
As a contrast to my sketch paper, I'm experimenting with a really nice watercolor paper. I prefer the watercolor paper to work on (gets nice and smudgy and I can really get in there), but we'll see what the final piece looks like.


So when I first started sketching over 15 years ago (has it been that long???), I would use a standard #2 pencil and really cheap paper (although cheap, I liked it because it allowed for lots of smudging, which is what I do). I liked the sketches, but I was always in awe of other pencil artists... how on earth did they get all those textures in there?

Very recently I learned about softer - and harder - pencil types, and also discovered smudging stumps and those other ones... tortilonnes? I picked up a whole set of pencils and stumps, and I'm like a kid in a candy store. I LOVE LOVE LOVE playing with pencil and textures. I've discovered that I'm most definitely a smudger/sketcher, although my self-editor (left brain) does like to point out all the little imperfections in my work. I literally have to shut that voice down until I'm ready to critique my own work - a glass of wine does the job, as does being really, really tired... which is why I do most of my actual work late at night, when my right brain seems to dominate (also why I get really weird paranoid ideas at night.. that might be a good post for later).

Anyway I find myself grabbing all sorts of things for smudging purposes.... tissues, paper towels, the cat (no, not really), just to see what I can create with these things. Fun! I'd like to post some pics of my works-in-progress, but I've got to run. More later.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

My story

Well, it's my first post, and I figure I should start things off by telling the story of how I got here. In short, I lost my job. It was a good job in a very left-brained field (more on this later), and three years ago I never would have dreamed that my life would take a drastic turn. Enter my first child, who with one shared glance rearranged my priorities (more on this later as well).

Anyway, I had a job, I asked for a reduction of hours so I could spend more time with my son, and I ended up jobless. So one day, while I was feeling sorry for myself, I was sifting through various clutter and stumbled onto one of my drawings from about a decade ago. His name is Ben, and prints of him will be my first listing on Etsy, as soon as they come back from the printer. Ben told me something very important. He said: "You know, everyone has bad days."

Okay, so that doesn't sound so important. But I remembered something I read once, and that is this: It's not what life gives to us that really matters in the long run. It's what we do with what life gives us that counts in the end. The good stuff and the bad stuff, all of it.

And right now life is giving me time without a job, to do... something. As I looked at Ben, I knew what that something was - I needed to gather my courage, swallow hard, and get my art out there, out in the light, for better or worse, and see where I go with it. Poor Ben has been in the closet for a decade, and it's high time I do something with him, and with my largely-ignored right brain.

Looking forward to see what spills out of that side of my head for a change...