This day last week I celebrated my birthday. And by that I mean I really did allow myself to celebrate it. Just my birthday. Nothing to do with the fact that it was also Valentine's Day. It was just my day. And it was the one thing I kept missing out on for the past many years of my adult life. Because I had often been too carried away by the Valentine part, pressured by my own and other people's expectations and moulded by media and marketing. This year it sank in, finally, that there are two separate things and I am not obliged to take them as a package. Yes, that was a long time sinking in.
I have felt a definite shift in energy this year. Like something falling into place to set other things in motion. Another chapter beginning like in other previous years, but this one more marked than usual.
I cannot tell you the one thing that made it happen because it is a series of processes. But perhaps what I can tell you is that the most crucial process of my lifetime so far that led to now -- was when I stepped out of all expectations and started defining things on my own terms. By this I mean not forcing others to take my point of view, but simply living by example, if it can be called that. I have been told I have inspired others, I am happy to hear it. But I am not preaching nor prescribing. This is simply what worked for me, what made a difference in my life that is now both more and less ideal.
That particular moment when my current life took its own path away from my old one was when I decided that I am an artist, and began to shape my life accordingly.
It took me a while to realise and accept that the change will affect everything. Down to the smallest details of my everyday life. I thought at first it would be like revising bits here and there. No, it was a square one, total blank page beginning, with maybe a few tokens of random wisdom from the old life. The whole structure of how I live and why had to change.
This new odd difficult life poses questions that have no satisfying standard answers. I can only answer from my own experience. I cannot say that my process will work for all or for anyone at all.
Since my new year began, I started the draft of a book, painstakingly putting it together by hand. I write in my journal and draw in my sketchbook everyday. I've found my reading groove again. I am painting a lot of new pieces. I'm showing up more often in the tribe community again. I have new music playlists (one of the ultimate signs that the magic is flowing well and strongly). I am showing up where I can carry the Impossible Garden with me to spread the seeds of story and magic.
But behind this seemingly idyllic artist life is a heap of harsh realities. I feel a little bit more tired than usual because this is not a first year of explorations and experimentation with its novelty but a third year with its growing baggage of failures. Putting out fires every single day. Fighting through the defaults and the mundane. Battling with regret and resentment. Disappointments layered upon ever bigger disappointments. I've had many nights when I wished I would not make it into the morning. How much help can one ask for? How to justify asking for help in the first place? How many can comprehend the why of the decisions I have made for my life? How do I even begin to explain why I can no longer be what I used to be, or why I even needed to change?
Today I will juggle day job tasks with studio tasks. Used to be that I would totally push aside the art to do the dayjob. Now my routine has evolved (and finally without the feeling of enormous guilt) into something like : Start the day with studio, do the day job in the afternoon to early evening, late evening with studio. Before that I would give day job the prime spot of early morning until early afternoon which would usually leave me too exhausted for anything else after. (My secret dream is to find a day job more attuned to who and what I am now -- such as a job in a library, bookstore, museum, or book publishing house...)
What's especially new this year is that I find myself surprisingly calm. I am never calm. I may look calm but I am a catastrophe inside. But now my outside calm is actually reflective of a strange inner calm. Maybe this is temporary. Maybe this is a calm before a storm. Maybe I will break down in one way or another in some near future.
In reality, everything is shaky and uncertain at the moment, heart-in-throat tension, broken-heart kind of despair.
Not in the best of conditions since the new year began. On the second day I started feeling ill and as of today I have a full-blown cough and sore throat. I get the threats of a fever frequently throughout the day. I cannot do much of anything as the ill feeling overcomes me and so does a tidal wave of fatigue.
I know what's brought it on. My hands are tied I cannot do much about it. So ill or not I must grit my teeth and trudge through the days.
Today at the very least I will attempt, again, to overcome the exhaustion and paralysis. I must pull myself out of the house and throw away the guilt and treat myself to a nice meal and let myself stay for hours in a nice sunlit cafe.
Of course I have a gazillion plans for 2019. The challenge is to actually get them done. This sickness I am feeling now is the manifestation of the struggle inside me and the impotence I feel on whether there is any point at all to begin in the first place. Because I hate to begin and then have to pull back or hold back and lose the thread and then start all over again. Because someone else's timetable and agenda had to come first. Because bills have to be paid. Because sometime in the past there were too many misguided choices that set things a certain way. One of the hard things is the fact that despite my efforts, the returns are so few and never quite enough. And I know there is such a thing as the Long Years but, heck, I could use and possibly deserve a really good break now and then.
I am frustrated that I cannot go deep into the forest because I keep getting called back. To be real. To be practical.
The hard thing is that I cannot just pick up where I last left off. I have to start all over again. Because the "real" things corrode what has been started, stains everything with rot, leeches out all the magic.
This must be a rather unusual creative blog as it is full too much of the pains instead of the progress. But then I am not one of those successful artists who are in a position to share the insights of a creative life well lived. At this point I can only share the warnings of when things do not go as one expected. The most you will learn from me right now is maybe how not to kill yourself or your art.
As mentioned in a previous post, I’m keeping my Etsy shop alive with a maximum of 13 listings, and each listing description has a simple invitation to view more artwork on my website.
Yesterday I made the most of having completed my first participation at The Sketchbook Project and shared the finished pages across social media and my website. (You can see them here.) In the process, seeds of ideas sprouted in my head and now added direction to the artworks I will make, as well as the creative practice I will build into my days.
It is Saturday today and I’m still undecided whether to go on an Artist Date and do a supply run (more accurately, I need to decide whether I cold afford ether or both). Yesterday I successfully did a trial print of postcards on a different kind of paper (less expensive but as good as the previous). Now I need to buy more of that paper so I can start making the art bundles for my patrons. I’m also thinking I really need to get started too on replenishing my stationery products and be able to open the shop with a full inventory.
There’s a big sale on art supplies at one of my favourite art shops and it’s only until Wednesday. I want to get more of the Mijello paints but I can’t afford to right now (and likely not for quite a while unless sales peak for some reason). This morning my sister and I had an interesting conversation over coffee about how most people won’t probably get how we can live the way we do – without security and stability as most people would define it. The subject seems worthy of a whole separate post. Maybe I’ll write it.
Have a good weekend, everyone!
It all builds up. That’s what I hold on to these days.
The other day I made an unexpected sale on my Etsy shop — remember that i had planned to shut it down once all the current listings have expired? Well, slight change of plans. The unexpected sale made me decide instead to keep my Etsy with a small number of items available — 13 maximum — at all times. Only original paintings that can be shipped abroad so nothing larger than A3, and nothing too complex or fragile to withstand the long distance travel. Recently too there have been new favourites that registered for the shop and a few items. So perhaps it is better to still be present in Etsy but in a less costly arrangement.
This is the original painting that got sold:
Meanwhile, small serendipities led to a full cleaning and rearrangement of my tiny studio which now makes it a very comfortable space to work in. I may have finally hit upon the best arrangement for it to let my work flow with the least pain, distraction, and obstruction.
The unexpected receipt of a new old desk was the key to getting everything else in the studio to fall into their places. I hope this favourable synchronicity reflects into the larger schemes of my daily life.
The clearing up of so many stagnant corners seems to have unblocked some writing paths and only now do I discover that Scrivener has released a full update and upgrade and it’ll cost $25. I’ll have to find a way to scrape that amount together. (If you would like to help in any way, here’s how, or you could just directly send me a coffee or two )
I have to plan for a computer upgrade soon too — either get a new desktop or a new laptop or a new high-performing tablet. Any one can replace all my 8-year old equipment that have been lagging so badly that I could make myself a snack while waiting for a file to open. I need it for managing the website, the online shop, writing and doing the layout of my books, editing and printing my stationery products — in other words, it is a real need and not simply for leisure and entertainment. I also use it for day job project work when I have to do one — data processing and report-writing and emails.
I’m still on standby for my big breakthrough that will, at the very least, take care of all the basics of dally living. But maybe the breakthrough is not big and it is already happening. Maybe this blog post will trigger another tiny thing that will lead to another tiny thing and so on. Maybe in the end it is not so much as a breakthrough that I should look out for but a small sound of a small important thing finally falling into place. Or many tiny things falling into place, like the sound of much-awaited rain on a very thirsty earth.
I started off my Monday morning with writing in my journal that transitioned into a Mind Sweep. This week I intend to be super-productive in the studio and the shop. To make that happen I have to say it out “loud” so everyone’s energies will be aligned with mine.
I’ll be off the typical routines and my hours will likely be odd. I won’t let anything in that has nothing to do with the Garden and the Forest. (This means shop inquiries and transactions are always welcome, so do browse and buy!)
I’ve been caught up and stuck in some kind of obstacle course for the past few days and I could not seem to find the time nor the energy to stay put for long hours and make something happen in the studio. I also need to figure something out for fortifying my energy and stamina — starting with getting a decent pair of walking shoes that I cannot yet afford until I sell a few more paintings.
I always underestimate the time it takes to get things done and I think that always gives me a lot of stress. I pressure myself to do more everyday, to catch up on a series of self-imposed finish lines, because I often feel impatient with my progress, because for some reason the deadlines for paying bills seem to run at double time.
Yesterday I unexpectedly sold a painting and it gave me a bit of breathing room — I was able to buy groceries with less pinch and I was able to buy a few studio materials. Whatever’s leftover I’m putting into the household bills for July. It is exhausting to constantly put off things because there’s never enough money to go around, and especially when I’ve minimalised my life to the degree that I very rarely buy anything out of pure whim. Every planned purchase is a necessity, and every time it is a long wait. Sometimes I just cry out of sheer fatigue. And then I get up and do what needs doing according to my heart (because there are many other ways of interpreting what NEEDS doing).
So, yes, I sometimes whine a bit about the harsh and hard stuff of my life. I am aware I am better off than most. But each of us is on our own path and each is as important as the other. We follow the life path we need to. Not one is light or trivial. Every life has a gravity that no one else can bear. Every life gifted with a purpose. The trick is to not get distracted or destroyed in the process. The trick is seeing through the layered (and often material) clutter of the world and arriving at spirit, seeing beyond the finger that is actually pointing to the moon.
Trust the process. Know thyself. Be true and stay true. Follow your bliss. Never lose hope.
Finally got around to giving myself an Artist Date with minimal guilt (because of the expenses), and it was a good thing.
Happy to discover that the very cheap sketchbook I purchased a few weeks ago (unbranded, made in China, and sold in a generic stationery section of a department store) turned out to have good enough paper. The watercolours did not soak through, nor bleed.
I'm pleased with what spilled out, after many days of not being able to paint because I was prioritising the setting up and opening of the website shop.
I feel that I want to go out again today. Keep filling up pages and pages with paintings, drawings, and words. Like a wild gardening. See what takes root and grows into something more or something else.
My studio is a small space under the stairs, with no windows and very little elbow or leg room. But I make do and I definitely prefer it over a well-furnished modern huge-windowed corner office in some corporate building.
This space constantly morphs into various arrangements depending on how I need it to be. Right now it’s set up for a lot of painting work waiting to be finished. Drawings are hanging in a line, art materials spread out within easy reach.
It’s Thursday, and for some reason, possibly because it’s Friday’s eve, I feel a little bit more energy to get things done. Mondays and Tuesdays are my weakest days, while Wednesdays often turn to impromptu midweek break days. But for the past days, I’ve fought through the drag and did a lot of project planning, plotting, and a lot of tedious admin work for all my online sites and shops. I am seeing slow and small improvements in reach, visits, and engagements but coming from being totally invisible, I am grateful for any teeny tiny spike in my site stats.
So today I aim to get properly started on the actual painting. Ideally to get at least two commissions done by the weekend (I currently have three in line) and boost up my cash funds. A paycheck from a day job project has not been released and it’s been a month and I’m close to scraping for coins. (Still, I’m not exactly jumping on to the next day job project…)
I have kitchen work today so I have to make time for that. Kitchen work means I cook food for myself, enough to last me a day or a day and a half. Lately, I’ve been craving a lot of spicy and strong flavoured Asian dishes. I recently had a make-do version of kimchi jjigae (김치 찌개).
How is your Thursday going so far?
This is my second time to participate, and I have more than enough time to finish it before the February 2019 deadline — or so I hope! I’m thinking of exploring the theme of Infinite Sketch and fill the pages with one long series of sketches in blue in various mediums. Something like this:
And then maybe thread one long string of words that is a poem that begins on the first page and ends on the last.
We’ll see. I’m not averse to changing my mind if a better idea presents itself.
So, you are currently reading my main blog. I figure I can’t really expect people to migrate to another site just to follow someone (or would they?). In any case, I’m currently testing a strategy of being present across various online spaces. Something like having “branches” where different sets of people are likely to gather. I have another blog at Wordpress and one on Blogger. The content is essentially the same, it’s just that people who are in the same space will be able to view and follow more easily, or subscribe to what’s more convenient. I’m doing the same for my print-on-demand shops.
A quick introduction for those who are newcomers to the site : I am a self-taught artist and a writer. I work from home. I have a freelance day job that helps pay the bills but my goal is to be able to sustain a decent living on my art’s income. I’m exploring the path of surface design as well as illustration, on top of the fine art gallery thing, and I am working on publishing illustrated poetry books and illustrated fantasy novels.
I blog to share my creative journey and process, share my artwork to reach potential buyers and custom clients, and have a space to talk to no one and everyone. If there’s anything art or creativity related topic you want me to write about (and assuming I can), let me know. :)
I finished the Sketchbook Project and sent it off on time.
I finally completed listing items on my Etsy shop. It's free shipping until May 31, and there's a range of items from handpainted bookmarks to art-printed blank cards to affordable art print postcards to original paintings. Drop by here and see if something catches you.
I've started on a 100-day project under the theme of Fieldnotes from the Wildforest.
I've also started on a commissioned piece although that one's taking more time than expected. I have to work out a system and setup for commission work.
I've done a bit of kitchen duty but I realise I can't do it for the whole household because the house hours are detrimental to my studio pace and process. I should just take myself out of the house equation and cook for myself in my own time. I really need to disengage from the routine of everyone else if I want to be able to make the kind of creative work progress that I want and need.
I need to do one proper solo Artist Date. The last was a hybrid with errands and a companion and that just never turns out the way I would have liked.
Today I'm a bit off-key. The summer heat is a pain. I still have one more kitchen duty for dinner and then I'm off and out of the whole household routine starting tomorrow.
I'm tempted to spend for a day at the coworking space for quiet, space, light, and airconditioning. But the commission work won't pay that much (because I didn't charge properly yet). We'll see.
Sometimes I miss my old place - a studio unit with big windows, quiet, and solitude that is perfect for doing the things I love to do. Except if I had stayed in that place I’d be too busy doing a job I don't love in order to keep the place and I would be unable to do what I love to do at all.
The tiny studio is not an ideal place during the summer. The intense brightness from the outside makes this windowless corner even darker in contrast. It also gets the full blast of the television noise which is frequently turned on from lunchtime until everning, with very short pockets of quiets in between.
The bedroom has good lighting because it has big windows but lacks floor space for me to set up even a small comfortable writing desk.
This morning I remembered that I used to work in the backyard when I had to do reports. I stopped because at some point it was no longer effective as an isolation space for dayjob tasks. But what if it works as an extension of the studio?
So I took my journal and coffee to the backyard to feel it out. Promising, so far. But I need a more efficient and orderly way to move my materials. I have to be quick when it suddenly rains — this year’s summer is also rainy, and the sky alternates from very bright to cozy grey in a matter of minutes.
I successfully completed a spread for The Sketchbook Project (after a few trips back and forth the indoor studio to get the materials I needed). I think I’ll need a spare electric fan for when there’s no breeze and the air starts to become stiflingly too warm.
I want to shut down for at least the first two weeks of May, and extend it as far as I can. By shutting down I mean absolutely no dayjob emails or tasks. Also very minimal social obligations. Minimal errands. I want to pour all attention to the art-making and story-making. I’ll stay out of Facebook and will only post as absolutely necessary on the art page, but mostly rely on the linked posts through Instagram. I want to work on my Etsy shop. I want to make new art pieces. For breaks I will read books and go out on simple Artist Dates. I am even thinking of disengaging myself from the house hours and routine — essentially just eat and sleep when I feel I need it and not just to comply with the routine. I want to eat what I want, prepare my own food if necessary. I want to get up in the middle of the night and start writing or painting if I am moved to do so. I want to nap at odd hours.
Next week I’ll work on a commissioned piece. And also close the deals on original paintings put on reserve. For a period I want to live as if I am already a full-time artist. I will probably try to make some pieces for a portfolio to send to a German company that a friend has advised me about. I’ll work on replenishing my stationery inventory.
First paycheck finally cleared so rent is safe for this month and the next. So little is left to cover other household bills. I am ever grateful for my Patreon patrons who help take care of studio needs. They’ll be getting nice packages by May — long overdue gratitude gifts.
Voice is fully back but still very rough. Maybe by the weekend I can dare to enjoy a coconut caramel ice blended drink, or a bingsu. 😃
I have a dayjob meeting today but it is the kind of dayjob project that is a bit more flexible than the usual since it's a consultancy rather than a full project (research design/ implementation/ report). As consultant I engage primarily in discussions, make reviews on existing data, and make guidelines on how to do things based on my expertise.
Hence I do not expect it (I hope) to be as demanding as the recent dayjob projects. It was very demanding during the first few weeks (way back in December and January) because we were establishing the basics of things but now we are in the tweaking/finetuning stage.
In any case, the whole point is that after all the various toil and labour I am now owed THREE paychecks and I have the mind to take the whole of May off from dayjob duty while I wait to get paid and also to give myself time to fully recover from everything (including the recent flu and its remnant of a cough that has rendered me literally speechless.) I'm getting one paycheck today and that should tide me over for next month. I'll use it to reclaim some studio time and shop time.
As for shop time -- everything is free shipping at my Etsy shop until May 31 so do drop by and something magical might find you.
Five things on my priority list today and for the next few weeks:
1) Finish the Sketchbook Project and send off by courier on or before April 30.
2) Update the Art Portfolio and send to BGC Art Mart to complete my application and maybe still get a slot for the May setup.
3) Update and promote the Etsy sale. I'll be adding notecards and postcards this week, plus notebooks with hand-painted covers. Also thinking of extending it into an open studio sale kind of thing.
4) Launch my Commissions page and start accepting projects (as well as start and complete existing commissions).
5) Make that crucial step in changing my freelance/work status -- I'll start the process to be a properly registered artist under my own name with an official receipt and unify all freelance work under it.
The Sketchbook Project is making progress but I still feel a 50-50 chance of not making it to the deadline.
Regardless of whether I get to send it off of not, I am quite happy with how it's turning out. I've been wanting to explore the use of watercolor graphite and this was the perfect time to experiment since it does not bleed as much as watercolour, dries fast, and has a distinct character from sumi ink. I think I'll have a series of separate work with this medium and style later on.
My health has been a bit poorly because my rest keeps getting interrupted -- dayjob tasks, meetings, even house chores and errands. I seriously need a full vacation away from any form of duty except the ones required by my creative practice. I have neglected my creative practice far too long as it is. It, too, needs a full recovery and time to do its own work.
I'll close this post with a show-off of artworks from 2015 VS 2018. I like seeing how I am changing and getting better, no matter how small, no matter that until now not so many people "get" it, no matter that I am still more invisible than not.
Lost my voice due to a bad cough and overwork and stress. Last weekend I had flu. This weekend I have silence. Better, in a way, because at least I'll get to paint, perhaps. I must paint. Write. Make something. Make magic. Make my amends to the wildness.
Funds are really low. But since I'm sick I have to stay at home. I need to be in the studio anyway. It'll be too much trouble to carry around all the paints. And I also want to try a piece bigger than a notebook.
Reading slot secured -- I'm going to catch up on my Goodreads target yet. Also reading for research of a sort. I want to make some radical changes on my freelance setup. And if there's a decent interesting job in a library or museum out there I'm open for employment.
I want to go back and review the basics and beginnings of this path I refuse to give up. Tweak a few things. Resurrect some ideas and practice. Have better plans to break later on. Be better at breaking rules and changing the game. Forget the game. This is not about winning. This is about living, and being true. It is about falling in love. Again and again. Fall and fail. Fall and fail better. Be brave. Love anyway.
I gave in to the hauntings, and puchased a passport -sized Traveler’s Notebook. Right now it has three notebook inserts — two original Traveler’s and one Field Notes. The first notebook will hold my 100-day project for the year which will be 100 field note entries from the Wildforest. It will be a play and experiment with words and images and storymaking. The second notebook will hold, as the title hints, Rambles, Fragments, Seeds, & Stumbles. The third notebook, which is the Field Notes one, is a more practical notebook of lists. I started off with a list of all things that I buy and which I plan to improve/evolve to become more conscious towards sustainability, health, animal cruelty-free, and less plastic waste.
The small size is perfect for being able to finish, and more forgiveable to mess up.
Meanwhile I am not working as much on the Sketchbook Project as I should. In the end I may not even have the postage fee for it. We’ll see. But I like how it’s going so far, and it has in fact been the inspiration for the 100-day project I’ll begin as soon as I finish the Sketchbook.
I’m still doing a dayjob project on the side so my energy is largely spent on dayjob tasks and dayjob anxiety. But I’ll be opening up my Commissions service soon so maybe I will be able to do more paid creative work in place of the dayjob work. That should be less painful to do...right? 😆
This post is primarily an answer to a question that was asked of me.
It is not the first time I have been asked this question. In the past few years that I have embraced my art-making and story-making I have received incredulous reactions to my "productivity". The question is usually how am I able to make the time to make?
Last week I read a post by Joanne Harris on Twitter that basically sums it up:
Joanne even had another related post on how she gave up house chores and in the process she had a messy house but 18 novels.
It will vary with each person. Even for the same person, it can vary on what you can give up at a given moment. It's not just one thing. Maybe one or more major things and then a lot of little things that make up a day.
When I decided I want to be an artist it was a life decision. I was just two years into freelancing and still received employment offers because of my dayjob skills. But my desire to be an artist is a soul call that outweighed the call of financial stability and security. I gave up more than one dayjob opportunity. I stuck to being freelance. When I have dayjob projects I screen them for value in terms of money and time and energy. Even if it will pay me a lot (and they rarely even pay enough), if it will cost me too much recovery time because of the intensity of mental, physical, and emotional demands, I say no. (The saying no part is very hard. I believe one has to literally reach a certain age to be able to do it well.)
I gave up an old lifestyle and status that were largely based on the expectations of others. I became clear on what really mattered to me on a day-to-day basis. I overhauled my way of faith and trusting in the Universe (or God, or whichever belief system you subscribe to goes here). I redefined every rule I ever learned or lived by ever since I became an adult.
I gave up people and relationships. I kept those that are truly alive and that keep me authentically alive. This meant less obligations, less duties. And if I would really rather stay in on a weekend than go out for a meal (or even attend a reunion) I don't get judged or guilted.
I gave up traveling, and a lot of big-ticket spending. I have been working on zeroing all debts. I gave up the things that would keep me in debt (credit cards, home loans). This meant I don't have to work so much and for so long for a lot of money. This meant I can use time to make art. I still want to travel but I want to do it for the right reasons and with means that are true to the path I have taken.
I gave up "shopping" and "retail therapy". I buy what I need when I need it and I pay in cash. I still indulge from time to time but these are meaningful (and eventually useful) indulgences. Like books and art materials. Like a nourishing delicious meal. I've trimmed my closet and accessories to essentials that I get to wear every week and also feel and look good in. I have hopped off the trend train long ago. I buy items that will last as long as possible. I repair as much as I can. I buy local and from small business as often as possible to help out others who are like me. I also realised I don't need as much retail therapy when I am making art.
My dayjob work is very taxing mentally, physically, and emotionally. The nature of the work I do for money goes against many of my own values but I am also breadwinner for the household (parents and sibling) so I still have to compromise a lot. When I have a dayjob project there is a battle that goes on. The dayjob spirit tends to choke the creative spirit so I often need recovery days. I have been trying to find a good "balance" for the past six years but I have yet to find one that works more than once.
What's working for me now whenever I have a dayjob project:
It may also help to mention that I am very much an introvert. I don't have very active social circles or activities. I don't spend a lot of time chatting online either. My social media is mainly for sharing and creating content. I limit my online interaction and engage only when necessary. In real life I go out with friends less often than once a month. My own parents and sister are introverts so on weekends we also tend to be in our own spaces and get together about once or twice a month for half a day each. So all supposed "social" hours are instead put into creative time. That could also be a variable.
It's a bit funny because I often feel I am not as productive as I should be. I do Asian drama marathons as well as reading marathons (but I have to say, these do a lot to inspire my art-making). I spend time doing nothing -- when everything just goes blank and empty and needs to take a long pause. I like my sleep, taking my eight hours' worth at night and naps in the afternoon. I have my totally lazy days when I let go of all attempts at being productive.
My Instagram sometimes looks like I have an ideal life but I scrape by day to day. The not-too-hidden price of my creative productivity is also the occasional panic on whether I will meet next month's rent. Every year I think about taking back one of the biggest things I gave up -- the monthly security of a regular paycheck. It has been eight years so far.
I hope this post helps. :)
I have started on the Sketchbook Project. But I have also braced myself for the possibility of not being able to complete it on time.
Yesterday I started on a "strict" implementation of a plan to be able to to do, well, everything. The first good thing is that the dayjob project has a decent timetable for once, so I am able to manage it better. What I've done is this:
- I assigned the morning, which is my most productive, awake, and alert time of day, to getting dayjob matters done. This can extend up to two hours after lunch.
- The rest of the afternoon is assigned to studio work, with priority on the "shoulds" such as shop orders, commissions, and shop admin. The Sketchbook Project falls here because it has a deadline set by someone else.
- The evening, if I still have the energy for it, or if I am particularly inspired, is for personal creative works such as the storymaking (painting and/or writing). If I am too tired but really moved to create, I make space in the very early morning before I start on the dayjob (The key is to get the dayjob started within the morning because I can get more done in two-three morning hours than if I spend a whole afternoon and evening on it.)
There was a lot I was not able to do, but also a lot I got done. But I have to acknowledge that there is still too much I need to do in a day. Yet I have to make it a daily practice to challenge the dominance of the dayjob in defining my days.
Today I am supposed to do two specific dayjob tasks and then stop when they're done, and leave the next step for tomorrow. Since I woke up later than hoped (I had a bit of insomnia), I may have to extend the dayjob hours into the mid-afternoon, but still have the late afternoon (and daylight) to do studio work.
My body clock is very sensitive to the dayshifts so I have to pay attention. If I keep pushing myself out of my natural rhythms I only weaken myself further. This is not about comfort zones. This is about listening to my body and making sure I am in the best condition to do what I need to do. I am not a young person in my twenties. I have to take care of myself.
Yesterday I dealt with a handful of dayjob tasks that took all morning. After lunch I fixed my calendar for the week, moving schedules about in an attempt to estimate my own energy supply, budgets, and patience. The point is not to let myself spend time nor money nor energy unnecessarily. So listening to myself is crucial for the minute-by-minute decision on what to do next. Forcing to get a task done when my brain has shut down, or when I am thoroughly blocked in one way or another, is a waste of effort. (This is why I hate unreasonable deadlines.)
There are studio tasks that are as important as getting the dayjob done and yesterday I was able to hit multiple targets with a single stone. A warm-up that is also a project getting done that is also a long overdue token that is also how the wildforest finally extended one of its infinite hands to meet me halfway.
I have two more drawings to finish this afternoon, after the dayjob tasks. Then it's another attempt to draft the drawing for a commission. Then it's going back to the Sketchbook Project and maybe finish a page for progress.
I am optimistic I'll do even better than yesterday. I have to be.
My contribution to the Brooklyn Library Sketchbook Project is due to be sent out by mid-April but I have not started a single page. My recovery and recharging took more time than expected, weighed down by the remnants of old guilt on daring to take a break when so much has to be done.
But today is a rather good day, given that I've been at a loss on what to do with the Sketchbook despite several initial ideas that lost luster because I've put it off for far too long. Today the final idea on what to do with it has come and, if I am lucky, I just might be able to get started today, for real.
I woke up late this morning, and immediately felt the twinge of guilt because so much could have been done since sunrise. But I pushed the guilt aside and went to my Etsy shop to complete "recycling" the listings of items that have been sold into listing of new items. I have also decided to put EVERYTHING on 10% off until April 2. (Take a look at the shop here.)
Having done that was when the Sketchbook idea came. Like a token for completing a task.
Next to do is writing in the journal, another practice I've sorely neglected. All I've been doing is tinkering with the pages but not really writing the way I need to.
Writing long and deep is a sure way to get into the forest. I just need to find a space where I will not be constantly interrupted and where my back and shoulders won't hurt (the studio setup and space are okay for typing and painting but not so much for handwriting). I also would like some natural daylight, if it isn't too much to ask.
I have added categories to Stories. There are a few bits and pieces I plan to add to the collection in the coming days.
I am almost at two hundred pieces, taking full inventory of my artwork. Also keeping track of what's included in the website gallery, what's sold, what's made available as prints and products. I've resurrected a few older pieces. The Garden is revived -- new designs in Society6 and Redbubble shops, and as previously mentioned a very updated Etsy.
But the Garden is only as good as the Wildforest, which needs its own tending of a different kind. it's harder work. It's soul work. It's heart work. I want to bring more forest into the garden. More savage and wild alongside the safe and sweet. More dares and provocations beside inspirations of peace and calm.
Yesterday I rediscovered an old piece buried among the last unsorted bag of clutter. I added a few details and now it's up at Etsy. She's a monster and yet her venom can also be a way to understanding. I have an uneasy relationship with her. She dwells within the narrow borders between the garden and the forest, always eager for an opening to slip into either places. Always ready to strike, disguised as hope or a beginning.
I'm staying resolute about keeping away from anything duty, even if it's studio work. Even social obligations. If it feels even slightly like a 'should', I am putting it off until Monday. Right now even making new bookmarks to replenish sold ones feels like a 'should'. So does writing that Commissions page in the website.
What I want is to create without the wishes and expectations of others hanging anywhere around me. (Make something more masculine. Make more products to make more money. Accept commissions and do them for the money even if they're not true to the heart of your art, even if you don't feel like doing it. Make affordable pieces so you can sell more. Don't make pieces that are too scary or weird or confusing.)
I now remember I need to put together an art portfolio to complete an application to participate in an Art Mart where I can sell my art. It feels a bit like a 'should' to me. And besides I don't think I'll have resources to make it to the April Art Mart schedule.
I want a Traveler's Notebook. And the pretty stuff that go with it.
I have finally started to let go (i.e. make available for purchase) of my Red Sun series, although I still have plans of making more pieces for that set.
Yesterday I completed an art supply run that was basically buying half-pans to update my colour palette. I refrained from any additional purchases because what I need to really do is make from the materials not just hoard them.
Today I am beginning to feel the fatigue of nonstop chores and errands since Saturday, which is another layer on top of the dayjob adulting that has barely paused since December. I want to take today off. No, I want to take the rest of the week off. Seriously. Maybe I will. This will be my only chance because after Easter the dayjob begins again.
I should be painting already, but sloughing off the crusted layers of daily life and duties to get to the heart of creating has been a full-time job in itself. The cauldron is cold. The fire needs to be stoked. But oh, this perpetual exhaustion! This neverending attendance to obligations and expectations!
Even the art shops carry their own demands away from the actual creation. Once again I am up the dead-end wall trying to be seen by the right kind of art lovers and buyers. There is progress, but so small and slow. Yet I persevere. Sometimes it doesn't make sense even to me why I bother. But then something reminds me why.
Last night I had a rather soul-shaking anxiety attack. I wished I would fall asleep and never wake up. But I woke up this morning. And here I am.
Sometimes I suspect it is just a loneliness speaking. And that eternal exhaustion.
All I know is that if I had not found the Wildforest then something would have gone very wrong, and many other things along with it.
I'm still exhausted but I'm moving. I'm not staying still, not now, not yet. The urge is to move. Even when I am fueled by smoke. There's going to be a rest stop somewhere ahead. But not here. Not now.
Today is better than the days before. So far it seems so. At the very least I won't have to expend energy standing by for dayjob duty which in itself adds to the severity of my fatigue.
Tomorrow, despite my severe shortage of funds, I will take myself to a movie (if not me, who will?). Because I want to see Maze Runner. And I want to eat a nice meal in a Japanese or Korean restaurant. That'll set me back about $20 (but if not me, who will?)
I hope but I won't wait. I'll keep moving. I'll be in the forest. You all know where to find me. As to how, well, perhaps that's another story.
I'm posting a Story after this blog post. A fragment. A rattling that needs to be quieted.
I've been making a lot of new Things. I'm also beginning to realise that my one-woman-production setup is lagging behind the slowly increasing interest and demand for products. I may need to start rethinking how to work the balance between shop work and full heart work. The shop work is essentially production and reproduction. Full heart work is the creation of originals and the shaping of the Stories. Full heart work is the books and the poetry and the storymaking. Shop work is the translation of the heart work into the boons that can be shared with the world -- the crucial significant step after every mythical journey, the closing of the circle into new ones. Shop work is more tiring and tedious because it deals with the messes and brokenness of real life and the world. Shop work is weighed down by rules. Shop work is about tangibles. It is the tricky dance with gravity and the senses. The other side of creation is meaning. Meaning-making is harder when the language you speak contains too many strange words.
But it is good if what worries me now is being able to keep up with demand. It means people are looking. People are curious. Hearts are stirred. Hearts want.
There is an unnamed Thing tugging at me and I can't stop moving even though my mind constantly sends me a barrage of reasons to stop even for just a while. Maybe I'm just being superstitious. Maybe it's pre-birthday blues or some kind of remnant of an old reflex of an old self kicking up at this time of the year.
I am tired. I can't stop saying it because I am. But last night I wrote this:
I’m filling all the empty spaces
In an hour or so I'll be stepping out to go to the bank to deposit payment for the booth fee for the Open Market at the Manila Biennale.
Since Monday I've already put myself on full prep mode for the art market because there's a LOT to get done and I am on my own.
On top of that I have dayjob projects that I still have to do to -- although recently this has taken an experimental turn and I am now exploring being the lesser half of a pair (meaning I'm letting go of the master control and instead playing more of a supportive role -- which means I can claim back more hours for the studio. It also means less income but eventually if I'm able to do more studio and shop work, the sales and shops can cover for the difference.)
But right now I am in that tough phase of everything happening all at once. And I'm feeling the fatigue creeping beneath my skin.
Studio work has never been this solid and real -- I literally have projects lined up and all are potential for many good things.
These are just the more immediate ones, those I aim to accomplish in one way or another within the year.
My social media looks like an ideal life but we all know that's only the surface of things. Right now my funds are tight as I go into investment mode for the art market. My daily life is a gamble. My heart is always in a gamble.
I feel like I am perpetually exhausted and I am forever longing for the kind of comfort that has always, always eluded me. Maybe because I'm too unlike what most people would expect. Because I am too risky, difficult, unpredictable, just a little bit too strange and wild. But even wild things would like to be embraced from time to time.
This morning on my wake-up walk I found a song in the forest, caught on a tree as the Blue Heart Boy passed by during the night.
And I took it for a sign. Because this doesn't happen often. My main daily soundtrack is silence (to better hear the whispers of the stones and trees and sky and water), and when music and songs come in and break through they are usually a herald of Something, a message, a clue. When I start making a Playlist that's a significant thing. And when this song came today, small tokens fell onto the blank page -- seeds of words and stories and sketches.
The way to a finished piece is a series of many steps — experiments, trials, errors — and in the process a continuous honing of the hand to better capture the impossibilities and pull them into tangibility.
I need a lot of warm-ups though because it’s been a while since I sat down long enough to really pour hours into drawing and painting.
First I played with a potential new website header.
I finally got around to drawing a pattern design to try to print on fabric and giftwrapping paper.
Meanwhile the first page of one of the books has been brewing in my head and to get to it, or to get it to flow into my hand onto paper I must undergo the longish process of drawing many seemingly unrelated pieces until I find myself where I need and want to be. I really don’t have the habit of doing rough drafts of the same thing. I make full different pieces varying in degrees of complexity and subject depth. Mainly to get me in the flow of movements (of lines, shapes, curves) and colours. This is why I also need a chunk of time to sit and just do the drawing and painting. The sneak-15-minutes strategy does not work for me. And that is why a dayjob can take so much toll on me because it takes up all the useful hours of a day.
But this week I will only have one or two required meetings and the rest will be work at home so I can reclaim hours that would have been wasted on road traffic (that’ll be about 3-4 hours + 1 for the trouble of getting all dressed up = 4-5 hours LOST PER DAY).
Today I also deliberately made myself rest — as in lie in bed just resting and reading. I realised I haven’t really given myself a proper rest day as I’ve been focused on catching up with studio and creative work. If I don’t rest properly I also burn out even when making art.
I didn’t get to go on an Artist Date this weekend. The tax collector came yesterday and took a painful bite of my cash funds 😭
On a happy note: no dayjob work tomorrow morning. There might be in the afternoon but there’s also the possibility it’ll be moved on Tuesday. Still, nothing for Monday morning which means I can sleep without the stress of an alarm waking me up. 😊
It was a no-dayjob-work day yesterday, so I was really in a good mood when I woke up in the morning. I made progress in fixing the tiny studio (which has gained some extra space after a few pieces of furniture were moved about and also because I sold my fridge that was the last object of my long-past independent condo living).
I got to write a full entry in my journal which naturally allowed it to talk back to me:
I got to print all my index card notes for the smallpoemstorybook that has been titled "Blue Heart Boy & Impossible Love Stories", in the process of which I found I have more than enough to come up with two books, the second titled "The Graves of Possibilities", which was already hinted at by my recent entry in Stories that bubbled up from the swamp of memories.
I got to finish the large painting I started on Christmas eve. This one is titled "Kintsugi". Oh, the sheer joy of finally getting to paint!
Following the flow, I set up a larger blank board for my next big painting. But I'll also be working simultaneously with small and medium ones on the other painting table.
I finally got to start putting together my belated tokens for my patrons and the tribe. Discovered I will have to do a mini-production run because a lot of items I have been meaning to gift were actually sold out over the holidays even after the pop-ups (there were many separate requests and orders through direct messages in social media). I haven't even started on reviving my Etsy for 2018 yet.
Today I will draft something for the Sketchbook Project and also draft something for Blue Heart Boy.
Yesterday I sent a nervous application for a booth at the art market at the Manila Biennale. It's a bit of an ambitious move because I'll be exposing my work to a supposedly more discerning market. I also plan to avail of a day-pass to see the exhibits themselves, learn new things, maybe fall into a few serendipitous encounters. I remember now, one of the best advice that got me to where I am now: Keep Showing Up.
I had to turn down an invitation to join a bazaar this month because of dayjob work conflict. But I am considering taking on another invitation to share and teach art skills in an art event -- still waiting for details and if the offer is still on because the message was stuck in the hidden inbox of my Instagram and it's a week old.
Today I was touched by a thoughtful tagged post in Twitter that made me feel I am not invisible after all.
I finished reading my first book towards my Goodreads Reading Challenge. The reading groove is definitely totally back (I lost it halfway through last year because for a while no book could get through to me -- I realise it could be because a book was trying to come out... The content of Blue Heart Boy was begun in July and for the rest of the year was a period of eruption, like a centuries-quiet volcano finally losing its temper. The drafts for Stories were also spewed out within that time.)
Today I might go on an Artist Date -- or maybe I'll go tomorrow. Let's see how the day unfolds.
The other day I found out that my garden home has sprouted moth wings, and that it has raven's feet.
Which was a timely evolution because The Impossible Garden & the Wildforest now uproot themselves to claim territory.
Next weekend, far into the northern part of the metrocity, the Garden will display its blooms. For the first time (not counting last year's very small stint where we got dismissed as merely playing at arting and crafting), I will be taking the heart-fire with me to be seen. Not just a sampling, not just a suggestion. I'm going for unapologetic declaration of existence.
For details on this event please visit the event page.
I'll be selling, yes. But I have to set my sights beyond the financial rewards (though direly needed) and make the most of the intangible chances to plant the wildforest wherever possible.
The past week has been a whirlwind of planning and preparations. This week is all-out chaos.
The pressure is multiplied by my sending in an application for another event at the end of the month. I was thinking, make the most of the investments by doing more than one show.
The divine and the devil are in the details.
This particular path in my journey has cornered me into making all the small decisions that need making that I have been putting off for one reason or another including "surely that's not going to make much of a difference today" and "I want to do something more dramatic".
Yet the lesson is that the dramatic is reached through the build-up of seemingly small, weak, inconsequential, insignificant steps. Then you realise that the steps may be small but also strong, consequential, and significant.
I was also holding back at first on the "investments". But if I hold back just because of fears of not having enough munny means I'm thinking, even believing, that the munny would be wasted and would not bring back anything of any value. It also means I am restraining the full blooming of the Garden. It means I will not be as true as I claim I want to be.
This whole process took days, weeks. The epiphanies were not fireworks but solitary fireflies on a dark night that I just happen to look out the window, easily missed if I was not paying attention.
Every day there were decisions and choices. Every day there were doubts. Every day I saw on social media how everyone else was simply doing the safe and straight and secure thing and my thoughts would turn to how I cannot even be certain of meeting next month's rent. I would start imagining going back to employed work and the cycle of my body getting physically sick begins at the mere suggestion.
Then I will flail around in that dark abyss of eternal doubt and fear until my hands find my heart and grasp the tender branches growing there and I begin to smell the scent of flowers and I realise that in the abyss I am held by the roots of the forest. And all I had to do was breathe deeply and stop struggling and let the trees bring me back.
In tiny ways invisible to the eye. In ways that offer no excuses to be forgiven. In ways that only appear as weakness or laziness or simple utter failure.
But then I started to paint. Waded through the growing pile of to-dos and silenced all the task alarms and painted. Not about what I think will sell, or what I think will be popular. Not about the little compromises and tweaks, the softening of edges and taming of wildnesses. Instead I let my hand paint strange petals and leaves and other oddities that an impossible flower may choose to have. Beneath the ink and paint the seeds of words fluttered tapping codes into the back of my mind. Doorways and keys and unfinished locks. Windows and cracks on the wall. Glimpses, glances, accidental touches. In the blink of an eye I could step across an ocean and press a hand over an unsuspecting heart.
The breaking stopped.
The title may sound like waking up on the wrong side of the bed, but it isn't like that at all.
I got up late because I like sleeping in a bit on Mondays. I like savouring that tiny bit of fact that I did not have to get up early before sunrise and get dressed and endure the road traffic to get to an office I could not leave until after sunset.
It's going to be a long day but it will be a long studio day. I've put on a favourite pair of soft pants with a cat-printed shirt (that my late grandma has given me) for doing various work with, including clearing the studio of accumulated clutter from the dayjob weeks and getting back into painting.
I'll have to stay put in the house until the next paycheck comes in. (My Thor Ragnarok date this week is on the rocks.) The October bills have come in.
But I will not regret or feel guilty about buying myself a can of spiced tea yesterday (or the jar of Colombian coffee that accompanied it).
You'll find me writing more now. The first few days, even weeks, will be mostly mundane things. Tediousness of my daily life. Eventually I'll find that the floor beneath my feet have started to get rough with scattered leaves, and the hard cement gives way to wood, and then softer earth. Eventually I'll be able to speak forest language again. Maybe this time I can stay longer. Maybe this time I can stay for good. Maybe this is where I need to stay put to be found.
My dad wanted to have lunch out and we ended up staying in the malls until seven in the evening. It’s a thing here, to hang out in the malls for whatever reason (because it’s airconditioned and clean and bright and we don’t have decent parks). I made the most of it by:
- buying more watercolour paper and envelopes
- buying a vacuum insulated tumbler where I can have all my purchased beverages put in and I won’t have to use paper or plastic cups again (I even have my own reusable stainless steel straw)
- buying a lip brush so I can use up every bit of my favourite lipsticks and not have to buy new ones until everything’s all used up (the brush is inexpensive)
- discovering and buying two packs of cotton twine (each pack has 3 balls for only $1 per pack) which I plan to use for packing orders as well as art material for my mixed media paintings
My sister and I also took our time having coffee and dessert.
In the process I walked more than 10,000 steps according to my Health App tracker.
So now I’m reorganising my to-do list. A fresh restart tomorrow of what I had intended to do today.
By the way, the poll I mentioned in the previous post —