Here is an optimistic plotting of the week's schedule. My personal target is to finish the report by Saturday. Although I know that given the volume and depth of the data I need to analyse, finishing by Saturday is a hope akin to being able to go to the ball with a beautiful new dress -- some magical intervention required.
This morning will be a slow-burn getting-into-the-flow kind of morning. That flow is supposed to be sustainable until Saturday, so I am not rushing it. It will be like a hearth's fire only put to sleep into embers at night but ready to roar and leap in the mornings. This kind of flow is complicated to catch and so I am not letting myself get anxious.
The simpler tasks are listed for the morning. They are mostly loose ends that need cleaning up to get me all set for the real big task ahead : diving deep into the data analysis and beginning the creative writing process for the full final report. It involves a lot of craft work, because that is what I do that makes the difference in the output. That is why I am still able to survive six years after leaving full-time employment. (I have never really harnessed the full power of that skill.)
Expect no painting or any of the usual creative artistic projects. The dayjob is eating up all my productive hours. Whatever hours are left I spend resting and recharging and refilling the well. I gobble up stories though I am not able to make or tell any. That is why I make my notes and calendar pretty instead, because otherwise I just might go mad.
I am not feeling bad though. Not today. Last week was not so bad either. I just feel neutral. Except in the depths of the night when the insomnia strikes and there is an invisible hand squeezing my lonely heart.
I am quite pleased actually that I am able to focus so much better now (thanks to that whole studyblr inspiration, and thanks to the Eggscellent timer app). I expect this week to run even more smoothly. I've even started taking a brain support supplement that was recommended by a friend (it helps optimise the processing of dopamine).
This is almost like a dry-run for an even bigger task waiting after I finish the report. This is a shade of Things shaped into place as I find a much better way to get where I want and need to go.
In my first post for the year I had been certain of taking a path. It was an old, somewhat familiar path, but it was a path well-travelled by others. I have made my marks on it but I cannot claim it as mine. It is a tributary to a larger path that leads to destinations I am not (and have never been) interested in getting to.
I decided to return to that path for a very simple reason : quick big cash. I thought maybe I could find a way to negotiate an arrangement that would also somewhat allow me to plant a few seeds of my own that could, at one point, help change the landscape of that path. I thought maybe I could actually manage to carve and claim a branching path, an alternative path, that would somehow help evolve the path into one that I could, maybe, be more willing to actually stay on for a little bit longer. I hoped, maybe I could bring in the meanings that are important to me, and which I believe are also important for the human condition. I thought, maybe, I can make a difference on this path. Yes, even decades later I can still be that naive and idealistic. And optimistic.
Things progressed as they should. I came closer to my goal of securing a good paycheck, and for a while my hopes of being and doing something meaningful to me and something I could love appeared to be very possible.
And then one morning, the possibility blurred. And now things are less certain.
I am both disappointed and not. I appreciate the learning that came with the whole experience. Certainly the process of it allowed me to realise things I would not have if I had not gone out there to explore.
Simply put, when it came down to pinning the Things into concrete forms, the difference in values (which I knew about, and which was why I left before, but which I hoped was navigable) became more apparent. And at this point, after all that I have persevered through, I do not think a compromise to the degree that I am seeing being laid out before me is something I can sustain for any prolonged period. I can understand the needs from both sides. But I also understand that perhaps, at this time, an equal relationship is not yet feasible. I appreciate the clarity of purpose of each side, but I can see that the purposes may not yet be aligned for equal mutual benefit. The expectations carry compromises, and a certain demand of investment -- physical, emotional, mental, even spiritual. The compromises and investment mean time and energy that have become my most precious currency, and which I cannot spend without careful deliberation.
So the decision to take that old path is put to a pause. I need to rethink everything. And come up with a Plan B. And a Plan C.
I have gone back to my mentors for reminders. And I have been listening keenly for clues and messages. They have been appearing, in many ways and many forms. It is only I who delays.
Ten days before I got around to coming back here. I've been pre-occupied and distracted and also kept busy. The dayjob is a significant part of it. The fairy tale I am trying to tell is also a part of it. My art is a part of it.
On Friday the 13th I am going to the dayjob "talk", which is really an interview of sorts except that I get to have some negotiating power too, mainly because I've been doing the job for two decades and have gained a rather difficult and distinctive expertise. I say this without any intention of boasting, but only as a matter of fact. Because the irony is that despite this particular skill strength I have not used it to gain "success" as expected by most. For the past six years I have put it on the sideline while I tried to make another story for my life. A story that has more heart and meaning. A story that I could live with and that I will have the least regrets for, if not entirely without regret.
This year is supposed to be the seventh year of my being "brave", everyday dancing along the tightrope of unpredictability and always braced for the worst of an unstable income. But this year I am taking an alternate route. I am going back into the "corporate jungle", so to speak, but I am bringing with me my ancient magical forest, and I am going to navigate both, and eventually, only one will remain as a natural course of Things and as a fruit of my intentions.
I will do this because I have reached the edge of a cliff and if I am to continue to shape the life I will not regret then I must find a (temporary) way to make enough money to make a leap. I have been making many many steps for the past six years but this time I need a leap. A few leaps. Across seas, actually. Out and away. A heaving push forward. And I need a bit more money than I am able to make now to be able to do them.
It terrifies me. This decision that I thought I will never make but always suspected I will. It is actually making me physically sick in many little ways. I find myself running deeper into my canvases, and my pages, and feeding ravenously of stories and fairy tales for sustenance. Because I have a better idea now, if not yet a flawless strategy, of how to fight and flow with the life-draining and soul-parching characteristics of my dayjob. Because it makes no sense to do the dayjob if I am not going to keep doing the art and the story. The dayjob is supposed to be for the art and the story, that is all it is, a means to an end. Until such time when the end is also the means.
If all goes as well as I am envisioning it will, I have roughly three months left to be as ready as I ever will be.
It may not immediately seem like a direct connection but moving out my painting studio into the garage was a big step into further defining my movements. For quite a while I have made do with the tiny dark space under the stairs, exhausting all possibilities of arrangements, schedules, and even habits. But a lack of natural daylight and elbow/knee room could only be endured up to a certain point especially when my direction is to expand to bigger pieces that extend beyond the pools of artificial light I could manage and the floor space I could claim.
Allowing my art to progress more freely, and to unfurl and unfold, will mean I can have a sturdier spirit when I plunge into the regular dayjob work. Like the flowerings in my artwork, my soul will be a teeming lush impossible magical garden that is more impervious to drought and pollution and acid rains.
I also feel that is it a symbolic move, from inside to outside. I had originally thought that the only way I can have a studio with enough daylight and space was to wait to move out of the house again and be able to afford renting my own condo unit where I will also live by myself. But that step won't be at least until the second half of this year and that's too long to keep my art constrained.
Then I had a dream about my grandfather who was a painter and illustrator in his days, and from whom I most likely inherited my artistic genes. After that dream I woke up with the idea of using the dresser table he made for my grandma (which has been passed on to me by my mom) as a drawing desk. The dresser has been stored in the garage because there is no space for it in the house, and the plan was I will take it with me when I move into my own more permanent space. Except that step will again take too long and the dresser is just standing there, gathering dust.
In a surge of inspired action I moved all my painting stuff into the garage and started fixing things. As I slowly moved in I also started painting my bigger pieces, and found a flow that I have been hoping to find. It took me around three days to really settle in. The old mango tree across the street watches over the gate and provides a much-needed natural view to complement the open sky above it. The bright natural daylight is balm to my over-strained eyes that have always squinted in the poor indoor lighting. The natural breeze soothes my oft-frayed emotions.
It is a rather open space. When it storms I will have to pull in my things closer to the house and cover them. But the gate is high enough to provide privacy, and I seriously believe the mango tree spirits are watching over at night to deter would-be thieves (Although I doubt the thieves will find anything they could make easy money of -- heck, even I have a hard time selling my own paintings! Hahaha!)
My grandma's dresser, with it's triple mirrors (when I close my eyes and look at the mirrors, I see myself in three forms), is now a vision/storywall of sorts. I've taken some key images from my own journal and laid them out in the open. Again another symbolic inside to outside move. I am putting out the images for me to see everyday, like practice, like reminders, like prayers. Last year were the seeds, and this year the garden rises to flower. And the flowers bring in the creatures and the beings. And the story makes itself even as I make it for myself. Always the flowers, beautiful and impossible and magical. And the ravens and the buttermoths, the dragons and the wolves and the foxes. The wild stag who is both hunter and hunted. The flower-marked with their riddles and their poetry. The lost sleepwalking kings with their magics.
I have repeatedly mentioned in previous posts that I want my inside to be reflected more on my outside. A more authentic self that I continuously work upon to grow and evolve. When I go back to that dayjob work I want this to be the case, that I am more the self I want to be and am becoming rather than the self that the dayjob tends to cultivate. I have to be clear and certain, and I have to be resilient and brave. I know that not everyone will get it, not everyone will understand, not everyone will agree. But I will keep claiming that space of fair partnership. And if it becomes a matter of life and death of the soul, then I know what I have to do.
Funny that nowadays it is infinitely easier for me to claim being an artist (which, according to Julia Cameron, Lisa Congdon, and many other creative gurus, is one of the most difficult things to do in this modern world where the measures of success and sanity tend to blacklist the option of being an "artist") than to admit that I want to be in love, in a relationship, and in a happily ever after. It is harder to say I still believe in fairy tales (even if it is nuanced by the wisdom of Jane Austen as interpreted by Elizabeth Kantor and sobered up by a practical insight into romanticism by Alain de Botton), and that at this point of my life my heart still beats as if it had never been broken.
My whole system of belief about life and love is in itself a minefield, and hence I avoid delving into it except with very, very few trusted kindred spirits. Yet I am writing a little about it now because I will be writing a lot soon about my planned journeys for next year and love comes into it in a big way.
I am not particularly young in years (given the modern world's tendencies to over-glorify youth) but my hope and optimism are nearly as fresh as if I were born yesterday. Most would think this a disadvantage and possibly terribly impractical.
Despite my foray into the shadowy arts when I was just out of college, and went through a period of always being clad in black, and denouncing anything soft and light and brightly pretty, I am at the core an eternal optimist. It turns out that my true spirit burns with a bright colourful light and its form spills over to the fantastical.
Yet being a believer of fairy tales is not an assurance of wise decisions. I have been guilty of sabotaging my own chances, simply because I felt I did not deserve a fairy tale given my disadvantages within the context of the dominating social rules. I had often thought I should be happy and content with whatever I got, even if it meant settling for much less than I had dreamed or hoped. I thought I was being inconsiderate and unreasonable, immature and petty, for even trying to look out for what I needed and what made me happy.
I used to approach love and relationships from a position of lack. That the other was doing me a favour for even noticing me, if at all. I often initiated the expression of liking, which, based so far in the many Japanese stories I've watched, rarely resulted in a favourable outcome, because the leading male character would always go for the girl whom he had pursued, not the one who pursued him. In the movie He's Just not That Into You, Jennifer Connelly's character mentioned that she was the one who proposed to her husband, and at the end of the movie they had separated. I am not saying that it doesn't work when the woman initiates, but that there are inherent weaknesses in that particular formula, and I have had more than a decade of experience along those lines to know what I'm saying.
Here's the clincher. For all my history of so-called daring and bravado (I shall be writing about a few of them in future posts), at the heart of it all, I only recently realised that I didn't want it that way. That what I wanted were courtships and friendships blossoming from a soulful ritual of communication and engagement. I realised I believe less in the sudden inexplicable outburst of passionate attraction (that in stories lately almost always ended up in sex even way early from the first meeting), than in the restrained, careful dance of exploration and discoveries that is more prominent in Japanese and Korean dramas (true, I refer to stories often revolving around teens or young adults but my epiphany here was that I never really experienced that whole first love thing and thus have retained a rather intense curiosity for it, and that I have always been a bit of a prude).
I have been drawn to the stories that echo what I truly dream about, and looking through my books, movie, and TV series collections and viewing histories, I realised I had been living contrary to them. Again because I felt I did not qualify for what I hoped. Also, with the increasing normality and casualness of physical expressions of love and affection, I find myself being the very awkward fish in the pond. I have wished a number of times that I had been born in a slightly older time (I have my own views and beliefs about the whole concept of feminism which is often an argument against the older ways of the world, but I don't wish to provoke any discussion or debate. Let us simply respect and let be.)
My art-making, given life in 2012, I discovered, is all about my pent-up everything about love. I first made the mistake of mistaking it as a substitute for love and being in a relationship itself (and thus I went unconsciously through the process of halamanization, as my friend S put it), but that is not the way I am built at the core.
While art is my lifeline and the cauldron of my life's meanings and mythologies, it is not a person who is also my significant other or my soul mate, or whatever is the serious term for it nowadays. What art did for me, however, was to fill up the blanks in my own life so that I can become a person who is whole instead of one who is lacking. Making art made me, into someone who can now come forward as a deserving equal for an other, a whole who will complement rather than a brokenness hoping to be fixed or completed. Art continues to make me, to grow me, to evolve me, into even better versions of myself, into becoming the self that is according to my own hope for my self.
So late into this turbulent year I was shaken awake from my plant-like state (it was a longish period of dark depression layered over with heavy concerns about money, work, independence, freedom, loneliness, exhaustion, and the like). In that long painful process of clinging to the lip of the abyss, half-wishing I would fall asleep and never wake up, I was saved by a story. An absurd story I would not have paid attention to were I not in such a state of despair. And that story led to another, and another, and then a pattern of a clue began to emerge and make sense to the odd imaginings of my creative mind, as well as stirred the old, old, cast away longings in my heart.
Hence here I am, awoken into a new morning of my life, even while the season of it is closer to autumn than spring. I have risen from the earth of my impossible garden and become myself, and the impossible flowers have become my agents of hope, my symbols, my signs, my magic. I am an artist, and I want to love again, and I dream of a happily ever after.
For now I'm not fussing over my "productivity" in the studio. I'm simply enjoying this phase of frenzied feeding. Like a reading rage, this period of almost manic consumption of fairy tale stories is all part of the process.
Signs and significances. Seeds. These are what I am gathering. Distilling and filtering through the ocean of details, tracing threads of connections from one meaning to another, linking back and forward, pulling at tangles and unraveling loose ends.
Cleaning the slate. Calibrating defaults. Redefining the givens.
But yes my head is in the clouds, and it is all I can do to keep my feet touching the ground. And my heart, well, my heart is a kite on a fraying string, tugging to be free.
My sister and I had a most interesting discussion last night, over an imaginary map made up of empty cups, saucers, and glasses. We were in a Korean cafe on a very late Friday evening. We talked about doors, and how some movements must be the act of opening doors and walking through them.
It's quite a record, actually, that I was out last night. I was just out on Wednesday to spend an afternoon with a friend (who helped trigger awake a number of suddenly possible directions). And then Friday night I made the effort to dress up (discovering without a doubt that I really have to upgrade my recently minimalised wardrobe) and went out to have dinner with my sister and her friend.
After dinner we browsed and shopped a little -- me forking over the cash oh so carefully but also recognising the necessity of allowing this expense in order to further my own forward movements. I have been very stingy on my own personal spending since I would rather not have anything new than worry about how to cover next month's household bills.
I bought two plain shirts of different colours (which echoed my own painting palette preferences), a pair of brown tights, and a pair of brown leggings. These are meant to expand the possibilities of my current skirts and dresses. I have mentally marked one perfectly fitting dress to return for once I've slept over the idea of buying it. Half the stuff left in my closet after I minimalised are leaning too much into the shabby-but-not-chic side and while they are favourites I may really have to let go of them soon or re-assign them as houseclothes.
Today I have plans of going to the mall and shopping for fabric to be made into skirts. I have an aunt who sews so I can have new skirts without having to pay the full store prices. Then also fabric for a few dresses. I already know the kind of clothes that make me feel both comfortable and nice. I do not have the face nor form (nor the finances) for following fashions. I also do not have the patience to make the effort to keep abreast of trends.
It is quite an awkward feeling, and I admit to feeling a bit sheepish at all this attention being paid to how I look. Last night my sister and I also dropped by out favourite local skin care and makeup brand, Snoe, and she got moisturisers. I, on the other hand, with much internal wrestling, bought a bottle of lemon drop spritz -- a definite upgrade from my all-time go-to baby cologne. The spritz smelled like how I would imagine a lemon orchard would smell like while the trees are heavy with ripening fruit and all the spaces in between trees are carpeted with flowers and everything coated with sunshine.
While I remain a total fan of solitude and spending as much time in my studio traveling my inner countries, I believe that the time has come for me to balance that inward movement with outward movement. Certainly the person who comes out of that voluntary seclusion is a different person from the one who went in. But different in the sense that I am better equipped (I hope) for any encounter. It does not mean I will start going to parties and chatting up strangers to "reach out". Or joining clubs and workshops. I still want to bring my quiet with me.
It means I will go out and relate to the world according to who I am and what I am. I will, however, concede to the compromise of being a character in order to participate in the common social language. But the character will be of my own choosing, and will not be a betrayal of my own values. But I will be open and receptive, and honest, and kind. I will also be mindful of protecting myself while respecting the truths of others.
I will be out there, moving into larger spaces, daring the labyrinth, mustering up the courage to keep opening doors and walking through them, both real and metaphorical portals.
I will be out there, silent and shining and real, in the best possible way I can.
This piece, now titled "Seeds", took longer than the usual. It was conceived in a storm and born while still in the midst of the storm's rampage. Yet one would not suspect its tragic roots, because it is what it is, a flowering of hope despite the devastations.
I was able to fix a money task today, which gave me a tiny inch of breathing space. I know the task list is suspended, but I fix what I come across without having to deal with the rest of the chain.
I sleep fitfully. I exhaust myself with reading and with watching those just-discovered highly entertaining fantasy fairy tales of Koreanovelas (it's been popular for years but I'm a confirmed late bloomer). Very escapist, but at this moment also very crucial to keeping that link between myself and the ground, if that somehow makes sense.
I eat fitfully. I crave for very specific foods eaten in specific places that I cannot afford, so I eat just enough of what's on hand to stay not sick and fully functioning. At the same time I crave with a hunger of the soul and the heart. So I create my impossible gardens with the expectation of rain and sunshine and bees to help them grow, and with the hope that something unexpected and new and meant will find its way through, a sleeping seed waiting for its own blooming. Synchronicities and serendipities. Every painting a prayer to the gods of the spaces-in-between.
Today I started original work on two small pieces. Next I'll do another big piece. Then two small pieces. And I'll keep making more of those round paintings (that some people won't or could not take seriously as art).
I'm also warming up for adding more fauna and fungi (specifically mushrooms) in my garden's ecosystem.
Minimalism is not just about decluttering. It involves a full shift in perspective about possessions, and a full reevaluation of your relationship with everything -- money, people, objects, experiences, knowledge, and whatever else falls within the spectrum of your life.
I have always been an avid declutterer for many years but while I would enjoy the results of a cleaned-up space for a few weeks, the clutter I sent away would creep back in another form (and occasionally the same form without me realising it).
Decluttering is a surface action. It is external. It is cathartic and therapeutic in itself, but long-term positive effects can only go as far as how the outside action is mirrored inside you.
In my previous decluttering, I got rid of things I truly believed I would not need or use anymore. While there was always a significant amount gotten rid of, what was left behind was even more. And many of those left behind were the "undecided". Items I might need or use. Items I want to use but for some reason could not at the moment (or the past five years). Items I feel guilty about discarding because they have not been used much, well, or at all. Then there were the possessions in which I had assigned a misguided value. Items that I thought helped define who I am, like a real-life hashtag accessorising my existence. Items that I thought I should have if I were to be perceived as an authentic artist/writer/good person. Items that I thought I need to have because that's what responsible and practical adults have.
So all my decluttering were short-term solutions to deep-seated matters that I had not even begun to realise, much less addressed.
Sometime last year I came across Marie Kondo's Konmari book and I was moved to declutter by her simple question: Does this spark joy? But the answer to that question can still be deceiving if I still clung to my old measures of happiness, success, satisfaction, and fulfilment.
This year I came across The Minimalists' book, Everything That Remains. It gave me the missing pieces from Kondo's book, and constructed for me not just an effective and efficient decluttering strategy, but a philosophy on possessions and beliefs on value.
I believe that I was also most receptive this time when I felt that I was at one of the lowest points of my life's journey. I felt trapped, weighed down yet empty, heavy-hearted yet wanting so much. The spaces in my life were of absences and lack, potholes of poverty and scarcity. Yet if you look around my home you would find layers and piles of things, a seeming abundance.
One word that has been going around lately in the Creativity Salon is "lightly". To go lightly through the days, to not be burdened, to not be heavy with our desires and our disappointments. And I realise I want to take that idea further, for my very life to embody that light tread upon the world.
Hand-in-hand with going minimalist is conscious consumerism. Buy less but better. Buy products with a conscience. The truest vote for a healthful and mindful economy is where we put our money. Reducing a life to its essentials brings up the question on how to maintain it. It cannot exist in a vacuum, without consideration of its own impact on the community and the environment where it stands. Suddenly a purchase is not merely a habit of function but an exercise in consideration. If we are being so conscientious about how we conduct our own life, shouldn't that naturally extend to how our choices to support that life are conscious of the world? Is the manufacturing of what we buy destroying the resources of the earth? Is the disposal of what we buy killing the oceans? Minimalism also means reducing our carbon footprints, and finding easy alternatives for many of the things that we have taken for granted and at default.
Minimalism for me also translated into reduced expenses, while at the same time it enabled me to identify what I should have prioritised paying for when all the clutter dust had settled. There could be such a thing as misplaced resourcefulness -- again a result of misplaced values on needs and wants. For instance, it never occurred to me to get a proper clothes cabinet. Yet I have spent more money on various storage systems for paper files and trinkets and souvenirs (most of which I ended up disposing). What I have is a store clothes rack that I cover with a blanket to protect the clothes from dust. It has worked but it's not the best way to keep my clothes.
On the matter of clothes, I halved the contents of my wardrobe. Half of what remained, I realised, will need replacing soon -- worn out and faded from having been used repeatedly (while some of those that were disposed had remained as fresh and new-looking as the day they were bought because they were hardly or never used at all).
I no longer have anything in "storage" waiting for a season or an occasion. Broken items were either sent for repair or disposed. Many pieces went into donation boxes.
The idea of donation was one thing that excited me. In the midst of all my lack and many aspects of scarcity, I wanted to give. If I lived in the desert I would plant gardenfuls of flowering cacti. I wanted to counter the neediness in me with generosity, to neutralise the poison of disappointment when nothing came for me even as I saw torrents of "blessings" shower upon others. It is so easy to envy, to be jealous, to be resentful. Especially when there is something that your heart yearns for, and has yearned for a long time. All that sweet desire can turn bitter and sour when repeatedly denied. I have tasted it many times, and many times I have pulled myself back from becoming the kind of person who has forgotten hope.
The usual way is to sell off decluttered items in order to gain back some cash. I chose donation over this because the selling could be a tricky u-turn into regression, It has happened to me before. If the items don't sell, having assigned cash values on them, it became more difficult to suddenly just give it away. What often happened was that the unsold items were kept for the "next garage sale", and thus they never leave the house. This time, my mom had to convince me to let her sell as many as she could before I called the charity foundation to pick up the boxes. While I knew the money would be a help given the current financial constraints at home, I was more concerned and driven by the need to empty and to make space. I wanted to re-start fresh. I wanted not to be weighed down by all the half-baked meanings and intentions seeded into the purchase of all those objects. I didn't want them cluttering my physical and mental space, demanding notice, maintenance, repairs, and pressure to be used or made into something that truly adds to the quality of anyone's life. More than the cash that could be made from selling them, I was more interested in the karmic rewards of simply giving them away. I wanted to harness those energies into fixing the dissonances of my own daily life.
While common images of minimalism portray the lifestyle as bare, all-white, and very modern, they are not the definition of what minimalism is. I am old-soul, an artist, and I love colours. My art is not minimalist. Yet I find that I can embrace and practice minimalism just as well. To date I have less than half of what I used to own. This morning my first task for the day was bringing bagfuls of books to the neighbourhood library (and in the process discovered an alternative dayjob working spot for free). As I emptied and sorted yet another box of possessions I find myself flooded with new ideas for painting and for books. Potential answers to old questions begin poking fingers at the back of my mind, released from long forgotten prisons of my own making. Decisions were made with clarity across all aspects of my life. At the same time, a few things on standstill are starting to get unblocked and to flow.
With less possessions to keep track of, it is much easier to find things, and decide on what I really need. Resourcefulness and making-do skills also get re-calibrated into true practicality. I wanted and needed a large studio table on which I could do everything without stuff spilling out over the edges or hitting my elbows or having to drag an extra table to hold the materials I need to work. I started canvassing. Then I had a conversation with the bank yesterday and realised I cannot afford to buy a table because I had to rechannel the money to pay the bank. But to complete my fixing of the studio I needed the table in place, and this (yet another) money shortage had threatened to cut short another forward path. But I was seeing more clearly now, with so few things to block my vision. I took measurements of all the least-used tables in the house, and found two that were of the same height as my current too-small desk. I repurposed them into studio desks, aligning them with the old desk into a flowing L-shape that gave me exactly the working space I needed. Obstacle overcome. Disruption averted.
In my next post I will write about how my financials are faring with the energy waves of this minimalism move.
I leave you with a snapshot of my minimalised studio. Not white. Not bare. And lots of vintage-flavoured/ old-world things. But everything in it is accounted for, valued and validated, adds joy, performs an essential function. No just-in-cases. No mights or maybes. Every thing reflects the direction I want to go, and every thing here will help me get there.
I am IN THE ZONE. I am in the FLOW of decluttering and minimising and making spaces. I am feeling the gathering of energies and the potential to direct all that towards something important...
But I have to stop and let it fizzle out a bit (reminiscent of how I had to stop the art-making and let the momentum fizzle out a lot) because I have to resume work on the dayjob by tomorrow, which, as you know by now, resides in an entirely different zone that is at odds with everything my life wishes to stand for. I have a report that needs to be done by Wednesday, and so I only have Monday and Tuesday to get it all wrapped up and out of the to-do list.
It is actually a holiday tomorrow but nevertheless I must do the work. In the process I must drop the thrumming reins of redefining the foundations of my life, my life lines, and attend to the thing with the deadline. Always deadlines. Dead lines. Someday, and sooner I hope than later, I will cease being led by dead lines.
Hence aptly named a commercial break. I take a break for commercial purposes, for the making of money. Cut the main show at awkward points to insert a paid portion with a jarring jingle. Prolong the telling of the story with numerous interruptions. Disrupt. Distract. Break in. Do you know that these very words show up in advertising strategy documents? They mean it. They intend it. They often win.
I have this mental ball of energy, like a yarn woven and gathered, growing bigger from the space-clearing I have been doing for the past two days. Stagnant stuck energies reawakened from unused forgotten corners and containers. But now the ball is growing and glowing. Like a comet itching to hurtle across the sky. Energies repurposed and redirected. A ball of potential.
But wait. Sorry, I need to work. Always, always, this constant breaking. My heart breaks.
I will try to be strong and positive. Think of the money. I get it. I get how the money is the means. My issue is with how I earn it. How I have to be someone I'm not. How I have to be someone I don't like very much. Most won't, don't, get it. Like I am ungrateful and ungracious. I know. It tears me. It breaks me. It chokes me.
I endure. I do what I can. I do what I should. I do what is responsible.
Meanwhile I dream, I dream, of a house in the woods by a lake or a sea.
Two things, actually. One thing is the dayjob. I have two projects in progress, and two proposals awaiting decisions. The other thing is my mad urgent plunge into minimalism. By the layers of epiphanies I have been experiencing I would say that this move has been ripe and ready for a while. I suspect I was just too lost in the visible and invisible clutter to see it.
For the past two to three years I have frequently mentioned about how I have distilled and simplified my life as I focused more into art-making and less on the usual expected pursuits of a modern woman. But while I started out well, I barely scratched the surface of what it really meant to simplify and to minimalise my life down to the essentials. Before, it was driven mainly by need. I needed to reduce my expenses (and sell stuff) so I can extend the period of not having to take on a dayjob project. But now it is more of an integration with my life values. Before it was partly a sacrifice, and I had thought about regaining what I had given up. Now it is about digging through the core of myself and my life, and realigning everything according to what is really important for me and what I want to become. Now it is about keeping my life light, clear, and designed to complement and support the creative life I am nurturing.
Unlike most people who tell a story about minimalism, I am not coming from a position of plenty and explicit excess. I am in fact, coming from a position of relative poverty. The house rent is two months late, the utility bills had to be paid with cash loans. There is money coming in though, enough to catch up with all the payables and still have leftover to let me breathe easy until about November. But my point is, instead of clinging to my possessions in the midst of all the lack, I am re-evaluating them to see if perhaps this lifestyle with its unique set of life accessories and requirements, is in fact one of the things that is keeping me from moving ahead and forward. That perhaps this daily environment is sending the wrong signals to my brain's subconscious, and weighing down my efforts to improve the circumstances.
My mood and disposition are dependent on the lifestyle I am clinging to. Negative energies slow me down and cloud my judgment. Resentment, envy, jealousy -- these are all about not having something. They are about seeing emptiness as a bad thing, as a lack, as missing-ness. They are about not having or being enough. Impatience builds up. Helplessness follows.
I cannot remember now exactly how I turned around. A post somewhere, a trail followed. But I was given a lifeline. And instead of worrying how to refill the emptied spaces I wanted to create empty spaces.
Key is reading the book Everything That Remains by The Minimalists. I translated its first-world context into my third-world reality, and I was on my way.
Minimalising my life is my roundabout road towards getting back into my studio. Right now the studio exists in a different plane of existence. It is dismantled here, but alive elsewhere. I put it away but it also hid itself. And I will only find it again, and be able to enter it, if the paths are clear. And by clear I mean all the traps have been sprung, all the obstacles removed, all that is locked unlocked, all the trick questions answered, all the passages paid for, all the secret passwords spoken, all that is angry appeased, all that is in sorrow comforted. And all these can be done when there are no distractions or disguises. When the room is empty and there is only the elephant in it.
Most people stop at possessions when decluttering or minimalising. Often it begins and ends in the clothes closet where the most obvious accumulation of un-necessities is apparent. I started in my closet and halved it (and I did not have much to begin with). But I didn't stop there. I have gone as far as distilling my precious books, which I thought I would never subtract from again after a previous experience of culling that left me with many regrets. I know so much better now. I will dive through my digital clutter. I will reevaluate all my relationships and the people in my life. I will be more conscious of the experiences I will invest my time and money on.
The process is still on-going. I have set up a secondhand shop here on the website to sell or barter some books, gadgets, and other objects. In the house there is a brewing garage sale of clothes and pieces of furniture.
My expectations from the whole exercise are this: that I would gain a breakthrough (in ideas) into how I can integrate the work I need to do for money and my art-making; that I will gain better insights into how I can truly transition my dayjob into one that is more in accordance with my life values; that I will have a clearer view of what I need to do in order to regain the momentum of my creative journey.
I will post a tally of sorts on how much I have distilled my life when I am done. As of now I have halved my closet, disposed of all stored just-in-case clothes and only kept three types of cold-weather jackets and a couple of summer swimsuits. I halved my bags and shoes. I moved a big pile of books into the to-sell stack, and in the process I freed up two shelves -- one to be sold, the other to be reclaimed by my sister for her own use. It was seeing the piles of to-go stuff that made me think of setting up the secondhand shop.
I'll end this post with my recommended books that are helping me through right now.
I have a confession to make.
From Monday to Wednesday this week I was in limbo. I "drugged" myself into numbness as I designed dayjob project proposals and waited for responses, poised at the ready to execute the necessary tasks as required, grim and gritting my teeth to pull the money in. My "drugs" were iFlix (It's the local Netflix at less than half the price, and I finally got around to watching Prison Break, I'm on Season 2) and Farmville 2 (Level 27). I pushed myself to a numb state where concerns have been reduced to whether Scofield will get thwarted again, or whether I'll be able to complete a farm quest. I did not write, I did not read. I took myself to a place where I simply floated and coated myself with indifference so that when any dayjob requirement comes in I am "ready" for it and I'll just do it with as little qualm and squirm as possible. In the floating limbo space there is very little pain, very little regret, very little desire. There is only function and per-piece-purpose.
It worked, actually. I was pretty efficient with the dayjob stuff. I did not cringe when I pencilled in potential schedules in my calendar that blocked whole days. Those days are empty, nothing's being displaced, is what I keep telling myself. Think of the money coming in. Think of the bills to be paid, the debts to be settled.
I posted sporadically in my social media. I scanned my newsfeed for clues of escape. I thought a lot about my dayjob work, like poking at a wound, trying to feel if I feel like going back to employment yet when the chance presents itself (head says yes, heart says no).
Then a trail.
First that Brainpickings article on the commencement speech by Teresita Fernandez:
“Being an artist is not just about what happens when you are in the studio. The way you live, the people you choose to love and the way you love them, the way you vote, the words that come out of your mouth… will also become the raw material for the art you make.”
Then a post by someone who reacted strongly against a commercial by Toyota that endangered dogs in rivers. It jolted me from my stupor and reminded me through the haze why I wanted out of the work that helped corporations profit from the mass destruction of natural resources and the promotion of consumerism. The question rose again : how do I begin easing out, doing less, and really begin to live closer to my own values? How will I shift the flow of money and energies? I felt a spasm of an urge to make some kind of change as I planted corn and tomatoes. The fog was being pierced through, though I am still shrouded in the safety of sleepwalking through the days.
In the Fernandez article, Thoreau was mentioned, and it led me into a series of links that landed me into the page of The Minimalists who have been described as being like "Thoreau with wi-fi" which is an exact perfect description of the creative life I want to build for myself. Their page led me to other links and eventually reminded me to re-read Marie Kondo's book on tidying-up. I also downloaded book samples by The Minimalists into my Kindle and gleaned a lot from the teasers that I was able to access.
Before this there was a post by another friend in a grumpy mood who asked how exactly do full-time travel bloggers make money and are able to live such an ideal traveler's life without having to work like regular people. Someone posted two articles in the comments. I read the articles and realised that I was already halfway what those travelers have done. Substituting "making art" for "travel", the principles are essentially the same, and at the core and beginning of it is the most crucial step: minimalise your life, strip it down to the essentials. I have been on the right track, I just have to clean it up some more, and strengthen the foundations of the life I want to live.
Of the two articles, one resonated more strongly (I suspect it's because this writer sounded more introvert and the other sounded more extrovert.).
Passages that jumped out at me (and validated most of my past steps) were:
From the other article this was what I highlighted:
I HAVE minimalised my life in a significant way since 2012, but I have not completed it yet. I have to rethink the reasons and correct the motivations for some of the decisions I've made relating to it. I must align it all to the values of the creative life I want to set. I looked around the house and saw so much more to be rid of, things I could turn into cash, buy me some more time or pay off debts to pay off the time I need to work for those debts (incurred before enlightenment).
I need to have something to do aside from doing the dayjob to make the money. So this might be something to while away the time instead of just farming and cheering prisoners to escape. I can't make art while the money thing looms like a curse, and while I am in my dayjob mode. But maybe "perfecting" my tidying-up and fully embracing minimalism in my lifestyle will help the energies along to move in the direction I want them to.
The main things I took away from the initial dive into the articles were these:
It all ties up nicely, I think. A reassessment of my life possessions linked to my priorities and my need for money. Hopeful that it will lead to less need and better use for money. It's a better-thought-out way of investing in the life I want to have.
(There is, of course, the other reality that a huge chunk of the money I need to make is to support three other people. My other hope is that my inspiration will be theirs and there can be a better allocation of resources instead of the current defaults.)
I end this post with the pile of books I have pulled from my shelves to read/re-read and to integrate into a map for myself.
My ultimate dream job is clear. It is to be a full-time artist and author, and be able to sustain a decent living with what I make from selling my art and my creative services. What is less clear perhaps is the detail of those services and even the "products" that I want to sell. I guess I have to sort that out. Right now I am easily swayed and dismayed by what other artists are doing, and feel bad by what I am not able to do or offer.
I am inspired by Sarah K. Benning and Jose Naranja who are very focused on one kind of work (but requires a solid base of patrons and customers for an assured income stream). I am also inspired by Lisa Congdon who believes and recommends "diversifying" her creative offerings (which makes perfect sense if one is to develop more income streams).
And then of course there is the need for a job with a regular paycheck.
I have dream day jobs too. Such as working in a library. Or a publishing house that makes the kinds of books I read. I would also like to work in an organisation that has to do with nature, especially plants. Work that has to do with conservation or finding ways to help the planet recover from the abuses of humankind. If I had the skill and talent I would have liked to work with something like National Geographic, or The Smithsonian. Or a job that will require me to work inside a lot of libraries and museums. I am not too good with work that involves too much active peopling. I can work well with small core teams that are allowed to act independently rather than having to execute a template process. I think I might enjoy work relating to old cultures and its preservation and promotion. If I had been born in an older time and in a more moneyed circumstance, and better brain cells, I think I may have had an inclination to be an academic on literature, an archaeologist, a botanist -- someone with a specific and deep expertise, almost to the extent of being a genius in that particular field. And that field would be something that provides learning or resource to all, an expanding of knowledge and an aid to wisdom.
I could work with a lot of writing but not a lot of having to talk and present. One of my dreams when I was more actively doing market research was that there would be a time when all I have to do is write a comprehensive idiot-proof report that will present itself and not have to be presented by me. it will have sidenotes and footnotes and appendices that are easy to access and understand, and can be consulted again and again.
The other day I was thinking about whether I have the talent and skill for illustration. I think I need to understand more about what it is because right now it feels like a version of an ad agency creative job where the brief plus the client's opinions and demands could curtail the creative flow. Also, I am really not trained for drawing and may be very limited in what I am able to do. I don't know. I really have to read up a bit and be better informed. But it's a possible direction I can take that is commercial but still "artsy". It will be a terrifying shift, if ever.
I am ambivalent about teaching. I was a high school teacher once and I enjoyed it for a while (until the Dead Poets' Society version of an incident). I may no longer have the patience, especially when kids now have that annoying sense of entitlement and are too outspoken and insistent on their freedom to express for their own good. I am open, however, to maybe coaching a creative class of adults, but following my own design or curriculum. A physical gathering, lightly structured, contained, and smaller version of Jane's Creativity Bootcamp and Salon. It can be something that companies can perhaps avail of as part of their HR projects, like a creative retreat, but it will be the total opposite of those loud extroverted team-building courses. Then maybe I can also do one-on-one, following similar structures and schedules as the group ones.
I need a day job. I want to keep growing my dream job. But I need a day job. One that will hopefully not kill my dream job or put it into coma.
I am currently in that frightful place where I am unable to make a decisive move because the move that seems most sensible also feels the most like a mistake.
Two big things today:
1) I spent half the day attending to a dayjob project requirement. If this pushes through, I get to earn enough to last me at least 3 months, 4 if I'm really, really thrifty and if more help pours in from Patreon or more sales are made through the shops.
(No word yet from the dayjob employment option so I'll leave that be.)
2) I just decided to open my Etsy shop and offer my art to a more targetted and receptive global audience. I have to pay $0.20 per item posted but it covers four months. I think I can scrape enough extra cash for 10-20 listings.
Here's a snapshot of the storefront:
What I'm going to do is slowly move items from my originals shop here to Etsy. I'll keep the shop here as is, but linking the purchase instead through Etsy. Payments are still processed through PayPal via Etsy.
As I move items I will also adjust pricing for a more global audience, as well as to cover posting fees and selling fees. If you have been eyeing certain pieces in the shop, let me know so you can still purchase it at pre-Etsy price. But if the piece has already been listed in Etsy you'll have to purchase it through Etsy.
Hence, because of these two events I have not started on any painting work yet. But I hope to do so after dinner.
I also had to help sort out a problem this morning about a Society6 order. A set of throw pillows shipped to the Philippines got lost in transit. (I suspect our corrupt customs officials.) But Society6 has already assured that a replacement order is already under production.
I was angry and anguished yesterday. I'll write about that in a different post. I'm still processing it, but I am feeling better now, much soothed by the love of the creative tribe. Also, the coming in of the dayjob project inquiry was a welcome emergency band-aid so I was also able to breathe a bit more easily. Not yet 100% sure if it'll push through but there's a very good chance it will.
I am not sure if painting almost nonstop for twelve hours yesterday can be considered "easing" back. But Friday was a slow slip into the creative flow, and then Saturday was seriously digging my toes in so I cannot be swept away by whatever will come along in the approaching week.
I felt a thread of relief when the painting flowed. For a while I was worried it would not come back, or that the rest I took was not enough, or that the anxieties are too strong.
Already I can feel a rise in the energy -- both within myself and those who have seen the new work. Already there is fresh interest in buying my art, and my hope perks its still-wearied head.
All through the last couple of days thought, with news of Brexit (and the consequences it will trigger) and the dwindling of days towards the next bill due dates, I felt cornered into bracing myself for taking that dayjob if it is offered. I could, and would, persist in finding a less full-time arrangement, but I also know it would be more likely that I would have to sacrifice months before having enough evidence to support a plea for special arrangements. And even then it is a risk because it is also likely there will be no evidence because the job will demand every full hour it requires and possibly more, under the label "emergency" and "exception".
But the patrons are too few and the shop sales too far-between. I am not yet able to raise sufficient funds to allow me to buy the creative time for myself. I do not know how I can buy one more month to make another big push. I will work another month of twelve-hour days to stay in the studio, but I am out of new short-term ideas for the moment.
Anyway, I did finish six pieces yesterday. All the originals will be made available in the originals shop, and the prints available for paper and products through Society6.
The week-long break was a significant help but it has not yet restored me in "full power". I have begun to feel the pressure of being alone in the battlefield, with the dawn still many hours away, and my allies still too distant and possibly having to go through skirmishes of their own before they could come to my aid.
Last night I had a dream that I was a queen in disguise traveling through many lands, some of them hostile. In one kingdom I was caught and imprisoned for being simply foreign. I was made to fight, armed only with a wooden staff, in an unfair battle against a quartet of barbarians. But just as I was to be ushered into the open arena, I heard a voice in my head, narrating what was to come, and as the voice spoke, what it spoke happened. The guard who had brought me to the arena gates pulled out a weapon and took out one of the quartet. The guard who was ushering the quarter took out another barbarian. From somewhere else in the arena, arrows and knives showered upon my supposed enemies, and their loud gloating was silenced. Because when the barbarians saw me they laughed and did not take me seriously and started to boast how they would kill me. The barbarians were three men and one woman, clad in hard black spiked armour. I was clad in an encumbering gown and a soft cloak. But I felt an invisible crown upon my head. When the barbarians fell, my guard, who turned out to be a woman, clapped me on the shoulder and gave me an encouraging nod. The king and queen who were presiding over the event looked pleased, and nodded approvingly at those who had fought the battle for me. I held out my staff, and from it rolled out a parchment like a flag, and the flag was hand-painted, and I realised I painted it, and it looked like a work of art, but at that moment it was more than that, it was the symbol of a kingdom, and it was my kingdom, and my disguise was gone, and people knew me for what I was, and that place was the first place to acknowledge me. And then I woke up.
Imagine a small plot of earth. Then imagine planting a seedling at equal intervals until the whole plot is evenly dotted with seedlings. That is how I read. I need to have a few or several books going on. Since last weekend I have been progressing through:
- Journal of a Solitude, May Sarton
- First You Have To Row A Little Boat, Richard Bode
- In The Dojo, Dave Lowry
- A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness (finished)
- Rules For A Knight, Ethan Hawke (finished)
- Seveneves, Neal Stephenson
- Divine Fury, Darrin McMahon
- Art, Inc., Lisa Congdon
- Consolations of Philosophy, Alain de Botton
Today I started on Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. And in a few days' time I might start on Marcel Proust's Swann's Way.
At some point I will start making notes or copying passages into index cards which I will categorise and then alphabetise in my box of index cards. My very own card catalogue of wisdom and creative seeds.
I have been traipsing about in the shallows with my art-making. Puttering about without accomplishing anything significant. i am walking the roundabout way into diving deep, unable to cut a straight line through the brambles of distraction and the fog of anxiety.
I refilled my waterbrushes today. Two with water and two with inks. Refilling means I used them up, which means I did something, and something was done.
In less than two hours I will be off to the mall to meet up with a college friend visiting from the US. She placed orders on the art shop and we are meeting up to make the exchange. I have made a list of to-dos to make the most of the trip as well as the fare spent to get to the mall.
I will be spending some cash today out of necessity, and I am bracing myself that I won't have enough for next month. But at the same time I am optimistic that there will be enough for next month.
I don't like writing like this. Like a death march. Like a school essay. I don't like it that I am weighed down with heavy thoughts and heavy emotions that drag my words out with heavy chains and slam them to the ground in ugly dreary composition.
Perhaps I need to re-read a Gaiman book. Or two. The well is only ankle-deep. I need to fill it to the brim. Not with just any water. I need to fill it from the source that flows from where we are true.
I wish I could write more happily. More cheerfully. Even when I am happy my words sound like they are wearing iron clogs. What do you think?
This morning felt better. Last night I was already well into a reading rhythm, and the reading before bed seemed to have had good effect on my sleep.
When I woke up I immediately wrote my daily pages while still in bed, propped up by pillows. The entry started thus:
"Midsummer has crept up on me. But with it, it carried gifts. At least I like to think that it carried gifts, for sometimes there is not much to hope for in a day, and one must scrounge for hope in whatever way one can."
Then the trail broke into many parts and I found myself brainstorming on solutions and things to do and ideas to keep the art shops alive and active, and how to woo more patrons, and finally a more definite inkling on how to tackle the dayjob offer if it comes.
Last night I did sketchbook work, as I now feel rather lacking in a day when I don't do it.
Getting back into a long deep art-making mode is critical for this week. I am still clearing out the fatigue from the past six weeks.
This is a small retreat to let me fight another day.
I was being overwhelmed by the amount of work I needed to do, most especially the backstage work for the shops and promotions and having to literally ASK people for help. The responses are erratic -- a giddying burst of outpour of generosity, and then long uneasy silences. Bottom line, I do not have enough yet to cover next month's bills although this month. at least, yielded enough for groceries and allowed me to pay overdues from the previous months.
Society6 and Patreon are great venues but that is all they are --- venues. They provide the stage but I have to draw the crowd and do the performances. As an introvert this has presented a most difficult challenge, for I have kept very small social circles, and I have not established a strong enough rapport with the majority of my acquaintances to move their hearts to either purchase from my shops or become a patron.
I have planned to use this week-long break to come up with strategies for Asking. Given my nature, I may have to go one-on-one and personal. That will take some planning and preparation, and a bit of money for courier services.
I have picked up a reading pace again. Last night I progressed through three books : May Sarton's Journal of A Solitude, Richard Bode's First You Have To Row A Little Boat, and Darrin McMahon's Divine Fury: A History of Genius. Today I started on In The Dojo by Dave Lowry.
I am on the lookout for clarity and clues on how to move forward, and how to fine-tune the directions I need to take. The jury is still out on whether I will even be offered that agency job that could solve my financial difficulties with a few months' sacrifice. But even I have not come to any firm answer if I would accept it if it were offered. Nor could I bring myself to commit for any long-term period should I decide to accept it. What flits through my mind instead is to try to force the possibility of a part-time arrangement, or a specialty service arrangement. A plunge into full-time dayjob corporate work feels like a suicide in many ways, and the first to go will be my artist life.
When I got up this morning my first act was to cut my hair. I trimmed off three inches so now I can keep my hair loose if I wanted without looking like an old hag. I tried to imagine that I was cutting off something else -- the time and distance between now and where I want to be, the number of obstacles I have to overcome.
Yesterday I wrote a letter to my mom apologising for the difficulties that the household has to endure because of my stubbornness to pursue this creative path. I felt bad for a lot of things, including not being able to take out the family for lunch or dinner to celebrate Father's Day, and not being able to help out with the household chores more frequently because the studio and shop tasks have been eating up so many of my daily hours. The guilt is sharp with my knowing that I could easily slip back into my old "successful" life. All I have to do is give up what I have now, maybe even tell myself that it will not be for very long, only for a while, that afterwards I could pick up where I left off...
This morning, a family friend passed away. A long-term illness finally seized her and took her within the space of two days. This year I lost my grandmother, and a grand-aunt.
Last night I dreamed of a dear old friend and he kept telling me I should not put my hair up, which was probably why I had the urge to cut it when I woke up. When I woke up I also realised that my dear old friend is gone, passed away almost two years ago. I remembered weeping when I found out I would no longer see him again. But last night I saw him again, his old cheerful playful self. And I remembered how he loved me back in his own way despite our definitions of ourselves.
There is a small errand I need to do but I have to gather the strength and patience for it. I would need to walk a thirty to forty-minute distance, which I would not have minded if the weather was agreeable. I could take a taxi but that would mean spending precious cash, and I was thinking I would rather use it for the trip home when I am already carrying the objects of that errand.
It is lunch time and I shall end this post. I am off Facebook for the whole week so I will likely be here more often than usual for the duration of my break.
I've broken my "fast" from making any purchases for my creative work. First of all, I've recently thrown away at least half a dozen emptied pigment ink pens, so I need to resupply. The direction my work is taking needs more metallic pigment inks so I need to have a good selection of options in case a line of products is suddenly discontinued (which often happens for niche products). I am also exploring a new art style involving a lot of ink work so I need to get myself one of those ink-friendly calligraphy pads because the one I have is soon to run out. And then I also need new painting brushes because I just threw away a few really scraggly ones.
I took a deep breath and gave myself a maximum amount to spend. Sadly, the cat's tongue brush I was hoping to try turned out to be more expensive than I thought it would be, and so I had to settle for the "economy" version of that same brand but only a plain round brush and not a cat's tongue (the one I originally wanted was 14 times the price of what I ended up buying.)
Still, I'm not complaining. In fact, I am pretty happy with my shopping, to have something new that at the same time will add to my creative arsenal.
Since I didn't get the expensive cat's tongue brush, I also bought a menso brush to try. It is made of horse and goat hair, and is specially designed for sumi-e drawing (drawing with ink).
In addition to trying out drawing with a paintbrush I have also added ink drawing with a flexible nib to my daily practice. I like the line variations that a flexible nib gives, as well as the variations in the ink flow which produces unexpected pools and shadows. I am also somehow getting addicted to the smell of the sumi ink itself, which reminds me of the sharp but pleasant scent of petrichor.
I plan to combine these ink drawings with watercolour, and even with other inks. If I like how it all turns out then I can add a new series to my paintings.
Meanwhile, my Creativity Bootcamp sketchbook practice is yielding interesting evolutions in my drawings and paintings. I am not really an abstract kind of artist but I like how some of my recent explorations are somewhat touching the edges of that style.
There are no movements yet on the dayjob matter so I would prefer to keep moving forward with my creative work. I want to keep forging ahead as if the creative path is THE only path.
Hence I have pinched a small budget to try a couple of possible local printing services. One prints on canvas bags, and the other prints on mugs. If the output is of good quality then I will be able to entice more local people to buy (the Society6 dollar price tag and the shipping fees are quite big deterrents). The one that prints the mugs can also print notepads so I'll inquire on that next and see if it is something I would like to design and offer as a product line.
When I am able to save up enough I plan to do fabric via Spoonflower, but that one will probably take a while. I'll focus on the more doable local ones first.
I am bad with titles. I can write whole poems and stories and articles but I always get stumped with the title. Even my blog post titles cause me a bit of a pain.
Then I had to name my paintings. I can't shirk it and get away with "Untitled". That's just not me. But I also don't want to spend an inordinate amount of energy thinking up names.
I am not a fan of the descriptive titles either, such as "Girl With Cat", or "Apples in Bowl". I also don't want to lead the viewer so much with titles that hint at what I'm trying to show in the artwork. I also don't want to be pretentiously obscure.
At the same time I want the names to also somehow reflect something about me as a person and as an artist.
So I pondered on it. And then came up with a solution.
Since the core of my artwork is flowers, I started with that. Flowers, no matter how you twist and turn it, are closely associated with the feminine. I see nothing wrong or offensive with that. So I decided my pieces will have feminine or female names.
But not just any name. They have to feel right to me, to resonate with me, or evoke certain types of associations. I started a list.
My associations with any word come from strange places -- books I've read, historical eras I am fond of, fictional characters I relate to, people I've met in my imagination, mythologies, you get the picture.
Any name that did not sit well with me was not included, no matter how popular or well-loved it may be to others.
I started with the name of saints, but picking those from the medieval ages, up to anything pre-modern. I looked up the stranger cousins of traditional Christianity, and then ventured into older and even obscure religions. Then mythologies. Then I mined my favourite books, picking the more creative, exotic, or old-sounding names and dropping the too-common, too-modern ones. I also chose the older versions of more modern names, if they sounded right. Names that would elicit too much association in one direction were left out (e.g. Katniss -- too young adult, mass-popular) unless I don't mind the association of the associations (e.g. Amidala -- Star Wars is old-school, much bigger and complex world), but a few popular names were included if there are enough interpretations spread out to keep the interpretation of my own artwork open (e.g. Jane -- plain, Austen, Goodall...).
I stayed away from names of actual people I know unless the painting was for them. But I have plans of using the names of my grandparents, great-grandparents, and their older kin (as they have all moved on to better places, and they have really nice names).
Each name on my list carries its own personality and I match them with the painting as much as I can. It does not have to be a literal match. Quite a few matches will possibly puzzle. I use my artist's eye to see the connection, and my artist's inner ear to hear the click.
The names I picked actually reflects and reveals a lot about me. If I become impossibly famous, biographers and academics will have a heyday deciphering my choice of names and probably come up with a humongous map of my alternate lives.
So here's the current partial list (A - L). Feel free to suggest and I will consider them!
Agatha - Agrippina - Alianor - Alice - Amaterasu - Ambrosia - Amidala - Andraste -
Andromeda - Annora - Anouk - Apollonia - Aquilina - Arabella - Ariadne -
Arianrhod - Arwen - Arya - Ashtoreth - Astarte - Attolia - Augustine -
Aurelia - Auri - Bast - Bellatrix - Benedicta - Bertha -
Beruthiel - Boudica - Branwen - Brienne - Brigid - Brunhild - Calliope -
Carissima - Cassiopeia - Celestine - Cerridwen -
Circe - Clarice - Clariel - Claudia - Cleopatra - Clotilde - Consortia -
Constance - Coraline - Coventina - Dana - Delphina -
Demeter - Demetria - Desdemona - Elinor - Elizabeth -
Emerentiana - Emma - Empusa - Eowyn - Epiphania - Eponine -
Eurydice - Eve - Fausta - Felicitas - Feronia - Florentina - Freya - Frigg -
Galadriel - Gorgonia - Grimalkin - Grimonia - Gwenhyfar - Hecate - Hel -
Hella - Hermione - Hestia - Honorata - Illuminata -
Inari - Ishtar - Isidora - Isolda - Izanami - Jane - Lamia - Lara -
Liberata - Lilith - Lirael - Lucia - Lucina - Luna - Lyra
Migraine struck today. I am writing this with a wince, and with all the lights off in the tiny studio. And with the screen brightness dimmed to a tolerable level. I cannot not write so despite my other desire to just lie still in bed in silence and darkness I made myself get up and write.
It is way past noon and I am propped up by a fresh hot mug of coffee. The morning was spent drifting in and out of waking dreams and story plots and painting pieces. I should have eaten lunch but I am not hungry. Not for food anyway.
My head feels heavy and full and tight. My eyelids feel weighted with stone. My body is on shutdown mode, shuffling along as if asleep.
I might as well write. The migraine has a will of its own and will stay or go as it wishes. I might as well write while it makes up its mind.
I am pulling myself together to recover. Not just from this headache but from the assaults of reality in the past weeks. It is like wading through thick churning water. I am pulled in every direction and I keep on falling away from where I am supposed to be.
I am in limbo. And this writing is a thin thread that keeps me tethered to my true self. I have been unable to sustain any creative task as I easily get distracted or exhausted or both.
The closest to useful thing I have ever done for the past few days is to create presence for my artwork and the art shops online. At least there is that. I have been doing a lot of behind-the-scenes work to create image files and to post and to promote. The visibility of my art has multiplied as I gained followers and promoters in Society6 and my Art Page. I have also elicited more responses than ever across my social media. The tribe has been most helpful in spreading the links as well, bless their hearts. Movement and momentum. This is probably what a salmon feels like swimming uphill (and then being devoured by a waiting bear).
I am in suspense waiting for recent orders to reach their destinations. Already, one seems to have lost its way. An original painting named Saturnina. I have a high-resolution file of it which I have uploaded for sale as prints and as product design. I will make another to replace the lost one.
In case you want a piece, head on over to my Society6 Shop,
This post isn't really much of a piece in itself. Mostly rambling and way too much whining perhaps. But it is all part of this artist's creative journey. And sometimes it helps to show that not everything is sunshine and roses. That it is a natural way of every life to have difficulties, even those that seem so blessed and fortunate. Not everyone wants to share nor see shadows when standing before an audience.
But do not mistake this for ingratitude. I remain grateful for every good and kindness. I remain hopeful. With less than a week left for miracles. I am preparing myself for Plan B.
I ended up with the too-long canvas stretchers because of previous projects that did not push through. I got over-excited and bought the materials before the supposed clients confirmed the commissions. So for a long time I had these half-ready canvases languishing in my storage gathering dust.
A few weeks ago I was in a frenzy of setting up the art shop to pull in some extra income while I wait for dayjob projects to save the day (or month, preferably). I felt cornered. And then I saw the stack of large empty canvases. I needed to tip the "balance" inside me so that the world felt less like about just paying bills and more about making contributions to everlastingness.
I took the smaller of the two -- the 30 x 30 inches. It stayed blank on my easel for a few days while I waited for the picture to emerge. It goes like this -- I repeatedly trace the space in my mind, all that blankness open and contained at the same time. Then I start to see whispers of lines, appearing and disappearing. Every time I would glance at the canvas, look at it, think of it, the lines flicker like the noise on an old film. Then at some point there will be fleeting bursts of full shapes and colours, fragmented pieces, still incoherent. All this time I would be feeding myself images from the made-up forest in my head where I take a long walk every day and every night. Then the pieces start to fall into place, start to connect to one another.
When I have a semi-solid image in my mind that is when I pick up the pencil to make soft lines. I complete the sketch on the canvas, filling in the blanks that my imagination left open-ended. When the lines feel right then I start to paint.
While painting there are still things that could change. Small ones but may also be significant. Colour selection must be done with the same care a cook will blend flavours. The decision to add other materials such as ephemera and sparkly objects is often a spontaneous one and yet also a carefully weighed choice. As I progress through a piece I make a lot of experiments and improvisations. I occasionally make mistakes but not that often really. Once I start putting on the paint, the picture is more or less complete in my head already, and it is akin to taking down a dictation from the Muse, to put it one way. It is clean smooth line of inspiration, which I think is helped by my own clarity with the kind of art I want to make, and the images I want to manifest. It was a short process for me to accept my own style because if I dithered on that I would never have gotten anywhere at all. I am self-taught, without any formal training, and I have limited materials. If my own mind will criticise my artwork above all that then there would be no point.
So I worked on the big piece. My main challenge was whether I could manage to expand myself that much. Would I have enough to "show" on all that blank space?
It turns out I do. I did feel the stretch as I worked on this big piece but it was a good kind of stretch. It means I can do more. It means more possibilities.
I received quite a few inquiries on the piece after I posted its finished state. I've worked out a price but I've decided to hold on it for a while until the dust settles a little bit more on the art shop opening and all that. I also need to be very certain with my shipping arrangements because I do not need the added stress of delayed or missing deliveries.
So here's a visual process of the painting that I have named "Sabine". (All my artworks have female names based on saints, goddesses, mythical creatures, book characters, and the like, that resonate with me in one way or another.)
I had this perfect fantasy (don't we all?) of how it will happen for me.
And then there is now.
The art shop was not supposed to open until everything has been prepared for, planned for, perfected. I imagined perfect product shots, and a perfect selling system in place, and a perfect promotion campaign that begins with a most inspiring creative exhibit attended by friends and fellow creativity enthusiasts. I also imagined a perfectly smooth shift of business registration from my old dayjob to my dreamjob. I imagined a lump sum of capital to invest in making all the perfection manifest. Nothing big. Just enough to pay for venues, and frames, and registration fees, and of course art materials so I can keep on making, making, making. I imagined grand themes and grand stories threading through a series of collections. I imagined maybe a dozen printed copies of my first self-published book of illustrated poetry.
The art shop is open now. On an impromptu trial run. I tore down all that I had imagined and instead rebuilt something practical and immediate. Something that could stand and walk and run now. Something that will start putting me out there and bringing me back bits to live on, to keep this life alive. The reality is that there is never enough money. Not when you are a breadwinner. And no, I don't have a family of my own. I am supporting my senior-aged parents and a struggling sister. It is fortunate that having a family of my own has never been a priority for me. I like being an artist too much. Two households would have killed me in more ways than one. (Unless perhaps I married a billionaire. But anyway...)
So. The imagination was not to become a reality. I opened the shop. Almost furtively and guiltily at first. Like I was betraying a version of myself somehow. I started selling a few pieces here and there. I was mostly disappointed by many people. And I was also surprised and heart-warmed by many other people. I pushed myself into a "production" mode, to gain some traction, to coax something out of what seems like nothing. I was scared. I was thrilled. I made mistakes. Lots of mistakes. I earned money. I lost money. I learned my lessons. I worked so hard and believed so fiercely that sometimes I caught myself trembling from the overdose of hope.
Today I posted some of the pieces that I have been reserving for that dreamed-of personal exhibit (that would have been set up in one of the cafes in the neighbourhood). Last night I hurt my head working through the pricing scheme so I don't undercharge. Of course I am starting on the low range. When things start getting better I can increase my rates. For now I can only cross my fingers that anyone would even decide to spend money on what I made.
I am not putting myself down. I know I did good work. I'm thinking about the depth of resonance. A lot of people like my work in social media but do they like it enough to buy? There is too much of the intangible in what I am offering. Not everyone likes to go exploring in that part of the forest.
Suddenly there is a shop. And there is a mind-boggling number of tasks that need to be done behind the scenes. And now I am juggling those along with the making. And above me hovers the thunderclouds of uncertainty.
This is not how I imagined it would be. I was imagining it later. Unfolding with proper cues and timely turns. Graceful entrances. Not now. Yet it looks like now IS the time. And I should heed the signs and the call and do no less than what I have been imagining I would do to make it all real. This foolish dream. This forging of something new. This too-late bloom. This too-soon awkward stumble.
This post is about how I have decided to price my artwork, based on two very helpful articles that came out on top of my Google search:
A Simple Formula For Pricing Artwork by Lori Woodward
How To Price A Painting by Jake Gafner
I combined elements from both articles to come up with a pricing scheme that worked with my own local context and artistic status.
I was pushed to formalise my pricing strategy after I have completed a large piece and was at a loss on how much to sell it, especially after inquiries began to pour in. I was both pleased and surprised, and then I panicked.
I started out by looking at Etsy, which has items closest to my kind of work. I narrowed my research to watercolour florals in their original forms, not prints. I found that the prices swing too wildly from one end of the spectrum to the other, and thus did not help me very much except make me feel bad about how much I have been undercharging. (One painting cost $489 and another of the same size cost $127 and still another of same size cost $25 -- all cost more than a piece of my work in the same size.)
Then I looked at the shops of my favourite artists who do similar work and thought I could maybe charge half of what they do. But being already well-established and quite popular, their price ranges, even at half, still seemed too high for a start-up like me. And it just did not feel good to say I'll charge a quarter of what they charge -- I simply started feeling too small.
So I finally Googled for articles -- which I did not do first because most articles were from the US, and the dollar conversions tended to really drive up my prices when compared to local prices. But this time I was lucky with the search results. There was a computation in one, and an acceptable price range in the other. I mixed and matched, and this is what I ended up with.
I price by square inch, but with adjustments when the piece is small (less than 80 square inches) and when the piece is big (more than 108 square inches).
I used the lowest price in the price range which is $0.25, translating to about Php12. For reference, a well-established artist like Lori Woodward (who wrote one of the articles) charges $6 per square inch. If we use that as a basis it becomes clear that I am being very reasonable.
But I used the Php12 (about $0.25) as my upper limit, which I apply to my smaller works. Smaller pieces get a slightly higher price per square inch because the small size tends to pull down the price too low, and yet a smaller piece gets as much attention, effort, and skill as a big piece.
My regular rate is Php10 (about $0.20) per square inch which I apply to my most common artwork size, which is 9 x 12 (108 square inches). Minimum size for the regular rate is 80 square inches (or 8x 10 inch paper or canvas).
For larger pieces, those more than 9 x 12 or 108 square inches, my rate is Php8 (about $0.17). Larger sizes tend to bloat the price because of the size numbers so to balance this, the rate is reduced.
The total I get then comprises my fee for the artwork -- my skills, imagination, idea, creativity, technique -- basically all the intangibles that make my art a piece of art, what makes it beautiful, what makes it resonate, what makes it capable of evoking emotions or pleasure.
Then I add to the total a percentage to cover materials:
+ 10% for pieces that use watercolours and regular inks
+ 15% for pieces that use watercolours and special inks; also for those made on canvas because canvas cost a lot more than paper
+ 20% for pieces that use mixed media (paints, inks, ephemera, beads, etc.)
I actually may lose a bit on the materials side especially for those on canvas and those in mixed media, but at this point I am not particular about it. As long as I am fairly compensated on my skills, I can write off the extra cost in materials.
When I tested the formula I came up with rates that were slightly higher than what I have been charging since I opened the shop. But still within reasonable range, now that the calculations behind them are clear.
What I will do now is keep my current prices for artworks already posted in the shop. But I will use the new prices for new pieces -- particularly for the pieces that I will put in the Enchanted Section.
I have also devised a separate rate for my simpler pieces, which, I admit, were easier and faster to do. So factoring in the time consumed in making, I am able to have an art series that are, for lack of a more glamorous word, affordable. My rates here are from Php5 to Php7 per square inch (about $0.10 to $0.14), maximum of 108 square inches. New pieces will reflect this pricing. For the simpler pieces I have waived charging for materials.
I am just starting out so I do have plans of adjusting those rates as my artwork becomes more in demand or gains more "market value". But until then, I hope this post will at least settle some wondering and questions on why art cost the way it does -- more specifically, why my art costs the way it does.
Questions or comments? Let me know your thoughts. ^_^
So this is how it feels. I woke up yesterday, Monday morning, and spent the next eight hours working. Only it was work I have always wanted to do. I painted pieces for the summer art shop. Then I scanned and posted those pieces. Then I made announcements on social media, processed a few inquiries and orders, and before I knew it, the sun was ready to go to sleep.
When the moon was up I wrote. Coaxed a few poem seeds to sprout. Filled out my daily pages.
I was tired enough that when I went to bed at near midnight, the battle with insomnia was short. Then I had a complicated convoluted dream that had Benedict Cumberbatch and Hiroyuki Sanada in it.
Yesterday, to my utter surprise, I was able to finish eleven art pieces.
It all felt good. It all felt right. I was still scared and worried about whether I will sell enough to get me through the month of June but I am moving, and the movement reassures me. I am doing something, and the doing is something I love. I dream of the Tribe Gathering. I dream of him who is a story haunting the blank pages of my life, waiting to manifest. I dream of finally Becoming -- artist, poet, writer, agent of hope, beloved.
Almost as if on cue, I received an email today from a headhunter (a.k.a. recruitment agency). There is a big job looking for a person. And I know enough of myself and my skills that if I wanted it, I could get it. And if I choose to get it, I won't ever have to worry about money. Of course I know how this exchange goes. What gets left out. What gets risked.
It always happens. This test. This trick question.
I am tired of this question. And I am tired of always hesitating over what to answer. Of agonising over imagined consequences. Of guilt rearing its ever-ugly head.
The Shop is open. For the summer -- which in my part of the world is expected to be until June.
It's a temporary opening because I need to study it first, get an idea of what works, smooth out the creases in the details and the process. Then, when all is well, go for a full opening towards the end of the year. I am alone in this, scraping the coins to cover the expenses of setting up and the costs of making the art. That is why everything tends to move slowly, it follows the pace of my cash flow. Being a freelancer and a breadwinner while stubbornly pursuing a creative life does have its unique set of challenges.
But here's the thing. When I finally clicked "Publish" on those shop pages, and when I finally clicked "Post" to announce the shop, I felt a sense of rightness. A feeling of calm settled upon me, quieting most of the agitations in my heart for the past weeks. And whatever anxieties were left behind, the feeling of rightness took them by the hand and said, "The way through is here. Keep the faith."
I am teetering on the edge, as usual, faced with an old dilemma. But I have done this test so many times and I have the suspicion that it keeps coming around because somehow I always just missed the passing grade to make the average score in order to move on to the next level. But I have a good feeling that I may have finally broken through. If my recent night dreams are any sign to go by then I am indeed not hopelessly lost. And everything else will fall into place, everything that has been suspended like the story endings of Scheherazade.
Everyday I have less to lose, less to fear. My own days tick away into the past. Only my hunger grows and sharpens. Only my longings swell into terrifying proportions. Soon I will only be a pulsing thrumming swirling tornado made up of desire. A gathering of black clouds pregnant with lightning and thunder unable to touch the earth. I am wound-up and wounded, all the more strung up with rage for being cornered.
The insomnia is creeping back with a soft vengeance. I make the most of it by weaving poems and stories out of the debris left over from the long battle through midnight and the wee hours of the morning. My lacerated heart heals over enough during the day to withstand fresh assaults when it is time to go to bed.
Today I received orders for the shop. Nine paintings are on reserve. I am stunned. I am happy. I am grateful. Nine is a lot of steps from nothing.
Tomorrow I will work by making more paintings. Revive my daily planner and plot in post office runs and supply runs. Keep records of sales and track payments. Live as if this is not a trial at all but the real thing. That it is happening now. The magic is unfolding.
It is real, it is real, it is real.