My Etsy shop is fully updated now. With 49 items and new listings coming up every week for the next few weeks. It's been dormant for many months, because I had to do dayjob work and because I could never be sure how to go about selling my work, or what it is I'm selling. And I realise I am not just selling but that I am also telling a story, and every artwork is a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter. A poem is possibly a whole short story in itself. And every bit ties together into the Impossible Garden and the Wildforest.
The poems have returned. And have come back changed in many ways and still changing. I can feel them shift even as I pen the words onto paper. They have made friends with the paintings and both are often whispering to each other now, throwing my sly side glances. At night they run around my bed, urging the shadows of the trees on the walls to stop playing pretend and become themselves. They wait for me to fall asleep so they can slip into my dreams, sometimes coaxing the night mares to allow a gallop over the ocean.
The 100-day project has slept for a month and woke up reformed into the 100-painting project. It is allowed. Because I choose the weight of making good pieces over the count of a contest with time. Here is the 54th piece, with its own poem.
Wild spring tree wove a wind,
It is almost a given now. That a painting will have a poem. That a poem will have a painting. That maybe both can be in a single tangible piece, all tangled up like lovers.
I wait for my sketchbook from the Brooklyn Library to arrive. It is going to be a love letter.
I'll just semi-ramble on this post here. Since Monday I've been pretty much occupied. First half of the week was juggling the dayjob tasks and studio work. Then rest of the week was studio shop work.
Still cracking my head on how to get to more audience. Or is my art not as good as I believe it is? I don't say it's stupendously brilliantly marvelous, but good enough given the heart that poured into it. But no. I know my art does not suck. I've done commissions and I've sold things online and I have strangers on Instagram sending me messages of support, appreciation, and a few even asking for some advice on how to live an artist's life. Hmm, maybe there's something to teaching/writing/workshopping about living an artist's life? Third-world Asian version because, you know, it is harder that way. I had a seed for something like that a couple of years ago, something I called "Rough Guide to the Road Less Travelled". Maybe I should revisit it. Maybe that's a side door.
Posting to Etsy is hard work. My shop can't look too shabby. So effort on photos, and editing the photos, and coming up with interesting descriptions -- which led me to crafting poems instead and I hope this will somehow capture the kind of customers I can be in a long-term relationship with. If not poems I craft snippets of mythology about the Impossible Garden & the Wildforest.
I wasn't gaining enough visits despite the multiple promos and offers, so I paid for some ads for the weekend. The tricky thing is you don't have control on who really sees it. Machine algorithms can only do so much, and in the end, programs are only as good as the insight and inspiration of the people who designed them. It's one thing I learned in research (which has been my dayjob for more than 20 years), that the output and effect rely less on the methods and technologies and whatever new buzzword thing is floating around, than on the attention and skill and insight of the research doer.
There is a part of me that wants to dabble into digital and online research, particularly on people's behavior with apps and sites. But it's going to really eat up everything. Yet I know if I put my mind to it I could actually make ridiculous big bucks from it. I've seen countless times how so much less "input" and invention/reinvention by others has generated same (or even more) ridiculous big bucks.
I'm back on puzzling out how to reach more audience and then how to convert more audience. This all feels like my Ad School days. Awareness-Trial-Retention. At the core, everything remains simple and basic, despite the trimmings and sleight-of hand that marketers employ. All the new "tricks" and "insights" are reinventions and re-expressions, simply adapted into the new "things" and "trends". There's that 1990's song that went "It's all been done." Yes, it has. It's just all angle and perspective. Smoke and mirrors. Ah, that's maybe what I need to be better at.
There IS a real budget constrain in what I can do and experiment with to improve my art's reach and awareness. So a layer of challenge has to do with making do. In my ad agency days I've often heard the question "How do you make a small media budget most efficient?"
I remember buying a book a few years ago on how Introverts can do networking. I'll have to dig it up. Honestly I hate networking. Or maybe I hate how it has always been templated and presented. And I maybe I hate how its worst forms had bullied or victimised me or made me feel like I'm less of a person because I'm bad at it. I think the new trendy word for it now is building "community" or "connection" or something related. I fear I'm still rather bad at it. Another thing to learn more of.
I'll stop rambling now. Do follow me on Twitter (see right column, my feed is there), and on Facebook. Lots of updates and snippets of stuff. See me grow. See me stumble. It's all real-life, real-time. Let me know if something's helping you or inspiring you. I could use the boost that my journey is not entirely invisible.
Hugs to all.
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I have dayjob tasks today and I know there will be drag marks on my way to doing them. So I started the morning with pledging to Terri Windling's brand new Patreon page. If you are a fantasy reader you would have heard of her and likely read some of her works. Do give her page a visit and see if her magic-making is something you would like to help become in the world. ^_^
I am slowly recovering from a two-week slide into a spirit & energy slump. I have not been entirely unproductive but I could have done more if I were strong enough to fight through the fog of exhaustion and quiet despair. In any case, as in all cases, I had to pull myself out of it, and I fear I'm running out of tricks to trick myself.
Sometimes though, I suspect that the slump-time is my self shutting down on its own to go on a retreat, and then return bearing gifts (sort of). Like when I was finally able to sit down in the studio again without wanting to cry and run away, the solutions to problems I have been trying to figure out presented themselves with minimum fuss. Complex tasks became simple. The scarcity which has been the root of many of my challenges receded in the background as work-arounds and reinventions came to the fore.
One example is the 100-day project (which I still have to catch up on, and will do this week). I have been meaning to post the first batch of original pieces on my Etsy shop except that I could no longer afford to buy enough frames for all of them (which I had intended when I first decided to do the project). But then the simmering slump brought me the idea of just making the frames in the simplest way possible (I googled DIYs but they were still too complex so my brain worked out its own method that is more third-world-friendly). I ended up with being able to put the paintings in a pretty-enough frame that cost very little in terms of materials, effort, and time. It will also be easier on the shipping too because the materials are light.
I will admit I felt a bit sad not being able to frame the paintings more "properly", like in wood and glass. But now is not yet the time to be able to that. And surely I cannot let it stop a project or compromise a creative work.
Now, this small solution for the small art has planted a seed of solution for the bigger art. One of my challenges is to frame all the paintings I want to put in the Exhibit and if I can't yet afford frames for the small ones, what more the big ones? Yet here is a way to work with the limitation of funds, and still allow me to move forward with the exhibit without looking too shabby about it.
The slump session also, apparently, has been working on my Sketchbook Project theme. It's still raw but the basic bones of it are there. Won't share it publicly yet but when I've started sketching I'll share the process and progress. My blank sketchbook is still on its way to me. I hope it arrives safely.
Warming up from the slump led me to restarting with small artful things, which in this case turned out to be bookmarks that I will also post on Etsy. I believe I already have a customer waiting for them, which is a pleasant surprise and for which I am eternally grateful. ^_^
One more thing before I close this post. Being in a slump somehow also releases inhibitions. Like when you get so emotionally worked up that you start saying or doing things you would not normally say or do if you were in better control of yourself and had better confidence in things. Being in a slump makes me feel like I've nothing much to lose and so might as well express a few things out loud, or out online as in the case of introverts like me. One such small rant triggered a response from a friend who is a follower, and the response offered a solution. It has something to do with being able to publish my poetry book into a larger audience. I still suck on the art of asking and this unexpected turn is certainly something I would not have dared to ask for. So, dear friend, you know who you are, thank you for opening up a possibility. ^_^
Hence despite the seeming stagnation that a slump is, perhaps I can start looking at it as also necessary to the process. I may not like its symptoms, and it may quite a pain to go through it, but Things are happening beneath and between the silence and the emptiness, beneath and between the fatigue and the frustration. It all goes back to trusting my own process, and perhaps slumps are a crucial part of it after all. It is nothing to hate or be ashamed of. It does not make me worthless or lazy or useless. Yes it is something to endure, but it can help bring about the things to celebrate.
Yesterday was not a good day. Especially towards the afternoon. I was listless, restless, bothered, irritable, exhausted. Mostly I was exhausted. And I wanted to sleep but couldn't sleep. I was agitated, anxious, angry for many reasons.
For a moment I thought about stepping out, with a list of errands, to force the energy of the seemingly irrational mood into something functional. But I stopped myself. I knew I would likely end up spending more money than I should, after the errands were done, too unhappy to care, only wanting to find any means of solace, any hint of solution to the chafing, choking feeling thrumming somewhere in the core of myself. A discomfort like something stuck in the passageways of thought and heart and tongue and hand.
I stayed with it instead. That sharp-edged cloud of sadness wrapped around me, the weight of unnamed sorrows, unacknowledged longings.
This is how it was like. Like staying in a dark room despite the noises that smelled of danger, even when the exit door is ajar and street noises beckon with their oblivion. Like staying still and silent while burning, long enough to realise that the fire was coming from your heart, and that becoming ash and cinder was optional. Like not running away as the hissing and growling approached from the shadows, even when you begin to feel a hot cold breath drip down your spine, to keep your own breathing calm, to keep your eyes open.
In the darkness and the stillness, in the staying instead of going and running away, in the space I have made of woven sighs and simmering discontent, the words started to arrive.
Old words, new words, strange words. Familiar words. Changed words. They were tentative at first, unsure of whether I wished to be helped or rescued, or if I, perhaps, would like to swim back into paint. To avoid words because they peel the truths more finely and sting more exquisitely. Because when the words come even the paintings are made to account for themselves, to not be tricky with meanings but to be clear even in playful obscurity.
So the words came. And when I allowed myself to write them despite my sense of inadequacy and foolishness, I started to feel better. The sharp-edged cloud softened. The heaviness flowed from my core to my hand and into the page.
There have been Things happening beneath the surface but even while I have been painting a lot, my language is more than colours on canvas. I don't know why I have been keeping the words at bay. Or maybe I do know, that naming Things confirms the Thing's existence, and existence require responsibility, presence, attention. Particularly when it is love. Particularly when love itself arrives in a story even more difficult than the ones you've had to tell before. Ever more fantastical. Ever more impossible.
But at least the words got me out of the moods, took me back to the heart of things, the heart of me.
So the poems are coming back, and intentioned writing (no longer the sideways offhand manner I've been doing for many months now, playing it safe and only scratching surfaces). I think it's time for the painting to work with the words, as well as the other way around, with the words working with the painting.
Twitter turned out to be a wonderful space for poems. An open sketchbook for my words. Anonymous and known at the same time, secret and brave.
(No longer secret because it's posted here!)
I did this before when I was still living by myself in a condominium (more than four years ago). All I had to do was shut down and unplug, pull myself out of the daily routines, and flow with the odd rhythms of creation. I made an announcement through email and social media to advise clients and family and friends or anyone else who might try to contact me during the retreat. I had five full days to myself, going deep into the forest, although at that time I didn't realise it was a forest. So much were still hidden from me at that time, or my eyes were still half-blind, or I did not know yet how to see in the shadows.
Lately I've been feeling I want to do it again. To secure that one long uninterrupted length of time to follow trails of thoughts and ideas farther than I ever could when immersed in the heavily distracted routines of daily life. It would mean I would have to lug around all my art materials, including the large canvases. And newspapers to lay on floors to catch the wayward drips and drops of paint. Because clearly I cannot do this retreat in the house where I live in now, which is peopled with individuals with their own daily routines and agendas cramped in a space where too much noise overwhelms my sought-for silence and where I am expected to participate and adjust with the household's own clock-time.
Then there is the matter of space, and light, and defending from the heat and the mosquitoes. In my condo unit I had an air-conditioner to temper the interior weather, and I didn't have mosquitoes. And one wall was almost entirely windows. And very quiet when I want it to be. I only had meals when I was hungry, and often skipped dinners and ate a lot of post-midnight or pre-sunrise snacks.
I'm thinking of checking into something like the Red Planet again, or if there's a nice affordable Air B&B somewhere in the Ortigas area, near where all the Korean restaurants and cafes are.
I will be painting and writing. I will still be online but mostly to share my process and progress, and do research on things like male muses and the anatomy of a heart and the shape of bones of imaginary creatures. Or what is the word for the various strains of desolation. And of course, a lot of reading as well, and likely paper books so my luggage will be like I'm going to be away for a month rather than a week.
A dear friend of mine who is a poet and a teacher, has the good fortune of staying for a couple of weeks in a beautiful place called Rivendell's Writers' Colony. I was almost teary-eyed with longing for all that floor space where she laid out her poem pages to deliberate how she will put them together into a chapbook. And all those windows and open space outside and nature surrounding everything.
Don't get me wrong. I can make art and write in my everyday space. But there are times when you feel you need one big surge of creation, just release all the pent-up energies that I've been doling out in safe reasonable trickles, and that can only happen if all the daily boundaries are removed and the usual limitations lifted. I'm all for strength training through adversity but I also cannot discount the value of simply being granted some space and light and the chance to work in better conditions.
As usual, funding is a primary hurdle. (Are you tired of reading me moan about munny? Me too, I tell you. Me too. But I would say it's part of my process to figuring things out, and I trust my process. It's taken me through the past seven years without a regular paycheck.) Let's see, a 5D/4N stay will cost me about $150, plus meals and snacks. Let's say to be safe, including any emergency supply needs I'll peg the budget to be $250. Hmmm. Still cheaper than a beach trip, and the value of the yield will be immense. So all in all, not a bad investment.
Alright. I'll let these thoughts sit here and brew. We'll see what happens next.
Meanwhile, here are snapshots from my previous creative retreat (that would be sometime 2012 or 2013, I think, before I had to move back into my parents' house) -- I also started with the feeling of chafing in my daily constrained routines, and then planning, and then finally doing it. I want to be able to do it again.
In case you are new to this blog or have already forgotten, I started an illustrated poetry book in April. It's very work-intensive and somewhat elaborate. Each page is painted and handwritten. My plan was to scan and then layout and then print -- but have it done by professionals because of the colours and textures that I want to keep from original to print, and I have no Photoshop skills, and I know that colour printing is more complex than plain black & white printing.
Here are snapshots of a couple of pages I've finished so far (I've done almost a dozen poems already) :
But as in my previous post, the expected inflow of potential funds from employment did not happen. So I've had to park the elaborate book for a while and do more work on designs and products that I can sell on Etsy and Society6 on the short-term (such as the 100-day project). I've also had to do a full re-plotting of my creative journey in an attempt to make it more sustainable.
But I want to push through with a (self)published book this year. Especially since I've been repeatedly promising it to myself for the past five years. Yet I also don't want to compromise for the sake of simply having something published. Then recently an idea came to me --
-- A chapbook that I can self-print and self-publish. Simpler in the sense that I won't be using my usual wild-coloured palettes but instead I'll be using sumi ink with which I have recently fallen intensely in love with (with inky strings attached to a hundred associated scenes and stories in my head and which led into a series of red-sunned paintings). I may use one to two other colours for accent but the paintings will be mostly of the black petrichor-scented ink.
A few poems may overlap with the original book but I will use mostly recent and new poems. If fortunate, I may even be able to launch it simultaneously with the art exhibit, and thus hit the proverbial two birds with one stone. We'll see. I will certainly try to make it so. I'm thinking maybe a dozen or so printed books -- home-made and hand-stitched. Or I can do it like a boxed set of loose-paged poems that can be kept or given away. Hmmm.
Let me end this post with a poem I will include in the collection. This one was written in early July, and very much tangled up with the seeds of the Red Sun painting series and a new painting series still brewing in the background.
Early this year, I made a promise to myself that I'll find a way to just make all the fantasies happen. In my case there are two main fantasies that I frequently indulge in: one is hosting my own creative exhibit to "launch" myself as an artist, and the other is publishing my first book to "launch" myself as a writer.
As 2017 began I thought I would be going back to dayjob employment. I went through a series of "talks" with a potential employer. It was a brain decision, to get employed again. And I will admit now that I dreaded it with all my heart. But my reasons were clear : to earn funding for my creative projects in a shorter time than it would take working as a freelancer. But my conditions for dayjob work were also clear. Hence it turned out my values were different from the company's, and my skills and talent were of the variety of creativity that were maybe somewhat too unpredictable and wild and unstructured. I had pretty good ideas and even a vision, gained from insights earned having stepped back from the fray of day-to-day corporate work. Possibly breakthrough. But if a company is not ready or willing to experiment or take that kind of risk, then I fear that I am almost unemployable, hahaha. I understand about the bottomline but I also understand about investment. I guess it depends on which side a company's values tip towards. I had the opportunity before to create something from scratch, because the company was in desperate times, and so gave me a lot of room to get creative, and that chance made my historic corporate career, and helped save the company in the process.
I digress. But my point is, the dayjob thing didn't pan out. Instead I worked on two big freelance projects that momentarily murdered my spirit with sheer stress and exhaustion. Right now I am in the okay zone but will need to come up with fund-raising projects soon.
It's August. And way back in January I was fantasizing that I'll have my creative exhibit sometime in September or October. Or even November. I thought I'd have funds to set it all up. But as the months trickled by I thought I had to recalibrate my plans and expectations.
The "launch" part is almost a formality as most family and friends already know that I'm doing this art thing far more seriously than originally assumed. What I hope the exhibit to do is to deepen the appreciation for my art, especially when seen for real versus digital screen. And of course, to encourage actual purchases. Also hoping that guests will take photos/videos and post online and help increase awareness.
One from my creative tribe said, "Necessity is the mother of invention." So I will take that to heart and run with it.
When I was recovering from the dayjob projects sometime in April, I had already thought of fixing the garage to become a studio & gallery of sorts. I've had to shelf it because the fixing needed funds -- such as fresh paint for the walls, a few pieces of furniture to work on and to hold displays, as well as lamps for appropriate lighting. I am revisiting that idea again because I would guess that renting a space will still come out more expensive. Or maybe someone somewhere has a better garage or has a spare large room for which I could barter use with a painting or two.
In any case, I've started to make a list of what I'll need:
I don't plan for it to be fancy or party-like. There won't be a program or anything, but more like a nice quiet gathering in an Impossible Garden, free-flowing and introvert-friendly.
I plan to make what I can, and use existing resources such as table covers and making my own flower arrangements. Behind the scenes and as part of preparations, I need to:
Patrons from my Patreon will be advised in advance on which pieces will be put up for display and purchase. They have first pick and may reserve pieces while pieces will still be put on exhibit. (For patrons outside the country, pieces will be limited to those that can be shipped with reasonable fees and safety.)
The lists above are not final. Likely something will pop up in the middle of the night as I wrestle with insomnia. Let me know if there's anything else I should take into account. Suggestions, tips, clues, recommendations for resources are welcome. ^_^