Artistic Influences

I sometimes wonder about in what way are the things that I see different from the things that others see.  Everyone sees differently, that’s obvious.  For instance, people with problems with their body image tend to see more than is there when they look at themselves and less than is there when they look at others.  But my questions go deeper.  Is the blue I see the same sort of blue you see?  How could we ever find out if it is or isn’t?  Do you see all the minute variations in color and texture I do?  Do you see more than I do?  Well, without my contacts you definitely do, but what about when we’ve both got the best vision our eyes and science can give us?

From there it’s usually a short ride to questioning the existence of the universe (because if energy and matter can be neither created or destroyed, where did they come from?) unless I derail that train of thought and start to just draw.

I don’t know what others see, but I see a lot.  I see the gradual curve of an arm where the skin wraps around fat and muscle and bone.  I see the subtle way that veins change the color and tone of the skin they sit beneath.  I see light reflecting off things, the way it changes their appearances at different angles.  Maybe it’s because I’ve trained myself to over the years.  Maybe not everyone else sees all the things there are to see as fascinating the way I do.

I’d like to visit all the interesting places of the world, from the seven wonders to quiet back-alley bookstores to abandoned bridges, and try to draw all of them so that people can see them the way I see them.  Then maybe I’d start on the moon.  It’s probably an impossible dream, but if I ever get the chance to travel the world, I’ll sit down every place I can and draw the place and the people in it, maybe photograph what I don’t have time to draw.

Despite my existential questions, as a general rule, artists are pretty good at making others (well, me, I don’t know about you) see things the way they see them.  A lot of them have influenced me and the way I see, so I don’t see the same way now that I did before I found their art, but then I don’t see the same way I did when I was seven and got most of my art from Disney films either.

Here’s an example:

During my art class last week, another class came in to see the narrative drawings we’d been working on.  I won’t share mine here, since I’m thinking of entering it in a contest, but I will talk about the audience’s (for lack of a better term) reaction to it.

“You could work with Tim Burton.”

Full disclosure:  I’ve seen a grand total of two Tim Burton films, but I have been letting my art style go a little similar to his–exaggerated proportions, large eyes, thin limbs, high contrast, lots of spirals.  In this particular project, the influence was obvious.  It’s less obvious with other projects, with other contemporary artists whom I take visual cues from.

The cover image of this blog is a page I colored from James A. Owen’s coloring book, All the Colors of Magic, which features popular illustrations from the Imaginarium Geographica books.  I bought it and started coloring because a) I’m a responsible enough adult to usually recognize that the fear of being seen as childish is actually rather childish, b) it’s cool, and c) LOOK AT ALL THE TINY LINES.

James A. Owen is a master of hatching and crosshatching, and his dragons are just breathtaking.  My dragon profile picture is nowhere near as fabulous as some of his.  I sometimes feel irritated that he’s so stinking good, but then I remember he has at least a decade more experience than me and I’ll get better with time and practice and more art classes.

But wait!  There’s more!

Lee Garbett, the comic book artist behind such gems as Loki: Agent of Asgard, has a certain trick of capturing character and emotion with just a few lines that I just find delightful.  I’ve tried to mimic it a few times, but haven’t quite gotten to where I want to be with it yet.

Michael Whelan’s skill with color and contrast is breathtaking.  He can make unbelievable scenes and scenarios look almost real.  He did the cover art for the first two Stormlight Archive novels.

Those are the main contemporary inspirations.  And their styles are all wildly different from one another.

A few months ago a professional comic artist had a presentation at my local library, and when the presentation was done she looked through my sketchbook and commented on it.  I’d give you her name, but I can’t remember or find it.  If I saw her work again I’d recognize it.  Maybe I wrote it down on a sketchbook page somewhere.

The presentation was cool.  She talked about color work, about steampunk, how artists have to know something of the fashion of the time they’re portraying, and about the tendency of artists to draw people who look something like them because we’re our own best reliable references and we have to work harder for people who look different.  Some of the things she said about my sketchbook have been influencing my work since we talked–such as, my art has a naturally sketchy, slightly messy, look to it, and cross-hatching makes it look more complete, and she really liked the dragon (the one I’m currently using as my profile picture here) that I’d just finished days earlier.

Not that art that doesn’t look quite complete is necessarily bad.  It’s just good to know that I do have a tendency towards messy art so I can control it when I want to.

Anyways, I hope I haven’t bored the non-artists with my thoughts on art and seeing and so on.  I just really care about art and learning to see what is/could be/ought to be and I wanted to take a moment to share that enthusiasm with you.

Characters Who Deserved Worse

Generally speaking, most of us believe that people who harm others are going to face justice–God or karma or the law or their own idiocy will catch up to them eventually.  At the same time, we also like stories where the bad guy turns his life around, because there isn’t a human on the planet who doesn’t wish they could make up for some of their mistakes.  Except maybe babies.

So normally the bad guys in the stories we tell get what they deserve or wind up changing and becoming people we actually like.  Still, there are some who deserve worse than what they got.

You know the drill:  There will be spoilers.

Umbridge, Harry Potter

She tortured Harry, and Lee, and who knows how many other students during her brief but far too long time at Hogwarts.  She sent Muggleborns to Azkaban just because she could during the war, and probably had a few Kissed too.  JKR says she got sent to Azkaban for her many and various crimes, but I just want her gone from existence.  Though I don’t think anyone really deserves to have their soul eaten, so I don’t want her Kissed.  Just dead.

Fudge, also Harry Potter

Quite apart from unleashing Umbridge on an unsuspecting Hogwarts for a year and deliberately hampering students’ educations, Fudge’s refusal to accept Voldemort’s return and oppose him put everyone in danger.  Everyone.  Magical Britain, then Muggle Britain, then the rest of the planet, all would have fallen under Voldemort’s control.  After nearly allowing a catastrophe of that scale to happen, Fudge really deserved more than to be kicked out of office.

Humperdink, The Princess Bride

I’m not sure Wesly’s “to the pain” thing worked out like it should have, though it was a brilliant bit of monologue.

The Volturi, The Twilight Saga

I don’t even want all of them gone.  I just want Jane and Aro turned to ash.

Loki, Marvel Cinematic Universe (Different from comic book Loki)

In this case, I won’t ask for Loki to actually die, since killing characters and bringing them back is a proud tradition of superhero universes and they’ve already pretended to kill him twice.  Besides, Loki is a fascinating and enjoyable character, despite being an unbalanced murderer (I don’t watch much TV, but I hear they brought back Coulson for Agents of Shield.  That doesn’t negate the fact that Loki did stab Coulson through the chest with a spear).  I just want to see Loki get beat up a bit more…a lot more…maybe have him lose a limb.  Have Thanos come after him for failing to deliver the Tesseract, for instance.  Kill off a few more of the individuals belonging to the short list of “People Loki Loves.”  Just do something to crack beneath that sassy smirk and show us whether he’s actually redeemable or not.

I have more to say on the subject of Loki, but that’s a subject for another blog post.

And…those are all the characters who I think deserved worse than what they got.  There’s probably more, and if you can think of any, let me know.  Meanwhile, I think the dread beast of Homework is hunting me again.

Life Lessons from Ballet

I’ve heard many, many stories that feature ballet.  In some, ballet is a cutesy, girlie thing that no one really pays attention to.  I’ve never met anyone with experience with ballet who actually believed that.  In other stories, ballet is hard, hard work, but rewarding.  That version is a bit closer to the truth.

I’m not a professional, but I’ve been doing ballet for most of my life, and and it’s taught me far more than how to pirouette.

Things work better sometimes if everyone works as one.  

In our highly individualistic culture, the idea of blending into the group, just working as part of the team, can seem wrong or strange, but it isn’t.  When a corps de ballet moves like a single individual, it shows a degree of professionalism and discipline few can match, and it looks brilliant.

If you aren’t happy before the solo, you won’t be happy after.  

It’s good to set and pursue goals like performing a solo, but eventually every performance will end and you’ll be back to business as usual.  The trick is to learn to be happy with yourself and what you’re doing no matter where you are onstage.

Push yourself.  You’re capable of more than you think.  

But at the same time don’t be stupid.  Don’t dance on a broken toe or a sprained ankle, and if you have an asthma attack during rehearsal, take a break.

Humans need other humans.  

I’ve never exactly been a social butterfly, but I’ve developed bonds with the other dancers I perform with that are part of the web of important people in my life.  It’s a human thing.  We need each other, even if we don’t always like to admit it.

No one can resist twirling in a tutu.  

If you think you’re an exception, you’re wrong.

Characters Who Deserved Better


If you’re anything like me, the first character death that affected you happened shortly before you started to understand real-life death.  For me, it was a certain Jedi Master in The Phantom Menace.  It’s probably different for you.

I’ve been thinking about those characters lately, the ones who in a just world would have had the happiest of endings.  Unfortunately, no one in this world is interested in stories about just worlds, so instead they got various forms of killed.  We can’t go in the past and change their author’s minds, but we can gather their names here and acknowledge that they deserved better.

There will be spoilers.

Many, many spoilers.

If you’re still reading, I have permission to spoil any and all books/films/shows that become relevant.

Proceed at your own risk.

Ready?

Leslie, Bridge to Terabithia.

I loved Leslie.  She brought happiness to so many people, even the ones who weren’t nice to her.  She was a nonconformist, which isn’t always a good thing, but in her case probably meant that she would change the world massively for the better as time went on.  Instead, she drowned.  It was sad.

Aslan, The Chronicles of Narnia

Technically, he came back.  But still.

Wade, Michael Vey:  Battle of the Ampere

Sure, when we first meet him he’s a bully, and a hard home life is no excuse for that.  But I’m pretty sure being kidnapped, tortured, shocked, and shot for the kids you bullied those couple of times makes up for it.  Wade’s death was saddest for me because he’d finally found a family of sorts, and to have him ripped away from them was not cool.  Even if my cynical writer’s side is saying why it was necessary.

Ohh, look, I can make the words cross out!

Cedric Diggory, Harry Potter

I’m not sure when I’ll be able to be articulate about this one, honestly.

Ferrin, Beyonders Trilogy

Why is it always the smart-mouthed guy with the divided loyalties that ends up dead when he finally shows which side he’s on?

Andy, Charmed

This is the first TV show on the list, and it’s from the 90s so not everyone’s probably heard of it.  Andy spent so much time helping these witches and jeopardizing his career as a homicide detective, being the nicest guy on the planet, and that whole time the last thing he wanted was to deal with demons in the attic…or the sewer…or posing as Internal Affairs agents… and he really didn’t want to think about his best friends being witches.  Still, he helped them, and he got himself killed and wouldn’t let them bring him back!

Uncle Ben, Spider-man

Yes, the Spider-man origin story is a bit overdone, but it’s still sad that the nice uncle who raised his nephew like a son and tried to do right by the world is dead.

Interesting fact:  Uncle Ben is one of the few people in the Marvel multiverse who isn’t allowed to come back from the dead.  Bucky Barnes used to be on that list, but then a comics writer found a way to bring him back that was more heartbreaking than leaving him be.

Rudy, The Book Thief

Little kids shouldn’t have to be casualties in war.  Especially little kids with hearts as big as Rudy’s.

Bree Tanner, The Twilight Saga

We don’t actually see much of Bree in the main books, but Meyer wrote a novella from Bree’s perspective, and I’m of the opinion that Bree deserved a happy ending more than most of the main characters.  She was torn apart and turned to ash by the Volturi instead, while the Cullen coven who might have protected her felt obliged to watch.  Then, just a book later, they assembled an army to protect another innocent girl from the Volturi, too late to help Bree.  Double standards, much?  Yes I know there’s more to the situation.  I just don’t care.

Tien, The Stormlight Archive

Again, little kids shouldn’t have to be casualties in war, especially a war as stupid as the one that killed Tien.

Sister Carlotta, Shadow Subseries (Ender’s Game universe)

She was probably the nicest person in that whole universe, except for Valentine.

Basically Everyone, The Hunger Games

Except President Snow.

Tris, Divergent

Isn’t there a contract between reader and writer that the viewpoint character doesn’t get to die?!

There are others, of course.  There always are.  Let me know which ones were worst for you in the comments section, and tune in next week for characters who deserved worse!

Hair Length

I feel like the last blog post was kind of serious, so I want to lighten things up a tad.  Today’s topic probably qualifies as a first world problem, but it’s my week off from saving the world.

So, I’m going to discuss the pros and cons of different hairstyles.

I like long hair.  I also like short hair.  I’ve had hair in both lengths, and several places in between, but I can’t quite decide which one I want to stick with.

I’ve had long hair more often, because I have to be able to put it in a bun for ballet.  I like to have my hair long because I like braids, and curls, and all the different ways of styling long hair.  On good hair days, or even just decent hair days, with long hair, I feel fabulous.  Plus, when it grows out enough I can cut it off and donate it for a wig for cancer patients, which feels even more fabulous.  But I have a few problems with long hair that I don’t have with short hair.

For one thing, there’s time.  Most of mine is dedicated towards things like drawing and homework and various forms of saving the world, and dealing with the dread beast of social interaction.  Spending lots of time on my appearance isn’t a high priority.  I don’t even wear makeup most days.  Plus, I ride a bike to class, and there isn’t much point spending lots of time on hair if it’s just going to get messed up by a helmet or the weather anyway.  Then there’s the fact that I live in a rather warm area, and long hair interferes with my goals of staying cool and hydrated.

And yet I really like braids, and I love drawing people with long hair.  Ugh.

Right now my hair’s at about the length where I either start to keep it braided back and out of the way or I start to absentmindedly trim bits of it off with the kitchen scissors (I’ve given myself and awesome short haircut that way).  So I’m debating whether to get it cut back to the short cut I had last year, which I loved, or grow it out long enough to donate again.

I like short hair because it’s unconventional yet feminine, and easy to take care of.  I can comb it, wash it every few days, and it generally looks pretty great without a lot of help.  My paranoid side can stop worrying that an attacker will grab me by my hair, and I don’t have to stress about bad hair days.  Short hair makes me feel unstoppable.

There are a couple of problems there, too, though.  There’s the time I was called “sir” accidentally in a restaurant, which I probably overthought but still was upset about.  There’s trying to decide whether to put on a fake bun for ballet performances or not.  There’s the fact that I still really like braids.

I’m not quite sure which to pick at the moment.

Oh, this is definitely a first world problem.  But a person’s appearance affects everything else about their life, how others react to them, how they think of themselves.  It’s important to pick the right one.

In other news:  The fifth Michael Vey book by Richard Paul Evans was just released, so there may be a review in the near future.  Also, I found this song by David Archuleta about finding ourselves through our pasts that has a very happy vibe I like.  It’s in Spanish, and I don’t really understand the words, but the emotion behind it is clear.  

An Observation of the Strangeness of Life

Life really is bizarre when I start to think about it.  Here I am, typing at a computer, and people I barely know or have never met are reading what I type and, hopefully, being affected by it.

It’s weird, but it’s also part of why I decided to be a writer and artist to begin with.

With refugees, and unrest across the world, and the screamfest of current United States politics, and dramatic social changes, with the fourteenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, with disease and war and mental illness and every other painful thing the world is experiencing right now, I believe we can make things better by communicating, the way you and I are now.  The mutual recognition that I am a human and you are a human and we are different in so many ways but with the same desires at our cores, that is the only way we can stop fighting, come together, and work with each other to keep our world from falling apart.

Sometimes I do get freaked out about all the different ways we can affect one another across great distances, but at the same time it gives me hope for the future.

Writing Slumps

If writing slumps were like urban fantasy-style quests, the Slump would be an unusual type of dragon, perhaps with a penchant for wrapping itself around buildings with its many tentacles.  Something that leached the color and life out of everything around it.  It would decide to nest on/around your house, covering the doors and windows so you couldn’t get out.  You’d still try, of course.  You’d shove at the shutters and the doorways and push the beast’s legs away, but then the wing would shift and you’d be just as trapped as before.  Your neighbors (writing ideas, perhaps) would love to help, but that’s a dragon on your house.  They’d be scared.  Not enough would help to get you out.  You’d have to help yourself.

If a writing slump were an urban-fantasy quest, you’d have to dig through what was already in your house to find something to fight the Slump.  The experiences and ideas you’d already had, the half-coherent sentences you’d written at 3 am about swordfighting, you’d have to dig through it all to find something useful.

Perhaps you’d find something there large enough to knock a hole in the wall, a hole large enough that the Slump would have to really move to cover it all up, and you’d run out before it did.

When you got out, the Slump’s dozens of eyes, covering every tentacle, would be looking down at you, and you’d look at it, and suddenly whatever you’d used to get out of the house would seem pathetically small.  You’d run–a tactical retreat rather than a surrender, of course, but still you’d run.

You’d run through your neighborhood of ideas, kicking doors down and looking for an idea with some merit to it, but ideas are difficult to work with in any case.  With a Slump on the loose, they’d only shoo you away.

So you’d go for a walk.

Out of the neighborhood, away from every well-trod path, into unfamiliar territory.  Behind you, the Slump would get bored, and an idea would scream, making you pick up the pace.

You’d find a wasteland of gray cement and dull, worn buildings.  Not a place for thoughts to flourish, but perhaps there would be something hiding there that would surprise you.  You’d dig a bit of chalk out of your pocket and mark the alleyways you’d already traveled.  Despite that precaution, you’d get lost.  Eventually, exhausted, with no end to the buildings in sight, you’d lean against a wall and scowl.  Then you’d think to look inside the buildings.

Nothing interesting.

Still nothing.

Spiders.  Gross

If overcoming writing slumps was like urban fantasy quests, you’d have to dig through the deepest recesses of your mind, through the basements and the sewers and who knows what else to find a way to rid yourself of the creature.  If writing slumps were dragons, the dragon would know that, and put its eggs in the top of an office building.

You’d find them eventually anyways.  They’d be a pretty, delicate shade of green.  One of the eggs would have cracks forming in its shell already.

If you are anything like me, you’d not be excited to kill babies, even pest babies, but it’s that or let them overrun you.  You’d steel yourself, lift up a desk, and drop it on the eggs.  The original Slump would screech in the distance.  The wind would change with the flapping of its wings.

Dripping in embryonic fluid and trying not to look at the crushed baby dragon skulls, you’d gather up the broken bits of eggshells.  The corners would be sharp, cutting into your hands.  As the Slump made its heavy way towards you, limbs streaming like banners behind it, you’d throw the eggshells, catching it in one of its eyes.  You’d throw some more, until the Slump lifted up over the building and out of sight.  It would still scream nearby.

If killing the Slump was an urban fantasy quest, you’d spot something knocked off the desk when you picked it up to crush the eggs.  A letter opener, at first glance, but when you lifted it up it would increase in size and sharpness.

It’s a requirement to fight a dragon with a sword.  I don’t know why.

You’d climb up to the roof, sword in hand, with the dragon directly overhead.  You’d fight.  You might win.

It would be a far more interesting story than the one of sitting at the desk for hours, staring at a blinking cursor, taking a walk, staring at the cursor again, and not typing a word that you don’t immediately delete again.

Not that that’s ever

Okay, I lie.  But I don't normally get writing slumps and drawing slumps at the same time, at least.

Okay, I lie. But I don’t normally get writing slumps and drawing slumps at the same time, at least.

happened to me.  Nope.