Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Cabin Fever

A week alone sounded like a good idea.

Liz's parents asked her to bring the baby for a week's visit, and to see my parents as well. She asked if I'd be all right without her. I joked that I'd need some money for pizza, but she should go and have fun. I had too much work to do to take off for that long, so a week alone sounded like a good time to get things done.

The strange thing is, when I'm around other people, I'm full of energy, anxious to start and finish projects, always slightly annoyed that these people are distracting me from all the important work I could be doing. Then, when I am alone, I shuffle around restlessly, wanting to talk to someone, not wanting to work at all. Granted I've gotten a lot done these past few days, but not the Herculean tasks I'd envisioned would occur the moment I had the house to myself.

I think I'm some kind of enthusiasm leech.

I suppose the thing that bothers me most is that I don't enjoy drawing anymore. There was a point, not too long ago, that I asked another artist whom I respected for help and advice when I was at a very low point. His response was scathing, tearing apart the works I had worked long and hard to perfect... works I thought were pretty good. His bit of condescending advice was that I should take a foot-high stack of paper and draw my way through it. When I had done that, he said, I would be as good as any artist.

I'm sure he thought he was helping me, but the thing is, I've been through many feet of paper in my life. I've burned through reams of the stuff, perfecting my craft, and this guy talks to me like I'm some kid who needs a kick in the pants for inspiration. The gnawing thing about it is that I can't shake it off. I mean when I've been criticized in the past, I may have been flustered by it, but I could always justify it to myself. If they complained there was no background behind the figure, it was because I hadn't had any desire to draw one, once finished with the central character. If the anatomy looked off, it was because I had taken a shortcut and not checked my work, and I learned from the mistake. This guy, however, blindsided me, 'cause I couldn't see the flaws until he pointed them out, and that scared me.

To be a great artist, you have to be able to look at your work subjectively. If you can't step back from it and see it as others do, you can't see the faults. Now I question everything I do. My confidence is shaken to the breaking point because I honestly don't know if can see my art that way.

The funny thing is that I don't even like his work. He comes from what I call the "Dead Meat" school of art. Sure, he knows every muscle in the human body, but his characters just look like piles of muscle tissue, skinless and streaked with sweat and grime. His world is black and red and brown, gnashing teeth and spurting blood. Unfortunately for me, it is all the rage. I visit a website where he is a contributor, a site for "concept artists", and what I see there are nightmares of soulless flesh, painted with the skill of the Great Masters. A freakin' cult of gristle-worshippers, and I'm not invited.

These "concept" pieces must have taken days or weeks to complete. I seldom spend more than a couple of days working on a piece. I don't feel the need to render photorealistically when we've already invented cameras to take care of that sort of thing. In my mind, a true artist should be able to evoke an emotional response in the viewer with a few strokes of a pen. Artists who feel the need to paint every vein throbbing beneath the skin of their subjects don't trust their audience to fill in the blanks with their imaginations.

The hell of it is that I know I'm right, but I still can't walk away from it. I know that I don't want to be a "Dead Meat" artist, but, dammit, I feel like a loser walking away from a challenge. Part of me keeps saying that I'm only justifying my lack of talent by steering clear of the photorealism school. It unnerves me to realize that I'm just not that good at drawing things I see. It always comes back to my abstract perception of those things, and when I mix the styles, it just comes out a muddled mess.

I guess I'm just depressed because I have a lot of work to do. I know it should be a cause for thankfulness, but freelancing always brings me down. There's very little feedback, no chance to see a viewer's reaction to my work with freelancing. All artists, I think, do it for the applause, in one form or another, but freelancing feels kinda like pouring out your heart in a beautiful love letter, and then sealing it up and dropping it down a well. I already find it hard enough to bring pencil to paper, but now I have to do it for someone else, spending what little creative energy I can muster on someone else's project, and when I'm done, I sure as heck don't want to spend my free time drawing. I've seen the great artists, always with a sketchbook, every page crammed with scribbles, drawing constantly, never not being an artist. That's not me. Maybe there was a time that it was, but now, when I stare at the page, I just keep thinking how much whatever I draw is gonna suck.

I guess I've been burned out for a while now, years maybe, and I don't know how to get my head straight. I don't trust my own judgment anymore, and there's this pressure bearing down on me that I need to figure it all out and soon. I feel like there's a battle waging all around me, and a great victory to be won, but the people I thought were my allies just knocked me down and backed a tank over my eyeglasses. I don't even know where the front lines are, and people are calling for my help all around me.

Geez, I just wanted to draw some naked fairies!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

I got nothin'

OK, seriously, I have nothing to write about tonight.

Hmn, there's the art case on the shelf above my desk. Sort of like a really big, hard-sided briefcase that opens from the top with two spring-action combination locks. I got a really good deal on it back in the 90s because somebody had reset the combinations and locked it before putting it back on the shelf, so the guys at the office supply store didn't know the combination to open it. Having nothing better to do, I asked them if they would still give me the discount price if I managed to open it before buying it. They said sure, go for it.

About an hour later, I had figured out the combos for both locks and now owned a really nice art supply case for about $10. Right now I think it is full of old pencils and markers and random things like the bendy curve maker thing that I though might be useful but did not prove so.

I don't really know what the point of that story was.

That was also the office supply store where I bought my favorite office chair (on scratch and dent discount) (I'm pretty cheap). The chair lasted about 15 years before finally breaking to an extent that it could no longer be repaired. That was a comfortable chair. The chair I'm sitting in right now is not. Despite the fact that it was described as an "Executive" office chair, I think there's some sort of bolt protruding up through the padding of the seat and jabbing me in the right thigh. Occasionally, the little locking mechanism that holds the seat in an upright position will spontaneously disengage, sending me plummeting backwards into a position that I assume was meant for reclining into a self-satisfied state of smirkery as my executive response to skyrocketing stock options or perhaps another successful round of layoffs. Instead I am torn abruptly from my labors and sent into a terrified state of "Holy Crap!"edness as my arms flail wildly for purchase like some hapless German spy booted unceremoniously from atop a swaying gondola by an angry Richard Burton.

Have you ever noticed that a lot of villains, especially those in Disney movies, perish from falling? I mean, for a good guy to get away with killing someone and still be a good guy, he either has to wait for the bad guy to pull some sort of hidden weapon out after having surrendered and then blow him away (or, in the case of Ladyhawke, hurl a massive sword through his body), or he has to let gravity do the dirty work for him and then look suitably horrified and regretful that he could not catch the bad guy in time to save him. I did like the end of Disney's Lion King, where a very good villain falls for the old, "I'm gonna knock your heroic ass off this cliff! Whoah, no, I missed! Holy Craaaaaap! The Irony!" "Jeremy Irony!" (sorry) Only the twist is that he isn't killed by the fall, but rather is torn apart by belligerent, comic relief henchmen at the bottom.

Impaling is another option for particularly nasty villains. Where was I?

Oh yeah, this chair sucks.

Friday, March 09, 2007

The Christmas Cookie

So I'm sitting here at my desk trying to think what I should write about, because I enjoyed having written again last night, but nothing's coming to me, so I'm just writing about not having anything to write about, and I keep having to go back and capitalize the I's because I keep missing the shift key when I type it. Maybe that means I've got some sort of subconscious inferiority complex, or maybe my neural pathways are degenerating, or maybe I just haven't typed very much lately and I suck at it.

Anyway, I've got this Christmas cookie sitting on my desk. By Christmas cookie, I don't mean that it was baked into some sort of festive shape or anything, just that it's been sitting here since Christmas. It was some sort of gift cookie that came in an interesting box, and we saw it at the store and thought, "well, we can get a couple of boxes of those, and, if we forget anybody's gift, we'll just give them some cookies and pretend that we didn't really forget them after all." As it turned out, we just kept the cookies and wound up eating them ourselves... well, all but one.

We had white chocolate and mint chocolate versions of these cookies. (according to some show I saw on cable TV while visiting my parents' house, white chocolate is not truly chocolate at all, but I still like it and refuse to call it "congealed cocoa butter" much the same as I refuse to call "sparkling white wine" anything other than champagne) (cable TV is pretty cool) (Liz said I had to choose 2 of the following 3: Netflix, Cable TV, or Warcraft) (Cable TV lost) (I think it was Food Network that said the thing about the chocolate) (I am so glad that I live in an age when we actually have a network dedicated to nothing but food) (Like in the 70's we had to choose between the Lawrence Welk Show, Watergate coverage, and shooting the ants that lived in the bathroom with the watergun I got at the Ponchos gift shop) (Ponchos rocked) (Tortillas, deep fried and rolled in sugar, served with honey, oh yeah)

Anyway, the Christmas cookies somehow wound up on my computer desk, and I became their guardian. The mint chocolate cookies were a big hit. The baby, in particular, loved them. The only problem was that their dark chocolate coating melted instantly on contact with human skin, leaving the infant in such a state that suggested a wacky oil-change mishap. I tried to encourage her to partake of the "white chocolate" versions of the cookies which seemed to be composed of some sort of weather-resistant ivory coating around their crunchy innards, but she would have none of it. As you might guess, the cookie that sits to this day on my computer desk was one that I offered her, and, having tasted it, she rejected. Now a stronger-willed or more pragmatic parent would probably have muttered something about wasting food and popped it in their mouth, storing away the rich, fatty nutrients for the coming economic depression that gnaws hungrily at the fringe of every prosperous civilization, muttering dark prophesies of loss and despair. Me, on the other hand, just gave the slimy white blob of congealed cocoa butter a look of disgust and dropped it somewhere between my monitor and keyboard. I gave the baby one of the last mint chocolate cookies and nudged her quietly in the direction of her mother.

There it lays, snuggled between my Wacom pen and the MP3 player that saw me faithfully through art school and no further. It would take me 2 seconds to pick it up and throw it in the waste bin under my desk. For that matter, it would have taken me 1 second to do that in the first place. I should do that right now. Why do I hesitate? Perhaps because I have now written of it, granting it some importance beyond that normally due to a cookie that no one wanted. Perhaps it is because it is the last, and when it is gone, Christmas will be gone too, swept away and lost to dimming memory, clouded and obscured by the eternally bright glow of childish faith in the unknown and unknowable. The Mythic figure in the red velvet coat that knocked upon the door on Christmas Eve, sending us scurrying to our rooms to hide, lest we catch sight of him and break the spell, losing forever the Gift of Christmas and becoming as mundane as the adults who were allowed to see him but no longer wanted him to bring them any toys. Maybe I should eat the cookie.

That's pretty gross.

I pick it up. It smells good. You don't really think about the smell of chocolate. The taste is what we know. The taste is the essence of the thing. We would love it if it were blue, or red, or even white, as in this case it is, so long as it tasted like chocolate. The taste is the thing. It looks kinda dusty. Now I pretty much have to eat it, having written myself into this corner. maybe I'll just bite off an edge or something. I ate part of a crayon once, because it was funny at the time. That wasn't so bad. How bad could an old cookie be? I stole the stopwatch at the restaurant that you were supposed to time your waitperson with so you could get a free meal if they didn't get it to you in time. I harbored few illusions about whose paycheck the price of the meal would come from, so I stole the stopwatch. I don't steal things, I don't curse... unless it's really funny, or it makes a point about the way things should be. I think I've finally thought of something that I like about myself.

I stole a stopwatch once... and I just ate the last Christmas cookie.

I really need something to drink...

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Hey, I Have a Blog!

It occurs to me that I haven't written much of anything in the past... um, long time now. This is not to say that I haven't engaged in creative endeavors, certainly my life is rife with creativity. It's just that I don't really write for fun anymore, except for my D&D campaign which is more like "noting" for fun. I come up with a bunch of ideas and madly scribble little notes in my notebook so I will remember them for the next play session, but I know that a year from now I will have absolutely no idea what "winged monkeys!" and "Outers (BAD)" have to do with anything.

Anyway... stream of consciousness. The baby's sleeping. She played hard today while I drew 40 different versions of the 2 Handed battle-axe. I go through a lot of pencils these days. I need to buy some more. I like going to the art store. It always seems so full of potential projects, but then I know I won't really do them. I hate that about myself, how I talk myself out of projects that I know I won't finish. Maybe I just hate knowing that I won't finish them. I love starting projects.

Liz is giggling as she plays Warcraft. She missed the old guild that disbanded so we could join a larger guild that could raid the high-end instances where all the best loot dropped. Nobody talked to us in the new guild. They all knew each other, but we were just the guys from the little guild that got assimilated, and nobody wanted to group with me because I couldn't heal or tank. For those not in the proverbial know, tanking means to provoke the monsters to attack you so that they don't eat the more fragile members of the party. Tanking is usually done by the large, muscular, heavily armored types who can withstand the abuse of a roomful of angry monsters. Meanwhile the frail spell-caster types do all the damage to the distracted monsters. The irony of it all is that the steroid-laden muscle mass that is the focus of all their hate and rage does relatively little damage to them, whereas the gray-bearded ex-hippie wearing sandals and a bath robe is slinging balls of searing flame at their backsides.

Anyway, Liz is giggling. She's reformed the old guild with the people we like who liked us, and she's having fun. I guess I wanted the loot of the big dungeons, and she wanted friends to chat with. I'm such a power-hungry bastard... in the game world at least. I suppose I am different there... a bloodthirsty reaver raining steely death upon all foes in my path. It's silly really... but I love the slaughter. Must be the testosterone. Can't say that I'm really all that violent in real life, but you put that Grand Marshall's longbow in my hand, and I feel the arcane power coursing through my dragonhide armor, quenched in the blood of thousand fallen heroes, well, I just feeling like shootin' some orcs.

Everyone's desire to be a hero, I suppose. It's so easy to know what to do there. You know what you want, and you know how to get it. You know the rules of the game, and, if they won't let you get where you want to go, you know how to bend the rules and how to overcome the obstacles set before you. Not so easy here in the real world. You think you know the rules, and then it all gets kicked out from under you. Everybody has a quest for you, but none of them seem to go anywhere. It's like you keep completing epic quests, but they keep sending you back to Newbville. "Wow you did a great job slaying that dragon that no one thought could be slain, but what we really need you to do now is go down in the sewers and kill 20 rats... we'll give you a can of biscuits if you do."

So you're standing there with the head of yesterday's dragon at your feet, and those biscuits look pretty tasty.