Category Archives: 3. Hinduism

Hinduism has become the most significant force in my life. For years I had been lost to agnosticism and had sought relief in Taoism, Buddhism, revisited Christianity, and had eventually given up on spirituality altogether. I was no longer seeking, then, quite unexpectedly I was called by Lord Shiva. Here is where I will tell that story and share those thoughts. Om Namah Shivaya!

Updating Barefootjustine.com

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We are currently working to update barefootjustine.com. Major changes are being made to the galleries, and minor adjustments are being made to the content and its organization, and new and exciting blog entries are being created to revitalize the site and put far more focus on Justine as an artist.

Please visit barefootjustine.com again within the week for lots of new stuff!

Patreon: Any Patrons Out There?

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I have been looking into the web-site Patreon.com, and wondering, as an artist and woman with a very unusual lifestyle (you know… being a hardcore barefooter AND artist) if this might not be a good way to go. Being an artist is a tough row to hoe financially… and being so stubbornly barefoot makes making a living a challenge (one I strive to rise to… and have had a lot of success at, but some help from my many barefoot fans to keep me happily unshod would be groovy). The point is, I am wondering if this is the kind of life Patreon might not be able to assist.

Patreon is a site artists and fans go to to find support and to offer support. As I understand it, the patrons promise contributions as small or large as they see fit so the artist can pursue their projects and lives without distraction or stress.

I think if I could raise my rent and utilities every month, it would free me up to make more art, and to make the glorious blog entries I have always wanted to write. I have wanted to keep a diary of my daily life as a barefooter, but have not, as that would require a lot of dedication and work. I have also been wanting to write lengthy art and illustration tutorials and lessons, but all the researching of images and scanning that would take is currently beyond my means. And of course, I have pages of unfinished and unpublished work I would love to finish and share.

The very first thing I would like to do is finish my glorious piece on my conversion to Hindusim, see the process on that piece so far here:

Page 1: http://barefootjustine.com/2012/06/02/god-is-speaking-to-you-page-1-in-process/

Page 2: http://barefootjustine.com/2012/06/02/god-is-speaking-to-you-page-2-in-progress/

Page 3: http://barefootjustine.com/2012/06/03/god-is-speaking-to-you-page-3-in-progress/

Page 4: http://barefootjustine.com/2012/06/05/god-is-speaking-to-you-page-4-in-progress/

I think if I could get this Patreon thing to work, I could create one helluva blog, live a stressless barefoot life, and make tons of spectacular art… and share every line and moment of it totally FREE!

Does anyone out there think this is a good idea? Would any of you want to support my barefoot life and my art?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas… so please, comment away…

Molly -n- Me!

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There we are, (my new Gainesville gal pal) Molly Rose and me! Molly’s the lovely bundle of much needed joy for SAW founders Tom Hart and Leela Corman. After being told that I was no longer welcome around my own nephews, it’s beautiful to have Molly in my lap. Molly is a blessing for so many of us in town. As for me, it’s been a long time since I’ve felt such pure contentment as I enjoy when I get to play with my little bud!

Tom had brought her by a couple weeks back after I had invited them over for a fresh homemade Punjabi fest. In the below photos you can see Molly playing with my Ganesh pendant–which seems to enchant her endlessly. Whatever path she chooses… I believe Ganesh will bless her every step.

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And below… she is focused on my bangles… God help us, I fear the girl is going to grow up and share my obsession with junk jewelry!

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I got these photos from Tom after stopping by their home and getting a little Molly-time in! I looked at these pics before going to sleep last night, and I drifted off smiling.

SAW, it’s a family affair! Gooble gobble… gooble gobble… come be one of us!

Saawariya

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Sonam Kapoor in Saawariya 1 facebook timeline cover 849 X 312 Sonam,Kapoor,SaawariyaI knew I had the evening all to myself. This is not really a good thing. I tend to be fine so long as I’m out, about and productively occupied, so long as the sun is still shining. The problem is, as soon as it gets dark and I’m left alone for the evening (which happens about every evening), the demons rise up and whisper my deepest fears into my ears until my head is filled with dreadful words dripping with worry. One of the ways to banish the demons is to become engrossed in a movie, in a movie that is truly more of an experience. Simply put, a movie that can take me away from all this… this fearful “self.” I wanted to see a particular kind of movie, you know what I mean, certainly you’ve looked for the movie that would be just right for your mood, a movie that you’ve never seen, a movie that creates precisely the right atmosphere and contains just the right amount of fantasy and drama for your needs… you know, a movie that doesn’t exist. I have wasted a lot of my time seeking “that movie.” Of course, the tone and texture of that movie changes with my moods, but I never seem to be able to find a crystallized version of that specific but incorporeal movie that only exists in my head. This night I wanted to see something as colorful as a Disney cartoon, as fantastical as a fairy tale, romantic, maybe exotic, oh… and wouldn’t music as tuneful as the songs of Harry Nilsson be nice, too? And of course, this movie had to be full of women I can relate to. I can’t really relate to “the modern woman” as she exists in America, especially as she exists in American pop culture, so this is an especially immoveable challenge. Needless to say, once I got to the video store I realized the absurdity of my quest and just started looking for something that might keep my restless mind occupied. I picked up everything from Pixar, to the fifties movie “Lilith,” to a collection of Gerald McBoing Boing cartoons. In the end I wound up in the Bollywood section at Video Rodeo, and I settled on “Saawariya.” I figured at best I could simply endure it, which would at least be a distraction.

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MCCARTNEY2Being a Western Hindu, one might assume I am a huge Bollywood fan, or a huge fan of all things India. Not exactly, I mean I am fascinated by the romantic promises of India, but unsure as to whether I could weather the realities of India. And so far as Bollywood goes, I have seen plenty of great Indian cinema, though rarely do the films I like fit into the Bollywood category, a notable exception being the classic “Sholay,” which is rather like a Bollywood “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” This one, “Saawariya,” turned out to be a shining example of the sort of magic only possible in a Bollywood picture… anymore. No doubt my unconditional and instant love of this movie was greatly assisted by the fact that the lead actor looks a helluva lot like a young Indian Paul McCartney from the White Album, or perhaps straight off the cover of McCartney II.

I mean… that would be enough, right? Enough to elevate this to a fave. Just imagine, a romantic movie with a young Indian McCartney. Swoon! I’d like to say that that wasn’t why I liked the movie, and actually it isn’t, but the similarities are strong. For one, the lead actor is not afraid to be silly, ditto McCartney. For another the music is melodious in the film, as it is with McCartney’s. And there is not a shred of cynicism in this film, nor is there any of that in McCartney’s music. I know this comparison may seem absurd or obsessive, but it isn’t, McCartney embodies those things I value most, as does this film, as did this film right from the establishing shot!

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I surrendered myself to the film from the opening scene, and I decided to trust it and let it take me where ever it wanted to.

The story is based on the Dostoevsky story “White Nights,” and I don’t know much about the original story, but the film plays the story out like a wondrous fairy tale, and that, right there, McCartney stuff aside, is why I fell in love with this film at first sight. “Saawariya” is a fairy tale of the highest order. The imagery, the colors, the lighting, all create a world bathed in the sort of beauty I could sink into, never to be seen again. The visuals are opulent, as only films made by Indians can be (See Mira Nair’s sensual delight, “Kama Sutra”), any visit to a Hindu Temple would prove that the Indians know something about rich sensual beauty. The Indians, like no other, know how to celebrate beauty. Beautiful stories, beautiful costumes, beautiful boys, and stunning women. How could any people born under such beautiful Gods be anything but admirers of beauty? Perhaps I generalize, but in my experience, Indians know something about beauty that the rest of us seem to have forgotten.

“Saawariya” was a treat to my weary eyes, especially in the grim mire of modern American films which seem to be getting more and more obsessed with the dark side of reality, with being “realistic,” films which more and more seem hellbent on being colorless and drab. I loathed Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” for that very reason, every damn moment in the film was olive drab, brown, or a cold and depressing blue. So it goes with the cynicism of our age, our art, and our culture. Fortunately India hasn’t turned its head too far West for too long. The Indian’s have not forgotten what fairy tales look like, not like Tim Burton has, as evidenced by his perverting Willy Wonka into his own twisted world of cornball (ahem) “dark” gothic fetishism. “Saawariya” is bathed in blues and greens, the backgrounds, I must confess, are close to monochromatic in some scenes, but even those blues and greens are not the blues and greens of depression and death, not like Jackson or Burton uses, no, these are the blues and greens of springs and valleys, of moonlit nights and magic! And these blues and greens always make way for warmer colors, and these blues and greens celebrate rather than mourn. There is so much to mourn in life, I don’t need to spend any of my time steeping in the mournful drab of Jackson or Burton’s visions. I would much rather dance in the light of “Saawariya.”

That, for me, is what truly set “Saawariya” apart, there is not a hint, trace, or even whiff of cynicism in the air. The film is unrelentingly romantic, emotionally tragic at times, but only so much as all the great fairy tales often contain a mix of romance and tragedy. Some might see “Saawariya” as mere fluff, I do not. The skill, inspiration, craftsmanship and artistry displayed in this film, the total commitment to beauty, were enough to leave me swooning for more.

I admire anyone today who dares to strive to create beauty in this culture, a culture that has forgotten how to approach or even admire beauty. We have confused beauty with our fragile attempts to make believe that ugliness is beauty, that the mundane is beauty. No, beauty is an elevated state, it is to be worked for, yearned for, earned for, and above all, treated with the deepest of spiritual respect. God how I dread modern photography, full of sober shots of banal American slobs in their filthy or spartan and visionless cages. We have forgotten the value of romantic ideals, of beauty for beauties’ sake. This film’s sole purpose seems to be to breath life into us through it’s sheer beauty. The backgrounds look like the very best of vintage Disney, but brought to life. “Saawariya” is shameless and unapologetically beautiful.

saawariya-2007-17b-1_1190632094One of my other pet passions is bare feet, especially other barefoot women. There are a few barefoot scenes in the movie, but there is not one barefoot character, nor extended scene of any character barefoot outside of their dance scenes or homes, and though I mourned that personally, it was hardly going to put me off the movie, but it certainly would have enhanced the movie for me, though this is hardly a criticism, and is much more of a personal confession.

The other thing is that I love Indian Pop! The stuff is always such an experimental mix of cultural influences all filtered through the purely Indian sense of melody and rhythm. The melodies in the film’s songs are bright, fresh, and moving. The melodies, though at times filled with influence from Latin ballads and pop culture, are truly things of beauty. This is music, great melodic film and pop music without the banal crud and clamor that has polluted the cheap chincy world of market-driven drivel and computer-ravaged aggression that is American pop. The dance numbers are visionary, rather than being an odd or even incongruous interruption in the narrative (as with many Bollywood movies), this music is integrated beautifully, and wholly essential! This really is a musical in the most glorious sense. A beautiful romantic musical!

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The characters are in and of themselves not merely archetypal, but charming and nuanced. They can surprise you.

Lilipop, the old woman who runs the inn where our hero stays, is quite a delightful character. The lead actor charmed even me, and most boys leave me rather cold, but this one drips with good nature and a certain unearthly, if not simple, wisdom. He does not swagger with testosterone-fuelled ego, no he plays, like a child, like Peter Pan, though far wiser, far more insightful and touching. Gulabji, the prostitute is also a charming character, vivid, full of life and confidence. Gulabji left me wondering what the boy saw in Sakina, who was by comparison rather sad and even gratingly devout. The one thing that I found most enchanting about the movie was that every single character seemed possessed of some sort of easy magic. There is a subversive nature to the film’s characters. At first glance it appears the boy is charming every woman he encounters, but we soon realize that he is wholly at the mercy of each and every one of them. These are powerful women. These are ultra-feminine women. These are women I can relate to. These women have style!

There are moments of wisdom throughout the movie. The boy hero, Raj, is not merely adorable and charming, like any lost boy, he is possessed of some wisdom, and certainly plenty of magic. He has come not only to fall in love, but to teach, to open up the people who surround him. He is there to speak of God, when he says that God never takes everything from us without giving us someone to take care of us. How true I know this to be. I had to be reduced to nothing, to absolute hopelessness myself, before landing in the arms of those who helped take care of me. Of all the things I have lost, I regret nothing. Everything I have lost was taken from me so that I might see beyond my attachments and move closer and closer to where it is I need to be. I never needed to remain in the company of the things I have lost.

of course, none of this writing was really about the movie, it was about my reaction to the movie, about how delighted I was to see it. I haven’t researched the movie, frankly, I don’t want to know. I don’t want or need to know if it was a hit or a flop. I don’t want or need to know what critics and cynics think. I don’t feel any need to allow that silly gob of pudding in my skull to shout down my heart. What is the point, I often wonder, of checking in with critics or writers, to meet what end? I have learned to trust my heart over my brain. My heart is telling me that this film made me feel warm and completely joyful, what business is it of my brain, of some critic, of some controversy to jump in and shit in my happy place? It is enough that the heart knows it has been filled with joy, I do not need or crave any approval from that self-righteous patriarch… the brain.

What this blog entry was about was, quite simply, that on this one day I went out looking for that movie, that specific movie I had created in my head, that ONE movie that would take me exactly where I wanted to go, that one movie that would wholly fulfill my needs. That movie was “Saawariya!”

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It’s nice, isn’t it, to know that once in a while a movie can really hit the spot? And it’s nice to know, isn’t it, that consciousness has a way of connecting artists with those who most need to see their work? Consciousness, our Godheads have spanned that distance between Flordia and India, and the artists that made this movie and I, we have shared in this beauty together.

On Being Back At the Drawing Table 2

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Well, it’s been a long time coming, this whole wild and bumpy full-circle ride… and yes, the people in the front row did get wet. I’ve frequently and long felt as though at this point in my journey that I have still turned out horribly incomplete. I thought that feeling of completion was going to come from somewhere else, but in a rather unexpected way it came about through returning to the one thing I knew about myself to be true from the age of 8 or 10. I knew and frequently announced that, “I am going to be a comic book artist or a dolphin trainer.” OK, so there were a few surprises along the way, but I had eventually landed squarely on comic book artist. Then, I burned out and wandered through many adventures before coming home to the drawing table again. How prodigal of me.

I’ve written on this topic once already, but it seems I feel the need to speak on it again. This process of getting and being back in the saddle is not so simple as one blog entry. I am not looking back at the prior blog entry as I write this, I don’t know how much it will overlap, and I really couldn’t care less anyhow. Stop reading if you hate repeats or capsule (“clip”) shows.

There is a lot of new information. For one, I have finished the pencils on the Odysseus job for DARPA (part of the DOD), and I gathered tons of steam throughout, and slowed down towards the end, but I had accomplished my goal all the same. My goal with these pages was to just draw them. Just draw them. I didn’t want to torture them into existence, I didn’t want to research and reference. I simply wanted to trust myself and channel all I have internalized, and I have internalized plenty. Below you will find pencils (yet to be inked) of my favorite page:

Barefoot Justine's Odysseus for DARPA (Lotus Eaters)

Barefoot Justine’s Odysseus for DARPA (Lotus Eaters)

Yah… it’s a good page.

So now it is time to ink this beast, all 17 pages, and I can’t wait. I love the process of taking that wooden handle in my hand, dipping the hairs into wet ink, and making marks on good ol’fashioned paper. I just can’t, won’t, and don’t get the playtime attitude of a lot of my contemporary artists and students; this compulsive need to use toys and playthings like brushpens, pigma markers and computers. Toys, just fucking toys. When I pick up a brush I am spiritually connected to the Masters, to every artist I have ever admired, to every artist who ever picked up a brush. I believe that the truly great art involves all 4 aspects of the human experience. The great art is not imbalanced, it contains a mix of the spiritual, the physical, the emotional, and the intellectual, to concentrate too heavily on one aspect creates art that is sick, sickly, neurotic, just as is true in life. Think of all the sickly intellectuals you know, think of all the intellectually bankrupt jocks you know. This to me is why the Beatles will forever be greater than the Rolling Stones. The Beatles were a brilliant mix of the physical, the intellectual, the emotional and the spiritual, all of those elements were available and essential to their work, the Stones were heavily concentrating on one aspect, the physical, the penis to be precise… and THAT bores me. It bores me in visual art as well. And consider this, all the artists who work away on computers… there is NO physicality to what they do or produce, the work is a fiction, an abstract, numbers in space, and immediately out of balance. And worse (consider this) no one can convince me (not even Bjork) that said computer-created work is spiritually connected to anything but ones own mind. I am not suggesting that my work is great or all that well balanced, but that is what I admire, and it is the mark toward which I aspire. Nope, no toys for me, just wood, hair and wet stuff on paper.

It seems that when it rains it does indeed pour. I am simultaneously finishing out the semester teaching at SAW, creating an animated infographic for UF, and starting a new project for DARPA all while finishing the first one. How did this happen? When did this happen? Well, without putting too fine a point on it, and I fucking hate to do this again (as I have so many times before), but I have to give much of the credit to St. Thomas of Hart, who has rather unwittingly become something of a guardian angel. Quite a responsibility for the poor guy, considering what a handful I can be sometimes… but I’m worth it (right Tom… RIGHT?). As Tom has said more than once, “Let Lakshmi and Tom provide.” He may pretend to be humble, but deep down he knows that he and we are all working for Gods. I bow before my Gods frequently in gratitude, to Ganesh who has removed so many obstacles and who has continued to send good fortune my way, and to Saraswati who provides inspiration and the energy I need to teach when I feel discouraged by certain students at certain times. I have more than once started out my door in the morning in a foul mood or in a fit of obsession over some dark shadow in my heart only to stop and bow before beautiful Saraswati as she reminds me that I have a duty to perform, and that duty is to teach no matter what else is going on in my life or the depths of my often self-inflicted suffering. She gives me the strength to set it all aside and do my duty. Her glories and grace have given me strength I never could have found on my own.

But back to the material world, yesterday Tom and I had a meeting with the staff at UF regarding our animated infographic, and though he was a tad anxious about it all, somehow I knew we had won this battle prior to even entering the meeting to show them our progress. As I had hoped, they were blown away by what we showed them… as they should have been, problem is, most clients are too thick to see what they saw. Most clients want what they want however lame what they want is. These fantastic women at UF have been open, warm, and have trusted us as artists to do what was best. I always feel it is a sure sign of incompetent and unconfident managers who do not trust their own judgment. What kind of lousy manager hires a person they cannot trust? These women chose to work with us, and they have been wise enough to trust their judgment and allow us to do what we were hired to do rather than riding us and meddling. No one likes or trusts a meddling manager. If a manager can’t trust their judgment enough to trust who they hire, then how can I trust them? Well, anyhow, fortunately these women are confident enough to trust their own judgment. The meeting was victorious, and we not only satisfied but delighted and moved them! That is how it should always work with clients, and that is how it can work, so long as clients trust artists to do what artists do, and trust their own judgment in who they employ.

And next, I have to balance all of this with more work on a new project from DARPA, and I couldn’t be happier. Oh, sure there are days I don’t feel it and the work is workmanlike at best, but most days are good if not inspired. Sure, there are days when I’m exhausted and I really feel and worry about the pressure of having to produce so much all at once, but for the most part I trust myself and I trust what I teach enough to live by it. I have internalized the hard lessons.

There is a crossroads students must face: choice one, to grind away and internalize the hard lessons; choice two, spend time playing with toys, dabbling, experimenting, indulging ones fancies. The choice a young artist makes at that crossroads is critical to their future. Sure, you can be a dabbler, a player, focus on the fun and “creative” parts, but it sure as hell is gonna cost ya in the end. Or, you can sacrifice a little on the front end, focus, learn anatomy and perspective, torture yourself a tad, and in the years to come you can rely on all the hard lessons you have internalized, it’s up to you. I will say this, if one chooses the hard way, to learn a more academic and classical approach, that makes ones later experiments far easier; however if one becomes a dabbler, said artist may never learn how to draw properly and will find themselves boxed in by the limitations of having chosen poorly at the crossroads. In the end I don’t really care what path my students choose, whether they choose to put their carts before their horses or not is their choice, but I know, I know deep down the truth of such things, and I know deep down that I am whole heartedly committed to what I teach. I teach what I know. I don’t know much, but I trust the few things I do know. And I know that I am an artist, and I know what path I took to get there, and I know it was the right path. It feels good to be on that path again, even when the path wends uphill and through the dark and tangles of briars. Just because a path is right, doesn’t mean it will always or ever be easy.

The more one struggles uphill, the closer one gets to God.

My Home Temple

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ganesh2While my life has greatly improved since leaving Akron Ohio to settle down in Gainesville Florida, there has been one aspect of my life that has suffered greatly, and that is my spiritual life. My spiritual practices are infrequent at best, yet the Deities I am faithful to have been ever loyal, ever responsive, and ever patient as I have languished alone in my faith. There is no Hindu temple here in Gainesville, merely a Krishna temple–which I do not find satisfying in the least. This lack of a community of faith has most definitely had a crippling effect on my devotion. I feel terribly alone down here in Gainesville, and though my home altars are beautiful and ever present, I am not engaging in regular meditations or prayers, though I try frequently to, at the very least, bow in gratitude.

Without a spiritual community I have faltered and in some ways my faith has become less vibrant. This bothers me, this particular solitude, far more than other forms of solitude. In Akron I was less than an hour away from a temple, and I used to go there at least twice a week, sometimes three or four times a week, now I have nowhere to go but my own little altars in my home. I miss the temple itself, temple life, the many magnificent murti in the temple, the inspiring and beautiful sight of other fantastic beautiful Hindu women, and I miss the temple food. Not having access to a temple, to that temple in particular, is a loss I feel keenly and deeply.

For two years now I have been in Florida, entirely too far from my home temple.

I just took a trip back to Ohio and returned to Florida one week ago today, and through the course of that visit I managed to visit my home temple, the Shiva Vishnu Temple, twice. The experience of going home to that Temple was profound, even ecstatic. I knew I would miss it when I left Ohio for Florida two years ago, but I had no idea how badly I needed that temple, and I had no idea how intense the experience of returning would be.

Shortly before leaving Ohio and the temple for this final move to Florida I had my artwork blessed before Ganesh by the Priest. My hope was simply that the work would be published by a small publisher somewhere, little did I realize that Ganesh had much bigger and better plans for me. Without going into great detail, my work was not published as such, but said work led to and generated far greater opportunities. It seemed that the many obstacles that had been before me in life had been removed and I was now able to walk into opportunities that would have remained closed to me previously. It is difficult to explain, but people respond to me very differently and much more openly than they had several years ago. When I left Ohio for good over 2 years ago I drove all the way to Florida with my own Ganesh murti at my side in the car. The entire trip to Florida was a leap of faith, and I was very much leaning on Lord Ganesh and my faith to carry me through, and I was especially hopeful that Ganesh would remove the expected obstacles… I had no idea he would remove so many more and so many larger obstacles.

I settled in Florida and one of the first things I did was search for a temple, but there is none nearby, and my car does not allow for many trips to Tampa or Orlando where the temples are. I quickly began to miss temple life. And as I have mentioned, feeling so hopelessly alone in my faith has wreaked havoc with my spiritual life. It is difficult to follow a faith in complete solitude. I miss my sisters and brothers in Hinduism. And no, Krishnas won’t do, Unitarians won’t do… not even close.

After two years in Florida, a couple weeks back, I was finally able to go back to the Shiva Vishnu Temple in my visit to Ohio! I had a feeling it would be moving and powerful, but I had no idea just how moving or just how powerful it would be. With that same Ganesh murti that travelled at my side when I first came to Florida, I returned to Ohio and to my home temple.

I had hoped I would not break down and cry the moment I walked through the doors and laid myself prostrate on the floor. I did not, but I did lay there warm and wholly at peace. The first thing I did was walk to the back of the temple to bow before Ganesh. I bowed in the deepest gratitude, and as many times as I have thanked Ganesh for his many blessings, bowing before him in that temple flooded me with the most powerful feeling of gratitude I have ever experienced! My chest filled with gratitude and my eyes became wet with blissful tears. I was in awe, never having known the true meaning of gratitude before, never having felt it in such purity and intensity. I circled Ganesh chanting, fighting back tears, trying to simply focus on the words and on my gratitude. I was vibrating yet totally at peace.

durga31Next I bowed before Durga. When first going to the temple I had responded to male Deities, and I had been searching for a Goddess, though none embraced me as completely as I had hoped. No, the others were not slighting me, they were gently nudging me away until I found the Goddess that was meant to travel with and empower me. That Goddess was Durga, and I knew she was the right one for me as the sign I received upon returning home that day was unmistakeable. I have been devout in my loyalty to Durga ever since. Bowing before the Durga altar once again, I thanked her for her strength, and I began to cry.

Finally I bowed before Lord Shiva, and I could not control the flow of ecstatic tears.

Bear in mind that throughout the entirety of my life I have only twice experienced the bliss of ecstatic tears… only twice! The first time was in a small temple in Ocala Florida during a Shiva service, and it was quite unexpected. The Pandit was leading the devotees in the chant “Om Namah Shivaiya” and I quite unexpectedly found tears of bliss streaming down my cheeks. I had never expected such a thing could happen, and had no idea how elevating an experience it could be. I was blindsided, wholly unprepared for the experience. It was direct experience of God! It was pure bliss! And of all the funny things, at that very moment the Pandit (not having seen my tears) said that if a devotee cries such inspired tears before Lord Shiva he cannot help but come to the aid of his devotee. At that very moment I knew what it felt like to be in Lord Shiva’s embrace. Words cannot describe such a sublime moment, and nothing in science can explain it away… however hard one tries. To have the experience is to know what it is, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with math or brain chemistry… those are mere symptoms, not the cause of the experience. Science can measure the symptoms, but they cannot explain away the truth of the experience. The brain thinks it is in charge (which it is not), and it needs to explain away anything that threatens its dominance.

Here I was, back in my home temple and suddenly before Lord Shiva I was helplessly crying such pure tears again! I could not stop them, I did not want to stop them, I simply let go and let the bliss, the tears, the gratitude and the love of Shiva flow through me. Om Namah Shivaiya… Om Namah Shiviaya! I knew in that moment, in all those moments in the temple, that however much my faith has suffered in my solitude down here in Gainesville, that the Gods were with me even when I was not with them. The experience I had returning to my home temple was one that will remain with me forever as clarity in the face of doubt and solitude. That visit reminded me with a certainty unspoiled by doubt that I have found truth, I have found God, and I have found my way.

It was good to go home.

On Being Back At The Drawing Table

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Before I’d left for Korea (this was years ago, folks) I swore off drawing. The business had slowly broken my heart, gutted me over the course of years, none of which had stopped me from being prolific as only a true diagnosed obsessive can be right up to the moment I burned out. It was madness. The last few times I tried to draw shortly before swearing it off, I would sit down and battle blocks the size of watermelons, not our watermelons, the ones you find if you climb the beanstalk and visit the giant’s garden, that’s how BIG my blocks were. Yet it got worse than that, by the bitter end, whenever I sat down to draw I would experience such pain in my neck that more than once I sat at my drawing table and cried. It wasn’t what most people think, I hadn’t “quit,” no, drawing quit me shortly after the industry shoved me out. I was actually told by an art director at Wizards Of the Coast that it had come down from on high, by committee mind you, that my work–and notice I’m quoting here–wasn’t… wait for it… “badass enough.” Dear God, really, how could I work in a climate where that was the prevailing mentality anyhow? Damn those prevailing dumbassterly winds! Yes, folks, my work was disliked and my art directors were encouraged not to work with me because my work wasn’t badass enough. Similarly while working for Image (Jim Lee’s Wildstorm) I was told the guys in the office were laughing at my inks because my inks looked like old DC inking. Uh, sure, that’s an insult… being compared to the fucking masters of the industry! Yes, folks, I was officially surrounded by idiots.

For two years I couldn’t draw, didn’t want to draw, and had no interest whatsoever in thinking about or even missing drawing. I started drinking and learning to play guitar and sing songs by Sarah and Maybelle Carter instead. Hard times.

Then, quite suddenly, I felt compelled to draw, it was a force. Out of nowhere, after two years I wanted nothing more than to sketch in a sketchbook, something I had NEVER been able to relax enough to do before. I had cancer, but didn’t know it. It seems the disease was trying to tell me something, and that thing was… “You are an artist.” I had surgery and radiation treatments, but It seems that when they removed the tumor they removed my newfound desire to draw as well. To this day I do not understand any of this terribly well.

Many years later I got the horrible news that my mentor and friend Jeffrey Catherine Jones had died–and just as I had been trying to reconnect with her. It hit me far harder than I could have expected. It compelled me to draw my ass off. That was the turning point for me, the death of Jeffrey Jones, I knew at that point that I would draw, in some fashion, for the rest of my life, even if I ran hot and cold on it. Not only had her death convinced me to draw, it inspired me to tell the story of our long distance friendship, but mostly it told of my strong emotional reactions to that friendship. It was an inward journey spilling out onto the page. I accomplished over fifty pages, told the whole story and had started working on even more autobiographical comics to flesh out what would have been a new graphic novel, then I felt my heart break again.

There was no way, absolutely no way I wanted to step back into that grinder, into the juvenile lowbrow biz that is comics. The very thought of sending out such a meaningful project and such a statement of liberation to have it meaninglessly judged, picked at and rejected killed the project dead. I could not go through the submission and rejection process again. There was no way publisher after publisher was going to send me lame post-its with flippant apologies explaining why they rejected the project. No, no one was going to have that power over me again. Once was enough. The project died. It now sits in a pile of art in storage at SAW, unfinished, unpublished, dusty and done.

But, I kept drawing here and there, a few more comic pages on this, a few doodles, some hard work, some fun work, and here and there a job or two would pop up. I was drawing again, but not like before. I was no longer drawing as I once had: like my life depended on it, I was drawing because I was good at it and it was now easier and more fun than before. But nothing, and I mean nothing, gets me to the drawing table like money. Sell-out, huh? Well, what if my dream, my life dream since childhood was NOT to make pretentious gallery art, but to make a living as a comic artist? MAKE A LIVING! That was my dream, to get paid to draw. So, if that was my dream, and if I pursued that dream doggedly, how is it a sell-out to live for and accomplish that dream? Besides, I always say that the only difference between an illustrator and a “fine artist” is that illustrators are smart enough to find a buyer before they make the work. And I also like to remind people that all of Rembrandt’s portraits were not “fine art,” they were commissioned illustrations, ditto the Last Supper and the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Yet none of this stops this pretentious asses in the art world from co-opting the work of these great illustrators while shaming other illustrators.

But now, here I am at last, not merely teaching drawing, but drawing my butt off. Thanks to Tom Hart from SAW, I am now deep in two rather sizable projects with very real deadlines! I mean, DAMN, that’s what “getting back” looks like. I’m back, working for clients, getting paid, suffering under deadlines, just like I always wanted, and I have to draw a lot in order to get all this done.

Project 1: is work for a DARPA commissioned project, a graphic novel adapting Greek Myth to be used to help soldiers with PTSD. It’s a great project, good pay, and what could possibly be more fun than illustrating Greek mythology? I’ve been watching “Jason and the Argonauts” over and over… what torture!

Project 2: is an “animated” info graphic for UF. We are explaining a complicated and dry series of facts about an essential and important program at UF, and we sold them on the idea of making it entertaining. The angle Tom and I pitched and are working on is that we will be telling a cartoon version of the dry information through the visuals. We are doing a Tom & Jerry like version of the information underneath the narration. Our characters will all be robots. Hell yes! I’m drawing Greek myth and cartoon robots! Frankly, Ive never had better work, so far as fun subject matter goes. Not only am I back and drawing my butt off, but I’m working on two of the most fun projects I’ve ever been commissioned to do.

A person is not different from their nature, and is obliged to act in conformity with it: paraphrased from the Bhagavad Gita

So, what does it feel like to be back at it? Simply put, it feels great. I feel a lot more complete as a person. A hole in my life has, quite unexpectedly, been filled. Funny, but though I enjoy drawing just to draw, just for fun, it’s nowhere near as deeply satisfying as when I’m getting paid for it. It feels good to have something to do with my once ample free time. It feels good because I am doing my duty, which is one of the dictates in the Bhgavad Ghita, that one should do their duty and not the duty of another. It feels good to do my duty, and it is my duty to be an illustrator.

“Following one’s nature is the only way to work out one’s karma.” Lord Krishna

Oh, there are struggles along the way, all week I’ve been upset with my Odysseus pages because they aren’t as good as Wally Wood’s art, or Milt Caniff’s art, or Alex Toth’s art, or Al Williamson’s art, or Hal Foster’s art. My standards have always been punishingly high. And contrariwise, I have been upset that the pages aren’t loose enough and that I have fallen back into the safety net of how I used to draw rather than forging bold new territories for myself… all of this, of course, I expect myself to master on a deadline! And then with the robots I’m a little upset because the backgrounds don’t all look like Maurice Noble designed them. Hmm… maybe I should cut myself a little slack here. And my students think I’m hard on them… wimps!

All said and done, what really matters is that I am an illustrator and I am illustrating.

I’m good at it, it’s fun, and… in the words of one of the great sages: “What’s wrong with that? I’d like to know, ’cause here I go again…”