Category Archives: 6. Diary

Am I Difficult To Work With?

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Some artists get a reputation for being difficult to work with. Fortunately, for me, as challenging a I can be as a person, as an artist and illustrator, while I can be passionate and emotional about my work (and what good is an artist that isn’t?), I’ve never had the reputation for being difficult to work with. Oh, certainly I have given some of my art director’s a hard time, but they always came back, why? They came back because I delivered, I was dependable, I was fun even for my excesses and emotions, and because in the end, however hard I would fight and bitch about revisions I felt were detrimental to the piece, in the end I knew my place.

The illustrator’s place is to give in and fulfill the needs of the client. In other words, in the end, no matter how strongly I may feel about a requested revision, I always do what the client asks. What’s best for the project is not often what I have drawn, and just as often it is not what the client wants, that is why it is essential for both sides to battle it out. It is the illustrator’s responsibility to fight for their work and for the project if they feel their idea is better. Any artist who is not willing to fight for their work is not doing the client any real favors. I have occasionally managed to convince a client that I was right in the first place, but far more often I have had to back down and do what was asked, and just as often the client has been right and I have been more than happy to make the changes.

In my mind, though, the bottom line is, illustrator’s are really in the service industry and we have to accept that. We have to serve the needs of the project by fighting, but in the end our real responsibility is to fulfill the client’s needs even if we feel it is not in the best interest of the project.

As I said before, my clients always came back and were quite loyal, knowing I would never blow a deadline and I would never take on a project I could not complete on time. I worked with the same art director’s for years sometimes. Peter Whitley (formerly of WOTC) was my favorite, and we would have many back and forths about proposed revisions, the thing was, Pete and I loved working together no matter how quarrelsome we could get over a piece. Once Pete said to me, “Just shut up and do the revision,” which I of course was going to do however hard I had been fighting not to.

This has come up again, upon my return to the world of freelance, and the specifics of it have all fallen rather into place for me, and I thought might make an interesting entry, and perhaps a fascinating insight into the realities of a freelance illustrator’s life, process, and struggles.

I have been working on a fabulous project, an adaption of Odysseus for comics. Thing is, as a kid I loved Greek Myth! I read and studied tons of it, and of course, I always adored Jason and the Argonauts (Ray Harryhausen). I came to this project already knowing it well, and having clearly imprinted ideas on the emotional reality of certain scenes. One of the first disagreements in interpretation I had with the writer/editor/art director was over the scene where Odysseus’s men open the bag that controls the winds when Odysseus, who had been guarding it, falls asleep. The winds blow the ship far from home and out into nowhere… the middle of the sea. I recall the scene as being heartbreaking, and I recall being so angry with the disloyalty of Odysseus’ men. It seemed quite a dark and awful scene to me as a child reading it. I saw his men as villains when first I read this. Of course, all these decades later and I communicated that in the illustrations. The writer/editor felt that I had gone too far, that the men were more curious than mutinous, that these men had travelled this far with Odysseus, that this was not evil or a great betrayal. I, however, had seen the men as possessed by their own evil. But, in this case I realized that however much this reading of the scene betrayed my powerful emotional attachment to the scene, that under the circumstances, the writer was correct. This particular project is intended to help work as a therapy tool for soldiers, so this reading of the scene absolutely made more sense in this circumstance.

Additionally there were numerous other little changes that mattered little to me, but mattered to the continuity, so I had no problem changing them.

But then came this page:

Barefoot Justine Odysseus

Barefoot Justine Odysseus

OK, there’s a lot going on in here, but the long and short of it is, the powers that be want me to remove the third panel.

Oh how I did not want to remove that panel.

For a start, I had thought exceptionally hard about not only the page, but the emotional arc of the panels. Panel 1 shows Odysseus essentially in shock or denial that they have been blown so far from home. Panel 2 shows Odysseus in grief, and panel 3 shows Odysseus getting himself together, as it is and was his responsibility to lead, however horrible he feels. They felt the panel was redundant and rather stunk of bad acting, that it added nothing and had to go. I just wanted them to leave it alone.

Add to this that this entire project has been a huge stretch for me, I mean a HUGE one. I have been experimenting with noir-style lighting, especially on the faces, and I never used to draw like that. Also, due to the fact that this was supposed to be a “testosterone” book (that word was used), and most of the artists are women, that I would try really hard to hold back my feminine preferences and ways of drawing and try and deliver that, so I changed my approach. I had been stretching myself by trying to model the faces more in the tradition of an Al Williamson or a Hal Foster. Those men became my icons. That page (11), and that panel (3) were struggles and victories for me. I had reached for something and felt I had taken hold of it and figured a few important things out.

I drew and redrew panel 3, trying to get it just right, so it would have a real sense of solidity and form, a definite emotional center, and a bit of Al Williamson’s grace and style. I had erased, researched and redrew. At one point I had even gotten up out of bed to rework it well after I had quit drawing for the day. I never do that!

So, as you see, I was rather attached to the panel.

So, the first time it came up that they wanted it removed, I fought for it, and I won. All parties agreed that it was fine and could stay. I was, of course, happy, as I have rarely won any such battle. Usually the client wins hands down, however right or wrong they may be. But this time… hell yeah… I won!

(insert that needle scraping across a record sound here)

Uh… no.

So, I came home today from working for a client, and discovered that the traffic ticket that I was told was not in the system and I therefor did not have to pay for was not only now in the system, but it had been there all along and my license was now in the process of being suspended! I mean, really, this battle had been won in my favor, the ticket was lost and I didn’t even have to pay it! And now, not only did I have to pay it, but there was a penalty and my license was in the process of being suspended. Fuckin’ aye! So I had to hustle up the money (which I didn’t have) and go to the bank to deposit money (which I took from my rent envelope… I have NO rent money now), so I could pay this ticket and try and stop them from suspending my license. And this was all a battle I had thought I had won, I thought it was over. In the end Joe insisted we go to the courthouse to fight it, which I was not prepared for. Problem was I was already on the road towards the bank in shorts and barefoot! I’m always barefoot, but when I go to courthouses and stuff I discreetly hide my feet under bell bottoms or long skirts. The cop stopped me and told me I could not go in barefoot. We managed to talk him into letting me by. I have NO idea how I managed that, but I did!

I came home after this ordeal, feeling utterly helpless, but ready and eager to draw, only to open my email and discover that they had all changed their minds and panel 3 needed to go. I felt even more helpless now. I was helpless against the county regarding my ticket, and now I was helpless with my own work and was going to have to erase this drawing that I was attached to.

OK, group, I lost my cool a little. I pitched an itty bitty of a white girl hissy. I was not up to going from the helplessness of one won then lost battle to a second won then lost battle. I fought it hard, perhaps too hard, but I was seriously torqued up! I now regret that I hadn’t just nodded and let it go, but it’s like that sometimes. The other thing is, yes, I am not only passionate about my work, but highly emotional (like I don’t know how annoying that can be to people), and sometimes as hard as I try… I just boil and can’t seem to help myself. My responses were certain and perhaps too strident, but they were measured.

So, the question is, am I difficult to work with?

I don’t know, I sure as hell hope not.

I erased panel 3.

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.

How To Win: Barefoot

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(Barefoot alert: If you are not into the barefoot thing… bypass this post, this is for those liberated barefoot friends and fans)

One of the questions I am most often asked to address through my site (usually by other and often less experienced barefooters) is how I get away with going into restaurants and stores and such barefoot. The truth is, it’s rarely a problem, but when it is, there is no one single answer. Of course there are a lot of commonalities in how it is I pull it off, but each situation is different. I have even been asked very specifically how I deal with employees and managers who are confronting me and trying to kick me out or force me to submit and conform to their imaginary health code violations and imaginary liability issues (both of which are utterly bogus, even the liability stance is not an argument that holds any legal water, from the research I have seen it would be practically impossible for a barefoot customer to sue any establishment for an injury obtained through… what… cutting your foot on a paper cup or plastic spork?).

Today, for example was a day in which I had to deal with a manager at a Wendy’s. OK, I know, shame on me for eating corporate fast food, but sue me, I wanted a fish sandwich. The manager happened to be standing in the lobby, she interrupted her phone call while I was waiting on my order and told me that I had to “put on shoes.”

I looked her square in the eye and said: “It’s not a law, you need to look that up, and I don’t need to do that.”

Her jaw actually dropped and she stood there like a cow frozen in the headlights (I know, it’s supposed to be a deer in the headlights, but trust me, this particular Wendy’s manager was no doe).

I took my food, walked past her, sat down wherever the hell I wanted to and ate as she waddled off to the kitchen to take it out on her hapless employees.

And then I got back in my car grinning ear to ear, pumped my fist three times into the ceiling and drove away feeling pretty damn victorious! After all, in a life full of big losses, sometimes it’s the small victories that carry us through.

So, gang, that is one way to handle it! Good luck with this one. Hint: Be firm, calm and confident, after all, we are in the right 100%, and knowing that helps keep you calm.

Gauntlet of Bullshit Keeps Me From Going Home…

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My dear friend Joe (from Akron, not Joe Courter) offered to pay for me to travel to Akron Ohio for a movie con the weekend of April 4th through 6th. It was a delightful offer and I became filled with hope and joy in the promise of a lovely adventure… until we both felt our daydreams shattered by encounters with “THEM.”

Damn Them, for they are everywhere, like seemingly well organized bands of trolls composed entirely of bullshit held together by thick gooey strands of regulations and restrictions.

I had the courage to take the long road trip from Florida to Ohio all by myself. I had cleared the decks of other obligations, commitments and deadlines, had made the time and was doing all the numerous things I needed to do to make this happen.

Then we hit obstacle one. They told Joe he could rent a car with his credit card and I could pick it up and be on my way. But they told him I had to have a credit or debit card. Well, for a start I don’t want a credit card. I have lived without one for quite some time now, thank you very much. I haven’t had a bank account in years, either, but was going to get one after I finished working some magic in my own life that would have been completed on April 14th.

So, ‘screw it’ I thought, I’ll just open a bank account now ahead of schedule and get the damn car rented.

Obstacle two: the first bank absolutely positively would not allow me to open an account because I had not yet gotten my Florida driver’s license. I had made the mistake of telling them I had been here for a while, they said I had been here too long to be allowed to open an account with that license. OK, go to hell, I’ll go to the next bank and tell them I just got here and need to open an account. I was learning how to lie to work this abusive system.

So I go to the next bank and they want to do a credit check. Christ, I’m not asking for a loan, I’m trying to open an account to put money IN! My credit has been destroyed by the housing market. I had no other outstanding debts, but had managed to end up so upside down on my mortgage that I had to allow my home to be foreclosed on and I declared bankruptcy as I could not manage a home I owed $56,000 on that would no longer sell for any more than $20,000… not in the ghettos of Akron Ohio. Well, this bank employee spoke to management on my behalf, seeing that I had been anything but financially reckless and that the housing market was in fact the sole cause of my fall from financial grace.

I go home, call Joe, tell him I have a debit card and he goes to make the reservation. Well, suddenly now that I have a debit card, they all decide in unison, Avis, Enterprise, Budget and their cohorts will not allow Joe to rent a car as a gift for me. Obstacle 3 has now been fully engaged in.

We decide to put the car on my new debit card, so Joe wire transfers $800 to my account so I can get the car, pay for a hotel, and gasoline and we will be on my way.

I start calling auto rental places, and along came obstacle 4. The first one would not allow me to take the car out of state. The second place transferred my call to India, and after the fifth attempt to get their well treated and fairly paid employee to understand my name I hung up. I mean, really, if we can’t get as far as my name how are we going to manage the rigors of reserving a car? The next place told me I was not allowed to rent a car on a debit card. So finally I called another auto rental place and They told me they would have to run a credit check. OK, at this point I’m certain you remember how my credit looks. I explained my credit to them, wanting to know, whether or not I would get the car the day I went to pick it up or not. I was not going to go through the ordeal of reserving the car, making plans, prepping for the trip, and packing only to be denied at the counter. Of course, as this person was from Malaysia (also fairly paid with benefits, no doubt) they had no clue. I began picturing Them as grinning trolls with flaming hoops and myself as a tiny quivering poodle on a choke chain.

Sweating, sick, heartbroken, angry beyond all reason, I stopped. This was now OVER.

Here’s the thing, I was not going to let Avis, Hertz, or any other conglomeration of trolls make the decision for me, I was deciding. No, enough was enough. And add to this that for the past 2 weeks while we had been discussing this little adventure and working to make it happen I have been working tirelessly on a deadline, going to meetings, teaching, working working working to get everything done and done so I could go. I was exhausted, and to make matters worse, I was engaging in all of this madness still had no certainty as to whether or not this was even going to happen. I had decided in that moment that I was not going to be able to live in that uncertainty for another hour, day, or two more days. I needed to know once and for all, was I going or was I not going.

I was not going. I took the power from them. I decided.

Exhausted as I was, heartbroken as I was that I was not going to get to enjoy time with my dearest friend in the world (who I have not seen in over a year), sad and crushed as I was that all the work I (and we) had done to get this to happen, I felt all the same an enormous relief. There was no more uncertainty. I was NOT going. I was not jumping through one more fucking hoop. I, the quivering poodle, turned my back, stepped out of the choke chain and left that grinning troll to stand there shaking the hoop, a dumfounded look on his face.

And I began to think… this is the world we have created. This is the world we live in. Why do we put up with this? Is this the world you want to live in, a world where “customer service” means the customer jumps through hoops and performs endless tasks and endures numerous ordeals to please the gatekeepers of banks and rental car places? Why have we allowed this perversion to persist, to come to this? It’s madness, we are now working entirely for “Them” at every turn.

Well, fuck Them.

This is why I have largely turned on, tuned in, and dropped out, this is why I have renounced ordinary society and have followed my own path. Fuck ‘em, just plain fuck ‘em.

Now, I sit here heartbroken at home, and I ain’t goin’ nowhere no how.

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…”

Barefoot Justine At UF Holi!

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Hey group, last week I enjoyed UF’s Holi festival. For those of you who don’t know, Holi is one of Hinduism’s most beautiful, symbolic and vibrant Holy days. As is common with Hindu holy days and festivals, the event is a thing of beauty, a celebration of life, love and color… and that is why I am a Hindu by choice.

Unfortunately, some of “Lord Shiva’s Nectar” was not made available to the attendees of the UF celebration, it would be a better world by far if it had been.

Holi in a nutshell is a celebration of Spring and love, and is always the way with my beloved Hinduism, the event is celebratory and spectacularly beautiful. Those taking part throw colorful dust and colored water on each other, and everyone is encouraged to participate as one with no distinction being made between friends and strangers. I went alone (as fucking always), but my solo trip was made more beautiful when at the very end (while I was talking to Haley, who took these fine photos) an Indian boy with the most charming and ornery of smiles (I think I fell in love at first sight) ran up to me–just as I thought my hair was going go go unmolested–ripped off my hat and smeared red dust all over my hair and scalp. I thanked him for including me.

Happy Holi! Holi! Holi!

The pictures below are from that event.

Barefoot Justine (Mara Andersen) enjoying Holi 2014 - pic by Haley Stracher

Barefoot Justine (Mara Andersen) colorful at Holi 2014 – pic by Haley Stracher

Barefoot Justine (Mara Andersen) enjoying Holi 2014 - pic by Haley Stracher)

Barefoot Justine (Mara Andersen) enjoying Holi 2014 – pic by Haley Stracher)

Today

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Today I am sitting in my purple chair, feet propped up on my coffee table, watching it pour down rain. My palm tree (and I do mean “MY” palm tree) is waving in the wind, pelted with rain, the fronds dripping. In the background I am listening to the lovely soundtrack to “Sirens,” a film about artist and eroticist Norman Lindsay, a man I could and have learned a lot from. Norman was quite sure of himself, and I doubt he ever gave second thought to his unconventional ways, even in the face of a judgmental and conventional culture. Therein lies the rub, huh? The second guessing that goes on in my head is never in my own voice, it is in the voice of my mother, the culture as it is, it is the voicing of the expectations of others. These thoughts are impurities that dilute my vision, little demons that work to root out my dreams from the inside, pollutants that, if left unattended, can infect me from deep down inside. It doesn’t seem Norman Lindsay allowed such impurities or pollutants to knock him astray from his course. Sadly, I have often been knocked astray, blown too far by far from Ithaca.

Art by Norman Lindsay

Art by Norman Lindsay

Abandon, purity of vision, sensuality, hedonism, liberation. Norman Lindsay, Brigitte Bardot, the Marquis de Sade, Rose O’Neill, Harry Nilsson, all saints and skewers of the standard moral compass, all rockers of boats. People like them cause trouble and get into trouble, or so it is believed. What they really do is choose to live as they please, choose to follow dangerous muses, choose to see their vision through, they choose to tell the truth about themselves before a world of people who have never bothered to look deep enough to see if there are deeper truths in them. They are people who chose to live their lives and damn the consequences, but there were consequences, there are always consequences. As it turns out, it would seem most of the trouble caused by them is rather caused in reaction to them. They muddy the waters, splash, make waves, without ever once meaning to shock or annoy. They do all this simply by having the courage to be honest about their true nature, they do all this merely by liberating themselves from the bondage of their times, they do this by transcending and by renouncing. They do this by dreaming their own dreams and daring to live them.

I believe in dreams and dreaming, and I believe in following dreams, perhaps to a fall and a fault. I’ve had a checklist of dreams, and it seems I have pursued them at the expense of all else. I have certainly pursued my dreams, my vision for my life, at the expense of security and stability, at the expense of acceptance, and most definitely under the threat of consequences, consequences which rain down and drip from my limbs like the rainwater dripping from the fronds.

I dreamt of being a comic book artist… check.
I dreamt of swimming with a dolphin… check.
I dreamt of SCUBA diving… check.
I dreamt of visiting the Philippines… check.
I dreamt of making erotic comics… check.
I dreamt of being a barefoot girl… check.
I dreamt of living a life of hedonism and sensuality… check.
I dreamt of being an exhibitionistic woman… check.
I dreamt of meeting my many heroes… check.
I dreamt of traveling and working Medieval Faires… check.
I dreamt of living in a place with palm trees… check.
I dreamt of running away to be a carnie… check.
I dreamt of being a musician… check.
I dreamt of publishing topless photos… check. http://barefootjustine.com/pics/barefoot-justine-4/

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen, photo by Haley Stracher

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen, photo by Haley Stracher

nilsson“It’s an artists prerogative to be indulgent to himself, he owes it to everyone else to be indulgent to himself, and if it’s at the cost of what he thinks is what the public might think it might result in, that’s tough luck.”
Harry Nilsson

I, we (my heroes), we are like sin-eaters, we do these things so others won’t have to. We take the leaps of faith, live the dreams, make dangerous decisions so that everyone else can sit back and watch, can shake their heads and cluck as we deal with the storm of dire consequences… or for many… they sit and wish with all their might that they had the courage to live their own dreams, to see their visions through and state their true opinions. I talk to these people all the time, and I encourage them to do it, to rise up from the mire of expectations and just go for it! But they don’t, they slide back down in their chairs and bring their favorite habits back up on the internet. I feel sorry for them, but I envy them, too, after all, it’s a lot easier to just shove ‘em down, those contrary opinions, those scary visions, those disruptive dreams… isn’t it?

Paul460x276“We can do what we want,
We can live as we choose.
You see there’s no guarantee,
We got nothing to lose.”
Paul McCartney

One thing I’ve learned… we’ve definitely got nothing to lose if we follow our dreams, state our unpopular opinions, our follow our unconventional visions for our lives through, not in this culture of disparity… the deck is stacked, my friends, and it is stacked in THEIR favor, in favor of the 1%. You’ve got nothing to lose, there’s no security, no retirement… just more time on their fucking treadmill. Besides, really, what good are unfulfilled dreams? What good is a life unchallenged? What good is it being accepted by THIS time and this culture? That, my friends is nothing at all. This time and this culture is shit. It’s full of shit art, shit music, shit news, shit TV, shit-gray movies, shitty derivative ideas, shitty cell phones, shitty texting, shitty products, shitty rules and shittier rulers. Shit.

But it still hurts, the consequences still seem as dire as ever. The real question is not, and ne’er should be, “why do I do the things I do?” nor, “why do I make the decisions I make?” no, the questions is, was, will be, and always damn well should have been and should be… why do I worry? Why do I suffer over the consequences? Why do I long to be accepted? Why do I have second thoughts?

That’s the real rub… why do I have second thoughts?

I don’t have an answer, but the rain has moved on, nothing left of it but the gentle pitter patter of the last few drops on the metal roof above, and the winds and the gray left in the wake of the storm. It’s the gray, isn’t it, that’s what these people do, the dreamers, create gray in a world that prefers black and white. They show that there are no books or leaders with one-size-fits-all answers, they show us that for many of us, the answers come from within, not from without.

Perhaps I, too, succumb to black and white thinking, but it’s my black and white, it’s the clarity I have found from the inside out rather than from turning the outside in. The only clarity in my life comes from the inside, it comes from me, never from the logic of the world, never from a club or organization, laws or leaders, and especially not from fashionable cultural norms. My opinions are contrarian to say the least, but contrary to what, I ask? I’ll tell you what, contrary to this shit culture. My vision has led me at times through the dark forest, my dreams have led me down some dangerous paths. But in the end, I have to say, it’s all been worth it.

But sometimes… still, I can’t sleep. I wonder how many nights Norman Lindsay stayed up, fearing, worrying, second-guessing. My guess… not many, Justine, not many.

Sigh…

(This just in… I just saw an otter run across our backyard! Hell yeah!)

Being Bold Dillemma

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I’ve had mixed feelings about posting the topless pictures for a few years now. The thing was, for all the sensible reasons I could think of not to take them or post them, underneath it all was a burning want–if not need–pose and post those photos. (see photos here: http://barefootjustine.com/pics/barefoot-justine-4/) Deep down, I needed to document my body now while it still looks good, so I had them taken.

The photos are raw, totally honest, right out of the camera, no adjustments, no touch-ups, no Photoshop… they are simply pictures of me, in the real world, no tricks, no bullshit. Hot or not, they are all me. That’s my body, that’s my face… and I’m not doing so badly, after all. No, I’m not Bardot, I’m no Soledad Miranda, but I am Justine. I can accept this, at last. All of them were taken by another woman, Haley Stracher, who is doing a story about the way life changes for a cancer survivor… I am her subject. But cancer isn’t the point, I am, Haley is. I trust her implicitly, there is nothing tricky nor any artifice in the pictures, she just knows how to keep me and catch me at my very best… and she has captured on film what I always hoped might be the truth.

I don’t even care that the topless photos aren’t perfect, I don’t like the belly in this shot, I hate my face in those shots, what the hell face am I making? in that shot… and on and on and on. I’m no model… but those pictures, they are ALL ME! Totally honest, and yes, I could look at them and see the ugliness, the awkwardness, or I can look at them and see the beauty, the journey, the healing, the woman. That’s the thing, what you see, it’s a choice. As Nilsson’s Rock Man from “The Point” said, “You ever see a Pterodactyl… You ever want to see a Pterodactyl? That’s it man, you see what you want to see, you hear what you want to hear.” What a person sees in these pictures will say a lot more about them than it will about me. It’s about how you choose to see, it’s about whether or not a viewer has a shard of the Devil’s mirror in his eye or not. It’s about which of the wolves my viewers are feeding. It’s about which story you prefer, which I think we all learned from “Life Of Pi,” it’s about deciding whether or not to believe in God… which story do you prefer?

And me, which story do I prefer? Well, I’m forever plucking bits of the Devil’s mirror out of my eye, but now I know when they are in there, and I know it’s up to me whether or not I pluck the bits out, whether or not I feed that wolf. I prefer to pluck those bits out of my eye and side with the Romantics, the beautifiers, the dreamers. And now, I look at those photos, those terribly honest photos, and I see an amazing journey, a lot of healing, a hopeful smile, fresh skin, a woman with a ton of character, something to look back on with pride and a smile when I’m older, and a body that’s fucking good enough… and maybe even… dare I dream it… pretty hot! Well, a girl can dream, can’t she?

Daring New Pics By Haley…

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I have created a new gallery (http://barefootjustine.com/pics/barefoot-justine-4/), and you may want to just click that link and check it out now.

But, I do want to talk about these photos for a moment. Haley Stracher, who I trust to take caring and romantic pictures of me, has been doing a project on how cancer changes a person… I am that person, and anyone who knew me before cancer and my terrifying SCUBA diving experience in Thailand, knows just how much I have changed.

Well, here are two of the photos, for the rest check out my “photos” section, gallery 4.

And if you’re my grandma… uhm… yeah… love you, but cover your eyes and look away!

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen, photo by Haley Stracher

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen, photo by Haley Stracher

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen, photo by Haley Stracher

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen, photo by Haley Stracher

Plenty more of these in my photo gallery…