Monthly Archives: April 2014

A Very Important Note About Caramel

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imagesToday I went to the Downtown Bodega here in Gainesville looking for an interesting independent soda. The one that caught my eye was a salted caramel root beer. The second I took the bottle in my hand I was filled with a very mild dread of what was probably to come.

So, here’s the thing. I LOVE caramel. I mean, I really really really love caramel, especially salted caramel. I was first introduced to this treat in New Hope Pennsylvania when I had my first ever salted caramel ice cream. I knew at that moment that THIS was what God would taste like if I licked him (or her). And knowing what God would taste like proved that God exists… or something like that. From that day forward I have hardly gone a day without dark chocolate filled with salted caramel.

There I stood, that promising root beer in hand, a healthy mix of mouth watering anticipation and the mild dread I reported earlier. What was I dreading? I was dreading butterscotch.

Fucking butterscotch!

Now, butterscotch has it’s place, but it’s place is NOT in anything labelled as “caramel.”

I popped the top, took my first sip, and sure enough… my exciting new root beer was simply flooded with syrupy cheap chincy butterscotch flavoring. Those sons of bitches! Don’t they know that we know the damn difference between caramel and butterscotch? Do they really think they can pass off butterscotch flavoring as caramel and that us caramel addicts won’t know the difference? Well… WE DO! We most certainly do.

An open note to ALL purveyors of sweets: We know the difference between butterscotch and caramel!

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 in every single case (though usually is) what I have drawn, and just as often what is best is not always 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, illustrators 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.