Monthly Archives: August 2017

What Is A Western Hindu?

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Lord Shiva

Lord Shiva

My daily walk through the forest has become an important part of my devotional and meditative practices. I live in the midst of a State Park, and the swamp and forest are thick, dense, green and jungle like. It is not difficult to picture Bagheera in many of the dramatic live oaks set deep in the green.

Mein junglee ladhki hai! Which, if I remember right (or spelled it right), means “I am a jungle girl” in Hindi. Or, loosely translated, “I am a wild girl.” I set off into the forest knowing that it was likely to rain. Frankly, I’ve never seen so much rain. Sure enough, it began raining shortly into my walk, and like most people I instinctively turned to head home, but I got to a point where I realized that I was already wet, so what I was doing, running to my car to get home, was an unconscious act. It was a compulsion that made no sense. I was not the one making a B-line for the car, my conditioning, social and cultural norms and brainwashing compelled me to unconsciously, compulsively, head for the car. I got to the point on the trail where I could have gone straight to get to the car, or I could turn left and go deeper into the forest, following a path I do not know. I chose, consciously, to stop obeying an automatic and predictable compulsion to head for my car, and instead head off down a path that was unfamiliar to me.

And that was Shiva.

Choosing the path I did not know helped me pay attention to the new scenery as the rain slowly dripped on me. It was turning out to be a good walk, and I could feel the ecstasy of a realization coming on. For those of you who perhaps do not understand realizations, it goes like this. A realization written down is nothing you haven’t heard a hundred times before, a thousand if you are a seeker. Realizations are when the teachings we intellectually understand suddenly internalize, and the firsthand knowledge of a thing at the Godhead level can bring about an ecstatic state that can sometimes become close to orgasmic, though not sexual. This, is why, Shiva’s phallus is seen as erect in many of the ancient images. It is a symbol of being in a state of awareness so intense it can be hard to bear until you get the hang of it.

Soon, I had circled back to a familiar trail with the intention of heading back to the car, though this time consciously. I came around to the trailhead off the forest road and started up the path towards the car, satisfied with the long contemplative hike, all the way the rain falling. I thought about how I was a drop of rain, no different. It was the perfect realization to keep me company as I walked towards the car.

“The drop in the ocean, everyone knows
The ocean in the drop, A rare one does”

Kabir

I am a drop of rain, no different. And I am the frightened deer in the distance, the wetness in the ground, the mightiest tree and the old dead willow, and I am Shiva. Though this metaphor has been said a thousand times, this time I knew what it meant to say: “I am a drop of rain,” and I knew as the raindrops fell to tickle through my hair, that there was no separation between the rain and I. And that like each drop of rain, I form from the mist of Atman to manifest, to become physical, then act as the raindrop which falls to the ground to expire, wetting the soil to nourish life, evaporate, then rise and fall again and again and again, mired in Samsara (the cycle of death and rebirth). Until, of course, I get tired of the forming, falling and perishing and realize the pain of Samsara.

I am a raindrop that has become aware of the pain of falling. I want to evaporate and merge with Brahman, never to fall again.

As I pondered this realization of oft-heard wisdom (remember what I said about “realizations,” you’ve heard their wisdom so many times before, to where they sound like cliches, the realization is what changes that cliche to a vibration so powerful it becomes existentially experiential), I began to realize I did not know where I was. I was not headed for my car. A moment later I realized I had accidentally doubled back and gone in a loop around the same unfamiliar trail. Like the raindrop in my realization, I had been literally and physically going around in circles! Just as in Samsara! I was physically moving through samsara as I was realizing its nature through the drops of rain. I thanked Shiva, and soon got my bearings, took the right path and found my way back to the car.

This time, this drop of rain is falling in the form of a “Western Hindu.”

“Is it not true that a nation is, in reality, first and foremost perhaps a subconscious construct? You imagine the nation before it exists, and so it exists.”

Hindol Sengupta

I’ll tell you what a Western Hindu is… sometimes an honored guest, sometimes a curiosity, and sometimes sniggered at. There are some Indians who are amused by us, but privately dismiss us. Other Indians are delighted to meet Westerners who are so engaged in their culture and spirituality. We are, however, surprisingly spoken of with derision even by white male leaders of the American Vedanta movement as white women in saris with dots on their heads. Worst of all, many Western Hindus like to wallow in the “white guilt” gutter and try and be overly magnanimous and humble and dismissively shit upon themselves. But the sad truth is, what is the root religion of “the white man” in America? Well, being on American soil, should we be practicing the religions of the Cherokee? Should we take up the desert religion of the Old and New Testament? Face it, though some paths are seen as more acceptable for and among whites, none of the things we turn to come from our white caucasian heritage. Simply put, any religion a white person takes on is a robe designed and weaved by other people, usually in other lands.

And let’s just take the dismissive attitude of those few Indians and Americans, who will not entirely accept us, after all, we were not born South of the Indus river. Even one of my teachers, a white Swami, was sharing concern over how they are treated or thought of by Indians. Anyone who has gotten outside of mainstream white culture and has experienced other cultures knows that racism is not a one way street heading from light to dark. I have been a minority in a lot of situations (take 2 years living in Asia for a start), and I’ll tell you what… a minority is a minority no matter what the color of the skin.

It is often snobbishly said that it is impossible for anyone not from India to ever truly be a Hindu. But anyone believing that… is clearly not a Hindu, or at least, knows nothing about what Hinduism teaches. Yet, it’s only natural for a white woman to ask… then what am I? What is a “Western Hindu?”

I will say this, anyone who thinks a white person cannot really be a “Hindu,” in the spiritual sense, has completely misunderstood the core concept of Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism).

“That which is in us, the pure consciousness that observes all our senses. emotions and the ego and is beyond it all is what we really are. And that pure consciousness is common to every living thing on earth. It is an idea that inevitably stops you in your tracks. It is an idea to end all ideas: in essence, every living thing is the same.”

Hindol Sengupta, “Being Hindu”

Shiva is, and is as much for a white person as He is for an Indian.

We are all Atman, white or Indian. If you cannot accept that, you have not accepted Shiva.

We are all souls caught on the wheel of samasara, slowly rising towards liberation. ALL OF US!

In other words, to my dear skeptical and derisive friends, I ask, is it so that all the wisdom of the Hindu scriptures applies only to people born in India? Is it so, then, that only Indians can know God? Is it true that only Indians can meditate? Is it so that ONLY Indians are Brahman? Is it so that we are all in maya, that we are all manifestations of Atman… or is that only true for people born below a particular river?

And, is it not said again and again in “The Siva Purana” that Lord Shiva takes on many forms? Shiva takes on whatever form he chooses, and those forms are not limited to the borders or gene pool of India.

To think less of us, to dismiss us, to treat us as novelties, to turn us away from temples… is to deny Shiva, is to to live in ignorance… it is a sin!

A Western Hindu is a Hindu, if “Hindu” is a term used to describe a person who follows the specific sets of spiritual concepts laid out by the sages. Was Shankara ONLY talking to Indians? Was the vision of the sages limited ONLY to people from India… or are those truths universal?

OK, this is not debatable, those truths are universal! A Western Hindu is a Hindu. I will say this proudly (EGO), I have probably read many more of the core scriptures than most Indians at the Temples I visit. How many India-born Hindus have read “The Siva Purana?” I have read about 6 books to prepare for it and am well over halfway through the 2,200 pages! I have read many translations of “The Bhagavad Gita.” Geographic accidents of birth are as irrelevant as the ego itself.

An Indian friend of mine corrected me on concerning myself with what to call myself or what a “Western Hindu” is by saying that it might help if I stop thinking of myself as “converting to Hinduism” and simply think of myself as a sisya, as a seeker, and to drop the word “Hindu” and go with “Sanatana Dharma.”

To be honest, most of my encounters with Indians have been overwhelmingly warm and welcoming (in fact, most Indians are more welcoming to me than other whites), and they have proven to be wholly open to the things I say… and they treat me like an equal, like a seeker. This piece is written for those few who would refuse us entry into temples, and who would dismiss or deride us in the quiet of their own minds. It is written for the whites who crumble into apologetics and shameful self flagellation. Sadly, it is written primarily for my own myself, to my own weaknesses, for when I sometimes do not entirely accept that a white woman can be a Hindu either!

At last I had returned to my car soaking wet and sat for a moment with my thoughts and questions. Maybe it is so that it is almost impossible for a person from a Western background to truly understand the complexities of the Indian mind, culture, and spirituality… but that does not mean Shiva will choose to speak to an Indian over a white Northerner transplanted to the South. It does not mean that I have less a chance of attaining Samadhi, or of becoming realized.

If our physical births are births into maya. if our bodies are the gross layer, if the Atman is our true self, then surely the bit of dirt we were born upon is less significant an attachment than a child’s attachment to her favorite rattle. Those who think only one born in India can be a Hindu are living under the spell of Shiva’s maya! They are deluded, still attached to materialism. They believe that the matter from which we came, the land from which we emerged, makes us more or less Atman, more or less Hindu, more or less human. They are in darkness, in ignorance, and that is the only real sin in Sanatana Dharma.

Could I not have been an Indian in a previous birth? Could I not have been a spiritually advanced person who has reincarnated as a devoted seeker challenged and tested by her birth in the West? Isn’t gender, political ideology, financial status, nation of birth, aren’t all those things aspects of maya, of the material world? If a Hindu does not identify with the trappings of the material world, then why would geography be the only material trapping that would decide whether or not one attains moksha? Shiva (Krishna, Vishnu, Durga) chooses his followers, and he does not take gender, wealth, or nation of birth into account.

But it is so, due to my Western birth, I am not steeped in a culture that was founded on and inherently understands the juicy complexities and ultimate simplicity of Hinduism. It’s a challenge to take on this belief system from the West, but, as I intimated, perhaps that is one of the things I am to overcome. Is it fair to suggest I cannot overcome the country of my birth or the color of my skin? All aspects of our material manifestation are to be overcome. And while I’m at it… ultimately isn’t this sort of bias against “Western Hindus” just another form of bigotry?

Let’s consider also that the word “Hindu” was originally a derogatory word (Hindoo) used by the British. The term many so-called Hindus prefer is Sanatana Dharma. The word “Hindu” was meant to describe people from a geographic location, not a people who followed a specific spiritual school of thought. And what is the specific school of thought that makes up “Hindusim?” There is as much, if not more, diversity of thought within Hinduism than what exists outside it within the multiple faiths that are not Hindu.

Once it is analyzed, perhaps there are no “Hindus,” not in the spiritual sense. There are only seekers.

So, perhaps I do have this all wrong after all. Maybe I am not a Hindu, but Shiva has made his presence known to me as both nirguna and saguna, Mother has sent me signs, Ganesh has cared for me. I have trembled in the ecstasy of realization. I have seen a higher self. I know I am on the wheel of samsara, and I want off. I want to stop circling, to stop falling.

Maybe I am not a Hindu.

But I am a drop of rain.

No different.

FOUR: The Art Of “What The Lions Saw” (Justine’s Gainesville Period)

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FOUR: The Art Of “What The Lions Saw” (Justine’s Gainesville Period)
To read in order:
Part ONE: https://barefootjustine.com/2017/08/14/one-the-art-of-what-the-lions-saw-introduction-1-of-2/
Part TWO: https://barefootjustine.com/2017/08/14/two-the-art-of-what-the-lions-saw-introduction-part-2-of-2/
Part THREE: https://barefootjustine.com/2017/08/24/the-art-of-what-the-lions-saw-part-3/

(Barefoot) Justine comics illustration

(Barefoot) Justine comics illustration

Since I’ve been in Gainesville, I’ve taken on a number of projects, some of them very surprising. I’m afraid the gripping narrative of the blog may give way to the act of simply sharing for a page.

Look at this as Justine’s show and tell!

But along the way I will share some insights and stories about each project. Oh… and I don’t think I’ll be talking about any of this in any kind of order. I guess the order will be “whatever Justine feels is groovy enough to talk about now.” I think this will set the stage for how the work of my “Gainesville period” led to the lovely project with the Matheson illustrating “What The Lions Saw.”

OK, so who would have thought that barefoot batshit crazy hippie Hindu Justine would one day work for the Department Of Defense (actually DARPA)? Well, not me, but never one to turn down a chance to pay rent and buy groceries I went at it. Actually, that’s a tad flippant. The project was great, a comics version of the Odyssey. And my ambition was not to pay my rent and eat, but to learn how to render more like Al Williamson. Yeah, I like to set the bar frustratingly high.

The image below was a favorite page, and the detail image of the head to the left was inked with toothpicks while the rest of the page was inked with a brush. Yeah, you heard right, I inked that with toothpicks!

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen - Odysseus 6: final inks

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen – Odysseus 6: final inks

But, one of my favorite jobs was the animation we did for the library at UF. This was one of those amazing jobs where the topic was dry as stale melba toast, but the “committee” in charge trusted me to do my job. OK… RANT WARNING… I hate hobs where my status as a “creative professional” is reduced to that of “plebeian renderer.” They were open to whatever I had in mind, and essentially left me alone, free to write, storyboard, illustrate, animate, direct and color this thing, with a ton of creative and technological help from Tom Hart at SAW. If you have 6 minutes, it’s worth watching. The challenge was… how do I make this dry information so entertaining that people will WANT to watch it rather than watch it because they need to understand the concept. One of the things I try and do with every job, be it an annual report or infographic, is I try and create something that is NOT disposable. I try and make everything I do something the people who encounter it will keep and enjoy. Most graphics, as I’m sure you know by having ignored them, are hot and trendy, but wholly disposable and forgettable no matter how “daring” and “hip” they were with their fonts.

It was really fun to be able to work in that cartoony style, so different from my work on the DARPA project.

Painting Stage Sets

Painting Stage Sets

On Stage

On Stage

As amazing as those projects were to work on, the job I never could have seen coming was when I got a call to design backgrounds for a ballet that would be at the Thomas Center. I had to design elements that would be sculpted, as well as the props and set dressing elements that decorated the pre-existing backdrop of the castle interior (which I did NOT do), the stairway and so forth. Add to this that I had to paint a 10 foot skull, as well as paint the stairway facade, based on how the backdrop was painted. Keep in mind, I am NOT a painter anymore than a set designer. In other words, it was a lot of work recklessly outside my comfort zone.

Here’s a secret, if you, as an artist, are offered a job outside of your comfort zone, take it, do it, and NEVER let on that you are nervous, you know, like the old deodorant commercial… never let them see you sweat. If they see one drop of sweat they will cast you aside and look for someone less sweaty. Clients are like deer… very easy to spook, and they will run for cover.

In the end I painted the giant backdrop with local artist Margaret Tolbert. It’s funny, I always scold my students for how they hold their brushes while inking comics, and that day Margaret scolded me for how I held my brush. I needed to learn to hold the brush like a painter, not a comic artists. I needed to learn to “say something” as she urged as I meekly went about trying to find volume and proportion on a 10 foot canvas. To be honest, when we began painting I had a panic attack, was in tears. I knew I was in over my head, and figuring out how to draw on a 10 foot canvas was very intimidating, but eventually I got it figured out. In fact, after a half hour of panic, all at once I saw the skull on the canvas, and practically shoved Margaret out of the way saying… “Wait! I see it… I can see it now!” and I saw it and painted in the basic form that we then brought to life, mostly thanks to her confident skills as a painter.

To the upper left are the stairs I designed as painted the day a former student and I had done it, and directly below, that same stairway on stage.

Below, the final stage in my design for the stage set itself. I hand intended for this to be a rough only, but the client looked at it and said, “What’s wrong with this?” Nothing… so it became the final sketch. Below all that… well, that was what I saw when the curtain opened… awesome! I mean seeing it on stage, then the music and the ballet, I felt like a part of something grand. I was… “The Ballet.”

Stage Design

Stage Design

On Stage

On Stage

Yeah, it gets interesting, doesn’t it? Mythology, Cartoon Modern animation, and ballet set designs. And this ain’t the half of it. I’ve done tons of stuff in Gainesville, not all of it for local clients, but it’s more fun when it is. A few years back we did a great project in Gainesville for the CRA, it even won 2 awards, but I think of all the things I’ve done in Gainesville, the animation below is my favorite.

Nothing I have done has come as much from the heart, and there is nothing I’m more proud of than this animation. There are jobs I’m equally proud of, but none I am more proud of. This project pushed all my buttons, as a seeker (see “Hindu”) the thought of doing animation to preserve wild India, it’s elephants and indigenous people from being raped and destroyed by corporate crimelords… appealed to me. Jai Sri Ganesh!

Note that many of the images (as Ganesh at the beginning) were not drawn by me, but were taken from books and processed the same way as my drawings through Adobe Illustrator. It’s obvious which ones I drew… they share a similar line quality. The landscapes and stuff I inked with a brush, the elephants I inked with toothpicks. Why a brush and toothpicks? Because I despise most Flash animation, so cold, those horrid paper doll-like “bone” people that move like lousy shadow puppets. I want my animation to look hand drawn even though it’s all processed through “live trace” in Illustrator, and Flash. The limitations of a tool should never inhibit an artists vision, but should challenge them to shine through the limitations.

I hope you enjoy this as much as I did!

I guess with all this work (award winning work, at that) under my belt here in town, I’ve become rather cocky. Ever since I’ve moved to Gainesville I’ve been the bold brash woman I’ve always wanted to be. I’ve come to realize something at this stage in my life, and that is that people really do not respect or understand artists. They expect us to go into the studio and be innovative, brilliant, unconventional and sensational in our work, but expect us to act like middle-management bankers at meetings.

NOPE! Not me. I go to all my meetings (whether they be with university librarians, city officials or museum administrators) barefoot and in cut-off denim shorts. I travel at one speed without regard to the circle in which I’m flying. The raw passion, rhythmic heart, and vivid imagination it takes to produce great work is the same imagination that makes us envision other ways of being, of living, of acting. I didn’t become an artist to play by the rules everyone else has to play by. I am the same passionate imaginative person in meetings as I am in the studio. I speak in the same way, and the emotion and passion it takes to make cool art is the same high emotion I bring into the boardroom. A lot of clients can’t handle it, but I’m not playing their game, I can’t, I never knew how to, and I do not want to. Oh… and I will not! You want me and my unique take on the possibilities of your project, that comes with me and my unique take on how to travel through life. Deal with it or hire someone mediocre.

Well, that makes keeping clients a challenge sometimes. But, as I said, if I wanted to be a banker I would have been a banker. I’m not worried about winning any popularity contests (which is good… ’cause I ne’er e’er won one in my life), I’m interested in making work that engages me, and often what engages me frightens committees. Well, sod the committee. And what has all this rant brought us to? It has brought us to the brass tacks statement I made during the very first meeting with the Matheson crew. I said very directly, “Nothing kills creativity like a committee. I want creative control. Give me creative control and you will get my best work.” As soon as a committee starts to micromanage or get too involved, I lose interest and hack through the project to cash the check and pay my rent, but if a client has come to me and hired me to be a creative professional, and is willing to trust their own judgment, then the work I do will not disappoint them. And that’s just it, my ONE message to anyone hiring an artist, and it goes simply like this, if you do not trust the artist you chose to do creative work with the creative work, what that reveals is that you do not trust your own judgment. I can’t stand working with micromanagers, for I can see that they simply do not trust their own judgment.

Well, I am pleased to say that the folks at the Matheson Museum (Peggy MacDonald in particular) have had the courage to trust their judgment. They have given me creative control, and they have gotten me at my very best… and you will see all that very soon.

Next time, at long last, I’m going to get down to really talking about the new project, “What The Lion’s Saw,” and give you all a nice behind the scenes look into the process. Stay tuned… same batshit time, same batshit channel…

NEXT: FIVE, in walk the lions! Behind the scenes preproduction art!

The Waiting Room

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The Waiting Room
by Barefoot Justine

Loneliness is a shabby waiting room,
The magazines like tattered Bibles,
And I have read them all before.

I wait sick, sweaty as a child,
Whose belly ache is the very sun,
Where all my joys are burned to ash.

The wait is longer than a splinter,
Ocean deep, a canker in my skin,
And I can see no end to it.

The lamplight dims and this room,
Consumes me into its empty belly,
And I forget that I was waiting.

So I curl into a ball and forget,
That loneliness is a waiting room,
And not every bite I swallow.

Then you appear faint as a phantom,
A misty shimmer, a hesitant yes,
Yet with a shadow that denies me.

Though my ears perk at the promise,
I dare not see you with my eyes,
And burrow down my old dark hollows.

Wait… I dare to think it so,
Was that you that whispered,
And stirred me from my blankets?

My fear-cramped fingers do uncurl,
Hesitantly towards your warmth,
Yet with hope in their reaching.

Dare I remember the truth,
That loneliness is a waiting room,
One small place and nothing more?

Are you there, beyond the door,
Dare I uncurl into the cold,
Do I dispel the cling of darkness?

I have before, left this room,
Only to be shoved back within,
Wearing a skin of newfound fear.

I curl back my fingers tight,
Plug my ears with old doubts,
Squint against the light of hope.

Are you still shimmering for me,
Holding the door open a crack,
Warm and tremorous, like me?

Eyes closed I recall the sun,
Golden in a sea of brilliant blue,
And remember what I once knew…

That loneliness is a waiting room,
And I do not have to stay here,
I do not have to wait here.

Dare I smile as I warmly cry,
Dare I move an inch for fear,
You will run like the doe?

If I uncurl and leave this room,
I will need to eat and drink,
And I will need to be held.

Tell me when I may burn it down,
that grave, that coffin, nothing that,
This shabby little waiting room.

Three: The Art Of “What The Lions Saw” (Justine Lands In Gainesville)

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THREE: The Art Of “What The Lions Saw”: Justine lands in Gainesville
To read in order:
Part ONE: https://barefootjustine.com/2017/08/14/one-the-art-of-what-the-lions-saw-introduction-1-of-2/
Part TWO: https://barefootjustine.com/2017/08/14/two-the-art-of-what-the-lions-saw-introduction-part-2-of-2/

Mike Lenz, a Blues musician and formidable guitarist from Akron dumped some truth on a mother who wanted advice for her son. She asked him, “What advice do you have for a young guitar player and musician?” Mike said, “Work hard, learn all he can, sacrifice, and spend all your time playing and practicing… and if he does all this and he’s good, really good… there’s hundreds of dollars to be made every year… hundreds!”

Yep, that’s about the size of it, whether you are a guitar player or an artist. You know what my gross income was last year? Less than $7,000, and you know what’s of no help at all?

Words.

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen: WOTC Illustration Pirate Woman

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen: WOTC Illustration Pirate Woman

I don’t know how many times I’ve stood and listened to people tell me how amazing my art is, how good I am, how stunned they are by my art… but they can’t even afford to spend $2 on a crummy postcard at my table! They have no idea I’m starving. I even had a woman say to me “Well, artists are supposed to starve.” To say the least, I was furious, I mean that’s the very rubbish that keeps us down. Worse by far than that, once I even had a woman come to my booth and take a photo of the image she liked when she could have bought a big postcard print of it for $3! She snapped the photo, shot me a shit-eating grin and scurried off quite proud of herself. I chased her down! Yeah, damn straight, that’s pure Justine, chased her down, and right in front of her friends I said, “Do you know what you just did? You just took food out of my mouth. Instead of paying $3 for the postcard, you took a photo and ran off feeling all proud of yourself… and now I don’t get to eat lunch today!” and I walked away.

She came back a few minutes later in tears, apologizing.

And you know what… she still wasn’t willing to cough up three lousy bucks for the postcard! I mean, thanks for crying and apologizing and all, but tears don’t pay the rent, not unless your landlord’s a sucker.

Yeah, all that, all the years of rejection slips, of cheap words, of shallow praise, all of that played out in my mind as I showed Tom Hart my portfolio, my creative life and life of dreams was flashing before my eyes. I needed work, I needed a job, hell, what I needed was salvation! As he poured over my portfolio I could feel my guts clench as I waited on the inevitable cheap words, the enthusiastic praise and the pat on the back as he politely, but determinedly, guided me out the door. I knew all the steps to that dance. I was halfway out the door in my mind before I’d even walked all the way in through the door.

But that didn’t happen. Tom is a different sorta person, and thank God for it, too. He listened to my story about how before leaving Ohio I had sold off guitars, art, whatever I could, then laid out twelve envelopes and placed what I figured was a week’s worth of money in each envelope so that once I got to Florida I would have three months of survival money before I was in trouble. You see, I had no safety net, no home in Akron to return to, no one in Florida to catch me if I fell, and now, here I was in Gainesville, down to my last 4 envelopes, and that was it! What then. What if all I got was more lousy praise? Like I said, Tom isn’t like that. He saw in my portfolio that I was not only good, but real good, that I was obviously self-disciplined, that I knew how to work for things that were out of reach of most people, and though I had no way of knowing this, Tom Hart knew what it was like to be a starving artist, having just fled New York City for that very reason himself. I was on tenterhooks as I waited for him to finish looking at my work.

Inside… I was crying.

Lucasfilm art by Justine

Lucasfilm art by Justine

Tom listened to my story, looked up from my portfolio and said, “We need to get some more money in your envelopes.” Wait… what? It was like in a cartoon when the character’s head starts rotating side to side, tongue out, that “ie e-ee ie e-ee ie e-ee” noise coming out. He didn’t show me to the door with a golden shower of cheap words? Almost immediately we got down to throwing together an evening class for me to teach. Tom knew I could draw, but that was about it. Lots of people can draw, lots of people can teach, but few can do both. Tom Hart became my personal savior! He attended my first class, wondering if I could teach, but what he had no way of knowing was just how much teaching I had done. As I was still commuting from Ocala to Gainesville when I taught that class for Tom, by the time I got home there was a lengthy email from him. I doubt he remembers it this way, but I have the email to prove it. In the email he effused over how good a class I ran, how good my teaching was, and he literally said, “I am begging you, begging you, to become my year-long drawing teacher.”

Wow! What I hadn’t known was that Tom needed me, too. It was no less a miracle to him that his drawing teacher had simply walked in off the streets unannounced than it was for me to have walked in off the streets into the warm arms of Tom, SAW and Gainesville. Through Tom I was able to find an affordable apartment as Joe Courter, who was a neighbor to SAW, needed a housemate, and whether he knows it or not, Joe Courter is a major patron of the Arts. Without him and this absurdly cheap rent in this spectacular house on this stunning piece of property, I don’t know where I’d be now. More than friends, Tom and Joe were instrumental in helping me make my life work, and I was teetering on the edge of a major disaster. I’ve been at SAW and in the Lakehouse with Joe ever since July 4th five years ago, and I’m family in both places. I even take care of Tom and Leela’s magical daughter Molly Rose. I think I was the first person Tom gave a key to his school to, and the first person to babysit his daughter. Yeah, sometimes there are people out there who will give an artist more than a pat on the back, they’ll give us work, trust, and something far more important… a sense of family.

Tom’s my brother.

Most people don’t trust artists at all, primarily because they don’t understand them. I used to joke that I’d go into a meeting with a potential client with a portfolio full of drawings of pumpkins, squash and eggplants, and the client would smile, then shake their heads as they slid my portfolio to me, saying, “You draw pumpkins, squash and eggplant really well… but we need someone who draws watermelons.” Then I met an agent who I told this joke to, he shook his head and said, “That’s not really funny. I represented this artist who had a lot of drawings of horses in his portfolio, I showed it to a client who refused to work with him because they needed an artist who drew cats.”

You know what being an artist really teaches you? It teaches you that people really are that stupid.

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen: WOTC illustration

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen: WOTC illustration

I wasn’t fully prepared for where the SAW journey was going to take me. Soon after Tom took me under his wing I began working for DARPA on a comics project meant to help veterans with their PTSD, and soon job after job came through SAW, mostly jobs local to Gainesville, the very jobs that paved the way for me getting the job of illustrating “What The Lions Saw” for the Matheson. And, man, I’ve done it all, from designing murals to animation for UF, from comics and T-shirt designs to set design for the ballet! Soon I am going to share some of the images I’ve done since I’ve lived in Gainesville, and what I am sharing is by no means complete. I still don’t make enough money to live, not by most people’s standards, but I’ve done a ton of work here.

I’m gonna share some of that work with you next time, and then we’re gonna dig in and see how the process of making this new book for the Matheson is like.

NEXT: What I just said above…

For more about Justine: barefootjustine.com

Lines & Questions

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Lines & Questions
by Barefoot Justine

I will give and I will take,
I will watch you cry tears,
I have served like tea.

My regrets are of the heart,
My mistakes have legs,
And they chase me down.

Each demon I battle is mine,
Like a lifelong lover,
They know me as a mother.

I skip like an old album,
Stuck in well worn grooves,
Like a bed I despise.

I suffer my every excess,
And celebrate my extremes,
And wonder which am I.

My mistakes are like wool,
I wear them like a choker,
And sweat under them.

I see myself repeating,
And hear that I know better,
And ask, who is that I?

Who is that curious I,
Can I tolerate being,
In her skin another day?

Or can I love all she is,
Can I know that this I,
Is perfect as she is?

I am this and then that,
Love, hate, peace, anger,
I am light and I am darkness.

I am a beast and a flower,
I am anger and compassion,
And you will see what you will.

I am a beast and a flower,
I am anger and compassion,
And I will be all I must.

Cancer Scare

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I realized today that cancer can be cured, but once you’ve had it it never goes away. not that I think about it much, for the most part I don’t, but sometimes in the dark of night, sometimes when you are suffering some new health problem… whatever the physical problem is, the real problem is always cancer. Having cancer teaches you one thing for certain, and that is that it can most definitely happen to you. Cancer isn’t just something other people suffer. Perhaps it is… but who knows who the other people are, and who knows whether or not you are one of the other people?

I have always been one of the other people. I belong to that tribe, the Tribe Of the Other People.

People die, people around me have both beaten and been taken by cancer. Once you’ve had it, cancer becomes the little devil of existential possibility in even the most unfounded and anxious worries over health. Cancer can turn an ulcer, cyst or ache into a tumor, at least in the mind, and what we think is our reality. if that ulcer is cancer, it’s cancer, and when it’s proven to be an ulcer and treated and healed… it just becomes the one that wasn’t cancer… but what about the next time? Once you’ve had cancer you know that not all of them always turn out to be ulcers, cysts or aches. Man, it’s brutal KNOWING that as an existential certainty.

No, I do not think about cancer all that much, but I had a long week and a miserable day to think about it again, and I learned a lot of things.

I looked around and learned that my life really would go on without me. Everything that was my material reality will still be going on. The sun will still be shining on all the people I love in Gainesville.

I know I am going to die. Not abstractly either, I know I am going to die. I can see it on the horizon, the only question is… who will I be when it comes for me? Will I greet death with grace or hysteria, with confidence or terror? Will I meet death at peace or in a panic? Will I meet death with a smile of contentment knowing that everything is perfect? That is my biggest fear, you know, it has changed. My biggest fear is no longer death, it is that I will not be ready to meet death with a smile, that I will not have mastered the art of dying. Will I greet death having attained Shiva?

I thought about Shiva a lot.

But I fear I failed this test. I panicked, I was not at peace. It feels like I have a lot of work to do before I will be able to stand back as the watcher and go at peace. But at least I had a plan, and I realized where I am. Panicky or not, my thoughts all turned spiritual. Whether or not I learn to die with grace, I know now that I will at least die a seeker with Shiva on her mind.

I thought a lot about Varanasi. Today, as I sat in the emergency room, I knew that I wasn’t going through it again. If it was cancer, I was going to Varanasi. I was going to let go of my body there. I saw myself on the cremation grounds well before passing. I saw myself learning to let go. I saw myself surrendering to Smashan Tara, to Shiva, to my own true SELF.

Yeah, a cancer scare is a helluva thing.

I suspect this will change me. I am hoping this has come to bring about a new clarity. I have a lot to sort through, but I know something has changed.

Perhaps what has changed is, from this point on, maybe, just maybe… the ghost of cancer has finally left me.

TWO: The Art Of “What The Lions Saw” (Introduction Part 2 of 2)

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TWO: The Art Of “What The Lions Saw” (Introduction 2 of 2)
To read in order:
Part ONE: https://barefootjustine.com/2017/08/14/one-the-art-of-what-the-lions-saw-introduction-1-of-2/)

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen: Star Wars illustration

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen: Star Wars illustration


Cause they told me everybody’s got to pay their dues,
And I explained that I had overpaid them,
So overdued I went to the company store,
and the clerk there said that they had just been invaded,
So I set sail in a teardrop and escaped beneath the doorsill.

Cause the smell of her perfume echoes in my head still,
Cause I see my people trying to drown the sun,
In weekends of whiskey sours,
Cause how many times can you wake up in this comic book and plant flowers?

Sixto “Sugarman” Rodriguez

I shoved more books into a box, books in print, with my name and art in them, closed the box and ripped another strip of flesh and spirit off the roll to seal up another cardboard coffin. Yep, I had really made it, internationally published, but by the time I was packing up, that was long over, even the crying was long over. I had worked on Green Lantern for DC Comics, and had inked most of the famous characters, including the Flash, Superman, Swamp Thing, and others. I had managed to work for WOTC on core Dungeons and Dragons product, and had even been “Lucasfilm approved,” which means I was one of the artists approved to work on Star Wars projects! I hadn’t seen that coming, hadn’t even dared to dream I’d be hired by Lucasfilm to draw creatures from Star Wars, and I had never dared dream I would one day be as good as I got, and that ain’t ego, I paid my dues. But that seemed like a lifetime ago, and at that moment, that life was packed away in boxes that would soon be shoved into the dark of someone’s closet in Akron.

Boxes of dreams dry with dust in the dark of an Akron closet.

DC Comics, Justice League, Pencils: unknown - Inks: Justine Mara Andersen

DC Comics, Justice League, Pencils: unknown – Inks: Justine Mara Andersen

Nothing lasts, not even fully fulfilled dreams, not even identity. First the economy, then one thing after another, and slowly I watched precious water drip away as all my clients evaporated. The springs of my dreams having run dry, I found myself back at the bottom of the food chain in the world of comics, gaming illustration and art. Within a few years I went from turning clients down because I could not complete all the work coming in, to sitting around in my studio broke, exhausted and bitter. I mean, I didn’t have any idea what to do or where to turn from that bottom… what does a person do who defined themselves by their dream… what do they do once the dream collapses? Who are they?

What are they?

All I knew was I didn’t have any desire to work my way back up from the bottom again. Once around that bush was enough. A lot happened in the years after my dream ran dry, a whole lot, 2 years in Korea dealing with cancer, time in Chile working as an illegal immigrant, performances for Buddhist monks in the mountains of Korea, a near fatal SCUBA diving incident in Thailand, performing for prostitutes and Johns in the Philippines, scrubbing toilets in an Akron grocery store, even performing in nightclubs in Seoul South Korea drenched in the numbness of 7 shots of whiskey, bankruptcy, foreclosure and divorce.

Let the good times roll!

What does one do indeed? Me, initially, as you can see, I did everything, but ultimately what one does is pack up and move on.

I got into the car with the two Akron Ogres, a portfolio full of blessed art, and a sacred statue of Ganesh, and headed off, southbound from Meat City to Slowcala with no plan, no job, no shoes, no friends, and only enough money to survive for 3 months before I was, well, to put it bluntly… screwed, but I was screwed no matter what I did. The groovy part of being that totally screwed is… it’s a total liberation! But you have to let go and surrender to the free fall.

But in order to surrender to the fall, you first have to find the courage to jump!

Barefoot Justine WOTC Illustration/Lucasfilm

Barefoot Justine WOTC Illustration/Lucasfilm

Yeah, well, things weren’t much better in Ocala. I was still screwed, but at least I was warm and screwed. I had fled a foreclosing house in the ghettos of Akron to find myself in a barren room in Ocala, sleeping on a lumpy half-deflated rubber bed under the lordship that pair of Ogres. So without rooting through the dirty laundry of my Ogres with too much zest, let’s just tell one story. The She-Ogre had cooked dinner and asked me to join them. The next day around the pool she asked me when I was going to pay for the portion of food she had served. Family-friendly blog entry or not… I don’t think anyone could blame me for inserting a quick “what the fuck?” here. Besides all that, I was running out of the 3 months worth of basic survival money I had brought. I got down to about four weeks worth of money, had no job, and soon nowhere to live, and worse, no home to return to in Akron, not even with family. I still had Ganesh… but my faith was being tested.

In continued desperation, fleeing Ocala on a daytrip, in search of more liberal pastures and possibilities, I wound up visiting Gainesville Florida, just to see if perhaps Gainesville might be a better fit for me than Akron or Ocala. I distinctly remember the first time I set foot in Gainesville, walking barefoot down Main Street, then on past Bo Diddley Plaza where I wandered around the Sun Center and Hippodrome. I sat in Mochi eating yogurt (a place I was later kicked out of as an employee erroneously believed my being barefoot was a health code violation… it’s not, look it up), and it was there where I nodded to myself and thought, “I could live here.”

But how?

I had looked up every arts oriented place in Gainesville before driving in from Ocala, stunned to find that there was a comics school in Gainesville! SAW, The Sequential Artists Workshop, founded by Tom Hart and Leela Corman, who knew? I mean, really… how many towns have comics art schools? I’ll tell ya’ how many, there are three freestanding comics art schools in the country, Gainesville’s got one of ’em! SAW’s a big deal for Gainesville, a hanging-on-by-the-skin-of-its-teeth big deal, but a big deal. Quite unannounced, I walked off the streets into what we now call “Old SAW” which shared a building with the CMC and what was then the Co-op. Oh God, I knew the stink of desperation was seeping from my every pore, but sticky-thick with it or not, I had to keep keep trying and hoping lest I ended up homeless.

And there, sitting at drawing tables right up against the wall were Tom and Leela. The school had barely even opened, hadn’t even had a year of students yet, I mean, talk about getting in on the ground floor. I announced my arrival, and told Tom Hart the (looking back on it) rather pathetic story of how I ended up there, and as I told him I needed work, I plopped my portfolio on the table, full of the art that had been blessed by Ganesh, the remover of obstacles. Tom stood up, approached me cautiously, thinking (as he tells it), “This crazy barefoot woman walks into my school and starts asking for a job, and immediately I want to tell her that we’re just a small school, we don’t need anybody…”

But then he saw my portfolio…

Mara Medievalist (by Justine)

Mara Medievalist (by Justine)

NEXT: July 4th, Independence Day… and I begin crafting a life for myself in Gainesville Florida as a teacher and artist, and all while the Lions slumbered in the dark.

NEXT: FOUR: The Art Of “What The Lions Saw.”
For more about Justine: barefootjustine.com