Tag Archives: SAW

Art Of “What The Lions SAW”

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What The Lions SAW cover by Justine Mara Andersen

What The Lions SAW cover by Justine Mara Andersen

If you haven’t heard, The Matheson (Gainesville’s History Museum) and SAW (The Sequential Artists Worskhop, Gainesville’s comics art school) have teamed up to produce and create “What the Lions Saw,” a book illustrated by local artist and SAW teacher Justine Mara Andersen, hereby known as “me,” your friendly neighborhood narrator, and written by Mae Clark.

I chose to share the cover first just to set the stage, ’cause I don’t have much to say about the process of drawing it… why? Because I ditched most of my process, sat in front of a blank sheet of paper and a folder full of lion photos, and drew it. Usually I sketch and sketch and work out every detail in advance, and I’ll walk you through some of that shortly, but on this occasion, for some reason I took a deep breath and trusted that it was all going to manifest itself on the paper… and it did. Sometimes I think that like songs that are plucked out of the air by songwriters, drawings often exist in the fibers of the paper before anyone puts pencil to the paper. What is meant to manifest will manifest.

It started, of course, as a pencil drawing that I then inked. It’s important also share that I don’t really think in color when it comes to art, I think in line. To me, this image works in black and white all on its own, so even though when you see the book it will be in color, here is the only place you will be able to see the cover in all its original black and white glory! Sometimes I wish people did not have the idea that black and white equals cheap. How I would have loved to have simply gone with a black and white cover! But alas… what is is what is.

Ah… but there is still plenty of glorious black and white magic between the covers… and that sounds vaguely like a dirty joke between inkers.

What was so exciting about this illustration job was how rich with opportunity Gainesville’s history is. There were no shortage of picturesque possibilities, and while I aimed to get the historical elements visually right through research, I chose a timeless yet hundred year-old illustrative style that I combined with a romantic and universal viewpoint, as sadly, it seems history has become less and less romantic as more of the truth has surfaced. Well, dreadful as the truth of history may sometimes be, I am a firm believer that there is still room for romance, at least stylistically, and in the manner in which I chose to render the scenes. I chose to approach this more as a fairy tale than as cold hard history in that the style is evocative rather than literal, and the approach fanciful and free. I have to admit, I was worried at first about taking on this project, as it was rather huge from an illustration perspective, so I decided to go into the first meeting bold and declare, “Nothing kills creativity faster than a committee, I want creative control. Give me that and you’ll get me at my best,” and was surprised to see that the Matheson gang eagerly nodded. So, thanks to the wisdom of the Matheson crew, I was able to do exactly that, give you all my very best! It’s a rare client that has the insight to trust us creative professionals to do our jobs and actually be creative. So often the life is manipulated out of my work by overzealous micromanagement. It seems a lot of people want to see their ideas on paper without taking the time to learn how to draw.

I’d like to now walk you through a show-and tell of the process for one of the drawings, probably one of my very favorites, the first illustration.

This entire book was based on the illustrations of Russian artist Ivan Bilibin, his work I found very appealing, and I had hoped that by binding myself within the limitation of paying homage to Bilibin, that I would maintain a singularity of style, limit the variables, and keep my work wistful, romantic, and that I would have a template to work from wherein simplicity and details worked in a sweet harmony. In other words, I chose this style to not only limit the variables, but to learn something.

This concept came quite quickly, in fact, a lot of these images I had ideas for from the very first time I read the script, many of them came to me and I had to sketch them in the hour after I first looked the manuscript over. Rarely have I had ideas come so freely.

What The Lions Saw - thumbnail

What The Lions Saw – thumbnail

Looking back at the first sketch (seen above), I am surprised how close this one is to the final version, with some notable differences. For one, I hadn’t seen the actual lions that used to sit atop City Hall, so I just dropped a pair of lions in, and as I loved this concept and design for the scenes of “washing the lions,” I hoped like crazy the actual lions would fit into this composition.

They didn’t… we’ll get to that.

Also, I have to laugh at remembering why the image above is cropped so closely. On the original sheet of paper I drew that on, the sketch only took up about half the page. At some point I had called Tom Hart (SAW founder) to get his credit card number to pay off a bill the school has been taking care of, so, naturally, I wrote it in the margin of this handy piece of scrap paper.

Yeah… but I forgot that and handed the sketch over to Peggy McDonald so she could send out teasers for the upcoming book. It was my understanding that these sketches would be shared… which means… as you have just figured out no doubt, that I had potentially just sent Tom’s (my “boss”) credit card number out on the internet!

Oops!

No… seriously… OOPS!!! Fortunately, we caught the problem and cropped the image before anyone else ever saw it… oye!

Soon after I did a second sketch to try and work out the specifics, having still not seen the lions themselves.

What The Lions Saw - sketch work-up

What The Lions Saw – sketch work-up

The problem was, once I saw the real lion, I realized they were seated. OK, so here’s the rub, I chose throughout the book to play a little loose with such things, with reality, as the lions are drawn out of this position later (as though they come to life), and I had also made the decision to sometimes render them as the copper lions, while sometimes as magical live lions depending on what suited the illustration. The cover, which you have seen, I thought demanded to be rendered more like a literal lion than a copper lion. However, for this image, the specifics of the washing of these lions demanded I draw the lions as they are. Plus, this piece set the tone, and I wanted to introduce our lions as they are. The other problem I had was that the composition I had worked out for this drawing I really liked, but the seated lions no longer fit, so it occurred to me to simply place them on low tables, which gave me an opportunity to draw a Bilibinesque fabric detail to skirt the table. Other changes came later, but above is the second sketch I did before ever seeing the lions.

Note also the red border. Sometimes I draw a scene out, and then work out the precise cropping later. In this case I needed the cropping of the composition to evoke the delightful compositions of Ivan Bilibin.

Below you will see the final sketch, which is pretty close, actually, minus one major element, which you might spot as we roll down. By this point I had worked out the rhythm of Bilibin’s compositional style, a sort of designed and balanced perfection. I chose to enhance that sense of balance by placing the elements in waltz timing… count the arrangement of figures on each lion… 1 – – 2 – 3! I did the same with the buckets as well as other elements of the composition.

What The Lions Saw - final sketch

What The Lions Saw – final sketch

I think you will see in the completed pencils below, that only minimal changes had to be made.

Among the changes were elements of symbolism. Sometimes symbolism occurs to me as a natural part of the creative process, and the symbols I used here also added to not only the waltz timing (see the old man with his back turned), but created a sense of time itself. I teach my students that really great narrative illustration can act like a time machine, capturing not only a present moment in time, but can also evoke the past and the future. In this case the act of washing something is in itself a statement of time. The lions got dirty in the past, are being cleaned in the present, and will be clean for a new purpose in the future. To me, that is the mark really great illustrations hit, they are not mere polaroids snapping a frozen moment, but evoke narratives that span from the past into the present and propel the viewer into the future.

What The Lions Saw - final pencils by Justine Mara Andersen

What The Lions Saw – final pencils by Justine Mara Andersen

Add to this that we not only see the people cleaning the lions in the here and now, but the old man with his back turned represents the past, Gainesville’s past, and the children (one with a good old-fashioned balloon, the other with a dreaded cell phone) represent the future. As for me… I hope we learn to become less obsessed with our phones and more obsessed with balloons.

One regret I have about the piece is that I did not include an image of the person who actually did the hard work of cleaning and instead slid myself into the image… I’m the skirted barefoot girl right up front!

I also wanted to establish right from the very beginning of this book that my illustrations were not going to be literal. Yes, here I chose to show the “copper” lions as they actually are, though I break that later, what I wanted to establish was an abstracted and stylized background so the viewer would not be shocked when the images broke free from literalism. The older I get the less interest I have in being bound or limited… dear God… set me free!

And of course, as anyone who knows comics knows, the pencils have to be inked. I do all my inking with a brush and ink, I’m old fashioned that way. I’d like to add that the inking is my favorite part of the process, it’s where I’m most confident, and it seems to be where the actual magic happens, for some reason the pencilling is often more like work than magic.

What The Lions Saw - finished inks by Justine Mara Andersen

What The Lions Saw – finished inks by Justine Mara Andersen

Just to offer you guys all another couple of lovely teasers, below you will see one half of the two-page spread I had illustrated celebrating that “The Yearling” was written in this area (the yearling itself will be in the upcoming book). I’d like to point out that what you see in the below image is essentially the view out my studio window, where I often see wild turkeys and deer… all of whom make far better neighbors than humans. Also note the subtle reference to the Hindu Deity Shiva on the tree… like many illustrators of the past (Alphonse Mucha, even Bilibin), I chose to include some personal mysticism. That tree out my window I often stare into when I am meditating (it has an actual third-eye), so I have been going out and marking it with three horizontal lines in ash. So, there you go, a little personal insight you may have never noticed had I not pointed it out! As an life long illustrator I believe that illustration is the highest form of Art (with a capital “A”) as all our university intellectuals and snobs have it all wrong. Rembrandt was an illustrator, Sargent was an illustrator, the Cistine Chapel ceiling is an illustration. All this bluster about “high Art” and “low art” is, frankly, built on absurd and faulty logic. If you want to dismiss illustration as lowly, then you dismiss Rembrandt, da Vinci and Michelangelo.

What The Lions Saw - turkey pencils by Justine Mara Andersen

What The Lions Saw – turkey pencils by Justine Mara Andersen

The final image I’d like to share I have little to say about it except that it is an exceptionally cool rendering of smoke and fire! And yes, you’ll learn more about this image when you read the upcoming book!

What The Lions Saw - Gainesville fire inks by Justine Mara Andersen

What The Lions Saw – Gainesville fire inks by Justine Mara Andersen

So, come on out December 14th and celebrate the launch of the locally written, illustrated and printed book,
“What the Lions Saw.”

I’ll be there… as will be the Lions!

For more, visit: barefootjustine.com
and sequentialartistsworkshop.org

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!

Psychedelics, Rebirth, Love & the Destructive Art Of Teaching

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Barefoot Justine with Shiva

Barefoot Justine with Shiva


“Look to this day,
for it is life, the very breath of life.
In its brief course lie
all the realities of your existence;
the bliss of growth,
the glory of action,
the splendor of beauty.
For yesterday is only a dream,
and tomorrow is but a vision.
But today, well lived,
makes every yesterday a dream of happiness,
and every tomorrow
a vision of hope.
Look well, therefore, to this day.”
(Ancient Sanskrit)

I went to Bolen’s Bluff park today. I haven’t been out in nature much lately. For the last month I’ve had an excuse… I had an animation job that I was passionate about and had an impossible deadline… but what’s been my excuse for the past couple of years?

I guess I keep forgettin’ stuff, and I don’t mean stuff like, “I can’t find my keys,” no, I mean stuff like, “Oh, that’s right, being outside helps me maintain my center.” I mean stuff like that, BIG stuff. But there’s more to this than all that, it’s not just about forgettin’ stuff, it’s more about known’ stuff as words that make sense to you as opposed to knowin’ stuff through personal experience. For example, one of my favorite stories George Harrison tells of becoming a devotee of Hinduism was how he’d always understood, as an Irish Catholic, that he just had to have faith in God, as God isn’t going to reveal himself to you, nor is he going to perform any miracles these days. When he told the Indians this, they bobbled their heads and said, “No, you must have direct experience of God,” as, obviously, how can you truly know something until you have had direct experience of it? In other words, when it comes to God, if you haven’t sought to see God, God hasn’t revealed himself to you. Well, as of late, I’ve been having far more direct experience with mystical truth than ever before. So, here’s the silly part, nothing I say here is going to sound like a revelation to anyone, it has all, most certainly, been said before and better, the revelation is not in the words, it is in the experience. Revelations are not in the eye of the beholder, rather they are in the heart of an experience. Revelations do not come in words, knowledge comes in words, all words do with revelations is make it possible to dimly explain the surface of our deepest experiences… our revelations; or as commonly is the case, words give us the chance to announce just how grandly we have misunderstood our revelations.

Last night, “With a Little Help From My Friends,” I enjoyed a Shamanic experience. To tell the truth, it was a bit stop-n-go, not so brilliant or immersive as my other experiences, but it taught me a lot. I went to bed feeling amazing, as my friends and I had just had a spectacular night (so far as I’m concerned) of visions, music, and chocolate mint hookah shisha, but when I woke this morning, I felt anxious and depressed. Anxiety and depression are familiar states to me, like Rakshasa demons they have possessed me, clawed so deep into me that for most of my adult life I never experienced any real joy. No matter how lovely a time I should have been having, no matter how splendid the occasion, I was stuck in the belly of the whale, battling Rakshasa Demons somewhere deep in the top of my chattering tyrannical skull. These recent plant-based Shamanic experiences have not defeated my demons, oh no, that’s my work to do (“Fight the battle Arjuna”), but they have revealed to me the many weaknesses of my deomons. Yes, Krishna, I am fighting the battles, but now I have weapons, courage, knowledge and faith enough to put up a fair fight.

“Every morning
I get up
Look out the window
I get up
See the sunshine
Beating down
Every morning comes around”
(Sun Is Shining, Paul McCartney)

So what does one do when one wakes up anxious, depressed, and deeply let down? There are two paths, one is to stay in bed and nurse that bastard demon to your breast with protective dedication, or one can fight the battle. The McCartney lyrics above are a literal reality in my little cottage room in the forest. Every morning I look out over my altars into the forest and drink up the sunlight as it lights up swatches of the lush green swampy forest. In getting up, I chose to fight the battle. On this particularly rotten morning I turned my clock around so that time no longer existed, I decided to opt out of studying Hindi this morning to instead play some meditation music and pay frequent visits to my altars. Then it dawned on me what I was to do, spend the day turned on, tuned in and dropped out. No email (sure I’m doing this blog, but I don’t wanna forget all the stuff I learned today), no stressing over regrets, conflicts, or unresolved issues, and no answering potentially unpleasant phone calls. I had decided that instead of giving in to anxiety and depression, I was going to spend the day meditating towards my center rather than spending the day spinning further from it, further into the abyss. The abyss of my inner life is rather like the tarpits into which all of my most sacred knowledge has often sunk, left suffocated and unexperienced.

I went for Thai food, fish curry, prepared specially for me by the owner’s wife, and then on to Bolen’s Bluff park. I was struck within minutes by the sign at the edge of the path: “This area off limits.” Wow… I mean, talk about living in a tree museum. “WARNING!!! Do not interact with the natural world. Stay on the path. This park brought to you by Starbucks.” Hell… I had to pay to get in! I know all the pragmatic logic behind that sign, and I know why it’s there, but none of that makes it any less perverse. To think we’ve created a world where we separate ourselves from nature by never straying from the path, only going to specially designated prisons we build to house our unruly forests. Yes, mankind, we have arrived! We have finally evolved into our utopia… just don’t step on the grass… and, for that matter, don’t smoke any, either. That notion of separation, that “Stay on the path” bit is the problem, the path is the perversion, it is not the limit of our experience with nature, at least, it shouldn’t be. This realization did not make me angry, it just amused and befuddled me to wonder how we could have allowed ourselves to become so damn perverse. I mean, exactly when did man choose to plummet so headlong into such a fall from grace?

But that didn’t last for long. No sign, or power, in the ‘verse can stop me!

I wasn’t but ten minutes into the walk when I felt seven-dozen black bats leap from my chest and skull, and one by one I watched them turn to vapor as the dappled rays of sunlight hit them. And with that… I was open. All of a sudden a lot of the stuff I had forgotten was revealed to me in surround-sound and full color. I know, I know, a lot of people like to grumble about how awful Florida is, how they can’t wait to get out of here, how shitty little Gainesville is, but to hell with them. My ambition was to move to Florida! One of my life dreams was to live where there were palm trees (I have a pair of them right out my window!) and as for me, I love Gainesville, it’s the second town I chose as the place I could spend the rest of my life, and the first town that welcomed me. But what brought me to Florida was the weather, the heat (don’t give me any of that “don’t you just love this weather!” crap when it’s cold and wet… ’cause, no, sister, I definitely do not like cold and wet, I do not like cold and wet in a car I do not like cold and wet in a bar, I do not like cold and wet Sam I Am!), but mostly it was the flora and fauna. I LOVE the Spanish moss, the cypress trees, the swamps, the alligators, the armadillos… I love all of it! Then why the hell haven’t I been taking hikes in the plentiful parks? I guess I forgot.

At some point on the walk I realized this day, this grand letting go, was one more rebirth. I don’t have them all that often, it’s not like I have some sort of new-agey daily gratitude and rebirthing fetish, no, when I have a rebirth, it means something is solidly going to change. Rebirth should be a seismic shift in perception and then in approach and practice. It often means I have to work to maintain that change, it often means I backslide, but that don’t ever mean I’ve lost. I have been heavily rebirthing for about 10 years now, just one change, revelation, devastation, lesson and grand experience after another. After cancer my body was reborn, I was reborn when I was divorced, even reborn in the hell of my foreclosure. But each devastation was a birth, a rebirth. Each tragedy or shock led to another birth. I became a Hindu, I moved to Florida without any plan, landed at SAW (which brought about my rebirth as a working artist), took up residence in the Lakehouse, and the liberation of all liberations, the one that has released me from the need to keep nursing my demon’s to my breast… wait for it… these latest, grand, herbal Shamanic experiences. They have pitched me so far out of the world of ordinary experience and reality that I have had no choice but to question not only reality and my place in it, but I am rethinking how to be if not who to become. All my demons have been derailed, the slobbering pissy mass of them has begun to retreat.

Out in the woods today as I faced the sun, arms stretched out, bare feet sunk into the lovely warm sand, I realized what birth was.

If you accept the reality of this world as illusion, and manifestations of the soul through reincarnation as the reality, then our literal maternal birth is nothing more than a metaphor. I mean, how can a birth into an illusion be anything but a metaphor? We must be reborn throughout the entirety our lives. I mean, if we are lucky, we go along happily enough, until the world and our own ways and karma weigh us down, then Shiva leaps in to destroy us. He dances us into the ground, and then it is up to us whether or not we get up or stay down. It’s Shiva’s job to destroy us, it’s our job to get back up and be reborn… but he will help you if you choose to get back up… but you have to get back up. In my life Shiva has danced me to destruction and helped reestablish me in this illusion time and again, and each time, like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, I have risen stronger than before. Finally, with the latest destructions I am slowly learning exactly what it means to see this “reality” as an illusion, and my attachment to it as a source of pain. I think I might just be beginning to become aware of the ultimate truth of “self.”

Listen, group, getting knocked down is easy, it’s getting back up, it’s birth and rebirth that is the ordeal. Birth is a trial, we come out all gooey, screaming, cold and naked with some weird thing hanging off our bellies… then all hell breaks loose and we have to figure our way through the maze of this grand illusion for eighty some-odd years. Yeah, birth is just that, a metaphor, not the grand arriving. Physical birth is what gives us the chance to continue our rebirths until we figure it all out and don’t have to be physically born again. So, why are we born? As a metaphor. We are born into this illusion as a metaphorical lesson. If you can survive that transition, you can survive any destruction and any rebirth.

“BILL MOYERS: What’s my ego?

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: What I want, what I believe, what I can do, what I think I love, and all that. What I regard as the aim of my life and so forth. It might be too small. It might be that which pins you down. And if it’s simply that of doing what the environment tells you to do, it certainly is pinning you down. And so the environment is your dragon, as it reflects within yourself.”

Birth is an ordeal. Rebirth is no less an ordeal. At times at SAW, over the years, I have had students who said their SAW experience was life changing. Other students never fully engage in the full potential of the experience, others outright resist and refuse what the SAW experience can be at its best. It’s silly to set about “changing lives” as a mission, but when year after year students tell us how their year with us has changed their lives, it’s hard to not at the very least be aware of the potential responsibility. I tend to assume that people need to be reborn time and again, and that part of my job as a teacher is to dance them into oblivion once in a while, then extend my hand to see who wants to get up. In the getting up, one becomes bigger. It’s up to each person how they want to react to being danced upon. It’s not my karmic cross to bear to worry about how they will choose to respond, it’s both my job and karmic duty to dance. It’s not even my job to consider whether or not a student wants their life changed (sometimes, as Campbell said, what they want is not big enough), nor is it mine to consider whether or not they trust me enough to allow me to dance upon them, then help them up. It is my job to care, but it’s not my job to get them up, only to help them if they want reborn. One must, sometimes, be destroyed by their teachers if they are to be reborn, at least metaphorically.

I have been dancing, but I am growing tired.

Let’s take the dancing metaphor and tone it down a notch… every single year I have students who are not willing to empty their cups… so sometimes, I have to spill it for them. Year after year, a student or two might get really pissy when they get wet, but every year at the beginning of the year, I warn them that the students in the first few rows will get wet.

Getting back to having personal experience of a thing rather than taking anything on faith, well, that’s crucial to a student. Year after year I ask myself… do some of them actually believe I love bitching them out, or think that I love being frustrated, or that I’m so emotionally unhinged that I just can’t help myself? No, the point I make in class is… I can show you something, tell you something, but unless you go home and do it and do it and do it, you will have no personal experience of the thing. If you are not invested enough to dig in and do the thing in all earnestness, we are all wasting our time. Each year I have to push some of them to fulfill their end of this deal, it’s not fun, it’s painful, and it’s so damn messy! I make mistakes, some can’t take it, some rise to it, some are thankful, some wake up to it later… but boy, what a trial by fire as it’s all happening. How exhausting is all that? Though the question is rhetorical, I’ll answer it for my slower readers… It’s damn freaking exhausting… that’s how exhausting that is!

I’ve now sat out on my patio in my green lawn chairs, and am overlooking the lake, and feeling very one with it all. This ego babbling into the computer is, at least for now, only doing this, and doing so without distraction. I’ve already written my way through “Rubber Soul,” and am now working my way through “Venus and Mars,” and the birds are singing along in perfect harmony, and the eagles above the buzzing bumblebees are punctuating the rhythms like a 1976 horn section.

I haven’t really been noticing my tinnitus lately, nor barely noticing my floaters, nor my rattling inner dialog, which usually runs like a badly leaking fountain. I’m just here, like all the other eagles and birds, and the quieter the better, thank you very much.

And now I can see that the sun is getting lower, the air cooler, and I really want to get back out and think about nothing again. My center, it’s nowhere near this damn machine, is it?

I remember

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I Remember
by Barefoot Justine

I remember having no talent.

I remember how, as a young college freshman, I couldn’t even understand composition. To my ignorant ears, it sounded a lot like pretentious abstract nonsense. What a fool I was, but what did I know.

I remember how as a young student I worried incessantly about whether or not I had my own “style.” Of course, I should have been working harder on fundamentals. Not only do I remember it, but I regret it. Style forms itself around the fundamentals, but never fundamentals around style.

I remember all the long nights I wasted in the basement of my best friend’s house–what a mess that person was, dead now–watching the dumbest stuff on TV. God, if I could get all those hours back. Once time is wasted, it’s never coming back. Opportunities are like that too, once wasted, gone forever.

I remember meeting P. Craig Russell and Val Mayerik and how they took me under their wings. I remember for the first time how it felt to trust mentors enough to do what they said without question, but even that was something I had to grow into. If I remember correctly, I was a trying student. But I do remember that once I caught on I worked like a devil to catch up. I remember that I knew I had not only a lot of catching up, but a lot of growing up to do.

I remember how my parents put every obstacle between me and my becoming a professional artist. I remember that I bulldozed through every obstacle they put in my place. I remember what it felt like to have such a fire burning in my belly, a fire so bright it blinded me to everything else. I shone like a demon but flew like an angel.

I remember all the work I did, all the lonely nights tracing and drawing, and working on my own comics. I remember the dark lonely hours.

I remember when it all finally started to show on the paper. I remember how I began to bleed all I had internalized in my studies through each line.

I remember how grand it was to get published, and to be a working artist.

I remember how it felt to have realized a dream out loud.

I remember how when I met Frank Thorne and he tried to convince me of Hal Foster’s mastery and genius… how I simply couldn’t see it. The work was old-fashioned, had no style, and was boring. What a fool I was. Frank had cast his pearls before swine, and the swine had been me. I have repented Frank! I have see the light! Hal Foster was, as you knew with such certainty, a God among men. I remember the fool I was, but will never forget what I have gained in wisdom.

I remember how much it hurt that the better I got and the more my work matured, the more my audience lost interest. I remember being heartbroken. I remember aching and crying.

I remember when I broke, gave up, sold my art supplies.

I remember every moment of those two years I spent in exile in South Korea, drinking my life away and illegally gigging in Itaewan bars with my guitar in my lap, a pick in my right hand and empty shots at my elbow.

I remember how I suddenly felt compelled to draw. Two years it had been, and now I could draw like I had always wanted to draw, free, loose, wild, expressive, and I filled a whole book with ballpoint pen sketches of wild-eyed characters and tumorous creatures.

I remember being diagnosed with cancer. I remember how I suddenly knew that the tumor inside me had created a sense of urgency, and how the accursed thing, like a demon, had possessed me and came out in my drawings.

I remember how when the tumor was gone I had no more desire to draw.

I remember Jeffrey Jones. I will never forget how honored I was to have been your friend.

I remember hearing that Jeff Catherine Jones had died, right as I had been trying to reconnect with her. I remember how my heartache called me back to the drawing table with a vengeance.

I remember landing at SAW and becoming revitalized as an artist and as a woman with a purpose.

I remember Dan Adkins, and how I had failed to call you in the weeks before you died. My stomach hurts as I think about it, and I shake away the urge to cry. I remember how Jim Steranko had urged me to call Dan. I did not listen, Jim, and I will never forget that.

And when my students struggle, when they fail, when they make bad decisions, when they are blind, I can see in them weaknesses I would rather not remember about myself. And when I see the ones who struggle and rise above temptations, when I see them trusting and taking the hard road, I see the best of myself, and I am proud that they help me to remember that I am that strength and wisdom as well.

It is because I remember that I ache to make them see.

One day, I hope, they will remember, and will remember me.

On Being Needed

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I think many of us spend our lives seeking one very important and elusive experience. Sadly, I expect many never quite find it. That experience we all seek, one which I think is sadly missing in our scattered BIG world culture, is that of feeling and knowing that we are needed. Certainly in tribal and village culture the experience of being needed was quite common, but in the capitalist rat race I think Americans have accepted that not only are they not needed, but they are easily and readily replaceable. Layoffs, firings, downsizing, outsourcing, being “over qualified” and made obsolete, and the all around feeling of being a dime-a-dozen is perhaps the biggest psychological and emotional scar our culture drives into us.

I thought I was going to find myself needed in my career. I thought if I just got good enough, or found something that had never been said the same way, that the world would realize they needed my art, my talents. Hell, even DC Comics realized after a while that they didn’t need me, as did WOTC and every other client I ever had, and if my clients found me replaceable, well, I certainly knew the world didn’t really need me either. I thought my spouse needed me, but as it turned out… a divorce later, that just wasn’t so. Time and again I have had to come to grips with just how unessential I really was. Knowing you are imminently replaceable is essentially the same as feeling useless. I mean, think about it, if a company is willing to replace a person with an intern or is willing to outsource one’s job to India, just how important or needed can one feel? To be even more specific, in a world where anyone and everyone can get some attention on the internet for their cartoons, or for their work on Deviant Art… it seems to me that artists are every bit as replaceable as someone who lost their job to outsourcing. Artists are a dime a dozen.

Oh, sure, companies will pat us on the back and tell us we are essential, but they will lay us off as soon as we become unprofitable or inconvenient, or God forbid… the moment we have ideas of our own. It takes a while, sometimes decades, but people can be beaten down to a pulp and made to feel utterly useless in today’s economy. Me, for the entirety of my life I have sought situations where I felt needed or essential, where I felt truly irreplaceable and perhaps even appreciated… dare I say… loved! I travelled the world and tried many things, often feeling essential and needed, only to discover that I was indeed anything but essential. One minute people are singing your praises, the next moment they’re fixated on the shiny new thing, and completely bored with you.

Certainly computers contributed to many of us feeling as though we were not only not needed, but obsolete. Yes, there are many ways to feel unnecessary. I traveled from one experience to another, and I can tell you the precise moment I would become bored or disenchanted with a job or situation, and that moment was when I realized not only that I could be replaced, but that I could be quickly and easily replaced, the moment I realized I was not really needed.

But that has all changed.

I have been suffering a lot of intense anxiety lately, and admittedly, a lot of depression, and the only thing that has pulled me through was knowing that I am finally, for the first time in a very long life, in a situation where I am not only needed, but irreplaceable. I am in a situation where I have proven that I am not only necessary for the basic functioning of SAW (The Sequential Artists Workshop, where I work), but every single one of my skills, be they hard or soft, have been essential to the forward motion of our school. Beyond all that, I have become essential not only in the work-life of my “boss,” but in his home life as well, as I have become something of an on-call nanny, and that is only because I have a one of a kind bond with Tom and Leela’s daughter. They need me, but more importantly, little Molly Rose needs me. So long as she needs me, life has purpose, and I have a responsibility to take care of myself and keep living.

Today, while working to renovate the new school, I realized that Tom has walked away from the renovation and has simply trusted me with every aspect of it to date. Beyond the core expectations of my job, to teach comics and illustration to our students, the skills I have are essential to SAW’s functioning and moving forward. I realized after putting in another day of renovation, that I am the one most qualified to do that work, I am the one they need. This, of course, was the very day after I was at Tom and Leela’s babysitting and putting their lovely daughter Molly Rose to bed.

This feeling of being needed, of being appreciated has far outgrown our professional lives, here at SAW, and I can say without fear of presumption, that we have become family, we have become essential to one another. I hope in my heart that when Tom speaks about SAW, he says, “I couldn’t do it without Justine,” and I’m pretty darn sure he feels that way, or at the very least, that he can’t imagine SAW without me. I can’t imagine SAW without me, and I dread imagining me without SAW.

I realize that at a specialty school like SAW, that no one else is more qualified to teach what I teach, and that if they were, we all have accepted that no one else would do it with as much passion and personality as I do. In other words, not only am I the perfect fit for the needs of the school, but the school is a perfect fit for my needs. I can be my genuine self there, without fear of censure. I can experiment, be daring, and even adventurous in my approach. I can be honest and bold, and never fear being “let go” because I made someone nervous. In order for teaching to be vigorous and engaging, the teacher must be allowed, encouraged, free, and capable of walking a tightrope… and without a net. The only net is that Tom understands that if I’m up on a tightrope doing flips and acrobatics… sometimes I’m going to fall, and fall hard. This would, of course, never be allowed at a university. I wouldn’t last ten minutes in any other academic situation, hell, most universities wouldn’t even allow me to work barefoot, let alone say and do the things I say and do.

I have tried not only to teach my students how to draw, but how to see, and how to survive in the brutal world of comics and art. I have tried to teach my students about life and living, about letting go and finding themselves beyond the strange taboos and limitations of our culture. I have taken my students kayaking, have taught them to be hedonistic, have taught them to balance indulgence and discipline, daring and good sense. I have shown them the reality of my life, and hoped that through that they might find their own reality, a reality beyond the one we are all trained to accept. I have shared my mistakes with my students, they have seen me warts and all. This is dangerous, anarchic, and not only did I need an environment that would allow me to tread such treacherous paths, I have found a school that needs someone who will do that.

I have found a home, acceptance, and a place where I am needed, a place where I am appreciated.

Keep seeking, keep seeking, it may take a terribly long time, but somewhere out there… theres is a place and there are people that need you, and you’ll know that place and those people when you find them. Don’t despair, but do keep moving, and don’t accept anything less than truly being needed, because nothing else is good enough, trust me.