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May 5, 2023

Updated: Oct 23, 2023

"I have always been regretting that I was not as wise as the day I was born."

This particular bit of life wisdom comes from Henry David Thoreau. It came to me via a book I'm reading on Taoism written by the late, great Wayne Dyer, who uses it in the context of surrendering our desires and aspirations to the Tao.

Instead of pushing or fighting to find our own way through life, Taoism suggests opening ourselves to guidance from the universe and trusting it to lead us. And that's been my jam lately.

The Thoreau quote struck me on several levels, but particularly in regards to how I've been thinking and feeling about my art over the past two months. Since the summer of 2021 I had been trying to build a consistent art practice, trying to earn money from it, and working hard to do my best work on it. But it had honestly been a goddamn slog, and I noticed there was a persistent tension for me in the practice as I sat down each day.

I mentioned in my last post about this drawing (on April 7, 2023) that retro video game emulation had given me surprising clarity about my art, which in turned compelled me to delete my socials and completely rethink how I'm approaching my creations in the first place. That specifically came from a notion I'd developed while playing my childhood games to "play without purpose," meaning I have no ambitions to accomplish anything while doing it. Even though I enjoy pushing myself to do well, I'm not concerned about in-game achievements or attached to even finishing a particular game. I sometimes bounce around between multiple games within a span of just 15 or 20 minutes. Whatever I feel like doing, I just allow myself to go with it.

Once I began playing nostalgic video games without purpose, truly playing, I was suddenly able to perceive and grasp my motivation for making art as a child, which was that I simply loved doing it and loved getting better at it for its own sake.

As with so many other things in adulthood, I'd allowed all kinds of complexity to cloud my purpose for making art. Voices from art school still haunted me, thoughts about earning money from my craft plagued me, the sense that I needed to be posting frequent art updates to social media hounded me – and all of those things took me further and further away from my desire to make art in the first place.

My feelings around it at this point are both incredibly simple and also kind of impossible for me to describe. Fortunately, Dyer's elaboration on the Tao Te Ching explains it better than I can. "'Stop pushing yourself,' Lao-tzu would say, 'and feel gratitude and awe for what is. Your life is controlled by something far bigger and more significant than the petty details of your lofty aspirations.'"

"Listen for what urges you onward, free from ego domination, and you'll paradoxically be more productive. Allow what's within to come forward by suspending worldly determination. In this way, it will no longer just be you who is conducting this orchestration that you call your life."

And the line that really drives it home for me: "Effort is one piece of the whole; another piece is non-effort. Fuse these dichotomies, and the result is effortless action without attachment to outcome."

Effortless action without attachment to outcome. I'd say that's exactly how my art used to feel for me – from the first time I held a crayon right up through my late 20s – and wonderfully, it has felt that way again since I stripped away the layers of shit that had crusted over it across the past decade. Once I let go of trying to be a "successful artist" and canned my instagram, I've been able to simply focus on process and personal growth, and my productivity and enthusiasm for it has soared.

"Success" for me at this point simply means sitting down each day to create and do the best I can. That's been a wonderful experience, and it's more than enough for me at this point in my life.

"I have always been regretting that I was not as wise as the day I was born."

Okay, enough philosophy for today, let's talk about some cosmic horror art.

The Actual Art Stuff

I shared the pencil drawing for this one, named Ascension, back on April 7, 2023 and I began inking it shortly after that. Here's the original ink work, which is very true to the pencil art. As always, it was done with India ink using a 102 crow quill nib and brushes. (I added the sepia colorization in Photoshop so it was easier on my I thought it looked cool.)

Sepia color pen drawing of dark angels and skulls

During the inking process it became clear I wanted to make edits to the art afterward in Photoshop. That turned out to be far more true than I anticipated.

I specifically knew I wanted to add more to the motion lines on the outlines of the figures and the speed lines around the bottom and right edges of the art. (Motion lines, speed lines? Is there a difference?) I definitely did do that, but I also got swept up in editing a ton of other things in here, just as I did with the other new piece of dark fantasy surrealism I talked about on March 28, 2023 (I really need to name that one...)

For comparison, here's the edited ink work. (The most noticeable changes are along the right and bottom edges.)

Dark fantasy drawing of demonic women and winged imps in front of futuristic city

The edits were so extensive that I started to question if:

A) I should just ink the whole thing digitally from the start.

B) If I'm still being true to the art by revising it so much after the physical piece is done.

But "revising" turns out to be the right word for how I'm thinking about it, much like a writer makes revisions to a novel or short story. I think I'd even be willing to call this a second draft of the ink work.

Also, I fully believe that making these edits is productively challenging the part of my brain involved with visualizing imagery and representing it on a two-dimensional surface, which in turns leads to improved technical skill on the next piece.

I've actually started thinking of it like weightlifting, where I take a set to muscle failure, put the weights down, and then 10-15 seconds later grab the weights again to knock out a few more ultra-difficult reps.

To paraphrase Arnold, that effort at the boundaries of our capacity is where the real growth occurs.

"C'mon, get serious!"

So, I shifted some of the figures' proportions, added a lot of detail and better three-dimensionality to the skulls, and generally just pushed myself to refine everything as much as possible.

I'll start on laying out the flat colors for this one shortly, so expect an update on that in about...six months. (Kidding, but probably not kidding, doing color separations and finding a suitable palette for this one is going to be brutal.)


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