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May 6, 2024

Updated: May 7

I’ll start here by chatting about the color palette for The Tireless Lament of Past Selves, and then I'll shift into some thoughts about life stuff.


Color work for this one began immediately after I finished Ascension, but I knew I wanted to work with some bolder and more saturated colors this time around. I even played with an alternate color palette that was inspired by Marvel comics of my childhood in the late '80s and early '90s. For example:


colorful Marvel comic book covers from the 1980s and 1990s

Although I mostly bought stuff published by Image as a kid (and still do as an adult), I certainly had some Marvel comics during that era and I have a lot of nostalgia for the bizarre and often ugly color palettes they were using. They had some of the weirdest color combinations, like pea green and orange with light blue accents etc. I mean, look at that Ghost Rider Rides Again cover...there is no discernible color theory happening there at all.


I'm sure that's due to the limitations of the color separation process they were using, but still, you might as well throw darts to decide colors for that one.


Even though I suspected that approach wouldn't totally fit the dark surrealism of The Tireless Lament of Past Selves, I felt it was worth playing around with and trying to find my own version of it. Here's what that experiment yielded:


tentacles and tree roots emerging from large baby face and connecting to severed heads in liquid-filled jars

As anticipated, I didn't love the approach enough to follow through on it (though I certainly could've spent additional time with it and gotten the colors to feel more authentic to that era), but it did help me loosen up a little and ultimately run with a palette that's a bit more unusual than I might've chosen otherwise. Here's what I finally landed on.


purple and beige surrealist art depicting heads in vats with giant baby head floating above

I mentioned recently when I shared the flat colors for Epistemic Machinations that I believe I'm getting faster and more confident with choosing color palettes for my art, and that was true again here. This one came together relatively quickly, and I feel better about the end result than I normally do on these pieces.


As always, the color flatting process for this one happened by scanning the ink art into Photoshop, rasterizing it into solid black and white pixels, and then going through and using the lasso tool to trace the outline of each object. I then bucket fill each object with a "flat" color, meaning it's just a solid tone with no shading or highlights. Lastly, I use adjustment layers to slide the hue, saturation, and lightness of each color around until the different elements feel like they click visually.


The next step, of course, is to go through and actually render each object by adding shadows, highlights, and lighting effects. But I'll go into depth on that work in a future post.


 

For now, I wanted to shift gears and talk through some thoughts I've had recently about ego – that wonderfully awkward part of us that feels separate from people and attempts to convince us we are superior to others, or else fret we might be less than them.


Like many people, I have frequent wrestling matches with my ego, and in the past it had been a struggle for me to let go of it and simply live my life day to day. But I had a really awkward, sad, and beautiful moment around this recently that has helped with the letting go process.


I ended up in the emergency room a few days after my double jaw surgery due to complications from some of the medications I was taking (painkillers, etc). At this time my face was swollen up like a water balloon and I was beginning to develop bruising on my cheeks and neck. (Normal side-effects of reconstructive jaw surgery.) I also had a plastic mouthpiece wired onto my teeth and braces to hold my upper jaw together. When I wasn't slurping up pureed food, I had to keep rubber bands looped around the surgical hooks on the wires of my braces to pull my upper and lower jaws together.


It's difficult to describe how this looked, but any time I talked or smiled it was like something out of a horror movie, and it was impossible for me to speak clearly without my words all slushing together.


It was already a strange experience to go out in public in this state, but following some physically painful events in the emergency room, I left the hospital with a catheter strapped to my leg. This was not only highly visible, as I was in shorts, but it limited my mobility and caused me to move slowly.


I needed to go to a drug store to pick up a couple of things, and when I walked in there something amazing happened. For the first time in my life, my ego absolutely melted away.


I mean, it was just completely gone.


There's a kind of deception we humans indulge in most days that is perhaps a necessary way to protect ourselves from examining our mortality too closely. It enables us to pretend the details of our existence are important and worth agonizing over – as if we're eternal beings handcrafted by a sentient god. Call it the ego or just an unfortunate byproduct of a well-developed prefrontal cortex, but it's the part of us that wants to believe our day-to-day lives carry some deeper significance.


That we’re not simply animals, we’re special.


But there have been moments in my life, especially when things weren't going particularly well, when that veil of deception melted away and I was able to be fully present in that moment. It was almost as if I could perceive all the fine details of the world around me in a way I normally couldn't, like the pores of my skin just opened up and all the the raw sensory data of life flooded in. And that moment in the drug store was by far the most profound moment of clarity I've ever experienced.


All the efforts I've made in my life to impress other people and/or compensate for insecurities, ie my efforts to have muscles, comb my hair a certain way, trim my beard, wear certain clothes, say interesting things, etc., all of it suddenly seemed absolutely absurd. I actually kind of chuckled to myself in the drug store thinking about people buying expensive cars and jewelry, going to tanning beds, choosing to walk with feigned swagger, etc.


All the things we do to try to seem important or different or sexy to other people suddenly felt to me, on a deep existential level, like complete bullshit. It's all predicated on our health, and once our health goes, the rest of it is utterly meaningless. And sure enough, our health is always, every day, slipping away from us. In this way, our time in this life almost feels like an illusion, as it will all simply evaporate one day and there will be nothing left of us.


This feeling I'm describing ties together quite precisely with the meditation work I've been doing with Sam Harris' Waking Up, and specifically with the observation we can make of ourselves that there is no thinker behind our thoughts, no watcher behind our eyes. When we truly look for ourselves, try to find the part of us that feels like the self, there is simply no one there. Just awareness.


And in that moment in the drug store, there was truly no Preston anymore. No sense of self to think or feel anything at all. There was no judgment about the circumstances and no emotional pull to do anything, there was just that raw, simple awareness.


So now that I'm all healed up and back to normal, does this mean I live in an ego-free state without getting sucked into preoccupation about my appearance, my home, or my interactions with others? Of course not. I'm still human and it's human nature to care way too much about ourselves. Yet there's still a lingering sense of the absurdity of human behavior that crystallized for me in the drug store.


That's not to say nothing's changed, however, as I do seem to worry less what others think now. For example, it feels much easier to accept the quality of my artwork as it is in this moment, to be friendly and open at the gym instead of falling into the trap of acting like the biggest gorilla, and to simply let go of everything else we humans tend to become neurotic about.


The result is that I'm actually able to put more effort into myself and my life than I did before the surgery, and I believe this is because I’m spending less energy on concerns about how others are perceiving me.


I’ve heard this referred to as an ego death experience, and there are certain meditative practices designed to deliberately bring about this state. The benefits of that practice are apparently similar what I’ve experienced: it helps us let go of insecurities and spend less time measuring ourselves against others.


If there's one common theme to my artwork and this blog, it's that difficult life events create opportunities for personal growth and new ways of living, and this recent experience seems to have contributed to my ability to live a more peaceful existence while also enabling me to be more consistently industrious then before.


As my homie Wayne Dyer once wrote, "Be aware of the need to be grateful for the suffering and struggles that are part of the fabric of your life. Sometimes it is easy to simply be angry at your suffering rather than to know that it is the catalyst for your searching and awakening."


As always, thanks for reading. If you enjoy what I do, consider sharing my work with a like-minded friend or family member, and subscribe to receive email notifications for new posts. Cheers until next time.

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