Monday, December 18, 2023

Closing out the year of 2023

Lamps light the darkest recesses, when we need them most.

If you look above at the top of the website, I slightly updated the banner above to feature one of my favorite lyrics from the irreplaceable Tom Petty.

This year I turned 49. Saying that out loud, never mind typing it out, is utterly surreal. 

Some mornings I still connect with the younger versions of myself still within me, other days I have aches that remind me not of the years but of the mileage earned.

Burnout this year was more than I thought I could endure. So many times, dour feelings surfaced, driving my mind to where I simply wanted to walk away from being involved in anything creative.

I do enjoy setting up at shows, it bolsters the interactions and stories I get to hear.

Thankfully being around other colleagues and professionals stemmed any foolish decisions I most certainly entertained. Make no mistake, to define a path a progress for myself when my future seems so incredibly nebulous, makes decisions at a crossroad in life all that more painful.

Learning to fly...

I had an opportunity to have Marc Scheff, a man of interminable skills and capacity, as my career coach for a few months. If you are looking for someone that offers services and knowledge that can help you out personally and professionally, I recommend him highly. When a route seems darkened, often a guide who is familiar with what you will traverse, can help lighten the path and the load you bear.

Creating some personal work that broke rules I had set for myself, was really a release.

A lot of perspectives shifted for me during the weeks I participated in the sessions. I began to rediscover and learn more about myself. In ways I had never allowed myself to consider. I connected with a group of people in ways I wasn't really capable of anymore.

Being able to work through designs for clients during the coaching sessions was beyond helpful.

Something I began to celebrate was acknowledging when I am able to accomplish things that I am proud of. It's nothing I felt doing before, but it has helped me understand how far I've come along, and gives me examples of my ability to do things I'd wanted, and see them through.

  • I've learned Spanish, French, German, Italian, and Japanese for 30 minutes a day, for 513 days straight
  • I have been learning ASL for 212 days, and it's been one of the most rewarding things.
  • I started creating and learning animation a week ago, with the goal to have a video covering my year long journey from awkward beginning efforts to hopefully much better end results.
  • I have made every effort to push forward into the mental health challenges I have, to better understand myself and overcome so much of what has held me back
  • I have said no to less and less things in an effort to experience more in life, but with that comes the ever fragile component of work and life balance
  • Every morning, for the last 789 days, I practiced mindfulness as the first thing every morning, reminding myself of what brings joy into my life, what I'm grateful for, and what opportunities lay yet to be found
  • I've taken to reciting and enjoying the works of Shakespeare daily, and have done so now for 412 days.
  • I started relearning and practicing music from the most remedial level just a month ago
  • I've kept to meditating now at least 15 minutes every other day
  • A rekindled interest in archery has manifested, something I had forgotten how much I enjoyed when I was a youth around 19 years of age using an English Longbow. It turns out my first effort with a compound bow yielded 7 out of 8 arrows hitting a bullseye 
  • I touched a sea anemone and a sea cucumber for the first time ever
  • I started a daily bullet journal to track my habits for one year
  • I've now completed a few physical journals that go more indepth on things I really want to remember 

There have been other minutia and weekly goals including organizing and re-naming files on my hard drives for projects years down the road, reading more, and a few others, all of them small steps forward.

Nights of Lights and Memories...

Since I didn't do reviews of all of the shows I participated in this year, just allowing myself to be in that space, immersed in those moments had me enjoying things a lot more.

The KC RenFest has been a place of many happy memories for me over the years.

This last weekend, I once again visited the KC RenFest's Knights of Lights. It was great fun, and led to an unexpected meet up with an old acquaintance of mine that I had not seen in almost 20 years. After about 10 minutes of reintroduction and recollection, we were waist deep in conversation, swapping stories about days in the Society for Creative Anachronism, experiences at museums, times working as security guards, how life was treating us. It was almost a solid hour and a half of storytelling and laughter.

Almost 20 years is too long to let conversations continue.
It rounded out something that I made a point of really emphasizing this year. To focus in on forging new and good memories with people. Not just the few that I'll see from time to time at shows, but so many more that I've known over the years and have lost touch with.

One of the side effects of recording and writing about my life over the last 10 to 15 years, is that it becomes evident what has changed for myself. People have moved in and out of my life, jobs have ended, new ideas have come and gone, and sometimes sadness is involved in those aspects. 

I've spoken previously about the concept of mindfulness. That has allowed me to think about a day as it begins, which is important, become it's all too easy to become encumbered with being busy.

I did stay busy this year, tending to a small garden. It felt like time stretched out as watched the plants grow.

Sure there's something to a robust career, to be in demand, or just letting ourselves be weighed down with "to do lists", that we never make the time to think about the success we've garnered, nor the reality we sit within. It's an easy way to keep people at distance, and attempt to conjure a sense of being in control of our lives.

I'm certainly one of the people that spent the better part of his professional career letting go of all the free time I did have, chasing many dreams that were not my own. Many late hours in cubicles, some years I stayed working three jobs. There were so many more things that I could have done in regards to simply living more in the moment, and allowing myself to ask... What was I running from? Depression? Thinking responsibly? The passage of time?


I really pushed myself to reach out to people, creating new friendships, finding new clients, and most importantly, learning new things. But the concept of connections isn't just gaining, sometimes it's also losing them. I learned the not every connection in life is absolutely necessary, in fact some can be downright negative to have.

Connections can also be with one's surroundings, even ones you come across on a trip. Take that time to stop. Take a photo, a video, or just live in that moment.

The best ones are the most organic ones, that bloom forward from seeds planted in the gardens of our minds, when things like mutual interests, beliefs, or circumstances allow for us to embrace a wider world.

While out and about in Louisiana, I came across this. Reference discovered like this, ignites the mind. Already I had two or three story ideas running through my head.

I had to come to terms with the fact that I had started isolating myself as I wrestled with clinical depression for the last two or three years. I also had no less than 4 journal's worth of "receipts" that whether I liked it or not, stood as a chronicle of every moment I took. That can humble you really quickly, but it also gives a very transparent view into yourself. Toxic positivity is one of the most damaging things anyone can market or endure. For a long while, I practically had an intravenous flow of it, because of social media, the nature of conversations changing for the majority of people, and convincing myself that if I only focused in on the positive, that was key to a happy life.

Not even remotely close to how reality works... 

Know what's worse than social anxiety? Regret.

Days of despondency...

Tumultuous things continue to happen within the creative industry.

Even as I worked on my reproductions this year, I wondered to myself, how many more years will it be viable to be an illustrator? What will things be like for anyone in this industry in ten years?

The latest public corporate incident, came from Hasbro, who announced the letting go of 1,100 people this month, bringing the yearly total up to almost 2000 people. My heart goes out to all the people let go. It reminds me a lot of the hemorrhaging of positions that Hallmark had for so many years, the company is physically shrinking, it's down to two floors of operation at it's Kansas City headquarters. But I'm sure the CEOs and others are fine. Even if let go to show some PR damage control, the severances and stock portfolios they left with could have kept many employed.

The discussion of AI's place in any sort of creative space reached multiple fever pitches this year, and no doubt will reach an ever higher zenith of argument and morality play over the next few years. A few creatives, myself included, have already felt the initial hit of losing work to AI. The most sobering thing about all of this has been the slow infusion of it into the public mind, and the both defiant and unnervingly acceptable place that it occupies from it's staunchest defenders, to the average person that just wants cool things created without the hassle of an artist being involved. Many are calling this a fad that will fade. I think we have yet to see just how much damage this will end up doing to all creative outlets.

Rest in peace man, and thanks for the conversations and advice those years ago. [Image from BrianEwing's website.]
In more personal news, earlier this year in April, Brian Ewing, a fellow illustrator, metalhead, and all around fucking awesome guy passed away from colon cancer. I had the opportunity to meet him once or twice, (my memory fails me, I need to go back and look at my photos from Spectrum Fantastic Art Live) but in the short times that I got to speak with him he was soft spoken, but that fell to the wayside as soon as you witnessed his powerhouse talent and indelible skills as a creative. I've been very lucky  over the last decade, to meet some incredible heavyweights within the world of illustration. The vast majority have been kind, patient, and very open to sharing stories and knowledge.

Brian Ewing was absolutely one of the ones at the top of that list.

His passing earlier this year, was very much the catalyst that got me to start thinking about myself more seriously as a professional artist.

It reminded me that we don't know how much time we truly have. It gave me a foundation to stand upon again and take note as to what I want to accomplish. 

It's never easy when someone in our field passes on.

Those creative motions, that unique perspective within that individual, and the landscape of the mind, all fall silent, the remnants and memories now become stories told in fondness, echoing in the creations they left behind.

Fade into new...

As I've stated every single year that I have had any sort of online journal entry for the month of December, I don't believe in, nor appreciate the concept of New Year's resolutions.

I know that it works for other people, especially any owners of gyms that deal with about a month and a half of brand new memberships which have attendance fade away beginning halfway through the month of February. 

I always viewed it that new beginnings happen every day.

I spoke earlier about learning animation, this has been an effort that has involved watching YouTube tutorials, mining my memories and watching a lot of DVD extras of many of my childhood heroes who were animators. I made it a point to not wait until after the first of the year to begin my effort. Calendars were invented by us. So I thought I might as well invent a reason to not care about when I choose to start something, and not let it be held to a specific starting date. Today is always better than tomorrow unless we are talking about death.

It does no good to wait to begin something if the end result could be any one of the following, an effort that resulted in learning, a final product that may not be perfect but is finished, or when unique opportunities present themselves, even if they reside on the other side of barriers built up of fear, insecurity, and a reluctance to fail.

This entry took me the better part of three days to write.

Writing anything, not unlike living life, is very much, a work in progress.

For years I had fooled myself into thinking that there was this attainable plateau of perfection, or at the very least an acceptable mode of professional accomplishment that would cast a natural harmony over my life. 

One that would allow me to make no more wrong decisions, or at the very least have very little to lose if something went wrong. I'd be the first to tell you that growing up in the 80s and 90s, there was a particular expectation as to, if one simply applied themselves and had natural talents that rose above the others, there was no goal you could not attain.

No job you couldn't secure with a firm handshake.

And it took a few years for me to understand that many of the people I worked for, and indeed my own parents, were very much people that believed in those ideals.

Which unfortunately also meant that the vast majority of companies that exist today function on those sort of antiquated systems of reward and acknowledgement, so long as year end earnings consistently go up regardless of what else is happening in the world.

As I've gotten older it's become less and less important for me to accept things that are going wrong in the world. But I imagine like many of you who may also feel this way, how does change come about?

I've had debates over the years, many postulated on the positive interactions with aspects ranging from politics, to religious interaction, which raised so many varied reactions to sociopolitical, economic, and human rights, that it can seem like the world is at times filled with nothing but anger and insanity no matter where we look. The vast majority of society prefers for people to fit within preconceived notions and reduced down to numerical data. It's not as clinical as it sounds, we are engorged within it, as we scroll social media, adapt to trends and ideologies that are presented well in 4K video, are veneered over with marketing 24/7, and are willing to back the loudest representative of our more reserved or liberal thought processes, even if that person is the least informed person in the world. 

Influencer, politician, or holy man, they are all the the same...

I believe the scientific term for them is, moron.

It doesn't matter what angle any of the people who are calling the shots come from, it always seems that the vast majority of them, want what they want. Which means that the rest of the world suffers as we fight amongst ourselves, and they reap the money and returns.

I know what you're thinking, wow this shit got really heavy really fast. 

I think about everything I've written in this entry almost daily. If you don't believe me you should read my journals sometime. I'm hoping to put all of them together someday, and publish them, but also have them placed in a time capsule to leave a record of what an average person went through and their lifetime. Maybe it's because I feel that to speak out today, primarily can result in either reactions of ignorance or others simply ignoring. 

And when you're a visual artist, a performer, it can seem like the creative efforts you want to get out into the world may not matter. But they do, they truly do.

It matters if you're doing the best you can. Creative or not. Let me be clear, your job title doesn't define you. You're interactions with the world and the people you come across, do.

So for any of you reading this, I hope that today you'll pick up something that maybe you left behind because you didn't feel like you were good enough at it, I hope today that you'll realize you are the only one that can tell your story, And I hope that today you'll realize that you are far more than what any company could ever begin to define you as.

The strongest form of self love, is remaining dedicated to your dreams. It’s keeping that promise your past self pined for, current you is building discipline for, and is what future you is depending on.


Brian Ewing

KC Knights of Lights

Marc Scheff Coaching

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this blog, it sincerely means the world to me when I've had people talk to me about the stories and thoughts I share on here.
Remember to support artists and small businesses. Be kind to your fellow beings and always take the path less traveled. We all may live in times uncertain, but kindness, understanding, and believing in the good that is in most each and every one of us is what can bring about better days!

Mario, the Artisan Rogue
Illustrator, Voice Actor, Writer, Animal Rights Activist
-All photos, editorial content, created by me. One dude. Thank you for reading.-

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