The one where I forgot where I was going, and how I talked myself out of it

Night Driving by John Coy, illustrated by Peter McCarty

I’m prone to bouts of forgetfulness.

If I had a fight with someone, I’ll forget what it was a few days later. Major ones take a few weeks, but then I rarely have those sort of arguments anyway.

I’d forget about where I put things when I was younger, and I would be so frustrated with myself that I came up with a system to make sure that it didn’t happen again. I’d mentally take a snapshot of when I do certain things so that I can revisit them in my conscious archives to see where things were. I also wrote things down in a list. “Moved diary to first left drawer on the right – check there”. I’d label things I couldn’t see through – boxes, envelopes, etc., just so I wouldn’t lose sight of what was in them; even if they were literally out of sight.

I’d forget if I locked my car, or if I left the gate open (every dog owner’s nightmare) – so I double check every time. Having certain rituals and being in the present when I’m locking the gate or being aware of my actions as I twist the key to lock the car helps tremendously in reducing the panic attacks that come with the sudden realization of things I might have forgotten to do. Stuff that when forgotten, leads me to imagine bad stuff happening that would leave me worked up, time and time again, which then leads me to ask myself why I let myself do this to myself… yet AGAIN.

And yet, with all these tactical action plans to keep myself in check, something managed to slip through the cracks. A big one too. Sometime between November and January, I forgot about where I’m heading, why I’m here and what I’m supposed to do next.

With things that happen on a daily basis, it’s too easy to fall into a pattern. Life moves along at breakneck speed, especially when you’re just a passenger strapped on for the ride. Somehow between that time, my grip on the driver’s wheel loosened and instead of eyeing the road ahead, I found myself curled up, peering out the side window instead of navigating my journey.

It was scary. It was as though I was in a bit of a haze, with short-term amnesia in a land where everyone knew my name and my purpose but me. Apparently a bout of viral fever, stomach flu, coupled with a succession of flu hits does that to the mind and body; in addition to time tending to family obligations and lack of rest. What a way to ring in the new year!

But then I slowly began to pick up the pieces.

It started with a Skype interview for SmArt Mouth Creatives by Cotey Bucket (here’s the iTunes version). During a mock rehearsal that I orchestrated a day before the interview (everyone does this right?) I began to remember things about myself that I had seemingly forgotten. In the end, doing the podcast and being interviewed was fun, cathartic, and like any good therapy, it left me exhausted but thrilled at my own progress. We talked about how Pikaland began, and what drove Work/Art/Play (my online class that was held in September last year – Cotey was one of the students I worked with).

That same week, I was also scheduled to meet two local writers who were looking to interview me for my work at Pikaland. It was the first time that I was going to be covered in depth at a local level and I was a little nervous. My stomach does a little flip each time I get recognized at an event. I get embarrassed easily, not knowing what to do with the attention – although it’s always fun in the end, and I forget all about my anxiety soon after (I’m forgetful, remember? It’s a blessing and a curse at the same time).

So I sat down with them and they were curious about everything I did. I answered questions from how it all began, what the blog meant to me, what my goal was – everything that I thought my mind had blocked out came back to me in a torrential swoosh. We talked for almost 3 hours, locked in a dialogue that felt like a reset on my brain. The more I talked, the haze that blurred my vision slowly dissipated; and when it lifted, I could see clearly the road that was in front of me all along.

It turns out that I left my car on auto-drive while I sat at the passenger seat and took a long nap.

No longer.

My hands are firmly on the wheel, and I’m ready to go, baby*.

*Baby is what I fondly call my 15-year old car.

SHARE YOUR STORY:

Where are you at right now? Are you a passenger in a moving car or are you manning your own chariot? Have you ever felt lost in your journey? What did you do to get through it? I’d love to hear your personal stories and/or advice!

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[Illustration above: Night Driving by John Coy, illustrated by Peter McCarty]

Q+A: 5 tips for a stress-free social media experience

Hi Amy,

I am a recent illustration graduate from the UK. I’m already using Twitter and Facebook to spread the word about my work, but I’m not quite seeing the results that I am hoping for. And I have to say that I’m feeling really stressed at seeing other people’s pages and tweets – they make me feel pressured, almost as if it’s one big game of brown-nosing, and I’m not good at it, and I’m not sure if I can do it much longer. What should I do?
~ Qibby

Dear Qibby,

Your question prompted me to do a bit of research about introverts, and according to the Urban Dictionary, an introvert is defined as “a person who is energized by spending time alone. Often found in their homes, libraries, quiet parks that not many people know about, or other secluded places, introverts like to think and be alone.” [read more!] And what do you know? Although I’m an extrovert by nature, however I’m a social media introvert (I coined the term myself, ha!)

The thing is this: with social media, it can get really overwhelming really quick. I’m not sure if this holds true for other people, but it holds true for me. For the first 10 minutes in, it can get pretty fun: “oh look, so-and-so just got a new book out, hurrah!”; “you mean I can’t do that for a client, because it’s considered plagiarism? Bummer.” But leave me on for more than 15 minutes and I melt into a puddle of confusion and beleaguered with self-doubt that you’d have to scoop me off the floor in a cup. Give me a quiet space to work on my projects or put me in a room with people I don’t know, and I’ll work it just fine (with a few new friendships made along the way) – but social media? Uh-uh.

So instead of hiding away, for me, I think of it this way: it helps to think of social media as a way of connecting with others, and not merely brown-nosing! Think of how you’d usually connect with other people face-to-face. Taking it online is almost the same thing, where there are rules and etiquette to follow. I’d advise you not to think of what your friends or acquaintances are doing as “brown-nosing” it’s just a way that they’re connecting with others. The issue if how. Perhaps it’s the way they’re doing it that turns you off. But there are other ways that you can make yourself more comfortable with the idea of using social media – maybe my handy list of how to interact with others on social media will help you out:

TIP #1:
Don’t send tweets to other people where you’re clearly just talking about yourself and don’t care at all about the other person. You’ll just be ignored!

For example: “Hey @pikaland check out my portfolio – I think you’ll LOVE it!” Some people do this and wonder why they aren’t getting responses – and I’m here to tell you that there’s a reason why. A Twitter account isn’t a personal hotline to a client/blogger/editor at your disposal! Think of all the hair-tearing sessions where you wonder why you didn’t get that response from someone although you clearly tagged them on Twitter/Facebook/etc. Yup. If you didn’t know before, then I’m going to tell you now – CUT IT OUT. You’re better off sending a nice email instead. And make it personal. And don’t say I didn’t warn you.

TIP #2:
Be genuinely nice and helpful.

If you see someone on your list needing a bit of insight or help, jump at the chance to offer your time and expertise. People will remember you better and will thank you for taking the time to come to their aid.

TIP #3:

Don’t overdo it.

Space out time for yourself instead of hearing everyone else’s chatter online! We might trick ourselves into thinking that if we spend our time on social media then it’s time spent on “researching” or “keeping in touch” – but don’t lie to yourself, you’re going to feel sorry for yourself at the end, because I know what you’re really doing. You’re just sizing yourself up on competition and that’s not healthy at all!

From the article Age of Distraction: Why It’s Crucial for Students to Learn to Focus:

[quote] “If you have a big project, what you need to do every day is have a protected time so you can get work done,” Goleman said [Daniel Goleman is a psychologist and author of Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence and other books about social and emotional learning on KQED’s Forum program]. For his part, when he’s writing a book, Goleman goes to his studio where there is no email, no phone, nothing to distract him. He’ll work for several hours and then spend designated time responding to people afterwards. [/quote]

Hey it works for me, so it might just work for you!

TIP #4:

Separate your Twitter/Facebook friends into lists.

For example, you can filter your social media connections into media contacts, inspirational reads, friends, clients, etc. Doing so will help you keep track of different segments of your lists, especially those you feel are important to your growth as an artist, instead of just consuming everything all at once like a no-holds barred buffet bar. You’ll only get sick afterwards with no recollection of what you just consumed! Here’s help for Twitter, and here’s one for Facebook.

TIP #5:

Take it offline.

A lot of the connections I’ve made isn’t just online – they’re made offline as well. So go out and connect with other people from different fields. Start a new hobby (or get serious with a current one). The most important thing is that while the internet has made it easier to connect, it doesn’t automatically mean that it’s easy to make connections. You’ll need to spend some time to build relationships – and that applies to both offline and online.

And there you have it! If you follow these guidelines, you’ll slowly realize that social media isn’t the be all and end all for artists (especially if you’re like me, a social media introvert!) It’s just  a tool for you to reach out to your fans, friends and to help others understand you better. How you use it is up to you.

Good luck Qibby!

SHARE WITH US:

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by social media? If you have, what have you done to make it all easier for your sanity and productivity? If you have any tips for Qibby, I’d love to hear them in the comments!

{please note that Q’s are usually edited for clarity and conciseness, as the queries I get can get pretty long winded!}

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Creative exercise: Close your eyes to draw better

I did an assignment with my class the other day. I asked each of them to go and wash their hands because – get this – they’re going to be feeling their partners up. Without wanting a law suit on my hands (not a sexual harassment suit either) it was to be limited to faces, and whatever body parts that stood out (pardon the pun!) in their personality. So anything goes really – as long as things stayed decent. We were going to do a variation on blind contour drawings.

From Drawing from the right side of the brain, Donna Flood:

Kimon Nicolaides, in his 1941 book, “The Natural Way to Draw,” shows the pure contour method to improve a student’s use of both senses, sight and touch. He asked that they imagine they were touching the form as they worked. To go a step further on the tactile thought it was my practice to take an actual object of whatever the class was drawing. Pass the object around to the students and with touching it there was a stronger communication to their brain as to its qualities whether, soft, hard, furry, bumpy, crumbly, etc. For instance, right around you, the keys on your computer are hard, so is the material on your mouse, also the desk in front of you is hard.

At first I told them that it was fine to look at what they would be sketching, while touching their partner’s face at the same time. And what came out from that was nothing special – there was no spontaneity, and instead there was a lot of “should haves”; things that looked like they were supposed to. Roars of laughter filled the classroom as they began to touch each other for the first time (I’m just guessing here!)

As they got more comfortable, I gave them another experiment – that they close their eyes as they were feeling their partner up, and not look at what they draw (as opposed to having their eyes open and looking at what they were drawing.) The results were amazing.

So much of what they were drawing before their eyes were shut were rigid, and focused on stylistic elements that the students were used to. In their minds they had an idea of what an eye looked like. An ear. A nose. Hair. And they allowed their hands to conform to this idea that was in their minds – and they were frustrated at the result.

From WetCanvas, Carol Rosinski:

If you think about what you are drawing too much, you are likely to let your logical thinking brain tell you what it thinks the subject “should” look like. This is where a good deal of bad drawing comes from. When you draw a bad representation of something, it’s because you are drawing what your logical brain “thinks” the subject looks like and not what is truly there. To draw a subject accurately, you have to draw what is really there. Blind contour drawing makes your logical brain shut up for a while. It can’t try to step in and correct what it can’t see and it can’t see what your hand is drawing. So the outcome of all this blind contour drawing will be that your hand will learn to draw what your eyes are truly seeing by feeling the lines and angles of the subject. In addition, you will be recreating what you see on a different plane than your subject is in.

Prior to the exercise, a few students told me that they couldn’t draw, and that their work isn’t great – but what I saw was different. When they did the second exercise with their eyes closed, their lines became more fluid. It was unhurried, with lots of detail, and a sensitivity that wasn’t there before. The difference between their two drawings were shocking, at least to me; and I think they were surprised that they produced lines they only thought was possible by others; not them.

Now if you think that it wasn’t such a big deal, think of it this way: all those great sketches that you see online of artists sketchbooks? How many of you have wondered why yours don’t look at all like them? I bet my classroom at that point thought the same. But what came out of the second exercise was astonishing – their sketches were relaxed and confident. All of them. Well the ones who kept their eyes tightly shut and didn’t cheat anyway!

Remember when I was musing about how drawing reminds me of swimming? I told the class this little analogy before the class and most of them scratched their heads. They couldn’t quite imagine how it felt – and I didn’t blame them! After the exercise ended though, I asked them again, and they started to understand what I meant. The weightlessness of not knowing what would happen, and how working with your hands to allow yourself room to float without a care in the world – or to put it succinctly, the art of letting go.

The trick is to master this even when your eyes are open, and that’s when you’ll find yourself akin to soaring in water.

Instructions: Drawing with/without seeing

  1. Take a piece of clean paper (I prefer a larger size so that your hands can roam around)
  2. Take an object, or if you prefer, choose a partner so that you can “draw” their face
  3. Wash your hands thoroughly (especially if you’re going to be feeling up another person’s face!)
  4. Put your hands on your object/partner
  5. See and feel your object/partner. Trace their outlines, examine their texture and also the memories it brings back
  6. At the same time, draw what you see/feel on paper. You can lift your pencil/pen off the paper if you wish, or keep it a single line – try both and see!
  7. Repeat, but this time close your eyes so that you won’t know what you’re drawing.
  8. Compare your drawings.

If you did this experiment, I’d love to hear and see your results! Post them up on Flickr/Facebook/Instagram and send me the link through the comments!

[Image above: Shaded blind contour drawing by Kyle on Deviantart]

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If you like reading this post, think of all the goodness you could miss out on, just because you’re busy! I’ll make it easy for you to keep up by sending you an email once a week when I write something new. Cool? You can sign up over here!

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