Wednesday, December 22, 2010

2011 is Your Year!

As 2010 comes to a close, Monkey and Seal would like to thank everyone for their readership, for supporting us as we grow, and for being with us on our creative journey. We'll be taking a holiday break and resuming blog posts on January 5th, 2011. In the meantime, we'd like to encourage everyone to take a reflective moment to think back on this year and start up the new year with a bang!

It's a good habit to access: think about what you did well, what could be improved upon, and what you hope and dream for the future. Are you living the creative life you were meant to and deserved to live? What were some of your artistic triumphs? What are concrete changes and steps you can make even now, to clear up more space and time for your art? and the dreams you had long since held and yet to manifest? If you were the person you were meant to be in the most ideal environment and person, what would you accomplish? Now how can you get there, with what you have?

Start as you are now. Wherever you are, with whatever you are feeling, and who you are now. Begin it now.

We are hesitant only because in the past we have broken so many resolutions and promises. That unfinished project, the unused clothes rotting away in the closet, that weight loss program we failed to stick to, that job we failed to go after. The mere thought of planning brings about shame and disappointments. But let us tell you a little secret: human beings since the beginning of time are biologically geared to inaction. It is natural to do nothing, rather than create, or exercise, or get up and do things. We like our cave, we survive in the cave. But this is all the more reason for why we need plans. We need resolution. We need re-commitments.

Make the choice right now, at this very moment to re-commit to an adventurous life.

The other secret to resolutions and planning, is that life is an ocean. As a navigator who charts your path in life, you constantly need to re-assess and adjust to the waves and changes in weather. Sure, you got off track with that "blank," (job, project, relationship, program, etc.) but simply, without any drama, get out your compass, find your course, and adjust your sails to put yourself back on track. The resolutions that fail are the ones that are rigid and unforgiving. It'd be easier to take small steps and allow for some slips, rather than charging and having an inflexible plan.

We know that taking action is scary - what if we fail? What if something goes amiss? Well, two things to keep in mind are 1)How bad can it really be if you fail, and 2)Failure is what success are born out of. Most empires aren't built on their first try. Rowland Hussey Macy (of Macy's the department store fame), started four stores which all failed before getting it right with what would eventually come to be a department store empire boasting over 800 stores across the nation. Even Abraham Lincoln ended up failing twice at a run for Senate before he managed to get elected as the President who would lead the country through the Civil War and oh, just completely end slavery in the United States.

Fear is natural and healthy (especially if you're being chased by wolverines), but as paralyzing as it can be at times, we need to learn to dissolve it and choose to take action. As much as we hope we inspire you with our blog and our workshops, we can't drag you out of your cave and make you create. We can't force you to apply for that job, or watch over you while you paint. All we can do is invite you to take the next step with us and commit to action. 2011 can be your year, so take hold of it and let's create something wonderful together!

Monkey + Seal are planning on bringing more guides, more workshops, and more cool stuff in 2011, and we'd like you to be right there along with us. So take a break (or two), spend some time with people you like, and we'll see you bright and early in the next year!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Making Your Stop-Doing List

While we all have our daily "to-do" lists, we sometimes advocate that people should come up with a "stop-doing" list. Just as important as getting the important work done is weaning oneself off of bad habits and reprogramming your brain to follow more productive habits.

While the occasional jaunt down the information superhighway is just fine and dandy, and thanks to Google a lot of reference is just a click away (although if at all possible, we recommend using your own reference), spending hours playing Zuma Blitz (*cough Monkey cough*) doesn't do anyone any good.

While we totally support fun little breaks and the like, we just want to address any major bad habits - and nowadays, many of these habits end up in the form of constant Facebook browsing or randomly selecting wikipedia articles to read.

Creating a stop-doing list is a good way to honestly evaluate what sort of behaviors and habits aren't working for you. If you're doing well and you're finding time to get everything done, then great. But if you aren't, it may be wise to evaluate how much time you're really putting into your work and how much time you're putting into reading Gawker or the Onion.

If you aren't sure what needs to go onto your Stop-Doing list, perhaps you should try to take notes on your day. How much time are you REALLY spending on your painting? How much time are you spending on marketing? Playing video games? Watching TV? Once you start taking notes of when you start and stop doing things, the picture becomes a lot clearer, especially when you figure out that your break has lasted for an hour and a half.

If you're doing everything that you want to be doing, maybe try making a Do-Less-Of list instead. That way you can more properly realign your priorities. Maybe take the comic book reading down from an hour to fifteen minutes a day. Maybe take out watching that extra TV show that you watch just because it's after your favorite crime drama. That's an extra hour and a half that you could spend working.

Alternatively, if you're hustling non-stop, maybe you might need to take it down a notch so you can actually enjoy life. Instead of spending that extra fifteen minutes writing an extra blog post, you could spend that time catching up with a friend.

We're not productivity fascists that want you to overwork yourself. The main point about budgeting your time and making evaluations about what you're spending your time on is to really think about what is necessary and focus on that. Whether you're overworked or overplayed, finding the right balance in your life is what it's all about.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Taking Advice for What It's Worth

It's sort of a funny thing to give people the advice to question advice, but that's what we're here to do today. So make sure you even take this with a grain of salt.

You see, Monkey + Seal are big fans of taking advice and well-meaning suggestions and that sort of thing in context. Why? Because no one knows you like you know yourself (in theory..sometimes Monkey thinks Seal knows him better than he knows himself). Often times Monkey + Seal will buy information products (ie. books or e-books or guides) to help further their knowledge base. However, we know that not everything everyone says will exactly apply to us.

While it might be nice to start up an e-business that can make us $30k a year in a few months of really hard work, it's not really what we do. We'd much rather go the arguably harder route of doing silly things like making pictures and selling them, and teaching other artists about how they can do the same. Sometimes business models just don't work for us or our plans, and we just learn from them and move on. Sometimes they will provide a valuable insight on how we can adapt our own plans in an innovative way - but either way, we have to evaluate the information for ourselves.

An example of "advice" that artists often hear which can be totally contradictory revolves around pricing. Many of us have heard the story of that one artist who "suddenly" raises their prices to astronomical rates and becomes the biggest thing around. If we take this at face value, then shouldn't we all start selling 16x20 paintings for $4000? Alternatively, we hear that we need to lower our prices as in a struggling economy, a "luxury" item like art needs to come down in price as people don't have as much money to spend. Faced with these conflicting pieces of information, do we raise or lower our prices?

Well, it depends. The artist who suddenly had the price jump in their paintings probably suddenly went from showing in a cafe to showing in a well-established gallery. The gallery wouldn't let you charge $200 for a 16x20 since it's not worth their wallspace, while if you're showing in a cafe you probably won't run into someone willing to drop $4000 on a painting (but then again it also depends where you are). Alternatively, if you're already selling work and you lower your price, suddenly collectors might think that you're devaluing your work and then people might stop buying altogether.

The correct answer is that it depends on you. We can't answer all the questions for you, but can only advice you really exploring and figuring out if any given piece of information is right for you and your situation. We can always (and will) let you know what has worked for us, but you have to take that information and figure out if it'll work for you in your situation.

All in all, the message to take home is that there are no easy answers. Without sitting down and talking one-on-one with you, most guides and books will only take you so far (although sometimes you'll find a writer who works perfect for you!). It's up to you to sift through the advice and get to what is your own personal answer. Good luck!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Coaching Your Inner Artist

Illustration Friday Painting by Seal

On the days you want to quit most, there is a tiny voice inside of each of us that says, "You can still do this." "All is not lost." "What if we try this." or "That might be interesting." And on the days you succeed, it congratulates you. "Way to go!" "I knew you could do it." "That wasn't so bad."

If you have ever played a sport, cheering on your artistic endeavors is much like being a sports coach. Different challenges call for different tactics, and as the coach of your inner artist, you have to know your team and you have to know what you're up against. Are you a procrastinator? Timid artist who doesn't like to pitch their ideas in person? Do you have a great batting average, but only when you've had enough sleep? As artists, we need to be our own coach. We need to know what it is we need, what is holding us back, and the tips and game play we need to move forward with our art. If you are a procrastinator, find out why art is so painful for you, find ways to manage expectations and time for projects. If you are shy about selling your own art, hire an agent/manager, enroll in speech class, or practice in front of a friend or in the shower. If you are the type who can't do anything creative until you have that nap, then gosh darn it, take that nap and fully rest or decide to push through.

Every day, from the moment you wake up, there are many negative obstacles blocking you from creating that day. Your friend calls to have lunch, then lunch turns to an entire afternoon. Your painting is left un-touched. You finally wrote that novel and the publisher who promised you great advance on royalty, decided in the end that they had a "better candidate in mind." Your art rival is making headway and landing the job, that you applied for. The cat needed to be fed first before you craft. etc. etc. As artists, we tend to be very giving with our time. Too giving. But since we cannot build a wall around ourselves and we choose to live this life with the people in it, we must learn to center ourselves and coach ourselves back to focus "on the game," our love, that is art.

So how do we do this? First of all, as our own creative coach, we need to know our team. We must be very honest with ourselves and fess up to our biggest culprit. What is the most negative anti-creative force in your life right now? Do you spend too much time dilly dallying? To tell you the truth, Seal is a workaholic. She keeps herself very busy. Too busy, in fact, to work on her own personal art. Because, YES, it is much easier to work on everything else, except her personal art -- because it is personal. And personal means, we are invested, we must pour our hearts out. And that is scary!

What is your worst creative enemy? As your very own inner creative coach, how do you get yourself off the bench and into the game of creating?

Some coaches Coax: "C'mon, you can do it. Come out kitty kitty"
use Bribery: "If you paint today, I'll reward you with 1 hour reading time."
Pushing/Prodding: "You're almost at the finish line. Now push through it!" (You're almost finished with that novel!"
Tough Love: "No more excuses, you are going to create, right now."
Threats (doesn't work for Seal, but perhaps others might respond to this method): "Sew this plush toy now, or else (you'll get a late dinner, etc, etc.)
Compromise/ baby steps: "If you do this now, then I will . . . " "Okay, how about just 15 minutes of creativity today"

They all work to some degree, it's just about finding out which ones work for you best and for what circumstances. For example, Seal really hates being threatened. She will react in the opposite and shut down instead. "Then, fine. I won't create at all." And there are days when she needs to be pushed with tough love, rather than coaxed. Only you know, what you truly need.

As a coach, you are a dreamer ("the big game"), a realist (we are 5th in the league, but not dead last, nor the best team), a practitioner (you are also the artist that knows the game best). You must employ equip yourself with supportive resources and must be ready to pull up any number of repertoire of tricks up your sleeve to get you to play your best in your art.

Every day you will have to review your plan, chart your course, and create. Every day you will sit with rejection, disappointment, and successes. Every day you will re-evaluate and re-commit yourself to your craft. And never forget to always celebrate your successes, however big or small. Will you take on the meaningful task at hand?

We believe you will. After all, inside each one of us, is an artist and dreamer at heart.


For further reading: Eric Maisel's Coaching the Artist Within

Friday, December 10, 2010

Managing Expectations

Monkey + Seal hold ourselves up to high expectations. While this is usually a good thing to strive and work and bust your behind to make it to the top, it's always a good thing to make a clear distinction in what expectations you hold to yourself. That distinction is doing your absolute best, and doing your best given the circumstances.

The difference is that your absolute best is probably a near-impossible level of work to keep up with any sort of consistency. If you were doing your best 100% of the time, you wouldn't have time to eat, sleep, or do anything that is remotely relaxing. Your stress levels would be so high you wouldn't be digesting your food (assuming you ate anything). It's an unrealistic expectation.

This is not to say that you shouldn't try, or that you shouldn't push yourself. Especially with working with clients and deadlines, sometimes you do have to push past what you think you can do and do that 30-hour day, or finish those five paintings in twelve hours. However, when you work yourself that hard, you're going to burn out. The crash isn't fun, and the whole experience generally isn't that fun either.

What you should aim for is that you do your very best given the circumstances. If you forgot the box of your highest selling comic and only brought the old stuff that no one buys, you can't expect to do the sales that you would have. But, you can do your very best given the circumstances and figure out how to sell what you do have. Or you can lose an hour of sales to leave and go get the comics. Or you could buy some paper and a pen and start selling one-of-a-kind comics that you draw there and then.

Basically, while we strongly promote setting lofty goals and expectations, make sure you realize that sometimes life doesn't always work out the way you want it to, but you shouldn't let those bumps derail you. Do not let missing a mark end your career. Use the missed goal as a learning experience, and as long as you did the best you could given the circumstances, you can walk away knowing that you did all that you could.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Help Us Help You

Hi everyone! Monkey here. I just wanted to remind you all tomorrow night is Big Umbrella Studio's grand re-opening! I'll have 9 new paintings up, and we'll be on hand selling our ties and prints and shirts. We'll also be live printing the t-shirt version of Panda Rage (see above), as well as a new single color shirt design of a cat-fish, illustrated by Ms. Eve Skylar herself. There will also be treats from Sweet As Pie Bakery (an up-n-coming local bakery), live painting, and some great art on the walls. It's tomorrow night (Thursday) from 5-10pm at 906 1/2 Divisadero St x McAllister!

Anyhoo, so I just wanted to take the time today to instead of blab about a bunch of stuff, to instead ask you, our readers, about what YOU want from us. I'm itching to put out another guide, but I'd like to know what kind of guide is going to help you out the most.

Specifically, I'd like to know if you had your way (regarding art and creating art and being an artist), what type of free e-guide would you like us to make for YOU. What do you want to see?

Do you want more info on marketing? How to approach craft fairs? Pricing? Interviews with other successful artists? Whatever you'd like, we want to know what it is. Along with that, what are your greatest fears/concerns/issues that you're facing regarding art? We'd like to be able to help out with that, so we need to know the problem so we can address it. That said, what is your ideal outcome (ie. what would you like our next guide to help you achieve?)

Are you having trouble making time to create and would like the outcome to be more consistent creating? Maybe you're scared of making an online shop and want to end up with your own Whatever it is, let us know!

So please let us know a)what guide you'd like us to custom create for YOU, b)the issues that you're frustrated with or are most scared of, and c)what your ideal outcome would be after getting our guide.

We'd really love you to put your answers in the comments below, as I have a feeling that a lot of people are going to be concerned about the same thing, but if it's a bit scary, we'd love to hear back from you via email, or you could even facebook message us! Thanks!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Big Umbrella Studios! Bazaar Bizarre!

Yay! Lots of Monkey + Seal action coming up this week! We're going to be vending at two different shows this week (!) and we'd love to see you there! Both are free to attend, so we'd love you to stop by and say hi!

The first is going to be at Big Umbrella Studios at 906 1/2 Divisadero St (x McAllister) this Thursday (the 9th!). Not only will we unveil our new workshop program for 2010, but there will be some live painting, and Monkey + Seal will not only have set up shop, but there should be some other great stuff for sale by the other artists!

Additionally, we'll be doing live screen printing for a new shirt design! Fancy! Hint: If you want to bring your own shirt (as opposed to buying one from us), we'll knock $8 off the regular shirt price! We would probably recommend a red shirt. Especially if you like angry pandas...

The Big Umbrella Show goes from 5-10 and we'd love to see you there!

And for everyone who wants to shop handmade + local this holiday season, we'll be vending at Bazaar Bizarre this weekend! It'll be at Fort Mason in the Herbst Pavillion on Saturday the 11th from 12-5, and Sunday the 12th from 12-6. The show is free and there will be over 150 vendors to choose from - holy moly! We, of course, would love to see you at the Monkey + Seal booth, but you should definitely check out some of the other awesome vendors.

There is also a pretty awesome Cocktails and Crafts party Saturday from 7-10pm at the same location where there will be hands-on workshops, and tons of sweeeeet goodies! Tickets for this special event are $10 and you can buy them here.

Just to avoid confusion: During the day, it's free, during the night, you gotta sign-up and pay. Yay! Oh, that rhymes...

Anyway, we'd love to see you at the show so please drop by and say hi!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Savoring Time

(Illustration Friday Topic: Savour)

Seal here:

This week, Seal participated in Illustration Friday, a great online resource where artists can be inspired by weekly art challenges and build a creative community. The topic for this week was "Savour."

It really made me think about the idea of time: how to savour it. Time is used: to do what we enjoy doing (art), what we don't like doing but have to do (work/errands), resting (sleeping or taking breaks), or escaping (when you don't even remember what you did the last two hours, like video games, browsing the internet, or watching tv reruns - you can't even remember what you watched).

So how can we honor time? How can we savour it? How can we make use of it, whether we are creating, working, resting, or escaping, in the most effective manner? When I say "effective," I don't mean in a militant-rigid type of way, but that it's enjoyable, that you are present, and aware that you are DOING something. (Resting/breaking also count, they are also verbs, you are (do-ing) rest-ing/ sleep-ing.)

Time is flexible and pliable. Activities can either "take up a lot of time" or "we forget about time," something dreadful or dreamy feels "like forever" and other things go by in an instant ("where does the time go?" we ask ourselves).

In order to make use of our time, we need to take a look at the word: Savour.

Sa.vour. -
To appreciate fully; enjoy or relish
A distinctive quality or sensation
[to taste] (life)
The power to excite interest

Savour is a sexy word. How many of us appreciate our day and time fully? Actually smell and taste our morning coffee? Do you taste life? Are you excited? Engaged and interested in the work you are doing throughout your day? When we are creating, working, resting, or escaping, do you make the conscious decision: "this is how I will spend my next 15min, hour, half a day, a week on 'X'" ?

When we taste something and are aware of its specific distinctive qualities (a juicy, textured ripe orange), or when we are passionately interested in something, (painting the difference between the soft fur of a cat, the coldness of shiny metal, the exact curve and idiosyncratic expression of our lover's face), for that moment, we stop time. We are aware, present, enjoying, and savouring. We do not care what else is happening outside, we are engaged with life. Time is well spent.

How do you spend your time? Are you savouring it? Draw a circle. It is your pie/ pizza chart. You have 24 hours in a day: What percentage of your day is used for 1) things you like to do 2) things you don't like to do 3) resting 4) escaping? You can even draw a different chart with your own personal categories: I have one that divides: 1) Time spent on art 2) work 3) health 4) friends/ family 5) personal enrichment 6) break/ resting activities 7) entertainment. How much of your lifetime is spent on doing things you love?

Don't be alarmed if most of your pie slice consists of work or doing things for other people. (Most pie charts are unfortunately like this). The answer is to free up more time to do more of what you love. (hire an intern, a maid, a friend to do your busywork, say "no" to more workload, move into your career field, get paid to do what you love doing).

If you cannot free up more time, the trick is to savour the moment, even when you are working or doing something you don't necessarily want to do. In order to do this, you need to consciously make the decision to use that time in a specific way. "I am working from 9-4pm."

When you are conscious of the decision to use your time in a specific way, you give yourself the agency and awareness - you are choosing to do this. When it's time to work, you work. Don't daydream about your next vacation - you'll slow down the process. Get it over with and then when the time comes, you can fully enjoy your vacation. "I am resting for 30minutes before the next project." I am consciously fully resting for the entirety of 30 minutes, instead of juggling eating dinner while still working by the computer, I am enjoying and savoring my rest. You can work more efficiently after you have fully rested. Otherwise, your body will continue to run, but your mind and soul have already checked out- which is often why life feels like a blur.

When you name your time, you give yourself the permission to fully engage in that activity - you are savoring.

The last tip is you need to create personal goals in all aspects of your life.
"to contribute more at work meetings"
"enter more art competitions and craft shows"
"call friends more"
"surprise my partner, by taking out the trash first"

You can savour time, when you consciously engage to work for yourself, to mark changes in your personal growth, to choose to be present in life, no matter the activity or circumstances.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Tooting Your Horn x Chillin Productions!

There are so many factors that makes for a successful and renown artist: timing, subject matter, connections, art competitions, peers, subjective judgment, talent, and even luck. As artists we are quick to attribute our success to any of the factors accept ourselves. We are afraid to toot our own horn and take credit for all the hard work, time, energy and money we put into our work. We are afraid of being judged as "egotistical."

On the other extreme, we have artists who are quick to butt into every conversation and talk about what they did, and how great they are, and how much they contributed to the project. They ramble on and on about how awesome they are without ever stopping to take a breath or ask you your opinion and just start listing off names of other established artists who they know. Totally obnoxious and annoying.

However, there is a happy medium between being too timid and being an egotistical jerkwad. After all, in the art field, it often necessary to toot our own horn. But there is a difference between bragging (the good kind) and being an asshat. Because what we create is very personal and a reflection of what is in our imagination, we are often afraid to really talk about our own work as in essence we're talking about ourselves. However, we highly encourage you talking about your own work, but you can't get lost in your own ego.

That said, time for some cheerful bragging: So about 5-6 years ago, Monkey got invited out into the city with some friends who had heard about this event at some nightclub where there were hundreds of artists, fashion designers, with live painting and music. Although he's typically not the nightclub type of guy, because it was art, he was in. It was a huge venue with tons of awesome art, cool music, and it was a lot of fun! Even back then (this was waaay before art school, mind you), Monkey was inspired.

Fast forward a few years. Monkey hears about Chillin' Productions, and realizes that this is the VERY SAME event (well, different artists and such, but you get the idea) that he had been to so many years ago. He contacts the organizer, shows the Monkey + Seal portfolio, and although we can't make it into the next show due to a schedule conflict, we're in with the organizer, and about four months later, we're signed up for the Holiday Show!

So, after a few years of waiting, this Saturday, Monkey and Seal's art will be displayed at the
Chillin’ Productions' annual Holiday show! Woot!

Over 200 Painters/Photographers
80 fashion Designers
Video Installations

Live Painting by:
Rachel Znerold
Jasper Thomas
Daryoush Bahar (

Live Music and DJ.

When: Saturday, December 4, 2010

Where: Mezzanine
444 Jessie Street, SF CA 94103
$10 at the door
Must be 21 + ID

For more details go to

It should be a pretty awesome show, and we're definitely looking forward to checking out all the other awesome art and enjoying some drinks, good music, and good people. We hope to see you there!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Change of Perspective

Hello everyone! We hope you all had a good holiday this past Thursday! Sorry for the lack of a post on Friday..we announced in on twitter, but we realized a bit late that not all our readers follow our blog... (doh!) Many apologies!

Anyhoo, while we get ready for a few different shows (we'll be hanging work and hanging out at Chillin' Production's upcoming holiday show on 12/4 at Mezzanine, vending at Big Umbrella Studio's newest show on the 9th, and we'll be at Bazaar Bizarre Holiday at Fort Mason on the 11th and 12th), here's a little something for when you feel like you're running a bit low on inspiration.

When you're running low on inspiration, a great way to get your creative juices flowing is to take something you've been currently working on and turn it on it's head. What we mean by that is taking something familiar (and that you might be getting bored with), and trying to retell it from a different point of view.

If you're telling a story about a man who sits on a chair, try retelling the story from the perspective of the chair! If you paint portraits of cats, try taking one of your favorite pieces and then paint what the cat in that portrait was looking at. If you write music, try playing a piece you've written backwards.

This technique works great as it's something utterly familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. You'll learn new things about the original piece you're basing your new creation upon, and you'll find yourself challenged by thinking in a way that you don't usually think. At the very least, you'll have something new that will challenge your conventions (which is usually just the thing to inspire you anew).

Changing up your perspective is a great tool to teach you new things about yourself, your subject, and the way that you look at things. It'll push and challenge your thinking and frame of reference, and it might even inspire a whole new body of work! Try it and let us know how it goes!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Giving Thanks

While we're not huge fans of the traditional Thanksgiving turkey dinner (Monkey's vegan and Seal's vegetarian), we do appreciate the holiday as a chance to reflect on all the things that we have to be thankful for.

Whether it's a nice and cozy (although sometimes cluttered) Monkey + Seal cave to live/paint in, or the fact that we get paid to be creative, Monkey + Seal both have a lot to be thankful for. We're definitely thankful that we have the privilege of being able to keep up this blog, and that we have a super group of readers out there who support us. Thus, as a little thank you, we're going to offer 20% off everything in our Etsy store from today (Wednesday, 12am PST) to Friday the 26th, 11:59 PST. When you check out, use the coupon code: "tofurkey" to get your discount!

While Thanksgiving is a great time to reflect on all the things in life that we generally take for granted, we believe that there should be more Thanksgivings - maybe one every month! We find it's always a good idea to reflect once and a while to put things in perspective, especially when things are looking tough. Sure, we might not have that "perfect" art job, or we might be having a creative block where weren't not even making art, but at least we have a roof over our heads, food in our tummies, and the privilege of being able to connect to others via the internet.

So take the time to give thanks for all the awesomeness in your life, and we'd like to thank you, our readers, our customers, and our friends and family for supporting our creative endeavors and helping us thrive!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Let loose

Sometimes you just need to go ahead and draw whatever comes to mind. In our case, we decided to do some collaborative drawings one night and this came out. We were both drawing on the same sheet of bristol at the same time, and somehow this managed to come out. Monkey then digitally colored it, and here you go.

More importantly, we often hold these rigid rules in our head that dictate how/what/when we should draw, or paint, or do anything. Sometimes you need to just throw it all to the wind and let something weird come out.

If anything, you can tell that we had a lot of fun doing this piece, and we hope to do many more like this. We're not going to worry how the art comes out - as long as we're creating and having fun doing it, that's what it's all about. Keep loose and who knows, something awesome could come out!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Follow Your Instincts

In today's crazy over-exposed media-saturated world, we generally have so many competing voices in our head, it's a bit difficult to follow your own natural instincts. However, listening to your essential self and figuring out what you really want or need to do is key in developing your artistic voice.

While at times we might force ourselves to paint or draw because we think that we need to constantly paint or draw in order to advance our craft, or because you have an illustration due, or a gallery show coming up, but if at all possible, you should try to create when you want.

Monkey deals with this often, as he constantly waits until the last minute to suddenly have a burst of creative energy (usually out of desperation) that will burn him out. He will put the business aspect of making art first, and then two nights before he has to hang he'll be up both nights painting non-stop. Monkey definitely wants to get over this, so he can be more sustainable and not have these do-or-die situations (that generally aren't that fatal in the first place).

Sometimes it'll be late at night, and you'll really want to paint. Follow your instinct! Get up and paint even if it's late at night, or you're tired, or whatever whatever. Alternatively, if you think you really should be painting, but you don't really feel creative, or you just aren't in the mood, don't! Take a break! You don't want your art to be that dreaded, boring, painful thing that you HAVE to do. Ideally, if you set up a regular routine and create on a schedule, eventually you'll have enough time where you can take breaks even if you have deadlines.

All in all, make sure you do what you have to do to get your work done, but make sure that you're in touch with your inner self and follow your instincts!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Are You a First Generation Artist?

Are you a first-generation artist? What I mean is: have you had parents, grandparents, or a close relative who passed on to you the secrets to being a successful artist? If you were lucky, I hope you were able to answer “yes” to the above question. But for most of us, the truth is, we’re probably the first artists in our family/ community. That, in itself makes it difficult to pursue art. If “life was a race,” not only were you way behind the starting line, you also had a ball-and-chain on your leg.

When I told my high school counselor that I wanted to be an art director, she nearly laughed and said, “Well, we don’t really have a program for that kind of thing. . . Have you thought of a more sustainable occupation, like being a nurse? Or a mechanic? There are always jobs in that field.”

I grew up in small working town. My high school had electives for trade jobs, such as trainings for nurses and mechanics. The school offered one art class in 8th grade, where you can learn how to doodle your name in bubble letters and cut out images from old National Geographic magazines for collages. However, if I wanted a profession in government, law, or science, they had special AP/ Honors courses and teachers were quick to point you in the direction of known schools for such endeavors: Berkeley, Yale, Columbia, etc. They might even offer to transfer you to a more aspiring prep school. But if I asked them, “How do I become an artist?” “What kind of training should I get” “Where should I go” they didn’t know what to tell me. It is difficult, even now, to find our tribe as artists. To find an environment in which you belong that fosters your success as an artist.

Our society already has its ideas about what it means to be an artist: Goals are measured by numbers and statistics. Academic intelligence is favored instead of creative ingenuity. Also, we have very conflicting views about what it means to be a successful artist. It is often labeled synonymously with “mainstream sellouts.” It’s no wonder, that we find it very hard to even begin pursuing art.

Let me describe to you the necessary components that make for a successful person. The following list below is paraphrased from author and motivational speaker, Barbara Sher, who has compiled a thorough list). It is important to uncover our early associations with art and success. Do any of the following apply to you?

1) Since birth, were you always treated as if you had creative ingenuity, a special and unique creative contribution?

2) Were you told you could be anything? (If you told them you wanted to be a janitor cleaning underneath the sewers of New York or become a burlesque Las Vegas dancer, were you encouraged? Supported? Helped? Did you get the message “you can be anything” directly or indirectly?

3) Were you encouraged to explore all aspects of your dreams? ALL of them. And if your dreams changed were you still supported without caution, or dissuasion? (This also applies along gender roles: if you were a “girl” and wanted to do contact “extreme” sports/construction work/president of the United States were you encouraged? Or if you were a “boy” and wanted to be a dancer/baker/fashion designer were you encouraged?)

4) Did you receive help? If they did not know how to help you, did they “look it up” or offered to find your other means of resources? (“let’s go to the library” “I know a friend who’s an artist, let me introduce you” etc.)

5) If you failed, how did they respond? Were you helped without reproach? Were you allowed to complain? Listened to without judgment? (Many women are often offered “help” with a condescending “don’t you worry you’re pretty little head” “you can just quit and come home, darling.” Or “there’s always marriage . . .” as if these were good helpful alternatives to your dreams.) (And many men are encouraged to bulldoze their way to success without complaints “pick yourself by your bootstraps, lads!” “don’t be a sissy and get out there!”)

6) When you were successful, were you celebrated? Congratulated? Were you surrounded by other successful winners who were pleased with you? Or were you met with jealously and or guilt?

7) Are your dreams in line with or different than what you feel is expected of you? Do you feel that you have met your family/ cultural/ national expectations?

8) Finally, are you the first generation of artists in your immediate family? If you have an “artistic problem to solve,” do you have someone you can come to unreserved?

Having truthfully answer all the questions above will give you a better insight as to the road that was paved for you since early childhood and explain why it may be difficult now as an adult to follow the path of an artist. I certainly hope that you are able to say yes to all of the above. But if you didn’t, it doesn’t make you less of an artist. It is very sad and unfair to not have received early encouragements to be an artist. No one told you or guided you on “how to get there.” Even if they wanted to help you, they didn’t know how. You probably lacked the resources, generational experience, and support. (If you had family members who were an alumni of UC Berkeley, you were probably, though not always, equipped with the knowledge of how to fill out the application, the expectations of the admissions jury, and were constantly reminded of the potential that it’s VERY possible for you. Which is why it is hard to be a successful artist. You are the first of your generation; you are the first to try something new. It’s not impossible; you just don’t have the right map. Forgive yourself.

It simply means, we need to find the right resources and recover your artist now! In order to unlock the ball and chain and send you running down the hill, you’ll need a big push. x Remember, the environment components that make up successful winners are also full of winners. We need to get you everything on that list NOW! Friends, family, mentors who are genuinely supportive of you, can help you find the resources you need, and help to buffer the generation gap of being the first artist in the family. If you don’t have physical people to help you, Seal has also taken on artist heroes, literary heroes . . . when she is creating, Miyazaki, Van Gogh, and James Dean are cheering her on. When she experiences failure, they comfort her and remind her that the path of an artist is a difficult one, but very worthwhile. If not heroes, she finds a community of artists by joining animation forums, sketch clubs, a gathering of her tribe who believe in her competence and creative endeavors.

If you haven’t had the support to become the artist you are meant to be, it is all the more reason to pursue it NOW. You are creative and what you create has meaning.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Revisions: It'll All Part of the Process! or You Don't Have to Do it Perfectly the First Time!

You need to do revisions, and that's that.

Most people don't like to hear this. We would rather imagine that creativity is done 1) quickly 2) effortlessly 3) painlessly 4) perfectly, without any second draft, revisions, stagnation, re-dos, or breaks.

Perhaps, we even have an image of the creative genius artist, living somewhere in a remote cabin, completely and utterly devoted to their art: who wakes up at 5am and pines away at the canvas for 10 hours, without food or break . . . the novel churns itself out. Some painter somewhere, perhaps your peers or rivals, are happily, elegantly, making the next best hit, while you are wrestling with the question: should I create today?

But the truth is, we all need revisions. There is no perfection! Sure, maybe, perhaps there is one out of the billion who has the genius to create at whim and have a perfect masterpiece painting, novel, or comic book inked on the first draft, without any decisions to include, exclude -- to delete, or add another sentence or brush stroke here . . . (although I very much doubt such artists exists.) But for most of us, the rest of us, we have to deal with sentences or brush strokes that we, yes, sometimes hate. You artwork can sometimes be painful, awkward, plodding ugly ducklings. But does that mean we should stop and put our brushes away? Call it a day or a year even, and take up an endeavor that comes more easily to us? Of course not.

"Yes, it is early; yes, this is a draft; yes, the beauty will appear in the revising" (Eric Maisel).

Revisions are part of the process. As a creative artist, you need to honor the process, the positive triumphs along with their ugly duckling stages. A great novel is created through countless of revisions. A great painting style is achieved through countless experimentation and thousands of sketches that very often, the public will never see. A great artist is built upon the continual committed encounters between yourself and the canvas every day, especially on the days that you want to run away most from your art.

This worrying, this fussing, and frustration - a change here, move this sentence here, or that color there - it's all part of the process.

And the truth is, even the "masters" we admire did revisions. Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, Michelangelo, Raphael, even our contemporaries. Brahms, spent 14 years completing his Symphony no.1., in its entirety, it is a 45 minute piece,but when you listen to the music, not a second is wasted - the revisions were well- spent. In 2007, they found Michelangelo's sketches for the dome of St Peter's Basilica. Some of his tattered sketches of the Sistine Chapel also exist. Not surprisingly, some were carefully drawn, some re-drawn, there were some stray marks here and there. And the proportion on some of the figures - surprise! not perfect. He was notorious for burning his sketches. So of course, for a long time, we did not know that it was part of his process. Don't get me wrong, he was a very talented man and his artwork is absolutely masterful. But it is because he spent the process of revisions that the sketches became masterful.

Art is a process of becoming.

Will you honor the steps of creating? Will you face your art in all of its stages?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Building Momentum

Momentum in a project is always great. It helps pull you along, the fun and easy parts become even more fun and easy, and the hard parts seem no-so bad and they end up being a lot less painful than you initially thought. Riding the momentum feels great, but the problem always lies with finding that momentum in the first place.

In our experiences, momentum seems to come if we're lucky - most of the time you end up trudging along, and then sometimes things get better, sometimes they don't. However, we've found that the secret to constantly gaining momentum is by taking lots of little steps.

Even if what you're doing is sort of painful, like doing an illustration of something you hate for a client that's underpaying you, or having to design your great-aunt's business cards - for free, by taking lots of little steps, you'll eventually find that doing more and more little steps is easier and easier, and before you know it, you'll be done.

Breaking down steps into even smaller steps always helps, as the more tiny little tasks you finish, the more accomplished you feel, and the more momentum you'll build. The key is tiny, tiny tasks. The more painful the project, the smaller the tasks should be. If you're really struggling, you can make the tasks as simple as "get out sketchbook." Next task: "find pencil." Next task: "draw a monster for warm up." Take a break, make getting a beverage of your choice the next task. In this way, you can tell your brain "Hey look, I've already got four things done already! This is easy!"

Don't focus on what you have left to do, but what you've already done. When silk screening large orders of shirts, it's never fun to look at the huge pile of boxes and think, "Wow, I've still got 750 shirts to print." It's way more motivating to say "Wow, I've already printed 250 shirts, and it's still early!"

That said, if you're working on a project you like, still keep the steps in manageable portions. That way it won't go from "fun" to "overwhelming," which is how a lot of our projects can get if we don't make sure we're on top it.

So whether you're working on something you hate or you love, make sure to build momentum by taking small steps and you'll find that you'll finish quicker, have more fun, and you'll be (many) steps closer to taking over the world!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Invincible is Only a Word, The Best is Just a Title

Recently Monkey + Seal have really gotten into reading the manga Vagabond, by Inoue Takehiko. It follows the life story of Miyamoto Musashi, the legendary swordsman who wrote The Book of the Five Rings. It has influenced many of the current mangas (One Piece, Bleach) that we follow now.

Long story short, it's an awesome samurai story, with lots of samurai philosophy mixed in with crazy fight sequences. However, in collection 4, there's a very philosophical part where the protagonist is trying to wrap his head around the idea of the "invincible" swordsman. [Spoiler alert!!] If you're wondering what this has to do with art (besides being an awesome comic), keep reading, and we'll get to it.

So Musashi comes upon a super-tall mountain. He then climbs it barehanded because he "wants to see what's at the top." So while he's climbing this crazy mountain, he analyzes the recent events that have transpired, one of which is meeting an old, reportedly invincible swordsmaster whose sheer presence unnerved Musashi. As Musashi climbs, he tries to figure out what it means to be invincible.

When he finally reaches the peak of the mountain, he can't help but laugh as he finds that at this height he sees that there are many more mountains, and others that are taller than him. He realizes that no matter how high you climb, there are other mountains that are higher, and that "invincible" is just a word.

Some might call it fate, but just as Monkey was reading this, he was having an art crisis. Frustrated that he's not where he wanted to be in art, and that the hard work required was getting weary, Monkey wanted success and fame and to "be the best" immediately.

However, after reading the manga, Monkey realized something. No matter how big, no matter how famous, there's always someone on top. And when you are on the very, very top, there's still your own personal best to vanquish. So, instead of agonizing over "not being there yet," Monkey realized that the point of life is not to immediately and easily crush all competition. The point of life is to enjoy the ride and not to compare oneself or your accomplishments to others. Continue to strive for your own personal best and constantly hone your skill.

When the goal of becoming the world's greatest artist starts to overshadow the fun and wonder of creating art, that's when you need to take a step back and re-evaluate what you're doing. Yes, it's awesome and amazing and cool to get commissioned by a collector, or to land an awesome illustration account, or to win a gold award in the Society of Illustrator's annual. But, if you're not having fun creating the art, then really, what's the point? If the status or money is really what it's about you might as well be a software engineer (or some other high-paying profession) if you're going to hate your job anyway.

Titles are just that, titles. Really, at the end of the day, art should be fun, not a chore. Yes, it's hard work constantly creating, but we've found that studies and experimentation really helps break up the monotony and keeps the art from being a tedious trial to something invigorating and fun. "The Best" is just a title, so stop stressing over it and have some fun!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Take a Break

Recently Monkey got sick. Not incredibly sick, but he had a pounding headache when he got home from his job selling paper and he was feeling a bit warm, and he ended up going to sleep by 7pm, which is a rarity for most people, but even rarer for someone who usually doesn't get to sleep until the 3-5am range.

Monkey was primarily dehydrated, and with a build-up of stress, lack of sleep, and just a case of working too hard for too long, eventually crashed. While he recovered fairly quickly (yay!) it was a harsh wake-up call. Monkey + Seal tend to overwork themselves, and sometimes they need reminders that breaks are a necessary part of life. As much as we might think we need to constantly work night after night, hour after hour (and admittedly, sometimes we do), we don't need to do it endlessly. Working like this is crazy and unsustainable.

If anyone can attest to this, it's Monkey. For many years, Monkey would be constantly almost-sick, where he might not feel good, but he would power through everything and anything. Then, every year, around November, he would get deathly ill. Like 110 degree fever, vomiting, aches, headaches, shakes, chills, congestion, trouble breathing, deathly ill. Then he would be forced to take a week or so on the easy side before he could get up and running again and then the cycle would continue.

These days, Monkey has wised up a bit. He tends to feel colds and such coming on sort of early, and if he take responsible actions he can usually fend it off. Responsible actions generally means laying off the beer, sleeping sort of early (1-2am), and taking some breaks from work.

Basically, Monkey + Seal have learned that breaks are necessary. Breaks help prevent carpel tunnel syndrome, it helps keep your artist muscles from decomposing, it helps you keep your health. While you shouldn't let huge periods of non-work go on in the name of breaks, you should also not let huge periods of work go on without some sort of interruption.

With proper time management, hopefully you won't have to work non-stop. Make sure that you budget in proper breaks and points to rest so you don't wear down your mind and body. Many times, we've also found that when it's 3am and you've been working on painting the same thing over and over again and it's just not coming out right, taking a short rest, or napping for 10 minutes can do a world of good and we've sat back down to paint that same piece nearly immediately. When we were in art school, there had also been many times of us staying up all night painting for an assignment, then when we walk into class we immediately notice all the things wrong with the painting. We would then proceed to whip out our paints and make a few adjustments here and there and suddenly would improve it quite a bit.

So, for the sake of you mind, your body, your health, and your work, take a break!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Be Creative . . . While you Sleep!

Did you know, that when you are asleep, your brain is firing off cells as if it is still awake? Recently, Monkey + Seal were listening to a podcast by Radio Lab about "sleep and dreams". When a rat runs through a maze during the day, when he goes to sleep, his brain is firing off the same information as if he is going through the same maze! Each turn, each jump, everything - his physical and mental experience, the brain recorded it and played it back to-the-dot in his dreams. When the rat ran two different mazes during the day, when he slept, he dreamt of "a mix-and-match" parts of both mazes.

Meaning: when we dream at night, we free-associate and create new meanings from all of the experiences we had ever lived through.

Well, what's this got to do with being an artist you might be thinking? 1.) If we are creating in our sleep, then . . .You can also use your dreams to solve your artistic problems/questions. Write your question at night before you go to bed, "what shall I create tomorrow" or "should I paint that dog blue or red?" "how shall I end this novel?" etc. You'll be surprised. Trust us, it works. Most likely you'll find that an answer is presented to you when you wake up. (Don't forget to write it down!)

So, we use our dreams for creativity, what else? If we repeat the similar experiences of our waking moments even when we are asleep . . .We can solve an even bigger life problem. What if your life experience has been filled with past disappointments, broken dreams, and unfulfilled creativity? Wouldn't you, then, keep playing the same negative record over and over again in your biological cells when you sleep?

Science would say: Yes.

The same would be true if you filled your everyday life with creativity, love, and meaning-making efforts. You would then dream of the same encouraging dose of positive energy.

Seal recently tried this experiment out on herself. And it works. Prior to listening to this podcast, Seal mainly dreamed of harsh critics, being stunted in her art, and of scarcity. Because, unfortunately up until a few years ago, that's all she had ever known. So for the past couple of nights, she decided to give it a try. During the day she painted, whether she was feeling like it or not. She went on adventures, drank pumpkin spiced latte, attended a storytelling performance, filled her life with more creative endeavors. Before she went to bed at night, she would meditate on the positive experiences of the day while breathing deeply. In the morning, when she woke up, she felt immediately the surge to face her easel right away. This is new, since it usually takes several hours for Seal to get out of bed and into creative mode. The new change also allows Seal to have more clarity during the day. She can hear the positive voice getting stronger with each day - that voice that says, "you're enough" and "why don't we try that" or "that could be fun."

Have you ever noted how you feel, the very moment you wake up? Are you filled with energy? Are you ready to create? To face your paper and the easel? Or do you feel sluggish, un-rested, and un-creative? Isn't it then worth it to spend our efforts in making new, creative experiences in order to re-live them in our dreams, in order to feel refreshed and ready for more creativity?

The very second you are "awake" is the moment of a very important decision: will you create today? Will you make meaning today?

MonkeyandSeal hopes you are creative during the day and dreaming of creativity at night. Isn't your dreams worth trying?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Pursuing Your Dream

Monkey + Seal, as you probably know by now, are pursuing their dreams of living their lives as financially successful artists who are able to change the world (for the better) through their art. In the very subjective art world that is usually only interested in sure-sales (after all, who goes into the business to not make money?), this can be difficult.

Most people grow up learning that art doesn't pay the bills, that professions like engineering or medicine or law are the way to go, since they're higher-paying jobs. Acting is too competitive. Dancers don't make money. Artists are always "starving." With such a background, we get asked (and sometimes we ask ourselves) "How do you do it? How do you follow a dream that seems impossible?"

The super-cool, quotable movie-one-liner is "How do you not?" (and then we put on our sunglasses and walk away, with the person asking the question totally dumbfounded and cut scene to us back in the studio painting). In all seriousness though, it's really the honest answer.

To abandon one's dream, to give up what you want to do with your life is an incredibly difficult choice. While we often think that it's not a choice, that it's the safe, responsible, socially-approved way of going about life, it is a choice. It's a choice that goes against your inner you; it defies your core self and is a constant day-to-day battle. If you're unhappy at your job, because you'd rather be doing something else, it's obvious that you're not doing what you really want to be doing, because let us tell you that if you're doing what you love, it doesn't seem like work.

If we hated painting and making art and screenprinting, we wouldn't keep doing it even after working a day job then coming home and doing laundry and cooking dinner and ohwaitwhyisitalready2am and then still deciding to break out the paints. We wouldn't spend three days reworking our webstore, or using our savings to buy t-shirts to print on, or show at craft fairs without sleeping if it wasn't what we really truly loved.

Doing all that stuff, which seems crazy and difficult, is still crazy and difficult, but we do it because in the end, it's working towards our dream. Is it scary at times? Oh most definitely. But what we find more scary than trying and maybe failing is not trying - after all, not trying has a 100% rate of failure.

If we have kids, we never want to force them into following a dream because we never chased it. At the end of the day, failure is okay. Failing is learning what didn't work so you can make it work next time. Failure is more experience. Not trying..well, not trying is nothing to write home about, and that lingering "what if" will always be there, haunting you.

Following your dream is scary, but what is scarier is the thought of growing old and having regrets. When faced with these two options, what will you choose?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Create in the Midst of Chaos

Sometimes life "gets to us." We are always in the midst of chaos, in the middle of "to-do lists," deadlines, and laundry. Yet at the same time, we still MUST create. It is a difficult balance. Most people do not do it. Most people come to four types of conclusion:

1.) They do not create at all. (A terrible tragedy.)
2.) They create sporadically, only when the timing, the mood, the inspiration hits, when all circumstances fall into place. (This is not only very rare, it is also very impractical and you become at the mercy and whim of fate.)
3.) They create, but not very deeply. Just skidding the surface, the potential of the artist you are meant to be. They half-heartedly create. They remain on the outskirts of their skills, and subject matter.
4.) Or They withdraw from life, they break up with their spouses, withdraw from friends, hobbies, any and all pursuit except for art. (This is also very extreme and in the long-run very damaging to your creativity. As all creativity stems for being engaged with life).

Although the above four solutions are possible, very easily doable, they all prevent you from both fully living and fully creating. So how do artists create in the middle of life, in the midst of chaos?

For starters, name what you are "in the middle of."

For example, Seal is in the middle of:
multiple deadlines
physical tiredness
not enough sleep
fear of failure
fear of not finding the right style in her art, etc.
continual freelance
growing pains in her experimental skill sets

Now that you have listed your chaos. How do you plan to continue creating despite of it? You have to find your own answers for that because each answer will be different and personal.

For Seal, art needs to be a priority for her. Her laundry, dishes, and friends wait, until she creates first thing in the morning. Then afterward, she will address her emails and call her friends. She doesn't withdraw from life, but she lets the people closest to her understand that she loves them and at the same time, there will be hours or days before phone calls are returned.

Seal also likes the AA saying, "suit up and show up" regardless of what's going on in your life. Meaning: show up on the page. Paint, draw, doodle - something - regardless of what you're feeling and having to do that day. (acknowledge your feeling "I feel blah, I don't want to paint" but convert it into action, "but I will anyways" "I will create today.")

State you intention and do it! "I will write for 15minutes before I go to work." A novel is made with one word at a time.

Other creative solutions people have come up with is: paying friends to do the laundry for you while you paint.

Quiet the chaos. Center your mind and body and focus on the intention of creating. Most seeming "emergencies" can wait until you create.

Remember to be gentle with yourself, this is a daily practice that gets better each time!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Happy Halloween!

So rather than watch the Giants' game last night, Monkey + Seal took a little break from their art and headed to downtown San Francisco to the Asian Art Museum for their last Matcha event of the year. Matcha is an evening-type event that happens every other month from February-October at the museum, and features a cash bar, entry into their special exhibits (which usually requires a special ticket), and performances and art making activities and other fun stuff.

This was our first Matcha, and at $10, it was definitely a steal. We got there late since Monkey had to work, but we got to breeze through the museum and check out some really awesome art from around Asia. We then caught up with a large group to hear the last story being told by a docent in the gallery.

Then, we hit up the main event of the evening. The amazing storytelling/music duo of Brenda Wong Aoki and Mark Izu (and company). Blending fusion jazz with theatrical storytelling, "Mermaid Meat" was AWESOME. It was really inspiring to see the spoken story being brought to new dimensions by a dramatic telling with the creepy atmospheric hauntings of the music. If you read this in time, they're actually doing what I assume to be a similar show on October 31 at Yoshi's San Francisco.

We then checked out the Beyond Golden Clouds exhibit, which featured a lot of old-skool Japanese folding screens. Both Seal and Monkey were inspired by the expertise of the brushwork, and with one screen in particular that seemed to master the economy of line, hinting at mountains and rivers shrouded in a bank of fog with the slightest value changes and brush strokes.

We saw another mini-concert/performance by Brenda, Mark and Co., and then we sped off to grab some dinner. Overall it was an awesome night, and we couldn't really beat the show for the $10 ticket price. Woo!

Because we're inspired by the mood of the season, we've decided to share with you a little scary story we've co-written (it's kind of long for a blog post, just be warned!). Enjoy and have a happy Halloween! We are proud to present: The White Door

On Sam's way home from work, he would generally keep to the same route, down Lincoln, right at the corner store, down two blocks on Woodsbury, and then left onto Ausiel, which took him past a few blocks of old Victorians til he got to his apartment. He deviated from this route rarely, only if he needed to pick something up from the dry cleaner's of perhaps some limes at the corner store.

One day, on a unremarkable day like any other, as he walked down Ausiel he looked up and noticed a door he had never seen before. Granted, he didn't look up focusing on noticing strange doors on a daily basis, but he noticed that at the peak of a house, presumably where the attic might be, lay a strange, whitish door that was left ajar.

At first, Sam though he had seen a dim light in the room casting strange shadows about. Although the door had no strange markings besides a round-ish crystalline knob and a shiny white finish, Sam couldn't get it out of his head when he went to sleep that night.

The door didn't quite make sense. It seemed to jut out into open space - why would you make a door leading to a four-story fall? If it was just for decoration, then why was it a full door and not a window?

That night, as Sam slept, he saw the door, closer this time, as if he was flying. This time, a strange greenish light seeped out and as he approached the door a black cat suddenly jumped out and hissed at him, waking him just as his alarm clock was about to go off.

As the days turned into weeks into months, Sam would occasionally glance up towards the door, and it seemed to always be open, almost beckoning for him to enter. While he didn't even know how he could get up there, he was quite curious, but never curious enough to take any sort of action.

Soon it was October, and with the crisp fall air sweeping through the streets and talk of Halloween costumes filling the water cooler chatter. The month quickly flew by, and with Halloween falling on a Saturday that year, parties were being thrown left and right.

Sam, dressed as a scarecrow, decided to venture with his friend Paul to check out a few different parties to celebrate Halloween. After staying longer than expected at a nearby bar, he found that he and Paul were unexpectedly close to his house. While things were already getting a bit loopy after the shots at the bar, Sam was relieved when they walked back on Ausiel to what was familiar territory for Sam.

As he waited with Paul and some other guests outside the apartment complex to get buzzed in, Sam was suddenly hit with a jolt of familiarity. The apartment building looked really, really familiar to him. As the buzzer went off and the gate was opened, he realized he was at the same building that had that strange door on its roof.

As Sam went in, he suddenly felt the urge to climb the stairs to see if he could finally find out what was going on with the strange door, but Paul threw his arm around his shoulder and led him into a ground-floor apartment.

"Whose party is this?" Sam asked. Paul just shrugged and informed him that it was the resident manager's apartment, but that the guy was a friend of a friend. As Paul scampered off to procure some more drinks, Sam absently rode the buzz and started looking around. The apartment wasn't lit very well, and dark curtains hung from every corner, dividing the room. Fake cobwebs were strung up upon bookshelves and on cheap prop candelabras decorating table tops.

As Sam made his way deeper into the party, pushing past the billowing black curtains and costumed guests towards what he assumed was a bathroom. When he finally found the door he assumed to be a bathroom, he pushed it open to find that it was actually some sort of closet. It was only a few square feet, but surprisingly, it was nearly empty, save for some long black coats that hung from a clothing bar stretched across the width of the closet.

What surprised Sam even more was that in the darkness, he could see light oozing out of a crack in the back wall of the closet. He looked back to see if he was being watched, but all he saw were guests dancing and completely engaged in their conversations. He stepped forward and found that the back wall wasn't a wall at all, it was a door. A door he had seen before every day on his way home from work.

Sam's pulse started to race and emboldened by the alcohol in his system he closed the closet door behind him and started groping into the closet, gently pushing away the coats. His hand ran against smooth, porcelain-like molding until he came to what found what he was looking for. As soon as his hand wrapped around the door handle, he knew it was the same door. Crystalline door handle set in an ornate steel locking mechanism, smooth porcelain finish, Sam had seen it a thousand times before and just feeling it in his hand, he could see it even in the dark.

As Sam slowly turned the handle and stepped past the hanging clothes, he found himself in a narrow passageway, seemingly between the walls of the apartment building. Naked wooden beams and posts surrounded him, foam insulation sprayed on either side of him. A bare lightbulb hung from a ceiling too high to see and disappeared into the darkness above him.

Sam slowly progressed down the claustrophobic hall, noting that he could hear sounds of the party through the thin walls. He came upon a rickety wooden staircase that ascended upwards into darkness. As he took careful step after careful step, he could hear sounds of other apartments now, horror movies being watched, other parties, bed creaks and moaning. He climbed the stairs for what seemed like a lot longer than he should have been able to, but he pressed on in the dim light.

Sam came suddenly to a dead-end. Was this it? Was this just some strange coincidence that led him to a wall of nothingness? It took a while for Sam to realize that he hadn't come to a dead end, but that the stairs simply turned to the left, as if it was spiraling up around the perimeter of the apartment building.

Sam continued to climb, this time in near darkness. As he stepped through the murky black, he wondered if this was some cruel trick - that eventually up here in the dark recesses of the building the stairs would just give in and he would tumble down to his doom, fated to be rot in the walls like some rat. But the stairs were study, and Sam continued to climb.

As time passed, Sam began to get confused. Was he really so drunk that he couldn't tell how far he had walked? He wasn't sure how many steps a flight of stairs would take to traverse the side of a building, but he had been walking for what seemed like a while, and he had already turned with the stairs five times now. Sam figured that he was, at the very least, above the entrance to the corridor, but the sheer height of it didn't quite make sense. He felt as if he had been walked up ten to fifteen stories worth of stairs, but the building was only four stories tall. He had made it a point to count out how many floors of windows the building had on multiple occasions.

Just as he was about to give up and turn back, through the darkness came a faint light, as if it was creeping through a door just slightly ajar. Suddenly Sam's resolve was back and he climbed on, slowing his pace so he would make less noise as he approached the pinnacle of the stairs. As the distance between them shrank, Sam noticed that it didn't seem to be made of porcelain. It was a bit too shiny, I looked more like polished bone.

Sam nearly laughed out loud at this thought, thinking it would be too absurd and impossible to find a bone large enough to carve an entire door out of. Just then, he could hear a strange chanting going on behind the door. As he neared, he attempted to slowly peek through the door, but leaning forward put off his sense of balance and as he stuck his hands out to brace himself, he ended up pushing the door in forcefully and stumbling inside.

Once inside, it took his eyes a while to adjust. Bright lights were directed towards the middle of the room where a metal table lay. After Sam rubbed his eyes, he found he was in a room with a tall, hooded man with deep-set cheekbones and old eyes. The man stepped foward and extended his hand. "Welcome Sam. I see you finally found the door you've been looking for."

" do you know my name?" Sam looked around, suddenly noticing that there were others in the room, all cloaked with their hoods obscuring their faces. "I'm really sorry to burst in like this, but you see.."

"Oh, we know all about you Sam," spoke the tall man. He motioned for Sam to follow him and walked towards the center of the room. "We know that you've been dying to know what this room is, and how it can exist where it does." Sam was speechless. "Do you know what floor you're on, Sam?"

"Uh, I dunno," stammered Sam, taken aback by the tall man's knowledge of him. "We're in the attic, above the sixth floor?"

"Nice try, but how about the thirtieth floor?" The tall man smiled, the creases of his lips extending a bit farther up on his face than a normal human's smile should Sam stepped back, hesitantly.

The tall man continued. "Sam, I could try to explain to you how the door works, or how we're on the thirtieth floor in a four story building, or I could even explain to you what new door we're actually trying to open, but instead.." Sam suddenly realized that two of the shadowy figures had snuck behind him, and they quickly grabbed him by his arms.

Sam struggled to free himself, but someone else had already grabbed his shoulders and was trying to hold him still. Then there were hands on either side of his head, and a sharp sting in his neck. His captors suddenly let go. Sam stumbled forward, then backwards, and suddenly found himself sitting in a chair. "But instead," the tall man took a step closer to Sam, "I'm just going to show you."

"Sam, you are going to be part of this little experiment tonight. If you hadn't realized, it's just about midnight, so we really should get started." The tall man reached into his cape and slowly drew out a long, thin knife. "I apologize that the drug we just gave you only interrupts your voluntary motor control. You won't be able to talk, or scream, for that matter, but the unfortunately part is that you will most definitely be able to feel."

Sam's body felt like a dead weight. His head became heavy and he sank deeper into his chair. He tried to scream for help, but his body wouldn't listen. Two of the figures lifted Sam up and started to carry him towards the center of the room. "Well, Sam, it's time for us to say good-bye. We really hate to do this to you, but you know what they say, curiosity skinned the cat. Yes, yes, I know the saying is that curiosity killed the cat, but I've never met a creature that really survives too long after being skinned alive, you know? Say 'meow.'"

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

How to deal with Anxiety as an Artist

Seal here:
In the pursuit of your artistic endeavor, you may have probably come across anxiety revolving your art. As an artist you may be plagued in different areas or stages in the act of creativity. It can be towards the beginning: anxiety about what painting subjects to choose. So many stories to write. So many paintings to do! Where do I even begin. It can be in the middle of creating: "oh my god, where is this going?" "what was I trying to say in the first place" "will I find the strength and courage to finish this?" It can be towards the end of finishing a piece: "now that it's done, it'll be judged" "I"ll have to show it to people" "I'll have to try to sell it" Even in sports and theater, people have a name for it: performance anxiety.

Anxiety, not handled or minimized can and seriously hamper our creativity. It can even cause people to stop creating altogether. It can be paralyzing and become a misdirected self- guilt towards our own inaction. So, how can we make it better? How can we deal with anxiety?

Let's break it down: What is anxiety and what causes it? Anxiety is our body's system response to a PERCEIVED or REAL threat/stress. There is the physiological aspect to it: sweating, muscle tension, shakiness. Our body shuts down our digestive system and any access to carbohydrates (our normal way of getting daily energy), and instead our brain activates adrenaline and expends our stored emergency energy. For a short period, we may experience a burst of fight or flight response, but overtime our body wears out, unable to access our normal carbohydrates, we get tired, we crash and burn. It is not sustainable. It is not meant to be.

First, we need to understand that there is are positive and negative responses to anxiety. When we are faced with a "real threat," such as a lion who is charging at us, our anxiety becomes a positive (a much needed) respond, we run really quickly or climb a tree - anything to relieve us from the immediate and very real danger ahead of us.

How about when anxiety takes hold of us in our art: Whether we start painting A or painting B first. Does it pose a threat? to our life? career? or daily existence? Does it matter what we choose? In the grand scheme of things, yes, of course it matters - because you have to paint something that you like and is true to who you are, but will it kill you if you make the wrong choice?

So if you scored a never-before-heard-of contract with a gallery, it seems almost too good to be true. You get an uneasy feeling in your gut. Is it a real threat? We don't know.

Each anxiety must be evaluated individually: Is this a real or perceived threat? And only you ultimately can answer that in each case.

So do the research. You keep calling the gallery to make an appointment and no one ever returns your calls. You ask to visit the gallery ahead of time and they ask that you deposit your paintings first. Then, . . . probably, your anxieties were well-placed and had probably saved you. OR You find out that the gallery had great reputation among your well-known artist friends, you were nervous mainly about having to show your work, not about the gallery itself, then perhaps your anxiety is misplaced.

So what if we find out the threat was perceived, that it doesn't really kill us to choose Painting A or Painting B, but we still have anxiety about choosing, working on the art, or finishing the art. What we can teach you is how to minimize, handle, and ask the right questions in regards to each anxiety.

  1. First, grow in your awareness and acknowledgment of your own anxious thoughts/actions in regards to art. Seal gets very nervous before starting a painting.
  2. Voice out WHY you are anxious, What is it in particular that makes your nervous? : Seal grew up with critical people in her life, she is afraid that every piece of artwork is bad. She is afraid that she doesn't have good ideas, that she's not creative enough.
  3. How does the anxiety manifest itself? Seal has to have multiple cups of tea, stalling and procrastinating before putting any marks on the canvas. She goes on Facebook or checks her email multiple times, just stalling. Her negative anxiety of inaction begin a downward spiral in her mind, and she shuts down.
  4. If you know that this anxiety is recurring (every time Seal starts a painting), just knowing and anticipating the known anxiety is helpful. Given the circumstances, how would you, personally, minimize and deal with your own repeating anxiety? Seal braces herself: Okay, I'm going to have my 2 cups of tea, but no more. After 30 minutes of procrastinating, on Facebook, I will start. When I hear the negative self talk start, I will put a halt on it: I'm doing good. My ideas are good. I am creative. I have everything I need right now, in order to create.
  5. Scientists have pointed out that there are also two more ways to relieve stress/anxiety in general: you can physically take out your stress on something else (punching someone- not recommended, but you can buy a punching bag and it is shown to have the same impact in lowering anxiety.
  6. Also, taking action, ANY action (jogging, talking to friends on the phone, listening to music) immediately lowers stress, whether that action is directly correlated or not to solving your initial problem. (But afterward, tackle your art! There is a difference between initially relieving your stress with chronic avoidance).
Hope you know that as an artist, you are not alone. Many people deal with anxiety, most especially artists, because we are often putting our hearts out on our sleeves. But in the end, despite the fear, the agonizing pain, and anxious turmoil, when you have completed and created that art - hadn't it all been worth it?