Thursday, December 20, 2012

End of the Year Reflection

Hi Friends!

This will be our last post for 2012. Hope everyone has had a wonderful year, and we'll see you with new adventures in 2013!

As with every end of the year, we'd like to take stock of everything that's happened within the last year and reflect/ appreciate/ and celebrate the challenges and growth it took for us to be here today.  We also want to share with you our dreams and goals/themes for the next year.

Seal's accomplishments:
  • Worked on 3 films: a feature film, a cg animated short, and a live action short that involved giant green screens and riding a fast moving contraption down Embarcadero.
  • Skyace Wasteland (personal graphic novel/ animation) 1st chapter written
  • The Daughter and the Ogre (graphic novel) full story written & storyboarded
  • Learned incorporating Gouache & Watercolor in concept art
  • Painted 3 colorscripts
  • Gallery Show in March: Rusted Souls at 1AM
  • New painting techniques experimented with since July, finally came to fruition in December.

Monkey's accomplishments:
  • Dark Wizard's One-Stop Shop new concept/ story
  • Big Umbrella Studios reaches its 2 years with current owners
  • Design and printed for Facebook.
  • Invited to speak at Alumni Artist/Freelancer Panel
  • Story Collection: White Mask, (list, etc).
  • Learned how to paint on windows
  • Invited to live-paint at RAW SF. twice!
  • Revamped website and integrated blog

Monkey + Seal's accomplishments
  • Our very first out of state show among out heroes and legends at Spectrum Live! in Kansas City, Missouri
  • Our very first out of city show in Sacramento
  • J-Pop Show (July at Big Umbrella Studios)
  • New Tshirt Design "Not Bad, Just Different"
  • Taught drawing class to artists/ designers from Apple, Inc.
  • Both of us were invited to live paint for Hyphen magazine's 10 year anniversary
  • upgraded display with new IKEA tie racks
  • Broke our personal records at every show this year: Zinefest, A.P.E., and BazBiz Holiday Show
  • Started showcasing originals at live craft shows
  • Protested city college's closing of Fort Mason campus

While we've had a lot of great accomplishments, we've also had our share of trials and tribulations as well.  Over 2012 we've dealt with fights with colleagues, deaths in the family, financial strain, and countless bouts of self-doubt, fear, procrastination, and other self-destructive behavior.  Regardless, we count ourselves extremely lucky that we're able to continue to do what we love to do, and that we can continue to support and inspire other artists to do the same.

We've recently realized that instead of focusing on single goals (single markers of accomplishment that will always be surpassed), we should instead be focusing on themes (ongoing processes that are enjoyable and that bring you happiness).

Our Themes for 2013:
Monkey: "I will create more personal work and put more of my artwork and vision into the world. I want to find and cultivate a larger audience for my dark/horror inspired art and to somehow give back to my community of artists."

Seal: "I will continue story development for films and concept art with my awesome team. I'll develop more personal work/ direction (ie. graphic novel/ story writing/ painting series) and will cultivate the art community. I also will find more inspiring people and projects to work on."

Instead of making New Year's Resolutions, we'd like to encourage you to choose a theme that you'd like to pursue.  Instead of "draw everyday" (which, if you miss a single day, you feel guilty about breaking your commitment and you give up), think about "be sustainably more creative."  Instead of "I want a million dollars," think "I will create a source or sources of income that will allow me to sustainably grow my standard of living."  Goals are finite, and if you reach them, you have to make new goals.  Themes, on the other hand, are larger pursuits which will find you achieving your goals along the way.

So if you have any suggestions or ideas that could help us along with our themes, we'd love to hear from you.  And we'd love to hear some themes that you're thinking of taking up in 2013.  By taking the leap and putting it down in the comments, you're much more likely to follow through.  Let's make 2013 our year to shine!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

You Must Not Quit Yourself

"When I was in high school I was advised that it's difficult to have an occupation doing something you like, and that it's good to do something you somewhat like. I went against this advice, and now I'm glad that I did. If I only somewhat liked this work, I'm sure I would have quit by now. Doing what you like equals yourself, and you must not quit yourself." - Takehiko Inoue
Seal here.

Today I wanted to share the words of wisdom from one of my favorite manga writer/ artist, Takehiko Inoue. He is best known for the successful manga/comic sagas: the basketball manga Slam Dunk and the wandering swordsman manga, Vagabond. They have both been made into anime, tv drama series, and life action films.

Often times, Seal is racked by her past "failures." Mainly that it took me so long just to acknowledge that my true dream was art, and that I was an artist, and to finally pursue it wholeheartedly. Somewhere a couple of years ago, in the middle of a job that was not art, rising to the top in a career that society approved of, but feeling empty inside, I realized: you can fool everyone else, you can convince everyone else but you can never cheat yourself.

Have you followed a dream to end of the line? Have you given yourself permission to pursue it? What does it look like when you've crossed the line and completed a dream?
So what is your true love? If you can allow it, what is your dream?

Monkey here.

When I was growing up, all I wanted to be was a comic book artist.  I loved to draw, and, with no knowledge of the pay-per-page rates, the tight deadlines, or the crazy amounts of research and practice involved, I declared I wanted to be a comic book artist.  Something about being able to make awesome art that told a cool story filled me with joy.

I quickly forgot all that as I started public school, focusing more on the academics that came easily to me and that brought me praise.  I ended up going to a prestigious university as a Freshman, and quickly came to realize that given total freedom, I was not a Chemical Engineer at all, but an actor!  I ended up running an Asian American theater group for a while, competed in some poetry slams and theatrical readings, and met Seal. 

Seal bought me my first sketchbook (that wasn't a black and white composition book).  I graduated, found a high-paying recruiting job, and promptly quit after a month to go back to art school.  There, I realized how much blood, sweat, and tears becoming a technically proficient visual artist requires.  I started out as a graphic designer, then an illustrator, then finally took my senior classes in fine art.  Somehow I graduated with a hodge-podge of random classes that are part of no single degree program.  There, I realized that I was not into what the school was teaching.  While I was and still am extremely grateful for the skills I developed there, I realized that the path of the fine art students doing senior shows and the illustration students doing concept art and editorial illustrations was not mine.

Fast forward three years.  I slowly but surely create and self-publish my own comics.  Some are drawn poorly.  Others are more like illustrated short stories.  I've come to realize that more than any job title, or what you do to make a living (retail wage slave for 5.5 years, baby!), who you are is something powerful that is absolutely essential to find if you want to be happy.

No amount of money, power, or love is going to make up the void left in you if you are not being true to yourself.

It is, of course, not mutually exclusive to be rich, powerful, and have important loved ones in your life and be true to yourself, but all those other things don't make up for finding your essential self and embracing it.

I am a storyteller.  Whether that takes the form of theater, spoken word, short stories, flash fiction, comics, paintings, t-shirt designs, blogging, or even just telling long-winded jokes to friends over beers, I've realized that the thing that first pushed me towards comics is a love for stories.

As 2012 comes to a close, have you found who you are?  If not, what's holding you back?  I know the truth might be scary, or intimidating, but really, the truth will set you free.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Selling Out is Hard To Do

As an artist, it might seem frustrating at times to keep going.  If you are not getting the accolades or sales you want of your work, it can be discouraging to continue to do what you like.  Often you might question whether or not you should change your subject matter/style to "fit in."

Monkey was privileged to be able to sit on an Academy of Art Alumni panel on the topic of Getting into Galleries.  One question that really struck a chord with him was "Should I paint what sells, or what I want to paint?"

We think that there is a perception (true or not), that either abstract art, highly conceptual art (think soup cans or diamond-encrusted skulls), or classical landscapes and portraits is what's in demand.  Regardless of the truth of the matter, especially if you go through classical training, these types of paintings are what you think sell.

If you try and paint these things, when you really would rather be painting silly monsters or unicorns or whatever, you will not do well.  Trying to sell out is actually really hard to do.  Sure, you might start selling paintings, or you might start getting lots of praise for your new work, but if you don't like it, you won't be happy.

Making art is such a personal thing that you can't force it.  Well, you can force it, but it'll lead to you disliking or even hating your own art, and it'll become another ball and chain job that you have to do even though it kills you.

Monkey used to think that no matter what it was, he'd be happy to be paid to make art.  Then, as he actually started getting paid to make stuff, he realized that he only really likes making stuff that he wants to make.  The thought of being told to make piece of art that he was totally uninterested in was even more difficult that dealing with the daily hurdles of working retail.

Really, selling out is easy to do, but hard to keep up.

Now, we want to stress that we totally understand.  People have bills to pay, food to buy, etc. etc.  If you have to take those dog portrait gigs or doing background paintings for porno or working crazy hours at a game company or whatever, we're not judging.  But for all of you out there who ever feel discouraged, or that your art doesn't have a place in the world, please know that it does.

There is an audience for you out there.  It might not be the largest audience, but it's out there, you just have to look.  The internet is amazing at helping people find micro-subcultures, and if you feel like your work isn't attractive to the mainstream, then experiment showing your work elsewhere. It might take time.  It'll probably take a lot of work.  But know that the long hours and hard work and all the experiments that don't work will all be worth it in the end when you find your niche and can truly be yourself.

So keep in mind that you need to keep on doing what you love.  Have fun.  That's what art is supposed to be about.  If you're happy and having a great time, that feeling comes through the work and it shows.  People can tell when you're enjoying yourself, and it will naturally bring more happiness and joy.  Create what you want and seek out your audience, and trust us, you'll do just fine.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Secret to Happiness and Creativity

A Monkey and Seal Parable:

A young man had heard that there was endless treasure at the peak of the highest mountain in the land. “I’ll make it up there, even if it kills me!” he proclaimed his goal. He started at the base and looked up: it was a long way but he was ambitious and spirited. He began to climb. It took many years just to make it to the first level of mountains. He met many travelers and climbers much like himself. Some lay exhausted and defeated on the roadside, while still gazing longingly at the peak. Another decade had passed as he climbed a few more levels. He passed by streams, local huts, and wildlife. Some of the locals asked him to come in and eat the village’s feast.

“Thanks, but no thanks, I’ve got a mountain to climb” he waved at them while he continued towards the top.

As he got older, he was out of breath and his knees hurt. He could barely drag one foot in front of the other. He was physically, mentally, and spiritually exhausted and suffering throughout. “But once I get there . . ., he thought, “then I can relax, then I can celebrate.” Near the top of the peak, the very rare and few who reached the top were starting to make their way down. As they passed the young man, he saw that some returnees seemed very excited and content and others seemed very disappointed. He became very uncertain, so he scrambled to the top as fast as he could.

At the top of the peak sat an old monk. “Where’s the treasure?!!” the young man demanded. The monk gestured for the young man to look down. From the top of the mountain, the young man could see a vast land, the lookout point presided over everything he had climbed through. “This is bullshit!” he said, “Where’s the treasure?! I know I saw some people leaving here happy and laughing. Where is it?”

“What do you see?” the monk asked as he pointed towards the long winding road from which the traveler had come from.

“Nothing! Just dirt. And rubble. And shit. And sweat.”

“And so it shall be,” the monk declared, “a journey that starts with unhappiness will end with unhappiness – and no amount of treasure, fame or power in the world can ever change that.”

The young man sat down.

“Did you smell the colorful rare flowers by the stream? Did you taste the best cheese and wine at the villager’s feast? Did you see the exotic birds on the jujube trees?” the monk asked, “Did you greet the rising of the sun? Did you sing and heard your own echo in the canyons? Did you grow the seed of wonderment, hope, and joy inside of your heart? There is treasure all around you. The treasure has always been a part of you to begin with. It is not on the highest mountain or in the deepest ocean. It is in you. A journey that starts in happiness will always end in happiness – and no amount of treasure, fame or power in the world can ever change that.”

“But I have lost so much, “ the young man cried, “ I wasted my life trying to climb this mountain and there is nothing left but me.”

“It is all you need. You are more than enough.” The monk held up an earthen jug of water to the young man. “What do you see now?”

The young man peered closer into the jug, on the surface of the water, he could clearly see his own reflection.

 “You are the treasure that you’ve been seeking.”

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Gratitude 2012 Edition

Hi all.  This is our annual Thanksgiving / Unthanksgiving / National Day Of Mourning post, where we take some time to focus on something that is too often overlooked: gratitude.

So one of the authors Monkey reads, Chris Guillebeau, wrote a great post based on the writing of a 14th-Century Sufi poet named Hafiz.  In it, Chris talks about the difference between dropping keys and building cages.

This post pretty much changed the way we think about life. We highly recommend reading it, but to sum it up, you can either build cages (kicking people down), or you can drop keys (empowering people).

If you're asking "Why help everyone else out and create more competition?" you're looking at this all wrong.  You can try to eliminate the competition and create a bunch of enemies, or you can help people out and build a League of Badasses.

So the obvious take-away is that you should be a Keydropper and help other out.  However, when you're in a mentality of lack, you often feel like you can't afford to give.  While we're not suggesting you give your last $5 bill to a homeless person when you're struggling with paying your rent, we're talking about being grateful for all the good things going on and giving away stuff that you can afford.


In life, we can focus on stuff like being hundreds of thousands in student loan and credit card debt.  We could focus on our crazy families, or on how life wasn't fair because of XYZ.  We can focus on low balance bank accounts, or the calls from collection agencies.  We can focus on the messy desks, the smelly buses, the lack of recognition, the lack of XYZ.  We can live in a world that's lacking...happiness.  Or, we can change our mindset.

We can focus on the humble roof over our heads.  The friends we have.  The fact that we don't have to worry about drone attacks or airstrikes killing us or our loved ones.  We can be grateful for the fact that we even have the opportunity to chase our dreams (however improbable or realistic they might be), and that we always have a choice of how to live our lives. We have the internet!  By framing our own worlds in a lens of gratitude, we can feel empowered ourselves.  We can then afford to drop keys.

If you're sad because you only sold a few items at a craft fair, you're not realizing that people just paid money for your work.  If you are bummed because you just had a breakup, you're not realizing that it's better to find out that you weren't going to work out now rather than twenty years from now.  While we're not advocating that you sugar-coat everything and just lead some blindly optimistic life, you do have to put things into perspective.  Failure is rarely fatal, and the human spirit is surprisingly resilient - after all, you're still here reading this, dreaming of achieving greatness in what you love.  What you fear probably isn't as terrible as you might think.  Learn from your mistakes, and press on.


By living with a lens of gratitude, we can afford to drop keys.  Mentor someone who asks for help.  Connect friends who you think could mutually benefit from knowing each other.  When someone offers advice, give it.  There are a lot of things you can do for other people that don't require the loss of your own assets.

Just remember that while you can drop as many keys as you want, people still have to open their own cages, and that's not something you can force upon them (because then, you're really doing it for yourself and not for them).  We know it's hard, especially when your own world can look bleak, but if you constantly try to give, you'll find that people will want to give in return.

We have personally found that the more keys you give, the more you get.  So this Thursday, take time to reflect on all the good stuff that you do have, and think about how you can drop some keys.

PS - For all you artists out there who want to make a living off your work - Monkey has written a Marketing Guide for artists.  He usually sells his Marketing 101 for Artists: How to Sell Art Without Selling Out for $29, but in the spirit of dropping keys, we're doing a limited time (now through 11:59pm PST on Monday, Nov. 26th) offer of the guide for just $4.99 (aka more than 80% off).

If you want the guide, make sure you get it while it's on sale and go through this special link (that will vanish soon).

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Triumphing Over Fear

Monkey here. Just a FYI, the illustration this week is a bit more graphic than usual and may be disturbing to sensitive readers.  I also talk about assassination attempts and violence (and yes, I tie it all back into creating and art), so if that might bother you, please come back next week.  The post starts (with the illustration) after the jump.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Working + Resting

There is a myth among artists, that you are either “lazy” – “not creating as much as you should be” or you are a “hustler” – “always working without rest.” They are both false and dangerous myths. There doesn’t seem to be room in the equation for a moderate, sustainable and successful artist. It’s rare to meet such a person: who can be both creative, hardworking, yet also has a healthy social life and rest periods. We don’t seem to have much role models in the “balanced artist” department.

Seal grew up watching her immigrant parents worked hard to the bone. They ran themselves ragged trying to meet the family’s basic needs. Sometimes they work two jobs, both the day and night shift. But when her family acquired enough to live by, and sometimes more than enough, her parents who had been working all their lives also did not know how to take a break. When they came home from work, they would hurry unto the next cleaning or cooking project. When Sunday came around, Dad would start vacuuming the house at 8am. He would burst into the bedroom with the vacuum roaring and made sure to hit every corner before he walked out again and slammed the door. I got the message that I was lazy for sleeping past 8am. When my sister and I tried to watch Batman weekdays at 5pm after completing our homework, they would glare at us funny. As if, “resting and fun time is only for the lazy” and “if you want to be successful in life, you better spend your waking moments working.”

So growing up, Seal thought “breaks were bad” and even if she wanted to, she did not know “how to take a break.” I bet most of us, don’t know how to rest either.

Oftentimes, Monkey + Seal run rampart into the night making art, emailing clients, turning in projects. We often run on very little sleep or break. Most of the time, it is because we are trying to make ends meet or deliver work that cannot wait. But other times, we choose to stay late and push through our own self-imposed deadlines (although we are trying to change that). The result is, we sure get a lot done, but we’re also cranky, exhausted, and deprived of rest and life outside of work or art. We often forget that “how you spend your day is how you spend your life . . . “ And if your life is all about work and art with very little room for friends, self care, or rest, then you’re really running yourself into the ground without enjoying the journey of being an artist. One day you will wake up and realize that life had passed you by.

Though Seal would like to blame her parents for passing on their workaholism, as an adult now, she realizes that it is up to Seal to allow herself a break and if she doesn’t know how to break, she needs to learn. Only she can break the spell now and wake up. To know that it’s ok to take breaks. It’s normal to take breaks. We all need it, as we need air to breathe and food to sustain us. Our bodies need to regenerate. Our minds need to refill the creative well. And counter to beliefs, breaks allow a person to actually be more productive and resilient through the next strenuous work challenges.

So as Seal is learning on how to take a break, she would like to share some guidelines that she found to be helpful:

  1. When you’re tired, take a break. Think as if you are a baby. When a baby is tired, it gets cranky. So we put the baby to sleep. When Seal is tired, her eyes get heavy, she will start munching on something even though she’s not hungry, and she’ll get really annoyed at every little thing. That’s when the red lights go off. Oh oh! Body is deprived. Need a bath, tea time,10minute shut eye, or a full nap. You’ll figure out your own personal cues to tell you that you are tired.
  1. Figure out what constitutes as a “break” or “rest” for you. No emails after 6pm. Tea time at 4pm. Sleep 8 hours regardless (if you have flexible schedule). A movie night. Music for 15minutes with eyes closed. Everyone has different ways of feeling “rested.”
  1. Resting while in Motion or in order words Resting while Working Sometimes it feels like there is no choice to but to work a lot. Especially when rent is due, bills are piled up, or client project is on the line. In cases like those, we still need to be proactive and “choose” to work. Focus on the brush contacting the canvas. Focus on the words being t-y-p-e-d into the email. Focus on the present moment of breathing in and out, hearing the hum of the computer. Focus on the voice of your client. See if you can find the breath of all things even within the “mundane.” That way, when you are super focused, work won’t feel like work. And you’ll get it done twice as fast.
  1. Know when “it is enough” You are enough. Stop. A big part of the reason that it’s hard to rest and be successful is that we don’t know when it is enough. When it’s time to rest or when it’s time to push against the mountain. We often confuse satisfaction/happiness with “career success.” Many are too often fixated on being bigger and better that we don’t enjoy the process. We are so focused on learning new skills as an artist, absorbed in our chosen field (because we love it so much) that we’ve buried our heads in the sand like ostriches, and are blind to the beauty of a simple walk through the neighborhood, a cup of coffee with a friend, or the passing of clouds after a rainy day. At some point you’ve got to realize, that although life for an artist is about the art, at the same time, it is also not about the art. When you are six feet underground, you still can’t take your “art,” you skills, or your accomplishments with you to the other side. You’ve got to be fulfilled in the present.

The best part of being an artist is living in the now. Being present at the moment. And whether you are working or resting, being aware of your breath and that you are alive, is the start to being a balanced artist: one that can see work and rest and two sides of the same coin à both starts and ends with fulfillment.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Money + Art

“Beautiful work!” Seal said to an artist who had a booth at APE.

“Yeah, but I don’t do it full-time,” he countered, “I’m not a professional yet,” he flustered. “I’m not PAID for it yet.” Seal heard the door of a heart slammed shut.

“But your work is beautiful!” She protested. “Whether you are paid for it or not, it doesn’t take away the fact that it’s still beautiful and people notice it.” (A young couple lingers around his table and drops $7 for one of his prints. I look at him in confirmation, see?

“I guess,” he said with a sigh, “but I’m still not paid the ‘big bucks’ and uh, this is a local show, once I get into a National or International gallery, then . . .  then . . . “ he shook his finger at me and trailed off. The entire convention center became very boisterous. I am left alone to my thoughts and I suddenly become very angry.

“Then . . .” WHAT? You can finally believe me? Only when you’re paid the “big bucks” or in a “big institution somewhere” then you will believe that your work is actually beautiful as people think it is? When you get paid and other institutions recognize you, THEN you can finally embrace yourself as an artist? Or “better” yet as a professional artist? You are waiting around for some big institution or high-end client to swoop down from somewhere to come “save you,” and lavish over you art, especially when art is very personal and very subjective and money and pricing proned to inflation, you are waiting and waiting for someone outside of yourself to say that you are a professional artist?

Dude, you’re living in the future that may or may not come while ignoring all the people who are stopping by your table to admire your work. Whether people pay $3 for your art of $30,000 – it is still beautiful.

Don’t discount your artwork! Just because it doesn’t readily translate to big monetary equivalent.

Money is very very subjective. At craftshows, we’ve had “rich” costumers throw their crisp $20 bucks at us for a tshirt, vs. a young boy who was clutching his only $20 allowance and after circling the entire craftshow and our booth 3-4 times, he wholeheartedly gave us his entire savings for a “Create or Die” tshirt. Even though both instances were a purchase of $20, that 20 was worth a world apart difference to us.

It took Seal a while to learn that money or big institutions will never equal to the value of one’s art.

Most everyone I know, including myself, has a money problem. Artists often have double the trouble because we equate money with recognition and value of our work. Given all the myths we’ve heard about being an artist, it’s no wonder why it’s hard to untangle: “art doesn’t make money,” “if you make money as an artist, you’re a sell out,” “art for art’s sake” (don’t pay for it?), “money is greed” “if you become too tall, they’ll cut you at the base” “starving artist” “art is superfluous” “art is selfish” etc etc. It doesn’t help to have a society that is rather unaffected or diminishing towards artists. While other occupations usually have a standard starting pay (think doctors, mechanics, etc.), an artist can be paid anywhere from nothing (a free service) to $100,000 or more for an art piece.

Of course, it’s a challenge to know your true value as an artist. But let me tell you a secret, money isn’t it. Money will never equal the value of your art.

For a long time, especially throughout art school, Seal kept hoping that a big studio would pick her up. Then . . . then . . . she would be recognized for her work. Then . . . only then . . . will people value her. It was the magic pill. Suddenly, if she worked at a big institution, everything will be solved: she would always be creative, she wouldn’t be proned to roller coaster rides of artistic blocks. She would have peer recognition and money (something she didn’t grow up with) and could buy all the reference books and canvases she wants (instead of scouring for found objects, antiques, and wood to paint on). Then, she would be paid the “big bucks” and be labeled a “professional artist.” Then . . . then . . . the prince comes in a magic pumpkin carriage . . .

But this is not reality.

Whether you work full-time, part-time, contract, intership, or as a hobby in art . . . You will still have to deal with artist blocks – it’s part of the process. Whether you are at a big studio, small studio, or in the humble corner of your apartment making art . . . you will have to deal with the day to day frustrations and existential crises of being an artist, you will always have deadlines to meet and critics to face, you will always have to feel unsure when you put your work up. You will still probably have to deal with naysayers and family members who may or may not support you. Whether you are showered with praise, some or not at all, or whether you are paid big, small, or none at all . . . at the end of the day, you will still have to face the biggest challenge – yourself. Do you value yourself as an artist? If money were non-existent and you were the only living human in the world, would you still create art? Would you have fun doing it? Is your current project challenging you as a person?  Does it makes a statement about you as a person? Are you SATISFIED? FULFILLED?

When Seal takes away the myth of getting paid the big bucks and being in a big institution, she finds that she is just very happy to be creating art. She works on an independent film set with inspiring and creative people. Her voice is heard by the director and she can make positive contributions on the project and the people around her. At night, she explores her paintings further. Her limitations on money actually help her to be more creative, as she is forced to find alternative surfaces and new ways to approach a painting. She finds rare antique wood and unthinkable items to incorporate into her art and has expanded beyond the canvas. And people actually like her works on wood better than on canvas as they all have unique grain and texture. She is learning multiple ways to tell stories, to make art, and find her inner voice. She paints and creates comics as she wants. And she’s surrounded by warm encouraging friends who are excited for her and her art. She is in the journey towards knowing herself. She no longer lives in the future, but at the present moment enjoying her life and art-making.

Because the artist at APE is still waiting around for his “big chance,” when it actually comes in the form of people complimenting and buying art from his table, he didn’t notice that he is currently living his dreams, making art and being PAID for it. It was as if he was living on the ground breathing his dreams of being an artist, but still looking hopefully at the sky for something else. He’s waiting around for someone, something outside of himself to ordain him as a professionally paid artist. In the end, it’s not really money or big institution he wants. What he actually wants is someone, something “out there” to shut the critics in his brain and answer the burning question, “am I good enough as an artist?”

And no amount of money or outside recognition will ever fill up that hole, but yourself.

You are enough. You can begin it now. As you are.

Don’t wait for your life to start, to value yourself as an artist. Don’t give power to something outside of yourself to make or break your artistic endeavors. Don’t wait for the big bucks or the big institutions. Because at the end of the day, do you want to create or not? Are you having fun or not? Do you respect yourself as an artist or not?

Sure, having money is nice. And working in a big institution – if it fosters you and is aligned with your values and priorities – is nice too! It’s more than ok to want money or full time work as an artist. And you should definitely be paid for work that you do. And if you live on this earth with other people, you cannot avoid acquiring and spending money on something. We all need shelter, food, and ways to make our art, and even indulgences. But money or big institution should never be the measuring stick for satisfaction, and can never substitute the longing for the final verdict of  “I am a worthy artist.”

If you are living and breathing, you are worthy already. If you are creating, you are worthy already. So start now. Begin and live in the present moment. And create. Live your life because you are a million bucks already.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

How to Be Selfish + Selfless

We're back!  

Sorry for the long hiatus everyone.  For all you that are our facebook fans, you'll know that Monkey ended up with strep throat two weeks ago (and most of last week as well), thus much of our focus was on healing him up.  Seal was an excellent nurse, and did much to make sure Monkey didn't die.

Anyway, today we wanted to talk about selfishness.  Our society often gives mixed messages about selfishness.  We often see stories of people who are so obsessed with something (music, art, business, technology, etc.) that they devote their lives to it and selfishly put that love over everything else.  We are told this is the epitome of the American Dream of pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps and following your passion.

We also, however, often get the message that we shouldn't be selfish.  That we should think of society as a whole, that it's saintly to give to others and to give back to the community.  We praise non-profits and community giving and we are often socially rewarded for doing "selfless" things.  Also, especially in certain communities, (religious, immigrant, and/or minority) communities, emphasis can be strongly put on the community over the whole.  Pressure to "put the community over your own needs" can be strong, and it seems like the right thing to do is to be selfless.

However, we'd like to offer a different take on selfishness/selflessness.  We propose that if you live your live following your dream, it is not only the right thing to do, but it is the most selfless and selfish thing you can do.

Paradox time?  Not really.  You see, by following your dream, inherently you are being selfish.  But this is a good selfish.  You need to be listening to your Inner Artist and following that dream of yours because that is really what you were meant to do.  Your dream is unique, and by doing what you love, you're being the best person you can be, and you need to be relentlessly selfish about this - you can't put it aside for other people, whether it's your dying mother in Bolivia or your favorite teacher, or your boss, or your pastor.  

No matter who tells you otherwise, you need to live up to your full potential and follow your dream.  

At the same time that you're ploughing ahead looking after yourself, realize that by doing that, you're offering your gift to the world.  Maybe it's your unique way you look at the world (visual artists), or your pursuit of a new taste (culinary artist), or maybe it's an exploration of what the human body can do (dancers and performing artists).  Regardless, your dream is yours alone and if you can find that voice and follow it, you will reach your full, awesome potential.  

By being the best person you can be, you will undoubtably come across ways to give back.  Whether it's performing at a charity ball, or donating your art for a fundraiser, or maybe it's creating a path for an underrepresented group of people to follow in your footsteps, you will be able to give back selflessly while you selfishly pursue your own dream.  

As Chris Guillebeau puts it, you will be able to become a true key dropper.  As your dream manifests itself via your own selfish motivations and actions, make sure that when it's possible to do so, help out others along the way.  Drop keys for people to open doors.  Don't create cells by trying to shut out people asking for advice - drop keys.  

So go out there and do something for yourself.  Put yourself on that path towards following your dream, and opportunities to give back to your communities and the people who help you along will manifest themselves.  Don't hold anything back, and go after what YOU want.  

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Break the Limits of Impossibility

“Impossible” one of the cross-country guys said, “Girls speed peaks around 17-19, if you haven’t hit your marks you won’t get any faster.”

When Seal was in high school, she was in the cross-country club. Her school ranked top ten in Southern California. During senior year, at every race, her buddies in the team would beat their record time. They were getting faster while she plateaued. She asked her friends who were the record holders in the men’s team, how she could improve her running time during a race. What are good habits, form, nutrition, breathing, or extra information that can help her run better?

“Yeah, hate to say it, but boys and girls are made differently. You don’t have the lung capacity or build” they chimed.

During the next race, she came near last. It wasn’t because of an injury, or that she was out of breath, or lacked any previous practices. It was because no one believed in her. No one believed that she could improve, that she could change, that she could blossom. Even she had abandoned herself. “Why bother?” Became the mantra.

That day, Seal learned “limits.” She learned the word: “impossible.”

When she is vending at craft fairs, she sadly often hears this word:
-“Me? Be an artist?”: impossible
-Art school is too expensive: impossible
-There are no jobs, let alone creative jobs, in this recession: impossible
-“Yeah, but doesn’t that mean I’ll have to work a dayjob and create at night?”

Other labels come close to it: weird, stupid, can’t, no, don’t

And whenever she brings up the possibility of them being a potential artist, they counterattack with anger. “No, not for me.” They shrug furiously, “no, no,no. Maybe for you, sure.”  Or “It’s nice to dream, isn’t it?” As if she shook some dust off them, revealing a bright gem inside, but they try quickly to hide it again, because it hurts to think about the possibility. It hurts to think of the potential disappointment. It hurts to think of the lost years. Perhaps that they, too, once held a dream that they have had to give up on. It hurts that no one rooted for them. Or perhaps someone did, but circumstances didn’t play out. Or worse, that at the very heart of it, they had given up on themselves. That they no longer cared. They checked out years ago. They appear as paupers on the outside, but little did they know, that inside they were waiting to explode, inside they are kings and queens.

If this is you- Seal was also this way.

When she wanted to study art: “impossible,” was the retort.
When she wanted to go mountain climbing: “weird” and “stupid,” became the standard reply.
When she thought about going to a four-year university: “can’t afford that” was another favorite.

There is a reason for why people are blocked. For why people are not at their full potential. For why artists hide themselves. For why we “don’t care much.” For why we think things are “impossible.” We have perfectly logical reasons. We are trying desperately to protect ourselves from getting hurt again. From the look of disappointment from our parents/ teachers/ etc. The rejection from our peers, loved ones, or respected people. The heartache of going for a dream is familiar. We don’t want to go through any more of that. We shut the doors. Wall ourselves in. So that the parts that really matter will be so “small inside of us” that it cannot be touched by other people, it can never be doubted or insulted or be dragged out into the open to be laughed at.

Your block is your last ditch attempt to save yourself for a later date, when it is safe to come out. But some of us have forgotten, some of us think it is safer for our artist self to be inside. But your life is like a salamander in a cave who is content with the immediate moss next to him. Little does the salamander know, that life outside of the cave is so rich, filled with sights yet to be seen, adventures yet to be walked, and an abundance beyond his imagination.

So you can make a choice right now. At this very minute. To be with what is familiar, to continue your life as you are with the block, the frustration of not being your full potential, the safety of not having to reach deeper  . . .

Or you can choose to finally affirm that you have a right to be here. That you care about yourself, enough to give yourself another chance. To go for your dreams. That your dreams have always been with you. That when you reach down, you can trust that it is still there. That there is a part of you, even if it is ever so tiny, that had kept your dreams safe for you, and this tiny voice of yours would be really be ecstatic to see you give yourself another try. That you have everything you ever need right here and now.

If you don’t know what your dreams are, you have the best compass to your dreams. It is ironically the voice that kept you safe “Mr/Ms. Impossible.” Ask yourself, what is impossible?

-learn the piano
-be president of the United States
-have a million dollars
-be an artist

Who said it was impossible? Does the voice sound familiar? Was it your mom/dad/teacher/sibling/friend? Maybe you think it is your own voice (thought I doubt it, the inner you, no matter how painful it is, actually wants you to go after your creative voice, but you might have taken the critic voice on to protect yourself).

Once you know who the voice belongs to, what did they want from you? Ok, now what did they really want? (This can be perceived, or real said desires).

I had legitimate reasons to believe that growing up, my relatives didn’t want me to be an artist. They thought it wouldn't make money. They wanted me to marry and settle down. To work hard in the home but not outside of it. They wanted to live next door and be taken care of. They wanted me to preserve our cultural heritage (I was too “American”). They would have been VERY VERY HAPPY if I took on being a lawyer or a doctor, because that was considered “prestigious” and “secure.” (Now some of these things were never actually said, but I definitely got the hint. At Christmas parties, Little Billy who studied medicine and finished his BFA within three years always got the praise while my mother shoots me a look: “see?! You should be more like this.”

Though unproductively and albeit the misguided way - they wanted to protect me. They wanted me to succeed financially. But they didn’t know then. And I didn’t either. That art can be very creatively rewarding and commercially viable job options, if you so choose. A concept artist can make anywhere from $25,000-$120,000 /yr + benefits. A local gallery artist can make about $50-5,000 in a night’s showing. While notorious artists can make $100k+

The other stuff about cultural heritage and expectations, well – they’ll just have to accept me as I am, or not.

Another relative didn’t want me to pursue art because they felt threatened by me following my dreams. Let me tell you a secret, when you start following your dreams, there will be people who will cheer you on and there will be people who won’t. Stay with the camp that wants to see you reach your dreams. This is an unfortunate reality. When you start following your dreams, it is a threat to a lot of people and a stark reminder to them that they need to go for their dreams too. Well – my answer to that is – you cannot make a jealous friend love you or approve of you. Nor should you stop and hide your light under a bushel. You cannot expect that the “people you left behind” will and can free you, even if they might want to. You will have to grieve and give yourself permission to move forward. And lead by example.

Remember when I thought art, mountain climbing, and a four-year university were impossible? Completed all three from scratch. It took me 23 years to come back to art, 10 days to backpack and summit 14,000 ft. Mt. Henry in the Pacific Northwest, and my English teacher at Long Beach City College made it a part of her assignment for everyone to submit an application to a four-year university. At that time, I didn’t believe I could go beyond city college education. The next spring, I received full tuition and scholarships for UC Berkeley to study film and narrative. Seal is also starting marathon training again.

Move towards the realm of possibilities. You can do it.

“Impossible” is just a state of mind, a limiting belief. And a belief is only a theory. At some point people believed the earth was flat. If the only difference between belief in yourself and not belief in yourself is simply a shift in mental attitude, why not choose the more productive stance? Sure your odds might not as perfect in some instances, like being the Best of the Bands if you’ve never played the guitar, but just because chances might be slim now doesn’t mean that it might not open up in the future, or that you shouldn’t try now.

The sizes of our "limits" are only as big or as small as our mind creates them to be.

I was able to “go so far” because of the people who did believe in me, especially when I had given up on myself. But for a majority of my life, I didn’t have this support network, and in that case, you’ll have to believe in yourself first.

If your inner voice is hijacked by Mr/Ms. Impossible, it’s time to replace them with your favorite teacher, you loving relative, your ideal mentor, your unwavering friend. Post all their wonderful comments about how they see you.

Sometimes you have no one else’s permission or care, but yourself. So in that case, it will be hard, but you’ll have to be your best cheerleader and coach. Perhaps you can even write comments about your future self: “Seal has a great eye for cinematography and a steady speed for a marathon”

You have to give yourself permission. You have to care. You’ll have to give to yourself the way you’ve been waiting for someone to give to you.

No matter how hard you or others have tried to stifle your dreams - believe that your true self, even if it only has a tiny voice, knows that “you’re more than enough as you are now.”

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Save Yourself From Deprivation

Imagine yourself with a piece of string, tie the ends together and make a circle. Imagine yourself at the center of this circle. Everything inside the encompassing circle is yours. This is what you perceive as your rightful space. How big is the circle? Is it just in one particular room? a corner? at home or at work? by the piano, computer, kitchen, or other rooms? Does it take up other spaces. Do you have many circles?

For a long time, Seal's circle was a very small one about the size of a golf ball, inside of her heart. By the time she went to high school, she had heard so many negative stories about being an artist, she packed up her creative self and left. Checked out. She hid herself well inside that mini circle. On the outside, she looked like a very successful Berkeley graduate with many distinguishing accolades. But inside, her artist self was deprived.

Being a creative artist has a lot to do with how abundant and safe you feel inside. When you feel deprived, your art is cornered, frantic, you feel that if you're not "tapped out" of ideas now, you will be soon, someday.
Often times as artists we deprive ourselves in many ways. We give to others our time, our ideas, our excitement for their projects, but we hardly treat ourselves the same way. We don't hesitate to buy our friends dinner, our date presents, or our community donated time, but we hesitate to buy ourselves that $3 coffee or paper for our new art project, or to carve a studio space in the shared room, or to have 15minutes of relaxation of doing absolutely nothing.

Sometimes we are even stingy with ourselves under the pretext of being busy. Too busy to paint today. Too busy to go for a walk. Too busy making art to have an uninterrupted lunch where we must cram food down in a hurry without tasting it, in front of the computer. Sometimes we deprive ourselves of trust. Must stick to my writing schedule, if not my day will go to shit. Must put in 6 hrs of drawing today, otherwise I'll lounge around playing videogames and not be "productive." We are essentially saying to ourselves, "If I let you have your way, you won't create... you must reign yourself. 'Control' yourself. Must fight laziness, apathy, boredom, general feelings of inadequacy." At the heart of it, we have decided that left to our "nature," we are unruly and need strict regiments to make art. Under such deprivations, no wonder we are tired, angry, rebellious, and still not getting any art done. If are getting any art done, it is like pulling teeth. We forget that inside of us are all the seasons and weathers and we expect our creative self to follow some sort of predictable path. Some days it is raining inside and you want to curl up and read (not write or draw). Some days it is sunny inside and you feel like sharing a coffee with friends (but I must write! you exclaim and deny yourself that much needed break).

We Deprive ourselves of care. of nutrients. of the safety to create.

What are the ways you deprive your artist self? Do you allow yourself a "free" day? Do you replenish your art supplies? Do you allow yourself a second helping when you are hungry? What are "selfish" things you really want to do? Leave work early and paint? Call in a sick day? Bake a cake and eat it all yourself? Say no to calls after 6pm? What are "forbidden" things you are not allowed to do? Quit your job? Buy that $120 pastel set? Take a drawing class? Make a list. This list will help to show you the ways in which you are depriving yourself. Now make it a point to work on getting yourself things on your list. One at a time.

But Monkey and Seal, I can't quit my job now I won't be able to pay rent. We're not abdicating impulsive behavior, especially if it is financially out of your means. But what we are asking is that you start to examine the values that are important to you. If quitting your job is forbidden. Why is that? Perhaps you simply wanted a freer work schedule where you can leave earlier to do you art. Perhaps you have deep seated beliefs about artists not being able to be financially prosperous. Perhaps you are still fighting the ghosts of your parents who once told you that you lacked talent in art. Who knows. But you have to start digging. If you are depriving yourself from being the artist you are truly meant to become, you're going to have to confront yourself. If quitting your job is forbidden and financially out of your means right now, how about taking the first steps? Do you like the actual job that you are doing? If you do, then is it the environment, or the project, the pay or your colleagues? You can be proactive in changing your situation and giving yourself more time and space for your art. Can you take 1-2 days off and work from home? Change projects or negotiate for bigger pay? Take a walk during your lunch break? Buy a used camera from goodwill and start shooting 2 minute videos before work?

Perhaps you think it is selfish or forbidden to buy art supplies? Why is that? Because you may think art is frivolous. extra. people are starving in other countries. how can i buy myself that $120 pastel set? Perhaps you think that you might fail again? if you buy that pastel set, it's not as if you'll use it. get real.

Would you ever treat your friend this way?

If she says, "I'm tired."Do you barrage her in a snarky way, "Well you need to finish this report anyways." NO! You say, "I'm sorry, here, let me fix you a cup of tea.  Or why don't you take a nap or a long bath." If she's frantic and says, "I need to write. omg, I've been so bad." Do you say, "From now on, you should go on a strict regimented no-fun-time diet. You must write from 8-5pm." NO! You say, "It's ok. You're not a bad person. Why is it that you didn't write? Were you tired? overworked? had no ideas? etc. Let me help. We can start now. How about just one word or a paragraph tonight and we'll start fresh tomorrow? We can go to that cafe you always wanted to try and write to the ambient jazz and steaming chai latte." Perhaps the militaristic yelling helps motivate some people. After all, artists work in different ways. You need to find what is "caring for yourself" means. For Seal, she writes better when she's nurtured.

From our experience: Cats come out NOT when they are being yelled at, but when they are coaxed and rewarded. Same with your inner artist. Even if a Cat comes out by yelling at it, it is out of guilt, her head is down in repose, she looks at us timidly, for the next couple of weeks, she's easily startled, she's run out of room when you call, she retaliates by peeing everywhere. She doesn't trust you. Same with your inner artist.

Trust that at the heart of you, you want to create. Trust, that when you feel safe and abundant, you will create when left to yourself. Because you want to reach for something deeper, because it is fun, because it is who you are meant to be. Trust that you will get there. If suddenly you are struck with images of your past failure, trust anyways. Trust that in this next minute, this next second that is yet to happen, you are different than the stories your parents, friends, school, people, and yourself have told about you. Like a broken record, you should change it to a tune that best suits you now. Trust that when you provide the nutrients and safety net you need to create, your creative inner life will ablaze.

It's time to care. for yourself. It's time to give to yourself. Because you deserve it. Because there is something inherently good about you, just as you are, just as a newborn baby should be loved simply because, so should you give to yourself in those ways.

The secret and best remedy for a flower to blossom is the willingness to care and the freedom to grow with wholehearted attention and trust. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Don't Hold Anything Back

Monkey talks a lot about business sometimes, but even more important over the course of your entire life is the art itself.  Too often we might focus on what is going to take us to the path of the "professional" artist the fastest, when we ignore what might be best for our inner artist in the long run.

We often talk about the "hustle" and the drive to make sure that you get your art out there.  We talk about marketing (Monkey even wrote a book on selling your art), but we want to take this opportunity to emphasize on how important it is to nourish your inner artist's soul.

Yes, we all need to make money, and yes, if we can make money off our art, then we can do more of what we love.  That's why Monkey is always on your case to get your hustle on.  BUT!  The sneaky seemingly perplexing truth of it all is that you have to do more of what you love regardless of your circumstances.  Jobs and opportunities and all that stuff follows if you just do what you love.

Sure, this may sound new-age hocus-pocusy wackiness, but it's true.  The one minor huge caveat is that you can't hold anything back.  If painting is what you love, and you're trying to do a specific style, or if you're trying to stay focused on one single thing (when you don't really want to focus), then you're holding back.  If you feel this overwhelming urge to paint an elephant playing soccer but you have to finish your homework, you're holding back.  If you desperately need to paint something dark and painful from your past, but are afraid to, you're holding back.  If you let people tell you "you're too ____," or "you're not  ____ enough," or "your work is missing ____," and you believe them, you're holding something back.

So you've got to take your brush in your hand and let it explode.  Don't hold anything back.  If you need to attack the canvas, do so.  If you need to coax out the art with a gentle touch, do so.  Whatever form it takes, by embracing that uniqueness, that essence that is undeniably YOU, let it out.  For better or worse, by inhibiting what you really want to do, you'll never really reach the heights that you were meant to soar to.

So while you may feel the pressure to get your hustle on, that is even more of a reason why you need to embrace your inner artist and really let it rip.  Don't hold back.  We know it's scary as hell, but if you're going to dive in, you have to dive deep and really let yourself explode into the awesome artist that we know you are.

So get out there and don't hold anything back.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Take a Small, Creative Action Today

So while we could talk about how our newest Mr. Owl silkscreen print is up in our shop, but today we wanted to focus on taking action.

While we talked a lot about creating a concrete business plan in terms of if you're looking to make a career out of art, sometimes once you create that plan things get a bit..overwhelming.  Maybe you've realized that you're selling yourself short by pricing too low, or that maybe you've been marketing to the wrong demographic all along, or maybe your head is spinning and you just want life to be simple again.

Whatever it is, take a deep breath, and take a step back.  Sure, having a plan is great, and is the easiest blueprint to achieving a goal. However, part of creating is letting that rigidity go and just doing whatever you need to do.

Yes, this sounds contradictory - how are you supposed to have a plan, but not pay attention to it?  Well, we're not saying that you should abandon said plan, but if it's impeding in your creating, then you might need to push that plan to the backburner.

Monkey, being the business-focused one of us, tends to sometimes get too caught up in the business side of art.  He starts making crazy budget spreadsheets and starts going blind looking at google analytics and just get a bit nutso trying to figure out how to hustle some art.  Seal then sees that Monkey is working himself into a frenzy of madness and stress and she reminds him to just calm down and to create.

Really, while you need a plan to act as your framework, if you spend all your time fretting over how many paintings you need to sell, you're losing sight of what you probably really want - to be able to making a living doing what you love.  Monkey tends to think TOO much about the "how" when he really should be painting, or working on a comic, or doing what he really wants to be doing.

So make sure that you start up a habit of doing some small, creative action today.  Even if you're in the midsts of writing your marketing plan, or doing your finances, or tackling some bureaucracy, make sure that you get a thumbnail sketch down, or a doodle, or just work on that masterpiece for 15 minutes.  Strum something out on your guitar, or rehearse that choreography.  Whatever it is, make sure that you don't lose sight of what should be the real important thing - creation.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

SF Zine Fest - Our First Show

This weekend we'll be vending at the 11th Annual San Francisco Zine Fest.  Held in the SF County Fair Building at 9th and Lincoln, the Zine Fest always holds a special place in our hearts.

The Zine Fest was our first foray into any sort of vending situation, and we only got into it because Monkey's manager at his retail job was the chief organizer.  Monkey started helping out organizing the event, and soon Monkey + Seal was born.  We really ended up coming up with the name in a sort of spur-of-the-moment panic as we realized we had to turn in something for registration.  

When we first started, we didn't have shirts, or prints, or ties.  We didn't accept credit cards, or have originals for sale.  Heck, at the time, we didn't really even know how to paint.  We managed to get a stamp made, and literally stamped all our business cards for that show.  

All we had were two mini-comics and two zines. And a few left-over buttons. We still sell some of them, and they've sort of become Monkey + Seal classics: The Story of Seal, and The Bad Date Zine, Vol. 1.  Seal finished her comic the night before, and we ended up going to the 24-hour FedEx Kinko's down in the financial district around 2am in order to print and trim the comics in time.

We didn't have a tablecloth, so we grabbed a big piece of green felt that we originally bought to make stuffed monsters.  Now, our bright green tablecloth (along with the bright, saturated neckties that we sell) is usually how people find us.  

Monkey assisted in a bookbinding workshop with the amazing Aaron Cohick of New Lights Press, his first workshop teaching experience ever.  Now Monkey has taught screenprinting, bookbinding, and is teaching a Marketing for Artists class this year.  He's also gone on to run the workshop program at Big Umbrella Studios.  

We've also met a lot of great people at Zine Fest, and we think you can really feel the communal, supportive atmosphere at the Fest.  I think among artists, there is generally a supportive vibe, but at some of the bigger shows more money can be at stake and sometimes a competitive vibe and big egos can creep in.  

So while its too late to get a table (or half table) at this year's Fest, we highly recommend getting on the mailing list so you can be first to sign-up next year.  There's also no jury (unlike a lot of the bigger shows), so it's good chance to get your art out there in a safe space. 

So we hope you join us at the Zine Fest this year (this is our fifth year vending) to share in a bit of the creative magic.  Come and get some ideas, see how little you need to get going pursing your dream.  And of course, there's always Monkey's Marketing for Artists Workshop Saturday at 1pm to look forward to as well.  It's free!

Hope to see you all there!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Nourishing Your Creative Soul, Or How to Avoid Becoming a Crack Fiend

Often times we can get caught up in doing what we have to do, whether that's pay the bills, or cook dinner, or go to work.  We have outside obligations, rent to pay, etc. etc.  However, as artists, sometimes you get a sudden wave of inspiration, or maybe you've just been putting off creating for too long, and every fiber of your being screams "Create!"

In these cases, unless it's not totally dire (and really, how bad will it be to take an hour off before doing the laundry?) you need to take care of your inner artist and make something.  If you don't nourish your artistic soul, you may find that you'll end up like a crack junkie.  How?  Let us explain.

Scientific studies have shown that if people have a finite amount of mental capacity (we'll call it 'brain juice.')  When you're working on memorizing the alphabet backwards, you're using up brain juice.  When you're doing a calculus problem, or trying to draw a 2-foot straight line freehand, or are trying to juggle ten different client accounts and write five urgent emails, you're using up brain juice.  You only really have so much, so when you're super mentally exhausted (ie, running low on brain juice), you don't have any brain juice to make good decisions.

Still with us? Heavy mental strain = bad decisions.  Cool.  We'll get to the crack addiction in a minute.

So when you feel that urge to create, and you don't listen to it, you're really spending brain juice to fight that primal instinct you have to do what you love to do.  Of course you'd rather be creating that making spreadsheets.  Of course you'd rather paint than write all those emails, or practice your trumpet rather than file all those receipts.  So when you fight down the urge to do something creative in deference for some other task, you're using up twice the brain juice.  Not only are you using the brain juice to do the task, but you're also fighting down your inner spirit that's trying to make something awesome.

If you're out of brain juice because you're trying not to create, then you could very well make some terrible decisions.  What if you're finalizing that cost-benefit analysis when you really wanted to work on that novel and then a co-worker asks you to a bar after work, and then you go and get drunk, then someone offers you crack and you try it, and then you get addicted and end up losing everything and living on the street addicted to crack?  What would you do then?  Well, you'd be doing crack, but besides that?  Nothing, that's what, so if you want to avoid becoming a crack fiend, then nourish that creative soul!

"But Monkey + Seal, what do I do?" you might ask, "I really have to file my taxes, I can't just stop and write my novel, the IRS will take away my house and I'll still end up addicted to crack!"  Well friends, we're not advocating you to drop everything forever.

We all understand that you have obligations.  Everyone does.  We do, so do you.  However, when your inner artist is screaming to create and you won't let it, you're doing yourself a serious disservice.  You see, when you desperately want to paint, or sing, or write, or dance, you don't have to do it full force.  If you're looking to write a novel, maybe take a 10-minute coffee break at your desk, writing out some dialogue. Or if you're looking to produce a mammoth of a graphic novel, start slow and maybe sketch out the layout for a page while you're at lunch.

The trick here is to give yourself little bits of the good stuff.  Ideally, you could just stop and sit down and make your magic happen (because remember, what you do IS magic), but the reality of it is that most of us can't do that.  So feed your inner artist little art snacks here and there, and you'll find that you'll feel much more rested, happy, and you'll feel less guilt about not creating as well.

Ideally you can even schedule times to create so that your inner artist will never feel so totally deprived that your brain shuts down and you start doing illicit narcotics.  By taking a few hours out of the week in order to make sure that you're still creating, you can plant the seeds that will grow into a more productive, creative, crack-free life.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Overcoming Artist Block: Shame

When I was in high school, I told my school counselor that I wanted to be an art director. She handed me some pamphlets for technical schools around the city and with pity in her voice, suggested that I should consider nursing or being a mechanic.

I tried not to listen. I took my very first film class at city college and made my very first film project. Looking back, it was the beginning of my experimentation with cinematography and the bud of my love for storytelling. The film I made was a 10 minute clip of a "cat-and-mouse" chase between a spy agent and ninja thief.

Granted it was my first film, the editing was a bit crude,  and I was on a steep learning curve. . .but
I was very proud that I had created something out of nothing. I had created a story out of 8mm tape and a camera. I showed it to my boyfriend at the time.

He laughed. He rewinded the tape and laughed again. The sound from my film was drowned by his laughter. My film wasn't supposed to be funny at all. "You've got a long way to go," he added.

I tried not to listen. My film teacher acknowledged my camera skills. He wanted me to help him with his storyboards for a commercial pitch he was putting together for "famous tv executives." I thought it was my chance to break into the field and learn from someone who was a professional. Then I found out that he was fired from his last studio, had to take up a gig teaching at city college, and was desperate to break in again. He also made a comment about the color of my skirt. Was it my talent and help did he want or was it something else?

I tried not to listen.

Though I kept getting back up, each incidents chiseled at my budding young artist self. By the time I realized what was happening, it was too late. I was blocked. I hadn't picked up a camera in seven years.

Most artist blocks are grown from toxic shame. As artists we are often shamed into silence. "You think yourself an artist? Don't make me laugh." "Just who do you think you are?!" "How dare you disturb the lineage of doctors, bankers, lawyers, etc in our family?" "How dare you write and paint stories about your own life, think of your parents!" "how dare you make that? (it's awful, lacks substance, it's kitch)" "How dare you make anything at all?" "How dare you make monsters? That's creepy and no one will want it hung in their living room."  "How dare you paint in that weird style when James Jean is what's in." "What will the neighbors say about you going to art school?"

Being artists often means being visible. We are bringing to light stories about ourselves, our cat, our mom, our neighbors, about our country, the state of human beings, the world, things that people don't want to hear. Don't want to see. And being visible scares people. We "draw from our own experience and we draw our experience" (Julia Cameron) and people often don't want to face the truth of what we are projecting in our art. So they try to sweep it under the rug. With a smirk, a scoff, a pity, a laugh, with some under-the-breath words that are painful to feel.

So we hide ourselves. For our own safety, we bundle up our artist self and hide her under the bed until it is safe to come back out. We lock her up and throw away the key for until when we think society will be ready for us. And so we wait.

We wait. The artist self knows the waiting game all too well. Wait until I make that big break, then people will recognize me. They will value me. They will not dare treat me like that again. Wait until my parents accept my art, then I can become an artist. Wait until the kids are old enough, then I can take some classes at city college. Wait till I have more money for a better art equipment, then I can finally tell my grand story. Wait till I polish my skills in secret, so that he may never laugh at me again.

But the problem is, it is no one's job to give us the signal that it is safe now. The power is in our hands. We cannot wait until our mothers, uncles, lovers, teachers or the art world recognize us and allow us to make our art. The signal may never come. Your artist self may be dead by the time we open up the closet again. So it's time to take her out. Give her a big hug. Assure her that she is safe to make art now. She will be protected from nay-sayers. That she has the power, right now, to choose yes to life. Yes to art. She has the power. And she does dare disturb the universe. She dares to make art.

And you can too. Shame can be broken when the experience is brought to light, in full honesty, to supporters, therapists, or artist-friendly people like Monkey + Seal who understand the pain of creating. The doubts and the intimacy of making art needs to continually be nurtured. Take a step forward today, even if it is awkward, even if you've forgotten how to draw, write, knit, make one small commitment to re-awaken your dreams within. It is never too late. And you are not alone. You can do this. You have the power to step forward.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Power of "Just a Little Bit More"

"I will not fail my friends..just a little bit more..."

In our everyday lives, we often slide down the slippery slope of mediocrity.  Whether it's sleeping in "just a little bit more" or it's "just a little bit more" before you turn off facebook and get back to creating,   "just a little bit more" ends up rolling into a huge pile of procrastination.  This, in turn, transforms itself into a barrier from you becoming extraordinary.

While there is nothing wrong with being ordinary, if you really wanted to be ordinary, I doubt you'd be reading this.  You're here because you hate that feeling of mediocrity that we all get (no seriously, from painters who are known the world over to Monkey + Seal) from time to time.

That dull feeling of not doing enough, that there is not enough time, that your work isn't ______ enough, that you don't know the right people or that it's just so damn hard to get up and stop watching anime and crappy horror movies on Netflix.  Mediocrity is that feeling of "just a little bit more" of watching television, or playing video games.

While we always want everyone to stay healthy and be sustainable, don't confuse sustainability with procrastination.  Also, while we believe that everyone will make it to their dreams someday, you can make "someday" come a lot sooner if you hustle and get down to creating.

So how do you defeat "just a little bit more" and move on to realizing your amazing true self?   We admit, it's especially hard since it's so easy to ride that slippery slope into "just one more," then "just one more," on repeat until you have bed sores and your eyes are burning from too much exposure to computer monitor radiation.  Well, you don't.  The thing that you change is what you do "just a little bit" more.

When it's late at night and you're working on a painting, think "just a little bit more."  When you're dancing and your legs are getting tired but you're wondering when you should quit, think "just a little bit more."

Overnight, no one goes from unknown to mega-celebrity, from student to master, from hobbyist to professional.  No one goes from being shy about your art to speaking about it in front of curators, or from getting stage fright to completely owning a stage without hard work.

We get it.  Doing stuff that helps realize your true potential is really difficult work.  You have to do things that you know you should be doing even though they might make you feel uncomfortable.  But if you do them "just a little bit more," they'll become easier and easier.  So try pushing yourself "just a little bit more" and start to realize that badass artist that you really are.