Note: I delivered this in Melbourne on 10 June 2017 as the Guest of Honour at Continuum 13. The convention committee has also shared the video of my speech and the question & answer portion that followed.
Earlier I was trying to get some work done — first transfering the pencils for a commission to watercolor paper so I could start inking, then some admin emails — and it just wasn’t happening. My brain simply refused to work. So instead I curled up on a beanbag by the window, Milo at my feet, and spent several hours dozing and drinking in the sight of early autumn sunshine on my garden.
It was good.
Strange, because I have an entire heap of projects I want to finish before Friday this week, and I’m still recovering from the final push to finish my painting for Sunvault — but despite the panicked flailing that occupies most of my thoughts these days, there’s a deep wellspring of something that feels — dare I say it? yes — unshakable. Something like contentment. Like peace.
I want to share with you my finished painting, featuring a solarpunk bamboo city built on floodwaters that drowned a city and chock full of… I guess, visual easter eggs? I ran out of energy to make some more obvious than others (for instance, now that I look at it, I feel I should have individually inked all the people, to make it clearer that there were several people in wheelchairs and using mobility aids, because it was important to me to show that) but they’re there. A few that are my favorites: the sunken skyscraper with its helipad overgrown with vegetation; rooftop gardens!, windmills. Creating the city was incredibly fun, for all that it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done art-wise. Looking at it now, it looks so basic in proportion to the effort I poured into it, but I know that’s because I came to the limits of my skills. The only thing to do, then, is improve them.
And in any case, I think it beats with light, heat, plant life — which is what I was aiming for.
This is a mostly unedited scan; I just did a tiny bit of tweaking with Curves and Brightness/Contrast. I sent my client high-res processed images, with the blues vastly tweaked. It’s very frustrating, but the scanner doesn’t show half the painting it really is, blue-wise; I’ve found my scanner to be especially limited with blues. When I took photos — because in the past my DSLR photos have been better than scans, for some of my commissioned work — it turned out my camera wasn’t powerful enough to handle all that detail over that area. It just couldn’t get the images sharp enough. Sigh! I’m going to send it off to a fine art imaging service this month, and hopefully they’ll be able to give me a scan that’s truer to the blues the painting has.
This is more like it. I just can’t get the focus consistent enough. Ahhh, one day I hope to invest in a good image-capture setup. Scanning really flattens a lot of the beautiful depth and dimensionality you get with watercolor.
I’ve been speaking with Sunvault‘s publisher, and closer to the pre-order date I’ll be making a process post talking about how I did this painting. I mean, not that I’m a huge expert on watercolor (haha! so far from it!) but I always really enjoy seeing how a work grows from very rough pencils to the completed painting, so I wanted to share my experience of that with people. There will be two versions of the post — the more detailed one will be patrons-only, and I’ll be making a shorter post public for everyone to see.
I’m looking forward to talking about this piece. A little nervous, too, but–! I have so many feels about it. And a lot of them, the good ones at least, grew from something I’ve been trying to practice in my art this year, starting from this painting. It’s something I’ve talked about a lot with my therapist, who is an amazing human being; the last time I went to her, she looked me in the eyes as we were wrapping up the session, and said, “I want you to remember this. Please, trust in goodness.”
I cried a little then. I needed, in a very fundamental way, to hear it. In this world of terrible darkness– to hear those words, to believe in them, to try and take them into one’s heart: trust in goodness. That’s revolutionary. It’s the kind of impossible grace that transforms worlds.
I’d like to share with you a little more of where this painting comes from, of how it came to exist. A very wonderful (and angelically patient) client commissioned me for two large watercolor paintings, and in the middle of doing my under-layers I realized that the paper I was working with just wasn’t thick enough to take the kind of very wet on very wet technique I wanted to use. I had to scrap both paintings and start all over again. The scrapped paintings sat rolled up in my box of… miscellaneous paper (I, er, have a lot of miscellaneous paper, because it’s always “maybe I’ll figure out what to use this for eventually”) until one day I decided, you know what, I am sick of all my misery and despair, I want to paint bright, beautiful, flame-like flowers; I want deep purple blooms streaked with blood-red. But I didn’t have any paper I regarded as “disposable” enough — because of course painting for pleasure or on whim must not be done with the “good” stuff (this is something I need to work on) — until I saw my scrapped paintings.
I cut a square-ish piece out of one. Laid it out on my table; looked at it in all its imperfection, the way cerulean and violet hadn’t melded with the paper the way I wanted them to, the puddle-lines left by water drying. And then I took up my brush and got to work.
I painted over it in watercolor, in quinacridone pink and ultramarine and pyrrol red and moonglow; when watercolor wasn’t intense enough, I went for gouache. I painted and made the botched under-layers part of this new painting; when the flowers looked terrible (because they did, or at least I thought so) I took up my golds and gave the blossoms brightness in their hearts. I painted as I wanted, not thinking of anything else but what pleased me best at that particular moment to do. I trusted that my hands and my eyes knew what they were doing; I trusted in the goodness of the end, when — even though it might not be what I had envisioned for it (and indeed, it wasn’t) — it would at least show that the journey to get there, the work that transformed it from discarded paper to something new and beautiful and utterly defiant of the idea of loss or not being good enough, was worth it.
And I think it was. I really, really think it was. I love this painting dearly. All my paintings have stories that are known only to me, most of the time; I try and share them with you, but I don’t write about them much in public, because it’s too vulnerable, and I try to guard my heart. To me, this painting is the flower-form of that interview I read with one of my Starcraft: BroodWar progamers, a woman in an industry overwhelmingly dominated by men. She said, “Hard work will not betray you.”
And it hasn’t. It doesn’t. I believe it won’t.
This is what I want to share with you today. These flowers bloomed for me in a place where they were not meant to bloom. They could very easily have not existed; but they do, and I’d like to gift this to someone. So I would like to give this original painting to one of my patrons, because I feel this piece needs to be physically shared. I’m going to do the draw on 1st April my time, and all people who are patrons at that time will be included (unless you would like to be excluded, in which case I will do that, no problem — please just let me know). People’s entries will be equal to their pledge amount — so, for instance, if you’re pledging 2 dollars, you get two entries. If you have any questions about this, please let me know! This is my first giveaway, so I’m nervous and might mess things up — but I’m also excited.
Oh! I made an image thingy, in case you would like to share the news around, too! (But of course, no obligation or anything, at all! I mean, the more entries there are, the more the probability of getting picked spreads out, so I don’t want to ask you to work against yourself, here, in case you’d like the painting.)
I hope this works! After posting this I am going to go bother Temmie and ruffle her fluffy tummy to settle my nerves.
Thank you so much for being here. You know, I was on Facebook earlier, and it showed me my status post from one year ago, when I posted the “Game On” coloring sheet of the diwata playing a console. I remember, then, how terrible I felt about my art and how badly I needed– something I could believe in. Your continued presence here, it gives me that. I feel I’ve come a long way and I want to keep pressing on, pushing my limits. Going forward. That you are here, believing in me, helps me immensely. Thank you so, so much.
All the fluff,
A work in progress: commissioned calligraphy painting, which I’m currently working on with watercolor and lots of waiting for layers to dry. I love doing calligraphy paintings and I’m going to be trying a few new things with this one, so it’s really fun! (Full size.)
The past few weeks I’ve been making — consciously, deliberately, than simply undergoing as a passive recipient — many internal shifts. A great deal of them stem from the hard work I’ve been doing with my therapist in the past year, which is pretty much “it is good and necessary to be kind to yourself”. (It sounds simple, laid out like that, but me being me, it is very un-simple, and in some instances actively painful, to implement!) For all the stumbling blocks I’ve faced, though, I can already see the outward changes caused by this internal rewiring: I self-flagellate less, and breathe more.
One of the shifts was my choice of intention-word for 2017. My brilliant friend @sparkleandsnarl introduced me to the concept, where instead of making resolutions at the start of a year, one picks a single word to be the focus of the coming year’s intention. I don’t even remember what I picked for 2016 — just goes to show how little I committed to it, hah — but I’ve been taking this year’s word more seriously. The word I chose was comfort, and even the choosing of it was difficult — do I even have the right to comfort? am I allowed to express my desire for it? …which I guess illustrates how needed it was, hah.
I wrote a little about it on my personal journal, where I said I needed comfort, among other things, in my work:
– In my work, where I am convinced that pushing myself past my limits is a necessity; where I will pull all-nighters because squeezing the very last drop out of myself is more important than sleep; where I stress endlessly about displeasing my clients by telling them I’m unwell and thus delayed. I need to trust in my work ethic more: I always, always work whenever I can, but somehow I still feel I’m not doing my best, because I’m not switched on all the time. I keep thinking “I can’t work” is an excuse rather than a statement of fact (because seriously, Mia! come on, you are not an innately untrustworthy assessor of your capacity). Instead I’ll keep setting very generous deadlines and giving myself lots of time to finish work — really, self, I haven’t missed a hard deadline yet. And my clients will understand illness and delay; they will know good work is worth waiting for, and that I am doing my best, and if they don’t, we are probably not meant for each other anyway.
Articulating this and allowing myself to make decisions based on it has changed my workflow immensely. I haven’t pulled a single all-nighter since the year began. (Look, that’s huge for me, okay!) I’ve been giving myself days off, and actually resting during these days off (rather than worrying about art and clients and getting more projects and whatever). And I don’t know what the change in quantity has been — I’m refusing to do some sort of “am I more productive now than back then” comparison because then I’ll lose my focus on health-as-top-priority — but I can say with absolute certainty that my work’s higher quality now. Because there’s less pressure, and more freedom just to be, and of course art thrives in that kind of atmosphere.
I still have not bought a comfortable chair, which is something that I resolved to do ASAP because my current chair has given me medical stuff that had me either in too much pain/too loopy from painkillers to work. But it’s on the list (I will do it this month!) and I have in the meantime used some of January’s Patreon funds (thank you!) to get some things that will make arting easier, and more comfortable, for me: good palettes and brushes, good paper. And I am taking breaks, and reminding myself that it is better to do art in full health than forcing oneself to push past reasonable limits, and– it’s been very good for me, generally. I’m trying to see art as something wonderful and beautiful again, something that is not only work but also pleasure, because I admit in the dark times of 2016 I lost sight of that, a little, and forgot, somewhat, why I do this. So I’m consciously choosing rest, and comfort both physical and mental, whenever I can.
It’s strange. That’s the thing. Part of me rebels against it still, even when I can see how good it is for me, because it goes against so much ingrained in me. But– that’s all right. That’s the other thing I’m learning. Strangeness is fine. Comfort is strange; it doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
So that’s where I’m at right now. I thought I would give you a little update! I have not been producing art as much as I would have liked to, but I am still working, even when a lot of the work is internal, even when a lot of it won’t show fruit until much later. I call it investment, in a way; kind of like “teching up” when playing games. :DDD And I’m very happy with the work I’ve been doing so far! Here are some sneak peeks.
Here’s some very early-stage sketches for PROBLEM DAUGHTERS, another awesome anthology that I’m ridiculously honored to be arting for! While the Sunvault pencils were final-stage — they’ve been made on the medium of the final piece itself, to be inked and painted over — these are embryos: concept sketches, where I try to figure out the ways various elements of the art relate to one another. I like both compositions, but I oddly feel there’s something lacking; they’re much more static than I prefer (I mean, looking at my art for ALPHABET OF EMBERS, which is pretty much “Mia lets herself loose on ink”) so I’ll need to keep tweaking them, I think.
And here is even more early-stage rough sketching, this time for ELLA CHOSE & OTHER POEMS, a book by Alex Conall that’s being published by NeuroQueer Books, a division of Autonomous Press. I chose one of my favorite poems to illustrate, and here I think I’ll do my favorite thing with swirls and curves and beautiful strokes and lots and lots of gorgeous hair! It will be very fun, I’m excited, and I like the idea of the colorplay I’ve chosen.
I hope you liked the sneak peeks, and this post! I’m trying to be healthier and better, generally, not just with my art but also to myself. I think it’s making a huge difference! And certainly your support as patrons has been vital to this — I can’t overstate how important it is, but suffice to say I probably would be in the midst of wrapping up my art career, rather than going forward and aiming higher with it this year, if not for you. Thank you so so much.
Encouraged by friends, I put together a little look back at some of my favorite/major pieces from last year.
These illustrations were done in 2015, but published only last year, as interior art for AN ALPHABET OF EMBERS, ed. Rose Lemberg. They’re ink on paper.
The title of this post is from the Tenth Duino Elegy by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Stephen Mitchell:
Let not even one of the clearly-struck hammers of my heart
fail to sound because of a slack, a doubtful,
or a broken string. Let my joyfully streaming face
make me more radiant; let my hidden weeping arise