Artwork, Exclusive Content

Inktober 2017: Consternation, rapture, fall

I have been doing Inktober in bits and pieces still, but my output — along with everything else work- or productivity-wise — dropped off drastically after my partner was diagnosed with shingles (not good, but could be dealt with as she would eventually recover) and my darling dog was diagnosed with a serious heart problem (terrible, and… er, not really promising in terms of recovery) in the same day.

One thing that has always killed my art output in the past has been medical + financial stress. The pattern holds true. I spent a few days frantically trying to get my art originals shop back in working order. It’s not quite there yet, though. I have had a lot on my plate.

So, please forgive the lack of commentary on most of these pieces. Words are hard; I’m behind on work; I– Well, things are tough right now.

The last one is a piece inked over a failed experiment (the yellow and orange splotches). The yellow and orange parts are also ink, done… at least two years ago, now. After getting bad news about my beloved dog I just needed something to occupy my hands so I wouldn’t break down. So I went through old sketchbooks, found this, and sat down with a bottle of violet acrylic ink and a pointed pen. And started inking.

The last one is not quite finished; unlike the rest of the pieces, it’s ink over watercolor. Again with an abandoned piece — this time pencils that I ended up not quite liking. I did some very vague watercolour splotchy painting over it, then sat down with a brush pen and inked hair.

I do not think it is very good, in terms of execution or concept. But it was a thing that I could do, rather than being afraid, or worried, or terribly, terribly sad.

It is mostly finished, I think. I may do a very tiny bit of detail-polishing (perhaps just around the mouth) tomorrow morning. I’m pleased that I can still do fine lines even with a brush, at least.

The featured image up top (and here, below) is my work desk (the living room coffee table, these days) while I was inking that piece. You can see some watercolour postcards as well — these are things I’m hoping to send to $10+ patrons before December, as a year-end thank-you.

One last thing to show you: Teddy, a few days into his medication. He looks quite sleepy here, but he has been doing noticeably better since we started him on his medication, so I’m thankful that we’re able to make him more comfortable, at least. He is my adorable fluffy boy.

Some time ago when I first posted about what I and my family are going through, some very kind people said to say what I needed in terms of help. Right now, because of Teddy’s huge vet bills and ongoing medical expenses, we’re experiencing unexpected financial stress. So what would really help me is if you could signal-boost or share my Patreon link with friends and people you know, or people on your networks — my Patreon funds are a massive help right now.

Thank you so much — for your generosity, and kindness, and care; for being here. I hope that as we enter the last two months of the year, you find yourself in a good place, surrounded by people who love you, with many moments of joy and contentment. I’ll try to keep going and doing more art.


Inktober 2017: crimson flowers, cerulean waves

This post exists thanks to my wonderful patrons at Patreon, whose presence has strengthened me enough to keep me going with art.

I’m doing Inktober this month — I’ve been posting on my Instagram. Here’s what I’ve done so far. It’s been interesting, trying to draw — if not consistently, then at least just enough to finish something that I can show other people. I am approaching this not as an exercise in learning more about the medium or pushing myself to get better, though those are both worthy goals. I’m doing this mostly to try and just make art.

I spend around 15 to 45 minutes on these. That’s all I can do in one sitting these days. I’m hoping I can get back to my old stamina — I used to be able to paint for two hours a stretch — but it’s something, at least.

For the meantime, I’m just copy-pasting my Instagram comments into the descriptions for each image, but I intend to come back and do a bit more commentary when I can.

Artwork, Exclusive Content, Process

Finding salvation in shadows

When Aliette de Bodard asked me if I would like to do character portraits of her characters from her novel The House of Binding Thorns, I leapt at the chance. Quite literally: I was lounging on the couch when I read her message, and I jumped up across the arm of it and ended up on the floor, rolling around from too much glee. It’s difficult for me to articulate all my feelings about Binding Thorns; it is one of those books that I found quite practically transformative; I rank it together with other books that have meant immensely, immensely much to me — together with Rizal’s El Filibusterismo and Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Rilke’s work. One day I will find words to describe how much I love it; for now, I will just say I love it so, so much, omg.

As soon as I started work on the character portraits, I ran into a huge obstacle. Aliette’s work is full of shadows and darkness, the things that creep around at night; of ruin, destruction, decay. I didn’t feel that I measured up to that at all, as an artist; I loved bright colours, but that was pretty much it. How was I meant to portray all this weight — how was I meant to create something that did justice to people who were dark and fiery, bladed and sharp, when my art was nowhere near that level of intensity or grandeur? My work didn’t even try to approach darkness.

But then — of course. I just had to dare. To embrace shadow; to try and show the knife-edge between it and light. To try and to risk and to do things that I wouldn’t have called within “my style” or my purview or whatever. I just had to stretch a little further.

Madeleine, from Aliette de Bodard’s Dominion of the Fallen series. Rough pencils.

This is Madeleine, one of Aliette’s characters, at a very early stage of the process. I was very nervous about this; faces are not my strength, and definitely not faces I don’t draw often (read: anyone other than slim young women or femme-looking people — sorry, I’m trying to do better and learn more!). So I spent a fair bit of time trying to study the faces of older women to figure out what made them look a certain age, what lines or features would convey the kind of expression I wanted to convey; a sort of grim determination.

More or less, the final pencils for Madeleine.

Someone once asked me what the longest part of my art process is. I think they were surprised when I said it was the pencils. It’s not that I take the longest in terms of actual pencil-in-hand time; but it’s finding the lines and where they’re supposed to go, and plucking up the courage to actually say: yes, this is where you should be. Finalizing linework, to me, is very difficult because it is such a huge part of the piece — it’s the bones, the foundations — and I’m always unsure of whether I’m doing the right thing.

It’s funny, I didn’t use to have this trouble back when I went straight to ink. But at that time all I really cared about was getting detail down on paper, giving my hand something to do. Now I care about things like composition (which I am very bad at) and character portrayal (ditto) and expressions and– haha! It’s so hard!

Madeleine with the color assignments done and mostly finalized

Things always flow a lot better once I’ve pinned most of the color down. Which is, again, not something I expected when I first started working color into my pieces back in… 2013? 2014? — I worried that the color would disrupt the linework. These days once I start my first color washes it feels like something unknotting in me, a sigh of relief. I think it’s because in many ways color is actually more forgiving of mistakes than linework is. Watercolor is known for being an unforgiving medium, but at least it’s more tolerant than ink.

I worked on the colors a lot, building them up. I know my watercolor technique is considered “wrong” by a lot of methods that teach about keeping things light and translucent. Opacity is undesirable. But, oh, I don’t know; I enjoy it, and I arrive at the vibrant intensity I want. (This doesn’t mean I don’t wibble or doubt myself all the time, mind. I do! I look at classical watercolorists and professional artists and have a little cry inside, every time.)

It was then that I had to ask myself: how dark could I take this? I’m not very good at shadows, but Aliette’s novels are all about shadows. Could I do this? I was very hesitant to try.

This delayed me for quite some time, but eventually something in me snapped — that part that gets tired of me being wishywashy and goes “oh dammit Mia, just do it” — and I picked up a brush and dragged ink over the edges of the painting. And as if, again, something had untangled all at once, I could paint once more, and deepen things, even Madeleine’s face, which I was very afraid to touch.

Completed piece of Madeleine. The accents/linework on top are silver and bronze mica pigment.

I’m glad I tried to be brave and took that risk. Doing shadows freed me up to do some really extravagant metallic highlighting on top, and that is always a joy to do.

Here are the other pieces I did for Aliette! I’m very happy with them (mostly) — just sad that the linework for Asmodeus (which I thought showed his expression more) didn’t turn out strong enough to convey the same expression after I did the painting, but that just means I have to work harder and improve on faces. Much, much work to do!

Francoise and Berith, from The House of Binding Thorns by Aliette de Bodards

Asmodeus of House Hawthorn, from The House of Binding Thorns by Aliette de Bodard

Thuan of the Dragon Kingdom, from The House of Binding Thorns by Aliette de Bodard

Thank you, as always, for supporting my art. I hope you liked this mini-process post; I’d like to do more in future!


Arise and blossom: a 2016 art sampler

Encouraged by friends, I put together a little look back at some of my favorite/major pieces from last year.

Ink and watercolor; cover art for THE TERRACOTTA BRIDE by Zen Cho. Yonghua, the flowers of the dead, and Hell.

Ink and watercolor. A personal piece I entered as a submission into a little event RedBubble was running, aka my “brown women can be fairies too, eff you”.

Gouache and watercolor, cover art commissioned by GlitterShip for its first-year anthology. Genderqueer sea deity, galaxies, and volcanoes.

“Sigasig”, cover art for Lackington’s issue 10: GOVERNMENTS. Ink and watercolor. The text is taken from Tagalog translations of EL FILIBUSTERISMO by Jose Rizal.

Ink and watercolor, cover art for THE LILIES OF DAWN by Vanessa Fogg. Sunrise, supernatural cranes, and a lake brimful with lilies and light.

Watercolor. Private commission for a wedding gift for Rose Lemberg and Bogi Takács.

Cover art for MYRIAD LANDS volume 1, published by Guardbridge Books. Ink and watercolor.

Cover art for MYRIAD LANDS volume 2, published by Guardbridge Books. Ink and watercolor.

Ink, gouache and watercolor, cover art for THE TOWERS, THE MOON by Andrea K Höst.

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
and blossom.










Radiance, Retribution