Introducing the Boat Gnome Mercantile Trading Program

If you follow me elsewhere on the web, you’ve probably seen an uptick in posts about something called the Boat Gnome Mercantile Trading Program. Maybe it makes sense, maybe it doesn’t, so here’s a big ol’ post with some background about this zany undertaking and how you can play along.

If you just can’t wait to exchange goods with the Boat Gnome (even if you are, perhaps, a little unclear about what that entails), the Trade-by-Mail Program is already open to Patrons at any pledge level. You can find all the instructions for sending trades through the mail by becoming a Patron and visiting this post

The Boat Gnome’s desired items for the 2019-2020 Trading Season are as follows:

  • An interesting shell (level of interest is in the eye of the beholder)
  • A piece of seaglass (bonus points for unusual colors)
  • A transcription of your favorite nautical poem (typed or hand-written, as preferred)
  • A knot (tied in a piece of string, twine, rope, etc and labelled by name)

Okay, let’s back up and talk about Shing Yin Khor.

Shing, a nonbinary person in a bright red hat sits underneath a pepper tree. They have a spread of crates in front of them.
Here is Shing mysteriously showing up in the driveway of my childhood home in California.

Shing is an unstoppable, mischievous force for good in the world. Aside from creating immersive installation art and fabulous comics and unconventional fundraising initiatives and co-facilitating life-changing retreats, they also run something called the Space Gnome Mercantile Trading Program

The story goes like this: there is a gnome—a Space Gnome—who runs a trading outpost in outer space. She releases a list of desirable items prior to sending one of her representatives to conventions around the country. The desirable items are often simple. A nice rock. A cutting from a succulent. A poem. A story. 

Traders may present the representative with one of these objects and receive, in exchange, a limited edition enamel pin.

A set of postcards with enamel pins depicting a space gnome.
Some of Shing’s stunning Space Gnome pins.

Once a participant has made a trade and received a pin they become a Trusted Trader, and can return to the representative at future events (wearing their pin) and receive additional, special items. Shing also runs a trade-by-mail program exclusively for their Patreon supporters (DID I MENTION YOU CAN SUPPORT SHING ON PATREON?) in case folks can’t make it out to conventions.

I love this project. It’s subversive and human and playful and kind. So when Shing and I were on a ferry coming back from the Wayward Retreat this summer, I screwed up my courage and said:

“Do you think there might be other gnomes? I mean, hypothetically, what if there was also, say…a Boat Gnome?”

I felt self-conscious even asking. Why can’t I come up with my own ideas? Isn’t this plagiarism? But the beauty of this project lies in the fact that it’s not commercial in the slightest. Nobody’s making a profit. It’s a sandbox—a container for play, and as if to prove it Shing immediately shot up off the bench and shouted “YES!!!”

One month later they showed up in the front yard of childhood home in California (long story) and officially inducted me into the Association of Gnomes—a process I can’t recount here, so you’ll just have to flip through this Instagram Story really quick to experience it.

A pointy blue felt hat with a variety of nautical items attached to it.
My extremely good Boat Gnome Hat. Yes, you may be jealous.

Armed with my gnome hat, I started drafting ideas. Since Shing had already come up with a format for the pins and cards, I decided to keep things simple and just riff on the existing material.

A drawing of a cute gnome wearing the pointy felt hat from earlier.

So here’s our Boat Gnome. (Perhaps suspiciously like a smaller version of me, but WHO’S KEEPING SCORE.) I translated this small friend onto a postcard that would mimic Shing’s space-themed offering with a load of nautical motifs.

Step-by-step sketches of the postcard design from earlier.
I snapped a photo of this rough sketch with my iPad, then used Clip Studio to refine the art, ink, and color it! Printing by the trusty folks at Moo.com

And then came the PINS, which I wanted to match to Shing’s design so that enterprising traders could line them up in a handsome row on a lapel.

Step-by-step drawings of the boat gnome pin.
Here’s the design process!
The finished boat gnome enamel pin.
Aaand here’s the finished pin!

Once I had all my elements assembled, it was time to number all the backing cards and start assembling pins. The final result looks amazing.

The completed Boat Gnome Mercantile pin set.

The great thing about doing a project that won’t make me any money is that a lot of the perfectionism that usually dogs my steps during production is just…gone. Who cares if this isn’t utterly perfect? It’s a game. People are going to play.

I’ve spent a little over $500 assembling the materials for this project, which would’ve felt impossible three years ago. But I’m finally at a place in my career where not every expense has to turn a profit. There’s so much heart-felt fun to be had exchanging gifts with strangers and friends. And because of the support I receive on Patreon, I can do these kinds of projects. It’s such a wonderful privilege. I’ve already completed over 40 trades with people from all over the country, and the offerings are universally stellar.

So thanks. I can’t wait to trade with you all.

<3

Lucy

(Boat Gnome Representative)

New Comic: Federated Learning for Google

Hello, blog friends!

I know things have been pretty quiet around here lately, but that’s mostly because I’ve been tied up making this new comic for Google!

A header image titled “Federated Learning: Building better products with on-device data and privacy by default. An online comic from Google AI” A smiling woman and an excited corgi flank a row of smart phones.

Federated Learning is a new field of machine learning research that just hit the big-time at Google’s developer conference this week. I landed a gig working with Scott McCloud and an internal team to translate the basics of the field into an explainer comic.

Most importantly: it’s got a Moby-Dick joke in it.

You can read the whole thing here.

There’s a lot to talk about with this gig, and I’m going to be diving into what I learned from my first major corporate client experience over on Patreon. This job is the most lucrative freelance contract I’ve ever taken, and I want to talk about how that’s felt (Complicated! Emotional! Empowering!) and what other folks can do to pursue similar gigs. I’m really proud of what we produced, and I think it does a good job of explaining something I would’ve never otherwise learned about.

I also took lessons learned from building the accessible edition of 100 Demon Dialogues and made sure we had functional alt-text throughout the comic. If you use a screen reader to browse the web, do let me know how it works for you. I’m still trying to get better at making this site and other projects I work on accessible for folks who traditionally get left out of the digital comic-reading experience.

Hourly Comic Day 2019

It’s here it’s here! My very favorite comics holiday! February 1st AKA Hourly Comic Day is a group activity where creators around the world illustrate the minutiae of their lives in hasty panels and sketches. Head to Instagram or Twitter and you’ll be bound to see some lovely entries under the #hourlycomicday tag.

I participated for the first time in 2011, which makes this my ninth contribution to the series! (I’m going to do a little print collection next year for #10.) In the meantime, you can read on for a brief window into my life right now:

You can check out my previous entries for Hourly Comic Day at the following links: 20182017201620152014201320122011.

Thanks to my stalwart crew on Patreon for making this work possible!

 

Rage, Liberation, & the Adventurous Life with Tessa Hulls

I love being on Patreon for many, many reasons, but chief among them is the platform it’s given me to record more conversations with creators I admire. I already keep an extensive archive of panels, talks, and classes on my SoundCloud page, but the support and enthusiasm of my Patrons has allowed me to add candid monthly interviews to the mix. Typically these conversations go up for Patrons first, and then (if the artists are comfortable with it) on the public feed a few weeks later.

Back in September I spoke to Tessa Hulls—a dream interviewee of mine for some time. Tessa’s work defies categorization, but it often encompasses notions of heritage, independence, wilderness, and community—all things I am endlessly fascinated by. She did a staggering number of residencies in 2018, all while juggling enough concurrent projects to make my head spin. I am deeply in awe of her energy and dedication.

In this 90-minute conversation, we discuss merging identities to create powerful new selves, balancing finances as a traveling artist, the transformative power of alternative community gatherings, coming into one’s own as a vulnerable communicator, navigating fine art spaces, “pathological independence,” and the current cultural crucible of female rage. Notes on our conversation below:

If you want to see more of Tessa’s work, I’d highly recommend starting with…

• This essay about bike touring, weddings, and personal freedom

• This glorious series of paper cut paintings

• This comic about rage

• And, really, everything on Tessa’s website and Instagram. Her graphic memoir, Hungry Ghosts, is definitely a project to keep an eye on over the next few years.

If you liked this conversation and want to help support more things like it, you might also like supporting me on Patreon! I am deeply indebted to the folks there for making these talks possible.

Thanks for listening!

Thought Bubble This Weekend

Greetings from England, everyone!

I’m back in the UK for my biennial pilgrimage to table at Thought Bubble (and catch up with English friends and family in the process). Since I was last in the country they’ve changed the date of the festival to September, which has been an enormous improvement so far. The weather is just beginning to turn autumnal, with a good few sunny days still in reserve.

If you’re planning on heading to Thought Bubble in Leeds this weekend, you can find me in the Ask for Mercy Marquee at Table 43. Thanks to some cunning distribution work, I’ve got a TON of 100 Demon Dialogues books and plushies already in the country, plus copies of Baggywrinkles and fresh sets of watercolor skyline postcards!

A selection of vibrant postcards featuring watercolor paintings of sunrises and sunsets with silhouettes of trees, tall ships, mountains, and other organic shapes in the foreground.
A third of the new postcard designs I’ll have with me. There are 18 new cards total!

As per usual I’ve made a goofy graphic to help you locate me at the event. Here’s a map:

Map of Thought Bubble venue including table location. Lucy’s Demon screams “It’ll be awful!” From the lower right-hand corner.

Being in the country a week early has left a lot of room for acclimatization and a bit of exploration. I’ve been going on six-mile rambles near Egham with my current host, cartoonist Dave Whiteland. We’re not far from Runnymede, site of the signing of the Magna Carta. Interestingly, it’s a landmark more beloved by Americans, who tend to view the Magna Carta as the precursor to our written constitution, but there are also a number of beautiful memorials and installations by local artists scattered throughout the open meadows.

A circular space with a pond in the center and an open circle in the roof. Text written upside down around the rim of the pool is reflected right-side up in the water. The walls are pale and rough, the sky is blue.
Writ in Water by Mark Wallinger

I have so many childhood memories of England coming into view out a plane window. It’s a patchwork quilt in hundreds of shades of green. Each border is picked out in dark hedgerows like raised lines of embroidery. After the rigid grids and circles of American crops seen from the sky, it confirms this sense of being somewhere other.

England is walking through fields and turnstiles and picking up fossils from beds of flint. It’s the particular smell of petrol and peat and cold air and river water. It’s tea and smooth wood floors and the familiarity of gentleness. It’s not perfect here, but it brings me back to a part of myself that feels foundational and true.

An imposing brick building under a blue sky. It has many chimneys and turrets.
Royal Holloway

After the chaos of touring all summer, I decided to forego scheduling a separate last-minute event in London or Cambridge. It’s enough to be here, and to see friends, and to have the festival to look forward to. I hope to see many of you there in a few days.

Be well,

Lucy

Imposter Syndrome in Our Own Words

One of the great pleasures of touring this year has been gathering groups of smart, accomplished people in a room and then asking them about their worst experiences with Imposter Syndrome. I heard raw truths from creators in Chicago and San Francisco, who then brought their wisdom to bear on what we can do to make ourselves feel less alone in the face of these challenges.

These conversations were complex and enlightening, and I’m so glad to make them available for you all to listen to on the web (thanks to the support of my rad team on Patreon). Check out the audio players below to find two new episodes featuring wisdom from Craighton Berman, Michi Trota, Suzanne Walker, Bobbie Johnson, Molly McLeod, and Rose Eveleth.

I’ve got a bunch of new conversations going up soon, so be sure to keep an eye out if you’re in need of more things to listen to. Enjoy!

Tour Dates for LA and Beyond!

Hi friends!

Keeping you all updated with a few more confirmed tour stops on the great 100 Demon Dialogues Summer Experience.

Catch me this Sunday (August 12th) at 6pm at Other Books in Los Angeles for an intimate chat about the creation of 100 Demon Dialogues. Other Books is a wonderful shop in Boyle Heights that specializes in underrepresented voices and exploring notions of “the Other” in literature. They’ve got loads of zines, small press books, and rare finds. I think it’ll be a lovely night. RSVP here.

Looking ahead: I’m headed south to SAN DIEGO for not one, but TWO events later next week.

On Thursday, August 16th, I’m fulfilling a long-time dream of appearing at the Maritime Museum of San Diego for a free signing in the gift shop at 6pm, followed by a lecture inside the museum ON A REAL BOAT! Admission is $18 for adults (various discounts available) and gives you free reign of the many amazing vessels and exhibits until 9pm. Well worth the price of admission, I promise.

This tour stop will be more nautically-themed, since I haven’t been down to San Diego since Baggywrinkles came out. Expect discussion of scurvy, maritime history, and what I got up to when I crossed the Pacific Ocean on R/V Falkor. It’s gonna be GREAT.

Then on Friday, August 17th, I’ll be at San Diego Writers, Ink with my “Cohabiting with your Inner Critic” workshop. Learn more about that in this blog post or just snag tickets here.

Looking ahead, we’ve got stops in Austin, Boulder, England, and Cambridge (MA):

It’s ALL HAPPENING! Hope to see you on the road.

Cohabiting with Your Inner Critic: a 100 Demon Dialogues Workshop

Heads up, San Diego! I’ve got an extra-special workshop planned for my stop on your sunny shores next month, and I wanted to make sure you all had dibs on tickets. I’ll be teaming up with San Diego Writers, Ink, a local literary organization, to teach a class on August 17th. Here’s a little more info about the class:

Join cartoonist and educator Lucy Bellwood for a two-hour workshop about learning to live with our Inner Critics, hosted by San Diego Writers, Ink. Participants will use a mix of generative exercises and group discussion to get to grips with their anxieties and hangups about the creative process—no drawing ability required! Excellent for those battling Writer’s Block, Imposter Syndrome, or a general, nagging sense of unease in their work.

Bellwood’s classes have been described as “high-level professional group therapy for artists,” and her candid talks about redefining success in creative fields have garnered thousands of views online. 100 Demon Dialogues, her latest book, is a collection of comics for anyone who’s ever wanted to talk back to the little voice in their head that says “You’re no good.”

The workshop is $30 for SDWI members and $36 for non-members, and admission at either level includes a signed copy of 100 Demon DialoguesYou can register online via SDWI’s website right here!

Can’t make the class? Short on cash? I’ll be doing a regular tour stop at a TBA venue on Thursday, August 16th as well. More info as soon as I get it confirmed!

100 Demon Dialogues hits San Francisco

Hi Everyone!

I just wanted to give you the heads up that my big summer book tour is hitting the Bay Area this week. You can find me at 826 Valencia’s PIRATE SUPPLY STORE this Wednesday evening for a big 100 Demon Dialogues event (RSVP and further details here). I’ve invited three lovely, smart folks to come join me on a panel discussion. They are:

Rose Eveleth, a writer and producer who explores how humans tangle with science and technology. She’s the creator and host of Flash Forward, a podcast about possible (and not so possible) futures, and has covered everything from fake tumbleweed farms to million dollar baccarat heists.

Molly McLeod, a freelance artist, designer, and creativity coach who does a different daily art project every month. Her work helps people express themselves, connect with their communities, disconnect from technology, and reconnect to what really matters to them.

And, last (but certainly not least):

Bobbie Johnson, a journalist, publisher, and the editor-in-chief of Anxy, a beautiful, award-winning mental health magazine that opens up the inner worlds we often avoid sharing.

I’ve dreamt of doing an event at the Pirate Supply Store for well over a decade, and I’m really really looking forward to digging into the Real Business with these fine friends. I will, of course, record the conversation and share it for my supporters on Patreon after the event, but I’d love to see you there in person.

If you can’t make it to SF, here are a couple more confirmed stops:

  • Local Color [Facebook event forthcoming after details are locked in] – 6:30pm, July 28th, San Jose, CA (followed by Mighty Mike McGee’s Spelling Bee/r)
  • Bart’s Books – 7-9:30pm, August 3rd, Ojai, CA
  • Other Books – 6-8:30pm, August 12th, Los Angeles, CA
  • BookPeople – 7pm, August 20th, Austin, TX

Details are coming together for a writer’s workshop (and tour stop) in San Diego around August 15th. There’s also Colorado stuff in the cards after I stop in Texas. Phew!

If you’d like to keep up with all the tour shenanigans, Instagram is a good way to do it. I try to post regular updates to my Story there about what’s been going on. Hope to see some of you on Wednesday!