Ramble #24 (January 7th, 2021): The 7th anniversary of my arrival on Patreon! Reflections on my first solo Christmas, good quotes about solitude, writing down nice things, thinking about early internet communities, trying out anonymous audio-based support groups, picking a word for the year, stuff about birds. There’s also a bonus recording attached to the original post on Patreon from Tim Dee’s The Running Sky, which is just gorgeous.
Ramble #25 (January 21st, 2021): much shorter. Took a walk. Petted a cat. Tried to figure out how I’ve changed my relationship to being online and whether I could distill that process into replicable steps. (Also, thanks to a truly mystical service Robin turned me onto called Descript, this is the first Ramble with a proper transcript.)
(If you’re universally hot for RSS feeds—and if you’re here, let’s be real, you probably are—you can always subscribe to these directly in the podcast app of your choosing with this link.)
[I’m going to start cross-posting the weird captain’s log audio updates I’ve been doing on Patreon for the last couple years here on my blog. If you’d like to take a spin through the whole archive, I’ve made a page for every past episode here.]
Okay, so! A Ramble. Typically when I share these on Patreon I try to keep it simple and just throw up a list of links to things I talked about, in case folks want to follow up and read what I’m reading. I still don’t know how to approach the practice here. Ironically, this particular Ramble is about the relative ease of talking compared to writing for me, and how the pressure to “get it right” in text is so much stronger.
I recognize that this is probably diametrically opposed to how a lot of people feel about any kind of public (or semi-public) speaking, but I think by talking, and my best thinking-talking usually happens when I’m addressing people who get it. Sometimes this is specific friends for specific projects, but there’s a reason this practice came into being on Patreon. My Patrons have bought into the weird, non-transactional structure I’ve built for my page, which means they’re probably the people I trust the most with an imperfect, non-linear audio snapshot of whatever I’m thinking about at the time.
On a practical note: I talk so much faster than I write. My guess is that a transcription of each Ramble would feel like an insurmountable slog to read through, but as a 20-minute audio snippet it’s a relatively small ask. You can do other stuff while consuming it, which I know people do because they comment and tell me about it! How lovely to imagine a friend or stranger doing dishes or puttering in the garden while we spend twenty asynchronous minutes together. It’s the best.
Every Ramble also comes paired with a photo I took while recording it. This started because I was too lazy to draw a cover for the first one, but it’s become a really important part of the process. It creates a visual touchstone that reminds me of the season and the weather and the moment when I was thinking these thoughts. Seeing them all together feels like a form of cyclical time travel.
Anyway, here’s today’s:
This Ramble felt like going to therapy on a week where I think nothing in particular’s been going on, but find myself reckoning with the unseen weight of countless stressors from the last three days alone within five minutes of opening my mouth. Except I should replace “stressors” with “stuff I’ve been thinking about while reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s Always Coming Home” to paint a more accurate picture.
And because I do think it helps, here’s that list of links to things mentioned:
Hello, long-neglected blog. I hope the tumbleweeds and bits of lint accumulating in the corners of this platform have been keeping you warm, even if they’re singularly unable to keep you company.
I’m back because I launched an odd new project on my birthday last month and I wanted to talk about it here to break my long silence and maybe goad myself into blogging more often on a website I actually own.
So: the new thing!
The Right Number is basically a secular confessional housed in a voicemail box. Dial (503) 673-6267 and you’ll hear a brief prompt, after which you can record a response for up to three minutes. All messages are confidential, prompts rotate every two weeks.
The first two prompts (“What’s something you wish someone would say to you right now?” and “What’s something you wish you could say to someone else right now?”) both elicited a wide range of thoughtful, heart-wrenching, funny replies. I’d say it was working as intended if I’d had any real sense of how this was going to go ahead of time, but I didn’t.
As it stands, I’m very happy with the project so far. The user base is still small—an intimate crowd of willing weirdos—and I’m perfectly content for it to stay that way. Recording freewheeling audio updates over on Patreon every two weeks for the last couple years has taught me that sometimes the quality of conversation and connection I’m hungry for online is best cultivated through sustained, vaguely directed projects over long periods of time.
So: that’s the thing!
If you want to play along, you can sign up for this tiny newsletter that’ll send you an email reminder every time there’s a new prompt (usually on Mondays, but I make no promises).
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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…
Last month I had the good fortune to return to The Animation Workshop in Denmark to teach a week-long course in their Graphic Storytelling department. You might remember the talk I gave two years ago, The View from Aloft, where I distilled my foundational philosophy about social media, online communities, and gratitude economies. This presentation follows up on that framework by talking specifically about crowdfunding and Kickstarter. Thanks to the school’s exceptional video rental equipment there’s now a very nice recording up on YouTube:
I get a lot of questions from folks looking to learn more about this weird practice. It can be the most soul-crushing, time-consuming, heart-tormenting process, but also an incredible jolt of energy, affirmation, and community involvement. Between the generous souls who support me monthly on Patreon and the people who launch individual projects of mine via Kickstarter there’s no doubt that my career would look very different without crowdfunding.
Everything that’s made my campaigns work feels like it’s come from watching my friends get smarter and better every time they launch a project, so it’s great to have this recording to pay it forward to more people. I hope some of you find it useful if you ever launch your own projects (and I hope you do).
Hey blog friends. Just wanted to check in and let you know I’ve released two new panel recordings on my SoundCloud page!
The Modern Realities of Fundraising for Artists ran at Linework NW here in Portland this month. Tristan J. Tarwater led a great discussion on modern techniques for funding creative projects and careers through the Internet, including Kickstarter, Patreon, taxes, generosity, and many things in-between. The panelists included me (True Believer), Hazel Newlevant (Chainmail Bikini), Taneka Stotts (Beyond), and Kory Bing (Skin Deep, Borogrove).
In previous years I’ve been really inspired by my studiomate Natalie Nourigat‘s year-end wrap-up posts, so I thought I’d do one of my own for 2014/2015! I spent most of December in California with my family—my first trip home in a whole year—getting some much-needed perspective on 2014 and hashing out some concrete plans for 2015. Also jumping into very cold swimming holes.
Taken as a whole? 2014 was a Really Good Year. I became an official member at Periscope, I found a dream housing situation, I got asked to document and sail aboard the last wooden whaling ship in the world, I tabled at shows in Canada, England, and both coasts of the US, I did work that I was proud of…but even with all of that in the bag I still felt like 2014 was a year of reacting to things as they were flung at me. Everything was extremely loud and incredibly close. More often than not I was finishing projects in massive work gluts in between flying around all over the place for conventions and work opportunities. I had at least one trip every month, if not two, and the toll showed in my over-all page count for the year and my general health and sanity.
So for 2015 I want more intention. I want some control. I want the stability of a routine that supports my health, my creative habits, and my heart. I also want to draw a ton of comics. But before we get to that let’s talk about 2014. My goals (personal and professional) were:
1. Find a place to live.
Boy this one panned out really, really well. At the start of 2014 I was long-term housesitting for my studiomates Paul and Anina with most of my belongings in storage in a nearby basement. I didn’t really know where I was going when they got back. Everything was uncertain. Then, in exchange for helping my dear friend Zina by giving her a place to crash while she looked for new housing, we somehow ended up playing grown-up and working with an awesome realtor to help her parents buy a house in Portland. A house that we then got to move into. Words can’t really express what a difference this has made in my life. We live right smack dab in the middle of a lovely neighborhood, the house is just the right size for the two of us, and we cohabit like fucking champs. Looking back on 2014, this is definitely the Best Thing That Happened to Me. Here’s to happy homes.
2. Table at lots of new conventions.
This is really a continuation of last year’s goal to try and figure out what the best shows are for me to prioritize each year. This year was a great mix of new shows and old favorites. I tabled at…
Wizard World (Portland)
Emerald City (Seattle)
Rose City (Portland)
Thought Bubble (Leeds!)
Beyond conventions I also did a ton of traveling for work projects like Down to the Seas Again, plus I had my first two bookstore events! By a rough estimate I traveled 26,370 miles this year. HOLY HELL.
3. Draw more than I drew in 2013.
Victory! I drew 91 pages of comics in 2014, over 82 pages in 2013. Granted, I was hoping to hit 100, but some things just don’t work out the way we want. It’s an okay number given how much I traveled in 2014. The breakdown went as follows:
“Bandette” Guest Short: 3 pages
“Oh Joy, Sex Toy” Guest Comic #2: 5 pages
Cartozia Issue 4: 4 pages
Cartozia Issue 4 Extra: 1 Page
“Greening Islam” story for Symbolia: 11 Pages
“Flip the Switch” Float comic for The Nib: 6 Pages
Girls With Slingshots Guest Comics: 5 Pages
Cartozia Tales #5: 3 Pages
Cartozia Tales #6: 4 pages
Down to the Seas Again: 18 pages
“Pacific Passages” with Jim Mockford: 12 pages
“Yeah Maybe, No” documentary: 17 pages
Lube Comic: 2 pages
I also colored 35 pages of a longer nonfiction comic for a studiomate. It was my first gig as a colorist and I had a ton of fun, but I won’t count it towards my year total since it wasn’t “big picture” drawing work.
You’ll notice that a lot of those projects are for other people, which is great! Collaboration is aces. But I also want to be working on more of my own projects. I think I use freelance comics jobs or collaborations to get around my own fears about owning my material, which is silly and should stop forthwith.
4. Bring in more money than I did in 2013.
So I know there’s been a lot of brouhaha recently about artists sharing their financial figures, but this stuff is important to me so I’m gonna level with you: I was thrilled in 2013 because I brought in about $22,900 over the course of the year (before all my business and living expenses, of course), which wasn’t gads of money but it was enough! I was making it! And this year it’s looking like I’ll have brought in about $3,600 more than last year. Lemme tell you, that feels amazing. It may not be 130k a year for software development, but that’s not my passion. My passion is the thing that I’m stretching and saving to make possible, and if it grows a little bit each year (even a tiny bit!) it’ll put me closer to building a sustainable life off of it.
In addition to the freelance work I was chugging through, I bit the bullet and started a Patreon page, which continues to motivate and humble me every month.
It’s a little over $500 a month right now, and that money is an absolute godsend. It keeps me focused on bringing more of my work into the world rather than chasing down commercial gigs, and I’m so grateful for it.
Of course, most of the new income from 2014 has gone straight back into tabling at more shows, printing new comics, and traveling to do research for future projects, but more money, more problems, right?
In 2015 I start paying for health insurance on my own. I’m also becoming a fully-paying member at Periscope. I’m really scared about the addition of any new expenses because right now keeping everything in balance feels doable, but incredibly tenuous. I’m taking it easy on the travel front. Instead of flying to eight conventions (two of them cross-country, one of them international), I’ll be keeping it local in the Pacific Northwest. Instead of self-publishing expensive color minicomics, I’m going to focus on producing content online with an eye to creating a book.
I know I can do it, and I know there will be plenty of work to go around, but I also don’t want to end up with tunnel vision as often as I did in 2014. As it stands, I feel like I’m making progress towards crafting a sustainable career, which is the Big Goal. Hooray!
SO THAT’S ENOUGH OF 2014.
What’s going to be different about 2015? WELL LEMME TELL YOU:
The basic goals will always be the same: draw more comics, make more money. If I can keep upping those numbers every year then I feel like I’m making progress towards success.
1. Draw more than 100 pages in 2015.
On the note of not doing so many projects for other people, I’ll be pitching a bunch of shorter comics to The Nib this year. It’s a great platform and supports a lot of the nonfiction/adventure work I love doing. It’ll also help get me over the hump of worrying about pitching my own ideas. I have a handful of stories already bubbling away, including a longer Baggywrinkles installment about the history of scurvy and the culinary arts of the sea, all of which I want to run on Patreon on a monthly basis in addition to putting them on The Nib. My patrons are all rockstars, and I want to treat them as such.
The elephant in the room is A Longer Project, which I have a few ideas about. Not saying too much until I know more, but the desire for it came up a lot this year so I’d like to start moving in the direction.
Earlier this year I joined a couple of my studiomates in a monthly practice where we discuss our accomplishments and challenges from the previous month and our goals for the upcoming month. GAME-CHANGING. I strongly encourage any of you reading this to start a check-in group of with some friends or colleagues—”accountabilibuddies”, if you will. It keeps me focused and forces me to admit that I’ve accomplished things when I feel like I’m drowning in work. It also stops me from procrastination on Big Picture projects that might otherwise fall by the wayside.
However: I want to keep that specificity and intention going in other parts of my life. I am terrible at asking for things. Asking myself what I really want and need on a regular basis, asking for help when things get to be too much—I’m just not great at doing that kind of work. After playing around with some of the prompts in this year-end workbook, I decided that my challenge to myself for 2015 will be to ask more. This includes checking in about my goals and whether I’m pursuing them to best of my ability, checking in with my friends and loves to figure out what they need and how I can best support them, and ruthlessly jettisoning anything that doesn’t fit into those two pictures.
3. Read 50 books.
I’ve finally gotten over my post-undergrad reading phobia, which means getting serious about devouring more books. Zina and I are putting up a giant list between our rooms where we can record the titles of books we read this year and I’m super excited. I want more fuel in the brain tank. Currently I’m about a third of the way into Moby Dick and just starting Blue Latitudes by Tony Horowitz. On the other “various stages of completion” nightstand there’s Sex From Scratch (by my rad hometown friend Sarah Mirk), The Power of Habit, Show Your Work, Welcome to the Monkey House, and a few others I can’t think of right now. Lots to choose from. I go fast when I get going, so the goal now is just making time.
4. Create an ideal day/week.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of changing days rather than years. Resolutions never work so well for me, and with so much upheaval in 2014 I really just yearned for a consistent week-to-week schedule that could keep me grounded. The days when I go to bed thinking “Man, that was a Good Day” generally include waking up early (6:45-7-30ish), creative time first thing in the morning, the completion of small, concrete tasks, exercise (dancing, riding my bike, yoga), recuperation (knitting, writing letters, reading, TV), home-cooked food, socialization of some sort, and early bed. With that in mind, here are some things I’ll be trying out:
Not looking at my phone for at least the first hour of every day. This means getting an analog alarm clock and charging my phone downstairs instead of beside my bed so I don’t wake up to tweets and emails.
Writing a page in my journal every morning rather than waiting for “enough” time to do a proper entry. Anything further is frosting.
Going to yoga once a week. Just once. Anything further is also frosting.
Devoting the first three hours of the workday to brain-heavy creative tasks (scripting, thumbnails, pencils).
Devoting two hours post-lunch to admin work (filling orders, writing blog posts, categorizing finances, promoting stuff on social media).
Making time for 30 minutes of reading before bed so I can fulfill my goal of finishing 50 books this year.
Doing a proper weekly shop on Sundays and cooking two meals that I can dole out for lunch when I don’t have time to cook throughout the week.
5. Keep developing my sketching practice.
I did a lot of sketchbook work this year, which felt fantastic. In 2015 I’d like to be finishing sketchbooks every six months or faster, which means taking time to draw out in the world, doing studies when I get the chance, and committing to figure drawing (at least) once a month. That last one will feel really good if I can do it consistently.
So that’s it!
If you made it all the way through this: CONGRATULATIONS! You are like this noble capybara—a champion among mammals. Bask in the adoration of your monkeys.
I love the idea of imaginary friends, even if I never had one of my own as a child, and as soon as I received the list of this friend’s characteristics from writer Lisa Schmeiser I knew this was going to be a lot of fun. You should really just go ahead and read her essay, which does a far better job of explaining Black Hand than I ever could.
But since this is a blog about my creative stuff I thought you guys might like to see a little step-by-step process of the creation of this piece. The graphic below was created for one of my weekly Patreon Process Posts, which I put up every Friday with updates on my current projects and behind-the-scenes info on how I get stuff done. If you dig it, why not subscribe? It only costs $2 a month, and helps ensure the creation of bigger, better comics just for you!
I created this piece start-to-finish in Manga Studio 5EX. You can see my initial sketch with the pencil tool, which actually went through three versions. First I’d given Black Hand these loopy bellbottoms, but Glenn asked for something a little more like Morpheus from Sandman, so I added bulky Goth boots and snugged up the pants—tight jeans or flowy sweats. We ended up going for the latter.
After the sketch was approved I went in with the Hairpin Sable inker and laid down some lines. Glenn wanted a psychedelic, dream-like color scheme, so after blocking in some bright colors with the fill tool I added shadows (on a separate layer set to Multiply) and highlights (on a separate layer set to Screen) before going in with a watercolor brush and adding splotches and clouds on the background.
And there you have it! Again, you can read the whole finished article here, and tune in for more weekly process posts like this one over on Patreon.
Well well well, December already and I’m back in the States! I hope you all had a fabulous month.
England and France were absolutely spectacular. I had a sell-out show at Thought Bubble, met a load of great UK creators, explored some of London’s best museums, decompressed in the French countryside, and ate waaaaaaay too much cheese.
(Just kidding. You can never eat too much cheese.)
This is just a quick post to let you all know that my shipping deadline for holiday orders is THIS THURSDAY (December 4th), since I’ll be out of town visiting my family in California for most of December and won’t have access to my stock. If you’ve got a maritime enthusiast in the family, why not get them some quality nautical comics? You can check out all the stuff I’ve got right here. Be sure to request if you’d like me to sign ’em to someone special.
Also, because I feel bad that I don’t have enough time to do a full, in-depth write-up of the trip: have some pages from my sketchbook! (If you’d like to see absolutely everything I’ve done each month, there’s a Patreon tier especially for you! Supporting me making more comics gets you access to exclusive high-res PDFs of all my sketchbook stuff month-by-month.)