Work in Progress – both artwork and my health

Painting in progress

Playing with paints. It’s not all that easy!

I have taken very few (maybe 3?) art classes in my life. So I’ve never really learned to paint. I could always draw, and I started drawing cartoons very early on in life. I remember filling a lot of grade-school notebooks with doodles of sad, fat, droopy ponies. I don’t know why ponies, exactly, except that for a time, I was really, REALLY obsessed with horses. Also with Crazy Horse, who was not a horse, but who had the word “horse” in his name, so I read every book about him that I could get my hands on.

Anyhoo, I don’t have a formal art education, so I’ve been teaching myself over the years, learning whatever I can from books, online tutorials, and these days, YouTube videos. The above painting-in-progress is inspired by a video tutorial done by makoccino. She did the tutorial for watercolors, which is what I started with, but my paints and paper are so cheap that the paint kept flaking off and taking some paper with it. So I switched to acrylics pretty quickly to keep going. I think the cat eyes look terrible, but I’m not unhappy with the leaves. We’ll see how it looks when I’m done.

Speaking of things that I am working on, my health is also a work-in-progress. In addition to hardware and software problems, another reason I stopped doing webcomic (and pretty much everything else) for a while was because I’ve been ill. It’s not an illness we’ve been able to name beyond “arthritis,” “insomnia,” “constant fatigue,” and “all-over aches and pains.” I’ve been dealing with all the above problems for a while now, and they hit really hard about a year and a half ago, right after I spent a month with my parents after my dad had his heart attack (coincidence? Hmmmmm…).

These symptoms turned my days into never-ending battles to get something, anything, done. I would wake up at 6AM, completely exhausted. I’d struggle through breakfast and getting the girls to school (I drive them to and from school every day). Then I’d come home, do my damnedest to stay awake, and fail miserably, ending up asleep on the couch for three to four hours. That left me with just enough time to take care of Gibbie and get him out for a walk, then drive straight back to school to get Pixie, who got out at 3PM, come home and try to do some housework, and then head out again to pick up Princess, who was staying after school until 5PM or later for drama. Between the driving back and forth to schools, taking care of the dog, and being unconscious most of the day, I only had time left for the basics: laundry; cleaning the kitchen; Girl Scouts; and anything else the kids needed. I had no time or energy left for anything else.

Just so you know, I have been tested multiple times for Lyme’s Disease, Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and even Sjogren’s Disease. All the tests keep coming back negative. I talked with my doctor about Fibromyalgia, but the symptoms don’t really fit. I don’t know about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome yet. We’re still looking at that, along with ideas of what else I could be dealing with.

So, after struggling to survive Princess’ first year of high school, I decided I needed to figure out for myself what I could do to get back my health. It’s been a process of trial and error, but I’ve seen some progress. I started by making changes in what I eat. I avoid processed food as much as I can now, and eat as many fresh fruits and vegetables as I can stomach. I’ve been teaching myself to cook (another skill I never had any formal training in) and I’ve been expanding the types of vegetables I will eat and how I prefer them to be cooked (roasted cauliflower? Yes. Steamed cauliflower? You go to hell!).

I’ve also been working on my sleep. I try to get into the bedroom by 8PM so I can take an hour to unwind, do some yoga, take a hot bath, yadda, yadda, yadda. I’ve weaned myself off Zzzyquil and most nights, if I get in bed by 9PM, I will probably get 7-8 hours of sleep. Some nights, though, insomnia will rear up its ugly head no matter what I do. So I’ve got an appointment with a sleep specialist to see what can be done about that.

And of course, I’ve been working on exercise. I spent a lot of time this summer looking at what activities I could do if I wasn’t feeling well. There are plenty of videos on YouTube and Amazon Prime for low intensity workouts like indoor walking, chair yoga, etc. I’ve made lists of what I can fall back on when I’m too exhausted for an hour in the pool or an hour walk with Gibbie. On the flip side, I’ve also made a list of what I can do when I do feel well, and have been careful not to push myself to exhaustion so that I end up feeling sick again.

I think all this has been working. I have been feeling better. I haven’t had any massive flair-ups of joint pain for a while now, but it’s still summer, so we’ll have to see what happens when winter hits. The insomnia has been a problem this week, but I’ve been working with it, switching to low intensity activity so I still keep moving and get something things done. Like that painting above. Even though I didn’t sleep well last night, I was still able to pull myself together in time today to spend an hour of that, and get this blog post done as well.

And, just like the painting, I got to say, I’m not unhappy about it. In fact, I think I’m pretty danged pleased.

Messy Monday – Painted Skulls and a Broken Nose

I had an epic fail on Friday.

Pixie and I were jogging on a local trail, anways behind Princess’ cross country team. The trail in question is steep, with lots of big tree roots crossing it, along with the occasional heavy wooden beam to shore up the steeper parts. Pixie was jogging with the coach’s dog, while I jogged along behind her with Gibbie. I was doing pretty good, jogging faster than I have in a while. I was feeling pretty good.

Then I caught my foot on a tree root and slammed face first into the ground.

The good news is that I did not plant my face into a wooden beam. I hit that with my ribs, instead. The bad news is that I hit the ground HARD, and I knew that as soon as I hit, I had broken my nose.

Apparently, my crash landing was so tremendous it scared the young lady running ahead of me. After checking to see if I was okay (I was laughing as I sat up, despite my smashed nose), she ran off to get Pixie and the team coach. I told the coach I was fine and sent her off to keep track of the girls still running. Pixie stayed with me. According to her, I walked over to a nearby bench, sat down, then tumbled over ass-over-tea-kettle as Inpassed out. I don’t remember doing that, but I do remember having a very brief, pleasant dream that ended with me waking up staring at the grass and Pixie asking me if I was okay.

“Uh, yeah. I’m fine. But why is the world sideways?”

I was able to pull myself together after a few more minutes, and Pixie and I walked a mile back to our car. My nose bled the entire way. As soon as the cross country team came in, I grabbed Princess and we drove home. It took me an hour to clean up. I was covered from head to toe in dirt and dead leaves, along with blood, bruises and scrapes. But I was still laughing, so I was okay.

Later that day, Princess and Pixie asked why I had laughed through all this. I was a real mess. In addition to breaking my nose, I also tore up both knees and one elbow and I broke the big toe on my right foot. Why would I laugh when I did all that? Good question. I’m not really sure of the answer, but I hope it’s because I chose to laugh instead of cry. Yes, it all hurt like hell, but I think crying or even just complaining would have made it much worse. Laughing as soon as I got up seemed to make it feel better. And I think I chose to laugh because I knew that, but I knocked myself so silly, I can’t be sure I actually made that choice.

In any event, I have a couple of photos of the skulls I’ve been painting. I’ve gotten farther along, adding dots of white paint to make patterns. Over the white, I’m adding a bit of metallic paint, and then I plan to add some jewel-tone paints on top of that. What do you think?

Blue skull

I tried making the dots with a paint brush, but found a stylus works better.

Pink skull

This one is my favorite so far!

Yellow skull

This one’s a bit messy, but I’ve gotten farther along with it.


And there you have it! This week’s mess. Yay!

Messy Mondays – An experiment with skulls

So, I’ve decided to start adding some new topics to post about. One of these is something I’m calling “Messy Mondays.” This is a chance for me to show off stuff that I’m currently working on. The idea is that I make a big mess, get my hands dirty making art, and you get to see what I’m doing and maybe how I’m doing it, if I get my act together enough.

For this Monday, I’ve got a trio of skulls that I’m working on!

Messy Monday Skulls

Lovely skulls, yeah?

These are paper-mache skulls that I bought back in October. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with them at the time, but I figured it would be something fun. Naturally, the skulls ended up just sitting in a bag tucked away in my stash of art supplies.

But a couple weeks ago, I pulled these babies out and started playing with them! Remember, the idea is for me to make a mess, so I don’t really have a firm idea of what I’m doing, no plan at all. I just picked out some of my fluid acrylic paints and some gel medium and I started brushing on some color. So far, I like what I’ve got.

However, these are far from done. I also have some gel pens, some acrylic inks, and I bought some metallic paints as well, so I plan to keep messing with these skulls for a while longer. I’ll post more pictures as I go, so you’ll get to see how…if… I make any further progress 🙂

Krampus Challenge – Day 20, Three Elf Heads Are Better Than One!


Shrunken Elf Heads!

Ta-daa! A trio of shrunken elf heads!

I managed to get these three finished today. I’m very pleased with how they turned out. They’re a very simple project, but even simple projects take a bit of planning and thought.  I experimented a bit with each elf hat to determine exactly how I wanted to make it. Small things – like crocheting in the front loop only on the bottom row – make it easier to assemble the final product.

I also noticed a few things about the yarn I used for these. For the most part, I went with Red Heart. Red Heart has plenty of shades of green and red, and some of the greens are perfect for making zombies. However, some of these yarns were more difficult to work with than others. Some of the reds had a stiffer feel to them, making them harder to stitch. One of the heads I made with Vanna’s Choice, which is one of my favorite yarns to make toys and amigurumi with. The difference between your basic Red Heart and Vanna’s Choice is very noticeable. Vanna’s Choice is much softer and easier to use. But it’s also more expensive, so there’s that to take into account.

I also did a little sketch today of my little shrunken elf heads.


Elf Heads Sketch!

This is exactly what our tree looks like right now.

I drew this in a book called “Never Quit Drawing,” by Laura Simms, illustrated by Kerby Rosanes. The little duck and snail critters at the lower left of this sketch are Rosanes’ work, as is the pencil at the top of the page. The rest of the artwork is all mine. The idea behind “Never Quit Drawing” is to establish a daily drawing habit. The book guides you through the process of developing habits in general, and looking at how drawing habits affect an artists work in particular. After each chapter, there are pages for the reader to draw on, with a spot to write down the time of day the drawing was done, and the mood/energy level of the artist. Obviously, i wasn’t feeling my best this morning (see the note on “tired, joint pain’). But i did get my drawing done for today.

TTomorrow, I hope to finish off the second Krampus Raven and maybe get started on a Ginger-Dead Man ornament. We’ll see how it goes.

ACW Episode 279 – Don’t drink and paint


Click on the image above to see it bigger!

I had the opportunity last month to go out for a little “me” time. A local tea shop hosted a “Pinot & Painting” night, and it was fantastic! They served grown-up treats – cheese fondue, a chocolate fountain with strawberries, etc. And best of all, they had WINE!

I only had one glass, but let me tell you, when you are painting at a table with a dozen other women, and you’re all drinking wine and you all have cups of paint water sitting right next to you, it’s very easy to confuse the wine and the paint water. Until you drink it, that is. Then you realize you have made a horrible, horrible mistake.

Anyhoo, I had a lovely evening painting, although I must confess, the subject matter the instructor choose for painting was not exactly to my taste. She brought a reference photo of some local waterfowl. While her demo painting looked very nice, mine ended up looking more like the promotional poster for a movie entitled, “Psycho Ducks of DOOOOOOOOOOOM!”

Psycho Ducks of DOOOOOOM!

“Psycho Ducks of DOOOOOOM!” coming to a theater near you!

Again, this is not a subject matter I would normally paint. My paintings usually look more like this…

The Twisted Lip

“The Twisted Lip” by Helen E. H. Madden

Or they look something like this…

Fight Like a Girl!

Work in progress – “Fight Like A Girl (Black Widow) by Helen E. H. Madden

This last painting is one of a series that I’m doing for Pixie’s room. I found some images on the web of Black Widow, Katniss Everdeen, etc. I ran the images through Photoshop to break them down into basic colors and add the caption and background color. Then I traced that image onto the canvas. Now I’m doing a little DIY paint-by-numbers, matching the colors from my Photoshopped image as I paint. Not my most artistic work, but these paintings will look nice in Pixie’s room when they’re all done.

So yeah, crazy waterfowl are not my usual subject matter for painting. Although I could see doing a painting of Howard the Duck for our living room. Hmmmmmm… Maybe “Psychotic Ducks of DOOOOOOM!” belongs on my walls after all.

Quick Sketch – Autumn Leaf

Princess has an assignment this week to find and draw an an autumn leaf. We picked up a bunch of leaves from our backyard last night. She’s not quite done with her drawing, but I decided to do one last night before bedtime. Here’s the results. This is just a quick sketch made with Faber Castell brush pens. Again, no pencil drawing. I’ve learned that when I just skip the pencil sketch and go straight to pen, I get a much better result. Things are looser, more fluid, and more organic looking. Penciling first makes my artwork look too awkward and constrained.

More spooky art for Halloween

Because I’ve actually been doing a bit of drawing lately, here’s some more spooky art!

The vampire bat-cat, done in brush pens on watercolor paper. No, I don’t know where the idea came from. I just started drawing and this is what came out.

Medusa and Bats. This one was inspired by a cartoon of Medusa that I saw in Ben Caldwell’s book Fantasy! Cartooning and by the book Boris and Bella, illustrated by Gris Grimly. I did the sketch last year, and only recently scanned it into the computer to paint it in Photoshop. The painting has been slow going, as you can see, but I work on it a bit at a time whenever I can. I’m hopeful this will turn out well.

Hope you’re all having fun! I uploaded this a day in advance, so right about now I’m probably at the Rally to Restory Sanity and/or Fear. Hope everyone’s having a good weekend!

Spooky art for Halloween

I’ve been doing a bit more art lately, mostly just doodles in various notebooks, but some have turned out very interesting.



Basically, all I’m doing is grabbing a cheap sketch pad and a brush pen and just drawing freehand with no real plan. I like the quality of line I get with the brush pen, and I like not using a pencil because it forces me to draw without wasting time on mistakes. If I screw up a line, then I just have to work it into the sketch. That’s what happened with the Demoness, thus the bandages around her throat. It worked out pretty well, I thought!

I’ve been thinking about doing more stuff like this – no pencil, just draw and go. I’ve got another image I’ll scan in for later this week, done with color markers no less! Not lots of color, but enough to make it pop, I think. And it’s spooky too.

Anyway, enjoy the artwork. Hopefully I will get some time to paint these in Photoshop and then show them off again.

WIP – watercolor robot

Have I shown one of my robot drawing here before? I think I have. I don’t know what it is with me and robots, but I like drawing them. I usually do them with a brush pen in a little sketch book I keep in my smallest bag. Gives me something very portable to work on no matter where I’m at. But then I did a robot in ArtRage on my desktop, using the watercolor tools, and that looked rather nice, so now, a month or two later, I’ve started doing another one, only this time actually painting it with real watercolors on real paper.

Imagine that. I haven’t painted with water colors since I was in college, say 20 or more years ago? And yet I have kept in my art supplies all this time a complete set of Cottman watercolors, unopened until this afternoon. Today was the day to finally open it. And here are the results so far…

What prompted this foray into traditional art was the kids’ desire to paint. I keep buying watercolor sets for them (you can see Pixie’s set in the picture there), and they go through them like crazy. They go through art paper even crazier than that, especially since most children’s art paper is NOT TOUGH ENOUGH to withstand the usual technique of over-saturation my girls use when they paint (i.e. they get the paper and everything else in the area sopping wet). So I finally broke down and bought some actual watercolor paper. I got cheap stuff, to be sure, since I know how fast it will go, but since we had the paper, and I had recently unearthed my paints, and then found my brushes, I thought, why not? And so I sat down with the girls today and started painting a robot in a tree.

I’m hoping we’ll do more painting this week. I already have a pretty good idea of what the rest of the painting should look like, but we’ll see how this goes. Again, I’ve been doing digital art for so long, I’ve almost forgotten how to do the traditional stuff. Ah well, the worst I can do is fuck this up and then have to start another one.

Weekly Doodle – Another Robot and Butterfly

This is the sketch that inspired the Art Rage painting last week. I try to keep a sketch pad and drawing pens on hand, in case I get the urge to doodle. Sometimes I’ll go as long as a couple of months without doodling, which is stupid because I really ought to draw at least a few minutes a day. Other times, I’ll draw on a daily basis. I suppose this on again/off again cycle has a lot to do with my schedule. It’s hard to do anything on a daily basis when I’m already writing a different story every week. That’s going to change come this fall, because I need to give myself a bit of a break. And because I want to draw more.

Anyway, I’ve been drawing lots of little robots lately. Sometimes they have little word balloons over their heads like this one does, with jokes told entirely in Steam Punk, the native tongue of robots. This one was drawn on a 3.5″ x 5″ sketch pad with Faber Castell’s sanguine art pen set. I mainly used the brush pen with the small point pens for detail work. The initial sketch was done with a mechanical pencil. I love mechanical pencils for sketching. I always get a much crisper drawing when I use a mechanical pencil.