Five Favorite Books 1-4 the Harper Hall Trilogy

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menolly_playing_web

The second book of the Harper Hall trilogy by Anne McCaffrey, Dragon Singer begins where Dragon Song left off, with Menolly arriving at her new home in the Harper Craft Hall. She’d lived and thrived homeless for her love of music, succeeding where many others would not have. She discovered and adopted not just one fire-lizard, a creature thought to be a children’s  story, but nine of them. Menolly had found kindness and support at Benden Weyr, home of the dragon riders, proving to be both resourceful and useful to them. She soon discovered though that while she would be more than welcome to stay there, the Master Harper had been looking all across the continent for her, in order to take her as an apprentice Harper. In spite of all these successes, she looks at herself as “just” a girl,and how could she possibly fit in with all these great and talented people.Even now, nearly thirty years later this feeling resonates with me. That imposter syndrome, or feeling of soaring capableness followed by crushing self doubt.

Menolly meets the other master musicians and is tested on her musical knowledge. She butts heads with troublemakers who, like her father, don’t think it’s her place to be a Harper and who are jealous of both her talent and the fact that she has fire-lizards. She also makes some friends and allies, as she begins to settle down in her new home. The second book of the series is more about daily life as a Harper, and about making friends, working at what you love, and settling down in a new place. Part of the reason this book has stayed with me I think, is that it was the first time I’d ever considered this as a way of life. I could make art everyday as part of a community.

The other crafts can jibe that we want to know too much about what is not strictly our business, but I’ve always felt knowledge of matters minor or major makes for better understandings. The mind that will not admit it has something more to learn tomorrow is in danger of stagnating.

Working together, side by side and sharing information has always been the most attractive way to work for me. One of the themes of the book is the interconnection of all the people in the world, and how they all have to work together in order to survive. Sharing information is part of that, because closely guarded secrets get lost with the death of a Crafts Master and have to be reinvented. How much better would it be if that information had been shared so that advancements could be made with our having to redo work first?

As she settled in, Menolly also made some great observations on the relationship between work and play. The life of an artist involves a lot of play that is also hard work. Creative work takes a lot of mental energy, and is exhausting in ways that aren’t always apparent at first sight.

Boys of fifteen Turns, her age, were already serving on boats at the Sea Hold. Of course, an exhausting day at sail lines and nets left little energy to expend on running or laughing. Perhaps that was why her parents couldn’t appreciate her music-it wouldn’t appear to be hard work to them. Menolly shook her hands,letting them flap from her wrists. They ached and trembled from the constricted movements and tension of an hour of intensive playing. No, her parents would never understand that playing musical instruments could be as hard work assailing or fishing.

It was the first time I’d every really thought of it as work that had to be done and sometimes wasn’t fun, but that was mostly always rewarding.

The rewards of living a creative life in the company of other passionate, creative people is why this book has stayed with me all these years. Like an old friend,I can go back to this book when I’m feeling lost or alone, and the story of Menolly reminds me that I’m not alone at all. There’s a community out there that I’ve become a part of. It reminds me of the excitement of trying new techniques and playing with my work. It reminds me that while I might feel like a fraud who isn’t as good as he wants to be, there are people out there rooting for me.

Find us on Patreon!Thank you for stopping in! If you enjoyed what this post, I’d like to invite you to visit my Patreon page at Patreon.com/redherringjeff which is where I post content first, including some things that I don’t post anywhere else. Again thank you for looking, commenting and sharing. Your support means the world to me.

Five Favorite Books 1-3 The Harper Hall Trilogy

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menolly of Half Circle Sea Hold by jeffrey johnson of redherringillustration.comThe first book of the Harper Hall trilogy, Dragon Song begins with the main character, Menolly singing the funeral song for her friend Petiron. An aging Harper,
Petiron had retired to Menolly’s home at Half-Circle Sea Hold to live out his days. As his caretaker, Menolly and the Harper became close friends, and he taught her everything he knew of his craft. While she was described as tall and strong and was often mistaken for a boy, she was a girl.

“One in ten hundred have perfect pitch,” Petiron had said in one of his evasive replies. “One in ten thousand can build an acceptable melody with meaningful words. Were you only a lad, there’d be no problem at all.”

“Well,we’re stuck with me being a girl.”

“You’d make a fine big strong lad, you would,” Petiron had replied exasperatingly.

“And what’s wrong with being a fine big strong girl?” Menolly had been half-teasing,half-annoyed.

This remembered exchange between the two friends, set up that not only does Menolly have an extraordinary talent, but also that it’s kind of a problem that she’s not a boy. Being a Harper was something that men did and it would be disgraceful to her father if anyone found out that she would have the gall to believe that it was something she could aspire to.

Published in 1977, during the height of second-wave feminism, Dragon Song deals in part with issues of equality and gender discrimination, changing political climates,abuse, and growing up. I wanted to say that it was about longing for something better, but I don’t really know whether that’s true. Menolly’s life as Petiron’s apprentice wasn’t perfect, but she had her heart’s true desire – to play music.When he died, she grudging allowed to play with supervision, and then following an accident where she cut her hand was forbidden to play at all. Without musician her life she felt like a hollowed out shell, began to drift through her days doing chores and looked for opportunities to be alone with her thoughts.Gathering sweet grasses and crayfish in the countryside offered these chances for her. They also made it possible for her to explore the coastline, which is how she stumbled across a fire-lizard queen and helped save its eggs from being drowned in the ocean.

Most people considered fire-lizards, miniature dragons about the size of a Macaw, fairy stories told by young boys to impress the other children. Menolly had not only seen one though, she had actually held it’s eggs! Looking forward to seeing the fire-lizards again, she left home early one morning to gather food.Far from home, up the coastline, she was caught outside the safety of her home’s stone walls during a dangerous storm, and was forced to take shelter in the fire-lizard’s cave. The eggs began to hatch. Rather than let the babies fly out into the storm to their deaths, she fed as many as she could the crayfish she’d collected. When Menolly woke the next morning, nine fire-lizards thought of her as their mother. Feeling like she’d never really belonged back home, and knowing that once they realized she wasn’t there they would assume she was dead,she decided not to go back.

Dragon Song is not about looking for more than what you have. It deals with a lot ofbig issues, within its adventure framework, but it is about loss, self reliance, and finding happiness. It’s also about finding something to care about and letting others care about you. I always identified with Menolly because she LOVED what she did, and I think really wanted people to pay attention to that part of her, but at the same time didn’t want anyone to notice her. Those were very familiar feelings growing up. As far as an introduction to the world of Pern, I’d say that it’s actually better than starting with the first book. There is a short foreword that gets you up to speed with the setting, and I found the story itself to be much more personal and satisfying than you’d find in the core books.

Find us on Patreon!Thank you for stopping in! If you enjoyed what this post, I’d like to invite you to visit my Patreon page at Patreon.com/redherringjeff which is where I post content first, including some things that I don’t post anywhere else. Again thank you for looking, commenting and sharing. Your support means the world to me.

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Five Favorite Books 1-2 The Harper Hall Trilogy

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About the Setting

Fire Lizard Queen by Jeffrey Johnson of Red Herring IllustrationThe Pern novels are Science Fiction, or at least that’s where you’ll find them in the book store. Being born the same year that Star Wars came out, I’ve been a fan for my whole life, and I‘d always thought of myself as a lover of Science Fiction. As I look back on it though, the closest thing I’d ever read to “pure” science fiction up to that point was Dune, by Frank Herbert. In fact, I was probably twenty-seven or twenty-eight before I’d ever read any Isaac Asimov or H.P. Lovecraft. I think I was in my thirties before I really realized that Star Wars wasn’t really, SciFi at all, but that it was actually Science Fantasy. So were the dragons of Pern.  I’ve loved them both since “hello.”

Dragon Song, and Dragon Singer are the first two books of the Harper Hall Trilogy, from Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern books. The Harper Hall trilogy is science fantasy, and like Star Wars or Doctor Who, there are a lot of mainstays from fantasy stories, like dragons, sailors and travelling bards. All of these things though, are nestled into a science fiction framework on the far away planet of Pern, settled by colonists from Earth. I remember in seventh grade, writing a book report on this same book, and explaining things using terms from the setting with no context. I didn’t even think about what it would be like if I’d never heard of Star Wars, and suddenly someone was talking to me about the Force, Wookies, Droids, and the Empire. It’s far enough removed from our world to make it difficult to know what’s going on, or the motivations behind the characters actions. Luckily, these books begin with a two page introduction to the world.

Pern was settled by space faring colonists from earth. It was an untouched paradise, and the people were happy there. What the colonists didn’t know though, was that there was a sister planet in the same solar system that would regularly orbit close to their new home. Pern’s sister, called “The Red Star” in the books was infected by a kind of spore, that would spin off from its atmosphere, flung into space to fall to the surface of Pern. As the spore fell, it would heat and stretch into  long silver filaments, earning it the name “thread”.  Thread would eat any organic material. The only things it seemed not to be able to destroy were stone and metal, the only way to destroy it were drowning in water, or burning it with fire.

The Colonists were, hardy and resourceful people though. They carved huge forts, or “holds” out of natural caves and cliffs to protect them and their provisions from the thread. They bred and trained creatures native to the planet called dragons, after the mythical beasts from earth to fly and burn it before it could reach the planet’s surface. They developed a social structure much like city states from earth’s middle ages. Holders worked the land for the lord holder. Lord holders, paid a tithe to the weyr, or the home of the dragon riders who protected their land. Crafts and skilled labor operated outside and through this system, with guilds and craft halls overseeing their work, giving them independence and ensuring that all holds had access to trade for the things they needed. The society was in many ways egalitarian, recognizing that they needed to work together in order flourish. The people survived, but with a system so rigid because of the constant threat of thread, change, innovation and progress came slowly, if at all.

Tradition has become very important on Pern, and has over time taken the form of unwritten law, set deep in the people and unshakeable.  Dragon Song, and Dragon Singer are about Menolly, and how she discovered fire lizards, miniature dragons thought to be children’s stories. Her adventures continued as she goes on to became a part of the Harper craft hall.  Musicians and storytellers, harpers are the eyes and ears of the world, keepers of tradition, and agents of change. I find myself coming back to the story of Menolly and her passion for music every time I doubt my own path.

redherringjeff on patreonThank you for stopping in! If you enjoyed what this post, I’d like to invite you to visit my Patreon page at Patreon.com/redherringjeff which is where I post content first, including some things that I don’t post anywhere else. Again thank you for looking, commenting and sharing. Your support means the world to me.

Five Favorite Books 1-1 The Harper Hall Trilogy

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Anne McCaffery's Harper Hall Books by Jeffrey Johnson of Red Herring IllustrationWhen I was in Sixth Grade, we moved to Huntsville, Alabama and I was introduced to the public library. I’ve been to a lot of libraries since then, but somehow none of them even compare. the Library was three stories with massive sections of reference books, fiction, non-fiction, a youth area with books and novels and lots of space to spread out and read. That library was not close to my house, but I was an eleven-year-old kid in the ’80s with a bike and a sense of adventure. I could go anywhere. And did.

I was that kid who would rather sit out in gym and read than play basketball, earning myself a “D” in a class that’s thought of as an easy “A”. This isn’t to say that I didn’t do physical things, or that I wasn’t active. I wanted to act  out the adventures in my head, and just couldn’t do that by playing games in gym. I was that kid who, when all the other kids were talking about the cool toys they got for Christmas, would tell them that I got a pile of new books. To which, my classmates would give me pitying looks. I didn’t care though, because books were what I wanted, and what I’d asked for. I would read pretty much anything, but I loved books about adventure, wizards, and dragons.

I’ve loved the library my whole life, but never really learned to use card catalogue. Luckily, my mom would let me browse however long I wanted, and would let me pick up any book that captured my interest. This is how I was introduced to Brian Froud and Alan Lee, through their Fairies book. Which terrified me. (Look up Alan Lee Pookah to see the face of that fear.) I found books on leatherworking, and music, on puppet plays and foreign languages. I also found where they kept the fantasy books that would fuel my imagination through middle and high school.

Books with the word Dragon in the title were always worth at least picking up for me. Dragons of Winter Twilight by Margret Weis and Tracy Hickman with the awesome blue dragon and armored warrior on the cover. Piers Anthony’s Dragon on a Pedestal with Princess Ivy and Stanly Steamer on the cover. A book by Anne McCaffery with a girl by the sea with miniature dragons flying all around her called Dragon Song.  Finding books this way would often drop me in the middle of a series, but when they were good, they were good in spite of having no context.

Dragon Song was a book about a girl named Menolly, who loved music. No, not just loved music, she lived music. It’s a story about how that part of her life was taken from her, by an accident and by the expectations of her time and place. Just when she is feeling the loss the most, something amazing happens that changes her life and sets her on a path to find herself again. It had me at “hello”.

redherringjeff on patreonThis month, to celebrate reaching my first Patreon goal, I’m writing five book reviews of books that have stayed with me and helped shape who I am today. I plan on breaking up the reviews into (more or less) five parts.

 

  • An introduction with where I was when I first read the book.
  • What you need to know about the setting and characters.
  • Book review part one, the main story line.
  • Book review part two, the “B” story line.
  • There’s always a conclusion, isn’t there?

This week’s review is about Dragon Song and Dragon Singer, the first two books of the Harper Hall trilogy by Anne McCaffery. I’m looking forward to sharing them with you!

INKtober Day Fifteen – Ten-Thousand Hours

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inktober15_web“They” Say it takes ten-thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery of something. Ten. Thousand. Hours. It’s kind of mind boggling. By that metric, if you were to set aside ten hours a week to draw, you’d log five-hundred twenty hours a year. Every two years, would be one-thousand forty hours. At that rate, it would take you twenty years to achieve mastery. Just in time to retire.

What “they” don’t tell you though, is that it doesn’t all have to be done all at once. Nor does it have to be done in a special “drawing time” that you’ve set aside. Every doodle you make during a class, meeting, or phone call counts. Every map you draw when giving directions, counts. Every smiley face in a fogged bathroom mirror, every Pictionary game, every unicorn hastily scribbled on a restaurant napkin for your bored six-year-old daughter…it counts.

Not only do those things count, but “they” also don’t tell you that you’ve already started logging those hours. Every macaroni portrait and torn paper rainbow you made in the first grade counted. Every junior high science fair project that required diagrams counted. Every piece of artwork you’ve ever made, counts towards that total.

The other thing “they” don’t tell you is that it doesn’t really end at ten-thousand. That’s really just the beginning. It’s not insurmountable though, because you’re already on your way and building up steam. Before you know it, you’ll be doing ten-thousand every two years, because that’s your life and you love it.

Now get out there and draw or make or cook or play something!

 

redherringjeff on patreonThank you for stopping in! If you enjoyed what this post, I’d like to invite you to visit my Patreon page at Patreon.com/redherringjeff which is where I post content first, including some things that I don’t post anywhere else. Again thank you for looking, commenting and sharing. Your support means the world to me.

INKtober Day Fourteen – A Sketch Book Exercise

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inktober day fourteen by jeffrey johnson of red herring illustrationPull out a piece of paper and do a drawing of someone sitting and reading out of your head. What details did you add? Are they in a setting, or just floating in space? “I wouldn’t have put this detail in here if I was drawing this out of my head”, is one of the things that I think about while working on these drawings from life this month.

I’m in the Saint Charles Community College catalog this spring, teaching three classes: Beginning/Intermediate Drawing, Beginning/Intermediate Watercolor, and Sketchbook Fundamentals. Basically, it’s an intro to different types of working sketchbooks, and sketch journaling. As I work on my own projects and sketches, I often think about strategies I wish I’d learned and practiced as a student. I also think about exercises and assignments that can help push a class towards learning to practice those strategies.

A Sketchbook Exercise

  •  Draw a real object or scene from your imagination. For some reason, I always think about a pumpkin when considering the subject for this exercise. It’s pretty easy, and readily recognizable by most people.
  • Find a photo of a pumpkin and draw it again from reference.
  • If you’re feeling especially adventurous, you can try drawing it from several different angles using only the one bit of reference.
  • Find a real pumpkin and draw it from several different angles, from life.
  • Draw it one more time from memory. How does it compare to the original one you drew from imagination?

Each drawing should be different, but how are they different? Our skills and visual vocabularies are built up like legos. When we first begin to draw something, it’s like building with Duplo blocks. Kind of big and clunky, all the parts are there, but there isn’t any fine detail or individuality. Ultimately, it’s kind of a symbol of the real thing. As we learn about what’s really there, and what makes each individual unique, our skill improves and we start building with regular, and then technic legos. Each step adds more detail, and makes the experience richer for both the builder and the viewer.

Life drawing is an important component of sketchbook practice, but it isn’t without it’s special challenges. I did today’s drawing at the library while the kid’s read and played in the children’s area. Right after we got there, mom came in with her little boy and sat down to read while he played, so I started drawing her. If you’re drawing a cute, single mom at the library and you’re six-year-old drawing is close by, there’s a better than average chance that she’s going to ask loudly if that’s what you’re doing. I don’t know if it’s more embarrassing getting noticed drawing someone, or getting called out doing it. Hahahaha!

redherringjeff on patreonThank you for stopping in! If you enjoyed what this post, I’d like to invite you to visit my Patreon page at Patreon.com/redherringjeff which is where I post content first, including some things that I don’t post anywhere else. Again thank you for looking, commenting and sharing. Your support means the world to me.

INKtober Day Thirteen – Kids Don’t Know How Good They Have It

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Inktober day 13 by jeffrey johnson of red herring illustrationI remember having a pretty huge collection of magazines when I was a kid. Not that kind of magazine, I’m talking about stacks of National Geographics, HOW, Modelers Resource, Star Log, Wizard, and Artist’s Magazine. I’d spend hours reading articles, looking at tiny, grainy pictures trying to figure out how they did it, and being inspired. NOW though. Now, we live in an amazing world now, where ideas and experiences can be shared in a way that I never thought would be possible.

I went to the Saint Louis Small Press Expo this weekend, and was talking to a girl who makes ‘zines the old fashioned way still. On a photocopier at Kinko’s.  In a world of print on demand, that’s pretty cool, and it reminded me of the first time I did anything like a blog. In 2004, right after I’d moved to Saint Louis, I’d never heard of Live Journal, or blogger…I didn’t even know what a blog was. This was back when not everyone had the internet yet, AOL still existed, before Facebook, and even MYspace. I’d write a two page letter every Wednesday, then go up to Kinko’s and make photocopies of it along with that week’s sketchbook pages, and mail the whole package to four or five friends.

Often, if I’m going to practice something, it takes more than discipline. I tend to need a reason to practice. Friend’s make great accountability buddies, and writing letters was a way to keep in touch, stay focused, and build discipline.

Kid’s don’t know how good they have it. Today, I was able to hang out with a friend in Virginia on Periscope. We chatted while he worked on a watercolor sketch and I washed the dishes. There’s almost no way I would’ve even met him in 2004, much less formed any kind of friendship.

Then tonight, I chatted with another friend over messenger about a HUGE project idea. I’m half a state away, eating terrible fries in a diner and talking about ideas in real time. We’re able to share pictures, make lists, and look things up like we’re working in the same room. Pretty amazing.

Then, I’ll share all this with the world on Instagram, and Patreon. Kid’s really don’t know how good they have it. 🙂

 

redherringjeff on patreonThank you for stopping in! If you enjoyed what this post, I’d like to invite you to visit my Patreon page at Patreon.com/redherringjeff which is where I post content first, including some things that I don’t post anywhere else. Again thank you for looking, commenting and sharing. Your support means the world to me.

INKtober Day Twelve – What Do You Do With It?

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inktober day twelve by jeffrey johnson of red herring illustrationSometimes, I think there must be a lot of people out there with nothing on the walls in their houses. Which seems weird to me, because I use framed artwork like some people use wallpaper. If there’s a blank spot, we need to find a picture to fill it with.

A large portion of my income is from Art and Craft shows. I’m what I call a gregarious introvert, while I definitely like to spend time by myself with my thoughts, I also really like to talk to people. So I love doing craft shows. Standing behind my table and talking about the things I love most in the world is one of my favorite things in the world. I get to see and talk to people about their interests, get real time feedback on my work, and enjoy the sunshine and fresh air. My job is usually pretty awesome.

My booth is full of prints and original art. This is how I make my living. My artwork opens the door for all kinds of great conversations about children’s books, fan art, copyright, and demonstrations. There’s usually at least one question about custom commissions, and talk about demonstrations and class presentations. People love stories and sharing their mutual experiences. That’s awesome.

I was at a show recently though, where I was asked “What do you do with these?” more than once.

What…?

…Uuuuummm.”

I have a general discussion banter that I’ve developed over the years. Some of it is boiler plate comments about the work, or greetings as people come into the booth. I like talking to people and this gets the ball rolling. Questions like this though, throw a wrench in the smooth flow of my pitch. I’m so used to making and thinking about art that I don’t always think about what you DO with it. To me that’s a given. Art is part of the fabric of my life and I can’t imagine not looking at it every day. So, I don’t always realize that most of the art in our world is encountered in packaging and advertisements.

Most of us aren’t going to hang a cereal box, or even a book jacket or record cover for that matter.

Most of the art on our walls is school pictures.

Maybe it’s time to think more about what you would do with it.

redherringjeff on patreonThank you for stopping in! If you enjoyed what this post, I’d like to invite you to visit my Patreon page at Patreon.com/redherringjeff which is where I post content first, including some things that I don’t post anywhere else. Again thank you for looking, commenting and sharing. Your support means the world to me.

INKtober Day Eleven – Staying Out of the Way

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Inktober day eleven by jeffrey johnson of red herring illustrationI often have to remind myself that the dishes can wait a minute while I help my daughter draw a heart. I can wait to read that article, or write that blog post until I get the paints out for the girls to work on. I have to remind myself that sometimes my daily routine gets in the way of theirs. They don’t need me to do most things for them, but a little guidance or encouragement goes a long way.

Kids are naturally curious, and creative. They are people of action who ask questions, make messes, and start projects. Kids ask for help whether they need it or not, because they like to do things together. Also, because they’re not afraid to admit that they don’t know how to do things.

Adults on the other hand, are good at getting in the way. Usually, it’s because we know a way to do something, or because we don’t want to stop what we’re doing. Adults get tired of questions, whether they know the answer or not. Adults don’t like to clean up messes and they like projects that have an end. Adults don’t like to ask for help.

Adults…don’t like to admit that they don’t know how to do things.

Kids are good at learning things, and I try to be careful about what I teach them.

I need to learn to get out of the way of learning.

for the kids.

for me too.

 

redherringjeff on patreonThank you for stopping in! If you enjoyed what this post, I’d like to invite you to visit my Patreon page at Patreon.com/redherringjeff which is where I post content first, including some things that I don’t post anywhere else. Again thank you for looking, commenting and sharing. Your support means the world to me.

INKtober Day Ten – The Elves and the Shoemaker

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inktober day ten by jeffrey johnson of red herring illustrationDo you remember the story The Elves and the Shoemaker? The story goes that a shoemaker would cut the leather for the next day’s shoes every night before bed. When he woke and went down to the shop in the morning, he’d find that the shoes would be mysteriously finished. He discovers that elves had been entering the shop in the night to do the work of assembling his carefully chosen and cut shoe pieces. The more I think about this story, the more I wonder who was the artist, and who was the laborer?

The two characters in the story, represent two aspects of the artist, which really can’t exist without each other. There are no elves to do the finish work for me. Doing the initial work of observing, thinking, and drawing though, set me up to do make art more quickly and professionally. Putting in the hours making patterns and cutting leather honed the shoemakers craft. Putting in the hours drawing and dreaming hone mine.

I’ve been loving watching other artists work through INKtober this year, and I think the community aspect of the challenge is amazing and helps push us all forward. This year I’ve been especially inspired by Lucy Bellwood (@lubellwoo on instagram) with her #drawyourdemons series, and Scott Fischer (@scottmfischer on instagram) who has been doing really amazing videos of his INKtober drawings.

Doing the daily chores of building the craft behind the art allows me to grow in ways that focusing on making finished work just can’t. Facing the challenge of working as a gift, for myself, without expectation of “payment” has been rewarding in ways that I suspected but didn’t really expect.

  • Allowing myself to admit that the work makes me anxious seems to be helping me face that anxiety.
  • Doing it for myself means that it doesn’t have to be perfect.
  • Because I don’t need it to be perfect, I’m able to embrace mistakes.
  • Fearing the mistakes less means that I’m more likely to experiment.
  • Moving forward. 😀

I feel like the drawings are getting stronger, and I’m enjoying doing them more every day. I’m really excited about tomorrow.

redherringjeff on patreonThank you for stopping in! If you enjoyed what this post, I’d like to invite you to visit my Patreon page at Patreon.com/redherringjeff which is where I post content first, including some things that I don’t post anywhere else. Again thank you for looking, commenting and sharing. Your support means the world to me.