Reality Bites – A Year of Art, Wolf Problems and Hard Decisions

2018 has, for many people I know myself included, been a really tough year. In terms of family, we’ve been through a lot of hard times, worst than most, and survived it, though it’s fair to say that my family now is considerably smaller. That means that close family friends we’ve had for years, and in some cases my entire life, really do mean the world to us! ❤

I learnt years ago that family is not about blood, it’s about who loves you unconditionally and who you love unconditionally, about special friends, people you can rely on in good times and bad and people you’d do anything for. I’d jump in front of a bullet for either of my darling Goddaughters and would do anything for my lovely supportive mates in deepest darkest Wales who I feel such a kinship with.

So when we faced the prospect of losing several very close and dear family friends to various cancers, including my lovely Godmother (who thankfully beat all the odds and the grim prognosis she was given); it makes you reassess things and clarify what is really important – a case of “Don’t sweat the small stuff!”.

While I’m able to produce a lot of high quality art relatively quickly, something I admit has always come easily to me, I must stop beating myself up for being less prolific in my writing. As much as I love writing and it’s always been a part of who I am, it does take a greater toll on my health and tends to burn me out quite badly.

Part of recovering from illness is being honest with yourself about what you can and can’t do and not castigating yourself for your limitations. Too many of us are our worst critics and being too critical of oneself can be tantamount to creative paralysis!

So despite being the world’s slowest writer (George R.R. Martin ain’t got nothing on me!) I’m determined not to spend 2019 procrastinating over how slow I am. I WILL finish Book 2 and Book 3 and finish the series, but I’ll have to do that at a pace I can cope with. Ironically, I actually have two brand new short novellas out, A Friendship Forged and The Siege of Kallorm, published by Grimbold Books on December 1st 2018, which are set before the events in my novel White Mountain, so at least that’s something new for my incredibly patient and loyal fans. 😀 ❤

This year it’s been great to see my illustration business take off and how ridiculously busy I’ve been with commissions, but the dominating factor has been the sadness surrounding one of my four wolfies becoming disabled. Anyone that knows me, knows how important my boys are to me, I’m called the ‘Mistress Of Wolves’ for a reason! So facing a horrible inherited disease that has no cure, that we can do nothing about and that is always fatal, Degenerative Myelopathy (DM), has been a devastating blow. 😦 My two white German Shepherds turned 9 years in June, not exactly old dogs, but long before that my beloved Tolly was diagnosed with DM.  😦  We’ve spent thousands we can’t afford on trying to fight this horrific disease but to no avail. The only comfort we have is the fact that we’ve tried our very best even using the latest cutting edge veterinary techniques like Platelet Rich Plasma to help combat this disease. It’s been heartbreaking to see Tolly’s startlingly swift decline over the year from running around in the snow in February to being unable to walk or stand by the end of August when he lost the use of his back legs completely and had to have a doggie wheelchair. We now face another devastating realisation that his biological brother, Korrun, is also now showing clear signs of having DM too. 😦

In a strange way, it was Tolly’s illness that pushed me onto creating more artwork this year (to pay for extortionate vet bills) and was the catalyst to me eventually opening my first Etsy Shop – Sophie’s Artisan Arts, which has really helped since setting it up in July. The highlight of the year though was being a shortlisted ‘Best Artist’ in the 2018 British Fantasy Awards and being an Artist-In-Residence for Dan Holloway‘s fabulous Oxford University funded game, Mycelium, which was launched in October and for which I created all the artwork (50 images in total). Still so proud to be involved in such an amazing project.

The other unsaid thing, which will remain unsaid by me for a while until I’m ready to talk about it, has also been all consuming this year. I’ve battled it alone as I just haven’t been in a place where I feel comfortable sharing it with anyone or asking for help (something I’ve always been bad at).

What the future brings, I don’t know…lol, but my life has certainly never followed a conventional path! 😀

Even when I was a kid I knew that certain paths were not for me. I never wanted that fantasy princess day, walking down the aisle in a white dress, centre of attention, to exchange one man’s name for another. Hell no. I know it works for most people, so good for them, but it’s not for me. I’m a great believer in personal freedom and in everyone choosing the path that suits them best rather than ‘doing the norm’. Life’s too short to waste it following someone else’s idea of how to live rather than what works for you and makes you happy.

With that in mind…I’ve decided NOT to make any New Year resolutions. 😀

2019 will bring what it will bring. I have aspirations I’d like to achieve, but I know life rarely follows the route you think it will, so I’m just going to plod on, try to learn to say “NO” to people when I know I don’t have time to do something (rather than killing myself to get it done in time) and just ‘roll with the punches’!

So…Happy New Year everyone, I hope 2019 brings you happiness and peace in whatever form that means to YOU.

😀 ❤ xxxx

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When time is the enemy – manically juggling!

Well it’s true to say that I started 2018 on the ground running – it’s been an utterly manic year already and we’re only a few months in!

As with most people, I find myself constantly juggling. For me, working part time in a library, means juggling that with working full time as an illustrator, trying to find some time for writing and personal artwork, as well as home responsibilities, personal goals (particularly for this year – more details later in the year on that one) and having four huge wolfies who require a LOT of time and attention. I’m not called the ‘Mistress of Wolves’ for nothing!

Cover artwork by Antonio Javier Caparo.

But recently even I admit that things have been insane. Basically from November 2016 to now, I haven’t stopped. As the writing has taken a back seat, my illustrating has never been in more demand. After a couple of HarperCollins’s commissions and a hastily short deadline for Penguin Random House (for ‘The Mad Wolf’s Daughter’ by Diane Magras, published March 2018) and a few individual commissions, I happily signed up for a very exciting and MASSIVE commission funded by Oxford University and created by writer, self-publishing guru and Creative Thinking World Champion, Dan Holloway. Basically Dan has invented a brilliant new game, Mycelium’, as an amazing training tool and fun game to promote and expand creative thinking. To say its clever and inventive, like it’s creator, is a colossal understatement.

Dan Holloway is one of those rare people you only meet once in a blue moon, a true inspiration. I first knew of him as a fellow writer on the now defunct HarperCollins online writing site, Authonomy, then met him in the flesh at the second Hawkesbury Upton Literary Festival founded by Debbie Young. Think of Elon Musk, Bob Dylan and Basquiat and you get close to how talented this chap is. He’s a huge brain, an amazing performance poet, writer and…well, in my opinion, a bit of a genius!

Mycelium final logo which will be on the back of each card.

Anyway, he liked my artwork and wanted me to create the visuals for this amazing game, starting with producing 50 images for the first playing pack of cards. I can’t reveal the artwork I’ve done for this yet, but will as soon as I’m able. 😉

So this is where the juggling really comes in, with time becoming an enemy that you’re constantly chasing.

The irony is that ‘chasing time’ has become a bit of a metaphor for my life, particularly at the moment.  Time has flown by so quickly and suddenly your life and life decisions are reduced down to a tiny window of opportunity in an alchemist’s grand experiment! Blink, and you’ll miss that window forever.

Although I’ve done allsorts of commissions and projects which usually take a month to complete, due to fitting illustration work in with a job etc., I’ve never done 50 images for one project before. Gulp! Being the idiot optimist I am, the deadline seemed reasonable, 60 days for 50 images and small images too. Easy, eh? Lol, well of course, me being me, I just cannot rush through anything crap so I created 50 folders, one for each image and trawled through countless books and the internet gathering inspirational images for each piece of artwork before drawing them. Once drawn, they then had to be inked up in permanent ink and then hand painted.

It really has been one of the most amazing, inspiring, varied and challenging commissions I’ve ever done and I have loved every second of it BUT…being such a perfectionist I should have known that creating 50 pictures in only 60 days just wasn’t possible. Unfortunately, despite my very best efforts of time pacing, doing the more complicated images first, I only really realised the sheer amount of work involved when I was already halfway through the commission! My juggling skills were put to the test and I’m afraid they failed me entirely.

For the last 60 days my four wolfies have not had much of a mum, my daily walks with them have all but stopped to just a few hours playing and exercising in the garden, my normal home chores have fallen by the wayside, my library job has, if I’m being honest, not had the best of me, I’ve been absent from all social media and friends and I’ve become somewhat of a stranger to sleep. But try as I have, to my own disappointment and for the first time, I missed my deadline. I was gutted, having worked so damn hard. Dan was wonderful of course and I’ve made sure I’ve rewarded that kindness with awesome images, but yes, I was several weeks late in delivering all 50 finished painted images and only finally finished them a few days ago!

So what do you do when time becomes the enemy, when juggling manically still doesn’t work?

Lol, I really wouldn’t recommend what I have done several times now, drawing in bed on a light-box until 4 or 5am when you suddenly realise that it’s getting light outside and you haven’t slept at all!

The only thing I can think of to help pace your time, when you have an insane amount of things to do and no time to do them in, is, to be honest, create a detailed colour coded weekly schedulebreaking your time into 2 hourly chunks, giving yourself time to eat, do chores, do housey things then back to work. As daft as it seems, it really helps to organise you and maximise productivity from each time period. I’ve also started using an alarm clock set in hour or 2 hour slots, trying to finish one section of work in that time frame before the buzzer goes!

I’m seriously not complaining here, I’m very thankful for all the work I get especially as I don’t advertise and do recognise that it’s far better to be incredibly busy than to have time on your hands, but once, just once, I wish I really could stretch the space/time continuum! 😀

On a personal note too, I’ve spent the last year climbing Everest and trying to stretch time to achieve my goals. So yes, as much as we are powerless to stop the march of time, perhaps a healthier more mindful approach to the passing of time would be more beneficial to us all. As clichéd as it is, we only have one life and it flies past so damn quickly that we owe it to ourselves to take stock and really notice what is happening around us.

Mindfulness has been a key word that has entered the zeitgeist in the last few years, but the principles behind it can be applied to every area of our lives. As an M.E sufferer (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) it’s a very important concept that helps us to regulate our condition and pace ourselves and the daily tasks we do.

As someone who has been overweight for most of my adult life and has decided to make a permanent life change at last, having committed myself to losing weight and getting fitter (my Chris Pratt Challenge) – mindfulness plays a key rolebeing aware and present in thought over everything you do. Being mindful of everything you put into your body so there is NO mindless snacking, everything is focused on, thought about.

The same too with life and time. Being mindful of your life, of each passing day, each hour, each minute, making you more aware of the choices you make, of the time you are using, of the time you have left.

Don’t sleep walk through your life. Be mindful of it.

So yes, being mindful and applying that to this commission also helped, particularly latterly, in making sure that the work I did was not only the best it could be but that I was working as productively as possible in each timed slot.

In an age of such mindlessness – Trump bigotry & idiocy, Brexit xenophobia & lies, political cruelty, government corruption and inherent unfairness – being mindful has never been more important!

❤ xxx