Meh – Dealing with Despondency.

How you do you deal with those flat moments? Times when you’re just not feeling it, when you’ve lost or misplaced your mojo, find yourself in a rut or a creative desert, drained of energy, ideas or just dealing with extreme prolonged fatigue.

Those blank moments you find yourself struggling in, like wading through tar, can really test your mettle. Creative endeavours regardless of whether it’s writing, illustrating, art or craft and trying to run a business with those creative endeavours is tough at the best of times but nigh on impossible when you’re hitting that wall.

I’ve tried all the handy tips and tricks to ‘work through the impasse’, I’ve set achievable goals, organised my time and materials better, managed to say ‘no’ to people when their commissions clash with other projects I already have lined up (rather than always saying ‘Yes’, which just leaves you like a blue arsed fly dashing around trying to please everyone as you run yourself ragged then crash).

The 2019 Maker’s Yearbook by Nicola Taylor that I bought in January and wrote my last blog about has hugely helped BUT, even with it’s support, it’s fab daily goal setting and organised tasks, it can’t give you energy, stretch the time space continuum and find that lost mojo, and when you throw illness into the mix then you really struggle.

Antibiotics for a nasty chest infection which then triggered severe asthma bouts in addition to the usual vestibular neuritis, M.E, and fibromyalgia etc basically wiped out the whole of February. The only goals I managed to achieve is to have set up my first series of silk painting workshops in a local Arts Centre later in the year, where I’ll be tutoring people in how to use and apply silk paints.

I managed to send out some feelers too regarding local arts exhibitions, shops to sell my work in and competitions, but again besides continuing the map work I’m committed to, I haven’t been able to do any new work for either my Etsy shop or for the art fair I have coming up in a few weeks. Not producing new work is a major stresser when you’re working in a highly competitive field like the Arts, where your work and name is up against hundreds of thousands of other artists (of varying talents) who may be able to churn out new work far quicker than you and therefore gain an advantage in keeping their work high in the public eye.

Competition is good but it can also be a barrier if you find yourself slipping behind and trying to play ‘catch up’.

The only solution I can see, besides self flagellation (which I’m an expert on), is of course to take a leaf out of Maya Angelou‘s wonderful book ‘Wouldn’t Take Nothing For My Journey Now’ (an astounding book to live your life by full of such wisdom!).

“If you can’t change a situation, change the way you think about that situation.”

I can’t get back the month of February and the work I wasn’t able to do, so I wipe the slate clean and start afresh in March, onward and upward.

Don’t look behind, keep your eyes on the horizon ahead!

If your year has faltered somewhat, don’t worry, it’s never too late to make a fresh start and go from there.

So to that end, as we leave Winter behind and head into Spring, have a blossoming 2019 everyone and may your goals and dreams come true! ❤ xxxx

Organising your arse and getting serious about your business!

Being a creative nerd I’ve never had a head for business or even considered anything I do as being a business and I know I’m not alone in that thinking.

Last year I took a deep breath and followed Lady Gaga and “jumped in at the deep end” by opening my first Etsy ShopSophie’s Artisan Arts. It was terrifying and exhilarating, and while I haven’t exactly set the world alight, I have had a solid first year, helped no end by my incredibly awesome and supportive friends – THANK YOU!!!! ❤ ❤ ❤

I admit I always thought that creativity and business weren’t harmonious bedfellows. But anyone creative who needs or wants to make a viable career from doing what they love (whether it’s writing, art, design, making crafts, photography etc etc), needs to develop a head for business.

Trust me, nothing makes me squirm more than the thought of dull accountants, business records, paperwork, profit margins, checklists etc etc., to me those are the antithesis of living a spontaneous and creatively fulfilled life. It’s just not how my brain works! 😀

 

But in simple terms, if you love what you do and you want to make a sustainable and consistently reliable living from what you do, then you need to sell what you create/make and that means developing a business brain and a strategy to help you achieve your goals.

Once you’ve realised this, then the next step is working out how the hell you go about doing that, especially when your chosen field is absolutely swamped by thousands of others doing what you do or something very similar (though no doubt to a poorer standard). 😉

Standing out from the crowd is the obvious first step, but to do that not only must the product you create be original and brilliantly created (quality NOT quantity – sadly so often talent only gets you so far and not to the winning post), but you need to market it expertly, get people to take notice of it and you. You need to approach what you do as a business not a hobby.

If people don’t know about the amazing things you create how can you sell any of them and make a successful business?

It’s the difference between being an amateur hobbyist and someone who is a professional in their field and is serious about pursuing their dream of making a career and a whole life based around what they love to do.

Not approaching your creative life seriously is a massive obstacle to your success, so snap out of it!

After a long chat with my fellow arty mate, Linda (and fellow giggly work colleague), where we discussed business plans and what we hoped to achieve this year and in the future, I followed Linda’s advice by getting the Maker’s Yearbook 2019, by Nicola Taylor, a goal setting workbook and planner specifically for artists, makers and handmade business owners.

WOW!!!! MIND BLOWN! 😀

Unfortunately I was too late to get the book which sold out, so I bought the PDF version and printed it off at home on 120gsm quality paper and popped it in a folder. I’d never heard of this Maker’s Yearbook before and even though I didn’t purchase it until halfway through January, I’ve been addicted to it ever since!

For a scatterbrain like me, who has all the business acumen and ICT proficiency of a fish on a bicycle, this has helped me no end!

I cannot recommend this enough. It breaks everything down into small achievable goals, so straight from the beginning you’re achieving something positive and succeeding rather than failing. It helps you to structure your business, your thinking, to get you to work more effectively and efficiently rather than just working harder and chasing your own tail while making no actual forward progress and burning yourself out. It makes you review the previous year (2018) and really identify what worked, what didn’t, what mistakes you made, what expenses and costs you had, what money and actual profits you made and how you divided your time between actually doing the creative thing you love and just flitting around like a headless chicken trying to gain attention in the hope of some sales.

It was a very interesting and reflective exercise. It made me realise how terrible my time keeping is, how unbalanced my life is, how disorganised and chaotic I am, how exhausted I’ve been and ground down, and how little progress I made, despite all my efforts, compared to the previous year (2017).

What a jolt to the senses!

Already, at the end of this first month (after only 2 weeks of having this Maker’s Yearbook), I have already booked an Art/Craft fair for March, have contacted numerous art centres, shops, exhibitions etc,. will be meeting the head of an art centre next week and have a clear plan and strategy about the year ahead – something I’ve NEVER had!

The moment I finish the long term map commission I’ve been working on for far too long, then the rest of my plans will start to kick in. For possibly the first time in my life, I actually feel that my creative life can actually have a viable commercial/business future and I actually will be able to make a career from doing what I love. It’s very early days, but finally… I HAVE A PLAN!!!! 😀

So to all my creative buddies out there trying to live off the thing you create, many of you struggling as I have, some of you on the brink of giving up while others are enjoying successes, DON’T GIVE UP or GIVE IN.

KEEP GOING, get yourself organised, set yourself real weekly and daily goals which all take you one step further to achieving your overall aim and GO FOR IT!

No-one can climb a mountain in one go, you start by climbing a low foothill first. Get that first achievement under your belt then move on and the same applies here.

Is it easy? Of course not, nothing important ever is. For me personally, one of my biggest challenges is overcoming my social anxieties and crippling self-doubts. This goes WAY beyond ‘imposter syndrome’ for me, this is more like paralysing fears, actually having to winkle myself out of my hermit hole and converse with actual real human beings, having to cold call places, put myself forward, try to exude confidence while my nervous sweats start in.

People that don’t know me well imagine I’m the height of confidence, the big bubbly girl, but I’m collapsing inside. Yes I know I have some measure of artistic talent, I could always draw and paint better than most of my friends even from an early age, but I am NOT a professional at networking, marketing, at selling my products to the actual public. Just doing one Art Fair last year showed me just how out of my depth I was. To me it seemed that everyone knew what they were doing, these were people who had been setting up stalls and selling their goods for years and had it down to a fine art. Their tables were eye catching and professional looking, they had prints of all their work so even if a customer can’t fork out a large amount for something they’ll still buy something small for £4, ie. they still make a sale and the stall exudes success which draws more people in. It was both awe inspiring and utterly terrifying!

Any introvert will know what I’m talking about. You just want to shrink into the background or hide under your tablecloth, but you have to sell yourself and your work and do both justice – so no, it’s definitely NOT easy, but like most things, it is a skill you can learn and improve on with practice. ❤

After all, we learn from failure and success.

 

Wishing you all the very best for 2019, may it make our dreams and goals come true!

❤ ❤ ❤ ❤

 

Shortlisted for a British Fantasy Award! Eeeek!

It’s taken a couple of weeks to sink in, hence the delay, but I’m thrilled to say that I’ve been shortlisted for the 2018 British Fantasy Awards in the Best Artist category!!! Yay!!!!

Can’t quite believe it but seeing my name listed as a shortlist nominee is surreal and a little overwhelming, but in a good way! 🙂 I’ve been nominated in the Best Artist category for the two hand drawn pen & ink maps I created for HarperCollins last year, for Anna Smith-Spark’s brilliant ‘The Court of Broken Knives’ and Anna Stephen’s wonderful ‘Godblind’!

It’s been a lovely surprise especially given that this has been a tough year for me personally, health problems, one of my beloved wolfies (Tolly) has been very unwell, massive financial worries (colossal vet bills!) and the latest gut punch – my wonderful Godmother (who I’ve known and loved my whole life and has been there for us through some pretty traumatic times) is desperately ill with ovarian cancer. It fact she’s having her operation tomorrow to try and cut all the cancer out. We’re all very worried and fighting back tears at the moment, so having something lovely like this happen has definitely been a much needed ray of sunshine in amongst a sea of crap.

I won’t find out if I’ve won until the swanky awards ceremony (October 21st). So in a mad dash, despite the fact that I’m totally skint, I booked up the hotel and tickets for FantasyCon 2018 up at Chester (October 19th – 21st) and will be sitting there during the awards ceremony with fingers and toes crossed while practising my ‘I’m not really disappointed’ face when someone else wins it! 😀

A massive THANK YOU to the British Fantasy Society and to everyone who voted for me. Amazing to see the other artists I’m nominated with:

Best Artist
· Ben Baldwin
· Jeffrey Alan Love
· Victo Ngai
· Daniele Sera
· Sophie E Tallis
· Sana Takeda

I also want to shout out my other friends who have been nominated too. Firstly a massive congrats to the lovely Joanne Hall who has been nominated in the Best Short Story category for her story ‘Illumination’ taken from the anthology ‘The Book of Dragons’ by AJ Dalton published by my publishers, Kristell Ink (an imprint of Grimbold Books). Congrats to Joshua Cornah another fellow Grimmie from Kristell Ink, who has been nominated for Best Comic/Graphic Novel for his hilarious Grim & Bold cartoons. Grimbold Books themselves (worthy winner of the Best Independent Press at last year’s BFS awards) are also again nominated this year as well! Woo hoo! xxx

I also want to make a huge shout out to Anna Smith-Spark who has been nominated for Best Fantasy Novel and Best Newcomer for ‘The Court of Broken Knives’! Way to go Anna! 😀 xxx

Yay!!! So stupidly excited and very honoured and humbled by the whole thing.

To check out more of my work, pop by my website: Sophie E Tallis Illustrations or if you want to BUY any artwork, check out my new Etsy shop: Sophie’s Artisan Arts!

Thank you folks! ❤ ❤ ❤ xxxxx

Mistress of Wolves – the pleasures and pains of having wolfies!

I’ll be writing a blog post about making a living as an artist and my glacial progress on the writing front, but this really is a post for all of you who have fur babies, those four-legged members of the family who are so much more than ‘just a pet’, and the emotional challenges that brings.

This will also, hopefully, be an informative post for those who are dealing with the dreaded degenerative myelopathyDM (previously called CDRM – canine degenerative radiculomyelopathy) a horrendous progressive inherited disease of the spinal cord similar to multiple sclerosis (MS) in humans and which tragically has no cure at the moment. 😦 DM is caused through a breakdown of the myelin sheath protecting the neurons of the spinal cord. The cause of the demyelination itself is unclear, though it is thought to be an autoimmune disorder. 😦

As many of you know, I have four beautiful wolf babies, my two 8yr old White German Shepherds, Tolly/Tollam (our long haired boy) and his brother Korrun (short haired) + my two 4yr old Alaskan Malamute brothers, (big) Bere (our 65kg white bundle of gorgeousness) and his brother Fenn (the darkest of our handsome boys).

Anyone who knows me, knows how much I love them (and I don’t care how sad that sounds!) 😀 Basically it’s a love-in at our house with them kissing and licking each other all the time and me if I’m not quick enough to avoid the occasional tongue in my ear! Eeeew! 😀

That’s not to say life is perfect. Anyone who knows malamutes knows they’re the toughest most stubborn breed to train (being the nearest dog breed to wolves) and my two are definitely Houdini’s at exploring, escaping through hedges and fences and squeezing through impossibly small places (the sole reason we had to fence in the entire stream!), not to mention being natural-born hunters so all the wildlife in our garden must beware. Cheeky boys! 😀

2 years ago we noticed that our big Alaskan Malamute, Bere, was suddenly losing weight despite having a ravenous appetite and had very loose stools. We didn’t wait, we saw the vet straight away and did a ton of research (including finding out about a cutting edge Bristol University study) and found out that he had EPI (exocrine pancreatic insufficiency) a nasty inherited disease where the dog’s own pancreas stops working and doesn’t produce the enzymes needed for digestion and breaking down food. It’s a horrible condition where basically the dog starves to death from the inside as they eat and eat and eat but nothing is absorbed and just passes through. I came across a lot of owners who, on finding out the diagnosis, had their dogs put down. 😦 Sorry, but that ain’t us, we fight for our family and we weren’t going to just let Bere die. Lol, I’m nothing if not tenacious! Long story short, we found a solution, by liquidating pigs pancreas (a natural substitute which is full of those missing enzymes) and mixing it with every meal, Bere went from 40kg to 65kg! Although he has the condition for life, he couldn’t be happier or healthier now. No-one would ever know there was anything wrong with him. It really was like watching a miracle, and yes, a hell of a lot of daily hard work and expense, but he’s so worth it. 🙂 ❤

Then I have my two German Sheps who were rescues which, despite being amazing with wildlife, explains a lot of their social anxieties around people particularly strangers. From the little information we were given by the rescue centre, the RSPCA rescued their mum (who died shortly after) and the whole litter of 10 from what sounded like an awful puppy farm. My views on greedy unscrupulous people, who usually have no qualifications, formal training or morals for that matter, and who are just into using animals to make money, are pretty stringent. I think they’re the lowest of the low basically, often breeding 4 or more litters from a single dog too old to have anymore pups, to squeeze as much money out of them as they can, and yes, sadly, often breeding all sorts of nasty inherited diseases too, which lead to heartbreak for the animal and their owners. 😦

Sadly this time we’ve come up against one of those insidious diseases that we can’t solve – degenerative myelopathy (DM), an awful debilitating progressive spinal cord condition inherited by those carrying the DM gene and most associated with German Shepherds (in fact it used to be called the German Shepherd disease!), that leads to paralysis and sadly kills 100% of those afflicted with it. Tragically at the moment there is NO cure. 😦

We are utterly devastated that our beloved Tolly looks like he has it. 😦 It came out of the blue too which has made this even more difficult. Over Christmas I noticed a slight tremor in his hind legs. We weren’t unduly worried though, our boys do so much running around we’ve often had the odd sprain. But in January Tolly’s hind legs were noticeably shaky and weak, we contacted the vets and were initially told just to monitor him as there were no signs of pain – thankfully that is the ONLY positive thing about DM in that it is a non-painful condition. By February though he was dragging his back paws, particularly on the left side, and his hind legs were crossing over and collapsing on him once or sometimes twice a day. He is still very mobile though, still running brilliantly and is as active as ever, but after resting or sleeping, that’s when you see the back legs go – this apparently is the early stages of DM. Also, Tolly’s two middle claws on both his back feet are also worn down where he has dragged them.

To say we have researched the hell out of degenerative myelopathy would be an understatement. We’ve combed sources, websites, blogs, joined Facebook groups on the subject, sent countless emails off etc etc. So far, all evidence points to DM being an incurable fatal disease with little to no hope once a dog has it. Yes, some dogs have lived for several years with the condition, using mobility carts when their back legs give out on them, which we ourselves will do when the time comes, but in every single case the same inevitable outcome – death. 😦

Tolly is only 8yrs old, and we’re utterly heartbroken for us and him. Worse still, as DM is a hereditary disease, we think his brother Korrun may have it too as we’ve noticed a slight tremor in his hind legs! 😦 xxx

It is true that other conditions like slipped discs, arthritis and hip dysplasia which do cause pain, can have similar signs to DM and that often to gain an actual diagnosis of DM all other conditions have to be ruled out first. But we know our dogs so well, as much as I wish it wasn’t DM, we’re 99% sure it is. 😦

So, what can you do when faced with an incurable fatal disease? –  Fight! Fight like hell against it!

These are just a few of the things you can do if you think your dog has degenerative myelopathy:

  1. Get a DNA test done (which we’re doing), which can be either through a blood test or mouth swab test. Although a DNA test cannot definitively show if a dog has DM it will show if they are carriers of the faulty DM gene. If they are, then there’s a good chance they have or may develop the disease. If they are not carrying the DM gene then they CANNOT have DM, so it’s definitely worth getting a test and it’s a whole lot cheaper than an MRI/CT scan. DNA tests are generally covered by pet insurance too, but do check first.
  2. Daily exercise is key. Lack of exercise does NOT cause degenerative myelopathy, that’s a completely inaccurate wife’s tale, it is a genetic inherited condition and only dogs carrying the gene may develop it. BUT, daily exercise will hugely help keep slow down the progression of the disease and will aid in your dog’s mobility. I’ve been doing daily runs with Tolly, circuits around our 2 acre garden as well as weaving exercises around the trees. I would recommend avoiding walking on pavements and roads as this will further damage those worn down nails, walking on grass, gravel, sand (different textures is important) but they’ll also be softer on their feet.
  3. Daily leg stretches and massages. I don’t know if these actually help but Tolly certainly loves them and it helps you to feel the muscle mass in their legs, it’s also good to push against/put pressure on their paws/pads.
  4. As advised by the vet, have your pet walk on a variety of surfaces, spiky, smooth, textured, rough, etc., this will encourage the signals from the feet along the spine to the brain and encourage them to pick up their feet a bit more. I’ve done this in the past by placing socks on his feet too.
  5. Hydrotherapy – helps mobility and limb ataxia, eases any pain from related arthritis and problems caused by DM like sprains and is a great exercise for dogs as it supports their weight. BUT, it is very pricey. Our pet insurance will only cover this to £500 so it may well be worth finding your own alternatives – we’ll be taking Tolly for walks through the stream that runs by our house, which is also good for the different textures (sand, gravel, stone, weeds) under foot.
  6. There are no medicinal cures for DM yet but daily supplements and vitamins help hugely in the general health & mobility of your dog and can help alleviate some of the symptoms (the below are for UK residents USA residents can find these from other outlets):
  • Vitamin B complex (100mg) (B12 + B6) (found in Vetzyme products UK)
  • Vitamin E (1000 – 2000mg) (found in Vetzyme products UK)
  • Vitamin C (anti-oxidant 1000 – 2000mg) (VetUK joint supplement)
  • Selenium (works with Vitamin E) no more than 200µg a day
  • Omega 3 (either fish oil, ground flax seeds or fish products are also very rich in these) (Vetzyme high strength product UK)
  • MSM (ProTreat and Vetzyme high strength) MSM is a strong antioxidant, capable of binding and inactivating harmful free radicals. MSM is also a potent anti-inflammatory for autoimmune reactions, it also crosses the blood brain barrier and allows nerve cells to excrete products
  • Turmeric is a great detoxifier (not tablets for humans as these are too strong, use VetUK as these joint supplements are specifically for dogs)
  • Glucosamine and Chondroitin sulphate (VetUK, ProTreat and Vetzyme have these)
  • Nutritional yeast as well.
  • Raw garlic is antibacterial and antifungal as well as having an anti-inflammatory and anti-biotic. Add in ginger for it’s anti-emetic and calming effect along with mustard which improves digestion and bowel function.
  1. Other alternatives to try:
  • CBD oil  – (the legal cannabis oil, stronger than the hemp oil you can buy in supermarkets for cooking but as CBD oil is VERY expensive, if you can’t afford it then please do buy the Hemp Oil). We’ve ordered this but not tried it yet, but from all the things we’ve heard, this can really help relax your dog, help with any pain caused through twisting limbs/sprains and is an antioxidant and is great at combating autoimmune associated disorders.
  • Aminocaproic Acid (EACA)now this is the closest we’ve found to finding a cure! Unfortunately for UK residents it’s nigh on impossible to get over here (but we are still trying and I will post here any that we find!). This amazing USA Vet, Dr Roger Clemmons, is an expert in DM in German Shepherds and from his WestLab facilities in Florida he has had amazing results with aminocaproic acid in 80% of his patients where it slowed down the progression of the disease and even halted it! Be aware, this is extremely expensive!
  • N-acetylcysteine (NAC) – this (easier to get in the UK) was also the other medication Dr Clemmons used with aminocaproic acid for the best results.

So, at the moment we are fighting the good fight. We seem to have swayed our at first very reluctant vet (our usual amazing vet is on maternity leave) to look into aminocaproic acid in the UK as a treatment for him. We have Tolly on all those daily supplements and vitamins above, we’ve ordered the CBD oil which is on its way and will be having the vet do a DNA test hopefully next week, while we are rigorously exercising him every day, doing leg stretches and massages and generally doing everything we can to help him and slow this hideous disease. It’s the very least we can do for our darling Tolly.

We’ve even been looking into stem cell research as some progress has come through recently in regards to MS which is so so similar to DM.

So there you go. For any wolfie lovers out there facing this same awful journey, I hope some of the info on here has been helpful. I would recommend joining the Degenerative Myelopathy group on Facebook, which has been a great source of information particularly for breaking down the different stages of the disease so people know what to look out for and can prepare themselves for what is to come.

Information is always power.

For those that are owners of healthy doggies, just give them a tight squeeze and hug and keep your fingers crossed that you never have to go through this.

May the force be with Tolly and any other wolfies fighting this. We love you! ❤ xxxxxx

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

 

BristolCon 2017 – Art, Fantasy & Maps!

Last weekend was BristolCon, the largest sci-fi & fantasy convention in the west country, UK and by far my favourite con. For the last nine years BristolCon has flourished at the Hilton Double Tree hotel in the heart of Bristol, a single day SFF convention that always signifies a glorious mix of panels, events, signings, workshops, art, and of course books! Amongst the flurry of bookish activity, one the things that makes BristolCon so damn special is that feeling of inclusiveness, a welcoming family for old friends and new, with no cliques, no judgements, just a genuinely open, friendly and ultra cool ethos of – “come along folks and have a great time!”

What made BristolCon 2017 extra special for me this year, besides being thrilled that my lovely publisher, Grimbold Books (and our leader the wonderful Sammy HK Smith) has subsequently won the BFS Award for Best Independent Press, is that I wasn’t just there as an author and panellist (moderating an uber cool panel on ‘Mapping in SF & F’)…but that I was there as an artist too! 😀

*gulp*

Yes, after being talked into applying to exhibit in the famous Art Room at BristolCon by the lovely vice chair, John Bav, with extra encouragement from Mark Robinson and the lovely ex-chair, Joanne Hall, I actually plucked up the courage and applied and got in! For me this was a huge thing. Although I’ve been drawing and painting my entire life (before I could even walk apparently), and although I did a BA (Hons) Degree in Fine Art and had won an MA place at the Slade School of Fine Art (which I stupidly didn’t take up), I’ve only actually been illustrating for the last 2 or 3 years. In fact, it’s only since my teaching career ended due to illness that I’ve even had the time to do more art.

So, in the last 2 years, I’ve illustrated about 12 books so far (with a few current ‘in the works’ projects). The highlight undoubtedly had been creating the fantasy maps for Juliet E McKenna and the two HarperCollins commissions for Anna Smith-Spark & Anna Stephens, and now I am busy creating another cool fantasy map for Penguin Random House – Yay! 😀

But actually exhibiting my artwork was an entirely different thing. I haven’t exhibited since my art student days, twenty years ago! Despite starting prep for it months ago, finding and buying the right frames, getting all the ‘s’ hooks needed to hand them etc etc. I’d actually forgotten just how much work is involved! The framing and mounting card alone took ages, the picture prep, sorting out illustration portfolios, transporting the art and putting it up. Thank goodness for Andy Bigwood (Mr Art himself) who runs the Art Room and helped me find my feet and for the vital Friday pre-BristolCon Art Room set up time! I was there at the hotel until 11pm the night before BristolCon, knackered and nervous but I can’t explain how great it felt – being in that atmosphere! A mixture of pure fear, excitement, exhilaration and total imposter syndrome! Lol, when you’re there in the Art Room next to the likes of illustrating greats like Jim Burns and Chris Moore and BFS Award winning Sarah Ann Langton (who did the cool cover for the ‘Fight Like A Girl’ anthology), you suddenly feel very quickly out of your depth!

BUT, despite all those daft fears, the whole thing felt RIGHT. It felt like THIS is what I should be doing, coming full circle, coming home to art – my love of it, my solace, my saviour through mental health problems and depression, my relief, my method of self-expression when I can’t muster the words.

I admit, with only an hour and a half sleep, I was a walking zombie when Saturday actually came. Apologies to a couple of customers as my brain freeze took over a couple of times – so weird that when you’re that exhausted you slip into daft old sayings as your brain stops processing new information. By the end of BristolCon I was so out of it, I honestly can’t remember how I drove home! Oops!

But it was brilliant and I loved every second of it.

I’d decided to show some of my best portraits (30 of them all framed in lovely black box frames) for a cool ‘Game Of Thrones’ idea I had of having them all clustered together for a ‘wall of faces’ (aka GoT season 6) which became an interactive ‘Game Of Faces’ where people had to try to identify as many of the portraits as possible and the winner would win a piece of original artwork of their choice! Cool idea, eh? 😀

Well, it worked beautifully! I had loads of people coming to view my work and participate. I also displayed some of my silk paintings and my maps (all framed in lovely matching black frames) and one of my ‘works in progress’ (the steampunk map I’m working on for the lovely Kate Coe) so people could view my creative process at constructing them. 🙂

In fact, I had so many people coming to visit my art display that I couldn’t finish writing up my art price list! Lol, I eventually finished it after I’d already sold a load of silk paintings and was dragged off by the lovely Robyn Fulton to actually eat something before I dropped.

After a hurried but much needed lunch I went off to my ‘Mapping SF & F’ panel about one fo my favourite subjects – fantasy maps!  I was moderating the panel in the big conference room with the lovely Anna Stephens, Juliet E McKenna, Joel Cornah and Andy Bigwood. It went wonderfully, in fact myself and all the panellists could have talked for three or four hours and only got through half of my questions!

The whole day was a delightful blur of meeting old friends and new – people I’ve been friends with for years on Facebook but who I hadn’t actually met yet (like RB Watkinson, Judith Mortimore and Jessica Rydill) and chatting to the lovely people who bought my art – THANK YOU! ❤

 

 

 

Magic and Mental Health

It seems both poetic and ironic that on World Mental Health Day (10th October), that my own mental health which has not been good this year (particularly of late), has turned a corner.

It’s true that I have been plagued by depression since I was 13 and have had some pretty dark times. I once described it as being a meal on a menu, once you’ve been down that dark road you’re never quite the same again and that meal option keeps popping up – an apparent ‘easy’ way out. Which of course is illusory, nothing in any aspect of life is ever ‘easy’.

But, demons aside and crippling self-doubt, it is amazing what a piece of good news can do for your self-esteem and yes, for your mental health.

It’s horrible to think that my mental health is so fragile and unstable that it can be shaken by bad news and improved by good news. I’ve always prided myself on being a very tough cookie, after all I’ve survived a lot of things that would simply have buried other people, so there is a hard tenacious streak somewhere in me.

But I suppose, when I’m feeling low, stressed and upset, that’s when mental health can be particularly fragile and susceptible to outward forces. I just have to accept that and try not to be so affected by others and the outside world. Being a hermit after all has some benefits! 😀

The trick to any mental health crisis, is not to beat yourself up. You can’t help how you’re feeling and you’re not in full control of how you behave either, I’m not talking about behaving like an asshole to others and using it as an excuse, there’s never an excuse for being a dick. But, when you’re in that dark hole, the world and everything in it is skewed, you are viewing people and situations in a very altered state. Paranoia, fear, isolation, loneliness and self-destructive thoughts run rampant and things that appear minor and trivial to others, become massively important to you, through a microscope lens.

The only advice I can offer to fellow suffers, is just that it WILL pass, if you let it. Everything in life is transitory.

Happiness never lasts, neither does love, but then neither does unhappiness either.

We are all flotsam on a tide of emotions that ebb and flow, appear and disappear. So if you are feeling miserable, take heart that you will not feel like that forever. And if you are happy or in love, make sure you treasure every moment because life is so fleeting.

So…for me, as writing has been causing me so much pain of late, I have temporarily hung up my pen. I will always be a writer and I WILL finish Book 2 of The Darkling Chronicles, Darkling Rise and the third and final book, even if no-one reads them and my other novel projects, including Ravenwing. But for now, novels and short stories (which I’m still not convinced I should do anymore of), are being temporarily shelved.

I’m concentrating on something I know I CAN do and do well – ART!

2017 has been a pretty monumental year art wise. I established the Artmaniac Challenge and FB group, where people share their art and try to do something arty and creative every day (a very hard ask), as well as videoing my first art tutorials on YouTube and doing my first art exhibition in the Art Room at BristolCon (the first exhibition since my art student days)…but I have also found myself being wooed by HarperCollins to become one of their illustrators! A dream come true! That resulted in my creating two awesome maps for their highly anticipated grimdark debut’s Anna Stephen’s Godblind and Anna Smith-Spark’s The Court of Broken Knives. The response I have had about these maps has been nothing short of phenomenal and they have made their way around the world being picked up by Random House and Orbit in the USA and by Dutch and German publishers etc etc.

Well, it’s happened again! Out of the blue, another major publisher contacted me on my illustration website and wants me to work for them! No less than Penguin Random House! 😀

I’m so chuffed! Yes I know my art skills are good and I’m a total perfectionist, but as we all know, having any measure of talent does not guarantee you a damn thing. How many multi-talented people do we all know who should be wildly successful but aren’t, while decidedly mediocre folks seem to rise to the top? 9/10 times, it’s simply who you know, your connections that get you where you want to go and not your acumen or talent. Tough but true.

But on this occasion, it genuinely seems to be my skills as a mapmaker that have brought me to Penguin’s attention. Woo and hoo! 😀

So yes, as I finish a current map commission, start work on a brilliant new project being funded by Oxford University no less, and prepare for my scary art exhibition and being on two panels at BristolCon (including moderating one)…I will also begin a scary new commission for Penguin Random House! 😀

So…dare I whisper it, but I am starting to feel a lot better and my depression is (hopefully) on the wane even as I enter a very hectic and stressful period. But that’s the thing about mental health, it can affect any one of us and at any time. So please, if you know someone who is struggling, no matter what the cause, just listen and be there for them and remember to look after yourself too.

Peace, good mental health and love to you all. ❤ xxxx